English particularly causes such passionate debates. Many folks have definitive rules in their minds—especially those of us working in literature—regardless of which wrung we stand.
I am a massive fan of dialects in life and literature. It’s something that took me a long time to appreciate. As a child, I was taught that regional dialects were a bastardisation of English—they were regarded as dirty. And my young brain felt this to the core—I was stupid or dirty to speak it. This conditioning ran deep, to the point my ears winced towards hearing my own tongue spoken. Growing up in east Glasgow, I was in perpetual horror about how we spoke—our nature, our dialect and culture. I hate that I bought into this attitude hammered in by teachers from such a tender age—devastatingly poor teaching. It prompts self-hate that poisons roots. It’s archaic; the flogging for the so-called incorrect use of English has created ruin in countries like my own. It’s wiped out beautiful languages, demolishing roots of nations and cultures that should have been embraced. The Celtic nations around England have felt this deeply.
In writing, clever use of dialect, particularly in dialogue, adds character authenticity—showcasing communicative repertoire as displayed in real-life. And I am not against it in the narration either, if it fits the work, showcase that diversity with confidence.
Not all readers will ‘get it’, unless it’s a dialect they have experienced. Here, there is a preference for proper English, i.e. Standard British, American or Canadian English. Where the use of non-standard variants, dialects and colloquialisms are branded as errors and bad English. This labelling displays a lack of understanding, ignorance and/or prejudices, or simply the increased reading challenge can create a defensive attitude in a reader. People often feel stupid when they don’t understand something they think they should, so instead of putting the work in, the go-to is to attack the writer for their use of improper language. I’ve struggled too but taking in a piece that incorporates real-life diversity colours literature in a way that standardising the use of English can never do. Writing, storytelling, communication is an art-form — it’s not a flat pack piece of furniture that must be constructed one way. This is especially true of fiction writing. Embracing linguistic diversity is how we can travel the world together without leaving the reading nook. This is how we learn. And no one is above that. Language and how we communicate are ever-changing, and why shouldn’t they?
Gatekeepers of English, who respect and guard the practice of Standard English only, don’t understand or appreciate the beautiful complexity of diversity in language.
Self-Publishing and submitting; what I’ve learned so far, which admittedly, may not be much. It is what it is.
I’ve never considered traditional publishing, potentially because I can be a bit of a control freak (I hate waiting) coupled with a (sometimes stubborn) passion for self-learning and autonomy. In my view, it seems that there’s a lot of faff down the traditional route to wade through; from finding an agent and/or finding publishers that align with your style/genre/concepts. Jumping through many hoops for potential (likely) repeat rejection. Not that rejection is a bad thing, that too can be a very useful, if not utterly essential, learning and evolution tool. Then there’s if you’re accepted, you may have to change your writing significantly to fit into someone else’s ideals and target audience — a form of censorship and creative dilution, absolutely. Of course, I’m sure when (if) you get through the hoops, the potential for higher earnings and being considered a reputable writer because you’ve been approved and accepted by a higher power may well be worth the faff and hoops. Personally, all that feels like an elitist, bureaucratic headache for the most part.
Self-publishing has a lot of stigma thanks to the structure and standards set by publishing powerhouses. It’s a reflection of many of the institutions of life; be approved by the institution to be accepted by the masses, or you’re worthless. Music is like that too right. I don’t buy it, do you? I’ve read my fair share of tripe churned out by traditional publishers (sometimes due to who the author knows more than what they write), I’ve worked with highly educated fools who think their PhD gives them superiority even with a gross lack of real-life or business experience. They got approved, though. Better than you off the bat, right? Nope, I’m not buying that either. It filters right down through parenting as well — inescapable — must tick the boxes. All a despicable institutionalised, ritualised validation process, a façade that ignores the real nitty-gritty and that thing again — autonomy, passion, grit and authentic nurturing, in life as indeed art. Like the paper, age does not always bring wisdom, especially when one is stunted in their sole path and idealised view, selectively dismissing poorer choices. Or indeed highly institutionalised, even when it comes straight from the patriarchy (or matriarchy in some instances).
To self-publish, there are more and more platforms arising to help support and facilitate those with the desire to do this. There’s a load of work involved, even with a decent host. One must consider the writing, first and foremost, then, of course, there is editing, cover design (eBook/audio/paperback/hardback), book design, formatting, layout (yes, there are some basic standards for that, in respect of front-matter, back-matter, copyright declaration and numbering), narrator/producer (if producing audio). Sure some make it appear easy, but it’s far more involved than many may expect – it’s seen as the easy route to publication after all, right? Wrong. All of this takes time, dedication, learning and money. Of course, corners can be trimmed, but that will affect the end product. And we cannot forget attracting readers and reviewers to the work once it is out there — marketing really is another beast in itself. No, self-publishing is not easy by any stretch. Accessible — yes, easy — no.
I started self-publishing to get to know the process, and while I do love it, I’ve found much value to be gained in submitting pieces to small press and indie publishers. Gaining contacts, connecting with different audiences and driving creativity by rising to challenges I may not have considered solely. I’m not driven by pressure, and much prefer to go with the proverbial flow. There’s no cut and dry Pro-forma of right and wrong when it comes to art, creating it, and sharing it. It comes down to trying different things, and seeing which one resonates and fits with your flow best. In dealing with other publishers, I have quickly established in mind traits that I like and those which are huge turn-offs for me as a (submitting) writer. It’s fair to say once you begin submitting, you’d be mad not to have a ‘list’. Here are a few things that have landed publishers on mine after submission, which ultimately boils down to etiquette and communication:
Poor communication. Submission guidelines are not only a way for publishers to outline what they want and specify the format, but it’s also a key component for publishers to manage writer’s expectations upfront. What I find massively disrespectful is publishers who don’t respond to a submission – it doesn’t have to be big; a quick ‘thanks but no thanks’ is better than zilch. That’s just rude.
I don’t like arrogance and indie publishers mimicking traditional publishers – if I wanted that, I’d chase traditional.
When a call says ‘No simultaneous submissions’ but a publisher holds a piece too long, only to reject it, thus removing opportunities for the work to be considered elsewhere. If ‘No simultaneous’ is stipulated – considerations and responses should be swift.
Editorial changes and queries – I’ve had pieces published with errors that were not present when I submitted, and the queries ignored. Again, poor communication adds to the uphill battle many indies (writers and publishers alike) face. Sometimes support is as simple as acknowledging and owning mistakes.
While I can’t speak for traditional from any sort of experience, other than a reader, it is clear that one size does not fit all — in writing, publishing and indeed life. Sometimes one has to stop dreaming and just do it. Leaving expectations at the door. Jump in, flail around a bit, get over the panicked shock of ice-cold and learn to swim — however that looks. Jump back out and watch by the edge for a bit if you have to breathe again.
But don’t be afraid to at least try. As a good friend of mine often says — fuck it!