Sunday, May 15, 2016

Editing: What's Your Bag?

Once again, another topic arose at AW which I thought might be an interesting foray. The answers to proper editing technique is diverse—everyone has their own way—a technique that works best for them. There are two basic approaches and either one is fitting. There is no wrong or right way. There is a third, more complicated way that we can touch on. 


I really feel the fun and excitement in writing a first draft novel. I get totally zoned out and focus on my world. I demand to be left alone for three months when this happens. I don't outline--my next scene/scenes are popping in my head as I write the current one. The book leads me where it wants to flow. The characters make me take dictation--it seems they want to run the show and do what they want. I don't let my characters run rampant, but install little checks and balances for them. The plot wants to go where the conflict is heaviest. For my pace, I can't have any lengthily dinner scenes, shopping, walks in the park, with meaningless character dialogue--I'm very guilty of this in the past and it kills my pace. So once I'm in my new world, I'm trapped there until I find my way out. That means THE END.

First editing draft: I've taken Anne Rice's advice and adopted her writing ritual. I'll write in a fever then back up about four or five pages and edit the hell out of it. That means as much structural and copy-editing (and other areas) as I can stand. Structural problems mean I've made a big goof somewhere, but I'll still go to the source and try and fix it as best I can. Then I forge on and repeat. I'm simply accelerating and then hitting reverse. That way, the first editing draft doesn't fill me dread and I can still move along fairly fast. For me, storytelling is fun--editing is blistering work. I want the easiest transition I can get between the two. I've heard lots of people say that they edit while they write--I think it's the same thing.

There are some who might take this approach and go back to edit a chapter, or maybe two or three and then pick up again. That means a break in the writing and a chance that you could lose the momentum and thread. But it also means there will be less “work” in the following editing drafts. So you can relax a little more and not fret over the “monster that is to come.” Caveat: I’m still going to make several editing passes, but I’m knocking out as much as the hard stuff as possible in the backward pass.


That’s exactly what it sounds like—writing through the first draft as quickly as possible, staying filled with that white-hot fit of inspiration—blasting through. Some writers have to do this or else they’ll fall off their pace and let the story go static for even a short amount of time. They haven’t got the time or impetus to worry about editing at this stage. These people are sometimes loath to stop, believing that the first novel draft presents the most difficulty. It’s a great strategy, and I’m sure we’ve all heard the comment from the pros and instructors: “you have permission to write shit. It’ll be cleaned up in the editing process.” This is a very popular style, if not the most popular one. 

There’s no doubt that getting that first written novel draft completed deserves a medal valor, and it really does. These writers actually like/love the first (and subsequent) editing drafts because it gives them a great feeling of accomplishment in fashioning a diamond out of a lump of coal. This is also the time for them to cut or add words, chapters, characters, and scenes as they see fit or if it’s needed (structural). Writing the book is the difficult part for them. That’s where most of the doubts, foul-ups and blocks are experienced. Even if they’ve outlined, they view that first novel draft as a daunting task, wondering if they will ever finish it. If they decide to pull out and trunk the project after they’ve hit the end, hey! There was no harm done and certainly less work invested.


There has to be something said about concentrated editing in different areas and making those first, second, third, fourth and fifth editing passes, suffering through individual stages. Actually, “suffering” is kind of a strong word. I think we all make multiple editing passes. There are only a select few professionals who can edit as they go and come out with a shiny manuscript that is near perfect. Anne Rice is one of them. We’re not Anne.

What stages are important? Well, what’s important to you? Where are your weak spots? This can include passive/active, continuity, copy-editing, proofing, structural editing, pace and so on. I’ll make about three editing passes, taking up two of these areas in one pass. Or I’ll go right on down the line and hit all six each for six edits. But they will be very light and fast because I’ve already been there. You can really specialize and concentrate on one, and only one area from the very beginning, and I’ve done this before to really focus on special problems. I call it target editing. I have a problem with passive and active, so that one is a slow, precise go for me. Continuity is another.

With a large book, multiple stage editing can take a VERY long time. If you don’t mind the process, chances are your final copy is really going to shine with a high gloss finish. There are some writers who love this type of editing and they don’t mind the time invested.

Yeah, I hate to admit it but writing is rewriting. It’s my necessary evil and I hate it.

Whatever you decide, keep a positive attitude. Try not to listen to those little Debbie Downer muses that hang around and tell you that your story is nothing but a crock and you’re wasting your time. Always remember that another pair of eyes will see something totally different in what you’ve scribbled.     

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Guys Writing Gals

 The topic of males having difficulty writing about female characters came up in our writing group today. I thought I would touch on this issue, rather than go into a full in-depth analysis.
This is mostly for the guys who are stumbling over this issue.

Maybe for some of us older guys, and count me in as being a burly ex-cop who acted a little macho in his day, when we were brought up watching the likes of Lost in Space, Leave it to Beaver, Mary Tyler Moore, hearing the "furniture" remark in Soylent Green, and even Prin described as a "standard pleasure model" in Blade Runner, I don't think it's any wonder why women have had such a terrible time with equality and due respect as we've progressed through the decades. Most of those women, and so many more in T.V. and the movies, were portrayed as quiet, obedient, stupid, cowardly, over-emotional (prone to tears), ditzy, naive and truly, second class characters. They were always, given less airtime if the setting was male MC oriented. The WASP male was the default icon that solved everything and made all the decisions. Even as a teenager and young adult, I resented it. I could see right through the stereotype and into the human element. I think Ripley, in Alien, woke up a lot of the male populace to the fact that women could be strong and innovative without any help from a male, thank you very much.

If anybody (guys) have trouble writing female characters, or think they do, start asking them questions. Be their buddy. Try and understand their motives and thought process. I did a lot of this when I was young, especially with girlfriends, and it paid dividends later. You get those "aha" moments.

Sure, women have little quirks, (or positives) just like men do. Note: there's always exceptions. All you have to do is stop and think about some of the ways they are different and SPARINGLY apply them to your story. Be observant. They're natural-born dancers with an inborn rhythm, they are more nurturing, more inclined to follow directions, have a more acute sense of smell, are more observant (able to pick out a piece of lint at ten paces), more communicative (social skills), don't throw a real fit when they break a nail, generally bathe more often than males (concerned with appearance) eat more delicately and display better manners, do not need doors opened for them, can drive a nail with a hammer with the best of them, have tempers and fight back, are a bit more embarrassed when they fall down (concerned with grace and dignity), and the list goes on and on and on. You can use one of these traits in such in way as to peg the character's sex without having to name the gender. You have to do it skillfully and, again, sparingly.

Try not to describe women as body parts unless you're writing heavy romance or erotica. There are some male authors who do this masterfully. She's not a brunette, blond or a hot redhead, as an all inclusive tag. Perhaps she's the one who graduated Harvard and loves grapes. I like to describe women's physical attributes in metaphor and simile, painting an image rather than listing stats. Better still, show a male's reaction or inner monologue toward a woman, and you can just about nail her appearance. Let the reader imagine and fill in the gaps.  

Above all, these are very minor differences when put into the universal perspective. Generally speaking, all human beings think alike, react to stimuli similarly, suffer pain and frustration and experience joy the same way. You're just a human writing about a human.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Advance Money?

Certainly, your best advance deal would come from one of the imprints owned by the Big Five corps or houses. Although a great deal could come from a well-known independent like Kensington and others. (Disregard Publisher’s Market Place definitions for a moment) I would consider a substantial deal, or something I was very happy with, as an advance of five figures and over. I would not scoff at $2,000 to $5,000, provided they had reputable distribution for bookstore placement and library inclusion. And, department store and book club sales would be icing on the cake. A participating marketing team and publicity manager is always a plus, and automatically provided by the big guys. These larger houses also have a foreign rights team and go after those huge overseas markets.

In the prehistoric past, I asked Ray Bradbury, Alan Dean Foster and Poul Anderson the same question: "What's the best way to go; high advance, or no advance with higher royalties?" They were unanimous (and our own James D. McDonald will tell you the same thing): "fight for the highest advance because it's more than likely it will be all you will ever get." So, if the advance is high and the book doesn't earn out, you're in fairly good shape. The publishers may not be in very good shape but that depends. I just had that happen to me recently. The money was good but the book is a snail in sales. I don’t think I’ll ever earn out and I’ve done everything humanly possible to promote the title. Remember that you are the one who spent months, maybe years sweating and toiling over that book, possibly costing you some money to bring it up to high publishing standards.

Now, if your earn-out is fairly close to your advance payment, the publisher can/will make money. It also depends on the book—Manufacturing costs (for paper), editing, cover art and maybe shipping, might determine a break point outlay for the publisher until they make a profit. If sales are really dismal, it is possible that the publisher may lose some money, or maybe a lot.

About small press: It’s highly unlikely that you will get an advance from a small or independent press. They just don’t have the budget for it. There are exceptions—an agent can work a contract and obtain, at the very least, a token advance payment. What’s the typical advance range for a small publisher? This is also subjective, but climbing out on a wobbly limb that may break, I’ll say I’ve seen $50 to $1000. The sweet spot seems to be about $100 to $200, judging solely by the deals I and my agent have tried to wrangle in the past. If the small press has legitimate distribution like Perseus, IPG or Midpoint, there is a higher probability that they may cut loose with a small advance. It’s not a guarantee, it’s just more likely.    

To paraphrase: Go to the publisher (with agent or not) with a knife in one hand and a money bag in the other. Don't settle on a boilerplate contract—they are not written in your favor. Never be overwhelmed and giddy with the prospect of publication and sign a contract in haste and then swoon ohhhhhh...mighty God, it's Random House, or Tor, or Baen!

Never, ever be afraid to stand up for yourself and play hardball. State your wishes to your agent, if you have one. The juggernaut publishers have heard it all before--they are professional negotiators--they do not flinch. If they say no, you backtrack a bit and start over. Take your time. They will never say that your demands are unreasonable and that they've changed their mind about giving you print (small press has been known to do this, BTW). The largest publishers come from a place of power--you don't. That means you upscale your importance and worth. They will actually respect that attitude. Besides the talent, it means they have a serious business partner on their team. Business...sound familiar? That's what publishing is first and foremost.

Back in my day, the (stated rumor) average advance was about $5000. King got $2,500. Anne rice pulled an astonishing $12,000. So you can see the amounts can vary wildly, even today, depending upon the expectations of sales and the budget of the house. But we all thought that five grand was pretty cool back then. Anything over that, damn, we were rich and bragged it up! Takin' about the 1970s here.

Advances today? I'm going out again on that long limb that might break, but I'd say that $7,500 is a common, general average for most categories and genres from the advance-paying Big 5. Marketing has more say-so about this upfront money than any division of the publishing company. And never forget the importance of rights sales; they can often top out over everything, but it might take a little time. Case in point; Jo Rowling's reprint rights to America were $105,000, where her Bloomsbury advance was $1,275 pounds. King's paperback rights went for $400,000, giving him a 50/50 split. These are examples of big houses, big deals and what it could me to you.

Happy hunting. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The New Planet Janitor; Custodian of the Stars

Just thought I would mention that my SF book, Planet Janitor, has been given new content, revised and re-covered. I'm very happy about the new face lift, and my publishers' dedication and love for this title. It's on sale now at Amazon for $2.99. WE JUST HIT # 3 ON KOBO.CA!

If any of you would like to review this book, please contact me at:

Or Alexis, my publishers at Engage Books:

Captain Zachary Crowe and his crew deem themselves custodians of the stars. Their job: to handle environmental clean-ups and close system jumps to collect precious ores and space trash. The problem is they have yet to complete an assignment without a mishap to add to their not so stellar record. Scraping the bottom of the barrel, Orion Industries contracts Planet Janitor for a clandestine operation that no one else wants, offering them more money than they could spend in three lifetimes. 

The mission entails a 12 light-year trip to a newly found habitable planet in the Tau Ceti system. The crew will lose 26 years on Earth due to the cryo jump, but that is the least of their problems. What they find on Tau Ceti will rattle their wits, test their courage, and threaten their very survival. Included are two Planet Janitor short stories. In “The Moon is not Enough,” the Crew of Planet Janitor are contracted to survey the damage to a lunar mining facility caused by a meteor shower. When a second job proposition proves too sweet to turn down, Captain Zachary Crowe must enter the devastated base. But will the reward be enough to outweigh the consequences of taking on such a risky mission. In “Journey Interrupted,” the crew of Planet Janitor Corporation are on the tail end of a salvage mission in the asteroid belt when they encounter a ghost ship. Faced with a volatile substance onboard, the crew race against the clock to commandeer the vessel before it reaches the Exon refueling station. What they find on the ship will stress their abilities to the limit, and put their lives in imminent danger.

Thanks for your attention!


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Samhain Tanking?

The recent news is that Samhain has sent out a letter informing their authors that they will be shutting its doors, but carrying on with the current production of books. The reasons seem to be financial. A decline in sales. This is not too far from the tail of Ellora's Cave, which is another tale of woe.

I've been wrestling with the poor sales topic on my blog for five years now. I do mean, primarily, small press and brand name independents. I've been in total denial and shock about this subject, even after suffering from a slump in sales during this time that was shocking and unexpected. It began to occur to me that nearly half a million self-published books (check my figures--I've heard different numbers) a year was going to have a devastating effect on the small and big presses.

Yes, absolutely, the $.99 books are much more financially attractive than the 2.99 to $5.99 small trade pub prices. That is a no brainer, and I'm talking about the general consumer view. They can load their reading devices up for next to nothing. And how ironic it is when I hear someone, like a dinosaur industry insider, say that people are buying more books than ever. They sure are--the $.99 books. All day long. Let's not even count the freebies or the celebrity authors who have jumped the trade-published ship. These are stunningly low book prices and incentives when compared to the climate over seven years ago.

Lets also face the fact that writers or published authors can't keep the editor out of our/their heads when reading books. C' mon now. We wonder how in the heck can thousands of self-published books be any good when we run across some or many that do not measure up to (our) professional standards. Caveat: I've read and critiqued some excellently written SP books that are clean, gripping and exceptionally entertaining. I wonder how in hell these books were passed up by the trade. I've also seen the stinkers--I mean everything is screwed up--format, cover design, blurbs, grammar, plot--they fail on all counts. And there's the thing--they fail on MY accounts.

IMO, non-writers (readers) are much more forgiving when they start that $.99 book. They care about story--a thrilling, new read in a genre that interests them. Hasn't that always been the mantra of even the most critical, published authors--story first? Those bargain-hunting readers are not overly concerned about POV shifts, placement of semi-colons and colons, type font and size, grammar blunders and other technical snafus. Many can see them, but it's easier to gloss over them.

Conclusion: trade publishing has and is suffering from a huge shift in readership and fan base. I'm talking a major shift involving tens, if not hundreds of thousands of readers and purchases over a relatively short time frame. These slots were once the "golden ticket" of small trade publishers. Look at how fast this vice is tightening.

Self-published authors have a fanatical support for each other (check out their largest group site). They buy their fellow's books. They are tight knit, and many of them are critical of the stanch gate-keeping practices of the industry--they were looked over, forgotten or ignored. Can't say that I blame them at all. The Big Five has shot me down for 14 straight years--those elitist pigs!

Conclusion: there goes another huge chunk of the readership and purchases.

Declining sales slumps due to other factors?

Conclusion: Kids and adults are reading fewer and fewer books every year, in spite of the digital ease by which to obtain them. Every year is a small downhill slide. All age spectrums are glued to their smart phones, I-pods and other reading devices, but primarily for social media, research, bargain shopping and games. Saving grace: writers and authors load up on books and shorts in this area, and this has helped to keep our noses above water.

Amazon and other online retailers have made it incredibly easy to self-publish. Although some assistance is necessary to prep these books for online retail. And that might cost some bucks.

Conclusion: It's been said that everyone has a book in them. Population Earth = seven billion. Hah! I'm not even going to touch that one. We don't have to mention how many self-published authors/readers and trade authors have spread the news about how anybody can get published today. Not to mention the terrific book prices found all over. It's true. How about those celebrity best-selling authors who have written articles and run blogs in favor of self-publishing. Those heavy weights have huge readerships and influence. 

Who is responsible for this deteriorating slide? Self-pubbed authors? Big Five greed? Amazon? Borders going under? Cut backs on major newspaper and magazine book reviews? Employee cuts? Too many books?

Conclusion: If technology had an ass, I'd kick it. There's where it started--everything else slid into it, catching the draft.

Who is going to be the first to go?

Small press, I believe, will get hit the hardest first. Those little guys could all disappear, given enough downward trending and time. You can't downsize an already small publisher. They have no wiggle room. Ellora's Cave and Samhain has proven this, and they really aren't that small. Self-publishing will survive and grow. The Big corps and their imprints better hold on to and increase their leverage of precise target-marketing and book store placement--that is the only card up their sleeve. They'll need to spend more money to snag market share away from the SP industry. Unless they keep ambulance chasing those best-selling SP authors so they can gain control. Oh, agents are going to suffer a bit. Who needs them if nearly everyone decides to self-publish? Publishing house employees will suffer cutbacks because of lost revenue.

I have a lot of doom and gloom prophesies. I know. I wish I had the answer in a bottle. I think the Big Five imprints could chop their book prices down as far as they dare without losing buckets of money. And they'll have to adapt much faster with each new opportunity and trend. For increased therapy and readership, we need a huge best-selling series akin to the Harry Potter books, and we need these blockbuster tomes about every seven to ten years or so. I think the small trade presses need to regulate their finances much better. Misappropriation of funds have been a small press killer; IMO, more than any other downfall.

Females account for roughly 65% of all book purchases. Men and boys are sorely lacking in this area. Guys, click some books into your shopping cart or patronize your nearest independent or chain bookstore.

Sorry for the rant. But I believe that many of these factors are relevant to what happened to Samhain.