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Writing Right: The Blog


Someone asked this question online recently, and before I could answer, a dozen other respondents chimed in. Not for the best. Here's what I advised the author:

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I can't believe the large number and the wide range of poor answers your simple question generated from commentators. First, you didn't say it was a book, you said it was an eBook. Anyone who hasn't yet figured out the difference shouldn't be answering questions. He (and in the case of a most notorious misinformation provider, she) should be asking them. An eBook, as anyone with half a brain knows, can run any length you want. It can have as many chapters as you want. It can sell for any price you want, assuming you're self-publishing it. It can be published in as many different digital formats and by as many different publishing aggregators as you want. The bottom line is that, if the subject matter has value to a reader, he'll buy it.


And, just for clarity's sake, you never called it a novel. You never referred to it as fiction, and you certainly never called it a book. You didn't ask if it qualified by industry definition as an adult book, a young adult book, or a novella. You asked how many chapters are in a 20,000-word eBookRead More 

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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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Have you ever wondered how you can create a unique book when it's eerily similar to another book that's already been written? Good question.


First, ignore the similar elements between your book and any other, and envision your story in your mind. Describe it to yourself. Fine-tune it. Flesh out the weak spots and trim the dead weight. Own it! Then, push the original story as far from your mind as possible. After all, there's a reason for the phrase, "There's nothing new under the sun." That applies to books as well as life in general. Get used to the fact that your book, no matter how unique you think it is, will be "similar" to another book or two or ten thousand in one way or another. So?


But, if you're still concerned someone may compare your work to a previous tome, emphasize the differences. After all, you're the author; you can write whatever you want. Be more detailed. Place your book in a different part of the world. Populate it with different characters, different places, different descriptive narrative, and different dialogue. Give your characters unique ethnic backgrounds. Set the story in a different time period. Use your own literary voice, of course, and not the other author's. (Which, I would hope, you're beyond temptation from doing anyway.) Read More 

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Someone asked on a forum recently if great writers need great editors, and I couldn't help but chime in--if only to correct some of the ridiculous responses others had given her. Here's what I said:

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Do great writers need great editors? Some do; others don't. A truly "great writer," if you stop to think about it, doesn't need a "great editor," whose work would only be superfluous. Now, if you mean a tremendously popular writer or even a highly skilled writer, then I'd have to say it's likely that an editor would help. But, that would depend upon the writer's abilities and literary adeptness, as well as upon the editor.


Hemingway, although hugely popular in his day, would likely not have endured without a first-rate editor backing him up. Fitzgerald, ditto. Even J. K. Rowling, who I understand enjoys a certain amount of favor among readers these days, needs the help of talented editors: She's powerless without them.


As for one commentator suggesting to you that feedback by a group of writing peers is more valuable than that from individual professional editors--ridiculous! He may be thankful for everything his group taught him, but I'm not impressed. Anyone who scribbles out, "A writer can more quickly experiment and evolve their technique when they have multiple people reviewing and reacting," deserves some skepticism. Aside from the misplaced modifiers and failure of agreement between subject and verb in a single sentence, his logic is flawed. But that's another story. Read More 

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I read an article the other day in The Writer magazine about why writers are so prone to self-doubt. It wasn't a bad article. It wasn't a good article. Mostly, it was a mediocre article, slanted to support the writer's hypothesis, slapped together with a modicum of research by someone who self-identifies as being a.) a female or someone who identifies with being a female, and b.) a writer with a life-long history of festering self-doubt. Not exactly the panache of Dana Lasch writing for the NRA on why guns don't commit crimes or Newt Gingrich espousing on why Nancy Pelosi is the first despot the House of Representatives has ever seen or even why Joe Biden believes the single greatest threat facing America today isn't crime or the economy or illegal immigration or even COVID-19 but White Supremecy. Come on, man!


So, although that article writer may not have nailed it, still, she's a writer all the same.


While the article was the typically flat, tepid fare for which The Writer (which hasn't published many articles of value to writers since I stopped contributing to them four decades ago—indulge me a little here, will you?) that we've come to expect, it started the wheels turning.


Why are writers so prone to self-doubt? Well, having been there and done that, I don't have to think that one through for very long. I penned my first "novel" more than half a century ago. I sweated bullets to finish that baby, doubting all along that it would ever happen. And, when I was done, I began sending it around for publication, doubting all along that it would ever happen.


Now, I don't mean I sent pitches for it to every Tom, Dick, and Doubleday I could find, I mean I dropped the whole damned thing in a Manilla envelope, addressed it, and mailed it toot suite, which I think is French for "SASE Enclosed." Read More 

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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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I was thinking the other day about how many truly great novels are being turned out today as opposed to, say, a hundred years ago or longer. Many people believe that writers back then cranked out the best literature around, and most modern writers can't compete.


Me? I'd say, that, throughout history, most published novels have been garbage, no matter when they were written. And, most novelists don't merit the designation. Back in the Golden Age of long-form fiction writing, probably 95 percent of all novels were junk—words on paper that some publisher hoped would catch fire and sell. Most of those publishers were wrong, and most are long since gone.


Today, I imagine an equivalent percentage of novels being cranked out are pure crap. Either the novels' storylines are weak, their plots are convoluted, their logic is skewed, their dialogue is unrealistic, their narrative is weak and wandering, their conflict and resolution are inadequate, their characterizations are shallow, and their grammar and punctuation are suspect (See? I can put things mildly, too!). And, for the really bad novels, check the box marked "All of the above." Read More 

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Can a person make revisions to a novel without destroying its essence? That's a question someone asked online recently, and the answers were eye-opening. I mean, they were horrible, if not outright harmful. Here's how I responded to the writer:

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I'm constantly amazed at the bad, offtrack, and irrelevant information people disguise as responses to serious questions. Contrary to what one respondent wrote ("Don't give editing a lesser weight in your efforts than the writing"), you didn't ask that nor did you imply that's what you intended to do. And, it's absurd that he said you can't revise a novel without changing its essence. I know it's tough to use such big words correctly, but that's what dictionaries are for, and he should buy one.


Ditto to another respondent who advised you, "The whole purpose of revising a novel is it isn't working as it is. If your novel isn't working, revising the essence of it may be exactly what you need to do." In addition to being at least partly erroneous, I don't see how that answers your question at all.


A third respondent, talking about art school and "one shot" prints, missed the mark by a country mile.


Here's the real deal: Read More 

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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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A young writer with relatively little experience in practicing his craft recently asked me what the benefits are of a first draft. I couldn't wait to respond.

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First-draft benefits? Are you serious? You might as well ask what the benefits are of buying a first car! Both eventually get you where you want to go, although not necessarily quickly enough to satisfy you.


Still, first drafts do serve a purpose, although there's no explanation of that purpose that fits all writers. In fact, a first draft serves different purposes for different writers at various stages of their careers. When I broke my teeth on long-form fiction fifty years ago, a first draft was my Red Badge of Courage. It showed me—proved to me—that I could write a novel. Never mind how good it was (it wasn't), and never mind that I didn't even think of it as a first draft (it was). I wrote it, and, by gum, I was proud of it.


Later in my development, a first draft became less of a measuring stick of my capabilities and more of an opportunity to screw something up before going back and setting things right. It enabled me to practice my concerto before lugging my instrument over to the concert hall for a performance. It also allowed me to see whether or not all the various pieces fit together in a way that made sense. It functioned as both a sounding board and a roadmap to where I wanted to go. Read More 

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