Manuscript Problems

Signing a Publishing Contract

11 October 2014

What to Do Before Signing a Publishing Contract

Column by Brandon Tietz at LitReactor

Writing a novel is damn hard. Selling one to a publisher, in its own distinct way, is even more difficult because you’re essentially convincing a company to gamble on you and your work. This is part of the reason self-publishing is booming right now. Searching for a publisher is both a hassle and a blizzard of heartbreaking rejection, so when you actually do get an offer, it’s a huge moment. So euphoric that emotion can often blind the writer to those important details on what’s on the actual contract. It amazes me how many authors took their time working on their novels only to sign a contract after skimming it once. It’s not an iTunes update, guys…read the damn thing. Here are some key things you should know before signing on the dotted line.

Who Are These People?

I will go on record and say that I have scared away authors from a publisher I went through because it was a sub-par experience. They’re out of business now, if that tells you anything. What I’m saying though is that you should know the publisher before you sign any sort of contract that binds you to them. Now I don’t recommend asking authors whether they do or don’t like the publisher while you’re querying, but after you get the offer, feel free to reach out and get a feel for how they’re handling their business. Unhappy authors are usually a good indicator that you should tread lightly.



Don’t be blinded by your contract. Signing a bad one can be the thing that ends up screwing you over for the life of the novel. Do your research, ask questions, and for the love of God, don’t be afraid to ask for changes if you don’t like something. If three author copies sound low—ask for more. If you don’t want your book assigned to a certain designer—ask for an alternative. A contract is an agreement between two parties…not one party telling the other how it’s going to be.

Read the rest here.

From guest blogger Randall

Creating Characters and Grading Research Papers

11 October 2014


From Roger Colby at Writing is Hard Work

This week has been hectic.

The 11th grade research paper was due and I have been in the middle of grading them. Such is my life.
However, in the midst of this, I have been thinking about what makes excellent characterization as I construct my newest character driven novel series.

In Orson Scott Card’s book Character and Viewpoint, he states that when creating characters, writers must ask three questions: “Who?” “So What?” and “Huh?”

What Scott Card means by this is that we first must answer who the character is, why the reader should care about the character and then finally the writer must remove all doubt about whether or not the reader should follow this character throughout the writer’s narrative.


I put together a few tips of my own that will address Scott Card’s questions concerning crafting characters, and I hope they help you as well:

Real World Avatar –

I found a neat little feature on Scrivener used for character creation that allows me to insert a picture of my character in order to reference that particular character. This has allowed me to peruse Google images for an actor or actress or even concept art (for aliens) that would be a visual representation of the character I am creating. For my main character I envisioned Benedict Cumberbatch (if my book were a film) and so I inserted a picture of that actor on the character biography page. This helps me answer the “who” because my main character (if my book were a movie) would be played by Benedict as my first choice.

Curious Development –

The character must have something happen internally to them in the plot that drives us to follow them to the end of the novel. If we do not create these curious developments we will find our readers leaving half-way through the novel to find something else to do. This requires us to create some kind of secret about the character that is only hinted at throughout the core of the plot and then revealed later. This element needs to be a mind-blower, something that probably might be out of character for them, but not enough that it defies logic. Life itself is not logical at times, and if we can translate that to text, we’ve done our job as novelists.

Well, now that I’ve shot out these few tips for the week, it’s off to grading the rest of the research papers. I only have seven left.


Read the rest here.

From Guest Blogger Randall

On the Fence About Self-Publishing?

21 October 2013

Take the Plunge!

From J.W. Manus (who has more commonsense than everyone I know put together):

Being the boss is a lot of responsibility. That’s why you need confidence. I’ll let you in on self-publishing’s Big Secret.

If you screw up, you can do it over.

Mistakes in the text? Fix them and update your listings. The cover’s not working? Redo it and update your listings. Don’t like a distributor? Pull your books. Find a new and exciting distributor? Sign up and list your books.

How’s that for a confidence booster? Mistakes aren’t fatal or expensive.

Read the rest of this inspiring article here!

An extra post for today.  Could not resist.  Julia Barrett




A Book Is Never Really Done

17 October 2013

From The New America Foundation

When I started writing my first book in 2003, I’d been blogging for more than three years. I’d learned the value of a conversation with my readers. Most importantly, I’d absorbed the obvious truth that they knew more than I did. So, with the permission of my publisher, I posted chapter drafts of We the Media on my blog. The result was a variety of comments and suggestions, some small and some major, that in the end helped me produce a much better book.

That experiment was an early stab at bringing the Internet’s widely collaborative potential to a process that had always been collaborative in its own way: authors working with editors. The notion of adding the audience to the process was, and remains, deeply appealing.

Why so? It wasn’t only the fantastic prepublication feedback that appealed to me. It was also the potential for thinking about a book as something that might evolve.

* * *

The most famous Internet collaboration is the one almost everyone uses, at least as a reader: Wikipedia. Editing isn’t terribly difficult, though not nearly simple enough for true newbies. Even if it were, Wikipedia isn’t a book with an author’s voice—and isn’t meant to be. Yet it shows many of the ways forward, including the robust discussions in the background of the articles. Wikipedia articles are also living documents, changing and evolving over time. Could books be like that?

* * *

The book world has already gone through major shifts in recent years, even if the biggest traditional publishers have tried to hold back the tide. We’re still early in this transition, perhaps the third inning if it’s a baseball game. When books can truly become living documents, it won’t be game over—it never is—but we’ll be in a much more interesting, and valuable, publishing ecosystem.

See the rest here.


Sherlock to CSI: Mystery writers seek science accuracy

12 January 2013

From the BBC:

When Sherlock Holmes told Watson it was elementary, it really was – by modern sleuthing standards.

Today’s crime fiction and thriller writers, on the other hand, face a minefield of science and technology that is often essential to the plot – but hard to describe accurately.

Now, the Washington Academy of Sciences (WAS), established in 1898 by Alexander Graham Bell, has introduced a seal of approval for books with the scientific facts straight. Unlike most peer-review processes, this one is open to mystery writers.

. . . .

WAS President Jim Cole says many people encounter science through fiction and TV shows such as CSI, which can give the impression that technology can solve any crime.

“Science as it’s generally perceived by the public is not necessarily correct science,” he says.

“With self-publishing on the internet, I think this is going to be a huge issue in the future – about what’s real and what’s not real.”

Most successful authors realise the importance of thorough research. They also write about what they know – or quickly make contact with people who can offer expertise.

“I worry constantly about getting it wrong,” says New York Times bestselling author John Gilstrap.

. . . .

Scientists often disagree over real science. What happens when they cannot agree about the science and technology they read in fiction?

Ms Kay of WAS says the academy has been asked to approve a memoir by a well-known and highly respected neuroscientist.

“He practically invented neuroscience,” she says. “We’re not quite sure what to do about this, because if a reviewer comes back and says that on page 356 there’s a mistake in the science, and he says no there isn’t… what do we do?”

Four seals of approval have been conferred since the the group began offering the award in June. A fifth manuscript is currently under review.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Do Indie Authors Need An Editor?

1 July 2012

From Indie Author News, an interview with editor Natascha Jaffa:

Alan Kealey (Indie Author News): Please, tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Natascha Jaffa (SPJ Editing): I’m Natascha Jaffa. I’m convinced my mom named me after the Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle, but decided to confuse people by putting a “c” in there. I’m originally from Vegas, wound up in Utah, got married in the process (hence the Jaffa portion of my name), and came back down to bake to death in Sin City. For some reason I’ve always excelled in English Literature in school and knew by the time I was 21 I wanted to write.
Easier said than done as I’m sure most of you know. I queried my first novel the second I finished writing the first draft and actually couldn’t believe agents rejected me. How dare they! But I kept going.
Five years later, I’m now published under the pen name Nichole Severn (because I run my own freelance editing business under my real name) and just shifted into writing thrillers. You know, because they’re awesome.
I read non-stop, I run non-stop (training for Ragnar) and would probably be rich if I could just stop eating chocolate.

Can you tell us a little about the experience at SPJ Editing?
I started SPJ Editing because I wanted to teach writers the things I wished I’d known when I first started writing.
My main goal is to make my client happy. They are, in essence, letting go of it and trusting me make their work shine. I do that by teaching through showing (not only telling them to change something, but the reason behind the suggestion) and offering the best support I can.
Because I only accept submissions one at a time, I supply my clients with weekly updates to keep them in the loop and make sure they know they are my first and only priority.

“The best writing is rewriting.” (Stephen King)

How important is it to have a book edited? Can the author not do this by him/herself?
My favorite editing quote is, “The best writing is rewriting.” by Stephen King. As I mentioned above, I was shocked to learn agents didn’t want my first book (by the way, it will never see the light of day) and through that experience I learned writers are blind to their own work.
I’m an editor and I can’t even edit my own work! So I make other people do it for me.”

Read the rest here:  Indie Author News

—  Julia Barrett

The Book Arts Program.

28 June 2012

University of Maine, Machias.  The Book Arts Program.

Read more here: University of Maine at Machias.

Julia Barrett

Are You Wasting Your Time Trying to Get Published?

22 August 2011

E-media and writing professor and Writer’s Digest contributing editor Jane Friedman blogs some excerpts from a Writer’s Digest article:

Don’t you wish someone could tell you if you’re wasting your time trying to be a writer? Or if you’re at all close to getting traditionally published—assuming that’s your goal?

. . . .

The 2 things I find MOST relevant to your publication path

1. How much time you’ve put into writing. Have you put in enough time to get good at it?

2. How much time you’ve spent reading quality, published work. This helps you learn how to write better AND understand where you might be on the spectrum of quality.

When is it time to change course?

1. Honestly assess whether your work is commercially viable. Not all work is.

2. Are readers responding to something you didn’t expect? I see this happen all the time: A writer is working on a manuscript that no one seems interested in, but has fabulous success on some side project.

3. Are you getting bitter? If you find yourself demonizing people in the publishing industry, taking rejections very personally, feeling as if you’re owed something, and/or complaining whenever you get together with other writers, it’s time to find the refresh button.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Tough Love: Things No One Is Brave Enough to Tell Self-Published Authors

18 May 2011

M.J. Rose, author of eleven novels and two nonfiction books on marketing and one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers has some tough love for indie authors.

Passive Guy knows some of M.J.’s thoughts will raise hackles all over IndieWorld, but he (semi-frequently) thinks it’s a good idea not to live in an echo chamber and listen to people with whom he may disagree in part.

In the spirit of comity, good vibes and world peace, PG will put Mr. Snarky in a box and allow Ms. Rose to speak without interruption.

(All you Hackles! At Ease! Take a Xanax break or a bunch of deep breaths. Not that many! Breath into the bag. And spit out that extra Xanax right now!)


A writer who writes all the time might still be a romantic ideal but it’s not a practical reality. No writer can entirely devote him or herself to the muse. Not one who is traditionally published. And not one going the self-publishing route.

So how much work are you are you going to have to do?

If you have an agent and a publishing house you won’t have to make all the decisions or do all the work yourself. You’ll have partners along the way — from editors to publicists. They will do the lion’s share of the work and pay the lion’s share of the bills. Yes, you might want to — even need to add to some of those efforts — adding more marketing or more PR — but much of the work of publishing will be done for you.

When you self-publish, you are on your own.

. . . .

If Lee Child, Sara Gruen, Laura Lippman and Jennifer Weiner all get edited, can self-published authors afford not to do the same thing?

Yes, an editor costs money. And yes, an editor might require you to do more rewrites. Yes, you might be tired of writing the book and not even want to work on it anymore.

But if your goal is to sell books, get readers, and build word of mouth — you absolutely need professional help.

It’s like cooking. Just because you can scramble eggs doesn’t mean you can make a soufflé. 99.9% of all books can be improved by a good editor (and we’re not talking about your sister or your great Aunt Mary, unless they are editors by trade).

Link to the rest at HuffPost Books

The 4 Most Common Mistakes Fiction Editors See

6 February 2011
Comments Off


1. Unfocused structure

This is the biggest reason manuscripts get rejected. You’re telling a wonderful, powerful, gripping, complex story… but you’re the only person who actually knows that. Everyone else sees a long, rambling, uneven tale of various events happening to various characters. Why? What makes these things happen? And, most important to your reader, why are you telling us this?

Every novel needs a focus. What’s your point? What is it that you want the reader to know? That focus is your Climax, the one part your story simply could not do without. “I died of romanticism.” “I almost got et by a whale.” “I pretty nearly wrecked my life being a selfish grinch.”

At the same time, every novel needs a really good reason for the reader to care. That’s your Hook. The reader may have picked your book up for its snazzy cover, but you desperately need them not to put it down.

And every novel needs a series of intriguing, hair-raising, addictive events carrying the reader from the Hook to the Climax. You could just tell us the Climax. “The butler did it.” But long fiction is all about the wonderful, rollicking adventure building upon why that matters.

The hardest thing for aspiring writers to believe is that all this is holographic: what’s essential for the novel is also essential for the chapter, episode, even scene. Every single one of them needs a Climax, Hook, and some type of events leading from one to the other.

Read that again. Every single one.

Link to WordPlay

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