Recently I had the opportunity to speak about editing on a discussion panel hosted by Beautiful Trouble Publishing at their third annual “Greet & Eat” event in Austin, Texas. In the audience were several BTP authors and their devoted fans who travel to these events.
It was a room full of lively, talented, and fun women. The time allotted to the panel was short, but I wanted to say something to benefit the mixed audience of authors and readers. So, in addition to the insights and tips I gave about editing in general, I shared the following advice:
“Don’t insult your readers. They are smarter than they think.”
Notice how I didn’t say readers are smarter than “you think.” I said they are smarter than they think. What’s the difference? I didn’t get the chance to talk more on the subject, but I will now.
Your reader may not know the difference between a split infinitive and a split end, but that doesn’t excuse you, as the author, from being lazy and/or sloppy with your writing. Read my earlier [REALITY CHECK] called “When Authors Don’t Try.”
I have various degrees and years of experience when it comes to writing and editing, but I don’t think less of someone who reads my work and doesn’t share my background or education level. Just because someone doesn’t have a string of letters after their name or a piece of paper announcing their highest educational achievement doesn’t mean they lack intelligence. They could be smarter than me too.
Readers know what works for them and what doesn’t, but many don’t know how to articulate their reasoning. This inability can afflict book reviewers and critics, too, because not all reviewers and critics have the same skill. Sometimes the story doesn’t work because the author’s writing may be lacking. On the other hand, Agatha Christie developed a devoted following because she knew what her readers liked, didn’t like, and, formulaic or not, she skilfully wrote what they could comprehend.
Comprehension is an important part of writing because we write in order to communicate with others. If people can’t understand your writing, the problem may be looking at you in the mirror. Start fixing any issues there before looking elsewhere.
Those of you who have studied literature and the writings of those you wish to emulate know that the writing may look terribly simple—on the surface—but when you deconstruct it you find that a lot of planning went into the work. You become astonished by how much depth is found in something that looks so unassuming. They make it look so easy!
To me, it takes great craftsmanship to make something complicated look easy. Take for example science shows on PBS or The Smithsonian Channel. We may not know all the science behind what makes a quasar, but when someone can explain it in simpler terms, we can appreciate it much more.
Try not to get discouraged when you feel yourself getting fed up by what dreck (in your opinion) is being published and gaining popularity. When someone panders to the lowest common denominator, they may earn tons of money, but will they ever be taken seriously? Don’t confuse those hacks with someone like William Shakespeare who wrote plays for the masses but whose work has depth that has been studied and admired for centuries.
Take heart and remember to respect your readers’ intelligence, and don’t write down to them. The ones who “get” you will find you and appreciate you, and the ones who don’t will move on to someone else. I may read and collect comic books, but I still enjoy a good read.
I have a PBS mind in a “reality” TV world.
And I’m sure that I’m not alone.
Got a [REALITY CHECK] about the publishing life to share? If you would like to be a guest on my blog, please friend me on She Writes with a message! :)
©2014. Zetta Brown is an editor who provides editing services through JimandZetta.com. She is the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. If you like this post, then stop by her editing blog Zetta’s Desk.