Good news for anyone who, like me, still harbors a possibly irrational fondness for arguably obsolete equipment:
It turns out the reports of the death of the typewriter have been greatly exaggerated.
The Indian newspaper Business Standard falsely claimed that Godrej, a company that is closing its typewriter factory, was “the last manufacturer of typewriters in the world.” They paint a picture of a world that has entirely moved on from typewriters, which have been replaced by PCs and printers.
But if you go on Amazon.com, and search for typewriter, you can see many brands available — Brother, Omega, Royal, Olivetti, IBM and Nakajima. Those typewriters are new, and built in factories somewhere, probably China. Despite the obvious falseness of the Standard‘s claim, the English-speaking world press has been actively parroting it without question. This is part of a widespread pattern in the US press of playing fast and loose with facts relating to technology in a way that they would not do in other fields.
– Indian article makes false claim, world media repeats it without hesitation, fact checking
I did see the Godrej story making the rounds, and I thought it seemed kind of unlikely, and I didn’t really think too much more about it at the time — but I was very relieved to learn that it wasn’t true.
I learned to type at the age of six or seven on a real typwriter (dammit) — a manual typewriter, not one of those newfangled electrical ones. It was huge and oily and black and heavy and each keystroke required a genuine effort from my tiny fingers, and I loved it enormously. My handwriting was terrible (still is), and using the typewriter made me feel like a real writer, which I already knew I wanted to be.
I’m not quite enough of a masochist to want a manual typewriter again, but every now and then I do entertain the thought of treating myself to a new electric typewriter. As much as I love and rely on the convenience of my little netbook, there’s really nothing like the tangible emotional feedback of stacking up finished pages next to you as you write.
As both a lover of books and a huge graphic design nerd, I was totally knocked out by these. I think my favorite’s the first one:
– Classic Novels As Movie Posters: Pics, Videos, Links, News
They’re all pretty damn excellent, though. Wouldn’t mind having some of these on my wall. Check ‘em out at the link.
My friend Sandra M. Odell might have a sale on her hands — if she’s willing to face the prospect that most writers dread, the spectre of having to Make Some Changes:
[T]hey want me to cut into one of my babies, butcher one of my children in the name of publication. What’s wrong wtih my baby? Ugly, is it? Where is my shotgun? My nail-studded club? How dare they – ?
Hold on a minute.
What’s wrong with an editor taking a chance on one of my stories and, in doing so, take a chance on me? This is a request, not a demand. They could have gone with another story. I can pitch a fit, burn my bridges and walk away. I can politely bow out and, again, walk away. Or I can set my ego aside and consider the changes, learn something. Do I want to do this? Can I do it? Will the changes improve the story? Kill it? Make no never mind? Am I so attached to the story that I can’t be bothered with the truth?
– Writing to the Next Level « Sandra M. Odell
I certainly have sympathy for this — certainly, by the time, I’m done with a story, I’ve managed to convince myself that it is now in its final, ultimate, perfected form, with not a single word out of place. Why would anyone think it could possibly need to be changed?
As it happens, I’ve only had one experience, so far, with requested editorial changes. That was for my story for How the Doctor Saved My Life, edited by Simon Guerrier. I was certainly trepidatious about it at first — what if he asked for revisions that would completely change my story? But it turned out to be a fun and positive experience.
Sandra ends her post by asking, “What would you do?” I’d have to say — me, I’d make the changes. Here’s why:
- It’s okay to mutilate your darlings. It’s been said, “when writing, kill your darlings” — in other words, you have to have the emotional detachment to remove those parts of a story that you just love if they don’t really serve the story as a whole. Similarly, I’d say you have to be willing to mutilate them a little sometimes. If you’re willing to sell your work at all, then you’re already prostituting your darlings — sending them out into the marketplace to meet the whims and needs of the first john — I mean, editor — who comes along offering money. And sometimes, if he looks over your darling and says she’d be perfect if she weren’t quite so tall, you just need to smile sweetly and cut off her feet.
- Editing can be an act of collaboration. Okay, that last point was horrible. Let’s look on the bright side. Writing is kind of a lonely art — usually, it’s just us and a blank word processor screen. But once you introduce an editor into the equation, you’re not alone anymore. There’s someone else whose also trying to think about how best to bring this story to life, someone who might bring viewpoints and word choices you’d never considered. That was definitely what happened with Simon — most of the changes he wanted to make, the lines he suggested, were great, and I honestly think it’s a better, stronger story thanks to his input.
- You can always push back. Of course, if some of the changes the editor suggests just flat out work against the story — speak up and say so. Even though they’re the one who’s “in charge,” it doesn’t mean you need to meekly sit back and do everything they ask without question. Simon had some minor changes to my story that I disagreed with, but that weren’t really that important to me in the grand scheme of things, so those I let slide. But when he suggested that maybe a certain line of dialog would work better if another character said it instead, I realized that changing this line would change the entire point of the story. So I told him my reasoning, and he agreed with my argument and left the line as it was.
- The original story will still exist. This happens all the time — writers will sell stories to magazines, and they’ll see print, and then some years later, the writer will put the “real” version of those stories in anthologies of their own. Think of it as a Director’s Cut.
Those are my thoughts on the issue. Anyone else out there have any experiences or opinions to share?
Okay, I feel like I’ve spent too much time lately blogging about — and definitely waaaay too much time thinking about — the changing publishing landscape, and how, where, when and why writers in the twenty-first century can and should get there words in print and in their readers’ hot little hands.
By now you’re probably thinking, “That’s all very well and good, Montoure, but what about the writing? What about the art and craft of creating those words in the first place?”
Oh, yeah. That.
Here are a few words from someone who definitely has given the art of writing some thought. I often find these “rules for writing” lists kind of useless, but this one is really good. Here are the first two:
1. Write the sentence, not just the story
Long ago I got a rejection from the editor of the Santa Monica Review, Jim Krusoe. It said: “Good enough story, but what’s unique about your sentences?” That was the best advice I ever got. Learn to look at your sentences, play with them, make sure there’s music, lots of edges and corners to the sounds. Read your work aloud. Read poetry aloud and try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences. The music of words. I like Dylan Thomas best for this–the Ballad of the Long-Legged Bait. I also like Sexton, Eliot, and Brodsky for the poets and Durrell and Les Plesko for prose. A terrific exercise is to take a paragraph of someone’s writing who has a really strong style, and using their structure, substitute your own words for theirs, and see how they achieved their effects.
2. Pick a better verb
Most people use twenty verbs to describe everything from a run in their stocking to the explosion of an atomic bomb. You know the ones: Was, did, had, made, went, looked… One-size-fits-all looks like crap on anyone. Sew yourself a custom made suit. Pick a better verb. Challenge all those verbs to really lift some weight for you.
– Janet Fitch’s 10 rules for writers | Jacket Copy | Los Angeles Times.
Definitely worth checking out the rest. Go, make with the clicking.
One of these days, I should think about compiling my own list of “rules” for writing. When I do, you’ll find it here first, natch.
Yesterday we were talking about agents, and some of the horrible contracts they’ve started to try to get their writers to sign. If you really want more detail on how bad some of these contracts are, and how dishonest and underhanded some of the methods to sneak in unfavorable terms are, look no further than Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s post on the subject.
Of course, the contracts publishers themselves offer are just as bad as ever, too.
So how do you recognize a bad contract when you see one? Passive Guy has a few things to look out for, and wants to remind you that the power is in your hands:
Every contract is negotiable, so negotiate what you don’t like. “This is our standard contract” is the oldest scam in the world. Standard contracts are for banks who print them by the million. Publishers and agents may want “standard contracts,” but they probably also want world peace. You don’t have to accept their standard contracts. If a publisher or agent is interested enough in your book to want a contract with you, they’ll be willing to change some things. Negotiation is the process by which each side to a potential contract discovers how much they want the contract.
Authors are in a terrible psychic spot in negotiating their first contract with an agent or publisher. They sent out a million queries before they got an agent. Ten publishers turned down their manuscript before one became interested. Authors are inclined to think, “I’ll sign anything. Just don’t tell me no again.” Don’t get into that mode.
– Don’t Sign Dumb Contracts | The Passive Voice.
For years, I knew what I absolutely needed to make it as a writer — I needed an agent. Agents had the magic keys to the kingdom, and they were the ones who could slip me past the gatekeepers and get my manuscripts where they belonged, on an editor’s desk. Even those who encouraged self-publishing still suggested you have an agent, just in case traditional publishing or foreign markets or Hollywood came calling.
But, well, along with everything else in publishing — the role of agents seems to be changing. Dean Wesley Smith is alarmed enough at some of these changes to say, “I believe that any agent should be avoided right now at all costs. Writers no longer need them.”
That’s a hell of statement. What prompted it? Simply this: a lot of literary agencies are turning into little publishing houses of their own, “helping” writers get their works on-line in return for huge percentages. Plus “expenses,” of course, however they might choose to define expenses.
You might be thinking, “Gosh, agents acting as their own publishers, that sounds like an enormous conflict of interests,” and you’d be exactly correct. You might also be thinking, “That sounds like they’re taking a percentage of profits in return for things writers can easily do for themselves,” and you’re right again.
Smith goes on to say:
[....] I feel it’s time to start calling this new idea in agents exactly what it is. It is a scam.
It is designed to take a writer’s work, control their work, and make more money off that work than the writer does. It will be frighteningly easy to just not pay writers even the small amount they should get in this deal.
There is no other way to define a scam. This is taking advantage of the uninformed to make money.
– Writers Are Losing the Fight Again.
He goes into more detail at the link, a lot of it. It’s all definitely worth reading — he has years of experience, both as a writer and a publisher, and he knows his stuff.
Okay, so, if you don’t have an agent, what should you do if someone waves a contract in your face? Smith’s answer is simple — you should hire an Intellectual Property Lawyer instead of an agent, and pay them once for their services of going over the contract for you instead of trading away a percentage of your profits forever.
Even with the help of an IP lawyer, though, there are a few things you should know to watch out for in contracts. More on that tomorrow.
Oh, yeah, I also wanted to mention today’s press release:
By July 2010, Kindle book sales had surpassed hardcover book sales, and six months later, Kindle books overtook paperback books to become the most popular format on Amazon.com. Today, less than four years after introducing Kindle books, Amazon.com customers are now purchasing more Kindle books than all print books – hardcover and paperback – combined.
– Amazon Media Room:News Release.
(Still fairly quiet on the blog front, I’m afraid. I’m now back at the day job post-surgery, and I’m kinda perpetually exhausted right now, so posts are still going to be kind of thin on the ground for the next little while. Bear with me. Thanks.)
Teralyn Rose Pilgrim writes in a guest post at Nathan Bransford’s blog about the various responses you get when you tell people you want to be a writer:
I don’t spread around that I want to be a novelist. It’s not that I’m shy or feel too inadequate to call myself a writer; it’s because of the crazy reactions I get from people.
– Do You Tell People You Write?
She then lists the various kinds of people you will encounter in these conversations, and I think I’ve met every single one of them. Pretty funny and all too true.
The main thing I’ve noticed for years, whenever I tell someone that I’m a writer, is that their immediate question is almost always, “Oh? Have you had anything published?” Which is their way of asking, “Are you really a writer? Do you have the Official Stamp of Approval?” I wonder when, or even if, the indy publishing revolution is going to change that reaction.
(Of course, the flip side of that is that when people hear about my latest book, sometimes they say, “Oh, you’ve been published! Congratulations!” And since it is self-published, I don’t exactly know what to say to that . . . . )
I think most people are pretty clear on this concept — art takes as long as it takes, and if it takes a writer a little longer than expected to come out with their next book, well, so be it. Or, as Neil Gaiman so memorably said to a fan who was impatient for the next “Song of Ice and Fire” book, “George R. R. Martin is not your bitch.” A writers have contractual obligations to their publishers, not to their readers.
Except, well — what happens when your readers effectively are your publisher?
Six years ago, Diane Duane started to ask her readers if they’d be willing to subsidize her next book through subscriptions as she wrote it. Things went great for a while, and then they didn’t. Diane’s health, circumstances, and life went through a long, bumpy patch and her book went off the rails.
Now she’s finished it, and put it online with a long and heartfelt apology to the readers who’d backed her.
This is an important — and underreported — problem with “micropatronage” and “street performer protocol”-style artistic experiments. Writers are often late with their books. [....] This is normal, and we know how to deal with it in the world of traditional publishing. But in the world of public writing-as-performance where there are hundreds or possibly thousands of people with a financial stake in the book — people who aren’t editors at a house with 400 books under contract, but rather people who’ve never been around a book during its creation — it gets really difficult and sticky.
– Diane Duane’s crowdfunded publishing experiment finally concludes – Boing Boing.
(I know, I posted something else about Diane Duane just the other day, but doing that reminded me that I had this link buried somewhere in all my “you really should blog this someday” bookmarks.)
This is an interesting question and a problem we’re going to start seeing more often as these models of direct patronage become more common. The answer seems to be communication, communication, communication — keeping your readers in the loop. If you’re going to involve them in the production of your book from the beginning, you have to keep them involved, letting them know each step of the way if something changes.
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