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About Writing Right: The Blog


A strange yet interesting question came up on a forum the other day. Someone wanted to know if people would still be reading books in the future and, if not, should he consider finding a new "passion." A number of people jumped in, some prematurely and others with off-track responses. Of course, my literary kiddies and kiddiettes, I know the answer to that question. And, I didn't hesitate jumping in with it. Here's what I told the petitioner.

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Well, unfortunately, the Queen of Wrong careened off-track with her answer, again. You didn't ask if you could earn a living as an author. You asked if people will still be reading books in the future. Similarly, you never even implied that you want to become a professional, full-time author. Nor did you mention an author of what. Books? Magazine and newspaper articles? Short stories? Technical reports? Novels? You indicated none of the above. To assume that you want to do so isn't at all a given, so Queenie has taken another major step off the tracks. Let's see if we can't answer the question you actually asked and not worry about someone else's shoot-from-the-lip interpretation of what you asked.


The answer to your question is, quite simply, yes. If you have a dream of becoming an author, by all means pursue it. People will still be reading books throughout your lifetime. They will, that is, unless our educational system becomes so corrupted by the political machinations entrenching the Teachers Union that the politburo decides in its infinite wisdom that reading is just too damned laborious and tiresome to teach anymore. In that case, reading teachers will probably be converted into experts on the automated conversion of text to speech. Then, students will only have to push a button and sit back to "read" whatever they want. Read More 

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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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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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Someone asked online the other day if I knew of a good exercise for beginning writers. He had already received plenty of helpful answers, some of them a little more narrow in scope than he desired ("Here's how to coax your 'writing muscle' into working!"). This is what I added to the fray.

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"A" good writing exercise? There are tons of them. No one exercise works to fill the needs of all beginning writers. Some newbies need motivation. Some require work on ideas. Some need help with plotting, story development, characterization, or dialogue. Some bog down with descriptive narrative. See what I mean?


Still, of all the exercises I've come across, one of the best, most fruitful, all-inclusive drills for accomplishing a lot of the above sounds ridiculously simple but is, in fact, deviously delicious. Take a news story headline. Only the headline and nothing more. Don't read the story behind it but, rather, write the story behind it. In short, you become the reporter, and the headline is your assignment.


Begin your story with the five "W"s of journalism—Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Work all of them into the first paragraph or two of your story. This means, of course, that you're going to have to invent some characters and happenings as well as all the other salient details that go into the making of what has suddenly become your "baby." See the deviousness at work here? Read More 

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So, you're contemplating writing under a pen name but worry that doing so may obscure your legal rights to your work, is that the issue? If so, you can relax. Using a pen name when publishing a book doesn't change your legal name, rights, or responsibilities. You can be born Robert Smith on your birth certificate and go through life calling yourself Bob Adams, but that doesn't change your legal name, and it doesn't shelter you from your responsibilities under the law. Even if you were to sign a contract under a pseudonym, the law recognizes that the legal YOU signed it, no matter what name you used on the agreement, and YOU are legally responsible for all eventualities.


There's a good reason for this, of course. Except for the permanent responsibility (and rights) assigned to you as your legally registered self (most often determined by the name on your birth certificate unless legally changed by court order), you could change identities every ten minutes simply by using a pen name or pseudonym. You could claim that, since you used a pen name on a contract, that YOU aren't legally responsible for whatever "Robert Smith" didn't sign but "Bob Adams" did. Read More 

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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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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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I get asked this question periodically, and my answer is always the same.


No. Period. End of story.


In fact, no great editor has ever been behind a great writer (except, perhaps, by chance) because great writers don't' require them. Here's what I mean.


First, "great" editors don't grow on trees. After producing more than ninety conventionally published books, each one being assigned at least one editor and usually more, and after studying editing and working as a professional editor myself for decades, I can't count a single other editor I thought was great. Not those working for me, and not those working for the publishers who assigned their editors to check my work. Some editors I've known were far better than others, you understand. But not one contributed meaningfully, or transformationally, to my work or any great writer's work of which I familiar. Why would he have to? If a work is great, it's not going to need a "great editor" to make it even greater! And if it's not great, its author isn't great.


That's not to say no editors ever improve the work they tackle. Most do. By pointing out little things along the way, all of which (as all "great" writers know) add up to a better finished product. Read More 

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When someone posted a question online the other day, I was surprised at the number of responses he received--some of them actually pretty good; others, not so much. The writer asked, "How do you come up with good ideas for a book?" Naturally, I, being the Kind of Book Concepts, had to respond.

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You have received a few good answers to this question already. I especially like Brenda's response because a.) I like the name, and I never got to date a girl named Brenda when I was growing up, and b.) she asked the penultimate question you need to ask yourself: "What if?"


In reality, you already answered your own question when you used the word, think. French philosopher Descartes once said: "I think, therefore I am."


Get it? Everything comes down to thinking. Including human existence. Writers (and everyone else, by the way) should think all the time, every second they're awake, every moment they're alive. Think about what they're preparing for lunch. Think about how they're going to pay all the bills this month. Think about what their neighbor meant when he greeted them this morning. Think about thinking about things. I think, therefore I am. It's a brilliant piece of introspection. Most of all, it's imperative for all artists everywhere. To think, to question, to postulate, to speculate, to find out. In short, to beRead More 

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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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