Here you can find articles on the craft of writing. If you have some to contribute, we’d love a chance to include them.
THE BACK COVER BLURB
This has been a never-ending source of irritation to me as a reader.
I’ve alluded to it many times here a Fred Central, but have never dedicated an article specifically to back cover blurbs. It’s time I did so.
To be blunt, the back cover blurb is a marketing tool.
The blurb is like the cover. The cover is the first thing to attract the potential reader to your book. If you have a crappy cover, the reader is more than likely to skip your book to something more aesthetically pleasing. It’s a known fact that there are a few rebellious souls out there that seek out crappy covers, “juss cuz,” but don’t bet the bank on that and expect to have enough sales to afford a Starbucks coffee at the end of the quarter.
After the cover comes some kind of verbiage about the story. What’s going on between the pages? What’s the subject of your masterpiece? Why should anyone read it? This is where you need to entice them to open the cover and explore further. This is where you have to grab them and make them want more.
MOST DIFFICULT TO WRITE?
For some authors, the back cover blurb is the most difficult part of the book to write. Others have said it’s the synopsis, while some have stated it’s the pitch letter. For me, while back in the day, I found the synopsis the most challenging, nowadays, I don’t find any of them all that bad. However, if I had to pick one, I’d still say the most labor intensive is the synopsis. What does that say about the back cover blurb?
To me, it’s not all that hard.
It has to be catchy, but simple. It’s a synopsis without giving away the big Kahuna. It’s a lure to entice the potential reader to buy your book. It’s a quick and dirty few lines that you should know off the top of your head already. You just have to put these words down into something intelligible and honest.
I don’t like to lie to my readers.
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING
There’s nothing that irritates me more than picking up a book that looks interesting. While the covers have some sway, I’m not one that pays all that much attention unless the cover is super amateurish. On the other hand, if I’m going to read this book, I usually just take a glance at the cover and go right to the back blurb. That gives me some idea of what’s inside. I have other criteria which I’ve gone into plenty of times before, but the back blurb is important. What it says is what I expect to see when I read the book.
I expect a certain amount of hyperbole. After all, it IS a marketing tool. However, I expect that blurb to actually be ABOUT the story.
Too often, the blurb is not even (or barely) related to the story between the covers.
WHO WRITES THE BLURB?
If you expect the marketing department at your publisher to take over these mundane tasks, think again! While they may very well do the cover and give you minimal input in the matter, one of the author tasks during the editing phase is to write the back cover blurb. Some marketing genius at the publishing house doesn’t do it. First off, they’re not going to read the book and dream this up. It’s up to you. Second. You’ll be lucky if the artist who does your cover even scans the story to get an idea of the book before they come up with the cover!
Now, if you’re self-published, all that’s out the window anyway. You do it all, so there you go.
ATTRACTING AN AUDIENCE
Often, the back cover blurb has elements of your pitch letter in it. Therefore, what you used to attract your agent you can use to attract your readers as well. Now, if it’s the second or more book of a series, or if you’re self-published, all bets are off. Then again, you’re still trying to attract people. Therefore, do yourself a favor and at least attract them with the truth.
Ease up on the hyperbole if your blurb strays too far from the reality of the actual story!
Jane always wanted to be an artist, but when she enrolled in the Chroma Institute, she had no idea what she was in for.
Soon, her life turned upside down when killing started. If she wasn’t careful, she wouldn’t make it to graduation.
Sounds like a great thriller about Jane and her horrible time at the Chroma Institute. The problem is that the story is about Alexa and Jane dies in the first scene. Also, it’s a romance and Jane is the only one that dies.
While I changed the names and plot to protect the guilty, what I described is from a real blurb of a different book, different genre but the same thing, false advertising.
The Amazon reviews reflected it as well. One and a half stars overall of something like fifty reviews.
This was an exaggerated example, but there are plenty that are much more subtle but might as well be just as bad.
WHAT SHOULD A BLURB BE?
The truth with just a hint of what’s to come.
Given that I made that one above up out to illustrate a real one, let’s use it as the example again.
Jane always wanted to be an artist, but when she enrolled in the Chroma Institute, she had no idea what she was in for.
Soon, her life turned upside down when killing started. If she wasn’t careful, she wouldn’t make it to graduation.
Say, the protagonist really is Jane and she wants to be an artist. She enrolls in the Chroma Institute, which is in an old Victorian mansion up on a hill in San Francisco.
This is a murder mystery, a women-in-jeopardy thriller. Jane is single, after coming off a messy relationship with someone. She’s attracted to a tall dark stranger who’s a teacher/student at the institute. Bla bla bla. Mayhem ensues.
Now that’s staying true to the blurb.
The blurb is your marketing tool. It should ring of truth, not mislead your reader.
It needs to be catchy without going off the rails.
Don’t anger your readers or alienate them.
Your reviews will reflect that. I know I certainly let them know!
WRITING IN MULTIPLE GENRES
Writers can sometimes be focused. That means we tend to stick to one genre, or one subject. Western writers tend to stick with westerns, while fantasy writers stick with fantasy. Non-fiction writers don’t even consider fiction, so on and so forth.
However, nothing is an absolute.
It’s natural for a writer to find a niche and stick with what they’re good at. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with branching out and trying something different. Most writers I know, at least the prolific ones, write in multiple genres.
Some will call this the more artistic name for it, and that’ll be “the muse.”
For other’s, there’s the mercenary approach. Instead of muse, it’s about money and that’s what they write for regardless of how they feel. Sometimes they’re given assignments to write this or that. It doesn’t matter to them. They write whatever the client wants. In a way, it’s like technical writing, but what I’m talking about here specifically is fiction writing. I mention this because I know a few of these writers that have a specialty genre, but they go where the money is. If someone asks them to write something in a particular genre, they do it because they’re trying to make a living. That’s their motivation. There is, of course, some artistic motivation mixed in because they obviously love what they do, but their prime motivation is to make a living at writing, so anything artistic takes second billing to making money.
The majority of writers I know get their motivation from their feelings and inspiration (muse for lack of a better term). If they get an urge to write something specific, they go for it.
That’s me. I have specific interests in multiple genres, so I take turns writing in each one, depending on which one rocks my boat at the moment.
For some, a big stumbling block is how to switch gears from one genre to the next. Hurdles such as using different pen names, web sites, marketing strategies, appealing to different audiences can make your job a lot more complex once you’ve completed your manuscripts.
Since I’ve written in multiple genres, I can only speak for myself. I’ve consulted with others who have also done so, with mixed results.
#1 I’ve decided to go with my real name for everything.
#2 I use a single web site with tabs for each genre.
#3 I use multiple Facebook pages for each book series.
#4 I’ve researched as best I can each audience for the genre and adjusted my publicity to that crowd.
IT’S NOT ROCKET SCIENCE
You can make it as easy or as complex as you want. I decided to keep things simple and I can tell you, I’m a lot happier for it. Like I alluded to above, I’ve consulted with multiple authors that have written in multiple genres and seen what grief and successes they’ve had using different techniques. From their experience, I decided that for me, simple was the best.
It may very well be different for you.
My best advice to you is:
#1 First off, don’t try to put too many pans in the fire. Finish one book before you start on the next one.
#2 Get to know each genre you write in, so you know at least a little on how to market it (and maybe how to write it as well – maybe you’re actually writing something else without realizing it).
#3 Decide how you want to market it. Once you do, stick with it.
#4 Have fun.
WHAT’S IN A COVER?
I originally posted this article in 2014, right after our Las Vegas Writer’s Conference that year. After receiving the draft cover for my latest book, Spanish Gold, plus seeing a few posts on my Facebook forums about covers and blurbs, I thought it would be a good time to resurrect this post and update it. Plus, it fits right in with my recent article on blurbs.
One of the things we talked about at the 2014 writer’s conference was book covers. My section on The Cover -Eye Of The Beholder discussed that a bit in my last post (Conference Aftermath – What I Learned), but I thought this would be a good time to talk a bit more in detail
YOU CAN’T HAVE A BOOK WITHOUT A COVER
Whether your book is a tangible item or electronic, it’s going to have more than a plain brown wrapper (reminds me of how they supposedly used to ship porn). I’ve seen books in a plain brown wrapper as a marketing gimmick for real. Have no idea what these books were, or if they sold. Since I used the plural with that, you can see that it wasn’t a unique idea.
A hard fact that seems to be borne out by many market researchers is that great covers help sell books, while sucky ones can kill book sales. I must say I have a big issue with that for one simple reason:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Let’s take the analogy to another favorite of mine, music. I’ve always been and still am convinced that any old schmuck can go into a recording studio, fart in a paper bag, and it could be a big hit.
Beauty is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. That’s just as true with art as it is with music.
HOW I USED TO BUY ALBUMS
Back in the day, I used to buy albums by unknown bands based on the album cover. It was usually photos of the band with some kind of background. Once in a while, there’d be some kind of artwork. What I looked for were either the ugliest, or the freakiest looking musicians, with the longest hair, and bought the album based on that. Looking back on some of those album covers today, the “artwork” would be considered pedestrian, but I still love those albums. I rarely caught a dud. On the other hand, they were still a form of art, just not paintings, per-se. Your book cover doesn’t have to be a painting either, but I digress.
Over the years, very few albums impressed me with their artwork in the artistic sense. Certain albums had great visual appeal, but I didn’t really care for the music. Some of the best artwork was from an African band called Osibisa. Their first and second albums, with these flying elephants were fantastic. Their music was meh, okay “world music,” but not my usual style. The band Yes had some great artwork, but I couldn’t stand singer Jon Anderson’s voice, and he ruined some otherwise great music. At least the artwork looked great. Eye and ear of the beholder.
On the other hand, one of my top ten albums of all time was Hard Attack, by a New Yawk hard rock band called Dust. Their artwork was done by none other than Frank Franzetta. That album cover is wow! This was about a decade before that became the standard artwork for Molly Hatchet.
We used to see a band in Madrid, Spain at a local club. This band was called Greenslade. David Greenslade used to be the keyboard player in a jazz rock band I loved called Collosseum. His albums had great artwork. In fact, my wife painted their first album cover and it’s still hanging on the wall in our living room. In this case, the music matched the album covers, at least for me.
Whenever I look through my album collection, I can get just as much of a thrill with the album covers as the music because I can tie the two together. I’ve never been able to do that quite the same way with books. I cannot always visualize story details with book covers.
BOOKS DIDN’T QUITE WORK THAT WAY
Very few books have impressed me with their artwork except certain series. The Doc Savage series had a look to them. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were the same. Then there was the Andre Norton series writing as Andrew North. They had a great pulpy atmosphere to them. Otherwise, the look of a book had and has very little lasting impression except in a more utilitarian way. It’s an initial attraction on the shelf for a few seconds, but once I get past that, it’s just art with writing all over it. In fact, some of my favorite covers are more technical books like several of my favorite books on telescope making, or analog synthesizers. The “artwork” is letters and a few modest graphics. However, I’m able to correlate very fond memories to those familiar words and graphics.
There are many great fictional stories I have loved over the decades since I started reading. Lots of favorites used to weigh down my bookshelves. Yet when I finally had to let them go, I received a nasty surprise when I eventually found some of them reissued. Yeah… have you ever noticed that most reissues always have a different cover? It’s like either the publisher or the author never liked the original cover and “wanted to do it right” the next time, or they wanted to try and reissue, rebrand and make it seem like a different book. I don’t know for sure.
I’M NOT EVERYBODY
You, or everybody else may go totally Bozo over cover art and more power to you. I’ll say this. Something ugly or just functional isn’t going to do you any favors!
On the other hand, who is to say what’s ugly? Eye of the beholder…
You don’t have to use an intricate or artsy fartsy high-dollar cover that’s going to break your bank, if you’re in charge of that. If it’s the publisher, they’ll be footing the bill. However, if you have a say, let’s hope you can steer them a bit from something ugly. Of course, a big publisher has marketing wizzes that should know better than to defeat the whole purpose of putting the book on the shelf. If you’re a self-publisher, the onus is on you.
The key is, it’s up to you to determine what’s good or bad, if you have a choice!
The one thing I’ve seen proven over and over again, since I wrote this in 2014, is that an amateurish cover screams self-published. This is the universal caveat.
Nothing will kill book sales more than screaming self-published with a crappy cover. Using cartoonish or amateurish graphics on your cover and expecting people to see the same quality writing inside are just not going to happen. While the story and writing may be fantastic, if you scream amateur with the outside, when people get that initial glance as the first judgment, it places an immediate roadblock in front of your book before you even get out the gate.
While I have a big issue with eye of the beholder, as I said at the beginning of this article, what’s almost universal is that the majority of people can spot amateurish artwork right off. They may have differing opinions on different graphics, different artwork and colors, subjects or whatever, but when it comes to amateurish, it’s way too easy to spot. Cheap is cheap. That’s different from art. I shouldn’t have to explain that.
BALANCE IS BEST
A few tips.
1. Make sure your cover art fits your genre.
2. Make sure it stands out but isn’t too gaudy.
3. Make sure it doesn’t look like it was drawn or painted by a third grader.
4. If you have it in a galley proof, put it on a shelf and walk by. See if you notice it, and what it looks like next to others.
5. Make sure the artwork fits with what’s between the pages (see #1).
6. Finally, balance is best (goes with #2). Just the right amount of flare and simplicity so you stand out but not slap everyone in the face. You want to stand out, not annoy them!
Until next time, happy writing!
SHORT STORY IDEAS IN TIME OF ISOLATION
I originally posted this story in 2018 under the title Short Story Ideas. What prompted this redux was that many of us are sitting at home in isolation during this current pandemic, with either a lot on our minds, like unemployment, or well…trying to come up with something to keep us occupied. To keep from going crazy, maybe all these crazy ideas might be popping up that need some kind of an outlet.
As a writer, not all of them can end up novels. Why not save some of them for short stories? After all, tis the season of the short story contests, isn’t it? Well, maybe not. I’m not exactly a big fan of contests, but I AM a big fan of short stories. Therefor, when the muse strikes, I go for it. Using that same impetus, why can’t you save some of your muse for those little ideas?
Maybe, just maybe one day, if you don’t submit these little snippets to a contest or anthology, you can expand one or two into a full-length novel.
To go along with my last article (at the time I originally wrote this), Remembering Those Ideas (2018), how about when you’re brewing several short story ideas?
Dorlon, one of my buds that used to attend our weekly writer’s group meetings (when we physically attended them) and I used to get there early most Mondays and often discussed writing and stories. He wrote a lot of short stories, a lot more than I do. We talked about inspiration and writing them all down, saving up the ideas, so on and so forth.
Maybe he still doesn’t write near enough stories for what he wants, given his inspiration and the time he spends on it. I haven’t seen him in a long time now, so I don’t know, but maybe he’s caught up?
As for me, I generally don’t think about it in such terms. My process is a bit slower.
Sometimes I can go months without a specific idea. I may be too busy with my current novel, astronomy project (which is now discontinued), editing something for a friend, a proof read for my editor, or one of the other various projects I take on. Then, the muse will hit out of the blue.
What to do?
I quite often stop everything else, then write the draft on the spot.
Other times, I form the idea, ponder it for a few days, maybe a week or two, then, I write the draft in one session.
A short story, to me is 4K words or thereabouts. If I ramble a bit, it may creep into 5K, in need of trimming. Now you have the basic parameters. They can be a bit shorter, if the story warrants.
With the quarantine, that hasn’t really changed much for me because I still work. I have a mission essential job. The difference is that we don’t go anywhere on the weekends, travel, etc. So I have more free time. Same for the weekdays. So far, it’s all been spent working on book three of the Meleena fantasy series and doing edits on the second Gold series story, Spanish Gold. I have not written a new short story yet.
The funny thing is that I have not seen a lot of discussion on short stories on the Facebook forums. Not as much as I’d have expected given our current situation.
There are occasions when I get a nugget of inspiration and I’m not ready to write. I don’t have the muse. I have an idea, but no motivation, or no set plan. The idea isn’t fully formed, the desire isn’t ready to bloom. The story will sit in the back of my mind and linger until I’m ready.
I have one such story that’s been coalescing since April 2015. It’s personal and will not see the light of day until I’m ready. The problem is forgetting details and not getting some of them right. On the other hand, I have to do the story justice. This is a case where I’ve taken some notes but some is memory as well. Since I originally wrote this article in 2018, this same story is STILL brewing and is STILL not written yet, all of five years later.
There’s another story where I’ve been playing around with the idea for a while, but that one’s been dodging in an out of my mind for some time. I wasn’t sure how I wanted to approach it. Since it wasn’t fully formed, I wasn’t ready to commit. Still, I did have an A and a B and a few months ago…well, maybe a year now, I wrote almost 1000 words. I had the title right off. In fact, that was the first thing I came up with. Then A and B. I just don’t feel the rest of it yet. Other things have priority. Until I feel the rest between word 1001 and the end, it’s going to sit. I’m also going to pare it down some because I have a feeling it’s going to go over my standard 4K mark.
This story as in the first one I haven’t started yet do NOT fit my normal pattern.
Hey, nothing is black and white in this world.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE ALREADY DONE OR NOT COMPLETED?
I have a few shorts that are done and either rejected submissions to my writer’s group anthology or read to my writer’s group, critiqued but not entirely revised.
Each of them could be tweaked, fixed, re-written, resubmitted, whatever.
Do I even want to?
Do I agree with the critiques? Do I want to change them or do I think the critics missed the point?
These are things to ponder if I ever want to move those stories along as well.
There are even a few drafts I’ve blurted out in a nugget of inspiration when the muse hit. Then I set them aside only to languish, forgotten for the moment. Not many, granted, but one or two.
One day, I’ll pull these nuggets out and see what I can do with them.
As of this writing, they still languish on my computer. I ran across one a while back looking for something else. I was pleasantly surprised!
WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS?
I’ve written so many short stories, had enough published, that I don’t live and breathe every word and dangle my life’s breath on their publication.
How do you handle that?
Do you write for the pure pleasure, like I do, or is it something else?
What’s your process? Is it your entire thing or a side aspect of your novel writing, poetry, or whatever else you do?
What I’ve described may or may not be similar to what you do or have done. I hope it gives you some insight and helps you see from another perspective.
During this time of isolation, whether mandatory or self-imposed, you’re bound to have time to contemplate your navel. Will you have time for inspiration? Will it (hopefully) be stories other than pandemic-related? I have a feeling the market will soon to be flooded with that! Are you so overwhelmed with worry about employment, sickness, isolation, everything that you cannot get inspired? I sincerely hope things are not that bad for you. I hope you can use some of this time to veer off into the world of your imagination and gift us all with some wonderful stories.
You’d think after 495 articles, I’d have addressed rejection, but alas, I never have. I’ve discussed criticism multiple times, which in turn includes rejection, but never rejection specifically.
You might also note the number of articles now says 495, which may be different from what I originally posted some time back being in the 300+ range. As it turns out, the last time I counted, I was referring to the wrong directory! Let’s just say, I have backups to backups, and well…I counted the wrong place. This surprised me because this time, when I went to update my 300+ number I was surprised at the jump and did a double take. Then I followed the clues to figure out why.
Now, on to rejection.
Last weekend, I was purging files and came across a file drawer filled with stuff I need to let go of. Guess what it was? Rejections. I have sample chapters, complete (and now since published) short stories, manuscripts, plus lots and lots of rejection letters. I didn’t take the time to re-read them all. I already knew what most of them said. “While we found your idea intriguing, your story is just a the right fit for our agency at this time. Keep writing and trying…bla bla bla.”
Now, let’s jump to a few days later. I’d submitted a short story for my writer’s group anthology. I do every year. The chances are that since it was fiction, they’d hate it. Usually, when I write a non-fiction piece, this same outside group (to keep things neutral, the group sends all entries to an agency in another state) seems to like my stuff. However, whenever I write a fiction piece, they hate it. As predicted, they hated it. I got my 691st rejection (or thereabouts).
Now that I’m a “world famous” “best-selling” author (LOL), who’s traditionally published, small press notwithstanding, even I still get rejected. It happens to the best of us, right?
Tongue in cheek aside, just because I’m now published doesn’t mean anything has changed. Lightning in a bottle finally happened for me through persistence and never giving up. However, writing new stuff, or writing off-the-wall stuff is still a tough sell. Even writing more conventional stuff is no guarantee. In my case, when I stick to personal, or non-fiction stories, I’ve found my magic with my writer’s group. Fiction? I guess I need to save those up for another venue if I ever bother. The thing is that I have a fair amount of short fiction stories, as I alluded to in my recent short story article, that just languish on my hard drive because I’m not all that interested in entering contests. Not my thing.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had plenty of fictional short stories published. I have no urgent craving I need satisfied in that regard. I submit to my writer’s group anthology every year for a hoot. So…
Did this rejection discourage me, or does it keep me up at night?
Uh, after 690 previous rejections? I’m afraid it wasn’t something that I dwelled on. I read the critique and while they had their points, some of which I might fix, it’s not likely I’ll change too much. One day, I may resubmit it to a different, more receptive market. This particular story was more sarcasm, than anything, and they just didn’t get it. That’s okay. I’m too busy working on my other stuff. Someone else might love it, as was evident with about half the crowd at my writer’s group, who did. About what I expected.
WHEN YOU’RE STARTING OUT
When you’re starting out, rejection stings a lot more. To me, the rejections were not unexpected at the beginning because I KNEW I was just starting out. I was ready to develop a tough skin. Maybe it was from being a musician and playing in dive bars for so many years that I was ready to be rejected right off. Plus, to be truthful, my stuff sucked before I knew what I was doing.
Some of you jump through untold hoops to get your stuff ready for submission, figuring once you submit, you’re poisoning the well if you submit crap and they get to remembering your name. Uh, I hate to tell you this, but that’s highly unlikely. These agents and publishers receive THOUSANDS of submissions every day, many they never even see directly. You could submit the same manuscript, redone several times and they would never know because the chances are that at best, they may have recalled something similar, but if the writing this time catches their eye because you vastly improved it, it might be the magic moment.
I always get a laugh when someone says they think of quitting because they got ten rejections. Or, they figure they’ll “accept” a dozen before they get published.
Or, some agent sends them a really nasty and cruel critique and shatters their hopes and dreams.
You know what I say to that?
It pisses me off. It’s just the interpretation of one jerk. I’d be glad the guy or gal (and there are plenty of nasty gals in the mix as well) never decided to take me on.
I have one instance in particular where I submitted to one of a half dozen contests I did before I swore off contests. My novel, of course, did not win the prize. When I asked for a critique, a few words on why I was rejected, I was shocked to get the most vile and nasty letter of why my book was not selected. That was completely unwarranted. Now, here’s the clincher. The book that won ended up being a complete non-seller and the “contest” went bankrupt. The last time I checked, which was a few years ago, the book is something like ten or eleven million on the best-seller rank on Amazon, with only a dozen reviews. It’s basically out of print. Not exactly gangbusters.
Another time, I submitted in person to a well-known agent at one of our writer’s conferences here in Las Vegas. I never heard a word from him…until two years later. That’s right. Two years later, I got a little note scribbled in an envelope that said, “Not for me.” While he could’ve just not bothered, I was still shocked he DID bother, especially after two years. Oh, one more thing. This agent also wanted an exclusive. In other words, he wanted an exclusive first look before I submitted to anyone else. If anyone EVER tells you that, what are YOU going to do? I think not.
GET USED TO IT
In this passion, you need to get used to it, from the local level to worldwide. As you submit everything from short pieces to full-length work, expect rejection. If you’re lucky enough to get a response, more than a grunt, a no, something generic, an actual word or two, evaluate it and see what good you can get out of it. Take it in stride. It’s never the end of the world.
Plus, don’t expect rejection to go away once you’ve found your stride and are in the mix. It’s certainly never gone away for me. It won’t be the last time either. I have way too many bizarre ideas, plus lightning doesn’t always strike in a bottle!
In closing I’ll just say that not everyone is going to like your stuff. That goes from your readers to agents, publishers and what have you. That should NEVER stop you from keepin’ on keepin’ on. After all, if this is a true passion, you have to write. The muse will come and you’ll put it out there for the fates to do their will.
FOREST THROUGH THE TREES TWO
The other day, I was trying to figure out a way of rephrasing “forest through the trees” for my latest Meleena’s Adventures fantasy novel. It somehow inspired me to look back to this original article that I posted, the very second one to this web site. The date was June 1, 2011. To let you all know, I DID come up with an alternate way to say forest through the trees.
Anyway…we all get that forest through the trees tunnel vision at times. Whether it be from editing, or maybe overall outlook on writing. Let’s see how I thought back then and how much has changed, given any tweaks I’m going to add along the way.
Why is it that we learn all the “rules” of writing, yet we still cannot write perfectly? That is a question I hear more and more from new writers. No matter how hard we work to edit and perfect a sentence, paragraph, or whole story, we never get it quite right without external input.
The simple reason is that we’re too close to the story. We can’t see the forest through the trees. As tired as that old cliché may be, it’s still the truth. When we’re too close to something, we see what we’re thinking rather than what we wrote on the page. Even professional writers are wise to have a second set of eyes look over their work. The longer the work is, the more chances there are that they’ll get something wrong.
DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP
The point is this: don’t beat yourself up for getting something wrong. Whether it be a misplaced comma, a tautology, or a passive phrase, just fix it when someone else points it out. No big deal. No matter how much you write, you’re going to make mistakes. For those of us that have been at this a while, it’s a fact of life. You cannot have an ego when it comes to writing!
As a writer, if there’s any way possible, I highly recommend that you seek out a writer’s group. A writer’s group can be two people or fifty. The key is that these people must be nice! The point of getting together is to help each other out. Helping is giving good advice, opinions that’ll help you and your fellow writers improve their craft. This does not mean demeaning, intimidating, or embarrassing them. I’ve been-there-done-that. It’s ugly, and doesn’t help. The “tough love” argument is just an excuse to be mean.
Some of you have heard my example of the writer’s group from hell. It’s ultimately unproductive and destructive to be part of a group like that, unless you’re a masochist. I have yet to meet a successful agent, editor, or publisher face to face that’s that mean and cruel. I have met a few, mostly through the mail, but they don’t make it far in the business and as the more successful ones know, it’s just plain bad for business. Don’t ever let anyone convince you that being a “tough” critiquer is the way to go. I hate to quote another cliché, but you get more with honey than vinegar.
OBJECTIVE NOT SUBJECTIVE
Critiquing should be objective, not subjective. Critique the work, not the person. Sometimes, it can be tough, especially if you find the material objectionable. If it’s that bad, maybe it’s best just to defer rather than say anything. There was one case where a lady read some material that really got under my skin and I wanted to shout out “bull!” However, I held my tongue. I thought about all the times I read some of my icky bug, a genre where I use a lot of “colorful metaphors,” and a bit of gore and violence. Some members of our group are a bit religious, yet they gave me objective critiques. I kept that in mind as I sucked it up and gave her an honest critique of her writing instead of her content. Luckily, she did not come to too many meetings, so I didn’t have to bite my tongue often. You may run across this in a group, but that’s just part of the deal. Not everyone is going to be a fan of your stories. Critique the work, not the person!
When you read before a group, you’re presenting many new eyes and ears with things you can’t see, no matter how many times you’ve read and re-read your story. Trust me on this. You’re too close to it. Your jaw is going to drop when someone will point out something so obvious. For instance, your villain pops a few shots at the hero with his silenced revolver, misses and steals away. Screech! Halt! Any gun enthusiast will tell you, you can’t silence a revolver!
That was a rather blatant example, but you get my point. Your audience will catch repeated words, run-on sentences, misplaced modifiers, characters names changing from one section to the next, technical errors, the list goes on.
I self-edit these articles each week, and mainly for expediency, they’re all self-edited. I sometimes share them with other publications like Writer’s Tricks Of The Trade. Sometimes months or even years later, when they get published again, I see them in print and cringe at a glaring typo or phrase I messed up because I thought it rather than wrote it. I do my best to edit each article, but don’t be surprised to catch an error here and there. I can’t afford a staff here at Fred Central to keep me straight!
OH, BUT THERE’S MORE!
As I alluded to last week (present time 2020), when it comes to rejection, unrealistic expectations are also part of forest through the trees. If you are so focused on getting published and not enough on #1 honing your craft, or #2 why you’re doing this in the first place – the love of writing, you’re going to get lost.
That’s right. Don’t forget the whole point of writing in the first place. If you’re doing this for a hobby, I suggest you take up golf or knitting or something far less stress-inducing. If you don’t love writing, if it isn’t a passion, if it isn’t something you HAVE to do, something you’re going to do whether you get published or endlessly rejected ANYWAY, then find something else to do. If you’re in it just to make money, well…I can show you a bunch of slot machines near my home that probably have better odds for a payoff.
I’m not saying you won’t succeed with time and persistence, but lightning rarely strikes in a bottle. The chances are, it won’t happen to you in an instant, and the only way to be successful is with hard work. If you focus too much on lofty goals, you’re not going to see the forest through the trees. You’re going to miss the pleasure of writing and let the frustration overwhelm why you’re doing this in the first place. You’re going to let the criticisms eat at you and forget the original reason you took pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.
Stop. Breathe, and take a look, so you can see the forest through the trees.