Posts Tagged Writers

6 things (you might not have considered) that will hold you back as a writer

1. You’re actually interested in the writing (you know, style, elegance of expression) — not just getting noticed for your hackneyed, no-intelligence, punctuation-doesn’t-matter story.

2. You hate Amazon: a company run by a psychopath with dodgy working practices being indulged by sycophantic governments as it moves towards a virtual monopoly position (my novel’s on Smashwords).

3. You hate Facebook: a data-mining company run by a psychopath (I’m not on Facebook).

4. You hate posts about how to promote yourself on social media (I deleted my Twitter account).

5. You find self-promotion rather unseemly, a bit undignified really (while recognizing you have to tell people it’s there — the novel, that is — if you want them to read it).

6. You think best-sellers are mostly shit (Dan Brown, James Patterson, E.L. James, Lee Child, Clive Cussler, to name a few), reflecting the poor taste of the “average” reader.

7 (bonus point). You recognize, at bottom, that this world isn’t really for you.

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Parenthetically speaking.

Consider this.

Would it really be quite decent (or prudent) to tell her he was dead?

The above sentence is from my novel. What we’re interested in here is the use of parenthesis or brackets, which I’m told I over-use, and which (I’m told) adds difficulty for the reader.

So – consider the following:

Would it really be quite decent (or prudent) to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent – or prudent – to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent, or prudent, to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent or prudent to tell her he was dead?

The question is: can and does the “average” reader mark the difference, appreciate the distinction? Or does the appearance of an “unfamiliar” punctuation mark (the brackets) simply act as a distraction, a stumbling block, a jagged impediment?

Consider, too, the following:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and (outside the private domain) invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a (the) DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed (quite correctly) that I had craved a quiet (or quieter) life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

Here it is again with the parenthesis replaced with dashes:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and – outside the private domain – invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a – the – DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed – quite correctly – that I had craved a quiet – or quieter – life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

To me, there is something of the theatrical aside to the parenthetic content, a change of tone, an extra thought – some of which might survive with the use of dashes, though it is distinctly weakened. With merely commas or no punctuation at all, this (the tone change, the extra thought) is entirely lost, and the meaning (not so subtly) changed.

Here it is again with the dashes stripped out and not replaced:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and outside the private domain invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a, the, DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed quite correctly that I had craved a quiet or quieter life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

It seems to me a lot of tone and voice is lost in the above if one compares it with its parenthetic counterpart.

But… perhaps all this sounds rather too precious, and one should simply go with reader feedback. In this word-processing, digital age, these things are easily changed. It would take very little in the way of effort to swap out the parenthesis for dashes and/or commas, and I could later argue that brackets – as a punctuation – are just too visible for the “average” reader, too much of a surprise. They’re not used to seeing it, I would say regretfully, and don’t quite understand why it’s there, nor how they should read it. Nuance, I would add snarkily, must be sacrificed on the altar of marketability.

I worry about this, of course. I fear the ability to read generally has been (is being) degraded, that poetry and its cousin, style, are now regarded with suspicion and mistrust. Will I, then, be searching and replacing my brackets? No (actually), I think not. There are so many other reasons for the novel to fail (in terms of the market), its subject matter for a start. The “average” reader is not going to be clamouring for my book anyway, parenthesis or not. And there’s surely something to be said for authorial integrity, for an artistic rather than a mercantile decision.

You can be sure, though, I’ll have it in mind for my next novel (partially built and in abeyance), which will be written third-person (the “average” reader is more used to this) and unburdened with “eccentric” punctuation.

I’ll end on this:

While I was sleeping in Italy, I heard news from overseas – England to be precise – that affected me emotionally and made me want to write a poem in protest.

Or:

As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.

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Amazon and the Cult of the Corporation.

“Why isn’t your book on Amazon?” ask THEY. “You DO know it’s easy to publish with Amazon, right, and it’s, like, the BIGGEST market?” Once you acknowledge that you do, indeed, know this, THEY can, and do, comfortably categorize you as cranky, as one of those people who have a problem with the whole basis of our civilisation – i.e., capitalism. Usually, this is pejoratively expressed as your having a problem with SUCCESS – success, of course, being pretty much its own justification. Which is why prime ministers and presidents are happy to hob-knob with arms dealers. Arms dealers are generally very wealthy and dubiously well-connected – which means successful.

I bought a book, a novel, from a bookshop (I do so frequently). You know, a bricks and mortar, go in and browse, real-world, independent bookshop with someone sitting behind a counter. I took said book back to the office (my particular temple of toil) and left it on my desk. My smart-phone equipped boss came up to me and asked how much I’d paid for it. Whilst asking, he used aforementioned smart-phone to scan the bar code on my purchase. I told him the price, and he told me how much cheaper I could have purchased it for on Amazon. He then went on to outline the benefits of his Amazon Plus account. I joined the league of the cranky by telling him that circumventing Amazon was the point. Huh? Amazon is great! Everything’s so cheap, and they deliver so quickly! Huh! Why would you have a problem with Amazon? Oh, my god, you’re one of those people!

Writers, readers, bookshops, booksellers, agents, publishers, inter alia, would all be better served in a world in which Amazon didn’t exist. Amazon benefits only Amazon. Anything else is simply marketing spin and PR. Amazon wants to make a big profit, and does so, and it wants you to love it while so doing. Don’t inquire into its dubious employment practices, its bullying of publishers and writers, its tax-dodging, and its creeping monopoly position. Amazon used books as a stepping stone to becoming the global department store it is now, and has countries building roads with its name on it in a grovelling attempt to get it to invest – to put one of its high-tech, high-intensity, control-freak, low-paying warehouses in your neighbourhood. Queue up for your zero-hour contract. Welcome to Amazon.

Try telling any of this to anyone who shops at Amazon. The consumers. They REALLY don’t want to hear it. Amazon’s their favourite shop, a branded portal to the goody grotto. Nothing worse you can do to the unthinking consumer than force them to think. Aw, gee, you’re making me feel bad and defensive about my shopping choices. You’re one of those people. Why don’t you just want to make lots of money and spend it on things like everyone else? Exploitation is how the world works. THAT’S JUST THE WAY IT IS. All companies behave this way. And more of that I-don’t-care, self-justifying blah blah that means: Don’t make me question my smug, unthinking, self-entitlement.

That’s the long answer for why my book’s not on Amazon. It’s also why I don’t shop there. Yes, I DO know that if my book were picked up by a publisher I’d have no choice about it being on Amazon, and I do know that Amazon probably don’t care what cranky people like me think so long as the money keeps rolling in, which it will until more people think like me and stop shopping there. And, yes, I do know that that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

As they settle down to their Dan Brown on their Kindle, it seems to be a consolation to the unthinking that the thinking – the cranky people – are so hugely outnumbered. Hopefully, one fine day, we won’t be…

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Writing Services.

Have you written a novel? Well done! Pat yourself on the back. That’s a BIG achievement. You’ve every reason to be proud. But maybe, just MAYBE, you need a little help! I’m Doctor John, your manuscript doctor.

Yes, in your enthusiasm for getting your story done and OUT THERE, you’ve neglected the boring but IMPORTANT part – the writing. That’s where I come in. For a modest FEE, I can take your novel and make it into a book ready for an agent or publisher and the world. Remember, it’s all about YOU and your most important creation – your STORY.

It’s tedious, isn’t it? Worrying about boring things like punctuation and grammar and (don’t be silly) style when YOU just want to tell your story. I’m here to help with that. Send me your three less-good pages – and, hey, why not consult your friends to help you decide – and I’ll send them back to you EDITED. Not PROOF READ (that comes as a happy incidental), but EDITED. For FREE. Yes, your three worst (sorry, least-good) pages edited to the high standard agents and publishers demand. And, you know what, where I can detect a style, I’ll bake it right into the EDIT for you.

Once you have your FREE, fully EDITED three pages, do with them as you wish. They’re yours. Read them, learn from them, show them to your friends (the same ones you consulted earlier). They’re my no-obligation GIFT to you. After all, it’s your novel, your story, your work; I just helped a bit here and there with the boring part. Enjoy your writing and your life.

HOWEVER…  if you find yourself thinking, “Hey, wouldn’t it be REALLY great if all my novel were that well-written?” – well, hey, why not hire me. I’m yours for a one-off, flat fee of £10,000. Imagine. A mere £10,000 to make your novel, your story, your pride and joy, the best it can be. And while, of course, I can’t guarantee an agent or a publisher, I can guarantee you’ll have your special story as special as it can be.

But, hey, no worry, no obligation – read those magic three pages, talk to your friends, and ask yourself, “Is this story, my story, worth £10,000?”

I’m here for YOU! You know where to find me.

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Editorial services.

Imagine you’re a literary agent – all those submissions coming in, all those dreary rejection letters going out. How much better it would all be – from a bottom line perspective – to make some dosh from the rejections. Enter the editorial service – someone who will “polish” your novel for you, and “make it ready for submission”. All those rejected, disheartened writers out there ripe for exploitation.

There are a couple of ways this can work:

You submit your novel, it gets rejected, agent recommends an editorial service as part of the rejection letter. You approach the editorial service, pay money (hundreds of pounds usually), and the agent gets a referral fee.

Some agents have an editorial service they “work with” right there on their website, giving the impression that if you use the editorial services you’ll have more chance with the agency. You approach the editorial service, say where you found them, pay the money, and it’s kerching all round – oh, except for you.

Some agents simply offer editorial services as well as agenting ones.

However it’s done, it’s done simply to monetize rejections by exploiting your dreams and aspirations. Don’t fall for this. The money’s supposed to flow in your direction, not theirs.

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James Patterson – American hero.

JPJames Patterson is an awful writer. Indeed, he’s the type of “writer” who I imagine is just a label on a book – books written by other people. Actually, he is the type of “writer” who is just a brand label on books written by other people. By his own admission, he works with “co-authors” and “collaborators”. He provides outlines and farms them out to writers, who knock up novels from them. Seriously, this is writing as business, author as brand, writing by committee. Hollow drivel, designed for mass appeal. Fast books and double on the fries.

Just let me pause here to put my cards face-up on the table. If you’re the sort of “reader” who thinks the likes of Lee Child and/or Dan Brown are good, and that criticism of them is motivated by envy and/or elitism, I would suggest you leave this page now. You’ll be offended. So please leave. I’d honestly rather not bother with people who think popularity and success in monetary terms are their own justification.

Dan Brown, Lee Child, Clive Cussler, James Patterson – they’re producers of crap. They say nothing interesting, and they say it in an uninteresting way. Dumbed-down writing for a dumbed-down readership (most of whom find thinking and reading threatening). If you can read a comic or tabloid newspaper, you’ll have no problem reading these authors. Is it better that people read these books rather than none at all? I wonder. Is it better that people read Rupert Murdoch’s red-top rags rather than no newspaper at all?

Reading Child, Patterson, and Cussler (who incidentally is passing the business onto his son) is like eating a McDonald’s every day and imagining you have a decent diet. Being able to read at this level does not make you discerning or thoughtful. It does not give you insight. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read crap, any more than I would suggest that eating crap occasionally is a no-no; I just want you to know, be able to tell (for yourself, not because someone else is telling you so), that it is crap. If you don’t and can’t, you probably (sadly) have degraded sensibilities. If you think the Die Hard movies are the height of cinematic achievement, you’re missing (or have missed) something. Sorry.

In interviews, Patterson talks like he isn’t part of the problem. He’s either a very good con-man or is entirely deluded. He expresses concern for book-shops and publishers, and talks about the importance of young people reading. This is a man who has degraded the writing process, and involved his readers in this degradation. He, and his publishers, must surely have contempt for the people who buy his books. He’s dull, he’s rich, he’s self-satisfied, and he’s not someone from whom I want to take literary advice. Indeed, I’m amazed he has the nerve to offer it.

Most people (and certainly most Americans) lack discernment, so money and popularity are the only way they know how to keep score. It’s why poor people in America vote for measures that benefit the rich. They think money, making lots of it, is its own justification.

Here are two interviews with this successful American writer:

JP1
JP2

Here’s someone desperately trying to be reasonable about JP (while suspecting that the emperor might, indeed, be going sans apparel):

“I doubt that James Patterson can actually write.”

Yes, me too. That won’t stop him, though. Not while there’s another buck to be made.

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