- by Dianne Drake
A couple weeks ago, a friend called and told me he’d just downloaded a “must read” book for 99 cents, and that I had to get it and read it immediately. He promised me I’d be amazed by what my penny-shy-of-a-dollar would buy me. So I bought it, and he was right. I was amazed.
In the first three pages I encountered seven misspellings, thirteen incorrect punctuation marks and a dozen instances of bad grammar. By page five, the lead character’s name had changed its spelling, and that’s when I quit reading, called my friend and told him he owed me a full dollar – 99 cents for what I’d spent on the book, and the extra penny for wasting my time.
Those books are out there, though. The bad ones, the ones that give good authors the literary black eye. Why? Because everybody wants to be a writer, whether or not they can actually write. If you study some sort of writing at the college level, you learn the academic way to approach it so, hopefully, you’ll be able to put together five pages where every second or third sentence doesn’t contain some kind of mistake.
Writing organizations with their various chapters and critique outlets may not produce better writers but, at the very least, they make their members aware of what’s good and what’s not. But what about the indie writer who doesn’t know that in standard format five exclamation points after a sentence is a no-no? Where does he or she learn?
Honestly, there’s probably no answer to that because right now there are hoards of readers willing to risk that 99 cents on the chance that a cheap read might also be a good read. Sometimes they get lucky, sometimes they don’t. I actually consider that my money was well-spent because it gave me something to think about. Try as I might, though, I can’t really come up with a good solution to the hack writer who will damage us all over time, if not in overt ways, in the subtle ways that, to a career writer, make a difference. It’s his right to write, his right to make mistakes all over the page. And maybe readers may buy him only once, but there are still plenty of people out there willing to gamble with that dollar. Unfortunately, another dollar in the pocket encourages another sub-standard book.
One of my best friends, Donnell Ann Bell, saw her first book published last November. Donnell is an extraordinary writer, and I’ve been watching her progression for several years as she consistently banged away on her computer keys, day after day, in order to write the very best book she could. It was a difficult process. She gave up her day job to write. Suffered through agent rejections, one after the other, where no one caught her vision. Took a few publisher hits as well. But her book was bought by a small publisher with a strong reputation and a good vision for its future in the industry, and even though the book has been out four months, it’s consistently moving up on the best-seller lists, selling better than some of the biggest names in the industry. Why is that happening? Because Donnell wrote the best book she could have written, and maybe that’s the solution to the hack writer who’s trying to compete against all of us. He or she isn’t writing a good book. Which means it’s up to us to write better than the hack.
It sounds simple enough, but it’s not because it’s easy to become complacent after writing a lot of books. That’s a fact of life. I’ve had 42 published now, and I’ll admit, complacency rears its ugly head from time to time, making me wonder if I’m doing everything I can to put my best book out there. Admit it. One book after another – it does get tough.
In NINC, we’re career writers. No matter what the industry does, no matter what kind of product loaded with egregious errors is tossed out there to compete with our books, we get up every day and write. But maybe it’s time to take an honest look at what we’re writing, because complacency will cost us dearly when the hack writers convince readers that five exclamation points are acceptable, that misspellings are OK so long as you get the gist of what they’re trying to say, and that it’s perfectly fine to change the spelling of the character’s name twice in five pages. Face it. That’s what we’re up against right now. Donnell won because she didn’t give up. She believed she could do it, and look at her soar. Same goes for us. We can still soar, but only if we shake the complacency and return to that level of commitment I watched in Donnell for so many years.
Remember your first book? It might not have been the best work you’ve ever produced but the struggle to take it from concept to published may have been the best effort you’ve ever put in. Going forward in the publishing world, that’s the kind of effort every book is going to take if we want to beat the inferior grade that’s flooding the market. So, complacency be damned while the hacks struggle with their spell-checkers.
Now, I really want my 99 cents back!!!!!