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Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty-One

Number Twenty-One

Never Back Down From An Editor…Someone Else Will Buy The Book

The best way I can sum this up for you is to say that the author (aka YOU) knows best what makes the story work. No one else—most especially an editor—can do a better job than the author (aka YOU) at making the story and characters strong.

Now, with that said, let’s look at the details…

First of all, I am NOT talking about things like spelling, grammar, and punctuation. If you are using a modern word processor and haven’t done stupid things like adding “special” words to the dictionary or crazy things like adding or editing the grammar rules, your software should catch nearly all of these issues. Maybe…

For example, in the dictionary of nearly all decent word processors, you will find the words “for” and “fro”. How often in a typical book is the word “for” used? At least several hundred times in most cases. On the other hand, the word “fro” is rarely used. Actually, I can’t remember a single time I have ever used it, but I don’t do a lot of historical work. The fact is, however, that the spell checker will not catch the error of typing “fro” when you mean “for”. Even though “for” is a preposition and “fro” is an adverb, most grammar checkers will miss the error, too. There are two ways to fix this…after you write your story, do a search for “fro” and make sure you really meant to use that word. A better solution is to go to the dictionary and remove the word “fro”…now, “fro” will be flagged as a spelling error.

But I digress…

What I am really talking about here is story content…no decent (or better) editor will try to change your story. Sadly, there are an awful lot of bad editors in the business. I can promise you that at some point in your career an editor will come to you and ask you to change your story, usually with some statement like, “…this will work better for the reader…”

In a word, bullshit.

Typically, if you’re fairly new to the business or to the publisher, your refusal to make the suggested changes will be met with a reply like, “…well, I’m not sure we can publish the book the way it is…”

Fine. Just reply, “Good deal. I can sell it for more to someone else, then. Have a wonderful day. Bitch.”

If your book is worth the electrons storing it, the publisher will come back and say, “Sorry…here’s a new editor since you and Jane Doe have some kind of personality conflict. It won’t happen again.” If not, shop it around some more.

If you know something is right, stand your ground. Do not give in just to get the book published. If you have an agent, get them involved right away. The sooner the better because they can often avoid the power struggle that may ensue.

If you have an actual representative, this situation will never come up because the editors know better than to play these kinds of games…this leads to the representative pulling perhaps tens of millions of dollars worth of books and giving them to someone else.

Let me give you one small example from my works…

Anyone who has read my works—or even my blogs—knows that I write “OK” as opposed to “okay”. I once had an editor who hated this, and she insisted that I change all of my “OK” to “okay”. I started off pointing out to her that “OK” or “ok” is preferred over “okay” in more than a dozen dictionaries. She still wanted it changed and started doing a search-and-replace on the manuscript. I simply changed them all back to “OK” and sent it back to her.

At this point, the dingbat actually told me that she couldn’t publish the book with “OK”. I just sent the email to my representative. My rep pulled more than 200 books from the publisher that encompassed nearly 100 authors. The explanation to the publisher was that their editorial staff was a pain in the ass and not worth the effort.

The same day, the publisher came back and told my rep that all was fixed, I had a new editor, the old editor was now flipping burgers someplace, and please come back with your books. My rep then demanded an extra 2% on the royalty for all of the books to cover the angst factor, and the publisher was happy that was all it cost them.

A happy ending for everyone…well, except the idiot editor. I hear that she might make over-night shift manager soon.

When should you take such a hard line? That’s easy…

Whenever the editor wants something “fixed” that changes the story or impacts your voice, this is the time when you should not back down.

Ever.

It is your story and voice that sell. These things set you apart from the myriad of other authors, and to compromise these matters is to literally sell your soul.

Keep Loving!

Giving Tuesday

Today is, in case you missed it, Giving Tuesday. In short, today is the day that pretty much every charity is going to make a push to get donations.

While most all charities need support all the time, this is especially important in these times. Many people are being negatively impacted by the pandemic. Many businesses—and that means employers—are running at reduced capacity. A lot of others are just plain closed, too many times forever. A great deal of what most of us call “entertainment” is gone for who knows how long.

All of this leads to increased need for the things that many charities provide…essential things like food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and a seemingly endless list of other services are all seeing a spike in need.

Many companies are donating huge amounts of goods, services, and money to charities. Some of these companies are lucky enough to have seen a smaller impact that others, and their income remains strong. Others are in bad shape but see the need and are doing what they can.

In a similar way, many individuals are helping the charities. Again, some people are lucky and can afford to give more while others may be in need themselves, but find a way to pay the help forward.

No matter what category you’re in, it’s easy to get frustrated and throw up your hands asking what can you possibly do to make a difference. That’s normal and, to some degree, expected. Let me just tell you a little about me and my company…

My company is one of the lucky ones. We have always, since day one, been highly decentralized and distributed. Pretty much everyone in the operation works remotely and always has. This means we didn’t have to make many adjustments for social distancing: It was already in place. Yes, there are times that we would like to travel to have some face-to-face meetings and the like, but when we looked carefully at things, it wasn’t absolutely needed. While we have been impacted by the general slow-down in music and film/TV production, we have seen an increase in art and written entertainment. Loosely speaking, the decrease in some areas has been offset by increases in others.

As for me personally, there has been effectively no change in my income. Chalk it up to diversification if you like.

Both me and my company have always given to various charities, but recent events have made two changes to our giving patterns…

First, we find we are giving more in terms of absolute total dollars. For me, this is a no-brainer: The need is greater, so the support must be greater. Here near the end of calendar year 2020, our charitable donations are up just over 300% compared to this time in 2019.

Second, we used to focus mostly on “neglected” charities. By neglected, I mean those that traditionally receive less support than others. By means of example, zoos, botanical gardens, and schools (across the entire range) tend to get fewer donations than, say, the Salvation Army, Red Cross, and food banks. We have started to donate to the more traditional charities while, at the same time, increasing donations to our old friends in the neglected classes.

Another big change in the company is that the managers in each division have been empowered to make donations up to a generous limit without the need to get approval from higher-ups in the company. Remember…we are very decentralized. It is very possible (if not likely) that a manger in a certain area will see a need for a more or less local charity. This lets them make a donation to that charity without wasting time in the bureaucracy getting approval.

Another thing the company is doing is to sell an entire division of the corporation. This is an area that, honestly, I’m not sure how we ended up in, but it is far from our core business and really doesn’t fit our model too well. Yes, it makes money, but none of us can see a downside to getting rid of it. Another company is likely more suited to run this kind of operation than we are. And we have already committed to funneling the lion’s share of the proceeds from the sale to charity.

One thing that has not changed is that both the company and myself make all donations in strict anonymity. We don’t make donations to get free PR. We don’t give support to impress others. We do these things to give back to the community—or world if you prefer—that has been good to us. We want to help as much and when we can.

So this brings me back to what YOU can do to help others.

I guess the real answer is that I have no idea. I don’t know your situation. For all I know, you could be wallowing in cash, taking bathes in champagne, and lighting your hookah with $100 bills. You could also be living in a cardboard box under an overpass and dumpster-diving for your next meal. Odds are, however, you’re someplace between the two extremes.

Can you afford to write a $1,000 check to your local food bank so they can feed a few people?

Maybe you can pledge $10 to the Wounded Warriors Project?

How about taking the change you just got from Walmart and dropping that in the Salvation Army kettle out front?

Or you could even go down to the local animal shelter and volunteer to spend some time with the dogs and cats waiting for their Forever Family to adopt them?

My friends, it doesn’t matter WHAT you do or HOW MUCH you give. What does matter is that you DO give.

Who can say what the repayment for your caring and kindness might be?

Perhaps the food bank will feed a child who grows up to be a doctor who, in the future, saves your life when you come into the ER with a heart attack.

Maybe a depressed suicidal veteran helped by the Wounded Warriors will go on to be the teacher who inspires your child to become the first human on Mars.

It’s possible that the Salvation Army helps a drug-addicted young woman pull herself up and become a leader in business.

And maybe, just maybe, that cat you give ten minutes of comfort to before he is to be euthanized gets just enough time for his Forever Family to come in and fall in love, taking him home from your arms and away from the needle.

Please…

Help in any way you can.

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 01 DEC 2020

The Two Hundred Word Tuesday question for the first day of December is:

In all of the stories you have written, what is your favorite scene?

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 24 NOV 2020

Here is today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question:

Were you ever out of work for a long time? If so, how did you handle it?

Keep Loving!

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty

Number Twenty

Just Because It’s In The Dictionary, That Doesn’t Mean It’s Right

Back in the days when I did a little critiquing, I heard this all of the time. “Well, it’s in Webster, so it’s a real word.” And yes, I get the same crap from the kids when we play Scrabble.

For example, a couple of words that are in the dictionary are “F-Bomb” and “App”. These are just fine inside dialog (see Rule Number Nineteen as well), but in narrative, they are just plain wrong.

Why? Let me ‘splain somethin’ to you, Lucy…

A character saying something like, “…when my app went south, I almost dropped an F-bomb in the middle of the elevator…” kind of works. Maybe. Odds are, a real person would say, “…when the fucking phone broke I said, ‘what the fuck is this shit?'” On the other hand, in narrative, you would probably say something like, ‘…when his phone’s GPS failed, Joe blasphemed the gods in charge of high technology…’

Please be careful…there are a number of good reasons to avoid slang and other things that make their way into the dictionary these days and very few for using them.

One of the best reasons to avoid the slang in particular is how a book ages. If the narrative is full of hip slang, odds are in just a few years no one will understand the meanings. By way of example, look at the history of the word “geek”. Used in narrative, are you talking about someone who: (1) Bites the heads off of live animals; (2) Thinks Star Trek is real; (3) Works with computers; or (4) Is into video games and anime?

Like so many other things, the standards for what qualifies as a word have fallen.

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 17 NOV 2020

Today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question is:

How many books/stories do you normally have working at the same time?

Keep Loving!

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Nineteen

Number Nineteen

Between The Quotes, Grammar Doesn’t Count

I’m a Grammar Nazi. I admit that freely and fully. Bad grammar—and other associated issues like slang, syntax errors, and all the rest—drive me absolutely bonkers.

Ask my kids.

But the simple fact of the matter is that between the quotes—that is to say, in dialog—grammar doesn’t count.

If, for example, your hero is a good-old-boy from the swamps of Alabama, I can assure you he will say something like, “…I ain’t got no good learnin’…” now and then. If he doesn’t, he sucks as a character. And it doesn’t matter if he went to Yale at some time.

Your characters should speak just as a real person with the same background, education, and all the rest would speak in a similar situation.

These are things that all decent writers already know. If you haven’t actually learned this someplace, you just plain know it instinctively. Folks, this ain’t rocket science.

Yeah, I can say that…I grew up in the hillbilly Ozarks and have a degrees in physics and mechanical engineering. I know what rocket science actually is.

Anyway…

The bad news is there are more than a few editors out there who clearly don’t know this. They will red-pen you for using “ain’t” in dialog. They will nail you for dangling participles and other grammatically esoteric rules. And some will still try to enforce the dreaded split infinitive.

So, how do you handle such editors? There are two basic ways…

Method One: Change your story to fit their whims. This is a VERY bad practice. Your character speaks in a certain way for a particular reason. I can assure you that if you make these changes, you will cripple—if not kill—your story and its believability. I strongly encourage you to forgo this solution in favor of Method Two.

Method Two: Correct the editor. There are three phases here…first, point out to the editor that the problem lines (for them) are within dialog and are central to the character’s development. If that fails, tell the editor that this is the way it will be and the discussion is now closed. If this fails, fire the editor or tell the publisher you want an editor who actually understands how this whole process works.

See also Rule Number Eight.

Never—EVER—forget that YOU are the writer. The creative process is totally YOURS. YOU develop the characters and how the reader sees them. Absolutely NONE of the creative process is in the field of the editor.

As Rule Eight states, do not fear the editor. The absolute worst thing that can happen is that you will need to sell your story to another publisher, probably for more money.

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 10 NOV 2020

Here is today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question:

What book(s) are you reading now?

Keep Loving!

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Eighteen

Number Eighteen

Never Listen To English Majors…Most Aren’t Published

The short version of this is that an English major knows a lot about the English language, like how to build a proper sentence, but by and large, they don’t know jack-shit about how to write a book people want to pay for and read.

Now, on to the long version…

Oh, and before you English majors come after me with torches and pitchforks, remember that these are all general statements. Like anything, there are always exceptions. Not many, but a few.

And I have a MA in English. It didn’t take very well and I got over it.

Anyway…

There is a ton of research out there about average reading levels, and the numbers vary all over the place depending on your focused target market. Want to know the average reading level for general entertainment adult reading in the US?

5.6

Yes, that’s right. The average person reading your books is reading at a fifth grade level. For some genres (romance, horror, terror, etc.) the number is a little lower. For others (SF, spy, docudrama, etc.) it’s a tad higher.

In other words, aim your story at about what a fifth grader should be able to read, and your readers won’t get lost. Oh, by the way…the average US fifth grader reads at a 4.1 level. Go figure.

And just a fast caveat here…on all word processing systems I have ever seen, the readability scores end up being WAY low. The algorithms used to do the calculations include dialog. By its nature, dialog has very low readability scores because the paragraphs and sentences tend to be very short compared to narrative.

All of this boils down to the simple fact that to sell books you need to write clearly, concisely, and with passion. All of the fancy things that English majors know how to do will accomplish exactly two things:

(1) Confuse the living hell out of your average reader, and

(2) Make your books sit on the store shelf until the end of time.

There is one school of thought among writers that if you write over the head of the “average” reader, you will sell books to the “above average” readers. These readers will tend to be better educated and have more disposable income to spend on books, so you’ll make more money. The problem is that these latter-day-yuppies don’t buy books. They buy sports cars, dirt bikes, RVs, SUVs, boats, a new smart phone every six weeks, houses that they are seriously upside-down on before they sign the mortgage, and no small amount of various recreational drugs, both prescription and—shall we say—over the counter. In short, they have no disposable income and no time to read.

And remember that the typical millennial is still living at home with their parents and has no free cash at all. And I won’t go into the simple fact that a goldfish has a longer attention span (8-9 seconds) than the average millennial (3-4 seconds).

On the other hand, the average readers out there manage their money, keep things real, and spend money judiciously on entertainment products, books especially.

The real writers figure this out pretty fast and abandon the screwball idea in a hurry. I do, however, know one author who is still sticking to this pattern. He is an amazing writer with all the skills needed to make it to the big time. He’s 31 now, has a law degree (he’s failed the bar in five different states now), has about six books published (all self-pubbed), works about 20 hours a week at Wendy’s, lives in his parent’s garage, and makes about $1,000 a year writing. Since he has no expenses (he doesn’t have a car and pays no rent or board), his fast food and writing gigs keep him in beer and weed. Now that’s the life!

Besides, the purpose of language is to communicate. If you can get your point across in an efficient and concise manner, then who really cares if you violate a few rules along the way? And then there is the issue of the rules of language…

See also Rule Number Six. In that Rule, I detail how the style manuals are usually wrong. More importantly, I point out that the style manuals are based on what we authors are doing. In other words, we authors set the rules for language, not the English majors.

Go ahead…pick up any style manual or dictionary. On every page you will find a reference to what some author did in the past used to defend what the manual or dictionary is saying is the right thing to do. In most cases, you will find several such examples on every page.

You won’t find a single entry that points to the opinion of Jane Doe, PhD as defense for a rule.

Let’s make sure we all understand the food chain here…

English majors edit books and help authors stay on track and not make stupid mistakes in grammar and punctuation that alter the meaning of a sentence. (Like “Let’s eat grandma” versus “Let’s eat, grandma.”) Authors can, do, and should tell the English major to get stuffed and this is the way we are going to do this book. That is to say, the author is the final authority.

The people who write style manuals and dictionaries take their input from authors. In all cases of disagreement, the author is always right.

Always.

In other words, the style manual and dictionary govern the English major, the author governs the style manual and dictionary, and so the author also governs the English major.

To paraphrase Mel Brooks, “It’s good to be the queen!”

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 03 NOV 2020

And the first Two Hundred Word Tuesday question for November is:

Do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantster when you write?

Keep Loving!