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indies

Jennifer Wingard–Guest Post Tuesday

This is another case of social media serendipity–Facebook serendipity, in fact.

I met Jennifer Wingard in a group on Facebook. When I first started freelancing as a web copy writer, I met Chris Anderson, a now-senior editor at Huffington Post. We were both freelancers at the time, and bonded over a particularly hysterically funny squirrel video (don’t ask). We also discussed the difficulty of finding good-paying freelance work, and Chris started a group of freelancers on Facebook so we could pool our resources. He made me a co-admin, and to help out, he also appointed Jennifer.

Right away I liked this feisty, snarky, and off-beat redhead. We had a lot in common. Heh.

Not only do I admire her Mad Copy Editing Skillz and an astounding work ethic (the woman is amazing and is my own editor), but I also admire and respect her as a person. There is no bullshit with Jennifer; what you see is what you get. She’s honest, works hard, and tells it like it is with a bucketful of humor. She’s good people, with a lot of integrity. I’m proud to know her and work with her regularly. You just can’t get better than that.

Here she talks about what it was like to read indie material and what’s changed over the years.

I only wish I looked this good. I'd hate her, but she's just a gorgeous inside.
I only wish I looked this good. I’d hate her, but she’s just as gorgeous inside.

Several years ago, I bought my first stack of indie- and self-published books. I tore into the first with all the excitement of a child opening gifts on Christmas morning. My enthusiasm didn’t fade; it died a sudden, horrified death. Book after book joined the first in the stack headed for the garbage bin. The crisp pages lost their appeal as my eyes roved over error-riddled sentences, entire chapters without any logical ties to the plot, undeveloped characters, and dialogue or narrative that included nearly every known cliché. Not only did I throw away that first stack of books, I warned all the readers with whom I discussed books to shy away from purchasing from authors who didn’t get their works published via mainstream houses.

Fast forward a few years. In my unending quest for reading material, I stumbled upon a book and fell in love with the author’s style and the clean copy. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my newfound author crush had published through an indie house. Suddenly, my opinion of non-mainstream books experienced a shift. Determined to give these independent books another chance, I splurged on another towering stack.

The second time around ended with fewer books in the landfill. Poring over the books, the author’s websites, and the publishing houses associated with some, I found one common characteristic in the books I decided to keep: the authors or publishers had chosen to invest time and money to edit the manuscripts before publishing.

From inside the independent publishing world, this may not seem a big deal, but to a person who spent their life with mainstream works, who carefully evaluates the worth of a book and judges an entire industry on the spines of its works, this is huge. The determination of a few publishers and authors to turn out polished, professional books converted a mainstream reader to a fan of the independents.

Saving your hard-earned money only to hand it over to an editor hurts. What is the return on the investment? The payoff is readers, fans who will buy every book you write because you have a quality product, followers who may also become fierce proponents for the independent publishing industry itself. To the outsider looking in, quality matters.

Bio
Jennifer edits and sometimes manages to eke out a few words of her own. When she’s not editing or writing, she hangs out with her family and makes crafting or cooking messes. She lives on Virginia’s eastern coast and enjoys swimming with the dolphins, eating mountains of local seafood, and pretending she’s a pioneer during tropical storms.

Website: The Independent Pen
Facebook: The Independent Pen
Twitter: Independent_Pen

Should Writers Review Other Writers? A View From An Editor

Oh wow! Could I stir up a bigger hornet’s nest if I grabbed a baseball bat and started whacking? Probably not. But I’ve seen a lot of stuff out and about the ‘net lately, and this seems to be quite a hot button topic.

Hot button
Woohoo! I’m pushing the button, baby!

As an avid reader of so many years, a professional editor, and a self-published writer myself, this question is as tangled as the ball of yarn Athena loves to torture. And it seems no matter what opinion you hold, there is always someone ready to jump all up in your grill and scream how you’re wrong and just who do you think you are, some kind of special little snowflake?

This is my thought process. Reviewing a book, editing a book, and critiquing a book are three very different things. From what I see, a lot of people can’t tell the difference.

1. Readers review books, and that includes expressing what does or does not work for them in the story. It’s more about how the book made them feel, as opposed to picking out general technical details unless they affect the story.

2. Editing and critiquing a book is more about picking out those technical details, right or wrong, to improve the basic theme or message of the story. To me, this is not a review and should rather be handled privately between the writer and the editor/critique partner (such as beta readers). And there’s no reason to be a cast-iron bitch about it, either.

Now on to the sticky-wicket part of this.

Sticky wicket
This is a croquet wicket. I have no idea if it’s sticky. Honestly, I don’t want to know.

As part of the price I pay to do what I love for a living, I do not review books. Caveat: sometimes I do review old favorites I love, in order to introduce them to people I think will enjoy the book. However, as a pro editor I think it’s a conflict of interest for me to formally review a book I’ve edited. Really, think about it. What am I going to say other than it’s amazing? My word is on the line, and I take that very seriously. I will give a shout-out to my authors, because I am really lucky to work with some hugely talented people. But you will not find a formal review from me because I just don’t think that’s fair or professional. As an editor, if I’ve done my job, I’m as close to the book as the writer and I wouldn’t be able to be impartial. So while I may be in love with the story and am excited when one of my people releases, I won’t review the book.

If you are an indie writer hopefully that means you are an avid reader. You may think it’s your duty to review books and if they fall beneath the threshold of what you consider good, you may also think it’s your duty to point this out to other readers. Some people take great glee in tearing down other indie writers to the point it’s painful. The thing is, if you are an indie writer, you are a PROFESSIONAL. And I believe you should act like one.

Look at other professions. Do you see indie bands bashing other indie bands? Sometimes. Not very often. How about indie film makers? Don’t see that happening either. Do you see Very Successful Writers writing reviews on their contemporaries? (Stephen King is an exception. He can pretty much do what he wants because he’s a King. When you sell as many books as he does, I think then you have the right to express a negative opinion now and again.) Why is it okay for an indie writer to tear apart the work of another indie writer? What’s the point? The fans, the readers who aren’t involved in the process, are the ones who decide whether a book is “good” enough, THEY ARE THE GATEKEEPERS and indies who tear into each other are not portraying the profession in a very good light. Frankly, it looks like sour grapes.

The adage from your mother applies here. If you don’t have something nice to say, then keep your yap shut. Because when you say something hurtful or nasty about someone’s work, to me, that’s more a reflection upon you than it is the writer you’re bashing. It’s divisive in the indie community. We’re not in competition with each other – there’s more than enough readers to go around for everyone. Why then this vitriol?

“But!” you say, “I’m just trying to warn others about how bad this book is! I’m just doing the author and other readers a favor! I’m saving other readers from drowning in bad writing, from spending their hard-earned cash on bullshit!”

Knight in shining armor
Yeah, okay. I get it. You’re the literary knight in shining armor.

Really? As much as I would love to believe all indie writers who review are totally altruistic in their intentions, I didn’t fall down with yesterday’s rain. Not when I see some really hateful things being said in a review most people wouldn’t dream of saying in person. There is such a thing as professional courtesy, and anyone who can at least finish writing a book, no matter how “bad” it might be, deserves a modicum of respect. Because it is not easy. If a book is that bad, it will sink all on its own, with no help needed from you.

You can be honest and respectful at the same time. If you, the indie writer, read a book which in your opinion is not of professional caliber, you have a choice. You can walk away and do not review at all and forget you ever saw it; review as a READER and point out politely what didn’t work for you about the STORY without descending into condescending bitchiness because you know so much more and are so much better, or contact the author privately and offer your opinion. But to post a review that attacks the author, telling them (and the public at large) they have no right to be allowed near any writing implements (including crayons or eyeliner pencil) is just mean and hateful, bordering on bullying.

I’m wondering, too, just how effective reviews are anymore, especially since it’s come to light certain writers have actually paid for reviews. Now all reviews are suspect, and that’s a damned shame. However, there is one fix for all of this. Most books available on Amazon have a preview option. Read the first couple of chapters, and THEN you can decide to buy or not. Easy-peasy.

What you say in private is your own business and you are certainly entitled to that. I’m sure you have your own little circle of people where you discuss the merits of various authors, and I’m all for it. Vent. Scream. Pull out your hair and have yourself a party. But to take vitriolic opinions to the public, in my opinion, is unprofessional if you consider yourself a professional writer.

Let me hear your opinion, since you were kind enough to entertain mine.

*All images courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Caveat Emptor vs. Caveat Venditor

WARNING: This is a true NettaRant. You might want to wear a helmet.

“I’m just feeling kind of truthsome right now. Life is too damn short for ifs and maybes.” ~ Capt. Mal Reynolds of the Serenity

Instead of your regularly scheduled programming in which I feature some form of Fabulous Fiction, I have instead decided to shake things up in more ways than one.

Yep, it's likely to get thick. And I'm pretty sure it's not going to bring any boys to the yard.

As you may well be aware, I am all for supporting the self-publishing wave, also known as the Indie Movement. (Although some contest the moniker, “indie”, as it really applies to a different aspect of the publishing business…still, I’m not one to split hairs.) I believe passionately in self-publishers coming in to their own without the stigma of “if you’re self-published, your work sucks hot rocks.” That being said, some self-publishers are making it VERY difficult to don the pom-poms and rah it up.

Oh, not on purpose, I’m sure. Pretty sure. Right now it seems like it’s the “American Idol” of publishing, and like American Idol, some people are just not right for the stage, and that’s my nice way of expressing it. It’s a buyer beware world out there — I’m not saying it hasn’t always been that way, but at least with the Big 6 as gatekeepers you had some assurance of quality. (You can argue about their control issues another time. I’m on to something else right now.) In this Wild West Frontier of self-publishing, as a reader you have to do your own due diligence as far as sniffing out quality material to read.

Okay. Now that I’ve laid the groundwork, I need to vent. Consider this your wake-up call.

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S GOOD AND HOLY, PEOPLE, GET YOUR SHIZ-NIZ TOGETHER!

It’s not just a “let the buyer beware” world out there, it’s a “let the seller beware” world! Wake up! I understand you want to jump on the bandwagon and present your work to the world, but have some patience! Is it your best work? Could it be better? Have you EDITED your piece? Have you hired a professional editor or just let your sister who has a degree in liberal arts have a whack at it? Did you put it away for a few weeks to look at it with fresh eyes, or did you mindlessly throw it up on Smashwords or Amazon so fresh off the word processor it’s bleeding from a thousand knife wounds? You guys are KILLING ME.

And while I’m at it, let’s take a look at formatting. Is it formatted properly? Is it consistent, or do you have flawed formatting throughout the entire novel? You know, like it starts off with indents, then goes to block, then back to indents? Are there proper spaces between paragraphs? ARE THERE EGREGIOUS TYPOS?? Did you even bother to put it through a simple spell or grammar check?

Am I perfect? Oh, hell no, and I’ll be the first one to tell you that. It’s not perfection you’re going for here, but at least aim in the general vicinity!

Oh my GAWD, you make me stabby, cranky and want to spank you so hard you can’t sit down at your word processor for a YEAR.

Don't make me get out the whip. Because I WILL do it!

I have seen so much potential absolutely RUINED by LAZINESS and that makes me NUTZ and quite frankly, it pisses me off. As a self-publisher myself, every one of you that is too damned lazy to make sure you’re putting out a quality product is adding to the very stigma you’re trying so hard to dispel! I know you’re in a hurry, I understand why you’re in a hurry, but slow the hell down! Will it really kill you to take an extra few weeks to make sure your work is polished, professional and ready to fly?

If it’s not, you run a real risk of wrecking any chance you might have of a successful launch, and instead you’ll be thinking oh, this self-publishing stuff is bullshit, just like you think the Big 6 is “The Man” and keeping you down, when in fact it’s your own fault! If this is any example of the kind of material you have sent to “traditional” publishers, it’s no wonder they kicked you out on your ass. And if your baby is NOT ready, then roll up your damned sleeves and DO THE WORK.

You’re doing even more damage than that. You are tearing down the credibility of every single writer out there in the self-publishing process who actually works their ass off to make sure what they produce is as good as anything from the Big 6. It’s aggravating, defeating and embarrassing.

I realize this post is not going to make me popular at parties, but someone had to say it. Go ahead, make your voodoo dolls and stick pins in me, but in your heart of hearts you know I’m right or you wouldn’t be so annoyed at reading this.

Go ahead. It wouldn't be the first time.

I am really frustrated (no, Netta, really??) by starting off reading a book by an indie and being unable to continue because of the above-mentioned flaws. I am frustrated because many of these pieces have great potential, but have sadly fallen victim to the author being in a big fat hurry or just not caring. And if YOU don’t care, why should I? That’s right, I don’t. I’m not liking your damned page, I’m not liking your damned book, I’m not re-posting, re-twittering or re-anythinging your work if you can’t actually give a rat’s ass about what you’re putting out there. I’m sorry. I just can’t do it. If that makes you hate me, oh well. I’m over it.

Self-publishing is not the easy way — NEWSFLASH — there is no easy way! Unless you realize that you’re not going to be successful and you’re just clogging up the works like a hairball in the drain.

Hire out what you can’t handle, such as formatting, book covers or editing and if you can’t afford to hire it out (and BELIEVE ME, I am so in touch with that!) then impose on good friends who do know how or learn it yourself. Stop pimping writers who aren’t ready. And for the sake of all of us out here, buyers and sellers alike, have enough respect for yourself, the profession and the potential fans to take your time to put out the very best you can.

Otherwise, get the fuck off the stage.