Are you writing a book?

Liz-S-Writing-Workshop-101Over the past couple of months on several Internet sites for writers, I’ve read many questions and queries plus suggestions and comments regarding the use of correct grammar and speech.

The academically minded among us, plus the vast majority of editors still cling desperately to the fervent belief that a book sans correct grammar will inevitably never make it. While that may be true for books of a historical, biographical or academic nature i.e text books, when it comes to fiction the real key is whether or not the writer can actually tell a story, not if he or she adheres to the accepted rules of English.

When your characters speak, by insisting that they do it correctly you will do yourself no favours. In fact these days it almost guarantees that your book will be lucky to sell more than a dozen copies. In essence, the story and the way your characters converse in a mix of correct speech and common parlance is the key, not the use of perfect English as rigidly laid down by close-minded professors within the English departments of universities worldwide, or even the majority of editors come to that.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the comments in favour of correct grammar are contributed by people from countries whose native language is not English. It’s not their fault. They are merely echoing what they were taught by their teachers.

Think about today’s best selling writers. Do they stick rigidly to the rules of grammar? Most don’t. Gone are the days when the likes of Emile Bronte, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe et al wrote to entertain the educated elite minority. And yet they are still held up as the ideal in literature.

Why when today’s writers must write for the majority. In fact you must know your target readers better than they know themselves. I write specifically for the US market for two reasons.

1. The greater majority in the US are brought up on soap operas, reality shows and film, not literature.

2. Because they are more switched on than any other people, I also only publish my books in Kindle form (Ebooks)

They are my readers, not my own countrymen (the English) and certainly not academics. They will be yours as well if you are brave enough to break away from the idea of literary rules. As my good friend and fellow Antipodean Derek Haines has stated on numerous occasions – when it comes to writing there are no rules…

Writing this article is one example of using correct English. But if I had written my books in the same way, I would not now be enjoying my regular monthly royalty income from them.

If you feel strongly one way or another about the subject of correct English and grammar, don’t just read this article and tut-tut under your breath. I don’t bite. Be brave. Write your comments below.

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All writers need to use a thesaurus

Chris-Lonsdale

For any writer, no matter whether or not you are new or seasoned, one thing we all have to take into account when writing a book is the use of appropriate words. There is always a danger of a writer opting for a limited vocabulary.

Instead of using certain words simply because your are familiar with them and likely use them whenever conversing in you’re daily life, believe me it’s far better to make use of a Thesaurus. Always be on the lookout for acceptable alternatives.

What do I mean by this? To illustrate my point the following part of a sentence in a book I am currently re-reading by one well-known author, quite literally puts words into the mouth of his chief character, which simply were not in use during the time period the story is set in. “They came swarming downstream, transports filled with palace servants and slaves and all their accoutrements and paraphernalia.”

To begin with the book is set during the time of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt. Words like accoutrements and paraphernalia were not in use.

Let us take a look at paraphernalia first. Here is its definition: miscellaneous articles, especially the equipment needed for a particular activity. Using it in the book concerned is incorrect as it didn’t enter the English language until the 17th century, making it unknown in two thousand five hundred BCE.

Ok fine so it wasn’t in use back then clever clogs. So what? Who cares? How about using a word like trappings in its place?

You could, but once again it wasn’t in use at the time. It first appeared during the period of language development known as Late Middle English. What the author should have considered using is the word belongings. In this case it is highly appropriate as it refers to ‘movable possessions’. More importantly it is a word which has been around forever.

Now for accoutrements. Once again here is its definition: an additional item of dress or equipment. It sounds acceptable right? Not in this case. It didn’t appear until the 16th century, originating from the French word accoutrer which simply means clothe or equip. So once again the author is putting words into his character’s mouth that simply weren’t in use in the time period the book is set in.

Well, in this instance perhaps he should have considered using the word device.

Once again you could. But device didn’t appear until the period of Early Middle English.

Then what about using equipment?

Sorry but it didn’t appear in our language until the early 18th century. The word is French in origin – equiper. Now, are you beginning to see what a minefield the English language is for writers?

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In the author in question’s case he simply gets away with it for two reasons, the first being that he is highly successful and loved by his readers. The second reason is that most people, by that I mean ordinary book lovers, wouldn’t consider questioning his choice of words, merely because they accept and understand the words he uses.

Writers have no excuses! Take a moment when you are writing a book to ask yourself if the words you are using are appropriate? Invest in a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and Thesaurus, and please make sure the words you employ were common during the time period your book is set in, as far as is practicable. Take a tip from me, try to simplify the reading experience by striking a sensible balance. Above all, refrain from the use of overly long or obscure words where possible.

But does all of the above really matter these days?

Damned right it does! Just wait until your next novel appears in the market. There are pedants out there who take great delight in pointing out things like the above in public as well as spelling errors, all under the guise of offering a legitimate review or critique of your work. To survive you must become super critical of your own work to protect it and your reputation as a writer…

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Trolls – what is their problem?

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As far as I can make out, all internet trolls have an enormous chip on their shoulder. Despite never actually managing to produce a book the general public enjoyed reading in their thousands, they feel it is their duty to tear apart any and all other books who did, always providing they get their claws on a free copy of course!

What do you learn from this? If you wish to be left alone by today’s trolls, don’t give your book away!!!

These days more and more of these loathsome individuals no longer bother to hide behind pseudonyms. Preferring instead to hide in plain sight on various writing sites on Facebook. One of my more recent books has been targeted by two of these individuals – one here in the UK. The other a writer of my acquaintance in the Eastern Mediterranean…

I can only surmise that because of their own inadequacies, people like that see those of us who enjoy some modicum of success as the enemy. They dare not attack their agent, editor or publisher for fear of retaliation, so they vent their spleen by attacking someone they’re not – the successful writer.

Here are a few verbatim examples of typical troll reviews. I have deliberately left out the title and author of each book, to focus your attention entirely on the sheer vindictiveness of the troll involved.

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“The author has based a character on a teenage girl he is obsessed with. He has used her real name without her permission. If that wasn’t bad enough, the quotes in the spoiler tag below show how absolutely disgusting the whole thing is. The only other notable thing is how poor the writing is; the author doesn’t even seem to know the meaning of some of the words he uses. It would be funny if it wasn’t so disturbing. This book makes me sick.”

“Perhaps one of THE worst books in the history of literature…..this history or any other! I WANT MY MONEY BACK! Any egyptian national would be offended by this book and any person of average or above intellect (clearly not the author) would be offended by this book. Even within the realms of fantasy this “work” would NOT be considered worthy or considered at all. Perhaps it should come with a clearly stated warning that readers beware of impending rubbish upon purchase? Have i already said I WANT MY MONEY BACK!? And while we are doing that please can i have all reference of this book cleansed from my memory? I will even put thought to financial contribution to the author never self-publishing any future “works” as clearly this would benefit mankind’s future.

“My expectations kept drooping as I read the book until I could stand it no more. I felt like I was reading a narrative put together by a 7 year old without the pleasure of a 7 year old’s breathless enthusiasm. What a waste of time!”

“The story dosent really pull the reader in. The writing is ment for a very young reader. The story line is rather boring.”

“i find myself struggling to like authors who come up with those strange surnames as well as other worlds.don’t claim to be any better at tho.this bunch of aliens were real sob’s do they get their comupance(sp)?read it & you will find out even if some of the protaganists don’t quite measure up more water could have solved the problems handily”

“This has gotta be the worst book I’ve purchased from Kindle – even at 99c it’s way overpriced. Meandering storylines that just peter out and the ending is pathetic. Best advice I can give you is DON’T!!”

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Blaming others for their own failings does nothing to endear trolls to the hard working writers they positively hate…

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Why should I consider self-publishing?

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Well, lets consider for a moment…

Since Ernest Hemingway got his break when the enlightened owner of a small book shop published his first work, the concept of independent writing as opposed to the preferred method of the large publishing houses with their contract or book deal, has always been with us, as has self-publishing which has been around forever – a fact not widly known.

Don’t for one minute confuse self-publishing with vanity press. The two are complete opposites. Self-publishing literally means what it implies. You write, prepare and publish your book using one of the platforms currently available like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing or Smashwords, to name just two of those currently available.

The term Indie, used today when talking about self-publishing, is only its latest identity in the twenty-first century. There is absolutely no doubt that Amazon and Smashwords freed up what had previously been the jealously guarded exclusive territory of the major publishing houses and their gate-keepers, consisting of editors and literary agents. And guess what, they hate the fact that novels they would not have even considered are now out there in the various ebook forms, depending on the ereading device used, and in paperback thanks to Amazon’s KDP and Createspace and many other lesser publishing platforms.

Over the many decades since Hemingway began, how many worthwhile novels havent been published simply because an editor didn’t like it? I suspect that the figure runs into the thousands.

What you have to remember is that he or she is only one man or woman with one opinion. The time is long past when your manuscript, the product of all those hundreds, possibly thousands of hours you spent writing and agonising over it was simply dismissed at the first hurdle – the literary agent. Or if he or she thought you might just have a story worth reading, they would offer it to an editor who might deign to look at it always providing it was to his or her taste. Unfortunately for many writers who believe that the publishing houses are the only way, their manuscripts will inevitably wind up in an editor’s wastepaper basket, or won’t even get looked at.

Its not just you. Take a look at the number of times well known writer’s famous works were rejected by sniffy opinionated tosspots posing as literary experts! J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit immediately springs to mind. And he was a professor of English for goodness sake!

There was a time when having been accepted into the fold by the publisher they undertook to print and promote your book. These days the publishers save money by insisting you the writer do all of the promotion while still finding time to write that next contracted novel as well as attend the book signings.

Why writers still cling desperately to the deluded notion that they are better off as part of a publishing house’s stable simply boggles the mind. Whether it is one of the big five houses or one of the dozens of often cash-strapped small press, the thing is that it was you who wrote the book not them. So, apart from having it ‘edited’ (something you can do yourself) and hopefully not changing it too much, then printed, just like your fellow writers in the various publishing stables, it’s all down to you to make your book stand out among the millions of books currently available.

Don’t forget your book may not appear when you would like it to because of publishers schedules. Most publishers, especially small press, have a finite number of books they put out each year. Whereas publishing an ebook only takes a few hours…

So there you have it in a nutshell. Why self publish? I should have thought it’s glaringly obvious…

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Writing is a serious business

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The publishing world has surrounded itself with layer upon layer of obstacles designed to separate the wheat from the chaff, making it nigh on impossible for the first time writer to break in.

Getting your skills to the point where people other than your immediate circle of family and friends will appreciate your efforts takes time, a lot of time. It requires dedication and effort on your part. It also takes a long time to build up a readership (in my own case it has taken twenty-three long years).

As a newcomer, the chances of your first book becoming a best seller are slim to none. If you think that dozens of literary agents will be fighting among themselves to represent you, you are seriousy deluding yourself. First and foremost they are in the business of making money. Whether or not your literary efforts are likely to make you a candidate for the next Pulitzer or Booker Prize comes a distant second in their world, if at all. The same applies when it comes to the vast majority of publishers, both large and small.

If you do manage to get a literary agent’s attention, there is no guarantee that they will take you on. Face it people, their primary objective is also to separate the wheat from the chaff. The chances of a literary agent and an establishment publishing house taking a financial gamble on you is unlikely in the extreme.

Most traditional publishers work to a strict budget. They work on publishing a fixed number of new books in any given year. If yours is among them, don’t for one moment think that they will necessarily want to publish your next book during the following year. In most cases they won’t. Because as an unknown, despite the fact that it was well written, your first effort simply did not sell enough copies for one reason or another. It doesn’t matter a damn that at the time, your editor waxed lyrical about it to keep you sweet, or that they thought it should have been critically acclaimed. My only book published in this way Onet’s Tale, sold barely two hundred copies because I was an unknown.

If the discerning reading public doesn’t warm to your book, as far as your agent and publisher are concerned its time to cut the apron strings! In which case you will find yourself remaindered just like the unsold copies of what you saw as your magnum opus.

All of the above is why so many first timers choose to self-publish these days. Even though you have fewer obstacles to navigate your way through, if the end result of those long hours spent writing does not generate enthusiasm among the billions of potential readers throughout the world, then you are in for a reality check you didn’t want.

Whether your first book is self or traditionally published, don’t expect it to be an overnight success. If it does peak the curiosity of the reader, either by favourable or negative reviews, chances are that they might want to purchase a copy to see what all the fuss is about. Although these days chances are they will wait until you become desperate and offer it for free!!! If they like your writing style, they may want to read any subsequent books written by you (note I say read, not purchase). It’s entirely in the lap of the gods as to whether or not the sales of your first book will exceed one, ten or a hundred copies.

I my own case, I turned to self-publishing for one reason only – to establish a regular readership. I learned a valuable lesson from my brief encounter with the world of traditional publishing, albeit with a small press. Simply put, I was not prepared to wait for a year or two before my then publisher deigned to include my next effort in their publishing schedule.

By deliberately choosing to self-publish, I know I made the right decision. My overall sales figures back me up. The other decision I made was to deliberately publish my works exclusively as eBooks rather than the traditional printed variety, simply because so many people nowadays fill in the time it takes to commute to and from the workplace by reading via their tablet, smart phone or laptop.

For a while I was in the fortunate position where my books sold in their thousands. Times change in this business. These days I’m lucky if my monthly sales equal a dozen. The reality for most self-published writers is that they will not be so lucky as I undoubtedly was a few years ago. The attention I got from the reading public produced a hard-core of faithful readers, something which at my age (seventy next month), had I chosen to stay with traditional publishing, would have been denied to me for decades.

If you look upon the writing game as a ticket to fame and fortune, you are in for a rude awakening. But, if you write because you love it, content in the knowledge that people enjoy reading the efforts of all your hard work, then the crowded world of words has a place reserved for you.

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The time has come…

pro-ama2

…to end the ridiculous professional versus amateur writer argument!!

For a few days several months ago various highly inflammatory articles appeared across the internet voicing differing opinions regarding independent writers, claiming that they were not professional in their approach – whatever that is supposed to mean.

Certain commentators delivered vitriolic attacks accusing independent writers of being nothing more than an editor’s worst nightmare and a monumental pain to deal with. When they were quite rightly challenged for making such statements, they immediately went on the offensive, under the illusion that attack is always the best form of defence when you’ve been caught out! By reacting in the way they did, they instantly lost the argument. Apart from venting their spleen, what was the point? I suspected when I read the articles at the time that the attackers were probably jealous of the sales success of some independent writers. Of course I couldn’t prove it. But I’m pretty damned sure it was and still is the case.

These days whether the industry likes it or not, how a writer chooses to publish their work is entirely up to them. If they are taken up by a publishing house – good luck to them. If not, going it alone is also fine. Getting sniffy with a writer simply because they choose to independently publish doesn’t mean they are any less professional in their approach if they are serious about their writing. To say that the whole sorry saga did more to polarize the entire writing community at the time is an understatement.

On one side of the argument sit those who firmly believe that the only way to produce a worthwhile book requires it first be written by a well known writer before being processed by what one article’s author refers to as professional editors and gatekeepers (an extremely elitist point of view in this day and age). In the other camp sit those who prefer to go it alone, some employing an editor, some not.

While deliberately choosing not to be drawn into the argument, I have to say I was sorely tempted when reading the often heated debate. It was plain to see that both sides were entrenched in their personal beliefs regarding professionalism. Whose argument was right? Whose was wrong? What all participants in the often extremely heated argument failed to appreciate was that publically lambasting the opposition serves no useful purpose other than to expose their own lack of professionalism.

In this particular war of words there were no winners. Both sides believed they were right. While those involved in the argument continue to name call or throw insults at each other from time to time, the rest of us are far too busy writing, and watching our bank balances improve each month, albeit slowly.

Whether or not your work was made available to the reading public via a known publisher, or by using one of the many software packages available to independent writers, doesn’t matter in the least. All that does is the state of your sales figures. If your book isn’t selling, don’t take your frustration and anger out on other writers. It’s not their fault – they didn’t write, edit and publish it. You did!

If you consider yourself to be a professional simply because you are a writer working through a publishing house, or someone yet to publish, you really need to get out your copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and look up the accepted definition of the word professional within the context of writing. Adding the appellation to your name does not make you a successful writer. Hard work does!!!

It’s not that long ago since two so-called professional writers, Stephen Leather, a successful thriller writer, and the established crime writer R.J Ellory, both employed by a prominent publishing house, were publically exposed for using a particularly low form of self-promotion known as sock puppeting. For those who don’t know, it involves writing glowing reviews of your own work while at the same time writing derogatory ones involving your opposition, using aliases on various internet social media sites and book outlets. We all get examples of the latter. I got one recently…

If that is an example of what some within the snobby traditional publishing world consider to be a professional approach, I want no part of it. I’ll remain an independent jobbing writer thank you very much.

If like me your only goal in life is to write and be read, whatever label people use when talking about you doesn’t matter one iota. In the world of the written word there is no room for the social climber plagued with an enormous ego, or unbridled jealousy. The whole argument over whether or not a writer is a professional is a complete nonsense these days. To be classed as a professional writer means that you receive regular payments in the form of royalties. If you don’t believe me, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a professional as being engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as an amateur. Nowhere is there any mention of approach. It’s got damn all to do with whether or not you publish independently, or are under contract to one of the traditional publishing houses.

If you can’t compete fairly in the marketplace, maybe its time for you to do something else. After all, the world of words does not need this kind of unprofessional behaviour…

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Tell me…

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…exactly what is it you do again?

How many times have you been confronted by the above question from a pompous tosspot during your lifetime? I was reading an article posted by Jay Lake on this very subject several years ago in relation to those of us who write.

Whenever you answer by telling the usually totally disinterested questioner that you write, either their eyes glaze over before they move away to annoy someone else, or they start asking you inane questions like, “Will I have read anything you have written?” Or they may even say something completely self-important such as, “Oh yes I’ve wanted to write my life story for positively ages, but I simply can’t find the time!”

I leave you to imagine what my answers would be to the questions or my replies. But here’s a hint for the first one – it would be heavily sprinkled with a few choice expletives. After all I’m not a damned mind reader am I! As for the second, I would remain silent while forcing a smile before simply moving away, silently saying thank god. The last thing we all need is yet another ghost written autobiography of a complete waste of space!

Writing is quite simply the most demanding of all the disciplines. Reading the product of our efforts is easy and relaxing, writing it is anything but. If you are at all serious about writing, your days are fraught with countless hours of anxiety. Your every waking moment is given over to how you constructed that last sentence, or what will happen next in the plot.

Most people still believe that writing is not a proper job, and that it is the preserve of the idle and impecunious. Regarding the first attribute they could not be more wrong if they tried. As for the second, you soon learn to stop dreaming of making money from the end product of all your hard work. Especially these days when everyone wants a free copy of your book, refusing to pay the purchase price…

Writing is certainly no nine to five occupation by any stretch of the imagination. Forget about commuting to the workplace Monday to Friday and being paid on a regular basis. Most of us make very little if anything at all, from the thousands of hours we spend sweating blood over our current work in progress to deliver that novel, short story or article you happily read on your way to and from work via your smartphone or laptop, or on your holidays.

So the next time you ask someone what they do and they reply “I write,” don’t ignore them or ask them inane questions, nor turn your nose up with a superior air. Think on. A writer’s existence is one of the toughest, least financially rewarding and tortuous within society today. Writing is definitely not for the faint hearted or the affected snob and social climber. Only the brave and completely dedicated write while sacrificing a normal existence to fulfill their dreams.

As for the growing number within society who insist on using the word author as a Christian or family name on social media sites like Facebook, foolishly believing that they will impress, why not put them on the spot by making good use of that inane question, “Will I have read anything you have written?” as a comment on the next post you see by anyone on FB using author as part of their name. I’m betting that most of them will ‘unfriend’ you. I’ve tried it and it works a treat…

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word author actually means someone who writes books as a profession. Those of us who actually qualify simply use the name we were given at birth. We have no need to put on airs and graces unlike the social climbers and assorted dimwits out there…

Don’t get me wrong here folks; there are a few genuine writers on FB (most of them known to me) thinking it would be a good idea at the time when they initially set up their account, who now can’t remove the word due to the complexities of Facebook’s totally baffling system (read user unfriendly). The fact that they number barely in double digits, whereas the majority is in the thousands says a lot about the latter group’s mindset, don’t you think?

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