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Fast lives, small screens, short fiction

In eras gone by, writing short-form fiction (novellas and novelettes, short stories, and flash fiction pieces) was a common stepping stone for authors who needed to prove themselves and find audiences. Assisting in their goals, plenty of digests and magazines, and even some newspapers, provided numerous outlets for building recognition and earning income from quick sales of short pieces. This path to success helped many famous writers work toward justifying larger rewards and contracts—and, thereby, time for writing larger works.

But then came the 1980s, the 1990s, and the first decade of the 2000s, which saw the elimination of most of these literary outlets. Without these avenues for getting short-form fiction to audiences, many in the publishing industry thought the genres were doomed.

However, today’s students and workers with tight modern schedules, electronic readers that allow reading on the go, and those debatable shorter attention spans seem to be reviving the basic short-form genres.

Some insights into this welcome trend appear in a recent New York Times article, “Good Fit for Today’s Little Screens: Short Stories” (posted online on February 15, 2013). The article, of course, mentions omnipresent Amazon, which publishes original short fiction (and nonfiction, for that matter) with its own Kindle Singles program. But, several online publishers, like EveryDay Fiction and Free Stories Center and Fifty-Two Stories are also springing into the picture.

So, get back to those tight, little drafts that you’ve been stashing away. You might have some new outlets for proving yourself to your audiences.

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Categories: Self Publishing, Writing

“Ten ways to save the publishing industry”: from the Guardian

For several days, now, I’ve been watching an article/commentary that appeared in the online version of the Manchester Guardian, “Ten ways to save the publishing industry,” by experienced publisher Colin Robinson.  The article has drawn quite a bit of controversial and insightful conversation on what he believes needs to be done to create a healthier publishing industry.

I’m happy to say that my chief concern for the publishing industry turns up third on his list. While Robinson’s new publishing model

dispenses with a variety of traditional functions . . . other tasks such as editing and design take on additional importance. Ensuring that books are readable and attractive is a vital way for publishers to stay afloat in an ocean of self-published titles.

I would like to point out that I don’t think the jab at self-published titles is necessarily warranted; as I’ve noted before, small presses have fought for years to improve their reputation on the editorial side . . . just as, apparently, some of the major houses have lost sight of what elements make up a quality product.

While other discussions related to the editorial function and the reader’s experience turn up throughout Robinson’s piece, I want to look at the comment string that has developed, too—there, I found two comments that were overwhelmingly relevant to my concern for the editorial industry.

One was made by “Jeniche” (note that Jeniche’s use of the term “gatekeeper” references a statement by Jeff Bezos, chair and CEO of amazon.com, that implied many of the long-time roles of publishers might be obsolete):

If publishers wish to keep gate-keeper status they really need to start employing people who know what they are doing. People have turned to self publishing in part because they are pissed off by the hypocrisy of gatekeepers. The [gatekeepers] bang on about the need for quality writing, good editing, blah blah blah and then fall over themselves to sign up the most atrocious garbage with inflated advances. Throw out the middle management and sons and daughters of wealthy chums who work as interns and start employing people with a good balance of life experience and literary expertise.

The second relevant comment was written by manyeyedhydra and begins with an excellent question. Her answer, in fact, was the central guiding principle in a publishing entity I ventured into a few years ago:

What is a publisher’s chief asset – it’s their writers.  A writer no longer needs a publisher, but publishers cannot exist without writers. Publishers need to brand this thought right down into their DNA. The world has changed. They need to think about what they can offer writers that is better than the writer going it alone. They need to unearth the best writers and provide the necessary polish to make their works considerably better than their peers. . . . They need to be the ones putting these writers forward right at the start and getting it right.

I couldn’t have said it better myself; so, I won’t!  Take a look at the article and its comments and let me know what strikes  you  as important . . .

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Three years later . . .

It’s difficult to believe that nearly three years have passed since my “landmark” post (aka, rant), “Reality Bites”, about having to find employment outside the editorial services business.  Chief among my explanatory rants were these two reasons:

[1.]  Just as people have come to think they can put together a brochure, a Web site, or a newsletter without the need of a trained, professional designer, now the presumption is that they can complete the task by clicking on the spell-check button and eliminate the need for an editor.

[2.]  A sad tangent of this phenomenon is that a majority of readers no longer even expect properly edited copy. They take in written text, mistakes and all, viewing it without acknowledging or analyzing what message is conveyed or how the message is conveyed.

That second reason was a tangent of what I saw as an impending scenario for the demise of the publishing industry; little did I know how quickly that demise would hit a major—by many standards—publishing house: Signet, an imprint of New American Library.

Self-Publishing is no excuse; neither is e-publishing

A few months ago, I was enticed to start reading a series of vampire novels because several of the folks I work with on my current assignment were raving about them. In particular, they spoke of the intricately interwoven story lines that connected each novel, and its characters and relationships, with the others. The premise of the series also sounded interesting. So, I borrowed the first volume and was poised to join in their excited, almost daily, discussions.

Now, while I haven’t been able to validate the information, the earlier volumes in the series were allegedly self-published and may have been initially released only in electronic form. For the record, I have no issue with either form of publishing; in fact, several of the authors I have worked with over the years chose to self-publish their works, primarily in electronic form, for a variety of reasons. My only caveat with either has always been that authors take enough pride in their work to continue following some semblance of the route to traditional publication, especially by not skipping over or cheating at the reviewing and editing and revising steps of the process.

Sadly, this book suffered greatly from what appears to have been a total disregard for those steps!  I struggled to continue reading past the first few chapters . . . and I only forced myself to finish the book because my coworkers (accountants, by training and trade) would not stop encouraging me to keep reading.  “It gets better,” they told me.  They just could not comprehend my irritation over the distractions that were keeping me from enjoying the magic of the book.

Indeed, the story line  might  have been as intricate and well written as they thought it was.  But, I couldn’t even notice the story line because of the grammatical errors and editorial blunders—and, believe me, this book had practically all of them!  And, even if the story had been originally self-published and even if the advice of an editor had been side-stepped at that time (still a major mistake, in my opinion), the version I was reading had been commercially published by a division of the Penguin Group.

Too many errors to read around!

In no particular order, here are the distractions that drew my attention away from the author’s talents (as well as any interest in buying future books written by her or sold by Signet): comma splices, illogical arguments, misplaced modifiers, bad paragraph breaks, missing words, misused words, sentence fragments and broken clauses, out-of-place “cutesy” words and not-very-well-known slang (including abbreviations), and even misspelled words!  I would dare to say, you could not read twenty pages without finding examples of each!  Oh; and, I forgot to mention that a question mark is seldom used at the end of an obvious question.

A few other bits of information that feed the fear for editorial quality in my mind: (1) more than one title in this series has appeared on The New York Times bestseller list; (2) the author has won numerous other awards and is immensely popular among her fans; and (3) not one review or mention of her books or one interview even mentions the problems above . . . as if they don’t exist!  One somewhat encouraging side note is that, as popular as the author and her different series are, none have been reviewed in the The Times—my hope is that this is because the editorial review board there feels that the reader’s experience suffers because of the book’s sloppiness.

Regardless, do I fear the end of professional editing for no reason?  I can only hope not—for my sake and yours—but at this point, that is only a hope!

Wishing you better experiences,

Stephen, the-freelance-editor.com
editorial –at– Im Your Editor –dot– com
phone: 407-495-4801 (temporary)
text: 832-233-0041 (temporary)

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Reality bites!

December 25, 2009 1 comment

It’s an international phenomenon that I’ve done my best to ignore—for a couple of years. But, I am finally forced to face reality: The world of professional editing is in a state of transition. And, I can easily identify three causes for this phenomenon.

The first cause is a continuation of the desktop publishing transition that began in the late 1980s. Only at that time, the so-called desktop publishers (who believed themselves to be “designers,” even though they seldom knew anything about publication design, graphic design, or instructional design, by the way) still acknowledged that they needed editors. Today’s desktop publishers—indeed, I can dare say all publishers—do not see the importance of calculating proper word choice, creating a logical arrangement for the flow of ideas, applying rules of consistency, or adhering to traditional grammatical constructions; nor do they even acknowledge the many other minor and major flaws that a trained, professional editor strives to identify and correct. Read practically any magazine or newspaper; visit nearly any Web site; scan almost any book—and I bet you’ll find an error of some sort.

Just as people have come to think they can put together a brochure, a Web site, or a newsletter without the need of a trained, professional designer, now the presumption is that they can complete the task by clicking on the spell-check button and eliminate the need for an editor.

The second cause is related to the recent demise of the publishing industry. Book publishers started this trend nearly a decade ago with the closing of imprints and the eventual merging of entire houses. But more recently, magazines and newspapers have been forced to lay off whole departments, expand their Web presences, and in several cases cease print production. These closures have led to a glut of editors who, granted, know their specialized aspects of the publication world but who are not trained or experienced in seeing, analyzing, deconstructing, and re-stitching the proverbial big picture, the whole scope of a project.

A sad tangent of this phenomenon is that a majority of readers no longer even expect properly edited copy. They take in written text, mistakes and all, viewing it without acknowledging or analyzing what message is conveyed or how the message is conveyed.

The third cause is another sad facet of the current world economy. Every person (at least some days, it seems like every person) who is out of a job and has a computer at home thinks he or she can edit. After all, these folks were “pretty good at spelling” in grade school; they got straight A’s in high school English; they had a dissertation published. These amateurs are now marketing themselves as “editors”—and, while I’ll admit that some might be able to do a passing job, they will never equal a trained professional who has read histories of the English language, who has analyzed word etymologies, who has studied the Chicago Manual of Style or the Associated Press Stylebook or the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, and who can organize intellectual jargon or unorganized thought into understandable strings of words and textual images.

Today’s writers have unfortunately not learned to appreciate the value of a good editor. Yes, I still believe anyone can write, but no one’s writing is automatically readable, unquestionably logical, inherently grammatical, or necessarily even clear—and making it so is not a writer’s job. A writer’s job is to write; worrying about the technicalities is just another distraction to his or her creativity.

Other causes underly the problems of today’s professional editors, but these are the three that are forcing me to wander from my passion for the time being. I ignored the initial exodus from American clients that I saw in the fall of 2007; I could do so because I still had international clients (who were primarily based in Australia and Europe) to keep me busy. However, when those clients—and, some of those relationships went back many, many years—fell away for lower bids, I had to think about the writing on the wall. I still managed to ignore the inevitable until just a couple of weeks ago . . . until I was forced to take on a full-time position in an unrelated field, because it’s all I could find to keep a roof over my head and food on the table.

If writers don’t want my help to make their work the best it can be and if readers don’t demand quality material, what’s left for me to do?

Am I bitter? Well, okay, yes—maybe a little. But for the most part, I’m disappointed that I won’t be practicing the profession I’ve trained for and practiced in for more than thirty years; and I’m saddened that I’ll not be able “to help writers say what they want to say to the audience they want to reach” (that’s been my slogan for several years, in case you don’t know me) or to protect the readers that make up those audiences from having to stumble over confusing sections of unedited text. On the other hand, as the eternal optimist, I’m also expectant, because I know I’ll be back when the dust settles and the economy improves and respect for the English language returns.

Until then, don’t rely entirely on your word processor’s spelling checker and be wary of misleading, inexperienced “editors”—they may be cheap, but you might get exactly what you pay for!

Stephen Evans,
www.the-freelance-editor.com

Is Octavian Nothing evidence of a new age in YA lit?

M.T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party, which won the 2006 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (presented by the National Book Foundation) last November, is one of the latest books helping to revive the young adult literature genre. After seeming to peak in the 1970s and early ’80s, then stumbling through much of the 1990s with unchallenging and formulaic easy-reading novels that featured teen characters in stereotypical situations, YA literature has been rebounding for the past two or three years. The rebound is being seen both in popularity and in quality.

The adventures of teen wizard Harry Potter are widely credited with increasing the genre’s popularity by focusing attention on YA books and authors over the past decade. But J.K. Rowling’s works did not satisfy the needs or tastes of every reader—the volumes were long and complicated, they had unrealistic settings and plotlines, and the basic subject matter was specifically targeted. Many critics add that the series actually outgrew its original audience of YA readers over the years, anyway. Still, Rowling’s series did usher in a renewed interest in writing quality material and developing intricate and intriquing story lines, scenes, and characters—all attributes that drew the attention of YA readers—and that fact is seldom argued.

As evidence, note that many books on both the adult and children’s New York Times Best Sellers lists are written for, about, or involving young adults and that the American Library Association’s Michael L. Printz Award now takes notice of books for young adults just as the Caldecott and Newbery awards have for other younger readers over the years.

Reporter Cecelia Goodnow, with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer posted this recent article that spotlights additional evidence. She also uncovered and compiled some interesting trends in “teen literature” and this list of best reads for 2007.

Audio from National Book Awards ceremony

Several recordings from the November 2006 National Book Awards sessions in New York City are now available online. The recordings can be downloaded in MP3 format or played through a Web browser (using that method, I would suggest choosing “Play in Popup” so you can continue doing other work while listening).  Among the podcast recordings are five sets of nominated authors reading from their nominated works and the acceptance speeches that the winning authors made after being named at the ceremony.  (My only complaint about this collection is that the sessions are recorded in their entirety, instead of being excerpted by author, but that’s not a big deal as long as you have the time—most sessions are twenty to thirty minutes long.)

The goal of the National Book Awards is to increase the popularity of reading and to enhance awareness of exceptional books written by American authors in four genres: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature. Lists of nominees and the annual award winners from 1950 to the present are available at the National Book Awards Web site, http://www.NationalBookAward.org.

Access to the podcasts is through a site hosted by BookExpo America (BEA).  BEA is the largest annual exhibition of materials published in English in the world. The podcasts are produced by the same publishers who bring us the weekly series of author interviews, discussions, and readings known as Authors on Tour (which is sponsored by the Tattered Cover Book Stores in Colorado).

What makes a best seller?

Brian Hill and Dee Power wanted to know what makes a book successful. So they researched the concept and published their answers in The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories From Authors and the Editors, Agents and Booksellers Behind Them. They talked with more than one-hundred editors and agents to find out, in brief, that the most important factors in a book’s success are (in order):

  1. the author’s previous success
  2. the quality of writing
  3. the timeliness of the topic
  4. the author’s fan base
  5. word of mouth advertising from readers
  6. efforts of the author to promote the book
  7. publicity
  8. reviews
  9. paid advertising

Hill and Power have also released some extremely helpful answers to some very interesting questions on their Web site, www.BrianHillAndDeePower.com. The questions and answers—most of them would be quite difficult to find answers for—are primarily about query letters and the query process, but frequently touch on other topics.