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About Writing Right: The Blog

WHEN THAT NOVEL COMES UP SHORT

I was thinking back to when I started writing at the ripe old age of fourteen. Back to when words flowed from my cranium like teeth from a drunkard's mouth. Every thing I wrote down was agonizingly painful. By the time I finished whatever tome upon which I'd been working, I was exhausted. And I could only hope my work was long enough to qualify as a novel.

 

Often, it wasn't.

 

So, what do you do if you complete your Great American What's-It and find it's only 39,000 words long? Is that long enough to qualify? Before sitting back on your laurels, think about a story my agent once told me about a fledgling writer who once submitted a 45,000-word manuscript to a conventional publisher. The editor sent it back with the note, "This isn't a novel; it's a pamphlet."

 

Ouch! Painful. Especially since a little bit of inquiring would have prevented that.

 

If you find yourself in a similar situation, the question becomes, What am I going to do about it? You can't submit your work to a conventional publisher as a novel, and few publishers these days publish novellas, a label that's more in keeping with your work's length. I'm guessing you had your heart set on becoming a published "novelist," anyway, which is difficult to pull off without a novel under your belt.

 

True, you can publish it yourself and label it anything you want, but you won't be fooling anyone, and you certainly won't be setting yourself up as a successful novelist. So, my guess is that you wouldn't mind expanding the book to sixty or seventy thousand words or more so you can submit it for conventional publication. Am I right?

 

My next guess is that you don't have a clue as to how to go about doing that since you already poured everything you have into your story—beginning, middle, and end—and don't have much left in the tank. Right again? Read More 

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SELF-PUBLISHING A BOOK

Someone asked me on Quora the other day where he could self-publish a book with an agent. He received a number of inappropiate replies. Here's what I told him.

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Well, welcome to the world of ridiculous answers. I see you don't specify whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, print or eBook, but that didn't stop one perennially notorious misleading respondent from advising you that your "novel" isn't long enough to be publishable, which in itself is inaccurate advice. If you're self-publishing either fiction or nonfiction, there are no rules on length. Nor are there any hard-and-fast dicta on sales and pricing of self-published books.

 

If you're serious about self-publishing, you should know that not only don't you need an agent but also you won't find an agent willing to take you on as a client. So, you're right on track there! Read More 

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GETTING PAST WRITER'S BLOCK

People often ask me how I get past writer's block. Usually, I tell them that writer's block is nothing more than a writer's unwillingness to write.

 

That's what I said: unwillingness.

 

Oh, sure, I know. You want to write, you're eager to begin, you're desperate to create, but "writer's block" jumps up to stand squarely in the way of you and your creativity.

 

Bull cookies! Let me explain.

 

When I was a kid of fourteen, the glamor and allure of becoming a writer were overpowering. I had to write. Often, that meant staying up all night, when everyone else in the household was fast asleep. Writer's block? It was a killer. At times, I'd sit, trying to think of things to say, for hours and still come up empty. Or, I'd throw some rough ideas down on a piece of paper and go back to read them the next day. And, I'd crumple it up and throw it in the trash.

 

Writer's block existed for me, and I'm a testimonial to its very reality.

 

As I grew older, I took a position as an assistant editor at a national magazine based out of the Windy City. And, I answered a call for a stringer for a suburban Chicago newspaper chain, working evenings covering school-board and town council meetings. Really exciting, creative stuff. Read More 

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REVIEWING A FRIEND'S NEW BOOK

When someone you know asks you to review a copy of her new book, and it's awful, what do you do?

 

Here's what I did when a writer/friend of some years asked me to review a copy of her new book, which was scheduled for POD release a couple months later. Despite the fact that this author had already written and published several psychic romances, including one with a conventional publisher, I soon realized the new book was in trouble. So, I picked out the strong points, built them into a review, and then, in an aside to the author, pointed out some serious typos, grammatical errors, and punctuation problems so that she might review and consider revising them before releasing the book to the public.

 

I never heard from her again.

 

Obviously, some people can take creative criticism, and some can't. I assumed I was giving her the best of two worlds—a review she could publish to her benefit and tips on preparing the book for release if she chose to consider them. She apparently didn't see things that way. Read More 

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WHAT IF YOU DON'T KNOW?

I saw someone ask a question online the other day. It went something like this: "How to Write an Article When You don't Know Anything about It." Here's how I responded.

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Research. Next ridiculous question, please.

 

I mean, are you kidding? Is this a fake question? Are you getting paid to ask the most ludicrous things you can possibly think of? Did someone put you up to this?

 

No writer knows everything about the subject he sets out to immortalize. Many writers know nothing. That's what "hitting the books" is all about. In the good old days B.C. (Before Connectivity), if I got an assignment about which I knew little or nothing, I'd have to schlep myself down to the local library, work the card catalog until I was blue in the face, find some reference books or tapes, locate the contact information for some experts in the field, make a few dozen phone calls, conduct an interview or two, and hope everything came out well in the end. Read More 

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"PAY-TO-PLAY" OR NO BIG DEAL?

Let's begin with an assumption: You contact a restaurant owner about writing a review about his restaurant for publication. And, let's also say that you're on a, umm, "tight" budget. When you get to the restaurant, the owner volunteers to "comp" you a meal featuring some of their signature entrees. You're delighted.

 

Question: Is that ethical?

 

Here's my take on the subject after more than half a century of writing reviews on everything from restaurants to luxury resorts. If a restaurant owner (or anyone) pays you in the form of a free meal to write a review about them and you accept the gratuity, you can't in good conscience write a review for publication without revealing that fact to a publisher. To do otherwise would constitute at least the appearance of pay-to-play. And, you simply can't do that in the world of "journalistic integrity."

 

Now, if you want to run your review past the New York Times or The Washington Post, I wouldn't worry too much about journalistic integrity. The editors there haven't heeded that concept for decades. And I speak from experience as a former columnist for The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Chicago Tribune, and many others for years. But that was eons ago when a publication's integrity and impartiality were paramount. Today, they're little more than tantamount—to sales. Everything else, it seems, takes a back seat. Read More 

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COPYING BOOKS FOR RELATIVES

A novice author asked a forum question the other day about why a publisher should object to his making 100 copies of his book to give to his relatives. Here's how I responded.

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I see that one respondent, Andrew, gave you sound advice. Several other respondents should learn not to speak without thinking things through or knowing what they're talking about. Not the first time by far, and knowing at least one of them and her propensity for her shoot-from-the-lip, misleading replies, it won't be the last.

 

The bottom line has nothing to do with who copyrights the book in your name—you or a publisher. You already own copyright; who registers that copyright for you is a moot point. Nor has the bottom line anything to do with making a publisher's job "more complicated and difficult for them to deal with." It does have to do with sales. Whether or not you already have a publishing contract or hope to land one down the line, when you cut into the marketing gene pool, you deprive a publisher of that many potential sales. That's true whether we're talking about 100 or 100,000 copies and whether it's an existing or a potential publisher. Read More 

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HELP LANDING PUBLISHING CONTRACT

Someone on a forum asked for advice in finding an editor who can help him get published. My reply, as you can see, went a little beyond his basic question of "Can you recommend an editor who can help me find a publisher for my book?"

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Sure, I can. But, a word of caution. Few book editors have both conventional publishing house connections (rare) and literary representation (even more rare) to go along with their editing skills. Also, not all book editors will tackle all properties. Some of the reasons an editor may pass on a book are these:

  1. It's fiction, and the editor handles only nonfiction, or vice versa.
  2. The amount of work required is more than the editor can handle at the time, meaning the book requires more work than he's able to devote to it.
  3. The author's style doesn't appeal to the editor, and he doesn't believe he can contribute to the project and still remain true to the author's literary voice.
  4. The work is a Children's/Young Adult book, and the editor handles only Adult titles, or vice versa.
  5. The genre is one the editor doesn't like (Romance or Mystery, for example) or one with which the editor hasn't any experience or comfort level.
  6. The remuneration offered is not worth the effort.
  7. The work is nowhere near ready for editing and preparation for publishing. Read More 
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THE MAKING OF A BAD NOVEL

Have you ever wondered about what makes a good novel good? And, even more importantly, what makes a bad novel bad?

 

Here are some of the objective shortcomings that can make a novel bad, as I have witnessed in more than half a century of novel writing, editing, observing, studying, critiquing, teaching, and book doctoring. Oh, yeah. And raising registered Hereford cattle on a ranch in rural Wisconsin. Or doesn't that count?

  1. A weak storyline. If you don't have a plot of universal appeal, you don't have a good novel. In short, a successful book must resonate with the reader, or it will fail miserably both in the marketplace and in the forum of public opinion.
  2. Beginning the book with the first and last names of the protagonist. I mean, can you be a bit more obvious in trying to cram as much information into the first few sentences as possible? And, while we're on the Q&A thing, can you tell me why an author would do that other than for lack of experience and/or talent? Numerous writers apparently don't understand that a character's name is relatively unimportant to the reader until there's a legitimate reason for knowing it. The one exception to the rule? Nope. Can't think of a single thing.
  3. Laying out the entire plot in the first few sentences. You'd be amazed (and just a little disheartened) at how many writers are in such a hurry to snag the reader's attention—and have such a strong opinion of the value of their storyline—that they can't wait to clue the reader in as soon as inhumanly possible. And I don't use that word lightly. It's a literary sin against all human intellect everywhere for a writer to take his reader's intelligence for granted to that degree. Read More 
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