Posts Tagged authorship
I went away for two weeks to prepare for/attend a cousin’s wedding and when I returned, I found my access to all things WP blocked. Hence, my monthlong absence. Since this is not the first time it happened to me, I didn’t go into immediate panic-mode like I did last November.
You see, every once in a while, the Bangladesh government likes to shake things up by blocking server access to various blogging and social media sites in a bid to “combat” cyber terrorism. This is because Bangladeshis really enjoy our right to the freedom of expression and often use social media/blogging as means of venting frustrations towards various stakeholders in our everyday lives and the world in general, which, of course, also includes the government itself. The government attacks the platforms randomly to monitor activity. What they really mean is, “Hey! You’re using your freedom of speech, kudos to you. But just remember to be cautious how you use it because, you know, words can hurt.” Wish our government wasn’t such a pansy about taking criticism but there you have it.
Of course, this Summer, I have been very cool about it but, last winter, I was pissed. There was a whole lot of name-calling involved and contacting various bodies of government to tell them to do their jobs professionally. Finally, the WP Support Center helped me out by contacting the communications board in BD to see what was really going on and after a week or so, all road were clear to go. I didn’t go into all that this time. In fact, the only time I felt a niggle of frustration was when I received a notification about likes or comments or other activities on my site that I could not fully access to review and approve or reciprocate fellow bloggers with my reading what was happening in their part of the blogosphere.
Instead, I took this opportunity to catch up on my reading (just crossed 75% of my Goodreads Reading Challenge even though I had a late start this year), chill with cousins and the new cousin–in-law (a really sweet girl), buy a new laptop since my old one had been running without a battery for the last six months (the new laptop is a smoothy when it comes to typing, btw, and so far near perfect), get my hair colored burgundy with flaming red streaks (a bit of a shock for my loved ones but I think I’m rocking it), re-run Roswell (why did they cancel that show after only three seasons), and really take some vital decisions on continuing my WEDNESDAY REFLECTONS column (even though I didn’t get much writing done the month).
Which brings me to my very critical dilemma: I’m an author aspiring to become a well-revered author. Is it really fair for me to review the works of fellow authors, especially that of contemporary writers? I mean, I try my best to remain impartial in my reviews of books but ever since I have taken on novel writing full time, these fiction writing courses, and etc., I have become really critical of every nittygritty aspect of creative writing. While it has made my reading experience richer and more profound, it has also dampened the sheer joy of curling up with a good story for entertainment’s sake. It has made me slower at reading, too, and I was already perusing at snail pace compared to, say, my best friend. But this has made me think that while I want all writers to do well out of a spirit of fellowship, I also tend to nitpick more often, searching for plot holes and believability, and that I think shows up on my reviews at time.
At the same time, I’m also conscious of the fact that when I’m inspired by a book or it really manages to annoy me, prompting me to write the review, it is actually building me up as a writer too. I am learning what I should work on and what to avoid when drafting and editing my own manuscripts. So with all these pros and cons of reading like a writer, I have been really in a bind as to how to continue with my WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS, which I write for my “Works of Others” blog category. Finally, this is what I decided:
I can’t stop reviewing novels. I mean, books are my life and now, hopefully, on its way to become my life’s work. I love learning from them whether they are good, bad or ugly. But what I will do is cut down on the number of works written by current authors because… even the best are still learning every day and at this stage, I have yet to prove my worth so it is really not fair of me to judge my contemporaries. To recompense on the fewer book reviews, I will increase on critiquing fictions created in other mediums such as the silver screen or television, and also share my learnings from pure classics. Because dead authors can’t come to call me out for a duel at dawn, right?
I’m quite decided on this. But, of course, I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t second-guess myself. So I’m throwing this out to you guys:
Is this a good decision? Should authors be free to critique and review the works of fellow authors? Let me know what you think in the comment section 🙂
Headshot of my newly dyed burgundy hair with flaming red streaks !
I’m updating this post with my photo only because some of you requested. I’m terrible at taking selfies and far too self-conscious to ask someone else to take my photo. Generally, not a very gracious subject, much to the consternation of my loved ones. So pardon me but this was the best I could cough up (reason for the need to scroll down).
I did, however, do a bit of editing like adding a filter before uploading it 🙂
When writing fiction with the intention of reaping glory or sale, it is very important not to become overly simplistic about one’s passion for the act of writing. So you have a great story to tell, so it’s all you can think about, so the high will not be tamped until you have flushed the words onto some surface for later reading. But if you want others to feel even nearly as passionately about your work as you do, it is important to keep your eye on some of these following rules:
- Write a story that your audience wants to read not just the one you want to tell. A little compromise can take you a long way. You have built up your writing voice by reading up on a particular genre and know what you enjoy. Well, since the books you are reading sell, there are others with similar needs as yours. Invest in a little research to see what this audience is actually looking for when they pick up the same books as you do instead of relying on guesswork, imagining that your customers are just more of you. Hard data is a trouble worth the results they will get you.
- Be honest about what you are writing. I know, it seems to contradict the previous rule, because if you are writing to market to an audience, then how are you also writing the truth? Simple, if you don’t believe in it, don’t dish it. Writing exists on a truth-enhancement continuum. Find your place on this spectrum and go with it. One way to do this is by drafting your ideas, outlines, cluster passages/chapters before going into the research part. You have gotten the passionate bits recorded so now you may calm down and employ some cool calculation. Remember, if fiction writing was not a professional career, it wouldn’t have a whole gamut of systematic rules to getting published.
- Hit the nail with a strong opening. When readers are shopping for new books, whether at a brick-and-mortar or at a dot-com, a lot of them will flip the first few pages to see if they can connect with the content. This means they will go through the first chapter, poem, or what have you. Most online book retails also provide a “Look Inside” or similar preview tools to entice shoppers. Your opening scene can be a powerful marketing tool and you should make the most of it. I posted a blog on creating great First Impressions previously that you may wish to check out 🙂
- Add viable conflict. Interestingly, this is a point that requires mentioning because a lot of novel (as in, new) writers forget while in the throes of writing that even though the conflict must tempt the readers to turn pages, it must also match your character and plot personality. It’s all good when James Bond is flying through Bangkok in an airborne tuk-tuk but will this the way the good reverend would travel to deliver his Sunday sermons?
- Length does matter so it’s best not to prolong the conflict unnecessarily. Despite the fact that I hate when a good book comes to an end, I can appreciate that all good things must be enjoyed in moderation. Adding conflict after conflict, dishy scenes after dishy scenes might be enjoyable to you but will probably diminish the value of your book. When outlining your story, make sure you always keep the scenes and chapters you add remain true to why you are telling that particular story. Nip anything irrelevant when you edit. This is especially true with today’s readers who have endless TBRs to get to.
- Don’t info dump on your readers. Again, just because you put in all that effort into your research, doesn’t mean you keep looking for ways to pass on all that you learned while writing. The entire chronicles of Queen Mary’s rivalry with Queen Elizabeth I is probably irrelevant in a historical romance novel about a lowly girl marrying a duke just because the setting is 16th century England.
- Finally, write a good blurb. No one knows the story better than you – yet, most authors have a difficult time arranging a summary that emotively allures readers to their novels while not giving away the end. Authors, by nature, tend to bounce back and forth between a state of self-importance and diffidence. Even before reading the first chapter, your audience will judge you by the synopsis on the back of your book jacket. It doesn’t matter how epic your story is, before the word-of-mouth goes viral, you will have to rely on those first few readers. And unless you are able to convince them with a blaring announcement selling them why your story is worth spending a day of their life on, your book will probably languish on their shelves for eternity. When writing the blurb, put yourself in a book reviewer’s shoes and make sure you remember to add that very valuable conflict that makes the story important. It took me only about a hundred try to get my blurb for Bad Daughter to satisfy me, and let me tell you, it looks a lot different from the original blurb I had posted on Amazon. It currently reads like this:
What would you do if you were taught that the price of safety is silence?
At the age of six years, Obaira Osman was sexually abused by her uncle, the memory of which she manages to keep buried for a decade. At sixteen, she is a dedicated daughter, loving sister, and an ideal student. When she wins a national essay writing competition and finds herself wooed by the most handsome and intelligent boy in school, life seems like it couldn’t get any better – even if cultural constraints demand she keeps her love affair a secret. However, after a planned rendezvous, which should have been a simple rite of passage, goes awry, Obaira’s memory of a terrifying past comes crashing around her and she realizes she has been far from being the perfect daughter. Her response is to shackle herself to the rules and regulations of her home environment in order to reclaim the safety she once knew to be true.
What if you one day realized that the cost of silence is freedom?
Over the next two decades, she finds herself atoning for the burden of shame that is her legacy. She attempts to earn back her parents’ faith even while trying to find peace by lending a voice to women who have been crushed by similar forms of abuse – much to her conservative parents’ chagrin. But she is kinder to the women she helps than to herself, as she remains unwilling to accept a second chance when fate takes her across the world to the doorstep of the man who just may be the one to emancipate her tortured soul.
I’m sure there are about a thousand other rules to keep on the lookout when writing fictions to sell, but these seem to be some common mistakes authors make. I know, I am guilty of at least half of them 😐
Last week, in the 17th installation of my Writing Chronicles, I discussed the various ways to “Punish Your Protagonist“. I thought this week, I would make up for it by talking about how to Save the First Chapter.
Wherever you look, literary agents and editors impart a few golden rules: research the agent/editor before you submit your query, provide an economic-yet-comprehensive synopsis of your story in the cover letter, and make sure your manuscript is ready when you send in those first three chapters. In other words, try not to waste this rare opportunity to be read by a professional. Your book’s opening will decide if your story gets picked or tossed.
Getting the first chapter wrong is a piece of cake. We’re writers – an absentminded-yet-observant breed riddled with insecurities throughout our creative process and beyond. Even when we get the story right, we know it could have been better. It can always be better. But with a few simple precautions, that first chapter can be GOOD. What is better than good?
Here’s my two-cents’ worth to a workable first chapter: Read the rest of this entry »
My weeklong departure from writing gave me time to stop and reflect my goals for producing fictions. While visiting my Grandma’s, I took with me books and TV movies as a fallback plan if village-trotting no longer suited me. It suited me fine but I still found time to finish one novel and two sets of TV movies. They provided good points of activity and discussion with my cousin-sisters.
Living amid rural grace, I felt watching the BBC adaptation of Flora Thompson’s trilogy Lark Rise to Candleford and Hallmark Channel’s adaptation of Jannette Oke’s Love Comes Softly series would be fitting. Both were good choices but I think I was more swept away by Thompson’s work. I had read Love Comes Softly as a kid and, coming by the movies was a nostalgic experience. However, as my cousins and I worked our way through Lark Rise to Candleford, it dawned on me that writers whose work I have come to most revere all have produced so few books. Of course, I have contemporary authors on top of my list who have produced over two dozen novels each in nearly half as many years, but the works I believe to be truly timeless were written by authors who had very few books to pen. It got me thinking, was it the age-old trade-off between quantity and quality? Read the rest of this entry »
When getting into the process of writing a book, I think all of us worry at some point what if we are throwing pebbles into a bottomless abyss. This is not taking into account that about 80% of the people in our lives thinks we are crazy to pursue such an endeavor. What matters is that we are brave enough to chase after our dreams. We believe in our potentials as writers and therefore guard the manuscripts stingily. Not allowing anyone to read them even for the purpose of receiving feedback until “they are ready”. Only showing the finished works to a handful of very trusted friends, hopefully, true enough not to evade giving their honest opinions but kind enough to word their criticisms constructively.
But if we really wish to be published, at some point, we must send out copies of our manuscripts to strangers. These maybe professional beta readers, an agent to gain representation or even directly the publishers themselves. They’re now out there, available for abuse, ridicule and rejection. But we take the bold steps because we loved working on them, and which parent has not wanted to show off their baby’s accomplishments at some point? We hope that someone will see the value of our effort, believe that we are the next best thing to happen to the publishing industry. A publisher will kiss their lucky star that they got a hold of our manuscripts before someone else picked them up. We are prepared to weather what J.K. Rowling went through – even if our work does not become a billion dollar global franchise.
But what if our work is the next best-seller and someone wants to pilfer it? No, we are not so naïve that we did not ever consider the possibility. Yet, we take a chance on fate because with fear, we can never get ahead. Our work deserves to be read and therefore we test our luck. However, sometimes luck does not favor us. I was reminded of this when I read a post by a fellow blogger earlier this weekend. Jarring, the experience was – to be shown again that integrity is one of the rarest commodities in any industry.
For those of you who have been following my blog already know that after years of dabbling I only recently took up writing full-time. While preoccupation with my career was the primary reason, another reason was wondering if I would manage to get my manuscript ever picked up. I am sitting in Bangladesh writing fiction based on American characters for primarily a Western audience – what are the possibilities of finding representation and a publisher willing to take the hassle of working with me, right? And I harbor all of those hang-ups on how easy it would be for someone to steal my work once I send out my manuscripts overseas or for people to swindle me out of a worthy contract since it would be so challenging for me to take it to court. This aside from the apparent 30% withdrawal income tax I would have to pay the US government for being a foreign payee! But I somehow managed to convince myself that no, God willing, I will only find decent people down the road and I will get published and people will love my romance novels…
Then I read this blog and all those fears just came back. Because I know what it feels like to have my work stolen, to see someone else’s name on the cover of my writing. Soon after I finished my Bachelor’s, I was invited by the Head of Economics Department at my university to discuss the possibility of working on a research article for a global forum. I was one of the top students of my cohort, a Summa Cum Laude in fact, and all of my professors at one point or another had approached me to consider joining the faculty once my MBA was also completed, and if I do become a faculty member, to join their respective department. I imagined the meeting with my Economics professor would be of similar nature.
When I got to his office, however, he had a more concrete proposal. He asked if I wanted to collaborate on a research paper with one of his university alumni, a prominent businessman, who will be visiting Switzerland to share a paper at an international development conference. My professor told me, whether I wish to pursue collegiate teaching or receive a good scholarship for further studies, having research articles published in international journals would add unparalleled value to my resume. I jumped at the opportunity. For months I read up literature, hit public records on trade and commerce in Bangladesh, looked up potential industries that may become the next frontier for foreign direct investments in our labor intensive country, wrote and polished the paper. I e-mailed the draft to my professor and he was effusive with his praise for my effort, forwarding the work to his friend for review while keeping me in CC. I didn’t hear anything for over a month and asked my professor if his friend did not like it. My professor apologized for his lack of attention to the matter and then reached out to his friend. Only to find out the paper had already been delivered and the friend had not had enough time to give a feedback before he traveled to Switzerland and back.
My professor then broke me the news that his friend had also delivered the paper under his sole authorship and it was on its way to being published by the forum as such. As I sat there in his office, my professor could not meet my gaze while he apologized, telling me he had never expected his friend would stoop to such poaching. All I could ask was if his friend made changes to the paper, adding his own materials. No, he had not. So it was not a collaboration because I worked on the paper all on my own; he just corresponded its content to the audience? My professor was in an awkward position and reluctantly informed me his rich powerful businessman friend wished to compensate me for “a job well done”, as though I was working on hire. My professor advised me to take the compensation since contesting it in court in Bangladesh against the director of a chamber of commerce no less would be futile.
Naïve as I was, I wanted to contest it still. My professor gave me the address to reach him and offered to go with me but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it so I released him from the obligation. I did take a friend with me though when I went to visit Big Businessman. My friend was already working as a researcher with the local branch of an internationally renowned development agency and maybe I had hoped his presence would shame the Big Businessman into ensuring my name gets on the paper before it is actually in print. But thieves are without shame, aren’t they? I was given an envelope full of cash and that too without apology. He completely avoided acknowledging what he had done, his smile jaunty throughout the time we stayed in his office. Everyone loved my paper at the conference. Isn’t it great that I could put together such a contribution to our nation’s economics in such a short time?
I was so young and it took every cell in my body to hold back the tears as I came to the realization that I can never win against such a callous individual. Beside me, my friend’s head hung low instead of the Big Businessman seating across the giant executive desk that had done its job in making me feel dwarfed. My friend felt more shame at the actions of his fellow mankind than the perpetrator. We had been served tea and biscuits but I don’t remember taking anything. Eventually, I said a polite goodbye and the man showed us out very cordially all the way to the gate of the building. Maybe he was afraid we would create a scene once outside his office. My friend hailed a cab, we got in, and only then did I cry. It was such a violation. I remember blabbering that no one else should ever have to suffer it. A bit dramatic it seems now but I think that was one of the few times in my life I cried in front of anyone outside my immediate family.
We went back to my home, where my friend gave me the envelope. He had picked it up for me, figuring I should get something out of the ordeal. It was such a vile sight, I told him to give it away to charity. Then I showed him the e-mail containing the attachment of the article, as though I still needed to validate that it was my work. It was only then that I realized that the draft I sent was without any citations of the facts and figures I incorporated, and everyone knows a research paper without source information is worth zilch. Does it make the last laugh mine? No. It doesn’t matter that the article was published without the bibliography section. I will never be able to publically claim the paper as mine. Months later, when the paper was published online, I downloaded it with his name as a reminder to never be that naïve again. I have actually gone online almost every year since to see if the article is still up there, as though Big Businessman would miraculously grow a conscience and have it removed. I went back today, in fact, as I typed this post, wondering if I should just hyperlink it here and reveal that person as the farce he is. It makes me mad but I curb it.
But the fact of the matter is that we are still putty to fate. At least, so it appears according to the blog I just read. When I write now, I am subconsciously aware and fearful that the past might repeat itself. Still, I write, whether I make a cent or not, with the possibility of having my work stolen again, only with the vague hope that I will work with people of integrity. Though I would not know how I would handle having another one of my works stolen and published under some other person’s name. I guess we can only cross that bridge if and when we get to it. God forbid.
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