“It’s good enough”

August 10, 2009

Piggybacking on my grammar lament, I thought I’d share this rancid idea of “good enough” and how it looks from my perspective. I’m looking for the very best, and I have high expectations of what is acceptable. I don’t have the time to yank out my crystal ball and decide whether the person querying is undereducated or apathetic. I reject and move on.

But at the end of the day, I reflect on what I see as a downturn in the desire of doing one’s best. “Good enough” is an attitude that permeates everything we do, and I, as a publisher, have to consider the risks of working with someone who displays this attitude.

“You expect too much!”
I see “expectation” as the direct counterpunch to “good enough.” It’s the fulcrum between “good enough” and “excellence.” I’ve received blowback from angry authors who insisted I had unrealistic expectations. This implies they know more about my business than I do, which isn’t the best way to make friends and influence others. I only allow the beagle this indiscretion because she’s a great bartender.

Those who sing the weeping dirge of unfairness don’t have a firm understanding as to what is expected of them.  For instance, I had a prof back in college who was incredibly tough. He demanded our very best from our written papers and was a bear of a grader. I’ll tell you what; thirty years later, I still remember the guy because I worked my lower forty off to meet my prof’s expectations. Excelling meant a higher GPA,  which would benefit me in the long run. “Good enough” didn’t cut it with this guy. And you know what? That A I pulled off in his class felt pretty darned good because I’d worked harder than I’d ever worked before.  Because I’d worked so hard, he asked me if I wanted to aid for him the following quarter. Oh heck yah.

Well guess what? So goes it for the publishing industry. If I see an author whose manuscript is sloppy, I have to ask myself if this is someone I want to work with. The only place in publishing where “good enough” is the high bar is vanity and POD presses. The talented authors who published with them exceeded the high bar.  A pity in my book, but that’s a whole other post.

How Do You Present Yourself To Me?
If you have visions of bookstore placement and author events dancing in your head, then, just like my college professor, “good enough” also doesn’t cut it. And in order to know whether you’re good enough, you have to understand what is expected of you.

I worry about the “good enough” author because I have to consider his promotional efforts. Will he do a couple book signings and walk away? And what about editing? Will he balk at further rewrites and rebuff my editor, saying it’s “good enough,” or will he knuckle down and keep working to make it excellent?

Will the author learn along the way? Being published is a huge education, and the “good enough-ers” are all too happy to sit back and watch from the sidelines rather than jump in with both feet and arms and become part of the process.

These are just a few of the thoughts and concerns rolling through my mind when I consider an author. And those thoughts begin when I read and judge the quality of the manuscript. I need authors for whom the idea of “good enough” pertains only to parallel parking.

I urge authors to look in the mirror and decide whether the work they submit accurately represents who they are and what they’re capable of doing. If the grammar bites and the syntax is choppy, then authors must understand this will be exposed under the hot glare of the editor’s red pen.

Anyone who believes “good enough” will segue into a successful career, think again. As I’ve said in the past, the manner in which you present yourself will make or break your future. Make sure that the quality of your output matches the expectations of those you query.


Grammarians of the world – untie!

August 5, 2009

Ok, make that “unite.” Today’s boggle comes after reading five submissions – all were grammatical disasters. Syntax errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation disasters, subject/verb displacement, possessive confusion, indefinite article misuse – these all serve to make me want to drown my sorrows in the beagle’s margaritas.

My distress is two-fold. The more immediate of my suffering centers on why an author would submit such a disaster in the first place. Do they not know or care that their knowledge of English would fit on the back of matchbook cover? My rhetoric isn’t meant to be insulting, but one of genuine shock. One of the most important writer’s tools is understanding grammar, so it blows out my space/time continuum to see sentences like this:

The group of drunk beagles were a sight to behold.

The proper way to write this is:

The group of drunk beagles was a sight to behold.

“Group” is the subject of the verb “was.” Many writers feel the first sentence is right because they’re looking at the plural “beagles.” Since it’s closest to the verb “was,” the assumption is that “drunk beagles” is the subject. It isn’t.

Grammar is a writer’s tool. It’s like a plumber coming to your house without his toolbox. You’d be tippy tapping your foot saying, “time is money, dude, and you’re wasting mine because you didn’t come prepared.” Guess what? A manuscript that logs a Force 5 on the Grammar-Disaster Scale is a waste of any editor or agent’s time as well because the author didn’t come prepared. Whether it’s apathy or ignorance, it’s an instant rejection because I don’t have the time to teach writers grammar. It’s assumed writers know the tools of their trade.

And this leads me to the second part of my misery: Apathy

If I had a dime for every time I heard a writer say, “I don’t need to worry about grammar; my editor will clean it up,” I’d be able to fire the beagle and hire a real secretary. For starters, this statement implies the writer – I refuse to call them “authors” – is too self-absorbed to learn his trade. And he couldn’t be more wrong. The only known cure for a grammatical disaster is a rejection letter. Period. Any writer who lives under this misconception will be perennially unpublished. Or incredibly lucky.

Moreover, I don’t understand this kind of thinking. Since when did it become acceptable to do anything less than your best? When did “good enough” replace personal pride and the satisfaction of doing a job well? This downturn in societal indifference leads to soggy results. “Hey, who cares if I can’t conjugate a verb or spell Mississippi?” Who cares? Well, I do, for one. But YOU should care. Do you want to be seen as someone who must rely on others to fix your work because you don’t care enough to be self-sufficient? What happened to personal responsibility?

If you know your Grammar ‘O Meter barely registers a single ping, then you need to spit and polish your education. Stop your writing and tend to the most important skill you’ll ever learn. If you can’t communicate effectively, how on earth do you expect to write an effective story, or be taken seriously? We aren’t going to clean up your mess for you. I give you my personal guar-an-tee on that. Writing with confidence is like drinking the perfect chocolate martini,  skiing the perfect mountain, or writing a satisfying scene. It’s knowing that you worked hard to attain a gift that will aid in your success.

After all, anyone can be the plumber who forgot his tools.


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