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About Writing Right: The Blog

YOUR BOOK RIGHTS

Someone asked a question online recently that stumped even me ... for a while at least. He wanted to know what happens to an author's book rights if the book isn't selling. Here's how I finally decided to respond.

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This is an easy one. If your book is not selling, the Copyright Cops show up at your front door, usually around 3 a.m. although sometimes right in the middle of your favorite television show, and serve you a court order and an injunction forbidding you to receive any future royalties from book sales and ordering you to sign over all rights to your book to the federal government.

 

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Uncle Sam is trying to grab everything else you own, why not your creative endeavors, too? Read More 

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ROMAN NUMERAL CHAPTER HEADINGS

People have asked me this question a few times now in the last few months, and it deserves an answer. Namely, can you use chapters numbered with Roman numerals in your novel? My answer: Yes!

 

Next question: Should you use chapters numbered with Roman numerals in your novel? Next answer: No! For reasons that may not be obvious. So, let me add a little something more from an "insider's" point-of-view to clarify.


As a former book, magazine, and newspaper editor, I soon learned that nothing set my ears upright and the hairs on the back of my neck skyrocketing for the stars faster than some quirky, unconventionally formatted manuscript submission. It told me about the writer, "I'm a weirdo trying to stand out visually because my material isn't strong enough to stand out on its own contextually." And, do you want to know something else? That was (and is) exactly right. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred. And, for that one time that it didn't hold true, well, let me just say that, as an editor swamped with manuscripts, running the risk of wading through all the hog slop in search of the pork chop just wasn't worth it. Read More 

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PLOTTING PROBLEMS

When someone posed the question on line as to why he is able to create good characters but can't create a decent story to save his soul, the Internet lit up with do-gooders, not the least of whom was one of my favorite spreaders of online misinformation. Here's what I told him.

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First, assuming the Queen of Wrong can read (which may be a stretch), I'm not sure why she feels you are only interested in the characters "as they are, not how they got to where they are now." You stated in your question that you're good at characterization, so what's Queenie's beef?

 

And, as for her implication that you need a course on "plotting," let me say that plotting isn't the be-all and end-all she apparently thinks it is. Plotting is storytelling, plain and simple. If you can tell a good story from beginning to end without losing your listener's interest, a plotting course will only slow you down in your development. Ask Herman Melville or Uncle Remus or even Beatrix Potter if they'd taken many courses on "plotting" throughout their lives. Uh-uh? That's what I thought.

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FINDING THE RIGHT WRITER

An inexperienced writer asked online the other day how he can find a writer to hire to write a book he'd enjoy reading. It sounded like an interesting question, so I thought I'd give answering him a shot.

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The first thing you need to do is find a writer with lots of book-writing experience, as well as one with both ghostwriting (ghosting) and editing savvy. Stay clear of beginning, wanna-be authors and people who can't string a sentence together without leaving a few typos behind to save their souls. Also, a writer experienced in all genres of books will be more flexible in approaching your project without messing it up. Teaching and reporting experience come in handy here, as well.

 

In short, if you want to hire someone to write a book even you would enjoy reading, hire the best. You'll pay for that privilege, but the experience and results will be worth it in the long run. Believe me!

 

Where can you find qualified candidates to consider for the job? You can look no further than right here on this Website. Find authors with all the qualifications you need, and contact them about what you're looking for them to do. You should have at least a rough storyline in mind (and on paper!) so you can share that right up front.  Read More 

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SENDING SAMPLE BOOK PAGES

A beginning writer who had received a request from a publisher to send from 50 - 100 pages of his book for review wanted to know which was preferable--sending more or sending less. Here's how I responded.

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Congratulations on an interesting question. It's so interesting, in fact, that it's nearly unique. Perhaps that's why every other respondent who sent you an answer is wrong—either in content or by omission.

 

The truth is that any publisher asking for 50 - 100 pages of a manuscript isn't looking for 10 pages pulled from here and 15 pages culled from there, as several respondents suggested you do. He wants the first 50 - 100 consecutive pages. That's because cherry-picking your "best" pages from the manuscript doesn't tell the editor how the book begins, how successful you are at grabbing the reader's interest and attention in a short period of time, and how logically and cohesively you string together your thoughts. I'm amazed that no other respondent took the time to research his or her answer before spitting it out into cyberspace—which is exactly where such nonsensical gibberish belongs. Read More 

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HOW BOOK AUTHORS GET PAID

Here's an unusual one, obviously asked online by someone with zero knowledge of the publishing industry. He wanted to know how publishers pay an author once he writes a book himself and takes it to them. Okay, kiddies and kiddiettes, here's the lowdown. My response:

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First of all, you don't "write a book yourself"; you write a book. See the difference? Now, are you sure you want me to continue here? Okay, you asked for it.

 

Second, you don't show your book to a publisher. You query a publisher with a pitch letter, detailing your book's merits. Then, you wait to see what kind of response you receive.

 

Third, if your query fell on receptive ears, you'll be told that the publisher is interested and would like to see the complete book (or, perhaps, the first few chapters). But, you don't "take it to them." You submit to them a digital copy (or a printed copy, in the rare event that the publisher requests it), unless you happen to be right down the street from Random House or Simon and Schuster and know one of the editors personally, in which case I stand corrected. Got that? Kool. Read More 

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GETTING IDEAS OUT OF YOUR HEAD

Someone wrote in the other day to say that, while he sees what he wants to write clearly in his mind, he doesn't know how to convey that image to readers. That's not at all an unusual experience. Here's what I advised him to do.

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Do you really want the answer? The only, one, true response? I wonder. But, what the hell, you asked for it, so here goes.

 

You learn how to write. Period.

 

It's as simple (and, of course, as complicated) as that. If you think anyone can actually give you a few "tips" so you can convey what's in your head to your readers so that they can understand and appreciate it, too, you're mistaken. It's your idea; it's your head; you have to be the one to do the heavy lifting. And, that's the only "tip" you need.

 

Okay, you ask, but how do I learn to write? Admittedly, if you're starting from a blank slate (or an empty knowledge bank), that won't be easy. If everyone could be a successful writer, everyone would be a successful writer. Very few of us have worked at this art for nearly half a century and learned how to do virtually everything there is to do to crank out good—no, make that great--stories, at least according to the reviewers. So, how do you take that giant leap? Read More 

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STARTING A NEW NOVEL

A newbie author interested in knowing how to begin his new book made the mistake of asking for advice online. As usual, some of the answers were anything but inspiring. Here's how I replied.

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You should start your book with a BANG! That doesn't necessarily mean you must start with your main character at the peak of his crisis, as some genius has suggested. In fact, that may turn into one of the weakest, most predictable formulaic openings you could craft. In fact, some of the most successful novels ever written don't introduce the main character or the primary action at all until later in the book. Want a few examples? I'm happy to oblige.


In the book The Mynah's Call, author Paula Favage begins the story with someone who kills herself before the real action begins. That, in turn, acts as a catalyst for what becomes the book's devastatingly delicious plot in a story that spans the globe from the United States to Afghanistan and back.

 

It's an unusual treatment, producing an introductory chapter of a scant five pages in length. But, Favage's opening gambit pays off. The reader is hooked from page one. By the time the real story begins, he or she can't wait to find out how the author is going to top that opening. Surprise! She really does. Her opening is a genius ploy because it works. It does exactly what the author wanted it to do. Read More 

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A PAEAN TO HARD-BOILED CRIME

What, you ask, is hard-boiled crime, anyway? Well, if you've never seen the film The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart playing detective Sam Spade, you should. Once you do, you'll know the answer to that question. And, become a lifelong fan of H-B crime.

 

Wikipedia defines hard-boiled crime roughly as a literary genre that shares some of its characters and settings with crime fiction (especially detective and noir fiction). The genre's typical protagonist is a detective who battles the violence of organized crime that flourished during Prohibition (1920–1933) and its aftermath, while dealing with a legal system that has become as corrupt as crime itself.

 

Notable hard-boiled detectives include such super-sleuths as Dick Tracy, Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and dozens of others.

 

The genre of hard-boiled fiction is nothing new. It made its debut into society in the form of early detective stories appearing initially in the "pulps" or populist magazines of the mid-1920s. The most successful of these publications was Black Mask, in which writers were influenced by the preexisting conventions of the western, nineteenth-century, urban drama. Adapting those conventions to the modern city, innovative novelists such as Dashiell Hammett and Carroll John Daly used the genre to explore the angst created by Prohibition and its resultant wave of crime, particularly organized or Mob crime. Read More 

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IS WRITING A BOOK HARD?

Someone wanted to know why writing a book is so difficult, and he received an answer or two from other online respondents. One was way off the mark. Here's why.

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While I'm sure Mr. Zapata's response was well-intended, it's dead wrong. Sure, writing a book can be all those things he claims, including despair, frustration, and loneliness. But, he makes no allowance for variances between writers, a common shortcoming with newbies with little experience over short periods of time.

Let me explain where he goes wrong.

 

First, writing "a book" isn't difficult at all. You sit down, string some words together, and when you have assembled sixty thousand of them or more, you get up and announce to the world that you've written a book. If that's your goal, it's easy-peasy.

 

However, writing a good book takes considerably more effort and generally more time. That's because all the elements for writing a good novel or even a work of nonfiction work must be present to make it "soar." It has to make sense; it has to move the reader along; it has to provide value for the reader; it has to have a distinct beginning, middle, and end, and it has to provide a satisfactory conclusion. While doing all that, the author must also know the nuts and bolts of grammar, punctuation, syntax, storytelling, conflict and resolution, logic, organization, and all the other elements involved in the clarity and efficiency of writing. Read More 

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