I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. –Maya Angelou
I completely agree with that statement. As writers, our first, and arguably our most important job is to make the reader feel. Feel what? Fear, hope, laughter, joy, hope, defeat, or virtually anything we wish for them to feel can be achieved. I will be the first to admit that I am a long way from the best at this, but it’s something that we need work on. We need to practice instilling feelings in our work. Fortunately, there are some techniques that any writer can use to inject feeling into their work.
The first thing we must do is to make our character sympathetic in some way. Give the reader a chance to connect with the character. Allow them to care about what this character is experiencing. It can be a grand gesture:
Despite the bitter cold, Raleigh quickly removed his heavy cloak and spread it over the puddle so that his beloved sovereign could be spared the mud on her shoes.
The reader immediately knows what kind of a man Raleigh is. They may love him or think that he’s the world’s biggest fool, but they have made a connection to him.
It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, though. Sometimes it is some small personal detail that makes the connection and establishes the sympathy. Here’s a short excerpt from one of my own stories to illustrate.
“Levi looked at the unfinished paperwork on the desk. The marshal had been privately teaching him his letters, but he still struggled with keeping the log and reading the wanted posters. Reading and writing intimidated him. Back in Mississippi, it was not only unnecessary to teach a field hand to read, it was illegal.”
Yeah, I know. I need to rework this passage. Too much telling and not enough showing, but the point is, the reader can’t help feeling something for Levi. We’ve all faced challenges that, through no fault of our own, seem overwhelming. The reader can relate to this and begins to like Levi.
Since I already brought it up, the next tool we have for making the reader feel is to write our scenes to show what is happening rather than telling what is happening. For example, I might rewrite the first two sentences of the above passage:
“Levi opened the logbook, staring at the marshal’s neat, flowing script. Sweat beaded on his brow. He picked up the pencil and began to write, his clumsy block letters creeping painfully onto the page. After only a few lines, he tossed the pencil aside and slammed the book shut with a sigh. I jist doan knows if I can ever learn my letters. The marshal tries his best to teach me, but maybe I’s jist slow. He pushed the log aside and picked up a wanted poster. He committed the likeness to memory, before beginning to slowly sound out the words.”
Levi’s struggle and determination draws the reader in, making an emotional connection. Everyone loves the underdog.
There are numerous other techniques we can use to evoke emotion in our reader, but this post is too short, so I’m only going to cover one more. Give your MC real danger and real wounds. The greater the risk, the higher the payoff. Have him walk out into the dusty street and face off against three hard-cases, knowing he’s going to take a bullet or two. Is that realistic? It is if he’s an exceptional man, and what MC isn’t exceptional? That’s why we write about them. No one wants to read about the storekeeper who keeps the town going by selling supplies.
When your hero takes those bullets, make them real wounds with real consequences. We’ve all seen the Hollywood version where he is shot in the shoulder. He doesn’t spin around or fall down or drop his gun. He just takes the hit and keeps shooting. Bullshit! Don’t ever write that crap. Yes, he might fire first and take one of the bad guys down. Yes, one of them may be a little too excited and miss his first shot. But that third hard case is going to be at least reasonably proficient and he’s not aiming to wound. He’s going to be aiming center mass the same as our hero. When that bullet hits, our boy is going down. He may drop his gun. He may lose consciousness. Tell it like it is. Your readers will love you for it. I’ll leave you to figure out how this gunfight ends.
It’s been a little while since I wrote about Predatory Contracts, but it came up again this week so I thought that I would expand upon it a little. I’m not going to get into book contracts because I have no experience with those and there are others who can give much better information on that topic than I can. I would strongly suggest, if you are looking at a book contract, that you at the very least consult with an attorney, preferably one with experience in publishing contracts.
MAGAZINE CONTRACTS – It has been my experience that most magazines stick to a relatively common contract format with minor variations. Some magazines don’t even offer a contract, even some who pay. If they don’t offer a contract, the terms should be spelled out in their guidelines and you should print and keep a copy for future reference, but don’t write them off simply because they don’t write a contract. Here are some things to look for.
Rights acquired – Virtually all magazines acquire First Worldwide rights for print and on-line versions of your work. This means that you are granting them the right to be the first to publish in both print and on-line versions of their magazine. This should be a one-time right except they may reprint the magazine as needed. They will also ask that they be allowed to advertise back issues on their website and in their magazine and to sell those back issue as demanded. This is entirely reasonable. They will also ask and you should grant non-exclusive electronic rights for as long as the magazine is in publication. Once it’s on the internet, they can’t take it back, so just agree.
Exclusivity – There should be a stated length of time before you can offer the story to a secondary market. Usually this is 3-6 months from date of publication. Some ask for 12 months. I would question and possibly try to negotiate that down. Anything over 12 months is unreasonable.
Reversion of Rights – Most magazine contracts will state clearly that all rights revert to the author upon publication. A few may state that the rights revert after the term of exclusivity. Either way is acceptable, but the former is better for the author.
Payment – Some magazines will pay by the word, some a flat amount per story. Either is acceptable. There should be a clause stating when and how payment will be made. Normally, payment is upon publication. Some pay upon acceptance, which is great if you can get it. Most will pay via PayPal, but some still send checks.
Many will “ask” but rarely demand that if the story is sold to a secondary reprint market that the phrase, “This story first appeared in (insert magazine name and issue).” I see this as a courtesy and no secondary market is going to refuse to include it. They had faith in your story first and, hopefully paid you for it, so why shouldn’t they get a little free advertising?
ANTHOLOGY CONTRACTS: Here’s the area where we run into a wide variety of contracts, many of which are downright predatory. This isn’t surprising. To publish a magazine, you must have a steady supply of stories, advertisers, and generally put in a lot more work to get your publication out on a timely basis. The sad truth is, that virtually anyone with access to CreateSpace and Amazon can publish an anthology. So, here’s what you want to see in your anthology contract and you do want a contract.
Rights – A legitimate anthology will ask for First Anthology Rights or First English Language Rights. Look carefully at the wording in this clause. A publisher who does not have worldwide distribution, does not need world-wide rights. If they distribute only in North America, why give them European or Asian rights. You can only sell these rights one time. If they are publishing on Amazon, then they will need worldwide English language rights. They still will not need any foreign language rights or subsidiary rights such as audio, film, etc. There is often a standard clause that Large Print and Braille editions may be published so long as they are published and sold exclusively to a charity which benefits the visually impaired.
Exclusivity – Unlike magazines, anthologies have a very limited shelf-life and so the Publisher will often ask for exclusivity for 6 months or one year. Both are reasonably standard. Depending on the marketing and promotion that the publisher does, sales will amount to very little after the first six-months, but I wouldn’t argue with a year if I felt the Publisher had a marketing platform and intended to push sales. There are many Anthology publishers who will ask for much longer or even permanent rights. This is, in ALL cases, predatory. These publishers often hope that you will later publish a best-seller and they will own all rights to one of your earlier stories. This is pure foolishness and greed on their part. Should you publish a best-seller and wish to recover your rights, it would take a good attorney less than 20 minutes to prepare a brief and have this contract declared predatory, demanding damages in the process. Still, why set yourself up for that? Simply, say no.
Copyrights – To establish a basis for bringing action should your story be pirated once published, it is not unreasonable for the publisher to apply for a copyright for your story. However, in ALL cases, the copyright should be in the Author’s name, not the publisher’s. Remember that copyright runs for the natural life of the author plus 70 years. If they want to own the copyright, that is a business investment on their part and should be negotiated separately from the publishing contract with an eye to how it might affect your future earnings or that of your children and grandchildren.
Reversion of rights – Here, again, is an area where predators can play havoc. All rights to your story should revert upon publication, or within 6 months of publication at a minimum. If the terms are different, then look for other predatory clauses. In virtually every case, you’ll find them.
Payment – Payment should be on either a per word or per story rate as spelled out in the Writer’s Guidelines prior to submission and payment is normally due upon publication although some legitimate anthologies will pay 3 months after publication to allow them to pay from sales. Some will even pay upon acceptance. Never agree to a longer term. Some anthologies will pay royalties. Here’s where we get into another abusive area. If you agree to a royalty structure, royalties should be a set amount based on the cover price of the anthology. Many anthologies will attempt to word the contract so that royalties will only be paid after the publisher has recouped their expenses or will be paid only on profits. This is usually a warning sign, but might be alright if the publisher agrees to itemize all expenses on quarterly royalty statements. If the anthology is published in print and eBook, audio or large print, then all sales and expenses should be itemized for each format individually. If the eBook alone is profitable, the royalties on it should be paid regardless of the publisher’s loss on other formats. In any event, there should be a clause which allows the author or his designated agent (attorney/accountant) to view the books upon demand. It is also a normal practice for publishers to withhold a portion of royalties to cover returns. This, is an area where even the big publishers get abusive. Reserves of 10 to 20 percent are relatively normal and retaining those holdings for up to 90 days after the book is out of print is also normal. However, some publishers attempt to hold 50% of royalties or more and for indefinite periods of time. There isn’t much the author can do about this except to file that market under Never Submit Again.
Like magazines, anthology publishers will usually ask that you include a statement in later publications that “This story first appeared in XXX Anthology”. As I said above, I see no problem with this.
There are a lot more clauses and issues that you might find in your contract. I can’t cover them all here, and undoubtedly, haven’t seen them all. These are the ones of primary importance that I feel you should pay the most attention to.
It is fair to note, that some anthology publishers will attempt to save a legal fee by adapting their standard book contract to an anthology. This will almost always result in longer terms for rights and may impact some other areas as well. If you find an issue in your contract that is not satisfactory, it is always best to send a polite email to the publisher stating that you cannot sign the contract in its present form and suggesting the changes you would like to see made. They will almost always respond to a polite request and sometimes quite favorably. You never know until you ask. If you are asking for reasonable and standard changes, then they have the opportunity to correct, and if they refuse, then you can be pretty sure that those questionable or predatory clauses were inserted deliberately.
I hope that this will answer some questions and that you will find it a helpful post.
Looks like Dennis left the door unlocked … again.
I’m Kari Holloway, and I’m a writer-holic.
There comes a time in most writers’ worlds where they have to say good-bye to characters. I’m not talking about killing them off, which some authors enjoy doing. I’m talking about the end of a standalone or the end of a series. That singular moment when, for the foreseeable future, these characters won’t be occupying space in our heads, whispering and sometimes shouting their thoughts and actions.
July 2015, I started writing a short story following a marine retiring back into civilian life. The story ended with no idea if his girlfriend lived or died, just the knowledge the same girlfriend had killed their kidnapper. Damien wouldn’t leave me alone, and I wasn’t prepared for the course the book took. I was prepared for happiness, rainbows, and unicorns. But, “Cracked, But Never Broken” was more than just a romance, it was about loving yourself, finding the desire to do what was best for you regardless of where our hearts beg to be true, and perception. It ends in a blazing flame that sparked “Behind the Lens” with Lexi.
“Behind the Lens” showed that the strongest people aren’t always loud. Sometimes loving ourselves doesn’t’ mean we’ve given others permission to love us. That sometimes, we have to take the chance to be happy, and that not everything has to be planned perfectly.
Now two years have passed. The characters are finally ready to slumber. “Never too Late” is sitting in a file on my USB in the complete folder. The paperback is published as of today, and I’m a little sad to see characters happily take their retirement from center stage. They got their happiness, and not exactly the way I expected two years ago. I’m sad because they were my friends who told me their greatest secrets in the dead of night to the clacking of a keyboard, they showed me love and compassion and happiness weren’t exclusive or inclusive. They reminded me the best things in life were fresh air, friendships, and good food. That love isn’t about perfection, it’s about acceptance. It’s about being happy here and now, not living in the past, not dreaming of a future, but about working together with friends and lovers to being happy, healthy, cherished, and desired and above all else, living in the moment, because we would miss the best things in life waiting for a tomorrow that might never come.
Enjoy the Laughing P Series trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKrMAgqe9AI
If you’re interested in learning more about Kari or, maybe her fantasy series, check out her website: https://www.kariholloway.com
This week, I’m going to do a little bragging. I help to Admin a small on-line writing group. Last October, we initiated a new feature in that group that we call the Friday Flash Fiction Challenge. It began with a specific weekly challenge to write a 500-word story on an assigned theme, from a specific point of view, etc. Stories were due the following Thursday at noon and the winner received their choice of a writing related Amazon eBook from a list we provided. A consolation prize of a professional edit of their story was also offered to another entry.
Members wishing to participate must adhere to Shunn Short Story manuscript formatting, must stay within the allowed word count and write a story with a beginning, middle and end. They may submit at any time during the challenge by attaching their story to a PM to any of the admins. The stories are then rated by each admin on a 20-point scale with 5 points each for format, meeting the challenge, grammar/punctuation and overall story quality.
Using the scores, we determine a winner and runner-up. We then send out acceptance and rejection slips to each entrant, keeping to the format of a standard rejection or acceptance letter as seen in the industry. Each entry gets feedback from the admins as well.
Our idea was to help our members get over the fear of submitting their work, encourage them to write regularly, and give them the closest approximation to the actual writing/submitting process that we could.
Our little project has evolved over time based on the needs of the group and the admins. We now allow 750 words to give more space for a complete story and two weeks between challenge and deadline. We average six or seven submissions per challenge.
Over the last nine months, the average scores awarded by each admin have steadily risen from an average of 15 or 16 to high 18s and 19s. Our most recent challenge resulted in 8 entries and the combined score from four admins for the top 5 stories covered only a 3-point spread.
In the first nine months of our little challenge, no less than 3 stories have been accepted for publication or published in traditional magazines and e-zines.
The point to all this bragging? Practice really does make perfect, and short or flash fiction is an incredibly fast way to improve your writing skills.
Think about this. A novelist will write an average 100,000-word book with a single beginning, middle and end and will spend anywhere from a month to several years on it. A writer who writes flash fiction, will do all of that in less than 1,000 words and can, if they wish, complete several each week. They learn to tighten their writing, choose each word with care, develop a cohesive and complete plot, characters and setting. There’s no room for fat, so they learn to gleefully kill those darlings with no remorse.
Many writers will tell you that the best way to become a professional writer is to write. That may, in fact, be true. But what one writes can greatly speed the process. Even for experienced writers, whipping out a flash fiction piece between chapters in their main work can be excellent practice and a nice break.
SPECIAL BLOG EDITION
Today I want to do something completely different with my blog. Why today? Because today marks the birthday of a man who I, in my self-proclaimed learned opinion, consider to be one of the finest American humorists of our times.
Richard Armour was born on this date in 1906 in San Pedro, California. He attended Pomona College, likely because he had the foresight to realize that I would later be born in Pomona. After completing his studies there, he went on to obtain his doctoral degree from Harvard in English philology. Really. Look it up.
He taught English at both Scripps College and Claremont Graduate School and wrote several scholarly pieces on Bryan Waller Proctor and Samuel Coleridge. He also wrote multiple volumes of light verse.
What he is best known for are his multiple volumes of fractured history where he takes a light-hearted look at various historical themes and offers a somewhat twisted yet mostly truthful look at them. Some examples are:
“It All Started with Eve” a look at famous women in history in which Napoleon writes to Josephine, “Do you miss me? I hope the enemy artillery does.”
“It All Started with Stones and Clubs” his history of warfare, and
“It All Started with Marx” his history of communism where he has Lenin remarking “The tsar is a tsap.”
So, to celebrate, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m announcing a contest, the object of which is to write a Flash Fiction Story (up to 1,000 words) in the irreverent style of Dr. Armour. The topic can be anything in history or nature which should be addressed seriously but with a definite tongue-in-cheek style. Facts may be generously embellished or exaggerated at the author’s discretion, but the narrative should take the overall tone of a serious academic approach. Footnotes are welcome and may be created in whole or in part from the author’s imagination. Such footnotes will not count to your overall word count.
This contest will run until midnight PST on August 18, 2017. I regret to inform you that entries will be limited to residents of the United States because – postage for the prize. However, entries from outside the U.S. will be read and, hopefully, laughed over. Entries should be in TNR 12pt or Courier New 12pt type with one-inch margins, page numbering in Shunn format at the top right corner of 2d and succeeding pages. Feel free to retain or omit your name from the body of your entry. Our panel of scholarly judges will pay no attention either way. Trust us.
Entries should be emailed to email@example.com by the deadline of the contest, or later if you don’t want them considered.
PRIZES: At last, we come to the important part. One winner, chosen by scientific, occult operations of an extraordinarily random nature will receive a precious volume of Dr. Armour’s work. Good luck.
As some of you may have guessed, I’ve been super busy during the last couple of weeks. Much of my time has been devoted to editing jobs of various lengths and genres. I thought that this week I would discuss some of the recurring problems I find in many manuscripts. To be clear, this is not taken from any one or two works I’ve edited, but is rather a synopsis of items I’ve found in multiple manuscripts form multiple authors. I hope that you will find it helpful in self-editing your work.
The bane of many writers seems to be the lowly comma. Maybe this is because most works will have a lot of them. This is in no way meant to be a representation of all or even most cases where a comma is required, but rather a few of the places where they are most commonly missing.
Commas in Direct Address:
“A comma is used to set off names or words used in direct address and informal
correspondence…” CMOS 6.38
Most of us, when we write a letter, are pretty good at remembering the comma after the salutation. “Dear Milly(comma)” comes naturally, but this is not the only time this rule comes into play. Let me give a few examples of where it might appear in dialog:
“Yes, sir.” In this case “sir” is direct address and needs the comma.
“I’ll be right there, John.” John is being directly addressed, so we need a comma.
“If you will follow me, gentlemen, I’ll see you right in.” Even though it is in the middle of the sentence, we still need the comma, but we need one on each side of the direct address to completely set it apart.
“Darlene, do you have those reports ready?”
“Why do the elves dislike us so, Grandfather?”
In formal correspondence, the comma after the salutation is usually replaced with a colon. “Dear Mister Secretary:” or simply “Secretary Mattis:”
Commas with Appositives
“A word, abbreviation, phrase, or clause that is in apposition to a noun (i.e., provides an explanatory equivalent) is normally set off by commas if it is nonrestrictive—that is, if it can be omitted without obscuring the identity of the noun to which is refers.” CMOS 6.23
Wow! What a mouthful! Obviously, we need some examples to understand this one.
“Your editor, Mr. Menefee, did a wonderful job with this manuscript.” Mr. Menefee could be omitted from this sentence and it would still make perfect sense and retain its meaning. Therefore, we need to surround him with commas. Think of it like this. If Mr. Menefee wandered off and got lost, this sentence would still be complete and we probably wouldn’t miss him. So we put a corral around him with our commas to keep him where he belongs.
“My prize pig, Mister Ziggy, won a blue ribbon at the fair.” Again, we need to put a corral around Mister Ziggy so he doesn’t become someone else’s bacon.
“Debbie’s husband, Mike, is a writer.” Do I even need to explain that no one wants their husband wandering off?
“Our president, Donald Trump, is…” I’ll let you fill in the rest, but we still want him to stay where we put him.
Now for the tricky part. If “the word or phrase is restrictive—that is, provides essential information about the noun (or nouns) to which it refers—no commas should appear.” CMOS 6.23. Here are some examples:
Ernest Hemingway’s novel For Whom the Bell Tolls is a literary classic. In this example, Hemingway’s novel could refer to any of his works, so the title provides essential information to understanding the sentence.
Zayat Stables’ horse American Pharoah is the most recent Triple Crown winner. Again, Ahmed Zayat owns a lot of horses so the name is essential and gets no commas.
Comma After an Introductory Word or Phrase
This is where there is an introductory word or phrase beginning a sentence. Common examples would be Yes, No, Well, However, Well then, By the way, and Nevertheless.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, you might say that he’s all hat and no cattle.”
“However, we will not take responsibility for any injuries resulting from misuse.”
“Well then, why should we care?”
“By the way, what did you say your name was?” Helpful hint: Never use this at the end of a date.
“Nevertheless, we shall expect payment promptly.”
Yes, your editor should and will catch these common mistakes. However, he or she will charge you either by the hour or an equivalent amount by the word. Do you really want to pay for work that you could have easily done yourself?
Even the best editor will miss something occasionally. The more cluttered your manuscript is with these simple corrections, the more likely they will be to miss something else. Every correction they make, makes it harder to spot the ones they haven’t made.
Every editor I know, adjusts their rates depending on how difficult or easy the edit is expected to be, so having your manuscript in the best possible shape beforehand, makes it more likely that you will benefit on the rate and that your editor will want to work with you again.
#writing, #fictionwriting, #editing
Today, as both a writer and freelance editor, I want to talk about professional development, and to get the really painful part out of the way, let’s start with grammar. Yes, I know. Your editor is supposed to fix that. It’s why you hired them.
NO. You hired them “to make your story or novel the very best representation of your work that it can be”. Write that down. The function of an editor is “to make your story or novel the very best representation of your work that it can be”. Did you notice what it does not say. It doesn’t say anything about them being your personal grammar nazi.
“But I’m a creative genius, not a mechanic!” Of course, you are, bless your heart. You’ve done the hard work of writing a first draft. You’ve taken the time and spent those tedious hours making all the corrections suggested by Spellcheck and grammar checker programs. You’ve even puzzled over those solid blue and squiggly red lines under certain words and figured out how to make most of them go away. Hopefully, you’ve had the wisdom to run it past a couple of beta readers and apply their feedback.
You’re right. At this point, you have done more than at least seventy-five percent of the writers out there. It is obvious that you care about your work and your professional reputation. So, with a sense of pride, you send it off to your editor and wait for those final polishing touches. Good job.
A few days or weeks later, you get an email from your editor with your edited manuscript attached. Eagerly, you open it to see if he/she found anything to correct. Horror of horrors, your baby has so much red ink dripping from it that it looks like a scene from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. What could possibly have caused this? You did.
I know that seems harsh, but it’s true. Sure, Spellcheck picked up the obvious misspellings. What it didn’t pick up were the wrong word choices. You know the ones. “Their were dozens of floral displays around the ornate casket.” Nope. Spellcheck didn’t catch that one because it is a real word. Take heart. Your grammar checker probably did. But it didn’t catch “Madison was breathless after dancing the real.” Your grammar checker doesn’t know that it should be a reel, not a real. This requires knowing that “reel” is a noun and “real” is an adjective. And, it is to be expected that a writer would know that.
Some writers may have a Master’s Degree in English and be able to avoid most of these pitfalls. They put in the work for their degree and are rewarded with less grammar errors and, quite possibly, lower costs to edit their work. They have their own challenges, but we will save those for another time. Most writers fall into the group that has an Associate or Bachelor Degree or possibly only a high school diploma. They may recall the lessons from their English teachers or professors, but they probably haven’t had the practice to really ingrain those lessons. They need to work harder at it.
Whether you are the holder of an advanced degree or a high school GED certificate, you need to be continuing your education as a writer. No one succeeds or rises to the top of their profession without study.
My brother, started out years ago as a sprinkler-fitter. For those who don’t know, those are the people who install the fire suppression systems in buildings. Because he had the drive to succeed and to search out what areas of knowledge he lacked, he rose rather quickly. When he wasn’t working, he was studying areas in the industry he wasn’t familiar with. Soon, he owned his own company.
Nowadays, he still owns a much bigger company doing all the jobs he used to do, but he is also in demand as a lecturer. He is one of less than a half-dozen people in the U.S. qualified to do certain types of suppression systems and to train others on those systems. People come from as far away as Germany to attend his seminars and he is paid very well for his knowledge. He rose to that level by studying his trade, reading everything he could get his hands on, and always asking questions.
A writer who can’t be bothered with learning grammar, is a bit like a sprinkler fitter who doesn’t want to learn the names of the tools or the sizes of pipe used in his job. Sure, he can get by for a while asking his boss, “Do you want the skinny pipe or the fat pipe?”, but he’s never going to make journeyman that way and he will inevitably be let go the minute business slows. Learning all the tools of the trade and staying up with your continuing education is a crucial part of being a professional.
A couple of months ago, I wrote a two-part blog about the importance of reading. Not only is it important to read both in and outside of your writing genre, it is also important to read about the craft of writing. You should be reading books and articles about plotting, character arcs, dialog, book blurbs and synopses, point of view, setting, marketing, and … wait for it … grammar.
The above topics are just a partial sampling from my personal library which is filled with titles by the likes of Rayne Hall, Jenny Baranick, Renni Browne and Dave King, Donald Maass, Anne Lamott, and K. M. Weiland. If you don’t recognize these names or the titles of their works, then your continuing education as a professional writer is sadly lacking.
“Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares” by Jenny Baranick
“Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne and Dave King
“Writing Vivid Characters” by Rayne Hall
“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott
“How to Write Short Stories and Use Them to Further Your Writing Career” by James Scott Bell
“Writing Vivid Settings” by Rayne Hall
“Writing About Villains” by Rayne Hall
“Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story” by K. M. Weiland
“27 Fiction Writing Blunders – And How Not to Make Them” by James Scott Bell
“Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot and
Character Development” by K. M. Weiland
“Writing the Breakout Novel” by Donald Maass
Anything by any of these authors is well worth your time and money. Happy reading.
By Dennis Doty
As usual this week’s blog is about something that crossed my desk, er, computer screen this week. I’m going to talk about predatory contracts, what they are and how to recognize them.
A predatory contract is one which attempts to take advantage of the author through various means. These means can include deception, unreasonable demands, or fees.
Let’s examine fees first because it is relatively simple and straight forward. Writers DO NOT PAY to be published. The publisher should pay for editing, formatting or typesetting, proofreading, printing, distribution, marketing and promotion. This doesn’t mean that they won’t expect you to promote your own book through your website, blog and author page. They will and should. You should be willing to write about it, talk about it, do interviews about it and attend book signings or other promotional events at least in your area. But, you should not have to pay for these services.
Deceptive practices can take many forms, but some of the most common are advertisements and offers of FREE publication. Legitimate publishers don’t tell you it’s free because they know you shouldn’t be expected to pay. Free publication is invariably a come-on to get you interested and excited about seeing your book in print. Then they hit you with all the extras, kind of like asking if you want meat and condiments on that burger you ordered. Your book needs to be edited for a small one-time fee of only WAY MORE than the going rate. You’re going to need a good cover for your book and we have just the artist who can provide it for WAY MORE than the going rate. If you sign up for our super deluxe package we will distribute your book to reviewers and bloggers to get your name out there. A legitimate publisher will do this anyway for free because it’s good business, and they will have far better contacts to send it to.
Finally, let’s consider unreasonable demands. Again, these can take many forms, but let me use some examples from the contract I was offered this week.
“The Author grants to the Publisher the non-exclusive right to publish, reproduce and distribute the Work in all formats in English throughout the world (‘the Territory”) for the full term of the copyright…”
There are a couple of things wrong with this clause. First is the “all formats”. The publisher is offering to put my story in an anthology, yet they want print, electronic, audio and motion picture rights as well. Why? So that they can either use or sell them now or in the future. The second thing wrong here is world-wide rights. Are they marketing in Australia, New Zealand, England, South Africa, Rhodesia, and all other countries where English is the primary language, or only in the U.S. and Canada? The final and worst thing wrong here is “for the full term of the copyright”. That means, for the natural life of the author plus 70 years. Do they really think that their anthology is going to join the ranks of the immortals? A standard anthology contract will ask for first English-language print rights for a short period of time. This is usually no more than three months from publication or six months from acceptance and never more than twelve months. If they publish their anthologies in e-book form as well, they will ask for short-term exclusive electronic rights and the non-exclusive right to continue to maintain that platform for a longer period of time because, once something is released electronically, it is always out there.
“The Publisher shall publish edition(s) of the Work in such format, style, and manner as the Publisher deems appropriate within one year from the date of the Publisher’s acceptance of the manuscript.”
This seemingly innocuous passage allows the publisher to not only publish my story in the anthology, but to publish it separately or in a separate anthology if they so desire. My concern is with them publishing it separately because of the payment structure discussed elsewhere. I’m not too worried about a separate anthology because that would be competing with themselves and unlikely.
15% of the list price of each copy of the anthology that is sold direct to consumer with the author’s discount code being used.
For all sales not sold with a coupon code (retail outlets, direct to consumer and the like) 10% of the list price (if sold from our website) or wholesale price (if sold to or through a retail outlet), will go into a collective account and distributed evenly amongst all authors in that given anthology. (ie. If the account equals $100.00 and there are 100 authors, each author will be paid a $1.00 royalty from that account)
If an ebook is eventually released, the royalty will be paid in accordance with sales made without a coupon code and funds will be added to the collective account.
Several problems here, as well. First off, the use of the discount code forces all sales to go through the publisher so I can’t sell autographed copies to my friends, family and fans directly. Nor can I very well do book signings or other author events. The second problem is that they will, no doubt, ask $4.95 or more for the ebook which puts them in the range to collect 60% royalties or $2.97 per copy. Less than 30 cents of that will be paid out to the authors to divide equally, presumably around one cent each. Worse, this is how I would be paid if they choose to put my story out as an individual short story. The publisher will collect 60% and I would be paid a penny or so per copy as would dozens of authors who had nothing to do with my story if the publisher was honest enough to actually divide the 10%, but more likely, based on this contract he would simply pocket that 29 cents as well and correctly assume that they would never think to see if someone else’s story had earned them anything.
The Author agrees to cooperate, and to be available, in connection with the Publisher’s requirements regarding the promotion, publicly, and advertising of the Work.
This clause seems reasonable on the surface but is too vague. It could be remedied by inserting the word “reasonably” before available, but that word isn’t there. This means that the publisher could call me and say, “You have to be in London tomorrow for a promotional event, and I am obligated to jump on an airplane and be there with no compensation or even reasonable travel expenses.”
Obviously, I did not sign and return this contract. I did, email them promptly withdrawing my story from consideration for their anthology and enumerating the multiple reasons why in the unlikely event that they wished to make corrections to their contract. I don’t expect to hear from them again.
There are all kinds of ways for unethical and predatory individuals and companies to take advantage of the unwary writer. I hope that this blog will help you avoid some of them.
WHY WRITE SHORT-FICTION
by Dennis Doty
I’ve had quite a few writers over the last year tell me that they don’t write short fiction. The reasons have been as varied as the writers. Some say, they have no interest in writing short stories, some say they just can’t seem to get the hang of the form, others say that they have been working on their novel for (fill in the blank) length of time and they don’t want to think about short stories until they are done.
That’s all fine and well, but there are some serious advantages to writing short fiction that should be considered. No matter what stage your career may be in, we all strive to improve and perfect our craft. Writing short fiction will, without a doubt, make you a better writer.
When writing a novel, it isn’t at all unusual to take a paragraph or even half a page to set a scene, show the reader your character’s motivations and goals or establish relationships between the characters. With a short story, you simply don’t have that luxury. By necessity, you learn to paint with an economy of strokes, a minimalist approach to the story. You still must have strong characters, the story still should flow, the pacing is still important, but you must do it all in a very short space.
The successful short story writer is very aware of what can and cannot be included in their story. Every word is weighed for its value to the story. Does it move the story forward? Does it illuminate the character? There’s little room for fluff.
Sounds tough, doesn’t it? It is. But I think that it’s totally worth it. I’m not the guy who wants to wait weeks, more often months and sometimes years to see my project completed. In High School woodshop, I didn’t have the patience to build a sideboard or a dresser. I was the guy who built a gunrack out of four pieces of red cedar so I could finish in a week. Never mind that my parents didn’t own guns. Grandpa did.
Short stories aren’t instant gratification, but they certainly are completed a lot sooner than a novel. Instead of one, two or maybe three projects a year, I can easily finish two per month. More, if I really work at it. They may not net me a five-thousand-dollar advance, but they will sell.
Now consider my ability to learn and master my craft. I don’t think that anyone will argue with me when I say that the two most important parts of any story are the hook and the denouement. Without a strong hook, you aren’t likely to get the reader to read your whole story. Without a satisfying denouement, you leave the reader feeling unsatisfied, cheated or confused. Getting these two parts right, takes practice. I’ve heard more than one professional writer say that it takes approximately half-a-million words to be really competent as a professional.
Let’s do the math. A novelist will write six or seven books to reach that word count. That’s six or seven hooks and six or seven denouements. As a short-story writer, I will have written over one hundred and forty of each before I reach a half-million words.
Finally, let’s look at profitability. Let’s assume that our novelist has seven titles in his or her half-million words. It’s taken him or her say three years of hard work to write these books and they can expect to continue to produce two books per year. I, will have produced around 140 short stories, and will continue to produce about thirty per year. If our novelist sells his book on Amazon at $14.95 per copy and sells one copy of each title, he will earn $73.25. If I sell my short stories on Amazon at $1.99 and sell one copy of each title, I will earn $97.51. Not only do I earn over thirty percent more than my novelist friend, but I can also combine stories into collections with some of the more popular stories in each and sell them for $15.95 for 25 stories. So now, I have 5 more products earning another $55.83. Selling just one of each title, I earn $153.34 compared to my novelist friend’s $73.25, more than twice as much for the exact same word count.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s not a thing wrong with writing novels. I’m continuing to work on mine and plan to be a successful novelist one day. But I’m sixty-seven years old. I don’t have all that much time to perfect my craft and writing short stories gives me a lot more bang for the buck.