Self-Publishing Works

Many of my clients are trying to get their books published. Most realize how difficult it is to get a book published through a renowned publishing company. As a result, they are looking into self-publishing.

One of the best sites I have found for self-publishing is Ron Pramschufer’s at http://www.selfpublishing.com. This is not a vanity press publishing site. Unlike vanity and on-demand publishers, Ron’s site helps authors to publish their books at a reasonable cost, with excellent results.

Ron’s most recent blog about self-publishing bemoans the fact that the vanity presses and on-demand publishers have convinced people that if you can put it on a computer, we can see that it’s published. Thus, says Ron, and I heartily agree, there is a tsunami of awful books hitting the market. These books are often horribly written, completely unedited, and rarely proofread. There is so much tripe floating in the waters of the printed word that it’s hard to find the real books, those worth reading and that have been carefully prepared for publication.

It doesn’t matter that a book gets published. That alone will not guarantee success. Success is never guaranteed, but an author has a better chance at achieving some financial success if the book he or she publishes is well written, carefully edited, and prepared free of errors before it is sent to an editor, agent, or publishing house. That takes time and money (editors don’t work for free), but in the long run, the potential for success is definitely enhanced.

Can You Spell Potato?

Many people for whom English is not the first language comment on the difficulties of learning English, with its multitude of rules and legions of exceptions to those rules, and with the seemingly arbitrary spelling rules we follow. For me, that is part of the fun of language, but I know that it drives others nuts.

When I was six, my grandfather taught me to spell fish as “ghoti.” I’ve loved telling people about this ever since.

“F” as in enouGH.
“I” as in wOmen.
“SH” as in naTIon.

This January, riding the tube in London, I came across another wonderful comment on English spelling.

Spell “potato” phonetically as: Ghoughphtheightteeau:

If PH can stand for P in hiccough
If OUGH can stand for O in dough
If PHTH can stand for T in phthisis
If EIGH can stand for A in neighbour (British spelling, remember)
If TTE can stand for T in gazette
If EAU can stand for O in plateau,

then the way you spell potato is PHOUGHPHTHEIGHTTEEU!

Sacrificing the “Little Darlings”

As a writer, it can be difficult to make those edits that you know are necessary to tighten your writing. As an editor, it can be painful to suggest such cuts to an author. Every author has “little darlings”–precious lines that simply make a writer sigh, delighted and satisfied with having written them.

But it is these very little darlings that should be cruelly stricken from your manuscript, scrapped for the sake of the whole. “Oh, I agree, this needs some editing,” an author might say, “but I can’t lose this line. I just can’t.” It’s too precious. Just as a writer must be willing to kill off the protagonist, so must the author be willing to sacrifice those precious lines.

As a writer, I can be cruel with myself, scolding and badgering, forcing myself to see my writing weaknesses and shortcuts. As an editor, it is my job (when I am doing content editing) to make writers see the same weaknesses and shortcuts in their manuscripts. But, with them,  I can’t be cruel. I must use tact and gentleness to persuade them of the truth. It’s what they pay me for. It’s what their writing needs. But it isn’t easy for either of us.

A recent client clung adamantly to three lines in her book, despite my reasoning and admonitions. It wasn’t until two other people entered the discussion that she finally admitted that those lines had to go: they were a slap in the face to the reader, completely out of character for the narrator and, thus, jarring for the reader.

Any lines that place the author at the forefront of the page must be stricken. Authors must remain invisible, and should certainly never rear up their heads and shout, Look at me, look what I wrote!

Career Faire

This past week, I participated in a Career Faire at my son’s high school, where I spoke to two classes about what it takes to make a living as a writer and editor. Following the class presentations, I spent three hours in the gymnasium speaking with passersby at the faire.

There were 30 students in each of the class presentations, 25 of whom were there by choice. As is to be expected, most wanted to write novels or screenplays but had no idea about the reality of publishing today. I explained that you can’t just plan to be a novelist and assume that you can make a living immediately through that writing. Using one of my best friends as an example, I spoke about Meg Gardiner (author of the Jo Beckett forensic psychology series and the Evan Delaney crime thriller series), explaining how it took seven years to get her first novel published, after she had worked on it for years prior to its completion, and how now, as her seventh novel is being published, she is finally picking up momentum and will soon make the kind of sales that will support a family and then some. This year, she also won the Edgar Award, the highest award in mystery writing, which will bring her great publicity.

My point was that a writer can’t just assume instant success once a novel or screenplay has been completed. Success depends on talent, but it also requires an enormous amount of perfect timing and luck.

Given that fact, I assured the students that they could indeed make a living as a writer, while they worked for and sought success as novelists or screenwriters. My handout listed some 20 different jobs in various fields where writers would be an enormous asset to any business. With businesses almost required to have a Web site now, writers and editors are needed more than ever.

When asked, I opined that an English degree was a marvelous first degree for anyone who planned to write for a living, but added that their best preparation, no matter what degree they pursue, is to read, read constantly and widely. To my great delight, the majority of the students were readers, though they admitted to a narrow range of material. I suggested that anyone interested in broadening their horizons email me, tell me about what they like to read and what interests them, and I would send a reading recommendation list. So far, one girl has taken me up on the offer.

One discouraging aspect of the students who stopped by the faire table was the widespread assumption that one could be a writer without knowing grammar and punctuation. My favorite comment from a young man, “I’m a poet, I don’t need to know grammar and rules like that.” What to say?

But overall, I was pleased with the questions I was asked, the interest the students showed, and the love I saw for the written word. Encouraging in this world of instant and abbreviated communication. Writers — and love of language! Excellent!