As a member of The Authors Guild, I have a great appreciation for writers who spend the time and effort to learn their craft and who understand the publishing world. It’s not easy, and it takes years of studying, learning, making mistakes, and trying again until some sort of success is reached.
I also belong to a number of writer’s groups on the Internet because it’s a good way to stay current on what up-and-coming writers are thinking and doing in their efforts to become published authors. Some of these groups have forums in which the members can ask questions of one another and share experiences. It is here that I’m discovering the people that are give the rest of us writers a bad name.
We all know how the publishing industry has changed in the past decades. In fact, it has been evolving during the entire time of its existence from hand-written scrolls to the printing press to the situation in which we find ourselves today containing a few large corporate publishers and a myriad of small independent presses without much in the middle. It’s more complicated than that, of course, as the large publishers have numerous imprints within them, often smaller houses that they have acquired that were allowed to keep the name by which they were previously known. It is imperative that these publishers choose books that have the best chance of selling the most copies so that the business of publishing can continue. They choose authors with a good track record, or those with strong platforms (a large built-in audience that can be counted on to buy this author’s books.) This leaves out the struggling unknown wannabe writers who feel that they should be given a chance.
Along comes digital publishing: self-published print-on-demand (POD) books and the companies that take the writers’ money to publish their books. Some of these do a credible job, working with the writer to create the best possible product, because they are aware that the better their products look, the more likely other authors will sign up to use them too. This is all at the writers’ expense of course as all of the cost of this project must be paid up front to the POD publisher by the author himself. The pressure can be extreme upon the POD publisher’s author-clients to purchase add-on services such as editing, marketing, cover design and more.
Other POD publishers take what the writer produced and print and bind a book that is filled with of all the mistakes that the writer didn’t correct, poor grammar, punctuation errors, and abysmal layout. The services of these publishers may cost less, but the writer will get what he paid for: a product that he created all by himself.
The rise of eBooks is similar. Many are spin-offs of already published works and reflect the careful work done for the printed book. Others are created as originals specifically for the eBook market which is growing. Anyone can create an eBook these days and try to sell it on the web, and many would-be authors are doing just that without recognizing that their work is sub-par.
A long-running thread in a LinkedIn.com writers group forum is the reason that I’m writing this blog entry. Members of this group comment on the question “What frustrates you the most about writing, publishing, or promoting?” The answers have been interesting and range from expressing frustration to telling personal stories to seeking advice to arguing with one another. All of this is fine, and writers should have such a forum so that we can all learn from each other.
I receive these comments in my email every day and have begun noticing some patterns.
First, many of these people can’t spell.
Second, they don’t understand even the most elementary rules of grammar or punctuation.
Third, their comments are often emotional and disorganized.
Fourth, there is so little understanding of the publishing business and how it works that it’s no wonder that they can’t get published. (http://Merchants of Culture by John B. Thompson will tell you what you need to know about publishing in the 21st Century.)
In this day and age, serious writers must also be self-editors or be able to pay to have their work edited by a professional before they submit a manuscript to an agent or a small publisher (Large corporate publishers only accept manuscripts submitted by agents who have become the gate keepers against the slush pile of writers who can’t spell, can’t write, and are seriously disorganized.) To many would-be writers, this may sound harsh and cruel; nevertheless this is the reality of the writing world of today. We can throw our unedited stories and articles and books up on the web as an eBook or into a blog, yes, that is an avenue to getting “published,” but in doing so we give the profession of writing a bad name. Voices are already beginning to be heard about the poor quality of writing in eBooks and in POD published books causing readers to shy away from them, so that those of us who would like to use these avenues legitimately, are being hurt.
My plea to writers is this:
Do your homework. Learn the rules of grammar and punctuation. Study the organization of the various genres of writing. Always, always proofread your work even if it is nothing more than a grocery list. Do it right every time and eventually you’ll become a writer that you can be proud of.