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If you want me to respond to you personally, email me at "pat at patmcnees dot com" (in traditional format).
Can someone sell my book without my permission?
Mark M asks: Can someone sell print-on-demand books without the author's knowledge or permission? Briefly, I had a book published by a traditional publisher about 12 years ago. The first run sold out, and the publisher went out of business. I currently hold the copyright and all other rights to the book. But now I'm seeing print-on-demand versions of my book being sold, and produced by a variety of publishers. I had no idea this was happening, I didn't agree to it, and I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be getting any royalties from it. Is this legal? What are my options?
Mark, "print on demand" is just a printing technology. The question is, Who is printing your book without your permission? Is it possible someone bought the publishing company that brought out your book and that they THINK your contract with that publisher is still good? Even though you own the copyright, at some point you agreed to license book publishing rights to that first publisher. The question is, who is issuing the POD versions of your book? You didn't leave an email address, so I don't know how to respond to you directly. If you belong to the Authors Guild, you might give them full information and ask their opinion. If someone is printing books without your authorization this is an issue important to them (and the rest of us).
Update: Someone was publishing without his authorization and he and the Authors Guild are looking into the problem.
A man who has worked with a writer to tell his life story knows the manuscript needs more work. He asks: I am thinking about doing a collaboration with an author for my book. I am wondering what is the industry standard for splits. Does the co-author get 50% of advance if published and 50% of royalties thereafter?
Answer: There is no "industry standard." It depends on what you negotiate, how important you are to the partnership, how much work (and fame and marketability) each of you brings to the project, and so on. For most of us, by the way, the chances of a publisher wanting to publish your life story are between slim and none, and to hook an agent and a publisher you're going to have to write a query letter and/or a book proposal. You can learn a lot about working with a collaborator by reading the material here: Book collaboration and ghostwriting , and especially the section on collaboration agreements .
An unidentified person asked: Can you recommend some evening writing classes in New York.
These are some of the venues I've heard mentioned, but have no personal experience of. (Comments welcome from those who have attended.)
• Gotham Writers' Workshop
• The Writing Program (The New School Continuing Education)
• The Writers' Institute (where talented new writers meet today's top editors--tuition $13,500 per year)
• The Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing
• The Writers Studio
• Creative Writing Program (New York University)
• NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies
An unidentified person asked: "How can I find a ghostwritter? I have a book I am writing, I have the story and the ideas, but need help collaborating on it with a good writer."
Pat's response: Study all the articles linked to in the section on Ghostwriting and Collaboration. If you want to write it yourself, you may just need a coach, but my guess is you truly need a ghostwriter or a collaborator. Be aware that a ghostwriter (who does most of the work and gets none of the credit) will expect to be paid more than a collaborator (who shares author credits, and also expects to be well paid). Before you start, realize this: Ghostwriters and collaborators don't come cheap, because they have all the difficulties of writing a book plus the fact that is not in their own head, so they have to intuit what you really want to say, help you identify and organize your own thoughts (which in many cases are plentiful enough only for an article), and often do much of the research and narrative structuring and writing as well, for starters. And then there are the startlingly difficult realities of book publishing and getting your own book published. For that, read the section called So You Want to Write a Book (an expansion of a helpful page from the website of the late Sarah Wernick, posted on this site by permission of Sarah's husband).
A (presumably young) reader asked: i want to become a part-time writer as i am a student,is there any scope for part-time writers? how can one become a writer ?
Pat's response: Many writers write part-time. T.S. Eliot had a job, for example, and wrote poetry on the side.
Can anyone become a writer? It's the same question--but the underlying question is, can anyone become a good writer (and the answer to that is No, but most people can improve their writing and some mediocre writers can become good writers and good writers over time sometimes become brilliant writers. Some people have talent, which you need to become a fine writer, especially a creative writer (of poetry or compelling fiction or nonfiction, for example). But even writers with talent can improve their craft of writing -- partly by writing and getting feedback about what you write, and partly by reading a lot of good writing. (Read, read, read! and Write, write, write!)
Can one make a living as a writer? That is a different question altogether. Many of the pages on this website provide answers to these questions, but the broader question about making money as a writer (particularly part-time, as a student) is that it is probably harder to make money as a writer now than it was 15 years ago, say. The Internet and the 24-hour news cycle have busted budgets and created the demand for reading material--there are MANY opportunities to write now--but the readership is widely dispersed and probably harder to reach than it once was, in some ways (and easier to reach in others, particularly on a specific topic). And there is an ethos on the Internet of wanting information to be free."' Also, content mills that pay outrageously low fees are proliferating. It's easy to be paid peanuts, but don't be taken in. Good writers can do better than that.
The BEST writers, and those most persistent and creative about marketing their services and products, can and do make a living. I personally have made a living for many years with a combination of writing and editing -- but I have often shifted the emphasis in my work to find new markets, or to explore new fields when I have spent enough time in a field that it begins to feel boring and repetitive (of course, that's when you are an expert and can really make money). Speaking at a writer's conference, I once said, "The more boring the work, the more you can charge," which in a sense I meant about technical writing--which many find boring,yet lucrative. (That sentence led to the most profitable assignment of my life, at the time.)
Sadly, the work we love most often tends to command lower financial returns. At one end of the spectrum, poetry writers don't typically make significant income writing poetry (though their reputation as poets may land them jobs doing something else, such as teaching.) Many people write fiction aspiring to be the great American (or world) novelist; many of those novels don't get published; and many works of fiction that are published sell few copies and earn few royalties. The same people who write novels could probably make more money writing for corporate clients--but often hate the very thought of doing so.
I have tried to answer the reader's questions in separate discussions all over this website. Just think of this site as a not-yet-organized closet in which you can find those shoes to wear to the ball -- you may just have to look a bit before you find them. Some sections of the closet are better organized than others, because I've found time to organize them.
A reader who left no email address asked, "How can i get a reputable editor in New York city?" With no email address I could not refine your question. There are
• Editors in book publishing houses, who "acquire" manuscripts (buy the rights to publish your manuscript)--who may or may not choose to publish your work
• Book doctors and consulting editors, who work freelance and can help you fix a book that needs critical care
• Editors who freelance and can edit your manuscript at various levels -- from helping shape or improve the structure or narrative arc (story editors, though they probably won't use that term), to line editing (doing critical care on pages, paragraphs, and sentences), to copy editing (checking for consistency, grammar, spelling, etc.), to proofreading (when your writing is fine but you mix up terms and can't spell reliably, etc. and you want a final check before the book goes to the printer--but most manuscripts need far more than proofreading).
Which of these do you mean? And do you mean "reputable" or skilled or reliable or what? What do you want done? You may need to determine that first. Check these entries:
• Finding an Editor
• Kinds of editors and levels of edit--what every writer should know
• What editors and copyeditors do
• What book doctors and consulting editors do
I'm not sure why you are looking for an editor in New York City (unless that's where you are), as there are good editors all over the country. But New York is full of excellent editors who have lost their day jobs in book and magazine publishing because of all the downsizing and consolidating that is going on. There is no end of talent available there -- you just want to find the right editor for your particular need. On this website there's a section for editors called Where to find work. You might approach that same list from the client's viewpoint and figure out which group is most likely to list the kind of editor you want. What I would do is ask other writers I know if there is anyone they recommend. It is helpful to belong to an organization of writers who do your kind of work so you can develop connections that help you find skilled professionals of the type you are seeking.
If you are self-publishing and want your work to be professionally edited, your best bet is to hire someone who has done line editing in book publishing. A copy editor may not have the skills to tell you that your structure is a mess and here is one way to fix it, or your characterization is skimpy, or your storyline is full of holes, or your protagonist is less sympathetic than your villain. As you look for an editor, make it clear whether your manuscript is fiction or nonfiction, academic or general, and whether you are going to submit to a traditional publisher or publish it yourself. If you are self-publishing and lo0king for an editor, you are doing the right thing. Don't be one of the sloppily produced self-published books that is ruining the reputation of an interesting new field.
Question: How do I find an editor who is low cost here in San Francisco CA to help me with a small book of my writings?
Pat's response: Try the Bay Area Editors' Forum (BAEF) (which has a searchable public directory of members)
Question: So glad to find your site! I've been contracted by a businessperson to ghostwrite her nonfiction book, starting with the proposal. I've also been asked to draft the query letter and pitch it to agents. My question is: do I write the query letter as me or as my client? If the latter, do I mention that I (she) has a ghost?
Pat's response: I can only tell you what I would do, although of course it also depends on whether your client has a strong opinion on the matter. I would be upfront about it being a collaboration, with businessperson as author and you as writer. Are you absolutely sure your client wants it ghostwritten and not a collaboration (in which you get credit)? Publishers understand that the author may be the expert and the one who will do the promotion, but doesn't probably know how to write a book. So they will welcome a proposal that is upfront about the whole process, in my experience; they will be relieved to know that a professional writer is doing the actual writing and you will show in your sample chapters whether you are able to capture the author's voice. Your next question may be, how much do you include about yourself in the proposal, and that would be: enough to persuade them that you will do a good job, although the sample chapters will show that, too. I welcome differing or additional opinions from other ghostwriter/collaborators.
Question from a reader: Is it necessary to submit a book proposal when writing a children's book /novel? C.S.
Pat's response:. Children's publishing is entirely different from adult publishing. Check out these 20 great websites and pages of answers to frequently asked questions about children's book writing. On Harold Underdown's helpful Purple Crayon site, you'll find a sample acquisition proposal, a section from Harold Underdown's article on The Acquisition Process. And do read Jill Corcoran's page of links: Acquisitions: Peeling Back the Curtain
Question from a reader: I have been working on a historical anthology with two people who I approached to be co-editors. I have done 90% of the writing with other essays written by the co-editors and others. They have substantively edited my work. Now they are saying all three editors should be credited as authors on all the narrative. I think this is unfair since I have taken the time and provided the creative work. Is this standard practice in anthologies?
Pat's response: Not enough information there for me to respond; if you are writing most of the material, for example, how is it an anthology? Is it an anthology of pieces by the three of you, but mostly you? The answer, essentially, is "it depends" -- especially on what you agreed to in the beginning. If like many of us you started the project and it grew into something different, you may not have anticipated the results -- that one person would do most of the work and the others would respond and "polish," etc. There is no "standard" practice in anthologies, but I can assure you that the people who get the credit are not necessarily always the ones who do the "creative work" -- the writing. And many people feel that "substantial editing" is part of the creative process. Most of all, without knowing what you mean by "historical anthology," I don't know what kind of material you're talking about: nonfiction or fiction? scholarly or for a general audience? It's hard to guess when you talk about both a "narrative" and an "anthology." I can't picture the product!
Q:I would like to include on the cover of my forthcoming e-book the name of a person who has given me much help/information in checking my text for accuracy. I'd like to do this as a surprise to him. Do I list my name and underneath say "with Burt Phillips"? Of is there a better way to phrase it? Thanks for your help.
Response. Hmmm... I would probably NOT surprise him in quite the way you plan to -- I would ask HIM what he would suggest. Generally the "with XYZ" designation indicates that someone has been helping with the writing itself, enough to be considered a co-author. Burt would probably be pleased with such a designation, but sometimes people do NOT want to be given co-authorship credit on a book, so it is best to ask them first. Burt might prefer to be credited as doing superb research, for example. Or might not like the way you wrote the book (which I doubt, but you never know).
Q: What is the difference between writing a story & writing a history?
Response: A history is an account of what happened over time to a particular entity (a country, a company, a field -- say, a "history of music"). History may be made up of stories (narratives, tales), and a particular history may also be called a story (The Story of Rome), but stories are not necessarily histories. Stories may be fiction (made up) or nonfiction (fact-based--see section on Narrative Nonfiction). Histories should be fact-based and fact-checked, but may be told as stories. Does that answer your question?
Q2: It does.So then what is the difference between history and interpretive research? All three terms seem to overlap one way or another.
Response: Not to me, they don't. Maybe someone else can intuit what you have in mind. History is an account of what went on (and it could be in a research study, so it would be part of the report on that study). A history might include some interpretation, or might be interpretive generally, and an interpretation might include, or have as a preface, some history, but I think for a history people expect a narrative account of what went on (which might include interpretations), and for "interpretative research" (a term I'm not really familiar with), one would expect an interpretation of what went on (and the results and their implications), although the author might include some history to place things in perspective. Mind you, I'm just talking about the names of the parts. What field do you have in mind and what examples would help someone like me understand the question.
How much can I expect for an option on film rights to a self-published novel?
Q: I have adapted my own novel for the screen, and the screenplay has been picked up by an independent producer. However, the film rights to the novel must also be optioned from me in order for the film to be made. I've scoured the internet and googled my guts out, but I can find no information on what film rights (for a non-NYT bestseller) tend to go for, other than that the initial option is usual 10% of the rights-purchase price. (I published the book myself, hence I have no literary agent.)
A: This is not an area of expertise for me but I remember the late Murray Teigh Bloom telling members of ASJA that something he wrote (possibly The Trouble with Lawyers) got optioned so often (usually for about $2000 each time, for an 18-month option, as I recall) that the cumulative income was substantial, especially for an article, and it never WAS made into a movie. It takes so much to pull a deal together (getting the right producers, directors, actors, financing, etc.) that most options don't lead to actual films. Personally, deals for films are so complex (and rarely in the writer's favor) that I wouldn't license film rights without using an agent or an entertainment lawyer.
Any thoughts or resources from people better qualified than I am to answer this question would be great.
Can I use quotations for chapter openings?
Q: Is it legal to use a famous quotation, with citation, to start each chapter?
A: It's common practice to use a famous quotation, always with attribution, to start each chapter of a book. Know the principles of fair use -- be aware when you're going astray (for example, do not quote a whole piece--just a small extract).
What style guide do you recommend for books?
Q: Would you please recommend a style book for nonfiction and fiction books.
A: The style bible for both fiction and nonfiction books (and a few magazines) is The Chicago Manual of Style . Many professional copyeditors use the online edition). You'll find more on style, grammar and word choice here.
Selected reactions to items on Writers and Editors website
I just came by to make sure Sarah Wernick's advice on book-writing was still here -- thanks so much for maintaining it. How I miss her! ~ Fawn Fitter
Pat: Me too!
I've just read your "Tips on Tact and Tone" and found it very helpful. I was directed to your site by a class in Proofreading and Copyediting 201. Your article reminded me of the saying "Don't get too big for your britches." I hope to follow your advice and stay humble. Thank you, LS
Question: What type of technology (not just modern-day) do writers and editors need to do their job?
Off hand, I depend most heavily on my computer, printer, telephone (and cell phone when on road), digital recorder (and mic, extra cords, etc), headphones for listening to things on computer, radio for listening to NPR and to music, and Epson scanner for scanning photos. Plus pens of various colors for editing (using red for certain kinds of edits, purple for others, etc.), pencils, erasers.Plus tons of paper, and a gazillion books. I have so far avoided buying various devices for going online while out of office, being easily enough distracted by everything else, although a GPS system sounds mighty tempting.
Readers: feel free to add what equipment you find essential.
Finding an agent for movie rights
Question: My book has been self published. Would I contact a literary agent for a movie or tv deal, even though the book is already published?
Answer: This is not an area of expertise for me, but even literary agents typically rely on other agents to sell movie or TV rights. I'd check out some of the entries under Agents and Book Proposals, including some of the Agent blogs, and pose your question to them. I suspect that a self-published book would start out at a disadvantage (the assumption being that if it wasn't good enough to be picked up by a traditional publisher, it's probably not great). Check out excellent sites linked to under Films, plays, and documentaries.
Question: How do I submit articles for this website?
Answer: This site is owner written, with rare exceptions.
Question: Who is your editor? I am citing my source (you) and Knightcite is asking for the editor of the website. Where would I find that information on your site?
Answer: Pat McNees is writer and editor for this site, Writers and Editors. And to answer someone else's question, Pat created this website using the Authors Guild Sitebuilder tool. Sitebuilder is fairly idiotproof, but keeping a website up to date is a major time suck. Pat's two other websites are Pat McNees and Comfort Dying (a site started to support my anthology, DYING: A Book of Comfort. I write so much about patients and medical care that the site has become somewhat geared to illness, survival, and caregiving. I'll have to rethink that site or start a new one).
Question: when to use got vs gotten
Answer: Preferred usage is get, got, gotten for American English: I get angry, I got angry, I have gotten angry (but in British English preference is given to "I have got angry"). You'll find links to sites that provide such answers under Style, grammar, and word choice: Editing yourself and others on this website.
Question: How do I submit articles for this website?
Answer: This site is owner written, with rare exceptions.
Question: when to use got vs gotten
Answer: Preferred usage is get, got, gotten for American English: I get angry, I got angry, I have gotten angry (but in British English preference is given to "I have got angry").
Seeking Venue for Book That Requires Reader Participation
Question: I have an idea for a book that requires reader participation. I thought I had found the ideal venue, only to discover that people found it difficult to access. Is there a site that is easy to access for people wanting to participate in this project?
~Sherry Bennett Warshauer
Pat's response: I can't help Sherry on that one. If you can, please post a response. (They are monitored, for spam, etc.)
Question: Can a book have an intro without having a preface? Can it have a preface without having an intro?
Pat's response: Yes. They serve different functions. Most novels, for example, do not have an introduction, though some have a preface (especially if the book has been re-issued after having a long history of being in print or out of print). See The difference between a preface, foreword, and introduction.
Who owns images created for a book collaboration that went nowhere?
Question: I created a number of illustrations for a book collaboration with another person that never came about. I have copyrighted the images myself & wish to use them for another project, but the 'author' of the other 'book' thinks that he has "copyrighted them to the original book idea" & has threatened to take legal action against me if I try to use them in any way. Is it even possible to "copyright an idea/ or related images to an idea or text manuscript" that is not a finished publication? I would like to use the images myself for either a similar book that I have written a new text for, or a different book (that I have also written the text for) & related promotional materials (t-shirts & postcards etc) but am concerned about any possible retaliation. Any advice most appreciated!
There's no easy answer to this one. Yes, you can copyright something that was not published, but you cannot copyright an idea. You can only copyright the expression of an idea. If you literally registered copyright on the images you created, then unless you "sold" them or signed them away to someone else, or agreed to give someone exclusive rights to them, you should be able to use them -- it depends on the terms of your agreement (and to be sure, check it out with an intellectual property lawyer). You can find out through the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress if the manuscript was copyrighted in your collaborator's name. It's important to know that there is a difference between rights and copyright (which is a bundle of rights). You can own copyright on something but license or sign away certain rights. What rights you have to the images you created depends on the terms of your collaboration. Did you have a collaboration agreement? That should spell out who owns what, in the event your collaboration ends. It sounds like what you are talking about has good marketing possibilities--and that the images are an important part of what's marketable. Did any money change hands? Did you sign anything with your collaborator? If so, your rights to use the images may be in question--especially if your collaborator is still trying to market your joint product (was it a joint product, or were you a subcontractor). I'd probably take these questions and tentative answers to a good intellectual property lawyer, just to be on the safe side. It doesn't matter who is in the right, if someone wants to sue you. It will cost money to defend your rights. So if your collaborator is litigious, that's another factor: how much is the nuisance of a lawsuit going to cost in time and money, even if you will probably win? (That's why publishers tend to stay away from manuscripts that smack of trouble.)
Note: I am not a lawyer (and "you gets what you pays for"). Consult a good intellectual property lawyer, to be sure. Anyone else have a response to this question? Lawyers?
• What's up with the orphan works legislation I've been hearing about? What does that have to do with the Google Book Settlement?
• Are there any writers' groups near me?
• Are there discussion groups for mysteries? Can you point me to them?
• How can I get started writing the story of my life and what is the difference between a memoir and an autobiography?
• How does one get started writing children's books?
• Children's books authors: Who does the art work?
• How do I find a good jacket designer?
• I have a great idea for cookbook. Can I copyright the title to protect my idea?
• What are the steps to registering copyright on a manuscript?
• How does a first-time author get funding for publishing?
• Do I need a college degree to become a writer?
• What's the difference between a query and a proposal?
• How do I find a literary agent?
• How can I get help with editing of my book proposal?
• How do I approach an editor an agent has recommended?
• Do publishing houses not edit anymore?
• Is there any way to find out if an editor is right for me? Finding an editor who's the right match for the job
• Trade publisher or university press?
• Has anyone else had problems with print-on-demand (POD) from Lulu.com?
• How can I avoid being sued for libel?
• Why did Hachette take a stand against Amazon.com?
• Why not to use Word to format a book
• What's the best software for preparing endnotes or a bibliography?
• Why don't some sites use "smart" quotes and apostrophes (the ones that curl left and right)?
• Shouldn't I type two spaces after the period?
• Why do PCs have trouble reading files from Macs? (How to send a file from a Mac to a PC)
• How do I deal with a problem I have e-transferring audio-files from my digital recorder?
• Google alerts a vehicle for spam?
• I've been told I am being considered for listing in Who's Who. How can I tell if this is legitimate or a scam?
• Where can I buy your book, DYING: A Book of Comfort?
What's up with the Orphan Works legislation I've been hearing about? What does that have to do with the Google Books Settlement?
Under current copyright law, any work of art you create is protected by copyright from the moment you create it, whether you register it with the Copyright Office or not. (You may not be able to collect statutory damages for infringement unless register it with the copyright office.) But under pending Orphan Works legislation, sketches and photos and movies and bits of music and boxes of old photos, slides, negatives, etc., that you have not registered would not be protected unless they were registered with a commercial registry, as I understand it (and no such registry currently exists). It's the little guy who stands to lose most from this legislation, so pay attention. See useful links in the section on Copyright and fair use. And check Lawrence Lessig's opinion piece on the subject in the New York Times: Little Orphan Artworks by Lawrence Lessig (5-20-08).
The Google Books Settlement claims to be about Orphan Works legislation but, judging from the controversy that has risen around it, it's also about who is going to be issuing print-on-demand copies of such works and whether this settlement is giving Google a monopoly on the income stream therefrom, when the issue might better be settled through legislation. An interesting and important debate. Click here for links to key arguments for and against about the Google Book Settlement ((Pro and Con).
Are there any writers' groups near me?
There probably are. Check the listings under Local and regional organizations and under Writers Meetups, a site I was unfamiliar with but which, if you type in your zip code, does list groups that meet near you. I'd like to hear from those of you who have tried these local "meetup" groups how well they work, and for what type of writer. I've met several women who found good critiquing groups through the International Women's Writing Guild (IWWG).
Are there discussion groups for mysteries? Someone mentioned a new discussion group about mysteries. Can you point me to it?
Are you thinking of Mystery Readers International, which seems to have local mystery reading groups all over the country?
Or do you mean a group for mystery writers. Among online discussion groups for writers are the following: Murder Must Advertise, an active Yahoo discussion list about how to promote new mysteries, and CrimeThruTime, a discussion group about historical mysteries. Are there others anyone can recommend? See also a host of organizations for writers in various fiction genres.
CrimeOnline.net (forum, community of crime fiction writers, readers, and professionals from publishing and crime-related fields)
Crime Writers (a forum for those interested in writing or currently writing crime fiction--police procedurals, noir, hard-boiled, etc.)
Do you have any tips on how I can get started writing the story of my life? What's the difference between a memoir and an autobiography?
Essentially, the autobiography is an account of an entire life, often but not always in more or less chronological order, A memoir tends to focus on a slice or portion of a life, a theme in that life, or a particular aspect of it. The link below will take you to a fuller explanation of the difference, and if you scroll down the page you will find a list of books to get you started, if you aren't lucky enough to live near a place that offers courses in memoir writing.
Joining a group of people who are all working on their life stories is really a good way to get you started and to keep the work flowing. The men and women who take my Life Story and Legacy Writing class at the Writer's Center in Bethesda, Maryland, say one of the things they like about it is the discipline of having to show up every week with something. They don't have to but usually do read aloud what they wrote for the week, and hearing each other's stories is both interesting and inspiring, because each of them is taking on a different slice of a theme or time of life, or writing in a different tone, or otherwise suggesting possibilities that may or may not resonate for them but usually start them thinking about possibilities for themselves. A friend has had similar success in a memoir-writing group she joined through her church. Another advantage of writing with a group is that they will ask questions about what you've written, questions you might not have thought of but realize that you should address to make your story complete.
One thing you should do right from the start is create a timeline both of critical events (and turning points) in your life and minor events and incidents. The one I am doing for a family history is typed in Word, because it is many pages long (with copy inserted), but you could also create a long line on a very long piece of paper, break the line into decades, and after jotting down major events in your life, add notes as you think of them of minor but memorable events, anecdotes, even character sketches that belong in a certain year. At the same create a timeline on what was going on in the world that had an effect on you--or a timeline of what was going on in the rest of your family or professional world, etc. The timeline will help you shape your narrative and find connections, but it may also help elicit memories. Just juxtaposing events and people may stimulate memories.
My daughter wants to try writing children's books. Where can she find out how to get started?
The children's book departments in book publishing operate differently from the adult trade editorial departments, and there are agents who specialize in children's literature. Tell your daughter to check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and to try attending local chapter meetings if there are any near her. Or find out what resources are available through them, and how that special subworld of publishing works. Experiences children's book writers and editors, feel free to share advice.
To start, you might check out
• Top 10 FAQs about children's book publishing (SCBWI)
• From Keyboard to Printed Page (SCBWI, PDF, free)
• Types of Publishers (SCBWI, on its Just Getting Started page
• From the Editor's Desk (Beverly Horowitz, answering questions most often asked by writers of books for young readers)
If that's not enough, listed below are several books on the subject. Kindle editions are available for some. You can learn a lot about the books from the Amazon reviews, including the negative reviews, by clicking on links below. I get a small commission if you buy a book after clicking on my link (even if it's not the book you first clicked on):
• Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children's Books by Uri Shulevitz
• Writing Children's Books For Dummies by Lisa Rojany Buccieri and Peter Economy
• Yes! You Can Learn How to Write Children's Books, Get Them Published, and Build a Successful Writing Career by Nancy I. Sander
• The Business of Writing for Children: An Award-Winning Author's Tips on Writing Children's Books and Publishing Them, or How to Write, Publish, and Promote a Book for Kids by Aaron Shepard
• The Writer's Guide to Crafting Stories for Children (Write for kids library) by Nancy Lamb
• Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication by Ann Whitford Paul.
CHILDREN'S BOOK AUTHORS: WHO DOES THE ART WORK?
I've written a children's book and am getting ready to submit it. I've drawn sketches for the illustrations but they're not very good. Should I include the illustrations with the manuscript?
RESPONSE: Editors of picture books for children do not expect (or want) illustrations provided by the writer, especially from first-time authors. They look at artists' portfolios regularly and take pride in matching up text and illustrations. The children's book biz operates differently from the adult book biz. You may want to participate in forums on the subject, or join (or attend a meeting of) the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.
A reader asks How do I find a good jacket designer?
Pat's response: Jacket designers, who are often independent contractors, are often credited on book jackets. If a google search doesn't turn up the website of a designer whose work you like, try Literary Marketplace, which many libraries stock in their reference section. Jacket designing is a specialized skill. Be sure the graphic artist you hire to design a book jacket knows the elements that must be there and that work best for various kinds of display (in a bookstore, online, etc.)
A reader asks: I have a great idea for a cookbook, but the best thing about it is the title. Can I copyright my manuscript so that while agents and publishers are looking at it, nobody will steal it?
Response:. The bad news is that copyright does not protect names or titles. (In some cases the title may be protected as a trademark.) Nor does copyright protect ideas, concepts, or ways of doing something, the whole idea being to encourage creativity but also the free exchange of ideas. (Copyright does protect the idea itself as you express it--but it is protecting that expression, not the idea.)
Copyright also does not protect recipes to the extent that they are just a listing of ingredients. A cookbook may be protected by copyright because it is a collection, and because the directions in the recipes contain substantial literary expression, but not for the "formulas" in a recipe (1 cup this plus 2 teaspoons of that).
Question: What are the steps to copyrighting a manuscript?
To register copyright on a manuscript, you must submit a completed application form, a nonrefundable filing fee of $30, and a nonreturnable copy of the manuscript (printed, on paper--not on disk) of the work to be registered.
In the United States, as soon as you create a work and fix it in tangible form, copyright law protects it. You don't need to register copyright. In the past, U.S. law required authors to affix a copyright notice to their works; Congress eliminated that requirement in 1989. But if you want to collect damages for copyright infringement, you must register copyright.
To find answers to other copyright questions, click here.
How does a first-time author get funding for publishing?
This question might as well be how does any author get funding for publishing, except that once you have a track record it is somewhat easier. Essentially, for a magazine piece, you write a query, and you either get an assignment or you don't, but you don't get paid until you have written the piece--so you need another source of cash flow if you need something to live on while writing (which is why beginners are often advised to keep their day job while launching a freelance career).
For a nonfiction book, you write a book proposal, and the publisher either offers a contract or doesn't, but again, although you may be paid part of the advance against royalties on signing, for a first-time author this will usually be a fairly small sum, and hard to live on during the time it takes to write the book (which almost always takes longer than you think it will). And the advance seldom covers your cost of living for the entire time you are writing, unless you are smart or lucky enough to come up with a book that provides a big advance.
For fiction most writers have to submit the entire work before getting a book contract, which is why many fiction writers have day jobs (or lead frugal lives).
There are grants for literary or scholarly writers, and there are books that list sources of grants and fellowships, but these are for specific types of books -- not for the average mystery novel or how-to book.
In short, for the first-time author, you'd better have a back-up plan, a day job, a solid bank account, or a life partner who can support you while you get started. It's tough times even for regular writers, if you're talking just about "getting published," and not about writing for income. There are writing jobs that are not particularly glamorous, but pay the rent--writing press releases, writing advertising inserts, writing technical copy (computer and how-to manuals, for example), writing catalog copy, answering letters for a senator. I assume that's not the kind of "first-time author" you are asking about.
Question: Do I need a college degree to become a writer?
This question comes from a student.
No, you do not need a college degree to be a writer, although you might need one to get some of the jobs that sustain writers who can't make a living selling their material freelance. If you are trying to sell short pieces to a magazine or newspaper, they are not going to ask if you have a college degree -- they are going to pay you to run a piece if they think it is well-written. To assign a piece (agree that you will write a piece, which you have proposed), they will have received from you a really well-written query letter or they may assign it because you have a track record as writer (they know you can deliver the goods) and the credentials in a certain subject area (which may be just good general-assignment writing, after doing interviews). My guess is that most writers do have either a college degree or some college studies. But I would guess that plenty of novels have been written by people who do not have college degrees, and probably a fair number of nonfiction books, too. It helps if you know good grammar and style, but you don't need a college degree to get these. And college degrees probably do NOT convey a good sense of storytelling, or the ability to explain things clearly, two of the chief skills a writer needs.
What's the difference between a query and a proposal?
Generally, when you're submitting a story idea to a magazine publisher, you write a one-page "query." Whole books have been written about the art of query writing, but basically your writing style is almost as important as the story you are proposing, which must be way beyond "I'd like to write a piece about portobello mushrooms." Besides suggesting a "story" (not a "subject") or an angle on a story, your query is like an audition, showing that you are competent, have flair, a voice, and so on. You may want in a few words to suggest why you would be the right person to write this piece.
When you want to submit a book manuscript or book idea to a book publisher, you write a book proposal, which is much longer than a query. In fact, you might send a query to the book publisher asking if they want to see your nonfiction book proposal. Staffs in book publishing being as overworked as they are, in general they want such a book proposal to come through an agent (agents now serving as the "readers" publishers used to have on their staff, screening out the clearly unpublishable projects and writers and finding the few and unexpected gems). Even if you have already written an entire manuscript, they would rather see a proposal than the whole manuscript, partly because the proposal is a marketing device -- if they want to do the book, they have to sell it to their editorial committee, which won't have time to read a full book manuscript (in most cases). This goes for nonfiction. With fiction they need to see the whole manuscript, although you might start by sending a partial manuscript and a plot outline and asking them if they want to see the whole thing.
How do I find a literary agent?
A reader asks: Can someone help me? I am looking for a literary agent. I have a book that I would like published, but it has a few topics, but the main one is how I became a paraplegic.
There's way too little information here on which to base helpful advice. Generally, you aren't going to be able to attract an agent even to read your material unless you have a solid book proposal written, or a very good sample of the kind of thing you are going to write (or have already written). And for a book proposal you will have to write a persuasive section on the nature and potential size of the audience for the book. If it is a fascinating narrative, you will need to provide a sample showing that you can write a compelling account of your story -- and even then, they're going to have to think there is a big enough market for the book to take it on.
If by "can someone help me" you mean that you need help writing the book, that's a whole OTHER question: How do I find a collaborator (a professional writer) to work with me on first, the proposal, and then, the book. And generally that's going to involve paying some money up front, unless your story is so unusual that you can find a writer to write it "on speculation," which most of the writers I know will only rarely do.
I'm not sure what you mean in saying it is about "several topics," but to some extent you will want to focus on one or two, although you might cover subtopics in passing. The book needs a clear main focus and a clear market. Essentially, you need a working title and a "pitch" (a brief "elevator-speech" type sentence or two about what your book is about--the sort you can make quickly, that will register on the imagination quickly, and will linger in memory), the sentence or two that will be important both for marketing your manuscript and later marketing your book. With that, you can set out to find an agent, a collaborator, and so on. See the section on this website on Agents, book proposals, and collaborations.
How can I get help with my book proposal?
You can usually find a professional writer to help you with such a task, but you need to be clear what kind of help you want. Do you just want "copyediting," correcting all misspelling (such as "proposal") and fixing ungrammatical sentences? Or do you want the proposal to be more enticing and persuasive? I suggest you try the Writer's Referral Service of the American Society of Journalists & Authors, unless your book proposal is specialized, in which case the writers referral service of a more specialized writers organization (say, the National Association of Science Writers) may help you find a writer-editor. There are also organizations of editors, if you truly just need editing. But for a proposal, correctness is probably not so important as dynamic writing, good ideas and material, and the ability to persuade an agent and publisher that an audience of at least several thousand people will be willing to plunk down $20+ for this book, that you are the right person to write it, and that you can deliver an acceptable manuscript.
Writing a successful book proposal is not easy. In the days when I was willing to help someone write a book proposal, I never charged less than $5,000, because to write a solid book proposal you have to think through the structure and contents of the book, analyze the market and its competitors, think about the best way to market the book, explain what your "platform" is, and so on. If you have an already decent book proposal and it truly needs just editing, you won't need to spend nearly that much. But be aware that having in someone "edit" your proposal you should be prepared to ask for and listen to comments about why and how it needs beefing up, or a stronger voice, or more passion, or any of a number of qualities that will help it stand out from the crowd of proposals sent to agents and publishers every week.
I have a manuscript. How do I approach an editor who has been recommended by an agent who is interested in my manuscript?
(This is a question about approaching an acquiring editor.) Are you considering bypassing an agent who is interested in your manuscript and going straight to the acquiring editor he's recommended, cutting out the agent? Apart from whether it's right or wrong to use the agent's suggestion without using the agent, be aware that most editors want a manuscript to come in through an agent, who (in effect) serves as a screening agent, to filter out the lousy manuscripts -- serving the function "readers" used to serve, when publishing houses could afford them. One of the things an agent will tell you, if your manuscript is nonfiction, is that the editor will probably want to see a book proposal. If your manuscript is fiction, editors are all the more eager not to have to deal directly with the authors. And if you do go to the editor on your own and get rejected, you will certainly have ruled out any chance of working with that agent. We expect agents and editors to behave in honorable ways; we as writers should do the same. You can find most editors through Literary Marketplace, a reference work many public libraries stock in their reference section (not to be checked out).
Do publishing houses not edit anymore?
Less and less, in the experience of many colleagues. They typically farm out the copyediting, and the editor who goes through making substantive edits and editorial suggestions is a rare bird. Morever, the publishing editor's traditional role of making sure obvious errors are eliminated seems to be in danger. More and more, authors are hiring their own line editors to make sure their manuscripts are in good shape -- or swapping edits with other writers they trust. And when they are lucky enough to get one of the few editors who still edits, they are often willing to accept less money upfront in return for the privilege of good editing.
Is there any way to find out if an editor is right for me -- is the right match for the job?
It is perfectly reasonable to ask a prospective editor for a sample of their editing -- or even to do a sample edit of your work, for which you should expect to pay. As your question implies, not every editor will be right for every writer or manuscript.
One editor may be great at evaluating the big picture and telling you what YOU need to do to improve a manuscript, or whether you need someone else to help you -- and whether that would be with a total rewrite, a substantive edit, a thorough copy edit, or a light edit. In my experience, some writers think they need an editor to fix their grammar, when in fact they need an editor to point out that the flow and logic of their arguments is unclear, or a particular section has not been clearly thought through, or that the style and tone are not consistent,etc. If you need the kind of editor who can help you think through concepts, you won't want to use an editor who is merely a stickler for details and rules of grammar. If you are a novelist with an unorthodox style, you will experience only headaches with an editor who thinks there is only one right way to form a sentence. If you are writing your dissertation and know that every detail must be just so, you will want an editor who is a perfectionist and knows the rules of your particular academic game. Some editors are good at some kinds of editing and not others. And some editors may just rub you the wrong way.
Another reason for doing a test run is for both of you to get a sense of how long the editing will take -- which may depend both upon how much editing your manuscript needs and how quickly the editor works. The editor may welcome such a test before committing to a price for your manuscript, as some manuscripts that appear to be an easy edit on a quick glance turn out to be quagmires full of different problems, enmeshing the editor in far more work than a casual evaluation permits.
So yes, do ask if the editor would mind editing a chapter or a few pages to see how compatible you are. Many editors will be happy with this arrangement, but be aware that it's a two-way street: If the editor thinks you or your manuscript may be difficult, this is also a chance for them to decide they are not right for this job. Do be fair: If you ask them to provide a sample edit, pay them for their time.
Trade publisher or university press?
Is it better to publish with a university press (my biography was accepted) or go with a popular press even though it means getting an agent?
Response: Personally I would never let the step of getting an agent keep me from going with a trade publisher (the ones that sell mostly through bookstores), but there are definite differences between trade publishers and university presses.
Trade publishers (and agents) pay more attention to the bottom line, and if your book has commercial potential, you could end up getting wider distribution and making more money. You could also have the bad luck of getting a publisher who doesn’t do a good job editing, publishing, or promoting the book and doesn't keep it in print very long. Getting a trade publisher is no guarantee of success, financial or otherwise. I suspect university presses are geared to keeping a book in print longer, though not forever, but they are having to pay more attention to the bottom line these days, too. I could be mistaken, but I believe university presses offer less favorable discounts to bookstores,and I think but am not sure that they do not welcome "returns"—— so bookstores don't welcome their titles, except as special orders for customers.
I asked a friend who has been happy with her university press experiences to weigh in here: “I wish I had kept the article that appeared in the Washington Post Book World several years ago about trade v. university presses. The author was a novelist who, after publishing with trade houses, had turned to university presses and liked them better.
"I have been very happy with my u presses, although, since I have never had a trade publisher, I have no basis for comparison. The first press kept my book (on archival paper) in print for 8 years. They did a second printing when the first ran out because I was still selling them at various events. When it was finally discontinued they gave me back the rights (very important) and the remaining books - I only paid the shipping. Eventually I sold them all and just had the book reprinted in paperback because I am still selling it.
"I published my second book with another university press. It is still in print three years after publication. It went into paperback, but one customer wanted hard covers, so they did a third hardcover printing. I am not sure trade publishers would be so amenable to suggestion.
"I think Pat's point about stocking the books is interesting. My books appeal to regional groups, and I have sold them at parks and other locales, as well as in gift shops associated with places where the subjects lived, and to groups with interests in the subjects. Each book has sold between 3000 and 4000 copies so far.
"One last thought about agents. I did try with my first book to go with a trade publisher and managed to get a good agent. But the various publishers she tried all said it was a university press subject. So it depends on your subject. I think Pat's remark about the commercial value is very true.
"And then there is the horror story of our colleague whose publisher went through radical reorganization just as his book came out. Another friend has had similar experiences. University presses are pretty stable."
A third biographer, whose first biography sold more than 20,000 copies in hardcover, adds to the discussion: “It would be very unusual to have a choice of trade vs. U press. As Pat said, everything depends on your topic. To be published is nearly a miracle these days by anyone. The agent issue is less important than deciding whether or not your book has the sort of name recognition that a trade press would pay for. If it does, an agent will think so too and you'll find one. I believe it’s all subject-driven, unless you have a reputation to ride on. In the new narrative nonfiction world (whatever that term really means) trade houses won't consider anything that doesn't have instant name recognition or political association (unless you have a huge reputation and your name sells anything).
"The trade world in books, ebooks, returnables ibooks is very dicey, and the market is very jittery. [The trade publisher for this author, despite huge sales for a book about a person whose name almost everyone is familiar with, is letting her book go out of print after 10 years.] It is true, university presses keep books in print longer. "In addition to low sums up front to authors, with the U press the vetting process can be arduous, with “reader reports” and the many hoops one has to jump through. I had trouble with reader reports that went on and on and on. I've been a reader for U presses and I think it is, or can be, a very flawed process, and it takes much longer. In trade, if you are lucky enough to get a good editor, your editor says ok, yes no, you confer, you edit, and it goes to copy editing—deadlines are much stricter because there's money on the table.
"Incidentally, biography sells better in hardcover than in paperback, and not every hardcover gets republished in paper."
I find an interesting statement in a story Peter Givler wrote about University Press publishing in the United States, posted on the AAUP website: "...a 1979 Supreme Court ruling about the way manufacturers would be allowed to value inventory for tax purposes created a windfall for university presses. "The Thor decision, as it is known, caused many commercial publishers to put their slow-moving backlist titles out of print, including many of high editorial quality. The availability of these titles created a wave of new publishing opportunities because, as nonprofit enterprises, university presses are not taxed on the value of their inventories, and they saw this as creating an easy, low-cost entry into trade publishing. By keeping in print many of these titles that would otherwise have disappeared, university presses have provided an invaluable cultural service. Yet while general trade publishing by university presses has certainly increased, it has not proved to be the road to financial salvation, nor, given the high-risk nature of most general trade publishing, is it likely that it will." Others who have stories to tell, weigh in here!
Has anyone else had problems with print-on-demand (POD) from Lulu.com?
A colleague writes:
I tried printing one copy of a 196-page book on lulu.com. I was pleased with the results and the price, so I ordered five more copies sent to three different addresses. All of them were flawed, with between 2 and 40 missing pages.
She asks, What has been your experience with lulu.com? Can you recommend any other print-on-demand companies that work from PDFs rather than requiring you to upload text and images into their own layout program?
Considering how many things can go wrong in traditional printing -- which is why we always check proofs before issuing the print order -- I would be surprised if this kind of problem didn't come up regularly with print-on-demand publishing. Can we hear from someone who has a lot of experience with Lulu.com and similar firms?
Meanwhile, check out the invaluable information at The truth about print-on-demand (POD) publishing, a subsection in of the larger topic Self-Publishing and Print-on-Demand (POD). Above all, recognize that there is a difference between print-on-demand technology (which is going to be increasingly important) and print-on-demand publishing (which is where you are asked to give up some of your rights as an author, in return for promotion, etc., that may never come or may not be worth what you have to pay for it).
How can I avoid being sued for libel?
Question: I've written a book that I would like a lawyer to review for libel, but I am not being paid much at all, so I can't spend a lot. What do you recommend?
Answer: A friend who writes true crime books tells me this: "All the lawyers in the world can't protect you from being sued. Have it read by a lawyer by all means, but the writer would be better served by truly understanding invasion of privacy etc. (maybe joining Mystery Writers of America, which, though largely for fiction writers, does in its newsletter provide some factual legal info). Best of all, get some libel insurance. (It is well nigh impossible for "book authors" to buy on their own libel insurance; if you do look for it, libel or media perils insurance is often called “Errors and Omissions Insurance.” True crime, investigative journalism, and pornography are all considered high-risk.) I don't think I would now undertake a true crime book, except for a historical case, without being specifically covered by a publisher's libel insurance. Any character in the story can come out of the woodwork. I get lots of release forms from interviewees, disguise some characters, change some names. It helps to have a solid journalistic background, and know what you can and cannot do.
Of course, we can't give legal advice and this is not that. By all means, consult a lawyer. And protect your assets. I believe Joseph Wambaugh has been sued several times. He said at a writers conference that most writers don’t realize that such insurance can have its limits. Once final appeals have been exhausted, said Wambaugh, “If the court still finds against you for defamation, the insurance company is not obliged to cover. The writer can lose everything. But no one has ever prevailed against me.”"
Why did Hachette take a stand against Amazon.com?
The publisher Hachette UK sent a letter to its authors explaining its position in a dispute with Amazon over wholesale prices that has led to the e-tailer pulling buy buttons from some prominent recent releases.
From that letter: "Larger British book retailers already receive the most generous terms in the English-language world from publishers including ourselves. Of the 'cake' represented by the recommended retail price of a general book, major retailers including Amazon already receive on average well over
50%. Despite these advantageous terms, Amazon seems each year to go from one publisher to another making increasing demands in order to achieve richer terms at our expense and sometimes at yours... If this continued, it would not be long before Amazon got virtually all of the revenue that is presently shared between author, publisher, retailer, printer and other parties... We are politely but firmly saying that these encroachments need to stop now."
"...We are concerned that more and more traditional booksellers are having to close their doors, with skilled individual booksellers losing their jobs, and this is due in part to Amazon's aggressively low pricing on prominent titles. Therefore, despite our limited role in respect of these changes in the retail landscape, we are determined not to provide Amazon with further ammunition with which it could damage booksellers who offer a personal service, browsing facilities and other valuable benefits to the reading public."
Updates on antitrust site against Amazon, for forcing all publishers using print-on-demand (POD) technology to use Amazon to print their books (BookLocker's class action suit)
WHY NOT TO USE WORD TO FORMAT A BOOK
I hear this question I hear over and over, in one form or another: I am having trouble getting 200 pages and 35 photos into one Word dccument. Is there any way to speed up the process and keep Word from crashing? Is it really necessary to buy and use design software when Word has so many formatting features?
One graphic designer explains that she is biassed toward layout programs because they can do a better, faster job and produce a superior product with less work. "It is POSSIBLE to lay out a good-looking book in Word, she says, but what takes you 25 hours in Word might take only 10 hours in InDesign (costing you the value of that extra time). And most people aren't aware that a PDF file created from InDesign will be of much higher quality than a PDF file created in Word, for all sorts of technical reasons. The colors (including black) will be much truer, the fonts will be handled much more consistently, the gray tones of a B&W photo will be sharper, and so on." (InDesign is the program most graphic designers are using nowadays.)
Check out David Blatner's answer to the question, Why Use InDesign Instead of MS Word?
"Word isn’t a page layout program," writes Blatner, "so it’s more difficult and time consuming to get graphics to 'stay put' on a page, wrap text around them, and control them. Graphics tend to 'fly off' to other pages (in the words of one of my clients) because you’ll place a graphic on page 3 today but when you open up the document tomorrow, it could be on page 4 or 5 or 19. Who knows! Even when you take pains to anchor graphics correctly, you get drastic reflow of graphics."
If that's not convincing, check out Making the most of Word software.
What's the best software for preparing endnotes or a bibliography?
What can readers tell me about Endnote, Reference Manager, ProCite, and RefWorks as software programs to manage the preparation of bibliographies? I understand that if I google "review X" I will find some online reviews, but those of you who have tried these programs (and others?), what do you think? See complaint about Endnote below.
The trouble with Endnote
A member of the Washington Biography Group explains why she calls Endnote "the program from hell"
ENDNOTE is not very intuitive and is cumbersome at best. That said, there isn't much else out there. I am hardware and software savvy, but this program has completely beaten me. A gracious person from my Mac users group, who works with ENDNOTE daily, volunteered to help me. Even she found Endnote hard to customize for the Chicago Manual of Style, which my publisher requires. The program has a "style" for CMA, but it is wrong.
I took online training, have been in touch with the U.S. distributor, and am on Endnote listservs. None of that helped me.
It seems that if you can get a style established and your templates formatted, you're good. Until I get there, I am simply creating an ENDNOTE database, and I am using the Word footnote function as I create my manuscript. I am using a coding system to avoid typing in each reference and my assistant will convert my Word footnotes to ENDNOTE using the database. Bless her. Word makes sense to me and has a wonderful function unavailable in ENDNOTE that allows you to jump from your footnote directly to its place in your manuscript. However, with Word, you have to type in everything each time and it does not save data to generate a bibliography, that I know of.
I am hoping that Endnote will eventually do the magic I'm told only it can do: take my database of references and generate endnotes for each chapter and a bibliography for the end of the book.
During my hours of complete desperation, I Googled "I hate ENDNOTE" and "ENDNOTE sucks." I got so many hits. LOL I know a couple of authors who swear by it, but so far, its charm is lost to me. I read online that the new Word has a revise function to rival ENDNOTE and ENDNOTE users are hoping that will force ENDNOTE to improve and become more user friendly.
My advice is to understand how the program works completely before you begin. Especially true if you want to use its "Cite While You Write" feature. Learning ENDNOTE while trying to write can be an absolute disaster.
Why do PCs have trouble reading files from MACs? (How to send a file from a MAC to a PC)
Okay, okay, so Macs are infinitely superior computers to PCs, but have pity on us. When you are sending an electronic file to a computer with Microsoft software, you have to talk babytalk or it won't understand you.
Make sure the files you send to Windows users have a three letter extension --e.g.,
Whenever possible do not use spaces or special characters (such as & or "" or ' or ' or colon or semicolon or back or forward slashes. With a date don't write 3/4/08 but instead 3-4-08, using underscores or hyphens instead. For example:
If you include spaces instead of hyphens or underscores, the email systems might strip off the part after the first space, so on that example the filename would come as "This" and there would be no ".doc" to indicate it's a Word document.
I get this advice from my computer tutor, Claude Kerno.
Linda Coffin, of HistoryCrafters, writes:
"The simplest solution of all is to buy a utility called 'Conversions Plus' ($50) and install it on your PC. You never have to think about the issue again. The program will read any file, created on any system, even from programs you don't have. You can open them without wondering where they came from or how they were created. I've used Conversions Plus for years and I couldn't do without it.
If you buy the 'Conversions Plus/MacOpener' bundle ($80), you can read and open files created on any computer system, whether Mac, PC, Linux, or anything else. I never worry about whether my client's CDs were created on the same operating system as mine because the program will read anything they send.
Conversions Plus is a product of DataViz."
[But I assume you will still not get the full original filename, because it will have been stripped off.]
How do I deal with a problem I have e-transferring audio-files from my Olympus digital recorder?
One of the most frequently asked questions among writers is this: "What type of equipment do you use to record interviews?" I've been pretty happy with an Olympus 2200 digital recorder I bought to do interviews, but I am unhappy with the difficulty I have had sending the audio files to my transcriber, in another state. I can upload their proprietary DSS files to my computer, but if she doesn't have the software she can't use those files. I can upload them as WMA/WAV files, but I then have a heckuva time getting them to her. (I did upload two of them to her server, but she couldn't use them.) She tells me this; "My experience with WMA files has been that they are quite unstable, one time they’ll work, the next time they won’t. That goes for both Windows and Mac. It’s an older Windows media file that I suspect was buggy and the new version (wav) fixes the bugs. So it’d probably be worth checking to see if you can record them in MP3 or aiff from the beginning. MP3 is the most stable format in all platforms so that’s what I recommend.
Converting with Switch
Finally, at her suggestion, I used a downloadable audio file conversion software program (Switch) to convert the WMA/WAV file to an mp3 file. You can find that software at: www.nch.com.au/switch/
But why does Olympus make this so hard for us? I emailed Olympus asking for advice, and they said they don't give customers advice or answer questions, but ask us to go to the dealer we bought the equipment from. What kind of customer service is that? Until I get a satisfactory answer from them, I'm not recommending the Olympus to anyone! I welcome comments and suggestions from others (including anyone at Olympus who cares to spend a little time thinking about customers!).
I am told that Olympus is not the only digital recorder with proprietary software. Which of you have had problems with other recorders? And can you recommend solutions? Where can we go for answers to these questions? I've posted links to useful tutorials on audio equipment and software here.
QUESTIONS ABOUT PUNCTUATION
Question posted on The Slot :
Why don't you use "smart" quotes and apostrophes?(Smart quotes and apostrophes are the ones that curve, “kind of like parentheses,” either left(‘) or right (’). Many computer and email programs show only straight quotation marks and apostrophes so if you use a smart mark they show a blank space.)
Bill McIntyre's response, which I find persuasive:
"I used to. Then I started getting e-mail asking me why someone who claims to know the language is writing without apostrophes. Apparently a small minority of computer systems cannot read the HTML codes that make these characters, so I'm playing it safe."
Question: re Authors Guild: maybe you could explain the reason (there must be one) that the group eschews the apostrophe?
You include an apostrophe if you want to indicate that the Guild is a possession of the authors, but in this case it is being used as an adjective — the Guild is a Guild of authors (not one that belongs to authors). The choices were:
Author's Guild (belonging to one author)
Authors' Guild (belong to two or more authors)
Authors Guild (a guild of authors).
There is some disagreement on when or why to use an apostrophe. In America there is a Writers Guild and in England a Writers' Guild. Surprisingly, most of the organizations listed here eschew the apostrophe. Note also: Publishers Weekly, the Independent Book Publishers Association, and so on.
I asked a parallel question of the Writer's Center in Bethesda, and was told that they know now either there shouldn't be an apostrophe, or that the apostrophe should come after the s, for the plural form of Writers (as it is, the organization belongs to one writer, although maybe that makes each writer feel good). But once you've filed incorporation papers with an apostrophe in the name, it's way too much trouble to take it out.
(Odd that this was the first question on this website. I vividly remember a graduate seminar in Middle English at Stanford University long ago, when I asked what the purpose of the apostrophe was, and our instructor, Fred C. Robinson, said, "Do you have something against the apostrophe, Ms. McNees?" I assured him that I loved it. And I do. It and its cousins provide ample work for editors!)
"Someone told me to stop typing two spaces after the period. Are they wrong or am I?"
Many of you who learned to type on typewriters are still automatically typing two spaces after a period, or at the end of a sentence, whatever the punctuation mark. This was an important way to set off sentences in the days before easy proportional spacing. But it's a no-no in the digital world. Those two spaces may expand and create big gaps -- especially with justified text, aligned on both the left and right margins (as opposed to "ragged right"). And you create a headache for the copyeditors. To get rid of those two spaces in a Word document, do a "search and replace," typing in two spaces in "search" and one space in "replace."
Where can I buy your book, DYING, A Book of Comfort?
The beautiful original hardcover Literary Guild edition is available, because the Guild did a special printing, after the Warner trade paperback edition went out of print. You can order copies through selected bookstores and through my special website for that book, Dying, a Site of Comfort, paying safely and easily through Paypal (or by credit card, if you prefer). You can find used copies of the paperback for sale on Amazon.com. Look for copies for sale by author to get the beautiful little Guild edition and yes, you can order more than one copy.
-- Pat McNees (editor of DYING)
Are Google alerts a vehicle for spam?
I find Google Alerts useful in some cases, but sometimes whole messages are full of links to sex sites or other sites totally irrelevant to the tags Google picked up on. Tags for "memoirs" and "personal history" got me, today, a series of "links" to "matador foods personal chefs," clearly a bad lead, but when I clicked on the link PROVIDED BY GOOGLE, IN GMAIL, I was taken to a page in Google Groups with this message:
"Topic not found
We're sorry, but we were unable to find the topic you were looking for. Perhaps the URL you clicked on is out of date or broken?"
The entire page of Google Alerts was to similarly worthless links. There seems to be no spam filter or quality control for the Google Alerts search engine, and no bouncing of salacious sites that were clearly working the system. When I reported this to Google Alerts, I got the message "not our fault," though not in those words.
Can someone tell me what's happening and how to make better use of Google Alerts?
I've been told I am being considered for listing in Who's Who. How can I tell if this is legitimate or a scam?
There is a legitimate Who's Who, the one found on many library shelves, published by Marquis in the United States and A&C Black in the U.K. There are also many "vanity press" knock-offs, which make money by selling memberships or books. (Somewhere in the process you are invited to send a check. Names that come up in discussion groups online include Emerald, Empire, Madison, Manchester/Cambridge, Metropolitan, and Premier.) Victoria Strauss has a column about this racket (Beware Who's Who Schemes) on Writer Beware.
In a 1999 issue of Forbes Magazine, in a story called "The Hall of Lame," Tucker Carlson points out that even the Marquis Who's Who is susceptible to manipulation and careless fact-checking.
Wikipedia's entry about the Who's Who scam says the canonical example of a Who's Who reference work was A&C Black in the U.K., who established the approach in print, and Marquis Who's Who in the United States.
Websites, organizations, and other resources
A GREAT READ
BOOK AND MAGAZINE PUBLISHING
WRITERS AND CREATORS
ETHICS, RIGHTS, AND OTHER ISSUES
EDITORS AND EDITING