Monday, 19 August 2013
Jane Austen Didn't Have a Critique Group
The number of traditional publishers is shrinking, and advances offered have declined too, [except for porn novels] once, to my knowledge after the contract was signed. Many have abandoned the slush pile and cut their editing staff to the bone, relying on recommendations from literary agents to find their next titles.
Many titles that reach the bookshelves have celebrity names on the cover, either stories about their lives so far, despite that their average age is about twenty-three and therefore they can have had no life - or actors, models and vocalists who have decided their next career move is to 'write a novel' which instantly get rushed to the top of the bestseller list. The absence of ability and talent being no bar to publication, al you need is a recognisable name.
Harper Collins launched Authonomy, and left the choice of their next new author to public opinion -and Smashwords is the modern form of vanity publishing where anyone can upload their work to the internet without going through the tiresome and demoralising process of having it rejected, edited, asked to re-work sections, or sharing the proceeds of sales.
My own novels were put through a critique group - twice - to obtain feedback and suggestions as well as iron out those clumsy phrases and 'misplaced modifiers' [my weakness] before being submitted to a publisher. That someone assessed my work as being publishable was a huge achievement for me.
My second publisher is small press, but working hard to establish a reputation. Their designer put some real artistic effort into my covers, and my editors worked to make the manuscripts as professional as possible. Does that matter now that anyone can say, 'I have a book out'?
It's a sad fact that some good, solid stories are being spoiled by sloppy grammar, confused story arcs and basic mistakes that a critique group or professional editor would have eliminated before publication. Some do go through this process, of course, and the difference in the finished product is obvious.
But then, Jane Austen didn't have a critique group either, if she had, but maybe some of those endless tea parties and descriptions would have been cut! Then again, would that necessarily be a good thing?