After crawling through FaceBook and other social media sites, I now realise that there are a million writers out there, more than I could ever have imagined.
They sit there, working away like little typing robots, churning out poem after prose after flash fiction after short story after novel...some of them on PC's, some on Macs, some on desktops in studies lined with books, while others tap away in Starbucks or some other coffee house, laptop hooked up to the free wi-fi offered and coffee forgotten and cold on the table in front of them.
A million varied and unique writers, a million different imaginations churning out tale after tale...
I should know. I'm one too.
We are all different, but in some ways, we're all the same.
In the beginning, we all tend towards the same mistakes. I hope to go through and list some of those mistakes, firstly to try and help those of you reading this to NOT make those mistakes, but in the end the real reason is to try and remind myself not to make those mistakes.
When you are first trying to break into professional (or even amateur) writing, there are a million different opinions to listen to and directions to take. Digital publishing has made it easier to get your voice and stories out there, and *shudder* self-publishing has really taken off in this new decade. Vanity presses abound, ready to tear the last soiled dollar bill from the struggling writer's desperate grasp. Vultures and snakes, charmers and rascals, vagabonds and outright criminal arseholes litter the virtual landscape, ready to take advantage of the budding writer's ego and vanity.
There are a million things you and I could do wrong, and in this post I intend to list some of the very basic mistakes a lot are making today. These are my own personal opinions, subject to dispute or able to be cast aside like yesterday's diapers, so take them with a grain of salt if you take them at all.
NOTE: For the purposes of this article, a writer writes while an author is published.
Okay. You've finished your first short and you think it's the bomb. Your mum likes it, your girlfriend likes it, and your best friend (a rabid Stephen King fanboy) says it's rad! You post it up under notes on your FaceBook page and all of a sudden you call yourself an author when in reality you are still a writer.
Of course, you totally disregard the fact that spellcheck nearly implodes when it runs through your piece, and you have no idea if that semi-colon should in fact be a comma or not.
This is fine, as you aren't bothering anyone but your immediate circle of family and friends.
But then you go the next step.
You start up a fanpage for yourself, stating that you are an author. You search for submission places and you find some obscure internet e-zine that is run by ex-hippie/LSD tragics, and they like your short. That's good. They too ignore spellcheck and run it as it is. Suddenly you are a 'published' author. Technically.
Now you start sending out invites to 'like' your fanpage...way too many invites.
Then comes the daily (and sometimes many times a day) messages and status updates and all the rest. All of a sudden, your friends list drops radically and you find yourself blocked by 75% of the Western World.
If you want to get a fanbase, then write and submit.
Shorts in magazines can get people reading you.
Getting accepted by a commercial publisher and getting your book out there, giving away review copies (and hopefully receiving good reviews) etc.
That will get you readers.
Begging your 1,347 FaceBook friends over and over to read your stuff will not. All that will achieve is getting 1,341 of those friends to block you in their newsfeed. Six family members don't count.
It takes time, people. Time and effort, combined with patience, perseverance and a belief in the quality of your work that gives you the drive to keep writing and keep submitting. Keep the faith, and the acceptance letters will come...
2) Spelling, grammar and punctuation in your writing
You never finished high school, but you know you can write.
You have now retired and have decided to write the greatest novel known to mankind.
You are a trained slaughterhouse worker, but you know you can write.
You fucked up your knee and can no longer play football, so now you know you are going to be a writer.
You can write all you like, and you may be good enough, but don't take it for granted that you will get published. Ideas and imagination are necessary, but you need the skill to transfer it to paper and from there allow the readers to share your vision.
You need language skills.
It takes some form of training to write successfully. Basics skills such as spelling, grammar and punctuation are not inherent traits, as some seem to believe. Neither are they skills which are 'optional' if you want to take writing seriously. Yes, some authors take certain liberties with these things, but you need to know the rules well before you can begin breaking them. Readers are funny creatures. As a rule, they actually like their stuff to make sense to a certain degree.
Be warned, spellcheck is NOT the be-all and end-all. It has been known to make mistakes. Do not trust it. Check over your piece manually, then check again, just to be sure. If you don't have the formal qualifications in English or creative writing, then read about the craft.
There are plenty of books on structure and style, punctuation and grammar.
Read them...read them carefully, and then read them again.
Many lauded writers have put out books on the process; Stephen King's On Writing, Richard Laymon's A Writer's Tale...there are many, depending on your chosen genre.
Read them...then read them again, as well.
Know your craft.
Editors and slush-readers will always notice grammatical and spelling errors. They most likely won't be impressed, either.
3) Spelling, grammar and punctuation on your FB page/blog/website
I see this all the time, and it annoys me to no end. People calling themselves authors while making the most basic errors in English on their page/website/blog. There, their and they're, all mixed up and out of place; your and you're in blatant disregard for their intended use; too many 'too' and not enough 'to'; commas missing, words misspelt, basic stuff that a quick edit/reread of your piece should pick up.
In my case, semi and full colons are my kryptonite, so any error in the previous sentence is completely my fault...mea culpa.
*Insert random self-published author's name HERE* has just released his/her/its latest novel/novella/collection of shorts/poems/flash fiction. Buy it from Amazon HERE.
I go to check out the product, trying to support fellow writers, and find out that it's a self-published/vanity-published ebook with poor editing, poor structure and poor chance of any success at all.
If I see another one of these status updates, I'm gonna scream.
If you pay to get your book printed yourself, or if you pay to have it edited and printed by a 'publisher', you are not a published author (for exceptions see NOTE below). You are someone who has paid their own money to have some writing put into book form. This does not count (unless readers vindicate your decision with their time and money, in which case it's likely that if you had shopped around enough, a publisher would have accepted your manuscript anyway).
A published author is someone who has submitted their work to a commercial publishing house, had the publisher accept their work as good enough for the publisher to cover editing, layout, printing and promotion costs. In other words, your work is good enough for someone in the business to take a financial risk on. Then you are a published author.
~NOTE: This particular point doesn't always apply to outsider/bizarre/extreme fiction, as these authors sometimes have little choice but to self-publish (although the plethora of small-press publishers springing up now are opening up more genres to writers/readers). I refer to more mainstream manuscripts that should be commercially viable to some degree within some accepted genre.
Here are the differences:
- A commercial publisher purchases the right to publish a manuscript (usually together with other rights, known as subsidiary rights), and pays the author a royalty on sales. Most also pay an advance on royalties. Commercial publishers are highly selective, publishing only a tiny percentage of manuscripts submitted. They handle every aspect of editing, publication, distribution, and marketing. There are no costs to the author.
- A vanity publisher prints and binds a book at the author’s sole expense. Costs include the publisher’s profit and overhead, so vanity publishing is usually a good deal more expensive than self-publishing. All rights and completed books are the property of the author, and the author retains all proceeds from sales. Vanity publishers may exclude objectionable content such as pornography, but otherwise do not screen for quality.
- A subsidy publisher also takes payment from the author to print and bind a book, but contributes a portion of the cost and/or provides adjunct services such as editing, distribution, warehousing, and marketing. Theoretically, subsidy publishers are selective. A subsidy publisher claims at least some rights, though the claim may be limited and non-exclusive. The completed books are the property of the publisher, which owns the ISBN, and remain in the publisher’s possession until sold. Income to the writer comes in the form of a royalty.
- Self-publishing, like vanity publishing, requires the author to bear the entire cost of publication, and also to handle all marketing, distribution, storage, etc. However, rather than paying for a pre-set package of services, the author puts those services together himself. Because every aspect of the process can be out to bid, self-publishing can be much more cost effective than vanity publishing; it can also result in a higher-quality product. All rights, the ISBN, and completed books are owned by the author, who keeps all proceeds from sales.
If you wish to just have a copy of your stuff to give to friends or to sell to illiterate customers at a Sunday flea-market, then by all means, go to the vanity or self-publishers.
However...if you want to make it in the field of writing, not just as a wanna-be, but as a professional or semi-professional writer, stay well away from vanity publishing and try to stay clear of self-publishing unless you are outside the normal genre so far that you have little choice.
There are only a very few examples of self-published works or artists being picked up by the mainstream. Matthew Reilly is one. How many more can you name?
Here's a great article on self-publishing and the many issues that may arise...
When Anyone Can Be A Published Author
5) Text talk
In messages and posts on blogs, and in comments on threads at social sites, I see it all the time.
'Hi thr. How R U. Lov'n ths stuff. Gr8 wrk. Chcek out my blog. THX!'
This is not a good look.
This is more of a pet peeve with me...I'm not sure how others look upon this practice, but it annoys the hell out of me. Language is our tool, people. Do you see tradesmen misusing their tools outside of work? Imagine if soldiers went around drunk and shooting up the place while on leave? If people see you disrespecting your trade's tools in any way, it probably doesn't look like you are as qualified or as professional as they would like you to be.
6) Monologue versus true voice, rhythm and style
A) Major Newkirk watched the screen. In a minute he turned and said "I don't know what to make of that. You say it's from just before I arrived?" He seemed upset. His voice was flat.
B) The Major watched the monitor silently. Seconds stretched to nearly a minute before the screen turned black and and he turned to Marks.
"I don't know what to make of that. You say it's from just before I arrived?" Major Newkirk seemed almost lost for words, his speech pattern nowhere near as crisp and authoritarian as it had been when he had first entered the Mobile Command Centre.
Now...which reads better? I hope you say B. I think it's better. It's a part of my current work in progress, while A is a deliberate flat rewrite to make a point.
I see writers posting things that have obviously had no context editing and read like a monologue rather than a good piece of creative writing.
I said it earlier and I'll say it again. Get training, even if it's only the creative writing course at a local community college or neighbourhood house. Or else get reading those books on the craft and technicalities of writing.
Do something. Sometimes it's enough to just write, but usually there's more required.
This is my current list of 'Things to Avoid'; I'm sure I will think of more and amend this list soon.
Again, these are all just my own personal opinions, but isn't that what blogs are for?