Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Test of The Artist

"The test of the artist does not lie in the will with which he goes to work, but in the excellence of the work he produces."
Saint Thomas Aquinas

Many times during Nanowrimo, I nearly threw my hands in the air and said, "I GIVE!"

I ended up pushing through. In fact, the closer I got to the deadline, the more determined I was to finish, to not only hit 50,000 words, but to finish the whole first draft. Averaging 3,000 words a day the last week, I made it there on November 30th, with over 51,000 words. I've never written a novel that short, but then, this is my first youth novel, and it's long enough for 13 - 15 year olds. It will likely end up shorter than that once I take out everything that doesn't have to be there and tune it, turning it into something readable. It doesn't yet have a title; since I wrote it for my son, I'll ask his help in naming it.

I'm letting it rest during this month and will hit the editing in January after it's had time to settle and I can go through with a more vivid and distant eye. I have plans of publishing by May. It's a possible goal since it is a shorter novel.

On the last day, I also spent a bit of time browsing the Writers Beware blog (link on the left) and found an entry about how a high percentage of Nanowrimo authors are being scammed by "publishers" and "agents" because so many Wrimos are new to the writing craft and susceptible to those offering the flashing star of having a book published. Yes, I suppose that happens, but I have a hard time believing it happens to Wrimos more than to others.

Have you spent time at Yahoo Answers? I am often there perusing the books and authors questions and am highly disdained to see how easy so many people believe the whole writing thing to be. One asked if there was someone who could help do the "details and descriptions" and such. She had an idea and decided it should be a novel. *sigh* I imagine I won't get any thank yous from telling her that ideas are a dime a dozen, but that's the truth and she needed to hear it. She likely also didn't appreciate my telling her that learning how to write details and descriptions is part of the writer's job, or that if you don't want to spend hour after hour editing 2,3, or 4 times after the first draft, don't bother with the first draft. Was that harsh?

I run an indie-publishing group. One of the things I stress is that it's not the easy way out. It's harder, in fact, not to get it published, since anyone can do that now, but to get something marketable published and out there and reviewed by someone other than family and friends. I cringe when I see self-published books that come off as though they are first drafts. Likely, some of them are. It hurts all of us when hobby writers do that. And I say hobby writers because studying, editing, learning, and then editing more is part of writing. There is a difference between those who write for fun and serious writers intent on constantly improving and learning the craft and studying the production process and marketing strategies. It's hard work. An idea does not make a book.

Of course, there's a place for actual vanity books. Having your family history in print to give your grandchildren is a nice idea. Putting down a story in your head and getting a few copies in print is nice. Anyone should have the right to do that. It is vanity, and it's fine. Your family won't care if you have spelling errors or extra information or an undeveloped writing style. Anyone who pays money for your book, however, most certainly will.

The scam comes in when someone tells you not only can they publish your book, but that you will make money from it. Many other questions I found about the publishing process and financial outcome of writing a book were answered by those saying immediately, "publish it yourself and you'll make money" or "get an agent so the big companies will accept it." *sigh* Yes, because it's really that easy. (sense the sarcasm here?) I have spent too much time there trying to clarify the process, to steer unknowing victims away from paying an agent to accept you as a client [legit agents do NOT ask you for money -- they get paid from selling your book!], or from thinking because they have a complete draft of the book that they can find a publisher, or that it's only real publishing if one of the big traditionals accept you. The big companies produce only a small percentage of books published each year. Small companies are producing much more, because there are so many more of them. I have echoed myself saying that who publishes a book is less important than how much work the author puts into marketing. Also, being published by a big company does not necessarily equate higher quality. It only means you wrote in a currently hot-selling genre and the book wasn't too awfully hard for editors to help spiffy.

At the moment, I'm reading Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, published by Bantam Dell. It's a good story, has sold well enough to reach New York Times Bestseller status, but is in desperate need of editing. I find it unbelievable how much work should have been done on it before final publication. There are many scenes that are completely unnecessary and do nothing more than make the book longer or to show off the author's knowledge of something or other. There are repeated words, changing tenses that throw the reader, and sentence structures that could use much improvement. The beginning was nearly the end for me, as stiff and pretentious as it sounded. Its saving grace is one character, who is not the main character. I can't find it in me to like the protagonist, or to even sympathize with her. I often know where the story is leading before it gets there. Still, it was her first novel and I can hope the next several improved.

While reading bestselling books and finding so many things that could be improved, I am both irritated and energized; energized because I can see that with consistent work, it is easily possible to write at least as well. Irritated ... because books that are indie-published are quickly negated although the writing is at least equal quality. There are some that are. The difference is we have to work much harder to prove ourselves. We may not do it willingly, but if we are serious, we will do it.

For those who enjoy poetry, I have been accepted by Sage of Consciousness and published in their most recent literary ezine:

Sage of Consciousness
(will open a new window)

Go to the poetry section and scroll down to LK Hunsaker. Then please, come back and let me know what you think. I can take it. Writers must develop thick skins.

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