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Writing Right: The Blog

CREATING A ONE-PAGE SYNOPSIS

Somebody asked, rather skeptically at best, how to turn a 150,000-word manuscript into a one-page synopsis. I mean, it just can't be done. Can it? Can it?

 

Well, you've probably already guessed the answer to that. Here's what I advised.

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You've received some useful pointers here, most notably the need for you to reduce the total word count of your manuscript by a third. That's true if you ever hope to sell the novel to a conventional publisher or until you make a name for yourself as a top-selling author, at which time you can sell any number of words you want. One not-so-good pointer you received is to write a synopsis with a misplaced modifier in the very first sentence, as in this respondent's example:

 

"John invites Mary to spend the weekend with him at a cabin by an upstate lake, that his dad has agreed to let him use."

 

Huh? His dad agreed to let him use an upstate lake?

 

Besides that little bit of ridiculousness, not one of the respondents to your question actually answered you when you asked How does one go about compressing a 150K novel into a page … The respondents tell you why you should condense your story into a single-page synopsis (which is not a "spoiler"). They tell you what your synopsis should include and why it should include it. But, they never give you a clue as to how to accomplish your goal.

 

But I will. Read More 

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COPYRIGHT: Yay or Nay?

Someone recently asked if I suggested he register his work with the U.S. Copyright Office before submitting it to publishers. He had received a lot of suggestions against doing so because it wasn't necessary. Publishers aren't going to steal anyone's work. But, actually, there are even more reasons for not registering your work before submitting it for publication--or ever. Surprised? Here's what I told him.

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Let me respond here less to the obvious and more to the down-and-dirty, nitty-gritty, practical issues of non-registration. I suggest you pass on registering your manuscript before sending it out to publishers for several reasons.

 

  1. Your manuscript is copyright-protected from the moment of its creation in a "fixed … tangible medium of expression," according to the U.S. Copyright Office.
  2. If someone appropriates and infringes upon your work, you can issue a demand letter for the violator to remove that work from all public spaces, including Websites, magazines, newspapers, books, billboards, television ads, stores, and so forth.
  3. If a violator fails to respond to your demand letter, you can sue for actual and punitive damages in Federal Court, but only after registering your work with the U.S. Copyright Office. The distinction boils down to this: You don't need to register to prove ownership of your creative property; you do need to register to take a violator to court for actual and punitive damages. Read More 
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OUTLINING CHAPTERS IN MID-STREAM

Can you write eleven chapters of a book and then decide to write a complete outline? That's what someone recently asked me. It's a question I like a lot because I've been there and done that ... a lot!

 

Now, as the King of Outlining, I hate to admit this, but it's true. Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in a new property that we dive right in without stopping to create an outline. Often, we don't even think we need one until we're well on our way to completing the book.

 

But, you know what?

 

We need one.

 

Somewhere along the line, every author will need an outline to sell his book. Either an agent will request it, or an editor will ask for it as part of a submissions package. For either of those two scenarios, a general synopsis (a complete book outline) will suffice. But if you're going to go to the trouble of outlining the complete book, why not make it a detailed chapter outline (chapter-by-chapter) so that you can also use it as a blueprint while completing your writing? Read More 

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SETTING YOUR NOVEL "RESPONSIBLY"

A writer grappling with how to write a novel responsibly while placing it in Incan/Mayan lands received a suggestion from a "College/University" respondent to travel there to research the locality personally. My advice to the stymied author?

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Wow, leave it to a person whose credentials for answering a serious question are "attended some College/University." That's the person I'd want giving my friends and loved ones such life-altering advice as "travel to Mayan/Incan land" where you can learn firsthand how to write ethically while "thriving in context." You know, I have a piece of advice of my own for Mr. College/University: Go back to school and learn how to think things through practically.

 

The truth here is twofold. First, as for ethics, approach your subject ethically by being aware that we're all real human beings, some of whom are fortunate enough to be citizens of the United States of the Real World. In other words, don't worry about being politically correct. Do worry about portraying people and their cultures without bias. Treat all people equally, both in your writing and in your life, no matter what their culture is, and you're sure to be a winner. Don't talk down; write up!

 

Second, as for your book thriving in context, do some research. Travel there if Mr. College/University will pick up the tab. That's assuming you're not averse to the gangland murders and cartel mayhem spreading throughout the land. (Wow, good choice--Mexico!) Otherwise, listen up, because I have an alternative. It's called research.

 

Don't know how to research? Then either 1.) learn or 2.) set your fantasy culture in Detroit or Pittsburgh or someplace with which you're more familiar. Read More 

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DEFENDING AGAINST COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT

Someone wrote me the other day asking how he could defend himself from a claim of copyright infringement even though he hadn't registered his own work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Sound like tough sledding? Read on for my response.

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It seems as if even attorneys can get this answer wrong if they don't read the question carefully. I understand that one entertainment lawyer advised that you'll need to show the claimant in this case had prior access to your work. That would be true if YOU were suing HIM for copyright infringement, but that's not the case. Just the opposite. In suing you, the claimant had prior exposure to your work, most likely because you had already published or otherwise made it available publicly. Now, he will have to prove that HIS version of a primarily identical work predated yours. You, of course, need to show that it didn't.


Your job, then, becomes primarily defensive. You'll need to round up all your evidence, including dated copies of your rough drafts and finalized version. Microsoft and other software manufacturers time-stamp your dated material every time you open a document and save changes, from your earliest saved version on up to the latest one.

 

Also, you'll have to gather together any correspondence referencing your work on the property, either physically or digitally through e-mail, messaging, texting, phone conversations, etc. Sworn statements from people who knew you were working on your property and when will also prove invaluable. So, too, will any inquiries regarding reference and research work you did and the people you contacted—like a query to a photo agency or a historical library. Ditto, friends, neighbors, drinking buddies, teachers, coworkers, and family members with whom you may have discussed various aspects of your work during its development. And don't forget any social-media postings or discussions of your work, which will also be dated. And, of course, interviewees whom you may have spoken to in preparing your material. Read More 

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BEG, BORROW (A BIT), OR STEAL

What do you say? Can you legally beg, borrow, or steal a line or two from another writer as long as it's not enough to put you in Dutch with the Copyright Cops?

 

Beg or borrow? Not sure those are legally definable words. Steal? Ouch. We don't want to go there. But the truth is you can use some of another writer's material as long as you attribute that material to the original author. "Some," here, is the operative word. Keep the usage to a minimum, as in this example in quotation marks:

 

I can't say it any better: 'Donita was a flake, and she knew it from the day she was born,' according to author Pete Markowitz wrtiting in his book, Dark Day at Diablo.

That's one way to handle a short excerpt from another author's work. If it's a little longer, you might grant the quoted material its own paragraph to set it apart further, as in this example:

 

As author Markie Mark said in his article, "Going My Way," in the June, 1972, issue of Motorist Magazine:

QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL QUOTED MATERIAL.

Putting the quoted material in italics and indenting it in a block sets it apart from your original writing even further and prevents the reader from mistaking it for your own material. Read More 

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IS DIGITAL PUBLISHING'S FUTURE?

Somebody asked me this question the other day--and someone else before that, and someone else. It's a hot topic with some people. And, I'm sorry to disagree with those who say the future of books is all digital, because they're wrong, and they've been proven wrong a lot. Numerous studies, polls, and industry statistics show that digital sales are flagging and have been for years, while the percentage of print sales is holding its own and even rising. The novelty of the digital book, it seems, is wearing off. And so is its perceived value.

 

I stopped to think about that just the other day. I mean, what's so bad about digital books? Buy a digital book, and you have access to it wherever and whenever you want. Buy a physical book, and you have access to it wherever and whenever … Oops. Never mind. Forget that one. How about this:

 

Buy a digital book, and gift it to a friend or leave your digital library to your heirs when you die. Buy a physical book … Oops. Never mind that one, too.

 

Buy a digital book, and it's yours as long as the software is kept in service. Buy a physical book and it's yours … Ouch. I missed on that one, as well.

 

Here's one I can't screw up. Take a physical book to the pool and drop it in the water, and you're out twenty or thirty bucks. Take a digital book to the pool and drop it ...

 

Oh, hell. Read More 

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SURVIVING AS A FULL-TIME AUTHOR

I can't tell you how many beginning writers have asked me over the years if it's possible to earn a living as a full-time book writer. My answer is always the same: Yes ... and no.

 

To begin with, let's clear up a few misconceptions. Here are some all-too-commonly given tips to becoming a self-supporting, full-time author that I highly suggest you ignore:

  1. See what traits bestselling books have in common - The truth is, they have very little in common, as a quick glance at the NYT bestseller's list will affirm. And even if they had, jumping on the bandwagon to create a similar book that gets published from six months to two years later won't do you a bit of good, because the train has already left that station.
  2. Write a grippy book on a trendy topic - Been there, discussed that (see above).
  3. Build a huge following on social media, or become a sought-after celebrity - Social media, it's been proven, doesn't translate into book sales, so that advice is worthless. And becoming a celebrity—you mean, like Tucker Carlson or Kami Baby? Well, that's pretty damned difficult to pull off without a whole lot of time, patience, persistence, and luck. And, in the meantime, who's going to be writing your books?
  4. Learn how to write a fantastic pitch letter that promises editors what they want - Not even close. If editors knew what they wanted, they wouldn't need authors' submissions; they'd commission those bestsellers themselves. The truth is that editors rely upon authors and agents to tell them what they think is a hot topic. As for a fantastic pitch, I'm onboard with that one. Get an acquisition editor's interest piqued, and you're halfway home.
  5. Convince a literary agent to represent you and pitch your book to major publishers - Totally ridiculous. You'd have better success pitching your book to publishers yourself, even though most of them will summarily turn you down, than trying to land a legitimate literary agent to represent you, an unknown and untested writer with no proven track record. Agents make their living off the percentage they receive from selling their writers' works. No sales record, no attraction. Game, set, match! Got it? Read More 
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SUBMIT ART WITH MANUSCRIPT?

We've all been there. As authors, we have preconceived notions of the universes we create and populate, particularly in fiction. Sometimes, we even sketch out our ideas or, at least, get a visual image in our minds. And then, when our books are completed, we're faced with what to do with those sketches and images.

 

"I know!" you say. "I'll submit them with the book. They'll give the editor a better idea of what I'm talking about!" Right?

 

Wrong! In fact, a trade-book author should never submit his or her book for publication complete with artwork unless an editor asks for it. The reason is not that "illustrations require a lot more work on the part of the printers, which means it costs more to print the book" as someone recently speculated. That's sheer nonsense. In eighteenth-century America, yes. In today's age of digital printing, no.

 

The truth is that, while printing most illustrations costs no more than printing a page of text, most acquisitions editors frown on receiving illustrations as part of a manuscript submission package because they find illustrations distracting from the written word, if not outright disruptive to the flow of the story. Also, editors aren't illustrators and shouldn't be expected to know a good illustration from a bad one.

On the other hand, every publisher I've ever worked with was happy to review samples or suggestions for artwork with the art director and staff after issuing a publishing contract. That doesn't mean they used the art, of course. Most passed based upon their own concept of art already under in-house consideration. Nonetheless, they looked out of courtesy. Read More 

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CAN FIRST-BOOK AUTHORS SCORE BIG?

You know how some people on their day off think about fun things to do with the family? Well, I was thinking the other day about the likelihood of a debut author landing a book contract with a major publisher--one of the Big Five, to be exact. Not that it hasn't been done before. But ... well, not very often.

 

So, how likely is a debut author to get published by a major publisher? Not very. As in NEARLY NEVER. And I'm not talking about someone whose work is poorly executed, badly edited, and rife with typos and other errors, which is a no-brainer. I'm talking about first-rate writers with a solid understanding of their craft who have produced a top-quality first book. The chances in that case? Still, next to none. Yes, the marketplace is just that competitive and glutted.

 

Notice that this question doesn't even begin to broach the subject of marketability, which has become such a critical player in today's publishing industry that, unless an author can guarantee solid sales right out of the box, most conventional publishers won't give him or her a wink and a nod. I see Pulitzer- and Nobel-quality books passed upon every day just because the publisher can't envision dollar signs as the book rolls off the press. Read More 

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