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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Six More Pieces of Bad Advice for Writers to Ignore

Two weeks ago I wrote a post listing some of the bad writing advice that can stand in the way of launching a successful publishing career.

But I had too much to run in one post, plus I got some great suggestions from readers in the comments. So this week we have a "Son of Bad Advice" post.

Hey, it's Groundhog Day, so I figure we can have deja vu all over again.

Some myths about the writing life have become so much part of our culture that "everybody knows" them. It's hard to accept they're not true. I've had a hard time unlearning some of them myself.

As I said in my previous post, we've been programmed with misinformation all our lives. We've watched romanticized fictional authors like Jessica Fletcher and Richard Castle and that guy who owned Magnum PI's tropical mansion write their way to fame and fortune. It looked so easy.

New myths have been added with the ebook revolution. We now hear that all we have to do is write a book, put it on Amazon, and the movie deals and fat paychecks will start rolling in. After all, it happened to Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking. And recently we've heard about Sylvia Day with her 7-figure deal with Harlequin, and million-seller indie romance author Theresa Ragan...

But those authors are the exceptions, not the rule. They're newsworthy because they're rare. If you don’t want your heart broken in this ever-more-complex, fast-changing industry, it's best to learn the facts and put the following myths firmly in the "fiction" section of your consciousness.

1) Land a publishing contract and you can quit your day job

I think the biggest, baddest lie about this business is that authors make a lot of money once they land that publishing contract. How many times have your friends joked, "will you still talk to me when you're rich and famous"?

You can tell them to relax, because it's unlikely to be a problem.

How much do traditionally published authors make?

Last month an author posted on her blog the breakdown of her actual income from a multiple book contract. It came down to about $3000 a year. More on this at Lexi Revellian's blog.

The author in question had to remove the post after a few hours because it violated a non-disclosure clause in her contract, but she was very brave to post it. Publishers seem to want to keep up this myth that their authors are raking it in.

But the fact is: publishing advances have been evaporating in the past decade. Agents are saying, "$10,000 is the new $50,000". Also, it's important to know that $10,000 comes in several installments, over a couple of years, and of course the agent gets 15% (not that they don't earn every penny.)

And according to a study reported in the Guardian on January 17th, 54% of trad-pubbed authors make even less than that. The study put the average at $1000 (£600). Yeah. Picking up cans for recycling on the side of the road would probably pay better.

Of course, some big name authors are making millions. And a lot of self-publishers do much better than the trad-pubbed mid-lister who wrote that post.

But the average self-publisher makes even less: 77% are reported to be making less than $1000 a year.

That trad/self-pubbed ratio may be a little skewed, because the trad-pubbed category counts only the authors who've reached the point of getting contracts. But as Hugh Howey pointed out, while aspiring trad-pubbers are querying agents, self-pubbers are putting their fledgling work into the marketplace, so they get counted in the stats and the queriers don't. Also, the self-publishing category includes the hobbyists who may only have one book and aren't necessarily trying to earn money from it.

But it's important to point out that the authors with the highest income are hybrid authors. A hybrid author self-publishes as well as working with a traditional publisher.

You can find a fascinating breakdown of income streams for a hybrid author from Elizabeth S. Craig on her blog this week.

You can can become "hybrid" either of  two ways:

1) Start out in traditional publishing (agent+Big 5 or smaller presses) and supplement with self-publishing.

2) Start by self-publishing, become a mega-seller, and wait to get offered a traditional contract like Howey and Hocking. Unfortunately you don't get to choose this path to hybrid-dom. You have to hit it big first and wait to be invited. Agents don't welcome queries from self-publishers unless they're mega-sellers.

This means querying agents and going the traditional route to break into printwhile it may not be as lucrative as you imaginedcan still be a good way to launch a career. Just make sure you don't sign any "non compete" clauses that prohibit you from self-publishing other work. Contracts can be full of booby-traps these days, so run it by a lawyer.

Yes, your initial trad-pub books will probably bring in less money than your later self-pubbed books, but that's not necessarily a bad trade-off.

Many self-pubbers make one or two of their early books perma-free in order to entice new readers. Your trad-pubbed book may only make $1000-$3000, but it can be a "loss leader" like those indies' perma-frees.

The marketing and cachet you get from starting with a traditional publisher (and having an agent in your corner when you start out) can still make this path attractive.

But don't make the mistake of thinking it's a get-rich-quick proposition. Write because you love it, have patience, and don't count on living the life of Richard Castle with your first few books.

2) Copyright that manuscript as soon as you type "the end" or somebody will steal your plot!

It's true that plagiarism is a big problem these days, but not of unedited, unpublished manuscripts. Pirates can lift books right off fan fiction sites or Amazon, so why would they want somebody's first draft?

No matter how original you think your concept is, plot theft is unlikely. The truth is that everybody’s got a story. It’s how you write it that matters.

As Anna Quindlen said, "Every story has already been told. Once you’ve read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had."

Since the copyright law reforms of the 1970s, copyrighting your work before it’s published has been the mark of a paranoid amateur.

Especially if you're sending it off to agents. If you mention in your query that you've copyrighted the material, "so don't think you can steal this fabulous idea and publish it yourself" you can expect instant rejection.

Also, the agent will inevitably ask for changes, and and so will your editorif you're lucky enough to get a contractthen it will be a different book, needing a new copyright.

A copyright only costs $35 in the US, but if you register a rough draft, and every subsequent draft, that can add up.

And it's unnecessary: your work is copyrighted as soon as you type it onto your hard drive. (And BTW, you can’t copyright a title.)

If you want to read more on why you can put that paranoia aside, here's my post on "Hey, James Patterson Stole my Plot"

There are lots of things to fear in the Big Bad Publishing World: non-compete clauses, "in-perpetuity" contracts, shrinking advances, and overpriced vanity publishers, but plot theft should not be high on your list.  

3) If you have talent, spelling and grammar don’t matter.

"You'll have editors to take care of all that stuff," people will tell you. "The only thing that’s important is creativity."

That may be true when you're seven, but not when you're trying to launch a professional career. 

Would you hire a plumber who didn't know how to use a wrench?

Words and grammar are a writer's tools. If you can't use them properly, nobody's going to hire you for the job. Not an agent; not an editor; not a reader. 

The old saw about 10% inspiration/90% perspiration is 100% true. Talent without skill is useless.

Today's author needs more polished writing skills than ever before. Readers have access to more books, and on tablets they can switch from your book to a magazine, movie, or TV show. You have to work harder than ever to keep their interest with fast pacing and lean, powerful prose.

In the e-age, authors also need top-notch skills with marketing and social media. Nobody's born with those. You have to learn them and keep up with rapid changes.

Work on perfecting the nuts and bolts of writing and keeping up with the latest industry news, or nobody will ever find out about that talent of yours.

Yes, you need editors, and they give necessary polish to a solid manuscript. But they can't take a total mess and make it into a masterpiece, no matter how much raw talent you may have.

4) Put a lot of skin on your cover: sex sells.

A woman I met at a party recently told me I should have my publisher put a semi-naked guy on the covers of my books and they'd sell better.

She was wrong on two counts: first, putting a cover on your book that isn't right for your genre will backfire. If people buy your literary novel thinking it's going to be a sizzling love story, they will not be pleased. Sell a cozy mystery as a dark thriller, and the reviews will be nasty. And if you sell realistic women's fiction as romance, readers who don't get their HEA ending will be unhappy forever after.

Genres have rules, and cover art is very genre-specific. To learn more about covers, designer Melinda Van Lone is running a great series on specific requirements by genre. Or follow Joel Friedlander's blog, The Book Designer 

Second, as I said in a post last November, sex may not sell mainstream fiction as well as it used to, now that rules are enforced by algorithm. One of Amazon's criteria for putting a book in the porn section is how many pixels of flesh tones are on the cover. 

Too much shirtless man-flesh (or even a baby's face) on the cover of your book may relegate it to the erotica section, where it won't be discovered by your target readers and the erotica fans will find your book a major let-down.

5) You're doing writing wrong. There's only one way to write a good book. 

Thanks to soldier-novelist Linda Adams for suggesting this one in last month's post.

There is no "right" way to write.

Yes, the Internet is packed with writing blogs and forums, all imparting advice, rules, and caveats. We do it here. But reading a lot of Internet advice can be overwhelming (and plenty of it is downright wrong.)

I see new writers so terrified of using adverbs they can't get beyond chapter one. Others spend years eliminating all forms of the verb "to be" from their manuscripts, only to end up with an incomprehensible, stilted mess.

Unfortunately, many writers are passing on this rigid advice as if it had been chiseled on tablets by the Almighty.

We need to be aware that most writing "rules" are simply guidelines that can help with your editing. But they should be banished from your mind when you're writing a first draft.

For a lighthearted look at some of these "writing rules" see my post on writing rules from December.

6) You wrote a whole book, so it deserves to be published!

Thank Mom for her enthusiasm and support, but this isn't true. Yes, writing a book is a huge achievement, and they say only about 3% of people who start writing one will finish. You deserve major congratulations.

But your book may not deserve publication. Almost all successful writers have a few practice books hidden away somewhere. I sure do. I recently unearthed one and realized it has too many characters, too much plot, and no dominant story arc. I might take one chapter and use that for a jumping off place for another novel, the way Jonathan Franzen did with the Corrections.

Successfully publishing book-length fiction is like getting to Carnegie Hall. It takes practice, practice, practice.

If you query too soon, or self-publish a book that has huge structural flaws, you won't just waste your own money and time: you waste your readers' time.

I know some self-publishing gurus tell you to publish everything you've ever written and "let the market decide." But remember an ebook is forever. When you get to be a better writer, that fledgling book is still going to be lurking on a Kindle somewhere with your name on it.

Patience. Give yourself time to learn to write at your own best level before you send your work out into the unforgiving marketplace.


Don't let these facts discourage you. Yes, writing is a tough way to earn a living. If you quit your day job "to write a novel" and expect to start paying the bills with it by the end of the year, you're heading for disaster. Especially if you have student debt.

But still, writing is one of the most fulfilling jobs around. You get to create worlds. You live a life of the mind. And it's fun.

And, in spite of the discouraging reports about how little authors are making, the self-publishing revolution has actually improved an author's chances of earning a living wage.

As As Hugh Howey says, "The simple fact is this: getting paid for your writing is not easy. But self-publishing is making it easier. How much easier? We don't have sufficient data to know. But a conservative estimate would be that five to 10 times as many people are paying bills with their craft today as there was just a few years ago. And that should be celebrated."

What about you, scriveners? Have you been led astray by any of these myths and misconceptions? Do you have any to add to the list? 



The Gatsby Game is available in ebook from Amazon US , Amazon UK , Amazon CA, and Barnes and Noble for NOOK, and Kobo and in paper in the US and in the UK.

The Gatsby Game is based on a real unsolved Hollywood mystery. It was inspired by the mysterious death of David Whiting, a man I knew in college. Nobody knows what happened the night he died in Sarah Miles' motel room during the filming of a Burt Reynolds movie, but I have a theory, and this is a fictionalized account of it. Like David, my anti-hero Alistair Milbourne is obsessed with F. Scott Fitzgerald, and imagines himself to be "the ghost of Jay Gatsby, in a straw boater and spats, whistling a tune by Cole Porter."

"Like a finely woven tapestry... a vivid portrayal of a woman's life and how it intertwined with a man who authors from an earlier time would have called a cad. It seems to be a love-hate relationship, an inexperienced and trusting young woman skillfully taken in by a man who was a scoundrel, a true user of women, a man who always seemed to show up like a bad penny throughout Nicky's life... and a man who saw himself as Jay Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel."...
John Williamson

"I was thoroughly entertained by The Gatsby Game. It has all the elements for a good mystery, and would also appeal to readers who enjoy romance in a women’s fiction style. I give the characters, cultural references, story building, and especially the slightly sarcastic narrator voice a 5 star rating" --Donna Hole

And you can now get The Gatsby Game together with Ruth Harris's The Chanel Caper together in one volume: Two comedies for the price of one

Hollywood and Manhattan: it's Bi-Coastal Comedy!

Available at


Win a critique of your novel from a literary star and Cambridge professor. Winners will get full critique valued at $800. Contest sponsored by the Writers’ Village Foundation, a not-for-profit UK organization established to help new authors. The top eight submissions will win a session of personal feedback from the award judge, novelist Michelle Spring, a Royal Literary Fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge. Entry is $19 and the deadline is 31st March.

GLIMMER TRAIN FAMILY MATTERS CONTEST $1500 prize, plus publication in Glimmer Train Stories, plus 20 copies. $15 ENTRY FEE. They're looking for stories about families of all configurations. It's fine to draw on real experiences, but the work must read like fiction. Maximum word count: 12,000. Any shorter lengths are welcome. Deadline March 31.

Women Writers:  MSLEXIA SHORT STORY COMPETITION  £10 ENTRY FEE. A competition for unpublished short stories of up to 2,200 words. First prize £2,000 plus two optional extras: a week’s writing retreat at Chawton House Library outside of London, and a day with a Virago editor. Second prize: £500. Third prize: £250. Three other finalists each receive £100.  All winning stories will be published in the Jun/Jul/Aug 2014 edition of Mslexia. Deadline March 17

Dark Continents Publishing's Guns and Romances anthology. They're looking for previously unpublished short fiction from 3500-9000 words. Any genre as long as there's a tough protagonist, weapons, and... at least one reference to music. Sounds interesting. Payment rate is a one-off of $20 per story plus a percentage of the ebook royalties. Publication estimated in late-2014. More info on the website. Deadline February 28.

ERMA BOMBECK WRITING COMPETITION $15 ENTRY FEE. Capture the essence of Erma's writings and you could win $500 and a free registration to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop!  Personal essay must be 450 words or less (entries of more than 450 words will be disqualified). Two categories: humor and human interest.  Deadline February 17.

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Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Lurking on a Kindle somewhere - sounds scary.
Elizabeth's post was really amazing. She's done quite well as a hybrid author.
I never wanted to quit my day job anyway, but my author income certainly won't make it happen. (Pay the mortgage part of the year yes, quit my job, not a chance!)

February 2, 2014 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Trekelny said...

Another fabulous, encouraging, proper post Anne, thanks so much. My pendulum has swung so far in the direction of "just write, baby", I honestly could care less about publishing as a goal EXCEPT in that it spurs me to finish, and to have what I finish be good. I am happy to say I can honestly look back, after almost three years, at the things I've published and reread them without cringing! Maybe that means I'm not getting any better... and I think I must have an editor before I bring out that trunk novel, something about it seems needful yet. Could be the sequel getting done, yeah that's probably it.
A minor point, I think cover art is especially difficult for the fantasy author when you have a specific vision of the world. How many disembodied castles, dragons or swords can you show? And then you are indeed full up against using some comely piece of beefcake (in armor, but still), and the attendant dangers you mentioned are right there. But what choice? Working with an illustrator would probably need more overhead than for an editor. One expense at a time.
So- I guess I do need to make some money from this after all! And a cool thousand sounds pretty good. Hey, when did this pendulum start swinging the other way?

February 2, 2014 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Ann Bennett said...

I want to thank you for your blog. You share so much from experience but more importantly from perspective.
About two years ago I woke up one morning and felt driven to write a book. Floundering with several projects starting and an idea popping in my head on regular basis (I've thought of starting a twitter feed called - "Loglines for hire") your blog has helped me get a grip of so much information I have studied in my pursuit.

February 2, 2014 at 10:55 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex---I was fascinated by Elizabeth's post too. Especially her spike foreign sales (as the EBUK guys predicted here). And how important audiobooks are. Mostly it shows that slow and steady is the way to go. It takes time, but authors do end up making a nice living eventually.

February 2, 2014 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

The news really is encouraging. We didn't know how bad things had got for midlist trad-pubbed authors, but at least it's getting better now. Indie publishing is what has started things moving back to the author again.

I had a bad link to Melinda Van Lone's article, but it's fixed now. Do check it out. She talks specifically about fantasy covers: I didn't realize they are usually drawings, not photos, with dark, rich colors and are meant to appeal to men (shirts required). That definitely could run into money.

February 2, 2014 at 11:20 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ann--It's like that sometimes, isn't it? It's like the muse grabs you by the collar and says "this is how you're going to spend the next decade of your life." Love the idea of "loglines for hire"! I'm glad this blog is helping you navigate the treacherous waters of this business.

February 2, 2014 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Roland D. Yeomans said...

John Steinbeck was of the mind about your rule for punctuation. But those were different days ... a different publishing world actually!

The bottom line I guess is to be mature and professional in our writing and in our expectations for it.

I think covers evocative of the plot is best. That is fascinating about Amazon scrutinizing the amount of flesh shown. I like especially the cover of my last novel -- and facing cancer surgery, it could be my very last novel. At least, I had fun with my books -- which I think is the true bottom line for our writing. Excellent post as always.

February 2, 2014 at 11:28 AM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Great advice and information. I agree that it is important to just write your first draft. Just write, write, write. Then go back and remove the was's, the thats and, in my case, the justs. At the advice of a very observant critique I went through one of my recent novels and found 244 justs in a 260 page novel. Yikes! I will look for them in further work but only after I've written with abandon. And I only hope my day job sticks around. I entertain no lofty ideas of quitting it because I no longer need the income. Would be nice but...not bloody likely. Thanks again Anne.

February 2, 2014 at 11:44 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

I think spelling and grammar are as important now as they were in Steinbeck's day. Readers still expect to be able to tell who's speaking, and they get really annoyed by misspelled words.

Yes, a cover should evoke the plot, but not illustrate it. I think some indies try to put too much on a cover.

So sorry to hear about your cancer surgery. It's a terrifying thing to face. I went through it last summer. Luckily my tumor wasn't malignant. But even if it is, there's a good survivor rate for most cancers. Not that it isn't an awful ordeal. Sending healing thoughts your way!

February 2, 2014 at 11:49 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Plenty of half-baked (and half-assed) advice around. Count on Anne to give us sane and sensible advice. Thanks, Anne!

February 2, 2014 at 11:51 AM  
Blogger Malcolm Campbell said...

Gosh, three grand a year! Yep, I can retire on that and move into a place in Hawaii with the leftover cash. I guess the exceptions to the rule (those six-figure advances) lead people to believe contracts are magic.


February 2, 2014 at 12:26 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

"Just" is one of my overused words too. Sometimes it's useful, but most times it can be taken out and won't be missed. But my first drafts are just full of it! :-)

February 2, 2014 at 12:28 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth--Thanks! And thanks for alerting me to the broken link.

February 2, 2014 at 12:29 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Malcom--Even those six figure advances don't make you rich. Subtract the agent's fee from 100K, divide it over three years and you're making less than 30K a year. Contracts are definitely not the ticket to Easy Street.

February 2, 2014 at 12:34 PM  
Blogger Mikki said...

I've got two pieces of "advice" to add, Anne. The first is to "write what you know and ignore the rest." Poppycock! If you only write what you know, you will soon get stale and boring. I had an instructor at the Institute of Children's Literature tell me this: "Write what you know" is bad advice. What about all the things you would like to write about and don't know? Learn about those things; read; take courses; read; listen to others who do know; read some more, and then...do your research. LEARN what you don't know and then write about it. That's what I tell any young writer who asks me.

The second piece of bad advice: Don't worry about promoting your book, your publisher will do all of that for you. Double Poppycock! Authors today have to do a lot of self-promoting, or their books sit on the shelf or in an ebook reader somewhere, and never sell because no one knows about them. So learn about the easiest and most efficient ways to promote yourself and your new book, and don't rest on your laurels thinking that once your manuscript is selected for publication, everything is signed, sealed, and delivered on that book, and all you have to do is go about writing the next one.

February 2, 2014 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger Trekelny said...

Teacher, I have a question. Why aren't any of the trad-pub houses going in for a royalty-cut of the sales deal like we get online? I would never spurn an advance, but even as you were starting to talk down the amount, I was thinking "what about giving me 50 cents a copy?" I bet they ARE trying to save money- well, here it is. And if they're not afraid of having to work for their money, someone should do that. The online world has already inured us to this model. But I'm guessing the way bookstores deal with inventory wrecks the idea... so, change that!

February 2, 2014 at 12:43 PM  
Blogger Natalie Aguirre said...

Fantastic post. I so agree with #1 about being realistic about the income from writing. I'm a bankruptcy attorney and see so many people retire too early or make bad financial mistakes. Quitting your day job if you need income would not be smart until you're 100% sure that your writing career has really taken off. And you can't really know this until well after your first book or series. I'm glad I have another job. Because it's so more positive and easy to realize I do a good job at it rather than the constant rejections of the publishing world.

February 2, 2014 at 12:56 PM  
Blogger Vera Soroka said...

I liked Elizabeth's post. I think she nailed it when she said that your writing is the number one thing that counts and not promoting and doing social media all the time. She keeps writing and publishing and putting her works everywhere and in all formats.
I'm a newbie so I have a long way to go but writers like her are so inspiring.

February 2, 2014 at 1:02 PM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

I've heard some of this bad advice, but I haven't been swayed by it. Thankfully I don't do this for the money!

February 2, 2014 at 1:35 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Mikki--Great additions! "Write what you know" is an old saw that is left over from high school English classes. I think teachers assumed students wouldn't do enough research. It's true it's harder to write a story set in 8th century Poland than one set in your own backyard, but that doesn't mean the story isn't going to be good.

And oh, my--if there are any writers out there who still think publishers will take care of all their publicity, they're in for an unpleasant surprise.

February 2, 2014 at 1:39 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Small presses usually do just that. My publisher gives me 80% of my ebook sales and 50% of paper. But that's with no advance. You're absolutely right that advances--which are really loans--are an outdated convention. So are bookstore returns--which mean every book in a brick and mortar store is there on consignment. If you got rid of those two cumbersome, outdated ideas, the publishing industry would be transformed. But a lot of people make money off the outdated ways, so the change will come slowly, if at all.

February 2, 2014 at 1:47 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Natalie--I had no idea you were a bankruptcy attorney! We should definitely listen up!

And you make a really important point about the psychological benefits of a day job. It can give you positive reinforcement when the writing is bringing nothing but rejection.

February 2, 2014 at 1:49 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Vera--Elizabeth S. Craig has always been a role model for me. Her weekly Twitterific links helped me educate myself in this industry. I love it that she never tweets ads for her books--just useful information. This made me trust her as a person and recognize her name early on.

February 2, 2014 at 1:52 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Julie--But if you keep writing, the money will come, eventually.

February 2, 2014 at 1:54 PM  
OpenID jennifertanner said...

Hi Anne,

My heart plummeted as I read this post as I've already picked out the Chanel bag I'm going to buy with my first royalty check. :) When I started writing, my deference to the 'rules' paralyzed me. The H/H must meet in the first chapter. No POV switches within a scene or chapter. Limit the number of characters. Many of the workshops I took, taught by published authors (they're published so they must be an authority, right?), reinforced these rules. Thanks for another informative and sane post.

February 2, 2014 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger fOIS In The City said...

Thanks for another great post, Anne. I agree that Elizabeth is one of those who educates and illuminates and never by trying to push her books. Oddly, the reason so many "retired" folks write is that they can finally do what they love and not worry about the money :)

February 2, 2014 at 2:10 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jennifer--I used to do that too: fantasize what I'd do with all that imaginary money. Ha!

Some of those rules are only for romances--like the "meet in Chapter 1" rule. Certain lines have pretty strict requirements, so if you're writing for a certain publisher, you may have to toe the line. The one rule I think we all need to keep in mind is "keep it clear". POV shifts can confuse the reader, so we need to be very careful of those. Too many characters does that too. Which is a problem for me. I love a cast of thousands!

February 2, 2014 at 2:32 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Florence--Elizabeth is a class act we can all learn from. The opposite of spammy.

This is indeed the era of the hobbyist writer. Writers can self-publish whatever they want if they're not trying to support themselves with it. And even though agents and big publishers aren't excited about signing writers over 50, more readers tend to be over 50 and we love to read about something besides high school dramas and 20-somethings falling in love.

February 2, 2014 at 2:36 PM  
Blogger mindprinter said...

Anne, Another terrific post. As I was reading along, I thought of a few more (written in stone rules) that I've had to break along the way. Not that it always worked, but sometimes I just had to do it to get my story told the way I wanted it told. Here's what I mean: Never use a prologue, readers hate them; show and don't tell--I don't know about anyone else here, but I can literally go insane sticking to that one 100% of the time. And what about backstories? Right now I'm writing a novel about psychiatrists and their patients. I have to use backstories to explain why they're there for tx. True, all of this rule breaking can be overdone, but adhering to these pronouncements blindly, as I think you mentioned, can be immobilizing when you sit down to write. Just my two cents.

February 2, 2014 at 3:08 PM  
OpenID fornow said...

Another great post. I write non-fiction but many of the same points hold. I hadn't realized incomes had gone down that much. Non-fiction can be more $ per book but a smaller niche. As you say, write because you love to. And yeah, my first book I got to a decent first draft, formatted and all. Then I took my first publishing workshop and realized my approach was all wrong. But it was a great learning exercise and the simple effort raised the quality level of my work. No effort is lost.

February 2, 2014 at 3:57 PM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Hey Anne,
I particularly appreciate "You wrote a book so you deserve to be published." In the last several years I've become increasingly distrustful of any sentence suggesting anyone deserves anything. Whether it's stated that someone deserves positive or negative, the DESERVES word isn't ringing true in most cases. I've probably got eight or nine novel-length MSs completed, & yes, I certainly would LIKE to be published. Whether I DESERVE to be published should have nothing to do with it.

February 2, 2014 at 4:18 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Paul--I touched on the "show don't tell" and "no prologue" rules in my "stupid writing rules" post in December. When an author takes three pages to describe the firefighting gear a man is wearing, I'm ready to scream. Just tell me he's a fireman already! And prologues can be essential to a story. The only problem with them is that newbies use them for info-dumps. But pros use them all the time. Stupid rules can really stifle the muse.

February 2, 2014 at 4:40 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

I find publishing nonfic is even harder these days, so my hat's off to you. Publishers require such a huge platform that you pretty much have to be Deepak Chopra to get a good deal these days. Learning to structure nonfiction can be a tough learning curve, too.

February 2, 2014 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

CS--I fear the self esteem movement of the 1980s has a lot to answer for. Everybody deserved a gold star. Everybody was entitled to special treatment. On the other hand, I doubt your 8-9 books are all practice novels, and I'm sure they'll find an audience, although it may not be with the Big 5. And that may be a good thing if you look at the numbers above. I think it's a reasonable expectation that hard work will pay off eventually, but the reward may not come exactly the way we expect.

February 2, 2014 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger The Happy Amateur said...

Thank you, Anne,
for your post and for all the links. Elizabeth's and Melinda's posts were much enjoyed, too. The "anatomy" of book covers in different genres was very interesting. So much to learn!

February 2, 2014 at 6:08 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Happy--I sure didn't know much about the intricacies of cover design. Things like "this genre needs saturated colors, and this one needs cheesy semi-dressed models." As readers we don't know we've been programmed to pick up a book with certain elements in the cover design, but I do know I'm disappointed when I pick up a book and it's not what I thought.

Love to see how well Elizabeth is doing. She deserves it!

February 2, 2014 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger Lexa Cain said...

You're a great myth-buster! I wish more people would bother to at least learn the "rules" first breaking them all. If I read one more ms that's in 3rd omniscient, littered with adverbs, 18-syllable fantasy names, and every single line with was/were in it I may have to kill someone (or at least write about killing someone. lol).

February 2, 2014 at 11:58 PM  
Blogger Marie Ann Bailey said...

Truly excellent post as always! As someone who hopes to publish someday, I really appreciate learning from your experience and advice. I want to go through my journey as a writer with my feet solid on the ground, not flying so high in the clouds that with the least disappoint, I'll come crashing down.

February 3, 2014 at 4:26 AM  
Blogger Kittie Howard said...

Another great post. I didn't realize a title couldn't be copyrighted, an interesting quirk. I sometimes can't decide if so many write because they want to be like Hocking or because they've got stories that want to break free.

February 3, 2014 at 5:31 AM  
Blogger Erik Homme said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, especially since it's difficult to come across information on the realities of the publishing world. I'm especially sick of hearing myths 1, 3, and 5 perpetuated.

Myth 3 is one I actually believed up to this point, I'm glad to hear your perspective on that. Do you think you'll write a dedicated post on the copyright and legal process writers go through, or have you elaborated on that subject elsewhere? I'd be interested in reading further on the subject.

February 3, 2014 at 6:34 AM  
OpenID joanneguidoccio.com said...

I have read this post several times and will refer to it often. Like many authors, I need to be reprogrammed for success. Thanks for the post and links, Anne :)

February 3, 2014 at 7:01 AM  
OpenID katharinetrauger said...

Love the above. But, but, but...
I have been, not plagiarized, but completely pirated, author name and all.
Not to mention, I had to ask my editor, pretty PLEASE, to fix it, since I did not own the e-rights to it at the time. Whew. So, stuff happens, sometimes.
And I did love the post. :)

February 3, 2014 at 7:38 AM  
OpenID katharinetrauger said...

Love the above. But, but, but...
I have been, not plagiarized, but completely pirated, author name and all.
Not to mention, I had to ask my editor, pretty PLEASE, to fix it, since I did not own the e-rights to it at the time. Whew. So, stuff happens, sometimes.
And I did love the post. :)

February 3, 2014 at 7:39 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

You're so right Lexa--If you don't know the rules, you're not breaking them, you're just a newbie flailing around. I won't read any contemporary fiction written in omniscient POV--it's too confusing and almost always amateurish. Strings of adverbs and ridiculous, unpronouncable names show disrespect for the reader. It's not about following rules, it's about being clear and getting on with the story.

February 3, 2014 at 9:36 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Marie Ann--Doing Icarus imitations almost always leads to a crash to earth :-) We all have fantasies of being the next superstar author, but we have to know what the realities are. And we need to learn to congratulate ourselves when we reach milestones on our journey. You can be a successful author without being a superstar.

February 3, 2014 at 9:40 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Kittie--The title thing can be a problem if you choose something sort of generic. There was no Google when I gave the title 'The Best Revenge" to my first Camilla novel. I think there are probably hundreds of books with that title. Lots of "No Place Like Home"s too, but I figure we can share. :-) Interesting question about why people write. I think it may seem like the easiest way to express creativity. Cheaper than painting and seemingly easier than learning to play an instrument. Some struggling writers find they're happier in another medium. One writer I know who put way too much description in her stories switched to painting. Her paintings were glorious.

February 3, 2014 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Erik--If you click on the link to my post "Hey James Patterson Stole my Plot" there's more on how you don't need to pay to copyright your manuscript before submitting it. Other legal problems like piracy I mostly ignore. But I know it can be a problem for some authors. For more on the legal side of publishing, The Passive Voice is a good blog to follow. The Passive Guy is a lawyer and I'm not, so his advice will be better than mine.

February 3, 2014 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Joanne--I love the idea of "reprogramming yourself for success." So many of us need to do that!

February 3, 2014 at 9:53 AM  
Blogger Rosi said...

This is so true, Anne. Thanks for another thought-provoking post. I know a lot of published authors and the only ones who have "quit" their day jobs are those who have retired.

February 3, 2014 at 9:55 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

February 3, 2014 at 9:58 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Rosi--I do know authors who write full time, and it is possible to quit your day job. But not after the first couple of books. It takes a lot longer than people let on.

February 3, 2014 at 9:59 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Katharine--So sorry to hear about your piracy woes. Unfortunately, registering your unpublished ms. with the copyright office won't do anything to prevent piracy. When your book is published it is copyrighted. If that copyright belongs to you or your publisher depends on your contract. If your publisher doesn't fight the piracy, they may feel it's not worth it. As Neil Young says "piracy is how new work gets around these days." Musicians have been dealing with it for years. Think of it as reaching new fans who wouldn't have heard about you otherwise. If they like the book, maybe they'll buy your others.

February 3, 2014 at 10:02 AM  
Blogger Judith Mercado said...

Anne, I read about your losing your mother on Anne Gallagher's blog. I wish you peace and solace after this life-altering event.

February 4, 2014 at 6:01 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Judith--Thanks. It's been a tough time. My immune system is down, so I keep catching every bug that comes along. I'm trying to keep things low key and not push myself too much. Dealing with all my mom's things in boxes in my garage has been a challenge, but it helps me grieve.

February 4, 2014 at 9:46 AM  
Blogger Greg Strandberg said...

What constitutes a first effort? The first novel I took the time to write out on the computer and format correctly is now selling on Amazon. Well, it's perma-free and has its fair share of bad reviews, so there's that.

I do have quite a few notebooks with "novels" in production. Of course many of these barely reach the 80 pages before the notebook ends. Still, I guess they were practice, and when I occasionally think of unearthing one to clean up and put out, I usually cringe.

Wow, 3% finish a book they start, that's pretty low. I'm glad I've finished quite a few, and I really do believe that I get better with each new one I put out. Now if the market can just think so too, darn it!

February 4, 2014 at 6:14 PM  
Blogger Angela Adams said...

Great post! Thanks so much!!

February 4, 2014 at 6:32 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Greg--Yeah, we don't know that something is a "practice novel" when we finish it. We think it's up there with War and Peace. That's why it's good to put it in a drawer for a month or so before we start editing. Or, like with some of my books, we decide it's not worth editing. And those notebooks aren't wasted. You can mine them for short stories and new characters. Or use them for a jumping off point for a new book.

February 4, 2014 at 7:10 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks for stopping by, Angela.

February 4, 2014 at 7:12 PM  
Blogger John Wiswell said...

#2 was a fear of mine for years, but as one becomes more familiar with our multimedia glut, one realizes how many people may well have beaten us to our great ideas. A year after I'd written my monster prison novel I saw the trope everywhere. Two years after querying N.K. Jemisin's agent about a world that suffered frequent apocalypses, she announced a trilogy set in just such a world. Was I plagiarized? Probably not. One of the myriad authors who thinks about plots all the time just also had this idea.

February 6, 2014 at 9:02 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

John--There are definitely "memes" when creative minds take the same paths from current events and come up with similar ideas. In the US we're incarcerating a large percentage of the population, so prisons are on people's minds. And millennial thinking and 9/11--as well as global warming--made us all think apocalyptic thoughts. Creative people put those into art. But when a lot of people are thinking about something, that means we can have a lot of art about it, so nothing wrong with being part of a meme.

February 6, 2014 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger Linda Adams said...

Jumping in a little late here. I'm afraid I don't agree on the grammar and spelling one. In my last critique group, we had a writer who wrote great prose. He was a federal worker, and he could pass the strictest admin looking for a single comma out of place.

Yet, for all his grammar perfection, he couldn't sell a book because he couldn't tell a story. Story is what sells to agents.

My main issue here is that many writers tend to place grammar ABOVE story and then not understand why the agent is rejecting the manuscript because they got all the sentences right. Yes, agents will reject a manuscript riddled with grammatical errors, but if the writer has a good grasp of story, that rejection might turn into a personal one. An agent isn't going to tell a writer with perfect grammar, "You don't have a story," but they may tell a writer with less than perfect grammar, "You have great story telling skills. Just work on the grammar." Unfortunately, those are also the ones everyone generally tends not to encourage.

February 9, 2014 at 6:32 AM  
Blogger Tam Francis said...

Hee hee hee. I laughed out loud at 2 and 4 having been guilty of them in big paranoid ways. Thanks for the advice and a great laugh!

I also found your insight about traditional publishing refreshing. So many blogs these days really run trad-pub into the ground and I like and admire your balanced approach.

February 9, 2014 at 7:12 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Linda--I never said it's either/or! You want a plumber who can use a wrench AND understands the workings of a flush toilet. A writer needs BOTH grammar skills and storytelling skills. Your bureaucrat obviously didn't have the storytelling skills. I've never heard anybody say it's a good idea to write a novel if you can't tell a story.

BTW, this is also why a random college English major doesn't make a good editor. They won't understand story arc and character development as well as they do how to use a semicolon. A good editor has to be able to find plot holes and sluggish chapters as well as misspellings and bad grammar. But to be a professional writer you need a FULL set of skills. Learn grammar AND storytelling before you try to publish.

February 9, 2014 at 9:07 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Tam--me, too. When I was working on my first novel, as I traveled around Europe on my after-college adventure, I kept feeling paranoid about not getting it copyrighted. People kept telling me my ms. might be stolen. Little did I know I'd never even be able to give the thing away. :-) And I put awful sex scenes into my early books, thinking they were required. Thank goodness an editor later took them out.

And yes, I believe everybody should choose their own path to publishing. Querying agents and smaller publishers or self-publishing are all options. The trick is not to jump into any of these too soon.

February 9, 2014 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger Jane Mitchell said...

Years ago, but post 1970s, I kept telling my husband that copyright was not necessary and seemed amateur - so thanks for confirming. And, thanks for the other practical writing advice.

February 11, 2014 at 8:30 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jane--It's amazing how many people still worry about that outdated stuff. Sometimes I think the less people know about the publishing business, the more they feel the need to offer advice. All we can do is smile sweetly and say "yes, lots of people still believe that, but..."

February 11, 2014 at 9:25 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jane--I just circled you on Google + and saw you're a fellow Bryn Mawrter. Anassa Kata and all that!

February 11, 2014 at 9:37 AM  
Blogger Joe Kovacs said...

"Just keep writing and you will succeed". This was advice I received from a creative writing professor in college who liked the short stories I wrote for his class. When you're that young, those word sound like honey. You don't forget them. Unfortunately, it is poor advice in the sense that it can inflate especially young writers with a sense of predestination for greatness. Well, of course my first novel was awful because I didn't pay as much attention to developing my craft as I should have. Yes, I know, most first novels are awful, but I think the advice I received made me negligent of things I could have been doing that might have made the story a little LESS awful. Now, I'm slightly older and more mature. I have a somewhat more balanced perspective on good writing. I do need to keep developing my craft, day in and day out, without wondering if the angels are calling my name. I still remember those words and they help keep me going even today but I think anyone giving advice to especially younger writers should be careful what they say. :)

February 14, 2014 at 8:36 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Joe--I think I heard that in college too. Only they don't tell you WHEN you'll succeed, do they? Maybe in 3 or 4 decades...

I do think the "self-esteem" movement of the 1980s did a lot of harm. Every kid who could write his name on a piece of paper got a gold star and was told whatever he did was magic. It just made the realities of the cold cruel world even harder to deal with.

February 15, 2014 at 9:17 AM  

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