by Janis Patterson
I went to a concert a couple of nights ago. That’s not unusual – I’ve been in and out of concerts on both sides of the conductor for most of my life. What makes this one different is that it was an amateur orchestra – an organization of people who got together to play magnificent music just because they love it. No remuneration other than applause for a lot of time spent practicing and rehearsing. And the program was ambitious – all challenging works by Beethoven, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Bach, Mozart and Dvorak. As the concert was free, the members of the orchestra even paid for the audience’s intermission refreshments out of their own pockets. This is the truest and most shining example of the word amateur – one who does something for the love of it.
Was the concert flawless? No. There were unintended sharps and flats here and there, and one of the second violins definitely needed more practice on his/her fingering, but in spite of the flaws – or perhaps because of them – the evening was most definitely enjoyable. It was not the icily-perfect rendition of a professional world-class orchestra (which I also love), and perhaps was the more charming because of it. The mistakes were not egregious, and the love the performers had for the work shone through every note, even the ‘off’ ones.
Over the years the word amateur has been tarnished to a near-slur, degraded to mean a fumbler, an incompetent, any number of other derogatory terms, but that’s not right. A true amateur is one who does the best he can, one who learns and simply for the love of something
There are exceptions, though, and we can find far too many of them among the plethora of self-published books flooding the world. An amateur musician realizes that at the very least he must learn the basics of music, that he should be able to reach a certain level of knowledge and technical ability before even attempting a concert. It seems that the amateur writer does not.
No one would think of saying “I’ve always wanted to play in an orchestra” then sit down in front of an audience, grab an instrument and start banging away on it without any knowledge, instruction or practice. That, however, is just what so many wanna-be writers do. Just because they speak English with a modicum of proficiency they think they can write a novel. They string together a fair number of words and, convinced that they are only minutes away from being rich and famous or at the very least being regarded as that magical creature ‘a published author,’ throw the book up on any sales platform they can reach. The words developmental editor, copy editor or even spell-check do not seem to exist in their vocabulary. The resulting messes degrade the entire idea of self-publishing.
Like a lot of currently/formerly traditionally published authors I self-publish. There is a growing number of authors who have never done anything but self-publish who produce wonderful books, books that are often better than the current examples of traditional releases. Despite this, ‘self-published’ is used among the ignorant and the spiteful as a code word for amateurish (in its worst connotation) rubbish, and this hurts us all. If we cannot raise the level of knowledge among the unprofessional writers, we can at least do our best to correct a wide-spread notion among the public that all self-published books are a thing inferior. Even if some of them are.