Saturday, October 27, 2012

"Perfect" is not a word I use very often

And with good reason.  Almost nothing is "perfect" anyway -- except some verb tenses.

That doesn't mean perfection isn't an acceptable goal.  The closer we approach it, the better we are at whatever it is we're doing.  Believing we've reached it, however, too often signifies we've lost sight of reality.  This is especially true of writing.

The other day, a reader pointed out to me that there were still some small errors in the Kindle version of Firefly.  As I explained to her, I knew about them but had left them because of my on-going battle with Amazon over the Kindle for PC application software.  These errors only appear on certain Kindle device displays, not on all.  And since the author has no way to know if a "fix" to an error will end up making it actually worse on other devices. . . . well, you see the dilemma.

At the time  Firefly was published on Amazon, the KDP preview only allowed the publisher (that's me) to preview how the document would appear on the basic Kindle device.  Amazon has now enhanced the KDP process so that the publisher has a variety of preview options and can now see how the document will look on the Kindle, Kindle Fire, iPhone, and others.  This is certainly an improvement.  So I was able to take the comments from this reader and check out what the errors looked like on the various platforms, something I had not been able to do before.

This allowed me to confirm that the formatting errors do appear on all the other devices -- but not, ironically, on the Kindle for PC!  So I've decided to proofread the text as it is previewed for the Kindle Fire and locate the errors.

Unfortunately, I found something else.  And this is why I cringe at the word perfect when applied to anyone's writing.

It's not a typo or a formatting glitch, nor is it a problem created by the conversion of the original 1987 Symphony documents into Word Perfect 4.0 for DOS and then through a succession of Word Perfect for Windows versions and finally into MS Word for the uploading to Kindle.  Yeah, there were a bunch of those, and they were a nightmare, and they provided the foundation for those lingering bugs in the Kindle version.  Nope, it's not anything like that.

It's a continuity error that's been in the book since that 1987 Symphony version.  I never caught it, and neither did my (cough, cough) editor at Pageant Books.  All the times I've read Firefly since, and especially all the times I've gone through it in preparing it for digital publication, I never caught this particular little mistake.

But there it is, so minor and insignificant that in all these years, all these readings, no one has mentioned it.  Does it affect the story?  No, not at all.  It can be corrected by deleting, or revising, a single sentence.  In fact, replacing one verb with another will do the trick, and that's probably what I'll do since I have to upload a revised version of the text anyway to fix the formatting errors.

The point is, even someone as nitpicky and perfectionist as I can make mistakes.  And having made them, I can miss them in proofreading and revising and editing and everything else.  Is it embarrassing?  Sure!  And do you think I'm going to tell anyone what it was?  Hell, no!  Neither am I going to make a big deal about the fact that the (cough, cough) editor missed it, too.

These things happen.  No one's perfect. 

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.  And it certainly doesn't mean we should excuse, dismiss, or -- goddess forbid -- defend our mistakes.  Admit it, fix it, and move on.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Giving the words away, or who are you writing for anyway?

One of the reasons I subtitled this blog "Adventures of a Resurrected Romance Novelist" is that part of my adventure involves pulling the past into the present and future.  It's about revamping and republishing old books.  It's about finishing and then publishing books I started years ago.  It's about taking lessons from the past and applying them to the now.

The little "lessons" I've included are, of course, similar to those I offered to fellow writers in the past.  Between about 1983 and 1998, I was active in several different critique groups, belonged to three local RWA chapters, judged dozens of manuscripts for contests, and taught non-credit creative writing classes through Estrella Mountain Community College.  I saw a lot of unpublished writing, and recognized that most of it did not meet the standards to make it publishable at that time.  Now, of course, the technology has altered, to a certain extent, the need for writers to meet publishing standards.  If it's a .doc file, it can be published seems to be the only requirement. 

The book doesn't actually need cover art, although it's possible to slap one together for next to nothing.  I did the cover for Half Heaven, Half Heartache, my undergrad honors thesis on romance novels, using a photograph I'd taken of a rose in my back yard and some inexpensive fonts. 

As can be seen by perusing the offerings from Amazon and Smashwords, there's no requirement that the book be proofread, that the formatting be correct, or even that the writing be stellar.  The writing doesn't even have to be. . .adequate.

I've blogged about this before when I've pointed out some of the really horrible (imho) products out there, the ones in eye-scorching bold fonts with incomprehensibly creative spelling and bizarre, almost random punctuation.  But I'm not alone.  Other readers complain in numerous reviews that they had a difficult time reading the text because of the problems with tenses and grammar and spelling.  And I suspect 95% or more of the time, those complaints fall on blind eyes.  Either the writers don't care, don't understand the complaints, or don't know how to recognize their own errors.

But then there are those writers who defend their errors with the excuse that they did it all deliberately to create a certain mood or convey a certain feeling.  There's an attitude floating around out there that rules don't apply to these authors.  They sometimes go public with statements to the effect that they know how to write, they know how to punctuate, they know how to spell, but it's their story and they will tell it their way.  And furthermore, any reviewer or critic who doesn't like it is just a hater and a stupid head who doesn't understand great creative work.

Uh, no.

I've explained often enough that the rules of grammar and spelling aren't restrictions on a writer's creativity but rather they are tools for unlocking that creativity.  They are the chisels and gouges that remove the excess marble and release the masterpiece hiding inside the stone.  And I've tried to get the point across to writers that if the reader doesn't get it, if the reader can't figure out what the author is trying to convey, then the author has failed.

It is not the reader's job to figure it out.  The reader isn't getting paid to fix the spelling or figure out that the writer didn't know the difference between "allude" and "elude."  The reader can't be blamed if the main character is named Larry in the first two chapters and then somehow morphs into Wayne in the middle of Chapter 3.  And it's not the reader's fault if she gives up in disgust and posts a DNF one-star review.

No, all you Special Snowflakes out there, it is always, always, always the writer's fault.  Even when the reader is wrong, it's the author's fault.  The author, and especially the self-published author, is always and entirely to blame.

Yes, you.  After all, who were you writing it for?

And that's the question every author should ask herself/himself at least 10,000 times before putting the book online for sale, before reading any of the reviews, before commenting on any of the reviews, before ranting and raving and threatening a reviewer who had the unmitigated gall to tell you they can't pronounce the name of your character.

Who were you writing it for? 

Were you writing it for yourself?  Fine.  Do whatever you want.  You can use ghoti=fish spelling if you like.  Youcanignorespacingbetweenwordsifthat'swhatfloatsyourboat.  YOU CAN WRITE IN ALL CAPS AND SCREAM AT YOUR READER or in a bold italic that lacerates the eyeballs.  If it's all about you and what you want and what you like, then why not just keep the book to yourself?  It's your baby, your darling.  It's the opus you've slaved over for years and years and years.

Were you publishing it just so you could say you did it?  Fine.  It's published, now you're done, now walk away from it.  Pay no attention to the critics, the haters, the one-star reviewers, the DNFers, the MFs, the trolls and sock puppets who have blasted your precious words.  You weren't writing it for them anyway, so what does it matter what they think?

Did you upload it to Amazon and Smashwords and then ask all your friends and family to post OMGyougottareadthis reviews?  Why?  Unless you wrote it for other people to actually buy and read, why do you care about reviews and ratings?

Did you write it to make money?  Well, honey, then you wrote it for the readers, and you have to pay attention to what they want and what they like and what they don't like.  And you have to pay attention to what they say.  And you have to not attack them.

Some people can be very mercenary when it comes to their writing and the money they make from it.  They can write anything, even stuff they don't like, so long as it sells and they get paid.

Other people can only write what they love, whether it's poetry or cozy mysteries or rousing pirate adventures.

But no matter what they write, if they want to make money from it, they have to write for the reader.  Because the reader is the one who's got the money you want.  Duh.

And the writer has to understand that if the readers like what they read, they will come back for more.  If they don't like it, no amount of bullshit will persuade them to part with their money.  No amount of bullying, of insulting, of attacking, of browbeating, of whining, of pleading, of lying, of threatening will alter the simple truth: the readers don't like it.

And it's the writer's fault.  Always.  Got it?  Good.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Making the words work: The basics of verbs, Part 1

After trying to read yet another poorly written self-published romance novel, I'm back with more lessons.  Free lessons that you can read at your leisure and in privacy, and no one will know that you're digging into your old digital files or e-books and checking for errors.

Why am I doing it?  Why am I "helping the competition?"  Because when self-published books improve in quality, all self-published authors will benefit, and that includes me.  Yes, even the poorly-written books will benefit.  Readers will be less tempted to lash out at "yet another" piece of self-published crud and tar all of us with the same brush if they at least know some self-published writers know better and care enough to write well.  The dedicated writer who gets slammed for poor writing will get a clue and improve.  (Even if those who are dedicated enough are a minority, there are a few of them.)

Seriously -- A lot of the poor reviews self-published (and small press published) authors receive contain criticisms about the grammar and punctuation.  These are writing mechanics that can be learned, because each of us who knows them learned them at some point in our lives.  So can you if you really want to.

So here we go with verbs.

Why am I starting with verbs instead of nouns?  Because writers seem to have more problems with verbs than with nouns.  (Pronouns are another thing entirely, and we'll get to those in another lesson.)

Verbs are the words that do the "doing" in a sentence:

Joe walked.
Harriet ran.
Mahura lifted weights.
Lord Binkley mused about the dinner arrangements.
Lady Binkley wondered if she could cancel the engagement.

Verbs come in regular and irregular varieties.

Regular verbs follow a set pattern to form their various parts:

Infinitive:  To laugh.
Past participle:  Laughed
Present participle: Laughing.

First person singular:  I laugh
Second person singular:  You laugh.
Third person singular:  He/She/It laughs.
First person plural:  We laugh
Second person plural: You laugh.
Third person plural:  They laugh.

As you can see, all the forms of the regular verb to laugh are created by adding -s, -ed, or -ing, with auxiliary verbs as necessary.

Present tense: Mother laughs.
Past tense:  Roger laughed.
Past perfect:  Emily had laughed.
Present perfect:  Pedro has laughed.
Present progressive: LaWanda is laughing.
Past progressive:  Franco was laughing.
Present perfect progressive: Anwar has been laughing.
Past perfect progressive: Keifer had been laughing.
Future tense:  The chorus will laugh.
Future perfect: Mr. Hashimoto will have laughed.
Future progressive: We will be laughing.
Future perfect progressive:  Nadine and Claudia will have been laughing.
Conditional present tense:  Naomi could/should/would laugh.
Conditional present perfect tense: Asmodeus should have laughed.
Conditional present progressive tense: Liam could be laughing.
Conditional present perfect progressive tense: Minh would have been laughing.

Irregular verbs have different forms for the tenses or parts or plurals.

I am.
You are.
They were.
Jack should have been.

We go.
Ms. Nusbaum went.
No one had gone.

Nestor thinks.
Brewster thought.

Carol will buy.
Sean bought.

Davis drives.
Mike drove.
Louise had driven.

All present participles end in -ing.  That's what makes them so repetitive if the writer doesn't make a conscious effort to limit their use.

Now, when should the writer use the different tenses of verbs?  Are there rules?  Oh, honey, you betcha!

Present tense is an action of the moment.

I walk to the store.

The problem with present tense in terms of writing fiction is that it doesn't establish the relative time frame for the action.  Everything is happening at the same time that the reader is reading it.  This is the difference between present tense and present progressive tense.

I am walking to the store.

The progressive tense -- and again, refer to that link above -- indicates the action began prior to the statement, continues during the time frame of the statement, and will continue into the future for at least some while.  The progressive tenses, all of them, therefore should be used only to indicate simultaneous events.

Rose was watering the plants when Martin drove over the hose.

This indicates that Martin's driving over the hose was a started and completed action that happened during the action Rose was engaged in before he drove over the hose, while he drove over the hose, and after he completed driving over the hose.

An easy way to help determine if you're using the progressive tense correctly is to insert "while" or "at the same time" and see if the sentence still conveys the exact action you're envisioning.

Jumping out of the bathtub, I opened the door and let the dog in.

Does it make sense to write "While I was jumping out of the bathtub, I opened the door."  Were the actions taking place at the same time?  If not, then the sentence needs to be restructured.

After jumping out of the bathtub, I opened the door and let the dog in.


After I jumped out of the bathtub, I opened the door and let the dog in.

Okay, that should be enough for one session.  Feel free to ask questions. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The word for today is F-R-A-U-D; is Amazon the fraudster?

This is yet another update in the ongoing saga of formatting problems that show up on the Kindle for PC application, provided free by Amazon.

After three months of arguing with Amazon technical people, and receiving empty promises from them, I've come to the conclusion that Amazon has no intentions of fixing the problem.  I expect it to start showing up more and more often, and I believe the intent was to get those of us who either can't afford or don't want another electronic device hooked on the Kindle platform.  When the free program didn't work and we didn't want to lose all our content, we'd be essentially forced to stay with the Kindle platform.  And because the Kindle for PC app is much more versatile than the plain ol' vanilla Kindle, we'd opt for the higher end Kindle Fire, etc.

Kindle for PC is the gateway drug.

I don't know how many books this problem shows up on.  Nor do I know how many of the problems are due to author/publisher errors.  What I do know, however, is that I have been attempting to get a resolution from Amazon since 17 July, and nothing has been resolved.

The Kindle books involved include -- but certainly are not limited to --

Danger at Mellin Cove, by Rena George
Angels at Midnight, by Norma Beishir
Alexander's Empire, by Norma Beishir
Embrace the Wild Dawn, by S.K. McClafferty
A Shocking Scandal, by Anne Ireland

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The word of the day: C-Y-B-E-R

As in "cyber-stalker."

It's not cypher or cyper.  C-Y-B-E-R.

And she knows who she is. 

"Cyber" isn't the only word she has trouble spelling correctly.

From what I can tell, she has been whining blogging for approximately eight months that trolls and stalkers have formed a malicious conspiracy to give her book(s) unjustified negative reviews, that these negative reviews are unfair and inaccurate, and they alone are the reason her wonderful, well-written books aren't selling.  I have to admit it took me a while to track some of these reviews down, and I'm quite sure I don't have all of them, but I have enough of them to say this: Virtually all of the negative reviews cited spelling errors, grammar mistakes, story inconsistencies, and other aspects of "bad writing."  None of them attacked the author or her integrity or her honesty.

They just didn't like her book.

At no time has the author -- or any of her friends and supporters -- addressed these claims to satisfactorily refute them.  Not once.  Even though the critics cited specific examples of errors, no one has come forward to say those critics were wrong and why they were wrong.

The author simply states she is a good writer.  She offers no evidence, other than all the five-star reviews that gush about her book.

Fairness and accuracy, however, don't appear to extend to the behavior required of the author.  Not only has she enlisted friends and family members to post those five-star reviews (and in some cases attack reviewers who didn't gush), she has now herself created a sockpuppet which she uses to swap tit-for-tat reviews with other authors, including authors she acknowledges have helped her with her book.

And yes, I have the screen shots.

A customer who reads a book and posts a negative review is not -- NOT -- a bully, a stalker, a troll, or anything but a reader who just didn't like your damned book.  And before you accuse people of malice toward you, you'd better make sure you are as innocent of wrong-doing as you claim to be.

You know who you are.

The rhythm of the words: Another how-to-write post

Most of us have heard of the dread dangling participle and the misplaced modifier.  Let's look at some examples.
Opening the door, my heart pounded with fear.
That (present) participle phrase "opening the door" is just, well, it's just dangling.  It's not modifying anything else in the sentence.  "My heart" isn't opening the door.  Maybe "I" am opening the door, but "I" am not in the sentence.

Though it's more common with present participles, the same problem can happen with past participles.
Ripped to smithereens by the bomb blast, I tried to shield my eyes from the flames.
What was ripped to smithereens?  Not "I," since "I" am still reporting from the scene.  So the "ripped" phrase is just hangin' there, not really doing anything.  It's dangling.

Very often, of course, the context of the sentence will provide some clarification as to the actual meaning, but the writer who is careless about the construction of each individual sentence will often be careless about the rest of her or his craft.  Every sentence counts. And that's for good or bad.

Even when participial phrases are used correctly, they can become annoying if not kept under control.  Most readers won't notice if you have a present participle or three in each and every sentence.  Most readers don't develop the mental rhythm that comes from seeing too many -ing words.

Racing down the hill in the pouring rain, I didn't realize my feet were slipping on the grass until I was tumbling head over heels.

Smiling with delight, Rolinda watched her children playing in the sand, building towering castles and digging deep holes going all the way to China.

Hearing the sound of approaching hoofbeats, Brandon ducked behind the overhanging branches that hid the opening to the cave.
Are the examples exaggerations?  Not really.  In one self-published historical romance I downloaded this past week, there are 28 -ing words in the first four pages.  Yes, I'm much more aware of them than most readers.  But that doesn't mean they aren't important or that a writer shouldn't care about them.

For one thing, there are readers who notice.  For another, the more you as a writer pay attention to the writing and not just the storytelling, the better you will be able to tell the story so the reader gets it.

When a writer is aware of the potential for overuse of -ing participles, she can pay more attention to making each sentence as effective and powerful and precise as it can be.  It's not enough just to get the words out.  In a first draft, sure -- as Kasey Michaels told me years ago, it doesn't have to be perfect; it just has to be finished.  But it's the rewriting, the revising, the polishing  of that first draft that marks the professional.
At the hoofbeats approached, Brandon ducked behind the branches that hid the entrance to the cave.

With a smile of delight, Rolinda watched her children play in the sand.  They built towering castles and dug holes they believed would reach all the way to China.

I raced down the hill in the pouring rain and didn't realize my feet had slipped on the grass until I tumbled head over heels.
Present participles -- a form of a verb -- always end in -ing.  Ringing, laughing, grinding, galloping, chiming, snorting, wending, striving, seeking, bragging.

Past participles take a lot of different endings, and some are completely different words from the root verb.  Gone, done, looked, hung, thought, dragged, sneaked, found, drawn.  The use of past tense or past participles helps the writer avoid those monotonous -ing forms.

Obviously, there are times when the present participle is the best choice, the most effective choice, and it should be used there.  You may find that substituting a past tense or past participle construction makes dialogue stilted; by all means, use the present participle (usually as part of a progressive tense) if it makes your dialogue read more natural.

Brandishing the old sabre more like a club than a sword, Walter waited for the first invader to step out of the tunnel.

"I'm not giving you any more time, Lisa.  Either turn over the papers tomorrow or I'll take you to court."
Is it always easy to find just the right phrasing to convey exactly the idea, the vision, the experience you want to convey to the reader?  No, of course not.  But the more you practice, the more you're aware of the potential weaknesses, the more you read your own writing, the better you'll get at it.  Notice I didn't say it will get any easier. . . .

Scary words, and not in the way you think

This is kind of a mind-cleaning ramble, an exploration and exposition of some thoughts that maybe don't make any sense and maybe don't mean anything in the broader context of what this blog is about.  But recent events have added to some thoughts that have been plaguing me for a while, so maybe here is the place and time to air them.

First of all, I had a productive week last week in terms of my writing, which is something I haven't been able to say for a while.  I took some time off from the day job, got out into the open air, put some work in on my other hobbies, and did some writing.

My respite from the day job and some other responsibilities was not total, however.  I still had work to do on some other ventures, and one of those ventures involved dealing with a sudden crisis that could have derailed a project that had been in the works for many months.  In the process of dealing with this crisis -- which was very fortunately solved quickly and to just about everyone's satisfaction -- I had a confrontation with a person who (in my opinion) was doing everything she could to avoid taking responsibility for her own mistakes and misunderstandings.

This was not the first time I've been in that kind of situation with her.  I would like it to be the last, but that's probably not going to happen either.  In my humble opinion, she's one of those people who thinks the world revolves around her and no one else's concerns matter at all.  Everything that goes wrong is someone else's fault, even if the mistakes are demonstrably hers.  Oh, well.

Also during this "vacation" time, I was in communication with a geographically distant friend who has had some recent personal crises.  She's a single mother of a special needs child and is facing other very severe family health issues, plus has an extremely stressful job that takes more and more of her energy.  As easy as it would be to tell her to quit the job, we all know that in these times that's not always a viable option.  Because of her location (Rust Belt, Midwest) jobs are even less plentiful, and her family situation, the need for insurance, steady income, etc., makes change in perilous times even more perilous.  There are also legal considerations related to custody of the child that make a change of location much more complicated than would be expected.  And there's no walking away from the obligations of parenthood.  It's difficult for me to do much more than offer moral support (and sometimes immoral!), but I do what I can.

After my little vacation ended and I was getting back into the swing of the daily grind Thursday, I also had to deal with a couple of unrelated issues that had me tied to the computer for a very long virtually unbroken stretch in the afternoon.   To fill the waiting time between emails and website posts, I surfed Amazon for interesting Kindle fare, and specifically self-published fare.

I read in a variety of genres.  A lot of romance, certainly, because that's what I enjoy most and write the most, and the non-fiction research material.  But I also read quite a bit of fantasy, some mystery, some mainstream thrillers.  I'm not into vampires and shapeshifters and . . . ugh . . . zombies.  I rely on to give me the daily romance freebies, and then sometimes I just surf through Amazon.  I never know what I'll discover.

My mother was never much of a reader when I was growing up; my dad was the booklover and had the books that I gravitated to when I got older.  But my mother always had a fascination with Ancient Egypt -- capitalized like that when she spoke of it -- and in part her later-in-life reading habit grew from the  novels of Joyce Verrette set in Ancient Egypt, Dawn of Desire and Winged Priestess, in the early 1980s.  Then it was Clan of the Cave Bear and similar pre-historic settings.  She liked the ancient stuff.  And once hooked on reading, she hasn't stopped.

I've kept my eyes open all these years whenever I've been book-looking, just in case I find something along those lines that Mother might enjoy.  She doesn't do computers, so ebooks are out, but I've occasionally run across paperbacks for her.  Yesterday I thought I had found one.  In fact a series of them.  Then I looked closer.  What I uncovered was, to me, very disturbing.

Originally print published through PublishAmerica, the paperback editions were outrageously expensive.  Apparently no copies -- or very, very few -- had sold into the general marketplace, because there weren't even any cheap used copies available.  Some new copies were available directly from the author as an Amazon affiliate, but the price was still way too high for a paperback by an unknown author.

The newer Kindle editions were expensive, too, about twice what most self-published ebooks cost on Amazon.  I looked at Smashwords, but there were no digital editions available there.  Since I don't have a Nook or other device, Amazon and Smashwords are the only sources I checked.  I was pretty sure, therefore, that these were probably Kindle Select editions, meaning they weren't available anywhere but Amazon.

Only one of the books had a review, and it was a one-star, negative review that had drawn some challenging comments.  Not a lot of comments, just a few.

Frequently, a negative review is preceded by a bunch of five-star reviews, and this book didn't have any at all.  Maybe it was my boredom because I had to stay at the computer, maybe it was morbid curiosity, I'm not sure what it was, but something piqued my interest about this . . . situation.

And the situation became, in the words of the immortal Alice, curiouser and curiouser.

Please note that I'm not giving any names or links.  I don't want to be thought of as a basher or stalker or, the good goddess forbid, a bully, and also I don't want to leave this blog vulnerable to search engines.  (I already know of one author who trolls this site on an almost daily basis.  I have no idea what for, but I don't want any more like her.)  More than likely, the author or her friends and supporters can still track this down, but I'm not writing anything that is inaccurate or malicious.  Just the facts . . . and a little bit of logical speculation. 

Amazon's listing didn't give a great deal of information and I'm a bit hesitant to go directly to an author's website, but I did have one other source for information.

I'm a relatively new member of GoodReads, which I joined a few months ago as a way to do a little  self-promotion, which I've never been very good at.  And I don't have a lot of time to spend on GR.  Mostly I try to organize my own library of books on there -- I've barely started -- and when I have time to browse, GR seems to have a better system for recommendations than Amazon does.  If I had an unlimited budget, I'd buy LOTS and LOTS of books based on GR suggestions, but not so much based on Amazon's.

I've never paid hardly any attention to the reviews on GR because it seems to me that they're hard to find.  Several hundred people may have "shelved" a book, but those who have actually rated and/or reviewed it may be few and far between.  Now, understand that this may be due to my own ignorance about exactly how to use GR.  Part of the learning process, so to speak.

But when I began to look at the information about the author and her publishing venture available just on Amazon, on GoodReads, and in the "Look Inside" Kindle preview about the author, I saw red flags all over the place.

It's a given:  All authors who put their work into the public marketplace are at risk for criticism.  All books have to sell, ultimately, on their own merits.  These are the basics of the writer's existence, and have been since the beginning of writing for publication.  Period.  There's no arguing this.

Not all authors are prepared for criticism.  Not all authors are emotionally capable of handling criticism.  Some can handle gracious criticism and not the brutal "This sucks hugely ginormously!" kind of criticism.  Some aren't bothered at all by "You should never write another word ever as long as you live!"

I'm neither a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, and all I have is a master's in sociology, but the more I read of this particular author's . . . experience . . . the more alarmed I became.  It bothered me all of Thursday night. 

It wasn't the listing, the bad review, or even the challenges issued to the lone reviewer.  What literally kept me awake was that the author had a public meltdown over that single bad review.  A complete disintegration.  In page after page after page of a badly formatted blog post on GoodReads, she recounted every low-light of her life, from two failed and abusive marriages to the diagnosis of one of her daughters as autistic to her failure to find and hold gainful employment and the threatened financial catastrophe as a result of her books not selling.  All her life she had wanted to be a writer and she had sacrificed enormously to achieve her goal of literary success.  She had spent hours and hours of time and lots and lots of money on research materials, reading every book she could get her hands on and even traveling to the sites where the action in her novel would take place.

All this effort, all this expense, all this time and dedication and sacrifice to see her words in print, and now it was all destroyed by . . . one mean, unprofessional reviewer who didn't like the book.  The author might lose her house . . . because one reviewer thought the story rambled.  The author might see her utilities turned off . . . because one reviewer found typos.  The author's entire world would come to an end . . . because one reviewer gave the book one star on Amazon.

The drama was never-ending.  If it were a four-year-old having this kind of meltdown, one thing.  An adult woman well beyond the teen years?  A whole 'nother thing.

There's a part of me that wanted to shake some sense into her, tell her to grow up, get real, chill out.  But I didn't do anything because I don't think she's capable of absorbing "sense."

I don't think it's that no one has ever said "no" to her.  She claims to have queried numerous agents and publishers and they all said no.  She's gone through two marriages and divorces and now is married to someone who has a retail business.  She claims to have had at some point a small farm where she raised exotic livestock and had some kind of art studio associated with the farm.  This is all information available on her GR profile or her linked web page.  I did no "sleuthing" to find any of this.

She claims to have years and years and years of college and to have read everything required for a doctorate in . . . something.  Yet a closer examination of her claims reveals much of her college level education is vocational and continuing education, not academic.  And she seemed, from my reading of her blog, to have no real grasp of the difference between reading the course materials and actually taking the courses: attending lectures and seminars, writing papers, discussing issues.  Getting grades. Been there, done that.  As I wrote above, I do actually have a master's degree from Arizona State University.  Not purchased online.  I wanted to go for my Ph.D., or to law school, but finances and family circumstances didn't permit.  I got over it.

More and more and more of her anguish poured out about how this one negative review had totally destroyed her dreams.  But threaded through all the drama was additional information about her and her writing venture.  Her parents, who apparently live in another state some distance from the author, are also apparently her publishers.  I'm not sure exactly what this means, since there's no investment involved in self-publishing on Amazon, and it appears that's the only place she has published the digital books.  (The earlier, expensive paperbacks were, as I had suspected, published through a notorious print-on-demand "publisher.")  There may have been some expense to format the digital product, though the author states in her blog post that she spent a lot of money and a lot of time reading books to learn the graphics part of publishing.  Maybe, as nominal publishers, her parents funded this study?  I don't know.

Her parents are identified by name in the front matter of the author's books.

The publishing company's name is the last name of the parents followed by "Publishing."  The author states publicly that her parents are her publishers.  This is not conjecture.  And again, it is information that is easily accessible, provided on Amazon and/or GoodReads by the author herself.  I did not even go to her website.

Of the two comments that challenged the one-star Amazon review, the first was posted by a person with the same first initial and same last name as the author's father.   The second comment was deleted by its author.   It could have been an accidental duplicate by the first commenter, it could have been written by another fan, or it could have been written by the book's author herself.  It could have been any number of things.  That part is speculation, since the comment was quickly removed.

However, when I began to look at how her books had been received on GoodReads, my other source of information, I noticed they had very few reviews at all.  Even though in her blog post she said she had a lot of Facebook followers, there were few reviews of any kind on GR.  One person, however, who consistently gave her books five-stars was only identified by a first name, and that happened to be the same first name as her father.  He had no other books listed, just hers and all with five stars, but no reviews.  The author herself, of course, gave her books five-star ratings, which is within GR's guidelines.  And they were appropriately labeled as being reviews by the author.

But I went to bed that night disturbed by this almost -- I hate to say it -- suicidal-sounding blog post by the author.

One thing I hadn't done was actually look at the book(s) by this author.  I wasn't on my laptop, which is where my Kindle for PC app is loaded, so I couldn't download a sample anyway.  And because I was watching for various emails to come in that would need quick responses, I didn't want to clutter up my open browser windows any more than necessary.  So it wasn't until Friday morning that I actually took a look at the writing.  I had checked out the front matter -- that's where I found out about the author's parents being her publishers -- but I hadn't gone any further into the text itself.

What I found was appallingly bad.  Excruciatingly bad.  Insufferably bad.

If you've read any of my little how-to posts, you have at least some idea what I'm talking about.  You know that simple errors of punctuation and word usage can turn a good story into a hot mess.  You know the difference between an editor who actually turns a rough, unpolished manuscript into A Real Book and a proofreader who fixes the typos.  You know the difference between a professionally formatted ebook and an uploaded raw Word .doc. 

Imagine, if you will, a digital book product that breaks every single one of the basic rules of authorship mechanics, and not just occasionally but frequently.  On every page.  Numerous times on every page.

Let's look at some of the basics of digital book production.  I mean the real basics.

1.  Nice clear font.  Standard Times Roman, if you will.  Wanta get fancy?  Don't get any more fancy that Garamond or Souvenir (used by Silhouette Desire for years and years and years).  Arial if you must, but real print books have used serif fonts and digital editions look more like "real books" if they're in a similar font.  Keep it simple, sweetheart.

For the love of Mike, don't go into bizarre fonts.  They make the book look like a teen aged girl's diary.  No bold.  No italics except for very, very, very rare emphasis or excursus.  The book is not the art form; the writing is.  Remember the invisible manuscript?  Now you want the invisible Kindle.  Make that digital entity as invisible as you can.

Well, you know where this is going.  She started out with page after page in bold, and italic, and then switched to a weird decorative font for her text.  Not only was it difficult to read, but it made the font more and more and more visible, the words less and less so.  Epic fail.

2.  Avoid misspellings and typos and wrong words.  This is where you need the professional proofreader if you can't do it yourself.  Not an editor; a proofreader.  A proofreader won't try to change your style, but instead will fix the nitpicky errors.

And, of course, you know where this is going.  The errors were multitudinous.  Even simple words like "of" were mistyped -- "ff."  Nook instead of book.  Fair instead of fare.   Another massive fail.

And her dedication offered profuse thanks to her editor. . . .
So the mechanics of the product were a mess.   But the writing itself?  Well, that's a subjective judgment, and I won't go into it here.  That's the territory of reviews, and I said I won't do reviews here.

But after looking at the "Look Inside" feature and then downloading a sample to my Kindle for PC, I could see how honest and actually kind that one-star review had been.  And any writer who became so desperate, so discouraged, so despondent that she would write all those thousands of woe-is-me words would never have been able to take serious criticism -- especially the kind of criticism this author needed if she ever wanted to be even remotely successful. 

There was almost nothing nice to be said about these books at all.

I had actually put some of her books on my "never ever ever read in a gazillion years even after the sun has gone nova and time itself has ceased to exist"  shelf on GR, but I decided to remove them.  I didn't want to become the target of this woman's unhinged wrath.  Nor, frankly, did I want to feel responsible for pushing her over some edge if something terrible happened. 

In the process of doing that yesterday evening, however, I discovered that there had been a single comment posted to her rambling, semi-coherent blog post just within the past few minutes.  I'm not quite sure what I expected, but I was actually hesitant to click on it.  Again, morbid curiosity won out -- and I read a pretty innocuous but seemingly sincere comment to the effect that the blog post was being circulated, readers were aware of the author's (extreme over-) reaction, and it was making her look bad.  The commenter warned that the Amazon review had been honest and without malice, and that if the author was flipping out over it, she would never be able to take anything stronger, which all authors need to do if they have any hope of improving their craft.  The commenter also expressed some concern over the author's emotional state.

And in the time it took me to remove those titles from my "never to be read" shelf before the shit hit the fan from that comment, and go back to reread the comment, the author had removed the entire blog post and the comment with it.

I would later learn the author had put a flippant post on her Facebook page, essentially dismissing all her drama, all her wailing and gnashing of teeth, all her fear and anxiety and hysteria.

Either she's seriously mentally ill, or she's mean beyond words.  To elicit -- or try to elicit -- readers' sympathy for her personal plight and then shrug it all off when they do express concern but also point out her book's shortcomings is callous at best, malicious at worst.  I thought of my friend in the Midwest, soldiering on against the fates and the bureaucrats, putting her child's welfare ahead of everything, venting privately now and then but never playing the victim.   Somehow, the image of this whiny, crybaby author, putting her home and a special needs child at financial risk so she could flit off to do book research or spend money on computer graphics programs rather than pay the utility bills . . . I kinda lost it.

I don't like being held emotional hostage by some special snowflake "author" who thinks she's owed bestseller status.  But I despise even more being victimized by that special snowflake "author" who then dismisses someone's honest and sincere concern for her.

Not only has she put herself on my "Will never buy, and will never say anything nice about this author or her books," but she has also added to the growing layer of tarnish that has settled on all self-publishing authors.  I'm one of them, lady, and in my book, you are scum.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Just a few words about words about words

The knights paraded onto the tournament grounds riding magnificently comparisoned horses with their lances raised.  Once the competition began, the steeds would be given free reign, but for now they pranced in anticipation.  Sir George of Luxling, the only warrior out of the dozen on the field whom carries an unmarked shield, turns his red stallion in a tight circle until they are facing the lord's and ladies whom were seated under the royal canopy.

Lady Ashleigh sat near the end of the canopy between two older women wearing an emmerald green gown and silver crown.  She is the most beautiful woman Sir Luxling had ever seen, he immediately wondered who she was, what her name was, if she married or not.  Lowering his visor and planning how he would make the ladies acquaintance after the tournament, the red stallion snorted and pawed the dusty dirt.
If the preceding two paragraphs don't make your brain hurt, you could be a one-star self-published author -- or an editor at a small digital publisher.

In other words, just because your book was "edited" by someone other than yourself doesn't mean it's free of errors.  Errors of verb tense.  Errors of misplaced modifiers.  Errors of peerage titles.  Errors of pronoun case.  Errors of word usage.  Errors of missing words.  Errors of spelling/typing.  Errors of punctuation.

When a reviewer complains that a book needed to be edited, the author should not insist that the reviewer is wrong.  Just because someone edited the book doesn't mean it's free of errors.  Sadly, I've been looking at a lot of digital books that have been issued by well-known digital publishers, and the books are riddled with exactly the kind of errors illustrated and listed above.

The author whose name goes on the cover has to accept full and complete and ultimate responsibility for the quality of the product.  Shifting the blame doesn't correct the errors.