The Perfect Write® Newsletter Archives
(May 24, 2011 – January 8, 2013)

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 (http://theperfectwrite.com/category/articles/) or my Web site at theperfectwrite.com (http://theperfectwrite.com/home/) 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 (http://theperfectwrite.com/category/articles/), there are currently more than 60 topics that deal with writing at a publishable level.

To complement each Newsletter, I try to 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 in this instance as such, and the answer is that I generally don’t have the time to do a thorough job, which requires copyediting also.  And the reason I don’t pass on my free opening-chapters critiques to my copyeditor is because I’d have to pay her for this service.

Copyediting 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 95 percent of the standard miscues, but there are aspects of copyediting that require a different set of eyes.

Should anyone wonder how intricate copyediting can be, should I write that a room is 10′ x 10′ or that someone weighs 210 lbs? If a person thinks either should be written as I just wrote it, a copyeditor 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 (http://robertlbacon.blogspot.com/2011/05/barry-flynn-opening-chaper-critique-by.html) 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://
robertlbacon.blogspot.com/2011/04/love-thy-neighbor-by-maureen-cbropening.htmland) you can click the link to see the way I designed 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” (http://theperfectwrite.com/print-demand-pod-publishing-selfpublishing-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” (http://theperfectwrite.com/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 (http://www.publishersmarketplace.com/lunch/subscribe.html), 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

Harlequin

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, bookish.com, 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.
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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” (http://theperfectwrite.com/write-perfect-8-hints-properly-format-manuscript-agents-publishers/).

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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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 theperfectwrite.com or through the links I provide. In the past Newsletter I highlighted an accomplished piece, BARRY FLYNN (http://robertlbacon.blogspot.com/2011/05/barry-flynn-opening-chaper-critique-by.html), 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 (http://robertlbacon.blogspot.com/2011/05/other-side-of-happy-opening-chapter.html), 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 (http://robertlbacon.blogspot.com/2011/05/other-side-of-happy-opening-chapter.html), along with BARRY FLYNN (http://robertlbacon.blogspot.com/2011/05/barry-flynn-opening-chaper-critique-by.html) 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? (http://theperfectwrite.com/critique-groups-pros-cons/), 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,” (http://theperfectwrite.com/isbn-system-explained/) 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:
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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®
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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 EzineArticles.com 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 theperfectwrite.com, 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.
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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.

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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®
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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.
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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®
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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:
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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:
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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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com, 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:
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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®
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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 DigitalBookWorld.com that some of you might find beneficial: Has the Price of E-Books Really Increased? | Digital Book World http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/has-the-price-of-e-books-really-increased/#ixzz1gcmTzEdE.

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?
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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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com, 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 shelfstealers.com 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:
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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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com, 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:
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com. 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 offthebookshelf.com 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 offthebookshelf.com 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 offthebookshelf.com 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.
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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®
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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 (http://theperfectwrite.com/home/). 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 Shelfstealers.com 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 Shelfstealers.com 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.

Shelfstealers.com 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 Shelfstealers.com. And the company splits the net profit with the writer and will provide the actual invoices from vendors to document expenses. The only thing Shelfstealers.com 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 Shelfstealers.com 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.
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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®
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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 Shelfstealers.com 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 Shelfstealers.com 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.
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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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com 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.
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com 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.
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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®
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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.
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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 Dictionary.com: “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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com, 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
By BEN YAGODA

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.

Or

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.”
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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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com, 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 atwww.theoraclebone.com.

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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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com–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.
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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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com 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.
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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.
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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®
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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 theperfectwrite.com 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.
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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

Dictionary.com 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 dialogue I pulled from LaVyrle Spencer’s romance novel HUMMINGBIRD: “Well, the truth is . . . because you’re a . . . a maiden lady.” Huh? In reality, these three dots should each signify missing words. But missing what words? “Well, the truth is you’re a big, ugly tramp because I assure you that you’re as far a cry as Heidi Fleiss from a, a maiden lady.” Or should it read, “Well, the truth is that you’re more than just a pretty face, because you’re even more special as a, a maiden lady.”

What’s Wrong With Allowing the Dialogue To Speak For Itself?

“Well, the truth is, because you’re a, a maiden lady,” doesn’t read a bit different to me from the run with the two ellipses. But if the author felt so compelled to indicate a pause(s), wouldn’t interior monologue have been a better choice than the dual ellipses? For example: “Well, truth is.” The old doc scratched his ragged whiskers. “Because you are.” He stopped again, as if to search for help, but it never came. “A, a maiden, lady”

Use the Ellipsis to Indicate an Omission, Not a Pause

“She did do it, but she. . . I just can’t tell you the rest,” is overstating the point, but it’s an instance in which an ellipsis is the correct way to write the passage. An ellipsis denotes missing words, not a pause in the text, regardless of whether it’s dialogue or exposition.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 89
The Incorrect Use of the Dash
(September 25, 2012)


Hello Everyone,

And welcome to the latest edition of The Perfect Write® Newsletter, which is broadcast every other Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST, and rebroadcast for those who missed it on the “off-Tuesday” of each week at the same time. A writer from Singapore was added to the subscriber base during the past two weeks, so now my Newsletter is received by authors in 35 counties. I’m quite proud of this, but particularly gratified with the percentage of subscribers who open each edition and consistently click the links I post. I’m able to receive statistics on a myriad of subsets, and who opens the Newsletters and what links are clicked are two of the components that help me track the effectiveness (or lack of it, ha ha) of what I’m presenting.

I want to take a moment to discuss confidentiality as it applies to my subscriber base. Of greatest importance, my list of Newsletter subscribers is 100 percent proprietary and not disseminated to anyone or company–and it never will be. Yes, some Newsletter subscribers are able to contact one another, but this is only if one individual has referred the other to my Newsletter service and they communicated between themselves regarding this. Some folks have also developed a contact network of other Newsletter subscribers via Facebook, but this was done solely at their discretion.

Additionally, no material anyone has sent me has ever been–or will ever be–posted on my Critique Blog or in my Newsletter without the written consent of the author. I have an e-mail document reconstituted in hard copy in my file from each and every writer who has ever given me permission to post material. I value each Newsletter subscriber’s privacy as much as I do my own, and will protect each of our interests in this regard covetously. I might also add that I have confidentiality agreements in place with a sizable number of my clients, and I will gladly agree to this with anyone who seeks my editing or query-writing services. I realize this is perhaps boring to many folks, but I can’t stress how important this is to those of us who have worked so hard to craft our material, which is indeed intellectual property–and should be protected as such.

Several subscribers asked me to specifically (and succinctly) define a fused participle, which I discussed toward the end of my article on gerunds and gerund phrases that accompanied the prior Newsletter. I hate when people write about a topic, yet omit a line that clearly defines the meaning of the subject, and I apologize to all of you for this laxity on my part. But it wasn’t easy to find a simple statement to address this issue until I ultimately located an article written by William Safire for the New York Times, which he wrote in February of 1994. And it’s spot on: “Grammar-destroying participle fusion takes place when a noun or pronoun is not made possessive before a gerund.”

I’m notorious for writing these bad boys, and why I employ a world-class copyeditor to look over my shoulder. Because even W. H. Fowler, the famed rigid grammarian who is credited with renaming the “false participle” the “fused” version, readily admits to “probably using them all over the place” in his everyday speech. I was rather surprised to read that anyone as strict about grammar as Mr. Fowler would ever acknowledge his being normal, but it furthers the axiom as to why authors should be given wide latitude when writing dialogue. Especially since even those who are considered bastions of English speak with substantially less formality than the way they write.

I hope this clarifies the “fused participle,” and I always not only invite but encourage Newsletter subscribers to ask for additional information if something I write is not clear, or if any of you would like to present an opposing view. If I feel it’s valid I’ll certainly present your position. And while I’m mentioning subscribers “adding” to material I’ve provided, recent Newsletter-subscriber Josh Truxton suggested I mention the dash as another instance of punctuation that is commonly misapplied to indicate a pause. This is certainly accurate, and while I’ve written an article on the different forms the dash can take (Newsletter Volume 34, from August of 2010) and also posted a paper on my Web site that focuses on punctuation misuse (the parentheses in particular) in which that material also explains deploying the dash for emphasis, I decided to address the dash exclusively in an article accompanying this broadcast. So my thanks to Josh for providing the impetus for the paper.

I generally write Newsletter articles in blocks several months in advance, but I’m running low on topics and this is the reason for the quick turnaround on Josh’s area of interest. Any subscribers who have ideas for articles are enthusiastically encouraged to contact me by e-mailing me at [email protected] Just please review the Articles Page on my Web site at theperfectwrite.com to make certain I haven’t recently written about the identical subject. As I’ve just stated, I’m not averse to repeating or adding to previous material, but I want to avoid writing about something I’ve just discussed.

Among major authors, who edits whom is always a topic for discussion. Most franchise fiction writers never credit a line-editor or a copyeditor. The editor credits generally go to the editor/publisher, and some early-stage writers assume this is a person who physically edits the writer’s material. This is not to say this doesn’t happen, but most often, especially if the editing is extensive, the publisher will employ an outside editor, such as I also alluded to in my previous Newsletter. I bring up editing at the publishing level because Michael Pietsch is looking for an editor to work with James Patterson whom the author “will enjoy working with and trust.” Mr. Pietsch should know what sort of individual he’s seeking, since he’s edited for Mr. Patterson for years.

The point of all of this is that a franchise author receives treatment far beyond that of the average writer. If a regular Joe or Jill submitted a draft in the condition I have to believe Mr. Patterson’s team provides, I think it’s fair to believe it would be rewarded with a fast rejection slip. For any of you who aren’t aware, for some time now Mr. Patterson has written very little beyond an outline of his books, and he hands this off to someone within his stable of “associate” writers to finish. This is how someone “writes” a book every 30 to 45 days. I’m going to surmise that raw drafts are submitted on a monthly basis–a year or so advance–for an editor to work on who is employed by the publisher. If this seems unfair, as I also indicated recently, Mr. Patterson is purportedly the industry’s highest paid producer (notice I’m not saying writer), and his income for last year was estimated at more than $90 million.

In the world of more mind-boggling book sales statistics, 50 SHADES OF GREY has now sold 30 million copies for Random House–in English alone. And anyone reading Bertelsmann’s balance sheet (Random House’s parent company in Germany) doesn’t have to be a PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant to see the impact this book has had on the publisher’s balance sheet. This sort of issue always brings me to a conversation I had with a major book agent for whom I have great respect and admiration, but who told me I was misinformed when I mentioned it seemed that all publishers were interested in was the next “big book,” and little else. I don’t know where this agent’s mind was that day, and I’m not going to reveal her name so that she’ll keep taking my phone calls, ha ha, but I can only point to the extant documentation that supports my contention.

And I firmly believe this is why so few new authors are signed each year. It’s fast getting to the stage if it hasn’t been reached already–without a following to begin with–the row is even harder to hoe. As if it could be any more difficult for a writer to break in with a bona fide imprint! This is why I’m constantly stressing the importance of marketing oneself in every legitimate way possible–before, during, and after finishing a book. To support this further, Publishers Lunch subscribers who read the “Daily Deals” likely noticed that 17 -year-old online sensation Abigail Gibbs’s debut novel, THE DARK HEROINE: DINNER WITH A VAMPIRE, a serial that she began publishing on Wattpad.com when she was 15–and has been viewed more than 17 million times–was sold to to Amy McCulloch and Erika Tsang at Harper, in what was described as a “significant two-book deal.” So I guess vampires really don’t ever die! Just know that 17 million hits will guarantee a publishing deal with a major imprint for anybody. And it’s so easy to accomplish. Of course it is. Just as it was to sell 81 million copies of THE DA VINCI CODE or the 450 million copies of the HARRY POTTER series that have been printed in 73 languages. Incidentally, I will buy J.K. Rowling’s THE CASUAL VACANCY when it hits the bookshelves on September 27. How can anyone resist?

The book settlement by five of the Big 6 publishing conglomerates iis finally complete. Customers will be eligible to receive mighty credits (or checks) for $1.32 per each bestseller purchased, 36 cents for each regular front-list title, and 25 cents for each backlist title. As to the price-fixing charges that are being refuted with great ceremony by the three of the Big 6 publishers involved in the suit, the judge ruled that “a fear of competition is not grounds for price fixing.” I don’t think the troika had its position advanced much when the principal representing the group sent the judge his latest contention in cartoon form. Talk about kicking a bear in its den–and this one (judge Cote) is far from asleep. I have zero personal reasons for what I’m about to state, but I don’t see how any group cannot expect repercussions when it sets up pricing tiers and claims it’s not collusion.

Conversely, I don’t see how Amazon can price bestsellers below cost and not be considered practicing predatory pricing. Perhaps the diametrical nature of both explanations I just provided will give subscribers who might not be following these cases closely–but yet know of their existence–a clearer idea of what each entails. As to the price-fixing side of this, it seems cut and dried to me, and the judge is spot-on in her assessment of what transpired. And as to the situation Amazon has created for itself, as I wrote in an earlier Newsletter, I believe the firm can solve the problem in its entirety if it should go ahead and buy books from the publishers and not accept them on consignment. It’s highly unlikely (read “impossible”) this will ever occur, but if I correctly interpreted the ruling from the King v. West Bend case I cited, the predatory contention would be negated even though the plaintiff’s argument would remain intact.

Now for today’s article on dashes:
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The Incorrect Use of the Dash

The dash is indeed one of the most valuable forms of punctuation writers have at their disposal. But it’s misused in a way that’s diminished its value. First and foremost, it must be understood that the most common form of dash, referred to as an em dash, is formed by two hyphens contiguous to one another; or, via today’s word-processing programs, a single line approximately twice the length of a hyphen. Regardless of the configuration, both are defined as an em dash.

The Different Forms of Dashes

THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE (Edition 14), in sections 5.105 through 5.119, lists the various forms of dashes: the en dash, the em dash, the 2-em dash, and the 3-em dash. These sections in TCMOS also explain the various uses for the dash, but before discussing the one definition that causes the most problems, it’s important to detail the numerous styles for this punctuation and their suggested applications in standard prose.

The En Dash

The en dash should be slightly longer than a hyphen, but before word processing most typewriters only allowed for a hyphen to substitute for this particular dash. En dashes have manifold uses, including connecting numbers to dates, time, or other reference numbers: 2002-12; 10:00 a.m.-12:00 noon; and pages 14-23. But, and this is confusing, we usually see these examples I just cited via a dash that doesn’t often seem different from a standard hyphen, the latter which you see in these examples because I don’t use en or em dashes in their proper configurations because of the problems they can cause for word-processing software, which I’ll explain later in this article (it pertains primarily to the em dash).

En dashes also supplant the hyphen if one element of a compound adjective is open ended (what a horrible mishmash of rhetoric), which means there is a Chicago-New York train and a post-World War II era as examples. Please note that in both of these examples I also used a single hyphen to indicate an en dash. As I stated in the prior paragraph in this section, in correct typeset the en dash should be slightly longer than a hyphen. Technically, en dash should equal to the width of the “n” in the typeset of the material in which it is used. Under the same parameters, the em dash should be the length of the letter “m.”

Applications for the Em Dash

Em dashes are used for amplifying. TCMOS offers a subtitle that states the em dash is also used for “explanatory and digressive elements.” I believe that most writers would be safe to stick with “emphasize,” as to me the other definitions are ambiguous. Simply, em dashes are used to set off material a writer wants to highlight for a reader: “John got up–it was the first time he had moved out of bed all day.”

Em dashes are also used in tandem around phrases a writer wants to emphasize: “John got out of bed–the first time he had moved all day–but soon went right back under the covers.” If commas were used instead of dashes, the reference to John’s action wouldn’t create the same impression: “John got out of bed, the first time he had moved all day, but soon went right back under the covers.”

Em dashes are commonly and rightly used to indicate an interruption in conversation, and there are some other instances in which an em dash can be applied, but these are more than a little confusing for many writers, as this would encourage authors to abandon commas, semicolons, and colons, which I wouldn’t want to condone. But these options are explained in sections 5.108-5.110 of TCMOS, should anyone be interested, as well as in section 5.116.

The em dash has also been used instead of quotation marks by many noted writers that include the likes of James Joyce and William Faulkner in their ranks, and in more recent years Charles Frazier of COLD MOUNTAIN fame. But unless an author can write like Joyce or Faulkner or Frazier, I’d eschew this technique when creating dialogue and stick with quotation marks..

The 2-Em Dash and the 3-Em Dash

The 2-em dash is used to signify missing letters in a word, such as in “What the h—-l are you talking about?” This can be via two sets of hyphens as illustrated in the example or two long em dashes as provided by word-processing software.

The 3-em dash is used to signify missing words, such as in “What in —— were you thinking?” This can be created with three sets of two hyphens, again contiguous to one another, or three single-line em dashes. Note that if the 3-em dash is used there should be a space before and after.

Both of these forms of punctuation are seldom used today, but they are correct and can certainly be placed in prose, as necessary.

So Where’s the Misuse of the Dash?

The best must be saved for last, and once again TCMOS provides a resource for the confusion. Section 5.106, next to its subtitle, “Sudden Breaks and Abrupt Changes,” reads: “A dash or pair of dashes is used to denote a sudden break in thought that causes an abrupt change in sentence structure.” TCMOS provides a series of examples, with the first one coming the closest to the definition: “‘Will he–can he–obtain the necessary signatures?’ Mills asked pointedly.” (Yes, TCMOS’s example included the grotesquely unnecessary adverb attribute.)

The definition in this subsection in TCMOS allows wide latitude and the impression that a dash can be used to indicate a pause in the narrative. Indeed, a dash can pause text, but it still accentuates–and that’s the rub. If a writer desires a pause, should a mark designed for emphasis be used? It can’t work both ways, and writers must understand that for all of a dash’s numerous varieties and multitude of uses, a pause is not one of them. And in no reference manual I could find does it state that a dash pauses text to indicate missing words, only that words were omitted. This is the difference. When dashes are used, words are skipped and the narrative continues, whether it’s dialogue or exposition. Nothing is paused.

I apologize that it took so long to get to the point of this article, but I felt it necessary to cover the dash’s various uses so there wouldn’t be any confusion regarding my contention and everyone would have an understanding of how I arrived at my position on the misuse of this important form of punctuation.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 90
The Meaning of the Ablative Absolute
(October 9, 2012)


Hello Everyone,

And a special welcome to the latest subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter, which is written with the objective of providing information on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years as a novelist and the past several years as both a writer and an editor. As a
complement to each broadcast, I always include an article that pertains to writing prose at a level which would appeal to a major royalty publisher or quality independent press, or to the industry itself.

I’m always seeking topics to write about, so if you review the Articles Page on my Web site at theperfectwrite.com and don’t see your area of interest, by all means drop me a note at [email protected] And if I don’t have personal experience or knowledge of the subject, I’ll contact people within the publishing industry whom I’ve come to know and respect and who can provide an accurate response.

I’ve often mentioned that I unfortunately don’t have time for social networking. And for this reason I’m always apologizing for not answering requests for “friending,” “tweets,” and a plethora of other such things. If I devoted the time necessary to develop a social-media presence, I’m certain this would be a full-time job in its own right. However, I do try to look at everything other writers bring to my attention, and I recently noticed something on LinkedIn that I want to mention to Newsletter subscribers, as it dovetails with my recent broadcast in which I railed against the current state of book reviewing.

In that edition of my Newsletter, I made it clear that there’s nothing wrong with an honest 3-star review. First, it places the book well above the norm, and very few stories ever attain 4-star status, let alone the stratospheric 5-star rating that I feel should be reserved for the classics and contemporary works such as GONE WITH THE WIND, THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE (written by Evan Hunter, who created the 57TH PRECINCT series under the Ed McBain pseudonym), THE DA VINCI CODE (my apologizes to any “disparagers,” but my infatuation lies with its pacing, which in my opinion raised the bar to a new level), the first HARRY POTTER story (the best opening I’ve ever read), and my personal sleeper as a 5-star entry, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, a narrative I found flawless in every respect. My position is that if a work matches any of what I just described, I’ll be happy (read “ecstatic) to provide one of the loftier ratings.

The problem is that ratings have become a cottage industry for people who have either no conscience or are downright dishonest, and this chicanery is making much of the process a sham. However, there might be a ray of hope via the “Books and Writers” category in LinkedIn. I noticed a number of references to people who are considered quality reviewers and whose opinions aren’t vendible (or so it appears). If LinkedIn is networked meticulously, perhaps an underground of legitimate reviewers and review mediums can be created by and for writers who value accuracy and honesty. This hardly means that the author has to agree with a review, but it does provide a medium for legitimate feedback. What else can any of us ask for? I’m of course disappointed when an agent, submissions editor, or publisher doesn’t like something I’ve written, but I do look at the reason(s) for the dissent and learn from it (or them).

And while some contentions might indeed be based on whims predicated on the style of material the person is most comfortable with, I’ve learned to analyze any “concern,” as it’s made for a reason, regardless of its foundation. After the smoke clears, I always scrutinize any aspect of my narrative that was questioned. Sometimes I’ll revise text and sometimes I won’t, but anyone’s not-so-glowing comments always make me consider what I’d written, and I have to believe that adopting this methodology will make a person a better writer. But, yes, like all of us who receive rejections, I, too, at times wonder what book the person was reading, as it certainly couldn’t have been mine, ha ha. Seriously, it’s important to remember that agents and publishers are wanting to sign material; if they didn’t have this interest they wouldn’t be in the business. It’s a writer’s job to meet their demands, however recondite they might be to satisfactorily address.

To get back to the LinkedIn “Books and Writers” site that I believe might offer the opportunity for legitimate reviews, anyone clicking the link can also check out the other writing groups that are accessible through this platform. I have a business relationship or have personal knowledge of a substantial number of people on several other sites I’ve had the time to visit, and in the future I’ll share anything with Newsletter subscribers that appears to have potential and I’m confident is on the up and up. But for now, if you have the patience to weave through the links, you might find that LinkedIn offers bona fide options that could lead to quality exposure, regardless of the occasional post by someone who asks another “member” to go on Facebook and Twitter and cross-promote. This sort of tripe will never go away, but shouldn’t be confused with those writers who work in a sound and professional manner in an attempt to attract a readership. And authors want readers to read his or her books based on an honest assessment of the respective work, not someone else’s prattle.

Should subscribers accept my suggestion and start working with any of the LinkedIn book groups, please share your experiences with me. For good or bad, I’ll pass them on in future Newsletters, and if any of you have personal history with this sort of thing in other mediums that you’d like to discuss, by all means contact me and I’ll relate your comments to subscribers, in upcoming broadcasts. My point of all this is that there have to be honorable book reviewers “out there,” and if we can locate them I believe everyone involved will benefit. And if it requires a concentrated effort of substantial proportions to ferret them out, so be it.

I always recommend Brandi Kosiner’s Book Blog for YA material, so don’t hesitate to contact her if you’ve written something in this genre. I noticed recently that she’s even doing her reviews via a video format and placing them on You-Tube. Brandi’s site amasses 200-plus hits each day, and if a writer can become involved with a half-dozen reviewers with Brandi’s credibility, that author can’t help but gain traction. Click either this link or the other and take a peek at recent reviews by Brandi, and if you’ll scroll to the left side of the middle of the page, you can also watch a review of hers that’s presented on video. She’s one of my very favorite people in on the periphery of this industry, and I firmly believe that someday Brandi and those like her will be properly recognized for the outstanding service they provide.

Any Newsletter subscriber who feels that I might be really stretching for content if I’ve now resorted to writing an article on the ablative absolute–is right. So please, please send me some topics I can write about and attach to upcoming editions. I normally write articles in blocs around 90 days in advance, but I’m down to just a few subjects before I might have to resort to repeating material (just kidding, but I would appreciate help with new topics). For today’s bill of fare, here’s information some of you might not be familiar with unless you’ve had a couple of years of Latin (and unlike me didn’t sleep through most of the classes).
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The Ablative Absolute Defined

First, it’s not as big a bowel movement as it sounds. In simple terms, the ablative absolute is a thought, condition, or action that is separate–but modifies the meaning of the rest of the sentence.

I Thought You Said It Was Simple?

Okay, I’ll try again. The ablative absolute does not modify the subject in the sentence. It’s sometimes thought of as an adverbial phrase because it modifies the action of a verb, yet the ablative absolute can never be the subject of the sentence. Now it’s crystal clear, right?

It’s Clear As Mud

What can make it even muddier is that the phrase cannot be linked to any other part of the sentence, at least directly. This means that no preposition can introduce the phrase. Yet it implies an action caused by the main clause that pertains to time, condition, cause, or contention. And it’s also most often written in passive tense. Now it’s beyond muddy.

Ah, But There Is Light at the End of the Tunnel

The guests having left the party, Jill poured herself a stiff one. (Which is likely what many of you will want to do after reading this.) In the sentence preceding my silly parenthetical expression, the guests leaving have absolutely nothing to do syntactically with Jill pouring herself a strong drink.

Those of you who studied Caesar in the second year of Latin might remember “With Caesar’s army approaching the river, the enemy pulled up stakes and left.” In this example, “the enemy pulled up stakes and left” has zero to do directly with Caesar’s army approaching. Yes, it can be assumed this influenced the decision, but this is not expressed anywhere in the sentence.

You’ll also notice that most sentences containing an ablative absolute are written in passive tense, which I alluded to earlier. This can lead to some very awkward construction. And a good reason we don’t see this in much modern writing.

The Ablative Absolute Is a Phrase That a Noted Academic Describes as an Independent Subset

While the phrase is indeed “absolute” as to carrying its own meaning, there’s wide speculation as to how the word “ablative” evolved. Or at least I can’t determine its etymology, and I’ve searched far and wide for a definitive answer. What matters is that it’s one of those fun oddities in language that some of us who work in the medium find entertaining. Yes, we have to get our thrills where we can, and this was really exciting, don’t you know?

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 91
Don’t Give Away the Plot
(October 23, 2012)


Hello Everyone,

It’s been very hectic recently, but not for the normal reasons, as my best friend, who has been ill for some time, took a turn for the worse and passed away a little more than a week ago. He lived in South Florida, so I lost a couple of days work because of travel and staying over to be with him, and then another day to attend the funeral. Such is life as we all age, as there are births and deaths, but the latter is a tough one when we have so few really close friends. I’m of course off my schedule, and I apologize to any clients whose material I’m holding, but I worked throughout the weekend and I’m now only a day or so behind.

Now on to business. Whenever a writer earns an advance for a story, it’s easy to assume all is well. However, this is not always the case, and the recent Penguin lawsuits filed against a dozen or so authors who were paid advances but never published make this issue loud and clear. From what I’ve read about this, the sums ranged from $20,000 to $80,000, and these advances weren’t paid only to previously unpublished writers, which further complicates the matter. But what really makes this confusing is the contention that’s been stated in the press for not publishing the material and the opposing view of Robert Gottlieb, who runs Trident, one of the largest, most successful, and prestigious literary agencies in the business.

To get to the crux of the Penguin position, each of these authors didn’t submit the material for which the advances were paid (there’s more to it than this, but that seems to be the main argument). Yet Mr. Gottlieb states that the reasons for non-publication were solely unrelated to the publishability of the various works. One might ask how Mr. Gottlieb can speak for each of these author’s narratives, since the writers weren’t under contract to him (it’s never been stated that they were, so I’m assuming this), but before discarding his remarks it must be remembered that he was the CEO at Alfred A. Knopf and held the position with this illustrious publisher for many years. So I think its fair to imply that his industry credibility is hard to assail. But something still seems amiss to me, and I’m wondering if Mr. Gottlieb retains some long-standing resentment for Putnam (Penguin’s parent), as I don’t see, regardless of street cred, how anyone can speak for what has transpired at another company unless directly involved with that firm.

Mr. Gottlieb went on to say that his agency wouldn’t deal with any publisher that comported itself in the same way as Penguin (I’m paraphrasing, but he didn’t water down his ire so this is quite close). I found this remark extraordinary, and then as I read more of his release, there was nothing further about his understanding of why Penguin refused to pay the advances. However, to support his difference of opinion, it’s inconceivable to me that a dozen writers were paid advances and none of them submitted material. And only name authors would be compensated up front for an outline of a fiction manuscript, so that also adds more credence to his posture on this.

Here are a few other points I don’t understand: One, in the scheme of a major imprint, the total amount of money being contested is a few hundred thousand dollars, which is inconsequential at the level of a firm this size. Two, are these suits worth the bad publicity–irrespective of the legal fees if Penguin loses, which would likely exceed the total being sought? And, three, why would the firm want to alienate so many different segments of the industry? If both agents and writers become uninterested in providing material to the firm, isn’t that the kiss of death?

Regardless of just how inane all of this might appear to those or you who just read this, there’s one side of this that’s apparent, and it’s that some books are signed and don’t get published. And it’s crucial to make certain that the rules of engagement with any publisher are spelled out in no uncertain terms–and a reason why an attorney with specific experience within the industry should always be consulted before signing any contract with a publisher. Because when the honeymoon is over, it can be a very rocky marriage–and a divorce of THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES proportions.

  • To answer the obvious question regarding why some books for which advances have been paid aren’t published, here are some of the primary reasons:
  • A book is indeed not written well enough to pass muster with the publisher, and for whatever reason that imprint is not going to assume the expense of editing, either in-house or independently.
  • The narrative was time-sensitive and delivered late.
  • Too many books with the same theme flooded the market and the public’s interest has waned, and sales have slowed dramatically with each new offering.
  • A story with the identical plot (or very close to it) was released prior to another book’s scheduled release date, and the first book had poor sales.
  • A narrative, or some section of it, was discovered to be plagiarized,
  • In nonfiction, an aspect of the story is found to be fraudulent. Or in some cases the entire story is bogus.
  • The publisher goes out of business.

Other reasons exist, but I believe that’s a decent compendium of the short list. The main point of all this is to get with the right sort of legal counsel before signing any contract. It can cost a thousand to fifteen hundred dollars on average, but it’s a lot better to spend this money up front than five to ten times that later, and then perhaps still have to be responsible for repaying the advance. How sickening would that be for anyone who experienced the joy of having a book signed by a royalty publisher?

I commented at length in the previous Newsletter about the benefits I felt a writer could derive from “working” LinkedIn. Here’s a link to a new reviewer, Kaz Silvestri (Karen Hamilton Silvestri), whose reviews are republished on Amazon, Goodreads, and sometimes on her own blog. LinkedIn has many of these opportunities available if authors will make the effort to seek them. I found her as a result of signing up on LinkedIn to become a member of “The Fiction Writers Guild.” In my opinion, any writer not taking advantage of reviews by bona fide reviewers is missing out (read “throwing away”) a legitimate opportunity to gain traction for a work. And if Newsletter subscribers with books ready for market will click this link to L.A. Review, the submission criteria for this site are available. Yes, some requirements might be daunting, but every writer can reach a comfort zone with respect to whom to submit material. Shelf Awareness is another solid site that reviews books, so many of you might want to check its submission guidelines in the “Contact Us” section.

Anyone who has read my tripe for any period of time knows that I’m not a proponent of self-publishing, and that my rationale deals primarily with the inordinate number of scams that are out there and not with seeing one’s work in print. I recently read an article on self-publishing by a published author and the reason why he chose this path, which was because his publisher, Random House, missed a plug–one he received from Oprah no less–by seven weeks. Yikes, that’s a light year in the world of memory span for most of us! So he went out on his own. But before jumping at this idea, it’s important to keep in mind that this author is already published and has a following. These facts shift the equation exponentially from someone who’s unknown except to friends and family.

I’m continuing to receive comical responses to my article on gerunds and gerund phrases. One subscriber wrote me that “gerund” sounded like the name of some Klingon’s son. Another said it reminded her of a condiment. My favorite was from a woman in Iowa who said it was tantamount to what she squealed when she called her hogs at the top of her lungs. Regardless of the connotation, it always pleases me when one of my articles creates interest.

Please do yourselves a favor and peruse Publishers Lunch to see who’s publishing what. More than half my clients have me editing YA material, and it’s a great choice because currently the genre is on fire.

As to today’s article, I thought I’d spend some time on a subject that’s seldom discussed, and it’s giving away too much of the plot via either a prologue, narrative that alerts the reader about what is to come, or cliffhangers gone awry.
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Like Fine Wine, Don’t Reveal Plot Elements Before Their Time

I’m often telling my clients not to write prologues if they reveal too much of the actual story, but to write this material into the narrative as backstory if it’s deemed that important to the setup. This advice is most assuredly industry driven and not some wild bias on my part. Yet even with the admonishment, writers often feel they must “prepare” the reader for what is to come even though this is clearly seldom a good idea.

First, Preparation Is Generally Unnecessary

Readers commonly don’t require as much guidance as authors might think, as they’re more than capable of figuring out things without a helping hand. They certainly don’t need to know every detail of the millennium-long war between the Gribdons and Calgothians prior to starting with the main narrative.

Second, Telling What’s To Come Takes Away from the Suspense

It’s sort of like reading the end of the story first. Anyone who’s ever done this, and I don’t know who hasn’t for one reason or another, has essentially destroyed the reading experience for that particular work. So if a writer is aware of the problems inherent with exposing what is to come, would it make the best sense to tell the reader that a particular event is about to occur?

Third, Eliminate the Conflict, Eliminate the Story

Exposing story elements also eliminates or drastically reduces conflict, and what is any plot without this component? The more heightened the conflict–and the intrigue this creates–the better the chances are that the reader will remain engaged in the narrative. If there is one “given” to good storytelling, this is it.

Hints Are Okay; Telling Too Much Isn’t

And that’s the key. I personally enjoy a story with well-crafted cliffhangers. The millions of people who read James Patterson’s oeuvre apparently do also, as his cliffhangers “juice” many of his thin plots. But a cliffhanger shouldn’t explain what is to happen, or even worse describe an event that doesn’t take place.

Never Foretell a Scene That Doesn’t Occur

Bogus setups remind me of the serials from the ’30s and ’40s that showed the hero or heroine in the throes of imminent death, only to learn in the next reel that nothing close to the peril in the preceding scene had occurred. I always felt cheated, sometimes so much so that I gave up on that series. My advice is to avoid anything that comes close to this sort of gross impropriety.

Remember, Even a Little of What Is Explained Beforehand Will Go a Long Way

Regardless of just how much foreshadowing an author might want to provide for an upcoming plot element, a little goes a long way toward lessening the reading experience. So, unless the writer is highly skilled at crafting “teasers,” it’s best to let the natural progression of the story play out without any peripheral prodding.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 92
What Publishers Consider When Assessing Material (November 6, 2012)


Hello Everyone,

I want to express my sincerest appreciation to each of you who offered condolences for the passing of my wonderful friend. The past couple of weeks have been a more difficult time than I could ever have imagined, and your kindness greatly eases my discomfort. Again, thank you so much.

On a very happy note, I just passed the century mark for articles that pertain to writing or the publishing industry which I’ve posted on my Web site. Consequently, I no longer have to say that scores of my articles are available at theperfectwrite.com, since there are currently more than 100 (102, to be exact, as of today) which can be assessed via the Articles Page. When I began posting to my site, I figured it would end up with a dozen or so topics and that would be it.

I bring this up because I’ve noticed, due to the sheer volume, that the articles have become a chore to navigate. And even though the Search box is activated, there can still be issues, especially if multiple articles are listed that involve a specific topic. So as soon as I can set aside the time to attend to this properly, I’m going to restructure the titles so they’re alphabetized by subject matter. The current “The Correct Use of the Comma” will read “Comma Usage, What is Correct and What Isn’t,” and “How Not to Begin Dialogue” will be something along the lines of “Dialogue Writing, and How Not to Begin Its Syntax.” And since there are several articles related to the more popular topics such as “Tips for Finding a Literary Agent,” each subset will be clearly delineated.

As I’ve mentioned many times in my Newsletter, I’m an unabashed J. K. Rowling junkie, as I think she’s beyond brilliant both as a writer and a personality, the latter which she seldom displays publicly because she’s a very private person. With all the kooks out there, and since she’s been listed as the richest woman in Great Britain, I can see why. If you’d like to view what I found to be a fabulous interview with Ms. Rowling, click this link to The Daily Show and her discussion with Jon Stewart. It runs eight-and-a-half minutes, and the first half of this involves writing. This section is what I’m recommending to Newsletter subscribers, as she provides marvelous insight into writing heroes and villains, among other things. She’s sold more books in the U.S. except for the Bible, so I don’t think I’m being grandiose to imply that she’s a person whose words are worth listening to.

I read that e-book sales were pegged at $768 million for the first six months of this year, which is greater than a 50 percent increase from the 2011 numbers during the same period ($504 million). E-books made up about 25 percent of all trade sales, with the digital totals developed from 1200 e-book publishers (that’s not a misprint; it really is 1200). I’ve even noticed more and more individuals with decent self-publishing sales establishing their own publishing companies. As everyone receiving my Newsletter at the time will remember, this was a major plank in my MARKETING YOUR BOOK From A To Z platform.

And The Espresso Book Machine (this link takes you to a great video for this device) makes the print side of the equation easier than ever. My only additional suggestion is to spend the $200 or so with booknook.biz and let this company format your draft so it doesn’t come out as a garbled mess, which it likely will for the first few copies anyhow until the the machine itself is tweaked. But on the aggravation meter, this might be the best 200 bucks any writer can spend, plus your book will be correctly formatted for Kindle and Nook, which control more than 90 percent of the e-market.

Anyone can click the links for the information on each element I mentioned, except for the MARKETING YOUR BOOK From A To Z material, which you’ll need to e-mail me at [email protected] and request, as this information is proprietary and available only to Newsletter subscribers.

Many Newsletter subscribers have expressed an interest in learning about self-publishing successes so they can attempt to replicate these deeds (notice how affirmatively I wrote this). According to Barnes & Noble, Barbara Freethy has sold more than one million of her Romances via the booksellers PubIt! e-book self-publishing medium. Again, keep in mind that Ms. Freethy is a well-established (very well-established) author, and while she self-published 3 original stories, 17 of her backlist (previously published and still in print) titles were also sold by way of PubIt!. The sales weren’t broken down by title, so it’s impossible to know which book sold what volume, and the public also wasn’t told the time frame for reaching the one-million milestone. Regardless, to me what’s really significant about this is that these were all e-book sales.

As reported in Publishers Marketplace, the statistics are now available for self-published works for 2011, and I’m positive the 2012 numbers will reach well beyond this. But the snail’s pace at which this data is developed means this year’s tally won’t be ready until this time in 2013 (I know, it’s ridiculous). R.R. Bowker, which is the only bona fide source for ISBNs in the States, indicated that self-published print books composed 36 percent of all “traditional” sales in 2011. However, Bowker’s latest report places the total at 148,424 printed self-published books for the reporting period (last year) and this equates to 43 percent of the “traditional” output. Remember, this is for print and not digital formats.

The self-publishing category leaders for printed books were CreateSpace @ 58,412, Author Solutions @ 47,094, Smashwords @ 40,608, and Lulu @ 38,005. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2012 numbers are 50 percent greater. Add the one million-plus new e-book titles to this and it’s a no-brainer to see that–without marketing–expecting book sales for an e-published work in any medium is tantamount to finding the Holy Grail. (As to the meaning of “traditional,” my guess is that it refers to books published by a third party and not self-self published work.)

I’m always suggesting to clients, as I just advised one last week, to scour Publishers Marketplace for listings of new agents, and to also search for agents who have recently had success in the genre in which that author writes. I’m certain most everyone has heard of Jodi Reamer, Stephenie Meyer’s agent at Writer’s House. But what many folks might not know is that Ms. Reamer was new to agenting at the time, and TWILIGHT was the very first book she placed. In this case, with Little, Brown and Company for a reported $750,000 advance (for a three-book deal), the most ever paid by the firm to an author who had never been published previously by a major imprint.

The moral of this is obvious, as new agents can indeed place books. Paula Munier, a new agent (but with vast experience in other aspects of the publishing business) at Talcott Notch Literary Agency found a home for Shannon Stoker’s debut work THE REGISTRY with William Morrow and Company. It too was a six-figure, three-book deal, with THE REGISTRY scheduled for publication in 2013. Again, a six-figure deal for both a previously unpublished writer (by a major house) and someone with no prior experience in the industry at the agent level.

I have a particular interest in seeing Talcott Notch succeed, as the founder of the agency, Gina Panettieri, received one of the most savage and unrelenting hatchet jobs of all time back in 2004 by one of the self-proclaimed stewards of the publishing industry. I haven’t got the time, nor do I want to acknowledge the lunacy that occurred, as the attempt by the ringleader and co-conspirator (I can’t think of a better word to describe the partner’s involvement in this debacle) to discredit Ms. Panettieri was–by the overwhelming preponderance of the evidence presented–unfounded, and still disgusts me to this day. And I couldn’t be more delighted than to read that Ms. Panettieri’s agency landed this significant project.

Several Newsletter subscribers recently asked me to explain why as an editor I would turn down a project. This is something that’s worth bringing to the attention of anyone who might be considering editing services, as I believe many editors feel the same as I do about the issues that would cause them to pass on work.

My first red flag is always if I don’t like the subject matter. I won’t take on material with vulgarity that doesn’t fit the characters or the storyline, gratuitous violence, and graphic sex that’s not reflective of the genre, and I’m not going to accept work that supports pedophilia or incest. The latter two topics are obvious, but this doesn’t mean I wouldn’t work with a writer who is disparaging either subject in a police thriller or some such literary vehicle.

The second red flag is just as important, and it’s if I believe I won’t get along with the author for some reason. Aggressive writers turn me off, and by aggressive I’m referring to those who think they are great authors, and editors are little more than a necessary nuisance. I’ve found these people rarely accept criticism well, and what I normally receive is a long retort to every remark I make about their text. No editor has time for this, and I remember trying to justify my writing to editors when I first started out. I don’t know how any of them put up with me, and I’m dead serious about this. Don’t do it! It’s one thing to ask questions, as every writer should discuss issues at any time with his or her editor, but it’s a horse of a different color to take literary criticism as a personal affront and challenge everything that’s suggested to improve a manuscript.

The third and final red flag involves material that’s beyond revision and would essentially require ghostwriting the entire piece to get it to what’s deemed a publishable level. It’s one issue to touch up a client’s manuscript, and sometimes this does include restructuring substantial aspects of a narrative, especially when eliminating plot holes, but writing each line from scratch is not part of what I do.

I hope this lends some clarity as to why I’d refuse material, but there are also times when I’ve got too much in my queue and know I can’t get to a writer’s work within a reasonable time frame for when the author expects the project to be completed. I hate it when this happens, but I pride myself on delivering what I promise when I say it will be finished, and there are only so many hours in each day.

In a prior Newsletter I addressed what agents and publishers look for when assessing material. But a substantial number of subscribers have asked about publishers specifically, so today’s article deals just with them.
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What Publishers Consider When Assessing Material

Overwhelmingly, publishers are an honorable lot. And I firmly believe that the very first consideration for most is the literary value of any work they’re considering for publication. Yet even though I’m confident this is an accurate assessment, would any publishing house refuse TWILIGHT or FIFTY SHADES OF GREY once its readership was established?

What’s the Norm?

For the sake of the integrity of this article’s topic, let’s assume we aren’t discussing what surrounds one mega blockbuster that comes out every three years or so and controls the bottom line of a major publisher or even its parent company. Instead, let’s consider the industry based on a manuscript presented by a writer who’s trying to gain a foothold.

The Market for the Story Will Be High on the Agenda

If the draft appears patently readable (this isn’t a joke), the initial consideration often gets down to market. This isn’t always from a dollar-driven perspective but relates to the specific market to which this house sells its books. The key to this is the word “specific,” since each publishing group’s marketing operation has generally spent years (read “decades”) working to brand its various imprints.

I’ve mentioned Pinnacle before, and since I’ve tried to write for the firm a couple of times and missed the mark for one reason or another, I can discuss what I experienced firsthand. Pinnacle wants a thriller with the murders described as they occur and in gruesome detail. The killer must also go after the story’s protagonist, and the latter must have a love interest that’s clear to the reader from the outset. Failure to deliver any of this and the narrative will be rejected. Hence, every imprint has a set of rigid guidelines that are inviolable.

A Publisher’s Comfort Zone Has To Be Recognized

Ask yourself, would a story sell to the New York market if written about an Amish buggy maker from Yoder, Kansas, who trades in his leather punch for a pair of handcuffs and travels the 30 miles to battle crime on the mean streets of Wichita every night? As silly as this might seem, I’ve experienced difficulty getting traction for a soon-to-retire criminal investigator from Florida who happens upon a serial murderer in rural Indiana.If the historical aspect of the story wasn’t absolutely paramount to the plot, I’d have moved this narrative’s setting to Long Island or outside of Philadelphia. Really! So, geography is another consideration.

It’s Crucial To Examine Exactly What an Imprint Publishes

If a publisher is strong with Historical Romances, for example, it’s hard to get a mystery accepted by the company even if the house might’ve published one or two in its oeuvre. And it’s particularly problematic if the mystery is written in a minimalist style, such as THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE or THE MALTESE FALCON. I know from experience that any thriller submitted to a publisher with definite Historical Romance underpinnings had better be quite strong on physical scene description, deep into introspective characterizations, and committed to layers of character dimension or the work won’t stand a chance. Of course it’s hard to pace a thriller adequately while providing service to each of the elements I just outlined, but a publisher’s comfort zone cannot be overestimated, and a writer had better adhere to what I’ll refer to as the “house rules” or his or her time will be wasted.

Once More, Will It Sell?

I read years ago that certain publishers would accept material to enhance their prestige, and I don’t doubt this was true then and remains a noble position that some continue to hold in high station. Yet many levels of personnel within the publishing industry say the “Will it sell?” mantra now trumps everything else and personal bias is even influenced by the same nettling concern. So if a book is not considered highly marketable, it’s doubtful in today’s crowded, corporately controlled environment that many literary works with limited commercial prospects will stand much of a chance. And this is especially true when the author, if previously published, has not achieved much success with a prior work. The sad realities are what they are, at least as I know them, and this is why many established authors are exploring alternatives to mainstream publishing.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 93
The Use of Interns and Subordinates to Evaluate Manuscript Submissions (November 20, 2012)


Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome the newest subscribers to my Newsletter, and I’m constantly flattered that so many folks find my material beneficial, as the service began 3 1/2 years ago solely as a means for providing information on writing fluent prose to budding authors who were recent “graduates” of a creative writing workshop series of mine that was sponsored by the Palm Beach County Library System. The Newsletter was transmitted to the 19 brave souls who participated in the programs, and all I offered initially was a monthly article pertaining to some aspect of writing, the publishing industry, or tips on how to secure an agent. I had no idea this would springboard to an every other Tuesday format that’s now broadcast to writers in 35 nations.

For reasons I don’t understand, and certainly don’t feel are justified, I’ve recently had a substantial number of subscribers from around the world suggest I compile my Newsletters and offer them in book form and offer this for sale. It’s also been proffered that I charge an annual fee for updates. While this might seem like a great idea, and I could certainly use the added income (who couldn’t? ha ha), there are many issues that would be difficult to surmount.

For one, I’d need to have everything outlined, collated, and with a comprehensive table of contents so topics could be readily accessed. I haven’t anywhere the free time necessary to do this myself, so I’d have to hire someone, and I’m not sure a third party would know what is important and that which isn’t. Another issue, however, concerns me more, and it’s that if I converted my Newsletter into a commercial enterprise, this might turn off a great many subscribers. The Perfect Write® Newsletter is the catalyst for augmenting my client base beyond any other medium, so I’m wary of upsetting the current equilibrium and its inherent momentum.

During any slow time during the holidays, I’m going to look at a fee-paid supplement and see if something makes sense. If I do present a fee-paid option, it will be just that, as I’ll likely lean toward what Michael Cader does with Publishers Marketplace. This means that I’ll continue to publish a free version of the Newsletter while offering a paid counterpart, the advantage to the latter being a comprehensive index of all Newsletters and updates related to the currency of information I’d posted previously.

The most important point of all this is that the Newsletter everyone is accustomed to receiving will remain in its current form, and nothing will show up only in the paid version. I’m thinking solely of the index idea, and a “catalog” of all past Newsletters might not be a bad proposition, so I’ll give this a hard look. But it will all get down to how much unencumbered time I’ll have during the holidays. Right now, it looks like zero, as in the past few days I scheduled four manuscripts to critique, and a manuscript to line-edit from a long-standing client (the latter material I won’t be able to begin until January). I normally don’t receive this volume of business at this time of year; so, as I remarked to one of my clients recently, maybe the economy really is improving. Let’s all hope so!

I want to mention something that my book agent, Tony Siedl, has begun in collaboration with Bob Guccioni (the son of the man by the same name who ran PENTHOUSE). Both men have partnered with Hudson News Group to publish what are called “Bookazines.” Each “Bookazine” will contain a half-dozen or so short stories in the 15,000 to 25,000-word range that are focused on a specific theme. These “Bookazines” will contain no advertising, hence why they are classified as bookazines and not magazines, and the very first edition is out now. Each work of fiction in this inaugural edition relates to Lincoln. If anyone should think this is rather propitious timing in relationship to the release of Steven Spielberg’s movie LINCOLN, this isn’t by happenstance.

In addition to a successful career as an agent, Tony has a long history in book marketing and distribution, and he’s one of the best-connected people I know in the publishing industry. The Hudson News relationship is emblematic of his business acumen. The firm has more than 450 airports and other public transportation centers, and they operate 70 full-service bookstores, plus they have reciprocal arrangements with Barnes & Noble, along with affiliations with CNN Bookstores, E News, Entertainment Weekly, and others (the parent company of the Hudson Group is a Swiss firmed named Dufry.)

As to Tony’s specific “Bookazine” article metric, each author of an accepted short story receives an average of $3,500, and I’ll let subscribers know about upcoming topics for which material will be desired. Tony and I played more than 150 rounds of golf together when we both lived in South Florida, so we have a friendship that extends beyond business, and if I read something a Newsletter subscriber writes that I believe fits what he’ll be looking for in the future, I’ll see that the material receives a fair hearing.

I hope many of you find this as exciting as I have, since Tony’s “Bookazine” should provide some lucky Newsletter subscribers with a chance to gain a foothold via a bona fide publisher. Do me a favor and stop off at a B&N, or a Hudson News outlet if you’re in an airport, and pick up a copy of the “Bookazine” with the LINCOLN title. Remember, what goes around comes around, and in this business more so than anything I’ve ever been involved with. Please let me know what you think about the “Bookazine” concept, and I’ll publish your comments as well as send them on to Tony.

While I’m on something other than novels, an outfit named BLURB offers anyone the ability to publish a single copy of a magazine, of from 20 to 240 pages, for $11. Seriously, any Newsletter subscriber can be the star of his or her own magazine for eleven bucks. No one could expect to make a profit at this level, but it enables a person to have a magazine with his or her byline, which for some people might seem like Valhalla.

Again on the print side, BLURB also has what it calls a blog-to-book feature, but it isn’t cheap. An 8-by-10 hardcover book with a custom dust jacket is priced between $30 and $80. The firm is attempting to compete with Lulu and iUniverse by offering features they don’t, including meta tags and metadata add-ons, but unless a book’s material is so exotic that it will automatically appeal to a huge audience seeking the specific subject matter, I can’t see this benefit.

To explain my remark, if any Newsletter subscriber’s work is listed with Ingram or Amazon or on any other major distributor’s list, type in a keyword or phrase that best identifies your material and see how many other titles crop up next to it. Then, become more keyword specific and keep whittling down the books competing with yours. When all the options are exhausted, and there are still 563 books identified by the same keywords as yours, the problem should be pretty clear. Readers have to know about you specifically before they can find your book. At the end of today’s Newsletter, I’m going to show how in a few days’ time any writer can become established in the blogasphere and begin receiving reviews–and even selling material.

I’ve often cited Jacques Barzun as one of the bastions of the English language. He’s revered in academic circles and by authors in every genre. His book SIMPLE & DIRECT is one of the best language primers I know of (yet anything but “simple and direct”), and over the years I’ve likely referred to it more often than the other 18 books on grammar on my reference shelf, combined. He forgot more about about correct syntax than I’ll ever know, and he passed away last week at the ripe old age of 104. No matter how much a person might know about the English language, I defy anyone to spend the 10 bucks with Amazon for a paperback copy of Dr. Barzun’s book and come back to me and say it didn’t offer education and perspective.

I’m a Joyce Carol Oates fan, and I keep DARK WATERS and ZOMBIE in my library. The first story is molded around the Chappaquiddick event and the second on Jeffrey Dahmer. But she can write anything and has a wonderful oeuvre of children’s books, nonfiction works, and essays to illustrate my point. I stumbled upon an old video of hers from 2007.

It contains a section around the two-minute mark that subscribers might enjoy, as it deals with developing characters and a way to accomplish this. Please pay particular attention to the timeline she discusses. Anyone watching the entire interview will also find Ms. Oates discussing character development in her novel THE GRAVEDIGGER’S DAUGHTER, and I found her thought processes fascinating.

Ms. Oates has a Ph.D. and currently teaches at Princeton, and for me her comments on technique are both reinforcing and illuminating. Also, if you go to this link, it breaks down her lecture into are a couple of dozen topics on writing. This enables anyone to access areas of interest without having to listen to the entirety of her video. She is one academician who can write creatively and fluently, and I highly recommend listening to what she has to say.

Recently, a client of mine contacted me about paying for a Kirkus Review for a self-published book. By coincidence, I was just discussing Kirkus with a publisher friend of mine, so I’ve decided to mention a few circumstances that Newsletter subscribers might want to be aware of. First of all, Kirkus Reviews are directed at retail booksellers and libraries, not the lay public. Second, their review process has been slammed lately because it’s felt in some quarters that the current pay-for-review format, which is $425 for a self-published author, is no longer providing consistent, quality service. And this criticism perhaps has foundation.

At issue, it’s been revealed in some respected publications that the reviews at times don’t seem to match up with the contents of the stories. I have no idea if there’s any validity to these allegations, but what good would a review be–that’s geared solely toward libraries and bookstores–when a book can’t be found in any of these venues? To one other point, one really clever technique by the current version of Kirkus is to allow authors who receive a negative review to keep it private. And this review process is for real? Come on!

The Nielsen Company sold Kirkus Reviews (which began in the 1930s) and it now operates via an entity called Kirkus Media, which, in addition to reviews an author or publisher pays for, offers a wide variety of marketing services for self-published writers, and these can run many thousands of dollars. Does this sound familiar to Newsletter subscribers? Kirkus Media, it must be made clear, offers its marketing services to mainstream-published authors as well, but the advertising seems decidedly slanted toward self-published material.

I promised to give subscribers a solid outline to follow to acquire competent, honest book reviews and also develop an Internet presence, and here’s a platform that involves “working” LinkedIn only, something I’ve been suggesting rather vigorously in the past couple of Newsletters. To get started, all any writer has to do is join a few of LinkedIn’s author sites, of which there are a huge number (I counted 46). All are free, and although some are restrictive these comprise a very small faction.

Since I write fiction, I immediately went to LinkedIn groups that were germane to fiction as a category. These include Talking Fiction (524 members), Aspiring Writers (7464 members and 6 subgroups; the Aspiring Writers Blog by itself having 1685 members), and Fiction Writers Guild (11,893 members). Additionally, Writers Cafe, Writers, Writers Network, Writers World, and Books and Writers each boast substantial membership totals, and the list goes on.

Since a lot of Newsletter subscribers write mysteries or thrillers, I’ll use this as the next step in this platform. LinkedIn shows me that Mystery Writers of America (581 members) and International Thriller Writers (637 members) are both groups to hone in on. Many members of each group maintain personal blogs, and some provide reviews of books by authors they communicate with.

In some instances, reciprocity is a great means to break the ice. You review that person’s book, and this writer will review yours. I’ve even noticed writers buying each other’s material. Of course, the panacea occurs when someone beyond this twosome, who’s read the reviews, purchases one or both author’s books. I’ve often read the happy reader/customer come back to say he or she can’t wait for the next book.

Once you develop even a minor presence on one of these sites, you can have legitimate discussions with other authors about which sites to approach for a review of your book by competent and honest reviewers. Some reviewers might want you to donate a book or two for a contest, as this is a common technique to get other readers interested in a particular story. Keep in mind that reviewer sites host all sorts of contests, so don’t be put off by this, and most winners are based on who asks for a book first, so it’s generally a simple, straightforward process. And if a writer is solely dealing in the e-book environment, the additional cost to take part in the contest is obviously a nonissue.

Once a writer gets started, here’s the key: After establishing a presence and learning that a few people read your book and genuinely liked it, you can make your presence grow exponentially by providing reciprocal backlinks on each other’s site. This simply means a link to your blog or Web site is placed on that person’s site, the same as the links on the right side of my Web pages. The number of back links you have on other sites influence the search engine crawlers immensely (from personal experience I believe this to be the “real deal”), and this pushes you up the ladder on the Internet.

In closing on this subject for now, if you “work” LinkedIn assiduously, you’ll find all sorts of outlets such as I described, and it will be like mining for gold, but you have to commit “x” hours per day to the process and stay with it. An author can’t go online one or twice a week and give lip service to the subscribers or it will be a colossal waste of time.

Today’s article is about what everyone has faced who’s ever submitted material to agents or publishers, for any period of time: the use of interns and subordinates to assess material.
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The Use of Interns and Subordinates to Evaluate Manuscript Submissions

The Use of Interns and Subordinates to Evaluate Manuscript Submissions

The same as a secretary or administrative assistant to any executive, interns or subordinates are often used to screen manuscripts to make certain that the agent or publisher isn’t inundated with substandard material. And considering the volume of submissions agents and publishers must sift through, without good gatekeepers, the process would be overwhelming.

So What Is a “Reader” Looking For?

It’s not so much what they’re looking for as what they’re looking at. And whether anyone wants to agree or disagree with many of the contentions proffered by respected agent and author Noah Lukeman in his book THE FIRST FIVE PAGES, A WRITER’S GUIDE TO STAYING OUT OF THE REJECTION PILE, I firmly believe he’s spot-on when he says that “readers” look for reasons to reject a work. And they look hard. Real hard.

Exactly What Agencies’ and Publishers’ Aides Evaluate

To effectively answer this, ask yourself what you would look at first. Wouldn’t it be grammar and the initial impact of the reading experience? Forget for a moment about how fast the “hook” was established, or some spectacular characterizations, or how rapidly you were engaged in the protagonist’s dimension, or any of the other “gripping” issues we who write live by. Isn’t grammar the first element you notice when beginning any text?

It’s very basic, but if the sentence construction is flawed, most people will put down a book from an unestablished author. Yes, well-known writers, or highly publicized material, go by a different set of rules, but we mere mortals have to deal with the throes of what Ms. Milsey taught us in 4th grade and the other indomitable spirits worked so hard to drill into us from that point forward.

A Clean Draft Is the Single Most Important Issue for Writers To Contend With

Ask yourself, how do you react when you pick up a book and you’re immediately exposed to sentences with improper subject and verb agreement, pronouns not related to the correct antecedents, unacceptable comma placement, runs of exposition that stop you because of misplaced modifiers, superfluous wording, elliptical expressions, or any of the other rhetorical bugbears?

In this respect, “readers” employed by agents and publishers are no different from all the rest of us when we’re reading for enjoyment. Enjoyment is not having to revise the story in our minds while we’re reading it.

If a Draft Survives the “First Cut,” Publishers’ Assistants Then Go for the Jugular

If material is patently readable, then the real work begins for “readers,” as they look for whatever they can find to have material rejected. Here are several considerations that can deal a death blow to a manuscript

  • High on the list are POV shifts, an element that even the most skilled authors sometimes find difficult to maintain at times.

  • Passages written in passive voice are often cited as negatives, even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with injecting text with occasional passive runs, as it’s often impossible not to use passive elements and retain content fluency.

  • Telling and not showing is an easy way out for “readers” eager to dis material, as there’s always rhetoric that can “show” the action in more vivid detail. This element is important but often grossly overstated as to its significance, as many scenes need to move along and not be bogged down with capillary-level introspection.

  • The overuse of adverbs and adjectives. Old as the hills, but still a killer.

  • Dialogue pacing is another element that’s a high priority, and something many writers never consider.

  • Some aids are taught in college or told that some expert has determined that interior monologue should always follow the actual spit of dialogue. Some “readers,” and not just early-stage interns, won’t bend this rule, ignoring the pitch of the entire scene to consider a single exchange.



Quirks and Still More Quirks

An inordinate number of issues can destroy a manuscript’s chances, and this article touches on just a few of the more potentially contentious elements.It’s important to always remember that agents and publishers have preferences, just the same as we all do. And they, like the rest of us, hire aides who will adhere to their likes and dislikes.

A Final Note

If a subordinate doesn’t like something about a draft, it’s almost always passed on, as agents’ and publishers’ “readers” are joined at the hip with their employers. Many agents and publishers say that they employ staff to look for quality in material they might otherwise have missed, but the reality is that this extra set of eyes seldom if ever produces positive results for a respective author. This comment, as well as everything in this article, can certainly be argued, but it has been my experience–and for more than 20 years.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 94
Timeline Gaps in a Story and How They Adversely Affect Continuity (December 4, 2012)


Hello Everyone,

I hope that each of you enjoyed a safe and joyous Thanksgiving. I want to begin this Newsletter by thanking all of you who purchased my agent’s “Bookazine” and also for your kind comments regarding his concept. I have to make one correction in my overview of Tony Siedl’s “Bookazine” company structure, and this was my error. Mr. Cuccione is the “Bookazine” editor, not a partner with Tony, whose actual business associate is the president of Hudson News. Which I guess means that Tony won’t have any problem getting shelf space in the 450 Hudson News stores at airports and train stations and 70 stand-alone bookstores. I mentioned in the previous Newsletter that Tony is a savvy businessman with great connections in the publishing world, but he has to play to the whim of the publishers just like everyone else.

He recently met with the publisher at Grand Central, who’s now had my novel DARK GREED for several months, and can’t get an answer whether the imprint does or doesn’t want to go ahead with my book. The publisher at Thomas Dunne held onto the work for even longer before deciding against taking a chance with my edgy material. Ten or so years ago, an editor at Random House had one of my novels for 7 1/2 months before sending it back (to a different agent of mine) without even a note as to why it was turned down. And before becoming becoming a literary representative, this agent had worked for this particular publisher as her executive assistant for more than a decade! Should anyone be interested, during this entire time the editor/publisher had the draft, this agent was told “It’s looking good” whenever she checked on my manuscript’s status. There’s truly no figuring out anything about this business at the acquisitions level.

As a post-Thanksgiving treat, I’m posting a new opening chapter on my Critique Blog. A client of mine whom I know personally and like, Tom Collins, has written AS YE SOW, a novel about a young Irish couple, coming to America so the wife can have her firstborn on U.S. soil, hoping for a chance at a better quality of life for both them and their child than what would likely be their lot back home.

Tom’s opening chapter is only 1,000 words in length, but in this short span he provides enormous depth into his lead characters while adding a number of brief yet poignant depictions, proving that a great deal can indeed be “said” without a mass of words, when this is done artfully. I’m not comparing Tom to Frank McCourt of ANGELA’S ASHES fame, but I found their writing styles similar, as each writer’s work immediately tugs at the heartstrings of the reader, and both men write in a comfortable manner that’s easy on the eyes.

I’m always pleased that so many Newsletter subscribers take me advice and read what I post on my Critique Blog, so I’m asking all of you to do yourselves a favor and spend the five minutes it will require to read Tom’s material. When you are finished, I’m confident you’ll agree with me that the opening to AS YE SOW is what good writing is all about, and Tom should be very proud of what he’s crafted.

I thought subscribers might be interested in the recent sales figures for the five finalists for this year’s National Book Award for fiction.

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER by Junot Diaz, 48,000 copies
A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING by Dave Eggers, 27,000 copies
THE YELLOW BIRDS by Kevin Powers, 18,000 copies
THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich, 15,000 copies
BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain, 11,000 copies

If the 20,000-copies-sold threshold still applies for a New York Times fiction bestseller, only two titles would’ve made the list, indicating, as is so often the case, that sales don’t always mirror the quality of the writing, although it can be argued that Dramatic Literature has only so much appeal for the masses. Yet while there is no way to equate literary acclaim for writers of Dramatic Literature with sales volume for their respective works, all one has to do is look at the publishing figures for THE JOY LUCK CLUB and THE POISONWOOD BIBLE to see that financial success for authors in the Literature genre is not an impossibility.

The point is that there is no consistent pattern to equate literary acclaim with sales volume. What these sales figures demonstrate without question is how hard it is to sell enough books to make it big unless there’s some powerful external catalyst. [Two days after I wrote this section, THE ROUND HOUSE won the NBA for fiction, and another 35,000 copies were immediately printed by Harper. These numbers once again illustrate that it takes enormous presence and good fortune to earn substantial money for a writer, as even prestigious national awards don’t guarantee financial success.]

Regarding who in our society is currently buying books and in what quantity, a survey co-sponsored by the American Library Association produced what I believe are some eye-opening results. Before getting into the numbers, it’s of the greatest importance to mention that the study was the compilation of data from 75,000 respondents. I worked in the business side of healthcare for more than 30 years, and the clinicians I worked with would be inundated with papers developed from Lilliputian-size study groups, sometimes consisting of a dozen patients or less. Unless the cohort was natural to a unique patient demographic (and I can remember very few instances of this ever being the case), this material, after the most cursory read, would be tossed in the trash can.

A set of statistics developed from 75,000 people, in my opinion, is not to be trifled with, and the results are encouraging, and anyone clicking this link or the original will see why I say this. Greater than one-half of the patrons who borrow e-books from libraries in the course of a year–again e-books–buy printed books. And at a rate of three per annum. And if that isn’t enough to warm the cockles of even the most cold-hearted naysayer, here’s a data point I found even more enlightening: One-third of the people who read an e-book and liked it bought a printed version of the same book. That should give all print publishers worried about library e-book lending reason to reconsider their contentions.

The statistics I just quoted were rounded to the nearest number, but this “rounding” was quite close in each example. I realize that I often get into some rather esoteric areas that relate to the periphery of the publishing business, and I know it’s hard for an author who’s just starting out to get too enthused about some of this material, but I believe a broad spectrum of information helps writers at all levels. In this business, knowledge is not so much power but a means to save time and aggravation, as well as what can amount to a significant amount of money at times At least that’s been my experience.

As all of you are aware, I never claim to be a grammar expert, or even close to one, but in my articles that accompany these Newsletters I try to explain what I know is correct and that which isn’t. It’s particularly hard on anyone who’s trying to separate right from wrong when news reporters misuse grammar on the air, and it’s particularly galling when a reputable publication errs.

It’s one thing to mess up “comprise” and “compose,” but quite another when I read “most importantly” in a publication I respect. This occurred on Tuesday, November 13, in Publishers Lunch. I’m not the grammar compass for newscasters or business publications, but I can at least try to keep Newsletter subscribers on track. “Most importantly” is not correct in any context. So don’t use it! It’s “most important,” and to avoid the issue altogether, I recommend “of greatest importance.” In the world of solecisms, in my opinion “most importantly” is right up there with “same exact thing.” Some might argue that idiom has now absorbed both phrases, but I’d hate to think this will ever be the case.

Today’s article on timeline gaps in a narrative is hugely important, and it’s an issue I should’ve addressed long ago, as nothing can harm a story’s chances more than “space” that allows the reader’s mind to wander.
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Timeline Gaps in a Story and How They Destroy Continuity

When writing a novel, it’s easy to assume that as long as time is accounted for in some manner, all will be well. Nothing, however, can be further from the truth. In reality, the explanation can often be more damaging than the omission.

What Happened During the Time Readers Aren’t Told About?

Consider this passage: John and Mary are having a torrid extramarital relationship that her spouse has suspected for some time. He’s known for being hot-headed, and when his suspicions are confirmed he’s blind with rage and immediately seeks ways to retaliate against both of them. Three months later, John and Mary are confronted in a parking garage by her husband, who, wild-eyed, is brandishing a machete and screaming epithets at both of them.

Huh? I’m certain anyone reading the preceding paragraph would find it downright ridiculous that 90 days passed before this caliber of firebrand did something drastic, yet I read these unexplained–and therefore undesirable– gaps all the time.

Imminent Actions Require Equally Imminent Timelines

Could readers be expected to accept that a character with a short temper–and now blinded by rage–would put off doing something drastic for even 90 minutes? On a softer but no less important note, if a writer wrote 90 days of inactivity into an action story, is it practical to expect readers not to want to know what was transpiring during the interim?

In the case of the example, what was Mary’s husband doing during those three months? Was he planning the ultimate reprisal, and did it require this much time to adequately prepare each aspect of his scheme ? Or was he more concerned about not having evidence of his actions point in his direction, and therefore everything had to be just right?

Sometimes Even a Solid Explanation Isn’t Enough

In Mary’s husband’s situation, no amount of explanation could likely justify 90 days of inactivity in the storyline. And this is the problem with so much of what I’m sent when writers are more concerned about adhering to their “datelines” than providing continuity for the movement of their plots . Authors should never be criticized for their concern for accuracy, but this can never trump movement. Because once the reader stops to consider a gap in time, everything in the story at that moment comes to a screeching halt.

Omission Is a Technique, But It’s Far from Foolproof

Omitting time references is a method to avoid hindering a plot’s natural movement. But this can be just as detrimental if the reader wonders what had occurred during time for which there was no accounting. The only way to guarantee continuity is to determine the crucial plot timelines and eschew those that fall outside this category. Once the critical time references of the story are isolated, a writer can then decide how often and where to integrate them into the narrative.

A Gap Is a Gap

With the rarest of exceptions, tight timelines are mandatory to hold a reader’s attention. Long or unexplained gaps will confuse people, and once a timeline seems improbable, the reader will put down a book. A simple way to look at this is from the perspective of timelines as a pacing medium. If something seems to take a long time to develop, is the scene’s energy level, and therefore its pacing, generally going to be fast or slow?

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 95
Profanity in a Novel–
What Is Acceptable in What Genre
(December 18, 2012)


Hello Everyone,

As everyone noticed, the November 27 Newsletter was sent a day early. When I completed the final check of the material on that Monday, I hit the “send immediately” prompt instead of the queue button for the November 27 at 1 p.m. EST date and time I had entered into the system. Over the years I’ve gotten better at handling the autoresponder I utilize, but every once in a while I still get fouled up. At least I haven’t sent out a raw draft of a Newsletter for some time, which I used to do with maddening frequency.

As to the Monday broadcast statistics, the number of subscribers who opened the Newsletter remained consistent, so I guess my error didn’t cause any problems. Please know that broadcasts will remain scheduled for every other Tuesday at 1 p.m. EST, lest I suffer from a future case(s) of fumble fingers.

I want to thank subscribers for the excellent response to the opening chapter I posted in my Critique Blog and showcased in the prior Newsletter. Tom Collins’ AS YE SOW took over third place as the most accessed chapter on the blog. I’m following Tom’s chapter with another from a client of mine, whose material I critiqued. THE BRONZE HORSEMEN, by Dave Mallegol, is a stirring adventure about an ancient clan’s quest to permanently rid itself a barbaric oppressor, and how the taming of horses for the first time in history made this possible.

Dave provides some interesting insights that are uniquely his own, and I urge Newsletter subscribers to click the link in this or the preceding paragraph and read his opening. THE BRONZE HORSEMEN is available via Kindle in an e-book for $3.99 and in softcover for $12.12, and you’d be doing a writing colleague a big favor by purchasing a copy in either format to help his work gain traction. This link will take you directly to the Kindle page with Dave’s book. Remember my mantra that what goes around comes around. And you might be asking Dave for the same favor in the not too distant future.

As those of you are aware who have read my tripe for any period of time, I’ve often remarked that runaway success stories for self-published material generally have an asterisk affixed somewhere. And in most instances this points to the writer’s background with, or in, some aspect of the news or entertainment media. E. L. James 50 SHADES OF GREY trilogy has its own set of exceptional characteristics, and for these reasons is emblematic of my contention. E.L. James, whose real name is Erika Leonard, was a television executive living in London when she first began promoting GREY. She originally wrote the series as an offshoot of the TWILIGHT series, something I knew nothing about until I researched this, and it was called MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (if anyone is wondering, a book title cannot be copyrighted).

She offered her material in several venues from 2009 until 2011, including fanfiction.net and her personal Web site. Ms. Leonard contacted the Australian boutique e-publisher Writers Coffee Shop (which began operations in 2010) to publish 50 SHADES OF GREY. After the story’s enormous publicity, the rights were sold to Vintage (a Random House imprint), and at last count, depending on whom you want to believe, the trilogy has sold between 25 and 40 million copies worldwide. Remember, this is the publishing business, so sales numbers are often whatever anyone wants to make them, but the 20-million figure has been widely touted, so I believe it’s safe to consider it as a realistic baseline.

What I’d like subscribers to take from this is that Ms. James/Leonard had a strong background in television and knew how to access and work the blogosphere, and once she garnered a decent-size following she approached Writers Coffee Shop. But here’s another tidbit that adds impetus to the dynamic of this novel’s success: Anne Messitte, the Vintage executive who ultimately signed the deal and brought fame and wealth to all involved, heard some women talking about the book at the school her children attended. She began following DivaMoms.com, a Web site devoted to mothers living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, and was so intrigued by the chat on the site that she read the book. And, as they say, “The rest is history.”

It’s obvious a whole lot had to happen to make this work. Not the least of which is that Ms. Messitte had to ignore the principles of grammar and focus on public clamor. Also, since the original was an admitted offshoot of the TWILIGHT series, Ms. Leonard had to be quite blessed that Stephenie Meyer is indeed the passive soul she happens to be. This issue is perhaps the single most important factor beyond anything else. Stephenie, with her money, could have tied this up in court for years. Again, until I researched the material for this segment, I was unaware of the TWILIGHT/GREY relationship.

I also didn’t know anything about Writers Coffee Shop, but after I read the firm’s submission requirements, it’s obvious the criteria has changed dramatically since GREY. Anyone visiting this link to their Submissions Page will likely have a few laughs (or perhaps will want to cry). I’ve never read of any publisher’s formatting requirements being close to this rigid. Also, following the statement about the obvious material no “standard” publisher would handle, the firm states it will refuse content that involves “extreme fetishes.” Whenever I think of this, I have to grab my gut from laughing so hard. I guess fetishes have gradable levels of deviancy. Yes, I have indeed led a sheltered life.

It’s interesting to note that the the Writers Coffee Shop employee roster consists of four copyeditors, an editing intern, one line-editor, three proofreaders, and seven developmental editors they refer to as “substantive” editors. I guess not many of these folks were on board when GREY came over the transom. As to the mix of the company’s current staff, senior management might want to analyze its job-skills curve, especially the light weighting line-editing has in relationship to the other editing disciplines.

However, line-editing in Australia might have a different connotation from here in the States, and it’s good to keep in mind that people within our domestic market at times have their own definitions for the editing subsets. I find it fascinating that the GREY dynamic occurred in the first place–and developed as it has–and I certainly wish Writers Coffee Shop every success in signing new projects.

Newsletter subscribers who have written material in the genres in which this company publishes might want to give them a shot. Just be certain to follow the submission guidelines if your manuscript is requested, as I don’t believe they created all of the restrictions because they had nothing else to do. One final note on this segment pertains to an earlier Newsletter in which I inaccurately reported that GREY was self-published by this boutique publisher. Ms. Leonard self-published GREY through another medium prior to her relationship with Writers Coffee Shop.

One of the great advantages of receiving the daily Publishers Lunch Newsletter from Publishers Marketplace is the ability to receive concurrent information regarding debut authors published by the mainstream imprints, and the genres in which their respective work is written. Publishers Lunch daily reports indicate that writers of Thrillers, Mysteries, YA, Children’s PreSchool, Sci-Fi, and even Memoirs can attract a major royalty publisher.

But it’s also clear that the opportunities aren’t manifold, and that many “new” authors have graduated from a respected MFA program, won a prestigious literary award or writing contest, or as I just wrote about, have ties in some way to the media or publishing industry. Yet probably the largest single group of debut Big 6 authors is the result of strong Internet sales for their self-published material.

Think about this. Even a year ago, self-publishing was considered a disease-infested deserted island for a writer. Now it’s an accepted feeder system. And notice I’m not saying “is becoming” because what’s occurring is real and current. Just keep in mind that there are more than 10 million books on Internet lists, so the odds of even limited success are more staggering than ever. However, what this also proves is that there is hope for every writer who has a good story to tell, and that there are several viable ways to skin this cat, regardless of its sleek fur and elusive behavior.

Harper recently announced $.99 to $2.99 price points for its short fiction for its teens digital imprint “Impulse.” As longtime Newsletter subscribers are aware, I’ve been advocating these price points for the past couple of years if not longer. E-books sell when priced at these levels, and it’s this simple. An unknown author trying to get ten bucks out of an e-book, in my opinion, was always patently unrealistic, and now the mainstream publishers are setting pricing levels for which I believe all authors should pay attention, and especially those who are self-e-published. One hundred books at $3 each is a lot better than four at $12. The average price of the top 15 e-bestsellers this year on Kindle was $5.66, and this figure is skewed dramatically because of Sylvia Day’s books and the GREY trilogy, which are priced at $9.99. And for reference, 15 e-books–that were originally self-published–are on Kindle’s top 100 list in sales for 2012.

Just when it seems the self-publishing arena couldn’t get any fuller or more muddled, since in my opinion it now approaches a WWE all-out tag team scrum, add to the mix the recent amalgamation of Simon & Schuster hooking up with Pearson/Penguin’s Author Solutions, Inc., and rekindling an old brand, Archway Publishing, and Random House now offering four digital imprints, Loveswept, Alibi, Hydra, and Flirt. (Yeah, I know, it’s complicated.) These publishers might learn from watching one of these everybody-jump-in-the-ring wrestling matches, as they historically end without a winner being declared and the mat left with a busload of battered combatants writhing in pain. The publishers’ boo-boos, however, might not be imaginary.

For anyone interested in exploring the Random House and friends platform, have your wallet or pocketbook open (read “wide”) as fees at Archway begin at $1,599 for Children’s genre material and escalate to $25,000. That’s an odd number, since the average advance for a previously unpublished fiction writer is $20,000, and this has been on the decline in recent years. But if a writer uses Pearson/Penguin Author Solutions, Inc. (which includes Author House, iUniverse, Xlibris, and some lesser knowns), he or she can do so with the full confidence that ASI will contact S&S if any title is selling in decent numbers.

I can’t think of anything that’s more reassuring, since ASI claims to have 200,000 titles in print. Oh, one minor omission on their part is that nowhere do they document how many of their titles have ever been republished by mainstream houses. What’s also important is that the most liberal statistics I can locate show their books sell on average 208 copies. By all accounts this is a generous estimate, as that’s five times what industry followers bandied about for years. Regardless, here’s one more major outfit offering a “new and exciting” opportunity for which the uninitiated can venture into its seductive confines (read “jaws”).

The Web site for the new Random House imprints offers a FAQ page, and at the very end the last “question and answer” reads as follows: “What happens if my work is accepted for publication?” The reply is: “If, after reviewing the full manuscript of your work, we are interested in publishing it, we will contact you to negotiate a mutually acceptable publishing contract.” Duh, isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? After all I’ve been writing about these “amazing, bold, new opportunities,” does any subscriber need for me to elaborate any further? What author wouldn’t want to yell from the highest mountaintop that his or her book was published by Random House? But at what cost? And this is why I’m not providing links to any of these imprints.

For any subscriber who would like an ultra-clear, no-holds-barred explanation of what’s going on in the publishing industry as a result of the the recent Pearson/Penguin/Random House mega merger, and how this can affect each and every author holding any hope of breaking into the mainstream market, this article by Andre Schiffrin is a must. And if a subscriber is querying agents or has signed with one, the material is a double must read.
Mr. Schiffrin cites a statistic that floored me: Random House and its 200 imprints (yes, they own that many, comprised primarily of independents they bought out) now control 25 percent of all books printed in English. This breaks down to 50 titles per year for each imprint, not that this matters for what I’m discussing right now, yet it gives subscribers an idea of why it’s so difficult to break in with a bona fide royalty publisher.

It’s the underlying aspect of this monopolistic, corporately controlled approach to publishing that makes Mr. Schiffrin’s material so poignant. The Bertelsmann’s imprint mix (the parent company of Random House et al.) earns profits in the 3 percent range, which is paltry compared to TV and magazine profits, which hover in 25 percent range. I ask each of you who subscribe to my Newsletter, if you controlled this business model, where would you expend your greatest effort? Mr. Schiffrin points out, corporate profit metrics are destroying opportunities in Literary Fiction and niche nonfiction, arguably two of the most significant genres in all writing, because books in these categories historically don’t produce large sales volumes.

But, of late, when has quality been part of the equation except in the rarest of circumstances? Mid-list writing with the Big 6, should any unfortunate soul create material that falls into this category, is indeed DOA. So the “next big book” syndrome is alive and kicking more than ever. And I continue to have difficulty understanding the hugely successful agent who shook her head at me during a conference a while ago when I presaged Mr. Schiffrin’s position with one of my own regarding commercial viability outweighing all other considerations.

As a follow-up to my recent remarks on Kirkus, I noticed that the company just came out with its Top 25 List for Fiction. I wonder how this list is compiled, since I’m assuming it must involve only titles they market? If this were not the case, in my opinion the list would be a horrible disservice to writers who shelled out funds to have them market their respective titles. Which brings me to the next point–which is always the issue–and it’s how many copies of the book sold? Until a writer knows this, all else is irrelevant, isn’t it?

Today’s article is about the use of profanity in a novel, and here it is:
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Profanity in a Novel–What Is Acceptable in What Genre

Genre Trumps All Else

This would seem to be so obvious that it doesn’t need to be mentioned, yet not understanding genre on the part of the author is a problem I find with a lot of material that’s sent to me to edit.

Let’s Start with Literature and Mainstream Fiction

Both genres cater to an essentially adult market, and constraints on profanity generally aren’t an issue because of this demographic. But there can be serious concerns when a book crosses over . For example, if Holden Caulfield said “F” this and “F” that in THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, what sort of impact would that have had on the novel’s sales (more than 60 million and still counting)?

Even material as stark as both STUDS LONIGAN and AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY were relatively profanity-free, and if an epithet was spoken, it was mild. And Henry Miller’s material, while graphically sexual, contains little profanity of any sort. Even Cormac McCarthy’s novels , which in my opinion are as visceral as narratives can get, are overwhelmingly sans profanity. The same can be said for Erskine Caldwell’s works, as well as those of Faulkner and Steinbeck, both of whom often dealt with quite adult themes and circumstances.

Setting Is the Common Denominator for Profanity

If I’m reading jailhouse argot, or the conversation between two drunken sailors, every other sentence with an “MF” in it is perfectly acceptable. Likewise, to impress their peers, gang members are going to use all of the seven words that can’t be spoken on TV as often as possible, and anyone writing dialogue centered in this environment has to lace it with profanity or the runs won’t ring true with the reader.

But when writing dialogue in standard settings, one “F” word goes a long way, and unless it’s part of a character’s established profile, even one instance of the “F” word won’t be acceptable to the reader. However, the “F” word used judiciously can indeed be a powerful tool. In no other book has the “F” word had more of an impact on me than in William Maxwell’s SO LONG, SEE YOU TOMORROW. And it appeared just once in the entire novel.

But Watch Out for YA

It’s not so much what kids read, but what parents will let them buy or will purchase for them. The Internet makes just about any reading material available to anyone, but when considering a novel someone is paying for, regardless of who’s remitting the funds, buyer demographics enter into the equation.

Even “hell” and “damn” can be a problem in a YA story, especially if these words are spoken routinely by the story’s protagonist without provocation. I always think of myself when I was 17 year old and meeting a girl’s parents for the first time and cussing repeatedly in front of them for no reason, thinking it was cool. I was told in no uncertain terms by her father that my language wasn’t acceptable in his household, and he escorted me to my car and made it clear that I was never to ask his daughter out again. This life’s lesson applies to writing profanity as well.

Always Consider the Market for Your Story

Genre is market, and I’m concluding this article as it began by emphasizing the importance of identifying who will be reading your story. Will it be only older adults? Or will young adults be your audience as well? Can profanity detract in any way from the image you’re wanting your character to portray, especially your protagonist? Does profanity fit the scene? And how do you want to use profanity–to shock or as part of a character’s normal speech? Whatever the situation, think it out carefully and choose wisely.

Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 96
Paragraph Writing–
How to Write the Perfect Paragraph
(December 18, 2012)


Hello Everyone,

As should be obvious to Newsletter subscribers by now, I’m incapable of reading a calendar, as I once again broadcast an edition a day early. I, however, did schedule today’s offering for Wednesday, December 26, since this past Tuesday was Christmas, and I couldn’t imagine subscribers who celebrate the holiday taking the time to open e-mails from anyone other than family and friends. I promise, the rotation will return to every other Tuesday, beginning January 8. (Yes, I too will keep my fingers crossed.)

I had a week or so break and spent the time (all of it, unfortunately) attending to the decision I made regarding compiling my Newsletters in a single format. I decided to place my Newsletters on links on my Web site and not offer them for sale . Here is my reason, and it’s a simple one: So much of the information has changed during the past four years that I can’t see anyone paying for stale material. I wouldn’t. And as I went through what I could with the time I had available and made the necessary changes, it was evident that the early body of work needed to be copyedited.

I didn’t have my copyeditor review my material until sometime in 2011, and this necessity was evident from the drafts from the first couple of years. I had no idea my Newsletter would become anything more than a personal homily to a few brave souls who attended my library-sponsored creative writing workshops. I also didn’t think it would take more than a half-hour of my time to write each edition, which essentially involved an article on writing fluent prose or the publishing industry, and little else. And while I didn’t have the slightest indication of the direction the Newsletter would take, I also didn’t have a clue that e-publishing would explode, or that a seemingly inordinate number of “opportunities” would crop up to separate unwary writers from their savings accounts.

It’s the latter issue that motivated me to start my pontifications and wild ravings that now fill most of the space in each edition. I hate having to take subscriber’s time with this “stuff,” but I can’t sit by and let people get involved with something that I know has “Bad Outcome” written all over it. I honestly thought that subscribers might become irritated by my “opinions,” regardless that they might be based on my own past mistakes. Instead, I received resounding “thanks.” I felt beyond gratified, and this is why I’ve continued down the current path.

However, and I ask this with the utmost sincerity, if any of you find something I write contrary to your personal experience(s), by all means let me know. I’m far from an authority. All I am is a writer who edits and has become blessed with a wonderful group of clients (misguided folks indeed, ha ha) who have given me something to do that I enjoy beyond any work I’ve ever done. No, I can’t get rich editing, but I go to sleep every evening with the belief that I’ve made a writer’s draft a little better. This really means something to me.

But back to the assemblage of the Newsletters in one file. Two links, one titled “The Perfect Write® Newsletter Archives, June 30, 2009 – May 10, 2011” and the other titled “The Perfect Write® Newsletter Archives, May 18, 2011 – Current,” now exist under the “Additional Site Pages ” header on the right side of any page of my Web site (the links will take you to both archives). I had to split the material into two sections, as combined the Newsletters comprised almost 180,000 words, and as I struggled through formatting everything on one page (don’t ask, as it required more than 40 hours, and I truly believe I can now teach HTML code), the computer program became agonizingly slow.

I decided to split the material at about the point where my Newsletters expanded beyond the original conception and I began my blabber. Also, prior to setting up the Newsletter links, I went through my Articles Page and revamped the titles so they’re more intuitive. However, this doesn’t mean that the “Search – Go” function on my Web pages will be an effective way to source material. Overall, too much is placed on the site, and any “search” defaults to the opening page of one of the Newsletter’s main links.

Consequently, I fixed this so if someone wants to read about querying an agent, for example, now all that person has to do is go to the Articles Page on my site and scroll down to the word “Query.” All the articles I’ve written on the subject are now juxtaposed and alphabetized by subset. Other keywords work the same way, as “Plot” will display four subsets, “Punctuation” three, and the list goes on accordingly. I hope subscribers, especially newer ones who might not be aware of the variety of topics, will find this new layout a snap to access.

The easier access for articles, however, sadly doesn’t apply to Newsletters, and unless someone had a particular edition in mind. and logged it away somewhere for later reference, no one is going to slog through 180,000 words to find the subject being pursued. Yet, light indeed exists at the end of this very long tunnel. The Newsletter Archives can be copied directly from the Web pages. Once a subscriber holds down the “left click button” on the mouse and scrolls to the bottom of the page (yes, it takes a while, but can be halted and continued from the stopping point at any time), the material can be copied to a blank page on one’s word-processing software.

Once the entire file is copied (and you might want to save it before doing anything else), any subject can be accessed via the “Find” button all word-processing software contains. And the more specific the search, the better everything is narrowed down. For example, “Plot” provides hundreds of options, but “Plot Holes” immediately takes me to page 246, and to the Newsletter that highlighted the article on the subject. And if I click “Find” again, it takes me to page 328 and a passage I wrote that pertains to this same issue.

I agree this isn’t the ideal solution, but I’d have to hire someone to write an outline and then purchase and have software installed that interfaces with my Web pages. I couldn’t justify the expense, and what I’m suggesting will work if a person possesses a little bit of patience to set up the material. And, perhaps the most significant issue of all–it’s free–which is what I intend for my Newsletters to remain unless something changes drastically, and I can’t foresee this occurring anytime soon.

I recently took a look at Stephenie Meyer’s success from purely a marketing perspective, not that I could ever replicate even a smidgen of what she’s achieved, but I believed it was worth at least a glance. First, it’s important to read the opening chapter of an early edition of TWILIGHT. Everyone on earth, it seems, has commented on the quality of her prose, from Joe Jones in Idaho to the Stephen King in Maine, so her skill with syntax hardly warrants anything I might offer, one way or the other. But here, for me, is what matters: Is there anything in the opening chapter of TWILIGHT that could possibly motivate a person other than a relative or close friend to want to read more? However, if I read the Preface, I suddenly develop an entirely different feeling for the storyline. I want to know, even after the horribly weak opening chapter, why this young woman is going to be awaiting her death by this “hunter,” with such calmness.

In all honesty, I found the Preface fascinating. And the current thinking is that prologues are shunned by “insiders.” I’m convinced that no matter how much blogging Ms. Meyer might have done, without that Preface, her story wouldn’t have had a chance. So now everyone knows my true feeling about prologues, which has never changed but is only reinforced since I’ve spent some time analyzing TWILIGHT’s appeal at its nascent stages.

To another issue involving Ms. Meyer, I can’t describe her as prepossessing, but as I watched her during a recent interview, I was taken by her modesty and genuine nature. She was humble in acknowledging her success, almost apologizing for it. How can anyone not like (and respect) a person such as this? I was captivated by her warmth. She’s special, and this has nothing to do with her writing, as she comes across as a great role model. So, more power to her, and let the critics pound sand! When someone is successful, I’ve always found it best to try to understand why instead of looking for ways to denigrate. And I’ll finish this short section on Stephenie Meyer with this remark:

I could transfer her Preface to a book by most any famous Thriller writer, and readers would have found the premise spellbinding. For anyone questioning this, take her Preface–exactly as it’s written–and put it in the front of anything by Graham Greene, Ken Follett, or John le Carre, then hand the book to someone who claims never to have read TWILIGHT and see what that person says about the Greene, Follet, or le Carre. My contention is that if a Preface/Prologue is written spectacularly, it doesn’t matter one whit if it’s the opening to an established writer’s material or that of a first-timer. A great set-up is a great set-up, and this is my point. Without that Preface to serve as a guide, in golfing terms, Ms. Meyer might still be working the tee line. I’ll write more about Stephenie Meyer in upcoming Newsletters, as I’ve become a huge fan of her personality and the example she sets for doing the right things to cultivate a following.

While I’m discussing book marketing, even after winning writing contests sponsored by Amazon, with all of the marketing via their advertising supporting the various books, this doesn’t translate to substantial sales numbers, as their “selected” titles have experienced limited success, at best. This should explain, as clearly as anything, what being placed on a list really means. If Amazon can’t force sales, how can some outfit claiming marketing and publicity acumen do any better?

The cold, hard fact is that the market is overwhelmed with millions of titles, and unless a writer takes it upon himself or herself to work that tee line I alluded to a moment ago, it ain’t going to happen. The Big 6 can’t make a bad book sell, some boutique marketing guru can’t create a bestseller, and Amazon can’t. Only a writer with savvy and some special ingredient can make this happen.

It could be personality, it could be story, it could be controversy, but it requires something well beyond pouring dollars into someone’s idea of a publicity mill. Marketing sells books, not publicity. Writers, especially those starting out, must possess a firm grasp of the distinction between the two. You don’t buy publicity for something for which no market is established.

And while I’m mentioning marketing, I’ve recently suggested the value of “working” the writing sites on LinkedIn. I stand by this, but, like anything, common sense has to prevail. I read something on one LinkedIn site on which someone asked about ways to increase word count. Some bozo, claiming to be a writing expert, told the questioner that a great was was “to break up contractions.” If any Newsletter subscriber should wander on to sites such as this, which are obviously sans quality moderation, don’t waste your time.

The same with getting involved in arguments. Some people live for hijacking threads and controlling the posts. These misfits have no other life, except for for perhaps writing on bathroom walls. Spend your time on sites with competent participants who dispense educated opinions and empirical positions. If someone is out in lalaland, don’t encourage the insanity. Your time is valuable, and you’re using the blogs to learn, contribute, and build your brand–the latter which is you. So expend the effort judiciously.

On a lighter note, I saw a Ford print ad stating that the firm’s newest hybrid vehicle will go further. So if we buy one of these, and I’ve owned more Ford products than any other throughout my lifetime and have nothing against the brand, apparently this latest model will make me think with greater depth. It might not take me and farther on a tank of gas, but at least I’ll get to consider the driving experience further. I can understand a local nursery or florist making this sort of mistake, but a firm the size of a major car manufacture makes me scratch my head Seeing something like this, how is the average person starting out as a writer going to know what is right and what is incorrect?

I presented my feelings in the prior Newsletter about the recent Pearson/Penguin/Author Solutions, Inc./Simon & Schuster, AuthorHouse/Archway scrum. Here’s an article by another soul such as myself who found the amalgamation not quite as wonderful an opportunity for writers as described by the company’s hierarchy in its press release. I certainly wasn’t searching to reinforce my position on this, but I’m offering this link because the author of the material, David Gaughran, an Irish writer living in London, facilitates a blog called “Lets Get Digital: How to Self-Publish and Why You Should,” and it’s a must for any subscriber who might continue to be on the fence or is confused by what Author Solutions, Inc. (owner of AuthorHouse, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford, and a host of other vanity presses) is offering writers who aren’t familiar with the publishing industry.

Also, here’s a direct quote from Emily Suess, another respected, well-known blogger who espouses self-publishing in what I consider the right way (read “inexpensively”), and her comments include her citing The New York Times:

“By charging $1,599 to $24,999 for packages, Simon & Schuster’s Archway may well succeed in distinguishing themselves as the most laughably overpriced self-publishing option available. But I can’t imagine the words ‘premium service’ becoming the hallmark of this hookup. You see, S&S is taking a hands-off approach to the whole thing. Quoting from the Times, ‘While the venture promises to access the expertise of a major publishing house, it will be completely operated and staffed by Author Solutions. With no Simon & Schuster personnel involved, and without the Simon & Schuster name attached in any way to the final product, Archway’s prices–significantly higher than even the most expensive competition–could be a hard sell.'”

The prices for fiction start at $1,999, and if someone desires an edit, the cost is 3.5 cents per word. That might not seem bad–until this metric is developed. An 80,000-word draft would cost $4799 (that’s with the “starting fee” of $1,999 added to it–and to save anyone the math, that’s $2,800 for the editing.) But, it’s certainly fair to assume that Simon & Schuster’s editors might be excellent. Oh, their editors aren’t used; this service is outsourced to Author Solutions, Inc. Here’s what Ms. Suess has learned after following Author Solutions, Inc., for some time:

“The short list of recurring issues includes: making formerly out-of-print works available for sale without the author’s consent, improperly reporting royalty information, non-payment of royalties, breach of contract, predatory and harassing sales calls, excessive markups on review and advertising services, failure to deliver marketing services as promised, telling customers their add-ons will only cost hundreds of dollars and then charging their credit cards thousands of dollars, ignoring customer complaints, shaming and banning customers who go public with their stories, and calling at least one customer a ‘f—ing a–hole.'”

To add further insult to injury, in my opinion it requires one of Ernst and Young’s finest to decipher the royalty structure as to exactly what an author of a self-published book under the Simon & Schuster format would receive from a sale, but the short of it is that 50 percent of the profits go to S&S after Amazon (and any other entities who might be involved) take their cut. I have to assume this is the reason that so many writers who have hooked up with AuthorHouse and its affiliated imprints in the past have expressed such animus.

Folks, if you’ve been published by any AuthorHouse entity, and have even the slightest proclivity for spending money with the firm for marketing, publicity, or upgraded services to promote your material, all you have to do is work through the sites via the links I’ve provided. And as I’ve said for years, I have zero against self-publishing, but I don’t want to have Newsletter subscribers taken advantage of financially because of not knowing what’s really taking place in the current, horribly muddled self-publishing marketplace. All self-publishers aren’t scammers, and I’ve often provided outfits a writer can use that will allow a book to be digitally published for less than $100. /And if formatting is necessary, and someone wants a nice cover, this can be accomplished for a few hundred dollars more.

But of greatest importance, no matter the means by which a writer has a book published, whether by Simon & Schuster or Joe’s Bookbinders, it will be among the more than 10,000,000 titles that currently flooded the market in just the past three years. Ask yourself one question: If Simon & Shuster can’t get traction for some of its titles, with all of its fiscal resources, industry savvy, and manifold marketing outlets, how is an author from Keokuk, Iowa, who just laid out $25,000 (yes, the S&S-sponsored “premium” package sells for this) going to do any better at acquiring a following?

IT AIN’T GOING TO HAPPEN, and I can’t make this any clearer, unless that author possesses fabulous self-promotion skills, substantial personal financial resources, an abundance of unencumbered time, and perfect syzygy to boot. And even if this prideful writer has all of this “handled” (including the luck part) it’s highly unlikely this person would come close to recovering the $25,000 fee, let alone the other expenses–which can be enormous–that will be incurred as the result of the marketing platform that’s separate from what S&S’s affiliate is providing.

If a writer has the time and the personal finances to “personally” hit the bricks, there’s a good likelihood that some sales be the result of standing in front of local book clubs, critique groups, and those libraries that allow self-published authors a forum to “read” and therefore pitch their stories. As I’ve written many times, 41 copies sold is the purported average for a self-published book, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic that a good story, well-promoted by its author, could conceivably sell a few hundred copies before the writer runs out of gas (literally and figuratively. And if this same author works the blogs and has the “personality” to deal with the kooks who like to attach themselves to this medium, a legitimate following could be established–and sales might go anywhere, even into the stratosphere as in the cases of people such as Meyer and Hocking or to a lesser extent Locke.

On a very positive note regarding self-publishing, I noticed last week that The New York Times recently printed a review of a self-published work. The article on this was published in Forbes, but it’s worth reading for several reasons, as it also discusses some of the issues facing self-published writers seeking bona fide reviews. There’s also this piece on how Amazon has received so much flack for their past laxity (read “sins”) in this regard that the firm is now overcompensating by deleting “real” reviews. Subscribers can click this link to another Forbes’ article to learn what’s occurring. It’s a rather lengthy discourse, but I believe well worth taking the time to read. For me, the whole mess is beyond disgusting. And as Newsletter subscribers who have been reading my drivel for the past few years are aware, I’ve been warning about the very problems that have recently come to a head. However, this is one time in my life I wish I had been wrong!

Since so much of all of our time these days is devoted to discussing e-publishing in one medium or another, I believe it’s important for every author of a published work to understand Digital Millennium Copyright Act legislation, since this affects each and every writer. The link takes you to the most current laws, as enacted in February of 2012. Here’s the actual act in the Federal Register as prescribed by the Librarian of Congress. This act, originally signed into law in 1998, is revisited every three years, and like everything involved with publishing these days, has some good points and a few equally bad ones.

The important issue, should a writer find a copy of his or her book on a pirate site such as Torrent, is that this activity can be halted immediately by having material DRM protected, something I discussed in detail in an earlier Newsletter. The argument against this is that DRM-embedded work is impossible for a legitimate purchaser to transfer from one reader to another (such as from an iPad to an Kindle device).

All sorts of contentions are proffered about what’s the best way to deal with this, and I’ll cover the various issues in a separate Newsletter, since the subject is indeed vast and requires a lot of space to discuss adequately. Just know that you as an author have rights, and they can be protected. However, for a writer starting out, I’m not so sure that a few pirated copies aren’t such a bad idea, since it advertises a work. Now don’t get mad at me for writing this, as I’m not advocating theft of intellectual property. But the average “printed” book is passed around eight times before it’s no longer in good enough shape to continue to be handed from person to person, and this “eight metric” might be within the comfort zone for the copying of a digitally published work–as long as the material is not resold. That, for me, is the real issue. Then it’s out-and-out theft.

Again, I’ll devote almost an entire Newsletter to this in the future. As an aside to all of this, a year or so ago a Newsletter subscriber asked me to comment on “fair use,” and I told this person I wasn’t qualified. Anyone accessing either of the links I provided to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act or its lay explanation will readily understand why I said I wasn’t qualified, as it’s an enormously complicated issue. Beyond anything I’ve read, what I take from the material is that lawmakers need to face the issue of digital rights more often than every three years. A year in the publishing industry is rushing by at tremendous speed, and three years might as well be twenty, which means that too much will have happened in 36 months. I welcome comments from any Newsletter subscribers with personal experience concerning this matter.

Today’s article is on writing the perfect paragraph.
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Writing the Perfect Paragraph

First, Consider Length

Oddly, I’ve found the first issue to contend with is size. Some writers, especially when starting out to create a serious work, ignore paragraph length altogether. I often see material of Faulknerian proportions, and wonder if the writer had ever read anything as bulbous in the genre in which that person is currently writing.

An executive editor with a major publishing company told me years ago that the majority of readers don’t like long paragraphs. And this was before this editor had read the first page of my manuscript! I took the comment to heart, and I advise authors to write a lung full. Meaning, just before reading a paragraph, take a deep breath. When the air runs out, it’s time for a new paragraph. This of course doesn’t apply to everything, and this might even seem a bit silly, but it’s a sound way to approach runs of exposition from the perspective of word volume.

A Start, a Middle, and an End

A perfect paragraph is much the same as a perfect chapter. Both require the same three components. Again, I’m referring to a paragraph that’s a run of exposition and not sprinkled with dialogue. However, the same methodology can apply if there’s substantial interior monologue interlaced with the dialogue.

The ideal paragraph should begin with a hook to captivate the reader. Conflict of some sort must occur in its middle, and the chapter can close with a full explanation or a teaser to encourage the reader to stay with the story.

Here’s an Example of the Concept of a Perfect Paragraph

The sharp noise from the gunshot awakened John from his sleep at the same moment he felt the hot air from the bullet whizzing by his head. Since the report wasn’t loud, it had to be a small caliber. But it could still kill him, there was no mistaking that fact. He felt his cheek, and it was wet. The bullet had done more than fly past him. He yanked up the mattress to provide what little protection it would afford, when a round hit the middle of it. Stuffing flew in his face and blinded him as he dodged behind the bed and felt for the revolver in his shoulder holster.

Hardly great writing, but this paragraph provides the reader with a start, as John’s being shot at. The scene escalates as he realizes the bullet grazed him and he’s bleeding. The passage ends with John seeking cover just before he’s shot at again, and barely making it as he feels for his weapon in attempt to protect himself.

Think of Each Paragraph as a Mini-Chapter

As I stated up front, every paragraph can’t be written to meet the mini-chapter requirement, but the more often this can be accomplished, the better the story will read in almost all instances. And it’s easy to “reverse engineer” the process. Meaning, if the paragraph is too long for the scene, it can be broken into components that can be used within the scene as a whole.

In the example above, John could be talking on the phone on his nightstand when he’s shot at. Everything can play out exactly as I’ve written it, except with some short runs of dialogue spliced within the overall narrative.

Add your own dialogue to what I wrote, and see if the scene doesn’t read the same and that the paragraph’s three elements don’t remain intact. Scenes developed in this manner are inherently pleasing to the reader, so I always advise clients to design a start, middle, and end when crafting paragraphs they know beforehand will contain considerable exposition.

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