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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!

THWT Question for 01 SEP 2020

Let’s lighten things up a little with today’s Two Hundred Word Tuesday question:

Do you prefer fuzzy or tube socks?

Keep Loving!

The Psychology of Writing

The Psychology of Writing

Take a look at this list of names:

Penelope Delta, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Andrews, Kurt Cobain, Eleanor Marx, Sylvia Plath, John O’Brien, Len Doherty, Charles Williams, Ernst Toller, and Myrtle Reed.

Some of the names may be at least a little familiar to you. A few should be well known to almost everyone. And a few others are pretty obscure.

These eleven people have two things in common. Did you catch it without looking them up?

All eleven are writers from the past.

And all eleven died by committing suicide.

This is, sadly, only a tiny subset of a rather long list of authors, poets, and other literary professionals who have died at their own hand. When you add in other people in the creative arts (musicians, painters, sculptors, performers, etc.), the list gets very long indeed.

But I’m mostly focused on the authors here.

Most studies of suicidal behavior among writers seem to settle on a figure around an author being about twice as likely to kill themselves than random people from the general, non-writing population. Very few studies give a smaller number, but a good number of researchers put the rate at four or more times more likely to commit suicide.

Then there is the idea of risk taking behavior. This can be things like hobbies others consider risky (I myself skydive and ride motorcycles, usually much faster than is prudent), drug and/or alcohol abuse (I have a long history of IV drug abuse), sexual promiscuity (no comment), and more. A large number of writers who don’t actually kill themselves tend to follow these kinds of habits, and when you get right down to the brass tacks, drinking, drugging, and the rest are really just slow ways to commit suicide.

Over the years, many psychologists, psychiatrists, clergy, and others have tried to explain why authors are so at risk, but the results are usually little more than speculation and anecdotal. You’ll frequently see attempts to link the creative thought process to depression. This is, at best, a poor correlation or, at worst, an effort to cook the data to make it fit the premise of the researcher. The simple fact is, no one really knows why writers are far more likely to take their own life.

I personally have attempted suicide twice in my life, once when I was 16 and had been a professionally published author for only two years, and again when I was 26 with more than a decade of writing under my belt. In both cases, I overdosed on heroin and I was lucky enough to be found by people who cared enough to save me.

I also, as mentioned above, indulge in risky hobbies. I never got into fast cars because I found out early that a $7,000 motorcycle can go faster than a $250,000 car. I gave up the motorcycles for my family after I got married. I still, however, skydive. All of my jumps today are routine, regular jumps at reasonable speeds and from aircraft designed for jumping. I have, in the past, jumped from less, shall we say, friendly aircraft…like a B-29 bomber, a 727 airliner, and a 12 passenger corporate jet. None of those are even close to a good idea.

As for the drugs, one never really ever quits…you just exist on a sliding continuum of recovery. I can say that I’ve been drug-free for just shy of 15 years now. Do I still get cravings? You bet I do. Fact is, I love my family more than I love the horse.

I have never considered myself to be depressed. Yes, like everyone else on the planet, I have had some episodes of situational depression during rough periods in my life, but nothing that fits the DSM criteria of major depression. And those two suicide attempts…all I can say is that I don’t think I was depressed then. Death simply seemed like the path of least resistance at the time.

So why do we authors do this sort of thing? Is it some new form of depression not yet well understood? Is it that the voices in our heads really will kill us if given the chance? Or maybe, just maybe, is there some odd virus that makes us write but will kill us in the end?

I don’t know the answer. Why should I? I have a BA in psychology, but much brighter people than I also don’t know the answer.

What I do know is that all writers need to look at themselves closely.

Are you depressed? If so, seek help. I want to warn you about something here…many colleagues of mine have been depressed and sought help. That help today is in the form of one (or more) antidepressant medications and very little or even no counseling. The problem is that for many writers, the drugs will take the edge off their writing. Most will stop the medications on their own. In other words, they will choose writing while depressed over not writing while happy and accept the idea that they may very well die. What you need is counseling to help you change your thought patterns. You need the medication to get through the crisis, but then psychotherapy to deal with the underlying cause. If you are not willing to give up writing, make sure the mental health professionals know this so they can do what’s needed.

Are you drinking and/or drugging too much? See above. Sometimes, a group like AA or NA can be of more benefit than an MD or PhD.

Do you engage in risky behaviors? If so, really look at things. Are you doing so because you really enjoy it or is it just a complicated suicide attempt? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

My goal here is to educate you to the simple fact that, as an author, you are at a significantly higher risk for suicide. The reasons why that is, while essentially unknown, are really not important. What is important is that you know.

Knowledge is, after all, power.

And you have the power to avoid becoming another statistic by being aware of your actions and taking steps to mitigate the risks.

Please…I don’t want to see your name on that list above.

Keep Loving!

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 cross-talk 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!

THWT Question for 25 AUG 2020

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

Are any of your published stories based on events in your own life?

Keep Loving!

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!

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?

Keep Loving!

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?

Keep Loving!

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!