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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!

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Seventeen

Number Seventeen

Family Comes First…Most Of The Time

Family is very important, and there is no denying that. In your day-to-day life, no matter what your occupation is, family should come first.

But, just like if you’re a firefighter, police officer, military member, banker, lawyer, machinist, bus driver, or flipping burgers at the local fast food joint, there are times when work will interfere with your time with your family.

Oh, it’s easy to say that family ALWAYS comes first. In fact, you’ll hear that bantered about by the many pop and wannabe psychologists out there every single day. But the real facts of the matter are that this is not reasonable or even possible.

Think about this scenario for a moment…

What your job is doesn’t matter. You have some job and that is how you make money to pay for housing, clothing, food, and all the other things you and your family need. Without that job, you’re on the street in a cardboard box and hungry. Still with me?

Now, your son has a big baseball game. Maybe your daughter is graduating from the second grade and there’s a big ceremony. Again, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that there is something happening with your family and you want to be there. Now are you still with me?

For whatever reason, when you ask your boss for the time off, the request is denied. The reason for the denial also doesn’t matter, but the real bottom line is that you asked for the time off, and the boss said no. Your employer needs you to work, and that is that.

Some questions for you…

Are you willing to quit your job? Will you tell your boss, “If I can’t have off next Tuesday, then I quit.” I can all but guaranty that the boss will chuckle and point to the door. I personally have fired managers in my corporation who were making half a million dollars a year for trying to manipulate me and the company in that manner. Frankly, I don’t need that kind of a pain in the ass working for me.

Are you willing to just not show up for work next Tuesday knowing that the boss might fire you?

How about calling out sick next Tuesday? Check your state laws, but in most states, that’s an unexcused absence unless you produce a doctor’s note.

But I would bet dollars to dog turds that you would do none of the above. You will bitch and moan, tell the kids you’re sorry, and go to work like nothing ever happened.

Why?

Because you are a good member of the family and you are doing what needs to be done to take care of your family. It’s not what you want to do, but it is what you have to do.

And you are making the right choice.

Writing is nothing more—and nothing less—than a job. You might love to write, as I do, but it is how you make your living. You are one blown contract away from living in the aforementioned cardboard box.

There are two secrets to making a living as an author:

(1) You must be prolific. In other words, write a lot of books. Few books, even in print, sell more than a million copies. Most are around a fourth of that. Fewer than 0.001% of all ebooks sell more than 10,000 copies. If you figure a typical deal for a fairly new print author at 8% of a $10 cover price, that’s about $200,000. Take out your agent’s cut (usually 15%) and you’re down to $170,000. After you take out taxes, expenses, and other odds and ends, you pocket about $80,000 over the normal two-year deal, or about $40,000 a year. And this is all being generous. In practice, that number will likely be closer to $30,000. On the other hand, if you write (and sell) three books a year, you’re income just went up to over $100,000 in your pocket.

(2) You need to write what sells. In other words, you can write the best story ever seen, but if no one buys it, you need to start checking the local Costco for boxes. On the other hand, sometimes a story you think is absolute crap will sell like the proverbial hotcakes. The difference is what the market (aka reader) wants. This isn’t always easy to do.

A good representative will help you in both of these areas. They will keep you motivated to write. They will teach you how to get around blocks. They will guide you on what is selling and what is sitting on the store shelves. They will help you learn how to write things that can slip through the editorial process like a greased pig. And they will get you top dollar for every single story you write, not just your current offering. An agent will take their 15% and go to lunch.

For most writers in the United States, the cutoff tends to be around that $175,000 a year gross mark. Once the writer’s gross income hits that point, they can usually quit their day job and become a full time author. Some get the idea that they can now relax and only work (i.e. write) when they feel like it.

That, my friend, is just plain stupid.

Think about it like this…

Let’s assume that you are like an average American and your daily total commute to and from work is about an hour. You work for eight hours a day, and most people have an hour for lunch. That is ten hours a day directly related to your job. Odds are you get up at least an hour before you have to leave and you need to spend about that same amount of time each evening decompressing from work and the drive home. We’re at twelve hours a day now. If you are like most people, you only get about seven hours of sleep a night, so that means you have five hours a day to spend on quality time with your family.

So, why should you expect to spend any less time working as an author? Yes, you can do your work at home in your underwear if you like, but you still need to put in the time.

It never ceases to amaze me how many writers figure that they can make twice the money they make now by putting in half the hours. That’s the old something for nothing thought process.

And they will forever be a writer no one has ever heard of or read as opposed to an author everyone knows.

I’ve been at this for better than 25 years now, and I average about thirteen hours a day writing. No, I don’t do that every day…sometimes I take a day or two off. Then I put in twenty hours the next day to make up the lost ground. Oh, and we’re talking six or seven day weeks, too.

So what? You’re spending that same time now for less money and less self-satisfaction.

Writing is fun. It’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on, though I usually write at least partially nude, but I digress…

Being an author is also the hardest work I have ever done, and that includes waiting tables at a fast food joint, not an easy task for a deaf girl.

So, yes…

Family does come first, but you have to look at the big picture…making a living so your family has food, shelter, clothing, and all the rest IS putting your family first.

The world owes you nothing. If you want to be an author, you can do that, but like anything else, you have to work at it. You have to work hard.

The real key here is to remember that you, as a professional author, are an independent contractor. You have total control over your hours and income. In a “normal” job, the boss tells you what hours you will work and how much you will make doing it. As an independent contractor, you have to make those calls. There is no one to make the hard choices for you…it’s all on you.

If you’re not willing to work hard for your family and their future, then go to your job, clock in, dream about a better life, bitch about how no one understands, clock out, fight the traffic, and when you get home, sit in front of the computer staring at a story no one will ever read because you don’t care enough to actually do something.

Yeah, that’s exactly what I am saying…

You have the power to change things if you want to.

You also have the power to waste your talent if that’s what you decide to do.

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 27 OCT 2020

Here is the last Two Hundred Word Tuesday for October:

Do you travel much concerning your books?

Keep Loving!

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Sixteen

Number Sixteen

Good Books Take Time

This is an important rule and it applies 100% of the time.

The question is, “How much time?”

Well, that gets a little fuzzy.

The real answer is that a good book takes as much time as it needs. Not a moment less, and not a second longer.

Yes, I can see your face with that, “What you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” look.

Let me try to explain…

When writing your book, you should never rush things. Well, almost never, but that’s another story. No pun intended. Take as much time as you need to get the mechanics (spelling, grammar, etc.) right. Make sure the plot is solid and moves forward. In other words, get it right.

But…

It can be FAR worse to take too long. See also Rule Number Twenty-Five. The longer you mess with your story doing endless revisions and tweaks that seem like a good idea, the greater the risk that you will ruin the book. This might take the form of actually damaging the plot or flow, but it is more often a case of the market no longer being interested in your story because you waited too long to actually move forward and publish.

I have published books that took me three years to write. I have also written books from concept to release in less than a month. I even have some books I have been working on for a decade or longer and may never publish.

It all depends…

The trick is to know how long to play with your story, and that can be rough. Some writers spend their entire life writing a book that they never even submit. What’s the point in that?

So, keep moving forward…a huge part of this forward motion is getting the book published.

As the old saying goes, just do it!

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 20 OCT 2020

And the Two Hundred Word Tuesday for today is:

Approximately what percentage of your income comes from writing?

Keep Loving!

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Fifteen

Number Fifteen

Agents Only Care If Your Current Book Sells

Also see Rule Number Fourteen.

Just like publishers, traditional agents only care about your current book. That’s all.

On the other hand, a representative cares about all of your books—past, current, and future—and about you as a professional in order to reach their goals. It just so happens that the representative’s goals usually coincide with those of the author.

The really bad part here is that while a publisher isn’t in the business of taking care of authors, the agent is. For agents, they have a vested interest in making sure the authors they work with do well. (Think about it…agents and representatives both make their living by taking a commission (typically around 15%) from the author’s earnings. The more the author makes, the more the agent or rep makes.) The problem comes in because traditional agents look at their income for the next 6-12 months. After that, they have no concept of time, income, or anything else. This nearsightedness is typical of most businesses and not special to literary agents…I have MBA types in my company that give me the deer in the headlight look when I ask about a ten year plan.

A real representative will look farther down the road…sometimes a decade or more. This means that the representative has an interest in helping the author achieve long-term goals. This is a very different perspective on the entire process.

This also ties back to Rule Number Five. Just to say it again, agents handle one book at a time while real representatives handle all of the books from a particular author.

This means that you need to look carefully at what you want your “agent” to do…

If you want to sell just one book to a publisher, you might save a few dollars by hiring a traditional agent. Maybe.

If, however, you want a long term relationship with someone who will accept and sell and place every single work you throw at them, then you need a representative.

Yeah, it really is just that simple. It’s a shame that more writers don’t understand the difference between agents and representatives.

The difference is usually measured in income by a factor of twenty or more. I know of one writer who was struggling with small-press and self-publication to make ends meet. His annual gross income was in the $50,000 range. He made the switch to a representative and in the first year he broke the $1-million barrier. In case you missed it, he was leaving $950,000 on the table.

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 13 OCT 2020

Here’s the Two Hundred Word Tuesday question for today:

If you are not not writing full time now, when do you plan to quit your day job to be a full time author?

Keep Loving!

Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Fourteen

Number Fourteen

Publishers Do Not Care If You Succeed

This is a sad fact of the publishing industry. What the publishers care about—and the ONLY thing they care about—is if your latest release succeeds.

There are a few publishers who worry about your backlist sales success (see Rule Number Seven) because backlist sales can make up a third of their income.

None of them care about what a book three years from now will do.

And they certainly don’t care about the author as an individual succeeding.

And they really shouldn’t. The publishers are not in the business of making the authors rich…they are in the business of making themselves rich. In short, as far as the publishers are concerned, you are only as good as your last book.

And in case you’re wondering, agents have the same position. See Rule Number Fifteen. Publishers and agents are only interested in your current work, nothing more than that.

What this means is that the author must look out for themselves.

Or have a representative who will. See Rule Number Five.

No, I am not cracking on publishers here…just pointing out the real world of the publishing business for those who have not seen it yet. Publishers are in business to make money, and they do that by selling books, not by coddling authors. That is not their job.

Authors have to keep their eyes and mind open. This is a must because, like it or not, authors are in business, too. Again, don’t give me that story how you write for the joy of writing or how you want to change the world. When asked how he felt about the fact that his stories changed people’s lives, Hemingway said, “Let the poets, the wordy bastards, change the world. Me, I write for the booze.”

So, keep an eye on the market. It’s one thing to have a sense of loyalty to a publisher, but don’t let that get in the way of your growth…if another publisher offers a better deal, jump ship. I can promise you that if you write more than one bomb in a row, the publisher will drop you like a hot potato.

And remember that something many people see as odd happens on a regular basis in this industry…a book with one publisher will make, say, $200,000 in the first year. Place that same book with a new publisher for year two, and it might make $2,000,000 over the next twelve months. This is not odd…it’s all about demographics.

Keep Loving!

THWT Question for 06 OCT 2020

Here is today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question:

What writing projects are you working on now?

Keep Loving!