Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mother of the Bride Resists

Mother of the Bride Resists
by Nancy Martin      Go to fullsize image

The dress I chose to wear to my daughter’s wedding is the reason I have doubts about ever self-publishing my work. Here’s why:

There are 500 websites devoted to Mother of the Bride dresses, and I should have taken the time to search a few of them, but last fall I was writing two books and re-vamping my website and planning a wedding that would take place over the holidays--which is nuts, I admit, but my theory was that as long as I was already busy, I might as well be crazy busy. Emphasis on crazy.

I was too busy to worry about what I’d look like in photographs that will last forever. Instead of shopping for a great Mother of the Bride gown, I decided to recycle the dress I’d worn to my other daughter’s wedding a couple of years ago. It was black, and I know I look half dead in black, but at the time it seemed like an easy solution. So I took the old dress to a seamstress. She made a few alterations and added a ruffled collar. I tried it on in her dim bedroom, glanced into the mirror and said:

“Looks fine.”
Boy, was I wrong. When the pictures arrived, I took a good look at myself in that dress and groaned. What was I thinking? In the black dress with the ruffled collar, I look like a dog ordered not to chew her itchy patches.
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Generally when I look in a mirror, I have no sense of what other people see. Maybe it’s hysterical blindness. I much prefer photos of myself that have been liberally doctored by a kind photographer with Photoshop.

I fear I’m equally blind to the flaws in my writing. Even though I was an English teacher once. Even though I’ve written nearly 50 books. I still send every manuscript to critique partners and a ruthless alpha reader and an eagle-eyed beta reader before it goes to my editor and at least one professional copyeditor. Even with all those backups, there’s never been one of my books published that doesn’t cause a reader to write me a note within the first week of release to point out a mistake.

Hell, when I received my author copies of STICKY FINGERS last week, I opened the book, and right there in the opening pages is a missing comma. I mean, it was there the last time I read the chapter, honest, and now it’s gone!

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If you’re an author, you know readers love to play Gotcha! Even now, after 30 years of writing books, there are still people who send me long emails with lists—lists!—of mistakes they’ve found in my books.

“Nancy,” a perfectly nice lady said to me at a book festival, “would it bother you if I told you about a mistake I noticed in your last book?”

“Would it bother me?” I said. “Of course not. I’m used to it. But I guarantee you won’t be the first to have mentioned it. In fact, you’re probably not going to be the tenth. Even if it was a tiny little blunder, I’ve been told over and over, and although I’m powerless to fix it now, I am perfectly happy to listen to your complaints about the book I worked for a year to write, then spent months double-checking with editors and copyeditors. Please, tell me about the mistake you found. I’m listening.”

Maybe that speech landed a little spittle on her nice sweater, I’m not sure. She backed off.

Yes, I have peeked at some self-published novels for sale on Amazon, and I cringe at the quality of the writing. How do some of those writers have the courage to self-promote the way they do? Maybe I’m fussier than most readers, but spelling and punctuation matter to me. A story that makes sense is vital. Little inconsistencies bother me a lot. Plot threads left dangling? They annoy the hell out of me. Themes that never quite come together? What’s the point of a book like that?

Yes, there are some excellent self-published books out there.  The best one feature strong storytelling---an immediately engaging voice, characters plunged into peril and emotionally bound together. It seems that e-book writers have best learned the lesson of starting a story fast.

It's the bad grammar I can't get past.
Yes, I recognize fussbudgets like me are in the minority now. Maybe most books are written for readers who haven’t made it past 8th grade and wouldn’t recognize a split infinitive or a dangling modifier if it bit them in the butt.

Maybe I'm the dinosaur.

This month, a lot of big changes have shaken the publishing industry. At least one well-established, successful writer has decided to forgo a major advance from an established publisher to publish his own work. Maybe he’ll make a fortune. I hope he does. He has certainly changed the business, and I applaud him for that. And one plucky self-published author has been snatched up by a "traditional" publishing house for her ability to tell a great story.

But . . . me? Self-pub? I take one look at those awful wedding photos and think I’m not ready.

STICKY FINGERS, the 2nd book in Nancy's rock 'em, sock 'em Roxy Abruzzo series, is available now at bookstores everywhere.  Or here, if you'd like to order an autographed copy.


Prefer to Remain Anonymous said...

Uh, Nancy, how come you didn't include one of those wedding photos so we could judge for ourselves?

PatRemick said...

Hi Nancy! Thanks for the thought-provoking perspective on self-pubbing. Bad grammar and punctuation mistakes make me crazy, too, but you've also reminded us that no matter how hard you try to avoid them, well, nothing's perfect (including dresses)!

Ramona said...

We all make mistakes, but not all of us make them in print. When my husband was a young reporter, he'd get stories clipped from the paper, marked up in red and mailed to him by an anonymous "former English teacher." At least your critic did it in person.

As you know, there was a big Internet drama this week with a self-published author who went ballistic over a bad review. One of issues brought up was that she referenced herself as an "indie" author instead of self-published. Even my sister, who is an avid reader and book buyer, asked me the difference, and how to tell when a book is self-published.

Joyce said...

Welcome back, Nancy! I've never noticed any mistakes in your books, but it may be because I'm caught up in the story and just don't notice.

I'm with you on some of the self-pubbed books. I've downloaded some freebies on my Kindle and out of a dozen, only one was worth reading past the first page. I'm sure there are more good ones out there--I just haven't found them yet.

I don't rule out putting something up on Kindle someday, but I'd prefer to go the traditional route first. I think Kindle and Smashwords are great options for already established authors, or someone with a platform and already well known.

For the record, you always look lovely. Don't be so hard on yourself!

Annette said...

Welcome back to Working Stiffs, Nancy. And I suspect you didn't look as bad as you think in that dress.

Of course, we'll never know, because as PTRA mentioned in the first comment, you didn't include any photos!

Jennie Bentley said...

As soon as I've got something to self-publish, I'll be all over that option. That said, I've read a few self published books, and although they haven't all been bad - some have in fact been excellent - I agree it seems to be a free-for-all, with a whole lot of 'books' published that, if they were mine, would have spent their lives in a drawer.

Ramona, it's my understanding that at this point, the expression being indie-published - or independently published - is used for someone who publishes themselves. Too much stigma attached to being self-published, I think; the self-pubbed wanted to get away from it. And it is sort of accurate. More accurate than saying that someone published by a small press is independently published, anyway. Nothing independent about being published by someone else, however big or small.

C.L. Phillips said...


Thanks for my morning giggle. As Yoda would say, "The Self-Editor is strong in this one."

Nancy said...

Dear Prefer: I may be nuts, but I'm not stupid.

And this morning I found a typo in this blog! Yeesh!

The thing about "publishing" work that's sub-par? It's totally avoidable. HIRE AN EDITOR. Even if you think it's perfect? It isn't. Trust me. (Today's blog--case in point!)Many writers think writing ought to be free, but--hey--it ain't. Invest a few hundred dollars in yourself. It makes a huuuuuuge difference.

Cassie said...

What's an alpha reader versus a beta reader? (I know I should be commenting on a larger theme of your blog here, but that little detail caught my eye!)

Alan P. said...

Hi Nancy! It so happens that my brother fixes photocopiers for a selfpublishing printer. He has brought home a few from test runs. There are a few gems, good stories, read-ably typed, and worth reading. There is a load of crap. Sadly, some of the crap is heartfelt and personal, just not very readable or interesting, even if it was written by your cousin.

Nancy said...

Cassie, I think of my alpha reader as the alpha dog---the one who's tough and takes charge and ruthlessly points out my problems. The beta reader is the one who gets it second---after I've made the revisions demanded by my alpha dog. I want my beta reader to be ruthless, too, but I want her to enjoy my story. She's the one who reacts to the story--the emotional part of the story--more than my cruel and heartless apha. She gives me the strokes I need to build my confidence enough to actually send in the book on deadline!

Nancy said...

Alan, maybe your cousin just needs someone who can help shape that heartfelt and personal--er--crap into something lots of people would want to read. For many writers, it's hard to see the forest for the trees. It takes a dispassionate reader--an editor or critique partner or ruthless alpha reader--to help the writer see what's actually on the page, not in the writer's head but inadequately expressed. Having a kindly reader give input isn't helpful. Not for the work. Maybe for your self-esteem.

The hard part for most writers is getting over the feeling that having your work judged is having yourself harshly judged. Your cousin really does have to develop a thick skin. Learn to be eager for critique input. It will only make his work better.

Sarah Shaber said...

I couldn't agree with you more!
I cringe at the thought of putting one of my books out there without editing. I wouldn't tell my best friend about some of the errors my copyeditors have caught!

Karen in Ohio said...

As a self-published author of four books, I do take issue with the persistent idea that ALL self-pubbed books are just thrown out there, sans editing or independent review. Some are, I'm sure, but I've read tons of traditionally published books with ridiculous typos, and plot holes big enough to drive a Mack truck through.

My self-published books, especially the first one which is 213 pages long, were stringently reviewed and edited, by a long list of people. Still ended up with typos, but so did the book that was "professionally" edited by a traditional publisher. And they spelled my name wrong in all the promo materials! That was infuriating, and made it more difficult to promote the book.

My youngest daughter is getting married this fall, and until I read your blog, Nancy, it had not even occurred to me that I'll need a dress! Eeek!

Ramona said...

Jennie, thanks, that explanation makes total sense. I'm not sure everyone gets that the terms distinguishing self-published, indie published and small presses seem to be changing.

Karen, you of all people, didn't think of a dress?!?! I'm shocked, shocked, I tell you!

Karen in Ohio said...

I know! Losing my mind, clearly. :-)

Gina said...

Nancy -
I have photoshop. Want me to play with some of those wedding photos? Your copies?

Nancy said...

Karen---Abject apologies to you if I implied all self-pubbed work is bad. (I thought I had a line in there that says not all?) I can't imagine you putting out anything less than perfect. Get thee to a dress shop, girlfriend!

Nancy said...

Gina, you'd need to be a magician as well as a crack photoshopper. Thanks, I have suffered enough indignity already.