Thursday, August 9, 2012

I prefer my own voice, but if you want a ghostwriter go forum it!

Writers Forums:

Now lest someone get me wrong. I'm not against writer groups or workshops. There is a lot to be had from the notion of a peer review. A place where I can throw out my ideas and some of my prose to be playfully bashed or shaped and reformed. I just believe this should be in a place where I sit eye to eye with a comfortable understanding that this really is meant to assist each person present in honing their craft. It should also be a place where each person's qualification in the craft are visible for all to see so that I know whether I'm interacting with a peer or a mentor. It does make a difference if a peer makes an observation and it is validated by a mentor, in my decision to consider the thought or dismiss it out of hand.

There are many ways I have seen in which forums online can work toward undoing all the hard work I've put into building my craft. There are many ways that forums online create a falsely comfortable atmosphere while engendering disassociated sociopathic bullying. And forums employ all of these nasty ways in a most creative fashion.

There is no doubt that the need for online writers forum has been driven recently by the proliferation of self-publishing on the web. I am certain that the first response internet team was well meaning in its initial intent to do a good deed. There is truth to the saying that no good deed goes unpunished. It has taken little time for all sorts of writer forums to crop up. In my brief limited foray I sampled some dozen in my genre alone.

Who can start a forum? Well today almost anyone with internet access. There was a day when it took someone who was savvy about the computer the internet and some programing and lots of geek knowledge of linux. Now there are so many tools and free resources that a twelve or thirteen year old could start one.(That age group oddly and actually is valid with the savvy computer internet community I mentioned earlier.)

My experience is that most writer forums are started and administered by people who have not yet published but are hoping to publish soon after they get some help from their sites users. Very few- in fact only one of the twelve I sampled- have a qualified published author (advertised) on their 'staff'. Staff consists mostly of people whom the ADMIN has given admin privileges. I focus on the one with the 'qualified' professional. - with several books in publication the one I read was mediocre and violated many of the tenants taught in the forum.

The forums have rules:

These rules arise from way back in the age of slow modem bbs. Written at a time when they felt the only way to deal with what they considered rude people was to gang up and flame them causing a flame war resulting in chaos in that particular bbs. So, I've no problem understanding the need for rules to control that type of situation/behavior. The problem is that it does not control it as much as it puts that type of conduct (flaming) into the hands of the ADMIN teams, elite squad. So the first rule is that I must be civil in my correspondence online and civil is as is defined by the ADMIN. Or suffer being flamed by the ADMIN who will then bury the body.

Because the forum's all offer what they gladly proclaim is a benefit of the knowledge of its membership given freely at their own considerable expense. (In brain matter and time.) There arises another rule of necessity. Since it's common for the existence of transient membership (people who are looking for possibly some form of ghostwriting to enhance their work) who drop out after getting help and don't seem to contribute anything to the community. There are rules for a minimum number of posts to ongoing threads before I, a new person, may be allowed to post my own thread- for critique or assistance. Typically this can be 10 to 30 qualified comments in other people's threads. By qualified that's that the post must pass certain admin standards. It does not in any way imply or infer that I have to make qualified comments within my own knowledge. In fact I'm free to go way above and beyond my knowledge to offer any assistance I feel I can get away with.

The next important rule: the one for when I obtain the ability to post my own thread: is probably the most insidious yet justifiable because of the flame factor.

When I post I must keep in mind that these people are all taking time out of their busy lives and generously offering their valuable help to me- an assumed novice( who incidentally fleshed out 30 mandatory 'brilliant' critiques just to get here)- and I am prohibited from responding to any of their critique or otherwise noted helpfulness. (Unless to say thank you for the insightful response.)They explain there will be disciplinary action taken for any transgression. What is not explained is that if I am perceived as failing in this rule, the whole mass of anointed will descend upon me with flaming until I'm banned for starting the whole thing. ie; I lit the flame that caused their gasses to ignite.

This is the insidious part:
I now face a community of slightly definable noobs who are less than x posts old in the community. And a more undefinable quantity who are above that bar some to the tune of having thousands of posts. Having thousands of posts does not make them an expert writer but most of them think that it does. The recognized professional sometimes makes comments- but not that much.

So basically I am throwing my work to a vast number of people who haven't or can't publish their writing. These people are supposed to be helping me accomplish what they have not yet accomplished. And- they are hiding behind that clause that says they are taking their valuable time to help me and I should be so grateful to them. Keep my mouth shut unless I'm offering the help.

Now this is all not that bad because you have the same thing in a writers group/discussion /workshop. But you also have someone there to moderate and recognize when someone is way out of line. In a forum the moderator shows up much beyond the point when you ignited the flame.

And what could possibly bring this on:

Well on the lighter end there are the obvious OCD people.

I am Mr. punctuation I will never be happy there either is a lack of punctuation or too much- never enough. I cannot help the writer without tossing screen after screen of corrections. Filling in red and blue from top to bottom. Nor can I refrain from observing that I will not offer corrections at all with the grammar and spelling because I'm simply exhausted by the mass of incongruity in the punctuation.I am incapable of offering up perhaps two or three examples and trust that this writer- who obviously is incapable of judiciously applying punctuation- can complete the task.

I am the Grammar and Spelling gatekeeper. Not only will I find and destroy all relevant errors I will point out words which simply no one in their right mind uses today. I will not be satisfied until I've reduced the writers work to the level of drivel that any reader might understand without the need of an overrated and too heavy to carry dictionary. God forbid that the writer should interrupt the reader with a necessity to learn. And when I am finished though it may take three times the words that are allotted I shall have created the great American masterpiece and it shall be mine. But I shall liberally allow the writer to claim it for their own. Disregarding the fact that I probably belong in the GhostWriting threads.

I know that Spelling and Grammar and Punctuation are important enough for everyone to try to have these taken care of so they don't distract the rest of the knee jerk OCD responses. Still I should explain that I can not resist the urge to totally rewrite your work once its out there.

I am Character development. I am a gestalt of all my parts and get very disturbed if you separate me by too many words or god forbid across several paragraphs. Never tell of me- show me but please for gods sake show me all in the first paragraph so that everyone may know me within the first 20 words or so. Oh and while you are at it squeeze in some excitement and tension maybe a bit of conflict lest the reader think I'm too boring to bother with. It doesn't help if you spread me across the whole piece- then the reader will lose interest before getting to know me.

And once all the above have been broken and beaten several times and way beyond the scope of human understanding, I shall resort to reminding you that the reader does not have a mind of their own. We have trained them to only be comfortable with third person and past tense writing. If this writing so much as tries to deviate I will find so much wrong with it to make any writer sorry they ever thought they could put two words together.

Lastly-because the work must stand mute- because I have been so generous with my time and knowledge- I stand firm with the knowledge that I didn't even read this once through before I took the red pen to it. No I started at the very first sentence and with my brilliance I dissected this evil piece of garbage line by line. Knowing that even as each sentence that unfolded answered the questions I so brilliantly brought forth to display your misguided ignorance, I had no need to back-peddle because the light of my brilliance will be seen by all and none shall dare dispute what I say. I shall allow my light to be used to replace the dimmer glow of the wretched soul I condemned today and will so generously allow the author right to claim my brilliance as their own. --I.M. GhostWriter Egregious

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dog Eat Dog Publishing!

To publish traditionally or not to publish that is the question...

I was going to pontificate on the virtues of self publishing while bashing upon the traditional methods when it occurred to me that I have better things to do with my time.

So here's a link to a website that will be extra helpful if you intend on writing Sci-Fi or Fantasy.(For those who don't know true Science Fiction is non-existent- at least by my crippled understanding of most formal definitions and that's a whole 'nother' discussion.

This is not a rant but it might be long and since I'm not expert it might be opinionated. I did try to keep it somewhat informed. Lacking in citations though.

The above site is written by an established writer who has an agent and a publisher. I don't need to emphasize the focus will be on extolling the virtues of having both. ie: It is heavily biased. But, it is informative in demonstrating the monster that every writer-new author- will have to face to get published. And though it will also relegate those who subvert the system to the label of Vanity Publishers there are many important pieces of valuable information to be had from here no matter how you intend on publishing.

Particularly pay attention to the 39 steps (I loved that movie-not even related to these steps though) 39 steps

Now back to the question. Of course there is a third option. That is to self-publish. While most seasoned-monied- authors will recommend that you abide only by the first two which seems to make some sense. I have often wondered if they might be treading carefully so as not to bite the hand that feeds them. But, if you read the material in the above links carefully I think you will agree there is something much more simple and perhaps sinister in their motives.

If you have read the above then you know some of this but I'll try to paraphrase.

A suggestion is that .03 percent of a 10000 sampling of books are published in a year. Of one genre it was said 1800 books were published in a year. That means it took roughly 60000 selectable choices to get that. Of these there are reprints of old titles and there are old standby producible income authors that cover a large portion of those depending often on the publisher and how much they focus on that genre. This gives the new author a miniscule chance of getting his foot in the door.

Even then with the foot in the door there is a one in ten chance that that new author will make more than his initial advance.(in a case where the house has a small commitment to the genre there might not be a new author) One primary reason is that they have no presence(except in some exceptions where they have presence somewhere else). Mind you publishing companies (traditional that is) do have dollars for advertising. Those dollars will mostly go to the tried and true authors and books so don't hold your breath. You will need to market you and your book if you want any or many sales.

Bottom line: Its a dog eat dog business this publishing. The ideal is to get the tried and true authors out as quickly as possible to suck up the most reader dollars before the competition gets those dollars. There is a finite amount spent on books and reading and it's every man for himself. The brick and mortar and e-commerce stores only make this ever more evident by flushing their brand of marketing into only the books they know they will sell the most. It is all about the bottom dollar- making the most profit to help defray the cost of that crappy book the new author snuck into the system. (Could be a really good book but if they are unknown it might not matter. Maybe a good argument to get your crappiest piece published first. By at least one authors account that would only alienate the three people who purchased it.)

Always keep in mind that some publishers might only have 0 to 10 open slots for a book in your genre so they may not even get to your manuscript before they fill them. You might get the form letter because they didn't have that 11th slot.

Also it is possible for a very good book written by a new author going to publication and failing against the very poor work of an established author within that same publisher's domain.

That said if you pass the .03 percent to make it into that big lottery you still haven't won and your chances of winning are minimal.

If you go with self publishing your chances are not going to get better. I will not sugar coat this. All you have done is subverted the system to get a chance at the bigger lottery. It does not ensure that your name will appear in the long list of potential winners. There is a lot of marketing that would have to happen unless you are already somehow an established house hold word.

Remember the Dog eat Dog part though, because what it does do is cut into that market, which is not what these published authors want to see.

Is it greed or self preservation- you'll have to decide.

This is the reason established traditional published authors like to call self publishing, vanity publishing. That is an interesting term because if you go with the traditional publishing it makes you feel better and you might get some help with marketing and you might get your name out there and you will have hard volumes to offer to friends and family and you will probably finally qualify for some specific writing clubs that require traditional publishing to qualify. If that doesn't sound like vanity publishing then I don't know what would.

Vanity vanity all is vanity. Its just nice to see your name even if its a pseudo name on a hard copy or even the e-cover of a book.

What they have that self publishers don't have is that cushion of someone else money invested and possibly thrown away on their work. If the self publisher's work incurs cost its to the self publisher. And when there is no profit that may well be construed as a hobby- not vanity. A hobbyist painter who sells their own paintings is not considered a vanity painter- er; at least I don't think so. There is probably less likelihood of them cutting into other painters income. So, you don't see other painters shaking their head pointing and saying shame vanity painter.

So you might ask is that finger pointing meant to convince both the vanity publishers and the readers to stay away from these mavericks who infringe on their territory. Once again I can't judge this. It's just my curious observation.

One negative side of self publishing as noted is the lack of a system to market yourself and your book. If you already have a presence that condition markedly improves. ie: You are a star doing your memoir or auto-biography- You have a website with interesting content that people have been begging you to put into book form. You've committed the crime of the century and have too much time on your hands in prison.

This can lead to the next 'bane of the dog'. One really good marketing tool is to give your first book (e-book) away. If your writing is good this will lead to selling your next book. One hint here; try to have the next book close to finished before the new readers lose interest.

This definitely will grind on the traditionalists who don't generally have this as an option. It will also cost you whatever you've invested.

The good news is that now with some sites you can do free e-books with relatively no cost. The only cost will be money spent to have editing done and covers made. And- if its difficult for you -maybe having someone convert your file to acceptable format.

This takes us to the next wave of attack.

There seems to be a prevalent notion that self publishing will automatically mean the exclusion of certain variable that the publishing industry has 'trained' the average reader to expect.

These would include:

The use of first person:: We've trained the reader to be familiar only with third person. A new author couldn't possibly have the genius to pull off first person writing.

The use of present tense: see above: Not only is present tense going to grate upon the reader if used too much but will be impossible to sustain along with first person.

Over use or under use of punctuation: doesn't matter that they are polar opposites the new author is guilty as charged.

Use of cliche's: (I'm unclear if this includes some idioms, but it doesn't matter.) we reserve the right to determining whatever we think is a cliche is one and the new writer will use a dozen or more so it's just no good.)

Poor grammar will be rife in the new author's work.

The new author's work will lack the tight nature of the traditionally published as it will lack substantive editing.

New author's characters will lack depth and clarity(especially if we convince them not to use the cliche's and idioms and poor grammar.)

I can go on for days, but the list will not contain anything that the self publisher can't have fixed. The most difficult is the substantive editing because to get an outside professional job is costly. More so if you have over 150K words.

The self publisher will have to be careful about keeping an eye on the editors and very careful about any offers to help market his work(which is very costly). Marketing is probably the toughest job you will have. But chances are unless you are the author of a famous series of books about a wizard you will have to deal with that reality in the traditional publishing venue also. So far for myself the best marketing tool has been the book giveaway. I went from no books downloaded to 200 downloads in three days. Its not a best selling number but it's something.

I cut myself short on the critical errors in writing because I'm lazy. Also because I will address later, in the trial and tribulation of trying to use online forums to hone your skills.

As a hint I'll possibly entitle it:

If you want someone to ghost write it for you then go forum it.