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Writing Right: The Blog

FINDING AN AGENT TO REP YOU

If you've tried everything you can think of to land a literary agent to represent your work to publishers, you've probably failed. Through no fault, necessarily, of your own.

 

Welcome to the Real World of book publishing. You know, the one where landing a publishing contract is only the second most challenging thing for a writer to do; landing an agency contract is number one. Far and away.

 

The reason is simple mathematics. Sure, for every book published, probably a few hundred or more go unpublished. But for every agent landed, thousands of authors get turned down. The reason is that there are only so many agents to go around, and they're in huge demand. That's because good agents can offer fledgling writers invaluable advice, so they act as sounding boards and dispensers of knowledge. As a result, book publishers increasingly turn to agents to "screen" the work submitted to them in order to save their editors time. Agents weed out the junk (or the vast majority of it) and pass along only the best of the works they receive from their represented writers. Read More 

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HOW DO YOU WRITE A NEWSPAPER HEADLINE?

A writer asked this question in a forum the other day, and the only respondent besides myself brave enough to tackle it was someone with little or no experience writing headlines!

 

"Brave" enough, but not smart enough. His answer was anything but helpful, and I felt sorry for the person who asked. So, of course, I had to throw my hat into the ring. Here's what I wrote:

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Contrary to what one "content writer/copywriter/marketer" wrote in response to your question, a solid newspaper headline doesn't hinge upon who cares about what the article says or why you should care. That's simply absurd. Writing a newspaper headline, which is what you asked about, requires seven steps. (Well, it does in my experience, at least, although others may have a different take on the subject.) The same holds for article headline writing in any medium, by the way. Read More 

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WHY ARE GHOSTWRITERS SO CHEAP AT JOB SITES?

You know, a lot of people must be asking that question, and I'm not surprised, considering the phenomenal growth of some on-line professional job agencies of late. Everywhere you look, someone is promoting the idea of finding professional workers online.

 

Even though it's tempting, I'm not going to put down Fiverr or Upwork or any of those other job mills because some writers struggling to make a buck sign up there and, hopefully, earn a few dollars now and again. As others have said, though, professionals (I mean the time-tested pros who can write any genre in any voice and do so successfully) don't. When I'm not working hard on perfecting my own books for publication (and articles, scripts, etc.), and when I'm not out photographing, designing book covers, critiquing and reviewing books, or painting or sculpting, I take a ghostwriting or book-doctoring job now and again. When I do, I devote my full attention to the task at hand because I know the author who hired me wants to see the finished product as soon as possible. The perfect finished product.

 

I can't work for jobbers and make the kind of money I'm forced to charge because the quality of my work demands a huge amount of my time, skills, and energy. People who go to an agency looking for someone to hire are looking for top quality professionals at bargain-basement rates. They usually find them—the bargain-basement rates, that is. Top quality professionals? Uh-uh. Don't even go there. Read More 

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CAN HIRING A GHOSTWRITER BE A GOOD EXPERIENCE?

Several people have asked me that over the years, even wondering if I've ever hired a ghostwriter myself. Of course, the answer is no. I've never needed one. I am a ghostwriter. That doesn't help others evaluate whether or not they should consider hiring a ghost, I know. But this might.

 

When I hire on as a ghost for authors, I work closely with them. That's pretty common. What's far less common is that I help them land a literary agent to handle the sales of the work once I've finished with my end, and I make myself available for any editorial changes that might be required in seeing the book through to publication—no matter how long the pitching process goes on. For example:

 

I finished a memoir for a client, who loved it. But, the overall consensus from publishers after a few months of shopping it around was that it was too short.

 

Okay, I got it. So, I came up with some scenarios for additional material, received the author's blessing, and, with a little more information, worked up another 15,000 words, or roughly a quarter as much as we had originally prepared. No extra charge to the author, just a little more time to round things out. When I was finished and the author approved it, we turned it over to the agent who went back to the original publisher with it. The result was a sale to a conventional, advance-paying publisher, and the book is currently being prepared for release as I write. Read More 

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HOW CAN I HIRE A BOOK EDITOR FOR NOT SO MUCH?

That's what someone asked me the other day. Of course, the answer was obvious. Here's what I said:

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First of all, your question is a bit nebulous. How much is "so much"? Three dollars? Thirty? Three hundred? Three thousand?

 

Second, what kind of quality do you want from an editor? Slop? Garbage? Fair-to-meddlin'? Decent? Good? Top-of-the-line? It makes a difference. Here's my estimation.

 

If you're like most writers who are just getting started (I make that leap of faith because experienced writers don't have to ask that question), your material is … uhh, how do I put this? Oh, yeah. Not great. Not good. In fact, it's downright sloppy, bordering on horrible. Your manuscript is loaded with typos, grammatical errors, syntax problems, punctuation mistakes, and lots and lots of developmental issues, like poor character development, wandering narrative, weakness in storyline, unrealistic dialogue, plot incongruities, and so forth. You don't know that, of course, because you don't have the training, skills, and discipline to be able to tell. That's why you need a professional editor. Read More 

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WHAT'S THE ADVANTAGE OF PUBLISHING eBOOKS?

That's the question somemone asked online recently, and the person received a ton of bad--no, make that horrible--advice. So, of course, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to set things straight, which I did.

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First, regarding the respondent who claimed that print books "often have a short shelf life, lay unused or are discarded," he couldn't be more wrong. Dead wrong. In fact, just the opposite is true. Whereas eBooks are never really part of your physical property, print books are. Unfortunately, eBooks can vanish from your possession at the drop of a hat—or the bankruptcy, sale, or merger of an eBook or eReader manufacturer or the whim of some corporate CEO. And most eBooks aren't transferable to another person, while print books are generally around for dozens of years if not longer and rarely lay unused or are discarded. Just the opposite. If someone no longer needs or wants a print book, he often sells it or gifts it to someone else to enjoy.

 

As for the same respondent's contention that "traditional bound books use precious resources," is he kidding? Books come from paper, which comes from trees, both of which are manageable and renewable. You can hardly say that about the high-tech, carbon-heavy imprint of an eReader or eBook manufacturer. Digital manufacturing is far more labor-intensive and worse for the environment. It's also subject to the fluctuating influences of foreign component manufacturers, worker strikes, unstable prices, and the unavailability of some exotic materials for manufacturing. Also, the last time I checked, eReaders don't remove deadly carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with purified, life-sustaining oxygen, but renewable trees do. And, the last time I looked, trees don't require costly, environmentally degrading electricity in anywhere near the amount that digital publishing gobbles up in order to grow and remain viable throughout an eBook's lifetime. Read More 

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SHOULD I PUBLISH WITH NEWMAN SPRINGS?

Are you kidding me? Are you serious? You're actually asking other people if you should spend good money to get your book published, when you have Web searches at your fingertips? And, for the record, how would anyone else know what you "should" do?

 

Perhaps you mis-phrased the question. Perhaps you meant instead, Would publishing with Newman Springs be a wise decision? In which case …

 

Sure. Publish with them. If you don't mind publishing with a vanity press. Don't know what that means? LOOK IT UP! It's your money, and it's your future. Why turn either one over to the opinion of a group of strangers?

 

At some point in your life, you're going to realize that you have to take control of your own life's decisions personally. No one else is going to be able to step in and tell you how to do it right. Oh, you'll always find people willing to tell you how to do things. But correctly? To your benefit? Hardly. After all, it's no skin off their nose. And no bucks out of their account! I've seen it a million times: Read More 

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REPUBLISHING AN OUT-OF-PRINT BOOK

When a reader recently asked how to bring an out-of-print book back from the dead, even though there are still copies of it circulating around the Internet, I figured the answer would be reasonably straightforward. And then some other folks chimed in and gummed up the works. Here's how I cleared the air.

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For starters, I suggest you ignore two extremely poor answers you've received to this question so far. Following the advice of either could be damaging to your financial health. Besides, neither one really answers your question.

 

Part of the misinformation is due to the respondents' lack of knowledge and understanding of the situation, and part rests with you. Your failure to identify the author of this mystery book negates the opportunity for a down-and-dirty answer, necessitating a more complex look at the issue. Much more. Here's the real deal.

 

First, the fact that copies of the book are still floating around doesn't influence the book's in-print status. That can be determined only by the legal definition contained within the original publishing agreement between the author and the publisher. And, not surprisingly, that can be a very crooked line to walk.

 

Even though you may not have seen any new copies being sold by Amazon, B&N, or anyone else for years, or the book is listed as "out of print" somewhere, the publisher may still claim to have it available as a POD (Print on Demand) book in its catalog or backlist. That fact may support its contention that the book is still in print and, thus, under iuts control. It's a sticky wicket where the definition is concerned, and an attorney skilled in publishing matters may need to step in to reach a determination. Read More 

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FAIR USE AND PHOTO COPYRIGHTS

Someone recently asked if she could use a copyrighted photograph of a deceased model taken by a deceased photographer in a magazine article exploring the model's murder. It's an interesting question. And it's one that every nonfiction writer faces eventually. So, what are the legalities involved here? This is how I responded:

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For starters, remember that U.S. copyrights extend throughout the lifetime of the copyright holder plus seventy years. After the copyright holder's death, those rights are passed along to the heirs who can sell them if they wish to a third party, such as a photo agency or a product developer.

 

Regardless, in this situation, at least, it appears as if the judicial concept of Fair Use is in force. If that's the case, you should be able to use the images for illustrative purposes in your magazine article, with a couple of caveats. According to the Website of the American Bar Association in referencing the right to fair use:

 

"The first thing that we need to know is that copyright protection does not protect factual information conveyed in the copyrighted work, meaning that publicizing the scores of a sporting event or other factual information such as injuries, retirement, and so forth is considered fair use and does not constitute copyright infringement. What helps to strengthen a fair use argument in a case not involving the use of mere factual information is the use of the copyrighted material for the purpose of legitimate news commentary. For example, when using a clip or photograph to report the results of a sporting event or other factual information, courts have regarded the use of copyrighted material as fair use when the use is (1) brief quotations only; (2) presented in a news report; and (3) presented in a newsreel or broadcast of a work located in the scene of an event being reported." Read More 

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CONVENTIONAL PUBLISHING OR POD?

To the writer who wanted to know whether he should risk rejection and waste time begging agents to accept his book or go the quicker route and self-publish it, my answer left little doubt as to where I stand. If you have any questions after reading it, just let me know!

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Should you go the conventional publishing route? Absolutely. Should you plan on begging, cajoling, or bribing agents to accept your manuscript? Absolutely not. There's a right way and a wrong way of doing everything in life, and that's especially true when pitching a literary agent or even a publisher, for that matter. Write an enticing, one-page pitch for your book. Then, write the perfect complete book (fiction) or sample chapter with an outline (nonfiction) on a hot, marketable topic, and I guarantee you success.

 

And, since you brought it up, what's so enticing about getting your book published quicker, anyway? Even if it took only 24 hours to produce (which won't happen), if it sells two copies, what's the advantage? See where I'm going with this? Quicker isn't always better.

 

Here are a few other publishing-industry misconceptions I'd like to clear up. Read More 

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