For those of you who may not have noticed yet, my personal website has been completely reworked and updated. If you’re reading this on my Facebook author page, you can find the website at www.dennisdotywebsite.com. I’m really into original titles like that. It helps me remember where to find them.
Anyway, as I was saying, my friend, Kari Holloway, tore into my website this past week and I think the results are superb. If you think so, too, you can find her in her office at KH Formatting, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KHFormat/.
We’ve updated the testimonials on my editing and proofreading pages, as well as added an Interviews Page and an Awards Page. There’s new graphics, and we introduced my personal assistant, Peanut.
There are new links to contact me, follow my blog, and to sign-up for an upcoming newsletter. I hope that you’ll drop by, have a look and let me know what you think. If there’s a topic you’d like me to cover in a future blog post, please use the “Contact Me” and let me know.
In the meanwhile, I’ll be sitting here in the corner working on my novel and doing some editing for Oghma Creative Media and a client or two. Until next time.
Does Your Computer Google?
Ridiculous question, right? Yet, this post, like most of my blog posts, is based on things I’ve personally seen in the past week. Of course, our computers are all capable of a Google search. The real question is, do you, as a writer, avail yourself of this ability, and how well?
Many writers take the “Write what you know” adage to heart and only write about those things they have personal experience with. Most of those who do, write wonderfully boring autobiographical accounts of deeds and ideas which may be of some value to historians in the far distant future. Some, take a less literal approach to this ancient wisdom, and attempt to infuse their fiction with emotions they have personally experienced. Their prose is far more readable, yet something is still lacking. That something, I believe, is a sense of wonder, of discovery that delights the author and, in turn, the reader.
Some writers discover this. Others only sense or suspect it. Yet, having reached this point, they set out deliberately to write about that which they don’t know. They want to tell tales of giants, and mountain men, of fairies and naval heroes. They want to write of the things they have only dreamt, and here is where they encounter the that step-sister of personal experience; research. At least, I hope they do.
I am a writer of westerns, and yet the Old West was gone long before I took my first breath. I have never been a mountain man, a cavalry trooper, a saloon keeper, or a bounty hunter. I’ve never rounded up wild mustangs or been on a cattle drive, never fought Comanches or spent a winter in a snow-bound line shack. Yet, I write of these things and some even say that I do so with an authority and understanding which the year of my birth belies.
I do so by reading, researching, and reading some more. Over a long period of time, I’ve built a certain imperfect expertise regarding the places and times that I write about. I’ve talked to old-time cowboys, many of whom heard the stories direct from those who lived them, who were there at the time and in the places that I write about. I have read the accounts and researched the customs, the equipment and the techniques. I’ve driven and walked across much of the landscape.
So, when I pick up a book about the Old West and read of a character who doesn’t fit in that time-=frame because of his habits, morals, manner of speaking, dress or equipage, it annoys me. If the errors are consistent and repetitive, it tells me that the author either didn’t care enough to do the work, or that he or she has a computer that just won’t Google.
An example of this occurred this week in a writing group in which I’m a member. A person posted requesting help with their story. They said that the story involved a well-known Native American tribe, gave the name of the female main character, and stated that the character’s unborn child was to be the next chief of the tribe.
When I finished banging my head on my keyboard, I responded, asking where they had found the character’s name. The answer, as I knew it would be, was “I made it up.” Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with a made-up name. However, this name had none of the standard word endings or common consonant sounds of the tribal language, and was more in keeping with the sound and construction of words found in some African languages.
I then provided a link for research specific to the tribe in question, including what tribal leaders were called and how they were chosen. The person asked why I had sent the link and I replied that I thought that they might want to select an actual name which might have been used by the tribe and see how their leaders were chosen. She thanked me and stated that she had fully researched tribal customs and the name couldn’t be changed because “that is her name.”
I did the wise thing and simply walked away. Unfortunately, this person is nearing completion of a book they intend to self-publish. When they do, it is nearly inevitable that a member of the tribe will see or hear of it. This writer has set herself up for one or more scathingly bad reviews as well as fully justified accusations of cultural appropriation simply because she refuses to take advantage of a five-minute Google search. Instead, she will add to the mountain of poorly written misinformation accumulating in this age of easy self-publishing.
As writers, we have a higher calling than this. We should be doing our utmost to get even the details right, especially when dealing with other cultures who have been misrepresented for centuries due to prejudice and outright hatred. So, I ask again, does your computer Google?
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