A recent article from “The Guardian” estimates that those who would like to successfully self-publish a novel should expect to spend about $6,000 of their own money to cover everything from the ISBN number to a few paid reviews to generate publicity. But a whopping $4,000 of that total is earmarked for professional editing–a process which involves not just grammar clean up and spell check, but serious analysis of the story and its structural shortcomings.
I know there are quite a number of bloggers who have posted chapters and short stories for the public to enjoy. While many of these writers claim to welcome feedback, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of those who respond post comments that are broad and pleasant, but vague and non-specific: “Loved the story” or “This made me smile.” For the most part, people are very kind and tend to leave praise rather than criticism, a welcome respite from the trolls who reside in the comments section of other webpages. But it also feels like a missed opportunity–a chance for a writer to get some real feedback (especially if he or she hasn’t got an extra $4,000 lying around in a drawer somewhere).
Sometimes I’ll read a chapter on someone’s blog and think to myself “The dialogue here is a bit cliché ” or “I wish the writer would have described this in more detail.” But I don’t post anything because I don’t want to insult the writer and I’m not certain whether “comments welcome” means “suggestions, please” or simply “enjoy this in a judgment-free zone.” I actually saw one blogger who got into a heated exchange with one of his readers who had criticized the grammar of the piece, an experience which definitely made me want to keep my opinions to myself.
Still, it seems as though if you are brave enough to post your writing for the world to see, you ought to be able to summon a little extra courage to stomach a few disappointing comments like “This character didn’t seem real to me” or “I didn’t like the ending.” Such words would undoubtedly sting, but if enough people are saying it, it could point to a problem that can only be fixed by serious revision. It’s also advice that comes free of charge–better to hear it early and fix the problem, than spend $4,000 to hear the same thing from a pro.
I suspect that many people are just too nice to point out the flaws in a story and want to offer encouragement and support. I know all too well that undeserved flattery doesn’t help a writer grow–it stunts him or her into complacency. I’d love to see a comments form with two boxes, almost like a writer’s workshop. Tell me what works…then tell me what doesn’t.