The Perfect Write® Newsletter Archives (January 2014 – December 2014)

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 122,
(January 24, 2014)
Pronouns That Foster Incorrect Usage

Hello Everyone,

And a big welcome to the newest subscribers for whom this is their first exposure The Perfect Write® Newsletter.  While this medium will of course continue to be about writing prose at a publishable level and the industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years as both an author and an editor, several changes are coming into play in 2014.  The most obvious one involves my Newsletter’s broadcast schedule, which will now be on the third Tuesday of each month and not every other Tuesday.
I hated having to make this decision, but the time it required to create and assemble the material for each edition was weighing more heavily on me and I simply was running out of the hours necessary to maintain what I hope subscribers have found to be a competent resource.  I’ll continue to send a follow-up edition to those who might miss the initial broadcast, apologizing ahead of time for any instance of a duplicate transmission to anyone who opened the original Newsletter.  I’ve had occasional miscues as a result of “fat thumbing” the rebroadcast, and I believe twice last year everyone received a second mailing regardless of whether or not the first one was opened.  I can assure each and every subscriber that this is never intentional.
The new year brings a lot of excitement with it for writers at all stages of their endeavors.  However, 2014 also contains an equal amount of trepidation, yet I guess it’s fair to ask when has a new year not fomented copious quantities of fresh anxiety?  I continue to marvel at the mixed signals sent out by industry stalwarts and upstarts alike.  One of the most confusing “signals,” if it can be categorized as such, is the contradiction involving the tracking of e-publishing statistics from one year to the next.  I read a recent report indicating digital-book purchases had decreased.  A week later I read from another respected source that e-published readership had increased.  Yesterday, I saw a set of statistics that showed e-book sales had leveled off.
While I’m on the subject of e-books, it’s a no-brainer that any writer who’s selling a book directly to the public will experience substantially higher print sales, but I’m impressed by the number of digital copies these authors are also able to market.  This clearly illustrates both the staying power of the author’s presentation and the buyer’s enthusiasm for the digital medium.  But since the digital world as it pertains to books is still relatively new, I find it rather amazing that there is a slowdown of any kind, and it’s just as interesting to me that the phrase “leveling off” is even a part of the current publishing lexicon.  
E-sales moderation, if it can be called this, clearly demonstrates that the reading public continues to prefer to hold a book in its collective hands.  In its own way this is no different from the return to speedometers that have needles to tell us how fast we’re driving and not some digital array that looks like it evolved from a “Star Trek” console.  Some of the older folks like me might remember “fluid” speedometers from the ’50s and how these didn’t resonate with the public.  A Buick I was riding in had a “liquid” speedometer that with every bump slid back and forth between 50 and 80 m.p.h. as we rode at a steady pace down the highway.  I have a suspicion a dynamic of identical proportions is what’s occurring within the industry at this very moment.  And it’s exacerbated by the mavens who promote new catchwords by the minute, such as “atomization,” in an attempt to augment oft-overused standards such as “upsell” and “platform.”   
To an author with a trunk full of paperbacks who’s driving 40 miles in wind-whipped rain to a book reading at a library or writers group, I can guarantee that “atomization” is not on that person’s mind.  The hope is to sell enough copies to pay for the gas and in turn create interest in the book so that others might buy the story at least in digital form once they arrive home and consider the plot a little more intently.  Franchise writers have different aspirations, as do the imprint holders who publish these fortunate few.  For the rest of the world, most are thrilled with a small nibble of the tail of the beast, and I firmly believe there is a great deal to be proud of in accomplishing this, as the successes we all read about had to start at an abject level in almost every single instance.
However, I’ve spent considerable time in past Newsletters explaining the advantages some writers enjoyed when entering the industry.  James Patterson, for example, was the chief executive officer of the largest advertising agency in the world, JWT, prior to embarking on a second career as a writer.  Erika Leonard (E.L. James) was a TV executive in London, and Richard Paul Evans had the width and breadth of the Mormon Church behind him.  And it didn’t hurt that he, too, was an ad executive who called on the very radio stations who initially gave away 50,000 copies of THE CHRISTMAS BOX, of which the entire cost of publication was borne by one of Mr. Evans’s supporters and not the author himself.

I’m very proud of the clients of mine who have done what I consider to be a superb job of promoting their respective books via the media available to them, including some of what I had suggested in my article “Book Marketing From A to Z,” which at present might seem somewhat dated, since it was first provided to Newsletter subscribers in June of ’11.  But much of what I offered 2 1/2 years ago continues to be relevant, as I find the firms I suggested in that exegesis remain at the top of the list of resources for authors.  For example, Kimberly Hitchens at still offers formatting of a digital book provided in Word for less than $200 and M.J. Rose at has modified many of her platforms to accommodate self-published writers who want to market their books at the same level as Big 6 authors.  For anyone who subscribed to my Newsletter after June of 2011 and would like a copy of “Book Marketing From A to Z,” just drop me a note at [email protected]  I don’t offer this information as public domain material via my Newsletter archives, as it’s available solely to subscribers of my rot, and yes, it’s free.
I want to mention one other thing about book sales statistics, and it’s the way Amazon numbers fit with everything else.  Anyone publishing exclusively via an Amazon imprint receives a book ID number proprietary to the firm and called an AISN, which is the counterpart to the ISBN controlled (read “monopolized”) by Bowker in the U.S.  Amazon doesn’t release its actual totals, so there’s no way to know just how many titles the firm publishes each month.  My opinion is that the number would stagger most folks, as the sheer volume of new releases might cause someone considering becoming a writer to forgo the path to fame and riches and choose needlepoint instead. 
It’s also important to understand that the Bowker numbers might also be off on any given year, in this case overstating actual book sales, and even considerably, as anyone can purchase as many ISBNs as desired.  This might not mean much when considering the independent author who has to buy 10 ISNBs at around $25 each to get started, but for an upstart self-publishing house, 1,000 ISBNs at $1,000, yes $1 each, is a zebra with different stripes.
The latter makes selling ISBNs at $40 each not a bad business, as I believe that’s a 4,000-percent profit if Mrs. Milsey taught me right, but this is a topic for another time.  What’s important is that selling 1,000 ISBNs to J&R Publishing in Toledo does not mean that 1,000 books were published at that moment; hence, a grotesquely distorted total sales number as this sale, and sales like it, are aggregated along with everything else.  It could certainly be argued that every self-published writer who buys ten ISBNs (to meet the minimum Bowker requirement) isn’t publishing 10 books, but that again is a topic for another Newsletter (and, again, a writer can buy a single ISBN from a myriad of sources, and $40 has been the customary fee for one Barcode sold alone).  I’m only bringing up all of this to illustrate that book sales numbers require serious due diligence, as the “reporting” mechanisms are primed for misinterpretation.
Here’s what’s not rife for misinterpretation:  Sue Frederick has sold more than 1,500 copies of her three novels, with her latest, MADAM DELAFLOTE, THE IMPECCABLE SPY, leading the way.  Mike Hartner continues to see steady numbers for I, WALTER, as does Dave Mallegol with THE BRONZE HORSEMEN.  And I couldn’t be more pleased with what has occurred with James Babb and THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE.  For the throng of subscribers who have asked about a sequel, I’m pleased to announce that James is working on the next installment of Brodie and Ames, and I’ll likely have some news on this by summer.  These are the works I have permission to discuss, and I hope this gives all writers a good feeling that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a very long one with a lot of bumps along the way.  Set up a personal marketing plan, stay with it, and you will at least give yourself a chance.  Even if you don’t have a bestseller, you’ll meet many fine people and make new friends and colleagues along the way.  Who knows, perhaps a Newsletter subscriber can become the next Hugh Howey.
As to the Big 6-published number from 2013, the aggregate was right at 10,000 new titles.  Seems like a lot, but this includes nonfiction as well as fiction, and when all the math is done, it’s an average of a dozen to three dozen titles for each imprint with just a few exceptions either way.  It’s estimated that 250,000 titles were placed on Amazon and Smashwords combined (remember what I wrote earlier).  Of course the overwhelming bulk of this was digital, and the most dominant genre was Children’s.  This was followed by YA, which is a subset of Children’s but a separate category in this analysis. 
A writer wondering how easy it is to sell a million copies of a printed book will be interested to learn that in 2013 only two books made the grade.  Dan Brown’s INFERNO in fiction and Bill O’Reilly’s nonfiction work each sold more than 1,000,000 copies in a printed version–with no other work reaching that milestone, or even coming close for that matter.  It must be noted, however, that the GREY trilogy, combined, exceeded both Brown’s and O’Reilly’s numbers, with more than 1,250,000 documented print sales.  In the Children’s arena, as one would expect, Mike Riordan and Jeff Kinney led the way.  It should be noted that the top 10 for Children’s produced substantially higher results than any of the other genres.  And in the fiction category, INFERNO had double the sales of its closest rival, John Grisham’s SYCAMORE ROW. 
The USA Today list for 2013 is posted below, and it shows SAFE HAVEN ahead of SYCAMORE ROW, so this should once again demonstrate how squirrely the numbers can be and makes me wonder why readers should have faith in any list.  Subscribers will notice that GATSBY is positioned in the Number 5 slot, and I noticed a sales figure of more than a half million copies tagged to this title, which pleased me but I’m certain elated those folks in the Fitzgerald gene pool to an even greater degree.  The USA Today list is:
1 Inferno, Dan Brown 
2 Safe Haven, Nicholas Sparks
3 Sycamore Row, John Grisham
4 Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn 
5 The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
6 Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James
7 And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
8 Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
9 The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
10 Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
11 The Longest Ride, Nicholas Sparks
12 Fifty Shades Darker, E.L. James
13 Fifty Shades Freed, E.L. James
14 The Hit, David Baldacci
15 Entwined with You, Sylvia Day

Alas, the statistics are finished, as a start of a new year will always foster reminiscences of the past, since last year’s successes are always important to review–and salivate over, ha ha. 
With rare exception, I provide an article to accompany each Newsletter.  This material always focuses on writing fluent prose or the publishing industry as I know it and have followed it for the past couple of decades.  Today’s topic pertains to a very complicated aspect of linkage.  It’s so complex that I had to consult my copyeditor Martha Moffett to refresh my memory and keep my eye on the right ball, and here is the article:
Pronouns That Foster Incorrect Linkage

We see sentences such as the following all the time:

  • Everyone sat on the edge of his seat.
  • Everyone sat on the edges of his seat.
  • Everyone sat on the edges of his seats.
  • Everyone sat on the edge of the seat.
  • Everyone sat on the edges of the seat.
  • Everyone sat on the edges of the seats.

Ignoring that some of the construction is abysmally awkward, the question is, which syntax is correct?  But before even discussing this, my first argument would involve the use of “his” as an accepted complement to the antecedent “everyone.”  Yet “his” is accepted as a “given” in English, to represent “everybody” (read “anybody”) when sex is unspecified, in a sentence designed in this manner.  (I know, some of us have been marked down for using “his” in this syntax.  What we definitely can’t write is something such as “Everyone went their own way,” as placing a plural pronoun with a singular one in this sort of context is a no-no without any wiggle room.)
For the answer, most people would select the first or fourth example, and perhaps the sixth.  For a purist, the best choice is the first, since everything is singular. Now let’s take this one step further.  If a plural noun is substituted for “everyone,” as in these examples that follow, the problem becomes even more complex:
  • People sat on the edges of their seats.
  • People sat on the edges of their seat.
  • People sat on the edge of their seat.
  • People sat on the edge of their seats.

The simple answer is that the rhetoric in the first example is right, since “people” is plural and succeeded by the plural “their” and “seats,” making for complete consistency.  But is this correct?  In reality, isn’t this saying that a person, as a part of the multiple, is sitting on more than one seat, as indicated by both “edges” and the equally plural “seats?”
If you don’t agree, and you have every reason not to, analyze the second example in the latter group.  In this instance, “people,” as plural, implies that more than one person sat, collectively, on the edges (as the plural indicates) of a single seat.  Not a good prospect at all.  In the third example, this same group is sitting on the edge of one seat, which implies a very large place to park a crowd, indeed.  In the fourth and final example, people are sitting on the edge of their seats, sort of meaning that everyone is on an edge of many seats, which means the crowd has elastic behinds.  What’s the correct answer?  Believe it or not, each is correct, in the sense that every example can be argued as acceptable grammar.
Here is where common sense has to enter the rhetorical equation.  I’ve read the examples many times and found that the fourth sentence in the second list fits my eye best.  However, I can think about it a while longer and feel better about the first construction.  I’ve learned over the years it’s best for me to go with my first choice in this sort of exercise, hence I’d choose “People sat on the edge of their seats.”  My reasoning is, though edge is singular, I’m going to argue that each seat only has one edge that a single person could sit on at a time.  Conversely, since all the people wouldn’t be sitting in one seat, this makes “seats” the right choice.  Yes, this leaves me to once again contemplate “edge” and “edges,” and I chose the singular.
Strict grammarians wouldn’t find this a language oddity, and the first example in each list would automatically be the choice, but for me this is comparable to when I begin my Newsletters with “Hello Everyone” and it should be “Hello, Everyone.”  My contention is, if the latter is correct, why don’t all our standard greetings begin with a comma after “Dear,” so that every time we write Aunt Mary it’s “Dear, Aunt Mary?”  It’s my position that readability must at times be allowed to trump convention.  Even though “hello” is indeed an interjection and “dear” an adjective, I’m not of the opinion that most folks separate the two when considering their application, and for this reason I once again opt for consistency; hence, “Hello Aunt Mary” to coincide with “Dear Aunt Mary.”
Robert L. (Rob) Bacon, Founder
The Perfect Write®
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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 123, (February 18, 2014)
Fiction Writers Who Defined Catholicism, Evangelism, and Yellow Journalism

Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome the latest subscribers to the Perfect Write® Newsletter, which is now broadcast on the third Tuesday of each month, at 1 p.m. EST, to writers in 43 countries.  I also want to express my appreciation to all my long-time subscribers for their understanding of why I had to cut back on the every-other-Tuesday broadcast format that had been the bill of fare for the past 4 1/2 years.  I hated making this decision, but I was simply running out of hours necessary to service clients.  With my client-base in mind, I want to clarify something I wrote in the last Newsletter that has caused some misunderstanding regarding my accepting new authors.

I absolutely am eager to work with authors who are new to me.  I just can’t accept as many, and I made the comment in the previous Newsletter because it’s exponentially more efficient for me to edit material from authors with whom I have an existing relationship.  One reason is that I know the respective writer’s style and his or her expectations from the perspective of how rapidly I can provide anything from a critique to a comprehensive edit.

This is a big deal because I don’t shop out material, and as I’ve said many times, I’m painfully slow, and there’s no getting around this.  But please, please, please don’t neglect sending me projects, as I promise I will do what you ask.  And I indeed will accept new authors, albeit on a more selective basis, as I have a lot on my plate and I believe in meeting lead times to the best of my ability.

I want to make a personal announcement regarding something I’ve been prodded to do for some time by Newsletter subscribers, and this is to collate and publish–in a single volume–the articles I’ve written that have accompanied each broadcast over the past 4 1/2 years.  I’ve decided to publish this material initially via the Kindle KDP program, with a 90-day exclusive.  I eat my own cooking, and I’ve long suggested $2.99 as the absolute outside e-price point for any writer who’s not a big name, and I frankly don’t think it’s a bad idea for the superstars as well, since it’s hard to argue Amanda Hocking’s success at that price or less, as much of her work was even sold at $.99.

My material is of course nonfiction (although I’m certain some will argue otherwise, ha ha), but $2.99 is going to be the selling price.  The book of my articles is titled HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ.  And if Newsletter subscribers would be so kind to recommend this material to your writing colleagues, this will really help with gaining traction.  The advantage to anyone who buys a copy, other than forever being in my kindest thoughts, is that the e-book version will provide a super-easy, fast, and effective search medium, something I’m unable to offer via the algorithm for the articles via my Web site.

This book of articles comprises 126 separate papers, and I was amazed when I tallied the word count that it came in at a little over 83,000.  I would never have thought this possible.  HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ is at for formatting, as I use the vendors I suggest to subscribers, and once I have the ARC approved and select a cover, off it will go to KDP.  I’ll of course let subscribers know when it’s available for purchase.

To continue on e-book price points, my copyeditor, Martha Moffett, who does terrific work that many of you have benefited from and not been aware because she works behind the scenes, suggested a blog to me that’s operated by Chris Weston, a college student who recently self-published his first book on Kindle, and I might add via the same program I’ll be using.  He does a lot of research before he “speaks,” his “reporting” is current, and it’s certainly accurate as it pertains to his daily adventures with e-publishing.  Anyone new to this complex arena might find Chris’s blog worth routinely checking out.  And I particularly recommend his site to younger subscribers, as they will certainly find it easier to identify with someone their age rather than a brontosaurus like me.

In one of Chris Weston’s recent posts he discusses Amazon’s e-book royalty structure, which starts at 35 percent up to a $2.98 price point and escalates to 70 percent for $2.99 and beyond–the latter available to authors who participate in the “Kindle Select” (read “exclusive to Kindle”) program.  Here’s the link direct to the Kindle site that explains the firm’s e-pricing in explicit detail.  It doesn’t require a Wharton-level IQ to see why I’m placing my book at the $2.99 threshold, but I want to discuss the overall side of e-book royalties, as there’s a bit more to this that all writers anticipating publication, in any medium, should be aware of.

If a writer is blessed to have a book signed by a Big 6 (or is it now Big 5 or Big 4?) publisher for print at a $27.95 retail, the author will generally receive 15 percent of the wholesale price of the book, which is traditionally 60 percent of retail.  So, if we do the math, 60 percent of $27.95 is $16.77, and 15 percent of that is $2.52.  Not a mighty number from a book starting out at almost $30, and what makes this even more difficult to deal with is when the wholesale cost is reduced because of all sorts of pricing pressure, from Amazon in particular.  However, most writers will end up with around $2.50 per book for hardbacks, and via the standard 10-percent royalty for softcover, assuming a $17.95 retail, a return of approximately $1.10.

Faced with these numbers, how does Amazon’s KDP program stack up in comparison?  I’d say pretty good, as a $.2.99 e-book on Kindle Select nets the author $2.09.  And it’s a whole lot easier selling something at $2.99 rather than $27.95 (yes, digital and print aren’t the same, but I’m confident everyone gets my point).  The 800-pound gorilla is what it has always been, however, and this is getting people to buy a particular title from an unknown author.  But, taking into consideration that placement on a list is placement on a list, and the marketing is up to the writer regardless of who does the publishing, some issues can’t be ignored, like how much money the author can put in his or her pocket.

Once I personally step into this e-self-publishing maelstrom I’ll have a chance to taste the sauce for myself, and I can only hope it won’t be too watered down.  (To another issue, the royalty percentages paid by mainstream publishers for hard and softcover often vary, and depending on the author’s popularity this can be all over the place.  However, I believe the net dollar amounts I cited are fair representations of what most authors could expect to receive as royalties, and this is what matters to my illustration.)

And to one final note on e-book price points, Chris Weston points to a Smashwords study, provided by CEO Mark Coker from September of last year, which indicates that $1.99 is a “black hole” for retail for a digital book.  Via the Smashwords link, subscribers can check the statistics and make their own evaluations as to the validity of what’s being presented.  Mr. Coker’s paper is rather comprehensive and in my opinion worth reading, but it’s always important if not crucial to get other data before making a pricing decision, as sometimes a firm’s numbers can be horribly skewed for reasons that aren’t available to the public.

Dave Mallegol has sold more than 500 copies of THE BRONZE HORSEMEN, and the overwhelming majority of these were in print.  As I alluded to in a past Newsletter, he said lowering his price from $20 to $18 has made a decided improvement in sales.  I critiqued the raw draft of that book, as well as the sequel, THE ADVENTURES OF THE BRONZE HORSEMEN, which is now available on Amazon via the link. THE ADVENTURES OF THE BRONZE HORSEMEN is the continuation of a tale of survival by an enormously inventive clan who were the first known culture to train horses, and I’m pleased to showcase the opening chapter on my Critique Blog.  Dave did a terrific job of meticulously researching these people, and I found it impossible not to root for them as they warded off the most savage invaders imaginable, as well as all the other issues that plagued man’s survival in a setting in which the harshness of the Russian winters alone should have been more than enough for the inhabitants to have to combat.

For as long as I’ve been publishing this Newsletter I’ve advised folks to subscribe to Publishers Marketplace because the daily Publishers Lunch provides concurrent information. Michael Cader deserves enormous praise for taking his business in a dozen or so years from scratch to now serving 40,000 subscribers for his paid and free sites combined.  His “hits” are greater than any other entity of its category, and this popularity has spawned a partnership with Mike Shatzkin that has resulted in their sponsorship of international conferences that deal with digital book publishing.I bring this up solely because I’ve noticed Publishers Marketplace/Lunch becoming more “parochially” oriented of late, and since we pay for Mr. Cader’s Newsletters, to my way of thinking once in a while his self-promotion has gone over the top.  Not so much that I’m going to drop my subscription and suggest this to subscribers, but I am paying close attention to just how often he beats his own drum. Even though my Newsletter is free, I’m always sensitive to the frequency in which I mention something that’s self-serving, as I feel a responsibility to provide what I say I do, and it’s not “pitching” something for which I have a financial interest.  I have even struggled with taking the space to discuss my book of articles, but since Newsletter subscribers have lobbied for it I don’t have quite the normal misgivings

To stay with Publishers Marketplace but change direction, I see a lot of books in the daily Lunch that are signed by major publishers and listed as “General Other,” hence no genre specificity.  Of course this nondescript handle connotes commercial fiction, but with the gazillion subgenres out there, isn’t it conceivable that each of these books has a home in one of them without the need to create a new category?  If the interest is in not littering the “Deals” page with a plethora of individual subgenres, at least the material could be listed as commercial fiction.  Anything but “General Other.”

I imagine many subscribers have read or heard about JUST JAKE, the early-YA story of the trials and tribulations written by a kid named, oddly enough, Jake (Marcionette is his last name.)  He’s 13 now and wrote the book when he was 12, and it deals with his sixth-grade experiences.  This book’s being published by Penguin is rather extraordinary in its own right because of this lad’s age, but what I found equally interesting is that he took it upon himself to personally call agents.  One on the West Coast freaked and told him this was “just not the way this is done” and hung up.  Undaunted, he called Simon Lazar’s office at Writer’s House, got Mr. Lazar’s secretary’s ear, who told her boss this kid was on the line and he wanted to pitch the agent his book.  Mr. Lazar told her to have him e-mail a few chapters, and ten minutes later the agent began reading the material.

Anyone who tries Jake’s technique will stand a great chance of getting blackballed, as many agents, even though they will deny it, maintain a list of people they will never work with.  I’ve also heard of agents who share their negative experiences in this regard, and some good writers cannot get a sniff because of aggressive early behavior.  However, as with the adage “out of the mouths of babes,” a 12-year old has no fear, and the story also indicates the importance of persistence.  I remember being chastised by an agent I contacted 20 years ago (by fax no less), and it wasn’t until I began editing and developed a solid reputation that I ever called another one.  So, to the Jakes of the world, you are all better men than I.

I want to switch to book marketing for a moment and mention something I’ve long espoused that now seems to have lost its pop.  I’ve often suggested that subscribers might want to consider writing short articles on subjects that pertain to the respective books they wrote and post these on an article-aggregator site.  I singled out EzineArticles as the one I used that got me on the first page of the Google rankings, where I remain to this day for a couple of search phrases germane to editing such as “Free Opening-Chapter Critique” (number 1 out of 48,200,000 entries; I know, that’s a WOW) and “Opening-Chapter Critique” (number 4 out of 22,900,000).  However, I used to be on the first page for “Manuscript Critiques” (now on page 2) and “Manuscript Critique” (now buried on page 3) and a few other meta tag-influenced phrases that began ebbing a couple of years ago and have gotten worse as time has gone by.

The first downturn was the result of the “Panda” algorithm, designed by a guy named Panda (really), and this program was written to ferret out sites that were gaming the Internet by providing masses of duplicate content (to be more specific, influencing the Google crawler that ultimately is responsible for that search-engine’s page rankings).  Unfortunately, the Panda algorithm looked at content on the article aggregators’ sites in the same way, and in my case the views dropped by 80 percent overnight.  A year or so later there was another decline, this time the result of another Google program, in this instance referred to as “Penguin” (however there’s no person named “Penguin,” as if this has relevance, ha ha).

I contacted Chris Knight, the CEO of EzineArticles, right after I noticed the first drastic drop in traffic, and he said that he couldn’t pinpoint why everything was affected so dramatically, only that it was endemic throughout his site.  I can only imagine how this is affecting him financially, as he sells content, and the buyers of course are doing so with the intention of picking up traffic through front- and back-links, and his rates are predicated on article volume among other factors tied to this metric.  Think of this as a TV show that suddenly lost its viewership–and with the network not being able to sell ad space and with the remaining sponsors leaving like rats from a burning barn.  It’s not a pretty sight.  And for this reason I don’t think article writing is such a great idea anymore, as the effort involved will likely require too much time before a return can be appreciated via search-engine rankings.  My suggestion is to utilize your blogs instead to gain an Internet presence.

If you have nothing to do and want to read something I find fascinating, take a look at the link on my site that chronicles Pulitzer Prize Winners.  It’s updated yearly by Harvey Kloman at the University of Pittsburg, and some of what he reports is mind-boggling as well as humorous in the way winners of this award are viewed by other industry bastions such as The New York Times and Modern Library.  Of course, if a book wasn’t published by a Random House imprint, this speaks volumes for why the story wouldn’t make their Modern Library list.  However, how in the world any list can include Lafayette Hubbard’s (yes, that’s L. Ron’s first name) material in its top anything is beyond my comprehension.  (It should be noted that Hubbard’s material is on The Modern Library’s “Reader’s List” and not the actual Top 100 their board selected.  But this still begs the question, “What readers are they referring to?”)

It’s been all over the blogs, but in case any subscriber missed it, notorious self-publisher Publish America has changed its name to of all things America Star Books.  I echo the sentiments of others who have wondered why it took the company so long to make this decision, as the Internet has been bombarded with one complaint after another since this self-publisher began operations in 1999.  How it has managed to survive the tidal wave of suits filed by so many states’ attorneys general offices (I’ve lost count) is a tremendous tribute to PA’s legal team.

For anyone who might not be familiar with PA’s author contract in the past, to classify the arrangement as royalty-paying, a writer was paid a $1 advance.  But this is where the “traditional publisher” (the firm’s publicity refers to it by this couplet) relationship ended, as PA then marketed the books to that writer to sell on his or her own.  And the marketing was unrelenting, with all sorts of clever devices to encourage the purchase of daily and weekly “specials.”  I encourage any subscriber who might be considering America Star Books to go online before making the decision, as leopards don’t change their spots, and take a hard look at the history of Publishing America.

Today’s article is one I’ve wanted to write for a long time but for whatever reason haven’t until now.  The topic is “Fiction That Uniquely Defines Catholicism, Evangelism, and Yellow Journalism,” and here it is:

Fiction That Uniquely Defines Catholicism, Evangelism, and Yellow Journalism


Like many folks, I struggled with ULYSSES when I was a youth. And because of my inability to grasp stream-of-consciousness writing at that time in my life, and what I later heard about FINNEGAN’S WAKE’s not being any easier to comprehend, I swore off James Joyce forever.  Lucky for me, years later I picked up a copy of DUBLINERS and became hooked on the Stephen Dadelus character.  And since I could handle a smidgeon of Mr. Joyce’s brilliance, I ventured forth and bought a copy of A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN.

I was raised a Catholic, but I learned one hundred times more about the religion and its foundation from that novel than I’d gleaned from all the catechisms and masses combined.  It’s as though the book was a running glossary of all the elements of the Catholic Church I never knew existed.  When I finished the book I believed I could test a priest and come out ahead of most of them, and I in no way meant that disrespectfully.  It’s just that the book contained such a wealth of knowledge, and it had such a profound effect on me that I reread ULYSSES.  And I can honestly say I almost enjoyed it the second time around, ha ha.

A Most Unlikely Author Teaches Us About Evangelism

To his legion of fans, John D. MacDonald is known for one character and one character only, the iconic Travis McGee.  I consider Travis’s bill of fare the ultimate example of pulp fiction, yet I have four books with him as the lead in my library at home.  But Mr. MacDonald was a much deeper writer than he exhibited by way of Travis, as he wrote fine fictional treatments of some serious topics, such as his depictions in CONDOMINIUM and ONE MORE SUNDAY.  It’s the latter work I want to touch on in this article.
remember watching the movie BECKET starring Richard Burton in the title role and marveling at the scene when he is found to really believe in Christ.  This experience also occurs in ONE MORE SUNDAY, and in an equally stunning manner.  I hate it that I can’t provide a spoiler alert for those who might want to read the book, but I promise it will still be shocking where, when, how, and why the evangelist, the Reverend Doctor John Tinker Meadows, affirms the faith he has forever mocked.


Henrich Boll is one of my favorite authors, and KATHARINA BLUM is an enormously valuable work, as in my opinion it paints as visceral a picture as possible of “Yellow Journalism” and the havoc it can wreak on a person’s life.

When I picked up a copy of Irving Wallace’s book THE SEVEN MINUTES in the early ’70s, I fully expected a lascivious tale to rival CANDY, from my high school days. What I received instead with THE SEVEN MINUTES was a narrative that had virtually nothing to do with its title, which was the purported time it required for the “average” couple to begin and finish intercourse.  Instead, I was presented with a story with all sorts of freedom of the press ramifications and a fabulous treatment of “Yellow Journalism,” and I enjoyed the writing so much that I’ve reviewed sections at the book a number of times during the past 40 years.

Fiction Deals With Reality in Sometimes the Most Unexpected Ways

It’s a tribute to these great writers of Literature (and, yes, I do place Mr. MacDonald in this category as well, as I classify ONE MORE SUNDAY as Literature) that they can make serious topics entertaining in a fictional account.  And it’s especially satisfying when a book “teaches” in a subtle way what is often difficult to comprehend adequately in a classroom setting.  I’m not suggesting we should learn everything from a novel, but I find it nice when this happens.

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

Please contact me with any questions or comments, and let me
know if there is anything in the field of professional writing you
would like addressed in a future Newsletter.


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 124,
(March 18, 2014)
Words That Require Hyphenation and Those That Don’t

Hello Everyone,

I want to welcome the most recent subscribers for whom this is their first scheduled broadcast of The Perfect Write® Newsletter, which is now sent every third Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. EST. It’s my practice to compose an article to accompany each edition that focuses on an aspect of writing prose at a level people would pay to read or of the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years as both an author and an editor. At the prodding of Newsletter subscribers, I’ve compiled the articles in a single volume, and HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! will soon be available on Kindle for $2.99. I’ll send out a special edition Newsletter as soon as this compendium is ready for market, as the search feature is much better than what’s on my site and will allow easy access to each subject.

Longtime Newsletter subscriber and client James Babb recently received an order for 180 copies of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE from a single school in Arkansas! At present, 4,000 copies of his book are in the hands of his avid fans. Another client, Mike Hartner, has compiled his totals for I, WALTER, and he’s sold 736 copies during the past twelve months, with 471 e-books, 248 paperbacks, and 17 audio. And Dave Mallegol, whose opening chapter of his latest book, ADVENTURES OF THE BRONZE HORSEMEN, is posted on my Critique Blog, told me recently that he’s just exceeded 600 paperbacks sold, (700 total including other formats) during the past twelve months for his first book, THE BRONZE HORSEMAN, with none of his soft covers priced at less than $18 per copy.

I continue to publish statistics for material written by these clients, first because I have their permission, ha ha, but second because I believe there is value in knowing that substantial sales can be made if quality stories are made available to the reading public. The diversity of the marketing plan each of these writers uses is another reason there is a benefit in continuing to present their respective sales figures. A good way to evaluate their success is to compare what they have accomplished with what’s reported by Smashwords’ CEO David Coker.

Mr. Coker says that his firm documents sales of approximately $20 million for the past year, but then he boasts a listing of a little more than 250,000 titles. Do the math and that’s $80 per author. To be fair, a couple of titles have been hugely popular, but these statistics show what’s really “out there” for a book without a lot of hard work on the part of the author.

I bring up the Smashwords numbers because it seems that ultra-successful, self-e-published writer Hugh Howey (WOOL) has completed a survey of digital metrics he developed via analyzing the Amazon crawler (don’t ask if you don’t already know what this entails because I’m not remotely capable of explaining it, ha ha), and his “numbers” seem to have ruffled the feathers of the Publishers Marketplace attempt to act as the sounding board for all things digital via Mike Shatzkin’s affiliation with Michael Cader. For me, it’s a case of one person’s highly subjective numbers being assailed by another’s equally speculative statistics. As I’ve said all along, “Who knows?” And since Amazon and Apple don’t post their individual author’s sales figures, it’s all academic. Yes, some opinions can be given, but to state anything as even remotely conclusive is a huge stretch, as I see things.

No one knows a thing for certain except that no one knows a thing for certain, and it starts and stops there. All any of us can do is talk about our own books and how they are faring. Everything else is a specious, capricious treacle in an attempt to either save face or protect an emerging concept from scrutiny that might be too introspective for comfort. The entire issue, okay, 800-pound gorilla, is marketing beyond being placed on a list. And here’s where I’m throwing in my two-cents’ worth. I’m number one on page one on Google for “Free Opening Chapter Critique” out of 50,300,000 posted links and number eight on page one for “Opening Chapter Critique,” this out of 22,500,000.

With these numbers, I should have to employ a staff in the hundreds–yet there’s just me and a copyeditor whom I contract with as needed. If the statistics I just posted that relate to my editing business don’t point to “If the public doesn’t know you exist, they won’t contact you,” I don’t know what does. The identical scenario applies to a book title sitting on a list. Whether it’s on the top or the bottom, it doesn’t matter. The only way the title will be purchased is if someone asks for it, or the author, by name. To take my site listing on Google a step further, if someone types “editing” onto the search pane, I’m generally in on the fourth or fifth page. This is why meta tags are important. However, for a book with a zillion ways to go with meta tagging, it’s no different from keying in “editing” and hoping that someone will find my services. If I’m not on the first or second page for a keyword or key phrase, my experience is that I can forget anyone’s finding me.

Clearly indicated by what’s in the preceding paragraph, it’s normally not a great idea to comment on a publisher’s numbers, as so many of them are impossible to adequately decipher unless on that firm’s internal accounting team, which of course I’m not. But I couldn’t help but notice Simon & Schuster’s outstanding 2013 results of almost a billion dollars in sales for all categories and a gross profit of around 13 percent. The 13 percent is fabulous, in my opinion, but here’s why I’m bringing this to Newsletter subscribers’ attention: The strong numbers were attributed to an upsurge in print sales! I have long been saying that there will always be demand for physical books that people can hold in their hands, and these numbers I just cited are substantiating my assertion.

And an upturn in print is not solely via S&S. Yes, there will be a time when the printed copy goes the way of the 8-track (and now the CD as straight downloads have taken over), but I believe it will be many, many years before a book with a perfect spine is going to be considered a relic. As a disclaimer regarding the 13 percent, my agent says the numbers are questionable, as S&S had been on the block for more than a dozen years and no one wants to buy the publisher (arguing who wouldn’t want a firm with 13 percent EBIDA?), but my reason for writing this section is to illustrate print-book stability and not in any way to imply that the S&S tallies are spot-on. As I wrote, I have no inside knowledge of the way these numbers were developed.

I noticed in a recent Kobo Top-10 List that Zora Neale Hurston’s magnificent novel THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD was listed. Oprah had showcased this story some time ago, as this book was resurrected from relative obscurity by an agent (I forget who, unfortunately) years after Alice Walker wrote about the book in Ms. Magazine in 1975. I was first exposed to Ms. Hurston’s masterpiece by a friend of mine when I lived in Delray Beach, Florida, in the late ’90s.

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, in my opinion, is remarkable in many ways, as the narrative depicts the life of a poor black culture in a vibrant manner that left me with newfound respect for people who made “good” out of what most of us would consider a pitiful existence with no hope for advancement. I’ve often cited the opening paragraph as one of the best I’ve ever read, and the “orgasm” metaphor is as beautiful as it is sensual. I’m confident that anyone reading this scene will fully understand why I chose to describe it this way.

One other note on THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD involves the use of cant. A person of color is enabled to write dialect as a by-product of those around her or him, but to write it effectively and incorporate the accompanying slang in a way that’s not overwhelming to the storyline is incredibly difficult. Hence, for any author who is considering dialect for a character, regardless of the ethnicity, I suggest studying what Ms. Hurston crafted.

To switch to the negative side of the publishing equation, Penguin UK has banned Author Solutions Inc. from advertising in its Booksellers trade journal. ASI ( iUniverse, Xilibris, et al.) was charging clients what amounted to $10,000 in U.S. funds for listing a book in their promo material. In the future, one can only hope that other marketing schemes are exposed for what they are, such as charging exorbitant fees for Kirkus Reviews, which can be purchased for $400–and not $4,000–for example. And, yes, Kirkus Reviews are vended, and that’s why I view them as a waste of an author’s money, as these blurbs now have zero relevance amongst publishing hierarchy.

The information I just provided on ASI’s being banned was sourced via a Publishers Marketplace link, and I also want to give credit to PM for the link to a new publishing venture, Redemption Books,* that kicks off in April for the Kimberley Cameron Literary Agency. I’ve dealt with Kimberley and a couple of her agents during the past ten years, and from my experiences I can tell subscribers, without reservation, that there are no finer people in the industry than those affiliated with her agency. Kimberley was a recent president of the AAR, and her agency used to be called Reece Halsey North and represented, among other notable authors, none other than William Faulkner. *Please note that this is not a self-publishing imprint, as most of her titles are from backlists of her own clients’ books.

Regarding a well-known imprint, here are the Harlequin figures from the past five years, and they present a clear trend that should not be a surprise to anyone, as they indicate a 20-percent decline in sales during the period:

2013: $398 million
2012: $426.5 million
2011: $459 million
2010: $468 million
2009: $493 million

A statement from Harlequin’s parent company, Torstar, is solid affirmation of what I’ve been discussing with subscribers for some time: “A number of digital-only publishers and other digital distribution models are emerging and authors have greater opportunities to self-publish, often at lower prices than traditional publishers. The proliferation of less expensive, and free, self-published works could negatively impact Harlequin’s revenues in the future.”
James Patterson is making good on his pledge to donate $1,000,000 to independent bookstores across the nation. Thus far he’s cut checks totaling more than $265,000 to 55 stores, which means each has received on average $5,000. In today’s economy this might not seem like much, but to a small, family-run bookstore these funds can make the difference between staying open or closing the business, as the money is enough to pay the rent and utilities for several months. Yes, if it wasn’t for books by Mr. Patterson and a handful of name authors, these stores wouldn’t sell enough titles to have a business in the first place. But the authors benefit by having a showplace where their books maintain a visual/tactile presence that can only occur in a brick-and-mortar environment. So there is definitely a symbiotic relationship, and we can only hope that other authors will respect Mr. Patterson’s lead and provide financial support, as well.

Hyphenation often depends on whether or not word combinations are used as adjectives, such as in “back-to-back event” instead of “it happened back to back.” After thinking about this further, I decided to write an article on the context in which words should and should not be hyphenated, and in what context.

Words That Require Hyphenation and Those That Don’t

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a paper that dealt exclusively with hyphenated words. And after spending considerable time with the subject I can fully understand why, as there are all sorts of confusing ways dictionaries treat word couplets and multiple-word runs. As to couplets or multiword sequences that require hyphens, only one issue is for certain, and it’s that this article will be far from a comprehensive listing, as the number of words requiring special treatment are in the thousands.

Let’s Get the Confusion Started

If we were to read the word “website” in ten different magazines, we’d most often see it written as I just wrote it or hyphenated “web-site.” Yet both are incorrect, as Web is a proper name and as such requires capitalization, and “site” is a separate word that when combined with “Web” should not take a hyphen; hence “Web site” is correct, even though we seldom see it written this way. I never knew what was correct until my copyeditor brought it to my attention. And how many folks know that “ship-shape” should be “shipshape,” irrespective of its usage, or that “fail-safe” is hyphenated, regardless of its placement in a sentence?

“Non-” and “Semi-” Prefixes

We often want to place a hyphen after “non-” to form words such as “non-issue,” “non-entity,” “non-sequitur,” etc., but none of these words is correct, as the first two examples should be written without the hyphen and “non sequitur” as always two words. While this might not be too hard to reconcile in one’s mind, how many people know that “semi” is treated the same as “non”, and whatever “semi” is attached to does not require a hyphen for separation? Thus, “semitruck” and “semitrailer” are correct, although, in fairness, in many dictionaries “semi-truck” is shown as acceptable. However, for a true “go figure,” the word “semitrailer” is offered no such dispensation. And, to add to the confusion, “tractor-trailer” is hyphenated. “Fishlike” and all words ending with the suffix “like” aren’t hyphenated, as aren’t “counterproductive” and all words with the prefix “counter,” even though we see “counter-terrorist” all the time.

Here are a few other words and a couplet that aren’t supposed to be hyphenated: anthill, antidepressant (it can be written with the hyphen while “antipersonnel” cannot), bighead, tabletop, tattletale, sugarcane (but is acceptable as two words), undercover, overhead, and eager beaver. Additional prefixes that don’t require hyphenating when combined with another word include “over-“, “mid-“, “under-“, “bi-“, “multi-“, and “pre-“. I’ll have more on some of these later.

Multiple-Word Runs That Do Not Require Hyphens Except–

Sans the quotations to set off each phrase, here’s a micro list of some of the most popular sets of words that most dictionaries say do not require hyphens: all in all, around the corner, around the clock, beat the band, bird in hand, hand in hand, ins and outs, over and over, lost and found (although considered acceptable both ways), down in the mouth (but not down-and-out; I know, wow!), in the know, out to lunch, over the counter, and pass the buck.

The “Except” in this subtitle refers to those instances when any of these phrases are used as attributive adjectives, since in these cases each phrase must be hyphenated.

Multiple Words That Require Hyphens

Here’s another miniscule group just to whet one’s appetite: all-inclusive, all-in-one (anytime “all” is a prefix, hyphenate the word), able-bodied, dog-tired, great-grandfather, great-aunt (that’s really a hard one), lickety-split, loose-lipped, middle-of-the-road, slack-jawed (but “closemouthed” is not hyphenated), soup-to-nuts, under-the-table (remember in the last group that “over the counter” was not hyphenated–and wouldn’t be unless used as an adjective), and up-and-comer.

What’s on Your List?

Did you get all of these correct? If not, don’t feel bad, as most people would find the material in these groups quite a challenge. It points to why checking our work is so important, and especially when this involves common word couplets and phrases. It’s also why I employ a copyeditor with more than 40 years’ experience at understanding the complexities of word and phrase nuance.


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 125,
(April 2014)
Pronoun Misuse Pertaining to “Their
Hello Everyone

I’m happy to report that there were lots of new subscribers during this past month.  I can never figure out the reasons for the fluctuations from one 30-day period to the next, as there doesn’t appear to be anything to pinpoint as a driving force behind any of my subscriber metrics, but I certainly appreciate the interest, regardless of what motivates it.
I’m delighted that so many of you have asked about when HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! will be on Kindle, and I can only say that I just finished the fourth revision.  I hadn’t planned to rework any of the material, but each time I parse the articles I find elements I want to change.  This is especially true in the Publishing section, as so much has happened in the past five years that I’ve been writing on the industry and its abundant nuances.  However, I’ve also made modifications to the Writing section, which is twice the size of its counterpart, as I wanted to provide some fresh ways of saying what subscribers have read previously.  Again, this article compilation will be priced at $2.99, and if each of you will just tell 1,000 of your closest friends to buy a copy–well, my “retirement” would be going so much better, ha ha.
Mike Hartner’s final sales total for all formats for I, WALTER for the first full year, ending March 31, was 947, and he just sent me a note that he’d passed the 1,000 mark on April 9.  He also gave away more than 20,000 copies on a Kindle promotion, showing once more that greasing the wheel can be a valuable aid to sales.  Amanda Hocking’s success proved this to me more than any other writer’s, and I strongly suggest not getting greedy, especially at the early stage of the marketing curve.  All of us want to recover our “start-up” costs, but this is a tortoise and not a hare environment, as slow but steady seems to overwhelmingly be the best course of action.
In order, the top-ten best-selling authors during the past ten or so years are:
1.   James Patterson
2.   J.K. Rowling
3.   Nora Roberts
4.   Dr. Seuss
5.   John Grisham
6.   Stephenie Meyer
7.   Dan Brown
8.   Nicholas Sparks
9.   Janet Evanovich
10. Jeff Kinney
Stephen King just missed at number 11, but the biggest surprise for me was that Nicholas Sparks made this list, as his material is more literary and historically this category doesn’t translate to ultra-humongous sales.  However, I’m saying this solely as it relates to contemporary works, as THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, TOBACCO ROAD, and a plethora of material we refer to as classics have indeed sold tens of millions of copies.

I imagine the GREY trilogy will nudge into the top ten at some point, as the sales numbers continue to increase.  The top-selling single book is THE DA VINCI CODE, which the last time I saw numbers had surpassed 81 million copies.  Write something that creates religious controversy and fasten your seat belt.  Oh, it also helps to craft the best-paced book of all-time (in my opinion, of course).  

Many Newsletter subscribers might have already been following the story in which it was revealed last month that Result Source was hired by the Mars Hill Church in Seattle to manipulate bestseller lists on behalf on Pastor Mark Driscoll’s book REAL MARRIAGE (co-authored with his wife).  This man enjoys a mega following, and it would seem this marketing “help” wouldn’t be remotely necessary.
I bring up this issue solely because of how despicable I find it that a person who espouses honesty and integrity would resort to what I consider flagrant gaming of the system.  For any subscriber who might not be aware of the way Result Source “helps” its clients, the company purchases enough of the author’s books to get the title on The New York Times and other notable bestseller lists.  It can cost the client from the mid-five figures to well into the six figures to buy enough of his or her own books to make the charts.  Often the books are later returned and then remaindered, but the goal is achieved, as these lists are generated via velocity of sales during a short period of time.
I discussed this a while back, but to refresh memories, if a book sells 5,000 copies for four weeks in a row, and never a copy more, it will almost assuredly make The New York Times list.  However if a book sells 1,000 copies a week for 50 weeks, or 50,000 total copies, it wouldn’t make the grade. Again, it’s the velocity of sales and not the volume that determines placement.  Hence, if some writer has an extra $60,000 lying around, sending it to Result Source will generally assure a spot on many august bestseller lists.
This tactic is particularly popular with self-help stylists, since they can tout their book’s recent lofty status on bestseller lists as an endorsement of their immense talent and value.  I also mentioned this before, but it’s an offshoot of the way DIANETICS gained acclaim in the ’70s, as an acolyte would bestow “expert” status on someone no one had ever heard of, and another person would then follow up with the same accolade.  All of a sudden, person number one is now an acclaimed expert in the field.  Book “sizing,” as I’ll call it, accomplishes the same goal.  And until the industry can accurately track pseudo purchases orchestrated by these outfits, the practice will continue.  What’s particularly galling to me is that the publisher, distributor, and/or wholesaler of a particular title have to know when a ridiculously large bulk purchase is placed by a known “sizer.”  And while there are supposedly safeguards in place to assure that those who assemble bestseller lists are notified when pseudo bulk purchases are made, by all appearances the “sizers” continue to remain well ahead of the curve.
Once in a while I’ll have a client ask me whether or not I’ve been harsh enough in a critique of mine.  To some of you who have hired me, that statement might seem rather odd, since I’ve often been referred to as being brutally honest regarding my assessments.  Granted, I do not ever ridicule a writer’s efforts, and if something might be particularly weak I’ll commonly joke about whatever might be deficient instead of simply saying it wasn’t at the level I believe it needed to be.  But I always level with the author, since I wouldn’t want someone glossing over my material when I’ve paid for an honest evaluation.    
One of the biggest challenges any editor faces is coming to grips with situations when writers will have a section or an element critiqued or edited, but not the entire work.  And in my case, I’m particularly vulnerable because I encourage clients to send me early-stage material.  I firmly believe this is far and away the best way to work with a writer whose skill sets I’m familiar with, as once I analyze the opening, whether it be a few chapters or 100 pages, we can work together to more quickly develop plot points and create an effective storyboard.  My experience has been that this is always the most efficient and least expensive tack for any writer.
However, at times a writer will take what I suggest about opening material and assume this will apply to the entire narrative.  Unfortunately, I can’t know if Ellen’s fragile psyche in Chapter 2 will work well if she becomes a harridan by Chapter 10 and a clone of SHE by book’s end.  A couple of years ago, I had a client express all sorts of chagrin over the vitriol spewed by an agent regarding a book she’d submitted for his representation.  When she told the agent I’d edited the draft, she was informed I’d really “missed it,” but the man expressed surprise because he related that he’d worked with other clients of mine and had always found me quite competent.  I had to call the agent and tell him that I never edited the entire manuscript, but the damage was done and he has never taken another call from me.  So, stuff happens. 
The significance of what I just wrote is that there are reasons to work with a professional editor on the entire draft before it’s submitted for consideration by an agent or publisher.  And if something is arbitrarily changed by the writer after it’s been agreed to by both the author and the editor, there can be–and most often are–problems.  This is also why editors must have tough skin, as there are times when we are indeed blamed for what we had nothing to do with.  In the case of a client who makes material changes to my revisions and never discusses the modifications with me, I take complete responsibility for what occurs, as it’s obvious that I had never developed the proper relationship with the writer; and I say this because the person didn’t feel comfortable enough to discuss my editing suggestion for the narrative’s continuation and finish, instead altering the text without direction and having the result vilified.
Editing is as much about relationships as writing.  An author can’t be worried about challenging an editor’s opinion, just as an editor can’t  be fearful of offering tough suggestions, knowing that no matter how gently something is couched, the writer is not going to be pleased with having to go back to the drawing board.  None of us like to have to make revisions when we believe something is in final form, but the reality is that everything can be improved.  And the key is determining what to do and how to do it, and once the decisions are agreed upon, not to arbitrarily go forward with something different unless discussing the changes with the editor.  Otherwise, as callous as this might sound, why pay for this person’s advice in the first place?  If a writer finds suggestions impossible to reconcile, it’s time to find a different editor.
I can’t recall a single article during the almost five years that I’ve been writing them for these Newsletters that has produced as much positive response from subscribers than the material I put together on pronouns for the January broadcast.  However, the consensus opinion was, since so much of pronoun application is “all over the place,” how can any writer really know what to decide is correct.  And I share the same concern, which is why I recommended writing what reads the best, as long as there wasn’t an obvious antecedent/pronoun mismatch.  Today’s article will take the pronoun issue one step further, and after you read it you might say into another dimension and look around for Rod Serling, as I’m going to discuss “their,” and in doing so it will be clear why I commonly advise that nothing in writing is incontrovertible.  And why I’m quick to point out that there is no such thing as “absolute” authority when it comes to English.


Pronoun Misuse Pertaining to “Their”

I’ve had a number of instances when folks have written me to lament making mistakes with pronouns, in some cases to the extent it has cost them their jobs. This is especially prevalent in the article-writing milieu, as pronoun use in this environment is one element of English that is notoriously closely monitored.

“Their” Is Hugely Problematic

To be accurate, it’s not “their” by itself, but when the word follows a singular antecedent–with “everyone” and “everybody” leading the pack of rhetorical nemeses. We’re taught that “every” denotes a “single” of something, and the word “everyone” certainly couldn’t be clearer, as “every one” is as blatant in its meaning as anything in all of English. But it’s hard to envision anything singular about “everyone,” since the word connotes a plurality. Otherwise, we would simply have written that this or that single noun did something or had something done to it, and “their” would never enter into the equation.

As I wrote in a recent article, we can always use the “figurative” his, but I don’t care for this and my reason has nothing to do with the feminist preference for a neutral word. To me, it’s just boring writing.

One Obvious Fix Is to Create a Plural Noun to Substitute for the Singular Pronoun

Sort of a no-brainer, as something such as “They bought their own tickets,” remedies the “Everyone bought their own tickets” faux pas, but once again the writing can become stale by the nondescript nature of “they,” so the next choice is to end up with words such as “individuals,” “folks,” etc. However, these substitutes become “trites” in a hurry, and they can also foul up pitch. As an example of a good word substitution, “Everybody came inside the locker room and took off their jerseys” can be revised to “The Tigers [or whatever] came inside the locker room and took off their jerseys.”

Often the Only Solid Option Is to Revise the Sentence

One question involves a word such as “team,” if it’s often thought of as plural. It is singular, however, so it requires creativity to design correct syntax. “The team came inside the locker room and everyone removed his jersey” works great if it’s an all-male team, but what if it’s the members of the mixed-doubles tennis team and they need to change rackets? “Everyone came inside the pro shop and swapped out their rackets” wouldn’t work, but “The tennis players came inside the pro shop and swapped out their rackets” is just fine. Likewise, “Anyone on the board could plainly see that their crazy idea wouldn’t work” is wrong, but “The board members could plainly see that their crazy idea was wrong,” is proper grammar.

All Sorts of Antecedent-Related Problems Can Crop Up

I commonly see sentences such as “The company recommended that all their employees should sign up.” Once again, a singular antecedent is followed by a plural pronoun. The simplest remedy for this is to substitute “its” for “their” so the sentence reads “The company recommended that all its employees should sign up.”
I’ve found that it’s easiest to design a quality replacement sentence once the subject is isolated, as often the initial tendency is to consider the sentence as a whole and not its individual parts. It’s my opinion that the key is to avoid repeating phrases such as “his or her” or amalgamations like “his/her,” as this syntax quickly wears on the reader.

Now’s the Time to Look Around for Mr. Serling

I’m always saying that nothing in writing is absolute, and if what follows doesn’t emphasize this in spades, I don’t know what does.

From Einsohn (redacted):

During the 1990s a revolution occurred in the treatment of pronouns whose antecedents are indefinite pronouns, such as everyone and anyone. Through the 1980s, most grammar and usage books insisted on “Everyone took his seat.”
The tide has now turned, and the newer grammar books recommend using the plural pronoun after an indefinite subject: “Everyone took their seat.” The use of plural pronouns to refer to indefinite subjects has a 400-year history in English literature, and the pluralizers are in the majority in Merriam-Webster’s files of 20th century citations.

However, from The New York Times:

Anybody, anyone, everybody, everyone, no one, someone. Each of these pronouns is singular and requires he or she (never they) on further reference. “Has anybody lost his ticket?” To avoid assuming maleness or femaleness in a general reference, rephrase. “Has everyone bought a ticket?” Often a plural construction will serve: “Have people all bought tickets?” As a last resort, the awkward his or her is tolerable, a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent is not.

Think of This the Same as Who and Whom

Not that long ago, after a debate that raged among noted academicians for longer than 50 years, 25 who were still alive responded to the question of doing away with “whom,” since it was widely admitted that few people ever got its use right. The respondents, it must be noted, weren’t just any old Ph.Ds., but in addition to some of the best-known educators in the U.S. and abroad, the group included Theodore Bernstein and Jacques Barzun. When the results were tallied, 12 people went one way and 13 the other. It hardly matters who preferred what, but that the vote was essentially right down the middle–and this group was supposed to be the “absolute” authority.

I’m convinced that we could find 23 more “authorities” in addition to Einsohn and The New York Times, such as The Harvard Review, United Press International, The Associated Press, Reuters, The BBC, The Chicago Tribune, The National Geographic, The Smithsonian, etc., and while we might not have a split comparable to the who/whom debate, I wouldn’t be surprised if the positions on the correct use of “their” also ended up right down the middle.

Design What the Market You Are Writing for Will Accept As Correct

This was my point in my earlier article on pronouns, and it applies not only to this one but to everything I’ve been saying from my first Newsletter in June of ’09. A lot of people don’t believe Stephenie Meyer can write. But millions of acolytes fanatically believe she can write for them. Amanda Hocking and E.L. James travel to their own drummers, and look at the results. Can James Patterson write? His publisher, Little, Brown & Company, has just hired a director to oversee the James Patterson brand.

Pay attention to structure, and by all means don’t try to create a “new language,” but don’t be afraid to write what you believe will sound best for your market, as how these readers respond to your prose is what will matter in the end. Just use common sense.


The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 126,
(May 2014)
Words That Require Hyphenation and Those That Don’t
Hello Everyone,
After my “welcome” to old and new Newsletter subscribers, I always enjoy it most when I can lead a Newsletter with a client’s success story.  This past year I’ve mentioned three works in particular, and one is THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, James Babb’s Middle Grade story of Brody and Ames and their trials and tribulations in the backwoods of Arkansas after the Civil War.  I’m bringing up this material in today’s Newsletter to announce that THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE earned an IPPY award for Juvenile Fiction from the Independent Publishers Awards contest.  The book earned a Bronze Award for finishing third out of more than 6,000 entrants.  James is continuing to spend most of his marketing efforts within the Arkansas school system, and as I reported in a prior Newsletter, the sales numbers are exceptional.  He’s currently working on a sequel, THE DEVIL’S TRAP, which I’ll be looking at this summer. 
For any subscribers who have not read them, the first two chapters of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE are posted on my Critique Blog and accessible by clicking the link (this link will take you to chapter one, and the second chapter can be accessed by clicking the January 2013 link).  The sales volume is becoming strong enough that I wouldn’t be surprised if James gets a call from a mainstream publisher in the not too distant future.  And I also want to mention that MIke Hartner sold his 1,000th copy of I, WALTER in April.  This is a pure sales number and has nothing to do with loaners or freebees.  Kudos to both James and Mike, as both authors have demonstrated that a story with redemptive characters and a solid plot will attract an audience. 
Whether self- or mainstream-published, every new author is bombarded with ideas on how to develop an author platform on the Internet, and I’ve found this plethora of advice to quickly burgeon into information overload.  I’ve stumbled upon this link that I believe many Newsletter subscribers might want to “bookmark” as a resource medium.   “101 Quick Actions You Can Take Today to Build the Writer’s Platform of Your Dreams,” by Kimberly Grabbas, is FREE and provides a wealth of solid tips, plus a huge number of backlinks to articles that elaborate and reinforce her contentions.  Ms. Grabbas also responds to questions from those who read her material, and it appears she does this in a timely manner.  
I’m not of the opinion that what she suggests is necessarily “quick,” but it is exponentially faster than putting the material together from scratch and then engaging in hit-or-miss scenarios, since she’s taken the time to do all the legwork.  As stated, her material is provided at no charge.  Her remuneration comes from commissions she earns from writers who purchase services from some of the paid options she suggests.  I found none of this out of line, as the consumer is not paying an upcharge, at least from anything I could determine.  Of particular interest was her extolling the virtues of Bluehost as a hosting site for anyone starting a blog.  I am a big Bluehost fan myself, as for one fee a subscriber can host as many domain names as desired, and the fee, with a necessary add-on or two, is around $100 bucks for a year and less than $200 for three.
I’ve used Bluehost since I built my Web site in 2008, and I renewed for three years in January of this year.  As Ms. Grabbas says, “The firm provides outstanding customer support.”  First, everything with Bluehost is based here in the States; and, second, their technical-support people have helped me several times with WordPress issues.  This is a really big deal because WordPress is not available except by “forum,” and a lot of the Q&A can be mind-boggling for someone like me who can do little more than turn a computer on and off.  To be clear on WordPress, there is chat line, but I believe it requires a $60 or so monthly subscription.  The point of all this is that I find Bluehost’s help with WordPress to be an exceptional plus, and it’s wholly peripheral to my Bluehost subscription.  I don’t get a dime from Bluehost for plugging the firm, but I am extremely pleased with this company’s response to my issues, and why I’m promoting the firm without qualification.
To another issue related to Ms. Grabbas’s excellent compendium, I recently noticed a piece by a well-known agent that dovetails into all of this.  The agent said that one of the first things considered is whether the author is a career writer or a hobbyist.  This is rather pompous, in my opinion, as how many people on this planet have ever quit their jobs and started writing novels–and made it?  I can’t think of a better way to guarantee population control, as I know of no easier road to assure starvation than to try to make it solely as a writer.  But there is a bright side to this, and it meshes in with a prime tenet of Ms. Grabbas’s list.  For a writer to be successful in today’s ultra-crowded environment, if writing is not a full-time job, the marketing of the book must be as close to a full-time job as the author’s spare time will allow.
Writers must be committed to marketing their work, and Ms. Grabbas’s “list” offers a number of ways to get a book and its author in front of the public.  As I wrote at the outset, some of the concepts are indeed not “quick” (and I’ve learned this from personal experience long before reading the list) but each plank in her platform will give a writer another leg up (sorry for obvious sequitur) on the competition.  I, however, don’t agree with one of her contentions, which is that using a free hosting medium such as Blogspot is a sign of amateurism.  I’ve used Blogspot for my Critique Blog, and for years the blog has ranked from fourth to eighth on the first page via Google for the meta tag “The Perfect Write” (when I just checked, at that moment it was fourth). Oh, and the meta tag “The Perfect Write” had 666,000,000 “results.”
A huge number of issues influence Google’s Web crawler, and this is one of the most closely kept secrets in all of “compterdom.”  I’m of the opinion that site hits, expertise and luck with meta tagging, and the number of hits backlinks amass, are what influence search-engine placement as much as anything else.  And for the free-site naysayers, it might be good to keep in mind that “Blogspot” is a Google platform.
And since I mentioned backlinks, those provided by Ms. Grabbas’s “101 Quick Actions You Can Take Today to Build the Writer’s Platform of Your Dreams” are a must.  It will likely take most people a day to work though all of what she and others provide.  However, when finished, a solid outline will result that offers direction for what a writer can or can’t do on both the short and long term.  And she of course suggests starting a blog well before the story is finished, should the book still be in its creative stages, which in my opinion might be the best advice of all.  So, for any Newsletters subscribers who might not be great marketers, do yourselves a favor and take advantage of as many as possible of what these 101 “actions” suggest.  It can only help.
A number of subscribers have written me about my recent articles on pronouns to ask, in essence, if two accepted authorities express diametrically opposite views, what’s a writer to do?  This is a tough one to answer, but what isn’t in the world of English grammar, ha ha.  My suggestion is to go with what is accepted as convention, or at least that which is considered the “norm.”  For example, not using a plural pronoun with “everyone” and other singular antecedents such as “anyone” and “anybody.” 
I’m the first person to admit that “everyone went their own way” sounds just fine, and I much prefer this to “everyone went his own way.”  But “their” coupled with “everyone” just won’t fly in most quarters, so I revise inconsistent modification such as this whenever I see it in a client’s writing.  And I eschew  the masculine “his,” even though it’s considered acceptable, opting for the nasal “his or her” as the correct way, politically and otherwise, to remedy this issue.  My position is, why wave a red flag in front of a bull?  The important “thing” to take from the articles on pronouns is that there are many ways to address the syntax surrounding them, but there is only so much wiggle room in some instances, and in a few cases there is none.

As a follow-up to the section in last month’s Newsletter on the pastor of the Seattle Megachurch and his using Result Source to provide grossly distorted “real” sales figures, as I thought about this further another issue came to mind.  According to what was documented by various sources, the church’s administration authorized buying 6,000 copies in bulk and then provided the names of 5,000 members of the congregation who then “purchased” 5,000 additional units.  This begs the question, why didn’t the church hierarchy ask these 5,000 acolytes to each buy two books instead of one?  Granted, the marketing team at the church might have needed to use a boiler-room approach to encourage a friend or other family member of many in the congregation to “come on board,” but I can see this happening.  And, as such, the good pastor wouldn’t be subjected to what in my opinion is justifiable scorn for gaming the system.

THE GOLDFINCH, by Donna Tartt, which was on every short list it seemed, won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  I recommend reading each contemporary Pulitzer fiction winner; because, regardless of agreeing or not with the choice, the award demonstrates where the bar is set.  Yes, at times the Pulitzer selections are indeed perplexing (there was no choice in the fiction category in 2012, and the last time this occurred was in 1977), and there seems to also be a decided bias on occasion, as well, but the list of winners contains authors most avid readers have come across at one time or another.  THE GOLDFINCH deals with a lost parent and the art-world underground, a premise with undeniable appeal for anyone who likes a good puzzle.  I’d appreciate hearing from subscribers with their opinions of the story.
Longtime subscribers to my mishmash will attest to how often I’ve suggested that a writer query agents who have placed material in the exact genre in which the respective work is written.  And I continue to suggest this, as I’ve studied what books are signed by which publishers for many years, and find that even though many big-name agents claim to represent “the world of genres,” they normally focus on a single category or even subgenre.  I first became aware of this when years ago I queried Cherie Weiner, a wonderful and very experienced agent who I believe knows as much about the business as anyone.  Ms. Weiner’s bio states that she handles a wide variety of genres, and Thrillers were listed as being in her bailiwick.  My editor back in the 90s had a relationship with this agent, and he thought a book I’d written would be right in her wheelhouse, but she wouldn’t give it a sniff and my novel was eventually agented by Frank Weimann.  
I was concerned that my editor, who today works almost exclusively for a couple of major publishers “doctoring” their big-time authors’ novels, had missed with Ms. Weiner to such a large degree that I began following this agent’s placements.  I learned that she specialized in Sci-Fi, and I didn’t see her placing more than a title or two in ten years that was not in this genre.  The same applies to uber-agent Russ Scovill, who says he’ll look at a wide array of genres but is essentially exclusive to Sci-Fi.  Simon Lipskar has the same relationship with Children’s material, yet if you look at his bio on Agent Query, he says the handles a dozen or more fiction genres.  
I’ve said time and again that people most often lean toward environments they’re comfortable with, and book agenting is no different.  If anything, it’s more in line with this thinking.  This is why I wrote in an article on matching material to an agent that it’s sound thinking to find a novel that most closely fits what you wrote (of course I’m speaking solely of fiction), and see who represented the material.  Query that agent, even if that person supposedly won’t look at unsolicited material.  State in your query what it is about your story that is like what was just placed.  You might get nowhere, but you may also receive a request to see a few chapters. 
When I finish line-editing a project for a client, and the writer has me write a query, even though I have a group of agents I work with consistently, I’ll do the identical thing I just described, except I normally will call the agent and pitch the book.  More times than not I’ll receive a positive response, as I certainly wouldn’t take the time to do this if it didn’t bear consistent positive results.  Yes, there is an advantage in that I can normally get these agents to pick up the phone, but a subscriber can realize the same results by sending these folks a quality query.  Hence, I strongly suggest doing this.  It’s a bit of work, but I promise I’m giving good advice on this.
In a blast from the past, remember MISHA, the prefabricated tale of the purported Holocaust survivor, who, among other incredible circumstances such as being raised by wolves, was sajd to have stabbed a German soldier to death when she was not yet a teenager?  This “memoirist” and her ghostwriter were awarded $32.4 million in 1998, and now, since it’s been proved her tale was just that, the sum has been vacated.  But since it’s been 15 years since the suit was first adjudicated, I wonder just how much of that money will be returned  The case is quite complex, since the author sued her publisher, Mt. Ivy Press, for “highly improper representations and activities.”  The amazing aspect of this suit was that the publisher was sued for gross impropriety by a plaintiff who prefabricated her own personal history.  And it was also proved that the perpetrator of this fraud was not Jewish!  Go figure.  If the entirety of this saga doesn’t clearly demonstrate that the deck on the publishing ship is indeed a slippery and often wobbly one as well, I don’t know what does.   
I recently read an expansive paper by a respected book-industry consultant who discussed the problems with the elitist views that still exist within certain quarters of the industry as this pertains to the perception of self-published authors.  Something that struck a chord with me was the comment that ISBNs continue to cost a writer $125 for one but $1 each for 1,000.  I’ve long believed that this was absurd pricing, as well as Bowker’s being the sole government-approved outlet for ISBNs.  If any subscribers should remember my paper on book marketing from several years ago, I said that this is probably the one area our government should handle, and could with ease, since it already does so for periodicals.  It seems absurd that  someone starting out should essentially be clipped for $250 for going ahead and purchasing 10 ISBNs, which has always been my suggestion since most writers will have a book printed in multiple formats, and each one requires a different ISBN.  I’d love to know how Bowker got the original sweetheart deal with the government.  It has to be an amazing story, as I’m certain whoever set this up with the government had no idea of the way e-publishing would exponentially influence the metric for book publication.
A watershed moment occurred for self-publishers on April 19 when Publishers Marketplace announced it will now track self-published material that makes it onto the bestseller lists.  According to PM, the company will monitor nine bestseller lists, but management is quick to point out that they will have no way or determining actual sales.  Still, it’s a great “statement of credibility,” and it should be noted that 4 of the top 25 fiction e-book titles on the New York Times list were self-published works.  The new PM bestseller composite seems to pertain only to e-books, and this only makes sense, as self-published print titles on the NYT bestseller list, for example, have long been covered (e.g., THE CHRISTMAS BOX).    
Anyone who has followed the Apple price-fixing lawsuit is aware of Judge Denise Cote and her “presence” in the case, regardless of which side a person might be on.  I would think she would be the last jurist any book publisher would want to “go against,” and she is now in the midst of the class action suit filed a year ago against Author Solutions, Inc., the parent of Author House, Xlibris, iUniverse, Trafford, and a half-dozen or more other vanity imprints.  As printed in Publishers Marketplace, a Judge Cote redact reads: “…the author plaintiffs assert that ‘Author Solutions engages in fraudulent business activity. Author Solutions does not provide the services it promises to provide, and then pressures authors into purchasing ‘more, equally bogus’ editing, marketing, and publishing services. Author Solutions refuses to fix errors in manuscripts, implants new errors, and delays publication until authors purchase more services.'”
So many issues are present in this suit that I’ve been discussing with Newsletter subscribers during the past five years that It would consume a dozen Newsletters if I republished my comments.  Yet, writers continue to get caught up in the ASI hype.  The biggest issue, which I certainly understand and appreciate, is that everyone wants to become published, but after the “ball gets rolling,” it morphs into a runaway freight train that can’t be stopped until it crashes into a mountain.  And it’s really easy to get run over along the way.  I know of many quite intelligent people who in my opinion have been horribly taken advantage of by an ASI imprint but have gone back for more via a second book.  Trying to avoid the same missteps, some writers even signed with a different imprint, not knowing it was also owned by ASI.  The one issue I cannot come to grips with is why Pearson, which owns Penguin and Random House, would have purchased ASI, in essence providing this vanity hydra with credibility. 
It’s worth noting that ASI recently stated that it had published its 225,000th title.  With all the negative publicity surrounding the firm’s imprints, this statistic more than anything demonstrates how blinded people can become to the vainglory of seeing their names in print.  I’m not disparaging anyone, but when the Internet is full of complaint after complaint, it’s hard to have much sympathy for anyone with a garage full of books and no place to go with them other than to have them hauled away.  To reiterate what I’ve been saying since I learned of the technology, if a writer must see his or her name in print, find an Espresso Book Machine and have a copy of the manuscript printed for $35 or so.  If it comes out clean, 100 copies can reduce the cost to as low as $10 or even less in many instances.  This format is a lot better than spending $3,500 to $7,000.  And if the first 100 books sell, then look for a straight print house such as MIRA to do the book for $5 to $7 a copy, depending on the volume of the run.  I urge anyone considering print self-publishing to consider the options I’ve presented.  And if a writer shouldn’t like MIRA, there are a slew of other independent presses out there.
Today’s article is about pleonasms, which at first pass is right there with the ablative absolute as a recondite aspect of grammar.  But, while obscure by definition, not many of us who write can say we’ve not been held prisoner by the pleonasm monster at one time or another.
Pleonasm and Tautology–The Difference and Why Both Should Be Avoided
At first pass, it can seem impossible to differentiate between tautology and pleonasm, as both indicate needless repetition.  And if we look up both words, in many dictionaries, the definition for each is virtually the same, and some examples of usage make it impossible to distinguish between the two (some examples are even incorrect).  But there are subtle differences, and after a lot of research, an explanation I’ve landed on is that tautology is the use of more than one word to say the same thing, whereas a pleonasm is the use of more words than are necessary to express meaning.
Straight “From the Heart” Pleonasm Examples
Here are some instances of pleonasm:  “I felt it with my own two hands.”  “She typed at a rate of speed of 80 words per minute.”  “It occurred at this moment in time.”  Then there are these forms of pleonasm:  “The fact that.” “In reality.”  “In truth.”  And a pleonasm discussion wouldn’t be complete without “Actually.”

To be clear on what phrases qualify as pleonasm in the preceding examples, “own two,” “a rate of speed,” and “in time” are the culprits, as none of these phrases add anything to what was written. 

In any context, “the fact that” is obvious or it would no have been written, the same as with “in reality” and “in truth” and “actually.”  However, arguments can be made that on some occasions these latter phrases and “actually” have merit, and in some instances for no other reason than for pitch.
Tautology Examples
My favorite is when someone says that a new mom had a “little baby” whatever.  I realize there can be big babies, but the mother had a girl or a boy.  It’s even not necessary to relate that it was a baby, since what else could a newborn be?  I realize that most folks are using the excess rhetoric to be endearing, but this article is about superfluous content and not social graces.
A widow is always a woman (as a widower is always a male); hence, as the dictionaries like to point out, a “widow” woman is a prime example of tautology, and a “true” fact is not going to make something more accurate.  Likewise, the word “basically” implies that whatever is “basic” is elliptical, as the connotation is that there’s more to the subject but the writer doesn’t feel it’s necessary to expand on the matter.  I’ve found this not to be the case, since what follows “basically” is generally everything the author knows about the subject.  At least that’s been my experience.  How about yours?

Trim the Fat
Writers are constantly told to “tighten” up their prose, and I don’t know of anyone who is immune, even those who claim to be minimalists.  In most instances, “tightening” refers to superfluous text that is more involved than a word of phrase which doesn’t add to the meaning of some element of content.  But trimming also applies to both tautology and pleonasm use and the way this form of needless expressionism can detract from a narrative.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 127,
(January 24, 2014)

Hello Everyone,

As today’s broadcast marks the five-year anniversary of The Perfect Write® Newsletter, I’m equally proud to announce that this edition is special for another reason. At the request of Newsletter subscribers, in a single e-volume I’ve published the articles I wrote to accompany each Newsletter; material that pertains to writing prose at a level people will pay to read and to the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years as both a novelist and an editor.

I titled the book HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! and here is the cover shot and the link to order a digital copy, which is priced at the whopping sum of $2.99. And if you should desire the book and not have a Kindle Reader, the next link is for an app for a Free Kindle Previewer that enables reading any Amazon listed book on a variety of e-reading devices. Again, it is free.

$2.99 on Amazon for the Digital Edition

Link for Free Kindle Previewer for PC, Tablet, Phone, etc.

If every Newsletter subscriber would just purchase one copy have 1,000 friends buy a copy, my retirement would be so much easier. In truth, no subscriber has to buy a copy, since the articles will remain posted on my Web site for another month, and at some point in time, since I’m on the Amazon KDP program, the book will likely be discounted to $.99. And it can also be “borrowed” for free by anyone who’s on Amazon Prime. Once more, any person not owning a Kindle e-reading device can click the link and download the Kindle Previewer onto any PC, tablet, or phone, and the app is free. I did this myself when I first began this project in March, and if I can do this anyone can, as I am “Nerd Worst Number One,” and I’m dead serious.

Ignoring that I’m asking folks to pay for something they can get for free, I’d be absolutely elated if Newsletter subscribers would be so kind and purchase a copy for $2.99. And of greatest importance to me beyond the massive $2.04 royalty I will receive, if you like my book’s format and believe my articles are of some value, I’d be most appreciative of a review. The review medium drives sales to a large degree, and any comments would be appreciated, especially if they should be positive, ha ha. And if the book sells in what I consider reasonable numbers and I bring it out in a print version, I’ll send a signed copy at no charge to every subscriber who buys one of the e-books. My sending a signed free print copy has nothing to with whether or not a Newsletter subscriber writes a review, but I’m asking (okay, “pleading” ha ha) for a review. They mean a lot at the nascent stage of a book’s release.

I want to mention a few things about the book and why it might be of value and maybe even a nice gift for someone, including as an inexpensive present for a youngster who has an interest in writing or a student who simply wants to learn to write quality prose. First, as all of you know who have purchased e-books, the search box on Kindle is outstanding; conversely, on my Web site the search medium is abysmal. All of the articles are alphabetized in HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! and keywords, contrary to my site, will take the reader to a representative article.

For access to topics, the articles are alphabetized, and I’m of the opinion in many instances this is much better than on my Articles Page at I’ve also divided the articles into separate “Writing” and “Publishing” sections to make this aspect of curating easier. Additionally–and I’m both pleased but exhausted by this effort–I freshened up all 120 or so articles in this compendium. The total word count for the body of articles came to more than 80,000, which stunned me that it was so large, and I went through the entire text six separate times during a 45-day stretch (and if this doesn’t prove that no one–even a book editor–should ever attempt self-editing, I don’t know what does).

I am going to be making some changes to my Web site during the summer, and one, which I mentioned earlier, will entail deleting the Articles Page and its subsets. However, again, I will not be doing this until the middle of July, so anyone is certainly free to copy and print the articles on the site (all of my Newsletters will remain in the Archives, and the articles can always be sourced there at no charge), I will also be taking my articles down from the EzineArticles site and no longer posting on this medium. I mentioned to subscribers in a prior Newsletter that article writing has fallen from grace with me, since the Google Panda and Penguin algorithms have effectively made this milieu a shell of what it once was from the perspective of article aggregation and subsequent distribution.

I’ve hired an expert who is designing a blog specifically for my book. This blog has zero to do with my Critique Blog, on which I will continue to publish opening chapters from Newsletter subscribers. An SEO marketing professional has shown me that I can take all of my old Newsletters, minus the articles, separate the content, and then “drip” the individual material onto the Internet via my book blog (the tentative domain name will be This SEO expert is providing a computer algorithm that will post (hence “drip”) two articles each day onto my blog so that in a six months I’ll have several hundred keyword-searchable links that will ultimately direct people to both my book and to my Web site.

I’ve generally considered SEO “stuff” more hocus-pocus than substance, or if it had any real potential, outrageously expensive. But I reached a point at which I’ve had to pay attention to new ideas (at least for me), and if I want to sell my book and acquire a few more quality clients along the way to fill in the occasional gaps, my Newsletters indeed offer untapped opportunity. However, I want to make it clear to Newsletter subscribers that not one thing will change as it pertains to the broadcasts. The material will continue to be free (so please spend the $2.99 one time for my book, ha ha), and the volume of information and its relevancy will not be diminished in any way.

I want to express my sincerest appreciation to each and every Newsletter subscriber who has supported my efforts, and I’m beyond grateful to those of you who urged me to compile my articles in book form. I would never have done this if you had not suggested this to me, and I’m especially thankful to the group of you who kept on me to do this. Frankly, I didn’t know if anyone outside of my Newsletter subscriber base would buy a single copy of my book of articles, But when I checked the day after I placed the book “live” on Amazon so I could beta test everything–with not one person outside of my wife and the coders at the formatting company,, knowing this book was available–sales had been posted. This really is a “go figure,” and all I can assume is that the piqued some folk’s interest.

Bye for now, and I’ll send a Newsletter in July that will encompass two months of publishing-industry activity and all the normal sort of writing news subscribers to my mishmash are accustomed to receiving.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 128,
(July 2014)
Self-Editing Rules to Live By

Hello Everyone,

Lots of new subscribers to my Newsletter during the past month, and a big welcome to each of you. Please let me know if you have any suggestions for improving my drivel, and I’m also looking for suggestions for new or expanded topics for the articles I write that accompany each broadcast. This material focuses on writing prose people will pay to read or on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years as both a writer and an editor.

For my first order of business in this month’s edition, I want to extend my deepest appreciation to the subscribers who purchased the e-version on Amazon of the compendium of articles I wrote to accompany my Newsletters during the past five years. I cannot thank each of you enough for buying a copy of HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! And I also want to extend extra heart-felt gratitude to those of you who took the time to write a review and post it on Amazon.

A substantial number of you, however, have written to tell me your review didn’t go through. I don’t know how Amazon works in this regard, but since I’m not aware of each person who wrote a review, I’m enclosing this link, and if your review didn’t post, I’m asking if you would please be so kind as to try a second time. I know this is a royal pain, but the review medium is crucial for getting traction for any book during its nascent stage, and for this reason I’m requesting (read “pleading,” ha ha) that each Newsletter subscriber who provided a review check to see if it posted. I promise I won’t be a pest and ask about this again, and if this wasn’t so very important I would not have brought it up now. I’ve tried to thank each of you personally, but if I missed anyone please know how grateful I will always be for your enormous courtesy.

If anyone doesn’t want to buy the book (curses, ha ha) but would still like to have access to the articles, I’m going to leave them on my Web site at for another couple of weeks, or until my new personal blog is launched and all the beta testing is completed to my satisfaction. This blog will be used to “drip” sections from my Newsletters from the past five years. The idea behind this is to provide expanded Internet presence, and it will be a breeze to post comments, which is certainly not the case with my Critique Blog,

I’ll continue to use my Critique Blog for showcasing clients’ material as well as other outside work I believe has merit. And, yes, as soon as I see the “comments box” is operational and sans issues at, I’ll set up the same format for my Critique Blog. This involves adding a spam-filter plug-in, which I have to pay for via a yearly subscription, and it also requires a few other tweaks, but I promise I’ll attend to this once I’ve got satisfactory experience with how the antispam program works for the blog.

While I’m discussing personal issues, I’m certain subscribers will be interested to learn that client Mike Hartner’s Historical Adventure I, WALTER has sold 929 e-copies and 300 softcovers thus far, with 102 of the print-version sales occurring in June. What’s extremely significant about these numbers, other than the gross sales figures exceeding 1,000, is that Mike’s readership is not only remaining steady but building. His print-to-digital ratio, which is greater than 25 percent, is a true testament to the print medium’s being alive and well. This clearly shows me that people like to hold a book in their hands, even if it can be purchased at a substantially lower price in an e-format.

His book, as well as James Babb’s THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and Dave Mallegol’s THE BRONZE HORSEMEN: THE FIRST PEOPLE TO TAME HORSES, shows me that readers will purchase a well-conceived story, and the material does not have to be given away, as each book is sold at a traditional retail for its respective medium. Readers gravitate toward enjoyable narratives that are presented in a comfortable-to-absorb manner. This is why I stress readability to my clients as the number-one issue to pay attention to, especially when starting out, as a story that’s easy to read can cover up many of the warts that would otherwise prevent a book’s acceptance. I’ll write on article on this sometime in the near future so there won’t be an confusion about what I’m saying. In microcosm, I’m not implying that substandard material should be published; instead, that agents and publishers tend to look too much at “old school” literary calculus without regard for the pulse of the reading public.

I want to make one other comment regarding James Babb, and it’s to once again stress just how big a deal it was that THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE won a Bronze IPPY Award. Here’s a blurb on another winner that appeared recently in Publishers Marketplace regarding this book’s placement by a major agent with a mainstream imprint: “2014 IPPY award winning S.K. Falls’s book…to Leah Hultenschmidt at Forever Yours (a Hachette Group imprint), by Thao Le at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency (World).” As I wrote in a previous Newsletter, James’s award is no small deal, as his narrative competed with 6,000 other stories. I have high confidence that if his sequel, THE DEVIL’S TRAP (which I’ll be working on with him shortly), does comparable numbers to TDB, Mr. Babb will get a call from an agent and will ultimately see himself with a Big 5 imprint.

I noticed that Jordan Belfort, the author of THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, has purportedly earned 100 million dollars as a result of the success of both the book and the movie, with a large portion of this sum coming from speaking engagements. I don’t know when I’ve read about any nonfiction work producing that lofty a result, regardless of the sources. But nonfiction the public is interested in will sell in large numbers, and I can assure any subscriber that true stories are exponentially easier to place as debut material with a mainstream publisher than “new” commercial fiction. It almost always gets down to “topicality.” But some stories, such as holocaust-related and politically-sensitive narratives–the latter both literally and figuratively–are in large measure timeless. Witness how long it’s been since the Bill Clinton/Monika Lewinsky scandal and the recent publication of her book.

If any subscribers might have clicked the link in Publishers Marketplace to the new Authors Alliance that’s in its formative stage, it apparently is operated by four Berkeley professors who believe in the Cory Doctorow mandate that anything, once published in any medium, is immediately public domain. These professors all earn nice six-figure incomes, and it’s apparently quite easy for each of them to tell writers at all levels to give away their work. It’s mentioned that this “thought” applies in large measure to those who don’t write for a living or who are hobbyists. I don’t know when I’ve read anything quite as pompous and outlandish. Every writer I know works his or her fingers to the bone to come up with something that in most cases won’t pay the power bills for a year (or even a month), and for a group of elitists, as I see them, to force its members to give away material is in my opinion reprehensible. It’s hardly my business, but I find it mind-boggling why any sane writer would want to join Authors Alliance.

Talk about lending credibility to self-publishing, Publishers Weekly has started its own self-publishing firm called BookLife, which officially opened for business on May 29. The company is offering cover design, layout, and a marketing platform. Oh, and editing. And this latter service is always where the ball gets sticky, as writers will assume that a publisher’s doing the editing will provide an immediate path to success. In my opinion, this is no different from an agent’s charging a reading fee or offering in-house editing services (usually by the agent). The road is littered with broken hearts caused by unrealistic aspirations, and this is why I always advise walking slowly and self-publishing as inexpensively as possible.

There is no magic bullet, regardless of anyone’s hype at any level. And an author who spends $5,000 to $15,000 with any self-publishing outfit is not going to guarantee success (which to my way of thinking means first and foremost recovering the investment). I’m not in any way suggesting this will be Publishers Weekly’s tack, but I’m positive the firm will offer a variety of author “packages” that to the uninitiated can seem to be a sure thing. Again, nothing is, and with the inordinate number of big names entering the self-publishing game, this is further saturating a market that is already diluted and becoming more so each day. To paraphrase the Big 5 publisher once again, “It’s a great market for gatherers but not so good for hunters.” Any writer entering the fray must fully understand this.

Not long ago I wrote an article on copyright nuance, and I want to devote a short section in this Newsletter to the issue, as it’s ultra important and very confusing. First and foremost, since 1989 no work requires the copyright symbol © after its title to be legally considered the work of its author.. For this reason, some “in the know” have written that providing the © is a sign of amateurism, etc., since every agent and publisher knows the law in this respect. How utterly absurd, in my opinion, is it for someone to intimate this, regardless of its accuracy. A person who has given her or his blood, sweat, and tears–and sometimes years–to write a book, can at least take pride via the simple “mark” that it is one’s own. What’s important to understand, and I must give credit to Kimberley Hitchens at for reminding me, is that a writer can’t sue for copyright infringement unless the work has been registered at the U.S. Copyright Office. The link will take you to the site, and in most cases the fee will be $35.

If a perceived infringement has taken place, this doesn’t mean that registration can’t occur after the “violation,” but I can assure anyone from personal experience that the registration process takes time. The last book I registered (back in the dark ages when the fee was $20) required about six months before I received notification that my novel was duly registered. Regardless, if a writer wants peace of mind and the ability to protect work with the greatest expeditiousness (I know, it’s a lousy word), it’s best to register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office as soon as it’s published. Of course, if material is published by a bona fide house, this will be done by that concern.

To one other point, the copyright forms can be intimidating (at least they were for me), and I’m happy to report that a writer can call the copyright office at 877-476-0778 and a human will actually answer the phone–and from my experience relatively quickly. I distinctly recall how nice the first person was whom I spoke with the first time, 20 or so years ago, and perhaps you’ll get that same kind soul, ha ha. The point is that an author can discuss any questions with someone who understands the issues, so my suggestion is to take advantage of this opportunity, as your tax dollars are paying for this right to what in my opinion amounts to a free consult.

Several times in Newsletters during the past several years I’ve commented on my opinion of Kirkus Reviews and what I perceive as their lack of value. My contention is that the integrity of these reviews is suspect since the service is vended to authors for $400 by the Kirkus organization. And I find it abhorrent that the review service is offered by third parties such as Author Solutions, Inc., imprints at what I consider to be ludicrous markups, as I’ve had subscribers tell me that they’ve been asked to cough up as much a $4,000 for a Kirkus Review. I’m mentioning Kirkus in this current Newsletter broadcast because the company is having another $50,000 author contest. By appearance, this is a wonderful thing to provide, but I have to think it’s really more of a vehicle to add credibility to the name, which Mrs. Kirkus sold a couple of decades ago. It’s a shame that Kirkus has become what it is at present, and I continue to advise clients to spend their money on direct marketing efforts and avoid a review that everyone within the industry knows is purchased.

In the realm of a step’s being taken in what in my opinion is the right direction, Writer’s Digest recently ended its involvement with Abbott Press, a self-publishing entity run by none other than Author Solutions, Inc. Honesty compels me to say that I have never heard of Abbott Press, but the point is that companies are finally willing to understand that writers aren’t crazy when they report what they believe are egregious abuses on the part of the dozen or so imprints that fall under the ASI umbrella. I’ve discussed this in abundant terms in the past and I will continue to do so, with my position remaining what it has been since digital has evolved, and this is to self-publish, if this is a writer’s goal, as inexpensively as possible via an e-book first.

See how it goes, and if there are reasonable sales, find an Espresso Book Machine or have a local outfit run as few print copies as make economic sense. Try to sell these, and if successful contact a completely independent press, such as MIRA, for a larger print run. Avoid the hype of the publicity campaigns offered by ASI’s minions. Work your own blog instead. All indications as I know them are that you will be light years ahead and with a much healthier wallet than if succumbing to any self-publishing entity’s marketing “program(s).”

An author switching literary agencies might not seem like something remotely worth mentioning to a writer trying to break into the industry by landing a bona fide agent and an equally reputable publisher, but I found it rather remarkable that Nelson DeMille switched agents. Nicholas Ellison had handled Mr. DeMille’s work for as long as I’ve been following this industry, and in late 2012 he signed with a pair of agents at ICM. Of course I have no idea why this change was made, as Nicholas Ellison is a fabulously successful agent with a reputation that is beyond reproach (I worked one of my own novels with an agent at his firm some years ago and found it a solid experience. Sadly, the guy left the business before placing my book, and with his departure my chances at the agency).

While I admit to no private knowledge of why the agency switch occurred, I have to give a smidgeon of credence to ICM’s having stronger cinematic influence than what is available via even an uber-agency such as Nicholas Ellison’s. And this goes directly to an article I wrote on the reality of film options in a recent Newsletter. Nelson DeMille, for all of his enormous success as an author writing Thrillers that the public, including me, can’t get enough of, has had one lone book, THE PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER, turned into a movie. Yet I have to guess, and I believe it’s a good supposition, that every one of his book’s have been optioned. As I wrote, an option is great for the ego, but a book’s becoming a movie is right up there with getting hit by an meteorite while in a submarine.

ICM is a multibillion-dollar operation with a spate of major mergers over the years that has created what many believe is the most powerful force in all of the book and entertainment industry. ICM has strong tie-ins with a number of top Hollywood producers, making the synergy both formidable and undeniable. With this aspect of ICM’s structure blatantly extant, why wouldn’t a million-seller fiction author–of which how many of these are out there–desire a relationship with an entity that might be better able to bring his or her material to film? Again, my reason for writing about the agency change is not to illustrate a one-in-a-million author’s success story and the ability to move around at will, but to demonstrate just how hard it is to have a book made into a movie–even a lousy adaptation (I’m not referring to THE PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER, but to any great book that’s produced a dud of a movie). My advice is to never, ever pay someone to turn your material into a screenplay, no matter how enticing the offer might appear. First, the business doesn’t work this way; and, second, the possibility of the material’s coming to the big screen or television is as remote as my earlier analogy. It’s easy for any author to get sucked in by the hype–bottom line: just don’t let it happen.

From the very first report of the Justice Department’s lawsuit lodged against Apple, many Newsletter subscribers have asked me to explain the tenets of the litigation and in particular what the “agency agreement” entailed and how this affects Amazon pricing. I’ve said that I wasn’t qualified to discuss the issue with any degree of expertise (which was the understatement of the decade) and pointed folks to the Internet for answers. Now, a great article on the DOJ/Apple suit has come out in the Washington Post, “Book Wars: A Monopolist vs. a Cartel,” by Steven Pearlstein. This writer points out what occurred and why in straightforward terms that even I was able to understand. And, as a by-product of his discussion, the article provides a poignant view of self-publishing from purely a fiscal perspective. Frankly, regardless of one’s publishing proclivity, for any Newsletter subscriber who might not be aware of the way book royalties are meted out, Mr. Pearlstein’s short paper might prove to be rather valuable.

I wrote an article a long time ago regarding why so many books on the bestseller lists are lousy. And one reason I claimed was that the works are often not written by the person cited as the author. I believe I mentioned Robert Ludlum as an example since, like James Patterson, many titles attributed to both are written by other authors. In Mr. Ludlum’s case, he passed away years ago yet material bearing his name shows up on the bestseller lists. I noticed recently that the Robert Ludlum name was trademarked and his latest book was led by the Jason Bourne name, followed by the Robert Ludlum name and the trademark symbol, and at the very bottom the name of the author of the work. Mr. Patterson began listing the “with” writer quite a while back, and it would be nice if some Romance writers would do the same thing, at least letting book-buyers know if they are or aren’t writing the material under their handle.

While I’m on what I call “loose” ethics, I had a good laugh when I looked at HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! the very first day it was placed on Amazon and noticed John Locke’s cover right below mine. His book title is HOW I SOLD 1 MILLION BOOKS ON AMAZON IN 5 MONTHS. A major tenet of his success was that he paid for hundreds of sterling reviews. And many people then posted comments that they were impressed with what a great idea this turned out to be and that it would be a superb template to copy. What made me laugh was that the SEO keyword “pay” was picked up by the Amazon algorithm, and my book’s title HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ and “I will pay for a review” ended up in the same proverbial basket. Go figure.
Today’s article is about what I consider to be the inviolable rules for self-editing.

Self-Editing Rules to Live By
Writing Geniuses from Barzun to Zinsser to King Say the Same Thing

Jacques Barzun is perhaps the grammar expert for whom I have the greatest respect, and when he wrote that he let his material sit before submitting it, this gave me the confidence to realize that the human mind doesn’t always allow us to “see” what’s on the page.

Dr. Barzun, I believed, could never make a grammatical error, yet he reprinted a holograph of a page of text from the book of his I was reading, and it looked similar to anyone else’s draft in that it contained abundant editing marks and lines indicating text needing to be revised. Goodness, Dr. Jacques Barzun wasn’t perfect the first time through? Impossible!

William Zinsser Imparted the Same Advice

Not many books on writing, in my opinion, are better than Mr. Zinsser’s ON WRITING WELL, a work I’ve referred to many times during the past 20-odd years, and that I will continue to use as both a source and a refresher. And what does he say, but the same thing as Jacques Barzun, and this is to let material sit, once it’s considered “done,” for a day or so before going back to it.

Stephen King Offers the Identical Meme

I don’t place Mr. King’s book ON WRITING in the same category as any of Dr. Barzun’s or Mr. Zinsser’s material from the perspective of the work’s being a primer on writing. But I consider Stephen King’s genius incontrovertible, and in ON WRITING he also says to let material sit overnight and then go back to it.

How Much Time Is Enough?

Whether a writer can leave a draft overnight, or for a month before going back to it, the point is that we don’t always see what’s on the page; instead, our mind “shows” us an image of how we’d like the text to read. I’m often certain I didn’t write what I’m looking at the following day, yet there it is right in front of me.

“It” is written as “in,” “than” shows up as “then,” “it’s” is “its,” “there” is “their,” “he” should be “the,” “you” should be “your,” and “who’s” should be “whose.” Frankly, the list is immeasurable, as our mind becomes conditioned to what is expected and not to that which exists right before our eyes.

Printing Out Material Is Generally an Immense Aid

A great many editors I know will work with material only after it’s committed to paper. It took me years before I finally felt confident enough to line-edit from the computer screen, yet when I copyedit material myself, something I seldom do since I utilize an enormously talented copyeditor as a component of my editing service, I also require seeing the text on a sheet of paper.

There Is Science Behind Both Self-Editing Rules

I read scientific explanations as to the reason we writers don’t always see what’s on the page and why we should edit from paper and not a computer screen. Suffice to say, the justifications were well beyond my scope of understanding. I’d like to say that the first rationale is based on our minds getting tired. But why reading from paper is superior to a computer screen is something I can’t get a handle on, yet I’m the first to agree that it’s an axiom and not a wild idea advanced by Weyerhaeuser.

Hence, regardless of the true reason behind each, the importance of letting material sit for a minimum of overnight (and preferably for three days, should anyone want my opinion on this matter), and editing material only when it can be read on paper, is that each exercise provides for a level of clarity that promotes better writing.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 129,
(August 2014)
Pronoun Ambiguity and Eliminating the Problem

Hello Everyone,

As is my policy, I first want to welcome the newest subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter, which is now published on the third Tuesday of each month at 1 p.m. EST. My Newsletters focus on writing material at a level people will 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 write an article to accompany each broadcast, and I’m always interested in subjects suggested by subscribers to my mishmash. So please feel free to contact me if you’d like me to address something related to writing fluent prose or to the publishing industry, and I’ll do my best to accede to your request in a timely fashion.

As I’m certain all subscribers know by now, Amazon has formally launched a program that makes all its e-books, of which my compendium of articles falls into this category, available to subscribers to this program for a single fee of $9.95 per month. This means unlimited downloads. According to the many press releases I’ve read, publishers will be paid the full, normal royalty, but there has been no clear explanation of the way self-published authors will be remunerated. And I’ve seen reports of anywhere between 500,000 and 600,000 titles that fall into this category. Frankly, I thought the number might be many times higher.

The most obvious immediate impact will be felt by all of us who signed on for the 90-day exclusive Kindle Select Program. I’m currently firmly ensconced under Amazon’s thick comforter in this regard, but it remains to be seen just how much warmth it ultimately provides. One thing is certain, and it’s that the Amazon “perfect sleeper” might not be quite so comfy. The rumor is that each self-published author will be paid from the “lending pool,” and this should provide about $2 per download, which is right in line with what most self-published e-books generate via Kindle Select.

The problem is that there’s no way to know how many dollars are in the lending pool at any given time or the number of people who will subscribe to the unlimited download program. However, before getting out of sorts, it’s important to consider that the “lending program” initially caused the same sort of outcry as this new format. But author discontent quickly abated when most realized they were making more money than ever before, as the lending pool provided royalties equal to the “buy” number, and since lending/borrowing was a free component of a broader service, there was more activity per title. All any of us who are in KDP can do is wait and see what transpires once this latest Amazon wrinkle shakes out.

I want to thank all the Newsletter subscribers who have purchased HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! via Amazon. And I’ll ask for the final time, if you wrote a review and it didn’t post, if you’d be so kind and give it one more shot I’d really appreciate it, as these reviews have enormous weight with the book-buying public. I will always have a special warm spot in my heart for each of you who bought the book. Again, you have my deepest appreciation.

As all subscribers know who have read my Newsletters for any period of time, I’m a huge supporter of Publishers Marketplace, and I continue to believe it’s the best $25-a-month investment any serious writer can make. One thing however I’ve noticed of late is that Mr. Cader’s “Daily Deal’s” report is displaying placements to little-known independent imprints by well-known agents. In some cases, it appears that these publishers don’t pay advances. I don’t have the time to ferret out each incidence of this, and it should be mentioned that there is nothing wrong with an entity operating in this manner–as long as the publisher isn’t charging its clients editing fees.

I bring up this matter because when Shelfstealers launched I contacted Mr. Cader to ask if he would be kind enough to give Sheryl Dunn’s upstart a blurb. He wrote back something to the effect that he wasn’t always able to support this medium. I assumed this meant publishers who paid their authors solely on consignment. At least that was my takeaway. I was of course disappointed, as I’ve been one of his staunchest acolytes, but now I notice another case of a relatively unknown independent press, The Fiery Seas, that Mr. Cader’s newsletter referenced via an agent who just placed a title with that firm.

It must be stated upfront that the book was represented by Jill Marr at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, and both the agent and this agency are above reproach in every way. Hence, this might have been the overriding issue that led to the notification in Publishers Lunch Daily Deals. And since this book is beginning its life in a digital format, this also could have played into why it received recognition in Mr. Cader’s recent broadcast, as there seems to be a concerted effort by his firm to fully acknowledge digital content. All of this is excellent in my opinion, but there is a potential dark side, and here’s where I’m going with this.

The “About Us” page on the Fiery Seas Web site says it “…is a full-service publisher with the reader in mind.” Geez, I hope so. But what really matters is that we all know what “full-service” means. Hence, if editorial services are indeed a component of the firm’s platform, it doesn’t take a wizened industry veteran to recognize the pitfalls for an eager writer going in with all sorts of anticipation, since the firm accepts unsolicited manuscripts. What furthers my concern about the firm is that two of its principals have, rightly or wrongly, been associated with Entranced Publishing’s mismanagement. This firm went out of business, the result of one miscue after another, but nothing seemed to have been illegal, just inadequate administrative skills (however, the firm was sold to a purported “ghost buyer” in what could be considered a method to deflect blame).

The company has published three authors since it’s launch in the spring of this year. I can’t imagine Jill Marr placing an author of hers if an advance wasn’t paid, but I have absolutely no knowledge of her writer’s contract. My point behind writing this entire section is that perhaps the management at The Fiery Seas has learned from their mistakes at Entranced Publishing. And if this is so, any Newsletter subscriber who has written a Romance that is not heavy on the romance side (read their Web site to develop a better understanding of this) might well find The Fiery Seas worth submitting material.

Jill Marr, to my way of thinking, has given this publisher instant credibility, and the firm has rigid submissions guidelines (but not at all absurd, and the formatting is identical to what I’ve suggested for years), along with the requirement that the manuscript must be in a highly polished state. However, if any subscriber submits to this firm but is ultimately asked to buy editing services from The Fiery Seas or anyone recommended by the company, please let me know right away. And if this should happen, run for the border with your draft, as paying for editing by a publisher or publisher’s agent–in every instance I’ve ever known of–is a sure road to heartbreak and a thinner wallet. But, for now, I’m willing to give The Fiery Seas a pass until I learn otherwise, as the company might provide a legitimate opportunity. Hence, if a subscriber writes an adventure with Romance overtones, this could be a publisher to consider. Just walk carefully with eyes wide open.

I’d like to indulge subscribers with an issue I have long discussed, and this is incorporating child mutilations, infanticide, and other heinous forms of physical child abuse into a storyline. If Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER doesn’t demonstrate the problem in abundant terms, I don’t know what does. The book was first published in 1993, so it’s taken 21 years for it to make the big screen (the movie is to be released shortly). And this book is Sci-Fi and not Horror or another self-aggrandizing genre.

I recently watched HOSTEL 2 to get an idea of the level cinematic gore has reached, and I was shocked, not by the silly plot and ridiculously portrayed characters, but that a character was “allowed” to shoot a child in the head. Even though this young boy, who appeared to be no more than 10, had been part of a group of kids kicking around a freshly decapitated head as if it were a soccer ball, I was concerned that this scene got by the censors.

Regardless of what’s allowed in the movies, people don’t want to read about children being mutilated or murdered in a gratuitous manner (I hope the latter makes sense, as I can’t think of another way to express myself on this subject). And it doesn’t matter if the murders are via a serial killer and it’s this person’s victim demographic. Am I saying there’s not a market for this sort of material? Of course not, as there are people who relish visceral imagery and the ages of the prey are not of the least consequence. It’s mainstream publishing I’m discussing, as editors at the major imprints find child mutilation and murder right along with pedophilia as a knockout for a story. My advice to anyone writing about children is to read Ms. Lowry’s book and see how your story fits in with her relatively mild treatment of a disgusting subject. In her book, children are culled from society, and a specific child is killed and this death drives the plotline–but in the movie the child doesn’t die. Please trust me, there’s a moral in this somewhere.

I’ve written quite a bit of late about the small (read “microscopic”) percentage of books finding their way onto the Big Screen or becoming a miniseries or made-for-television project, and I cited wonderful author Nelson DeMille as the prototypical example of what authors can honestly expect regarding their prospects. James Patterson Entertainment (yes, his brand has its own entertainment arm) has inked a deal with CBS Television that will provide the conduit for his books. I realize that the big-name Romance writers have had a similar arrangement with the Hallmark Channel for years, but Mr. Patterson’s television platform is the first of this type I’m aware of.

The direct book-to-CBS link is good in that this demonstrates a surefire way for a popular author to see material visually portrayed, but the downside is that this marriage can have the potential for poor plots becoming even poorer TV shows. It seems that much of TV “original content” as it’s called, meaning non-network, is suffering from what I’ve found to be horrible “research” editing. On recent LONGMIRE episodes, for example, a character puts up bail to free a man from jail. No problem, except the judge orders the bond set at $1,000,000 and the guy writes a check for $100,000, or the 10 percent a bondsman typically receives. This is not the way bail bonds work (he’d have put up the entire $1,000,000), yet this miscue was never corrected.

In another show in the series, a scene takes place at night yet in the next shot it’s early morning. You say, cut them some slack. Okay, how is it explained that a man in another scene receives an e-mail picture on his cell phone from an individual who just took the image but doesn’t have any way of knowing the cell phone number of the fellow to whom the picture is being sent?

On a recent episode of THE BRIDGE, a character calls another character by his real name, as Ted Levine is told “goodnight” by a subordinate via “Goodnight, Ted,” instead of by his character’s first name, Hank. On another show in the series, a cop asks another “Let’s see everything you have” (regarding evidence) and after he’s shown the material and told this “is everything,” he asks, less than 30 seconds later, “Okay, let’s see everything you have.” All of us can point out errors in movies and TV shows, but editors are paid to fix redundancies and plot holes.

An unrealistic shift in the time of day (or night) can be overlooked, especially if reshooting the scene might entail huge costs or the actors perhaps not being available, but not understanding the way the bail bond system works is in my opinion egregious. Writers are never cut this much slack, and this is why I brought these TV examples into a Newsletter that focuses on writing, as there seems to be a definite double standard as to how writers are viewed, since any author making the slightest misstep will overwhelmingly have his or her material immediately placed in the slush pile or its Internet counterpart.

In the world of copyright “I ain’t believing this,” I read recently that a subsidiary of Warner Music receives upwards of $2 million each year in royalties for the song HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU. How, you ask? In part this is because the words have been adapted to different arrangements. This once again illustrates the absolute craziness of copyright law. As I continue to suggest as strongly as I can, check anything cited to make certain it’s public domain, and then check again. If there’s even the slightest question–move on. The judges are all over the place on copyright adjudication, and I can’t see rolling the dice on this one.

I read recently that Writer’s Digest, after abandoning its relationship–and it’s my opinion wisely so–with Author Solutions as a self-publishing arm, had hooked up with BookBaby. Digital can be done for around $400, and a print component added to it will cost a writer approximately $3,000. Anyone can do digital, with a clean draft, by using for $190, and subscribers are all aware of my position on print, and this is not to consider it until well into the e-book sales cycle so reader interest can be ascertained. And if subscribers should also remember a Newsletter from a while back, when I did the Bookbaby sales numbers per title, the average was no different from the long bandied-about metric of less-than-50-copies-sold per author. BookBaby’s platform provides the writer with 100 percent of the margin once the bookseller is paid, if there is a bookseller, but the issue remains the same as always: With no marketing, how will the public know the book is for sale? Hence, what is 100 percent of nothing? I’m hardly being a cynic regarding this, but it’s the reality as I know it from personal experience.

I want to spend a moment discussing ORPHAN TRAIL by Christina Baker Kline. This book has sold more than 1 million copies, yet it had trouble finding a publisher because many said it had poor demographics. Here’s a redact of the blurb I read on the book:

“…set in present-day Maine and Depression-era Minnesota. It weaves the stories of a 17-year-old troubled girl, a Penobscot Indian who is aging out of foster care, and her unlikely friendship with a 91-year-old woman, an Irish immigrant who, as a child, rode an orphan train from New York to Minnesota. It’s based on a slice of little-known history that is buried in plain sight.”

I can’t speak for my Newsletter subscribers, but that seems like a pretty compelling storyline. Time and again I’ve mentioned what I consider old-school thinking on the parts of agents and publishers when it comes to overvaluing reader demographics. The first contention is always the same: Who will read the book? Of course this is valid, and I’ve often suggested to my clients to change this or that to allow wider “narrative breadth” in the marketplace. Any decent editor will consider this when analyzing material. But what really galls me is when an agent or publisher will pass on a book because it doesn’t fit that person’s perception of geographic market. Yes, where a story takes place does matter, but if a work is good enough, as in the case of Ms. Baker Kline’s material, the story could take place in Keokuk, Iowa, or Murphy, North Carolina. People will gravitate to a good story, even if the events that make up the plot occur 200 miles outside of New York City.

Today’s article about taking steps to eliminate pronoun confusion was inspired by a very good friend who read a raw draft of one of my books many years ago and suggested my pronouns at times were vague and occasionally even confusing. I went through my draft and cleaned up the areas that fostered the contentions, and I find this a good exercise for every author before submitting work for consideration by an agent or publisher or if self-publishing. I realize I’ve written about pronoun problems in the past, but it’s a subject that in my opinion cannot be overworked.

Pronoun Ambiguity and Eliminating the Problem
This Problem Is Lack of Specificity

Consider this line: Officer Jim Lamb and his partner ran after the assailant. He jumped the fence and fell. The question here is simple: Who fell? Was it Officer Lamb, his partner, or the culprit? One might assume, via the close linkage, that it was the perpetrator who took a tumble. But there is certainly no way to be certain; hence, the writer will want to provide a clear explanation for who “he” happened to be in this exposition.

Easy and Hard

The example I provided is simple to recognize and “fill in the blank,” but what happens when the subject of the thought becomes lost? Take this short run for example: “I walked by the crumbling old barn with Sarah, and as I thought about things, it was obvious I needed Dad’s help.” If there’s not a great deal of setup, how’s the reader to know what “it” refers to?

Here’s a fix: “I walked by the crumbling, old barn with Sarah, and as I thought about things between us, our dire financial straits meant I needed dad’s help.” For anyone wondering about the significance of the ambiguous “it,” what if this was what the fellow had said: “I walked by the crumbling old barn with Sarah, and as I thought about things, our recent financial windfall made it obvious I needed Dad’s help.” Could any two sentences convey a more opposite message? The entire meaning is defined by eliminating the pronoun.

It’s Generally a Case of Replacing the Pronoun with a Suitable Noun

“I watched the fire as it engulfed the buildings. Their walls were soon obscured by smoke and before long they collapsed.” What collapsed, the walls or the buildings? This clarifies it for the reader: “I watched the fire as it engulfed the buildings. Their walls were soon obscured by smoke and before long the structures collapsed.”

Clarification of this sort might be considered extreme, because does it really matter if the walls collapsed or all the buildings, since one begets the other? Only the author’s storyline can dictate the level of importance, but each pronoun’s relative value must be weighed before exiting a thought and moving on. If there can be confusion, substitute a noun for the pronoun.

Pronoun Substitution Can Require Revision

Unfortunately, coming up with a suitable noun can take time, and quite often substantial revision. Here’s a paragraph that defines what I’m referring to, as pronouns inadequately describe the characters as well as incorrectly modifying several substantive aspects of the scene:

O’Reilly was in hot pursuit of the man who stole the purse from Mrs. Maggillacuddy. During the chase he tore his pant leg, and it caused a gash that began bleeding profusely. A low-hanging branch grazed his forehead. He was about out of breath and didn’t know how much longer he could continue. The other guy had to be tired, as well. But he needed to make one last push.

Who’s Who

A person reading the paragraph could say that the characters are clear, and it’s just a matter of common sense. But what if this was what the author intended:

Officer O’Reilly was in hot pursuit of the man who stole the bag from Mrs. Maggillacuddy. During the chase the thief tore his pant leg, and the wound began bleeding profusely. A low-hanging branch grazed the robber’s forehead. The crook was about out of breath and didn’t know how much longer he could continue. The cop had to be tired, as well. But the purse snatcher needed to make one last push.

If It’s Not Cut-and-Dried, Make It So

I’ve found that it’s a good practice to analyze every paragraph in the same manner as I’ve discussed. Of course this can be taken to extremes, but whenever there is a question regarding what’s being modified, it’s always best to eliminate the pronoun, even if this requires substantial revision.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 130,
(September 2014)
Attributive Nouns–What They Are and Why They Are Important to Understand

Hello Everyone,

I realize that I overkill certain issues, and while I apologize for this tendency, my reason is that so many aspects of writing and publishing–which might not seem very important–are in truth hugely significant at one point or another in the overall scheme of things. Related to publishers, for some time now Newsletter subscribers have read my extolling the virtues of using a quality book formatter whether sending off a draft to Simon & Schuster or self-publishing on Amazon.

The reason is that certain bugbears (in large measure the result of undesired “pilcrows”) can really foul up a text, and unless a writer is genuinely knowledgeable about formatting, problems can be created that in addition to being expensive to fix can require a great deal of an author’s time. And when a book’s release is imminent, nothing is more frustrating than having to scramble to repair a layout issue and not know how to do it. I speak from experience (wide past history unfortunately) with this sort of thing, and it’s why I continue to extol the virtues of I’ll repeat that I don’t get a dime from this company for referrals, but just as folks refer me to others because they believe I provide quality work, for this same reason I continue to support Kimberly Hitchens’s company as the only source for a guaranteed professional book layout for any medium.

Her fee is a ridiculously low $190, and this is not just my opinion but everyone I know who has tried to personally format a book. The ratings for are through the roof, and none of her customer testimonials are puffed in any way. And I’ve found that a business relationship with Ms. Hitchens, who likes to be called “Hitch,” will provide numerous peripheral benefits. For example, I used one of her staff, Indira Chattergee McQuire, to do my blog where I’m now posting snippets from past Newsletters. “Indy” did the blog for $300, and I consider this the same level of bargain as Ms. Hitchens’s charges for formatting, as it’s quite easy to get into the four figures for an author’s blog–and some can even break five.

Both of these people believe in a satisfied customer, and I’d like to think that this mantra is what has allowed my editing business to remain viable, as well. I bring up at this time for another reason, as I noticed a link in Publishers Marketplace to an outfit called FireBrand that espouses a formatting service. All a writer has to do is pay this company and it will “point out” where errors exist in book’s layout. The customer can then “simply” fix the miscue and all is well. As I alluded to earlier in this section, if it was that easy, there would be no need to consider a company to assist with text layout in the first place. One additional space in a line or undesired break at the end of a sentence can foul up an entire manuscript. Consider what happens at times when I send my Newsletter. What looks great on Internet Explorer’s browser 7, for example, can be a mess on 8–and this is using the same browser developer.

I don’t have the capacity to have each Newsletter formatted, but would make certain that my copy would appear the same, no matter the browser. For anyone questioning the significance of this at the user level, please go on Amazon and read the one-star reviews. You’ll find that many have nothing to do with the book’s content; instead, the rebukes are directed solely at how the book’s text was presented on a specific device. Also, should you have any questions about , Kimberly Hitchens is available by phone after noon, PST, at 623-239-1660. Just keep the after noon PST time frame in mind.

I want to once again spend some time discussing book reviews and those who write them, as I believe some more definition might help anyone suffering the throes of a bad review gain a clearer perspective on the entire process.

First, anyone can dislike anything for any reason. A person might not like the color of my car, how I comb my hair, or the way I eat French-onion soup. It happens. Would any Newsletter subscriber lose sleep if another person didn’t like you habits pertaining to the three areas I just mentioned? Is a book review really any more personal? But we do take a negative response to what we write more acutely primarily because the rebuke can be seen to not only pertain to the writing but to the author’s intellect as well. How ridiculous.

The reason I say “hanging onto” a bad review is silly is because it’s based on another person’s opinion. Again, it’s opinion and not fact. If we asked ten people on a perfectly clear day to advance how nice the weather was, I guarantee everyone reading this Newsletter that someone would say it was too hot or too dry or it would be nice if there were some clouds in the sky because of that person’s susceptibility to sunburn.

Luckily for all of us, the vast majority of readers evaluate a book on its merits related to the quality of the story. If a character doesn’t end up pleasing a reader, or if the hope was for a different ending, most folks are good enough to consider the whole of the narrative and not dis the book entirely because of a personal preference. I didn’t like it when Old Yeller died, but I certainly didn’t consider the tale to be a lousy story. I hoped that Meggie and the priest would marry in THE THORN BIRDS. It didn’t happen, yet this is in my top-ten of all-time favorites. Some people wanted to see Lieutenant Henry’s wife survive in A FAREWELL TO ARMS (including me) and Rhett marry Scarlett (I’ve never been in that camp). Regardless of these perceived shortcomings by some readers, each of these books did pretty well–as written.

Where I’m going with all of this is that THE THORN BIRDS, GONE WITH THE WIND, and A FAREWELL TO ARMS have all received one-star ratings on Amazon, should we want to use this company’s review mechanism as a model for analyzing ratings. I would like any subscriber who has ever received a poor review to go on Amazon and look at the first one-star review for each book–and then look at the reviewer’s history. Here is a “highlight” for each title:

For THE THORN BIRDS, there’s this: “The book was listed as good condition and I wouldn’t call it good. The binding is worn and torn and there is writing in it with a black sharpie.” Okey-dokey. I guess this means it’s a horrible read.

For GONE WITH THE WIND, a one-star review reads in part: “I cannot believe how overtly racist this book is considering it is supposed to be a classic piece of literature and even won the Pulitzer Prize.” If we look at this individual’s past history, the reviews begin with a programmable pressure cooker, followed closely by an assessment of Old Wisconsin Beef Snacks 6-inch, 40-ounce package, and ends with a Bluegrass Songbook by someone named Peter Wernick (who is told by this reviewer to stick to the banjo). Not one other review on this person’s log was for another novel.

As for A FAREWELL TO ARMS, a one-star reviewer wrote: “I give the Kindle version of this book 1 star — less if I could. Hemingway’s book definitely rates at least 5 stars.” That, for me, said it all: The story is great but the book’s presentation vehicle, the e-reader, was not desirable for some reason, so the narrative gets one star. I’m missing something here, but isn’t the review for the story?

In fairness, the GONE WITH THE WIND reviewer has every right to consider the book racist, the same as those who find TOM SAWYER and HUCKLEBERRY FINN offensive. This is no different from Joseph Conrad’s THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS, a title I cringe at every time I cite the work. However, while this is a despicable title, the name of the book has zero to do with the brilliant metaphorical references within. But does racism play into the brilliance of Ms. Mitchell’s writing to the extent that the narrative would be given one star? This is beyond me.

And in what vein should a potential reader consider A FAREWELL TO ARMS since a reviewer gave it one star because of not liking the e-format in which it was presented? Does this make the story lousy, as well? Likewise, does a worn binding make THE THORN BIRDS a horrible story? Both issues have as much to do with the story as Old Wisconsin Beef Snacks, which I’m going to rush right out to buy as soon as I finish typing this Newsletter. If I can just find the 6-inch 40 ounce packs, I’ll be in five-star heaven. Why Amazon doesn’t separate its book reviews from what its customers think of Blue Bell Mayonnaise and Pampers is beyond me.

Whenever I’m asked to review a previously published work, I always go to the one stars first. The reason is that this enables me to legitimately see if there is a pattern to the dislike. And while I look at everything written about the book and then go to the two-stars and do the same, if there is no specific area of concern, this provides me with a frame of reference. However, each negative review that pertains to the book and not the mustard stains on the cover gives me something to consider when analyzing the work as a whole, since the lay reader is of course the most crucial component to satisfy. Seriously, what else really matters?

Again, when I read the one- and two-star reviews, I look for what I refer to as “reviewer patterns,” as this enables me to make an assessment of the reviewers’ credibility. Recently, while reviewing a client’s previous material, I found a two-star review with the word “treacle” in it, implying that the book was maudlin. This erudite reviewer apparently had won a contest for learning the word, as “treacle” appeared in ten of this chaps dozen or so book reviews, of which each work received his two-star thumping.

Another sage gave a client of mine a one-star review for a book that has been enormously popular, and upon perusing this literary pundit’s “backlist,” I noticed that everyone he reviewed received a single star and the declaration that each respective work was decidedly “liberal,” yet not one word was provided about any story’s actual content.

To be sure, there are books worthy of one-star reviews; I’ve probably written a few. And if a reviewer cites a poor storyline, contrived occurrences, weak transitioning, a lack of continuity–there are these as well as a host of what I’ll refer to as “substantiated reasons” for legitimately panning a story. But I place “smaller print than anticipated,” “a dogeared cover,” or that the author is “a relative of a member of the ACLU,” as not valid reasons to give a book a one-star rating.

It also must be understood that there are a sorry group of folks who have no life except to try to make other people miserable. These are the same misfits who like to rile Internet chat room participants by taking an opposite view for no reason other than to cause someone strife. There are documented cases of parents being told that a child of theirs has died, only to learn it was a hoax. It has to be understood that there are those out there who will do anything for attention, and this means anything–with no concern for the harm their actions might bring to others.

Then there’s the person who thinks he or she is really smart and has wisdom that must be shared. What better place than in the world of literature? And what could possibly be superior to this super-genius’s book review? It’s laughable, and should be treated as such. The oldest advice continues to hold up: Don’t get too excited about a good review, and by the same token don’t get depressed about a bad one. Yes, it hurts. But it’s just one person’s opinion, and that individual might well fall within the category of some of the malcontents I’ve detailed in this section.

I realize I’ve written a lot about the subject of reviews, and that I’ve perhaps stated some of what I’d said in earlier Newsletters, but a number of subscribers of late have asked my opinion of reviews and I decided to “air out” some of the issues once again. Sorry if any of you found my comments redundant.

Today’s article is not repetitious, however, as it deals with what are referred to as “attributive nouns.”


Attributive Nouns–What They Are and Why They Are Important to Understand
Learned Copyeditor to the Rescue

It was explained to me that my word was technically referred to as an “attributive noun,” and for this reason no apostrophe was necessary anywhere! The rationale for omitting the apostrophe is that the first word serves the function of an adjective (hence the attribute side of the equation) and not a possessive.

Examples of this are The New York Yankees baseball team, IBM General Systems Division, Teachers Union, Writers Convention, Department of Veterans Affairs and my favorite, singles bar, because it’s an instance of a couplet that’s not capitalized. This list is long, but it becomes confusing when we see Reader’s Digest and Ladies’ Home Journal. Does only one reader get the Digest but more than one at a time read the same Journal?

The Rule on Attributive Nouns Has Another Oddity

Oddity might be too strong a word, but when the plural form of the “head noun” does not end in an “s” the apostrophe is used. For example, The People’s Republic of China and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, since both “people” and “children” are plural words to begin with.

Attributive Nouns Are Easy to Find Confusing

I get a letter each November from the Stone Island Homeowners’ Association, which is obviously incorrect. Maybe the improper grammar can enable me to quit paying the dues and not have my house liened? I doubt it, but a business’s individual preferences can really muddy up the water, as the Reader’s Digest and Ladies’ Home Journal examples illustrate.

It’s explained in “The Copyeditor’s Handbook” (apparently there’s only one copyeditor on the planet and she works for me, thank goodness) that if the relationship between the plural head noun and the second noun can be expressed by the prepositions “for” or “by” and not the possessive “of,” then the apostrophe is omitted except if the word making up the plural head noun doesn’t already end in an “s.”

This Is One Issue for Which I Have Never Found a Clear Answer

If anyone should not understand what I just wrote and what is and is not classified as an attributive noun, please join the club for which I’m officially the president. This might be the single most confusing aspect I’m aware of in all of English grammar. My suggestion is to accede to convention, such as Publishers Marketplace, Reader’s Digest and Ladies’ Home Journal, and revise what’s not extant, as I’ve struggled so much with “writer’s workshops,” “writers’ workshops,” and “writers workshops” that I long ago gave up and call what I facilitate “writing workshops.”

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 131,
(October 2014)
Unnecessary Modification When Writing Interior Monologue

Hello Everyone,

Amazon has finally answered the question regarding how much authors will be paid if someone accesses a book via its Prime program that allows downloading any number of books for a flat rate of $9.99 per month. The Amazon stipend is currently at $1.47, so for those of us who sell a book for $2.99 and earn $2.04 U.S., this isn’t that bad. But for an established author who is used to a $10 retail for an e-book, and therefore a $7 royalty, the payout will be quite a disappointment.

I don’t have an answer, except since the vast majority of e-book sales via Amazon are for self-published works sold between $.99 and $2.99, this appears to be a fair payment. It’s the other “name” authors who have a greater beef, in my opinion, since it’s these writers’ works that comprise the bulk of the higher retails. What I don’t understand is if someone has a book priced at $.99, does that writer still receive $1.47? There’s surely a formula for all of this, but I haven’t seen it yet.

I’m of course ecstatic when a client’s work is singled out for excellence, and Mike Hartner received two first-place, blue-ribbon awards for I, WALTER at the recent Chanticleer Awards, one for YA and the other for Historical Fiction. The Historical Fiction related to I, WALTER is of the picaresque variety, and I wish that everyone would take the time to understand this about Mike’s stories, as the trials and tribulations of his protagonists are written in a humorous vein, no different from Quixote or Cellini, or, contemporarily, Forrest Gump.

The viewing of historical events painted with broad brushstrokes is what adds humor to I, WALTER as well as its successor, I, JAMES, and this tongue-in-cheek treatment will continue as a key component of the entire series. Hence, it’s important to recognize that the “I” oeuvre is not Historical Fiction in the sense of Gore Vidal’s BURR, but a fun look at various aspects of everyday life in the era of each volume in the series. I chuckle at Mike’s ingenuity, and his ever-expanding readership is testimony to how well his clever tweaking of actual events is being received. Here’s another link for I, JAMES on Amazon.

These days it seems impossible to discuss any aspect of publishing and not bring up Amazon’s impetus in one form or another. Lee Child was interviewed by John Konrath recently on the latter’s blog, and the entire discussion can be accessed via this link. Mr. Child, in my opinion, hits the nail on the head in saying that Amazon seems bent on becoming the publishing company and not solely a monolith. He also points out what I’ve been discussing at length, which is that Amazon has not been particularly good at marketing its own books, so how can a writer expect his or her outside-published work to fare any better?

As all subscribers are aware, I’m giving Amazon a go via my self-published compendium of articles, HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! I’m in the midst of trying several marketing options available through Amazon, and I’ll let subscribers in on the results once I run the gamut. So far, the overwhelming majority of sales have been the result of Newsletter subscribers and my personal efforts, with very little coming from elsewhere. This is exactly what I expected, but it also demonstrates that Amazon has the same issues to contend with that every publisher with a large list faces, and this is what titles to present–and how to do it. Give me a year with this and I’ll have some concrete statistics to share with everyone.

Book-purchasing trends have remained constant for some time, as this year again shows Children’s and YA material leading the pack. Digital has leveled off, according to the statistics compiled by the upcoming International Conference on Books in Germany, but as I’ve repeatedly cautioned, it’s hard to know what to believe. For example, Bowker’s numbers will reflect one set of metrics, but with Amazon Kindle and B&N/Nook exclusives using their respective proprietary coding, where and how are self-published works (meaning “sales”) in these milieus tracked?

And to place this in perspective, Amazon has something like 500,000 exclusive self-published titles available–while the entire Big 5 with its several hundred imprints publishes around 50,000 titles each year. And this includes both fiction and nonfiction. If you read Publishers Marketplace, you’ll see that it reports about 50 new titles each day. The math tells me that 50 new books coming out each day equates to around 18,000 per year. When a person breaks this down first by fiction/nonfiction, and then by genre, if becomes easy to understand why it’s hard to break in with a major royalty publisher, since each house publishes only a dozen or two titles per year for its respective imprints. And if a publisher supports 100 or so established writers for every one of its individual genres, and these authors continue to churn out material–well, it’s not too difficult to understand why becoming published for the first time by a major house is indeed a daunting task.

For many years I’ve been touting the potential for the Espresso Book Machine, and I continue to believe it will be the wave of the future, and perhaps not too far out. So far, however, this machine that will publish a single paperback with a four-color cover for around $35 has not taken off. My prediction is, as more and more brick and mortar bookstores continue the trend of not renewing their leases, this exotic copier and its counterpart collating machine will begin showing up in coffee shops in the way that the latter are now showing up in bookstores.

And I believe there will be an economy of scale that will allow the cost to go down for even individual, single-print books. Who knows, maybe a 3-D printer will someday manufacture a book? The machine downloads the manuscript, formats it, and presents the finished book right along with the desired cover in minutes. I know, this is “Beam me aboard, Scotty!” stuff. But even though the publishing scenario I just described might seem far-fetched, I’m of the opinion this will be coming to fruition sooner rather than later.

Two debut writers recently received $2 million advances for fictional material. One, Emma Cline, has written a roman à clef about the Manson-family women, and I’m including the link to her bio, as she’s just 25 years old and sort of a 2014 version of a ’60s hippie. But a damn smart one, and I encourage subscribers to read the short article on her background, as I found it fascinating. I read snippets attributed to the other author, Garth Risk Hallberg (yep, that’s his name), who also signed a $2 million advance for a work of fiction. The only similarity to both writers is that they are deeply seated in New York City.

I continue to wonder if any of the New York mainstream publishers will ever bestow another relatively unknown author or debut writer with a million-dollar advance? It seems as though the lucky benefactors must have graduated from Columbia and reside in or have grown up in one of the boroughs, and preferably Brooklyn. I hate to tell these folks who control publishing at the big-house level, but there are fabulous writers who have crafted wonderful stories but live in Ohio and New Mexico, and who haven’t interned at a Condé Nast imprint.

On a positive note, I read that the literary agency Sterling Lord Literistic, which routinely ranks in the top five with titles placed each year, has hired an associate agent with a responsibility to work with successful self-published authors. Since there is no history yet with this person I’m not going to provide the name, but I believe that before much longer every agency that’s larger than a single-shingle entity will employ someone to exclusively handle self-published authors. It only makes sense, the same as I’m of the opinion that there will be separation between print and digital.

I say this because I have many clients who read only from a tablet or cell phone, and they seem to gravitate to a certain type of work such as Sci-Fi; while, conversely, Romance appears to continue to be the domain of the bound book. Someone said to me it’s like holding a lover around the waist as opposed to watching that person walk by. I found that overly dramatic, but it was that person’s rationale, so I’m providing it to accept or refute. Regardless of one’s predilection for a reading medium, it does seem as though distinct genre preferences exist pertaining to what someone will read in which environment. Time will tell if this is just a passing fad or if specific lines can be drawn that delineate digital from print. It’s my contention that this is something to keep an eye on.

I’ve often commented on how poorly some books sell that win major awards. The U.K. Booker Prize is a prime example, as this year’s winner for fiction, THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH by Peter Flanagan, has sold just 7,000 copies. The publisher is now printing 53,000 more copies (why 53,000 is anyone’s guess), but my point is that even Pulitzer Prize-winning authors have had dismal sales (and Nobel Prize winners, as well), illustrating that quality doesn’t always equate with reader appeal. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that over the years I’ve found many Booker winners’ works barely readable (I’m equally confident these authors would find my material of the same caliber, so we have a mutual disdain, ha ha). The Booker was open this year to U.S. citizens for the first time, so it will be interesting to see if an American ever nabs the award (to qualify, a book still has to be written in English and published in the U.K.).

As a personal factoid regarding what I just discussed, about 20 years ago I searched long and hard for a copy of Upton Sinclair’s DRAGON’S TEETH, which won a Pulitzer for fiction in 1943. I couldn’t get a library copy to read, and I eventually had to pay a ridiculous price for the work from a private bookseller. Frankly, the book was worth what I paid, as it’s one of the finest stories involving the Second World War and a citizen skirting the Nazi grip of anything I’ve ever read. And DRAGON’S TEETH was part of a six-or-so-book oeuvre that carried the lead character, art dealer Lanny Budd, beyond the war. My point is, the book was virtually unavailable except through private collections, yet it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Conversely, the GREY trilogy has sold more than 12 million copies, and still counting, yet never won anything but critical disdain. No moral here, just some cold, hard facts related to the disparate realm of book sales.

Some months ago I commented on preacher Mark Driscoll and his Seattle megachurch using ResultSource to purchase thousands of copies of a book of his to assure it would make the bestseller lists–and how repugnant I found this practice. He has now resigned his position at the church, citing his arrogant behavior as one of the reasons. Regardless of the rhetoric, he used between $180,000 and $210,000 of church-supporters’ money (depending on which numbers one wants to accept) to create bogus sales, but what’s most amazing about this is that he has profited by as much as $500,000. Like everything with book sales, these numbers are up for some serious scrutiny, but the one indisputable issue is that ResultSource’s efforts–and the resulting Number 5 rating on the New York Times bestseller list–resulted in interviews for Driscoll on CNN and The View, among other talk environments.

During one 16-day stretch, his book sold 96,000 copies that were purchased through Amazon and which would likely not have remotely approached this level without the ResultSource impetus. Now Driscoll has abdicated his throne, and apparently all of this profit is tax-free, since it was gleaned while he was disseminating The Word. If someone feels I’m being sacrilegious, I’m sorry, but my purpose for discussing this situation is to illustrate how the entire process can be corrupted. If anyone has a quarter of a million dollars to spare, this person’s material can achieve bestseller status. I’ll leave the tax ramifications to other folks to adjudicate. All I’m interested in explaining is the way the sales numbers for a book can be manipulated–and that it disgusts me because so many of us toil so very long and hard just to get a fair hearing for our respective materials. Here’s a link that details the entirety of Driscoll’s book’s sales cycle and the way this was achieved.

On a more pleasant note, today’s article is important in that it deals with one of the true subtleties that separate writers, and it’s the unnecessary use of speaker modification when writing interior monologue.

Unnecessary Modification When Writing Interior Monologue
Culprits Abound

Among the most common unnecessary modifying words are “knew,” “decided,” “wondered,” “thought,” “felt,” “and “believed,” but anything else that is superfluous to the flow of the text falls into the “guilty as charged” category.

“Knew” Indeed Leads the Pack

How many times have we written a character’s thoughts in a scene in this manner: John knew that Darla would be late. Heck, she always was when they had somewhere important to go.

Once the scene is established in John’s POV, the writing is so much crisper if the run reads: Darla would be late. Heck, she always was when they had somewhere important to go.

“Decided” Is Also a Favorite

I don’t know how often I wrote “he decided” in my early novels. In every instance in my narratives, “decided” should have been eliminated, since who else would be “deciding” but the person “speaking” via interior monologue?

What Comes After “Wondered”?

I receive a lot of material to edit written in this manner: He wondered, What would Martha be doing about it? To exacerbate this, often I’ll see what was “wondered” or “thought” in quotes as well as italics. There’s nothing wrong with placing a thought in italics, just do it sans the speaker tag and without the quotation marks; hence, What would Martha be doing about it? and nothing else.

Clear Examples

Here are a couple of ways to write what I’m discussing the cumbersome way and then in the preferred syntax:

Superfluous: Dale decided to go to the city to see Ellen.
Clear and Fluent: Dale went to the city to see Ellen.

Superfluous: Maggie wondered if Doug’s actions caused Shirley’s odd behavior
Clear and Fluent: Did Doug’s actions caused Shirley’s odd behavior?

Of course there would be dialogue or exposition to proceed or succeed either spit, but what matters is–once the POV is established, even if it follows the line–there’s no need for the character to “decide” or “wonder.”

Yes, There Is an Exception

As with almost every aspect of writing, of course there is an exception to the “sans the tag credo.” A time most assuredly will occur in a story when the author believes that “John decided he had no choice,” or “Mary knew it was not a good idea to call Jill.”

For effect, it’s sometimes necessary to express the character’s “feeling” even if the point of view in the scene is well established, as the modifier is the only way the line can attain its full impetus. The key is not to go overboard with this action and to let the scenes within the narrative “speak for themselves” as often as possible without any “help.” Any writer acceding to this edict will most often find the end result to be prose displaying better pitch and superior pacing than if the material contained the interior tags.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 132,
(November 2014)
Book Marketing’s Ever-Evolving Landscape

Hello Everyone,

I want to extend a hearty welcome to those of you who subscribed to The Perfect Write® Newsletter during this past 30-day period between broadcasts, and for whom today’s Newsletter is your first regularly scheduled edition. My Newsletter is sent on the third Tuesday of each month at 1 p.m. EST. My premise back in ’09 when I launched the inaugural Newsletter was to design an article to accompany each edition that focused on writing fluent prose at a level which would appeal to a major royalty publisher and to comment on the publishing industry as I’d come to know it as both a novelist and an editor over a period that spanned more than two decades.

On rare occasions I’ve found a subject compelling enough that I’d omit the article and devote the majority of the Newsletter to that topic. Today’s edition falls into this category, as I was recently sent what I consider to be an incredibly adroit set of comments from a longtime client, Sirena Gibson-Ross (the opening chapter from her book, ANDROMEDA’S TALE, is posted on my Critique Blog and can be accessed via the link). In my opinion, Sirena has hit the nail on the head regarding topics that the overwhelming majority of writers must now face, regardless of an author’s skill sets.

However, before getting to this material, here are a few tidbits to get everyone started:

A new publisher, Seventh Street Books, is accepting unsolicited submissions for Crime Fiction. I’ve done what due diligence I could, and from all appearances this firm is legitimate. I commonly cite outfits that are using a publishing front to ensnare unsuspecting writers to pay for editing and other marketing options under the assumption that the firm will then publish the book. I’ll have more on this later, as it falls within the purview of Sirena’s thesis.

As for Seventh Street Books, it appears the firm has multiple author agreements, ranging from a standard advance to a consignment deal. But, and I stress the following, it does not appear that this company requires any fees whatsoever from the writer. So, for writers of Crime Fiction, this appears to be a legitimate opportunity, and according to the publicity, a writer can submit an entire finished draft and not just a few pages or the opening couple of chapters.

The one suspect part of any company’s accepting a “full” up-front is that reading this much material usually has strings attached; e.g., “Our editorial team has found your story to be extremely compelling and possessing outstanding commercial appeal; however, we feel there are certain aspects of your wonderful material that would benefit from additional work so your novel can be brought to a publishable level. My firm offers….” Everyone knows the rest. If any subscribers should submit to Seventh Street Books, please let me know of your experience(s) and I’ll be certain write a follow-up piece in a future Newsletter.

I’ve often discussed Kirkus Reviews and what the company has become since Mrs. Kirkus sold the name many, many years ago. A writer can currently pay $425 directly to Kirkus for a review, and if the blurb comes out negative can be kept from being published. Or an affluent writer can pay an ASI imprint such as Xlibris, AuthorHouse or iUniverse $4,000, and an account executive will secure a Kirkus Review for the writer. Yes, that concept is insane. The Kirkus namesake has been sold more times than Kentucky Fried Chicken, and this is not a joke. I defy any author to honestly state, in today’s sardine-crowded marketplace, that a single sale of that person’s book can be attributed to a Kirkus Review.

But I’m not writing about Kirkus Reviews to repeat what subscribers have read from me for many years, as here’s where I’m going with this: Kirkus Media (as it’s been renamed in 2010) offers monetary awards of $50,000 to the winners in the various categories; which, outside of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is the largest monetary amount I know of. To put this in perspective, a Pulitzer comes with a $10,000 check, and the winners of the National Book Award receive just $10,000, as well. Of course, any writer winning a Pulitzer or an NBA will, by way of immediate book sales, gain more than the $10,000 stipend, but many category winners will not, even with the upsurge in book sales, reach a $50,000 aggregate.

Once again, writers must look between the sheets, and there’s no pun intended. It’s my opinion that these awards are Kirkus Media’s marketing strategy to legitimatize Kirkus Reviews–and absolutely not one thing more. Kirkus Media sells an ad program in which it places display ads in various media. These DO NOT SELL BOOKS. I cannot make this clearer. There’s an Internet post by a poor soul who spent $8,000 with Kirkus before he finally figured it out. Kirkus Media rakes in an enormous profit from its activities to “promote” writers who use the firm’s services. It doesn’t take long to see that a few $50,000 rewards can generate tremendous credibility.

I ask any subscriber who might be considering a Kirkus Review to look at those that are published. Do they really offer a “specific” analysis of the book? Or do they fall into the generic clichés of “riveting,” “amazing,” “spellbinding,” “must read,” “can’t put down,” “roller-coaster ride,” and all the other hoopla that says absolutely nothing? This sort of vapid rhetoric reminds me of a review I read of NUTS, a movie Barbra Streisand starred in some time ago. The blurb in the newspaper read “HILARIOUS.”

A friend of mine took his 8-year-old daughter to it, based on that review. If anyone should remember this movie, please let me know where the hilarious scene occurred. My point is, for a $425 fee ($575 for “express” service), how much of a book is it realistic to believe that a Kirkus staffer reads? Again, look at the blurb copy and make your own decision. But even if a subscriber might spring for a Kirkus Review, please don’t get sucked into having Kirkus run ads on behalf of the book, as almost anything else would be superior–and vastly so. Remember, the people who read trade journals know all too well what a Kirkus Review means in today’s marketplace.

What follows is still another instance of an entity’s hooking up with an editorial outfit as a means to provide writers with “that special edge.” A heavily followed writers blog on LinkedIn, “Aspiring Writers Group,” has now affiliated with Michael Lownes at PML Media in the U.K. And, yes, scrape away all the veneer and what’s left is an editing service to “help” those souls whose material might need just a little nudge in the right direction.

I’m convinced, based on my personal experiences and nothing else, that when a writer hires a company billed as a “media facilitator, this author fully expects that the funds spent will guarantee a publishing deal–with that company or one it’s closely aligned with. And the fees can very easily double the $8,000 the fellow I alluded to spent with Kirkus Media. It’s human nature, and no one I know is immune. And when I began writing seriously in the days of the covered wagon, I almost got roped into one of the “deals” myself. Escaped by the hair on my chinny-chin-chin.

When I write about the pitfalls in this industry, and publishing seems to have as many wolves in sheep’s clothing as Carter’s has pills, my remarks generally aren’t wild ravings but tales based on my own mistakes. However, it’s understandable when a writer might eschew my advice and pay an ASI imprint a ridiculous sum–especially when the imprint offering editing, marketing, and publicity is presented under the umbrella of Random House or Penguin.

Today, four of the Big 5 publishers have a direct relationship with Author Solutions, Inc., which in my little mind I find despicable from the perspective the “instant” credibility this provided ASI. (Doesn’t my remark regarding buying credibility have a eerie ring to it–as didn’t I just discuss this at length via Kirkus Media?) In my opinion, here’s an excellent article that ties all of the ASI mess together, written by David Gaughran with a lot of side notes by Emily Suess. Mr. Gaughran does as good a job as anyone I’m aware of at ferreting out the facts and not whitewashing anything. And Ms. Suess has substantial experience with many of the alligators in the publishing industry.

On the flip side of what I just wrote, Lesley Brostern Kinch, a delightful young lady whose material I’ve critiqued, and who lives in the U.K., has told me that Nicholas Evans has agreed to write a review of her debut novel, MANHATTAN LEGACY. Folks, this ain’t Kirkus from the perspective of a review’s value to a writer, as Mr. Evans is on the list of the 100 top-selling authors of all time, and his most acclaimed story, THE HORSE WHISPERER, went to the top of the charts as both a book and a movie. The review is not “in” yet, but Mr. Evans must have found something good about Ms. Kinch’s book or he never would have agreed to look at it, and if he graces her story with good marks, she’ll have writer’s cramp from attending so many book signings.

As a follow-up to my comment on Nicolas Evans’s success, here’s a “loose” list of the bestselling books of all time. Again, it’s far from absolute, as THE DA VINCI CODE is almost universally ranked number one in contemporary material for a single title, and this means it outsold the first HARRY POTTER. The compilation on this link has these titles reversed. Regardless, I found it interesting to see what current writers made the top 100 of all time–and subscribers might find it fun to see if a favorite is on the list. I promise that anyone scanning the titles and authors will find more than a few surprises.

Time and again I’ve written that there’s virtually nothing about writing or the publishing industry that’s chiseled in stone. If Charles Frazier’s purported $3 million advance for his fourth novel doesn’t exemplify my contention, I don’t know what does. Mr. Frazier holds the dubious distinction of writing a book that left his publisher holding the bag for one of the biggest missteps in publishing history, as his follow-up book to COLD MOUNTAIN was reported to have missed covering his $12-million advance by more than $8 million.

The position among agents–as I’ve read often of late–is that one bad title in the Literature genre and that writer is going to have mighty tough sledding for future projects, no matter how successful this particular author was in the past. However, a $3-million advance, after a loss of $8 million on a previous book, certainly flies in the face of the naysayers. In fairness, Mr. Frazier did have a title released after his book that “missed” the advance, which was by all accounts profitable for the publisher. As an aside to all this, even the book that was a financial flop for the publisher sold in excess of 300,000 copies. Wouldn’t we all like to experience that sort of disaster?

The hits just keep on coming, as here’s another outfit bursting onto the scene to save the day for weary writers (notice I didn’t say “wary,” but I’d rather have used that word). An outfit named “Reedsy” has launched a start-up, which much like Blurb’s “Dream Team”concept, claims to have signed a pool of top editors from a scrum of more than 2,000 who applied. One good thing I noticed in their advertising was the phrase “Independent Publishing Professional,” which is getting closer to the necessary syntax for describing someone who self-publishes, in a way that’s not condescending. There’s still a bit more to do with this, but it’s getting there.

I want to mention one issue regarding selecting an editor from Reedsy or any “editing mill,” with my assigning this phrase because of the sheer volume of affiliates and for no other reason. First, there’s no way to control which editor is right for what project. When I started writing seriously 20-plus years ago, I made the mistake of hiring an editor–whose work I hadn’t researched–at the suggestion of a reputable agent (who never signed me, by the way). The editor possessed superb credentials for nonfiction but was horrible for my novel, which was a Mystery.

This editor revised my characters’ dialogue so the syntax would depict “perfect” diction, and he had a terrible time understanding that the story was indeed not true, no matter how often I told him. He also wanted every miniscule detail documented for the reader, such as how to enter a car; meaning, a character couldn’t just drive away without first opening a vehicle’s door and placing the key in the ignition, etc. As an early-stage writer, I didn’t know the value of having an editor line-edit a couple of pages of my work so I’d know beforehand if the person would be a good fit.

The point is, Reedsy, Blurb, and any other outfit that signs a group of editors will have a percentage who will be adept with almost anything. But to accept the spiel that their services are provided for writers who want to spend a few thousand dollars to polish their work (that’s a quote and not a paraphrase) is, in my opinion, biting off too much. A writer must take the time to get to know a potential editor. If not, the results can be a disaster and a step backward and not forward. No matter how much of a hurry an author might be in, and we all get antsy, a few extra weeks up front can save a year on the back end–and I’m speaking from personal experience on this.

One of the best articles I’ve read in a long time is by agent Howard Yoon on “How to Make a Bestselling Book. I believe that Newsletter subscribers will find this article worth the time to read. And perhaps extremely so, as Mr. Yoon does a fine job, in my opinion, of substantiating the reasons why writers should continue to seek a mainstream publisher first–and stay with it for as long as possible. Of the many fine points he makes, what stood out for me was his comment that parallels my longtime mantra: “None of this [meaning, what writers accomplish] happens fast.”

Mr. Yoon explains that THE GOLDFINCH, Donna Tartt’s novel that won the 2013 Pulitzer for fiction, and ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr, which is a finalist for this year’s National Book Award for fiction (to be announced November 19), each took ten years from inception to publication. So please understand why I become concerned when a prospective client becomes distraught after 50 queries and no bites and throws in the towel.

I have a client who during this past year sent out more than 400 queries before he secured an agent. The signing occurred just this past month, and I’ll be discussing his book in future Newsletters and placing this author’s opening chapter on my Critique Blog. This fellow is a retired journalist who enjoyed an excellent career, understood and accepted the process; meaning, he was willing to take the time to fully source the agent market.

Easy? Of course not. But read Mr. Yoon’s article (here’s the link again) and perhaps this will ameliorate some of the disappointment at not having Stephenie Meyer’s success at querying just 13 agents before signing with one and an ensuing seven-figure deal from a publisher. There are indeed other stories like hers (okay, to some degree or another), and I routinely cite those I learn about in my Newsletter broadcasts. But each month someone wins the Powerball as well. However, what are the odds? And this is what it gets down to. Writers must make the effort to help their chances, and this involves exploiting the avenues that are a decent fit, even if this means for most of us sending out 400-plus queries. I don’t like it either. And I don’t mean to sound harsh, but this is what we all signed up for.

I began this Newsletter by mentioning the material that was sent to me by Sirena Gibson-Ross, and that I wanted to use it as the focus for this broadcast. I’m posting what she provided below (with her permission, of course), and it will be apparent how the body of today’s narrative dovetails with what Sirena believes is the current mindset of mainstream publishers–and that it’s mandatory for today’s writers to think outside the box if they want to build an audience. She titles her piece “Publishing Darwinism” and in my opinion her thoughts could not be more accurate or prophetic. I’ll have some closing comments that will tie in with this.

“I have a suggestion to up your sales by making short videos about writing, top 5 mistakes, editing hacks etc. and whatnot. Throw in some humor and put it up on YouTube. This is the snake oil, P.T. Barnum’s future, as it seems that publishers only want to put wind behind your sales if you are already moving pretty swiftly. I think we have to be on top of a multitude of mediums to get results. I am also thinking contests are a way of getting attention. With the big 5 engaging in some sketchy practices, partnering with vanity publishers and making digital rights grabs, along with the ‘you’re on your own’ attitude regarding marketing, it seems the only reason to go with the Big 5 is if you do not have a marketing strategy (big mistake) or you are still of the common opinion that self publishing is a sign of failure. If the only reason to keep submitting to the giants is to feel ‘legitimatized,’ it takes on a whole ‘nother level of vanity publishing.”

I found this to be an incredibly insightful view of the publishing industry and an example of a single paragraph’s containing the value of something of encyclopedic proportions. Witness how many words I wrote in this lengthy Newsletter that Sirena expressed in 177 words.

The YouTube idea is outstanding, and if I can find an 8-year-old who’s not too busy in my community some Saturday afternoon, and his or her mom and dad will let me rent the tyke, the child can show me how to do the YouTube “thing,” as I’m all for this idea. As Sirena also suggested in a separate note, I can lead viewers to the video by saying I have naked pictures of Miley Cyrus or some such falsehood. I know, I can claim to have Bigfoot in my basement (of course, living in Florida I am sans the basement). Regardless, and getting serious, Sirena’s suggestion for exploiting the YouTube medium is a genuinely fantastic idea, as I see it, and I will attempt to do this. However, I don’t know how to write anything funny, so I’ll have to think hard about that one.

When Sirena mentions the pitfalls of not having a marketing strategy, she is spot-on. During this past year I’ve spent more Newsletter space discussing the successful marketing my clients have told me about than any other single topic. One clients sells at Green Markets, another does free book giveaways for charities, another does radio interviews, another co-ops with other writers to put on public readings at bookstores, another splits the profit in return for permission to set up a desk at a “used” bookstore in a mini-mall (I know, but this person swears it works), several subscribers have successfully approached local libraries and were granted permission to pitch and sell their books on-site, and one woman, as people leave a movie theater, hands out book markers with her book’s cover on it and ordering information. The list goes on, but the theme is the same: “If I don’t sell my book, it’s certainly not going to get in front of the public on its own.”

And Sirena’s final contention I found the most poignant of all, the word “vanity” indeed having a double-edged meaning when considering the gauntlet everyone but a rare few have had to run through to even get a sniff by a major house. This sad irony calls to mind the indie publisher some years ago who asked for a one-page synopsis of a novel of mine but sent me five pages to fill out that described my marketing plans for my book. This request is not the least bit exaggerated. Frankly, anyone with the level of marketing skills (and money to spend freely) that this imprint desired for whomever it signed, should do the book privately and keep all the profits.

I’m going to make a prediction, and in part it’s due to the success John Locke and a few others like him have had at becoming their own publishers and at what has just occurred with Taylor Swift in the music business. My belief is that we’ll soon see more big-name authors going the entire process on their own. As Sirena stated in what I consider to be perfect terms, the Big 5 want to put marketing money only behind those authors who are already carrying their own weight at a good pace.

The crux of all this is the current “meaning” of the Big 5, and specifically how they got this way. All of the legacy imprints are now controlled by a parent company that looks only at profitability. (The only “escapee” is Kensington, which is still fiercely independent and its dozen or so imprints remain unsullied). If bottom-line dollars weren’t the case, why in the world would Random House and Penguin via Pearson align themselves with Author Solutions? It’s a jigsaw puzzle to keep track of who’s who, and this in itself–as is pointed out in the David Gaughran article–has obviously been done so that writers won’t know where their money is going. I promise this is not some crazy assertion.

I’m going to reiterate my prediction that during this upcoming year more notable writers will be starting their own publishing companies for their personal materials. Nobody did this to the publishers but themselves, and it is sad because the quality of the books will suffer in the long run, which is another topic for another time, as the submissions editors at the major houses are the reason the bar is set so high for entry. And without these brilliant people who care about literature, Literature as a genre wouldn’t exist. What I just wrote might seem to fly in the face of everything in this long Newsletter, but what I’m discussing now is a different topic entirely, and in the next broadcast I’ll discuss why I believe that writers need the major royalty publishers–just not as they are currently structured.

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 133,
(December 2014)
Mainstream Publishers and Why They are Crucial for Every Writer’s Success

Hello Everyone,

This past year has indeed been exciting, and I want do a little recap. But before I say anything more, I want to thank each and every one of you for continuing to support this Newsletter and its various messages. I used the word “various” because I believe this best describes the material I present, although I realize that I’ve been more parochial this year than during any time in the past. Part of this was because I’d published the book of articles, created a new blog dedicated to promoting Newsletter segments, and some of my clients have experienced publishing success to one degree or another. Other successes I’m unable to discuss, since the material and its author are protected by nondisclosure agreements.

Many of you have told me how much you appreciate hearing about those writers I can showcase in my Newsletter broadcasts. I’m obviously proud whenever a client of mine is able to sell a book he or she has written. And for this reason I will continue to publish opening chapters on my Critique Blog, and I encourage anyone who would like to submit material to please do so at your convenience. However, I no longer have the time to line-edit the material that goes on the blog, so I highly suggest you have it in tip-top condition. Frankly, I’ve not been able to accept any but a few opening chapters during the past six months, and these have all been from long-standing clients. I plan on having not quite as rigid a schedule in 2015, and I hope this will enable me do more free opening-chapter critiques. I’ll just have to see how the paid projects fall in place.

The prior Newsletter from November 18 was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. First, more subscribers clicked links than at any time since I began writing these Newsletters in ’09; second, more of you wrote me about the specific material than in any past broadcast. When I write these narratives, I have no idea how people will react. Sometimes I’ll transmit a piece I believe will really resonate with subscribers, and in return I’ll get just a few e-mails and that’s it; other times, my inbox will be covered up, which is what happened shortly after the previous Newsletter was transmitted–and I continue to receive comments. And, truth be told, I was worried that the previous Newsletter wasn’t up to the caliber of what subscribers had come to expect. One never knows–or at least I don’t, ha ha.

An aspect of publishing I concentrated on during this past year involved bestseller lists. I mentioned in last month’s Newsletter, which was initially transmitted on November 18, that the National Book Awards were being announced soon after that broadcast (the next day, to be exact). As is not a trend but an actuality, the overwhelming favorite for Fiction didn’t win. Debut writer Phil Klay won for REDEPLOYMENT, a roman à clef of short stories involving his hitch in the service and deployment to Afghanistan. Anthony Doerr was the consensus if not overwhelming favorite for THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, but the judges, as with the Booker assemblage in the U.K., seem to revel in selecting any book except the favorite.

The Booker panel, as I’ve written often, in my opinion has picked some novels that are god-awful stories. To be fair, many literary critics have said the same about Nobel selections. I’m far from a literary critic, as my judgment is based on viewing a book as a lay reader. And using this criterion, it’s easy to see why many mainstream readers will criticize those who read Literature as being pseudo intellectuals, as the material couldn’t possibly by liked by anyone who enjoys a good or well-written story (these days I have to separate the two). There is, however, great Literature out there, just not always what wins awards, even the major ones. What I’m going to be covering later in this Newsletter will deal solely with the issue of quality writing and my reasons for believing writers should never lose sight of the value of the mainstream presses (now–the result of mergers–the Big 5 and Kensington).

I’m constantly bringing up the reasons why so much good material never gets signed by the major royalty publishers, and that it’s easy to understand why a writer might opt for self-publishing rather than send out the 400 query letters that’s now seemingly the threshold for landing a bona fide agent. I pulled a random day from Publishers Marketplace to show the mix of books that were signed during the prior 24 hours. Look at the credentials for each writer. The list ranges from several people in the television, to a defrocked sportscaster/baseball player, to a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. Here’s what I’m referring to:

Among yesterday’s 50 new deals: Comedian and actor Eddie Izzard’s book about his life, to Blue Rider Press; Actor writer, and photographer Keegan Allen’s LIFE.LOVE.BEAUTY, a photographic journey, to St. Martin’s; Reporter Matthieu Aikins’s book of narrative nonfiction on Karachi, to Random House; Congressional Medal of Honor winner and veterans’ advocate Sammy Davis’s YOU DON’T LOSE UNTIL YOU QUIT TRYING, to Caliber; James Beard Award-winner Naomi Pomeroy’s OUI: Lessons From An Award-Winning Self-Taught Chef, to Ten Speed Press; Lenny Dykstra’s LENNYBALL, covering his time on the field to his time behind bars, to William Morrow, in a significant deal; and many more.

On another day’s tally of just-signed books I recently pored through, nine out of ten were works by people who had won a notable literary award in the past or had a guaranteed following for some reason. Look at Zoe Sugg, a.k.a. Zoella of YouTube fame (and who also has more than eight million followers on Twitter). She ultimately admitted she had “help” writing her book that sold 87,000 copies the first week it was out. I hope every subscriber is sitting down her reads this next line: This is twice the number of initial week’s sales for either THE DA VINCI CODE or HARRY POTTER. Essentially, all Penguin did was use her name, which in my opinion is not any different from Hachette’s continuing to publish books under Robert Ludlum’s signature–when he’s been dead since 2001.

Another topic I’ve discussed often during this past year was the various routes successful authors are now taking. Some, like John Locke, have set up their own publishing companies, a trend I predict we’ll see a lot more of next year and in years to come. Some very successful self-published authors have gone to mainstream houses, following Amanda Hocking’s lead from a while back. And recently Jeffrey Deavers wrote a book solely for audio. This certainly demonstrates the wide disparity in trends–and that one size definitely does not fit all.

It’s with great pride that I showcase longtime Newsletter subscriber and supporter Elma Schemenauer’s book CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS. Anyone who has ever struggled with the proper blend of interior monologue with dialogue can turn to any page in her narrative to witness a master at work in this regard. It requires enormous skill to design the correct mix and refrain from redundancy. You’ll see in Elma’s work that her interior monologue is always written with purpose. I’m going to write an article on interior monologue with purpose in an upcoming Newsletter, it’s this important. I read a great deal of otherwise fine writing that desperately lacks the fabric which quality interior monologue provides. (I want to be certain to clarify what I mean by interior monologue. I’m referring to exposition and not stream-of-consciousness text that is sometimes referred to as interior monologue).

Well-crafted interior monologue can be utilized to present backstory, which is often overlooked when discussing flashback techniques, as dialogue is generally cited–and not what’s directly contiguous to the speech runs. Any subscriber taking the time to parse Elma’s text will quickly discover that she uses interior monologue to assist both her story’s pacing and the pitch of her scenes. For most writers, even experienced ones, the boundaries related to foreshadowing are a constant battle. In my opinion, Elma’s story is a perfect blend, and it’s a wonderful teaching medium related to this enormously important aspect of professional writing. And, frankly, it’s one element I always look at when reviewing a draft for editing, as the use of interior monologue clearly differentiates writing skill levels.

In the “gimme a break” category, Amazon Prime is currently paying authors $1.33 for each book that’s streamed via its “unlimited” program. Since $1.33 is about half of what an author would normally be paid for a softcover, a memo has gone out suggesting that writers split the offering in half and release books in two segments. Maybe authors can cut their cars in two for one month and their houses in two the next. Or eat half meals while waiting on the second royalty. As of this Newsletter, Amazon has around $5 million in the monthly pool (the firm had just added $2.5 million for November). How about forgetting all this bookkeeping tomfoolery and just pay authors what they receive from nonPrime customers?

Writers didn’t start this program; it began essentially without any notice or other options for authors short of pulling the plug on Amazon entirely. This certainly isn’t practical when 70 percent of all books sold go through this entity. If at some point market forces don’t come into play, and I don’t see anyone challenging this monolith anytime soon, as much as I hate to say it, the government will have to step in to break up the firm. To be clear, Amazon is forcing this upon themselves. Great prices for the consumer are definitely hard to argue, but not at the sacrifice of those who provide the intellectual property. My real hope is that Amazon will see the light before it’s too late. In the meantime, writers get the very short end of an already tiny stick.

I want to add something to the “way to sell books” model I broached in the previous Newsletter. I forgot to mention getting booked as a speaker. Cancer survivors sell books, as well as drug or alcohol rehab graduates and women who practice self-defense. The list is endless, and any self-help guru “stuff” works. Just look at the books that are pitched on TV. But it doesn’t require an infomercial. Anyone can go online and find all sorts of opportunities readily available for participating in a speaker’s forum of some sort.

Women’s clubs are ideal (for both sexes). Homeowners’ groups have mixers in which people speak for various reasons. A church might have a fellowship night. The same with a community center. And if a bookstore owner likes your book, and you have print copies, this covered stock can be sold through local, independent bookstores as a function of a “book talk” or reading (I strongly suggest the former over the latter. Leave the reading to the professionals.)

Subscribers may have noticed the retail pricing grid for Children’s bestsellers at almost a straight-line $17; then it drops, in a case or two all the way to $10 for Middle Grade, and then back up to $17 for YA. Children’s genre is higher because of illustrations and personal issues with placing a book that’s not already illustrated. I’ve worked with a few people over the years who have written lovely Children’s material that’s not been illustrated, and it’s really hard to get traction, especially if the work is light on words. In this instance, illustrations are key, and I noticed recently that a book of all drawings sold.

During the past 10 years, I’ve had supposed insiders tell me that a Children’s publisher does not want an already illustrated book, preferring to do it in-house; yet I’ve had other folks, including authors of published Children’s material, advise me just the opposite. My opinion is that if the illustrations are of a high quality, any publisher would be thrilled to not have to bring in an illustrator. There’s always the high probability of creative differences occurring between the author and the illustrator, and who wouldn’t want to avoid this? The problem is that the overwhelming majority of fine writers aren’t necessarily skilled illustrators–and vice versa. Hence, I believe Children’s in this regard is a complete crap shoot.

This Newsletter is a companion piece to last month’s, as I’m going to be discussing why mainstream publishers are crucial for the success of every writer, no matter how this author enters the world of becoming published. My starting point is to suggest taking a look at any of the debut novels in this list compiled by Isaac Fitzgerald at Buzzfeeds. And while the consensus was that Anthony Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE was the best book of the year, even though it didn’t win a single major award, please take a look at two or three of the books in the Buzzfeeds list by those writers for whom this is their debut novel.

Perhaps the issue of greatest significance pertaining to the Buzzfeeds list is that debut novels do get published by the major houses. Look at the titles, read a few paragraphs of any books from the list and ask yourself what’s so special about the material. Many times, you’ll say it’s all very pedestrian. Yet it was published. Why? Subscribers will remember my asking that they read Donna Tartt’s, THE GOLDFINCH, last year’s Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction. What set it apart? Or THE MINIATURIST from this year, which was Waterstone’s book of the year?

The problem with my asking anyone to read a book is–who am I to suggest this? People have only so much time in a day, and one can justifiably say that Bacon’s idea of a book for me is not my idea of a book for me. And, by rights, this couldn’t be a more accurate statement, as no one should be so forward as to suggest what someone should or shouldn’t read. But for those people who read Newsletters on writing and publishing–such as mine–wouldn’t it be a good idea to see where the barriers for entry are set by the major royalty publishers?
These ambits or constraints, depending on one’s point of view as much as anything, are the only real guidelines writers have to go by. Yes, major publishers will take complete slop if it will sell. I don’t need to take the space to write the titles, as everyone knows them. But if an author doesn’t have a blog with eight million followers, and whose only claim to fame is spending 10 years to write the best book he or she could come up with, what should that writer do? Self-publish and place it on the Internet? Or see if it passes muster at the Big 5 level? The people who are paying a writer five figures or more for a debut novel have a responsibility to see that what’s presented to the public is in some way gripping and capable of holding a readership until the author’s next book. And, yes, there will be the hope (read “demand”) for more material if the first book is successful either via sales or critical acclaim.

If the legitimate mainstream publishing industry were to crash and burn, my opinion is that there would be no guardhouse. Anything and anyone could enter, and this has nothing to do with those who self-publish for whatever reason. I’m speaking solely of some publishing entity’s setting a bar and expecting people to demonstrate the ability to jump over it if they have any interest in acceptance by the literary community. And it’s my further opinion that the literary community does matter. With so many books now being published each year, without the respected critics–even if I might vehemently disagree with their selections some in not most of the time–there would be no gatekeeper to provide a legitimate yardstick for measurement.

I know of some people who each have read several thousand books in their lifetimes yet don’t understand the purpose of a soft break or the importance of writing out a character arc. But those people are all great at finding a misspelled word or a typo, and they will judge a book by a typesetter’s miscue and not quality of the story. Remember my Newsletter a while back in which I cited the one-star review a book received because the writer was judged to be a democrat. Or the one-star review GONE WITH THE WIND received from one erudite pundit because Ms. Mitchell couldn’t possibly have known what the Civil War was like–since she had not been born at that time in our history. And who will ever forget the one-star review because a book’s cover was damaged on one end?

My take is that the quality of book reviewers is just as important as the authors who write the books. Likewise, submissions editors are crucial so the bar is held high. Ten million new books published in the past few years can’t be allowed to lower the entry criteria. I might also add that I believe that analyzing a book correctly is an art form. The editors responsible for submissions for the bona fide royalty publishers know exactly what turns up the heat and what shuts it off. And why a debut novel makes the grade, while a difficult chore, is not horribly difficult to understand in a great many instances. Look at Mr. Fitzgerald’s list with Buzzfeeds, and if we take the time to read just the opening thousand words in any of the stories, there is a common thread: It’s a character(s) in deep conflict, and quite often in a culture with customs or mores most Western-hemisphere readers aren’t necessarily familiar with.

What made THE KITE RUNNER work? Or what’s so good about the Anthony Doerr. I promise that no one will have to read far to figure it out. And reading brings me to the final leg of today’s Newsletter. I found it gratifying that so many subscribers clicked the links to the prior Newsletter to look at the books I discussed. I get the report on “click” and I’ve noticed over the years that it’s almost always the same group of people. These are clients of mine who I’m pleased to say are the best writers of the people whose material I’m familiar with in the all the countries my drivel now travels to. The same people! And they don’t just write–they read.

A friend of mine passed away four years ago, who happened to be, according to his peers, and outstanding cardiologist. I knew Whitey, the nickname those of us who knew him well called him, for 40 years. When Whitey and another friend and I went on a fishing trip what now seems like a million years ago, he was reading WINDS OF WAR, Wouk’s first opus. He was just off his residency and in his first private practice, and I assumed he’d be a great person to discuss literature with forever. But as the years went by, Whitey, as brilliant as he was, had become rather shallow to anything except medicine.

One day another mutual friend asked what he was reading of late, and Whitey said rather professorially that the only books he had time to open anymore were of a clinical nature. I laughed because I thought he was being pompous. I would be wrong. He became incredibly well-respected, as he was routinely called in to consult on the toughest cases in Indianapolis. Ten years or so ago, I asked Whitey what made him such a good doctor. He took me in the library in his home. Every wall was covered with books, journals, and professional papers. He said, “I read everything about my subspecialty. I always have.” Then he said, “I didn’t want to spend all the time it took me to get to this point and not be good at it.”

I don’t know what the moral of this story is, except that here was a fellow with 13 or so years of higher education, a medical practice most doctors could just dream about, not to mention the universal respect of a medical professional’s severest critics–one’s own colleagues–and his reading was devoted to one thing: getting better.

If someone at his level read and read and read about his profession so he could achieve a higher level of competency, is it out of line to suggest that all of us who write should not at least pay ourselves the same respect so we, too, can do better? This is why in each Newsletter I devote so much space to specific books or subjects to research that I believe can aid authors. No one who reads these Newsletters, and most of all me, has writing figured out. And, again as I wrote earlier, it’s the same cadre of subscribers accessing the writing links I provide, who when they send me material–consistently demonstrate the greatest proficiency. Once more, no moral just the facts.

May all of you have a wonderful and safe holiday period, and I look forward to continuing to visit with everyone via my Newsletters during the New Year. And don’t forget to send my topics you’d like to have discussed.