Friday, August 17, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

Looking at the recent dust up with Sue Grafton and taking part in the discussion on "The Passive Voice" I was struck by something Camille LaGuire said that gave me food for thought. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) She is speaking about the difference between Trade Publishing and DIY Publishing cultures - using a very interesting analogy.
I have been in both (traditional publishing and DIY publishing) cultures for quite a while, and I honestly think that there is a major cultural gulf, particularly in the area of shared experience. Because of this, indies take offense at a perceived subtext that isn’t there… or they miss a subtext that IS there that they would otherwise agree with.
It reminds me of this comment a friend made about his experiences in France. He was upper class, from Boston, where, apparently, you don’t talk about food. At most you thank the host or hostess or cook for a lovely meal. He experience great culture shock in France, where he discovered that everybody talks constantly about food. Not just talk about it, they critique it. Before, during and after the meal. They talk about the appearance, the aroma, how well cooked or not, are things sliced evenly.
He was horrified. Not only did he think it was crude, he thought they were being extremely rude to he host or cook. Except… the host or cook was right the in the conversation critiquing the meal too! “Yes, I did leave it in a little long, but I like the way the flavor turned out, even though it’s tough.”
And everybody would agree about the flavor, and discuss ways to get the flavor without risking the toughness.
The two of us who were talking with this guy, both looked at each other in shock at what he was saying. (She was Creole, I’m of French Canadian extraction.) And we both said: “You mean there are places where you DON’T critique the meal as you eat it?”
The idea of not discussing the food in depth as you ate was unimaginable to both of us.
And I feel that kind of difference when I go into places with a heavy Indie presence. People take offense at things which aren’t even insulting. Honestly, it’s not even a matter of being tough or sensitive. It’s just not negative to someone who has been knocking around traditional publishing.
I have to agree with her - we as Indies don't talk about 'QUALITY WRITING' and how to improve the quality of our writing. Instead, we bitch when people point out the amount of crap writing we see out there.
And I think the nature of DIY publishing is partially to blame for the fact that QUALITY has become the 'elephant in the room' of our industry.
Most of us are laboring away, diligently, at the individual work in progress (WIP), struggling to do our best. How often does the writer get feedback?
Usually, not until the writer thinks the work is finished. Then it might get a read-through or two and a trip to the copy editor. That really isn't time for in depth editorial feedback.
I know what I do - I take my WIP to Authonomy and get a few readers. Some will read for pleasure - others will nit-pick plot, others nit-pick sentence structure. I adore people who care enough to nit-pick. I seek them out and request their opinions because I know they are worth their weight in gold. I also have a very good friend who isn't afraid to ask me questions and make notes on my manuscripts.
These are all ways to correct my problems, but they don't address the collective DIY Publishing Industry quality problem!
Now we are looking at the elephant in the room!
So - where does one go to LEARN to write better?
Writer's Bistro has "Mike's School of Writing" which I enjoy very much. In fact, I don't spend enough time there.
Forward Motion has a 'How to Write A Novel' course that is highly recommended. I haven't take it - I keep telling myself I will sign up for the next one. (Procrastination, anyone?)
I know there are other schools out there.
Does anyone have a name and a site to share?


J S said...

My background is in Engineering with some time spent in manufacturing with Quality systems. And I write.

A consensus of what exactly is Quality Writing is needed. Most readers have a different expectation than writers who have different ideas about it than copy editors. Readers mostly don't want to be distracted by defects like like doubled words or, crazy, numbers, of commas,, and pour spellirs. Beyond that they want a well told story and often forgive a couple of minor defects because the story is compelling.

Until there is some agreement on what is 'poor quality' and 'exceptional quality' the solution to get there will never appear.

In the interim, I use a tool that I brought from manufacturing .. the error proofing check-list. I go down the list with find/replace and check through any novel plus a beta reader or two and exchange copy editing with another writer.

I'm still refining the check-list with each novel.

K. A. Jordan said...

I think we need to learn to talk about quality - just as people talk about food.

Keep the dialog open, without being offensive or being offended. (Not easy, but worth the effort.)

I'm not saying I know how to do it - I'm saying I want to learn how to discuss the merits of a work without snark, or perceived snark.

As a QC person you understand the Message paradigm - M1 - the message as presented. M2 - the message as received. M3 - what the original person MEANT.

So instead of the silent presence of the elephant, I'd really like to start talking about it. It's big, it's gray, and it takes up a lot of space.

K. A. Jordan said...

More on this - just like in Quality Control, there are really 2 levels of quality.

One is mechanical: Spelling, grammar, punctuation.

The other is craftsmanship.

I think you have a really good point with the checklist. In fact, I'd like to see it. I think it might be a good idea to share it on some of the writer's sites, just to see what happens.