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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

  1. #476
    Paul W West

    Re: Lime Pie

    Put me in the later category.

  2. #477

    Re: Lime Pie

    Hi, Asian Journals. Jim is exactly right about grammar; it was never that important so long as words can be comprehended. we just got off track there and it took a while to get back on. I was throwing oil on the flames to create a back-burn to stop the bleeding caused by various snakes in the grass barking up the wrong tree. Prob. wrongheaded, but hey.

    Now, I come not to praise Caesar but to bury him. As for the war, It was a temporary glitch in a large thread. What I did was misconstrued by some, and most likely I went overboard in my zeal (I got a little manic so that's a definite possibility); so I apologized and took a fall. Jim also sort of apologized to Reph, Reph (despite my teasing) calmed down, Note on grumpily went along, HConn (who was appalled) mellowed out. People got sick of the dissension, everyone took a breather. We fell apart for a little while and now are coming back. Anyway, it's over and done with. I think you'll find we are much more polite, constructive and even cohesive than that episode would indicate. Glad you're here, and hang with it! Q

    ps Jim, thanks for the key lime update!

  3. #478

    Lime Pie

    I did my 2 hours, plus a wee bit more.

    More specifically, the first 2 hours of writing I've done in several years. I have about 2 1/2 rough pages, plus some notes and a way into the first chapter (I threw out the sandwich).

    I'd like to thank the academy...


  4. #479
    aka eraser

    ...thank the academy....

    lol Lisa

  5. #480

    Uncle Jim, what's up?

    This was the most terrific thread, then after all that horsesh-t hullabaloo with a bunch of folks getting their panties in a bunch, it seems like you lost interest. I don't blame you, but if you still want to share your knowledge, I'm sure there are people who check this thread frequently, as I do, and are interested in your words of wisdom.


  6. #481
    James D Macdonald

    The Heartache and the thousand natural shocks

    That flesh is heir to.

    Shall we talk, briefly, about some of the horrible things that go wrong in a writer's life? Sure, why not. Many people won't talk about them, but let's be honest: this isn't an easy job.

    First off, you can take this as true. It's easier to sell a first book than a third.

    With a first book, anything can happen. It could take off and be a wild best seller. It could become a quiet back-list perennial. It could find its niche. It could develop a fan base. Anything.

    Another plus for the first-time novelist: the editor doesn't have to offer a big advance. A couple thousand bucks, the book's his.

    The book goes out. It sells some number of copies. This is great. Maybe it earns out, maybe it doesn't. That doesn't matter much; publishers can make profits even on books that don't earn out.

    Then you turn in your second book. It too hits the stands. Now here's the problem. Your second book must do better than your first book. A rising career is good. A falling career ... isn't.

    Lots of readers will give a new author a chance. Fewer readers will give an author a second chance. If someone read your book and didn't like it, the odds are they won't buy your next book, even if it's radically better. (You wanted reasons why you shouldn't publish a book that isn't quite ready? That's reason #1398.) Word of mouth can be negative, too.

    So, if you're on a declining curve, that third book is going to be a really tough sell. Especially since, as a third-time author you should expect your advances to be rising.

    At that point it'll be time to change publishers, and possibly to go to a pseudonym.

    Right, you think that's grim? Try the Death Spiral.

    The Death Spiral works like this: The big chains (and if you aren't in the big chains you aren't in the game) have this trick called Ordering To Net. That is, however many copies of a book Author A sold last time, that's how many copies of his next book they're going to order this time.

    Say Fred Goodguy writes a novel, a mystery called Up Your Nose With A Rubber Hose. They print 10,000 copies, and he has a sell-through of 80%. (80% sell-through is pretty good.) That is, of those 10,000 copies, 8,000 sold.

    Now Fred's new book comes out, Down Your Throat With A Motorboat. The chains saw that 8,000 copies sold last time, so they order 8,000 copies. Again, Fred has an 80% sell-through, and 6,400 sell. Fred's third book, In Your Eye With an Apple Pie gets 6,400 pre-orders, that's how many are printed, and sells 5,120. Now the big chains are only willing to preorder 5,120 copies of Fred's next proposed book, Up Your Ass With Broken Glass, so his publisher declines to exercise their option on it, and Fred's left without a career.

    What can Fred do? Go to another publisher and start all over again, under the name Joe Nicefella, with The Broken Glass Affair. Fred 's fans will be wondering why Fred isn't writing any more, while others will think that Joe is just a cheap Fred imitator. And, Fred will get a first-time author's advance at his new publisher. But, on the other hand, he'll get a first printing of 10,000, and the bookstores will preorder them, in hopes that this new author will turn out to be a best seller.

    [Note: if your publisher likes you, you may get a name-change and stay where you are: and the name change doesn't have to be big, just big enough to fool the major chain stores' computers. Adding a middle initial to your name has been known to work. Or, printing on the cover By Fred Goodguy Writing as Joe Nicefella.]

    These thing may not happen to you. But they can, and there are writers that they have happened to. Just be prepared.

    What other bad things can happen?

    Your editor bought your book because she believes in it. She's presented it to the other editors and the publisher, she's been shepherding it through production... then she gets hired by another company. What happens to your book?

    It's an orphan, that's what. No one to speak for it at the publisher's. No one to boost it to the sales force. It goes to the desk of some other editor who already has a full allotment of books on his desk, and who doesn't love your book as much as the original editor did. He loves his own books better. The editing it gets is more of a lick-and-a-promise than the full deal it needs and deserves.

    Bad things happen. Everything is done, but it's at the minimum level. No one, particularly not the author, is happy when the book comes out.

    Other bad things? Shall we talk about basket accounting?

    That's where you sign a contract for a number of books, but the royalties don't start until they all earn out. If one of them is wildly popular, but another doesn't sell for beans, the popular one doesn't start putting money in your pocket until after it's paid off the dead dog's advance too.

    There's more, there's worse -- the bad copyedit. Some copyeditors think that what you really wanted was a co-author.

    Then there's the way books have the shelf life of yogurt. They go out, they're on the shelves, and if the readers don't pick up on 'em right away, off the shelves they come to make way for next month's books. There's a sad thing.

    The natural state of a book is Out of Print.

    But I'll end this story with hope, just like Pandora's box had hope in it.

    There's an easy cure to the Off The Shelves in a Month problem. You want your books on the shelves for years, and you don't have what it takes to be a bestseller? (And what that takes is both to write a good book and be lucky.)

    Here's how to get your book back on the shelf: Write a second book. When it's published, your publisher will rerelease and resolicit your first book at the same time as your second book. They know that having two different books by the same author shelved side by side will make the public more willing to buy either book than they would one title alone. The bookstores know this too. They're more willing to shelve three copies each of Up Your Nose with a Rubber Hose and In Your Eye with an Apple Pie than they would be to shelve six copies of either one.

    That's the secret of bookstore placement, increasing sales, and a happy career: write another book.

    Since you started writing another book the minute you finished your last one, there you are.
    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 07-31-2009 at 09:42 PM.

  7. #482

    What about the sophomore curse?

    I wanted to mention the sophomore curse as well.

    You write the first book, it sells, then while you are trying to edit that book and then market that book, you have to write book #2. Even if it isn't a sequel, you most likely spent years getting your first book right. Now you have a year (or less) to get book #2 done, plus you have to edit and market book one--and most likely you have not been able to quit your day job yet.

    So many times book #2 is not as good as book #1 was.

    The cure? As James said, start book #2 as soon as book one is done. Edit book #1 and write book #2. While you search for an agent or publisher for #1 polish #2 and start #3.

    Then when book #1 sells, book #2 is done, and book #3 is being edited.


  8. #483

    Thank you!

    I've been reading this thread for a while and am glad to see some new posts. Thanks for the candid advice and storytelling. I still have a million questions that would do well with some Uncle Jim insight. This thread is great and I am one of those who checks it daily and has become recently inspired to use the BIC method. Thank you, Uncle Jim.


  9. #484

    RE:the heartache, etc.

    Well, it's good to have a picture of what life looks like on the other side of...where I am now. I hope I get there. I'm going to save the info. At this point, I'm in start up mode, aka Tushie in Chair, Hands Typing.

    Jeez, is that a haiku coming on? Ugh.

    Today I have done about an hour so far. I'm getting better at looking at things in bits and pieces, while keeping the whole in mind but not getting overwhelmed by it. Sometimes I can even ignore the bits and pieces and simply write without looking back (which is where I need to be for the present and nearest future).


  10. #485
    James D Macdonald

    Re: The Heartache and the thousand natural shocks

    Shall we mention bad contracts?

    I think we shall.

    Bad contracts aren't limited to the sleazy side of the street; you can find bad contracts and bad contract clauses right in the penthouse suites of publishing.

    Two of the clauses most strewn with landmines are the option clause and the indemnity clause, but don't think because I've not mentioned them that other clauses, or even entire contracts, aren't writer-unfriendly.

    Here's where having a canny agent is worth your while. I recall one place that sent out a standard contract to everyone -- with all the really horrid clauses on the last page. Savvy agents (and savvy writers) knew to just throw alway the last page and sign the next-to-last page. Newbies would find themselves ... in less happy circumstances.

    Beware: The lawyer you pick out of your phonebook to look over a contract, unless he specializes in publishing, doesn't have a clue where the landmines are.

    Nor will I attempt to list them here. Too many varients. Just because I don't mention something doesn't mean it isn't out there.

    Shall we mention publishers who pay on acceptance, publishers who pay on publication, and publishers who pay on threat of lawsuit? (If you hang out in the bar with other writers, they'll tell you. They might not put it in writing -- sleazy publishers can be vindictive.)

    Yeah, and slow payment? Advances are often divided into three parts: One on signing, one on acceptance, and one on publication. (Varients abound.)

    That "on signing" payment can stretch out, so you may find that you can write a novel faster than a publisher can write a check, with the other payments ... sometime.

    Here's a word of advice. Never start writing a book that you've sold on proposal until after you've signed the contract, and never turn in the manuscript until after the on-signing payment clears.

    More later, perhaps on cheerier things.

  11. #486
    James D Macdonald

    Back to Writing

    Self knowledge, anyone?

    Writing is a great way to get to know yourself. You've written something. You've come to The End.


    Now, it's time to Read What You Wrote, not what you think you wrote.

    Here's something for y'all to read while I think about what direction to go with this.

    <a href="" target="_new"></a>

  12. #487

    Re: Back to Writing

    Thank you for a superior cite, James. Q

  13. #488
    James D Macdonald

    On Slush

    When someone says something better than I can, I'm not shy about pointing others to those places.


    You want to know about slush?

    <a href=" 99787039" target="_new">Scrivener's Error</a>

    <a href="" target="_new">Making Light</a>

    <a href="" target="_new">Confessions of a Slush Reader</a>

    <a href="" target="_new">Myrtle the Manuscript</a>

    Yeah, yeah, I know; I recommended Myrtle the Manuscript before, but that was a lot of posts ago and not everyone has been reading from day one.

  14. #489

    Re: On Slush

    James, did I ask you about Slick Tricks for Outlining?

  15. #490

    Re: On Slush

    just read the myrtle link. brought a tear to my eye.

  16. #491

    Re: On Slush

    It gave me hives.


  17. #492
    James D Macdonald

    Re: On Slush

    Yes, you did ask about Slick Tricks for Outlining.

    I'm trying to figure out if you mean an outline to write a book from, or an outline to send to a publisher.

    I'm also re-reading the earlier posts in this thread to see what I've already talked about, and what I promised to talk about later.

    I also have a whole 'nother tangent to go off on, about modelwork.

  18. #493

    Re: On Slush

    I'm trying to figure out if you mean an outline to write a book from, or an outline to send to a publisher.
    Actually, it was something you mentioned in an earlier post as a topic you planned to cover. At least, that's how I remember it.

    As you can see by my re-asking the question, I don't have a great memory.

  19. #494

    Re: On Slush (Jim)


    If I learned nothing else from the tale of poor Myrtle, it's that I should, from this point forward, open all my queries with the line, "You've probably read all the stories you ever want to about killer sows from outer space, but mine is a little different..."


  20. #495

    a few suggestions?

    I've really appreciated your comments, James. If you are thinking about other aspects to discuss please may I suggest a few? I'd love to 'hear' your comments on: sagging middles, mood and tone, more of your comments on dialogue, tying up loose ends in the 'big' novel without boring explanations and on minor characters.

  21. #496

    Re: a few suggestions?

    I also would like to hear more thoughts from you on dialogue. Specifically, what is your opinion of writing in accents? For example, should the Irish character say "Nae" or "Ye." Should the southern character say "Sugah" and so on? Sometimes I find it distracting or interrupting to the flow of dialogue. But should we ignore the fact that this character is speaking with a different accent? Thoughts? Thanks!


  22. #497
    James D Macdonald

    Re: a few suggestions?

    Dialog, yes.

    Really quickly, my opinion on accents -- dialect, we call it -- is that less is more.

    Once spelling out dialect was common and accepted. Take a look at Kipling's <a href=" target="_new">Captains Courageous</a> for example. That's also an example of how the use of dialect can fail. Kipling spoke with a strong British accent himself, and his dialect is based on his own pronunciations. If you happen to know what a Gloucester fisherman's speech sounds like you can derive Kipling's accent from his dialog. (If you try to read his dialog with an American accent, the result is totally weird.)

    Nowadays use of dialect has fallen out of favor. You can get by with using a light hand -- having one character say "Sugah," for example, would probably be okay -- but try to get the feel of a dialect with word-choice and sentence rhythm. People from various parts of the country use different words for the same things: frying pan, fry pan, griddle, spider; brook, creek, stream; paper bag, paper sack. A person from one part of the South might habitually say "ink pen" rather than "pen" to mean a writing implement, since to him "pen" and "pin" have the same sound.

    Here's where your reading of books being published today will pay off, and here's where having a group of beta readers who are brutally honest with their opinions is worth gold.

    As with the rest of commercial writing, the master question is: Does it work? You can get away with anything if it works. Who tells you if it works? Your readers. How do they tell you? With the sound of rapidly turning pages.

  23. #498

    Re: a few suggestions?

    Thanks, Jim. May I just add a countrapuntal side note that Salman Rushdie's works sound wonderful and more meaningful when read in Indian dialect?

  24. #499

    Many Thanx

    Let me start by thanking Mr. MacDonald for this great thread. It is wonderful that you are taking time to share this information with us all and I, for one, want to express my thanks.
    I have read the entire board, completed each exercise and read every article. Uncle Jim your insight to the nuts and bolts of writing and your knowledge of the business side of things has helped me understand the scope of the world of writing.
    I have found the genre and even the time frame that I wish to write about (Historical Thriller) and have spent the last year researching my era. I am just beginning to learn the craft of writing and plan to take many creative writing courses, as well as grammar workshops, both online and at the local colleges.
    I look forward to more postings from Uncle Jim as well as the lively replies and opinions of each and every person I have seen post to this thread.

  25. #500

    Re: Many Thanx

    we are all so unused to unqualified praise, Breeze, that it may take a while for most of us to respond! Jim is more used to it than most, but he takes his time.

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