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  I saw a lot of unpublished writing, and recognized that most of it did not meet the standards to make it publishable at that time.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.

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