My Bibliography

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Listening versus Reading?


I haven’t done a piece on my writing journey for a while, but after something that happened last week, it brought to the surface an instance that annoyed me greatly from way back in 2011 when a ‘so-called’ reviewer – and I mean an unqualified person who advertised themselves as such in exchange for free books – 'reviewed' one of my books based on only having listened to it as opposed to actually having read it in the traditional sense; having her e-reader’s unemotional voice relay it, while, I imagine, she did her vacuuming or something. Don't get me wrong; I know audio books are popular; I just don't write them, but if I did I can imagine I'd need to bear that in mind during the writing process; make it listener friendly. How do I know she listened to it?  Part of her review made mention of how funny it was to hear the e-reader speak in Scottish vernacular where I'd used that.  Granted that would be funny, but to say so in a review as one of the things she enjoyed most?  Huh.  Perhaps I could have had a wheel going round and round for her amusement instead of the clever interaction of the characters that I did.
I said nothing about it at the time because I’ve learned from the writer’s site that I used to participate in through the early years of my journey, not to engage in conflict over the Internet – usually nothing good coming from that – but the situation from last week pushed me over the edge a little, and so I do have to vent at least a little – I mean, after such good behaviour online for years, I feel I’m entitled to a minor rant every now and then; gives me character (or at least displays more of its true nature.)  Lol.
But really, I do find that pouring out my occasional woe into the vastness of the blogosphere is like a tourist in Mexico pissing into the ocean; the acidity of a day drinking cuervo dissipates into nothingness almost instantly there as you go back to basking comfortably in the sun.  And talking of oceans, certainly this person’s ‘review’ from all that time ago has clung like a barnacle to the debris from Japan washing up on British Columbia’s shores right now.  Time to clean it up, air it out, power wash the crap away like they did from that Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Don’t get me wrong, her review was actually quite good, she enjoyed the story overall and even said that a certain demographic would love it, the content just wasn’t for her; calling it ‘man humour’ and slagging off ‘the so-called ladies’ in that book for having the odd audacious thought – which was, largely, the entire point I made in its synopsis (back then). She gave it three stars, which isn’t bad, and in fact balances the five and four stars there.  Yet, shortly after, I saw her rave about Fifty Shades of Grey; giving it a resounding five stars whereas the majority of readers have slagged it off for the poor writing, and where, rather ironically, I thought, she loves that the female MC gets up to all sorts of crude and lewd activity – from what I understand; the sample chapter being quite enough for this discerning reader.  What… because the book is more geared towards the female interest in sex?  But I can totally see why one could ‘listen’ to such a book; there is, apparently, nothing literary in it to get any juices flowing other than the obvious ones.
My point is, I’m more literary than most, I have come to realise that I need to simplify my stories for a more laid back kind of reading experience, and I can understand why many people these days are actually able to ‘listen’ to a book - from what I’ve seen emerging as the new norm – in that most indies are written in an amateur first person style such as Fifty Shades is: ‘I did this, I did that, I blinked… etc.’ Fine, easy to listen to, perhaps the only way to ‘read’ such stories, but when a writer implements deeper meaning, creates sentences perhaps intended for the reader to sit and contemplate, even re-read, then it has to be digested by the eyes to be absorbed into the soul; these are intended to put the reader into the story.  I mean, listening to your girlfriend’s description of some hunk that came by to take care of her dripping pipe wouldn’t be as satisfying as actually standing over that plumber while he was on the job now, would it?  Admit it.  Same thing.  But I don't mind; after all, I take solace and pride in the fact that my writing has been mentioned by notable people in the industry, a Poet Laureate, international best selling author over decades of the books 'Princess' and 'Growing up Bin Laden' among many others, Jean Sasson, to mention but two.  Why, I even passed with flying colours, the entry tests set by a company in San Francisco - Hyperink.
But back to the point of all this, recently I answered a call for submissions; writing 10,000 words in 24hrs because I only saw it the day before, I could have written 5000 but went full steam ahead, and long story short, the publisher loved it and is going to use it as the title/cover story for one of the anthologies.  The story was as perfect as I could make it in that short time frame, albeit in my traditional style, a tad complex, and one that many don’t, or yes, can’t, use, but the writings of H G Wells were given as an example of what was actually wanted for these intended books.  Fine, that’s right up my alley.  Usually I’d take weeks, months even, to pour over anything, but it was alright; the rubric said that first drafts were entirely acceptable as they’d be going through the editing process anyway.
So, anyhoo... after all of this, now in the actual process of it all, despite me putting the publisher in touch with a professional editor who’s agreed to work with one of the anthologies, what do I get?  A wannabe editor who’s taken some classes and whom immediately I worried would not be able to get my style after looking at her own website, and, let's just say, less than stellar writing in the samples of her own works there.  However, fine, I will go with it and see what happens; easygoing for the most part about such things; one is usually better with other people's stuff than their own work after all.  In the meantime the publisher sends her all of the stories he wanted her to content edit, mentioning that one of them was a story that another editor refused to work with.  She assumed, when she came to mine, that was the one he was talking about, no doubt because I didn’t use a ‘cat on the mat’ style of writing, and the way she referred to it and to me was highly insulting in emails that were probably never intended for my eyes; assuming that I have never written anything in my life before, and referring to my piece as my ‘little darling that I probably wouldn’t want touched,’ also saying that it was too old fashioned; that I needed to write for a modern reader – and by that I can only assume she means YA, or the lesser educated – which I don’t generally do - but anything more literary, out of her realm - and most certainly wouldn't want touched by her.
Although, in those emails she admitted that she'd only had her machine read it to her – bear in mind that this is a highly complex story, containing actual physics, backstory, deep meaning about the future of humanity and all kinds of other sophisticated stuff that was, quite simply, obviously beyond her comprehension; the notes she did make, even from the simplicity of the first paragraph, making it clear that she hadn’t actually ‘listened’ to it at all, saying that it was 'all telling' – something I do not do; well versed in various forms of exposition thank you very much, but misinterpreting the fact that it was written in omniscient voice and not the first person voice she no doubt expects or is used to.  I get it, they're on a tight budget; but the cost of having my work messed around with by a person like this, is far too high for me to pay.
The two thing she got right, was in saying, ‘she wouldn’t have a clue where to start,’ and that 'this could be a much larger book.'  The publisher wrote back to her telling her that he loved the story, which was why it was to be the title story, the style being what attracted him to it in the first place; that he completely connected with everything, the character especially, that she mentioned had no substance.  Hah!  Characterization is what I'm (semi) famous for.  As a result, the subsequent emails from her changed their tune even if they were now trying to save face; willing to work on it all of a sudden.  Hah!  No chance!  If he sent me her emails, then no doubt she received my choice words in response too; no way could she ever look at my story objectively now, not even by actually reading it, for that’s the impression she gave me about who she was – the quintessential mean girl who slags people off behind their backs and retains resentment, despite the initial sugary sweet and, apparently, helpful email she sent to introduce herself.  But further, while I am always open to critique and suggestion, completely welcome it; part of the never ending writer’s journey after all, I have come too far to have it thrown into the hands of someone less qualified than me who simply want to exercise their community college course training in their first editing job ever.  Overzealous, not to mention not trusting her own opinion; backtracking on realizing this was not the questionable story mentioned by the publisher.  But then, the point of this little rant is just that; I can’t help but feel many people who advertise themselves as reviewers and editors are no more qualified to do so than many writers out there are who have never taken even a writing class to learn the fundamentals yet blatantly advertise themselves as successful authors - and the mood I'm in I so wish I could name names right now, but will exercise decorum.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I really don’t feel an editor or reviewer should simply switch on a robotic voice to read a writer’s work to them while they go about their other business… doing the dishes… whatever.  .. when it is not in fact intended as an audio book - and maybe not even then.  And in the case of reviewers, such as the one I mentioned earlier, if the genre of the story is not one to your taste, then perhaps discern that from the synopsis, or at least comment on the level of writing as well, don’t just concentrate on the negative, the aspects of someone’s hard work that you personally don’t like to read; take the time to learn what a real review should be; earn your free lifetime supply of books if you're going to call yourself a reviewer.  In this case though, I really don’t mind; anyone who thought Fifty Shades of Grey was the best thing ever really doesn’t belong in the same circles as me; I can see why my writing wouldn’t appeal to her, and so have removed myself from her social media - and since, systematically doing the same with others as I come to see posts and statuses that have no bearing on who, or where, I am on my own personal journey, and, using the ocean analogy, avoiding that tsunami of irrelevant to me information that you see daily and have to cling to a tree trunk to survive.
Getting back to my 10,000 word story; I have told the publisher that I will not work with this person and that I remain indifferent about having my piece in the anthology if he has a problem with that; I will withdraw it.  My first hissy fit actually, and making me rather uncomfortably seem like a prima donna, because I’m not... truly I’m not; can look at my own work objectively, know what’s good and throw out what’s crap; I do it all the time; I love people more trained than myself to offer pointers and to critique honestly.
Where am I left?  He really wants the story, and has invited me to take the time, given the 24hrs in which I wrote this draft (thankfully now with the privilege of a few thousand extra words that will help me to simplify it, and which I know really needs done for easier reading in general as I can be convoluted, I fully realize that – but then, the very reason my work should be read and not ‘listened’ to - grammatically correct as it stands or not).  He suggests that I work with someone on my own if I want, that if we can get it to a publishable state then it won’t need to go through another editor – but even if it does… I welcome it; just make sure they’re qualified more than I am to judge/wanna change it; I don’t write half-heartedly; to coin a cliché, I put my heart and soul into everything I do write (and don't orate).  It would be nice to have that reciprocated by so called professional reviewer/editors - their resulting opinions, good or bad - but then, the people I mention here are hardly professional, are they?  I suppose we have to get used to that.

8 comments:

  1. I don't listen to many audio books, but one that strikes a great balance between story and language would be Norman MacClean's A River Runs Through It. However, good audio books come from prose which has been polished into a thing of beauty. To have an automated voice substitute for a first reading of a draft that is about to be edited relegates reading to the passive process that many perceive it to be, but the reading process is anything but passive. On a first read through of anything, even stuff that's already published, I am always reading with an eye to rearrange, to cut, to make more concise. This reminds me of my students who always begged to listen to audio snippets because they thought it as the less demanding task.

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  2. Exactly, again, if I were to plan any of my books/stories for audio, which in fact I have contemplated, I am sure much would need to be addressed, and as you say, polished, things that only the eye can pick up that would be translated adequately for the ear. Thanks Jeri. :)

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  3. I totally agree, and am familiar with people who seek audio over reading for themselves, which to me just rips the pleasure out of the whole book experience.

    As to her listening to her spoken word kindle...that speaks of a non-reader. My friend Alice totally balks at reading anything, but she will listen to the bible on her ipod...and anything else she's interested in has to come in such a form; she's totally adverse to 'reading' out of a book or anything written down; very sad that there are grown people in such a pitiful state.

    I can't understand how some of these people want to claim to be writers, yet refuse to be readers. It takes a ton of reading over a lot of years to begin to approach any true writing skills, because the mind analyses as it reads and picks up on style, plot, characterization, setting, themes, voice, mood, the whole spectrum that must be digested via others works before one can truly step up to the plate and swing that mighty pen to mark the paper that becomes that author's own work.

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    1. It isn't that they want to be writers. They want to have written. They want the romantic notion of the poetic life. In so many aspects of our society now we downplay the work needed to reach the levels so many aspire to. When it becomes hard they will move on to the next big thing.

      They only reason there isn't an American Idol style show for writers yet is because there is nothing sexy about sitting around hunched over a keyboard.

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    2. Yes Jon, instant gratification and expectation rife in every nation - or the western ones anyway - and a short attention span too. I love the technology of tomorrow, but I long for the morals of the past. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. I just wonder if we have become so lazy as a society that this will become the new norm - something I allude to in the 10,000 word story I mention above, as to just how the digital world will affect us all in the not too distant future - but then, information will just be deposited straight into our minds, and as I say in that story - 'the government sure knew what they were doing when they invented 'Mindbook'. Thanks Wayahowl.

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  5. Hi-larious that i sent you that email BEFORE reading this post! Fifty shades of Grey? Editing? What are the odds?

    Never listened to an audio book but have attempted to listen my subscription of The Economist while making dinner. Not at all easy.

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  6. N. Scott - I would love to say the odds are unlikely, but when it comes to Fifty Shades... well, not entirely coincidence that it should be used in many examples when talking about editing. Lol. Thanks for commenting.

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