On Challenges, Part 2

Hi Folks,

Note: This follows on a topic I wrote for The Daily Journal. If you haven’t read it, you can find it at http://hestanbrough.com/the-journal-friday-915/.

At the beginning of the calendar year, I challenged myself to write 15 novels during the year.

Later, after an intended novel fell short and ended as a novella, I adjusted the goal to 16 novels or novellas. That should have clued me I was in trouble.

It didn’t. I plunged merrily ahead but conveniently forgot the whole purpose of a challenge: productivity.

In my desire to write a certain number of novels, I allowed myself to be overwhelmed. In short, I lost sight of the little picture: the word count.

Grandpa always said you can’t build a house, but you can drive a nail. (Or you can’t write a novel, but you can write a scene.)

If you drive enough nails, you’ll look up one day through the clearing smoke and see that you have a new house.

Now just for fun, let’s slip a bit afield.

Productivity isn’t finishing a certain number of novels or novellas or even short stories.

In its initial, base form, productivity is putting words on the page. Like it or not, it all boils back down to the basic act: word count is what produces short stories, novellas and novels. You can’t escape that fact.

I find it particularly telling (and humorous, actually) that so many writers wrinkle up their nose and eschew word count as if it were gross and even distasteful. Pedestrian, even. Like sex.

Well, it might be. But it’s still a necessary (if ugly, depending on your POV) act in which the writer must allow his conscious and subconscious mind to engage if he is to birth a new novel.

It occurs to me that the metaphor extends when you realize word count generally isn’t talked about in polite circles.

Get it?

And it’s something all writers engage in whether or not they want to admit it.

After all, if such things really were only for us peasants, Great Britain’s royal line would be really short. In fact, it would have ended abruptly on the other side of a pair of crossed arms and a head shaking side to side eons ago. (Somebody stop me!)

Okay. Okay (deep breaths). Enough on the metaphor.

Now I don’t push productivity for its own sake. I push productivity as a matter of business.

The more works a writer has “out there” the greater the chance readers will stumble on something he’s written, like it, and buy more.

This is common sense, even given that what was once common for most seems to have become a luxury for many. But I digress.

Noting word count, whether it’s done publicly (as here) or in private (all the better people only do it in private) is what drives the writer to produce more literary children.

And when our word-count drive begins to weaken, there’s no better way to enhance it than to give ourselves a challenge.

Try it. You’ll like it. And you don’t have to tell anybody.

‘Til next time, keep writing.
Harvey

Words (and Grammar and Syntax)

Hi Folks,

When I was teaching grunt English at ENMU-Roswell a billion years ago, I went to the bookstore one day to sign for a shipment of textbooks I’d ordered.

There, stamped on the box in bold black all-uppercase letters was “GRAMMER BOOKS.”

A poignant moment, that.

But I don’t fault the warehouse workers who inked the stamp and applied it.

And amidst the storm of unruly comments and laughter from the bookstore workers, I was gracious. I forgave whoever put the stamp together in the first place.

But secretly I hoped he or she wasn’t also an aspiring writer.

Daniel Webster once said (paraphrasing here) that common use trumps denotation. But I don’t think he meant that to be used as an excuse by professional writers.

Words, grammar and syntax are the tools of your trade. Know how to use them.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch started this with a small post on Facebook: “When did ‘alright’ become all right? (She grumps after seeing the WRONG spelling in an ad for a national magazine. Sigh)”

My first comment was “So called ‘professional’ reporters once said troops had found a ‘weapons cachet’; they also constantly use ‘likely’ when they mean ‘probably,’ and interchanging ‘infer/imply’ has become acceptable in many circles. The dumbing down continues. Check out the film Idiocracy if you haven’t seen it. Great stuff.”

Seriously, if you haven’t seen Idiocracy yet, find it, rent it, buy it, something. Watch it. It’s a very funny film that almost made me cry. And not because I was laughing so hard. But because it seems prophetic.

My second comment (because this stuff annoys me practically to no end) was “Oh, and I’ve seen ‘a myriad of’ used in two separate articles (one in Smithsonian Magazine and the other [I believe] in Archaeology). So I’ve seen myriad mistakes, a veritable plethora of mistakes, by alleged professionals, the likes of whom would have Cronkite and Murrow spinning in their graves.”

Why Cronkite and Murrow?

Because they were consummate professionals who would be eternally embarrassed had they misused a word due to their own ignorance of the language. An ignorance that shouldn’t exists because they’re professionals.

Writers should take pride in their profession. But instead, increasingly in our dumbed-down society, writers are shifting the responsibility for their writing to the reader: “It’s good enough. The reader will know what I mean.”

I’ll bet you wouldn’t want your heart doctor going in to see whether mabye he could clear that stuff out of those little round tube-thingies leading to your ticker.

Maybe readers will know what the writer means, but not necessarily. And if they don’t, that’s the writer’s fault, not theirs.

My point is, if you want to make your living using words, be more than familiar with the language. Know what words mean, how they’re spelled and pronounced and their proper use. Know the formal rules of grammar and syntax too. If for no other reason than so you can break them, intelligently and intentionally, to create a particular effect in the reader. (Like writing a sentence fragment for emphasis.)

And when some moron slaps a “grammar police” label on you, smile. They’re only acknowledging your superior knowledge and work ethic, though I suppose it would seem sweeter if they actually realized it.

Okay. Grouch session over.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Harvey

12 Ways to Make That Critique Group Work (Revised and Updated)

Hi Folks,

Note: I originally posted this back in August, 2013. Much has changed since then. I’ve updated it to reflect those changes.

Most notably, I no longer recommend critique groups. At all. Mostly because

1. Criticism (or critique) by definition is a function of the conscious mind. It’s wonderful for “deconstruction,” but worthless for creation. Also,

2. Nobody, even writers who are much farther along the road than you are, can know all the intricacies of your work in progress (WIP),

3. Nobody else can “speak” in YOUR original voice, and

4. I don’t care for books that were basically written by committee. Even if the final product turns out “good,” I can’t help but wonder how much more original and therefore how much better it would have been had the writer simply trusted his or her own voice. But perhaps most importantly,

5. I don’t know and have never heard of a single successful professional fiction writer who workshops (offers up to a critique group) his or her work. Most professional fiction writers jealously guard their WIPs until it’s published, with the exception of showing it (of necessity) to a trusted first reader and/or copyeditor.

Now, what do I mean about “writing by committee”?

Simple. If the other writers in a critique group primarily want to change the writing to reflect the way they would have done it, and if the targeted writer feels obligated to take their advice, that’s writing by committee.

However, all writers are different.

On the surface, participating in a critique group seems an excellent idea, and it probably can be for some writers. Maybe. In fact, I wasn’t always of the opinion that critique groups are harmful. I actually created and facilitated a critique group when I lived in Roswell NM many years ago.

So if you prefer using critique groups or believe them valuable, that’s fine with me. After all, your process can’t directly affect my own creativity or my sales.

So here are some things to look for in a GOOD critique group.

First, if you want to join an established critique group,

1. pick one that has not degenerated into a mutual-admiration society, and

2. pick one that has safeguards in place against a piece of work eventually being written by committee. You will see those safeguards below.

If you want to form or participate in a good critique group that stands at least a chance of actually being beneficial, here’s what you need.

1. A conscientious facilitator who will steer the participants to honesty in their critiques.

A critique group without a facilitator usually will degrade quickly into a mutual-admiration society, a group in which flattery is trump. And a “be nice to me and I’ll be nice to you” atmosphere certainly causes the participants to feel good about themselves, but it also leaves them wondering about the quality of their writing.

2. Limit the size of the group according to the length of time you are able to meet.

For example, there were ten participants in my critique group, but we met for two hours every other week. Each participant had time to read his or her work (if he or she wanted to) and receive the criticism of the other participants.

3. Only one person at a time is the writer in the group.

If you aren’t reading your work to the others at the time, you’re a reader/listener, not a writer. Don’t endeavor to change the person’s writing to fit your style. Rather, point out places where, for you as a reader/listener, the story stumbles or stalls, where you feel you don’t know enough (or you know too much) about a character or a scene, where confusion creeps in, and so on.

4. Don’t require everyone to read every time.

Take off your control-freak boots, flex your tired toes and chill. Everyone can be an active, valuable participant without reading at every meeting. Some people will want to read every time, and others won’t.

5. However, the members all should be serious about writing.

To maintain membership in the group, I suggest that everyone should be encouraged to submit something for critique—even if it’s only one poem or one stanza or one scene from a novel or memoir—at least every other meeting if you meet monthly or every third meeting if you meet more often. Again, though, notice I said “encouraged,” not forced.

However, non-participation (say one member very seldom reads her own work and very seldom comments constructively as a reader/listener) should be grounds for dismissal from the group, especially if there’s a waiting list of folks who are serious about the craft of writing and would like to join. (See 2 above.)

6. Be honest in your critiques.

This is the most important feature of a good critique group. Honesty, even brutal honesty, is critical. After the first session or two, any hurt feelings will subside and those who prefer the mutual-admiration society will have dropped out. The participants who remain will begin to trust each other and appreciate the honest feedback. And when acceptance letters and checks begin replacing rejection letters, they’ll appreciate it even more. Besides, “honest” is not synonymous with “hurtful,” “hateful,” “spiteful” or “mean.”

7. Always provide positive critiques.

But didn’t I just say you should be honest? That’s right, so when you point out what you believe is a flaw in someone’s writing, make it a positive critique by offering a recommendation for improvement. Remember, though, that you’re trying to help the writer improve HIS OR HER work, not make it your own. Besides, you should point out the bright spots as well as the flaws.

8. Bring your “first draft” to your group.

I recommend that your second draft should be a run-through with a spell checker. And a third draft should be your original manuscript to which you’ve applied whatever changes your first reader has recommended IF YOU AGREE with those recommendations.

But if you’re in a critique group, you probably don’t have a first reader and probably still believe you have to write numerous drafts to turn out quality work (you don’t).

So at least give the members of your group your most original effort (your first draft).

9. Perform “blind” readings.

If honest critique is the most important feature of a good critique group (and it is), performing blind readings is a close second. Although this advice goes against the common practice of most critique groups, I’ve found that the author should not provide copies of her work for the other participants.

Instead of trying to read along with the reader, during a blind reading the other participants should be able to listen attentively, noting on a pad any passages that confuse them, stop them cold, or impress them. They might also note passages that either bog the story down or move it along too quickly.

Once the author is finished reading, each participant then offers his or her critique. Blind reading lessens the chance of participants “parroting” each other and leads to a more honest, constructive critique. It also forces the reader to read his or her work aloud, and that is always a good thing.

10. The facilitator should avoid influencing the other participants’ opinions. To do so, the facilitator should offer his or her critique last.

11. Don’t argue with critiques as they’re offered.

This is a non-productive waste of valuable time. Besides, you should respect the opinions of the participants as listeners; that is, don’t expect more from them than they can give. If they were experts, they probably wouldn’t be in the group.

12. Consider every participant’s critique.

Don’t automatically accept or reject any critique. What one listener (reader) likes, another will dislike; what one finds believable, another will find ridiculous.

Carry the critiques home with you, calm down, then use or discard the criticisms one at a time at your leisure. As a rule of thumb, though, if you hear the same critique from more than one participant (after a blind reading), you probably should consider it more seriously.

Overall, critique groups are a paradox. Few group interactions can be as rewarding as a good critique group or as destructive as a bad one. Fortunately, which group you belong to (or whether you belong to one at all) is your choice.

You need answer only one question: How important is your career as a writer?

So if you’re already a member of a group and if the group isn’t working well for you, consider bringing these ideas to the attention of the facilitator; if you aren’t a member of a group yet or are considering forming one, choose wisely. After all, it’s your career.

Okay, but if I don’t recommend critique groups generally, what do I recommend?

Learn from those much farther along the road than you are. Visit Dean Wesley Smith’s blog regularly. I do.

And if I’m farther along the road than you are (26 novels, 4 novellas, and over 180 short stories as of September 5, 2017), consider hopping over to my Daily Journal and subscribing. It’s free, and there I offer insight into the daily life of a professional writers. Several times a week, I toss out writing advice in a Topic of the Day.

‘Til next time, Happy Writing!

Harvey

To a World Free of Cliché

Hey Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 1/10/2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

Once upon a time, I edited a manuscript that was teeming with clichés, ripe to bursting with platitudes and filled to the brim with trite, self-serving crap.

It virtually screamed Look at me! Aren’t I wonderful? Aren’t I generous with my time and helpful in all things? Aren’t I just pretty much Oprah on steroids?

Of course, the clichés and platitudes were slumping along behind like great lummoxes, mumbling, Hey, uh, looky here. I ain’t never had one original thought, an’ I’m dang proud of it. This here’s m’nose-pickin’ finger. Yup, I’m dumber’s a bagga bricks.

Did you ever read something that actually made you recoil?

The unoriginal writing in that particular masterpiece bludgeoned me so strongly and so often that I wanted to curl into the fetal position and hide beneath my desk. I hoped the writing gods would come and spirit that evil piece of sh-riting from my laptop.

They didn’t. I’d gotten myself into it, they said, so I could get myself out. Ugh.

So why did I accept the manuscript for editing? I got lax.

Although the writer sent me the full manuscript per my request, I took the sample edit from the first few pages. It didn’t take long during the edit to realize those pages plus a few more had been previously edited so that they weren’t ugly, hairy legged, knuckle-dragging things slouching toward some poor, unsuspecting reader.

But hey, mea freakin’ culpa. I gritted my teeth and forced myself to  f-i-n-i-s-h   t-h-e   e-d-i-t. Have I mentioned how happy I am to be writing full time now?

But back to the original point. Far more important than me having to put up with a horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible—I suppose I could have written that (horrible)5—piece of writing was the realization that many writers, we who are supposed to be sources of original thought, simply aren’t.

So here’s a new rule for you, annotated to ease understanding. Not that YOU need it to be annotated—I realize that—but face it: some of the folks reading this are missing more than a few spots off their dominoes.

Strive (attempt with all the power of your will)

never (not even once)

to write (put pen to paper, fingertips to keyboard or mouth to recorder)

an unoriginal thought (a syllable or series of syllables that have been uttered before, by anyone, at any time, anywhere, ever)

except as you do so purposefully (intentionally, with intent, on purpose)

to create (cause to occur, bring into being)

a certain (premeditated, planned, intentional, particular)

effect (emotion, gasp, increase in heart rate, smile, chuckle, laugh, recoiling in horror, etc.)

in the reader (person whom you want to impress so much with your work that s/he will seriously consider breaking into your home just to learn more about you).

Again, Strive never to write an unoriginal thought except as you do so purposefully to create a certain effect in the reader.

That one rule would cover a LOT of the other lessons I’ve tried to teach writers over the years, especially if you include the use of the various marks of punctuation in that “create a certain effect in the reader” part. And you should.

Of course, if one of your characters actually speaks in clichés and utter platitudes per his role in society, that’s fine. Let him.

At least until you hire another character to fit the cliché-ridden guy with reinforced-concrete underwear and drop him off a pier somewhere.

Give me three hours’ notice and I’ll drive. Hey, I’ll even help you load him in the trunk. But your narrator… well now, that’s different.

See, thing is, you’re a Writer. You were brought into existence on this funny, filthy little blue marble to shake it the hell up, to look it in the eyes and dare it to say or do something that you can turn into a story.

And in your writing, although your characters will wander around being themselves (as they should), your narrator can’t.

The narrator describes the scene, period, albeit through the characters’ senses and the characters’ OPINION of that scene. The narrator provides a great transitory bridge between the colorful, magical world of your story and the grey-white, humdrum existence of your reader’s reality.

You and your narrator will describe the scenes in vibrant, expansive splashes of prose that leave the reader gasping for breath, not crawling under his desk to hide from an onslaught of boredom.

You and your narrator will make readers laugh until their sides ache, cry until they’re dry, or sleep for three weeks with one eye open.

You and your narrator are too intelligent to mumble clichés or platitudes when you have a perfectly good brain right there between your ears.

And I hope you’re just plain too stubborn to use something someone else has used a thousand times.

So get on with it!

‘Til next time, happy (original, unboring, unclichéd) writing!

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Traditional Publishing: Just Don’t

Hi Folks,

Via The Digital Reader, The Huffington Post (whom I would never and am not now promoting) published an article titled “The 4 Great Myths of Book Publishing.”

You can read the full article at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-4-great-myths-of-book-publishing_us_5988e9ebe4b08a4c247f252d/ but I’ll save you the trouble.

There are actually a lot more myths about traditional publishing than four, but we’ll go with the ones they list.

According to the article, the myths are that a traditional publisher will

  • aggressively promote your book to the widest possible readership,
  • ensure your book gets on the shelves of all the nation’s bookstores,
  • print your book’s text in exactly the way you conceive and arrange it, and
  • provide you with a sizable monetary advance.

Of course, the article goes on to say no, they won’t. Because No, They Won’t.

The “remedy” the author of the article recommends for points 1, 2, and 4 (3 is just silly) is to do it yourself. But still use a traditional publisher.

So let me get this straight:

According to the author of the article, you should develop your own promotion plan, promote your book aggressively yourself to ensure more people order it in bookstores, “be flexible” regarding layout, and “be grateful if you’re offered any advance at all.”

So in addition to writing the book in the first place, you have to do everything else too. Okay, I’m good with that.

But in return for your effort, you should still give ALL RIGHTS FOR THE LIFE OF THE COPYRIGHT to the traditional publisher and receive around 12% of the net royalties for as long as they decide to sell your book.

Oh, and if you also have an agent, he/she gets 15% of that 12%.

Uhhhhh, no.

This is it, folks. This truly is your forehead slapping moment. Please don’t pass it up.

If you have to do all that anyway, Publish It Yourself and pocket 100% of the net royalties.

And MOST importantly, Keep Your Copyright (your property) for the rest of your life plus 70 years.

You STILL have to develop your own promotion plan, aggressively promote your book, and you can do the layout yourself (or pay to have it done — see https://covertoupload.com/).

Of course, you’ll have to forego receiving an advance you wouldn’t have gotten anyway. Darn it. Oh, and somewhere, some village idio— er, agent — will go a little hungry. But so what?

Copyright is property, folks. Your property.

Don’t give it away, and don’t sell out for a pittance.

Harvey

Why Do You Write?

Note: This post was originally scheduled for October 2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post A LOT so it’s up to date.

Hi Folks,

In my years of dealing with other writers, I’ve heard a few clichéd thoughts. In every case, the clichés are caused by the same old myths we’ve all been taught and bought into to one degree or another.

One of the more prevalent myths is that writing for money somehow taints the pure art of writing.

The truly hilarious kicker here is that although writing fiction is as much a pure art as painting or sculpting, most would-be writers don’t present their pure art. (Especially those in Group Three below, but don’t skip down.)

They edit and wheedle and whittle away until what was originally pure looks just like they believe it “should” look, which is like everyone else’s stuff.

It’s extremely difficult to be “special, just like everyone else.” 🙂

Okay, but this post is about the nonsense that writing for money is not a good thing. I’ll deal with the art side of this another time.

“Oh, I Don’t Write for Money,” (he said, one forearm draped dramatically over his forehead as a glass of wine and a cheese stick balanced precariously in his other hand.)

First, a disclaimer — I am aware there are folks out there who are not writers and don’t care to be. That’s fine. What follows is about those who are or claim to be writers.

Over all the years when I was goofy enough to believe I was making a difference presenting in writers’ conferences and sitting on panels (there’s a waste of time you’ll never get back) in genre conventions, I must have heard it at least a thousand times: “Oh, I’m not into writing for money.”

And every single time, for me, that begged the question, “Then why in the world are you here?” I mean seriously, if you don’t write for money, why are you spending money on the latest conference, convention, or seminar?

Okay, some folks love learning strictly for the sake of learning. Got it.

But what about the other five or six out of a bajillion?

Now don’t get angry. Coming from a (former) writing instructor, “Why do you write?” is a completely valid question. But really, it’s strictly rhetorical.

The fact is, writers who say they don’t write for money belong in one of four groups:

Group One consists of hobby writers.

They really don’t write for money. They also don’t invest much of their own time and money in learning how to write. When they do invest money in their writing, it’s for a good and specific reason.

These are the ones the other family members turn to when someone has to write a eulogy. Perhaps they write to leave a legacy—perhaps a memoir or a family history—so descendants will have a record.

Perhaps they pay a proofreader or copyeditor to clean up the writing a bit, and they might even attend a writing workshop or two. That’s perfectly understandable. Absolutely nothing wrong with being a hobby writer.

Group Two are the same folks, but they harbor a secret desire to be professional writers.

They really don’t write for money either. And they hedge their bets by not investing much of their own time and money in learning how to write. If they don’t learn, they have no reason to write seriously and they will never risk failure.

However, they’re so overcome by the fear of failure that they will never seriously consider themselves writers, nor expect others to consider them writers.

That’s okay too if they can’t overcome the fear, but I hope they find something they love to do and do that instead.

Group Three consists of those who are not writers, will never be writers, and know it. They are who this topic is really all about.

They say that they don’t write for money in a tone that indicates they’re bragging. They believe themselves above scrabbling for the filthy lucre, and generally — if they actually write at all — they’re in pursuit of writing The Great American Novel.

They have an elevated calling, you see, and they’re above the whole sordid mess in which we mere mortals are entangled.

However, for some reason they believe others see them as writers (Pssst! No, we don’t.) and they attach some elevated importance to that as well. They would fit right into the Brit TV show Keeping Up Appearances, and any one of them could play the role of Hyacinth. And they’re precisely as annoying.

Those in this group spend sometimes vast amounts of money on appearing to be a writer. But learning and honing the craft doesn’t matter. Appearance — what others believe about them — is everything.

Shrug. Stretch. Yawn. Okay. Whatever.

Those in Group Four are writers, or at least aspirants who have a real shot at being writers.

Those say (usually humbly) that they don’t write for money either. But they invest time and money wisely in learning and honing the craft. (Like those in Group Two, they’re also hedging their bets, but only out of fear of rejection.) We can lump them in with those in Group Five.

Everyone else belongs in Group Five. They are writers. They never utter “I don’t write for money” unless they’re being sarcastic.

These folks have learned what those in Group Three will never learn: If you want to write, write. It’s that simple.

Neither do they think nonstop of all the money they’re going to make. That isn’t what it’s about. They just write.

As one personal example, I seriously doubt I’ll ever make a solid living with my writing. But I also seriously expect my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will rake in cash by the barrel load. And that’s fine. But I get all the fun of telling the stories and putting them out there. (grin)

Let’s pause here for a moment so you can do a quick self-assessment if you want to. Nobody’s judging. Whether and why you belong in any of the first four groups is strictly up to you to decide.

Okay, all done?

Good. Now, here’s what you do.

If you belong in Group One, Two or Three, you can go home now.

Stop reading this and go find something fun to do.

Why? Because I see no reason to take you seriously, or at all, as a writer. And frankly, if you’re in Group One or Two, you don’t expect me to. In fact, you’re probably laughing along with the rest of us.

If you’re in Group Three — well, sorry.

I realize you expect the rest of us to not only realize you’re a writer but admire your tenacity, etc. Here you go. Let’s see if I can hit the high spots:

  • You expect the rest of us to grovel and beg for an autographed copy of your recent release.
  • You authored your book (but not for filthy lucre) and are selling for some exorbitant amount because it’s Just That Good.
  • Oh, and because you paid some subsidy publisher a few thousand dollars to like it enough to publish it.

That about right?

You’re also probably madder than eight wildcats in an oil drum right now. But really, just chill and go find something you actually enjoy doing. Seriously.

Now, if you’re in Group Four or Five (Bonnie), hey, this entire post celebrates you. I’m pulling for you, I’m proud of you and I’m glad you’re one of us.

Keep learning, keep writing, and keep making wise investments in your education.

But don’t tell people you aren’t writing for money. Just keep having fun making stuff up.

‘Til next time, happy writing (or whatever you most enjoy doing).

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Scammers in Pretty Clothing

Note: This post was originally scheduled for early 2015. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

This post first appeared in slightly different form as an article in the November 2014 issue of  the Society of Southwestern Authors (SSA) newsletter, The Write Word.

Hey Folks,

I recently received an email from a place called Publish Wholesale. They were interested in “publishing my manuscript for less.” For just less than $1000, they offered all the same “features” offered by scammers who charge sometimes 4 or 5 times more.

But the specific name of the subsidy publisher doesn’t matter. A scam is a scam, and all subsidy publishers are scams. All of them. Period.

DON’T  CONFUSE  SUBSIDY  PUBLISHING  WITH  SELF-PUBLISHING.
THEY’RE  NOT  THE  SAME THING.

1. WHEN YOU USE A SUBSIDY PUBLISHER

  • You pay an up-front fee, usually hundreds or thousands of dollars, to publish your work. Most of them then continue to up-sell you on other services or products or offer as premiums things that you could easily get free by yourself (a website or a Facebook or Twitter account, for example).
  • The publishing company retains ownership of all files they create during the process (Read the Contract!) including the text and cover and the website if they create one for you. If you decide later you want to self-publish, you have to pay a stiff penalty to retrieve your own work, and often the company’s watermark will be imbedded on every page so you have to retype the whole thing anyway.
  • The publishing company insists on receiving a split of your royalties. (Seriously? Are you kidding me? You paid them to publish your work. That should be their total cut.)  In other words, they continue to charge you a fee for publishing your work. Again, read the contract.

2. WHEN YOU CHOOSE TO SELF-PUBLISH, you have two options: you either format your document for ebook and/or print yourself and design your own cover, or you pay someone to do those things for you. Whether you do it yourself or pay someone to prep the files for you

  • YOU retain ownership of your copyright and all of your files, including the cover(s).
  • YOU retain 100% of net royalties.

Formatting your Word document for epublication and/or POD publication is not difficult, but it is a tedious and exacting process. If you don’t want to take the time to learn to do this yourself, I recommend paying someone to do it for you. My recommendation is ArenaPublishing.org, a service provider, not a subsidy publisher.

The book cover is the first thing the potential reader sees. Creating an attractive, attention-grabbing cover is essential. Whatever you do, don’t just slap something together for a cover and declare it “good enough.” It isn’t, and it will cost you sales.

I’ve seen a LOT of amateur covers on what might be very well-written books. A bad cover will cost you a lot of sales. Don’t skimp in this area.

I recommend downloading the free version of Serif’s PagePlus desktop publishing software. It rivals Adobe’s program and even the full Serif PagePlus program is only a fraction of the cost of anything Adobe makes. I use Serif PageMaker (the full version) to create all my covers.

But again, if you don’t want to learn to do this yourself, let someone else do it for you. Again, I recommend ArenaPublishing.org. Even more strongly, I recommend Cover to Upload.

Copyediting too, is essential. I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting. It costs less than you think.

WE’RE LIVING IN A BRAVE NEW WORLD OF PUBLISHING. As an example, in the 16 days between October 27 and November 12 of 2014, I compiled and published five 5-story collections of short fiction, three 10-story collections of short fiction, and a novel. All of those were available as ebooks in over 90 nations worldwide and as print books within a week or so of publication.

UPDATE: Between April 15, 2014 and September 14, 2016 (so 2 years and 5 months) I’ve written and published over 1,500,000 words of new original fiction. That includes over 150 short stories, nineteen novels and a novella. I’m also 4,000 words into my twentieth novel. That’s what’s possible in this wonderful new world of publishing.

These publications didn’t cost me a dime out-of-pocket because I did the formatting and covers myself. I retain ownership of all my files, and I retain 100% of net royalties.

Even if I had paid say $200 to get each of these titles out there, that would be my total expenditure, period. It’s an investment. I’ll never spend another dime on them, and the passive income from them will continue for 70 years after my death.

Because they’re all self-published, there are no royalty splits, no returns, no torn-off covers, no remainders. There is no “shelf life” as there is with traditional publishing. And like I said above, these stories—individually, in collections, and the novel—will continue to bring in passive income until 70 years after my death. Again, that’s passive income. If I work, it comes in. If I stop working, it still comes in. And when I kick off, it will still come in for my children and grandchildren.

So don’t be confused over self-publishing vs. subsidy publishing. Self-publishing is a very good thing. Subsidy publishing is a scam, period. A subsidy publisher can’t do ANYthing for you that you can’t do for yourself at either no cost or low cost.

For a lot more on self-publishing, visit http://harveystanbrough.com/downloads. It’s free. You won’t be sorry.

Next up in this series of posts, some tips on Starting and Restarting your writing.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks!

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting. It costs less than you think.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

 

Top 10 Proofreading Tips

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 4/27/2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I revised it (especially sub items in number 4) to express my current opinions, but the main list remains intact. It is timeless.

First, I’m not talking about proofreading someone else’s stuff, although you can apply these tips to that process. But mostly here I’m talking about proofreading your own stuff.

Note: I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting. It costs less than you think.

Proofreading your own writing is considerably more difficult than proofreading the work of others. Okay so here are the top ten step to proofreading your own work. In true Top 10 format, they’re in reverse order:

10. To be sure each sentence makes sense by itself, read in reverse.

Read the last sentence first, then the next, then the next and so on to the first sentence.

When you read in the proper sequence, especially if you’re reading silently, your mind will often insert letters and even whole words that are actually missing from the writing.

This is especially true of shorter words like “the” or “of” that happen to occur at the end of a line of writing.

I realize you probably won’t do this. That’s why it’s number 10 on the list. Still, it’s a good technique.

9. Check longer words to be sure you haven’t omitted any vowels (a, e, i, o, u).

8. Don’t depend on “professionals” like news anchors, who use words to make their living, to be correct.

For example, despite its widespread misuse, “likely” is an adjective, not an adverb, and it’s synonymous with “probable,” not “probably.” I cringe every time a weather guy says, “It likely will rain tonight.”

7. Use the spell checker, but not as a substitute for your own mind. It will not catch wrong words (e.g., that for than, an for and, waist for waste). You can set some spell checkers to “contextual spelling” now so they will catch “We sent our best solders into battle.”

6. If a word doesn’t look right or “feel” right to you, don’t depend on the spell checker. Look it up in the dictionary.

5. Watch closely for the omission of “ed” or “s” on the end of past tense or plural words. (Reading in reverse will help you catch these as well.)

4. Double check the spelling of words that sound similar to each other. If you aren’t sure, look them up. Here are a few I’ve seen misused often:

  • there is a place, their is possessive, and they’re means they are;
  • personal means pertaining to one person, but personnel means a group of people within a profession;
  • forward is a direction, but foreword is the opening of some books;
  • effect is a noun, but affect is a verb;
  • the writer or speaker implies, but the reader or listener infers;
  • advice is what you give someone, advise is what you’re doing when you give someone advice;
  • a whole is composed of its parts, and the parts comprise the whole; and no matter what the dictionary says
  • till is a cash drawer (or a verb meaning to turn arable land with a plow; ’til is the abbreviated version of until. And finally, because someone has to say it,
  • journal is a noun, not a verb. Seriously. When people say they’re journaling (or even chronicling, a much older bastardization of the language), it’s because they’ve yet to find that big, scary word writing. Or maybe “I’m journaling” makes them feel important. I don’t know.  A writer who says she’s “journaling” is like a mechanic who says he’s “spark plugging” or a carpenter saying he’s “cabineting.”

Note that some dictionaries have begun to blur the distinction between some of these words, even imply and infer. Don’t forget that dictionaries are written by human beings, ALL of whom are biased in one way or another. My personal bias is for learning, not merely accepting.

Living languages change, but that change should be a long, difficult, arduous process, not merely a surrender to stupidity. While I’m on the topic, “ebonics” is not a new language. It is a dialect. And like most dialects, it is a signifier either of a lack of education or laziness in pronunciation.

3. Be careful of words that contain double vowels.

  • Succeed, proceed, and exceed are the only words that end in “eed.”
  • Supersede is the only word that ends in “sede.”
  • All other words with this sound end with “cede”: precede, recede, and so on.

2. Be careful of words that contain double consonants, such as occasion, occurrence, and accommodation. My personal thorn is millennium. Seems like one N should be enough.

1. And the most important tip I can give you: Read Your Work Aloud, even if you do so quietly. (It’s better and more fun if you emote.)

When you read aloud, you’ll catch problems you wouldn’t normally catch with your eyes, especially inflection and punctuation errors. Remember, the reader can’t hear your voice when he reads your work. He has to see it.

If it sounds right to you when you read it aloud, it will sound right to the reader when he reads it silently. When I was editing, I often read my clients’ work aloud as I conducted the edit.

‘Til next time, Happy Writing!

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, click The Daily Journal tab in the header of my HarveyStanbrough.com website and sign up.

 

On the Theft of Ebooks

Note: This post was originally scheduled for late 2014. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.Hi Folks,

This is a necessary post. There is a subculture out there who seems to believe anything electronic is up for grabs, that it belongs to everyone at once. It doesn’t.

My unintentional mentor, Dean Wesley Smith, recently (as I write this) posted a blog regarding the fact that ebooks differ from paper books in that courts have established customers do not “own” an ebook once they buy it.

That’s true, of course. When you buy an ebook, you are only licensing it. It’s no different than “buying” a movie. You don’t own the movie. You own the right to view it for awhile. Same with an ebook.

Note: that’s why ebooks generally cost a lot less than paper books. Duh.

Well, his post, incredibly, incited a lot of WRITERS to comment on various and sundry ways to STEAL the copyrighted work in ebooks! Seriously!

Why would ANY writer even condone stealing copyrighted material, much less advise people on how to do so? Are they freaking mental?

So all of that is what has brought me to this:

For the first time in a very long time, I’m glad I found Writing Into the Dark at such an advanced age.

Yes, I do writing into the dark.

Like Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Ray Bradbury and practically EVERY other major successful long-term fiction writer. It just means I don’t outline something to death and then rewrite everything and then run it past a critique group and then polish my own unique voice off of it just because some non-writer in my past told me that’s what I have to do.

Besides, frankly I Don’t Have Time for all that. I’m too busy writing the next story.

But I stand pretty much NO chance of becoming a “long-term” professional author because I got started (in a serious, my-writing-comes-first kind of way) far, far too late.

Will I sell enough to make a living? Probably, but maybe not. The point is, I’m old enough not to be concerned about it. But I digress.

Frankly, if someone cares enough to steal some of my work, well, I just have to hope that will be the exception rather than the rule. I’m not flattered and I don’t think it’s a minor thing. I feel pity for anyone who would deny an author the price of his or her book. That is the height of selfishness and greed.

If you buy my work and want to share it with your spouse or significant other, that’s fine. I personally have no problem with that. But if you steal it outright, or if you buy it once and then share it with several of your friends, you’re taking money out of my pocket.

If the book cost $5 and you shared it with twenty of your closest friends, you’ve just stolen $100 from my bank account.

Don’t shake your head. It’s EXACTLY the same thing.

Now, there is a thing called Digital Rights Management. A lot of new authors (who generally do not understand copyright) tend to use it.

Let me state unequivocally, I will never use DRM. It sends the wrong message to readers. Using DRM says I don’t trust them.

And the fact is, I’ve always been the sort who will trust you until you prove to me I can’t. Then I won’t have anything more to do with you, period.

I will continue to publish both ebooks and print as long as I am able, and I will continue to write my a*s off, as much as I can, every single day that I can, and I will continue to just enjoy the process.

For example, I wrote over 4,000 new words of fiction on Thanksgiving Day (2014). I hope I’ll have that good of production every day, yes, including Christmas. And I will just enjoy the process.

I am a professional writer and I am extremely fortunate, not because of what I’ve sold or hope to sell, but because writing, putting new words on the page in the form of short stories and novels, is what I do. It’s my day job.

Do I wish I’d been involved with my contemporaries, Dean Wesley Smith, Kris and the others from the very beginning? Oh HELL yes. If I had, today I would be a best-selling internationally known author with a hundred or so novels under my belt, as well as countless short stories.

But that isn’t the way it worked out. (shrug) And as for those who feel it’s all right to STEAL the content in ebooks and all the rest of it? There’s so little I can do about it that I find it healthier (for me) not to worry about it.

Listen up— No matter how they justify taking someone else’s copyrighted material without paying for it, thieves are thieves, period. They have no honor, and they are not worthy of my time.

Until next time, happy writing.

Harvey

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Distractions

Hi Folks,

Distractions happen. They do. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do about them.

But if you’re a mechanic and you get a phone call (distraction) and your spouse or significant other shows up unannounced for lunch (distraction) or a chunk of spy satellite falls out of the sky and flattens the dry cleaner across the street (distraction), you look, you take care of it, and you go back to work on the engine or the transmission or whatever.

Or you can use the distraction as an excuse to take a day off. Doesn’t matter to me. I’m not making a judgement here. But I’m just sayin’, it’s your choice, not something that’s forced on you.

If you’re a writer, same thing.

Distractions will happen. You can either say “Oh darn. Guess I won’t be able to write today. Maybe I’ll start tomorrow.” Or you can take a look or a listen, deal with the distractions, then go back to work on the story or novel or whatever.

Today I had distractions. It’s end game on the novel (see yesterday’s post). I’m all geared up to use whatever excuses happen to offer themselves to me. I didn’t think I’d put a thousand words on the page today (like the past few days). Yet I surpassed my goal.

How?

Distractions happened.

I gave them the attention they deserved.

Then I went back to work.

I hope that works for you too.

Happy writing,

Harvey