Category Archive: Rules For Authors

Rules For Authors

May 26

Melodee’s Rule for Authors — Number Thirty-One



Number Thirty-One

Size Matters


And it matters in more than one way, too.

People tend to make up their own definitions, but let me give you the industry-standard ones right up front…

Flash – Less than 1,000 words
Short Story – 1,001 to 7,499 words
Novelette – 7,500 to 17,499 words
Novella – 17,500 to 39,999 words
Novel – 40,000 to 79,999 words
Long Novel – 80,000 to 119,999 words
Jumbo Novel – More than 120,000 words

These are the lengths used throughout the publishing industry. Some publishers may have others like Super Flash (less than 500 words) and Super Novel (more than 160,000 words) but the above are pretty well universal.

The size of what you write makes a huge difference in your sales and income.

At first glance, it would seem bigger is better…after all, in general, a Long Novel will command a higher price than a Short Story. This first glance is true in terms of the dollars per sale, but there is more to the equation.

If we are talking about a fairly typical author, the general rule is you will sell fewer longer works at a higher price than you will shorter works at a lower price.

This implies shorter books may very well make more money for you, but there is a point of diminishing returns. That is, at some point your books become so short and are priced so high (in terms of cents per word) that no one will buy them.

Just a few caveats here…first, there are some authors who are known for long books. Stephen King could write a 2,000,000 word novel and price it at $300 and it will sell about the same number of copies as any of his (slightly) shorter works. Second, there are some genres where longer books are very popular. Hard science fiction comes to mind. Many publishers in this and similar genres won’t accept manuscripts below a certain size. Thirdly, readers come to expect works of a certain length from an author. This means if you are known for writing (let’s say) Long Novels, don’t be too surprised if your new Novella flops like a fish on the beach. And fourth, for ebook-only releases, shorter books (Novella or smaller) often sell very well because many readers will view the book on a mobile device while they have a few minutes of spare time, like waiting at the doctor’s office.


For most of us in most genres in today’s world of simultaneous print and ebook releases, the magic number is in the range of the upper half of Novella to the lower half of Novel as defined above. For those who don’t want to page up, that’s about 30,000 to 60,000 words.

There is one final money issue to keep in mind, especially if you self-publish…Amazon (and others) are kicking around (internally) the idea of charging higher fees for both very long works (they take up more server space and bandwidth to transfer) AND very short works (they still need a certain amount of storage and administration). There is a chance ebook publishers may jump on this bandwagon as well by paying (or at least offering) lower royalties on similarly-sized ebooks.

But the real bottom line for most authors is going to come down to finding a story length that both sells well and that you are comfortable working with. If either of these things is missing, you’re going to either go broke or crazy.

Maybe both!

Keep Loving!



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May 19

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Thirty



Number Thirty

Thou Shalt Not Snark


(This Rule was triggered by a production meeting I attended in Los Angeles where the other two writers on a project were nipping at each other like a pair of chihuahuas.)

Isaac Asimov said in The Foundation Trilogy: “Violence…is the last resort of the incompetent.” I believe this applies to physical and verbal attacks equally.

Since I started writing professionally back in 1986, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry. Not so many in the readers and what they want, but still a few. There is, however, one constant, and it’s the one thing that bugs me—and this one really bothers the crap out of me:

The snarking I see between authors not only in one of the several hundred private forums I participate in but even in public settings. Sometimes the attacks are very personal and I can’t help but wonder if these two people just plain hate each other for some reason. If so, perhaps the best solution would be 12 rounds with a three-knockdown rule and no saving by the bell.

But often the snarking is because one of the writers feels that the other (or others) is somehow picking on them. Usually it’s over something trivial like, “I love MS Word [insert version]” and someone else says, “If you don’t use MS Word [insert a different version] then you’re not doing it right!” In this case, both sides need to take a step back and see if they aren’t overreacting a bit.

Bet they are.

Frankly, most of these arguments are because one or the other side is envious (or even full-on jealous) of the other. In more than a few cases, the two sides feel that way about each other. The exact dynamics are, of course, variable and detailed.

But there are two simple facts that apply in all cases…

(1) Both sides need to look at their behavior, act like adults, and stop the nonsense.

(2) The readers (in the public forums) and the other authors (in the private areas) find no end of amusement in the childish behavior of the combatants.

It’s easy to stop…

Unless one person says something like, “And you, Betty-Lou, are a terrible author because you use a lot of split infinitives…”, then do NOT assume the poster is talking about you.

In other words, you are NOT the center of the universe and all creation doesn’t revolve around you.


More to the point, and perhaps more politically correct (not my strong suit), is to actually understand, believe, and apply the concept that everyone finds their own way in this world. Don’t just pay lip service to the idea…you see that a lot, too.

You and the other person will be much happier this way.

In our trivial MS Word example, wouldn’t it be easier for the second person to accept that the first writer does things differently and just move on? By the same token, author #1 needs to understand that what works for them isn’t universal and never can be. There is no need for any disagreement at all.

Unless you either: (A) Are envious (jealous?) of the other person, or (B) Enjoy having a victim mentality hanging out to show the world.

In many cases, the attackee will simply ignore the attacker, and you would think the attacker would just quietly stop the nonsense. Sadly, with authors, that rarely happens because the ego of the attacker will force them to continue to act poorly.

Oh, and remember the bit about the readers and other authors finding it all amusing? Well, also remember that publishers, producers, directors, and a slew of other professionals are likely reading along, too. At some point, the readers and professionals will get tired of the snarking and write one or both of you off as being incompetent kooks.

Problem is neither of you will know it has happened until it’s too late to save your sales.

Keep Loving!

(Oh, in case you’re wondering, the two writers were arguing because one thought the other was attacking his professionalism because he said, “Wow…all this red ink makes my eyes cross after a while.” And it was the producer who put the red ink on the draft script.)



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May 12

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty-Nine



Number Twenty-Nine

Have Book, Will Travel


Yep, just like Paladin on TV.

Well, sort of…

For most writers, there will come a time in their career when they will need to travel. Sometimes it’s to a convention. Others it may be to do a business meeting. And there may come a time when you’ll need to actually do an appearance tour.

Yeah, yeah…you can do a lot of that electronically. Sure you can. If you’re willing to give up a huge part of the impact and effect. Then again, if you’re making $10,000 a year and figure a tour to NYC will result in a 25% increase in sales, and the trip will cost you $5,000 to make, just stay home. Again, maybe.

People love to meet “celebrities”, and like it or not, we authors are celebrities in the eyes of our readers. I used to go to Comicon, Dragoncon, and a slew of other you-name-it-cons as a number of my pen names. It was fun and you get to see and meet a lot of fun people. You also get to see and meet a good number of absolute nut cases. But the simple fact is you will see a dramatic spike in sales after such an appearance.

The same goes for less, um…esoteric conventions. An appearance at the RT convention will boost sales. Ditto for other similar gatherings. Even a single signing at a single bookstore will usually pay for itself.

And don’t forget the college lecture circuits…you can easily get $25,000 plus expenses for a two-hour lecture to a group of grad students who can’t string more than seven words together into a coherent sentence.

What this means is you need to get out there and pound the pavement and press the flesh. Oh dear God…I’m channeling Zig Ziglar!

If you’re thinking of making some appearances that are more or less local to your area, that’s something you can probably set up on your own without too great an effort. For more ambitious outings, you’ll likely need some sort of help. A good personal assistant can usually do it, but as I’ve said, good a good PA isn’t cheap.

Also, if you are traditionally published, talk to your publisher about kicking in a few dollars to help with expenses. If you’re doing an appearance at a bookstore, the publisher and store will often pick up the tab for signage and such, and they will make sure the store has a good supply of books on hand. And yes, there will come a time when the publishers and stores will pick up the entire tab for you.

Besides, if you ask, the worst thing they could say is “no”.

And never forget that writing is a lot like sex…

At first you do it because it’s fun and it feels good.

Then you do it for people you really like.

But if you’re any good at all, you end up doing it for money.

Keep Loving!



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May 05

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty-Eight



Number Twenty-Eight

Get Thee A Pen Name…Or Several


If you don’t have at least one pen name, you really need to get a few.

Pen names do a bunch of things for you…they protect your identity from the crazies out there (and there are plenty of them…I have the scars from a butcher knife on my back to prove it). They allow you to have a more interesting name than Jane Doe. And, perhaps most important, they let you work in a range of genres.

An author’s name tends to be associated—by readers, publishers, and the industry in general—to a specific genre. In short, would you buy a horror story written by Dr. Seuss? How about a children’s book by Dean Koonce? Probably not. Neither will the rest of the market. There are those who say this isn’t true these days, but frankly, they’re kidding themselves. I know a number of well-known authors who have submitted works to publishers under one name only to be told to use a different name because the publisher knows they will lose sales. It happens to me on a regular basis. Another issue is that a certain “profile” for an author (things like age, gender, marital/relationship status, and much more) will sell better in one genre than in another.

In the print world, most contracts have clauses prohibiting both parties from revealing connections between pen names and real names. This is because the publisher may have a ton of money invested in a book and anything that might reduce sales will hurt their bottom line.

The e-pubs have yet to start worrying about this. I really don’t know why other than the herd mentality at most e-pubs…if they have 10,000 writers in their stable, who cares if one isn’t selling?

The self-publication outlets don’t worry about it because they make their money other ways instead of selling books. Another factor is that, according to contacts inside of Amazon, just over 1% of the authors publishing through them ever release more than one book. Fewer than 0.25% ever release more than 5 books and less than 0.003% release more than 25.

There is, however, a downside to pen names…if you self or e-publish and/or don’t have an agent/representative/personal assistant, you have to do all of your own promotion. Every time you add a new pen name to your portfolio, you increase your workload exponentially.

I’m often asked how many pen names are good…that depends. I know some authors who have fifty or more. I know others who have less than half a dozen.

Me? I have 22 active and maybe another eight or so I consider as inactive, though I do use them maybe once every six years or so. The personas are all over the place in terms of gender, age, and so on. In short, the names and persona are designed to best fit the genre and target market.

The only name I do any of my own promo and such for is this one…

My real name.

For the other names, as the old saying goes, I have people for that.

Keep Loving!



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Apr 28

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty-Seven



Number Twenty-Seven

Have A Clear Understanding Of Success


How do you define your success as a writer?

Is it measured by how many books you release? Maybe by how many books you sell? What about by how many awards you win? Something else, perhaps?

For most authors, but by no means all, success is measured in terms of income. And note that there may not be a connection between income and books sold…if you pocket a dime per book and sell 50,000 copies you may not break-even on expenses. On the other hand, if you get $4.50 per book, you’re pushing a quarter of a million dollars in income.

I want you to take care when comparing your income to that of other authors. Not only can that practice be a road to grief, but it’s damned near impossible to get actual numbers…

Getting sales numbers from publishers is pretty easy (if they are publicly traded), but that covers copies sold and income to the publisher, not what is paid to the authors. Depending on the accounting system used by the publisher, you may see a line item on the P&L for “Royalty Obligations” (or something similar), but more often the amounts will just be lumped under general liabilities. You also have no way to group pen names together under one real person…in other words, a particular writer may make only $500,000 a year gross per pen name, but he might have two-dozen pen names.

At the same time, writers tend to be secretive about their income. I don’t know of a single full-time, professional author who will give you a straight answer about how much they make. Most writers I know will even lie to researchers about their income just to mess with them. Playing games with amounts made by the author’s various pen names is also common. Frankly, it’s not a damn bit of your (or anyone else’s) business how much I make. (As for me personally, all of my income from writing goes into my privately held corporation. I am not required to release any financial information and I don’t do it at all. There are many things my company does, and my personal financial input is about 2% of the corporation’s total earnings. And I get paid from the corporation by way of both royalties on my writings and salary as the CEO and board chair.)

All of this conspires to make it rough on relatively new writers to figure out where they stand dollar-wise.

But it simply doesn’t matter when it comes to figuring out how you’re doing success-wise.

Here are a couple of questions I’d like you answer…

(1) Are you happy doing what you’re doing? (What you’re doing doesn’t matter…you might be spending 100 hours a week writing, or one hour a month.)

(2) Can you pay your bills doing what you’re doing? (And it also doesn’t matter if your writing income pays 100% of the bills or lets you get a Big Mac meal every quarter when the royalty check comes in.)

If you answered “yes” to both questions, then you are successful. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not…most especially do not let yourself tell you that!

If, however, you answered “no” to one or both questions, then you need to figure out how to change your answer(s).

How to do that is usually much easier than most people think, despite the fact that most people want to make it complicated. All you need do is avoid falling into the traps set by people who have allowed themselves to fail and want everyone else to fail as well. As Grandma used to say, “Misery loves company.”

And there are LOTS of them out there. Luckily they are easy to spot, and a little common sense applied to their comments and actions make them glow in the dark. Many times, the comments will focus on how wrong one group or another in the industry are doing things, and they will always be nebulous or subjective in nature. Usually both.

Ignore them and move forward so you can answer both questions in the affirmative.

Keep Loving!



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Apr 21

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty-Six



Number Twenty-Six

There Are No Limits


I’m talking about limits on what you can write.

There is no essential difference between writing a short story, a novella, a novel, a teleplay, a screenplay, or an audio book. (And yes, you can write something aimed at being an audio book only.) The limits here really come from two places…

First, they are marketed differently. If you, as an example, approach a motion picture production company with a screenplay the same way you would approach a publisher with a novel, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

Second, many writers THINK they are different and say something like, “I can’t do that!” to themselves.

To solve these problems, let’s look at each but in reverse order…

There’s not much I can do to convince you that you can write (let’s say) a screenplay. If you really believe you can’t do it, odds are you can’t. Let me just say that I think you CAN do it.

As for the marketing side, there are a couple of ways to do that…you can have multiple agents to shop your work around in different market segments. You can have one agent do it all, but I have never heard of a traditional agent that does this. Or you can get an actual representative to handle the sales.

No matter how you do it, there is a ton of money on the table here. For the last eight years or so, I’ve been writing scripts for “unscripted reality shows”. No, you didn’t read it wrong. In a nutshell, there are about 20-30 episodes per year for a typical show. I get well into five figures per episode. I can write an entire season in a couple of weeks. In other words, I can count on about $1-million a year per series. That junk is a no-brainer and easy money. As the old conman said, “There are pigeons to be plucked.”

And also remember the other less obvious markets like video games, other RPG venues, and similar things. They all need special approaches by the writer, but they are fairly easy to do and represent a pile of money waiting for a taker.

Then there’s the cosplay segment…you get a royalty every time someone puts on the costume, though there may be good reason to take a pass on the royalty and not make a dime on the cosplay deal. It’s called publicity.

I can go on and on about the upside to being diverse, but I’ll bet you’re more interested in the downside, and there is one…


Most authors are control freaks. We see our books as our children and don’t want any changes. We want total creative control. Well, folks, when you branch out into screen and teleplays in particular, you may need to give up that control, at least at first.

As an example, you might spend ten pages in a novel setting the scene, painting the picture for the reader. In a screenplay, you will say something like, “Fred enters Mary’s office.” It is the job of the director and actors to create the setting for the viewer. You, as the writer, are out of the loop in most cases, though I have worked with a fair number of directors who want me sitting next to them as much as possible while shooting…they want to make sure the scene fits my image.

Some writers can’t deal with that, and it’s a shame.

They lose a lot of money and a huge audience.

Keep Loving!



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Apr 07

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty-Five



Number Twenty-Five

Take Care When Revising Your Story…You May Break It


Every writer does it. Professional authors are not an exception either. Just because we’ve been in the business for a few years, that doesn’t mean we aren’t just a little stupid sometimes.

Besides, the temptation is simply too great…you’re working along at your normal writing speed of 5,000 words per hour and write a line. That line makes you think of a passage someplace earlier in the book, so you go back and make some changes there. As you do that, you remember that this change impacts some other place in the book, so you go to fix that. And it turns into a big domino-effect of never-ending changes.

Like I said, we’ve all done this.

And as the vaudevillian physician once said…

Don’t do that!

Rest assured that if you fall into this trap, the odds are very good you will irreparably break your story.

When it comes to the point of view of the author and in the time before the story is in the actual publishing process, there are two phases to writing a story…

First of all, we have what I like to call “Writing The Story.” OK, it ain’t all that great of a name, but it works. This is when you are actually creating the story, characters and all. As the creative juices are flowing, your mind is in just exactly the wrong mode to deal with details. You should just write when in this phase. Don’t worry about details like spelling, punctuation, grammar, and all the rest. In fact, don’t get too hung up on internal consistency, either. Just write. Get the big picture down on paper, and do it without interruption as much as possible. And when it comes to breaks for eating and sleeping, remember that you’ve wanted to lose a few pounds anyway and you can sleep when you’re dead.

Next we enter the phase I call “Revising The Story”. I know…still not a great name, but it tells you what you need to know. This is when you sweat the details, particularly internal consistency and characters. Do settings used in the story always look the same? (That is, was the light switch on the left side of the door EVERY time the character turned on the lights?) How about the characters themselves? Is their hair the same color all the time? Do things make sense within the context of the story? Your brain is in a very different mode now, and you can focus on the details.

If you try to revise when you should be creating, things will get hopelessly tied in knots. The odds are you will end up just deleting the entire work and starting over.

Don’t do that!

Take things in order…write the book, and then revise the book.

And remember what Hemingway said: “Write drunk. Edit sober.”

But, there is something else here I need to say, especially to the budding writers out there…

At some point, you are done writing, revising, and editing. I can’t tell you when that is, but there will come a time when you just need to stop. The story and the mechanics are as good as you can make them, and it’s then time to submit the work to the publishers.

I bring this up because I know dozens of wannabe authors who have been working on the same book for more than a decade. I would bet they will still be working on it ten years from now. Just start shopping the thing around, for crying out loud!

Note that I am not talking about the projects that most authors have that have been pushed so far onto the back burner that it fell down behind the stove. That’s something else we all do, but it’s different. These things are being left to sit and not worked much, if at all, because of other concerns. Like deadlines.

The books that end up in infinite revisions are usually an aspiring author’s first book. They fear the rejection, and I can assure you that a lot of that will be forthcoming. They also fear that the editing process will change their book…actually, they see the book as their baby.

It happens to all of us. Get over it, grow a pair, and move on.

All stories need revision. And I am being absolute here…there has never been a story that didn’t need revision. Ever.

Just be careful that your mind is in the right mode before you start your revisions. Make sure that you don’t break the story because you are making changes as opposed to revisions.

Revisions make things consistent and logical while changes create a new story.

Keep Loving!



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Mar 31

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty-Four



Number Twenty-Four

Beware Of Publishers Bearing Gifts


OK…this is an exceedingly rare problem, but I learned this Rule the hard way.

A few of you reading this may be old enough to remember the payola scandals of the 1950’s. Many more may be familiar with the events through research or just general interest. In short, the term “payola” refers to the practice of paying someone for a favorable placement of some product.

In the 1950’s, a number of radio stations and on-air personalities were accused of—and in some cases prosecuted for—accepting money and other “gifts” for playing certain songs more often than others in order to make the song more popular. You can read more about the payola scandal on Wikipedia here:

At some of the less-than-reputable publishers—particularly in the e-publishing arena—the practice is still alive and well…

There are publishers who will pay for reviews. In some cases, the payment amount is tied to the number of stars (or whatever) that the reviewer gives the book. In most cases, the writer never even knows this is happening…the publisher sends the book out to a number of reviewers, and it all just sort of happens.


A new author with their first few books will always think that their book is the best ever written by anyone. After you have a number of books under your belt, you will know when you write a really good story and when you write crap. Also, you will sometimes see a bunch of reviews with two or three stars, and then out of the blue comes a five-star review. None of the issues addressed in the two-star reviews are mentioned by the five-star reviewer, and it seems they think your story is the best thing since War and Peace. And there will be patterns where all of the reviews done by a particular person or review group will be good, no matter what the story.

All of these are red flags…it’s not hard to see why you should be suspicious of this, but the real question is, “So what?”

In a nutshell, should someone in the Department of Justice (or similar agency in another country) decide to get pushy and look into this, you—the author—could be in deep shit.

Think about this…

Can you PROVE—in a court of law—that you had no idea this was going on and that you did not have a hand in the deal? That whole idea of being innocent until proven guilty is a crock…in most countries there is no such legal protection, and in many that do have it, it is a farce. You must PROVE that you are innocent against government charges.

If convicted, the penalties range wildly from one country to another. In most cases, we’re talking about a fine at the worst. In others, you might do jail time.

The best defense is to stay alert.

Stick with reputable, well known publishers. Odds are that they don’t do this in the first place, and they would never risk their reputation.

Look for the red flags. Don’t get hung up on reviews, but pay attention to the big picture and look for patterns. If you see things, ask the publisher point blank about this, and do it in writing (email is OK) so you have a record of it. Just in case. Also keep in mind that many reviewers of e-books are just readers. They have no standards in place for objectively reviewing books, so it is all 100% personal opinion and nothing more. It is possible that a particular reader will love your book while pretty much everyone else thinks it sucks.

If you have an agent, you can mention your suspicions to them. They won’t do anything, but you can ask.

If you have a real representative, definitely ask them. Odds are they have vetted the publisher and won’t touch the bad ones with a ten-foot pole, but things change. They will look into the matter.

And then we have the other side of the coin…

The number of publishers who do this kind of thing is exceedingly small. Just as a rough estimate, I would say that 0.01% of all publishers is too big a number. The odds of you hooking up with one of this tiny fraction are pretty slim.

And the odds are very much against someone actually deciding to look into the practice and taking legal action over it. Frankly, governments have better things to do than get in the middle of a few reviewers and publishers…like fixing their failing economies.

If you only self-publish, this shouldn’t be an issue at all. Well, unless you actually ARE paying for a good review.

More common in the self-published world is the so-called “review trade”. It often goes by other similar names, but the idea is that two writers review each other’s books. The (usually) unspoken rule is “I’ll give you five stars if you give me five stars”. I would avoid this practice. While not illegal, the ethics are very questionable. Any decent prosecutor will hang your butt out to dry.

Finally, don’t get all wrapped up around the axle on this. There is an old saying where I come from in the Ozarks…

Don’t sweat the petty things…and don’t pet the sweaty things.

Keep Loving!



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Mar 24

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty-Three



Number Twenty-Three

Listen To Your Readers, Not The “Experts”


Of all the rules, this could very well be the hardest one to learn and—more to the point—follow.

We all want the approval of someone we consider to be an expert of some sort or another. That expert might be a teacher, a respected or admired peer, a critic, or even a particular publisher. It might even be someone else in an entirely unrelated field, but it will always be someone that we see as important to us.

Most people see successful writers as arrogant. I don’t get that confusion. We ARE arrogant. I really don’t care if I hurt someone’s feelings, though I will never deliberately hurt someone. If the truth hurts their feelings, that is not my concern. The fact is that the truth can hurt. I’m about as politically incorrect as you can get. I think that 99% of the people in the world take life far too seriously and are looking for ways to assert their right to have everything sugar coated for them. As Sergeant Hulka said, “Lighten up, Francis.” In short, the only person I need to impress is me.

And yet even I sometimes catch myself wondering how someone will react to one of my actions.

The simple fact is that we all, as authors, must do what the little voices in our heads tell us to do and shut out those who would force us to compromise our individuality.

This in no way contradicts Rule Number Twenty-Two…I am not talking so much about what we write as opposed to how we write. In a word, voice.

One very common definition is:

“The author’s voice (also known as writer’s voice) is the style in which a story is presented, including, among other things, the syntax, diction, person, and dialogue.”

Each writer has their own voice. Mine is different from yours. Yours is different from, say, Stephen King’s. Stephen’s is different from Niven’s. You get the idea. No two writers will have the same voice.

Generally speaking, your voice is made up of a staggeringly large number of things…your past, your present, your education, your experiences, your dreams, your nightmares, people you know, people you admire, the time and place in which you live, books you have read, books you have written, and a myriad of other things all go in to the forming of your voice. Looking at this, it’s clear why no two writers will have the same voice…after all, no two people have all of these things in common.

We are all individuals.

And it is your voice that all of the experts—no matter why they are in that category—will want you to change.

And it is this change that you must resist.

In a nutshell, an expert will want you to change so your voice is more like theirs. Think about it…we all believe our voice is the best one out there, and the experts are no exception to this rule. So, since they have the best voice, you would be better off to make your voice more like theirs.


Your voice is the best for you. Your voice is the only thing that sets you apart from all of the other writers out there. It is your voice that the readers like and plop down their hard-earned cash for.

People, ignore the experts…there are but a few of them and they aren’t buying your books anyway.

Listen to your readers…there are literally billions of them and they ARE buying your books.

Read the letters (paper and email) from your readers. Take to heart the things they say, especially if you get more than two letters saying essentially the same thing.

Watch the many mailing lists on the Internet for what your readers are saying there.

Watch blogs where readers post and pay attention to how they react to things, especially about your books.

When you do a signing or other personal appearance, talk to the readers. Besides, taking the extra time to talk to the readers will piss off your agent/representative…you know: Time is Money.

In other words, stay in touch with your readers. Be active…or more correctly, be proactive.

I wish I could give you some concrete examples, but I can’t because the number of variables and variations are far too great. I’ll just say that you will know when the readers like something and when they don’t like something.

Trust me…you’ll know.

And never forget to ignore the experts. Never read reviews…all that will do is piss you off. Never ask another writer how to word something…that will blend your voice with theirs. Never ask an English major how to word something…you’ll end up sounding like a text book. Automatically reject any re-writes by an editor…they have no clue how to write and even less idea of what your voice is.

(Let me clarify that last bit…if a good editor finds a problem, they will never offer a rewrite. They will simply say that the section needs to be rewritten and leave that up to you. If the editor does offer a rewrite, trash it and rewrite the section yourself, in your voice.)

Always remember that it is the readers who are paying you, and listen to your boss.

Keep Loving!



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Mar 17

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty-Two



Number Twenty-Two

Write What Will Sell


I know, I know…

Everyone who writes for a living should know this, but it seems everyday there are examples proving that’s not the case.

At this point, we do need to draw a distinction between the types of writers as the industry sees things. Generally speaking, there are two kinds:

(1) First we have the professionals. These are people who are trying to make a living writing, though they may not be able to quit that day job yet. They are published by a real publisher—usually more than one—and they work at the craft to get better and widen their markets. Some are also self-published. In the industry, we call these people “Authors”.

(2) Second are the people who play with writing. The vast majority are not published, though many will self-publish through one outlet or another. They have a “real job” and do not count on their works for income. Most of these people don’t worry too much about the market or improving their skills or their works. In the industry, these are “Writers”.

Personally, I never cared a lot for the industry’s separation of Authors and Writers. But it doesn’t matter what I like. That’s the way it is.

Also, if you actually do write for the fun of it, then none of this applies to you. But don’t try to distract the people who want to write for a living with comments about how everyone should be like you. In other words, not everyone is able or happy making four or five figures a year and having a few hundred fans.

To be blunt, the Writers can stop reading now. The rest of this doesn’t matter to you.

You Authors, keep reading…we’re gonna make some money today.

I can assure you there is at least one person reading this who has no idea why it is important to write what will sell. For the rest of you, skip the next paragraph…

You can write the best book on the planet, but if no one buys it, you’re going broke. Everyone points at the success of JK Rowling, but imagine for a moment that no one wanted to hear about a bunch of wizard-trainees…Jo would still be broke.

OK, everyone back with me?

Watch the market…what books are selling? What genres are hot? What are other authors writing? What are the publishers buying? What are the bookstores pushing?

These are the areas where you need to work, too. Ride the wave, so to speak, and reap the rewards.

If you were like the Writers, you could say, “I write what I want to write, and the readers can go to hell if they don’t like it.” Just don’t quit that day job, because you’ll starve to death.

But you are an Author, not a Writer. The difference is having a four or five digit income instead of a seven or eight figure income.

And don’t think for a moment that you—or anyone else—has any clue how much other authors make. Authors are privately held corporations and do not report incomes to anyone. A few will give out vague—often fictitious—numbers when asked. The bottom line is that how much I make is none of your damn business.

Anyway, you look at what is selling and put your own unique twist to the story, your voice comes through, and your books will stand out.

In other words, you do not have to write stories that are far outside of the current hot spots in order to get noticed. You just have to make the hot spot fit your way of doing things.

Readers fall into a few very well defined groups…

(1) You have readers who like you and your stories and will buy a dog turd if it has your name on the front and picture on the back. Maybe 0.0001% of all readers are here.

(2) You have readers who hate you and wouldn’t buy your books if God ordered them to. Again, this group might be 0.0001% of all readers.

(3) But most readers have never heard of you or your books. This group is—for most authors—better than 99.9998% of all readers.

Just to make it clear, 99.9998% or more of the readers have no clue who you are and they buy books based on what is hot in the market right now.

So, you write a new book, and it’s something that isn’t on the hot sheet now. The readers in group 1 above will buy it, but that’s about it.

Now, you write a book that is something that is hot at the moment. The group 1 readers will still buy it, but so will at least a few people in group 3.

No, the readers in group 2 will never buy your books. Fuck ’em.

But with the hot topic book, you pick up some sales. Also, some people from group 3 will fall in love with you and move over to group 1.

This is a win-win scenario.

Figuring out the market can be a lot of work, and it always takes a lot of time. This is where having a good partner can be invaluable.

An agent might—maybe—provide you some feedback and advice. Most won’t.

A representative will always tell you what’s happening in the market. As soon as you turn in a manuscript, they will let you know what’s cooking right now and for the next few months so you can adjust your next book accordingly.

Just a note here…a REALLY good personal assistant will be able to do a lot of this, too. But the good ones don’t come cheap. You’re looking at probably $100,000 a year if not more.

The agent will leave you to fend for yourself, but the representative will help you so you can do what you do best…


Keep Loving!



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