It’s been a while since I’ve moseyed on in to this here blog, y’all, and for that I must apologise. A busy life has been getting in the way. This is a blog post I’ve been meaning to write for several months, because it deals with a subject that is very important to me: respect.
The world of indie publishing, or indeed publishing in general, is a stressful and competitive one. Writers jockey for attention for their latest offering and everyone has their own view of how publishing in this new age should be done. Some insist that free is the new bestseller; others argue that making work free reflects a lack of confidence in a writer’s work or implies a work is worthless. Some argue that trade publishing is far from dead and any reduction in trade sales is a product of the flagging economy; others spout statistics that suggest e-publishing is outselling trade publishing by the tens of hundreds and print is, indeed, in decline. Some vehemently defend the old guard, decrying those who turn to self-publishing as failures who can’t get published traditionally; those who have chosen that route often shrug and go and check their Kindle Direct Publishing sales figures with a small smile.
But this post isn’t about the validity of any of those arguments. It’s not about opinions … it’s not even about emotions (although they run high on these topics, reverberating around this vast echo chamber that is the internet). It’s about common courtesy for others and the way they choose to do things and about LISTENING, truly listening, and at least considering, what others have to say, be they trade publishing professionals, novice writers, experienced authors (self-published or otherwise) or even … gasp … readers.
A very popular writers’ website, which is mostly a wealth of sound information for writers, has one simple rule: Respect Your Fellow Writer. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Except that this rule is frequently ignored over on this message board, particularly when it comes to self-publishing (or indie, as a vernacular label) authors. The forum that deals with self-publishing is generally a hostile, rather than a helpful, place and any author who dares to question the prevailing opinion of the moderators or a few dogmatic posters is, it appears, summarily dismissed, berated and quickly banned (often, even if their posts are level-headed, courteous and well-referenced, and sometimes with a “get the f*ck out” from the admin). I kid you not. Uncalled for personal attacks on authors’ work on other social networking media, such as Facebook or Twitter, have also ensued following an indie author’s posts on that forum, a situation I find deplorable. And these attacks are being made by people who claim to be publishing professionals with many years’ experience. Let me tell you, there is nothing professional about this behaviour, which has nothing to do with “protecting authors” (poor fragile little kittens that can’t think or research for themselves!), and absolutely nothing to do with respecting fellow writers.
Then again, indie publishing is not immune to a lack of respect either. Don’t get me wrong, indie writers are generally excellent at supporting other authors—they know what a hard slog it is to publish and promote your own work, and they’re great at inspiring and encouraging others to go it alone. But, in the indie world, the chain of respect doesn’t always seem to filter down to the reader, and there is often a blatant lack of respect for those old guardians who still insist that publishing the traditional way is the only path for “serious authors”.
As an editor with a background in trade publishing, I have seen my fair share of posts from self-published authors labelling editors as bloodsuckers, scum and idiots who couldn’t tell a bestseller from a doorstop. I tend to ignore them, sadly noting the many misspellings as I do so. But editors are big enough and ugly enough to mostly shrug off such insults. Many sensible self-published authors are coming to realise the value of having their work edited and that editors can be excellent sounding boards and provide a wealth of helpful writing advice. So, it’s not respect for editors I’m campaigning for here. Although it is a general courtesy, editors get paid to take the flak. Readers do not. And, at the bottom of the publishing food chain, is the reader. They put their hands in their pocket, and that ought to be enough to buy them our respect, too.
I’ve seen many posts by self-published authors (and, admittedly, some trade published authors as well), berating reviewers on Amazon, goodreads, librarything or other sites for leaving a book a bad review. “Thick as two planks”, “idiots who can’t read”,”illiterate goats” — all of these are terms I have seen bandied about referring to readers. I’ve had other authors tell me that they pay little heed to reviews. One even recently went as far as saying that they ignore emails or comments from readers who say their book is full of typos or formatting issues because, as an author, they’re working on a new book and once the old is “done” it’s in the public domain and it’s the reader’s problem if they don’t like. That one, which was bundled in with an attack on editors too, was truly gobsmacking. But it’s not an isolated incident.
I’ve also had authors tell me, when major loopholes, deus ex machina, uncharacteristic actions by the protagonist, a lack of any discernible plot, head-hopping or other issues with their manuscripts are pointed out, that they “don’t think the average reader” will notice. While it is the author’s prerogative not to change those things in their manuscript if they don’t want to, I disagree that readers aren’t savvy enough to notice such abominations (and, of course, some may be more abominable than others; some may actually be okay if the rest of the yarn is compelling enough).
Who, after all, is this “average reader”? I know that my aim is not to attract the lowest common denominator, but to attract those who delight in the beauty of words, in the complexity of a well-crafted story. If you’re targeting what you think is the “dumbest mule” (a phrase used by one website to describe its average reader to those wishing to guest blog), then your expectations are too low. Incidentally, I was asked to guest post for that blog some weeks ago and spent time creating a personal post for them. They then edited it, in doing so introducing a number of basic grammatical errors. When sent a proof link, I politely asked them to correct it, reminding them, courteously, that my post was about editing and that, as an editor, it might be damaging to my reputation to send it out with typos and comma splices in it. They responded that they were “unable and unwilling” to correct it and that they edited it for their “average reader”. I pulled the post. With respect for their readers like this, I wonder how long they will HAVE readers. Their guidelines say, “accessible to the dumbest mule… no posh language or high intellectualism required here”. Clearly, their dumb mule readers don’t care about run-on sentences, misplaced commas or accidentally doubled up brackets. Silly me. Why they asked me to blog on editing, then, is a mystery.
Now, of course, I’ve seen some comments from readers that are not to a Mensa standard. I’ve read reviews that were less than considered, reviews that said “I didn’t like this book Serial Killers on Mars because I hate violence and I don’t read fantasy space books”. One commenter reportedly returned a book that had the word “witch” in the title because she didn’t like witches. So, the silly readers are out there, but … dismissing all readers who leave poor reviews—or worse, responding snarkily and condescendingly to their comments on Amazon or elsewhere—is not only disrespectful to those who have (ostensibly) paid for your work, it is spectacularly unhelpful for a writer, not to mention more damaging to a writer’s reputation than a few, obviously hastily scrawled reviews.
Certainly, not all one-star reviews are helpful, some may be written by trolls, but I’ve seen a lot of one-star reviews that are constructive … and I’ve written a few myself for trade published books. Some of the reviews labelled “stinkers” by authors contain real gems of writing advice, some pinpoint very real issues with plot, and many, very many, are correct in pointing out a multitude of silly errors in grammar or punctuation. I’ve heard readers’ opinions dismissed with the old chestnut, “I write for myself.” To that I say, “Good on you—if you’re the only one reading it.” If not, then you need to respect your readers enough to ensure your product is worth the money, even if that money is under a buck.
All of these things—respecting the opinions of professionals even if you don’t agree with them, respecting your fellow writers, respecting your readers, respecting your guest bloggers—all boil down to one thing in my mind: respect your reputation. And not just your reputation as a writer, your reputation as a kind, decent, thinking person who values the thoughts and opinions of others and is at least prepared to listen to them, even if you don’t agree with them.
After all, we all know that social networking, and even attracting readers, works on one simple premise … “they like me, they really me!” So respect your work, respect your colleagues, respect tradition (even if you choose another path to success), respect innovation and change (I know I’d rather have my head in the clouds than my head in the sand, or, worse, my head up my own arse), respect your readers, but above all else, respect your reputation. Colleagues may “unfriend” you, readers may desert you, message boards may ban you, but your reputation is for life.
R. E. S. P. E. C. T