Wednesday, July 27, 2011

From Amateur to School Girl -- Again

A reviewer, who admitted she doesn't read the kind of book I write, said "the writing and character development seemed a little amateurish." I guess a little amateurish is like being a little virginal. On the cusp of being a tramp and on the road to whorish -- or something like that. At least it's a three-star review, so I'm not going to worry.

Not worry? I'm going back to school. Maybe I can burnish the rest of the amateur out of my writing.

I did decide to go back to school, in a way, by signing up for Great Courses. It was a huge bargain, $39.95 down from $215. College at bargain basement prices, and no exams or dissertations or angst about what to wear to class. I always obsessed about having enough paper and a pen and pencil that worked. Silly me. I may even take the course on rhetoric and critique. It's likely my reviewing skills may also seem a little amateurish. Of course, I've earned enough money to buy food when the bills depleted my regular income, and I've had to pay taxes on the earnings for the past six years. Do amateurs pay taxes on earnings? Oh, well, not important.

I decided to try out one of the Great Courses since I've been receiving their catalogues for years. With the long list for the Booker Prize out today, it just makes sense to brush up my reading, writing, and critiquing skills. I took a look at the list and checked them all out on Amazon to see what was available for Kindle and at what prices.

Surprisingly, four of the books were out of print even though they were published within the past few months, and nearly all of the books were priced at near hard cover price, and often more than the paperback price. I guess publishers just don't get it.

How does a book go out of print in the seven weeks since it was published? Low print runs. Most of the books were published with a less than 6000 print run -- for all countries. Had they chosen to offer digital files (at realistic rates), the books would still be available while reprint orders were being made. I guess they didn't believe in the books enough to order a print run sufficient to sell to interested readers, and ebooks readers do actually read. I've finished six books on Kindle and just received the Kindle the first of May. Of course, it goes without saying that I've read many more books in print (that's what the office sends me to review) and a few in digital form that is not compatible with the Kindle. The total is, I believe thirty books that I didn't read on Kindle, and that's a conservative estimate. I've also read two of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice books (A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, and have begun A Storm of Swords) and have nibbled The Bone People, a Booker Prize winner from 1985 that was a gift from a friend who said after the second chapter she realized the main female character was me.

One of my guilty pleasures, and not including Martin's saga, is the Nikki Heat mysteries written by Richard Castle, of television fame. Now there was a bright marketing ploy. A character on a TV show (one of the few I stream) is an author of mystery novels and, in real life, there are books written by said TV character featuring his partner and love interest, Detective Kate Beckett, aptly named Nikki Heat.

The writing is simple and the mysteries not that difficult to solve, and the byplay between Heat and her literary shadow, magazine writer Jameson Rook (who also writes romance novels as Victoria St. Clair), is heated, to say the least. It's fluff writing but it's fun, hence guilty pleasure. I've read Heat Wave and am working my way through Naked Heat, although the naked part is sadly missing so far, and I'm reading them on Kindle at a price below the paperback price. What a concept. The thing is, I'm enjoying the books, just as I enjoyed reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld series on Kindle.

Kindle is a great product and I'm enjoying the heck out of mine -- when I'm not reading review books, like Prophecy by S. J. Parris or Deed to Death by D. B. Henson, whose writing is long on detail and short on action through the first half of the book. D. B. Henson was first self-published and then picked up by Simon & Schuster, so indie to traditionally published still happens, and not just to Amanda Hocking, who is wringing the very last drop of tease out of her move to St. Martin's Press with her troll series.

What surprised me about the Booker Prize news this morning was the slap at Apple for not having any of the digital books available from the long list and being questioned as to whether they were players or just playing. I guess Apple is an amateur compared to Amazon, but you didn't hear that from me.

So, while the publishing world is heating up and plots are being bandied about, I will return to the beginning and learn to construct artful sentences in an effort to shake off that amateurish taint in my writing and character development. After all, writing is evolution and to write and sell one must evolve.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Time, Consideration, and Thought

Technology makes everything easier and the Internet makes everything happen faster. What more could we want? How about people willing to stand up for what they believe is right?

A writer friend recently dumped her Kindle review site because of "threats of litigation." That's Net speak for whiny authors who demanded five-star reviews for their books in the name of solidarity and did not get what they wanted. The authors threatened to sue over the reviews and the website owner shut the site down, and it all happened in the space of a couple of days. In the old days, before electronic and online submissions, email at the speed of the ISP, and tantrums speed by electrons and fueled by tech-savvy self-publishing, such actions would have taken weeks, and most likely months. Now it all happens at the touch of a button.

The level of professionalism visible on the world wide web is pretty low right now. Writers who gain sudden fame and sell millions of dollars of ebooks are celebrities and every wannabe writer wants to emulate them. The wannabes seldom look -- or read -- beyond the dollar signs and have no clue what it takes for a book to sell. As far as they are concerned, it's all about Amazon, B&N, and other website review ratings, and those ratings, while not actually for sale, are available for the right kind of coercive tactics. Litigation is a favorite.

"I'll sue you and have your website taken down if you don't give me a great review."

My response? Write a better book. Brush up your grammar, punctuation, and spelling and make sure your book is as good as possible before you hit the button and put it out on the web. If you're not willing to do the work, don't expect a great review.

Even if a writer is willing to do the work, there is no guarantee a reviewer will like and highly rate the work. It just doesn't work that way. Some readers will love the work, some will hate it, and most will fall somewhere in between, but the last thing you want to do is whine about the review and threaten the reviewer and website manager/owner with litigation. It never works out well -- except in this case where the website owner folded.

Jennifer Brozek, editor of The Edge of Propinquity shared an email exchange with a wanabe writer who questioned whether or not she had read his submission because it took only 30 minutes. Most professionals would be thrilled by that kind of turnaround, but the wannabe writer wasn't thrilled. His turnaround came with a rejection. An email discussion ensued. Jennifer posted the results in an early post and the email exchange that resulted in the hate mail. Several other editors who read Jennifer's LiveJournal posts asked for the wannabe writer's name and email address. They don't want to contact him; they want to avoid him. And that, dear reader, is how business is done in the publishing world. I've brought the brouhaha to you the speed of ISP guided electrons.

Jennifer will not be closing down the website, nor will she shut down the magazine, even if the wannabe writer threatens to sue. Should he decide to sue, he will waste his time and money and the judge (if it gets that far) will throw out the case as frivolous. You cannot litigate or force someone to write a good review and you cannot force them not to publish a bad review. You can only roll with the punches, and they will come left, right, and center, and sometimes a rabbit punch to the kidneys on occasion. It's the nature of dealing with people, and wouldn't the world be a much nicer place without people mucking it all up?

In the old days, editors knew how to deal with tantrums and wanabe writer pique. They ignored them.

Considering the amount of work that goes into putting a magazine out every month, online or in print, there's not enough time to coddle whiners and hissy fit throwing wannabes. Next!

I've had my share of negative reviews, and got another one this morning, but that is all part of the process. There were no negative comments about grammar, punctuation, formatting, or spelling, just that the reader didn't get the point of the book. A woman is abandoned in New Orleans, left with $50, and no way home. She is homeless for six weeks, mistaken for a notorious prostitute, and spends the next six weeks in jail, except she doesn't know how long she is going to be in jail. Over the ensuing weeks, she changes from a woman fearful of her surroundings and the other inmates, women she views as shadowy and monstrous, to someone who is able to see the women as not so very different from herself, women who have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves in whatever way they could manage. When she gets out of jail and goes back to her friends, she is glad to be back, but she is also changed. That is the point of the book, seeing the women through her middle class background and prejudices. Some people won't get it, but most people do.

Luckily, some of the readers who did get the point were from New Orleans or had worked in the women's prison system. Those are the reviews to treasure. The others are the opinions of people I was not able to reach, and that's all right. No one reaches everyone. If they did, we would have one person in Congress and one president and everyone would agree who it was to be. We'd also have one religion, one monetary system, one type of government, and no wars. Nice world if you can get it, but not practical and not possible.

In the end, all that matters is that everyone is done with careful consideration and thought. The rest, those that fail to think or consider anything before they punch the button and give virtual life to their creations, do not matter in the grand scheme of things. They are the low bar, the lower end of the Bell curve, the lowest common denominator, and exist only to show what should not and cannot be done. The parts of the curve that have weight are the vast majority in the middle and the rest that rise like cream to the top.

The trick is to rise with the cream, and that takes time and work, something not found among whiners, wannabes, and litigious jerks believing they can force their way to the top through intimidation and threats. Best thing to do is ignore them, like sand fleas, mosquitoes, flies, and other annoying pests. Don't give in. Hold the line. Ignore the screaming, kicking, red-face child on the floor. He'll eventually get tired and quit.