Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lose the cliiches, please!

Once again I'm editing a work which is driving me nuts. The writing is smooth, the mechanics are acceptable. But the story is nothing but a string of cliches, one after another. I'm sure that this writer has read lots of good works of fiction, full of interesting plot events. But she's serving up nothing but a bunch of hackneyed tripe. So I ask myself why...

I think that at the root of the problem is that stories that feel real, that resonate with all that's most human in us, always flow from a particular character. There are specifics to each characters situation that make what happens feel inevitable and convincing. The character in this story is almost totally a Mary Sue. She does nothing wrong. She's always right--even when she's wrong. At least, the writer doesn't seem capable of seeing that the character is wrong, because she's pushing the characters around like little cardboard cutouts on a game board.

From my point of view what the "heroine" is doing is selfish, insensitive and plain stupid, and the author clearly expects us to see her as noble, righteous, and misunderstood. It makes me want to scream.

The author clearly put a lot of work into this loooong work of fantasy, and she's capable of writing well on the level of putting down good sentences and paragraphs. But she doesn't have a clue about what is interesting to readers (the first third of the book describes people getting up and eating breakfast and similar inanities) and she is so completely blinkered to what she's trying to force the characters to do, that she seems incapable of anything resembling insight into human character.

So instead we see cliche after stereotype after cliche. A big part of it is feministic crap, too. The women are noble and pure, and the men almost all evil and misguided. And the more primitive, noble society has men who do dishes. Give me a break.

Are people who write like this capable of learning better? I guess... I have read old novels by some of my favorite current writers and have been appalled in almost the same way. What I can't figure out is how to get a writer to SEE what she's doing.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Amateur writers

I've edited a lot of different writers of widely varying skill, and I've come to associate two things with a particular subset of beginning writers. The first thing is a refusal to address point-of-view problems, and the second is a tendency to talk about their "voice".

Writers who exhibit these two traits rarely manage to improve their writing past their current level. I've come to believe that the two things are related. I think that for some reason, these people have come to believe that they are now "good" writers and don't have anything else to learn. After all, Nora Roberts switches POV all the time they say in their own defense. Yes, but they aren't Nora Roberts, are they?

But the real problem is that they lack the sensitivity to tell the DIFFERENCE between a scene in which the writer switches POV character at whim and a scene that stays tightly bound to one character's point of view.

Writers who haven't reached their greatest level of competence recognize when a correction or a suggestion is right. Their sensitivity is greater than their ability to write, which means they still have growing room. They have the ability to improve. Writers who reject corrections and suggestions because they don't believe them, because they can't perceive the problems, have no room to grow. They've reached their level of incompetence.

Without the ability to perceive--or accept--a weakness in their writing they are dead in the water.

So the next time you have the urge to prattle on about your "voice" to an editor, you might want to consider whether you are marking yourself as someone at a dead-end, someone that is going to be difficult to work with, someone who has finished growing as a writer.

Of course if you are a hobby writer and happy with that status, go for it. Hang on to your precious words for all you're worth. I certainly don't want them.


Friday, February 16, 2007

Mrs Giggles gets it right...

Friday, February 9, 2007

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: Unreproduceable Phenomenon

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: Unreproduceable Phenomenon

The use of "author voice" for poor writing

It's gotten so that I roll my eyes when I see a reference to "author's voice". The term has been done to death. I've seen it used way too often as an excuse for poor editing. Or, to be more accurate, the refusal to even try editing. Sure, I guess you could make an argument that poorly worded sentences, plots with enormous holes, and incorrect grammar constitute a "writer's voice". But I'm struggling to come up with a definition that makes sense.

I wish people would just drop the damn term. I hear the word "voice" and my eyes glaze over and I figure that here comes a content-free statement that I can just ignore. Acquiring editors like to say "we're looking for a fresh voice". Uh-huh. I'm guessing that means ... hmm. What? Somebody that writes well? Somebody that doesn't write like every other damn writer on the planet? Oookay. The way it's commonly understood it seems to mean "style". Sure, some authors have a distinctive style. But some really excellent authors don't have an identifiable style at all. They have a clean, standard way of writing that's hardly identifiable.

But the word "voice" seems to be used most often by writers defending their every last word and phrasing choice to the death, or the editors that refuse to even try fixing a writer's bad choices because it would "interfere with their voice."

If you want an example of somebody who never seems to be well-edited, take Mandy Roth. She's written for a bunch of e-publishers out there, so apparently they all suffer from the same problem. (Well, we KNOW they do, because e-publishers don't make enough money off the sales of a book to AFFORD to pay decent editors.) Mandy has many good qualities for a writer--she has good characters, some good dialog, and a good feeling for the kind of situations that will pull readers in. And she apparently knows absolutely nothing about punctuation, produces terminally awkward sentences, and can't structure a plot. Her stories have a lot of promise--which is never fulfilled because they're never properly edited, by her or anybody else.

Now, clearly a lot of people just really don't care, because she seems to be selling tons of books. So maybe it's just me. But I read "Loup Garou" yesterday, and I had to do deep breathing to force myself to keep reading it, the editing mistakes and plot holes were so bad. By the time I got halfway through the story, I was practically hyperventilating. The first four chapters were backstory dumps disguised as conversations. The story made clear to the READER halfway through the first chapter that the hero was the heroine's childhood friend, the "prince" everybody was talking about, and the heroine's "mate", but the heroine was too stupid to figure out even ONE of these "secrets". Finally we got to some "good stuff" halfway through the book, but the scenes went here and there, with no real structure or buildup. From reading this and other of her books, I'm almost positive that she sits down, starts writing, writes through to the end, then sends it off to be published--with no revisions, no polishing, no ... nothing.

The story has so much promise -- and so much wrong with it that it's a crime.

Everybody out there does know that e-publishers pay their editors hardly anything, don't they? One standard arrangement is to pay the editor nothing upfront, but give them 5% of the royalties (the authors may get 35 or 40%). This might sound like a reasonable deal, but when you realize that many e-books may never sell more than 300 copies, it's obvious that the editor will make just about nothing. And even the (very few) publishers that DO actually pay their editors, don't pay them anywhere near the the market rate for a professional editor, leaving them with UN-professional editors, of course. The lack of sales don't justify spending anything more on something that so many e-book readers clearly don't care about at all.

It's really a kind of vicious circle. E-books don't get well-edited, driving away readers that care about such things, leaving only readers that DON'T care, meaning that there's no point to spend more on editing, meaning that the market for e-books won't expand as much because the quality is too low, and on and on.

You start to have more sympathy for the sales related calculations of the NY publishing industry. THEY know they can't afford to publish a book that won't sell more than a certain amount, because the cost of acquisition, editing, and production will make it unprofitable. Seems like e-publishing is having to face a similar sort of calculation, except their sales figures are so much lower that I don't see how they can break out of the cycle.


Wednesday, February 7, 2007

E-Publishers are purveyors of soft porn

I LIKE e-publishing, don't get me wrong. I think that it OUGHT to be a great way to give fiction that's not "marketable" by NY a way to be published. The problem is that the amazingly low quality of some e-books and e-publishers has already driven away many of the readers who require some kind of quality in their fiction. It seems to have turned into a soft-porn industry for women.

It's like the elephant in the kitchen -- everybody goes around denying that it's soft-porn, insisting that these are good stories, and sometimes, in a stupefying display of self-delusion, even insisting that e-published books are as good as those published by NY.

Yeah. Right.

Some of the review sites for "erotic romance" even go so far as to explicitly say "get your toys out" or other such "cute" remarks that make it obviously that for a good percentage of the readers erotic romances are stroke books. And as far as I can see, the books that sell are those that have the latest fashionable form of kink. Try to write a M/F romance that's almost--but not quite--publishable by NY (and lets face it, if it IS publishable by NY and you're not sending it there, you ought to have your head examined) and more than likely your piece is going to sell in inconsequential numbers while things labeled Menage!! Male / Male Romance!!! will have booming sales.

So as a result, writers that actually want to make money get pushed in the direction of writing stories that are all about the sex. Particularly KINKY sex. You know, there ARE other things in life besides sex, but you couldn't tell it from the e-publishing offerings right now.

The women buying erotic romances are looking for sexual titillation. And that's fine. I'm not against soft-porn. But let's not all go around lying and pretending that it's something that it's not.

What e-publishing needs is a better way of letting the readers know the quality and nature of the books, some source of information that those who want good stories and good writing can TRUST. The review sites are so universally positive that they are no help at all. Without some reliable source of information it's going to be impossible to pull back all of the readers who have stopped buying e-books because of high odds of being burned by low quality.