It’s been done

Because I haven’t learned my lesson about having to many things on the fire at once, joining my third novel The Copper Witch coming out next year is my fourth, Between the Lines, with REUTS Publications.

Written for the most part in 2009, I remember rather jealously guarding the idea for this novel, which seemed entirely unique at the time. While the world, I still think, is unique–mostly because it’s one I created, and no one shares my exact thoughts (yet)–having more experience with writing, publishing, and books altogether, I have now learned that ideas are relatively cheap. Some are more unique than others, but the idea is not what makes a story. 

And that leads me to today’s post. The question I saw while browsing in the NaNoWriMo forums:

How do you get over the fact that everything’s been done before?” 

As I said above, ideas are cheap. There are a million different ideas out there floating around at given moment and another couple million people ready to write them. Perhaps there’s a brilliant idea out there that the rest of humanity has someone missed, but as of today, I fully believe that if you haven’t found anything out in the world that shares the slightest similarity to your new idea, you probably haven’t yet looked enough.

And so, how do you get over the fact that everything has already been done?

Know that your writing and your characters are what are going to make or break the idea. 

Yes, it is important to have an interesting idea in that you have to be interested in it enough to write it. If you don’t find your story intriguing enough to write, you are never going to actually sit down and get anywhere with it. The fact is, though, even if two writers were fed the same idea, even if they were told to write the same basic plots, their books would not be identical. The characters would be different in how they thought, acted, how they related to one another. All the little things that make a story interesting would reflect the author writing it, not end up as an exact carbon copy.

So write what you like. Write what interests you. Write something brilliant or stupid or derivative. It is who you are as a writer that will make your story unique. If you hold on to that, the fact that everything has already been done but trust in your writing, you’ll always be in good shape.

Does Length Matter?

As December and the holidays firmly take hold, the authors who did NaNoWriMo tend to either wander off to nurse their wounds and take some well-deserved time off or dive right back into trying to finish their novels (if 50k words wasn’t the end of their story) and/or edit some sense into the words they managed to churn out over the month.

I, personally, am doing my best to finish up the tail end of my NaNoWriMo project and it’s seeming the novel will likely be topping off around 75k words–a little shorter than I was hoping, but respectable all the same.

For you see, though it is called National Novel Writing Month, the 50k word goal of NaNoWriMo often leaves authors in the odd nether-space when it comes to the work they end up with (if authors stop at the 50k word mark). While 50k words is long for a novella, it’s not really considered a novel by many publishers.

Looking at the Wiki article on word count, it is listed there:

Classification Word count
Novel over 40,000 words
Novella 17,500 to 40,000 words
Novelette 7,500 to 17,500 words
Short story under 7,500 words

 

 

So what am I on about? 50k is certainly over 40k words. That makes a 50k word book a novel! When you start looking around at submission guidelines however you start finding things like:

“Preferred word counts are between 75,000 and 120,000.”

or

“We rarely publish anything under 80,000 words.”

And so, with a 50k word novel, many authors find themselves too short by a third to have many traditional print publisher take their works seriously. And that can feel like a bit of a kick in the teeth.

So what should you do? Try to whittle the story down into a novella? Beef it up into a novel? Well, there are a few things to consider.

1. EDIT.

This should be a no-brainer, but it is undoubtedly a bad idea to take any first draft you have written (especially one written in a month), pop together a query letter, and start sending it out to agents/publishers. It’s a bad idea to even think that your first draft will be exactly what you’ll have once you’ve gone through and edited. Perhaps there are useless scenes you’ve thrown in just to keep writing that you’ll chop lowering the word count over all. Perhaps you’ll realize there was an entire subplot you never fleshed out and add several thousand more words to your novel working that out. Don’t assume 50k is the office length your manuscript will be when you start shopping around. (And please, please, please don’t throw your new NaNo out into the world without edits. Publishers and agents will thank you)

2. Look into standards for your genre.

Yes, many publisher don’t really like to look at things that are under 70k words or so, but there are some genres where 50k is exactly in line with what publishers want (for example, mid-grade fiction and Romance novels). Don’t read this blog post and automatically start beefing up your story because you think you need to. You might have written something in a genre that doesn’t want long stories.

3. Consider your publishing goals.

So you’re writing in a genre that does want something longer than 50k (Fantasy, for example, is notorious for wanting longer manuscripts). Consider if those are the presses you want to go after. Want to go after big-name publishers/agents and fight for that big advance and first run? Conforming to industry standards will definitely make it a little easier for you along a undoubtedly hard trail. Planning on self-publishing, or even going after small/e-presses? You might not have to. Many e-presses quite like shorter books (even some big presses are doing e-imprints now) and small presses aren’t under the same pressure to look for things that only fit with what is out there already. If you’re happy with your manuscript as it is, look for places that won’t punt it because of word count.

4. Consider subplot

So you want to beef up a story but it really seems like your story tapped itself out at 50k. Consider if there are any subplots you want to add. When I first started writing short stories (after starting off as a novelist) I was told the main thing to keep in mind is that short stories tend to follow one or two characters from A to B and that is the end. Novels, on the other hand, have a full range of characters, and don’t have to only tell A to B. A to B can be the most important part of the story, but other things can be happening at the same time. Often there is a romantic subplot in stories (characters are going from A to B, but Male Main Character [MMC] and Female Main Character [FMC] are also falling in love) but there is no reason a subplot couldn’t be something entirely different. The characters are going from A to B, but MMC is also dealing with a severe illness. They’re going from A to B, but FMC is also doing her best to get into a good college. Think about the world around your characters and see if there is something that can be added that builds the story up.

5. Add descriptions/dialogue.

If you’re like me and tend to write large amounts of dialogue, go through your novel and look for places where you can add more description. What does the room they’re sitting in look like? What are your characters seeing? Don’t overdo it, but there should be plenty of places to build up your world while also increasing word count.

Alternatively, if you are primarily a narration writer, look at where you can add dialogue. More than once while editing I have come across something along the lines of “He told them about X” in a narration-heavy piece of writing. If the reader already knows about X, there’s no reason to rehash it, but if it’s the first time it has been mentioned, why not expand it into actual dialogue? Not only will you expand word count, you’ll also move from telling your reader about what’s happening to showing them.

6. DON’T add in meaningless filler.

Adding a subplot does not mean adding “filler” There shouldn’t be scenes that don’t have some purpose (slowing down the main story to show two characters grocery shopping just to add words is not a good idea). Likewise, adding description/dialogue does not mean throwing in walls of text/meaningless dialogue just to make a piece longer. Tolkien may have been able to get away with it, but taking three pages to wax poetic about a tree is a good way to have readers stop reading. And there is only so long readers will read seemingly meaningless dialogue before they put the book down. If your story is tight and flows well as it is, don’t sink it just for word count. Quality is still more important than quantity.

———————————————————————

Want to carry this and other posts with you wherever you go? Download Write, Edit, Publish for free today.

Novel Layout Tips

News Alert: I am happy to announce that my third novel, The Copper Witch, has officially signed with 5 Prince Publishing for release this coming spring. Updates will continue as release draws closer. So for now, a post about publishing:

—————————————————————————————–

I will be the first to admit that I am not generally a layout person. I do have some experience with it, and now have software that would let me do it pretty simply, but I’m generally an editor, not a designer.

Now, we all have our specialties, it’s to be expected. Being a good editor doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good writer, and being a good writer definitely doesn’t mean that you’re good at graphic design. As more and more people go the self-publishing route, however, it’s falling on authors to do their own formatting (at least if they aren’t going to pay for someone else to do it, which is sometimes advisable). As an editor, a lot of my work comes from people planning to self publish. I’m sure there are likewise freelance designers out there to hire to get a book up to professional quality without the help of a publisher and their in-house designers. If you’ve decided to strike out on your own, please keep a few things in mind that even I, with my limited layout experience find annoying in self-published novels (my reviewer self will thank you).

1. Indents and margins. Luckily for self layer-outers, the combination of publishing platform uploaders and many word processing programs saving to PDF make it simpler than ever to turn a manuscript written in Microsoft Word (or the like) into book format. It’s important to realize, though, that traditional manuscript format (8.5″x11″ pages, double spaced, 1″ margins, 0.5″ indents, 12 point Times New Roman font) does not magically become book format just by changing the page size. Most people realize without being told that books aren’t often double spaced, but what people seem to often miss is that indents and margins that seem normal on a 8.5″x11″ page suddenly are giant when something’s 6″x9″. One of the simplest ways of pointing out a book is self-published (or published by people who aren’t used to doing layout) is by looking at the formatting. Indents of 0.5″ rather than 0.3″ make it seem like someone shrunk Word pages rather than formatted a book. Likewise, margins should be made smaller on a 6″x9″ page. Just think about it. 1″ margins on each side of an 8.5″x11″ paper leaves you with 6.5″ of writing space across. On a 6″x9″ page, that’s only 4″. Everything should shrink in proportion.

2. Chapters start on new pages. When writing in manuscript format, it doesn’t always matter if you do a page break or not at the start of a new chapter. In book format, however, each chapter should be on its own page. This can be done simply by just inserting a page break in the document you are using, or you can be a little fancier and have a chapter start slightly down the page from normal. If doing the second, make sure that you use the ruler function on the side of a Word document so all the chapter headings line up on the same part of the page.

3. Scene breaks. When typing in manuscript format, you generally are expected to use some set of markings between scenes (most commonly it is either *** or #). These marks (especially the hash mark) arose as a way to tell typesetters there should be an empty line there as a scene break. While most books just use a “hard break” (an empty line before the next paragraph) for a scene break, using a hard break in a manuscript would make it possible for a typesetter to miss a scene break should it be pushed to the bottom or top of the page. When laying out your own book, however, this shouldn’t be an issue. Get rid of these “scene break” marks for a more professional look.

4. Font choice. Some typesetters have a strong dislike of Times New Roman (feel it looks amateurish) but for someone who isn’t a designers, I truly have no problem with it. The larger point is to use a “professional” font that is serif. After that, Times New Roman, Georgia, or Garamond–I at least couldn’t tell you the difference.

5. Text alignment. While typing in manuscript format, left text-alignment  is generally the best so you don’t have any strange gaps between words while writing. When laying out as a book, however, justified is the gold standard. If you look in most published books, text is justified to give it a more formal, professional look. Doing so with your own book will lend your layout more credibility.

There are a million other little things that a professional typesetter would be able to tell you about layout that I’m sure I’m missing, but if you take care of these five things, I likely wouldn’t notice it–which at least gives your book a leg up when it comes to first impressions.

—————————————————————————————-

Want to carry this and other posts with you wherever you go? Download Write, Edit, Publish for free today.

Guest Post – Marianne Sciucco: Book Signing 101

Today’s post comes to us from Marianne Sciucco, author of Blue Hydrangeasreleased earlier this year. Find out more about her below or follow her onFacebook or Twitter.

To see my author interview on The Kelworth Files up today click here.

————————————————————————————————

Book junkies everywhere know the thrill that comes when a beloved book is signed by its author, especially when the author signs it just for them.  The only thrill sweeter is when you are the author signing the book for a grateful reader.  Even in this world of e-publishing and e-commerce, when readers and authors can develop relationships online without ever meeting, the book signing event is alive and well.  Selling books hand to hand is time-consuming and slow, admittedly, but to interact with a reader face to face is priceless.

I recently published my first novel, Blue Hydrangeas, in paperback on September 11.  A week later, I was the featured author at a Harvest Festival at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York.  This venue stands on the site of the original Woodstock concert in 1969, and many consider it hallowed ground.  Thousands of people – locals, leaf peepers, and city folk – attend the Harvest Festivals.  I’d like to share with you what I learned from my first book signing ever.

How did a newbie author with few sales and little following procure such a plum selling spot?  Simple – I asked.  I knew the event, held every Sunday in September, sponsored a local author.  Weeks before, I sent an email to the organizer and told her a little about myself and the book, and next thing I knew I was on their schedule.  They provided me with a space in their craft tent where I worked elbow to elbow with jewelry makers, wood carvers, weavers, candle makers, and other artisans.  They also provided publicity about my book signing.  I saw it on their web site, in my local newspaper, and had people tell me they learned about my book on the radio and on the internet.  The advance notice went way beyond my expectations.  I had posted on my social media – facebook and Twitter – but their outreach had eclipsed mine, and brought in the crowd.  Lesson 1: Know who puts on such events in your community and ask to be included.  Many venues and events are looking for local authors.  Most will include you in their advertising.

As expected, the festival had a huge attendance and traffic in the craft tent was heavy and steady.  My husband, Lou, had accompanied me for moral support and help setting up my display table.  I had put together an assortment of items to help promote my book.  I framed an 8 x 10 photo of the book cover, bought a lovely framed print that read, “A true love story never ends,” gathered some blue hydrangeas in a Nantucket lightship basket, and, of course, placed a stack of books in the center of it all with a sign that read, “Meet the Author Today.”  I also had, on one end, information about the upcoming Alzheimer’s walk, and, on the other end, information about the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative, the recipient of a portion of my book’s profits.  Scattered across the table were Hershey’s Dark Kisses, because experts say dark chocolate may ward off dementia.  It soon became apparent the table was cluttered and confusing, so we began to pare away the items that didn’t help my cause, which was to attract attention and readers for my book.  Lesson 2: Don’t try to accomplish too much.  Although my intentions were worthy, I needed to keep the focus on my book.  Once people realized I was an author with a book for sale they were able to either move on or engage with me, and not waste either of our time.  Of course, the chocolate remained.

Which brings us to Lesson 3: Engage your audience.  I know this is a hard thing for most people, especially authors who often work alone, but this is not a time to be shy.  People will not flock to your book table just because you’re there.  You need to reach out to them and entice them to come see what you have to offer.  I simply said, “Hi, I’m Marianne, the featured author today,” and those who were not readers or didn’t care for books simply smiled and walked by or ignored me.  The book people in the crowd were quick to come over, because book people love other book people and are always looking for something good to read.  This gave me the opportunity to pitch my book and draw them in.  For the first time, I had the opportunity to gauge the public’s reaction to my work.

Blue Hydrangeas is an Alzheimer’s love story, the tale of a pair of retired Cape Cod innkeepers struggling with the disease.  Alzheimer’s is a tender subject and touches so many lives.  Some people cried just talking about it, such as the woman who recounted the story of her good friend and the husband who cared for her with love and patience until the last day.  Then there was the woman who lost her dad to Alzheimer’s last year and had to walk away because the pain was still so raw she could not speak of it without choking up.  Others were curious about the book and didn’t hesitate to buy a copy, including the woman who lost her father years ago, yet still reads everything she can about Alzheimer’s to further understand what happened to him and what may happen to her and other family members she loves.  I was not sure if those who currently live with the disease would be interested in my story, but was surprised to sell a few copies to current caregivers.

The majority of my customers were middleaged women, avid readers, with a personal interest in either the disease or a good love story.  Some bought the book as a gift for someone they knew living with the disease.  I had the good fortune to sell a copy to a local newspaper columnist and his nurse wife, and an English teacher from my daughter’s high school that had lost his mother to Alzheimer’s a few years ago.  Lesson 4:  Don’t prejudge a possible book buyer.  We never know what passions or interests another person carries.  The little old lady with the tight perm might be hot for steamy romances while the jock may have a soft spot for sensitive love stories.  To prejudge is to lose a possible sale.

Finally, Lesson 5, the most uncomfortable to learn: If it’s an outdoor venue, pay attention to and heed the weather report.  This day was cold, cloudy, and blustery, just as the weatherman had predicted, but did we listen?  No, Lou and I were under dressed for the weather, and it was tough to keep smiling.  This in itself became a topic for conversation, an icebreaker of sorts that helped keep us busy talking about the book and making sales.

At the day’s end, we had sold and I had signed fourteen books.  I hear that’s a good amount, but, even if not, I consider the day a success.  I met many people.  I told them about my book.  I perfected my pitch.  I learned what to bring to a book-signing event.  I made my first sale, ever.  Best lesson: I experienced one of the perks of being an author.

Other suggestions for a successful book signing:

  • Make sure the venue offers shelter (a tent, indoors), a table and chairs.  If not, bring your own.
  • Take along a small cooler with snacks, drinks, and a meal.
  • Stay hydrated.  You will talk a lot and your throat will become dry.
  • Keep plenty of singles on hand to make change.  If possible, arrange to take credit cards.
  • If you’re outdoors in sunshine, wear a hat and use sunscreen.
  • Provide cards or bookmarks with information on how to buy your book for those who are not able to purchase that day.
  • Listen to your customers whether they buy or not.  They may remember you cared and buy the book next week.
  • Never get discouraged.  One single sale is more than you had before the event.

———————————————————————————————–

Marianne

Marianne Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse, using her skills and experience to create stories that bear witness to the humanity in all of us.  A graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Boston and Regents College, she lives, works, and writes in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Find her book, Blue Hydrangeas, here, or find out more about her at her blogs, http://www.mariannesciucco.blogspot.comhttp://www.MyTOSLife.blogspot.com, or http://www.the-reading-writer.blogspot.com. She can be followed on Facebook at facebook.com/marianne.sciucco.1 and on Twitter @MarianneSciucco.

Hate Storms and Self-Publishing

(Note: Having written this post a few days ago, I have spent a fair deal of time debating whether or not this should be posted as I do not especially like the idea of spreading things that end up quite so hateful and dramatic through this blog. As this situation has showcased an important point about self-publishing, however, I have decided to hit “publish”. Should anyone have any comments, I only ask you attempt to remain respectful. Unnecessarily rude comments will be deleted).

Last week, a blog post for a woman named Quin Woodward Pu went viral detailing her response to what otherwise seemed like a pretty benign “I’m not feeling it” text message. While I do personally agree with the bulk of commentators that her text back to this unnamed man seems, well, crazy, one thing got me thinking. In passing in Pu’s text she mentions that she is “a 25 year old with two published books and a condo” as evidence for why she won’t be affected by him not being interested (I think?) With that detail out there, it didn’t take long for one commentator (what can I say, I sometimes like reading angry responses to things on the internet, it’s a guilty pleasure)  to find her book on Amazon and bring it into the hate storm as fair game.

As of me typing this blog post, both books have been brought down to below two stars based on an influx of one-star reviews that, more likely than not, are tied to her blog post (some directly mention the blog post in the reviews). Now, I never support writing mean reviews for books that are focused on the author rather than the book itself (just recently Goodreads cracked down on reviewers after an author pulled the release of her book from being attacked with one-star reviews before anyone could even read her book because of asking what people thought was a “stupid” question on a site forum) but the ones who read either the book or the free excerpt on amazon and thought the writing was bad quickly pointed out something else–both of Pu’s books are self-published (Amazon lists the publishers of books on their listings and “Createspace” [Amazon’s self-publishing platform] is the one listed for Pu).

Now, there are several very good self-published books out there. For authors who want to maintain complete control over their books, or are just sick and tired of the traditional publishing model, it’s a great option. But while the self-publishing stigma is slowly starting to dissipate as more authors start putting out quality books through such outlets, the reaction to Pu’s books shows that stigma is far from gone.

The problem, you see, is that by passing the power to publish from publishers to authors, you lose the gatekeepers (and the support systems) publishing was once use to. In some ways this is good. As I’ve stated before, publishers buy books they think will sell. If they don’t think a great book will come off the shelf, they will pass on it. Self-publishing allows a great book to attempt standing on its own merit. It does mean, however, that anyone can put out anything in any state. The people employed to find good stories and writing (acquisitions editors, slush pile readers, [and to be honest] publishing interns) aren’t controlling the publishing platform anymore. If someone wants to publish a book that is barely legible from typos and entirely nonsensical, they can put it out there and point to being a “published author”. Without the support system publishers offer as well (content editors, copy editors, cover designers, etc.) it is entirely on the author to make sure they are turning out a professional product (either by being multi-talented artists who can also do graphic design or putting up the money to hire freelancers/editing firms before going to print). And the fact is, many self-published authors just don’t take the time to do so.

I did read the free sample of one of Pu’s books before writing this post, and did I, personally, think that sample at least shows good writing? Not especially. Even the first few pages have typos that should have been picked up and as an editor I would have had several notes for her to work on before going to press. Do some of the people who have taken the time to read a bit–rather than simply attacking her as a person–truly believe that that’s what the book deserves for a rating? Very possibly (unless the book gets much better further on, I’m not sure it would have gotten much better marks from me). Does she deserve her books ending up in the hate storm that’s becoming attached to her name? That’s where it gets difficult.

Like I said before, I never support rating a book that’s available off an author’s personal life/their beliefs/anything that isn’t the book’s own merit. It is a nasty thing to do, period. With Pu’s seemingly self-important attitude about being “published” as a talking point, though, it nearly seems as though she purposefully threw the books into the line of fire.

Who knows? There’s the old adage about any publicity being good publicity. Perhaps people will start buying her books just to see/to hate read them, in which case, good for her, royalties are going to go through the roof. Personally, I think what this example really says, though, is that one needs to be careful when self-publishing. Using a platform like Createspace or Lulu shouldn’t be a mark of shame on any author, but when you’re bypassing the gatekeeping method so long used in publishing for your own path, you are opening yourself up to the full brunt of critiques to your book. There is no “idiot publisher” people will point to whose fault it is for letting a bad book out in such a state. It automatically becomes some “idiot author” who thinks “they’re good enough to sully the name of books” with their opus. Your book suddenly has to carry the entire weight of proof that it is a good book. Otherwise, it’s simple for the great internet droves to dismiss as some nobody who just wants to see their name on a cover without being a “real” author.

And so, if there’s anything to take away from all of this as an author (other than don’t post inflammatory things on the internet without purposefully hoping to get a stir) it is to be thorough when planning to self-publish. As your own publisher, it’s up to you to make sure that your work is the best it can be before being sent off into the world. Nobody else is going to. Hire an editor (hopefully a good one) if you can. Get tons and tons of beta readers and an English teacher to copy-edit (at the least) if you can’t. You are taking a road to publishing that has its benefits, but also many, many pitfalls to watch for. Don’t make it easy for people to dismiss you with a pat on the head.

As to people attacking you as a person, not your book, in a review? Ignore them. Seriously. They’re jerks.

(For those who wish to see the blog post that sparked the hate storm, you can find it here [assuming Pu doesn’t feel the need to remove it at some point]. Fair warning though, of all the comments I’ve found around the internet about this story, the ones on her blog are by far the worst,  devolving to mean comments about her race, appearance, and weight rather than any comments about the post/her actions).

I. Us. Them.

Recently I started contract work with a small press taking on any extra editing work with which they found themselves (don’t worry, people who have contacted me previously about editing work, I am still taking private projects as well with the same rates as always). What once again working with a press has made me think about, however, is the difference between working with a private editor (whether you intend to self-publish or then move on to submissions) and working with an editor your publisher assigns.

After introducing myself to one of the authors I’m working with for the press, I found myself a little taken aback by the email I received back. Now, nothing about it was rude or combative (I haven’t even started on the manuscript, so I wouldn’t imagine there’s much to argue about at this point–and for the most part authors I know are pretty congenial with their editors) but I didn’t contain a lot of “I” language (“I’d like you to…” “I want help on…” “I think you should…”) which was a little jarring.

Now, before I continue, when you as an author contract me (or any other private editor for that matter), “I” language is the norm. I, as a private editor, am here to help you make your manuscript everything you want it to be. If you want me to focus on X and X alone, that is all I will touch. If you want suggestions on how to substantially alter the manuscript/story, I can do that as well. I am working for you, the author. I am completely honest with my suggestions/changes I believe should be made, but if you just want one thing (or even don’t want to follow a single suggestion I give you) that is up to you. It’s your novel/short story/memoir. You can do absolutely anything you wish to do with it (just try to stay away from things that might get you sued if you’re planning on publishing).

When you have an editor through your publisher, however, the entire dynamic changes. If I am your editor through a press, I am now working for your publisher, not you (just look at who’s paying the bill). While I have never met a press that wishes to entirely railroad an author by unilaterally making changes, by signing that contract, you generally give final editing approval to the press. If you refuse to make those changes, they can either choose to drop your book entirely, or send it to print as they want it, depending on your contract (I know even from reading my own published books I have found one or two instances where a sentence was entirely reworked after I saw the “final” edit. None of them have really mattered all that much as far as the “integrity” of the story, though, so I’ve never really cared. Just something I’ve noted). As your editor in this instance, I am here to make your story the best it can be–but also to make it into what your publisher wants it to be.

For this reason, I’m not used to the “I”s quite so much in this kind of editing. Especially when it comes to big things. You might actually “want suggestions as to adding X subplot” it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get them. Not without the okay of your publisher. The reason you should do any substantive edits before you submit to a publisher is, once you’re contracted, you’re not really supposed to change your story that much. If you talked with your publisher ahead of time/have discussed changing X, Y, and Z, I’m more than happy to help you with that. If you have just suddenly decided you don’t like your ending anymore–you better believe I’m not touching that without an okay from the editor-in-chief. A publisher has contracted your book as they have read it. Acquisitions has read both a synopsis (probably) and the full manuscript (I would hope, if it’s any sort of good press), and decided this is something they have wanted to put into print. Your manuscript as you have currently presented it to them. They didn’t, however, agree to publish this general story with other major changes you have now decided you’ve wanted to make. Perhaps they don’t like the idea of the new subplot, maybe they think the current ending will sell better, maybe they don’t want the story to be any longer purely for space reasons. Whatever they think, it is their decision to make (and my job to help execute) not the author’s.

And so, some tips if you are going through editing with your publisher (after you celebrate that you’ve found a publisher, of course):

1. Acknowledge there will be edits. You’ve (hopefully) already edited your novel within an inch of its life by the time you’ve started submitting to agents/publishers, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t go into more edits once it’s contracted. If your publisher “doesn’t do” edits or suggests you hire an editor yourself, consider finding another publisher. It’s your publisher’s job to make sure your book is the best it can be before it hits the shelves, and while that might be subjective, it means more edits before it hits the presses. Even the best-written, magnificent, certain-next-best-seller out there is going to come back to you with red lines in it. Whether it’s just them tweaking things to fit their house style guides or wanting massive changes, there will be edits. Embrace it. There is always room for improvement when it comes to writing.

2. Acknowledge your publisher has different goals than you. You are the author. Your job up until this point has been to tell an interesting story that you love the best way you know how. You are the creative brain behind the project. Your publisher is the business side of things. It is your publisher’s job to print and market your book in a way that will make both of you money. Publishers don’t stay in business by slapping a cover on something and sending it out to bookstores. They do their best to keep an eye on what is selling, figure out why, and then try to make your book do that. If they think they can make your book do that more easily by deciding on some changes, they are going to do that. That is their job/what enables them to sign those paychecks.

3. Make all the changes you want before starting to submit. I’m well aware at some point you just sort of have to set your pen down/close your laptop/sign off Google Drive and say DONE when it comes to edits. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a book that I felt there weren’t other possible edits if I just looked at it again. Perhaps this line would sound a little better if I X. Perhaps I shouldn’t have included that other love interest. Perhaps I should have thought to tweak…If you’re anything like me, you’re never 100 percent satisfied when you go back and look at (even published) works a year later. The trick is bringing it up to a point where you are satisfied with it, when it is the best it can possibly be at that exact second, and then casting it off into the world. Otherwise everything would remain a perpetual work in progress. Once you have made that choice (to send it off) accept that it is done. Sure you can make tweaks here and there, but if you think you might want to entirely rewrite the ending you aren’t done. Self-motivated major changes should have no place in your manuscript once you have an agent/publisher interested in it.

4. Listen to what major changes a publisher/agent might want before signing anything. In interest of not getting into fights with authors/ending up having to pull a book after they’ve put a ton of work/money/effort into getting it ready for publication, most publisher will let you know any major changes they’ll want before contracting you (“major” meaning completely writing out a character, changing the ending, or chopping an entire subplot. That sort of thing). If you say “okay” mean it. If it’s something you can’t deal with, turn the contract down. As hard as that might be some times.

5. Don’t try to go behind your publisher’s back. Especially not with your assigned editor. As I stated above, when working for a press, we editors have to primarily be concerned with keeping the publisher happy. If you want a major change, we are most likely going to go to the publisher anyway to get an “okay” it’s not going to happen, have us pass it up and go “Oh well, that’s what the author wants. Too late to change it.” That’s a pretty good way for us to end up not getting paid until we put it back. If you happen to decide at the last minute you need something changed, discuss it with the higher ups. If they say go for it, your editor will likely be more than willing to help you make them.

6. Remember your editor is not the enemy. All that said, your editor does (or at least should) want to work with you and help make your book the best it can be. We didn’t get into the business by hating good books, after all. Yes, we will tell you “no” about your own book if our bosses say “no” to us and sometimes suggest changes you don’t like that lo and behold the publisher decides to go with, but we aren’t doing it because we’re out to get you. We make suggestions we truly believe will make your book better and/or are required by the publisher’s style guide. Please try to be understanding (or at the very least not send us angry emails).

7. If you don’t want anyone touching anything without you having the final say, consider self-publishing. Now, I really don’t intend this tip to sound flippant, but it’s the truth. As soon as your signature is down on a publishing contract you are generally signing away the right to final say over just about anything (check your contract, final say on cover art/edits are generally explicitly given to the publisher). At that point your recourse to keep something you’ll put your foot down over from happening to your story is to try to pull the project all together. As I’ve said before a publisher is more than likely not going to railroad you and turn your heartbreaking tale of two lesbian lovers into a feel-good novel about two best friends out on the prowl for guys. If your publisher were interested in a story completely different from the one you wrote, they would have said no to you and looked for that story instead. Many publishers get hundreds or thousands of submissions a day/week/month. There’s no reason to try to rewrite an entire novel to be something you might find elsewhere. You do, however, have to accept that you might not get the exact cover you want or have that one sentence back the way you think is perfect. If you are worried about those things, you do have a way of publishing while maintaining complete control over your work. Self publishing. Self publishing of course has its own ups and downs, but working with an editor answering to someone other than you is not one of them.

Toe Tappin’ Copyrights

While bumming around the internet, recently, looking for mentions of my work, I came across review of my book, The Bleeding Crowdon “Books? Yes Please!” (link here). While it’s always nice to find good reviews for your work (good always feels better than bad, after all) what really struck me reading it was the reviewer’s comment that two main characters’ relationship in the story reminding her of song lyrics. Besides getting the song stuck in my head after looking it up (say what you will about Taylor Swift, but some of her songs are darn catchy) the comment got me thinking about the inspiration songs can have on writing.

I’ve mentioned before how song lyrics can make for good writing prompts, and I fully admit I have taken inspiration from songs before for my writing (perhaps I wasn’t thinking of Taylor Swift when I wrote The Bleeding Crowd, but the title was not-so-subtly inspired from a song). If a song or its lyrics inspires someone to write, I fully support writers running with it.

As long as they don’t run afoul of copyright law.

Copyrights, as most things buried in legalese are, are not the easiest things to understand at first glance. What’s public domain, what’s allowed under “fair use”…as writers we have to both love them for protecting our work and curse them for keeping us from using a line of another work that explains a scene perfectly.

While all modern creative works tend to fall under some sort of copyright (which means using anybody else’s words from a work after the early 1920s can get you in legal hot water) song lyrics can be a special sort of mine field. While sometimes you can get away with using a small percentage of something as “fair use” songs tend to be so short even a line or two might put you into enforceable copyright territory–and record labels are notorious for litigating anything they think is close to infringement.

For this reason, the most common advice you’ll get about using song lyrics in your writing is simply don’t.

Now, anyone who has read fan fiction sites might be familiar with “song fics” (stories that are built around/interspersed with transcribed song lyrics the author feels inspired/captures the scene they are writing). While these might be a staple of the fan fiction community, publishing any of these scenes with the intent to sell them would be a legal nightmare (and not just because fan fiction tends to use other writer’s characters which is also a copyright no-no). Since most fan fiction is written for the enjoyment of other fans/are posted with no intent for the writer to make money of their story, fan fiction as a whole tends to fly under the radar of people who might otherwise start suing. Once that story you wrote about Percy Jackson dancing with Sailor Moon to Taylor Swift’s “22” starts hitting the presses for you to sell, the legal departments of those publishers/studios/labels start whirring to life. And that is a fight no writer really wants to get into.

So what are your choices if you want to have your characters listen to a popular song in your story?

1. Mention it by title and move on.

While the lyrics of a song can be (and most often are) copyrighted, titles cannot (otherwise how could you have multiple books/songs sharing the same title?) You are more than free to write a scene which includes, “Joe turned on the radio and Tool’s ‘Lateralus’ came blasting over the speakers.” Or, “Sam groaned, this had to be the third time the club had played ‘Blurred Lines’ already tonight.” Mentioning the song titles and moving on allows you to attach a song you want to your writing while staying on the non-sue-able side of publishing.

2. Get permission from the artist/studio.

If you really want to use the actual lyrics for a song, rather than just mentioning it by name, you can also write to whoever owns the copyright for a song and respectfully request permission to use the lyrics in a book you are writing. Sometimes you may get lucky and they’ll say “sure, go for it” but even to get a ‘yes’ it’s recommended you give yourself 4 to 6 months advance time to get everything sorted away before trying to publish. You also have to accept you might also get a ‘sure, but pay us $X for using it’ (see this article on how much $X can be) or just a straight ‘no’ when you contact them–meaning you’ll need to write that part out before you publish all the same.

Note: Just attributing the lyrics to someone as you would a quote in a school essay does not mean you don’t also need permission to use the lyrics in the first place. Citing=/=permission.

3. Tempt fate.

So you want to use the lyrics, but don’t want to waste the time asking for permission. You can always go ahead and tempt fate and see if you get away with it (but really DON’T, it’s not worth it).

4. Just don’t.

Does your story really, really, really need those lyrics in it to be perfect? 99 times out of 100, probably not. In fact, naming a certain song/using a specific song in a scene will tend to only date your story. Unless you want your story to specifically be “[State] in 2007”, don’t have your characters listening to “Fergalicious” at a club. Songs rise and fall so quickly that what is extremely hot one year will drop off and become “oh yeah, that song” soon enough. If you’re going for a generic “present day” time period for your story, naming specific songs is a bad idea. If you are writing a certain year, but don’t have a character really in to pop culture, naming a song is generally unnecessary. Leave your characters at listening to “[genre] music” and use the specific song that inspired you as just that–inspiration.

—————————————————————————–

Want to carry this and other posts with you wherever you go? Download Write, Edit, Publish for free today.

Googled Questions: Part II

Every once in a while, I like to take a look at what search terms bring people to my blog. Helpful as it is, it’s also fun to see how people stumble upon the site. Sometimes, however, it seems there are questions that are never really answered that still end up with people on the blog. It’s for these people that I like to do a quick Q&A to hopefully answer more thoroughly what they were originally trying to Google (read the my first Q&A post here).

1. Is “shut the light” grammatically correct?

Yes, grammatically it’s fine. As to common…”shut the light” as a phrase is regional–mainly used in Brooklyn/the New York area from my understanding. More commonly you will hear “turn off the light” in common parlance. If your character is from Brooklyn, however, it is grammatically correct and a great way to show some regional differences in speech patterns.

2. What is the DSM diagnosis is for the movie Silver Linings Playbook?

Touched on briefly in this post, Silver Linings Playbook depicts Bradley Cooper’s character, Pat, having Bipolar Disorder (seemingly Type 1). I’m not sure if Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Tiffany, is ever diagnosed, but she seems to admit to suffering from some form of Clinical Depression (Major Depressive Disorder [MDD] in the DSM) and Hypersexuality (currently labeled as Sexual Disorder Not Otherwise Specified [Sexual Disorder NOS] in the DSM, with a push to have Hypersexual Disorder added in the appendix), perhaps caused and/or exacerbated by her husband’s recent death.

3.  Should I accept to be a ghost writer on commission?

Probably originally directed to this article, my advice would be a resounding “no”. If you are looking for a little more experience and don’t especially care about how much you get paid for your work, you can. Unless best sellers, however, books tend to make very little in royalties to start with. If you don’t have Obama offering commission on his next memoir, you’re not likely to see much, if anything, for your work.

4. What is bad about Black Wyrm Publishing’s contract?

Not having any experience with Black Wyrm myself, I turned to Preditors and Editors and Absolute Write Water Cooler to see what other authors have to say (both good sites to look at when you’re looking at publishing with someone who isn’t a “big  name”). Preditors and Editors states “Poor Contract. Not recommended.” and Absolute Write Water Cooler has little about them in general. Their name pops up a few more places as not recommended, but I can not find much other than the fact that something seems to be off about their contracts. Their site, however, does state, “Our typical contract stipulates that BlackWyrm provides the editing, cover design, money for printing, promotion, and ebook conversion. BlackWyrm keeps the revenue until the book breaks even, then splits the money evenly with the author thereafter.” While this sometimes happens in the event of an advance (where the publisher pays X amount of dollars as a down payment to the author to then be made up in royalties) it is not common/accepted if there is no advance to an author. It is the publisher’s duty, as a publisher, to put up money for all they have stated/pay for it out of their share of the royalties. If they have not already given any money, it’s a poor contract to allow them to take all money made from the book until they “break even” (a term that sounds very easy to exploit). I imagine this is the clause to which Preditors and Editors is referring.

5. Is SBPRA (Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency) a scam?

Taking a look at Preditors and Editors once again we find “Poor contract. Strongly not recommended.” along with  “Currently being sued by Florida State Attorney General.” for fraud including showing books which they have not actually published as their “success stories”. So, at best, they are a vanity press (one that charges you to publish your book: read more about those here) and, at worse, a scam. I would recommend staying far away.

6. Why is the Time Turner a plot hole in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?

Time travel is a wishy-washy, trip yourself up sort of thing. While it can be done well, and is rather popular for the time being, it also leaves you open to a bunch of possible plot holes along the lines of, “If X happened, then Y happens, but Z happened…so how did X happen?” For Harry Potter specifically, the main plot hole which the Time Turner introduces is, if time travel is readily accessible for the wizards in the Harry Potter universe, why didn’t anyone just go back in time and stop Voldemort at any point along the way? And why do they never use it again after Prisoner? It could come in handy, no doubt.  Good as a plot device for the events in the third book, it opens up a can of worms for the integrity for the rest of the novels.

Guest Post – Bernadette Marie: Why I Became a Publisher

Today’s post comes to us from Bernadette Marie, Romance Author and founder of 5 Prince Publishing. Learn more about her here

Regular posts will resume Monday. In the meantime, you can also read my “Author Spotlight” Interview on World Lit Cafe live today here

———————————————————————–

There are always ways to get to where you want to go. Look at an Internet map. Plug in your destination and you will get multiple routes. You chose the one best for you. Becoming a publisher was the best for me.

Let’s start with why I even bothered.

I did my foot work. I put in my time. I sent queries (and I’d done so since I was 16 years old.) I pitched, took classes, had the critique partners…and so on and so on. And like many aspiring authors I was shot down often.

I take everything as learning experience! A “no” is just a stepping stone to the next level. The hardest part knowing what you’re supposed to change to get better.

Self-promotion has always come easy for me. So I began to do so as soon as I decided I was a serious author. I was approached by a publisher who wanted me. What a thrill! Well, let me get that out of the way…publishers do not seek out authors. Authors seek out publishers. Needless to say it was a bad business move.

After years of basically having my books held hostage and no royalties paid, I had to move on. With my experience as an entrepreneur I knew I could do this myself. I was right.

The purpose of 5 Prince Publishing was to give me an actual business to publish under. Yes, in 2011, the independent publisher and author was still not a fully accepted method of publishing. Here we sit in 2013 and the format is the way to go.

What I quickly found out was authors wanted to embrace the smaller houses and have more control over their work.

I certainly wasn’t ready or thinking of publishing others. However, authors didn’t want to hear that. They liked my format for my business and they wanted me to publish them. So I began to accept other authors.

Taking my business seriously, as I was doing, to be a 5 Prince Publishing author, you had to be willing to have an understanding of how small my company was, work with me through the growing pains, and of course you had to write a good book.

I made some mistakes. I helped some friends and that didn’t go so well. Now I don’t accept the books, someone else with a fresh look at it does that. I have a great team of editors and line editors and the submissions just fly in. Our cover artist is amazing. Our authors interactive in the big picture, understanding that every little it helps when you help each other.

In January 2014 5 Prince Publishing will turn three years old and will have over 60 titles in its catalog. I can’t say I ever saw it coming. We have multiple bestselling authors and revenue grows as we continue to learn this new frontier of publishing.

5 Prince Publishing

Click to find more about 5 Prince Publishing

Wishlists and Trends

Last week, agents (and publishers) from all over posted to Twitter with types of stories they were currently looking for using the hashtag “#MSWL” (Manuscript Wishlist). A great (and very helpful) idea to help authors try to connect with agents/publishers who might be interested in the type of story they had written, it also turned out to be rather disheartening for authors who scrolled through not finding a single agent looking anything like their novels. Some accounts even went so far as to post things along the lines of, “I’m swamped with X, NO MORE STORIES WITH X.”

Pretty much there’s no way to react to that other than, “Ouch, harsh.”

So what do you do if you’re grouped in with the great “X” no agent seems to want? Scrap the novel you spent however long on and start on something it seems agents actually want? No and no.

The first thing all authors have to remember is publishing is a business. Our novels are our babies. Something creative that we see (most of the time) as great/worthy of being read. Publishers, sadly, don’t look at manuscripts with an eye towards what they think the world should read, they look at manuscripts trying to find something that will make them money. If that means thirty-thousand vampire novels or the same generic love story over and over again, that’s what they are going to pick up. Since agents only get paid when they sell your story to a publisher (or at least should only get paid when they sell your manuscript, if not get a new agent) they need to look for things they think publishers will think are going to sell. This is not to say publishers are some faceless, greedy, corrupt organizations–most people get into publishing because they love books–it’s simply if they can’t sell what they publish, everyone’s paycheck is going to bounce and they’ll soon be out of a job.

And so agents/publishers often end up buying on trends. A couple years back vampires were hot. Judging on new books I know are coming out/what many agents seemed to mention in #MSWL, time travel is the next thing on the rise (as far as fantasy goes).  Obviously these aren’t the only kind of stories that will be published during the life of the trend, but if they are what publishers are finding sell, they’re going to be easier to get published.

So you should set your other novel aside and get to work on a time travel novel, right?

Again…no. The tricky thing with trends is that they’re fleeting. They don’t all last the same amount of time, but each one always hits a point where it starts dying off and publishers stop buying them as much (if at all, depending on how saturated the market gets). And publishing takes time. First you have to write the book. Then you have to edit it. Then you have to make sure it’s polished. Then you have to submit it. An agent might take a couple of months to get back to you and ask for a full manuscript. Then they might take another month to let you know if they decide to take it. Then they may want to work with you to polish it even more. Even if you get through all of this and get to start shopping your manuscript while still at the height of a trend…you’re already too late. It’s taken you several months at this point after however long it took you to write the darn book in the first place, and it will take at least another year for it to come out (the publisher will send it through several rounds of edits, it has to go to layout, a cover has to be designed, you have to pre-market…publishing is a slow, slow beast). If publishers only start looking at your manuscript at the peak of the trend, they will probably assume the trend will be dying by the time your book gets out, and will be just as likely to pass on it as any other book at that point. Following the trend hasn’t given you quite the edge you were looking for.

So the only way to capitalize on a trend is to already have a completed book ready to shop when a trend hits. And since there’s no way to know when a trend is going to hit, what good does that do you? It just seems like dumb luck whether or not you have written a book that ends up being “on trend”.

And yes, yes it is. Like much else in publishing, hitting a trend or not is mostly just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

So why even bring this up? Just to be more depressing?

No, to make the simple point: Don’t force yourself to write a story just because it fits whatever’s big at the moment. Maybe you want to write a time travel story. Great, then go for it. If it’s a plot that interests you, you might do something amazing with it. If you’re only trying to capitalize on a trend, however, you’re likely to be disappointed. You forced yourself to write something you only sort of wanted just because it would sell–and now no one wants it because you’re too late to the party. Trying to find an agent and publisher can be frustrating enough as it is. No need to add to that frustration by making yourself miserable during the fun part (actually writing the thing).

And so, I think a tip @KMWeiland posted earlier today on Twitter fits the moral of the story perfectly:

“Don’t worry about what the world considers the perfect novel. Write your perfect novel, and let the world come to you.”

Who knows? Maybe by the time you’re finished, you just might catch the next trend.

——————————————————————-

Want to carry this and other posts with you wherever you go? Download Write, Edit, Publish for free today.