The Perfect Write® Newsletter (January 2015–July 21, 2015

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 134,
(January 24, 2015)
Why the Classics Have Relevance for Writers at All Levels

Hello Everyone,

Ah, the new year.  My hope is that each Newsletter subscriber is as enthusiastic as I am about what the next 12 months will bring for all of us who take writing seriously.  Of course there will be a new set of challenges, as the market is more crowded than ever, and the ability to get work in front of an interested audience becomes even more daunting.  However, by mimicking the successful models provided by clients who routinely contribute to these Newsletter broadcasts, my heartfelt desire is that collectively we can all benefit by the legitimate synergy that is created.

As to the layout for my Newsletters, please be assured that I’m not discontinuing the article segments that have accompanied these broadcasts for the past five years.  But of late I’ve been devoting space to topics that extend well beyond the “standard” article length which I’ve adhered to for 99 percent of my prior materials, and I felt that to add an article to this dedicated text would diminish one or the other.  Today’s edition follows what I just wrote, as I’ll be providing an expansive explanation of why I believe the classics should not be ignored by any of us.

I can always come up with topics that pertain to writing quality prose and the publishing industry, but I continue to ask subscribers to offer suggestions.  Even if I’ve written about the subject before, there are often nuances to the main issue that are beneficial to discuss.  For example, pronouns have provided the fodder for three or four separate articles.  And while some of what I presented might seem redundant at first pass, I believe there was enough separation to justify the individual treatment.  So, again, please send me your ideas and I’ll certainly give all suggestions strong consideration.

Not that I needed reinforcement, but here’s an article from longtime Random House editor Daniel Menaker that was almost a carbon copy of the theme from last month’s Newsletter regarding the need for mainstream publishers to serve as gatekeepers.  I’m in no way saying either or us is correct, and I certainly didn’t know beforehand that Mr. Menaker’s piece was in the works, but I’ve yet to find a better way to offer a legitimate method for evaluating material.  I don’t like it that some horrid books are self-proclaimed by their Big 5 publishers as “great” literature, but what about self-published works that are highly touted but equally suspect?

For me, it gets down to this: Would I want a layman performing heart surgery?  My remark might seem out of context, but if you will take the time to read Mr. Menaker’s article, I believe what I wrote will make sense.  Regardless, I’m all ears for a better solution, and I encourage subscribers to weigh in on this subject, of which there is likely nothing more controversial in the entire realm of writing.  Again, please give me your opinion.

If the latest published monthly numbers for the Kindle “Unlimited Program” are correct (from November), the company put up $6.5 million for the author pool.  This sounds terrific until the 4.8 million “borrows” are factored into this.  The result is $1.35 per “use,” or about one-third less from the $2 that an author would receive from a $2.99 retail for an e-book or around 45 percent of the approximate $3 net royalty a writer would earn for an average print-copy retail sale.  I continue to bring up the Amazon royalty structure because almost every book on the planet is massaged via Amazon.  As I wrote previously, Amazon’s response for the digital shortcomings was for authors to release their books in two segments. Great idea if your name is Stephen King or Amanda Hocking, but not so wonderful if it’s not.

My meme for some time has been that we’ll see the Espresso Book Machine or something like it taking the place of a great many brick and mortar bookstores in the not too distant future.  And “Espresso” is now touting its self-publishing capability and offering easy-to-apply templates for formatting and covers.  I have no idea how easy this will be, especially if the writer hasn’t utilized a competent formatter such as Booknook.biz (which formats an e-book starting at less than $200), but I do believe that the Espresso overall process will become easier and “cleaner”–and cheaper.  Still, I highly recommend a “human” formatter who knows what is necessary to get this aspect of self-publishing right, especially if a writer is truly planning to go it alone.

I mention “going it alone” because I’m once again eating my own pudding in this regard, since I’ll be filling orders for the print version of HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! without using Amazon or B&N or any other outside wholesaler or retailer.  My good and great friend Sheryl Dunn, who owns the publishing company Shelfstealers, has graciously agreed to let me publish my book of articles via her imprint.  I’ll be using an $18 price point for the trade paperback 6-by-9-inch version.  Sheryl will issue me an ISBN but has offered to release all rights to me.  Hence, the Shelfstealers name will be listed as the publisher but all rights as well as all distribution will be my domain.

I’m doing this for a couple of reasons, and none have to do with greed, although I wish I had the issue to contend with at this time, ha ha.  My primary motivation is that 90 percent of the sales for HTWWPWPTW have been the result of my direct efforts.  And as I’ve discussed the topic of sales generation at great length with dozens of my clients, to a person each has come back to me with the same iteration.  Yes, there are wrinkles here and there, and certainly some nice word-of-mouth activity has created additional volume, but in every instance I’m aware of, the author’s individual presentations have been the driving force.  Simply, no effort–no sales.

Second, I want to determine if an interested buyer will go to my Web site to order just as readily as clicking on Amazon.  Of course Amazon is almost a rote decision by many folks, but if my book is a “sourced” item in the sense of my having to sell it, will it matter if the buyer comes to me directly?  My point is that if John Locke can sell without a publisher, why can’t an individual do the same and not have to use Amazon or any other (is there any other? ha ha) point-of-sale entity?  I take PayPal (and accept personal checks), so once the buying decision is made, why should it matter who happens to be the distributor?  I’m going to do this solely with the paperback, and of course I’ll let subscribers know how this works out during the course of this year.

One note on the paperback: As promised, I’ll be sending a free softcover to each subscriber who was kind enough to buy the digital copy of my book for $2.99 and post a review on Amazon.  If any Newsletter subscriber would still like to receive a free print copy of HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ!, my offer continues to remain intact.  Just write a review and I’ll send you a free copy, and I’ll of course inscribe a personal message of appreciation.  However, I will be running a free giveaway of the digital version of the book on Amazon for five days in mid to late February, so if someone would like the book at no charge, it will be available.  Keep in mind, however, that Amazon won’t allow a review to be posted for a book offered during a free promotion.  So, for $2.99, a subscriber can receive a paperback along with the digital version, and a complimentary digital copy will be available in February.

As a new function of each Newsletter, with every broadcast I will showcase a client’s work, regardless of the publishing medium.  Yes, I have changed my posture dramatically in this regard.  But I will never be amenable to displaying material I consider unsuitable based on my standards pertaining to the quality of the material.  (And while I certainly don’t advocate censorship, I won’t publish anything I deem patently offensive, which includes what is blatantly pornographic or in any way glamorizes abuse, incest or pedophilia.)

Dan Bilodeau’s book, WAR OF THE SERAPHS: ASCENSION, is “The Perfect Write® Showcase Book of the Month,” as I’ve now ordained this section in my Newsletter, ha ha.  From the outset I found it to be a very clever Sci-Fi/Fantasy into which readers of all ages can sink their teeth.  In addition to solid characters that don’t overburden the reader with minutiae, it’s also a coming-of-age story.  And via Dan’s careful treatment of two teenagers in the throes of their personal rites of passage, I don’t believe many parents would find the text objectionable for children as young as middle-graders.

Even if Sci-Fi might not be a genre of interest, I implore each Newsletter subscriber to do yourself a favor and click this link to see Dan’s cover for  WAR OF THE SERAPHS: ASCENSION.  Dan is in the sales side of publishing, and it shows, as his is one of the most spectacular covers I’ve ever seen–and this is no exaggeration.  And if ever a cover can sell a book, here’s proof.  Let me know if you concur with my assessment or if you believe I might be biased because Dan is a client.  Seriously, I’d like your opinion of the cover art.

Bowker has raised the ISBN rate from $250 to $295 for the 10 pack that most all self-published authors purchase, with in my opinion the thinnest of justifications.  One of the reasons for the increase was cited as Bowker’s need for managing the meta data.  Huh?  To explain this, there is going to now be text imbedded in the codes that will aid a reader in finding titles.  In theory–and it’s my opinion that theory is all this can ever be, and I’ll provide my rationale in a moment–a reader can source a book via the ISBN in much the same manner as the way Amazon lists books that other readers have sourced while buying a book.

First, unless there’s a miniscule comparative market, such as folks searching for Amish basket weavers who work underwater, how much meta data could lead a Thriller reader to a book of mine instead of one by James Patterson?  Supposedly, the algorithm for Bowker meta data is different from Amazon in that it will track actual text rather than sales.  Come on.  Why would anyone want to read a crummy book just because it might contain specific long-tail keywords?

It will continue to get down to which author/publisher has the most advertising and marketing dollars to spend, and it’s my contention that anyone thinking any differently will be sadly disappointed.  The embedding of meta data in the ISBNs and through other “vehicles” will be a large topic for discussion this year, so be on the lookout for what will be bandied about.  Most self-published authors sell the vast majority of their books via their personal efforts, as I wrote earlier.  The one in a million who achieves legitimate sales success otherwise does so by creating and maintaining a huge blog presence–and an enormous amount of luck.  And I mean good fortune right up there with winning the Powerball.

A fine writer and longtime Newsletter supporter, David McKenna, has a terrific blog that subscribers might want to consider adding to their “file.”  Mr. McKenna added a post recently that served as a companion piece to a segment I placed on my personal blog which relates to Amazon’s pricing structure for Prime.  The best way I know for any of us to gain traction for our respective works is to support one another when we believe it’s warranted, and I strongly suggest Mr. McKenna’s blog as an excellent site to “follow.”

For anyone who might not be subscribing to Publishers Marketplace (which is great resource I continue to recommend, even at its $25 monthly fee), the statistics on last year’s book sales that are posted below were published on January 4.  I found it particularly interesting that only one novel in the Adult Fiction category sold more than 1 million copies ((GONE GIRL with 963,000 paperback and 415,000 hardback).  However, five books topped the million mark in Children’s.  Also of note, the only classic in the top 15 in Adult Fiction was TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  I wonder how much of this was attributable to the longstanding Harper Lee lawsuit and the publicity it’s garnered?

One other aspect of the list I found of interest was that seven of the fifteen books in Adult Fiction were hardcover.  In my opinion, there’s an underlying message in this, which is that avid readers continue to prefer to hold a physical book in their hands, and they also enjoy a library-grade version of material by favored authors.  There’s a serious statement here, and I believe all writers with print material should feel good about the message–which I find irrefutable.

2014’s Top 15: Adult Fiction

1 GONE GIRL, Gillian Flynn  paperback  963,000

2 GRAY MOUNTAIN, John Grisham  paperback  620,000

3 ORPHAN TRAIN, Christina Baker Kline  paperback  494,000

4 GONE GIRL Gillian Flynn  hardcover  458,000

5 THE GOLDFINCH Donna Tartt hardcover  429,000

6 GONE GIRL Gillian Flynn hardcover  415,000

7 TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Harper Lee  383,000

8 SYCAMORE ROW, John Grisham  360,000

9 REVIVAL, Stephen King  hardcover  345,000

10 FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, E.L. James  324,000

11 INFERNO, Dan Brown  322,000

12 THE INVENTION OF WINGS, Sue Monk Kidd  hardcover  313,000

13 MR. MERCEDES, Stephen King  hardcover  308,000

14 SHADOW SPELL, Nora Roberts  hardcover  299,000

15 EDGE OF ETERNITY: BOOK THREE, Ken Follett  hardcover  291,000

2014’s Top 15: Juvenile

1 THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, John Green  1,814,000

2 THE LONG HAUL, Jeff Kinney  hardcover  1,560,000

3 DIVERGENT, Veronica Roth  1,426,000

4 INSURGENT, Veronica Roth  1,310,000

5 ALLEGIANT, Veronica Roth  hardcover 1,146,000

6 THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, John Green  923,000

7 THE FAULT IN OUR STARS,John Green  hardcover  796,000

8 FROZEN, Victoria Saxon  785,000

9 IF I STAY, Gayle Forman  748,000

10 LOOKING FOR ALASKA, John Green  739,000

11 THE MAZE RUNNER, James Dashner  696,000

12 FROZEN: JOURNEY TO THE ICE PAL  682,000

13 MINECRAFT: REDSTONE HANDBOOK  679,000

14 MINECRAFT ESSENTIAL HANDBOOK  672,000

15 FOUR, Veronica Roth hardcover  651,000

Here is an article by Louis Menand, who writes for The New Yorker magazine.  It’s a fabulous treatment of how the paperback book came into prominence and why cover art is so important (another reason to take a peek at Dan Bilodeau’s awesome cover).  This article is more than a research piece, and for anyone having a spare minute after this long Newsletter, it might be worth the time to peruse, as I found the information fascinating since it also explains how the phrase “pulp fiction” came into our lexicon.

In last month’s Newsletter, I made an error that slipped through the cracks.  I’ve bold-faced the corrected sentence so it reads properly.  The accurate text referencing Elma Schemenauer’s fine narrative should read as follows:

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 integrating the proper blend of interior monologue in dialogue runs 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.)

The theme of this Newsletter is “Why the Classics Are Important to Writers at All Levels,” and I believe this more today than ever before.  And to treat this accurately, I’m of the opinion that it must first be clarified why a particular work is blessed with “classic” status.

Someone said to me once that any writing of yore was considered a classic if it made it to publication.  As ridiculous as that might sound at first pass, it’s probably not too far from the truth.  However, the first Ango-Saxon epic–as it’s so credited– BEOWULF, is probably the only book other than the Bible that achieved “automatic” classic status.  In practicality, there were likely many books published around the time frame of BEOWULF, give or take 500 years in either direction, that were simply lousy, either from the content or the ability to place the text on sheepskin or whatever.

So, what’s a classic?  Was everything that Dickens wrote a classic?  Or my big four of Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Hemingway?  What about George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) or more current writer/scholars such as Virginia Woolf and E.L. Doctorow?

First, everything Dickens wrote isn’t great.  For example, anyone reading OLIVER TWIST will see just how far Mr. Dickens’s skill advanced when parsing GREAT EXPECTATIONS and then to the magnificence of A TALE OF TWO CITIES.  But has anyone not heard of the Artful Dodger?  It really wasn’t Peewee Reece.  And for all of the flaws in OT, the character Fagan was also inculcated into society’s psyche.  Hence, OT achieved classic status, and it continues to be taught for its value as a medium for character development.

For many years I read about this or that book’s having a character or scene that was Kafkaesque.  Or that there was a quixotic element to a story.  I was 30 before I learned what Kafkaesque meant when a critic referred to a scene in this way, as I always followed the dictionary definition, which was essentially “disorienting.”  The reference of course implies to a drastic change in a person’s physical appearance from one day to the next.

As for quixotic, I assumed it mean “comical,” since I found the Cervantes tale quite funny.  But in literary parlance, quixotic refers to something that is too fantastic or exaggerated to be real.  You may have your own inflection for the word.  What matters is that “quixotic” made it into our lexicon and immortalized Cervantes.  However, after reading the book, does anyone not remember Sancho Panza equally as well or maybe even better than Don Quixote?

In looking at my big four, was everything Faulkner wrote great literature?  He’s my favorite writer, but often those reading SANCTUARY, and enjoying it, had a much lesser opinion of REQUIEM FOR A NUN, its sequel written 20 years later.  I found the latter’s storyline awful, but the character Temple Drake impossible to ignore.  And who hasn’t read Caldwell’s TOBACCO ROAD or GOD’S LITTLE ACRE and not come away with a head shake for one reason or another when analyzing a character’s actions?

Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, THE GREAT GATSBY, was never equaled, but many, and I’m included, believed the first third of TENDER IS THE NIGHT just as mesmerizing. Yet even as TITN fell apart, who can ever forget Rosemary Hoyt and Dick Diver?  Of Fitzgerald’s other two novels, THIS SIDE OF PARADISE is remarkable if nothing else for being written when the author was in his early 20s.  A classic, no, but damn good writing.  And his last novel, THE LOVE OF THE LAST TYCOON, was never finished and I frankly thought it was abysmal in the way it was structured.  So, Fitzgerald had one and a third “classics” to my way of thinking, along with one other fine book and one other disaster.

Steinbeck’s oeuvre, or a part of it I should say, is the hardest for me to find fault with.  But for as great as THE GRAPES OF WRATH and East of Eden happen to be, I can hardly place THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT in the same category, even though I very much enjoyed the latter.  The Joads and the Trasks were impossible for me to forget, and this is decades since I read either book.  To be fair, there were great lines in both TGOW and EOE, but the characters were enormous since they were the ones who spoke the words.  And while I’ve always been amazed at the clarity in OF MICE AND MEN, I hated the obscurity of THE RED PONY.

As for Hemingway, he’s perhaps the easiest of the four to say this was great and this wasn’t.  I’ve written forever that I believe he wrote THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA to show the world the way MOBY-DICK should have been written.  I am just as impressed with FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS and A FAREWELL TO ARMS.  Can anyone who’s read either book not remember Robert Jordan and Maria and Pilar or Lieutenant Henry and Catherine Barkley?  Yet I found THE GARDEN OF EDEN and A MOVEABLE FEAST perfectly horrid reads.

If it seems as though the common thread is the strength of the characters, this would be correct.  Jane Smiley did it in A THOUSAND ACRES, as did Colleen McCullough with THE THORNBIRDS and Barbara Kingsolver with THE POISONWOOD BIBLE.  It’s impossible to predict what current literature will reach “classic” status 50 years from now, but THE GOLDFINCH might be something the grandkids or their kids will be asked to read by their instructors.

To take a further look at what propelled a book to reach “classic” status, each of the works I cited for excellence contained great character studies that readers could either identify with or want to aspire to become, even if this is purely a vicarious ideal.  Who wouldn’t want to drink ale and ride next to Sancho and Don?  Or sit with Robert Jordan in a cave and plan the sortie that would turn the tide of the revolution?  What heterosexual boy on the planet wouldn’t want to court Rosemary Hoyt?  Who wouldn’t want to be friends with Paddy?  Has anyone not felt Tom Joad’s frustration, if only for a moment?

With rare exception, a “classic” teaches a story of life and offers a clear perspective of the people who make something happen for good or for bad.  The “classics” show this through characters and characterizations that stay with us like memories of our first real love as a teenager–or at least as real as one can believe it at that age.  For some if not most, first love wasn’t a big success, but I can’t imagine anyone saying that lessons weren’t learned.  Lessons that were “practiced forever” in a figurative sense and “learned forever” in a literal sense.

If we view what makes a book a “classic” in the context of a narrative that leaves an indelible impression, I’m then of the opinion that determining candidates for this exalted perch is not that difficult.  Sure, we can think something is fabulous right after we read it, but how many stories do we remember a year later, or ten, or thirty?  Withstanding the test of time in large measure portends greatness in almost everything, and literature is certainly at the top of the list of what influences a society.  THE ILIAD has made it for around 3,000 years, the Bible has been around a couple of thousand, Shakespeare’s works, or those attributed to him, have been with us for 400, Dickens’s for around 200, and the big four’s material for essentially 50 years, give or take a few decades.

For anyone who might wish to challenge my assertion and offer an alternate position, I welcome the dialogue, but I also ask anyone to discuss GONE WITH THE WIND and not mention Scarlett or Rhett.  Or Dick Heldar in THE LIGHT THAT FAILED.  Or maybe Quasimodo depicts my position in its clearest sense.  Whose eyes didn’t tear up at the book’s last line when the crippled man’s bones turned to dust at a single touch?  Regardless of the characters we choose for illustrative purposes, the way we bring our creations to life is what determines the “tiering” between one writer and another.  What constitutes a “classic” is writing that influences the masses in one way or another by the actions of its characters.

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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 135,
(February 17, 2015)
Writing Exposition Within Dialogue Exchanges with Purpose

Hello Everyone,

By far, the most links were opened in the last month’s regularly scheduled Newsletter than in any previous edition. Of course my offering more links than at any time previously likely had something to do with this, ha ha. And before I write one more line, I want to express my most heartfelt thanks to each of you who was kind enough to vote for Sheryl Dunn’s book, ANGRY ENOUGH TO KILL, as a favor to me, since she will be allowing me to use the imprint from Shelfstealers, the publishing company she owns, to bring out my book of articles in print. And for any subscriber who would like to vote but hasn’t, here’s the link, as the contest runs until the end of February.

It is a huge “ask” to request that a book be given a “thumbs up” solely on a recommendation, mine or anyone else’s, so I’m immensely gratified by those subscribers who were willing to take my word for the quality of the story and the skill of the writer at telling it. And for anyone who didn’t vote, I fully understand. Frankly, I was worried I might lose subscribers over my decision to seek support in the way I went about it, but I’m happy to report that not one person hit the “unsubscribe” link. So thanks for this, as well.

This was a one-time occurrence, and I would wager that it will not happen again unless a subscriber is dying and this is a last wish. And I’m dead serious about this, with no gallows humor intended. However, if I read a Newsletter subscriber’s book and find it to meet my standards for quality, I will most assuredly suggest purchasing the work. And, if another subscriber wishes to recommend the material, this will be up to that individual’s discretion.

In response to my recent Newsletter and my reference to the meaning of “Kafkaesque,” longtime client Murray Heller, who holds a Ph.D in English and taught at Ohio State and for more that 20 years in the State University in New York system (most folks know this by its acronym, SUNY), mentioned the following: “Kafkaesque applies as well to situations and/or plots, such as in THE TRIAL or THE CASTLE, so that our, as well as the protagonist’s, expectations are violated, creating an emotional disorientation.” I’m always pleased when any subscriber takes the time to add to anything I post, just as if I get something wrong I want to know so it can be corrected. And if I find the contention valid, I’m more than happy to credit the person who set me straight.

I welcome each of you to offer your opinions about anything I write for these broadcasts. I look closely at all comments, and I post what I believe will supplement or clarify a contention. If I shouldn’t acknowledge a subscriber’s comments in a Newsletter, this hardly means that I didn’t find the material solid or that I disagreed. Not responding formally in a broadcast implies only that it was my belief the subject has been covered adequately. However, everyone who has ever written to me has received a personal reply, and I promise this will always be the case. I am never too busy to respond to each and every one of you who are kind enough to read my drivel. And if I provide just a line or two, it does not mean anything except I was overloaded with work and couldn’t elaborate further.

And sometimes there are so many responses to a particular Newsletter section that it would be unfair to single out any one subscriber. This occurred with respect to my question concerning if there could be a better way to determine quality material than the Big 5 “gatekeepers,” as I affectionately refer to them. Almost everyone agreed that these houses indeed “are” the gold standard, even if it’s believed (as I do) that they often make confusing (read “poor”) choices when blessing some books and dissing others. Irrespective of this, the overwhelming position by subscribers was that readers and authors would be in sorry shape without the Big 5 editors and the clout they wield.

From almost the very first Newsletter in ’09, I have strongly suggested that subscribers “test” their e-mails to agents, submissions editors, and publishers before transmitting their material. I cannot adequately count how many times I’ve sent a perfect-looking e-mail to myself and it came out just as sent. But, and here’s the rub, this does not mean this same message will not be corrupted when sent to a different browser, as this seems to be the culprit more than any other medium.

I’m the last person to explain browser nuance, but I had my first experience with this when my Web site was designed in ’08. The text that I was sent by the site designer was continually corrupted. Specifically, the spacing was fouled up, lines were truncated and began in a separate paragraph, and the distance between lines was compacted. And last week when I sent out the “special broadcast” showcasing Sheryl Dunn’s book and tested it on my browser by sending the copy to myself at [email protected], it was reconstituted just as it was laid out. But when I sent it to Sheryl for review, her book’s cover wouldn’t display. And everything after where her cover should have appeared on the page looked like Wing Dings, should anyone be familiar with this font gibberish.

Back in ’08, the web designer essentially told me I must be delirious, since the page appeared “just right” on their computer screens. I was beside myself, and after a week of my prodding, a member of the design team determined that the fault was with the older version of Internet Explorer installed on my computer. And, when I updated to the latest version, there was no longer a problem with corrupted text. I asked why this wasn’t one of the first issues analyzed, and I was told my Web site build was the first time this had occurred. I didn’t believe that then and I don’t believe it now, simply because the later version of Explorer hadn’t been out that long.

The timing of the browser release is not the issue. What matters is that all browsers, servers, and distribution platforms such as AOL (I’ve never figured out what AOL is supposed to be correctly called), are not the same, and the slightest wrinkle can create a disastrous presentation for a writer trying to have material evaluated. In the case of what had just occurred, Sheryl uses Yahoo for her e-mail. My wife has gmail, and I saw what Sheryl told me was occurring by opening my file via Google mail. And from now on, every Newsletter I send will be “verified” by a site other than solely AOL.

I apologize for this lengthy explanation (I know, it’s an exegesis), but this is about as important a subject as there is, simply because the average “name” agent receives 50 to 100 e-mail queries accompanied by various amounts of submission material each day. When something comes in that’s garbled, even slightly, it’s generally considered shoddily prepared–when this might often not be the case–and summarily dismissed. I’ve even gotten to the point that when I receive an opening chapter or query with corrupted text, I politely refuse reading the material. The problem is not just that it takes time to reformat everything but that it’s often impossible to know what’s an writer shortcoming or a software issue.

And to one final point, which is the issue: The potential for receiving corrupted text is why so many agents continue to request that partials and fulls be printed out and sent rather than utilizing the speed of digital delivery. Enough on this, but if no subscriber takes my advice on anything, and there’s no reason anyone should, may all of you please do yourselves a favor and send your query material to someone with a different e-mail medium than your own to find out how it appears before sending it to any agent, submissions editor, or publisher.

To switch to a happy topic, one of the very best writers I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years, Sterling Brown, sent me the following: “You [Rob] might find this interesting: My wife, Dawn, who gave up drawing and various other pursuits to concentrate on writing scripts, has invented a visual alternative to the log line. That is, she creates a short video that provides the gist of whatever the log line might be. She has been doing this for the scripts she has written, along with two of my (yet unpublished) novels. You can see her technique at www.sterlingscripts.com.”

I implore each and every subscriber who is writing a book, especially if about to finish a manuscript–and regardless of what sort of publishing medium is being considered–to watch this short video, “Lady of the Air.” I find it brilliantly conceived, and I guarantee that all who take the minute or so to view the video will learn something about history they presently are unaware of (how’s that for a brash statement? ha ha). The video includes some period stills, and the narrator is Sterling and Jill’s beautiful daughter, Bri, who appears in a couple of scenes in full aviator’s costume (Bri is not the lady in the still).

What’s significant about this is that anyone with a camcorder can create a video to accompany the print trailer for a book. And this doesn’t have to be anything near as grand as what the Browns designed. A simple one-minute recital of the book’s storyline can be videoed. Most folks, if shy or not good in front of a camera, have a relative or friend or neighbor who’s a born ham. So, please click this link and learn about history, ha ha, and consider ways you can showcase your own book via a video. To my way of thinking, this will be an expanding “wave,” and embracing the concept will provide subscribers a leg up on the competition.

And the Browns are not the only subscribers who have recently dabbled with video. In my next Newsletter, I’ll be providing a link to Sirena Gibson’s fantastic effort at providing a video for one of her recent short stories. Sirena is one of the coolest clients I have, and I’ve worked with her for many years and watched her writing improve with each project. She’s got a great head on her very pretty shoulders (sorry, she’s drop-dead gorgeous, and I’m making no apologies for this remark, as I’m unrepentantly saying the same thing about Sterling and Dawn Brown’s beautiful daughter, Bri).

To follow through with my commitment to now showcase a client’s book in each Newsletter, it’s my pleasure to present MURDER IN PALM BEACH, by journalist Bob Brink. When I critiqued this manuscript a year or so ago, I was certain this story would be a home run, as in my opinion it’s terrific. MURDER IN PALM BEACH is as close to fact as fiction can get My agent once referred this sort writing as “faction” instead of the traditional sobriquet roman a clef. Regardless of one’s disposition for category, here’s the cover. And don’t forget to duck!

Bob was a highly regarded reporter for a number of respected newspapers and the AP, and MURDER IN PALM BEACH is a narrative that closely follows a U.S. president’s trip to the Palm Beaches and his attempt to get his son to develop a better appreciation for women. The events on a boating excursion designed to foster this persuasion went awry, and the off-the-cuff remarks by the angry then president of the United States culminates in murder. This story will raise the eyebrows of even the harshest cynic who thinks this sort of thing never could happen.

I read the book, expecting to find it to be a typical whodunit. To my surprise, the narrative was anything but run of the mill in this regard, and the lead character is a criminal who reforms and is impossible not to become engaged with and want to have succeed in life. And he’s a genuine tough guy whom I found believable in every regard, something I can seldom say about many heroic protagonists of late, and this includes those offered by authors whose books sell in mega numbers. So, for any Newsletter subscribers who like a lot of intrigue, a great storyline, and characters to root for (there’s a woman in the story who will tear your heart out), you might want to give MURDER IN PALM BEACH by Bob Brink strong consideration.

Excellent writer, longtime Newsletter subscriber, and good friend Buck Buchanan sent me this link to a blog post by agent Laurie Mclean that explains why an author doesn’t need a literary agent but might find it a good idea to have one. The first book I bought that pertained to the publishing industry was uber-agent Richard Curtis’s HOW TO BE YOUR OWN LITERARY AGENT, which was originally published in 1983. I got a chuckle at his writing this book, since his agency consistently ranks among the top in total titles signed by major royalty publishers each year, at well over 100. As with Mr. Curtis’s material, Ms. Mclean offers more compelling reasons for seeking an agent than eschewing the process, but she provides what in my opinion is an excellent list of pros and cons that is worth taking the time to clearly understand before making any decision. And especially if a subscriber is new to the industry, please do yourself a favor and read the article Mr. Buchanan sent me.

I continue to ask authors to first try to acquire agent representation before self-publishing, and until the last agent is left standing I will continue to make this same suggestion. However, everyone is different, and certainly some folks have a higher tolerance for rejection than others. Hence, for anyone who hasn’t the patience or simply doesn’t want to try to have a work signed by a mainstream house and is firmly convinced self-publishing is “the answer,” I’m supportive rather than disparaging the latter. Part of my present disposition is borne out by personal experience, since I’ve had three bona fide agents during a 20-year span, each handling a different novel of mine, and not one of these books was signed by a major house. This isn’t why I decided to self-publish my book of articles, as this decision was based entirely on not desiring to wait 12 to 16 months to see it get into print, which is undeniably one of self-publishing’s greatest benefits.

SUPER FLASH: I read in the Publishers Marketplace from Monday, February 16, that one of my clients has just had a book I worked on signed by a Big 5 publisher. I am prohibited by a confidentiality agreement from discussing the book or its author, but I’m of course delighted. This is not the first time a client has had success with a major royalty publisher and by agreement I can’t discuss the work with any sort of specificity, but it always gives me enormous pride when a writer I’ve assisted in some manner is signed for the first time, as it proves that a debut author can get a quality story published by a big house. How very nice!

Publishers Marketplace from January 22 provided a flood of statistics on author/publisher relationships, and before I get into any of what I found particularly of note, it must be mentioned that while Writer’s Digest sponsored the survey, 40 percent of the author respondents were from Hugh Howey’s WOOL blog. Regardless of the skewing, I have to believe those who participated expressed their honest feelings, and two issues stood out: one, the advances paid to these authors ranged on average from $5,000 to $7,500, with almost half saying they were dissatisfied with the relationships with their publishers; and, two, the group expressing the greatest happiness with their respective publishers was composed of writers earning high advances or strong royalties, which I found somewhat in the “duh” category.

Links to the specific Publishers Lunch broadcasts are not available, but I hope that subscribers have taken my advice and are receiving this daily journal. I don’t receive any form of compensation from Michael Cader’s organization for supporting his medium (he at least should have me on his holiday card list), but it’s considered by many who have been around publishing the longest as the best vehicle out there for enabling writers to keep track of this incredibly complex industry–and on a concurrent basis.

I’m interested in hearing from any subscribers who might have used the company named Blurb to self-publish their respective books. I’m including this link from Forbes Magazine that explains the founder’s premise. According to the article, Blurb books are distributed to all the major outlets and print can be done via POD for as little as $2.49. The entrepreneur behind this firm, Eileen Gittins, claims her company will do $80 million this year, and while the article seems more enterprise than consumer driven, I’d like to know what anyone has experienced; because, if this is another economical way to self-publish, I’m all for supporting the company. I did notice in the article that copyediting is offered, but this can be a good thing if sans the usual trappings attached to providing ancillary editing services as an option (meaning line or substantive editing). So, I’d like to learn about the company, and anyone wishing to share his or her experience would be welcomed, and with permission I in turn will pass it on.

Although I consider it incredible that I’ve never seen it publicized before, a $50,000 award, “The DCS Prize for South Asian Literature,” was presented to Jhumpa Lahiri for THE LOWLANDS by an entity I also never heard of previously. First, DCS was impossible for me to find after an extensive Internet search, so I had to call the Hugo House, a writers retreat in Seattle, for a definition. I learned that DCS refers to an infrastructure and construction company in India that has sponsored the hefty reward. The monetary prize was created in 2010 and I noticed that this year will be DCS’s last involvement. The second issue I found it hard to fathom was how an award of this size skipped under the radar (or at lease mine, ha ha). This stipend, which matches the Kirkus award, is the largest I’m aware of, and I remain surprised that it’s not been discussed at length in the normal channels.

As a by-product of my phone call to the Hugo House, I was impressed with the attitude of the pleasant lady who took my call and answered my questions, expressing the same wonder regarding DCS’s involvement, since the firm doesn’t seem to have any roots in the publishing industry in India or abroad (although, these days, who knows?). This link is to the Hugo House “About Us” page, and I’m so impressed with what I’ve read about this organization that I’ve placed a permanent link to it on my Web site. Subscribers might want to take a look at the Hugo House site, and anyone in the Seattle area might find it worthwhile to stop by and check out what’s provided in the form of workshops and support groups.

I came across what I believe is another very good resource for writers, and even though it’s geared to self-publishing, I’m of the opinion that anyone seeking publication at any level would benefit from “The Independent Publishing Magazine.” This is an e-medium founded by a chap named Mick Rooney, and the forum champions many of the same causes I constantly harp on. However, his blog also provides a lot of topical self-publishing info that can save authors interested in this avenue a lot of time and ultimately money.

Mr. Rooney has provided extensive coverage of the Bertelsmann/Pearson/Penguin/Random House tie-in with ASI. I was particularly impressed with the clear way in which he defined this tangled web and what I consider the abhorrent potential abuse of unwary souls everywhere. I’m referring to those who are led to believe self-publishing provided under the aegis of a Big 5 parent company will guarantee a book’s success, especially if editing and marketing services are purchased as critical components of the “package.”

All anyone need do is go online to find out how displeased ASI’s client base happens to be at any given moment. Yet sheep continue to be led to slaughter. This rush by four of the five publishing giants to “help” writers via a self-publishing arm is one element of the book industry that instead of being placated (read “eradicated”) is now attempting to legitimize itself by association. Nothing makes me more upset, and this is solely because some folks still refuse to heed the plethora of reports from the masses who have made the very missteps they are trying to prevent other writers from taking.

The Independent Publisher is the name of another magazine and not to be confused with The Independent Publishing Magazine. And while TIP is certainly a bona fide source for writers, I believe Mr. Rooney’s focus might be easier for the average writer starting out to identify with, and at the same time offer those who have been up and down the road a few times a pleasant medium in which to discuss the vagaries of their travels.

Mr. Rooney is also a publishing consultant for writers seeking to self-publish. He self-published his first book in 1990 and has had many traditionally published works since. But he has stayed with the independent publishing aspect of the business from the outset, and I’m of the opinion he possesses a wealth of usable knowledge. He charges $75 for a half-hour phone consult and $150 for an hour. Here’s a link to his “Consultation Page” on his Web site.

And it’s important to note that Mr. Rooney does not provide proofreading or editing services, so anyone contacting him will be assured that time will be spent only on the subject at hand, which is the best path to self-publish your particular book. I noticed that one of his services is to review writers’ blogs and other media used by authors to promote their work. For a writer who is about to finish a book and planning to self-publish, this could be the best $75 that can be spent, as he can explain the options and the best ways to proceed. In the publishing business, everyone remotely affiliated in any way is an expert (except me, as I’ve often freely admitted). Mr. Rooney, however, certainly appears to be one of those few people who deserve the title, and I believe he and his e-magazine are worth checking out for anyone considering self-publishing for the first time.

I promised that I was not going to discontinue designing articles to accompany my Newsletter broadcasts, and today’s topic was spawned by my reading of passages from Elma Schemenauer’s novel, CONSIDER THE SUNFLOWERS. Ms. Schemenauer’s narrative clearly illustrates the value of writing exposition within dialogue exchanges with purpose, and that is what today’s article is about.

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Writing Exposition Within Dialogue Exchanges with Purpose

Before I get into the thrust of this article, I’ve read a number of “experts” who incorrectly define almost anything written within dialogue as interior monologue, and I must admit that I’ve found myself following this lead. It began for me decades ago when it was determined by some learned souls that the best way to display interior monologue was via italics. I later learned that italics tend to wear on the reader, and I indeed noticed that a bevy of name authors would not set off interior monologue by way of this specialty font, instead opting to tell the reader that the speaker “thought” or “felt” or “knew” what was to follow.

In recent years it’s become a popular position that writers should never indicate that the speaker–in whose POV the dialogue exchange was written–should have ever “thought” or “feel” or “know” anything. The interior monologue should simply be written, since the POV–if properly designed–clearly establishes who “owns” the text. I’ve never liked this because it can stop a reader to consider the abrupt switch from third to first person, as interior monologue can only be designed in the latter.

So this left me with the conundrum of using italics or writing that the speaker “thought” et al. the material in question. And there was the common problem of emotions becoming mixed up with actions within a dialogue exchange if the italics font wasn’t used to delineate “thoughts” in first person (an error I made when I first wrote this paper, which my very smart copyeditor pointed out). Barbara Kingsolver of THE POISONWOOD BIBLE fame, and a writer whose work I adore, said not to write interior monologue at all. And while I don’t agree, what I wrote in the past couple of paragraphs certainly supports her contention; although I’ve never known if Ms. Kingsolver was referring to stream-of-consciousness writing, a la Faulkner or Woolf or Joyce, or any statement made in first person as a thought extemporaneous to the specific character’s speech that preceded or followed.

Where I’m going with all this is that for years I’ve pretty much lumped anything that occurs within a dialogue exchange–other than straight speaker attributes–as interior monologue. My rationale was that the syntax occurred within the physical dimensions of the content of the dialogue. But this of course is not accurate, just an idiosyncrasy of mine, and the focus of this article is writing exposition within dialogue with purpose, and now to get to it:

Write to Advance the Dialogue, Whether a Short Vignette or a Long Exchange

Anyone who has read my Newsletters for any period of time has noticed how often I’ve suggested that writers at all levels should acquire a copy of Browne and King’s SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS (they owe me a holiday card too). One of the exercises they suggest in their “Easy Beats” chapter is to break up a long run of dialogue in THE GREAT GATSBY by inserting exposition at various points. They offer some examples, and for many years I assumed someone moving forward in a chair or scratching a beard or pulling on a chin would be suffice to give a reader the desired “breathing room.”

READING LIKE A WRITER, by Francine Prose, Offers Excellent Advice

However, a wonderful friend of mine gave me a copy of revered academic and outstanding fiction and nonfiction author Francine Prose’s READING LIKE A WRITER. Ms. Prose, and to my knowledge that is her real name, which always makes me think of the neurosurgeon whose last name was brain, or the proctologist with the last name of. . . . One of the many things I took away from her book was that scratching and pulling and moving and looking around don’t advance a narrative. Exposition within dialogue should be used to a vignette’s advantage–and not just as filler.

To illustrate in my feeble way what Ms. Prose is contending, I’m going to write a dialogue exchange both ways; one, as many of us write when we start out; and, two, how the same material can be designed when exposition is written with purpose.

Exposition Written Without Purpose

“Nancy, I can’t understand where all the money is going.” Frank stared at his coffee cup. “We’ve been in the hole to the tune of five hundred to a thousand dollars every month since the first of the year. That’s six months.”

Nancy fiddled with her spoon. “Groceries seem to go up every time I go to the store, and the kid’s school expenses are through the roof.”

Frank ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t know what to do. It looks like we’ll have to dip into our savings just to pay our bills.”

“Sweetie, we don’t have any savings to speak of.” She took a deep breath. “Do you think you might ask your dad to help us?”

Frank looked up and faced his wife. “You know how tight he is.”

“Maybe if he knows how desperate things are, he might loosen up his purse strings.”

“What do you mean, ‘how desperate things are’?” He tugged on the collar of his shirt.

Nancy put her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “What I mean is, if we don’t get our financial situation straightened out soon, I’m going to leave.”

“You don’t love me anymore?”

“It’s got nothing to do with love. I just can’t take this any longer.”

Exposition Written with Purpose

Frank shuffled the past due notices from one hand to the other and tossed them on the breakfast table. “Nancy, I can’t understand where all the money is going. We’ve been going in the hole to the tune of five hundred to a thousand dollars every month since the first of the year. That’s six months.”

“Groceries seem to go up every time I go to the store, and the kid’s school expenses are through the roof.” She picked up the bill from the dentist for their daughter’s braces and waved it in her husband’s face.

Frank snatched the dentist’s bill from her, mad at himself for letting his emotions get the best of him. “I don’t know what to do. It looks like we’ll have to dip into our savings to get through this.”

“Sweetie, we don’t have any savings to speak of. Do you think you might ask your dad to help us?”

Frank had already asked his father for help and was refused, something he’d not discussed with his wife. “You know how tight he is.”

“Maybe if he knows how desperate things are, he might loosen up his purse strings.”

“What do you mean, ‘how desperate things are’?”

Nancy put her hand on her husband’s shoulder, but her touch was cold. “What I mean is, if we don’t get our financial situation straightened out soon, I’m going to leave.”

“You don’t love me anymore?” She’d threatened to leave him before, but this time even though the words were the same they sounded different.

Nancy jerked her hand away. “It’s got nothing to do with love. I just can’t take this any longer.”

Advancing the Scene Can Add Valuable Character Dimension

I realize that someone can say that all I did was flesh out the vignette, but is that really true? What I did was provide dimension; so, instead of vapid actions, the reader learns particulars about Frank and Nancy’s relationship. I’m not into exercises, but just to humor me, how much do you know about this couple by way of the second example that you didn’t know via the first? I’m going to guess quite a lot.

A Simple Way to Keep Exposition in Dialogue Exchanges Focused

The easiest method I’ve found for writing exposition with clout is to create a micro storyboard. In essence, just a few notes that tell what the dialogue exchange is intended to accomplish. In what I just wrote, my desire was for the reader to know that Nancy was in control of their marriage, a marriage that was often on shaky ground, and Frank was incapable of taking charge of the situation any more than he could convince his father to lend a hand. In the first example I provided, how much of this would be evident to the reader?

Writing exposition within dialogue exchanges with purpose will provide a more satisfying reading experience and elevate the writer in the eyes of the reader. This is one aspect of writing that’s difficult to argue.

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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 137,
(March 17, 2015)
Interior Monologue Defined with Examples

Hello Everyone,

I have routinely discussed instances when a particular Newsletter fosters what I refer to as “exceptional link activity.” The past couple of broadcasts have had outstanding “action” is this regard, and the link to Dawn Brown’s log line video “Lady of the Air” received the largest subscriber response of any link I’ve provided since my Newsletter’s inception in June of ’09. While I’m on video, what follows is another high-quality effort, albeit of a more expanded variety.

Sirena Ross’s 15-minute video narration of her short ghost story, THE CHOSEN ONE, on a site called The Catalyst, is in my opinion worth any writer’s time to view, as this technique clearly demonstrates another very-high-quality method for stimulating interest–and not only for the story but for its author as well. Asking subscribers to spend 15 minutes on a video is indeed requesting a lot, but I strongly suggest tuning in for whatever time can be spared to develop a legitimate “feel” for the premise. On The Catalyst page, Sirena’s video for THE CHOSEN ONE is accessed via the third (last) mini-screen on the right.

I provided Sirena a little help in polishing this tale, and I’d appreciate it you’d let me know what you think about the end result. And I promise that anyone watching this video will find Sirena incredibly engaging, as she provides a clever, campy narration, replete with dark eyeshadow. Anyone who has seen the Elvira character (Cassandra Peterson) present the late-night horror flicks that were more comical than scary (PLAN B FROM OUTER SPACE, for example), will love Sirena’s reading of THE CHOSEN ONE. (And while this has zero to do with writing or the publishing industry, to be fair to Ms. Peterson, here’s a 2011 interview with her that contains all sorts of outtakes from her career as Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. I’ve always been a fan of hers, and I even dragged my wife to a personal appearance she made back in the day at a nightclub in Atlanta. She’s very sweet and one of those people I’d love to have as a next-door neighbor.)

I’m not of the ”grassy knoll” ilk, but I found it peculiar that Harper Lee discovered a lost manuscript at a time when she was receiving enormous publicity regarding her estate’s disposition upon her death. And, now, 20 years after his death, a heretofore unknown Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) novel has been discovered. This sort of thing sits in a peculiar way in my mind because of the greed factor that seems inherent within almost all extended families. Both of these books will be automatic million sellers in an era when only work of new literary fiction reached that exulted level in ’14. And since the Children’s genre leads the way in million-selling titles by a large margin, coming upon a fresh Dr. Seuss story seems beyond propitious. With what’s occurred with Ludlum’s brand, I don’t believe it’s inconceivable that a great many dead authors will begin writing again. (This comment is meant to imply that every drop of blood will continue to be squeezed out of the corpse, down to the last capillary, and not to insinuate Ms. Lee is dead, as by all accounts she remains sharp as a tack mentally.)

Around the middle of each month, Amazon publishes its numbers from its author pool for books that are borrowed via the Kindle Unlimited program. The January fund was listed at $8.5 million, which breaks down to $1.38 per book for the 6.175 million books that were borrowed. While the total pool increased, the payout to the author was reduced from the $1.43 doled out in December, which is the second-lowest amount ($1.33 in October) since the format began this past July.

Something I find beyond odd is that Amazon does not refer to these payments as royalties but rather as “bonuses,” thus taking pomposity in my opinion to an all-time high. Are authors placing our works on Amazon as if sending out “feelers,” or do we believe our material has literary worth? For me, there’s a disconnect with the rhetoric. I placed my book of articles on Amazon because there was no other option available with anywhere near that firm’s reach to the book-buying public.

This capacity for pricing control, which seems to be exercised throughout every aspect of the Amazon business model, makes the Apple pricing-fixing suit all the more of a head-scratcher. I’m going back to my Indiana farm-boy upbringing, but when an entity has unilateral control over the price of something, doesn’t that speak to the issue of determining what the consumer pays for that product? I don’t believe this requires a Wharton MBA to understand.

I commented in last month’s Newsletter about the $50,000 Award for SE Asian Literature won by Jhumpa Lahiri; first, for the size of the award; and, second, for a monetary amount of this amount slipping under the radar. Granted, this contest applied to only native SE Asian authors writing SE Asian content, but $50,000 U.S. dollars in most of the cultures in this area of the world is life-changing. Now I noticed another $50,000 stipend, in this case for the George Washington Book Prize, which appropriately enough pertains to nonfiction early-American history.

The award is sponsored by Washington College and two other entities. It’s great that authors who write in an academic vein can reap at least some degree of economic benefit, but wouldn’t it be great if some truly “independent” concerns offered decent monetary awards in the U.S? Awards that aren’t orchestrated to further the interests of their private enterprises, such as the case with Kirkus Media, which is using its contest with a $50,000 grand prize as a vehicle, in my opinion, to enhance the current limited value of Kirkus Reviews. I had to laugh at another contest I read about recently, in which there were 300 finalists. Ah, how many reviewers, if they did this just for a living and nothing else, could read 300 books in a year? If I were a hiring manager for this job, my first question would not involve the candidate’s knowledge of letters but when the person graduated from Evelyn Wood. Seriously, providing an honest evaluation of material from hundreds of “finalists” renders the process a farce, as it simply cannot be done in a credible way.

The largest monetary award for Literature I’m aware of (other than the Nobel Prize, which is more than $1 million and fluctuates depending on the value of the Swedish kronor) is for the Windham-Campbell Literary Prizes that was first presented in 2012. It’s a whopping $150,000 per category, and this year nine authors from around the world were selected winners. There were three fiction categories in this grouping.

This award has a Yale affiliation, and I’m impressed that once the finalists are selected by a panel, the voting is done by a committee that acts both anonymously and autonomously. I don’t know how those voting can be anonymous, but the thought in this regard is certainly commendable. I’m becoming more amazed than ever that I’ve recently discovered several separate literary awards that receive almost no publicity. We continue to hear, however, about the Booker, the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and a couple of others, yet nothing in the mainstream press about those I’ve mentioned in this and other recent broadcasts.

I noticed that an entity formally called the “Book Industry Study Group” is reviewing the criteria for Juvenile and YA classifications. While it’s impossible to please every reader’s perception of what a category should or should not contain (again, “contain” and not “allow”), I’ll leave this up to Newsletter subscribers to make their own assessments. In YA in particular, what subjects currently are not discussed in the category? I remember what an uproar Judy Blume caused decades ago when she broached the topic of female masturbation. Today, there are YA books that appeal to the entire LGBT market, as well as comprehensively discussing self-mutilation, BDSM, rape, incest, and a few other unsavory topics. I guess the only thing missing is bestiality.

In no way am I lumping any of this together related to sexual persuasion, which is neither any of my business nor concern. My purpose for grouping these subjects in one sentence is solely to illustrate the width and breadth of what is now covered in YA. The recent uptick in New Adult, which is actually a category that has been around for a while, should solve the crossover issue to a large degree, but I don’t see many books published under the NA subset. Maybe more emphasis should be made on NA and then YA can get back to being YA as we once knew it.

I’m also hoping that Juvenile material will have better delineation, as I don’t believe the violence in the genre (which I find to be the main issue) serves a purpose. However, with what’s on TV and video games, I might be in the Dark Ages on suggesting a compass for any of this. And, again, I mean nothing whatsoever disparagingly toward any member of the LGBT community. My point is that sexual issues had not been openly discussed in YA in the past at the level at which these subjects appear in the material today. Regardless, I’m issuing an apology upfront to anyone who might be offended, and I sincerely mean this.

With respect to a subject that has an impact on many Newsletter subscribers over the years, as a number of folks have contacted me concerning issues with Author Solutions, Inc., and one or more of this company’s dozen or so imprints (Xlibris, iUniverse, Author House, et al.), shortly, there is going to be a decision regarding whether or not class action status will be allowed for a pending lawsuit. What in my opinion should be an amazingly simple decision, the glacial pace at which this legal process has moved demonstrates just how difficult it is to effectively halt what 170,000 writers (that is the total cited, not a number I’m making up for effect) have felt are deceptive practices.

The thrust of the (legal) complaint’s wording, as I interpreted it, is that ASI is little more than a telemarketing operation that sells services to authors, and that many of those services–specifically related to book marketing and distribution–are deceptively presented with limited to no potential for fulfillment. My opinion, which is solely personal with no legal foundation whatsoever, is that the issue will, as always, get down to what constitutes “reasonable expectations.” My personal perception is that authors, via ASI publicity, expect results of some sort. And it’s the “some sort” that gives attorneys a leash the width of the Grand Canyon. It’s been contended by judges previously that a writer should have enough common sense to understand the terms of the contract that he or she signed with whomever, and as such should be aware of what can be a likely end result.

I disagree with this argument because I’ve found writer after writer who has told me that promises were made which led them to believe their books would be placed in B&Ns around the country. In reality, B&N had (and still has) established policies for not accepting self-published works (or on a difficulty curve on par with getting a bill through Congress). But here’s the legal rub as I see it: A self-published work occasionally makes it onto a B&N shelf. About five years ago, an elderly author in a writers group I supported, had his self-published novel in the very B&N where our group met. The rumor was that the assistant manager who accepted this book almost lost his job, but at issue is that it can be argued ASI indeed has had its self-published books in B&N (even if it’s just one store)–and even if ASI had nothing whatsoever to do with this man’s book appearing for sale in a B&N, as this was solely the purview of a kind assistant manager who was helping an 85-year-old achieve a lifelong dream of seeing a novel of his on a shelf in a major bookstore.

To be accurate, the claim of “buyer beware” holding sway was issued by a judge adjudicating a suit brought against Publish America. However, I see little difference between ASI and PA (the latter is now called Star Publishing), as both firms have had complaints totaling in the six figures, and PA may well hold the inauspicious lead. When a firm receives this many complaints, does it take a whole lot of brains to figure out that something is suspect regarding that company’s sales and marketing tactics? Yes, writers should know better. But most of us who write are optimistic about the prospects for what we create, albeit often horribly so. I’ve made stupid mistakes believing this or that person could help me market a book, even once hiring an submissions editor (don’t ask) at a ridiculous fee solely because I believed this person could get my book signed by a major house. Dumb, dumber, dumbest, on my part. But this editor didn’t tell me Random House or Simon & Schuster would sign my book, and this is my entire argument. I led myself to believe this person had the clout to get what I wanted accomplished.

The folks who paid what in many people’s opinions were ridiculously exorbitant fees to ASI’s imprints were led to believe they were to receive specific marketing help–that wasn’t really marketing at all. The best example I can use is hyping, however subtly, that a book listed by Ingram and Baker & Taylor is now “on its way.” The unwary author immediately believes this to be an immediate road to success, unaware that both of these entities do absolutely zero marketing and that their 70,000-plus titles listed at any given time are all distributed via pre-sales only. Neither Ingram nor Baker & Taylor–on its own–sells the first book. If anyone wants to see the way what I’m saying works (or, more appropriately, doesn’t), stick a book on Amazon and don’t tell a soul it’s on the site, and then see how many copies sell–as in this regard the dynamic would be identical.

I’ve devoted this much space to the defendants’ potential for class action status in their suit against ASI because so many hardworking people have gone into debt harboring hope for outlandish claims being fulfilled. Claims that in my opinion are flagrant lies. Claims that the companies know are absurd and right up there with the chance for success equaling winning the lottery. The publishing business has always been a complex beast, with Hydralike heads and Medusalike eyes. And these are the good guys.

We can only hope that “class action status” will be granted, and perhaps ASI’s executives will come across in the media right up there with those who testified on behalf of Publishers Clearing House and Reader’s Digest. And by doing so, the suit will expose ASI for what in actuality their imprints have provided for authors who paid thousands of dollars for marketing packages. And if I were on the prosecution’s team, I’d lead with charging $4,000 for a $425 Kirkus Review and an essentially worthless ad in a trade journal from the perspective of generating sales or having the book signed by a major house. For me, this in and of itself clearly represents the width and breadth of the deceit.

I ran a three-day “free promotion” on Amazon during February 24-27, and 600 folks picked up a copy of HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! I will be running a two-day “free promotion” on the weekend of March 21-22, so any Newsletter subscriber who still doesn’t have a copy of the book can obtain one during that time frame. I won’t likely be doing another freebee, so I urge anyone who wants a free digital copy to take advantage of the offer that weekend. I have no way of knowing what a good number is for a reference book such as mine, but I had a wholly unexpected upsurge in purchases immediately after the promotion ended, and this fresh activity has continued.

I’m quite curious about how the weekend freebee numbers will compare to those for weekdays. Weekends are death for a Newsletter, and this is why I send this one on Tuesdays, so I’m really looking forward to seeing if people go on Amazon to source books as often on the weekends as during the week–or if there’s no difference. Granted, one promotion is hardly a broad-based study, and a myriad of issues can skew results, but I’m hoping something worthwhile can be learned from this promotion overall. I don’t know if this means anything, but I had more sales at the regular price of $2.99 on the two days following the free promotion than I had during the entire time it was offered for $.99. There has to some sort of message in this.

I don’t routinely do book reports, and can’t remember the last time I provided one in a Newsletter of mine, but I recently stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish GONE GIRL, and I’m bringing up Ms. Flynn’s book because she steps all over a couple of my rules. One pertains to using a colon to “set up” interior monologue (IM is the subject of the article to accompany today’s broadcast). The other is offering material in parentheses. But since this book sold over 1 million print copies last year, and it was first published in 2012, she has every right to tell me what I can do with my opinions. However, I’m a glutton for punishment, so I’ll accept the abuse.

I read GONE GIRL for the same reason I read GREY and HARRY POTTER (how’s that for a dichotomy?). When a book takes the reading public by storm, I want to try to determine, in my little mind, what made it “work.” My usual methodology is to read the one-star reviews. Ms. Flynn’s story was a bit odd, in that of the more 37,000 or so reviews posted on Amazon, about 3,000 people who bought the book found the narrative wholly undesirable for one reason–or many. I certainly didn’t read all 3,000 negative reviews, but I did scan a hundred or so, and the overriding theme indicated that the second half of the book was a big letdown and the ending a disaster.

First, I found the first half of the book as poorly paced as anything I have ever read; just plain boring. My wife, who reads an average of three books a week, and has for the 40-plus years we’ve been married, made it to Amy’s being “gone” and handed me the book and said she was “gone.” Hated the characters and pacing. By what I just wrote, it’s obvious that I, too, had a terrible time with the opening–which in the paperback ran 200 pages. So my reading experience begs the logical question: Why in the world did I keep reading? For me, the answer was simple, and I’ll get to it in a moment.

I also kept thinking that I’ve read this material before, specifically in a book by Philip Roth and another by Richard Ford. Now, you say, wait a gol-dang minute, both of these writers won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction among a slew of other prestigious literary awards. I kept reading GONE GIRL for the most basic of reasons–because Gillian Flynn can flat-out write. And pertaining to contemporary literature–ignoring the structure of GONE GIRL, if one can do this–“form,” via this book’s syntax, in my opinion is exemplary in this regard. She is the ultimate technique facilitator, as a page does not go by that a dash or colon or the dreaded parenthesis doesn’t appear. Sprinkled in with this collage of literary nuance are semicolons, which I’m certain thrilled Noah Lukeman, runs of truncated text, and a few unnecessary speaker attributes that also show up in the oddest places.

HOWEVER, as others singing her praises have pointed out, her dialogue is spot-on from the perspective of “This is the way dialogue should be written.” And she designs backstory just as well. Gillian Flynn is unequivocally a special writer, and I’m surprised that GONE GIRL didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I fully understand and accept that what I’m saying is all over the map. I’m of the camp that says Ms. Flynn is a great writer–GONE GIRL is just not a very good story. I read it as a lay reader and not as an editor, but as I go back over the narrative now, my perspective is the opposite of most of the those who harshly criticized the narrative.

The story came alive for me in the second and third parts, the very sections that received the strongest vitriol. If I had been her editor, I would have suggested she begin the book with the current second section and have her use her immense skill at writing backstory to fill in the blanks. Her use of flashback material, as I indicated, is exemplary and one of her greatest assets, as it requires enormous skill to design this efficaciously–and she beautifully handles integrating plot elements at key stages in the storyline. And, as to the ending, I can’t imagine it concluding any better–the very thing most naysayers hated beyond anything else.

Now, I did find that Nick and Amy sounded a lot alike, and there were instances in which I had to go back to the chapter heading to determine exactly who was “speaking.” But, as the ending clarifies, these characters could not be more the same, hence, how could their “chapters” read differently? Whether by design or dumb luck on Ms. Gillian’s part–and we all need some luck–I don’t know how this could have worked out better, as it made the ending a perfect fit for me. Again, I am in the enormous minority who feels this way, but I’m also one who adored the last half of the book and hated the first half. Once more, the opposite position contended by most.

In wrapping up this book report (and I particularly avoided specifics so as not to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read GONE GIRL and might still desire doing so), someone lumped this story in with GREY and TWILIGHT, asking, “What has writing come to?” The myriad skill sets of Ms. Flynn are a million miles from Ms. Leonard or Ms. Meyer. Yes, I noticed a typo, a missing word, and one error in subject/verb agreement, a missing comma before “so” when the word meant “thus,” and Ms. Flynn used “lurid’ when she meant to use “livid.” Hey, it happens. Ms. Flynn was an editor for Publishers Weekly, but she’s human, and she has a great editor with her Broadway imprint who, just like me, goes over material so many times that I have to assume she on rare occasions doesn’t see what’s on the page. My occasions aren’t so rare (and why I employ a copyeditor). But, make no mistake about it, Gillian Flynn is a terrific writer from whom anyone can learn. Just know what to look for, the same as parsing material by Messieurs Roth and Ford.

I’ll write an opinion in the next Newsletter as to why I believe GONE GIRL is such a huge success, and what I’ll be claiming as the reason will come as no surprise to subscribers who have read my mishmash over the years.

Today’s article is about Interior Monologue, which I have danced around in a couple of recent Newsletters and need to settle any questions once and for all, knowing full well that nothing about writing is ever “final.”

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Interior Monologue–What It Means and How to Use It Effectively

A correct definition of interior monologue is the presentation of a character’s immediate thoughts expressed in first person. Different techniques can be used to accomplish this, but regardless of the method used to convey a summary “thought,” the idea is conceptually the same.

Stream-of-Consciousness Writing

The first and most obvious way to design interior monologue is via stream-of-consciousness writing set off by italics, and for readers who can be patient enough to parse material to develop an appreciation for the genius of the writer, Faulkner is in my opinion the undisputed master at utilizing italics. Yes, at times it can be a major brain drain to work through his narratives, but once the jigsaw puzzle is assembled it’s often a masterpiece to behold.

I’ve decided that the most effective way to describe creating stream-of-consciousness from a stylistic perspective is to write out the character’s thoughts as if the person has Tourette’s Syndrome, and I in no way mean this indelicately related to anyone afflicted with this malady. But a primary premise of the disease is that a person “speaks” what is on his or her mind without couching anything, and this compares favorably with my definition for SOC. Here’s a run of SOC material integrated within a dialogue exchange:

“Harold, you always say the nicest things you’ve never told me the truth about anything in your whole damn life. Honey, I don’t know when I’ve ever felt closer to you I’d divorce your lazy ass in a minute if we didn’t have the kids. You want to take in a show tonight? You cheap bastard, you wouldn’t think of taking me out for a nice dinner. You are lower than pond scum I’m so happy to be married to you.”

The Simple “He Thought” or “She Thought”

The next technique follows along the lines of Virginia Woolf, who simply tells the reader that the character’s “thoughts” are forthcoming and then provides the lines in the same font. Hers is a simple technique, and it works fine for me except when the point-of-view has been clearly established. In these instances, the use of “he or she thought” is superfluous, and my suggestion would be to write the desired narrative in italics without any form of attribute.

Virginia Woolf Is Exemplary for Analyzing the “Thought” Technique

Here are two brief runs from TO THE LIGHTHOUSE that illustrate Ms. Woolf’s technique: “It was like that then, the island, thought Cam, once more drawing her fingers through the waves.” This wouldn’t seem significant or even different from normal exposition if not for the material in the preceding chapter in which this line appears: “(The sea, without a stain on it, thought Lily Briscoe . . . . )” The advantage of this style is obvious, as it allows the writer to switch points-of-view without confusing the reader. [Please note that the parentheses were part of the original text, and I wanted to remain true to it, but this punctuation has nothing to do with interior monologue.]

The Colon to Set Off Interior Monologue

The use of a colon to set up interior monologue was used throughout GONE GIRL. However, the use of italics in my opinion makes the colon excessive, as what follows is clearly in John’s POV and therefore automatically in his thoughts.

Example one: John thought: I haven’t been that obvious, have I?

Example two: John thought I haven’t been that obvious, have I?

My contention is that the second example is adequate, but some runs indeed aren’t as obvious as what I used in these examples; and, as with Ms. Woolf, a writer can simply set up a vignette with “he or she thought” and write for hours without ever alluding to the text as “thoughts.” But this type of writing is very hard to pull off, even by some of today’s most acclaimed authors.

Care Should Be Taken With Interior Monologue, But Its Correct Use Can Be Golden

 

So if a writer is going to venture into interior monologue as a technique, it’s probably a good idea to tread lightly, offering only an occasional snippet in italics to bring the reader into the mind of a character. Or, as Barbara Kingsolver has said–and I believe she has forgotten more about writing than I will ever know–don’t write interior monologue at all.

However, as my extremely adroit copyeditor pointed out to me, it’s been said that the primary reason people continue to read is because literature is the only medium which truly enables getting into the minds of the characters. So whether an aficionado of Faulkner or Woolf, the main purpose behind readers engaging their narratives is generally predicated on how expansively these writers, in their own brilliant ways, expressed their characters’ most innermost feelings.

And, at the hands of an adept writer, what better way is there to accomplish this than via interior monologue?

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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 138,
(April 21, 2015)
Interview with Mick Rooney, Founder of  “The Independent Publishing Magazine”

Hello Everyone,

The fine folks who have subscribed to my Newsletter for any time at all are aware of how often I refer to the number of times the links I provide are accessed.  This is important for several reasons, not the least of which is that this activity provides me with a barometer to measure the relevance of what I’m offering to each and every one of you who is nice enough to read my mishmash.  I mentioned in the prior Newsletter that Dawn Brown’s link to her log lines concept received enormous interest, as did Sirena Ross’s recital off her short story The Chosen on “The Catalyst.”

But what really surprised me was the tremendous positive response to Cassandra Peterson’s campy Elvira character, as apparently there are a lot of subscribers who are just as rapt (okay, “warped”) as I when it comes to finding Ms. Peterson amazingly refreshing–perphaps even exhilarating–at a time when we can all use a break from the serious issues we face each day in our complex lives in this often recondite world.  So, hooray for all of you who decided to laugh along with Ms. Peterson.  And here once again is the link to the 41-minute video, which can be skipped forward to get to “Elvira” as she presents “Plan B from Outer Space” and other cinematic “history” of the same ridiculous ilk.  And, as I wrote in the prior Newsletter, this has zero to do with writing or publishing but everything to do with feeling good about ourselves at a time when some of us might appreciate a little humor injected into our lives.

I have some statistics I want to share with Newsletter subscribers regarding the two separate free promotions I ran on Amazon for HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ!  The initial promotion ran for three days, February 24-26, and the second freebee ran over the March 21-22 weekend.  The 3-day promotion that was on a Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday produced 568 takers, while the 2-day offering appealed to just 86.  If we do the math, this means that the weekend produced a paltry 15-percent participation rate overall and an average daily rate of return of 23 percent if I factor out the extra day.

It could be assumed that the vast majority of people who wanted the book took advantage of the first promotion.  But I learned when I was studying the optimum time to broadcast a newsletter that the weekdays are exponentially better than weekends, and at first pass it appears that the same end-dynamics apply to a free-book promotion.  I’d very much like to hear from subscribers who have run free promotions on Amazon so we can all determine if the weekday versus weekend experiences bear out the same results.  Knowing this will certainly help all of us take advantage of this promotion medium we have available to us via Amazon.  I had tried the $.99 promotion that ran for one week and it produced virtually no interest, so “free” definitely has its advantages.

The exposure is undeniable, and my book’s sales have picked up tenfold.  And, what I hoped would happen, my Newsletter subscriber base is being augmented, as well.  In the past couple of years I’ve published a number of “reports” from writers who have priced their books at various levels, both on Amazon and elsewhere.  For example, it seems as though keeping the “retail” under $20 by a buck or two works well for writers selling their books themselves, regardless of the venue.  And the $2.99 price appears to be a good niche for e-books, although later this year I’m going to move my book of articles up to $7.99 and see what occurs, as many subscribers have told me this has been effective for their own books.  It must be clearly understood that what I’m proposing for my book of articles is predicated on its being nonfiction.  I remain on the fence regarding the selling of self-published fiction in a digital format above $2.99 and expecting much response.

All of the pricing I’m discussing thus far involves self-published material by an essentially unknown author. This brings me to Harper’s recent decision respective of e-book pricing for its “name” authors.  Without getting into “agency pricing” and the litigation involving the Apple price-fixing suit that spawned the phrase, Harper has settled and is going to be using its previous “agency” pricing model, which means its list for major authors will not be discounted.  Hence, a $27.95 B&N retail, for example, will be the same everywhere, unless a retailer chooses to discount a title as a loss leader.

This makes complete sense to me, and I applaud Harper’s executives for sticking to their guns. But then I read that the publisher is going to demand its e-books be sold for $14.99.  Do Harper executives ever shop at Costco?  Irrespective of their personal buying habits, if a reader can afford fifteen bucks for a digital copy of a blockbuster, won’t a large segment of those people gravitate to the hardback version?  I know I would, especially if I believe I’m likely going to find the book at some point relatively early-on at Costco or some other major discounter for what has been a $16 price tag.  Perhaps the Harper mindset is that the high e-price will indeed drive book buyers to B&N and other brick-and-mortar retailers for a $27.95 purchase.  But I don’t see it.

What I perceive to be of enormous importance, and which wasn’t discussed in the material I read, is that there was no mention of the paperback price, which is generally at the $17.95 or $18.95 level.  This, for me, really confuses asking $14.95 for an e-book.  And there was zero mention of the way Amazon Prime’s lending program would apply.  This begs these two questions, what does Harper receive for a borrowed book on Prime, and what will the author end up with?  I have to assume no Harper book will be accessible via Prime, and if this was discussed and I missed it, I apologize.  However, this is more rhetorical than anything else and won’t apply to subscribers unless they are signed by a Harper imprint.  And for those subscribers who receive my Newsletters and have material published via Harper, and down the line would like to share the way all of this ultimately shook out, I’d be delighted to pass it on should permission be granted.

I noticed that a senior citizen from my home state of Indiana has filed suit against AuthorSolutions, Inc., for deceptive marketing practices (the firm’s home office is in Bloomington).  Her attorneys are attempting to achieve class-action status for the case, and it remains to be seen how the court will rule.  The plaintiff spent $25,000 with an ASI imprint for various publicity and marketing packages and achieved negligible results.  The problem, as I’ve written before, is that there is a mindset out there–which I vehemently disagree with–that implies this is a “let the buyer beware” environment.  If this is so, how about at least looking at the marking up of a Kirkus Review–which is virtually worthless to begin with–ten times!

Anyone who has dealt with ASI in any way should pay close attention to what’s going on with the suit, but since Publish America (now Star Publishing) is still operating after more than a dozen states’ attorneys general have filed suits against the firm (more than 170,000 complaints and counting), whatever happens with ASI will be anyone’s guess.  I just hope sanity prevails, and at least writers will receive some sort of honest disclosure prior to sinking money into what is overwhelmingly a very deep hole from which there is no legitimate recourse except tears.

While I’m on industry litigation (I know, “ugh,” but it has to be discussed), Amazon has filed suit against an outfit that offers “paid” reviews.  This of course is commendable, but is it only now that the hierarchy at Amazon just figured out that a great many of the posted book reviews are purchased?  I mean, didn’t John Locke’s public admission last year that he bought hundreds (or was it thousands?) of five-star reviews sort of explain what was going on?  Come on.  I’ve read perfectly horrid books that received sterling reviews, and when I checked a particular reviewer’s history every book he or she has reported on was given five stars.  In other instances, I know of certain “publicist” outfits that arrange for five-star reviews as part of the firm’s service.

The whole thing has become a pure game, and there’s no other way to gloss over what’s happened.  I’m guilty of asking subscribers to post a review for my book of articles, but I certainly wouldn’t ask anyone to write something he or she didn’t believe regarding the quality (or lack, thereof) of my material.  The bottom line is that reviews are a part of this business, and one can only hope that Amazon’s effort to ferret out the “puffers” will start to move the entire process in the right direction.  However, there are always ways to trick the system, and this is why I start by reading the one-star reviews for any overly hyped book, and I’m dead serious.

On an unrelated topic to what I mentioned earlier, HarperCollins CFO Bedi Singh made a comment while reporting on the current state of the publishing giant’s business categories.  During his discourse that everything was great (is there ever any other remark senior executives make when discussing their firm’s products and/or services?), Singh said, “We like the way the e-book market has developed; we can monetize our long tail of books very efficiently.”  His presentation is exactly why I don’t have much faith in the entire meta-tag argument.

I had an independent publisher tell me last year that she had just received a graduate degree in business with a concentration on optimizing meta tags.  I immediately dropped her from my “list,” deciding never to work with her again.  Of course if I ask for a book by name I can find it.  And if I ask for a book by John Grisham by title and include his name I can find it.  All any self-published or “lightly” published mainstream author has to do to prove my point is to type in a keyword, then a keyword phrase, and then make the keyword phrase (hence, the meta data) longer and longer. Eventually, yes, everyone can find his or her own book(s).

But note how “long the tail” becomes before the book that’s being sought shows up.  Any writer taking the time to do this will understand in short order why I found CFO Singh’s remark so absurd.  From my experience, unequivocally, the only instances meta tags worked was when they were close to the book’s title or I had the actual title.  And, in the case of the latter, it’s a “duh.”  Again, if a writer is depending on some exotic SEO algorithm to direct people to that author’s work, unless the software blocks out everything else, it’s very easy to end up on page 14 on Google or not show up at all on the Amazon list of “also” titles that appears on the “results” screen.  I’m a nice guy, or at least I try to be, so I don’t mean this the way it sounds, but I defy anyone to prove me wrong regarding meta-tag dynamics as it pertains to books.

I mentioned in a recent broadcast that there is a movement afloat by a book ratings concern to lend boundaries to what fits within YA–and hence what falls outside the genre.  If Colleen Nelson’s FINDING HOPE doesn’t clearly identify the issue, I don’t know what does, as her novel discusses cyber bullying, which is certainly YA content, but also sexual abuse and drug addiction.  Yes, tragically, many preteens are sexually abused or sex trafficked.  And certainly drug abuse can happen at an extremely young age. But is this fodder for YA?

My contention is that this is why NA has enormous value in providing the correct category for the more “extreme” themes.  I’d like subscribers to weigh in on this, and I’ll gladly post opinions, regardless of whether or not they are in sync with my thoughts.  Should an 11-year-old be exposed to graphic scenes depicting the most depraved acts of sexual abuse, which is most assuredly where this will go if not delineated in some clear-cut way, as well as how far a child drug addict will stoop to support a habit?  Do preteens need to see another boy or girl their age eating Alpo or living under an overpass in a cardboard box reeking of human waste?  No one can (and many argue shouldn’t) prevent a kid from buying a book, but I believe reasonable guidelines relating to content, such as the ratings system used for TV and the movies, would be beneficial, and for parents as well.

One view is of course that the vast majority of kids are a lot more knowledgeable (read “exposed”) today, if nothing else because of the Internet, and many learn all about sexual abuse and drug addiction and a bevy of other unsavory topics well before their thirteenth birthday.  As such, any book discussing these activities serves a beneficial purpose in that an inherent forum is created as a sounding board.  And a well-adjusted youngster can easily make the distinction between discussion and sanction.  The other side of the coin is that kids should be allowed to be kids as long as possible. I would agree more with the latter view if not for the abundant media that in my opinion is impossible to sequester.

We have laws that are designed, albeit ineffectively, to keep those under eighteen from viewing pornography; or, in some states from drinking until twenty-one; and, we all have to be a certain age get a driver’s license and vote.  Granted, these examples have zero to do with when is a reasonable time in a young person’s life to be exposed to the underbelly of society, but I simply can’t see classifying sexual abuse and drug addiction as something that fits YA as a genre.  NA, yes, and this is why I believe this category should have more titles attached to it.  As I said, an 11-year-old can certainly buy an NA book, so this doesn’t censure a child’s predilection, should a youngster this age have an interest in the subject(s) I’ve singled out.  What NA can provide, however, is at least an ambit for potential content, which is all I’m suggesting.  Again, I welcome opinions from subscribers regarding whether or not there would be a benefit to some clearer distinction as to what YA encompasses.

And before closing out this topic entirely, a way to look at this complex issue is perhaps the same as viewing the Mystery genre.  A Cozy Mystery contains a murder but without graphic details, and the sex–if there is any–is soft core.  Conversely, a hard-boiled Police Procedural Mystery contains every gory detail surrounding a murder, along with sexual descriptions that often can’t be distinguished from straight pornography.  The point is that if I pick up a John D. MacDonald novel, I know it won’t read–from the perspective of scene depiction–the same as a book written by Mickey Spillane.  Again, why I believe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to suggest YA guidelines. I apologize for devoting so much space to this topic, but I believe there are few issues more important to address than our youth.

Wow, did my comments on GONE GIRL ever resonate with Newsletter subscribers.  It surprised me that the respondents were two-to-one male, but it didn’t surprise me that the men sided with Nick, as I had, and the women found Amy the one who was “done wrong.”  I’m hardly the one to act as the moral compass for one gender over the other, but I promised to provide a follow-up for my remarks that appeared in the previous Newsletter, so, here it is:

I believe that the greatest value, if there’s any worth whatsoever to what I’m advancing regarding my contentions pertaining to GONE GIRL, is to offer why I believe this book gained such enormous popularity.  My wife read only forty or so pages and handed me the book.  But, and this a huge “but,” when I finished the novel she asked me what had happened to Amy.  Not what occurred with Nick, as his ultimate “condition” held no interest.  When I read a hundred or so one-star reviews on Amazon, this same theme repeated itself, since if there was any interest whatsoever expressed by those who didn’t finish the book, it was to know what had happened to Amy.

One can say that this was because the book was “Gone Girl” and not “Gone Guy,” but I’m not so certain I’m ready to accept that.  Several subscribers, all male again in this instance, told me they disliked the book because “everything” was slanted away from Nick, and that any male who has been through a divorce would tend to agree with this.  Newsletter subscriber David McKenna (author of GOOD SAL/BAD SAL and a great Newsletter of his own, of which here’s the link) provided a compelling argument that made Nick out to be not quite the ogre many readers found him.

However, while I agree with Mr. McKenna, it can be argued that all of the blame should rest with Nick, and all Amy did was what every woman who’s ever been cheated on should be allowed.  Of course, some would also agree that castration would be in order, so the door swings very wide.  My contention is that what one professes, no matter how deep-seated the hatred, and what this same person should be allowed to do, are often far apart.  And when it gets down to judgment day, how many women would really wield the scalpel?  I realize this sounds flippant, but am I that far off base? And to adequately confound the issue of what should be allowed in the realm of justifiable punishment for male dalliance, all anyone has to do is read THE LADY OR THE TIGER, as I believe in large measure it’s age centric.  When I read it in the seventh grade, I believed that when the door opened the lady would rush out, but when I was twenty-one—I was certain the guy was dinner.

Whether GONE GIRL or Frank R. Stockton’s short story, what matters is that both get the reader thinking.  I mentioned in a Newsletter when GREY was on fire that I was sitting in a bar listening to three women talking across the room to each other regarding the book.  As if forbidden fruit, they each had a reason for finding the novel “ungainly” yet impossible to ignore.  And each justified her interest in why she bought the next books in the series as wanting to know what happened to Ana.  Amy/Ana, does it matter?  A woman was taken advantage of, and other women wanted to know what she would do to survive–as survive she must.  Manipulative?  Sure.  But what writing isn’t?

Gillian Flynn hit the perfect hot button, no different from Erika Leonard or Stephanie Meyer.  Maybe someday a male writer will figure out how to portray a man who is victimized by a woman in a way that makes the guy redemptive–and therefore a suitable protagonist.  It ain’t easy, but it might be worthwhile for writers groups to look at this as fodder.  Who knows, handled expertly, Joe Jones might have the same success as one of the writers in the trio of females I alluded to.  But it takes a lot of skill to write anywhere near as well as Gillian Flynn (okay, enormous skill), so unless an author has a blog with several-hundred-thousand rabid (read “fanatical”) supporters, it’s not going to be a walk in the park to come up with the right formula.  Just be aware that I, too, wanted to know what happened to Amy.

Anyone who didn’t like the ending of GONE GIRL has only to read AMERICAN PASTORAL, Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in the mid-’90s.  In AP, three-letter athlete, ex-Marine, and handsome, successful businessman Swede Levov learns that his beauty-queen wife is having an affair with their relatively unattractive architect. The story’s witless protagonist has also just discovered that his terrorist daughter, who has built and placed bombs that killed four people, was provided safe haven by her therapist (who was also Swede’s short-term mistress years earlier).  All of these people are having dinner with the Levovs, when the story ends as Swede’s father is stabbed in the face with a fork wielded by the alcoholic wife of another member of the dinner party–the event having absolutely nothing to do with the storyline.  So, after slogging through 200,000 words, what I encapsulated is what the reader is left to ponder.  I was so mad I threw the book against the wall.  And it won a Pulitzer.

On a happy “book note,” I’m immensely pleased to once again praise client James Babb, who recently accepted an award for excellence presented for his novel THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE, which was presented by the Arkansas Historical Society.  James was particularly pleased with this honor because it validated that his story was indeed historically accurate.  James has not had the opportunity to adequately promote his sequel, THE DEVIL’S TRAP, which I believe when it’s said and done will be even more popular than TDB.  I’m beating my chest a little bit regarding TDB, as I suggested during my critique of this work that James look into the protagonist as one of America’s serial murderers.  James learned that this was in fact correct, and I urge anyone who liked the miniseries CHIEFS to pick up a copy of TDT, as James’s sequel is electrifying.  And I guarantee that readers will become enamored with Brodie (if not already via THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE), as he’s a fabulous protagonist everyone will want to root for.

It’s immensely gratifying when a client develops a readership. In James’s case, he’s told me that he’ll have the third installment in his series ready for me this summer.  And I’ll be starting on Mike Hartner’s third title in his “I” series, I, MARY, on or just before the time of this broadcast’s initial transmission (April 21).  It’s important for readers to recognize that a work of fiction can closely follow all the extant historical strictures, such as Gore Vidal’s BURR, or loosely tag along behind history via a picaresque tale the likes of Cervantes’ DON QUIXOTE.

How tightly or loosely a novel follows history is one of the fun aspects of writing fiction, but it’s crucial for readers to recognize what they are reading, and I don’t believe this is always the responsibility of the writer to clarify up front.  If a writer is claiming historical accuracy but doesn’t deliver, this is a different matter entirely–from Don Quixote’s benefiting from one spectacular adventure after another or Benvenuto Cellini’s pulling off one miraculous feat after another.  My point is that no one has to read very far into either Cervantes’ or Cellini’s material to know these stories are farcical.  Hence, enjoy Michener and Twain, knowing the way each brilliant author treated historical reference, and don’t try to make one the other, ha ha.

I mentioned in a recent broadcast that eight of the top-ten print books in 2014 were either Children’s or YA, with only GONE GIRL and a book by Bill O’Reilly bucking the trend.  For anyone who might wonder just how much editing goes on at the publisher level, here’s a New York Times article discussing Julie Strauss-Gabel, the publisher of Dutton Children’s Books, which has John Green (whose books sold several million copies in ’14! ) and many more huge “names” in its stable.  This article can benefit any subscriber who might have received a harsh critique–or who has deemed something an editor might have said as unduly abrasive (okay, a “harsh critique”).  Even at the very pinnacle of commercial success, the air can be very raw.

I believe that most writers who have used me for critique and/or editorial services will attest that I do everything I can to encourage good writing.  I’m of the opinion this is a responsibility, and for this reason I don’t take the role lightly.  But there are times that the facts have to be laid out for the writer so the narrative can be properly understood.  Unfortunately, there are only so many ways the pill can be sweetened.  I try very hard to minimize the trauma that the draft I just read was not ready for publication–at any level.  At the loftier elevations of mainstream publishing, the editors aren’t always so gentle.  This is why I explain that writers must have tough skin, and that designing prose that a mainstream publisher will accept is not for the faint of heart.  Anyone questioning my remark need only read the article I alluded to that led this section.  John Green’s comments are guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows, as this guy is a mega-success.

As to the tagline for today’s Newsletter, I want to introduce Mick Rooney, who is the founder and publisher of The Independent Publisher Magazine, an Internet-based medium that focuses on aiding writers seeking to self-publish. Here is the Q&A I structured, and I’m immensely pleased that Mick is sharing his experiences and expertise with all of us.

Mick, first, thank you for taking the time to discuss some of the vagaries of self-publishing. I was drawn to you and the The Independent Publishing Magazine because of your interest in protecting writers from the scammers out there, and I was particularly impressed by your strong comments regarding Author Solutions, Inc., as I, too, find so many of their practices grotesquely unacceptable.  However, before getting into ASI and any other of what I consider to be alligators who take advantage of unwitting writers—to provide a little backstory for my Newsletter subscribers—I believe everyone would enjoy learning a bit about your background and how “The Independent Publishing Magazine” came about.

Q:  The most obvious initial question is what was it that got you involved with the world of letters to begin with?

A: I knew very early on in life that I wanted to write. I took it more seriously from about the age of twelve or thirteen and like so many budding writers I began writing poetry and reading a great deal of classic literature. My mother was a big reader of horror and sci-fi paperback novels and I guess I inherited the literary bug from her. I’m a firm believer that good writers are born of good readers—that is to become a good writer you must first become an avid reader.

By age sixteen I switched to writing prose, even trying my hand at scriptwriting for a while. Even then I was drawn to the odd and esoteric, whether it was a book or film. I knew what I wrote wouldn’t appeal to the general reader. Growing up in Ireland, outside of the staple diet of Beckett and Yeats, all my reading and writing influence was primarily European as I pushed out of my teenage years. Where my fellow writers were reading and raving about Banville, McGahern, Atwood, Rushdie and others, I was reading a lot of translated European literature like Robbe-Grillet, Perec and Gustafsson, as well as the classics of Hemingway, Hesse, Kafka and Poe.

In the late eighties I began sending out manuscripts to magazine editors and publishing houses, but already by then the industry landscape was quickly changing and many prolific independent publishing houses were being swallowed up by large media conglomerates. The competition to attract the eyes of editors was increasing, while the avenues to those same editors were quickly decreasing. By the early 1990s, you were pretty much barred from access to the big houses unless you had a literary agent or a writing friend who was a published author and could bend the ear of an editor on your behalf, or you could attract an editor from the shrinking number of smaller publishing houses with a strong submission, or you had already built up a body of accepted short submissions with magazine editors.

I collected my fair share of rejection slips, but also some encouragement that my work showed a lot of promise, but that the “climate and market” just weren’t there for work like mine. I think it is important to stress that when I decided to start self-publishing with my own publishing imprint (1990), it wasn’t because I was rejecting the mainstream publishing industry, rather, it wasn’t my time and I could achieve something else through self-publishing—not better or some form of personal fingers up to the industry. The best way I can describe my decision to self-publish is something akin to working for nothing for a company—much as an intern would do. Except, this would be my publishing imprint I was working for, and all my experience would have to be self-taught through a process of trial and error.

I studied journalism for a while, and though I didn’t pursue that at a young age, it was something I would return to in later life. Likewise, after 20 years of self-publishing my works of fiction I ended up publishing both fiction and nonfiction with traditional publishers.

Q: If your first answer didn’t already cover this, who were some of the writers who influenced you when you first considered literature seriously?

A: In no particular order, Wordsworth, Dylan Thomas, Kafka, Beckett, Poe, Perec, H. G. Wells, Orwell, Hemingway…but equally music and visual artists have also greatly influenced my work.

Q:  To fast forward, what was the catalyst that motivated you to begin The Independent Publishing Magazine, and when did you go “live”?

A: I started The Independent Publishing Magazine back in late 2007 and it really was just a place to record my experiences of returning to the world of self-publishing and the publishing industry. I’d experience a long hiatus of not self-publishing after 2001 and I discovered a world that had changed a great deal. Initially TIPM was an online portal where I could record some of the research I had carried out on the publishing industry, and in particular, the explosive rise of self-publishing services on offer to authors. Timing played a great factor in the success of TIPM (or POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing as it was in 2007) and back then there were few online resources for self-published authors, and many just didn’t deal with the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of self-publishing, and truthfully, I felt a lot of them tended to accept everything a self-publishing service provider fed them without asking the right questions or looking deeper into the whole history of vanity presses.

I knew instinctively the self-publishing service industry was a microcosm of the whole publishing industry, and the questions authors were starting to ask me via comments and emails were going to be the questions the industry would soon be asking itself. How do we negotiate different retail discounts? Can we sell our books and still survive without Amazon? Self-published authors were already grappling with e-books and the relevance of them long before large publishing houses even took digital publishing seriously as a necessary part of their future business. Where heavy retail discounting and the issue of returns was crippling the trade, self-publishers had long accepted that those models needed to be changed and were busy embracing social media, direct marketing and innovation; and all the while the publishing industry as a whole was sitting back and allowing large high-street retailers and Amazon to take control and ownership of their industry.

There is of course the seedier side of self-publishing services and the exploitation of the naivete of authors new to the publishing world. It’s why I began doing extensive reviews of self-publishing services to a depth and extent no one else was doing in print magazines, books or the Internet.

There is a lot more now on The Independent Publishing Magazine. We relaunched it with a totally new magazine website last October and celebrated seven years. I have widened the scope of content to include a lot more on digital publishing, industry news, innovation and publishing successes. I don’t see the magazine any longer as the sole home and resource for just self-published authors, but rather as a portal directly to the changes happening in the industry today. That’s relevant to all authors no matter what the means and path to publication is. I’ve also linked the magazine heavily to my social media accounts, and really they all interact perfectly together through debate and comment.

Q:  As I led this piece, what immediately impressed me about you was your obvious commitment to alerting writers to the pitfalls of what I refer to as the alligators that seem to lurk around every corner and are more than eager to take advantage of writers who are trying to do their honest best to give their materials exposure.  Who or what brought your attention to what I consider the underbelly of the publishing industry?

A: There are scams and bad deals in any industry whether you are buying a house or contracting the services of a publishing provider. But, yes, dubious operators as well as outright scammers are prevalent in the publishing industry. Even during my teen years I was aware of vanity presses in the USA and UK. As a naïve fifteen-year-old I remember seeing an advertisement in a Sunday newspaper and writing to one of the oldest subsidy publishing companies in the USA, Vantage Press, asking for information on publishing a book with them. I got back the brochure, then the letter of acceptance, and then the letter outlining the costs of publication. Even at that age I figured this wasn’t much of a deal for any writer. Little did I know 30 years later, as a publishing consultant and editor of TIPM, I would document the sorry demise of Vantage Press and try to assist some of its authors left in a whirl of confusion and anger, and not least out of pocket for thousands and thousands of dollars.

Since the advent of POD (print on demand) and e-book publishing platforms, it can be increasing difficult to tell the sharks from the dolphins. Competition from large service providers like CreateSpace, IngramSpark and Blurb, and the new breed of e-distribution platforms like Amazon KDP, Smashwords and Kobo, has put a lot of the print-centric publishing service providers to the sword.

So much of this is also about perception. There is a misconception that every scam publishing company has horns and breathes fire. The truth is that many are not inherently all operated by snake oil salesmen; more often by people who have no clue about the business of publishing or customer service. And at its very worst, by people who have no interest in selling books and are profiting at the expense of authors.

Q:  Pertaining to the scammers, is there any specific message you’d like for readers of my Newsletter to take away from what we’re discussing?

A: Writers must make sure they are informed and have researched well before they make any publishing decisions. The rush to publish is often at the heart of a badly published book and a bad deal all round for the writer. Scammers play upon telling you what you want to hear with the promise of the sun, moon and stars. And they often do that without having read a single line of your manuscript.

Proper self-publishing by its very nature means taking a lot of the control. Entrusting all of that control to someone else (without sound understanding of how publishing works) leaves you wide open to scammers and charlatans.

Q:  Mick, what’s the best advice you can give any writer who has just finished a manuscript and is considering what to do next?

A: A finished manuscript is not finished until it’s professionally edited, whether you self- or traditionally publish. I recommend you enlist the help of beta-readers or a local book club/group before deciding the manuscript is ready for submission/publication.

If you decide to go the traditional route to publishing, you need to stick with it and be persistent. Impatience is not the best footing to start on in self-publishing. If you are submitting directly to publishers, ensure those publishers are established and recognized publishers with authors’ guilds and industry associations. Should a traditional publisher suggest a financial contribution from you or try referring you to a paid-publishing imprint–walk away. The publisher probably has some affiliation or vested financial interest in persuading you to part with your money.

Q:  I don’t believe it’s at all out of line to ask you to describe your services for my Newsletter subscribers, since many have self-published—and I’m happy to report in a number of instances have achieved what by most accounts would be deemed quality sales, as the figures are in the thousands.  So, specifically, what do you offer writers, and how much can they expect this to cost them?

A:

For Authors

•    Explain what self-publishing is and how it can best work for authors.

•    Assess authors’ skill and tool sets and advise them on which parts of their publishing project they can take on and the services they may need to contract out.

•    Advise and help authors choose a self-publishing service that is right for them without falling into the perils of vanity presses and scam companies (there are many out there!).

•    Advise and help authors set themselves up as author-publishers with their own ISBNs and publishing imprint.

•    Help authors plan a marketing and promotional strategy for their book.

•    Conduct a full author and social media audit (including their blog and author website) and report back as to what they are doing well and what they need to change/improve to take their career and books to the next level.

Consultation Details & Process

Consultations are typically conducted via Skype or Google Chat, and can be purchased in 30 minute or one hour segments. Phone consultations can—on occasion—be accommodated (call charges not included in consult rate). Consultations cost $75 for 30 minutes and $150 for 1 hour. (Payment must be made prior to the agreed consultation date and time.)

Clients are required to complete a consultation form prior to their consultations. You can inquire about a consultation with me here.

Q:  In closing, I want to once again offer my sincerest appreciation for your spending time with me to lend another voice to what I believe cannot be shouted loud enough related to ferreting out those who take advantage of writers—and in my opinion often flagrantly.  Mick, is there anything you’d like to add as we finish up this Q&A?

A: I’d like us to finish on a positive note. There’s lots of advice and help out there for writers. That’s been one of the primary strengths of the self-publishing author community. Honestly, if you are going to self-publish well, then you need some degree of help from professionals, be it a consultant, editor, cover designer or marketing assistant.

Above all, the research I’ve carried out at The Independent Publishing Magazine over seven years proves that there are good, reputable publishing services providers out there.

Mick, I want to once again thank you for adding to the dialogue regarding the current state of self-publishing, which influences the publishing decisions of so many of my Newsletter subscribers, myself included.

_____________________________________________________________________

The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 139,
(May 19, 2015)
More on the Importance of Writing Redemptive Characters

Hello Everyone,

I want to lead this month’s Newsletter in the best way I know, and this is by touting the success of a client’s work.  In this instance “work” should be “works,” since James Babb’s THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and THE DEVIL’S TRAP are both finalists for the Next Generation Indie Award in Juvenile Fiction.  As with the IPPY competition, in which THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE placed third, a book’s becoming a finalist for an NGIA is a major accomplishment, as hundreds of books are considered in every category.  Let’s all keep our fingers crossed, and as I mentioned recently I’ll be working with James on the third installment in Brodie’s journey in what fans of his series hope will be the not too distant future.

A good way to look at this series is as a male version of the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE oeuvre, as it’s full of historical accuracy but with the author’s wonderful imagination adding spark to the scenes.  I’m not saying that James writes like Ms. Wilder, as who does except perhaps Lucy Maud Montgomery and a few select others, but James’s stories are spot-on from the perspective of providing a character readers can hold dear to their hearts and want desperately to see succeed.  Young kids need a real hero who’s not killing aliens or trying to escape vampires or abusing parents.  This is good, wholesome reading with adult elements that could not be treated with greater circumspection.  Also, for all aspiring authors,  James’s books clearly demonstrate what makes a narrative compelling enough to “break in” at a time when there’s more competition than ever before (okay, exponentially more).  I’ll beat the drum again—yea, to James!

I want to mention an aspect of Middle School and YA material that is seemingly universally overlooked, and this involves gender specificity related to the protagonist.  To say there is a dearth of strong children’s role models who are male is a gross understatement.  Sure, there’s this or that boy killing vampires or trolls or other things that don’t go bump in the night without an apocalyptic stimulus.  And there’s a strong trend  to present young boys struggling with sexual identity in what I’ll refer to as early-stage YA material, but it’s very hard to find a traditional kid about whom other kids can read like I did 50 years ago when John R. Tunis and Will James were the bill of fare.  Again, there were others, as there are now, but the male Middle School to YA hero—who has staying power—is one I’ve not found.

Tim Green, who was the neighbor and friend of a fellow I’ve known for 45 years—and this is why I’m aware what I’m writing next, ha ha—has had success in the adult fiction market and has tackled (pun intended; Tim was an NFL defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons for a decade) the young male market.  Tim’s a really smart guy, who graduated co-valedictorian from Syracuse and also has a law degree, and I’m certain he’s analyzed all the nooks and crannies of what I’m discussing and found what I’ve also discovered in my bumbling ways, and it’s that it is hard to create a male hero other boys will stay with.  James Babbs’s character, Brodie, in my opinion, hits the mark in many ways, and it will be a matter of seeing how well his first two books continue to sell, and if they will resonate in a broader marketplace.  And of course if James can keep up the level of his narratives in future installments.

I have no doubt he can continue to develop his characters and plotlines in a way that will keep his readership while expanding his audience substantially once his works become better known.  What I just wrote is why I suggest that every Newsletter subscriber who’s serious about debuting material make the effort to read both THE DEVILS’S BACKBONE and THE DEVIL’S TRAP to see the way James’s protagonist and his sidekick are able to engage a reader.  The article to accompany this broadcast will once again focus on the enormous value of writing redemptive characters.

A number of subscribers of late have asked me to describe my process for creating my Newsletters, as they would like to do their own and want to know what’s involved and the shortcuts, if any, that can be utilized.  First, let me address shortcuts, as my answer is easy:  I haven’t learned of any.  When I began this medium in June of ’09, as I’ve said many times, it was solely as a device to keep in touch with nineteen stalwarts who’d toughed out a year-long developmental creative-writing workshop series I facilitated that was sponsored by the Palm Beach County Library System.

I had no idea—and certainly no aspiration—that my Newsletter would ever travel beyond those folks who’d successfully exited my program.  And at that time I was not doing any real editing, as I was still employed full-time as the sales director of a firm doing business in the healthcare field.  However, I was asked to critique material, and a couple of writers achieved success to one degree or another and word spread that I’d be a good resource.

On the editing side of the ledger, I discovered I was a competent developmental editor and I possessed the skill sets to line-edit at a reasonable level as well.  But what I also learned was that when I was line-editing text I was getting so close to the material that I was missing a lot of the basic copyediting requirements.  Hence, I hired the best copyeditor I could find, who at the time was right there in Palm Beach County and had attended one of my advanced workshop series.  Martha Moffett has now been with me for almost five years, and hiring her was the smartest move I’ve made that pertains to my work and this business.

I bring up Martha because when I finish a draft for a Newsletter, which is generally on the Thursday evening (and very late, at times) prior to the following Tuesday’s scheduled broadcast at 1 p.m. EST, I send off the material for her to copyedit.  She gets the copyedited version back to me in a day or so, which gives me ample time to accept or refute her copyediting suggestions (I normally accept 98 percent).  I bring up the value of having a second set of eyes looking at a Newsletter because subscribers have all witnessed what can happen when getting in a rush, such as with a recent broadcast when I changed the tagline, making a couple of typos in the process that I never spellchecked, and moved a clause around at the last minute that made a word possessive which shouldn’t have been in its revised syntax.

With these examples, it’s not difficult to see why I found a copyeditor a must, but I also learned that a quality autoresponder was paramount for many reasons.  And to define “autoresponder,” this is the medium for which material can be aggregated for transmission at a later date, hence allowing me to store and then collate the vignettes I’ve assembled for a particular broadcast.  I use a U.S. firm, AWeber, for this function, and I’ve found the company to be exemplary.  This firm provides the entire platform for my Newsletters and utilizes an in-house staff in its Pennsylvania-based home office.  During all these years of providing me with service, I’ve not had one person in this company with whom I couldn’t work if I had an issue—and I’ve never had to ask for a supervisor.  How many firms these days can match this record?

Of all the advantages pertaining to AWeber’s ability to schedule and ultimately transmit my Newsletter to writers at last count in 43 countries, I also receive a wonderfully structured set of statistics that I access daily which tell me who has opened my Newsletter, accessed the links (and the number of times, as well), and many other metrics that I use to determine if I’m sending out the “right” messages.  For example, since I went to once-a-month delivery instead of every two weeks, statistics indicate that subscribers open each broadcast an average of 2.3 times.  When I was sending out the broadcasts every other week, the average was 1.2 times.  Knowing this metric is crucial because each once-per-month edition contains twice the word count (and sometimes more) compared to when there were 26 broadcasts each year.

And, yes, I was worried that a substantially more voluminous Newsletter might foster a loss of subscribers, but I found virtually no change, and since I’ve gone to the monthly heavier-word-count broadcasts, the attrition rate has actually been even less.  I wasn’t losing many subscribers to begin with, but there were always those more interested in a “posting” rather than a “reading” format, and my medium, being the latter, doesn’t always fit a posting person’s eye, which I understand and accept.

One byproduct of this monthly concept is that I’m “filling out” the segments, as I’m using each vignette to support a personal blog I set up.  Hence, a few months down the line, 80 percent of each Newsletter is repeated in article form.  I have to do a bit of tweaking, but it hasn’t been too time-consuming.  However, it remains to be seen how beneficial this blog will be, since to this point the respondents have been long-time supporters (and bless you, bless you, bless you) without bringing in new folks, which of course was the purpose behind this concept.  So, the verdict is still out on this medium’s value for me.

But to get back to the Newsletter’s dynamics, my final comments involve what everyone has asked me about how I source material and just how much time it requires in total to do each edition.  I begin each day with Publishers Marketplace and pay particular attention to the links at the end of each broadcast, as they highlight what’s topical.  Often these links themselves don’t provide anything I consider newsworthy for subscribers, but these links commonly provide other links.  Sometimes I have to go three or four deep and then go online to find related material; but, invariably, within ten days I’ve got too much material and will start culling (believe that or not, ha ha).

As far as the total number of hours it requires for each monthly Newsletter, I estimate this at somewhere between 12 and 16, but I’ve never put a clock to this.  I only know that on Thursday I’ll often start the Newsletter at 2 p.m. and not finish until 10 p.m., and I’ve occasionally found myself into the a.m.  In buttoning up this section, I hope I’ve given each of you who might be considering a newsletter an idea of what mine entails.  Certainly, no one needs an autoresponder, but AWeber’s rate starts at what I consider a ridiculously low (but don’t tell them) $19 per month for up to the first 500 names, and there’s no contract to sign.  If someone has a few dozen names, this can easily be managed without assistance.  However, for anyone interested in statistics, this might be the best twenty-dollar bill out there.  I’ve included the AWeber link each time I’ve listed the firm so anyone who’s interested can access their Web site.  I want to wish the best of luck to any subscribers considering a newsletter, and, as always, feel free to contact me should I have missed anything or if there are any questions.

And if I may cover one other parochial topic, an issue that commonly comes up is how many times I go through a draft I line-edit, and the answer is generally five.  I read the draft first, as I don’t accept any material to edit without reading the material in its entirety, then if everything is copacetic between the author and me and I take on the project, I begin the long process of going through the draft and making the first set of revisions based on the critique I wrote.  This is by far the most laborious aspect of the line-editing process, and a 80,000- to 100,000-word draft often requires a minimum of 100 hours (it’s most commonly in the 120-hour range).

After this I go through the entire draft a second time, editing the edits.  This is much faster, and I normally can finish this in the 20-hour range.  Once completed, this draft is handed off to my copyeditor, who will spend an average of 40 hours doing her magic.  When the copyedited narrative is returned to me, I’ll make the changes that I agree with (once again, 98 percent of what’s copyedited) and this takes an average of 5 hours.  Then I’ll read the draft one final time, in this instance as a lay reader, so I can judge the pacing and pitch and tone of the story.  This requires 10 hours or so, and if I deem everything acceptable the “final” is sent on the client.  This is why line-editing is a labor of love and also a labor, period.  Ya got to love it do it.  And I do!

The Pulitzer Prize for fiction went to Anthony Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT THAT FAILED.  For a change there were a couple of well-known finalists, Richard Ford and Joyce Carol Oates.  I wonder if some of the award committees might be becoming more mainstream?  Time will tell, but as long as the Booker and a couple of the other prestigious awards’ voting bodies continue to appear to take extreme pride in going against the grain, the current Pulitzer grouping of fiction contenders might be an anomaly and nothing more.  Doerr’s book was the critics’ runaway choice, so I’m glad he received the Pulitzer validation.  I haven’t read the book, but it’s been on my reading list for some time and I plan to get to it shortly.

Nobody likes errors when an editor sends back a final copy of a manuscript.  I always tell my clients that when I return a “final” draft it should be 99.9 percent error free.  But on a 89,000-word narrative, this could imply there are 89 errors.  I certainly don’t believe that’s ever been the case, but no matter how hard I and my copyeditor try, gremlins can slip through the cracks.  Now, what I’m going to write next is not to justify editors making mistakes in not catching writing boo-boos, but I just finished rereading Richard Ford’s INDEPENDENCE DAY (I read it initially in 1999).  This book was published by Knopf and it won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1995 (I think that was the year).  On page 351 of the Knopf hardback edition, there are three obvious errors.  One is the misuse of “appraised” for “apprised” we learned in junior high and there were two other miscues that were of a more “mature” nature.

I hardly look for errors when I’m reading for pleasure, but wouldn’t it be realistic to believe that Sonny Meta’s team at Knopf would’ve discovered three elementary copyediting errors on one page?  I reread AMERCIAN PASTORAL right before INDEPENDENCE DAY, and even the text by a writer as esteemed as Philip Roth did not escape scot-free, as his Pulitzer Prize winner had a couple of syntax errors I noticed.  And in my last Newsletter I discussed the errors I spotted in GONE GIRL—yet how many times has this book been reprinted?  It’s really amazing how hard it can be to spot the obvious at times, which is no excuse for any of us who edit—just factual.

William Zinsser, a true icon in the realm of teaching the art of writing quality prose, recently passed away at the ripe young age of 92.  And in Mr. Zinsser’s case, my comment regarding “ripe young age” is not out of line, since he remained on the lecture circuit well into his 80s.  Two of the first books on writing I ever purchased were  his, ON WRITING WELL and WRITING TO LEARN (should a subscriber be interested in reading either, make it OWW) .  I found his advice particularly sound when he discussed presenting a message with clarity as job number one.  At that time in my life I was under the impression that a large word would show a writer’s intelligence, when he and Natalie Goldberg in her classic WRITING DOWN THE BONES (yes, I single-handedly have ordained this work a classic, ha ha) educated me to the error of my ways.

In the past year or so, all of us who have an affinity for letters have lost two masters of our language in Mr. Zinsser and Jacques Barzun (who I seem to remember lived to 102).  Maybe this means if one becomes an expert at our language he or she will live a long time.  I know I’ll never have to concern myself with this, as the two people I just mentioned possessed more knowledge about English composition in their little fingers than I’ll ever know.  RIP, Mr. Zinsser, you contributed greatly, and everyone who has read your instructions has come away the better for it.

I had planned to have my book of Newsletter articles, HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ!, out in softcover by now, but I’ve been working seven days a week on client business and simply don’t have the time to set aside to deal with this now.  As soon as I finish the current line-edit that’s consuming all of my time except for what I set aside for my Newsletter, I’ll devote a couple of days to getting the print version of my book of articles squared away, and as promised I’ll send each of you who provided a review on Amazon a free, signed copy.  I apologize for the delay with this, but if I don’t let my clients’ projects take precedence, my putting out a book on writing and publishing, regardless of the reading medium, wouldn’t have the same relevance, as I’d be out of work.  And there’s no “ha ha” tagged to this, as it’s spot-on to my way of thinking about folks paying for any service, whether it be book editing or stump grinding.

I continue to marvel at the number of subscribers who have clicked the link to the 41-minute Cassandra Peterson “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” video.  But what impresses me equally is that I’ve not received one complaint regarding why I placed this nonwriting or publishing material in the Newsletter(s).  So, kudos to each and every one of you for appreciating the value of a little humor.  And I also want to thank the female subscribers to my drivel for not finding the video sexist, instead accepting it as just good fun, which was the intent.  I will now put Elvira in her celluloid coffin for the lengthy rest she so richly deserves, and perhaps several years from now, when a chuckle or two would be a nice touch for some reason, facilitate a recrudescence ceremony.  I’m suggesting this because, as we all know, it’s impossible to keep a super-hot vampira down.  And, frankly, who would want to, ha ha.  Everyone’s patience with my juvenile behavior regarding this matter is appreciated, as I’ll always be a thirteen-year-old at heart.

If anyone might wonder about the value of reviews by big-name literary critics such as those who frequent the pages of The New York Times, Newsweek, USA Today, etc., take the time to read the one-star reviews from lay readers for the books they tout as somewhere between “monumental” and “heavenly.”  I always do this, and I recently discussed GONE GIRL’s one-star bashing and what I thought about the book, which wasn’t even seconded by a single reviewer I read (for reference and nothing else, I couldn’t get into the story but adored Gillian Flynn’s skill as a writer).  I’m putting together my final “report” on THE GOLDFINCH, and after again looking at the one-stars via Amazon (more than 10 percent of the total, or 2,000), I believe I’ll once again have an opinion regarding the book’s primary “problem” (for me)  that not one other reviewer has discussed of the hundred or so I parsed.

I’m wondering if subscribers have noticed the trend I’m seeing regarding the spate of self-publishing companies that have closed shop in the past year or so.  Time and again I’ve discussed how even a multimillion-dollar budget that enables the hiring of top-shelf marketing talent doesn’t guarantee that a publisher’s titles will get read.  I see no value in providing a list of self-publishers who have fallen by the wayside recently, but it’s important to note that those who have closed shop have predominately tackled print sales ineffectively.  It also might be important to understand that it’s no different from puffing a resume; my guess is that some of these companies bit the dust because of faulty due diligence at verifying on-line sales.  All a scammer/author had to do was jam the sales numbers on Amazon and elsewhere and then wait for the Internet “scouts” to come a callin’.

One can say these publishers were hoisted by their own petard, but I chose to believe the overzealousness was more the result of having to produce numbers and assuming that the authors’ sales numbers were legit.  What makes this particularly hard to police is if a scammer/writer should use a firm like ResultSource on the print side to do the same with respect to blog participation.  Firms exist for this, too, and on the converse side I find supporting a blog by a single person who’s busy (like me) an impossible prospect, and I have to believe that   a megablogger author who claims to be able to communicate by herself or himself with hundreds of thousands of acolytes to be talking pure nonsense.  But the success of Meyer and Hocking has created an industry at the “scout” level, and with it the attendant pressure on publishing company employees to find clients.

I want to make one other point regarding the self-publishing companies that have recently tossed in the towel, and it’s that this wasn’t confined solely to print, as I know of several purely digital outfits that have also performed dismally.  Again, it’s all based on the assumption that learning marketing in college will apply to the book world (in particular).  I mentioned in the last Newsletter  the publisher who went back to college to earn an MBA and believed this expanded education would lead to mastering the meta tag–and this knowledge (of course, esoteric) would guarantee the road to success.  I’ll believe the accuracy of this when donkeys fly, as I said in my previous Newsletter.  All any self-published writer needs to do is start out with the meta tags on Amazon for his or her book and see how long the “tail” ultimately becomes before the book shows up on the screen.  Yes, meta tags and “tails” (regardless of either’s length) aren’t the same thing, but I believe it’s hard to argue that there’s not a direct correlation.

If Amazon can’t market its own self-published books effectively, how can regular folks expect success?  Without exception, my clients who have experienced sales in the thousands for their respective works have achieved the numbers by personally getting in front of the public in some fashion.  Not one has “made it work” by posting a book and then blogging it to death (as well as  the poor author, I might add).  Meyer and Hocking are one in ten million (or more), and that’s not some pie-in-the-sky number, because I have to think there are now more than 20 million titles available if all outlets  are pooled together.

And for anyone still thinking that the Internet is the answer all by itself, I continue to paraphrase the publishing executive whose name escapes me who said, “The Internet is great for hunters but not so good for gatherers.”  Writers who want to sell their books must have a realistic understanding of the market.  And subscribers will notice that I’m not saying “obstacles,” as every field has its walls to climb, but self-published authors need to give themselves a fighting chance, which is why I suggested Mick Rooney’s consulting service (Mick’s the founder of The Independent Publishing Magazine) as an inexpensive way to at least see if one’s efforts are pointed in the right direction.  Here’s Mick’s link again, and I can assure everyone who reads my Newsletter that I wish I’d had a source such as Mick Rooney twenty years ago.

Today’s article to accompany my Newsletter drivel could be titled “Redemptive Character Redux,” as it involves perhaps the single most important area that writers overlook when crafting their protagonists, and here it is:
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Making a Character Redemptive and Why It’s So Important

Quite a while back I wrote an article on the significance of writing redemptive characters.  I’ve had the privilege of reviewing and editing material for some superb writers of late, but I noticed in a couple of instances the tendency was to not “keep the protagonist redemptive” throughout the entirety of the narrative.

All this refers to is consistently presenting the protagonist in a way that readers will find appealing.  To the converse side of this, some writers will lean too heavily on their heroes or heroines and the characters become Clark Kent or Wonder Woman types.  Once a balance between what a writer desires and what the reader will accept is met, hen the task is to maintain consistency throughout the narrative.

Even a Rolled-Up Handkerchief Can Hinder Likeability

A character’s “likeability quotient” is what redemptive character maintenance entails.  When I first started writing, during the age when all of this was done on the side of a cave with charcoal, I sent a draft to my personal, very-first editor.  I had designed a male protagonist I believed every reader would find easy to become fully engaged with and root for, as he was patently likeable (at least in my callow eyes).

One scene had him talking with a woman he was wooing, unaware that his shifting around in a chair had caused a handkerchief to ball up in his back pocket.  This action seemed normal to me and demonstrated a legitimate level of anxiety for which I believed anyone under similar circumstances might feel empathy.

Don’t Let Characters Have Warts Unless This Is a Purposeful Image

This editor, who has gone on to contract only with major imprints for their name writers, told me that my protagonist can’t appear “clumsy” to the reader, which is the way he perceived I’d painted him in that scene.  Some protagonists simply cannot have warts, at least not in the real sense.

While the character I’m going to be discussing next is not a protagonist by any stretch of the imagination, all a reader has to do is follow Paul, Frank Bascombe’s son, in Richard Ford’s INDEPENDENCE DAY.  As if written exclusively to lend credence to my remark, Mr. Ford gave teenager Paul Bascombe a warty finger, and each time his text alludes to this, the character becomes less attractive.  While this is indeed an extreme example, anyone reading ID will soon realize the various ways Mr. Ford has made this boy unappealing, if not downright loathsome, with the wart leaving an indelible image.

Don’t Create By Mistake What Richard Ford Wrote Deliberately

Readers don’t want to be faced with the behaviors that all of us may deal with daily.  For example, even though I’ve read of a character’s bathroom habits, do people really want to read about this sort of thing?  Likewise, in the realm of the undesirable but certainly not something everyone routinely has to contend with, do we find it appealing when some movie actress we admire tells the world she has contracted a sexually transmitted disease?  Regardless of what some people might say to the contrary, is it out of line to feel that this actress’s “star”—in the eyes of many—has been diminished forever?

Put Your Protagonist Under the Same Scrutiny

Celebrities, politicians, sports figures, and some other categories of “personalities” have never been able to recover from bad press.  Yes, many do, but a lot don’t.  My point is that one’s protagonist doesn’t have the luxury of waiting for forgiveness, should it ever come.  An average book requires ten hours to read, not three years to forgive and forget and then accept.  And I’m quite serious about this.

A Writer Has to Consider What Constitutes a Good or a Bad Trait

As examples solely related to undesirable actions by protagonists, I’ve advised clients not to have their females sweat (let them perspire); not to have males “chomp” on food (even wolfing down a meal is a lot better than “chomping,” as the latter connotes poor table manners); not to have the lead characters cleaning up after someone who’s soiled a bed (avoid any reference, as the end-result of the voiding of an alimentary canal is not of interest—ever; did you enjoy reading about it via what I just wrote?); and not to have sex with someone who’s taking medication (dead serious about this one, too, and even includes an ED supplement unless this is meant as humor).

What Turns You Off Is What Should Be Avoided

I just mentioned some traits that readers find undesirable.  So when reviewing a protagonist’s relationship to a storyline, it’s very important that this character, while not possessing non-normal characteristics, doesn’t display the “normal” too blatantly either.  This is the topic for another paper, but I mention it now because “normal” can be boring—and often excruciatingly so.

Effectively writing redemptive characters can be an enormously complex endeavor.  So we should ask ourselves, while analyzing the way our protagonist comes across to readers, what are characteristics—if this were a real person—that we would find appealing.  And, what is there about our protagonist—again, if real—that we’d dislike.  The task should then be to eliminate the latter if we want protagonists whom readers will desire to identify with in some way.  I placed that last phrase in italics because it’s the key to this entire article.

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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 140,
(June 16, 2015)
Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction Break All the Rules

Hello Everyone,

Of late I’ve been remiss at welcoming the newest subscribers to The Perfect Write® Newsletter, so I want to take this opportunity and affirm the premise behind my drivel, which is to provide information on the publishing industry as I’ve come to know it during the past 20-plus years as both a novelist and an editor, and to offer advice on writing prose that would appeal to a major royalty publisher or, if self-publishing, writing material at a level that people will pay to read.

My normal bill of fare since the inaugural broadcast in June of ’09 (yes, today’s Newsletter celebrates this medium’s sixth year in existence; (go, team, go) has been to provide an article dedicated to some aspect of writing or the publishing industry and have this accompany each Newsletter. However, as I’ve switched a year or so ago to a monthly rather than every-other-week format, the larger volume of material in each edition has tended to dwarf the articles—or at least to make them seem supplemental rather than a vital component of the concept.

I’m going to continue providing articles that are separate from the Newsletter material; but, as with what’s occurred recently, if a topic covers substantial “space,” such as with the Pulitzer commentary in this broadcast, I’m not going to add an article to accompany it, as I believe one would diminish the impetus of the other.

I want to thank each of you who purchased HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ! And for those who have been so kind as to write a review on Amazon, as promised I will get the free, signed copy of my book to you. Your patience is greatly appreciated, and it was just a case of having the current e-book printed or I would have seen to this long ago. But I wanted to add some material, and this takes a certain amount of time, which I haven’t had available. However, I will get to this softcover project in July, and your autographed copy to you.

I noticed a guide to book reviewers on Mick Rooney’s “The Independent Publishing Magazine,” The BOOK REVIEWER YELLOW PAGES by Christine Pinheiro, which appears to be a phenomenal resource.

YELLOW PAGES KINDLE COVER – 6th edition Book Information

Book Reviewer Yellow Pages: A Book Marketing Guide for Authors and Publishers by Christine Pinheiro

$7.99 ebook (free with Kindle Unlimited)

$14.95 Paperback

Here’s a link to an article Ms. Pinheiro wrote for Mick’s magazine, and I found it be outstanding. Considering the amount of time it takes to source reviewers, and how incredibly important it is to “get this right,” any writer ant any level–and this has nothing to do with genre or publishing medium or if self- or major-royalty published–should strongly consider her book. This one really is a no-brainer.

The link I’m providing now can cause writers a lot of trouble, as it consists of the names, addresses and phone numbers to 400 executives from major royalty publishers who have signed debut authors. I say this link can cause problems because of the number of times in my career that I’ve watched writers abuse a list such as this by contacting publishers with material that’s not ready. However, I’m offering this list, and also adding it on the “Links for Writers” section on my Web site at theperfectwrite.com, as it can be a valuable resource if used judiciously.

I promise that a writer will generally only get a single chance with any of the people who are listed, so it’s imperative to “get it right: the first time. With all this being said, good luck to subscribers who might wish to tackle the list. My second strongest advice is to study the genres these editor/publishers work in, as that last thing any writer wants to do is present a Mystery to someone who specializes in cook books, so it’s imperative to exercise the proper due diligence.

A recent article in Author’s Guild explained why publishers love e-books and how writers are taken advantage of via the contract terms. I’m not providing the link because I don’t agree with much of what was written and don’t want it to appear as if I might be an advocate. My contention is that when a debut author receives a contract from a publisher, it’s seldom that this writer is going to question contract terms. Three books in, and with an established and expanding readership, is a horse of a different color.

The entire spectrum of writers earning a living via their published books can take on some strange perceptions. One writer claims to have logged hours spent and divided this by income earned and come up with earning $1.23 per hour for the effort. This person then argued that the publisher got rich off her book. Publishers are notorious for complex bookkeeping that would make an ex-Enron accountant blush, but her publisher “manned-up” in my opinion and addressed her argument with her sales numbers and what her book provided the imprint related to profit or loss.

My purpose in discussing this is not to defend any publisher (especially since Scholastic claimed it didn’t make money even with HARRY POTTER; I know, don’t ask), but the book in question sold only a few thousand copies, and unless this was grossly understated, I don’t find it hard to believe that the publisher made less than this writer’s $1.23 per hour. I recently saw statistics from the U.K. that stated that full-time writers from the British Isles earned an average of 11K pounds per year (a little less than $17,000 U.S. at the current exchange rate). I’m assuming this statistic was extrapolated from numbers provided by royalty-published authors; but, even if this were the case, it’s impossible to ascertain what these dollars really apply to, as there are so many inputs that would be necessary to come up with an accurate amount. For example, take out J.K Rowling and Erika Leonard (E.L. James), and where is this 11K pound number? Or, what if these women weren’t used because their sales would skew the numbers so dramatically?

In the States, for the longest time the mainstream print publishers reported that only one out of four debut authors’ books made a profit. Again, a publisher’s definition of profit can be right up there with the Mary Celeste, but if the average first-time author’s book sells from between 1,200 and 2,000 copies, there are truly only so many dollars to be sliced up. When I first learned of these numbers from my agent back in the ’90s, I wondered how long the $20,000 average advance for a new writer’s work would continue. It did for a lot longer than I posited, and it’s why I wasn’t surprised to learn of previously published writers who’d had a less successful book(s) suddenly being offered $7,500 advances. And later I’d learned of advances as low as $1,500, although in fairness I’d only heard of this paltry figure coming from the independents.

My message is not to discourage what is my passion, but these statistics don’t paint an easy road to the top of the mountain. How many people make it as rock stars, great brush artists, CEOs of major corporations, talk-show hosts or hostesses, and hedge-fund managers? The top of the heap is a hard mountain to climb, with a great many fantastic rockers who never make it beyond Milwaukee, fine painters who keep working in Mexico and love the weather and the people, wonderful managers who continue running the deli and enjoy their clientele and employees, and men and women who support themselves in a fine fashion by day-trading. Writing is a journey of love and dedication to doing the best we can to tell our stories. But there are indications that certain environments have helped some of what are now household names

I’ve often commented on the backgrounds of the writers who have made it huge in the business. James Patterson was the CEO of the world’s largest ad agency, JWT. Erika Leonard was a TV executive in London. Michael Creighton was a Hollywood producer. Nicholas Sparks was a movie producer as well. This list doesn’t imply that to be a mega success this sort of background is necessary, but when the list is compiled and broken down, having a foot in the door is not a bad way to go. My favorite example of all is Gita Mehta, who I found had written a wonderful treatment on India and its religious culture in A RIVER SUTRA. But it didn’t hurt, I believe, that her husband was (and still is) Sonny Mehta, the CEO of Knopf.

I’m extremely pleased that so many Newsletter subscribers accepted the suggestion I made in the prior broadcast and took a look at William Zinsser’s ON WRITING WELL, one of the very first books I purchased that dealt with writing as a craft. I believe that if someone with a sincere interest in writing was allowed to select only one book as an aid, this is the title I would suggest, as it continues to contain more common sense about writing quality prose than anything else I’ve ever read.

Mr. Zinsser forgot more about writing than I will ever know, and the world of letters was indeed fortunate that he shared his vast knowledge for so many years. I mentioned in my previous Newsletter that he’d just passed away at age 92, which means that his and Jacques Barzun’s passing leaves a void that in my opinion will be impossible to fill in my lifetime. I say this because this is like asking for another Patsy Cline or Luciano Pavarotti to be waiting in the wings, and how often does this happen? So, again, anyone who—like me—believes that writing well is an ongoing process might find studying a copy of ON WRITING WELL beneficial.

In my last Newsletter I provided a follow-up to my remarks on GONE GIRL, and I was pleased that so many subscribers wrote me with their opinions of the book. I have discussed THE GOLDFINCH a few times recently, and after devouring it and letting the text settle on my feeble mind for a while now, I’ve decided to devote the bulk of this Newsletter to discussing it, along with my general observations on the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, since Ms. Tartt’s book was a winner of this award for fiction in 2014.

First, I want to say that I am behind the Pulitzer committee on this one, as when I finished with this book I wanted to read more of it—which says a lot when a story is close to 800 pages in length. The only book (okay, tome) I’ve read in recent history that I found nearly as engrossing was HARLOT’S GHOST, a lesser-known book by Norman Mailer. Mr. Mailer’s book was all of 1,282 pages in its hardcover version, and to add to the reader’s angst, he finishes with “to be continued.” Now, this book didn’t win a Pulitzer (he won two, however, during his illustrious career), or any major awards I’m aware of, but when I finished with it, I indeed wanted to keep reading. Was it without flaws? Of course not. Mr. Mailer created, for me, one of the most appealing female characters I’ve ever encountered in Kittredge, but she leaves the book around page 150, never to return. And, as I said, the book doesn’t come to a conclusion, as numerous threads are never tied down.

But what makes a book like HARLOT’S GHOST so special is what makes novels such as LONESOME DOVE or THE THORN BIRDS or THE POISONWOOD BIBLE or A THOUSAND ACRES or THE GOLDFINCH so special as well. The respective writer of each tale provides enormous dimension for every scene. For some, everything of this nature is attuned to Tom Clancy-level introspection. But while a reader might tire of fifty pages on how to make an atomic bomb (while knowing full well key components will be missing), “feeling” the scenes as described by the other writers I’ve listed is the opposite of boring for most folks who love Literature as an art form.

I mentioned in a previous Newsletter that I routinely scan the one-star reviews first when considering a novel to read, especially if it’s contemporary. And sometimes the rationale a reviewer provides for hating a book is the very reason I want to read it. For example, one reviewer of Ms. Tartt’s book said she could skip twenty pages at a time and not miss anything. That same person could read just the dialogue and likely come away with the same experience, as well. But the reader would miss everything important about the story, as the depth of the exposition is what weaves the spell that holds the reader.

Read Zola’s street scenes in NANA and then Donna Tartt’s and ask if there’s not the same depth in both. It’s my position that not wanting to read Ms. Tartt’s exposition is no different from skipping lines in THE SOUND AND THE FURY or SWANN’S WAY. Anyone can dislike Faulkner or Proust, but it makes no sense to want to read either author and then complain about the depth of either author’s characterizations. And the way Donna Tartt immerses the reader in her characters, and not just Theo and Boris but Hobie as well, is what made me realize that Ms. Tartt possesses the magical skill of Faulkner and Proust—that indescribable something which engages the reader, as the scenes written by a lesser writer would seem horribly overwritten.

If the Pulitzer committee is going to select a book for fiction, I’d much rather see it be a work that required a decade to write (11 years in Ms. Tartt’s case) than a collection of short stories like Jhumpa Lahiri’s, which won for the year that Barbara Kingsolver’s masterpiece finished runner-up. Agreed, the Pulitzer committee has often enacted do-overs, as when Sinclair Lewis won for Arrowsmith in 1926 for instead of MAIN STREET in 1921—which even the winner that year, Edith Wharton for THE AGE OF INNOCENCE, indicated was a sham. I recently reread INDEPENDENCE DAY to try to find out what I’d missed when I read it when it first came out twenty years ago. I’m convinced Richard Ford won the Pulitzer for this story because the committee realized the error of its ways in not giving him the prize for THE SPORTSWRITER, a book of his that I found light-years better than ID.

Same can be said for the Pulitzer winner for fiction two years late in 1998, Philip Roth’s AMERICAN PASTORAL. Both ID and AP in my opinion can’t hold a candle to Donna Tartt’s ability to create image, yet both Ford and Roth try to their overwriting best to do what she seems to do effortlessly (I know, only took her 11 years). But no one can deny that ID and AP are heavily layered works, and this is why I believe they received the Pulitzer nod even though neither book—as is often the case with Pulitzer/Booker et al. selections—was a big hit with the general public.

I’m going to discuss THE GOLDFINCH (I really am), but I want to take a moment to address the theme of this section, and it’s that Pulitzer winners break all the rules. I hate, and I mean hate, parentheses in fiction, as I am cut from the cloth that says the majority of parenthetical expressions patronize the reader or are used incorrectly for emphasis instead of as an aside, which is their designed purpose. Ford cannot write without them, any more than Roth can resist the overuse of ellipses and dashes. And while Donna Tartt makes her “imprint” on the dash, she does so in a very clever way.

Donna Tartt’s story is a punctuation oddity, because it’s as though a different writer composed the first fifty pages, since there must be a minimum of five hundred semicolons used—and this no exaggeration. If I had a class of twenty-five high-schoolers, on a final exam I’d give each student two of the opening fifty pages in THE GOLDFINCH and ask that these pages be punctuated in what would be deemed the correct fashion. Frankly, I’ll challenge anyone reading this book to look at the first fifty pages of this text and tell me it’s punctuated in a way that can remotely be found to be acceptable.

Then, for no apparent reason except perhaps to spare the reader, Ms. Tartt eschews the semicolon for the most part and attacks the text with one dash after another. Ah, but even though the technique is overdone, I learned something from her use of this style, as it’s a great way to couch exposition. Here’s an example from the softcover, page 417 (I just flipped the book open to this page, as there are thousands of phrases set off by dashes to select from; no joke): “But—” running a fingertip along the edge—“mahogany’s a little different.”

I liked the technique so much that I used it a couple of times—and not a couple of thousand—in a text I just line-edited for a long-standing client. I’ve never seen dashes used this way before, and I believe it’s brilliant even though Ms. Tartt gave the dash a serious workout. She, however, violates—and often—one cardinal rule, and this is never to place more than two dashes in a single sentence, as this makes it difficult if not impossible at times to determine which sections are being emphasized. I found myself rereading passages, and often after the second time still unsure of what was to be “set off.”

I implore anyone reading this never to do what Ms. Tartt did in placing three dashes in a single sentence. And don’t write like Mr. Ford when he believes we’re all too dense to figure out what he’s saying. Along these same lines while discussing Pulitzer rule- breakers, there is no need to tell the same thing over and over ad nauseam as Mr. Roth felt necessary in AP. We get it the first time, we really do. In the realm of Pulitzer miscues, since Mr. Roth had won the three major American awards for his three previous books, when OPERATION SHYLOCK in my opinion should have won the Pulitzer, I believe the committee decided to offer a do-over by giving the prize to him for AP, which had as poor a storyline, with as witless a protagonist, as any book I’ve ever read. Oh, and the ending was beyond weak. Just the kind of book that should win one of Literature’s most coveted awards.

As for THE GOLDFINCH, anyone reading the negative reviews will see over and over folks suggesting that Ms. Tartt needed an editor. This is incorrect. She needs a proofreader, which means a copyeditor. And primarily for the semicolon malaise that occurs in the first fifty pages. She also needs the sentences with the three dashes worked on. Other than this, she creates a remarkable story centered around two of the most disparate of characters. I laughed out loud when I finished the book and remembered the reviews that compared Theo and Boris to characters in Dickens.

Anyone who said this has one, never read Dickens, or two, never read THE GOLDFINCH. There’s a passage in the book when a character, Hobie, alludes to Boris as a Dickens character, which even he admits is incorrect, so I have to guess this is where the absurd Dickens reference comes from. I don’t want to give away any of the story because I truly believe it’s brilliant and any lover of Literature will benefit from reading it, but comparing Theo and Boris to Oliver Twist and The Artful Dodger might as well line up Andy and Barney with Jeffrey Dahmer and Charles Manson.

I want to mention one thing in THE GOLDFINCH that goes beyond the extraordinary, in that Ms. Tartt, in addition to using dashes in a way that I’d not noticed before by any other writer, manages to turn a wholly unredemptive character into one who, as the story progresses, becomes engaging in a positive way. This, for me, was the greatest “twist” in the story, and an enormous feather in the author’s cap. If I read the latest numbers correctly, the book has sold more than three million copies and is going to be made into a movie. I don’t see how this story can work cinematically, and my reason for saying this is because of the complexity of the characters. Another reason to read the book, ha ha.

My one final comment on the Pulitzer committee’s choices: beyond anything else, it appears that convention doesn’t matter one bit. This, of course, makes it problematic for any of us who edit and who are doing our best to keep our clients’ material out of agents’ and publishers’ slush piles, as the very elements for which many of the Pulitzer Prize winners I’ve discussed hold little regard can kill a manuscript’s chances in the everyday world as I know it. The overriding issue, if someone is interested in writing Dramatic Literature, is to create as much depth and variety as possible in physical scene description—and let this carry over into character dimension (again, depth). The next “hot button” is to show the most culturally intriguing aspects of the environment, whether it be Australia, India, Iran, China, or Chicago, and develop this right down to the capillaries. People want to read what they know nothing about, and the skill at presenting something genuinely “new” is the most direct route to literary success, as the Pulitzer winners I’ve discussed have proven.

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The Perfect Write® Newsletter, Vol 141,
(July 21, 2015) Writers Have No Rights!

Hello Everyone,


Few clients call me, thank goodness, or I’d never get anything done, ha ha, but I’ve changed phone carriers and was unable to retain my old number.  My new office phone number is 407-878-0148, should anyone want to add this to the file.  Seriously, any subscriber or client is welcome to call.  I only ask that this be done in the late afternoon, EST.

I’m gratified that so many subscribers accessed the link to Christine Pinheiro’s article on evaluating book reviews.  Obviously she agrees with my thinking or I wouldn’t have showcased her material (just kidding).  I do, however, appreciate reinforcement, especially when it involves a subject that can influence writers in a major way.  I know of competent authors, and one in particular, who simply quit writing forever because of a negative review.  It’s so very sad, and while this extends to any field, I’m horribly vexed when a talented author throws in the towel.

I guess this is one reason why, via my critiques–whether free for opening chapters or paid if involving a full manuscript–I always ask writers to take a deep breath and try to relax prior to reading my analyses.  I’m one of the nice guys, and if people are going to have trouble with me, I am genuinely fearful of how they might react to the rank and file.  Fortunately, I can count on one hand the number of folks who have used me for one editing service or another and come away mad for my not loving their work.  But if editors aren’t honest, what good are we?  I hate writing an unflattering critique, yet if I have to theoretically sign my name to material I’ve worked on; and, if in my opinion there’s a problem and it’s not addressed, the “passing” of substandard material will reflect on my competence as well as that of the writer.

I have an 80-plus percent author retention rate, but I have lost future business from clients because I’ve not massaged their egos in the way they would like.  And in some cases the financial hit has been substantial.  For me, there was no decision to be made.  I view every project as if the material is going to be edited at a level that will give the book a chance with a major publisher.  Some writers don’t comprehend, going in, what this truly involves, and this is one aspect of editing that’s impossible to express in absolute terms.

This is why I suggest to all writers that they become familiar with any editor they might be considering before hiring that person.  This, as much as anything, is why I believe my critiquing and then editing a page or so of an opening chapter provides a quality mechanism for evaluating my skill sets.  I strongly suggest asking for the same courtesy from any prospective editor, regardless of that person’s listed credentials or reputation.  Editing is a “horses for courses” business, no different from selecting a doctor, attorney, or accountant, and one size definitely does not fit all.

Amazon’s KDP lending program, for which anyone participating in this exclusivity format is affected, as of July 1 has changed to paying royalties based on “pages read.”  That’s not a misprint.  I read this first in the June 16 edition of Publishers Lunch, and it’s been discussed often since then.  I’m eager to see the way this works out for a reference manual such as my HOW TO WRITE WHAT PEOPLE WILL PAY TO READ!  People will often buy a book such as mine to refer to specific areas of interest and not to consume the entire text, at least not in one continuous read from start to finish  What’s humorous is the way people have interpreted the potential payouts.

Initially I read a dime a page, which was quickly reduced to a penny a page as the ultimate royalty rate.  My opinion is it will be fractions of a penny.  FLASH:  The number announced July 2 worked out to sixth-tenth of one percent, or .0058 to be exact.  I don’t have the ability to understand how that equates in dollars and cents, but surely Amazon is not reworking the lending structure so the company can pay higher royalties.  And the next question is the page metric, which can be anything.  How is this structure fair to an author whose page is 440 words for softcover converted to digital, when another writer has a 330-words-per-page text layout?  So many issues remain “at large” that I could devote this entire Newsletter to them.  I’d like to hear from subscribers involved with the KDP lending program once the first Amazon “bonuses” are paid.  I’ll of course provide my figures for HTWWPWPTR.

And as an addendum to the Amazon “page per view” structure, one of the smartest people I know and someone I’m proud call a good friend, Barbara Meredith, who was instrumental in enabling me to set up my writing workshops at her library in Palm Beach County, sent me this link to an article in The New York Observer that discusses the Amazon format and the Netflix “Oyster” program.  Any subscriber who has a book currently listed with Amazon, which I imagine involves most of us, should read this article, as its message is incredibly important to all writers hoping to earn something from their books’ publication.

As I interpret “things,” one of the prime contentions book “listers” maintain is the problem with personal lending.  For as long as I can remember, it’s been bandied about that the average paperback is passed around eight times before it’s so dog-eared, etc., that it’s no longer serviceable.  Of course, a digital book could be lent ad infinitum, regardless of the use of the various levels of DRM embeds that attempt to eliminate lending to one degree or another.  But it’s the number of “lends” that enables publishers to justify charging libraries on average four times the retail for a standard-edition hardcopy, so any discussion of this matter has many ramifications.

For a DRM-protected book to be lent, the simple fact is that this requires the lending of the reading device, which in and of itself puts much of this side of the equation to rest.  But what does it do to the metric for those people who are gifted books but never read them, which happens all the time?  No page openings equate to zero authors’ earnings.  Is this fair?  Okay, throw “fair” out of the conversation.  Should this be acceptable?  It’s certainly not for me.  Authors have no say-so in this; and. I’ll be discussing authors’ rights, or the lack of them, in the article that accompanies this broadcast.  I ask subscribers to roll their ideas around in their minds and please pass them on to me so I can post them in an upcoming edition.  It truly seems to me that we writers are being expected to view our efforts as solely altruistic gestures with no expectations of financial gain outside of a mere pittance–for which we should be most grateful.

Granted, very few books make money for publishers, but the current business model has writers making all the concessions.  The problem is, at some point, authors without a substantial following will no longer write, and my guess is that we’ll see more “dead” writers–as I alluded to in a recent Newsletter–kicking out book after book.  If not, how else will mainstream publishers find writing talent?  It’s become such an acute problem that even published clients of mine are considering going it alone, no different from what I did with my book of articles.

And I’m leaning in this direction with a few of my Thrillers as well.  Only time constraints prevent my moving forward with this.  One thing is for certain:  self-publishing is now the “developmental league,” the same as in pro basketball.  The only difference is that the writer receives absolutely no form of compensation, while if a book “hits” the publisher is essentially guaranteed a sure thing–at what up to that point has been solely at the writer’s expense and time–the latter which in some cases involves years.  Odd as it might sound, self-publishing could end up being the best thing that ever happened to the mainstream publishers (the Big 5 and I always add Kensington).

With all this being said, I chose to use Amazon as the exclusive vehicle to sell my book of articles because the company controls 70 percent of all book sales.  For me, it was an easy decision, but as I’ve said recently, when I bring out the book in print I’m going to sell it myself and ship it from my garage, and I’m dead serious.  I can teach a neighbor kid how to affix a label to take the individually packaged books to the post office.

I can’t finish this discussion on Amazon without mentioning the latest lawsuit the firm is involved in that’s been filed with the American Booksellers Association as one of the litigants.  Once again, price fixing is what’s behind the suit, and one can only hope that at some point sanity (and God willing, common sense) will enter into the equation.  I have apologized for letting legal issues routinely consume a substantial amount of space in my Newsletters, but if writers aren’t aware of what’s “out there,” mighty tough sledding can be in the offing.  And this involves writers at all levels and not just those starting out.  What follows is a prime example, as I noticed on Tess Gerritsen’s personal blog that she registered her disappointment in the judge’s decision which prevents her from seeking damages for GRAVITY when it was used by New Line after it was sold originally to Time Warner (the parent company of New Line).

I am going to assume that Ms. Gerritsen is a great internist, which was her original profession, and her book sales have been outstanding, but she’s not an attorney.  Any more than I am or the vast majority of folks who sign book contracts.  A few paragraphs from now, I’ll have more to say about why it’s paramount for a writer to spend the money on an attorney who specializes in intellectual property before signing any book deal.  Again, I’ll be covering authors’ rights–or more accurately the lack of them–in the article that accompanies this broadcast.

Forever, I’ve been discussing publishers’ book contracts so writers will consider hiring an attorney who specializes in intellectual property before signing the agreement.  And, I’ve also said that I’m abundantly aware that all most anyone sees the first time around is “Wow!  I have a book contract.”  Nothing is worse, however, than signing a deal and learning soon afterward that it’s fraught with language that penalizes the author and rewards the publisher.  I listened to an attorney/fiction writer discuss this very subject in depth at a Thrillerfest not that many years ago, and she (Joan Johnston) explained that during her career she had been represented by some of the most-respected agents in the industry, including Robert Gottlieb and Al Zuckerman.

Ms. Johnston doesn’t pull any punches, saying that in every instance the contract she ultimately signed was not to her fullest benefit, as each agent left her “short” in one way or another.  Now, I realize that an attorney saying this is not the same as if a layman such as I made the same remark, but what Joan discussed wasn’t some recondite nuance here or there.  She covered some areas that can be learned only by either direct experience or prior knowledge of the potential pitfalls–which she suggests her agents should have been aware of to protect her interests.  I side with Joan on this one, and ask each subscriber to open this link for a recent Author Guild article on the subject of contract terms in author agreements.  Then please bookmark the link, as someday it might come in mighty handy.

The information in the article (there’s the link again, so click it darn it, ha ha) involves a half-dozen or so clauses that a person new to the publishing industry can’t be expected to know.  And if a subscriber should think this information doesn’t apply if the interest is solely in self-publishing, ask anyone who’s tried to get back rights from an AuthorSoluitions, Inc., imprint or Publishing America (now America Star Books) just what this can entail.  I won’t insult subscribers by going over each of the main tenets in the article, but one of the primary sticking points is getting rights back from a dormant work.  In the “old days” there was generally a clause that said if a book remained “dormant” (meaning out of print) for “x” number of years, the rights returned to the author.  However, with digital anything can be “published” with a keystroke–and essentially provide the imprint with perpetual rights to the book.

As an addendum to what I just discussed, longtime client Sirena Ross, whose writing I’ve often mentioned or showcased in one way or another, sent me an article by Dean Wesley Smith, who’s fought the publishing wars for many years.  His article “The Real Price of Traditional Publishing is worth reading, as it supports a lot of what I’ve covered in my Newsletters over the years.  Sirena pointed out that his bias is obvious, and I concur, but the premise is what matters, and I find it indisputable.  Simply, no different from the rock band with one hit, it’s difficult to get paid what’s truly due for the first book if it’s not a bestseller and other big hits don’t follow close behind.

What Mr. Smith says about diminishing advances is also unchallengeable, but his numbers seem a bit light from the mainstream houses.  However, a mid-four-figure advance is not as absurd as it would have been even ten years ago (when $20,000 for a new author’s work was a standard figure).  Yes, the times they are a changin’, and more accurately have flat out changed.  Publishing structures, distribution costs, and the ultimate small net return are the very reasons I’ll be shipping the print version of my book of articles from my garage.

I wrote in the previous Newsletter about the spate of digital-only self-publishing houses that have closed in the past year (Off-the Bookshelf.com is the most recent casualty I’m aware of), and anyone reading Publishers Marketplace saw that Scribd is substantially reducing its Romance titles, citing the voracious appetites of those who read the genre.  The criteria for keeping a title, with many coming from Smashwords and Draft2Digital, is word volume (I’m dead serious) and price, not wanting to list anything above $3.99.  It’s been estimated (and I don’t know how) that Smashwords will see its list cut by as much as 90 percent.

What really matters is that all writers will be facing digital “issues” at one time or another, so I strongly suggest paying close attention to what’s going on in the industry, as the ramifications will affect print as well.  And what’s happening impacts the seasoned writer no different from the person who’s offering a first book for public consumption.  “Free” is only good for so long, and “unlimited” runs along the same fault line.  When the 80/20 rule becomes 70/30, the entire mechanism crashes, and the shifts in usage formulas are causing the recent upheaval–and I believe with more to come.

Here is today’s article, which pained me greatly to write:
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Writers Have No Rights!

In today’s Newsletter I commented on Tess Gerritsen’s throwing in the towel with respect to pursuing her “rights” case against her publisher.  At first pass this might not seem like such a big deal–until Ms. Gerritsen’s gravitas in the market is taken into consideration.  And she’s also smart enough to have gotten through medical school, so one of the first considerations is that she should be bright enough to understand her book contracts.  This sounds great until one asks if an attorney should also deliver babies or perform heart surgery?

With respect to recognizing the potential “traps” in a book contract, I defy anyone who is not a lawyer with a specialty in intellectual property and a subspecialty in literary works to have the ability to offer adequate protection for an author/client.  And notice that I didn’t say “full protection,” since there is no such thing.  As I referenced in my Newsletter, attorneys who have signed book deals have found their positions woefully underserved as well.

If a Big-Time Writer Can’t Even Get a Hearing, What Can the Little Guy Expect?

If a writer with the publishing-industry weight of Ms. Gerritsen cannot even get to first base in a courtroom, how can a writer with less import be expected to possibly fare any better?  As I’ve sadly often reported in my Newsletters, the court’s position–time and again–is that publishing for the writer is a buyer’s beware environment in which the author is supposed to fully comprehend what he or she has entered into.  This of course begs the question:  If attorneys who represent authors don’t recognize the width and breadth of the agreements, how can the writer be expected to fare any better?

I’m not going to rehash the Apple suit, except that this case was adjudicated by Judge Denise Cote, as was Ms. Gerritsen’s suit as well as the recent AuthorSolutions, Inc., judgment, of which the latter fostered this article.  For anyone who might be unaware, Judge Cote ruled against class-action status, stating, among other contentions, that ASI did not set out to financially benefit from its clients in an untoward way (my words, sorry) by artificially guaranteeing marketing that would sell a client’s book (again, my paraphrasing).  This however had nothing to do with the denial of class-action status, as this was predicated in Judge Cote’s ruling on the “fact” that there wasn’t claim uniformity on the part of the litigants (once more, my rhetoric).

What Constitutes a Crime Against a Writer?

The argument to support the ruling was that there wasn’t consistency pertaining to the reasons for filing suit.  I guess spending thousands of dollars ($25,000 in the instance of the primary litigant, who was elderly) after being convinced of the book’s market potential–when it had virtually none–isn’t considered an unfair trade practice, which was the other litigant’s main complaint as well.  What makes this incredible is that thousands and thousands of ASI clients have claimed they were pressured in one way or another to buy services, ranging from editing to marketing.  As to the marketing side of the equation, I’d like to ask the judge what she would feel like if someone offered her a marketing package?  Should she expect a reasonable chance for a positive return for her expense?  Okay, perhaps that’s grandiose.  But what if thousands of people have the same result?  Does the one in a thousand who can show a “plus” return justify the financial pain the other nine-hundred ninety-nine experienced?

Ignorance Is Not a Remedy

The court is making it clear that ignorance is not remotely a valid writer’s excuse.  I do, however, argue that attorneys filing for class-action status should be intimately aware of the constraints.  This concerned me when Judge Cote refused the petition for class-action status, citing the disparate nature of the litigants’ claims (once again, my wording) and that the two litigants leading the suit were not from New York, where the suit was filed.  This begs a really big question:  Why on earth was the claim made in a New York courtroom when the litigants were living in the Midwest, where they also resided when their books were published and all the well-documented tomfoolery was initiated?  The potential problem with filing in New York is especially obvious when it seems that every major case involving possible literary malfeasance ends up on Judge Cote’s docket.  Let’s all jump in and fight this bull with a butter knife, shall we?

Writers Have Virtually No Protection Under the Law

While I haven’t agreed with the judge’s rulings involving Apple or Ms. Gerritsen, Denise Cote is obviously a brilliant jurist who does a masterful job of protecting the letter of the law.  However, I’m of the opinion that reality has to enter the equation at some point.  Should Ms. Gerritsen have known what she was entering into?  Probably.  But should an elderly writer from the Midwest be allowed to lose five figures on a first book that legitimate industry experts would argue had a de minimus chance for appeal beyond friends and family?  Should this fine old woman, who’s been a pillar in her community all her life, have known that the ASI imprint really wasn’t going to market her book? or market her material in the way she perceived based on the glowing telephone presentation provided by her “adviser”?

What’s Are Writers to Do?  For Now, the Answer Is Not a Pleasant One

The cold, hard truth is that if this sale had been made by a stockbroker, this senior citizen would have recourse.  Or anyone from a life insurance salesperson to someone selling a cemetery plot or siding for her home.  But as a writer she enjoys no such protection.  Yes, she made the titanic mistake of writing a book—and this provides her with nothing in the form of legal relief from a zealous telemarketer who knows how to play on someone’s subtle vainglory, as who doesn’t believe he or she hasn’t written the next great book?  No, she made the mistake of expecting reason to come to her defense, when the only recourse writers seem to have is when blatant plagiarism occurs.  For all else, Judge Cote has set the bar so high that it’s currently not even approachable.  She’s shouting it loud and clear so her words resonate from coast to coast: Let all writers take heed–you have no rights!