The Perfect Write® Newsletter Archives
(January 8, 2013 – July 16, 2013)


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 97
When It’s Time to Write Something New
(January 8, 2013)

Hello Everyone,

And a Happy New Year to all!

Today’s Newsletter is an abbreviated version, which I imagine will make most of you quite pleased, ha ha, as I’m certain a great many folks have a lot going on at the start of 2013, and every minute of your time at present is quite valuable.  I have a real treat for everyone, as James Babb has given me permission to post the second chapter of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE on my Critique Blog.  And in the realm of full disclosure, James is a client of mine, and I recently critiqued this manuscript, which he revised at my behest as the result of an earlier analysis on my part.

James’s opening chapter received the most clicks of any material I’ve posted on my blog since its inception, and this is quite an accomplishment because a substantial amount of very fine work is displayed on this site.  The opening chapter of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE also received the most accolades from subscribers, almost doubling those received for its closest pursuer.  Please note that I am not going to start posting second chapters, as the reason I’m doing this for James now is solely because of the large number of requests from Newsletter subscribers who asked to read more of the story after the opening chapter was highlighted on the blog last July.

I promise everyone that my decision to showcase this chapter was not influenced in the slightest by James’s being a client.  More than half the material on the blog is provided by nonclients.  So click either link to this second chapter of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, and settle back for what I’m confident you’ll find to be a joyous reading experience.  For anyone who might’ve missed it, the first chapter can be accessed via this link, or the one in the second paragraph of this Newsletter, or by clicking the July date listed on the blog site.

I want to take a moment to offer a recap of Newsletter activity during 2012.  Of greatest significance for me is the steady pace at which subscribership has increased.  Currently, writers from 36 countries receive my every-other-week broadcasts, with an author residing in Hong Kong the latest addition to the eclectic geographic mix.

This past year, 26 editions were broadcast, and I covered everything from DRM issues to publisher lawsuits, of which I’m the first to agree the latter is an awful topic.  My goal has been to provide subscribers of my tripe with as wide a range of information about the complexities of this industry as I could, while not losing my primary focus, which is to discuss ways to write better prose.

When I went through last year’s Newsletter material, I noticed one redundant topic: the proliferation of self-publishers who have entered the marketplace.  Each professed a “revolutionary” concept to take an author’s work to rarely experienced levels, for a fee of course, and always at an expense in line with the lofty heights being proffered.

What started out in my scribblings were remarks regarding highly revered literary agency Dystel & Goderich’s offer to “help” writers self-publish.  Soon, a multitude of agency-orchestrated opportunities transmogrified into platforms ranging from Argo Navis Author Services to the latest model by Penguin via its Author Solutions, Inc., labyrinth.  Each format, regardless of its origination, was certain to provide an author with an ultimate sense of gratification that would rank somewhere between nirvana and Valhalla.  Oh, yeah, and a substantially lighter wallet as the “services” escalated.

My interest has never been to be an industry watchdog.  First, I don’t have the background, expertise, or necessary inroads; second, it’s a full-time job; and, third, those who claim to be on top of what’s going on seldom seem to act in a prudent (read “unbiased”) manner, which is imperative if someone is going to claim to protect writers.  My only reason for bringing up the issues I have in my Newsletters is to alert subscribers to mistakes I’ve made in the past, and especially in the instances that have cost me money.

The biggest problem all of us as writers must contend with is that there is no handbook which says, “Do this” and “Don’t do that.”  Just a lot of self-proclaimed experts, or others who know what they’re talking about but hold proprietary positions they aren’t revealing, which means each of us is essentially flying solo.  If subscribers should choose to believe one thing I’ve written in this past year (or over all the years, for that matter), it’s that there is no such thing as a savant who can presage what book will sell, and to whom.  It’s impossible even to suggest this and keep a straight face.

And this brings me to my next point.  As those of you are aware who know me either from my writing workshops or as clients, my first rule is to challenge everything I advise.  Opinions are just that, and this goes for what I write in my Newsletters.  The only way to learn about this industry, and its abundant minefields, is the same as the educational curve in writing, and this is to parse material–and then decide what’s right or wrong for individual work and style. When I line-edit a passage for a client, this doesn’t mean it has to be accepted as I wrote it, but for the author to look at the suggested text and make a decision.  My modification means only one thing, and this is that I found something which I believe could be improved.  Nothing more and nothing less.  If an author accepts my revision, great, and if he or she changes it, great too, as I achieved what I set out to do, and this was to identify the need for a different way of presenting the material to the reader.

On another topic, I want to thank each of you who wrote me to express appreciation for archiving all of the Newsletters, from inception.  If I’d known it was going to be so labor-intensive, I might not have been so eager to do this, but now that it’s finished, I couldn’t be more pleased.  I’m going to see if the search function on my Web site can be improved so subscribers won’t have to copy the material to word-processing software as I suggested in the previous Newsletter, but I don’t know what this will entail.  I have to think that something is available that won’t involve reinventing the wheel.

I would like to offer my greatest thanks to all of my clients.  I mentioned a while ago that more than 70 percent of the writers who use me for a service come back for additional work.  The exact number is 73.2 percent.  And almost 40 percent have been with me for longer than two years.  I apologize to anyone who might feel this is self-serving, but without writers using my editing services, there would not be a Newsletter, and I certainly couldn’t provide it at no charge.

To one other point on the Newsletter archives, I’m going to start a third subset that will begin with this edition, as the pages become very slow to work in when they contain 90,000 or so words.  Hence, I’m going to limit each Archive subset to around 50 Newsletters.  I also hope that all of you who routinely scan my Articles Page will find the new titles much easier to work with, as everything is now within its major category.  As time goes by, I’ll continue to tweak this section to make it even more user-friendly.

Today’s article is appropriate for the new year, as it involves starting anew, and here it is:

When It’s Time to Write Something Else

This might well be the single most important issue I will ever discuss, as it really is about letting a project go and beginning another.

Dragging Along a Corpse

Before “retiring” and editing for a living, I spent my entire career in sales.  And by most standards I was considered successful, sometimes even highly so.  One manager analyzed why I was effective at consistently posting strong numbers against stiff competition, and his comment was that I never dragged along a corpse.  Truer words were never spoken.

The Time Comes When a Writer Must Move On

In no world I know of does hope spring more eternal than for a budding author.  Every writer I know personally, including me, has hung on much too long to a manuscript that wasn’t signed right away by an agent or publisher.

Give It Your All

Yes, do give it your all, but then give your all to something else.  The best advice I ever received that pertained to my writing was when my agent told me to write something else.  He wasn’t telling me that my current story wasn’t any good, which was my initial reaction, but that waiting on the current work to be signed by a publisher could indeed take a long time.

Doing Nothing Creates All Sorts of Bad Habits

I’ve known excellent writers who became downright bitter at not having their first project signed, and then threatened never to write another word.  Some unpublished authors decide moping and whining will get their book published, while others go the denial route and complain about everything and everyone associated with the industry.

Hitch Up Your Britches and Move On

Grab hold of the keyboard and write something new.  Nothing I know of can get a writer out of the doldrums quicker than crafting fresh material.  For writers who care about their sanity, text is the ultimate elixir, and it always amazes me at how quickly all of us can “recover” once we get the creative juices flowing once more.  Little I know of can rejuvenate a writer quicker than designing a good run of prose and reading it aloud afterwards.

A New “Life” Is Only a Few Keystrokes Away

The solution is in taking the initiative to put aside the now dusty manuscript, if only figuratively, and begin working on another project.  In as little as a few days (a few hours, for some), the old material will be thought of as just that, and the new concept will be consuming every waking moment.

Putting a Draft Aside Doesn’t Mean Giving Up the Ghost

The main issue I always keep in front of my clients is that working on a new book doesn’t imply giving up on an old one.  It simply means that time is once again being spent in a constructive way.  If a person spends six months creating a new work or holding on to an old manuscript and moping around like death warmed over, a half-year is still going to have passed.  Which option makes the most sense?

The answer is obvious, but the real point is that the time comes when a person has to take stock of the situation and realize that the best option is to write something else.  Maybe the phrase “something else” is offensive to some people, as this could be misconstrued to imply that the initial material wasn’t good enough.  So, I’ll offer revised rhetoric for anyone who might be facing the quandary I’m discussing in this paper: Write something more.  You’ll be happy you’re occupying your mind with a new story, and so will the future audience for your work.


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 98 What Placement with Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Amazon Really Means (January 22, 2013)

Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome the latest subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter and ask each of you to feel free to ask questions about anything I write in this medium. And since discussion about writing is subjective and often highly so, it’s perfectly acceptable to chall enge anything I provide as advice or opinion, and whenever I find a suggestion I believe will benefit subscribers, I’ll gladly present the position.

I want to begin today’s Newsletter by mentioning that James Babb’s second chapter of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE was even better received than his opening chapter, which I posted on my Critique Blog during July of last year. Once again, subscribers have read James’s story by a 2-to-1 margin over the closest “competition” (excluding his own opening chapter) and the narrative has received sterling reviews from subscribers who have been kind enough to give this material a look and offer a comment.

What I post on my Critique Blog really isn’t a competition. But I believe responses indicate something about a work, and my Critique Blog is one source that provides me with a genuine evaluation of a story’s potential. Simply, if people read something and like it, what better mechanism is there for determining the effectiveness of a narrative? For any subscribers who might have missed THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, the link in the opening sentence of the previous paragraph is to the first chapter, and the link in this sentence to chapter two.

For those who want to get rich writing a book, industry statistics for 2012 indicate that 430 works earned six figures, from what I’m guessing was a minimum of 3,000,000 books published in one medium or another . Of this group, ten percent were previously self-published, which means that 43 hit the jackpot. My intent in providing these numbers is not to throw cold water on anyone aspiring to make it big as an author, but to illustrate that the path to substantial monetary reward is far from a fast trip down a well-greased pole. Also of significance, acclaim by literary pundits doesn’t equate to sales, since even extensive, consistent praise will not guarantee a readership. The sales statistics for “praised” work shake out like this:

Jillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL was the leader by a wide margin, with documented sales of approximately 700,000 copies of her novel. THE FAULT IS IN OUR STARS by John Greene was a distant second, at about half Ms. Flynn’s numbers, with around 335,000 copies sold. Third place was more than halved again, to the 125,000-copy mark, and the remaining print books ranked well below that. Again, this is for books that were lauded by book critics and placed on various “Best Reads” lists.

For anyone who might be curious, the sales grand slam home run(s) of the year, the last book in the GREY series and the trilogy itself, didn’t make any highly regarded list of recommended reading material. I guess there’s no accounting for taste, ha ha. GREY et al. have sold 65,000,000 copies worldwide, and Random House is soon coming out with hard copy versions (the first printing is set at 200,000 units). Imagine how Erika Leonard’s life has changed in the past couple of years. Before the run is over, the GREY bonanza may well be right up there with THE DA VINCI CODE in gross sales (81,000,000 copies worldwide). However, THE DA VINCI CODE was one book, not three or a trilogy set; so, for individual book sales, Dan Brown’s sales record for a single title is quite safe. Still, wow.

Listed below are book sales for 2012, as compiled by Nielsen, and notice that GATSBY squeaked into the top 15. Kudos for real taste, and our teachers who got this one right. Before anyone writes me, this is a joke, because my favorite grammar-school teacher made the class read MOBY-DICK and SILAS MARNER. This educator became a great friend later in my life–he passed away a couple of years ago just before his 90th birthday–and I ribbed him for 40 years about his reading choices, as I hated both books. I still do. GATSBY, on the other hand, is my second favorite book of all time after THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Here now are the book sales leaders for 2012 for Adult Fiction and YA.

2012’s Top 15: Adult Fiction

1. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, EL James (Vintage; trade paperback 9780345803481) 6,345,000
2. FIFTY SHADES DARKER, EL James (Vintage; trade paperback 9780345803498) 3,834,000
3. FIFTY SHADES FREED, EL James (Vintage; trade paperback 9780345803504) 3,441,000
4. FIFTY SHADES TRILOGY, EL James (Vintage; trade paperback 9780345804044) 787,000
5. GONE GIRL, Gillian Flynn (Crown; hardcover 9780307588364) 701,000
6. THE CASUAL VACANCY, JK Rowling (Little, Brown; hardcover 9780316228534) 590,000
7. THE RACKETEER, John Grisham (Doubleday; hardcover 9780385535144) 553,000
8. BARED TO YOU, Sylvia Day (Berkley; trade paperback 9780425263907) 506,000
9. THE LAST BOYFRIEND, Nora Roberts (Berkley; trade paperback 9780425246030) 319,000
10. THE LUCKY ONE*, Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central; mass market 9781455508976) 317,000
11. WINTER OF THE WORLD, Ken Follett (Dutton; hardcover 97805259529232) 315,000
12. THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST*, Stieg Larsson (Vintage; trade paperback 9780307454560) 309,000
13. CALICO JOE, John Grisham (Doubleday; hardcover 9780385536073) 308,000
14. THE GREAT GATSBY*, F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner; trade paperback 9780743273565) 301,000
15. NOTORIOUS NINETEEN, Janet Evanovich (Bantam; hardcover 9780345527745) 290,000

2012’s Top 15: YA

1. THE HUNGER GAMES*, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic; trade paperback 9780439023528) 2,810,000
2. CATCHING FIRE*, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic; hardcover 9780439023498) 2,612,000
3. MOCKINGJAY*, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic; hardcover 9780439023511) 2,302,000
4. THE THIRD WHEEL, Jeff Kinney (Amulet; hardcover 9781419705847) 1,402,000
5. THE MARK OF ATHENA, Rick Riordan (Hyperion; hardcover 9781423140603) 705,000
6. THE HUNGER GAMES*, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic; hardcover 9780439023481) 652,000
7. THE HUNGER GAMES*, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic; trade paperback 9780545425117) 631,000
8. THE HUNGER GAMES TRILOGY*, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic; hardcover 9780545265355) 599,000
9. DIARY OF A WIMPY KID # 6: CABIN FEVER*, Jeff Kinney (Amulet; hardcover 9781419702235) 584,000
10. ELF ON THE SHELF, Carol Aebersold (CCA&B; hardcover; 9780976990703) 467,000
11. THE WIMPY KID DO-IT-YOURSELF BOOK*, Jeff Kinney (Amulet; hardcover 9780810989955) 446,000
12. THE SERPENT’S SHADOW, Rick Riordan (Hyperion; hardcover 9781423140573) 440,000
13. THE LORAX, Dr. Seuss (Random House; hardcover 9780394823379) 368,000
14. OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!, Dr. Seuss (Random House; hardcover 9780679805274) 359,000
15. GREEN EGGS AND HAM, Dr. Seuss (Random House; 9780394800165) 348,000

In the realm of a question I’ve had to address in blogs and elsewhere many times, “Do great writers use editors,” here’s a “Slate” article that highlights the relationship between George Saunders and Andy Ward. Mr. Ward started editing for Mr. Saunders when he was at GQ and later at Random House. The takeaway from this interview is that when a writer finds an editor who understands his or her material, it’s usually a good idea to stay with that person. In the past I’ve made the mistake with my own work of using multiple editors for different perspectives, assuming this would help my writing. This ended up being the worst decision I’ve ever made, as the analyses were rife with contradictions. And to compound the problem, I once hired a third editor for the same project, and this person argued against many of the very positions the other two editors supported. After this, I went back to the first editor and used this individual exclusively for three future projects. My opinion is that the adage about “too many cooks spoiling the soup” was likely written by an author who used more than one editor, and I’m dead serious.

And for subscribers who are weighing the pros and cons of pursuing a mainstream publisher, a digital-only publisher, or self-publishing, “Digital Only Imprints – Are They Good for Authors?” is in my opinion an excellent treatment of this broad subject by a successful self-published writer, Susan Quinn. It appears she wrote the material just prior to the Pearson/Penguin/S&S/Author House/Archway scrum, but I found her contentions valid, as well as her documentation. She also provides a plethora of links in her article that enable easy research. I can’t force any subscriber to read Ms. Quinn’s narrative, but for anyone considering the publishing options–which I think it’s fair to say are overwhelming for any writer right now, and not just for those starting out–this material might be as good of a place to start with as any.

Well-regarded agency Dystel & Goderich Literary Management found a home for a previously unpublished author at Harper Collins’ digital imprint, Voyager, a firm that embarked on a global search to find new authors (“global search” was part of the publicity tag). Dystel & Goderich, via Ms. Dystel, has also placed a book, which was originally self-published, with Amazon Publishing. So, yes, the times they are a-changin’. My agent and I had a discussion once the holidays were over about my novel now sitting for five months at Grand Central, and he suggested Amazon Publishing. So, we’ll see what happens. What I have noticed with these digital outlets is a paucity of information on advances. I’ll just have to see how this shakes out, should something develop.

Before I get to today’s article on list placement, and what this really means for a writer, I noticed that book reviewers in the major media are now going to have their individual reviews evaluated for excellence, and at the end of the year cash awards will be presented for those judged best at the craft. This of course is a competition, and I can’t think of a more problematic scenario, since many reviewers already are more interested in their own writing of the review than in what they just read.

Over the years, reviewers have educated me to phrases such as “navel gazing” and to words such as “Kafkaesque” to add to my lexicon, and now they are going to be encouraged by a cash incentive to expand their searches into the bowels of etymology to come up with more recondite, arcane, and rhetorical babble to enthrall the masses with their genius? Leave me to the Brandi Kosiners of the world who just do nice, uncomplicated analysis and look for the positive aspects of a storyline. Anyone can read Brandi’s reviews by going to the link I’ve provided, or to the permanent link I’ve placed on my Web site, for her review blog. I’m trying to get her to review James Babb’s story, but haven’t heard back from her yet.

Today’s article covers something all writers have to be aware of before they start spending all sorts of money on marketing or develop a false sense of security as to the publicity a book of theirs will receive once it’s placed with a major distributor. I’ve dealt with this before in the body of some of my Newsletters, but it’s important enough that I’m now going to dedicate an article to the topic.

What a Listing with Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Amazon Really Means

It’s Important to Recognize That a List Is Just That–and Nothing More

Over the years, I can’t begin to count the number of times writers have contacted me, bubbling with enthusiasm, to let me know that a book of theirs was now listed with the major distributing venues, and they are now “on the way.” I always hate to tell them that the only thing they are on the way to is disappointment, should they believe the lists are sales vehicles that will sell even one book for them.

Don’t Get Excited by Placement with Ingram or Baker & Taylor

Today, almost any title can be placed on either of these lists. And it’s easy to believe that Ingram’s distribution lock with bookstores and B & T’s with libraries would be an immediate path to sales. After all, there are still more than 10,000 retail bookstores in the U.S., and almost 125,000 libraries if the educational system in the U.S. is counted. Let’s see, if those libraries buy just a single book from Baker & Taylor, the world is mine oyster. If only this were the way it worked.

The Function of Ingram and Baker & Taylor

These firms, which I believe it’s fair to imply have attained monopoly status, since they distribute books to retail bookstores and libraries respectively with almost no other company infringing on either’s turf, have one thing in common: Each is a distributor, not a sales entity.

Distribution Means One Thing, Sales Another

Neither firm sells the first book via its respective list (Ingram now publishes through its own company, Lightning Source, but it still does not sell books via the medium; however, marketing programs are offered, which is a topic all unto itself). It bears repeating, neither Ingram or Baker & Taylor employ a sales force to sell books. They fill orders for books that are presold by outside forces. And that is all!

An Unknown Author on a List Is Like a Drop of Water in the Atlantic

All sorts of statistics are published as to the number of titles on Ingram or Baker & Taylor’s list at any given time, but 70,000 is commonly bandied about. Without publicity, how easy would it be for a reader to find a title amidst 70,000, when the search is not specific?

Amazon Has Its Own Issues

Placement with Amazon might seem like the final step to sales, celebrity, and perhaps salvation. But the same issues exist as with Ingram and B & T. Yes, with Amazon, there’s a lot of “help” available, but the title count in this case is exponentially greater, and therefore the chances for success governed by the multiplier. One of Amazon’s high-ranking executives revealed not long ago that some books on the site don’t sell a single copy.

Back to Understanding What Placement on a List Really Means

For a book to have a realistic chance for the writer who is not a marketing genius or an advertising executive with all sorts of clients in the publishing industry who owe favors, it’s imperative to be listed on Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Amazon. But this is a starting point and not the end of what is a very tall mountain that except under the rarest of circumstances must be climbed one slow step at a time.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 99 Metaphor Vs. Unacceptable Exaggeration (February 5, 2013)

Hello All,

And I want to extend my usual super-hearty welcome to the newest subscribers from the past two weeks for whom this is their first regularly scheduled broadcast. Let me know whenever you don’t agree with something I write, and please give me ideas for topics for articles on writing or the publishing industry that I can include in future editions.

I’ve stated many times, I never dreamed that what began as a missive to a fine group of library workshop participants would evolve as it has, now extending to an audience that resides in 37 countries, with Malta the latest territory added to the eclectic geographic mix. And I’m ultra pleased that February 19 is a true milestone, as it will be the date of the 100th edition of The Perfect Write® Newsletter. I’ve got a special broadcast planned that I think will produce a few laughs while still providing information I hope subscribers will find of value in some small way.

One issue for which I’ve devoted considerable space in the past year or so is to give subscribers ideas on ways to gain traction for their respective books. I’ve stressed over and over that I don’t feel there’s much if any benefit to spending thousands of dollars on marketing plans when the major publishers can’t often succeed with their own titles for new authors–and they know the business inside out.

My experience has been to eat this elephant one bite at a time and start with the review blogs. Many subscribers have told me they are doing this–or have tried it–but with limited to no success, with the primary complaints being that they can’t budget enough time to attack this properly or, and this is the most common argument, they can’t find the “right” reviewers for the genre in which they write.

To the first contention about time: I can’t fix this. Stephenie Meyer said not long ago that she was spending 40 hours each week on the blogs and she had to quit so she could get back to “being Stephenie Meyer” and start writing again. I might have that reversed, and she had to quit “being Stephenie Meyer” on the blogs and get back to writing, but her point is what matters. Yes, we’d all like to have Ms. Meyer’s dilemma, which would also likely involve which investment vehicle to put this or that million dollars into on a given day, but the real issue is, working the blogs is a full-time job. Ask any author who’s currently in the throes of promoting a recent release about this. In my opinion, it doesn’t just come down to an author’s commitment, but to stamina as well. The blogs can be exhausting, and for a myriad of reasons. And not the least of which is determining who to respond to, and to what degree, which is an art form in its own right.

So while I can’t help with the time issue, I’m going to try as best I can this year to provide leads on what I’m going to call “mass blog sites.” And since more that half of what I presently edit is YA, this is where I went first. I found what I believe YA writers will find to be a fantastic resource via a blogger who calls herself “The Story Siren.” Run by Kristi, an orthodontic technician by day, she started her blog in 2007, so it’s been around a while. She’s so well respected, her blog has been written up in “Publishers Weekly” and other highly regarded periodicals. Now here’s the kicker. If you click this link, you will see a list of links to 1142 YA reviewers! Yes, while an orthodontic technician is indeed a noble profession, I believe she could write her own ticket as a marketing whiz with JWT. Granted, a lot of what she accomplished was via cross-linking through Goodreads, but it appears most of this was all Kristi.

Folks, for anyone writing YA, and who puts forth the effort, it’s inconceivable to me that this link won’t produce a plethora of kind souls who will read your material–or direct you to links with people who will be eager to read your work if it fits their area of interest. Going back to those 1142 links on Kristi’s list, of course many site owners won’t read self-published material, and there will be other restrictions in some instances that will serve as a “knockout” factor, but a large segment will read previously unpublished authors who have gone the self-publishing route. Think about it, how did Ms. Meyer gets started, or Amanda Hocking? This list is actually rather substantial. And while only a handful of authors have “made it” really big, a growing number are in the league of what most people would consider successful. Later this year, I’ll work on the Thriller genre. In the meantime, I’d like to hear YA subscribers’ experiences with Kristi’s list, so please let me know one way or the other so I can pass on the results.

To move into another aspect of reviews, which sadly takes the process to the dumpster level, here’s a marvelous NYT article on the way ratings can be skewed to have a deleterious effect on a book. A reviewer with a grudge can have a half-dozen lackeys influence a half-dozen of their sycophants to perpetuate the resentment in the same manner. In short order this reaches exponential proportions and creates a multilevel cult of hatemongers who inundate Amazon with negative reviews for a specific title (I know I’m being dramatic, but this is so silly I don’t know of another way to approach it). I’m not defending Amazon on this, but how can the firm know these reviewers are all part of some dissident’s machination, with the end result amounting to a horrible percentage of failing grades for a book?

On a personal note, I spoke with my agent this past Thursday, and he told me that Amazon’s editor of their royalty publishing division has agreed to read DARK GREED. My agent and the publisher in charge of this relatively new division (At this moment I’m not going to release his name for fear of jinxing myself. Seriously.) go way back together. Long-standing relationships are why I advise clients never to publicly dis an agent or publisher from whom they’ve received a rejection, and the primary reason is because the industry is actually quite small, with a high percentage of the movers and shakers moving around. And often.

Get blackballed, and it happens, and a writer can kiss away any chance of ever getting published by a mainstream house. I know of specific instances of this occurring, so no matter how tempting it is go on the Internet and post a scathing opinion of someone’s heritage and lack of competency–don’t do it. These people do communicate amongst themselves, and this is where it can really be a problem if an agent or publisher is offended. Most people I know in the industry are really nice people who deal with material based on their knowledge of “will it or won’t it” attract an audience, and they want to place or publish work.

But the bar is high, and they have to go with what they feel has the best chance for success. Are any of us any different when we make evaluations in our jobs or daily life? So, no matter how much a rejection hurts, and I’ve wanted to fly up to New York and punch a couple of agents and publishers in the nose in the past, bite the bullet and move on. John Grisham and Stephen King were rejected dozens of times before either had a book published. And some now famous writers were rejected over a hundred times before someone said yes.

On a different topic, Penguin is now using the Expresso Book Machine. Those of you who have read my minutia for a while will remember my saying that this equipment, which is a $100,000 amalgamation of a copier and two other components, will be popping up quite often in the future. My prediction is that it will eventually replace bookstores in malls, and kiosks with this machine will be the substitute for high-footage retail space (duh). I believe we’ll see current bestsellers on shelves in front of the machine, but with a message telling people to go shopping or get a cup of coffee, then come back in a hour for any book listed with Ingram/B&T and Amazon. Mall customers can even have their own book self-published while they drink a latte. By the way, wouldn’t Starbucks be the perfect place for these Expresso Book Machines? Either link is to a three-minute video on this sophisticated copier, and perhaps some of you will find this as fascinating as I did the first time I viewed it.

Anyone thinking about self-publishing, or who is currently self-published, should read agent Kristin Nelson’s article on meta-tags. She explains what they are and why they are of value. The short of it is that these tags are what the search engines like Google and Yahoo use to find a book. Please read this article so you can take advantage of what’s available to help direct readers to a (“your”) book. I have to admit that my meta-tags are what drives my editing business, because without “professional editing, manuscript critique/revision” I wouldn’t be in business.

And it’s why if you type in “manuscript critiques” on Google, out of 1,200,000 entries, my firm comes up number six on page one, and “manuscript revisions” on both Yahoo and Bing show The Perfect Write® in the number-five slot on page one. Many things contribute to these lofty ratings, but getting the meta tags “right” is crucial; so, again, please read Kristin Nelson’s article if you’re involved with or interested in self-publishing. Frankly, the principles apply to published works, as well, but I’m directing this at the self-publishing environment because an unknown author is less likely to have a publicity team, etc.

Separately, an e-book publisher that sprang from a literary agency announced that they paid over $2 million in royalties last year across their 500-title catalog, which at first blush indicates an average of $4000 per title. I’m not supplying the name until I can find out more about this; for instance, if two books produced $1,800,000 of this payout, and the other 498 authors shared $200,000 (about $400 each) To adumbrate the e-side of things further–and the Byzantine way the numbers are presented to the public–Jeff Bezos now calls Amazon’s e-book business a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. The only problem is that a large segment of his multi-billion-dollar e-book business is sold at a loss. But, Amazon has a very long runway, and the idea is to build a strong base. However, the issue I’ve found with super-lowball pricing is that shoppers, buying on price alone, historically aren’t loyal, and they will flit from vendor to vendor based solely on price points. So, I’ll wait for the day when Amazon announces multi-billion-dollar profits on e-book sales, and not gross receipts, before extolling the virtues of this big number.

And, yes, if Amazon publishes DARK GREED via their royalty imprint, the firm will immediately become the finest company in American corporate history, Mr. Bezos lionized by me, and all of the marketing practices will be written about in only the most glowing terms.

For those who might believe mainstream publishing is dead, or on its deathbed, all anyone has to do is look at the business model for the new literary agency “Revolution” that former ICM chief Jeff Berg is currently forming on the West Coast. What’s the big deal about this? He’s been given 200 million dollars in start-up funding by a wealthy investor. I think it’s fair to assume that no one would invest a fifth of a billion dollars on a falling star.

The topic for today’s article involves what a character in a story can or can’t experience. This might seem like a relatively insignificant subject, but it has tripped up many a writer who is trying to win over an agent or publisher
Metaphor Vs. Unacceptable Exaggeration

An Action Has to Be Physically Possible

I remember the first partial manuscript of mine an agent requested, 20 or so years ago, and how destroyed I was when it was sent back full of remarks written in red pencil. (Yes, in those days some agents would routinely edit a few pages and return them, along with their comments. This still happens today, but very rarely.)

The predominant complaint this agent had with my writing was that many of the things I assigned to my characters were not humanly possible.

It Began With “I Held My Heart in My Hand”

I don’t know where I came up with this goofy phrase. I probably heard somebody say it and thought it accurately expressed a person’s deepest emotions. Regardless, it was pointed out that a person couldn’t hold his or her own heart unless this occurred after a heart transplant. I know, dumb but true.

Can a Jaw Really Drop to the Floor?

If a person got knocked down or fell down, his or her jaw could of course drop to the floor. But standing and becoming in awe of something wouldn’t allow this to occur unless this was written around an animated character with no physical limitations.

What About Idiom?

We’ve all read something to the effect that a character’s ability to anticipate danger coming from behind is so uncanny that the person must have “eyes in the back of his or her head. Of course no one can have eyes in the back of his or her head, but here’s where idiom rears its ugly head as to what is or isn’t considered allowable. And, as much as idiom,”must have” (the modal “must” with “have”) is what will save this from being edited out by me, since this implies a logical conclusion.

“Save Grace” Sparingly

Phrases with antecedent modifiers (I’ve underlined the modifiers so it’s clear what I’m referencing), such as “It felt as if my jaw had fallen to the ground,” and “It was as though I were carrying a ton of bricks on my back,” are perfectly acceptable once in a while. And this means once in a great while. As soon as I read a couple of phrases in a client’s draft like those I just referenced, I delete the rest.

How Much Is Too Much?

My rule is two per 100,000 words, and I’m dead serious, or at least as serious as I can be about anything in the complex world of writing material people will want to read, because these phrases in and of themselves can become a tic in a hurry.

Should a writer receive a rejection from an agent or publisher with the word “overwitten” in it somewhere, the sorts of phrases I alluded to can often be the justification for the comment.

This Sometimes Goes Too Far

I remember reading that a person couldn’t walk through the trees, as technically this was impossible. Come on. The same with someone walking through or into a house. Only The Hulk or some such creature could walk through a house, since anyone walking into a house would likely have a bloody nose and skinned knuckles. But we all know what walking into a house means, and I believe that a modicum of sanity needs to practiced, lest very few things could happen as described.

For example, “The car turned into the driveway” isn’t possible unless by some automated assistance or the steering wheel’s being locked in place. Yet we all know the car is being driven by someone. Likewise, do car lights coming toward something require clarification that they’re attached to a vehicle? I remember Fitzgerald’s writing about car lights weaving their way through the fog in THIS SIDE OF PARADISE. It remains part of one of the greatest descriptive vignettes I’ve ever read, and I’m so happy Charles Scribner wasn’t a stickler for “absolutism” in this instance (or throughout the whole book, for that matter, ha ha).

“Correctness” Can Lead to Some Very Boring Text

Isn’t John’s “pulling his car in the driveway” implying that he’s physically towing it in some way? And that the car is being pulled right into whatever the driveway is made of? The distinction between what’s allowable and that which isn’t is often quite blurred. My advice is to stick with what makes sense, without tincturing the phrase to make it acceptable. And ignore the ridiculous pedants; however, during the past few years I have found my characters walking through doorways more often than into houses, and this is probably not a bad idea.
The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 100 A Deceased, Unpublished Writer’s Conversation with God (February 19, 2013)

Hello Everyone,

Today’s edition of The Perfect Write® Newsletter is indeed monumental for me, since it’s the 100th installment since the first edition was broadcast June 30 of 2009. I’ve often mentioned that what began as a follow-up medium for a group of stalwart individuals, who made it through a series of creative writing workshops I conducted, is now received by writers in 37 countries.

I wanted to do something special to commemorate this milestone, and I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate than a conversation between God and a recently deceased, unpublished writer, with the lamentations on both sides suggesting what prevented this poor soul from achieving the goal of signing a contract with a mainstream publisher. And, I’ll warn everyone in advance, this writer does receive another chance, as all authors should, since even though acceptance is often somewhere between elusive and unobtainable no matter how great the effort, the desire for it should never be diminished–let alone extinguished.

GOD: You look a little peaked.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: The life of an unpublished writer can be exasperating.

GOD: Well, you can relax now.


GOD: You have to watch how you say God. Did you say God, I hope so; or, God, I hope so?

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I wasn’t meaning to sound disrespectful.

GOD: Good, just so we have that straight. I read the story of your life as an aspiring writer, and what stood out for me is how you let so many people influence what you wrote.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: What else could I have done?

GOD: Picked someone to work with whom you respected, and stayed with that person. But you let everyone with an opinion influence you. A lot of your writing got twisted into irreversible knots.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I didn’t know what was right or wrong. There isn’t exactly a guidebook that guarantees success.

GOD: So you let every Tom, Dick, Joan, and Jill who came along determine your fate?

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: God, you’re really being brutal.

GOD: Careful how you say God. You’re not through these gates yet. You can think of this as the time with the intern before the agent or publisher sees the manuscript.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I thought you make the final decision?

GOD: Actually, you do. But I want to go back to what I said before. You hired an editor, then you had people read your material, then you hired another editor, then a third, then you went to writers’ retreats and symposiums all over creation, yet each time a person read your work, you took that as better advice than anything you’d received previously.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I wanted to get better.

GOD: What happened? And I know the truth, so don’t even think about lying.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: My writing didn’t improve. In all honesty, it went backward.

GOD: You should have written something else.


GOD: Eventually. But for years you pined over what you perceived as an insult because you weren’t recognized. You could have been studying writing and reading material that would benefit you, yet you decided to mope around and complain.


GOD: Watch how you say God.


GOD: That’s better. I want to go back to what I said about reading. How many mainstream published books that pertain to your genre had you read in the three years before your untimely departure a few minutes ago?

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I really have no idea.

GOD: I think you know, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. It’s three. That’s right, you averaged a book a year.


GOD: Ah, remember who I am? I know exactly just how busy you have and haven’t been. You had time to read dozens of books. Instead, you spent your considerable free time carping to anyone who would listen to you.


GOD: At least you didn’t kill yourself.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I died of a broken heart.

GOD: Bull.


GOD: Say anything I want. It’s you who don’t have that privilege.


GOD: Watch how you say God.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: Okay, okay, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

GOD: You’re also a smart ass.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: God, you said “smart ass?”

GOD: I usually say what I mean. But did you always write what you meant to write?


GOD: It’s not a good idea to lie to God. Did you write from the heart or what people told you to write? And I’m not referring to what a competent editor told you, I’m talking about the lay advice you received.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: You know that I listened to everyone.

GOD: Now we’re making headway. You need to pick somebody. If that person falls out of favor with you, find someone else, always keeping in mind that you can’t serve two masters.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: How do I know who’s right for me?

GOD: Test editors until you find the best one for you. This is the time to ask for other opinions, not later. It’s no different from getting second or third opinions before having surgery. After you decided on a particular doctor for a heart transplant, you wouldn’t then have a second doctor perform the same procedure, or a third. It’s the same with editing. Find someone you’re comfortable with and build around that person.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: Are you saying that my problem stemmed from not finding the right editor?

GOD: It was one of them. Another was that you didn’t study writing so you could help yourself.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I’ll admit, I did dangle a few participles. And I didn’t always modify the right antecedents. I also let words repeat too close to one another so they would be noticeable. That’s about all I can think of right now. This is kind of a pressure situation, you know?

GOD: Not for me. Let’s go back to That’s all I can think of right now. What about all the transitioning problems you left unattended? Plot elements you didn’t adequately develop by fleshing out the scenes? Major issues gained and lost without definition? What about open timelines that left readers to wonder about your main characters during those extended periods of inactivity? What about all the times you could have added or heightened conflict but didn’t because you got in a hurry? What about the times you didn’t address your story’s pacing when it lagged? What about the times when you wrote action scenes that didn’t advance the plot? What about the instances when your character or scene arcing was inadequate? What about the times you couldn’t come up with a feasible solution for a plot element and you chose something that was contrived? What about the instances when you wrote about your protagonists in a less than redemptive manner? What about the times you overused adjectives instead of seeking a better noun? Or the use of adverbs instead of more powerful verbs? Or when you used adverb attributes instead of “he said” or “she said”? How about the times you used too many exclamation points in a story, or, of all things, parentheses in your fiction? What about when you told backstory that you could have shown as it happened for the reader? What about when your chapters were way too long? Or your paragraphs approached Faulknerian dimensions? What about when your characters never changed from the beginning to the end of your narrative? What about when your storylines were never resolved at the end with all the main characters in one place? What about when you left too many unanswered threads for the reader? What about when you didn’t read your work aloud to listen for pitch and fluency? What about when you wrote your dialogue exactly the way people speak? How about when you used dashes or ellipses to pause material? How about all those instances when you overwrote scenes by providing too much description? What about those occasions when you used the wrong word or a metaphor that had little strength or relevancy? What about when you overused speaker attributes? What about those times with too much interior monologue in your narratives? What about when you didn’t adequately flesh out a character or a scene? What about the instances when setting up a storyboard would have helped you immensely to keep your plot elements in order, but you wouldn’t take the time to do this? What about not setting up a strong enough hook, or early enough? What about providing unnecessary information in the narrative? What about the times you had plot elements that were neither authentic nor believable? What about when you had plot holes in your story? What about when you told key elements of your story beforehand, thus weakening or destroying the reveal later in the narrative? What about when you didn’t maintain consistent point of view in your scenes? What about when you used redundant words and phrases? What about your disregard for sibilance, alliteration, and repetitious alphabet? What about your not eliminating instances of tautology? What about the tics in your narratives that you never chose to remedy? What about not using incorrect articles?

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: That last thing is pretty basic, don’t you think?

GOD: Everything I just rattled off is pretty basic.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: God, I ain’t believing this.

GOD: Remember, watch how you use God. I promise, I’m giving you good advice.


GOD: Didn’t you ever think you might have been there before you got here?

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I seem to vaguely remember a joke about Earth being hell for unpublished writers

GOD: I was actually being quite serious. Humans make their lives what they want them to be. For you, it was expecting some sort of magic to take place. That you’d win the equivalent of the literary lottery. Let me ask, how many times did you play the lottery in your lifetime?


GOD: Watch how you say God.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: You’re staring at me in a weird way, and you’re scaring me.

GOD: For good reason. Now, answer my question. And I’ll help you. You played the lottery a grand total of 368 times. Spent $16,486. How many time did you win?

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I think you know the answer to that.

GOD: Indeed I do. Writing is no different. You didn’t want to take the time to learn the craft, thinking someone would like your creative skills well enough, then you’d be carried atop some massive wave to literary glory and fortune. It didn’t happen, did it?

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: You could have helped me, you know?

GOD: God don’t go there. I’ve got other things to do, you know?

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: Now you’re mocking me.

GOD: Perhaps.


GOD: What a writer puts on paper never dies, didn’t you know that?

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I guess, but it doesn’t help me much now. However, if I had a second chance?

GOD: If you had it to do over again, you think you’d do things any differently?

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I’d work to start my stories sooner. You didn’t even mention that in the litany of stuff you ran off to insult me.

GOD: I did mention it, just not in those words. Even in death, you’re defensive.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: What else can I be? I know I can write, and I’m certain I’m capable of creating material people will pay to read. Or I should say I was capable of writing at that level. It certainly doesn’t matter now,

GOD: If you had it to do over, would you really approach writing differently? Before you answer, remember that you wrote for more than 20 years yet nothing really happened.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: I guess I’d read more classical literature to get a feel for what makes a great work.

GOD: That’s a noble start.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: And I’d learn more about the basics of writing. I do think I got ahead of myself at times, wanting to learn nuance when I didn’t even have some of the fundamentals mastered.

GOD: Some of the fundamentals are damned hard to learn.


GOD: Yeah, I know. I’m God.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: And I would find one person whose opinions I respect and let this person guide my writing decisions. But that still doesn’t mean I wouldn’t listen to what everyone had to say.

GOD: And you should listen, just don’t jump at every suggestion.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: Won’t much matter now, though.

GOD: Oh, get your head up. That bus you stepped in front of in Chicago while you were texting didn’t kill you. You’ll wake up in the hospital with a few broken bones, and you’ll be there long enough to read a couple of those classics we discussed. Perhaps you can start with a short story, such as BILLY BUDD, and then go on to THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. And if you’re there long enough, you can at least begin THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: My God, you’ve giving me another chance?”

GOD: I liked the way you said “God” that time. And, yes, you get another chance. But yours isn’t a special case.


GOD: All writers get another chance. And a chance after that, and a chance after that. If they didn’t, nothing would ever get published. But your situation is a little different, as the Greyhound Bus sort of established for you. So you’ve really got only one more chance, and I’m going to give you the same 20 years you spent previously, to see if you can do it right this time.

DECEASED, UNPUBLISHED WRITER: You said do it right, not get it right.

GOD: One will take care of the other. So, run along, and I’ll see you in 20 years. And I trust we won’t have this conversation again. I’ll give any writer a second chance. Third chances, ah, that’s a different story, and the pun is intended.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 101
Etymology and Why This Is Important When Writing Period Material
(March 5, 2013 )

Hello Everyone,

I want to begin today’s broadcast by thanking all of you who wrote me with such nice comments regarding the 100th edition of my Newsletter that went out on February 12 (and resent on February 19 to those who missed it initially). While it’s impossible to predict with any degree of certainty what people will or won’t like, it seems that an unpublished, deceased writer’s conversation with God wasn’t a bad idea, ha ha.

I’m always asking Newsletter subscribers to suggest topics for the articles I write that accompany each broadcast, and I’m once again running low on concepts. So, please e-mail me at [email protected] if you’d like me to address an element of writing prose at a publishable level or some aspect of the publishing industry. And if I haven’t had direct experience with the subject, I’ll do my very best to research your area of interest and come up with verifiable data. Just please take a minute and scan the Articles Page on my Web site at to make certain I haven’t already covered your specific area of interest.

I hate having to adjust any of my fees for editing services, but on May 1 my fee for line-editing will be $8 to $10 per 280-word page instead of the current $6 to $8. However, the old rates will remain in effect until May 1 of 2014 for any client who has a manuscript with me for a critique and later requests a line-edit for that same material.

For subscribers who haven’t used my editing service and might wonder about the increase, I spend an average of 180 to 200 hours line-editing an 80,000-to 100,000-word draft. This doesn’t include the 30 to 40 hours of my copyeditor’s time, whom I pay from the “global” fee. A Price Waterhouse Coopers accountant isn’t required to do the math to see that editing is not a high-income environment for me. Yet this is irrelevant, as I’m enormously proud of my work, and I’m beyond gratified that so many writers, at all levels, have found my efforts to be of some benefit, and almost three-fourths have used me for additional projects.

Anyone checking around will find a wide variety of editors with rate structures that are all over the place. Some have worked with Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, while others boast a stable of mainstream-published writers. Their rates range from $75 to $125 an hour, and I’ve read claims from some that they can line-edit and copyedit an 80,000-word draft in 100 hours (which is $7,500 to $12,500, by the way). First, I simply can’t work that fast; and, second, even at those lofty rates–and I personally know many writers who have spent this much for editing services–there is no guarantee whatsoever that the manuscript will be signed by a major imprint, and 99.9 percent aren’t (that’s not a misprint). The point is, regardless of the amount spent on a editor, for you as a writer, the most important thing is to find an editor who is comfortable to work with and understands you. Nothing is more crucial than the latter issue.

Newsletter subscriber Robert Brink good-heartedly pointed out that I should consider using the word “minutiae” instead of “minutia” when referring to my drivel. I always place everything I create for my Newsletters in the realm of the collective whole and therefore singular, but I will be glad to defer to Mr. Brink’s erudition and forevermore classify my Newsletter scribbling in the plural, ha ha. Seriously, it’s always great when a subscriber takes the time to address something in my Newsletters, for good or for bad, and I want to thank Robert for bringing “minutiae” to my attention. If I’m not willing to discuss correct word usage, I have no business sending out a Newsletter that pertains to writing, do I?

While I’m on the subject of subscriber contributions to make this Newsletter better, a long-time follower from the U.K., James Field, made some gracious comments about “The Deceased, Unpublished Writer’s Conversation with God” and sent me a lovely poem, “Ode to Indie Authors,” he’d written some time ago. With James’s permission, here it is for your enjoyment:

“Ode to Indie Writers”
by James Field

Having found this Goodread’s thread,
And read through every link,
I smell frustration oozing,
Which made me start to think.

Do we write for fame and fortune,
Or other some such treasure,
Or is our motive purely,
Based on joy and pleasure?

If your main ambition,
Is gaining wealth and fame,
Try marrying into royalty,
Or win the lottery game.

But if we write for pleasure,
And three or four read our stuff,
And if those few enjoyed it,
Isn’t that reward enough?

Again, James, thanks for the kind words and for your excellent ode to writers everywhere who are always trying to do their very best, regardless of the lack of monetary rewards.

And for any subscriber who might not be familiar with Goodreads, this link will take you to a great New York Times article on what this medium provides. Any writer who is published in any manner would be wise, in my opinion, to jump on Goodreads, as it’s the absolute best place to glean reviews for material. An author can even review his or her own work, and while this might seem ridiculously gratuitous, what’s wrong with offering an assessment of one’s own material? As long as this is done up-front via the author’s real name, I see zero that’s contentious with this, and it can get the proverbial ball rolling.

Many of you have may have followed Patricia Cornwell’s $51 million lawsuit against her ex-management firm. She received the $51 million judgment on February 13, and what I found most remarkable is that this much money was shifted from her accounts before she noticed something was wrong. According to court records, Ms. Cornwell earns in the neighborhood of $15 million per year, and while this is enough to keep most people from worrying about their respective checkbook balance when in line at Publix, $51 million is a lot of money to suddenly find missing. Wouldn’t a red flag have gone up much sooner, say at the $10 million mark? I’m obviously being facetious here, but even at her level that’s three years income before she noticed something was awry enough to pull the plug? Wow!

To switch topics, and happily so, Herman Koch’s novel, THE DINNER, emphasizes the problem with genre. Is it a Thriller or Literary Fiction? I’ve made the same argument for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. And to another aspect of the genre issue from a personal perspective, whenever I read an opening chapter someone sends me, and I classify it initially as Literary Fiction but change this to another category later, this doesn’t mean I think any less of the material. My reason for the change is that I believe the work will be more marketable in the latter genre. I hope the two books I alluded to in this section demonstrate just how difficult it is to define genre with any degree of specificity.

One of the best ways I know to get the full flavor of the current genre fervor is to consider Romance. Yes, I do enjoy, critique, and edit Romances. A great many Romances are also solid Thrillers, Mysteries, Suspense, Adventure, and even Sci-Fi. Honesty compels me to relate that most Romance Thrillers and Mysteries I’m sent don’t hold up. When a subset is involved, Suspense and Adventure have worked best. But this is solely my take, and there is no reason to hold this in any regard whatsoever, as it’s based on my experiences with the Romances I’ve critiqued and edited, and other editors may have entirely different perspectives.

To another issue entirely, the scheme involving authors’ buying their positions on bestseller lists through carefully orchestrated mass orders gets a fresh look in a recent Wall Street Journal article, which reports on a San Diego-based company, ResultSource. The marketing firm, according to the article, charges authors “thousands of dollars for its services.” The company’s primary function, however, is to buy copies of the authors’ own books to boost opening-week sales, even though many if not most of these books are then returned. The service is in particular demand for authors of business-oriented material, who can reap the financial benefit of “bestseller” acclaim (even if it’s only for a single week on some list) for years via speaking engagements, appearance contracts, how-to CDs, etc. In some instances, as the Journal article points out, returns of books to the distributor in the weeks after making a bestseller list exceed the actual sales.

As for one sterling case history, Soren Kaplan, author of LEAPFROGGING, bought approximately 2,500 of his own books through ResultSource, paying around $22 a copy, at a total cost of about $55,000. On top of this, Kaplan purportedly also paid ResultSource a fee in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. (My question is, for what!) The net result was 3,000 copies “sold” in the book’s opening week, landing it on the Wall Street Journal’s Hardcover Business Bestseller list at Number 3, and Number 1 on the Barnes & list. For a three-month period, the book is reported by its publisher to have sold 11,000 copies, but after what the WSJ divulged, can any numbers be believed? Fun business, huh?

On a more pleasant topic, today’s article is on word etymology as this pertains to the period in which a work is written. I learned some interesting facts while doing the research on this, and I hope each of you finds this of interest also. And for anyone writing material that pertains to a noncontemporary setting, or contemplating this, the article might have particular import.
Etymology and Its Importance to the Period in Which a Story Is Written

Timing Is Indeed Everything

I recently had the pleasure of editing a draft for a long-time client, with a storyline that took place in the 1600s. I found the plot immensely appealing, and everything was moving along swimmingly for me until I decided I’d better check some words to make certain they were in the lexicon of the period.

“Hooligan” Made Complete Sense

Since the tale involved an English protagonist during the King James Era, I assumed the use of “hooligan” was a nonissue. But after seeing my author using all sorts of descriptions for thugs in one scene, and applauding him for seeking a multitude of nouns to avoid redundancy, a little bird told me to check “hooligan.” I was stunned to learn it evolved in 1898 in a London newspaper article and was attributed to the “lively” Houlihan family (whatever that was supposed to imply), even though the word is decidedly Irish.

It Got Worse

My writer’s protagonist suffered many major events at sea, one of which left him injured and hallucinating. Now, I was certain that “hallucinating” was a word ascribed to the drug culture or perhaps the morphine days of the 1800s at its furthest stretch. Stunned again. The word developed from Latin circa 1595, and right within the timeline of my client’s story and therefore perfectly acceptable.

“Fellow” Was a Given, But “Guy” Really Threw Me

“Fellow” originated around 1050 or before. And since most everyone has heard of Robin Goodfellow from Shakespeare’s AMND, it’s fair to assume that “fellow” was certainly around in the 1600s. But do many people know that its counterpart “guy” wasn’t in use as a name for a person until the early 1800s, and the enactment of Guy Fawkes Day as a national holiday in Great Britain?

What Makes the Word “Guy” Confusing Is Twofold

Here’s what I found fascinating about “guy.” The actual “Guy Fawkes” event, in which this man and his co-conspirators tried to blow up Parliament, occurred in 1605, but the word was not coined in the U.K. until the early 1800s. And then it meant “a weird person.” In the U.S., few people knew of Guy Fawkes or his “Day,” and in the 1900s “guy” became what it is today, another name for “fellow.”

But to compound the problem of determining the correct chronology for “guy,” the word was originally coined in the mid 1300s to refer to a guide rope or apparatus used to steady something. Ever heard the phrase “throw me a guy line”? I used to think someone misspoke, really wanting to say “guide line.” Regardless, both are correct, but the issue with “guy” is that it was a word in the 1600s, just not one that referred to a “fellow.” Tell me that’s not a pistol for someone simply trying to write a good story without stepping on the gun barrel.

It’s Impossible to Look Up Every Word

If someone is writing material involving a contemporary setting, other than the most recent slang–which nobody cares about anyhow and is best to avoid–all words are in play. Words in existence at the time of the story only become at issue if analogous to Victorian-era vernacular in a tale depicting Elizabethan chivalry. Ignoring time-specific slang, I doubt many word historians would get too bent out of shape about a decade or two, but 250 years is tantamount to time travel when it comes to etymology, and traipsing around this sort of timespan, regardless of the era, requires great care.


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 102
Writing Time and Distance in a Narrative
(March 19, 2013 )

Hello Everyone,

I’m happy to report that during the past couple of weeks a substantial number of new subscribers were added to The Perfect Write® Newsletter list, and I want to extend a hearty welcome to each of you.  One writer resides in Nepal, which brings the Newsletter’s “country count” to an even 40.  I’m continuing to be amazed at the way this Newsletter has grown in just 4 1/2 years.  I appreciate everyone’s continued support, and I promise to do everything I can to maintain this medium in the way each of you has come to expect.

The most pressing issues of late involve the myriad of what I’ll refer to as fakes and double fakes and fakes to set up fakes that are coming from within the publishing industry at so many levels.  Situations are cropping up and then changing so rapidly that what I wrote two weeks ago as I began preparing this current Newsletter is now obsolete.  One scenario involved Random House and its new e-imprints, Hydra, Alibi, Flirt, and Loveswept.  On Wednesday of last week, my raw draft for today’s edition included my opinion that the contracts for these imprints were decidedly weighted toward them, and that these were little more than self-publishing vehicles offered at a high cost to the author.

Specifically, no advances were provided, and then the author was responsible for the marketing costs that exceeded $10,000.  My contention was, who needs a publisher to get clipped for a deal like this?  However, a few days ago, Random House revised the language in the original contracts for these imprints, and it is now more reflective of an agreement with a mainstream publisher.  But, and it’s a big “but,” as I understand the rhetoric, every author who is signed will not necessarily get an advance, and RH e-imprints can still negotiate with authors regarding marketing services, editorial assistance, etc.

Folks, for me, this sheep howls long and loud and baas very little, because it will get down to the percentage of writers who are offered what I’ll call standard contracts and those who are essentially paying most of the freight for the privilege of telling friends and family they are published by Random House.  And anyone who thinks these publishers can be out-negotiated will be in for a big disappointment, as they are indeed masters of their own universe in this regard.

With the Random House/Pearson amalgamation, which includes Penguin, which includes Author Solutions, which includes AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, Inkubook, and Wordclay (and now Lulu in a peripheral way; more on this in a moment), the web gets only more ensnaring.  And I couldn’t resist using “ensnaring,” as it seems to perfectly describe what trusting writers can get caught up in.  Just like banks currently doing everything possible to monetize services that once were free, publishers are trying every possible means to gain content at little or no cost to them.

And if enough is thrown at the wall, something might stick.  Look at what occurred with FIFTY SHADES?  All it takes is one of these to build an aircraft carrier, and Random House achieved this when it acquired the rights to the manuscripts, making so much profit that each of its employees received a $5,000 bonus for the holidays.  On purely the digital side, it’s important to consider how much cost is really associated with electronic reproduction.  Random House is purportedly providing editorial assistance and cover design for its new e-imprints, but if this is all done in-house by staff employees already on a hourly wage, unless the workload is so great that more people need to be hired, these are already fixed costs.  Again, load up the mortars and lob them outside the walls of the castle and something might hit somebody.

On the topic of author contracts and writers who don’t feel they received what they signed up for, the law firm of Giskan, Solotaroff, Anderson & Stewart LLP is currently investigating the practices of Author Solutions and all of its brands (again, AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Trafford, Xlibris, Inkubook, and Wordclay).  Authors using Author Solutions Inc. have complained of deceptive practices, including enticing authors to purchase promotional services that are not provided or are worthless, failing to pay royalties, and spamming authors and publishing blogs/sites with promotional material.  If you have self-published with Author Solutions Inc. via any of its brands and have been the victim of what you perceive to be deceptive practices, you might want to fill out the form provided by this link, which can enable you to become a part of the class-action suit, should it come to pass. (I have nothing to do with this personally; I’m just providing the link to the law firm’s form.)

As an aside to all of this, famed self-publisher Lulu (is “famed” the right word choice?) has now hooked up with Author Solutions Inc. to offer marketing opportunities for their authors’ books at fees ranging from $999 to $3,199.  And to paraphrase the company’s press release, “This is because authors’ demands are now so great.”  In my opinion, the reality is that the overwhelming number of their authors will end up with a garage full of books, sore feet, and a lot of gas receipts.  And if anyone thinks I like stating this, I can assure that person it pains me greatly.

It’s impossible to cover any aspect of the litigation oeuvre without including Publish America.  The class-action suit filed in June of last year covers all of the standard issues that have been argued by a multitude of the company’s clients for as long as I can remember.  Oddly, at least to me, the most recent class-action suit, prior to this one filed against PA, was tossed because authors who purchased the self-publisher’s services weren’t legally considered customers.  Go figure.  In reading the judge’s decision, the opinion was that writers should have known what they were getting into, and PA was solely a conduit–nothing more, nothing less.  Wow, do I ever think that is incorrect, but a ruling such as this clearly indicates just how hard it is to take on a publisher and win.

The new suit filed against Publish America is encapsulated in this link via a post by Victoria Strauss at Writers Beware.  It appears that Ms. Strauss, under the aegis of The Science Fiction Writers of America, was as responsible as anyone for getting Random House to knuckle under regarding the e-book contracts I discussed at the head of today’s edition.  I haven’t always sided with Ms. Strauss, as I think she goes off half-cocked at times, but in this instance my hat’s off to her.

To another side of this, regardless of how right a person might feel about excoriating a publisher, the results can be very expensive and time-consuming.  Just ask Dave Kuzminski, the founder and operator of Prediters and Editors (it is how he spells “predators”).  I happen to respect Mr. Kuzminski because he has always been staunchly on the side of authors.  But he’s not an attorney, and he should’ve consulted several, in my opinion, before taking on one of Publish America’s lawyers (yes, he libeled a counsel representing Publishing America and not the company.)  Although I read somewhere that the amount was drastically reduced in a later decision, the barrister was originally awarded close to $250,000.  I’m not going to provide links, but anyone interested can key in “Dave Kuzminksi Lawsuit” and learn all the gory details.

My reason for going into all of this is so Newsletter subscribers will correctly (read “sadly”) infer that the deck is stacked against authors.  Self-publishing in large measure is a “buyer beware” environment.  And as I indicated, one in which the author is not even viewed as a customer, let alone a client.  I of course vehemently disagree with this position, and I hope the courts at some point–and soon–understand that there’s not a handbook for authors with the dos and don’ts.

If a legitimate template did exist, with all the schemes that have taken place alongside the current crop of shenanigans writers are faced with, why should a person consider anyone as an authority?  I certainly don’t claim that position, and I have always told my clients, creative writing workshop participants, and subscribers to this Newsletter to challenge everything I suggest.  I’ve found that digging right into the bowels of the beast is the only way to learn about this business.  Yet, unfortunately, even that level of introspection and then circumspection isn’t often enough.

As for slaying the self-publishing dragon, I’ll restate the same song I’ve sung for years.  If someone is bent on self-publishing in any format, I suggest doing it as inexpensively as possible.  For example, find a cover designer and formatter such as (which has a cover artist who works for quite reasonable rates from what I’ve seen), locate an Expresso Book Machine and run off 50 copies (buy your own 10 ISBNs for $250 from R. R. Bowker), then go to a digital outfit such as and have the book digitally reproduced (it will cost you less than $100, and you control the pricing).  Once this is done, you can approach Amazon and B& on your own.  Finally, work the blogs for reviews and direct people to your own Web site, one on which you have posted the first few opening chapters at no charge so readers can sample your work.

Should any Newsletter subscriber desire self-publishing explained in detail, contact me at [email protected] and I’ll send you my article MARKETING YOUR BOOK FROM A TO Z at no charge.  Depending on whether print, digital, or both is desired, a writer should conservatively come out $1,000 to $4,000 to the good.

Today’s article is about time and distance, and the best ways to cover these elements in a narrative.  It’s more complicated than it might seem and trips up a lot of writers.

Time and Distance in a Narrative

A while back, a man who had served on the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier read me a scene from a war story he’d written.  The prose was fine, but the flow of his material was disrupted by constant references to military time, as if he were providing a report to his superior officer on a rigid schedule.

Constant Time References Retard Pacing

Nothing can slow the pacing of a story quicker than constantly referencing time.  The reason is that time references inherently draw attention to gaps, and the reader tends to wonder what happened during the periods that are not accounted for.  The problem becomes especially acute when the reader’s attention is drawn to long spans of “missing” time.  The assumption is “What did I skip?” when nothing was omitted from the story.

“Soon” and “Later” are Great Levelers of the Playing Field

Timeline issues are exacerbated when the reader is focused on them.  If something starts at 0043 hours and nothing else is discussed until 2357 hours, readers are going to wonder what happened for almost a full day.  To remedy drawing attention to gaps, words that express time in the abstract such as “soon” and “later” can be used to fill “open space” in a narrative.

Avoid Specificity with Time and Distance

Not long ago I remember reading that it was about 2:27 p.m.  First, 27 minutes is as exact as it can get unless the book is about Greenwich Mean Time or some event that requires split-second action.  Simply write “at 4:27” and continue the thought.  And if something happened at 4:27, there had better be a very good reason.  Otherwise, round the number to the nearest half-hour, as most readers hate having to pause to consider exact time.

However, for purposes of pitch or tone, a writer might use “about” or “around” to modify time.  The same with phrases such as “shortly before” or “just after” a specific time reference.  But the decision to write time in this manner should be made with care.

Distance Has Its Own Set of Preferences

Walking “about” a mile, or something was “approximately” a half-mile away, is a waste of two good adverbs.  “Walking a mile” or “It was a half-mile away” is much easier on the reader.  “About 6 feet tall” is certainly acceptable in some circumstances, but writing “6 feet tall” without the modifier is almost always better.  Likewise, “He weighed about 200 pounds” is not superior to “He weighed 200 pounds.”  Does anyone really care about “about?”

Here’s an Easy Exercise Regarding Approximations 

Would someone write that his shoe was almost a size 10 1/2? or that his cap size was approximately 7 3/4 inches?  Most people would write that he wore an average-size shoe and a medium-size hat.  Even though these examples pertain to size, if we think in those terms it makes it much easier to express time and distance in a way readers can quickly assimilate.


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 103
Editing to Excess
(April 2, 2013 )

Hello Everyone,

Another fine group of writers signed up for The Perfect Write® during the two-week period between broadcasts, and I want to welcome each of you. I always write an article that’s initially exclusive to Newsletter subscribers and have this follow the main narrative. Today’s article is “Editing to Excess,” and since I edit for a living I encourage everyone to pay particular attention to what I believe is quite often amiss with my profession.

For Newsletter subscribers who write YA material, I recently offered this link to “The Story Siren,” a Web site that provides more than 1,100 links to other YA-inspired sites. This massive grouping contains many YA writers who routinely review outside material, much as Brandi Kosiner does on her site for YA (along with some boutique genres). I’ve showcased Brandi quite often because I’m of the opinion she does an honorable job of providing quality reviews. By her own admission, she strives to point out what is good with material and not what is awry, while still offering an honest analysis if something isn’t quite up to par, as she sees it. I don’t believe any reviewer could be expected to provide a better service, whether amateur or professional.

Now, for Mystery writers, I’ve found what I believe is a quality site, “The Hidden Staircase.” It’s more commercial than “The Story Siren,” as the overriding premise is to create book sales for which the site owner is paid a commission. I don’t see a thing wrong with the way this is handled on the site, and if a writer will take the time to work through the links, I’m confident many solid opportunities will become available, and it won’t cost a dime outside of one’s time. Of greatest importance, once again, links will enable writers to develop relationships that foster reviews. But this means reciprocity, in that to gain a foothold a writer might have to review someone else’s book first. It’s that old axiom, “If you want to get, you got to give.”

Related to review potential, I will continue to list what I believe are quality sites, and I’ll try over time to cover as many genres as possible. And should any subscriber find a problem with a site I list, let me know and I’ll look into the issue immediately. If I determine there is merit to the complaint, I’ll “delist” the site and offer an apology. We’re all trying to do the right thing, but “stuff” happens, so let me know if something doesn’t square with whatever I might recommend.

I”ll assume that what I’m discussing next is not something many subscribers will have had to concern themselves with, but I’d like to hope each and every one of us will have to deal with this at some point. The reason I say this is because it will mean we’ve sold books on the open market to a wide audience. The issue I’m referring to is “The First Sale Doctrine,” which I’ve discussed before but bears bringing up again because of some recent court decisions that can affect anything that’s e-published by anyone, which means by a Big 6 publisher or on a shoestring via a digital self-publishing medium. At issue is someone taking your book and selling it to others for a profit.

Someone might ask, “What’s the big deal about that?” The “big deal” is, under current, blurry “First Sale Doctrine” legal guidelines, your e-book can be legally copied and resold for a profit by someone else–over and over and over–and you aren’t entitled to a single penny for any of the additional sales. Now does “The First Sale Doctrine” have your attention?

Specifically, “The First Sale Doctrine” refers to the right of a buyer of a physical object to resell or transfer the object itself. Ownership of copyright, however, is distinct from ownership of the material object. Section 109 of the Copyright Act permits the owner of a particular book or song, lawfully made under U.S. copyright law, to sell or otherwise dispose of possession of that original copy or song on a physical object without the authority of the copyright owner. In lay terms, this means someone can buy a printed book or recorded song on vinyl or CD/DVD and resell it, the same as is done daily in “Used Books” and “Used Records” stores all around the world. Certainly, there is nothing patently wrong with this. You buy it–and you can resell it.

Related to e-book authors, the question is if “The First Sale Doctrine” can be applied to a digital book. And, of greatest importance, can someone resell a copyrighted e-book ad infinitum once the first e-copy is purchased? “The First Sale Doctrine” does not permit the unauthorized commercial sales of computer software and sound recordings, but it unfortunately does not take into account that the digital book has been added to the technology curve. The law should protect an e-book’s copyright, the same as Microsoft’s software is shielded from being copied and resold, under clear-cut restrictive covenants. But, as yet, it doesn’t.

The U.S. Government, as well as most other governments, side with the owner of the e-book’s copyright, and some honorable sites such as try to honor authors’ rights by “leasing” the product, therefore not technically “selling” the book, and a leased product cannot be resold. But the U.S. Government’s definition opens up enormous holes in the regulation, as the “Doctrine” applies only to a “material object.” And a copyrighted digital book isn’t a physical object!

To take this complicated issue one step further, should this digitized product become copied outside the U.S., even though many other countries, as I just stated, honor copyrights regardless of the medium of use, all governments don’t ascribe to the same edict. A single unscrupulous site in a foreign country could proliferate the market with any book, and the owner of the copyright would have no legal recourse. All, however, is not lost.

Until this law catches up with technology, any author selling a self-published e-book might want to consider the “lifetime” lease option to prevent a book from being passed around to other e-reading devices and potentially have it end up on some unscrupulous book dealer’s computer. Is this policeable? Hardly. But as DRM encryption software becomes readily consumer-available, less expensive, and more restrictive, this can be utilized to prevent theft. I predict that the cost will be pennies per sold book.

On the downside, what I’ll call “hard DRM” will unfortunately prevent honest people from uploading books to friends’ e-readers so they can enjoy and then return the material (theoretically, ha ha). The tradeoff is protecting one’s copyright, and I have to believe this trumps all else, but that’s solely my opinion and should be regarded as such. The Cory Doctorows of the world, and I have to think there is more than one, feel that once anything is published in any medium, it’s public domain forever. Can’t understand this attitude and never will, especially from another writer.

I want to mention one other issue I found interesting that pertains to constraining author opportunities. Barnes & Noble is now demanding financial consideration from publishers who place their authors’ books on the firm’s shelves. This is not a joke, and I consider this tantamount to selective extortion, as this “mandate” is likely going to harm big-name authors the most, as they can be affected to the greatest degree by this insanity (whoops, must be a misprint). Jody Picoult says sales have plummeted for her latest book since B&N has enacted this requirement (and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, hasn’t knuckled under), and another name author claims to have lost 90 percent of sales, as print begets digital. In some genres and markets, no print, no e-sales. What I can’t figure out, doesn’t B&N lose money from the lack of sales from the work of a bestselling author not being available to its walk-in customers? I guess the executives at B&N took different business classes from the rest of us.

On a happy note, I’m placing a new opening chapter on my Critique Blog. A client of mine, Dan Bilodeau, has written a highly entertaining YA Fantasy, THE WAR OF THE SERAPHS. The evil Andals and their army are overwhelming the agrarian Ibernian society and conscripting the children to a life of servitude. All seems lost, when a young man discovers that the power of a pulsating stone will fulfill his legacy, as he is one of the five Seraphs who can save his country and its people after 1,000 years of oppression. Give this opening chapter a look and let me know what you think, and I’ll pass your comments on to Dan.

Today’s article, as I mentioned at the head of this broadcast, deals with overzealous editing, and here it is:

Editing to Excess

Perhaps a better title for this article might be “Editors Gone Wild,” because it seems lately that I’m hearing about this way or that way to write something, and this is now the only way to design text.

Spacing Started This Some Time Ago

A few years back, the book reviewer with The Palm Beach Post, Scott Eyman, graciously agreed to judge some short stories I had a workshop group of mine prepare as the capstone to one of my creative writing series. So Scott would have drafts with the same formatting, I provided guidelines, which included double-spacing after periods.

During an early evaluation session of mine, one workshop participant presented me with a draft that contained a single space after each period. Not a major event by any means, but I asked why she had done this and was informed that an editor she knew told her that two spaces after a period was “old school.”

All I could do was laugh, as what “old school” was she referring to? There is no rule. Never was one. The idea behind two spaces was to provide editors, in years gone by, with more room to manually make annotations. And it’s the reason I prefer two spaces, as it enables me more area to draw symbols and lines and make notes, etc. There is a forest in the trees, and it has nothing to do with when the seeds were planted.

Dialogue Tag Placement

A respected writer wrote a piece a while back, and others copied it, which said that interior monologue should always be placed after the run of dialogue. Quite often this is a great idea, but it’s far from absolute.

The pitch of the dialogue exchange should always be the deciding factor, and this far outweighs someone’s self-righteous idea of perfect structure. I’ve made the mistake in my own writing of leaving too much exposition between exchanges. Most often writers do this because they’ve moved text around and never caught the problem during rereads.

Editors are paid to correct this, and they should. But if we read inarguably some of the greatest dialogue writers of all time such as Forster and Steinbeck, or more contemporary dialogue geniuses likes DeMille and Leonard, notice how often “tags” are placed in front of dialogue. It’s all about pitch.

Attribute Placement

While I’m on dialogue, I’m no different from any other editor in that I have a preference for where I like to see attributes located. In short runs of moderate-length sentences, for example, I like to see them after the final sentence. I am just in the past year becoming more comfortable with breaking up the opening spit of dialogue with an attribute. Regardless of any bias, the “urgency” of speaker identification should always be the determining factor for influencing attribute placement.

To take this one step further, a wonderful writer of Westerns, Elmer Kelton, who I’m sad to say passed away, had more than 50 titles published during his illustrious career. Mr. Kelton precedes almost all of his dialogue with an attribute (whenever he deemed one necessary, of course). The style would be eschewed by many editors, but it works beautifully in that no reader has to pause for even a millisecond to consider who is speaking. Pick up one of his books and see how well this technique works. And as a byproduct of this exercise, you’ll also enjoy a dandy story.

Telling Instead of Showing

A good friend of mine gave me READING LIKE A WRITER by the enormously gifted writer and educator Francine Prose. Of the many sound comments she made, the one that resonated the most with me was her remark that it isn’t always better to show and not tell a scene, and to paraphrase her, way too much is made out of “showing” everything.

Nothing makes Ms. Prose’s credentials any more valuable than those of any other fine author/academic, but this does illustrate that even “showing versus telling” is not without an occasional detractor who possesses an outstanding reputation.

Passive Versus Active Voice

I had a book I’d written eons ago reviewed by an editor friend of mine, and I was criticized for writing a line in passive voice. Well, if I wrote it a thousand times within the context of the run I’d designed, it would remain in passive voice. Should writers try to write in active voice? Certainly. All the time? Hardly. As with interior monologue and attribute placement, pitch–and hence readability–should always dictate what is written.

In Closing

In the realm of prose writing, claiming something as absolute in my opinion is like what was referred to in the 70s as the Dianetics mentality. Someone would refer to someone no one had ever heard of as an expert. Another person would agree with that person’s assessment, and all of a sudden this first “who is this person” was an authority in the field.

In writing, there is no such thing as absolute authority. Yes, there are rules, and some are as inviolable as a brick wall, but even the sturdiest of structures can be breached. My position is that the most important element any writer should pay attention to is what I wrote toward the head of this article, and this is readability. If a writer will concentrate on providing material that’s easy on the eye, a lot of ills can be cured. The brilliant student of grammar William Zinsser has heralded that message for longer than I am old, and I’m 63.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 104
“Fair Use” A Loose Definition
(April 16, 2013 )

Hello Everyone,

I’m happy to report another nice two-week stretch of new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. To those for whom this is your initial exposure to this medium, with each broadcast I always include an article that is initially exclusive to Newsletter subscribers. The material pertains to writing fluent prose at a publishable level or to the book industry itself, and I’m constantly asking subscribers to submit topics they would like to see addressed. Just please check the Articles Page on my Web site at to determine if I’ve written about the subject previously. Send your requests to me at [email protected], and if I don’t have personal experience with the subject I’ll research it and try to do your request justice.

I want to open today’s edition by mentioning the 3-book, $1 million deal British teenager Beth Reekles just signed with Random House. Ms. Reekles is 17 years old and began writing her stories when she was 15. Later, she put her work online. Kids evidently adored the material and she purportedly had 19 million hits. A Random House spokesperson says that Ms. Reekles is “A teen herself reaching a teen audience, so her voice is completely authentic.” Does anyone think that the 19 million hits had anything to do with that incredibly perceptive analysis?

Please don’t construe my last remark as cynical, but it’s such a no-brainer that it made me laugh. All the major publishers and some of the indies scour the Internet for success stories, hoping to discover the next Stephenie Meyers, Amanda Hocking, or E. L. James. A blockbuster book can keep a publisher afloat, even a big imprint. If anyone should question this, take a look at Scholastic’s numbers since the HARRY POTTER series ended its run and now that HUNGER GAMES has faded. Remember what I mentioned a few Newsletters back about GREY enriching each Random House employee by five grand as a holiday bonus. What makes this remarkable is that publishers aren’t known for being overly generous.

Since I mentioned publishers’ wallets, it’s important for every writer to understand some of the current problems a few name writers are experiencing at receiving royalties to which they feel entitled. I’ve mentioned time and again that writers aren’t going to “out-bookkeep” a publisher. Publishers are masters of this game. To illustrate the point in the most blatant terms, just this past week a class-action lawsuit against Harlequin was dismissed in federal court.

The judge ruled that Harlequin had abided by the terms of their contracts and that the plaintiff authors, Barbara Keiler, Mona Gay Thomas, and Linda Barrett, did not sufficiently state a claim that they had lost significant e-book royalties. The suit implied that Harlequin improperly licensed e-book rights to their own Switzerland-based subsidiaries, thus yielding authors a smaller royalty. This royalty was for 3 to 4 percent of the e-book’s retail price, which according to Harlequin constituted the 50-percent share of the proceeds these authors’ contracts’ entitled them to receive, rather than half of all e-book gross revenues these writers were expecting. The judge ruled that Harlequin acted as the “contracts themselves allow” and indicated further that “the ‘Publisher may assign or delegate publishing duties to any related legal entity, including to its parent company or to an affiliate or subsidiary.”

There was more to the judge’s ruling, but what struck me was that it was determined that the plaintiffs had not adequately pleaded a contract breach (I’m paraphrasing, but this was the implication) and failed to clarify what constituted unreasonable license fees. The judge characterized these authors’ claims of a lack of reasonable compensation as “little more than speculation.”

Often, the license-fee issue involves the fees a subsidiary charges a parent company for the right to publish a book, hence diluting “gross profit.” This goes back to the “Hollywood bookkeeping” phrase that’s bandied about so often. I don’t know where or how it originated, but what comes to mind for me is Robert Wagner’s chagrin when he was told by Aaron Spelling that the widely syndicated HART TO HART series hadn’t made a dime for his company, and Mr. Wagner et al. weren’t entitled to any residuals. When the books were checked, HART TO HART indeed hadn’t shown a profit, yet a number of extraordinary line items showed up during an audit, including a Rolls-Royce indicated as an expense to Mr. Spelling’s company.

As with all aspects of the entertainment industry–and books are certainly a component of this–unless a writer has something hot on the front burner to complement what he or she has just had published, it’s going to be rough sledding to get anything beyond the advance. After the advance is covered, way too many issues can impact profit from the additional sales. When I worked in health care at the higher end, I learned to negotiate my incentives based on a percentage of gross profit–and never net profit, because I discovered just how easily net profit could be manipulated to indicate “no profit,” and I’m dead serious about this.

What makes the financial side of things so enormously difficult for the author today is that the courts seem to be siding overwhelmingly with the publisher, with few exceptions. Subscribers might remember what I wrote about in a recent Newsletter related to the class-action suit against Publishers America that was thrown out, in large measure because the firm’s authors weren’t even considered clients of the firm. PA was deemed nothing more than a conduit, and authors who used the firm should have known what they were getting involved with up front. I find this complete hogwash, and that’s being polite. However, this is one ray of sunlight, and it occurred last week.

A ruling was given on “The First Use Doctrine” that I wrote about at length in the prior Newsletter. The finding is of great significance to those U.S. authors who had their works copied in foreign markets, transferred to digital, and then exported back into the U.S., bypassing “The First Use Doctrine” in its entirety and excluding these books from copyright protection. The decision was complicated, but essentially this practice is now prohibited, and the ruling provides authors with a platform from which to sue, so at least the courts in my opinion got one right.

On another Newsletter section I wrote for which something has changed during these two weeks between broadcasts, it appears that the Night Shade Publishing/Skyhorse Books’ royalty-discount debacle has reached an amicable settlement–without going into a courtroom. “Yea” for everybody involved with this. In my opinion, Author Michael Stackpole’s article on the Night Shade Publishing/Skyhorse Books’ potential merger is “poster child” for driving authors to self-publish. I’m still a staunch supporter of any author trying to land a mainstream publisher before self-publishing, but I honestly understand and empathize with anyone who says, “I’ve had enough, there are enough inexpensive options out there, I’m gonna do it myself.”

To change topics, I firmly believe that libraries must be supported in every way possible, even in today’s troubling financial times when outside funding is certainly difficult to acquire. A number of librarians are Newsletter subscribers, and I have a soft spot for these folks and the great work they provide while often garnering nowhere near the respect I believe they deserve for the level of services they provide. The focus of this Newsletter is not to rag on mainstream publishers, but some are not making a library’s function any easier.

Random House, for instance, has announced its library e-book pricing, effective as of March I of this year. The new structure for digital books essentially triples the hardcopy rates. I’ve discussed DRM e-book embedding in prior Newsletters, which enables controlled lending, and I thought the “26 number” was established as the magic line of demarcation and considered a fair metric for all involved.

It really gets mighty tasty when some of Random House’s more popular hardcovers enter into the mix. These are sold to libraries at ten times what the same book can be purchased for by the normal consumer like you and me. I certainly can’t understand the rationale behind what I consider flagrant gouging. Add to this that Simon & Schuster expects Barnes & Noble to pay for stocking its authors’ books on its shelves. If this “stuff” keeps up, there might be an amalgamation of this mischief and libraries could start charging publishers to handle their books as a service to the public. It’s not a farfetched as it may appear at first pass. I predict libraries will soon have to take action of some sort to stem what going on.

Goodreads, which I also discussed in a recent Newsletter, was just purchased by Amazon. In my opinion, this is a brilliant acquisition. Specifically, Amazon has quickly gone from the last purchase option in the Goodreads’ drop-down to top of the list. And since my latest novel is still being considering for publication by Amazon’s private imprint (talked with my agent this week about its status), I of course find the firm to be the absolute salt of the earth and an entity that can do no wrong.

And if anyone is wondering, I’ve not mentioned several times in this Newsletter that I’ve “just discussed” something as a form of braggadocio. Far from it, my reason is to show just how quickly things are changing in this industry. I do the best I can to bring important issues (or at least as I deem them, ha ha) to subscribers. But each writer is unique and has a distinct set of circumstances and needs. For this reason it’s crucial for all of us to try to keep informed about as wide of an array of subjects as possible. Frankly, I hate a Newsletter such as this one, in which almost all of it, even the article, involves technical issues that are often laborious and uncomfortable. However, I’d not be of much value if all I painted was Pollyanna and skirted or ignored the realities of the publishing industry as I know it. Especially in that some of the issues I’ve had personal experience with can be devastating if one is blindsided by them.

Here, now, is today’s article on “Fair Use.”

“Fair Use” and Copyright Infringement–A Loose Translation of Rights

A couple of years ago, I was asked to write a paper on the “Fair Use” section of the U.S. Copyright Law. I begged off the project, explaining that I didn’t feel remotely qualified. In all honesty, I don’t feel much better equipped today to address this issue, which I find enormously complicated. But so much of late has come about that deals with what I perceive as an abuse of authors’ rights, I feel compelled to offer a loose translation of “Fair Use” from a writer’s perspective and not that of a jurist.

The Four “Fair Use” Factors Plus One

The “Fair Use” of a copyrighted work is constructed around four principles as defined in Section 107 of U.S. Copyright Act, with a fifth, unofficial metric thrown in for good measure.

The preamble states that the reproduction of copyrighted material is considered “fair” if this copy is used as criticism, comment, news, teaching, scholarship, or research. The four factors used to legally consider if the particular use of something is “fair” are:

1) The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes.

2) The nature of the copyrighted work.

3) The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole.

4) The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work.

“Fair Use” Is a Muddle of Confusion

“Fair Use” doctrine provides no specificity whatsoever as to the number of words that can be used; nor the number of lines; nor even the amount of notes that may be taken without permission. And to address perhaps the only issue that’s clear in any of this, citing the author of a passage, as we all did with footnotes in school, is not a substitute for gaining the permission of the copyright’s owner.

Any Writer Can Sue If It’s Felt the Reproduction Wasn’t Flattering

This is factor number five, and as silly as this might seem, plaintiffs have been awarded judgments based on having their feelings hurt . With such abstract guidelines, is there any doubt why “Fair Use” leaves people who routinely deal with it scratching their heads? “Fair Use” probably gives credence to the Cory Doctorows of the world who believe that everything should be public domain once it’s published. But what happens to that thinking when applying the Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that paved the way for works in the public domain to be copyrighted. Yes, the insanity surrounding “Fair Use” goes full circle.

What I Tell My Clients

As an editor, I have always strongly advised all of my clients to acquire written permission for anything they might use that is not their own. If not, the only thing certain about “Fair Use” is that they could be litigants in a protracted lawsuit that might cost them some martini time and a whole lot of aggravation.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 105
U.S. Words That Differ in the U.K.
(April 30, 2013 )

Hello Everyone,

I’m gratified that so many subscribers return to a Newsletter edition after reading it initially and also for those of you who consistently access the links I provide. The company I use to transmit my Newsletter generates daily statistics on a number of key issues, and one metric details the specific links that are clicked. Link activity is one of the best barometers for determining if my Newsletter is offering material subscribers are finding of interest, as your responses tell me if I’m on the right track or not, and I’m enormously pleased with the overall reaction to the links I display.

I should start the body of today’s edition with FLASH! FLASH! FLASH! but I’ve learned to temper my enthusiasm until a deal is formally inked. My agent told me Tuesday, the 23rd of this month, that Amazon wants to publish my novel DARK GREED. But as subscribers who read Publishers Lunch are aware, Amazon has a current “hold” on singles related to their royalty imprint. And I’m considered a single because I don’t have any other novels in front of the public at this time. So, while it’s wonderful to know that Amazon’s private imprint, which includes bestselling writers such as David Baldacci and Lee Child, desires to publish my novel, I have to wait for all the moons and planets to fall into the right houses. No one said this would be easy, and it indeed is not. Sadly, no “ha ha” to follow, but I’m proud that a bona fide royalty publisher likes DARK GREED. Since it involves a Ponzi schemer, maybe the upcoming Madoff pseudo-documentary will help my cause.

I’m also proud to highlight a book a client of mine wrote. I, WALTER is a Historical YA/Adventure written by Mike Hartner, and the work received what I’ll classify as a very special initial review on Amazon. As long-time Newsletter subscribers are aware, I’m not a fan of 5-star reviews, but after I looked into the reviewer’s background and found that many books he’s read received 1 and 2 stars, I was confident the accolade was this man’s honest assessment of I, WALTER, and I’m reprinting it below as it appeared.

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5.0 out of 5 stars CAPTIVATING, April 8, 2013
ByJustJan (USA) – See all my reviews Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)
This review is from: I, WALTER (Kindle Edition)

Downloading a book when there is such a brief description, no prior reviewers, and an unknown author, could be risky. I, WALTER, is full of risks and great rewards. The author introduces you to a 67-year-old Walter Crofter as he begins to pen his life’s story. The reader is instantly charmed and captivated. This is an action-filled story that is told with such clarity that the reader can nearly smell the streets of Elizabethan England, hear the noisy seaport sounds, and feel the salty wet winds. The story takes you across oceans and around continents and is full of surprises–some that will elicit tears and others that will churn your stomach and raise bile in your throat. Nothing is predictable. The supporting characters simmer your suspicions and you never truly know whom to trust. It is a story that feeds your fears while tugging your heartstrings. Your heart will feel the weight of Maria’s hand as she rests it upon Walter’s shoulder or mops his fevered brow. With all the turmoil and trauma there is an equal amount of joy. Walter’s story is quite a journey and it will linger with you long after the words have gone. (End of review.)

Should any subscriber wish to purchase I, WALTER on Amazon, here’s the link. And for those who would like to read the opening chapter, I’ve posted in on my Critique Blog. Please give Mike’s book a peek, and I always encourage subscribers to support the authors who are part of our Newsletter’s family, as you may well ask for the same favor. I’ve written time and again that “what goes around comes around.” The author you help now will assuredly come back to repay your courtesy by purchasing your future book. So, again, please help Mike, who’s worked very hard and has written what I and others have found to be a very entertaining story that’s the seminal work in an Adventure series. And for all of you who have been so kind to me and suggested I should have a subscription fee for my Newsletter–which I’m not ever planning to do, by the way–how about spending nine bucks of the twenty I’m not charging you, ha ha, and buy Mike’s book.

To change tracks, is a new book aggregator (the word refers to a company that assembles and distributes en masse) and the firm appears to have something truly revolutionary for writers who want to self-publish. First, it’s FREE, and cover templates are also provided at no charge. The company’s promotional material says to e-mail the manuscript in a Word document and the draft2digital will do all the rest. The real plus, in my opinion, is that a book will immediately be placed with Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Createspace. charges 10 percent of list price (15 percent of the author’s net) and receives its commission only after a sale is made.

Here’s a link to the Pricing Structure and another to its FAQ page. The only negative I could see in this whole deal is that there is no ISBN facilitation, which means that the ISBN will be up to the author (my suggestion, for anyone interested in self-publishing via this company, is to purchase a ten-pack through R. R. Bowker for $250 total.) Frankly, ISBN pricing enjoys an enormous economy of scale, and 1,000 are $1 each. I imagine a million ISBNs would be pennies each. So if takes off, I predict the company will provide ISBNs at next to nothing for its authors. In the realm of full disclosure, the firm does not offer editing services but has a list of quality editors it provides for authors who might ask about editorial assistance. I tossed my name in the hat and asked if I could be included in that list.

The New Adult (NA) genre is causing quite a stir, as two previously self-published writers have recently hit it big. This article on NA does a commendable job of explaining the NA genre. Anyone writing more adult-themed YA might want to take a look at the piece. After I wrote a section on NA a couple of Newsletters ago, a number of my YA clients contacted me to explain that they wondered just how much further NA could go from the current YA plateau, as many of the current themes and scenes were anything but light.

The point to keep in mind, as I see it, is that this genre gives the NA reader a clear idea that the material will have adult themes, and this is the real advantage of the genre from a specificity perspective. With the recent wave of author successes, it now appears that the genre is here to stay, as it cropped up around ’09 and then dropped off the map until the past year or so. And I just read in Publishers Lunch that there were six NA books signed in the past month! That gets a Wow! And I’m not apologizing for violating my own rule about exclamation point overuse, ha ha.

I’ve written a lot in my Newsletters lately about the lousy way I feel publishers have been treating libraries. However, Simon & Schuster announced a one-year pilot program with three large libraries in New York City. S&S will make its complete catalog of e-books available, with new titles accessible immediately upon publication.

I’m quoting: “Under the pilot program, the three library systems can acquire any S&S e-book title at any time, with each title available for use for one year from the date of purchase.” S&S goes on to say that “Each library can offer an unlimited number of checkouts during the one-year term for which it has purchased a copy; each copy may only be checked out by one user at a time.” In addition, the three libraries will sell S&S e-books through their Web sites and online portals, receiving a share of the proceeds. S&S says, “If successful, the program could be implemented with other library systems across the United States.”

At least it’s a start in the right direction. Remember that libraries pay on average three to five times the going retail for a book (and sometimes much more). I wonder how the S&S one-year format will influence any of the publishers who might still utilize 26 as the maximum checkout-number for a single title until it must be repurchased? For those publishers who are so worried about proliferation and want to maintain the 26 threshold, how about letting it stand but sell to libraries at standard wholesale. At some point, it has to be recognized that libraries aren’t the enemy, ya think?

Finally, a dishonest publisher got jail time. In New England, Peter Campbell-Cobb was accused of defrauding people of about $200,000 (in total) by promising to publish or promote their books, was sentenced from 5 to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to 16 felonies and four misdemeanors. The charges go back to 2006 and the case wasn’t filed until 2011. This was tried as Ponzi fraud and not a publishing crime, which once again illustrates just how difficult it is to prosecute a claim of fraud by misrepresentation when it involves publishing.

Someone please explain this to me, as “publish or perish” takes on new meaning. ICM Partners, one of the uber-entertainment agencies and long an industry bellwether, will offer Perseus’s Argo Navis self-publishing program to its authors, and just announced that three books will be available “through this initiative.” What is happening to legitimate publishing and quality literary agencies? It’s like “Let’s join in or we’ll be left out.” But how far can author opportunities at the high end be diluted before there simply aren’t any bona fide opportunities left for any writer without an existing platform that’s guaranteed to produce big numbers? I hope Newsletter subscribers realize that what’s happening is why I’ve softened my stance on self-publishing and worked more and more on providing marketing concepts so that anyone dipping his or her toes in this deep well will at least have a fighting chance.

Today’s article is an attempt to have a little fun, as it discusses the way some common words are spelled or defined in the U.K.
U.S. Words That Differ in the U.K.

I was facilitating a writing workshop series some years back when a youthful participant commented that the British have some really weirdly spelled words. I good-naturedly told this lad that he needed to keep in mind that it was their language we’ve bastardized, not the other way around, and they probably don’t like the way we spell many of their words. We all got a good laugh, and I thought this might be a fun topic for an article.

Some Meanings Are Rather Straightforward

Everyone it seems is familiar with “bonnet” as a car’s hood and “lift” for an “elevator”. As for “bonnet,” a dictionary definition includes “hood.” And knowing this, it’s not the slightest stretch to call a car’s hood a bonnet. And “lift” means to “elevate,” hence no further discussion is required. But do many know that in Great Britain a “chesterfield” is a “sofa”?

How About Phrases?

My favorite (or favourite if written in the U.K.) phrase harkens back to the travel site that was explaining how an “uneducated” tourist from the States could run into trouble without an experienced escort.  An attractive young woman from America asked a desk clerk for a wake-up call at the English-countryside B&B where she was staying. The clerk promptly told her “he’d be glad to knock her up in the morning.” Then he tells the television viewer how embarrassed he was and that his poor choice of words “almost cost me job.”

A Common Word with a Powerful Added Meaning

I edit a substantial amount of material from the British Isles, and at times I find the writing more formal, but in a positive way. I recall being exposed to the word “purchase” to mean “advantage” by a British writer well before Nicholas Sparks used it so well to his advantage in THE HORSE WHISPERER.

Spelling and a Couplet That Can Cause Trouble

I mentioned “favourite,” and from my U.K. friends I see the “u” coupled with the “o” in a great many words. “Colour” is another common example of this. Then there’s “programme” and “storey” (as in two-storey house, which I’ve always believed is the way this should be written in the States). But “grey” might be the granddaddy of them all, as we are taught to write it as “gray” while at the same time we see the word “greyhound” correctly spelled at the dog tracks and on the side of buses operated by the iconic firm of the same name. In many English words the “z” is an “s,” although some of this is purely a French influence. There are a myriad of words that could be discussed, but the point is that the American way is not automatically the best. It’s just ours.

When I was a youth, and all writing was done on the side of a cave, I wrote “different than” instead of “different from.” I was marked down for this by my instructor, and I told this august bastion of the English word that I’d just read it in a book. I was informed that if I could produce the book with “different than” in it instead of “different from,” my perfect score would be restored. I got so few perfect scores on tests in grammar school that I just had to find the passage, and of course I couldn’t. As it ended up, years later I discovered a weather-beaten horse-racing tout form from Epsom Downs in a trunk, and there was the passage with “different than,” and where I’d seen it written this way. Shows how my youth was spent. The point is that “different than” is considered perfectly good English in England.

A Peculiarity in Word Construction Often Delineates Greatness

I think it’s wonderful that I can sometimes read a single opening sentence and know where the writer hails from, and even a lone passage can often set the tone for an entire work. I’d hate to think that any person should want to conform, let alone be forced to fit someone else’s idea of what is universal word construction. If this had been the case, I think of all the fabulous writers whose works I would never have read.

I surely would have skipped Jane Austen, George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) and Rudyard Kipling, then Norway’s Knute Hamsun, and even American writers such as Zora Hurston and James Still. And more recently Charles Frazier. The English have every right to be proud of maintaining the language their ancestors created, and we in the States have every right to feel that we have improved the construction to suit our needs. But it’s still and always will be England’s language first and ours second, as the chronology is one issue that is undeniably incontrovertible.


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 106
Crafting Metaphors to Enhance the Reading Experience
(May 14, 2013 )

Hello Everyone,

I want to begin by apologizing for sending out the April 30 Newsletter to all subscribers on May 7.  My policy is to retransmit a Newsletter on the “off-Tuesday” to any subscribers who might not have opened it on the original broadcast date.  However, I inadvertently queued up my entire subscriber list (yes, I’ve fumble-fingered and done this before), and this is why everybody received a copy.  I can assure all Newsletter subscribers that today’s edition is indeed fresh, ha ha.

The next order of business is to thank those wonderful clients of mine who lauded my editing services, and I’ve added these comments to my Testimonials Page.  I hate posting praise, as I always feel awkward since it’s so blatantly self-serving, but I have to update each of my Web pages or suffer the Internet wrath of the Google crawler.  I have no idea of the actual chronological pattern the crawler is on (does anyone outside Google?), but I’ve gotten to the first page via several keywords and phrases that pertain to editing services, so I’m keeping to a schedule I’ve established for each Web page on my site.  Again, to those of you who provided approbation pertaining to my editorial efforts, thanks so much for your kind words.

I mentioned in a recent Newsletter that I’d be happy when I could reduce the amount of space I’ve been allocating to legal issues pertaining to authors’ rights.  To that end, this edition contains only one section that deals with litigative content. Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible to ignore authors’ legal matters entirely, as something new that can raise the hair on the back of one’s neck seems to crop up every few days.  If I keep yelling one mantra over and over, it’s for any writer contemplating a contract for publishing services to hire an attorney who specializes in intellectual property to look over the agreement.  It might cost $1,500 or so before it’s all done, but this could prevent a nightmarish publisher relationship.  Subscribers can also contact the Authors Guild via [email protected] for assistance.  An e-mail to that address will produce a response and a suggested path to follow.  And when I called the Authors Guild recently I was told that the organization will provide names of reputable attorneys.  Now to the legal junk I alluded to.

A couple of Newsletters back, I mentioned the class-action lawsuit filed against Author Solution, Inc. (AuthorHouse, et al.), and provided a link so that any subscribers who might have been involved with any of the entities and wronged could add themselves to the suit.  I’ve now read the entire complaint, and I’m sad to say that I believe the claims will be set aside as has been    the case in the previous trial.  It requires only one word here or there for ASI to be considered following the terms of its agreement.  And the firm’s attorneys are obvious masters at placing a strategic word in a context that will assure its protection.  In my opinion, the actual complaint    is not particularly well-written (it’s almost “folksy” at times), and I can see a jury deciding that these plaintiffs knew what they were getting into, which is what the judge ruled who threw out the earlier case.  However, this is a jury trial, so it might bode well in and of itself for the plaintiffs.

It must be clearly understood that I in no way condone the actions of the ASI subsidiaries, as my opinion is that what is provided is a horrific stretch of what is offered.  But all it requires is one success, no matter how this is achieved, for ASI to claim its tactics are legitimate.  To substantiate/solidify its position, the firm has only to cite the statistics for the number of writers who submit to Big 6 publishers and are not signed.  With this, they can then show the expense some of these same writers have shouldered to get a book ready for Big 6 submission to illustrate that ASI is not out of line with its costs.  Hence, what ASI really offers and what the author thinks is going to be provided are matters of perception.  And the prior judge ruled that writers should be savvy enough to know what they are getting into.  I vociferously disagree with this thinking, but the precedent has been set and I’m not very confident that the plaintiffs in this new suit will prevail, and even if they are found guilty, a lengthy appeal will surely follow.  For reasons that are well beyond my abilities to comprehend, the courts don’t seem to feel that writers have rights.  Maybe juries will exercise a different mind-set.

On a happier note, The Hachette Book Group is the latest Big 6 publisher to relent and present libraries with a more conciliatory format to facilitate e-book lending.  The firm’s books will be sold at three-times retail but with unlimited usage for a period of one year; and, if a book is repurchased, this platform will then extend for three additional years. HBG should be applauded for taking this initiative and not restricting this lending to a single geographic location, as was the case with Simon & Schuster in selecting the New York City market exclusively for its test site.

Apparently S&S believes that a New York City resident reflects the pulse of America and that no other U.S. markets possess a sophisticated enough citizenry with reading habits worth considering.  Years ago I saw a statistic that 80 percent of all hardback books were purchased within 200 miles of NYC, so perhaps this is the metric guiding S&S’s test-market decision.  I hardly have anything against NYC, but the digital world is clearly an “open” reader environment.  Hence I can’t understand why any firm would not apply its concept for e-books to library systems spread across the U.S. and not solely one market, regardless of where this might lie.

Another large New Adult project was signed recently (purportedly for six figures), and in this instance for a previously self-published work.  So, self-publishing spawning a major book contract is growing, and NA is definitely a genre that’s roiling the waters in a very positive way.  And to be clear, do not get the New Adult genre confused with Adult as in erotic.  All NA as a genre implies is that it’s for mature young adults, and as such caters to the 18- to 21-year-old demographic (some stretch this to 25).  The point is, as with any genre, it’s not absolute nor is it age-specific.  But NA is on fire, as a half-dozen Big 6 placements were made in the past month.

Anyone who is writing in 2013 and considering publication in any manner must understand that much of the marketing will be placed on the shoulders of the author.  Unless someone is in the top 100 and guaranteed to have 200 acolytes standing in a line for hours to get into a book signing, writers will have to learn a vocabulary that includes Scale, Verticalization, and Atomization.  Mike Shatzkin’s article on Scale, Verticalization, and Atomization will explain what these words mean in book-selling parlance, and I strongly suggest the every subscriber read his article and then bookmark his site as a favorite and read assiduously what he publishes on behalf of his firm, The Idea Logical Company.  Like my Newsletter, his material is free.

Take a look at Mike Shatzkin’s credentials on his About Us page.  He has almost 50 years of experience in the industry (that’s not a misprint), and his father was one of the marketing pioneers in publishing.  To those new to the “whole publishing thing,” 99 percent of what he writes about will seem of little value, but each time you read his material, more will be learned.  The reason I’m recommending his blog is because he has the true insights into digital, and it can help any subscriber who is considering e-book publishing and subsequently accepting responsibility for marketing the material.

On another topic, I want to cite some data I recently acquired on bookstore sales, and this should further my contention that the big brick and mortar stores will soon morph into kiosks at malls with Expresso Book Machines (no more links for this, as I’ve hyped this technology enough.  Here are some shockers, at least in my eyes:

  • With respect to new releases, 65 percent of all books sold were for a single copy of one title.  In other words, unless the author’s reputation or the book’s publicity was enormous, two/thirds of all new releases sold only one copy in bookstores during the first month.
  • In the same bookstores, on the following month the statistic was identical; one copy of a single title.  Of the remaining 35 percent, 35 percent of that metric sold only two copies.
  • In a particular month, not a single copy of a book is sold for 80 percent of the titles in the store.
  • To my way of thinking, the most amazing statistic of  all is that more than half the new titles even from publishers who promote their books heavily do not sell a single copy during the first month of the arrival date at the store, and this includes the promotions centered on the release date.

None of this applies to a name author’s work, and this is also obviously why a writer with an existing audience is so important.  But it also points to why so many lousy books get published by writers who have written prior works that were of a higher quality.  Also, considering the abysmal statistics I just redacted, is it any wonder that POD has taken off?

I’d like to write that every good book gets published, and I’d also like to report that every good book gets purchased.  However, no subscriber to my drivel would ever find me saying this.  To earn reasonable money from the craft, a writer starting out today (and even many who have been at it a while and experienced some degree of success in the past) needs to be as much a marketer as a designer of quality prose, and this is the cold, hard truth, much as I hate to make that statement.

Before today’s article, which will be on the use of metaphor to enhance a narrative, I’m pleased to close the main body of my Newsletter with another tribute to Mike Hartner’s novel, I, WALTER.  Mike continues to receive sterling reviews on Amazon and in other media, and as I’ve parsed the reviewers, I’ve noticed some poor and even scathing reviews for other projects, so it appears that these people indeed found something quite special about I, WALTER.  Here’s what one rather erudite reviewer wrote:

“The only hiccup in content I had when reading your book was where Maria takes the quill and writes her own account. The transition caught me off guard–but I can’t think of a better way to do it.  Other than that I couldn’t find a single thing wrong with your book. I LOVED IT! Your book really is NY Times bestseller material and I wish you all the best!”

After that, I almost hate to offer my paltry material, ha ha, but here it is:


The Use of Metaphor to Enhance the Reading Experience

When discussing metaphors, which simply implies that something is written that has another connotation, I can’t help but think of Joseph Conrad.  And to give this brilliant author full credit, I consider him the quintessential simile writer.  But this article is about metaphor as a writing tool, and HEART OF DARKNESS was considered the model for APOCALYPSE NOW.  And this is the first difficulty with analyzing metaphor, as chronology has to be considered.

To be exact, there was an 80-year gab between the earlier and latter work’s presentation to the public.  HOD might have been the model, but it certainly was not a metaphor for the later work.

Metaphor in the Largesse

An example of a legitimate metaphor is the James Waite character in THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS by Conrad. Waite’s name in and of itself expresses a deep and lasting metaphor, as this has long been associated with the “white man’s burden” as felt by the English.  Waite was used as a homonym for “weight,” as if the story itself wasn’t intense enough.  And the constant banter of the ship’s crew is considered a reflection of mankind “as a whole.”  Heady stuff, indeed.

And Then There’s Moby

Melville has always been one of my favorite and least favorite writers.  I loved BILLY BUDD but I absolutely hated MOBY-DICK (and still do), as I always felt that Hemingway wrote THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA to show the world the way MOBY-DICK should have been written.  However, by Melville’s own design, the whale is emblematic of God, and therefore a perfect example of metaphor that is an allegory.

When Metaphor Is Undeniably Allegorical

Faulkner’s A FABLE, for which he won both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, is the perfect allegory, since in this brilliant narrative a father sacrifices his son for the greater good.  However, any metaphor with a spiritual or religious meaning can be classified as an allegory, and it doesn’t need to involve the prime tenet of Christianity to qualify.

A Metaphor Does Not Need to Incorporate the Entire Story

A single passage, such as, “The semi lay upside down and crumpled in two, with tires smoldering and facing the sky as fuel spewed from its ruptured tanks and coated the roadway,” is an obvious comparison to an animal that’s severely injured and bleeding to death.  A metaphor can be attributed to a single passage as well as to an entire narrative.  It’s all a matter of degree.

Metaphors Sometimes Occur Naturally

I’ve never been of the opinion that every writer sets out to write a metaphor.  Often, some literary pundit will assign “metaphor status” to a section of a work or to an entire story and the writer is canonized, yet the metaphor was never a part of the author’s planned creative process.  I’ve talked to many authors who have experienced recognition for metaphors they never knew they had created as such.  However, whether a metaphor is by design or developed by happenstance, if it indeed fits a scene or a storyline, the skill in achieving this is often emblematic of a quite accomplished writer, and the importance of this writing skill-set should not be eschewed.


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 107
Crafting Similes to Enhance the Reading Experience
(May 28, 2013 )

Hello Everyone,

During the past couple of broadcasts I’ve been remiss at not welcoming new subscribers to my Newsletters, so as the first order of business I want to thank each of you for your interest in this medium. And I’d like to provide you with an idea of the premise behind the material you will be seeing. Originally, the primary function of my Newsletter was to disseminate information on writing prose at a level that would appeal to a major royalty publisher or quality indie and to offer advice on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years as both a novelist and editor.

The latter tenet is still solidly if place, but I’ve modified the other element to “writing publishable prose at a level that people would pay to read.” I made this change because so many Newsletter subscribers and clients of mine have self-published in one manner or another. I used to be passionately against self-publishing because in the days of the covered wagon it was a surefire method of guaranteeing never to get even a sniff from a major house. But, as we all know, times have changed–and in dramatic fashion. For a year or so I even provided an editor’s forum on a digital-publishers blog site, and I mentioned in the last edition of this Newsletter that I added a link to Mike Shatzkin’s blog on my Web site.

I asked Mr. Shatzkin to write an article on digital publishing that would be exclusive to my Newsletter, but my timing couldn’t be worse, as he’s one of the movers and shakers at the BEA Conference that begins tomorrow, May 29, and he didn’t have adequate time to prepare any material. Perhaps down the line I’ll nettle him again. In the meantime, I suggest that any subscriber considering e-publishing, regardless of the venue, should read Mr. Shatzkin’s blog, as it’s extensive and he has more marketing acumen in the world of e-books than anyone I’ve run into. He has accrued almost 50 years of experience in the publishing industry, and his dad, as some might remember who have been around this business for a while, was one of the pioneers at developing effective book-marketing platforms with legitimately gradable metrics.

A few words of warning: At first, much of the material on Mr. Shatzkin’s site will seem enormously complex, and this is exacerbated because some of the terminology is his own. However, as I suggested in the prior Newsletter, if you will take in his material in small bites, over time I believe his knowledge can help immeasurably. Do I agree with everything he says? Of course not, and I’m particularly disappointed in the free pass he gave Pearson with the ASI purchase (in his defense, he may have commented on this further in later posts, but I haven’t seen them yet), but his knowledge of digital is, in my opinion, ahead of the curve, and it’s a mighty curve indeed.

To switch gears, I want to give my most heartfelt thanks to those of you who provided testimonials for my editorial services and praise for this Newsletter. I would rather be beaten with a stick than have to ask for any form of accolade, as I believe this should always be given freely, if it’s deemed warranted, and never solicited. But I have to try to keep up with the Google crawler, and this means modifying my Web pages on a routine basis. And the Testimonials Page is one area that has to be addressed in a cyclical manner.

I’m proud to relate that I’ve had only a couple of what I consider real complaints in the past almost five years since I started editing full time, and after the smoke cleared both of these folks seemed to realize I wasn’t the enemy. No matter how delicate any editor might try to be, it’s impossible not to bruise an ego now and then. However, I try my best to be extra courteous to writers, as I’ve been on the other end of the stick enough times with my own writing when I started out to know how callous some editors can be, and in my opinion there’s no excuse for rude or pompous behavior.

Editors, however, walk a fine line, since some writers are offended if they’re not the recipient of constant, overwhelming praise, and that simply won’t work. I turn down editing anyone who I believe cannot handle constructive criticism, as a critique is just that. My client retention rate is currently at almost 80 percent, and I’d like to think this is because I’m being honest and not as the result of providing opinions my authors want to read. And if I do say that I don’t like some aspect of the rhetoric a client has designed, this should never be construed as a slam.

Editing is, in large measure, subjective, and all I or any editor can offer is an opinion; one, it can be hoped, that is based on background or experience. As an opinion, it can be accepted or refuted, and I always welcome a client’s challenging my position on an issue he or she might disagree with. I also want to share something else with subscribers who might be considering editing services from me or someone else. None of us have absolute answers about much of anything. I’ve had two developmental editing projects in a row in which I told both writers to decide just how much depth they wanted to provide for their respective stories.

Each was an enormously complicated narrative, and I believed that only the writers themselves could adequately assess the comfort level of their readers. When I line-edit a draft, I often have to do an extensive amount of writing, even to the level of revising entire scenes so they fit certain story arcs, for example. But there are issues that go well beyond the requirements of keeping the plot lines straight, and this is what occurred with both projects I just mentioned. A story should never be “taken away” from an author, and in my opinion this is one rule that every editor should consider inviolable.

As those of you know who have read my tripe for any period of time, I seldom discuss editing as a profession, which might seem odd since I’m an editor and this is my Newsletter. From day one I’ve tried to make this Newsletter ecumenical and not particularly parochial in nature, but every once in a while I find it important to explain a little bit about the profession I’m in, and this was one of those “whiles,” ha ha.

I am and always have been a firm supporter of Publishers Marketplace, as I find the information provided by the daily Publishers Lunch enormously valuable, and I believe the current $25 per month fee (just raised after many years from $20) is the best money any prospective writer can spend to learn which agent or publisher is doing what at any given moment. But I’m disappointed when Mr. Cader publishes book sales via what he refers to as “modeled estimates.” Here are some recent statistics cited in PM:

Hardcover $5.06 billion (+1.3%)
Trade paperback $4.96 billion (+0.4%)
E-books $3.04 billion (+44.2%)
Audio $241 million (+21.8%)

For that $3.04 billion in E-books, the estimates are:

Adult fiction $1.83 billion (up $540 million)
Adult nonfiction $592 million (up $484 million)
Children’s/YA fiction $469 million (up $216 million)

For the sake of discussion, let’s say that that these numbers are at least somewhat accurate from the perspective of percentages. The $3 billion estimate puts e-books at 20 percent of sales for 2012, which is an increase from 15 percent in 2011. This equates to a 33-percent upturn in digital, if Mrs. Milsey taught me right in the fourth grade. And of the estimated $14 billion in total sales for everything, this is split almost right down the middle between brick and mortar stores and e-tailers. I hope the digital figures clearly illustrate why I’ve spent so much time in my Newsletters of late discussing e-book publishing options.

And while I’m on digital, I have to mention an experience I had with a relatively new boutique literary agency I contacted recently for general information on exactly what they represented, as the bio implied a concentration in the e-book market. All I heard from the agent was her interest in the writer’s arc. Meaning, I assumed, what the writer possessed that lent credibility to enable this person to write the story (education, prior published works, literary awards, same old same old). But the agent’s definition of “arc” was much different, as it involved just how extensively a writer was prepared to market his or her own work, including the number of speaking engagements the person would be willing to commit to yearly, library presentations, trade show participation, and the list went on. All, of course, at the author’s expense (I asked).

I wasn’t short with the agent, but I made it clear I didn’t believe that most writers could afford her “style” of representation, especially since I have a suspicion this agency is on the self-publishing bandwagon that’s enveloped (read “captivated”) so many literary agencies during the past 18 months. As I’ve written more times than I can count, there’s a wolf around every corner, so writers have to stay alert. Hijacking established words and phrases to support a claim of identity (such as PA’s term “traditional publisher”) in my opinion is just another way to get into writers’ wallets, and it’s a crying shame that we all have to be so wary.

This boutique agency could be legit and simply what I’ll call overzealous in estimating the wealth factor of its critical mass, but I’ll need to learn more about it as time goes by before I suggest querying the outfit. If I should learn they are publishing under another name, I’ll let subscribers know so they can make their own assessment of this firm’s credibility, as the agency purportedly has placed several NA stories of late, and for decent advances.

For recent subscribers who might not be aware, to accompany each Newsletter I write an article that pertains to writing quality prose or to the publishing industry. I wrote a piece on metaphor use for the edition that preceded this one, so I decided to follow it with a paper on the use of similes to enhance a narrative, and here it is:

Crafting Similes to Add Texture to a Story

A simile generally uses “like” or “as” to compare two dissimilar things to one another. I recently wrote an article citing Joseph Conrad as a terrific writer of metaphors, but more significant than even his skill with this element, I consider him the quintessential crafter of similes. Anyone skimming through LORD JIM will find more great similes than are contained in the oeuvre of many renowned authors. Here are a few from LORD JIM as listed in Ariion Kathleen Brindley’s “101 Best Similes in Literature”:

Only then did he find himself rolling head over heels like a shot rabbit.

I would have given anything for the power to soothe her frail soul, tormenting itself in its invincible ignorance like a small bird beating about the cruel wires of a cage.

All at once he sprang into jerky agitation, like one of those flat wooden figures that are worked by a string.

The lumps of white coral shone round the dark mound like a chaplet of bleached skulls, and everything around was so quiet that when I stood still all sound and all movement in the world seemed to come to an end.

Fitzgerald Wrote One of My Favorite Similes

In the opening to TENDER IS THE NIGHT, Fitzgerald writes of the area around the old hotel on the French Riviera: “Now, many bungalows cluster near it, but when this story begins only the cupolas of a dozen old villas rotted like water lilies among the massed pines….” Can a single line be more descriptive than this?

Fitzgerald’s line communicates not only a scene but a mood for the entire story. I certainly can’t write like Fitzgerald, and I wouldn’t expect that of others either, but for a simile to be effective the comparison has to be pertinent. And the more poignant the better.

The Key Is for the Simile to Make Sense

Once, as a homework component of one of my creative writing workshops, I asked each participant to write two similes. Many of the participants were royalty-published writers, and one wrote for the local paper and another for a national magazine. Of the dozens of similes that were presented to me during the follow-up session, only two made any sense whatsoever.

Here’s a Bad Simile

The comparison a simile illustrates, first and foremost, should be easily recognizable to the reader. “He hurried along like a turtle on hot pavement” is a clever line, but can anyone really associate speed with a turtle? Change “turtle” to “hare” or “lizard” or “cockroach” and the writer might have something.

Here’s a Good Simile

Actually, what follows is a great simile, and for years I’ve tried to remember who wrote it. I thought it was another of Conrad’s but more than once I’ve parsed the books of his I have in my library and can’t find the line, which goes something like this: “Like the plants under the water line, she weaved along in life unaffected while the storm raged overhead.” To me, that says a book’s worth of words, and as with Fitzgerald’s phenomenal opening to TENDER IS THE NIGHT, sets a mood that’s spellbinding.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 108
(May 28, 2013 )

Hello Everyone,

Those of you who have received my Newsletter for some time will remember The Perfect Write Newsletter, Vol 58, Special Edition–MARKETING YOUR BOOK From A To Z that was broadcast in July of ’11. In this mass of material I showcased because of this firm’s expertise in the field of book formatting. And because so many subscribers are currently involved with self-publishing in one way or another, I’m devoting this entire edition to formatting a manuscript for a publisher. And for only the second time since I’ve been sending out these Newsletters, an article of mine on writing quality prose or the publishing industry will not be included, as I want nothing to diminish the focus of the formatting message.

First, however, I want to make certain that what I’m discussing regarding publication will not at all be confused with formatting a manuscript for an agent or publisher, such as what I detailed my article Formatting a Manuscript for Agents and Publishers. I’m not being a wiseguy, but the operative word is “publication,” as “agent” and “publisher” are wholly unrelated to a text already formatted for publication, which is something a publisher will do after the manuscript is submitted, and which the overwhelming majority of writers know little or nothing about. If you are doing this yourself (meaning publishing), you are assuming the entire role of the publisher, and you will have to understand book formatting in both the digital and print mediums or you’ll be in for a potentially expensive scenario and a lengthy delay before getting the text the way you expect it to appear.

Second, what is done in digital will not work in print without substantial tweaking (I’m assuming you’ll want some print copies). And digital cover art doesn’t automatically transfer to digital because of wrap-around issues, among other things. Plus, the color quality on a cover as viewed on the computer reader will likely not show up the same in print. These cover issues related to color will not make or break 99.9999 percent of most books, but the author needs to know that what he or she sees is not always what one gets. And this brings me to WYSIWYG. Does anyone remember this complete garbage? I bought my first computer in the early ’80s and was assured that “What You See Is What You Get” was all I need to know about word processing. Type it on the screen and this is what will print out. Thirty years later and this is still not the way it is, yet there are 3-D printers now available that can make a plastic gun that can be fired. Go figure. is an Arizona company run by its founder, Kimberly Hitchens (who likes to be called “Hitch”). She is a true expert at book formatting for any medium, and her services can be purchased for $150 for a digital book. Her fees can escalate somewhat if extensive post-revisions are desired by the author, but her rates in my opinion are frankly dirt cheap for what she provides. Hitch also has a cover artist with excellent credentials who can create a quality cover in the same price range.

I could write extensively about the book formatting issues I’m faced with as an editor, since clients often send me material I have a devil of a time getting into a format I can work with. At times I’ve thrown up my hands while spending hours indenting paragraphs or realigning margins. And, yes, there have been times I’ve had to create a workaround, as I was unable to use the text as it was submitted. However, rather than a paper regarding my issues with material, I thought it would be more beneficial for Newsletter subscribers to hear from an expert on just one small aspect of this expansive formatting hydra. So I asked Hitch if she’d write a paper for us, and she’s done so and it follows. If the best money a writer can spend is for editing (of course I had to write this, ha ha), the second most important dollar should be allocated for formatting. Here, now, is Hitch’s article:



By Kimberly Hitches @

When people look at the results of automated “PDF to Word®” conversion sites or software, different people see different things. To an author, who only has a PDF copy of a book, it looks like manna from heaven–a Word® file that appears perfect! To an e-book professional, however, it’s like the movie Lake Placid–a serene, gorgeous surface beneath which danger lurks.

You’ve probably heard people talk about how they tried to upload a PDF at the KDP® or tried to use a program like Adobe Acrobat® to “make” a Word® file from their PDF, only to have achieved wholly unexpected and dismal results. This happens a lot, particularly to those who don’t have expertise in Word®. When you use a program like Acrobat®, or one of those online conversion Web sites, the file that you get back will often look exactly like you think it should. And you’ll think it’s great and be thrilled. But underneath it all–where Word’s ® invisible codes tell text what it is and how it’s to be displayed–lurks an unholy monster waiting to bite you when you try to actually use that file rather than just look at it.

Let’s look at one real-life example to kick off the discussion. This prospective client exported his Word® file from PDF and then uploading the file to Amazon. As he ended up coming to us, you can already predict (plot spoiler ahead!) that the results weren’t good.

When a display or layout program like Acrobat® tries to export a Word® file, it tries to “tell” Word® what it thinks it is seeing. Because a PDF is not a word-processed file, it’s using a completely different set of codes to achieve the layout that you see when you view it. This is because Acrobat® is a layout program, not a word processor. Acrobat® and other layout programs only care about how the end product looks–word processors care about what the elements (words, sentences, paragraphs) in a document are . Do you remember the old parable about three blind men and an elephant? Well, the Acrobat® conversion to Word® format is a bit like that. Acrobat® tells Word® based upon what it thinks it sees, what it interprets as your intent, not what Word® actually needs to “hear.” Let’s now look exactly at how Acrobat® “sees” a page of text:

Image Not Shown

Figure 1 is one of the pages, in Word, that was the result of an “automatic” export from Adobe Acrobat® to MS Word.

This small section looks fine, right? But those of you with eagle-eyes may have noticed that something isn’t quite right–why is the first word in each line underlined with the dreaded, squiggly green line? Why does Word® think that’s a grammar error? To see why that’s happening, let’s look at this same page with “reveal codes” turned on (what you see if you click the pilcrow icon ¶ on your Word® 2007-2010 ribbon or in the main toolbar for older editions):

Image Not Shown

Figure 2: Holy Pilcrow, Batman! What are all those ¶’s, and what do they mean?

Now you can see what’s really going on . When Acrobat® exported that file into Word®, it “thought” that every line was its own paragraph. That’s right, if you tried to upload this file at the KDP, every single line you see there would come out in Kindle as its own paragraph, not words inside a much larger paragraph. That’s what Word® is trying to tell you with those squiggly green lines. It’s trying to say, “Hey, you didn’t capitalize the first letter of this new sentence.” Word® thinks that those first words on each line are actually the first words in a new sentence.

Why does it think that? Because immediately before those words, Word® obeys a pilcrow command (at the end of each line, over there in the right-hand margin). That pilcrow instructs Word®, “I am marking the end of a paragraph.” Word® knows that the very next word is the first word of a new paragraph, so it must be the first word of a new sentence, and therefore should be capitalized. That’s what those little pilcrows and the little squiggly green lines are telling you: Here There Be Dragons!

When this file was exported to Kindle by the prospective client, what he saw to his horror was this (I’m simulating the actual output, starting with the first line of the “paragraph” near the bottom of the section shown that starts with, “Some of the nuns….”):

Some of the nuns at the school were genuinely taking an interest in my artistic development at this time, and would offer me encouragement. I based in their admiration, I’d never known that kind of personal attention before, and I’m sure I wanted to please them and seek their approval.

Obviously–this was not what he’d had in mind. This was prose, not poetry or some type of experimental Haiku. He’d expected his Kindle book would look like Figure 1, but what he got was far, far different, making the book unreadable and thus unsaleable. Why did this happen?

The way a word processor works is actually pretty much up front. Every single element in a word-processed file, whether it’s a paragraph or an italicized word or phrase or small caps has invisible tags surrounding it that identifies it to the program and tells it how to display. More important, those codes (tags) tell the program what it is (a word, a paragraph, etc.). Here’s an example of how this looks in code (HTML), which is what actually runs word processors and is used to make e-books:

This is a paragraph in italics, in HTML, which is the “language” used to create Kindle books.

Here’s what this looks like on a Kindle device: Image Not Shown

This is a paragraph in italics, in HTML, which is the “language” used to create Kindle books.

A word or phrase in italics is surrounded by tags like this to start italicization: . The program is told to stop italicizing the words by a closing tag, which looks like this: . This is true whether it’s Word®, Wordperfect®, Open Office®, Libre Office®…well, you get my drift.

In the above example, you see me tell the program that the paragraph starts with the word “This” after the opening paragraph tag, and ends with the period after the word “books.” The italics styling starts with the word “This,” and stops after the word “HTML.” In most word-processor this happens invisibly to you and can only be revealed using either Word’s® “styles menu” or by working in the actual code, as most e-book conversion companies do. This is the “black box” effect; magic happens behind the screen that makes stuff “just happen.”

Exhibit 1 and the result show just one very simplified explanation of how things go bad when exporting PDF files to Word®. I used it because it’s the easiest to demonstrate. Far larger and harder to find and fix land mines await the unwary at every turn.

Much other text formatting can go horribly wrong. One such case is a client that came to us because, no matter what she did, when she uploaded her “Word®” file (made from her PDF) to the KDP, none of her italics showed up. It turned out that Acrobat® told Word® that the italics were in a special italic font that isn’t available on Kindle–so of course the italics never showed up. Sometimes Acrobat® tells Word® that a symbol exists but uses a special symbol font to create it. And, again, that symbol’s font may not be on your computer, and it’s certainly not on Kindle devices.

It’s important to remember that PDF is all about layout and how text looks. Word-processors and e-books are all about what elements are (words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, sections), and then how they are displayed. In e-books, the structure (what something is) takes precedence over how it looks.

All real paragraphs must have that pilcrow code at the end, which instructs Word® that the paragraph is where it should be and that the next paragraph starts immediately. But, as I’ve said, most of the chaos caused with “magic” convert-PDF-to-Word® programs is not visible to the naked eye. The problems only surface after the document is converted into code. After five years of making e-books, even I can sometimes not see the problems that are hidden deep in the code of a “faux” Word® file until I export the file into code. Only then do the dragons appear.

It’s best to leave the conversion from PDF to Word® or e-book to experts. Yes, I know that sounds self-serving, as I own a firm that formats e-books, but it’s true. If you have a lot of expertise in Word® (or another word processor), or if you have a true command of Word® “style” macros, etc., you can absolutely do all the clean-up yourself. Yet whether you decide to go it alone or pay someone else to do it, all that “cruft” that is put inside a PDF-exported/created Word® file must be cleaned up before you can create an e-book with a professional look.

To one issue I brought up, the “paragraph” problem can be cleared up with time and some effort, even by those without a lot of expertise in Word®. You can go through and delete all those unwanted paragraph codes, but you have to do it one line at a time. And don’t do what one of my clients did. She thought it would certainly be a snap to use “Search and Replace.” She chose “all” on the “Search and Replace” menu–and ended up with a book that was one giant paragraph!

Please contact me at [email protected], and I’ll be happy to discuss any formatting issues you might be experiencing and provide you with with a quote for my turnkey services.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 109
The Overuse of Similes
(June 25, 2013 )

Hello Everyone,

As is my custom, I first want to welcome the most recent subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. The premise behind these every-other-Tuesday broadcasts is to offer information on the ever-changing publishing industry, on as broad a basis as I can based on my 20-plus years as a novelist and the past five as a full-time editor, and to provide material that would help authors write prose at a publishable level. I used to structure that latter phrase as follows: “…and to provide material that would enable a writer to attract a major royalty publisher or quality independent press.” But with the digital-publishing explosion that has opened access to an estimated 12 million self-published works during the past three years alone, I felt it necessary to revise my rhetoric and accept personal publishing as it has evolved throughout the world.

And with what’s occurred with Meyer, Hocking, James (Erika Leonard nee Erika Mitchell), and the recent migration of well-known authors, with the most notable perhaps in Locke and all the publicity surrounding his being the first self-published writer to sell more than 1 million copies on Kindle, my position is that this medium is now the 800-pound gorilla in the room, and the responsibility is to find ways to utilize its strength rather than locate a strong-enough cage to keep it at bay.

And to this end, I once again want to mention Mike Hartner’s book, I, WALTER, which Brandi Kosiner was kind enough to review at my request. Brandi has been holding off on her reviews of late because of family responsibilities (she has two young children) and a new business she has started, but she graciously agreed to read I, WALTER, and I was delighted to learn that she gave it four stars. Mike’s work has received sterling reviews on a wide variety of platforms, and I encourage Newsletter subscribers to click this link to my Critique Blog and read the opening chapter.

In the realm of commercial fiction, I, WALTER achieves many goals, providing an enormously engaging protagonist and a cast of likeable peripheral characters, excellent pacing with vivid action, a beautiful romance, expansive adventure that spans the globe, and a complex plot with all sorts of twists and turns that will both make you gasp and tug at your heartstrings. Written in the traditional YA model, adults of all ages and both genders have adored the story.

And while discussing Brandi Kosiner, of whom I think enough to provide a permanent link to her blog on my Web site, she’s running a contest that ends July 7 for a free Kindle Fire. Each contestant kicks in ten bucks, and for this donation gets to pitch his or her book and personal blog. This type of opportunity is a great way to acquire outside reviews as well as to develop a following.

In Brandi’s words, “You can choose Twitter, Facebook, another blog (no e-mail subs though, GFC, Bloglovin or Linky), and add your book on Goodreads. You may also buy as many spots as you’d like.” She goes on to say that payment is through PayPal, and she will ask for the money only when there are enough participants. Newsletter subscribers can sign up via I seem to remember that she had already run one such promotion and closed it out when it reached an adequate participation level, so this is likely the second such event.

For a $10 investment, I know of nothing that allows a writer anywhere near the sort of exposure she is offering. This is the perfect way to use another blog to gain traction for a book, and the exact sort of writer-to-writer networking I’ve been suggesting in Newsletter after Newsletter. Here’s someone coming to you, so if you write YA, do yourself a favor and take advantage of what Ms. Kosiner is offering. And for folks new to Brandi Kosiner’s Book Blog, she gets 200-plus documented hits each day. That’s around 75,000 hits per year! What writer wouldn’t want to take advantage of that sort of exposure?

To switch topics, anyone reading Publishers Marketplace for the past six months has been inundated with commentary regarding the price-fixing trial involving Apple and the Big 6 publishers, allegedly colluding to force Amazon to raise prices to consumers. To slog through this with any degree of comfort, it’s imperative to understand “The Agency Model,” which was the payout structure the Big 6 publishers chose to foist on literary agencies as a means to compete with the Amazon juggernaut, which currently controls 80 percent of the book business in the U.S. and is selling bestsellers to the public at below wholesale pricing, as loss leaders. Apple entered into the fray via some Steve Jobs e-mails, and the Justice Department decided that there was price-fixing going on at this lower retail price point. Some, however, called this predatory pricing. And, yes, I know what some of you are thinking: Can this be bad for the consumer? Remember, too, that this heavily discounted pricing applied only to big-name titles.

To complicate matters even further, if this is possible, before the current phase of the trial commenced, the judge in the case stated a clear bias skewed toward the Justice Department’s position. Recently, however, the judge has said that the tide seems to have shifted, although no one knows what that means. The trial has been enormous folly and good for a gut laugh now and then and not much else. For subscribers who might not be familiar with “The Agency Model,” here’s a phenomenal article from Fortune Magazine that explains “The Agency Model” in the clearest terms I’ve read to date. If any subscriber might be wondering why it’s important to understand this, agency-model pricing can affect how all writers of self-published works are paid should their respective books be signed by any of the major royalty publishers.

This slide I copied from a News Corp article breaks down the differences between hardcover and digital pricing using “The Agency Model.”

A number of ramifications play into these metrics, not the least of which is that digital has zero “hard” distribution costs, and certainly no expense for returns. Yet, when everything is extrapolated and the money is divvied up, the writer comes out on the short end of the stick. When analyzing the data, it’s understandable when a writer, who is a good marketer too, decides to go it alone. This isn’t for the weak at heart, but it certainly makes sense for the right person. Yet, right around the corner of all this, Amanda Hocking went with a major house for some recent projects (St. Martin’s Press, part of Macmillan, which is owned by the German publishing consortium Holtzbrinck). So it’s becoming horses for courses more than ever, and writers will have to decide on their respective paths. I think it’s fair to state that all of this sure does change the calculus for writing the best book we can and then hoping people will read it.

I mentioned Publishers Marketplace earlier, and I noticed a recent broadcast in the daily Publishers Lunch listing a “nice deal” at anything from $1 to $49,000. I never thought about it until now, but this means that anyone who signs with Publish America for their standard $1 advance is in the same category as an author who inks a deal with Simon & Schuster for $20,000. I realize that advances from the Big 6 have shrunk, and in dramatic fashion during the past couple of years. But the Publishers Lunch scale at the entry level for author advances, in my opinion, needs some tweaking. After all, there is a substantial difference between $1 and $49,000, isn’t there?

I want to thank all of you who took the time to review Kimberly Hitchens’ fine article on manuscript formatting for a publisher, which appeared in the previous Newsletter. My position is that her company,, is well worth the modest investment, which for most authors will be in the $150 range. And she also has a jacket designer whose work is at the same dollar amount if someone doesn’t get carried away. Anyone who’s tried to reconstitute text has given up at one time or another, and she can remedy text issues effortlessly (for you), quickly, and at what I don’t think is out of line to refer to as a very modest cost. As with Brandi Kosiner’s Blog, I’ve gone so far as to place a permanent link on my Web site for

I’m closing the body of today’s Newsletter with praise for Mark Coker, Amazon’s Smashwords/Createspace’s CEO, who in a recent article advised writers never to go into debt to publish a book. He also admitted not long ago that some writers on his sites never sell a single book. But what I respect most about Mr. Coker’s remarks was the one advising writers to spend what money they can afford on an editor to get to the next revision. Of course I have an obvious parochial reason for appreciating this comment, but he didn’t have to say this at all, and that’s what I found most rewarding. Writers must get their stories in as good of shape as possible, as the competition is enormous, and while a quality book might never be discovered, a bad book will never have a chance from the get-go.

I wrote an article recently on similes, and as I thought about this later, it occurred to me that many writers, even the great Joseph Conrad who in my opinion was the quintessential crafter of similes, can at times overdo it. The article that follows deals with overzealous simile writing, and here it is:
Simile Writing to Excess

In a recent article I extolled the virtues of crafting quality similes and the ways they can enhance the reading experience. But as I thought about this later, it occurred to me that I’ve often experienced cases when similes are used to excess, so I decided to address the issue of overuse in this article.

First, One Simile Per Paragraph, Please

I’ve read material from famous authors in which two similes appear in a single paragraph, and even back to back. Honesty compels me to admit that I, too, committed this crime once or twice when I started out as a novelist.

The problem is that the second simile tends to diminish the first offering. For readers just getting through the initial simile, and what all writers hope will be a smile at the cleverness involved in its creation, a second following too closely does nothing but turn the text into a mental jigsaw puzzle in which the picture, once clear, is now jumbled and awaiting reconstitution. The mind can stand only so much manipulation before getting back to the storyline.

Second, One or Two Similes Per Scene

And this scene might well extend throughout an entire chapter. In my earlier article I alluded to Joseph Conrad’s enormous skill at writing similes. But I also remember what I felt was his overdoing it in LORD JIM.

From a contemporary perspective, “heads in the crowd popping up and down like figures in a Bang-a-Troll game” is generally all the reader needs to know to get the full flavor of the author’s characterization. And anything more will likely diminish the impetus of the comparison.

Third, Everything Doesn’t Require a Simile

Perhaps the most important statement of all is what I just wrote. I’ve read many books by unpublished writers who believe that the more similes they write the more they will be respected as masters of the English language. One adeptly conceived simile that is pertinent to the theme of a scene is better than a dozen average offerings which do nothing to advance the characterization.

Quality Over Quantity Should Be a Writer’s Mantra

I realize this applies to every aspect of prose writing, but an author’s similes will be held to a high standard, and if they are not at a consistent level of excellence, soon the technique will be viewed as overwriting, and a quick death for a work’s chances at any level.


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 110
The Accidental Metaphor
(July 9, 2013 )
Hello Everyone,
I want to begin by welcoming the new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter.  The purpose behind these broadcasts is to provide concurrent information on the publishing industry and to offer advice on writing prose at a level that people would pay to read.  I also supplement each Newsletter with an article that pertains to either the publishing industry or to writing quality prose.  I always have this material follow the main text, and I use its subject as the title for each respective edition.
For new subscribers, the problem with this format is its fostering the assumption that a respective Newsletter will pertain solely to the title of that particular edition.  This is not the case, unless it’s a special broadcast such as the recent edition that was exclusive to “Formatting a Manuscript for Publication” or the July of 2011 long piece on “Book Marketing from A to Z.”
I bring up this issue, because if a writer is proficient at writing similes, the recent Newsletter title on simile writing might not be of interest, and the tendency could be not to open that broadcast.  As longtime subscribers are aware, as is most often the case in my Newsletters, the only relevance to the topic is the article itself.  However, unless I provide a table of contents in the title, which would be impossible, there’s no way to assess what’s in a particular edition without reading its entire content.  
With all this being said, I’m sensitive to subscribers’ time and the importance of enabling each person to access areas of interest and avoid those that aren’t.  A way to do this is to go to my Web site and open the Newsletter Archives, which are provided via three buttons that separate material by broadcast date windows.  If a person will take the time to copy the entire block of material on a Word or similar document (the three “page buttons” on my Web site serve as a repository for every Newsletter since this medium’s inception in June of 2009, and now embody more than 150,000 words), any word-processor’s “Search Function” allows the subscriber access to somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 subjects, and currency can be determined by scrolling to the dateline of each edition.
I spent a solid week between this past Christmas and New Year’s assembling the material on the “page buttons” so subscribers could have random access to everything, and I want to thank those who wrote to tell me they’ve copied the Newsletters and find this a workable means of locating information as needs arise.  If I have the time during the next end-of-year holiday break, I might tackle setting up a table of contents to make this process that much simpler.  Unfortunately, this can be a real bear, time-wise, and I wouldn’t want to get started and not be able to finish.  So until something better comes along, please do as I’ve suggested and copy the text and use the “Search Function” for access.  And before anyone writes me, I will check with my Web designer in Bulgaria (no joke) to see if the internal “Search” feature can be upgraded, without the cost’s being prohibitive.
Client Dave Mallegol, who’s in the process of sending me his next installment of THE BRONZE HORSEMAN series to critique and later edit, provided an article from “The Smithsonian” that discusses how much the publishing industry changed 75 years ago when a fellow named De Graff devised the paperback and revolutionized reading.  With the advent of the paperback, Americans could spend $.25 for reading matter that previously cost $2.50, which the article points out equates to $40 in today’s economy.  Presently, with digital, a $27.95 hardback book can be purchased, on average, from $.99 to $9.99.  And because of this, as digital guru Mike Shatzkin points out, “More reading is taking place.” (I showcased Mr. Shatzkin in a recent Newsletter and placed a permanent link to his blog on my Web site.)
Mr. Shatzkin’s remark might not seem that provocative until one looks at everything else the digital explosion has fostered.  Yet, to reiterate his position, with the competition electronic media has created to impinge on the turf of the written (read, “digital”) word, more people are enjoying books than ever before.  I don’t own a portable electronic reading device, but if I traveled as I used to, I would certainly have one in my briefcase or in my coat pocket.  I view today as the most exciting time in history for writers, as never before has there been anything remotely approaching the current options available for the reading public.  Granted, capturing a market share is a son-of-a-gun, but the opportunities are indisputable. 
I t’s great to see that the American Library Association is going to be putting out a list of most popular books, based on checkout statistics.  I can’t think of a better way to judge an author’s popularity, and my hope is that the data will be expansive in a way that enables people to view things from a number of demographics, ranging from geography to gender to age.  As long as this information isn’t individualized, it wouldn’t seem to violate any privacy issues, and concurrent metrics would certainly tell new writers about the pulse of the reading public in a way that purchased books might not necessarily indicate.  I’ll cover my thoughts on this in detail in an upcoming Newsletter, as it’s a topic unto itself.
The recent three-person “class action” lawsuit filed against ASI, and AuthorSolutions in particular, encompasses several elements I couldn’t help but notice.  The first is the limited number of plaintiffs, and in the weak (read “nonspecific”) manner their positions appear to be presented.  For the enormous number of patrons of ASI imprints who believe they were taken advantage of in some way, I would think the plaintiffs would number in the thousands.  And while the upcoming class-action lawsuit (for which I’ve often provided the link to the law firm handling the case) will be exponentially broader from the perspective of plaintiff participation, this current suit seems both poorly organized and contested.
To my contention regarding lack of specificity, the most obvious issue is that all three clients haven’t established, at least from what I’ve read of the brief, the amount of their damages or even what harm they’ve suffered.  The recent case involving Publish America was tossed because of similar rationale, and while there’s no way to know what this judge might do in this instance, I’ll be surprised if the outcome is any different.  In that PA suit, the judge ruled that the firm was nothing more than a conduit (my words), and its clients should’ve known what they were doing.  I don’t in any way agree with this, as most writers generally go into publishing agreements with zero understanding of what to expect via the enormous complexity of publishing contracts, market share expectations, book publicity, and of perhaps greatest importance of all, royalty payouts.
I find it humorous that Penguin, which just acquired ASI, is now doing a fast two-step toward the door to distance itself from ASI.  However, with so many of the name literary agencies entering the self-publishing fray and ignoring the conflict of interest ramifications, it’s not hard to understand Penguin’s rationale in acquiring ASI, as Penguin now possesses a burgeoning nursery of starving babies ready to be fed anything.  However, the powers that be failed, as I see it, to fully take ASI’s reputation into consideration.  My personal opinion is that Pearson, Penguin’s parent in England, will ultimately decide the decision to acquire ASI was a horrible choice, considering the firm’s baggage, and the outfit will be sold.
To another issue I’ve discussed in my Newsletters on many occasions, B&N’s chronic dismal fiscal quarters point to my contention that the large brick and mortar bookstore chain will sadly become a thing of the past.  It appears the only reason B&N remains in business in its present configuration is because of the two egocentric chaps who continue to fight it out for control of the company.  My assumption is that the value of the real estate is the true catalyst driving the “want factor,” as who would desire a business model manipulated by a competitive monolith the likes of Amazon, and with its core product being cannibalized by digital. 
As to how B&N shakes out eventually, even if the e-market levels off–and indicators are leaning this way to one degree or another–regardless of the final disposition of “The Agency Model” lawsuit, if Amazon is allowed to market bestsellers equal to or below what B&N pays for the same books, how can the firm operate in a viable way?   Remember, only a few books in a store’s inventory sell in any numbers during a given month.  Eliminate these bestsellers from the pie, and what’s left is not a very tasty dessert.
I’ve written several articles of late that pertained to either similes or metaphors.  A number of subscribers have asked me to elaborate on what I referred to as creating a metaphor while not really attempting to do so, and I thought this might be a fitting subject for another article on this subject.
The Accidental Metaphor
It always amazes me when I read the way academia has canonized a writer by alluding to the incredible depth of the person’s writing, claiming that so much of this author’s prose contained brilliant metaphors describing some “condition” pertaining to that era, and especially something with political import.
Dante and Voltaire
It’s impossible to argue that Alighieri’s book is not a scathing rebuke of the Medici family and their long and widespread oppression of the Italian populace.  Likewise, CANDIDE is a striking example of using prose to ridicule religion and just about everything else in a society the author believed had gone wildly off kilter.
Hugo and Hawthorne
Hugo’s characterizations of cultural hypocrisy in both THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME and LES MISERABLES are exemplary if not quintessential.  And I place THE SCARLET LETTER not too far below either of Hugo’s lofty ascensions.  But the board becomes shaky, in my opinion, when one travels to Melville.
The academic community seems to have taken every line of the whale’s story and made it sacred, elevating the animal to possess Godlike implications.  And while BILLY BUDD is the obvious metaphoric allegory, how much beyond Billy’s sacrifice for the common good does the tale really go?
Thackeray and Porter
Perhaps no two authors wrote more obvious metaphorical material than Thackeray’s VANITY FAIR and Katherine Anne Porter’s SHIP OF FOOLS, as the titles themselves clearly express the nature of each story. 
However, and It’s a Big “However”
However, in parsing the works I just mentioned, is it reasonable to believe that each line, vignette, or scene credited as a metaphor was really written by each of these great authors with that intention?  I hardly believe this.
I’ve often extolled Joseph Conrad’s virtues, as I’m of the opinion he’s in a class by himself at writing similes that work.  And he’s not far behind the best when it comes to metaphors, as well.  In analyzing THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS, I recently discussed James Waite’s name as oft-heralded at being synonymous with “the white man’s burden.”  And I also mentioned the academic view of the ship’s crew’s constant chattering as indicative of society’s bemoaning social issues.  For me, the crew was simply mumbling about Waite’s fate, and not a mote more was on Mr. Conrad’s mind when he wrote the line. 
Academics Seem Eager to Jump the Gun
Many people who study literature are quick to look for anything possible to assign metaphor status.  I’m of the opinion that many writers aren’t considering metaphors as a conscious component of their narratives, and what occurs is often the byproduct of an academic’s creative thoughts during analysis of the text.  For this reason, it’s my contention that metaphors often occur accidentally.  And the reason they go uncontested is simple:  What person doesn’t want to accept credit for something considered clever, whether or not it was intentional?