Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fifty Shades Haters, Please Be Nice're not a fan of Fifty Shades of Grey. That's cool. I get it. In a way, I'm right there with you. Here's the thing, though. If you don't like Fifty, you don't need to be rude about it.

I rarely post about Fifty Shades of  Grey. I wasn't a ginormous fan of the books. I didn't hate them, but I didn't love them, either. If I had been the developmental editor on these books, I would have pointed out:

  • The characters don't show enough growth.
  • There is simply too much sex for sex's sake. Let's cut some of it out so the story shines.
  • The BDSM lifestyle is severely misrepresented. Let's do a bit more research.

However, I'm not a developmental editor. I'm an author. One who imagines one day achieving the kind of success E.L. James found with Fifty Shades. As such, I respect and appreciate what she's done. The books are entertaining. They aren't the worst I've ever read. There's a good story in there. What's more, she opened readers' eyes to a whole new realm of fictional possibilities and ideas. She let writers know that writing about taboo subjects wasn't so taboo, after all. She opened doors, struck chords, and gave the publishing industry a serious kick in the pants. One that was much-needed.

It is my duty as a responsible, open-minded author to examine what she's accomplished and learn from it, whether I liked the books or not. This is my profession, and to turn up my nose at another author's success smacks of jealousy and high-handedness. It reeks of publishing piety.

Here are a few facts:

  • Not everyone is going to like every book I write, but that doesn't mean my books won't be loved by others.
  • I'm not going to like every book I read, but that doesn't mean no one will like them.
  • While some people love Fifty, others don't. And that's okay. That's the nature of the business. I don't have to like Fifty Shades for it to succeed. You don't have to like Fifty Shades for  it to succeed. It HAS succeeded. Now the question is why?

I have my theories about why Fifty has been such a huge success, and I give major props to James for finding new ways to obtain publishing stardom in a world previously dominated by the Big Five. Well played, James. Well played indeed.

My point is that while I may not be a huge fan of the books, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate and respect her accomplishments, or that I have no interest in seeing the movies, or that I'm not a fan of E.L. James. She's a superstar. Bow down and pay fealty. The chick has big woman balls and did her thing. You go, girl!

Now, let's get back to those folks who aren't fans of the books, the movie, or anything associated in any way with Fifty Shades and would rather barf gravel than hear one more thing about Fifty.

As I stated earlier, I rarely post about Fifty Shades. However, when I have posted, I've noticed something disturbing that has rubbed me the wrong way. On every post I've made about Fifty, someone (or more than one someones) inevitably posts a disparaging comment. A comment that makes it clear that this person is one of those folks who is totally over Fifty and has come to hate the color grey in all its shades.

Well, I'm over the Patriots winning so many Super Bowls, but that doesn't mean they're going to stop winning, no matter how much I bitch about it. And while I may post on my own Facebook wall about my disgruntlement, or share my feelings on another person's post who feels the way I do, I don't jump on a Patriots fan's post and proselytize the merits of playing with properly inflated balls. That would be counterproductive and achieve nothing but pissing someone off and causing a big ol' fight. When I see a Patriot's fan posting and rubbing yet another Super Bowl win in the faces of opposing football teams' fans, I simply keep on scrolling, grumbling to myself about those "damn Patriots." Grrr.

My point is, I do not disrespect another person's post by posting disparaging comments on it.

With that said, I'm extremely tolerant. Almost to a fault. I usually let something go on for a long time before I stand up and say, "Okay, enough's enough." Well, I'm there.

Some of the comments that have been made on my Fifty posts have come off a bit like personal insults directed at me. Whether that was intended or not makes no difference. That was the perception. As if because I simply posted about Fifty, regardless of what I said, meant I was somehow a lower form of life in this person's eyes.

Sharing one's personal preference is one thing, but doing so on another person's post, where she's sharing her personal preference, and in a way that can be perceived as personally insulting to her, does not create warm and fuzzy feelings. It's rude and, more importantly, unnecessary, plain and simple. And it causes hurt feelings.

Yes, I've seen the posts made by those who are sick and tired and beyond ready for the Fifty Shades train to pull out of the station and follow the railroad tracks off the edge of a very flat Earth (or, if you're an Asgardian, off the jagged edge of the shattered rainbow bridge). Do I stop and point out to those people that they're missing the point? That they should consider the importance of Fifty to the publishing industry? That E.L. James, like Madonna, has done something monumental regardless of what the dissenting masses think of her? No. I keep on scrolling. Why? Because everyone is entitled to their opinion and their personal preferences, just as I'm entitled to mine.

So, next time I post about Fifty, if you don't like him, please just keep on scrolling rather than drop a disparaging comment on me. I promise, Fifty's fifteen minutes of fame will one day be over. And I have a right to be excited about seeing the movies without someone trying to diminish my excitement with less-than-nice comments.

Be kind to one another. Share smiles instead of frowns.

Until next time, peace out.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

It's Good to be Different In a Sea of Fifty Shades Imitators

When I was growing up, Sundays meant listening to Casey Kasem's American Top 40. My dad was a music lover, and we had two reel-to-reel players and an entire shelving unit of stereo equipment and music. Neil Diamond, fifties rock, and Top 40 pop were staples in my house, and the radio was always on.

To my young ears, music was supposed to have lyrics. Songs that had no lyrics were somehow inferior to songs that did.

And then Chariots of Fire came along in 1981.

The main title for Chariots of Fire steadily climbed the U.S. music charts until it finally reached #1. It went on to hit the top 10 in five other countries' music charts, and the top 40 in two others. Why? The title song of Chariots of Fire was different. It appealed to people on a different level. We'd never heard music like this before. Electronic? Synthesizers? New age? Wow! What is this cool stuff?

Looking back over time, a lot of "different" people and things found success. The Beatles. Elvis. They were "different." Even Peyton Manning revolutionized the way professional football teams played the game with his no huddle offense. Before he came along, no one had ever "no huddled" except in a two-minute drill. Peyton used the two-minute offense in the first drive of a game. Caught other teams completely off guard. If only the defense had been better at that time, the Colts might have won quite a few Super Bowls in those early Manning-era years. At any rate, the point is, things are new and different find more success than those things that aren't.

In literature, different works just as well. E.L. James proved that with Fifty Shades of Grey. J.K. Rowling did it with Harry Potter.

But have you noticed that when someone different comes along and revolutionizes behavior, ideologies, music, sports, etc., a whole train of followers jumps on board and imitates the differentiator? For example, Vangelis's electronic sound paved the way for a flood of other musicians who also played electronic music, finally culminating in today's wildly popular Electronic Dance Music (EDM). The Beatles took rock 'n roll to a completely new place. Next thing we knew, tons of bands were playing rock like the Beatles. Those other bands even started growing their hair the same way. Everyone wanted a Beatles haircut.

And as for Peyton Manning? Well, offenses throughout the NFL started using no huddle offenses to capitalize on the success he had shown them was possible.

Which brings us back to Fifty Shades of Grey. When that book came out, authors everywhere rushed to put out their own version of Fifty to ride the success James created. I even found one book where the author admitted that she wrote it because she wanted to ride the successful coattails of Fifty Shades. And, no, that book was nowhere near as good as Fifty. In fact, it was obvious the author was uncomfortable writing sex scenes and erotic content. With that said, a handful of copycats did find moderate success as readers clamored for more books like Fifty Shades. But those who followed have not (and will not) come close to reaching the same level of success as E.L. James. Why? Because she was the originator of this trend. The originator of a trend will always find greater success than those who follow. Still, even a fraction of that success is appealing. I get that.

However, now, with the first Fifty Shades movie newly released, the Fifty Train is just about played out. The movie will revive the books temporarily, but as the movies continue being made, the popularity will gradually dwindle until the meteoric rise to popularity fizzles into a spark, and then into obscurity, where, one day, those who have experienced the phenomenon firsthand will look back and say, "I was there when..."

The truth is, readers have grown weary of billionaire heroes and "innocent" heroines, as well as BDSM. They're starting to itch for something new. A few informal reader polls have indicated as much, and all you have to do is search the internet to find more readers saying, "Please, stop with the BDSM!" Here's a blog post titled Untie Me Already!: Over BDSM from Heroes and Heartbreakers, if you're interested in reading what someone else has to say on the subject.

Remember how popular Twilight was a few years ago? Now, sparkling vampires have become a punchline. Fifty's fifteen minutes of fame has about run its course, and readers are starting to look for the next big thing. When will Ana's Inner Goddess or bottom-lip biting become a punchline? Or has it already? It's inevitable. It will happen. That's simply the reality, not a criticism.

I'm not dogging Twilight or Fifty. I LOVED the Twilight books, as well as the movies, and I'm as psyched about the Fifty Shades of Grey movie as just about everyone else. My point is that every trend has a beginning and an end, and a lot of times, the end is marked with people making fun of the trend. Bell-bottom jeans? Yeah, they were once cool. In the 70s. But in the 80s and 90s, you were an uncool has-been if you wore them, and people let you know it. And speaking of the 80s, which was my era, big hair was all the rage. Now, it's a punchline, just like sparkling vampires and inner goddesses. Check out the bite-size Twix commercial if you don't believe me. 

So, what will the next book trend be? Because it's coming, whether you're ready for it or not. Maybe a better question is, are you still following the Fifty trend, or are you moving on to something else? Because those who are moving on—those who are striving to be different—are the ones positioning themselves to be the next trendsetter.

Many will follow, but only a handful will lead. 

Be a leader. Be different.

You might just find yourself writing the next blockbuster if you do.

Happy Writing

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Errors - Whose Responsibility Are They?

An interesting question regarding how to judge a book when it's full of errors was posed this morning on an author board I'm a member of. You see, many members of this group, including me, are judges in a huge annual writing contest, and one of the things we're up against is who should take the blame for typos, spelling errors, and punctuation errors. Should we dock the author and reduce the score, or do we look the other way under the premise that it's the editor's fault, not the author's?

I bet U Turn is getting tired of hearing "no."

To Dock Or Not To Dock?

To answer this question, I think we need to look at the types of errors being made, as well as the volume.

First of all, we all make errors. I've never read a book that didn't have at least one error in it. Most have several. But as long as there aren't too many mistakes, and the reading experience isn't severely impacted, it's easy to look the other way.

Is this message only for the guardians of parents? And what are "ate's?" And time's what? This poster is a hot mess.

Where we run into a problem is when there are errors on every page. And not just errors, but glaring errors. Errors that make your skin crawl because they're so absurd that even a bad editor should have caught them. Errors that muddle the message and confuse the reader as to what is actually being said.

Yeah, those errors need to be docked. There's no excuse for them, and they've impeded the reading experience so severely, you have no choice but to deduct points. 

Additionally, I recently read a book that contained a ton of errors, but what was weird about them was that the author made those errors half the time, but wrote them correctly the other half. For example, she punctuated dialog tags correctly with the comma half the time. The other half she punctuated the dialog tag incorrectly with a period. Maybe an example would help:

Correct: "I want to go home," she said.
Incorrect: "I want to go home." she said.

She did this throughout the entire book. And she made this same kind of half-right-half-wrong error with other punctuation, spelling, etc. I was like, "She knows how to write it correctly, so why is she writing it incorrectly half the time?"

I had to dock points for that.

Who Do Errors Reflect On?

Let's look at a few examples:

"We are committed to 'excellense'"? Apparently, you're not.

"Were" opening...? I guess you're not now, huh?

If you're going to preach about our "lanaguage" to those who don't speak it, maybe you should learn it first. 
Like it or not, errors reflect on the person or business who made them public. The business who is committed to "excellense" just showed they're not that excellent. Dunkin Donuts' sign reflects on the business, not the person who printed the sign. And, yeah, the patriot in the minivan just shot him- or herself in the foot. 

In other words, in each of the above cases, not only was the message diminished by the errors, but they reflected on the person or public entity who represents them.

In the book world, that person is the author.

Who is Responsible for the Errors?

Like it or not, when it comes to errors in books, the author is ultimately held responsible. Not the editor, not the publisher, not the proofreader. The AUTHOR.

Think about it. When you're reading a book that's full of typos, do you say, "Ugh! That editor needs to learn how to edit," or "Ugh! This author needs to learn how to write."?

Maybe you're the one in a hundred that honestly blames the editor, but I've seen enough readers complain to know that 99% of the time, the author is blamed for typos, punctuation errors, misspelled words, and even bad formatting (which is WAY outside most authors' realm of responsibility, by the way). These readers aren't blaming the editor or proofreader. They're blaming the AUTHOR.

Don't dig your own grave with bad editing.

I once published a story with a small press. The publisher edited it in-house, but they never ran their edits by me for approval. When the story was published, I found that they had completely changed entire sentences, punctuation, and even the spelling of certain words, and in doing so, they created a lot of errors in my manuscript. Also, the book was for an American audience, but they formatted to British standards (colour instead of color, flavour instead of flavor, etc.). If you're writing for an American audience, you need to edit by American standards.

At any rate, I was furious. Luckily for me, I am extremely well-versed on punctuation and spelling. I edit as well as I write (with one exception: compound words. They are my nemesis). So, when I send my manuscripts to my editor now, it's really more about getting a second set of eyes on my story, so she can find the mistakes my author's eyes glossed over. And she's awesome sauce with compound words, so whew! Thank goodness for that. But my point is, I know an error when I see one.

So, back to this inept editor who marked up my manuscript with errors. Her mistakes reflected on ME. My name was on the book, not hers. As such, I was the one who stood to lose readers, not her. Because let's face it, there are a lot of savvy, educated readers out there who will ditch an author for a lot of things, including typos. That is the reality, like it or not. You can bitch and scream and try to "educate" those readers about whose fault those mistakes are, but it won't work. Those readers will still blame the author. It's a fact of publishing life we authors have to accept and strive to minimize in any way possible.

For me, the way I minimized the problem was  by never publishing with that publisher again. If this was the care they were going to give me, then thanks but no thanks. My reputation as an author is too important to me to let them foul it all up. And if they were going to be the cause of me losing readers, they needed to be cut loose. Ba-bye! I need a team around me that understands that this is MY work, MY reputation, and MY livelihood they're influencing. Those who take care of me, I will take care of in return. Those who don't...I wish you well, but see ya.

And therein lies the crux of this post. Authors need to take greater responsibility for their work, as well as greater control of the editing process, even when they're with a publisher. After all, it's the author's name on the book cover. As such, it's the author who has the most to lose from bad editing. Take the time to read those edits and not just trust that they're right. And if your publisher publishes your work without getting your approval on edits, it's time to find a new publisher.

Going back to the initial question then, how do you judge books with errors? My thoughts are, if a book is full of errors, no matter whose fault they are, judges should judge accordingly and deduct points if those errors are prolific and negatively impact the story and/or reading experience. Because, like I said, ultimately it's the author who's responsible for their own work.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to weigh in in the comments.

Happy Writing!