Sunday, March 18, 2012

Things I Learn

I've learned quite a bit from this little excursion in self-publishing. As the release date for my novel inches closer, and I get closer to completing it, I look back and realize that there's quite a bit that nobody ever taught me that I had to learn myself.

Editing a book is hard. I've proof read my book numerous times and I've had other people proof read it and each time I go over it, it seems like there's another mistake that I missed. I've also learned to become more forgiving to people like S. Meyers; to be a crappy writer is one thing, but to a be a victim of poor editing is something totally different - everyone makes mistakes, and everyone should be forgiven for making those mistakes (so long as they learn from them). Her series is rife with both poor writing and very poor editing. Professional freelance editing services cost about 0.001 - 0.002 cents per word. So the total cost of a professional freelancer editing my novel? about 2,000 dollars. To think that I could pay out 2,000 dollars and end up with something like Twilight makes my blood run cold (pun intentional). I'll forgive you for making mistakes. I won't forgive your editor for letting them slip through. In my case, I get to be both writer and editor. While most writers would jump at the chance, I realize that no, this isn't necessarily a good thing. I've had a few dedicated beta readers, and I've had people tell me that while they didn't finish it, they liked it. So only time will tell, but I have plenty of forgiveness for authors who make mistakes and none for editors, who charge 2,000 dollars for their services, who let them slip through.

Spell checker and grammar checker get a lot of flak from modern grammarians and English professionals. Really, they're useful tools. You just have to know your grammar and your English really, really well to make use of them (which is likely why they get a lot of flak; too many people rely on them and nothing else). It also helps to know the difference between prescriptive and descriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar is grammar as it should be; that is, the grammar your English teacher beat into your skull; don't use contractions, 'ain't' isn't a word, don't split the infinitive (i.e, "to boldly go", "to quickly run", "to sadly say"), and all the other archaic laws of the English Language. The Grammar Nazi subscribes to the prescriptive view of grammar. On the other hand, you have the descriptive view of grammar; while prescriptive is as it should be, descriptive is as it is. Individuals who study the descriptive school of grammar attempt to understand why people use words like they do. 'Ain't' is a word, because it's used in several dialects and is the contraction of "am" and "not" (some adherents of prescriptive grammar will hold this to, but only to an extent: "I ain't [I am not]" is proper. "You ain't [You am not]" is not). Descriptive grammar makes room for dialects, where prescriptive grammar does not. Some adherents to descriptive grammar, such as myself, hold that there is no way to split an infinitive in English verbs*: "to" is not part of the word and thus, not part of the infinitive; your infinitive is "run" not "to run". Those who follow prescriptive grammar would differ. Both have their purposes; when you're writing a formal scientific paper, or a business letter, one uses prescriptive grammar, because it makes things seem more professional. It also makes it read easier, because the minute you start including idioms and local color in your writing, you lose people not from your local. Editing your book is all about finding and striking a balance between prescriptive and descriptive grammar usage. As a general rule, prescriptive is best for narrative description while descriptive is best for dialogue, but several authors have made their way in the past using their own voice as they write, and all bets are off with first person narration. It's a tricky thing.

Sometimes, things that read really smoothly the first few times don't the third. This is why it's important to read it a few times. Your fingers are not perfect on the keyboard; a big one that I noticed for myself was "form" where I intended "from". Grammar checker is not going to find this (however, CTRL+F and typing in "form" will, but that requires a lot of reading to do it). I notice noticed myself repeating things that didn't even matter; space filling phrases. I don't know how common those are, but repetition is a problem that I notice with students that I work with, too. Grammar checker is good for calling attention to things like "it's" and "its"; even if you are using them right, it's good to have something there to call your attention to them just so you double check.

Said is not a dirty word. Really folks, it's not. Good dialogue should stand on its own. This is a nasty mistake made by a lot of "new" authors (I really shouldn't say "new" because I'm technically a "new" author, even though I've been writing since I was 14, better than 12 years now). What matters with dialogue is not what comes after it, but what's between the quotation marks. You're writing a book, not stage directions for a play. Let the reader decide what tone the character said what in. And believe it or not, but said bookisms slip in really easily. You have to be vigilant and catch them. The same is true for descriptions; how much time to you spend describing something, and bogging the story down? I don't like Tolkien because there's a lot of unnecessary description in his books that takes the story nowhere (although, to be fair, that's the least of the crimes I can level against those horrid books; classism and aristocracy worship are just two of the biggest sins therein). Adverbs and adjectives should be used carefully. I've seen authors argue that they aren't necessary at all, and while I don't agree with that, I do agree that they can be over used. So what is adjective and adverb abuse? It's subjective; some readers love description. Others don't. You and you alone know if you have an problem with adjectives and adverbs, but if you find yourself unable to write a sentence without one, then maybe it's time to admit you have a problem. If you find yourself using multiple pieces of punctuation in the same sentence, it's time to cut off that sentence and make it into two or three sentences. Dashes are nice. Don't overuse them; you're not Emily Dickenson and it makes the page really hard to read.

Totally separate from grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word use: self-publishing means covering all aspects of the book, which includes cover design. If you want to have a good cover, you have to have a good idea of graphic design. This means knowing the basics of color theory. For instance, my novel, the Blue Pimpernel features a blue pimpernel flower on the cover. I designed it in Adobe Photoshop CS4, and when I made it, I was able to achieve a few neat effect by using posterize, linear burn, and a gradient that faded from a very vibrate blue (Red 0/Green 0/Blue 255 on the sRGB [standard Red/Green/Blue] gamut) to black. So I was happy with it; all the blue on the cover was done with B255 or B250, so the cover was a very blue cover. It came back, having printed off, a rather vibrant violet/reddish purple color in some spots and gray in others. This confused me. At first, I thought it was because there was to much red in the cover, so I went in and pulled some of the red out. Then, when I printed it again on the school printers, the color was a slate-like blue gray. I decided to redesign the cover, thinking I did something wrong. I still got the slate-like blue gray. I printed off the first cover (unadulterated; the one that came back to me as violet/reddish-purple in some spots and gray in others) and that likewise ran off in that slate-like blue gray. By this point, I'm all confused. So I emailed them asking what the deal was and why my blue came back gray and purple. Turns out this is an extremely common problem when printing. See, I'd done my cover in RGB. RGB is web colors; as far as the color spectrum goes, one gets a broader selection of colors with wRGB and sRGB. Which is why monitors display sRGB and why it's the default for most pictures. But as it turns out, printers don't use RGB. When you send something to print, it undergoes a conversion process to a different selection of colors - and a much narrower selection - called CMYK. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. With RGB, colors are achieved by mixing red, green, or blue. With CMYK, colors are achieved by mixing cyan, magenta, yellow or black. Having a larger number of colors does not mean you get more colors with CMYK. In fact, because of the way the colors cyan and magenta are achieved, you get a much, much smaller range of colors with CMYK. Here's a comparison; notice how much smaller the CMYK gamut is than the RGB or even the Pantone gamuts. See how CMYK mimics blues? CMYK has a very narrow selection of blues that one can pick from (although it does really well with reds and greens). Here's what was happening: when I selected my color, B255, it was well outside of the CMYK gamut. So when I sent it to print off, the printer would convert it to the closest color it could find. The proper way to mimic R0/G0/B255 in CMYK is what follows: C100%, M100%, Y0%, K0%. It displays bright blue on a RGB monitor, unless you're in a CMYK work space, where it is a muted gray-blue. Thus, the printers a Lulu ran it off as C100% and M100%; making the cover purple, while the printers at the college, which aren't as good as the printers at Lulu, ran it off as it appeared on the screen in CMYK; a slate gray-blue. To further complicate matters, the linear burn feature does not work well when inside of a CMYK workspace. So I had to start from scratch with the cover, rebuilding it in CMYK and trying to find a way to mimic an effect similar to the linear burn.

So that's where I'm at right now, and that's another reason why I've been really busy lately. However, release date is coming up soon. Keep an eye on this space for future developments.

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