Tuesday, 21 May 2013

More rules I could do without

Why are some writers so fond of rules? Why are some indie writers so fond of rules? Isn't one of the main benefits of self-pubbing that you don't have to toe the line any more?

Back in 2009/10 when I was submitting Remix to agents, there were more rules than you could shake a stick at, and writers would anxiously obsess over them on forums. Double spacing yes, but should we really use ugly Courier or was Times New Roman acceptable? Agents, we knew, were captious and huffy creatures.  There were lots of crimes that would result in an agent tossing your three chapters unread into the bin. These included omitting to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope (I forgot once, and sure enough, didn't get the form rejection I was looking forward to adding to my collection). You had to study the agent's precise requirements and observe them to the letter, or she wouldn't even curl her pretty lip over your typescript.

We all did what we were told. To be fair, until Amazon changed everything we had no choice. (I may say it's still going on - read Carol Blake's handy list of 29 Ways NOT To Submit To An Agent. Reading that made me realize just how much I love not being a part of that scene any more.)

What irks me now is indies coming up with their own rules. Our book, we are told, will not be ready to publish until we have hired a professional editor, proofreader, formatter and cover designer. Not may not, but will notFleur Philips goes further: “One thing I feel indie or self pub authors MUST do for publicity and marketing is to hire a really good publicity firm to handle marketing and public relations ... if you can’t afford it, find a way to make it happen!” (Plih. Bog off, Fleur.) Others tell us we must write several books a year to succeed, and divide our time between marketing and writing.

To which I say, we are big grown-up indies. I can decide for myself whether or not I need to pay a proofreader (not, actually) and do all that other stuff. I do not need the new orthodoxy telling me what to do, and neither do you.


  1. But Lexi, surely we need to hire editors and proof-readers and cover designers and ebook formatters and public relations companies and social media managers! How else will anyone take indies seriously, unless we pay through the nose to keep all those parasitical satellite industries in business? What will happen to those poor bloodsuckers if we - gasp - did all that ourselves? Civilisation would collapse! Think of the children!

  2. I choose to use a copy editor because I know I make silly typos and it's worth it, for me, to know the work is as good as it can be.

    Marketing - I'm equally rubbish at marketing, but since I can't take is seriously (talk of brand and product and I get a fit of the vapours) I just witter on twitter a bit and hope for the best.

    What's more, it's my choice to do it like that!

  3. David, I see now that I've been selfish and irresponsible. And it's not just publishing and marketing people who are suffering from my thoughtlessness.

    What is happening to the suppliers of all the A4 and ink cartridges I got through when I was submitting? Can they afford shoes for their tiny tots since I went indie? And Royal Mail is being privatized, probably due to the lack of my three chapters whizzing about the way they used to.

    The guilt, how will I cope?

  4. JO, it's all about choices. Or should be :o)

  5. Ha Ha, our brains must have been syncing on this issue (which makes my teeth grind!) Thank you for saying it out loud. I hope every indie author reads this and takes it to heart.

  6. Hear that, indie authors? Rebecca says read my blog!

  7. Really like that post and I couldn't agree more - how selfish of me to not employ a professional copy-editor at a thousand quid a go, when I've been on a course and I can do it myself! And where am I supposed to just 'find' the money - I'm considering armed robbery to fund my indie writing habit!
    We all have to work to a budget and prioritise our money.

  8. Armed robbery, LK? I suspect what Fleur had in mind was indulgent parents or a high-earning spouse...

    Perhaps I am being unfair, but I've noticed it's always people with money who maintain it doesn't matter whether you have it or not.

  9. I love your post! You are so right. The whole reason I chose "indie" after trying the traditional route accumulating rejections and getting so close is because the independent aspect suited me just fine.

    You're right. The shaming exercise of hiring out for all this stuff is ridiculous. I put out a good product. I do my own covers, my own print and eBook layouts, although I did find an absolute gem of an editor to catch all my typos. Love her! But she doesn't charge me nearly enough for her attention to detail because she wants me to continue to write. How wonderful is that?

    Thanks for this. I needed to read it today. You are a rock star, Lexi!

  10. Katherine, apart from my lovely beta readers I too do everything myself, and the advantage of that (apart from being in profit from the first book sale) is I can quickly make changes to content or cover without involving a third person. I also enjoy it - though I'd rather be a rock star...

  11. Mwah ha ha ha hargh... well, I admit it, I hire an editor and I also get someone to do my covers for me. But I have a form of dyslexia so to me an editor is simple self preservation, covers ditto. Seriously, you've never seen my artwork.

    However, they're essential for me, not everyone and I agree, there are an awful lot of parasites around...



  12. I've been missing that laugh of yours, MT. Re dyslexia, your comment is sans do you have a full-time editor, who hovers whenever you go online? Or are you better than you think?

  13. Ah, it's actually dyscalculia so I do manage to correct most of my errors with words, it's numbers where the real malarky starts.

    However, I have no grip on grammar and when it comes to learning it, being a mother has drastically sapped my retentive powers. I know when I need help and in that respect... I do! Phnark.

    BTW re the laugh, I often read your blog but the comments thing is a bit dicy, sometimes it won't work!



  14. MT, I volunteer to ensure your chapters are in the correct order for less than you are currently paying!

    You've worried me now about Blogger not letting people comment. Shall go and fret over the washing up.

  15. Lexi is so right and I can sit here and cheer her on and also the others posting on here regarding this subject.

    I used to run my own business and found there are some things it was wise to seek advice on.

    Self publishing is very like running your own business from creating a product people need or want, to dealing with the tax implications way down the line.

    But even if I do think there are some things that many of us need help with, overriding this is exactly what Lexi thinks.

    I have saved a small fortune by not having to buy reams of paper and ink cartridges - I don't want to give that money to an editor who might suggest I rewrite.

    And KO I agree entirely about preferring the indie route.

  16. I'm fond of advice myself, but don't feel I have to take it, or give it undue weight because it's from a professional. I've paid for bad advice in the past (not publishing related).

  17. Lexi - not everyone is as good at self-editing as you are, but I agree it should be a choice. And some traditionally published writers presumably have editors but ramble on endlessly and can't tell a plot from a lecture (Dan Brown, I'm looking at you!)

    But there's always someone in every field who know how it should be done and is happy to hand out their expertise free to anyone who will listen. Best just to laugh and move on!

  18. FH, JKR's later Harry Potters could have done with more editing - and I got the definite feeling Sandi Toksvig's editor lost the will to live around chapter three of Flying Under Bridges.

    As a seasoned inde, I get irked rather than infuriated these days, and tend to see minor irritations as blog material :o)

  19. The problem is that not all budding indies have enough confidence in their work and so think, yes, they'd better get the professionals in. Although not in the Bodie and Doyle sense, unless, like me they're working on a 1970s thriller and kid themselves that watching DVDs is research. :-D

    But it is very hard because when you've spent months or years working on a book your judgement goes completely by the end of it and you can't tell if it's a work of genius or complete dross. That's when you start thinking you need to get someone to sort it out. And that's where a market opens up for the consultants.

    I suspect I may be drivelling. Sorry, just come back after a few months of hardcore hermiting and no longer know if anything I write is coherent. (But, hey, what's new there?)

  20. Spin, watching DVDs for a 1970s thriller is research!

    I think the author can tell if a book is reasonably okay. What is more difficult to predict is how much the public will love it. I found the same with my Saturday jewellery stall at Covent Garden. When I made a new line, I had no idea how popular it would be till it was on display, even though I consciously tried to analyse the appeal of my best-selling pieces and replicate it.

    'Experts' don't know either, or publishers would pick up every successful book and never publish one that failed to sell. They just like to pretend they do. I'm sure some editors are worth paying, but a handful of beta readers will give you a better feel for what needs changing, in my opinion, as they are more like the readers you hope to attract.

  21. Grate articel Lexi! I could'nt agree more holehartedley!

    Other than accepted spelling, so much of writing is subjective, isn't it? Even punctuation, even much of grammar. So who's to say what's right and what's wrong?

    Your readers, that's who. I love the maddeningly subjective craft of writing, and I am a self-professed overcritical overanalyzer when it comes to my own work. Interestingly, I've found that my beta readers (I don't have a readership like you do yet, Lexi) care more about whether the story truly engages them than any particularly well-turned sentence or skillful character development.

    Then again, maybe I'm doing enough right that there are no glaring problems getting in the way.

    I love your take on "following the rules", though. Who are these rulemakers, and who elected them, anyway?

  22. "Who's to say what's right and what's wrong?"

    Ultimately, the author. I've just come across an editor's notes he very kindly sent to me two years ago, which I only discovered lurking under Other Messages on Facebook. Eying/eyeing, queuing/queueing? Either is right, whereas my spelling Alfa Romeo with a 'ph' is incontrovertibly wrong. And he suggested the odd comma in dialogue which may be correct, but the characters did not put a pause there when speaking, so no comma. Dialogue has its own rules. Did I say rules? Darn.

  23. Well there probably are a few useful rules. Like:

    Have access to a keyboard and the internet.

    hhhmmm... O.k. There is only one rule.

    One rule to rule them all, one rule to find them, one rule to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

    None of which is intended to be a statement on Kindle platforms current positioning within the industry.

  24. Well Russell, if you're going back to basics with rules, what about Breath in and out?

    Re Kindle's dominance, I'm currently toying with the idea of having a fling with other platforms...

  25. I'd agree that Beta readers are important. Intelligent, educated ones who won't mind telling you when you've lost the plot.

    In my experience non-writing good friends should be avoided. My volunteer Beta readers offered nothing except praise, bless them, when it was quite clear to me, when I did a further edit, that there were still matters to be addressed.

    I hope I haven't talked myself into saying I need an editor.

    Also, surely some of these taggers on would want us to make changes perhaps just to show that their talent is needed.

  26. I tell my betas that praise is nice, but what I'm really after is anything they have to read twice to make sense of, or dull parts they want to skip, or good bits they want more of. Anything that strikes them as improbable or out of character. I tell them they don't have to wrap the criticism up, as that's hard work :o)

    I don't use all their suggestions, just the ones I agree with - unless two betas make the same point, which always attracts my attention. I find beta readers hugely helpful.

  27. I said much the same plus some questions like 'Which character(s) do you like best? And least?'

    I did try...

    Perhaps I'm scary.

    Mind you, one beta man said he never reads fiction - that should have been a clue. Doh!