Presenting work well - the importance of writerly craft08 May 2012
Recently I wrote a flash fiction piece for a women’s magazine. It was only a 700 word piece so not difficult to edit right? Wrong. A critical friend read it for me before it was posted and it was a good thing she did, there were two clumsy typos and one very poor use of grammar. If I were a magazine editor I doubt I would have give the story more than a cursory glance. After all, if the author cannot be bothered to take the time to make sure it is a quality piece of writing, why should the editor give any of their precious time to it? First impressions count.
Some things are ‘basics’ but in the rush to embrace self publishing, authors are taking short cuts - and the short cuts do none of us a favour in the long run. Like many people I have embraced the Kindle and in addition to the usual priced novels, I downloaded quite a number of very low cost e-books (i.e. 99p - £1.99 UK sterling). One or two of them were by authors known to me personally, one by an old school acquaintance, another few by mid-list paper print published authors who were releasing either novellas or older works. From now on I will be sticking with books also out in paperback. What most of these low cost e-books had in common was a lack of writerly craft. Turning a word doc into an e-book is clearly still a bit of a challenge and too many e-books are awash with formatting problems but even setting aside the formatting issues, many of the books I read were not ‘books’ in any way I would recognise compared to printed books. Too many had typos, weak stories, weaker characters, time-lines that didn’t make sense, clunky dialogue and absence of any sense of conflict or a satisfying resolution. In short, they were hugely disappointing. As a reader I felt somewhat conned and, importantly, I felt a distinct lack of loyalty toward authors who’s work I had previously admired (and bought). How dare they be happy to sell me second rate material? I feel rather less inclined to buy their work again - in any media. I was put off amateur writing completely because navigating the poor quality presentation got in the way of enjoying the story.
I am very excited by the whole concept of e-publishing and what this might mean for authors, especially new authors, and for the industry but there is a baseline folks! Do not be in so much of a rush to see your name on Amazon that you by-pass the quality established authors strive for and publishers demand. Your lack of attention to writerly craft may have lost me, a reader with cash to spend on a good story, and you may have also spoiled it for other new authors who won’t get an audience however good their story may be.
Present your work well. Get an editor and/or a critical friend. Don’t put your work out there before it is ready and don’t take short cuts. Strive for excellence and writerly craft.