Saturday, September 14, 2013

Success Plans and How-to Books

I’ve never been one to follow written directions well. When I was younger and worked a “real” job, I always found it easier for someone to show me the process and let me take notes so the directions would be in “my” words. That is true for today, too.

In learning and developing my artistic talents, I’ve never taken many professional workshops. The older I get, the more I realize I don’t want my head stuffed with information I am not currently going to use. It’s a waste of time and money as what’s not used is often forgotten. (At least this is my belief.) So, when I need to know something, I find someone to teach me that little bit.

Today, there are many DIY (do it yourself) and how-to books out there. This is definitely a DIY world now and of course, all the ads make it look easy. It’s never easy for me and I wonder if others have troubles, too.

The latest how-to book I’ve read started out very well with explanations for some simple things like the importance of copyrights and the differences between ISBN and EAN numbers. There was even a list of terms and their meanings. However, as I got further along in the book, there were other terms used which I felt I should know, but didn’t. Then there are sections that don’t pertain to me or my project, but there was enough gray area and I sometimes couldn’t really tell. I began to wonder…

There’s a lot of money to be made in self-help and DIY books. There’s a big market for that now-a-days.
I began to wonder about some authors’ intent on writing these books. (And I don’t mean all, but some, if any… okay, maybe this is my own thinking and it comes from my trust issues.) People who work hard all their lives and come up through the ranks, so to speak, how willing are they to give away all their secrets? How many feel that as they worked for years to get where they are, why should others get a free pass?

On the other side of the coin, most successful people do want to share their expertise. But, by the time they are “professional,” how many of the steps have become so automatic that they don’t realize that some readers may not fully understand? There’s the terminology, too. The author knows exactly what he means and assumes that the reader will, too. Also, he doesn’t want the book to sound juvenile. He can’t assume the reader knows nothing because that’s a turn-off for those who know something.

Where’s the line? When I started working for the newspaper, I was told to “Write as if the reader knows nothing. Write as if writing for sixth graders.” Okay, that’s for a newspaper, but what about DIY books? Is it assumed that a person buying a DIY book knows something?

When I worked on a marketing plan for my charcoal drawings, I decided to write a step by step article on how I did the drawings and what tools and materials were used. It often occurs to me that most people have no clue about the processes of many artists. They assume that the artist picks up a pencil or paintbrush and just begins to work. They have no concept as to the amount of work that goes into the preparation; how much planning and study goes into the piece before the actual drawing or painting takes place.

Even hearing the first terms, people make assumptions; we all do it. For instance, I mention I do charcoal drawings and people assume I use pencils. (I do, but only a little in the very end for intricate detail.) Someone mentions they do watercolor paintings and most people picture those little watercolor sets we used as kids. A photographer is seen as someone who just takes snapshots, and in this digital world, she only has to download onto the computer and print. Some photographers still do darkroom work and again, most people do not fully understand what that means and the time spent in creating the perfect shot. Editing work on the computer can be very time consuming, too. Nothing is an easy, one, two, three, done process.

So, this week with my purchase of a DIY book about publishing a book, I have found more questions than what the book could answer. The author has been most generous in offering clarification, but even he cannot supply me with all the information I need for my project. (Leave it to me to start off with a huge, complicated piece of work.) What’s been most hard for him, I think, is that I needed explanations on terms that many people probably already know. It’s been frustrating for me because I think I should know. I’ve been a writer and photographer for years and I’ve been using the computer for years and yet, there’s still so much I don’t know, AND I have to understand the terms in my own words.

I am determined not to give up. Once I “get it,” I’ll have it down. I’ve been working on this project too long to let it fall by the wayside. Plus, learning this aspect will allow me to write and design more books. I already have another in the works. I’m excited about being able to do this all myself.

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