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October 10, 2012

Since I just talked about paying for an editor, I felt it was time to revisit what it is to be a writer. I’ve brought it up in previous articles but thought it was worth another revisit/rehash/new discussion.

I’ve always said that if you have an inspiration, no matter what level you’re at with words, the only way you’re ever going to get anywhere is to get it down on paper/disk/whatever. Write it! With that being said, depending on your skill set, if you want it to go anywhere, you have to take it beyond the “See Tom run” phase and make it into something marketable.

I’ve run across many people who, without ever having written anything before (okay, very past-tense passive), create a brilliant first manuscript. Sure, it needs work, but they have writing skills that can be nurtured without starting from square one. Then I’ve run across the “See Tom run” crowd. They can barely put two sentences together, yet they write an entire manuscript and expect to get published within a month. Between those extremes is where most people fall.

It doesn’t matter where you are. If you intend to ever succeed in this passion, you have to learn your craft. That doesn’t mean you have to go to classes or buy a bunch of books on writing. It might, sure, but it could also mean lots of practice, attending writer’s groups, networking, borrowing books, paying attention, going to seminars or writer’s conferences, the internet.

The biggest thing I can tell you is that it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. I’ve seen where a lot of those people that pay for editing are impatient. They do not want to take the time to learn to write so they shove it off on an editor and pay them to do it. This sounds a bit harsh but there’s also a method to this madness. A perfect example is a family history or autobiography. It’s done that way all the time. These authors are not really writers. They’re often one-shot deals. Where I take exception is those that write fiction, want to call themselves authors, yet don’t want to learn the basics and pawn it off on their editor or a ghost writer to do all the work for them. That pisses me off. However, to each his own.

Someone with a great idea that wants to get it down on paper (or e-form) should write it down. If they want to make it marketable, they should learn the craft. That takes time and effort, especially for fiction. You’re creating a big lie. You have to make it believable and coherent and it must be written with good grammar and syntax. You can’t do that yourself. You have to have help even if you have the skills. The catch is whether you can get a conventional publishing deal or go the self pub route, either in print or e-pub or both. Whichever way you go, you have to have the skills. You can’t write “See Tom run” and expect a bevy of editors to clean up your mess every time, then sit back with your pipe and cap and sign autographs (the male version anyway).

Don’t go pointing fingers at what’s out there either. I know there is a lot of crap that’s being published. You’re shaking your head and going, “What? They published that? They put the ‘big machine’ behind that piece of crap?” However, the world isn’t fair and never was. That doesn’t mean you can ignore the rules and do what you want.

I’m currently reading a good story that’s part of a series. It is very well written and was published by a major house. However, their line editor did a crappy job. For a book of this stature, a really crappy job. It’s not the authors’ fault. At least he didn’t have to pay for it, but now his reputation is going to suffer.

If you go the self-publishing route (I’m talking specifically about fiction), that’s where you have to really worry about not only your skills, but how much you’re willing to pay to put a good product out there versus what you think you might make on it and how it will affect your reputation. This author can absorb a few hits because he has a great series backing him up and a big publisher. You, as a small self-pubbed starter don’t. You put out a poorly edited book, your shooting yourself in the foot. Remember the numbers as well as your skill level! Try to go conventional if you can, but if you must go self-pubbed, try e-pub first (it’s cheaper) but don’t you dare put it out there without a quality edit, whether you wheel and deal or pay for it. Either way, you have to learn the craft first or you’re wasting everyone’s time including your own.

Learn the craft. You’ll be better off for it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2012 3:28 am

    Hi Fred,

    I’m getting a little old to learn the craft. Besides, I’m practicing my trombone by the hour and will probably make more money this year playing gigs than from my royalties. My book, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era,” is doing well in the UK. I should look for an agent in that country. I was giving an inspirational talk to an eighth grade class today when another teacher walked in and said she was reading the book and loved it. It turns out another teacher loaned it to her. I’m going to send a bill for $15 to the gal that’s reading it. I can see I’ll never get independently wealthy.

    As usual your article was excellent and to the point. If I ever finish the fiction story I was writing before my wife died, I’ll use an editor this time. Your name will be on top of the list. The story is based on a jazz theme that takes place in the late forties and it’s pretty good.

    • October 11, 2012 1:54 am


      Here’s a depressing thought for you. I just heard an interview with Henry Winkler. He’s sold over 3 million children’s books. He said he and his co-author haven’t made a lot on them! Of course, he’s a famous actor and his standards may be a lot higher, but it makes one wonder…

      Thanks for the vote of confidence with the editing! If I ever had the time. I used to do that for friends. Not so much anymore.

      I’m glad your book is getting around. Wow, Jolly Olde’ Englande!

      Keep practicing that trombone!


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