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  • Myths of Publishing, Part I

    2007 - 04.22

    Cross-posted from MySpace:

    Okay, in response to questions and comments from a variety of sources, it’s time I set some myths to rest about publishing and the life of an author. If other issues crop up enough, I’ll address them later.

    Myth 1.    Authors are rich. They are in the writing business to make a quick buck.

    Contrary to popular belief, the great majority of authors are not only not rich, they don’t even make their living at writing. Here’s the deal:

    A small percentage of the population attempt to write one or more books. Of those people, only small fraction complete even a single manuscript. Then, only a modest number of those folks manage to sell their books to professional publishers. From that limited group of authors, a small proportion actually eke out a living from writing. (Most of them are supported, at least in part, by the earnings and benefits of a spouse or significant other.) Out of this teensy minority of those who began the writing journey, a handful get truly rich.

    Kevin and I are very fortunate in that we get to make our income from doing very satisfying, enjoyable work that we chose. For this privilege, however, we work every day of the week and almost every day of the year. Our friends and families don’t get to see us nearly as much as they’d like to. We also have a mortgage, car payments, repair bills, and so on. We do our own grocery shopping, cook our own meals (well, Kevin does, mostly), do the dishes, take out the trash, and clean the cat box.

    Sorry to disappoint, but—in spite of what you see in movies—publishers don’t hold champagne book signings for us at which hundreds of lavishly dressed sophisticates show up and stand in long lines to get our autographs. Sigh. (If any of our editors or publishers are out there reading this, feel free to correct this situation. 😉 Our personal theory is that God gave us book signings to keep authors humble. Don’t ever be hesitant to come see us if we’re doing a signing in your area. You’ll make our day. (Are you listening, members of the 501st?)

    Myth 2.    A good book is free of discrepancies, contradictions, typos, and other flaws. Any errors that get through mean that the author and publisher are lazy or sloppy or just didn’t bother.

    My father (who holds two Masters degrees) taught English for more than a quarter century, and I grew up learning excellent grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Nothing irked me more than mistakes in my reading material. I frequently toyed with the idea of writing to the publishers and offering them my obviously much-needed services.

    Then I became a proofreader, next a copyeditor, then an editor, and (last) an author. Wow. What a bucket of cold, wet reality over the head! Believe it or not, there are so many levels of errors to watch for that no one person—or ten people, for that matter—can catch them all, whether the work in question is fiction or nonfiction (and blogs are another animal completely).

    Each person along the publishing line tends to look for different sorts of problems, and even these people can let things slip, because no human has 100% concentration. Kevin and I even add an extra level of readers on each manuscript to strain out some of the bigger problems before we even send a book on to the editor.

    I once had an editor tell me that a manuscript I had turned in was one of the cleanest she had ever seen in her years of publishing. After that, several levels of clean-up pros took over, after which I went through the typeset copy again. There were still a few typos in the published book—though precious few, I’m happy to say.

    I tried to explain all of this to my father the retired English teacher, and he (proud of his error-hunting prowess) did not believe me. He explained that someone who was truly knowledgeable in the English language, with its attendant rules of spelling, grammar, and the elements of style, could deliver a perfectly clean manuscript to anyone willing to pay for such expert services. Naturally, we hired him part-time to help us give our books the added polish that they need.

    After proofing our galleys for more than two years now, my dad has a new respect for the complexity of the publishing industry. As those of you who read our books know, errors still sneak through. Even if we took up every person who offered their additional services to spiff up our novels, perfection is not a viable option. But rest assured that we care about our readers and always work hard to give you books that are as fault-free as possible within the allotted time and budget as possible.

    For those of you whose hobby is catching mistakes, don’t let us stand in your way. But don’t bother protesting that you could do a far better job. You might correct a different set of booboos if you got a chance to replace one of the current professionals who works on our books, but you wouldn’t catch them all.

    Scoff, if you like, but I developed this opinion over the course of 20 years in publishing and having more than 30 books published by professional publishers. So, am I putting myself forward as an authority on this matter? Ja, you betcha. Nervy, huh?

    Yikes! I was going to add one more subject to this blog, but I’ve run way over the amount of time I gave myself to get this written. I’ve got to get back to editing book 3 in the CRYSTAL DOORS series, Sky Realm. I’ve got a looming deadline and a paycheck to earn. . . .

    ciao,*

    Rebecca

    *This multipurpose Italian salutation is used in an advised, tongue-in-cheek manner and in no way implies a corresponding chicness, shallowness, or worldliness on the part of the author. (Additional pejoratives may apply. Void where prohibited by law. Ask your physician if Ciao is right for you.)

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