The proper use of italics


The proper use of italics can be a vexed question for writers, especially when they’re starting out. We’re all familiar with the usage for a word needing emphasis, e.g. “That film was awful.” But there are many other instances where italics are required. and some of them are rather sneaky. Below is a list of the ones that might catch you out:

Use italics for:

1. Names of ships, planes, trains, cars and other vehicles, but not the names of types of vehicles, e. g. Ford, Boeing

Examples in order of the items listed above:

HMAS Sydney. (Note the HMAS part is not italicised.) Enola Gay, The Ghan, Ford Fiesta

2. Botanical names and the scientific names of animals

Examples: Acacia podalyriifolia, Homo sapiens

3. Names of films, musicals, plays, ballets

Examples: Pretty Woman, South Pacific, Hamlet, Swan Lake. NB Names of songs are not italicised, but are placed in quotation marks, e.g. “Some Enchanted Evening” from South Pacific

4. Long poems, TV and radio programs (but not the name of a series within the program)

Examples: The Waste Land; Midsomer Murders, Episode2, Series 9: “Dead Letters”

5. In legal parlance

Examples: Fairfax v Commissioner of Taxation – 1965, Mabo v Queensland (No 2) – 1992

 6. Books, newspapers, periodicals

Great Expectations, The Sun-Herald (but the Byron Shire Echo), the American Chicken Sexers’ Journal. (I made that one up — sorry.)

7. Letters, words or phrases cited, e.g. Cat is spelt with a c not a k.

8. Classical music compositions

Example: The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky (But not Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Piano Concerto in C Minor)

8. Works of art

Examples: the Mona Lisa and Blue Poles

9. Foreign words/phrases not yet in common English useage, e.g. nom de guerre but not Ciao.

This last is tricky. Anyone in Australia or the UK wishing to appear on top of their game would do well to buy a copy of The Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors. (This is not a complete dictionary but one which contains the preferred spelling for vexed words, such as air-conditioning — should it be air conditioning, airconditioning or air-conditioning? The ODW&E also deals with many of foreign words and phrases)

10. Technical terms or terms being defined

Example: A tallis slope (sometimes spelt talus) is the angle of repose formed by fallen rock fragments at the base of cliffs, crags, etc. See photograph below, which I couldn’t resist including to lighten an otherwise dry post.

Flowers on a tallis slope.

Flowers on a tallis slope.

Posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, Australian manuscript appraisers, Danielle De Valera, editing, fiction editing, indie publishing, manuscript appraisers | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

The Thumbs Down Publishers List

Writer Beware

What indie writer trying to juggle the demands (and costs) of cover design, ebook design, print book design, and possibly a full time job as well, hasn’t been tempted to toss the lot to one of those publishers who promise to do the whole thing for you at a reasonable cost—and also get your books into book stores?

Next time you’re feeling like this, Joel Friedlander, suggests you type the following into your search engine:

(company or person’s name) + Scam

(company or person’s name) + Problem

(company or person’s name) + Complaint
(company or person’s name) + Fraud

(company or person’s name) + Rip-off

(company or person’s name) + Lawsuit

(company or person’s name) + “Better Business Bureau”

In other words, do the research. God knows, it’s easy enough these days.

Beware signThe other day I was approached by a client who’d gone with one of these publishers. Turned out the contract she’d signed did not include the fee for copy-editing, which this publisher rightly claimed  – after she’d paid her money — would cost an extra $1,300.00. This set me to wondering if there might not be out there somewhere a concise list of publishers indie writers need to watch out for.

Lo and behold! there was. Reprinted below with Victoria Strauss’s kind permission is the latest list of Thumbs Down publishers. Keep it handy, fellas. Study it, and pass it on to your friends.



Contact Us

Below, in alphabetical order, is a list of the publishers (not all of them currently active*) about which Writer Beware has received the largest number of complaints over the years, or which, based on documentation we’ve collected, we consider to pose the most significant hazard for writers. All have two or more of the following abusive practices:

  1. Fee-charging–whether for the actual printing/production of the book, or for some other item related to the publishing process, such as editing or publicity. Some publishers require authors to buy bulk quantities of their own books. Fees range from a few hundred dollars to more than $25,000. A nominal “advance” in the face of other fee-charging practices does nothing to legitimize such publishers.

Note that we do not include admitted vanity publishers (even very expensive ones such as Dorrance) about which we’ve gotten no other complaints, or self-publishing services (even much-criticized ones such as the Author Solutions “imprints”). This list includes only fee-chargers that present themselves as publishers, and actively conceal their fees, try to pass them off as something else, or claim that fee-based publishing is not the major part of their business.

  1. Author-unfriendly contracts–including rights grabs, taking copyright, restrictive option clauses, sub-standard royalty provisions (including reverse-accounted royalties), inadequate reversion clauses, draconian “defamation clauses,” and a host of other inappropriate and abusive contract terms.
  2. Deliberately misleading advertising–including directly soliciting authors, misrepresenting services to authors in an effort to masquerade as commercial publishers, hiding the fact that they are vanity operations, and making false claims about distribution and bookstore presence.
  3. Conflicts of interest–some of these publishers are the vanity “arm” of (or otherwise under common control with) a fee-charging literary agency, which directs clients to the publisher under the guise of having made a “sale”–often without revealing the financial and personnel links between the two businesses.
  4. Lack of editorial gatekeeping–as befits vanity operations, many of these publishers have few, if any, standards for the books they acquire. Some don’t even bother to read the books they accept for publication.
  5. Poor or inadequate editing. Some of these publishers don’t even pretend to provide editing. Others do little more than run the text through a spell and grammar checking program, or employ unqualified, inexperienced staff.
  6. Repeated breach of contractual obligations–such as nonpayment of royalties, refusal to provide royalty statements, incorrect accounting, publication delays, ARCs not sent for review as promised, failure to ship books or fulfill orders, failure to make author changes in proofs, and failure to respond properly to author queries and communications. Some of these publishers have been the focus of successful litigation and other legal actions by authors.

While the publishers listed here account for a substantial number of the complaints we’ve received, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Writer Beware has files on hundreds of questionable publishers, both active and inactive.

We do update the list from time to time, as questionable publishers sometimes change their names, clone themselves, or go out of business. Be sure to check back regularly.

* Why do we continue to list publishers that aren’t currently active? Because bad publishers often return under new names.

        America Star Books (Frederick MD) (formerly PublishAmerica)

American Book Publishing (Salt Lake City, UT) (may no longer be active)

Archebooks Publishing (Las Vegas, NV)

Artemis Publishers Ltd (currently under common directorship with Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie) (London UK)

Ashwell Publishing, d/b/a Olympia Publishing (has shared staff with Austin Macauley) (London UK)

Austin Macauley (has shared staff with Ashwell Publishing) (London UK)

Oak Tree Press (Taylorville, IL)

Park East Press (Dallas TX) (formerly Durban House, formerly Oakley Press) (may no longer be active)

Pegasus Elliot Mackenzie Publishers Ltd (currently under common directorship with Artemis Publishers Ltd (Cambridge UK)

Raider Publishing International, also d.b.a. Green Shore Publishing (former names include Purehaven Press and Perimedes Publishing) (uses various addresses, but probably located in Newark, NJ)

SterlingHouse Publisher, also d/b/a as International Book Management (Pittsburgh, PA–imprints include, among others, Pemberton Mysteries, 8th Crow Books, Cambrian House Books, Blue Imp Books, Caroline House Books, Dove House Books, and PAJA Books) (may no longer be active)

Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency (SBPRA)/Publish On Demand Global (PODG) (uses various addresses, but located in Boca Raton, FL–formerly known as Strategic Publishing, Strategic Book Group, Eloquent Books, The Literary Agency Group, and AEG Publishing Group)

Tate Publishing (Mustang, OK)

Copyright © A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss


Posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, Australian manuscript appraisers, Danielle De Valera, editing, editors, getting published, indie publishing, manuscript appraisers, manuscript assessments, manuscript assessors, Patrick de Valera, publishers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How to Handle Rejections

Rejection letter

Anyone who’s ever submitted a short story to a magazine or a novel to a traditional publisher knows that sinking feeling: Rejection. “I’ve been rejected!” you cry — sometimes just to yourself; other times out loud. The old days were great for this. The publisher sent you a letter you could flourish as you ran through the house foaming at the mouth and shrieking. These days they arrive by email, and you can’t get the same dramatic effect. Unless you print them out. Sufficith to say, if you’ve been in the writing business any length of time and you send your work out, you’ll have had to deal with rejection.

Sometimes these rejections are pleasant; someone has actually taken the time to try to soften the blow. Sometimes they’re terse as publishers try to deal with their backlogs. And on the subject of backlogs, it’s unwise to send anything out after mid-November, publishers are very into clearing their desks before the new year. I once had a novel rejected by an Australian publisher by email on Christmas Eve — a decidedly Dickensian experience.

RejectedBut while the chances for drama have gone down with the onset of email, the damage to the writer’s self-esteem has remained the same. Note the writer says, “I’ve been rejected.” It’s the rare writer who says, “My novel about zombies on Mars has been rejected.” The book is the writer’s baby, s/he feels the rejection personally. How to deal with this? Some writers buy a bottle of scotch; others eat ice cream or chocolate biscuits. In Transitionactional-Analysis speak, their inner child has taken a beating and needs a little comfort. Do whatever works for you. But above and beyond these immediate reactions, there is something important to remember.

And that is: Only a small percentage of the people you approach are going to accept your work, even when you’ve chosen your publisher well, with an eye to the kinds of things they publish, and your writing is good and perfectly presented. In my experience over many years, the ratio of rejections to acceptances for fiction writers is around nine to one. That is: for every acceptance, you will probably have to experience nine rejections. Statistically speaking then, every rejection brings you that much closer to the much desired acceptance.

Caveat: Working on this principle, don’t make the mistake of sending a piece of work out to ten possible publishers all at once. For one, they don’t like it, but the main reason not to do this is that you might want to make changes to the work later as time passes. Some publishers will offer a line or two of advice in their rejection letter, and this is something a writer can take on after they’ve put away the razor blades. If you’ve approached all your possible publishers at once, it’s very difficult to get them to look at your new improved version later. These people are smart. They know they’ve already seen the work (even if you change the title).

So submissions are best done one at a time. Sure, it takes longer, but you’re in this business for the long haul – aren’t you? In the meantime, you get on with your work. You go on to the next project and work on that. Just remember: writing is a marathon, not a sprint. This applies as much to short stories as to novels. If you’re feeling too down to write after the hangover has worn off and you’ve gotten over the ice cream/chocolate fest, use your time well, make it count. Do an editing course if you can afford it. Buy an ebook on writing if you can’t. (Sol Stein is great for this.)

Just remember the mantra: One in ten, one in ten. No use complaining. That’s how it is.

One of the greatest weapons in a writer’s arsenal is resilience.

Something better

Posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, Danielle De Valera, getting rejected, manuscript presentation, Patrick de Valera, short story competitions, traditional publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Who Killed Oyster?

Below please find reprinted this recent Smashwords blog by their CEO Mark Coker. I think it’s important. Please read on.


Word came out yesterday afternoon that Oyster is “sunsetting” their business, a polite euphemism for “closing.”

With the loss of Oyster, the retailing ecosystem just became less diverse. Last month indies lost Flipkart in India. Today, indies are losing another good partner that treated authors well and paid full single-copy retail rates for their books. Which retailer will fail next?

Some might see this as a game of survival of the fittest where weaker less adaptable players fall by the wayside in favor of stronger players. Maybe. Although species extinction is a natural process in any environment, extinctions often signal an increasingly toxic or inhospitable environment for those still struggling to survive.

Let’s explore this a little further. What killed Oyster? I should preface that what I’m about to share is my personal speculation and opinion, and not based on specific insight from our friends at Oyster.

My take is that despite building a beautiful and elegantly designed app that pleased readers, Oyster was unable to make their business model work. The cost of their subscriber’s consumption exceeded Oyster’s revenue from subscriptions. Oyster faced the same headwinds Scribd is facing – namely that romance and possibly other genres were too popular with their subscribers and therefore too expensive to make profitable under the current model.  The solution is you either need to pay authors less, charge readers more (or limit their reading), or something in between.

I’m going to speculate that either Oyster’s VC backers or Oyster’s controlling shareholders were unwilling to give Oyster the necessary time and funding necessary to iterate their model until they could make it work. Scribd, on the other hand, at the time of their romance purge signaled publicly that they plan to explore tweaks to their model that would allow them to build a sustainable and profitable business for the common benefit of authors/publishers and subscribers.

And then there’s the elephant in the room: Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s subscription service powered by KDP Select. Unlike Oyster and Scribd which pay Smashwords authors and publishers full agency rates for qualified reads (after the reader reads more than about 10% of the book, it triggers a sale), Kindle Unlimited pays authors by the page, and at a rate that typically works out to only a fraction of the 70% list KDP authors get for single-copy sales.

On the book pages of Kindle Unlimited books, readers are encouraged to get the book for free with KU or Prime, rather than purchasing at the single copy price

The Kindle Unlimited pay rate is entirely decided by Amazon. The book’s list price is irrelevant to Amazon’s calculation.

This means Kindle Unlimited books cost Amazon less money than what Oyster and Scribd want to pay authors and publishers, which means Kindle Unlimited can provide readers more reading at less cost to Amazon and to the reader. How can Oyster, Scribd or any bookseller compete when Amazon can pick the pockets of authors and give the savings to readers?

This works great for Amazon and its customers, but not so well for authors. Kindle Unlimited devalues books by making even 99 cent single-copy purchases look expensive when the same book can be read for free under Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime.

Kindle Unlimited strips authors of pricing power and royalty, and will eventually gut the market for single-copy sales at Amazon.  In other words, Kindle Unlimited is slowly killing the market for single-copy ebook sales, not just for indies but for all publishers.

KDP Select and its Kindle Unlimited is an out of control train.


Inside first class a raucous and extravagant party is underway. It’s filled with hundreds of thousands of indie authors who’ve offered up over one million books enrolled exclusively in KDP Select. Everyone’s partying like it’s 1999 because in exchange for making their books exclusive to Amazon, these authors are given preferential access to Kindle customers.

Authors and publishers who refuse to make their books exclusive to Amazon are on the train too. They don’t sell as well as the first class passengers.


That’s them in steerage. They’re in the cattle car at the back. These folks’ books don’t have preferential discovery, which means Amazon makes their books less discoverable and less desirable to readers. These are the authors and publishers who are trying to support a diverse ecosystem of multiple retailing options. But the world’s largest ebook retailer is deliberately directing their readers to Amazon-exclusive books.

Indies have the power to stop KDP Select in its tracks before it runs the entire publishing industry off a cliff. Will they?

I fear this party won’t end well.

Posted by Mark Coker at 7:10 PM ShareThis Email This

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Smashwords Develop Metadata-only Preorders

Below is reprinted with Mark Coker’s permission his 17 June post on the where, when, why and how of metadata-only preorders. For anyone intending to publish with Smashwords, it’s well worth reading.

Books & tablet

Smashwords Introduces Assetless Preorders (aka “Metadata Only” preorders) by Mark Coker. Posted: 17 Jun 2015 02:29 PM PDT

Ebook preorders are the single most important new tool for indie authors who want to improve the visibility, desirability and sales of their new releases. Over the last 12 months, ebooks born as preorders at Smashwords earned more than triple the earnings of books that were simply uploaded the day of release. Ever since we announced preorder distribution two years ago for iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, I’ve been advocating preorders as an essential best practice for all indies. Yet despite the amazing power of preorders, and despite the copious evidence that preorders can work miracles, most indie authors don’t use them today. Fewer than 10 percent of books released at Smashwords over the last 12 months were released as preorders. Despite the poor adoption, over the last 12 months Smashwords books born as preorders accounted for 7 of our top 10 bestsellers and 67% of our top 200 bestsellers. When you consider how such a small fraction of books accounted for an outsize percentage of bestsellers, you begin to realize something special is happening here. Why the dismal adoption of ebook preorders, a best practice that large traditional book publishers have embraced as a no-brainer for years? Aside from the normal education that’s necessary (preorders, after all, are still a relatively new concept and option for indies), I think the primary reason for the poor adoption has been that until now, Smashwords required authors to upload their full and final manuscript before they could establish a preorder. This requirement created a dilemma for our authors. If the book’s ready for release today, why should an author hold back the release for three or six months to gain the full advantage of a preorder?  You can’t blame these authors for deciding to release their book immediately, the day it’s ready for readers. With today’s announcement, our 100,000 authors and publishers can have their cake and eat it too.

Introducing Assetless Preorders at Smashwords

An assetless preorder allows the author or publisher to get their preorder listing up at the major retailers up to 12 months in advance of the official on sale date. This gives you up to 12 months to market your book in advance, and up to 12 months to accumulate orders. Starting today, all 100,000 authors and small independent presses at Smashwords have the ability to upload assetless preorders to Smashwords. No book or cover yet? No problem. In my companion post today, How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders, I provided an in- depth analysis of the benefits of ebook preorders, along with strategy tips for preorder best practices. These same tips have helped multiple Smashwords authors scale retailer and national bestsellers lists. I encourage you to read it now.  Below, I’ll just summarize two of the many benefits of ebook preorders:

  1. Preorders enable more effective advance marketing – Most authors are communicating directly with their readers over social media as they write their next book. An ebook preorder allows the author to capture the reader’s order at the moment they have the reader’s greatest attention and interest.
  2. Fast track to the bestseller lists – At iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, all orders you accumulate during the preorder period credit toward your first day’s sales rank. In other words, you have the ability to concentrate up to 12 months of book sales into a single day for maximum charting potential. Every author wants a high sales rank on their release day, because the higher rank increases the visibility, discoverability and desirability of the book, which then leads to more sales.

A note about Amazon: As I mention in the other post, Amazon treats preorders differently. They limit preoders to a three-month runway, and they don’t credit accumulated sales toward the first day’s sales rank. The lack of day one credit means preorders will actually cannibalize your sales rank at Amazon. There’s more to it than that, so check out the other post for more details].

Length of Runway Matters

At Smashwords, a key contributing factor to the two benefits above is the length of preorder runway. The longer your book is available for preorder, the more time you have to market the book in advance and accumulate orders. THIS is why assetless preorders are so critical to a successful book launch. Assetless preorders enable a longer preorder runway because the author or publisher can establish the preorder earlier.

How to Set Up an Assetless Preorder at Smashwords

Setting up an assetless preorder is easy. All you need is a book title, a description, a price, a release date and the category of book. No draft necessary. No cover necessary. If any of these details change prior to publication, no problem. You can change them anytime. To set up a preorder an assetless preorder at Smashwords, simply click to the Smashword Publish page and follow the instructions. Here’s a detailed step-by-step to get you started:

  1. Look at your publishing schedule for the next 12 months. Plan to get all firm projects up as an assetless preorder ASAP.
  2. Exercise discipline when setting release dates. Some authors meet all their deadlines with the precision and reliability of a Swiss watch. Other authors might require more flexibility on scheduling. Be honest with yourself about which author you are. Either way, you know you want to maximize your runway. Understand that when you establish a preorder, you’re making a commitment to your readers, to Smashwords and our retailers that you will deliver the book on time. For this reason, if you’re not entirely certain if the book will be ready by your target release date, give yourself a buffer. For example, if you think your book will be ready in six months but you’re not entirely confident, set a release date that’s eight or nine months out. In other words, add cushion to your release date so you have some extra flexibility. If you finish early, great! You can change the release date of your book from the Smashwords Dashboard and release earlier. Readers will never complain if you decide to release your book early, but they may complain (because they love you so much) if you delay the release. If you need to delay the release of your book, no problem. We make it easy for you to adjust your release date. Unlike a certain retailer who shall go unnamed, if you miss your 10-day deadline, we will not rain fire and brimstone upon your head, nor will we banish you from future preorder eligibility. Instead, we’ll send you polite email reminders that you should deliver your book before it’s too late. And if you ignore our multiple helpful reminders, we will automatically adjust the release date of your book because we don’t want your preorder to blow up. A blown preorder is a cancelled preorder, which would result not only in lost sales but also disappointed readers.
  3. All great missions start with a plan. Read my companion blog post, How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders to learn preorder best practices. The post will help you develop your preorder strategy. The tips I share there are proven and effective, and have helped numerous Smashwords authors use preorders for maximum effect.
  4. Once you have your release schedule planned, click to the Publish page at Smashwords. In Step 1 of the publish process, simply click “Make it a preorder.” If your final manuscript is ready for upload, upload it as usual. If your book’s not finished yet, or even if you haven’t started it yet, no problem. Simply select the “I will upload my final formatted manuscript later” option to utilize our new assetless preorder feature. If you’re concerned the title, description or categorization of the book might change later once you finish the book, no problem! You can change it later without harming your preorder listing. You can choose a release date up to 12 months out. iBooks supports preorders up to 12 months, and B&N and Kobo go a little shorter.
  5. You can establish the preorder with or without a cover. Although a preorder with a cover will attract more orders, some Smashwords authors prefer to establish their assetless preorder without a cover at first so they can maximize the runway, and then they’ll do the cover reveal later as a marketing event. Once your assetless preorder is established, you can upload the cover later by clicking to Settings in your Dashboard. I don’t recommend temporary covers, especially ones that have “Temporary cover” slapped on them. It’s better to have no cover at all than to show readers a shoddy temporary cover.
  6. Once the preorder is up, attach the ISBN with your Dashboard’s ISBN Manager tool. If the book is part of a series, even if it’s book one in a new series, attach it to a series with your Dashboard’s Series Manager tool. Series Manager improves the discoverability of series books at retailers.
  7. Your preorder is up at Smashwords, congrats! Once it’s up at Smashwords, our vetting team will review it and approve it for distribution. Preorders receive priority review and distribution. Preorders often appear same-day at iBooks, and within a couple days at B&N and Kobo.
  8. Start your marketing (oh wait, no, get to work writing and editing!) as soon as the listings appear. Again, check out How to Reach More Readers with Ebook Preorders for a bunch of ideas, all free to implement, that will help you make your preorder-enabled release more successful. I share some super-simple ideas (like updating the backmatter of your other books to promote the preorder) that don’t take much time but will reap many rewards. Okay, now get back to writing!
  9. Preorder sales tracking. In your Dashboard’s Daily Sales report, you’ll find next-day reports of your preorder accumulation at iBooks. Currently, iBooks is the only Smashwords retailer that reports preorder accumulation numbers in advance of the book’s release. Nevertheless, the iBooks numbers will give you a good sense of how you’re doing.
  10. Deadlines deadlines. Your final formatted manuscript will be due to Smashwords at least ten days in advance of your on sale date. Earlier is always better. If you need to delay the release of your book, no problem. Click to your Dashboard, then click to Settings and move the date out. If you do change the date, do it at least 10 days in advance of the currently scheduled release date. By the same token, if you want to release earlier, we recommend you upload your final formatted manuscript at least 10 days in advance of your new release date.
  11. Get the next preorder up. It’s always a good idea to have at least one preorder out there working its magic for you as you write the next book. Before you upload your final manuscript, ask yourself if you’re ready to get your next preorder up for the next book. If so, and if the release date will be within the next 12 months, get the new preorder up now, before you upload the final manuscript of the current project, even if you haven’t started the future project yet. This way, you can start advertising your next preorder in the backmatter of your current new release the moment it lands in your readers’ hands. You always want to be thinking of your next release, and using each new book to drive preorders to the next book.
  12. Congratulations! You finished the book on schedule! To upload your final manuscript, simply click to the Smashwords Dashboard and click “Upload new version.” As mentioned above, you’ll upload your final manuscript to Smashwords at least 10 days in advance of your release date.

The Story Behind Assetless Preorders

This new assetless preorder capability represents over a year of intense software development here at Smashwords, and over 18 months of private beta testing in which nearly 300 Smashwords authors and publishers tested early versions of the capability. I’m grateful to these authors and publishers because their immediate success with assetless preorders inspired me and our engineering team to invest the significant time and financial resources necessary to turn this into a capability we can offer to every Smashwords author. It was certainly our most ambitious – and most complex – project since the launch of Smashwords. Thanks also goes to our retail partners iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo for opening up their systems to allow Smashwords authors and publishers to deliver these preorders. And a special thanks to iBooks in particular. We did our first assetless preorder with iBooks almost two years ago, and from that point forward I was bitten and smitten by the bug. Thanks also to every author and publisher who distributes with Smashwords, because through our small commission on sales (10% of list) you are directly financing our mission to bring professional-grade publishing tools like this to the entire indie author community. Last but not least, I want to thank the men and women of the Smashwords engineering team. These awesome software developer magician wizards turn my crazy ideas into reality. Like everyone at Smashwords, they dedicate their every day to creating exciting new opportunities for our authors, publishers and retailers. This project required a comprehensive revamp to our backend systems, and as a result our systems are more robust and future-ready than ever before. For us, it’s all very exciting because we’re not done creating tools that will give our authors and publishers more advantages in the marketplace. More innovations to come! Our preorder systems incorporate a number of features designed to prevent the worst case nightmare of our retail partners – the author or publisher failing to deliver the book on time. Such a failure to deliver would cause the preorder to blow up, resulting in lost sales and disappointed customers. A blow up creates grief for our retailers and their customers, not to mention our authors. With automated reminders and other fail safes, our engineers designed systems to protect the mutual interests of our retailers, authors and our authors’ readers. As you might imagine, we’re simultaneously excited and terrified to offer this new tool to 100,000 authors and publishers all at once. Since these systems are still so new, we consider this the next phase of our beta. We look forward to hearing your feedback and suggestions for how we can make this exciting feature even better in the future! We also look forward to your bug reports. If you discover a bug, please report it to our service team by clicking either the “?” at the top of any Smashwords page, or the “Support” link at the bottom of every page. So without further ado, please grab your calendar now and start planning your release schedule for the next 12 months!

Posted in advice for writers, Danielle De Valera, getting published, indie publishing, manuscript assessors, metadataless preorders, Smashwords, Smashwords preorders, the pros and cons of preorders | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Pros and Cons of Preorders

Although Amazon accounts for around 70% of e-book sales on the web, the stores Smashwords distribute to account roughly for the remaining per cent. This post by Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, presents a convincing case for using his preorder system when publishiing with Smashwords.  On the way, it also gives an indie publisher good advice applicable across all platforms , for example, the best days to publish, etc. It’s a long blog, but well worth reading, and reprinted here in full with Mark’s permission.
If you’re planning to publish a book in the next 12 months, this post will teach you how to use ebook preorders to reach more readers.  You’ll learn why an ebook preorder is an ESSENTIAL component of every successful book launch.

Two years ago Smashwords announced preorder distribution to Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. At the time, I promised that ebook preorders would help our authors sell more books.  This has proven true.

Books born as preorders sell significantly more copies than books that are simply uploaded the day of release. I recently analyzed 12 months of Smashwords sales data in preparation for the upcoming release of my annual 2015 Smashwords Survey.  Here’s a quick sneak peek preview of what we found:

  • 7 of our top 10 bestsellers were born as preorders
  • 67% of our top 200 bestsellers were born as preorders
  • Of our top 200 bestselling preorders, 81% were supplied by romance authors
  • Books born as preorders represented only 9.8% of the books released at Smashwords during this 12-month Survey period

So there you have it.  A small fraction of our titles were released as preorders, yet those titles absolutely dominated the bestseller lists.

The good news is that preorders work like magic.  Preorders are the single most powerful book launch tool today.  The bad news is that most authors aren’t doing preorders yet.  Let’s fix that starting today.  I’ll teach you how to make preorders work for your next book release.

I think the reason most Smashwords authors haven’t done preorders in the past is that prior to today (June 17, 2015), we required the author to upload the full and final manuscript to establish the preorder. That put authors in the tough position of having to weigh the benefits of immediate release against the benefits of releasing the book later as a preorder.

Earlier today we announced a solution to this quandary – the assetless preorder.  With today’s assetless preorder announcement, authors can establish preorders up to 12 months in advance without the book.  You simply provide us the metadata (title, release date, price, book description and categorization) and then we’ll get the listing established at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

In this post, I’ll explain how preorders work, how indie authors and publishers can integrate preorders into their next book launch, and I’ll share proven and effective strategies to maximize the results of your preorder.

What’s an eBook Preorder?

An ebook preorder is an advance book listing at the ebook retailer.  Preorders allow readers to place an advance reservation for your book.  Their credit card is not charged until the book is released to them when it officially goes on sale.  iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo all list assetless preorders delivered via Smashwords.

The Six Biggest Benefits of Ebook Preorders

Ebook preorders give you incremental advantage in the battle for reader eyeballs.  Here’s why incremental advantages are so important:  Ebook sales are characterized by the power curve phenomena, where each incremental increase in sales rank earns the author an exponential increase in sales.  A book ranked #1 in a store might sell triple the number of copies of a book ranked #10, and a book ranked #10 might sell double or triple the number of titles as the #20 bestseller.

The more best practices you implement well, the more your sales rank will shift to the left of the curve (learn the most important best practices in my free ebook, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success).

Most indie authors are already well-versed in the necessary best practices of great writing, great editing, great cover design, great distribution and a fair price.  It’s time that every author add ebook preorders to their repertoire of the most important best practices .

Preorders are like the difference between driving in gridlocked traffic or skipping over to the commuter lane.  Preorders are a fast track to greater visibility, discoverability and sales.

Let’s examine the six benefits of ebook preorders

1. Preorders enable more effective advance book marketing – Most authors, as they’re writing their next book, communicate their progress to fans on their blog, Facebook, Twitter and private mailing lists.  Preorders allow you to capture the reader’s order at the moment you have their greatest attention and interest.  Without a preorder link, a reader who’s ready to purchase today may forget about your book by the time it comes out, or they might lose interest between now and then.  Capture the order!

2. Preorders enable advance buzz-building – It’s human nature that things coming in the future are often more interesting that what’s out already.  You can’t get any newer than a book that’s not out yet. Preorders allow you to build reader anticipation leading up to your official release.  The anticipation will be greatest in the minds of your superfans – those readers who already love your writing.

3. Fast track to bestseller lists – This is the ultimate magic of preorders.  All major retailer bestseller lists rank books on unit sales.  Their sales rank algorithms weigh sales made in the most recent 12-24 hours more heavily than sales made two days ago or two weeks ago. At iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, all of your accumulated orders credit to your book’s sales rank the day your book officially goes on sale.  This causes your book to spike in the charts.  Since customers use bestseller lists to find their next read, higher-ranked books become more visible and more desirable to readers.  This sparks a virtual, self-reinforcing cycle of more sales leading to more sales.  Preorders also help maximize your odds of appearing in major national bestseller lists by concentrating a greater number of sales into a shorter period of time.  There’s strong evidence a well-timed preorder will maximize your odds of hitting the NY Times and USA Today lists.  A strong preorder also increases your odds of appearing in the monthly Smashwords/Publishers Weekly Bestseller list because you can concentrate multiple months of accumulated sales into a single sales month.
4. Same-day availability at multiple retailers – By delivering your book in advance to multiple retailers, your book will go on sale the same day at each retailers.  The reason:  The advance delivery of your ebook to retailers gives them more time to receive, process and load your book.  At or near the stroke of midnight on release day (some retailers release at different times depending on time zone), the book is automatically released to customers.

5. Better reviews – Since your fans and superfans are the most likely to place preorders (because they already trust that everything you write is super-awesome), they’ll be the first to receive your book when it goes onsale, the first to read it and the first to review it.  You want your superfans to be the first to review your book, because strong reviews out of the gate attract more sales.

6. Increased merchandising opportunities – If your book is available for preorder, you enjoy more merchandising opportunities. There are two types of merchandising – automated and human-curated. Automated:  When readers are viewing any of your books, the store will display your preorder alongside your other titles.  If the preorder is part of a series, it’ll appear alongside your other series titles (Smashwords authors: Make sure you’re taking advantage of the Smashwords Series Manager tool because retailers use this information to link your preorder to your other series titles).   Human-curated:  A strong-performing preorder increases the odds that the store’s merchandising team will feature your book because it gives them confidence to know that your book is highly anticipated by readers.  At Smashwords, we actively promote our best-performing preorders to the merchandising managers at our retail partners.

Planning Your Preorder

Think of a runway.  Jet aircraft need long runways so they can build up enough speed to take flight.  Preorders work the same way.  The more time your book is listed as a preorder, the more time you have to accumulate orders for that all-important first-day pop in the charts.

Look at your publishing schedule for the next 12 months and get everything up on preorder today.  The longer the runway the better.  But even if you only have one week of runway, it still gives you an incremental advantage.  Every accumulated order counts!

To understand the critical importance of a long runway, let’s look at how accumulated orders can add up.

If your book is available for preorder for three months (90 days), and you average one order a day at a given retailer you’ll have 90 orders by the time your book goes onsale.  At iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo, 90 orders will probably land you in the top 100 bestseller list for your genre or category.  Five orders per day would get you 450 orders, enough to land you in the top 10 for your genre or category at some retailers.  Ten orders a day would get you almost 1,000 accumulated orders, enough to land you in the top 10 store-wide lists at many retailers, and possibly even #1 in some stores.  These numbers aren’t hard and fast.  It really depends on the competition of what else is being released on the same day.  Many of our authors have released with thousands of  accumulated orders on day one.

Timing Your Preorder

What day of the week is best for a book release?  I can share some considerations to help you make a more informed decision. As you’ll see, there are potential pros and cons on different days.

You face more competition on Tuesdays – Most major NY publishers release their books on Tuesdays.  Because most big publishers are using preorders as part of their book launches (another reason you should too!), this means you’re likely to face more competition on Tuesdays for the top spots in the bestseller charts.
Saturday and Sunday are the biggest ebook buying days – Weekends are typically the biggest ebook-buying days at the retailers.  If you time your preorder to release on a Saturday or Sunday, you’ll face less competition from traditional publishers, and you’ll chart higher on day when more readers are searching the bestseller lists for their weekend read. Sit-down holidays can be slow, but post-holidays are great – Avoiding major sit-down family-gathering holidays for release dates.  For example, Thanksgiving and Christmas day, many readers will be occupied with family gatherings.  However, the days after holidays are some of the biggest book-buying days of the year.  December 26 through around January 7 is typically the year’s best ebook sales period based on our past experience.  Keep in mind, however, that some ebook stores go into lock-down mode and don’t list new titles during certain holiday days.  At Smashwords, we’ll usually start listing these blackout dates at Smashwords Site Updates around mid November so you can plan accordingly.

Sundays and Mondays are good for NY Times and USA Today Lists – Consider releasing on a Sunday or Monday if you want to maximize your odds of hitting a major list such as New York Times and USA Today.  I’ve heard these two start their sales reporting weeks starting Sunday and Monday.  I’ll state up front that it’s tough to find reliable information on how these bestseller lists are compiled, and which retailers report sales to which lists (for example, I know iBooks reports to USA Today and Kobo has stated they report to the New York Times).  You should assume that all retailers report to the major lists, so if your books aren’t in every store you might harm your chances of hitting a national list.

For the Smashwords/Publishers Weekly bestseller list, early in the month is better – To maximize your odds of making the monthly Smashwords/Publishers Weekly bestseller list, release the first few days of the new month so you can concentrate the prior weeks’ preorders and the following week’s sales into a single month.  When I look at the SW/PW Top 25 bestseller list for the month of April 2015 for example, most of the new releases that made the list started life as a preorder.

Four Tips to Market and Promote Your Preorder

Simply by releasing your book as a preorder, it’s no guarantee of success.  To maximize your preorder’s results, it’s important to take steps to drive readers to it!

Here are four marketing and promotion tips:

1.  Plan an aggressive, multi-week, multi-part marketing campaign – If you’re planning a multi-week preorder period, plan a different buzz-building promotion for each week.  Do contests, chapter reveals, giveaways, and blog tours.  Basically, anything you would do for a book launch, start doing it as soon as your preorder is listed.  And thanks to your preorder, you can capture reader orders at the moment each campaign element hits.  Be sure to promote direct hyperlinks to your preorder pages for each retailer in all your promotions.  This makes it easier for fans to click once and then order with another click.  If you distribute through Smashwords, this means you’ll want to link to preorder pages at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.  Since the preorder listing will go live on different days at each retailer (iBooks is the fastest, often same-day of upload to Smashwords, though B&N and Kobo are pretty quick too), you can make each appearance a cause for celebration and promotion.

2.  Mobilize your fans as your street team – As you think about fun promotion ideas, do things that incentivize your fans to spread the word.  Here are some potential ideas you might consider, and after reading these ideas you can probably think of a dozen more of your own:  1.  Offer a free Smashwords Coupon code to another of your books to any fan who emails you their preorder receipt.  2.  Offer a coupon code to any fan who takes action to spread the word about your upcoming release, such as a Facebook post linking to your preorder, or a Facebook share, or a Twitter tweet, or a blog post.  3.  Create a “Street Team Acknowledgements” section in the backmatter of your book, and let your fans know you’ll include the names of the first 50 or 100 people who take an action (such as sending you a preorder receipt, writing a blog post or Facebook post, etc).  Set a deadline for fans to show and report their support at least two weeks before the onsale date so you have plenty of time to update your backmatter with the Acknowledgements section and upload the update to Smashwords.

3.  Offer special pricing on your preorder – Let’s say your next novel will be priced at $3.99.  As a reward for your loyal readers who place a preorder, price the preorder at $2.99, and then promise to return the book to its normal price soon after it’s released.  This gives readers strong incentive to take action now rather than later.  Remember, you want to get as many orders from your most enthusiastic readers concentrated on day one as possible.  A reader who purchases your book two weeks after it goes on sale won’t move the needle on sales rank.

4.  Leverage your other books to promote your preorder – If you’ve got other books out, leverage them to drive readers to your preorder. Once your new preorder is listed at iBooks, B&N and Kobo, update the backmatter of all your other titles so they mention the upcoming preorder.  At the end of every book, add a paragraph that tells readers, “{Title Name} is coming {Month Year}.  On preorder now at select retailers. Reserve your copy today!”  Update your book’s navigation so your navigation has a link to section titled, “Upcoming Releases, ”or “Sneak Peek at {Title A}, coming June 2016!” or something similar so your Table of Contents is marketing your preorder.  Here’s a blog post and video on how to add navigation to your Smashwords ebook.  If you have a sample of your preorder book, like the first few chapters, put that in the backmatter of all your other books (or if you’re releasing book #3 in a series, place the sample at the end of book #2 as soon as the sample is ready.   Also consider doing some aggressive price promotions of your other books, including FREE promotions.   FREE books get about 40 times more downloads than books with a price, so they’re a great method of driving readers to the preorder, even if the book you’re making FREE is a standalone book, unrelated to your next book.  If you’re doing a preorder for a new book in a series, definitely consider making the series starter FREE so you can drive readers into the series and into the preorder (when I release the 2015 Smashwords Survey, I’ll share surprising numbers that prove that series with free series starters earn more than series without a free series starter).

Uploading Your Preorder

From a single upload page, Smashwords makes it easy to set up your preorder at iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It’s easier than publishing a book.

Book not finished yet?  No problem!  Select “I will upload my
final formatted manuscript later” to get your preorder up today.

Click to the Smashwords Publish page.  As shown in the screen shot at left, in Step 1 of the publish process, simply click “Make it a preorder.”

If your final manuscript is ready for upload now, you’ll upload it as usual.

If your book’s not finished yet, no problem.  Simply take advantage of our new feature for assetless preorders (aka “Metadata-only” preorders) by selecting the “I will upload my final formatted manuscript later” option.  Your final manuscript will be due to Smashwords at least ten days in advance of your on sale date.

You’ll enter a projected word count for the book and then you’ll see several check boxes to mark “I agree.” These check box items remind you of delivery obligations.  Next, you’ll select the release date from the calendar.

NB The Above Won’t Work for Amazon Preorders

Amazon treats preorders differently than other retailers.  Unlike iBooks, B&N and Kobo which credit your accumulated orders toward your first day’s sale rank, Amazon does not.  This means that a preorder at Amazon will cannibalize your first day’s orders and therefore undermine your first day’s sales rank.  For this reason, many indie authors who upload direct to Amazon decide to skip the preorder at Amazon and simply upload to Amazon the day of release.  By uploading the day of release to Amazon, they can concentrate their sales on the first day to achieve a higher sales rank.

Although Amazon doesn’t provide accumulated credit on day one for a preorder, an Amazon preorder can still land in the charts if your daily accumulation rates warrant chart placement.  The other retailers also allow preorders to chart based on daily order accumulation rates.  And since preorders anywhere enable more effective advance marketing and buzz-building, Amazon preorders still have this benefit.

Amazon allows a three-month preorder runway, so not as much as the other retailers, and they require you to upload either a draft or final version of your book.  If you fail to deliver the final manuscript to Amazon by 11 days before your release date, on day 10 they will cancel your preorder and revoke your preorder privileges for one year.  It should go without saying that we don’t believe in such draconian punishment at Smashwords – after thousands of preorders we haven’t banned a single author when deadlines have been missed.  We understand that unanticipated delays can happen so we’ve built safety nets to support you, the retailer and your readers.

It’s your call if you do a preorder at Amazon.  It’s by no means a black and white decision.  If you’re a veritable marketing machine, for example, the benefit of marketing your book for three months in advance at Amazon might outweigh the downside of a lesser sales rank on day one.

Final Thoughts on Ebook Preorders

Ebook preorders are the most exciting new book launch tool to come along in the last seven years.  A well-executed preorder strategy will increase the visibility, desirability and sales of your book.

Despite its amazing advantages, the preorder alone is not a panacea.  Behind every successful preorder is a well-planned and well-executed preorder and a passionate author promoting a super-awesome book.

Your objective with each preorder is to make your next book launch more successful than your last.  Platform-building is all about incremental steps, building on each success as you go.  Whether each new preorder helps you grow your readership by five readers or 5,000, each increase in readership is a stepping stone to the next level.  Some of your new readers will become super fans, and super fans will buy everything you publish in the future and will evangelize your literary brilliance to other readers.

To maximize the benefit of preorders, you should always try to have at least one preorder working for you at all times.  Of course, if your next release is further out than 12 months, then wait until it’s 12 months out before you establish your preorder.

If you’re a new author, even a small number of preorders will help accelerate your ability to build readership.  Only five accumulated orders on day one could make the difference between debuting at #100 in your category or at #1,000.  Every bit of increased sales rank helps build visibility in the stores.

If you’re an established indie author with multiple books and strong ongoing sales, you’ll have even more flexibility to leverage preorders to the max.

Please share this blog post:  Readers have my permission to share this blog post in its entirety on your blog, website or social media outlets provided it is reproduced in its entirely and a link is provided to this original source.  Let’s help our fellow indies take full advantage of preorders!                                         Mark Coker

Links to Supplemental Resources:

Preorders at Smashwords  –
Announcement of Assetless Preorders at Smashwords  –

Posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, Australian manuscript appraisers, Danielle De Valera, manuscript assessments, manuscript assessors, the pros and cons of preorders | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Naming your novel

Lots of books

When choosing a name for your novel, always check to see how many of the same names already exist on the web. The more unique your title is, the better your chance it will come up in the first page of a web search. But you knew that, didn’t you?

Still, this can be hard to do when you’re just starting out and have a limited knowledge of the internet. For example, back in 2011, when I was planning my first foray into indie publishing with an animal novel I wanted to call MagnifiCat (because the main characters were cats) I typed Magnificat – novel into my Google search bar. All kinds of things came up—novels, religious books, music, comments on people’s blogs, something someone said on Linked In—I was soon lost. At the time, I was such a rookie I didn’t even know how to check Amazon’s books for sale to find out what other books were called Magnificat. Even if I had, I doubt I would’ve got an accurate picture of the situation.

The very best way to check whether the title you’re hoping to publish on Amazon has already been used (much as I don’t like monopolies, it would be mad to ignore them; they accoount for more than 70% of book sales) is to have an entry in Amazon Author Central. Once in there, you can check all your proposed titles and see if they are already in use on Amazon and, if so, exactly how many different books carry that title. The catch 22 with this is that Amazon won’t let you have a spot on Amazon Author Central until you’ve published at least one item, fiction or non fiction, with them.

Had I been able to access Amazon Author Central, through their feature called Add to your bibliography, I would have discovered that there are innumerable—and I mean innumerable— books, fiction and non fiction, on Amazon with the same name.

I recommend anyone planning to indie publish a novel on the web to put up something – anything – small on the web through Amazon first, so that they can obtain a spot on Amazon Author Central and have this simple title search site available to them.

If you already have published something with Amazon, don’t hesitate to claim your Amazon Author Central spot. (As well as allowing you to put up a biography, all your publications with Amazon are listed there. That means, if you publish a number of works, you don’t have to bewilder people with the various links, you just send them to your Amazon Author Central link (for example, mine is: and all your publications are there, with their covers. Click on any one of them and up comes the relevant publication.)

Best of all, for a writer grappling with the question of what to call their novel, the situation on Amazon for any proposed name can be seen at a glance through their Author Central’s Add to your bibliography feature. Of course, you must also do a Google search for books of the same name published elsewhere, but I recommend a combination of the two to get the most accurate results about any title you’re contemplating.

Posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, Australian manuscript appraisers, Choosing a name for your novel, Danielle De Valera, manuscript appraisers, manuscript assessments | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s in a name?

Lots of names

When it’s the title of your novel, a great deal, if you plan to publish on the web. A writer has only four chances to attract readers. These are:

~ the cover

~ the title

~ the story as revealed in the blurb on the back cover

~ the first 3 pages.


These are all the chances a writer has on the internet where short is the new black. My thanks to Judith Briles for the term. See

Of course, when writers are so big that their novels sell on their name, the title of the work doesn’t matter very much. For the rest of us who are producing an e book version of our work, the search engines need to be able to direct anyone looking for a work of the kind we’ve written to our book.

So your novel’s title needs to reflect the content of the work. It also needs to be accessible – don’t call it something the reader has to look up; they won’t.  If at all possible, the title also needs to be  engaging. Achieving all this is not an easy task, especially if you’re a beginner, but take heart: if your book has a sub-title, you have two bites at the cherry instead of one to help you get the basic idea of your novel across.

In the grand old days of traditional publishing, where the only outlets were bookstores, writers were able to use wonderfully obscure names, such as The Sound of One Hand Clapping by award-winning Australian author Richard Flanagan. These days, if you are an unknown writer just starting out to publish on the web this luxury is not available to you.

Suppose you write a novel about a woman who lives in Holtwhistle in the middle of the UK, and who likes to take on risky romantic partners. This behaviour is sometimes called “surfing” in psychological parlance. Suppose you are so in love with the term that you call your work Surfing in Holtwhistle.

Sounds neat, doesn’t it? But what will happen?

The search engines will interpret the title as being about surfing and/or the UK town of Holtwhistle. They are, after all, only machines, without any understanding of literary references, unless the reference is so well known that it already exists on the web. But your book is about risky relationships. Someone wanting to read a novel about this subject is unlikely to type in surfing.

Personally, I think having to consider search engine optimisation (SEO) when naming your novel will lead to a lack of subtlety in the titles of books, but that’s how it is. Even books published traditionally now have to consider SEO, as most traditional publishers these days also put versions of their books on the web.

So make sure your title truly reflects the subject of your book, and that it contains words the search engines can use to find it. And don’t overlook the possibilities inherent in the sub-title. Remember the search engines look at that, too.

More on titles next week.


Posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, Choosing a name for your novel, manuscript appraisers, manuscript assessors, titles of novels | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Spontaneity in fiction

Boy at beachHow important IS spontaneity in fiction? The answer is: It depends. Some works benefit from having a style that appears spontaneous. However, in my experience, when emerging writers talk about spontaneity and the fear of losing it by redrafting, they are usually talking about the experience of feeling spontaneous as they write. This, they believe, will give the work immediacy, that jumping-off-the-page effect that they admire. O-kay. Spontaneity, the feeling, can be an essential component of good early first drafts for certain types of writers and writing. But this type of spontaneity is not helpful once the writer has got down the substance of the work in the first three or so drafts. So, just like a bikini, spontaneity has a place (for some writers, not all), but it’s not helpful to apply everywhere.

Every writer’s different. Some have story boarded their work before they start. For them, the word spontaneity won’t have the same meaning as it does for a different type of writer, one who likes to write free form early drafts. The second type of writer is of necessity going to require more drafts than one who has planned their whole novel beforehand. The second type of writer must do draft after draft, usually online, until they feel they have got down the bulk of the material they were aiming for. It is from this second type of writer that I most frequently get queries about the worry of losing spontaneity by later drafting. So, from here on, I address myself to them.

The spontaneous, let-it-rip writer, who sometimes doesn’t even know where the story is heading, may be as spontaneous as s/he likes in the early drafts. I don’t want to put a number on the drafts needed because everyone’s different. Only the writer knows when the major content of what they wanted to say is now there on the screen, however imperfectly expressed. Once they sense that this has occurred, then is the time to take a more cool headed approach.

Putting this another way, when the first flush of creative writing is over, at that point, the writer needs to ask: Have I said what I wanted to say? When the answer to this is yes, and only when the answer is yes, then a different approach is required. Then the writer needs to ask: Have I said it the best way possible to get this across to readers? If they want to be read at all widely, at this point they must take their focus away from themselves as writers and turn it towards their readers. I would recommend still working onscreen, doing another couple of drafts, making certain that the content is well expressed — maybe not perfectly, but well enough. What you’re looking for is to make sure that, whatever your vision was, it’s all there, and readable. You might at this point find yourself adding little bits that have been omitted those first few times around.

When that’s done, the writer needs to put the work away for at least three weeks, and then print it out, using one and half line spacing and wide margins. Then the writer sits down with the pages and starts to read, as if reading someone else’s work. What is this fellow trying to say? How well is s/he saying it? You’ll find yourself wanting to make corrections as you read, so have a biro handy. At this point there is little room for spontaneity. You are now refining the style. The time for spontaneity is past.

A note here: It takes a lot of raw enthusiastic energy to dig manually for diamonds, but you would not apply that same raw energy to the cutting and polishing of them. The gung ho type of writer needs to remember that.

And do we ever complain because the cut of a diamond doesn’t look spontaneous?

PS My thanks to Ray, whose question in a comment about my Ten Ways to Make Certain Your Novel Won’t Be Published Traditionally prompted me to write this post.

Posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, Australian manuscript appraisers, editing, editors, fear of losing spontaneity, fiction editing, getting published, manuscript appraisals, manuscript appraisers, manuscript assessments, manuscript assessors, traditional publishing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Real” Dialogue

cavemenGood dialogue in novels is not real dialogue, which is often very boring, containing as it does a lot of batting about of unimportant information between the two parties. Too often, writers get led astray by their desire for realism and write real dialogue. The extract below is taken from Confessional by Jack Higgins. It is good dialogue for a novel of this genre, sparse and to the point.

The phone rang and when Fox answered it, Ferguson was on the other end.

“It’s all set. McGuinness is going to see you.”
“They’ll let you know.”

The line went dead and Fox replaced the receiver.


A ‘real’ dialogue version of the above is:

The phone rang and Fox answered it. “Hullo?”

“Is that you, Harry?”

“It’s me, Harry,” said Major Ferguson. “I’ve got some news for you.”
“What is it, sir?”

“It’s all set. McGuinness is going to see you.”
“That’s great, sir. When?”
“They’ll let you know.”
“I must say,” Fox said, “it didn’t take them long.”
“No, it didn’t,” Ferguson said thoughtfully. “Hope they’ll play us straight this time.”

“Yes, sir so do I.”

“Well, that’s all, Fox,” Ferguson said.

The line went dead and Fox replaced the receiver.

Nothing has been gained in this lengthened version, but a great deal of the pace so essential for an action novel has been lost. By all means, write this kind of dialogue in your 1st draft, but make sure you condense it into fictional dialogue in the later drafts. This advice applies to writing in all genres.

Posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, advice on dialogue, Australian manuscript appraisers, Dialogue, editing, editors, fiction editing, manuscript appraisals, manuscript appraisers, manuscript assessments, manuscript assessors | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment