A friend was recently promoting his book over social media. In fact, it happened to a repeat promotional activity. He had admitted, with a little bit of hesitation of course that when released, the book had not done as well as expected, and that his publishers were losing patience over it. Sharing excerpts from the book over social media to rekindle interest among his connections (and further) was his preferred mode of damage control. Unfortunately for him, it also exposed certain wrong information in the book.
I also happene to read one of those posts and politely pointed out a certain factual error, a glaring one at that. There was no response for a couple of days, and then I saw my response to his post had been deleted. He palpably didn’t like me pointing out the error, had construed my observation as criticism — not the constructive kind of course — and didn’t want others to know about the mistake.
When I called to ask him if he didn’t appreciate my observation, or if I had offended him in any way he told me he had done a lot of research while writing the book and refused to accept that there could be any wrong information in it. On the contrary he suggested I could be wrong, and ought to crosscheck — something that I had already done before responding to his post.
I didn’t want to indulge in one of those unnecessary and mostly futile arguments…So I apologized, wished him the best and hung up. However, it made me think about the risks involved in writing of a book based solely on facts, and how difficult it is for the writers to accept that they may have gone wrong with their research.
No matter how deep you delve during the course of your research there’s every chance of you missing out on something. And factual errors in a book reliant on facts is a cardinal sin, perhaps unpardonable. By writing such a book you are exposing yourself to public opinion (and deemed criticism), but at the same time you struggle to get rid of your self pride when it comes to the feedback. My ‘regrettable’ action, my friend’s reaction and our subsequent conversation has resulted in the following observations.
Here are five things to keep in mind while writing a book based on facts.
1. Face the mirror and get to know yourself
Before writing a fact based book first and foremost accept the person in you. It is palpable that you will do your research before, and while writing such a book, but there are a few questions that needs to be kept in mind.
Can you accept the fact that your research may or may not be conclusive? Is it easy for you to accept that despite your attention to detailing there might be something that you have missed out on? Do you understand that facts change and your book will require constant modification?
Are you okay with someone correcting you? Are you open to criticism? Are you willing to take note of the suggestions and make the necessary corrections?
If the answers to the above questions is an affirmative please proceed to write your fact based book by all means. Else, either work towards changing your mentality or the content of your book.
2. Make believe is a better alternative
Prefer fiction over facts, if possible. It is always better to create a fictional story idea based on your observation, thoughts and experience.
It is you who controls that world, the characters that live in it and their actions. The margins for factual errors in such a case is little or zilch.
In fact you can let your imagination go wild and build a compelling story based on it. A reader may or may not like the fiction that you offer but will never point out factual errors in it. It will not only save your blushes but also keep your pride intact.
3. Your ego can go on vacation
If you have indeed gone ahead and worked on a book solely based on information and facts you have put yourself on the firing line. Own up to it. Keep your ego out of the equation.
Anyone with a good knowledge base or an inquisitive mind is either aware of or can cross check the information you have provided. Welcome the feedback.
Accept it that you can, and actually have gone wrong with your research. It is going to benefit your book in more ways than one, and in the long run work to your advantage. On the other hand bringing your ego in will not only affect your relationship and future interaction with the individual concerned but also stunt your growth as a writer, and a human being.
4. Being a good listener helps
Always keep your ears open. Hear what the other person has to say and try to understand the reaction. Do not overreact or become defensive. Keep in mind the positive aspect of a suggestion, an opinion or criticism.
If someone has pointed out an erroneous fact in your compilation means he/she has read your book, or at least that particular part, and has brought the error to your attention, an error that may be unintentional and has definitely escaped the attention of both yourself and the editors. Have a sense of satisfaction with that opportunity to rectify.
Not every error pointed out is criticism. Some can be genuine concerns as well. The reader may have your best interests in mind. By telling you about the factual error he/she is actually helping you correct it, so that other readers benefit from it and don’t point out the same mistake again.
Keeping your ears open will be beneficial to the book in the short run, and your overall writing in the long run.
5. Insist on updates and reprints
Always be insistent on having a reprint, and getting an updated edition of your book at regular intervals. Convince your publishers as regards the necessity of a reprint, and insist on adding such a clause while signing the contract. If the writer is a first-timer, or not very well known, the publishers can be hesitant to come up with an updated edition, or for that matter go for regular reprints. It is therefore the author’s prerogative to put a firm foot and convince them.
When a write-up with glaring error/errors gets published in print (newspapers, magazines, tabloids etc.) it benefits from that medium’s short shelf life. The readers who read it, may (or may not) discuss the same but seldom remember it. The next day is about a new edition. Few tend to recollect what was published in the previous editions of a newspaper or magazine. Even fewer go back to it for reference but largely the written matter, and the error therein, is conveniently forgotten.
When the write up is in the digital space things get a lot easier. When someone points out the mistake the writer can always go back himself or ask his editors to make necessary change(changes). The updated webpage gets it right.
Those writing fiction/non-fiction based on imagination, experience or observation will be worried about typo errors at worst but those whose books are solely based on factual information an option for a reprint is always necessary. It is the best way to correct an error pointed out by others, or spotted by you while going back to the drawing board. It also helps keep the book up to date and relevant.
In the final analysis…
Your book is the result of your hard work. No two ways about it. While there can be no doubts as regards your effort, it is always possible that the book may still have errors that beg correction. When you have already done such detailed research, worked so hard in gathering factual information and writing the book why hesitate in working further. The motive, after all, is to ensure the overall improvement of your book.
If you are a writer, or aspire to be one, it is imperative that you are also a good listener. For those who decide to base their book solely on facts and factual information this becomes even more important. Being rigid won’t help.
Facts change from time to time, so should you. Keeping an open mind and being receptive to criticism, discussion, opinion and the general flow of information will not only improve the book per se but also be beneficial for your overall prospects as a writer in the long term, thereby bolstering your reputation further.
What needs to be remembered at all times is the ‘fact’ that a good book is always an amalgamation of elaborate research and a positive mindset.