Monday, September 20, 2010

Where is LDS Fiction Going? A Response

Jennie Hansen has an article over at Meridian Magazine that does a good job of summarizing where LDS fiction is today, and where it's headed in the future.

I did a book signing once with Jennie at BYU Education Week. I remember sitting there with my 15 copies of Chickens in the Headlights while Jennie sat next to me with what seemed like a mountain of titles. I think at the time she had over a dozen different titles. She was kind and considerate to me as a new author. She is a prolific writer, reader, and reviewer.

With an introduction like that, you know I'm going to take issue with something from her article. But it's a minor point, really. :) From her article:
Two factors have given rise to speculation concerning the future of LDS fiction.  One is the explosive impact of electronics on the world of the printed word.  The other is the reality of today's economic climate.
Even though today's technology makes desk top publishing easier, cheaper, and faster than going the traditional route through a publisher, it is producing a poorer quality product that can only hurt the overall market.  Some writers and publishers seem to be trimming costs by trusting electronic editing instead of using a qualified copy editor with the result of ridiculous errors that interrupt the flow of the story.  We're seeing not only there and their used interchangeably, but we have characters eating deserts, detectives perusing villains, amorphous lovers, and the road less travailed.
This concern is not limited to LDS fiction, I've seen similar sentiments echoed elsewhere around the publishing world. But it always confuses me. I don't understand why poorly written bookshurts the overall market. How exactly does that work?

For example, if we use this same line of reasoning in other art forms, shouldn't we discourage piano recitals and high school band concerts? If I hear little Jimmy slaughter Beethoven on the piano, might that not discourage me from purchasing classical music the next time I'm shopping on iTunes? 

What about independent bands who pump out their own CDs? Or independent film makers who burn their own DVDs? If I see a poorly filmed movie, will that keep me away from the theaters?

Of course not. In other types of art we see these kinds of activity as possible stepping stones to the 'next level'.  So why can't we see it this way when it comes to writing? Why isn't it natural for a person to say, "Yeah, I wrote and self-published three books before I landed my first contract.

I don't judge other LDS authors by a poorly written book. If I read a bad book from a self-published author, that in no way hinders me from my next purchase at Deseret Book.

I think we only need to look at the Internet and blogs to see this idea in action. Many of the blogs are polished and professional. Other blogs could use some editing help (this one included). And then there are blogs that are of poor to extremely poor quality. But the fact that those poor blogs exist doesn't keep me from finding and enjoying the good ones out there.

And of course we haven't even talked about the benefits that come from self-publishing. When it's easier to self-publish, there is a wider variety of material to choose from. Yes, we may need to wade through some poor quality material, but that doesn't dim our enjoyment when we find a gem--a gem that may not have made its way into the light of day were it not for the self-publishing route.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Ode to Writers Group

Writers Group, oh Writers Group, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
1) You encourage me to write. Okay, there is something inside me that is already driving me to write, but you finish the job. We meet on Thursday. I don’t have pages. I need to pull out the laptop because you expect nothing less than five pages every week.
2) You tell me that I rock. Let’s face it, the profession of writing is not exactly filled with people singing your praise. My first and worst critic is myself. I read what I write and I’m quite certain that it stinks. I get rejections from agents and editors, more than I want to keep track of. I’ve filled years with insecurity, second guessing, and doubt. But once a week I can sit in a chair, and listen to eight other people tell me how awesome I am.
3) You tell me that I suck. After telling me how good my manuscript is (and sometimes you may really have to search to find something positive to say), you show me the problems. This is painful, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I need to know my weaknesses. I need to see the holes. Not in vague terms, not in softened generalities, but the brutal, complete, and honest truth. I need to see the warts, every last one of them, so I can fix them and make my writing better.
4) Because you get it. You get it like nobody else can. The deep pain that comes with rejection. The indescribable joy that come from a partial request. The hope. The fears. Writers experience emotions only other writers can really understand. And sometimes when I’m crying, maybe in joy, maybe in sorrow, I need somebody who really understands. Somebody who has been there.
5) My writing always improves. Whether it’s from feedback from the rest of the group, or because I see strengths and weaknesses in the other pages I read, my writing always gets better. I learn tips and tricks. I see pitfalls and shortcuts that shouldn’t be made. Once a week I’m actively engaged in honing my craft, and step by step I improve.