Those pesky possessive Ss

Apostrophewith possessive Ss

I think we all know that an apostrophe is used before the possessive of singular common nouns, e.g.

the boy’s bike.

So far, so good. But what if the noun being possessed (as it were) isn’t singular, but plural, and ends in S?

Plural nouns ending in S take the apostrophe after the S, e.g.

two boys’ bikes.

However, just to complicate matters, some plural nouns don’t end in S; children is one of them. In that case, they are made possessive by adding apostrophe S, e.g.

the children’s games.

OK. But …

When it comes to the possessive of names, the current ruling is that all names take an apostrophe S, e.g.

Carolyn’s books

Gerald Manley Hopkins’s poetry.

Personally, I think it’s only a matter of time before the possessive of all names ending in S will take the apostrophe only, e.g.

Hopkins’ poetry

Already, names derived from bible sources, for example, only take the apostrophe, e.g.

Jesus’ preaching.

At present, though, the situation is fraught, with many different usages for the apostrophe where the personal noun ends in S. One school of thought recommends you use apostrophe S when the personal name is of one syllable, e.g.

Keats’s poetry

And that you use the apostrophe only, if the personal name is of more than one syllable. Thus:

Hopkins’ poetry.

What to do?

If you’re really keen to be on the safe side when submitting to a publisher, enquire about their usage. If not, consistency is the thing. Don’t say Hopkins’ poetry in one place in the manuscript and Hopkins’s poetry in another. As in most things, consistency will get you a long way.

Whatever you do, don’t do this:

Sign's jpg

But that’s another story.

Posted in advice for indie publishers, Australian manuscript appraisers, Danielle De Valera, editing, editors, fiction editing, manuscript assessments, manuscript assessors, Patrick de Valera, possessive Ss, re-editing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Foreword v. Preface v. Introduction

Last month, a client of mine asked me to edit his non-fiction book, a series of vignettes about his time in rural Australia in the 1950s and Papua New Guinea in the ‘70s. One of the first things I noticed was that he had written a preface to his book, but he’d called it a foreword. This got me to wondering how many other self-publishers out there are a bit woozy about the meanings of these two sections. Then, serendipitously, I came across a neat post by Joseph Kunz that answers these questions and also discusses the role of an introduction.

While the three sections Kunz talks about in his post are especially suitable for use by non-fiction writers, certain types of fiction writers — those who use history or a sense of place, for example — can at times make good use of the first two sections.

Here is the post below, reprinted (without illustrations) with Joseph’s kind permission. Anyone wanting to see the original can view it at:

Thank you, Joseph.

Foreword Vs. Preface Vs. Introduction: A Guide For Self-Publishers


It is essential for a self-publisher to understand the differences between the foreword, preface, and introduction of a book. Each section plays a vital role in the critical and financial success of the book. Without these three sections, a non-fiction book is incomplete, and not giving the readers their money’s worth. Therefore, I have laid out some basic definitions of each section to help give new self-publishers a starting point before beginning their first book.


  1. The Foreword

(Why the reader should read the book.)

The foreword is the place for a guest author to show the reader why they should read this book. The foreword of the book is a major selling tool for the book. If it is written properly and by the appropriate person for the job, the book’s author will gain a lot of credibility in the reader’s eyes. It is important to remember that the author of the book should not write the foreword. Instead, the author of the book can use the preface as well as the introduction to say what needs to be said about the book. Forewords introduce the reader to the author, as well as the book itself, and attempt to establish credibility for both. A foreword does not generally provide the reader with any extra specific information about the book’s subject. Instead, it serves as a reminder of why the reader should read the book. The foreword must make an emotional connection with the reader.

  1. The Preface

(How the book came about.)

The preface is a place for the book’s author to tell the reader how this book came into being, and why. It should build credibility for the author and the book. The preface is very similar to the foreword, except that the preface is written by the book’s author. The preface is also an important selling tool for the book. Here, authors should explain why they wrote the book, and how they came to write it. The author should show the reader why the book is worth reading.

  1. The Introduction

(About the content of the book.)

The introduction introduces the material that is covered in the book. Here, the author can set the stage for readers and prepare them for what can be expected from the book. The introduction is a way for the author to grab the reader and intensify the reader’s desire to find out more and hopefully devour the entire book. In the introduction, the author can quickly and simply tell the reader what is to be revealed in much greater detail, if they continue reading.


As you can see, it is imperative to understand the basic differences between these three sections in order to produce a professional looking and complete self-published book. Each section is clearly different, and each performs a specific function in the book. Therefore, a self-publisher needs to put a lot of thought and effort into producing these vital three sections.


Posted in advice for indie publishers, forewords, indie publishing, introductions, manuscript appraisers, manuscript assessments, manuscript assessors, manuscript presentation, Patrick de Valera, prefaces | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commas – inside or outside quotes?

Comma, happy

In my work as a manuscript evaluator and developmental editor, it’s clear to me that writers are still having a lot of trouble with commas. One of the instances that always seems to cause confusion is the one where sometimes, the full stop or comma appears outside the phrase being quoted, for example:

Harry called it “a dreadful experience”.

Compare this with:

As Harry said, “a dreadful experience.”

Why is this happening? Why is the full stop outside one phrase and not the other?

Well, it all depends on whether or not a comma precedes the phrase.

If a comma precedes the phrase, as in the second example, the full stop is inside the last quotation mark. If there is no comma preceding the phrase, the comma should be placed outside the quotation mark.

This rule is going to change with time, as more and more publishers opt to use the comma inside the quote, no matter what. If you check out some books, particularly US ones, you will see that some publishers are already doing this. It saves time when editing, not to have to pause and think. And time means money.

But, at the moment, it’s a nice touch to use this rule correctly, especially if you’re in the UK or its dominions, and particularly if you intend to submit your work to a magazine or publisher. Taking the trouble to get it right will make you look professional. And that never goes astray.

Next week: the correct use of commas with and, where and joins two distinct sentences.

Posted in advice about writing, advice for writers, commas, editing, editors, fiction editing, indie publishing, Patrick de Valera | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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