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September 20, 2004

A brief note on linguistic markers
Posted by Teresa at 11:45 AM * 292 comments

This is a segment of a larger piece, the working title of which has been “Ambient Misinformation about Publishing and Writing, and the Cultivation of the Reader Mind: A Rant I Didn’t Get to Deliver at Noreascon.” It has occurred to me that I could write about this one for a very long time without exhausting the subject.

Certain words and phrases are like little genetic markers for scammers. Here’s a non-exhaustive list, non-exhaustively explained:

1. “Giving new writers a chance.” Also: “Helping new writers.”

While agents and publishers frequently do just this thing, they don’t talk about it in those terms. For them, it’s always a specific new book, a specific new author. Making judgements about which book and which writer they’re going to work with is the heart of their job. When you hear someone talking in an indiscriminately general fashion about giving a chance to new writers, there’s something wrong.

Same goes for “helping new writers.” There might be legitimate projects aimed at helping new writers as a class, but the business they’re in isn’t agenting or publishing.

2. “Traditional publishing.”

This term came in with PublishAmerica. It’s their little way of suggesting that they’re a conventional publishing house, which they aren’t. Publishing houses refer to what they do as “publishing.”

3. “Professionally edited manuscript.” Also, “No publisher will look twice at a manuscript that hasn’t been professionally edited.” Also, any of the numerous variations thereon.

The part about publishers automatically rejecting manuscripts that haven’t been professionally edited is a flat-out lie. Anyone who tells you that is either a scammer, a complete ignoramus, or a naif who’s been keeping bad company.

Publishing houses care about the text. They don’t care whether you paid someone else to go over it.

This lie has been spread by scam agents who bunco-steer their clients into the hands of unscrupulous (and often unskilled) “book doctors,” most of whom do a perfunctory surface-level edit, charge the client dearly for it, and pay a kickback to the agent. The client and manuscript are then sent back to the agent, ready for the next round of fleecing.

There are some genuine freelance professional editors out there. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I don’t know any who take referrals from agents.

4. The terrible odds that you’ll get published.

Hearing about this from someone who supposedly works in publishing should make you wary. People who really work in publishing know that the chances of any single manuscript’s being published, expressed as the proportion it represents of the total slush pile, is a completely meaningless figure. The majority of the manuscripts in the slush pile have zero chance of getting published. The rest have a greater-than-zero chance. The good ones have a very good chance indeed.

This and other dubious “facts” about the unlikelihood of your being published are spread by vanity/subsidy/misc. scammy operations. They want you to despair of your own chances of getting published, and go with them instead.

The other source of this dubious wisdom is writers who’ve repeatedly had their submissions rejected. While they are speaking from experience, you have to remember that their experience consists of submitting stories and books that nobody wants to buy. Your own manuscript might not share that fate. The only way you can find out is by submitting it and seeing what happens.

5. Hopes and dreams.

One seldom hears real agents, editors, or publishers talk about the author’s hopes and dreams. What they talk about are the author’s books.

Scammers are forever going on about hopes and dreams because (a.) all aspiring writers have them; (b.) the writer will take it to mean the scammer truly understands them (as opposed to understanding that this is a common characteristic of aspiring writers); and (c.) it spares the scammers having to say anything specific about manuscript submissions they haven’t actually read.

Comments on A brief note on linguistic markers:
#1 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 12:36 PM:

Funny that this should come up here -- I've been reading too many post-PublishAmerica authors again (indirectly because of discussions about book contracts). I find it a touch on the depressing side.

I'd love to hear all the things you didn't get to say at Noreascon; even if it's initially preaching to the choir, it's a great resource to point people to when one is not certain if they're clinging ferociously to stupidity or merely uninformed.

#2 ::: rbs ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 12:39 PM:

... 1. “Giving new writers a chance.” Also: “Helping new writers.”

Unfortunately, I have seen this phrase used in the context of "paying forward". Specifically by Mike Resnick in the context of his Alternate Whatever anthologies, whose quality become less distinguished as the series went on.

... 5. Hopes and dreams.

Dead on target. The first time this smoke got blown in my face was by a friend who was trying to sell Amway product.

#3 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 12:50 PM:

... 1. “Giving new writers a chance.” Also: “Helping new writers.”

Unfortunately, I have seen this phrase used in the context of "paying forward". Specifically by Mike Resnick in the context of his Alternate Whatever anthologies, whose quality become less distinguished as the series went on.

I think it could be argued that Mike Resnick isn't an agent, and he isn't a publisher; he was editing, and he if he felt that nurturing new authors was some part of that, not a single anthology he turned in was entirely new authors, and he wasn't actually responsible for how it was published; he was responsible for assembling the stories and turning them in to the publisher.

Or: I interpreted the "agent and publisher" to be pretty much agents or publishers, and the comment about "being in the business of publishing" to refer to these two things.

(Sorry about the double post -- can someone kill one of them? I'm not sure why it turned up twice.)

#4 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 01:16 PM:

The other source of this dubious wisdom is writers who’ve repeatedly had their submissions rejected. While they are speaking from experience, you have to remember that their experience consists of submitting stories and books that nobody wants to buy.

I love this. I'm going to hang this on my mental office wall next to your Permission to Write Badly.

(My real office wall has no slogans on it. They're distracting. It's the one in my head that gets covered with this stuff.)

#5 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 01:38 PM:

A couple of corollaries:

(1) "Actively looking for new authors." Of course they are. It's just that "real" publishers and agents don't have to say so—they've got far more submissions than they can handle. Phrases like this one are a come-on for the scamsters. The one exception might be the agent who has left a previous agency to form his/her own—and even then, he/she won't say anything like this!

(2) "POD publishing." POD is a printing technology, not a publishing method. It does have some effect on the various price points and affordability of a book published using POD technology—but everything else (cover, layout, etc.) is identical.

(5) "Hopes and dreams." Actually, that's what the con artists want, because "hopes and dreams" lead to irrational decisions—the bread and butter of every con scheme since day one.

#6 ::: Dawn B. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 01:48 PM:

Neat... I do like these. There is so much crap out there geared to take advantage of writers/artists. I know there is crap to take advantage of everyone, really, but I'm more aware of the ones that target writers.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 01:50 PM:

Michelle, rbs, I wouldn't dream of second-guessing Mike Resnick.

Charlie, thanks for "actively looking for new authors," and the use of "hopes and dreams" as the spoor of irrational decision-making processes. Could you expand on the one about "POD publishing"?

#8 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 02:05 PM:

"Giving New Writers a Chance." The thing that gripes me about this particular phrase is the vaguely heroic overtone. "Look, I and I alone (with or without my superhero cape) am Giving New Wiiters a Chance!" It's rather like positioning oneself as the savior of the downtrodden, the hero of the suffering little people. And it positions the people who might legitimately buy a book or story as Big Meanies Who Don't Give New Writers a Chance. I suppose it's just a way of cutting the weak ones out of the herd and leading them to the slaughter.

#9 ::: C.E.Petit ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 02:14 PM:

"POD publisher" is the predecessor to Publi5hAm3ri(a's current "traditional publishing" tactic, but from the opposite direction. Instead of claiming "likeness" with commercial publication (BTW, that's the closest to a legally defensible term one is going to find), "POD publisher" was used —and still is used, just surf to iUniv3r53's, Au+horHou5e's, and xLibri5's respective websites!—to distinguish these New Age vanity presses from vanity presses.

Wait a minute. I think I just defined the problem. Virtually every publisher using the "POD publisher" moniker is a vanity press. Let's see:

  • Does the publisher ask for money from the author? Yes.

  • Does the publisher have legal title to the books as they come off the press? Yes.
Sounds like a vanity press to me. The second factor is what distinguishes "self-publishing" from "vanity publishing"—a "self-publisher" has legal title to the books as they come off the press, despite the printer's physical possession of them.

The only real distinction is quantitative—it doesn't take quite as much moola to get s/u/c/k/e/r/p/u/n/c/h/e/d/ published at a "POD publisher" as it does with a "traditional" vanity press like Dorrance and Vantage. That does not change their qualitative nature at all.

I have now officially overused my quota of quotated terms for the month.

#10 ::: Catie Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 02:17 PM:

...While they are speaking from experience, you have to remember that their experience consists of submitting stories and books that nobody wants to buy.

I'm not sure why, but for some reason this just really made my morning. *laugh* I feel like I shouldn't laugh, but it just struck me as very funny. :)

-Catie

#11 ::: Holly Messinger ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 03:20 PM:

Oh good. Since you're talking about scams and myths (again), I wondered what y'all would make of this "properties management" company, being started by the former President of Marvel Comics.

It's sort of an agency, but not. And a lot like the internal property-acquisitions department of a large movie studio, but not. If they were in traditional publishing, I'd call them a book packager, but they're not. Are there any other examples of this kind of thing, extant?

#12 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 03:42 PM:

It's amazing, though, that even when you point people at posts like the above or any of the other sites like Writer Beware, how many people still "fall" for the scams because of basic insecurity. They might even be 99% convinced it's a scam, but they're so desperate to think it might improve their chances of getting published that they'll still fork over the money just on the off chance it's not.

I figure that the best way to spend money to improve my chances of getting published is on good old-fashioned postage (-:

#13 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 03:54 PM:

Suzanne said: It's amazing, though, that even when you point people at posts like the above or any of the other sites like Writer Beware, how many people still "fall" for the scams because of basic insecurity.

The ones that stun me are the ones who discount all that information out of sheer arrogance.

#14 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 04:43 PM:

Teresa: Oh good. Another meaty publishing post I can share with the writing boards.

Tracina: I suspect it's not arrogance that blinds those poor writers but desperation.

#15 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 05:15 PM:

Tracina: I suspect it's not arrogance that blinds those poor writers but desperation.

Otoh, desperation in the literate can sound an awful lot like arrogance <wry g>.

#16 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 05:25 PM:

Otoh, desperation in the literate can sound an awful lot like arrogance

Michelle: Well, yes. Having been on the receiving end of some rather energetic pro-PA lectures, I have to agree. *pained g*

#17 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 06:10 PM:

Tracina, Suzanne - of course, part of the reason they fall, be it arrogant or desperate, is because they themselves are doing the same things being done to them:

"Hopes and Dreams", of course, is directly linked to the Turkey City lexicon entry for "pushbutton words":

'Words used to evoke a cheap emotional response without engaging the intellect or the critical faculties....'

I'm betting it's the writers who overuse such words who fall quickest for it when others do.

"While they are speaking from experience, you have to remember that their experience consists of submitting stories and books that nobody wants to buy."

While this caused a laugh here, too, it is worth noting that the all too oft-rejected is *also* the hapless hopeful they're trying to convince -- they often dwell within the same skin.

#18 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 07:00 PM:

Beth: I suspect it's not arrogance that blinds those poor writers but desperation.

I was thinking of one person in particular when I wrote about arrogance, and your ability to see that person as a desperate writer rather than a hellspawn humbles me. You have a much larger and more generous heart than I do.

#19 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 07:06 PM:

Of course, it's even worse when a newbie writer emails you with a question about how could you not recommend my publisher or agent without even identifying who that publisher or agent is. Then the next email from them takes one of two forms. They've either been to another site where they discovered more of the awful truth about their publisher or agent and just want to be certain if you really have documentation or they're still in disbelief and demand proof. Most give the publisher or agent name by the second email.

It's not easy proving to someone that the person who said he could fulfill their aspirations is not in it to help them at all. The real scammers seem to know that about human behavior and use it for all it's worth.

Hmmm, excuse me for this digression. I'd never noticed before that the last phrase could be used in the possessive form and still be correct as "use it for all its worth".

Anyway, that behavior or need seems to be one of the few things that I've noticed in just about every victim taken by a scammer.

#20 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 07:28 PM:

It's not easy proving to someone that the person who said he could fulfill their aspirations is not in it to help them at all.

This, er, has application outside publishing. For instance, it explains a lot about continued support for certain political parties....

#21 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 07:43 PM:

So you're saying they're the CMOT Dibblers of book publishing, then?

#22 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 08:01 PM:

Hey, I'm going to second Holly's post above and see if anyone has any thoughts on what Bill Jemas (former Marvel comics honcho) is doing with that company. It sounds like a total scam, but I wonder what others think.

Any thoughts?

#23 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 08:14 PM:

A tangent on “Professionally edited manuscript”:
It would probably be indiscreet to name names or give other identifiers, but there is one publisher who stands out from the herd as a case where writers would be well advised to have their manuscripts professionally edited before submission -- or indeed after acceptance.
In my office's recently concluded period of reading vast numbers of published children's books, again and again one or other of our small group would exclaim that a novel was brilliant but had easily correctible flaws in the structure, obvious errors of fact, or recurrent infelicities -- all the kind of thing that a good editor would have addressed. And without fail, such an exclamation would be followed by the revelation that the book was published by the same company.

#24 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 08:22 PM:

Hey, Jonathan, are their initials CB? ED? GF? IH? KJ? ML? ON? RQ? TS? VU? XW? ZY? Okay, I give up. ;)

#25 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 08:25 PM:

Speaking of Highly Questionable Things and Marvel:

We read on the ST Literary Agency webpage:

ST Literary Agency Breaking News

In 2003-4 we were selected to submit new authors to Marvel Comics... interesting and fun opportunity. (Note: This opportunity is closed now).

Anyone know what that was all about?

#26 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 09:15 PM:

I'm now reading over the website for a local "personalized publishing" company looking for those phrases.

#27 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 09:18 PM:

So you're saying they're the CMOT Dibblers of book publishing, then?

You owe me a new, dry keyboard. I'm just saying.

#28 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 09:55 PM:

Kayjay, that's slick. Did you read where they even have their own brick-and-mortar bookstore?

#29 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 10:46 PM:

Yikes, just yikes. Someone at a local writer's group recommended a particular company to me and I foolishly contacted them via email. they sent me their package of information, then followed up a couple of weeks later with a sales call.

I said outright, "you're a vanity press. Money should flow toward the writer."

He tried to argue about it and I countered. Then he got all
p i s s e d off about it, and started yelling at me. How professional. I told him he'd better not call again or I'd all the Federal no-call lilst program and have THEM jump on his arse.

how unpleasant. And so 'personal and up front." Sigh. Writing is a business like anything else. You try and write good stories you need to tell and then to sell. And hope someone buys them. That's the bottom line. The publishers are in a business too, and should not be griped/yelled at because they didn't buy some witer's 'purple fairy gone wrong' story (I'm just pulling this out of my arse because I'm just a writer). They have to be responsible for their bottom line too.

#30 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2004, 10:49 PM:

"In my office's recently concluded period of reading vast numbers of published children's books, again and again one or other of our small group would exclaim that a novel was brilliant but had easily correctible flaws in the structure, obvious errors of fact, or recurrent infelicities -- all the kind of thing that a good editor would have addressed. And without fail, such an exclamation would be followed by the revelation that the book was published by the same company."

I have no idea which publisher this refers to, but I can't help noticing that part of the alleged profile is that novels in question were repeatedly "brilliant." If this is actually so consistently the case, they're ahead of the game despite their defects in execution.

#31 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 12:08 AM:

Mad, Dorothy Deering insisted to the end (and may still be insisting, for all I know) that her truthless and rapacious Deering Agency was only trying to help new authors whom no one else would work with. She may even have talked herself into believing it. Certainly she's on record as having thought, right up until her sentencing, that the judge would recognize that she wasn't just some common criminal, and forbear to throw the book at her. I've seen more than one hardened professional scammer react with surprise and hurt indignation when someone called them a crook. Didn't we understand that they were selfless public benefactors?

IMO, the corollary of their belief that they're engaged in unending acts of charity is that they lose whatever respect they may initially have had for the authors.

Holly, the Marvel thing looks like a cross between a packager and a marketing consultant, independently reinvented by someone not familiar with either of those occupations. Bear in mind that real agents are a great rarity in the comics industry. I think this guy is trying to fill part or all of the empty agent-niche.

Beth, I'll believe it's desperation, but how do you come by your acquaintance with it? You've been writing at a professional level for some time now.

Dave, if you'll send those poor souls to my CafePress site, I'll sell them a nice instructive t-shirt or mug that says "The fact that you're on their side doesn't mean that they're on your side." And Sylvia, I first came up with that one while arguing with the adherents of what I suspect is the very same political party you have in mind.

James, it could have meant that they knew someone who'd gotten hired at Marvel. Then again, they may just have realized how Chaotic Marvel was, and figured it was extremely unlikely that anyone there would get it together to contradct them..

I just fell asleep
as I typed this reply
here on the sofa.

Time for bed.

#32 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 01:56 AM:

I already sent this on to PNH and TNH and my family and other publishing friends. It's the latest scam, or something.

Although it’s not April 1, I can’t help but wonder if the following isn’t a joke. This is about Kirkus, the bane of so many authors, noted for their killer reviews. (My first book, PIRATES IN PETTICOATS, nonfiction about women pirates, was panned with "more swish than swash," clearly a line they’d had in waiting for years. And this well before Johnny Depp.)

From Publisher’s Lunch:

Kirkus for Hire
"Kirkus Reviews is putting their 71 years worth of ‘credibility, integrity, and pedigree’ up for sale to "self-published, e-published and POD authors. Any publisher seeking greater exposure for a title can gain awareness through our network of influential readers and buyers."

"Under a new program called Kirkus Discoveries, authors and publishers are invited to ‘commission a review,’ for $350. Those reviews will be displayed at KirkusDiscoveries.com. . ."

It also goes on to mention a "second pay-for-promo program called ‘Kirkus Reports.’ . . . ‘"a pay service, at $95/title, with opportunities for bulk rates.’"

Jane

#33 ::: Jonathan Shaw finds comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 03:18 AM:

Patrick: Absolutely. Their commissioning editor does a fabulous job, but there seems to be a policy of letting the books go through with minimal attention once they've been bought. That's what makes the phenomenon remarkable. Mediocre books poorly presented wouldn't -- indeed don't -- raise an eyebrow.

Dave: I'm not trying to tease (really!). I'd be surprised if anyone else here had the kind of immersion experience that has brought this tendency to light. I'm not trying to blacken the publishing house's name, but if I were to talk to an author considering submitting to them I'd definitely advise them to assume the book will go to press pretty much as submitted. Of course that's probably not a bad assumption to make in any case.

#34 ::: Debra Broughton ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 04:24 AM:

4. The terrible odds that you’ll get published.
To inrease those odds:
revise the work
get feedfack from a trusted source and act on it
revise the work again
read the work through
revise the work again

Only send it out when you're sure it's ready.

#35 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 05:28 AM:

> it is worth noting that the all too oft-rejected is *also* the hapless hopeful they're trying to convince

I wonder how many of the people they grab have actually been rejected before, and how many are just clueless newbies who haven't even tried submitting to a real publisher.

#36 ::: ET ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 05:39 AM:

> Under a new program called Kirkus Discoveries, authors and publishers are invited to ‘commission a review,’

A new SM trend? Pay and get your book trashed.

#37 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 06:35 AM:

Michelle, sorry - I just read The Truth recently and it leapt to mind.

ET - that's a great scam too, because historically it's always been easy to find people who will trash your writing for free, often at great length, but they didn't expect *you* to provide anything except one free copy...

#38 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 07:30 AM:

If I'm reading Kirkus Reviews' site correctly, neither Kirkus Reports nor Kirkus Discoveries will go in their hard-copy Kirkus Reviews magazine.

#39 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 08:24 AM:

Sorry -- my last post said something about comment spam. It was my browser remembering what I had forgotten and then didn't check!

#40 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 08:26 AM:

Tracina: Oh that hellspawn. Some days I have no generosity toward him, some days I pity him. Depends on how much sleep I've had.

Teresa: Thank you. I do go through periods of self-doubt; however, the comment comes from reading a number of message boards where writers cry out in anguished tones how they'll never be published. It wrings my heart, and the most I can do is try to steer them away from the scamsters.

#41 ::: Cathy ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 08:42 AM:

Jane you're kidding about the Kirkus thing, right? RIGHT? Not that we can afford to subscribe to it, but pay for placement in a review journal? Did they indicate that it would be in a special section?

#42 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 08:57 AM:

Kirkus Discoveries will go on a web page. Kirkus Reports will go in an HTML e-mail to those who request it.

Kirkus Reviews, themselves, the hard-copy magazine, apparently won't carry either style of pay-to-play plan "reviews."

#43 ::: Paul Walker ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 09:26 AM:

A friend of mine's supposed to be publishing a book at the moment with PublishAmerica. I don't know anything about the contract, but he did get a friend who's an entertainment lawyer to check it, and money (albeit very small amounts initially) is flowing towards him. It will apparently have an ISBN and so forth.

I thought it sounded like most things were covered; are PA really that bad? Any web sources which collate everything together?

#44 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 09:50 AM:

"One seldom hears real agents, editors, or publishers talk about the author’s hopes and dreams. What they talk about are the author’s books."

This is sort of a corollary to the old adage about how to tell whether a group of writers are newbies or professionals: When newbies get together, they talk about writing. When pros get together, they talk about money.

#45 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 09:57 AM:

Only send it out when you're sure it's ready.

I'm not sure I agree with this, simply because I know too many writers who battle perfectionism as a character flaw and as an excuse. "I had a big-name editor for a Clarion instructor/met one at a con, and as soon as I get this novel just exactly right, I'll send it to that editor," I've heard from more than one acquaintance (and even a few friends). How far have you gotten with it? "Well, I'm on my twentieth revision of Chapter One -- I don't seem to be able to get it just right -- but the minute it's perfect, I'll start revising the next two chapters. And then I can write the draft of the rest of the book!" ...Oh. How, um, nice.

I'm all in favor of multiple sets of revisions, some with feedback and some with just internal personal progress. But it's very easy to never, ever be sure that a book is ready, especially since healthy professionals always keep growing professionally. Colour of Magic was nice, but I think Thief of Time leaves it in the dust. Jhereg is lovely but only the beginning. The Warrior's Apprentice rocked my world, but Paladin of Souls just keeps rocking it. Etc. If you're doing it right, you will keep learning. I think that learning when to move on to the next thing, when to decide that a book has gone as far as it can go right now, is a very valuable skill.

Maybe I'm just cranky and frustrated with good book ideas and compelling characters that never get past page 50 because they're not absolutely perfect, but I think asking early writers to wait for absolute certainty is not such a great idea.

#46 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 10:01 AM:

Paul: and money (albeit very small amounts initially) is flowing towards him.

Unless he somehow convinced PA to pay for copyrighting (which I very much doubt; their contract has the author do this), then even with the $1 "advance," he's still $29 down from the start. That's not money flowing toward the author.

#47 ::: Paul Walker ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 10:12 AM:

Tracina - copyright's automatic when you write something, isn't it? (Displaying my ignorance here, probably.)

That's certainly the way it works for software, anyway. Software I can do, writing not so much. :)

I've sent him a mail to read this thread, anyway.

#48 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 10:19 AM:

For those who really want to know the whole story of Dorothy Deering—actually, for those who want to know the story of one of the longest-running frauds in US law enforcement history—the Southern Illinois University Press published Jim Fisher's (yes, that Jim Fisher) book on her in May. You can find it at Powell's: Ten Percent of Nothing: The Story of the Literary Agent From Hell.
(Disclosure: I represent Jim Fisher, including defense against claims of libel by a certain Pittsburgh-based vanity press/scam agent.)

Paul: I find it really, really hard to believe that a competent creator's side entertainment lawyer would approve of PA's contract—presuming, that is, that the lawyer is located somewhere other than Tennessee, where they have some funny ideas on contracts thanks to the baneful influence of the music industry in Nashville. These are not trivial problems. As I've mentioned to our lovely hostess before, there are seventeen distinct problems in the "E" version (the most-current) of PA's contract, and I can name the three form books used to cobble it together. (It's not just geekness; it's part of my job.)

#49 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 10:22 AM:

Paul: Copyright is automatic, yes, but registering your copyright, which gives you more protection in case of a lawsuit, costs $30. Real publishers do that for the author.

#50 ::: Paul Walker ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 10:28 AM:

Gnoted. Thanks both. :) You learn something every day, particularly by reading Making Light.

#51 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 10:32 AM:

Paul, check this out:

http://payn.freelinuxhost.com/

It's a Publish America pro and con.

You should know that an author cut and paste the first 30 pages of his manuscript into a file about ten times, until the manuscript was about 300 pages.

He submitted this to PA and was accepted. The same thirty pages over and over again.

Having a book published by PA is slush by association.

#52 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 10:44 AM:

To extend bellatrys's comment about CMOT Dibbler...what do you think is in the sausages? (with extra bonus YCDTOT reference)

#53 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 11:25 AM:

Funny someone should mention Kirkus... A few months ago I received an e-mail from someone representing a new reviewing journal. They wanted to start an online site with a bang by giving out prizes to small publishers. I was asked to review and rate some travel books. My degree is in library science, and at each stage of my career I've been in charge of selecting books for almost every area of scholarship, including a couple of years of selecting travel books for a large public library, so I said yes. I did my damndest to read and really review the books they sent me. It wasn't until later than I discovered that they were a VANITY "REVIEWING JOURNAL", i.e. publishers and authors paid for reviews. Well, color me chastened and embarrassed. I had already submitted my reviews , so I let it lay, with a double-underscored-bold-italic memo to self never to get involved again with these folks.

Funny thing is, the books ranged from interesting-though-not-well-edited to really, really good. SOme of them came from legit small presses (which is one of the reasons why I assumed these folks were legit), and would certainly rate at least a mention in Library Journal or Choice.

#54 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 11:39 AM:
4. The terrible odds that you’ll get published...

The other source of this dubious wisdom is writers who’ve repeatedly had their submissions rejected.

And then there are those who, having no intention of pursuing writing as a profession anyway (nothing wrong with that), bandy this tired old line about out of pure carelessness (lots wrong with that).

Hang around the NaNoWriMo forums and you'll find plenty folks who take the "50,000 words in 30 days" challenge not in order to generate a rough draft that will one day, after the serious work of a good solid revision period, end up in the hands of agents and publishers but just to show themselves they can do it. So a lot of them commemorate the occasion by self-publishing with LuLu.com, just to have a single copy of their book on their own shelves to show off to friends and family. "Look! I did that!"

Which is all well and good ... until folks of this description thoughtlessly add, "Besides, it's not like there's any chance I could get this published traditionally even if I were serious about it..." And I want to start screeching Shut up shut up shut up and stop poisoning the waters, godsdammit!

#55 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 11:48 AM:
Bruce Arthurs: This is sort of a corollary to the old adage about how to tell whether a group of writers are newbies or professionals: When newbies get together, they talk about writing. When pros get together, they talk about money.

Maybe I'm a romantic, but I find that a little sad. I hope that when I'm an old pro and I get togther with other old pros we'll all still be excited enough about writing to actually talk about writing. I'm going into this as a professional, sure, but money's not the interesting part. If you get enough of it, it pays the bills, sure, but it's not what I want to blather about when I'm socializin'.

#56 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 12:13 PM:

That's a collorary of "Amateurs talk about tactics; professionals talk about logistics."

#57 ::: Neil Gaiman ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 12:19 PM:

This is sort of a corollary to the old adage about how to tell whether a group of writers are newbies or professionals: When newbies get together, they talk about writing. When pros get together, they talk about money.

It may be an old adage, but that doesn't make it true.

You know, I've been a professional writer for over twenty years.

Mostly, in my experience, when professional writers get together they talk about each other, or about people they know, or books they've read, or cool things they've run into while researching other things, or food, or the weather, or the gardening, or Making Light, or movies they've seen.

On the whole they don't talk about the mechanics of writing, because they've been doing it long enough that the questions people ask at the start are more or less answered, at least to their satisfaction. But they talk about what they've enjoyed...

And while I can remember many conversations about Problems with Agents or Problems with Publishers, over the years, I don't remember any conversations about money. (Apart from Steve Brust, over the weekend, saying that he'd like more of it. But he was also talking about the mechanics of writing at the time, so I think those two cancel each other out.)

#58 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 12:25 PM:

This is sort of a corollary to the old adage about how to tell whether a group of writers are newbies or professionals: When newbies get together, they talk about writing. When pros get together, they talk about mony.

The quote I actually heard was "wannabes or professionals" and "talk about art" which has ... different connotations.

At any rate, it's a clever enough, but in terms of accuracy? It's kind of like ... not. People who are interested in money talk about money. People who are interested in writing talk about writing. People who have heard this too often and are afraid they will look like a wannabe often just don't talk much.

I can think of several oft published writers, with multiple novels, all in print & at high mid-list numbers, who will, in any given corner of any given room where other like-minded professional writers gather, talk about process. I love those discussions.

I can go either way -- but oddly enough I only talk about the business to people who don't know it so well.

#59 ::: Elese ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 01:00 PM:

I've been following this thread with interest. I am writing my first book, and I love writing it. At the moment, I write only because I love to do so. But secretly, I do hope to get it published one day.

When I try to look at my book objectively, I believe it's good enough to publish. But I've heard that spiel so many times:

"It's impossible to get published even if your book is good, all you'll get is a pile of form rejection letters etc..."

I do a lot of pottery. If I throw a pot, I instantly know how good or bad it is, and how to improve the next time. With my writing, I find it very difficult - how do I know whether I'm able to truly judge my own writing objectively?

Discovering Making Light has given me hope - I now realise that if my book is good enough, there's a good chance I can get it published.

For now, I intend to just enjoy the writing process. I figure the rest is icing.

Hopefully, icing I get to taste one day (ever the optimist :)

#60 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 01:00 PM:

I can name plenty of well-established professional writers who not only talk about writing a lot, but do so in public and interestingly.

Pat Wrede, Pamela Dean, and Jo Walton jump immediately to mind. There are more.

#61 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 02:33 PM:

A catch-all chime in post from me, as usual:

That's a collorary of "Amateurs talk about tactics; professionals talk about logistics."

So who gets to talk about strategy?

I thought it sounded like most things were covered; are PA really that bad? Any web sources which collate everything together?

Well, he could go over to www.fmwriters.com and type PublishAmerica into the search page. The topic comes up every few months.

It would probably be indiscreet to name names or give other identifiers, but there is one publisher who stands out from the herd as a case where writers would be well advised to have their manuscripts professionally edited before submission -- or indeed after acceptance.

Don't know which publisher this is either but I'm guessing it's probably cost-cutting/under-staffing/bottom line issues. To stay afloat, you need to make a good enough product - good enough to be bought, that is. Try to strive for a prefect product, you go over-budget and it becomes too expensive. Too lousy, nobody buys. Competition pushes up the standard of what "too lousy" is. Fortunately, with books, the writer can (and should, imo, since his name goes on it) do a lot about the quality of the product.

#62 ::: shana ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 02:37 PM:

Only send it out when you're sure it's ready.

I'm not sure I agree with this, simply because I know too many writers who battle perfectionism as a character flaw and as an excuse.[...]I'm all in favor of multiple sets of revisions, some with feedback and some with just internal personal progress. [...] If you're doing it right, you will keep learning. I think that learning when to move on to the next thing, when to decide that a book has gone as far as it can go right now, is a very valuable skill. [...] but I think asking early writers to wait for absolute certainty is not such a great idea.

Coming from the other side of the business -- you certainly have a point regarding the perfectionists. Unfortunately, most writers that I hear from are NOT perfectionists;
I get all too many queries that have errors in their own names or addresses, let alone that have been proofread and revised multiple times.

If I see your first draft, and you haven't taken the time to tighten the dialogue or tidy up loose ends - or fix your its vs. it's - i'm going to say no.

If your third draft is written compellingly and tautly, then I will be much more likely to pay more attention -- whether I ask to see more of your work or turn it down anyways.

Take the time to make your work the best that YOU can make it; have your friends and family and writers' workshops read it; take their comments to heart in your next revisions - and then revise it again. it'll make a difference once it goes to an editor or agent.

#63 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 04:09 PM:

mayakda: So who gets to talk about strategy?

Wargamers. :-)

#64 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 04:33 PM:

The progression Yog referred to is very popular among military officers, and has four (not two) stages:

  • Amateurs talk about hardware and tactics
  • Dilletantes talk about operational control
  • Statesmen talk about grand strategy
  • Professionals talk about logistics
The other way to put it is much more elegant: "The logistical tail doesn't wag the dog: It is the dog."

In any event, I've periodically discussed some relevant material at Scrivener's Error, including these items of particular interest:

  • Taking the Bait (some numbers on POD-based vanity press sales and what they mean to authors contemplating such arrangements)
  • Target Selection (links back to TNH's comments on reasons for rejection)
  • New Math (deciphering royalty statements and the real basis for compensation)
  • POD Blues (the patent lawsuit)

#65 ::: zette ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 04:35 PM:

There are some truly wonderful words of advice here. Thank you.

Over at Forward Motion, which is filled with new writers (that pretty much being why it exists), I have an ongoing problem with people suddenly deciding to self-publish. They may have had a rejection or two (but quite often they won't even go that far), and even if they've tried the big publishing houses, they wouldn't think of submitting to a reputable small press publisher. It's depressing to see, but I have learned that there are people who just will not listen to reason -- people who are not ever going to be professionals, no matter if they write well or not. The best we can do at FM is to tell the people that this is a bad idea. Some people will not be saved. Some people, in fact, will glory in not being saved.

I have always told people to start at the top when they think they're ready for publication (though they might want to try a crit group of some sort first). The process of submission takes time, just like writing a good book takes time. That seems to be the part that annoys people the most -- not just the time it takes to go through the submission process, but that it takes so long to get a rejection. Maybe it's the age we live in and the idea that we should be able to get anything we want RIGHT NOW.

Even though I am involved in the publishing side for an ebook company, I still tell people that they shouldn't start with ebooks as their first choice. You can always move down the ladder, but you can't move up once the story is accepted -- and yes, ebooks in today's market are down the ladder from print. That may change in the future, but it's the truth right now.

There are also a limited number of spots available in those big houses and a lot of wonderful writers out there. I've seen some great manuscripts (at least I think they are) that haven't quite made the cut in the print houses, but that I've loved reading.

But if your heart is set on seeing your books on the shelf at the local Borders or Barnes and Noble, then you had better aim just as high for agents and publishers.

(Oh, and NaNoWriMo -- I love NaNo just for the fun, even though I work with outlines and try to write something I will one day rewrite, edit, etc. However, I once made the mistake of asking how many people on the boards were doing serious writing rather than just for fun. I hadn't realized the word 'serious' was a terrible attack against everyone else. So I have used it as often as I could after that because I get annoyed at silly people who think that if someone isn't doing things for the same reason they are that they shouldn't be doing them at all.)

#66 ::: Sarah Skwire ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 04:50 PM:

Of course writers talk about money. They also talk about writing, and they do so often and interestingly.

What they rarely talk about, in my experience, is what they're writing *right now*, other than to give a general sense of how things are going.

Because, if you're spending your time talking about the poem or the story you probably aren't spending enough time working on it.

This generalization is worth exactly as much as all other generalizations.

#67 ::: Sarah Skwire ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 04:53 PM:

Of course writers talk about money. They also talk about writing, and they do so often and interestingly.

What they rarely talk about, in my experience, is what they're writing *right now*, other than to give a general sense of how things are going.

Because, if you're spending your time talking about the poem or the story you probably aren't spending enough time working on it.

This generalization is worth exactly as much as any other generalization, of course.

#68 ::: Sarah Skwire ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 04:54 PM:

Sorry about that.

Technical melt-down.

#69 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 06:17 PM:

Lenora:

"Hopes and Dreams", of course, is directly linked to the Turkey City lexicon entry for "pushbutton words":
'Words used to evoke a cheap emotional response without engaging the intellect or the critical faculties....'

There's a classic term for that kind of emotional button-pushing: argumentum ad hominem. Unfortunately, the term is now misused, almost universally, for distrusting people who have a record of unreliability. The latter is actually not a logical error, though habitually unreliable people would have you believe it is.

If you don't believe me, don't bother to tell me until you look it up.

#70 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 09:05 PM:

Dan, did you really mean the argumentum ad hominem? Are you quite sure you don't mean the argumentum ad populum?

#71 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 09:23 PM:

Unfortunately, the term is now misused, almost universally, for distrusting people who have a record of unreliability

In my understanding of logical fallacy, the modern usage for this means to attack the credibility of the person who is making the argument, rather than the argument itself. I did look for an antiquated other use for this phrase and I can find nothing; certainly the translation doesn't support the claim.

I'm not sure that argumentum ad populum works in this case either, though, since it seems to be an appeal to "the people" (As in "but everybody knows this" or even "everybody smart knows this". You could argue that this is emotional -- that either of these two approaches are logical fallacies -- but I can't see how you could use either to mean "button pushing" in the modern sense.

#72 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 09:29 PM:

On the matter of "when you're sure it's ready" - there are layers and layers. I sent out queries on a book before it was ready - because at the time, it was as good as I could make it. I then made a jump in writing ability, blushed at my poor book, which was good but not that good, and rewrote. And re-sent in a few cases, the best names and best places, effectively.

And then this very last month, I made another jump, (at least so far as that manuscript is concerned). And the itch wouldn't let me go through without another edit. Which I did. I like the results more each draft, and in this case, i'm happy with them a few weeks on, when I usually stop being sure of it.

(NB - the time gap between vs.'s A and B is at least 2 years - between B and C is slightly less than a year. In both cases I did wait the month or so usually suggested before subbing to make sure I didn't screech at some hideous error that was staring me in the face. And of course, I've been working on other things meantime. Too many, in fact.)

And now the book has been out twice to the best places, in less than its best condition.

So: should I have stopped revising even though I could see the flaws? Or should I not have sent out the book so soon, even though, at the time, it was as good as I could make it and I legitimately believed it ready?

Currently I have my own answer for that, which is that no, it really isn't reasonable to lock away a finished MS for a year without subbing. I find too many excuses not to sub already. But, YMMV.

#73 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 09:35 PM:

mayakda: So who gets to talk about strategy?

The people in marketing.

#74 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 09:38 PM:

Jane, the idea of buying a Kirkus review is dizzying. This is definitely going to drop the value of "-- Kirkus" on a cover quote.

I liked Patrick's reaction: "No kidding? Can we buy Kirkus reviews too?"

I also liked ET's reaction. Last I heard, $350 was about what you'd pay for that -- though if I were the one doing the paying, I'd want a guarantee that the reviewer would wear leather and very, very high heels while writing it.

Neil, Steve Brust is one of my shining examples of an author who loves to talk about how to write. Running Fourth Street Fantasy Con was one of his ruses aimed at making a lot of it happen in one place. Jane Yolen does the same thing by serving brunch.

Oh, man. Conversations you could get drunk on.

Beth, Tracina, are you talking about that levitating case of Stockholm Syndrome, or is it someone else entirely?

Paul Walker, read this to figure out how the money's flowing away from the writer. Twenty-nine bucks doesn't begin to cover it.

A general observation: Talking about emotional button-pushing is all very well, but there are lots and lots of ways to do that, and sooner or later scammers use most of them. What I'm talking about in this instance are specific bits of language that are characteristic of specific publishing scams.

Charlie Petit is right on the mark with his identification of "actively looking for new authors" as one of these markers. That publishing industry is actively looking for new writers goes without saying, so we don't say it. The people who do say it are trolling for suckers.

You know how spam filters are set up to catch mail from Miriam Abacha that offers to sell you Oxycodone that will increase the size of your toner cartridge and refinance your mortgage while working at home? The method here is similar. If you find a supposed agent or publisher using any of the bits language we're describing, go ahead and keep listening -- but put on your running shoes while you're doing it.

Beth, if the rejection panel at Noreascon had gone on another half-hour, I think I'd have started crying. Their desire and desperation aren't just perceptible. It's like standing in front of a tidal wave, or an oncoming train.

Mris, the Rewrite Monster is the reason Steve Eley has a certificate giving him permission to write badly. When he came to VP, he was doing the kind of epicycle-rewrites where you move forward very, very slowly because you keep rewriting the material you've already written. Almost everyone will get better results if they write all the way through to the end, then go back to reconfigure and polish it. S'truth. One of the penances Yog hands out at VP is, "You're not allowed to go to any more workshops until you finish typing the last page of your novel. It doesn't have to be good. It just has to be typed."

A further piece of advice about this from seriously big-name editor Terry Carr, on the occasion of his having been told by Loren MacGregor that he couldn't submit his novel to Terry's Ace Specials series because it wasn't perfect yet: "Don't you reject your work," Terry said; "that's my job."

Here's another way to look at it. If you're doing multiple overlapping rewrites, it's clear that you don't know exactly what you're doing or where you're going. You can find that out by finishing the first draft. Any rewrites you do prior to that point will be done in a state of imperfect knowledge, and are probably just so much wasted work, because you can't tell whether something is perfect until you know what book it's supposed to be part of.

Also: Sometimes your own writing is simply going to look dismal to you. It's just a thing that happens, like those odd spells where all the instances of "he said" and "she said" seem unbearably obtrusive and repetitive. There's no help for it. You just have to push on through and trust that it'll all look different to you later on.

Remember: If your friends keep fishing bits of your writing out of the wastebasket and passing them around appreciatively, it's probably not because they work for the CIA. (If they do work for the CIA, you may be a good writer anyway, but you should ask Santa Claus to bring you a paper shredder for Christmas.)

#75 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 09:46 PM:

Re: argumentum ad hominem

The OED says:

ad hominem, phr.

A phrase applied to an argument or appeal founded on the preferences or principles of a particular person rather than on abstract truth or logical cogency.

1599 R. PARSONS Temp. Ward-Word vi. 79 This is an argument..which logicians call, ad hominem. 1633 W. AMES Fresh Suit I. x. 105 Some arguments, and answers are ad hominem, that is, they respect the thing in quæstion, not simply, but as it commeth from such a man...

That sounds more like the "argument from authority" to me, which would seem to demonstrate that I don't know what I'm talking about. Sigh.

#76 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 09:50 PM:

More from Kirkus
I liked Patrick's reaction: "No kidding? Can we buy Kirkus reviews too?"

Apparently, according to PL, the answer is yes:

"We heard more from Kirkus Reviews about their new initiatives
after publication yesterday. The Discoveries program, under
which reviews can be commissioned, is targeting traditional
publishers as well as the self-published. Managing director
and editor in chief of parent VNU's US Literary Group Jerome
Kramer says the program is designed "for any title that the
publisher or author feels has been unfairly overlooked."
Kirkus currently reviews about 5,000 titles a year, which is
but a small fraction of the number of new books published
every year."

#77 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 10:50 PM:

You know, sometimes I think I'm in the wrong end of this business.

#78 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 10:55 PM:

Teresa remarks: "Sometimes your own writing is simply going to look dismal to you. It's just a thing that happens."

I refer everyone to the superb Eileen Gunn's superb Stable Strategies and Others, quite probably the best single-author collection of the year, in the preface to which she quotes an exchange with William Gibson:

"I forgot to tell you the secret of writing," he said.
"Okay," I said. "What is the secret of writing?"
A beat, for emphasis. Then: "You must learn to overcome your very natural and appropriate revulsion for your own work."
It was the most useful writing advice anyone has ever given me.

#79 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 11:00 PM:

Regarding Kirkus, I have to agree that it probably will lower their standing.

As to that feeling that what I'm writing is awful, I'm at that point with one manuscript. All I can do is try to ignore how I feel about it.

If anyone has the series E PA contract, please feel free to email it to me.

#80 ::: Josh DiMauro ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2004, 11:08 PM:

This is slightly off-topic. However, on the vague subject of editing and reviews, I was amused when a friend pointed me at Amazon.com's page for Anne Rice's new novel.

The usual thing happens in the reviews, fans vs. critics. And then Anne herself decides to write a long, incoherent rant with no whitespace, and declares that she has a special deal where editors are not allowed to touch her work.

This explains so much.

http://tinyurl.com/6wu62

Cheers.

#82 ::: Josh DiMauro ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 12:17 AM:

Christopher: D'oh. Well, I feel stupid.

I even did a glance-through, but missed it. Oh, well...

#83 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 12:22 AM:

"A beat, for emphasis. Then: "You must learn to overcome your very natural and appropriate revulsion for your own work." - William Gibson, quoted by Eileen Gunn

And people ask me why I don't hang my paintings in my house.

I mean would you want to walk past all your vile mistakes sneering down at you every morning on your way to breakfast?

#84 ::: Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 01:10 AM:

PNH: Thanks for the "secret." I thought I was one of the few who becomes ill when reading something I wrote and forgot--discounting old love letters and threatening op/ed responses. I'll still wretch, but I'll know I'm not alone.

BD: Most of the professional writers whom I know are of the newspaper ilk, and they tell fascinating stories when they convene --background tales to what they write. They never talk about money unless they are well into their cups. Too depressing.

#85 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 01:41 AM:

I'm just a po' lil' consumer of books, but I've gotta say that a Kirkus review on a book cover or jacket, however gushing, has pretty much no influence on me. Reviews from well-known newspapers or magazines usually do. Even if the cover has some elements that push my buttons the wrong way, a nice word from Newsday, The Dallas Morning News or the Plain Dealer is often enough to get me to skim the first couple of pages. But Kirkus... pretty much no impact one way or the other.

I don't know much about Kirkus, but to me, a Kirkus review seems a bit like a nice white paper on your software product from IDC or Gartner. The source may be authoritative and valuable in its own way, but it is probably less than totally objective - although not to the degree that their reputation would be at issue. Of course, I may be completely wrong about Kirkus, however their new product does nothing to disabuse me of my less than fully educated opinion. Maybe I'm just too much of a cynic.

#86 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 01:47 AM:

And I continue to wonder how to keep dealing with my friend Candy who:

- won the PNW Writer's Assn award for Best Novel one year and couldn't get it published

- has a (minor, but respectable) award winning screenplay for a produced movie

- makes money editing freelance unpublished novels, and (I really believe) sincerely believes she's helping the folks she's editing (and some of them have actually gotten their books published after editing!).

There's a slight disconnect I'm seeing between the lament about how nobody has time to seriously edit anymore at the Big Houses because the beancounters keep them from doing so, and the belief that freelance editors are all scumbags and scam artists. I think some folks who are genuinely trying to improve mss may be sincerely using some of the "linguistic markers" mentioned here. I don't know how to reconcile all of this, and I'm not sure I'm right -- but I think there's a little more gray in this area than most of this thread indicates (particularly when so much is from those who have managed to get over the hump and get serious amounts of work published). I know I'd never have sold some of my most lucrative non-fiction without serious help from an agent who put the package together. It's a fairly small step, in some ways, to paying someone to help edit and deal with deal-breaker infelicities, particularly when it's clear that most houses don't have a lot of time to spend on folks with "great potential" (would Maxwell Perkins have kept a publishing job in this decade?).

I don't know. I want to raise the other side to the point of being a question.

#87 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 02:27 AM:

Tom, I may be misreading things, but I haven't hit that point at which I get the "freelance editors are scumbags" part of the thread. I know a number of people who do freelance editing, some for major houses, some for minor houses, and in at least one case, for a published novelist who was having some difficulties and pulling hair out with -- I think, brain cells dwindling -- her seventh novel (seventh in the sense that there are six previously published ones. (I only remember the editor and the author in this case, and the fact that much of what was said was structural, rather than superficial). Come to think, though, that's the only case in which I've heard of an agent suggesting the interaction.

In the case of your friend, is she taking referrals from scam agents? Or known vanity presses?

I think that's the grey area; the if ->then part of the equation.

#88 ::: Greg van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 04:58 AM:

Wow. And suddenly Kirkus makes me think kindly of Harriet Klausner.

#89 ::: Charlie Petit ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:15 AM:

Tom, not to take TNH's thunder away here, but I think you've expressed a false dichotomy (that is easy enough to reach in this whole morass). The problem is something like this:

  1. Some con artists try to tell impressionable writers that manuscripts must be professionally edited before they can be submitted.
  2. At least one freelance editor (the one you cited) provides apparent value for money.
These are not incompatible statements. First, note that the behavior decried in premise 1 is stated in "either/or" fashion. This is a common technique in all scams (not just literary ones): oversimplifying to make it seem as if the prospective victim has only two alternatives, one of which is necessarily "bad" at an emotional level. Second, note that the situation decried in premise 2 takes a true "exception" and uses it to discard an entire rule—another common technique in scams. Remember those "success stories" touted for vanity presses and self-publishing, such as the notorious list of "famous and successful" authors who have either vanity- or self-published works? I debunked the most-common suchy list on my blawg last month.

Although some freelance editors certainly can help a manuscript, meaning that they're not all con artists, there is no "requirement" to have a manuscript professionally edited before submission. Perhaps some manuscripts can and do benefit from such attention; the point is that there's no requirement. As Gordon Van Gelder remarked at ChiCon, the professionally edited manuscripts that made their way to him while he was at St. Martin's were "slightly less unpublishable" (his words) than the "standard" slush.

I view the literary con artists as the equivalent of used-car dealers. (Note: I used to practice consumer protection law, which involved suing a lot of them.) That there are a few honest ones who try to get their customers good deals does not mask the majority who are not "good." The average car buyer does not know enough to protect him/herself from a bad car or deal, so he or she is probably better off avoiding them where possible and purchasing from a dealer that sells both new and used cars (which are slightly better).

#90 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:49 AM:

I don't think the issue is "free-lance editors are scumbags". I think the issue is "editors who work for services like PA and/or get the majority of their work via agent referrals or the like", that being only a subset of the first category. And even those aren't necessarily scumbags.

Y'see, I still wince whenever I see PA's name mentioned, because, very unfortunately, I know someone who works for them, who is apparently completely clueless as to the less savory aspects of their business. I've been tempted to point him here but I'm afraid it'll just reopen an argument I don't really want to get into with him.

Harry, your link leads to a dead page when I try to use it. Though really that's probably better; the whole topic depresses me.

Partly it's because while on the one hand I'm sympathetic to "I just want it published", on the other hand, I just can't imagine being so desperate as to pay my own money to see my work in print. And if I really, really want something to put on my bookshelf to say "Look, I wrote a book!", I own a printer. I really have no need to pay someone hundreds of dollars just so I can have a few crappy overpriced novels to try to talk my friends into buying.

Mostly, though, I think it offends my work ethic to see people take the short-cut. Yeah, fine, getting rejections, not a great feeling, although actually some of my rejections give me a happy (albeit a frustrated happy) due to the feedback. But just like I wouldn't expect to go into neurology without years of college and interning, I can't and don't expect to get into writing without rejections and learning how to better polish my writing to avoid same.

Of course, I'm still awed by Rejection Collection, too, and I don't mean in the good way, so maybe I'm just some sort of masochist who enjoys a good rejection letter.

Eh.

#91 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:53 AM:

Charlie snuck in with his more-to-the-point clarification while I was typing. Read that; I'm just rambling.

While I'm rambling, let me point out that I wrote the above as a) a still-unpublished fiction author who b) just got another rejection yesterday. Although, frankly, it was the sort of rejection that many writers have wet dreams about...

Er. Am I oversharing?

#92 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:57 AM:

Tina, that's weird. It was live yesterday when I copy and pasted it.

I wonder what happened.

#93 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 10:19 AM:

Just wanted to chime in that Ten Percent of Nothing is well worth reading (and I have nothing to do with it), despite occasional, minor flaws in prose and structure, even if you are not interested in becoming a writer. It's a wonderfully twisted and heartbreaking tale.

#94 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 11:27 AM:

Thomas, did you miss the part where I said, "There are some genuine freelance professional editors out there"? Several of them hang out here. I've been one myself, as I'm sure you'll recall.

Remember, what we're looking at are linguistic markers. The point I made had nothing to do with the competence or probity of freelance editors themselves. What I said was that anyone who tells you that no publishing house will look at a manuscript unless it's been "professionally edited" is either a scammer, or has gotten that bit of false information from a scammer and doesn't know any better than to repeat it.

I've never known a legitimate freelance editor to say that, and I'll bet your friend Candy doesn't say it either. Free yourself of the misapprehension that we're talking about editors at all. That line is a marker for a specific con game run by fake agents, who refer their clients to book doctors who do a pricey and generally superficial edit, pay a kickback to the agent, and return client and manuscript to the agent for further mulcting.

#95 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 11:33 AM:

I lied. Or possibly the sleep dep has started to cause early senility. It's not PA I know someone at; it's AuthorHouse. All them start to blur together after a while, though...

#96 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 11:43 AM:

Teresa:
Mris, the Rewrite Monster is the reason Steve Eley has a certificate giving him permission to write badly. When he came to VP, he was doing the kind of epicycle-rewrites where you move forward very, very slowly because you keep rewriting the material you've already written.

Amen. It took me a while to figure out how this was hurting me -- and it wasn't even the slow pace. It was the fact that by the time I got to the middle of the book, I had looked at the beginning so much I just didn't enjoy it any more. That was the killer.

I ditched that novel shortly after VP, although I may write it again someday with entirely different words, and started a much better one. For the first draft -- did I ever mention my Accelerated Yog Method? It's not the advice Jim actually gave me, but it's close, and it produced a a first draft in very quick time.


One of the penances Yog hands out at VP is, "You're not allowed to go to any more workshops until you finish typing the last page of your novel. It doesn't have to be good. It just has to be typed."

As it happens, I haven't been to any more workshops, before or after finishing the book. I haven't felt like I needed another one. What I needed, and what I got, was a well-meant and skillfully delivered kick in the ass. I figure if I need that twice, it's far better for me to learn to kick myself in the ass. (And it's a great party trick, too!)

#97 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 12:09 PM:

Tina wrote:
Although, frankly, it was the sort of rejection that many writers have wet dreams about...
You were rejected by Scarlett Johannsen in pastel bodypaints while you were suspended in a giant block of Jell-O? Amazing! What market was this?

Er. Am I oversharing?
(Well, one of us is...)

#98 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 12:27 PM:

Steve, after that, I'm going to have to not only vote that you're the one oversharing, but award you the Official Hemmoraging Saint Award of Making My Brain Come Out of My Nose.

#99 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 12:59 PM:

Tina: Steve has that effect on people. My advice is that the next time you see him, give him a whack upside the head. He seems to like that.

#100 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 01:02 PM:

>8->

#101 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 01:26 PM:

Your "permission to write badly" certificates are probably worth a lot more to their recipients than mine, Teresa, although I have tried to issue several of them, some multiple times. (Hmm. Perhaps if I took them off the 2x4 first....) It seems like one of those problems that's prone to overcorrection: the people who don't revise their work even once will just say, "But that's how I write books, and I'm like [famous author who talks about not revising]." And the people who revise their books get nervous about how many times they've done it and maybe make one more pass through before they send it out, just one more....

Back on the linguistic marker, the "hopes and dreams" variation I've heard is "unique artistic vision." I have never once met a serious writer who told me about his/her unique artistic vision. Maybe they're out there, but I've never heard it. But I've heard lots of non-writers, including some who sounded scammy, talking about respecting a writer's "unique artistic vision." Blerg.

I wonder how publishing scam lines would cross-reference with pick-up lines used on wannabe writers? "Giving young writers a chance" might cross over to, "Wow, you write books? I'll be able to say I knew you when...." "Terrible odds of publishing" goes with, "You're so brave to, y'know, put your work on the line like that. I really admire that." Etc.

#102 ::: Tracina ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 02:36 PM:

Teresa: Beth, Tracina, are you talking about that levitating case of Stockholm Syndrome, or is it someone else entirely?

How awful is it that I have to ask which levitating case of Stockholm Syndrome that would be? The one I had in mind solicited reviews of his opus and went ballistic when he got them.

#103 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 02:42 PM:

Is levitating Stockholm Syndrome where you think you can fly because your captors can? Or have I parsed that wrong?

#104 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 02:48 PM:

via the cranky editors community on LiveJournal, one of the pitfalls of not going with an editor - scroll down for Anne Rice's response to bad Amazon reviews of her work and why she won't let an editor touch her golden prose.

Far scarier than the books.

#105 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 03:15 PM:

Rank, arrogant amateur though I am, I'll be the first to admit I hardly have a Unique Artistic Vision and don't ever expect to. (Uniquely patched together from the ten or fifteen things I'm sufficiently obsessed about to steal from, maybe. Is there another way of doing it?)

#106 ::: Ashni ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 03:43 PM:

Wow. You know, I've read some of Anne Rice's stuff and enjoyed it (not for a while--she was never one of my favorites, but to each their own). This is indeed scary. You should never get so caught up in your relationship with your character that you forget about the readers' relationships with him. And you should never forget that if you want readers, opinions other than your own matter.

Most importantly, you should never forget the purpose of paragraph breaks.

#107 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 03:46 PM:

Regarding NaNoWriMo, I've seen stuff written for that, by people who write good net-published shorter fiction.

Keeping up the pace, writing that quantity in that time, seems to strain them. Their authorial voice drifts. The story can become episodic, a serial-style.

I tried it myself, last year. I know I need to have a much better idea of what happens when before I even try writing a novel-length work.

And you really don't want to try writing anything that needs background research.

I wonder what Lionel Fanthorpe is doing at the moment... Is the world reals for Na[five-volume-trilogy-with-sequels]WriMo?

#108 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 03:59 PM:

You should never get so caught up in your relationship with your character that you forget about the readers' relationships with him.

Wow! This raises some questions for me. Is the commercially successful author successful because they keep their reader's needs in mind, or are they successful because they are true to thier vision, and that vision has an audience?

I know that there are some successful authors (John Irving springs to mind) whose early work really moved me (esp. The Water Method Man) and whose later work has left me cold.

Other authors manage to produce work that resonates for me regardless of their relative success (e.g. Haruki Murakami, or in the SF/F world, Greg Bear).

So, does good literature spring from unfettered artistic vision, or a desire to please the market? Maybe the answer is both. Or neither. Or, the old B-school cop-out, "It depends..."

#109 ::: Elese ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 04:20 PM:

I find the Anne Rice Rant really scary. She implies that only people who praise her have a valid opinion.

Reminding me rather a lot of certain politicians.

#110 ::: Elese ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 04:35 PM:

I just went to amazon.com to try to find the original reviews that sparked off Anne Rice's Rant. I was curious to see what they were really like - if they were worth caring about, if they were misinformed, or nasty, or something else.

I did a rough scan and couldn't quite find them. Most of the reviews concern Anne Rice's posting. It seems to have caused more of a response than the book itself.

#111 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 04:41 PM:

Larry Brennan wrote:
Wow! This raises some questions for me. Is the commercially successful author successful because they keep their reader's needs in mind, or are they successful because they are true to thier vision, and that vision has an audience?

I think it comes down to two basic principles:


  1. Write the book you would most like to read.

  2. Don't have reading tastes that are psychotic.


Rice's screed appears to indicate that she's succeeded at #1. As for #2, well... I've enjoyed some of her older books very much, but the evidence currently under consideration doesn't really work in her favor.

#112 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 04:43 PM:

Some Anne Rice highlights:

"In fact, the entire development of my career has been fueled by my ability to ignore denigrating and trivializing criticism as I realize my dreams and my goals."

That reminds me of the "hopes and dreams" discussed in this thread.

From her review of Wuthering Heights:

"I'm a writer, but not a natural reader."

Huh? I never imagined such a thing was possible. Can one learn how to write well without reading lots and lots of books?

I dislike Rice because she is not a bad writer. She is a mediocre writer, who knows how to push certain buttons and IMO got way more attention than she deserved.

And I have read lots of vampire stories that I liked so much better than hers. Joanna Russ' vampire stories kick ass. I like some of Tanith Lee's interpretations also. How come Rice gets all the credit for making vampires cool?

(end of rant)

#113 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 04:59 PM:

I wonder what Lionel Fanthorpe is doing at the moment...

Wonder no more.

My favorite vampire story is Robert Aickman's "Pages From A Young Girl's Journal."

#114 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 05:06 PM:

Like Dan Layman-Kennedy, I don't have a Unique Artistic Vision. Heck, I don't even have a Mundane and Hackneyed Artistic Vision.

#115 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 05:07 PM:

Larry,

I think there's nothing wrong with ignoring reader tastes for one's own. As long as the author lives with the decision. (I.e., is not pissed because everybody hates it.)

I kind of think that it is the editor's/publisher's job to decide whether or not the book is going to fulfil the implicit promise of its bookjacket and price and previous authorial quality.

Curious to see what other people think.

#116 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 05:36 PM:

Christopher (hi, I think we were next to each other in line at WorldCon attempting kaffeklatsch and failing? but I've been wrong before), the thing about even a Mundane and Hackneyed Artistic Vision is that visions can't be edited. Short stories can be edited. Books can be edited. Visions, like hopes and dreams, are immune to red ink.

Some might say they would be improved if they could. Heaven knows there are some people's dreams I'd edit both for format and for content.

#117 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 05:51 PM:

And I have read lots of vampire stories that I liked so much better than hers. Joanna Russ' vampire stories kick ass. I like some of Tanith Lee's interpretations also. How come Rice gets all the credit for making vampires cool?

Errr, mostly because they sold a zillion copies?

Sort of like Harry Potter and his importance in YA fantasy literature.

#118 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 07:05 PM:

I did a rough scan and couldn't quite find them. Most of the reviews concern Anne Rice's posting. It seems to have caused more of a response than the book itself.

Ummm, no. Try the paperback version of the book -- it has 240+ reviews, and only the first twenty or so are about the rant.

Fwiw, for people who feel that she's reacting to measured & reasonable criticism I offer a couple of highlights -- because clearly, these are they eye-stings. These are all pre-rant reviews.

"Anyone who reviews this novel with high praise has obviously missed the entire theme, the nuance, the atmosphere of all of Anne's previous work."

"… Even when her books are mediocre (Pandora), she still makes the reader feel as if they were in the room, you can almost smell the atmosphere. her descriptions of places, cities, homes, feedings, hatred, and death are exquisite. ... That is why I do not think this book was even written by Anne Rice. … Please Anne, if you read this, we, your loyal fans will forgive you if Lestat awakes and we find out this book was a dream sequence, (ala Dallas) and you decide to do this right."

"I know many diehard fans may wish to throw stones at me for what I am about to say but it must be said. Please to not take it in poor taste in speaking of the dead, but after the drivel that I found in Blood Cantacle it left me curious as to whether Anne's departed Stan may be the real writer behind the Vampire Chronicals and perhaps other of her works as well. It seems totally incomprehensable that the same author who gave us Memnoch the Devil could spew forth such juvenile literary garbage."

"This book was so not worth the time it took me to skim it. I doubt Anne Rice wrote this. If she did, her mind has broken. Um, I missed several books in the series, trying to aviod the new ones, and I was wondering where in Hell, is Louis? And why does Quinn look just like him? Also, I liked the first ones of the Mayfair Witches series, but "Taltos" come on."

"This book has reached new lows for Anne Rice, if it even was Anne Rice who wrote it. Previous reviwers mentioned the idea that another author may have taken over for Anne, which I find quite possible. The writing style is so different from earlier works that it leaves me room to doubt."

"God willing she'll realize why people are so angry about this book. …To all of you who enjoyed the book, I regret to say you have been bamboozled."

"Anne Rice, do us all a favour, STOP WRITING. Mourn your dead husband instead and shut up."

There are lots more; I gave up. On Amazon, the reviews are listed in reverse chronological order, so I didn't see the other allegations of a different or ghost writer that are referenced in on of the latter quotes.

And. Well.

#119 ::: Steve Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 07:54 PM:

Laura Roberts wrote:

> Joanna Russ' vampire stories kick ass.

??? I thought I was pretty much up to date with Joanna Russ, but I can't think of which ones you're referring to. Can you give me a hint on which stories/collections?

#120 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 07:55 PM:

My favorite vampire story is Night Travels of the Elven Vampire.

#121 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:15 PM:

Michelle, I was quite clear that she wasn't reacting to criticism, but stupid reviewers, but I still am flabbergasted she would post what she did. But then, I'm flabbergasted by the fact that she truly, honestly believes she's above editing. And also by the opening of the book, because, frankly, it's pretty bad.

The point is, a) it's amazon.com, for god's sake, and b) she's arrogant, condescending, and self-aggrandizing to a degree that's ridiculous in response. I can't say I wouldn't feel a need to lash back if I were ever in her shoes (G-d, please put me in her shoes... no wait...) but I'd like to think I wouldn't come off sounding like I thought I was the God of All Writing.

I would have thought she had a lot of class if she'd just posted the last couple sentences, offering a refund to anyone who sent her a copy of the book, though.

Laura, the first two vampire books Rice did were pretty good IMO, full of rich, lush atmosphere and very sensuous characters, a thing that appeals to a lot of people (including me, if done well), and I think it took off because it got popularity amongst the teen-twenties crowd, which for some reason seems to really work in an author's favor. Tanith Lee, while definitely a great writer, doesn't have the same sort of feel.

Or, if you like, "Luck of the Draw".

I mean, Rice has never been one of my favoritist ever authors, even in the spooky genre, but I did like both Interview and Lestat enough to re-read them, though QotD sorta lost me. Frankly, I prefer (most) Stephen King, or Peter Straub, or a Certain Author Who Haunts These Halls What Has the Initials NG, who remains one of my favorite authors. :) But it wasn't til she got to the "I'm too good for an editor" stage that I think she really drooped into 'mediocre'. (For vampire novels, I also like Tanya Huff, btw.)

As far as the phrase "unique artistic vision" is concerned: hey, I'm unique, and I have artistic vision! No, no. I know, that's not what's meant. It's a catch-phrase for "I'm perfect", which no one is. I do think I write reasonably good stories, but I'm also not afraid to admit that even the ones I like could probably be improved, and no doubt over time will be. Despite the fact that I consider myself fairly good at self-editing, I've yet to be offended by constructive criticism. Frustrated, maybe, but not offended. :)

Of course, having not been able to sell something yet probably keeps me humble. Maybe once I sell I will also acquire a sort of maniacal belief in my own perfection! In which case, I give the readers of this blog permission to whap me upside the head with an Ll yr vwls shirt to get me back on track.

#122 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:29 PM:

Michelle,

Reading the excerpt of Blood Canticle made me wince. Not sure whether that's the emotions of the author or her character, but the rant about how nobody got the last book is very creepy as is the bit about not being able to breathe without the reader.

I took some of it to be a pretty direct challenge/insult to the reader. So I'm not surprised at the very angry reviews.

I had to stop reading the excerpt--too painful.

#123 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:31 PM:

BTW, on the original post's topic: I'd just like to note that the odds of getting published go way, way down if you don't keep submitting.

This is relevant because I think what happens here is:

J Random Writer finally turns out a novel after trying for years. JRW is convinced that this novel is good enough for other people to read and enjoy (this may not be true, but let's assume for a moment that it is) and therefore tries to get it in the hands of a publisher. JRW is smart enough to at least to some superficial research and finds out that Publisher X takes unsolicited submissions of the length and genre that JRW has written to. JRW even submits correctly.

Months pass. JRW is frequently found singing to a bookshelf and muttering about the nature of time, when one day, the mail carrier brings an envelope with a familiar looking return address. Nervous and excited, JRW opens the envelope...

...and the author's heart seizes up at the words written in reply. They're polite words, but they boil down to "no".

JRW has enough gumption to try a different route: securing an agent. This time, the wait isn't quite so long, and JRW's shelves are treated to fewer arias about Oreo cookies swimming in a sea of milk, but the end result is the same: the agent isn't interested.

JRW is crushed. "But my book is good!," the author cries. "I don't understand!" Frustrated, unhappy, and really, really tired of waiting around to hear once again that no one loves The Book, JRW is actually on the verge of giving up altogether.

Then A Clueless Friend calls JRW up and they get together for something vaguely resembling coffee at a Large Corporate Entity. While sitting in LCE, ACF tells JRW that there's this company out here -- we'll call it PA-SotU -- that can take your book and have it published within a couple weeks. JRW brightens up, especially when ACF talks about how it's free. ACF gives JRW a web site to look at.

To JRW, it's a dream come true. JRW isn't thinking in terms of the future, but of the past: the recent frustration, and the agony of waiting. PA-SotU is making an Offer the Author Can't Refuse... and poor JRW just never has been introduced to the publishing world, so isn't capable of spotting the flaws. To JRW, publishing is just another service.... and look! Here's the service!

Or, well. Something like that.

Meanwhile, what JRW doesn't know -- but with the prescience granted narrators, I do -- is that the second, third, and even fourth agents on JRW's list would not have offered representation, but the fifth one would be interested enough to consider the whole book and the sixth one would take JRW on...

...but JRW has already taken out a contract on The Book, so will never, ever know this.

#124 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:33 PM:

In other news, I am apparently trying to edge out JvP in terms of average post length.

Although this should bring me back down. :)

#125 ::: Christina Schulman ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:33 PM:

Tina said:
I would have thought she had a lot of class if she'd just posted the last couple sentences, offering a refund to anyone who sent her a copy of the book, though.

Joel Rosenberg's response to criticism of his books on rasfw always used to be along the lines of, "The customer is always right." I'm not saying that authors ought to hold this opinion (and I'm sure his private opinions were less forgiving), but I thought it showed a great deal of both class and restraint.

His public behavior made a more lasting impression on me than his writing did.

#126 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:36 PM:

I can't say I wouldn't feel a need to lash back if I were ever in her shoes (G-d, please put me in her shoes... no wait...) but I'd like to think I wouldn't come off sounding like I thought I was the God of All Writing.

The problem is, as far as I can see, that there is no way to lash back that doesn't cause more damage to you than it does to your detractors.

Given the context of the reviews -- especially the last one I clipped -- I just don't find it offensive that she's defending her work. How she's defending it? Not the only published writer I've heard do it this way. It's the way that will open her up to most ridicule, however.

I can count about a dozen that I've heard say some variant of "I Am The Greatest Writer On Earth" in a less immediately accessible public fashion, but not entirely in a dark closet. It shocked me then, because I assumed we were inhabiting the same consensual reality; now, I consider it a... thing. What are those things we writers have? Ego? Neuroses? One of those.

In fact, one of the few writers in that group whose work I did admire said directly to me, "If you don't think you're unique, if you don't think you're the best there is, then why even bother? Why are you doing this? There are much easier jobs and they pay a lot better."

Would he say this in public? Never. In a small room with a few people in it? Yes. But never in public, never in print. Humble, self-effacing, friendly guy -- who internally thinks he's the greatest writer on earth. I don't think he's an egomaniac, fwiw. We all do whatever we have to do to finish the story.

Her problem is that the public facade isn't really working at the moment.

#127 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 09:59 PM:

Randall, I told you NTotEV would cheer you up.
---

I knew that business about 'hopes and dreams' reminded me of something.

From Sarah Caudwell's Thus Was Adonis Murdered:

It is your view, as I understand it, that when dealing with young men one should make no admission, in the early stages [of seduction], of the true nature of one's objectives but should instead profess a deep admiration for their fine souls and splendid intellects. One is not to be discouraged, if I have understood you correctly, by the fact that they may have neither. I reminded myself, therefore, that if I could get the lovely creature into conversation, I must make no comment on the excellence of his profile and complexion but should apply myself to showing a sympathetic interest in his hopes, dreams and aspirations. Little did I know, Selena, how fearful were those dreams, how sinister those hopes, how altogether unspeakable those aspirations.
#128 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2004, 10:32 PM:

Mris: that seems likely, as I did have a kaffeeklatsch signup disappointment, and for the one most likely to affect those of us who seek out Making Light.

Besides, after looking at the photos on your website, you look familiar.

To further clarify my comment, however...I really mean it when I say I don't have any artistic vision, even a pathetic one. I don't write fiction (which I take as the implication of Unique Artistic Vision) because I don't have anything to write; the nearest I come to it is all this online communications stuff, which is generally non-fiction and just another in a sea of folks, the majority of whom (at least in the forums I actually bother participating in) are at least as capable of the mechanics of writing as I am, eliminating even the uniqueness of being the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind.

On the bright side, it keeps me from ever being tempted by publishing scams.

#129 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 12:13 AM:

I don't think Unique Artistic Vision is limited to writing. I know that my beadwork is unique and artistic -- I've invented stitches and techniques and had my work featured in magazines -- but I see a lot of beadwork that isn't.

#130 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 12:20 AM:

Tina, that link is working again.

http://payn.freelinuxhost.com/

#131 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 09:57 AM:

Can I pay Kirkus $350 not to review me?

I can't think why anyone would want one of their reviews.

They've hated all four of my novels so far, and their review of Tooth and Claw was almost enough to make me go on about how they'd misinterpreted my Unique Artistic Vision. Everybody else liked it, so naturally it's the Kirkus one that sticks in my mind...

#132 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:04 AM:

From Sarah Caudwell's Thus Was Adonis Murdered:

Andy, neat excerpt! Is the rest of the book equally good? I've never heard of the author but now I want to read more ...

#133 ::: Holly Messinger ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:13 AM:

I hope to God if I ever get into print, I have the sense not to read the readers' reviews on Amazon. I may have to have my husband hide the modem.

#134 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:17 AM:

mayakda - Caudwell was a very humorous author - IMO her mystery plots were not all that fantastic (long on rather convoluted deus ex machina short on realistic development), but the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny.

Unfortunately, she died in 2000 after only writing four novels. Despite the criticism I have for her plots, if she were still alive and writing, I would still be reading her new work.

#135 ::: Holly Messinger ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:21 AM:

Re: Kirkus, maybe I'm just being cranky this morning, but I say, if some idiot wants to pay to have his lousy book reviewed, let him! It's going to go in a separate place from the "real" reviews, so none of us will have to be bothered by them unless we go out of our way (or go looking for sick thrills, and I know some of you here are thinking about it). Besides, Kirkus isn't guaranteeing they'll say anything nice about said book. Getting reviewed in Publisher's Weekly isn't a guarantee you'll get a good plug, either.

Maybe Kirkus will retract this offer when they start being inundated with self-published slush for review. Or maybe it will make them money, who knows? From time to time I've considered doing the same thing on my blog: offer to post reviews, for a price. Given that only five people on the planet read my blog, if some author is dumb and desperate enough to pay me for my typing and sarcasm skills, more power to 'em. And more money for me.

I could put an ad on ebay.

#136 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:43 AM:

To Steve Taylor re: Joanna Russ vampire stories.

Unfortunately, I can't remember the names of any of them. It's been a while, and her work is hard to come by. I think I thought there were vampire motifs in Extra(ordinary) People.

I suspect that you might find them in The Zanzibar Cat, since apparently she has only had two short story collections, and I know they're not in The Hidden Side of the Moon, since I bought that hoping they would be there.

Here is a list of her work.

#137 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:56 AM:

mayakda: I second Jill, except I usually don't care about plot in this type of mystery. I read Caudwell's last book first, backed up and read the others, then found out she died. We will never find out whether Hilary Tamar (the sleuth) is female or male. (Of course, I doubt Caudwell would have told us.)

#138 ::: jullia ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 01:06 PM:

I think Hilary is female, because Julia never makes a play for her and she doesn't seem to miss anyone else male.

I loved Caudwell - unfortunately she started making serious money as an advocate and didn't write too many books after that.

#139 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 01:08 PM:

Julia's targets tend to be young men, though - and Hilary is likely not young of age and exquisite of profile. I've always thought Caudwell may have never figured out herself what Hilary's gender might be. I think she just liked playing with the ambiguity of it.

#140 ::: Carl ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 02:06 PM:

With the numerous comments posted by others to your site, I doubt whether or no you shall read mine. Nonetheless, and because I enjoy your site, I thought it worth the effort to post this sentiment here. Of course, I could have done so in a more appropriate place; but as this was your newest entry, I thought, perhaps, you might find it easier here.

Originally I came upon your site quite by accident. Somehow I found your entry "Slushkiller," posted Feb. 2004, and having enjoyed what I read, I have been a quasi-faithful reader ever since. In fine, I enjoy your site. That is all.

Carl

#141 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 02:07 PM:

Re: Anne Rice's rant, I kinda sympathize, because some of those "reviews" were really ridiculously vicious, but at the same time responding to that kind of thing is never going to get you anything but more viciousness, plus what do you really hope to accomplish by lashing back? Changing people's minds? Hah. Can't be done.

Someone once told me that publishing a novel (or directing a film, or acting in a play, or painting a picture, or whatever) is like taking out your ego, laying it on an anvil, and inviting the entire world to come take a swing.

Given the way people are, there's always going to be someone eager to pick up that hammer. The People, after all, have long since decided it is their God-given right to treat public figures like relatives.

#142 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 02:20 PM:

Michelle, I think the difference to me is between:

Author N gets really ticked off at some internet reviews or discussion of his book, lashes out, and says some really stupid things he wouldn't normally say.

and:

Author X gets really ticked off at some internet reviews and not only tells people they're stupid if they don't like the book but goes on to remind people how perfect he is, which is not a new thing for him to say.

In other words, context is everything here. If it'd been someone else, maybe I would've reacted differently to it.

As far as your writer friend... I just don't get that mode of thinking myself, but if you think it's just an internal trick to keep him from giving up, that's also a different thing... at least I think it is.

I really don't get that thought stream, though. "If I can't be the best, I won't do it at all" sounds like someone convincing themselves not to do something, to me. But that's me.

#143 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 02:23 PM:

Andy, Jill, & Julia -- I am intrigued, and will give Caudwell a try. Thanks.

I hope to God if I ever get into print, I have the sense not to read the readers' reviews on Amazon. I may have to have my husband hide the modem.
I don't think I could bear not to. I'm such a sucker for self-punishment.
But I'd have to make a point to keep my impassioned replies in a local file, then delete them the next day.

#144 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 03:12 PM:

Wow, that Caudwell excerpt is good ADVICE, too...missed the boat on that one a couple of times myself. Not that I've even tried seducing a young man in years and years.

Heh. Think I'll try again soon!

#145 ::: Castiron ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 03:13 PM:

Now I want a t-shirt that says "My unique artistic vision has myopia and astigmatism"....

#146 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 04:15 PM:

Author X gets really ticked off at some internet reviews and not only tells people they're stupid if they don't like the book but goes on to remind people how perfect he is, which is not a new thing for him to say.

In other words, context is everything here. If it'd been someone else, maybe I would've reacted differently to it.

Perhaps you follow Anne Rice far more closely than I do; I'm not one of her readers, so I'm not familiar with her behaviour. In fact, even when I am someone's reader, I'm generally not familiar with their behaviour, because I'm reading the book, not the author, and I don't particularly feel that the author owes me anything because, well, I paid for a book.

However, I'm only aware of the one other link I posted -- in which she talkes about her writing process and her difficulty dealing with being edited, which lead to her not being edited by someone else. I'm not familiar with any other occasions in which she tells people that they're stupid if they don't like her writing, that they don't understand her UAV, etc.

I'm perfectly willing to have my context shifted, fwiw -- but I'd like to do it by actually reading some of the things which give you the context from which you view the incident.

What I have is a single post about being edited, and a rant on amazon -- which is preceded by, oh, at a rough guess, 100 other rants, some of which were excerpted and dropped here to provide a view of what is a context for the (incredibly unwise) rant itself. I didn't even finish them all; I went through about the first 100, and stopped there because I could see how it could rub the skin off someone who is still bereaved.

#147 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 04:41 PM:

I guess it's the pile-on aspect of the Anne Rice thing--or other, similar things I've seen elsewhere--that I just can't wrap my head around. You buy a book, you don't like it, you decide to let other people know. You go to Amazon and you see that there are dozens of reader-posted reviews there already, which also don't like the book, and which make many, if not all, of the points that you would make.

Why, then, do you post? It's not a weblog or a place for dialog (though it seems to have become one); if all you're adding to the reviews is essentially a "me, too," why do it? Why kick the book/author when it/she is already down? And people seem to be inspired to become even meaner when they see what others have said before them.

I read only a portion of the posts written prior to Rice's response, and I tell you, you'd have to be made of stone not to be hurt by some of what was said.

What part of human nature encourages the pile-on?

#148 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 04:52 PM:

Michelle,

Did you read the excerpt? She (or at least her narrator) truly does lambast his/her readers for not loving the last book. The excerpt can be read on Amazon.

It's the bit where the narrator says that he gave readers this "vision of Creation and Eternity" and then the readers ---but I'll let you read it for yourself. (page 5)

I'd say the author herself set up a context for this book to be slammed. Personally, I wish she had allowed an editor to respond, because I think it would have saved her a lot of personal grief.

#149 ::: Nomie ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 05:12 PM:

Randall P.:

Mine, too.

Especially the part with the pirates.

#150 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 05:32 PM:

Melissa Singer wrote:
Why, then, do you post? It's not a weblog or a place for dialog (though it seems to have become one); if all you're adding to the reviews is essentially a "me, too," why do it?

It's not a weblog? I'd say it's quite literally a weblog. What do you think are the defining characteristics of a weblog entry that an Amazon product page lacks?

I read only a portion of the posts written prior to Rice's response, and I tell you, you'd have to be made of stone not to be hurt by some of what was said.

Whatever happened to "sticks and stones?"

Yes, some of the reviews were snide and idiotic. When you've got more than a million readers it's statistically inevitable that many of them are going to be idiots. They're still customers, whether or not she wants them, and it's still unprofessional to respond to idiots in kind.

To me it seems entirely reasonable that Anne Rice should be held to a higher standard in the public eye than the collective mass of Anne Rice readers. She should be expected to display more intelligence, more reason, and more leadership. She is, after all, the reason why the other group exists.

#151 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 05:44 PM:

Melissa: not to be ironic, but ... me too.

Elizabeth: Did you read the excerpt? She (or at least her narrator) truly does lambast his/her readers for not loving the last book. The excerpt can be read on Amazon. ... I'd say the author herself set up a context for this book to be slammed. Personally, I wish she had allowed an editor to respond, because I think it would have saved her a lot of personal grief.

Err, yes. The book to be slammed.

No, I haven't read it. I haven't read the book (Memnoch) to which the excerpt you mention refers, so I don't know if the lambasting is in character for the viewpoint character or not, and because I don't have that grounding, it's not something I can judge (see below).

My response to her post would be different if more of the negative reviews had, in fact, been about the book; had the readers said in a universal way that they felt Rice was slapping them via Lestat, that would make sense because it would be textual. This is why I don't feel qualified to judge her use of that viewpoint; few of the people who hated the book hated it for that reason, even the ones who were complaining about the depiction of "their Lestat".

I chose a very small sample of the reviews in which the main thrust was metatextual: the reviewer's sense of entitlement, the reviewer's attack on authorial identity, and oh, hell, malice, since I'm not certain where to slot the last snippet.

And if the negative non-reviews had been a very tiny percentage and she'd gone postal? I'd have a different reaction. But as it's not about the book, reading the book doesn't matter.

Otoh, it looks like Amazon has deleted everything not only written by her, but also written after the end of April this year. Which would, by this point, be some 50-60 reviews.

#152 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 05:53 PM:

To me it seems entirely reasonable that Anne Rice should be held to a higher standard in the public eye than the collective mass of Anne Rice readers. She should be expected to display more intelligence, more reason, and more leadership. She is, after all, the reason why the other group exists.

I don't understand the reasoning behind this. I don't understand why authors -- who are often somewhat over-focused <she says, diplomatically> -- should be held to a higher standard of social behaviour because they're the creator of a universe that has fans.

Doesn't this in some way support the view that she is a Unique Artistic Vision? Isn't this just another way of saying that she does, in fact, deserve the hubris or arrogance of which she's being accused?

Or do you feel that the creator is somehow parent to the legion of followers who feel entitled to the creation? That, in some sense, she should be setting an example as the Mother of them all, good and bad?

Honestly, confused here.

#153 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 06:24 PM:

Well, Melissa, I think the excerpt will explain a lot, both in terms of why AR reacted as she did and why the readers reacted the way they did.

I urge you to read it and see. I don't think not reading Memnoch will stop you from being able to judge it at all--it's not really about narrative voice change per se.

#154 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 06:25 PM:

Michelle: I think the excerpt will explain a lot, both in terms of why AR reacted as she did and why the readers reacted the way they did.

I urge you to read it and see. I don't think not reading Memnoch will stop you from being able to judge it at all--it's not really about narrative voice change per se.

#155 ::: ElizabethVomMarlowe ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 06:26 PM:

Sorry for the double post. Editing gone awry.

#156 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 07:35 PM:

This is completely tangential to the Anne Rice discussion, and gets back to what I saw as an interesting thread from way back up there.

There's a lot more to it than wanting to be published, as a status conferring event or an indication that the book is good.

Much of the point to artistic endeavour is to reach an audience. For an author, that pretty much requires professional publication to be possible. (If there's a good garage band analog for writing novel length fiction, I want to know about it.)

So if you're paying attention, it isn't really about being good, as such; good doesn't seem to correlate really well with the amount of audience someone has, for most personal values of 'good'. [Howard Waldrop. Mike Ford. Patricia McKillip. Pamela Dean. Why are none of these people best-selling authors? The simplest explanation is that many people aren't like me, which is unfortunate in so many respects.]

So, with a little further paying attention, one notices that the average advance is dropping (pretty sharply, in constant dollars); that average sales per author are trending steadily down, and that the average shelf time of an sf book is going down, too, for a non-brand author.

That means the span of 'commercially viable' is shrinking; it has to be. No sensible editor is going to buy books that they don't think can sell; what they think can sell is becoming a narrower category, because the constraints are increasing.

I don't think everybody who wants to be published would put it like that, but I don't think it's much of a stretch at all for people to realize that getting published is hard; it's not just standing out from the slush pile that's in question.

So of course people want, sometimes with an unreasoning want, some way around the knowledge that what they write isn't ever going to reach an audience larger than their circle of acquaintance.

All of which makes me rather more inclined to think less well of scammers trying to take advantage of that desire to reach an audience than I otherwise might, and I don't think well of scammers as a class, but, hey. The thing that makes people want to believe is a real structural problem.

#157 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 07:35 PM:

Michelle and Melissa: yes, me, too. Professionalism is one thing. Expecting a professional not to scream when someone kicks her in the kneecap with a steel-toed boot is quite another.

"Go mourn your dead husband" should never ever ever be a taunt, and if I was ever widowed and someone said that to me -- just because they didn't like what I'd written about something else entirely! -- I don't think I could be held responsible for what I'd do afterwards. Has the person who wrote this on Amazon never lost a loved one? It fails such a very basic standard of human behavior that I'm surprised it even needs discussing. If someone can hear something like that, take deep breaths, and move on, more power to her, because she's stronger than I'll ever be, and stronger than I'd expect anyone else to be, either.

Even if the book was the most horrid piece of trash ever, any decent human being would leave her husband out of it. Period and full stop.

I don't even think I'd react well if someone got snarky about my living husband in a review about a piece of fiction that had nothing to do with him. Sheesh.

#158 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 08:25 PM:

Rice has a very distinctive voice - at least in those of her books I've read, which are, I admit, few - and I think a lot of people have the same reaction to her that some people have to Heinlein, where they assume that the characters are thinly-veiled aspects of the author. The fact that she writes porn as well, and that it's not all that different than her "straight" work, probably plays into it too.

I'm not endorsing the mouth-breathing behavior of some of the reviewers, but it does remind me of the incident where Poppy Z Brite went into a LiveJournal community dedicated to her work and was banned for not being who and what the community wanted her to be.

For better or for worse, it's always seemed to me that Rice has encouraged a visceral response to her work. Maybe she feels as betrayed that the Amazon reviewers aren't her fantasy readers as they do that she isn't twanging their bowstrings any more.

#159 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 08:44 PM:

Maybe some of the reviewers had just finished reading the book, and dashed off to Amazon with the pitchforks and the torches without thinking about how they would make Rice feel?

(I'm trying to pull a Jo Walton here. Work with me.)

OTOH, I think Mris has it right about the references to Anne's husband— Rice doesn't float serenely on a far away sangfroid, and shouldn't be expected to act it.

#160 ::: Randall P. ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 09:22 PM:

Hey, not to rip on the Anne Rice discussion here, but I want to talk about ME!

Earlier in this discussion, Teresa was talking about how dismal an author's own writing might look to them. Am I the only person here who doesn't feel that way? Sure, there are times when I look at my stuff and say, "My God, that sucks!" However, most of the time I sit back and say, "Cool! I can't believe that came out of my brain."

Come one, people. Admit it. Sometimes, you all read your own writing and think, "I am a Golden God!" In fact, I think Neil Gaiman sometimes looks at his writing and thinks, "I am a Golden American God!"

And by the way, I am now 3/4 of the way through all of the books suggested to me from the earlier thread. However, every other book I read is NTotEV. That book rocks!

Love,
Randall

#161 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:07 PM:

Randall, we all have moments where we look at our prose and think, "This ROCKS!" (sorry - for obvious reasons I hang out with my brother too much, and this bit of his vocabulary seems to be taking over mine).

Charles deLint I think is the first one who pointed out to me that every writer veers between believing themselves superb and believing themselves horrible. But I've found it true all over the map, with writers at all kinds of levels. (I presume you've seen Teresa's T-shirt listing the "varieties of insanity known to authors"...)

As for Anne Rice - Like Randall, I'll talk about "Me!" (again) for a moment.

A part of me only wishes I got half the reviews she did - and I don't necessarily mean the good half, though that'd be nice. So far as I know, my novella currently has 2 reviews (Neither of them exactly high profile...) and One rating at Fictionwise. That they're all good is poor consolation.

I hope to God if I ever get into print, I have the sense not to read the readers' reviews on Amazon. I may have to have my husband hide the modem.

Actually, I've found reading the reviews on Amazon instructive in a way, and not always just in a what not to do when reviewing. The trick is usually to avoid reading any review under 4 lines, and in books with a wide range of opinions, read more of the three star reviews and less of the five- and one-star. Medium reviews are harder to write, and you need to give clearer explanations of why you feel what you feel. I just hope I keep that attitude when it's me, and not just one of my favourite authors (Um, occasionally published by a certain company, so I won't note her name) getting the "Boooooring!" one word/one star review (I was almost foaming at that one on the author's behalf... until I realised the review writer had "A twelve year old from..." as their name.)

Melissa Singer: "I guess it's the pile-on aspect of the Anne Rice thing--or other, similar things I've seen elsewhere--that I just can't wrap my head around. You buy a book, you don't like it, you decide to let other people know. You go to Amazon and you see that there are dozens of reader-posted reviews there already, which also don't like the book, and which make many, if not all, of the points that you would make.

Why, then, do you post?"

What about people who "Me too" five star reviews? Shouldn't they not waste their time either?

Larry Brennan: "This raises some questions for me. Is the commercially successful author successful because they keep their reader's needs in mind, or are they successful because they are true to their vision, and that vision has an audience?"

That depends how you define reader expectations. They're fulfilling their expectations (Ie, J.K. Rowling writes a book her established audience mostly loves) and pandering too much to the promises you've made the reader, implicitly or explicitly (Ie, though much of the bookis satisfying, the worst parts of Order of the Phoenix are the parts of the climax she obviously wrote based on having told people in her audience, "Someone is going to die in the book", where she decided she had to "keep the tension up" by faking near-deaths every two pages. I really do think she'd have written some of that differently if she'd kept her mouth shut on the matter and focused on the story. I've ranted elsewhere about how her "hiding the plot" but reavealing these tidbits is more damaging to her efforts in and out of book than a more standard plot blurb would be).

Anyhow, I should go work on the current novel. (Since hanging out at Making Light is avoidance for doing so, and since working on the novel is avoidance for working on the next review, this is at least one too many layers...)

#162 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:13 PM:

Randall: Well, I'm a pendulum that way. An aperiodic much-jostled one. I can look at the same piece I wrote and think, Wow, that's pretty dang good. Two weeks later, I can't stand it. And so on, back and forth. Part of the fun of getting critiques and/or rejection slips is some sense of outside feedback. I'm not saying that they're absolute standards (three markets reject a story, the fourth buys it...), but my own self-assessments vary so wildly and frequently, I never take 'em too seriously if I can help it. :-)

#163 ::: Kathy S. ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:15 PM:

Randall --
Not frequently. But recently, I had this very pleasant experience while editing a book I haven't looked at for a while. There was a passage that I completely forgot about, and it made me laugh out loud. It's an exception though -- groaning is much more common than laughing.

#164 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:26 PM:

Michelle Sagara:
Or do you feel that the creator is somehow parent to the legion of followers who feel entitled to the creation? That, in some sense, she should be setting an example as the Mother of them all, good and bad?

Not exactly. What I mean is that it's a bad idea for her to go attaching her name to negative things. It gives them life.

Fans can be idiots, because nobody cares. We're talking about the guy who said terrible things about Rice's dead husband -- but did anybody notice that guy's name? (Or whatever other descriptive stuff was at the top of his Amazon review?) I didn't. I don't care enough to look it up now, either. If Rice hadn't responded, would anyone ever have thought about his hateful words for longer than ten seconds?

That review page may have been a pool of poison, but it was a forgettable pool of poison. It affected nothing. Anyone chancing to see it would only think, "Man, Anne Rice sure has some twisted readers." Then she responds, and suddenly it's today's Internet memewave. It touches off a whole pile of issues unrelated to Anne Rice, and suddenly people are thinking about and feeling the poison on that page. It goes far. It has life now. The blogs tear her apart, the metablogs point and laugh, and one of the most popular
webcomics
out there goes out of its way to dissect it.

Ten years from now, it's anybody's guess whether Blood Canticle will still be in print. But many of us will probably still think of this first when we think of Anne Rice. "Oh yeah, she melted down at her readers." I doubt that's the way Anne Rice would want it, but it's the way she chose.

That's why authors need to lead, even if it's only by silence or restraint. No one cares what a fan does, unless he shoots somebody or otherwise goes really extreme. (And even then, people are more likely to remember "Oh yeah, the guy who had the Stephen King book in his locker" rather than the actual name.) But a celebrity's actions, even a celebrity author, are memorable. They make other things, positive or embarrassing, memorable by association. They have power, and they attach to the celebrity's name.

If it were my name, I'd want to protect it better than Anne Rice is protecting hers. That's what I meant by a higher standard. I may be reading too much into all this, but it's still undeniable that all this comes off worse for Anne Rice than for any of those readers spewing rubbish.

#165 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:29 PM:

Randall, I sat giggling at a joke in my own book today while I was talking to a friend. He hasn't read this book, since I'm very soon finishing the first draft and do not show things to people until at least draft two, but I'm enamored enough of it that I will sit and laugh like a fool at what's in my own head and then bother to explain to him why I am so damn clever in my own mind. And thinking of it now, I'm smiling again, because, dude, I am a Finnophile fabulist prose goddess. (My friend did laugh when I explained.)

Simultaneously, I hate this book and know that it sucks horribly and no one will ever want to read it ever ever ever unless they already love me and then only out of pity and a certain trainwreck curiosity. I don't just hate it generally, either. I hate, specifically and in detail, the plot, the characters, the speculative conceit, the setting, and the theme. Oh, and the prose style. Possibly the chapter breaks also. I haven't gotten around to hating the font it's displayed in, but give me time.

You see how this goes? The two are not mutually exclusive.

#166 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 10:57 PM:

Lenora, by one rating at Fictionwise, does that mean just one person responded, however that works?

I found mine for Knight Spirits at Fictionwise. Despite how I feel about the other manuscript of mine that I thought was lousy, the thirty-some ratings for Knight Spirits lifted my spirits. Maybe I'm not a total hack after all.

#167 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2004, 11:16 PM:

Ok, just one thing.

If I start getting spams offering to sell me an unique artistic vision (UAV), or to sell me pills to enlarge my UAV, or lower its interest rate, then I will personally blame this on TNH, "Making Light", and its hangers-on for having caused this.

Further, if I start getting spams offering me pheromone sprays or colognes offering to make me more attractive to people who are actively seeking new authors, I will blame CP, "Scrivener's Error", and its hangers-on for having caused that.

Just so we're clear.

Exercise for the student: write one of these. No, no, I didn't say to share it, I just said to write it.

#168 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 12:43 AM:

Not exactly. What I mean is that it's a bad idea for her to go attaching her name to negative things. It gives them life.

Thank you -- that was a much longer post, but it was much more clearly stated, and I now understand what you meant.

I'm not certain that I agree with it -- but I'm not certain I don't, either.

#169 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 01:32 AM:

Michelle, if all she had done was tell people off for bringing her personal life into it, I also would have reacted differently. But that's not what I saw her do. I saw her mishmash the whole thing together.

The context really is just about her saying she doesn't need an editor, more or less, although that's combined with having read enough of her work to know she's wrong. If you're not familiar with the books, it probably doesn't come across quite as hubris-filled.

But it's still just me. (Well, obviously not "just" me, but the point is, I don't expect everyone to feel the way I do.)

Randall, I actually frequently like my longer work, or at least portions of it. I try to edit out all the suck. There's always some suck, since I have not yet acheived perfection. So there's this constant awareness that I'm still quite capable of writing teh suxx0rs, but it's only rarely that that stops me.

No, I'm just easily dis-- ooh, shiny!

#170 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 01:52 AM:

In answer to Randall's golden god question...yes and no, but not the same yes and no already in circulation. When I was writing poetry and my dissertation, I had those swings of admiration and loathing for my own work, but the experience of writing my current project is totally different, and I'm not really sure what to make of it. I give my characters the credit when the draft looks good to me, and myself the blame when I don't like what I'm reading. At the risk of sounding like The Most Gone of the Gone: the characters are working so hard to tell me their story, and they've suffered so deeply and achieved so much, they're the ones who've earned the praise. If the story doesn't sing on the page, it's because I haven't yet made the right choices in how to organize and convey what the characters are entrusting to me. Yes, as in dreams, all the voices are my own, but some of the best material I've got arrived when I was trying to get out of the way of the story, rather than when I was trying to create the story. The bits that make me cackle with glee tend to be the ones that came as total surprises to me.

#171 ::: Sarah Avery ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 02:00 AM:

So, speaking of writing with truly terrible odds of publication, little fiscal reward, miniscule audiences, and a total inability to profit its authors and publishers...

Anybody else going to the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, September 30-October 3, just outside Princeton, NJ? It's the biggest, best poetry event in the country, well worth it for poetry geeks.

#172 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 02:11 AM:

Sarah: That would be minuscule. I realise that by posting this I am laying myself wide open to being picked up for any typo that might emanate from my address. But ... oh well ...

#173 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 02:16 AM:

I no longer have access to the OED, as I no longer work for the company what hosts it, but I did check dictionary.com and it agrees with me that 'miniscule' is a variant spelling, which is a good thing cuz that's how I always spell it.

Now I just have to conquer my problem with web sites talking to me.

#174 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 02:28 AM:

I stand with my correction corrrected -- though I've seen minuscule listed with inoculation, asphalt, etc as one of the most commonly misspelt words in English

#175 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 03:37 AM:

Does this mean that "majiscule" is okay? How about "minite?"

Reminds me of when I was in Germany, visiting Cheeseburg-am-Rhein, and they were all really annoyed that some sleazy port town had gotten the reputation for inventing their sandwich. (Never mind how they felt about John Montague, for whom the submarine was named.)

#176 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 04:37 AM:

Mr. Ford, please stop messing with my mind at this hour of the morning!

MKK

#177 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 05:35 AM:

Randall --

It's entirely possible to write without either extreme view (this is garbage or I am a genius) getting involved in one's opinion of one's own prose, I think.

My own opinions tend to be "that's not right", "that probably doesn't suck" and "I think that works"; I can be, have been, and am aware of the possibility of being wrong about all three of those.

There's at least three kinds of "good" -- this really works for some specific somebody; this has worked for a lot of people over generational time; this has had an influence on how other people do this.

Getting all three confused together strikes me as a good way to go mad, because the middle one isn't knowable in less than about fifty years, the first one is idiosyncratic in the extreme, and the last is always arguable.

#178 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 06:18 AM:

Elese-

Ann Rice already had a reputation for not allowing editing of her most recent books and being rather ... personally involved with her characters, more so than most authors. I was aware of this, not being a Rice fan myself, but because there was already a lot of bitterness about this in the fanfic communities, just like Pern.

After seeing this thread, I went and checked it all out. It makes more sense if you select for reverse chronological order - there are stacks and stacks of reviews from appalled series fans talking about how OOC everyone is, how plotholes abound, how the continuity is shot to hell, how the dialogue is terribly modern (part of the OOCness) and how it's a wretched way to end the series.

Interspersed are disagreements over which of the last few books haven't stunk to high heaven, but while there is some dissent over whether the last one is tolerable or not, or even good, "bloody Canticle" as some called it is panned.

Then there are a few people who jump in and say that they worship every single word that Blessed Saint Ann ever wrote, and no reader has the right to criticize anything an author puts down, and they loved this book to pieces.

Most of the reviewers said things like "I want my money back, and compensation for pain and suffering," though.

Then AR leaps in with her Very Long Rant With No Paragraph Breaks, all that is missing from which are a few lines in all caps, and some strings of exclamation points interspersed with ones, for it to be a typical ffnet response to bad reviews for someone's twenty-four chapter opus about how the half-elven ranger-thief-sorceress Princess Starlyte rescues an appropriately-grateful Legolas from the Drow. (Library of Moria doesn't allow reader review posting, which is probably a good thing all around.)

It's clear that she doesn't enjoy writing the books any more, loathes and despises her readership, except for the ones who bring hecatombs, and that she really does think that she is the World's Finest Writer.

(She also seems to have Got Religion in a very strange way. - I then went through and read her other reviews - she loves Mel Gibson's Passion and thinks it's wholesome family fare, unlike the other violent trash that's on network TV these days - and discovered that she's a very pedestrian writer when it comes to posting, and her spelling is, while not worse than Carrot's, consistently bad. I pity her proofers.)

Subsequently, her disturbing similarities to teenage fanfic writers were pointed out by Amazon reviewers, who were not impressed by the Rant or its lack of paragraph breaks...

#179 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 08:40 AM:

I guess it's the pile-on aspect of the Anne Rice thing--or other, similar things I've seen elsewhere--that I just can't wrap my head around. You buy a book, you don't like it, you decide to let other people know. You go to Amazon and you see that there are dozens of reader-posted reviews there already, which also don't like the book, and which make many, if not all, of the points that you would make.

Why, then, do you post?

Two answers:
1) People don't actually read all of the responses before posting. In fact, the people who do read all the existing replies are probably a very small minority of those reading and posting reviews.

Look at the number of duplicate posts announcing any particular news event in the Open Threads here-- I think I've seen at least three people mention the Anne Rice Incident as if they were the first. And this is an exceptionally literate and considerate commenting audience-- dip into the sewers that are the comment threads at Calpundit Monthly or Eschaton, and you'll see dozens of people posting exactly the same link, clearly not having read any of the previous posts.

2) It's rare to find people who have ego enough to be inclined to post web reviews in the first place, but are willing to admit that someone else already said everything they have to say. The same impulse that makes you think that everyone in the world will benefit from what you have to say, makes it easy to convince yourself that your particular spin on the same comments is vastly more illuminating than anyone else's.

Believe me, I know how this one works. I've written plenty of thousand-word "me too!" reviews on my book log...

(The extension of point 2 to writers of really dreadful slush is left as an exercise for the reader.)

#180 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 09:35 AM:

Does this mean that "majiscule" is okay?

Is it just me, or does this sound kinda dirty?*leers*

#181 ::: Holly Messinger ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 09:42 AM:

The bits that make me cackle with glee tend to be the ones that came as total surprises to me.

Me too.

#182 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 10:42 AM:

Also, on Amazon, it is sometimes useful to see just how many people voted "good" or "bad" on a book. That's sort of what ratings are all about.

I'm just saying.

#183 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 10:57 AM:

Of course, John Ford is right. But he neglected to mention that John Montague also invented the Zeppelin (such as dock at the Empire State Building, as seen in the documentary "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow"; cf. "hero").

First, we check what the most astute critics have said:

"I devoured hot dogs in Baltimore way back in 1886, and they were then very far from newfangled....They contained precisely the same rubber, indigestible pseudo-sausages that millions of Americans now eat, and they leaked the same flabby mustard."

--H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

Then we check an educational resource:

Sandwich Day, November 3rd "English nobleman John Montague, born in 1718, was a notorious gambler who would often go from pub to pub in gambling marathons. Once in 1762 he played cards at a men's club in London for 24 hours straight...."

"Submarine Sandwich - The 'sub' began life as a small meat and cheese sandwich made in Naples, Italy. Now it is a large sandwich on a long split roll with a variety of fillings such as meatballs or cold cuts, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. In some places it is called a torpedo. It probably got its name from its shape. Other unexplained names for this sandwich are grinder, poorboy, hoagy (or hoagie), zeppelin, and hero. Ask students to suggest why the sandwich may be called by these names. Called 'The Official Sandwich of Philadelphia.'"

Extra Credit for students: determine if John Montague ever played cards with Sir John Suckling, inventor of Cribbage and the Whole Suckling Pig Sandwich.

Extra Credit for explaining how a member of the Royal Family of Hawaii (i.e. The Sandwich islands) married someone from New England, bringing religious idols with them, thus inspiring H. P. Lovecraft to invent the Cthulhero, and Color-out-of-space mustard.

Linguitsics Major only: relate the above to "Montague Grammars."

#184 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 11:29 AM:

Appropos of nothing, SLOF Lis Riba comments over here at Riba Rambles about fandom terminology being accepted into the OED.

Over in my blog, she also made the following remark regarding the OED's quest for a cite on the earliest existing reference to "Mary Sue":

Katrina Campbell submitted a 2002 cite from an article by Robbie Hudson in the Sunday Times. Malcolm Farmer submitted a 1992 cite from Henry Jenkins' "Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture". Evelyn Ellen Browne submitted a cite from a 1990 reprint of Kendra Hunter's article "Characterization Rape."; this article was a reprint from TREK magazine, and had an original copyright date of 1980, so we would like to verify the cite from the first publication. Evelyn Ellen Browne submitted a 1992 cite from Camille Bacon-Smith's "Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth." Evelyn Ellen Browne submitted a 1997 cite from Constance Penley's "NASA/ TREK: Popular Science and Sex in America". (N.B. the Bacon-Smith cite mentions that the term was coined by Paula Smith, in "A Trekkie's Tale" in a 1974 issue of the fanzine "Menagerie", and later quoted by Johanna Cantor in the winter 1984 issue of the fanzine "Archives V": we would like to see cites from either of these sources)

The OED SF Fandom citation request page is here.

They need actual hard-copy (not electronic) confirmation of early usages of these terms. Lis and I figured there was nobody better to conveniently ask to spread the word.

#185 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 12:50 PM:

Steve -

As I mentioned, this had been building to for a long, long time, a family feud where anyone walking in is going to have no idea why "one little word" sets off all the flying crockery. (not unlike the last act of Rigoletto, really.)

The relationship between AR and the fandom is kind of like the WoT now, only afaik Robert Jordan hasn't yet appeard on Usenet or Amazon to berate his audience for their disloyalty and lack of appreciation as expressed in their vocal complaints and detailed analyses of the visible fossilization of the series.

Nor, so far as I know, has he devoted the first chapter of any of his books to a monologue by Rand al-Thor telling his fans to lump it if they don't like the snail's pace and redundancy of the last four books, which is the way that Blood Canticle begins...

#186 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 01:37 PM:

True, but neither has he (to my knowledge; I've never actually read any of the series, so please correct me if I'm wrong here) established right from the start of the series that the books are actually being written by one of the characters who is then going on afterwards to interact with people who have read the previous ones (e.g., in The Vampire Lestat, Lestat meets people who think he's borrowed his name from the character in Interview With The Vampire).

While I'll admit to not having read most of the more recent books in the series, it does seem logical for Lestat to react in this way.

#187 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 02:28 PM:

Jules - Perhaps not a problem in re the fourth wall in the Secondary World she's written, but from what I remember of long ago reading Interview with the Vampire (the only one of them I've read, plus about half the first chapter of Queen of the Damned) the fans who are complaining that the character's "voice" is all wrong have a point. They're arguing she's not even trying any more - and given her "Thank God the series is over!" shout at the end of her rant, I'm inclined to agree.

#188 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 02:29 PM:

Sarah Avery says,

"If the story doesn't sing on the page, it's because I haven't yet made the right choices in how to organize and convey what the characters are entrusting to me."

That resonates for me. There are aspects of my writing (description, business and speech tags, mostly) that make me cringe and think, "Aren't there any other words I can use? The English ones don't seem to be doing the job."

OTOH, I don't credit Rani and friends (my characters) for all the good bits. I do, however, feel a responsibility toward these fictional people, to get their stories into Borders and B&N, with a Real Publisher's imprint on the spine.

In a related thought, closer to the original topic, I spent over $130 this week printing out manuscripts for beta readers. When the Kinko's person told me how much I owed, I couldn't help but wonder how much it would have cost to have PA print my beta books. Not that I'd ever do that, but still, I just spent a lot of money trying to avoid being the next LaVerne Ross.

On the send it out too soon / edit it too often scale, may I just say that I've been on both ends with the same book? Somebody should just take the first novel away from me already, and just publish it. Of course, that would require my sending it out again. Gulp!

#189 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 02:43 PM:

Rice's rant seems to have vanished (without comment) from amazon.com, along with a number of reviews. There were two hundred thirty-something reviews, and there are now two hundred and eight.

#190 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 03:48 PM:

In a related thought, closer to the original topic, I spent over $130 this week printing out manuscripts for beta readers.
Ouch. You might want to put a laser printer on your christmas wish list. The prices are pretty low now -- quick check shows that Dell has one for $199.
And evil giant retailer which shall remain nameless has paper at around $2/ream or so.

#191 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 04:01 PM:
Karen Funk Blocher: OTOH, I don't credit Rani and friends (my characters) for all the good bits. I do, however, feel a responsibility toward these fictional people, to get their stories into Borders and B&N, with a Real Publisher's imprint on the spine.
That's it. You just described how it is with me - the sense of duty towards my characters to get their stories out into the open. Problem with that is, the stories I haven't written down yet, their characters are sitting in the wings giving me Meaningful Looks. Some of them, in fact, are bouncing up and down on the balls of their feet and cussing me out, like, "My God, woman, what are you waiting for? You might get hit by a bus tomorrow and then where will I be? Hurry up!"

It gets really awkward if after awhile it turns out that a given character doesn't actually fit in the story I originally envisioned, because then that means the queue just got longer.

("Um. Hi. My name is Niki, and, um, I too failed to grow out of having imaginary friends. In fact, I think they've multiplied over the years...")

#192 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 04:29 PM:

Mayakda:
Ouch. You might want to put a laser printer on your christmas wish list. The prices are pretty low now -- quick check shows that Dell has one for $199.

True, but toner remains expensive. The cheaper the printer, the higher the per-page cost seems to be on toner. Printing out one's book a number of times can easily eat up a $70 toner cartridge. (Ask me how I know...)

There are quality issues as well. My cheap Brother laser printer's starting to get old; the pages have spots on them, the fonts just don't look as sharp as they once did, and it's jamming more, increasing the hassle. So when I send my book out to agents or publishers I take it to Kinko's and shell out the cash.

(Not for beta readers, though. They'll have to love me the way I am.) >8->

#193 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 05:47 PM:

DaveK: "Lenora, by one rating at Fictionwise, does that mean just one person responded, however that works?"

Yes. Just one person rated the book yet. And there IS a not-insignificant chance it was my mother.

(I can at least reassure myself if this is the case. My mother is not quite the proverbial uncritical admirer. I've used her as a beta reader to excellent effect.)


Graydon: It's entirely possible to write without either extreme view (this is garbage or I am a genius) getting involved in one's opinion of one's own prose

I think this is the usual state while laying down the words -- it's just that the highs and lows are the bits you remember. I don't think I could write a word if I was always on a high. How would the editor get a word out edgewise?

or maybe that's the explanation of Night Travels fo the Elven Vampire. It was written all in that soaring "I am GOD!" state. And that is your reason for not trying it at home.

#194 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 08:27 PM:

Mayakda:
Ouch. You might want to put a laser printer on your christmas wish list. The prices are pretty low now -- quick check shows that Dell has one for $199.

I currently have a $50 inkjet printer, since my $800 LaserWriter 4/600 of yesteryear refuses to talk to the XP-based laptop. It's not thrilled with talking to the iMac, either. I stood in Big Name Office Supply one day and threatened to buy something for which I don't have to stand and catch the pages as they come out, but John talked me out of it.

Steve Eley:
True, but toner remains expensive. The cheaper the printer, the higher the per-page cost seems to be on toner. Printing out one's book a number of times can easily eat up a $70 toner cartridge. (Ask me how I know...)

My Canon takes very inexpensive cartidges that last approximately 20 pages each. I'm exaggerating, but not by much.

There are quality issues as well. My cheap Brother laser printer's starting to get old; the pages have spots on them, the fonts just don't look as sharp as they once did, and it's jamming more, increasing the hassle. So when I send my book out to agents or publishers I take it to Kinko's and shell out the cash.

(Not for beta readers, though. They'll have to love me the way I am.)

That's the other issue, not so much for the manuscripts (which truthfully I almost never print out), but because University of Phoenix has decided that from now on all textbooks will be mandatory downloads instead of real books, and unhelpfully failed to include written permission to print the pages (as Kinko's et al. require). The old printer no longer produces perfect pages (excuse the alliteration), and the new one probably wouldn't last long if I asked more of it than I do now.

As for beta readers, John insisted that I just send PDFs myself, but I didn't want to burden my readers with the expense and hassle of printing out or, alternatively, reading it all on a screen.

Karen

#195 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 08:37 PM:

Miniscule is only a legitimate variant by the logic that says that if enough people misspell a word -- supercede, vermillion, bellfry -- you're allowed to list that misspelling in the dictionary, even if it makes a hash of the word's history and etymology. As you can probably tell, I disagree. It's minuscule, supersede, vermilion, and belfrey.

Chad, I'm inclined to think of multiple, nearly indistinguishable reviews on Amazon as plebiscite reviews. Having one person hate a book might mean anything. Having twenty different people hate a book, all of them for roughly the same reasons, sends a different message.

I'm just glad I got to see the Anne Rice thrash before it disappeared. I wish I'd saved a copy of it to show to my students. Responding to negative reviews is always a mistake. The most you can say is,

"Please allow me to offer a correction to Sherwood Planck's review of my book, A Bunch of Bananas. Mr. Planck described my book as '...a shameless rip-off of Shirley Roche's Two Bunches of Grapes and an Apple. In fact, A Bunch of Bananas was first published in 1987, ten years before the publication of Ms. Roche's novel. Sincerely, J. Q. Author."
Lenora, the author of Night Travels of the Elven Vampire doesn't think she's a genius, but she can't see why people make fun of her book. She thinks they're just being mean to her. I do feel a bit sorry for her, but her readers' laughter is heartfelt and sincere.

#196 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 08:49 PM:

Jo, I've sometimes wondered whether Kirkus automatically assigns new books to whichever reviewer did that author's previous book. There's always a large element of chance in being loved or hated by Kirkus, but you've gotten an improbable string of bad 'uns.

Also:

I see I forgot to give sufficient egoboo to Steve Eley's elegant formulation:

I think it comes down to two basic principles:

1. Write the book you would most like to read.

2. Don't have reading tastes that are psychotic.

That just about covers it.

#197 ::: G. Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 08:51 PM:

Adding in to the laser printer pile-on, I broke down a while ago and bought a Brother 1440 laser printer. At the time, I had a inkjet that went through hideously expensive ink like alcohol at a room party, and moreover sounded like it wasn't going to make it through a complete print-out of the edited version of the then-current novel. (The squeaking was horrific.)

I decided to step up to the laser printer for the price difference between it and the new inkjet I'd have had to buy anyway. I've since printed out six copies of one novel, two of another, about 17 copies of my thesis (40 pages), numerous short story subs, an unknown number of pages of things I printed and critted for other people, and assorted other miscellaneous stuff, and the toner's still in the green. The price (including original equipment costs) is comparable to favorable as compared to printing large jobs at Kinko's, and significantly less expensive when compared to printing smaller jobs and ongoing novel progress hardcopy backups with my inkjet. And the pleasure of printing without leaving my apartment certainly makes it worth my while. And it can handle large jobs, as I know from printing four beta-reader copies of a novel in one night.

Overall, I'd say I'm a fan.

#198 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 08:55 PM:

Whoah, they Minitrued the Ann Rant? That was fast.

I think I have most of it still in my cache - do you want me to pull it into a text file, Teresa?

#199 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 09:05 PM:

Laser printers, well, I wouldn't buy one from Brother. (I bought one from HP some years ago, and it has served faithfully since. It is now almost three years old and will presumably need another toner cartridge in about another year if my printing usage holds consistent.)[1]

Minolta and Samsung probably have the best price/performance ratios going, but HP has really quite splendid Linux support and that mattered.

[1] Yes, buying a 4100 for home use is monumental overkill. I was really fed up with arguing with printers.

#200 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 09:15 PM:

"It's minuscule, supersede, vermilion, and belfrey."

Two out of three, he said politely.

#201 ::: Michelle Sagara ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 10:26 PM:

belfry? (This could be a US vs. UK spelling variance; no US dictionary here. Sorry).

#202 ::: james ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 10:41 PM:

My various dictionaries (all Oxford, of varying ages and degrees of concision) all have belfry.

#203 ::: Dave Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2004, 11:32 PM:

Lenora, thanks. I thought that might be it after finding mine. I didn't know the title of yours so I could find it, though I'm certain I ought to.

At the same time, I'm hoping that those ratings are from actual readers/purchasers of the books.

#204 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 12:33 AM:

Squa tront? Two out of three? Am I being gnawed upon by invisible brain weasels again? Minuscule, check. Super + sedere, check. Vermilion, improbable stepchild of vermeil, check. Belfry as in berfrey but not bell, check. Basic copyeditorial paranoia module still running, check.

#205 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 12:35 AM:

Graydon -

I don't know what you're talking about. We've got a perfectly nice 4100 at home too :)

#206 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 12:38 AM:

TNH -

I think John's referring to your earlier comment:

Miniscule is only a legitimate variant by the logic that says that if enough people misspell a word -- supercede, vermillion, bellfry -- you're allowed to list that misspelling in the dictionary, even if it makes a hash of the word's history and etymology. As you can probably tell, I disagree. It's minuscule, supersede, vermilion, and belfrey.

#207 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 12:39 AM:

... and the image I'd intended to share, but hit enter too fast -

Is a 'bellfry' what happens when the church decides to hold a BBQ?

#208 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 12:53 AM:

Is a 'bellfry' what happens when the church decides to hold a BBQ?

xeger, no, that was a belle-fry. [/tasteless comment]

#209 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 01:16 AM:

I have a friend whose last name is Vermillion. I had to keep correcting myself when I put his name in things.

#210 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 01:21 AM:

My error. Three out of four. Obviously a bat is still loose in my . . . garret.

#211 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 07:14 AM:

The original Ann Rice Rant is available here.

The good-parts (readable) version is here.

Out in the field we call responding to your critics the ABM: the Author's Big Mistake.

#212 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 11:02 AM:

Obscure geekiness: Back in the 80s, in the hoary old days of DOS, I used to put all my .BAT files in a subdirectory called BELFREY.

#213 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 11:09 AM:

Graydon wrote:
Laser printers, well, I wouldn't buy one from Brother.

I wouldn't buy one from Brother again. Worse than the gradual decay, I found out how bad the Linux support was shortly after I got it. Not a killer, as I can share off my Windows machine, but very inconvenient.

Hey, this might be the right crowd for this question, since I may be shopping again soon: Can anyone recommend a good home-priced printer where plain old Courier looks like proper Courier, thick and typewriterish, instead of like the anorexic Hollywood actress version of Courier? This was a problem on both my Brother printer and my older HP 5L. Yeah, I know, I could use a darker TrueType font and be done with it, but I'd rather keep my PDF files small and fix this one in hardware.

Thanks in advance for any advice.

#214 ::: ELizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 11:24 AM:

Quoth James: Out in the field we call responding to your critics the ABM: the Author's Big Mistake.

Is there an acceptable public (as opposed to third-beer-corner-table, which isn't public--after all, it's a bar) response to criticism other than "Thank you very much for your interest in my work?"

#215 ::: Jonn M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 03:05 PM:

Elizabeth: I'd say that it isn't a matter of "what is acceptable" so much as it's "what is your response trying to achieve, and given that, what sort of response might successfully achieve that?"

If the point is to correct a factual error -- my noting that I have never been a Cistercian, despite strong historical leanings -- then I would say that, as straightforwardly as possible, offering supporting sources that interested parties could check. And then I'd try to forget about it. (Ha ha, it is to laugh.)

If it's a matter that is actually open to argument -- and the "quality" of a book always is -- then it's your choice whether to participate, but again, what is the actual chance that anyone's thought is going to be moved in your direction? If someone has raised a reasonable issue that might be reasonably met, then . . . well, maybe. If it is (for example) apparent that the reader wanted a book that you didn't write and had never intended to write, then walking away might be be the most practical reply. (Ho ho, as if.)

As a side issue, I have long found it unfortunate that the word "criticism" has two entirely different meanings in English: the street meaning of "saying something negative" and the technical meaning of "intelligent analysis of an artwork." As James Blish noted long ago, in the technical sense, there are no such things as "positive" or "negative" criticism; there's reasoned analysis (which may be factually wrong, but can be answered on factual terms), and there's abuse. (There's also mindless praise, but it rarely causes much difficulty.) Answering abuse as if it were thoughtful argument is not only pointless, but plays to the abuser.

This has been a test of the Emergency Troll Warning System. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

#216 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 03:15 PM:

Steve--

(1) The best solution is to change fonts, not printer. A few years back, HP put out an excellent public-domain font for Windows (TrueType) called Dark Courier that seems to meet your "no anorectic fonts please" request. It's getting increasingly harder to find on HP's website, but I have posted a copy (.zip file of .ttf collection, 160kb). Just install, reboot, and change your default font in Word (or whatever) from Courier to Dark Courier, preferably by changing styles in the normal.dot template. It's also a LOT easier to read on screen.

(2) If that fails, and you have a Windows machine, it's hard to go wrong with a Samsung laser printer. They are extremely inexpensive ($150 range), frequently available at places like Sam's (where I got mine), and run toner a lot longer than they're rated for. Yes, a cartridge costs $70, but its "real" duty cycle is close to 7000 pages in "toner save" mode (which is virtually indistinguishable from "regular" mode if you're not doing graphics). So far as I know, the printers don't do Linux, though.

#217 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 04:43 PM:

I'm still using an old Apple LaserWriter Pro 630, which was picked up after becoming surplus-to-requirements in an office. It still works well, though it sees very low usage, since I'm not a writer; we haven't finished off this toner cartridge yet....

#218 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 05:07 PM:

I've grown to like Dark Courier very much.

#219 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 05:08 PM:

Oh yes; thanks, Charlie, for putting Dark Courier on your site. :)

I was doing the "What printer shall I buy" dithering earlier this year after I added up the cost of the cartridges for printing the manuscript plus the price of a replacement inket printer if I killed the old one, and decided that it was about the same as a low end laser printer. In the end I went for a medium range printer, and bought a Samsung ML-2151N. That's the model with the network card, but you can get the version with less singing and dancing for significantly less money - and auto-duplexing on the basic model. I've been very happy with it so far (and thanks, Graydon, for pointing me at the Samsung medium-level range).

#220 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 06:14 PM:

The Mighty John Savage wrote:
(1) The best solution is to change fonts, not printer. A few years back, HP put out an excellent public-domain font for Windows (TrueType) called Dark Courier that seems to meet your "no anorectic fonts please" request.

Yes, I'm familiar with it, thanks. As I stated in my post above, this is not the solution I'm hoping for. I don't use Word, or indeed any word processor, preferring instead to write my fiction in Emacs and then formatting the final draft with arcane sorcery involving Perl, XSL-FO and some PDF tools. (I could explain it, but I've found that most people really don't want to know, and the deeper I get into it the more insane they think I am.)

While the technology I use does not rule out the use of TrueType fonts, they're slightly more cumbersome than Courier, which is built into every PDF reader and every printer. So while I'll go with Dark Courier if I have to, I'd really prefer a printer that simply handled Courier properly. I know that most high-end and Postscript printers do. The question is, does anybody know of a low-end printer that does?


(2) If that fails, and you have a Windows machine, it's hard to go wrong with a Samsung laser printer. [...] So far as I know, the printers don't do Linux, though.

Actually they do. Samsung has released Ghostscript drivers for them. Proprietary drivers, which offends the Penguin Purists, but drivers nonetheless. But how's their Courier font? Have you tried it?

Sincere thanks for the response.

#221 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 08:34 PM:

Steve, I can send you a printed page from my Samsung if you're *that* desperate for a hardcopy sample...

#222 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 09:16 PM:

Teresa, it's not that I entirely disagree with you, but my first resort for spelling is generally a dictionary, and if it's listed there, I assume it's correct. I don't usually spend the time figuring out which variants are perfectly acceptable regionalisms (e.g., 'colour' vs 'color' or 'center' vs 'centre') and which ones are just "people kept getting it wrong so therefore we just updated the list". This is a big drawback of my not having access to the OED anymore, as it tended to make things a lot clearer on this topic.

OTOH, I just checked, and my primary word processing software's spellchecker will correct it to 'minuscule', so, it'll turn up with the original (/correct) spelling in anything I actually write. I habitually misspell a few words so I always spell check anything that isn't casual (blogs, no; writing being sent to an editor, yes).

One habit I have that is probably potentially annoying is sometimes incorporating British spelling of words into my otherwise American writing, so I tend to be a little looser about variants than perhaps I ought, though. The big one for me is 'colour', which I now pretty much always spell that way, due to reams of correspondence with British clients about images. I also have a tendency to type 'theatre' if I'm talking about the type where you sit and watch a live performance, though rarely if I mean a place to see movies.

#223 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 09:30 PM:

So, if I want a printer that likes my Compaq laptop and might talk to the iMac in a pinch, and is capable of printing large manuscripts without trauma, page-catching or excessive toner expense, you think I should buy / avoid a Brother / Samsung / Apple laser printer?

Karen

#224 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 09:41 PM:

Steve Eley may or may not be surprised to know that he's far from the only fiction writer of my acquaintance who composes in Emacs.

Back in that long interregnum between quitting his programming job and the rise of easy-to-install desktop Linux, Steve Brust wrote his novels on a DOS machine running a word processor called Sprint which could be configured to emulate Emacs. It's what his fingers knew. These days, I think Steve just runs Linux.

I'm no programmer, but I do more writing in BBEdit and TextPad than in Word. Word is a printer utility, not a writing tool.

#225 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 10:37 PM:

I was briefly doing manuscripts in LaTeX using the sffms package (? not a guru and too sleepy to recall the terminology). Run it through, spit out PDF, happy Yoon. I was liking it very much. However, all my kind critiquers seem to want RTF, and while I can run the stuff through various scripts and happy greppery to get it into RTF format, I'm not savvy enough to put together a more automated version of same. (In particular, it's a vague goal to find a Mac OS X [10.2.8] utility that'll reliably convert my PDF or LaTeX files to RTFs. I think I've heard they're out there, but it hasn't been a priority.)

In the meantime, I'm back to using less-well-known Mac-only word processor (Mariner Write).

I admit emacs looked tempting, but the learning curve is too much for my poor brain to handle right now. Maybe after the kidlet is in school...

#226 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 10:38 PM:

Karen: Apple has long since stopped selling their own printers. (If that was the tradeoff for getting the iPod, I'm happy with the tradeoff.)

Note, also, that this was the one they used to sell as a department/workgroup printer...far more expensive than I would ever have bought new for our low-end printing needs. If you're really beating on your printer, though, that's the point you might want to aim for: a black & white workgroup model of some sort. HP has several, but I don't have current experience with any. At least they list monthly page counts for theirs!

Patrick: I believe that Vernor Vinge is also an Emacs user, though you're more likely than I to know for sure.

#227 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 10:52 PM:

Patrick:
Steve Eley may or may not be surprised to know that he's far from the only fiction writer of my acquaintance who composes in Emacs.

Oh, this doesn't surprise me at all. Now that they've got the refill mode working correctly Emacs is wonderful for prose. And writing in text files makes all sorts of things easy -- e-mailing, version control, and lots of handy utilities.

What would surprise me is if you knew another fiction writer who did automated conversion of prose into XML, with XSLT transformations for final-stage rendering with FOP. Or at least, if you knew one who wasn't using scripts I wrote. >8->

It sounds complicated, and it took me a few days to make it work, but it's actually simpler on a day-to-day basis than wrestling with Word. Now that I've got the toolchain put together I can go from several dozen numbered text files (one per chapter) to a fully formatted novel in about twenty seconds. And if I want a draft in single-spaced Times instead of double-spaced Courier, or italics instead of underline, or a Web page, or a pile of index cards with each paragraph on a different card, I can just use a different stylesheet. No need to touch the original text, and no need to think about the format at all while I'm writing.

I like it. It's elegant to my own sensibilities, and more to the point, it works. A few other writers have tried this too and made various refinements. Deirdre Saoirse Moen tells me she wrote a technical paper about my process that she's presenting at some schmancy Internet conference, but I haven't seen the paper yet, and I haven't quite gotten around yet to documenting the whole thing properly and releasing it to the world. I suppose I ought to, on the off chance that there are more than five people who consider this sane and rational. Thus far the evidence is against me, but you never know.

#228 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 10:54 PM:

Steve: well, it sounds logical enough to me. That may be evidence against you.

#229 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 11:04 PM:

Yoon: I used to do that too. Using LaTeX, I mean. This was before the sffms package, though; I was using a document class homebrewed by my friend Jason Mayfield. sffms seems to be a lot better.

Nowadays I much prefer XML and XSL-FO. I wouldn't say it's easier than LaTeX, but it's a lot more flexible. And there are programs that will turn it into RTF pretty easily.

BTW, I don't actually write my fiction in XML or LaTeX or anything else. That would be a pain. I just write plain text, with _underscores_ around the words to be emphasized and # signs where I want section breaks, and I have a script that does all the conversion automagically.

#230 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 11:07 PM:

Yoon, how happy are you with Latex? I'm writing my first paper in Latex, and I stubbed my nose on the learning curve. Does it get easier to use with time? How well does it cope with long documents? I'd like to do my thesis in Latex if the current project works out. (My advisor is singularly unhelpful on the topic-- he quotes Nike at me.)

#231 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 11:09 PM:

I've written things using vim, both for Unix and DOS, though I still default to using Windows-based GUI word processors for anything lengthy. But I'm right there in Windows anyhow, no matter what else I'm doing, so I may as well use my copy of RoughDraft. (No *nix box at home; just my shell account elsewhere.)

It's more or less a combination of habit and laziness. If Unix, vim, else GUI-program.

#232 ::: Andrew Sigel ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 11:23 PM:

I was stunned to see "supercede" in one of the Tor/Forge catalogues available for the taking at Noreascon. It was hastily returned to its stack on the instant...

#233 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2004, 11:54 PM:

Yeah, I was apalled at "supercede" too. However, as the estimable Karen Cooper says, "There are many things on the Planet of Not My Problem." And stylemongering the Tor/Forge catalog is one of them.

#234 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 12:08 AM:

Andy Perrin:
I'd like to do my thesis in Latex if the current project works out.

If the constant tagging is too much of a headache, you may be interested in LyX, which is a sort of word processor for LaTeX. It works very well for documents of moderate complexity, and I use it often for non-fiction and technical documentation.

Downsides? Well, a bit of kludginess, and the fact that it's primarily a Linux program. There are ways to make it work in Windows, but they're the sorts of jumping jacks that most people use Windows to avoid.

#235 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 01:27 AM:

Content-Is-King Dept., The Early Years.

Ummm... In 1966 and 1967 I used to write prose and poetry directly onto punchcards, then print them on the IBM 1130 mainframe that came with either 4K or 8K of memory. "Why would anyone need 8K of memory" said the computer lab director. So we had 4K. It either required 3 boxes of punch cards run through 2 times, or 2 boxes of punch cards run through 3 times to load the Compiler for Fortran IV. But then I could run my program to write poetry by randomly generating sentences with a generative grammar from my carefully typed database of my poetic corpus. Some such ('66-'67) poems have been published. I keep waiting for someone to psychoanalyze the "author." At least I'm pretty sure that the author won't rant on Amazon. Later I learned emacs, running Unix before Bell Labs released it, on my girlfriend's terminal, on her account. I'd better quit here before I name-drop.

Stranger tales exist from earlier-generation software folks on more antiquated systems.

"I keyed in my stories on toggle switches directly onto the mercury delay line. We didn't have core memory in my day, and we didn't need it, you whippersnapper."

"Oh yeah? I used to write by rearranging patch-cords..."

"Patchcords? Luxury! I used to write my poetry by plugging the vaccum tubes in and out..."

"Vacuum tubes? You lucky b*stard. I had to wait until Turing was out of the room and write my poetry by jiggling the electromechanical rotor thingies on the Enigma..."

"Oh, we'd have thought we were in heaven if we had an Enigma. We had to manually wrstle the Jacquard Loom settings, being carefull not to get our shirtcuffs caught in the bobbin..."

"Shut up. Me write epic in scratches on mastadon bone..."

"Bone? We didn't need any bone. It was all rocks in those day. We didn't need silicon. Just silica..."

#236 ::: Elese ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 05:17 AM:

JvP - My Dad used to write well-simulations on punch cards. Hundreds of punch cards. Boxes of punch cards. When I was 6, for some reason I figured it would be funny to mix them all up.

Needless to say, my Dad was not amused.

#237 ::: Jill Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 06:37 AM:

...it's actually simpler on a day-to-day basis than wrestling with Word.

Coping with JvP's punch cards were probably simpler than wrestling with Word on a day-to-day basis...

#238 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 08:17 AM:

I'm writing my first paper in Latex, and I stubbed my nose on the learning curve. Does it get easier to use with time?

It depends on what you're doing. For research papers and theses, where you're likely to want lots of symbols and equations and that sort of thing, it gets a lot easier once you know the basic forms. I also can't recommend Leslie Lamport's book on LaTeX highly enough, as it's got great reference tables and explanations that are about as clear as you're likely to get in the field.

If you're writing plain prose, though, you're probably better off with something else. I did my CV and personal statements for job hunting in LaTeX, but that was largely because it's much less bitchy about letting you change margins and the like than Word is. Anything that isn't particularly fussy about the formatting, I write in Word these days.

There are some WYSIWYG front ends for TeX ("Scientific Word" is one, "Lyx" is another) that are supposed to be pretty good. I'm not a huge fan of pointy-clicky stuff for text editing, so I tend to stick with WinEdt and frequent compiles.

How well does it cope with long documents? I'd like to do my thesis in Latex if the current project works out. (My advisor is singularly unhelpful on the topic-- he quotes Nike at me.)

LaTeX is fine with long documents. I wrote my thesis in it, as one whopping huge file. If you're paranoid, it will also allow you to split and recombine files relatively easily.

#239 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 08:59 AM:

Steve - by "refill mode" do you mean emacs can actually now keep a paragraph correctly word-wrapped even if you edit in the middle of it? 'Cause the lack of such ability in auto-fill-mode is exactly why I stopped using it for writing my fiction about 5 years ago...

I also can't recommend Leslie Lamport's book on LaTeX highly enough.

It is a good book. I just wish that the system came with an online manual that was approximately as useful (i.e., one that actually explained how to use more than just the basic features).

#240 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 10:04 AM:

Jules wrote:
Steve - by "refill mode" do you mean emacs can actually now keep a paragraph correctly word-wrapped even if you edit in the middle of it? 'Cause the lack of such ability in auto-fill-mode is exactly why I stopped using it for writing my fiction about 5 years ago...

Yes, exactly. It's essentially a paragraph-reformatting command that's always on. It's still not very well documented; it's "Meta-x refill-mode", and I discovered it in the help almost by accident.

To the best of my knowledge, Emacs is the only console text editor that now does this. It's why I use Emacs even though I prefer Joe. Most text editors were written for programmers, not authors, and the lack of features such as this are the main problem with them. (Yes, they're all open source, and I could fix them myself if I wanted. But I'm lazy, and at this point Emacs pretty much does what I want.)

#241 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 10:18 AM:

I just wish that the system came with an online manual that was approximately as useful (i.e., one that actually explained how to use more than just the basic features).

Aside from the documentation in the source tree on my linux box, I keep a PDF copy of "The Not So Short Introduction to LaTeX2E" around on any computer I'm using for LaTeX work.

WinEDT seems to be the gold standard for Windows-based LaTeX users, but for those of us using OS X >= 10.2, I suggest TeXShop.

As an aside, there is a latex to rtf converter (latex2rtf), however, I have had no direct experience with it, since all the people I deal with request PDF.

#242 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 11:46 AM:

Thanks, LaTeXnicians.

#243 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 12:51 PM:

Another book worth looking at is the one by Helmut and Kopka if you're going to be doing LaTeX for some time....

#244 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 01:17 PM:

Elese and Jill Smith:

At first, I was horrified to see perfectly good engineers and scientists corrupted by the computer. They seemed to drift from solving real problems to solving self-inflicted problems that came from the user-unfriendliness of the computer and software.

They also looked absurd, carrying wads of punchcards rubberbanded together, shoved into their pocket protector when only pens and pencils should be. Then, worse, they roamed the fluorescent hallways lugging boxes filled with punchcards. Later they mutated into hard-disk-carriers.

Then the infection spread to me. Sigh. I remeber calculating "e" to many digits, inventing (only the 10,000th or so to do so) the bubble-sort, and the like. I didn't like single-letter variable names; I tended to use 5-letter girls's names.

I'd wake up in the morning, scribble my last remembered dream longhand, take the subway to the computer lab, type my dream on punchcards, and print it. I submitted some of these to a psychologist who was studying dreams. He rejected them, on the basis that they were coherent (albeit surreal) stories with beginning, middles, and ends. "People don't dream that way," he concluded. I did. That's why I'm a writer.

Anyway, you're both right. The agony of dropping the box of cards and getting them shuffled is indescribable. And even so, the whole megillah was still better than battling with Micro$oft Word to do what you want to do with a manuscript. Me, I prefer driving a stick shift to driving an automatic. I know what I want to do; don't like a machine to assume it knows better than I.

Then in 1968 I started using email, and everything changed again...

I've started this year using the computer essentially every day to do "Experimental Mathematics." Me plus the PC plus various algorithms available online plus references online have proved a potent team in combining the creation of new theory with the semiautomated discovery of examples validating the theory. mathworld.com, hosted by Wolfram Research, is the #1 Math Encyclopedia online, by far the biggest and best in the world.

I've been proofreading (unpaid) for them and have made many dozens of correction of text and equations. Sometimes I submit things for them that I've first posted on Making Light (before my fellow readers complained). They made a web page on the "emirpimes" that first was aired on Making Light, for instance. This week they asked me to write 2 articles for the encyclopedia on subjects I've blogged here. One will be a compilation of my best results on Kynea Semiprimes, Smith Number Semiprimes, and the like. One will be on Polytope Numbers.

Oh, the thrill of having an editor of a prestigious publication ASK you to write something! Such a change from putting short stories and poems and novel manuscripts in the mail and watching the grass grow while the mss gather dust on editorial slushpiles and then come home again for another round of submissions.

#245 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 01:53 PM:

The WashPost has a new Sunday section called the "Sunday Source" that is for hip young people. I usually skim the front page since I am neither hip nor young. Today, there's a mini-article (all the articles are mini -- those young hip people can't read much at a time) on how to publish your own book:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45761-2004Sep23.html

#246 ::: Andy Perrin ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 03:04 PM:

those young hip people can't read much at a time

That's because of the high-fructose corn syrup, Marilee.

#247 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 03:51 PM:

Narilee: Suddenly I fell less bad about never having been hip. It means I can read real things, not hip mini-articles of bad information.

#248 ::: Karen Funk Blocher ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 04:37 PM:

Another recent reference to self-publishing: Writer's Digest is looking for entries in "the 12th Annual Writer's Digest International Self-Published Book Awards! (co-sponsored by Book Marketing Works, LLC)." Details are here. They're looking for "the best self-published books of the past few years." There will be awards in each of numerous categories.

I'm not quite sure what I think about this. On the one hand, it's encouraging people to self-publish, which is most cases isn't a great idea. (OTOH, my husband did manage to help support us for several years with his self-published Beatles books.) On the other, it does give the best of the self-published authors a shot at a little money and publicity, which might increase their sales or bring them to the attention of real publishers. Or not.

#249 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2004, 09:07 PM:

I got a nominee for the most-impossible-to award-anything, except the 'the single best reason people should NOT self-publish' this weekend, Circle's, and Inside Circle's, Cherie J. Gierak.

Self-published, available on Amazon.com. We laughed until we cried at Fencon in Dallas, at the Pandamonium party, passing it around and reading passages to one another. Sigh. "Yesterday she was a hooker and a law student. Today she didn't know what she was." I'm certain there are more commas in that than I put, but damn.

The first book had too many commas. The second one had almost no punctuation. We held the books together and shook them, hoping to fix the situation.

Plus it was a really lovely all-Courier publication, with all the care and wonderful layout that someone with no clue that layout helps you read something.

We laughed until we hurt. Steve threw his back out laughing.

Just yikes.

#250 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 01:55 AM:

3. “No publisher will look twice at a manuscript that hasn’t been professionally edited.”
... There are some genuine freelance professional editors out there. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but I don’t know any who take referrals from agents.

OK, I'll bite. I've been a professional freelance editor since 1978, and I take referrals from agents. Some agent friends send me writers whose manuscripts have lots of potential but need lots of work.

I don't "professionally edit" their manuscripts. Rather, I write thorough manuscript evaluations, pointing out what is working well in the manuscript and what things still need attention. As much as I can be, I am specific in the problems I identify and in the approaches I suggest for remedying them. My aim is to coach writers in the specific skills they are lacking.

I never pretend that I am able to do much more than somewhat improve their chances of getting published, IF they are able to adequately address the problems I've identified in the manuscript.

I have never done a full hands-on edit of a manuscript for an author, and never will. Not even for friends. In fact, especially not for friends.

There are two reasons for that. The first is practical: it costs a lot, and I don't think that authors should be paying that cost. In most cases, the money would be entirely wasted. That is because of the second reason: until you know who is publishing a book, you don't know how to edit it.

Publishers vary in how they want their manuscripts edited. Until you know what the publisher saw in the manuscript and why it was signed, you can't really know what editorial work is required. Did the publisher like the always-sarcastic dialogue, or should it be toned down? Is the hard-to-follow ending harming the book's commercial potential, or is it particularly appealing to that publisher's especially erudite readership? And so on.

Editing the manuscript for the author before it has been signed would be working blind. Sure, I can make it read better. But would it fit the hypothetical publisher's list? Probably not. And it almost certainly wouldn't match the publisher's house copy editing style. So after the author has gone to the considerable expense of getting a professional edit, the publisher would likely have to get it done all over again.

In my experience, ethical freelance editors (which is most of us) steer authors away from having their manuscripts "professionally edited." There's tons of work for us from publishers. We don't have to augment it by ripping off authors.

#251 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 05:42 AM:

Vim's equivalent of emac's auto-fill is 'autoformat', and there are a bunch of related commands, so you can get fairly fine-grained control over what and how it does it. (I write just about everything in vim.)

Gui front ends to LaTeX (besides LyX) include TeXmacs, which is a deliberate combination of emacs and TeX.

And, hey, if you're going for markup, don't forget you can always use groff. :)

#252 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 09:00 AM:

Steve:

What would surprise me is if you knew another fiction writer who did automated conversion of prose into XML, with XSLT transformations for final-stage rendering with FOP. Or at least, if you knew one who wasn't using scripts I wrote.

You do know someone - me. At least, you knew me five years ago on a certain eGroups/Yahoo! mailing list for beginning novelists.

Long after you left the list, I got a job involving heavy use of XML, learned XSLT, and eventually wrote my own novel-formatting stylesheet, together with a Perl script for translating my preferred minimal formatting style (highly reminiscent of email) into DocBook. I don't use Emacs though - I use Pico, since it's what my fingers know because I've been using it for email for donkey's years.

I'm still on said mailing list, and the other members think I'm insane.

It's good to see you again.

#253 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 09:12 AM:

Oh, Steve, you don't by any chance keep your novel in CVS as well? (That's the other techie insanity I picked up at work.)

#254 ::: Elizabeth Bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 09:31 AM:

Quoth John:
Answering abuse as if it were thoughtful argument is not only pointless, but plays to the abuser.

That is a downright elegant formulation.

I should have made it plain that issuing factual corrections is a bit different, in my head, from arguing opinions. Or, for that matter, offering a refund. *g*

#255 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 10:09 AM:

Solid, Greg. I've heard Nancy Hanger make very nearly that same speech, and if I were freelance I'd be making it myself. I know Nancy turns away work when she doesn't think it's appropriate for the author or the manuscript.

The cost of a good edit is nontrivial. A while back I did a close line edit on a 900-page manuscript, then had a series of long phone conversations with the author while we thrashed out the changes. If I'd been charging for it on an hourly basis, even at rockbottom rates, my bill would have been in the four figures.

I have one consolation that freelancers don't: I get to see the sales figures. I can look at the numbers on an author's last half-dozen titles, and observe that the books where I did a thorough edit sold better than the ones where I didn't. That makes me feel better. Copy editors know they're turning chaos into clarity and order, and proofreaders know they're shooting down typos like an arcade game, but with greater latitude comes less certainty that you're doing the right thing. All you can go on is faith, your own good ear, and numbers you'll wait years to see.

#256 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 10:27 AM:

Good Manuscript Edit, part 1: Two words:

Maxwell Perkins

Good Manuscript Edit, part 2, re: "The Wasteland": Two words:

Ezra Pound

#257 ::: mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 11:03 AM:

Two in one, fashionably late post:

I currently have a $50 inkjet printer, since my $800 LaserWriter 4/600 of yesteryear refuses to talk to the XP-based laptop.

Karen, I was once blissfully unaware of XP until I bought this cute little laptop with XP Home Edition on it. Oh, for innocence lost! *cries*

That's because of the high-fructose corn syrup, Marilee.

Welcome aboard, Andy! I'll have to teach you the secret handshake. And have you heard about the anaphylaxis-causing peanut mold spores ...

#258 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 11:43 AM:

Teresa wrote:

"I can look at the numbers on an author's last half-dozen titles, and observe that the books where I did a thorough edit sold better than the ones where I didn't."

And now I'm musing on the question: how many additional sales would a book make if it had the line "copyedited by Teresa Nielsen Hayden" in small but legible type at the bottom of the cover?


(One thing I learned from editing a couple of anthologies was that even writers who've had a half-dozen or more pretty-darn-good-selling books published can still write a story that goes *KA-LUNK!*)


#259 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 12:10 PM:

Obscure geekiness: Back in the 80s, in the hoary old days of DOS, I used to put all my .BAT files in a subdirectory called BELFREY.

I did exactly that! (Only I spelled it 'belfry'. American here.) Thought I was the only one.

In my eventual book 101 Errors Your Spell Checker Won't Catch, and How To Avoid Them, *supercede is listed as the only example of spellings that are flat-out worng but won't be caught. Some idiot at Microsoft added this wrong spelling to the dictionary in Word. ArrgggHHH!

#260 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 12:39 PM:
In my eventual book 101 Errors Your Spell Checker Won't Catch, and How To Avoid Them, *supercede is listed as the only example of spellings that are flat-out worng but won't be caught. Some idiot at Microsoft added this wrong spelling to the dictionary in Word. ArrgggHHH!

It's not in the dictionary in Office 2003 - I just looked.

#261 ::: Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 12:42 PM:

Eleanor!

Long after you left the list, I got a job involving heavy use of XML, learned XSLT, and eventually wrote my own novel-formatting stylesheet, together with a Perl script for translating my preferred minimal formatting style (highly reminiscent of email) into DocBook.

Neat! That's almost exactly what I do. I don't use DocBook, I devised a far too simple markup instead, but I'm considering switching to DocBook in the future for its versatility. Fortunately, a single XSLT template is all it would take. >8->

Might you be interested in putting our heads together at some point and sharing ideas? I'd still like to present these tools to the world eventually, because I have a suspicion that there are writers out there who would see the virtue in doing things this way, but wouldn't know where to start and don't want to reinvent too many wheels.

Oh, Steve, you don't by any chance keep your novel in CVS as well? (That's the other techie insanity I picked up at work.)

Absolutely! That's one of the prime benefits of working in text -- using version control tools is easy and efficient.

I'm still on said mailing list, and the other members think I'm insane.

I'm pretty sure they thought I was insane when I was there, but for reasons having nothing to do with technology. >8->

It's good to hear from you again too. How's writing been?

#262 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 01:20 PM:

Andy Perrin: Glad you got help from more experienced LaTeXers--sffms is dead-simple once you read the instructions, but a thesis is bigger stuff, and is out of my ability range. (I've been holding out in hopes of finding the aforementioned LaTeX guidebook at a bookstore, with no luck so far; the one time I tried ordering it through the store, the storebeing thought I was talking about something more, ah, risqué. I may give up and order on Amazon.com sometime.)

Steve Eley: Might you be interested in putting our heads together at some point and sharing ideas? I'd still like to present these tools to the world eventually, because I have a suspicion that there are writers out there who would see the virtue in doing things this way, but wouldn't know where to start and don't want to reinvent too many wheels.

Oooh! Oooh! I can't contribute to this, but if it were doable on my OS (Mac OS 10.2.8) I would be *very* interested in learning how to switch over.

#263 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 03:13 PM:

I've just realised that seeing "supercede" over and over again in this thread has had unfortunate effects on my built-in dictionary. Oh dear. Time for the brain bleach. :-(

#264 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 04:37 PM:

TNH: books where I did a thorough edit sold better than the ones where I didn't

proofreaders know they're shooting down typos like an arcade game

i.e., escaped typos eat ten booklets? (For those who remember ancient videogames....)

#265 ::: Jonathan Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 05:53 PM:

I can imagine a T-shirt on which "supercede," "seige," "millenium," u.s.w., are marching down the screen, and at the bottom a blue pencil is firing carets back.

Somebody, please start printing those shirts now!

#266 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 06:22 PM:

Dan, you give me hope for the world. Be careful!

Seriously, it's nice to know that Microsoft actually FIXED something for once.

#267 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2004, 11:34 PM:

Yoon Ha Lee: Quantum Books claims to have both the Kopka & Daly and the Lamport books in stock, if you're near enough to Cambridge (the MA one) or can wait until you're next in the Boston area. If you don't need to browse through your book before buying, they also have convenient clicky web ordering.

#268 ::: Jane Carnall ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 06:59 AM:

Tina wrote: Meanwhile, what JRW doesn't know -- but with the prescience granted narrators, I do -- is that the second, third, and even fourth agents on JRW's list would not have offered representation, but the fifth one would be interested enough to consider the whole book and the sixth one would take JRW on...

Or not. That's the point, isn't it?

I figured out a long time ago that I could either be desperate about getting professionally published, or be enthusiastic about what I wrote - because what I like to write is not going to get professionally published. The window is narrow: mere quality won't get you through it. Enthusiasm is a hell of a lot more fun than desperation.

It would be neat to be professionally published, more than the odd short story here and there. But it seems to me that I had the choice of wanting to be read (and writing accordingly) or wanting to write - and not giving a damn if what I write ends up being read by five close friends, a couple of hundred acquaintances, or nobody at all.

#269 ::: Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 07:20 AM:

Xopher: I did exactly that! (Only I spelled it 'belfry'. American here.) Thought I was the only one.

Cousin! (And I might have spelled it 'belfry' as well, also being American. My memory fades alarmingly with the years.)

#270 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 09:03 AM:

Christopher Davis: Quantum Books claims to have both the Kopka & Daly and the Lamport books in stock, if you're near enough to Cambridge (the MA one) or can wait until you're next in the Boston area. If you don't need to browse through your book before buying, they also have convenient clicky web ordering.

Ooooh. I do prefer to browse, but I might, might be able to wrangle a stop by the place--the one time I was in there, it was all I could do from walking out with a few hundred dollars' worth of happy math textbooks. Or I might beg my husband to stop by while he's over at MIT studying anyway, and pick 'em up for me...many thanks!

#271 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 11:14 AM:

Cousin Beth, as does mine. Also, I remember things that cannot possibly have happened. I'm reasonably sure I was never temporarily paralyzed, for example, and neither was my brother. Yet I have a very clear memory of both events.

#272 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 05:42 PM:

Jane Carnall:

Katherine Paterson was convinced nobody outside her immediate family would care one whit about Bridge to Terabithia.

But then, that book is written in a pretty straightforward story-telling style.

The guy who did Griffin and Sabine (Nick Bantock?) was apparantly working on that project all for fun and only had it in his bag by luck because he'd been twiddling with it, when his agent (Or was it publisher?) rejected a more standard manuscript, then, seeing the odder thing in the briefcase, asked about it...

While it's true an author has to be ready to rewrite at the editor's request, and has to be flexible enough in themselves to accept outside suggestions, that all happens *after* the first adage: "Don't reject your own work. That's my job."

Agent 6 may not take it. Agent 13 may not take that book - in fact, nobody does. However, agent 13 takes the second book the author sends around.

Or maybe agent 2 takes the third book the author tries.

#273 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2004, 07:42 PM:

Jane C:

Yes, it's entirely possible the end result is "or not at all", or that it takes so many attempts at publication that eventually one assumes "or not at all". But there's two answers to that:

1) If your work is really not of publishable quality, you shouldn'ta oughta be trying to get it published.

2) I suspect the main market for vanity presses are not people who are driven to write, especially not driven to write multiple pieces over a long period of time. I think the main market are people who, as in my example, are relatively new to the idea of writing and finishing something, and really new to attempting to place it. Although one might move from the latter to the former category, in the beginning, the former category doesn't apply.

And of course Lenora Rose is right; it might take several books to get one someone will take; my scenario was simplistic for a reason. "First Book Syndrome" really should be a recognized delusional disorder, and I believe it's what drives a large portion of people who go the vanity route.

Back to point 1: of course, most people believe their work is of publishable quality. Writing is Art and Therefore There is Nothing to Learn and all that. So that one's tough, since a lot of Shiny New Writers are incapable of seeing flaws in their books, see also Slushkiller, Mary Sue, and similar threads. Most of PA's customers don't seem to have had their shine wear off.

Which could be a pun about alcohol if I were more clever.

I am the person who is singing "No, you can't!" to their "Yes, I can!", but my microphone is turned way down, so mostly I just shrug.

#274 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 12:19 AM:

Today's -- well, Tuesday's -- Library Link of the Day is to this article from the Christian Science Monitor about "The Kirkus Bribe List." as a Booklist editor calls it.

#275 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 12:34 AM:

Yoon Ha Lee: I work at a building technically on the MIT campus and wind up passing Quantum on a regular basis, so for me it's not so much an issue of wangling a stop, but rather avoiding one. Heh. Between that and the MIT Press bookstore, Kendall Square is a bibliophile trap; add in the general books at the MIT Coop (run by B&N) and the T station with service to other parts of town (with fewer bookstores by the year, alas) and it's surprising that I still have money for food some days.

#276 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2004, 01:12 AM:

Lenora and Tina:

Following the link to Jane Carnall's site reveals that she writes "mainly slash."

I suspect that, as she says, her work will not find a professional publisher, even if she sends it to Agent Infinity.

#277 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2004, 01:48 AM:

Harry: If so, that's fair. Someone (Lawrence Block?) once questioned why there are no "Sunday writers". I completely disavowed this portion of his conclusion; that nobody, including those addicted to writing, actually likes to write.

So when I read that, I looked at writers and writing for an equivalent. Fan-fiction immediately jumped out as one version of "Sunday writing". It's a wholly valid reason to write, and yes, it does rather lose the whole issue of legitimate publication.

(I'm wondering if one of the two stories occupying my current attention isn't a "Sunday Writing project" due to the core plot's unaccidental resemblance to an old and semi-cultish children's/ya movie. I won't know until I've finished if it's veered enough to be its own thing, or if it remains an extended fanfic combined with a writing technique exercise. If patently the former, it goes out when polished and ready. If the latter, it stays at home and I share it with some of my quirkier friends. If in doubt, beta-readers.)

However, if that's so (Jane, of course, you can jump in at any time and smack me for misinterpreting you if I am) it seems misplaced to bring up any variant of fanfiction in response to a comment about why someone with a book of a *publishable* genre would give up on attempting traditional publishing before giving it a fair shot, and self-publish (or get scammed), out of the conviction "No real publisher will want this, it's too edgy/unique/etc." . For fan-fiction, the only option is self-publication. The example she was countering was one where there was a bigger option, that nets more money.

****

On a change of topic probably of interest only to me and Dave Kuzminski:

Dave: "Lenora, thanks. I thought that might be it after finding mine. I didn't know the title of yours so I could find it, though I'm certain I ought to."

"At the same time, I'm hoping that those ratings are from actual readers/purchasers of the books."

As far as I know, the only way TO rate books at Fictionwise is to purchase them. You get a download page called a bookshelf, from which you grab your books, then read them. The book stays on that page available for download until rated. I have a hard time imagining taking the time and usually money to buy a small-press book, then rating it without reading it.

And I now have it from the horse's mouth that the single rating the novella got was NOT my mother(yaay!), though once I mentioned it, she sounded interested in going back and adding a second voice.

(As for the rest: Urm. This is someone else's blog. I'm not sure tooting my horn this much is proper etiquette. Roach and I both put up links back at the Rumour Mill, and hers even work.)

#278 ::: Rose DesRochers ::: (view all by) ::: January 05, 2006, 05:42 PM:

I wish I had of listened to the warnings before publishing with Publish America. Live and learn I guess.

#279 ::: Laraine Anne Barker ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2008, 02:27 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden wonders if he might be at the "wrong end of this business". Definitely not. That belongs to authors, who will have to fight tooth and nail to keep this enviable position if editors seem set to steal it from them. But the remark set me wondering who might be at the best end. At first it looked to me like the book sellers because they get the biggest share of every book sold. But then I considered all the disadvantages. Book sellers have to invest money and work (at least until they are able to pay others to do all the work). In the end I plumped for my government. All they have to do is sit in Parliament pretending to listen or (if that's too much for what passes for their brains) sleeping or yawning to get 12.5% of every book sold in the country. They call it GST, which stands for Grab Snatch Take.

#280 ::: Floyd Hardee ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2009, 11:41 AM:

I like so many others was taken in by Publish America. My short story The Great Time Hawk In The Sky has been well received by those who have read it in spite of no editing to speak of by Publish America. In spite of my advertising on line my sales are very poor. Why should anyone pay $16.95 for a 54 page book? How can people buy what they never see on a book store shelf? I have written another book GHOST DOG, word count in excess of 130,000 but I need to find a legitimate publicist, editor, publisher who will help me get it before the public. Every writer thinks their book is good, however I know mine is not just good, but very good, and no, I am not just being vain, it really is good. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Words Hardee.

#281 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2009, 12:25 PM:

Floyd, with services such as Lulu.com, you can get what Publish America provides authors for almost negligible cost. Selling the book is the hard part.

But I'd be wary of claiming that my work doesn't need editing. I am, I think, a little bit too close to the creator to be usefully critical, and I've no new ideas on how to fix that.

Anyway, I can see an opportunity for an honest equivalent of Publish America and their like, providing editing and design services for self-publishing authors. But, just as you have a problem selling, so will they. The waters they ply their trade in are not some vast, empty, ocean, but a stinking sewer filled with the effluvia of the Publish Americas of this shabby world.

At least you have a chance of navigating out of that vast gyre of self-published trash. The tech of Print-on-Demand is altering the currents of the ocean of literature. When Blackwells are doing it on Charing Cross Road, we feel to be on the verge of an El Niño event in publishing. But which way will the climate change?

#282 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2009, 12:38 PM:

Floyd #292 ...I need to find a legitimate publicist, editor, publisher who will help me get it before the public.

All of your problems have a single solution.

When you find the legitimate publisher you will get the legitimate editor and publicist thrown in for free. And the publisher pays you money, not the other way around.

Here's how to do it:

Go to a bookstore. Find books on the shelf that are like yours. Look on the copyright page of each one: You'll find the publisher's name and address. You will not find vanity and/or scam presses on the bookstore shelves.

Submit your manuscript to those publishers, in strict compliance with their guidelines.

If their guidelines specify agented submissions only, find the agents who sold those same books, and submit your manuscript to them in strict compliance with their guidelines.

While all this is going on, write a new, different, better book (not a sequel to your current work).

Study your craft and improve it always.

Repeat as necessary until you sell a book. (Note: your first sale may not be your current book. It may be your fourth, fifth, or some other number.)

#283 ::: Richard Williams ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2012, 07:46 PM:

I am tiered of hearing conjecture,and people's opinions why don't we leave the bickering and fighting to the pros. I mean if I listen to everyone my choices will be scarce if any at all who am I supposed to trust? they are a business and just because they are trying to be different lands them a blemish. All I am saying is it is hard enough already to find a publisher with out hearing no do not trust them, then you look again and they are saying the same thing about another one you chose. I trust the B,B,B, they have given Tate an A+ isent that good enough? I mean the one you use could be a scam or a vanity press for as much as you know.

#284 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2012, 08:54 PM:

The BBB will give a business an A+ grade for "responding" to a complaint. Which can mean as little as "writing a letter denying it".

As for how to know whether a publisher is legit; it's fairly simple. Go to the bookstore. Are any of said publisher's books on the shelves? If not, treat with caution. Is the author expected to pay the publisher anything at all? Then, unless you're planning a small, already-sold print run (such as a cookbook for a club, or a local history), it's almost certainly a scam "publisher".

Scams and vanity presses make their money directly (and almost entirely) from fees extorted from writers. Real publishers make their money from actually selling books to consumers.

I hope that helps. Those are nice, simple facts. "Opinion" need not apply.

#285 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2012, 09:01 PM:

Hi, Richard (#284)--

I trust the B,B,B, they have given Tate an A+ isent that good enough?

No, it isn't good enough. George Titsworth's Helping Hands Literary Service was A+ with the BBB the day the Tom Green County sheriff's department boxed up everything in his office for evidence. (George copped a plea and got probation.) Dorothy Deering was A+ with the BBB the day the FBI arrested her. (Dorothy got four years in Federal prison for fraud.) James Van Treese of Northwest Publishing was A+ with the BBB the day the Federal postal inspectors raided his premises. (Van Treese got thirty years.)

But look, it's your four thousand dollars. Those are four thousand bucks that you're never going to see again; I hope you can afford 'em.

Just don't come crying to me a year from now saying, "Why didn't you warn me!" The warnings are all over the place. If you want to ignore them it's your problem, not mine.

(Note: If you're hearing warnings about every publisher you're considering, perhaps you need to start considering a better grade of publisher. Start with publishers that have books already on the shelves of your local bookstore, not just technically "available" at the special order desk.)

#286 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2012, 10:20 PM:

The BBB will also give a business an A+ grade for a sufficiently large donation, or so I've heard.

#287 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2012, 10:23 PM:

Interestingly enough, Mr. Williams is the first person to mention "Tate" in this thread.

If you're around, Richard, could you tell us how and why you came to post here?

#288 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2012, 10:57 PM:

The BBB is absolutely worthless, I hear. It's like SNL: coasting on its reputation, earned long ago and long since undeserved.

#289 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2012, 03:20 AM:

I shall note that one of our regulars here, though an infrequent poster, has just made her first sale, author to publisher. The publishing industry, we are told, is struggling to cope with the changes brought about by ebooks, chiefly Amazon and the Kindle. They are still buying novels from new authors.

And the ebook boom hasn't killed the scam publishers, possibly because turning a book into an ebook is a lot of work, and "I'm selling an ebook" doesn't sound as flattering as "My book is being published".

Personally, I would not deal with Amazon; if you are outside the USA, they are set up so you have to engage with the US tax system, and for a likely very meagre return. It's different when your contract specifies an advance of several thousand dollars.

#290 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2012, 06:51 AM:

Xopher #289: Worse. Most local BBBs, and the national BBB, are basically Foxes' Associations for the Welfare of Chickens. If you want to be slightly less cynical, they're mutual admiration societies.

Either way, they're run by businesses for the purpose of making businesses look good. They do not have resources or interest in actually investigating complaints nor sanctioning their members.

#291 ::: Dave Harmon's been gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2012, 06:52 AM:

Probably careless punctuation. Though it occurs to me that I used a phrase that the vanity publishers occasionally throw around.

[Three spaces in a row. -- JDM]

#292 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2012, 06:43 AM:

Xopher HalfTongue @289: The BBB is absolutely worthless, I hear [..] coasting on its reputation, earned long ago and long since undeserved.

Not to argue your main point, but I did have an occasion where it's reputation proved helpful.

A few years ago I had some friends roped into some multi-level-marketing scheme promoted by a traveling road-show out of Utah. It had been a day-long sales event hosted at a local hotel, baited with a free lunch — I had walked out in the first half-hour because it clearly was a waste of time. I was surprised later to find out they bit.

Researching the situation, I found out there was a three-day grace period to cancel the sale (in law specifically to cover this sort of high-pressure sales event). Only one of the group was really enthusiastic about their purchase; the other two were sort of towed along.

I sent them emails with links I had found with articles complaining the marketing group was a scam — it did not make an impression. The last article which did was a complaint registered with the BBB.

All three of them backed out of the deal in time.

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