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Reading Through Filters 28 October 2012

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Random Thoughts.
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We all read through filters of one sort or another.

Some filters are highly specific. There’s expert knowledge — the cop who rolls his eyes over procedural inaccuracies, the doctor who shakes her head over medical impossibilities — and there’s genre expertise — the avid science fiction fan who recognizes themes and plots that seem fresh to more general readers, the 18th century literature student who recognizes allusions and in-jokes that most other readers would miss. Without the resources to hire expensive expert consultants at every turn, there’s not much an editor can do but hope nothing too egregious slips by.

Other filters are recognizably subjective. When a dude dismisses a story as chick lit, or a “serious” reader with a preference for award winners and the literary elite dismisses a story as fluff, a subjective filter is being applied — the story is being judged in comparison to the reader’s preferences. The reverse can happen, too; a fondness for a particular theme or interest in a set of characters can cause a reader to overlook prose issues or plot holes, and even fill in gaps and ascribe depth to the material that isn’t there. Genre conventions sometimes permit and even invite elements that would, in a different context, be met with scorn.

The most subjective filters of all are, of course, filters of emotion. It’s virtually impossible to be purely objective when reading a story by a spouse, child, or dear friend. Nor is it reasonable to expect objectivity or even a rational response when reading a story that triggers some past personal trauma.

Personally, I don’t think anyone is capable of reading entirely without filters. The reading experience is a combination of what the author gives to the story and what the reader takes from it, and any time perception and interpretation and taste come into play, we’re automatically applying our filters to what we’re taking in — sometimes even to the point of not actually hearing what’s being said or absorbing what’s on the page.

The big question is where the responsibility lies for recognizing those filters.

One can’t say that the end reader “ought to” realize that s/he is reading through a complex set of preferences, biases, emotions, and possibly specialized knowledge. That’s not a reasonable demand, because the end reader (by which I mean someone who buys or borrows or is given a book to read for his/her own pleasure — the end consumer, in a reading sense; the general public) isn’t answerable to anyone for his/her reading. If I choose to pick up a random book and read it, I don’t have to justify that choice or provide a critical assessment of that book; it’s just… what I happen to be reading. We are all, sometimes, end readers and entitled to just enjoy (or, er, not enjoy) a story without having to explain ourselves.

On the other end of the spectrum, publishing professionals absolutely must recognize their personal filters and guard against them. When choosing and recommending reading material for others, it’s staggeringly important to be self-aware and to strive for an impartial, objective assessment. Particularly when it comes to rejections, for example, a responsible editor needs to make choices based on readership preferences rather than personal preferences. I’m not perfect, but I do my best, and it’s not unheard of for me to ask one of my co-editors for an additional opinion when it comes to a story that I recognize to be outside of my individual comfort zone (e.g., “guy humour” — sometimes I need to ask a male editor about those ones, because I *know* I’m just not appreciating all there is to be appreciated). I’m including professional reviewers and librarians in this category, with huge respect, both for their roles in recommending books to readers and because there’s an expectation of impartiality and having the best interests of the end reader at heart.

But what about independent book bloggers, commenters on stories at EDF, social reading enthusiasts connecting on Goodreads and LibraryThing? Somewhere between a public professional life in reading (editors, publishers, professional reviewers, librarians) and a completely private life in reading (someone who just reads for pleasure or self-edification and doesn’t talk about it), there’s a grey area of what one might call personal commentary. There’s no professional requirement or standard to start a book blog, to write a review and post it on a social reading site, to get involved in commenting on stories published online. And there’s absolutely no way that an external source could impose moral/intellectual requirements or standards on personal commentary, because it’s just that — personal. Websites can ask for courtesy and delete responses that fail to comply, block specific words earmarked as inappropriate, or hold comments for moderation until a staffer has a chance to review them for suitability, but there’s no way to make participants recognize or turn off their natural filters.

The question is, do readers engaging in personal commentary have any responsibility within themselves to recognize and/or acknowledge that there may be filters involved in their perceptions?

I don’t know.

On the one hand, I want to recognize every reader’s right to have a genuine and natural opinion without worrying about what it means or whether s/he should feel that way. On the other hand, as soon as one engages in expressing an opinion in public and to strangers, isn’t there some responsibility to balance that opinion with an acknowledgement of the factors that might influence it?

And then, I suppose that’s the funny thing about responsibility in general. You can’t make someone else take it. It has to come from within.

Podcast Chat With Robert Swartwood 13 September 2012

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Uncategorized.
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I recently had a lovely Skype chat with Robert Swartwood about flash fiction, Every Day Fiction, e-books, and other related things — here it is as a podcast on his blog:

http://www.robertswartwood.com/podcast/in-which-camille-gooderham-campbell-and-i-discuss-flash-fiction/

Of course, I ramble rather a lot, as I usually do when I know I’m being recorded. But we covered some interesting ground, and it was a pleasure to have that conversation. Also, Robert has one of the nicest podcasting voices I’ve ever heard. He sounds like an old-time radio show host, and I mean that in the best possible way.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect 21 April 2012

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Advice For Writers.
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I’m not making this up.

From Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.[1]

Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. As Kruger and Dunning conclude, “the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others” (p. 1127).[2]

I have no doubt that this interesting effect applies to every area of life, but I was particularly struck by its relevance for writers.

Given the grey area where formal grammar and creative licence intersect, and the degree to which each reader’s perspective colours the reading experience, there’s no objective and measurable way to define what constitutes “good” or even “competent” fiction writing. We tend to “know it when we see it”, and when we read the work of others — especially published work or in the context of a critique group — consensus can validate our impressions. Even then, there’s debate: select your choice of wildly-popular novelist reviled and sneered at by at least half the writers you know on Facebook… is everyone who loved those books wrong, or is it a matter of taste?

I’m not saying that all fiction is good if you just look at it right. Mediocre-to-poor writing does exist. But would you recognize it, if it were yours?

When it comes to assessing one’s own writing for quality and skill, there’s no grid or checklist to apply; even writing-class “rules” are only general advice and current fashions. Killing all the modifiers and avoiding the passive voice doesn’t automatically produce great writing, and being structurally on trend for 2012 doesn’t guarantee popular appeal now or in the long term. So is that glowing feeling of I-just-finished-writing-the-most-awesome-thing-ever the satisfaction of a job well done, or the Dunning-Kruger effect?

Apparently Dunning & Kruger and some other psychologists did some further research, and came up with this (again from Wikipedia):

They conclude that the root cause is that, in contrast to high performers, “poor performers do not learn from feedback suggesting a need to improve.”[4]

So, first, find some feedback. Join a serious writing group/critique circle (not a mutual-praise-and-smoke-blowing club). Pay a reputable editing/critique service to assess your work. Submit stories to publications that provide editorial feedback. Participate in a workshop or go on a writing retreat that includes an instructional/critique component.

Then learn from the feedback. Don’t be That Writer (everybody knows one) who refuses to hear anything but praise, argues with editors about why a piece was rejected, takes offense at suggestions for improvement, and generally thinks every last comma and modifier and dialogue tag was divinely inspired and embodies perfection.

Above all, for your own sanity, try not to spend a lot of time thinking about how your abilities stack up against everyone else’s. Writing is a solitary pursuit — in the dark hours, it’s easy to project imagined levels of competence (or lack thereof) onto one’s perceived competition, and assess one’s own skills accordingly.

The good news is that if you’re about to burn your latest manuscript on the assumption that you’re totally outclassed, you’re probably wrong.

Publishers Must Care to Survive 25 February 2012

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Publishing Industry.
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Commitment

I believe that a publishing house should be committed to every author and title that it takes on. There’s no excuse for second-tier treatment.

There are plenty of choices for authors in the publishing game today, and no reason for an author to choose a publisher who isn’t committed to making him/her a star, so publishers need to treat every signed author as the potential bestseller s/he could be.

Why this is good for the publisher too: Being overstretched can lead to poor quality production — when you juggle too many books, they don’t all get the editing and proofreading and design attention they need to be the best they can be — plus it makes no sense to either take on a book that you don’t think could be a winner or else pick what you think could be a winner and then not give it every possible push to go big.

Advantage

I believe that a publishing house must offer at least some sort of advantage that wouldn’t be accessible to the same author if s/he chose to self-publish. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Whether it’s a lock on a niche market — bizarro fiction and sword & sorcery are two areas where excellent work has been done in niche/subgenre publishing — or access to services and skills that wouldn’t be available to the self-publishing public, or the connections and financial resources to deliver a superior marketing push, a good publisher must have an answer to the question, “What can you do for me that I can’t do for myself?”

Why this is good for the publisher too: It’s good business to know your competitive advantage. Actually, you should not only know what you can do for authors that they can’t do for themselves, you should also know what makes you stand out compared to other publishers.

Respect

I believe that a publishing house and everyone associated with it should respect the author’s position as the creator of the work being published.

Assuming that the author respects the publisher’s expertise and is open to taking advice and suggestions, and that both parties know the manuscript-to-finished-book process is going to take a fair bit of discussion and probably some compromises on both sides, the author should within reason have final approval on the text and title to be published. It is, after all, the author’s name in big letters on the cover.

For that matter, respecting the author’s feelings about cover art is a good plan too — that doesn’t mean turning over total authority to the author (who most likely isn’t also a visual artist and graphic designer and typographer and marketing expert), but a little bit of consultation is worthwhile to make sure everyone is happy with the finished package.

Why this is good for the publisher too: An author who isn’t proud of the finished product isn’t going to feel happy about promoting it, and isn’t going to be eager to work with you again. Why push your author to look for a better deal elsewhere or self-publish the next book? Why risk having your author preface any mention of the book with an apology for the title or cover art or revised ending you forced on it?

Ethics

I believe that a publishing house should hold itself to the highest ethical and moral standards in all dealings with authors and the public.

Publishers of today and tomorrow need to take every possible step to repudiate the industry’s unfortunate past reputation for weaselly contracts and royalty monkey-business. There’s absolutely no reason why a contract shouldn’t be clear and fair and in plain enough language that the author can understand it without an agent and lawyer standing by. Nor is there any reason for royalty obfuscation. And in a time where we’re competing as an industry with self-publishing-service juggernauts that create and modify terms and conditions as they please and don’t negotiate with anyone, a reasonably negotiated and honourably upheld contract might become more crucial in attracting and retaining authors than anyone can know today.

Why this is good for publishers too: You need a reason? If you must, apart from karma and decency and do-unto-others, it’s this — no one wants to do business with a slimeball or be associated with a slimeball, and in this day of instant information and Anonymous and blogs and Twitter and Google, slime doesn’t stay hidden like it used to do.

Veronica Lifts Off At Last! 23 January 2012

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Uncategorized.
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Today is a special day.

Lifting Up Veronica by K.C. Ball began serialization this morning at 12:01 AM, and for me that marks both the end of a long road to get to this point and the beginning of a whole new adventure.

Things I have learned so far:

  1. Promotion is by far the hardest part of publishing, and it’s a fine and delicate line between sharing and shilling.
  2. It’s both exciting and stressful to be right on the cutting edge of publishing, doing something different. There’s no textbook for this. Most bloggers and reviewers don’t know quite what to make of it. Even dedicated readers who are comfortable with technology and flash fiction and reading online need to be convinced to give it a try. Every day there’s some little thing that I think maybe I should try differently next time, some area where I need to sharpen my skills, some new angle to look at. The learning curve is steep and I never quite know what’s coming, and I love that.
  3. The level of support and interest from my personal friends, online acquaintances, and EDF readership has been completely unbelievable. I have been particularly surprised to see who among my various circles has stepped up to support this project. Even beyond just buying a subscription, it has truly amazed me to learn just how many people believe in me and my publishing venture enough to reach out and spread the word among their circles. All I can say is, wow. Colour me stunned.
  4. Plenty of people out there think that a) small presses aren’t worth anything and if you’re not one of the big six you should just go home and cry and that’s never going to change, b) all publishers are parasites whose reign is coming to an end as self-publishing is teh awesomez and writers can get to all the readers by themselves, and/or c) book bloggers are the new gatekeepers and arbiters of what’s good and what’s not, so better start bowing and scraping now. It’s kind of depressing to learn how many book people think like that, really.
  5. There are some absolutely wonderful people in the writing and publishing world and it’s a privilege to know them. Especially K.C., who is not just an amazing writer but an all-around lovely person and super professional and a pleasure to work with.
  6. I’m now certain that I’m meant to be a publisher. I love this work. It’s like being an explorer discovering hidden treasure, and being the one to carry it out of the jungle and show it off to everyone — I didn’t create the treasure, and it isn’t my treasure to keep, but I get to be the one who holds it up and says, “Hey guys, look what I found! Isn’t it beautiful?!”

Playing Your Way to a Plot 6 January 2012

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Advice For Writers.
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Some of us play a few rounds of solitaire or sudoku before settling down to write. A ritual? A focusing technique? Procrastination? Whatever you call it, some of us need to do it and can’t get started writing without it. I’m much more of an editor and publisher than a writer these days, but when I do write, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, copywriting for hire or a project of my own, I simply can’t get started without a round or two of something calming (usually solitaire for me, but sudoku will do, or Minesweeper or Bingo Blitz — anything seems to work as long as it’s pattern-oriented and not too complex). I don’t think this need is uncommon, and most writers who admit to it don’t seem overly embarrassed about it. After all, it’s just a matter of routine, like needing your tea or coffee in a particular mug, adjusting your chair for comfort before settling down, or putting on your preferred “writing music”. Creative people are supposed to have quirks — something to admit to in an interview once you’re wildly successful, as your secret to the brilliance you put on the page: “Well, I always have my round of solitaire before getting started, but just one, you know?”

Many writers are also gamers who take their MMORPGs and quest-based games very seriously. Although I think the character and story elements of those games have a lot to do with why writer-gamers enjoy them, there’s also enough game-culture and respect out there that dedicated gamers don’t tend to be embarrassed or in denial about their enjoyment. One can have a rich engagement with a MMORPG character and world (my World of Warcraft paladin has plenty of backstory and personal life) but it doesn’t tend to do much in the way of idea-sparking and plot generation since serious games come already fully fleshed out with complex worlds and quests and so on. Unless your goal is to write media tie-ins, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that, you honestly do NOT want to have a warrior, a hunter, and a priest setting out from a Goldshire-like village to… well, you know.

Writers are much less likely to confess to playing (and enjoying) social and app-based games that don’t fit the “ritual” model or a big-name gaming franchise — we’re supposed to be much too busy and creative to be entertained by FarmVille and its ilk. However, I suspect that many more writers do enjoy these sorts of games than will admit to it… because they are essentially world-building games, and that’s what writers do.

When you build your village, your farm, your castle, or whatever else the build-it game of the moment has to offer, aren’t you — as a writer — actually imagining a whole lot more into it than is there in the game? Don’t you start to find it boring and quit as soon as the game stops introducing new plot-worthy elements?

Instead of cringing at the admission that you (sort of) find the latest sim-whatever fun, ask yourself what it has to offer you as a writer. (And if you’re a scoffer at these types of games, give one a chance and see what it can do for you.) Literally, play your way to a plot.

I got an iPad for Christmas, and subsequently discovered Tiny Tower by NimbleBit LLC, which I think may be the best-ever idea sparker available for writers. And it’s free, even. All you need is an iPad or iPhone (though from a creative point of view it’s more inspiring on the iPad as the graphics are bigger and you can see more detail), and apparently there’s a version for Android too. Best of all, it’s not a “social” game, so you don’t have to annoy your friends with it.

Basically, you build a tower, floor by floor — here, have a look at mine. You choose whether the floor is going to be residential, food, retail, recreation, service or creative, and then it generates the details for you (with the option to edit background colours and business names, but that’s it). My first food level came up as a coffee shop, my second came up as a sushi place. My first retail floor turned out to be a toy store, and my second was shoes. The residential floors work the same way, with widely varied and random decor; the selection I’ve seen so far includes ghastly 70s with macrame flowers, trendy safari decor, budget student place with cardboard boxes, pretty New England beadboard wainscoting, and more.

Then the characters, called “bitizens”, move into your residential floors and you put them to work in your shops and offices. Everything is pixellated just enough to leave your imagination room, but drawn clearly enough to spark ideas. The bitizens are generated randomly enough to please any writer, from a full complement of skin tones and hair colours, with an assortment of facial hair and eyewear details, and accessories from Alice bands to hard hats — and I’m not sure the random generator thing altogether differentiates male from female accessories, as I definitely saw one with a mustache and something that was either a hair bow or cat ears. There are also some costumed ones — I’ve seen a mime, a Star Trek red shirt, and the Phantom of the Opera — most of which just travel up and down the elevator, but I had a female in a pig costume move into one of my apartments. A pig costume. There’s a plot starter if I ever saw one… why would anyone be wandering around in a pig costume? Oddly enough, her dream was to work in women’s fashion.

Yes, the bitizens all have dream jobs, names, varying levels of employment skills/preferences, and they even come with birthdays. So you get your tower going, and you look around for a protagonist. Reginald, working at the coffee shop and dreaming of owning his own diner? Tracy, who’s found perfect happiness at the laundromat, even though she’s not very skilled (could she have a disability to account for her low scores)? Wilma the paintball enthusiast, working at a comedy club to pay the bills? Jesse who works at the bank and wishes he were a private eye? Tiny Tower has offered me all of these possibilities and more.

And then there are the plot cards. At least, I call them plot cards. A little blue square randomly pops up at the bottom of the screen asking you to find a particular resident because… his long-lost sister is looking for him! There’s a singing telegram just arrived for her! The president has been kidnapped and he’s the only one who can help! (The plot cards pop up fairly frequently, so you can either go with what you get or wait until you get one that piques your writing interest.)

Then earn some coins, build some more floors, watch more characters move in… and off you go, with friends and foes and love interests galore.

So next time you’re stuck for inspiration, try Tiny Tower (or any build-it game) instead of solitaire, and see where it takes you.

And Sometimes It All Seems To Go Right 22 November 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Happiness.
4 comments

Readership at Every Day Fiction is going up.

Our commenters are being awesome. Over the last few days, everyone has pretty much managed to be courteous and sensible, and our thoughtful and intelligent readers have gotten into some interesting discussions about story logistics and issues — which is, after all, the whole point of having comments: to discuss the story! Plus we’ve had awesome authors joining the comments threads to participate in the discussion of their stories, without taking anything too personally or getting bent out of shape, which makes the discussion that much better (in fact, today’s author called it “an engaging community of readers and commenters” on his blog, which makes me jumping-up-and-down happy). I particularly enjoy it when the conversation goes in unexpected directions. How does someone with a touch-related superpower eat? Is the time-travel thing really sci-fi, or is it a unique pick-up line in a romance? This is where all the hard work pays off. Awesome literary conversation, happy authors, happy me. Big bubble hearts to everyone.

The cover art for Lifting Up Veronica is at the photographer and should be ready on Wednesday. Given that the preliminary sketches were so amazing that I could have used one of them for the cover, I’m a little bit excited to see the finished image. Nico Photos is a truly brilliant artist and it’s an absolute honour to have him on board for this.

And we’re testing out Vanilla forums, first for the Every Day Novels forums, and then if all goes well, hopefully we will migrate the whole EDF family onto it. It’s beta only right now so I won’t post a link yet, but I’m absolutely in love. So intuitive and easy to use.

I’m reading a manuscript that will potentially be our second offering from Every Day Novels, and I can hardly put it down to get other work done. More bubble hearts.

Finally, I had a Facebook message from one of my happiness people today, someone I hadn’t heard from in a while. You know how some people just seem to bring joy with them? People who always leave you feeling better about everything rather than worse? I don’t mean people who are all sunshine and sugar and Pollyanna perkiness — they usually end up leaving everyone else feeling worse — but rather people who have the effect, after you’ve talked to them or spent time with them, of making you think all your dreams are possibilities and the world is actually a pretty decent place.

So today my dreams are possibilities and the world is a decent place to be.

And I hope a little bit of my glow rubs off on you too.

Getting Comfortable With Paying for the Right to Consume 18 November 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Random Thoughts, Uncategorized.
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On Wednesday, a tweet from Books on the Radio and subsequently a Facebook discussion drew my attention to an article titled “RIAA claims you do not own your iTunes music purchases“.

Well, no, of course you don’t, and you probably don’t own your ebooks either. Didn’t everyone know that?

Any time the consumption of content is dependent for access on a proprietary system or service, ownership is impossible. If your music files are (legally) playable only on iTunes, or if your ebooks are (legally) readable only on an app or product from Amazon or Apple or wherever you bought them, you don’t have the free title implied by the word “own”. Your privilege to consume the media you’ve purchased can be withdrawn if the content seller ever decides to block or close your account, and the fine print gives them the right to do just that.

Buying digital media in any proprietary format is essentially the same as paying for access to any other digital content — playing a MMORPG such as World of Warcraft, watching movies through Netflix, etc. — the only difference is that, instead of paying a monthly access fee for the privilege of accessing the content, music and ebooks are often (though not always) accessed on a per-item payment basis. And based on what I’ve seen, no one seems overly troubled about not “owning” the contents of Netflix or WoW. No one expects to be able to keep on accessing the contents and benefits of those sites after cancelling their subscriptions.

This suggests that as a society of digital content consumers, we are getting comfortable with the concept of paying for the right to consume it without needing to own it.

Still, we seem to have a bit of a problem when it comes to ebooks and digital music.

Could it be that we still think of “books” and “music” as physical objects? After all, the idea of a book or a CD/cassette/LP as an “ownable” item is pretty much ingrained in us.

I remember my uncle giving me a paperback copy of Dragonflight for Christmas about a million years ago (I was probably about thirteen or fourteen, not sure now) — I still have it, a little bit dogeared and more than a little bit loved, and with it goes the memory of that Christmas and the thrill of discovering a new favourite author. I have an equally cherished old paperback Signet Classics edition of Romeo and Juliet that accompanied me on many kayak camping adventures with my father, as one of our rituals after making camp for the night was to read Shakespeare aloud. And I have an ancient audio cassette of Servant’s Caught in the Act of Loving Him, given to me by a boy named Caleb from my swimming class in the summer of 1984 — his parents were in the band — I’ve often wondered what happened to him. I could go on, listing dozens if not hundreds of other cherished books and tapes, and later CDs, that I’ve gathered over the years, each one tied to a special memory or associated with some place or time or holiday or event in my life. Many are signed by the author, or inscribed by the gift giver with date and occasion.

The point is, we form attachments to physical objects.

Readers have never owned the content of printed books either. Listeners have never owned the songs they’ve played. That’s what copyright is all about, and those little messages saying all rights reserved and no part of this publication may be reproduced, etc.

But we were accustomed to owning the physical representation of the creative material, and inherent in that ownership was a lack of limitation as to how we could treat it — not the content but the physical form in which it was purchased. No amount of legal wrangling can really prevent people from doing as they please with material objects that they own, whether that’s buying and selling, or lending and sharing, or giving as gifts and hoarding as treasures. The physical packaging of creative material hovers between two worlds, since it blends the right to access and consume the creative content (a permanent, indefinite license for as long as the item survives in a consumable form) with the ownership of a physical object (with all the marketplace value and sentimental attachment that implies).

Ebooks and digital music have no physical representation. There’s no object to be owned, and nothing to which you can form an attachment — one digital copy of a text or music file is generally indistinguishable from another, so it’s impossible to feel sentimental about a particular collection of bytes. There’s no rational difference between access to an ebook and access to a sweet apartment in Second Life; both are content that one entity can licence the use of from another entity, under whatever terms both parties can agree on. As long as that works for you, embrace the digital age. Just don’t assume that you “own” anything.

If the first part of the problem forms when we expect to have some form of ownership of ebooks and digital music, because we’re conditioned by the past to expect ownership of “books” and “music”, the second part of the problem forms when content vendors present the licence to consume as “ownership”. Netflix and WoW don’t pretend anywhere along the line that you own anything; it’s clear to everyone right from the top that the subscription involves access and consumption, not ownership. But sellers of ebooks and digital music know that on some level we expect to “own” our books and music, so words like “licence for personal use” and “access to content” (and the limitations around that licencing and access) are not placed front and centre but tucked away, nowhere near the “buy it now” button.

Going forward, I think that consumers of digital content are going to develop an increased understanding of what it is that we are buying — that our comfort level with paying for the right to access and consume digital media is bound to grow as it becomes more and more the norm. I also hope sellers of digital content are going to support that comfort level by being honest about what it is that they’re selling, rather than playing on our physical-object possession impulses.

For myself, when I want to own a book, I will buy it in hard copy — preferably as objectively lovely an edition as possible (I personally tend to favour foil-stamped clothbound hardcovers with beautiful dustjackets and nice quality creme pages), preferably from a bricks-and-mortar independent bookstore — and whenever possible I will have it signed by the author. I will ask people who give me print books as gifts to incribe them with the date and occasion, and I will remember and value the giver and the occasion whenever I re-read the book. I will embrace my object-possession impulses.

On the other hand, when I just want to read something, I’ll go and browse my favourite digital content stores and, if I see something I like at a reasonable price for access and consumption, I’ll go right ahead and pay to download it, without expecting “ownership”. I can live with an indefinite long-term rental.

“Needs Editing” Is So Easy To Say 13 November 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Random Thoughts.
3 comments

“The first paragraph needs editing.”

“This whole piece needs a further round of editing.”

“Isn’t anyone editing this stuff?”

“Could be improved with more editing.”

“Needs editing.”

Right. And even, fair enough. But helpful? No.

We see some variation on “needs editing” regularly in the reader comments at Every Day Fiction. It’s also a popular critique from new slush readers who don’t yet have much experience with the job. And what it really says is: “I didn’t think this was good enough/up to my standards, but I either can’t be bothered or don’t know how to pinpoint what I didn’t like about it.”

To be helpful and to avoid the appearance of laziness or lack of critical thinking, “needs editing” needs to be modified — “needs editing for verb tense issues” … “needs editing for overuse of modifiers” … “needs editing to achieve smoother sentence structure and flow” … “needs editing to correct awkward and unnatural dialogue” …

However, looking at any of those examples, can you tell me how “needs editing” adds anything except a pretentious scold to the problem being addressed? Even as an editor I try to avoid applying those words in critiques unless I am discussing a specific issue that can be addressed through a revision of the (unpublished) piece.

Furthermore, once a piece has been published, “needs editing” is pretty much a slightly offensive way of saying “this isn’t good enough for me” — it assumes that the author hasn’t already edited the piece to the best of his/her ability, and it implies that the publisher of the piece should have done better, either by editing it properly or by not selecting it in the first place. Of course, I’ve no doubt that there are some people who do assume and believe exactly that, and feel no compunction about saying so, but I also know that many readers fall back on “needs editing” as a quick and easy generic criticism without thinking too hard about it. I don’t like to think of well-intentioned readers getting lumped in with the self-righteous orifices like that, but it’s bound to happen — in commenting on writing, as in the writing itself, word choice does matter.

(As for me, no matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to help applying mental tags like “lazy” and “clueless” and “rude” when I see those “needs editing” comments. Sorry, and all that.)

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too 11 October 2011

Posted by Camille Gooderham Campbell in Publishing Industry.
3 comments

As I was doing a little bit of industry blog-hopping this morning, I came across an interesting post on the writing blog Nail Your Novel. Although there’s nothing overwhelmingly new in the post itself, the two points Roz Morris makes are good ones that can never bear too much repeating. While I’ve never agreed with the writing cops out there who think that every writing rule needs to be followed 100% of the time (you know the ones: “Aha! I spotted one instance of the passive voice and two said-bookisms in that story, context is irrelevant, shame on you!”), you’ve got to know the rules before you bend them. Ignoring basic cooking techniques altogether doesn’t create a gourmet masterpiece, does it? And while you’d think it would be common sense to revise any writing before sending it out, sadly that point needs almost more repeating than anything else.

But what really struck me was a theme that came up in the comments on the post.

The discussion turned, as it so often does, to self-publishing. Now, I have nothing against self-publishing — in fact, for the right kind of person, it can be the best choice (Robert Swartwood is a great example of a good fit for self-publishing; he’s confident, a strong self-promoter, willing to invest the necessary time and money for a quality finished product, and with a degree of notability from his work with hint fiction that makes him stand out). But self-publishing is a choice, and frankly, if you choose to go that route, you don’t get to moan about the downside of it, just as you don’t get to moan about not keeping all of the profits when you go with a traditional publisher.

On the subject of editorial and proofreading assistance, one commenter noted, “Many of us don’t have the money to hire someone to help us, so what should we do?” and suggested critique partners as a solution. Another commenter responded in agreement, adding that “many of us can’t afford big time editors”.

Ah, but if you want to keep all of the profits, you have to make all of the investment up front, and that includes any editorial services you might need, not to mention good quality original cover art, exterior and interior layout, proofreading, marketing expenses, review copies… all the things publishers take care of at no cost or risk to you, because it’s a publisher’s job to take on that risk and expense. It’s very nice if you can persuade people to do these things for free or at cost when you choose to self-publish, but it’s a bit rich coming from proponents of Yog’s Law — if money should flow toward the writer, why should the graphic designer, illustrator, editor, proofreader and promoter work for free?

Writing groups and critique partners are a great idea during the creative process. But be extremely wary of assuming that all good writers make good editors and proofreaders. Many fine writers do not have the objectivity to edit another writer’s style or separate themselves (and how they would tell the story) from what’s on the page, and then proofreading is a separate skill altogether.

Put it this way: we recently embarked on a semi-major home renovation project — we had a choice between a jack-of-all-trades handyman (who would do all the plumbing and electrical himself) and a professional contractor (with an experienced carpenter and labourer, and professional subcontractors brought in to wire and plumb and paint and tile). We chose the contractor, and everything has been on time, on budget, and left neat and tidy at the end of each work day, plus we have the confidence of knowing that the electrical and plumbing have been done properly and to code.

If you don’t want to (or can’t) put good money behind your writing to give it the best possible start in life, maybe self-publishing isn’t such a good fit for you. Maybe that’s what publishers are for. And now, I’m off to look at some portfolios and hire an illustrator for the cover of K.C. Ball’s novel. ‘Cause I’m a publisher.

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