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About Writing Right: The Blog


I ran across this question on a forum the other day. Will a book editor comment on a good book when he sees one? I wasn't surprised at the large number of misleading and outright wrong responses the author received. Here's what I know about the subject.

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If, by the phrase "book editor," you mean a conventional book publisher's acquisitions editor to whom you submit your book for publication and not someone you hire to clean it up, the answer is far more simple than your other respondents indicate. Those respondents include the person with a self-published eBook on Amazon and another who, in forty years, has never heard of an editor saying a story is good. The truth to your question is obvious.


Of course he will! That's what a book editor's job is—to find and publish quality, marketable books. Remember?


Now, you didn't ask about a book editor providing a detailed criticism or offering an unpaid assessment or any of the other ridiculous things to which some respondents replied. The reality is that, if a book is any good and fits an editor's list, he or she will tell you so and offer a contract. Even if it's not something upon which he can make an offer (wrong genre, wrong subject, bad timing, not a large enough potential audience), if he's an intelligent and thoughtful editor, he'll let you know you're on the right track. Read More 

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I place little credence in someone who claims that chapter names aren't necessary anymore, as a few writers do. Quite the contrary: They can be of great importance both to the writer as he's working on developing a book and to the reader as he peruses the TOC page to decide whether or not to buy it on the spot or order it online.


Of my ninety published books, About Writing Right, a nonfiction how-to, features chapter names. So does my nonfiction bio, Wilma Mankiller. On the other hand, my novel, The Last Wild Orchid, has only title numbers and no names. But my short-story collection, Chi-Town Blues, does. For me, it all depends upon what feels "right" for that particular book. There is no universal preference.


As for your question, I have the consummate answer to how to come up with good chapter names. Brainstorm! Put something down, jot down a few alternatives that come to mind, and then decide which one works best for you. Rinse, dry, and repeat. It can take even the most creative writer nearly forever to come up with a single name that checks all the boxes. Read More 

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I ran across a question from someone online the other day. He just completed his first novel, feels it needs some help, and is confused by all the conflicting suggestions from readers for whose opinions he asked. Knowing there'd be no lack of suggestions from respondents who don't have a clue as to what they're talking about, I set about setting him straight.

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Well, first off, ignore the advice given by the Queen of Wrong. It's absolutely absurd. You have already received plenty of grammar, punctuation, and spelling suggestions. Considering that only five percent of all readers are proficient in their understanding of grammar and even fewer of punctuation and spelling, chances are you'll get a ton of bad advice. Should you take it? What do you think? I'm afraid Queenie missed the mark again.


In truth, you can't possibly know which advice to take and which to reject without knowing what makes for good writing, which is why you're having trouble distinguishing between the two. The solution is not to envision the story in your head like a movie and then write an outline. That might help you address one part of your problem (story development), but it does nothing to address the second part of your problem, which is the mechanics of writing.


So, how do you learn your craft well enough to distinguish between good and bad writing? The most obvious answer is to enroll in some highly ranked writing and English courses. Then, in two or three years, you should be qualified to tackle your problem.


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Have you read Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms? If so, did you love it ... or hate it? One author read a copy as an eBook and found it so lacking in substance and quality of writing that he questioned whether or not it was a bad translation from a foreign language. Then, he asked my opinion, to which I responded.

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That's something of a silly question, isn't it, considering you indicated no source for your eBook or shared any of its contents? That reduces anybody's answer to your question to little more than an educated guess.


With that said, I have studied Hemingway's history and works for decades, and I wrote about him (both fiction and nonfiction) on several occasions. Like everyone else in the universe, I have a distinct impression of the caliber of his writing. It's great.


It's great, that is, for a journalist seeking to become a novelist.


For a novelist seeking to be stylishly relevant, poetic, imaginative, and grammatically accurate, it's not so great.
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When someone online asked my opinion regarding using Grammarly rather than hiring an editor to clean up his book, I couldn't resist responding. Here's what I said.

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I can't understand all the divergent responses and comments to respondent Michelle's reply, which was right on target: If you can't afford an editor, you're not ready to publish. To elaborate on her response, here are a couple more points.


First, Grammarly is marginally effective software that is often more damaging in the hands of the uneducated than it is an effective editing tool. I'm a grammarian who has taught analytic grammar at the college level for more than fifty years. I have also conventionally published more than ninety books in all genres, along with tens of thousands of articles and short stories. I've used Grammarly as an adjunct to MS Word's Spell Check to help me catch obvious mistakes, such as misspellings, for years. I ignore seventy-five percent of Grammarly's suggestions because they're incorrect. I mean, they're grammatically incorrect and often take perfectly acceptable syntax and turn it into unreadable gibberish. So, unless you don't need Grammarly except to see if you omitted a word here or there or have an unnecessarily long phrase or a misspelling, don't use it. It is no substitute for a qualified editor. Let me repeat: Grammarly is no substitute for a professional editor—not even close. Read More 

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When a writer asked this online the other day, he received some horrible responses. Here's how I answered.

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First, I would suggest that you not be misled by the response from someone who claims that practicing only one specific form or type of writing will benefit that writing. That is complete nonsense, especially from someone who purports to know enough to teach other writers to improve their literary skills. It is an appalling response.


The accurate answer from someone not shooting from the lip is this: Absolutely, poetry can increase your writing skills. Not only poetry but also business letters, romance fiction, how-to books, biographies, diaries, and whatever else you can think of to write. All writing is intertwined as far as essential writing skillsets are concerned. While writing poetry won't increase your skills in another genre or format immediately, it will do so over time. Read More 

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Someonee asked me the other day how authors find publishers who are willing to support first-time authors in their quest to write their books. My response? You might have guessed.

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They don't. Pure and simple. I'm not sure what fantasies you've been reading to give you the notion that they do, but let me set you straight. Publishers couldn't give a damn about first-time authors and their quest to write a book. We're not talking King Arthur and the Holy Grail, here. We're talking reality. And reality comes in two flavors.


On one side, we have one flavor called publishing. Publishing is a business. It's comprised of corporate entities, most of which have shareholders who meet once a year to elect their boards of directors, discuss their profits and losses, and moan about the lackluster performance of their stocks on the market. Read More 

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Let's assume for a moment that a novel thought just struck you (excuse the pun). It's a sure-fire way to get your foot in the door at a major publishing house such as Simon and Schuster or Penguin Putnam and on your way to having your book not only read but also published. And it can't miss.


Sound far-fetched? I don't know. I had that very same thought shortly after I began pitching my books to publishers and getting stock rejection slips in return. The thought occured to me, even as a writer still in his teens, that if I could only meet with an editor face-to-face to tell him how great my book is, I could convince him to take a look at a copy. Once he read it, of course, I'd be on Easy Street.


It all seemed so simple that I wondered why no one had ever thought of it before. The only question I had was how to go about doing it. Whom should I pitch? What should I ask for? A lunch meeting? An office tete-te? An afternoon in the Park?


If that thought ever occured to you, you're probably still asking yourself how to go about doing it. My answer?


You can't.




Let me repeat. You can't. Here's why. Read More 

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A newbie author recently asked if it really takes 3 - 6 months to hear back from an editor after furnishing him with sample chapters and a synopsis for a book. Naturally, Queenie jumped in with her usual inaccurate response, detailing the life of an unsolicited manuscript ending up in the ubiquitous "slush pile." Here's the reality of the situation.

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Not to question the integrity of the reply from the Queen of Wrong, but, no, not all publishers take 3 - 6 months to respond after receiving sample chapters and a synopsis. I imagine that if she had taken the time to read your question more carefully instead of shooting from the lip, she would have seen the critical elements to your question: "receiving the sample chapters and synopsis."


For a writer to have gotten far enough into correspondence with a publisher for an editor to ask to see sample chapters and a synopsis of a book submission, the author already queried that publisher and met with a positive reaction. Acquisitions editors who request chapters and synopses don't throw them in the slush pile. Ever. They tag them for reading and additional consideration as soon as practical. Read More 

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The question came in the other day: How many books should I write before I publish one? The answers, almost to a one, were ridiculous. One response from a spotlight-grabbing literary wannabe stated outright: one million words. Not very grounded in reality. Here's how I corrected the narrative.

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The Queen of Wrong strikes again. There is no magic number, not "in general" or otherwise. The truth is that you can self-publish the very first novel you write and be happy with it or self-publish your tenth and hate it. Just understand that, in either case, no one else is likely to see it, let alone read and enjoy it, unless you happen to be a marketing guru. But, that's the foible of self-publishing.


As for conventionally publishing a book, here's a reality check: You have nothing to say about when you "publish one." That, my confused newbie friend, is totally up to the marketplace. You can "try" to have a book published by submitting it to a conventional, advance-paying publisher, but whether or not it's accepted isn't up to you; it's up to the publisher. It's a competitive market out there, and all conventional publishers know it. I estimate that more than ninety-nine percent of all submissions to conventional publishers are rejected out of hand. Read More 

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A curious beginning writer recently asked on a forum if it's time-consuming to publish books. I could have played along with the masses and gone off the deep end. Instead, here's what I thought was the best way to handle the question.

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No. Publishing books is neither an overtly lengthy nor an intrinsically "time-consuming" process, whatever that means. Contrary to what most other respondents have advised you, publishing books itself may eat up no more time than shopping for a new car or closing a loan on your house, and it could be lickety-split, depending upon your definition and several unknown entities missing from your question.


Here's what I mean.


For starters, you didn't ask about writing books for publication. You asked about publishing books. The time it takes for that varies with conventional versus POD or self-publishing. While conventionally published books may take from ten months to two years or more, depending upon a large number of variables, they may also take only a few weeks. That's if a particular book's subject matter is timely; if the book is time-sensitive, and if the market is chomping at the bit to read about what the book's author has to say. The first tell-all book on the life and death of Princess Diana, for example, appeared within weeks of her demise. She was killed in a car crash on August 31, 1997, and a book by Simon and Schuster hit the streets that same year. Several more publishers released books not long after.
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