Using Italic Attribute in Fiction

Hi Folks,

This is a bit of an embarrassment for me.

I used to actively teach that the writer should use italics to indicate the characters’ unspoken thoughts.

When I was actively editing for other writers, I applied that erroneous rule. One time, I even passed up doing an edit for one writer because she adamantly refused to allow me to change characters’ unspoken thoughts from normal typeface to italics. I felt like she was paying me to not do my job, and I’ve never been bent that direction.

At any rate, I was wrong.

I sent a short story to Dean Wesley Smith one time as an assignment for one of the online workshops I took.

He wrote back that he very much enjoyed the story, but had two complaints.

“Why the italics?” he wrote. “And what’s with the ‘he thought’ tags?”

I explained to him that I use italics to indicate unspoken thought. Sentences contained within quotation marks were spoken thought (dialogue or monologue) and any text that was not either contained within quotation marks or set in italics was narrative.

His only response was, “Well, do what you want, but the italics jerk me right out of the story.”

Wow. The one big overall major concept I’ve always talked about — the one concept that underlies all other writing concepts — is that the writer must never do ANYthing to interrupt the reading of his or her own work.

And here was a writer I highly respect telling me that my use of italics pulled him out of the story.

Now Dean has well over 200 traditionally published novels and around a hundred independently published NEW novels (in other words, not including older novels on which rights have reverted and he’s now republishing as an indie publisher). Oh, and several hundred short stories.

I mean WOW.

And an epiphany hit:

Whether or not you use italics attribute (other than for emphasis) has absolutely no effect on the story itself. So it can’t help, but by disrupting the READING of the story, it can do great harm.

Now I had already decided to trust DWS. He wasn’t trying to convince me of anything. He just wrote, “[T]he italics jerk me right out of the story.” The day after he wrote that, I stopped overusing italics.

But I started rummaging through the works of other writers I respect, both older and more recent.

In every book, I found italics used only sparingly, to indicate emphasis. Never—not one time—did I find a successful long-term writer using italics to indicate unspoken thought.

Then it happened.

In Under the Dome, a novel by arguably my favorite novelist, Stephen King, he uses italics not only to indicate unspoken thought, but also over-uses it to emphasize entire sentences of dialogue when the character is speaking in an excited tone.

For example, one of his characters might put his hands around his mouth and yell, “No! Get back! Don’t go over there! It’s electrified!”

The sentence would be italics AND he would use the exclamation points (arguably correctly to indicate, you know, exclamations).

And every time I encountered the overuse of italics, it pulled me out of the story.

Readers are intelligent enough to know, almost immediately, whether a sentence that is not contained within quotation marks is narrative or the characters’ unspoken thought. You don’t have to tell them with the use of italics. And you might run them off by using it.

While I’m on the topic of things that pull readers out of a story, S. King, at least in Under the Dome, also uses bold font attribute when he writes a single letter or when the narrator or character reads a sign.

For example, “The car approached the place where the road T‘ed” or “The sign read Dairyman’s Dry Cleaners.”

Not kidding. And that use of bold attribute also pulls me out of the story. It’s just distracting and annoying.

Does it make me stop reading? Well, yes, but only momentarily. The story is good enough that I doubt anything could cause me to stop reading completely. But it does make reading the story a lot more difficult. (UPDATE: I was wrong. After encountering several more examples of bold attribute and unnecessary italics, it was distracting enough that I finally gave up on trying to read the story.)

My point here, aside from explaining why I converted from Saul to Paul regarding the use of italics, is that some otherwise excellent writers will occasionally make a booboo.

So don’t take everything you see for gospel just because a famous (to you) writer does it.

I seriously hope this helps.

‘Til 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.

Note: I despise those annoying pop-up ads that populate so many websites, don’t you? This blog is supported only by donations from readers like you. 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 or click paypal.me/harveystanbrough.

Trust Your Professional

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/30/2013. 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.

First, find a professional you can trust.

For example, 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.

Thomas D. Morrow wrote that “Advertising may be the only business in the world where the clients with the most money can make demands until they get the agency’s worst product, while the small client with little to spend must meekly accept the agency’s best.”

So if a guy walks into an ad agency with his hat in his hand, a small budget and the willingness to listen that usually accompanies a small budget, he will walk out with a much better product than the Know It All who barges in, perfectly willing to pay extra to force the professionals to do it his way.

But Mr. Morrow was wrong. It isn’t just advertising. The same holds true for other artistic endeavors.

Let’s read the important part of the statement again: “The clients with the most money can make demands until they get the agency’s worst product.” (Did’ya get that?) “While the small client with little to spend must meekly accept the agency’s best.”

Here are a few examples of wrong thinking on the client side:

Cover design clients often believe the cover must reflect the main characters or the storyline or both.

Uhh, nope.

That isn’t the cover’s job, and most of the time it will render a cover that’s far too busy. Reflecting the main character(s) and the story line is the writer’s job in the story.

The cover’s job is to attract the prospective reader’s attention and convey the theme or concept of the story. The cover’s job is to entice the reader into buying your book or at least sampling it.

When I was designing covers for others, I charged a low rate to design a cover based on the client’s ideas but on my preferences. I charged a lot more to design a cover over which the client demanded full artistic control.

And when I was designing websites, those clients often expected me to explain each nuance of web design as I was progressing. For example, if I told them I would host their website, free of charge, so I could more easily access it and work on it, they immediately became suspicious. The conversation usually went something like this:

“What do you get out of hosting my website free?”

“I get the ability to provide you with better, faster service than I would if I had to jump through hoops at your hosting service.”

“Yeah, but how much do you charge for hosting?”

“Umm, free hosting is, you know, free. What part of ‘it costs you nothing’ do you not understand?”

But that wasn’t good enough.

They expected me to spend a few hours explaining why it’s easier for me to access their site when I’m hosting it. So before I learned better and got out of the business, I would explain what I have to do—the actual process—to upload a particular premium theme framework and then access and change the permissions on certain folders and files through an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) client.

Eventually, finally, they saw the benefit. Or more likely, they tired of the explanation. Then they’d say something I knew all along was coming: “Ahh, well I didn’t know it was that involved.” At that point, they would usually giggle and say, “Oh, okay. Well go ahead then!”

That really sent me over the top with frustration. Why couldn’t they just believe up front that I know what I’m talking about instead of making me explain it all before assenting? I mean it isn’t like they learn anything they can use.

And then, having gobbled up two or three hours of my work day, they say something radically uncool like, “Well, I’m off to an evening on the town (or off to boating on Lake Havasu or off to board a plane for Hawaii or off to take a nap). You just have a really great evening!” Giggle giggle.

Ugh.

Right now, some of you are thinking But don’t we have a right to ask questions?

Sure. Yes, you do.

But why would you want to cost your professional service provider a lot of time that he could be spending on your project?

Seriously, think about it.

When you put new tires on your vehicle, if the guy at the tire store says he’s going to balance and mount them on your vehicle at no cost to you, do you grill him for a few hours about WHY he wants to balance them and mount them on the vehicle?

Do you then question him about the process of mounting the tires on the rims, balancing them, and finally putting them on your car?

Or do you just say, “Thank You” and let him do his job?

Finally, amazing as it sounds, Morrow’s statement about advertisiting also holds true for freelance editing.

A couple of years ago, I spent two precious hours (my fault… won’t happen again) explaining to a writer why most of the changes I made to his manuscript were very light nuances. After all of that, in his best the-reader-will-know-what-I-mean tone he said, “It makes a difference, sure, but not much.”

I said, “That’s specifically because I don’t want to change your voice. I just want to smooth out the reading experience for the reader. The reader won’t even realize the work has been copyedited. He’ll just know it reads like polished glass.”

Folks, it isn’t the presence of something good that the reader notices; it’s the absence of anything bad. In other words,  the reader will never notice that something’s written well; he will only notice if it’s written poorly.

The client said that was fine, but insisted that I never replace (for example) “he said to himself” with “he said quietly” because “all ly adverbs are bad.” Sigh. And he laid some more pretty strenuous requirements on me regarding his edit.

He responded by saying that three published authors had read his manuscript and “gave it a passing grade.”

I know, I know. The customer is always right. Blah blah blah.

Except that if he were always right, he’d be providing the service instead of purchasing it.

But I digress.

What I should have said is this: “Y’know, you’re absolutely right. You’re paying for this, so it should be your decision whether to pay me to actually do my job or subsidize me for not doing my job. Tell you what. I’ll charge you 1 cent per word to draw on my expertise and edit your manuscript the way I want to, or I’ll charge you 5 cents per word to edit it the way you want me to. I mean, it’ll read like crap but hey, it’s your call.”

But I didn’t do that. Instead, since he’d mentioned those “published authors” giving it a passing grade, I reminded him that a D is a passing grade.

Yeah, it all went pretty much downhill from there. Now he’s back in chasing-an-agent land wondering what happened. Well, he was back then. Today he’s in “whatever happened to” land.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind at all when other writers ask me questions in an attempt to learn something, but it bugs me to no end when they ask with an inflection that implies they believe I’m trying to put something over on them.

I’m too busy to waste my time trying to con anyone, and I’m too busy to spend time convincing them that I’m not trying to con them. Eventually I got to the point where I would sigh, shake my head and say, “Remind me again, why did you hire me to edit your manuscript?”

Here’s some friendly, completely free advice: if you’re going to insist on doing everything your way, save your money and do it yourself. Remember, the reader will never notice that something’s written well; he will only notice if it’s written poorly.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

(Thanks to my friend Dan Baldwin for bringing the Morrow quote to my attention in his weekly Business Communications Tip of the Week. You may subscribe by emailing Dan at baldco@msn.com.)

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.

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.

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.

 

Reverse Outlines Revisited

Hey Folks,

This first appeared as a topic over at my Daily Journal at http://hestanbrough.com.

It also sprang from a comment (a question from another writer) on Dean Wesley Smith’s website.

Awhile back I talked about writing a “reverse outline.”

The idea is, as you write your novel off into the dark (no pre-plotting, outlining, etc.) sometimes keeping track of characters, what they’re wearing, major situations, etc. becomes cumbersome.

Now when I write a novel, I open the Word doc (novelname.doc) and start typing whatever comes. I’m an adherent of Heinlein’s Rules and I enjoy writing off into the dark.

But I also open a Notepad text (novelname notes.txt) document. I use Windows, but Mac has something similar. I keep it open and minimized on my screen as I’m writing the novel.

In that .txt document, at the end of every chapter or major scene, I fill in a few details about the chapter or scene.

Those details might include

  • character names and anything significant (wearing a brown leather vest or a grey longcoat),
  • place names (was the hotel called The Amarillo Inn or the Amarillo Inn? did the scene or chapter take place in Justin, Texas or Eustace, Oklahoma?),
  • names of any minor characters introduced in that scene or chapter and their occupation, and so on.

Anything at all that I think I might need to remember later in the novel.

This takes only a few seconds per chapter or major scene and it keeps me from having to scroll back or use the Find function to search for the information.

On Dean’s site, the question the other writer asked was about series short stories.

I know many writers (like Dean) can set out to write short stories in series.

I can’t and so far, I don’t.

But sometimes, a character from a short story (or novel) I wrote awhile back tugs at my sleeve and pitches another story to me.

So now when I write a short story, I also keep a reverse outline of it. Then if I do return to that world to write another story, I don’t have to open the original story and read through it for information. I only have to open the “shortstoryname notes.txt” document and I’m good to go.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Happy writing!
Harvey

PS: Hey! Only two days left before the madness begins at https://www.facebook.com/HarveyStanbroughWritingInPublic/. Stop by and watch the short stories develop scene by scene. I’ll post each scene live there as I write it. 🙂

Read Everything, Think Critically, Accept Only What Feels Right

Hi Folks,

Many of you know I put a lot of stock in Dean Wesley Smith’s advice, but sometimes he tosses a blanket over a topic and beats it to death with assumptions and generalizations.

When he’s talking about things he knows about, his advice can be golden. I’ve learned a great deal from him.

However, he has his prejudices like anyone else. I suspect he was burned once by a bad freelance editor (or book doctor) who didn’t know what he was doing. This is precisely why, when I was editing (yes, freelance copyediting), I offered writers a free sample edit. That was a complete edit of up to a few pages. In that way, my ability sold itself.

Anyway, as what I suspect is the result of a bad personal experience, DWS seemingly endlessly tries and convicts “book doctors” and “freelance editors.” Among the charges he levels without any possible way of actually knowing about all book doctors or all freelance editors, he says

  • they have never written a novel (I have written over twenty and I have gone back to editing for others as well)
  • they have no experience at all in commercial fiction writing (see above)
  • they know only what English teachers taught them (no, some of them have a feel for the language)
  • they have no idea what will make a novel sell (some do, and a good one has a very good idea what will keep a novel from selling, and he or she will steer you around that)

Now it’s worthwhile to note that Dean himself says after he’s written a novel, he sends it to a first reader (his wife, Kris Rusch) and then sends it off to a copyeditor.

However, in his rant against “freelance editors” he doesn’t mention that he uses a copyeditor. That’s a little misleading to say the least.

Perhaps his copyeditor is licensed, but I’d bet not. Would he have hired this person in the first place if the copyeditor had said he or she was a “freelance editor” instead of a “copyeditor”? I’m just sayin’, to many people in the business, the terms are interchangeable.

As a disclaimer, let me say that there are many so-called freelance editors (and proofreaders and copyeditors and book doctors) out there who don’t have a sense of the language. There are many who mean well, but don’t know what they’re doing. And yes, there are some who are strictly scam artists and mean only to separate you from your hard-earned money.

There are also many out there who are very good at what they do and they can help you improve your work. I am one of them.

So do a little research. At a minimum, request a free sample edit. If your would-be copyeditor won’t let you see up front what he or she can do for you, don’t hire that editor. Move on to the next one.

I take exception to Dean’s post not only because I am a very good freelance copyeditor who always gives more than I am paid for. I take exception because he’s a trusted, respected source of information and he’s steering all writers away from what some of them might actually need. And he’s doing so based solely on generalizations, innuendo, and half-truths (i.e., all freelance editors are bad, but he sends his own work to a copyeditor).

As a related aside, DWS also has said many times, “real” editors (by this he means “not freelance”) work for publishers in New York. Period. All other editors are charlatans who are only out to scam you out of your money. All of them.

I guess the twenty-something “editors” working in New York for the Big Five are licensed. But I’m not gonna ask him.

Okay, so the point here is the title of this topic, and it kind’a piggybacks on the Learning post I wrote here a long while ago (http://harveystanbrough.com/pro-writers/learning/). If you’re a writer, it’s important that you keep learning. In that regard, I recommend that you

  • Do a little research to discover your would-be advisor’s level of experience (I never accept advice on a particular topic from anyone who has less experience with that topic than I do)
  • Even after you’ve decided to trust the source to provide good advice, Think Critically about what you’re being told
  • Discard ANY advice from ANYONE that’s based on broad generalizations and assumptions. All of it. Period.
  • Discard any advice that doesn’t “feel right” to you or work for you

I do recommend DWS as an excellent source of information regarding production as a writer, getting depth in your writing, etc.

However, I’ve noticed over the past several years, he DOES base some information on assumptions and generalizations. He slips them in every now and then. Fortunately, they’re pretty blatant so they aren’t difficult to identify and steer around.

I’m just sayin’, forewarned is forearmed.

Happy writing.

Harvey

Measurements and Dimensions

Hi Folks,

This post first was published in a slightly different version on October 10, 2016 over on the Daily Journal. I’m reposting it here because I felt it needed a broader audience and might help some of you.

Got a great email from a respected writer friend recently (Thanks, JGV!) regarding my current WIP (back in October, 2015). He wrote

What about doing away with the specific dimensions and leaving the images of the structures, etc., up to the reader’s imagination unless it’s critical to the story. Maybe imply those measurements through dialogue or description like “cramped” or “spacious.” (The account of Noah’s ark might’ve worked better without enumerating cubits.)

That’s a good and valid and point, and as it turns out, he caught me just in time. He made me think.

So when should we include dimensions and when should we not include them? As my friend mentioned, they should be included when they’re critical to the story.

That sounds simple, but beneath the surface it’s problematic. To at least some degree, the reader determines what is critical and what is not. Omit the dimensions and some readers will find the writing “thin.” Include them, and other readers will skip over that part, as I have done occasionally in Heinlein and Asimov novels.

So to expand a bit on the discussion of what should be included, maybe dimensional details should also be included when they’re not critical but still interesting and/or entertaining.

Which leads us to wonder how to determine what is or is not interesting and/or entertaining. To the reader. (Always remember there’s a reader on the other end of the writing.)

As I wrote earlier, my friend’s email made me think. What I came up with is this question and the following rules of thumb:

Q: What exists within the character’s and reader’s probable shared area of experience?

1. If the feature you want to describe does NOT exist within the character’s and reader’s probable shared area of experience (e.g., a lunar colony), include the dimensions.

2. If the feature DOES exist within the character’s and reader’s probable shared area of experience (e.g., a bedroom within the lunar colony), do NOT include the dimensions. Here you would opt instead for descriptors like “cramped” or “spacious” because the reader has seen an apartment and can relate.

I like to think I already knew this, but if I did, I hadn’t yet realized that I knew it. I do now, so it’s more firmly rooted in my subconscious. That’s a Good Thing.

As one other more or less minor consideration, I’m writing into the dark here. I’m allowing the characters to tell the story. (A technique I highly recommend because it’s so freeing.)

So say a character wants (or needs) to know specific dimensions as evidenced by her awe at first stepping into a lunar colony. Should I stop the Receiving Liaison who appears at her shoulder (having noticed her sense of awe) from delivering a short canned speech regarding the massive dimensions?

No.

The colony is new and wonderful to the character. It’s also new and (I hope) wonderful to most readers. So the dimensions are necessary, though probably not critical.

But should I also then drill down to the nitty-gritty and describe in meters and feet the size of the bedroom in the apartment the character is eventually assigned?

Again, no.

The apartment (living room, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom) already exists within the character’s and reader’s shared experience.

So in that case, the character might note (for example) there’s barely room for a double bed in the bedroom, much less the seating area and walk-in closet the character enjoyed in her home on Earth. But she doesn’t need specific dimensions for that.

And much as people generally disagree with differences between genders in this bizarre day and age, whether or not a character will wonder about dimensional details (and so whether the writer should include them) also goes to the character’s gender.

A character who has spent his life excavating sites like the Queen Open-Pit Copper Mine in Bisbee Arizona probably won’t wonder at the specific current size of the lunar cavern in which he works. If he does so at all, he probably will do so via comparison (e.g., “cramped” or “spacious” as compared with Queen Mine or some other place he’s been).

But if his wife is allowed to visit the worksite, she might well ask questions like, “Wow! How big is this place?” And when he answers, he might well brag. “Well, it’s only (insert massive dimensions) but it’ll be (insert even larger dimensions) when we’re through.”

As an added thought, this morning I got another email from another very good writer friend whom I respect a great deal. He recommended writing using whatever measurements I’m comfortable with (feet/yards) to facilitate the flow of the writing. Then I can convert everything afterward to the appropriate unit of measurement. Another excellent idea. Thanks, RJS!

So thanks to my friends for the mental exercise. Overnight I have learned and grown as a writer, and I have JGV and RJS to thank.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Pricing and Various Sales Venues

Hi Folks,

A little rant this time, but a well-reasoned rant.

It really is attrocious what Amazon does to authors regarding royalties. This problem came fully home to me awhile back when I uploaded the new version of The Wes Crowley Saga (10 full novels in one book) to Amazon and Smashwords.

At Amazon, to get a 70% royalty, a book must be priced between $2.99 and $9.99. All other prices glean the author a 35% royalty.

The Wes Crowley Saga is priced at $19.99. (Ten novels for $20 ain’t that bad, ya’ll.)

From Amazon, for each $19.99 sale, I get $6.99. Amazon keeps $13.

From Smashwords, for each $19.99 sale, I get $16.24. Almost $10 more. Can you believe that? Smashwords keeps $2.87 and charges a “billing fee” of 88 cents. Of course, that’s for sales directly from Smashwords.

But from Premium Catalog Retailers (B&N, Kobo, and about 30 others), for each $19.99 sale I still make $11.99. The retailers get $6 and Smashwords gets $2.

And what empowers Amazon to do this? Authors who publish through KDP Select, the exclusive program Amazon set up.

When you publish through KDP Select, not only do you cut off those readers who prefer to purchase from other retailers and read .epub files, but you aren’t even allowed to publish and sell YOUR book on your own website. Did you know that?

Oh, and just in case you wondered, yes, I could lower the price for The Wes Crowley Saga (remember, this is ten complete novels) on Amazon to $9.99 in order to take advantage of the 75% royalty rate. And I’d actually make a few tenths of a cent LESS per sale ($6.993) than I make at the 35% rate for $19.99 ($6.9965).

This is the same reason you can purchase my short stories (from 2000 to 7000 words) at Smashwords and all other e-retailers (around 50 of them worldwide) for only $1.99, but if you go to Amazon the same story will cost you $2.99.

Amazon is a business. I understand that. But their devaluing of authors and their works really chaps my butt. Please PLEASE never cave to Amazon’s KDP Select program. If you do, you’ll add one more straw to the problem.

I’m considering “unpublishing” The Wes Crowley Saga from Amazon altogether and doing a blitz advertisement sending Kindle owners to Smashwords to purchase the .mobi (Kindle) file there. The only reason I haven’t done so thus far is because I don’t want to cut Amazon buyers out either.

Maybe I should write a nonfiction book titled Why I No Longer Distribute and Sell Through Amazon and then offer it for sale ONLY on Amazon. (grin) I wonder whether they would even allow it.

Conundrums, conundrums….

‘Til next time, happy writing and publishing!

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.

Stigma Dis, Stigma Dat… Whatever

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 so it’s up to date.

Hey Folks,

Received yet another note today from a friend about the “stigma” of self-publishing. What a bunch of crap. There, I said it.

Not only is it a bunch of crap that there’s a “stigma” in the first place, but it’s an even bigger, smellier bunch of crap that anyone who calls himself or herself a writer cares either way. Writers write.

Self-publishing (indie publishing, not going through a subsidy publisher) is just another way to get your work to readers, period. That’s all it is. And if you tell a good story, someone out there will want to read it, period.

Look, if you’re a fiction writer, either professional or aspirant—you know, a person who actually puts new words on the page—and you’re serious about your writing, do yourself a HUGE favor and swing by the website of my unintentional mentor, Dean Wesley Smith. You’ll find it at http://deanwesleysmith.com.

While you’re there, please be sure to click the Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing tab and read some of the ridiculous myths we’ve all bought into over all these years.

Now just so you know, Dean is no slouch. The guy has had over 100 novels published with “traditional” publishers since the late 1980s. He goes almost strictly indie now.

One other thing—if you truly are serious about your writing, check out the Lecture Series tab on Dean’s website as well. His video series on Heinlein’s Rules is absolutely essential. It’s $75 and easily, EASILY worth several times more that. Think of it as an investment in your future. Seriously.

Dean’s wife is Kristine Kathryn Rusch. You can find her website at KrisWrites.com.

Kris is the only person in history to win a Hugo award both as an editor and a writer. She’s had hundreds of novels published through traditional publishing, and now does tons of stuff in indie publishing. You want to see a work that literally defines the definition of accomplishment? Check out her Retrieval Artist Series.

Those of you who still feel there’s a “stigma” attached to self-published books, listen up:

Self-publishing doesn’t make a book bad anymore than traditional publishing makes one good. It’s the writing, nothing else.

And because I’m in a good mood, I’ll tell you something else: YOU are literally the worst judge of your own writing. When you’re editing and polishing and rewriting because you think it’s boring or bad or needs to be “punched up,” that’s because it’s in YOUR voice.

You are with your voice 24/7, so OF COURSE it sounds boring or bland or bad to you. But to other readers, it will sound unique— Well, if you don’t polish all the good off of it before you finally submit it or put it up for sale.

A little factoid for you—did you know before WWII there were NO traditional publishers?

That’s right. Only self-publishers and the pulps. There were no trade paperbacks until the late 1940s, but people (even writers, who are getting severely, I mean SEVERELY screwed by the big publishers) seem to think traditional publishing predates the printing press and is the most wonderful thing since that same old clichéd sliced bread. Ugh.

Oh, Dean is also the first person in history to create a monthly magazine (Smith’s Monthly) that contains a complete novel and several short stories and all of the work is his own. Quite an accomplishment.

Stop by and take a look. Maybe it’ll clear away some of that “stigma” for you. Seriously.

‘Til next time,

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. 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.