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About Writing Right: The Blog


A writer asked online the other day how to tell if a book title is "available." Here's how I replied.

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Short answer: All book titles are "available". See how much time and trouble I just saved you?


Titles are not copyrightable. Even if you come up with a unique, fascinating, grabby, illuminating, witty, luscious, juicy title all your own, someone else can come along and copy it for his work tomorrow. Most conventional publishers frown on publishing books with the same title as books already on the market for obvious reasons. But doing so is neither unethical or illegal.


Oh, and as a general rule, create a title that will appeal to your intended audience, but don't spend too much time and energy on it. Unless you're self-publishing your book, your publisher will change your title anyway nine times out of ten. Publishers do marketing research to find a title they believe will sell the most copies of a book. They're not always right, of course, but they pay their marketing people a salary to do something with their time. Coming up with titles, then, becomes more of a science than the creative art most writers assume it is. Read More 

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A writer asked online recently how to get a proofreader to proof his material before sending it to a publisher. Forget the ridiculous answers he received from other respondents. I gave him the real lowdown. Here's what I said.

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The answer to this one is simple. Pay him.




Or is that too simple? Is it possible that, rather than asking "how" to get a proofreader (the answer to which is painfully obvious), what you're really asking is "where" to get a proofreader? As in where do you find one? The answer to which is a little more complex. But only a little.


Of course, you can go to an online meat market to locate a proofreader. Places such as Reedsy and Fiverr advertise help in writing and publishing and boast a list of available proofreaders (let's call them editors for convenience) where you can hire one and hope for the best. But a recent investigation showed them to be more interested in working with editors who fit their "style" and "purpose" (which is cranking out big bucks) than with editors who really know what they're doing. You might have a different experience with them and luck out. You might not. Either way, I'm not impressed with their standards. And I train editors in how to be better at their editing jobs, so I know what I'm talking about. Read More 

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Some people were talking about fiction the other day, and the topic got around to exotic settings. When asked about some of my favorited novels based upon the uniqueness of their settings, I couldn't help but respond.


Of course, you have to understand that "unique settings" are unique only to people who don't live in that place. Exotic Fiji isn't very exotic at all to a resident there. As for examples of my favorite settings, here's one that comes to mind. It starts out in Miami and quickly moves to exotic St. Lucia, where the son of a murdered woman marine biologist sets out to bring the killer to justice. In the process, he befriends a native chieftain, runs afoul of black voodoo, and stays two steps ahead of an overzealous suitor while falling in love with a woman who, it turns out, is his adopted step-sister! All ends well in the end, although not before putting the protagonist through some strangely harrowing and unexpected experiences.


The book is The Last Wild Orchid, which I not only read numerous times but also happened to write. It's one of my personal favorites. Go figure.




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I came across an online question the other day asking about who gets paid royalties. A strange question for many reasons. Nevertheless, here's how I replied.

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If this question is really what you wanted to ask, the answer is simple: everyone who earns them.


Satisfied? I didn't think so because I don't believe you asked the question you wanted answered, which is: When does an author get paid royalties?


If I'm correct, the answer is a bit more complicated than my original response—but only slightly. All authors who signed with either a conventional, advance-paying publisher or a POD self-publishing aggregator such as Amazon KDP, Barnes & Noble, D2D, and Lulu receive royalties. The royalties may vary from one publisher to the next, depending upon numerous factors, but the royalty percentage (the percentage of the book's earnings that the author receives for each sale) is in the author's contract with the publisher. So is the frequency of the publisher's payouts. Most conventional publishers pay royalties earned to their authors every six months or twice a year. KDP pays monthly. Read More 

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When someone inquired online as to where to find a low-cost or free reputable literary agent, I had just the right response. Here's what I said.

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Let me set the record straight here. No reputable, honest, and effective literary agent represents an author for free, and no one does it at a "low cost." All legitimate agents charge a flat 15% fee taken from the sale of a book to a publisher made during that agent's contractual lifetime with his or her client/author. The fee is deducted from the advance (if any) and the royalties (also if any) paid by the publisher for as long as the book remains in print. The agent takes 15% for all income generated by the book. That's one of the reasons literary agents are hard to find and even harder to land. Writers don't hire them; they sign writers, albeit an extremely limited number of them. If a writer's work fails to generate sales, the agent can go hungry or terminate that writer's contract with the agent and find another writer whose work is more marketable. In that respect, being an agent is somewhat of a crap shoot. And not at all as easy or capricious as many writers seem to think.


A legitimate agent is like a salesman in that he earns his keep from selling. No sale, no commission. To procure a sale for an author, the represented work must appeal to a publisher. And, of course, the agent must do all the legwork—from the final formatting of the manuscript to getting it into presentable condition, matching the work to the appropriate publisher, negotiating contractual details, securing an advance, reviewing and evaluating the finalized contract, and keeping the lines of communication open between the publisher, the agent, and the author. The agent is also responsible for receiving all payments from the publisher, deducting the fifteen percent agency fee, and forwarding a check for the balance to the author. Read More 

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