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About Writing Right: The Blog

FINDING AGENT FOR OFFBEAT FANTASY

So, you've written a book that's a bit offbeat, let's say a fantasy based upon Celtic and Irish folklore. That means it just about but not quite fits into a specific genre, and now you wonder how to find an agent willing to 1.) read it, and 2.) represent it. Is that your problem, Bunky? If so, it's not necessarily as large a problem as you may think.

 

Okay, I assume you've researched literary agents and what they're looking for in submissions until your eyes turned to glass and fell out of your skull. Lo and behold, not one of them appears to be searching for your exact book. Well, that's actually the good news. Agents (and publishers, by the way) are always looking for good genre fiction that appeals to their existing readers or marketplace and yet that has an exciting new wrinkle to get them salivating. A detective book about the search for a serial killer is pretty generic (spelled "ho-hum"). A detective book about the search for a serial killer who just happens to be the detective, himself, is a stunner. See my point? Both are genre detective stories. Because one is more offbeat than the other isn't a bad thing; it's just the opposite.

 

So, how do you go about finding just the right agent? Here's how I suggest you proceed. Read More 

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HOW LONG TO WAIT

Newbie writers often ask me how long it takes to hear back once a book editor requests a complete manuscript for review. Someone online asked that very question the other day, wondering what he could expect after sending his baby off to do battle. Here's how I replied.

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I can tell you from experience in dealing with hundreds and even thousands of publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers over the years that the Queen of Wrong has missed the boat again. Sure, you can expect to wait "as much as a year," but you'd be an idiot to do so when no conventional publisher takes that long to reply to a requested manuscript. None. Nada. If it did, it wouldn't be a conventional publisher for long.

 

Here's the reality. A book editor with a conventional, legitimate publisher takes a few weeks to a couple months to review a query. If he or she finds the query interesting, he may ask to see sample chapters. Once he receives them, he may need another two-to-four weeks to read them. If he likes what he sees, he'll request a "full read," or the complete manuscript. At that point in the editorial process, most responsible, professional editors will prioritize the manuscript. After all, he asked to see it! Read More 

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PURCHASING REPUBLICATION RIGHTS

A question came up the other day on how to go about buying republication rights for copyrighted material. That's relatively simple to do--once you know the answer. Here's my take on the situation.

 

First, whether or not you'll have to pay for using copyrighted content depends upon the amount of content, the attribution you provide, and when, where, and by whom the original content was published. It also depends upon where and how you propose to republish the content. Some publishers welcome limited use of their content with appropriate credits as effective, free, word-of-mouth promotion. Others don't. The only way to find out for sure is to write the Rights and Permissions department of the publisher, which information should be listed on a book's copyright page or on a magazine or newspaper's masthead.

 

In your request, provide the publisher with the exact material you'd like to republish, the original publication's name, publication date, and author's name plus any other pertinent information you can think of. Then, propose an attribute, such as "Reprinted with the permission of Random House, Inc." or whatever is appropriate. Don't mention paying for the rights. If the publisher gives you the go-ahead, you're home free. (Retain a copy of the permission for future use, just in case.)

 

If the publisher replies to your request positively and suggests a proposed fee, feel free to negotiate. If they ask for $500, for example, offer them half that amount. You'd be surprised at how many books a publisher has to sell to make up $500—or anywhere near it. By granting limited republication usage rights, the publisher is raking in what is in effect "free money." And that contributes to the publisher's annual statement, which looks good to the corporate offices.

 

If you can't reach an agreement with the publisher, of course, you can always sidestep the entire rights situation by rewriting, rewording, and republishing your own interpretation of the material you had hoped to purchase. Remember: Thoughts, ideas, and concepts can't be copyrighted. Their stylistic rendition (how those thoughts are written) can be.

 

Present the same concepts in your own words, and you're home free. And you won't have to pay for republication rights. Simple, no? Who would have thunk it?

 

Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his column, "The Author-Ethicist," which runs at Substack.com weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, I do my best!)

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ON SIDONIE-GABRIELLE COLETTE

A reader named Graham Lindsey asked the other day why I thought the stories of Colette resonate so well more than half a century after the author's death. I was happy to respond.

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I think quite highly of the stories. Not so much for their literary scholarship as much as their unbridled ribaldry and shameless guile, which was quite shocking for the era, even in the Gay Nineties. I think even more highly of the author Colette who, as a child of the country, basked in innocence until realizing an entirely new life waited just beyond the confines of the hinterlands and prairies. By that time, she had already begun playing role-reversal games, fantasizing, trying on new hats, tinkering with gender-bending thoughts and activities, and writing.

 

Her husband, a vile and self-fulfilling prophecy named Henri Gauthier-Villars, who went by the name of Monsieur Willy, was the quintessential villain of his day. While forcing his considerably younger wife to toil away at creating titillating and often sexually explicit works, he published them under his own name, made a fortune promoting the "Colette" character's brand of everything under the sun (including cigarettes), and pushed his wife's sexual acquiescence to its limits and beyond. Read More 

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DUMPING AN AGENT AFTER A SALE

The question of whether or not someone can fire an agent after getting a book published came up online the other day, and the usual detachment of dullards responded--some more responsibly than others. Here's what I had to say.

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Wow, the Queen of Wrong missed the mark yet again. Can you imagine that!

 

Contrary to the shoot-from-the-lip advice she gave you, of course you can terminate your contract with your literary agent at any time. Just be certain to follow the terms in your agency contract for doing so. And, by the way, Queenie is also wrong about not being "allowed" to get other representation or represent your work yourself. Dead wrong. Unless your contract is one of those contractual rarities so one-sided and unfairly skewed toward the agent with nothing for the writer, you're as free as a bird after you sever agency ties. And, if your contract is that badly skewed against you, you need to talk to a good attorney to get you out of it. Pronto!

 

Queenie and some other respondents were also outright inexcusable in criticizing your intent to fire your agent after the agent got you published. They can't possibly know why you want to go your own way without your telling them, which (if I can still read correctly) you didn't. Read More 

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WHEN TO HIRE A BOOK EDITOR

A self-confessed newbie author with his first book under his belt asked online the other day if he should spend hundreds of dollars hiring an editor or simply take his lumps when the book is published and chock it up to experience. I couldn't resist responding.

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There are two unknown factors here that no one else answering your question has picked up on. Which type of publishing venture are you pursuing—conventional or self? If you're talking about a conventional publisher, you need a perfectly crafted manuscript simply to get the book in the front door for a read. Or, more likely, you need a perfectly presented package to present to a literary agent who, if you're one of a very fortunate few, will sign you on as a new client and submit the book to conventional publishers for you.

 

If you're talking about publishing the book yourself, on the other hand, you can crank out any garbage you want, and Kindle, Ingram, or any other POD printer you choose to go with will publish it. However, don't expect to make any sales unless you're a fantastic marketer and self-promoter, and do expect to receive some harsh, negative reviews. Readers, like most other people in life, don't like wasting their time reviewing sub-standard material, including books. Read More 

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PUT THE BLAME ON WHOM?

I was thumbing through some beginning writers' questions about who is responsible for typos that appear in a published book. I was astonished at the ridiculous and outright incorrect responses some advisers gave. Here's what I had to say on the matter.

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On what planet do these respondents live, and how many of them have actually worked as full-time freelance authors and editors? It's disheartening, to say the least, to see a "V.P. of Programs" at some apparent writers' group put the blame on everyone but the person who deserves it. Wow. Not the first time this Oklahoma author has been grossly disappointed by this Oklahoma group that seems to fire from the hip far more often than from the brain. You know, just like the Queen of Wrong does? Maybe it's something in the water down here. Regardless, this is the unvarnished truth.

 

First, you're apparently living in a one-world universe while all experienced writers exist in a dual modality. What the freak am I talking about? I'm glad you asked. Read More 

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THE NEED FOR A DEVELOPMENTAL EDITOR

Someone asked on a forum the other day whether or not he needed to hire a developmental editor. To their shame, numerous responses popped up, most of which advised the author to hire an editor. My take on the subject?

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Absolute not! Not, at least, unless you know you need one. As usual, the Queen of Wrong and others have ill-advised you based upon their limited understanding of you and your skill set, history, and capabilities. Have you been working as a copy editor for Simon and Schuster for the past twenty years before setting out to write your own book? Have you published dozens or even hundreds of articles, features, and short stories in regional or national magazines and newspapers? Have you worked in a newsroom for the past ten years or been a closet writer for decades?

 

Are you a college writing or literature professor?

 

I'm sure you agree: It makes a difference. Read More 

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SELLING RIGHTS TO A BOOK

A forum reader asked a question the other day: For how much can I sell the rights to my book?" As usual, plenty of respondents were quick to jump into the fray. Unfortunately, as usual, most were dead wrong or at least partially misleading. Here's how I responded.

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Well, of course the Queen of Wrong missed the boat again, and the ship has sailed once more without her. Unfortunately, no other respondents to this question fared much better. Rather than talking about self-publishing and your followers being "uneducated people," as on respondent called them (which I find a highly insulting), maybe we should drill down to your actual question: For how much can you sell the RIGHTS to your book? Not how much can self-publishing make for you or how many copies will your followers buy. Your question has nothing to do with self-publishing or ignorant followers. It has to do with conventional publishing and economics.

 

The real answer to your question (with apologies once again to Queenie) is that it depends. You don't say whether or not you've written the book yet, so that's a variable. You don't say how dramatic or marketable a story you have, so that's another variable. And, with both of those variables, you can't get an answer without doing a little more leg work. Read More 

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CAN A PUBLISHER CANCEL A CONTRACT?

I came across a writer online the other day who asked in a forum if a publisher can cancel a contract or book deal. Luckily (?), I've had a bit of first-hand experience in this area, so here's my response.

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It's nice finally to see the Queen of Wrong get something right for a change—a little—although her definitive answer is anything but.

 

Yes, a contract can be "canceled" by the author submitting a sub-par quality book to escape from a long-term contract. But that happens rarely, since everyone knows the author's capabilities going into the deal, and getting a contract pulled under those conditions would mark the author as something he'd rather not share with his mom. Also, few publishers would be quick to jump at a chance to cancel an author whose ongoing series (i.e., long-term investment) is still making money. Publishers have editors, too. And they have access to other freelance writers. And they have the legal right to rewrite any or all of a book and deduct the costs of doing so from the author's future earnings if the author refuses or fails to do so himself.

 

Yes, a change of editors could prompt the cancellation of a contract in its early stages, but it's certainly not likely once the publisher has paid advance money and invested in development costs. In fact, it's highly unlikely. Read More 

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