Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Editorial Blunders or the New Acceptable

Way back when, I learned what was acceptable in non-fiction wasn't always acceptable in fiction as far as how you write and format many things. Makes sense. It would be strange to see bullets and tables in fiction wouldn't it?

Well, I'm finding it awkward, distracting and sloppy to read fiction with things in parenthesis. What's up with this? Months ago, I came across a new author doing this and just when I wanted to explain to him that you don't do this and to use italics instead, I found a New York Bestseller doing this very thing in her recent work. I was horrified. It left me with a dilema. In critiquing, we teach others how to properly write as far as grammar, punctuation and structure, now I don't know what to tell them.

The other day, I picked up a book from my to-be-read stack and not only did this author use the parenthesis, but he also wrote the story in second person. Ok, now I have another issue to deal with, because I've read on many epub sites as well as agent sites where they only want first person or third person - some even say they don't take second person. Now, not all second person writings are as bad as this book I attempted to read. I have recently read a well written story in second person by an unpubbed and told her not to change it without trying to sell it first even though the road may be tough.

I'm currently reading a book where the first ten chapters is all back story and very choppy as well as full of unfinished scenes. I forced myself to continue and finally the real story began just under half way through the book. A major, major snafu for this NY Bestseller. If I wasn't used to her unconventional methods and hoping she didn't let me down completely, I would have not made it past the first few pages.

In the mean time, I'm learning that most of what I'd been taught in the last five years was nothing but a waste of time.

So, what do I tell these young fledglings who are looking to learn from someone who crossed over from writer to author?

All writers are encouraged to read, read, read the genres they wish to write, but gosh darn it, what if reading them are teaching them bad habits? Guess it really doesn't matter or so it seems by the books passing through editors and onto the shelves. It's really hard to guide these young writers when they are seeing book after book published with all the things I'm telling them not to do.

Any thoughts on this?

How do you handle things you come across which you've been told are no-nos? Do you overlook them? Do they distract you, making you wonder why they did it and why the editor didn't correct it?



Savanna Kougar said...

Bekki, that's a tough one. And, I don't have any answers, other than explaining the fictional world of writing is in flux big time.

And while one publisher may accept a certain style of writing, another won't.

Personally, I don't get the parenthesis thing. But then, I don't get a lot of things. On the other hand, I write unconventionally, at times.

Truth to tell, I grew up in the old school of grammar where if a name was used... like ~

"Hello, Mary." There was a comma used. Now, it's often "Hello Mary."

And, some readers get upset if they see this older style.

I'm all for innovation, personally. Yet, I also think using grammar in certain ways makes sense... so, really, it may depend on the author, the story, and who the target readers are...???

Linda Banche said...

Bekki, as Savanna says, traditional publishing is trying to survive, and something has to give. Unfortunately, poorly edited books will only hasten traditional publishing's demise. I think we've taken for granted the valuable service editors provide in making books better, but editors are the first to go when a trad pub has troubles. Think of Dorchester.

Celia Yeary said...

Bekki--I agree, we're seeing more and more bad habits in writing. Not only the things you mention, but I have been sorely disappointed in the last two books of a contemporary series I thought I would like. The author is BIG, but she really, really let me down with these two books. I have a feeing her editor and publisher says, well, she is ______, so we'll let it go to publication. Can't make her rewrite no matter how weak and pathetic the plot is.

So, that's probably it for me with her. The thing is, I heard good things about these books from non-writers, and they, of course, loved them. Could it be, Bekki, that we know too much and are too harsh in our assessment? I wonder. Celia

Savanna Kougar said...

Celia, pardon me for jumping in on this when you addressed it to Bekki.

There is bound to be a growth curve in what you look for in a book as an author, as opposed to when you were a reader, only.

However, one of the reasons -- there were several -- I started writing my own stories -- is because I couldn't stand the shallow silliness as well as the lack of imaginative writing.

I mean, why buy a book I don't like, when I can write one I do?

Lindsay Townsend said...

Hi Bekki,

My own advice to my students is always - know the rough rules and then ignore them. If it works, then anything goes.

However, I don't like poor grammar. I've read books where there are no speech marks and I find that really confusing. Grammar is there for a reason, for clarity.

Second person is an unsual POV but if it works it can be very effective. Backstory is something we're always 'told' to avoid, so it's very annoying when a best-seller does just that.

The crunch is - does it work? And of course, how doesan author know if it works? I guess that's where a good editor comes in. (Or should)

Bekki Lynn said...

Savanna and Celia: I totally agree with the growth as a reader/writer has caused us to know too much. We're bound to notice things we once wouldn't have. At the same time, doesn't it also speak for the story. If the author has done her/his job and written a story that pulls you in and has you to the last word, we may not notice the blunders. Again, that's subjective as well.

For the reasons Savanna began writing is the reason many become dissatisfied and move on to other types of books -- yet some never grow as readers and will stay where they, I guess this is why the market is so vast in it's offerings.

Linda - maybe that's why sales are down. People can't stand to read the books of authors they once loved, because the writing/editing has the let them down. Sometimes I peruse reviews on books of traditional pubbed authors on Amazon and I'm seeing a lot of people complaining the books aren't up to the standards they've come to expect. I'm also seeing discussion topics where readers are looking for book suggestions and some of these give very specific expectations and other issues come out in the process of suggestions given. So, readers are noticing if the books aren't hooking them. Either we're all growing and need to move on, or the publishing world needs to pick up the ball they've dropped.

Lindsay, I've heard that a few times as well. Know the rules then break them as it fits. Unfortunately, those who break rules that are to be set in stone aren't making it easy for the up-and-coming. It's hard to deal with newbies who throw them back at you when you explain the reasons they need to follow this one and not that one. I refuse to tell them established authors can get away with it but you can't. I depised that when I was told that.

I guess I can tell them the market is up in the air, but what our job is, is to make sure we're putting out the best work we can and following the bad habits isn't doing that.

Thanks, Ladies.

Savanna Kougar said...

"I guess I can tell them the market is up in the air, but what our job is, is to make sure we're putting out the best work we can and following the bad habits isn't doing that."

Bekki, I think that's a good approach. Lindsay's advice was excellent, as well.

But, ya know, there's nothing like simply putting the mss out there. Either it's accepted or rejected, and that can be a great learning tool. And, yes, it can be emotionally devastating. You have to sort the wheat from the chaff as far as why your mss was rejected, if if was.
Then again, there's the high of being accepted. And, that's a whole other ballgame.

With more reader dissatisfaction, I sure hope they look in our direction -- epub and small print and Indie publishing.

Bekki Lynn said...

You're so right, Savanna.

You all do wonders for my mentality.

Noble M Standing said...

I absolutely hate parenthesies. They are for letters and email not novels.

I've worked so hard to be where I am in the "writer trying to be an author" process that it irks me to no end to see a famous author break the basic rules.

Is there a correlation between poorly written novels and the lack of book sales? I don't know. However, I see how teens write on the internet and know that I will never read a book written in text speech.

This is why I worry about the new trend of e-publishing and the opportunity it provides every person, regardless of their skills in English and grammar, or plot for that matter, to publish their book.

Savanna Kougar said...

Noble, you've brought up several valid issues.

And, I'll walk a tightrope in attempting to address them.

In my opinion, the world of fiction book publishing is in a wild state of flux. This means, the new is emerging and emerging fast. And opportunities to e-publish/small print publish are and should be available. To all.

The world is becoming about all of us as artists, rather than a few of us at the top of the heap. That's the way it is.

With that said, yes, there is a danger in losing quality, as in losing books that are written with proper grammar.

While I can't claim that mine are grammatically correct, because I make certain in some cases, they are not, I still feel good grammar is incredibly important.

Personally, I couldn't read a novel in text speech because I don't text and it would drive me buggy. At the same time, I can't say such a novel isn't valid and isn't a good read for texters.

Yes, there is some indication that romance fiction book sales are down, in part, because of poor grammar and poor writing. Some readers are complaining. I must admit to being really shocked, at times, by what has been accepted by the BIG BOY publishers. [No offense to those authors who DO NOT fall into that category.]

Change, however, is a constant. If grammar were to be written in stone, creativity would stagnate.
So, writing a novel remains a balancing act between the new and the old.

Plus, readers want what they want. For example, if a reader really loves werewolf stories, often she/he will read a lesser quality book just to feed that mental hunger. And, because those kinds of reading trends exist, publishers will publish those kind of books. Because they sell.

Niche markets are here, and bigger than ever. Mass market is becoming less and less of the selling pie. Niche markets, as I call them, but have been corrected on... what multi-markets?, are the wave of the future. If you can tap into a niche market of readers who adore your writing, then you find a publisher, or, if you can publish, there is the opportunity to create that niche for your books.

Given that traditional publishing is on the ropes in many ways, why not take advantage of e-publishing? Why not use it to your advantage? Promo yourself as a grammar exceptional writer.