Category Archives: novels

Anne R. Allen on How to Kill Book Sales

book word in letterpress wood typeI’ve often found great advice on Anne’s site. This post about what readers are likely to find when they click on that “Look Inside” invitation on Amazon echoes one I recently did about the first page of your book and why it matters, except that Anne goes into more detail and offers excellent examples of how you can make your “Look Inside” sample sing.

I especially want to endorse Guidelines Nos. 2 and 3.

No. 2 tells us to “start with conflict, not crisis,” advice I’ve encountered before, and which has ranked up there as the most useful advice I’ve ever received. As Anne points out, who cares if bullets are flying and bombs are going off if we don’t know the characters and couldn’t care less about them. “What the reader wants is emotional conflict,” Anne writes. And you get that by putting characters together in a demanding situation and finding out what they do about it—basically Anne’s Guideline No. 5.

No. 3 tells us that any opening scene that consists of some character musing away about some off-stage event is a huge turn-off unless you have an incredible voice and a mesmerizing character. While we’d all like to think we can produce such prodigies of characterization and style at will, the evidence suggests otherwise. You don’t have to create a character worthy of the ages in a Nobel-prize-winning style if you place your readers at the heart of a conflict, right there, in the middle of it all.

So many books!

An additional turn-off I’d personally cite for “Look Inside” samples is more subjective: I respond to voice. Yes, I’ve got to have conflict; things have to happen for me in those first pages. But even if I’m thrown into the middle of conflict, a pedestrian voice stuffed with clichés and unimaginative or, for that matter, forced description can kill my buying urge. Lure me with a voice that breathes with the magic of  language used in new and illuminating ways. If you can’t, make your conflict mesmerizing and original. Ideally, do both.

So check out Anne’s list of ways to keep your first pages from killing your sale. What makes you put a book back on the Amazon shelf?

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Filed under Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, ebooks, indie publishing, Learning to write, novels, self editing, Self-publishing, style, What Not To Do in Writing Novels, Writing

Clauses and Conjunctions–Oh, My!

Ball of letters tangled, like grammar rules

“Grammar rules” can look like this!

I came across this nice post from Deborah Lee Luskin over at Live to Write—Write to Live that lays out the rules governing various kinds of clauses and the conjunctions that attach them to each other.

What this post supplies is “meta-knowledge”: knowledge ABOUT knowledge, that is, about the kind of knowledge writers need. We also need an inner grammar that allows us to construct functioning sentences instinctively in a language that is our native tongue. Growing up with a native tongue allows us to internalize the ways sentences work in our linguistic world. (When we learn second or third languages as adults, it takes a while to develop this internal grammar because our minds are pre-programmed to acquire grammar when we are very young, from listening to and interacting with those around us.)

This inner grammar serves us for speech, even if we don’t know “the rules” from book-learning—all the names of the things we’re doing. It functions less effectively for writing.

Why is this so?

First, writing is not a pre-programmed activity the way spoken language is. Writing is a LEARNED activity. Stanislas Dehaene argues in Reading in the Brain that vision and sound operate in different parts of our brains; our synapses have to remodel themselves to make the connection between visual symbols and the sounds that carry meaning.

Second, the punctuation that connects sentence parts varies between arbitrary conventions like putting a comma after the name of a state and important signposts for meaning like using commas to set off nonessential elements. Both the conventions and the signposts have to be overlaid on our spoken language awareness, requiring new coordination between parts of the brain.

Finally, written language demands a big burst of cognitive energy, especially when we haven’t had a lot of practice and have to think about every period and every modifier.

All these issues separate writing from speaking. They make the process of learning to convert our native language to writing into a secondary process more burdensome and harder to learn than simply learning to speak.

On the one hand, I think every writer should know the information in Deborah’s post: the parts of a sentence and the ways they work together. On the other hand, after twenty-five years of teaching college writing, I believe what the research into the acquisition of grammar “rules” tells us: people don’t learn these skills from lists of rules. Even the ability to recognize “a complete sentence” has seemed unteachable more often than not. A writer either has it or she does not.

Ironically, every indication is that we learn sentence structure and the conventions and signposts the same way we learn to talk: from being widely exposed to written language from a very young age. Reading comes first. Practice in writing to communicate is also vital. When we start trying to use writing to express needs or ideas we want taken seriously, we revise and work until we develop multiple strategies for making ourselves understood. That means acquiring a lot of rules.

To be fair, teachers can never tell just how much effort any given college student has put into learning the strategies for successful “grammatical” writing. This kind of knowledge is notoriously boring. Yet I have seen isolated examples of people who seemed almost illiterate and then somehow just figured it all out (for example, a young man I knew who joined the Army and emerged a totally different writer).

Does all this mean I think aspiring (and successful) writers shouldn’t learn the information in the post I’m sharing? Not at all. But just as important: keep reading. Watch how the writers you admire use clauses, conjunctions, and punctuation. Copy their styles to see what your book would sound like using their methods. Play.

At the risk of angering indie authors everywhere, I suggest you look for your best examples of these rules applied correctly in books, articles, and essays that have been traditionally published. Lord, no, editors in traditional houses aren’t right all the time, but more eyes have examined the writing and the more egregious errors have been winnowed out.

And don’t rely on Grammarly or other so-called editing bots. (Yes, I can start a sentence with “and,” thank you.) They don’t know what a complete sentence is, either.

Or when it’s okay not to use one. The grammar you can ignore if you want to, and why—that’s the kind of knowledge you really need!

How did you learn “the rules”? Share your strategies!

 

 

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Filed under College writing, correct grammar, Editing, grammar, grammar rules, indie publishing, Learning to write, Myths and Truths, novels, punctuation, self editing, Self-publishing, style, Teaching writing, Writing

Follow-Up: Copyright Issues at Internet Archive—The Marrakesh Treaty

Stack of many booksIf you have read my posts about my experience eliciting a response from the Internet Archive, which scans and posts books on their free website without notifying authors or asking permission, you may have also read the comments on the latest post.

There, you’ll learn what I learned from Kevin, a reader from newauthoronline.com.

He  introduced me to the Marrakesh Treaty, implemented in 2016. This treaty, which the U.S. has joined, allows authorized non-profit sites to post—without permission—works for “blind and print-disabled” persons.

Here is an overview article Kevin linked to, which contains a link to the Marrakesh Treaty itself as well as a useful discussion of access issues for the print-disabled. From the article:

Marrakesh Treaty: A roadmap for equality

On July 18, 2016, American musician Stevie Wonder welcomed the entry into force of the Marrakesh Treaty with powerful words. “A treaty that promises to end the global book famine… A pact,” he said, “that means that the millions of people in the world who are blind or visually impaired will be able to read books in accessible formats in various regions where they did not previously have access, regardless of their financial means.”

To address this challenge, the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled, was adopted in 2013 under the auspices of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and entered into force in 2016. The treaty was conceived to foster and ease the production and transfer of accessible books, including across national boundaries. To achieve these goals, it established a set of limitations and exceptions to copyright, mandatory for ratifying countries, for the benefit of the blind, visually impaired and otherwise print disabled. So far, 91 countries have signed the treaty and 33 of them have ratified it.

Here is relevant text from the treaty;

[Article 4.]2. A Contracting Party may fulfill Article 4(1) for all rights identified therein by providing a limitation or exception in its national copyright law such that:

(a) Authorized entities shall be permitted, without the authorization of the copyright rightholder, to make an accessible format copy of a work, obtain from another authorized entity an accessible format copy, and supply those copies to beneficiary persons by any means, including by non-commercial lending or by electronic communication by wire or wireless means, and undertake any intermediate steps to achieve those objectives, when all of the following conditions are met:

(i)  the authorized entity wishing to undertake said activity has lawful access to that work or a copy of that work;

(ii) the work is converted to an accessible format copy, which may include any means needed to navigate information in the accessible format, but does not introduce changes other than those needed to make the work accessible to the beneficiary person;

(iii) such accessible format copies are supplied exclusively to be used by beneficiary persons;  and

(iv) the activity is undertaken on a non-profit basis;

An operative term here is “lawful access.” I have written WIPO to ask for a definition.

Remaining questions:

  • Is the Internet Archive an Authorized Entity?
  • How does it ensure that people using free services under this treaty are eligible beneficiaries?

Kevin’s comments also include some enlightening information about accessibility software and process for blind and print-disabled people.

I have not found this information about the Marrakesh Treaty widely shared in the writing-blog community, probably because the treaty was just implemented in 2016. I hope this will prove a useful post for my writing colleagues. The information certainly was news to me.

 

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Filed under business of writing, Copyright, novels, Publishing, Writing

A Response about Copyright Violation from Internet Archive!

Hello, readers,

I need your help.

On January 11, 2018, I shared a post from Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware about possible copyright infringement by the Internet Archive, which scans books and posts them for free in a “lending library” without notifying authors or receiving permission.

On the Internet Archive site, I found a pdf of the 1989 mass-market paperback of my novel, King of the Roses (originally published by St. Martin’s in 1983). I sent two email notices requesting that the book be taken down, using the free form included in Victoria’s original post.

I have received a response. The response raises several questions for me and I would appreciate feedback from readers. In particular,

1) Have I understood the response correctly?

2) What is the correct and ethical response to the fact that the Internet Archive plans to retain a copy of my book for “blind and print-disabled” readers?

Here’s what I did in order to get a response:

After sending the two notices and receiving no response, I followed a link in Victoria Strauss’s post to the Internet Archive site. There, on the blog page for the site, I discovered a comment box.

Into that box I posted; “I have sent two takedown notices about my book, which is still under my copyright and is available as a self-published Kindle edition, but you have not responded. Please post a link to the “Notice and Takedown” process you reference above on your home page. My next step will be to seek legal advice and, if necessary, take you to court.”

Within 36 hours, I received the following email, which I paste here in full:

Dear Ms. Anderson,

Thank you for your emails.

To help clarify things regarding the item you have identified (https://archive.org/details/kingofroses00virg) – blind and print-disabled patrons (verified by formal institutions including the Library of Congress) may access special electronic versions of the book that can be used with accessible software. They agree not to make copies or distribute materials. Our program to enable blind and print-disabled access has been in operation since 2010 (our original press release w/links to stories in the media can be seen here).

There is no other access available to this item (lending access for general users has been disabled). Please feel free to check the links under “Download Options”. They are all inoperable or include only to metadata (i.e., catalog information about the text, not the text itself).

And of course, the Internet Archive offers these texts on a wholly non-commercial basis. Our project, organization, and mission are entirely charitable and oriented towards broad social benefit.

Again, thank you for getting in touch with us. Hoping this information is helpful.

The Internet Archive Team

 

Here’s what I think it says:

1) My book is no longer available for free in their lending library.

2) They do post the metadata for my book.

3) A free version of my book is still available to disabled readers who have some kind of “accessible software” and who are somehow bound not to share the book with others.

Remaining concerns/questions:

1) How readers qualify for free access to this book is not well explained.

2) The copy of the book on their site is a pdf of the original 1989 paperback, and is of very poor quality. Is there “accessible software” that can actually read this text?

3) Doesn’t the decision of the Internet Archive to retain this version of my book still constitute copyright infringement, since access is being supplied to these readers without my permission?

Obviously, the appeal is to my sense of pathos. How could I possibly deny disabled readers access to my incredibly wonderful book?

On the one hand, of course I’m vulnerable to such an appeal. On the other, while I do not have an audio version of my book, is there no software that readers with disabilities can use to access a paperback or Kindle version purchased through regular channels? How can authors be sure that the readers who still have access to their books for free through the Internet Archive really need the charitable services of the Internet Archive?

I suspect that my book will not be high on the list of frequently downloaded books, whether by readers with disabilities or others. Some authors, though, may find that their books are likely to be frequently accessed.

The bottom line, in my view, is that the decision to post a book for free, whether for abled readers or readers with disabilities, should be made in conjunction with, and with the permission of, the author/copyright holder. Anything else is still a copyright violation.

What do you think?

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Filed under business of writing, Copyright, King of the Roses, novels, Publishing, Writing

What To Do If an Agent or Editor Wants Your Stuff!

When lightning strikes an author!Here’s a comprehensive, helpful post from Publishing Crawl about that fateful moment when lightning strikes! You open your inbox to find a message from an agent or editor who wants your work. Lots of good advice here!

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Filed under Finding agents, looking for editors, novels, Publishing, Working with editors, Writing

A Lesson in First Pages!

A story hook is like strange headlights coming at you out of the dark on a lonely road. What lies ahead?

A story hook is like those headlights coming at you. What lies ahead?

I often get good posts from Writer Unboxed, and today’s example is a recurring feature of the site called “Flog a Pro.” Monthly contributor Ray Rhamey invites readers to vote the first page of a current bestseller up or down: would you turn the page?

I’m sharing the most recent candidate because it speaks with particular eloquence to an issue I’ve been encountering in the writing groups I haunt. Although I understand the reasons a few commenters voted no (e.g., snarky narrator, too much alliteration), I’d vote “yes” on this sample for one simple reason: it has a hook.

Wait! Doesn’t everybody know that the first page, or at least the first chapter, of a novel has to have a hook?

Apparently not.

Evidence that not everyone understands this basic principle of story-telling comes not just from recent writing-group conversations but also from a set of contest entries I recently judged. Novel after novel opened with “introductions” to plain-vanilla characters going about their daily business or mundane scene-setting, or, all too often, gobs of backstory about people I have no reason to care about.

A scintillating voice or a rapier sense of humor can carry me for a few such pages, but even then, by the end of the first chapter, I have to have someone to worry about, something really perplexing to wonder over, some hint of a serious conflict that will drive the book. Those are “hooks.”

When I ask, “But where is the story going? What is this character’s problem, goal, frustration?”, and of course, the generic but important, “Why should I care?”, the (often indignant) response will be

“Oh, that will come in Chapter Two.”

or

“The reader will see that develop over the course of the book.”

Um, the reader won’t see anything develop over the course of the book because she won’t read it. She won’t get to Chapter Two.

Books leading to a door in a brick wall

A hook points to the door in the wall. and says, “Come through!”

From occasional comments I’ve received, I think it’s possible that this defense arises because the writers in question are producing LITERATURE. People who read LITERATURE don’t need bombs going off on page one. They will patiently wait for a story to develop. They’ll slog through long, tedious details because they know that only simpletons require things to actually happen. Endless observations of people tying their shoelaces—portraying the cosmic meaning in such minutiae—that’s what LITERATURE is all about.

Excuse me. I read LITERATURE, too. And the LITERARY writers who get read know that story isn’t necessarily about bombs going off. In fact, it’s usually not the bombs that matter.It’s what they do to the people they blow up.

Story is built on heart-wracking conflict, on blistering emotion, on goals set and surrendered and recovered, on needs. STORY transcends genre.

And story begins on page one.

 

 

 

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Filed under genres, Learning to write, literary fiction, Myths and Truths, novels, Plot Development, Writers' groups, Writing

Ethics & the Literary Agent: What Rights Do Authors Have?

A must-read! Chris the Story Reading Ape posts guest interviews with agents that shed strong light on what an agent’s life is like and how authors can be better partners.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

by Sangeeta Mehta  on Jane Friedman Site:

Today’s guest post is a literary agent Q&A by Sangeeta Mehta, a former acquiring editor of children’s books at Little, Brown and Simon & Schuster, who runs her own editorial services company.


By definition, literary agents are writers’ representatives. They work for writers, negotiating offers from publishers until their client deems them acceptable. But in today’s complex agent-author relationship, many writers feel that they aren’t in the position to negotiate with their agent, partly because they don’t understand the publishing landscape as well as their agent does, but also because they are wary of coming across as difficult or demanding.

Although it’s becoming more common for writers to change agents several times during the course of their careers, most would prefer to stay with one agent. But are writers really in the position to speak up if they feel that an agent isn’t honoring their obligations…

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Filed under business of writing, Finding agents, Interviews, Money!, Myths and Truths, novels, Publishing, Writing