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Old 07-19-2006, 11:46 PM   #33
James D. Macdonald
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James D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsJames D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsJames D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsJames D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsJames D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsJames D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsJames D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsJames D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsJames D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsJames D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate complimentsJames D. Macdonald is so great that we've run out of appropriate compliments
08/01/05 and following.

Not quite yet for the betas, Changling, unless you really want to. Now make sure the opening is the absolutely perfect opening for this book. Make sure the climax is the absolutely perfect climax.

Are all the scenes there? Are any scenes that you don't need present?

Then go through, not as a reader, but as an editor. Hold a pistol to each word and ask "Are you the perfect word?" Ask the adjectives to justify their existence. Is anything vague? Are all the descriptions fresh, and spot on?

I know some writers who re-type the whole work from scratch at this point. They figure that if a paragraph isn't worth retyping, it isn't worth reading.


Originally Posted by hpoppink
That being said, should I still practice my editing skills on this first version? Is it worth that kind of work if I am certain the current story will never be publishable?
If you don't practice your editing skills, how will you ever obtain them?


Minor brag on one of my students here:


Here are some other works by Viable Paradise students:


whew. 2.5 years of hard work, packed up and gone...
Now start your next novel.


Yes, really.


Meanwhile, on the em-dash question: As long as you're consistent and don't confuse the readers ... you can go with anything you want. Really. Go look at Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier for some bizarre punctuation if you don't believe me.

It's just that the farther outside of normal (for some values of "normal") you get, the farther over into the genius range (for some values of "genius") you have to be.


The Unstrung Harp.

And buy a copy, too.


Personally I wouldn't include recommendations from other writers unless a) the writers were clients of that agent, or b) were so famous as to need no introduction. If Kurt Vonnegut said that my book was really swell, I'd mention it.

Use your best judgement and know that there isn't a right answer to that question.


Thank you for your kind comments, Mark.


That's pretty much it, Mark. A book that isn't written is never sold and never read.


Pretty soon now I'm going to drop back to Page 105 and look at some more of those samples, to see what the authors were doing.


Publishers Weekly, and your contacts in the industry.


I look for an person who will give detailed, no-holds-barred honest feedback. "I liked it" isn't good enough, nor is "It sucked."


Someone else once said that the ideal beta reader is a highly intelligent but dirty-minded twelve-year-old.


Woo! Go me!

Next words of advice: Write a book a year.


The question is probably going to come up, so I might as well explain it now.

When a normal publisher publishes a book, and it's offered for sale through bookstores, that book isn't really sold until it goes out the door under a customer's arm. The other books are returned, to make way for still newer releases.

So ... how does the publisher handle paying royalties when the publisher doesn't know how many will come back to the warehouse?

This is handled with a process called "reserve against returns." The reserve is the number that you don't get paid for, just in case they come back.

Publishers don't tell you exactly what their reserves are -- but as it happens I know at least one publisher uses this formula:

The first royalty period after the book is released, the reserve against returns is 100%. Maybe they printed 30,000 copies, and maybe bookstores ordered 20,000 of them -- but they aren't going to cut a check to you for royalties on 20,000 copies. They assume that ever single one of them will be returned.

Let's say that royalty months are April and November (which again is pretty standard). Let's say the book came out in July, that the cover price is $10, and the royalty rate is 10%. And let's say the author get a $5,000 advance against 10%. (I'm choosing these numbers for ease of math, not because they're necessarily real.)

And let's say that 10,000 copies sold (actually went out the door with customers, 50% sell-through) of the 20,000 that shipped.

Right, then.

Comes November, and those 10,000 copies would be a $5,000 check for Joe Author ($10,000 in royalties minus the $5,000 advance) but he gets a royalty statement showing $0.00 due, because of the reserve against returns.

At this particular publisher the reserve against returns is 100% in the first royalty period, and 75% in the second. And let's say that another 5,000 copies of Joe's book sold in the six months from November through April. So ... Joe would have $15K coming, but .... reserve against returns is 75%, so only $3,750 is credited to him. Subtract that from the advance, and his royalty statement says that he still has $1,250 in unearned advance.

From May through October, books get returned by one bookstore, ordered by another, and an additional 5,000 that have gone out the bookstore door in a shopping bag.

Total actually sold, to date: 20,000. This time around the publisher's reserve against returns is 25%. 25% of 20,000 is 5,000 books. So the publisher only reports a total to date of 15,000 sold, for total royalties of $15,000, minus the $3,750 already credited to him, minus the $1,250 in unearned advance, so Joe gets a check for $10,000. Happy day! He's earned out!

Now in the fourth royalty period after the book came out, the reserve against returns is 0%. Books have gone out, been returned, been redistributed, sold, and another 5,000 have been bought and paid for by readers.

So far: 25,000 sold. Royalties due, $25,000. Finally, we've gotten out from under the dead horse. In April two years after his book came out, Joe Author gets paid $25,000 minus the $10,000 he was already paid, for a nice $15,000 royalty check.

After this, the reserve against returns continues at 0% -- if 5,000 books ship during those six months, the publisher pays royalties for 5,000. (And by this point they have a pretty fair idea of how many will sell, because they have a history, and at this point, with 25,000 sold out of an initial press run of 30,000 they'll probably have gone back to press. Do you know what a 100% sell-through means? It means the publisher didn't print enough copies.)

So, reserve against returns at this one publisher: 100%, 75%, 25%, 0%. It takes you two solid years to get to the place where you're getting royalties as they happen. Normally, since you got an advance, this isn't that major a problem. You're living off the advance while the reserve against returns is catching up. It protects the publisher, and you do want to protect the publisher: If they stay in business that means they'll buy more of your books.

(Among other unrealistic things in this story: I set the advance low for a book that was going to sell those numbers. I wanted to show a book earning out because I'm a sucker for happy endings.)


Hardcover novels don't go above $28.00, generally speaking, because the public won't buy them. Not even from authors they know and like. Because the public won't buy them, the bookstores won't stock them. The bookstores will fill that same rack space with a book that will sell.

A newer author with a long book -- won't get bought, generally, if the printing costs for the print run that a new author is likely to get would push the retail price above $28.00. Grisham can do it because his books sell well enough that the publisher can print a ton and a half of them, and push the per-unit printing price down.

(How far down? Far enough down that the bookstore can get the book at a 65% discount, and the publisher can still make money. That's how you see Times Best Sellers in bookstores discounted by 50%, and the bookstore still makes money. Don't worry about Grisham, though -- he's still getting his royalty based on the whole $27.95 cover price.)

There's the genius exception: Susanna Clarke's debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, is a hefty 800 pages. Notice, please, that the cover price is $27.95. Notice too that Bloomsbury marketed the heck out of that novel, in an attempt to ship as many copies as they had printed, because they had to print a heck of a lot to make that price. Notice also that Ms. Clarke's book, in trade paperback, is listing at $15.95.

Why $15.95?

While it isn't as fixed at rule as $28.00 among hardcover novels, the equivalent price among trade paperbacks is $16.00. Customers leave the more expensive books right on the shelf. Even from authors they know and like.

Don't forget that the cover price and the cash register price of books is often different -- and the latter is usually quite a bit lower than the former.


Do I just go for it, keep plugging away until one day when the light gets through the ear wax and I have an ah-ha moment.
Yes, Ken, go for it. Write the book as well as you can. Keep learning! Read other writers, see how they solved the problems that you're facing in your own writing.

Read other authors with your writer mind. You'll be reading, not for plot and story, but for the mechanics of that plot and story. "Nice save!" you'll say to yourself. "Ohhh.... that was tricky!" you'll say somewhere else. "Gee, you flubbed that; real clumsy" you'll say elsewhere. Writers read other writers with different eyes than do regular readers. That's why you need beta readers -- who aren't writers themselves.

That's why the Nebula Awards (given by writers to writers) seldom select the same winners as the Hugo awards (given by readers to writers).


On the subject of when to send the novel out:

Once you've made it as good as you can make it -- send it out. Start high and work down.

How else will you ever know that you've reached a publishable level of writing? More: It will get you used to the next part of the process, the endless submission and rejection cycle. The first time is horrid. The twentieth time is "So what?"

Once again, let me recommend The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr. Earbrass Writes A Novel. That short book contains the real truth about publishing.



We're talking about a novel here, right?

You've made significant changes, right?

If it's been years, the same editor may not even be there any more.

Just be up front in your cover letter, and don't worry too much. What really matters is the words on the page. Meanwhile start work on your next novel.

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