Tag: Rules for Authors

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Nine

 

 

Number Nine

Final Drafts Are Still Pretty Rough

 

OK, maybe they’re REALLY rough.

No matter how carefully you read your manuscript, there will be errors. Grammar, spelling, syntax, and all of the rest will creep in and entrench the errors so deep that you, as the writer, can’t even see them. Logic and flow errors are even worse.

The reason for this is very simple, and my great grandma summed it up nicely when she said, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.”

In other words, you are too close.

Get people to read your manuscript. For grammar, spelling, and other mechanical issues, anyone with a reasonable grasp of high school level English will do. Even family will work.

For logic and flow, for God’s sake do NOT use a family member or close friend! They will ignore problems because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, even if the problem is glaring. Find someone who will be totally honest with you, even if it hurts.

If you have a representative, they will have editors who will help you, and they will be brutally honest with you. Trust me, that’s gonna hurt. And it will leave a mark…a mark that you will remember and help you grow and become a better writer.

Keep Loving!

 

 

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Eight

 

 

Number Eight

Don’t Fear The Editors

 

This Rule is a rough one for most writers, no matter if they are a seasoned professional author with decades in the business or if they are a new writer struggling with their first story. Editors can be intimidating, and that’s a good thing.

It is the editor—at least the good ones—who will push the writer to make the story better. From the line editor looking for grammatical and spelling errors to the content editor looking for continuity and logic in the story, they all have the aim of making your story the best it can be. In order to do that job right, they must be critical and on the offensive all of the time.

Over the years, I’ve come to know that the quality of the editor is directly proportional to the amount of red ink on my manuscript when I get it back. I know I’m not perfect, and I have never written the perfect manuscript. There are always errors, always problems, and the more of those the editor finds and flags the better they did their job.

Many new writers see the relationship between them and the editor as one of an adversarial nature, but nothing could be farther from the truth. This is a cooperative relationship, one where the writer and editor are a team working towards the common goal of producing a story that will sell. We have the same objective in mind…to entertain the reader and to sell books.

The editor is not there to rewrite the story. They are there to help the writer find mistakes and to make the story clear and concise. And this can lead to a potential problem…

In the print world, editors very rarely write stories at all. They are editors and that is that. In the world of E-Books, editors are often also writers. These people write their own books, and also work editing the stories of other writers to supplement their income.

And the print world has it right…

By and large, editors are terrible writers, and writers are terrible editors. Why is that?

A writer will tend to let their own voice drift into the works of others as they do an edit. It’s not a deliberate thing, it just happens. As a writer edits the work of another, that little voice that all writers hear will keep saying things like, “…I would say it this way instead…” and it all starts to blend together. I have seen this in numerous E-Books…in the middle of a paragraph, someone else takes over the writing for a few lines.

In similar fashion, an editor trying to write will typically end up with something that, while mechanically and technically correct, will sound stiff and stilted. That is to say that their voice ends up sounding like the style manuals and grammar textbooks.

Editors and writers are two different skill sets, both important to the final product.

I suppose it’s possible to have both skill sets in one person, but the danger for crosstalk between the two functions would be high. Of the tens of thousands of writers and thousands of editors I know, there is exactly one person I know can do both tasks. And it isn’t me!

Writers should not be afraid of the editors. They are there to help the writer and in most cases they succeed.

And this is where things come down to the brass tacks…

If the editor suggests a change, really think about it. If the change makes sense and makes the story better IN THE OPINION OF THE WRITER, then make the change. If not, then reject the change. Don’t be afraid to tell the editor “no”.

It is YOUR story, not theirs. It is YOUR voice, not theirs.

See Rule Number Twenty-One as well.

Keep Loving!

 

 

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Seven

 

 

Number Seven

Never Underestimate The Power Of The Backlist

 

As frightening as it might be, some writers don’t even know what the backlist is. So, let me quote from Wikipedia…

A backlist is a list of older books available from a publisher, as opposed to titles newly published (sometimes called the front list).

Building a strong backlist has traditionally been seen as the way to produce a profitable publishing house, as the most expensive aspects of the publishing process have already been paid for and the only remaining expenses are reproduction costs. A strong backlist is also a form of The Long Tail in modern business plans.

“The backlist is the financial backbone of the book industry, accounting for 25 to 30 percent of the average publisher’s sales,” wrote The New York Times. “Current titles, known as the front list, are often a gamble: they can become best sellers, but they are much more likely to disappear in a flood of returns from bookstores. By contrast, backlist books usually have predicable sales and revenues.”

While this definition is aimed at publishers, the same thing apply to writers…the backlist is a great source of steady revenue. Also, a new release will usually lead to spike in sales of backlist titles.

The lesson to be learned here is that you should always talk up and promote your backlist. Just because a book was released five years ago, that does not mean that there is no more money to be made from that title. Talk about it, spread the word, get readers interested, and convince them to buy that old book.

Every dime you make from the sale of a backlist title is a dime you didn’t have yesterday.

Keep Loving!

 

 

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Six

 

 

Number Six

Odds Are The Style Manual Is Wrong

 

Does anyone really know how many different style manuals are out there? It must be in the hundreds, if not thousands. Every major university has one. Every major publication has one. Pretty much every industry has their own. Some publishers have one they use that they developed. Hell, Wikipedia has their own, too.

This all means that there are no hard and fast rules for style. I promise you that no matter what you do in the written word, you can find at least one style manual saying you’re right and at least one claiming you’re wrong.

And the interesting fact of this is it is authors who decide what is “right” and what is “wrong”. The so-called experts who write the style manuals look to our works to determine what proper style is.

And by the way, so do the so-called experts who write dictionaries.

Yeah, that’s right…we authors are in control.

Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

Anyway…

Style and the nebulous concept of “voice” are closely related. It is an author’s voice that sets them apart from all of the other authors and the thing that readers like about that author. Let me give you an example, and I picked this one because it’s really a non-issue today…

The split infinitive…in short, to quote from the Wikipedia article, “a split infinitive is an English-language grammatical construction in which a word or phrase, usually an adverb or adverbial phrase, comes between the marker ‘to’ and the bare infinitive (uninflected) form of a verb.” Again, quoting from Wikipedia, they point out that: “For example, a split infinitive occurs in the opening sequence of the Star Trek television series: ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’. Here, the adverb ‘boldly’ splits the full infinitive ‘to go’.”

To meet the requirements of most style manuals, Star Trek should have said, “To go boldly where no man has gone before.”

So what? The former statement, as used in the TV series, just plain sounds better.

In other words, the style manual is wrong and the writer is right.

But, as I pointed out earlier, there are a good number of style manuals that say to ignore the split infinitive and use what sounds and flows better.

End of that discussion.

Let me give you another, more real example…

In my books set in the Immortal Love Universe™, the alert reader will note that the military titles of characters are capitalized, even when not used as a proper noun. In something like “Yes, Commander”, it is clear and accepted by generic style manuals that “Commander” should be capitalized because it is a proper noun. In the case of “Look at that bunch of Marines over there”, most generic manuals say that “Marines” should be lower case. But if you look at style manuals geared to the military world, it should indeed be capitalized.

In this case, the style manual used by almost all publishers and publications is just plain wrong.

On the other hand, one could argue that the military manuals are wrong.

So, who really is right?

The author.

Remember…we control what makes it into the style manuals—and the dictionary—so we decide what is right and what is wrong.

Do what you know is right and what fits your voice, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Keep Loving!

 

 

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Five

 

 

Number Five

Agents That Represent Single Titles Instead Of The Author Are Con-Artists

 

Do you have an agent?

If no, you need to look into getting one. To make it to the real big time in the writing industry, you really need representation. Yeah, you can make some money on your own, but not much. (While 100% empirical and based only on casual chats with a few dozens of other professional writers, the limit for non-represented authors looks to be in the $250,000 a year range, and even that’s hard to get. Some of you may be thinking, “Wow! A quarter of a million a year? That would be great!” I know there are a fair number of you reading this who could be doing ten or more times that.)

If you answered “yes”, are you sure your agent is really working hard for you? In many cases, I’ll bet you’re wrong.

For the purpose of this discussion, I use the term “agent” to mean the traditional literary agent as most authors understand it and are familiar with. On the other hand, I use the term “representative” to mean something more, something more closely resembling a talent agent.

Most of the agents out there represent a single book at a time. You send them your manuscript, they read it, and they might accept that story. Then they shop it around and try to sell it to a publisher for you. You then write another story and send it to the agent, and they may or may not accept that one to represent.

WTF is that game?

A representative doesn’t pick and choose stories to accept from a writer. They represent the writer, not a single title. They take the good (and every writer will eventually create a great story) along with the bad (and every writer will produce a steaming pile of crap now and then).

A representative knows the market and the publishers and will work with the writer to make every story better and more attractive to publishers. In most cases, a representative will know after reading a few pages just exactly what publisher to pitch the story to for sale, and they will work with the writer to make the story the best it can be in order to make that sale.

And, as an aside, the representative will know when to bypass the publishers and go instead to producers and studios to get something on video.

When you consider that the best estimates for book releases are in the two-million per annum range and less than 2,000 (0.1%) of these sell more than 25,000 copies, you need all the help you can get.

A representative has editors to pre-edit the story. Simply put, the less editing the publisher has to do, the more likely they are to buy the story, so the representative gets it ready before the publisher ever even sees it.

Sometimes, after reading a story, a representative will come back to the writer and say, “…this is great! I’m gonna have publishers beating down the door for this one!” Other times, they may say something like, “Wow…this really sucks a big one, but if we make a few changes here and there, I can sell it. Just don’t buy that new Mercedes yet.”

So, how can you tell the difference between a typical agent and a representative? That’s actually pretty easy…

The first clue is that an agent will want to see your current story and not much more. That’s because all they want to sell is your current story. A representative will want to see the current story you have for sale AND pretty much everything else you have ever written. This is because the agent wants to sell your book but the representative wants to sell YOU.

Another hint is that many agents will try to impress you with lists of their clients. Actual representatives rarely tell who they work with. And the reps will almost never accept unsolicited submissions…they will contact you.

The next tip is that an agent doesn’t care where you want to be in the industry in five years. A representative cares about how much you want to make, how much time you want to spend with your family, and other things like that because they are looking at the writer as a product to sell, not just the current book.

Agents and representatives are both motivated by money and they are both, essentially, sales people. They are both selling a product, but the product is different.

The agent wants to sell your book. In other words, “How much money can I make selling this story?”

The representative wants to sell you. In other words, “How much money can I make selling this author?”

See the difference here?

Representatives also tend to think long-term while agents think more in the short-term.

In case you’re wondering, all the reps in the industry that I know of charge about the same 15% off the top that agents charge.

Think about things…again, if you really want to make it to the big time, you will need some sort of help.

Keep Loving!

 

 

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Four

 

 

Number Four

If Your “Publisher” Wants Money, They Are A Printer, Not A Publisher

 

See also Rules One, Two, and Three as they are closely related to this Rule.

This Rule summarizes the previous three rather nicely.

Honestly, this is just common sense, and needs very little in the way of expansion. On the other hand, that has never stopped me from expansion anyway.

Look closely at your publisher. Do they want money to edit your story? Do they want you to pay for or provide cover art? Do they want to charge you a fee to read your story? Does your publisher charge you to have your story listed for sale in their catalog?

In other words, are you, as the writer, going to have to pay the publisher any money at all? What about paying for things that are a part of the publisher’s costs of doing business?

If so, you are not dealing with a publisher…you are dealing with a printer.

If you are dealing with a printer, that’s just fine as long as your goal is to be a printed writer. But let me give you a little tip here…save some money and go down to The UPS Store or maybe the FedEx/Kinko’s and just have them print your story. They can do a nice book-like layout and even put a cover on it (if you provide the art) and make you as many copies as you like.

Yes, it really is just that simple.

Here are seven things that are common to real publishers:

1 – They do not charge for editing.

2 – They do not charge for cover art.

3 – They do not charge to read your story.

4 – They do not charge to have your story in their catalog.

5 – They pay royalties.

6 – They pay an advance.

7 – After you are established—and if you’re any good at all—they will contact you (or your agent) asking for new stories. (In practice, this one may take a while to happen…you need to get established and that will take a variable amount of time.)

Again, if the operation you are dealing with doesn’t do all of these things, you are—at best—dealing with a printer. At worst, you’re being conned.

Keep Loving!

 

 

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Three

 

 

Number Three

Never Pay For Cover Art

 

See also Rules One, Two, and Four as they are closely related to this Rule.

 

As outlined in Rule Number One, cover art is a part of the cost of doing business, but that cost belongs to the publisher, NOT the author. Just like with editing as detailed in Rule Number Two, the biggest reason is Rule Number One itself, that money flows TO the author, but there are other more subtle reasons.

I know a few authors who do their own cover art, and I envy them to a large degree. I’m horrible at anything even hinting at graphic arts. PhotoShop is an absolute mystery to me. I just can’t do it. I need an artist who can make all of this work.

The exact same arguments for using the publisher’s editors apply to cover artists, but to an even larger degree…I would estimate that 90% or more of the advertising for a book is directly from the cover art. Think about it…

A potential buyer is strolling through the bookstore (brick-and-mortar or online, it doesn’t matter). Before they read the blurbs or thumb through the book to get an idea of the story, they see the cover. Does the art make them pick up the book to read the blurbs or thumb through the content? If not, a sale just passed you by.

Just like with editors, it all has to do with motivation.

A contracted artist will create a cover that the writer likes. Yes, that’s important, but it’s only number two on the list of priorities, and that’s being generous. The writer is not the person we need to sell the book to…not even close.

An artist working for the publisher will create a cover designed to market the book to the public. In other words, something that will make the aforementioned shopper pick up the book and look deeper.

Once again, the motivation is money, but the difference is where the money comes from.

Contracted artists make their money by pleasing the writer. Ideally the artist will read the book before doing the art. In practice, this almost never happens.

Publisher’s artists make their money by selling books. All real publishers require the artist to read the book before doing the art. In practice, very few small press and e-pubs even pretend to do this.

If you’re one of the lucky ones who can (and has the time) to do your own artwork, then you’re ahead of the game, but there is one thing you need to do…if you’re providing the cover art, then demand a couple of extra percentage points on the royalty. After all, the publisher doesn’t have to pay an artist, and you deserve to be paid for that part of the work.

But the real bottom line is that no matter the details of the publication (self, small press, or major print house), the cover art is of supreme importance. We’ve all seen great works sit on the shelf because the cover sucks. Make sure this is done right and well.

As an aside, you will often hear small press authors complain that they have no input to the cover design. Stop whining and start reading and changing the contracts before you sign them. If the publisher balks, walk away. Insist on right of veto on the cover art.

Keep Loving!

 

 

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Two

 

 

Number Two

Never Pay To Have Your Book Edited

 

See also Rules One, Three, and Four as they are closely related to this Rule.

As outlined in Rule Number One, editing is a part of the cost of doing business, but that cost belongs to the publisher, NOT the author. The biggest reason is Rule Number 1 itself, that money flows TO the author, but there are other more subtle reasons.

The biggest of these has to do with the attitude and approach to the editing task.

A contracted editor working for (and being paid by) the writer makes their money by getting writers to come to them to edit their work. A huge percentage of that income is from repeat business where a writer keeps coming back to have books edited. There is also the word-of-mouth advertising where a writer tells their friends how great John Doe edits their books. This all means that the editor has a vested interest in getting the writers to like them.

As a group, writers have pretty big and fragile egos. We sweat blood, laugh, cry, pull our hair out in clumps, fall in love with our characters, learn to hate some other characters, and in general see our stories as our children. Just like a momma bear, we will defend our stories to the death. If someone attacks our story, we will come to hate that person. In business, we will look for someone who treats us—and our stories—better and likes them just the way we write them.

See the problem here?

The contracted editor will tend to tell us what we want to hear. This may or may not be intentional, but the tendency is to say what the writer wants to hear so we like the editor and will come back to them and tell our friends how great they are.

In other words, for a contracted editor, they have no interest in if the book sells or not. Their income is based on how much the writer likes them. The contracted editor must have the writers like them in order to make a living.

Now let’s look at an editor that works for the publisher…

The publisher’s editors are paid by the publisher. They might be paid on salary (or hourly), or they might be paid per book that they edit. Some publishers even pay a royalty to their editors. It varies, but the bottom line is that the publisher—not the writer—pays the editor.

This boils down to the fact that the editor (and publisher) doesn’t care if the writer likes the editor or not. The editor’s job is to massage the story into something that will sell. If they fail to do so, they won’t work for the publisher for very long.

Both of these editors are motivated by money, but the source of the money is the difference…

Contracted editors only make money if the writers like them.

Publisher’s editors only make money if the story sells.

See the difference?

I have seen various authors (and we’re talking about self published authors here) post messages here and there about how wonderful some editor or another is. They rave about what a great job the editor did on their latest book and how it only cost $800 to have their story edited. When I have read some of the books, they are riddled with simple mechanical errors and have issues with flow and logic.

On the other hand, I have seen writers wailing about some editor at a publisher who absolutely shredded their book. The manuscript came back with more red ink than black. I hear how the author cried for a week over how harsh the editor was. And at the end of the message, the writer will say how much better the story was when all was said and done.

In the interest of being totally fair, I have seen a few cases where this was reversed, that is, a contracted editor doing a great job and a publisher’s editor being horrid. It happens on both sides.

Again, with self-publication the writer and publisher are the same person. But this is another reason to keep the two roles isolated in your mind…you The Publisher must be able to attack you The Author and make it stick. Not an easy thing to do!

Keep Loving!

 

 

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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number One

 

 

We’ve reached the point in the cycle where the Rules for Authors return to the beginning.

 

I repost the Rules instead of pointing to the prior iteration because the Rules are in a constant state of flux, just like the entertainment industry itself.

 

So, here we go again!

 

 

Number One

Money Flows TO The Author

 

While most of the Rules for Authors are not in any particular order of importance, this is number one for a reason: It is THE most important Rule and actually summarizes many of the other Rules into one easy to understand concept.

So, what does it mean?

Simply stated, the author should always be paid for their work and should never pay in order to create their work. See Rules Two, Three, and Four in particular.

As stated in Rule Number Four, if an author pays a “publisher” for editing, cover art, or anything else, you don’t have a publisher at all…you have a printer.

Think about it…

If you need some business cards, you go to a printer. They will, if you desire, create the artwork, layout, and other technical details for you, and then they will print, cut, and package your cards and ship them to you. You pay the printer for these services, and the printer deserves to be paid for these services. The only place they make any money is by providing those services to you.

A publisher makes their money by selling books. Editing (from acquisitions, to line, to content, and every other stage) is simply getting that product ready for market. The cover art is just marketing. These things are a normal part of the costs of doing business—just like the electric bill—for the publisher.

In other words, these costs are NOT the direct responsibility of the author.

Yes, I know…

The higher the costs of the publisher, the less they can afford to pay the author in terms of royalties, but this is another problem most writers have in their thought processes…an editor (or artist) working for a publisher can process more books for less money than can an independent contractor.

They also do a better job.

If you hire an editor to work on your book, they have a vested interest in saying everything is perfect. Why? Because you are paying them. The more you like them and the more they stroke your ego, the more likely you are to bring them more work in the future.

The publisher’s editors get paid no matter if you like them or not. They keep their job by editing books into something that will sell for the publisher, so they don’t care about your feelings.

And never lose sight of the fact that this is a business. We are all—authors, publishers, editors, artists, etc.—here to make money.

Oh, don’t give me that crap that you write for the joy of writing or that you want to change the world.

You’re going to starve to death with that attitude. Get over it.

Finally, changes in the industry have created a flood of “self published” works. In these cases, the author and the publisher may be the same person. That doesn’t change anything…when you are writing, you wear your author’s hat. When you are publishing, you put on the publisher’s hat. There are a ton of reasons to keep the roles separate, mostly financial…but a few will protect your sanity.

Remember that writing is a lot like sex…

At first you do it for a few close friends.

Then you do it because it’s fun.

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

Keep Loving!

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://melodeeaaron.com/blog/2018/04/20/melodees-rules-for-authors-number-one-5/

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Thirty-Eight

 

 

Number Thirty-Eight

Read A Few Books

 

OK, more correctly, read a LOT of books.

This all ties back to other Rules where we’ve talked about writing what will sell and keeping your books on the book seller’s hot lists. Yes, as I’ve said, a representative or (sometimes) agent will help you here, and a personal assistant can be priceless, but it still comes back to you actually reading books to see what other authors are doing.

But there’s a big problem here: Who has time to read? We’re all busy writing!

First, like any other task, you need to set aside time to read. Put it on a schedule and your list of Things To Do Today. Make yourself do it.

Second, read faster. The average American reads around 200 words per minute with about 60% comprehension. To read a, let’s say, 40,000 word novella, the typical reader will need about 200 minutes, or just over three hours. It is possible for most people to learn to read faster. It’s not uncommon to see numbers in the 500 wpm range with near 90% comprehension. Take some classes. I personally am one of the lucky ones in that I read at around 1,000 wpm with better than 90% comprehension. That means I can read the above example book in well under an hour.

The last thing is something you may not be able to do for a number of reasons: Get other people to read books and provide you with a synopsis of them, a maximum of one page. I do this within my company, but the bottom line is that I pay those people to read books. Some are editors, others are marketing types, and some are just average people. For example, the lady who is the supervisor of the housekeeping crew that keeps the offices looking pristine reads books for me. As I said, this may not work for some people, but I would bet that you could get a few friends and family members to read books for you and provide summaries if you buy the books for them.

Using the three items above, in a typical week I personally read 17 books on average, and I get summaries of about 30 more. Do the math…every week, I see what the writers of more than 40 books are doing each and every week.

The more you read, the more you learn.

Keep Loving!

 

 

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