Monday, October 15, 2012

A Matter of Perspective

As I’ve often shared in the past, I belong to an online writers and readers group in which I upload my work for others to read and offer feedback on. In doing this, I’m able to connect with my target audience and get their insight as to what does and doesn’t work for my novels, something I consider invaluable. While many of us have our work critiqued by book reviewers, there’s nothing quite like getting the opinion of those we write for.

A number of writers participating on this site will write as they go. In other words, they post the story as they write the latest chapter. This can be a disappointment to fans if the writers doing this are plagued with a case of writer’s block and ignore or ultimately abandon the story. It’s happened so often with stories I’ve been reading that I’ve taken to refusing to read a work unless it’s completely finished and all of it has been posted. The exception to this rule is when young writers post a small sample of their work and specifically seek my advice on how to improve what they’ve come up with so far.

When it comes to my own work, I will not post a story on the site unless I’ve already completed it. This prevents disappointing fans if I happen to lose inspiration. Since joining this site, I’ve posted a total of eleven works. Not all of these are novels, but at least eight of them are. I’m also currently in the process of uploading a ninth young adult novel.  I typically like to post a minimum of a chapter a week. This gives fans a chance to get caught up on the story and keeps them interested and coming back for more. It also allows me the opportunity to edit the work prior to posting so that fans are focused on my story and not my mechanics.

At the moment, I have two novels fans are clamoring for. Like You Mean It is a teen romance novel which I’m currently posting chapters for each week. The Unholy Trinity series falls under the paranormal young adult category. Initially, The Unholy Trinity series was intended to be a trilogy. Having gotten such an overwhelming amount of requests for more, I not only created a prequel but am presently in the process of creating a fourth book that picks up the story eight years into the future. 

Between these two novels, a full time day job and parenting two kids in the beginning of competition season for their respective sports, my time is pretty limited. Still, I do my best to keep giving my fans what they want. And have I mentioned I do this all for free? I do, and I don’t mind. I only bring it up to remind everyone that I do this because I want to and I love writing and love and appreciate the fans that enjoy my work.

Lately, I’ve been inundated with requests from fans to not only upload Like You Mean It faster than once a week but to hurry up and post my fourth Trinity book. Today I received a private message from a fan who wanted to “complain” I’d kept people waiting too long for the fourth book. My knee jerk reaction was to be indignant. I wanted to remind everyone I do this for free. I wanted to say again I’ve got a full time job and a child in band and another in competitive cheerleading. I wanted to remind readers that a number of authors on this site don’t put in the time and effort I do to please fans. I also wanted to remind them that most professional authors have a year or more in between their novels and I’ve produced eight in less than two years.

Once I got over all of this, I sat back and took a second look at the requests. When I did, it occurred to me I was looking at this from the wrong perspective. These requests and complaints are actually quite flattering. It means they enjoy my work so much they want more. Rather than being angry about that, I’m going to feel pleased and honored, and I’m going to do the best I can to give them what they want. There’s not much more I can do.

Monday, October 8, 2012

If You Don't Catch it, They Will: The Importance of Editing

I was recently asked by a young writer to review the first pages of her new story and offer her some tips. When she prefaced the request with a flattering remark along the lines of wanting to use my advice to make her as good as me, there was no way I could resist.

The first page from this writer’s story was a disclaimer that she doesn’t have an editor and readers should expect mistakes in the story. Not only should readers expect them, but we should forgive them because she’s only human. I found this to be off putting for a few reasons.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to read and offer input on stories which are publicly posted chock full of mistakes. Of course, many of the works I read are from young writers who are learning their craft. It’s unreasonable to expect perfection, especially when it’s not always modeled in the e-books they’re reading. I’ve read a number of self-published books of late that are swimming with mistakes. As an adult writer, and a self-published writer in particular, this is unforgivable.

When it comes to young writers, I always tell them to make sure their editing is tight. I also stress that editing is more than proper spelling. The best spell check in the world can’t help if see is spelled right but the writer meant to use the word sea. Spell check also isn’t going to help with proper punctuation. Sure, it will occasionally tell me I should be using its instead of it’s, but it can’t tell me if a semi colon or comma is appropriate. My spell check also isn’t going to catch bad grammar, at least not overall. There are times when I intentionally use slang like gonna instead of going to, and my spell check will put that red squiggly line under gonna, but it’s not going to catch all of my butchering of the English language.

While young writers, or older ones for that matter, may not see the importance of tight editing, there is value. I always say readers won’t believe in a writer’s work if it’s riddled with mistakes. Even more important, readers may lose interest in the work if they’re constantly being tripped up by mistakes. This means they’re not only going to avoid reading your future works, but they may be giving bad reviews in public forums or warning friends and family off your work.

Don’t think readers won’t notice the occasional mistake either. I’m here to tell you they do. I’ve experienced this first hand. Like many fledgling writers, I don’t employ an editor. While I’d love to have an editor, they don’t come cheap. Instead, I rely on my own eyes to catch things, which isn’t always wise. In a chapter of my latest teen fiction story, I inadvertently used the word principle when I meant principal. The ironic thing is that as I was editing the chapter, my eyes kept going back to the word and telling my brain something wasn’t quite right. Trouble was my brain wasn’t listening. A reader caught it and pointed it out. I fixed it, but the damage was done. I lost credibility with this reader. I also recently tagged a story with the word amputee only in my haste, I wrote the word amutee. If you think that went unnoticed, you’re wrong. I had a reader point out the misspelling. My first reaction was to blow it off since this wasn’t part of the story, but I realized the flaw in this logic. The tags are how readers search for stories they want to read. No one is going to be searching for amutee which could cost me potential readers.

Like it or not, readers are checking for and catching mistakes. They expect a polished product, whether they’re reading a free e-book that’s been posted online or whether it’s an actual printed book they’ve paid money for. And you know what? Readers deserve that product and writers who want to be taken seriously will give it to them.

Edit, edit, edit! I can’t say it enough.