Saturday, January 7, 2012

Do Your Homework: Research, Research, Research!

Today I attended a workshop called Editing/Proofreading: A Do it Yourself Job? presented by a St. Louis editor Mary Ward Menke and hosted by the St. Louis Writers Guild. I learned some great advice about proofreading, the power of a critique partner/beta reader, how to go about finding an editor and many other important editing tips, some of which I will share momentarily. However, the biggest thing I learned today was the importance of doing your homework.
Go out there and do the research. Take the time to learn the ins and outs of your craft. If you don't you will sound like a blundering idiot, and DO NOT make the mistake of thinking people won't notice.
And because its worth repeating I'll say it again - DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
The following are some examples of why it is so important to make sure you research.
Example one: A woman attending the workshop, who is about to self publish her book, and by about to I mean within the next month or so, asks some questions of our speaker, Mary. One question, should I be hiring my own editor, or using the editing services provided by the self publisher? Admittedly, I am no authority on self publishing, but I do know this is something she should have asked when she was first beginning to look into self publishing, not a month or so before she's about to turn over her manuscript to the self publisher. But I guess as the saying goes, better late than never.
This particular woman also said some other things that made me question her knowledge on the topic. She continued to spout one self publishing company, the one she was using, and did not make reference to any other companies out there. Statements to the effect of, x company does this or offers that, were made repeatedly. A clear sign to me that she was first not very knowledgeable about the topic and second had not done her homework. Although this woman in question was very nice, I did not have a favorable impression of her as a writer, and I've never even read a single word she has written.
Example two: Mary tells us about a book that was published in which the main characters of the book traveled to St. Louis in 1946, to see a Browns baseball game. While they were in St. Louis they took a side trip to go up in the arch. Now anyone from St. Louis, or anyone with google skills would quickly find that the arch didn't exist in 1946. Ask yourself, would you want to continue reading a book where you knew a part of the plot was completely inaccurate? Probably not. Would you read any other books published by this author in the future? Again probably not. Had the author done their homework (or their editor for that matter), they could have avoided making a mistake like this, as well as losing possible readers in the future.
Example 3: Immediately following example two, a woman in attendance raised her hand and said that in the Percy Jackson series there is a scene in the St. Louis Arch where Percy fights some monsters at the top of the arch and then punches a hole in it and dives into the Mississippi river. Again if you've been to the arch, or if you've looked it up online, you know that while the Arch is near the river it would not be physically possible to punch a hole in the arch, jump out and land in the river.
Now this example is interesting to me, because I have read the book and did think this scene was cool. But at the time I read it, I also thought it was a bit odd how this scene occurred and was not sure how it was possible unless Percy flew from the hole in the Arch to the river. Now I have a bit of an overactive imagination at times, and for some reason I shrugged it off and kept reading, even though I probably should have stopped. Even more interesting, I attended an author signing with Rick Riordan in St. Louis, and the question was asked where did you get the idea to use the St. Louis Arch in the Percy Jackson series. His answer was that when he was originally telling the stories to his sons, he was trying to use places that they had been so they could relate.
Now putting all this together, here is a man who has seemingly done his homework because he's been to the arch, yet chooses to ignore the facts. Maybe he did this for the sake of fiction or some other reason, yet many many children and adults, still continue to read his stories. This is a huge exception to the rule! Maybe in this case ignorance is bliss because a majority of his reading audience is children who may not know better and do continue to read his stories, but there are still people out there who notice, and those that do, will forever question this authors credibility.
So moral of the story do your homework!
I will end with some advice Mary gave related to editing, that relates directly to doing your research. When looking for an editor, shop around. Price will vary. Most good editors will give you a free sample edit of your first 5 or so pages. This is so you can see if you like the editors style. Not every editor is right for every person. Also know that editors can not and should not be promising you publication. If they are, you should as Mary said, "run screaming in the opposite direction." And lastly if there is something you don't want changed dialect etc. make sure you let your editor know up front. So when looking for an editor, do some research.
In whatever you do in life, whether it be writing or something else entirely, please do your homework. You could save yourself a lot of misery, heartache, and embarrassment. You want people to think of you as the intelligent person you are instead of thinking you're a complete idiot!
**steps off the soap box**

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