Monday, 19 August 2013

Jane Austen Didn't Have a Critique Group

Is it just me, or is everyone seems to be writing novels these days? The number of author blogs and showcase book blogs on the web are vast and increase daily, in fact is there anyone who isn't writing a book?

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?


Petrea Burchard said...

These days the lines are blurred.

I've heard publishing insiders complain that self-published novels are poorly edited.

I've paid money for books from "the big six" that I couldn't get through because the grammar was unreadable (my pet peeve is head-hopping).

There's good and bad in both categories. I don't know how it will all turn out. I do know that conventional publishing has only itself to blame for the rise in the popularity of self-publishing. If what they want is celebrity books, that's what they're going to get.

I'm not talking about small, independent publishers here. I think they still have integrity.

But you can't generalize about any of it: self-publishing, small publisher or large publisher, the book is the thing. If the book is good, it doesn't matter who published it. And if it's bad, the same holds true.

Anne Gallagher said...

If Jane Austen had had a critique partner! Ha, that's funny.

I was just reading an article about this very subject. 80% of self-publishers have no clue how to write a book, the "rules" of writing or any of that. And the funny thing is, these are the books that are rising to the top of the Amazon charts (Here in America anyway)

Readers don't about (historical) accuracy or grammar or misplaced modifiers. If the book entertains them, that's all that matters.

Unfortunately, those are the people who are giving self-publishers like me a bad reputation. I strive to make my work count, I go through countless rounds of edits and revisions with two highly skilled critique partners and then two more beta readers.

I'm hoping those that can't sell will just drop out of the game and leave more room for those of us who are trying to be professional rise to the top.

Great post. Sorry for the rant.

Anita Davison said...

Your rant was fine, Anne, and so relevant-thank you. Some members of my critique group go through the same punishing set of critiques, edits, and beta reads as you do to make their work polished and professional. However they face prejudice from [some] reviewers who won't read their work because they assume all self published books must be second rate.

Petrea Burchard said...

Anne, you're so right. I'm having to overcome the same hurdles for the same reasons. Please tell me where you got the 80% figure (though I don't doubt it).

As I said, I don't know how it will all turn out. But I think that 80% will fall away, unless they fill their books with pornography. It might take a long time, though, and that's hard on writers like you and me.

Jen Black said...

Anita, I took your post as a springboard for my post today. Hope you don't mind!