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

Write and publish with love and fury.

Publishing: Rules are Rules (except when they aren’t)

I didn’t make up any of the following. I’ve observed it.

1. When Margaret Atwood writes dystopian sci-fi, it’s not dystopian sci-fi. If you wrote The Year of the Flood, you can be darn sure professional reviewers would call it dystopian sci-fi. Some special subgroup would think less of you for writing SFF, even if your work is as brilliant as Atwood’s work.

2. If you write an about-to-be-divorced, mid-life crisis novel from a man’s perspective, I know of at least one agent who would reject it without reading a word. Apparently, those authors are “wrong” to write that story. Roth had the last word and no more need be attempted. Ev-er! (Thank Thor for choices.)

3. If you’re young and writing an autobiographical, coming-of-age novel, many skeptics will sneer at your offered manuscript and declare that it is undoubtedly, “Too autobiographical.” Rewrite it to make that less transparent and, in round two, they’ll say it “lacks verisimilitude.”

4. If you’re a teen quoting your peers, a much older agent or editor may declare that “teens don’t talk that way.” (Yes. That happened.)

“B-but — “

“No. No one speaks that way. Anywhere, ever, in any world real or imagined.”

5. If a well-known author writes an homage to hardboiled fiction, it’s an homage to hardboiled fiction. If you do it, you’re plagiarizing Mickey Spillane.

6. If you attempt something different and innovative, it’s experimental and stupid. If it’s attempted in mainstream publishing (rarely), it’s different, innovative and brave. (Forget that. Always be brave. That’s often where the fun is.)

7. You may have lived in Dublin all your life, but some reviewer will tell you your characters, “don’t sound Irish enough.” That’s because they think the cartoon presentation of Irish dialect in a cereal commercial is a documentary. Not all Irish people sound like leprechauns.

Don’t worry about it. If you wrote it their way, you’d turn off too many readers with awkward depictions and hard to read dialect. And earn the wrath of all of Ireland. I like Amy Adams, but the movie Leap Year was an affront. Not a single Irish person had even a passing interest in particle physics, but the old men were all afraid of black cats. Nice.

8. You have a clever plot twist in your manuscript. That black sheep beta reader will rush to tell you he’s read that same twist in two books, so it’s a cliché. Back to square one for another rewrite. Never mind that the execution is different, all stories are similar in some regard and those two books he’s talking about were published before 1975.

9. Win a writing contest and somebody will spend a blog post on how undeserved the win was. They will claim they did not submit a losing entry into the same contest. However, the heat of their condemnation (a sun-surface temperature usually reserved for Nazis and pedophiles and Nazi-pedophiles) will reveal their jealous motives and their cowardly lies.

10. Someone will assume that, since you wrote a zombie novel, you’re a hack chasing money and trends. (And by “you”, I mean, “me.”) Never mind that I started writing This Plague of Days before there was a Walking Dead. I don’t chase trends and, while zombie readers tend to be rabid readers, it’s really a small sub-genre. I know few rich zombie writers, though I know several who deserve riches.

Sadly necessary addendum:

Someone called my serial “clichéd.” I won’t say whom and no hard feelings, really. It actually struck me as funny. Say what you will (and I know some will.) But really? “clichéd?” I guess it’s virtually indistinguishable from all the other zombie books where the zombies aren’t really zombies, the vampires aren’t really vampires, the humans might be the supernatural players, bio-terrorists attack in very weird ways, three worldwide plagues evolve as the virus spreads across continents and, oh, yeah, the hero of my zombie apocalypse is an autistic boy with an obsession for Latin proverbs who sees auras and is a selective mute.

Just like all the others.

The crux

I guess what I’m saying is, no matter how many manuscripts you read professionally or personally, for consideration or for review or for whatever, don’t fall into cynicism. Come to each manuscript or book innocent and free of preconceptions. Give us a day in court before you condemn. You might fall in love. That happens, too.

~ Robert Chazz Chute writes a lot of books. Check them out and click those affiliate links at AllThatChazz.com. Season 3 of This Plague of Days and This Plague of Days, The Complete Series, launches June 15, 2014. Find out more about This Plague of Days at ThisPlagueofDays.com.

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When editing, search for remnants

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

A cross-genre flurry about society’s collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy’s love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

Here’s a secret about the first draft of This Plague of Days:

I started writing it in first person. For dramatic reasons (and other reasons I can’t reveal for fear of spoilers), I switched to third person, limited omniscient.

At the hub of this apocalyptic adventure is a young man who is on the autistic spectrum. We often see the world flu pandemic and the rise of the zombie horde through his eyes. However, to write the whole book that way would be too hard on the reader. Jaimie’s mind is not grounded in our reality. He sees significance in everything and is obsessed with dictionaries, English words and Latin phrases. To give the story a context of verisimilitude, I had to change how I told the story.

The change made for a better story but added more challenges.

Whatever writing choices you make as you revise and polish, remnants show up. Remnants appear in manuscripts when you make changes or corrections. When I edited other people’s manuscripts, I suggested changes for authors, but I also requested back up by proofreaders after my edit.

Corrections introduce new errors.

The manuscript is not done when the edit is done. This is good advice you would think unnecessary. Nevertheless, I was occasionally ignored by some authors and even a small press on that score. We all need a stellar proofing team and/or beta team to help scour the book.

You can always depend on remnants appearing. For instance, in This Plague of Days, the character of the looter named Bentley changed to Bently. This Plague of Days is huge, so I found several examples of the earlier incarnation when I searched for “Bentley.” “The Bentley”  turned up a couple of times, too.

An old man named Douglas Oliver is a major character. I found several remnants from the previous draft that labeled him “The Oliver.” That’s probably a switch from “the old man” to the character’s name.

Look for more corrections after you think you’re done.

Always look for spelling variations even if you haven’t changed the character name. The autistic kid is Jaimie Spencer, but once or twice I lapsed into “Jamie” or “Jaime”.

Search “stood” and “rose”. Consider if you really want the word “up” to follow those words.

Always enter “the the” in the search box. Our brains are trained to skip over that error.

Always enter two spaces in the search box just before you hit “compile”. You’ll find spaces in your manuscript that look like huge gaps in the text when the manuscript is converted into an ebook.

When you correct a typo, reread what you just corrected to make sure you haven’t subtracted one typo and added another.

It will be okay. Don’t get frustrated. The process is worth it.

After your masterpiece is published, alert readers will email you with helpful notes about typos you missed so you can correct them in the next edition. You’ll take solace in the fact that, without all your preparation, the typo onslaught and readers’ annoyance could have been much worse.

 

 

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Writers: Clean your manuscript with these enema tricks

There are mistakes in every book, but there are tricks to avoid some pesky problems. For instance, I’m in the midst of proofing This Plague of Days. In Scrivener, I do a quick and easy

A cross-genre flurry about  society's collapse under the crush of the Sutr Virus combined with a boy's love for odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father.

Society collapses around a strange autistic boy with a deep love of odd words, Latin dictionaries and his father The plague is coming. Buckle up.

search for odd mistakes that creep in. Here are a few things I plug into the search box to search and destroy:

1. Hit the space bar twice and eliminate those pesky double spaces that find their way into your ebook (and look like chasms on a kindle.)

2. Put “the the” in the search box. Take one out unless it shows up as “the theme…” It’s startling how easy it is for the human eye to skip over a brain stutter like the the.

3. Search “awhile”. Change it to “a while” when appropriate. Here’s when it’s right to do so.

4. “Exact same” = A redundant expression we use in spoken language and in the excited flurry of our first drafts. Excise from later drafts.

5. Search “..” Double periods appear occasionally, usually from an edit you did instead of a typo. 

The fewer mistakes you give your editors, beta readers and proofers to find, the fewer mistakes they will miss.

When you get all your revisions back and make your changes, do these searches again (and whatever common mistakes you discover you are prone to.) After the edit, the act of going back to make corrections often introduces mistakes. This is especially true if you’re working with extensive edits using Track Changes. It’s often helpful to bump up the text size so you can better understand where all the little red lines are pointing for edits. I prefer Scrivener and recommend it for writing, editing, compiling and publishing.

Also check the copy again once it’s published. I have had some file management issues in the past with Scrivener where I published an earlier draft, not the final draft. It was frustrating and embarrassing, but fortunately it was easy to fix quickly. Now that I’m aware of that potential, I’m extra paranoid so things keep getting better. Editing and proofing these little details can be arduous but, like a 10k run uphill, you’ll feel great about your work when it’s done.

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Writers: Why you should read John Dies at the End

Sometimes I see manuscripts where there’s a lot going on. That’s good. The problem is that the protagonist is always around the action, but isn’t initiating any actions. Heroes are self-starters.

It’s okay to have your hero or heroine gobsmacked when zombie terrorists attack the city. However, if things are still happening to the protagonist rather than him or her being proactive, your protagonist will soon annoy the reader.

It happens more often than you’d think. I suspect it’s a plotting problem. If the hero runs around in circles while everyone around him knows more than he does, it’s easier to get him into trouble.

There’s a place for weak-willed characters. They’re called secondary characters. Your protagonist can do the wrong thing or draw stupid conclusions, but notice the words “do” and “draw.” Protagonists are verb-oriented.  Yes, the hero can be fooled. The hero can have room to grow as a person. But he can’t be an idiot who grows into a genius unless his name is Charlie and his pet mouse is named Algernon.

For instance, I’m reading a great book now called John Dies at The End by David Wong. Aside from managing to be a clever mixture of Stephen King and Douglas Adams, I noticed Wong’s protagonist makes decisions that are perfectly reasonable in context. And he acts immediately.

So many books allow villains to do what they made of fun of in The Incredibles: Monologuing. (Example: “I expect you to die, Mr. Bond! But first, let me give you a tour of the complex and explain my evil plan to corner the world’s teddy bear market.”)

When Wong’s hero confronts Big E Evil, he doesn’t let the Big Bad lay out plans for world domination. He  pulls out his pistol and fires immediately, no warning shots. The results may not be what you expect, of course, but his hero isn’t dumb. The effect of this narrative efficiency is so powerful you’ll find yourself asking, “Wait, what was the evil plan? Oh, nevermind. I guess I’ll find out later.”

Don’t worry. You will. But I won’t spoil anything for you. Just go buy John Dies at the End by David Wong. You’ll be glad you did. It’s the best book I’ve read in quite some time.

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Editing Tips Part 1: Story bible

my eye

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Since I’m in heavy edit mode this week, it’s going to be all about editing all week. You asked. I give. And so:

A story bible is a document beside your manuscript where you keep track of characters’ names, ages and details. It will keep you from screwing up too much and make your revision process go faster. It’s very frustrating, for instance, to go through a 450-page manuscript looking for the hero’s little sister’s eye color page by page. It’s the equivalent of losing a productive hour to search the house for a misplaced checkbook.

Keep your story bible close so you can add to it without interrupting your writing flow. I use a yellow legal pad though if you have the document on-screen you could search it, I suppose. (A bible that is too long goes unread but is an excellent device to keep you procrastinating instead of writing and revising.)

Even if you’re less of a planner (the seat-of-the-pants writer) it helps to have some minimal plan or a story bible so you can keep track of characters and key details. It’s better than losing a character along the way. It is embarrassing to write an entire novel and think you’re done only to have one of your beta readers ask, “What happened to Mrs. Haversham? Did she survive the fall to the bottom of the stairs on page 139? And what happened to the alien prostitute who got locked in the truck?”

It’s a huge problem in self-publishing because there aren’t teams of editors and proofreaders combing manuscripts. It happens with traditional publishers, too (and will increase becaus of cutbacks.) For instance, in Lucifer’s Hammer, an astronaut is described as short, but by the end of the book he’s standing tall and commanding in the bow of a boat. In Under the Dome,  Stephen King introduces a supernatural element on the good guy’s side that is never explained and seems forgotten, as if the angels whispered in the hero’s ear and then got distracted and wandered away. (When you write a book that big, it’s easy to lose threads and drop stitches.)

As you edit, things will crop up and it will help you to add edit points to your bible. Edit points are policy issues. It saves you a lot of time, and money, to have a clean manuscript. Decide up front, are you basically going with the Chicago Manual of Style? AP Style? Canadian or American spelling? Serial commas or no?

By keeping a list, you’ll discover some idiosyncrasies will crop up and it may grow to a long list. For one instance, you might type gray when you mean to write grey. In your bible under a heading that reads Editing Points, write in bold GReY NOT GRaY!

When you think you’re done your manuscript, drag out your list of troublesome words.

Use the Search and Replace tool.

You thought you got them all.

You didn’t.

Nobody does.

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Writers: Take a penny, leave a penny

New York City Serenade

Image by joiseyshowaa via Flickr

The agent talked about her latest sales: This fabulous author and that little debut. She called them her authors, her books. It sounded like such a glamorous world. The writer hadn’t seen any of it for herself, but she had a writer’s mind so she could imagine every tantalizing detail.

“Good for you,” the writer said.

“Well, it’s not all cocktail parties, you know. In fact, it’s not nearly enough cocktails. Sometimes I hate it. You should see our slush pile. Long nights. No down time. I’d love to read the latest good books, but I have so much to read, I end up reading more bad stuff than good. You know how it is.”

The writer nodded and smiled, but she didn’t know how it was. She only read the good stuff. She aspired to be one of those writers who get a book launch and get to gripe about not getting paid enough as they examine royalty statements.

She glanced down at her own manuscript in the middle of the desk between them. She had changed the title five times over the course of as many drafts. Now she thought the words on the cover sheet should read: THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.

The writer thought of the bills that had been piling up as she wrote and rewrote multiple drafts of her book. She wanted to ask, “What do you think we can get for it? Any chance of an auction?” The writer didn’t have dollar signs blinding her vision. Her family had been supporting her efforts to get published for a long time. She wanted to finally have some money to show for it. She thought of all those nights she said, “Mommy’s working.” Everyone else she knew who worked got a paycheck.

But the writer knew those questions would sound impertinent. Unprofessional. Instead, she acted cool and casual and nodded at her manuscript. “Is it any good?”

Is it benign? is what she meant.

Sure, it’s good,” the agent replied. Then, a deep breath and a furrowed brow. “A lot of people might even think it’s great.”

The writer’s shoulders relaxed.

“But it’s not just a question of it being good.”

The writer’s shoulders tensed again. “It’s not?” Uh-oh…

The agent picked up the manuscript, felt its weight a moment and then placed it back on her desk. Then she slowly slid it back toward the writer. “The landscape has changed a bit since we last spoke.”

The writer sat up straight in her chair. She didn’t want to pick up her manuscript. Not yet. If she took it back, it would signify something she didn’t want to see.

“There are a lot fewer bookstores. The economy isn’t recovering as fast as we’d hoped. E-books are really screwing things up, I can tell you. There’s a lot of flux in the industry,” the agent said.

“Flux.”

“Yes.” The agent pushed back from the desk and stood. “I tell you what,” she said. “The market just isn’t ready for this sort of thing right now. I could have sold this a year ago, maybe even a few months ago.”

A few months ago you told me to take another swing at it, the writer thought.

“But it’s just not hot enough with my editors—”

There it was again. My authors, my books, my editors. It was if her agent held the keys to the whole world.

“…and I’m not as enthusiastic as I’d hoped. If I take something to them which isn’t really double-plus ready for prime time, they’ll never let me in the door again. I have to love it to sell it. You understand.”

The writer thought of all those years her father sold Fords. He didn’t love every model, but he had sold a lot of cars. The writer refused to rise from her chair. And she would not touch her manuscript. Promises hadn’t been made, no. But the agent had always sounded so positive. It had taken her two years to find this agent. Everyone said two years was lucky.

“Can I…? What could I do to fix the draft?” She hated the desperate tone that crept into her voice then.

The agent shook her head, but she was smiling in a way the writer guessed was supposed to be reassuring. “I wouldn’t worry,” the agent said. “Eventually, with a stick-to-it attitude, you’ll be published soon enough.”

Soon enough? What did that mean? The writer winced.

The agent put up her hands in a soothing gesture. “Relax and persevere. Your writing shows so much promise.”

The writer had heard this phrase many times. She thought if she heard it again, she might just throw a very embarrassing, very childish tantrum.

“So what should I do?” the writer asked.

“Oh, I think you should start fresh, of course,” the agent said. She was still smiling that infuriating smile.

Fresh? The writer had begun this manuscript (her third unsold manuscript) four years ago! The weight across her shoulders felt like an ox yoke.

“Don’t be discouraged,” the agent added breezily. “This is how this business works.”

“This business doesn’t seem to be working for me,” the writer said. I’m not even sure you’re working for me. She thought it but she didn’t dare say it.

The writer took a breath, held it a moment and then let it escape between her teeth in a slow hiss. “I don’t want to hear about flux. Give me something I can chew,” the writer said. “What’s wrong with it? You were so enthusiastic about the pitch.”

The agent came around the desk and took her elbow, ushering the writer toward the door as she spoke. “It’s a combination of elements. Not loving it enough is the main thing. If you’re looking for something more concrete to work on, I’d say this draft turned into a bit too much of a cross-genre issue. We have to be sure which shelf the book will be on so we can market it effectively. Is it a thriller or is it a sci-fi? I’m not sure. I bet you don’t know. It’s not…” the agent searched for the right word, “definitive.”

No, the writer thought. She’s appearing to search for the right word, but she’s acting. She’d said this many times before. She said it the way human resources people spit out, “…and we thank you for your years of service.”

“Wait. I do know. It’s a thriller, but if they aren’t sure—whoever they are—they can put it on both shelves,” the writer said. “And if bookstores are disappearing and people are buying books online so much, bookshelves aren’t really such an issue anymore are they? Shouldn’t we at least give some editors the chance to say no?”

The agent’s mouth was a line now. “You have to trust me,” she said. “I know this business. I’ve worked in it for almost twenty years.”

The writer said nothing. She was angry, but she wasn’t sure she should be angry with her agent. She wished she knew who to blame. The agent’s answer seemed to be that she should blame market conditions. Or herself. She didn’t know, but she wasn’t so far gone she didn’t wonder if the agent’s twenty years of experience meant she was now twenty-years stale.

The agent’s hand was on the doorknob. “I have a piece of advice for you,” she said. “I have to share it with all my clients at one time or another. Are you listening?”

The writer nodded. She could hold back the big fat baby tears until later, but she cursed herself still. She knew her eyes were wet and shiny. She wasn’t looking like a professional writer just now.

“Pick up the pennies,” the agent said.

“Wha…whut?”

Pick up the pennies! My mentor always told me that and now I’m telling you. When you see a penny or a dime in the street, pick it up. It’s your message to the universe that you’re open to receive your fortune. You’ll get good things eventually if you let the universe know you’re open to whatever it will give. When you pick up a penny, you’re telling the universe, God, Fate, whatever…you’re saying, ‘I’m patient and worthy of your grace. I’ll wait for my time and my turn.'”

With that, the agent grabbed her hand and pumped it firmly twice. “Good luck!” She seemed almost cheerful. “Pitch me again some day when you’re really really ready.”

Outside on a bench the writer searched her purse for tissues that didn’t look too well-used. Somehow she had the manuscript in her hands again. The agent had slipped it into her grasp so smoothly. She looked at the cover again. She felt the weight of it. It had seemed so valuable.

And what would she tell her family? Worse, what would her writing group say? They hadn’t been fans of the story at first but she’d honed it and they had come around. The people she had trusted most had loved the story, but now, obviously, their opinions had been wrong. All wrong. Not even close to right by accident.

This, she thought, had been needlessly humiliating. She should have just waited for an impersonal email instead of making an appointment. What had she been thinking when she picked up the phone? When she had spoken to the agent’s snotty assistant, the writer had said, “I’m in the city and I thought, hey, I can finally meet my agent in person!” As if she ever just happened to find herself in New York. As if she didn’t live three states away.

She’d felt so good about that move. It seemed so bold then. She had pictured the agent taking her to lunch where they could plot strategy over gourmet coffee with cinnamon swizzle sticks. The agent, she knew from her blog, was big on planning her stable’s careers. She felt like such a rube now that she hadn’t even stayed long enough for a stale cup of office coffee with lousy powdered creamer in a paper cup.

The city street bustled on around her. Hundreds walked past and they all ignored the woman snuffling on the bench. How much older would she be before it was her turn to get noticed? How much patience was reasonable? Maybe it was time to quit.

She had always dreamed of being a published author, but it was a dream with no known origin. She didn’t have to do it. It wasn’t beyond the dictates of her own will. Would she always be held hostage to the whim of her eight-year-old self? This was like running a marathon with no known finish line. Why not stop? No one was making her do this. She couldn’t call this a profession after this. Now it was just a hobby.

She could do something else, too. She had talents. She loved to cook. It wasn’t too late for culinary school. Maybe she would write a cookbook one day. She didn’t like the hours and the time it would mean away from the kids, but she could go for that real estate license. If she saved enough, there was still time to go back to university, she supposed. But what, besides english lit, would interest her? And wouldn’t all those books be a terrible, daily reminder of the beautiful dream she’d abandoned?

The writer looked down. At her feet she spotted a penny on the sidewalk. It was so soiled it was almost black. This, she thought, was one of those plot twists that would make an editor with a MFA scoff. She smiled and, without thinking, reached for it. Before her hand touched it, she froze.

What message was she sending the universe? Patience and openness and receptivity? Like her place could only be a gift? Like the universe was deciding whether she was worth a favor?

No.

That’s when she knew what picking up pennies really meant: If she stooped for a penny she was really telling the universe she’d settle for anything.

No.

She would not settle for a grudging gift. She would choose the dignity of earning her place instead. She would go get it herself.

The writer marched down the street with renewed purpose as she shoved the manuscript into her bag. She’d print off a new one as soon as she got home. She held her head high. Her step was fast and her shoulders light. A plan was forming. There was so much to do. She had to research ebooks and POD and formatting. She had to figure out self-distribution. She had to hire an editor and recruit proofreaders. When she got back to the hotel she’d call her husband and announce the great news. She wasn’t just an author anymore. She was a publisher now, too.

She knew she wasn’t supposed to smile at New Yorkers. You were supposed to look straight ahead, avoid everyone’s eyes and blend in. Instead, the writer beamed at everyone she saw. “Bright lights, big deal.”

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Writers: Five editing tricks and tips (plus editing marks)

 

1. Editing onscreen is more difficult and less accurate than printing out your manuscript and attacking it with a pencil. Unless you’re well-practiced at editing pixels, print it out.

2. As you read your manuscript, read aloud. You will pick up more problems that way and if you run out of breath, it’s probably a run-on sentence.

3. Some experts tell you to read your manuscript backwards, one word at a time, to catch more typos. Though it is true this technique works, you must have a form of OCD to act on it. This is advice editors give, but never do themselves. If you don’t believe me, try it with any book-sized manuscript. (Wait! First make sure there are no sharp objects or firearms nearby!)

4. As you edit, read slowly. Your brain is wired to skip over mistakes when you read quickly.

5. Farm it out. You need someone else’s fresh eyes on your manuscript to see the thing you are missing. Hire editors. (Here’s one!)

Filed under: authors, Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, publishing, rules of writing, Writers, writing tips, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writers: How to tell when your manuscript is ready

Freytag's Pyramid, which illustrates dramatic ...

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Writing takes time and is often the most fun part of the journey. Then you rewrite and revise and revise again. Before you send your manuscript to an editor, make sure you’ve done as much as you can to clean it up.

Be aware of:

Formatting, hooking the reader, character development, story arcs, consistency of narrative, consistency of voice, differentiation of characters’ voices, typos, grammatical errors, plot logic, plot holes, pacing, three-act structure, rising action, scene length, passive voice, telling instead of showing

(gasp!)

…the list goes on and on, but you get the idea.

Make it as good as you are capable.

Once you’ve gone through however many revisions  you must endure (maybe two, maybe dozens) to write your story, go through one more time.

How will you know when you’re ready to send it off to an editor for new input?

You’ll be sick of your manuscript. (And if you have been holding on to a manuscript too long, let go of your perfectionism and the manuscript. It’s a torturous form of self-hatred.)

A manuscript is never truly finished. You could polish forever. However, when your editing goes sideways, meaning it’s not better but merely different, it’s time to send it off.

 

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Writers’ Resolutions: Want to see the reason I live?

This is my blessing.

This is my curse.

This is my manuscript!

This is my resolution.

(This didn’t post correctly, so this is the secret link for a glimpse behind the curtain.)

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Book Information Centre Blues

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Occasionally, you will run into someone who either expects you to know the unknowable or dismisses what you do know. When I worked at The Canadian Book Information Centre, it happened all the time.

Case #1: One fellow, so very arch and British one might think he was sent over from Central Casting, asked what Canada’s top cookbooks were.

You might be able to google such information now, but back then we were expected to somehow pull the numbers and titles from the ether. Or from our asses.

I told him I didn’t have those numbers.

“I would have thought that would be general industry knowledge,” he replied.

“No,” I said. “The publishers don’t supply us with those numbers. Only their accountants know the truth. You could go back through old Globe & Mail newspapers and find the top cookbooks by going through top ten lists, I suppose.”

“You can’t do that for me?”

“Uh, no. Head to your local library.” Where people are actually paid to help you find the data for your book proposal, I thought.

He hung up in a huff before I could explain that I worked for publishers as an editor and publicist. My title was Project Manager, not Phone Monkey for Anyone Who Owns a Telephone. (Did you know they’ll give just about anyone a phone? I know! Exactly!)

Case #2: Another aspiring author asked me about copyright. He was desperately worried some evil editor would steal his idea.

This is a common concern, but it’s a nearly invalid one since it happens so rarely. As it happens, I knew a lot about copyright. And so:

No, you can’t copyright an idea alone. If you could, the guy who got to Good versus Evil and Boy Gets Girl first would be rich, rich, rich.

No, you don’t have to send your manuscript to some office in Ottawa or Washington. You wrote it. Your name is on it. It’s yours worldwide (except for parts of Asia.)

No, putting the copyright symbol on a manuscript is considered unnecessary, amateurish and insulting to the editor or agent who receives it.

No, you don’t have to mail your manuscript to yourself. The idea is to get the post office’s official stamp on the sealed envelope containing your treasure (as if that couldn’t be faked.) You can if you want to, but the trick is having something worth stealing. Besides, to my knowledge, any plagiarism case that’s ever made it to court doesn’t hinge on whether you’ve got a stamp on a sealed envelope.

“Well, I assure you my manuscript is worth stealing and I will mail it to myself!” Click!

Me to fellow harried Project Manager: “If he had already made up his mind what he was going to do anyway, why call us?”

The misunderstanding of our role wasn’t the callers’ fault. We were named The Canadian Book Information Centre. However, we worked for publishers to promote their books to media.

We cut the wayward calls in half the following year by getting our listing out of the Yellow Pages.

Filed under: Books, Editors, getting it done, publishing, Rant, Rejection, Unintentionally hilarious, writing tips, , , , , , , , ,

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.

For my author site and the Chazz network, click the blood spatter below.

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