Posted in Backstory, Electronic Publishing, Publishing, Self-Publishing, Traditional Publishing, Writing, Writing books

Helping Writers Means Telling the Truth


Anyone who knows me knows that I was an accidental academic. When I took my first part-time university teaching position so many years ago, I had no intention of making it permanent. I didn’t see myself starting off as a lowly assistant professor making my way up the academic ladder to associate professor and finally the ultimate academic goal: Full Professor. But that’s what happened. You know the old saying… “If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans…” Well, God must be laughing. Anyway, that happened, but that part of my life is also over. And I find myself back where it all began: teaching writing.

Yes, that first course I taught all those years ago was a writing course. You see, I had already begun to carve out a path for myself as a writer. I had published numerous magazine articles mostly in my specialty area of health and medicine, and I had also already published my first book – also in my specialty area. So, teaching writing seemed natural to me. And it still does. However, my venue has changed.

This past year I finally pulled together thirty years of writing and publishing experience to share it with the world. I thought I’d be able to be a mentor to newbie writers just starting out. But something happened.

In the intervening years between when I first established myself as a writer, and today, the writing and publishing industry has undergone nothing short of a transformation. Everyone can be published today. No one seems to need a publisher. Or even an editor. And so many writers are part of an online writing community that oozes self-congratulation and disingenuous positivity about everyone’s writing – all because you never know what someone else might say about your writing. You pat my back and I’ll pat yours, or something like that.

The upshot of this whole project was a book that seeks not only to provide a bit of mentoring to new writers but also to provide a foundation in reality and to disabuse writers these days of some of the myths about fame and fortune as a writer. The book is Permission to Write: How to Write a Book and Other Myths from the Real World of Writing and Publishing. I’ve also decided to share additional materials through the medium of video.

Thus, I’ve begun a 10-part series to accompany the book. The first episode “Want to be a rich and famous writer? Don’t give up your day job” is already up and running.

Today episode number two launches: “Don’t write that book! Or at least don’t publish it.”

So you can see that I don’t necessarily paint a rosy picture for wannabe writers. However, serious wannabe writers will get through them and still want to write that book. Those are the writers I aim to help.

The videos are posted on the Moonlight Press YouTube channel. Let your friends who “wanna write a book” know. 

Posted in Book covers, Genres, Publishing, Self-Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing

The dumbing down of ‘chick-lit’

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I already know what ‘serious’ writers are going to say: chicklit is ‘dumb’ by definition. I beg to differ; however, I also think that the derision isn’t entirely without foundation. My own reading and writing habits have led me to this conclusion. But let’s start in broader terms to address the question of whether writing and the literature that is the result has, overall, suffered from the dreaded ‘dumbing down.’ Many believe so.

In a 2015 piece by Stephen Carter, a Blomberg View columnist (he also happens to be both a law professor at Yale and a novelist), he quotes prominent science fiction writer Ursula K. Leguin who refers to what she sees as the twenty-first century formulaic creation of best sellers in this way: “The readability of many best sellers is much like the edibility of junk food…I believe that reading only packaged microwavable fiction ruins the taste, destabilizes the moral blood pressure, and makes the mind obese.”[1]

Of course she refers to the influence of Amazon and its well-pondered algorithm for determining best-seller status. Carter, however, isn’t buying it. He believes that perhaps a more important part of the issue is that readers’ tastes have changed; attention spans are shorter. Perhaps we have done it to ourselves. But others take a different view.

There is much grumbling in the ‘serious’ writers’ communities about the perceived negative impact of self-publishing on current literature; there is a significant sentiment (not held by all self-described serious writers, I might add) that it has been the proliferation of unedited self-published books that has had the most serious effect.

One online writer has suggested that “with self-publishing it seems like the editors have all disappeared. Ten or more books on recent New York Times Best Sellers List are there because the millions of fanboys and fangirls have bought their hero’s book…maybe the bar is set a bit too low.”[2]

So there seem to be two issues that people consider to be characteristics of ‘dumbed-down literature.’ The first one (and a big one for people like me who have taught writing over the years) is the issue of actual command of the language including grammar, syntax, spelling, word choice and all those things that our English teachers tried to inculcate in us over the years. The second one is the substance – or lack thereof – of the books that are popular today.

In my view, the truth is that quality writing can be practiced in any genre from literary fiction to popular erotica and everything in between. The topic seems secondary; if you’re passionate about writing it, you’re good at it, and your readers love it (or at least the first two if your readers haven’t found you yet), then I say write on. Even if what you write is derided by some as merely ‘chick lit.’

In general, the term chick lit means any literature that appeals mostly to women. So, what’s wrong with that? Does that make it dumb? If chick lit is dumb, then women are dumb by extension. Don’t say that to my face. But has even literature aimed at women been dumbed down? I have a personal hate on for many pieces of chick lit and it isn’t for the reasons you might think.

In my view, women are infantilized by their chick lit not so much by the stories or the writing, but byu the covers. Have you looked at any lately? I’ve been examining them as we contemplate the design of my new book which is women’s fiction. Is this really how women see themselves?

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Need I say more?

 

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Okay, just a bit more!

 

 

Well, I’m a smart woman and I write #litforintelligentchicks. In fact, I love to read chick lit, but I can’t get to your really great story if I feel infantilized by the dumb cover – whether it’s an illustration or a stock photo depicting a sweaty clinch and a few bits of a six-pack.

Okay, my rant is over. Back to the drawing board for that new cover.

Sources:

[1] Stephen L. Carter. June 11, 2015. Don’t Blame Amazon For Dumbing Down Literature. Bloomberg View. https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2015-06-11/why-ursula-k-le-guin-s-amazon-pan-is-only-half-right

[2] Self-publishing and the Dumbing Down of Literature. http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/11/21/1452940/-Self-Publishing-And-The-Dumbing-Down-Of-Literature

Posted in Self-Publishing, Writing

10 Common Mistakes of Self-Published Writers

oopsOkay, we’ve all made mistakes. And I doubt that there’s a writer among us who has yet to experience a misstep in his or her writing career. Throughout my (long) writing and publishing history, I’ve made my share of doozies (To read about one of them see The dumbest publishing decision I ever made), but to broaden my observations even further, I’ve observed a long litany of mistakes among my fellow authors as well. Here are the ten I believe to be the most common.

  1. Publishing a first (or even second) draft. As a new writer, you might think that your writing is just fine the way you put it onto the page or computer screen. It isn’t. Believing in the infallibility of a first draft is the hallmark of an inexperienced writer. The more experienced you get, the better your writing gets. And the better your writing gets, the more you realize that the first draft (or even second) is not the draft you want ANYONE to read – not even your beta readers. Have a bit of respect for their time.
  2. Failing to take the time for writing practice – without publishing a single word of it. Just like figure skaters, pianists and dancers to name only a few, writers need lots of practice before any of their words should see the light of day. It’s a question of quality.
  3. Believing that basic building blocks of writing – grammar, spelling and syntax come immediately to mind – aren’t important. I’ve actually heard neophyte authors on online forums arrogantly suggest that readers don’t care about these things if the story is a good one. I beg to differ. Many care a lot and you should too. It is impossible to convey the right message/story if you and your readers are not using the language in the same way. Remember the book Eats Shoots and Leaves? If you don’t, you need to read it. Immediately.
  4. Failing to carefully copy-edit. Or even better, failing to hire a professional copy-editor to do it for you. New writers don’t seem to know the difference between a substantive edit (which gets you from draft one to two to three etc.) and a final copy-edit. Every book out there – even ones that are professionally copy-edited – can harbor typos and other errors that are missed at this stage in the publishing process. That doesn’t make it okay for you to publish a book that hasn’t been edited in this fine fashion.
  5. Designing your own book cover (without even a modicum of design experience or talent). If you do have graphic design experience, then I think you should go ahead and design your cover. In fact, you are probably the best one to do it since you know the book intimately. However, without this kind of background, you need to step away to avoid a book cover that makes it onto sites like Lousy Book Covers or in articles like Kindle Cover Disasters: the world’s worst ebook artwork . Readers do garner a lot of information about a book from its cover. Primarily they decide if they want to read it. Or not.
  6. Failing to do a final format check after conversion of a Word file to PDF for publication. I’ll admit it – I’m guilty of this one. Before I realized that PDF’s would read some of the background formatting that I could no longer see in the Word document, I blithely thought that once I had done a final review of the Word document, that was enough. Not so much. That PDF needs a careful final review before hitting the ‘publish’ button.mistakes
  7. Disregarding the importance of writing and carefully editing the book’s online description. Mother of God! How many times have I read online book descriptions with typos?! Sentence structure problems?! Grammatical errors?! Of course not to mention those ones that fail to provide even a modicum of persuasive copy.
  8. Continually tweeting “Buy my book, buy my book.” This is beyond annoying to those of us who would otherwise like to follow your contributions to Twitter. Once in a while it’s fine to promote your book, but don’t do it in every tweet. And don’t do it every single, blasted time you contribute to a LinkedIn Author discussion. This is beyond irritating. (For more on this rant of mine read When book promotion gets annoying.)
  9. Failing to understand that you need to connect to readers online – not a whole lot of other writers who are equally trying to sell their books. Unless your book is directed to writers (uh…hem…some of mine are) you’re barking up the wrong tree.
  10. Apologizing for being self-published. Can we all just stop it? If you write well and provide readers with a quality product that respects them, you don’t need to apologize for how it got into their hands. Readers who love your books don’t care.

I think that creating quality material in whatever genre, and providing it to readers with respect are the two most important parts of being a writer – regardless of who publishes your work.