Being a Critic

8
Being a critic doesn’t mean anything unless there is a reason for the critique.
For me, just criticizing isn’t enough in itself. It’s like the boy who cried wolf. Now, many know I’ve been on a rant the last year or so, mainly against Amazon and lately about the influx of amateurs in the publishing industry. Or, at least it seems so to many. While the first is definitely correct, the second requires some qualifiers.
literary-criticWhat is it that I’m against and why? For Amazon, it’s very clear, so I won’t go into that.
Those who know me, know that I root for the underdog. I have fought against bullies on behalf of others even if that means leaving myself open to attack by bullies. I am not afraid because I know how to make them look ridiculous.
If anyone needs help, I’m there. But people who know me, also know that I don’t put up with crap and I have a crap detector that goes deep. With every fibre of my being I can’t stand crap, by anyone and I’m not afraid of other people’s opinions of me. If you are a proponent of crap or perpetrate it, I will be against you. Threats and whining will not sway me so bring it on.
Those who know me also know that I’m an analyst. I analyze everything to death and back and I will use facts and logic, and if you use crap to answer me back, be prepared to be roasted. Because I will roast you.
Remember? I detest crap. And when you put logic, professional behavior and facts against name-calling, whining and bad behavior, believe me, your colours will show very quickly to everyone. I will make sure it does.
Put your money where your mouth is, and make sure that your facts are real and not opinions and quasi-numbers pulled out of thin air from some blog on the internet that has no real basis because I will check. And make sure that your analysis actually makes sense. Because the crap detector hates inaccuracy or anything that makes no sense. Nothing irritates me more, other than bullies.
One other thing is that if you can prove me wrong with rigorous logic and verifiable facts, and not self-serving opinions, I will see it and change my mind. I have been known to do that, but I expect the same honesty and honor from others.
So what am I railing against in the publishing industry?
When I first entered this industry, it was completely by accident. Many told me that my writing was wonderful and that I should try my hand at submitting it to a publisher. I didn’t believe them, of course, (and I still don’t to be honest).
Me? A professional writer? A professional reader maybe. I love books and used to devour them in one sitting, even epics. And to compare my own writing to those made me feel inadequate. I had a library of treasures that I would read over and over again and refused to throw away even though my parents insisted that I throw away books that I’ve already read. They didn’t understand.
There was something special about them that I cannot feel for ebooks, even when I buy the same books in electronic format. There are writers who have influenced me and characters whom I love. Books that have challenged me and asked some fundamental questions about my life. And I’m sure many readers have had a similar experience. I love Readers or Writers" rel="nofollow" target="_self" >reading and literature.
And even though I didn’t care about it at the time, when I pick out any of those books now, it’s not surprise that they were all from the major Publishers" target="_blank" >publishing houses. I owe these writers, and the publishers who believed in them and introduced them to the world, a big debt for enriching my formative years.
That is the experience I brought with me, and my attitudes, when I first entered this industry.
As I said, it was completely by accident because I never thought myself good enough even though people had been encouraging me to do so for years. Even the act of writing itself was something I fell into, not because I intended to write a novel, but because, as a techie, more used to geek-speak and computer languages, I was starting to lose my linguistic prowess and that really disturbed me because I used to be a whiz in spelling, grammar, and word games. I don’t think I’m back up to the level I was before but I did discover a passion for writing.
Writing became an obsession, a way of life. I mainly wrote for myself until a friend of mine saw something I wrote and told me that I should share it with others because they would probably enjoy it too. So began my journey in writing, on an amateur level; producing stories, even novel-length ones that people could enjoy for free.
As more people started reading them and I developed somewhat of a following for these particular stories, it became a responsibility for me to produce the best and most entertaining works that I could. I worked hard to improve myself as a writer, and listened to feedback and criticisms, learning from them even though this was just a hobby and I had a real, and very well-paying job.
But I never intended to become a published writer; maybe a dream in the distant future when I retired, but not seriously, even though I was spending more and more of my time writing and in the craft of writing.
It wasn’t until I joined a major story critique site, and began winning contests that the notion became more real. I still wasn’t thinking about it seriously when a complete stranger offered to submit a story I had entered in a contest to a publisher. The publisher really liked the story and asked if I had a novel I might consider submitting. I still had to go through the whole submissions process, of course, sending a query and the requisite three chapters, but to make a long story short, the publisher loved the story and thus began my foray into the maze that is the publishing industry.
Little did I know that the whole industry was about to become a minefield with people taking sides.
When I first entered the industry, I had a great deal of respect for the craft of writing because of my personal experience with a fantastic body of literature and I aimed high. I knew that I was nowhere near as good as the writers I’ve loved and probably never will be, but I was determined to try my best and put out good products at least, something that would not disrespect the readers who were kind enough to buy my books.
Maybe it’s because I spent several years in close contact with readers on amateur sites. For me, there was a great deal of responsibility being a writer. People are taking their time to read your works. I didn’t want to let them down or waste their time by producing crap. So, when I became a professional writer, I carried that attitude with me.
I never considered writing, as many seem to do these days, as, first and foremost, some get-rich-quick scheme, or a chance to get some needed pocket-change. Not that I don’t recognize that some need the money and I wish them success. I really do. I do myself now too. Personal circumstances and a near brush with death have changed my financial situation dramatically. I need this to succeed, but for me, as a writer, first and foremost, my goal is to create a quality product because I refuse to disrespect the reader, because I am one myself. I want to enrich the lives of others as much as others enriched my life, not burden them with crap just because of my personal needs. For me, that is to honor this profession that many have devoted their lives to.
When amateurs enter this field in droves because of the ease of self-publishing, I don’t mind. I embrace them. As I said, I was one of those amateurs toiling away on amateur sites to improve myself. I led, and still co-lead a large amateur writing group and actively try to mentor others in the craft of writing. I love amateurs. They are the future of this industry.
What I do mind is the proliferation of crap. As I said at the beginning, I can’t stand crap.
I don’t care if you’re an amateur or a professional; you’ve only written one book, or a dozen, if you produce crap, I will be on your case.
It wasn’t as a writer that I was becoming frustrated with what was happening. It was as a READER. Because I was first of all a reader and I have an abiding love for the written word and have spent years enjoying the labours of love of others.
In the last year or so, since vanity-publishing became the fad, when I pick up a book and find that the person doesn’t seem to have a clue how to use commas, or another whose book is so meandering and without any discernible theme or point, it makes me angry to have my time wasted.
I read for pleasure, for enrichment. It relaxes me and brings my stress level down, which is necessary for health reasons. But in the last few years, I’ve had one frustrating experience after another. Maybe I shouldn’t have given these newbies a chance and waited until they proved themselves first. Maybe it should have been a ‘buyer beware’—you get what you pay for.
But I wanted to discover great new writers and I thought this influx of people wanting to embark on the grand adventure as I had, was great.
Until I started reading them.
Have all of them been bad? Of course not. But the percentage is disturbing. Especially when some of them don’t seem to have mastered the basics of grammar. I ask myself…how can these people possibly produce such crap and have the gall to let people use good money to buy them? Do they have no shame? Is there no respect for me as a reader? Do they think I’m made of money that I can buy ten books of crap just to find one worth reading? Or that I have loads of time?
Sadly, I’ve gone back to reading more books by the major publishers for enjoyment. Why? Because I trust them in a way that I don’t trust those who have no reputation and few of whom seem to have any kind of minimum standards.
Some claim they’ve read lots of crap books from major publishers too. And I really question that. Why? Compare books that have been through professional editing and proofreading to those who have barely been run through a spell-checker. And as any writer who has any experience knows, it’s virtually impossible to edit your own work thoroughly because we are too close to the material. Our brains play tricks on us and we see what we expect to see, even if it’s not actually there. So those who tell me that they’ve thoroughly edited their work a dozen times and there are no errors in it…I believe that you’ve gone over it with a fine toothed comb, I truly do, but that as a result there are no errors? Sorry, but I don’t believe that and I challenge anyone to give me their manuscript and I’ll find the errors for you, and I’m not even a professional editor or a proofreader. And anyone who actually believes they can edit their own stuff, just tells me that you’re an amateur who doesn’t have much experience.
My challenge to self-publishers is that if you want respect for your work, then have some respect for your own and for this industry. Learn your craft and keep learning it. Get professional editors and proofreaders to go through your work. Find a few writing critique groups and hone your craft with honest and tough criticism. Don’t inflict it on the unsuspecting public without this basic minimum. They deserve more than that and they demand it. And why shouldn’t they? It is their hard-earned money and limited time they’re spending. You are not paying THEM for reading your books, and you have a responsibility to give them a satisfying experience and quality work if you take money from them. This is a wonderful profession with a symbiotic relationship between readers and writers that has been developed since the first story was printed.
The reason why many look down on self-publishers is because you’re required to police yourselves and the minimum standard has been low because some don’t even know what an acceptable standard should be. The reason why that opinion isn’t applied to traditionally published works is because they have developed the standards that readers expect over the years and they have professionals vetting their works. Compare books that have been through at least some expert and objective editing and proofreading to those that haven’t and please don’t insult people’s intelligence by declaring that those that haven’t  could possibly be of greater quality than those that have been. Does that make sense to anyone?
Now, I know some self-publishers that do take quality seriously, who take that extra step to make sure their works are properly edited and proofread by people who actually do it for a living or at least semi-professionally. I love these writers and think that they are the future of self-publishing, the ones that should set the standard for others to follow.
Thinking that complete amateurs or friends can do what professionals do is unrealistic. Just look at how proofreaders practice their craft. How insanely detailed and anal it is. No one in their right minds would do such a thing and and with such intense concentration unless it was their job and few amateurs have a clue how proofreaders do their work, the painstaking line by line approach, reading it backwards, etc. That is why they are able to charge what they do for their services.
And those self-publishers who say that it’s not required and all they need are a few dozen friends who will catch any errors. I just roll my eyes. I’ve been reading the result of those books, and that is why, as a reader, I’m outraged.
Do I read self-published novels? Sure. I still do. But mainly from friends and those who take the time to get to know me, or if a blurb or cover catches my eyes. But I only have a limited amount to spend and I will spend the majority of it on books I know won’t waste my time, not because I have a bias, but because I don’t have the resources to buy all of them.
I also don’t refuse books that are given to me free, as many self-publishers already know—though I prefer to buy them because I’m a hard-working author and I like to support other authors, AND I will only accept ones from those who try to make an effort to get to know me first–but I won’t guarantee that I’ll read them if I can’t get past the first couple of chapters, and they will receive the same hard criticism that I give all books, that is if I give a review.
Am I against self-publishing or amateurs? Of course not. I am a self-publisher myself. I self-published a set of short stories along with the ones that were published by an indie press. And I can assure you that I am not against myself.
And again, for those who missed it, some of my friends are self-published and some are quite talented and I have a great deal of respect for them. They have a love for this professional and to them putting up crap so that the unsuspecting public will give them money for it is not in their nature.
So sue me if I actually want some quality in this industry, some respect for the readers. I have no apologies for that and I think that if a self-publisher wants some respect, you need to earn it, because becoming an author these days seems to take no talent, just the minimal ability to upload an electronically readable file. The majority of these people don’t even seem to have joined any amateur writing or critique groups in order to learn their craft or to get some objective feedback first before inflicting their works on the unsuspecting public.
One person asked how was she supposed to get any feedback on whether she was good or not if she didn’t upload it so that people could buy it and give her that feedback? Seriously? You want readers, WHO BUY YOUR BOOK, to give you feedback so that you can know whether you’re actually worth reading? As a reader, I’m extremely offended by this kind of attitude. And to me, that breaks the trust between a writer and a reader.
As in the beginning, when I first started buying books by new writers, I am still looking for quality, regardless of whether they’re self-published, indie published or traditionally published. Unlike those who are prejudiced against traditionally published or the self-published, I don’t have that bias. I think it’s silly.
It should be about books, GOOD BOOKS PERIOD. Who the hell cares about who publishes it?
But, yes, I am a lot more discerning now about self-published books, not because of bias, but because I’ve had so many bad experiences with them. You build a bad reputation, it’s hard to rebuild it and that’s hardly the readers fault. And I will compare self-published books to those wonderful books I’ve read in the past that have influenced my life and given me such pleasure. Why shouldn’t I? Has there suddenly been a shift in books that I have to accept ones that have a lower standard and are nowhere near as good as those ones and swallow my opinions and rights as a reader and declare they’re good, even though I know they’re not?
If I find a traditionally published one that’s badly written, you can bet I’ll be vocal about it. And I did find one that others seemed to like for some reason, and I was definitely vocal about its flaws. Actually two. But that’s just two in the last few years, unlike the many I’ve found in the self-publishing world.
If I find crap books, that’s hardly my fault, is it? But for some reason, it seems to be considered a major sin by self-publishers that I don’t find many of their—barely edited or proofread—books masterpieces. I’m finding fewer and fewer bad self-published books now, not because the quality has improved but I am far more discerning and I think those who offer me their books tend to know the kind of person I am and they know not to offer me something I’ll lambaste. Not that I would. I’m a fair critic and I know what constructive criticism is as those on amateur story sites know. I will point out your strengths and weaknesses, things I enjoyed and things I didn’t. But I will be honest. And I don’t put up with crap, and if you can’t take criticism or accept that not everyone will love your book, then you’re in the wrong profession.
Well…I knew this was going to be long, but not this long. Thanks for the one person or two who had the patience to try to get to know me and read this to the bitter end. I hope it was entertaining at least. If not…well, at least you didn’t have to pay for it, and if you kept reading even though you got nothing out of it…uh…why did you do that?
Cheers and happy reading and writing.
8 Comments
  1. gerryhuntman says

    Thanks Elizabeth, and I agree with your views, particularly from the slant of a reader. By coincidence I have an article about the flooding of market that touches on your points, but not exactly from your angle.

  2. William Ockham says

    Can I suggest a thought experiment for you? Go back through your article and substitute “written by black authors” for self-published. And the n word for vanity. What does it sound like then? Before you say that this is unfair, let me show with a couple of your paragraphs:


    Unlike those who are prejudiced against white authors or black authors, I don’t have that bias. I think it’s silly.

    It should be about books, GOOD BOOKS PERIOD. Who the hell cares about who writes it?

    But, yes, I am a lot more discerning now about books written by blacks, not because of bias, but because I’ve had so many bad experiences with them. You build a bad reputation, it’s hard to rebuild it and that’s hardly the readers fault. And I will compare books to those wonderful books I’ve read in the past that have influenced my life and given me such pleasure. Why shouldn’t I?

    There is a simple reason that this trick of mine works. You have unwittingly fallen into a trap that is part of the human condition. You have constructed a mental model of a group and you are holding the group responsible for the characteristics of some subset of the group. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it is your probem and not the problem of self-published authors.

    Part of what makes you good at what you do is your ability to see patterns and that same ability can be a trap. You have the facts on your side in this argument, but you are still wrong. The facts you’ve noticed have led you to create a false pattern. Self-published authors shouldn’t be judged by the efforts of other self-published authors. Self-published authors, as a group, shouldn’t have a reputation any more than female authors or authors whose last names begin with “E”.

    1. Elizabeth Lang says

      William, before you or anyone else pats you on the back for such an obviously flawed analysis, it appears that you missed most of this post or that you read every other paragraph in order to get what you claim that you got from it.

      Anyone who reads every word of this post with an objective eye, not an automatically defensive one, will know that I am not against self-publishers. I’ve said that many times in this article, but I guess those are the paragraphs that you missed.

      I am against BAD WRITERS. I even said right out that I’ve found self-publishers AND traditionally published books which are bad, though a much higher percentage was self-published. Guess you missed that too.

      How does that personal experience make me against self-publishers exactly? Am I as a reader not allowed to voice my honest opinions just because you identify yourself with self-publishers and for some reason you think that it’s one group where every self-publisher has obviously written a masterpiece and must never be criticized and pointed out? This kind of attitude is exactly why people like me and other readers are getting fed up with the lack of professionalism that has cropped up in this industry the last couple of years. There are a few bad apples among the trad published, but far more in the self-published ranks (and stop reading that I mean ALL self-publishers, or I’m going to start recommending that you get glasses). It only makes sense that there are far more bad apples that are self-publishers. Anyone with half a brain will realize why. THERE ARE FAR MORE SELF-PUBLISHERS (the number of writers jumped from 5,000 to 30,000 in one period and most of those were self) THAN TRAD PUBLISHED SO OF COURSE THERE ARE MORE BAD ONES in that group. Geez. Does that make sense? So for me to buy more trad published books than self because I have limited money, not because of bias, makes logical sense and has NOTHING TO DO WITH BIAS, which obviously your comments were.

      I have many self-published friends whom I respect a great deal and I have nothing against self–publishing itself, just those in self-publishing who drag down the rest with their unprofessionalism and lack of care for what they produce. I guess you missed that too.

      I still do read self-published books and find some of them good, and I give honest criticisms of both self, indie and self-pub books, some good and some bad regardless of the category they fall in. I guess you missed that too.

      I AM ALSO A SELF-PUBLISHER and I’m hardly against myself. I guess you missed that too.

      Geez. Exactly how little of this article did you read that you missed those? I’m really disappointed and offended that you would deliberately take a small passage COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTEXT in order to serve your own personal and biased agenda.

      How anyone could possibly conclude that I was against self-publishers (because yes, I can see how I could hate myself because I am in that category too) after reading all of those VERY CLEAR POINTS.

      Do you know what gets me about your comments? That when I talk about bad writing, even though I refer to BOTH SELF-PUBLISHED AND TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED, you automatically and only hear…self-published, because obviously in your mind when someone lambastes bad writing, they must only mean self-publishers. I wonder why that is? Maybe the problem is not the article or with me, because that isn’t what I wrote, but you obviously made that connotation in your own mind. Yes, inquiring minds want to know why YOU make that connection when it isn’t there.

      Your so-called experiment makes no logical sense. Anyone with intelligence will realize that what you’re doing is comparing apples with steak and that you’re taking a short passage COMPLETELY OUT OF CONTEXT and COMPLETELY IGNORING THE MAJORITY OF THIS ARTICLE.

      If you’re on the side of self-publishers than good for you. I’m glad, but by doing what you just did, you appear to be on the side of bad writers and honestly, that just makes me scratch my head. I would say that I’m far more on the side of GOOD self-publishers than you are because I take the time to mentor, write articles on the craft of writing and encourage amateur writers, some of whom have gone on to become self-publishers and with full support from me. What I am against, AND I’M REPEATING MYSELF AGAIN, because obviously saying it so many times in my article wasn’t enough, is what I’m against is bad self-publishers who behave badly.

    2. Elizabeth Lang says

      I’m glad you called it for what it was too, ‘a trick’ because that is what your comment was, a trick to make people think that the article was saying what it clearly wasn’t.

  3. MF says

    William,

    I’m amused and impressed by your way to drive a point home.
    Great suggestion, this experiment as you call it.

    Of course it would be foolish to judge self-published authors by the efforts of other individuals that together do not form a homogeneous group at all. With that remark alone you punctured this inflated article.
    Many thanks,
    Manny Fuchs

    1. Elizabeth Lang says

      I’m highly amused that you would support something that makes no logical sense. So, same message to you as to William. Please refer to my reply to him if you’re so inclined.

      And as a matter of FYI, I ran this article past someone who was a reporter for both newspaper and TV, to see if it was accidentally biased for or against self-publishers or trad publishers, which it was never meant to be and as I suspected, this person said that it wasn’t and that anyone who read it objectively without any prior personal agenda would see this.

      But she also said that anyone who did have a personal agenda and was blind to anyone else’s perspective could very easily take any part of this article out of context and fool themselves and other people into making it something that it wasn’t.

  4. gerryhuntman says

    Talk about splitting hairs (using a razor?)

    The way I read Elizabeth’s article (at the core) is:

    1. A large percentage of self-published stories are incredibly badly written (using the technical term ‘crap’)
    2. A smaller percentage of traditionally published stories are incredibly badly written (using the technical term ‘crap’).
    3. She did not say all self published work is crap and since the vast majority of new work flooding the market is by self-publishers, and the topic is about the written and published word, the connections are observed and postulated.
    4. More importantly, she is giving reasons why she thinks many self-publishers write crap – the ease to self publish can, and does, enable self publishers to cut corners on quality control mechanisms.

    Let me try this:

    4. More importantly, she is giving reasons why she thinks many people with the letter ‘E’ at the ends of their names write crap – the ease to publish when you are a person with the letter ‘E’ at the end of your name can, and does, enable people with the letter ‘E’ at the end of their names to cut corners on quality control mechanism.

    Hmm. I don’t this the substitution worked for my statement. The reason why is because I (and Elizabeth) are talking about the ease of publishing, which is a practice, and a group of people, who can only be self-publishers. There is a direct link between self publishing -> ease of publishing -> a large percentage can choose not to quality control.

    Anyone who suggests that Elizabeth is making absolute statements hasn’t read her article properly. If she is making general comments about self publishing and traditional publishing, they are…well, simply that. And apt, in my mind.

  5. Joyce White says

    Unfortunately, not all of us have the higher education to write classic novels. Some of us write as best we can. I write to inform, entertain and record. I try not to be a critic but accept all work as art. Some of us who criticize should lighten up. It takes as much work to write crap as it does to write exceptionally. It is true crap is harder to read, and we all have an editor inside us wanting to add comas and separate paragraphs. Writing is just good therapy for all and an exercise in tolerance.

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