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.


L.T. Elliot said...

Michelle Argyles or Sarah Eden are proof of successful self-publishing--and done well. But I agree with you. A bad book doesn't really jade my next purchase--it sometimes even encourages it because then I'm apt to buy a new one just to read something even better. =]

Krista said...

When I read that article and I came across that part, I thought, "Ooh, Marion Jensen will have something to say about that."
I thought the article was very encouraging, but wondered that she generalized the self-publishers. I've come across some very poorly edited professionally published books, that, frankly, just encouraged me as a writer. If this can get published, then I'm going for it.
Overall, though, I appreciated the article. LDS lit is fighting a stigma. I have to really push an LDS authored book at my book club. It's exhausting and articles like this help.

The Damsel In Dis Dress said...

Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. See ya soon!

stacy said...

My annoyance comes from the same old saw that editing=copyediting. That is, the only thing that editors contribute is copyediting, which is silly and shows a lack of understanding of the role of a good acquisitions/developmental editor. Which makes me wonder--especially given what I know about the time constraints put upon authors in the LDS market--whether developmental editing gets skipped entirely.

I've copyedited LDS market books that have had such glaring plot holes that I've wondered how they could have been missed earlier in the process. Though of course, I'm sure some copyeditors have wondered the same about books I've edited--sometimes it's just a blind spot because you've looked at a book so long.

Not to mention: it's not "little attention" being paid to quality copyediting, at least in my experience when I did a few copyedits. It's that copyeditors get paid about 1/20 of the going NYC rate, so why would I spend 20-40 hours of my time on a book that needs obvious deep-level help if I'm only getting paid $100, when for similar work in the national market I'd be paid $25-50 an hour (a total of anywhere from $500 to 2000, depending on what they agreed to pay me and how much time it took).

But in the national market I'd rarely get a book rife with such fundamental structural errors at the copyediting stage, and if I worked with a particularly compulsive acquiring editor, I'd spend more time wondering if I missed something than actually finding anything, because she had copyedited as she edited. (I've had many, many books like that!)

So, to me, copyediting is moot until you fix the problems further up the chain. Which would require actually paying editors what they were worth and hiring enough of them so that they had the time they needed to spend on each title. This is not a failing of editors--there are a number of good editors in LDS publishing. It's a failing of giving these good editors the tools they need to take the books they work with to the next level.

Jammie said...

Coming from a reader, not a writer, I would rather read a bad book (they are out there and can't be avoided) in e-form, than in book form. I only want to own books that I will read again.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I like to find good reads that are not full of things that I would rather not put into my head