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Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

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James D. Macdonald

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So there I was, reading the Writer Beware blog, when I read this:

April 29 was apparently Say Nice Things About Michele Glance Rooney Day, because encomiums are offered by yet another lone-post blog. No book sale this time, but Super Writer is happy to describe how she (or he) Was Motivated By Michele Glance Rooney. "I had the good fortune of seeing Michele Glance Rooney speak at a writer's convention, and I feel newly determined and dedicated to finishing my book project...I am half-way through chapter 8 and I've figured out how the hero is finally going to excape [sic] from the wrath of Mr. Bunstable." (No, no, not Mr. Bunstable! Please...I'll do anything...AIEEEEEE!)

And I was instantly inspired.

Bunstable. Willard Bunstable. The name alone was enough to bring a strong man to his knees. Now Edwin sat in his rented room -- rented by the week, semi-furnished -- and awaited the coming of Willard Bunstable.

A footstep on the stair. A floorboard creaked in the hall. A knock sounded on the cracked door. Edwin opened it timorously. The words came out in a rush:

"Mr. Bunstable! I have it. I mean I'll have it. Thursday. All of the money. I swear!"

Then he noticed that the person standing in the door wasn't wearing a greasy yellow-plaid suit. Wasn't wearing a sneer. Wasn't, in fact, a man. It was flame-haired Jasmine, the smiling minx from the corner donut shop.

"Bunstable problems?" she asked. "Lots of folks have them 'round here. How'd you like to get out of his debt ... permanently?"

For the first time in a month hope suffused Edwin's features. He waved his hand in a gesture of welcome, sweeping her into the room. She walked to the sofa by the window and sat, crossing her legs high up, and leaned back. Edwin shut the door and turned to face her.

"You mean it? Permanently?"

She nodded her head in assent. "Depends on how bad you want it."

"Anything!"

"We'll see." Her smile turned predatory. "We'll see...."

She opened her handbag and pulled out a Colt .45 automatic. She laid the pistol on the couch beside her.

"You aren't asking me to kill Bunstable, are you?"

"No. Nothing that easy." She stared into Edwin's eyes. "But Bunstable will be out of your life. Forever."​

My friends, inspiration is all around us. And you don't even have to hear a scam agent speak at a writers' conference to get it.

Crap? Of course it is! It's first draft. But it's over a page in manuscript format, which means I'm well on the way to a nice, satisfying 6,000 word (24 pages in manuscript format) short story.

Race ya to the end!
 
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James D. Macdonald

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Ported from Another Thread:

Should I register my novel's copyright before sending it out to an agent?

Short answer: No.

Longer answer: The book probably won't sell anyway, so that's $45 you'll never see again.

Even longer answer: Copyright exists automatically from the moment the work is first fixed in tangible form. The records you make in the course of doing your everyday business, your printouts, your rough drafts, provide more than adequate proof of your original composition.

Longer answer still: Publishers routinely copyright works in their authors' names. Breaking that routine slows them down and costs them. When a new book comes out with a copyright date that's some years earlier (and face it, if you sold your work tomorrow it probably wouldn't hit the shelves for a couple of years) readers in bookstores looking at that date would figure that the book was old, or a reprint. Many would put it back in search of something new.

Go ahead, copyright your book if you have money to burn and can't get to sleep otherwise, but understand that you're wasting your time and money. There is no market for pirated slush. None at all.

Among agents there are two basic kinds: Honest and dishonest. Honest agents aren't going to pirate your work because they don't just want this book, they want your next, and your next, and your next.... Someone who can write a publishable manuscript is rare enough that they aren't going to throw him or her away for a one-shot advantage, and if a book is successful the odds that you wouldn't learn of it approach zero.

A dishonest agent isn't going to pirate the book either, because they couldn't sell a book, even a publishable one, if you held a gun to their head. How are they going to sell a pirated work? Their source of income lies in the fees they collect from writers. Plus, again, if the book has any kind of success, you're certain to find out, and their cheese will be in the slicer for sure then.

An honest publisher isn't going to buy a pirated manuscript because, not only they are honest, but they're going to want to work with the writer to improve the work. No one but the original author could possibly do that.

A dishonest publisher isn't going to "buy" a pirated work because their business depends on the author himself buying multiple copies of his own book to peddle at flea markets. Who's going to have so much ego invested in a manuscript they stole to pay thousands of dollars to pretend to be its author and go from bookstore to bookstore begging the managers to carry a copy?
and

I don't know why you feel you have to say that. I'm not sure what your publishing success is, but the fact that I'm not sure what it is may in fact say something about it. Be that as it may, I don't know if my book will sell. What I do know, is that you certainly don't know whether or not my book will sell. Even if it never sells, you only guessed lucky, 50/50, not because you are aware of my potential in some greater measure than I am.

If one hundred people that I never saw before in my life leapt to their feet in front of me, each one waving a manuscript and saying, "It's my first novel! Will it sell?" I would say to each, "Probably not," without reading a word because for ninety-nine out of those hundred it's true: The book won't sell.

Yes, you have to write the book the best you can.

Yes, you have to polish it until it shines.

Yes, you have to send it out 'til Hell won't have it.

But yes, you have to start writing your next novel (and not a sequel to this one!) the next day, because this one probably won't sell.

Simplifying and moving over out of novels for a minute for the sake of example:

Let's say that you're a short-story writer. Let's say that you write ten stories, and copyright them all. Let's say that one of them sells for $450 (and both of those numbers are completely believable for professional-level short story writers -- selling one out of ten is typical, and $450 for a 9,000 word story is reasonable). At that point, had you copyrighted every one of them your profit would be zero.

Why would you bet $45 on very long odds that have no payoff at all even if you win?
 

SecretScribe

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Dear James

I understand all the copyright issues raised above, but what about story ideas. Forinstance - let's say you have a really fab plot twist in a mystery novel, you send out lots of queries and synopses all over the place and next thing you know there is a book (not your book) written by someone else, containing this very clever plot twist. You can't exactly use it anymore, so your manuscript would basically be even less likely to be published than it was to begin with.

My understanding is that you can't copyright ideas, on the actual writing. But even then, can you actually claim copyright for the idea/plot twist?:Shrug:
 

James D. Macdonald

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No, you can't copyright plot twists either. Just the actual words on actual paper.

There was one fellow who tried patenting a plot, I think, but I don't know if that was ever challenged in court, and I think it's more a symptom of how the patent system is broken than a real solution to a real problem.

Any plot twist has probably been done before, hundreds or thousands of times, all the way back to Gilgamesh. Plot is only one element of your novel in any case. And ideas -- everyone has ideas. That's why "I have a great idea for a book! You write it and we'll split the money!" is so funny.

By the time you have a unique enough description of your plot twist to copyright it -- you have your novel.
 

Sailor Kenshin

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No, you can't copyright plot twists either. Just the actual words on actual paper.

There was one fellow who tried patenting a plot, I think, but I don't know if that was ever challenged in court, and I think it's more a symptom of how the patent system is broken than a real solution to a real problem.

Any plot twist has probably been done before, hundreds or thousands of times, all the way back to Gilgamesh. Plot is only one element of your novel in any case. And ideas -- everyone has ideas. That's why "I have a great idea for a book! You write it and we'll split the money!" is so funny.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, you could write it and I'd split the money with you. ;)
 

allenparker

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Idea Partner

My mother recently embarked on a partnership. The agreement was for her friend to supply good solid stories written in long hand and ready for a writer to complete. My mother would, of course fill in the "details" and make the story into a novel.

I stood by, small voice recorder in one hand and pop corn in the other.

The first storyline was fabulous! Ever read Gone With the Wind? Not simply close, but identical.

Second story equally good, or at least as good as a man against whale story could be....

Ahab, the Arab whaler was a colorful character, to be sure, but hardly believable.

Mom wanted to end this after two ideas, but I begged her to continue. I need at least four to complete my short story :)
 

Spiny Norman

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If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, you could write it and I'd split the money with you. ;)

I never tell anyone I write because then everyone would want me to write their stuff.

I always say, "That's a great idea! How far along are you with it?" And then they say, "Not far at all, do you want to help?"

Now I just don't say a thing. I have enough ideas and ambition to drive myself plenty nuts. Madness and obsession are two things I don't need a helping hand with.
 

jules

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No, you can't copyright plot twists either. Just the actual words on actual paper.

There was one fellow who tried patenting a plot, I think, but I don't know if that was ever challenged in court, and I think it's more a symptom of how the patent system is broken than a real solution to a real problem.

I actually went and looked him up a few weeks ago, wondering how it had come out. His patent still hasn't been granted (although it hasn't been rejected either).
 

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TV/Radio/Newspaper ads, book signings, book tours ... they're a waste of time and money for a first novel.

I never quite grasped the whole booksigning issue myself. I only saw one book-signing in my life, and it was a disaster. Actually, it was a romance writer, who actually was somewhat famous (though not to me), and I thought it was rather embarrassing.

The poor woman was standing with a huge pile of her books on display at the hallway just outside the Cole's bookstore in the shopping mall. Not one person even gave her a glance as they walked by. I even observed her randomly approaching people as they strolled by... their response? They were brushing her off as though she was some telemarketing pest.

I later recognized her picture on one of her books, on a stand somewhere else. I can't remember if it was a Best Seller list, or not, but that brings up another issue I'm getting to...

I have been told that all new writers are EXPECTED to do booksignings these days. The publishers expect it and if you aren't willing, they wont even want to look at your manuscript. Or so I have been told.

It seems rather silly to me, since if even popular people can have disaster booksignings, how on earth is a pure nobody supposed to make these things work? Though I have to admit, it's the author wasting his/her time running around the countryside doing these booksignings, NOT the publisher, so I guess you can't blame them for forcing this on their writers?
 

Lilybiz

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I never quite grasped the whole booksigning issue myself. I only saw one book-signing in my life, and it was a disaster. Actually, it was a romance writer, who actually was somewhat famous (though not to me), and I thought it was rather embarrassing.

The poor woman was standing with a huge pile of her books on display at the hallway just outside the Cole's bookstore in the shopping mall. Not one person even gave her a glance as they walked by. I even observed her randomly approaching people as they strolled by... their response? They were brushing her off as though she was some telemarketing pest.

I later recognized her picture on one of her books, on a stand somewhere else. I can't remember if it was a Best Seller list, or not, but that brings up another issue I'm getting to...

I have been told that all new writers are EXPECTED to do booksignings these days. The publishers expect it and if you aren't willing, they wont even want to look at your manuscript. Or so I have been told.

It seems rather silly to me, since if even popular people can have disaster booksignings, how on earth is a pure nobody supposed to make these things work? Though I have to admit, it's the author wasting his/her time running around the countryside doing these booksignings, NOT the publisher, so I guess you can't blame them for forcing this on their writers?

J.A. Konrath has an informative article in the June, 2007 "Writer's Digest" (yes, UJ, I still read it), called "Book-Signing Success." In it he gives many pointers on making these things work. I think Konrath is notoriously outgoing, one of those "popular people." It sounds like a lot of work, but we're used to work, aren't we?

I've attended one book signing, that of our own Maestrowork, at a large Borders in southern California. He recruited family members and friends and we sat around a table, asked questions and listened to him read. This attracted attention, as the Borders folks had given Maestro a table right by the front door. Strangers came to the table, Maestro signed and sold books, and it was a success.

If I ever do a tour, I will have to go to towns where I know people who will come and sit at my table. Either that or just bring an entourage.
 

aadams73

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I have been told that all new writers are EXPECTED to do booksignings these days. The publishers expect it and if you aren't willing, they wont even want to look at your manuscript. Or so I have been told.

Somebody has been lying to you. In fact Therese Fowler's publisher was recently quite relieved when they realized she didn't expect to go on a book signing tour. And this is a lady who got a sizable advance and will have quite a few advertising $$ behind her.
 

JoniBGoode

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Where Do I Sign Up for the Book?

There's the Uncle Jim Undiluted thread, but more than that, there's a book that's in progress based on this thread. My beloved wife and co-author is whipping this raw material into shape. We'll see what comes of that.

Is it too early to place advance orders?? I would love, love, love to have a copy of an Uncle Jim book on writing.
 
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James D. Macdonald

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I have been told that all new writers are EXPECTED to do booksignings these days. The publishers expect it and if you aren't willing, they wont even want to look at your manuscript. Or so I have been told.

Information like that comes from the literary equivalent of learning about sex by hanging around on streetcorners talking with the other kids who have never done it either.

Say the first word that comes to mind when I say:

Reclusive.


"Author," right?

Authors are frequently solitary, introverted, and not terribly socially ept. The only reason to do a signing is if you think it's fun. Signings are so notoriously ill-attended that there are cartoons: An author sitting behind a table with a pile of his books. The bookstore manager and no one else is present. The manager is talking: "Since it's only the two of us could you read my manuscript?"

The stories about how all authors are expected to go on tours, and how only Beautiful People who will Look Good on Morning Talk Shows can get book deals are just that: stories. Forget them. Go write a good book, then write another.
 

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Might I humbly add that when I attended a Terry Brooks signing, there were, say, forty or so people. And that's Terry Fricking Brooks. I suspect first time novelists and the like would have attendance much, much worse.
 

JoNightshade

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I went to a Ray Bradbury book signing last year and there were so many people that the overflow crowd (IE those who didn't show up an hour early) went out onto the sidewalk and into the middle of a busy street. They never even got inside the building...

But of course he's a notable exception. :)

Actually it's relieving to know I won't have to do signings, cuz I know nobody would show up. :)
 

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Now, I think that if you really, really want to havea booksigning, then it's just like real estate: location, location, location.
In your own home town you could find a perfect place with a little research.
I live in Missouri, and I know that in Webster Groves, Webster University, there are perfect small venues for a local "celeb" signing. The neo-beatniks are always looking for a local project to peruse, and even promote. I don't think signings are my boat, but I would assume that in an area saturated with college kids (and you would want to make it a fairly large University, the community college kids are spending all their money on their educations, the poor saps, ha-ha *) you could achieve, if nothing else, getting the word of your book out.
When my PA (gag,coff,gag,coff) poetry book came out, I didn't do a signing, but alot of aquaintences who go to Webster, and St. Louis U did at least ask a lot of questions about my book, and they seemed truly interested.


*the bigger universities have more kids riding along on Daddy's wallet, so they are more likely to buy your book.
 

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Well, that is a relief then I won't have to worry about doing any dud book signings.. I admit I am not much a people-person, and wouldn't know how to handle a lot of people/fan problems. Too many to list, though one story that I remember goes something like this:

You are signing the books, you have a whole display of books. Fan comes up to you, and she's so excited and happy to meet you. She claims she is your #1 fan. She has been waiting for a while in line, but tells you that she is a little short on money. But since she is your #1 fan, she couldn't resist trying to get an autographed book anyway (she is dying for it).

Now, considering this is your, ahem, #1 fan... And it is obvious you have a whole ton of books next to you, many of which will have covers torn off and mailed back to the publisher do you...

#1 Tell her no, she must pay. And end up looking like an asshole. Losing your #1 fan, etc.

#2 Decide to give in and give her a free signed copy... Then have the others in line go.. 'No why does THAT asshole get a free copy and yet I have to pay?'
 

Stijn Hommes

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Well, that is a relief then I won't have to worry about doing any dud book signings.. I admit I am not much a people-person, and wouldn't know how to handle a lot of people/fan problems. Too many to list, though one story that I remember goes something like this:

You are signing the books, you have a whole display of books. Fan comes up to you, and she's so excited and happy to meet you. She claims she is your #1 fan. She has been waiting for a while in line, but tells you that she is a little short on money. But since she is your #1 fan, she couldn't resist trying to get an autographed book anyway (she is dying for it).

Now, considering this is your, ahem, #1 fan... And it is obvious you have a whole ton of books next to you, many of which will have covers torn off and mailed back to the publisher do you...

#1 Tell her no, she must pay. And end up looking like an asshole. Losing your #1 fan, etc.

#2 Decide to give in and give her a free signed copy... Then have the others in line go.. 'No why does THAT asshole get a free copy and yet I have to pay?'
First I'd have them prove they're my number 1 fan. There are a lot of people just out for freebies. You could also simply ask them that if they're such a big fan, then they surely want you to make money on the book, right?
 

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Wouldn't they have the book already if they were your number one fan?
 

JA Konrath

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Should you tour? I can't answer that question for you.

Will you sell more books if you tour? Yes.

The mega book tour, complete with standing-room-only fans and frequent TV appearances, only happens with huge bestsellers. It costs a lot of money (airfare, hotel, escorts, food, bookstore co-op) and it's impossible to recoop those costs. It's also exhausting.

A cheaper, but equally exhausting, alternative is drive-by signings, where you pop into the store, introduce yourself to interested staff members, and autograph stock.

Signed books have a better sell-through than unsigned books. They also get placed in prime locations that the publisher would otherwise have to pay for (end caps, face out, near the register, etc.)

Meeting booksellers is a wise idea--they can sell your books long after you've gone, often for years.

If your publisher is a good one, keeping them up to date with your touring efforts will likely impress them, which will lead to more marketing dollars next book.

I don't recommend being a reclusive author. Sure, some folks are successful without doing any kind of self-promotion. But the fact remains that the best salesperson for a book is the author.

Being able to speak in public will help your career. If you're afraid to do so, consider yourself lucky; overcoming a personal fear is one of life's greatest joys. Take a speech class, join Toastmasters, practice in front of a mirror.

Consider this: friends and family will automatically buy your book, and tell others about it. Every person you meet has the potential to become a friend and do the same thing. The more booksellers, librarians, reviewers, fans, and media folks that you meet, the better off you'll be. And when there are 40,000 new novels released each year, and only 1 out of 5 makes a profit (and even less remain in print,) it's in your best interest to self-promote.

But no one is forcing you to. No one is forcing you to be a writer, either.

Are there successful authors who don't do any sort of promotion? Sure there are.

You can also shoot yourself in the head and survive. That doesn't mean it was a good idea, just because you lived.
 

James D. Macdonald

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Spammer.

Stupid fool thought it would be a good idea to spam one of the threads one of the mods takes a personal interest in?

Bad idea.

(I edited your post to remove the links he was touting.)
 
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