Archive for August, 2009

Writers are Observers of Life

“Writers are observers of life” is not original with me. In fact, I’ve heard it so often, I’m not sure who deserves credit for saying it. But I do know it’s true.

Writers observe the world around them, then use words to capture those observations.

Readers relate to those observations and, the more they relate, the more popular the writer becomes.

How does that apply to book writing? By opening yourself to seeing the world around you and by making notes, collecting stories, and being a literary packrat, you can add so much to your writing.

Maybe you base a character on someone memorable you saw. Maybe you include a joke you heard from a friend. Maybe there’s a story in the news that can illustrate a point (last post I used one about a woman stealing songs). You limit yourself, so break down the barriers and draw on life to improve your writing.

Of course, you’ll write in your own style, but when you have a world full of sources to draw upon, you’ll do a much better job of connecting with your reader. And that’s really what makes a book a success–connecting with readers so they tell other readers and the viral marketing creates a following for your book and for you, the author.

When I was heavily involved in my professional speaking career, the old joke in the industry was “Steal from one source and it’s plagiarism. Steal from many sources and it’s research.”

So, go ahead and take what you can use–just make sure you make it your own by using your own words, observations, and writing style.

Happy writing!

Cash Advances Aren’t Found Money

Too many times I hear unpublished authors comment on the huge cash advance they’re expecting when a publisher buys their manuscript.

The reason we hear about huge cash advances is the same reason we hear about most news–it’s not the norm! If every book sold received a huge cash advance in the deal, no one would be talking about the money.

So, what is a cash advance all about anyway? It’s an advance against sales. I repeat, it’s an advance against sales.

You, as author, are expected to market your book (see my post about this). People buy authors, not publishers. If you’re royalty published and your first book bombs, chances are you won’t get many publishers interested in your next book.

Cash advances are meant to help you get the buzz started about your book and get the marketing campaign mapped out and implemented. They’re not meant for you to take a vacation, to party hardy with your buddies to celebrate your manuscript sale, or even to pay off old bills.

No one knows your book better than you do, so you’re the perfect person to lay out some ideas on marketing it. Of course you’ll have to start with a website or two (one for you as author and one for your book).

You’ll want to create marketing materials with the book cover prominently shown–bookmarks, postcards, signage for book signings, etc.

You’ll want to set up your email and social networking marketing strategy and implement it.

You’ll want to connect with libraries, book clubs, other groups about your book and perhaps about you making an appearance to sign and give a little talk.

You may even map out all the cities your relatives and friends live in and create your own book tour–you can stay free with people you know and set up book events and media coverage in each city you stay in.

If you’ve got a good literary agent, you may get a nice cash advance (minus 15 percent for your agent). It’s not found money. It’s money to jumpstart your book sales. Since it’s an advance, it’s the only money you’ll see until you pay it all back to the publisher through book sales.

What happens if you don’t sell enough books to pay the advance back? Typically you don’t have to reimburse the publisher the difference, which means the publisher absorbs the loss.

What does it mean when you cause the publisher to lose money? Publishing is business and chances are you will have completed your career as a published author unless you choose a publishing option other than royalty.

If your agent sells your manuscript and  gets you a cash advance of any size, use it wisely.

Happy Writing!

You Need Permission to Quote Song Lyrics

We often see manuscripts that quote song lyrics.  Authors seem genuinely amazed that they can’t just lift the lyrics out of songs and plunk them into their manuscripts.

I’m not sure why, in this age of music downloads causing lawsuits, authors aren’t getting the message that they need to get permission to quote copyrighted song lyrics  in their books.

Here in Minnesota, a jury found a mother guilty of sharing downloads of several songs and she was ordered to pay almost a quarter of a million dollars to several record companies.

Granted, her case was about recording music and books are about quoting lyrics, but there’s a connection–the music industry.

One intellectual property attorney warns authors they should get permission from the owner (the one who has the rights to license the song) of the lyrics of the song. Performance of the song is another aspect, but authors can’t capture performances in their books, so they need to get express written permission to write the lyrics if they intend to include the lyrics anywhere in the book.

At Expert Publishing, we went through this permissions exercise with an author. She quoted several lyrics of modern Christian music in her manuscript, and when we told her she needed to show us the permission to use the lyrics before we’d include them in the book , she went out and got it from each owner.  It was a process to be sure, but if you want to include song lyrics in your book, you absolutely need to get permission.

If you rearrange the letters in use, you get sue.  And sue is what the lyric owner will do if you use lyrics without permission.

Happy writing!

Don’t go Comma Crazy

Over the years, I’ve seen manuscripts and college assignments riddled with commas and I’ve seen them without even the basic commas. When I asked one student what rules he used for inserting commas in his writing, he said, “I put a comma everywhere I pause to take a breath when reading.”

What? Is that in an English textbook somewhere?

It is just a bad to have too many commas as it is to have too few, so check your own writing against these basic comma rules.

  • Use a comma after an introductory clause. (Example: If you are looking for a job, try the Internet.)
  • Use a comma before the conjunction that joins two independent clauses (independent clauses could stand alone as two sentences without the conjunction joining them). (Example:  Job candidates should match their skills to the position, and they should know something about the target company.)
  • Use a comma to sent off a nonessential clause. (Example: Y. E. Yang, who was ranked 110th, beat Tiger Woods by three strokes in the PGA championship yesterday.)
  • Use commas to separate units in dates and geographical expressions. (Example: On Sunday, August 16, 2009, the PGA saw a huge upset in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when Yang defeated Woods.)
  • Use commas to separate items in a series. (Example: To learn more about a specific career field, do an informational interview, research on the Internet, do volunteer work, or get into a training program.)

If you can apply these few rules to your comma use, you’ll be way ahead of the competition when you submit your work to an agent or publisher.

Happy writing!

Those Darn Dangling Modifiers

One common mistake writers make–and I see this in publications, so it’s not just in manuscripts–is dangling modifiers.

What’s a dangling modifier and how do you know you’ve got one?

A dangling modifier is a phrase that says something different from (not than, by the way) what you intend to say. You know you’ve got one when you slow down and really read what the sentence says. Check the noun that follows that the modifier. If the noun that follows is the one that should be modified, you’re okay. If not, you’ve got a danglind modifier.

Here are some examples to help you see what I’m talking about.

  • Walking to work after the blizzard, the sun’s reflection on the snow almost blinded him. (The sun’s reflection didn’t walk to work after the blizzard.)
  • By changing the color scheme, the eye saw the image. (The eye didn’t change the color scheme.)
  • After reading the mystery, the characters made more sense to her. (The characters didn’t read the mystery.)

A modifier is supposed to clarify what it modifies by giving more information about it so the reader understands better. Dangling modifiers do the opposite although readers can often figure out what you intended.

Look over your manuscript for dangling modifiers. If you find any, fix them and your reader will enjoy your work much more.

Happy writing!

Semicolon Mystery Solved

I read manuscripts and college papers almost every day. And every day I see punctuation errors. It appears the proper use of semicolons is a mystery to many writers.

Perhaps these rules will help.

  1. When joining two complete sentences into one and you’re not using a conjuction such as and, use a semicolon. NOTE: When combining two complete sentences into one sentences, those two sentences are now called independent clauses.
  2. When joining two complete sentences into one and you’re using a transition (examples are: however, therefore, consequently, namely, for example), use a semicolon before the transition and a comma after it. Example: I enjoyed the movie; however, the theater was cold.
  3. When writing a series, if any (even if it’s just one) of the components in the series contains a comma, use a semicolon to separate all the items in a series. Example: She’s lived in many places, including Minneapolis; New York; Ketchikan, Alaska; and Atlanta, Georgia.

The rules are simple and if you learn to use them, you’ll wow your editor–a good thing to do when looking for a book publisher.

Happy writing!

Authors Need a Platform

Christina Katz wrote an excellent article in Writer’s Digest magazine on How to Build a Marketing Platform.  I’ve stated before that publishers are interested in authors with a platform and Katz’ article does an excellent job of clearing up what a platform is and how to build one.

Her advice is good no matter what publishing option you select because the bottom line is return on investment (your investment in yourself or someone else’s investment in your intellectual property) through book sales.

Before we started Expert Publishing, I was published by four book publishers and I’ve been published by another since we started Expert Publishing. Each publisher had its own niche, but I had a platform in each area–teaching (I teach college), negotiation (I negotiated contracts in one career), business (I grew up in business and have owned one for over thirty years), publishing (obviously), and history (I wrote a weekly newspaper column about local history published in three communities in my  county for 14 years).

I had an identified body of expertise, had a memorable name (if people don’t remember Stockhausen, they sure remember Sharron has two r’s), wasn’t afraid to go public (teaching, speaking, etc.) and even had promotional materials (my other company is Stockhausen Ink and I’ve owned that since 1976).

You can create your own platform and improve your opportunity to get published rather than having to do it yourself. A good place to start is Katz’ article. Read it and figure out how you can do what it says.

Happy writing!