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Being a Critic

Being a Critic

Being a Critic

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.

What 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 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 no surprise that they were all from the major 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 attitude, 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 for 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 that 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 that 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 that 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 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 backward, 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 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 reader’s 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 to 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.

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