If you Self-Publish, Please Please Please Please Hire a Copy-Editor

I don’ t knowhow I can be clearer.Lets just say that I’m so tired of reading messed up print from indy authors. “I’m also tired of missing quote marks, she said.

Did you like reading that? My guess is no.  I didn’t like writing it, either. It hurt my fingers to type it that way. Get the picture?  Ugh!!!

My Bachelor’s Degree is in English Literature from the University of Georgia. I also have a Master’s degree. I read ALL of the time. I chose not to go on and get my Master’s in English because I wanted to write genre fiction, specifically romance, and that kind of fluff was frowned upon in academia. It still is, for the most part.

With two kids close together, I had cut way back on reading, because I didn’t have the time. But with my Kindle, I can read wherever I want — while waiting during my daughter’s dance class, waiting at the school, waiting at the doctor’s office. I’m a fast reader, and having a whole bookstore in my hands at all time didn’t bode well. In fact, I spent a fortune on e-books. More recently, as I have begun to look more at publishing my own novel, I have turned away from the mainstream publishers like Harlequin and have looked at more of the self-published writers.  My thought was if I download their free book and like it, I’ll give them a good review and strongly consider buying something else from them. That seemed like a reasonable trade to me.

I just started a book yesterday that I downloaded last week. It has a compelling story, and a great cover, but there are issues. I won’t name the book, because I’m not sharing negative publicity, and I don’t want to cause any issues or problems. I’m two chapters into it, and while it’s a compelling story, the lack of a copy editor is glaringly obvious.  Words run together. Quotes are missing. I want to know what happens, but I don’t know if I can go on. It’s pure torture! (I’m borrowing my son’s words when I ask him to clean his room). I went back to the book’s listing on Amazon and it has two reviews, both a 3, knocking it for a lack of an editor. These aren’t style issues. These are flat-out typos. All I can say is I’m glad I didn’t pay money for it.

The sad thing is, I really like this writer. I have to check. I may actually be following her on twitter.  I just want to send her a tweet and tell her to hire a d@mn copy editor!  Maybe it’s formatting issues switching from word processing to the Kindle book format, but wouldn’t you read your own book on the kindle and pull it if it looks ridiculous?  She’s self-published, so it’s not an issue of another company giving her permission to pull it to fix it.

Traditional publishing is competitive enough. It seems that Indy-publishing is competitive in a different way. Since anyone can do it, rising above the trash and riff-raff will be difficult. I still have a lot to learn about digital publishing and the indy-author world, but it seems that the only way to make any kind of mark is to make ABSOLUTELY sure that you have a file that’s mistake free.  Most readers will forgive one or two, but when I’m two chapters in and there have already been several, I have to question the author’s commitment to her work.

Alternate Reality of Fiction

A Feminist Professor’s Closing Chapters

If you are interested, the link above is to a moving description of a woman fighting ovarian cancer. I felt blessed this morning reading her story. I want to pay tribute to her by talking about a quote she has lower in the article.

“I am always happier when I have a book in progress,” she says. “Living with a book in process is like living an alternative reality. You are out of time, it is a kind of transport, a kind of addiction.” (Quote from Susan Gubar, Professor and Feminist at Indiana University)

As a writer, the quote above hit me between the eyes. This is so true!!  I have my reality (my husband of 13 years, two children in those pre-teen years, and a full-time job) and I have my fictional world, which at the moment is careening between Vegas, Miami, Atlanta, and the Bahamas. And when the words are coming, it is an addiction. When the words aren’t coming, I get immersed in my life and find excuses not to look at the Word file taking up space on my netbook.

I’m working right now on the story arc, morphing a series of random events into a compelling story.  Because in fiction, it has to all tie together, it has to make sense, and it has to be compelling.  No one cares if a couple starts dating, decide to date exclusively, fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after with 2.2 kids, a dog and a cat.  There’s no drama.  There’s no story. But throw in some betrayal, missing corporate funds, and a sister who is somehow connected and now missing, and you’ve got something.  I hope.

Busting Up the Concrete

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I took this picture where I work a few days ago. Look at this mess. The parking lot was fine, but there were problems with the curbing. To fix the curbing, a whole section of the parking lot had to be dug up and the spaces were unusable. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how perfect the concrete is, you have to bust it up. 

I’m working on a new ending when the current ending worked fine. It was fine, but that’s all it was.  It wasn’t a zinger. It wasn’t wow.  It was more like an ‘eh’. Don’t get me wrong.  I loved parts of it.  But even when I read it in sequence for the first time, part of me knew that I was taking the easy road.  Perhaps I had poured concrete over a large root to a dead tree.  Perhaps I had poured over an uneven area. Over time, it became more and more obvious that i would have to dig up that section and make it better.

But it was paved!  (Sigh). It was a beautiful piece of concrete.  (Insert justification here.) It looked perfect. But the characters whispered to me that this ending wouldn’t hold up to foot traffic.  They didn’t think anyone would buy it.

“I would so not do that,” Windsor told me, her hands on her hips.

“She’ll do it, because she loves me,” Grady said and winked.  That’s when I knew it wasn’t going to work, because Windsor wasn’t there yet, and Grady was still being an ass.

William Faulkner once said “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”  It doesn’t matter how beautiful the writing is, or how cool the scene is, if it doesn’t contribute to the story arc it has to die.  I can’t wait to see my fresh new paving.

Technology in Contemporary Romances

I’m still stuck in editing hell….Here are some more of my thoughts as I plod along tightening language and working on some plot issues.

I have found myself toning back references to technology in my book and trying to be more generic with terms like phone, or SUV instead of a specific model.  I remember I worked on a women’s fiction novel about ten years ago, and had what I call a “bottom-drawer” draft that sat for a few years. Then I pulled it back out after a while and asked my longsuffering husband to take a look at it.  He grunted when I had the male character driving a Dodge Durango. When I wrote it, Durango was the latest fad in SUV’s, but several years later it ahd fallen out of favor, and they even stopped making them for a year to retool.  I also realized that a couple of the phone issues could have been resolved with a quick text, technology that wasn’t in existence when I wrote the first draft.

Technology is a tough call. You want to stay in your character’s voice while at the same time you don’t want to date your story.  Just a few years ago, a Blackberry smartphone was the market leader, especially in the business sector. Now, Apple and Droid are dominating, Two years from now, who knows what the latest craze will be? I’m going back with the generic “smartphone” instead of iPhone.

Social networking is another issue that i see lacking in most of the contemporaries that I’m reading. Facebook and twitter have permeated our culture, but referring to a generic “social network” seems really forced. So I’m thinking at this point most authors are leaving it out.  But what about that critical moment in a modern relationship when it becomes “facebook official?” Or the angst of how much to comment on his page, or potential problems of seeing a guy you have the hots for tagged in a picture with a drop-dead gorgeous beauty?  Since I’ve seen very little mentioned about facebook, I’m curious how authors are handlign it (if at all) in their WIP’s. I’m thinking social networking could eventually replace the tabloid press photos that pop up in so many Harlequin-style contemporaries–I still laugh every time about the ready availability of newspaper gossip pages and incriminating photos. And no, the tabloid press doesn’t hound every single CEO of the Fortune 500.. 

There is even a bigger issue at work here. How many of the plots of Seinfeld would be completely unworkable with a cell phone? Remember the restaurant scene where George tells his date to call the restaurant? There were several episodes where they missed each other where one call to a cell phone would have solved the problem. There was also the 2-line phone storyline, Remember they got lost on the way to a cabin – meet Mr. GPS.

As a reader, I have found myself balking over a misuse of technology. I get frustrated in a contemporary when characters don’t have cell phones–almost everyone does these days unless they are either dirt poor or live in an area where there is no reception.  It’s more believable to me that the battery died, or the signal is unavailable than that they don’t have one.  In one I read recently, the character didn’t have a cell phone and was stranded on the side of the road, but I finally accepted it because the author explained that she had a cell phone for the job she had just quit. But I still thought about it — would anyone I know take off cross-country without even a pay-as-you go phone? I would have believed it better if the character had a phone but had no reception in the desert. I recovered and got back into the story, but it was as jarring as a digital watch in a fourteenth century romance.

Where do we go from here? Maybe some fiction is meant to be dated. I recently read some older romance novels, and they are completely different, both in the levels that intercourse is described (not at all) and the amount of dialogue (very little). The same book has some racist language that few modern editors would let slip through, but it was consistent with the beliefs of the day, which was the turn of the century.

So, remember to give technology and modern issues as much attention as you would for a historical. Make it a little more generic, and pay attention. You don’t want readers questioning your story because the technology is wrong or missing.  If you’re working on it for more than a few years, you may have to rethink some of your technology assumptions. In a few years we will have gay married couples popping up everywhere.