C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m

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Writers: Why self-publishing sucks (and what you can do about it)


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A couple of years ago I put together a chapbook of poetry. A few seconds after I handed a copy to a beta-reader he found a mistake. It was a glaring mistake on the first page he turned to. Alas. Embarrassment is an emotion that can run through you, both hot and cold.

Typos, grammatical errors, consistency problems and a host of other plagues suck the credibility and professionalism from your manuscript. At least for me it was a beta-reader and, contrary to first impressions, the rest of the manuscript emerged clean.

Some writers see self-publishing as a shortcut. When writers treat the medium as the quick and easy path to becoming an author, that’s still vanity publishing.

When you approach it seriously and make sure your manuscript has been combed for problems, that’s publishing (nevermind the “self” part.) When you choose to self-publish, publish. Form a company. Be a publisher. Hire editors (yes, I’m aware of the conflict of interest, but if you are, too—yes, I edit—we’re covered.) Get proofreaders lined up.

Take it seriously and you will be taken seriously.

Filed under: authors, ebooks, Editing, Editors, getting it done, grammar, publishing, Rant, self-publishing, writing tips, , , , , , ,

We tell our stories. It’s not supposed to be about fame. Or is it?

Illustration depicting thought.

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You’re at your computer. You’re in a coffee shop. You’re in your bed. You’re at your desk. You’re thinking of me reaching out to you through these words.

I’m here at my keyboard, typing these words, thinking of you and how isolated we are from each other.

I’m thinking about how isolation allows things to happen that shouldn’t. For instance, last week one of my pages was attacked in a creepy cyber way (and it still isn’t fixed completely. Costly tech support arrives today on a white horse, carrying new modems.) If the hacker knew me, he probably wouldn’t have done what he did. We’d kick back and have coffee instead. Our mutual isolation makes me a number. To him, I’m just another IP address, not a human being.

And yet, there is such potential for the electronic web that stretches out among us to pull into a tighter weave.

The Internet has such power and possibility if we can only figure out how to harness it.

For instance, this week on Kevin Smith’s podcast Plus One, Smith and his wife talked about how Mitch Albom hit him up for some help with a charity to feed a village of starving children. Albom needed $80,000 a year. Kevin generously got the charity ball rolling. Sure, if you’re rich, you can give. But if you’re rich and famous, you can give and alert others to the opportunity to give.

The Tiny Science of Your Fragile Humanity

Yes, a chance to donate is an opportunity. It’s your chance to provide aid. It feels good to give if you have something to give. It feels good because we are wired to be sympathetic. Our brains have mirror neurons that allow us to empathize so much we cry when we see an actor in emotional pain on a movie screen, even though we know it’s fiction.

Mirror neurons are that bit of biological microscopy and brain chemistry that make us human instead of irredeemable monsters bent only on survival by domination and murder. Boot camp, by the way, doesn’t turn off your mirror neurons, by the way. The discipline and brutality uses tribalism so your sympathy and courage is directed only to the benefit of your fellow soldiers.

That’s how you make good people do awful things.

To be creative and find an audience for your creativity is not just about making money. In fact, many artists would work for free (and many do) just for the love of art. Expression is often an inexplicable compulsion. If money comes, it is a side benefit. You hope to be paid for the fruits of your imagination, but wealth is something to be hoped for, not expected.

Seeing how privileged people use their influence to make the planet a better place, I see that I was wrong about fame. I undervalued it. I thought it had the potential to be a big pain in the ass, but that’s not fame’s only aspect. Now I see how it can be used beyond art. Fame can be a tool to help starving kids, for instance.

So many artists of all genres and stripes are poor. I wish you success (and much of the content here is aimed at helping you achieve it.) Success is important, but not just for you. Famous artists have bigger audiences. Famous artists make enough money so they can help others. There’s no nobility in a starving artist’s hovel. When you’re hungry, it’s very difficult to produce art.

 Getting paid is good. 

If you want to help the poor:

Don’t be one of them.

Recently, on The Biggest Loser, one of the contestants, Frado, found a way to use his good fortune to “pay it forward.” He had a clever idea. Frado won a session with chef Curtis Stone. Instead of just getting the expected tutorial for his family alone, Frado asked Stone to hook his name to a charity event. Stone cooked up some healthy food and Frado hosted five charities to raise more than $25,000. The hit and run tutorial would have come and gone. Frado found a way to use his newfound fame, and the celebrity’s chef’s notoriety, to make an impact on people’s lives.

It made me wonder, how can we harness social media, our fans and our followers, to help people in need? I think of the clients I know who have breast cancer or have had breast cancer. I think of my cousin and my neighbour, both hit with prostate cancer. My mother died of lung cancer though she never once smoked. These causes need research dollars. There are so many causes that need voices raised for them. There are so many everyday injustices and our silence is taken for complacency. I suppose, to my shame, that is what it is. 

I have undervalued fame. I didn’t think I should value it because that would make me shallow. Then I saw how fortunate people are using their fame in constructive ways. Now I have a larger goal beyond simple publication, teaching and the petty propagation of my little entertainments. I’m working on my books.  One day they will sell and I may achieve a little bit of recognition in some circles.

If we can get flash mobs together, how about flash protests and flash fundraisers? We try to make book trailers go viral. How about YouTube videos that show the needs that must be met. How about using our narrative powers to activate those mirror neurons so people are moved to help each other?

What then?

Better: What now?

Everyone dreams about what they’ll do if money comes their way.

What dreams can we light, as one flame fires another, with bright fame?  

What can I do in the meantime, in these mean times?

What can we achieve, working together?

We have the most power tools of connection and interactivity

that have ever existed. Now.

Please let me know your ideas.

There are too many hungry. There are too many sick. We will all be sick.

There are too few who are reaching out to draw the whole together.

We have to find the way. We can start small, but we must start.

You and I could make the change that others will not.

Let’s become WE. 


Filed under: DIY, grammar, Horror, Publicity & Promotion, publishing, Rant, Social Media, , , , , , , ,

How to be a Bad Editor

The phrase that pays.

Image by pirateyjoe via Flickr

Most editors are pretty good to great. Then there are the others. Here’s how to be one of those bad editors:

1. Edit without being asked. A copy editor I knew came up with a detailed critique of small advertisement I had for one of my businesses. I hadn’t asked and his manner was that he had caught me out at something. He hadn’t, actually. He didn’t like the paragraph’s wording but everyone else was okay with it. At best, his editorial suggestion was a lateral move. Worse, when I gently brushed him off, he didn’t have the grace to shut up. Then I had to brush him off with force.

2. Treat catches like a moral victory. A newspaper editor descended on me because, on my first day, I wrote Sidney instead of Sydney, Nova Scotia. I thanked her for catching my error. “This is not a minor error!” she said. “I said thanks,” I replied. “Were you looking for? Blood? I’m fresh out.” Mistakes happen. It was her job to catch my errors. I owed her my gratitude, not an apology.

3. Be very sure, and pissy about it, even when you’re wrong. A teacher, who was presumably responsible for helping generations of students, circled a word in a business document. She used her red pen as if I were one of her unfortunate, young charges (though I was about 30 at the time.) “You got this wrong!” she said with delight. (See #2) By that time I’d already edited and/or proofread hundreds of books. I knew what I was talking about and here’s the rule: You affect the effect. This is a common mistake. She stayed sure I was wrong. It was just too delightful to think she was right, I guess. That’s another common mistake.

4. Treat your writers like crap. (And refer to them as “your” writers, as if we’re owned.) Working in a big daily’s newsroom was an intense environment, sometimes unnecessarily so. For some reason, the air was also very dry. You’d think all those tears would be humidifying. Anyway, I had a nosebleed and some assignment editor (who was all of a year or two my senior) walked up and dropped an assignment on the keyboard upon which I was trying not to bleed. He didn’t say a word about my hemorrhage and went on about his work. A year later I was working in publishing with someone who had worked at the Toronto Star and she told me she’d experienced the exact same story with a person who was just as uncaring about her welfare. Weird.

5. Be a strict grammarian. Insist on obsolete rules. Insist the legendary “to boldly go where no one has gone before” was a mistake in two Star Trek series, a crime worthy of beheading. And never allow anyone to start a sentence with “And.” Also, grow visibly nauseous when anyone dares to end a sentence with a preposition. That’s something up with which you will not put.

6. Insist that new word usage is the cause of all our economic, political and moral woes. Insist we should freeze the language at some arbitrary point that makes you comfortable. Verbing nouns particularly irks you. Exclaim your objections and try not to faint with the vapours when someone says, “I’ll google that.” Civilization began to end when we started using “impact” as a verb and texting abbreviations are not analogous to a new language. Texting is a sign of End Times.

7. Be a tyrant. Change your mind. A lot. This is particularly fun for assignment editors. Expect writers to read your mind about how you want the story to go. Don’t tell them what you want. That would ruin your fun. Instead, get angry when they guess wrong. For extra bonus douche points, decree that you loathe simultaneous submissions and take forever to answer queries (or don’t answer them at all.) Pay a pittance on publication. Better, pay in bird-cage liners and tell seasoned writers they should be grateful you’re allowing them to “pay their dues.”

8. Be cruel in your rejections. When work you’ve turned down succeeds elsewhere, never doubt your judgment. Sniff at the plebian tastes of the masses instead. Better, put up examples of queries you find execrable and hilarious on your website. Mock it mercilessly. Sure, you’re a ball breaker and a soul crusher, but if you call what you do helping, it’s okay.

9. When you edit, don’t focus on making the text better. Focus on making yourself feel better. It’s that kind of prioritizing that can make you a famous infamous editor. Be sure to crow to everyone how x,y, and z author owes everything to you because you gave them their big break. Act as if you did them a favour (instead of the business decision it really was.) When your fledgling authors come to their senses and flee to work with someone sane, declare them a bunch of ingrates and try to have them banned from ever making a living or even having lunch in your town again. (Yes, these legends aren’t just in New York. I’ve met a couple of these demons in Toronto’s publishing houses,too. They’re people who never figured out that it’s not how you treat your superiors and your supposed equals that defines you. How people see you is determined by how you treat your assistant and those lowly writers.)

10. Be a frustrated writer. I once knew an editor who worked in educational publishing. She was a nice person, or at least I thought so until I saw an example of her work. While it’s true, particularly of educational publishing, that there is a style to follow, her changes to copy were gratuitous. She wanted to write, not edit. It showed. 

Follow these ten examples and you will soon be recognized as an editor to fear, loathe and avoid. Congratulations!

Filed under: Editing, Editors, grammar, Horror, publishing, Rant, Top Ten, , , , , , ,

The Difference Between Regret & Remorse is…


Image by Dave Dyer via Flickr

You feel remorse for running over that little old lady when you were drunk.

You feel regret when you think how much better it would have been if you had run over (and then backed up over) your college freshman roommate.

In the first instance, it’s something you did do which was bad, so you feel remorse.

We regret the things we didn’t do.

Thank you to Christopher Hitchens. He had a better education than I did, but he shares what he knows.

Filed under: grammar, publishing, writing tips, , , ,

The Proper Use of Examples

i.e. means that is.

e.g. means for example.


I dress like a bad immortal from Highlander (i.e. all in black) therefore I am cool as far as I’m concerned.

My daughter says things that are apparently cool (e.g. “Cool beans” upon seeing or hearing something exemplary of its kind and wonderful) though I don’t know what such phrases’ origins could be.



Filed under: grammar, writing tips, , , ,

Death to Adverbs

An editor sent me a pdf today so I could check my column for an upcoming mag issue.* I made a small change and then, startled, stared hard at the first paragraph again. Had I really written, “She asked me demandingly, “BLAHBLAHBLAH…”?!

I sent the editor a note that I really needed that to change to “she demanded…” whiningly.

He came back with, “Can you demand a question?” (inquisitively)

I e-mailed back, “Sure. Demanded catches her demeanor but you can demand an answer in the form of a question.” (breezily)

And even if you can’t do that grammatically I don’t care. I trust my ear over grammatic semantics and there’s a time to use an adverb like “demandingly.” That time is never or two weeks after the sun explodes. (he said defiantly)

Not sure. I’ll go look it up. (assiduously)


Folks in the magazine business always call it “the book” not the “issue.” I always suspiciously thought that betrayed insecurity on their part.

Filed under: grammar, writing tips, , , ,

Writing Advice for Anti-authoritarians

Recently I read a YA novel that omitted all quotation marks. It didn’t hurt a bit because it was so well done. It may have even sped up the read. It’s the sort of thing some grammarians hate. I say tough cookies to some grammarians.

When the rules of proper usage get in the way

between your story and your reader

–and sometimes they will–

dump ’em.

Elmore Leonard says so, too, so it’s not just lil ol’ me. Pedants will say, “Know the rules before you fracture them.” Fine. Then crack ’em open and don’t be so goddamn apologetic about it.

Ooh, and about exclamation points: one in 100,000 words is quite enough, thanks according to Mr. Leonard. (My journalistic mentor referred to the exclamation point in colourful terms. “They’re called dogs’ pricks,” he said.)

Brevity is good, too. It gives you more room for story and story is what your readers sign up for when they open a book.

Filed under: grammar, writing tips, , ,

Another Rule to Ignore

Grammarians require that if you start your letter or email (to a grammarian) with an interjection (i.e. Hi or Ugh) you should stick in a comma after said interjection.


Hi Aunt Gladys!


Hi, Aunt Gladys!

But no one does this except the nitpickiest of know-it-alls.

Be a rebel! Live a little! Stick it to the man!

Yee-haw, dude.


According to the Chicago Manual of Style, internet is still Internet. I hate capitalizing a non-place but with a team of therapists I’m learning to deal with this outrage.


Are you still writing e-mail? It’s email now. Some progress is being made on some fronts.

Filed under: grammar,


Winner of Writer's Digest's 2014 Honorable Mention in Self-published Ebook Awards in Genre

The first 81 lessons to get your Buffy on

More lessons to help you survive Armageddon

"You will laugh your ass off!" ~ Maxwell Cynn, author of Cybergrrl

Available now!

Fast-paced terror, new threats, more twists.

An autistic boy versus our world in free fall

Suspense to melt your face and play with your brain.

Action like a Guy Ritchie film. Funny like Woody Allen when he was funny.

Jesus: Sexier and even more addicted to love.

You can pick this ebook up for free today at this link: http://bit.ly/TheNightMan

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