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Writing Right: The Blog

AFRAID OF BEING BOXED IN?

As far as the public is concerned, neither one will box you in. So, by all means, start with the memoir. It will give you a solid financial base, a cushion to fall back on when future novel sales slow to a trickle, and name recognition. All this is assuming that "Kari" is a pen name and that the real byline you're going to use rhymes with Odell Ohama. If that's true, then you can't miss!

 

Seriously, memoirs sell poorly. Period. That's the sad reality of it all. Unless you have a HUGE name and are actually in the news cycle every night, a recognizable name alone won't pull its weight, as most publishers have learned. The name has to belong to someone interesting, lovable (forget it, I'm not in the running), controversial, and responsible for important breaking news on a nearly daily basis. Anyone else, and you won't find a publisher within this universe who will take a chance on it.

 

Since I'm guessing that your goal is most likely to begin writing more "fiction novels" (please do me a favor and research "novels," "fiction," and why all novels are fiction whether or not you specify so), why not go for that from the start? Read More 

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LIFE, LOVE, COPYRIGHTS, ETC.

Someone recently asked me how he could find a reliable editor for his first novel. It seems the last people he'd hired stole his "uncopyrighted work," which left him with a bad taste in his mouth for this whole writing/publishing business. Understandbly. Adding to his trauma, he wants to publish his novel by the end of 2021. Is that even possible?

 

Well, first, I corrected some fallacies that others were throwing his way, so he didn't waste time running down a blind alley. Here's what I told him in a nutshell

 

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  1. You don't have to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office to protect it, and, in fact, you can't do so unless you're a U.S. citizen. Registering your work, while having some advantages, also takes time, and that's something of which you don't seem to have a lot. The good news is that, regardless of where you live, virtually all countries recognize the copyright of a work from the time of its completion. If you could afford an attorney or a legal counseling group's recommendation—or even learn more about copyright law yourself—you could go to the thieves of your work and demand in writing that they cease publication and reimburse you for any monetary losses you may have suffered. In lieu of hiring an attorney, you could join a writing association such as the Author's Guild, which provides complimentary legal advice and services to their author members.
  2. As for getting an agent, you can't just look in a guide and select one to represent you. Agents are overwhelmed by requests for agency representation and, thus, can afford to be incredibly selective. I've long said that the only thing more difficult than getting a book published conventionally is locating a receptive literary agent. And I say this, having had six to date. But I'm the exception and not the rule.
  3. Similarly, while you search the Web to find conventional (that is, advance-paying) publishers who accept unagented manuscripts, the chances of anyone even reading your material, let alone contracting with you to publish it, are minimal. The reason, as in finding an agent, is that the ocean is filled with swimmers, and there are only so many lifeboats to pluck them out of the sea. Besides, conventional publishers take an average of anywhere from one to two years to bring a book to market. Read More 
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MY FAVORITE AUTHORS?

Someone asked me the other day who my favorite authors are. I had to think about it for a while, because I appreciate good writing and quality craftsmanship, and that combination isn't easy to find these days. In the end, I came up with several favorites whose works I've enjoyed over the years, some of the longest lasting being Melville, Hawthorne, Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Dürrenmatt, Kafka, Dostoevsky, and even Donald Barthelme for his mastery of the short story. But only one writer changed my life forever more than fifty years ago. It was a guy who went by the name of J. D. Salinger.

 

I was a freshman in high school when our teacher assigned the book, The Catcher in the Rye, for a report. Thinking it was a story about baseball (freshman, remember), I decided to read it rather than merely peruse Cliff's Notes and skate through the assignment, as usual. Well, it wasn't long before I fell in love with Holden Caulfield's brashness and the power of his creator's literary voice. They got me thinking about how cool it would be to be an author and how fortunate Salinger was to have a name as distinctive as J. D. You know, only those two initials out front.

 

Just for fun, I began contemplating what sort of by-line I would have used had I ever decided to write a book. You know. J. D. Salinger. D. J. Herda. J. D. Salinger. D. J. Herda. Read More 

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WRITING FOR THE ABSURD

When I was a kid of 17 or so, I wrote a satirical stage play and tried to find a publisher/producer for it. When that failed, I decided I could produce it myself. (How hard could it be?) I happened to know a man at Follett Publishing in New York. Which is to say, I knew of him from some book rejection slips he'd sent me over the years. So, on a lark and desperate for notoriety, I gave him a call to tell him what I had in mind. I explained the plot, told him about the characters, and said I was looking to produce the script and had heard he might be interested in backing an upcoming young playwright.

 

To my surprise, he said, "Sure. I'd like to hear more. When can we get together to talk?"

 

Naturally, since I lived in Chicago and he lived in New York, I had to do some fancy shuffling before the opportunity arose for me to go knocking on his door. I had by then scraped together a few bucks, and I prevailed upon a couple of friends to kick in a few more for a third-class train ticket, and I called Louis Zara and told him of my plans.

 

He sounded delighted and suggested he pick me up at the airport and take me to his home for dinner. I sounded delighted and replied, "Sure. Great. Except I don't like to fly, so I'll be taking the train."

 

"Even better," he said. "I'll see you at Penn Station when you get in." Read More 

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BOOK SALES AND PROFITS

I never cease to be amazed at the literary skills (or lack of them) that some people possess while nonetheless thinking they're equipped to write a book and make a killing. It's not that I object to people seeking reasonable answers to intelligible questions. That's how we learn. But, I received this question the other day: "How many sales before a 275-page book shows a profit at $100 a copy?"

 

Naturally, it was too enticing a question to pass up; so, I didn't.

 

You didn't exactly give a whole lot of thought to this question, did you? I mean, first of all, what's your definition of "profit"? If you mean something so obtuse as to how many copies you'd have to sell to cover the time, sweat, and tears you spent in writing your book, I haven't a clue. The variables are too great. Nor do I have an inkling of the rate you ascribe to your hourly toils or how many weeks, months, or years you spent busting your butt.


Ahh, but I see now in reading between the lines that, since neither the book's total number of pages nor its oversized format would affect your bottom line, that must not be what you mean. Read More 

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MAKING FANTASY "MORE ADULT"

First, I'm assuming you're an adult. If you're not, you may have stumbled across why your book reads like a YA. It's tough for a kid to create a story from an adult's point-of-view. If that's the case and you're attempting to write the way an older person would, I think superimposing an adult to whom you feel close in place of yourself as the narrator might help. In other words, instead of asking how you, a 16-year-old high-school student, might describe a scene involving a 24-year-old man, ask how your 39-year-old favorite Uncle Jack might do so. Imagine yourself as he might tell the story. Just one possible solution.

 

Second, no matter your age, I'm guessing you haven't thought the story through in detail. I'm also betting you haven't written out a comprehensive, chapter-by-chapter outline from which to work. If you're "winging it," hoping for inspiration to strike around every corner every time you sit down to tackle your story, you're likely to be disappointed. That's been my experience, at any rate. Particularly with Sci-Fi/Fantasy, if you can't picture the story and don't have it outlined from start to finish, it can be really tough sledding—and a huge disappointment in the end. So, here's what I suggest. Read More 

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DO SKILLS AND CREATIVITY MAKE WRITING EASY?

I answered this question on an Internet forum the other day, as did some other writers. Some of their responses were pretty silly. Let's see if I can make mine fit right in.

 

If someone has the skills and creativity to be a writer, he also has the intellect to know that easy writing is vile hard reading. Period. If writing ever seems easy to a writer, he knows he's doing it wrong.

 

That's not to say that writing doesn't get easier with age, assuming the writer is open to self-critique, learning, self-editing, and growing his craft. I find writing easier today than I did when I got started more than half a century ago. I never suffer from a loss for words (sometimes known as the dreaded writer's block affliction). I always know the rules of proper grammar and syntax. I know how to edit both other people's works and my own. I can sense in an instant when a character is interesting (make that magnetic) and when he's a crashing bore. And I live to create lively, moving dialogue.

 

Now, none of that means I find writing today easy. If that day ever comes, I'll hang up my typewriter ribbon for good because it will mean I finally failed. And I'll have to admit it. Read More 

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SHARING NEW FILM SCRIPT WITH OTHERS

Someone recently asked if he could share the first ten pages of his new script with me. My answer was a resounding absolutely not!

 

Nor, by the way, should a screenwriter ever ask to do so.

 

There's a good reason that all film and television producers refuse to accept unsolicited scripts. If one arrives in the morning mail, the production company returns it unopened. If a producer accepts an unsolicited manuscript for review and turns it down, he's exposed himself to legal action should he happen to make a film whose "idea" the author claims the producer stole from him.

 

Claims of property theft are more of a problem in filmmaking than in publishing because books are finished products while scripts are little more than malleable, evolving ideas or concepts. In any given year, probably twenty or more similar ideas are accepted for production. It wouldn't take much for a writer whose script was read by one of those producers to file a legal claim of property theft against him. That would halt all work on the film, pending the outcome of the litigation, which would most likely be a settlement of a considerable amount of money on the "agrieved author."

 

Because of that, any writer even attempting Read More 

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NOVEL COLLABORATION

If you've been thinking about collaborating with someone on writing a novel, think again. Here's why.

 

First, collaborating means coordinating, and that's a step you wouldn't need to take if writing solo. It's not easy to get two different people to work together on any project, let alone a conventionally solitary one such as writing a novel.

 

Second, collaborating can be a prolonged and tedious job. The chapter that you might have pounded out yourself in a day or two could take a week or more when working with someone else.

 

Third, what you may view as some of your best work won't end up in the book—not, at least, if your collaborator strongly disagrees with your judgment. That could lead to hurt feelings and disappointment. Read More 

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