The Perfect Write® Newlsetter Archives
(June 30, 2009 – May 10, 2011)

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 1
How to Find an Agent for Your Novel –
Understanding Genre (June 30, 2009)

There is perhaps nothing more perplexing in all of writing than trying to understand genre. While preparing this paper I ran across the following sub-genres for Romance: Suspense, Paranormal, Fantasy, Time-Travel, Futuristic, Licensed Theme, Medical, Regency, Medieval, Highland, War, Gothic, Western, and Mail-Order Bride. And these are by no means all that fall into the Romance bailiwick. There were a couple of dozen more.

In the Mystery category we have the Cozy, Police Procedural, Forensic Hard-Boiled Crime, Serial Killer, Suspense, Thriller, Legal Thriller, Medical Thriller, Technical Thriller; and other further Mystery subdivisions that include Science Fiction, Gay, Military, Political, Paranormal, and so many more that the separation becomes quite blurred. To confuse anyone to the point of no return, read a Writer’s Digest list of genres. And it, too, is not all-inclusive.

What Makes Genre Even More Complex Is Its Lack of Publisher Specificity

The editor-in-chief with a major publisher indicated to me that one of my novels was rejected because it did not fit into a tight enough genre, since it had military, espionage, and medical underpinnings. What was really meant was that the book did not follow the exact template for their Thriller program, as was also indicated by another work I recently presented to this publisher. This firm’s Thriller program (sic, imprint) does not model the Thriller definition, since books under that imprimatur follow the “gruesome murders by a serial killer who is being tracked down by a cop” pattern. Traditional Thrillers involve international intrigue and a life-and-death struggle to save the planet (or close to it).

An Author Must Determine the Genre and Relevant Sub-Genre in Which the Novel Is Written

The point is obvious. A writer must determine the sub-genre in which his or her work is written, and then tailor the presentation (in most cases, the query letter and not a phone pitch) to the agent and/or publisher to whom the material is being presented–as this relates to books that particular agent has placed or the publisher has printed. This requires parsing books on the agent’s or publisher’s list to make certain the submitted novel is indeed complementary. An author who makes this effort can eliminate the major hurdle of being informed that a submission is not a solid match, since the writer will know this could not possibly be the case. (A side-note here is not to imply in your query letter that you write like a specific author, but that your work mirrors the genre’s characteristics. This will be covered in detail during an upcoming article on the nuances of effective query letter writing.)

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 2
Writing Redemptive Characters (July 7, 2009)

Hello Everyone,

I had great fun working on the article in today’s Newsletter, but I must admit that I rewrote it a half-dozen times until I finally got it the way I wanted it to read.

Many of you made some wonderfully encouraging comments about the first Newsletter’s readability (visually), so until I’m convinced otherwise I’ll be continuing to send it with big dark print on a white backdrop.

As time goes by I’ll try to dress up the Newsletter with a colored boundary and perhaps some other simple aesthetic treatments, but I’m a ways from being capable of doing this. When I tried to place a border around the page the first time, I ended up breaking my web page template, but I eventually will incorporate my web page logo and border (with the same black print and white backdrop as you’re looking at).

Here’s this week’s article, and I hope you enjoy it. And please continue to send me subjects you’d like to have addressed in future Newsletters. I’ve gotten some great ideas from many of you already.



Writing a Novel – Hints For Getting a Manuscript Published – Writing Redemptive Characters

What is a Redemptive Character?

In writing workshops, I’m often asked what is meant by writing redemptive characters, and even by experienced writers, so it’s not surprising when there’s confusion about the meaning. Simply, it implies writing a character(s) in a way that readers can find something about the person(s) to identify with or care about, and in best case scenarios–root for. But this paints the explanation in rather simple strokes. I find there’s much more to it, so let me spend the rest of this article providing some concrete ideas on how to apply this definition in a broader sense; but a little history first related to the traditional concept of the redemptive character.

Very Few Successful Novels are Solely Plot Driven

I once asked an erudite workshop group to make a list of well-known novels with absolutely not one character who could be liked. After several months we’d parsed hundreds of books. There were a few honorable mentions (or dishonorable, if you so choose) such as ON THE ROAD and TROPIC OF CANCER. And I think THE SUN ALSO RISES and BREATHING LESSONS made the “almost list.” But when we’d finally completed our task, and a dozen people had contributed to this study of what amounted to more than a thousand works, only STUDS LONIGAN and WUTHERING HEIGHTS made it to the top of the heap. So writing a book that will sustain a reader without a likeable character is not an easy chore.

Manuscripts are Rejected because Agents and Publishers Aren’t Invested in the Characters

Not becoming invested in the characters is often because these figures weren’t found to be redemptive. Another knockout factor is to hear that the characters just weren’t interesting. So this begs the question, “What is a way to make a character interesting?” One answer lies in writing a character who is genuinely likeable and therefore patently redemptive. Another technique is to make a character compelling, but with the reader’s approval of the person’s actions not entering into the equation.

A Character Doesn’t have to be Paddy in THE THORN BIRDS to be Redemptive

This is one time when there is a magic bullet, and it’s a Howitzer. But the answer is not always obvious. In THE GODFATHER, most of us pulled for Michael, along with the Don (and in separate eras). The majority of people cared about Clarice Starling in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, but Hannibal held many people’s interest even more so as an antihero.

Perhaps with the Don and Hannibal, readers (and moviegoers) respected their power, however disparate its source. Yet while many people had their vicarious sweet tooth satisfied by the earlier Don, they later sympathized with the older character, which is a tribute to Mr. Puzo’s immense skill in character transitioning. With respect to Hannibal, he was viewed as an enigma. But since a lot of people were enticed (by Thomas Harris’ brilliance) to want to know why the good doctor had become a monster, this was the epicenter of the latest installment. For whatever the reason, many people unquestionably remained curious about the Hannibal Lector character.

Redemptive Character Writing Covers a lot of Ground, so There’s Plenty of Room to get Comfortable

Don Corleone and Hannibal Lector might not seem like sterling examples of my original definition of redemptive characters, but each in his own way is just that. Look at the recent vampire groundswell. The creatures are written in a manner that render people compassionate for their plight. A key to becoming published is to write characters who, regardless of their proclivity, are redemptive in the eyes of the reader.
Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder, The Perfect Write®
[email protected]

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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 3
Hints for Getting Your Manuscript Published –
Specialty Punctuation Issues (July 14, 2009)

Hello Everyone,

I’m excited to report with a lot of pride that The Perfect WriteTM Newsletter on Writing, Editing, and Publishing has doubled its subscriber base since the first article. Please continue to tell your friends and writing associates about the Newsletter so all of us can benefit from the special relationship serious writers foster.

This week’s bill of fare includes not one but three articles. I will provide original material written explicitly for the Newsletter in the vast majority of instances, however, I have a large backlog of articles I’ve created on various writing elements that at times I’ll assemble for Newsletter consumption. Today’s Newsletter is one such amalgamation, and includes articles on the use of exclamation points, parentheses, and semi-colons in fiction writing. I hope each of you enjoy the material and perhaps a chuckle or two.

And please keep your suggestions for article material coming. At the behest of one of our members, I’ve written an article on Selecting a Great Title for a Book, and this will be the subject for the next Newsletter on Tuesday, the 21st. So keep the ideas coming. I’ll try to write at least one article each month on a topic brought up by someone from our group.

Three Forms of Punctuation to Use or Not to Use – The Exclamation Point, the Parentheses, and the Semicolon

An Exclamation Point has No Place in a Novel

I’ve taken a little literary license with this subtitle, since to write that an exclamation point should never be used in a novel is preposterous. But to also state that this medium for emphasis should be used sparingly would not be out of line. Some experts feel that exclamation points are the sign of a lazy writer, or worse–an amateur. Whether the rationale for either opinion is sound or not, there are well-grounded reasons for both.

An Exclamation Point Can Support Lazy Telling and Not Energetic Showing

To explore the first assumption, this forces the consideration of Showing versus Telling from yet another perspective. The line, John was shocked! eliminates what could amount to many pages (or at least a couple lines) of exposition describing what had contributed to poor John’s frenetic condition. While lessening the rhetorical load, without adequate support for its selection, an exclamation point will often weaken–perhaps even exponentially–the very gravitas the writer is trying to impart. And what about when this sort of punctuation shortcut is taken with dialogue; such as, when John turns to Mary and says, “I am shocked!” True, a lot could’ve happened that the reader is aware of which brought John to this horrific revelation. But it’s when an exclamation point is not supported by antecedent material that serious writing deficiencies present themselves, and many experts agree that this applies equally to both exposition and dialogue.

Now for the Really Grisly Stuff

Nothing is more disappointing than reading otherwise good material when it’s besmirched with punctuation overuse. And seldom is anything more disconcerting than when a writer feels he or she can make every page stand out by overwhelming the reader with exclamation points. If anyone should be writing like this, please ask yourself: If on the first page of my manuscript I have affixed 4 exclamation points and continued my narrative in this vein, and my work is 300 pages in length, is it conceivable that I’ve honestly created 1200 mind-rocking events? And of perhaps even greater significance, after the first 3 pages (and now 12 scintillating scenarios have occurred), can I expect the reader to withstand 1188 additional mind-blowing experiences before finishing my story? and how much impact can I expect exclamation point 1199 to have over what I wrote that elicited, say, exclamation point 662?

There Is an Answer, and It’s a Simple One

The example in the last paragraph was extreme, but I recently thumbed through a book that was very close to the exclamation point count I just described. And the author wondered why he’d never been published. There were other issues with this book, but it’s unlikely any reputable agent or bona fide royalty publisher would’ve finished the first page once this rampant misuse of punctuation had glared at either.

Think One or Two Exclamation Points for an Entire Novel

A suggestion I’ve often heard, and agreed with, is to parse the completed draft of the novel and count the number of exclamation points that were used overall. If more than one exclamation point per 25,000 words, then it’s one too many. This previous sentence is so subjective that it was hard for me to write. But from personal experience, I’ve commonly gone back and analyzed fleshing out a scene rather than leaving an exclamation point to emphasize the story component. And I’ve found adding to the narrative, and enabling this rhetoric to show the action–thus negating the exclamation point–to be the proper course of action in nine out often instances. If you find your material invested with abundant “exclaiming,” you might want to consider applying the same test.

A Parentheses is One Form of Punctuation that has No Place in Fiction

While I disparaged the use of the exclamation point in fiction in the previous article, I mollified my fervor with the reluctant admission that there were indeed exceptions. And, in some instances, even an occasional benefit if the mark is used judiciously. But the employment of the parenthetical expression in fiction is not afforded the same luxury. And for three very good reasons:

The Action of a Parentheses Is Often the Opposite of Its Intended Function

The most problematic issue concerns the use of a parenthetical expression for emphasis, when the punctuation is designed as a means to express a derivative meaning or “aside.” In the instance of a writer wanting to accentuate the narrative, a dash or dashes should be utilized. Someone once suggested a simple check and balance for what to use in which circumstance: Consider a parentheses like two walls muting the text in between, while a dash, as in adding a dash of spice to a meal, heightens the flavor of the textual bill of fare. Perhaps a hokey explanation, but one I never forgot.

Another Issue with Parentheses in Fiction Goes Much Deeper

Once more, the evil Showing versus Telling monster exposes its fangs, and long ones this time. This is because a parenthetical expression inherently tells of an action that could’ve and often should’ve been shown. Simply, if the writer deemed the “aside” important enough to set off with specialty punctuation, wouldn’t what fostered the exposition be worth detailing substantively for the reader? Ask again the critical question, was this rhetoric within the parentheses provided for modest purpose, such as clarity, or was it positioned within the punctuation to enhance the narrative? If the rationale is the latter, there is a distinct possibly that a valuable if not critical Showing opportunity in the crafting of a plot point was missed.

Then there is Patronizing the Reader.

A large number of readers find nothing more grating than having situations or things explained to them via parenthetical supplements. If the reader can’t figure out the narrative because it is so weak that it requires reinforcement, this is often an indication the novel needs a serious rewrite, with a focus on Showing the scene or scenes which are being cloaked, and not Telling them. Many experts feel that parentheses have no place in the narrative of a work of fiction, and it might be wise for writers who wish to be published to heed this opinion

When a Semicolon Doesn’t Fit the Syntax

A writer friend of mine, who’d had four books published by major houses at the time we were meeting, critiqued something I wrote in which I had used a semicolon to set off a series in a section of comedy relief that read something like this: John wanted to own a farm, but without many common animals; namely, dogs, cats, cows, and horses. He suggested a colon for this sort of series, so the phrase would read: John wanted to own a farm, but without many common animals: dogs, cats, cows, and horses. (We can argue the comma preceding the last item in both examples some other time). I wasn’t sold on my friend’s recommendation until I sat alone with the phrase and read it aloud both ways. Once I did this, from the perspective of fluency, it was obvious the colon was the better punctuation choice.

Is a Semicolon a Good Fit in Exposition in Most Fiction?

Many learned people say semicolons don’t belong in fiction (especially commercial fiction). The contention is that a semicolon tends to stop the reader. Yet I recently read, in a book on contemporary fiction writing by a well-known author/agent, an eloquent if not passionate plea supporting the use of semicolons. But, to the first point, some feel semicolons inhibit fluent prose and might even push many writers toward Faulknerian length material; and, for this reason, semicolons should be eschewed at all costs. Consider the sentence you just read. Does it read better if broken into two sentences? or would the original sentence read even more comfortably if the semicolon was converted to a comma and with “for this reason” sans any punctuation?

What About the Use of a Semicolon in Dialogue?

Even a short article such as this would be woefully incomplete if the semicolon and its potential integration into dialogue was not broached. Some astute literary experts would never consider setting a semicolon in a rift of dialogue. The suggestion would be to “write around” the speaker’s words so the reader shouldn’t be confronted with a semicolon. However, while people are not parsing what they hear for punctuation, is the reader of printed dialogue so quick to dismiss punctuation necessary to portray properly spoken syntax?

A multitude of semicolon naysayers would vilify a sentence written in which a character is saying to his friend as they are walking after someone in a crowd, “She looked back; no, I was wrong, she didn’t.” But is this spit of dialogue so horrible? If so, what is the more suitable element of punctuation to express the meter of the speaker’s tongue in his reaction to the moment? Does a period after “back,” and a new sentence beginning with “No,” really convey the same degree of angst? And how would using all commas impact the flow? Try it, and I think most might agree–not well.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 4
Hints for Getting Your Book Noticed –
Coming up with a great title (July 21, 2009)

Hello Everyone,

The suggestion for this week’s article, COMING UP WITH A GREAT TITLE FOR A NOVEL, came from Newsletter subscriber and a recent Advanced Writer’s Workshop participant, Grayson Roquemourt. I want to publicly thank Grayson for his request, and I hope this article provides some sound ideas for creating unusual, eye-catching story titles.

If any of you should use the model I suggest in this article as a tool to help craft a book title, as a by-product of your effort, it might be worthwhile to keep in mind that the elevator pitch (this will make sense when you read the article) can be utilized as the initial descriptive sentence–and hook–in your query letter. This is one way to cut down on the labor of coming up with a great opening line for your query, since you will have already created it.

I’m excited to announce that novelist Rebecca York has offered to write an article exclusively for this Newsletter. Ms. York’s latest Harlequin Mystery, MORE THAN A MAN, will be released in August, so this is great timing, and she’ll also be detailing facts about this story.

Please let me know what you think of the material so far, and any suggestions for upcoming articles.

Hints for Getting a Book Noticed – Coming Up with a Great Title

A Great Title May Not Get Your Book Published, but It Can Certainly Help Get Your Story Noticed

When I was recently asked to write an article on how to come up with a great title for a book, it would have been easy to suggest that someone should craft a great story first. But GONE WITH THE WIND, THE SUN ALSO RISES, THE SOUND AND THE FURY, and THE POWER AND THE GLORY would’ve been exceptional books regardless of their titles. So would THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, SHIP OF FOOLS, and ATLAS SHRUGGED. But in both groups, only SHIP OF FOOLS would’ve been a certain match for someone browsing the shelves of a library for something to read, since the story did indeed take place on a ship on which a lot of foolish people had embarked.

An Author’s First Responsibility Should be to Identify the Story’s Most Significant Element

Just as many writers have difficulty recognizing the genre in which their story is written, authors are often perplexed at how to express their story in terms that clearly relate its unique characteristics. If a writer works on this skill, and anyone who has any hope of becoming published must do this, channel this presentation into a ten second elevator pitch, since you’ll need to perfect one of these too. In these ten seconds, you’ll likely have spoken 15 to 20 words. Assuming you’ve toiled long and hard to craft your short presentation, what is the message?

Use the Power Point in the Elevator Pitch to Create Your Title

Since you’ve now analyzed your story to its most definitive level, something in the story has motivated you to come up with a powerful spit of rhetoric that says it all. Your story is brilliantly conceived and Fitzgerald should only have written as well. Now remember your favorite novels and think about the story lines and the titles. Look at your manuscript in the same way and imagine what would best reflect the words you wrote.

KANSAS FLASH might not be about University of Kansas and Chicago Bears football great Gayle Sayers, but the life of a county fair huckster who became a phony tent evangelist and then really turned to God (a modern-day Beckett); THE CRUMBLED HEART, instead of romance or horror, could be a story of the inability of a child prodigy to attain expected greatness; THE BITTER TASTE OF SWEET SUCCESS might tell the tale of a character like Harry Angstrom in the RABBIT series.

Keep in Mind that Your Publisher Will Have the Final Say

I happened to check Amazon for each of the three titles I just made up and none of them were listed. I suggest doing the same (and with your local library) with whatever you create. This is especially important if your title matches or impinges on another author’s in the same genre in which you are writing. This happened to me twice in five years, so this is one subject I can relate from personal experience and wish I couldn’t. And remember that no matter how good you think your title might be, the publisher may suggest or even require something different

________________________________________________________________The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 5
Hints for Getting a Book Published –
Understanding Contrivance Issues (July 28, 2009)


And this really is a special bulletin, since I’ve just received the article from author Rebecca York that she has written for our Newsletter. Ms. York is one of the most prolific authors in the industry, and if you check out the section devoted to her on Amazon, you will see how many of her books are rated four and five stars by the toughest critics of all–the people who buy her books.

I will dedicate the entirety of next Tuesday’s Newsletter to Ms. York and her article PLOT AND CHARACTER – MAKE THEM WORK TOGETHER. It is a tremendous privilege to have someone at her level contribute to our efforts to become better writers, and I hope each of you will thank her for her kindness. And please keep in mind that her latest novel, MORE THAN A MAN, will be out in August. Now for my drivel.

This article that follows is on one of my favorite subjects because most writers, and especially those who toil with Mystery/Suspense material, are forced at times to button up a scene when it might not be the perfect time to do so. We need for someone or something to happen to save the protagonist–and therefore our story–in just the nick of time. Unfortunately, a writer can get carried away with these fortuitous bounces of the literary ball.

Contrived scenes seem to be one of the top three reasons for agent rejections, right after slow pacing, and a tie between non-redemptive characters and a poor story premise. So I hope each of you find this article to be of benefit. And I will continue to request your input, so please let me know of any subjects you would like addressed. If I don’t have the answer or experience with the topic, I’ll find someone who does.

I’m going to continue to switch back and forth between Ariel and Times New Roman font styles. Only a couple of you expressed a preference, and I’d like for everyone to let me know which you like best. You can check out the Ariel font in my author resource box at the very end of this article.

Also, please let me know what you think of these Newsletters thus far, and particularly how they can be improved.

Best to each of you,


The Problems with Contrived Writing Cannot be Overstated

Someone recently asked me about the meaning of contrived writing, and when I was coming up with some flagrant examples, this brought to mind a wonderful crossword puzzle phrase: deus ex machina. I couldn’t remember how to pronounce it, so I went to and an elegant female voice enunciated it with what I assume to be the perfect inflection. And the correct delivery is critical to express the gravity of this devilishly problematic writing nightmare, which is any artificial or improbable device resolving the difficulties of a plot.

The Meaning of Contrived Writing Must be Clearly Understood

Some people assume “contrived” relates to material that is “obvious.” This, too, is certainly a meaning; but in the context of this article, contrived writing relates to anything that would not occur in a particular scene without some sort of miraculous intervention. What makes contrived scenes particularly difficult to reconcile is that a great many genuinely superb writers have resorted to fantastic good fortune to preserve their plot lines. Unfortunately, this weak writing does not often save the story. It is important for a novelist to consider that a large number of readers will put a book down for good when a character’s actions are deemed to be beyond fortuitous.

We Might Expect Superman to Break Down a Door and Save the Editor of The Daily Planet, but Not to Do So on The Nightly News.

I refer to the writing of impossible scenes as the Marquez Syndrome. ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE is a terrific story and in large measure contributed to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Noble Prize for Literature. But did the story require the mysticism? For me, it detracted from an otherwise perfectly executed saga. But this wasn’t contrived, just a vignette he employed in the tale. Some writers, however, have taken his technique to heart and utilized preternatural events to cover a plot point instead of writing relevance into the scene. Contrivance is much easier than going back in the narrative and creating a set up for the overall plot element, with some authors forgetting that a single nonconforming thread can dog an entire narrative.

Even the Bard Wasn’t Immune

But Shakespeare had an excuse. Other than CORIOLANUS and a couple of other not so egregious exceptions, he apparently was forced for a number of reasons to stick pretty close to a two hour time frame for his plays. Yet he made a mockery of the audience and later the reader with THE TEMPEST, a play that is one of his most acclaimed, and from which I remember several movies being made in just one short stretch (PROSPERO”S PAPERS, et al.). With the ship being destroyed and the survivors stranded on the island in the opening act, the plot is horribly and irreparably vitiated when at the one hour and fifty-nine minute mark the ship is found essentially intact. At least this story was a fantasy from the outset, although Prospero’s powers as a magician never enabled the wrecked ship to appear in relatively sound condition. Chronology made this happen, not conjuring. Novelists are generally not on Shakespeare’s clock.

Not Many can Claim the Skills of Marquez or Shakespeare

And since most of us don’t possess their genius for writing, or dozens of titles under our belts and an international following, we’re probably better served if we write our scenes–and most certainly our story finales–with acceptable possibilities. If anyone should remember the ending in the television series DALLAS, this is a prime example of what constitutes a contrived scene–and how devastating it can be to an entire work. Contrived scenes are a certain sign of lazy writing, and as harsh as this sounds, one of the best ways to guarantee never being considered for publication.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 6
Author Rebecca York’s Exclusive Article “Plot and Character – Make Them Work Together”(August 4, 2009)

Hello Everyone,

Here is Rebecca York’s article for your enjoyment. It’s fabulous, and please be certain to thank her for providing this outstanding material for The Perfect Write® Newsletter.

Regards to all,



By Rebecca York

How do you start a book? With plot or character? It doesn’t matter which one rings your chimes, the bells must peal together in harmony. Your characters must serve your plot, and your plot must work with your characters. You might think of a great story about a guy who’s living alone in a mountain cabin and is visited by space aliens, but what’s he doing in that cabin? Why is he alone? How is he going to deal with little green men knocking on his door? And the larger question-is the reader going to believe his reactions.

The most important thing to remember about a novel or story you are writing is that it’s not reality. It’s a world you create. But you must make it look, sound, feel, taste and smell real to the reader. You do that by paying attention to every detail from characters and plot to setting and dialogue. Yet some details are more important than others. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of picking up a book and starting to read-then giving up after a few pages or a few chapters. Why? Probably because you didn’t like the plot, or you couldn’t connect with the characters.

I learned a lot about writing techniques through my love of reading. In my teens, one of my favorite authors was Sinclair Lewis. He was brilliant at character sketches. In just a sentence or two, he could get inside the personality of a small town mayor or the head of a major corporation. But he was much less adept with plot. His stories moved slowly, and eventually I stopped reading him.

Contrast that with the action-packed movies being produced today. They serve up chases, explosions and world-crushing meteors, bombarding the screen one after the other. But mostly they don’t interest me unless they focus on compelling characters as well. And they justify the action with logic.

If you want to study some writers who do both plot and character with equal brilliance, try Stephen King or Dean Koontz. I know English teachers and devotees of literary fiction tend to sneer at them for being “popular.” But there’s a reason for their popularity. They deliver a great reading experience over and over.

I’ve learned my craft from reading authors I admire, by studying movie techniques, and by figuring out what works or falls flat. Then I go back to my own stories. Every book I write begins with what I’d call a “cool idea.” Take my August Harlequin Intrigue, MORE THAN A MAN, for example. It’s about a guy who’s lived for 700 years. In this story, I started with my protagonist. Who is he? Why has he lived so long? What experiences shaped him? How did he find out he was immortal?

The man who now calls himself Noah Fielding was born in an impoverished English village during the “great pestilence.” He was about ten when everyone else in his village died. A group of monks found him and took him back to their monastery, where he got his education. He was on the fast track to becoming abbot until a group of monks began to whisper that he was in league with the devil because he never got sick and never aged past his early thirties. One night, they attacked him with knives, and he staggered away into a barn, where he prepared to die. But he woke up the next day with his wounds healing. Since he couldn’t go back to the monastery, he had to figure out how he would live. With no good options, he stole clothing, money and a horse from a rich man, then later sailed to Italy and became an art importer. All that’s back story, which I weave into the plot-some through his memories, some through dialogue.

As I round out my characters, I think about what plot will work best for them, keeping in mind that my hero, heroine and antagonist all need an urgent personal agenda which will lead to strong conflicts in the story.

I always plan to start with a gripping first scene that will plunge the reader into the action. In MORE THAN A MAN, a confused and half-unconscious Noah is hauled out of an experimental submarine. He’s the only survivor, which immediately brings him to the attention of Jarred Bainbridge, a dying millionaire desperate to find a miracle cure for his cancer.

Since I’m writing romantic suspense, Noah must develop a relationship with a woman he comes to love. She’s Olivia Stapler, an injured Las Vegas showgirl who’s in bad trouble because her brother, Pearson, is trying to force her into an extortion scheme. (I spend almost as much time on Olivia’s character development as on Noah’s, although she’s only in her late twenties.)

I always try to outline my story in advance, because I want to understand where it’s going. If you don’t know what goal you’re working toward, you can’t guarantee that each scene will advance the plot. But there are always details to discover along the way. How exactly are Noah and Olivia going to get away from Bainbridge? How do they resolve the conflict with Pearson

The two main threats-Bainbridge and Pearson–are woven together after Noah fights off the brother and takes a wounded Olivia to his estate. As they get to know each other, she’s worried that he’s hiding a terrible secret. And Noah wrestles with the problem of how to reveal his background without driving away Olivia. As they struggle with their relationship, Bainbridge and Pearson hatch a plot to kidnap her. Once she’s in Bainbridge’s clutches, he uses her to control Noah. In a horrifying scheme to test Noah’s recuperative powers, Bainbridge ties Olivia to a stake piled high with straw and explains that the only way to save her is to run through a wall of fire advancing toward her. When Noah’s horribly burned, Olivia thinks he’s sacrificed himself to save her. Instead, she finds out his secret in the worst possible way. Before her eyes, his burns begin to heal.

As the book progresses, plot and character continue to work together. Noah and Olivia face an escalating series of high-stakes perils, but in every case their reactions to each other and to these threats are the most important factor in every scene.

I hope I’ve helped you understand why it’s important to develop plot and character together. In my own work, I try to create the perfect people for each story, but they don’t come fully alive for me until I start writing the book. It takes me about three chapters to get into their heads deeply enough to know how they will react in each situation they face. And as I write, I may go back and fill in more about their character so the reader can understand them better. Still, I try never to overload any one part of the story with too much background. To my way of thinking, “character development” can never be the only reason for a scene. Each scene has to move the plot forward toward an ending that will satisfy me and the reader.

I write stories where my main characters are falling in love against a backdrop of suspense and danger. And I always reward them with the happy ending that they’ve earned. Since I’m writing romantic suspense, I take care of the action climax first. The characters must confront the danger that’s dogged them throughout the story and defeat it. Only then can they work out their personal relationship.

Does Olivia understand Noah well enough to stay with him? Can he take the risk of loving again? And what happens when she grows old and he doesn’t? Or can they find a way to solve this basic problem? Working all that out in MORE THAN A MAN was a challenge-but challenging myself is always part of the writing process for me.

— — —

New York Times, USA Today best-selling novelist, Ruth Glick (aka Rebecca York) is the author of over 120 books. She writes paranormal romantic thrillers for Berkley and romantic thrillers for Harlequin Intrigue. Her many awards include a PRISM Award for “Second Chance” in MIDNIGHT MAGIC (Tor, May 2006). She has received two Career Achievement Awards from RT BOOK REVIEW magazine. Her KILLING MOON was a launch book for Berkley’s Sensation Imprint. Her Berkley Moon series continues with DRAGON MOON (October 2009) Her next Harlequin Intrigue, MORE THAN A MAN, will be out in August.. Also the author of 15 cookbooks, Ruth loves cooking, craft projects and watching defunct TV series on DVD. Her garden contains rocks she’s collected from around the world.

Visit her Web site at


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 7
Point of View and Techniques for Effective Shifts
(August 4, 2009)

Hello All,

The inadequate handling of Point of View is one of the major hindrances to being read, let alone published. This week’s Newsletter is on Point of View and explains methods to make smooth and effective shifts, and includes rationale for shifts within scenes under ideal circumstances.

Newsletter subscriber Annette Levine asked for an article on the defining the difference between Tone and Voice in a novel, and this article will be published on September 8. I encourage each of you to provide suggestions for upcoming articles.

Best to everyone,


POV and Techniques for Effective Shifts

The first question some people might ask is why any writer would need to learn techniques related to Point of View. Doesn’t POV automatically synchronize with the character’s thoughts as soon as these feelings are expressed by the writer? And isn’t the POV of a scene easily identified by an attribute or obvious implication? If it were just this easy.

Shifting POV is Only a Problem When People Notice It

Some writers possess the skill to seamlessly shift from one person’s thoughts to another. As readers, we won’t give this the slightest concern–as long as we don’t realize when it’s occurring. But even some of the most well-respected novelists have at times jarred readers with ineffective POV shifts. So what is it that enables a POV change to be acceptable in one instance yet not in another?

A POV Shift Works When the Reader Finds it Desirable

Most writers make POV shifts in a traditional manner. They add a line space to signify another character’s thoughts, or go so far as to start a new chapter altogether. But some writers will elect to show multiple characters’ most intimate feelings–within the same frame–without the slightest hiccup. These adept authors are able to accomplish this for a reason.

POV shifts in the same scene are effective when we have become so involved in our characters that we want to know each of their innermost thoughts–immediately. Simply, the pacing and intensity of the storyline can eliminate what might otherwise create a problem for the reader.

So What’s a Writer to Do?

The ability to shift POV at will doesn’t mean its importance has lesser significance, but there might not be the need to worship its inexorably, either. There may indeed be that one instance in a novel, a hospital scene for example, when an accident victim is bandaged like a mummy, and the following could occur:

John Davis blinked and could make out a doctor standing next to his bed, staring at him with a stethoscope dangling from his neck as if it were being held by two tentacles. John’s thoughts turned to his wife. With his lips quivering through thin slits of blood-soaked gauze, John tried to ask about her condition, but no words came out. The physician wanted to leave, but realized by the anguish in his patient’s eyes that he couldn’t just walk away. He bent down to the broken man and said, “Mr. Davis,–”

Certainly, for consistent POV, the penultimate sentence might have read: John sensed that the physician wanted to leave, but something told him he couldn’t. The doctor bent down and said, “Mr. Davis….”

But is the scene as powerful if it’s left entirely in John’s POV? Or would the scene work better if the penultimate sentence began a new paragraph? I don’t think so, but this is an individual decision that is highly subjective, and anyone would be justified in disparaging the illustration.

A Final Thought

Many learned people and grounded writers feel that POV is right next to Showing instead of Telling as an inviolable principal. And in most cases this is undeniably correct. But there might be that rare occurrence, such as in the example I offered, when a POV shift within a scene might even be preferable. And I would hate to think that any writer would avoid providing the reader with insight into a another character because of POV convention. There are a lot of techniques available to enable the telling of a story and telling it well. And it’s obviously the choices that separate writers.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 8
The Importance of Chapter Length
and Paragraph Length (August 18, 2009)

Hello All,

Chapter sizing and paragraph sizing might not seem like that big of a deal, but they are. Consistency in chapter length is important, and generally small one-breath (this will make sense when you read the article) paragraphs are equally significant to the publishers and therefore readers of commercial fiction.

I hope all of you enjoy these articles that I wrote separately a couple of months ago for Ezines and which I now combined in this Tuesday’s Newsletter. I’ll continue to have the Newsletters sent weekly through September, and then move to every other Tuesday after that.

Best to everyone,


Chapter Length – A Time when Size Really Matters

“When is this chapter ever going to end?” This is a common rebuke heard by many a weary soul. The quality of the story may not have diminished, but the chapter is not consistent in length with the rest of the book. And the reader is uncomfortable. No time was allowed for the person to relax with the words.

Consistency with Chapter Length Is Important

Harry Crews, whose writing is far-removed from the mainstream, dissected Graham Greene novels related to how many chapters they contained and the length of each. Crews had a number of reasons for doing this, and it can be suggested that a writer should look at his/her own work as Crews parsed Greene’s to create visual continuity that can translate to pacing and pitch.

Genre as an Influence

However, when reviewing chapter length, a number of issues must be considered, none-the-least of which is genre. A writer of literature, such as Pat Conroy, will have different chapter parameters from a mystery author like James Patterson, with the separate and distinctive narrative nature of the disparate stories influencing chapter length.

Clever Techniques that Provide the Perception of a Shorter Chapter

If a writer finds a chapter, for whatever reason, too long, there are techniques that can be used to shorten the perception of a chapter’s length and provide the reader with some breathing room.

One is to add an extra line space after the paragraph and the beginning of the next (three spaces instead of two in a raw draft) to indicate a shift in the scene that, though evident, is not so great that a new chapter is desirable. Simply, the whole is still within the theme of that chapter.

The other device is to use dots between a line break to indicate a shift in the direction of the scene that is substantial, but still not such that a new chapter is deemed appropriate. Some publishers use elaborate symbols to accomplish the same thing.

Prudent Reasons for Section Breaks

It must be kept in mind that section breaks must have a distinct function–such as denoting a passage of time, a change of setting, or a point-of-view shift–to indicate a transition point that would otherwise confuse the reader by its absence. But just as section breaks enable the reader to take a deep breath, too many of these breaks, or if they are ill-placed, can confuse the reader as to why the change of direction was necessary. The story will appear choppy and therefore a poor read.

The Ultimate Test for a New Chapter

If you feel a chapter is too long or bloated, a good test is to look closely at the point at which you are contemplating a section break. Apply a simple concept: If you were getting tired of reading the chapter, wouldn’t the reader likely be feeling the same way?


Paragraph Length – Another Instance when Size Really Matters

Ten or so years ago, an editor who was between jobs, and soon thereafter became the editor-in-chief of a major publisher–where she remains today–took on the project to critique a novel I had written. But before she’d read one page of my manuscript, she warned me about paragraph length; simply, I should be certain my work was written for the most part in short paragraphs.

Paragraph Length Is of Prime Significance to the “Readability Quotient”

At first I thought it an odd, out-of-place comment, especially since she’d not yet received my manuscript. But then I thought about the Mystery genre in which the book was written and decided to parse the average paragraph lengths of authors whom my style most closely patterned. I was pleased that my word count was, on average, not abnormal. It was not until I began facilitating writing workshops that I fully understood why I was given the admonition.

Paragraphs that Are Too Long can Kill Pacing; Try Inserting Dialogue when Realistic

One of the first problem areas I noticed with material from budding writers was run-on paragraphs. This occurred in dialogue as well as exposition, and it destroyed the pace of the narrative quicker than any other factor. While long paragraphs wear out the reader, there are simple ways to remedy this. And not always by simply breaking up the material into multiple paragraphs of continuing exposition.

One is to insert dialogue. There is no easier way to break up a long paragraph than for a character to say something. However, this is not always feasible, so finding a suitable point and breaking up the paragraph is all that is left as a remedy. But where?

How Long Is Too Long? Apply a Simple Test

We are trained that a paragraph should start and end a thought. But since sometimes these thoughts can be substantial, try this exercise: While you’re reading a paragraph you’ve written, consider its length as if it’s invested in your breathing process. If your breathing suddenly becomes labored, and you’re still reading the same paragraph, determine the point that caused your breathing to strain and begin a new paragraph with that sentence.

You might have to rearrange a few words, but when you read the new shorter paragraph, check how much easier you are now able to transition to the next paragraph. And how much easier you happen to be breathing. You may have improved the manuscript and the health of your readers at the same time.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 9
Dialogue, Dialogue, and Dialogue (August 25, 2009)

Hello All,

Here are some articles I had written in the past couple of months on dialogue that I combined as the material for today’s Newsletter.

I plan to continue with these Newsletters on a weekly basis through September, then every two weeks. After the first of the year, I’ll see what frequency most people prefer and go from there. Please continue to provide suggestions for topics, and I hope each of you find today’s material to be beneficial.




It is It is important to recognize all of the various writing components that can be utilized to develop and enhance characterization. Yet while dialogue is definitely one of these elements, it is often reduced to a lesser status. Here is a typical textbook definition that, via the specific omission of dialogue by name, diminishes this writing medium as a valuable means for crafting characterization:

Characterization is the process of conveying information about characters. Characters are usually presented through their actions, dialect, and thoughts, as well as by description. Characterization can regard a variety of aspects of a character, such as appearance, age, gender, educational level, vocation or occupation, financial status, marital status, social status, cultural background, hobbies, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, ambitions, motivations, personality, etc.

While dialect is mentioned, and this reference certainly indicates the use of dialogue, the insinuation can hardly be described as comprehensive. Perhaps nothing can more adequately place the reader in the mind of a character than the dialogue attributed to that individual. Nor can we learn any more about an environment, whether physical or social, than through reading dialogue.

A Contemporary Novel with 100 Percent Dialogue

For an exercise in excellence in this medium, regardless of one’s liking or not for Stephen King (as a writer, I regard him as a super genius), DELORES CLAIBORNE is an extraordinary example of the use of dialogue to tell a story. And in this instance, the entire text is structured around Delores speaking, and without one word of interior monologue or a single adverb attribute.

Reading Suggestions that Demonstrate Outstanding Dialogue

GOD’S LITTLE ACRE, THE SOUND AND THE FURY, RABBIT RUN and TORTILLA FLAT are all classics that contain extraordinary characterizations portrayed through dialogue. For purely contemporary readers, anything by Elmore Leonard will be of benefit, however, GLITZ may be the book to parse first.

Many find creating good dialogue to be the most arduous aspect of their writing. And it is hard to argue that straight dialogue can be inherent with problems. But when a writer considers dialogue as a means of communicating characterization, then the task can be much less daunting and a perfect way to present a story with greater depth and more definitive focus.

More on Dialogue

It would be nice to relate that few writers ever have pacing issues, but as any novelist knows, the story’s tempo is often–as it should be–on the forefront of the author’s mind.

In the writing workshops I facilitate that are sponsored by the Palm Beach County Library System, budding authors often ask about ways to better pace their material. One of my suggestions is to insert dialogue if the scene is flagging. This, of course, isn’t always possible or even practical, however, I find this option is available more often than it isn’t. And this is another reason why learning to craft effective dialogue is important (sic, paramount) to any writer’s success.

Dialogue Can Promote “Showing” and Eliminate “Telling”

Another of the greatest benefits of developing dialogue skills is the inherent subjugation of the dreaded “Show Don’t Tell” dilemma. This is because dialogue automatically creates action, since the characters are speaking. As a bi-product, dialogue also encourages the writer to maintain an active tense and write around passive tense; i.e., “have been,” “had been,” “would’ve been”, etc.

Reading “Out-Loud” What We Write Is Never More Important than With Dialogue

In discussing dialogue in general, it is critical to understand that we can’t write like we talk, anymore than we can talk like we write. It is the ability to write between the two that makes for quality dialogue. And the best way to determine if the goal has been met, as in all writing, is to read aloud what was written.

And if it sounds bad the initial time we read it, it isn’t going to get any better, no matter how many more times we traipse through it. What will happen by re-reading is that we will memorize the lines or the pattern of the dialogue so we can read it more fluently. But the person who will be reading it for the first time is not going to have the author’s patience or persistence. Hence, if we stumble the first time and we wrote it, rewrite it!

Steinbeck and Leonard as Models of Great Dialogists

I wrote in an earlier Ezine article, “Four Authors of Classical Contemporary Literature Defined the Craft of Writing Perfect Prose,” and stated, as a dialogist, it is hard to dispute Steinbeck’s brilliance. In the medium of dialogue, if he is not considered the quintessential classicist, few would dispute that he is certainly near the very apogee of this element of the craft. However, from a purely contemporary standpoint, many, of which I am a subscriber, find Elmore Leonard the current standard-bearer.

Editors Often Consider a Writer’s Dialogue Skills First

Regardless of whomever and from whichever era a writer chooses to study material, many renowned managing editors have documented that dialogue is often the first aspect of a novelist’s ability they consider when contemplating a work for publication. That, in itself, should tell anyone the importance placed on dialogue.

Still More on Dialogue

A major hindrance to realistic dialogue is the inability to recognize the value of contractions to enable fluency. Dialogue quickly becomes stilted due to the non-use of contractions, and the narrative tends to read like dissertation material or a legal brief. Unless the character is not familiar with spoken English, or if the writer wishes to create and maintain an accent, when constructing dialogue it is generally advisable to use contractions whenever possible.

Early On, We Learn to Avoid Writing Dialogue Like People Actually Speak

Related to dialogue and creative writing, from the first sentence of the initial lecture we attend or book we read, the adage is the same: for dialogue to work, it must not be written in the exact way we speak; conversely, dialogue normally would not be spoken in the same syntax in which it is written. Unfortunately, this is a difficult element to comprehend for a lot of writers, and poorly conceived dialogue knocks out manuscripts quicker in the eyes of many agents and publishers than any other factor.

Read the Line Fast, First Without and then With the Contraction(s)

If a writer reads the line of dialogue fast–first without a contraction(s) and then with–and applies the intended inflection along the way, a good sense of pitch can be ascertained. When multiple contractions are a possibility in a sentence, this “fast read technique” not only helps to determine if contractions will benefit the dialogue, but where, since many times a contraction works well in the first spit of dialogue, but not later in the same sentence–or vice versa. This of course also applies to exposition, but the evil non-contraction as a contributor to stilted rhetoric tends to be more marked in dialogue, and, as stated, imminent death for a manuscript.

It’s all About Pitch

Most people have a favorite author or two they like to read purely for pleasure. If we ask why, we’re generally told it’s because those writers are easy to read. Pick up someone’s work you enjoy relaxing with, and start parsing just the dialogue out loud. (After I wrote this line, I pulled down books by Barbara Kingsolver, Larry McMurtry, and Colleen McCullough to support my point.) You won’t have to search for the contractions; they’ll find you. Now take a sentence and read it instead with two-word substitutes for the contraction(s), paying attention solely to the new pitch of that sentence. I don’t have to guess if there was a negative impact, and in many instances I imagine it was profound.

Good writing happens for a reason, and the proper utilization of contractions in dialogue is a powerful stepping-stone for improving prose writing skills.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter
Vol 10, Write a Novel – How to Get Published
(September 1, 2009)

Hello All,

Here is an article I spent a lot of time designing and that was hugely successful when I tested it on the Internet writing sites a few weeks ago. I hope you enjoy it.



To write a novel that will be appealing to a major royalty publisher involves more than just talent and hard work. It requires creating a plan from the outset and the discipline to follow it.

Everybody Has a Story Worth Telling

If you have begun reading this article, there’s a good possibility you have either been told this, heard this, or feel this way for your own reason(s). And while it may not be irrational to believe that each of us has a story worth publishing, doing so in a manner that is palatable beyond our family and closest friends is indeed what separates writers. But is the latter part of the preceding statement always true?

It’s Often Not a Matter of Ability

I don’t think it would be out of line to state that we’ve all read a novel which we’ve paid our hard earned money for and later shaken our heads in wonder and disgust at how the book every got published. You might have even said to yourself (and often) that you’ve written material much better than what you just read, but your story was rejected. So why did a writer’s inferior material attract a publisher when your superior work hadn’t?

Specific Manuscript Faults that Can Cause Rejection

Assuming that basic grammar and punctuation were not an issue, several factors can determine why a manuscript was never considered publishable. In no particular order, here are some of those reasons. And please note that all of these shortcomings are the result of inadequate editing.

– Certain plot elements seemed contrived
– The characters were not interesting
– The scenes were not fully developed
– There was not adequate conflict
– The dialogue was not realistic
– The pacing was slow
– The premise was poor
– Formatting was wrong for the genre
– Paragraphs and/or chapters were too long

These are some of the common reasons for rejection, yet you may have just read material from a major imprint that contained some if not many of the very flaws that are listed. How is this so? Read on.

The Not So Obvious Reasons Poor Material Is Published

It is important to understand that today’s publisher is interested in readership potential more than ever, and an established author with a guaranteed readership is key. The penchant to print books that will assure a certain number of sales encourages the following:

– Books are written too fast, and this results in diminished quality

– Books are poorly edited, since many publishers do very little of this work any longer

– Some of the most successful authors do not write all of their material

– Some of the most successful authors do not write any of the material under their signature

The list is much longer, but the point is obvious. And this is why a plan is critical for an unpublished author or an already difficult task can soon become insurmountable.

Before you Commit the First Word to Paper, Formulate a Plan and Force Yourself to Follow It

For those writers who have the foresight to create a plan and the discipline to follow it, here are a few suggestions that will at least give each of you a fighting chance to have your novel considered by a quality agent and a bona fide royalty publisher:

1. Determine the genre or sub-genre in which you will be writing. If you should be having difficulty with this, go to the free web site for definitions.

2. Review current novels in your genre to determine the authors who are being published and by whom. Make a list of these authors’ agents (they are generally referenced on the novel’s Acknowledgments page). This will provide you with a group of agents to query, and you’ll likely find that some (or another agent in their agency) will accept unsolicited material.

3. More important than any of the issues in this list, it is imperative that you write your novel so it is an exact fit for the publisher’s definition of the genre.

4. Pay attention to word count, paragraph length, chapter length, and general layout. Avoid long runs of italics and all parentheses (the latter is purely a personal hang up of mine).

5. You can certainly take advantage of critique groups, writer’s workshops, and friends and relatives. But have a professional editor–whom you have thoroughly checked out–at least read your manuscript before sending it off. And if you do take my advice on this, find an editor who has experience with royalty publishers in your manuscript’s exact genre.

6. You will not get a second chance with an agent or publisher. And the list of good ones who are still accepting unsolicited material in both arenas is dwindling fast. So make your manuscript as perfect as possible in every way prior to sending it.

Put the Cart in Front of the Horse and Create Your Liner Notes First

This is the time to put two paragraphs of your dreams for your novel on paper. Design beforehand what your liner notes (and ultimately your query letter) should look like when your manuscript is finished, and your characters will never be shallow and your scenes can never be weak. Now follow your dreams.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 11
The Difference Between Voice and Tone
(September 8, 2009)

Hello Everyone,

The topic for today’s Newsletter was suggested by one of our subscribers, and a writer’s workshop participant of mine, Annette Levine.

Differentiating voice and tone can be complicated, and I hope this article provides some clarification. As an aside, I have routinely beta tested material on the Internet prior to publishing it in these Newsletters, and in a very short time this has become one of my most widely read articles.

I hope each of you enjoy the information. I want to thank Annette for providing the subject matter, and continue to encourage each of you to come up with ideas for future Newsletters.

Also, I will be adding features to this Newsletter as we move forward. The first will be a critique opportunity, so if any of you have personal material you would like to have critiqued (no more than five double-line spaced pages, please), please submit it and I will be happy to post it in a Newsletter for our subscribers to review and offer their individual comments.

So the Newsletters don’t become overwhelmed, material will be accepted on a time-stamped basis, meaning first come first serve. So if you wish to participate, don’t send me anything yet, just let me know that you wish to do so, and I’ll respond to you individually with the Newsletter date in which your narrative will appear.



The Difference Between Voice and Tone

For many, tone and voice seem synonymous, and it is easy to see why people can feel this way, however, the terms are decidedly different. But before either can be properly differentiated, it is important to take a close look at writers who mastered voice

Thomas Mann’s Short Stories Showcase Voice.

One of the best ways to understand something is to provide different treatments of the subject. Thomas Mann’s eight stories in the popular Vintage imprint with DEATH IN VENICE as the lead title is ideal to work from, since each story is written in a different voice. Yet Mann’s masterpiece, THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN, depicts his voice as a separate entity onto its own–and one could say that it was his true voice.

While the short stories in the DEATH IN VENICE Vintage compendium enable a relatively quick study of the range voice can take, this is far from conclusive. The reason is because voice is without boundaries. This open architecture, in and of itself, leads to much of the confusion about voice. And this is the first distinction between voice and tone, since tone can generally be identified without too much of an argument.

So What is Voice?

When someone hears that a “new voice has exploded upon the literary scene,” does one automatically expect to read the next Marcel Proust, Virginia Wolfe, Ann Rand, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, or Erskine Caldwell; or should we seek writers of a more current era such as Pat Conroy, Elmore Leonard, E.L. Doctorow, Tom Clancy, or Barbara Kingsolver?

Each of these writers possesses a distinctive voice, but what do we say about authors who work in the same genre and write in a similar style? Does each have a separate voice? Of course he or she does. Just as one singer can sound like another but not possess the identical range in every key.

An Attorney Letter and Family Correspondence on the Same Subject Illustrate the Difference

One of the best ways I can think of to express voice is to compare an invitation to the reading of a will from an attorney with the same request from a close relative.

The first letter might read something like this: Dear Mr. David C. Howson: Please be advised that your attendance is requested on Thursday, January 11, 2009, at 1:00 p.m., in the office of John Carlton Jones, Esquire, Attorney at Law, 201 West Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60601, for the reading of the Last Will and Testament of Horatio Clark Howson, etc.

Conversely, here is an invitation from a close relative: Dear Davey, your uncle’s will is going to be read next week at our attorney’s office, and we look forward to seeing you there. Jo Ann will call you for with the details. Love, Aunt Mary.

Style Establishes Voice, but There’s a Lot More to it

Same message about the dearly departed, and although both are conveyed in what is considered a soft tone in relative terms, they are written in decidedly different voices. So while it is safe to say that style creates voice as much as the words that are used, what about an academic paper written in an authoritative tone? Isn’t this also an authoritative voice? Certainly, except it would probably be easier for definition purposes to claim the voice as authoritative and the tone as strong.

Tone Has Three Basic Mediums

For practical purposes, tone is either soft, moderate, or strong. These areas of course can have any number of gradients, from very soft to aggressively strong, but the three delineations provide the basis for comparison. This is still speculative, because what one person considers moderate another might feel is strong (and of course vice versa). But it’s much easier to come to a consensus on a specific tone than to devise a chart that categorizes voice.

So, Again, What is Voice?

Voice is you. Should you and another person write a book about the identical topic, your story will reflect your way of telling the tale via words and syntax that differ from what the other writer has used. So when you write a book, and the critics proclaim a fantastic new voice has roared onto the scene, these pundits are talking specifically about you, because you are the voice of your writing. And a unique voice indeed.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 12
The Role of Professional Editing (September 15, 2009)

Hello All,

Here is another article that was well received when I beta-tested it on the Internet a few weeks ago. I was somewhat ambivalent about writing it, since it is about editing and the field in which I work, but I thought it was important for writers to understand the value of editing and a framework for fee structures that many editors charge for the different levels of assignments.

I will be writing an article down the line that deals with how to find the right editor for an author, a subject that is absolutely critical so that a writer is better able to glean the correct advice for the genre in which his or her material is written. In editing, like most things, one size does not fit all.

Also, I will be going on vacation at the end of this month and will be back the week of October 9. And as I had mentioned in a preamble to a previous Newsletter, I will be modifying the Newsletter delivery to every other Tuesday in September; so, after today’s edition, the next one will be sent on September 29.

I hope each of your find today’s article to be of interest.

Best to Everyone,


The Different Types of Editing Services

Since this article about the importance of professional editing is written by someone who edits text for a living, it would be easy to assume this information is self-serving. And while this would be justifiable, I can assure any skeptic that I’m offering an honest position based on what I’ve learned from experience as a novelist and not as an editor.

Using an Editor Does Not Mean a Writer is Inept, but Just the Opposite

One of the greatest difficulty some people have is the stigma that the use of an editor implies incompetence on the part of the writer. Frankly, it’s just the opposite.

Check the Acknowledgements page in novels by some of the most respected novelists of our generation and see how many times the respective author’s editor is praised (and I’m not referring to the executive editor of the publisher company).

And if you check the web sites of some of the top editors in the industry, you might be surprised to find names like Nelson DeMille, John Updike (who passed away recently), and Stephen King listed as clients.

Everybody Uses an Editor, and If They Don’t They Should

My apology for the trick sub header, but I wanted to get your attention. I’ve only heard one noted writer (who happens to be a female, so I’m identifying the gender solely for accuracy) publicly state that no one edits her work. This individual is a Ph.D who teaches at an Ivy League school and has written dozens of novels published by top houses.

Yet if people like Theodore Bernstein used an editor, is it realistic to think our pompous writer friend doesn’t also at times just maybe have someone catch a glimpse of her work before she sends it off? I’ve read some of her novels, and she’s brilliant, and all the more reason I think she was feeling her Wheaties the day I witnessed her remark, and not telling the whole truth.

The Different Types of Editing

Before lambasting the independent editorial process as being unnecessary, it might be a good idea to understand some of the types of editors and what each one does–and what the fees for each service might be.

The Critique – Quality critiques are available across the country for a $1.50 per page (ever editor I know requires double-spaced material, which equates to 250-300 words per page). You can expect to receive a three to three four page, single-spaced critique of your work. However, I know of editors who charge $4 per page.

The Line-Edit – This editing revises sentence structure and complex syntax issues. as necessary. Fees are generally between $6 to $8 per page, and this normally includes copyediting (typos, improper word use, and punctuation). Some editors charge as much as $15 per page for line-eding.

The Developmental Edit – This editor will work with you from the beginning of your novel, and most provide line-editing as part of their service. Editing at this level can cost as much as $15.00 per page, and it’s usually a cradle to the grave proposition for a particular work. It’s not uncommon for a writer to pay as much as $7,500 ore more for this service for an 80,000 to 10,000-word manuscript.

Understand that some editors charge by the hour, and the aforementioned costs will be irrelevant, but I think most writers will find these fees to be representative of the different levels of service as of 2012. And even many editors who charge an hourly rate seem to align rather closely with these fees. However, like anything, there are editors who charge more for these services, as I’ve indicated. [This article, originally written in 2009, was updated in December of 2012. I had to move my critique fee from $1 per page to $1.50, and my line-editing is currently $6 to $8 per page. I updated these changes for this repost of the material.]

Also, copyeditors–actually copy editors in the traditional context–are known as the people who line up text for printing. However, this name is commonly associated with line-editors too, and the difference is worth noting, as these are entirely different roles. Finally, an executive editor, such as an editor-in-chief, is not generally doing any of the editing I described, but running the operational aspects of the publishing entity.

Investing in a Good Editor Is the Best Money a Writer Can Spend

Writers spend a lot of money on books and other material on how to write and how to become published. And they often devote untold hours to reading and/or critique groups. These books, tools, and activities are invaluable, but there is a point a writer reaches when his or her work requires a professional to take a look at it.

Just like talking about one’s health, there are many instances when discussing it with friends and associates is great, but it’s certainly not the same as going to the doctor. Seeking the help or advice of a professional editor is no different. It is eventually necessary–for everybody–and the sooner a serious author works with a quality editor, the quicker a manuscript can be headed toward publication.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 13
How to Properly Format a Manuscript (September 29, 2009)

Hello Everyone,

This Newsletter is being sent while I’m on vacation, so I won’t be able to respond to anyone until I return, but I hope many of you find this article to be of interest. Frankly, it’s a subject I should have addressed a long time ago.

Obviously, a manuscript’s layout has zero to do with the quality of the writing, but I’ve found that a disorganized physical text is often the harbinger of hastily written material. And inconsistently formatted text is hard to read. The better the reading experience, the easier it is for the editor to concentrate, especially when searching for those subtleties that make a difference.

There is no absolute “this is the way it has to be” format, but if a writer follows the advice in this article, I think he or she will be ahead of this aspect of the game. And as I state in the last line of the article, if you choose to eschew everything else, please don’t disregard that suggestion. It has saved me untold hours of menial labor and aggravation.

Best to each of you.


How to Properly Format a Manuscript

A writer can start with THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE and move from it to any number of academic works on what a manuscript layout should look like. But adhering to the following eight suggestions will assure an acceptable format for almost all commercial fiction.

Hint Number One – Your Name, Page Number and Book Title in the Top Left Corner of Each Page

In the top, left corner of the page, many editors prefer your last name followed by a hyphen and the page number, and one single space below this, the title of your book. Then three single spaces below this (if you’re not beginning a new chapter, which I’ll cover later) begin your narrative.

Hint Number Two – Double-Line Space the Narrative

No one I know will accept a single-line spaced manuscript, and there is good reason. In the days of the covered wagon, when everything was edited with a pencil, the suggested corrections were made between the lines. Many of us still prefer to work this way, and the format is paramount when line-editing material. Plus, most people find double-line spaced copy on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper much easier to read and therefore more comfortable to work with.

Hint Number Three – Double Space After a Period

Double spacing after a period enables room to annotate punctuation changes and draw lines to move sentences around. I am aware that some people are saying this is “old school,” and therefore the double space after the period is no longer necessary, but every editor I know prefers or demands it, as do I.

Hint Number Four – Indent Paragraphs 1/2″

Most word processing programs seem to use a 1/2″ indention as standard, but I often receive manuscripts with erratic or inconsistent paragraph indentions. If you always indent 1/2″, then your text’s appearance will be consistent and this will also enable you to “fudge” when you want your text to look its best from an aesthetic standpoint.

Hint Number Five – Never Justify Text (Except for Chapter Delineations)

Under no circumstances should a manuscript be submitted with justified text. This makes line editing a nightmare (sic, impossible), since extra spaces between words are something a line-editor flags.

Hint Number Six – Locate the Chapter and its Number in the Center of the Page

As with unusual or inconsistent indentation, I receive a wide variety of chapter set ups. My suggestion is to type out the word Chapter with a capital C and follow this with the number 1, 2, 3, etc., one space after the word; i.e., Chapter 1. This isn’t as Mickey Mouse as it seems, because this differentiates a Chapter 1 from Part 1, for example. The Chapter designation is a location in which centered text is not only acceptable but desirable.

Space the chapter identification down however far you desire with an equal number of lines below it before your begin the narrative. Five single spaces from the book title in the top, left corner to the centered chapter identification, then five single spaces to the beginning of the narrative, is a good template.

Plus, this again provides room to “fudge,” if need be, during later revisions and not require a writer to have to repaginate an entire chapter–or even the entire book.

Hint Number Seven – Use 12 Point Times New Roman or Courier Font

Many in the publishing industry seem to recommend these fonts. Also, if a writer sticks with either Times New Roman or Courier, this could save having to manually go through an entire manuscript to clean it up should it have to be changed to either of these font styles. Because, even today, with all of the word processing genius that’s out there, different fonts don’t often wrap properly when the entire text is converted from one font style to another.

Hint Number Eight – Leave an Extra Double-Spaced Line at the End of Each Page

If you choose to ignore everything I’ve written, please don’t disregard this idea: Leave an extra line or even two at the end of each page, especially during the early drafts of your work. Meaning, instead of typing to the last line, which will generally be line 24 of double-spaced copy, type only to line 23. This has nothing to do with editing, but will enable you to revise and often not have to repaginate work, thus saving a huge amount of labor.

If you follow the suggestions outlined in this article, you will have a very happy agent, editor or publisher–and I hope all three.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 14
How a Query Letter Differs from a Synopsis
(October 13, 2009)


Query Letter Writing – A Daunting Dilemma

Some years ago, to add to a discussion I was encouraging related to the nuances of query letter writing, a woman who had just received a contract for her first novel–and with Simon & Schuster no less–wrote me to lament how arduous she had found the task of crafting her missive to appeal to agents. She admitted that she considered the query more difficult than writing the actual work, and had spent over a year on her letter. For discretion’s sake, I won’t reveal the name of the author, but many people would recognize this now well-known Ph.D., and her breakthrough novel.

The Synopsis-Syndrome

I chuckled at her comment, not out of derision, but from empathy, since I have often felt the same way about my own queries. While I haven’t spent a year on a letter to attract an agent, at times I wish I had. One of the problems is that I have often found my query turning into a synopsis. And in parsing the query letters of others, the synopsis syndrome, as I call it, seems to be the most chronic malady that inhibits the presentations (sic, queries).

For a Successful Fiction Query Letter, Size Does Not Matter

A writer desires to tell as much as possible about the story of which he or she is so passionate, and is often influenced by an industry success story in which someone has crammed a massive amount of text onto a single page, even to the point of reducing font size to make the narrative fit. Unfortunately, in trying to mirror this, the end result for most is invariably a synopsis and not a presentation of the subtle plot and character elements that reflect the writer’s skill and which sets the work apart–and what will influence an agent to request the manuscript.

Think of a Query Letter As an Advertisement, and Sell the Sizzle and Not the Steak

An agent of mine once railed at me about a poor query I had sent him for a later novel because it told too much of the individual aspects of the story and not about the work as a whole. He said to write the query as if I was designing the liner notes for the novel. I found this to be some of the best advice I have ever received. As a comparison, if one wants to be successful in sales, one of the time-worn truisms is to “sell the sizzle and not the steak.” It might be suggested to apply the same axiom to writing a query letter. This can be like grasping Showing versus Telling the first time around (or the tenth), but it has to be understood if a query is going to work.

Write a Query from the Gut, Not the Heart

It might help to think of your work in visceral terms; meaning, what are the hard-hitting aspects of your story from an overall perspective. This will take your thinking beyond the brick and mortar. And remember, most of all, you are wanting to provide the agent with just enough knowledge of your work (and ability) to create interest. If you can do this succinctly and with skill, would it not be logical that the agent might assume that your novel is written at the same level? Should you review queries that have garnered agent representation, please notice how little is told about the actual stories, but how much the successful letters reflect the authors’ competence for writing quality prose.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 15
Showing vs. Telling Defined (October 27, 2009)

Hello All,

Every so often I get a request to define Showing Vs. Telling, along with a scene written both ways. Here are two articles I wrote during the past year on the subject that might help anyone wrestling with the concept.

Just understand that what might be Telling in one instance can be Showing in another, and vice versa. It’s always a matter of degree related to a specific scene. Meaning, a writer can say that a person is “sweating” and this one word can adequately Show what is occurring. However, if the original event is already adumbrated, it might be necessary to state something like “pea-size drops of perspiration formed irregular salt circles on the subject’s shirt,” as a means of intensifying the scene; thus, Showing the action and not Telling the reader what was happening.

Some learned people think too much is made of Showing Vs. Telling, but it seems to be one of the main reasons agents cite for rejecting material, so its importance cannot be diminished.

I hope each of you enjoys the articles. Also, you will notice that The Perfect Write is now a registered trademark; hence, the tm symbol is being replaced with the formal ® symbol.



Sometimes Telling Is More Effective than Showing

An author and scholar for whom I have immense respect added fuel to a long simmering fire by stating in a recent book of hers on writing that too much is made out of Showing instead of Telling. To paraphrase one of her points, she writes that the avoidance of telling leads to confusion which causes novice writers to think everything should be acted out. And to quote her, “There are many occasions in literature in which telling is far more effective than showing.”

Agents and Editors Are the Harshest of Critics

If everyone wrote as well as this woman (she has over two dozen titles to her credit), or the brilliant mostly classical authors and their literary works she cites in her book, who could argue? And that is the rub. Especially for someone trying to become published for the first time, and who is having his or her manuscript viewed by the harshest of critics–book agents and book editors. People who are seemingly searching, as if with an electron microscope, for the most minuscule detail to warrant rejecting material.

Don’t Wave a Red Flag – Avoid the Dreaded “Been’s

In the real world of an author fighting tooth-and-nail for his or her manuscript to receive a fair hearing, the writer has to provide a narrative that does not wave a red flag–or even a yellow one. Nothing can kill a book quicker than if it is perceived to be written in a passive voice, which is most often indicative of scenes crafted in a Telling rather than Showing form. Other than breaking up too many uses of “was” or “were” by substituting an occasional “had been” or “have been,” it is important to avoid the “been’s” and therefore the passive voice narratives that Telling has a tendency to engender.

If a Choice, Overwrite Show Rather Than Tell

While it is 100% correct that many times it is advisable to Tell instead of Show, for most authors pursuing a major royalty publisher, it is much better to have overwritten Show than Tell. Let me put it this way: I’ve never heard of anyone being rejected for the former, but very often for the latter. So while the ongoing Show versus Tell debate may whet some appetites for eschewing the argument altogether, writers need to incorporate as many accepted elements as possible into their material, and Showing (and the active voice is supports) is considered a component of quality prose writing in the overwhelming number of instances.

Showing vs. Telling

What separates many writers is the ability to recognize when to utilize which technique. A suggestion is to always write the scene in a Show format, knowing that you can always change to the Tell medium if you wish to provide readers with a chance to catch their breath.

The last statement should also explain the main flaw with Telling, as it can very often retard the pace of the scene.

Telling the Action

Jack was having a tough time with life. Everything he was doing lately had seemed to turn out wrong. Even the simplest aspects of his daily activities had begun to take their toll. Look at what happened when he got out of bed in the morning. He had stumbled around, as if in a blue funk. He’d been hurt when he’d fallen against his dresser and pulled it over while he was trying to right himself. He didn’t care who might have heard him throwing the unit against the wall or the damage it might have caused. And after he made his way into the bathroom and began to prepare himself for another day, he wasn’t sure if it was worth it.

Showing the Action

Like life itself, Jack could not find his balance. He fell against the chest of drawers and caught himself before staggering backward and pulling the unit with him. A drawer flew open and hit him in the side, and he and it collapsed onto the bed like two clumsy lovers. He threw off the drawer and let it bang hard against the wall, cracking the plaster, not concerned that the noise and vibration might have startled the newborn child in the apartment below. He weaved his way to the bathroom, and as he stared in the mirror and ran the water, not caring if it was hot or cold, he took out his razor. He didn’t lather his face, but kept glaring at what he saw–and wondered.

Not that these are spectacular examples, but they do identify the difference between Telling and Showing. Which would you rather read?

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 16
Why Can’t I Get My Book Published (November 10, 2009)

Hello Everyone,

This Newsletter will begin a series on a subject that is dear to the heart of every author who has written what friends, family, and associated others have found to be wonderful work, but the publishing industry has not been quite so generous with its accolades.

Also, I have pretty much exhausted my cache of existing material, so each article from this point forward will be fresh and not something I’ve posted from past work, as has been the case with some of the subject matter included in the first 15 newsletters in this series.

I am eager for topics to write about that interest newsletter subscribers, so please contact me with any ideas you might have. The articles on The Difference Between Voice and Tone and Coming Up with A Great Title were both subjects suggested by newsletter subscribers. So don’t be shy let me know what interests you.

You might have noticed that The Perfect Write (TM) is now The Perfect Write®. In the world of little victories, I am pleased to report that the name The Perfect Write is now a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office registered trademark.

Finally, I absolutely will not turn this newsletter into a commercial venue, but I want to thank the L.A. Fitness Center in Wellington, Florida, for enabling The Perfect Write® to participate in a vendor program that enabled the promotion of the firm’s editing services to the community at large. This facility appeared to be extremely clean and was staffed with an abundant, enthusiastic team. If you are a newsletter subscriber who resides in the Wellington area, please visit this L.A. Fitness Center and let the manager know that the business was recommended by The Perfect Write®. He said he’d provide a two-week free trial membership to anyone who mentions this. Be assured this sort of commercial will be a rarity.

Best to everyone,


Why Can’t I Get My Book Published?

There are abundant bear traps along the way that even writers who are old hands at accepting the vagaries of the publishing industry are having difficulty navigating in the current literary marketplace. Here are several issues–some old, some new–to consider.

Pitching a Book to the Wrong Agent or Publisher Is Problem #1

Genre specificity plagues a lot of authors. It’s important to recognize that a hard-boiled detective mystery with a lot of torrid love scenes is not classified as Romance. If a writer is having difficulty pinning down the genre for a specific work, a friendly library staff member might be a wonderful resource (please don’t expect this person to read the entire draft). Only after the genre is identified can a writer adequately source the industry for suitable agents or publishers.

An Agent or Publisher Bias can Knock a Work out of the Saddle

I recently presented material to a well-known independent publisher, only to be told that their firm did not handle anything dealing with Russians or the Mafia, something that was not mentioned in their already abundant submission guidelines. As luck would have it, a significant character in my narrative was a member of the Russian Mafia.

Of course this could be modified, but the point is that any writer can be blindsided by a bias against anything from Lithuanian folk dancers to fly fishermen from Montana. Keep in mind this is a quirky business, and it’s not always the writer. And it seems that once something is found to be deficient, the agent or publisher tends to turn up the power of the already very intense microscope.

A Manuscript can Suffer from the New Rock Band Syndrome

A manuscript can be deemed to be too close to other material. Or too far removed so that it doesn’t fit with anything else. Related to the way bands sound, I’m told these are standard rebukes in the recording industry. In the publishing business, either comment also follows with a rejection. My personal experience is that it would be easier to climb Mt. Everest than to persuade an agent or publisher to accept material for which they have a predisposition toward one or the other reasons for rejection that I just stated.

What if You Write the Perfect Manuscript, but It’s Really Not so Perfect After All?

This is the bitterest pill to swallow. If a partial or full manuscript is rejected numerous times, it is obviously necessary to take stock of the situation. Many writers contact a professional for assistance well after sourcing scores of agents and numerous publishers. There are only so many agents and publishers for any genre. And, unfortunately, agents and publishers inherently do not want to see work after they have previously rejected the material.

It is critical to have a manuscript polished to its highest sheen possible before submitting it. Quite often there are issues that are not apparent to the early-stage author which can easily be remedied, but when unchecked can send an otherwise solid body of work to the slush pile.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 17
Why Are so Many Novels on the Bestseller Lists Lousy (November 24, 2009)

Why Are so Many Novels on the Bestseller Lists Lousy?

During one of my writer’s workshops, I was asked by one of the participants the very question that is the title of this article. At the time I was discussing the merits of Proust and I guess this is what triggered the thunderous applause that followed. I quickly cited a few examples of florid writing from SWANN’S WAY that I felt were incontrovertible and moved on. Later, it dawned on me that anyone writing in earnest and hoping to be published deserves an honest answer to the question: Why are so may novels on the bestseller lists lousy?

How Well Known is the Fiction Author?

Is this ever a huge issue. Publishers want books that can sell. A well-known author will have a guaranteed sale of “x” number of books, regardless of the quality of the work. This is why we can pick up a book written by a heretofore quality author that reads as though it had never come across a line-editor’s desk. And, if the truth be known, the novel might not have.

Do Prolific Authors Write Their Own Work All the Time?

No. Is it realistic to think that a person can write an 80,000 word novel each and every month? Yet some Romance writer’s houses put work out at this pace under the aegis of some very popular names. Famous writers who admit to employing a dozen or more full-time people–not to provide ideas, but to write the material we see in airport gift shops and book stores that are ascribed to their handle.

Bestseller Lists Can be Skewed, Very Skewed

I recently attended a popular fiction writer’s presentation of his latest offering. He told the group his agent had informed him earlier in the day that the novel was going to open at number 12 on the New York Times Bestseller List. How is this possible when the first copy has not been sold? If a publisher arranges enough presale commitments from bookstores, libraries, etc., a lofty position on a bestseller list is not a difficult chore. Especially if one keeps in mind that 20,000 copies sold will land a book on the NYT list.

What Is the Answer?

If books are not always written by the person who is listed as the author, material is not edited, and presales cannot be representative of actual sales, what is a the public to do? My best answer is to be certain the store a person purchases from will accept a return. It is the only prudent course of action I can recommend. Publishers are in the most demanding positions of their collective corporate lives. They want to go with what brung ‘um. If an author of theirs has sold well, he or she will get every opportunity to sell well again, unfortunately many times to the detriment of the consumer. This is why so many novels on the bestseller lists are lousy.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 18
A Further Definition of What It Means When a Narrative Does Not Advance the Plot (November 24, 2009)

Hello Everyone,

I hope everyone is going to have a great holiday season with loved ones, and that all will be safe an joyful in every way. Because of the way the Tuesday’s fall, I will not be sending a Newsletter on December 22nd, but on the 29th instead. Then I will resume with every other Tuesday for the foreseeable future.

I am going to begin including Links for Writers as a permanent component of these Newsletters. One is Selling Books at, a site that has been friendly to my scribbling. Please let me know of any writing sites you like, and I will be happy to include them in this list.

I wrote an article some time ago about the significance of concentrating on writing narrative that advances the plot. A number of people E-mailed me to ask if I could provide examples of specific situations that stall the action.

Avoid These Amateur Writing Mistakes

One classic faux pas is the unnecessary set up to a phone call. If Tom wants to talk to Bill, begin the call with Bill answering the phone, not the picking up of the phone, the waiting for the ring, or anything else that has nothing to do with the content of the call, such as this: Tom walked to the phone. He picked it up in his left hand and punched in the numbers with his right index finger. On the second ring Bill answered. “Bill here.” “Hi Bill, this is Tom.” “Well, hello, Tom. How are you?” “I’m fine, I hope you are too.” “Yes, I’m pretty good.”

Another scene never to write is the greeting with a receptionist: Tom walked into the waiting area to Bill’s office and approached a woman sitting behind a desk in the middle of the room. “Miss, my name is Tom Miller, and I’m here to see Bill Jones. He’s expecting me.” “One moment, I’ll see if he’s in.” “Mr. Jones, Tom Miller is here to see you.” “Yes, I’m expecting him, please send him in.” “Mr. Miller, Mr. Jones can see you now.”

Nothing can Shut Down a Novel Quicker than Describing Mundane Activity

Each of the prior examples illustrate serious writing deficiencies, and unless there is high anxiety attached to either scenario, such as Bill just getting out of jail or being overly cautious in an attempt to conceal his affair with the receptionist, neither incident should be played out for the reader. To state that Tom called Bill and said …. is all that is necessary. Likewise, Tom met with Bill and said…. is all that is required to move the story to its next plot element.

Search for Writing that Retards Pacing and Eliminate It

When reviewing a manuscript, it is always helpful to approach each scene with the attitude of deleting anything that is not absolutely critical to the story. And while this might seem harsh, since there is always material that is supportive of the whole, there is generally a great deal that can be cut. Especially if a passage should mirror either example in this article. The ability to recognize and delete superfluous rhetoric is essential for anyone wishing to be considered by a major royalty publisher.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 18
Coming Up With a Great Opening for a Novel
(December 29, 2009)

Hello Everyone,

I hope that each of you and your respective families are having a wonderful and safe holiday. And I also hope that no one was disappointed that I took a week break from the Newsletter schedule, which will now continue every other Tuesday in the foreseeable future.

I mentioned in last month’s Newsletter that I would be compiling a group of links for web sites for writers. I’ve assembled about a dozen, and you can find these on the right-hand side any page on web site.

All of the links are free, but as one might expect, most have a fee-added premium service; however, I have never found it necessary to purchase any of the pay-for-use features. The one site that appears to only be available for a fee is Daily Lit, but this is not the case, as the site provide hundreds of free books with all sorts of parsing mediums at no charge. My favorite of all the sites is agentquery, which I feel is without equal as an agent sourcing vehicle, and it is, again, free!

I will not be able to add personal sites to my web page, but I want to encourage subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter to offer their writing-related sites for inclusion in upcoming Newsletter material. For today’s Newsletter, I would like to urge each of you to click for a look at Ms. Jackson’s extraordinary story of courage and dignity in the face of the most heinous situation imaginable. Ms. Jackson participated in a number of my writing workshops, and she is a true inspiration and a fantastic person with a phenomenal story to relate.

As to the theme for today’s Newsletter, I can’t think of anything more appropriate to end a year and begin a new one. Every agent and publisher wants the next big book, and each is always on the lookout for a grand opening for a story. Perhaps what I have written below will inspire one of our Newsletter subscribers to craft a fabulous beginning to what will become a blockbuster work in 2010.

Coming Up with a Great Opening for a Novel

Nothing is more critical than the first few lines of a story, since this will often influence whether or not a reader will continue with a work. And a great opening is never more important than for both the budding author who is trying to acquire an agent or publisher and the non-established writer who is desiring to expand an audience

Writer’s Like Dickens and Woolf Provide a Lofty Pedestal

It would be wonderful if lines like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” or, “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself,” were on the forefront of our thinking when we first sit down at a keyboard. The reality, however, is that this is not how it plays out for most of us. But there are ways to attract a reader without having to conjure up the catch phrase of the century.

Think Along the Lines of Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry began A DEAD MAN’S WALK by telling the reader about a 200 lb. prostitute, nicknamed The Great Western, walking naked down the street while carrying a snapping turtle. If into westerns, who wouldn’t want to find out why this woman was involved with this seemingly inane activity. The same as a feminist would be immediately taken by Clarissa Dalloway’s opening salvo.

But What If It Requires Time to Set up the Introduction to the Story?

This is when it gets sticky. Yet not impossible to remedy. A suggestion is to find the single most prominent element of the entirety of the opening and maneuver this to the top of the first page and then write from that point forward. This might seem difficult, if not impossible, but with a little practice it can be done.

A good exercise for this is to write a page on a random topic–not considered previously–then locate the most significant facet of the text and place this as the lead sentence. Now rewrite the page with the narrative following this new opening. This is generally accomplished much easier than first thought, and it might not be a bad idea to do this several times, each with a new topic. Then apply this technique to your novel’s opening.

The Opening Requires the Same Effort as the Book’s Title

It is prudent to apply the same effort for the opening as was expended to come up with the title for the work. Often, however, much more time is spent on determining the title. If this should happen to be the case (from the perspective of the amount of time spent on each), it could be suggested to reverse the process. A solid opening, whether it be a single paragraph or several, will eliminate the need to try to create one-line intro’s like “Who is John Galt?” or “They call me Ishmael,” which only happen on the rarest of occasions by even literature’s most esteemed stewards.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 19
Transitioning Material and Developmental Arcs
(January 12, 2010)

Hello All,

Today’s Newsletter contains material that I will be supplying in March for Internet publications, but which I wanted to share with each of you now. It’s not always possible, but I like to try to make certain that those of you who are kind enough to subscribe to The Perfect Write® Newsletter will see material I create here before it’s posted anywhere else.

Sometimes, however, I’m committed to a particular topic for someone who is providing me with a forum to promote my editing services, and consequently I’ll write material for that person’s site which is exclusive to it for a period of time, usually 30 days. I thought this was important to mention should anyone ever run into material written by me on another platform and then see it in one on my Newsletters at a later date.

I’ve added a few fantastic new writer’s links to web site. One is a listing of Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction. A tremendous amount of history on both the award and each novel is provided on this site by University of Pittsburg professor, Harry Kloman. Also, I’ve included two links that provide lists of the greatest 100 novels. One list is by Modern Library and the second was compiled by a group at Radcliff. You might want to have the same fun I did by seeing how many of the books you’ve read from each of these lists. And then wonder how some books got on the lists and why some of your favorites weren’t included. You’ll find the links on the right hand side of any page at

Also, I’m happy (sic, thrilled) to mention that on Google if you type Manuscript Revisions you may find my web site somewhere on page 1 or 2, and the same if you type Manuscript Line Editing. For a short time last week it was high up the first page with both, however, today I noticed I’m on either the first or second page. But this is still quite an accomplishment considering these high Google rankings are occurring primarily as a result of my articles being posted by the Internet sites that are dedicated to writing and publishing.

Now for today’s Newsletter material. One of the most serious issues that plagues writers is the proper transitioning of text. I’ve provided an overview that might answer some questions for any of you who may have issues with this writing element. And I felt it was a natural dovetail to this subject to include material on developmental arcs, since lack of character depth and characterizations inadequately fleshed out can land a death blow to any manuscript’s chances for publication. So information on developmental arcs follows the narrative on transitioning, and I hope everyone also finds these explanations to be of some benefit.

Best regards,


Effectively Transitioning Narrative

As a writer advances through the process of crafting what he or she hopes will be a publishable novel, one of the most daunting challenges is to meet the requirements for effectively transitioning material. For many writers transitional elements can be difficult to comprehend, let alone achieve.

Transitioning Is Necessary from Both a Micro and Macro Perspective

To understand transitioning, it is necessary to have a solid grasp of what this involves at “the single word within the sentence level” first. One word, such a strategically placed “before” or “now,” can impact the meaning of a huge volume of text and provide the perfect link to the next plot point.

Other times, a short clause such as “over the next few months” or “never again” can provide the ideal bridge. The right clause lets the reader seamlessly take in one story element and comfortably move onto the next without a break in the action. Conversely, inadequate transitioning often prevents a manuscript from being read, let alone considered for publication.

An Entire Paragraph Is Commonly Used to Transition Material

A paragraph is the most logical choice in many if not most instances, since this provides the easiest medium for enabling a large amount of text to achieve the desired result. Of course it often requires several paragraphs to achieve the proper effect.

A Complete Scene Dedicated to the Transition Is the Next Choice

We are now to the macro level, although some might say that this was achieved when the paragraph was broached as an option–and certainly when multiple paragraphs were suggested. Whatever one’s feelings, an entire scene dedicated to a transition point is second only to an entire chapter being utilized as a transition element.

We Must Not Forget About Dialogue As a Transitioning Medium

When writing about the art of effective transitioning, it’s easy to think that it primarily involves exposition and not dialogue, and while non-dialogue narrative is certainly the lead component, the use of dialogue to transition material cannot be underestimated. This is why it’s so critical to read dialogue aloud to help determine how well it enabled transition, not only for the narrative that preceded it–but for what is to follow. (There is also the subtle transitioning between dialogue exchanges that requires equally meticulous scrutiny, but this is a subject for another paper.)

As an editor, I find as many problems with dialogue transitioning as I do with straight exposition being used as the facilitator to move from one plot point to another.

Transitioning Narrative and Developmental Arcing Are Not Synonymous

Effective transitioning is the utilization of various techniques that enable a reader to move comfortably from one plot point to another. A developmental arc is generally much more detailed, and involves a character or plot element that needs to evolve for the story to maintain or gain strength. Developmental arcs often require extensive narrative, sometimes over many chapters, and at times can span the width and breadth of an entire work.

Using Arcs to Develop a Character for the Reader

If a writer is ever told that a character needs a developmental arc, this can be as simple as adding family history to the narrative, showing how the character lives in his or her physical environment, or providing the character’s thoughts on social issues that have relevance to the novel. Of course this can and often does require in-depth writing, but a lot of times strategically integrating snippets of these elements within the fabric of the story is all that is necessary to make a character engaging for the reader.

Using Arcs to Develop Characterization for the Reader

As with the requirements for a character to achieve “redemptive” status, characterizations can be treated in a like manner, although purists will argue that developmental arcs only apply to people. Historical references, physical descriptions of any pertinent aspect of the story line, opinions of a plot element via interior monologue, any or all of these techniques can be utilized to create solid development arcs. Simply, any link that can build the story for the reader is a candidate for use in this capacity.

What Is Not Enough and What Is Too Much

If people are reading your early drafts and tell you they would like to know more about a character or story element, this is the best way of knowing that more work is necessary to “flesh out” certain aspects of your material. Unfortunately, lay readers don’t often look at these areas the way a professional does, or these people can often be too close to the writer and therefore not comfortable expressing their candid opinions.

Overzealous attention to detail can be just as much of an issue. But it seems it’s generally not as hard for a friend to tell a writer to back off rhetoric than it is to intimate that the author needs to add to it. However, this applies solely to potential arcing material, and is not meant to imply that a sheer volume words can provide a developmental arc for anything.

It’s All About Balance

Finding the equilibrium point for a story is an art form, and as much as anything why certain writers are better for certain readers. Which means that developmental arcing is a matter of degree, and like most everything in fiction writing, highly subjective. But if a writer is receiving lay reviews on his or her own work that indicate the characters aren’t adequately developed or the characterizations aren’t portrayed with enough depth, it would probably be a good idea to get a professional critique from a reputable editor who has experience with the genre in which your novel is written.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 20
The Art of Tying Up Story Threads Effectively
(January 26, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

I’m delighted to report that there has been a substantial upsurge of new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. In large measure I think this augmented membership is the result of the free query letter review and analysis I’m continuing to provide. I take a lot of pride in my work with queries and am very excited for the many authors who report they have received bona fide agent representation as a result of my assistance. Please tell your friends and associates that I continue to offer this service at no charge. And if you are enjoying the Newsletters, please ask others in your circle to become a part of our group.

I mentioned this in the last Newsletter, but it bears repeating–while this moves around–for most of last week remained either in the first or second spot at the top of the first page week on Google for the keywords Manuscript Revisions, Manuscript Line Editing, Manuscript Critique, and Manuscript Critiques. This is huge, since not one of these Google high rankings has been purchased.

I added two great links to The Perfect Write® web site One is the New York Times Bestseller List and the other is the Agent Search Web page that lists the number of books a respective agent has placed with a publisher in the past 12 months. As with most sites, premium services are offered at a fee, but this agent listing is provided at no charge. Please check it out, since when I located it several years ago (some of you might be familiar with this subsection when it was called Dead Reckoning), I found the data rather illuminating. And for those of you who are new to this newsletter and to The Perfect Write® web site’s layout, all writer’s links are located to the far right side of any web page.

As always, please E-mail me at [email protected] with article suggestions or ideas on other features you would like to see incorporated in our Newsletters. Also, as with the inclusion of Ivett Jackson’s personal link two weeks ago, I will be more than happy to insert individual links in these Newsletters for special information that relates to writing or royalty publishing.

Today’s article is on threads that are left unfinished and the effect these can have on the reader. I hope each of you find the information to be of some benefit.

Regards to all,


Story Threads Can Be a Huge Problem If Not Resolved, and Even Some of the Most Respected Writers Are Not Sacrosanct

A thread is a plot element, nothing more, nothing less, but a problem for authors if they do not reconcile their threads for the reader. The obvious rationale for an exception is to purposely leave the plot point unresolved to engender interest in reading a sequel to the story. But when the aforementioned is not relevant, the problem can be excruciating. And some of the most respected writers in literary history have been derelict by not tying up their threads acceptably.

One of the Most Flagrant Examples of Not Tying Up a Thread Occurs in INDEPENDENCE DAY

In Richard Ford’s INDEPENDENCE DAY, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1996, he provides great detail in describing the circumstances surrounding the brutal murder of a real estate agent. Then, later in the novel, he brings up her death once more, heightening the reader’s enthusiasm for an answer to who did it. But the thread is never developed and the culprit not identified. The murder therefore has no relevance to the story line, and by not providing a “reveal,” an awkward hole is left, although apparently not egregious enough for the Pulitzer committee to find fault.

WAR AND PEACE and THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE Were Also Not Immune to Dangling Threads

I call this lack of resolution a dangling thread, and a wonderful bad example (ugh, I know) can be read in the two novels cited in this subtitle.

Anatol is a profound early character in WAR AND PEACE (he’s the guy who ties Pierre to the bear, should anyone have forgotten). Tolstoy relates much later in the tale that Anatol lost a leg in battle, but there is not one single mention of him in any other section of the book.

In THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, Captain Vye is a fabulous character for which a rich fabric is knitted by Hardy. But after Eustacia meets her end, there is no further reference to Vye–and his feelings–thus leaving the story and the reader with a huge void.

Can There Be a Happy Medium?

Perhaps an expedient way to view threads is via Dos Passos’ USA. Eventually he had to leave some threads to their own devices or he’d have been writing ad infinitum because of the type of historical chronicle the story happened to be. However, USA demonstrates in abundant terms how threads can be expanded to reach a satisfactory conclusion in the mind of the reader–yet sans “finality” in each and every scenario.

Shouldn’t the Writer Be Cut Some Slack?

Some can argue, and most justifiably, that it’s not a literary transgression to defer providing a detailed chronology for the life of every character in a book the size of WAR AND PEACE. This is certainly not disputable, but it does beg reconciliation by the author when, in my opinion, a character is prominent enough to drive a significant segment of a story. This is my contention in the Tolstoy example, and for me it’s even more acute in Hardy’s work because Captain Vye is such a vital character to so much of the narrative.

It could be nothing more than an issue of degree, but if readers were to parse stories they didn’t enjoy, there might be a legitimate question as to how often their disappointment was due to dangling threads.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 21
Starting the Story Sooner (February 9, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

It was brought to my attention that there might be some confusion on how to find an agent’s sales statistics on the Agent Search link on my web site at The length of the Agent Search site’s home page requires scrolling down beyond what I imagine is the boundary of most computer screens. However, if you continue to scroll down, you will come upon a category the begins with agents who have sold 10 to 25 book titles in the past 12 months.

The categories extend to agents with over 100 titles credited to their respective names. Keep in mind that an agent such as Richard Curtis, who lists 159 titles sold during a 12 month period, is likely publishing the figures for the entire agency. Prolific producers such as Richard Curtis, Sterling Lord, Al Zuckerman, and Jane Dystel are historically providing numbers generated by their respective agency imprimaturs and not their individual sales, although they may play a role in each transaction.

If you check their individual Web sites, you will notice that some of these high production agencies are mammoth, employing a couple dozen agents and numerous subordinate staff members, such as readers. This is why it is imperative to find out which representative at an agency is the right choice for a particular work. And why it does not behoove a writer to send material to the lead agent when another person is better suited.

The reason for the prior statement is because most agencies don’t pass material from agent to agent to see who might like it from a genre perspective. So in instances in which a cozy mystery might be ideal for Jane Jones, it might not be suitable for hard-boiled police mystery guru John Jones. And if John Jones is the agency founder–and the person queried–his personal in-house reader(s) may only look for material that will fit his eye if the query is addressed to him. And no one I am aware of enables a writer to submit to multiple agents within the same agency, as this seems to be universally disparaged.

To expand on the overall issue further, two of the larger agencies I know of use a person to police queries. Again, the problem is obvious. If the lead agent’s bio says he or she likes the genre in which an author writes, this might really mean that someone else in the agency works in that genre. The person who opens the mail reads the query, recognizes it is not for “John,” and summarily places a rejection slip in the SASE or sends a rejection via E-mail.

It is therefore critical to do the necessary homework to determine the correct agent’s name for a genre or sub-genre, should it be someone other than the person listed in the agency title. I realize I stated essentially the same thing in the preceding paragraph, but the issue of agent specificity needs to become inculcated in all of us, it is that important. And it doesn’t always work this way, since in some agencies all queries are reviewed by a submission coordinator, regardless of whom the letter is sent to. But why take the chance?

Nothing about locating the right agents to query is easy, but I think a serious writer can save a lot of time and aggravation by taking the time to do three things: Check with Publishers Marketplace for who is selling what–and to whom as it relates to a work’s specific sub-genre; learn as much as possible about the recent book(s) the agent has sold so something about this history can be referenced in the query (specifically how there is a relationship between that book(s) and the work the writer is proposing); then go on the Agent Query web site to verify the agent’s title, address, etc, and to access that agent’s exact submission requirements. I suggest going to the profile link at Agent Query and then to submissions guideline button on the agent’s web page (the URL is almost always shown), since the criteria on the web page is often more detailed and current than what is listed in the short bio provided on Agent Query.

Now for today’s article, which is about “Starting a Story Sooner.” I hope you find it and what I just wrote to be of some benefit.

Best regards,


What Does it Mean When Told to Start Your Story Sooner?

Last fall I attended a writer’s symposium with a dais that included several well-known mystery writers who fielded questions prepared by a skilled moderator. Each writer was asked what he or she felt was the single most significant issue for which anyone seeking publication should be concerned.

One of the program’s participants, Jim Born, a successful local author I’ve gotten to know and whose writing I enjoy, said that beginning the story sooner was his best advice. It’s mine, too, and I decided to devote this article to explain why.

It Pertains to Writing Without the Proper Regard for Movement

When I analyze a client’s manuscript after reading it for the first time, I often have to make a determination as to when I think the story truly “begins.” And when I submit my critique on the work to its author, at times this is confusing, since my notes, which I always include, might indicate the opening chapters were quite good or that the characters had been well developed–but later reference an annotation I’d made that the story should’ve begun on page 31, or page 55, or page 100.

It’s Not That the Early Narrative Isn’t Good, It’s that It Doesn’t “Set Off” the Story

My all-time favorite example of this is THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE, a book which I rescued from the trash can three times before finally slogging through the opening to discover a very good story for the most part. The first 50 pages, or so it seemed, were devoted to the description of Egdon Heath and its physical and social nuances. And while unquestionably of monumental importance to Thomas Hardy, I found this abundant early-stage minutia to have nothing whatsoever to do with advancing the plot in what could remotely be considered a timely fashion.

Unfortunately, Some Writers Still Work As If in Hardy’s Era

We have to grant Hardy obvious leeway related to the time when his book was published, since this was in 1878. However, today’s writer has to be aware of the competition for the attention span of the contemporary reader. For this reason, as much as any, it is imperative to make an honest evaluation as to when the first compelling action in a story takes place. And it’s critical to keep in mind that this is often not solely predicated by determining the first incidence of conflict.

But What About Writers like Jody Picoult or Tom Clancy Who Write Intensively Descriptive Narratives?

It would be easy to look at either Ms. Picoult or Mr. Clancy and refer to genre to justify their writing styles, but this would be a gross miscarriage. Both employ their opening elements to set up their stories–and then they move on. And herein lies the major difference between their skill sets in this aspect of crafting exceptional prose and that of the average amateur writer trying to create quality material. Ms. Picoult and Mr. Clancy set up their work with introductory material to propel their plot lines forward–and never the other way around.

The Conflict Has to be Advanced by the Ensuing Narrative, Not Supported by It

It is imperative to look at work and ask these sort of questions: Was it essential to write an entire chapter about walking through the graveyard? What about the laborious description of the house and the grounds before the fire? Was Jesse’s attitude on the way to the funeral with Jim significant enough to write four pages about it? Any of these seemingly stupendous story elements might not be that valuable it they are not a driving force behind the narrative that follows.

Sometimes it’s nothing more than moving scenes from one location to another. But in other instances it’s unfortunately necessary to hit the delete key–no matter how painful this may be–and begin the novel with material that enables the ensuing narrative to advance and not retard the plot.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 22
Humorous Reasons for Rejections, and When Not to Hire a Book Editor (February 23, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

I’m delighted to extend a warm welcome to the newest group of writers and literature aficionados who have recently signed up for The Perfect Write® Newsletter. And several of our latest Newsletter subscribers have asked the best way to view articles that I’ve written and posted in prior Newsletters. I”m not trying to drive anyone to my site, but the easiest method for scanning a comprehensive list is to click this Articles Link, which will display topics in alphabetical order, based on category. Should anyone want reprints, E-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to send a formatted article(s) in an attachment that will be suitable to print and copy.

I might’ve mentioned this recently, but it bears repeating. If anyone in our readership should be interested in conducting a series of writing workshops, AT NO CHARGE, the syllabuses and notes are available from the series I conduct that are sponsored by the Palm Beach County Library System. A week ago someone requested the material, and it always gives me great pride and gratification when a Newsletter subscriber volunteers to help other writers in this way. Many communities don’t have a medium for providing writing guidance that is both accessible and without charge, and I’ve found that local libraries are generally eager if not thrilled to offer meeting space to accommodate this sort of valuable civic activity.

So that you folks who are new to this Newsletter will understand the way it is presented, I generally try to keep to a central theme for each installment. But I received such an extraordinarily odd piece of information from a writer who had sent me a query letter to review that I decided to write a paper on When Not to Hire a Book Editor. I wanted to provide the article for subscribers of The Perfect Write® Newsletter before placing it on the Internet. So this material follows the lead article in this Newsletter, which focuses on less than sterling reasons for query letter rejections, some of which, as incredible as they may read, happen to be real.

To provide a little background on where the idea came from, there was a recent article in THE OXFORD AMERICAN MAGAZINE that pertained to comical reasons for manuscript rejections. I thought about some of the rejections I’d received over the past 15 years and decided to publish those that had caused me to shake my head the most. The rejections I personally received are attributed to me (along with my comments in parentheses); the other rejections are fictitious–maybe. Here they are:

Dear Mr. Bacon: I liked your manuscript. I enjoyed the characters and the plot and the suspense. But your story is not for me. Best of luck elsewhere. (And this from a major publisher, not an agent).

Dear Author: I simply do not think the market is ready for another book on the Civil War. And names like Scarlett and Rhett sound much too folksy, so, Ms. Mitchell, I don’t think your book would ever sell.

Dear Author: We have recently instituted a strict policy against considering manuscripts submitted on bright, white paper like what you sent us. Also, we no longer will read anything written via a Bookman font. And quotation marks should be of the straight and not the curly-q variety. We also require two spaces after every period. If you should decide to meet this criteria, we will consider placing your manuscript in our review queue.

Dear Author: We have recently instituted a strict policy whereby we will only consider manuscripts submitted on bright, white paper, and not what you sent us. Also, we require all material to be written via a Bookman font. And quotation marks should be of the curly-q variety and not straight. We also require only one space after every period. If you should decide to meet this criteria, we will consider placing your manuscript in our review queue.

Dear Mr. Bacon: I noticed in your query letter that you referred to dipping one’s toes in evil water. Water cannot be evil, therefore I cannot consider your manuscript. (I didn’t bother to explain to this submissions editor that the expression was a metaphor).

Hey Bradbury: I think it is disgusting that you would write about burning books. And furthermore, Mister, are you certain that books burn at 451 degrees Fahrenheit?

Dear Ms. Author: Some kid going to wizard school is a stretch. And what’s this about a wand? Ms. Rowling, you might want to look for another job as a secretary–and try to hang on to it this time.

Dear Ms. Meyer: Anne Rice wrote everything that can ever be written about vampires. Perhaps you would want to consider mummies or Klingons?

Dear Author: While your story has merit and is well written, I feel the title would engender severe repercussions from PETA, the SPCA, and other such agencies, and for this reason we must decline your work. In today’s ultra-charged, politically sensitive environment, mockingbirds are just too gentle of creatures. However, if you should consider changing the title to “”To Kill a Buzzard”, Ms. Lee, we might reevaluate our decision.

Dear Mr. Bacon: Your 78,000 word story needs a more developed romantic element, and a novel should be 120,000 words or so to enable it to be juicy enough. (I received this identical rhetoric in the rejection summary. And this from the principal of one of the most successful agencies in the industry, which consistently places over 120 titles each year.)

Dear Author: There is absolutely no way the public is going to accept that a guy in a hotel can be that terrifying. What do you think, you can get Jack Nicholson to play the part in the movie, or something? And a girl freaking out in high school and burning down a building? Or a car having a mind of its own? I noticed by the return address that you live in Maine, so have you thought of perhaps trying lobster fishing for a living. I must be honest and say that I just don’t think writing is your thing, Mr. King.

Dear Author: Your story is fantastic, your characters great, and your ability to create a wonderful plot is second to none. Unfortunately, we are not going to be working in the fiction market any longer. However, I have a special affinity for your writing style, so should you wish to write something pertaining to quantum physics–perhaps the atomic weight of insect dung and its impact on our planet and the potential for Earth violating its current syzygy with the moon and the sun–I would be willing to consider your work.

Dear Mr. Bacon: We do not accept any material that involves Russians or the Mafia for our mystery imprint, and since one of your characters is a member of the Russian Mafia, we will not be able to consider your manuscript for submission. (I swear this is exactly what I was E-mailed by this submission editor.)

Dear Ms. Smiley: A thousand acres are a lot. If you cut the title down to a more manageable number, say 100 acres, I might be more inclined to take a look at your book.

Dear Mr. Evans: The horses I’ve been around all my life have mediocre hearing at best; therefore, I cannot with a clear conscience consider your story, inasmuch as the premise involves horses hearing a whisper. But how about “The Horse Hoarser”? now that’s a story I might listen to, hee hee, get the pun?

Dear Author: The Romance genre is so crowded right now that I just don’t think there is room for one more writer. And Ms. Roberts, or may I call you Nora? to be honest, I didn’t find your writing that creative. Have you thought about non-fiction?

Dear Mr. Bacon: You have a lot of talent, a strong voice, and a wonderful sense of plotting and suspense, but I am not going to be able to offer you representation at this time. You will find the right agent and publisher in due course. Good luck with your writing. (This sort of response is what makes me go on, but which has also caused my hair to gray up a lot quicker than it would have naturally.)

Hope you had a chuckle or two. I’d be interested in any of your comments. Here now is the serious article, and best to each of you.


When Not to Hire a Book Editor

Even though I am a book editor, a recent experience has prompted me to writer this article on when not to hire a book editor.

A short time ago I received a request to review an author’s query letter. It was awful. The letter was written in a structure that would make a seventh-grade English teacher cringe. And as is commonly the case with writers who are unfamiliar with the nuances of the publishing industry, the genre definition for the novel was incorrect.

A Monumental Mistake Compounded

While discussing how to improve the letter, one question led to another, when the author informed me that over time he had used SIX editors on his novel (he was dead serious). This floored me. How does a writer find a half-dozen editors on this planet who don’t understand the genre of the work they are editing? This ineptness by both parties (I’m lumping the editors together as one entity) brings up several issues that I feel a responsibility to address.

Anyone Can Claim to Be an Editor

First, sadly, anybody can claim to be an editor. There is no formal credentialing. I know of people who cannot write but claim in their advertising to have helped dozens of writers get their novels into print, only to learn that every one of these works was self-published. I have had people attend my creative writing workshops who do not understand writing at anywhere near a professional level, but have “Editor” printed after their name on a business card. History is littered with editors making all sorts of outlandish assertions, such as guaranteeing a writer a contract with a major royalty publisher (which landed the principle of one editorial outfit in jail a while ago).

The Problem with a Manuscript Can Generally be Attributed to One of Two Factors

I’ve found that working with clients is about honest relationships as much as writing. Which brings me to the next point, and this is the time when hiring an editor should not be part of the equation. If a writer has found a competent editor, and nothing has happened in a positive way with respect to the manuscript after exhausting all of the available avenues, there is likely something wrong with the concept for the market in which the work is intended–or the writing is not up to the demands of the industry. This last statement does not imply that the editor was less than scrupulous in supporting the manuscript, only that there is only so much anyone can do with a project. And my experience is that hiring another editor will not help.

Respected Editors Will Not Compromise Their Relationship with Top Agents

Another thought to bear in mind is that most industry-respected editors have long-standing relationships with A-grade agents. One reason for writers to employ highly regarded editors is the desire to have their manuscripts presented to those agents with whom these editors have a fellowship. This is particularly important today, because more and more of the top agents are not accepting unsolicited material, and the bulk of their referrals come from editors. But, emphatically, no editor I know of wants to deprecate his or her reputation by suggesting material that is not thought to be publishable.

The Best Advice Anyone Can Receive

Now back to the fellow whose experience with six editors fostered this article. I have to assume he was either quite naive or very unlucky, as somewhere along the way one of the editors had to have told him the truth about his writing. Or he didn’t want to listen and kept burning through editors in hope of finding someone who would like his work.

There is no value in dragging along a corpse. Related to his fiasco, from my personal experience as a writer and not as an editor, the advice someone gave me decades ago is in my opinion still the best suggestion anyone can receive about a manuscript that is not going anywhere–and this recommendation was to write something else.

Two Critical Issues to Understand and Accept

I want to offer a final remark on query letters and another on editors editing manuscripts: For an unpublished writer, the greatest query letter ever written is not going to enable a deficient manuscript to become accepted by a major royalty publisher. And neither can a host of the best editors in the industry, short of one of them ghosting the entire piece, save writing that is flawed.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 23
The Problem with Prologues (March 9, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

First, as always, I want to welcome the new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter and hope that each of you enjoy the content and special camaraderie this sort of environment enables.

A short while back, I entered into a discussion with a fine writer and good friend of mine regarding prologues and how they are viewed in the current publishing climate. It seems as though there are two distinct sets of rules, one for authors who have titles with a major royalty publisher and another for those writers who are still seeking representation. I thought it might be a good idea to address this topic formally, so I wrote a piece on prologues as the bill of fare for today’s Newsletter.

On another topic, someone recommended that I fill out a detailed formal questionnaire related to what motivated me to become interested in writing. I decided to participate, and it can be viewed by clicking a link that I included on my Web site. I might’ve discussed this interview in an earlier Newsletter, but I bring this up, not to grease my ego, but to suggest that each of you might want to also take part in a similar exercise on WhoHub. I’ve had a couple of hundred hits in a relatively short time, so the effort has provided excellent exposure. And should you take part in the process, you might find a new friend or two with similar writing or literary interests and use this site as a means to enjoy each other’s company. One of the greatest joys I experience is when I meet someone who I can discuss writing with on a peer to peer basis, and I have to think that most other writers relish the same opportunity. So, here is a way.

While we’re on the subject of Web sites for writers (or I’m on it, ha ha), once more, if any of you are not receiving the FREE Publishers Lunch daily newsletter (click the blue underlined link to sign up), you are missing a terrific opportunity to keep abreast of the publishing industry at no expense. I find the most significant aspect of the Publisher Lunch is that it’s posted in almost real time, it’s that current.

I consider the Publishers Lunch daily report a valuable aid for anyone who desires publication by a major royalty publisher. The daily postings can assist writers with respect to their submissions by providing agent’s names, their current respective places of employment, and the genre or sub-genre in which they have just placed work. The newsletter also lets writers know about new agents looking to establish a client base, as well as which agents are having their titles picked up. And the names of publishers who are buying work are listed–along with some that accept unsolicited submissions, such as Kensington for a wide range of commercial fiction, and Walker & Company for Children’s and YA genre material. For a writer seeking publication, is there anything more important than this sort of information?

Have a wonderful day, and here is the article on prologues I wrote for today’s newsletter:


The Problem with Prologues

There is an obvious question one might ask: Is there a problem with prologues to begin with? And while I personally don’t think there should be, there apparently is, especially for the writer who is trying to find an agent or publisher for the first time.

Prologues Conjure Up All Sorts of Imaginary Demons

The unpublished writer has a lot of hoops to jump through that an author with a readership doesn’t have to be concerned with, and this is why we see prologues preceding the work of some of our best known scribes, and proudly so. Then what’s the big deal about a manuscript from a new writer in which a prologue is part of the narrative?

As best I can figure out the thinking of certain agents and publishers, it’s that the prologue may give away too much of the story. It is therefore deemed better to place the information within the narrative as backstory, rather than to present it as stand-alone material that adumbrates in any way what is to come.

But There May Be a Real Ogre to Contend with

However we might feel about prologues, a legitimate argument can be made that they generally support Showing rather than Telling the action. And that it would be better to place the material at a later point within the narrative, since in its new location there would be a good possibility that it might beget a Showing sequence.

I only offer this last sentence because as an editor I do see more Telling than Showing within prologues, and the information would be better if presented in a Showing medium and placed somewhere further along in the text. But this isn’t always true, and certainly not if an event–long past–needs to be provided so the reader can retain something in the back of his or her mind to tie a plot line to.

So it Seems As If There Is Little Choice But to Eschew Prologues–For Now at Least

If some agents and publishers have developed a negative attitude regarding prologues, budding novelists perhaps should decide if this bias is worth fighting. I can’t tell anyone what to do, but I’m looking doubly hard at anything I receive from a client in which a prologue is included, while gritting my teeth as a result of this seemingly spreading industry intolerance for this medium for setting up material.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 24
Understanding Word Count, and What a Professional Editor’s Role Entails (March 23, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

As always, my first happy task is to welcome each new subscriber to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. Last week, more people signed up for this Newsletter than during any other seven day period. Should any of you be interested in reading articles that I’ve posted in previous Newsletters, the majority of these can be viewed by clicking this link, which is the Articles Page on my web site at And if anyone would like the draft of an article(s) to reprint, contact me via [email protected] and I’ll be glad to send the articles(s) you request in a Word document.

While I’m on the subject of writing material, I’m delighted to report that I recently received a request from a community-minded person for my syllabus material for a developmental writer’s workshop series, which is going to be sponsored by a local library system in the Florida Panhandle. I provide my syllabuses at No Charge, along with the session notes, so if you–or someone you know–might be interested in facilitating one of my structured nine-to-twelve month writer’s series, click [email protected] and drop me a note.

Many of you have commented that you appreciate my Newsletters being focused and relatively short. I try to concentrate on one topic at a time, but I’m violating my own credo with this installment and offering a second article that will piggyback the lead material on word count. For various Internet writers’ journals, I wrote an article on When to Hire a Book Editor, and followed this with a piece on When Not to Hire a Book Editor. This ended up as a trilogy, and I’m including the final segment, What a Developmental Book Editor Really Does, as the finale to this Newsletter. But now a few words to set up the article on word count.

I feel a responsibility to reinforce in as many ways as possible what I write in these Newsletters. I recently read a notable book agent’s blog in which she discussed word counts, and I was pleased that her numbers were almost identical to my thinking on the matter. This was the second set of comparable statistics I’ve seen posted by an agent during the past few months, and while word count is just as subjective as everything else in the publishing industry, there indeed appears to be some sense of uniform thinking on this at the present time. So here is the article on word count, with the one on editing following it.


Understanding Word Count

Why Does Word Count Matter?

It’s a common question, and not one that can be easily answered, if at all, but I’ll attempt to offer at least some degree of clarification. However, it must be kept in mind that much of what is written in this article will be nugatory if in ten years almost every book is published in an E-book format.

The First Issue to Consider Is If a Writer is Presently Unpublished

Previously unpublished authors seem to be scrutinized much more closely than well-know writers with an established readership. A 150,000 word book by an unknown has one obvious thing going against it from the outset, and this is the cost to publish the book if it’s twice the size of an average work in the same genre. This would likely entail a higher price point, and the immediate concern that the buying public will be reluctant to pay more for a book by someone who is heretofore unknown. (With an E-book, this of course is a non-issue.)

So What about the Previously Published Writer?

This seems to be what causes the most confusion. Some people might love to read Joe Jones so much that every word is a trip to Nirvana and therefore the more text the merrier. Also, publishers might be reluctant to come down too hard on their revenue producing writers, and consequently they leave their overwriting alone. Or, simply, publishers aren’t editing their successful writers’ works, and what is submitted is essentially what is going to be put into print.

There Are some Quantifiable Answers

And these relate to genre. In Literature, for example, how can any book be too expansive? Yet, in the Police Thriller world, there is a model in the 100,000 word range, give or take 10,000 words either way, that seems to work best. Perhaps the rationale is a ten-hour or so read for the average individual taking part in a round trip, coast-to-coast flight. This might be a silly analogy to some, but look at 80% of the novels in an airport bookstore and get back to me if you think I’m altogether wrong.

Asking about Word Count Is Normal

I also find myself looking at word count whenever someone presents me with a novel to edit. And there is good reason. If a writer has a 250,000 word Science Fiction first draft, I know right away this is not the project for me. On the other hand, if someone has a work of Commercial Fiction that is 125,000 words, and even though I can almost always assume the novel is going to be 25,000-35,000 words too long, it’s something I can generally handle.

Don’t Be Bunged Out by Word Count

Some of the word count hoopla is just that, in my opinion. I remember an absurd situation a dozen years ago that was the result of sending a manuscript of mine, at the request of my editor at the time, to a very well-known agent. My story comprised 78,000 words and contained a romantic element that was significant to one of the story’s developmental arcs. The august agent informed me that a novel needed to be in the 120,000 word range to enable a “juicy enough romance to develop.” Go figure.

The bottom line is that nothing is more subjective than word count, but if you’re trying to become published for the first time, I think you’ll find it to be a good idea to try to fit your story within the current parameters for the genre in which you write.

What a Professional Editor’s Role Entails

A few months ago I published an article I was asked to write that explained the different phases of book editing: critiques, copy/line editing, and developmental editing. I also provided a range of costs associated with each environment that reflected my personal experiences, not as an editor, but as a novelist who over the years has utilized editors for these services–and still do. My article was straightforward, but I recently read something that leads to me to feel that the field of professional book editing needs to be covered in more detail.

Editors in the U.S. Have a Poor Reputation Abroad. Really?

I happened upon an Internet message board for writers on which someone was asking if hiring an editor to critique a novel was a good idea. When I read a little further, I noticed the person was specifically asking about me and my company. This was certainly okay, as I always strongly recommend scrutinizing any potential editor, agent or publisher. But what really piqued my interest was a reply from a person from Great Brittan who said that editors were respected in his country–but that their contemporaries in the U.S. did not enjoy the same standing!

Rationale That Defies Logic

There were no other comments on the man’s query regarding me or my services, but it was mentioned that book editors had been the source of a number of recent threads, so I decided to venture further into the site. Two hours later I pushed back from the computer, aghast at what I’d read. With few exceptions (very few), there were dozens upon dozens of posts vociferously denouncing editors. One of the site’s apparent gurus firmly stated that it would be of no value to hire an editor, because if a publisher sent a manuscript back to an author for correction, if an editor had been used, what would the writer do, since the person (sic, independently) would be incapable of properly making the requested modifications.

If Professional Editors Are Such a Bad Idea, Why Do so Many Best-Selling Authors Praise them?

Logic like what I’d just reported doesn’t deserve the compliment of rationale opposition, to quote Jane Austen, but let me at least provide a little help for those who universally defamed professional editing. As one lone brave contrarian who responded to the thread stated, if editors are such a horrible idea, why do so many best-selling authors, in their respective Acknowledgements, extol the value of those who edit for them? To step farther onto this cold deck, I’d like to see a list of best-selling authors who say they don’t use an editor. I even noticed a piece the other day from a man who has edited for both Stephen King and John Grissom. Both of those authors must surely need to have their head examined for employing this fellow in the past.

There Is a Time When Amateurs Critiquing Other Amateurs Doesn’t Work

I facilitate writing workshops sponsored by the local library system, and at times I encourage workshop participants to critique each other’s work. But I also make it crystal clear, if a writer is serious about having material considered by a major royalty publisher, at some point the draft will require a professional review.

Here Is What Editors Do

Professional editing is not about correcting grammatical errors, punctuation, and syntax issues, even though certainly anything a writer might have missed will be identified. Editing at a professional level entails considering a work related to its publishability in the current literary market; and specifically what it will require to polish a draft so it will be accepted for review by a respected royalty publisher. Depth of characterization, quality of the characters, character arcing, transitioning of the exposition and dialogue, dialogue quality, dialogue rhythm, story pacing, the pitch of the scenes, lack of contrivance, point-of-view consistency, redundant words and phrases (this is a bigger deal than most amateurs think), the strength of the story, and the overall readability of the narrative, are just some of the issues an editor must address.

An Amateur Can’t Know What the Industry Is Looking for

For many experienced writers, this is the number-one reason to employ a professional editor, since he or she will know what is working in the business at a given point in time–and what isn’t. The professional editor will also know where and with whom agents are placing work. This is particularly important because there are sometimes esoteric happenings in the publishing industry of which only an editor and other insiders will be aware of.

A Professional Editor Can Save a Writer a lot of Money, Time, and Aggravation

It doesn’t cost a lot of money to have a professional editor read a manuscript and provide a critique. For even some of the most competent editors, it’s usually around a buck per double-spaced page. Isn’t it a lot better to find out from a professional if a work has a chance, rather than to send out queries and submission packages with no idea of the true caliber of the material? Over the years I’ve read an inordinate number of drafts from writers who have spent years promoting work that has no chance of being published in the condition in which I received it. And what unfortunately happens is that this sort of often-rejected writer becomes disillusioned and at times even bitter.

Having a Work Professionally Edited Is a Means to an End

For the overwhelming number of writers who are with major royalty publishers, professional editing is not only a means to reach a satisfactory result, but the only way. For anyone who wishes to question this remark, I only ask this person to seek out any wildly successful author and ask if a professional editor has helped that writer become published.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 25
Crafting a Solid Ending for a Novel – The Value of Setting Up a Storyboard (April 6, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

As always, my first pleasant duty is to welcome the new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. Each of you should not be shy about expressing your opinion to me about anything I write, and please always be thinking about topics for upcoming installments. Half the articles I write are the direct result of Newsletter subscriber requests.

And as has been my custom of late, I want to continue to encourage subscribers of The Perfect Write® Newsletter to take advantage of the Publishers Marketplace free daily Publishers Lunch Newsletter by clicking this highlighted link or pasting to the address bar and signing up. I am aware that a lot of the Publishers Lunch narrative focuses on the inner workings of the publishing business, there is also a huge amount of daily data on what is selling. And by who and to whom (I think that’s right, ha ha).

To expand on this latter point a little more, I often have people attending my workshops who write in the Children’s and YA genres and seek direction about where to send their material. Since these aren’t genres I work in directly, I have limit personal experience; however, a recent Publishers Lunch installment contained several dozen titles of books that had just been signed, who agented the authors, and to which respective publisher the books were sold. If that’s not important information for authors in those genres, I don’t know what is.

On another topic, I’m always disappointed when a typo escapes the keen eye of my proofreader(s) or the two spellchecks I use. But, alas, in the previous Newsletter, “well-know” was supposed to be “well-known,” yet the miscue made it to the post. Sorry about this, and I appreciate none of you being too hard on me. Sometimes I tinker with the text at the last minute and fumble-finger with the keyboard. Not to make excuses, but in this instance, that’s how the “n” got dropped.

Today’s article is on one of my favorite topics, and this is working with a storyboard both prior to and during the writing of a manuscript draft. I find the concept of a storyboard invaluable, and something I often suggest that a writer create–or go back to–whenever he or she is having issues with plot elements, and especially if this involves the ending to a story. A storyboard is also a great way to circumvent writer’s block, since working on plotting inherently seems to start the creative juices flowing once again.


Crafting a Solid Ending for a Novel – The Value of Setting Up a Storyboard

During writing workshops I facilitate that are sponsored by The Palm Beach County Library System, I am often informed by the participants of the difficulties they are having with crafting a suitable ending for their respective novels. When this issue is raised, if the writer hasn’t already done so, I always suggest setting up a storyboard.

Just What Is a Storyboard?

A storyboard is a diagram, either simple or complex, that if properly designed will contain a start, a middle, and an end. Consequently, in an of itself, it enables a writer to concentrate on “filling in” each element. But it is also much more, since it provides a template from which to also create developmental arcs for both the characters as well as the scene depictions that are critical to the story line.

Some people say they can start a project and come up with an ending later. Others say this is bull, and in stronger terms. I don’t know what is the correct answer, but I do know many writers, and some quite good ones, who have discontinued a project because of frustration over not being able to “close the deal.”

A Storyboard Forces a Writer to Consider a Conclusion

A writer can lay out the characters and the plot points via a simple macro format that establishes the major elements. Once the basic storyboard is accomplished, any degree of layering can be used, from the most basic to something that looks like it was generated by an astrophysicist at NASA. And by its very dynamic, a storyboard motivates the writer to come up with a conclusion.

A storyboard can be as simple as the example to follow and still be quite effective: Joan meets John. Joan marries John. Joan is miserable. Joan shoots John. Joan escapes to Alaska. Joan changes name to Jenna and marries man who becomes governor. Joan/Jenna is blackmailed by ex-friend from back home who is aware of her past. If a storyboard is laid out to this point, most people can easily come up with a feasible scenario for an ending.

Setting up a storyboard can be a sound way of creating a working model with at least the guise of an achievable conclusion. Perhaps not what it will be in its final form, but an ending nonetheless, and a finale that the whole of the narrative can be written toward.

A Book on Screenplay Writing Can Be an Invaluable Aid for Understanding How to Design a Storyboard

Early in my Developmental Workshop Series I recommend a couple of books on screenwriting that I’ve found to help writers struggling with an ending for a story. SCREENPLAY, by Syd Field, is my favorite, followed closely by THE ELEMENTS OF SCREENWRITING, by Irwin R. Blacker. Both books have been around a long time and reprinted ad infinitum.

Field’s book includes a wide array of diagrams that I think can help many writers. And if Blacker’s keen insights are applied, a writer can make great strides at learning ways to enable a story to reach a satisfying conclusion. Because, as Blacker says, “When the conflict is resolved, the story ends.” Perhaps not earth-shattering words, but within them is the key to the problem for many authors. Also, when a writer sees his or her plot via a storyboard, it’s not only a wonderful source of motivation, but it can provide a reliable means to help keep the narrative on course.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 26
Query Letter Writing Fact and Fiction (April 20, 2010)

Hello All,

Wow, what an interesting last two weeks, including a great many new subscribers who I want to welcome to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. I always follow this greeting by asking each new participant to consider suggestions for subjects I can write about that relate to crafting quality prose. But before offering ideas, please take the time to review what has become a fairly good-size archive that can be parsed by going to this link, which will take you to the Articles Page on my web site at

It seems that no matter the range of subjects I’ve addressed in the past, information pertaining to query letter writing still elicits the most hits. Last year I posted two articles on the Internet that focused on query design, and each was viewed and republished at a rate that was three times greater than anything else I’d written. So I’m providing both articles in today’s Newsletter.

I want to change direction for a moment, and appeal to those of you who are considering self-publishing. As everyone who knows me will attest, I have always been a strong opponent of self-publishing because of all the scams that are out there. I’ve met too many people who were lied to and ended up with a garage full of books and have had to resort to carrying them around in shopping bags in an attempt to peddle them to members of their critique groups and the like. Or who were told their books would be in Barnes and Noble, and that a strong marketing campaign would be following their work’s publication, only to find this to be a flagrant misrepresentation on both accounts. Then there is that large group of sad cases who want to get out of a contract with a self-publisher but can’t, and then sour to the entire industry, or, worse, writing in general.

I have also not advocated self publishing because of the stigma attached to this by way of the major royalty publishers and the agents who represent them. However, with the rising acceptance of E-books, and most industry heavyweights now acceding in large part to providing first run material on various E-book formats, I’m now going to suggest something for some of you who may be considering self-publishing, and this is a new E-book operation called The preceding link will take you there, and when I originally checked it out I noticed that one of my Newsletter subscribers had recommended me as an editor to site members.

I consequently spoke at length several times to the site’s founder, Scott Weisenthal, and he seems to be a straight-up guy with what I think is a truly different concept that enables someone who is set on self-publishing to do it inexpensively (less than $100, which includes an ISBN number). Scott has the capability of providing inexpensive but highly attractive E-jackets, and after what amounts to the first two dollars of a sale, the rest is the writer’s. There appear to be no gimmicks, and the author sets the price point (I’ll write an article on my thoughts on where this should be at another time). Another important distinction of the profile is that a writer can also have a hard copy of a book printed at a very reasonable rate.

In a very short period Scott has amassed a list of 500 authors, and he has the wherewithal to do a planned national TV ad promoting his platform. He is also sponsoring a writing contest. Should anyone still be wondering what is different about this from Amazon, for example, there are two critical separation points; one, he is not accepting full lists from the notorious self-publishing mills who have demonstrated minimum to no interest in quality; and two, Scott believes that professional editing is critical to quality writing. He’s subsequently asked me to provide an editor’s forum for his site, and I’ve accepted.

I’m aware that many of you who know me well will wonder if I’ve taken to drugs, considering how adamantly I’ve always opposed self-publishing. The option is advantageous because the writer is in control, and not the subservient to those self-publishers who are nothing more than cloaked scam operators. Second, with the “agency model” becoming a reality, E-publishing is definitely not a fad. (Those of you who subscribe to the free daily Publishers Lunch, which I suggest everyone partake of, are learning that the agency model refers to how the current participating major publishers are pricing their new E-book releases for their authors’ works. This is not settled yet, but it appears that the prices range from $9.95 to $12.95, depending on the gravitas of the author or the projected interest in a specific book).

I’m thinking that the type of publishing that Scott is providing should be called something like Personal Publishing, since it’s a far cry from self-publishing as many know it, and it’s not POD because there is no hard copy (unless someone desires one). Anyone with an idea for a good name, let me know. Maybe we can even have a contest to come up with what it could be called. Regardless, I’m going to venture into this realm to help this new breed of personal publishers polish their writing. By the way, if you check out, take a look at the book titles and how everything is laid out. I’d like to hear your opinion. Also, if anyone gets involved with this E-publishing enterprise and has even the slightest hiccup, notify me right away. If I find there’s something wrong, I’ll end my relationship faster than a Britney Spears marriage.

After all this, the ensuing articles on query letter writing might seem anticlimactic, but they’re not. The medium I just mentioned, while I think it’s innovative, will certainly not displace the established royalty publishing environment as the bellwether anytime soon. It’s just that the E-concept I described seems to offer undeniable upside for a certain segment of the writing population who are serious about their work but want an alternative to the labor, vicissitudes, and vagaries involved with traveling the oft-bumpy major-publisher route. It might be worth a look. In the meantime, here are the articles on query letter writing.

Query Letter Writing Fact and Fiction

Fact: Query Letter Writing is an Art Form. Make no mistake about it, writing queries that produce results is a craft.

Fact: A query should not be written like a synopsis. I devoted an entire article to this, yet writers who have read the piece continue to send me sample queries that ignore this premise. Yes, there are exceptions. There are exceptions to everything in publishing. But if an author wants to entice an agent to stand up and take notice, as I said in the prior article, sell the sizzle and not the steak. Pure and simple, for fiction a query is best written if it mirrors liner notes.

Fact: A writer has to know the genre in which the work is written. If the author doesn’t know the genre in which his or her work is written, any bona fide editor can explain it. A writer who doesn’t take the time to figure this out has virtually no chance. Genre identification is paramount. And while critique groups, etc., are a wonderful sounding board, they are historically populated by amateurs, and as such not the place to learn about genre specificity in today’s complicated and ever-changing market.

Fact: Structurally, a query can be designed like a short theme. Yes, a simple but effective way to structure a query is like a theme. Begin with a core thought that highlights two or three critical plot elements. Justify these issues in the next paragraph, then close the letter with the thrust of the thesis: Why Readers Will Gravitate to the Story. Personal credentials if they pertain directly to the work can be added in a final brief sentence or two, along with a statement of appreciation for the agent’s or publisher’s time.

Fiction: Copying the words or phrases from a successful query will assure another query’s success. Nothing could be further from the truth. A query should define the voice and strength of the writer and the project. An experienced agent or publisher can pick up the nuances of a writer’s style. Counterfeiting doesn’t work.

Fiction: Query letters should never contain questions. This farce has been bandied about for some time and is ridiculous. No one likes a query that reads like a movie opening: In a world…followed by a “what if” scenario. But there is nothing at all problematic about asking an agent or publisher to consider a novel’s most poignant issue or issues. And if some agent has written to the contrary, so be it. Hundreds of other agents, and all of those I know and work with, think differently.

Fiction: A query should fill as much of the page as possible. It’s quality not quantity that matters. A query with 500 words jammed on a page is not going to be perceived to be any better than 300 words that clearly and concisely reflect the writer’s skill and the “hot points” about the story he or she has written. An overwritten query can plant the thought that the novel is also structured in the same manner.

What can distort this last remark are the bloated query examples posted by some writers whose work has been accepted for publication. But when a query turns into a synopsis, which is almost always the tendency in longer efforts, it’s generally a quick reach by the agent or publisher for the SASE or the rejection template on the computer file.

Fiction: If my query doesn’t work the first time, I can write another one later to the same agent for the same book. Agents keep records. At least many of the good ones I know do. And, universally, as I’ve experienced it, agents never want to see a query about the same material a second time any more than they will consider a manuscript they previously rejected. So it is imperative to get it right the first time.

A poor query will never get a book in front of an agent; however, a great query can influence an agent to look at a novel that might just require a touch up. And critical feedback can often be gleaned from an agent. For anyone not using a professional editor (curses), I cannot think of a better way to receive professional advice without having to pay for it. However, most authors would be way ahead of the game if they sought professional direction to assure a quality query before bombarding a highly selective marketplace with less than sterling requests to review material.

Hints for Writing an Effective Query Letter

First and foremost is the necessity of crafting a query that highlights the relevant hooks in the story and not to permit the letter to come across as an overzealous personal pitch vehicle for the author.

For example, if a query says that the work is written like a Pat Conroy novel, an agent can and often will infer that the author is stating that he or she writes as well as Mr. Conroy, a lofty goal indeed. If comparisons to other works are desired, it is much better to simply imply that the novel is written in the style of a particular noted author–and not that your ability mirrors that person’s skill sets, regardless of how you or others in your circle of friends and acquaintances might rate your talent.

Humility is a big plus; conversely, braggadocio is a sure way of turning off a literary agent, since how you comport yourself by the content and tone of the query can have a great deal to do with how an author’s representative will perceive working with you.

Be Certain to Write the Query in a Way That Is Indicative of How You Wrote the Novel

The well-respected literary agent and oft-published author, Noah Lukeman, wrote about how too much information via a writer’s bio can be more damaging that helpful. And so much so that the bio can serve as the means for rejection–and not the text of the manuscript itself.

When I first read Mr. Lukeman’s position on this I was appalled and offended, but as I thought about it more, I decided not to blame the messenger. If a writer is an academician in a scientific field, and that person’s query letter style, for a mystery novel for example, doesn’t indicate anything to the contrary, why should the agent think that the book is not written like a professorial thesis. In the same vein, if someone has been designing advertising copy for 20 years–and that individual’s query for a police thriller is rife with overblown rhetoric–why would the agent think any differently about the condition of the narrative he or she is being asked to read?

If Applicable, There Are Facts about an Unpublished Writer’s Background That Can Be Advantageous

In line with what I’ve just illustrated, I suggest that unpublished writers write sparingly about their credentials, except should their CV include writing honors they’ve received, and only if this pertains to the genre in which the book they are presenting happens to be written. Workshop or symposium awards, and book competitions in which germane work was singled out for excellence, etc., are what the author would want to present at the close of the query. Forget everything else. Just thank the agent for his or her time and rest your case.

Give Yourself a Chance

If you’re careful about hype, watch the obvious benchmark rejection issues such as unnecessary adverbs and running adjectives, and keep you CV pertinent to the novel you are presenting, you’ll enable the description of your story’s features to dictate if the agent is going to request your manuscript. And you won’t be rejected for reasons that may have nothing to do with the quality of your work.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 27
Literary Agency Sales and Querying the Right Agent
(May 4, 2010)

Hello All,

Let me extend a warm welcome to all the fine folks who have recently signed up for The Perfect Write® Newsletter. During the past two weeks our international list of Newsletter readers was augmented by additional subscribers from the UK, Australia, Canada, and India. For those of you who will be receiving this Newsletter for first time, dozens of my articles that pertain to writing prose at a publishable level can be accessed by clicking this link, which will take you to the Articles Page on my web site at If you don’t find something you’re looking for in particular, please contact me with your suggestion for any pertinent Newsletter topic(s) you would like to see addressed in future installments.

So all new subscribers are aware, The Perfect Write® Newsletter is almost a year old, and I’m pleased to report that the overall response to the material I’m providing has remained quite positive. This is certainly gratifying (and reassuring, ha ha), as I’m committed to disseminating information that is accurate and current with respect to the major royalty publishing industry as I know it, while paying strict attention to the new E-publishing model that I’m fast educating myself to.

In the overwhelming number of instances I write fresh material for each Newsletter. But at times I’ll include articles I’ve previously written for various Internet book sites. Sometimes I’ll also combine closely related material (like I did last week), and this can make these “reads” rather extensive. I want to make certain Newsletter subscribers don’t feel this is too much information at one time. So please let me know if you’re comfortable with the size of the Newsletters; or if you’d prefer they be shortened–or perhaps even lengthened.

Now for today’s subject. As I wrote in my opening remarks two weeks ago–which were a preamble to the two articles I published on how to find a literary agent–every time I write agent-related material, I get a large positive response. So I decided to follow up with a final article (for now) that deals with acquiring a literary agent, and lead the piece with a perspective on how to interpret literary agency sales numbers. This might seem like getting the cart way in front of the horse for anyone trying to become published for the first time by a major house, but when querying agents it’s very important to understand the scope of some of these agency operations, and this is the theme of today’s article.

Literary Agency Sales and Querying the Right Agent

If querying literary agents isn’t difficult enough, how is a writer who is attempting to break into the business supposed to decipher the sales figures that are posted by major agents in areas such as the Dead Reckoning section of Agent Search (if you click the link, you will need to scroll well down the page to get to the numbers) when individual statistics during a 12 month period might indicate the placement of over 100 titles by a single agent?

Sales Numbers Can Reflect the Entire Agency and Not the Individual

Keep in mind that an agent such as Richard Curtis, who lists 159 titles sold during a 12 month period, is likely publishing the figures for his entire agency. Prolific producers such as Richard Curtis, Sterling Lord, Al Zuckerman, and Jane Dystel are historically providing numbers generated by their respective agency imprimaturs and not their individual sales, although they may play a role in each transaction.

Query the Right Agent

If you check their individual web sites, you will notice that some of these high production agencies are mammoth, employing a couple dozen agents and numerous subordinate staff members, such as readers. This is why it’s imperative to find out which representative at an agency is the right choice for a particular work. And why it does not behoove a writer to send material to the lead agent when another person is better suited.

Be Careful of the Agent on the Marquee

The reason for this admonition is because most agencies don’t pass material from agent to agent to see who might like it from a genre perspective. So in instances in which a cozy mystery might be ideal for Jane Jones, it might not be suitable for hard-boiled police mystery guru John Jones. And if John Jones is the agency founder–and the person queried–his personal attache may only look for material that will fit his eye if the letter is addressed to him. And no one I am aware of enables a writer to submit to multiple agents within the same agency, as this seems to be universally disparaged (and vociferously so).

Give Yourself a Chance; Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot

It’s critical to do the necessary homework to determine the correct agent’s name for a genre or sub-genre, should it be someone other than the person listed in the agency title. I realize I stated essentially the same thing in the preceding paragraph, but the issue of agent specificity needs to become inculcated in all of us, it is that important. Yet after stating and reaffirming this necessity, it doesn’t always work this way, since in some agencies all queries are reviewed by a submission coordinator, regardless of whom the letter is addressed to, and then passed on to the agent who that person feels is “right” for the project.

Three Things a Writer Can Do That Will Work

Confused? Nothing about locating the right agents to query is easy, but I think a serious writer can save a lot of time and aggravation by making the effort to do three things: Check with Publishers Marketplace for who is selling what–and to whom as it relates to a work’s specific sub-genre; learn as much as possible about the recent book(s) the agent has sold so something about this history can be referenced in the query (specifically how there is a relationship between that book(s) and the work the writer is proposing); then go on the Agent Query web site to verify the agent’s title, address, etc, and to access that agent’s exact submission requirements.

I suggest going to the profile link at Agent Query and then to the submissions guideline button on the agent’s web page (the URL is almost always shown), since the criteria on the web page is often more detailed and current than what is listed in the short bio provided on Agent Query. All three of the links I’ve indicated are free (Agent Search was mentioned at the beginning of this article), including the Publishers Marketplace free link, and if a writer is not already familiar with each of them, in my opinion they are well worth learning about.

Beginning with this Newsletter, I’m going to let all of you know what the next installment is going to be about. The May 18 Newsletter will contain an article on ways to format backstory (“flashback”), a topic that was suggested by long-time Newsletter subscriber Barbara Weitzner, who I’m happy to relate also participated in one of my library-sponsored writing workshop series.

I hope all of you enjoyed this Newsletter. Have a great day!

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 28
Techniques for Writing Backstory (Flashback) (May 4, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

I’m very pleased that so many of you are taking advantage of the links I list for free services provided by Publishers Marketplace, Agent Query, etc. Anyone receiving the daily Publishers Lunch newsletter from Publishers Marketplace learns very quickly why publishing-industry insiders feel it’s such a valuable medium as a resource tool. And by insiders I’m referring to agents and publishing executives. During a recent conversation with me, the executive editor at Kensington, Michaela Hamilton, extolled the virtues of Publishers Marketplace, providing clear evidence that even the heaviest hitters pay attention to this newsletter.

What most people find exceptional about Publishers Marketplace/Lunch is the currency of the material that’s posted, since industry-related news is generally reported within 24-hours. I don’t get a commission for recommending this, but the paid feature, which Publishers Marketplace offers for $20.00 per month, is particularly beneficial if a person has a book ready to be queried. This expanded version of Publishers Lunch provides a comprehensive daily list of which agents are placing what genre of material with whom. This is the only paid component of anything I’ve ever recommended in my Newsletter, but I feel it’s worth the twenty bucks. And there is no subscription term, so a writer can unsubscribe at any time.

We’re always told to dream big, so here are some numbers to roll around. According to current statistics, THE LOST SYMBOL has passed the 5 million mark in sales. Even though an author of Dan Brown’s stature is likely able to command a higher commission than the standard 15% (after the first 5000 sales are logged in), if he receives an average royalty of $2.00 per copy (hardback, soft cover, audio, Braille, E-books, etc), this equates to $10,000,000. But this pales in comparison to what Mr. Brown earned from THE DA VINCI CODE, which is puportedly the largest-selling book in U.S. history, producing a staggering 81 million in sales worldwide. Multiple that times two! Another big story in publishing is Tom Clancy’s latest, a collaborative effort, with an initial run of 1.75 million copies. Kind of pales in comparison to Dan Brown’s numbers, but I have a hard time feeling sorry for Mr. Clancy. Doesn’t he, among other things, own an NFL team?

If any of you would like to learn about what to expect when a book is signed by a major royalty publisher, I highly recommend HOW TO GET HAPPILY PUBLISHED, by Judith Appelbaum. The Appelbaum family name is well ensconced in the publishing industry, and her book has been reprinted many times. I remember buying my copy in the early 1990’s, and at that time over 400,000 copies had been sold. I’m certain her work has been updated since, but even if some of the metrics might be different today, I think you’ll find the nuts and bolts of what she writes about still to be quite pertinent. Should any of you not already be aware of this, the major royalty publishing industry in many respects moves at the rate of a glacier.

On another topic, if any of our more recent Newsletter subscribers are not aware that I’m offering a free first chapter review of a manuscript (up to 5000 words), and a free line edit of the first three pages, if applicable, let me formally present this to you. Just paste the material to the body of an E-mail (no attachments will be opened) and send it to [email protected] I’m also still providing free query letter review and analysis.

Regarding query letters, someone asked me what I provide when I complete a review and analysis. After I critique a query I generally write an opening paragraph so the author has an idea of a what to present in the body of the narrative. This enables the author to finish the query without having to pay me to do so, although over half the people I write openings for go on to employ me to design the complete letter, hint hint.

This week’s Newsletter article discusses ways to display backstory in a novel. I mentioned in the last Newsletter that this topic was suggested by long-time Newsletter subscriber Barbara Weitzner, who also attended one of my writing workshop series. I hope everyone finds this article to be of interest, and I encourage each Newsletter subscriber to suggest topics for future material.

Techniques for Displaying Backstory in a Novel

Some people have said that the best way to display backstory, or flashback as it’s commonly called, is not to write it at all. Instead, maneuver this set-up material into the natural chronology of the narrative. But for the purpose of this article we’re assuming backstory is critical as a separate element, and here are several methods for presenting it from a visual perspective. Among the options: within parentheses, via italics, or as an aside by way of a “remembrance.”

Parentheses Never Seem to Make the Right Impact

I have long espoused that the parentheses should never be used in fiction, and I still believe this. First and foremost, a parenthetical expression is, by its very nature, an aside to indicate something of lesser significance, and therefore would seem to contraindicate the need for backstory. Simply, if backstory is so important, as stated earlier, write it into the normal sequence of events. This last remark may indeed be a stretch, but if backstory is deemed necessary, why relegate it to second-class status via a parenthetical expression? Plus, from a purely pedestrian view, when a long run of backstory ends with a parenthesis, isn’t it irritating to be “told” via the closed parenthetical mark that what was just read had not happened in real time?

Long Italics Can Be Annoying

We commonly see backstory written in italics. I once wrote an entire story in italics, as have other novelists. And while some authors’ works have been successful, they are few and far between. Most people find that anything more than a couple of pages of italics grate on the brain. And I’ve even found that italics beyond two or three paragraphs can often be too much. In most cases I consider italics in the same vein as reading stream-of-consciousness passages. Unless parked under Faulkner, Joyce, or Woolfe, a little bit goes a long way. Only a handful of novelists, who are widely held to be geniuses, have been able to effectively utilize either technique.

Offering a “Remembrance” for the Reader

Backstory for me seems to work best when the character begins with a short muse and then a full scene follows. This can be anything from a couple of sentences to a long chapter. Either way, something utilizing this sort of set up: John looked across the barren field at the rusted chassis of the old Chevy truck, now seeming as though it had died from lack of food and water after being planted up to its rims in the hard ground. He remembered the first time Mary had come into his life. It was a comparable cold and windy Kansas afternoon in November, ten years earlier. A voice called from over his shoulder, “Hey.” He turned and saw a woman carrying….

No Single Concept Fits Everything, But a Particular Style Is Better for Long Runs

If backstory is desired, I would try the concepts I outlined and see how each one sets up with what is written before and after it. Maybe the dreaded parentheses is the answer, or a half page of italics will do the trick. But if more text than that is required, I’d seriously consider a “musing.”

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 29
Coming Up With a Great Ending for a Story (June 1, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

I want to offer a hearty welcome to all the new subscribers of this Newsletter during the past two weeks and for whom this is your first installment. I’m always asking Newsletter subscribers to take an active interest in the material I write, and I welcome your comments and suggestions to improve these posts.

In the past couple of Newsletters I’ve mentioned and the e-book platform it enables. And as I’ve often stated, I’m walking slowly with this, since it’s the first E-publishing environment I’ve supported in any way. But one of the elements I find appealing about founder Scott Weisenthal’s program is a national TV ad he will be running this fall. It is designed to provide publicity for the three winners of a writing competition he is currently sponsoring for authors who have books listed on his site.

It’s called The Great American Author Competition, and this could be hugely advantageous for the winners. Entry is open until the end of June, so there’s still plenty of time if any of you have a book for which you might want to test the waters. I’m certainly not promoting E-publishing over the major royalty print medium, but it might fit for some of you, especially since a book can receive an ISBN number or its counterpart and be E-published on for around $50.00. Scott can explain all of this, and if anyone is interested you can call him directly at 877-221-8151.

Dozens of my past articles on writing and the publishing industry as I know it can be found by clicking this link, which will take you the Articles Page on my web site at I also ask (sic, plead, ha ha) for ideas for topics, and I’m delighted to report that Newsletter subscriber Elma Shemenauer, a prolific writer with over 75 published novels to her credit, has proffered several excellent subjects. One I particularly like asks for ways for an author to “hear” how a passage sounds when that writer has less than a stellar “ear.” Elma also suggested that I write a piece on transitioning material, which I find is one the major elements that separates writers. I recently wrote an article on transitioning, and it can be viewed by clicking this link, yet since this component is so vital as an enabler of fluent prose, I’ll prepare an addendum that will be the focus of an upcoming Newsletter.

A writer friend of mine, Buck Buchanan, who is also a long-time Newsletter subscriber, suggested an article that addresses the problem with contrived characters, and how this sort of writing impacts the integrity of a narrative. If you click the link in the preceding paragraph, you will also find an article that deals with contrived endings, so Buck’s topic will be a perfect complement to that article.

As anyone can tell, I am more than mildly exuberant when I receive an idea for a topic from a Newsletter subscriber, so I want to reiterate to please keep your concepts coming my way. And now for today’s topic.

Coming Up With a Great Ending for a Story

A great deal is written about the importance of a strong opening for a novel, and especially if a fantastic hook can be created in the first paragraph or two. And much effort is devoted to the significance of a terrific title. But little time is spent discussing a brilliant ending. Yet doesn’t a powerful finish to a story deserve equal shrift with the aforementioned heavyweights? There are several options and techniques that respected writers have utilized to leave the reader with a lasting impression of a work.

The Poignant Ending Is Example Number One

Some years ago I was discussing powerful endings for novels with a long-time mentor and friend of mine, Noel King, who I’m sad to note has recently passed away. My erudite friend mentioned that he’d never found anything more dramatic than the ending of A FAREWELL TO ARMS, in which the lieutenant must leave his wife’s body as it lay in a hospital bed after she hemorrhaged to death, also losing their unborn child in the process. Hemingway wrote: …It was like saying good-by to a statue. I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.

I might also offer the ending in THE FIXER as an example of an incredibly powerful finish: ….Some, as the carriage clattered by and they glimpsed the fixer, were openly weeping, wringing their hands. One thinly bearded man clawed his face. One or two waved at Yakov. Some shouted his name. In THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, I have never forgotten the brief line describing Quisimoto’s remains when they were touched, as Hugo wrote: ….he crumbled into dust. And I still recall my grief at the end of Kipling’s THE LIGHT THAT FAILED: …Torpenhow knelt under the lee of the camel, with Dick’s body in his arms.

Love Conquering All Never Seems to Fail

At the opposite extreme is the Shakespearean approach, as emblematic of his comedies in which love conquering all is the overriding theme. A Romance writer almost always provides a satisfying ending when the heroine gets her man. Or on occasion vice versa. Along these same lines, a writer of commercial fiction can be relatively comfortable if he or she can craft a story that fulfills the reader’s aspirations for the protagonist, regardless of the trials and tribulations along the way.

An Open Thread Is Often a Great Mechanism to Close a Novel

If we think about some of our most widely read contemporary authors, the opportunity at the end of a story to provide the hint for a sequel is never overlooked. James Patterson does this as well as anyone, and a good reason why so many people come back for more of his material. (He has 31 #1 New York Times bestsellers as of this article, which is a record, and not bad for someone who many in the literati deem to be a poor writer.) Thomas Harris did a spectacular job with open threads in the Hannibal series, especially the ones that involved Lector always eluding the FBI at the end. Libraries are full of stories that begat stories, some of which were flagrantly presaged in the endings of their predecessors. Handled with care, this is a terrific way to close a novel, but it requires skill so the reader doesn’t feel shortchanged.

Which Brings Us to the Denouement

Here is arguably the most common but quite often most difficult type of ending for a lot of writers to pull off well. I often judge the skill of the writer, and hence the quality of the story, by how much the author has to explain at the end for the reader. In some cases, a detailed denouement is indeed necessary to provide the reader with a fuller understanding of some of the less significant but nonetheless still important plot elements. But if handled poorly, a lengthy, multi-leveled denouement can be a sign of either lazy writing–or a self-exposition of the limitations of the author.

Select a Closing That Will Make the Reader Remember Your Story

The ability to create a memorable closing brings me to GONE WITH THE WIND, and Scarlett saying: “….after all, tomorrow is another day.” Here is a book of over 300,000 words that is filled with rich characters and grand characterizations, yet if I asked a hundred people who read the book at any time in their respective lives to recite the last line, the majority would be able to do so, or at least come close.

Give the Same Effort to the Ending As to the Opening

The ability to hook the reader at the earliest possible stage of the narrative is an integral component of any novelist’s thought process. Experienced writers are always considering ways to motivate people to read their next book. There is no better method than by providing a satisfying ending to their current work, regardless of the technique that is used. And I’m convinced that notable writers spend as much time on their endings as they do on their openings. It only makes sense.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 30
Active vs. Passive Voice (June 15, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

I want to thank each of you who are also clients of mine for holding any new material until July. I am well into my personal project and hope to have it finished by the end of the month, or at least far enough along so I can once again begin accepting outside work.

And for anyone who is not also familiar with my free services, at no charge I am still providing query letter review and analysis, and have added a critique of the first chapter of a manuscript (up to 5000 words) and a line edit (if necessary) of the first 3 pages. It will, however, be mid-July at the earliest before I’ll be able to get to any queries or first chapters.

The Difference Between Active and Passive Voice

I recently read the unpublished draft of a manuscript that reminded me of something which hadn’t come up in some time. And this was the problem with material written in a passive voice. It’s easy to assume this is simple to understand via the well-touted converse implications of “The piano was being played by Mary” and “Mary was playing the piano,” but it’s often difficult for some writers to fully comprehend the unintended baggage passive voice brings with it.

Past Tense Shouldn’t be Confused with Passive Voice

As everyone knows, “John walks in the park” is present tense in an obvious active voice. We all learned in grammar school that “John walked in the park” is past tense, and also in an active voice. And that “John was walking in the park” is past progressive tense, but again in an active voice. We were also taught that “John has walked in the park” is present perfect tense in an active voice, and “John had walked in the park” is past perfect active tense. For anyone who has an understanding of the rudiments of English, this is about as basic as it gets, so what’s the problem?

Passive Voice Creates a Different Meaning

The “be’s and the “been’s” seem to creep into some amateur writing with ever-increasing frequency. Sentences tend to crop up, such as, “John had been walking through the park, then he spied Ellen strolling down the sidewalk.” The sentence would be fine, except it indicates that John was doing his walking in the past, and this is likely not what the author wanted to convey. Meaning, was the intent to imply that John had taken his walk a few hours earlier, or a day earlier, or a week earlier, then at this very moment saw Ellen strolling? Or is the author’s contention that John was in the process of walking and observed Ellen? Of course it was the latter, yet it was expressed as the former.

An Effective Fix That Is Not Always a Simple One

One way to avoid passive voice is to find substitutions for “has,” “had,” and “have.” But it’s not always easy to do, and all-action verb writing can be overwhelming and annoying to the reader, but judicious alternatives for “has,” “had,” and “have” will provide a summary remedy. A mess like “Loud rain had been falling on the roof” could be converted to “Rain pummeled the roof.” In the second phrase, the decibel level is obvious by the word “pummeled,” and the single-word verb, while taking the place of the three-word “had been falling,” conveniently places this scene in an active voice.

What about Too Many Instances of “Was” in a Perfectly Good Sentence?

This sentence is a no-brainer: “While John was walking through the park, he was thinking about what was bothering him of late.” The last “was” of course could be changed to “had been,” and this would be correct since his thinking had indeed occurred in the past. But this next sentence poses not so easy a fix: “John was walking through the park, worried about what was happening with his life, and particularly concerned about what was going on with his marriage.” Even though everything is active in John’s mind, perhaps a “had been” would help the pitch of the sentence if this replaced the “was” which precedes “happening.”

Let Your Ear Guide You, But Stick to Active Voice As Much As Possible

So while there are times when it’s advisable to interject a passive element, let this be predicated in large measure by how the sentence sounds when it’s read out loud. Just keep in mind that it’s far and away best to write in an active voice whenever possible.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 31
Avoiding Redundant Words and Phrases (June 29, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome each of you who is new to what I’m happy to report is a becoming a burgeoning list of subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. And as is my custom when I thank people for joining our ranks, please do not hesitate to make any comments or scoldings, and please feel free to offer topics for upcoming Newsletter material. Over half the subjects I write about are a direct result of subscriber input.

One of the things I encourage any writer to do is to go the home page on my web site at (you can click this link), and review the links on the right side of the page. These links compose a listing of a couple dozen free sites that I feel can be of benefit to a writer who is interested in plying the major royalty publishing side of the industry. And I recently added a link that I found to be unbelievably well designed.

It’s called GUIDE TO GRAMMAR AND WRITING, and it can be accessed by clicking this link. It’s dedicated to Dr. Charles Darling, who I was unfamiliar with until I stumbled onto the site. Because of the way it’s indexed, GUIDE TO GRAMMAR AND WRITING is better than anything I’ve found to date as a grammar reference guide (online). It easy to navigate–and, as with all my links, it’s free.

Today’s Newsletter is about avoiding redundant words and phrases. Agents, editors, and publishers look at this element as something that separates writers. It’s so important that an entire book could be written on the subject.

Words That Stand Out–Unfortunately

Never is it truer that the human mind works in strange ways than when an author finds his or her draft littered with the same words or phrases. What makes this particularly galling is that proficient writers strive not to do this, yet quite often are unable to prevent syntax which is redundant–or reads as repetitive–from appearing on a page.

Oddly, it’s the words that are most ordinary which can often cause the most grief. Words such as “because” or “become,” should they be placed in consecutive sentences or paragraphs (even lengthy ones), can stick in the reader’s mind as redundant. Along this line of commonality, too many “was’s” can gum up an otherwise good run of narrative. Word repetition can be as hard on the reader as the excessive use of specialty punctuation such as the semi-colon or the exclamation point.

Some More of The Usual Suspects

Another chronic problem is the word “would,” since the options for a suitable substitute generally are limited to “should” and “could,” at best. Perhaps the greatest difficulty of all is what to use after the first “but.” “However,” “yet,” and even “except,” can often serve in a pinch, but–well, you see the problem.

The Fix for Overuse of the Conjunction “But”

The best way to remedy repeating the conjunction “but” is to begin a new sentence as if it were an extended thought and not a contrary view. Example: John saw Mary in the park, but didn’t like the guy she was with, so he kept walking. Rewrite as: John saw Mary in the park. He didn’t like the guy she was with, so he kept walking.

Select Alternates for Prepositions

“Afterwards” can become “later,” just as “under” can often be modified to read “below” and not deprecate the writer’s intent. And while we are trained to use one word to take the place of many, it’s sometimes prudent to write “at this time” instead of a redundant “now.” Even a “presently” might need to be inserted instead of “now” to prevent duplication.

Homonyms Are Just As Bad As Repeating Words

I recently read a draft with the following phrase: The weather was going to determine whether or not they would be going out. This is an easy sentence to repair by substituting “if” for “whether,” and dropping the “or not.” But it’s not always simple to spot a problem. In this following sentence, the syntax might be ignored: Every fall, John would haul wood in his wheelbarrow. And even something more blatant might be missed, such as: It was too much to bear, and I barely got the words out.

Both Complicated or Sophisticated Words Must be Watched

When a writer uses words such as “conflagration” or “beatification,” these can only be placed in a novel once. And I don’t even like to see them in multiple novels by the same author. The latter comment might seem a stretch, but when an author develops an unintended tic, this isn’t good, since it makes the writing stale in the eyes of the loyal reader.

Phrases, Especially Clever One’s, Cannot be Used Again

A slick phrase will stay with the reader, and the ability to craft this sort of rhetoric is often why people lean toward certain authors. But it’s important to keep in mind that the inherent nature of a unique rift of narrative is what will be remembered. A phrase like the following, including the adjective predicate by itself, can only be written one time: His face contorted, as if the result of an unpleasant musical note of his own making. One contorted face per book, please, regardless of how it got that way.

But What If There Are Only So Many Ways Something Can Be Written?

When I’m writing a police thriller, I often run into a problem with the word “policeman.” After perhaps following it with “cop,” and later “officer,” then “patrolman” (if it fits), I’m forced to return to the first noun. There are indeed times when there are only so many options to identify a person by name or profession and still be accurate. In the “policeman” example, if the person’s last name is Jones, creating Patrolman Jones, Officer Jones, or offering just plain Jones to the mix in a long scene may still not be enough, and there will be no choice but to repeat a handle.

Yet when it’s deemed necessary to restate a name in the same sentence, this should be an extremely rare occurrence and every attempt should be made to write around this sort of thing. And it’s important to keep in mind that no matter how problematic the text might read when certain words continue to reappear, redundant phrases can leave a much more negative impression of the narrative.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 32
Syntax Redundancy Issues – Alliteration, Sibilance, and Repetition (July 13, 2010)

Hello All,

A big welcome to our newest subscribers. Please feel free to contact me at any time with suggestions to improve both the material I present or with ideas for upcoming Newsletters. I always encourage criticism. So if you see something you don’t like or disagree with, let me know and I’ll certainly look at any contention with an open mind.

I want to again draw everyone’s attention to the free Guide to Grammar and Writing web site I mentioned in the last Newsletter, and which I noticed a great many of you have accessed (a component of the algorithm configuration for this Newsletter provides me with a tally of link clicks). If you haven’t already done so, you can click this link for the Guide to Grammar and Writing site. And if any of you have difficulty, as I often have, with how to deal with numbers in prose writing, you might find this link to a subset on the Guide to Grammar and Writing site to be of benefit. It doesn’t display examples of everything an author runs into when writing numbers, as nothing I’ve found does, but it’s a ready reference that’s a light-year quicker than struggling through THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE or GREGG.

Every month or so I suggest to Newsletter subscribers that, if they haven’t done so, they should sign up for the free Publishers Lunch daily newsletter (click this link) which deals with the inner workings of the royalty publishing market. Publishers Lunch is particularly valuable in that it enables a writer to see which agents and agencies are most active in what genres There is a component that costs $20 per month, but I suggest starting with the free service, which I took advantage of for three years or so before opting for the more expanded “Lunch.” The free Lunch requires about two weeks from the sign-up day to begin receiving delivery, so if you don’t get it right away, hang in there, you’re in a queue and someone is working to you.

Yesterday’s Lunch mentioned the remarkable Steig Larsson numbers for his trilogy thus far: 30 million copies worldwide. In last week’s Lunch, there was a great deal of activity by a couple of literary agencies in particular. This is important for a writer to know, should she or he be working in genres in which their agents specialize. So, please, if you have aspirations of becoming published by a major royalty publisher, take advantage of the FREE Publishers Lunch (again, here is the link).

I want to take just a moment to thank those clients of mine who are Newsletter subscribers for their patience while I’m working on a personal project. I’m on track to end my one month, twelve-to-thirteen hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week marathon by the middle of next week. I have your manuscripts in a queue, and I will notify each of you with a time frame for when you can expect your material to be returned. Again, my sincerest appreciation to each of you for understanding that halting all work on outside material was the only way to ultimately enable everyone’s draft to receive the undivided attention it deserves. And for those of you for whom I’ve asked to hold off sending queries and/or first chapters for review, you can resubmit beginning July 26, and I will place everything in a separate queue and get to each item as fast as I can.

So many of you wrote me about how much you liked the prior Newsletter–dealing with sound in writing–that I decided to reprint an article I wrote for a book site on the Internet a few months ago. The article was titled “Alliteration, Sibilance, and Repetitious Alphabet,” and here it is:

It’s All About Sound

Alliteration is often considered clever when used as hype by a newscaster such as Geraldo Rivera, but horribly annoying to a lot of people when the novelty wears off or the technique is overused. Sibilant sounds are funny when spoken via a cartoon character such as Daffy Duck, while not so humorous when part of someone’s long-winded pontification at a school board meeting. And while writing numerous consecutive words beginning with or containing the letters “c ” “p” or “t” can be catchy in a commercial jingle, they might not be as well received when abundantly decorating a run of narrative.

Sound Means Everything to Text, As It Facilitates Both Rhythm and Pitch

Strong words, but true, since we hear what we read. Reason number 10,000 why it’s critical to read out loud whatever we write before we consider posting it, mailing it, offering it, or publishing it. But reading out loud also means a lot of sometimes painstakingly slow work for the writer, and why this cardinal rule is often so easy to side-step. Yet listening for certain sounds, and modifying the rhetoric that enabled them, has as much to do with readability as any other factor.

Start with the Obvious and Then Listen for Subtleties

“S’s” are the easiest culprits to recognize, since the hissing sound they engender is what sibilance refers to. And alliteration and sibilance combined are impossible for most readers to deal with. Phrases like, “She shifted seductively as she swayed swiftly towards his seat” are enough to turn off any reader. But what about subtle inflections such as “prepossessing smile,” “successful city servant” (soft “c’s” count too, ha ha), and “seven consecutive series.” There are indeed times when “smile” has to changed to “allure,” “servant” to “employee,” and “consecutive” dropped and the phrase changed to “seven times in a row.”

Too Many “C’s and “P’s Can Spoil the Soup

Soft “c’s” were mentioned in the earlier paragraph, but a preponderance of hard “c’s” can be annoying in their own right. “Accommodating change encourages actionable outcomes,” is beyond a mouthful. And so is, “They appealed to the people in the principal opposition’s party.” Consider how both phrases you just read are sitting on your mind right now, and then read either phrase out loud and see if you don’t come away with a sore jaw.

The Key Is Balance

No writer sets out to aggravate the reader when the intent to begin with was to craft fluent prose. But the tendency for many writers is to be complacent and not look for the little tics that can sometimes evolve into major trouble spots. Reading material out loud, and listening closely to how it sounds, is the best advice anyone can give or receive. If it sounds bad, it reads bad. It’s that simple. Again, it’s all about sound.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 33
Words That Define in Absolute Terms and Those That Don’t (July 27, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

A big welcome to all the new subscribers of The Perfect Write® Newsletter. I hope each of you enjoy the premise. Please send me your suggestions for anything you’d like incorporated in these Newsletters, and I’m always interested in areas anyone would like to see improved. And don’t hesitant to suggest topics for upcoming installments.

Those of you who have been with me for a while know I’ve been working on a personal project for the past five weeks, And during this time I’ve not been able to entertain any new business, paid of otherwise. I’m happy to announce that I’m ready to begin accepting material again, but I still need another week before I can set up a new queue. I have a backlog of work for paid clients I have to attend to first, but I should be able to start looking at opening chapters and reviewing queries during the first or second week of August.

I imagine many of you enjoy Janet Evanovich, as do I, who has built a fabulous franchise since her first novel in 1966. She currently commands $10m per book (that’s not a misprint; she received this for a 4-book deal she signed in ’07) but is now requesting (sic, demanding) a $12m advance for each of her next 4 books. She sports a base fan base of 1.5m readers, so she’ll likely get it. These dollar amounts show what the top writers can earn. Unfortunately, they compose a very small segment of the market.

The average advance for a previously unpublished writer is still in the neighborhood of $20k, and this is from one of the seven major royalty publishers (I see this as six lately, but so be it) and not an indie, which can be considerably less. And it’s also important to note than sales of 20,000 units for a novel will land a writer on the NYT bestseller list. This stresses the importance of writing for a market and understanding how a specific work will or will not fit. This does not mean “selling out” or in any way compromising. What it means is that a writer must understand the market, and specifically where and how to present a work.

An issue I read the other day made great sense to me, and not because in addition to being a novelist I edit material for others. A royalty-published writer was discussing the proliferation of E-book publishers and writers thinking this inexpensive vehicle is the way to stardom without providing a manuscript that is properly edited.

Nobody likes spending money on an editor. I don’t like spending money on an editor. But I have to do it, simply because I can’t see arcing or transitioning problems, along with other potential plot flaws, after I’ve modified my own draft several dozen times. I even have an experienced line editor, who is a friend and colleague, going through a current draft of mine to check for missing words, typos, etc. When clauses are dropped, moved around, or modified a dozen times, there is a tendency for many writers, of which I’m at the top of the list, to see what was written six revisions earlier. Hence, another set of professional eyes is critical.

The ultimate point the royalty-published author was making was that a writer who E-publishes a book is most often going to have to expect traction for his or her story to come from word of mouth. Or, as he called it: a fan. It’s hard to find a fan who will promote material she or he has read if it’s not felt the book is clean and well written. Please think about this: Is it realistic to expect someone (even a close friend) to brag about a work that is a flawed related to something as basic as syntax?

And grammar flaws don’t include problems related to the quality of the plot that can make or break a reader’s interest in a book. Issues such as inadequate conflict, weak pacing, thin characterizations, the lack of a redemptive character(s), underdeveloped character or scene arcs, and choppy or incomplete transitioning of the text from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph, scene to scene, or chapter to chapter. The list goes on.

Later this year I’m going to write an article about what I just broached in detail, but I hope this will at least give anyone who is on the fence with E-publishing the incentive to realize that the requirements for excellence–and the ability to develop a readership, which is really what it’s all about for the overwhelming majority of us–are no different for someone who E-publishes and an author who is signed by Random House.

It’s a no-brainer that one of the most important aspects of writing is the proper selection of the right word to convey a thought. And while we spend a great deal of time deciding what we think is the perfect word for our purpose, some of the simplest but most important modifiers can be used incorrectly. These are the subject of of today’s article.

Words That Define In Absolute Terms and Those that Don’t

Amateur writing is full of misused modifiers and other syntax culprits that foul a narrative, but nothing may be more glaring than the improper use of some of the rudiments of rhetoric such as “a” and “the” or “will not” and “would not.”

Tex Must Have Entered a Bar on the Verge of Foreclosure

The words “a” and “the” are often interchanged without the writer understanding the implication. The cowboy sauntered up to the bar and pulled out the stool, says to the reader that there was just one lone bar stool in the place, since the article “the” implies there is only one of something. Hence, Tex should’ve sauntered up to the bar and pulled out “a” stool.

Chronology also Impacts Correctness

If it’s established for the reader that Tex had pulled out the stool at an earlier point in the scene, then it would be perfectly acceptable for our cowboy to pull out “the” bar stool he’d sat on earlier, since in the world of rhetoric he had taken possession of the object via his prior action. Likewise, if an author had written there was only one open bar stool, or there indeed was only one stool in the bar, then it would be correct to write that Tex sauntered up to the bar and pulled out “the” bar stool, since there would be no other stool in the saloon for him to grab.

Won’t and Wouldn’t Are Not Synonymous

I read a message on a blog by a fellow who didn’t understand the difference between “won’t” and “would not,” but who was published by a small indie. I’m glad he got it right if he used the words in his story, or certainly his publisher would’ve called him on it. “Won’t,” as the contracted form of “will not” is definitive; conversely, “would not” is imprecise. I “wouldn’t” do something means that you don’t want to do whatever it might be, but it’s not a certainty. It’s the little bit of wiggle room that “would not” provides that distinguishes its meaning from “won’t.”

Don’t Forget “That” and “Which”

It’s easy to lose sight of “that” and “which” as defining modifiers, but they are. It took me the longest time to understand an example I read years ago that differentiated “that” and “which.” It went something like this: The lawnmower that is in the garage is red. The lawnmower, which is in the garage, is red.

The “that” example implies there is more than one lawnmower, but that the specific lawnmower in the garage is red. The “which” phrase means there is only one lawnmower, and it’s in the garage and happens to be red.

If any of you are like me, this at first will make no sense. If anything, it might even seem the opposite should apply. But if you think about it long and hard, at some point the meanings of “that” and “what” in these examples will become clear. And once this is understood, a writer is one step closer to crafting prose with modifiers that accurately define.

Parse a Manuscript for Places Where Words Are Placed in the Incorrect Context

It’s easy to make mistakes with either of the sets of words I mentioned in this article. With most narratives, “a” and “the” are much more problematic than “will not” and “would not,” but it’s incumbent on the author to make certain these words convey their intended meaning.

Did Tex really pull out the only bar stool in the Long Branch Saloon? And what did he actually mean when he said he wouldn’t go upstairs to see Madam Carlotta? I don’t believe there was only one bar stool in the Long Branch any more than Tex would never make a visit to Madam Carlotta’s boudoir again.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 34
The Different Forms a Dash Can Take (August 10, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

A lot of new subscribers have joined The Perfect Write® Newsletter membership during the past two weeks, and I want to welcome each of you to our ranks. Please let me know about any areas in this Newsletter you’d like expanded or improved.

You can also check out a wide list of topics on writing at a level that would be appealing to a major royalty publisher by clicking this link to the Articles Page on my web site @ And if you don’t see what you’re looking for, let me know by E-mailing me @ [email protected] and I’ll be happy to personally address your interest or provide information from someone with an expertise on the subject.

A number of you mentioned to me that you like to see the book sales statistics I’ve been posting lately. So here is a compilation I hope many of you will finding interesting. Of the top 12 books, after the Bible and 3 other religious books for which numbers are available, and a dictionary with Chinese translations, the Harry Potter series has almost outsold everything else combined! If this number is right, six of the seven books in the group have sold a total of 402 million copies. (I don’t know why, but one Harry Potter book was not listed. Either it didn’t sell at these numbers or it was missed). By the way, the first Harry Potter book sold 107 million copies.

Here’s an interesting statistic I bet few are aware of: A book that sold more than the first Harry Potter story was THE LORD OF THE RINGS, with 150 million in sales. But, for me, here’s the real shocker: Agatha Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE boasts sales of 100 million copies. Granted, that’s been since 1939, but who cares? What a staggering statistic. In a recent Newsletter I mentioned THE DI VINCE CODE had sold 81 million units, but here’s a book that might win someone a dinner: BEN HUR has sold 50 million copies and comes in as number 16 on the all-time list. Oh, another sleeper for me was THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, at 60 million books sold.

I’m surprised GONE WITH THE WIND wasn’t in the top ten, but we can always lobby for our favorites. Everyone will notice this is a relatively narrow list from a genre perspective. Books with a religious or mystical storyline dominate, with one mystery and one coming-of-age work rounding out the field. Now for today’s article.

The Dash and Its Forms and Uses

Dashes are horribly misunderstood, and they’re utilized for many reasons beyond what might be considered the norm. For example, em dashes are used by some writers instead of opening quotation marks (CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE, 10.40). James Joyce is one of the first writers I read who used this technique, but more recently I remember best-selling author Charles Frazier choosing this style for setting off dialogue in COLD MOUNTAIN. (I want to thank Barbara Meredith with the Palm Beach County Library System for researching this particular dash for me some months ago, as I’d forgotten what it was called.)

HTML Code and Dashes

Many of us who use Word as our word-processing software have to play a different game with text because of the havoc certain forms of specialty punctuation can cause. The ampersand and dash are two of the biggest culprits. The em dash, in its correct construction as an unbroken line, is such a problem for HTML code that I was advised to eliminate the automated function which creates it from my default template. And why an em dash in the configuration of one elongated line is not illustrated at any point in this article.


In section 5.115 of THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE, the following is stated in parentheses: “In typing, a hyphen is used for an en dash, two hyphens for an em dash.” Unfortunately, there are no examples of sentences in the section to illustrate the use of the em dash to separate clauses–which is the correct punctuation if this technique is desired–as in what I just wrote.

In section 2, subsection 216, in GREGG, the dash to separate clauses is expressed without calling it an en or em dash. The explanation simply states: “The dash is created by striking the hyphen key twice, with no space before or after it.” And an annotation follows: “Do not use a single hyphen with a space before or after it.” However, solely for appearance, since I don’t utilize an unbroken em-dash in article titles in which a larger font is preferable, I’ll sometimes use the aforementioned space, en dash (sic, single hyphen), and space. To me, it simply looks better than two en dashes and no spaces. I do not, however, use this format in standard text, as is evidenced by how I treated dashes in this article.

Clarity? Hardly

English is a tough language. And to be good at it is a challenge for people who work with it every day. I have 19 books on grammar sitting atop the shelf above my computer, and I consult with many of them quite often, and have done so for what is now going on 20 years. You would think I’d have it figured out by now–but I haven’t come close. And at times neither do the writers for The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, The New York Times, and other august print media.

The en dash and em dash are difficult enough to deal with; then the 2-em dash (to indicate missing letters in a word) and the 3-em dash (to indicate an entire missing word) come into the fold. And the hyphen that spawned this article. What I provided in this narrative will likely not mitigate much of the confusion surrounding dashes, but I hope it will at least cause folks to recognize that there are many things which dictate the use of certain forms of punctuation–including even technology.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 35
Methods to Distinguish Sounds in Writing
(August 24, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

A warm welcome to our newest Newsletter subscribers, and I’d like to ask each of you to please think of subjects you’d like to see addressed in future installments. On this note, I’m happy to report that today’s topic was suggested by Newsletter subscriber Elma Schemenaur, a prolific writer with a superb list of published works to her credit. Elma asked me for ideas to help an author who might not have the best “ear” for sound when analyzing prose. This is a wonderful issue to write about, because for those of us who are interested in pitch, there cannot be a more important subject.

Lately I’ve been providing statistics on book sales. Many of you have written to me that you’re enjoying this, so I’m posting some bestselling authors’ income estimates from Forbes Magazine,(which I think are grossly understated, especially J.K. Rowling’s numbers for residuals on the Harry Potter series). I feel it’s also important to keep in mind that money from film rights and a dozen other peripheral scenarios aren’t included (such as, in Ms. Rowling’s case, the Harry Potter Theme Park at Universal). Regardless of its accuracy, the list provides at least some talking points.

And, as with most of what I provide that relates to publishing statistics, etc., these come directly from the Publishers Marketplace site, from which the FREE component is available just for signing up. Clicking this link will take you to the site. I’m not on the company’s payroll and I don’t get one dime for recommending this service, but in my opinion it’s the best free medium any writer can access that provides concurrent publishing-industry information. The Publishers Marketplace Newsletter–called Publishers Lunch–is delivered daily, most of the time around 11 a.m. EST.

Forbes’ Highest-Paid Authors

Forbes has released this list of guesses at how much these authors earned over a 12-month period ending June 1:

James Patterson ($70 million)
Stephenie Meyer ($40 million)
Stephen King ($34 million)
Danielle Steel ($32 million)
Ken Follett ($20 million)
Dean Koontz ($18 million)
Janet Evanovich ($16 million)
John Grisham ($15 million)
Nicholas Sparks ($14 million)
JK Rowling ($10 million)

So now that everyone has an idea of the sort of income that is available for crafting material people will pay to read, here is today’s article which perhaps may help in some small way to enable each of us to reach our goals. Again, my sincerest thanks to Elma Schemenaur for a terrific topic.

Methods to Distinguish Sound in Writing

The most obvious idea that works for the majority of people is to read material aloud. Unfortunately, many writers get so close to their work that it’s often difficult if not impossible to get a fair “hearing.” Everything sounds good because of familiarity. And this is the real problem, not the purported inability to distinguish word tempo. If a writer–who claims imperceptibility to the nuances of his or her own work–reads somebody else’s material, will the same issues persist? It’s probably worth finding out.

A Second Step Is to Listen As Someone Else Reads Your Material Out Loud

A lot of people can’t sing a note, but can readily distinguish the slightest miscue from a vocalist on stage. I’ve found that most writers can pick up flaws in their work when it’s read to them. Personally, I pay attention to the slightest hesitation on the part of the speaker, because when this occurs, in almost every instance this can be attributed to an inadequate word choice or syntax issue on my part.

One Warning: Find Someone to Read the Work Who Is Not a Professional Speaker

A short while ago I conducted a workshop series in which a woman who attended possessed a fabulous voice and was a public speaker by vocation. I think she could read the names and addresses from a telephone directory and spellbind an audience. Needless to say, when she read her own writing, it sounded solid if not quite good at times. But without the benefit of her audio assist, when I parsed her material later, the writing was mediocre, at best. So, even if you know a Katie Couric or Sam Donaldson type, you’re better off with Irene the Secretary or Joe the Salesman for this exercise, just as long as they’re decent readers to begin with.

One Rule, and What a Writer Should Listen For

Once someone is willing to read material aloud for the writer who created it, I strongly suggest asking the reader not to preview any of the text, but to start right in with the narrative. Then pay attention to any breaks that indicate obvious needs for a touch up, but also listen to the ease or difficulty the reader is having pronouncing the words. Listen for repeating words or phrases that might have been ignored. Pay particular attention to repeating sounds made by the letters “p” and “c,” along with runs of sibilant sounds that make passages seem to be hissed rather than enunciated.

Make an Honest Evaluation

Did some of the sentences sound clipped? Were connectives utilized that enabled clauses to blend fluently with one another? Did the reader ever seem to be running out of breath? How well did the material transition from sentence to sentence, character to character, and scene to scene? As for the dialogue, did the words sound natural? And with respect to dialogue, was there adequate interior monologue to enable the reader to catch his or her breath now and then? Was there variety in the construction of the overall narrative? And perhaps most important of all, did the reader seem to enjoy the material?

A Writer Will Have Answers

If a writer pays attention to the points I made in the previous paragraph, picking up the rhythm of the overall narrative will not be that difficult. And once the gremlins are eradicated, a revision will often produce a draft so superior to its predecessor that even the most challenged ear will appreciate the improved pitch.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 36
The Meaning of “Contrived Characters”
(September 7, 2010

Hello Everyone,

A substantial number of new subscribers were added to our membership ranks during the past two weeks, and I hope each of you will find my Newsletters to be on interest. My greatest desire is to provide accurate, current information related to the major royalty publishing industry.

While on the subject of major royalty publishers, a true icon just passed away. Larry Ashmead was the head of Harper Collins for a considerable period, and fifteen or so years ago he signed a previously unpublished novelist to what I believe was the largest deal ever inked up to that time, $1,000,000. The story of the way he learned of the novel is a tale of considerable substance in its own right. He fished the draft from a trash can after the author’s agent had given up on it. And another agent signed the deal (Molly Friedrich of Frank McCort, Sue Grafton, among others, fame). Go figure.

I have a little story of my own about this event. When I read about the huge advance, I called Mr. Ashmead’s office and spoke with his personal secretary about my first novel. She told me to send it to Mr. Ashmead, not knowing he didn’t accept unsolicited material. He wrote me a very nice personal letter explaining this. I learned three things from the experience: 1) I was very naive; 2) people in the industry are very nice if they are extended the same level of courtesy all of us desire; and 3), the publishing business is not as sophisticated as one might assume (witness Mr. Ashmead’s personal secretary not being aware of her boss’s submission protocol).

I want to mention something I read the other day that I found to be of significance, since it involves print-on-demand technology, which is now becoming more available. It enables a book buyer to have out-of-date (or out-of-stock) material printed while waiting. It’s done in paperback, but the cover will resemble the standard art for the original. I read that most POD books sell for around $20.00; which, while a few dollars more than a high-end paperback, is not such a bad deal when everything is considered (such as time and gasoline).

A writer bent on self-publishing can access this same technology and avoid the huge costs associated with going to a vanity press and ending up with a basement full of books. Or, just as bad, being badgered on a weekly basis by a new-age publisher to buy the same self-published books the vanity press intimated it would help market. If a writer has the text on a PDF file or even in a Word document, and it’s formatted correctly (Which is a big deal if a person doesn’t want to end of with a mess. Remember how often wysiwyg is not wysiswyg?) the text can be reconstituted as a paperback, complete with cover, for about $35.00 for the first book. Multiple copies then reduce the cost per unit until a $15.00 to $20.00 sale can double one’s monetary investment.

It’s important to separate POD from self-publishing. I mention this so I can segue into the next subject without the risk of implying one is tied to the other. I’m going to write an article on the vagaries of self-publishing in comparison to the major royalty publishers for an upcoming Newsletter. I’m currently writing articles approximately three months in advance, so this topic should appear in a Newsletter in December. This subject was suggested by Elma Schemenaur, who provided the great topic (Methods for Distinguishing Sound in Writing) for the last installment of this Newsletter.

Here’s something to think about that relates to the E-publishing market (also not to be confused with self-publishing if E-publishing is an adjunct to print sales). A very successful self-help author recently stated that the E-published segment of his numbers composed a measly 1.6% of gross sales. He said that for an author to be successful in the E-market, the writer has to be a world-class marketeer and understand affiliate marketing better than anyone else in the same niche. I highlighted each component of this man’s comments, because those of you who have been receiving my Newsletter for some time have read this same mantra from me, and quite often. If a writer has decided self-publishing is the only option, this man’s remarks are why I advise–as strongly as possible–to do this by the absolute least expensive means available. A writer who accesses a cheaper cost vehicle (like the POD technology I described) will still have his or her name under a title, while enjoying a much healthier bank account than the traditional vanity press alternatives enable.

Yet there are exceptions, and here are two (actually, three):

Another self-help author who was published by a major imprint recently stated that she had over 6000 E-book sales in comparison to the 5000 or so that were sold in hard copy. This is being touted as an industry first (E-books outselling hard copies), but the important thing to keep in mind was the marketing done by the major royalty publisher, which included newspaper ads, and the efforts of a publicist who enabled book reviews, etc. When has anyone seen a self-published book reviewed in even a regional newspaper? or by a bona fide book critic anywhere? This is why a major marketing effort is paramount. (Of course, as I’ve also stated in previous Newsletters, if a budding writer has a blog with 400,000 acolytes, like Stephenie Meyer is given credit for creating and sustaining, it’s not necessary to worry about anything I’m espousing, ha ha). If you’re taking my advice and getting the Free Publishers Lunch, (you can click the link to subscribe) each day toward the bottom of the page you will find a section of links devoted to digital publishing called “Automated News.” I strongly suggest reading articles in this section to develop an understanding of the E-publishing market, and what to expect if you enter it.

Now to turn exclusively to self-publishing for a moment. The most successful book I am aware of that was self-published in print is THE CHRISTMAS BOX, by Richard Paul Evans. Mr. Evans had several things going for him. First, he was an advertising executive in the radio industry. Initially he gave his book to radio stations he worked with, as a promotion. Second, another man funded 50,000 copies of his book (that’s not a misprint)! Third, Mr. Evans is a member of the Mormon Church, and he had the organization’s full support behind him.

In my opinion, Mr. Evans wrote an excellent story (as is the rest of what became a trilogy). But if he wasn’t the benefactor of a unique amalgamation of circumstances, who knows if the original book would’ve been anything more than a family treasure, which was Mr. Evans’ original intention. The overriding theme is that he was (and is) a highly skilled marketeer, with a lot of resources at his disposal, who flourished via the adoring support of a multi-million-member constituency. For anyone out there who can meet that criteria, by all means self-publish.

I always welcome ideas for articles from Newsletter subscribers, so don’t be shy. And if you don’t like something I write and have a scolding for me, don’t hesitate to air your position. I write what I know from personal experience, but I don’t have a corner on the market. If you’ve had a different relationship with something, and it can be substantiated, I will certainly respect your view and offer your rebuttal.

Also, if any of you should ever wish to read some of the articles I wrote during the past 12 months, you can click this link, which will take you to the Articles Page on my web site at Each piece is designed to focus on an element of writing fluent prose that would be attractive to a major royalty publisher in today’s literary marketplace.

“Contrived Characters”

I wrote an article some time back that dealt with contrived endings in a story, and a good friend of mine and fellow novelist, Buck Buchanon–who is a long-time Newsletter subscriber–suggested I might also want to address unrealistic characters who destroy the integrity of a plot. My first thoughts ran to Lieutenant Henry in A FAREWELL TO ARMS, who must have been an Olympic-caliber rower who just happened to be an ambulance driver. Here’s a fellow who rowed a small boat 35 kilometers in a driving snow storm, and at
night no less, with his very pregnant lover in the bow of the craft.

Sometimes a Character’s Actions Are So Absurd They Are Laughable.

I often think of television shows from years ago in which a retiree wearing an ill-fitting business suit and wingtips chases down some teenage track star decked out in a warm-up and primo sneakers. My favorite was an overweight guy named William Conrad, whose show was actually titled JAKE AND THE FATMAN. He’d get into fisticuffs with the people he was pursuing, yet all any bad guy had to do was walk backwards and he could’ve easily avoided Conrad’s advances and apparent lightning-like reflexes. But, no, at every opportunity we had big Bill flaying away and saving the heroine’s good name. Then there was Buddy Ebsen, literally running down criminals a third his age when he was in his 70’s. But the mega-stud of all was Raymond Burr, taking out San Francisco’s dregs with his cane while seated in his wheelchair.

With the Aforementioned As a Guide, Shouldn’t Writers Be Given the Same Leeway?

Television, movies, and plays all face time constraints. But a book doesn’t. And it isn’t necessary to protect a character for a readership when the person is well past his playing days. Yet some writers will go to all ends to protect a character’s image, but is it realistic to think that a 65 year-old man can really jump barbwire fences, run down athletes half his age, and make love a half-dozen times in an 4-hour period.

The Character’s Actions Go Beyond the Boundaries of Anything Rational

Perhaps that’s the most significant aspect of all these ridiculous characterizations, since I don’t think it’s appropriate to classify them as characters. Is it practical to think that any healthy, sane 20-year-old hottie would have a legitimate physical interest in a 78-year-old man who in real life hasn’t had a natural erection in 15 years and whose sex act is usually measured in seconds and not minutes? On this same theme, do gorgeous young women–who aren’t hookers–really want to crawl in bed for recreational sex with men older than their grandparents?

Things Have to Make Some Sense

It doesn’t require a lot to make a reader happy. Today’s heroes and heroines don’t have to be molded like a Parson Weems’ character(ization), solve riddles like Holmes, make love like Robin Stone, row across a mammoth lake at night in a raging snowstorm like Lieutenant Henry, or remain in a serial murderer’s house when escape is readily available (I won’t name authors or books, but I bet each of you can pick many that fit this scenario). The latter is really what this article is about, since many notable authors have become lazy and let terribly weak plot elements stand on their own by way of characters who do incredibly stupid things that no one with half a brain would ever entertain. And all to protect the storyline.

Maybe Some Writers Feel They Have an Excuse

Perhaps some writers think over-saturation by the media has dumbed-down the rest of us. Or that history with the Barnaby Joneses of the world has softened readers to the point of accepting anything. Frankly, I think just the opposite is going to occur. With E-Publishing on the rise, and the Web enabling immediate feedback, only the best material will gain a foothold and flourish. Exceptional writing will once more become the norm, and the character-driven novel will still lead the pack. And stale characters will be winnowed away and their authors along with them. Grand thoughts, indeed, and perhaps foolhardy as well, but one can have faith.

Special Note: I hope no one was offended by the examples I provided in this article. There was no intent to impugn any person because of age, infirmity, or any other limiting factor. The sole purpose of the examples was to identify physical constraints that even the most liberal readers would consider beyond the ambit of literary license.

Another Note (not quite so serious): Hemingway is one of my favorite authors. And I think A FAREWELL TO ARMS contains one of the all-time great endings in modern literature. But, in my opinion, the story has a number of flaws, and the lieutenant’s marathon rowing leads the list.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 37
Techniques for Fleshing Out a Character
(September 24, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

A big welcome to all the new Newsletter subscribers. I encourage each of you to let me know about topics you’d like me to address in upcoming installments.

I once again want to thank long-time Newsletter subscriber and good friend and superb writer Buck Buchanon for his suggestion for the last Newsletter. “Contrived Characters” received the largest number of responses (all quite positive, I might add) related to any Newsletter since the inaugural broadcast June 30 of last year.

I want to mention something about Newsletter formatting I thought I’d worked out that is still apparently not altogether free of bugs. I noticed via a response from a subscriber, who had included a copy of the most recent Newsletter, that some of the paragraphs weren’t separated by an extra line-space. The company I use for E-mailing this Newsletter (whose name is A Weber, and I highly recommend this firm should anyone be considering a broadcast medium) has provided a way to cure this. I’ve followed the suggested protocol while composing this current Newsletter, so if any of you receive text that is not “letter perfect,” would you please let me know? Thanks, in advance, for your help. And now for today’s topic.

One of the first remarks many writers hear from an agent, editor, or publisher is the need to flesh out certain characters. Most of the time the request is easy enough to understand, but there is often a great deal of confusion about the best way to accomplish this.

A Textbook Definition of Characterization

Characterization is the process of conveying information about characters. Characters are usually presented through their actions, dialect, and thoughts, as well as by description. Characterization can regard a variety of aspects of a character, such as appearance, age, gender, educational level, vocation or occupation, financial status, marital status, social status, cultural background, hobbies, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, ambitions, motivations, personality, etc.
Yes, Characterization Covers a Lot of Ground

As everyone recognizes from the scope of the list, characterization is a broad platform. And this in itself is why fleshing out a character can be viewed as a daunting process. But the task should be considered part and parcel to the integrity of any character written into a storyline. So what is the best way to accomplish this?

Two Choices Are Available–The Burst or the Subtle Implementation of Information

There is no way to reasonably imply that a sudden burst of narrative is not a good idea, since this is one of the few ways a peripheral character can be presented to a reader. Yet it obviously would serve no useful purpose to write about a non-essential character at different points in a book if that person is no longer active in the story. Consequently, upon a secondary character’s introduction to the reader, a few sentences that provide adequate detail are often all that’s necessary. Here is an example:

Akeem Walker had attended college on a basketball scholarship, but was cut from the team. The coach cited his lack of height, since he was 5-feet-11-inches tall, yet with his exceptional athletic skills, and bulldog-like build and demeanor to match, his family wasn’t buying it. They thought drugs were involved, since Akeem exhibited wide mood swings whenever he came home. Three divorces in ten years hadn’t assuaged their opinions, which were supported by his frequent run-ins with the law, most stemming from his narcotic’s use. But now the game had changed, since he was charged with possession with intent to distribute and jailed five blocks from where he grew up in the Bronx.

The reader now knows quite a bit about Akeem, and anything else can be expressed by his actions if he should resurface in the story.

Fleshing Out a Major Character Is often an Ongoing Process

It seldom seems to work when an author tells the reader everything about a major character at one time, since the character’s actions then have to constantly exceed what was depicted if the reader is going to maintain interest. Here are examples of material that can help flesh out a significant character:

1) Not even panting hard, John placed the 350-pound barbell back in the support. 2) He carried his young baby as if she were a carton of eggs, and smiled at his wife and kissed her cheek, careful not to smudge her makeup. 3) John once again looked at his watch and swore. He was never late. 4) John glanced in disgust at his dress-shirt’s frayed cuff. 5) John kicked the side of his stalled car, which he’d wanted to replace, but with the new baby his money was…. 6) John adjusted the sight on the rifle and pressed the trigger with the same control he maintained when handling his young daughter. 7) Now John could have the things he wanted, his wife and child no longer holding him back.

Each step of the way, the reader learns something new about John. He is strong, loves his wife and daughter, is fastidious, is financially strapped, has a temper, and his family is keeping him from meeting his perceived needs. Developmental arcing that builds as the story unfolds is the key to creating strong characterizations which satisfy the reader.

The Boundaries Are Limitless

Some people contend that readers can indeed learn too much about a character, but for those of us who like in-depth writing on the order of Jody Picoult’s, we don’t find this to be the case. The more we learn, the better. But, then again, we’re seeking detail in a writer of this style of work. The same is true if we read a Pat Conroy novel. And while Mr. Conroy enables the reader to learn his characters more often through actions and dialogue rather than interior monologue, both of these remarkable writers provide an exceptional experience, albeit with different techniques.

Use What Works Best

Most writers know their strong suits (as well their limitations, whether they choose to admit them or not, ha ha), and it’s important to craft stories by utilizing what works to the plot’s–and therefore the author’s–greatest advantage. And for most everyone’s work, this involves analyzing the depth to which the characters have been presented to the reader.

At different points in a narrative, it never hurts to ask, “How much does the reader really know about John or Mary or Frank and Jean?” Then, should it be thought that more information would be beneficial, it’s simply a matter of going back, or moving forward, and fleshing out the character(s) via the technique the author is most adept at utilizing.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 38
Techniques for Fleshing Out a Scene
(October 5, 2010

Hello Everyone,

A hardy welcome to our newest Perfect Write® Newsletter subscribers, and I hope each of you find the material you’ll be reading in this and future installments to be of interest and benefit.
It’s always gratifying when Newsletter subscribers take advantage on any suggestion I make that can enable them to keep abreast of the major royalty publishing industry and the tortuous path it’s presently hobbling along. Long-time Newsletter subscriber, and past Advanced Writing Workshop participant of mine, Luis Lasatre, E-mailed me about a link to an article in Publishers Lunch (this Publishers Lunch link will take you to the page for the free subscription component of the service, which I highly recommend to any writer thinking about becoming royalty-published). When I received Luis’ message, I’d just finished working with the material from the article, and its substance provided the fodder for the next section in today’s Newsletter. Kudos to Luis for being on top of this and making certain I hadn’t missed the significant message the article provided.

AUTHORS FEEL THE PINCH IN THE AGE OF E-BOOKS is a Wall Street Journal article (via Publishers Lunch) I think all Newsletter subscribers will find worthwhile. It concerns the current state of the major royalty publishing industry and focuses in large measure on the advances writers can expect. It also expresses a position that E-Publishing is contributing to the declining advances authors who write in the Literary Fiction genre are now receiving.

I found the following passage from the article worth noting, even though it contradicts the central theme of the piece: “John Pipkin’s 2009’s debut novel, WOODSBURNER, won several literary prizes, including the 2009 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. Despite the acclaim and print sales of more than 10,000, WOODSBURNER has only sold 359 digital copies.”

I posted the passage from the article to draw attention to the sales statistics for two reasons: 1) the paltry digital numbers for the book fly in the face of the article’s negative-sales premise for print copy; and, 2) an award-winning novel garnered only 10,000 print-copy sales. Yet it should be understood that 10,000 retail sales for a debut novel is a high number, especially in Literary Fiction, since it’s not uncommon to see first works in the 1500 to 3500-sales level. And many don’t even hit the 1500 mark.

Since I’m not a publisher, I can’t evaluate what impact digital publishing is having on Literary Fiction sales. Personally, however, I can’t see how the digital-publishing medium can have an effect on any other environment unless it forces that respective medium’s prices to escalate. And since digital publishing is certainly less expensive all the way around, my first thought is that it would have a positive rather than negative impact on overall book-sales volume, although I can appreciate that the total retail-sales dollars might be deprecated. But, again, I don’t publish, so I’m just blowing smoke in the wind.

Should you take my advice and read the article (here’s the link again), before feeling like the cards are stacked even more against authors who are working their fingers to the bone to crack the royalty publishing market with the Big Six and Kensington, keep in mind these numbers are for Literary Fiction and not Commercial Fiction. The latter genre can be financially rewarding for upstarts, and substantially so. The key is to do everything possible to develop a following, and this is why Internet-based social networking has become such a major device for authors, whether they’re striving to become published, or trying to gain traction for a recent release, or desiring to keep a fan base motivated via constant reinforcement, which I think most marketing people will concur is what branding is all about.

Now for today’s article, which focuses on ways to flesh out a scene. It’s a companion piece to the material I’d recently written on techniques for fleshing out a character. And while certain components are the same, many techniques for crafting fuller scenes are quite different.

Techniques for Fleshing Out a Scene

Consider Fitzgerald’s Technique of Loading Up the Start of the Narrative

In creating a lasting scene for the reader, it can and often requires a substantial set up. Literature’s greatest writers have earned their reputations by possessing this ability. In my opinion no one was better at crafting an opening scene that was strong enough to carry an entire story than Fitzgerald. For me, the start of TENDER IS THE NIGHT is as good as it gets. I have never forgotten Fitzgerald’s description of the cupolas atop the old villas along the beach, which he likened to rotting water lilies.

Then he spends a couple hundred words on the physical scenery and people who inhabited this area on the French Riviera, before settling on a mother and daughter–the point when the real magic begins. Readers already feel they know Rosemary Hoyt, even though she’s just been introduced. This is what fleshing out a scene is all about, because soon afterward the reader has no problem accepting everything about Dick and Nicole Diver, since they enter the story as homogeneous plot elements.

Hemingway Used a Paucity of Words to Say a Great Deal

Hemingway used what some describe as terse writing, yet he was able to craft such skillful exposition that his narrative style won him both a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize for Literature. His short stories are wonderfully emblematic of his skill. THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO is a perfect tale to study, since the physical scenery is the story, which starts with a page of dialogue broken only by a brief description of some birds that are referred to as filthy. The single word “filthy,” which the reader learns is a metaphor having nothing to do with unsanitary conditions, sets the scene and ultimately the mood for the entire piece.

Scene Development and the Physical Setting

Everyone has a favorite writer for one reason or another. If a person likes tremendous depth in both characters and the scenes that surround them, Jody Picoult, Pat Conroy, and Barbara Kingsolver come to mind for many of us. But for pure scene creation, I’m going to suggest someone who is not often considered these days, and this is Emile Zola. Read NANA, for example, but forget about the protagonist and just focus on how Zola sets up his story from the perspective of the physical environment. The streets, the shops, the weather, the attitudes of the people; each element creates an indelible image as the story moves along.

It’s Solely a Matter of Imagination, Since Fleshing Out a Scene Can Take any Direction

Fleshing out a scene might require the description of a village, the interior of a building, the heavy perfume people are wearing at a Broadway opening, a little boy’s tattered clothing, the street argot a gang of ruffians is using, an old man’s gait, the sounds of the night, the heat of the day, the cars on the street, the commotion in a mall during a holiday, a quiet wind, the bitter cold, a baby crying incessantly, a roar from inside a stadium, a cacophony of explosions from afar, the musings of a philosopher sitting on a park bench, the attitudes of the townspeople after an election, the poor design of an intersection, a pastor’s avuncular disposition, the lawlessness of the inhabitants in a border town, the joyous atmosphere at a wedding reception, and on ad infinitum.

Fleshing Out a Scene Is As Much About Tempo As Anything

The most important thing to take away from this article is that the opening scene will most often set the mood for an entire story. And if a writer will take the time to read some of the works I suggested in this article, this will enable a solid understanding of the different options that are available to maintain or advance the desired characterizations along the way

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 39
What Creating a Stronger Chase Means
(October, 19, 2010)

Hello All,

Lately, a lot of the material that preceded my articles has been supported by links supplied by Publishers Lunch. Alas, today’s preamble (if I may be allowed to loosely call it that) is also the result of that resource. And while many of you click the links I suggest in my Newsletters, some of you don’t (and I know who you are, ha ha). Perhaps there is the thought that “this” doesn’t apply to “my” writing.

While certainly some information will not be of interest to everyone, many issues do affect anyone who is seeking a bona fide publisher. Along this line, I think the substance of a link in a recent Publishers Lunch–related to what people are reading–is so important, I’ve taken the liberty to post segments of it to the body of today’s Newsletter so no one will need to access it via a link. I’ve placed quotation marks at the beginning and end of the material that’s been redacted, and here it is:

“New York, N.Y. – October 7, 2010 – A recent Harris Poll showed that Americans are reading…. Here are some of the findings of the Harris Poll, conducted online between August 9 and 16, 2010, among 2,775 online U.S. adults ages 18 and over.

Among those who say they read at least one book in an average year, eight in ten have read a fiction book in the past year (79%) and while a similar number say they have read a non-fiction book (78%). Among those who read fiction, almost half (48%) read mystery, thriller and crime books, while one-quarter read science fiction (26%) and literature (24%). One in five say they read romance novels (21%) and one in ten have read graphic novels (11%) in the past year. Less than one in ten read chick-lit (8%) and western (5%) books, with 36% saying they read other types of fiction.

What Are Different Groups Reading?

There are some small differences by generation in types of books read. Echo Boomers (those aged 18-33) are more likely than other generations to read literature (42%) and graphic novels (18%). Matures (those 65 and older) however, are more likely to read mystery, thriller and crime novels (61%) and westerns (9%). There are also some gender differences. Women are more likely than men to read mystery, thrillers and crime novels (57% versus 39%), romance (37%) vs. (3%), chick-lit (12% vs. 4%) and religious books (30% vs. 21%). Men, on the other hand, are more likely to read science fiction (32% vs. 20%), history books (40% vs. 23%), political books (25% vs. 10%), and business books (16% vs. 4%).

Favorite Author

Regardless of the types of books people read, certain authors are perennial favorites. America’s favorite author is the “King” of horror and suspense – Stephen King. He’s followed by a very prolific mystery writer, James Patterson and then legal thriller author, John Grisham. Rounding out the top five is Nora Roberts, who also writes as J.D. Robb at number four and Tom Clancy at number five.

Another horror and suspense writer, Dean Koontz is at number six, followed by the queen of romance, Danielle Steel at number seven and then the author who helped bring the genre of “biblical thriller” to the forefront, Dan Brown. Tied in the ninth position are two authors who have created extensive fantasy worlds – J.K. Rowling with the world of Harry Potter and J.R.R. Tolkien, who brought hobbits to life for millions.”

That was the end of the article (and please excuse all the syntax issues, but I had to print the sections I copied exactly as they appeared). It could be argued that polling 2800 people does not constitute a broad-based study, and coming from a healthcare background, I’d be the first to agree. But it seems that a group this size would be adequate to gain a legitimate sense for the market. Incidentally, I’m positive each of you noticed that the Harris numbers add up to more than 100% (well over). I assume many of the respondents read multiple books, and the mix of the material in aggregate is what determined the overlap.

I don’t think there is anything too startling about the way gender interests are skewed. But here’s what I think is significant: Related to the fiction genres identified by the group that was polled, Mysteries, Thrillers, and Crime composed almost 50% of what was read. Then Science Fiction reached more than one-fourth of this book-buying public (I have to think Fantasy/Horror–Stephanie Meyer, et al–is lumped in with this). Everything else is fighting it out for the remaining fourth. And we all know Romance had to eat into a chunk of what was left, with a dozen or so writers seeming to control most of this genre.

Everyone will notice there was no percentage listed for Memoirs and Children’s-genre work. Very few memoirs are ever published by the major houses, but Children’s material is quite alive and well in three market segments, and the pre-school environment may never be effectively digitized. How can a little kid experience a palpable pull-out from a computer, even a hologram? And even if a hologram becomes a reality, is there any way little Johnnie can eat a pretend crayon or write on a wall with it? That was half the fun of drawing. So for Newsletter subscribers who write Children’s material, don’t quite drafting narratives and sketching pictures. (A few days after I wrote this, I read that a self-publishing outfit is purportedly offering several digital apps for Children’s material. However, until I witness otherwise, I’m going to stand by my statement that kids can’t devour a digital picture of scribble on a wall with one.)

At the risk of this Newsletter becoming weighed down unbearably before any of you get to my article, I’m going to offer one more piece that was from a Publishers Lunch link. This material is from CRAVE – CNET, and it involves E-publishing piracy. Again, everything I redacted is preceded and ended with quotation marks.

“Last January a company called Attributor conducted its first e-book piracy study…. Attributor has conducted a second study more recently and come up with some interesting data.

The Company Says Its Key Findings Are:

  • 50 percent increase in online searches for pirated downloads throughout the past year
  • 1.5-3 million daily Google queries for pirated e-books
  • 20 percent increase in demand for pirated downloads since the iPad became widely available in mid-May 2010
  • 54 percent increase in pirated e-book demand since August 2009
  • Proliferation of smaller sites that host and supply pirated e-books–a shift from larger sites like Rapidshare dominating the syndication market
  • “Breaking Dawn” by Stephanie Meyer registered the most pirated copy searches throughout the study
  • Widespread international demand, with the largest number of searches during the study originating in the United States (11 percent), India (11 percent) and Mexico (5 percent)”

Now back to me again. I wanted everyone to see this data, because this has to be compared to the average printed book being passed around eight times before it’s donated to a library or tossed in a trash bin (perish the thought of the latter ever occurring). The question is, how many E-books are purchased, read once, and not given to a friend, since this involves handing over an expensive reader (so far) that can’t be used by the lender at the same time? (This is making the assumption that some people don’t have an E-reader or don’t like sitting and reading an entire novel from a computer screen.) The E-theft thing might not be as bad as it appears if the latter scenario is correct; but, if not, Stephanie Meyer likely lost a few million. Just some stuff to think about.

I’d like each of you to let me know if you prefer I supply the links as I’ve always done in the past, so you can access the information should you desire to do so, or if you find me posting the meat of the article(s) in my Newsletters, as I’ve just done, more to your liking. I’ll let the majority rule on this one (maybe, ha ha).

Here is today’s article:

What It Means When Told a Story Needs More of a Chase

Many years ago I was playing golf with my literary agent at the time, and we were discussing a novel I had written that he was representing. He’d just finished reading a substantial revision he had urged me to make, and I was anticipating a positive response to what had taken a great deal of effort on my part to make happen. But when I asked him what he thought, his reply stumped me, because all he said was that my story needed more of a chase.

Writers Must be Alert to What They’re Told by Agents, Editors, and Publishers

The agent and I had become good friends over the course of a three-year period. So when I heard his remark, I wasn’t uncomfortable telling him what I thought of it. I remember even saying, after I topped a ball into the lake, that I was not going to revise the story any further. Instead of snapping back at me, he laughed and told me that no writer can ever say never to revising. Then he explained his meaning of “chase” to me.

Conflict and Peril

His contention was that I hadn’t created a level of conflict that placed the protagonist in enough consistent peril for my thriller to work in a mass-market environment. And plot consistency, especially since this has so much to do with a story’s pacing, is an element a seasoned agent will have a sense for. A writer must heed what he or she is told–no matter how much it might hurt to hear the truth.

More Honest Words Were Probably Never Spoken

I’m convinced that book was never published because I failed to take the agent’s advice and create a more powerful plotline that constantly focused on the anxiety surrounding my protagonist’s condition. The agent even told me exactly how to do this, but I was too immature as a writer to understand what he was suggesting. Today, I’m five novels beyond that one, but I’ve looked back at the book on several occasions and chuckled at my indifference to what I recognize now as such an obvious deficiency.

A Chase Means One Thing

All writers must have this goal for their stories, and this is to make it hard (sic, impossible) for readers to put down their books. This is what writing a strong chase is all about. And it applies to all genres.

Can Ma and Pa Ingalls make a new life on the prairie for Laura and the rest of their family? Is Buck ever going to be reunited with his owner in Alaska? What is going to happen to Billy Budd while he is being tried for a crime he didn’t commit? Will Scarlett marry Rhett? Can Agent Starling capture Dr. Lector? Will Harry survive the trials and tribulations foisted on him by his detractors at Hogwarts?

The chase gets down to maintaining a level of anxiety that keeps the reader engrossed in the protagonist’s predicament, and it’s undeniably the most critical element for the success of any story.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 40
What Is Meant By “The Reveal”
(November 2, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

As always, a big welcome to those of you who have subscribed to the The Perfect Write® Newsletter during the past two weeks and for whom this is your first installment. Please feel free to contact me with any comments, and be certain to let me know of any topics you’d like to see addressed in future posts.

It’s with some trepidation that I went ahead with today’s Newsletter, since it’s being delivered on November 2, the date of the midterm elections in the States. I’ll know if I made the right decision when I see the statistics on how many people open today’s offering, ha ha.

To follow up on some old news, I had asked in the last Newsletter if subscribers preferred the links to articles from which I sometimes source material, or if the just the redacts, as had been my normal approach, would be more desirable. The results were split almost evenly down the middle, so I’ll provide both at times to enable everyone ready access to the entire article(s).

I stumbled upon a site that provided me with a marketing idea for those of you who are published, regardless of how or by whom. Everyone is looking for a medium for their respective work to gain momentum, and nothing is more effective than a book review (even a bad one, ha ha, but let’s hope none of you receive any of those). A delightful young lady, whose first name is Brandi, reviews primarily YA books via her blog, Blkosiner’s Book Blog, and you can access her review criteria by clicking this link (the site can take a little while to load, but please be patient, it’s worth it). Her literary appraisals are posted on several well-respected sites that provide book reviews, including Goodreads, Librarything, Book Depository, and certainly not-the-least significant outlet, Amazon. So a writer can automatically receive a five-fold marketing effort when a book is reviewed on Blkosiner’s Book Blog.

This young lady offers contests for which an author can donate a signed copy of a book, expanding the marketing process even more. She currently has 670 followers, and averages between 100 and 200 hits each day. I think most people would agree that this is really good for a noncommercial blog.

Now for a few issues I know each of the subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter will respect: In fairness to everyone involved, but especially this woman and the forum she offers, hers is not an editorial service like mine. Therefore it would be grossly inappropriate to send material for a critique, thinking one will be provided. This is not going to happen. Additionally, unpolished or incomplete manuscripts are definitely not part of this program. I joked earlier about a bad review, but let me make it clear that no one wants one.

Also, this woman has related to me that she would review standard-fare commercial fiction other than YA. But do not send her material rife with profanity or graphic sex. I can’t speak for her, but if everyone thinks of a cozy mystery as the line of demarcation, I’m fairly confident all will be well. To finish up with this, if any of you choose to take advantage of Blkosiner’s Book Blog, let me know how it goes. And if everything is copacetic for all involved, I’ll add a button for this site on my web pages at Meanwhile, I’ll look around for sites with book reviewers who specialize in other genres.

To switch gears, I read recently about the current backlash caused by the “agency model” and E-book pricing that I think is worth mentioning in this Newsletter. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the agency model, this is a pricing structure that has been forced on literary agencies as the template for paying their authors’ royalties (and in turn their own commissions). It’s much too complicated to go through, especially since it is has moved around, but in essence it’s glorified price fixing that enables some publishers to earn more per book–while paying their authors and agents less.

Many of the major publishers have placed a $15 retail (the meaning of “agency model”) on books they offer in a digital format. Obviously, there is very little production cost to provide an E-book, and other than royalties, the remainder is all gross profit. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, there are major flaws so far. One is that the royalties which publishers are paying are less than what the author would receive from print-book sales, and the second current major-issue is the poor quality of E-book copy.

Someone might wonder about the latter scenario, but it appears that publishers, in haste to get their E-books to market, are not using final proofs. Consequently, name authors’ manuscripts are being published that are from uncorrected galleys (yes, many if not most of the best authors need line editing by a pro, and every work requires a layout/copy-editor’s expertise so it sets up on the pages in a visually appealing manner).

One other point, and this might be the most significant of all, is the $15 price tag on an E-book. At this lofty price point, an opinion that seems to be gaining a lot of traction is that a great many people would rather pay $2 more and have a quality soft-cover. But, as it stands right now, publishers are rushing less than fully edited E-books to market at what many insiders consider to be an exorbitant cost to the reader. As an aside to this, I’ve seen prices as high as $16 on self-published E-books. And then I read these authors lamenting that no one is buying their work. I hope it’s not out of line to suggest that common sense, not marketing acumen, has to enter into pricing decisions for any unpublished, unknown writer who doesn’t possess a personal platform from which to entice and nurture a readership.

Recently I’ve written a number of articles that define some of the often difficult to understand words and phrases that are used in the publishing industry. Much of this language is impossible to decipher unless someone works with it all the time. One of the phrases I heard a while back, “the reveal,” is not used a great deal, but the meaning is important to understand because it can be misconstrued and associated with something else. Hence, the reveal is the subject of my article for this Newsletter.

The Reveal

In writing, the reveal is the key element that explains what has enabled a story to hold the reader’s interest, and a component that is generally retained until the last possible moment. Many a book is judged by how well this is handled. If the work is strong, commonly this is because the finale contains a riveting reveal, yet it doesn’t always mean this occurs at the very end of the story. More on this later.

Certain Genres Lend themselves to Great Reveals

By their very nature, mysteries and thrillers are the most obvious genres for which scintillating reveals would seem best suited. But romances, fantasy, YA, and every other genre demand a reveal. If not, a story’s premise would never be accepted by the reader. Material falls short when the narrative doesn’t finish with a powerful enough reveal. Simply, the ending doesn’t live up to the plot elements. And nothing is more frustrating for a reader than to be left unfulfilled because a plausible “answer” didn’t materialize.

At Times It Works Best to Write the Ending First

I often suggest to authors who habitually have struggled with endings to write them first. In this way, they can craft material to meet the standards their respective reveals require, and not the other way around. It’s sort of like writing a joke, since commonly the punchline is created initially and the material leading up to it is figured out later.

The Reveal and the Denouement Can Be the Same, But Not Always

It’s easy to slip into the mold of thinking that a reveal and a denouement are always interchangeable, but they aren’t, and this is the point I was making at the end of the first paragraph of this article. For a literary example, in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, while Quasimodo’s bones turning to dust at the very end is indeed startling, the booties earlier being assigned to Esmeralda is the reveal the reader has been “waiting for.”

Examples of Books With Great Reveals

Stories don’t require the planet to be saved via a 24-style, heart-stopping set of reveals. What makes a work memorable–and as a byproduct, often remarkable–is a reveal that enables the reconciliation of an “open” plot element, or which adds and answers an unexpected twist set up by an earlier plot point.

Some of my favorite examples of reveals are provided via the classics, with THE AGE OF INNOCENCE perhaps illustrating the quintessential example of a reveal, since the “entire story” happens 100,000 words into a 101,500-word work. In the more contemporary market, I liked the way Amy Tan finished THE JOY LUCK CLUB, E. L. Doctorow’s treatment of BILLY BATHGATE, and Ken Follett’s heart-warming conclusion to THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 41
Political Correctness in a Novel
(November 16, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

First, a huge welcome to all the new people who have subscribed to The Perfect Write® Newsletter during the past two weeks. The premise behind The Perfect Write® Newsletter is to provide ways to craft a manuscript so it can be appealing to a major royalty publisher (the Big Six plus Kensington), and now I’m including quality indies such as Poisoned Pen Press, Midnight Ink, and Shambhala in this mantra. And I always design one article for each Newsletter around a topic that pertains to writing at a publishable level. Should anyone be interested in reading articles from past Newsletters, several dozen are posted on the Articles Page of my site at (you can click this link for the Articles Page).

Many people learn about The Perfect Write® Newsletter when they ask for a free critique of the first chapter of their manuscript, since I generally suggest to folks who request this service to sign up for my free Newsletters, and most do. Now I’m delighted to announce that I’ve expanded the presence of my free first-chapter critique service via my blog @

For a little history, since it’s inception I’ve used my blog as a secondary location to post my articles so I had one more opportunity for search-engine crawler recognition, and for little else. And at least for today, if someone keys in “manuscript revisions,” is number two on page one on Google; for “manuscript line editing,” I’m number five on page one; for “free manuscript revisions,” I’m number three on page one; and for “free query letter analysis,” my site is listed in one way or another on six of the eleven links on page one on Google.

I’m truly proud and gratified by these distinctions, since it’s taken a lot of long hours on my part to achieve this sort of site recognition, and it was accomplished without paid advertising, except for six months ago when Google gave me $100 worth of “free” advertising and I added $50 to it. Incidentally, I found it hard to believe how fast Google ate up that $150. I forget which, but one of the common keyword phrases for editing services costs upwards of $3.00 per hit. (That’s not a misprint!)

But now I’m going to start operating a true “working” blog, and I need to learn some things, such as if I should change my blog URL (I read somewhere that the “blogspot” imprimatur has some sort of negative connotation with the “pro’s”). Regardless of how this shakes out, I’ve radically altered the previous layout to now enable easier reading of larger blocks of text. I’d like to hear from anyone with experience with a personal blog so I can try to get everything right as soon as possible. Please contact me @ [email protected] with any comments or advice on structuring a blog from a technical perspective. And about this URL issue, if there is one.

Also, if anyone would like to take a look at the inaugural opening-chapter I’ve posted on the blog, along with my critique (and I hope all of you will take the time to do this), again, please click this link And after your check out the blog, by all means tell me what you think of the concept. There is a comments link at the end of each article that when clicked will provide a box for that purpose. And while I’m still on my new blog, I’m elated that a substantial number of writers have already given me permission to post their drafts, along with my critiques (and line edits, if applicable), and I think I’ll space these every few days so that each respective narrative can have a prominent position as the lead item on the blog for a reasonable period.

I’ll let everyone know how this blog idea is progressing. I think this “open critique” platform will be very beneficial, because anyone who has never received a formal critique will now have an idea of what to expect, based on what editors, agents, and publishers look for in a work. Sometimes these reviews are very different from what an author might assume, since often comments have nothing to do with good writing, but center on the marketability of a specific premise.

For example, I recently read an opening of a novel that in my opinion was expertly written. But it dealt with a pedophile, and even though I don’t bowdlerize material I might despise, I advised the writer that the subject matter would be impossible to sell to a major royalty publisher or quality indie. (By complete happenstance, I wrote my position on this subject several months before Amazon pulled the pedophile book that was all over the media last week. It must be noted, however, that a publisher, along with much of the public, will often accept subject matter in nonfiction (true crime, psychology, etc.) that is overtly reprehensible.)

And now for today’s article, which also deals with a difficult subject: _________________________________________________________________

Political Correctness

I was called to task recently by a submissions editor when I described certain characters in a novel of mine by country of origin and then provided their physical attributes. It never occurred to me that defining someone as a wiry Latino or fat Sicilian would be considered offensive. When Shaffer’s THE CASE OF THE OILY LEVANTINE became a hit, I assumed this set a reasonable standard for enabling a succinct reference to describe a character.

Must an Attribute be Assumed to be Negative?

Should my Latino have been described as agile instead of wiry? And would it have been more appropriate if he were South American; hence, an agile South American? Would my Sicilian better serve readers if he were a well-fed Mediterranean? It does become ludicrous–to the extremes–when we are driven to write in bland or imprecise rhetoric in an attempt to create description that would not offend anyone, anywhere, for any reason.

Even Writing Inflections of One’s Native Language Can be Considered Offensive

I was even told to drop the accents I used for my characters, as they could be deemed in to be condescending. My agile South American saying “Si,” for example, was considered pejorative. And my well-fed Italian couldn’t say, “Imma gonna tella you.” I have heard many agile South Americans use the word “Si” as a medium for agreement, and I have a well-fed Italian barber who routinely says, “Imma gonna tell you.” I wonder if he received the memo from his country of origin that his dialect shouldn’t be replicated in print, lest he be offended?

There Is a Silver Lining

The one positive aspect of political correctness at all costs is that it requires a writer to show the individual traits that a character possesses rather than tell them. And this will almost always lead to better writing. For example, instead of a wiry Latino, Eduardo Ramirez–by his name–lets the reader know something about his native origin. Then if I write he is from Belize, we know for certain. Finally, if somewhere in the context of my characterization of him I reference how limber he happens to be, I’ve covered him in a way that satisfied even the most sensitive reader. Perhaps like this:

Eduardo Ramirez was about to drop the letter in the mailbox that he’d addressed to to his mother in Belize. But just as he opened the lid, he had to high jump several feet to avoid a young boy who had lost control of his bicycle and was heading right toward him. When the child finally maneuvered his bike to a stop and stepped off it, he ran to Ramirez and asked in a terrified voice if he was okay. Ramirez responded with a smile and an unruffled yes, not wanting to make a big deal out of what had happened. Later, as he thought about his close call, he was happy he’d been paying attention, since he likely would’ve suffered a broken foot, ankle or leg otherwise. And that afternoon he would not have been able to audition and win the role in the Broadway musical for which he was now famous.

What Is Right and What Is Wrong?

In the scene, we learn a lot more about Mr. Ramirez than he was a wiry Latino, so there is a great deal to be said for my being dressed down. I do, however, hope that society never gets to the point that plays like Shaffer’s will require re-titling. Every person from Latin America is certainly not wiry or a Columbian drug dealer, any more than everyone from Sicily is fat or a mobster. Connotations that promote judgmental attitudes are bad, but simple adumbration, in my opinion, should not be frowned upon. If the character is not of major significance or reoccurring in the narrative, my contention is that describing someone via a couple of words, such as “wiry Latino,” is often advantageous to 150 words that are not essential to the plot.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 42
Words and Phrases That Polish a Novel
(November 30, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

My usual way of opening each Newsletter is to welcome new subscribers and tell them not to be shy about suggesting topics they would like to see addressed in upcoming installments. And I always ask for comments or scolding when I make a miscue. And wow did I ever do a good job of earning a whack with the rhetorical ugly stick when, in my lead article in the November 16 offering, I had my agile South American, Eduardo Ramirez, sending a mailbox and not a letter to his mother in Belize. Long-time Newsletter subscriber Mary Jo Sides was the first to point out the error of my ways, so she gets my grandest praise, followed by 117 others of you. With the utmost sincerity, I want to thank Mary Jo and all of you who brought this to my attention. I work hard to try to get things right, but I’m human and always tinkering with my text. This was one time when I definitely tinkered too much.

On a very positive note, I’m thrilled to report that more Newsletter subscribers visited my blog during the past two weeks than in any other comparable period in the year-and-one-half that I’ve been providing this forum. And now everyone has a better reason than ever to do so, because I’m posting, with the authors’ permission of course, my free opening-chapter critiques and 3-page line edits (if applicable). You can click this link to go from what was formally titled My Blog to now what I’m now calling Critique Blog @, and read two opening chapters and my analysis of each, along with the cursory line-edits I suggested.

For anyone who might not have opened the last Newsletter (and I can’t believe that could possibly have been the case unless a two-week, worldwide power outage had occurred–just joking), I’m going to stagger the posts of these chapters so that each writer has the lead position for a reasonable period of time. Currently, I can give each draft five to seven days in the limelight. However, every draft that is posted will be available by clicking the archival links. And if anyone wants a chapter pulled, for whatever reason, just send me an e-mail and I’ll do so without hesitation.

I will only display the first name and first initial of the last name, but I will also gladly post material citing “Writer’s Name Withheld by Request.” I also want to make it clear that no one has to agree to have his or her narrative posted as a condition for receiving my free first-chapter critique service. I’ll still place material in the queue as I receive it, and offer a free critique of a first chapter (up to 5000 words) and a 3-page line edit without any strings attached. Frankly, thus far I haven’t had anyone refuse my request to post material, so I’ve already got a very nice backlog.

Also, if you should take the time to work through the material in the blog, (here’s the link again) I would like to encourage you to comment on what you read. Click the word “comments” at the end of the post, and a comment box will appear (I know, how clever). You’ll be prompted to register with one of a half-dozen services–if you aren’t already lined up with one of them–and then you’re set up to comment forever. (The comment process is configured in this manner to deter hackers, since I had a non-secure comments box on my Articles Page assaulted last year. This despicable activity closed down my Web site, and I had a hard time getting my site host to reopen it.) Please be patient with this process, as I know other authors will welcome your kind thoughts. However, if you find the comments-box protocol too aggravating to deal with, send your comments to me @ [email protected], (you can click this link), and I’ll post them referencing your first name and first initial of your last name. To maintain the integrity of this medium, no anonymous comments will be posted.

I’m always trying to provide quality free resources for writers. Some time ago I mentioned The Cuckleburr Times, which can be accessed via this link. A wonderful lady named Kay Elizabeth is the founder and operator of the site, and she devotes a great deal of her time to help writers learn about the craft. In addition to posting articles on writing (yes, even a few from yours truly), she routinely publishes interviews with well-known authors. Her Newsletter is also free, and I want to encourage each subscriber of The Perfect Write® Newsletter to check out her site. Or, better yet, sign up for her Newsletter! You’ll be doing yourself a favor. Good sites that cater exclusively to writers are hard to find, and I think everyone will be impressed with the quality of material Kay consistently provides for her readership.

I’m always getting letters from people regarding my position on e-publishing, and I always tell them that I’m hardly a credible commentator. I’m just as confused about this aspect of the publishing industry as anyone, since there are so many disparate stories out there. It still seems to me that the biggest problem remains what it was from the outset, and this is publicity for a work. As I wrote in a prior Newsletter, unless someone is already branded via a personal blog with a huge following, or is an established expert in a niche field, I don’t see how anyone who e-publishes can expect much sales activity. This is why I suggested in the previous Newsletter that any subscribers who have authored an e-book publication might want to ask Brandi, the site owner and reviewer at Blkosiner’s Book Blog (click this link), to look at your work. If Brandi reviews your book–her site averages 100 to 200 hits per day–her reviews are reposted on four other sites. A book’s analysis by a respected reviewer, such as Brandi, is the best way I can think of for an e-book to gain traction. And, who knows, if enough people like the work, it might even go viral.

I want to make another comment on e-publishing. As many of you know, I provide an Editor’s Forum at (here’s the link). I said from the outset that I was working with this site’s authors because I felt the e-publisher was honorable, and I still feel this way. But this e-publisher’s authors, via their posts, have consistently lamented their lack of sales and the necessity of self-promotion because people weren’t hurrying to the site. The e-publisher has created an ad that’s supposed to run on national television in January. This ad is designed to bring consumers to the site, and time will tell if it’s effective.

My opinion is still that the overwhelming majority of writers who self-publish (like 99.99%) will have to do their own advertising and marketing if they want to sell their books. This is why I supported, since a writer can get a book e-published by this company for what I’m told is less than $100, and this includes an ISBN number or its counterpart. So, in consideration of current self-published e-book sales numbers being bandied about–a national average of less than 50 total gross-sales per author–writers can at least get their $100 back, and maybe break-even on the gas that was bought to enable them to physically appear in front of family and friends to tell them about their work.

On a related note, I noticed in Publishers Lunch (click this link if you want to sign up for the free daily installments) that during the past couple of weeks HarperCollins has closed its New York e-bookstore. Mr. Cader (he’s the publisher of Publishers Marketplace/Lunch) asked if anyone even knew the e-bookstore was open? I found this significant because Harper normally would’ve publicized the daylights out of their proprietary e-bookstore, yet chose to keep it a relative secret. This is a real “go figure.” But it does indicate the problem with many e-publishing business models. Content is certainly the primary issue, but marketing is right alongside this on the degree-of-difficulty scale.

Here’s something else to think about: If one of the Big Six such as HarperCollins is still in a state of flux with respect to marketing e-published material, where is the individual, unknown, self-published author in the scrum? I’m not trying to be negative, but I think it’s important to understand the realities of trying to be a market maker. And this is why I always suggest–if a writer feels self-publishing is the only option that remains open for his or her manuscript–to do so by the absolute cheapest means possible, such as via I’m working on an article for an upcoming Newsletter that’s devoted entirely to e-publishing and print-on-demand.

On one last point before today’s article, I often receive letters from competent writers expressing concerns that their queries are not producing results. This is why I always provide one free revision for any of client of mine who might not be having success with the initial missive I created. But it all gets down to numbers. The more queries or submissions, the better the chance of finding an agent or publisher. Here are some statistics that might shed a little light on the arduous nature of the acceptance process:

–Stephen King’s Carrie had been rejected more than 30 times before being picked up for publication. And his first four books were rejected.
–Richard Bach’s Johnathan Livingston Seagull is believed to have received more than 100 rejections.
–Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time received over 30 rejections. It required 10 years before it was published, and then went on to win a Newbery Award.
–Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth was rejected 14 times. She later won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
–Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead was rejected 12 times.
–Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was ironically rejected 22 times.
–Mary Higgins Clark’s first short story was rejected 40 times.
–Alex Haley’s works, before Roots, received in the neighborhood of 200 rejections.
–Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was dissed 121 times.
–John Grisham’s A Time to Kill went by15 publishers and 30 agents and purportedly garnered over 140 rejections altogether.
–Chicken Soup for the Soul – 33 times the concept was rejected.
–Dr. Seuss – 24 times.
–Louis L’Amour – 200 rejections.
–Jack London – 600 before his first story.
–John Creasy – 774 rejections before selling his first story. He then went on to write a gazillion books, using fourteen names.
–Jerzy Kosinski – 13 agents and 14 publishers rejected his novel STEPS when he submitted it under a different name, including Random House, which had originally published it. And it was a best-seller for Random House eight years earlier and had won The National Book Award!

And if what I just offered didn’t provide a clear idea of how much work and good fortune is involved in finding a quality agent and major royalty publisher, the following is the coup d grace:

–J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was taken on by the respected Christopher Little Literary Agency in the U.K., but still rejected by over a dozen publishers, including Penguin, Transworld and HarperCollins. The publisher who finally signed the book is widely reputed to have done so on the advice of the 8-year-old daughter of his company’s CEO. If that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what does.

Now for today’s article:

Simple Word Substitutions to Dramatically Improve a Narrative

Writers are always seeking ways to separate themselves from the pack. Today, elevating oneself is not only desirable but a necessity if an author is to have any hope of becoming published for the first time by a major house. The questions is, how?

Sometimes the Simplest Words and Phrases Can Make a Substantial Difference

A wonderful copyeditor, Martha Moffett, for whom I have the greatest respect, worked through a novel of mine recently and made several suggestions that I feel are worth repeating. They provided the theme for this article, and involved “how” and “of,” along with the need for consistency when using words such as “toward” and “among.”

Determine the Instances When “the way” Can be Substituted for “how”

There are instances when two words are preferable to one, and this often applies when “the way” is substituted for “how.” Here are two examples and their counterparts: Can you tell me how Mr. Jones was acting differently during the past two weeks? Can you tell me the way Mr. Jones was acting differently during the past two weeks? I liked how the thin lines along her mouth depicted anything but age. I liked the way the thin lines along her mouth depicted anything but age. In the second example in particular, “the way” adds allure to an otherwise bland run.

“Of” Can be Problematic When it’s Superfluous

The word “of” is being accepted almost to the point of idiom in sentences like this: “He spoke in as calm of a tone as he could.” The correct syntax should read: “He spoke in as calm a tone as he could.” Or this: “I never realized how good of a friend he had become,” which should read: “I never realized how good a friend he had become.”

“Toward” and “Among”

There are indeed times when “towards” sounds better than “toward” and “amongst” has a better ring to it than “among,” but consistency is important. Thank goodness that checking for consistency is now an easy task as a result of the “Find and Replace” button in almost all word-processing programs.

Then There Is “Over”

Long ago I broke the habit of using “over” when “during” was correct, but I still find myself using “over” when “more than,” “longer than,” “greater than,” etc., are better choices–if not proper grammar–in many instances. In defining periods of time, for example, it’s desirable to write that something took more than an hour rather than something took over an hour. Likewise, longer than a month should be written instead of over a month, just as greater (or more) than a mile is correct and over a mile is not.

Don’t Stop with These Examples

In this day and age, every possible opportunity must be exploited to gain an edge, and sometimes even the subtlest of nuances can enable a text to illustrate accomplished writing and enable its author to take a major step in the right direction. And while there are indeed a great many more examples of lazy rhetoric than what I mentioned in this article, paying attention to just the few words and phrases I’ve listed via Martha’s wisdom can make a major impression on an agent, publisher–and reader.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 43
Print on Demand (POD) Publishing and the Self-Publishing Industry (December 14, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

As always, a huge hello and welcome to those of you who are new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter during the past two weeks. Please let me know of any issues pertaining to writing material at the major royalty publisher level that you’d like to see addressed in future Newsletters. And also feel free to send me your comments on what you read in these Newsletters, and especially if you’d like a subject explained further or if you think I missed something. Past articles I’ve written on a myriad of writing topics can be viewed by going to my Articles Page (you can click this link) at

As all previous Newsletter subscribers are aware, I’ve recently completed a wholesale revision of my blog and now post the opening-chapter critiques (with the writer’s permission, of course) that I provide as a free service (up to 5000 words, along with a 3-page line edit, if applicable). I’ve been toying with how best to space these critiques and decided for now that I’ll post a new chapter at the same time each Newsletter is sent, thus providing subscribers with an outlet to gain additional perspective on writing prose at a publishable level. I was going to post material to the blog every 5 to 7 days, but I think one chapter to complement each Newsletter is a better idea. Please let me know what you think. I now call my blog the Critique Blog @ and you can click this link to read today’s offering, which as I mentioned will remain as the lead item for two weeks.

Regarding Newsletter subscriber interest in the Critique Blog, this new forum received more hits during the past two weeks than all other links combined–times two. This is gratifying to me because it means I’m offering something that has created a new level of enthusiasm, which is obviously a key factor for maintaining subscriber interest and for growing the Newsletter overall. I want to continue to apologize for not yet coming up with an easy-to-access method to make “Comments.” Because of the spam opportunity an “open” comment box creates, I can’t provide a forum without a registration process (for anyone not using AOL, I’m told that setting up an AIM account is probably the easiest thing to do). If anyone should still find the process too cumbersome, simply e-mail your comment to me at [email protected] and I’ll gladly post it. For integrity’s sake, the first name and the first initial of the last name will be required (whereas a first-chapter critique can be posted with the “Authors Name Withheld by Request” tag, as is the case with today’s material).

I also want to explain my selection process for opening chapters that will appear on the Critique Blog. First, no one will ever have material disparaged. I get opening chapters from writers at all skill levels, and from all over the world. Each writer has one thing in common, and that is trying to do the best he or she can. We all work as hard as we can to get “it” right, but sometimes our mind sees something much different from what we typed. Especially after umpteen revisions and not having the luxury of professional editing. Second, I will only post material that is solid to begin with. Third, for this critique forum, I will concentrate on narratives for which I can illustrate creative or structural improvement in a salient manner. And so everyone realizes what it currently takes to make it on the blog, I reviewed over 30 opening chapter critiques to come up with the 3 I’ve selected thus far. And I get a lot of quality material, so those authors who make it on the Critique Blog should feel quite good about their writing. I thought today’s opening chapter was particularly well conceived by its author, and once again here is the link to the new Critique Blog that will now be an addendum to each Newsletter.

To switch gears, The New York Times recently published its list of the top books for this year in both fiction and nonfiction. As I understand the process, placement was determined by consolidating and then averaging the ratings of their many literary critics. Whether you agree or not with the positions (later, they’re posted in this Newsletter), in almost every major poll I’ve read this year, the Jonathan Franzen book, FREEDOM, is at or near the top, with ROOM, by Emma Donoghue, gaining a lot of ground lately in a push for the top spot. If any of you would like to submit your list of personal favorites from this past year, it might be kind of fun to post it and hear what other subscribers think about your selections. So if any Perfect Write® Newsletter subscribers are brave enough, ha ha, to send your favorites to me, I’ll be glad to present them.

And as a side note to this NYT list, it excludes Jane Smiley’s PRIVATE LIFE, which is on many other end-of-year lists of favorites. I’m not getting into the book recommending business via this Newsletter (at least at this time unless it’s one of my own, ha ha), but I often use Ms. Smiley’s material in my creative writing workshops as a model for excellence. I don’t think I’m out of line to suggest it’s unlikely most writers would not find benefit from reading her work, especially if they’re serious about writing fluent prose at a high level. I genuinely think she’s one of the best writers of literary fiction (and readable literary fiction) out there, and I always wished she were my next door neighbor. But, no more pining about Ms. Smiley, as my wife will get mad at me, and here is The New York Times list:


Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen
The New Yorker Stories, by Ann Beattie
Room, by Emma Donoghue
Selected Stories, by William Trevor
A Visit from the Good Squad, by Jennifer Egan


Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet, by Jennifer Homans
Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Finishing the Hat: Collected Lyrics (1954-1981), by Stephen Sondheim
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson

While the list you just viewed is the product of NYT reviewers’ favorites, I recently learned an interesting aspect of how NYT bestseller lists are determined, since placement occurs in relationship to velocity and not necessarily by volume. This methodology can produce particularly disingenuous results if an author, for example, has his or her best friends buy 10,000 of that writer’s title in a single week (I’m joking, but stranger things have happened, as you’ll read in the next paragraph). A figure of 10,000 sales in a consecutive 7-day period will likely place the book on a weekly list complied by the NYT. But if no other sales for that book are ever made, yet another book sells 5000 copies for 12 straight months, the book that sold 10,000 will have made the list while the other that ultimately sold 60,000 copies would not.

As ridiculous as my 10,000 sales to friends and family idea might’ve seemed, there was another method used to game the system that was even more outlandish, which some of us folks with an abundance of gray hair might remember. Years ago, a book produced by the head of a religious cult was a runaway bestseller, yet it was learned later that this guru’s acolytes were buying the book and returning it–and then repeating the process over and over. In those days, returns weren’t logged on a concurrent basis, since bar code data-capture and inventory control weren’t yet part of the retail landscape, so by the time it was determined that the actual sales numbers were infinitesimal in comparison to the purported figures, the bestseller tag had already been firmly applied (and of course publicized ad nauseam by the leader of this sect).

What I just alluded to, in a roundabout way, harkens back to what I mentioned in the last Newsletter about trying to quantify e-book sales. At least with a hard copy there’s something to physically hang one’s proverbial hat on. But with e-book statistics, what can anyone provide that can truly guarantee the sales were even made? An unscrupulous, upstart publisher (or author, for that matter) could spam 400,000 addresses via a scam outfit and count these as sales. Or, a publisher could receive 400,000 sales and not pay the author a dime. I realize this could happen with a paper copy too, but there is a paper trail with the latter, and I don’t mean this to be a pun. I’m aware that bank statements, as well as a general ledger, can be manipulated, but the “e” aspect of publishing seems to eliminate, via the book not being in hard copy (meaning, all of it), the critical component that was heretofore available as a validation medium.

It’s bad enough that the agency model is paying authors at a heavily discounted level from the hard-copy rate, but if comparable history in other industries holds to form (like music and DVD), writers are going to have an even more difficult time receiving accurate sales numbers (sic, proper payment). At least if someone personally e-publishes and has complete control over the sales that are made, this means the entire payment can be collected by that author. In a convoluted way, this may be the only monetary advantage I’ve ever identified that could be ascribed to self-publishing. And to try to add balance to all this, for some time now I’ve been compiling material that involves print on demand publishing (POD) and the self-publishing industry, and I’m going to present it via today’s Newsletter article, and here it is:

Print on Demand (POD) Publishing and the Self-Publishing Industry

The first obvious issue for any reader of this article is the title, since it strays dramatically from the norm of using “versus” to separate the two mediums. The reason for my word choice is because technology now enables anyone to self-publish for very little out-of-pocket expense.This still doesn’t imply that self-publishing is not loathed by the major print publishers and upscale indies, along with the agents who support them with submissions, but the rising presence of this electronic medium seems to have created a degree of acquiescence for the digital aspect of self-publishing. I want to reiterate that this newfound tolerance should not be considered akin to support, since the stigma assigned to self-publishing by the mainstream industry remains as strong as ever, and the purpose of this article is solely to try to provide a degree of clarity.

POD Is Not Self-Publishing

Print On Demand is confusing to some people, who assume this to connote self-publishing. POD has nothing to do with self-publishing, except that it enables a self-published book to be converted into a hard copy–and at a heretofore unavailable low cost. A single copy in a paperback book, including cover artwork from a template, can be printed for as little as $35, with the entire process taking less than an hour. And an even much shorter time frame is available if the latest technology is used (the “technology” is essentially a sophisticated printer, which I seem to remember has a price tag of around $100,000).

A run of a few hundred copies or less of a book, depending on the purveyor, can reduce the cost to under $10 per unit. According to industry figures, the average self-published book (average in this instance refers to the mode or most common number), sells 41 copies. For someone bent on seeing his or her name in print, I think most folks would agree a single shopping bag full of books is indeed preferential to a garage loaded to the ceiling with them.

Major Royalty Publishers Are Utilizing POD

Because of the high cost of distribution and warehousing of non-bestsellers, especially since gross retail sales for a particular title are usually far from a sure thing, it only makes sense that major royalty publishers have embraced the POD model. Publishers can produce an exact replica of a soft-back book on demand–and at a profit–and not have to keep the book in inventory awaiting a consumer buying decision that might never come.

From a business standpoint, the POD model for a soft cover (and probably hard cover in the not too distant future) makes all the sense in the world. This might mean that the few major book retailers still out there will be reduced to kiosks in the mall, and considering the high cost of maintaining large retail space, this dramatic change could occur quite soon.

So What About Self-Publishing?

Self-publishing is changing too. Authors are now being solicited (okay, badgered), via a constant barrage of POD options presented by the self-publishing houses, to buy the books the writers themselves wrote. Rather than once again creating a new business model, it’s much easier for a self-publishing company to access the convenience of POD and not view it as a competitive medium. Unfortunately, self-published writers unwittingly fall for their respective publisher’s constant solicitations and still end up with a trunk full of unsold books (which once again I guess is advantageous to a garage full).

Self-Publishing Is Still Self-Publishing

Like leopards not changing their spots, self-publishing is what it is. And my advice is still the same for any writer who has run out of patience and tossed in the towel: self-publish as inexpensively as possible. With E-publishing, a book can be made available with an ISBN number or its counterpart for less than $100 (and closer to $50 in many cases, I’m told). If a hard copy is necessary, the POD element enables this starting at $35 for a single copy. But once an author, and particularly a novelist, elects the self-publishing option, the writer needs to be aware, if it should be desirable at a later date to ply the major royalty publishers, it could be like springing Bernie Madoof and introducing him as the guest of honor at your fundraiser.

Before Self-Publishing, Consider the Regional Independent Publishers

The advance from a major royalty publisher (the big six plus Kensington) for a heretofore unpublished author for a work of fiction is generally in the neighborhood of $20,000. There are, however, some very well-respected independent presses (this “indies” name you’ve been seeing) that are worth looking into after the big guys have sent out their rejection slips. The advances will be smaller, but still in the $1000’s in almost all cases, and a writer might have to do more grassroots marketing (although the majors are requiring this, too, and more so than ever).

Publishers Marketplace Is the “Old Reliable”

Publishers Marketplace, via its newsletter Publishers Lunch (here’s the link to sign up for the daily free Lunch), shows which agents are placing what with whom, and a writer can learn which indies to ply for a specific genre by checking the respective links. A writer can also Google the words “Independent Publishers” and create a list. The problem with this, however, is sifting through the vanity presses that disguise themselves as legitimate royalty houses. This is why I always suggest Publishers Marketplace as the first, and in my opinion, best resource for accurate, concurrent information. But before jumping on the indie express, and to take one more precaution against ending up with that garage full of books I always warn against, I also recommend that authors make a visit to the Predators and Editors Web site (here’s the link). This will be time well spent and enable one more snapshot of what can be lurking in the bushes, which can be something with the body of a lamb but with a head that immediately morphs into a hydra the moment the contract is signed.

A Final Word

In fairness to self-publishing history, there are indeed accurate tales about people who have self-published and been wildly successful. But to my knowledge, all had one of two things in common: phenomenal marketing created via a gargantuan Internet presence or a highly successful commercial advertising career. In the nonfiction market, those who made it were also the undisputed experts in their respective niches. Most of us mere mortals aren’t fortunate enough to fit any of these categories, and this is why I keep stressing to self-publish the absolute cheapest way possible, should this be perceived as the only option still available.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 44
Words That Stand Out and Shouldn’t (December 14, 2010)

Hello Everyone,

I want to extend a hearty welcome to those of you who have subscribed to The Perfect Write® Newsletter during the past two weeks. At any time please feel free to contact me and offer ideas you think would improve this medium.

Since it’s right in the middle of the holiday season for many of us, I’m cutting down on the word volume of the opening and scooting to the article that is always a segment of each Newsletter. However, on one note of old business, I would like to ask once again if any of you have a list of favorite books from 2010 you would like to see posted. If so, I’ll be happy to do so. In the previous Newsletter I listed the composite from The New York Times reviewers, but please don’t be influenced by this. I’m interested in what you like, and I’m certain many other Newsletter subscribers feel the same way. So, crank out a short list and send it to me.

Once again I’d like to draw attention to my Critique Blog (here’s the link) on which I list a broad range of opening-chapter critiques and 3-page line edits I provide for writers at no charge. There are now four opening chapters and critiques with line-edits on the blog. Today’s opening chapter is a delightful concept, and my editing suggestions include repositioning some of the narrative to enable the storyline to achieve better continuity. From a developmental-editing perspective, I concentrate more on continuity issues than any other factor. And continuity problems often involve elliptical transitioning, which to remedy can require supplying a great deal of raw text in many locations throughout a narrative.

To elaborate on that point–other than as a component of an overview–there is no value in suggesting specific grammar, punctuation, syntax changes, etc., if I know a portion of the narrative, and sometimes a substantial amount, is going to have to be revised. This is also why I require reading a draft prior to making a decision about accepting its author as a client, and certainly before quoting fees. The exception is when I know a writer’s style and skill sets as a result of working with the person previously. Every other editor I personally know operates in the same manner.

Martha Moffett, the line editor extraordinaire who I have looking over my shoulder whenever I’m hired to line edit a client’s manuscript, mentioned that she noticed the word “perhaps” showing up often in a draft of one of her personal novels, and that I was overusing the word “parse” in this Newsletter. This got me to thinking about material I’d looked at recently that contained trite, oft-used words, along with words that stand out when repeated even once. Hence, words that stand out and shouldn’t are the subject of today’s article.

Words That Stand Out and Shouldn’t

Simple Words Can be the Greatest Culprits

If anyone guessed the word “actually” would be atop the list, that person would be right. It’s one of those words that has no place in a novel, any more than the phrase “as a matter of fact.” Yet, I would be lying if implied I hadn’t contemplated using either the word or the phrase at one time or another. But I didn’t, and you shouldn’t either.

Another disastrous word is “really.” I mean, really, when would any author write “really” into a sentence in a novel unless it was being utilized to really illustrate the dialogue of a valley girl from the 1980’s? Ignore my feeble attempt at humor, but “really” is a word that’s easy to slip into a narrative. Again, don’t let it.

Adverbs Can Become a Nightmare for an Otherwise Quality Draft

When I review a manuscript (you’ll notice I didn’t write “parse,” ha ha), I’m not as big a stickler in the arena of adverbs as many editors. Of course it depends on the genre, but for commercial fiction an occasional “easily” or “slowly” is not going to give me the willies. But some adverbs are abominable when used without consideration for the subject or scenario they’re modifying.

My least favorite is “suddenly,” because very few things in life don’t take place in a sudden manner. “Mary suddenly jumped up from her seat when the bee stung her.” How else would she do it? Would she announce while in pain that she was going to leap from her chair in a couple of minutes? Here are two more lollapaloozas: “The young boy accidentally got lost”. How else would someone get lost? On purpose? “The soldier carefully walked through the mine field.” Does anyone think he’d do this any other way?

Then There Are Those Words That Can Only be Used Once Per Story

I read a raw draft recently that was quite well-written except for the author’s penchant for giving a thesaurus a workout. This person used words like flabbergasted, mastication, serendipitous, lascivious, and a host of others of the same ilk. The words were fine in the context in which they were placed, but repeated in the course of the narrative.

I remember reading about four people who were flabbergasted at what they’d witnessed, two men having mastication problems while dining, two serendipitous meetings, one at sea and another in a department store, and three lascivious comments made at a sorority dance, a movie, and a wedding rehearsal, respectively. Some words, like mastication, are good only once per story–and perhaps just a single time during any writer’s long career.

A Tic by Any Other Name Is a Tic

When a word becomes annoying to a reader, this is just like being bitten by a live tic. If we read “actually” a half-dozen times, don’t we “actually” often want to put down the book for good. “Carefully” closing the door so the baby won’t wake up sometimes makes me want to throw the book against the wall out of sheer frustration–so the author wakes up. If my character is flabbergasted on page 3, I hope he will not be that distraught again on page 293. And if the neighbor’s maid in the story is dressing seductively on page 11, I hope she is not seductively attired on pages 27, 67, 107, 256, 299, and 343.

Tics Can Be Just as Hard to Remove from a Book as They Are from a Pet

Most writers have a difficult time seeing redundancies in their personal work. This is only natural because we tend to write what sounds good to us, and we might, for example, say “actually” in our normal speech. I employed a salesman once who couldn’t speak a sentence it seemed without the word “basically” in it. And he wrote the same way. When I jokingly pointed it out to him, he was stunned that he’d fallen into this rhetorical malaise. An odd aspect of this scenario was the ease in which he remedied this once he thought about his overuse of the word.

There’s a Time to Ask for a Little Help

Some authors might catch most of the words that stand out when they read their work out loud. But others, who are on a never-ending quest for the perfect sentence and constantly revising their material, often have a draft that reaches a point when it’s impossible to recognize flaws such as tics and words which are memorable due to their rarity or flamboyance. When a manuscript reaches the point of “I can’t see it anymore,” it’s likely the time to ask someone to read the draft who has a legitimate understanding of what to look for.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 45
The correct Length for a novel (January 11, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome the new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter and ask each of you to please send me any suggestions at any time that you feel would improve this medium. Also, I’m always seeking ideas for the articles I write that accompany each installment. And now complementing each Newsletter is my manuscript Critique Blog (here’s the link), which consists of my opening-chapter critique of a manuscript and a 3-page line edit. If you want to bookmark the link, it is

Of special note, today’s Critique Blog entry is “one of the five best opening chapters” I received during all of last year. It contains a terrific hook, and in my opinion sets up a story I feel is a fabulous concept. Those of you working in the Police Mystery genre will likely find this opening chapter of SKETCHES particularly interesting. I feel the writer did a superb job of setting up the story with what for me was a unique premise, and I’d definitely like to know if you agree with my suggestions, etc. A comments box is available at the end of the complete post–which includes my cursory line edit and a clean, corrected text–and you can click the brown-pen icon to open it. Should anyone have difficulty accessing the comments box, just e-mail your comments to [email protected] and I’ll be happy to post them.

Those of you who have read my drivel for any period of time are aware of how seriously I stress understanding genre. And that some genres are indeed currently more popular that others for an author trying to break into the business. To illustrate how hard it is for true Literary Fiction to gain traction with the book-buying public, Emma Donoghue’s ROOM: A NOVEL was the only work in the entire genre listed on Amazon’s Top 10 list for Christmas week. As I mentioned in an earlier Newsletter, her book and Jonathan Franzen’s FREEDOM consistently placed high on every end-of-the-year “favorites” list I read.

While discussing popular genres in which to write (or unpopular one’s as the case may be if expecting huge sales), I was quite surprised to notice Children’s-genre sales doing quite well in the holiday e-book environment. It will be interesting to see the actual breakdown, since I thought this would be a hard nut to crack, especially with little kids in the pre-school market because there weren’t going to be pages of pictures they could physically pull out and handle, etc. However, if the numbers support pre-school sales, I will have to admit an error in my thinking. Regardless, for those of you who are working in the Children’s market, this news should be pleasant indeed. If you’re getting the daily-version of Publishers Lunch (here’s the link to subscribe to the FREE component), you’ll see that children’s books and thrillers consistently dominate agent placements (and have been doing so for some time).

Here’s an interesting path a book took until publication (this information came straight from Publishers Lunch) and clearly illustrates the vagaries of the publishing industry. Rebecca Skloot’s THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS was represented by Louise Quayle at the Ellen Levine Literary Agency, and sold under the title HELA: THE WOMAN WHOSE CELLS CHANGED MEDICAL SCIENCE to Erika Goldman, who was working at the time as an editor for W.H. Freeman.

Shortly after the sale, Freeman’s trade books were consolidated into Henry Holt’s imprint, and the author went looking for a new publisher. She switched agents to Simon Lipskar at Writers House, who extricated her from her original contract and auctioned the book in mid-2003 to Crown–and to an editor who is now no longer in the business. I have a couple of personal stories that would rival this, so I think it’s fair to continue to relate that there is nothing easy (or often very stable) about the industry. In my opinion, above anything, authors pursuing a major royalty publisher must have a lot of patience–and a steady day job.

Writers commonly ask about the length of their novels and if their work fits the respective genre in which they write. I don’t think there is ever a more complicated question an editor can be presented with, since there is really no clear-cut answer. This is the subject for today’s article

The Correct Lenth for a Novel

Even the Size of Specific Mediums Is Conjecture

A while ago I read a paper that offered guidelines which ran from a page for flash fiction to 60,000 words as the starting point for a work to be considered novel-length. I’m not remotely qualified to comment on flash fiction, but it seems 60,000 words is an acceptable number for a narrative to be classified as a novel.

If the 60,000 Number is the Starting Point for a Novel, What is Considered Too Long?

When I began querying my initial novel over 15 years ago, and called a few agents to get a feel for the market, I remember the first words out of several agents’ mouths: How long is your manuscript? I thought it was quite odd to ask this without knowing one thing about the story. But when I began editing for a living, I often found myself requesting–also early in the conversation–the same information. What follows are a couple of reasons why.

The Interest in Length in Many Cases Relates to the Cost to Print the Book

It’s very hard to get many agents to consider a mammoth work from a heretofore unpublished author because they know submissions editors will balk at considering something that is essentially a tome. This doesn’t mean the author of a substantial body of work cannot achieve success, but large books cost more to print and consequently often retail for more money.

It’s hard to entice readers to pay an additional amount for something written by an unknown author. Certainly e-publishing renders the increased-cost argument nugatory, but until the industry reaches a point at which nothing will ever be printed, the original contention will likely retain some degree of validity.

Traditional-Length Stories Are What the Public Desires

Commercial Fiction in the 80,000 to 90,0000-word range seems to be what appeals to the general public, since this provides an 8 to 10-hour read for most people, and it’s the ambit a great many agents and publishers recommend their authors’ works fall within. Of course a book could be 55,000 or 120,000 words (or whatever), but the 80,000 to 90,000-word model provides a good framework, especially for an unpublished writer trying to break into the business.

It’s Always Important to Understand There Are Exceptions

A single factor normally determines why publishers allow exceptions, and this pertains to an author’s following. This implies the writer was published in some medium previously and has achieved considerable success. And the publisher is gambling that the next book will sell, regardless of its size. I could be very wrong, but if J. K Rowling had written the first installment in her series at the length of some of her later works, we might never have heard of Harry Potter.

One Rule

The rule is: there isn’t one. But as I constantly write, unpublished authors have to jump a very high bar, and it’s constantly being raised. So it’s imperative to make an agent or publisher’s work–as it applies to accepting a manuscript–as comfortable as possible.

Some of the positions maintained by agents are purely personal and even regrettable. But regardless of the reasons for agents’ and publishers’ purported biases, writers have to be prepared to work around those that are extant. And it seems an unpublished manuscript thought to be too short or too long for its genre is toward the top of the list of known red flags. But I must state that I recently spoke with a highly regarded submissions editor who said she has never found word count to matter, irrespective of the genre.

I honestly feel, however, that anyone who is unheard of and unpublished is going to have a very hard time getting an agent or publisher to consider a first novel with an unusually low or high word-count, regardless of the genre. I realize this article is fraught with contradictions, but the business is tough enough without trying to circumvent what are considered the traditional word-count metrics by many if not most of those who make the ultimate decisions regarding the fate of a story.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 45
How Bad Can My Villain Be? (January 25, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

A big welcome to new Newsletter subscribers, and please let me know if there is anything you feel would improve these installments. I’m always seeking advice on ways to make these Newsletters better.

Today’s Critique Blog is particularly interesting, since it clearly demonstrates that a well-conceived story with good writing most often will still require line editing. But it also illustrates why I always require reading the completed draft before doing any line editing for a client. It’s simply not time effective, and therefore not cost effective for a client, to line edit material that is going to be revised. The time for line editing is after the developmental editing is completed, not before.

The author of the opening chapter in the current Critique Blog wrote me a very nice note in response to what I provided, and I feel that a particular segment of her remarks are especially important. She wrote: “Being able to see examples of an author’s writing and the editing that has been done helps me more than a full page of written explanation or instruction.” Her sentiments are the specific reason I chose to begin posting first chapters for Newsletter subscribers. What might be of interest to many of you it that one-fifth of the people who receive this Newsletter have also sent me an opening chapter to analyze. And half of that group have become clients for full critiques and half of that group have requested line editing.

On an unrelated note, you’ll notice I posted the link to the Critique Blog in the traditional way that you see here, and not in the Critique Blog (here’s the link) manner as in all previous Newsletters. Subscribers have written me that everyone now knows that “blued, underlined” text signifies a link, so I am deferring to this opinion and from here on all links will be blued and underlined without the “here’s the link” notification next to it. I want to express my appreciation to all of you who mentioned that I could dispense with the unnecessary reference.

I’ve held back from posting any bestseller lists for 2010 other than a redact from The New York Times, but I thought everyone might enjoy the USA Today offering. In addition to listing their top 100 without a separate fiction and nonfiction grouping, I found it fascinating that TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was number 54 and THE CATCHER IN THE RYE ranked number 73. What an accomplishment! Sadly, however, they were the only “classics” to have made it.

Those of you who have followed my Newsletter for any period of time–or attended my creative writing workshops–are aware of how important I think reading happens to be for a writer seeking publication by a major imprint. If someone is writing Children’s-genre material, for example, wouldn’t it be prudent to learn how Rick Riordan and Jeff Kinney have gotten this market so covered up? All of us seeking royalty publication by a bona fide imprint have to be alert to our competition. The USA Today list gives writers, in a variety of genres, many things to consider. I’ve placed this list in at attachment because it’s so extensive and I felt its size might create problems for the disparate e-mail providers. This is the first time I’ve done this, but I think everyone will find this much better than potentially clogging up your respective e-mail boxes.

You’ll notice the Stieg Larsson trilogy holding down the top three spots on the USA Today list, and I think it’s interesting that a new ending is being created for the movie-version of the first story, since the finish in the book was considered weak. This brings back memories of the problem many people had had with way THE DI VINCI CODE ended (I wasn’t fond of it either). The point is, even though these are considered flawed stories by a lot of people, each has enjoyed stratospheric sales and acquired a legion of followers. I’m not suggesting that a novel can survive with a less than satisfying conclusion, but if the Larsson and Brown books are indeed legitimate indicators, it appears that a phenomenal plot will allow a “miss,” even at the end!

To shift gears, Publishers Lunch posted a recent survey that was answered by a little over 1000 readers of mysteries. According to the results, 68% (I guess that means 2/3’s, ha ha) of all mysteries are purchased by women. A preponderance of mystery readers were over 45, and most bought because of the author, then the series, then a preference for a particular character. Surprising to me was that readers under 40 are not mystery lovers, at least according to this survey. And from the perspective of buying decisions, younger readers (again, according to this survey) don’t differentiate between mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels. This is particularly significant to me, since twice I was rejected by an editor I’ve come to know halfway-well because each of my narratives did not comply with one segment of her imprint’s abundant acceptance criteria. I’ve wondered for some time if the entire genre issue might’ve gone too far, and if some substantial contraction might occur in the next five or so years. This survey, while limited, at least for me seems to lean in that direction.

Now for today’s article:

How Bad Can My Villain Be?

At first pass, asking how bad a villain can be seems like a fun topic to write about. The most horrible characters in literary history have commonly revealed themselves via their thoughts or actions in ways that readers found appealing. Evil doers such as Hannibal Lector and Annie Wilkes and certainly Dracula have elicited some sort of positive reaction from much of the public at one time or another.


Thomas Harris enabled Lector fans to learn about the doctor’s youth in plausible terms that explained why he became a monster. Annie Wilkes was simply deranged, but she displayed eerie justification for her actions that made her creepiness, while certainly not acceptable, occasionally understandable. And Drac had all these years of never enjoying peace. If that seems far-fetched as a redemptive feature, why do vampires in literature always seem to use this argument to attract an audience?

Here’s Where the Fun Part Ends

The difficulty with writing villains becomes problematic when it relates to whom and how they choose to do-in they prey. An antagonist who kills children or the mentally challenged can present a huge issue for a writer. Mainstream publishers also shy away from stories about pedophilia, incestuous relationships (unless subtly referenced, such as in A THOUSAND ACRES), and criminals who attack the defenseless.

Here Are Some Antagonists to Avoid

I receive many novels each year that I refuse to edit because I know in their present character-configuration the story would have no chance with a major royalty publisher. One recent plot involved a returning-GI who began a sordid relationship with his 10-year-old daughter. Another story started with the dismemberment of a young boy and the central character’s lust for murdering children seeking a father-figure (I see a lot of this sort of material of late for some reason). A recent story depicted a grotesquely unattractive man who bought retarded children and raised them as sex slaves. As sickening as what I just related happens to be, there is some stuff I’ve been sent that’s even worse, but I hope what I presented clearly expresses where I draw the line.

It’s Not Censoring, It’s What a Publisher Thinks the Public Will Read

In the thriller and mystery genres, major royalty publishers aren’t going to present a book solely for its shock value. However, there might very well be a market for each of the storylines I just mentioned if placed in the hands of a Gore Vidal or a Normal Mailer or James Dickey-type. At their respective skill-level, even the most disgusting topic could be made palatable in a novel (or if someone wanted to write a nonfiction book that deals with any of the subjects). But in the realm of pure commercial fiction, I give this no chance.

Writers Must Consider Their Audiences

According to many polls (another one I just studied was taken by Harris), woman again buy more books than men, and people over 65 buy three/fifth’s of all mysteries and thrillers. Is it reasonable to think that these demographics want to read about pedophilia, incest, and dismemberment? The avid older readers I know won’t touch books that contain any of these plotlines.

The purpose of this article is not to tell anyone what to write, but to explain markets. If there is no interest in becoming signed by a major royalty publisher, then there is no reason to pay attention to anything I offered by way of explanation. However, if becoming signed by a respected imprint is of interest, one of the first things the editor will consider is the platform for the story, and it would behoove authors to be aware of what would be deemed unacceptable.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 47
The Five Errors an Editor Sees Most Often
(February 8, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

A hearty welcome to the new subscribers of The Perfect Write® Newsletter during the past two weeks. And I encourage each of you to contact me at any time with ideas you feel will improve this medium.

A recent feature of this Newsletter is a link to my Critique Blog, on which I post an opening-chapter critique and a cursory line edit (if applicable). Today’s chapter is from a writer from Nigeria, and I’m delighted to report I didn’t have to send him $200 for the $12,000,000 he is holding for me.

On a serious note, this blog has been extremely well-received by Newsletter subscribers, and I encourage anyone who has not submitted an opening chapter to do so. Today’s opening chapter is a good one to study, since it contains some of the common errors that plague many of us when we start writing seriously, such as not properly transitioning scene elements. My opening-chapter analysis is a free service, as is my query letter review. Several of you who are new to The Perfect Write® have inquired about my query-review service, so I want to offer an explanation once more on the way a typical query analysis is facilitated.

I break down the query and offer suggestions for making the letter more attractive to the current agent/publisher market. I do not rewrite the entire query, however, depending on the time I have available, I’ll often compose the opening paragraph and follow this with ideas the writer can apply to finish the query. I always ask the author to provide me with the genre, as this is often not clear, and a synopsis of the story if the query is not already providing this–which it shouldn’t. If there is a question as to what I’m referring to, here is an article I wrote on How a Query Differs from a Synopsis.

Again, I don’t supply the full text for the query, but as I implied in the previous paragraph, many writers take what I provide and revise their letter based on my suggestions. However, if someone wishes for me to write the query, my fee is $117.50, and I include the names and business addresses of three agents I think will be solid prospects for the manuscript. I used to personally contact agents I know and pitch the manuscript for a flat fee of $117.50 each, with a maximum of three per project.

And while I think my clients will attest that I was effective in placing them with good agent prospects, the necessary follow-up on my part was most often a drawn-out event, and I simply didn’t have enough hours in the day to maintain the effort this required. Perhaps as my business grows, and I can add personnel to help with the mundane chores that currently require my attention, this will change. But, for the present, personally contacting agents on behalf of a client will have to remain on hold. (As an aside, I apologize for the self-promotion, but several of you have recently asked if I still contact agents for a client, and I felt this was the right time to cover this issue should anyone else have the same question.)

To change topics, many writers have asked me about the market for short stories, and I always tell them I’m not qualified to comment because this is not something for which I have any personal experience. But I did notice from a recent Publishers Marketplace report that a number of short-story anthologies have been wildly successful. And if any of you have read the 1999 Pulitzer Prize Winner by Jhumpa Lahiri, INTERPRETER OF MALADIES, you’ll remember it consisted of a series of short stories (a half-dozen or so). What I’ve found is that one good piece can sell the lot.

In Ms. Lahiri’s case, I think any reasonably adept professional author could’ve written the first few short stories in her book. However, the penultimate offering was superb, and her finale, THE THIRD AND FINAL CONTINENT, was beyond brilliant, if there is such a thing. I’ve always thought it was THE THIRD AND FINAL CONTINENT that swayed the Pulitzer Committee. (I have also long felt that Barbara Kingsolver should’ve won the award that year, hands down, for THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, but this is an issue for another time.)

While on the subject of short stories, if we look back, James Joyce’s DUBLINERS certainly comprised an extraordinary grouping, as were the components of Karen Blixen’s LAST TALES (she wrote under the pseudonym of Isak Dinesen). If you have not done so, and read nothing else of Ms. Blixen’s work (she’s most famous for OUT OF AFRICA, which became a movie in which Meryl Streep starred), take a peek at THE BLANK PAGE. It’s not but 2500 words or so, yet it’s a tale that I promise will stay with you forever.

Many of literature’s greatest writers wrote massive numbers of short stories, including Faulkner, Tolstoy (TOO DEAR is the best short story I’ve ever read), Kipling, and Hawthorne. This list is humongous, but many people are not aware that Fitzgerald was perhaps the most prolific short-story writer of any of the famous novelists.

Fifteen years ago I saw a book of Fitzgerald’s “uncollected” short stories in a remainder stack on a portable bookshelf on the sidewalk outside a B&N. Priced at $1.00, THE PRICE WAS HIGH contained 50 of Fitzgerald’s short stories, for the first time “uncollected” in one volume. For those who are curious, the rationale to list them as “uncollected” is because of their status prior to publication in one volume (afterward, they would be considered “collected”) Anyone who can figure out that explanation needs to be sitting with Stephen Hawking–and advising him.

Some folks perhaps will be surprised to learn that Fitzgerald made his living, not from his novels, but through the sales of his short stories to magazines, which included THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, COLLIER’S (I just read last week it may be resurrected), RED BOOK, SCRIBNER’S (whose parent company published his books via the tutelage of famed Scribner book editor, Maxwell Perkins) and other periodicals that were the rage in their day. But here’s a fact that might startle some people: While he was alive, Fitzgerald earned $106,585 (yep, the number is documented to the last dollar) from his short stories; however, his novels brought him the paltry sum of $12,475–and this included his remuneration for THE GREAT GATSBY, for which he received $1981 beyond a $4264 advance (don’t ask me how the advance was calculated). This means he made a little more than $6000 for what a great many people–including me–feel is one of the finest books of all time (I rate it second behind THE SOUND AND THE FURY on my all-time favorites list).

The morale of all this is that there has always been an audience for short stories. And I encourage any of you who have assembled a body of work, whether fiction or nonfiction, to pursue your dream of publication by a major imprint. Agent Query will give you a broad array of bona fide literary agencies to consider, and a writer can start with Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc. and agent Ira Silverberg. who accepts unsolicited submissions for short stories.

On another topic, something many of us are seeing lately, especially if we receive Publishers Lunch, is the incredible upsurge in e-book sales. If I read the information correctly, Amazon is selling 115 e-books for every 100 made of paper. Amazon profits, however, were reported down. This isn’t intended to imply that book sales in totol were the culprit, but they do compose a healthy segment of Amazon’s gross revenue. I’ve noticed over the past few months that all the large book retailers, as well as some independent bookstores, have released data that supports e-book sales as a burgeoning medium. Yet each entity, big or small, has also reported lower profits.

This rub against e-books from the outset was that, like music, they could be copied and the author, agent, and publisher would receive zilch. Surprising to me is the lack of documentation to support piracy as the reason for the declining profit-curve. The downturn in profits appears to be solely the result of lower price-points. Those of you who read my recent Newsletter on POD Publishing and the Self-Publishing Industry might remember the central theme, which stated that more and more people self publish each day because it has become quite inexpensive and easy to do.

From the perspective of pricing, the onslaught of new material is not a good thing, since whether a person buys a John Grisham e-book for $9.95 (or whatever the price might be) or a work by freshly e-book-published writer Joe Jones for $7.95, a pricing platform is created. And since most people have only so much disposable income for book purchases, the pricing model for bestsellers on e-books should be studied by anyone who is contemplating self publishing.

I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating: Why would anyone want to pay $16.00 for an unknown writer’s work when a bestseller or popular backlisted book can be purchased for $9.95? People who are bent on self publishing should give themselves at least a chance at snagging a sale beyond friends and family. And since most folks aren’t marketing gurus, pricing their work in a competitive manner is a giant step in the right direction.

Since this Newsletter was much longer than usual, here now is today’s article, which is much shorter than normal and deals with the five most common errors an editor sees when analyzing a manuscript:

The Five Errors an Editor Sees Most Often

I’m often asked about the most common errors an unpublished writer makes. While it might seem hard to answer, I’ve looked at so much material over the years, regardless of how disparate the narratives might be, there are certain issues that always come to the forefront.

What Aren’t the Big Five?

And I want to provide a reply that will be honest and make sense, because I’m confident no one is interested in reading about issues related to punctuation, POV shifts, tense, voice, and misplaced modifiers. So here’s my perspective of what would prevent a manuscript from being considered prose that only a friend or family member would pay to read.

Here Are the Bugbears

If I parsed 100 drafts and totaled what I deemed to be the five most common major flaws that writers must avoid, the list would likely be topped by inadequate conflict, followed by poor pacing, unengaging characters, elliptical transitioning, and weak developmental arcing.

Now Work to Eliminate Them

If a writer can design conflict and present it quickly, this will motivate the reader to keep going. But if the story flags or the characters are uninteresting, no amount of conflict is going to maintain a reader’s attention. And if the writing from scene to scene is choppy, or the entrance and exit of characters should be too abrupt, this spells doom for a story. Additionally, if the characters and/or characterizations aren’t adequately fleshed out, this will foul a narrative.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 48
The ISBN System Explained, and One Issue All Writers Must be Aware of
(February 22, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

A big welcome to all the latest Newsletter subscribers for whom today’s offering will be your first installment. Please let me know whenever you have an idea that you feel might improve what I’m providing writers regarding ways to appeal to legitimate royalty publishers. And should you have a scolding, let me know and I’ll certainly look closely at any criticism and do whatever I can to explain or repair the error of my ways, ha ha. And while I focus on what I think it takes to land a deal with the Big 6 and Kensington, in the current climate I am sensitive to authors who want to place their work in print and are considering some sort of private-publishing medium.

But I work hard to guide writers away from any scam publishers, agents or editors I happen to be aware of. With this in mind, I want to draw particular attention to the opening chapter in today’s Critique Blog. The material is from a writer from Australia who contacted me about this time last year to tell me how much she liked what I had provided regarding her opening chapter and that she wanted me to edit her full manuscript. A day later I received an e-mail from her that she had decided to use a different editor, since she’d found one with a Harvard Ph.D. who boasted having an extensive background editing in her genre. Obviously, what can I say to something such as that except “good luck,” and move on (meaning me, ha ha). Alas, I received a letter from the same writer shortly before the first of this year asking if I’d still consider editing her novel, as the person she had selected over me had skipped with her money–all $1500 of it.

It’s always disturbing when someone is scammed because it’s a reflection on independent editing as an industry. Unfortunately, I, like everyone else I know in my side of the business, require payment in advance. My suggestion–to anyone seeking an editor, agent, or publisher–is to check with Web sites such as Predators & Editors, Agent Research and Verification, and the AAR. These three sites are free, and I strongly suggest that all authors bookmark them for reference prior to contacting any editor, agent, or publisher. Just understand, no matter how well an editor or agent or publisher does their respective job, some writers are going to feel shortchanged in one way or another. No one can satisfy everyone all of the time. I try as hard as anyone on the planet to have happy clients, but situations happen, especially when I have to write a less than sterling analysis of a work. I just ask folks to please wait a week before they lash out, because after the hurt subsides they might be able to take a more objective look at what I offered and perhaps realize that the analysis was not as far out in left field as they initially thought.

One final note on today’s critique. I generally display only the first three pages for which I provide a cursory line-edit, but when I have the time I sometimes do more. In the case of this draft, I went through the entire first chapter, but rather than show you the line-outs, etc., I’m displaying only the finished piece, with the words or sections I changed highlighted in yellow. When you read the two-page critique that precedes the draft, you’ll notice the areas I recommended as needing work, and you can match the revisions I made to these suggestions. Again, what is highlighted is corrected text and not suggestions for what is to be revised. For future critiques, I’ll revert to my usual method of illustrating the editing that was done, followed by a clean draft of the same material. But because today’s opening-chapter line edit involved a dozen or so pages, I felt a simpler “presentation” was in order.

Now for today’s article, which is on the ISBN system. I’m going to go out on a limb and state that the material contained in this article should of interest to every writer who is considering any form of personal publishing. And there is one aspect of the way the numbers are distributed that all authors must clearly understand or they can face catastrophic results.

The ISBN System Explained

One of the most confusing issues in all of publishing involves ISBN codes. How does a writer get an ISBN for a book? How much does one cost? What does the number mean? Does a book require a new ISBN if it’s reprinted? Are the numbers different in countries outside the States? The list goes on, but unfortunately seldom if ever are the most important questions asked. The purpose of this article is to explain how the ISBN works. I’ll also be providing several links along the way for verification and clarification purposes, but I think it’s important to explain the basics of the ISBN first.

The ISBN Is One of Many Codes

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number. The definition of the ISBN is provided by, but a simple explanation is: The ISBN code is a unique identifier for books that are intended to be sold commercially. The system was created in the U.K. in 1966 by W. H. Smith and called SBN or Standard Book Numbering. It was adopted in 1970 as the international standard ISO 2108. Another number, the ISSN, or International Standard Serial Number, is used for periodicals such as magazines.

Be Aware That Different Codes Are in Use in Countries Outside the U.S.

The first issue to keep in mind is that many countries use their own ISBN system. For example, Canada uses the CISN format, which means Canadian ISBN Service System. Also, Amazon uses its own identifier, which the firm calls ASIN (however, the number follows the ISBN code). The second issue to be aware of is that the ISBN has no relationship whatsoever to the Library of Congress Control Number (which is free, by the way). I think anyone serious about becoming published in any medium would be prudent to click the Library of Congress link and spend the 15 or so minutes it will take to read through the FAQ’s.

Instances in Which a Writer Doesn’t Need an ISBN

It’s important to understand that if a writer has no intention of selling his or her book via a commercial setting, handing it off to a wholesaler, or is not planning on placing the book in a public library, there is no need to apply for an ISBN. But, if the author plans to sell the book through an outlet(s) of some sort, to answer the first question I posed, the ISBN may be purchased from only one official source provided by the U.S. government, and this is publisher R. R. Bowker, 630 Central Ave., New Providence, NJ 07974-1154. The company’s toll free phone number is 877-310-7333.

Yes, R. R. Bowker Is the Only Official Government Purveyor for ISBN’s in the States

Now that I’ve clearly established Bowker as the originator of ISBN’s, what about the inordinate number of firms and individuals who resell the numbers? Here is where it really gets sticky, but let me begin with cost first. The cost of a single ISBN from Bowker is currently $125, while ten ISBN’s are sold to the public for $250 or $25 each. The first question is, why would anyone need more than one number? And the answer is, the person wouldn’t–unless the writer plans on having a book published in multiple mediums.

If the latter is the case, each format, such as an e-book, hardback, softcover, trade paperback (which is smaller than softcover), etc., requires a different ISBN to identify the particular medium for the book. Simply, one number applies to the hardback and another to the softcover, etc. But as long as nothing changes in a book in the original medium in which it is published, it can be reprinted ad infinitum under the same ISBN. But change any wording in the narrative, or the medium in which the book was originally published, and a new ISBN is required. Not rocket science, but we’re not even close to through with this.

A Barcode Is Necessary for All Books Sold Commercially or Placed in a Library

The next issue is the need for a unique barcode number, and this must also be purchased from Bowker (I know, how convenient). A unique barcode number is necessary so the bookseller can identify the price point at which you want to sell your book. So the first rule is not to purchase a barcode until you determine what price you want your book to sell for. And since you might have an e-book priced at one price point and a softcover release at another, you would need a separate barcode for each; hence, again, the need for more than one identifier.

Barcodes don’t have the dramatic price drops that are commensurate with ISBN codes (more on this to come). A barcode is $25 each from 1 to 5, $23 if purchased in lots of 6 to 10, and $21 in any spread from 11 to 100. Again, since they involve price points, you will have to tell Bowker your retail pricing for each style book so everything can be keyed-in accordingly. While we’re still a long way from quantum physics, what comes next is a black hole that can reshape a writer’s universe–all the wrong way.

The Following Section May Be the Most Important Information a Writer Seeking Publication Will Ever Read

A great many publishers and individuals resell the ISBN’s, and it’s certainly appears advantageous for a writer to buy a single number for say $40 in lieu of $125. The problem is, who owns the legal right to the title the ISBN identifies if the author has not received a release from the company or person who sold the number? According to the staff at Bowker, and I pressed them on this issue several times to make certain of the consistency of what they were telling me, each year they are contacted by a multitude of writers who are justifiably distraught after they learn the rights to their book are really owned by the person or company that resold the ISBN to them!

I would think this is also a double-edged sword for the company or individual who is retaining the rights, especially if either is the publisher, since if the work is plagiarized, the publisher is always sued right along with the writer. So, unless the staff at Bowker is lying to me to protect their interests, I think it would behoove any writer to make certain a release is signed before getting an ISBN from anyone outside of Bowker. By the way, 100 ISBN’s are only $575 (according to what Mrs. Milsey taught me in the 4th grade, that’s $5.75 each), and 1000 are just $1000! It’s easy to see why buying in bulk and reselling the numbers at a 20 to 40 times markup has substantial street appeal.

The ISBN and Barcode Can Be Combined on One Format

To recap, if you’re going to sell your book outside your individual efforts, you will have to acquire an ISBN and a barcode number that can be affixed to each book (unless your publisher of course prints them somewhere on the book). And, again, as with changes or different formats that will require a separate ISBN, you will need a unique barcode for any price points that aren’t the same.

If you should be interested in how the barcode is determined, since it also has a book’s category and other information embedded, Barcode Graphics Web site explains the process in detail and this is why I chose to highlight the firm in this section. Included in their definitions is the tidbit that the Bookland EAN symbol is the barcode of choice in the book industry throughout the world because it allows for the encodation of ISBN’s with the barcode on a single label.

This company’s price for 1000 of a single label with a both codes in a standard configuration is $27.75. So once a writer has the ISBN number, and a price point, a single label can be ordered. Just be aware that there are a gargantuan number of graphics outfits that can print labels, so it would behoove a writer to shop around, but I imagine $27.75 for 1000 labels is a pretty strong baseline.

The Release Should Be Issue Number One

Regardless of from whom anyone acquires an ISBN outside of Bowker, the single most important issue is that the writer have a release signed by someone who has the authority to do so (which is another issue, and a monster in its own right). My opinion, if anyone wants it, is that it’s probably better to go ahead with Bowker, buy ten ISBN numbers, get the exact number of barcodes that are needed initially, and be done with it (other than getting the labels printed in some manner if your work is not exclusively an e-book). And if someone accepts my quantity suggestions for each component, the total for everything for one e-book and one printed book that can be sold by a wholesaler, retailer, or placed in a library, looks like a price tag of around $325, give or take $10.

By the way, it would be easy to load up on Bowker because of the company’s obvious monopoly status, but in fairness, would it be conceivable to have a hundred different authorized outlets dispensing numbers? This seems like perhaps the only instance I can think of in which our government could’ve handled something internally–such as via a Library of Congress affiliate agency of some sort, especially since this is already being done with periodicals–and made money rather than turning it over to a private concern. But, as many have said before me and many more will say after, who knows?

A Third-Party Purveyor Who Seems Legitimate

To finish up on this, as those of you are aware who have followed my Newsletters or are familiar with me via my creative writing workshops, I’m not a proponent of personal publishing unless a writer feels it’s the absolute last resort. With this thought in mind, I found one outlet that is an inexpensive e-publisher,, and I agreed to provide an Editor’s Forum on this company’s Web site to help writers with ideas to improve their material.

The firm’s owner, Scott Weisenthal, has assured me that his Author’s Contract states implicitly that any book for which he provides the ISBN is owned by the author, and conversely that his firm is not responsible for the content of any book published on his site for which he has reissued the ISBN. This, in my opinion, is the only way an author should enter into an arrangement with a third-party broker of an ISBN. And if anyone chooses to buy an ISBN outside of Bowker, I adamantly suggest, before signing anything, taking the paperwork, which you must have in your possession beforehand, to an attorney who specializes in intellectual property–to make certain your rights are protected. My point being, while I might think Mr. Weisenthal is an honorable man, history is littered with other publishers who weren’t, and many have been prosecuted or are currently under investigation.

I hope the information in this article proves useful to all Newsletter subscribers. And as long as you acknowledge The Perfect Write® Newsletter as the respository for the material in today’s installment, each of you have my permission to copy this article and pass it on to anyone who you think might also benefit from what it contains.

See you in two weeks!

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 49
Are Critique Groups of Any Value?
(March 8, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

A loud hello to the most recent subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter for whom this is your first edition. Please let me know of any way you think I might be able to improve what I offer. And if you spot something you don’t like, please contact me so I can address your concern.

Just this past Saturday I attended a mystery-writers’ convention, Sleuthfest, which was held close to where I live in South Florida, and I gleaned a wealth of information I’ll be passing on to Newsletter subscribers, as the material applies to the entire publishing industry and not solely mystery/thriller writers. I’d love to offer some of what I learned in today’s material, but this Newsletter if already at the max, so everything will have to be posted later. I promise you will find it worth the wait. Much of what is occurring in the mainstream industry is more mind-boggling (sic, mind-numbing) than ever.

Another writer from The Land Downunder submitted the opening chapter I posted in today’s Critique Blog. I think anyone who likes dynamic characters and a lot of intrigue will enjoy the clever storyline that sets up this novel. As usual, I posted my critique of the opening chapter, along with the first 3 pages for which I provided a cursory line-edit. I can assure everyone there is a great deal to savor about this story, including the quintessential evil sibling I found wonderfully depicted, and I hope each of you will take the time to read the entire opening chapter.

This pages I edited once again indicate that a sound idea is always the most important issue to build from. I was delighted to spend the time with the piece because I can tell by the design of the opening chapter that the story is well conceived and a labor of love by the author. Editing is just another step in the process and should never be viewed as a negative when looking at the whole of what an author is wanting to achieve. And here is a case of a story I definitely want to read, even though it needs the normal polishing most any work requires (and why I have a job, ha ha).

Based on click count outside this Newsletters’s subscriber-base, I’m pleased to report The Five Errors Editors See Most Often (from the February 8 edition) was the most widely read article in the shortest time frame of any I’ve written for this medium since its inception almost two years ago. Long-time Newsletter subscriber Buck Buchanan’s topic suggestion, How Contrived Characters Inhibit the Plot of a Novel (posted August 9 of last year), continues to hold down the number-one spot for articles reprinted in Internet magazines in one month–at five. What’s so strange about this is that I’d written an article on contrived characters, Hints for Getting Your Book Published–Understanding Contrivance Issues, that has only been republished twice in almost two years. Maybe the title was not specific enough. Any thoughts on this?

I want to share something with all of you that I’ve been advising my clients about for some time. As we all know, the vast majority of agents now accept e-mail queries and submission material. This is great from the perspective of no longer having to agonize over the mailing medium and expense required to make a good impression. But the downside is that most agents don’t accept anything in an attachment, the same as I can’t take the risk until I have some history with the sender.

The problem is that pasting anything to the body of an e-mail can lead to some really weird-looking “final product.” So I always suggest that everyone e-mail what will be submitted–to themselves first–to see how it will appear to an agent. It seems like the cleanest copy comes back when it’s first typed into Notepad. We all know that Notepad comes with few frills, such as not offering a much-needed Spellchecker, yet it might be the best platform to use to assemble a query and avoid a potential disaster.

I’m aware that no one could be expected to retype an entire manuscript on Notepad, but it might not to be too outside the pale to have a synopsis on Notepad, along with perhaps the first chapter. If any of you have other ideas on this, please let me know and I’ll pass them on. For me, the critical issue–regardless of how I assemble and transmit material–is to avoid shooting myself in the foot by sending something that might get so botched up during the process that an agent would need to be a trained cryptographer to decipher it. My experience is that they simply don’t have–or won’t take–the time.

I want to announce a change in my fee structure for a full manuscript critique. Effective March 31 of this year, my rate for a critique of a manuscript will change from $1.00 per 280-word page of double-spaced material to $1.50. This rate increase will not affect current clients for one year from this date, or until March 31 of 2012. I will also honor the $1.00 rate for anyone who has sent me an opening chapter to review, and during the upcoming 12 months desires a critique of the full manuscript. I hate having to increase my fee, but the number of hours I spend on these critiques at times do not provide me with a minimum wage. And what I provide for a few hundred dollars commonly parallels that which other editors charge several thousand dollars. I’m not comparing my work to another editor’s, but authors have told me that what I do is on par with many of the big names, while my attention to detail is quite often even more definitive. Line-editing fees, which generally include the developmental editing I provide, will remain as they are, with a spread of a flat rate for the entire manuscript of $4.00 to $6.00 per 280-word page.

To switch gears again, here’s an interesting dynamic that’s currently occurring in the publishing industry: Depending on who you talk to, E-book’s are outselling printed books by 10% to 50% (I’ve been having trouble with this math, but I think I got it right this time). And self-published e-books are now showing up on NYT and USA Today bestseller lists. Two books were recently in the top 35 on each. But it’s important to understand that they were marketed in clever ways. One was a huge hit on Kindle first. And both were priced at 99 cents! All of you have read a contention of mine time and again: Can an unknown writer compete with John Grisham or Deane Koontz at a $12.95 price point (or whatever it might be)? The average self-published book sells less than 100 copies, and I have to think this is in large measure due to the lofty price tags placed on these books by their respective authors.

Yet before e-publishing and POD-publishing (here’s a recent article I wrote on this subject that has been very well-received), what choice did a writer have? After a $3000 or more investment, I can appreciate anyone asking $16.95. But if only 100 books are sold at this price after a year(s) of beating the brush, wouldn’t it be nice to have sold 3000 copies of an e-book at 99 cents each–and pocketed almost all of the $3000 since there is so little e-publishing expense?

While I’m discussing book marketing, I’ve also noticed that a great many of the successful e-book writers have gone so far as to give away their first book to establish a readership. This is a great idea, in my opinion, especially when the next book is offered for 99 cents. One peripheral aspect no one seems to talk about: How prone would a person be to pirate a book when it can be bought for a buck? And here’s another marketing angle to consider: Some writers who are confident they can hook a reader with their story have given away 2/3’s of the book and charged 99 cents for the final portion. I’m not suggesting this, but it’s worked well for a few people.

It’s simply up to the self-published writer to decide what he or she is most comfortable with and then try it. Or, an author can do what one fellow I was introduced to has done, and this is place his e-book on the Internet for $16.00 and assume his genius will be recognized. First, the book was never line edited and its a disaster from the perspective of the quality of the narrative; and, second, in almost one year, according to the author’s laments, it has sold four copies–and his wife bought one of them for another relative.

To finish up on book marketing for the time being, another project I’m working on, which I’ll present in a future Newsletter once everything is ready, brought something to my attention that is very important to understand. Many companies that enable authors to self-publish claim in their advertising hype to help their writers with distribution. Yet, as this pertains to the overwhelming number of instances I’m familiar with, this involves nothing related to actually approaching a retailer.

First and foremost, the word distribution needs to be defined. A company named Ingram is the world’s largest wholesaler of books that sells to retailers, just as Baker & Taylor is the counterpart distributing exclusively to libraries. It’s critical to be aware that neither of these firms makes a market, but each serves strictly as a wholesale distribution medium to its respective market. All selling is the purview of the book publisher (and via the writer’s efforts).

So if a self-publishing outfit claims to be providing widespread distribution, this almost always means a title is being listed with Ingram and Baker & Taylor–and that’s it. Without a sales component to get in front of the retail bookseller, what chance does an author have if just the name of his or her book is buried on a list with thousands and thousands of other titles with a wholesaler? Many writers who choose to self-publish bite on a particular vanity press because of the firm’s claim of broad distribution: Ingram, Baker & Taylor, B&N, Amazon, etc. Any writer can do what the self-publishing company is touting–adding his or her title to a respective list–and basically all it requires is an ISBN.

Ingram boasts it operates, through a division–Lightning Source–a dozen or so of the sophisticated POD copiers I mentioned in a prior Newsletter, along with Ingram Digital for e-publishing. If I read the PR blurb correctly, the company currently has 50 major publishing imprints utilizing their services for reprints. To compete, in 2009 Baker & Taylor hooked up with RR Donnelley, under the name of TextStream, to offer both POD and digital services.

I think we’ll find Ingram and Baker & Taylor to be the the replication providers to which all original publishers of books will eventually acquiesce (if they aren’t already there) Regardless, it’s critical to keep in mind that the marketing of a book in any format is still up to the publisher, or the self-published author as the case may be. The wholesalers, massive as they may be, only distribute what is presold to the retailer by the publisher.

One final tidbit before today’s article. Finding an agent is hard enough, but then determining if this person is “right” is also a crap shoot, which I can attest to on both accounts from many “long” years of personal experience. But did any of you know that Stephanie Meyer’s first agent was Jodi Reamer at Writers House, and Ms. Meyer was this agent’s first client! This relationship in 2003 produced a three-book deal and a half-million dollar initial contract. So miracles do happen.

But it’s important to note that Writers House is one of the top agencies in the business (founded by Albert Zukerman, and with Simon Lipskar and Daniel Lazar among other heavyweights on board), so this isn’t as big a fluke as it might appear at first blush. Still, a brand new agent and a previously unpublished writer (by a major imprint) hook up and now Ms. Meyer is being talked about from a sales perspective in the same breath with J. K. Rowling and Dan Brown. (Agreed, she might be as big as either by a wide margin, but can anyone deny she’s not a major force in today’s market?) A success story such as this should give everyone the motivation to strive to find an agent, no matter the obstacles.

As for the article that follows today’s Newsletter, “Are Critique Groups of Any Value,” this topic was suggested by another long-time Newsletter subscriber, Mary Jo Sides. Mary Jo is a fine writer whom I’m confident we’ll see in print someday via a major imprint. She also does a superb job of keeping me on my toes, and as I stated in the opening, if any you see someplace I’ve erred, by all means don’t hesitate to tell me. The best way I can assure quality content is when subscribers to this Newsletter let me know if they spot something amiss so I can correct it.

Now for today’s article:

Are Critique Groups of Value?

For many years I’ve facilitated creative writing workshops in either public or private settings. These programs attract participants from 10 to 90 years of age who are from a wide variety of economic, educational, and cultural backgrounds. My workshops have always been structured, and by this I mean I follow a syllabus. And in all the years I’ve facilitated developmental, intermediate, and advanced creative writing workshops, I have never allowed the reading of individual work that was not directly related to a group assignment. As this article moves along I’ll explain why. But first some more setup.

At the Early Stages, It’s Definitely Important to Create Confidence

I think it’s fair to state that the vast majority of unpublished writers at every level need reinforcement. For this reason, a group of friendly folks sitting around a table and providing encouraging words is a good if not noble idea. But once a writer’s confidence-quota is reached, this budding author in my opinion would be better off taking courses at a college, such as a refresher in English 101, or English Lit 201, or Composition 301. I suggest supplementing this course-work by reading books on writing by experts such as Jacques Barzun, William Zinsser, and Theodore Bernstein, along with material that pertains to the respective genre in which the person is writing–and leave the critique groups to other amateurs.

In My Opinion, Amateurs Critiquing Other Amateurs Is a Waste of Time

And this isn’t just my opinion. Every A-grade agent, editor, submissions editor, and publisher I know says the same thing. And many don’t just say it, they yell it. I offer this: Would a person with chest pains sit around and discuss his or her condition with a group of friends who all have experienced a heart attack–rather than immediately rush to a doctor? The answer is so obvious it makes the question absurd, yet these heart-attack victims are more capable of diagnosing their friend’s illness than amateurs who give advice to other writers via critique groups. Please think carefully about what I just wrote before considering me a snit for offering this analogy.

Again, I Support Critique Groups, But at the Early Stages of Writing Only

A few years ago, at my request, one of my workshop participants who holds a Ph.D. in English took over an established critique-group at the library where I was conducting my programs, and reading and critiquing individual material was a component of this person’s format. I never would have asked this individual to mentor the sessions if I didn’t feel it would be of value to her CV and to aspiring writers with respect to the confidence they would gain. Still, I’ve found critique groups to be a springboard at best, and I feel it’s important to sever the cord as soon as possible.

There Is an Exception

If a critique group is led by someone who is involved with the major royalty publishing industry as a published author, working editor, or established agent, this changes the playing field. Then the group will likely receive competent advice. Yet even in this sort of setting, individual critiquing by the members of the group, other than passing comments, in my opinion is not advisable or desirable for the reasons I’ve already mentioned. Let professionals do what they’re trained to do and apply their advice–while respecting the opinions of amateurs but regarding it for what it is.

Something Else to be Aware of

Another issue to consider is that just because someone is published, this doesn’t automatically mean the person would be a good editor. On the opposite side of the coin, a quality editor, while possessing developmental ability and/or line editing skills, might not be a particularly good creative writer. This representation applies to all fields. Some highly regarded law professors are not the most adept attorneys in the courtroom or for certain sorts of trials. Not in any way excusing Mike Tyson’s actions, but ask him if he’d hire Alan Dershowitz again. Here was an example of a great legal mind in my opinion not being the right fit for a specific type of case and jury, the same as an editor who might not match up well with a particular manuscript or writer.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 50
The Importance of Not Writing in Mixed Genres
(March 29, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

As is my custom, I want to begin by welcoming the new subscribers of The Perfect Write® Newsletter. And if ever you see something you feel is amiss, don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll address your concern(s). At the end of each Newsletter I post an article I’ve written on a topic that pertains to writing prose which would appeal to a bona fide royalty publisher, or information on some aspect of the publishing industry as I know it from personal experience or by way of someone I trust. Also, I’m always enthusiastic about ideas Newsletter subscribers might have for topics for future articles. So please don’t be shy about letting me know what interests you.

I would like to correct an error in the article in the last edition which only applies to those of you who receive my material in HTML. In this format, I posted the following: “And in all the years I’ve facilitated developmental, intermediate, and advanced creative writing workshops, I have never allowed the reading of individual work that was directly related to a group assignment.” As a large number of writers who have attended my workshops wrote me, this has never been my position. And it isn’t!

The sentence should have read: “And in all the years I’ve facilitated developmental, intermediate, and advanced creative writing workshops, I have never allowed the reading of individual work that was not directly related to a group assignment.” I apologize for the mistake. The “not” was missing from the initial raw HTML draft I wrote, but when I posted the “final” corrected version, which was supposed to be in both HTML and plain text, the flawed HTML piece was the only material transmitted. This is why those of you who were expecting to receive a plain-text version of my Newsletter on Tuesday, at the same time as the HTML broadcast, were sent your copy later in the week. I know, how did the error happen? I haven’t a clue. Sorry again.

The individual reading of assignment material will always be an integral part of my creative writing workshops, regardless of the level. What I don’t entertain is the reading of personal material when it’s not related to a group project.

On another issue pertaining to old business, I neglected to place a direct link in the last Newsletter for the opening chapter I posted on the Critique Blog (clicking a link only works with HTML; for plain text you have to paste http://[email protected] to your address bar). As I wrote in the last Newsletter, I really think this chapter is a superb setup for the story, and I feel that everyone would benefit from reading how the author, Paul F, who resides in Australia, creates enthusiasm for his characters and storyline. So, to reiterate what I suggested in the previous Newsletter, please be so kind as to read Paul’s material. And I apologize to Paul for not placing a direct link in the paragraph in the prior Newsletter in which his material was highlighted. I had so much to attend to in the last Newsletter that I obviously got sloppy, and I promise to do better. Perhaps since I placed the link to Paul’s opening chapter in three locations in this paragraph, he won’t be too upset with me, ha ha. And Paul’s chapter will be the only one that is coupled with today’s Newsletter, as the material I had originally scheduled will now appear on April 5.

In the previous Newsletter I mentioned the writers’ conference I attended the first Saturday of this month. Sluethfest was held near where I live, and I found it to be well organized with workshops facilitated by competent moderators and knowledgeable panelists who discussed timely topics. However, one thing I came away with was that publishing insiders seem more rife with conjecture and contradiction than ever. And for this reason I ask everyone to please refrain from forming an opinion on anything anyone writes or says about the business, and this certainly includes me, until thoroughly researching the topic–as it pertains to YOU and YOU alone.

To back up what I just wrote, here are a couple of issues that stuck me: A well-respected VP with a Big 6 publishing imprint told those of us in a workshop that focused on the current state of the self-publishing industry that mainstream publishers no longer look down upon authors who have gone the self-publishing route. While the stigma seems to be abating, l’ll believe the bias is nonexistent when Snookie becomes President. Even if the big houses now have staff scouring the Internet for the next Stephanie Meyer, what this executive failed to mention was that the vast majority of agents won’t handle a self-published author who is not already a huge success. And he forgot to add that not one publisher (who I am aware of) with any of his parent company’s imprints will look at unagented material, which creates an interesting Catch 22 scenario: If a self-published author can’t land an agent, how would the writer go about presenting material to a publisher within his conglomerate’s body of imprints–including his own?

On another issue that occurred at the convention, an A-grade agent, who is one of the most charming and gracious people I’ve ever met in this business, shook her head at me to indicate I was mistaken when I mentioned that publishers seem to be committed to the next big book mentality, and that a lot of good writers are being left on the sidelines because of this predilection. With the greatest deference to this fine agent, in my opinion she is not listening to her peers who are talking to writers like me. I’ve been hearing “the next big book” mantra for two decades, and now it seems more prevalent than ever. And while I realize the “big book excuse” is often used to avoid having to state the real reason(s) for a rejection, I happen to think the rhetoric is in large measure accurate

I’ll be mentioning more of what I gleaned from the convention during upcoming Newsletters, but here’s something I recently learned from a link in Publishers Lunch (if you’re not already signed up for the free daily version, that’s the link): Industry statistics indicate the average life of a library book is 26 checkouts. For their titles in e-book formats, Random House is capping the “shelf life” of their e-books at this number, requiring a book to be repurchased once this threshold is reached. I noticed that Harper Collins and Macmillan have agreed to a similar metric.

One would think, with the severe financial pinch on libraries at this time, these publishing behemoths might be a little more generous, perhaps moving the template up by 50% or so. This would at least make library management enthusiastic about working with the firms. The big question is, will all the major houses adopt 26 as the cut-off point and not negotiate? If so, I think this restrictive posture could present an opportunity for small presses (even of the boutique variety) to approach libraries more aggressively. Time will tell, but I noticed that some library systems have already stepped up and said no to Random House and refused to participate in its program.

I suggest that library directors ask Random House and others to define the word “average.” If I remember correctly from statistics class, the mode number is the most common number, hence the number most often appearing within a cluster of numbers. It might be beneficial to use this metric as the determinant for when a book is taken out of circulation for good, as I have a suspicion the mode is much higher than the average of 26. More to come on this, for certain.

For a long time I’ve hesitated to add anything beyond Agent Query to my Web site links for agent sourcing because I think it’s by far and away the most credible site I’d worked with during the past 20 years. But I think the time has now come to provide Newsletter subscribers with some more options. So I’ve added two more agent-locator links on my Web site at One site is Query Tracker and the other is called 1000 Literary Agents. Of course there is redundancy (there better be, ha ha), but along with Agent Query each of these mediums will provide an additional resource to enable checking out agents.

The Query Tracker site displays a lot of interesting statistics, including a group of Top 10 Lists of the most queried agents, the poorest at responding to queries, which ones reject the most authors, and the agents who have the highest manuscript acceptance rate. Please don’t immediately jump at the agents with the highest acceptance rate without carefully considering the genres in which they work, as this has a lot to do with their numbers.

Another caveat to keep in mind is that no site listing agents and their activity is 100% accurate, and in the case of Agent Tracker, statistics are provided only by those who use the site, so the data is influenced by just the people who decide to post their experiences. But the site boasts a large number of visitors, so whatever is reported should at least provide a reasonable snapshot. If any of you would like to suggest other sites you use that list agents, I’ll be happy to consider them for both this Newsletter and as a permanent link on my Web site.

As everyone is aware, it’s much easier and certainly quicker to self publish, and many writers think this will also be an easier path for a book to become a bestseller. Last year, according to a post reprinted in Publishers Marketplace, Amanda Hocking claims sales of over a million copies of her nine-book oeuvre. However, she wrote that “she thinks it is harder to be a successful self-published author than via a standard royalty house.” And unless someone is a marketing guru with a whole lot of good Karma, in my opinion, statistics bear out her statement.

Hundreds of thousands of self-published books flood the market each year, and this number will continue to rise by leaps and bounds. And, yes, I realize that some figures bandied about by “experts” claim closer to 100,000 titles, but I think the number is now greater–and by a large margin. The way e-book statistics are complied and presented is what gets confusing, and I just read something another person wrote that I feel hits this subject squarely on the head. According to some recent data, self-published books compose 80% of the total number of published titles. But the key is what percentage of overall sales dollars they capture. Money has to the barometer for measurement, and the honest answer is–likely around 1% of total dollars.

If a product (not just a book mind you, but any consumer item) has an 80% saturation-level but 1% of sales dollars, does this look like a fabulous business model? None of us need to be a Wharton grad to answer that. And because of where e-books are positioned on the current business template with the major print publishers, in my opinion Amanda Hocking is spot on with her assessment.

I continue to provide self-publishing and e-publishing data because I feel it will inevitably overwhelm the printed-book business. Do I think there will be no more printed books at some point? I estimate it will take ten years before the printed book becomes a luxury that is given as a holiday gift and cherished even more than the way this gesture is currently received. Simply, there is too much evidence to support the metamorphosis, which I’m sure some folks (like me) think of as more of a transmogrification. But the technology is not about to go away, and when I asked a long-time executive at Putnam a few weeks ago if he was experiencing widespread piracy in his e-book division, he said it was not an issue and that the industry was not having anywhere near the problem facing the music business.

His position might change if some clever computer nerd comes up with a way to proliferate the market with software that enables untraceable free downloads, thus forcing mainstream publishers to demand harsh penalties for abusers–and prosecutors who will enforce the edicts if they are granted. Time will tell, but if the policing mechanism should work like it has in the music business, which to my knowledge seems to be centered around one woman who successfully gamed the system, there will be some bumpy road ahead. For those who might not be familiar with this lady’s punishment, she received a huge penalty she has no way of paying, while the damage she caused was irreparable. However, I see a means of making this a virtual non-issue for self-published authors of e-books. I touched on this in the previous Newsletter, and it will be the subject of any upcoming article.

Several of my existing clients, along with some of you who have sent me opening chapters to review, asked me to confirm that my full-manuscript critique fee would remain at $1.00 per 280-word page of double-spaced material until March 31, 2012. I will be happy to reaffirm the following: If you are a client of mine for any of my services, including a query letter review, my fee for reading your manuscript will remain at $1.00 per 280-word page of double-spaced material until March 31, 2012. And, yes, as I wrote previously, this also applies to anyone who has provided me with an opening chapter to critique.

Some time ago I wrote an article “Finding a Book Agent for Your Novel–The Importance of Understanding Genre,” and today’s article is a follow-up piece.

The Importance of Not Writing in Mixed Genres

I never realized the problem with writing a novel that fit in with many genres until I received a rejection many years ago from a publisher who had at one time been my editor. She told my agent that my thriller fit medical, military, and political genres and her imprint’s guidelines were too restrictive to support a book such as mine. Of course I was crushed and couldn’t understand such lunacy.

Readers of Certain Imprints Have Specific Expectations

It required many years before I finally accepted what I’d been told, and I feel what I eventually understood is worth passing on. First and foremost, it might be obvious that a person reading an Avon book expects a Romance, and a particular sort of story with a specific set of characters. And it’s just as obvious that readers of Pinnacle thrillers anticipate a mass murderer, killing victims in a gruesome manner “on stage,” while pursued by a cop who will have the tables turned on him or her, and this person’s lover will also be brought into the fray.

Platforms Have Little or No Wiggle Room

As the latter example indicates, a single murder wouldn’t work, nor would a potential catastrophe of cataclysmic proportions. For a book to be accepted by Pinnacle, there must be a heinous mass-murderer on the loose, and the story needs to contain a traditional law enforcement element pursuing the evil-doer. So, no virus can be about to be unleashed or there can’t be an imminent nuclear threat, along with some prefabricated agency’s personnel trying to save the day such as with 24.

If a Genre Is Not Specific to the Story, a Myriad of Problems Can Develop

I’m often faced with having to explain to my clients that their respective books not only fit into multiple sub-genres, but cross the lines of major genres too. I find this particularly common when someone is writing YA material that begins as a Mystery and then turns into pure Fantasy. Or YA material that suddenly depicts a murder or a sex scene in somewhat graphic terms, making the work unsuitable for young adults yet overall too soft for the adult market. Another problem area is Adventure that becomes Sci Fi. If you bought what you thought was a James Bond type of story that suddenly became Dr. Who, how would you feel about your purchase?

Distinct Boundaries Exist

I hope this is now starting to make sense for readers of this article much quicker than it did for me many years ago. There are specific guidelines that publishers expect their stories and therefore their authors to follow. And now with all the sub-genres, these parameters are more restrictive than ever. So when I suggest that writers approach only those agents or publishers who have placed or published material in the genre or sub-genre in which their story is written, there is a definite method to my madness.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 51
Can Writing Be Too Descriptive
(April 12, 2011)

Hello All,

A big hello to the newest subscribers of The Perfect Write® Newsletter, and please let me know if you ever see anything you feel could or should be improved. I’m also always on the lookout for subjects I can write about and include with these Newsletters. So don’t be shy about sharing ideas that pertain to writing prose at a level people would pay to read, along with issues related to the publishing industry. A dedicated article always follows each installment of The Perfect Write® Newsletter.

My first order of business is to tell all of you how mortified I was when I learned Sunday, March 27, that my e-mail address book was hijacked. I contacted Newsletter subscribers as fast as I could, and I apologize for the inconvenience this might have caused.

So this same scam doesn’t happen to any of you, as best as I can determine, here is the way I enabled it to occur: When I opened my AOL e-mail, a pop-up, purportedly from AOL, asked if I wanted my password stored so I wouldn’t have to continue to type it each time I opened the account. Since I enter as a “guest” from another computer I’m connected to, and I wasn’t asked for the actual password–which I never would’ve provided–I assumed the request was legitimate, and I checked the “yes” box. Bad idea, and I should’ve realized this when I had to type in the password the next time I accessed my AOL account.

I have no way of knowing for certain if this was the method used to acquire my address book, but it’s the best rationale I can come up with. I’ve notified AOL, and I hope a system-wide alert will be issued if my contention is valid. Regardless, at least each of you are now aware of this particular scenario in case you’re presented with it.

I want to express my deepest appreciation to those of you who contacted me by e-mail and even by phone when you spotted the problem. I am truly humbled that you cared enough to take the time to do so. E-mails from The Perfect Write® will always be from [email protected], or if it’s my Newsletter via http://[email protected] And my personal e-mail is [email protected] None of these e-mail addresses will ever have a link placed in them, and I will never send anything to anyone with a link in the body of the e-mail that is not clearly identified beforehand.

On a positive note regarding computer glitches, if a system problem can ever be viewed as a good thing, ha ha, those of you who receive plain-text messages and not HTML did not get my Newsletter from 3-8, so I re-sent it to just this group on 3-15. Combined with the 3-8 transmission, this enabled the largest number of “opens” since I began writing my Newsletter almost two years ago. Consequently, I’m going to send the Newsletter the following Tuesdays, again at 1:00 p.m. EST, to those subscribers who had not opened it when it was originally transmitted. It will always be sent with the URL http://[email protected], with the volume number and title following. Anything else would be from a spammer, and let’s hope we’re through with this for a long time. And if any of you are opening the plain-text Newsletter and seeing it again via a follow-up transmission and find it annoying, drop me a quick note and I’ll make certain you receive only a single Newsletter, as I can block the second. The reason I can’t do this initially is because my autoresponder (AWeber) has no mechanism for monitoring plain-text “opens.” Now, on to the meat of today’s Newsletter. I know, finally!

Today’s opening chapter in the Critique Blog is a real treat for two reasons. First, it’s a delightful story concept from Pearl Sweeting, who is a long-time Newsletter subscriber; and, second, Pearl also contributed the topic for the article in this Newsletter, “Can an Author Provide Too Much Description in a Novel?” I’m delighted to be able to showcase an author’s material at the same time I publish an article suggested by the writer, and I’d like to encourage all of you to provide topics for articles when you send me your respective opening chapters for review. I want to show my appreciation for your support any way I can, and I sincerely hope this is one method.

In addition to the agent-sourcing sites Query Tracker and 1000 Literary Agents I added to my Web site at last month, I’ve included another link in this new group, and I’m calling it the Major Publishing Company List. It’s compiled under the name Catblog, and it’s a collaboration between the Mohawk Valley Library System and the Southern Adirondack Library System to disseminate information regarding cataloging and the bibliographic database (those are their words, and I’m just restating them). The only big imprint I couldn’t find was Tor, but maybe folks in the South Adirondacks don’t like science fiction, ha ha. Actually, I’m certain there are a number of imprints that aren’t listed for one reason or another, but I think you’ll find this to be a rather well put-together compendium as to who’s who in the major publishing side of the business.

Those of you who received the Newsletter prior to this one might remember what I wrote about Amanda Hocking and her remark that she feels it’s harder to become a successful self-published author than going the traditional route. She’s putting some teeth into this position, as she recently signed a $2,000,000 four-book deal with St. Martin’s Press. Here is her quote: “I want to be a writer. I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.” But in a later statement, Ms. Hocking wrote that the deal doesn’t mean she will stop self-publishing: “I have a few titles lined up this year [to self-publish] and I’ll have more in the future.” Since she’s had a sure-fire, seven-figure deal looming for a long time, is it realistic to think this might’ve had something to do with her decision to go with a mainstream publisher? Just maybe?

Conversely, thriller-writer Barry Eisler (the RAIN series, among other stories) recently abrogated a $500,000 contract he had purportedly signed with Minotaur so could self publish his latest novel (let’s hope his agent was reimbursed the $75.000 he lost when Mr. Eisler canceled the deal). Unless this author has a great marketing plan in place, along with the team to facilitate it, I don’t get it. He obviously has the means to take the risk, but I still think Amanda Hocking knows how unbelievably fortunate she was and is, and that a bird in the hand is worth a great from the perspective of peace of mind–if nothing else.

As to Ms. Hocking’s remark about spending so much of her time with the peripheral issues, an e-book author’s enormous marketing requirements have been my contention from the nascent stages of the medium (and the marketing issues certainly apply to self-publishing in paper as well). Consequently, even if an author’s self-published e-book or printed book is a hit, because of Internet blogs as the primary means for exposure, no writer can sit back and do nothing. Should other writers have experienced Ms. Hocking’s success, many if not most would likely have hired a staff to answer the mail, etc., as if they (the authors) were personally doing this, along with farming out the other components she mentioned.

It seems that as adamant as one expert is about something, someone just as credible is right around the corner with an opposing view, and with the experience or expertise or wherewithal (and sometimes all three) to back it up. The antipodal examples being demonstrated by Mr. Eisler and Ms. Hocking show how contrary publishing-industry mind sets happen to be, which was the theme of a considerable segment of my last Newsletter. And the reason I wrote that it’s imperative to check out anything you hear or read about this business, which certainly includes anything I provide, before making a decision as to its efficacy. And, most important of all, be clear on whatever it is you’re looking at–to make sure it applies to you.

In my last Newsletter, I also mentioned that I’m putting together material which will detail a comprehensive method of e-book marketing (it will encompass the print side too, as a writer with good e-book sales might decide to offer paper books as well–and I’ll be suggesting presenting both options to the potential book-buyer at the same time). The piece will include cover design, formatting that enables a book to be read regardless of the e-reader, accessing a minimum of a million book lovers who are looking for a story to purchase via the Internet, presenting the book to thousands of book clubs, and creating a conducive atmosphere for library purchasing managers nationwide to view the book’s cover and read the liner notes and publicity blurbs–and whatever else can I come up with.

I will not be financially involved with any of the components I’ll be discussing (although I hope I secure a few editing clients along the way), and the total package is not cheap. However, it’s right in line with what writers would pay most of the print self-publishers–and then end up with a garage full of books and a big dent in their savings accounts with little or no prospects for ever recovering the expense. None of what I’ll be providing will assume the cost of editing, but the information will give a writer who doesn’t have the time, inclination, or marketing savvy, a fighting chance.

I think many of us can relate to the topic for today’s article that Newsletter subscriber Pearl Sweeting suggested, “Can an Author Provide Too Much Description in a Novel?” I’m getting this question more and more of late. Writers become bored with material that for them comes across as overwritten, and they want to know if there are guidelines which can be applied to determine a reader’s tolerance.

Can Writing Be Too Descriptive?

Why We Dislike a Book Isn’t Always Easy to Pinpoint

Whenever I think of material that is rich in detail, Jody Picoult and Tom Clancy come to mind. And those who have read my articles for any period to time are aware of how often I cite both of these writers, since I consider each to be a true artisan at the craft of writing fluent prose.

Yet, I’ve read many rebukes of these authors from readers and critics who find their respective style of writing to be everything from laborious to just plain boring. When readers make these sorts of remarks, I always wonder how invested were they in the work to begin with? I’m going to guess, not very.

I Believe It Comes Down to Timing As Much As Anything

It’s not unheard of to be pleased with a work later in life that wasn’t enjoyable the first time around. I remember hating HAMLET in high school but loving it in college. The same with THE SCARLET LETTER. I despised it in junior high but liked it immensely when I read it as an adult.

When we read a story can have as much bearing on our feelings for the material as any other factor. Some readers will have a much greater appreciation for a quite detailed story when they also have the time to take in the width and breadth of what was written. Perhaps this sounds absurd because it’s such a basic premise, but I think it has merit.

The Attention Span of the Reader Is Important to Match to the Narrative

I can’t imagine anyone in a hurry wanting to read a Tom Clancy novel, any more than the same individual would be interested in breezing through CRIME AND PUNISHMENT or WINDS OF WAR. Those books take time to get through, and a reader should know this going in. The same with works by Jody Picoult or Tom Clancy. If someone wants a quick read, in my opinion these aren’t the authors to select. And once into the opening chapter of a book, with rare exception, it doesn’t take a large amount of reading to know what to expect the rest of the way.

But What If There Is Just too Much of a Good Thing?

How far into the capillaries should Ms. Picoult or Mr. Clancy be allowed to take us? No doubt, there is a point when enough is enough. But when we’re sufficiently wrapped up in a storyline, do we really care? Or, better yet, do we even think about it? It again gets down to how engaging we’ve found the story to be. If we are enamored with the material, we can’t get enough of it; if not, anything beyond the basics is aggravating.

One Person’s Manna Could Be Another’s Poison

Many readers might live and breathe Jody Picoult’s depth, yet others might hate every line of it. I’ve been to book signings at which one person in the audience asks if the author would consider writing more fabric into his characters’ backgrounds. But a half-hour earlier, someone else had buttonholed me in the parking lot to lament how irritating she’d found the same author’s writing–because he provided way too much detail about his characters (yes, I too wondered why she came to the signing).

What Does All of This Prove?

Probably not much. However, I’ve learned a quick way to fix the problem when a story becomes bogged down with minutia. By ignoring the exposition, including the interior monologue, and reading just the dialogue, I can sidestep the superfluous text while still keeping the plot in focus. In very few instances have I had to go back to the exposition to check for “missing” information. So when you’ve had enough of Brenda’s pining for Flynn or Agent W’s bomb-disabling technique approaching the one-hour mark, try moving on to just the dialogue. You might be surprised at how well this works.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 52
When Is It Too Early to Query an Agent?
(April 26, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

Long-time Newsletter subscribers have been reading this a lot of late, as I’m once again happy to report that a record number of new people have signed up for The Perfect Write® Newsletter during the two-week period between editions. I also want to mention that I received the most “opens” ever as the result of my resending the April 5 Newsletter on the following Tuesday, April 12, to those who hadn’t opened it when it was originally transmitted. I’m additionally pleased to mention that I didn’t receive a single complaint regarding the rebroadcast, so a second mailing to subscribers who don’t open a Newsletter initially will now be a standard procedure.

I want to welcome each of the new subscribers and ask that you keep me on my toes. If you see something you feel I wrote in error or some aspect of the Newsletter that you’d like to see improved or changed, don’t hesitate to contact me. I have broad shoulders and I’m always enthusiastic about doing whatever I can to improve the content or delivery of what I’m offering.

As a supplement to each edition of The Perfect Write® Newsletter, on my Critique Blog I post a fresh opening chapter for which I’ve provided an analysis and a cursory line-edit of up to the first three pages. Anyone who has not already done so can submit an opening chapter of up to 5000 words and receive a free critique. Material should be double spaced, with 1-inch margins all around, and either in Courier or New Times Roman 12-point font.

I can manipulate the text, but I really appreciate it when folks send material to me in the same format they would provide for an agent or publisher. Should there be a question about layout, here’s an article I wrote on this subject, “Eight Hints for Formatting a Manuscript for Agents and Publishers,” which has been republished many times in magazines and on blogs dedicated to writers. Every draft doesn’t have to be presented in the way I describe, but I think a writer can feel confident that my template would be acceptable to any agent or publisher.

Today’s opening chapter in the Critique Blog is an excellent piece to study, and I hope all of you will take the time to read the material while paying particular attention to my analysis. The major issue is the subject matter and the timeliness (or lack thereof) of the plot. I learned about this firsthand as the result of a novel I had written five or six years ago that had terrorists as the major component of the storyline. With 9/11 still being fresh on so many people’s minds, agents simply didn’t want to handle it.

This work in the Critique Blog has another issue, because terror at sea, which is also the book’s title, is widely bandied about. Unless there is a truly unique wrinkle, an evil group led by a diabolical villain set on destroying the West, and pursued by good servicemen and women with a dedicated leader, is just not captivating enough–regardless of how well the story might be developed.

I’m constantly attempting to lend as much balance as possible to our confusing industry, especially since writers spend so much time and effort working around its vagaries (literally, ha ha). One of the most difficult issues to reconcile is not enough or too much detail, the topic of the article that accompanied my last Newsletter. And should any new subscribers not be aware, at the end of each installment I post an article I created exclusively for the Newsletter that pertains to crafting prose which would be appealing to a major royalty publisher or quality indie.

I bring up the topic of detail once again because of feedback I received recently concerning one of my own novels, ANIMAL. An agent, Zoe Pagnamenta, for whom I have considerable respect, wrote among other things: “I admire your selection of detail.” Another agent, Jason Ashlock, who has been hot as a firecracker lately, offered: “While the premise was exciting and the mystery intriguing…the amount of detail involved bogged down the narrative.” Of considerable significance, I’d hired an editor a year earlier–from a platform perspective–who sent me page after page of text haranguing me to add more detail to the police procedural side of ANIMAL, something I had originally decided to offer in very small portions.

Often agents don’t tell a writer the real reason they don’t want to represent a work. So when one agent likes the detail enough to compliment its use, while another rejects the same draft on the grounds of it being too detailed, it makes the challenges a writer faces more than a little difficult to reconcile at times. My suggestion to my clients, when conflicting feedback occurs, is to accept the positive remark and find more agents who are in that person’s camp. One of these “new” agents will have a publishing relationship that will be a fit, but the time it requires to ferret out that special someone can be as exhaustive as it is frustrating.

By the way, honesty compels me to relate that I contacted several people who’d read ANIMAL, including my line editor and two career ex-law enforcement officers who had vetted the information that related to police procedures, to ask if they remembered any overwriting that slowed the pacing. No one could point out anything beyond some very minor issues, which I remember attending to after I originally read their reports.

And if anyone might wonder how a story can be rejected after being told that the premise was exciting and the mystery intriguing, I bring up the following: Peter Wolverton, Associate Publisher at Thomas Dunne Books, wrote my agent regarding another of my novels in 2003, “It’s definitely exciting, but I just can’t help being concerned about the market for it–I’m not sure the market is ready for this kind of backdrop–yet.” A week earlier, Robert Gleason, the executive editor at Tor, had written: “I liked the characters and the tension, but overall I found the subplots and chronology confusing.”

If no one has figured it out yet, this is a tough business to crack with the major imprints.

Since my first Newsletter almost two years ago, all of you have read my consistent denunciation of print self-publishing. And everyone is aware that my position is based on the plethora of writers I know who have ended up with a garage full of books and no way of getting rid of them unless they pay someone to haul them away. Every couple of months I receive a request from someone to edit or ghost their story with payment to come “after the story sells.” Usually I’m offered from a fourth to half of the profits. I would love to help writers, as some of these folks have genuinely good stories to tell, but I must make a living and the last thing I possess is a crystal ball. Believe me, if I had one I’d be looking into it daily for my own novels.

I bring up the subject because a very fine man just approached me about a “write on the come” scenario, and I feel it’s worth relating because it follows what I’ve discussed in recent Newsletters about my assembling a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach for marketing self-published manuscripts, with a focus on e-books. And as I’ve mentioned, I’m convinced a strong e-book can create and sustain print sales if a hard copy of the book is also available at the same time.

But back to the man who got in touch with me. This fellow has a wealth of experience in the entertainment industry, and in the ’50s was on a first-name basis with as many big-name entertainers as anyone I’ve ever heard of’. In line with a policy I believe everyone should follow, I don’t reveal the names of people who are either clients of mine or contact me regarding their work, but I have checked out this person’s credentials, and I am certain he is the real deal.

An editor, in consort with two others, had written a book at this fellow’s direction that added new information to what was known about many of the biggest names in show business. But instead of pursuing an agent, this man was convinced by this trio to let them self-publish the book, as it would be oh so much more profitable. I forget which, but either he or they are not garaging the 3,000 books I use as my traditional metric, but 4,500! I’m going to guess they bought a run of 5,000 and sold or gave away 500. So to the point I’ve made over and over, unless there’s a marketing plan in place–and I mean a real marketing program with a strong, direct-to-the-buying-public component–what chance will a book have?

Let me put this in the best perspective I can. Let’s say you or I have a book in Barnes & Noble. It would be fair to assume an average B&N megastore contains 250,000 books. Here is our lone copy of our masterpiece in the correct section in the store; however, no one has heard of either of us. Let’s also say our book is a hard copy priced at $27.95. Would you pay $27.95 for a book by an author you never heard of and whose book you know nothing about? Yet, every day, writers expect this to happen. If your book is a softcover, at say $15.95, it’s the same story with just a different verse. Would you pay $15.95? First, all we see is the spine, although sometime back B&N-Borders, etc., decided to display some selected titles via their front covers and not their spines. You think the person stocking books in the store will be authorized to do that for your book or my book instead of the latest release by Elmore Leonard or John Grisham or Rebecca York or Joan Johnston?

On a topic that pertains to today’s article, since I make a living critiquing and editing manuscripts (and writing queries), I’m commonly faced with defending editing as a vocation. The argument that professional editing is unnecessary is bolstered when some uninitiated soul spots something such as this item I pulled from the April 9 Publishers Lunch:

Philip Margolin’s CAPITOL MURDER, which concludes his Washington, D.C., trilogy, and a second thriller, THE PRAETORIAN CONSPIRACY, again to Jonathan Burnham at Harper, with Claire Wachtel to edit, in a seven-figure deal, by Jean Naggar at Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency (NA).

In this blurb we have an editor with Harper, Claire Wachtel, who is assigned by the publisher to edit a book for which an agent signed a seven-figure deal (I couldn’t tell if that was for one book or both, but I think we’ll all agree it’s academic). This sort of report begs many questions: Why would an author of Philip Margolin’s caliber need an editor? And just what sort of editing will Ms. Wachtel provide? Finally, doesn’t this support the contention that a writer doesn’t need to hire an independent editor? I can’t answer why Mr. Margolin needs an editor’s assistance any more than I would know what it is that Ms. Wachtel provides, but the thrust of today’s article perhaps can lend some light on the final question.

When Is It Too Early to Query an Agent?

As an independent book editor who freely solicits outside material to edit, I receive a great many manuscripts with this caveat: I have sent my manuscript to many agents but received rejections that indicated my work needs editing by a professional. If I have you edit my manuscript, should I send it back to agents who have previously rejected it?

Agents Don’t Want to See Material a Second Time

At least this has been my experience for more than 20 years, during which time I’ve queried a half-dozen of my own novels. There are exceptions, but an editor for whom I carry great respect told me early-on that he had never heard of an agent representing a book from a heretofore unpublished author he or she had rejected earlier. And while I’ve had a well-regarded submissions editor refute this, until a writer tells me his or her personal book was accepted by the same agent after it was rejected, I’m sticking with my original statement and what the first editor told me. If someone was already published and has a following, this is a horse of a different color, but for industry unknowns, again, once a draft is rejected I suggest moving on to more fertile ground.

A Writer Can’t Be Faulted for Not Knowing the Nuances of the Business

There is no handbook on how to deal with agents or to what level an author’s representative will go to support a draft. Most novice writers think that if their work is good enough, an agent will accept the manuscript and polish it for them. Nothing could be further from the truth. But, again, it relates to where the writer is on the usefulness curve. If a writer is an established property, whatever an agent might not do a publisher will. Many publishers send drafts written by their franchise writers to editors for extensive revision. These editors are not often listed in the acknowledgments, but in some instances they do more writing on the work than the author. It’s just the way the business works.

Publishers Do Indeed Edit

To reinforce what I just wrote, when a problem is discovered, quite often the publisher will revise the text and sometimes this can entail major effort. But this is likely not going to involve a new author’s material unless that work is thought to have blockbuster potential. And even though every publisher wants “the next big book,” none are naive to the reality of the probable sales numbers for the material they have agreed to publish.

There Is a Moral to This Story

And it pertains to timing. Few writers I have come in contact with, and I’m included in this lot, have not opted for Plan A and have sent out material that wasn’t ready. This is why I’m particularly sympathetic to writers who typify this modus operandi. We all think we wrote something really good, and that if it needs a little touch up this will be provided at the agent level.

Unfortunately, an average agent’s workload consists of upwards of 50 queries each day, along with several manuscripts each week. Add to this the existing clients they represent (and specifically their needs) and how much time does an agent have left to edit material? Sure, the larger agencies have personnel to assist with the day-to-day chores and even to edit, but most employ or use interns as readers and do not have the capacity to hire editors.

However, there are agencies that do claim to provide extensive editing services for their clients at no charge, including line editing. And while this might well occur, I have no personal knowledge or experience with any agencies that offer these services to heretofore unpublished writers. All I know about are the crooked outfits that have scammed unsuspecting authors, and I’ve done my best over the years to alert writers to avoid them.

Same Old Same Old

My harangue is identical to what it has been for years. For all practical purposes, a draft gets one chance with an agent or publisher–and that is all. So I don’t think it’s out-of-line to suggest having a professional critique material before sending out queries for it. Because, in addition to the moon and the planets needing to be aligned in a precise syzygy, the one indisputable fact, if there is one in the publishing industry, is that a manuscript should be in the best possible shape the author can get it into, period, before submitting it for consideration by an agent or publisher.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 53
The Correct Use of the Comma
(May 10, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

As always, I want extend a hearty welcome to the newest subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. My Newsletters focus on writing prose at a level that would be appealing to a major royalty publisher or quality Indie. And I provide an article at the end of each Newsletter that I write specifically for that edition. I’m always interested in suggestions for topics, and if you find something you disagree with, or in which you feel I can or should improve, please feel free to contact me. I promise to give anything you address my immediate attention.

Also, as a supplement to each Newsletter, I post an opening chapter that a Newsletter subscriber or someone from outside sends me, along with my critique of the material. Generally I include a cursory line-edit of the first few pages. Today is special, because in my Critique Blog I’ve posted a wonderful chapter from Maureen C., which is beautifully written, but in a Telling mode. I suggested her story would be much richer, and certainly more appealing to an agent and therefore a publisher, if she would Show her story. To help her with this, I rewrote her opening paragraph to Show the action. I’m not in any way implying what I wrote is anything special, but should any subscribers of this Newsletter want to see a scene written both ways, you might find today’s Critique Blog with Maureen’s story, LOVE THY NEIGHBOR, to be particularly interesting.

During the past couple of months I’ve offered a number of ideas and opinions related to e-publishing, and I will continue to do so, since most people feel there is no question about the viability of the digital medium. However, there are abundant issues, some of which involve the best method(s) to reach the market, making the book “open” on all readers without corrupted text, price points, and of course the quality of the product. And so that authors have a reasonable chance for success, I’m putting together a comprehensive marketing plan for anyone who decides that e-publishing is the path to follow. I mentioned previously that I plan to have the entire package ready sometime in July. I won’t be involved in any of the marketing programs from a financial perspective, and my reason for spending the time on this is the hope of gaining some new editing clients (please, please, ha ha).

I want to touch on a few aspects of what I think will work effectively from the outset. First, I feel strongly that an author can market an e-book and printed volume at the same time. And just this past week I noticed a self-help book promoted in this manner. The author, however, was offering to sign e-books via a box that would contain his “custom” signature. I think this is really a stretch, and I can’t imagine anyone ever taking this sort of thing seriously. What I think will work is for an e-published author to have hard copies available for book signings. This, for me, is the real deal, and with POD technology–enabling inexpensive, short-runs–becoming more available across the country, soon any writer can create first-quality printed copies quickly and cheaply. With this in mind, I’d much rather have writers spend money on legitimate direct marketing instead of a garage full of books, which has been and will always be my argument against using a print self-publisher, along with those outfits that badger their contracted authors into buying their OWN books..

I think it’s also important to spend some time on what the mainstream publishers feel about e-publishing. If you’re getting Publishers Lunch (and I continue to suggest that everyone subscribe at least to the free version that is available via this link), you recently noticed how much attention the major publishing houses are paying to their upstart digital divisions. Bigger names are heading up these entities, and major executives are referring to e-publishing as an evolution or revolution. This from an industry that moves at a snail’s pace (some say slower) with almost everything.

Here’s a point I think the publishing houses had to consider–and writers should for the same reason but for different purposes: For fiction, what used to require 9 months from signing to print is now taking as long as 14 months. How much time does it require to put out an e-book once it’s ready? This doesn’t mean it can be done in the click of a mouse, but if the book is edited, formatted, and suitable for presentation to the various book-buying entities, including making it available direct to the public, it really is a case of clicking a single button. Whether anyone will buy the book is a horse of a different color, but getting it to the starting line no longer requires running a double marathon without shoes in the desert just to get to that point.

On another aspect of e-publishing, after content there is nothing more critical than pricing. Subscribers have read my comments for some time about what I consider to be ridiculous price points that some never-before-published writers have chosen for their self-published e-books. My favorite is the scenario I cited a while back about the fellow who is selling his e-book for $16 and wondering why he has had only four sales in more than a year. I mentioned that a number of very successful e-book marketeers give away their first story (or most of it), then offer their follow-up book (or conclusion to the first story) at $.99. And it was recently announced that David Baldacci is selling an e-published short story of his, NO TIME LEFT, for $.99.

This should speak volumes about price points to authors who are planning to e-publish, whether they do or don’t already possess a following. However, I found it remarkable that the head of a major distribution medium intimated Mr. Baldacci’s lower price point might work only for an established author such as he. But he did concede that he wasn’t certain what would work and felt each marketing scenario would have to considered on a book-by-book basis. With respect to his original comment, maybe he should ask Amanda Hocking about the $.99 price point–when she didn’t have a following. My position is what it has been from day one when it comes to a previously unpublished author who is not well known: With limited to no publicity to support their work, can unknown writers published for the first time reasonably expect people to pay $27.95 for a hardcover or 16.95 for a softcover or e-book?

Much more on this to come, as marketing is the key, but I want to continue to whet everyone’s appetite with tidbits of information along the way. What I don’t want to let linger is a very good way I’ve found for writers to approach agents for their work when material is in the “querying stage.” And this once again involves Publishers Lunch, however, in this instance it requires spending $20 a month for Mr. Cader’s (he’s the publisher) subscription plan that also includes daily deals. His deals are in a separate daily mailing and include a wealth of information, which among other things provides the genre, title, the agent who placed the book, and to which publisher.

My experience is that agents like it when an author knows something about what they are placing. And I’ve found that agents are particularly enthusiastic about material if it matches up with something they just signed. Wouldn’t you have the same attitude under similar circumstances? And why do you think I can call an agent who doesn’t know me, and doesn’t accept unsolicited material, yet that literary representative agrees to look at my client’s material? If you found a diamond (or a certain book) in a specific spot, wouldn’t you go back to the location?

True, a writer can’t navigate the waters as easily as an editor, but here’s something all writers can do: Each day, peruse the deals in the separate mailing by Publishers Lunch. Check for your genre, as all subsets in the Lunch are clearly highlighted (in blue). Read the pitch for the book, as this is really all the agent gets from the editor, which is something I’ll cover in detail in a future Newsletter. If a book’s one-sentence or so outline (commonly referred to as an “elevator pitch”) matches your story, write down the title of the book and the agent’s name. Go to Agent Query, which is free, and this will take you to the agent’s listing. If he or she accepts queries, I strongly suggest opening your letter with something like: I noticed in Publishers Marketplace that you recently placed (title of book) with (name of publisher) and I wondered if my (word count and genre), (name of your novel), might also fit you your eye. My story….

You likely will have to do a little rearranging of your query, but it doesn’t usually require much to make everything come together smoothly. The last three full manuscripts and one partial I was able to get into the hands of agents for my clients were the direct result of doing exactly what I’m suggesting. You can also go back two years (however, I suggest no more than twelve months) in the Publishers Marketplace deals archive and get a terrific snapshot of who is placing what in your genre. And because you can read the elevator pitch when you review the works that have been placed, you can be on the lookout for any themes or plots or even characters that match your material. It’s the best $20 you can spend. And, no, I don’t get a commission from Mr. Cader, although I wish I did, as I would gladly accept it, ha ha.

To finish up on this, if you catch an agent soon after a title has been placed, you know the odds are that the person is going to be in a good if not great mood. Since I worked on a commission for over 30 years before I started editing for a living, I can assure anyone that a sales person is at his or her most amenable–and accessible–right after a deal has been made. Often we’ve worked months or even a year or more to close a deal. And, as with my analogy about finding a diamond in a specific spot, why wouldn’t any sales person not want to try to replicate what had just occurred?

What I’m suggesting takes some work, and a lot of toggling back and forth between the deals section of Publishers Lunch and Agent Query. Also, it can be frustrating when the perfect agent doesn’t accept unsolicited queries or is in a foreign country and a nightmare to contact, but I think you’ll find that more than half of the listed agents will be available to you, and that the technique I’m suggesting will be well worth your time. Good luck, and now for today’s article.

The Correct Use of the Comma

The comma is probably the most highly debated form of punctuation, simply because its use is often a function of inflection, and for this reason can be viewed the same as opinion. One person likes where it’s placed; another doesn’t. But there are clear-cut issues for which many writers take a lot of leeway, and this article will address some of the more obvious miscues involving comma usage.

A Comma Precedes a Conjunction, It Doesn’t Follow It

Here’s a typical example of sentence construction I’ve seen recently: John went to the bistro and had several drinks but, since Mary didn’t show up, he left. Now here’s essentially the same sentence, except with “and” instead of “but.” John went to the bistro and had several drinks while waiting for Mary and, since she never showed up, he left. Clearly in both instances the comma should precede the conjunctions.

There really isn’t wiggle room in these illustrations, but for whatever reason I find some writers trying to set off “since Mary never showed up” as a separate clause when it isn’t. Perhaps a way to look at this clearly is if the word “however” is substituted for the conjunctions in both sentences. If the word was now “however,” would anyone not place a comma (or some would suggest a semi-colon) in front of it?

To Comma or Not to Comma Is Often the Question

A comma has to come before “too” or “also” if either of these words is placed at the end of a sentence. Ms. Milsey in fourth grade told me this, so did my high-school English teacher, and every English course I took in college reinforced these earlier positions. Some people can become downright nasty in their justification. The fact is, however, that current grammar experts tend to eschew the comma in this syntax.

Commas to Set Off Proper Names

Commas are necessary to set off proper names, but it’s important to understand the context in which a proper name is placed. “Go see Mark,” is not the same as “Go see, Mark.” And, while this illustration is a no-brainer, here’s one that’s not: “I want to talk to you, Mark.” Even though proper grammar requires it, for the sake of fluency in many instances the comma is eliminated. Just as “Oh well” might be author’s preference instead of “Oh, well.”

No and Yes Require a Comma

“Yes, I want to go,” and “I’m certain that, no, it is not a good idea,” are examples of “yes” and “no” in sentences in which a comma is necessary to set off each word. Yet I commonly read these words without a comma (or commas as the case may be). However, a sentence such as “I won’t take no for an answer,” doesn’t require commas around “no.”

A Short Compound Sentence Doesn’t Need a Comma

“I have to go and I need to go now,” is fine, even though it’s also correct to write “I have to go, and I need to go now.” The second example is especially prevalent if the writer wants to emphasize the phrase “I need to go now.”

Commas in a Series Are Always Up for Debate

One of the ongoing contentions is the use or non-use of running commas. Here are two examples, and you can judge which you prefer. “The old man left the boy, the dog and the cat.” or: “The old man left the boy, the dog, and the cat.” Tomato/Tamato, but in my earlier sentence does it now read as comfortably without the comma? “Ms. Milsey in fourth grade told me this, so did my high-school English teacher and every English course I took in college reinforced these earlier positions.”

Only the reader can decide which sentence is easier to read. I suggest always setting off the last element with a comma when there are a series of long clauses. Then to assure consistency throughout the narrative I advise setting off the short clauses too. So this states my position. For me, running commas solve a lot of issues; however, this topic is hotly contested and has been forever.

The Best Way I Know to Determine if a Comma Is Necessary

The old standby: Read the sentence out loud. Note where you have to pause. If a comma is not already placed at the point of the break, see if inserting one makes the sentence read more fluently. Likewise, if a sentence’s flow is broken up unnaturally by a comma, it might be beneficial to eliminate the punctuation.

And while there can be serious conjecture about many aspects of comma usage, as several subsections of this article pointed out, there are a number of instances in which a comma cannot be eliminated or placed and enable the syntax to maintain its integrity. It’s important not to lose sight of the grammatical scenarios that for all practical purposes are inviolable.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 54
Writing in an Unconventional Format – A Good or Bad Idea
(May 24, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

I’m delighted to report that during the past two weeks I experienced another substantial upsurge of new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter, and I want to welcome each of you to this forum. I concentrate on writing material that pertains to the current state of the publishing industry in its various mediums, and in writing prose at a level that would appeal to the major royalty publishers and quality independents. Please let me know if you see something you feel could or should be improved, and also if you have a topic you’d like me to discuss in an upcoming edition of this Newsletter.

In my Newsletters I seldom mention my Articles Page ( or my Web site at ( because I don’t want these publications to appear too self-serving, even though I obviously write the material in each edition to establish credibility and promote my editorial service. But if you’ll go to the this Articles Page link (, there are currently more than 60 topics that deal with writing at a publishable level.

To complement each Newsletter, I post an opening chapter of someone’s manuscript along with my analysis of the material on my Critique Blog. And I often provide up to three pages of what I call a cursory line-edit. I’ve been asked why I refer to my line editing as such, and the answer is that I have never claimed to be professional line editor, as this is a different skill set that requires years of experience and in my opinion can only be honed at the publisher level. I have an associate who has just those credentials, since she worked as senior copyeditor at THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY and as head of the proofreading department at THE NEW BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE, and has edited for major magazines such as GQ and The Ladies’ Home Journal. When I edit a manuscript I catch 90 percent of the standard miscues, but there are aspects of line/copy editing that require a different set of eyes.

Should anyone wonder how intricate true line/copy editing can be, should we write that a room is 10′ x 10′ or that someone weighs 210 lbs? If an author thinks it’s as I just wrote it, a line editor is necessary. What about “a while” and “awhile?” “While” is a noun, and “awhile” is an adverb and certainly not interchangeable. We’re taught early on that the whole is “comprised” of its parts and not vice versa, yet we read that something is comprised of several components of something else all the time. Perhaps no words are more misused than “ensure,” “assure” and “insure.” I read a sign at the drive-thru window of a fast-food chain suggesting that I should check my bag to ensure its contents. First, I’m going to “ensure” the contents of the bag and not the restaurant? Ignoring the restaurant’s faux pax, “ensure” primarily means to guarantee something, so why shouldn’t it be “assure” to begin with, since assure means to guarantee? I study writing and syntax with a passion, and have for more than 20 years, yet learn something new literally (no pun intended, and I’m serious) every day.

Today’s opening chapter on my Critique Blog is special because of the accomplished nature of the writing, and I even moved some material around to highlight the material. BARRY FLYNN ( is written by Sterling B., and the chapter is so well designed that I didn’t suggest one iota of line editing, as it would be strictly tomato/tomoto gibberish. As I told the author., the only thing I could offer is a “read” to give him an opinion of how well I think the entirety of the story holds up and if the character arcs and scene transitioning are solid. For example, I felt more could be done at the end of the first chapter when the protagonist spots some people on the beach. You’ll understand what I’m referring to if you’ll read this opening material. I want to encourage all Newsletter subscribers to do this, as this work is truly exceptional.

While I’m on the Critique Blog, I want to thank the many of you who contacted me to tell me how much you enjoyed my changing a Telling scene into one that Showed the action in the previous Critique Blog. Here was a case of another quality piece, but something that I thought would be much richer if written in a Showing syntax. Again, your comments really mean a lot to me, and I thank you for being so kind in acknowledging my feeble efforts. Should anyone have missed the fine opening material from Maureen C’s LOVE THY NEIGHBOR (http:// you can click the link to see the way I wrote the narrative in a Showing mode.

To switch gears, I wrote an article for a recent Newsletter that dealt with POD publishing titled “Print on Demand (POD) and the Self-Publishing Industry” ( that explained the difference between the two environments. The primary thrust of the article involved the speed and low expense POD technology provides for writers. It also enables the mainstream publishers in the same manner. Witness what just occurred at Random House, as four days after Bin Laden’s death the company published an expansive book, BEYOND BIN LADEN, that details what is known about the successful assault on the compound and what is going on with the CIA, Pakistan, etc.

In no way am I pitching the book, only how rapidly this nonfiction work was brought to market–since a work of fiction can take anywhere from nine to fourteen months, on average, from the time a deal is signed until its release. An interesting aspect of the Bin Laden book is that the data was purportedly assembled via e-mails and then committed to paper (or keyboard, I should state, ha ha). Then it was transferred to hard copy, I would guess via a POD medium. All of this relates to my comment in recent Newsletters that there is soon going to be very little difference in the sales release dates between hard copies and e-books of the same title. My position is that both should be made available at the same time. And that one will support and not cannibalize the other. By the way, while BEYOND BIN LADEN is available in a hard copy, it’s priced as an e-book at $1.99.

Anyone questioning the rising star of e-publishing need look no further than Lulu, which proclaims itself as the industry leader in “open” publishing, another sobriquet for print self-publishing (a great many folks would dispute their claim as to their largesse, but that’s a topic for someone other than me. The inarguable fact is that they are a big name in print self-publishing–and a throng of wishful souls possess a garage full of their own books to prove it). Lulu management just announced that the company is now getting into e-publishing, with distribution to Amazon and Apple’s ibookstore. The latter is a noble gesture indeed, but please keep in mind what I wrote in a recent Newsletter regarding the difference between placement and distribution. This placement has nothing whatsoever to do with the marketing of the book to the end-user. Ask about the way placement is working out for all the writers who currently have their books with Amazon, Ingram, Baker & Taylor, etc., but with no dedicated marketing or publicity campaign to support their material.

One other issue that wasn’t covered in the Lulu press release is who owns the ISBN if an author uses the firm’s “open-platform” medium. For those of you who might not have seen my article on this subject, “The ISBN System Explained” (, you might want to kick back and read the information. I spent a lot of time assembling and vetting the material, and many of you wrote me that you found what I put together to be a real eye-opener, especially the issue, which is who own actually owns the ISBN–and hence the rights to the book–if the number is purchased outside of R. R. Bowker.

Here are a couple of tidbits of information that relate to a book’s being published in an e-book environment without a publicity arm in place: The Smashwords CEO (for those of you who might not be aware of Smashwords, it’s one of the largest platforms for e-book publication and listing) said that fewer than fifty out of its tens of thousands of authors have made $50,000 or more on their respective works. He went on to say that some books, even at a low price, don’t sell a single book. And an executive at Amazon said that even at a low price some books on Kindle are not selling at all.

The relevance of this is–whether a person self-publishes via an e-format, which I’ve long suggested because of its low cost if someone decides self-publishing is the only way to go, or decides on the print route–it’s impossible to expect even modest success without a structured marketing plan in place. One other issue: Of the 50 writers who have made $50,000 plus, it’s important to understand that a large segment of these wrote nonfiction self-help books. So when fiction is extrapolated, this further dilutes the numbers. And I’ve found that most self-help gurus have a broad following supported by expansive blogs and other social media.

Let me offer something many writers might not consider when they’re starting out in today’s publishing climate. Self e-publishing a novel without marketing behind it is no different from a major imprint not supporting a new release by a previously unpublished author without a following. If the major publisher doesn’t get behind the book, and the writer is not a skilled marketer–or maybe is simply not good in front of a crowd, a microphone, or a camera–where is that book likely headed? It’s important to recognize that the average sales number for a new author’s novel released by a Big 6 publisher is somewhere between 1200 and 2000 copies!

POD technology should make that sales metric easier on the major print publishers, since there’s no longer the need to automatically make up 5000 copies to meet economy of scale requirements. This, by itself, is a reason I’d think the major houses would be more rather than less receptive to accepting risk with new talent. But, as I write over and over, the mainstream publishing industry moves at a glacial pace, and many in the know feel this analogy is much too generous.

According to Publishers Marketplace (, here’s what some of the major publishers and a couple of their subsidiaries reported for e-book sales during a recent undefined period. Please understand that these numbers are up for debate, as there is a big question as to how accurately this data is being gathered and reported. But at least this provides a baseline for consideration.

Hachette Book Group USA

22 percent

HarperCollins US

19 percent

Simon & Schuster (worldwide)

17 percent $26 million


13.6 percent $15.7 million (CA)

HarperCollins (worldwide)

11 percent

Random House UK

8 percent

Hachette UK

5 percent

Simon & Schuster UK

3 percent (approximately)

As an adjunct to this report (or so it seems, ha ha), three of the Big 6 publishers are joining a new book consortium,, which bills itself as a one-stop shop for books. I must be missing something, because isn’t that what a bookstore does? Anyhow, I think these publishers are embracing this format (sic, site) because of e-book impetus in the marketplace. But, if an author is heretofore unpublished or a relative unknown, it will still come down to marketing and getting a title in front of the person who buys a specific genre.

Should an author fall into either category I just mentioned, I think it’s always a good idea to consider the total number of titles in an archive before jumping up and down about how good something like this might appear. If a title is not one of a blessed few, it’s still going to sit and languish among tens of thousands. No exposure means little or no sales, and I’m afraid there’s no way around this grim reality.

One final note before today’s article, and this pertains to the way I’m now posting links in my Newsletter. Everyone who receives the Newsletter in HTML will continue to notice the link in blue, while those of you who use plain-text only will now have the option of copying and pasting the URL (in parentheses) to the address bar and retrieving the material. If anyone might not know what HTML refers to but sees the links highlighted in blue, this means you are in an HTML format and you can continue to simply left-click the blue link. Previously, plain text subscribers had to jump through hoops to access the links, and now it’s a simple process for everyone.

Today’s article discusses laying out text in non-traditional ways, and I hope each of you enjoys the information it contains.

Unconventional Writing Techniques – A Good or Bad Idea?

Writers are always trying to distinguish themselves to get noticed. And this is especially true for anyone who is vying to gain the attention of an agent or publisher. For this reason they often see unpublished drafts with all sorts of writing anomalies. The question is, does this help or hinder a writer’s chances?

Let’s Look at the Past

Anyone who read THE SOUND AND THE FURY for the first time had the displeasure of reading contractions both with and without apostrophes. This made a complicated story even more difficult to deal with. Considerable debate continues to rage over whether this was the result of shoddy work on the part of the publisher or Faulkner’s choice of style. Whatever the reason, this slowed down many readers until they got used to the technique.

Various writers have used the same style, and other than the word “can’t,” which can be a problem if the author then refers to someone speaking in cant, or “wont” if the writer wants this to mean “accustomed,” there aren’t too many issues with a “dont,” etc. Although I can see situations in which “Ill” could be a problem if the speaker wasn’t addressing a medical condition. With all the scenarios facing a writer trying to attract a publisher, is nuanced writing (if it can be called that) going to help?

Some Successful Writers Have Used the Em Dash Instead of Quotation Marks

Most notable of late was North Carolina professor Charles Frazier’s critically acclaimed COLD MOUNTAIN, which was also well-received by the general public. It required a few pages to get used to the style, but I think it’s fair to state that most people found the format not to be a problem. From our school days, we remember James Joyce also using the em dash, so it’s not that radical. But it takes a very skilled writer to use this technique, since this style doesn’t separate the interior monologue from the dialogue.

Instances are also available of authors who have written dialogue with em dashes and no interior monologue, requiring the syntax to convey the entire meaning of what was spoken. I can’t think of anything that would require greater skill, and I don’t suggest trying this except as an exercise to improve one’s ability at writing dialogue.

Another Technique Involves Apostrophes Rather Than Quotation Marks

I have many Graham Greene novels in my library, but have never liked his use of an apostrophe in place of a quotation mark. I don’t understand how this helps in any way from an artistic standpoint. However, Joseph Conrad, Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, Kingsley Amis, Ford Madox Ford and many others have used this same format for their novels. Again, I don’t know why, as it just complicates setting off dialogue that is universally delineated via standard quotation marks.

Then There Is the Italics

I don’t know of anyone else who has written an entire novel in italics, but honesty compels me to admit that I once did just that. It was placed inside a substantial bridge of material, and I thought it would work. The book was never published, and I have to think my idea didn’t help its prospects. The reality is that even a few pages of italics grate on the reader. This is often the complaint with stream-of-consciousness writing, and one of the major contentions many people have with THE SOUND AND THE FURY, since so much of the narrative is in italics. (Virginia Woolf solved the italics/stream-of-consciousness issue in TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by writing all of the novel in traditional script.)

So, Good or Bad Idea?

If someone stylistically has a COLD MOUNTAIN on his or her hip, by all means toss the dice. If a publisher likes the story, he or she might think an unconventional format may even help the work’s prospects with the public. But I honestly don’t see the advantage of trying something dramatically different. After you have six books and a bestseller or two under your belt, write in invisible ink if you so desire, but I think it’s best at the nascent stage to get the odds in one’s favor in every way possible. And this means presenting a manuscript that follows a structural and stylistic model that adheres to the accepted norm. For those of you who might not have been subscribed to this Newsletter at the time I wrote an article on this subject, click or paste “Eight Hints to Properly Format a Manuscript for an Agent or Publisher” (

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 55
Words That Cannot Be Modified
(June 7, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome the recent subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. I hope each of you will enjoy this medium and desire to contribute to its success by offering ideas for material on writing at a level that would appeal to a bona fide royalty publisher.

As an addendum to each Newsletter, on my Critique Blog I post an opening chapter and my analysis. My Critique Blog can be accessed via or through the links I provide. In the past Newsletter I highlighted an accomplished piece, BARRY FLYNN (, by Sterling B., and this work received so many nice comments that I’m going to offer “finished” chapters from some of my clients on the next few Critique Blogs.

Today’s material is the opening chapter from THE OTHER SIDE OF HAPPY (, by Caryn D. It’s a powerful setup to a Mature YA story I think has potential for publication by a major imprint. I’d like Newsletter subscribers to pay particular attention to Caryn’s visceral characterizations and the way she creates tension, which I can assure everyone carries throughout the story, and in large measure is why I think it will attract a mainstream publisher’s interest. Please do yourself a favor and read HAPPY (, along with BARRY FLYNN ( if you have not already done so.

Everyone who has read these Newsletters for any period of time is aware of how vigorously I’ve tried to keep writers away from scammers. I’ve also worked hard to explain ways that will enable authors to have a fighting chance at acquiring an audience for their material. Those of you who received Volume 48 of my Newsletter from March 8 with the lead Are Critique Groups of Any Value? (, will remember my remarks regarding the misconception some writers have about listing a book with Ingram, Baker & Taylor, and Amazon.

It is just a listing, and zero else, yet I consistently receive letters from authors bragging that they are now on one of these lists, especially Amazon’s. The last statistic I read was that Amazon currently offers 70,000 titles. Unless a writer is directing a reader to his or her book, how is someone expected to find it among 70,000 other works?

Let me once more explain what service is provided by the three companies I just referenced. They distribute a pre-sold product. Yes, Amazon has blurbs and a linking algorithm, but the firm does not source a market. And Ingram and B&T strictly distribute. On a side note, with these latter distributors’ POD capabilities, respectively through Ingrim Digital (which the firm accesses via an exclusive arrangement with R. R. Donnelley) and B&T’s Lightning Source e-book subsidiary, they will be doing less and less warehousing, pointing out again how influential POD technology has become, which is another issue unto its own.

I find one aspect of Amazon’s present marketing scheme to be rather odd for them to be beating their chests about. The company has released statistics that indicate their e-book sales have surpassed printed books in their system. Why wouldn’t this be true, since the firm is now a comprehensive facilitator for self-published e-books (as well as print books), and is acting as agent, publisher, and distributor? What really surprises me is that the mainstream publishers would continue to place their titles with Amazon, especially at a discount, since the firm has evolved into a direct–and piranha–competitor.

While I’m on book sales and what a heretofore or relatively unknown author is faced with when trying to gain traction for a work, here are the statistics for 2010, according to data compiled by R. R. Bowker, the firm you’ll recall from my Newsletter article “The ISBN Number Explained, and the One Issue Every Writer Must Be Aware Of,” ( as the only licensed source for ISBNs. For 2010, Bowker issued 302,480 ISBNs for new titles by mainstream publishers (the Big 6 plus Kensington) and the royalty-paying indies.

Of these ISBNs, 47,392 were for fiction. Keep in mind these numbers do not include the self-published fiction print titles–and also exclude self-published e-books. In the self-publishing arena, the major outfits that include CreateSpace, Lulu, AuthorHouse, and PublishAmerica added approximately 57,000 titles to the mainstream numbers. So between mainstream and self-publishing on the print side, it appears that in 2010 around 360,000 new titles made it into print. Not bad for a purportedly dead component of the book industry.

But here’s the real kicker: None of the statistics take e-books into account, since there’s no mechanism in place that tracks the sales numbers–even remotely. And what makes this even more conflicted, it appears some firms are exaggerating their sales figures to promote their respective reading devices.

What is known is that Barnes & Noble has more than 90,000 e-books already listed in its PubIt! division, and this operation was started just last year. I don’t have Amazon’s e-pub numbers, but they are substantial. Add in the plethora of the independent e-publishing sites, which are increasing every day, along with people who take on the entire project themselves, and the number is likely several million new titles for 2010–with more in 2011.

When analyzing these heady statistics, a couple of factors must be considered. One is that Bowker issues the ISBNs in bulk to anyone who wants to buy them (refer to my article on ISBNs). And since ISBNs can be purchased for $1.00 each in blocks of 1000 and then resold individually, this means the aggregate title-count is up for debate. However, to Bowker’s credit, they did report that the 47,392 number was for individual titles by mainstream publishers.

Then we have Amazon, which uses its own identification system called an AISN. Even though this number follows the ISBN, outside tracking is impossible unless the firm wishes to provide auditable data. With all the confusion still dogging Kindle sales, I can’t imagine anyone thinking Amazon’s numbers for new self-published e-books would have much credence. However, regardless of the actual numbers surrounding everything I’ve presented, I think it’s fair to state that millions of new titles–that were published within the past 12 months–are legitimately being offered for public consumption at the present time.

Please understand that I’m not attempting to scare any writer with what I’ve just written. My only goal is to enable Newsletter subscribers to have a clear understanding of what an author is facing once her or his book is made available to the book-buying public. Without a dedicated marketing campaign in place from the outset, it’s my opinion that the already difficult task of attracting an audience becomes an impossible one. I think the vast majority of writers would have an easier time finding another Hope Diamond.

I’m getting closer to having a comprehensive marketing plan available for anyone with a completed book, regardless of whether it’s published by a major imprint or self-publishing medium. As I’ve stated before, the program won’t be cheap, but it will give writers a shot. I won’t have a financial interest in this, although I hope I’ll attract some editing work as a byproduct. I’ve set mid-July as the deadline to present the package, and since everything is progressing as planned, it appears I’ll be able to meet this timetable. I’ll continue to keep everyone posted.

Incidentally, if anyone might not have been a subscriber at the time, or missed it, and would like a copy of the the Newsletter from March 8 that explains Ingram and Baker & Taylor’s presence in the marketplace in greater detail, drop me a note at [email protected] and I’ll send the edition to you.

Here, now, is today’s article:

Some Words in the English Language Cannot Be Modified

I recently concluded facilitating a creative writing workshop series for a group of advanced students at a very fine school in my community. At a recent session I brought up the topic of words that are unable to accept a modifier, and the students supplied some suggestions to add to a list I provided. Here’s a brief compilation of the biggest culprits we came up with.

“Unique” Is at the Top of the List

I don’t know how often I’ve heard someone say that something was somewhat unique, or very unique, or even quite unique. I even remember reading an ad for items in an antique shop that were unique and unusual. Can something be unique and not be unusual? I mentioned to those at the workshop that I was asked to write an ad once for jewelry that was rare and unusual, which is just as bad as unique and unusual; however,”rare” and “unusual,” when apart, can be modified.

No One Can Be More or Less Flabbergasted

I remember reading about a character who was completely flabbergasted (a million years ago I even wrote this once; horrors). This is like being really dead. Flabbergasted covers the experience just like dead covers those not breathing anymore. In this realm of the absolute, words such as “confused” and “forgot” also lurk. And while in the loosest of circumstances it might be allowed that a person could be somewhat confused, is this really possible? Likewise, when a person says I totally forgot about it, or I completely forgot about it, is either adverb modifier appropriate? Could someone partially forget something?

Some Words Do Provide for Partial Treatment

One of the young adults in the workshop offered the word “awkward.” I considered that a person could be somewhat awkward, the same as a moment could be really awkward. But, again, is either adverb doing anything beyond adding an inflection that has nothing to do with the meaning? We had a somewhat awkward moment; we had an awkward moment; or we had a really awkward moment. Again, doesn’t awkward with an embellishment continue to make the same statement? Then there is “absolutely worthless” as an expression of the most abject level of something lacking value. Yet doesn’t “worthless” by itself say it all?

This Doesn’t Mean Throwing Out the Baby with the Bath Water

We can look at many words with -less or -ful as suffixes and make an argument against their relative values. Yet it shouldn’t be assumed that all modification is of little or no significance. Or that every modifier should be challenged, even in the slightest. The way modifiers are used is what makes for the richness of our language. It’s the phrases rife with tautology that should be avoided, not text that adds to the fabric of the writer’s craft.

When I lived in a suburb of Atlanta, a vibrant, elderly fellow frequented town hall meetings that I also attended. He was historically against anything the community leaders wanted to do. To scare people into not supporting a proposal, he’d always bring up the point that once something got started it couldn’t be stopped, saying, “It’s like being a little bit pregnant,” which from my experience was one of the few intelligent things this chap ever said. And I strongly suggest that writers embrace this man’s remark when determining if a word can benefit from a modifier, because if a word is definitive in its own right, nothing added to it can advance or stifle its implication.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 56
A Further Definition of Voice in Writing
(June 21, 2011)

Hello All,

Another big upsurge in Newsletter subscribers during the past two weeks, and I certainly want to welcome each of you to this forum for the first time. I hope you enjoy this medium and will be kind enough to bring any miscues on my part to my attention. And please don’t hesitate to offer any ideas that you feel would improve what I’m providing. I also always ask for ideas for topics on writing and the publishing industry, as I post an article to accompany each Newsletter that I write exclusively for that edition.

Since the first of the year, I’ve also tied my Critique Blog to each Newsletter release, as I post an opening chapter from a novel that someone sends me, along with my critique of the material. If I think the work would benefit from any suggestions, and if I have time, I’ll line-edit up to three double-spaced pages of the narrative. The previous post was the opening to THE OTHER SIDE OF HAPPY, from a novel by a writer I’ve worked with for some time, Caryn D. I’m pleased to report it received more hits from Newsletter subscribers than any other opening chapter I’ve posted on my Critique Blog thus far, and I want to thank each of you for viewing her material. I have high hopes for Caryn’s book being signed by a major royalty publisher, which is always the focus of my Newsletters.

FLASH: I was just informed that an A-grade agent has notified Caryn that he will accept THE OTHER SIDE OF HAPPY if she’ll make changes to some of the plot elements. Since, in addition to editing her work, I also wrote her query, I’m particularly gratified with the way this is proceeding. He detailed exactly what he wanted reworked, and it’s important to keep in mind that agents and publishers always want changes, regardless of how solid the book might appear to the writer (and her or his editor, ha ha). And if anyone should be wondering, being told that the book will be accepted after revising it is a huge coup. This is not at all like an agent intimating that a previously unpublished writer should do further work on a book and it will be reconsidered, which in my experience has never produced a contract with the same agent. Not once in the 20 years I’ve labored in this industry!

The opening material in the current Critique Blog is A NEW BEGINNING, by Mike H., and I’m particularly fond of this narrative, since Mike and I have worked together for around two years, and he’s been a delight to have as a client. One of the most important aspects of editing is remaining on the same wavelength as the author and understanding what the writer is trying to achieve. From the outset I liked what Mike wanted to do with his lead characters, Beetle and Shannon, and we worked hard to come up with a premise that would appeal to the mature YA market. I feel we’ve achieved this, and I’m pleased to relate that Mike’s opening was read at the prestigious Surrey Writers Conference. And it was the only work that was not interrupted during its reading by the judges, so I consider this quite an honor for Mike. At another conference, a respected author read the first 20 pages of this work and didn’t make one negative comment. I urge all of you to read the opening material to A NEW BEGINNING, which I’m delighted to showcase in the current Critique Blog.

This next item is sort of a news flash, too, at least for me, and I thought some of you might appreciate knowing that I was just featured in EzineArticles Expert Author Showcase, and I think I’m the first person to earn this distinction since their new format for this medium was launched. The company selected a group of writers from their active authors, of which I think they boast more than 10,000 (out of almost 400,000 total), and last Thursday my Q & A was the initial material sent to their entire constituency. Clicking any of the blue links in this paragraph (sorry, couldn’t resist putting it in again, as I’m still a little giddy) will get you there, should anyone be interested in reading my comments about article writing.

To expand on this a little further, if you’re published or contemplating becoming so (which I imagine applies to everyone who subscribes to this Newsletter, ha ha), and have not already set up a blog, you’ll want to do this. Posting on your blog and writing articles are two of the best ways I know to glean publicity. And is the largest and most reputable of all these article-collection sites according to people who follow this sort of thing. As to the topics to write about, you can assemble as few as 400 words on anything you have knowledge of that you feel others might appreciate. Articles don’t need to pertain to the theme of your book, although a tie-in certainly helps. The article medium is free, other than one’s time (which I realize is valuable), but from my experience it’s well worth the effort. I also recommend article writing as a segment of any writer’s overall marketing campaign because it’s one of the few components that doesn’t reach directly into the wallet.

On a wholly unrelated topic, long-time Newsletter subscribers will notice that I’ve reverted to my old way of posting links, and this is to highlight the link in blue without adding the full URL next to it. I was providing both to accommodate subscribers who use only plain text so they could simply copy and paste the link. But I don’t care for the way this appears, especially when I offer as many links as I do in each edition. So, my apologies to those of you who use a plain-text format. For articles, you will always be able to access them by going to the Articles Page on my Web site at, and to my Critique Blog for opening chapters. Should anyone have suggestions to help plain-text subscribers with this issue, I’d love to hear from you. Also, any plain-text subscribers who want a specific link can e-mail me and I’ll gladly provide the URL.

Switching gears again, anyone who dug through the Publishers Lunch links during the past weeks might’ve noticed the blurb on Amazon and its new “Sunshine Deals” e-book pricing, which lists all its backlisted titles at between $.99 and $2.99. Yes, they are all at least a year old, which of course isn’t uncommon for a backlisted book, but what’s important–to the mantra I’ve been preaching for the past year–are the price points. In my opinion, a novel in an e-book format that is listed at $5.00 to $10.00 by an unknown author might as well be priced at $500.

For all the gloom and doom that’s been bestowed on the print side of the publishing industry, isn’t it odd that Barnes & Noble stock remains in the $16 to $18 range and so many investors are interested in the firm? It would be easy to attribute this to the real estate side of the equation, but with commercial prices also depressed in most markets, could it just be that some folks with billions of dollars at their disposal continue to see the written word as alive and kicking? And what about Borders? Every week (or day, to be more accurate), there seems to be a new model presented for saving the company and staving off its creditors. I have to think the potential investors in Borders didn’t earn their billions by being stupid either, and that they must see a value to books and feel literature in its broadest sense is as viable as ever, even though the way books are being presented to the public is rapidly evolving.

In the world of spin, I noticed a piece on a UK outfit that’s offering a medium to e-publish authors without paying advances–and will earn its revenues solely by sharing in the profits. Is this really a new concept? I read the press release further and learned that the firm wants to concentrate on authors’ works which have sold 20,000 or more hard copies! I must be missing something, but I seem to remember that sales of 20,000 copies of a novel will generally land its author somewhere on The New York Times Bestseller List.

To expand on this upstart’s premise a little more, the “plus” for signing with this outfit is supposedly a marketing platform. (You notice I haven’t named the firm, and I won’t because I have zero confidence in its ability to perform based on what I read.) Yet marketing, which is by far the primary motivation for signing with this publisher–again according to the press release extolling the company’s virtues–wasn’t the least bit defined. Folks, this sort of thing can’t be kept a secret. Authors must know exactly what they’re in for so they can weigh the value of getting involved. If something is not clear in ALL areas, my advice is to pass. Look at all the self-publishing print outfits that promised their authors would be in the Barnes & Nobles throughout the country. Ask any of these writers how this has worked out.

In more than 99.9 percent of the cases (many say this number is closer to 99.99 percent–and even higher for a novel), the book is listed by title in the Barnes & Noble catalogue, not placed directly in any of their locations. Common sense has to play into this. Even if a book miraculously makes it into one of their stores, the average B&N stocks 250,000 books on its shelves. Without substantial, targeted publicity supporting an unknown author’s work, is it conceivable the book is going to find its way into the hands of a book-buyer, regardless of how eager a reader might be for a specific genre or topic? And, as you’ve read my position on this over and over, is someone likely to pay $17.95 for a softcover or $27.95 for a hardcover by a writer she or he has never heard of? Unfortunately, these are the facts as I know them, yet I’d love to report something accurate that’s to the contrary. But so far I haven’t found another contention that holds up. Even remotely.

A Further Definition of Voice in Writing

I wrote a piece on the meaning of voice well over a year ago that has been one of the most widely accessed of my articles on the Internet. But I was never pleased with the content, and I want to try to do a better job of explaining my position on the topic.

Everyone Seems to Have a Different Definition for Voice in Writing

Much of the confusion seems to come from the way critics often extol the virtues of a newly published author. We’ll read something like, “John Doe, a striking new voice on the scene,” or “Mary Jones, the richest and most vibrant voice to hit commercial fiction in a long time.” Nice words indeed, but do they really say anything about what this voice is?

Voice Is Each Writer

I stated in my earlier article that voice is “you,” and I firmly believe this. If someone is told he or she displays a striking voice, I’d like to think there is something genuinely scintillating about that writer’s particular style. Likewise, if someone is claimed to possess a rich and vibrant voice, I’d expect to read a work with well-developed characters and expansive characterizations. But there is no way to be certain this will be the case, since the term “voice” is anything but definitive.

A Voice Can Be Something Specific

My least favorite phrase is when someone says a writer has a strong voice. Why not just state that the author’s prose is intelligently written? Or that the content will make the reader think? Or that the plot is complex with well-conceived threads that are explained in an exciting and realistic manner at the work’s conclusion?

Voice Is Genuinely Often Quite Distinctive

Perhaps one of the ways to illustrate voice is to look at four of the most famous American writers of all time: Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald.

Faulkner is known for intricate sentence structure that he utilized to present extraordinary characterizations; Steinbeck wrote in an easier-to-read style, but with a comparable depth to his storylines; Hemingway on the other hand crafted brilliant characterizations via a terse, sharp style that required perfect word selection; while Fitzgerald infused his narratives with characterizations so rich with imagery that they created a mood for the entirety of his stories–which the reader could feel on each page. Each of these writers achieved a like result, but with unique, unmistakable voices predicated on the mastery of a particular writing technique.

While It Can Indeed Be Difficult to Define, Voice Is Always Present

Voice is whatever any of us want to make it. It is a word that has few limits, since it can describe quintessential material just as well as something quite pedestrian. Yet owning a voice to be complimented is what all writers should strive for, regardless of how feeble the attempt might be to explain exactly what was recognized for its excellence.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 57
Will Agents or Publishers Edit a Manuscript
(June 29, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

A gremlin crawled in my autoresponder’s word-processing software (I utilize an outside concern known as an autoresponder to broadcast my material) and corrupted some of the text in yesterday’s Newsletter. And yesterday’s release also failed to “hold” the links for the opening chapter I was showcasing. So here is that Newsletter delivered with what I trust will be clean formatting and live links this time. ha ha.

For all practical purposes this Newsletter marks the second anniversary of this medium, as I posted the initial material on June 30, 2009. I’m proud to report that a constituency which began with 19 stalwarts, all members of a creative writing workshop who had just finished a 9-month series I facilitated at a local library, has now swelled to subscribers from 31 countries.

As is my custom, I begin each Newsletter by welcoming those of you for whom this edition is your first exposure to this medium. My Newsletter focuses on writing prose that would be appealing to a major royalty publisher or quality independent press, along with information on the current state of the publishing industry as I know it. I look forward to any Newsletter subscriber’s comments or criticism, and I have wide shoulders, so you should never hold back if you see something you don’t think is correct or disagree with for whatever reason.

I mentioned a while ago that Newsletter subscriber-totals are constantly augmented by those who submit opening chapters for a free critique. I continue to ask anyone who is a subscriber and has not sent a chapter for review to feel free to do so. You will never be pressured to buy a service from me, although I often request the opportunity to read a full draft if I think what I read has potential. And, yes, I do charge for this.

Around the first of this year I redesigned my personal blog and began posting opening-chapter critiques (with each author’s’ permission, of course) on what I retitled as my Critique Blog. Newsletter subscribers have been very complimentary and supportive regarding this format, and I feel it’s given everyone who has participated some quality publicity. I’m also told a few friendships among writers have developed along the way, and I find this most gratifying, since authors seem to develop a special camaraderie with one another that appears to to go well beyond good, old-fashioned bonding.

Today’s opening chapter on my Critique Blog is via material written by Buck Buchanan, a friend of mine whom I’ve mentioned in previous Newsletters. I normally don’t include last names, but Buck has given me permission. I came into contact with Buck four or so years ago by way of a well-respected editor I know who had worked with Buck on his manuscript. Buck and I met for drinks and enjoyed discussing the vagaries of the business so much that we met again the following month. And the month after that. And the month after that.

Since we were getting together on a routine basis at the same lounge so often, one of the bartenders jokingly asked if we were involved with a secret cult or something. I laughed it off, but then Buck came up with the name DRAB, which is now what we “officially” call our two-person organization. It stands for Delirious Rob and Buck. The “delirious” modifier because of how we are forced to react at times to the vicissitudes of the publishing industry. However, for anyone who might be interested, we do have a special handshake and a secret introductory phrase, but I can’t tell you about either–well, I’m sure you know the reason. We’ve discussed a decoder ring, but this is still a way off, especially since we don’t have anything to decode. I think we’ve earned this bit of insanity, and I believe writers should view this industry from a lighthearted perspective once in a while–lest they should go daft.

I would like to ask each of you to extend the same courtesy to Buck as you have to the other authors I’ve posted, and read the opening to his thriller, VIRGIN TERRITORY. It’s a superbly crafted police procedural, for which Buck has acquired an agent who is currently shopping the manuscript. And if anyone might wonder how he knows so much about police work, Buck was a Special Agent and Special Agent Supervisor for 27 years with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), a state agency established to investigate organized crime and major cases. Just imagine what he can’t write about!

I mentioned in many of the recent Newsletters how important it is for self-published authors to maintain price points that are competitive with what is occurring in the marketplace. On the
e-book side of this, several authors who have toiled in this milieu for a considerable period of time wrote me that my $2.99 contention, as the upper-end of the price scale, was 100 percent
accurate. Another writer contacted me with information that Amazon had just priced his books for him. If I understand Amazon’s edict correctly, for a writer to receive the 70 percent commission the firm offers, the $2.99 outside price must be used.

Here’s a link to the New York Times interview with Amanda Hocking that I think readers of this Newsletter will find quite enlightening. She predicts selling 9,000 books each day on Amazon, and this does not include what she will sell on the printed-book side as a result of the $2,000,000 deal she just inked with St. Martin’s. What I found most remarkable is that all of her success has occurred during approximately one year. Eighteen months ago she was about to give up, after receiving rejections from what she described as every agent who handled her genre. She listed 50 agents who had rejected her, mostly via form letters. A
particularly interesting aspect of this is her contention that her rejections might have been the result of a poor query letter (hint, hint, ha ha).

Ignoring the query issue, the moral is obvious, and why I tell my clients not to despair but to persevere. It’s a long road. I also noticed that Ms. Hocking attributes a lot of her success to the $.99 to $2.99 price point she embraces (something I pointed out in a previous Newsletter). I’m wondering if her pricing formula, in and of itself, has as much to do with Amazon’s current policy as anything. If any of you have followed Amazon’s pricing structure
for some time, I’d like to hear your opinion on this, as at first pass this seems to be too much coincidence. And while I’m discussing Amazon, according to what I’ve just read, John Locke is the eighth author to sell 1,000,000 e-books on Kindle.

On another point that pertains to what Amanda Hocking did to get started, she went to the library and read books that were in the genre in which she wrote. Then she looked for things that were different. In her case she chose trolls, and she attributes them as what put her over the top, since they’d not been written about previously to any degree. I get a ton of fantasy/paranormal material to critique that features vampires, and much of it is quite good, but I tell each writer the same thing: How much more can be written about vampires? Ms. Hocking picked up on trolls and now she’s a multimillionaire. There’s something in this somewhere, I think.

I want to make one final statement regarding this block of material on Amanda Hocking’s amazing rise to stardom. An obvious paradox is created when in one breath I discuss her success with Amazon, and in the next I encourage writers to handle all of the distribution
on their own. I think it’s fair to state that many e-publishing scenarios have changed dramatically during the past year. And with Ms. Hocking going with print-publisher St. Martin’s for her next four releases, this muddies the water even further. One size will not fit all for those who plan to self-publish, regardless of the medium.

As all of you are aware who have subscribed to my Newsletter since the first of the year, I’m working on a comprehensive book-marketing plan that will involve all modes of publication. A
major component will of course involve the self-publishing e-book side of the business. I’m on a deadline to have this ready to present by mid-July, and all of the piece are indeed falling into place so I can meet this commitment. What I want to present to each of you is a platform with many options that each of you can select from based on a number of factors, not the least of which is financial. When it’s all in front of Newsletter subscribers, my hope is that anyone can develop a game-plan based on where that person sits on the utility as well as fiscal curve.

If a book is finished and a writer has six to ten thousand dollars in discretionary money available, that author might decide to go the full megillah. If spending any money whatsoever is out of the question, this individual can use the services that require only time and elbow grease. Others might be in the middle, or want to try one idea or another to see what evolves from that effort before going to the next step. Whatever an author’s situation or inclination, my desire is to give writers a series of legitimate methods to expose their stories to the public.

One caveat will apply to any marketing effort a writer might opt for, and I wrote about this from day one: If a book is flawed, the greatest marketing program on the planet will not save it. So the first responsibility of every writer is to get the story in its best possible shape. And to cover this once again, I will not be involved with any of this from a financial standpoint–no
kickbacks, silent commissions, hunting rifles, trips to Barbados, nada. But I do hope to pick up some editing clients. So please look forward to a very special Newsletter in July that will be devoted exclusively to Book Marketing from A to Z.

Regarding Amazon, I have nothing against the firm, but assuming most mere mortals don’t possess Amanda Hocking’s or Stephanie Meyer’s ability to win the Power Ball, is Amazon driving customers to a book(s), or are authors pointing people they personally cultivated to Amazon as the distributor of their work(s)? My contention is that none of these entities, whether it be Baker & Taylor, Ingram, or Amazon, do anything more than list a book. I realize Amazon has a linking algorithm, but does that mean a specific book will be suggested?

Amplifying the problem is the mass of titles in Amazon’s archives–and the list continues to expand with no end in sight. And it’s just been reported that Amazon is being spammed by authors hoping to create sales by listing the same book under different titles Reports have surfaced of a single book with 20 different titles. Why couldn’t a mass spammer with a dictionary algorithm create a thousand titles–or even a hundred thousand–since there is no apparent control mechanism at Amazon? It seems this sort of thing is right around the corner unless steps are taken to prevent it.

On another Amazon issue, the firm can’t force anyone to list an item at a price the firm dictates (King vs. West Bend, I think, for the many attorneys in my Newsletter group to verify if they desire), but if a writer wants to earn the 70 percent commission, then the $2.99 price point must be agreed to. Here’s the bigger question in my way of thinking: Why give Amazon or any of these listing sites anything, since you’re the entity that’s driving the traffic to them and not vice versa? If your work goes viral, it will happen via social media such as Twitter or Facebook, not Amazon. Why not earn the entire 100 percent of the sales price? All you need is a Web page and a PayPal account. PayPal will hit you for around 4 percent, but isn’t 96 percent better than 70 percent? And you can still list on Amazon if you choose to do so, right?

Fordham University’s business school recently substantiated what I’d written a while ago, which was in 2010 it’s estimated that 3,000,000 books were published in the States, consisting of almost 2.8 million e-books and self-published print books, along with a little more than 300,000 mainstream-printed books. That’s almost three times the 2009 total for e-books and self-pub titles, while the conventional-book numbers remained relatively the same. Ten years earlier, fewer than 33,000 nontraditional books were published! This last statistic is the reason I decided I could no longer ignore e-books and the opportunity this medium presents for any author to publish inexpensively. But while e-book numbers are
impressive, this also means that a writer has a one-in-three-million chance of being noticed! I hope this statistic makes it clear to anyone who might wonder why I’m spending so much effort to develop a marketing platform.

Today’s article involves one of the most controversial and contentious issues out there: Will agents and/or publishers edit my manuscript for me? Here’s my position on this based solely on my experience during the past 20 years, and it lends itself to why I edit manuscripts for a living.

On Writing for Publication–Will Agents or Publishers Edit a Manuscript?

A short while ago a young scribe wrote over a post of mine that writers did not need to have their manuscripts edited prior to submitting them to an agent or publisher. His rationale was that agents and/or publishers would provide the service, and therefore the writer could and should avoid the independent editor’s fee. I tried to explain the fallacy of this person’s thinking, and later I decided to take a closer look at why this sort of misunderstanding might occur. My findings are the purpose behind this article.

Editors Do Still Edit

Although I lead the topic line of this article with agents, I want to discuss editors first, and state without qualification that editors at the publisher level do still edit. But this is far from universal, and there is widespread disparity as to who does what for whom. A franchise writer with a major house will have all the stops pulled out to see that his or her material is polished in every way. The executive editor who works with the writer may even personally edit this author’s manuscript if there is some last minute tweaking to be done. But more often than not, if a draft requires attention after it’s submitted by an established writer, this manuscript will be sent outside to an independent editor for fine tuning. And, yes, the cost would be absorbed by the publisher.

What I just wrote applies to large publishing companies. I’ve also noticed a substantial number of boutique publishers who’ve sprung up in the past few years who legitimately provide developmental editing, as well as line editing, for material they accept. The downside is that the editor is usually the publisher, and often he or she is one of only a couple people involved in the entire operation. Hence, with the backlog any start-up royalty publisher will generally have shortly after announcing the acceptance of material, lead times can soon run amuck. And if a writer does some research into these sites, my comment will be borne out. The most common lament I’ve read is that the publisher could not meet the promised release date–or anything close to it.

What If a Writer Isn’t at the Franchise Level or Interested in a Start-up Indie?

In the middle is everyone else, meaning 99.999 percent of all writers. And this is where there’s a rub. On the very day I was defending independent editing as a discipline, I received an e-mail from someone who was working to get a editing prospect of mine represented by an agent. I didn’t feel this man’s work was ready, but this liaison presented the draft to a major publisher and a high-powered agent. Both summarily dismissed the manuscript, with the agent saying that, in today’s market, a manuscript had to be perfect in every way to stand a chance. For me, that’s the end of story. But there is confusion because of what some agents do offer, and the way manuscripts are treated in other countries.

Some Agents Also Edit

In the scenario I just alluded to, this agent was not in a position to edit this writer’s draft. I can assure anyone reading this article that most don’t have the time or the staff. But there are exceptions. A well-respected agency states on its Web site that it works with its authors from a developmental perspective and will also line edit their work. I’ve never submitted to this agency, nor do I know anyone personally who is signed by this firm, so I won’t provide the company’s name, but they are legitimate in every respect and certainly do not charge fees for reading or editing. But I think someone will have to search long and hard to find a second such firm. However, I do know of independent agents who work with their clients’ drafts, so others of a similar persuasion do exist. They just aren’t on every corner.

In Other Countries Agents Routinely Edit Material

I noticed on the Web site of a well-known London agency, Jane Gregory and Company, that the lead agent boasts she works with her clients’ manuscripts extensively. She recently stated on her site that an average draft takes two years in-house before it’s ready to be presented to the publishing community. Obviously, if someone in the States reads something such as this, and doesn’t realize the agency is in the U.K., it’s easy to see how the person could be confused into thinking this is what happens here. I don’t know of any U.S. literary agents who advertise they’ll massage a draft for two years before sending it out. Frankly, I’m aware only of the one domestic agency I mentioned earlier that as a company policy offers editing for its clients.

So Do Agents and Publishers Edit?

It’s pretty clear: For a writer’s material to receive in-house editing, it depends on who the author happens to be, as well as the agent or publisher. I think I’m being accurate in stating that the overwhelming number of agents do not edit material for their clients. If the manuscript doesn’t look relatively clean to them, it’s rejected. But if a spotty draft somehow passes muster with an agent, what are the odds a publisher will accept it? I can’t answer that. However, when a work reaches an exalted point in the evaluation process, especially at the publisher level, I think any writer would be prudent to make certain the manuscript is in as good a shape as possible, and this means having it professionally edited beforehand.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 59
The Query Letter Dissected
(July 26, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

I’m overwhelmed by the kind words from Newsletter subscribers in response to the book marketing platform I provided as the focus of the previous edition. If anyone was on vacation and missed the material, or someone subscribed after the cutoff date for that Newsletter’s release, please contact me and I’ll be happy to send it to you independently.

I want to welcome the new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. Please let me know whenever you have a topic that pertains to writing or the publishing industry which you would like me to discuss in a future Newsletter. And if you find something I write that you take issue with, by all means let me know and I’ll address your contention(s) to the best of my ability.

Since the first of the year, on my Critique Blog I’ve been coordinating Newsletter subscribers’ opening chapters with the release dates of this Newsletter. Lately, I’ve been showcasing a group of writers who I feel crafted the most outstanding pieces I’ve edited or reviewed during the past couple of years. Today’s opening chapter is from TAKEN AWAY, a work of Dramatic Literature written by Ali A., and is all the more remarkable because he submitted the finished raw draft to me to edit when he was only 17 years old. I felt that Ali wrote some of the best dialogue I’d read in years at any level, and I found his book to be a joy to edit.

For the record, on behalf of Ali I contacted an agent I’d worked with at the Nicholas Ellison Agency (the firm’s list of ultra-successful authors includes, among others, Nelson DeMille and Dan Brown). She told me how disappointed she was when the agency’s hierarchy ultimately chose not to represent the book. And the submissions editor at Victoria Sanders expressed the same chagrin. It seems at times that it’s just as tough for a book to make it through the gantlet with these A-grade agencies as it is with the major royalty publishers, but it’s still gratifying when material is considered worthy. At least this means everyone’s on the right track–and that it’s a matter of persevering to find the right match-up.

Related to a topic that’s been in the news quite often lately, one of the primary contentions I’ve proffered during the two years I’ve published this Newsletter is that I believe brick and mortar bookstores have value, and this will always be the case. If nothing else, their visual presence keeps books in the minds of consumers. But I do feel just as strongly that the megastores will go the way of the dinosaur, since current POD technology can print a title of choice in less than an hour, and this “production time” will continue to improve with each ensuing generation of equipment. And the space needed for a sophisticated copier/collator/binding machine is a fraction of what’s necessary for a bookstore. So when the physical size of the copy equipment is further minified, and the price with it (currently the fastest units cost around $100,000), as I’ve stated previously, I predict we’ll see the major retail bookstores morphed into kiosks in the malls.

To advance my point, everyone is aware of the Barnes & Noble’s and Borders’ bankruptcies, but folks might not know that the largest college bookstore operator, Follett, with more than 800 locations, has filed for bankruptcy, as has the Nebraska Book Company, the final major operator in the collegiate market that had heretofore not sought protection from the courts. Follett’s audited financials listed $2.7 billion in yearly sales. For anyone who has bought a college textbook in the past few years, it would seem inconceivable that any campus bookstore distributor could be in financial difficulty, considering the outrageous prices students (and their parents) were required to fork out.

And if what I’m suggesting comes to fruition, we might see mini book-marts, not much larger than convenience stores, selling only popular titles on their shelves, but with a million books available by typing in a title and author and then swiping a credit card in a point-of-sale terminal. If I were Starbucks I’d jump all over this and reverse their present position from high-percentage-capture cafe to prime vendor–but no one asked me, ha ha. It also makes sense to me that students will be bringing 90 percent of their “textbooks” to class via a laptop or “pad” of some sort, eschewing printed textbooks and reducing this expense dramatically.

All of what I just wrote lends itself to why I devoted so much of the book marketing platform to e-books. I give the mega-bookstores as we know them today a ten-year utility curve, yet I believe the specialty boutiques will always be with us, the same as antique shops, and the better-supplied units with the most-knowledgeable staffs will not only survive but do well. Hard copies signed by authors will continue to be cherished gifts, and autographed copies are a big reason why I have confidence bookstores will survive, just not in their current configurations in malls and large stand-alone buildings.

To advance this position, straight from a link in Publishers Lunch, listed below are the current e-reader and tablet statistics (as best they can be developed). Please pay particular attention to the multiple for tablets. Four times 7.2 is 28.8, yet the yearly number, which includes the holiday season, almost doubles the combined quarterly metric.

Worldwide e-reader sales First Quarter 2011 3.3 million units
Forecast of all of 2011 16.2 million units

Worldwide Tablets First Quarter 2011 7.2 million units
Forecast of all of 2011 53.3 million units

Kindle and Nook sales are responsible for 90 percent of the numbers extrapolated from this data, but as I stated in the book marketing platform information, everyone I contacted indicated that these two readers in reality control 99-plus percent of the present market. But no one knows for certain, since Kindle and Nook sales numbers have never been presented in a reliable fashion (seriously).

An interesting side note to this is the current brouhaha surrounding Amazon and the firm’s gaining a more monopolistic status (my words), since in its virtual domain it can add an unlimited number of titles for distribution. This activity is being vilified by a group of bookselling organizations under the aegis of “long tail” discussion. Not to be confused with SEO vernacular, in this instance the phrase refers to a distribution curve. It’s premise is that the more something is available, the more of many things will be sold. I laughed quite hard when I read this, because once again a theory is promoted that offers not one whit of attention to marketing. Yes, additional product in theory can result it greater sales volume. However, what if no one knows about the items, in this instance an abundance of book titles by unknown authors!

To another point, a contention I read recently, which supported agents getting into e-publishing, stated that only high-quality works would be e-published. Further reading indicated a more grandiose commitment, implying that literary agencies would publish only books worthy of the mainstream presses. Really? Then why not present those books directly to the publishers? Another article seemed a bit more realistic. It was argued that agents who serve also as e-publishers would ferret out the best books, pitch them to the major imprints, but keep the lesser quality works (read rejections) for themselves. I have to think the latter will be the business model–in spades. And, as I wrote in my book marketing piece, woe to the uninitiated author when this occurs.

Of the more than six-dozen articles I’ve developed during the past two years on writing and the publishing industry as I know it, the ones that pertained to designing a query letter and securing a literary agent have garnered the most interest. “How a Query Letter Differs from a Synopsis,” “Query Letter Writing Fact and Fiction,” and “What Not to Write in a Query Letter” remain extremely popular (should any of these topics be of interest, the links will direct you to the respective article).

Each month I receive many solid query concepts that don’t follow an effective pattern and for this reason unfortunately fall short of their goal. So I decided to write an article that breaks the query into components, and which provides a specific example of what each element should present to an agent. The novel is “pretend,” but the query is quite real, and my hope is that this material will provide a template to enable any writer to craft an effective letter which will motivate an agent to want to read the story.


Dissecting the Query Letter

I’ve written many articles during the past few years on the art of composing query letters, and these have consistently ranked among the most popular of anything I’ve published. But even after explaining what an agent is looking for, and that a query must read like liner notes and not a synopsis, I continue to receive questions from writers. So I thought it might be a good idea to dissect a query down to what I call its capillaries.

Successful Queries Consist of Four Distinct Parts

The four parts of a query letter are: the hook, the layout, the reason the book will appeal to a wide market, and the writer’s credentials.

The Opening Paragraph

The opening paragraph must contain a hook that differentiates the story from all others. It also must encapsulate the primary focus of the novel. Then it has to tell the agent that what follows is genuinely scintillating material which will be indicative of a story that is going to be a blockbuster, since all agents and publishers want only the next big book. This is not a joke or hype, even though some agents or publishers might intimate otherwise, especially when they are in a professorial mood.

Here’s What Not to Write for an Opening to a Query

My 85,000-word historical novel opens with Ma and Pa leaving Virginia in 1872 with plans for settling in Missouri. Uncle Dirk goes with the family and is arrested for killing a man in a bar fight. Pa tries to spring him from jail, but shoots the sheriff and gets himself arrested too. Ma goes on by herself with the family and meets a man in Missouri who she decides is more to her liking than Pa. Especially since Pa probably won’t get out of jail for several years, if ever. Ma has a baby by this man, a boy who grows up and runs for public office, but Pa comes back and tells Ma she done him wrong and is going to tell everyone what kind of woman she really is, and that her son is illegitimate. She decides to shoot herself rather than face her shame.

Here’s the Same Opening for a Query That’s Not in Synopsis Form

A VOW NOT TAKEN, my 85,000-word work of Commercial Fiction, is the story of a young woman whose husband is sent to prison in 1872 for trying to spring his brother from jail and shooting the sheriff during the botched escape. Emily Davis must brave the frontier to find a new life for herself and her family, and she discovers love and happiness with a man after she settles in Missouri. Her life is everything she could hope for, until her husband shows up 20 years later and threatens to expose her as a bigamist; and her son, who is now running for public office, as a bastard.

Now that the agent is excited, what more can the author offer? The woman has decided to shoot herself rather than face her shame. Is this by itself enough to build on? Let’s see.

The Second Paragraph Has to Elevate the Query to the “I Need to Read This Book,” Level

Emily contemplates taking the easy way out. One shot from the pistol and she is free. But as she places the gun to her temple, her life flashes in front of her and she uncocks the hammer. If only her husband had listened to her and left his brother in jail. She never told him what Dirk had done to her. Getting free of him was going to be a blessing. Why would her husband not leave with her and the children when she had asked him? Why wasn’t he stronger–and why wasn’t she?

The Third Paragraph Cinches the Deal

A VOW NOT TAKEN is a story of a woman in conflict, yet Emily’s methods for defeating adversity will give readers a window into their own hearts and a different perspective on the difficult decisions that form people’s lives. Decisions, like Emily’s, which are not made because of necessity or convenience, but for love. Emily shows that clarity is a matter of conviction solidified by time, and readers will be gratified when she is rewarded for maintaining her dignity while in the throes of intense peer pressure and public scorn.

A Little About Yourself and a Request

A VOW NOT TAKEN is my first novel. I have an English degree from CCNY, and I finished first-runner-up in statewide creative-writing contest sponsored by the local library system where I live. I maintain an active blog on which I offer chapters of my novel for review, and I am encouraged by what has become a substantial following. I am writing to ask if you would be interested in considering A VOW NOT TAKEN for representation. I am most appreciative of your time, and a SASE is enclosed for your reply.

Write a Comprehensive Opening Paragraph and Break It Down

Everything in this query for this pretend story, other than what I wrote at the end, came from the opening paragraph. Look for the parts in your story that set it apart. Is there love, hate, joy, fear, anxiety, jealousy? What is the story’s strongest element? That should be the lead.

In the make-believe novel I invented for this exercise, a woman is left to carry on by herself because of a husband who did not exercise good judgment. But can he be faulted for his brotherly love? Yet was he completely ignorant of his brother’s violation of Emily? I chose not to focus on the latter issue in this storyline, but in your treatment it might be the compelling plot element. Then why would he try to rescue his brother? Didn’t he care about what was going on with his wife? Or was he scared of something else?

Once it’s established what makes the story tick, the entire query can be designed around this. It’s solely a matter of filling in the blanks. Just be certain not to “tell” the story in the query. Instead, “show” what makes the narrative work.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 60
How Should an E-Book Be Priced?
(August 2, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome the latest group of new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. The base continues to expand, and I want to thank all the long-time participants in this forum who continue to recommend the medium to their writing associates.

For each edition I compose an article that pertains to writing quality prose or the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years I’ve been involved as either as a writer or editor or both. And since so much of what I offer is opinion, I welcome any comment if something is found to be in question for whatever reason. I’ll certainly look closely at any contention, and be more than happy to admit the error of my ways if this should be the case, ha ha.

As a means to provide a glimpse into what the editorial process can entail, I also utilize my Critique Blog to post opening chapters sent to me by writers from all over the world. Lately I’ve been showcasing material from the past couple of years that I’ve found to be exceptional. And I’ve omitted my critiques and raw drafts with the line-editing hash marks, since with most of this material line-editing wasn’t necessary and therefore there was nothing to display.

All of you are to be congratulated for responding so well to this material. I’m provided with a statistical breakdown of the links that are clicked in each Newsletter, and the opening chapter from both VIRGIN TERRITORY and TAKEN AWAY were the best received of any of the narratives I’ve posted thus far. If you haven’t done so, do yourself a favor and read the work by each of these fine writers. And while you’re at it, I saved what I feel is another tremendous piece for the last one in this grouping (meaning, those without my critiques or cursory line-editing), and I hope you will read GINGERSNAP, by Karen E. If someone should ever wonder what is meant by “a fresh new voice on the scene,” Karen’s opening, in my opinion, is the literary poster-child for that remark.

I was so excited when I read the opening to GINGERSNAP that I couldn’t write Karen fast enough to tell her what I thought of her skill as a writer. Stream-of-consciousness writing is so very hard to pull off, and long-time subscribers will attest to how often I’ve commented that even some of our greatest contemporary writers, such as E.L. Doctorow and Toni Morrison, in my opinion have come up short when trying to effectively utilize this technique. I generally suggest that authors leave s-o-c writing with the likes of Faulkner, Proust, Joyce, and Woolf, and try something more conventional. But not in the case of Karen. Please read this woman’s material and tell me what you think. I’ll post your comments, first name only, as I’d very much like to learn if you agree with my assessment.

To the issue of comments, and the “comments symbol” on my Critique Blog that requires a cryptographer to locate and then figure out how to use, I continue to remain at wits’ end as to a way to enable subscribers to simply write a comment and click “post.” First, I don’t know how to install a permanent comment box (one that doesn’t “vanish” at times); second, I haven’t learned a way a Newsletter subscriber can avoid the multi-step sign-up process presently required for posting a comment. Any advice on simplifying this, while preventing spammers from hijacking my URL–which happened some months ago and I certainly want to take every precaution to deter from ever occurring again–would be greatly appreciated.

I noticed that BookEnds is the latest New York-based literary agency (I’m aware of) that is now offering e-publishing to writers who submit material to them. As with Dystel and Goderich, this too is a legitimate agency, but I feel it’s also heading into perilous waters. I mentioned in the previous Newsletter that a lack of marketing is a lack of marketing, regardless of the window dressing provided by a name agency’s lending its imprint to a work. A prime example of the problem occurred when an outfit named Unbound in the U.K. began a process referred to as crowdfunding.

The premise was/is to do all the work a normal publisher would; except, instead of paying the author an advance, the firm would post the book as a “work for sale” and expect investors to finance the advance. You can imagine how well this has done to date. The lone success has been a book by an established writer. Throw my good friend Joe Jones out there, who isn’t branded, and expect positive results? Unless there’s an angel benefactor in the wings ready to support a writer, my opinion is that this program provides no more than another of what I call a “listing.” Again, why would anyone invest in a book by an unknown writer that is sans a marketing platform? And this begs another question: Will bookstores and libraries be receptive to this sort of publishing model?

As to what else is going on in this arena, joining the Ed Victor Literary Agency in the U.K., Anne McDermid and Associates (a Canadian agency) is launching “dropCapLiteary,” which is supposed to provide all sorts of aids for e-book authors for a negotiated fee customized for each writer’s work. The firm will continue to ply its trade as an agency, but provide this new bank of services via a market strategist and one of the firm’s agents. Again, I foresee a huge a conflict of interest if this isn’t handled with the utmost discretion, especially since the company is advertising that it will consider any author “regardless of representation.” Does this mean the company will accept unagented authors who are self e-published (and who might just happen to maintain a healthy checkbook balance)? I hope all Newsletter subscribers will look hard and heavy at any agency offering services to authors the firm doesn’t choose to represent.

While these agencies’ intentions may be noble and wholly legitimate, I see a horror story on the horizon. And the reason is that a number of unscrupulous outfits and agents will come out of the woodwork to take advantage of unwary writers. And for an agency to write what McDermid’s press release stated regarding author Seth Godin revolutionizing the industry, from my perspective is ludicrous. He’s not the only person to take this step. Many of you will remember an earlier Newsletter in which I mentioned thriller-writer Barry Eisler abrogating a $500,000 contract that agent Dan Conaway at Writers House had negotiated for him with St. Martin’s, to self-publish instead. (By the way, I’ve dealt with Mr. Conaway and found him to be a great guy, and he also has a very capable assistant.)

Why not find out what sort of success Messrs. Godin and Eisler enjoy before automatically canonizing both of them? Also, if theirs is such a great idea, why did Amanda Hocking, who purportedly is on the verge of selling 9,000 already-published e-books a day, just sign a $2,000,000 four-book deal with St. Martin’s? If her current e-books sell for $.99 each, this brings in almost $9,000 each day and equates to more than $3,250,000 per year! Why go to a print publisher and upset that model? Will her legion of fans be just as eager to fork out say $16.95 for a softcover or $27.95 for a hardback? For me, the involution of this from a business perspective is mindboggling.

Here’s some data many Newsletter subscribers might find interesting. According to a statistician with Google, in recorded history worldwide, something like 128,000,000 different books have been published. An exact number was provided, but for round figures let’s say that’s somewhere in the ballpark. I found it to be a rather daunting quantity. If you have the time, I’d like to hear from you on this, as I’m curious if you feel in reality that there should be a greater or smaller amount. Keep in mind that last year purportedly 3,000,000 e-books alone were published. And with the ease of digital entry into the marketplace, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 128,000,000 figure double in 20 years.

Before we come to today’s article, I need to mention that Apple recently enacted a policy that “only books purchased through the company could in the future be displayed on its reader.” And shortly thereafter I read that Amazon and Barnes & Noble were either contemplating or have already adopted a similar policy. For any of you who might be considering my book marketing platform, don’t despair. Workarounds are already developed and new ones will be created so any book can be read on the various readers. Frankly, I don’t see how these outfits can legally prevent it. And if I were a purchaser of one of these devices, I’d demand the ability to read what I desire or I’d refuse to accept the technology. This has zero to do with vitiating the marketing platform I proposed, but applies solely to what I consider to be free choice. Look at what these companies are already doing to writers’ royalties, and in some cases going so far as to price books for their authors!

E-book pricing brings me to today’s article. I covered price points is my book-marketing platform, but since this is such a critical topic, I believe it cannot be overworked. Once a writer has published a work in an e-book format, one of the most daunting challenges is determining what price point should be used. In the past I’ve cited numerous examples of outlandish prices writers have thought their works should sell for, and then posted their laments at not experiencing even modest sales.

How Should an E-Book Be Priced

Can an Unknown Writer Compete at a Higher Price Point Than a Franchise Author?

The question posed by the subtitle is too absurd to even consider, yet it happens all the time. My favorite story involves a fellow who thought so much of his skill that he priced his e-book at $16. After a year of vigorous promotion he complained he’d sold only four copies, and one his wife bought for a relative. If e-books by major authors are priced in the $10 range, shouldn’t this have told the writer something about pricing his work?

Success Stories Abound for the $.99 E-Book

All anyone has to do is look at Amanda Hocking’s success and the way she priced her material. If I remember correctly, she even gave away some of her work to “grease the wheel.” Many authors, who often possess more marketing savvy than writing skill, have given away three-fourths of their books and offered their respective endings for a buck or so. And some of these books have sold in the tens of thousands of copies–and in a few instances even more.

It Seems Like $2.99 Is the Far Outside

I attended a seminar not long ago at which a successful e-book pioneer discussed pricing. This person had experimented with all sorts of price points and determined that $2.99 was the absolute outer limit for an e-book that was not previously released by a mainstream print publisher. His position was that $2.99 is the stretching point an e-book can withstand that’s not of the Stieg Larsson ilk, and anyone even remotely attune to the the publishing industry knows how seldom a phenomenon like that occurs. It might be worth noting that the first e-book concerning Bin Laden’s death was released at the same time as the print version, and the e-book price tag was $1.99!

So It Appears That $.99 to $2.99 Is the Comfort Zone

At the recent BEA conference, the CEO of one of the major publishing firms explained what everyone already knows, and this is that no one in the print business has yet learned how to market e-books. He went on to say that all of the distributing mediums which currently exist are quite good for hunters (of material) but not very good for what he called gatherers. With this in mind, it’s paramount for e-book writers to understand that unless a marketing plan is in place to drive a reader to a particular work, even a free book won’t be read–because no one will know it exists.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 61
How to Acquire Permission to Use Copyrighted Material
(August 30, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

As is always my policy, I want to welcome the new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter for whom this is their first edition. My purpose behind this Newsletter is to offer suggestions for writing prose at a level that would be appealing to a major royalty publisher or quality indie. And to provide information on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years, as well as to keep everyone abreast, as best I can, on the vagaries of what is becoming a more complicated environment each day it seems.

Today’s Newsletter will be an abbreviated version because I’ve just come back from vacation and have not been keeping up on publishing-industry events during the time away. I considered skipping this edition but ultimately decided that continuity trumped lassitude. I hope no one is offended by today’s meager offering, which will essentially be limited to the article. I believe the topic is important to anyone who is using copyrighted material or is contemplating doing this.

I’m always looking for subjects to write about for an article to accompany each Newsletter broadcast, and Caryn DeVincenti, long-time Newsletter subscriber and editing client of mine, suggested the idea for the current topic. (You may remember her excellent opening chapter from THE OTHER SIDE OF HAPPY that I showcased on my Critique Blog).

Alas, the Critique Blog is another area that will be deficient today, as I simply couldn’t budget the time necessary to format an opening chapter to complement this Newsletter edition. But I ask anyone who has not done so to visit the Critique Blog and read some of the wonderful work Newsletter subscribers have provided for review and analysis.

I’ve tried to provide a wide cross-section of material, and during the past couple of months selected what I consider to be outstanding material for special consideration. I want to offer special thanks to those of you who have been so kind with your praise for these writers’ efforts. And as critique posts pertain to exposure, The Perfect Write® Newsletter is currently broadcast to subscribers in 31 countries on six continents. Also, subscriber membership has increased 50 percent in the past six months. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Here, now, is today’s article:

How to Receive Permission to Use Copyrighted Material

I’m often asked by both clients and those who attend my creative-writing workshops about using material from other work, whether it be citing a title or reprinting an entire passage. Citing a title of a work is not a problem, unless it could be construed in a negative way as it relates to the text in which it shows up, but I always give the same advice, and this is to be certain to gain permission if material in a passage is going to be used, no matter how limited.

All Mainstream Publishers Have a Permissions Desk

The desk or department grants rights for quotations, excerpts, photos, illustrations, charts, etc. Each publisher has essentially the same requirements. But there can be variations, so it’s important to understand that no one size fits all. For reasonable guidelines to follow, here are the requirements from the Penguin Group:

  • The title and author of the Penguin Group (USA) book from which you wish to use material.
  • The description of the exact material you wish to use.
  • The title of the story or poem.
  • The page number(s) on which the illustration(s), chart(s), graph(s), etc., appear.
  • The name of the publisher who will be publishing your material.
  • The title and author of the book (or other publication) in which you wish to use the Penguin Group (USA) material.

You will need to provide your publishing details:

  • The publication date.
  • The size of the first printing or circulation.
  • The format (hardcover, paperback, CD, e-book, etc.)
  • The list price.
  • The total number of pages for each edition of the book (or other publication).
  • If a magazine, the circulation and frequency of the publication in which you wish to use the Penguin Group (USA) material.

Photocopying material has another set of guidelines.

Permission Is Not Necessary Until the Material Is Published

Many times a writer will ask when permission should be sought, and the answer is not what most people think. The Permissions Desk is a very busy place, and the personnel do not want to be involved with being required to perform their due diligence until it’s determined that a manuscript is definitely going to be published. Yes, this means an author should have a “backup” in case the request is refused (or be prepared to delete the reference), but it also behooves a writer not to get hung up on receiving a release until the correct time in the process.

The Chronology Must Also Be Understood

Permissions departments commonly work with a six to eight-week window related to lead time. But, again, this can vary by house. Also, permission requests are generally placed in a queue in the order in which they are received, so unless a writer is a big-time author or a staffer owing a colleague a favor, most people can plan on a couple of months before getting a response.

A Final Thought

Writers get excited about wanting to cite known material, feeling this will enhance their credibility. No doubt, in some instances this is correct. But, overwhelmingly, the reference to another work, song lyric, etc., has nothing to do with the quality of the narrative. Also, if work is in the public domain, no release is necessary, regardless of who is publishing the material.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 62
The Importance of Consistent Word Usage in a Manuscript
(September 13, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

And a special hello to the newest subscribers of The Perfect Write® Newsletter. Please let me know if there are any topics pertaining to writing prose at a level that would appeal to a legitimate royalty publisher or the publishing industry that you would like me to address in a future edition. And if you should spot something you disagree with or want to comment on, please let me know and I’ll be happy to review your contention(s) and post your comment(s).

As long-time subscribes are aware, since the first of the year I’ve been posting opening chapters on my Critique Blog that I’ve critiqued. This forum has been hugely successful, and if I can ever figure out a way to allow direct comments from Newsletter subscribers that won’t open me up to spammers from outside our group, I’ll be delighted to display your respective comments. The blog’s latest offering, GINGERSNAP, was the most-viewed chapter of all time, and judging by Newsletter subscriber support for this piece, this attention was justified. Karen E. should be very proud of her material, as should everyone who has contributed during the past nine months.

I’m going to continue to be selective as to the material I’ll be placing on the Critique Blog, since I believe Newsletter subscribers have had enough exposure to the editing process via earlier posts and would prefer to see polished drafts rather than raw edits. For this reason, for the time being at least, I’m going to concentrate on continuing to provide what I consider to be exceptional material.

Unfortunately, I’m just coming off vacation and a month of work on a personal project, and these combined events have prevented me from accepting any new opening chapters for review during this time frame. Consequently, there’s not a new chapter in today’s blog, but if some of you have not read any of the recent bill of fare, please take a look at GINGERSNAP, VIRGIN TERRITORY, THE OTHER SIDE OF HAPPY, A NEW BEGINNING, and TAKEN AWAY, to name a few high-quality works of late. These opening chapters will provide a perspective on the talent level of the fine writers who currently make up The Perfect Write® Newsletter’s contributing authors.

Newsletter subscribers who have taken my advice and receive either the free or paid version of Publishers Lunch, will remember the reference in a recent edition to authors’ royalties from 2010 that was attributed to Forbes. I have a problem with posting lists of this sort because I don’t see how any company can provide numbers that are remotely accurate without having access to the writers’ respective agency contracts, publishers’ deals, and tax returns.

However, whether or not James Patterson (et al, ha!) earned $84,000,000 in royalties or Stephenie Meyer $21,000,000 as suggested in the report, I believe that the genres of these high-earning authors are important to note. Thrillers (which include the entirety of Suspense and of course Mystery), YA, and Childrens, consumed the pack, with Paranormal (which encompasses Fantasy) also strongly positioned. So if you’re writing in one of these genres, it’s a good bet that agents might be more receptive to looking at your material than if it were in another genre. As with the old stock market adage: The trend is your friend.

I read recently that there are purportedly more than 33,000 book publishers worldwide. I have no idea how this statistic was developed, since any individual can now go to a quick copy outlet and print a manuscript, acquire an ISBN, and be considered a publisher. And it seems each day that established literary agencies are joining the fray via an e-publishing component. As I’ve written many times during past few months, I think this is a horrible idea because of the way this can (read “will”) take advantage of many unsuspecting authors who don’t have experience with the guiles of the industry. One has only to look back to the ’90s–and Edit Ink in particular–to get a glimpse at the harsh reality of how this sort of thing can end up terribly awry.

The primary point I keep driving is that agency e-publishing, regardless of the entity involved, will not automatically create a market for a book. Publishers Lunch reported that the well-known literary agency Objective Entertainment is entering e-book publishing–and will offer advances to agented authors. Huh? What about the rest? And what is an unagented author’s expense for this service? Folio Management is also starting an e-imprint, and will offer a backlist of already e-published works at $.99 to $2.99 each. Which begs the question, why republish these works as e-books again, and now under the agency’s aegis? And at what price this time?

And to grotesquely exacerbate the problem, I noticed in this past Friday’s Publishers Lunch that a 70-store bookseller in Australia, Dymock’s, is planning to offer a self-publishing vehicle with the carrot that those who opt for the service might see their books on the shelves of the firm’s stores. I hope the Australian powers that be will review America’s history with this sort of thing and do whatever can be done to make certain this type of operation isn’t allowed. While this approach isn’t a flagrant scam, if the statistics mirror anywhere close to the percentage of authors who achieved “shelf status” in the States, the number of successful placements will be infinitesimal in comparison to the volume of material that’s “published.” I can’t think of a much more egregious method to take advantage of an unwary writer.

I’m afraid that authors who use an agency or bookstore to e-publish their respective works will acquire the same sense of false security that writers attain when told they’re listed with Amazon or Ingram or Baker & Taylor. Again, as I’ve stated many times, “listing” is the right word, because that’s all it is. Not one whit of marketing goes with this listing among tens of thousands of other titles, except that Amazon and some other entities use a cross-indexing algorithm which produces exposure and undoubtedly results in some sales.

There is one positive note related to the bookstore I alluded to, as I imagine to create credibility the retailer will hype a client’s work once it’s placed on its shelves. But how much advertising, and its extent, remains to be seen. Regardless, I consider this another blatant example of a conflict of interest–although I’m certain some people will defend the process, averring that a bookseller has every right to self-publish material that is felt to be marketable. But is this really acceptable when hundreds or thousands of writers pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for what in my opinion amounts to little more than a lottery pick?

I mentioned a backlist in a previous paragraph, and I was asked what this means and the difference between a backlisted and a midlisted author. It’s sort of like a sergeant and a general. A sergeant is a high-ranking, non-commissioned officer and should always be respected for the hard work necessary to attain the rank. But the person is still a sergeant. A general on the other hand has the adulation of the masses and is afforded a great many perks in addition to the prestige that goes with the rank.

In real terms, a midlist author (for the purposes of this explanation is published by a royalty imprint) is still awaiting a breakthrough work that makes it onto the bestseller lists. This writer’s book(s) have been “remaindered” (commonly sold at a discount in the bins at the front or outside a bookstore), while a backlist author is seeing his or her book(s) reprinted for continued distribution via the mainstream booksellers. Most all of us would love to be the sergeant, but in the publishing world the backlist is what every author strives to achieve.

I’ve often mentioned Martha Moffett, the outstanding line-editor who is my associate and for whom those of you who’ve employed me to line-edit your material have benefited from her talent. Once I revise a draft, Martha goes through it word by word and returns it to me for my final read. She does a spectacular job of catching any syntax issues I miss, and this enables me to put the final polish on a manuscript with complete confidence. The clients who have used me have attested to how well this arrangement has worked. I know of no other developmental editor who also uses a separate line-editor, and I’m quite proud that I’ve taken this initiative, since this always gives me a second set of eyes and I’ve found this to be invaluable.

I’ve learned a lot from Martha related to my own writing, and one important issue pertains to word consistency, which is the subject for today’s article.

The Importance of Consistent Word Usage in a Manuscript

One of the elements an editor looks at is the consistency of word usage in a narrative. Certain words seem to come to the forefront, and this article will identify some of the main culprits so writers can be on the lookout for them. And if ever there was one fantastic feature in word-processing software, it’s the Find and Replace function.

Towards and Amongst Are at the Forefront

In my own drafts I often find instances in which I think toward sounds fine in one sentence and towards better in another. The same with among and amongst. However, toward is the preferred spelling, as is among. But the most important issue is to be consistent throughout the narrative, regardless of which spelling for either word is initially used.

Backward and Backwards Can Have Different Meanings

These words are tougher, because both can be used as either adjectives or adverbs, and in some instances the two words aren’t interchangeable. For example, someone might say that Joe was a little backward, but not that Joe was backwards, unless of course Joe was facing in what at the time was an opposite direction.

Afterward and Afterwards Can Also Cause Problems

I have never been comfortable with afterwards instead of afterward, yet the former is accepted as correct. Whichever spelling is used, again, make certain it’s applied uniformly throughout the draft.

Too and Also Are Exceptions

A writer recently asked me about too and also. As if the subject of this article isn’t already difficult enough to keep straight, these words are a horse of a different color. Too and also can be interchanged throughout a manuscript without raising any red flags. Frankly, it’s a good idea to mix them to provide variety. The reason is because we aren’t dealing with too and toos and also and alsos.

The problem occurs when words, such as the others I mentioned, have the same meaning with or without the “s” at the end. Then, as I’ve indicated, it’s important to stay with the first usage and make certain the entire draft is consistent.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 63
If Some of a Narrative Is True, Is the Story Classified Nonfiction or Fiction
(September 27, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

My most pleasant task at the beginning of each Newsletter is always to welcome the newest subscribers to this medium. And if you are a novelist with a work in progress, I encourage you to send me the opening chapter of your story (up to 5000 words) for a free critique, and if the planets are in the right house, and you are comfortable with my analysis, perhaps you’ll agree to let me post your opening chapter on my Critique Blog so other Newsletter subscribers can enjoy your material. Since December of last year, 18 different authors have given me permission to post their opening chapters, and lately I’ve been featuring material that I felt exhibited excellence in one way or another.

Today’s offering on my Critique Blog certainly meets the prime criterion, and I might add that I had the pleasure of editing this novel in December of last year. ANDROMEDA’S TALE (which is mature material) was a joy to work on because the story was so well conceived and the characters so compelling. Anyone who reads the opening chapter immediately gets caught up in the “cast,” and it’s hard if not impossible not to become enamored with a narrative that contains characters with exceptional dimension.

ANDROMEDA’S TALE, in and of itself, is a rock-solid story, but look at how many books with weak plots but strong characters have captured the hearts and minds of the public. I know of only a handful of solely plot-driven works that have developed a readership: WUTHERING HEIGHTS, STUDS LONIGAN; and, perhaps in contemporary literature, BREATHING LESSONS. So please take a look at the opening chapter of ANDROMEDA’S TALE, and I promise you’ll be in for a treat.

Now on to the topic for which I’ve been on a soapbox of late. After trying to market a recent book without a clear-cut plan, Cory Doctorow admits in a Locus Magazine essay that selling one’s own book without the help of a publisher is really hard, even when a writer has a prominent platform: “Until you’ve marketed a book, you don’t really know how to market a book. I certainly didn’t.” To put some teeth into this, to date, he’s taken in a paltry $2000 on his self-marketed book, which hasn’t come close to covering his expenses.

As everyone might be aware, Cory Doctorow isn’t related to E.L. Doctorow, but he’s been nominated for the Hugo, Prometheus, Sunburst, and Campbell Awards, and he’s had a fiction best seller, LITTLE BROTHER. He also enjoys tremendous exposure by way of his blog and others because of his controversial position on intellectual property rights. If his dismal sales don’t express in the clearest possible terms the problems associated with approaching the public without a full-blown marketing effort, I don’t know what will. I don’t mean for my remarks to be misconstrued as overly aggressive, but I’m adamant about the correlation between comprehensive, knowledgeable marketing and the success of a book in the current climate. And witness how this affects published authors as well as those just entering the fray.

To amplify this further, those of you who receive Publishers Lunch (the link will enable anyone to subscribe to the free daily version as well as the more comprehensive paid subscription, the latter of which runs $20 per month) might’ve noticed this past Tuesday that Barry Eisler, the author of the “Rain” series, used Author Buzz to showcase his book in that edition of Lunch. In my opinion that’s smart on his part. If any of you might not know what Author Buzz refers to, it was a major component of my article, MARKETING YOUR BOOK FROM A to Z, which I published in a special-edition Newsletter on July 12. And should any Newsletter subscriber not on board at the time desire to read the material now, just drop me an e-mail and I’ll send it to you, as I didn’t post this information on the Articles Page on my Web site (for proprietary reasons).

If things continue to progress down the current path on the agent side of the equation, in a year or so each literary agency of note will have its own e-publishing extension. It will take a few lawsuits before this is curtailed, which is not to insinuate that any of the current batch of quality agencies who have jumped in will turn into “bad guys,” but unscrupulous individuals will enter the fray–if they haven’t already–and the fireworks will begin. Unwary authors will receive a letter containing something like the following:

Wow, what a story! I feel that your book has phenomenal commercial potential! I can see the movie now! However, after very close consideration, our staff believes that the narrative requires a little polishing before it will be ready for consideration and potential acceptance by our international publishing entity, O’boy, Ubechawe, Cheatum and Howe. You might wish to consider having your book edited by our team of in-house professionals so it can not only meet but exceed OUCH’s stringent criteria. For your consideration, here is what we suggest: For a fee of $$$$, da da da da da. For those of you who remember the scams from the early ’90s, this has Edit Ink written all over it.

Now Jason Ashlock with Movable Type is getting into e-publishing. First for his backlist. Then to “help” other authors get started. Movable Type is legit, and I’ve even submitted to this agency, and not that long ago. But I hate to see quality agencies cross over into publishing. I realize they have to survive, as writer advances–and therefore agency commissions–are being reduced further each day, but in my opinion the conflict of interest is undeniable, regardless of the best of intentions.

In the case of Movable Type, the firm hasn’t been in business that long, so how large a backlist can it possess? For this reason, the focus logically has to shift to “helping” other authors get started. As I’ve written time and again, unless the agency/publisher is paying a competitive advance to the author, from my perspective the concept is valueless (which of course means not accepting editing fees!). And if the agency/publisher doesn’t possess the marketing experience in the field that rivals the majors and quality indies, what chance will their authors have?

And if the industry isn’t already fragmented enough, I noticed that a major bookseller, Waterstone’s, is planning to unveil a proprietary e-reader to compete with the Nook and Kindle models. Will literary agencies jump on this bandwagon too? As absurd as that idea might sound, who would’ve thought even six months ago that many of the name agencies would be promoting self-publishing via their own subsidiaries?

I’m not a negative person, and as a long-time entrepreneur, I’m always in awe of technological innovation (even if I’ve been slow to personally adapt at times, ha ha), but I predict a crash and burn scenario of the worst sort as a result of the segmentation that’s now producing so many green-shoots. And, unfortunately, people who truly care about literature are going to become victims of a groundswell that will also leave a lot of unwary writers in its wake.

While speaking solely to the e-reader side of things, this points once more to the necessity for anyone who self-publishes to use a formatting firm that’s at the forefront of what’s occurring, since crafty technophiles will come up with workarounds to enable users to place non-proprietary content on otherwise dedicated e-readers. In my wildest imagination, I never thought I’d be devoting anywhere near this amount of space in my Newsletters to technology (perhaps I should refer to this more accurately as technocracy), but I am because I think it’s this important.

And each time another ingredient is added to what is already of glut of “concepts,” it furthers the need for a quality platform–providing the widest possible exposure–if writers can expect their books to have a fighting chance at gaining an audience. Remember, James Patterson was the CEO of the former McCann Erickson, the largest ad agency in the world (now MRM Worldwide). Tell me this didn’t help him gain a foothold that wasn’t and isn’t available to the rest of us hard-working grunts. There’s no jealousy or envy in that remark, just fact.

So for those of us who write with the goal of having others reading our work, more than ever we have to ask ourselves up front, “Who will read our material? And how best can we get our material in front of these people?” It’s critical to make a list of the marketing options, and I suggest comparing them to those listed in MARKETING YOUR BOOK From A to Z, as I think Newsletter subscribers will find this to provide a decent template. And if anyone has additional ideas, by all means add them to the list. This isn’t an ego thing; it’s trying to get a fair shot. Again, writers must give themselves a fighting chance, and this will likely mean working harder to market their material than the effort it took to write it.

Now for today’s article.

If Some Aspect of a book Is True, Is The Entire Story Considered Nonfiction or Fiction

I’m often told by participants in my creative writing workshops that the material they’ve crafted is fiction but contains some nonfiction elements, and I’m asked in which category their work should fall. I remember what I read that another editor said in response to this question: Even the wildest science fiction tale has to have some elements grounded in reality as people know it or no one would accept the work’s premise.

A Novel Is Always Based on Various Degrees of Plausibility

As the other editor related, the creatures from the planet Bublitzko had to have certain plausible characteristics or readers would put down the book. If, for example, they were bigger in size than the universe, readers would back away, since nothing as we know it could be larger. And humans certainly couldn’t see them, as each Bublitzkoain would be impossible to distinguish. But if the Bublitzkoians were our size but never required nourishment in a traditional manner because their systems were sustained by light from their sun–which is fading and the reason they’ve chosen to colonize Earth–readers might well approve of this.

It’s Fiction Even If the Work Has Some True Elements

Once it’s accepted that a scenario could occur, it doesn’t really matter that Aunt Eloise threw a plate of food at her husband at the dinner table when everything else in the chapter was the product of the writer’s imagination. If a story is written as part truth and part fiction, then it’s classified as fiction, although some books are written as if they were documentaries. In my opinion, one of the most skilled writers of this sort of material is Gore Vidal, with BURR as a glowing testament to his ability to bring a tale to life as if it happened exactly as he had written the narrative.

Don’t Agonize Over an Insignificant Issue

Writers have called editors to task when they correct something in a novel that “didn’t happen the revised way when it really happened the other way.” Editors then have to remind authors that the editing suggestion was due to a problem caused by the scene as it’s written–and that theirs is a work of fiction. At times I’m afraid it’s either accept an editor’s advice or face revising a large segment of the draft. And whether or not Eloise tossed the chop suey at Charlie underhand or rifled the plate past his head is not going to make or break the story, hard as this might seem to believe.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 64
The Problem with Writing Material That Is Derogatory to Someone
(October 11, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

A big welcome to the new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. I sincerely hope you enjoy this medium, and please let me know whenever you notice something that can be improved. Also, if you find anything amiss with my ideas, I’m always eager to entertain differing positions as long as these pertain to writing or the publishing industry and are grounded on personal experience with the issues. I’ve found very little in the world of writing creative prose or publishing that’s incontrovertible, so please let me know if you have information you believe will benefit other Newsletter subscribers.

Since last November, I’ve been complementing each Newsletter by posting opening chapters writers have sent me to review. I use my Critique Blog for this purpose, and these chapters are of course provided only after I receive permission from the respective authors. Lately, I’ve been showcasing material that’s written at a level which I feel has the potential for attracting a legitimate royalty publisher. The two most-recent opening chapters I’ve displayed have each received more hits than any others, so I’m highlighting them again. If you haven’t done so, please do yourself a favor and read the opening for ANDROMEDA’S TALE, by Sirena G. (this is mature material), and GINGERSNAP by Karen E.

As the saga continues regarding literary agencies entering the e-publishing field to “help new authors along,” I found the remarks attributed to Robert Gottlieb, a true industry icon and head of Trident Media Group, to be refreshing. He is quoted as saying, “Trident will devise strategies to maximize value for its authors in the new and complex e-book publishing field. Trident will not become a publisher, but will instead continue in its new e-book operations to have itself aligned with its clients whose interests we serve as an agent and manager.” An adjunct to this quote stated that Trident intends to charge its standard agency commission on revenues generated for authors through the new unit.

Mr. Gottlieb has been staunchly against literary agencies also serving as publishers for their clients. Not that he would care what I think, but I also feel this is a flagrant conflict of interest. I’m adamantly against any dynamic supplied by a literary agency that ultimately involves authors paying for services, such as editorial assistance, and who then infer from this outlay of funds that publication will result. What I’ve been writing for several months cannot be iterated strongly enough: The only way it will work for an agency to publish (I don’t care if it’s e-publishing or sending out material on a blimp to be read by the crowd below) is if an advance, consistent with industry standards, is paid up front to the writer by the agency/publisher.

If a writer has spent $6,000 or so to have work edited from start to finish (these outfits generally charge more than independent editors such as myself, and in most cases a lot more, should anyone be interested), and then the author receives a $20,000 advance upon publication, all is well. But I’m positive there will be thousands of writers who will pay these fees and not achieve publication. Or if they are published, sans the advance.

Folks, if either of the latter scenarios is the case, my opinion is that these writers should e-publish on their own, regardless of the degree of editorial assistance they opt for. The odds are they’ll have the same chance of success, yet receive the maximum profit from each sale and not have to pay a commission on each purchase. Again, none of these agencies has said one word about specific marketing, instead offering vague statements of support. Without marketing, it’s all the same old same old. Anyone questioning the significance of marketing only needs to read my prior Newsletter and Cory Doctorow’s personal indictment of his miserable sales numbers when he published his last book on his own.

I want to take a moment to explain something that came to the forefront when some statistics were recently published that related to who buys books. A little more than 20 percent of e-book buyers have bought a self-published e-book. People in the 13 to 29 age bracket are the smallest percentage of e-book buyers, which surprised me as I thought it would be a much higher number, but more than a fourth of this group (27 percent was cited) have bought a self-published e-book. Both data points are close, but seem to indicate that certain genres seem to work better than others in an e-publishing environment, especially if self-publishing is part of the equation.

Another important factor to keep in mind is that the general public as a rule doesn’t know the name of the imprint that publishes a book–and doesn’t care. This is a huge advantage for anyone who self-publishes, since Cloverleaf Publishing (I made this up, but this entity might exist somewhere) to most readers means no more than Random House from the perspective of the credibility of the story. I’ll bet that if most people ask their friends if they know of the Nan A. Talese or Newmarket imprints they would shake their heads no. Yet Ms. Talese’s name is her private imprint with Knopf/Doubleday, and Newmarket is the publishing house owned by famed publisher Esther Margolis who for years was synonymous with Bantam Books.

I continue to stay clear of suggesting self-publishing for anyone as the first option, but it’s important to be aware that names like Random House, Doubleday, Simon & Schuster, Dell, Bantam, Avon, etc., don’t have any more impact on the average reader than if the publisher is listed as Little Green Men From Mars Publishing. It simply doesn’t matter except to those who are avid readers (and usually older people, it seems) or those souls who are intimate with the publishing industry for one reason or another.

As for titles sold for e-reading devices, Amazon announced that George R.R. Martin is the latest author to sell more than 1 million books on Kindle (aggregate sales for all titles under his name). Martin joins Stieg Larsson, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child, Suzanne Collins, Michael Connelly, John Locke, Janet Evanovich and Kathryn Stockett in the Kindle million-seller group.

Writers often tell me their story is modeled after someone they personally know–and what they’ve written is not necessarily flattering to that person. They ask if they can be sued, and I always tell them, you bet you can. But the bigger question for me is not so much the implication of a lawsuit, but to what degree the material might damage the person who is written about emotionally if something is derogatory or can be construed as such. The article I’ve created to accompany today’s Newsletter explores this subject.

The Problem with Writing Material That Is Derogatory to Someone

Writers sometimes have a great story on their hip that they’re bursting to tell, but a character in the tale is fashioned around a real person with negative traits. So the question is, what’s the best way to treat this sort of thing if the characterization isn’t flattering?

William Goldman Stated It Best

For anyone who might not be familiar with Mr. Goldman, he wrote BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, and THE PRINCESS BRIDE, among many other works. He mentioned in one of his memoirs that he’d written something which wasn’t necessarily unflattering about a man he’d known years earlier, but for whatever reason the person took umbrage.

Mr. Goldman suggested that no one write anything negative about someone–if the text might be identifiable with the character being written about–until that person is dead! As strong as that might sound, I think it’s great advice. And to take this one step further, the family of the person can also be offended, and if it could be proved that the material was a deliberate smear, there could be legal ramifications, especially if the party wasn’t a public figure.

Even the Most Innocuous Implication Can Be Misconstrued

Who wants to gamble with the way someone’s waffle might go down on a given day? I know a writer who had to print a retraction because he misstated a man’s occupation from 30 years ago. And this wasn’t as if the fellow was the president of a company and he classified him as a clerk. This man was a medical technician and the author wrote that he was a lab technician. Both professions at the time carried the identical pay grade, and each continues to be viewed as a prestigious position. Go figure, but the man was offended because the character was definitely fashioned after him, and he felt the lab technician title was debasing.

More Serious Scenarios Can Occur

If all it amounted to was a retraction, most writers wouldn’t be too concerned about what they wrote about anyone. But if a character can be readily identified as the one depicted in the story, and the person feels libeled, let the fireworks begin! If a writer is considering someone as a template for a character in a story, and this person for example was a shoplifter as a young boy in Chicago, my suggestion is to make the character a middle-aged woman in Tuscaloosa who reads fortunes. Seriously, it’s not worth the risk. Remember, if the person being written about knows the writer, this individual will be acutely aware of whom the author is modeling the character.

Wait Until the Person Is Deceased and Then Look Further

I touched on this earlier. Even after the person is dead, I’d take a hard look at the individual’s family and assess how the negative material might affect them. Only after every hoop is jumped through, and all the questions fully satisfied, would I then venture onto this turf. And I’d constantly ask myself if it’s worth besmirching this person’s name or family to try to sell my novel–when an imaginary character, adequately removed from the real individual and lineage, would serve my purpose just as well. Please think about this, as leaning to the cautious side of this equation might save a lot of grief and money down the road.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 65
The Reason Point-of-View Shifts Matter to a Narrative
(October 25, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

And a special welcome to the newest subscribers to this medium. It’s that time again when I’m asking for ideas for topics for articles to accompany my Newsletters. Please drop me an e-mail with anything you’d like me to address that deals with writing prose at a level that would appeal to a mainstream imprint or the royalty publishing industry in general. If I possess experience that pertains to the topic, I’ll be happy to write about it. And should I not have personal knowledge, I’ll locate someone I respect who is versed in the subject and provide that person’s viewpoint.

For those of you who have taken my advise and subscribed to either the free or $20-per-month paid version of Publishers Lunch, you have recently noticed a great deal of space devoted to what are referred to as orphaned works. Meaning, books whose copyright has expired with no heirs to perpetuate a claim to the material and consequently no right to seek royalties if a firm decides to publish the work. Google and several other major players have been in court for some time over various contentions, and I thought this might be a good time to discuss some of the ramifications, of which there are many. And if any Newsletter subscribers are interested in current copyright laws, you can click this link to a Cornell University site devoted exclusively to this subject.

I found the material to be well presented and easy to follow. It gets touchy if a writer published something between 1978 to March 1, 1989 and didn’t register the material within five years. Registration is not the same as a copyright and is accomplished via the Federal Copyright Office. It used to cost $20, and I registered my first novel in the early ’90s. This was unnecessary, as I later learned, and no one needs to do this today, since once the copyright symbol © is affixed the material is protected.

But back to orphaned works. The most obvious problem is a firm laying claim to an orphaned work as its own and expecting any entity who sells or republishes the material to pay a commission (not a royalty, mind you, as the author or subsequent heirs–if there are any–are out of the picture). This is sort of like my buying a car from you that you bought new from a dealer and paid off, and the dealership expecting me to pay it a commission on the sale you made to me for a product you owned free and clear. At least that’s my take, as the suits have been in court for a long time and the judges are apparently having a hard time defining intellectual property when it’s in the public domain. Which brings me to another point.

If even one word of the text is changed, is the whole then the same work–as it applies to the law? I thought the recent brouhaha over HUCKLEBERRY FINN would’ve provided a solution, but this unfortunately has yet to effectuate a remedy. The publisher that abridged the text in my opinion now possesses a work that’s all its own. To digress for a moment, I don’t generally agree with modifying any writer’s published material, but when it’s flagrantly offensive and foisted on children, for me this changes the dynamic.

To go on record, I find Mr. Clemens’ word choices–that were altered–to be reprehensible and disgusting, regardless of the way neoscholastic intelligentsia implies the language “reflected” the mores of our culture in the late 1800s. My small country school had one black student in attendance when I was going to it, and as an adult I often agonized over what he must’ve felt as he read HUCKLEBERRY FINN along with the other kids. As a youth I was too immature and ignorant to understand this properly, but I can’t imagine any school system being so insensitive, and its educators so utterly blind. Sorry about this, as I seldom use this Newsletter as a personal soapbox, but I feel strongly about the subject since it hit particularly close to home. It’s one thing to analyze insensitive material in college; it’s quite another to hand it to seventh graders to read for entertainment.

I noticed that two well-known authors, Anthony Bourdain and Dennis Lehane, are now intending to acquire and publish a number of titles each year under their own imprints. In Dennis Lehane’s case, it was written that he was interested in literary fiction “with a dark urban edge.” If more mainstream authors will see their way clear to doing this, and like Mr. Lehane define what they are seeking, I can foresee this as a huge help for writers who’ve been killing themselves over the years with the Big 6 mind-sets and getting nowhere.

Perhaps authors looking at other writers’ works will indeed be the best way to add some breadth to a narrowness that seems to have overtaken so much of the industry, especially as genre guidelines–and specifically those of sub-genres–are maintained at such inflexible levels. I don’t mean to imply that the current cast of major publishers doesn’t know what’s good and what isn’t, but I do feel that the decision-makers are loath to take many risks. I have a suspicion many authors will remember what they have gone through and perhaps this will foster a little more tolerance across the board. Time will tell, but I think this is a great start, and I hope some of the early choices are huge successes so additional respected writers will take this step.

One of the major problems many writers have, including some who are quite skilled, is maintaining POV. As those of you who have read my Newsletters for some time will attest, I’ve written several articles on POV. But awhile back, someone really threw me for a loop when this budding writer asked me why POV matters at all. So here’s my latest attempt at trying to lend some clarity to POV and why it matters so much.

The Reason POV Shifts Matter to a Narrative

I normally don’t get too concerned when people discuss the vagaries of what it requires to write well, regardless of how off-base I think some of the comments might be as they pertain to a particular subject. But I’m motivated to get involved when an element of writing is discussed with fervor and a decided bias, yet with a blatant lack of understanding for the topic. A recent harsh treatment of Point-of-View is what motivated me to write this article.

Why Can’t POV Be Written in Any Way One Sees Fit to Write It?

Last year I was taken to task by a writer who’d written a piece he’d submitted for “approval” via a writer’s blog. I don’t generally respond to this sort of thing, but as I read his material, I noticed distinct POV shifts via four characters in what was a short opening chapter of 500 or so words. I wrote this fellow that his writing was fine, except for the POV issues. I was sent a brisk note that since “he” was the creator of the material, he could write the Point-of-View any way he wanted. After all, he told me, “he” wrote it, and in who else’s Point-of-View could it be written?

It Would Be Funny if It Wasn’t So Serious

I laughed off his callow remark, tried to explain what Point-of-View entailed, even providing some resource material to support its importance, then quickly moved on after I found I was stoking rather than extinguishing a fire. I thought little more about POV’s misconception until I noticed one of my articles on the subject posted on a Web site for writers. Several people were kind enough to state that my explanation of POV was indeed better than the original one that fostered the blog’s thread, but then each contributor tried to diminish the validity of POV.

This rankled me, especially when the moderator of the blog went on to support my contentions, yet was just as quick to offer that POV shifts really don’t matter much one way or the other. She admitted, however, that she also had difficulty at times with POV. This should’ve told readers the value of her opinions on this subject, but the coup de grace was when she closed her post by stating that POV was important only to agents, editors, and publishers–but not to readers.

It Isn’t True That POV Matters Only to Agents, Editors, and Publishers

If I’d ever read a position that justifies why amateur writers accepting advice from other amateur writers is a road map to disaster, that was it. Agents, editors, and publishers are not an exclusive club infatuated with POV shifts and the issues they create. If POV shifts are done incorrectly, they will stop the reader! This is what matters, not the contention of any professional who works in the industry.

If the reader doesn’t know who is speaking, often the scene will need to be read again. If this occurs repeatedly in a story, it can cause a book to be set down for good. Even an occasional POV shift can destroy the flow of a narrative. I’ve cited this before, but Saul Bellow let a couple of unnerving POV slips occur in THE VICTIM. And while this proves that even the best writers can err in applying this element uniformly, a mistake by an iconic writer hardly justifies POV-shift acceptance.

Anything That Jars the Reader Is Not Good

Not a brilliant statement by any means, but this is what the POV issue is all about. Some writers can shift POV effortlessly, and to paraphrase what the famous writer E. M. Forster said, if it’s effected seamlessly it doesn’t matter at all. But when the reader notices the shift, then there is a problem.

When Is It Easiest to Shift POV?

Complete scene breaks and of course new chapters will lend themselves to POV shifts. I’ve also found that high-tension scenes are at times forgiving if handled deftly (this might seem an odd example to cite, but for whatever reason I’ve found it valid). Some people write in an omniscient voice via third person and assume this always works. Unfortunately, it doesn’t if the speaker is not clearly identified. So while omniscient third person enables wide latitude, it doesn’t mean there aren’t requirements.

No Final Word on POV Exists

Debate will always rage over POV. The best response I can provide follows closely with what I stated earlier, and this is to write whatever the reader finds acceptable. If a POV shift doesn’t stop the flow of the narrative for the reader, it can be assumed the task was handled in a masterful fashion. The time to find out if a POV shift was successful, however, is not after the reader has put down the book because of becoming frustrated with it. This is the crux of the entire subject.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 66
What Is the Meaning of Literature?
(November 8, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

A big hello to the newest group of subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. Please let me know whenever you have any ideas that you believe might improve my offering, and be certain to contact me if you ever find anything you feel is misstated or different from your personal experiences with the publishing industry. I’ve said from day one that very little in this business is incontrovertible, and for this reason it’s critical to take in as much information as possible to make informed decisions about the complicated issues we’re all presented with as we work to succeed in this most challenging environment.

As an adjunct to this Newsletter, since November of last year I’ve been posting opening chapters on my Critique Blog that authors sent me to critique, of course with the writers’ permission. I began with a broad array of genres and styles to give Newsletter subscribers an idea of the wide range of material an editor sees. And I placed material in the blog with my raw edits and then the clean drafts for comparison. A great many of you have told me how much you’ve enjoyed this, along with the latest bill of fare, which consisted of a half-dozen or so opening chapters I selected to showcase.

Your response to this has been tremendous, and I’m certain all the writers who contributed are most appreciative of the exposure. And as I’ve stated several times, if I can ever figure out a way to offer a “Comments Box” that doesn’t open me up to spammers, I’ll do so. Any subscriber can leave comments in the box that I currently provide, but it requires signing in via something like AIM and people have shied away from this, and I don’t blame them. So, as all of you have been doing, if you want to write something (nice, of course, ha ha) about an opening chapter (or anything for that matter), please continue to e-mail me at [email protected] I’ll continue to forward any comments to the respective authors. I’m not going to post any new chapters until after the first of the year because at present I simply haven’t got the time to critique and edit opening chapters and keep everything else running along smoothly, including this Newsletter.

During the past few months I’ve devoted a lot of space to e-publishing and the ways this is impacting authors, whether mainstream or self-published. I’ve spent a lot of time researching e-book price points. And while I believe it’s fair to state that there’s nothing close to a consensus about anything, here’s something I’d look at very closely. Nora Roberts is releasing 11 of her backlist titles as e-books. It’s important to check into how these are priced, as I think a franchise writer can provide a good barometer. My contention is, can a non-mainstream-published or self-published author expect to compete at a higher price than what Ms. Roberts’ marketing department has established for her material?

Remember the point that came from a recent survey I alluded to? More than one-fourth of the buyers of e-books made their purchases based on price above any other factor once the genre was established. And the bulk of all purchasers of e-books didn’t know or care who published the material. Wouldn’t know Doubleday from Doublemint, and couldn’t care less. This is hardly meant disparagingly; simply a conclusion based on the survey results.

Now I want to provide some information everyone who is striving to become published by a legitimate mainstream royalty publisher must be aware of. Publishers can be absolute gorillas if they feel they are getting stepped on. This is why it’s critical to have an agent who knows what she or he is doing, and I still think it would be prudent to hire an attorney who specializes in intellectual property and publishing contracts to represent any writer who is sent a publisher’s contract. Yes, it will cost a few thousand dollars and likely eat up a lot of your first advance, but with the e-publishing aspect of the equation now getting all sorts of green shoots, I don’t see how this can be avoided. Case in point:

Most publishing contracts have strong language that prohibits an author from seeking another publisher for “x” amount of time after being signed for a particular project, especially if that author wishes to write in the same genre. Authors who might want to write in a different genre normally can get around this by using a pen name. Not always, again, depending on the contract. But sometimes. Enter e-publishing into the picture, and what prevents an author who is having success with a book with a publisher from selling a prior book or some other material as an e-book?

Amazon recently republished a work by an author who was signed by a major house for another book. The publisher terminated the contract for the other book. All sorts of shenanigans followed, including the claim that the writer didn’t want to go the traditional route. It didn’t help matters when the author said the material Amazon published was “her best, best work ever” (her exact words, according to what I read). In my opinion, that wasn’t the brightest thing this author could’ve said. Then there’s author Kiana Davenport’s tale of woe.

Ms. Davenport received what I refer to as the traditional $20,000 advance from a major publisher for her story, which was a Civil War novel via a Penguin imprint, Riverhead Books. Her novel was to be released sometime next summer. Ms. Davenport decided to publish a book of short stories she’d written some time ago, on Amazon, and under her name. Penguin cancelled her contract and is now suing to recover the advance. The reason, according to Penguin’s attorney, by using Amazon to e-publish her book, she violated the next-work representation, the non-compete provision, and the option clause.

Supposedly, this group of older stories included some award winners. And she’d offered these same stories to Penguin 15 years ago–and they were turned down. And as someone pointed out, it’s not at all uncommon for established writers to e-publish material they haven’t been able to sell to mainstream houses. I think it only makes good sense, and to my way of thinking it’s no different from Nora Roberts e-publishing some of her individual titles she has written on an e-platform. But Ms. Roberts’ books I think are being released by her publisher in e-book format and not solely by her. Or, if by her, she owns the rights to the books outright and does not have a non-compete clause.

As this pertains to Ms. Davenport, the “next work” clause can really be a sticky wicket, since she offered the material she e-published to Penguin 15 years ago and it was turned down. Does publishing this material 15 years later constitute a breach of the “next work” provision? Probably a great case for some really clever jurist to adjudicate. And the options clause might fall within the same framework of that decision. But the real no-brainer for me is the non-compete. How can anyone say publishing her stories does not compete directly with the book for which she was paid the advance? An attorney for the Authors Guild wrote Penguin on Ms. Davenport’s behalf with the contention that her e-book exposure would undoubtedly help rather than harm sales of the Penguin book, an argument that seems valid to me.

For me, what I just discussed is a black eye for everyone involved, but I brought this up to illustrate why an agent is so important. If a book sells 50 to 100 copies in its lifespan, it’s not going to matter. But if a work and an author start to truly gain traction, and the writer is not immediately thrust into the Nora Roberts, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich stratosphere that only about 100 authors worldwide are able to enjoy, the rest of us have to follow the often draconian guidelines established by the small group of major houses that control the bigger money. There are now plenty of options for writers, but the Big 6 and Kensington control the playing field if any of us want a decent advance. And that’s really what it all gets down to.

As we all know, there are two or more sides to most stories, so here’s The New York Times link to its journalist’s take on what occurred. If you access this material, you’ll also see a link to Ms. Davenport’s personal blog, which with some digging can provide you with her position as to why she did what she did. Part of what I read was that she didn’t want to accept the Penguin deal in the first place. What I don’t understand is that her book the Penguin imprint was to publish went to auction and still only produced a $20,000 advance.

And Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, a respected major literary agency with a slew of top writers in its considerable stable, represented the work. I’m sorry, this just doesn’t make sense to me. But irrespective of what I can’t fathom (which is most everything anymore, it seems), look at the number of mainstream published writers I’ve brought up in this Newsletter during the past few months who have tried self-publishing–and had gargantuan difficulties There’s a point to be made in this somewhere. Sort of like, I drive a car and I drive it well, so I think I’ll build my own. As I stated over and over, publishing is a business–and it has all the complexities and nuances of any other specialty enterprise, and even more so than many because of its history.

And while I’m discussing black eyes, in one of the greatest screw-ups of all time, a novel titled SHINE was erroneously named as a National Book Award finalist, and the author was then told that the title had been withdrawn from the competition because it was placed among the finalists in error. In recognition of this blunder, a $5,000 donation is being made to a charity, not to the writer who was humiliated, mind you, but to a private foundation having zero to do with writers or the National Book Award.

I’m not even going to dignify this Newsletter with the name of the foundation, as I have nothing against the organization’s premise, but the donation just as easily could have gone to The Underwater Basket Weavers of America or The National Association for the Advancement of Flagpole Sitters. Can anyone imagine the way this poor writer must feel at this moment? To be told she was a National Book Award finalist, then learn a day or so later that her book was withdrawn because of a purported clerical error! Oh, yes, someone on the National Book Award committee did tell her that her writing was very good. Wow, have I got a response for that one, and I bet each of you do too!

This is not the first time a major award operated under a cloud of intrigue (read: “ridiculous behavior”). When Edith Wharton won the Pulitzer in 1920 for THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, the award was actually voted to Sinclair Lewis for MAIN STREET. But sometime after the fact, the trustees at Columbia University–who administered the award–overruled the judges’ decision and gave the Pulitzer to Ms. Wharton (supposedly one judge was not all that fired up about MAIN STREET, and this is what influenced the trustees to abrogate the decision–and, yes, donkeys fly, as do porcupines). But in a gesture of incredible class, Sinclair Lewis dedicated his next book, BABBITT, to Ms. Wharton. Sinclair Lewis did win a Pulitzer a few years later for ARROWSMITH, and in 1930 won the Nobel Prize for Literature. So, what goes around does indeed come around.

That was a nice finale to follow a great deal of information that was anything but positive, and I assure Newsletter subscribers that the next edition will contain the usual mix of upbeat material. However, I believe it’s crucial for writers at all levels to be aware of the realities of the business, and that sometimes there are nasty looking warts. This Newsletter edition pointed out a few that can be excised only with the help of a forklift, but perhaps today’s article will cheer up everybody, since it deals with the definition of Literature; a fun topic, yet one that is often confusing.

What is Literature

In my opinion, this is one of the most difficult questions to answer with any degree of specificity. In the strangest of ways, attempting to define Literature brings to mind the judge who said he couldn’t describe pornography but knew what it was when he saw it. And I’ll state up front that I don’t have a concrete answer for what constitutes literature. But I have some ideas.

Defining Literature Is a Personal Matter

Literature seems quite often to be in the eye of the beholder. For light reading, I happen to enjoy Nelson DeMille, yet I teach UP COUNTRY as literature, since I think the work has exceptional dimension. Cormac McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is a flat-out thriller, yet who refers to it as that, or to him as a thriller writer, since he is considered a major artist in the craft of literature? I think Jody Picoult has written literature, since I’ve found some of her material just as profound as work by Barbara Kingsolver or Jane Smiley or Colleen McCullough. But I don’t even remotely believe that all or even many of her novels fall into the category of Literature.

Literature, as I see it, is defined by the substance written in a story’s fabric that makes the reader think rather than just read. Of course, people can say that romance novels make them think, just as well as science fiction or any other genre for that matter. But Literature has that special quality of making the readers dig deeper into their thought processes, and this in my view is what separates it from commercial fiction.

Literature Is More Plot-Driven Than Character Driven?

That’s a contention which made me laugh, and I’ve read this thesis often. If this is the case, how many works can anyone name that are famous and solely plot-driven? After STUDS LONIGAN, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and perhaps BREATHING LESSONS on a contemporary basis, what’s left?

Character-driven material leads the Literature genre by such a wide margin that it’s incomprehensible for me to see how anyone might feel that plot-driven novels are emblematic of the classification. All of Shakespeare’s comedies have one theme: Love conquers all. And some (okay, many) of the plays indeed have identical story elements, yet are any of the key characters the same?

Characters Matter–A Lot

I watched THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR at The Old Vic some years ago, and it was presented as occurring in the 1920s. Very clever, and the lines held up, which surprised me. But to my way of thinking, the key character in the play has always been Falstaff. And, while admirably portrayed in a 1920s milieu, he couldn’t be reconstituted in that time frame and made remotely as funny as I found him in the era in which he was originally cast. Someone could say this points to plot and contradicts my position, but I’m not so sure about that. The strength of the characterization was diminished in that setting, not the character itself.

Is the Seriousness of the Work the Primary Determinant?

Returning to novels, maybe it’s poignancy itself that’s the deciding factor in determining the definition of Literature, regardless of whether the story is plot-or-character driven. And Literature generally involves an adult theme. But not always. After writing this article, I know just one thing, and this is what I stated at the beginning: Literature is impossible for me to define with any degree of accuracy. But I hope I at least have provided some idea of what motivates me to think of a work as Literature–and that I’ve given others who have struggled with the concept some fodder to establish criteria for a subject I find fascinating.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 67
More on Writing Backstory (Flashback)
(November 22, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

As always, my first order of business is to welcome the new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter. The primary premise behind this forum is to provide concurrent information on publishing-industry issues for which I have personal experience or verifiable data. As an adjunct to this, I always create an article on some aspect of writing at a level that would be appealing to a major royalty publisher or quality indie. Initially, these articles are exclusive to subscribers of this Newsletter, but I later post them on EzineArticles for Internet distribution, as this is an important segment of my business model and for company branding.

I have wide shoulders, so I always encourage Newsletter subscribers to point out any contentions they might have with what I write, so please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at [email protected] if you ever spot something you feel is amiss. I’ll certainly consider your position and be happy to present it in an upcoming edition if I believe subscribers would benefit. I also encourage Newsletter subscribers to submit topics for upcoming articles. Every couple of months or so I set aside enough time to enable me to write a block of articles to keep me 60 to 90 days ahead of Newsletter publication dates. Half of the articles I write are the direct result of Newsletter-subscriber suggestions.

As a further supplement to my Newsletter, for a little more than a year I’ve been posting opening chapters on my Critique Blog that writers have sent me. Of course, I do this only after I have the author’s permission. In most cases this includes my critiques, and in the beginning I also provided cursory revisions of the first few pages so writers who weren’t familiar with editing could develop an understanding of what the process entails. Later this year, I showcased a half-dozen or so works that I felt were some of the best of what I received in the preceding 12 months.

I mentioned in the last Newsletter that I was going to place posting opening chapters on a brief hiatus until after the first of the year, but today I’m highlighting the first chapter of a work by a prior client of mine, Sharon Menear, because I’m delighted to report that her novel, DEAD STICK DAWN, was selected as Best Unpublished Thriller by the Royal Palm Literary Society. It’s always gratifying when someone I’ve worked with achieves success, and I’m also pleased to mention that Sharon tells me she’s deciding between two independent presses that are competing to publish her novel.

Sharon was a commercial pilot who flew jet airliners, and she places the reader in the cockpit with her in her scintillating opening chapter. Honesty compels me to state that I had zero to do with her opening, as when I read it initially I told Sharon it was one of the best setups I’d read by an unpublished writer in some time. So, huge kudos to Sharon, and I’d like to ask all Newsletter subscribers to keep an eye out for DEAD STICK DAWN when it’s released. You can read this terrific opening by clicking the link in either this or the preceding paragraph.

On occasion I’ve mentioned a successful self-published work that has been picked up by a major royalty publisher. I’ve always placed a caveat for Newsletter subscribers so they clearly recognize the way this material was sourced before it was signed. For example, self-published author C.L. Lyons’ mystery, BLIND FAITH, is going to be released in a mass market paperback in August of next year by Minotaur. According to the press blurb, this writer was signed to a three-book deal. Here is what’s critical to know: This book was a New York Times e-book bestseller.

It’s always easy to assume, if a self-published book is a good one, someone scouring the Internet for a Big 6 or Kensington imprint will eventually spot it. As I stated more times than I care to count, unless the story is a huge success and there is a major catalyst to back this up, such as a NYT listing, there is little (read “zero”) chance the work is going to be signed. No one working for a major publisher is searching for a book to read that might have good liner notes. This “search” person is looking for a story that is successful, or has recently been a hit, so the writer has traction. Not the story, but the writer.

Crafting a story and expecting an audience to find it–and pay to read the material–is not like “build it and they will come.” The e-reading public has to know a work is available, and this means marketing. Then, if the author can demonstrate a solid sales record, the book might have a shot with a mainstream royalty publisher. I wish I could report that miracles have happened, but I don’t know of any, as this is the only way I know this plays out in the real world. It’s always been a money–and not necessarily a quality–driven business. To support my argument, here’s a link to an article I wrote a year or so ago on this topic, “Why Are So Many Novels on the Bestseller Lists Lousy?” Frankly, I hated writing the article, but I felt the information needed to be related to Newsletter subscribers.

In a recent Newsletter, I discussed orphan works and the imbroglio Google has created by claiming material as orphaned when this is not the case. If anyone might have missed that edition and is not familiar with “orphan” in literary parlance, it refers to material for which the copyright has expired for whatever reason and the material is now public domain. This means that anyone can publish the book and even change text, as in the HUCKLEBERRY FINN example I cited. Now I notice that Amazon is giving away books that the company doesn’t hold the rights to–as a means of promoting their new Kindle e-readers.

As I understand this, the firm is using a clause relating to wholesale purchases as justification for this action. Of course, the publisher and the writer receive zero payment or royalty, respectively, after the one-time wholesale purchase. So if you’re an Amazon-listed author and the firm decides to invoke the wholesale rule and give away 1,000 of your books with their Kindle readers, you will not receive a dime. Somehow, I don’t think this is fair (duh), nor was it the intent of the wholesale rule, which essentially implies that a segment of any publishing run can be used for publicity and the publisher and author won’t be compensated. In hard copy, the mere cost controls this; in e-publishing, the playing field tilts because there’s no appreciable expense to print an e-book after the initial set up. Hence, giving a book away, or many as the case may be, is no great shakes. I believe Amazon’s actions, if they are being correctly reported–and they seem to be–are reprehensible.

I noticed also that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are taking off the gloves with respect to Kindle and Nook comparisons. I’m hardly the one to get into the debate, but it does show where this industry is going, and that B&N is clearly looking to position itself as something beyond a brick and mortar environment. Add to this the new copying technology I brought up earlier this year, and I firmly believe we’ll see bookstores, even at airports, reduced to kiosk status. Does this mean the end for reading? Of course not. In reality it will make literature more accessible. But what it will do is make the hard copy, as I said before, a cherished item given away for special occasions. For many people, even avid readers, this has been the case with hardbacks for years, so this in itself is no big deal. Bottom line, the $27.95 retail as a business model is going to be a thing of the past.

For name authors, I think we’ll see $2.99 to $5.99 as the standard e-price points. For exceptionally hot material, as high as $12.99 in the short term. This is why I strongly suggested a $.99 to $2.99 price point for non-mainstream e-published authors. My position is that it’s hard to compete with John Grisham at $16.00 when his most-recent bestseller is being sold for $5.99. Remember the findings from the survey I alluded to in a prior Newsletter: More than 25 percent of the book-buying public look at price as the single most important factor when purchasing a book. I found that shocking (read “revolting” ha ha)–yet impossible to ignore.

All of this cannot help but bring me back to a point I make over and over, and this is the author’s need to have a firm grasp of book marketing and then implement whatever is fiscally realistic to gain exposure. In a bookstore, whether on a half acre or in an airport shop, the titles are visually presented via the physical book. In a kiosk, other than perhaps an occasional flyer or advertising poster hanging on the front of the stand, how would an author know what book to ask to be manufactured while in a mall or waiting on a flight? Sure, the friendly attendant could hand out a catalogue. But of what value is a catalogue when virtually every book ever written and published–in any medium–will be listed? Someone is going to scan through millions of titles?

Expecting a reader to settle on an unknown author’s title among the 70,000 each year that Ingram displays is absurd enough to consider. I think it’s important to keep in mind what the Smashwords CEO admitted recently about some of “their” authors’ books not selling a single copy. I contend it doesn’t matter that his is a self-publishing environment, as I believe it’s reasonable to imply–if the book-buying public doesn’t know a work is out there–it’s pretty hard to expect sales for it, regardless of whether it’s written by J.K. Rowling or K.J. Wroglin.

During the past couple of years I’ve written several articles on backstory and its use. Some Newsletter subscribers, along with Internet posters, pointed out that in my last material on this subject I ignored the obvious, which was dialogue. The article focused on physically laying out backstory, and I didn’t think showing how to punctuate a line of dialogue was necessary. But I appreciate the concern caused by the omission, so I decided to tackle backstory one more time on a more comprehensive basis. Here, also, is a link to the article I wrote on this topic that deals solely with layout, “Techniques for Displaying Backstory in a Novel,” should anyone be interested.

How to Use Backstory in a Novel

Some time ago I was asked to write a piece on techniques for displaying backstory (or flashback, if this is preferred) in a novel. That article focused on formats such as italics, parentheses, or a simple writer’s aside. Later, it was suggested I address how to specifically use backstory in a novel, and this is what this article piece is about.

A Prologue Is the Most Obvious Medium, But Also the Most Dangerous

The simplest location for backstory is in a prologue, as this inherently deals with what has occurred in the past. The problem is that prologues are often frowned upon by agents and publishers because they feel this “explanation” gives away too much of what is going to happen in the story, hence lessening the intensity of the plotline.

The Next Most Obvious Option Is Via Dialogue

In the earlier article I hadn’t initially mentioned dialogue, and careful readers pointed this out. I purposely didn’t include dialogue because that article dealt with format techniques to display backstory. But I felt the criticism was justified, so I revised the material to include a reference. Indeed, what one character says to another is the most convenient way to depict the past without being accused of telling rather than showing the action. And telling rather than showing is one of the primary reasons some of the movers and shakers who determine what gets published don’t like backstory.

Stream-of-Consciousness Writing Also Works

Most people would agree that it’s really hard to write like Virginia Wolf or William Faulkner, which might be the understatement of the century. But some people try. And if a writer is brave enough to give it a go, stream of consciousness writing will enable a character to express the past.

Interior Monologue Is Easy–Sort Of

Short bursts of interior monologue deftly inserted between spits of dialogue can work quite well. However, this too requires a good ear and being especially alert to unintended POV shifts. POV problems seem to crop up most often when interior monologue becomes lengthy, so it’s generally best to keep these runs brief. But, again, this is a great place to offer information to the reader that is significant to the fabric of the narrative.

Entire Chapters Can Be Devoted to Backstory

I’ve seen instances when writers have used an entire chapter of backstory to lend clarity to what is now going on in their story. But in the overwhelming number of instances, in my opinion, it would’ve been much better to show the event in real time, early-on in the narrative, and then build from it.

Then There Is the Denouement

The denouement doesn’t always have to occur at the very end of the story, and a prime example is in A THOUSAND ACRES, a book I cite often because I feel it’s brilliant in a great many respects. One of these is the subtle style Jane Smiley uses to let the reader in on why her protagonist, Ginny, has had severe emotional struggles throughout her life. The way this is interjected–and where in the story–is a testament to Ms. Smiley’s immense talent. Without critical backstory handled in this manner, in my opinion the book wouldn’t have been what it is.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 68
The Meaning of Tautology and How It Negatively Affects Writing
(December 6, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

And an additional hello to the new subscribers of The Perfect Write® Newsletter, of which you will receive an edition every other Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST. Each Newsletter is designed to provide information on writing prose at a level that would be appealing to a bona fide royalty publisher, as well as material that relates to the industry. I also create an article to accompany each Newsletter that pertains to some aspect of writing. The article from a recent Newsletter, “What Is the Definition of Literature,” was the most viewed since I began this medium 2 1/2 years ago.

And for people who say Literature doesn’t sell, Emma Donahue’s ROOM recently passed the 1,000,000 mark in sales. Not dollars, but total books! COLD MOUNTAIN and THE POISONWOOD BIBLE didn’t fare too poorly wither, if I remember correctly. The point is that good writing will sell, regardless of the genre. And while ULYSSES or THE SOUND AND THE FURY could never be described as easy reading, once the styles are understood, they become what they are considered to be, and that’s two of the greatest works of all time.

Lately whenever I discuss Literature, I recall the post I read on some blog from a fellow who was disenchanted with the genre (and a good reason why I eschew blogs, ha ha). He remarked that the only people who read Literature were those who wanted to appear superior, yet deep down they hated the material. It reminded me of the time about 20 years ago when I was on a plane reading ULYSSES. I had the book on a tray table, and a woman who was walking by turned the massive paperback sideways while I was reading it. She stuck up her nose, and said, “Forget it,” while she was forging her way from where I was sitting up front to her seat in the rear cabin.

I’m not going to use today’s Newsletter to defend Literature, but that incident occurred while I was reading ULYSSES for the second time, which I guess indicates how much I must hate the genre. Of late I’ve had the privilege of critiquing manuscripts by several of my clients who have crafted beautiful works of Dramatic Literature, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how they fare in the agent arena. I’ve found throughout the years that Literature is perhaps the easiest genre to work with when it comes to attracting agent interest.

I was able to get an agent to accept a full draft of Dramatic Literature from a client of mine last year when all I said was that the story contained some of the best dialogue I’d read in a long time. Not one word about the plot, characters, milieu, or even the word count, the latter of which agents always seem to want to know even though they deny it’s relevant. And while the book didn’t make it through this firm’s gantlet (material requires approval by a review committee before it can be accepted for representation), the agent told me how disappointed she was in the decision. I know this agent well enough that I’m certain she wasn’t trying to mollify me with a platitude. Someone’s waffle didn’t go down right that morning, and the book didn’t get picked up. It’s really that rudimentary, and illustrates the fickle nature of the industry

On an altogether different topic, anyone who’s getting Publishers Lunch has seen the material on e-publishers unwittingly providing free license to their works by making them available to third parties to sell on the Internet. This is not exactly what’s happening, but it’s what it amounts to. From the outset I said there were going to be horror stories because of inadequate policing (read “bookkeeping”). And this is what’s occurring. Penguin just pulled their program but reinstated it days later. Yet other large publishers hinted they were going to follow Penguin’s lead. If these huge companies, with their Draconian contracts backed by high-powered legal teams, can’t monitor what happens once a book is in the e-domain, how can authors protect their rights?

Another reason I’ve said that if writers are going to self e-publish, it’s critical to do this as inexpensively as possible and devote any excess funds, if there are any, to independent marketing and creating a point-of-sale environment with something such as PayPal. This way, the writer sees every dime of the profit from the sale except for the processing tariff of around 4 percent. All subscribers to my Newsletter have read my laments about no marketing, no sales. And it doesn’t matter what lists a writer is on. Get traction, acquire sales; without it, develop a sour attitude. This is what I hear from writers from all over the world.

I don’t sell marketing, so I have no monetary interest in anything a writer might do. All I can do is suggest some outfits that I believe are ethical and can get the track greased. But there isn’t any sure thing, even for a great book. All the stars have to be aligned, and then it requires a lot of hard work. As I offered a while ago, anyone who wants a copy of my Newsletter that included BOOK MARKETING FROM A to Z just needs to drop me a note at [email protected]

Today’s article involves one word modifying another when both mean the same thing, and here it is:

The Meaning of Tautology and How It Negatively Affects Writing

The first time I read the word, I thought because of the “logy” suffix it referred to the study of something. However, in the realm of language, tautology isn’t considered the study of anything but the analysis of an element of writing. Specifically, the needless repetition of a word. Not that I can improve on the definition of the three dictionaries I use for reference, yet I believe tautology is easier to understand if it’s referred to as modifying a word with a word that implies the same thing.

The All-Time Classic Is One Phrase We Hear Every Day

“It’s the same exact thing,” is the most obvious case of tautology we are exposed to on a routine basis. Can there be the slightest difference between “same” and “exact” in any context? Is there anything wrong with saying “It’s the same thing”? Yet those who write copy, for newscasters in particular, seem to relish telling us that something is the same exact thing at every opportunity. Or it’s the exact opposite, as if “exact” makes something more opposite.

Tautology Comes in Many Forms

Many people have written in the drafts of theirs I’m sent to edit that a character has looked up at the sky or down at the floor. Unless someone is an astronaut, is it possible to look down at the sky? How about up at the floor? Just like looking down at the sky, it’s possible to create a scenario in which a person would look up at a floor, but it takes some work.

Tautology Creeps Into Our Rhetoric in Subtle Forms Too

An example I noticed in a dictionary was “widow woman.” But what about the following examples: hurtful injury, unhappy frown, mean sneer, happy smile, joyous glee, and black darkness?

However, if a connotation is desired that goes outside the accepted obvious implication for injury, frown, sneer, smile, glee and darkness, it’s of course acceptable if not desirable to modify each noun. Slight injury, deep frown, loud sneer, brief smile, tempered glee, and eerie darkness are each couplets with greater meaning because of the modifier.

Tautology Isn’t Limited to Nouns

I read recently a line in which a photograph was blown up larger. Could it be enlarged any other way? The same as reduced smaller or fell down. Yes, someone can theoretically fall up the stairs, but this is certainly not common enough to be accepted as idiom. And it’s what’s acceptable to a language that in large measure determines tautology.

Ask Yourself, Am I Saying the Same Thing?

Variety keeps a narrative fresh, and it starts by making certain that we are adding to the meaning of the nouns and verbs we modify. When a writer pays attention to tautology with respect to couplets, I’ve found that this author will more than likely be just as introspective when analyzing core thoughts in paragraphs and making certain these themes aren’t over-justified by the text that follows. One mindset seems to apply to the other, and each are indeed good habits to hone.

One final remark: I was taken to task a while ago for using the couplet “much more.” An erudite chap mentioned that an instructor of his in grammar school, no less, said this phrase was redundant and therefore superfluous. I respected his comment and complimented him for his good fortune at having a teacher who was so precise and willing to share such good advice with children that young. But I ask anyone reading this article, would you rather have more on your next week’s paycheck–or would you rather to have much more?

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 69
More on the Use of Contractions
(December 20, 2011)

Hello Everyone,

As always, I begin my Newsletters by welcoming new Subscribers to this forum. Please let me know if you’d like specific information that pertains to the current state of the publishing industry or writing prose at a level that would appeal to a mainstream royalty publisher. I write an article to accompany each Newsletter, and I’m always eager for topics. Whenever you have something in mind, please drop me an e-mail at [email protected]

And if you check the Articles Page on my Web site at, you’ll find material I’ve written that might already apply to your subject. But if an article doesn’t address your issue, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at [email protected], and I promise I’ll look at your area of interest and either communicate with you individually or write a pertinent article to complement an upcoming Newsletter. Half of what I write about is the direct result of Newsletter subscribers’ participation. To this point, today’s article focuses on contraction use in a narrative, and it was created at the behest of Donna Yates, a longtime Newsletter subscriber who also maintains a lovely blog, “Believe in Yourself,” that’s dedicated to writers.

Those of you who have followed my drivel for any period of time are aware of how often I mention the need to pay attention to writing conventions. Yet I also tell people that an inordinate number of rules are routinely sidestepped. For example, I start my Newsletter with “Hello Everyone.” And anyone who knows anything about English realizes that “Everyone” in this context is a proper name; hence, a comma should precede it and “Hello, Everyone,” is the way this should read. I think the greeting looks odd like that, so I eschew the comma. But since my opening style is not an idiom, strict grammarians would find it reprehensible.

With what I wrote in the previous paragraph in mind, I thought we’d have a little fun today and look at the absolute rules as dictated by one of my favorite contemporary writers, Elmore Leonard. And we’ll explore whether or not he might be a breaker of his own inviolable principles on occasion. For foundation, I’m reprinting Mr. Leonard’s ten rules of writing from a How To book he published by the same title. And, yes, it’s “of” writing and not “for” writing. Here are his ten rules, followed by my comments on each:

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writing

Never open a book with weather.
Avoid Prologues.
Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
Keep your exclamation points under control.
Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
Use regional dialects, patois, sparingly.
Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

1. Never open a book with weather.

I guess Hemingway never got the memo. Seriously, many writers get way too hung up on demonstrating their skills while forgetting about the genre in which they write. A Romance novelist or anyone writing in many substrates of commercial fiction can certainly start a story with weather and not cause a reader’s interest to flag. But it’s very hard for a mystery or thriller writer to use weather unless it’s a critical aspect of the plot. Readers of this sort of material don’t care about clouds scudding by or flowers blowing in the wind.

2. Avoid Prologues.

So much is offered about the problems with prologues, and I’ve written on this subject, too, that I’ve tired of discussing it. If you’re not royalty published by the Big 6 or Kensington, don’t write prologues; if you’re published by one of these mainstream imprints, go for it you feel it helps your setup. The whole debate is silly, in my opinion, as is my remark, but what I wrote is what I’m experiencing and why I presented the information in the way I did.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

This rule should be followed. Someone will read a Robert Ludlum novel and assume everyone can write like that and get published. No one can! People don’t bark, cry, wail, sniffle, chortle, order, demand, command, rail, comment, cajole, lilt, etc., their speech. People speak, and the manner in which this occurs is what should be depicted in the dialogue, not via an attribute.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”

And Mr. Leonard doesn’t. But he uses a lot of interior monologue to set up his dialogue, and some of it can be suspect. For example, on page 207 of my favorite novel of his, GLITZ, he writes: DeLeon said, “S–t,” with a grin. Can someone really speak with a grin or a smile or a frown? We write this, we’re chastised. A noted writer does this and it’s ignored.

To the point of the rule, for me, Steinbeck is the greatest dialogist I’ve ever read. Yet adverb attributes attend his “speeches.” A character of his says something, “plaintively,” in EAST OF EDEN, and another character says something “suddenly.” (More on “suddenly” in a moment.) But unless you write dialogue as well as Steinbeck, I’d keep my adverb attributes as close to zero as possible.

I think if budding authors analyze the great writers of our time, they’ll find that the key is moderation. For examples of this, parse LONESOME DOVE (I know, it’s a quarter of a million words, so take my point rhetorically) and notice how seldom Larry McMurtry varies from “said,” or uses an adverb attribute. The same with Herman Wouk in WAR AND REMEMBRANCE (the follow-up to THE WINDS OF WAR). Mr. Wouk has a speaker “continue” once or twice. And he uses other attributes other than “said,” such as “remarked” on rare occasion. (Some people contend he never wrote this book, but that’s a topic for another time. My interest is in pointing out the variances in his syntax selection.)

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

This is an ironclad rule that cannot be bent. My general attitude is one exclamation point per 25,000 words or four per book, regardless of its size or plot circumstances. I read an otherwise wonderful story once that contained over 1,000 exclamation points (yes, I counted them, ha ha). The writer wondered why he had to self-publish. If I remember, his book contained approximately 400 pages, and this meant there were at least two exclamation points per page. After mark number 541, is it realistic to think a reader would get excited about what dictated mark 542?

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

At a writers’ workshop I facilitated for children last year, I told the kids never to use “suddenly” because everything happens “suddenly.” One of the parents who attended found my remark rather dubious. It wasn’t. In 99.9 percent of the instances when “suddenly” is used, it’s superfluous.

As to the “all hell broke loose” phrase, this is a red flag for a writer to show the action that caused “all hell to break loose” and not tell the reader it did–or warn the reader it’s about to occur.

7. Use regional dialects, patois, sparingly.

If there’s an area in which Mr. Leonard doesn’t take his own advice, this is it. In addition to pacing, for what is this author renowned? Many will say it’s his dialogue, with emphasis on his dialects and use of “street language.” He’s one of the great writers of accents and slang out there. However, sparingly is the key. Too much patois, argot, etc., can wear out a reader.

[As an aside to all of this, while doing research for this material, I read that Mr.Leonard’s first literary agent told him not to write Westerns set on U.S/Mexican border, which is of course what he first wrote about, and many of his works set in this region were turned into movies. Some have even become remakes, such as 3:10 TO YUMA.]

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

And don’t ever read Jody Picoult or Barbara Kingsolver or William Faulkner or Pearl Buck. Letting the reader fill in the blanks is fine for some genres, but one size I don’t believe fits all for this one.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

I think he means not to go into too much description of places or things. If this is to be taken literally, I believe that all of us can name dozens of wonderful, hugely successful authors who’ve proved this rule to be rather flawed. On the other end of the spectrum, there are writers such as Tom Clancy who take description to an agonizing level for some folks.

10. Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.

At first pass, that might seem to be a bit of sarcasm, but it really is a wise comment. If something doesn’t look good to you, it likely is not going to look good to someone else. And going back to point number one regarding the weather, if someone is writing a rip-roaring thriller, reading a lengthy description of the climate or a building or a character will generally have a deleterious effect on pacing.

If the “ten rules” have a moral, it’s that there is almost always wiggle room in writing, the same as when I write, “Hello Everyone,” to begin my Newsletters.

Despite the burgeoning length of today’s Newsletter, ha ha, I want to spend the time to cover one other topic I feel strongly about, and this is providing accurate information regarding e-book pricing and what’s taking place with current price points. During the past six months or so, I’ve been stating that it appeared self-published e-books seemed to do best in the $.99 to $2.99 range. But here’s an article (with a title too long to print and that won’t make any sense unless the material is read) posted on December 6 on a reputable publishing site that tells a different tale.

This author started her book at $2.99 and sold just 18 copies the first month. She then raised the price to $3.99 and sold 158 copies. She raised the price the following month to $4.99 and sold 244 copies that month. Things really took off, according to this author, when she raised the price to $5.99. That month she tallied 472 copies sold, and for the six-month period sold 4,603 copies of her book, and earned enough for her to quit her job.

Two issues stand out. Why did she stop at $5.99, as I would’ve tested the market to see what the outer limit would be; and, two, her books started selling once she received a favorable review. Good reviews are critical for any self-publisher’s success, and she had this good fortune, but I couldn’t determine from her article if the critique was solicited.

Does this writer’s experience mean that I’m going to revise what I wrote in BOOK MARKETING FROM A TO Z? No, it doesn’t. But it does indicate–once an author gets footing–pricing flexibility is possible. However, what happened to Netflix on the video side clearly indicates just how judiciously this must be handled. Also, should Amanda Hocking, who states she’s now selling 9,000 self-published books each week at $.99 each, change her pricing metric? Would people pay $1.99 or $2.99 to read her work? How about $5.99?

The lady who wrote the article I’m asking Newsletter subscribers to read (here’s the link again) posted one observation that I have to relate to anyone who might not read her entire piece. According to her, someone who read her novel wrote the following note to her, and I quote this from her post: “One reader wrote that she never bought a book that was $2.99 or less because it was sure to be self-published “indie crap” riddled with typos.” That flies directly in the face of what was recently reported from many major sources about buyer demographics. Price was not only an important factor in e-book buying decisions, it was the most dominant influence.

It’s important to recognize that one writer’s experience does not dictate critical mass any more than one person’s opinion of $.99 books. However, with nothing close to a clear-cut direction in the publishing industry at this time with respect to e-books, self-published or otherwise, in my opinion it’s critical to pay attention to what’s going on with writers who have waded into these murky waters.

Every success, as with every failure, needs to be analyzed. My position with respect to this writer’s positive experience (whose name is Elle Lothlorien and book is titled THE FROG PRINCE, by the way) is that the initial positive review served as both the conduit and catalyst for her success. The review component is a major tenet of BOOK MARKETING FROM A TO Z. Get your book in front of reviewers on sites that have a following, and if the reviews are positive, sales will follow. I don’t think it takes a Harvard MBA to figure out that one.

One last item before today’s article: I’m always suggesting Agent Query as the best site I’m aware of for sourcing agents. And for obvious reasons I always ask that authors check published works in their respective genres for agents who represent books in that milieu. The problem occurs when an author doesn’t cite his or her agent in the Acknowledgments section, and Agent Query or any other agent site isn’t going to help without a specific name.

But miracle upon miracles! I’ve found that a simple Internet search on Google or Bing will provide almost any writer’s agent. No longer is there a need to scour the library and read the Acknowledgements for hope of a mention. I’ve been doing this for my clients for the past year and haven’t come away empty once. And in those instances when an agent has passed away or gone into other areas of publishing, I’ve always then been able to go directly to the agency that person was affiliated with and come away with something positive. Simply write in the search box, “Who is author Tom Clancy’s agent?” and you’ll find a link somewhere on the first page that provides what you’re looking for.

Now for today’s article:

The Use of Contractions in a Narrative

One of the more difficult tasks facing any fiction writer is the proper application of contractions in the narrative. A set of standards applying to exposition that is often different from those which pertain to dialogue makes this particularly perplexing.

Start by Reading the Material Aloud

Anyone who routinely reads my articles is aware that this is what I always suggest as the first requirement for determining good writing, regardless of whether it’s exposition or dialogue. Unquestionably, authors listening to their own prose is the best way I know for them to assess the fluency of their material. If not combining two words that form a common contraction causes an undesired pause in the delivery of the material, this is the best indicator I know that a revision is in order.

Emphasize a Sentence Element by Not Using a Contract

It’s especially good not to use a contraction if it is deemed important to add emphasis to something, the same as I did in this sentence. I wanted the second “it is” to draw attention to my belief that it is indeed beneficial to use a contraction to add emphasis. Conversely, I didn’t feel “It is” held any significance as a lead-in, Keep in mind, it’s not the “it is” that’s important, but the degree of influence the writer wants to place on a sentence element.

Noncontracted Words Influence Dialogue As Well

Some fine editors, especially those who work mostly with nonfiction, have issues with dialogue because they expect to see it written in a “perfect” way. Ignoring that an author can’t effectively write dialogue the exact way people speak any more than folks can talk comfortably the same way dialogue is written, contraction use and nonuse is critical to the way a run of dialogue is perceived.

Contracted and noncontracted words can provide a wealth of information. Here are two of the simplest but purest examples: “That isn’t what I meant,” and “That is not what I meant.” In the second short sentence, is there any doubt that the speaker is more intent? Does it require an underline or italics with “it is,” or an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, to identify that the speaker is vexed?

Contractions Can Indicate a Casual Atmosphere

I publish a Newsletter that many subscribers have told me is like receiving a letter from a friend. In large measure, I believe this feeling is because I use a great many contractions in the narrative. My thought is that contractions make the material more pleasant to read, and at times will lend a lighter air to some serious topics. I’ve found this to be my approach to many facets of prose writing, and the placement of contractions is a critical component for shaping tone as well as pitch.

An Issue to Be Aware Of

A problem arises when certain common contractions don’t travel well when used in runs of dialogue. “That will” and “It will” are at the top of this list. I don’t know of many people who haven’t written “that’ll” or “it’ll” at one time or another. Please don’t. There seems to be a penchant to tag “ll” to the back of an inordinate number of words. I recently read, “somebody’ll” and in another draft that “my brother’ll be here in a while.” It’s one thing if a writer is trying to illustrate a speech pattern or dialect, but quite another when creating an altogether new amalgamation of words.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 70
More on the Use of Contractions
(January 3, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome the latest subscribers to The Perfect Write® and ask each of you to consider topics for articles to accompany upcoming broadcasts. I always complement each Newsletter with an article I initially compose exclusively for this medium, and today’s topic concerns common words and phrases that are often used incorrectly. Half of the material I write about is the direct result of ideas submitted by Newsletter subscribers, so please don’t be shy about a suggestion. And you can review the Articles Page on my Web site for scores of articles I’ve designed that pertain to writing prose at a level which would appeal to a major royalty publisher or quality indie.

The following material is so important for anyone considering self e-publishing, that I’m giving it the lead in today’s edition. I would like to have posted what follows in the Newsletter two weeks ago, as the story broke at that time, but the broadcast was already expansive and I didn’t want to enlarge it any further. I asked for and received Michael Cader’s permission with Publishers Marketplace to reprint the article he wrote in its exact context, and here it is:

“Last week the NYTBR featured Darcie Chan, author of the self-published success The Mill River Recluse, in the Inside the List column, where she noted ‘I would still love to have a book traditionally published, be it Recluse, my second novel (currently in progress) or a future work.’

‘Now the WSJ has a long feature on her path to success, and continuing discussions with publishers via agent Laurie Liss at Sterling Lord Literistic. Unfortunately the article suffers from some NYT-esque pejoratives and errors of fact, so the account of publisher discussions is open to some interpretation.

‘A few major publishers’ offered to republish The Mill River Recluse, ‘but none matched the digital royalty rates of 35 percent to 40 percent’ she gets from self-publishing, of course, though it begs the question of what kind of advance she was offered. Chan says she has sold 413,000 units to date, at 99 cents, yielding about $130,000. Chan still ‘wants the book to be professionally edited and marketed,’ and turned down a distribution offer from Simon & Schuster.

She ‘wants to see her book in print’ and is waiting on audio and foreign rights offers and movie studio interest ‘for fear they might sabotage a potential contract with a domestic publisher’ by the WSJ’s account. Chan indicates she has written two chapters of her next novel for now.

As the story notes, ‘thirty authors have sold more than 100,000 copies of their books through Amazon’s Kindle self-publishing program, and a dozen have sold more than 200,000 copies, according to Amazon.’ Thirty self-published Kindle authors out of tens if not hundreds of thousands, but the piece declares “just as music executives have been sidestepped by YouTube sensations and indie iTunes hits, book publishers are losing ground to independent authors and watching their powerful status as literary gatekeepers wither.’

The WSJ actually understates the percentage of trade sales in ebook form, and they misstate that Perseus is among those who ‘have recently launched their own digital self-publishing programs.’ It says the book was featured on ‘two of the biggest sites for e-book readers’ in July, “generating a surge of new sales.’ Kindle Nation Daily says a paid promotion by Chan on their site in July boosted the ebook’s rank from No. 247 to No. 41 on the Kindle list.”

This is the end of the article, and there are several issues that are apparent to anyone who has tracked this industry for even a brief period. But before I get into this, I’ve worked the math every which way, and a sale of 413,000 units that netted Ms. Chan $130,000 equals approximately a 24 percent return. She states in the article (or at least the article implies she says this) that she earns from 35 to 40 percent on her self-published sales. Thirty-five percent comes to $144,000 gross and 40 percent equals $165,000. Why the discrepancy from the $130,000 she attests to?

Now to the issues that struck me: First, according to the report, Ms. Chan still “wants the book to be professionally edited….” Why? I edit for a living, but if she’s experiencing this level of sales, the readers who buy her material aren’t interested in how well the narrative stacks up against mainstream-edited work. And if editing is truly important to Ms. Chan, shouldn’t she have thought about this a few hundred thousand copies earlier in the sales cycle? The article also goes on to state that Ms. Chan paid for a promotion on the Kindle Daily Nation site. Apparently Ms. Chan felt it was more important to promote the book than have it edited, which furthers my contention that the editing of her material is not to be taken too seriously. Ms. Chan also says she wants the book professional marketed, yet she turned down a distribution deal with Simon and Schuster. Huh?

The WSJ article makes no sense to me, although I’m certain everything is being reported exactly as the material was presented to the writer who wrote the piece. And, like Mr. Cader, all I can do is reprint what was published. But when something like this is foisted on writers, all it does is confuse an already complex business that needs clarity instead of layers of minutia obfuscated further by shoddy math.

To another point of this article, and for me it’s the most important issue of all: Why should this writer receive only 24 percent of the receipts for a book when it costs virtually zero to publish it in an e-format after the initial expense? At 50 percent, she would’ve received more than $200,000, and at the 70-percent level, which makes the most sense to me for this sort of scenario, she would’ve earned more than $300,000. Amazon still would’ve profited by $100,000–for almost no expense on its part.

Here’s something else to consider: The average self-published book sells fewer than 100 copies. A while back I remember the number bandied about within the industry to be 41 copies. First, there’s no way to have any idea what the true number is because there are so many disparate bookselling sites out there, with new ones cropping up all the time. Not many of these share their sales numbers, and a good percentage of those that do inflate the figures grotesquely. But I think it’s fair to assume that the “fewer than 100” statement is accurate.

If Amazon publishes 70,000 new self-published books each year and earns $100 on each title after expenses, that’s not a bad profit for zero additional cost to e-publish. After all, there’s no warehousing, sales, distribution, or marketing expense. As to the latter, we learn that writers such as Ms. Chan have had to pay for promotion. And I wonder what 70,000 new titles per year equate to in real dollars and cents to Amazon. Set-up fees, cover design, etc., are all profit centers. But this is what really gets me: Amazon retains price control! I’ve read report after report of writers who have raised their price from say $2.99 to $5.99 and had Amazon revert to the $2.99 level. I don’t understand why this is legal.

I hope what I just provided will get people thinking who are considering e-publishing. And specifically to look into not only what a work should be priced at, but the royalty. Many authors feel that they should receive 70 percent of the e-publisher’s profit. This makes sense in many cases, but In a lot of instances this would be unreasonable. I know of an e-publishing site that is about to launch–and which I’ll be reporting on in a positive way in a few weeks–that spends tremendous time with its authors editing material and providing assistance each step along the way. This publisher, in my opinion, should be entitled to a larger share of the margin because of its contribution.

But when a business model such as Amazon’s does little more than format text and then place a title on a list, my opinion is that the bulk of the margin should go to the writer. Frankly, until I’m convinced otherwise, I don’t feel that the 70 percent number is out of line. On a wholly unrelated topic, when Kindle started, I seem to remember the outside price for a bestseller was $9.95. The price is creeping up, and currently there isn’t a two-dollar difference between the e-book and hardcopy price for a lot of titles. Look at how much a publisher can earn on an e-book by an established writer–with virtually no expense on its part–when the firm is charging $11.95. Parity has to come to these pricing models with respect to authors’ royalties. Paying an author 25 percent, or $2.99 for an $11.95 e-book sale–and pocketing $8.96–is in my opinion not equitable, since there’s no warehousing, distribution, or sales expense, and generally no marketing outlay. Essentially the only administrative cost is entering the sale on the ledger!

For those who might be interested in e-publishing Holy Grail statistics, USA Today recently highlighted Michael Prescott, a writer who says his five thrillers have sold in excess of 800,000 copies (often at 99 cents), netting him over $300,000. The humor in this is that should “often” equate to 300,000 units, how much did he charge for the remaining 500,000 copies, $.01? This is why undocumented e-publishing sales statistics should be recognized what they are: numbers to hype sales. In this example, I have no reason to doubt that Mr. Prescott earned $300,000 from his efforts. I just don’t happen to believe he’s “sold” 800,000 units of anything in the process. This equates to too many sales for that small a return, even though I’d love to have the problem.

And having nothing to do with my Holy Grail pun, the top-selling book on the Kindle bestseller list this month was THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY from Indie Mystery publisher Midnight Ink, priced at my favorite number, $0.99. The book was promoted as a Kindle Daily Deal by Amazon, and I don’t know if this was a purchased spot or if Amazon placed it there based on sales figures. Either way, it once again illustrates that the $.99 price point is alive and well. And here’s another article on e-book pricing via that some of you might find beneficial: Has the Price of E-Books Really Increased? | Digital Book World

These last bits of information came from links provided by Publishers Marketplace, and support why I believe Newsletter subscribers considering publishing at any level would be wise to spend the $20 per month and receive the daily expanded version called Publishers Lunch Deluxe. A contract is not required, which means anyone can unsubscribe at any time. Frankly, I think it’s the best twenty bucks a writer can spend who is seeking publication in any medium. I don’t get a cent for promoting this service, but I wish I did, since I’m one of its biggest fans. However, honesty compels me to report that I’m not alone, as people in the publishing industry regard this firm’s daily Newsletter, PUBLISHERS LUNCH, the same as VARIETY in the entertainment world.

To finish up on the topic at hand, I firmly believe that a lower price point will provide better prospects for an unknown author than a higher one. Especially if the writer has limited exposure. The exposure element has as much to do with determining price points as anything. The equation is simple: Exposure that provides sales creates traction that can evolve into a more elastic market. This doesn’t mean a self-published e-book can be priced at the level of a bestseller by a noted author, but it does portend–as indicated by some of the recent activity in the realm of price points–that there is indeed some flexibility. But it still all hinges on exposure and a story’s ability to gain momentum. If no one knows about the book, a $.01 price won’t get the narrative in the hands of readers.

At different times during the year I’ve posted a number of Top Ten Lists. Of late, THE TIGERS WIFE by Tea Obreht, is on every list it seems, and IQ84 is right with it. I haven’t read either yet, but I’ve had a few laughs when looking at the reviews for IQ84. It’s written by an Asian writer, Haruki Murakami, who is know for KAFKA ON THE SHORE, THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE, and a very well-received nonfiction work on running. By the titles of his fiction, it’s not difficult to rationalize that he’s deep into philosophy. and the teachings of Jung or Sarte will spring up in the text. And I’ve read that they do. But what’s so odd is that even the people who gave this work five stars had problems defining what he was writing about. And as the “stars” diminished, I don’t remember ever reading more hostile criticism.

One of the most dominant complaints about IQ84 involves the mere size of the work, since it’s more than 900 pages–and that the first third is beyond boring. Not many people I know are going to read 100,000 words they don’t like, no matter how much they might revere an author. One bestower of a five-star review said that IQ84 is “proof that literature matters.” Not many people I know defend or cherish literature any more than I, but this book sounds like it’s for this writer’s hardcore fans and few else. I’d be interested in hearing the opinions of any Newsletter subscribers who might have read this novel, as I haven’t seen a wider range of reviews in a long time for anything.

The topic for the article for today’s Newsletter was suggested by long-time Newsletter subscriber Elizabeth Maginnis, and it’s a timely one. Namely, how can people be expected to always write well when they’re bombarded with poor grammar via all sorts of media, ranging for the nightly news to the signs they see when placing an order at a fast food restaurant?

Common Words and Phrases That Are Used Incorrectly

Everyone is exposed to the common bugbears in English in grammar school, then as we become more educated we learn that the rules aren’t universal, nor are they uniformly applied. This article deals with some elements of our language that seem to have become more confused over time.

“Less” and “Fewer” Lead the Way

Let’s start with “less” and “fewer,” which was the example provided by Ms. Maginnis that spawned this article. Simple enough, right? We all know that lesser is used for things that can’t be counted and fewer for things that can be quantified. And everyone has read the rebukes leveled at supermarkets when the sign for the checkout line reads “ten items or less,” but should read “ten items or fewer.” After all, counting ten items certainly means the number can be quantified. But what about writing a comment in 50 words or fewer? Has anyone ever seen that? Both 10 items or less and 50 words or less are idioms that are overlooked because they are used so often that even the experts accept them. Now it’s all clear, right? Maybe not. Use less with plural nouns that refer to time and money, but not people: Less than 100 years ago, less than one hundred dollars: but, fewer than 50 people. Now how easy are less and fewer?

“Among” and “Between”

These words seem quite simple, and they would be–if it wasn’t for two exceptions. “Among” is used with three or more of something, while “between” implies an occurrence that involves two. Except when something can be physically divided, which then requires “between” also. Hence, the turkey was divided between our family, relatives and neighbors. And “between” is also used when there is a commonality of entities, such as, “The negotiations took place between Russia, China, and Japan.” Yuck, this was supposed to be a snap.

How About “If I Were” or “If I Was?”

For years, I remember thinking that when “if” introduced material, it always required “were.” (“Were” is referred to as a subjunctive mood of the verb by grammarians.) But then I learned, when “if” applies to something that’s not contrary to fact or hypothetical, “was” is correct.. (“Was” is referred as the indicative mood.) Here are examples of each: 1) If I were a bird, I’d fly to Chicago. Subjunctive mood “were.” 2) If I was able to make that flight, I wouldn’t be talking to you on the phone right now. Indicative mood “was.”

I’ve noticed some well-regarded writers foul up the use of “if,” and many educators are lobbying to do away with the subjunctive mood altogether. But while it’s still with us, each of us will have to address it accordingly and pay attention to its nuances.

“Series” Can be Singular, and “Blonde” Is Never an Adjective

The word “series” is singular when used as in these first two examples: “The hit series is set to open in September.” “That series of events is bothering everyone I know.” But, “several series of events are about to take place,” is correct because there is more than one series as determined by the adjective. “Blond” is used for all males and whenever it’s used as an adjective. Hence, when “blond” is an adjective it’s always without the “e,” even if a female subject is being modified. I believe a lot of people can win serious money betting on who knows this rule.

My Favorites Are “Assure” and “Ensure”

When someone’s safety is guaranteed, “ensure” is routinely used. Yet this is often the third or fourth meaning in a dictionary, and some eschew this definition altogether. “Assure” is the better word in the vast majority of contexts in which it’s applied. “Ensure” has become such a catch-all, McDonald’s now “ensures” my meals if I check my receipt. The firm is not going to guarantee I get the food I ordered, but the company is going to make certain the welfare of my burger and fries is protected.

English Is Tough Enough and Shouldn’t Be Made More Difficult

This article shows just how recondite some aspects of our language can be, even for those of us who work with it every day. And in defense of everyone who tries to write as well as possible but doesn’t always succeed, many physicians study for 15 or more years and then don’t always make correct diagnoses. Attorneys who teach in the best universities provide consultations that blow cases. And Wall Street economists disagree diametrically about topics each has spent a lifetime studying. So if someone’s nonagenarian great aunt should write something such as “Among you, me, and that there hound dog, if I was a young girl, I’d buy a blonde wig to be ensured to look just like Dolly Pardon,” I wouldn’t be too tough on her. Just so she understands that no one cares about the color of Dolly’s hair.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 71
The Importance of Plot Believability
(January 17, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

For various reasons, including prodding by yours truly, ha ha, since the first of the year The Perfect Write® Newsletter has experienced another nice boost in subscribers. If I’m analyzing the numbers accurately, my Newsletter is now being received by writers in 33 countries. I’m certainly thankful for the increased readership and want to welcome each of you, and ask you to please feel free to make comments whenever you feel something might improve this medium. I have wide shoulders, and I promise to promptly address any issue a Newsletter subscriber might pose.

I always write an article to accompany each edition that pertains to crafting prose at a level which would appeal to a mainstream publisher or quality indie, or on aspects of the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the 20 years I’ve worked around it as both a writer and an editor. I’m constantly soliciting Newsletter subscribers for topics, so don’t hesitate to suggest an area of personal interest, as more than half the material I write about involves subjects that subscribers recommended. And if new subscribers will check the Articles Page on my Web site at, there are scores of topics I’ve written about, and perhaps some that deal directly with the information being requested.

With the new year comes some changes to The Perfect Write® editorial services that I want to bring to everyone’s attention. First, however, I want to thank all my existing clients who have entrusted me with their work. For these folks, since March 31 of last year, I have maintained a grace period of one year on my old reading fee of $1.00 per 280-word page of double-spaced text. As of March of this year, the fee will revert to the $1.50 charge that new clients have been accustomed to since March 31 of last year.

Because of the labor intensity of my comprehensive editing services, including line-editing that I pay my associate to perform, I’m forced to move my editing fee for manuscripts from a level rate of $4 to $6 per 280-word page to $6 to $8 per page. This doesn’t mean that those of you who have paid $6 per page will now be charged the higher rate, but it does mean that $4-per-page editing will no longer be available. So everyone is aware, last year only two writers qualified for the $4 fee, and when I figured my time on both, each should’ve been charged at the $6 rate. And so no is worried that I might end up like Netflix and have a mass exodus of clients, all of my established customers are aware of the changes, but I wanted to make certain my fee structure was crystal clear for newer Newsletter subscribers who might be considering my editing services and seen only the old pricing.

Also, as my manuscript workload has increased and I’ve been privileged to have most of my clients remain with me, I’m going to discontinue all of my services to businesses except for correspondence. I’m no longer going to write business plans or their outlines, nor will I be crafting resumes. I was asked to compose two grant requests this past year, but turned these down and will continue to do so. If I started grant writing, while it’s substantially more lucrative than anything I presently do, I’d never be able to get to manuscript work in a timely fashion, and this is where my heart lies.

With all of the miserable pricing hoopla out of the way, this is a special Newsletter because I’m going to introduce subscribers to THE COMMON GARDEN, a book my line editor, Martha Moffett, has brought back from the literary graveyard, and to a new independent publisher, Shelfstealers, that will be kicking off its book list February 16. But first for Martha.

Each of you who have used me to comprehensively edit your material has been the benefactor of Martha’s sharp eyes. I use her because she was at Groliers for several years as head of proofreading for The New Book of Knowledge. Later she was a senior copyeditor with American Heritage Dictionary. On top of this, she edited for major magazines such as Ladies’ Home Journal and GQ, and she’s had several of her own novels published by major imprints, such as THE COMMON GARDEN by Berkley in 1977.

I met Martha when she attended one of my creative writing workshops series that was sponsored by The Palm Beach County Library System. I was impressed with her dedication to writing as much as her personal writing, and when the series ended I approached her about line-editing my clients’ material after I edited it and was delighted when she accepted my offer. As things developed, I read some of her published material, and was particularly impressed with a novella of hers, DEAD ROCK SINGER, in Best American Mystery Stories 2000. And I was delighted when she told me she was trying to reacquire the rights to one of her books that had long since died on the Berkley vine. She did have the rights to THE COMMON GARDEN returned to her, and now she’s found a publisher who loves her style and flair for exposing the unusual in what appears to be quite common on the outside. Here’s an image of the terrific cover design:

I’ve posted the opening chapter to THE COMMON GARDEN on my Critique Blog for Newsletter subscribers to enjoy and experience. I used the word “experience” because that’s what Martha’s writing is. And her work is also wonderful to use for illustrative purposes because her characterizations fully express what the word “dimension” means in writing. Now before I go any further, THE COMMON GARDEN is a story of suspense–but also erotica. So if any Newsletter subscriber is offended by erotica, it would be best to avoid the opening chapter, although I can assure everyone it’s mild by today’s standards. Still, I respect the rights of others when something could be objectionable, and this is why I’m providing this information as to the content. Now let me tell you specifically what I found so intriguing about the opening chapter.

One of the protagonists is Robin, a young woman who finds herself thrust into the heart of New York City from a small Midwestern town. In the opening chapter of approximately 3000 words, the reader learns that Robin can be narcissistic, vulnerable, childish, naive, unyielding, inconsiderate, unrealistic, unsure, helpless, and very sexy. We also learn she adores her husband and thinks she has a wonderful sex life, but she knows something is missing yet has no idea what it is–or the slightest clue about how to find it. The reader might ask, “Does she really care?” only to learn out that, yeah, she cares. A lot!

How many opening chapters do any of us read from which we discover this much about a character? I read book after book that doesn’t show me even one of these traits fully developed by the end of the novel. Yet in Martha’s opening chapter I have a virtual smorgasbord to pick from, and now I’ve got an entire story to hone in on who this character really is–and what matters is that I really want to know. To provide perhaps the best example of Robin’s complexity, she calls her husband out of an important conference for no reason except that she’d like to hear herself talk to him. Then she thinks she’s locked in the phone booth and demands that he come to where she is in another part of the city and extricate her.

He tells her to push the door in the middle or hold up a note that says she’s Gloria Steinem and someone will open the door to get to her. What makes the scene work so well for me is that, at its conclusion, Robin thinks nothing of her silly demands or her selfish behavior or how naive she must’ve seemed. It’s all about Robin. Yet she depicts a certain vulnerability that’s not facetious and cannot be ignored. And all of rest of her negative characteristics are overwhelmed by this. This particular scene takes place within the opening two pages of the story, and if a budding writer is interested in how to set the hook via a characterization, I don’t know of better material to study. Some of you might remember when I cited the opening to Larry McMurtry’s DEAD MAN’S WALK, which begins with a 200-pound prostitute nicknamed “The Great Western” walking down the street naked and carrying a huge snapping turtle by its tail. Openings such as these are what sell books. I suggest studying THE COMMON GARDEN for the dimension of its characters, as demonstrating proficiency with this element can get a writer a long way toward finding an agent, a publisher–and a readership.

A COMMON GARDEN can be purchased on Amazon via this link, and I get a dollar from every sale (just kidding, I don’t get anything but Martha’s good wishes). To finish with Ms. Moffett’s segment of my Newsletter, I thought subscribers might be interested in how she came about writing this novel, which was her first, back in the mid-seventies. So here are her words:

When I lived in Manhattan, as a young wife, mother and copyeditor, I wanted very much to be a writer, but I had two problems: I had no story to tell, and I had no time to write. At the time I was copy chief at The Ladies’ Home Journal, riding my bike through the park to work. One of my freelance jobs was copyediting the list for Maurice Girodias, publisher of erotic books at Olympia Press. I noticed that these books had no plots. They all jumped from simple to complex, and that growing complexity almost fooled readers into thinking they were following a story. “I can do that,” I thought.

Then I saw that if I gave up my bicycle and rode the subway, I would have 40 minutes twice a day to write. This worked so well that when I really got into the book, I concentrated so hard that neighbors told me they spoke to me or tapped me on the shoulder, and I was oblivious. It was working!

The book was published by Berkley in 1977 as a novel of suspense. It had a brief life as a paperback, and that was it. Until last summer, when Joseph Cowles read it on the recommendation of a friend and decided it was an artifact of the ’70s and deserved another printing. He designed a beautiful cover for it, and there it was–newborn. I’m happy to see it in print again.

And it’s my hope that Newsletter subscribers will be happy to read it for the first time. If you didn’t click the earlier link to the opening chapter of THE COMMON GARDEN, you can do so by clicking this link now.

As I indicated, in this Newsletter I’m also introducing subscribers to a brand-new independent publisher, Shelfstealers, which will be launching it’s opening with four novels on February 16. I believe this publisher has a number of very good things going for it, and why I’ve chosen to highlight it in this edition. But first a little history.

As with most all of my contacts, this one developed as the result of something I was doing to promote The Perfect Write®. And I don’t have the slightest compunction about stating this, simply because I know the amount of time I spend in my various complimentary endeavors. A primary sourcing medium involves the free opening-chapter critiques I provide for writers. I receive a broad cross-section of material, and one of the better chapters I received a year or so ago came from Sheryl Dunn, a Canadian who resides in Mexico by way of Cuba and other places. While I don’t have time for much social networking, I learned she was starting a publishing company. I shared some material and marketing ideas with her because I felt she was trying to do a lot more with her concept than the average start-up.

To my way of thinking, the first thing going for her was that Shelfstealers was not a self-publisher. Second, she had taken it upon herself to edit the material she agreed to publish. Third, she would be producing the covers and doing all the layout work, which is no small task. Fourth, she was dedicated to committing what her budget would allow to provide marketing support for her writers. But for all of these positive points related to her business model, what I found most appealing was that she absolutely cared about quality beyond any other factor.

It’s also important to be aware that Shelfstealers is not a one-person operation. Far from it! The book formatting and POD aspect of the business is handled by an individual who will also be responsible for managing the online sites marketing Shelfstealers’ e-books. The firm also employs an art director who designs the book covers, and you’ll see examples of this talented individual’s work later in this Newsletter . The company also contracts with a freelance Web master, along with proofreaders and promotional personnel. Ms. Dunn’s plans call for hiring two more full-time employees within the next few months.

As I stated up front, Shelfstealers is not a self-publisher. However, the firm cannot afford to pay advances at this time. To make up for this, I believe Ms. Dunn has created one of the most liberal and transparent royalty structures available anywhere. Shelfstealers provides a 50/50 split of the profit after expenses, no matter the medium. So if a book is published in hardcopy (she’s using Ingram’s POD unit, Lightning Source, as is half the publishing world it seems), as well as if a work is e-published or in audio, the same 50/50 split applies; and, yes, she will be offering audio for her titles.

And to take any of the voodoo out of the accounting equation, Ms. Dunn will send a writer copies of the actual receipts from her vendors as a component of her way of doing business. I don’t think anything could be more transparent or fairer than this. Yes, she could do like Aaron Spelling and show a Rolls-Royce on the balance sheet as he did when Robert Wagner and Jill St. John were seeking royalties from HART TO HART, but I have to believe Ms. Dunn wants her writers to earn money for their efforts. Simply, she knows that her authors need to be successful for her to be successful, and this means everybody has to get a reasonable share of the candy bar.

I’m always asked if editors at the Big 6 and Kensington edit. The answer is, yes–sometimes. It depends on who the writer is and where that person fits in the mix. Many things enter into the editing decision at the mainstream-publisher level. But most seem to do a lot less editing than they claim, and I believe that’s a fair assessment. On Shelfstealers’ side of this equation, the firm’s editing has received rave reviews from its authors as well as the critics. Ms. Dunn has told me many times about the long hours she’s put in with her various projects, and I can tell by her tone that it’s a labor she considers well worth the effort.

And if you click the links on each of these books that make up the kick-off list, you’ll see who has reviewed these works and why I’m so high on Shelfstealers as a publisher.

Leslie Hall Pinder, who Margaret Atwood says is “a writer of great talent and sensitivity,” has this to say about Shelfstealers’ editing of UNDER THE HOUSE, previously published by Random House, Bloomsbury and others:

“My novels have been edited by the best, and Shelfstealers’ editors are among them. Their recommendations were masterful. As my writing has matured over time, it’s been thrilling to revisit UNDER THE HOUSE and make a good book even better.”

Click this link to read the opening of this book and for ordering information. Ellen Herbert, FALLING WOMEN and Other Stories, a collection of award-winning stories, was blurbed by Alan Cheuse of NPR’s “All Things Considered”: …By turns, appealing, worrisome, full of sighs, full of cheer, these stories remain always true to life….”

About Shelfstealers’ editing, Ellen says, “I figured since nine of the stories had already been edited, proofread, and published by professionals, little editing would be needed. Wrong! Shelfstealers showed me weaknesses in sentence construction and rearranged scenes to be more effective. Shelfstealers has the highest editing standards. Some nights when I got more comments back from my editor on my latest revision, I wished their standards weren’t quite so high, but our editing was always collaborative. I am proud of what we did together.”

Click this link to read the opening of this book and for ordering information. Kerry Dunn’s noir crime novel, JOE PEACE, was a semifinalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, and reviewed by Publishers Weekly: “…an exciting gang story and a heartbreaking tale of relationships.”

Sheryl Dunn remarked, “If a drug gang story isn’t your normal cup of tea, it wasn’t ours either, but Kerry’s voice made us laugh, and the story touched our hearts.”

Click this link to read the opening of this book and for ordering information. THE PERENNIAL FRESHMAN, by George S. Whiteman, is the first part of a three-book memoir. It’s a coming-of-age story. Readers of all generations will love it for its humor and vivid reminders of times gone by.

About Shelfstealers, George says, “I’ve been having some interesting conversations of late with fellow scribes from Tinseltown and a few locals, checking in on the progress of my trilogy–to chew the rag and lament the plight of pushing their treasured tomes. The conclusions of this covetous prattle? Shelfstealers is (1) too good to be true; or (2) a figment of my imagination, which has always been the envy of most. Before I met Shelfstealers, I must admit the thought of promoting my books felt like a storm cloud looming on the horizon. Now I’m looking forward to the launch of the first book at the San Miguel Writers Conference in February. Bottom line: I am ready, and very grateful for the team support, which is exciting and unusual.”

Click this link to read the opening of this book and for ordering information. I’m especially pleased when a firm can provide cover design and layout services in-house. But perhaps the most significant factor of all is that Sheryl Dunn and Shelfstealers are willing to commit whatever resources they can to promote their titles, as well as direct their authors on what they can do to get their books in front of the public. And if anybody should question Shelfstealers dedication to quality, the firm’s launch will include only the four titles I just listed (with another half-dozen or so spaced for release throughout the year). So if a book is accepted by Ms. Dunn and then published by her firm, I think it’s fair to state that it’s a top-shelf effort all the way around.

As I mentioned at the outset, Shelfstealers’ official launch date is February 16, and I’ll continue to remind Newsletter subscribers of this and encourage everyone to support a process that can only come back to benefit all of us. Meaning, I believe what goes around comes around. Also, Shelfstealers will be sponsoring writing contests with cash awards to the winners. And for anyone wishing to submit material to Shelfstealers, contact via this link for submission criteria.

Whew! After all of the material in today’s Newsletter, I don’t doubt subscribers might be too worn out to read another line of my drivel, but today’s article is important and centers on why plot believability is crucial for any story to succeed, regardless of the genre. And here it is:

The Importance of Plot Believability

As an editor who specializes in fiction, I quite often have clients lament about my criticism of a plot element that I find implausible. The general response is, “It’s fiction, so why should it matter?” First, just because a narrative is fictional, this doesn’t mean that the story elements should not be factual. Second, all fiction is grounded on fact to some degree, and even the wildest fantasy has to contain characterizations the reader can relate to with respect to their legitimacy.

Once Again, to the Planet Zegrebnon

I wrote an article not long ago in which I stated that even the most outlandish science fiction requires accurate physics to make scenes work for readers, since the scientific community understands the various disciplines. For example, a space alien couldn’t be in multiple places at the same instant. Even traveling many times the speed of light, if that were possible, would entail nanoseconds (or whatever) to differentiate location. An extraterrestrial entity might appear to be in several places at one time, but the author couldn’t tell the reader that the being was indeed in more than one spot at an identical moment.

Let’s Get Back to Earth

If a person is tossed into the Bering Strait, I know from “Deadliest Catch,” and a tour guide of mine while on a fishing trip in Alaska, that a person has about 4 1/2 minutes before some serious problems can occur, although the consensus is that a human might make it for a half-hour, but would likely have substantial health issues if still alive after being in the water for that period of time.

However, there is a documented case of a man who survived for longer than 6 hours in 45-degree-or-colder water after his ship wrecked in 1984. Studied by scientists from all over the world, he was overweight and his body fat was two to three times thicker than the norm and solid like that of a seal. I think it’s fair to imply that this fellow was unique. And that’s the point. Can a writer expect readers to accept that a character could negate insurmountable odds when only one person in recorded history is purported to have done so?

This has nothing to do with hypothermia. It could mean rowing a heavy boat on a lake against a gale wind and in two hours making it ten miles. Or incapacitating a burglar in the dark (I know the movie, too, but you get my point). Or never having shot a gun and hitting multiple people with single shots in a speeding boat on rolling seas. Then there’s tossing a bullet in a fire so it will go off at just the right angle and hit the bad guy. While this list is of course endless, readers’ attention spans aren’t.

All Writers Must Understand Their Audiences

If it’s a police procedural, the person buying a book in this genre will likely be hip to the way law enforcement operates. When the bust takes place, the writer had better understand what cops say and do. And what they can’t say and don’t do! Also, a reader’s acceptance factor is not like what occurs when watching “Nikita” on TV, a show that has all sorts of female assassins with martial arts skills enabling them to take down men three times their size. Only one woman in the entirety of our Armed Forces is rated at the highest level for hand-to-hand combat. This means she also possess jujitsu skills that allow her to effectively fight a man on the ground. Again, only one female in the whole of our military!

Fully Grasp the Limitations of Every Character

Even Superman and Wonder Woman have limitations. Since we create our characters from our imaginations, it’s important not to get carried away and want to live vicariously through their actions. Make chase scenes realistic, love scenes acceptable, physical characteristics identifiable for the average person, etc. The more accurately fiction is written, the better it is.

The Feasibility/Plausibility Test

Even though the words “feasible” and “plausible” are often considered interchangeable, someone whose name I’ve sadly forgotten wrote something along these lines: “If it’s feasible, this means it can be done under normal circumstances; if it’s plausible, this means it could be done, but only under the most unlikely of situations.” To keep the reader engaged, I suggest staying with feasible scenarios and avoiding scenes that are unlikely to occur except by sheer luck. Think of the man from Iceland who swam for six hours in 45-degree-or-below water and survived. Would you believe it?

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 72
The Importance of Plot Authenticity
(January 31, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

And to the newest subscribers, welcome to The Perfect Write® Newsletter for the first time. Each edition is broadcast every other Tuesday at 1 p.m., EST. Please let me know whenever you see something amiss or if you have any ideas that you feel might improve this medium. The premise behind The Perfect Write® Newsletter is to provide information that will help writers attain publication by a mainstream royalty publisher or quality indie. And I always include an article I initially write exclusively for each edition that pertains to writing quality prose or the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20 years as both a writer and an editor.

I’m delighted to report that the previous Newsletter, transmitted on Tuesday, January 10, set two records. The first was that more people opened it than any other edition in the two-and-one-half years since I began publishing my drivel; and, second, more links were accessed than in any prior edition, including the special broadcast last year on MARKETING YOUR BOOK FROM A TO Z. I especially want to thank each of you who took the time to read the opening chapter to THE COMMON GARDEN, a novel written by Martha Moffett, my firm’s line editor. For any Newsletter subscriber who might not have read the material, and is not offended by mild erotica, click the above link and you’ll see what fleshing out a character, in this case the protagonist, is all about.

As I also mentioned in this past Newsletter, new independent publisher Shelfstealers’ official kick-off date is February 16, and I encourage everyone to visit the site at that time and select a novel from the opening list. I’m repeating myself again from the past Newsletter, but if each subscriber would buy a single book from this opening group in some format, it will help Shelfstealers, its authors, and I firmly believe each purchaser. You’ll be receiving a quality novel and furthering a process that might someday include a book of yours being published by Shelfstealers, and you would certainly appreciate the same courtesy.

And as with everything I promote in this Newsletter, I receive a gigantic fee. In this case, the firm’s CEO has offered me a discount on books I might purchase (that’s exactly what I get, by the way). I guess there goes my trip to Rio, ha ha. Even if you have no interest in buying a title from the initial Shelfstealers list, please visit this publisher’s site and see the great work the company’s Web master has done. I’m more than a little green with envy.

I often read writers’ complaints regarding rejection letters from agents who provide no definition whatsoever as to why their respective manuscripts weren’t signed for representation. Often the laments relate to a complete lack of specificity, such as a single line that reads: “Your story doesn’t fit my list at this time.” Or my personal favorite: “Your book is just not for me, but this is a highly subjective business and another agent may feel otherwise.” I’ve covered agents’ nondescript rhetoric with respect to rejections in numerous articles that can be viewed on my Articles Page at, but since I’ve seen a lot of these concerns lately from many quarters, I want to address this in the body of this Newsletter and not by pointing to specific material I’ve written for my Web site and elsewhere.

Several issues play into the way agents operate, but it must be understood that there’s no one size which fits all. It also must be clear that there will be exceptions to everything I’m going to be covering regarding agents. However, if there is single issue that’s as close to “absolute” as anything, it’s this: The overwhelming majority of agents make a decision based on what they perceive to be the marketability of the work. Simply, will it sell or won’t it? But of greatest importance, how hard will it be for the agent to sell the manuscript at the publisher level? Agents are acutely aware of what they’ve sold to their pet publishers–and what’s been refused. If an author’s work fits in the latter, it’s a no-go, regardless of how well-written a story might be. This is the cold, hard truth. Work acceding (yes, often acquiescing) to the accepted model sadly trumps quality almost every time.

Agents became this way as a result of how publishers operate, and it’s also important to be aware that a substantial number of agents worked for the same imprints they now solicit, and often at the submissions level! So they know exactly what turns publishers on at the big houses–and what turns them off. To explain this from the publisher’s perspective, Penguin Publisher Amy Einhorn was recently profiled in The New York Observer, and should anyone wish to read the entire article, which I found excellent, please click the link I highlighted. But to save time, here are a few of Ms. Einhorn’s comments. And if anyone is not familiar with who she is, her latest success is THE HELP.

Ms. Einhorn stated that she doesn’t stay with many manuscripts that don’t draw her in from the first page. How many times do writers hear that the hook needs to be set right away or the story won’t have a chance with agents and publishers? She also says that she’s worked at places that have published what she referred to as “navel-gazing” MFA writing that was beautiful from a line-by-line perspective but was never bought by the public. This sort of comment is the biggest blow to a great many authors, in that it solidifies in no uncertain terms that a book that’s perceived to glean only middle-of-the-road sales numbers, however good the writing might be, is not going to pass muster at the publisher level.

Now to the agent side of this Amy Einhorn equation, and specifically THE HELP, which was represented by agent Susan Ramer with Don Congdon and Associates (Ms. Ramer accepts queries, by the way). By the account of Kathryn Stockett, the author who wrote THE HELP, she queried the novel for three years and received 60 rejections. Here’s what every author needs to know: This book is now a runaway hit that had remained at the top of the bestseller lists–and still does on many–longer than any other novel in recent history, even the Stieg Larsson trilogy. And THE HELP was made into a movie. If I had to guess, from sales from THE HELP worldwide, Ms. Stockett has earned $20,000,000 minimally so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was twice that.

I feel sincere empathy for every author who tells me that 30 or 40 of his or her queries have produced dismal results. But it’s the nature of the business, and those sort of effort is what I consider the half-way point in the query process. Stephen King and John Grisham sent out way more than this number of queries before either of their first books was signed. And this was decades ago when there was substantially less competition. Granted, if after 50 queries no agent has asked to see at least some of an author’s material, the letter needs to be looked at, as poor results certainly don’t mean that the agent market is saturated for a particular story or genre.

I also want to mention something that Kathryn Stockett told The New York Observer reporter who wrote the story. Ms. Stockett said that Amy Einhorn made what she estimated to be four to five editing suggestions on each sheet of her 400-page manuscript. That’s after what I have to assume was a draft that Ms. Stockett had edited by someone. Ms. Einhorn is certainly not the norm, but it shows that the publisher/editor may have different ideas for a work–perhaps even very different from the writer or editor who worked on the draft. But the material, even if it was edited and not accepted in the submitted form, was strong enough to kindle an interest. This is the key.

One final point on THE HELP that I think is worth making relates to what happened to me when I wrote my latest novel with Pinnacle in mind. I know the executive editor at Pinnacle, Michaela Hamilton, a wonderful person who edited one of my novels around 15 years ago when she was free-lancing between jobs. At Pinnacle, she rejected my novel because she didn’t like it that I’d used accents for the black maids who lead my thriller’s opening pages (there were other reasons, but this was brought up as a prime factor in her decision). Amy Einhorn says she was drawn to THE HELP by the first paragraph, when a black maid–speaking in an accent–was commenting on raising an abundance of white children. If this doesn’t illustrate the vagaries of this business, I don’t what does. No, my book was not of the quality of THE HELP, and I’m not insinuating it was, but the point is that one person’s poison is another person’s love potion.

I want to switch gears and discuss literary agencies getting into the e-publishing business, something I’ve brought up in several recent Newsletters. Until I see one documented case that demonstrates unequivocally that an author has taken in more money than spent–and this is not determined by some sort of Byzantine calculation–I’ll continue to vociferously rail against this practice.

Canons have been written for agencies to follow by the Association of Authors’ Representatives, and among them are these lulus: “…members shall not represent both buyer and seller in the same transaction.” Does this mean in print but not in e-book form, for example? Specifically, what defines a transaction? Next is this beauty: “…agents can pass along charges incurred on the client’s behalf.” This has always been allowed, but how often a major agent has charged a client for postage, courier service, copying, etc., is anyone’s guess. (I’ve had two New York agents and neither charged me a dime for anything, although one requested I send him five copies of the manuscript.) Then there’s this incredible mishmash: “…which allows for agent-members (of the AAR) to be compensated by their clients in any way that is mutually agreeable–as long as there is no conflict of interest and no kind of payment from the buyer.” Huh?

In previous Newsletters I’ve provided the names of reputable agencies that have started down what I consider to be this very slippery slope. And Publishers Marketplace (the free daily version is available via this link) continues to mention new ones all the time. Even by setting up these e-publishing operations as separate entities, I don’t see how this cannot be a conflict of interest. First and foremost, any writer who agrees to having a book published under a literary agency’s e-book aegis is going to expect something from that agency, regardless of the way this is couched. What writer wouldn’t? Especially if all e-works by an agency’s in-house entity are “publishable” by physical implication if nothing else.

Ask Shelfstealers how much time it takes from acceptance to a book’s being ready to print. Ask me as an editor how long I work with most clients before I suggest querying material, and this means authors who I feel have potential, as I don’t accept every writing project that comes my way. Agency/publishers have one or two people handling their entire e-operation, and they will be inundated with material from writers who believe, in my opinion, that the agency will ultimately represent their work. I think the current ideology–and that’s what I consider it–has the potential to pull unwitting souls into a void as deep as anything that’s ever been foisted on the writing public. Here’s the short course: If material needs editing, who’s going to be paid by the writer to provide this service? Just maybe the in-house staff? And if that’s not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is. I know it’s early, but I’m waiting for someone to prove me wrong on this!

At the beginning of ’10 and ’11, I published a composite of the top novels of the year as compiled by the various bestseller lists. I’m going to dispense with a list for ’11 at present because there are too many sources with conflicting data. But here are a few tangible things to consider related to novels from major royalty publishers and recognized independents. Leading the data is that book deals in the 2011 in the U.S. increased approximately 5 percent from 2010, to a little more than 5,200 titles. In 2010, volume had increased around 7.5 percent from 2009, so this could be viewed as a slowdown in print sales, but considering everything that’s gone on in the industry this past year, I don’t find that statistic very disconcerting.

The biggest move, genre-wise, is in Children’s, which has doubled in volume in five years. According to the actual number, 1,636 Children’s books were published last year. Remember this covers three primary subgenres: Children’s Picture Books, Children’s Middle-Grade (often referred to as Juvenile), and Children’s Young Adult. Beyond all Children’s material, Commercial Fiction leads the way. For everyone trying to break into the “bigs” for the first time, there were 225 debuts. If we divided all the major imprints and quality indies, that comes out to somewhere around 2 books per house. This is why it’s so hard break through, and why a writer who believes in a work must be persistent.

Here’s a statistic for those of us who write thrillers and are trying to become published for the first time by a name imprint: A major thriller publisher such as Pinnacle releases around 12 titles per year. And that’s all! Guess how many existing authors are already producing hits for Pinnacle? I can assure everyone that it’s at least a dozen writers. So unless one or several of the throng decide not to write a book in any given year, it’s easy to see that the odds of breaking in with Pinnacle are less than stellar. So, someone asks, what about all the other thriller imprints? The truth is that only 100 or so thrillers make it into print each year. I think it’s fair to infer that this is why a debut novel had better be a good one.

To elaborate on this a little further, with so much Mystery/Thriller material already on the playing field, budding writers are competing with franchise writers such as James Patterson’s crew who churn out a book a month, along with Robert Ludlum, who’s dead but whose name lives on, then icons like Grisham and Cormac McCarthy, the latter who wrote a phenomenal literary thriller in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Talk about raising the bar! So it ain’t easy.

To finish up on the book-sales side of things for 2011, Jeff Kinney’s Children’s books sold a cumulative total of 3.5 million copies. Suzanne Collins’ franchise was next with 3.4, and the aforementioned Kathryn Stockett’s single work sold 2.85 million copies, which was ahead of what she sold in both 2010 and 2009. But the 2009 and 2010 sales figures were substantial, and this is why I think her dollars earned might well be in the $20,000,000 range or above, and this has nothing do with what she earned for the movie rights. Overall, print sales for the top-tier books as a group were down for the year by around 15 percent, while nonfiction grew by 7.5 percent. Certainly this print downturn was balanced for many of these authors by e-sales and audio. So what does all this prove? Nothing, except that the print business is definitely still alive, and I’ll be writing about the current fight that’s brewing between Amazon and all the print publishers in the next Newsletter.

The article that accompanies today’s Newsletter is about the importance of plot authenticity. And since the article that accompanied the previous Newsletter was “The Importance of Plot Believability,” it might be thought they’re similar, but they don’t necessarily cover the same territory. However, before I introduce the material, I had a chuckle that was related to the article from the Newsletter on December 27 that dealt with the misuse of certain words, of which “blonde” was one.

Starbucks’ crack advertising team violated the “blonde” rule by launching their new Blonde Roast a couple of weeks ago. It should be “Blond,” since “Blonde,” as stated in the article, is incorrect when used as an adjective. As I remarked in the material, a lot of folks could make money betting on who knows that rule of grammar. I wonder if Starbucks’ hierarchy would change “Blonde” if someone brought it to their attention. I’ll leave this to a Newsletter subscriber who might enjoy the exercise, and I’d be curious as to what Starbucks has to say about this. Maybe a free “Blonde Roast.” On second thought, I just don’t know about that.

And there is another side to this. Since Starbucks purportedly has rolled out this new product to compete with firms with lighter-blend coffee such as McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts, “blonde” might have merit. After all, Mickey D’s is committed to “ensuring” that my drive-thru order is always safe and secure–but not necessarily correct. With this in mind, why shouldn’t Starbucks have its own vernacular?

Now for today’s article:

The Importance of Plot Authenticity

I recently wrote an article on plot believability and was asked if this was the same as story authenticity, since both seem to imply the same thing. In some respects they are alike, but in other ways they are dissimilar. Believability relates to the feasibility of situations occurring in the manner in which they are depicted; authenticity involves the specific characteristics of a scene as the reader believes the events would take place.

The Authenticity of a Happening

In a scene in an operating room, would a surgeon be allowed to continue to botch one operation after another when everyone on the medical staff knew the doctor was incompetent? Would a cop be allowed to shoot an unarmed person and go back on the street the next day? Could a lawyer by the threat of an injunction prevent a spouse from going after an ex who was having an affair? Now take this to the next level.

Could the same doctor remove the wrong limb, for example, and simply cover it up while being under intense scrutiny because of prior bad history? Would a police officer make the mistake of shooting an innocent bystander for a second time in his career and be left to remain on the job? Would an attorney be foolish enough to think that a court order is going to keep a crazed spouse away from a cheating counterpart when a prior client was murdered under similar “paper” restrictions?

Competent Characters Displaying Incompetent Actions Won’t Work

Assuming it’s a human, once a character’s profile is crafted for the reader, it’s critical to understand the way this person’s actions are going to be perceived by the reader. Among other elements, perceptions can be determined by the person’s appearance, personality, and job. For the purpose of this paper, let’s take these three traits as a starting point. If we’re wanting our male character to be suave and debonair, he can’t be 50 pounds overweight and a slob at the dinner table. Should our character possess a legitimate gentle disposition, this person wouldn’t do well as a sadistic murderer with no conscience. An FBI agent who is a long-time Agent-In-Charge wouldn’t be indecisive, forgetful, and prone to making the same mistakes over and over. Yet I’ve read drafts with these sorts of misrepresentations.

Consider the Global Nature of the Narrative

If the lead character is a crown prince and the son of the richest man in the world, and this person is kidnapped, how extensive would the search likely be? And if this child were thought to be on foreign soil, how many people in that country’s police–and military–would be searching for the lad? I’m suggesting it would be no less than the quest to find Bin Laden right after 9/11. So it’s important to “size” a character(s) so the plot doesn’t appear too large for any storyline to handle.

Authenticity Is More Than Perception

Authenticity also means how something would play out in the timeline in which the story was written To this point, if an author is writing about the FBI or CIA or the NYPD, it’s important to understand the way these outfits operated in the “period” of the narrative. If writing a period piece, the technology must also fit. We can’t have cell phones in 1975 any more than we’d see a commercial jet flying tourists from New York to Paris in 1955.

Check the Facts

And this means looking further than Wikipedia or the first link to the subject that’s provided by an Internet search engine. I’m not criticizing any particular sourcing medium, but anyone can post on Wikipedia, as it’s really nothing more than a sophisticated blog. Wikipedia can be a fine starting point, but I strongly suggest checking with reputable encyclopedias and other sources that pertain directly to the subject. When I do research for my own material, I commonly make phone calls. For example, about 20 years ago I called Sikorsky Aircraft in Connecticut to make certain a helicopter I cited in a story was in fact deployed at that time in my narrative, which was 1960. I learned it wasn’t until the following year!

For that same story, I called the State Department in D.C. to find out what the lobby in the building looked like in 1960. It required a few phone transfers, but I was put in touch with a woman who was a receptionist in 1960 (I also learned the building was under major renovation). In the overall scheme of things, the barren walls and bank of elevators on the left meant nothing to my story, but I felt good about describing the scene as it would’ve appeared to someone entering the dual set of doors to the building on C Street at that time in our history.

Authenticity adds to the richness of a tale, and while it might never sell a story to a publisher on its own, a lack of accuracy can certainly keep a book from being accepted by knowledgeable readers. And that does matter.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 73
The Meaning of Conflict in Writing
(February 14, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

And I want to extend a special welcome to the newest subscribers of the Perfect Write® Newsletter, which is sent every other Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST. As long-time subscribers are aware, anyone who doesn’t open the Newsletter initially will receive a follow-up on the ensuing Tuesday. I began this awhile ago and it’s worked out great, as I realize that people can either miss a transmission or be too busy at the time of the broadcast to open the message, and it can inadvertently be lost when all unopened e-mails are deleted. I’m guilty of the same thing and often have to chase back to try to find something; hence, my methodology in this instance seems to be effective, as validated by the number of “missed opens” captured the second time around.

I have to ring the bell about a personal issue, in that my agent will soon have my latest novel, DARK GREED, in the hands of publisher Thomas Dunne, who has his own imprint with St. Martin’s/Macmillan (he originally launched Thomas Dunne Books in the mid-1980s). While this publisher reading my draft is far from a guarantee of anything, it’s one of the reasons why an agent is so important in the Thriller market. As I mentioned in the last Newsletter, those of us who write in this genre compete against a bevy of well-known writers, and many who have achieved franchise status. So the openings for entry are scant indeed.

I want to give everyone an idea of the timeline for my book, as this might help many of you with a better understanding of the way things develop in the publishing labyrinth. I “finished” DARK GREED 2 1/2 years ago, under the title ANIMAL, and I had originally written it specifically for Pinnacle. I explained in the previous Newsletter that the executive editor at this imprint, who edited a book of mine 15 years earlier when she was freelancing between jobs, rejected the manuscript. She didn’t like that I’d begun the tale with two Haitian maids talking in their dialect, and she didn’t feel that the story’s love interest was developed soon enough, among a few other things. Pinnacle thrillers follow a very tight template, and there is zero wiggle room. So I decided, rather than rewrite with Pinnacle in mind–since I’ve never known a publisher to accept a previously unpublished author’s draft that’s been turned down at that same house–to look into other options.

I worked hard and was able to get some ultra agents to read my manuscript, including Esther Newberg with ICM, who never seems to look at anyone beyond her existing clients (if you read the list of authors in her stable, you’ll understand why she doesn’t have to) and Victoria Sanders, who is known for handling edgier material. But, alas, there were issues these agents had with the nature of the story and its touchy elements. So I was able to entice a prior agent of mine to look at the narrative. He liked the story but felt the theme was wrong, so last summer I spent the entire month of July revising the text based on his suggestions. Revamping a theme can be even more complicated than revising a plot, and all told I spent 200 hours tweaking the story, During the several months that followed, my agent discussed this and that with me, but nothing sounded particularly promising. Then a week ago he gave me the news that Thomas Dunne himself had agreed to read DARK GREED. And my agent is going to hand-deliver the manuscript to him!

This doesn’t mean anything unless the book is signed, but I hope what I related illustrates what it takes to get material in front of the right person. And I’m certain that if Mr. Dunne wants the story for his list, he will desire changes. Every writer has to be prepared for this. As I’ve described before, I consider the publishing gantlet akin to walking up Khufu barefoot in 110-degree heat. But at least I’ve made it to the second step of this great pyramid since I reworked the theme of my story, and now I’m keeping my fingers crossed to see what happens. Please wish me luck. And also understand that I sent out 65 query letters and submission material for ANIMAL/DARK GREED prior to deciding it was time to go in a different direction.

I hope it comes across that the key is not to give up, and that a writer has to have thick skin (my poor, sore feet on the steps of that pyramid). Any author worried about getting his or her feelings hurt is going to be in for some hard times, as this can be a brutal business in which the words “sympathy” and “empathy” are virtually unknown. And often even the best is not good enough. I’ve been down this road enough times with my own work to know the harsh realities, but I absolutely believe in my ability as a writer, and I hope each and every one of you has the same attitude. False confidence is silly, but once a writer respects writing as a craft–and accepts that there is a complex learning curve which cannot be sidestepped–and has taken the time to hone his or her skills to write effectively for a genre, there is no reason to ever toss in the towel. To close this section of self-aggrandizement, for which I apologize, I’ll let everyone know the way things progress. And I’ll state the facts as they play out, whatever they might be.

In a Newsletter a few months ago, I discussed The New York Times Bestseller list and the way a book attains a position on it, with the velocity of sales often outweighing gross sales. An article on bestseller lists was recently published in The Sacramento Bee –which has long maintained a respected book-review section, and why readers often see this newspaper’s positive blurbs on the back of book jackets. Newsletter subscribers who click the link to the Bee can read this excellent report. It also alludes to THE HELP, and that Penguin, the book’s publisher, now avers that the novel has sold more than 10 million copies in the U.S. alone.

So it’s fair to infer that my calculations for Kathryn Stockett’s income from THE HELP were grossly understated, even at my earlier higher estimate of 20 million dollars. Add 10 million domestic dollars to this, plus the sales numbers from outside the U.S., along with movie rights, and she could easily be at the 40 to 50 million dollar level in royalties. I found it interesting that the article confirms Ms. Stockett’s 60 rejections during a three-year period, which I mentioned in my last Newsletter. One side note: When considering this extraordinary income from one book, keep in mind that THE DA VINCI CODE, as of the last numbers I recall from 2011, has documented sales of 81 million copies worldwide.

I have to assume that Mr. Brown has earned somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter of a billion dollars for this book! And I firmly believe the religious firestorm contributed mightily to its sales. There’s a moral to controversy, as Steve Tyler pointed out when Tipper Gore continued to harangue Aerosmith’s latest album (at that time) in the national media. He said she’d personally been responsible for one million additional sales of that album–and I don’t think that was a flippant remark on Mr. Tyler’s part. So, write something people will discuss, good or bad, and sales will come.

A Canadian Internet magazine, The National Post, held a contest ending February 1 that I found fascinating. It asked writers to craft a sentence that broke as many of Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules of Writing” as possible. I found the irony rather extraordinary since I’d just posted his “Rules” in a recent Newsletter, and a great many subscribers wrote me regarding how much they appreciated this material, along with my take on each element. Certain rules apply to the genre in which Mr. Leonard writes, but he didn’t publish his rules as a joke, and they should be heeded in my opinion from the perspective of temperance if nothing else. Of course a book can begin with weather, but not three pages of it. And prologues pose no issue for an established writer. I’m not going to run through all 10 rules and illustrate exceptions to each, but the only one that’s inviolable is Number 10 (hence no exception ever, ha ha), which the article in the link also points out. It says to eliminate material no one wants to read, and it’s pretty hard to argue that one.

Add Agent Kristen Nelson to the burgeoning list of literary representatives who are now offering self e-publishing services. Her authors’ arrangement seems to be a bit different, in that she says she will cover all upfront cost except for developmental editing if this becomes extensive. Wow, does this ever leave some leeway for issues to crop up. Now, Ms. Nelson has always seemed most legit to me, and I feel her intentions in this instance are honorable, but I don’t know how any agent can differentiate what is developmental and what is not. On my Web site, I mention providing developmental editing as a third option, but I’ve never found a way to apply this. I may ultimately drop this as a separate service, as developmental suggestions are part and parcel to what I provide in all aspects of my editing.

One other side note to Ms. Nelson’s offering is her stated position to let authors who self e-publish with her pursue other agents–to present the same material to a mainstream publisher. Now this I want to see. If Ms. Nelson is not willing to handle the manuscript on the mainstream side, and a plethora of other agents are also offering self e-publishing, is it really conceivable that one of these competitors would sign a Kristen Nelson writer’s project to present to the major houses? This just does not compute, and I also can’t see how Ms. Nelson will have the time to read and edit the inordinate number of drafts she’s going to be inundated with for her new self-publishing entity–and then be satisfied to play the come on the e-receipts. But of greatest significance, if the book sells in reasonable e-numbers, I think Ms. Nelson would want to be the one to present the story to the Big 6, and certainly not make the work available to a competing agent.

She, however, seems to be trying to make the process more transparent; but, to me, the whole idea still reeks. I see a lot of authors getting their wallets emptied based on the exploitation of their hopes. It must be understood that I’m not implying this as it relates to Ms. Nelson and her format, but to the concept of agents e-publishing in general. To me, a duck is still a duck, even if one is a mallard and another is a loon. For anyone who wants to read Ms. Nelson’s entire blog piece on this subject, here’s the link. And I’d be interested in Newsletter subscribers’ comments on this topic as it races along–and make no mistake about this, it is racing.

Recently there were several articles in name publications that alluded to what Amazon may or may not be contemplating as it continues to turn the mainstream publishing industry and its pricing models upside down. Amazon is being accused of predatory pricing, and it’s hard to argue this one, since they sell books below their cost as loss leaders and to stifle competition from B&N and everyone else, including the independent bookstores that need every break they can get in the current environment. Amazon is also paying higher advances to established authors to move them to their “house” and prevent mainstream publishers from retaining these writers as clients.

Certainly, any author should have the right to take advantage of free enterprise. And since most of us struggle for 15 or so years before we get our first big break, it’s not outside the pale to even encourage a writer to take the best deal possible. It would be really strange not to. But what’s happening is that Amazon can potentially monopolize the market. The argument is that it will only be a matter of time before the firm signs its first “franchise” writer, such as Nora Roberts or James Patterson, and then the floodgates will open wide. Their books will be sold only by Amazon, and at prices the company dictates. Anyone who is currently listed with Amazon is well aware of how the company controls pricing. I’ve often stated I believe this should be illegal. But with Amazon’s grip already around the throat of so much of the market, what is an author to do?

While e-commerce is overwhelming so much of business (including Best Buy serving as the showroom for Amazon, some say), the various formats to read material are not universally applied, and many firms continue to maintain proprietary reading devices. However, since Apple adapted to accept Microsoft’s apps, this might lead other outfits to be more conciliatory, since people certainly aren’t going to buy material their readers can’t reproduce effectively. This is another reason Amazon has such exceptional clout. Remember, Kindle and Nook presently have 99 percent of the market. If Kindle keeps increasing its market share of authors as well as readers, I don’t believe it requires a think tank of Wharton economists to foresee the potential for all sorts of abuse.

I don’t hate Amazon. I simply feel the whole thing is shifting too much in the company’s favor. Now that the firm is supposedly paying higher advances than the Big 6 and Kensington, what happens if they gain control of the industry and start to pay lower advances? What if they decide to manipulate content? I’m not implying this would ever happen, as I’m far from a conspiracy theorist, but weirder things have occurred throughout history, and it’s the nature of the beast to desire complete domination. I certainly wouldn’t want to see any company’s influence in play when it pertains to a writer’s freedom of expression (except for obvious exceptions, such as promoting pedophilia or terrorism). Let’s hope I’m overreacting to the censorship issue and the other scenarios I’ve discussed, because readers, more than any other factor, cannot–and I believe will not–allow Amazon or any firm to attain monopoly status..

I’d like to remind all Newsletter subscribers of the Shelfstealers launch, which I mistakenly stated as February 12. It’s February 16. Please be prepared to rob your piggy bank of 10 to 20 bucks and buy a Shelfstealers title. I firmly feel this will help everyone, as this format might be the wave of the future for aspiring writers who have wonderful material the big houses ignored, but eschew self-publishing because they have the confidence their narratives can capture an audience without having to pay to play. If Shelfstealers agrees with the quality of a work, the firm covers all costs, including marketing. The only difference from a major publisher is that Shelfstealers’ start-up model doesn’t pay advances.

And to one important point, it must be clearly understood that the requirements for a book being accepted for publication by the firm are just as stringent as the mainstream imprints. For anyone who hasn’t visited the Shelfstealers’ site, please click any one of the five links appearing in this and the previous paragraph for current titles and submission guidelines. And if it appears I’m overkilling this, I am, as I feel support for this publisher will ultimately help any Newsletter subscriber who has a great book but has not been able to attract a mainstream publisher. And what’s most significant, perhaps, is that submissions can be made without an agent. The only major publisher to allow direct authors’ submissions is Kensington, via each of its dozen or so separate imprints.

The article I’ve written to accompany today’s Newsletter is about conflict in a story. Misconceptions abound regarding the various aspects of conflict, and here are my views on this often complicated subject.

The Meaning of Conflict in a Story

To have any chance of engaging the reader, the number-one challenge is to create conflict as soon as possible and make it powerful enough to propel the story. The famous editor Irwin R. Blacker feels it’s so important that he quotes Aristotelian theory, which I’ve bastardized as follows: If the conflict is not great enough to change the central character, the reason for reading the book has been removed. Simply, if the conflict is not powerful in the mind of the reader, the story is dead out of the box.

What Exactly Constitutes Conflict?

Last year I took time away from my adult creative writing workshops that were sponsored by the Palm Beach County Library System to work with kids at a school for gifted children in my community. These youngsters were great fun, and I began with the same elements I discuss in my adult programs, and one is defining conflict. And that conflict in and of itself isn’t always something which is earthshaking, let alone dramatic. During an early session, one 9-year-old girl, who was shy to begin with, read her opening paragraph from an exercise I’d given the group. She finished her material, which involved a puppy being left on a porch in a box by person or persons unknown, and asked me–while displaying a terribly sad look– “Not much conflict, huh?”

I said she was far from correct in her self-deprecation. The abandoned dog in her story created all sorts of scenarios: Who left it? Why? Did the person who found the puppy like it and want to keep it? If the animal was discovered by a little girl, would her parents let her keep it? The list went on and on. When we were finished, she had more conflict options available to her than any of her classmates via their respective material.

There’s Rising Conflict, Peaking Conflict, and Falling Conflict

In my opinion, “conflict theory” can foster over-analysis at times, but once conflict is established in a story, it needs to crescendo. Will Mom and Dad let me have the puppy? If they do, how much time will it take from my other activities?

Conflict should also run full circle: Yea, my parents say I can keep the dog. He’s great and I named him Fluffy. I’ve had him a week now and he’s my best friend. But I still don’t know who left him outside, and this really bothers me. I never took the time to care about much before, but now I feel responsible for things. Mom even says I’m keeping my room neater and taking more of an interest in people too. I’m not as shy anymore, either. And Mom and Dad seem to be paying a lot more attention to me. Is it possible Fluffy has something to do with this?

Again, Conflict Must Change a Major Character

In the last few lines, the conflict is falling, but it must descend to a level that brings the protagonist and antagonist together at the end. In our imaginary tale, the little girl walks by the den one night and hears her mother and father talking without their being aware she’s listening.

The mom says to the dad, “It sure seems like the money we spent taking Cindy to Dr. Nichols was worth it. I had no idea she was suffering from a case of such low self-esteem.” The dad replied, “That little mutt has helped you and me too. We seemed to have gotten so caught up in our jobs that we were neglecting Cindy. It’s strange it worked out this way, since I didn’t believe the doc in the beginning and you didn’t either.” His wife smiled at him. “It’s amazing how he could know that placing that little dog in that box and letting Cindy find it would make such a difference in her life.” He returned her smile and took her hand. “It’s made a difference in all our lives.”

Here’s a case of the major conflict being resolved in the denouement, while several peripheral conflicts were “satisfied” along the way.

And Then There’s Too Much Conflict

If the conflict in a story requires more than a sentence to define, the plot is likely too complicated. Sounds silly, but think about the most complex tales out there and how succinctly the main conflict is presented. Most conflict can be defined in ten words or less. Try the “ten words or less” exercise for your favorite novel and see if it works.

  • Some Rules for Conflict Are Inviolable
  • Conflict must always be shown and never told to the reader.
  • Conflict should place the protagonist and antagonist together in the same theoretical room. However, If they aren’t directly involved with one another to establish the conflict, those around them must be the tormenters who pull them into the maelstrom.
  • Unresolved conflict makes for very unhappy readers.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 74
Plot Holes and How They Can Destroy a Story
(February 28, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

I want to offer a special welcome to those of you who have subscribed to The Perfect Write® Newsletter during the past two weeks. The Perfect Write® Newsletter is sent every other Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST, and the purpose of this medium is to provide current information on the publishing industry and to offer suggestions for writing prose at a level that would appeal to a mainstream publisher or quality indie.

I also write an article to accompany each Newsletter that is initially exclusive to subscribers and pertains to the nuances of writing at a professional level. I’m always asking for suggestions for topics, and scores of subjects I’ve written about can be accessed via this link to the Articles Page on my Web site at If you shouldn’t see something you’re interested in that’s not already covered by a prior article, please drop me a note at [email protected] and I’ll be more than happy to address your request in a future Newsletter and point you toward whatever resource material I might have that pertains your interest(s).

As many of you learned, last week my personal e-mail was hacked by a spammer, this time hustling home-based business opportunities. (At least this was less embarrassing than the prior thief who was selling Viagra.) I am truly sorry for those of you who received this latest spammer’s message via my hijacked e-mail address. I was able to determine that my personal address book became available because of a Facebook button I clicked that was supposed to “unfriend” someone who was sending me spam. This is the second such incident in a year that can be directly attributed to Facebook, and for this reason I’m not going to add or delete any future “friends” or “wannabe friends.” Everyone will just have to know that I am a friend, and we’ll have to leave it at that. Again, a thousand apologies for the intrusion.

I want to lead this Newsletter with information on the latest wrinkle in the writer “pay to play” environment that’s being fomented by the plethora of name literary agencies now involved in with e-publishing in some form or fashion. As I mentioned some months ago, Dystel & Gooderich was the first big-name literary agency I’d heard about that decided to “help” authors e-publish. In this august agency’s own publicity blurb, the firm is not going to become an e-publisher, but is going to “facilitate e-publishing” and help them (the writers) “project manage everything.” Their fee would be the industry-standard 15 percent. This link or their highlighted name will take you to the firm’s original press release on this last summer.

Since D&G–who, while not the first, was certainly the best-known agency I’d heard about that had gotten into “helping” authors e-publish–there have been scads of other big names who want to provide assistance, each it seems with a little different wrinkle. The latest to jump aboard the e-publishing bandwagon included Janklow & Nesbitt and Curtis Brown Ltd. What makes both of these agencies “unique,” instead of e-royalties being tagged to the agency model of 25 percent to the writer and 60 percent to the e-publisher (to arrive at 100 percent, remember that 15 percent goes to the agent), the split is 70/30, with 70 percent going to the author and 30 percent to the e-publisher, in this case Argo Navus Author Services, a subsidiary of Perseus Books Group. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Wow, does a phone call ever help. A little digging produced some interesting results. And let me say up front what I will repeat at the end of this section: I’m not insinuating this is a scam, and there is nothing illegal about what Perseus Books Group, Argo Navus Author Services, or any literary agency affiliated with this operation is doing. But here are the facts as I see them, and Newsletter subscribers can sort them out. First, Argo works with only agented writers or authors with mainstream-published books they have reclaimed the rights to. Still sounds great, right? Authors can tell friends and family they are represented by one of the biggest agencies in the business, such as Janklow & Nesbitt or Curtis Brown Ltd. In the next breath, writers can also tell friends and family that their work is published by a subsidiary of Perseus Books, a well-known print publisher. Gee, this sounds great. Almost too good to be true. Hmmm, is that not the first red flag?

To add to this fabulous opportunity for authors, Argo does the marketing. Now that really sounds great, correct? But here’s where it becomes fun: Argo charges its authors for its marketing services for its e-books. Now, how good does all this sound? And what marketing services do they provide? Distribution, access to book clubs, and they develop a platform to fit each individual author’s personal needs (could this mean how much an author can afford to pay? Hmmm, again). What else could it mean?

I learned that the marketing services are provided via an algorithm they call “Constellation.” The firm does employ a publicity director, but I got the impression the marketing was driven by this computer program. I was told there are currently 278 Perseus authors signed up, but the person I spoke with couldn’t tell me the genre mix. Oh, yeah, Perseus only publishes nonfiction, another issue that isn’t presented in the announcement showcasing Argo Navus Author Services. And from what I understood from my phone conversation with the Navus department head, the titles signed thus far have all been nonfiction. Is there a difference between marketing nonfiction and fiction? You betcha. Again, Perseus’ history of being a nonfiction house isn’t part of the press material.

Here’s how this whole thing appears to me:

Argo Navus Author Services will accept works only from clients of literary representatives who are under contract to them (meaning, the agents)–and these authors will be offered the opportunity to have Argo e-publish their books. Otherwise, Argo states it accepts only published authors. However, since the agency can refer a previously unpublished client to Argo, who will then become the publisher–this bypasses the requisite of being previously published by a bona fide royalty imprint.

Then authors will pay Argo for a marketing program that will best fit that person’s budget (whoops, did I write that!). Once this is done, the book will be e-published by Argo and marketed by the firm, with the literary agency gleaning a profit from sales. No agency would ever receive any form of silent commission for a referral to Argo. Of course not. And they very well may not receive a referral fee. But I think it’s fair to imply that this sort of cozy arrangement does provide for all sorts of options. It’s a very tidy deal all the way around, and what if the writer needs editorial help too? Well, by golly, Argo might have an option available for that as well.

Is there an incentive for the agencies from the perspective of the quality of what is deemed acceptable to “represent?” Why would there be? If the author foots the bill, why not get as much stuff out there as possible, knowing that something along the way will likely stick? But what happens to the throng of writers who are left in the wake, once again with empty pockets and their hopes dashed?

With Argo Navus Author Services, the writer retains title to the book (which is the one good thing I find about this awesome opportunity), so here is the question each author must ask: What if I want Argo to e-publish my book, but I don’t want to participate in any of its marketing platform? It shouldn’t matter, right? After all, since if I’m an agency-represented author, or I have a previously royalty-published book, this should be all that’s important, correct? Ask these questions and see what the answers happen to be.

Is this really any different from a vanity press in sheep’s clothing? Yeah, I know, there’s the marketing. But, in my opinion, I don’t think there’s one iota of difference when it’s all said and done. The writer is still essentially footing the entire bill. As everyone is aware who has ever read my Newsletters for any period of time, or who knows me personally, my position has always been the same: Until a writer is paid a reasonable advance by the publisher, it’s still self-publishing. And while this is clearly stated to be self-e-publishing from the outset, it’s presented as an agency-represented medium. What’s the agency representing–except to provide a paying customer to an affiliate?

If the e-book sells in reasonable numbers, the agency will then pitch it to a publisher, which is the one “given” in this whole equation. This keeps everything in a neat little basket, since agents currently have their minions scouring the Internet for successful self-published titles. But does anyone want to guess how many writers are discovered this way? Remember what I wrote about 2010 and 2011 numbers related to e-published works totaling over 7,000,000. Agents are only going to represent e-books to mainstream publishers that sell well. And the odds of this happening are fast approaching the one in million plateau. Will marketing help? Of course, and it’s the only way an self-published author will have a chance.

But shouldn’t a program be explained up front for what it is? A writer pays us X amount of dollars and our company will e-publish and market your book. Yes, we use a computer algorithm and our parent company’s cachet is nonfiction. What’s wrong with a presentation that enables the writer to know–from the outset–what the program entails? Here’s an article on Argo Navus Author Services that came straight from The New York Times, and is also republished on the company’s site–yet it mentions nothing about the marketing fee structure.

It’s important to keep in mind that anyone who wants to e-publish can go to and have a book ready to go in a few days for less than $100. As longer-time Newsletter subscribers are aware, I provided an Editor’s Forum on the site for more than a year. Scott Wiesenthal, the founder, is a fine man with the best of intentions, and I only quit facilitating the forum because I didn’t feel the site had much traction. But a book on can be offered on Amazon, and with a hardcopy counterpart the material can achieve distribution status with Ingram and Baker & Taylor–which means the book can be placed on their respective lists for worldwide distribution to bookstores and libraries. No sales, of course, but available for sales.

Refer to my special Newsletter from July 12 of last year that was dedicated to MARKETING YOUR BOOK FROM A to Z to understand what Ingram and Baker & Taylor actually provide. Should any Newsletter subscriber, newer or older, desire a copy of the special edition that focused solely on book marketing, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to send it to you. I don’t publish this on my Web site because it contains a lot of what I consider to be propriety information.

I want to finish with Navus Author Services by once again stating that in no way am I insinuating that this company, its parent, or any of the agencies that affiliate, are doing anything illegal or that this is a scam. It is not, although if there are any silent commissions being paid via finder’s fees, I wouldn’t consider the arrangement the most ethical I ever encountered. My sole contention is that the program is another “pay to play” format, albeit a very cleverly couched one. And even if a few authors might be published by Navus without having to pay for marketing, my opinion–until I’m proven wrong–is that a great many writers will spend a lot of money for very little in return. For me, it all gets down to the primary issue of an agency’s not believing strongly enough in a work to represent it, but willing to pass it on to someone else that the writer will have to pay to utilize!

To switch gears (I know, finally) I’m going to once more allude to my paper on MARKETING YOUR BOOK FROM A to Z. A fundamental premise was that e-books and print copies can coexist–and quite well. WHAT IT IS, by George Pelecanos, was e-published by Little, Brown and sold for $.99 (another contention of mine), and it recently debuted on The New York Times Bestseller list at number 14 and on USA Today’s list at number 36. Print sales for $9.95 paperbacks totaled 1300 units, and 300 hardcovers sold that were listed at $35. And for more proof that $.99 sells, before Stephanie McAfee moved to NAL for the paperback reprint of DIARY OF A MAD FAT GIRL, she sold 145,325 e-copies at that price from January 2011 to August 2011.

Amazon is to launch a physical bookstore in Seattle, where they are located. Wouldn’t it be perfect for them to offer the kiosk book-printing services I’ve suggested numerous times as the wave of the future? They could stick the high-end copier inside the store and ramp out books while customers drink latte. I firmly believe the mall book kiosk is coming, which will enable any book lover to buy a favorite copy of whatever without a B&N-size real estate investment by the store owner. The same kiosk could offer self-published writers immediate (okay, 24-hour) service on their respective titles. If the company follows the MIRA pricing I outlined in the Marketing Newsletter, 100 books, with cover art provided by the author, could be printed in softcover for around $7.00 each. And, yes, the ISBN/EAN can be printed at the same time, or the author could manually affix the labels, with the latter allowing price flexibility.

Today’s article is on plot holes. People often ask me what it is that I do as an editor after I tell them I have an associate with world-class credentials who handles proofreading. I explain that I spend my time transitioning narrative and fixing plot holes. The material that follows explains why plot consistency is crucial to the success of any narrative.

Plot Holes and How They Can Destroy a Story

As an editor, I find nothing more uncomfortable than having to tell a writer about a flaw in a draft that pertains to a plot hole. And often I’ll be asked to define this tear in the fabric of a story that makes a section of the narrative unrealistic for what I refer to as a reader’s “acceptability quotient.”

Plot Holes Can Crop Up Anywhere

The tendency is to assume a plot deficiency occurs only at the end of the story, and while this indeed does happen, it’s often easiest to remedy with a denouement. The problem I’ve found, however, is that the more elements revealed at the end of the story, the weaker the overall plotline. If I’m reading a couple of pages of plot resolution at the very last of a narrative, I generally suggest that the writer go back and work on these elements so they’re brought out and resolved within the framework of the text.

Types of Plot Holes

The most obvious plot hole is anything that requires a deus ex machina to save the day. I always hate when an otherwise good story requires a preternatural event to reconcile a plot element. But plot holes are more insidious than purely contrived events. How do characters make it cross country in a day in an automobile? Or heal from horrific wounds in three days? How does a year pass in a story and the only person who is affected by this is the lead character?

Chronology Is a Factor Never to Lose Site Of

Time is a big deal, and it contributes to plot problems as much as anything. When a year passes, everyone it the story is impacted by this. What did they do during that year? Quite commonly, even the best writers can’t effectively fill long gaps, and it’s a reason I suggest writing tight timelines whenever possible, and especially with mysteries and thrillers.

Inconsistency Creates Plot Holes

Readers don’t have to know that characters go to the bathroom, eat every meal, answer each phone call, etc., but if a character has a lisp on page 4, it can’t have been cured by the middle of the next page. Mary can’t be two months pregnant in June and have a baby that has gone full term by August. Tom can’t be fired in December, but working for the same firm in April, without an explanation. A boat that’s destroyed in a storm can’t reappear in the final scene–with the reader told that the craft really wasn’t dashed against the rocks as first reported. Shakespeare could get away with it; the rest of us can’t.

Not Finishing Threads Can Cause As Many Problems As Anything

It certainly is easy to take a run at one Pulitzer Winner, INDEPENDENCE DAY, by Richard Ford. But my reason for disliking this book has nothing to do with anything I saw on the review sites or the opinions of people I respect who read the book. My reason was because the thread regarding the murdered realtor, which Mr. Price brought up twice, was never tied up for the reader. In my opinion, it was the only true plot element in the entire story, and it was ignored. (If you haven’t read the novel, it has no plot, just the idle ramblings of a neurotic malcontent during a three-day Fourth of July holiday. If you like Virginia Woolf, you’ll likely enjoy this; if not, you might want to stay away.) As to my point, I don’t see how this open thread ever got by the editors at Knopf.

Major Writers Get Away With Plot Holes, We Can’t!

Disregarding my reference to THE TEMPEST, in THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE, how is it that a man as meticulous as Der Needle would leave a door unlocked so his landlady could walk in on him while he was on his radio transmitting to the Germans? This occurring when the entire story was a testament to this assassin’s extreme caution with everything he did?

Everyone has plenty of examples of the sort of missteps I just mentioned. Established writers are cut a lot of slack for reasons that boggle the mind of any person working hard to try to make it in this business. But a major requirement, like it or not–for anyone striving to attract a mainstream publisher–is to provide work that is devoid of inconsistencies which create holes in the plot.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 75
The Main Characters Must Change for a Story to Be Effective
(March 13, 2012)

Hello All,

My first order of business with each edition of my Newsletter is to welcome the newest subscribers to this medium. The premise behind each publication is to provide information on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20 years as both a novelist and an editor, and to offer advice on writing prose at a level that would appeal to a major royalty publisher or quality independent press. I’m especially proud to report that writers in 34 countries subscribe to The Perfect Write® Newsletter, and each week new authors are added to this list.

I include an article to accompany each Newsletter. This material is initially exclusive to subscribers before it’s picked up and republished on the Internet, and the material always explores some element of writing prose at a fluent level or an aspect of the publishing industry that’s usually from personal experience. I mention topics for articles because I’m always seeking advice from subscribers regarding material they would like me to discuss in future broadcasts. I generally write material in blocks, and I’m usually 90 days or so “out.” However, my article queue is running low, and I’m asking for subscribers to send me ideas. Should you be interested in suggesting a subject(s), please go to the Articles Page on my Web site and scan through the titles–and if you don’t see your area of interest–don’t hesitate to drop me a note at [email protected]

During the past few months, a substantial number of Newsletter subscribers have asked about my policy for copying the articles I write. Any subscriber has my permission to copy anything I publish, as long as this is for personal use. Many writers have told me they’ve copied all the articles and indexed them in a notebook or some such thing for future reference. I’m always humbled when I learn of this. And should a subscriber wish to reprint material, this is also allowed. However, I do ask that a resource paragraph be included at the front or end of the article that contains my full name (Robert L. Bacon), my company name with the service mark symbol (The Perfect Write® ), and a live link to my Web site or the full URL ( I trust no one will think I’m being too demanding regarding reproductions, as I’d like to at least glean the advertising benefit, which is why I publish the Newsletter and write the articles, and I’m certainly not ashamed to admit this, ha ha.

The prior Newsletter, in which I spent most of the narrative discussing the clever technique one e-publisher is using to acquire material (how’s that for being polite?), brought the largest response to anything I’ve written during the almost three years of this publication’s existence. Everyone’s comments were appreciated, and whenever I see something dressed up as a princess–but I think is not exactly Snow White material–I’ll continue to bring it to subscribers’ attention so each of you can make your own decisions. Just always remember that if something looks too good to be true in the publishing business, it always is–without fail. And once the meter starts running, this is a good indicator to turn the car around and head for the border as fast as possible.

Take a few minutes and go to this highlighted “swindled ,” as it’s a link to case histories of some of the most egregious outfits that authors have been exposed to and bilked by. Everyone who has any interest whatsoever in becoming published–in any medium–should read this article. My suggestion is to skip the first two case histories, as they relate to foreign concerns, and begin with Deering Literary Agency. And it gets really good with Edit Ink (the next crooked company), an outfit I’ve cited many times in my Newsletter, as I once spoke to the infamous Bill Appel and found him so ridiculous that I couldn’t believe anyone could be so outrageous and get away with it. But he was able to skirt the rules of law, and in my opinion common decency, for a long time.

To change subjects, here is a great WSJ article on $.99 books as prequels to paper releases. Additionally, it explains why a new writer is better off with a softcover debut rather than a hardback at $27.95. I never understood this until ten years ago when my agent told me he expected the novel of mine he was representing to debut in softcover and not hardback. I was upset, thinking hardback was the right route, and certainly more prestigious. He was the first to drive some sense into my head about this issue, asking which would a person most likely purchase, a $27.95 hardback from a heretofore unknown author or a $12.95 (at that time) softcover? He explained that a debut softcover would likely outsell hardbacks by a 4-to-1 ratio, and every statistic I’ve ever seen has proven this to be correct.

In the world of established mainstream authors turning to self-publishing, here in my opinion is the right way to do this for the vast majority of writers who aren’t marketing whizzes. Author Tucker Max has employed Simon & Schuster to handle the distribution of his book HILARITY ENSUES (it’s nonfiction, by the way). It debuted at Number 2 on The New York Times Hardcover List and Number 9 on the Nielson BookScan’s Hardcover List. Already S&S has shipped 125,000 copies, which shows the reason a major publisher is worth pursuing for distribution.

His own company, Blue Heeler Books, published and supplied the inventory to S&S. Mr. Max is using S&S to also distribute the e-book, so I have to assume there was some incentive for them to do this, and that there was a promotional fee attached to the print books as well. Mr. Tucker also gives away the book on i-Tunes, and so far his title has purportedly amassed more than 100,000 hits, again proving that one medium can indeed be utilized to support another.

This is a hard balance to pull off, as this obviously cannibalizes sales, but it also further brands the author. Since he’s shipped 125,000 copies of his book to S&S, the firm must assume there’s a market. Major publishers certainly aren’t naive to the buying public, and I have to think the powers-that-be at S&S have thoroughly tested the market for the story or they wouldn’t have accepted an order of this magnitude. The only odd thing for me is that Mr. Max is pricing his e-book at a lofty $12.95–after giving away 100,000 copies. That, for me, doesn’t compute–meaning the $12.95 price point. By the way, should anyone be interested, e-books are now accounting for from 6 percent to 20 percent of sales for the Big 6 publishers.

For those of you who have read my article MARKETING YOUR BOOK FROM A TO Z, you noticed the way Author Buzz uses Facebook to promote authors. And I remarked in the prior Newsletter that Argo Navis Author Services was offering social media as an inducement for authors to purchase their marketing platform. So I contacted Facebook’s advertising department to learn firsthand what an author can expect, and the conversation produced some interesting results.

The advertising executive I spoke with was topnotch, and I found him to be upfront in every respect during both our initial conversation and his follow-up. Facebook has a program designed for the publishing industry that targets consumers who buy books–and it’s genre-specific. And the author pays only after a name is clicked. I don’t know the sales conversion rates, but experience tells me they are quite high, as the prospect will likely have read the liner notes or material from the book before accessing the link. And if the price of the book is also displayed, I have to think this is a legitimate high-percentage capture in which nine out of ten clicks result in a sale. But here’s the rub: Facebook’s ad pricing begins at $4 per click! I explained to the rep that a fee structure such as that would shut out self-published e-books, since most if not all would be priced below the $4 floor.

The ad executive checked his files and found that Facebook services a publisher who had reduced the cost-per-click to 52 cents each. He wouldn’t of course devulge the name of the publisher, but he said he’d research the advertising dollars required to qualify for the reduced rate. And when he called me the following morning, I was glad I was sitting down. The publisher was spending $500,000 per month with Facebook. That’s right, each month! We both had a good laugh and I thanked him for his effort. I put in a call to a list aggregator I used in my old business to see if there are any options affordable that Newsletter subscribers could access for a reasonable fee. And I’ll let you know if anything develops.

Before moving to today’s article that deals with the importance of the main characters’ changing for a plot to be effective, I want to let everyone know that is now officially open for business and shipping their hot-off-the-press titles. I have never asked Newsletter subscribers to spend one dime on anything except the fee-based version of Publishers Lunch once a writer is serious about pursuing a bona fide agent and mainstream publisher. And I feel as firmly as ever that the $20 each month is the best money any writer can spend to keep abreast of this complicated and often very confusing industry. But now I’m asking everyone to please access the site and buy a book. Yep, buy a title. You’ll get a wonderful story and, as I’ve stated many times, this may come around to be of great benefit when you have a manuscript that’s ready for prime time. is the one legitimate opportunity I’ve found in the menagerie of pretenders that writers have been exposed to during the past year or so. If the company accepts your book, an editor with the firm will work with the narrative, should this be necessary, at absolutely no fee to the writer. The firm will design the cover at no charge to the writer and lay out the text. And all distribution and marketing costs are also assumed by And the company splits the net profit with the writer and will provide the actual invoices from vendors to document expenses. The only thing can’t afford at this time is to pay advances to authors. Other than advances, the firm operates the same as any mainstream publisher, in that after its initial launch with four titles–of which I’m again asking each of you to please purchase just one–the company will be releasing approximately one new title each month, with the entirely of 2012 filled as well as part of 2013. This is identical to the way the Big 6 publishing houses handle releases.

So please give a chance, as this publisher might be giving you an opportunity someday. Also, the firm has one of the most impressive Web sites I’ve ever gone on, and any author whose title is listed on the site must be thrilled with the way his or her book is being presented. So buy a book and then read today’s article, ha ha.

The Main Characters Must Change for a Plot to Be Effective

One of the main principles behind sound plot development is the change a major character must experience for the storyline to be effective. And make no mistake about it, this character must be different at the end of the story from what the writer presents at the outset. Yet the ability to show the changes in believable ways is just as important as the modifications themselves.

“The Elements of Screenwriting” by Irwin R. Blacker Provides a Solid Template to Follow

In my creative writing workshops I often allude to books on screenwriting to help writers structure their novels in a technically correct manner. Irwin R. Blacker’s “The Elements of Screenwriting” offers superb advice with respect to the principle characters’ requiring change, and he explains ways this can be accomplished.

Changes to a Character, While Essential, Cannot Be Sudden

One of the most important issues Blacker points out is that writers often show a character’s shift in persona occurring too abruptly. I will occasionally ask a writer to look at the draft and pinpoint the exact location in the story where a major change occurred with one of the primary characters. If the writer can go to a single paragraph in the narrative, this lets the author know that the change wasn’t subtle enough–and too much happened at one time.

Gradual Changes Also Move the Plot Along

The biggest downfall to a sudden change is that it doesn’t give the character a chance to adequately develop. And the pacing often will flag, as one seems to have an inverse relationship to the other, especially if too much of a change occurs too rapidly. Small changes that take place as the plot moves along serve two main purposes from a technical perspective, as the reader’s interest in the character can be advanced at the same time it’s being solidified.

There Is a Point When the Reader Must Know the Change Has Taken Place

With everything I just wrote about subtlety, at some place in the story the change in a character must be obvious to the reader. This skill in presenting these subtleties so they ultimately develop in dramatic fashion can make or break a story. The authors of the following works accomplished this end in splendid form and contributed greatly to why each became a classic.

When does Gregor Samsa, and therefore the reader, realize there is no possibility of his returning to his normal body? When does Pierre realize his life will never be the same, even if he can reclaim his position with the royal family in Russia? How about the Reverend Dimmesdale’s realization that he can no longer endure Chillingworth’s prodding? Or Raskolnikov’s acceptance of the reality of his crimes during his gut-wrenching confessions? And, in a more contemporary vein, Meggie’s acceptance of her life after the birth of a son she never reveals to the priest who fathered the child?

Find a Pace for Each Character

Studying this sort of outstanding material can give writers a feel for the pace of each character’s development–and change–in their own works. By translating the concept of rhythm to their personal narratives, authors can learn to sense when something should be foreshadowed and to what degree. Handled properly, the gradual result will be both dramatic and obvious in the mind of the reader, which should be every writer’s goal.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 76
What Is Meant by a tic in Writing? (March 27, 2012)

Hello All,

Once again I have a new group of subscribers to welcome who signed up for The Perfect Write® Newsletter between broadcasts. I want to welcome each of you and ask that you alert me to anything you find that might seem amiss with what I write about. I concentrate on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20 years as both a writer and an editor, and on writing prose that would be appealing to a major royalty publisher or quality indie, but I don’t claim to have all the answers–or any of them for that matter. My goal is to provide writers with enough information to make fair evaluations for themselves.

I also include an article on the industry or writing quality prose, and it’s initially exclusive to this Newsletter until later republished on the Internet. I’m always seeking new topics, so if you’ll take a look at the Articles Page on my Web site via the link I’ve provided and don’t see the subject you’re interested in, by all means contact me at [email protected] and I’ll be more than happy to address it via an article to accompany a future broadcast.

As long-time subscribers to my Newsletter are aware, I’ve always promoted writers who are part of our constituency whenever I can. J.E. (Buck) Buchanan, whom I’ve known for many years and have posted an opening chapter of his police thriller VIRGIN TERRITORY on my Critique Blog, has published a humorous tale THE SECRET FILES OF HUGO AND VICTORIA on KIndle. If any of you would like a good laugh, I think you’ll find it’s well worth the $2.99. While Buck was writing the book, he submitted sections for contests sponsored by to the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and won awards for excellence. This is a pretty serious organization, and if I remember correctly, some of the material even placed first. You can read an opening chapter for free by going to this site on Amazon, and you can also take a look at my review of this work while you’re there.

I’ll be more than happy to showcase any subscriber’s published material in either my Critique Blog or via an insert such as this one in my Newsletter, but it must meet my standards. And my biggest problem is that I can’t always get to a manuscript in a timely fashion. In Buck’s case, I was familiar with the story because I’d read a great deal of the material while it was in the developmental stages. Just understand that if I don’t showcase a manuscript, it might not have anything to do with quality but that I simply couldn’t get to it. For this I’ll apologize ahead of time–and effusively. But I have to read my clients’ work first, and there are only so many hours in the day–and night, ha ha.

I’m going to devote the body of this Newsletter to library issues, as I firmly believe everything should be done that is humanly possible to support this medium. Without libraries, there would be very few places to encourage reading, as it’s obvious that our school systems are failing miserably in this respect. And unless someone is a liberal arts major, I can’t see that the colleges in many cases are doing much better. Part of the problem, as I see it, is that libraries are victims of some poorly worded guidelines that pertain to copyright-protected material. And in certain instances this imprecise rhetoric can allow unscrupulous replication that unfortunately can be blamed on libraries.

As the copyright laws are currently written, Section 108 permits libraries to reproduce copyright-protected material in two specific instances: to maintain an existing collection of work by allowing the replacement of damaged, lost, or stolen books that are no longer commercially available, and to fulfill the requests of researchers using the library and to also meet the requests of researchers using other libraries. Section 108 limits the scope of copying so that any book that’s commercially available cannot be reproduced in whole, and never permits a library to maintain a copy of an entire book except as a replacement for one that was damaged, lost, etc. Section 108 also states that no digital reproduction can occur outside the physical premises of the library.

Does anyone need to be an expert in intellectual property to see the problems with all of what I just detailed? Without going through each aspect of this, what’s to prevent anyone from downloading material and forwarding it to another device–off premises? And even with encryption, savvy thieves can bypass this security feature. Common sense must apply to the regulations. What’s going on with Random House on the e-book side of things indicates the way this works on the opposite end of this same spectrum.

As of March 1, Random House is charging wholesalers who sell to libraries TRIPLE the fees, which I assume pertains primarily to Baker & Taylor, since no one else distributes to libraries in any volume. This equates to new hardcovers being sold in e-book formats to libraries at between $65 and $85. The argument for the escalation is that e-books are perpetual, and since the average printed book is lent 26 times, libraries are way ahead in the long run. What this doesn’t take into account is that many books are never checked out 26 times. And in a virtual inventory as well as a printed one, isn’t most of the interest going to be limited to hot titles? So for 10 percent of the excess beyond the 26-times metric, libraries end up paying three times more overall. Does that compute with anyone?

The biggest issue for everyone should be how the 26-times metric–denoting “average” checkouts before a book is damaged beyond being able to be lent–came into being. The most important number, in my opinion, should be the “mode,” or the most common number. Once that’s established, then a reasonable formula can be developed. Of course publishers are citing the number of books that don’t get checked out 26 times to support the specious contention that libraries are actually at an advantage by accepting this number.

Look at the dichotomy I just outlined. Libraries are assailed for the copyright-protection issue I cited as if they are really trying to abuse this. And Libraries are being assaulted with absurdly high costs for e-books because of the abuse digital technology allows primarily in the academic medium. Random House goes on to state that the increased pricing for e-books is in line with its pricing for audio books. I ask, is audio the same thing as digital? If Random House truly believes in the metric it uses for the higher price points for its titles in e-books, why don’t they offer the digital material to libraries at a level that takes into account the total number of audio books that are available? My point is that the total number of audio titles in circulation is infinitesimal compared to e-books. Count the number of titles in circulation and then do the math!

The Kiana Davenport saga continues, and a click of the link will take subscribers to The New York Times article that explains her problems and clearly identifies just how crucial it is for authors to have legal counsel with substantial expertise with Intellectual Property as a discipline before jumping into something on their own if they have a contract with a publisher. Being contested is the interpretation of the “rights to the next work” clause in her contract with Penguin–and the legal issue is a doozy. I can’t think of anything more deflating after being signed by a major royalty publisher than getting slapped with a lawsuit for violating the terms of the contract.

I have a huge compliment to pay Newsletter subscribers, as more of you clicked the link I provided on “scammers” in the book industry than any other link in the three years since I posted the first edition of this Newsletter (yes, another new record for a specific link’s being clicked.) I also want to thank subscribers for visiting and buying a book. In the future you will be able to purchase from the firm directly via PayPal and bypass Amazon, and I’ll let you know when this function is operational. And for anyone who hasn’t done so, and I know who you are, ha ha, please visit the site and look at the titles that are currently released. I purchased JOE PEACE, and I’m looking forward to reading it and writing a review.

When I began writing seriously, the current executive editor at Kensingon, Michaela Hamilton, helped with with my first novel when she was between jobs and doing some freelancing. She told me me to be alert to something in a manuscript I sent her. She described the element as a tic. At that time I didn’t know what a tic in writing meant, and perhaps some Newsletter subscribers aren’t clear on this topic, so I decided to discuss this in today’s article and provide some examples.

What Is Meant by a Tic in Writing?

Most people associate a “tic” with the spelling “tick” and think of it as the little parasite that sucks the hemoglobin from someone’s pooch. Then it becomes not so little anymore as it morphs into a giant sac of blood in a host that’s hard to kill even when squished. I find it appropriate to apply this gross analogy to a tic in writing.

A Tic By Any Other Name is Still a Tic

By definition, a tic in writing parlance is “a frequent quirk in the narrative.” The operative word is “frequent.” And what isn’t added to the description is that tics, like their animal counterparts, can be so annoying to their recipients that they often become downright painful.

“You Know” Can and Does Apply to Writing

Everybody has a friend or acquaintance who asks “You know?” in every sentence. In speech, this sort of tic is easy to pick up. However, in a narrative there are other forms of tics that are more difficult to spot–until it’s too late.

“Chuckling,” “Laughing,” and “Looking” Lead the List

I read a raw draft recently that was quite good except that the writer’s characters had a penchant for chuckling. And often for no apparent reason. I had another work in which everyone was constantly laughing, apparently finding things more humorous–at all times in their lives–than their less jovial counterparts who only chuckled. I noticed that one of my own drafts contained characters who were constantly looking up, down, around, over, under, through, and into things. Simply, too much “looking” was taking place.

The overworked actions I just mentioned can be sought out and corrected, as a search via the “find” function can quickly display the number of times “look” shows up in a narrative, for example. But some tics are subtle, and this is where it can get sticky.

Too Many Characters Can Have the Same Attributes

This doesn’t mean that their dialogue is identical, or their personalities, or their appearances, although each of these characteristics could be considered a tic. In the world of “ticdom,” to make the grade each character can simply react to something in the identical manner, numerous times throughout the story. I read an otherwise brilliant novel recently that had multiple characters tossing out clever one-liners, from the grocer to the plumber to the pediatrician. Only a single comedian per novel, please.

Look for Repetition

When a writer starts out, it’s easy to have several characters saying and doing similar things. But as authors mature, it’s important to delineate syntax so tics don’t occur unless they’re a component of the storyline. And it’s valuable to recognize that if a character is repeating the actions of another, this is no different from a dialogue oddity that becomes nettlesome to the reader. Again, a tic is still a tic.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 77
Interior Monologue That Doesn’t Fit the Mood the Dialogue Has Created (April 10, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

Wow! The past two weeks set another record for new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter over a 14-day period. And I want to extend a special welcome to those of you for whom this is your first edition. My Newsletter focuses on writing prose at a level that would be appealing to mainstream publishers and quality Indies or on aspects of the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20 years.

To complement each broadcast, I include an article I compose on some aspect of writing, and I’m always seeking ideas for future material to accompany each edition. So if you’ll check the Articles Page on my Web site at and find I haven’t previously written about your topic of interest, I’ll be happy to address it. And should it be something I’m not familiar with from personal experience or via what I consider to be credible anecdotal sources, I’ll research the topic and provide what information I can on the subject.

For anyone who is down in the dumps after continuing to fill a seemingly bottomless pit with rejection notices, it’s important to remember that J.K. Rowling was turned down by 12 publishers for HARRY POTTER. I don’t know how many of these snubs occurred before she’d signed with an agent, but this statistic undeniably illustrates that persistence pays off. And it’s also important to note the Scholastic, her publisher, is a firm that’s not necessarily known for commercial fiction. Along these same lines, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, also fiction, was published by the Naval Institute Press, and everyone knows of the popularity of that book (and movie) and the success Tom Clancy has enjoyed.

So don’t ever ignore a potential opportunity. HARRY POTTER might have been presented to Scholastic just because it was a Children’s-genre story, and OCTOBER to the Naval Press solely because it involved a submarine, so sometimes the thinnest of links is all it takes. (I’m not suggesting THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER wouldn’t apply to the Navy, only that it was a fictional story, and publishing a novel is not something people commonly associate with an arm of the military.)

Long-time Newsletter subscribers have often read my laments regarding inaccurate publishing statistics provided by the horribly disparate reporting agencies (there is currently no single repository for the data). Never was it more apparent than when I read a report I’ve copied below that I originally found in a highly regarded “publishing-insiders” magazine. These stats are the aggregate totals from the Big 6 and name Indies that publish Children’s material.

Jan. 1 – March 15, 2012

1 Children’s (all) 231
2 Children’s: Young Adult 115
3 Children’s: Picture book 61
4 Children’s: Middle grade 51

Jan. 1 – March 25, 2011

1 Children’s (all) 229
2 Children’s: Young Adult 113
3 Children’s: Picture book 61
4 Children’s: Middle grade 51

Should anyone be inquisitive enough to add the numbers in each column, the first comes to 277 and the second to 225. Um, am I missing something? This isn’t like compiling statistics for the GAO. The three numbers need to equal either 231 or 229. Wouldn’t a quick count of the last digit in each group indicate that something was awry? Most people, I think, can readily see that 1, 1, and 5 don’t come out to a number that ends in 1, any more than 3, 1, and 1 equal 9. This, as much as anything I can think of, should tell any author before signing a book contract that a visit to an attorney who specializes in Intellectual Property might be a good idea.

Then I learned just this past week that book sales statistics are now going to be expanded dramatically, as approximately 1,500 publishers will now provide stats rather than a couple of dozen, as had been the previous methodology. Since what I just documented clearly indicates that we have people who can’t add three small numbers in a series, this should certainly give authors everywhere a reason to shudder.

I’ve mentioned in my book marketing platform, MARKETING YOUR BOOK FROM A TO Z, that one of the main reasons I think the $.99 price point is a good one for e-books is because only a small segment of people are likely to steal Intellectual Property that costs less than a buck. However, I’ve noticed that the industry has invested in some sophisticated encryption technology to prevent theft and the “passing around” of e-books to different reader devices. I have to think this was developed to some degree so libraries couldn’t lend e-books more than 26 times, and everyone who read my last Newsletter knows the way I feel about what I consider to be this absurdly skewed statistic.

With this encryption technology come some new catchphrases, and in case some Newsletter subscribers might not be familiar with these, here they are, along with their definitions. All of this involves the acronym DRM, which means Digital Rights Management.

1. DRM Free – Titles listed as DRM Free do not contain a rights management protection encryption. These e-books can be “passed around” to other digital readers without criminal penalty to the e-book owner, the same as someone might purchase a printed book and hand it off to any number of friends over any period of time.

2. DRM Lite / Watermark – Titles listed as DRM Lite or DRM Watermark are basically the same as DRM Free, but with one variation, in that DRM Lite / Watermark has the buyer’s name and date of purchase added to the bottom of each page. (Maybe this is supposed to make the buyer feel bad for lending the book out too often. I don’t have a clue as to the purpose behind this.)

3. Adobe ACS DRM – Titles listed as Adobe DRM are encrypted with a protection algorithm. The capability of reading a title on multiple devices is limited to five.

One of the biggest issues many writers face is creating dialogue breaks. Many of you who have sent me opening chapters to critique have received my request to read the “Easy Beats” section in SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Browne and King. These esteemed editors provide valuable information on why breaking up dialogue is so important. And a great many of you are aware of my position that “if the author has to take a breath when reading a passage of dialogue aloud, so does the reader.” But while a lot writers accept my advice on this, they don’t always use interior monologue that fits the mood of the scene, and this is what today’s article is about.

Interior Monologue That Doesn’t Fit the Mood the Dialogue Has Created

I don’t know of many writers who haven’t decided to break up expansive dialogue or lengthy exchanges between multiple characters with interior monologue consisting of either a laugh or a chuckle. Certainly breaks such as these are not only necessary but often crucial to the fluency of the prose, since brief respites of interior monologue can provide readers with much-needed hiatuses along the way. But what happens when interior monologue doesn’t fit the scene?

Do People Usually Expect Humor at a Tragedy?

Everyone has watched TV shows with a wisecracking detective such as the late Jerry Orbach’s character in LAW AND ORDER: SVU. Lenny Briscoe routinely shot off clever one-liners while collecting evidence at the most gruesome crime scenes imaginable. And it worked in video, especially for a show that ran an hour. But does gallows humor hold up for the entirety of a novel that will require eight hours or more to read?

Use Interior Monologue to Fit the Scene

I read a client’s draft recently in which absurdly inappropriate inserts were used to create pauses. A character was kidnapped, yet a relative and a friend of the victim were laughing or chuckling while discussing the occurrence. It’s important for a writer to identify something in a scene that warrants mirth. And if the reason for the humor isn’t justifiable, inserting laughing, chortling, chuckling, guffawing, giggling, etc. isn’t going to accommodate the mood the scene itself creates.

Unjustified Suggestions of Humor via Interior Monologue Detract From the Story

And this can grate on the reader. Here’s an example: The room was bathed in blood. Even the light fixtures on the ceiling were covered with splatters. Severed arms and legs were everywhere, making it impossible to know how many victims had been mutilated–or by what. Detective Jones laughed and said to his partner, “How are we going to be expected to identify anybody in this mess?” Sergeant Smith put away his notepad and chuckled. “I can’t see a face anywhere. Maybe the perp took the heads with him.”

Characters’ laughing and chuckling make this scene silly. Here it is with the interior monologue sans the laughing and chuckling: The room was bathed in blood. Even the light fixtures on the ceiling were covered with splatters. Severed arms and legs were everywhere, making it impossible to know how many victims had been mutilated–or by what. Detective Jones said to his partner, “How are we going to be expected to identify anybody in this mess.” Sergeant Smith put away his notepad. “I can’t see a face anywhere. Maybe the perp took the heads with him.” This is miles from a great scene, but I hope it expresses my point.

Take the Time to Think Out the Scene

It’s very hard to blend pathos, regardless of the circumstances, with humor, and this is why we see so few movies succeed in which this technique is tried. The SCREAM series worked, and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (which director John Landis wrote when he was only 19, by the way) had its moments, but how many other movies can you name in which gross-whatever worked well with humor? And in film, mixing the two seems to hold up best only in the horror genre.

Write Dialogue Breaks to Enhance the Narrative

While a short spit of interior monologue can be inserted to give readers a chance to catch their breaths, even the briefest lines of interior monologue, when deftly crafted, can add fabric to a character or a storyline. For this reason, writers should always work hard to design inserts that enhance the narrative and not simply to break up dialogue. This of course cannot be done in every instance when dialogue needs to be paused, nor would this be advisable because of pacing constraints, but the more often a writer can use interior monologue to advance a characterization, the better the story will become.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 78
The Wrong Way to Begin Dialogue in a Novel
(April 24, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

And welcome to The Perfect Write® Newsletter, which is presently broadcast to writers in 34 countries. For those of you who are new to this medium, it is e-mailed every other Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST. The premise behind these Newsletters is to provide information on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20 years as both a writer and an editor, and to offer material to enable authors to write prose at a level that would be appealing to a major royalty publisher or quality independent press.

I always include an article at the end of each Newsletter that’s exclusive to Newsletter subscribers before it’s posted on the Internet for retransmission to various book sites. I’m constantly requesting topics for material, so if you ever have something you’d like to see addressed in an article, please let me know by e-mailing me at [email protected] Just be sure to check the Articles Page on my Web site first to make certain I haven’t already covered the subject.

I want to spend a moment on Newsletter content, something I’ve not addressed in the almost three years since I published the first edition in the summer of ’09. Some folks might wonder why I take so much time discussing the nuances of the publishing industry, the attitude being that “I just want to get published, and I don’t care about the rest of this right now. And I’ll learn what I need to know as I go along.” If I thought it played out in this manner, I’d dispense with this entire aspect of my Newsletter’s platform.

The problem is that there’s no handbook for this industry, contrary to what some folks might imply, and I’ve also found that the inordinate number of self-help gurus aren’t much assistance to writers starting out. Most “programs” expect an author to be market savvy and also possess advanced sales skills and considerable advertising acumen. How many writers can honestly say they know anything about the publishing industry and its almost cryptic entry criteria that some say is controlled in large measure by nepotism and demographics?

What percentage of writers are great at sales? And to what level do most authors really understand generating publicity for a story? I mean who truly understand marketing in the publishing industry? Think about it–the major publishers can’t often get traction for their own authors. Especially the new ones, since it’s documented that only one out of four debut-authors’ material satisfies the advance! And these advances are not in the $100,000-plus range but generally $20,000 or less.

Some subscribers might ask why I spent so much time in a recent edition supporting libraries. I hope it was clear that I see no more valuable resource in our society, as without strong library systems our culture will suffer immeasurably. And I believe everything that can be done should be done to see this community service maintained at the highest level possible. We have college students who can’t write a 500-word theme, and college graduates who are unable to compose a competent cover letter to send to a prospective employer. Yet the latter group passed at least two English courses, and one focused on grammar. Oddly, many of these young people text OMG and LOL as their language of choice while thumbing their noses at those of us who think English has value.

In the course of a year, my goal is to provide Newsletter subscribers with a broad range of topics to consider. This is particularly important since so much of the Newsletters of late are consumed with legal matters transpiring within the industry. One of the latest involves the Justice Department’s suit against five of the Big 6 publishers for collusion to fix prices, specifically under the aegis of Apple. Two of these publishers settled last Wednesday with the DOJ–and the others a short time later–and part of the settlement stated that these publishers wouldn’t sell at a lower price to Apple. What makes this even more complicated to understand is that the goal was to force Amazon not to discount below its cost, hence the predatory pricing aspect of all of this.

If this seems complicated, it is, and I don’t claim to understand it fully, as it appears those involved are also having difficulty with the framework of what has transpired. Only Macmillan is fighting the DOJ, as its CEO states that he accepted The Agency Model on his own with zero influence from his peers. If anyone wants to delve into The Agency Model, which in one way or another affects the way all e-books are priced on Amazon and Apple, my suggestion is start reading the links on the Internet. After a little work you’ll have a general idea of what is being bandied about, and a cursory understanding is all anyone can really expect at this time. But this doesn’t diminish the significance of what’s going on, as I believe every writer who has aspirations of becoming published in any medium would be wise to learn about what’s taking place.

I predicted more big-name literary agencies would “affiliate” with Argo Navus Author Services after Janklow & Nesbit Associates and Richard Curtis Associates led the way. It’s now reported that nine more literary agencies have signed with Perseus Books subsidiary Argo Navus Author Services. I’m not going to list the names, as it’s now academic. By the end of the summer I’m surmising that 80 percent of the New York-agent aristocracy will be involved with one self-publisher or another to “help” their respective clients. Clients whose work is not deemed strong enough for them to represent, yet is good enough to be self-published via a digital or print format. Hmmm.

Remember, in every instance I’m aware of–and other than what I’m certain will be a rare few–these writers will have to pay for services ranging from the standard self-publishing costs to the newly established marketing fees that will be established by these houses. None of the marketing has been specifically defined in anything posted on these firms’ Web sites, but their blurbs range from a propriety algorithm such as what Argo Navus offers (named “Constellation”) to the latest wrinkle in which a brand-knew enterprise I won’t name because I don’t want to give it any publicity is guaranteeing its clients one year of marketing. Again, this marketing is not defined–as well as who is paying for this. Hmmm again.

If anyone gets involved with one of these outfits, and I realize just how seductive this can be, please look very closely at the contract, and make certain you’re prepared for the expense. A year’s worth of marketing can be anything, but if it’s paying for someone’s computer program to source book clubs, for example, or to place ads on Facebook, this can become expensive in a hurry. Like $6,000 to $7,000 expensive–and it can go well beyond this–all because an unwary writer assumes she or he has hit the big time and “huge success” is just around the corner.

Never lose sight of the fact that these marketing services are being marked up so the “packager” makes a profit. And the writer is paying for this from the outset. If I was starting out as a callow pup in this industry, I’d assume this is the way to go. In my opinion, it’s not the way to anything but a light wallet. It’s the way for agencies to legitimize a heretofore taboo and allow them to profit from the present groundswell of self-publishing fervor. Kudos to the clever person who first figured out a way for agencies to enter the fray relatively unscathed by peer scorn, but tar and feathers to that same person for creating a vehicle for dragging unsuspecting authors into the insidious sand that can become a vulture’s pit–and that’s being polite.

To another publishing issue, I mentioned in an article last year that numerous surveys determined the reading public held little stock in the name of the imprimatur under which a book is published. The only time the publisher seemed to matter was for a Romance imprint such as Harlequin or Avon. At the major level, years ago Knopf ended up a Random House imprint and the famous Scribners’ imprint came under the Simon & Schuster umbrella. Publishers on the other hand fiercely defend the parochial nature of their imprints, and are quick to point out that their readers expect a certain sort of story–every time. Again, if it’s a specialty imprint, or one geared to a specific demographic, this is not open for debate. But in the realm of commercial fiction, I wonder if some publishers really know their market as well as they profess?

I mention this to lend calm to anyone considering self-publishing and who might be worried that a book printed by an unknown publisher might be dismissed for that reason by a potential book buyer. People don’t care about this! And the overwhelming majority can name but a few publishers. Again, I’m not promoting self-publishing but simply offering support for any Newsletter subscriber who might be considering going this route, or for those who have already done so. As to this writers, it will be their individual marketing that will sell their books–not who published them.

The first rule in writing dialogue is not to design it exactly the way someone speaks–any more than anyone would speak the way someone writes dialogue. I’ve read a number of very fine drafts lately whose authors have lost track of this maxim. So here’s an article that deals with this subject, and specifically with ways not to begin dialogue. And for anyone not thinking dialogue is important, quite often it’s the first place a publisher turns to. If it’s good, the publisher goes back to the start of the draft and begins reading; if not, the material is put down.

The Wrong Way to Begin Dialogue in a Novel

The First Rule Is Still the First Rule

The very first thing that everyone learns about writing dialogue is that we can’t write exactly in the way people speak any more than we can speak in the identical manner in which people write. Yet I read material all the time in which good writers forget or stretch this axiom.

Let’s Begin with “Well”

Anyone who’s old enough to remember Ronald Reagan’s speeches–and he was nicknamed “The Great Orator”– is aware of how often he’d begin a line with “Well” and then an extended pause. It was his trademark, and so well known that comics copied it in their routines, and even the single word “well” would have a crowd in stitches. But “well” doesn’t work when writing dialogue because it soon turns into a tic.

One “Well” Per Narrative, Please

There are indeed times in the dialogue of a story when “well” is perfectly acceptable. Just not at the start of every sentence spoken by a character, or worse yet by a number of characters. Someone saying one time, “Well, I’m just not sure about that,” is a lot more palatable to a reader than a character’s, “Well, you need to go see Jerry,” followed by, “Well, I can see where that could be important,” and then, “Well, how did it go?”

If writers will read their dialogue aloud, the superfluous nature of “well,”–and its redundancy if this should be the case–will quickly become evident.

“Oh” Is the Next Culprit

As someone said once, “If ‘well’ doesn’t get you, ‘oh’ will.” And this is true. In everyday speech, people are constantly saying, “Oh, come on,” or “Oh, I don’t know,” along with an inordinate number of other phrases that start with “Oh.” Start a half-dozen lines in a story with “Oh” and the reader is usually long gone before the next half-dozen.

Then There Are “Ah” and “Er”

“Ah” and “er” do nothing for dialogue, and while I don’t like the use of ellipses in a story, I’d rather see them any day in lieu of an “ah” or an “er.” Anything that retards the flow of speech is bad, and these particular words are two of the major culprits.

Combine These Examples for a Very Mushy Rhetorical Stew

It’s very common for someone to say, “Oh, well, ah, I guess so.” But please don’t write it out this way. Instead, if you feel the pause is necessary to express to the reader, write something such as: Joan paused to think about it. “I guess so.” Or: Joan hesitated, then said, “I guess so.” Or even a simple: Joan paused. “I guess so.” This is an instance when a pause is just that, and the halt in the action defines what would have been said via “ah” or “er.”

“Hey” Has Only One Use in Dialogue

It’s common to see dialogue begin with “Hey.” This is another word that’s used as often as any to begin everyday speech but should not start a sentence of dialogue unless the character is yelling, “Hey, don’t walk out on me!” or “Hey, is Pete down there?” It’s not a word to use in standard runs of dialogue such as, “Hey, you know me,” or “Hey, you know what I’m saying.” (However, if you’re writing like Damon Runyon, “Hey, you know me,” was a particular character’s comical speech pattern, and this is a different issue altogether.)

Phrases Such as “You know” and “I mean” Should Be Avoided

Even when writing slang these phrases should be avoided, as they tend to slow the reader. The best way to view both phrases is in the same way we’re admonished when it comes to our personal speech, and this is to eschew their use. It only requires a few times of reading “you know” or “I mean” before the readability of the story is seriously affected.

“Listen” Is Perhaps the Worst Offender of All

How many times when we’re on the phone do we tell someone to “Listen?” As if the person isn’t already doing that, ha ha. People love to use the word, but it has no place when writing dialogue.

Hear Dialogue Read Aloud to Ferret Out Superfluous Wording

If the person reading the dialogue is hesitating, this usually means the text needs to be revised. I think it’s fair to state that the following doesn’t read smoothly: “Listen, ah, well, er, I mean, oh, hey, you know?” When one finally gets through that sentence, a question to ask is why would anyone really want to talk like this? Yet people indeed do–and all the time. Just don’t write it this way unless it’s a one-time line to show a character’s nervous behavior.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 79
Techniques to Remedy the Overuse of Speaker Identification in Dialogue (May 8, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

The Perfect Write® Newsletter experienced another sharp spike in subscribers during the past two weeks, and in June this publication will reach its three-year milestone. What began with 19 stalwarts, who withstood the rigors of almost a year of my brutality by way of one of my creative writing workshops series sponsored by the Palm Beach County Library System, has now developed into a fabulous blend of writers from 34 countries altogether.

I’m vigorously soliciting ideas for topics for articles to accompany each Newsletter, as I always create material that pertains to writing or the publishing industry, and all articles are initially exclusive to Newsletter subscribers before they’re picked up and posted on various book sites on the Internet. Check the Articles Page on my Web site, and if you don’t see something that I’ve already written about your subject of interest, by all means drop me a note at [email protected] And should I not have personal experience or knowledge of the topic, I’ll certainly do whatever I can to locate someone who does.

I want to offer a follow-up on the segment of the prior Newsletter I devoted to explaining the encrypting of material to prevent its being digitally republished on another reader or in a different medium. Tom Doherty Associates, a division of Macmillan, whose imprints include Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, is now releasing books that are DRM free, as are a number of well-known niche publishers such as Samhaim and Baen.

My gut feeling is that most publishers will ultimately relent and agree to this, not because they’re suddenly swept up by a current of altruism, but more likely as a result of discovering it’s more difficult than ever to prevent savvy computer types from copying “nonduplicatable” material. However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t feel intellectual property shouldn’t be protected, as this subject will make up a large portion of this Newsletter. But first I want to mention a couple of what I consider to be pleasant topics.

Long-time Newsletter subscriber and supporter of my drivel Sue Frederick is currently on a book-signing tour for her thriller THE UNWILLING SPY. I’ve posted the opening chapter on my Critique Blog, and you can read it by clicking the link. And should any of you wish to purchase a copy, which I certainly encourage everyone to do in an effort to support a Newsletter subscriber who is working hard to make her book a success, here’s the link to accomplish this. I can personally attest to Sue’s skill as a writer, and I believe any thriller lover will find her book to be a winner. Again, please give Sue your support, plus she said a nice thing about me in her acknowledgments, which clearly shows how few smart men she’s ever met, ha ha.

While I’m passing out accolades, I want to praise Sheryl Dunn and Shelfstealers for putting some real teeth behind what it takes to make book marketing a reality. Ms. Dunn has hired AuthorBuzz to assist with the marketing of two of her upcoming titles. As I’ve stated numerous times in prior Newsletters, AuthorBuzz, which is run by M.J. Rose, does a superb job of marketing books through a variety of proven platforms. But the services are not inexpensive, and the Shelfstealers commitment indicates in no uncertain terms just how dedicated Ms. Dunn is to the success of her authors.

Many mainstream publishers utilize AuthorBuzz to gain traction for their titles, and a substantial number of works the company represents have made their way onto the major bestseller lists. Shelfstealers’ commitment to the success of its authors is another reason why I suggested often that Newsletter subscribers should make every effort to support this upstart publisher by purchasing at least one book from the original group that was released during the firm’s kickoff.

For any recent Newsletter subscribers who might not be familiar with Shelfstealers, please click any of the blue links. And if you can afford to buy a book, please do so, as this publisher may someday be one you’ll approach with your own manuscript, and letting Sheryl know that you were a supporter of her firm during its nascent stage will not hurt your work’s chances of at least getting a fair hearing, which is all any of us can ask of a publisher. Most writers are never able to get their draft in the hands of a bona fide publisher, so please read between the lines of my message. It might be the best ten or so bucks you ever spent.

I want to now revert to what I mentioned in the beginning regarding intellectual property rights, since this applies to each and every one of us who has written a story. I was appalled to read about the number of books that are plagiarized and sold on Amazon, and while not condoned, allowed with minimal policing or constraints. Witness this “writer’s” admission, claiming her name to be Karen Peebles (it will be apparent in a moment why I also question her name), who is the author of a book titled I AM THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, an obvious knockoff of the Stieg Larsson title that sold millions and spawned the recent movie

“Ms. Peebles” freely admits that she has self-published in the neighborhood of 10,000 books though CreateSpace, not all of which are in her own name. She says, “I am a single mother who home schools my children,” and she goes on to say that she sells “thousands and thousands” of books a month. “Self-publishing is a great way for me to make income. I receive a pretty nice royalty every month.” Duh. “Ms. Peebles” said that her book came out before Mr. Larsson’s. Apparently Ms. Peebles possesses a unique calendar, since her book contains a 2010 copyright, while Mr. Larsson’s copyright is 2008. When did the theft of another person’s material become ethical self-publishing? I’ve never read anything more outrageous.

Other books on Amazon written by who knows who–but with titles that are close to the original Steve Jobs story by Walter Isaacson after the Apple icon passed away–include a story written under the handle “Isaac Worthington.” But if you don’t type in “Walter Isaacson,” you’re just as likely to get a one-star-rated pamphlet by the noted erotic writer “Isaac Worthington.” For you Newsletter subscribers from California, I ask why Cal Worthington wasn’t listed as the author? Maybe put a baby hippo on the cover too? It gets even better. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY has a counterfeit title available, THIRTY-FIVE SHADES OF GREY, which would be funny if the flagrant rip-off wasn’t so despicable.

And of course the authors are easily confused, as the original is written by E. L. James and the other by the renowned “J. D. Lyte.” “J. D. Lyte” thought the material was so close to Ms. James’ work that it’s described on Amazon in the exact wording that was used to depict the original. Because of the negative publicity, Amazon management has to know these books I just described are knockoffs of the originals (if even that!), but the firm’s hierarchy is apparently impervious to the blatant ripping off of the original titles, and continues to sell both books.

Even a Nobel Prize winner is not immune to what’s going on at Amazon, as Daniel Kahneman’s THINKING, FAST AND SLOW has morphed into FAST AND SLOW THINKING, by his aptly named Nobel-winning counterpart, the internationally acclaimed “Karl Daniels.” Hmmm, could the team at “Karen Peebles” be at work here too? I say “team” because I have to assume no one can get this many titles even plagiarized without some form of system in place that’s facilitated by a lot of busy elves.

In defense of Amazon, I’m the first to understand that a title, in and of itself, cannot be copyrighted, but I do feel that any publisher of a book, regardless of the medium, should be responsible to the extent of verifying that its content is not copied illegally and that the title is not a blatant rip-off of the original. And if this seems daunting, it would be, except that word-processing software is readily available to determine if material is the same or too close to something else.

And while one could say that Amazon isn’t the publisher, an overwhelming number of the recent high-profile forgeries are made possible via CreateSpace, which as most everyone knows is a division of Amazon. But CreateSpace is a separate entity, so this makes it convenient for Amazon executives to claim ignorance, should they chose to do so. (It should be noted, after apparently feeling pressure from the magazine article in which the story broke originally, Amazon removed the Worthington and Lyte books, but they are available on other sites, still published under the CreateSpace imprimatur.)

And for anyone who might think it would indeed be impossible to police each manuscript sent to a CreateSpace for distribution through Amazon, Smashwords CEO, Mark Coker, does not entertain publishing knockoffs, and he has mechanisms in place to ferret out plagiarized text. So, again, it can be done. It just requires a company that wants to do so.

There was an interesting story recently about a writer named Boyd Morrison and his trials and tribulations after first being published (THE ARK and THE VAULT) by Simon & Schuster. Both books, according to the writer, were successful, but S&S has turned down his latest story, THE ROSWELL CONSPIRACY, which is being published in the U.K. by Little, Brown UK. According to Mr. Morrison, who’d received an advance for the book, S&S asked for the money back, deeming the manuscript “unacceptable because it needed too much work.” The author admitted that his draft could “use some editorial guidance,” and Little, Brown UK provided someone to help with his draft.

The problem, whatever it is, seems to be compounded by the fact that THE ROSWELL CONSPIRACY is the third installment in a thriller series in which the second book sold considerably less than the first. This downturn was a signal to S&S not to continue with this author for this series. But it’s weird that S&S waited to make this decision until after paying the advance, since the firm had to be aware of the sales figures for the second story in the series, as it was also an S&S title. Could the book have really needed that much editing? And I’m an editor asking this question!

The author says that THE ROSWELL CONSPIRACY is being published all over the world except in the U.S., so someone ultimately must have edited it at Little, Brown UK. And the U.K.’s mainstream publishers are just as strict as the U.S. houses with respect to quality criteria, so there certainly are some unusual forces at work with all of this. The bottom line is that Mr. Morrison says he is going to be self-publishing the book for the U.S. market (Little, Brown UK doesn’t have U.S. rights). Frankly, my opinion is that there’s a lot more to the story, but this tale shows just how strange this business can be for an author–even when at first pass everything seems to be ideal.

This is last in the current series of articles that focus on writing dialogue, and this paper deals with speaker identification, an area that causes problems for a great many writers at all stages of their respective careers.

Techniques to Remedy the Overuse of Speaker Identification in Dialogue

When Two People Are Speaking, Less Is More

It’s always crucial to make certain the reader knows who’s speaking, but when it is just two people, it’s not necessary for one to identify the other in every other sentence: “John, it’s wonderful to see you again.” “Martha, I’m so glad you feel that way.” “Why, John, I didn’t know you cared about me.” “Martha, I care about you a lot.”

This reads like something that’s made up be comical, but here’s the same material without the speaker identification in each line, set up by a simple phrase to begin the segment: Martha sat down next to John and said, “It’s wonderful to see you again.” “I’m glad you feel the same way.” “Why, I didn’t know you cared about me.” “I care about you a lot” In this, is there any question as to who’s speaking once it’s identified that Martha began the conversation?

A Character’s Actions Can Indicate Who Is Speaking

“Darn, this crate is heavy.” As Don pushed the heavy cargo in a cart, his foreman bumped into him as he was coming around a corner, almost knocking him down. “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you making that turn.” Don smiled at his boss’s comment and got a tighter grip on the handles. “I’ve been doing this for so long, I know what to expect.” His boss nodded. “I guess, but I still should’ve been paying more attention to where I was walking.” He looked at his watch and then to Don. “Why don’t you stop in my office later today when you have a minute? I might have a new job for you.” “Really?” “Yep, I believe your attitude has earned you a promotion.”

In this material, there’s no question which character is saying what. And as with Martha sitting next to John and initiating a conversation that doesn’t require additional speaker attributes, a character can do common things, such as look at the other person, to indicate who’s speaking. Jack glanced at Joe. “You sure we can do this?” Joe shook his head. “Nope.” Or something like this: Joe threw his shovel in the ditch. Jack heard it hit a rock. “You don’t look none too happy.” Paul pushed up his Stetson. “I ain’t.”

Multiple Speakers Create the Need for Speaker Attributes

When there are three or more people speaking, direct speaker attributes, such as Don said or Martha said, must be used with greater frequency. But if the same two speakers are exclusively involved in an exchange, once they are identified for the reader, it’s not necessary to treat this as any different from the two of them talking to each other with no one else around. This only changes when another character enters into the dialogue.

Analyze the Way Your Favorite Author Handles Speaker Identification

This is the suggestion I always give in my creative writing workshops. If you like Cormac McCarthy or Nora Roberts or Nelson DeMille or Clive Cussler or James Patterson or Jody Picoult, grab one of their books and study how a major writer such as one of these structures speaker attributes and interior monologue so the reader always knows who is who. You will see a lot of good old-fashioned he said and she said, but you’ll also notice some masterful skill at adding variety to this most important aspect of writing effectively for what is often a sophisticated audience–you.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 80
Does a Writer Lose His or Her “Voice” When a Manuscript Is Edited? (May 22, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome the most recent subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter for whom this will be your first edition. The premise behind this medium is to provide information on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20 years as both a novelist and an editor, and to offer material on writing prose at a level that would appeal to a major royalty publisher or quality independent press.

I always write an article to accompany each broadcast that’s initially exclusive to Newsletter subscribers before it’s picked up for redistribution by various Internet book and writing sites. I’m always seeking topics to write about, so if you’ll check the Articles Page on my Web site at and don’t see your subject of interest, by all means drop me a note at [email protected] and I’ll be happy to address your concern in an upcoming article.

And a big thanks to each of you who was kind enough to support Newsletter subscriber Sue Frederick by purchasing her fine thriller THE UNWILLING SPY. Please let me know what you think of the story. Additionally, I appreciate the continued patronage of Shelfstealers’ titles. I noticed a number of you once again visited the site during the past two weeks, and I’ve stated many times that buying a book from Shelfstealers while this firm is just starting out could be the best investment you make in your own writing, since some day you may approach this firm regarding publication. Many of us have fond memories for those who help us in the beginning. I’m not implying that buying a book from Shelfstealers will get you published by this company, but it will certainly aid in getting your work considered, and this I’m sure of.

The body of the next few Newsletters after this one will not be as expansive as normal. After 15 years in the area, my wife and I are moving at the end of the month from south to central Florida, because of family matters We’re currently busy packing and taking care of the late-occurring issues all home buyers and sellers are involved with, so I’m not going to be accepting any new projects until mid-June. All of my current clients are aware of the schedule, and I’m also going to be cutting down on Newsletter content until then. I generally write my articles in advance in blocks, but Newsletter material is always assembled during the two-week stretches between broadcasts, and I won’t have the usual amount of time to devote to this.

For well over a year I’ve been discussing what I believe will be the future of large brick and mortar bookstores. The ongoing Barnes & Noble stockholder struggle might seem to fly in the face of my contention, but this seems to be more ego driven than economics oriented. However, B&N did just land a coup on the e-book side of things that gave its stock a huge boost. But if one looks at the demise of Books-A-Million and Borders at the real estate level, I can’t imagine how B&N can end up in much better shape. If it wasn’t for the Nook, the company would likely be right with BAM and Borders, except for having more upscale real estate on its books–which would still need to be sold at a profit.

This brings me to where I’m going with this. I’ve been advocating the replacement of large brick and mortar bookstores with kiosks in malls that contain the latest copier technology which allows for a book to be printed with a cover and a perfect spine before the customer can even let the coffee cool enough to drink. The machine is even being billed as The Expresso Book Machine, and the original model dates back to 2007.

If you don’t click another link in my Newsletter all year, access this one and spend the five minutes to view the Expresso Book Machine Video. It’s a Xerox 4112 copier and two other machines assembled together as one unit. From the information I gleaned from the many articles I read, when it rolled out in 2007 it had all the usual glitches associated with any new technology. At the forefront, it was notorious for crunching the book covers! Now, however, it apparently works as designed, and a writer can expect a 300-page paperback printed in less than four minutes, and that includes a four-color cover. The book will also have a perfect spine, which means it will look just like what we see on a bookshelf.

Here are a few issues to consider:

The Expresso Book Machine is marketed by On-Demand Books in conjunction with Xerox the relationship was never fully explained in any of the material I accessed). The latest-generation equipment is around $125,000 for all the bells and whistles and the fastest speed. Currently, the cost per page is advertised at a penny each. Add to this the cost of the cover, which I’ll generously put at a buck, and someone wanting to self-publish can at least have a baseline from which to negotiate. I’m going to guess that it wouldn’t take a lot of arm twisting to get 100 books printed for between $7 to $8 each, as this should provide the machine’s owner with a margin of somewhere around 40 to 50 percent.

There will be a slight setup fee, which it appears has averaged $10, and authors should be prepared for a rough first copy to get out the bugs before the machine is configured correctly for their manuscripts. If I understand what I’ve read, all Expresso Books are converted to a PDF format, and the software will accommodate material written in Word. Here’s the link to Using the Expresso Book Machine that’s furnished by a library in California. The instructions are rather daunting, but this library lets a patron schedule a 30-minute session that I believe comes with a human “helper.”

In any setting that has one of these machines, I’d once again prepare for the first book’s not meeting the standards of the desired finished product (read “It’s gonna come out crummy”). This is why it’s probably not a bad idea–if the desire is for more than a few copies–to pay a premium and go to an outfit like Lightning Source (Ingram’s POD subsidiary) once the book is copy-perfect and the writer doesn’t relish the task of facing off with the technology. But this is a topic for another time, as I’m primarily interested in explaining how easy it will be to have a single book printed once this technology becomes more widespread and user-friendly. Currently, a single softcover of new material in the 300-to-400-page range should come in at around $35, and the print time, again, is four to five minutes. I expect both the cost for new material and speed to improve.

For you Newsletter subscribers who are entrepreneurs, currently the 4112 is capable of producing 40,000 books per year. I saw the gross revenue projections, based on $16 retail for each book, at $640,000. First, no copier can run 24/7, but if I did the math correctly, this is based on a book every 13 minutes, which might not be too far outside the pale if it brings into consideration that the machine is taken off-line one day a month for preventive maintenance. As the operators become more savvy, and the machines gain greater efficiency and economy of scale, I can see a large university bookstore having a half-dozen of these copiers to complement the rising digital component–and very few actual bookshelves.

I’m proud to mention that toward the top of the list of the 50 or so locations where the Expresso Book Machine can currently be found is my old college, Kennesaw State University, in Kennesaw, Georgia. The school had only a few thousand students when I attended and now boasts an enrollment of around 25,000. We even beat Georgia Tech in basketball last year. What’s this got to do with writing? I’m wondering the same thing. The real point of all of this is that I believe we’ll see a lot more of these sophisticated copiers in the future, and this will make self-publishing a printed book a snap for the masses. And I hope help prevent a few unwary souls from getting caught up in some of the scams that are out there.

While I’m on self-publishing a printed book, here’s a great article on the way writers of self-published works can implement a marketing plan with an independent bookstore. Some of the platforms can be fee-based, but many are straight consignment and the traditional 60/40 split. As always, I’m not promoting self-publishing over going the traditional route of trying to find an agent and then a mainstream publisher, but since it’s becoming easier and easier to get one’s work in print, I want to continue to provide Newsletter subscribers with the least expensive options out there. This way, authors can then spend their money for a good editor first, ha ha, and still come out many dollars ahead (yes, yes). Seriously, this is the best advice I can give anyone. Find someone who’s competent to edit material before committing it to a published medium. This way a writer will at least have a chance of attracting a readership.

And when hiring an editor, a primary consideration should involve the way the work will be treated with respect to maintaining the author’s voice. When I consider a comprehensive edit for a client, regardless of the genre, I first determine whether or not I’m certain I can edit the material and not change the voice. I’m mindful of this beyond anything else, because editing means omitting and adding content, and it’s hard enough knowing that no writer is ever truly comfortable when a narrative is modified, and especially if some extensive changes are necessary to plug plot holes.

All editors walk a fine line when doing this, knowing full well that some revisions will not be taken kindly. But after the smoke clears and things settle down, as long as the voice is maintained, it’s always a case of explaining the rationale for the revision and the writer accepting the modified text or devising something else. As I tell all of my clients, if you don’t like an editing suggestion, by all means change it, just know that I made the revision because it’s my opinion this aspect of the material can’t be left as it was originally submitted. But no matter what I might suggest for a narrative, the voice must never be altered, and this is the topic of today’s article.

Does a Writer Lose His or Her “Voice” When a Manuscript Is Edited?

It’s not uncommon for authors at all levels to be wary of editorial assistance if this means it will involve actually omitting or adding material to their drafts. When completed, will it still be “my” work? is the question on these writers’ minds.

Handled Correctly, the Writer Will Notice Only One Thing

This single issue is that the narrative will read better than what was submitted originally. But it will not read any different from the original draft from the perspective or voice. And any competent editor will make certain to not only maintain the voice but the tone as well.

Only After Voice Is Established Can Any Editing Begin

The very first issue the editor must face is to read enough of the manuscript to get a clear understanding of the writer’s voice. No competent editor would change one word or clause without being 100 percent certain of the author’s voice, since this influences syntax at every level of the narrative.

Whatever the Voice of the Narrative, the Editor Must Never Lose Sight of It

Does my changing this spit of dialogue, for example, alter the way the reader will perceive this character? And if I modify this run of internal monologue, am I certain I’m adding to the dimension of this character–without changing the character? These are the questions every good editor asks. And the reason is so the voice of the writer is always respected.

Maintaining Voice Is Not Limited Solely to Characters

All areas of a narrative have the identical requirements. A 12-year-old with normal intelligence can’t suddenly sound like a college professor any more than a scene can be described by an Ivy League lawyer in the syntax of the average high-school kid bagging groceries.

The Narrative’s POV Determines Voice

It’s easy to think that POV is limited to tone, but I’ve found it’s generally more indicative of voice. A skilled editor will assess the POV in the various scenes to come away with a voice for the entire piece. Disparate scenes and their inherent nuances won’t influence the way these elements are presented to the reader any more so than the way the characters in the story are depicted. Unless someone is writing in distinctly different voices, such as what’s displayed in the Vintage International compilation in one volume of Thomas Mann’s DEATH IN VENICE AND SEVEN OTHER SHORT STORIES, the voice of most narratives will be consistent throughout. And a good editor will understand the author’s voice and protect it when making all revisions.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 81
Even the Most Respected Reference Manuals Aren’t Always Accurate (June 5, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome the recent subscribers for whom this will be their first scheduled edition of The Perfect Write® Newsletter. The purpose behind this medium is to provide information on writing prose at a level that people would pay to read, and on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years as both a novelist and an editor.

I’m in the throes of moving, so the next few broadcasts will be a little thin on content, as getting my office set up properly is going to take some time. Before I’m back online, I expect I’ll be answering a lot of e-mail via a computer at the library in my new community, and I’ll be on a clock and this might require me to be briefer than normal with answering questions, etc. Just know that any clipped responses are not due to indifference.

As all Newsletter subscribers who have received material from me for the past couple of years are aware, I’m constantly offering advice on how to self-publish, if that’s an author’s intent, yet I’ve always stated that I’m not a proponent of vanity publishing. So this begs the question, “If I don’t support it, why do I spend so much time discussing it?” The reason is that so many subscribers either self-publish or have toyed with the idea, I want to at least give them a fair idea of what to expect.

If self-publishing is a subscriber’s goal, my primary mantra is to do it as cheaply as possible. Even with a marketing plan in place, most people find self-promotion too complex or daunting to master with any degree of effectiveness. And that’s the cold, hard fact of the matter–and why the average self-published book sells fewer than 50 copies. My position is for the author to have the book published as inexpensively as possible, and then see what kind of marketer he or she happens to be. Some people are great promoters, but most folks aren’t, nor can the vast majority of people handle the rejection or the rigors of the road. It truly does require a special “personality” or someone with an established following to have a chance at even modest sales. So if a writer self-publishes and doesn’t fit either category, there can be some tough sledding.

In the last Newsletter I discussed The Expresso Book Machine at length, and I want to compliment the large number of subscribers who clicked the link to the article on what I think is amazing technology. For anyone keeping score, ha ha, the link to The Expresso Book Machine Video now holds the record for the most accessed material by subscribers since I began publishing my Newsletter three years ago this June. For new subscribers, and any of the old guard who might’ve passed on this the first time, here’s the link again.

The machine enables a person to self-publish a book in a standard trade paperback format with a color cover of the writer’s choice for less than $35 for one copy, and 100 copies can reduce the cost to around $7 each. And, yes, a writer can have the ISBN and/or EAN code printed at the same time. Once everything is loaded correctly, the entire process for a 300-page book requires less than five minutes! And the finished product will look identical to what we would find in a major bookstore.

While I’m repeating “stuff,” here’s the the link to library marketing for self-publishers, also from the May 15 broadcast, as this material also received substantial interest. And if any of you would like a copy of BOOK MARKETING FROM A TO Z from my special Newsletter from July of last year, just drop me an e-mail at [email protected] and I’ll be glad to send it to you. This material, while free, is proprietary and available only upon request, as I don’t post in on the Articles Page on my Web site.

I’m often asked if self-published material, whether paper or digital, is ever optioned by Hollywood producers for movie rights All anyone has to do is look at the success achieved by Stephenie Meyer or Amanda Hocking to find the answer to that. And this link is to an article in VARIETY that explains there is indeed a substantial interest in self-published material–as long as it has sold in great quantities. The movie industry has scouts who are always on the prowl for potential projects, and if a writer has a following, and especially one that’s expanding, the movie industry might indeed come calling.

One of the most difficult challenges an editor faces is deciding to keep something when it’s not considered “correct.” All of you notice that I don’t place a comma in my greeting, yet the reference manuals demand that my opening be written, “Hello, Everyone,” which I repeatedly have stated seems weird to me. I don’t want the pause. If the comma is so necessary, why don’t we write “Dear, Joan” instead of “Dear Joan”? Isn’t Joan also being addressed the same as “Everyone”? Today’s article deals with respected reference manuals that at times provide questionable advice that writers are supposed to follow.

One of the biggest culprits is a guide that might surprise Newsletter subscribers, as I imagine each and every one of you have had this manual in your possession at one time or another while attending college. And please feel free to let me know what you think of my position on the issues I’m bringing up.

Sometimes the Most Respected Reference Manuals Don’t Provide Pertinent Advice

Most often the reason for the error is the time that has passed since some rule was written. An example of this is a reference in THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE that allows for placing thoughts in quotations. This has been eschewed for decades, but in my writing workshops not long ago I had a participant cite section 10.42 from TCMOS and the following text: “I don’t care if we have offended Morgenstern,” thought Vera.

Fortunately, TCMOF illustrates four other ways to handle thoughts, and I believe any contemporary writer will be well advised to choose either of the last two, which is either straight interior monologue without any quotation marks or the use of italics.

THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE Also Approves of Dual Punctuation Ending a Sentence

Every so often I’ll receive a draft from a client with both a question mark and an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. Never write like this. If a question is exclaimed with such force that an exclamation point is deemed necessary too, use it as the only punctuation to end that sentence and allow it to supersede the question mark. Again, never both–no matter how tempting it might be.

Strunk and White Are at the Top of the List of Style Enemies

I believe it’s fair to state that almost every college student who has ever taken a 101 English course was informed via the syllabus to latch on to a copy of THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Strunk and White. A while ago I was sent a very clever article about all that was wrong with this manual from the perspective of grammar, and while I could credit the author and replicate what I was provided, it would consume pages. So let me instead offer one example that stood out for me from my first reading of THE ELEMENTS eons ago. It dealt with avoiding unnecessary adjectives and reads as follows: “The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.” The sentence contains three adjectives.

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE is rife with misstatements about grammar that are evident to anyone who studies English. A great many of the problems are related to pompous drivel from Mr. Strunk (and later never corrected by Mr. White when he lent his magic to the text) and have nothing to do with style or grammar. This involves questionable advice about when not to apply commas in a series (hence fomenting the “running comma” debate) to their absurd rationale for eschewing passive voice except in extreme circumstances, exacerbated by the inaccuracy of three of their four examples of passive voice that are in fact active! No wonder so many people who took an English101 course became confused–and stayed that way forever.

It’s Important to Recognize Words That Don’t Convey Their Intended Meaning

“Moot” means debatable, yet many people think it refers to the opposite. And sentences designed as aids to illustrate the word’s correct usage serve to advance this misconception. Here are two sentences taken directly from “If you cannot repay your friend right now, the question is moot.” And: “Which factor is the more important and which is the least remains a moot question.” With examples like these, what is someone supposed to think is the definition of “moot”? After reading either of these sentences, it’s easy to see how a person might assume that either issue is no longer open for discussion, when in fact the opposite is true. The best way I know to keep this straight is to think of “moot” in relationship to a “moot court,” which refers to a debate court.

I’ve mentioned “mundane” before in articles, but the word fosters repeating my contention. It originally meant “worldly” and “elegant.” Now it means “commonplace” and “ordinary,” and is generally used in a disparaging way. Yet when we read a Victorian-era novel in college, “mundane” was meant in its original context.

Understand the Time Frame of a Work’s Publication

Reference manuals that pertain to rhetoric–as well as the words that compose the English language–must all be viewed in a contemporary context. This is no different from reading a work such as Kafka’s METAMORPHOSIS, which was published in the ’20s, and assume in 2012 that any of us can mimic that style and place our protagonist’s thoughts in quotations.

Read Current Bestseller Debut Material to Develop a Comfort Zone

This isn’t sure-fire, but a writer can generally get a feel for what’s acceptable by reading a debut novel that has become a success–and was originally published by a major imprint. Most first-time published authors have had to follow current convention quite closely, and this will often give an aspiring writer a decent idea of what will pass muster, as this book has had to run the publishing gantlet or it wouldn’t be on the bookshelf.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 82
The Overuse of Adjectives (June 19, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

Today’s Newsletter will be an abbreviated version, as my wife and I are entrenched in unpacking after our move to central Florida after 15 years in Palm Beach County. We’ve left behind a great many friends and fond memories, but it’s always exciting to develop new acquaintances. Both of us truly adore the house and the Stone Island community, which boasts a post office as its only business (at least that I can find). I even watched a rabbit eating grass on my lawn this morning, which is something I didn’t see much of in our apartment in Boynton Beach, ha ha. When something large slithers or crawls across the lawn I might revise my assessment of this move, but so far what’s occurred has been pleasant.

I want to welcome the newest subscribers to my Newsletter, and ask each of you to feel free to contact me with any suggestions that you feel can improve this medium. And to complement each broadcast I publish an article that’s written initially exclusively for subscribers. I’m always on the lookout for new topics that pertain to writing quality prose people would pay to read or to the publishing industry. So if you find I haven’t already addressed your subject of interest after checking the Articles Page on my Web site at, drop me a note at [email protected] and I’ll be glad to tackle your subject in a future edition.

I write articles in blocks when I have the time, and usually I’m about 90 days out with material, but if I believe I can do justice to your request I’ll get back to you sooner with a draft of what will be broadcast later for everyone’s consumption.

As a follow-up to what I wrote regarding Amazon’s blind eye (in my opinion) to the prolific plagiarizing of material by those I consider to be heinously unscrupulous individuals, the firm’s management has stated that the company will no longer support this tactic. However, filched and lightly massaged material can still be published by their subsidiary I’m purposely not naming, so until some real teeth are put into their statement, it’s the same old same old. And as I see it–as disgusting as it gets.

A longtime Newsletter subscriber from Spain recently asked me a question regarding comma usage with proper names, and after I answered the request my copyeditor extraordinaire, Martha Moffett, spotted a phenomenal article that was recently published in The New York Times. Since today’s Newsletter is so light with my drivel, I decided to provide this material exactly as it appeared.

There are many important elements to take away from this brilliantly conceived piece, but I found it most interesting to consider whether or not a name is “restrictive” or “nonrestrictive” when making a comma decision. And by doing so, applying this relevancy with respect to placing or omitting commas with proper names. But it’s often still a daunting puzzle, even for the most adept grammarians, as you’ll note after reading the article that Professor Yagoda had to correct one of his own examples.

Our language can be a bear, and this is why no one should ever be embarrassed about seeking a professional’s advice. Editing is part and parcel to writing, and it should never be viewed as a sign of weakness on the part of the writer. I edit, yet I have much my work looked at by another professional, as I don’t know of a single human being who is capable of editing his or her own work–even Joyce Carol Oates (there’s a short tale I’ll write about at a later date).

Here now is the material I’m so fond of:

Opinionator – A Gathering of Opinion From Around the Web

May 21, 2012, 9:17 pm
The Most Comma Mistakes

As I noted in my earlier article, rules and conventions about when to use and not to use commas are legion. But certain errors keep popping up. Here are a few of them.
Identification Crisis

If I’ve seen it once, I’ve seen it a thousand times. I’m referring to a student’s writing a sentence like:

I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my friend, Jessie.

Comma after “movie,” comma after “friend” and, sometimes, comma after “Paris” as well. None are correct — unless “Midnight in Paris” is the only movie in the world and Jessie is the writer’s only friend. Otherwise, the punctuation should be:

I went to see the movie “Midnight in Paris” with my friend Jessie.

If that seems wrong or weird or anything short of clearly right, bear with me a minute and take a look at another correct sentence:

I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.

You need a comma after “movie” because this and only this is Mr. Allen’s newest movie in theaters, and before “Jessie” because she and only she is the writer’s oldest friend.

The syntactical situation I’m talking about is identifier-name. The basic idea is that if the name (in the above example, “Jessie”) is the only thing in the world described by the identifier (“my oldest friend”), use a comma before the name (and after it as well, unless you’ve come to the end of the sentence). If not, don’t use any commas.

Grammatically, there are various ways of describing what’s going on. One helpful set of terms is essential vs. nonessential. When the identifier makes sense in the sentence by itself, then the name is nonessential and you use a comma before it. Otherwise, no comma. That explains an exception to the only-thing-in-the-world rule: when the words “a,” “an” or “some,” or a number, come before the description or identification of a name, use a comma.

A Bronx plumber, Stanley Ianella, bought the winning lottery ticket.

When an identifier describes a unique person or thing and is preceded by “the” or a possessive, use a comma:

Baseball’s home run leader, Barry Bonds, will be eligible for the Hall of Fame next year.

My son, John, is awesome. (If you have just one son.)

But withhold the comma if not unique:

My son John is awesome. (If you have more than one son.)

The artist David Hockney is a master of color.

The celebrated British artist David Hockney is a master of color.

And even

The gay, bespectacled, celebrated British artist David Hockney is a master of color.

(Why are there commas after “gay” and “bespectacled” but not “celebrated”? Because “celebrated” and “British” are different sorts of adjectives. The sentence would not work if “and” were placed between them, or if their order were reversed.)

If nothing comes before the identification, don’t use a comma:

The defense team was led by the attorney Harold Cullen.

No one seems to have a problem with the idea that if the identification comes after the name, it should always be surrounded by commas:

Steve Meyerson, a local merchant, gave the keynote address.

However, my students, at least, often wrongly omit a “the” or an “a” in sentences of this type:

Jill Meyers, sophomore, is president of the sorority.

To keep the commas, it needs to be:

Jill Meyers, a sophomore, is president of the sorority.
Peter Arkle

The Case of the Missing Comma

A related issue is the epidemic of missing commas after parenthetical phrases or appositives — that is, self-enclosed material that’s within a sentence, but not essential to its meaning. The following sentences all lack a necessary comma. Can you spot where?

My father, who gave new meaning to the expression “hard working” never took a vacation.

He was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1964.

Philip Roth, author of “Portnoy’s Complaint” and many other books is a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize.

If you said “working,” “Iowa” and “books,” give yourself full marks. I’m not sure why this particular mistake is so tempting. It may sometimes be because these phrases are so long that by the time we get to the end of them, we’ve forgotten about the first comma. In any case, a strategy to prevent it is to remember the acronym I.C.E. Whenever you find yourself using a comma before an Identification, Characterization or Explanation, remember that there has to be a comma after the I.C.E. as well.

Splice Girls, and Boys

“Comma splice” is a term used for the linking of two independent clauses — that is, grammatical units that contain a subject and a verb and could stand alone as sentences — with a comma. When I started teaching at the University of Delaware some years ago, I was positively gobsmacked by the multitude of comma splices that confronted me. They have not abated.

Here’s an example:

He used to be a moderate, now he’s a card-carrying Tea Partier.

It’s easy to fix in any number of ways:

He used to be a moderate. Now he’s a card-carrying Tea Partier.

He used to be a moderate; now he’s a card-carrying Tea Partier.

He used to be a moderate, but now he’s a card-carrying Tea Partier.

He used to be a moderate — now he’s a card-carrying Tea Partier.

How to choose among them? By reading aloud — always the best single piece of writing advice — and choosing the version that best suits the context, your style and your ear. I would go with the semicolon. How about you?

Two particular situations seem to bring out a lot of comma splices. The first is in quotations:

“The way they’ve been playing, the team will be lucky to survive the first round,” the coach said, “I’m just hoping someone gets a hot hand.”

The comma after “said” has to be replaced with a period.

The other issue is the word “however,” which more and more people seem to want to use as a conjunction, comparable to “but” or “yet.” So they will write something like:

The weather is great today, however it’s supposed to rain tomorrow.

That may be acceptable someday. Today, however, it’s a comma splice. Correct punctuation could be:

The weather is great today, but it’s supposed to rain tomorrow.


The weather is great today. However, it’s supposed to rain tomorrow.

Comma splices can be O.K. when you’re dealing with short clauses where even a semicolon would slow things down too much:

I talked to John, John talked to Lisa.

Samuel Beckett was the poet laureate of the comma splice. He closed his novel “The Unnamable” with a long sentence that ends:

… perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

Which goes to show, I suppose, that rules are made to be broken.

Ben Yagoda addressed some of the questions in the comments, as well as a few other points about the comma, in a follow-up post.

Ben Yagoda is a professor of English at the University of Delaware and the author of, among other books, “About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made” and “The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing.” He blogs for the Chronicle of Higher Education and his own blog, Not One-Off Britishisms. His forthcoming book is “How to Not Write Bad.”

My article that accompanies today’s Newsletter pertains to the overuse of adjectives. Generally it’s excessive adverb use that gets all the bad press, but abundant adjectives can be just as problematic, and here’s my take on this subject:

The Overuse of Adjectives and the Problems This Creates for Writing Quality Prose

It seems as though everyone has had an English teacher in high school who wanted things described in the most florid terms possible. This enthusiasm for abundant description was often championed in college too, and we commonly read material from MFA superstars that illustrates dogged determination to accentuate every noun with some form of embellishment. The cold, hard fact is that writers are warned against adverbs, while adjectives don’t evoke anywhere near the same level of disdain. But adjectives are just as detrimental to quality prose as their routinely maligned counterpart.

The Rules That Apply to Adverbs Also Pertain to Adjectives

The same as the “correct” verb’s eliminating the need for an adverb, the “right” noun does not require adumbration. In describing an Amazon, is it necessary to state that it is a large woman with ferocious tendencies? Doesn’t the word “Amazon” convey all of this by itself? This excessive rhetoric is comparable to writing that skilled carpenters have built fabulous domiciles in Italy. How about many estates in Italy were built by artisans? Of course an Amazon and a carpenter can indeed be accentuated, but in the examples does either benefit from the modifier?

“Very” and “Much”

I’ve never had the problem with “very” and “much” that some educators profess (but I’m not an educator either, ha ha). I believe something can indeed be “very” good and we can all do with “much” more of something, like money, but the “elimination test” should always be utilized before using either of these words. Simply, read the sentence, clause, or word with and without the respective adjective. If the “message” does not read appreciably better with the adjective, omit the modifier.

When Are Adjectives Not Necessary?

The significance of the noun in the scene can have everything to do with whether or not an adjective adds to the message. Take a look at the following: “A big gray German shepherd chased after the agile young man, who had blond hair and was wielding a black Louisville Slugger baseball bat and had just robbed the elderly Armenian owner of the mini-mart grocery store.” Now read this: “A dog chased a young man who had robbed an elderly grocer.” It’s up to the writer to determine to what degree each noun needs further amplification.

Is the dog important to the story? If so, does the reader need to know it was a German shepherd? What about its color or size? A big German shepherd could be chasing the crook just as well as a German shepherd. Or a big gray dog might be important, since a big gray dog of undetermined breed (should it not be known to be a German shepherd) might have been “policing” the neighborhood. Or the German shepherd could be owned by the grocer and everyone on the block knew of this animal, and that it always protected its owner. Apply this exercise to all of the adjectives in that bloated sentence to determine the way you think it should read, based on your interpretation of the scene.

The Significance of the Noun Determines the Necessity of the Adjective

I have often cited this horrible sentence I read in a book published by a Big 6 imprint in the mid ’90s: “He held a green garden hose as the yellow taxicab came up the concrete driveway.” Has there ever been a more over-written sentence? “He held a hose as the taxi came up the driveway” is all that’s needed.

Think about the green garden hose and ask yourself if a garden hose is ever thought to be any other color. And even though taxis come in a rainbow of colors, unless this one was one other than yellow, isn’t this the color most people associate with a cab? Finally, unless a driveway is full of potholes, or there is some compelling reason to discuss its composition, why would it be necessary to mention the material from which it was constructed?

Find the Best Nouns and Use Them

For all of the antediluvian mishmash in many of our old primers, this is one maxim that’s incontrovertible. Think of all the single words that could be used to describe a big mean dog? “Cujo” was the consensus when I asked this of some grade schoolers a while ago. But there’s always Hellhound, or the original Hellhound itself, Cerberus. Even the word “beast” can be the ideal word choice in many settings.

Trim a Draft of Every Adjective and Then Replace Only Those That Are Essential

I’ve suggested this to my clients as well as to those folks for whom I critique their opening chapters as a service. If a writer will take out every adjective and then go back through the draft and replace only those modifiers that are deemed crucial to the sentences in which they originally appeared, the narrative will always be tighter and a better read. Always!

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 83
The Real Problem with Adverbs (July 3, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

And a big welcome to the latest subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter, which focuses on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past two decades as both a novelist and an editor, and on writing prose at a professional level. Along with each broadcast I include an article on some aspect of writing that’s initially exclusive to Newsletter subscribers before it’s picked up for distribution to other writing sites on the Internet.

I want to mention an important issue regarding the topics I write about. First, I’m always asking for ideas from Newsletter subscribers. So, if after viewing the Articles Page on my Web site at, you don’t spot your subject of interest, by all means contact me. Just this week, a relatively new subscriber, Joy Marion, asked me to address the use of the ellipsis, a topic that certainly needs some attention and which I’ve not discussed previously. The article will likely appear in September, which brings me to the next point.

Because of time constraints, I have to write articles for this Newsletter in blocks, and I’m generally 90 days or so “out.” And I never write an article designed to make fun of any material I’ve just read. So if a subscriber reads the article in today’s Newsletter about adverbs, and I’ve recently commented about the use or overuse of them in that persons’ personal writing, please be assured that I’m not singling out that writer. Seldom do I lose a Newsletter subscriber, but when I do it invariably is after the person reads something in an article of mine that pertained directly to an element in that person’s work and it’s felt I was using the article as a forum to make fun of that writer.

Nothing could be further from fact, and I’m always disappointed when an article can be misconstrued in this manner. I write each article after I’m confident of both the content and timeliness of the material I’ve assembled. Never do I look at anyone’s individual prose as a source, but I certainly view writing elements as a whole, and of course this can touch on any of us at any time. It’s just the nature of this very complicated beast we call the English language.

As to a very happy topic, four days from this broadcast marks the third anniversary of The Perfect Write® Newsletter. What began June 30 of 2009 with 19 subscribers, who’d recently completed a creative writing workshop series of mine that was sponsored by The Palm Beach County Library System, is now broadcast to writers in 34 countries. I’m very proud of the widespread acceptance of my Newsletter, and I look forward to continuing to provide the consistency of material each of you has been accustomed to receiving over the years.

I found it interesting that Smashwords claims to have accrued $15 million in sales during the past 12 months, with 40 percent attributed to Romance and Erotica. Each is a genre in which it’s difficult to gain a foothold, and if someone is considering self-publishing, and has written either Romance or Erotica, Smashwords might be a good place to go. For you writers of Erotic Romance, keep in mind that Kensington, via its Brava imprint, is the only major publisher that will look at unagented material, so there’s no reason–if you believe your work is at a royalty-publishable level–not to try this publisher. Check out this link to Kensington for the submission guidelines.

One aspect of Smashwords’ statistics needs to be understood to be fully appreciated. The company boasts of 80,000-plus books in its catalogue. Divide $15 million by 80,000 and this means $187.50 revenue for each title, as most of its activity has occurred in the past two years (yes, the $187.50 can be doubled to be more reflective from a chronological perspective). Depending on the split, this can equate to an author’s average payout of $75 (again, for math’s sake this can be doubled), as they advertise a 40 percent royalty. These paltry numbers don’t make Smashwords a bad company, but a writer needs to know what to expect if tossed into the mix without any marketing. On a very positive note, I mentioned in a prior Newsletter that Smashwords will not publish plagiarized material, which places it light years ahead of Amazon’s subsidiary (which I won’t name so I don’t give it any brand recognition), and for this the firm should be given high praise.

The following might appear self-serving, but here’s some material on using an editor that I hope all of you will find beneficial, since it was provided to me by a client who I’ve worked with for some time at the developmental stage. He decided to try line-editing his novel on his own, and what makes this particularly interesting is that he’s also an editor. The only alteration I made to his text was to change my first name from Robert to Rob, as I go by the latter.

Line-Editing from a Writer’s Point of View

“A couple of issues ago, Rob talked about his concern for maintaining a writer’s voice during the editing process. In my experience there are two kinds of editors, those who edit and those who rewrite. Unfortunately, there are a lot of the latter, who make changes arbitrarily and arrange things as they would do them, and you always want to say, “Hey, write your own story.” It’s these arrogant types that make writer’s cringe at the mention of line-editing.

When Rob told me he would spend 200 hours line-editing my book I was horrified. The idea of someone, even a person as skilled and compassionate as Rob, working so in-depth on my precious words was intolerable. Surely my voice, my intent, the whole point of my writing would be lost, destroyed by the interloper, the evil editor. And I’d have to pay for it.

The fear didn’t make much sense. I’d already worked with him for about a year. He patiently worked through four versions, including one I wrote without using conjunctions, pronouns, adverbs and various other tools that I had decided in literary hubris to be perfect and without equal. I couldn’t understand why the simpletons didn’t like it.

Rob saw the story in the mess and helped me find it during a development process I urge any writer serious about the craft to consider as important as paper and ink. But during that work I was involved. With line-editing, it was all Rob and someone else I’d never talked to, a dispassionate stranger with impeccable credentials who knew more than me and would drown my voice and leave me wondering who exactly wrote the book. I knew it was important, that it had to be done because although the manuscript was glorious, it wasn’t perfect — as much as I envisioned it was — and it needed minute attention to catch the little things that when scrubbed would allow it to shine ever brighter. The prospect still bothered me. The fear came from the unknown.

Even though I have years of experience as an editor at magazines and newspapers, I had no understanding of what line-editing a book is. So I did it myself. I spent the 200 hours, including putting the manuscript through a computer program that caught repeated words and phrases — boy, did I like the word “great”, “a€,” and cliches and other redundancies. I discovered how many times I used the same words and descriptions and how changing those words didn’t alter my voice, it improved it. A lot of the repeats came from pasting different versions into the finished product. Line-editing catches all that and doesn’t in the least change a writer’s voice.

Line-editing is like mopping a floor. When the soap and water dries, it’s still a floor, but it sure looks a whole lot better. As intense as it is, line-editing has nothing to do with changing a writer’s voice or intent. Consider it this way: If the manuscript isn’t solid to begin with, line-editing isn’t going to make it so. Mopping a dirt floor doesn’t do any good. But doing that kind of editing on your own manuscript is like giving yourself a haircut. You miss spots. As careful as I was, at least one mistake remains, which, of course, I found after publication. Line-diting is a tough job. I’m writing my second book, and when it’s time, I’m going to let the professional handle the cleanup and take all the credit for the shiny floor.”

SJ Mallory is the author of The Oracle Bone. Visit his website


The prior article was about adjectives, so I felt it was only right to follow this with one on adverbs, and here it is:

The Real Problem with Adverbs

I remember when I first read information on writing a query letter that rule number one was never to use an adverb in the text. Anywhere! I also recall being told when writing dialogue never to use an adverb attribute, such as “he said hurriedly.” And I recollect being admonished after I started writing seriously that I shouldn’t use adverbs in my manuscript but instead seek verbs that convey the desired meaning without the need for modification.

Why Have This Element of Grammar If It Can’t Be Used?

If adverbs are such evil components of syntax, why have them at all? Were they the terrible incarnation of morphed adjectives that lazy authors everywhere conjured up to bail them out of a writing malaise? Or, maybe, do they serve a useful purpose when, if used, they don’t automatically label a writer as indolent, inept, or befuddled?

What’s Wrong with Speaking Rapidly?

John rubbed his hands together, tugged at his collar, and said rapidly, “I don’t know what happened to the money.” This author is demonstrating–by John’s physical actions–that he’s nervous, and isn’t a quickened speech pattern a natural component of apprehensive behavior? Should John’s short line of dialogue have been crafted to illustrate he was speaking briskly, expeditiously, speedily, swiftly, hastily, hurriedly, precipitately, urgently, excitedly, quickly, feverishly, frenziedly, hastily, fleetly, energetically, expeditiously, frantically, or heatedly?

Considering the material that preceded his speech, does any word other than “rapidly” better convey what the author intends? The closest word is “quickly,” but this can imply that he began talking right away and not that his delivery was rapid. So what better to relate the author’s desire than to state that John, who was nervous, spoke rapidly. Writing gurus can argue that John’s antsy actions indicate he might be inclined to speak fast, but unless the author states this up front, how is the reader to know by the short line that followed, “I don’t know what happened to the money,” what John’s frame of mind might be like?

What if the writer wrote this: John rubbed his hands together, tugged at his collar, and said slowly, “I don’t know what happened to the money.” John could simply have been cold in the office and the starch in his collar was bothering him. His slow delivery might indicate he wasn’t nervous and was simply stating a fact in a resolute way. To take this a step further, what happens to the meaning of the run it it’s written in a sterile manner? John rubbed his hands together, tugged at his collar, and said, “I don’t know what happened to the money.” He appears nervous, but can the reader be certain of the reason? An adverb attribute is one of the few ways to give the reader the necessary information, and in this instance certainly the most concise method of delivery.

Adverbs Aren’t the Worst Things to Happen to The English Language

In the prior exercise, does any one of dozen and a half adverbs I offered as substitutes express John’s mood more definitively than “rapidly”? But of greater importance to the theme of this paper, can the same clarity of purpose be conveyed without an adverb modifying the attributive phrase “John said”? Of course another sentence or two of setup could be crafted and poor John’s state of mind would be obvious, but if he is not a key character or if the pacing of the scene requires short exchanges, what better way to do this than with the word “rapidly”?

Don’t Get Carried Away with This

What I’ve just written shouldn’t be assumed to provide carte blanche that a writer should now feel free to litter a manuscript with adverbs at every opportunity. My contention is that a well-placed adverb in a run of narrative is just as valuable as any other word that is used to its best advantage. But words such as “smilingly” and “tiredly” should never be used–even though both are in dictionaries–as it must be understand that almost any adjective can be made into an adverb by adding and “-ly.” Consequently, while my article might provide some writers with newly found freedom, serious constraint must always be practiced.

As with adjectives, which should be used only after seeking the best noun to meet the author’s needs, adverbs have a place in our language, but only after the best possible choice of a verb is sought.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 84
Unnecessary Information in a Narrative (July 17, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

Even during this holiday period there were a considerable number of new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter, and I want to extend a personal welcome to each of you. The idea behind each broadcast is to provide information on the major royalty publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years as both a novelist and editor, and to offer suggestions for writing prose at a level people would pay to read.

I’m also always looking for ideas for topics for articles I write that accompany each edition, and the suggestion for today’s article “Unnecessary Information in a Narrative” came from longtime Newsletter subscriber Donna Yates. So if you have something you’d like me to write about that pertains to the industry or writing quality prose–and don’t see that I’ve already addressed it after checking the Articles Page on my Web site at–by all means drop me a note at [email protected]

In my Newsletters I often recommend the Publishers Marketplace daily report to subscribers as the best medium I’m aware that enables writers to keep tabs on what’s going on in the publishing industry. It’s the only medium that provides a broad, concurrent compendium of the inner workings of what can be referred to as a Byzantine business, and many would say that’s being polite. Much of the info pertains to Wall Street transactions and other pure accounting issues that affect only those directly involved or stockholders, and it’s of little interest to anyone else.

However, the lead article in a recent edition of the Lunch detailed sales for the 50 SHADES OF GREY trilogy, which has now produced $370 million combined for Vintage and Random House. No, that’s not a misprint, and this excludes movie rights and a few other significant income-producing areas! And while Publishers Marketplace offers a free daily version of Lunch, my reason for suggesting that authors pay the $20 monthly fee is not to receive the expanded Publishers Lunch Daily Newsletter but for the Publishers Marketplace Daily Deals Report that’s always transmitted separately.

The daily listing of book placements offers a wealth of information that can benefit any writer seeking a bona fide royalty publisher. Specifically, authors can see which agents have just sold material to publishers in the exact genre in which they write, and most important of all–to whom. Many times I’ve called an agent on behalf of a client right after a blurb highlighting a placement appeared in the Daily Deals Report. And in the overwhelming number of instances the agent has agreed to read the writer’s material. After all, when is a better time to solicit someone than right after that person has achieved success with something?

I don’t get a dime from Publishers Lunch for touting the company’s publications, not even free broadcasts. But since the Lunch is read assiduously by publishers themselves, I don’t believe there could be a better endorsement. So if a subscriber is serious about seeking a major royalty publisher, I strongly suggest subscribing to the service, and here’s the link to do so. Again, I receive zero remuneration from Publishers Marketplace, but I’d certainly accept whatever its management might send my way, ha ha.

I devote a lot of space in my Newsletters to what I refer to as writers’ rights. I’m particularly galled when I see a major outlet such as Amazon taking what I consider to be a feeble stand against blatant plagiarism by allowing such thievery to occur via its self-publishing medium. But maybe there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Just last week, Wiley, which publishes all the “Dummies” books, was awarded a copyright infringement settlement.

Here’s a link to an article that describes Wiley’s $7,000 adjudication. While this might not seem like much, this was granted per defendant and doesn’t include the average $3,000 per person Wiley has received in private settlements, making the total already in the hundreds of thousands of dollars–and the meter is still running. The final tally will likely be in the seven figures.

What’s important about this case is the flagrant way certain “Dummies” titles were repackaged and sold by other people. I wonder if this sort of judgment can somehow extend to the prolific plagiarizer I mentioned in a recent Newsletter, the alleged stay-at-home mom who boasted of renaming more than 10,000 books and selling them on Amazon. Let’s see, $7,000 times 10,000 titles might just get this industrious lady out of the house.

If you might not remember my comment on this scam, I’ll reiterate that there’s no conceivable way any single individual could possibly manipulate this many titles, so there must be a team of well-organized crooks doing this, and who are thumbing their noses at every writer who has worked so hard to make a name for himself or herself. It’s truly sickening, and reminds me of the scammer years ago who acquired a massive number of phone numbers that were a digit here or there from the customer service numbers of major corporations. He made millions from misdials, as those of us in a hurry at airports simply hung up and redialed. And when a 90-cent or so charge appeared on our bill, how often were we going to challenge it?

To happily switch topics, if any Newsletter subscriber knows of an illustrator who can draw lifelike animals, I’d like to contact that person. As a general rule I don’t work with Graphics or Children’s Preschool-genre material, but I accepted the task of finding an illustrator for a woman I know who wrote a delightful poem and needs drawings to accompany the text. The illustrator who’s accepted for the project can work on either an hourly or fee-for-service basis for the entire package of drawings, and will also receive full collaborator credit and a split of the royalties from book sales.
I’m still “moving,” and the remodeling team is continuing their fine work. I think I now have two Eldons living with my wife and me, but we are making headway, and I appreciate everyone’s patience as I carefully work with clients’ material amidst all the racket. Things should settle down in another 30 days, and I will be getting to opening-chapter critiques and query reviews at that time. I promise.

Today’s article, as I mentioned at the top of this Newsletter, pertains to what is important to a narrative and what isn’t. It can seem like a relatively simple task, but it isn’t, and what to leave in or take out of a story often separates one writer from another.

Unnecessary Information in a Narrative

Editors routinely discuss transitioning with their clients, as the way a story hangs together is one of the most crucial aspects of writing fluent prose. Transitioning elements determine not only readability but everything from plot believability to story continuity. Often a single word, placed in the proper location, can create the ideal scene from the perspective of all the nuances I just discussed. But what determines what does and doesn’t need to be included in a narrative?

Eschew What’s Obvious to the Reader

I read a novel by a popular author who decided his readers needed to know when his protagonists went to the bathroom. I’m eternally thankful he spared us a discussion of the actual event, but we still received an account of each trip behind a bush. I’m not making this up, and I can only assume this writer was trying to make a sideways stab at humor, but because of the serious nature of his material otherwise, it didn’t work for me.

Likewise, Don’t Write About Issues That Have Nothing To Do with the Scene

Readers can assume a garage door was shut before the hero or heroine entered the house, as well as that the kitchen lights were turned off as a character leaves to enter another room. This is no different from answering the phone. Someone can simply write that “John answered the phone” and move on to the actual conversation.

Or the same activity could read like this: “John heard the harsh cacophony of the ringer inside the old, white, oblong phone hanging on the wall in his kitchen. He pushed himself up from his lounge chair in the living room and walked briskly to the grab the receiver, noting the location of the furniture along the way so he wouldn’t bump into anything. As soon as he reached the phone, he placed his right hand firmly on the handset and removed it from the cradle, pulling upward and outward in one swift motion. He swallowed and took a deep breath, holding the speaker section directly below his mouth, but not so close that his chin would touch it. He wasn’t at all concerned with whomever was on the line, so in a pleasant tone he said, “Hello.”

Some Things Can and Should Be Taken for Granted

The same sort of laborious writing describing answering a phone can apply to any normal activity. I read a paragraph in a novel recently that was just as silly as the one I just wrote, but in that instance it depicted a person entering a car. Instead of the character driving away from the scene of the crime, I was told how he got in the driver’s-side door, placed the key in the ignition, started the engine, shifted the transmission in gear, and then pressed the accelerator. That really was more information than I needed to know, although I appreciated the tutorial, as I’m getting old and tend to forget how to get my own car going.

Some Aspects of a Scene Must Be Explained

Editors are paid to look for plot holes, and it’s their responsibility to tell clients if Jill was in Chicago at the same time she was in Dallas or that Mike was drinking coffee when it was never established he was offered a cup. It’s this sort of thing that can have writers scratching their heads as to why one issue is considered important and another trivial, but it relates to either scene transitioning or story continuity or both. And determining what’s important and what isn’t, and acting on this prudently, can make or break a story.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 85
Unnecessary Interior Attributes in Dialogue (July 31, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

As is my custom, I want to welcome the new subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter, which has recently passed its three-year anniversary. Each edition of my Newsletter contains material that pertains to the royalty publishing industry, and for some time I’ve been providing information on self-publishing options so writers don’t get taken advantage of or become involved with unnecessarily expensive programs promoted as unique opportunities. Authors who self-publish will have to be their own marketing machines, but this is also becoming the norm for established authors as well.

Published writers via any medium should always be looking for opportunities for exposure, as there’s no way to know for certain how traction can be gained for a work–only that it can’t occur if nothing is ever done to promote the story. Project Guttenburg allows authors to post self-published material on its Web site, and this might be a vehicle for Newsletter subscribers to consider if they’ve gone the self-publishing route. The site has been around for a long time, so I have to assume it’s garnered a substantial following. And if I understand its promotional info, it’s free. If any of you post on the site, let me know what you think of the experience after you’ve had time to analyze the results. And if Project Guttenburg provides a nurturing environment (I know, it’s a stupid couplet, but I couldn’t come up with anything better, ha ha), I’ll add a link for it on my Web site and promote it in upcoming Newsletters.

I’m often asked about genre, and a year or so ago I published a compendium that seemed relatively complete. However, I recently found a new list that subscribers can access. This was compiled by an international critique group named “Writing to Publish,” and clicking this link will take you to a page on the organization’s Web site. As all of you are aware who know me, attended my creative writing workshops, or read my Newsletters routinely, I’m not a big fan of critique groups in general, as I think they fast outlast their value for most people unless they are run by genuinely skilled facilitators. But “Writing to Publish” gives writers a chance to “chat” with contemporaries from all over the world, and this is a good thing from the perspective of morale and certainly offers the opportunity to advance one’s learning curve.

But I want to get back to genres and why I posted the link. I did a rough count of this list and came up with more than 250 genres and subsets combined. What’s interesting is that none of the mm, mfm, mmf, fmm, and many of the other sexually oriented subgenres were listed. This segment of the market is currently burgeoning in popularity, and since 50 SHADES OF GREY’s runaway success, there will likely be another dozen or so subgenres added in short order to the Erotica/S&M group. So be prepared for 5 Degrees of Woodworking, which is not what you think. It will be about a gay Amish carpenter, Ezekial, who gets his significant other, Caleb, to join him in a menage a tois with the community’s lesbian buggy maker, the famous under-the-cover-of-heavy-clothing flamer and never to shave her legs Judith, who decides it’s time to swing from the beards. It will be in the mfm (I might have that wrong, so anyone familiar with the mm genre is welcome to correct me) with an “acm” for Amish Cabinet Maker suffix; hence, this scintillating sure-to-be bestseller will by found in the “mfm/acm” category. And if the buggy whip comes out, then there will be an ever longer suffix–and of course a sequel.

I sincerely hope that no subscriber is offended by my feeble attempt at humor. I’m not homophobic, so don’t write me that I am because I’ll be mad at you, but I wanted to use this example to illustrate just how absurd the whole genre thing has become. One of my thrillers was not picked up because I was told my murders weren’t gruesome enough and therefore wouldn’t meet the imprint’s readers’ demands. Another client of mine had a work rejected recently because it was considered too far outside the erotic publisher’s criteria, yet it was soft in comparison to much of what that firm markets, as based other titles from the imprint that I’d read.

I honestly believe genres have become such a mishmash that many publishers aren’t able to clearly distinguish their own titles. For subscribers who take the time to peruse the genres on the list, and here’s the link again, they will come to one that’s titled “Cowpunk.” I’m dead serious, and for me that says it all. To close this segment, I once again want to apologize if any reader is a lesbian buggy maker whom I’ve offended or sensitive to lesbian buggy makers in general and found my analogy inappropriate.

As those of you are aware who have been receiving my Newsletters during the past year or so, I’ve used my blog to focus on opening chapters–sent to me to critique–that I’ve found exceptional because of one or more writing elements. And as many of you have experienced, whether as a paid client or taking advantage of my free services, I constantly harp on the value of writing dimension into characters. Some of you may have read that I thought a character was a stick figure or one-dimensional, which meant that I felt there wasn’t enough definition for the reader to become invested in the person (or whatever); which, while always an issue, is especially important if my contention involves either the protagonist or antagonist or some other peripheral character who influences the plot in a material way.

Recently, longtime Newsletter subscriber James Babb sent me his opening to THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, and I just as easily could’ve been reading something from Steinbeck or Caldwell. No, I’m not ready to lionize James by placing him in either league, but what he sent me was some of the most poignant, riveting, and well-written material I’ve come in contact with in some time. And this includes books I’ve paid for on the bestseller lists and otherwise. Anyone who reads his opening is immediately swept up by his protagonist, a young boy named Brody who sneaks away to hunt for food for his starving family. He becomes the victim of a horrible accident and what follows is beyond superlatives. For anyone who has an interest in reading a brilliant setup, and as compelling of a plotline as I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a long while, please click this link or the earlier one, either of which will take you to this opening chapter posted on my blog.

And if you take my suggestion, here’s what I’d like you to do: Determine exactly how long it takes before you fall in love with Brody as a character–and I’m dead serious, look at a clock or watch with a second hand and make a mental note of when it is that you absolutely feel that you have to read more about him. Then we all should look at other material, perhaps even our own–which is the real purpose behind this exercise–and see how this work stacks up.

It’s seldom anyone can set a hook as powerful as James accomplished with this character, but it’s what every writer should strive to achieve. And this short exercise demonstrates that a hook doesn’t have to involve a physical action, and it can be at its most effective level when a writer fully engages a reader in a character early in a story. All of you who know me are aware that–while I do everything I can to encourage writers–I’m stingy with my praise, and seldom is it effusive unless I come upon something I find to be remarkable. In my opinion, James Babb has crafted the extraordinary in his opening of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. Please, please do yourself a favor and read this material. And by all means let me know what you think about my assessment, and I’ll be pleased to pass your comments on to James.

To accompany each Newsletter I craft an article that’s germane to some aspect of writing quality prose or the nuances of the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years as both a novelist and an editor. I’m always seeking topics for articles, so if you check out my Articles Page on my Web site at and don’t see your subject of interest, by all means drop me a line at [email protected] I write material in blocks when I have time I can devote solely to this endeavor, and often I’m 90 days “out.” But I always give the person who suggests a topic an idea of when the article will be published, and I try to remember to send that writer a draft as soon as I finish it so the wait for the response can be shortened.

I’m very much in need of new topics, so please don’t be shy. A short while ago I wrote a piece that dealt with the overuse of speaker attributes in dialogue. I also have written about what happens to the pace of speech when interior attributes are used too often. And I covered words commonly placed at the start of a spit of dialogue that should be avoided, such as “hey,” “oh,” “well, “listen,” and a host of others. But I neglected to point out two of the biggest culprits.

Unnecessary Interior Attributes in Dialogue

“Dear” and “Honey” Should Have Led the Pack

In normal conversation, how often does a person address a significant other by “honey” or “dear?” Of course these words are used often as terms of affection, but are they applied to the beginning of each sentence that’s spoken between two people, no matter how much either person cares for the other? Hardly, yet I’m often sent dialogue flush with ether word or both.

Sometimes These Words Are Effectively Used for Identification

Skilled writers can use “dear” or “honey” or “love” or other handles of affection to let the reader know who is being spoken to when there are more than two people in the conversation, but it doesn’t occur that frequently in most runs of dialogue.

A Paucity of Usage Is All Most Readers Can Tolerate

To illustrate just how overbearing the constant “outpouring of love” can be, I only have to point to THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT, Steinbeck’s account of Ethan Hawley’s relationship with his wife Mary, and others. On page one, he begins by referring to Mary as Miss Mousie, darling chicken-flower, and ladybug. On the last page of the penultimate chapter (none of his women are in the finale), Hawley addresses his latest flame Ellen as skookum (yes, skookum and not snookums) and finishes the fusillade with, of all words, the banal “darling.”

I always wondered if Steinbeck wrote “darling” at the end to illustrate in a sublime way the difficulty constant reference to any element can play on the reader, especially since this tic seemed to be crafted with such purpose.

A Way To Keep “Dear” and “Honey” at Bay

Collectively, words of affection are perhaps one of the few instances when an author can write from the perspective of volume (read “minimal”) exactly the way people speak (ignoring Steinbeck’s bulbous parodies in the work I just cited). Outside of the bedroom, or if one spouse or the other is trying to impress a dinner guest, how often is a term such as “dear” or “honey” uttered in the course of a day? There certainly are exceptions, but for effective dialogue authors would be wise to write terms of endearment with the frequency in which they are spoken in everyday life for most people. And this won’t mean that we will love our significant other any less.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 86
Dangling Modifiers and the Problems They Create
(August 14, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

I want to begin by thanking all of you for your patience during the past few months that I’ve been out of my usual routine because my wife and I moved from south to central Florida to be closer to family. Everything is finally settling down (yes, the remodeling team has packed up and left after seven straight weeks), and I want to especially express my appreciation to those of you who are clients and have had to endure longer lead times than I commonly provide.

I’m particularly gratified that so many of you took my advice in the previous Newsletter and read longtime subscriber James Babb’s tremendous opening chapter to his novel THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, which I posted on my Critique Blog. I’m impressed that so many of you want to know what happens to the young male protagonist who immediately captures the heart of the reader. I’ll discuss this with James, and maybe he’ll agree to let me post some more of his narrative.

I realize there are a number of hoops subscribers have to jump through to post a comment on my Critique Blog, so I decided to use this Newsletter to give James an idea of the overwhelmingly response to his opening based on e-mails sent directly to me. Donna D. told me, “This opening is everything the start to a story should be and I’m green with envy.” Lyle Z. remarked, “Wow! What more can I offer? Where can I read the rest of the book?” Martha M. wrote me, “James Babb’s opening chapter hooked me with its moment-by-moment realistic narrative of a series of harrowing problems. He has created a young protagonist who handles these setbacks in a way that makes me believe he can survive them–that he is a survivor. I couldn’t put it down.” Frank G. commented, “I think you’re right on the money with the opening of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. A lot goes down in that first chapter. He definitely sets the hook.” Elizabeth S. stated, “THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE: It’s good! I’d like to know what happens.” Manohar B. added, “I found the story very engaging.” Sterling B. remarked, ” If YA publishers aren’t seeking this sort of material, just what do they want? This is a good writer. Tell him I said so.” Carrie B. raves, “I can’t get enough of Brody in THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. Please don’t leave me hanging and tell me what happens to him.”

I could fill this Newsletter with accolades for THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE from subscribers, as nothing I’ve posted on my Critique Blog has come remotely close to the number of positive responses I received for this material. And as all of you are aware who’ve been with me for a while, I’ve prided myself on providing excellent narratives, some of which have been made available to me by Newsletter subscribers who are published by major imprints. I’m going to complement the next Newsletter with an opening from another accomplished writer, David McKenna, who is also a longtime follower of my scribbling. But to finish up on the this segment, for any of you who might’ve missed the setup for THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, click the title and sit back and enjoy what I–and obviously many others–believe is rather special.

To switch gears, as many of you I’m certain noticed, a short while ago Pearson, the parent company of Penguin/Putnam, purchased Author Solutions, which was formed in 2007 from the merger of several self-publishing outlets that included Author House, iUniverse, Xlibris and a host of lesser-known counterparts. To say that this sent shock waves through the industry would be an overstatement. All one has to do is look at what’s occurred in the past year with name literary agencies hooking up with self-publishers or forming their own entities. But for a major publisher to buy Author House, which has had a rocky past to put it mildly, was indeed a surprise to many.

For those of you who might not be aware, Author House operates out of Bloomington, Indiana, and boasts of employing 1,200 people, although the majority are in the Philippines (800). The company hasn’t amassed anywhere near the staggering complaint total accrued by Publish America, but anyone who spends a minute on the Internet can get a snapshot of the problems authors have experienced with AH. Most are the same old same old about sales not meeting expectations, but there are also a plethora of issues pertaining to not being paid in compliance with royalty guidelines. iUniverse had also created a bumpy road for itself, experiencing much of the same backlash as AH. And while I have no knowledge of the lesser-knowns under the AH umbrella, most of what I’ve heard about Xlibris is not near as disparaging, and often even positive. I can attest that the firm told a writer who later became a client of mine to have his manuscript edited, without pushing its affiliate editing services on that author.

Pearson’s CEO threw out all sorts of standard platitudes regarding the purchase of AH, but the primary point that all writers should take from this is that everyone wants a piece of the self-publishing pie before it’s so diluted that there’s nothing left (some say this has happened already). Regardless of where this acquisition falls on the utility curve, the writer is tossed into an ever-widening scrum. Marketing is still going to be largely on the shoulders of the writer, and woe to the poor soul who spends the money to self-publish a book and doesn’t have the moxie (and wherewithal) to make things happen. By the way, a look at AH’s balance sheet is interesting. Of the $110,000,000 in revenue from 2011, one-third each was gleaned from publishing, marketing, and distribution. Somewhere in there are the royalties paid to authors, which were conveniently excluded from any of the new CEO’s comments. He did, however, mention that each client was worth on an average of $5,000 to AH! There’s a tale in this all by itself, it would seem.

Any writer who gets involved with any print self-publisher I’m aware of has to understand that books are primarily sold to that person for him or her to go out and resell. On the e-book side, the author is often going to be asked to contribute to marketing expenses that are marked up at ridiculous levels. And most of the “marketing” does little more than place the title on various lists with thousands upon thousands of other books, with no individual marketing beyond a publicity blurb usually consisting of one or two lines. Remember, with nothing pointing a reader to the book, what good is the blurb even if it includes a positive New York Times review? People still have to know about the story, and how this is going to occur is what writers must consider when analyzing the potential efficacy of any marketing campaign. What is actually going to take place is the number-one question that must be answered clearly, and if there isn’t a solid definition that’s not a bunch of double-talk and assorted babble, my advice–always–is to pass. Fast.

I copied the following from a report filed by Publishers Marketplace, as I thought subscribers might find these statistics interesting. The most important thing to be aware of is the extent to which one book can skew an entire category. HUNGER GAMES is a perfect example in the mass market arena. This year the 50 SHADES OF GREY trilogy will be the poster child for successful boutique self-publishing gone wild, and since Vintage is the worldwide purveyor for this oeuvre in paperback, next year this category will reveal some explosive numbers, as it’s been widely reported that sales for GREY et al. have now broken the $300,000,000 barrier. Here are the statistics from 2011, but keep in mind that any numbers provided to the public by the industry should be regarded as “outlines” and not construed as definitive. Think of these as government statistics, which as we all know are constantly revised and sometimes dramatically. (None of this includes any self-publishing data.)

2011 Trade Segments By Revenue (as a percentage of all trade)

Hardcover $4.505 billion (36%)
Paperback $4.185 billion (33%)
eBooks $1.970 billion (16%)

Mass Market $1.100 billion (9%)
Audio $312 million
Other $447 million
TOTAL $12.519 billion

2011 Trade Segments By Unit Sales (as a percentage of all trade)

Paperback 924 million units (44%)
Hardcover 485 million units (23%)
eBooks 298 million units (14%)
Mass Market 275 million units (13%)
Other 127 million units (6%)
TOTAL 2.109 billion units

Today’s article is about one of my favorite subjects, dangling modifiers. Proper linkage is crucial for fluent prose, and here are a few ideas to help with this.

Dangling Modifiers and the Problems They Create

When I was in grammar school, dangling modifiers were referred to as dangling participles, and I never understood what my teacher was talking about. All I knew was that sidewalks couldn’t walk and trees shouldn’t talk if they weren’t in a cartoon or if I wasn’t writing a metaphor. “Walking down the street, the skyscraper looked over the bay as I turned the corner,” or some such mishmash was generally provided as the example to learn from.

Not Beginning Sentences with Words Ending In “-Ing” Sounded Like a Good Idea

I decided that the easiest way to sidestep the problem was to never begin a sentence with a word ending in “-ing.” But then I learned what a gerund was and that shot my idea all to pieces.

First and Foremost, Understand It’s a Matter of Linkage

Any misplaced modifier implies a linkage problem, although for the purposes of this paper I’m discussing modifiers that are considered to “dangle” at the end of a sentence. Before considering anything else, analyze just how close your phrase is to what it is you’re intending to modify. Sometimes this can be corrected by inverting the order, but more commonly a simple comma placed prior to the offending “dangler” will solve the problem. The two sections that follow illustrate examples of both.

Restructure the Sentence

Last year, in my Newsletter no less, I sent a mailbox and not a letter to Belize. I wrote something like this: “Eduardo placed a letter to his mother in a mailbox and sent it to Belize.” There are an inordinate number of ways to write this correctly, but a simple remedy would be:”Eduardo opened the mailbox and placed a letter in it that was addressed to his mother in Belize.”

The Comma Is Often the Big Equalizer

In the overwhelming number of instances in which dangling modifiers occur, they can be neutralized with a comma placed before the offending clause, indicating it does not modify what it immediately followed.

In this sentence as written, the problem is apparent: “The lovers swayed to a bedroom locked in an embrace.” But if a comma is placed before “locked,” the lovers are correctly swaying in an embrace and not the bedroom, hence: “The lovers swayed to a bedroom, locked in an embrace.”

Identify What Is Being Modified

The key to not falling into the dangling modifier trap is to recognize what is being modified. Once the antecedent is identified, the sentence can be structured correctly.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 87
Gerunds and Gerund Phrases
(August 28, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

It’s been a very busy past two weeks and there’s a great deal of material to cover in today’s Newsletter, so I want to welcome the new subscribers for whom today’s edition is the their first broadcast and get right to it.

Anyone watching the news lately has noticed the plagiarism and false-reporting issues that have plagued major publishers and the national news media. While CNN’s Fareed Zakaria is the most visible on the video side, the bogus claims made by the journalist turned biographer who purposely misquoted Bob Dylan, and the writer who manufactured data to support his Jeffersonian thesis, are equally culpable in my opinion. With the instantaneous scrutiny the Internet provides, I find it incomprehensible how anyone could think it possible to deceive the public with respect to who really said what, as well as distort essentially incontrovertible historical accuracy.

Since I’ve been editing, I’ve had just two instances of plagiarism to contend with. One involved a request to critique a manuscript belonging to another writer so that my revision suggestions could be used to alter the narrative to allow it to be claimed as original by the person who intended to manipulate the text. And the second was to write a query for material created by someone else but presented as the property of the plagiarizer. This latter scenario was the oddest thing because to this day I don’t know how this person planned to get away with the scam, unless it was thought that the long delay between signing and publication would enable absconding with the advance and never getting caught. Regardless, anyone who believes plagiarism is possible in today’s digital age is an idiot, and this pertains especially to people in the mainstream news media.

I’m often asked by Newsletter subscribers to state my position on “fair use” and to write an article on this subject. I’ve refused, however, because I’m not qualified to offer even an opinion. It’s just too complicated of an issue, and a recent court judgment that pertained to a university’s use of copyrighted material illustrates the confusion surrounding this matter. If I read the decision correctly, something like 18.5 percent (that’s right) of the material in question could be copied as written and not place the school in jeopardy. Huh! How is it possible for anyone to come up with a number such as that? This is why I always strongly suggest that writers receive written permission from the publisher for anything they want to use which is not their own. Granted, this can take awhile, but I think most people would agree that a delay is a whole lot better than a lawsuit.

This brings me to DRM or Digital Rights Management. Those of you who read my Newsletters routinely will remember my comments on Cory Doctorow’s free-use mandate. I’m not going to repeat his lecture here, but I continue to find it mind-boggling that any writer would feel that anything e-published is automatically public domain. And his position that it doesn’t matter since any savvy computer-type can download just about anything with relative ease is just as strange. So what! Most people can’t steal encrypted material any more than they can steal a car. But if each of us left our key in the ignition and the door open and the motor running, is it not conceivable that more cars might get stolen? Is it really argumentative that anyone who writes a book has the right to protect it from plagiarists as well as those who would resell its purloined content for profit?

Before I get any further along in today’s very busy Newsletter, I want to ask readers to once again access my Critique Blog and read what I feel is another fine opening chapter. Written by longtime Newsletter subscriber and fellow editor David McKenna, GOOD SAL/BAD SAL is an interesting study in contrasts that I believe is valuable for any writer to analyze who enjoys character diversity and dimension. As with James Babb’s opening, please send me your comments and I’ll pass them on to David, and I’ll post some of them in the next Newsletter if it’s not running as long as this one, ha ha.

For those of you who are following the “Agency Model” court case and the latest filings, it’s beyond complicated, so much so that Judge Cote has limited the number of pages each defendant is allowed to provide in rebuttal. I guess when some rebuttals totaled hundreds of pages the judge decided on five for good reason. Imagine the tomes of material the Big 6 could offer to support their positions? My only reason for bringing this up is that, once again, authors’ rights are at the forefront. As to the entire predatory-pricing issue, if the industry changed its antediluvian policy and made Amazon et al. buy the inventory outright, these point-of-sale outlets could then charge whatever price they wanted without impunity–I think.

I write “I think” because I remember King v West Bend, a case filed in the ’60s that involved a cookware distributor selling below the manufacturer’s suggest price. The court ruled that since Mr. King had bought the product he could sell it through his distributorship at any price point he saw fit. I’ve scoured the Internet to try and find this case so I could post the link, but I couldn’t come with it. Since so many Newsletter subscribers are attorneys, if any of you would have a minute and could locate the case, please send me the link so I can post it for other subscribers.

Those of you who receive the daily Publishers Lunch might recall the statistics Forbes Magazine provided on major authors’ incomes. To quote this data, “James Patterson tops the list at a reported $94 million, followed by Stephen King ($39 million) Janet Evanovich ($33 million) John Grisham ($26 million) and Jeff Kinney ($25 million.) Someone, please tell me where these numbers come from. It’s reputed that the report was compiled after discussions with agents, publishers, and other industry insiders. Really? If any of us had a client the stature of any of these writers and even hinted at income figures, how long do you think we’d have this client?

First, book sales have always been a conundrum of the highest order to try to decipher. Second, is it realistic to think that any agent would divulge the terms of a franchise-writer’s contract? In defense of Forbes’ report, it’s clearly stated that their numbers are guesstimates, so my contention is why even post them? Let the industry throw out the gross book sales and this will enable any of us who are interested to come up with our own ideas about earnings. For example, if the 50 SHADES OF GREY trilogy has produced $300,000,000 in sales worldwide, and it’s assumed the author receives somewhere between 10 percent and 15 percent of the gross, we can all do the math as to what Ms. James has earned for her efforts.

I want to once again thank all of you who have taken the time to read Newsletter subscriber James Babb’s wonderful opening to his novella THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. So many of you have asked to read more that as I mentioned earlier I’m going to see if later on this year James will allow me to post another chapter or two on my Critique Blog. James introduces an ex-slave who I found equally compelling to the tale’s outstanding protagonist. This man aids Brodie in his recovery and subsequent return to his home.

I want to take a moment to mention one other thing about my posting of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE as it appears on my Critique Blog, and it’s that I presented it unedited. I wanted to demonstrate that a character and a storyline can be so powerful that this will far overshadow the copyediting issues that all drafts require (at least any that I’ve ever received, regardless of the writer’s credentials). So while TDB would benefit from a few commas added or removed, and a small amount of text shifted around to help with linkage, the story is so well designed that the reader is willing to overlook even the obvious. I might add that two friends of mine who edit for a living thought enough of the material that they went so far as to edit, gratis, either some or all of what I’d posted.

There’s a moral to the agents and/or publishers taking it upon themselves to work on material for a client. Most agents and publishers I’ve worked with will readily edit material they feel strongly about, and not suggest that the author send the material to another editor for fine tuning. Related to writers who were previously unpublished by bona fide royalty imprints, every time I’ve had an agent or publisher suggest that a draft be sent for outside editing–and this was subsequently done by the writer–in the more than 20 years I’ve been involved with this industry, not one time have I witnessed the material signed by either that agent or publisher. Not once! Ever! My contention is that if the agent or publisher is not going to edit the draft personally or in-house, the writer is wise to move on.

But be aware this applies to only previously unpublished writers, as published authors–and especially those with a substantial following–work by an entirely separate set of rules. An independent editor I used a dozen years ago to look at a manuscript of mine now works exclusively for a couple of major publishers. When I used him he charged me $80 an hour. Today he takes no outside clients and told me he’s paid $125 an hour to work on established authors’ text only, which is provided by the publishers. I know editors who charge $5,000 to $7,000 on average to critique a full draft (yes, critique not edit), yet their success rate is no different from those of us who are lucky to make minimum wage when we start adding up all of time spent on a project.

And some editors at the lower-fee side of things have better success rates than those who charge substantial sums and are often living off a success from 20 years earlier. No sour grapes here, just a fact that needs to be understood by any writer contemplating using a professional to help take material to the next level. Find an editor that fits your material and don’t be influenced by a higher fee automatically guaranteeing a superior job. This many times has zero relationship to anything substantive.

During the past month or so a number of subscribers have asked me to discuss what publishers look for in a novel. I’ve written numerous papers that express my opinion on this, and I’ve often cited William Goldman’s remarks, since the movie and publishing industry are so closely aligned with one another. He states, after many decades in the business, that Hollywood has no idea what will or will not be a commercial success. He attributes the plethora of sequels as blunt testimony to this mantra. And who can argue? THE HOWLING 7 (no joke), NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5, SCREAM 4, and the list goes on. Most people agree that other than THE GODFATHER sequel(s), most are never close to the original in quality. But Hollywood producers keeps making sequels to successful movies because they know it’s the one thing for which there’s an automatic market.

Books are no different as they pertain to a successful author. The sequel or next book that follows is often a poor substitute for the original. But if the sequel or follow-up book sells, no matter its quality, that author is assured of his or her next book being signed. And to a potentially large advance based on the previous book’s or books’ sales. If it seems I’m implying all that matters is a track records of good sales, this would be correct.

To the topic of sales, I’m always stunned when agents or publishers tell me they can’t accept a project because they wouldn’t know how to market it. I worked in sales for 30 years, and most of my success was not because I was a particularly good salesman but as the result of never declining the opportunity to market something others had difficulty presenting. I always felt that I had no business being in the market I was in if I couldn’t figure out how to pitch something effectively. I think too many people in the book industry get caught up in what Hall of Fame golfer Gary Player calls “the paralysis of analysis” in his sport. For God’s sake, sometimes we have to just do it and not fret about what might not work. Yes, I got knocked down a lot, but I eventually came up with a solution, as I learned from each rejection. Did everything I ever tried work? Of course not, but while others were lamenting their shortcomings I was out selling in the same supposedly impossible market.

If an agent doesn’t know how to present a book to a publisher, or a publisher a book to the market, in my opinion both need to access why they’re in this industry in the first place. This is not an easy business. But I go back to a fellow named Jim Moran, who recently passed away. In the ’60s he was a large car dealer in the Chicago area where I was born. Toyota called dealers in from all over the U.S. and asked them to pitch their talents, with the plum being franchise rights to huge segment of the U.S. market. Dealers brought in top ad agencies from New York and around the world to try to woe the Toyota brass. When they got to Mr. Moran, who was Chicago’s largest dealer and already one of the first multi-line franchises in the country, he was asked, “If we gave you 50,000 Toyotas to sell, what would you do?

Expecting a massive advertising platform with all sorts of state-of-the-art technology for its day and seductive endorsements presented by well-known celebrities, Toyota executives sat back and awaited the show. Instead, Mr. Moran stood up and said, “You want to know what I’d do if you gave me 50,000 cars to sell? I’ll tell you what I’d do with them, I’d sell them!” This was all he said. It beat out all his rivals and he was rewarded with a lifetime franchise for the entire Southeast and became a billionaire. He bought an entire street in Deerfield Beach, Florida, so he could name it after himself, and his huge Toyota building faces Hillsboro Beach Boulevard a block from 1-95. I know this for a fact because I passed it for years on the way to the country club I belonged to.

If a book is such that it’s marketability is at question, I’d view this as a huge plus and not a negative. This doesn’t apply to books that fall within accepted industry taboos, with subject matter pertaining to incest, pedophilia, the killing or maiming of children, and other despicable subjects. But with all the subgenres currently out there, how anyone can say that it would be hard to find a way to market a title is beyond me. If there’s a market for “Cowpunk,” there’s a niche for any literary subtext, no matter how abstract. If agents or publishers are telling a writer they don’t know how to market his or her book, they’re really saying they don’t want to handle that particular book, for whatever reason. No name agent or well-known publisher achieved success without superb marketing skills–you can bank on it.

I had more to offer for today’s edition, but it’s already too long and I’ll save the rest for the September 4 broadcast. As to the topic of today’s article, since I brought up gerunds in the last Newsletter, I decided it might be a good idea to discuss them in general, so today’s articles focuses on this language element.

Gerunds and Gerund Phrases

First, what is a gerund? Dictionaries seem to also use this brown paper bag definition, so I’ll stick with it as well. In the simplest of explanations, it’s a verb that functions as a noun.

Gerunds Are Generally Easy to Spot

They always end in “-ing.” This is one of the few rules in all of English that’s absolute. And most often they are found at the beginning of a sentence, but this isn’t always the case, so this is far from definitive. [To be clear on the “-ing” statement, many components of common syntax can qualify as gerunds phrases in one way or another and don’t have an “-ing” in them. For a comprehensive look at this, I suggest studying pages 24 through 47 in A HANDBOOK OF ENGLISH GRAMMAR by R. W. Zandvoort. Anyone who parses this material will notice that Professor Zandvoort fits a seemingly inordinate number of clauses into a plethora of gerund categories. But for the purpose of this short paper on the topic, I’m referring to the gerund bearing “-ing.”]

Here Are Some Examples of Gerunds

1) Dribbling helps a basketball player develop good hand/eye coordination. “Dribbling” in this instance functions as a noun and is the subject of the sentence. 2) Running is great exercise. “Running” is considered as an event in and of itself and therefore takes the form of a noun, just as the dictionary definition indicates it would.

What About Gerund Phrases?

These can be a little trickier to isolate at times, but if we take the first two examples and expand them and then reduce them to their respective “gerund denominator,” it becomes a less daunting exercise. 1) Dribbling fast and switching hands helps a basketball player develop hand/eye coordination. “Dribbling fast and switching hands” is a phrase that serves as the name of an activity, albeit a compound one, but still performs the role of a noun. 2) Running long distances can be good for your heart. In this sentence, “Running long distances” is looked at as an event unto itself and therefore accepts the role of a noun.

Gerunds Aren’t As Uncommon As They Might Seem

Close readers will notice that today’s Newsletter contained several gerunds in the possessive form because I included the word “being” within the construction of each respective sentence in which this element occurred. And in many quarters it’s considered desirable to incorporate “being” in a gerund phrase, but it must be accepted that this isn’t always possible.

Revise the Sentence Without “Being” and the Possessive Gerund No Longer Exists

Take this grammatically incorrect sentence that many people, including yours truly, think sounds just fine: “It was because of Richard being held by the police.” This should be written: “It was because of Richard’s being held by the police.” But the latter construction is awkward (as perhaps many may have found the possessive gerunds in my Newsletter, ha ha), so it’s perhaps best to revise this to read: “It was because Richard was held by the police.”

Then There’s “Him” and “His”

Here is the wrong construction: “I’m not happy with him dating my daughter.” This can be repaired by substituting “his” for “him,” thus: “I’m not happy with his dating my daughter.” (“His” of course is possessive.) One might argue that “him” reads better, and the best way to fix this once and for all is to write: “I’m not happy that he’s dating my daughter.”

Gerunds Have Fostered Considerable Debate

When gerunds are used incorrectly they create what grammarians call a “fused participle” and for anyone who wants to research this, there are two well-documented schools of thought from bastions of the King’s English. On one side there’s the iconic H. W. Fowler, and on the other the C. T. Onions (yeap, that was his name) and Otto Jerpersen position.

It gets down to what’s correct–and to which syntax has been influenced to the point of acceptance. As indicated by this article, if text becomes too complicated or cumbersome to read, it’s best to revise it and avoid the gerund issue altogether, especially in the possessive for

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 88
The Correct Use of the Ellipsis
(September 11, 2012)

Hello Everyone,

And a rousing special “Hi” to the latest round of new subscribers who signed on to my Newsletter during the past two weeks. I’m always looking for new topics for articles, as I include a paper to accompany each edition that pertains to some aspect of writing quality prose or the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it for the past 20-plus years. So if you’ll check the Articles Page on my Web site at and find I haven’t already addressed your area of interest, drop me an e-mail at [email protected] and I promise to attend to your request as soon as possible. And if I don’t have knowledge of your subject, I’ll search hard to gather the information.

As with the opening chapter of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, I’m gratified that so many subscribers accessed my Critique Blog to read fellow editor David McKenna’s fine opening to GOOD SAL/BAD SAL. Not every editor can write publishable prose (some people are more emphatic and say not many can), but David demonstrates a wonderful aptitude for the art of immediately bringing the reader into the story. And as with James Babb’s outstanding work, I’m highlighting David’s material for one more Newsletter. Here’s a sampling of what subscribers had to say about GOOD SAL/BAD SAL:

Candy C. followed my remark about bringing the reader quickly into the story by writing, “I felt I was right there with the characters.” Lisa B. said, “After reading the last two authors you put on your blog, I see just how far I have to go as a writer. I can’t tell you how much this helps me.” Stan M. told me, “Another solid piece.” Allison A. commented, “It’s not my kind of story, but I’d read it because I liked the characters.” In my opinion, Allison’s remark is one of the finest compliments a writer can receive.

GOOD SAL/BAD SAL will be the last opening chapter for a while, but whenever I spot material I believe is truly special I’ll certainly showcase it on my Critique Blog. Again, my thanks to all of you for looking at David’s material, and to any subscribers who haven’t read his opening chapter yet, please click the link and do yourself a favor and take the time to do so. We all learn from good writing. This is one of the few “givens.”

Straight from Publishers Lunch, for which as you all know I have nothing but the sincerest respect, “Digital Book World has launched a weekly set of e-book bestseller lists that aggregates the previous full week’s sales ranking data from Amazon, Nook, Google, Kobo and Sony into an overall list of the top 25 selling books, as well as four additional top 10 lists organized by price tiers: free to $2.99, $3 to $7.99, $8 to $9.99, and $10 and up.” I ask only one question, since none of these companies have yet to report anything close to verifiable figures (no firm I know of has provided audited financials that break any of this down by subset), what good is compiling a set of wild guesstimates and then presenting them in aggregate?

While I’m discussing “who-do” in the publishing business, this brings me to my next topic. And it must be understood that at first it might seem as if I’m writing on both sides of the page, as I’ve consistently advised clients that having their material reviewed is one of the best ways to gain traction for a work. I am not backing away from my position on this in any way, but the depth to which scamming can go in the book business is exemplified in this New York Times Article, “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy.”

At first blush it’s the story of Todd Rutherford, but it’s really a more systemic view of the lengths people will go to try to persuade the public that they’re something they aren’t. But first Rutherford’s story, which must be told, since it’s recently been reported that John Locke has admitted to buying reviews for his books from this fellow. And for those who might not be aware, Locke is the first author to gross over a million dollars in sales from an e-published book on Amazon. And this is documented.

Rutherford worked for a self-publisher who was having difficulty getting its books reviewed by outside sources, so he decided to start reviewing them himself under various names. He determined there was a need for this service but that he could only churn out so many reviews himself, so he hired others to write reviews based on little more than liner notes. He was charging $1,000 for 50 reviews (which is what Locke purportedly paid him) and in a short while Rutherford was earning as much as $28,000 per month. One of his reviewers earned (“earned” is a tough word to use for this, by the way) $12,000 in what she described as a relatively short time, and she lamented that she would actually like to have read some of the books she was reviewing.

The short of this is that Rutherford was eventually forced out of business and is now selling RVs in Oklahoma. But what does this say about reviews and their importance? This in large measure is why I shy away from providing reviews because I know the author is expecting a 5-star rating and will absolutely be crushed with anything less. So I’ve decided if I can’t give a good rating not to give one at all, and little of anything warrants 4 stars let alone 5. No one wants a 3-star–or just above average–score, yet this is a good rating, and one that any writer should feel proud to receive.

But there are scads of people out there who will write a 5-star review for a book for fees that average from $5 to $15. I find this despicable, and falls right in with our industrious home-school mom (read “organization”) who has plagiarized more than 10,000 titles and placed the stolen material on Amazon/CreateSpace. To Locke’s credit, he doesn’t say that the bogus reviews helped his sales. But another writer has bragged of spending $20,000 thus far on reviews so that he can be “recognized” as a writer. To me, this is beyond nuts, but I did have a laugh when I considered Rutherford’s justification for what he was doing, as he never called it reviewing per se–but marketing–which indeed takes spin into another dimension.

Which brings me to another joke I saw recently. Skyhorse Press is a legitimate nonfiction publisher, but I guess their hierarchy couldn’t resist an obvious opportunity for found money. Any author submitting a manuscript can send $100 for two-day rush review! Yes, you read this correctly. This means that a writer will be sent a rejection 30 to 45 days sooner than normal from that publisher–and pay $100 to receive it. Does that make any sense? Yet, I can assure everyone reading this Newsletter that the poor souls who send the $100, in addition to being a C-note lighter in the wallet, will believe the bribe (and that’s what it is) advances their chances of publication. Skyhorse should be ashamed of promoting what I consider to be tomfoolery of the first order, since the company realizes only too well what a writer believes the $100 will produce.

To switch gears, I was in a restaurant last week in a neighboring town to where my wife and I just moved and heard two women discussing 50 SHADES OF GREY across the bar. I didn’t find that very interesting until one woman volunteered that she was also reading THE KILLER ANGELS. Ms. James’ book wouldn’t seem to be on the same reading list as a Pulitzer Prize winner largely centered around Jamestown during the Civil War. So I handed the lady my card and asked the obvious questions. She said that the only reason she’d read GREY was because she’d heard it had been banned somewhere. She said the writing was atrocious, but in the next breath told me she’d also bought the other two books in the trilogy. Her reason was that she had to know what happened to Ms. Grey.

The other woman wasn’t nearly as “literary” as the first, admitting she didn’t read much but had to read the story also because it was banned. It’s not hard to discern a the pattern here. For those of you who went to high school in the mid ’60s, you may remember CANDY, the shocker of its day written by Terry Southern and two other men. I read it when I was a sophomore and had to tuck a dog-eared paperback within the dustcover of MOBY-DICK. I found that funny in itself, since I despised MOBY-DICK (and still do). Anyone clicking either link to CANDY will be taken to a marvelous article on the story’s genesis, its five-year ban in France (the book was originally published in 1959), and a great segment on each of the book’s three collaborators.

What all the naysayers failed to recognize until much later was that it was the first book of its type to make it to the top of the bestseller lists–and stay there. And what no one seemed to look at until years later was the terrific dialogue Mr. Southern had crafted. He could flat write, and I’ll never apologize for falling in love with this story and all of its craziness. But it probably wouldn’t have gotten beyond the underground if it hadn’t been banned. How many more copies of WAKE UP LITTLE SUSIE were sold because it was banned in Boston (that’s for real)? or albums Aerosmith wouldn’t have sold if Tipper Gore hadn’t gone off in the national media on Steven Tyler’s band?

Create controversy, make sales, especially if there’s an implication that something is scandalous. From cover to cover, THE DA VINCI CODE is the best-paced book I’ve ever read, yet how many of the 81,000,000 copies sold at last count were bought because of the religious controversy surrounding Catholic history? If I remember correctly, a dozen or more books that refuted claims made in the novel were bestsellers, which is remarkable since the story is a work of fiction to begin with. But religion fosters fervor one way or the other, as does an ordinary woman expressing her sexual fantasies and then doing everything she can to fulfill them. Oh, how awful, but let me read the book, ha ha.

I’m going to close the body of today’s Newsletter in response to some material I was sent by a longtime subscriber and client of mine that pertained to an agent leaving the book business and turning to mentoring writers on what to do to get the best traction for their projects. I think this is a great idea, but unless this agent has major ties and is willing to edit material and pass it on to publishers, I don’t know what once working as an agent has to do with adding to the opportunity for publishing success.

Now, if an agent with the gravitas of Meg Ruley or Molly Friedrich or Jane Dystel or Robert Gottlieb (the latter also used to be the CEO of Knopf) changed hats, I’d be one of the first in line to avail myself to whatever services they might be offering. But if someone worked as an agent for a even a substantial number of years but wasn’t a high achiever, I don’t see what that person can provide that’s special. A lot of people offer author services on a consistent basis, such as I do with this Newsletter, and don’t charge for this. Yes, we all know what free advice is worth, but I’ve found that much of what others try to glean money from can be gotten for free with a few keystrokes.

I’m all for anyone’s making an honest living in this business, but each of you see the amount of time I spend in an attempt to save writers unnecessary expense or from getting outright scammed. If I wanted to do so, I could make consumer protection a full-time job, but I enjoy writing and editing and not trying to serve as a moral compass for this industry. First, it’s too spread out; and, second, I don’t know that much.

Today’s article is about another misunderstood form of punctuation, the ellipsis, which is often misused in its own way the same as the parentheses.

The Correct Use of the Ellipsis

One of the most misunderstood and therefore misused forms of punctuation is the ellipsis. It’s erroneously applied so often that it falls into the same category as the parentheses, which teeters at the top of the bungled punctuation list and is seldom dislodged except by the ellipsis as the chief syntax violator.

First, the Definition of the Ellipsis As It Pertains to Language defines an ellipsis as the omission from a sentence or other construction of one or more words that would complete or clarify the construction. The second meaning is a mark or marks as —-, …, or * * *, to indicate an omission or suppression of letters or words. (Note the triple em dash as the first mark, which is almost never used today.) I ask, does it say anywhere that an ellipsis indicates a pause?

Romance Genre Writers Created Their Own Meaning for the Ellipsis

Seriously, anyone who reads romances can easily assume that “. . .” means a pause, which is unfortunately a horrible influence on a great many writers who are interested in crafting correct syntax. Does this really matter? I’m hardly the one to imply ellipsis misuse does or doesn’t have importance, but the use of the mark should be understood so it can be placed accurately as a tool in proper syntax.

Where Does It End?

Here’s a sentence of dialogu