Winding up 2020: Random Thoughts on the Industry #amwriting

2020 has been a horror show in many ways. If I had written a novel based on a sketchy, random plot like this year gave us, no one would read it.

My review of 2020 is one star. The pacing was completely off. Just about the time I would begin to enjoy the year, some element of random weirdness was inserted just for shock-value. Overall, 2020 lacked believability. I found it difficult to sympathize with the main characters, possibly because they portrayed themselves as such outrageous caricatures.

All that aside, it’s been a good reading year for me. Being in lockdown for much of it has meant I had a lot of free time to devote to expanding my digital library.

I always review the books I enjoyed. I have mentioned before that for every book I feel good about recommending, I may have to read six that are just plain awful. I’m not only talking Indies here—large publishing houses publish many novels every year that are a waste of paper and digital space.

The problem goes beyond my not caring for the style or voice of the piece. Lack of proofreading and garbled sentences are problems in some. Two weeks ago, I read a traditionally published book where the editor didn’t catch a confusion between the words affect and effect, which meant the sentences the word affect was used in made no sense, “affectively speaking.”

Maybe a casual reader wouldn’t be bothered by that, but it jarred me out of the story.

I suggest looking at the first pages of a book by using the “look inside” option at Amazon and the other large online booksellers. The opening pages often show how awful or great a novel will be, so use that tool and don’t buy a book that you haven’t had a look at first.

Rushing to publish a poorly edited book isn’t limited to Indies. It happens all the time with traditionally published books, especially when the first novel in a series has had good success.

Some big publishers set impossible deadlines for the next book and race to launch what they hope will be a follow-up bestseller. However, because the authors were pushed to cough up a book prematurely, the resulting novels sometimes fail to live up to the hype.

The current state of traditionally published books is proof that the system is flawed. This last year, I read several books written by bestselling authors and published by the large publishing houses. These were novels I had anticipated and looked forward to enjoying but didn’t.

By the time I was halfway through them, it was clear the manuscripts were given a quick once over and pushed out the door, in a hurry to hit a hot market.

We have to consider our readers, who deserve the best you can give them. If you are just beginning in this craft, I have some suggestions, things I wish I had known thirty years ago.

Learn the mechanics of how to write in your native language. Grammar and punctuation are the traffic signals that keep your sentences and paragraphs from becoming traffic jams. This is a foundational skill every author must have, no matter what genre you write in.

Join a writing group and meet other authors, either in your local area or online. We grow and learn by talking to others in the industry.

Develop a thick hide. You must find an unbiased eye among your trusted acquaintances to read your work as you are writing it so you can make changes more effectively at an early stage. This way, you won’t be overwhelmed at the prospect of rewriting an entire manuscript from scratch.

Lose your ego. Your ego gets in the way of your writing.  Are you writing for yourself or for others to read and enjoy your work? There are hidden aspects to every great book, and they are all centered around knowledge of the craft.

An external eye is essential to the production of a good book. Find a good, professional editor.

  • Always check the references of anyone you engage for professional services.
  • When you do engage their services, do not take their observations personally—editorial comments are intended only to make a manuscript readable.
  • This editor must be someone you can work closely with, who makes suggestions and is patient.
  • If you disagree with a suggestion, discuss it with the editor and find out why they don’t understand what you intended to convey. Sometimes all you need to do is rephrase an idea.

If you have a symbiotic relationship with a knowledgeable editor, you will turn out a professional-looking manuscript.

Don’t give up your day job. Very few traditionally published authors receive hefty advances. Even well-known authors struggle to make ends meet.

To write well, you must read widely, no matter what your favorite genre is. You may have to read a few books you wish you hadn’t on your way to finding the book that sweeps you away.

Over the years, I have read many brilliant books by talented authors in all genres. These authors were writing on both the indie and traditional sides of the industry.

For me, finding the gems in the library makes wading through the lemons worthwhile. I especially love it when an indie book hits all the right chords.


Credits and Attributions:

IBM Selectric, By Oliver Kurmis (Self-photographed) [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Winding up 2020: Random Thoughts on the Industry #amwriting

  1. Back before eBooks came along, I used to read every book I bought, whether I was enjoying it much or not. Now, if a book doesn’t grab me in the first few pages, or there are too many copy mistakes, I stop. I’ve even reached the point this week of getting around 35% of the way into a New York Times Bestseller and considering whether I can be bothered to finish. No mistakes, the characters are fine, but it’s so slow!
    I’ve become way pickier since publishing my own books, no question about it.
    Traditional publishers have been shooting themselves in their feet for over a decade, only looking at short term results, and more often at the expense of their authors. Frankly, with the disaster of Covid closing all the physical outlets (how many will ever re-open?) they are in an even worse place this year. I reckon they won’t last another decade, maybe even less.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect the Big 5, which are now the Big 4 thanks to the recent acquisition of Simon and Shuster by Bertelsmann (who owns Penguin-Random House), will at some point become subsumed into one giant mega-monster publisher. One will either play by their rules or go indie and play by the big e-publisher’s rules. It’s a tough business either way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Agreed, but the deal for traditionally published authors is getting worse by the year, with rights grabs, pitiful remuneration, and the likelihood of being dropped without warning unless you are one of the tiny elite, and what happens when they die off?
        Being indie is hard work, but as physical bookstores dwindle , particularly with the consequences of this disastrous year, more and more people are coming over to eBooks.
        I have 2 trad published books, and 5 indie (so far). I know which earn me more money!

        Liked by 1 person

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