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About Writing Right: The Blog

BOOKS WITH TOO MANY EDITS?

Someone asked me the other day if a book can have "too many" edits for its own good. Here's my response.

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There is no such thing as "too many" edits for a book. Every time you go through editing, you're changing your book, edging it closer toward perfection (an impossible destination, by the way, but still a mandatory pursuit!). That means you're doing your job as a writer. That may include putting your book through three edits. Four. Ten. Twenty. It really doesn't matter. If the book hasn't yet been published, every time you think about it is an opportunity for another edit and more improvements. PROVIDING …

  1. You know what the hell you're doing as an editor and not simply mucking around aimlessly, which could result in making your book worse.
  2. Your book is still far from being as close to "perfect" as you'd like.
  3. You have ample time and opportunity to dig into it once again—not a simple or a quick task. 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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BEST TYPEFACE FOR BOOKS

A writer recently asked what the best-looking typeface for books was. How would you have answered? Here's what I had to say.

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If what you mean by "for books" is to create a book for your personal use, use whatever font you like. The key in such a situation is to use something that's non-obtrusive so that the font doesn't slow down your writing by hampering your reading speed and, thus, your overall productivity.

 

If, on the other hand, what you mean by "for books" is actually to publish a book, numerous studies conducted over the eons have proven that serif fonts (such as Times New Roman, Courier, and Garamond among others) are easier, faster, and more enjoyable to read than are sans-serif fonts (such as Arial and others in all their iteration). And, since your goal in publishing a book is to entice readers to buy, read, and enjoy what you've written, why buck the odds? I picked up five books at random off the corner of my desk, and all five were produced with a serif typeface, most in 11 or 12 point Times New Roman, which size makes for easier reading than smaller or larger sized fonts. Read More 

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CAN YOU GET SUED?

Someone asked online the other day if he can be sued for novelizing a "secret" someone told him. As usual, Queenie was there to muddy the waters. I hope I helped to clear them. Here's what I said.

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Please forgive the Queen of Wrong for she knows not what she does. Or, apparently, says. Of course you can get sued for writing a novel based upon a secret someone told you. You can get sued for crossing the street in rush hour or drying your socks on a line in plain view of the public. In fact, you can get sued for damned near anything, including for telling someone you can't get sued!

 

That doesn't mean you should sit around stewing about every single thing you do. Being sued is common. Being sued successfully is another matter.

 

In the case that you mentioned, even if the person who told you a secret sues you, he or she won't prevail in court. That's because there is no legal precedent of which I am aware that makes spilling the beans an illegal act. Now, is it morally reprehensible? Sure. Does the person who shares the secret lack moral integrity? Probably, depending upon the secret. If the person told you in confidence that his brother is planning on blowing up a grade school next Tuesday, for instance, you would be morally obligated to notify the authorities. Whether or not you write about it afterward would be strictly a matter between you and your conscience. It's a case of protecting the greater good: In this case, that means saving lives above keeping secrets. Read More 

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IS THIS STORYLINE POPULAR?

A newbie author-to-be went online to ask his community a question: Will his specific Sci-Fi/Fantasy storyline be popular or not? Unfortunately, some ne'er-do-wells got to him before I could, but hopefully I straightened him--and them--out. Here's my response.

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Kudos to those respondents who answered your question positively—and accurately. It's true, the story you describe ain't new, and it's far from detailed enough for anyone of any intellect to give you a straight-up response. As those people have pointed out, the popularity of your story isn't in the storyline, which has been done to death, but rather in the telling. In other words, there are no new ideas under the sun. Do a good job, and you have a good chance of turning out a good book. Whether or not it will be "popular" (aka, financially successful) is anybody's guess.

 

Now, rat droppings to the initial respondent who greeted your question so negatively and imposed her own biases (which are obviously many) into her response. And the same to those who agreed with her, lavishing praise upon her lame and irresponsible answer. Here's where the Queen of Wrong missed the boat yet again.

First: The opening remark of Why are you even bothering to think about this? is ridiculous. Is she kidding? If a writer doesn't bother "to think about" the premise, storyline, and plot of his novel before setting out to write it, he's an idiot. Why would anyone with all his screws firmly attached and tightened say otherwise? Of course, you should think about it. Right now. Up front and ahead of any writing you may be pulling at the reigns to begin. Read More 

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REIMURSEMENT FOR UNSOLD BOOKS

The question came up recently as to whether or not authors must repay their book publishers for unsold books. As usual, there were plenty of answers to go around--and most of them were wrong. Here's how I corrected them.

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Yes! Unlike the response from the Queen of Wrong and so many other respondents who, if I'm reading your question correctly, missed the boat entirely.

 

If you were talking about paying the publisher back for any advance against royalties received by the author but not earned out through the book's sales, the answer would be "no." Publishers don't traditionally require authors to repay unearned balances from the advances they pay their authors. But, you don't mention advances, royalties, or unpaid balances in your question; so, that's not at all the question you asked. Read More 

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ARE DERIVATIVE WORKS LEGAL?

Someone asked the other dayif he could legally write a sequel to an existing work. Of course, he received a predictably muddled and incorrect response from one resondent in particular, who went out of her way to define what a derivative work is and what writing one entails--incorrectly, of course. Here's how I broached the subject.

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Well, the Queen of Wrong missed the boat yet again. Funny how often it sails away without her!

 

The truth is that copyright laws pertaining to derivative works and whether or not an author can create a sequel based upon an original, copyrighted work are complex and can't be answered with a glib, and inaccurate, "No!" Giving such an answer is irresponsible and harmful to the world of truth and reality, not to mention the derivative work's author and his or her potential for success. Who would have guessed?

 

So, with Queenie's misinformation out of the way, here's what the U.S. copyright office has to say about the subject. Read More 

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FORMATTING FOR PUBLICATION

People often ask me for tips on how to format a work they're preparing to submit to a publisher. The answer, once you understand the rationale behind it, is quite simple. The time-tested most optimal formatting for submitting anything other than poetry to a print publication is this:

  • Use 1-inch margins all the way around (top, bottom, left, and right)
  • Use Times New Roman type face only (never Arial, which is far more difficult and tiring for the human eye to read)
  • Use 12-point type size
  • Use double-spaced lines throughout for the main body of your work
  • Use .5-inch (one-half inch) paragraph indentations

As for pagination, put the page numbers in the Running Head always (never in the Running Foot) and include the BOOK TITLE and author's name on all pages except the first, or cover, page. A typical running head would look something like this: "THE OX BOW INCIDENT/Herda, Page 12." Set the numbering of pages to automatically paginate beginning on the second page so you don't have to change each page number manually and run the risk of getting something wrong. Read More 

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WHY NOVELS AND FILMS VARY

A guy named Mike with a really cool pair of shades asked on the Internet the other day why stories in magazines differ from the same stories when they're published in books. Since no one else seemed able to cover this one, I dove right in.

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Hey, Mike, I can answer this one for you. As a former book, magazine, and newspaper editor, I have the response down pat. Besides, it's my pleasure to help out anyone with such cool shades!

 

There are a couple of reasons magazine versions of a story differ from what may eventually appear in books. The first and most obvious reason is that different editors working for different publishers in different media exert their influences on the work in different ways. One editor might concentrate on focusing the story more sharply while the other might be more concerned with cleaning up grammar and sharpening the rhetoric. As for the author's input, unless he's a world-famous proven moneymaking scribe, his or her material is going to undergo editing. Period. That's a standard clause in every  magazine, newspaper, and book publisher's contract, even if it's only understood rather than written in stone.

 

That's one reason. The second reason stories may differ is for the sake of brevity. While books can publish stories that are tens of thousands of words long or more, magazines can't. To understand why, think of the magazine's goals in life: To increase readership; to make money, and to entertain the readers. Let's examine the three. Read More 

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