Compliments that last forever

So I’ve written occasionally about beauty and self-image, but I haven’t said much about how we compliment each other. Have you noticed that most of the time we tend to compliment others on how they look in some way? “You’ve lost weight! Lookin’ good!” “Love that new outfit.” “Nice new hairdo.” “You look pretty today.”

I have to admit, of course I love receiving these kinds of compliments. Yes, I do like feeling that I look good. And I think compliments are pretty much always a good thing. But what happens when we’ve gained weight or we’re having a bad hair day? Are we going to automatically remember the times we were told positive things when we were thinner or fresh from the hairstylist? (and then think poorly about ourselves right now in comparison?) Just something to consider.

I was reminded twice recently just how wonderful it is to be complimented on attributes that will last. One, I spent a morning editing, which is my only paid job. And honestly, it’s not work for which one gets a lot of high-fives. Writing is more visible; editing, though, is basically a way to ensure someone else’s writing either gets noticed or doesn’t get attention in a bad way (“you misspelled my name?!” or “I’m going to sue you for libel!”). So as proud as I am of my editing work, it’s largely thankless and something about which I can only congratulate myself.

But during the course of this busy morning of work, I fixed a mistake, and the writer was appreciative. That writer either brought the important catch to a publishing editor’s attention, or that editor saw it in the notes on the story. Either way, that editor contacted my boss and said how much she appreciated my good work. My boss passed it along to the other editors with whom I work, so we all can know that sometimes, our hard work does get noticed. And bam! I’d gotten appreciation. Actual praise for the work I do regularly. Woot!

The other compliment recently that really meant something to me came from someone I’d never met before. I was doing volunteer work at the Fresno temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We Mormons go to church services on Sundays in our local meetinghouses/chapels/church buildings (we refer to them variously as such). But our temples are extra-special places, where we learn and make covenants with God and then can provide those same opportunities for our ancestors who have passed on. They’re particularly quiet, holy, and sacred, and going there to do work for our ancestors is such a blessing. Early one Saturday morning, I spent an hour there, working in close proximity to a few other women I didn’t know but drinking in the peace that exists there. In the course of our time together, I felt particularly warmed by the kindness of the women who were volunteering there with me. They smiled beatifically (absolutely true!) and were thoughtful and helpful. One told me that she loved how my eyes danced, among a few other observations about how I came across as a person.

Now that was a compliment to remember. Lately, I might have been feeling incredibly stressed and exhausted and worn down by all kinds of things that have been going on in my life, and I might have been feeling bad about my weight (I admit the stress has led me to eat very poorly, a habit I’ve been trying to break but have been not terribly successful in fighting recently). I was wearing no makeup; my hair hadn’t been fixed for the day other than receiving a quick brushing. I wasn’t even wearing anything nice. But this compassionate lady told me that she appreciated my soul, my spirit: who I am inside. And I thought, “You know, it doesn’t matter today how I look. Because who I am is shining out through my eyes and my face. And somebody noticed.” If I stay the kind of person I want to be (well, hopefully, become better), my eyes will always dance. I will always smile genuinely and with warmth and friendliness. Even when I’m 90 and my body looks very different and my face is wrinkled, my eyes and my smile will be the same.

Yes, I like it when people tell me I look pretty. But when someone compliments ME, who I AM, it really sticks with me and warms me from the inside out; it has staying power. If all of us just made more efforts to recognize the best qualities — the forever, enduring ones — of those around us, the world would be a nicer place. And maybe, just maybe, we could be less concerned about how our outer “shellves” look.

Yep, still wary about self-published books

I hate to say this, but as much as I hate the traditional publishing “system” as a writer, I’m mostly grateful for it as a reader. This past month I spent most of my time reading books that were either self-published or had originally been self-published and now had been picked up by a publisher, or the author had started out as a self-published writer.

First, I decided to try out Amanda Hocking. She received a great deal of attention for the many sales she made in self-publishing of her Trylle Trilogy series. The millions she made got the notice of some publishers, and she got picked up by a traditional company. I ended up getting a review copy of the first book in her new Watersong series, Wake, which is her first to be published entirely traditionally. It’s in e-book format as well as hardcover. Everything about it is polished and professional, from the cover to the marketing to the actual writing. I found the story to be compelling and pretty well written. I don’t think it’s going to be my favorite of any YA series out there, but it holds its own among its competitors.

After reading that, I thought it might be time to investigate the older Trylle series, starting with Switched. Now that Hocking has been picked up, the books she’s already self-published have gotten the professional treatment, with nice cover images and some editing. Having not read them before they were edited, I can’t say how much editing they got. Did they just get some good proofreading, or did the stories themselves get some good polishing and reworking to make them better? I don’t know. I suspect they didn’t get as thorough editing as the Watersong books, however, because I did feel they could have used some more changes. I can also say that I didn’t think that the Trylle books were “all that.” Again, they hold their own OK compared to other books in the full YA romance and “paranormal” market, but they’re not standouts, in my opinion. The love story was pretty well done, but I couldn’t get on board with the “triangle;” one character just didn’t get fleshed out well enough for me to be completely behind him. And that was really important. I also just couldn’t get into the premise of the story enough for me to really like it; the idea of these “beautiful trolls” having little communities and “kingdoms” hidden among humans was fine, sure, but I just didn’t care what happened to them. Hocking kind of resolved that for me by the end of the series, but a reader shouldn’t have to wait till the middle of the third book to “get into” the premise. That was a major strike against the books, I thought.

So I am glad that Hocking got picked up by a major publisher, because she has talent enough to produce books that will sell well in the YA market, and she definitely benefits from good editing.

Next, I started a self-published book called Broken Shell Island, which a blogger had highly recommended. Looking at her list of other favorite books, I found similarities in our tastes and thought I should try out this book. I have to say that this is a fairly good story, but I just didn’t love it. It’s deliberately quirky, with a splash of Alice in Wonderland, almost, but the whole mix just didn’t do it for me. Others may like it. I think it would do better with a larger audience if it had the benefit of a good editor, as well.

Since I had blogged about clean romances, an author contacted me and asked if I’d like to read one of hers. Normally, I tell self-published authors I simply don’t have time to read their books; I have such a huge list of to-reads anyway, and limited time for reading/ reviewing, that it’s just safer for me to stick with traditionally published stories. (More on this later.) Plus, I want to make sure that Rated Reads reviews books that are getting a lot of attention, so that my site’s visitors know if the popular books they’re hearing about are clean or not. If I had a hundred reviewers contributing to RR, maybe I could alter that policy, but for now it still works. But I made an exception and read her book, Forgotten Honeymoon. It was cute enough, I suppose, but I did feel that I could have used that reading time for something I would really have loved. Again, it’s nice to know that someone’s out there writing “clean romances,” but they have to be really great and well-written in addition to simply “clean.”

Last, I read Love Unscripted, which is another book and writer who have been picked up by a traditional publisher after finding some success in the self-publishing arena. As I wrote on Goodreads, I decided to read this when I saw on one of my publishing-news updates that it had gotten picked up by a publisher. I figured that meant it should be a cut above the usual self-published stuff. For the first half or third of the book, I felt convinced that was true. It was fun to read and actually pretty well written. But as the book wore on, I had more complaints. I am hoping that since it’s now getting the treatment from a good editor, it may end up correcting some of the problems that I saw.

First, it was entirely too long; it could easily have been edited down without losing anything at all; in fact, taking out some stuff would have made me happier. It just dragged. I felt that some of the plot points were stretching my credibility and patience, and they could easily have been left out or changed significantly. Second, and related to the first point, as some other Goodreads reviewers noted, Reber does too much “telling” rather than “showing” in her writing. She hammered us over the head in telling us how the characters must be feeling. We get it. We’re smart enough to follow where you’re going. Third, a few things toward the end were so obvious that I just wanted to smack the character and the writer. I won’t “spoil” the story, but, really, this character is pretty smart. She didn’t see the really, really, REALLY obvious things that were going on around her from a mile away? Everyone else knew, and she didn’t. Urgh.

And on the topic of “clean” content or not, I was unhappy with the number of uses of the f-word. There were at least 25 to 30, which was simply far too many. The sexual details throughout the book were actually at a satisfactory level except for the first time the main characters have sex, and that scene is long and detailed. I REALLY didn’t want to know exactly what he was doing to her. Ick.

I think, though, that this author has potential and can create some characters we can root for and a love story that draws us in. This just needs a little bit of good editing. I hope that when it gets that and is published “traditionally,” this book will do well.

So, to sum up: In this month of spending my reading time with books that have been self-published somewhere along the line, I can still say with all confidence that I’d rather read something traditionally published. It’s still true that the publishing route allows books to get vetted for quality and then edited to make them even better. I just want to read books that are going to knock my socks off, and so far I haven’t read anything self-published that has done that.

And if that means that since I have yet to get picked up by a traditional publisher for the projects I’ve spent months of my life (and blood, sweat, and tears) on, I’ve not produced writing that’s good enough for others to read and love, so be it. It hurts my pride, but I’ll keep trying.

Make it permanent, make it right!

OK, I’ve already made clear how I feel about proper grammar and punctuation. I read and write book reviews and run a book-review website, and I work as a copy editor. I suppose I became a copy editor because I have always been so precise and persnickety about the proper use of punctuation and grammar. Then editing for a living has just cemented my punctiliousness and dedication to our lovely language and how it’s expressed, especially in writing.

So it is not an exaggeration to say it PAINS ME to see our language atrociously abused and misused. What gets my goat in our wired day and age is people’s inability to get even the most basic concepts correct when they communicate electronically. OK, I admit I’m forgiving when an iPhone or similar device is being used; they are notorious at messing up a comment or word that was written correctly in the first place. And quick emails or texts are forgivable as well. What I just cannot understand is when someone takes the time to craft a fun meme or e-card or something else “permanent” that is intended to be passed around the Web for public consumption. Is it not possible to make sure that “you’re” or “your” is used properly, or that a comma is put in the right place? One of the worst mistakes I’ve seen in indelible use is the poor, innocent apostrophe. It exists to do good. But it’s employed so wickedly wrongly. Outside of the Internet, I see it most often misused in those carved wooden signs outside people’s front doors: welcome, the signs say, to “the Smith’s”. (*Silent scream*) I’ve always said if I were to commission one of those signs, I would send it back to the artist for redo were that apostrophe so nefariously inserted into that simple plural of my last name.

Glancing on Pinterest this very morning, I saw a lovely graphic that proudly proclaims “Seven days of camping recipe’s!” There’s that naughty use of the poor apostrophe right at the top of my page. Further down is an inspiring saying that throws in a hapless comma: “You are always responsible for how you act, no matter how you feel. Remember, that.” (Remember, not, to, use, commas, needlessly!!!) And one simple green e-card is generous enough to illustrate my point about spelling by containing not one but TWO mistakes: “What I love most about our friendship is that it’s based soley on innapropriate conversations that no sane person should have. Ever.” Solely. Inappropriate.

I mean, really, folks. If you’re going to craft a cute meme or card, please use spell check before you hit “save” and ask a friend about your punctuation. Simple as that. I may enjoy your meme but simply WILL NOT re-pin or share it if it has mistakes. Simple as THAT.

And here is my own little meme. Share as you will.