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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Can Gordon Ramsay Make You A Better Author?

I've watched everything Gordon Ramsay has done, with the exception of a romantic comedy he appears in. If you're not familiar with Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, do yourself a favor and check them out on Netflix or something. He's a world-renowned chef with a string of high-end restaurants to his credit. He has very high standards, and loves to yell and curse at people. Mainly people who deserve it.

But, watching Kitchen Nightmares, I began to see how applying what he does to writing, or any aspect of your life, might make you more successful in the long run.

The formula for the show is simple. He takes a failing restaurant, analyzes it, and relaunches it in the hopes of turning the business around and making it a success. The problems are usually found in three areas: cleanliness, quality, and service.

The first seems very basic, but you'd be surprised at how many high-end restaurants have atrocious records when it comes to hygiene. Say what you will about fast food, very few chains would allow the conditions I've seen on this show to exist in their restaurants.

When it comes to the food, it's almost always bad, or at best, boring. I don't have to point out that food is why people go out to eat, and bad food is a reason never to return to an eating establishment.

This is usually accompanied by poor service. Inattentive or rude waitstaff, slow delivery, and poor presentation seem to go hand-in-hand with the other problems. Overall, it's a lack of caring on the part of the owners and employees.

When you apply these three things to writing and publishing, you can begin to improve your books the Gordon Ramsay way, which is, pardon me, a recipe for success.

Cleanliness - I would liken this to editing and covers. If your writing is sloppy, plagued with grammatical errors and dizzying changes in point-of-view, many readers will never get past previewing your work. With good reason. Reading should be a pleasure, not a chore. There's no board of health for writers, but sometimes I wish there was. The more I write, the more difficult it is for me to get through the first few pages of many ebooks. The inattention to mechanics makes it nearly impossible for me to just enjoy the story. Likewise, a lackluster cover is like driving by an ugly, empty restaurant. Most people are not going to stop by for a closer look.

Bad, Boring Food - I was recently run out on a rail from a writing forum (on Cracked.com, of all places), for daring to suggest that writing should be about ideas. Yes, there are supposedly only something like fourteen story types in existence, but that still leaves plenty of room for new ideas. You don't need to create a new genre to write a great book, but you definitely want to add something new to it. Otherwise you're just rehashing existing stories, and probably not doing it as well as what's already out there. It's also possible to tell the same old stories, boy meets girl, zombies eat people, etc. in a fresh and exciting manner. I posit that if you cannot do this, your work will never stand out.

Service - This would be how the writer interacts with readers and other authors. I realize that some of us are reclusive and not necessarily people-persons. That's why we're writers, sometimes. It doesn't involve a lot of interaction with other people. But the best way to gain new readers is to engage them as people. Spamming out links instead of talking to people directly is as impersonal as a billboard. Very few readers are going to tell a friend, "Hey, I saw this advertisement, you should check it out." Conversely, "Hey, I met this writer on Facebook, or Twitter, or a blog, and he or she is really cool, or nice, or funny," is a great way to encourage a readership, and for your work to spread by word-of-mouth. Word of mouth is what makes or breaks both restaurants and writers.

The most damning aspect of the show is how many react to Gordon's criticisms. He's by all accounts wildly successful. The people he addresses are running failing businesses, sure to be bankrupt in a matter of months. Almost every time, however, the restaurant owner and chefs react very badly to his efforts to get them to improve. They're hostile, resistant to change, and usually respond with, "Well, that's just your opinion."

Don't disregard the opinions of your readers or other writers. No, not everyone is going to like everything you do. A certain amount of negative reviews are to be expected in the writing field. But if other capable writers tell you that you're overusing adverbs, your sentence structures need work, that your covers or blurbs are bad, you need to put your ego aside and think hard about what they're saying.

The difference between you, the indie writer, and the restaurant owners in question is that they are in debt for hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a writer, you can improve your work by investing only your time. It's never too late to go back over your existing books and see if you can make them better. Doing so could mean the difference between success and failure.

If you're interested in knowing what people really think, I suggest you submit one of your books to http://booknotselling.blogspot.com/. It's a favorite of mine, where other authors will tell you in no uncertain terms what they think is wrong with your ebooks. It can be painful, but it provides a real opportunity for growth on your part. They are the Gordon Ramsay of indie writing.