Friday, April 1, 2011

Guest Blogger - Alice Duncan

It’s April! How’d that happen? For Pete’s sake, the year just started, and it’s already April? There’s something wrong with that.

Oh, well. This month, instead of recapping my mostly mayhemly month (plumbing problems, deceased washing machine, my dying iPod, taxes, etc.), I’m going to discuss e-publishing. I know. Everybody’s discussing e-books these days, but to me, the big push to e-books is fascinating. Some of the truly big names (Connie Brockway in romance and Barry Eisler in thrillers/mystery) spring to mind. They’re eschewing (gesundheit) regular print publishers altogether, foregoing LOTS of money, and just putting their own stuff up on Amazon’s Kindle and Smashwords (which sells e-books for every type of e-reader in the world). What’s more, a writing friend of mine just got an agent who refuses to represent work to print publishers any longer. She, an agent at an old and well-respected agency, now only handles e-books. Wow. At least I think it’s wow. Mind-boggling, too.

There are good reasons for the authors’ decisions to go it alone. First and foremost, they’ll make more money. Print publishers take at least seventy percent of all earnings from the books they publish. If you self-publish your work on Kindle and/or Smashwords, you can make that seventy percent for yourself! Whatta deal! You don’t have to deal with being paid only once or twice a year, either. Kindle will pay you every, single month during the year, depositing the money you earned, plop, right into your checking account or whatever. Even Smashwords pays quarterly. You don’t have to worry about distribution. Anybody with a Kindle or another kind of e-reading device can download your book so that if, say, a train derails somewhere outside of Kansas and your books are on that train, your sales won’t suffer. Don’t laugh. That happened to a writing friend of mine. She wrote for Harlequin/Silhouette, and those little books have a one-month shelf life. None of her books got to the stores, so her sales suffered. Did her publisher blame her poor sales on the train wreck? Of course not! It’s always the author’s fault when her/his sales take a nosedive. Yet authors have so little control over anything about their books at print publishers. The only publisher that’s ever let me have input into anything at all is the one I’m with now, Five Star. They’ve not only bought my books, but they’ve also taken my cover suggestions, bless their hearts.

The only problem with self-publishing on Kindle and Smashwords is that for every Connie Brockway and Barry Eisler out there, there are thousands of no-names who have been rejected by print publishers because their work isn’t up to par. Mind you, not everyone who’s rejected by print publishers writes poorly. However, in my editing work I’ve discovered that lots of good story tellers don’t have a handle on the tool of their craft, which is the language. And believe me, EVERY writer needs an editor. I don’t care who you are. I need an editor; you need an editor; every writer needs an editor. When you’re writing and you read what you’ve written, the chances are good (superb, even) that you’ll read what you want to read. Heck, I once had someone sitting on the “thrown” of England, and nobody caught the error until I finally noticed it at the very last-most minute. Earlier this year, I had Daisy Gumm Majesty standing under an emerald sky, and neither my editor nor I caught that until, again at the last minute, I thought “EMERALD? A green sky? Gimme a break!” So that got changed. Some of my books contain errors that are quite embarrassing, and that’s even after they were edited by several people.

My first rule on how to get published is: never give up. There’s no guarantee you’ll ever get published if you keep trying, but you’re guaranteed NOT to get published if you quit trying.

Okay, so that’s my first rule. My next rule is not as important as the first (just check out some best-selling writers. Not that I’m bitter or anything), but it is: LEARN YOUR CRAFT.

The language is the only tool we have to get our brilliant ideas and stories into a format by which they can be read and enjoyed (or not. Different strokes and all that). The better you can use this tool, the better your ideas will come across to your readers.

Did I ever tell you that my older daughter, Anni, is a classical guitarist? Well, she is, and a good one. So’s her younger son, Riki.

What does that have to do with writing, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Because they understand music, how to read it, how to use it, how to play it, and how to write it, they are infinitely more effective in their musical endeavors than if they didn’t know those things. They can play classical guitar; they can play folk guitar; they can play jazz guitar; and (God help us all) Riki’s even in a rock band. The fact that they’re trained classically doesn’t mean they can’t play anything except classical music. Far from it. It means they can play ANY type of music.

The same holds true for writing. Breaking a rule you know about in writing isn’t at all the same as not knowing what the heck the rule is in the first place. Readers can tell. Heck, Diane Levin, may her name reign in glory forevermore, gave me her used Kindle, and I’ve been reading $0.99 stories on my Kindle for some time now. Know what I’ve wished more times than not? That I’d had the editing of those stories. Honestly. It’s the truth. Mind you, I’m a professional editor as well as a multi-published author, but thinking a book needs an editor isn’t the first thing you want a reader of your own work to think about, is it? No, it is not (boy, I’m being authoritative today, huh?). You want your reader to get lost in your story. You don’t want him or her to wonder what you meant to say in that last sentence.

I’m not going to give writing tips in this blog. You can find out how to write properly in any English textbook. Or, heck, just look in the front part of your Webster’s. Webster will give you rules for punctuation (important), grammar (important), the difference between might and may, and all sorts of stuff like that. You can also log onto the Chicago Manual of Style’s website and find just about any writing-related information you need. Heck, when I used to teach on-line classes for Writer’s Digest, I made up a list of sites for writers who need help. Here’s the list: (this is Canadian, but it still offers a good deal of great information. Canadian English and American English have a few differences, but they’re mostly in spelling and quotation marks and stuff) (this is the website of the Chicago Manual of Style, which is used by pretty much all the publishers these days as their standard of English usage. It’s not as easy to use as some of the other sites, but it’s very helpful)

Also, every would-be published writer needs to go out and buy a book entitled EATS, SHOOTS & LEAVES, by Lynn Truss. Trust me on this.

There’s no excuse to self-publish a poorly edited e-book. True, print publishers publish bad books all the time, but you have to be really careful when you publish something yourself unless you already have a huge following of people who will buy anything you write, no matter how bad it is (I can think of a few names here but don’t want to get sued, so I won’t mention them). So few of us working writers can claim huge followings, more’s the pity.

And, what the heck, as long as I’m talking about e-publishing, I just published a short story on-line at Kindle and Smashwords. For a whopping $0.99, you can read a short historical cozy mystery story featuring Annabelle Blue, who lives in Rosedale, New Mexico, in 1923. Annabelle is kind of a sassy creature, although it’s her penchant for stumbling over dead bodies that really gets her into trouble. What’s more, you can buy it on Kindle ( and on Smashwords ( For $0.99! Can’t beat it with a stick.

Now I just hope my iPod lasts for a little while longer, ‘cause I can’t afford to replace it. And I have yet to figure out how to get to be one of those authors people buy automatically, no matter how awful their books are.


  1. What an interesting article. Thanks so much. Cathryn

  2. Thanks for commenting, Cathryn! Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Alice,

    You are the best editor I've ever worked with and I did teach English at the high school level and writing courses at the university. Still, I
    miss errors as all writers do. Also, we're emotionally involved in our work and don't have the objectivity that a good editor brings to the

  4. That's the absolute truth, Jacquie (about missing stuff and emotional involvement, I mean. I don't know about the best-editor part, but thank you very much!).

  5. Alice, you hit one of my pet peeves with a mallet. I hate reading a book that's poorly edited. You are very correct, even without an editor we can check out work carefully. Those who don't know grammar can ask a fried who does to read the book before it's posted online. Great post!

  6. Thanks Alice. What a great post. It's very frustrating to review a book where you feel you might more appropriately offer editing advice. But it's already out there, competing with your own scarcely sold offering.

    I love your analogy with guitars--my youngest son loves writing and guitar music.


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