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THWT Question for 18 AUG 2020

The Two Hundred Word Tuesday question for today is:

What part of your life are your friends and family always accusing you of taking too seriously?

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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!

THWT Question for 11 AUG 2020

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

What was the hardest part of writing your FIRST PUBLISHED book?

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Melodee’s Rule for Authors — Number Five

Number Five

Agents Who 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 $125,000 a year range, and even that’s hard to get. Some of you may be thinking, “Wow! That would be great!” I know there are a fairly large 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 long 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!

THWT Question for 04 AUG 2020

Here’s today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question…

Is there a particular message in any of your stories that you want readers to grasp?

Keep Loving!

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!

THWT Question for 28 JUL 2020

Let’s dig into how to help other writers in today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday…

Do you have any suggestions to help others become better writers? If so, what are they?

Keep Loving!

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 major 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!

THWT Question for 21 JUL 2020

Today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question is:

What is the most memorable family vacation or trip you can recall?

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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!