Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Real Elephant In The Room -- Disrespect

My Blogiversay post will come later tonight, but I had to post briefly to send you over to Kris Rusch's blog. She wrote about how traditional publishing is shot through with disrespect for the writer.

The Business Rusch: Respect

This comes in the same week as a post in HuffPo about "The Elephant in the Room" in regards to self-publishing. The author of that post seems to think nobody has noticed or talks about the (completely expected) excess of low-quality work in self-publishing. From what she says, she's relatively new to the self-publishing world, and the article comes off, imho, like this old joke:

There's a giraffe standing in the middle of the park, and as people walk into the park they say "Oh, look, there's a Giraffe!" And they talk about it and exclaim about it until the subject is exhausted.

And new people come in and exclaim "oh, look, a Giraffe!" and the people who have been there a while repeat what they've said for the benefit of the newbies, and this goes on for a while until people are used to the Giraffe and sick of talking about it.

Finally some late-comers enter the park and exclaim about the giraffe, and they say exactly what everybody else has already said. The people who have been there for a while are just sick to death of the conversation and they ignore the newbies, and a few are very rude. They're not actually ignoring the giraffe, they're ignoring the late-comers.

And the late-comers say "Golly, that giraffe is a real elephant in the room!"

Only in this case it's a little different. Because the late-comers here are people who have bought into the disrespectful culture that Kris talks about in her blog post: they are people who have no respect for those who are already in the room.

I'm not one of those Indies who is hostile to traditional publishing. I have written more about how much I miss rejection slips. I have written about how much you've got a lot to learn when you're just a Hatchling or a Neo-Pro.

I do think, however that the hierarchical nature of publishing clouds our ability to see what's going on. There are many great and helpful editors out there -- but I think our idea of who and what an editor does keeps us from seeing what the new generation of writer needs.

These days, I cringe when I hear "that author needs an editor!" The implication is always that the author is a child who has no judgment. If that is true, the author most emphatically does NOT need an editor. The author needs a teacher.

We have a myth in traditional publishing that writers need "handlers." That we never graduate. That an editor or agent -- even one fresh out of school -- will always know better.

Furthermore, indie publishing has broken out into a much wider world than traditional publishing ever did, and, in some areas, is very very different from traditional publishing. And what those authors need will be something quite different than what traditional authors need.

And that's the real elephant in the room.

Next week I'll start a series of posts called: "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Editors!" It's not about what some of you think it's about. It's about how what you think it's about is irrelevant. The world is changing much more radically than people in publishing understand, and we need to evolve our quality controls to suit the new paradigm.

See you in the funny papers.


jnfr said...

I have a friend who has published books (with trade publishers) and won awards for her writing, yet right now is in the middle of trying to work on a couple of manuscripts and running into all kinds of trouble which is mostly caused by her editor and her agent.

In one case it was mostly a matter of timing, as editorial took so long to get to her that she had essentially abandoned the mss.

Then on another book, both editor and agent have complaints about her work-in-progress, telling her it's not good, she needs to change this or that, without being able to say what should be done.

So she feels stumped, and can't figure out how to proceed. But it seems to me that her "helpers" are causing more trouble than they are worth. She values them though, so ends up tied in knots.

If I ever finish another novel (which I do intend to do), I will hire my own editor, but I think it will be most important to put my own instincts first. Take a look at input, but not let it rule your artistic choices. And by hiring your editor, rather than having someone "accept" you, i.e. rule on your worth as a writer, you can remain in charge.

Sorry for the tl;dr post. This has been on my mind.

Krista D. Ball said...

I cannot and will not respect any "author" who puts sub-par work out there that's barely readable (or, unreadable) and charges for the work. I want to pick up a book and have the same level of overall quality that I'd find at a bookstore.

jnfr - sometimes, editors are right. Sometimes, they aren't. It's important for authors to understand the difference and talk about these things. I've never had an editor rule my artistic choices (I'm both traditionally and self-published). I have told editors, no, this is my style choice...but I'm definitely not going to do that for plot holes, pacing issues, and whatnot.

The Daring Novelist said...

Krista: You completely missed the point. I was referring to Kris Rusch's post -- and your response makes me think you didn't read it.

Nobody wants to read crap. That's irrelevant to the whole "writers NEED editors!" issue. There are some brilliant editors out there -- but they can't fix crap.

The big thing you missed is this:

You aren't supposed to respect a writer in spite of bad work.

You're supposed to respect the fact that putting out good work is the WRITER'S RESPONSIBILITY.


Jnfr has hit the nail on the head: Editors and agents don't know their job any better than writers do.

ANYBODY can set up shop as a literary agent. As for editors, I hate to give you the bad news, but most writers who make it to traditional publication have more experience than many of the editors they are selling to.

I'm not sure if you have read much in my past posts -- but here is where I'm leading with the upcoming series: Bad writing is irrelevant to everyone but the writer. It's just one more thing you don't want to read, out of millions of things you don't want to read.

Krista D. Ball said...

I read your posts (and your work):)

Perhaps I'm coming off a bad day of listening to people justify bad writing. I'm feeling punchy :p

The Daring Novelist said...

I understand that, and I know there's a whole LOT of baggage associated with the issue, which makes it hard to get my point across.

Maybe I should start with the baggage itself when I address this next week. I think the baggage is causing more harm than good.

It's time to stop caring about whether others are writing crap. It only matters if they thrust their problems into your life. (Either by asking advice, or demanding you accommodate them.)

But if they think they're doing fine, then there is no reason to interfere with them going on their merry way.

Krista D. Ball said...

I care because I have ended up buying some of it! LOL

The Daring Novelist said...

Krstia: What made you buy those books?

That's the thing we need to nail down -- because the trash isn't going away. Some of it is making good money for the author too, so it would be inappropriate to ask those authors to change to accommodate our own tastes.

So what made you think those would be worth your time and money?

(Actually, this is a bigger subject than just for a comments discussion, but it's a good place to start.)

Krista D. Ball said...

In the early stages (when I didn't know better), I assumed books online where like books in the store. You read the blurb and pick up the book. Wow, did I ever learn I couldn't buy books online that way!

Then, I tried the sample thing. I found a lot of books had really great chapters 1-3...and went badly downhill after that. Huge plot issues, poorly edited, and my favourite had a character die in ch 3 and reappear in ch 20 or so...and it wasn't the kind of book where that was normal ;)

Eventually, I gave up buying self-published books by anyone I didn't know, hadn't seen their work before, or wasn't recommended by someone I trusted (blog reviewer, someone I know, an author I like, etc). Otherwise, I only buy from publishers whose work I've enjoyed in the past. I'm a lot less disappointed in my reading now.

I should note that I don't really care if I don't like a book. That happens. It's when a book is unreadable that I have a problem. And I've encountered a lot of books in this category.

The Daring Novelist said...

Lot of things to talk about here -- but I'll get to some of them (and be asking for more opinions/input) in the posts.

But one really big thing comes to mind:

The sample seemed okay.

This is why we don't tell young writers who don't know how to write to get an editor. It doesn't make the story better, it just disguises the writer's failings.

Sounds like you have found the right filters, though.

I will ask you more questions in some posts later, but I might as well throw this one out ahead of time to think about. (You can answer now or on a later post when I ask again in a post.)

Those of you who have been turned off by a bad book -- how did that book come onto your radar?

Online bookstores don't have shelves. You can't just browse every title. You have to be looking for or at something for a title to pop up in front of you. Do you remember specifically where you first found the bad book? Was in an "also bought"? Did Amazon recommend it? Did some fellow writer recommend it? Did you see it on a blog? Was it on a best seller list? Were you searching on some odd and interesting terms (i.e. "paranormal pastry chef mysteries") which might be rare enough to bring up less popular books in the search as well as the top ones?

One key to handling a new system is to see what goes wrong with it. All of it will evolve, of course, but the best way to stay on top is to start noticing the small details.

Angela Ackerman said...

I read this post earlier today--quite eye opening. I'm sorry she was treated this way, and I know that this does happen. There is a lot of hand-patting, you-don't-know-what-I-know stuff going on for sure. But then this is why as writers, we must strive to always learn as much as we can, and never stop learning. This is why Kris is successful--she works hard to keep apprised of what's happening, and she's not afraid to become a stronger writer. :)

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

The Daring Novelist said...

Yeah, and that patronizing attitude is designed to keep writers from learning.

And (while this horrifies a lot of people) that's the reason I have come to believe that beginners should STAY AWAY from traditional book publishing just now. Magazine publishing, sure, do that -- you'll learn a lot and it's a less hazardous situation.

Young writers are better off in the amateur leagues right now.

ModWitch said...

Let me way in on the "how I ended up with a bad book on my Kindle" question.

I definitely waded through some muck before I got smart. These days, I often don't make it more than a page or two into a sample. But there are still too many where I get through the sample, the opening is strong, the writing has been edited... and then the story falls apart in the middle. Big issues with pacing, characters staying interesting, and problems I can't even name - I just know that I'm bored.

Boring is the kiss of death for me - I don't have a huge amount of time to read. I don't need racing plot to stay engaged, just... something. Dunno what it is, but a lot of books sag in the middle. This happens a lot less in trad-pubbed books, I assume because somebody took a big red pen to entire swaths of words?

The Daring Novelist said...

"This happens a lot less in trad-pubbed books, I assume because somebody took a big red pen to entire swaths of words?"

Actually, no, what happened with trad-pubbed books like that is the editor attached a little slip that said:

"Dear Contributor: Thank you for your submission. Although there is much to be admired in it, it just does not win out in competition with other works."

Seriously, those issues cannot be fixed via editing.

ModWitch said...

Fair enough. I think that is what I'm finding with indie books. Some are obviously bad, and easy to avoid. Some are really good reads, and I'm glad to have found them. But there is a chunk in the middle that sometimes suck me in, because it isn't immediately obvious they're going to be bad.

I know I inflict some beginner mistakes on my readers too, and I'm grateful for the number of them who keep reading. You raise an interesting question - how do you fix issues like that? Learn, and write the next book?

The Daring Novelist said...


That's how everybody learns it. And in the days of the pulps, they often learned it in print.

One key way to improve aside from writing, though, is to start paying attention to your reading. Not while you're reading the first time, but go back and pick up a book you really loved and read over parts which you remember enthralled you. Look for why.

Also, do things like I did in the early days of this blog -- the posts from the "liminal zone" I linked in the Blogiversary post: I was thinking about what made a good opening page FOR ME. (Not what was common wisdom.) I picked up a bunch of books and looked at the opening pages to see how it all worked.