An unfolding story has come my way, a morality tale of today. A Facebook friend posted a link to a blog where an author was being hounded to death. She said she had hesitated in publishing the link but of course I went straight to it. And now you want to know, don’t you? Well, sorry, I’m going to resist. The lass involved has had way too much publicity already and, really, it’s like watching a public execution.
This is the story. A young woman writes and publishes a novel. She contacts a literary blogger in the US who downloads the Kindle edition and writes a passably good review. He says it’s a compelling story which would have carried him to the end if her grammar weren’t so off and her sentences so badly composed that he had to untangle them to get the meaning. He gave a couple of examples and proved himself right. Obviously no editor had had sight of this book.
And then it begins. She is young, this author, and hasn’t learnt the tricks of good behaviour. She fights back and accuses him of downloading the wrong version. He denies it. She posts three good reviews from Amazon (which all sound strangely alike). He gets cross. Others wade in and tell her she’s being an idiot. And then it begins, the baying of the Maenads for the blood of Orpheus.
Not that she is Orpheus, of course, and nothing like him, but she had a story in her she wanted to tell, obviously couldn’t find a mainstream publisher and either published it herself or with what is loosely being called an ‘indie’ (more anon).
Now I know the grammatically correct like to snap at your errors. We’ve all experienced it, and probably from both sides: snapping and being snapped at. What made this so awful was that it was a mob of the grammatically correct, all snapping at once. It was like watching a fox – not a good fox, but one who had just eaten a flock of sheep, but a living being nonetheless – corned by the hounds and then torn to pieces. This young author was eaten alive.
She fought and fought and every time she made a comment, she proved the blogger right for she could not write a sentence without a mistake in it. When it comes to English, she hasn’t a clue. But language can be taught whereas story telling cannot. The only thing she lacks is the humility to recognise her need for help. And she has died for it, metaphorically (I hope it’s metaphorically).
I had read down the scroll of comments for half an hour before realising that the scroll bar had barely moved. I fast forwarded. Nothing more seems to have come from the author after a two-word expletive in capitals addressed to everybody. But the baying went on and on and on for days. It went ‘live’ on Twitter and Facebook and the author’s reputation lay in ruins before the blogger was persuaded to call a halt and stop the thread. One of the last comments told the author that she would be ill-advised ever to write under her own name again.
Now, the girl was in the wrong, and we all love to see pride take a fall, and aren’t we all just weary of the flood of bad books? But what was it like for her? Putting myself in her shoes, I wondered how I would cope with what one person described as a meltdown. All dreams and aspirations vanished in an acid bath of truth. So publicly. I would find it very hard to go on living.
So then I started to worry. Why did she go silent suddenly? No ego, no matter how vaunted, could self-justify to the extent being required of her. Was she jumping off a bridge right there and then? Was someone filming it for YouTube? Of course, given the peculiarities of our modern world, the other version of what happened next is that she is now a star, or at least a celebrity, and for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps we shall hear.
A few words on indie publishing… I think the word is being misused. As I see it, there are four types of publishing:
- self-publishing (including assisted publishing)
- vanity publishing
(Print on demand can happen in any category and is not a separate one in itself). When it comes to the third-party validation we all crave, mainstream publishing is the best option, given that some stranger likes your work enough to risk money on it. What could be better?
As I understand it, an indie publisher is a small, probably new concern which does not belong to anyone else, i.e. is not part of a conglomerate. It doesn’t have the clout of mainstream, or the publicity budget, but it offers the enthusiasm and personal attention the big guys often don’t provide. Lindsay Clarke’s recently published The Water Theatre comes from Alma and is doing very well.
Self-publishing is when the author prepares his own book for publication, right through to print and production. To do it properly, the author may need to hire an editor and proof-reader, a cover designer and typographer. This is expensive, obviously, but the author has total control over text and cover, and takes the lion’s share of the sales profits (well, perhaps not the lion’s share if Amazon is involved). This is not so expensive if the writer dots her own i’s and crosses her own t’s and knows what a book looks like (if you think this is silly, everyone knows what a book looks like, read on…). When the professional approach is bypassed, the results are often risible, and this is giving self-publishing an otherwise unjustifiable bad name.
Many people going this route opt for professional assistance. This is where you have to be careful or you will stray into the last category, but there are firms around that really will assist you and you need to look for them (relying perhaps on personal recommendation). We have an imprint of Godstow Press (a legitimate indie) which is ‘author-funded’ in which we do all the editorial and design work in association with the author. We know we’re the real thing because we retain – and exercise – the right to refuse books and only accept those which have passed our literary standards and fit our list, same as in mainstream. I’m not going to name it as we’re already too busy but here’s our latest, Ray Kidwell’s A Murmur of Surf, put together with the love and at the expense of his family and selling well.
Which brings us to the last: vanity publishing. This is the shark in the water, and the one which is bloodying the names of indie and self publishing. Vanity publishing is when you pay someone to do your book and they offer you the world: an ISBN! listing in all the main databases! sales in the trade! You name it. They offer everything except what an author really needs: an unbiased opinion and a good editor.
So, what does a book look like? I’m hastily writing a short guide on this very important topic. With the sudden rise of Kindle, and its indiscriminate offer to ‘publish’ (i.e. make available) anything anyone downloads on to it (which makes Amazon the largest vanity publisher in the universe), it is becoming imperative that the world’s population has a quick lesson in what a book looks like.
The first book I downloaded from Kindle was a 75p version of War and Peace. OK, you get what you paid for, but I got an awful lot of free white space because the book was laid out like this blog, with double lines between paragraphs, which looks preposterous when it comes to dialogue.
And last week my husband paid nearly £40 for a text book from the hoary old publishing firm of Routledge which begins on the left hand page. Call me old fashioned but…
I am just plain TIRED of the amateurism now abounding in publishing since the cursed computer made my generation of professionals redundant round about the turn of the century. The world is awash with early retired editors, researchers, designers. If you need to publish your own book and need help, it should be quite easy to find one to assist you. It will cost, of course, but be worth every penny.
Sorry, said it was a morality tale, but it ended up like a sermon! Nevertheless, the moral is, never answer a critic back, especially if he’s right.
Happy writing – and get help when you need to!