Alone/Not Alone

Don’t automatically rely on family and friends to support your writing endeavours. They may be wildly interested and want to read everything you produce, but equally writers face indifference to outright ridicule. Bad enough writers must tolerate this type of apathy or attack from strangers (I’m not referring to your average reviewers), but when it comes from people we know, it’s personal and painful.

In my case, many of my family and friends don’t read. Many restrict their daily reading material to newspapers, a few to newspapers and magazines, and fewer to their choice of summer beach reading material, meaning they may read 2-4 books a year. For these and others, I don’t always write in their preferred genre. Them not reading my books isn’t personal. While one might think some would or even should at least give a book written by a friend a try, it’s still an unprejudiced decision on their part if they choose not to. Their preference has no bearing on my writing, or my wish to be a published author. I may sometimes feel disappointment, but it’s a bearable regret.

I’m happy to say I have four people related to me by kinship or friendship who want my work. My husband, my sister-in-law, and two friends. Out of these, one cannot afford my work so I provide it for her. Two only read print, so ebooks present a problem. One buys everything I produce, and my husband gets to read for free because… well, why shouldn’t he? He supports me most of all and reads anything and everything I write and is happy to do so. In that I consider myself lucky because there are many writers whose spouses resent their writing even when they reach publication, showing annoyance, irritation and jealousy because they don’t wish to share your time with something you love as much as you do them. And there are other reasons those closest to you don’t like writers’ writing. There are people who remain shocked to hear I’m still writing, as though it’s a phase I should have long grown out of. Some even treat it as crass a pastime as picking one’s nose. “I suppose you’re still doing that writing thing,” is one thing I’ve heard often.

Of course, most writers don’t earn a lot and still need at least a part-time if not full-time job, though that’s something I’d like to address separately. One can understand some basis for resentment if a loved one is neglecting all those around them, leaving jobs not done, and bills unpaid, but this is rarely the case. Usually resentments stem from a lack of shared interest, and the type of high expectations amateur writers often share when they first approach the writing market — that of success equaling substantial payment, media interest, and red carpet premieres.

But whereas writers love their craft and soon learn they need patience and perseverance ever to have a chance of making the hoped-for success of a best-selling author, while realising and accepting it may never happen and that success in writing comes in many forms and levels, those around seem far less able to cope with this reality. I’ve heard of writers’ families who have only come around once their writing spouses, daughters or sons, manage a major writing deal. Even then, success does not mean they’ll want to read your work. If family and friends are as excited about your book release as you are, congratulations, but don’t expect it. This can come as a tremendous shock to some new authors.

In short, to be a writer there are many reasons the craft can be a solitary pursuit, but if one of this is a lack of interest from those you love, and worse, ridicule, then although you’ll feel profoundly alone, I’m saying many writers suffer the same and in that you’re far from on your own.

So, We’re All in it for the Money?

Note: the figures I’m going to run through here aren’t ‘accurate’. They are an approximation to present an example only.

At most, an e-book probably sells in the current (romance) market for approximately $8 or less. The longer the work, the higher the price, naturally.

35% royalties from an $8 provides $2.80. Note: this is on an $8 book. Some books sell for less.

If the UK author doesn’t currently have an ITIN (US tax code) then the publisher will take a 30% tax (withholding) from that $2.80. That leaves $1.96.

The exchange rate means the UK writer loses approximately half, so $2 becomes £1. If you’ve sorted out your US tax code, then you may get £1.40 but oh… you might get paid by US cheque… Excuse me, ‘check’. That will mean bank charges may sometimes be larger than the cheque is worth and, therefore, not worth cashing. If you’re lucky, the publisher may be good enough to pay you quarterly to help with this, as bank charges are usually ‘per cheque’.

So you sell 1000 books. A 1000 books would be ‘fantastic’. The chances are the writer will sell far less per title. Many print books never sell 500 copies. 200-500 for an e-book is not unrealistic. I’ve known writers who have sold lower than 200 copies with a single title. I have had a couple of titles which did poorly — if no one buys them, no one buys them regardless of whether they are any good, and sometimes the why is impossible to predict. Could be the cover. Might be the title. Perhaps the blurb’s not enticing. Maybe the reader never spots the book because of poor placement.

But let’s return to numbers and run with that nicely rounded and mythical figure of 1000 books. That equates to £1000, maybe £1,400, but it’s taken a year, maybe eighteen months, even longer — perhaps three, four or five years — to sell those 1000 copies and that’s if the writer is with a large publisher and is selling well. If it’s a smaller publisher and a title where you may only sell 200 copies, then a book that took you six months to write, three months to edit, hours to promote, may make the author £200 or £250. And oh, wait. Is the author a UK taxpayer? If the writer earns more from writing or from their day job than their personal tax-free allowance, they must declare all additional income and you’ll lose just over a quarter on what’s left in UK tax. Though note, the UK/US has a tax agreement, so you only need to pay tax in one country.

Now, if you’re a UK writer writing for a UK publisher (or a US one writing in the US), and you earn these figures, hooray, because you won’t lose out on the exchange rate and can skip that part of the loss, but for UK writers, the US is a market to consider because they have a greater population, meaning greater number of readers. And even equating that possible £1000 earned to £2000, it’s still not a fantastic hourly rate compared to working in an office, and sometimes publishing comes with that ‘office’ feeling — there’s associated paperwork and people in charge of your work you need to negotiate with. Which isn’t me voting for office work over a writing life. If you’re a real writer, it’s compulsive. A part of your life you simply cannot pass up.

To rephrase, most writers also work part time if not full time, or cannot work because of other reasons. Someone once remarked to me they assumed writers sometimes chose certain genres for the money, but when one weighs up commitment vs the hourly rate as it works out, trust me, there’s a reason it’s often said that writers write for love over money.

Try TO get it right

There is no such phrase as ‘try and’. No one tries and to do something. It’s try to. Try and is grammatically incorrect.

In a sentence the main verb is Try, but another verb comes after the And, so you have two actions. You’re trying AND doing something else. When you’re trying to do something, you’re not doing it, so you have two parts of a sentence, one of which isn’t complete. A person can’t try AND do a thing at the same time. You can try to (make the attempt), or you can do (in which case the thing is being done). You cannot be trying and doing simultaneously.

To help, break such a sentence down.

I’m going to try and get my aunt to take me with her on holiday.

I’m going to try and run a marathon.

Try and get me some vegetables while you’re down at the shop.

I’m going to try is a statement of itself. To grammarians, it reads as though part of the sentence is missing.

I’m going to try (to), and get my aunt to take me with her on holiday.

I’m going to try (to), and run a marathon.

Try (to), and get me some vegetables while you’re down at the shop.

None of these make sense, so something is missing. The and is a cursor to another action. You’re going to try to (what?), AND you’re doing something.

I’m going to try to (save for a break), and get my aunt to take me with her on holiday.

I’m going to try to (take up exercise), and run a marathon.

Try to (remember your chores) and get me some vegetables while you’re down at the shop.

Some people will argue that try and is simply informal speech, and therefore acceptable sometimes. To a point I agree, but not because of the reasons many of those sites specify.

If seen in a book (I feel) it would be just about okay in dialogue or if a book is written in close first person point of view, where we’re hearing a more casual rhythm of someone’s natural speech in the narrative; however, when you listen to people saying this, a good portion of those (I argue) aren’t even saying try and. It’s more abbreviated even than that. It’s try ’n’.

Simply put, it takes more effort to say try to, and over time and (I’m sure) owing to dialects been shortened to more of a sound than anything else. The ‘to’ is shortened the way people say gonna, instead of going to.

I’m going to try’n go out. I’m going to try’n buy that jacket. These are simply lazy ways of saying try to.

When I see try and in narrative I’m with the grammarians who argue it’s wrong because it pulls me out of a story. But I might use it in dialogue because speech should sound natural. But editors will spot this, and many will correct the writer or at least question this. Worse case, they’ll feel the author cannot grasp the correct use of grammar.

Got or Gotten?

Editing requires compromise between editor and writer. Editing shouldn’t occur in one direction, but I’ll likely talk about that another time. The point is edits should be open for discussion, so it may be a surprise to hear me say there’s one word I’ve always insisted not appear in my work. That word is gotten.

In the USA and Canada, gotten is the past participle of got (some say it’s also the past participle of get, but it’s more complicated).

In the UK got is the past participle of get. UK dictionaries list gotten as North American and Archaic.

To put it another way and further explain, the past tense of get is got, but in British English, got is also the past participle. In American English, it depends on the situation. Though it’s a little hard for me to get my head around (seems unnecessarily convoluted), it depends on whether the circumstances are ‘static’ meaning possessing or needing, or ‘dynamic’ meaning acquiring or becoming.

So one might say, I got a new dog, but equally, I’ve gotten a new dog. In both cases, a Brit would simply use got.

Both versions are ancient, but the simple got has been the accepted use for so long in the UK most people don’t know gotten ever existed or even does. For a long time when younger if I came across gotten in a book, I assumed the writer was using slang, particularly when the word formed part of speech. To be fair, for someone who had never come across the word in an English lesson, and for which it sounded so jarring, it’s not an implausible assumption to make.

There are plenty of words which become part of the British language, and I don’t mean those we’ve imported from the United States, particularly by watching an influx of American television shows. Many words in many languages originate from other sources, and even form the basis of words we know today. Many of these enrich our vocabulary, but gotten has never worked for me. Neither does scarf (as in scarf down food — in the UK we would say to scoff down food).

So, why do I dislike gotten so much, especially as it’s one of those words creeping back into the English language? Language everywhere has always been pliable. New words form; equally words drop out of usage. Gotten ‘to my ear’ sounds lazy (and I stress only what I hear, not in criticism of its use elsewhere), because it sounds like slang. Simple as. Also, the UK use is far simpler. But more than that I’ve written mostly English characters based in the UK (or in space and yes, some fantasy settings), but for those contemporary works, I know most British characters wouldn’t use the word, so it makes no sense for it to appear in the narrative. I would argue the same in the scarf/scoff example. If I were writing an American character, I would equally insist on word appropriate language.

Update July 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Not a lot to report, unfortunately. I finished my initial acupuncture sessions, though it’s hard to tell how much they helped. I’ve seen some intermittent improvement and will probably have the odd ‘nudge’ as my acupuncturist put it to see if it makes a difference. At some point, if it doesn’t, I’ll stop, but at least I will have given it a fair go. Alas, at the moment, he’s had to stop for a short while for personal health reasons, but at least I got the initial 8 sessions in. The best thing was the side excursion to the sweetie shop on my way home.

FILM/TV:

Finished re-watching The Good Place for the second time, and oddly I’d forgotten how much a box of tissues is necessary for the finale episode.

We’ve moved on to re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, just reached the end of the first season. I remember the show got better after the first series, so it will be interesting to see if I feel the same way this time.

Watched the third season of The Rookie and though I mostly began watching because it stars Nathan Fillion, it quickly became enjoyable. That finished, we started Prodigal Son, primarily because it stars Michael Sheen, but the first episode was captivating. Hope the standard continues.

Worked through the Fear Street trilogy which has had mixed reviews, but really for the genre and style of film, we found them highly watchable with blunt but less gratuitous in your face violence than some non-horror movies. I’d like to try at least a few of the books. Of course, these are by R.L. Stine, most famous for the Goosebumps children’s books.

But what we’ve enjoyed the most are the Rurouni Kinshin films. Originally a manga series, the live-action movies certainly live up to the ‘action’. Blink and you’ll miss something. Staring Takeru Satoh in the role of Hitokiri Battosai (aka Himura Kenshin), the series contains five films: Origins (2012), Kyoto Inferno (2014), The Legend Ends (2014), The Final (2021) and The Beginning (2021). Kinshin, originally a kill-sword, fights with a reverse-blade sword, having vowed never to kill again. The actor does his own stunts.

READING:

The Last Guardian (a Jon Shannow novel), David Gemmell

At last in this book, the sometimes wandering feel of the first novel comes together into the story Gemmell wanted to tell, making more sense of the timeframe. I’d say it’s definitely necessary to read the first two books of the trilogy as a single book to understand the whole, and while there is a book three, these first two read almost like companion books, complete in themselves. I found the second volume easier to read than the first, perhaps because Shannow comes more into his own. He’s the perfect quasi-essential anti-hero because of his imperfections and culpable past.

Bloodstone (a Jon Shannow novel), David Gemmell

This last book in the trilogy clarifies the timeframe used in this trilogy and expands upon it. As I liked the second book more than the first, I liked the third book more than the second. The arcs of many beloved characters tug at the heartstrings in this one, and leave the reader with a sense of the complexities of Gemmell’s plot. Most importantly, Shannow is an unforgettable character.

The Corset, Laura Purcell

Written differently to Purcell’s first book (The Silent Companions) in first person so with a different ‘voice’, still, this drew me in immediately. How best to describe Purcell’s work? Victorian gothic thrillers with supernatural slants, perhaps. Some books only reveal how well the plot works at the conclusion, and this murder mystery connecting two women from opposite sides of society is one such novel. This tale didn’t disappoint and pulls at the heartstrings. Despite not wishing to take on new authors adding to my To Be Read Mountain, I’m sorely tempted to continue reading more work by this author.

Shadowfires, Dean Koontz

A re-read for me as part of a book clearance.

Perfectly plotted with an antagonist worthy of the Resident Evil franchise, the one flaw in this supernatural thriller of the kind Koontz is best known for is its length. I would call it well-written but also over-written. Although there’s nothing wrong with all the information, there’s too much of it. I can’t help feeling trimming a few passages of character background would make for faster pacing. It’s like Koontz including all the details an author needs to know but a reader doesn’t. This didn’t bother me too much as I’m used to reading epic fantasies, but I can imagine some readers finding it a bit of a slog. Plenty will love this, though, for it’s still a tense thriller with some wonderful characters.

The Elijah Tree, Cynthea Masson

There’s a poetic quality to this book that makes me want to love it, but I don’t. It’s too abstract, scenes flitting between the players in non-chronological order. The human stories at the depth of the book, the triangles within triangles of love and loss are as despairing as they are touching, yet the mystical beliefs of the various characters and which supposedly carry the plot didn’t gel for me. As much as I felt there’s something beautiful about the writing, the story is painfully abstract, so I found it a slog. I neither like it nor hate it.

Survivor Song, Paul Tremblay

If looking for your average apocalyptic disaster infection outbreak story, this isn’t it. Instead, I stumbled into what the first-rate stories of this genre do best — focus on the survivors, this being the tale of two women connected by the shakable bonds of genuine friendship. While I wouldn’t call this book scary, it’s more effecting than that, containing true horror of a possible reality, not your average fairy-tale monster, reflecting light on the madness of humanity and the horror we watch and read in the safety of our darkened living rooms versus true adversity. Well-paced with ingenious ‘breaks’ in the narrative (gaps on the pages) that work on the emotions. The story of ’Nats and Rams’ is unforgettable. Painfully, tearfully, sorrowful.

WRITING:

I returned the galley proof to Cosmic, and got the initial draft of something I’ll simply call ST for now ready to work on — I don’t reveal titles until books are contracted, and though I seldom change titles, with this one I have once already. I have edited Cosmic and added to it, especially to increase the emotional aspect, though the story remains essentially the same.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

The non-rule Rule

While I don’t intend to teach anyone a full course in grammar or punctuation, I sometimes come across a quirk or issue that bugs me. So, today let me run one by you. He said. Said she. The rule that isn’t a rule.

Said is a simple word to explain who is speaking. A few other uses for it exist, though it’s sometimes used unnecessarily. It’s most usually a dialogue tag. Sharon said, “Don’t overuse dialogue tags, but if you need one to clarify who is speaking, said is the most invisible word to choose.” This tells you, I am speaking to you. As for dialogue tags, maybe I’ll mention those in more detail another time. Here I want to address whether said should go before the name or after it.

Should one write, James said, or said James? Should that be Suzie says, or says Suzie? Neither is strictly wrong. It’s all opinion, so I’m not about to argue with anyone, but let me explain why I and many editors prefer the first.

It’s a simple matter of cause and effect. To explain it simply, a person speaks. You don’t speak a person. Until a character opens his or her mouth to speak, no one has spoken. Logically then, it’s much better to write: “The name should always go before the action,” Andy said, than to write: “Writers not getting this simple logic drives me crazy,” said Andy. I share ‘Andy’s’ opinion on this. Whenever I see the action before the name, it always pulls me out of the story.

But, as I’ve told you, it’s not a ‘rule’. The choice is yours. Simply keep in mind that not all readers and editors like the second option. Granted, most will set this annoyance aside if they enjoy your work enough, but why take the risk when some readers and editors dislike ‘said Sharon’? No one objects to ‘Sharon said’.

When Not to Sign

Most writers would like to be published. Even some of those who do not readily aspire to, and write mostly for amusement or self-gratification, would likely consider it should they have the opportunity. For writers who range from those who would like to be published or are desperate to see their name in print there are still times when it’s better to shake one’s head and walk away. After all, there are opportunities for self-publication these days and for some that option will be better than signing dubious contracts or supporting vanity press.

To clarify, vanity press is NOT self-publishing. A vanity press praises the writer, tells them their book will be a best seller and for X amount of money they can make that dream come true. These ‘services’ minimise their costs, often use Print on Demand technology (although bona fide markets use POD too), and then leave all the marketing to the author, whilst they take a percentage of the profits. True, many mainstream publishers also leave all or most of the marketing to the author these days (which is why many authors at least consider self-publishing), but vanity definitely will. Either they’ve already taken a fee and/or they simply sit back to rake in profits from the hard work put in by the author. What they count on is having many hopeful writers on board who will all have at least a few family members and friends who will want copies of the ‘published’ book. The author may sell only what they can flog to acquaintances, but if the vanity press has many people doing this those many small payments all add up to a large profit, while the writer may receive almost nothing and not even recoup costs. In short, they are crooks out to scam you. Please avoid.

Even if the writer can manage the marketing to become a success, then he or she would have done better to self-publish and keep a much larger percentage. There are self-publishing services that are not vanity, although they do charge, but they give a genuine service and distribution. They are not to be confused with vanity publishing although the difference can be difficult to spot. Go with a recognised firm and do your research. Currently, well-known companies are those like Amazon and Lulu to name two. Be aware that there will be much more work required in going it alone, although even those with a publishing house usually need to do a great deal of marketing. If the author will undertake this side of things completely alone, then they can become their own business.

Remember: Money always goes TO the author, not the other way around. The only time this isn’t the case is if one goes the self-publishing route and purchases publishing/distribution services.

Avoid anyone asking for lifetime rights/life of the copyright. There are exceptions and some have no problem with it, but for me to even consider this it would have to be a HUGE deal with a mainstream publisher. In the UK/US at present copyright lasts the life of the writer plus 70 years, during which profits from the writer’s work would go to any remaining family, charity, or whatever the author had stipulated in their will (such as with Peter Pan and Great Ormond Street). If no such stipulation exists for what happens at the end of copyright that work then becomes ‘public domain’. If an author signs ‘life of copyright’ over to a publisher, he or she is essentially giving the work away, and depending on the rest of the wording one might not get out of this even if the publisher folds or removes the work from the market. It’s what many refer to as a ‘rights grab’ and IMHO is criminal. I would never become involved with a publisher (exceptional circumstances are this can be a money-grab for ‘throwaway’ work) who put this in their contracts even if they claimed it was negotiable because I do not feel I should condone poor practices.

World rights may or may not be beneficial depending on the terms. The same goes for Foreign Rights. I would not sign a contract that allowed a publisher to seek publication for my works in foreign markets without my final refusal. I once came up against such an offer, but the contract would have given the publisher full leeway to negotiate the terms on my behalf with no final agreement from me, and I could not allow that. Ideally, that is something an agent should do for the writer, and even then the writer needs to maintain control.

First Refusal Clauses can be a pain but are standard—these usually list the right of ‘first refusal’ on works in a series, featuring same characters or worlds previously brought out by the publisher. Few publishers list the right of first refusal on ALL future works, and again, if they do, I recommend avoiding. If the writer no longer wished to work with a publisher, but had signed this condition, then he or she could not send ‘any’ work elsewhere, stuck signed into one publisher because of this clause.

There are likely many pitfalls, but I’ve listed only a few here as an example of what to look for and are best avoided. If in doubt, research, and do not sign until happy. Any publisher wanting the writer to sign without some ‘grace’ to read the contract and/or consult a legal source is questionable. That doesn’t mean you can think about it for months, but days or weeks is not unreasonable, particularly if the justification is one of seeking legal advice.

And, although I’ve never seen this, never sign a contract where the publisher states the terms may be updated. Future contracts for newer works may change but terms of existing contracts should not. Banks among other ‘services’ catch customers with this clause—it wouldn’t surprise me that someone in the publishing industry will have thought of this.

Also, be aware that many publishers will ask for all kinds of rights on a work including print, digital, audio, film, and merchandise. Things to consider are how successful the work may or may not be, and what terms of payment the publisher is offering on these other stipulations. Make sure there is at least a negotiated payment for all forms. Imagine what would have happened if J.K. had signed away the merchandising rights to a certain wizard and the fortune she would have lost. Although it’s unlikely, such successes happen and could be disastrous.

Another warning, although I’ve only come across one case of this: avoid publishers who insist they own all ‘edits’. A publisher contracts a work, assigns an editor, publishes said work for the agreed number of years, and when it comes out of contract, the story publishing ‘rights’ revert to the author (the author ALWAYS retains copyright). There should be no exception. For a publisher to state they own the edits is as good as saying the writer never owns the finished product. I don’t see how a publisher can justify this when the writer has as much input in the editing process as the editor and certainly should be the one adding any sentences or passages. The ownership of ‘edits’ means that the writer would own no changes to the story after it entered the editing process even if those suggestions came from the author. This is petty at best, possibly criminal. Do not sign.

For all new and even existing writers, please check what you are doing before subbing work or entering competitions. I again stress do NOT send your work to anyone requesting ALL RIGHTS or WORLD RIGHTS, and do not sign any contracts that include a non-specified time limit for the publisher to publish; without a timeframe, the publisher could hold onto the work and never publish. In all these cases, you are essentially handing away the rights to your work indefinitely.

Last, this post on the EREC blog is from 2011 but the advice remains good today, where they detailed a perfect example of a contest taking advantage of hopeful writers, and charged them a whopping amount for the privilege of relieving authors of the right to their work. Read HERE.

Always think before signing. Always be aware of what rights you are giving away. Sleep on the decision overnight. Seek advice where necessary; there are plenty of authors out there who will help if you’ve no other resource.