What is an amateur, anyway?

30 Mar

A few weeks ago, there was a photo feature on the web, with the head-line:

Dramatic images captured by amateurs (gasp!)

As if the thought of amateurs doing anything wonderful was just totally incredible. Totally incredi-bull! What a great lot of it.  Bull, that is! Many amateurs are better than a lot of pros, especially when the pros get a wee bit too full of themselves.

Time was, the distinction between professional and amateur was real. Professionals were paid for their talents and endeavors, while amateurs did whatever it was for the sheer enjoyment of it. This was most notable, of course, in the world of sports, where the quadrennial Olympics readily separated the pros from the amateurs. Heaven help the so-called amateur who took money (or other goods) from any supporter before the official declaration of turning pro was made. The athlete in question was embarrassed, stripped of any relevant titles and flung out into the wilderness.

Well, maybe not that last item, but close. Such an athlete quickly became a pariah to his or her sport, and frequently sank beneath the level of recognition.

It was not an easy thing to do – to be a world class amateur sportsman. I’ve always loved and followed ice skating, in particular. I was devastated when the compulsory figures were removed from the competition, as that, to me was perhaps the most graceful element of all of them. To see a top-notch skater pains-takingly carve a symbol onto the ice with one blade, then the other, many times over, while maintaining the edges just so – it was gorgeous.  Many a medal was lost because one particular figure or another wasn’t quite perfection. And they counted for a large part of the total score.

After every Olympiad, we’d anxiously wait to see who was going to turn pro this time! Once that decision was made, there was no turning back, either! You were either amateur or pro, but never both. Once you had made that declaration, that was it. For ever more, the athlete in question was forbidden any more amateur competitions.

Then next came the notion of ‘well, maybe we should let them come back a time or two.’ I didn’t think it was fair then, and I don’t now, either. But nobody asked me! They made a farce of the bigger ‘pro’ sports competitions by letting pros compete against the amateurs of other countries in basketball, baseball, soccer and who knows what else?

What does this have to do with writing? Well, I’ve never been staunchly against self-publishing. Sometimes, that’s the only way to see your book in print. After all, not every book needs to sell a million copies. Or garner a million bucks in royalties or advance, for that matter. It would be nice, that’s for sure, but some books are important even though they have a limited audience. As long as the author knows this going in, why is it then wrong to go ahead and self-publish the book?

I know many published authors who think it’s absolutely stupid—and pitiful—to publish your own book. “If it’s worthwhile, there’s a publisher for it somewhere,” they bark in a snide tone of voice.

“Yes, but where?” I always ask. Perhaps once upon a time, that was true, but no longer. I’ve read a good many self-published books lately (reviewing some of them, even) and I’m constantly amazed at the excellent quality of the writing and story-telling to be found within them. Generally speaking, the editing has been at least as well done as most commercially-published books these days, although that’s not always saying much. Mostly, it’s better! The main problem is – these books stubbornly resist being easily categorized and stuffed into a ready-made niche.

And isn’t that a good thing? Look at the top best-sellers sometime. Copy, copy, copy! An original thought would surely find itself in an unknown world, did it venture there. If you don’t happen to want to read ‘techno-thrillers’ or ‘vampires’ what else is there? Oh, right. Legal thrillers.  Horror.

Well, one size doesn’t fit everyone, as we all know only too well. If you believe in your work (and yourself!) then, go for it. I do advise doing your homework first, however, by investigating the several possibilities that currently exist for getting your book into print. Some of these places will do everything for you – and charge you mega $$$ for the privilege – and others will let you do as much as you can by yourself with their guidance, for a very small investment of $$, but a good many hours on your part. That may be a fair trade-off for you. The one area, however, in which you must not stint, is the editing.

Writing and publishing the book yourself will not brand you as amateur. Sloppy editing and/or typing absolutely will! A good editor might cost you $500. or more, or less. However, it could prove to be the best investment you ever make in yourself.

I’ve been doing a bit of research about the various companies out there, and I’m really amazed by the wide variances I’ve been finding. Good for us, I say! When I have it all together, I’ll let you know, and make it available only via e-mail. (You’ll have to ask me for it.) I won’t post the info on the blog, as there will be some who’ll take exception to it, and I’m not ready for that sort of battle, thank you very much. Some of these companies offer POD (print on demand – the book isn’t printed until it’s paid for) and some produce real paper books, which have to find a physical home somewhere, generally in your basement or garage. Print runs are from 50 copies to infinity, and are priced accordingly. It’s all very interesting.  But if you want to publish, the more information you have at your fingertips, the better.

Happy Writing!

Are you a writer nearing the end of the writing portion of a book, and wondering how to find an editor/proof-reader? If so, please send me an e-mail, and I’ll be happy to tell you about my editing services.  Write to me at:  bookmechanic@wordpress.com




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