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Monday, January 20, 2014

Walk Before You Run

I peruse the Craigslist freelance postings on occasion and an ad for an editor caught my eye. At first, it sounded sincere and professional. Here was someone looking for an experienced editor to help him polish his writing.

But then I read the blurb and realized at once that this was a newbie. All the telltale signs were there. The characters were cliche, the premise was recycled, and the stakes were vague and decorated with equally nebulous adjectives. 

I commend this author for wanting to get an honest appraisal, but it troubled me that he felt ready for an editor so early in the game. Judging from his blurb, he needed critique partners, not an editor.

Part of me wanted to write him and suggest he find a critique group first. But I was afraid he'd probably snarl at my insolence. Authors are inherently very protective of their work.

It's the same with cover artists, editors, and even agents. All of us have to start somewhere, but it shouldn't necessarily be front and center until we're ready for our closeups. There's no dishonor for starting at the bottom.

I don't blame the author of the Craigslist ad. I'm sure all of us have been in that position where we thought we were ready, only to find out later we weren't. It's just that in this day and age, it's hard for me to believe there are still people who don't take advantage of the many writing communities, classes, and agent blogs out there. You can't help but trip over all the resources available.

Much as I grouse about the internet, it's provided a wealth of education and experience, free for the searching.

Do you still run into people who seem clueless about this industry or do you think this was an isolated incident?


Is traditional publishing in the middle of another firestorm? It started with a cached post about an author at Harper Collins who disclosed the pitiful amount she earned. (Cached because she had to take it down from her blog within hours.)

The Passive Voice linked to it--but the kicker was when the CEO of Kensington, Steve Zacharius commented on the post, repeatedly trying to make his case. 

It was then another author posted about his experience about the poor business practices applied by Kensington. 

JA Konrath entered into the fray the other day when he answered some of the questions Kensington's CEO posed during his comment stream to indie authors. 

It's a lot of reading, but some interesting insights from everyone involved.

Addendum: Harper Collins must have some clout. The link to the cached post has been pulled as well. I had sent the link to friends privately, but now I wish I had copied the post in its entirety. It was very revealing about the state of traditional publishing and how it treats its authors.

Addendum 2: Apparently, there's more than one way to skin a cat. I noticed that Feedly never updates (or deletes) a post once it's been published the first time. So I added Wendy Higgins's blog to my blog reader and there it was. You can only see it in the archive, but it's there. I don't know if other blog readers work this way, but Feedly does.


Karen Jones Gowen said...

Very well said, Maria. A writer now can learn so much from the Internet about the industry. Those who avoid it come across as woefully ignorant of what's involved. Regarding the other topic, I had to laugh when you said Joe Konrath jumped in. He has built his career not only on ebooks but on controversy. So yeah, I'm not surprised he had to put his 2 cents worth in on the topic.

Maria Zannini said...

Karen: I read once that you can earn an entire university degree (without the diploma) by simply Googling each subject and reading the plethora of information the internet has to offer.

Anonymous said...

Of course the trick is to weed out the good from the bad when it comes to the internet. I hope that newbie finds an awesome writer mentor or two :)

I'm with Karen on Joe Konrath jumping in.

Maria Zannini said...

I could never do Konrath's style of networking. There's too much combat for my blood. Internet blood is a pain to get out in the wash. :)

But it's because he can stir the pot that he's done so well. That, and he has the credentials to back him up.

Stacy McKitrick said...

Do I think people are still clueless to the publishing industry? Yep. At my writers meeting on Saturday, the guest speaker was an editor for a large publishing house. She told us of how people will send their "hand-written" manuscript in for publishing, and that it was their only copy!

As for JA Konrath's blog, I got hooked into reading it (and the other post) all last night. Very interesting reading. And that's all I'll say about it, too! :)

Darke Conteur said...

I saw her post via another blog, but when I got to it, it was gone. I managed to find some of what she said, and it wasn't flattering at all. As a matter of fact, it solidified my decision to not sub to big publishing.

As for your question about clueless people--all the time. The two areas I see them in are query letters (can't understand why they're not getting a response from agents), self-published who don't have many sales and think an agent/publisher can change that.

The latter drives me nuts, literally. I want to scream at these people every time I see their posts. It makes the rest of us look bad. I'll be the first to admit there's a butt load of crap out there in the SP world, and I thought that eventually they would realize it's hard work and go away, but it seems for every one that leaves, two more pop up.

Maria Zannini said...

Stacy: I guess there will always be people who come out of cave and submit their writing without ever doing any research.

Re: And that's all I'll say about it, too!

Understood. ;-)

R. Mac Wheeler said...

It's not just us 'artsy' types.

I remember my first job out of college, having my code (I was once a programmer) reviewed by my boss, and getting tons of instruction for changes.

I was verily insulted.

Maria Zannini said...

Darke: I'm willing to bet most blog readers will have it in their archives.

I think the author was incredibly gracious and generous to her publisher, but she wasn't blind to the fact that $10k (or even 15k) over a two-year period is hardly a living wage.

The reason trad publishers don't want people knowing what they pay their authors is because it would drive a deeper wedge between authors and publishers. Ignorance is bliss (and less costly) to publishers.

Maria Zannini said...

Mac: Oh, you code monkeys!

I'm sure you've already seen this video.

Still love it! One of my all time favorites.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Whew, I have to come back to your post later today and read some more. It's so much interesting debate.

Angela Brown said...

In a world where many of us - not all of us - would prefer to be told what to think than to do the grunt work of researching, asking around and pruning the weeds from the good plants, yes, I expect for there to be tons of folks doing what that newbie did.

As for the hoopla around the cached post and what Wendy Higgins shared it, well, I did read her post and it was informative. I did not, however, read the comments and I'm sure Konrath's post is also informative in his response. Pretty much it from me :-)

Maria Zannini said...

Susan: The last time I checked the comment stream for Passive Voice, it was over 285 comments. There's a lot to be said on either side.

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: And this proves I've insulated myself. I'm so used to hanging with people who know the game, it takes me by surprise when I run into people who haven't a clue as to how the industry works.

It's a big world with authors at every level of experience.

Giacomo Giammatteo said...

Lots of interesting info, Maria. Thanks for posting this. I read the Kensington piece and that was enlightening.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I think lots of people are clueless. I try and be honest when asked, and when I'm not asked, I don't say anything. My favorite questions at cons begin with, "Say I have a 6 book deal..." when the person in question has never finished a book. I put it down to just wanting to dream.

As far as the payment goes, I've known for years about the peanut payments from my friends who are pubbed by the big 5. I try and tell people about that too, but don't name names.

Maria Zannini said...

Jim: I was surprised they offered so little for an established author with a track record.

Advances have gone down substantially in recent years. A friend of mine, her first time out the gate got a 50k advance. Now first timers are lucky to see 5k.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: What's the old saying--You can lead a writer to Google, but you can't make him do his homework. :)

Jenny Schwartz said...

I hadn't read the latest firestorm. Now I'm curious :)

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: We haven't a good firestorm in a while. We were overdue. :)

Shelley Munro said...

Angela is right. There are a lot of people out there who don't bother doing their research and prefer to let someone else do the work for them if they can. I often see writers asking questions on lists where it would be very easy to find the answer if they bothered to do a Google search.

Writers definitely don't get big advances these days, and I figure it will only get worse.
Note - I couldn't get the archive - only managed to get the start of it on Bloglovin'

Maria Zannini said...

Shelley: Heh. I'm just the opposite. I'll Google stuff for days before I start bothering anyone.

Re: post
I'll email it to you. I copied it to Word so I could keep it as reference--and in case they get Feedly to remove it too.

Mike Keyton said...

I'm slowly getting a feel and understanding for all this, but I must confess after a time my mind gets waterlogged with so much information and conflicting advice. I'm trusting my Guardian Angel. He/She's not very fast but we get there in the end :)

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: I remember when I first started joining groups (like OWW where we met). I was so overwhelmed by the breadth of publishing info--which was no where near what there is now.

Eventually, you have to learn what to accept and what to dismiss. Sometimes I get it wrong--but I've gotten better at picking the right horses. :)

Sarah Ahiers said...

I read Wendy's post when it was up, then was away at my residency so didn't realize it had become such a firestorm.

I dunno, I was all 10K is a shit ton of money! When I first read it. I'm well aware of the fact that it's not a lot of money, though, for the work put in. And that it's a shame that most midlist authors can't make a living by writing anymore.

My dream is to maybe teach while writing.

And as for clueless people, omg ALL THE TIME. I'm a regular on the QT forums and people post all the time showing how little research they did before they started to query. We try to straighten them out, but they're just a small fraction of the overall whole

Maria Zannini said...

Sarah: I know! If you think of the months and sometimes years an author puts into a book--and for 10k--and then to have it paid over a 2-year period? It's nothing short of indentured servitude. I can't abide by that. It's not right.

Re: clueless people
It's me then. I'm too far removed from new writers. I tend to run with a savvier group.

LD Masterson said...

Sometimes it's hard to find the balance between informed and overwhelmed with all the industry information that's out there. Going back to our clueless friend on Craigslist, sometimes it's not as easy finding a good critique group as it seems. If an extreme newbie is exchanging critiques with another extreme newbie, neither of them may see the work that needs to be done.

Cate Masters said...

Isn't that the point of looking for an editor though? At least he didn't self-pub it without asking for help. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Linda: I suppose my experience colors the ease of finding crit partners. When I was at OWW, I had to take down my submissions pretty fast because I couldn't keep up with everyone wanting to critique them.

And now I can call on any number of people to borrow a second set of eyes.

I don't know the answer for getting non-newbie CPs. There again I was pretty lucky and had some amazing mentors.

Maria Zannini said...

Cate: Crit partners has to come before editors--especially if you're a newbie. It's a fair guess most new writers just don't have the experience to write a clean draft right from the start.

I just hated to see him spend money when he wasn't ready. There's something to be said about a crit relationship. I learned more from them than I ever did from an editor.