I’m writing early this week, as this weekend I am off for a pre-Christmas visit to that most beautiful of cities – Paris! So, a few thoughts before I wing away to the City of Love…
I received an interesting email the other day, informing me of new innovations and opportunities for writers ‘in the digital age’. As technology continues to advance at frightening speed, many traditional platforms for publishing and ‘getting yourself out there’ are being forced out of the market by the online revolution. Self-publishing is a boom industry, and more people than ever before are able to get themselves into print. The number of free offers, events, newsletters, online magazines, etc, etc, are everywhere. I constantly receive all sorts of notices concerning free promotion this, opportunity that…I may be like a lot of people. Whenever I see that my inbox contains messages, I feel a little thrill of anticipation. Could it be Harper Collins signing me up? My fingers fumble for the mouse, body shaking, perspiration springing from every pore, anticipation mounting…and then the anti-climax when I discover it is yet another vague and distant marketing company desperate to sign me up and make me into the world’s number one. A far cry indeed from when I began, pounding away on my Olivetti, alone in my room, with only myself and a library full of great literature to guide me through the writing process. And life, of course. The greatest teacher of all. Self publishing in those days was too expensive to even consider. Now, with Smashwords, Kindle, Nook and a whole host of others offering free opportunities to get yourself ‘in print’ it is so much easier. And so alluring.
However, let’s just take a step back from all of this.
There is one fundamental truth that has not changed, not since the days of the Ancient Greek dramatists who put their words down on velum scrolls and had actors perform them to spellbound audiences. Not since Defoe penned Robinson Crusoe, or Dickens laboured over Hard Times, published his stories weekly, and left audiences gasping for more as each extract ended on a tight-rope – the precursor to our ‘modern’ diet of televised soaps. All of them, from Aesop to Zola and every great writer in between have one crucial thing in common.
The writing is good. Often, it is great.
That was then. Nowadays anyone can get themselves published.
The romance of seeing your name on the cover of a book, the sheer thrill of achievement that gives, is a strong lure.
But I would ask everyone to pause for a moment and read some of the reviews for many of these self-published books. Note how many times readers mention typos, bad spelling, grammatical errors, how all of this interrupts the flow of the reading experience. I’ve talked about how editors can tear you apart, try to dominate, change your direction, but a good editor is essential if the work you have produced is going to be raised above the slush. No editing at all, that has to lead to the sort of comments you see on Amazon. ‘Best-sellers’ receiving five-star reviews, is all very well, but then, every so often, a one-star from a discerning reader who knows what makes a book good, or, be it one from Thomas Hardy, even great. The story is important, but it has to be well written. Sometimes I doubt if these self-published authors have even done a second draft, let alone a third, or a fourth.
I write fast. I can get a seventy thousand word first draft down in three weeks. I am on fire when the inspiration grabs me. But it is the editing which takes the time. The rewrites. Going through every sentence, sometimes every word, working, grafting to make it the best I can. That is what takes up all of my time, and it can be mind-numbingly difficult. Three weeks becomes three or even four months. This process, however, is essential. I haven’t always been like this. Impatience to see myself in print drove me on. Now, I can take my time, determination overcoming impatience. I want to do the best I can. I am not longer satisfied.
None of us should ever be ‘satisfied’ with what we write. Never.
Given all of the above, I have considered self-publishing a book I have written. The problem is, it doesn’t fit in with any of the usual genres I write in. Therefore, I might give it a go. I’ve rewritten it four times and I believe that now, finally, it is ready. So…we shall see.
You can read about what I do by visiting my websites.