Sunday, September 02, 2007

Daphne's Rap on the Knuckles

Daphne Lee writes in Starmag about last weekend's Hi-Tea for Authors, and points out:
One huge stumbling block Malaysian writers face, in my opinion, is the inability to take criticism. I believe that it’s impossible to improve if you refuse to consider your weak points. I do think it’s important to believe in what you do, and in your style, your own voice and your stories, but it’s imperative to listen to others’ opinion of your work and take into consideration their point of view.

I know local writers who feel that a bad book review shows lack of support, but I feel that all writers can learn from an honest review, good or bad, but especially one that clearly points out why the reviewer is less than thrilled with the book. After all, there is always room for improvement and if one receives nothing but praise, how can one know which areas need work?

I agree. She adds the following horror story:

A self-published writer recently e-mailed the manuscript of her second novel to me, implying that it was ready for print. I found countless mistakes but when I asked her if she was going to get it edited or at least proofread, she replied, “I am satisfied with everything. From the characters to the setting to the words used ... right down to the punctuation marks.”

The book has been published, complete with all the mistakes that I spotted in the manuscripts. It’s been suggested that the writer doesn’t realise the mistakes are actually mistakes.

What is really worrying, though, is that someone said to me that the mistakes might not matter since the book would probably be read by teenagers.

(I wonder if this was the same book that so horrified my friend!)

Daphne picks up a quote from me about demanding your money back from the bookshop if you find more than five mistakes! I was sort of joking, but I wonder what would happen if everyone did that??

A couple of other interesting posts on the MPH event: Antares
reflects on Datuk Ng's book guild proposal, and my favourite squid, BP, enjoys the chicken mayo sandwiches.

15 comments:

John Ling said...

An American author friend of mine had this to say:

Praise is like chocolate--we love to eat it up, but it isn't good for us. Being told something is good doesn't help you get better. We're writers. We write because we feel we have a pretty good mastery of the language and a lot of ideas to share. To seek praise for a well turned sentence, while ego inflating, is not going to bring us any closer to our goal. That goal, of course, is publication.

There is ALWAYS something that can be fixed, edited, or told in a better way. To paraphrase Hemingway, writing is never completed, it is simply due. When asking for opinions, you want to know what didn't work, what needs to be fixed, how it can be made stronger. Ask questions and demand details. A simple critique of "It sucks" is no more help than, "It was great." Find out why the reader didn't like something. Then get an opinion from someone else, and question them on the point of contention. If most of the people who read a piece tell you to change it, change it. They're right.

Chet said...

Sharon - your link for Antares' post goes to Daphne's column in The Star. Or did you mean to link to his post on his blog?

And yes, I think the book Daphne mentions is the same one that horrified your friend.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks chet.

you might be right. you might be wrong. lipses is sealed.

Antares said...

The last book review I wrote was in January 2002. I was pecked nearly to death by a flock of angry hens for that - but, happily, the wounded egos healed fast. Sadly, though, some toes I trod on more than a decade ago seem to be still throbbing. Such is the reviewer's lot in Malaysia. Hardly any money in it: back in the mid-1980s when the NST had two full pages dedicated to the arts under Kee Thuan Chye's editorship freelancers were paid as much as RM500 (and money was worth about 5 times more then); these days we're lucky to get half that, and only after a 3-month wait. Little glory in it, only a trail of pissed-off friends. But, even so, I'd do it again - if only as a contribution to the arts - but there are few takers, since newspapers these days are more interested in "advertorials." In effect, if you say nice things about Bolehland, the National Library might buy 5,000 copies off you. All it takes is one pun in poor taste about the Malaise - and you get a pack of Umno hyenas after your blood. Talk about Catch-22.

Greenbottle said...

why don't somebody walk the talk and just name "that" book here.

bibliobibuli said...

freelancers were paid as much as RM500 bloody hell! what on earth has happened since?

greenbottle - it's more effective in the abstract since everyone is buys checking their grammar guiltily! and since it is such a widespread bugbear (i could give you a whole list of books with grammatical booboos) it might makes everyone be a bit more careful of their proofreading. (plus i haven't a clue which book daphne is referring to and honestly don't want to know either)

bibliobibuli said...

There is ALWAYS something that can be fixed, edited, or told in a better way. sure. but please fix the grammar before the book goes to print. readers don't deserve a book with errors littering the pages. and that is what i'm talking about. the basic stuff. the nuts and bolts stuff. the stuff that will mean your (general pronoun of course) work is palatable for an international audience.

it isn't good enough to say we can get it right in the second edition.

John Ling said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Ling said...

Sharon, I too received the same manuscript that Daphne mentioned. In the opening sentence itself, there was already a error.

The author, though, defended this as a stylistic choice.

bibliobibuli said...

oh my goodness, john. that is truly a horror story!

Anonymous said...

Any suggestions on how to get through to writers like these? They don't even admit that they have grammar problems.

Anonymous said...

I just found an error on Kite Runner! gasp! On page 215, instead of "his head tilted a little towards the sun" it was titled. Hmmm....somebody didn't do a good job there...

bibliobibuli said...

there are typos in a lot of published books. was horrified at the first edition of julian barnes "arthur and george"

dunno how to get through to writers ... maybe it's a lost cause?

Antares said...

Sharon, about freelance payments in the mid-1980s: I said "up to RM500" - it was more usual to be paid RM400 per theatre review (which, in those days, sometimes exceeded 1,500 words!) What happened, you ask. Assuming your question wasn't merely rhetorical, I'd say Operation Lallang (which linked dissent with arts practitioners and writers), followed by the 1997 forex fiasco, which put more power in the hands of corporate accountants.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks antares. that was a decent rate and it was 20 years ago!!! didn't realise that things had changed so much