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A List of Crazy Things

Posted by bebowreinhard on February 22, 2016 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (3)

I’ve done a lot of really weird things. This could be a life of weird things.

When my mom decided to move to Phoenix, I says heck no, I’m staying here. I was 18. My two brothers and two sisters went with her, but I felt I could support myself. Eight apartments and a ton of rejected roommates later, I finally got married. Whew! Bit the bullet on that one.

Marrying my husband and having my three kids were probably the only sane things I did. Or the things that kept me sane.

But living in Abrams didn’t help. My husband got to walk to his job on the golf course, while I drove an hour or more round trip—in snow, sleet, whatever. It got to the point where I would be happy my temporary job was only temporary because I could get a break from driving. Problem was, by the time I needed to get serious about getting job, my resume made me look flakey. Me?

And getting a master’s in history for no better purpose than to make a fiction idea nonfiction? That’s pretty crazy. My major nonfiction book would have been published by now if I had made it fiction. As it is, I turned part into a movie script, and that probably has a better chance. I must be the only person who’s worked twenty years on researching a non-fiction book about the Civil and Indian wars and can’t find a publisher.

How could someone as imaginative as me – I can see an item in a store that I’d never buy and imagine someone who could – ever make it as a historian? Only someone like me could be the first to come up with the idea that Grant deliberately sent an army against Indians to get slaughtered so they could take the Black Hills. Well, heck, doesn’t that make sense? I mean, just look at his record in the Civil War.

I guess I’m the only one it makes sense to.

And who else turns down a call from Jon Stewart's staff to be interviewed for the Daily Show? I was running a campaign back in 1998 to turn Columbus Day into Diversity Day. I got interviewed by the local paper, it went out on the wire and before I knew it, it was getting national attention. Jay Leno mentioned it on the Tonight Show - without using my name - and I got that call, which was amazing. They wanted to interview me for one of their news segments. Of course, I had to think on my feet. I said, but I don't want you to make fun of it. This is a serious campaign. They asked who they COULD make fun of.  Again, I've never been good at thinking fast. Ah, the Catholic Church? Finally I gave them the name and number of the Columbus museum in Columbus, Wisconsin, who I'd done a radio show with exploring both sides. The Daily Show never called back.

When I left the copper museum in 2011 I was at loose ends. I had been doing great work there – or so I thought, though no one else liked it – and I wanted to do other great work to help tribal nations progress and show how really great they are and how bad this country has been to them.

Does anyone really want to know this stuff? Obviously not.

But my next great idea that I pursued was to do a film documentary on ten Indians tribes in the nation—where they were before conquest and where they are today. Had I ever filmed anything? Did I have a film degree? Of course not. I was a historian. I’d have to hire all that. But I didn’t. I just started contacting tribes to get them interested and then the rest would fall into place, right?

First I got a little filming experience. I decided to make a small budget film on doing rummage sales. I started driving around, looking for a interesting rummage sales to film, and finally did it. I got out of my car, and talked to the three blonde ladies sitting there waiting for customers. I asked if I could film them. They said sure. I asked a bunch of stupid, inane questions and I’m sure they were all just hoping I’d buy something for their trouble and leave.

But I was “queen of rummage sales,” having held them myself for 25 years, and figured I had all the insights to make this really good. I taped myself getting ready for one. And then I couldn’t figure out how to make the film interesting. I bored myself.

I also didn’t get any support for the Indian documentary past the Navajos. I was going to drive down into Apache territory in southern Arizona, but my sister wouldn’t let me borrow her car. I had an Oneida friend who didn’t want anyone to know he’d work with me.

I didn’t quite give up on the documentary film idea there though. With my copper database (CAMD) I decided that I could go to an “archaeology in the media” conference and get someone interested in helping me make a copper artifact documentary. That would really be the way to get this into the public eye (I was accepted into the program for May 2016; turned out they were accepting everybody). I went around Wisconsin and up into Michigan and did a variety of short videos of me talking about copper with scenic backdrops – even embarrassed a museum official I was working with to do an interview on camera with me (don’t worry, Joan, I’ll never use it!). I haven’t been able to bring myself to look at them yet, and dropped out of the conference for a refund of the fee (less $25). My other expense on that project was buying a second tripod when I lost the camera connector to the first one.

Who does crazy things like this? Mostly delusional people, people who think they have more to offer than they do. People who want to be involved in something bigger than themselves, of course, but also people desperate to leave their mark somewhere. But what good is a mark that misses the mark?

Just this morning I woke with the crazy idea in my head to stop putting out the copper newsletter. I have nearly 100 free subscribers, and it’s in its 6th year, but I wonder if anyone bothers reading it. It’s a lot of work and while it is what I give back to all those who have helped me with information, I’m starting to see it as a waste of time. Yet it costs me nothing to do, except time.

At the same time, I paid for the most expensive website that (here) has to offer because I expect to sell my copper databases there. But that’s not real product. It’s a variety of tables and they’d have to contact me to get the full copy. I made it so they could pay for it from my website and then I would send it to them – but did I really need the biggest website? In my defense here, I did wait until I got a 50%-off offer, which is pretty sweet. But still. Who does these things? I’ve not made a penny on this database yet.

So is this five-year, million-mile project going to pay off any better than the one where I impersonate Henry as an old German soldier? Here again, I’m certainly doing the work no one else is doing. But to make it pay off, I need to prove how the copper data is valuable. After all, I’m a historian, not an archaeologist. At a conference last year, after I’d given my little presentation, an archaeologist who has done copper research had the gall to say yeah, that kind of research would be nice to have, if we had the “right person” doing it. Well, who, huh? I’ve been doing it for five years and not one person has offered to take over for me.

Yeah, I’ll sell all this research. Give me an offer, and you can have all of it. I’ll move on.

Yeah, crazy. It’s what a person is called who does things they’re not qualified to do. So what am I qualified to do? Write fiction. But just having an imagination doesn’t make you talented. Don’t you wish life worked that way? It's a lot of hard work, a lot of hard editing. And I've done a lot of it. I'm now a professional paid editor, 39 hours a week.

Now I’m living alone in Madison, working, and fighting my diet to hang on to my gall bladder. Are these crazy things, too? By what kind of meter do I measure what I’m doing with my life? Yes, I hated living in Abrams, and yes, I hate living alone. Am I doomed?

I think there is only one way to live a life, and that’s the best we know how. We all have different abilities and desires. And to say, that’s crazy, why do you do that, and expect to find an answer? Maybe that’s what’s crazy.


Free Will or Destiny?

Posted by bebowreinhard on February 8, 2016 at 10:05 AM Comments comments (0)

Fate or Free Will? I always believed that working hard gets us at least a brass ring. We have the will to succeed or lack of drive to fail. But I’m beginning to believe a little more that our Karma determines our Fate, and that the Door to Success is not meant for everyone to access.

Before I lose you, hang on a sec. Does that mean we should all stop trying so hard? Not at all. You won’t know if you could succeed until you’ve worked hard toward that goal. It takes a lot of living and experience to understand where you stand on the Karma Scale of Success, as I call it.

Looking back, now at age 62, I can see why Fate keeps that door closed to me. This is not something I could have seen before this time. And no one would have wanted to—because human consciousness is meant for us to use and use as wisely as we’re able.

But I think there does come a time in our lives when we can sit back and say “This is as far as I was meant to go.”

Looking back, I can see the signs, and this part of my character was being driven home to me yesterday. I was driving, and telling a story that I thought was kind of important. I don’t remember the story now, because it turned out it wasn’t. I nearly ran a stop sign telling it, meaning that I was too wound up in telling it to remember to watch the road.

And the story itself was ignored. Now maybe, you’d say, it was because I almost ran a stop sign. But I got to thinking about that, and the whole pattern of my life has been how easy my stories are ignored. How easy it is to ignore me. I got a 4.0 in my history master’s because no one cared. I didn’t matter. I’ve been ignored all my life, because I don’t matter. And that’s fate. It doesn’t matter how hard I try.

I am compiling a master database of all pre-contact copper artifacts found in the Americas, something no one’s ever done before. But does it matter? I’ve heard archeologists disparage my efforts, and no one has stepped forward and offered to help or sponsor the work. Nor does it seem like anyone is interested in getting their hands on this data because they feel it could help their work.

My master’s thesis is now a major book, ready for publication after 20 years of research. Nonfiction is supposed to be easy to get published, but no one wants this. Why? But I have a voice that cannot tell a story. That no one wants to listen to. Even in writing. I just keep running those stop signs.

So here I am, wondering where success is, after all this hard work. I just signed a contract for my vrykolakas, a story that really deserves readers. Arabus was published twice before, both as first person stories, and I had them both pulled. This new contract is on his new voice, in third person. I have a vampire/alien story that I have not been able to sell, that I also use his third person voice; does it not sell because it’s historical science fiction?

I have to understand, now, this lack of opening that Door to Success so that I can find a window somewhere.

Yes, just because success doesn’t come easily to some people doesn’t mean it doesn’t come at all. It means we need to change our tactics. I can take my historical sci-fi and give it to an editor for no pay, just a little attention. I gave away my Custer story, twice, and in return I got a great idea for a script and new insights about President Grant and why Custer and his men died. I nearly got my big pine research article published last year, but they backed out (because the feature photo turned out to be confirmed Michigan, not Wisconsin) and now it’s time to give that away. I started a Booyah craze in Green Bay, me with a short fun editorial, and ended up being the butt of everyone's joke. But it got my aunt and her son inspired to trademark the recipe.

Giving stuff away may feel like you’ve lost in the game of authorship. But instead it means recognizing that you have a different kind of voice. And as long as you’re alive, you owe it to yourself to keep talking, and find the kind of people who want to listen.

That doesn’t mean failure. It means recognizing that even if the Door to Success will never open, the Windows of Opportunity still exist.

You may have a silent voice. But you still have one. Use it.


A Writing Career - with tips

Posted by bebowreinhard on September 23, 2015 at 8:50 AM Comments comments (0)

I began when I was bored on a temp office job one day, and submitted a poorly formatted short story to Alfred Hitchcock Magazine. This was back in 1979.

Now it’s 2015, and I have a full-time job in Madison to earn money so that I don’t feel broke, because of bad business ventures over the years. Well, I do still feel broke. There are times I feel I’m on the homeless track. But it is what it is, for now. I always thought my writing career would take off because I’m so devoted to it, and we could live off my income, ala Stephen King.

Here’s the career, abbreviated. After toying with short stories, in March 1983, I created Arabus Drake. Arabus is still my license plate, but since I moved to Madison, I will go to a regular plate when it comes up for renewal in January IF the book still has not sold. Not that I’ve been working on the same book since 1983, not at all. Adventures in Death & Romance in 2015 is an incarnation of a book of short stories that I first pulled together and got Llewellyn interested in back in 1994. Then it was called Journal of an Undead.

Shortly before I created him, I thought my writing career was taking off with the publication of My Most Memorable Christmas in the Press Gazette in December 1982. I’d sent them versions the two years previously, but this version got accepted (reward: turkey) because it actually made me cry.

Arabus came to me in a dream and both frightened and enticed me not too long after, and I’m sure he regrets it! But I began pulling short stories together by first researching what he actually was—a vrykolakas, Greek vampire—and placing him in different events throughout history. With Arabus I became an amateur historian.

I continued to crank out short stories for marketing but with little success. A short vampire scene, a couple of Boone stories, and a couple of my early Grimm offerings all found markets in the 1990s. Also in the 1990s I sold several short articles, some for over $100.

In 1992 Bonanza writing came into my life because of free fanfic magazines that were being produced. By 1994 I had a full Bonanza novel and by 1996 I met David Dortort in LA because of timing and miscommunication (see article on Bonanza page).

I got an agent for the novel Dortort authorized, Felling of the Sons, in 1997 quite by a fluke of misdirected mail, but Claudia had no luck because of the Calder books, so in 1998 I produced an ebook copy and signed a contract with Electric Works Publishing so that I could sell them at the convention in 1999 at Lake Tahoe. I made 100 print copies of the book myself, and before that, was printing copies for people off my computer. Those 100 print copies are pretty valuable, actually.

In 2001 I cancelled that contract because I wanted it to be at Amazon (he went OOB a week later), and picked up Write Words, Inc., after yet another publisher told me to cut it in half and make it more “western.” I wanted an authorized cover and continue to pay 20% to Bonanza Ventures for that right, rather than giving them 10% to continue it with a generic cover.

While all the above was going on, I was getting my BA in history at UWGB. And raising three kids who were too darned easy! (Now they barely have time to talk to me, but that’s Cats in the Cradle, right?)

I was also penning movie scripts. I started with a Bonanza script, wrote a Rawhide for Clint Eastwood (an agent said he rejected it, but couldn’t prove it), and then turned Journal into The Becoming. In 1999 I went to the Cannes Film Festival when it won first place, an honor that quickly turned sour when it turned out to be a scam. In 2003 this script was in the top finalists for the Chicago Indiefest, but the four-day festival turned into two when my laptop was stolen.

By 2004 I was going for my master’s in history, having developed the intense desire to research my relative’s 20 years in the army between 1862 and 1884 after seeing the movie Dances with Wolves.

Along the way the internet grew, as did the self-publishing capabilities, and suddenly the competition for publisher’s attentions skyrocketed. With all the internet distractions, reading became a luxury few were having time for. My husband’s friend self-published two novels that were awful, second one unreadable, and I decided that I would never self-publish. If a publisher didn’t think my work was ready, all I could do was keep working on it (see my blog on the negatives of self-publishing here).

I got that agent to promote Journal of an Undead in 2000, changed to first person with a third person narrator with her approval, but she got nowhere with it, and I severed the relationship. I continued to promote this version, though, until I had the chance to sit down with it and realize the third person had to go. I continued marketing Arabus in first person, but was told to remove the alien story at the end. So I switched it out, and the alien story remains an unpublished but very marketable long short story. One publisher wanted me to remove the background to his becoming undead, but that was the one change of six he wanted that I couldn’t do.

I also tried to sell Arabus’ short story Lightning for years. It finally got accepted into an anthology of historical horror, but this was poorly produced; I have since turned that story into third person, and am continuing to market it.

As my dislike for first-person published Lightning grew, I decided to try turning Arabus into all third person again, with just a hint of the relationship that turned this short story collection into a cohesive whole. That with some further modifications is now being considered by a publisher with their requested changes. But if that gets rejected, I might go back to the first person version, and see if Arabus is made for the new virtual reality art that is developing.

I never pay to be edited, but hope instead in writing groups to find readers. It feels impossible these days to find a beta reader. People seem to think they’re only wasting their time, or being forced to help edit for no pay. All I ever want is for people to read until they’re bored and then tell me why they stopped. I make that clear, but still, no takers.

In the early 2000s, the progress I’d made in the late 1990s came to a screeching halt. Perhaps my early success was due to being on the forefront of internet writing technology. That’s one of the reasons I got to Dortort, in fact. Perhaps I became lax with the belief I’d made it, and became too focused on other things. But I kept submitting. Where I used to sell four to five pieces per year, now it’s maybe one, if I’m lucky. My last good year of over two pieces sold in a single year was in 2002.

By then, however, I was more focused on researching master’s programs. I first hoped to get into environmental writing and promotion with at master’s at UWGB but couldn’t find any references for it. I finally ended up moving away to Eau Claire in early 2004.

In 2006 I picked up an editing job for a fellow in South Africa, but his book was such a mess I don’t know if he wanted it to be fiction or nonfiction. I told him in 2007 I couldn’t continue unless I got 50/50 authorship, and he agreed to this (I still have the email). In 2012 we got Spartan to contract Dancing with Cannibals, but by early 2014 it was obvious to me that they weren’t focused on putting out quality material. Dicho grew very angry over this cancellation, and bad-mouthed me everywhere he could. He later apologized, but unknown to me, he was seeking another editor for it, a book mostly ready for publishing; when I grew uncomfortable by his last email, I did at search this past June at Amazon. Sure enough, he published our novel without my name attached. I got a sample, and found it to be my edit, with the addition of one line that was badly punctuated. I had Amazon remove it, and am now proceeding with the idea to publish the authorized one there with both our names. I have not heard from Dicho yet, but his editor wrote me a nasty email filled with lies.

Since the Chicago Indiefest, too, I’ve not had anything more than a good semi-finalist award anywhere.

From 2003 to 2009 I worked sporadically on my second Bonanza novel with David Dortort’s blessing, but had to really focus to get it ready for the 2009 convention. It only had four edits, and my publisher Arline at Write Words thought it was too long. It was meant to be an epic saga, though and could have been longer. If I could find another historical publisher, I would be happy to make it longer. Felling is in second edition, so Mystic Fire could be, too. Felling became required reading at two college campuses between 2012 and 2014, and I’d love for that trend to continue, but I don’t know how to promote that. I also wrote another full novel that I give free to whoever likes these two. I was hoping it would promote sales, but very few are requesting it.

I ran a writing group for three years from 2010 to 2013, organized three book fests, but could not convince members to try traditional publishing before self-publishing so I quit. The group was taken over by self-publishers but they could not pull another book fest together. I tried joining a group in Madison – same problem. Self-publishers.

My major nonfiction is now on its third round of rejections, after being made as short as possible. I’m writing a movie script called Following Orders based on the Custer information that emerged by following Henry’s viewpoint, and am making Henry a character. This was one of my goals back when I first started this research. Funny thing about the rejections here—most think it’s a good idea, good work, but trade markets say it should be academic and academic think it’s better as a trade market book. I had a contract on it once with Sunbury, but they dragged their feet on assigning it an editor and I felt that this meant it was beyond their scope or they changed their minds, so I cancelled the contract.

I finally completed what I call a competent edition of Grimms American Macabre, my collection of modern fairy tales, and after some cajoling, got my publisher to consider it. She said she really didn’t like it but gave me suggestions for improvement. She then told me to go ahead and make the changes I wanted to her online contract, and to the novel with her suggestions. While doing this I came up with a new title, after blogging at Facebook for suggestions. She prepared the galley proof without changing the title. I like that she was proactive and didn’t even wait to see the contract, but neither of us could work with each other’s restrictions. Another contract cancelled.

Including the contracts I rejected without signing, I’ve cancelled more contracts than most people have seen. (See my blog on reading contracts.)

I can’t say taking a job in 2015 is ruining my writing career, either. Instead it’s making me focus a little more on what I do create. All the time in the world did not make me a better writer.

This blog may seem a little self-indulgent to some, but in this story of my long writing career I wanted to see if I could spot any flaws or trends. Here’s a few things I’ve learned that others might find helpful.

• No less than six edits on any single piece of writing, and the 5th edit must always been a read-aloud. Mark each edit in its version as you do it, so you don’t lose track.

• Always put the first and second edits away, for a brief stewing period and work on something else.

• You can break this rule with deadlines. I recently sent out two articles I thought were good after only three edits. Two of those three edits were read alouds. The deadline meant I didn’t have time to put them away.

• Never say anything in anger to a publisher or editor. It will come back to bite you.

• Never use valet service at a hotel. I swear to this day that’s how my laptop got stolen in Chicago.

• Try not to distract yourself too much, and focus on one project as you’re writing it, including its research and markets.

• A stronger piece is generally one created with a market in mind.

• Nothing you write is ever a waste of time. It’s learning. It’s all learning.

• Develop your platform. Find people who love your writing and cater to them.

• Join a writers group. Listen to them. But don’t feel you have to self-publish just because they do. Think for yourself.

• They say if you market a book too soon, you’ll ruin its chances forever. My Vryk work is proving that’s not true. Try not to market too soon, but keep finding ways to improve it. Don’t fall into a rut and see something as perfect after the first or second edit. It never is.

• Never co-author with anyone you’ll never meet. Better not to co-author at all. Writing styles can be so sharply different.


Editing Tips

Posted by bebowreinhard on June 1, 2015 at 3:45 PM Comments comments (0)

From Bill Walsh, “The Elephants of Style” – and my comments! Bill’s from the book are in quotes, paraphrased, indented, or followed by page number. (Beware, many fragments sentences here.)

1. “Only one space after periods” (p. 3). Easy to fix, you can do a replace on these: period (space space), replace with period (space).

2. Capitalization depends on use, generic or specific. Walsh has so many exceptions page 22-24 that it’s pretty hard to keep them straight. Just keep this in mind – if the title is before the name as identified, use caps; after, as clarifier, lower case except for proper names in the title. This is by far his most confusing section.

a. Seasons are not capitalized: spring, summer, fall, winter. (P. 26)

b. Lowercase south, north, east and west UNLESS they represent regions in the sentence. I moved west because I was tired of the East (p. 29). He does say to make exceptions when it doesn’t look right to you. And Southern California is always in caps.

3. Lower case “he, him, his,” in reference to God. Finally! (See p. 41.)

4. Use state names in text: Ala., Alaska, Ariz., Ark., Calif., Colo., Conn., Del., Fla., Ga., Hawaii, Idaho, Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kan., Ky., La., Maine, Md., Mass., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., Mont., Neb., Nev., N.H., N.J. N.M., N.Y., N.C. N.D., Ohio, Okla., Ore., Pa., R.I., S.C., S.D., Tenn., Texas, Utah, Vt., Va., Wash., W.Va., Wis., Wyo. (p. 47). Don’t use Zip Code abbreviations in text (that really annoys me).

5. “For choosing “a” or “an,” spelling doesn’t matter; pronunciation does. “A” is for consonant sounds; “an” is for vowel sounds. The ever-popular “an historic” is incorrect, at least for American speakers, because “historic” does not begin with a vowel sound” (P. 53). I have been saying this all along.

6. “If who/whom would be replaced by he, she or they, it’s who. If it would be replaced by him, her or them, it’s whom.” That’s the rule. But I like his other comment–there are places where whom is correct but doesn’t sound right. Feel free to use who, in everything but formal writing (p. 60). That brings up the question I want answered. What is formal writing? Master theses? Legal contracts? Presidential speeches? Grant applications? I suspect we’re allowed to be the judge of that.

7. The split infinitive! Thank you to Bill Walsh for talking about this. Now I have permission to no longer worry about it. Here’s an example he gives. “I need deadline pressure to really do my best work.” To do is what you’re not supposed to split. But as Walsh says, and I agree, really emphasizes the act with deadline pressure; there is no other place to put it. You can’t say, as he shows “to do my best work really” (P. 65-67). You could leave it out, but then you lose them emphasis and what if you want that? There are ways around not splitting infinitives, and we should keep trying to find them. But don’t worry if you can’t and if the split works best. Glad to get that teacher out of my head.

8. Here’s a good one – “don’t strain to avoid contractions.” When I first started this editing job, it seemed proper to remove their use of “it’s” in “it’s my understanding,” and make it “it is” as the former schoolteacher/editor had done. But I gave up fighting that rule, because what’s the big deal? Walsh reminds us that unless we can’t figure out if they mean has or is (and I would add was but less often), don’t worry about it. (p. 68)

9. He weighs in on the use of “I” (referring to yourself) in the article you’re writing. I’ve seen the silliness of saying “this author” rather than referring to themselves, and Walsh agrees that’s just nonsense. It can, however, be inappropriate at times and often there are ways to work around using “I” (p. 69).

10. He doesn’t like the use of the word “over” in generic statements, because “over” tends to indicate infinity. Over an inch? Instead he stresses the use of under, such as under two inches, because there’s a minimum indicated there. If you’re sure, just say 1.3 inches (p. 80). That doesn’t mean you have to strike “over” from your dictionary. You can still say things like “I’m over him” -- a good way to indicate infinity.

11. When to use plural. Here’s a sentence Walsh uses: “A number of people are asking me questions, but the number of questions is surprising.” Number are versus number is. The trick is number of people versus variety. There’s a large variety of questions, and variety is surprising, not variety are surprising. To learn whether it needs to be plural or singular, often just rearranging the sentence will help, as Walsh points out. “A group of surgeons is calling for new warnings” – singular, as they’re doing it as a group. “A group of surgeons are going to the bar” – plural, probably because they’re not going as a group, but have arranged to meet there. So in the first, the group is a singular thing (take out surgeons), and in the second, the group is not the important word (take it out). As he notes on page 85, sometimes the decision could go either way. How about this: “A series of specials on PBS document(s) the civil-rights movement.” Either singular or plural word here is fine. Good to know!

12. Walsh struggles with the use of the word ‘their’ to take the place of ‘his’ or ‘her’ when the gender is non-specific (p. 91). He indicates that it’s not really acceptable. I use it all the time myself. Each participant is required to file their own tax. Continues discussion p. 156 – “I think the them/they/their/theirs solution will eventually become standard.” I think it is already; this edition was published in 2004.

13. Here’s another one, adding ‘s’ on a name that ends with ‘s’—such Arabus’s or Arabus’ to indicate a person’s possessiveness. He uses AP rules to say that if it’s a singular common noun, like hostess, add the ‘s’, unless that word is followed by a word that starts with an ‘s’ (p. 95). Simple right? In a world dominated by twitter character maximums, I see no sense in ever adding the ‘s, if sometimes going without is okay. Let’s make going without okay all the time, okay? Or should I say OK? (Not me, not even in Oklahoma.) On page 97 he talks about the ‘s added to proper names. Here the rule gets even more ridiculous. Use s’s for all except “names of more than on syllable with an unaccented ending pronounced eez.” He gives examples of Moses and Jesus. And then the list goes on into waters filled with sharks. Just don’t go there. (He acknowledges that the whole discussion makes his head hurt.) On page 98 he notes that while hostess’s is okay, a plural such as justices would only get the apostrophe treatment. Sheez.

14. Did you get all As or all A’s? Which is easier to read? Which one is underlined by Word’s grammar hound? Even if you hate the it’s problem, it’s okay to add the apostrophe for readability in some places. His comments get a little convoluted but this is a pretty straightforward idea anyway (p. 96). It’s also okay to shorten 1950’s and make it ‘50s, by the way. Just so you know.

15. That pesky “the.” Leave it in, and you might need commas. “The Redskins’ quarterback, Patrick Ramsey, is injured.” (My example would never be about a Redskin, btw.) Take it out and see those commas disappear (p. 100). I recently took “the” out of a paragraph in a report related to identifying the DVR counselor. It justified the belief I had the Counselor before name of said person should be capitalized. Also on page 101, he removed the apostrophe after Redskins in the headline that read “Redskins Quarterback Injured.” Redskins here is simply and identifier – whose quarterback? But if you put “starting quarterback” you have to add the apostrophe back, because that indicates ‘the’ again. (English is crazy.)

16. Numbers are given a huge treatment starting page 109 but I’ll abbreviate. Number use can start at 10, but if you’re really formal, start at 101. But if you have a number directly related to a word, you can use the number instead of spelling it out—Room 4. Much of the time, spelling it out is preferable. ‘Percent’ is one word, and saying 5 percent is fine. People’s ages can use the number, but spell it out for buildings.

17. Use of feet versus foot would be hard to understand without Walsh’s full explanation: “Use feet with a fully spelled-out expression that includes the word tall: He’s 6 feet 1 inch tall. She’s 5 feet 2 inches tall. Use foot with shorthand expressions that include hyphens: He’s 6-foot-1. She’s 5-foot-2. The basketball team has a 7-foot center” (p. 113).

18. Fractions of whole number should be written out. “Five-eighths of an inch” (p. 114). He doesn’t do anything with the 5” versus 5’ problem that I see. I read somewhere that five feet should be written out because the (‘;) hyphen after the number is easy to miss, whereas you can leave (”;) alone because it stands out more. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s what I’ve been using. The closest I get to there here is that it should be 5 inches. But he only reports that in reference to not spelling 5 as five, or as exception to the 10 and over rule for numbers.

19. He also doesn’t like 2:00—not that time in particular but using the :00. Just make it 2 p.m., not 2:00 p.m. (p. 114). I think that if you’re going to say, be there at 2, you should either use :00 or p.m. because it looks odd otherwise, like you should be spelling something out. But maybe that’s because I do a lot of speed reading. And of course never say “3 p.m. in the afternoon (redundant).” Also don’t say 12 p.m. or 12 a.m. – it’s either midnight or noon, at least for Walsh.

20. Here’s where you can’t just know how to edit, you have to know math. The following examples are typed in their entirety:

a. If’s share of the online prune-juice market was 25 percent last year and is 50 percent this year, how much did it rise? Many writers get distracted by the presence of percentages and say 25 percent. The answer, of course, is 25 percentage points, or 100 percent (the change, 25, is 100 percent of the old number, 25) (p. 116). Here’s my real life example:

i. If a guy wants to leave half of his stock to one of his sons and the other half to be divided by the other four, and he has 51 shares, he needs to say that he’s leaving 26 shares, or 51%, of his stock to that one son, and 49%, or 25 shares, goes to the rest. If instead he says he’s leaving 26% of his stock to his son, then the rest of the four get 74%, which changes everything. 26% of 51 shares, is not half. It’s only 13.26 shares, or a little over a quarter. The other four would get 1/4th of 74%, or 9.4 shares each.

b. To get an average, add a list of numbers and divide the result by the number of items in the list. To get a median, take the number in the middle—the number with an equal number of entries higher and lower. Sometimes this distinction doesn’t make much of a difference, but often it makes a huge difference. If I tell you a sweatshop pays an average salary of $210,000, that may sound pretty good. But that number could mean there’s a $1-million-a-year mogul overseeing four workers making $20,000, $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000. The median salary is $15,000, whether the top salary is $1 million or $21,000. This is an extreme example, but note how each conclusion is misleading in its own way (p. 116-117).

c. I had a heck of a time not too long ago convincing a reporter that 100 square miles offshore made no sense. A square mile is a unit of area, not a linear measure. Something can’t be a square mile away from something else any more than you can go out and walk two acres. In coverage of the Columbia disaster, I caught a copy editor changing a reference to the space shuttle’s heat tiles from “6 inches square” to “6 square inches.” Uh-uh. The expression may sound colloquial, but 6 inches square is a legitimate way of saying something is 6 by 6. For the record, that’s 36 square inches (p. 117).

21. “$2 means $2, and $2 to $3 million means two dollars to three million dollars. Write $2 million to $3 million if that’s what you mean” (p. 119). Most of us wouldn’t, however, have that kind of cash to talk about.

22. The To, Between and From issue. It’s true that from 300 to 400 is right, just as between 300 and 400 is right, but not between 300 to 400. That just sounds wrong. A lot of these rules are how things sound. Between is the most difficult to use; Walsh says use it “advisedly.” You can’t do between 1999 and 2000, for instance, or so he says (p. 120); yet I can see ways that might work. “Between 1999 and 2000 I was in a lot of pain.” Obviously that sentence would work better as “I was in pain from 1999 through 2000.” But there really isn’t a difference in meaning. Walsh believes nothing can happen “between” those years.

23. Commas and hyphens in compound modifiers are the most argued about (p. 127). When I’m editing, I’ll put a comma back in that I removed in a previous edit of that same piece. I also double-think every hyphen; is it really needed? Commas, for sure, have the ability to change everything, and be changed every time you edit. Just ask a poet.

24. Clarity. Walsh gives this example: “Tomorrow Amy will discuss her column. Who’s Tomorrow Amy?” I like this one: “In time travel will be less of a hassle.” Yeah, comma after time (p. 128-129).

25. Use of comma in a compound sentence? Depends on whether the second half of the sentence is dependent on the first half. Here’s an example Walsh uses: “Garofalo disdains Hollywood life, but it pays her rent.” Compared to “Garofalo lost weight and found starring roles.” In the first example, you have two actual sentences, but I contend that removing the comma wouldn’t hurt there either. But and and can be used to replace the comma. My use of comma is in part to show where you would ask a reader to “breathe.” This is why editing often entails just changing punctuation. If you want the person not to pause while reading the sentence – for effect – you don’t add the comma. Comma can thus build suspense. Here’s an example he uses that shows this: “Open this month’s Esquire and you’ll find Sara Silverman in “The Women We Love Segment.” It indicates a kind of hurry-up (p. 130).

26. Here’s a comma use that has thrown me. In the farm reports where I work, they will write “rough, uneven ground” but that just doesn’t look right to me. According to Walsh, it is. To fix it, I instead put in an ‘and,’ but I won’t anymore. Walsh shows the difference. Sweet orange juice doesn’t need the comma. Sweet, green juice does. We don’t see green juice very often so it’s nice to know it’s sweet. I could argue that uneven ground is necessarily also rough, but rough could refer to a lot of rocks and weeds along with being uneven. Still, that comma with green juice just doesn’t look right to me. Sometimes you just gotta go with it (p. 131), and it will eventually look right.

27. Walsh quotes Theodore Bernstein on using clichés: “Actually we could not avoid the use of cliché even if we wanted to. The very word cliché is in a sense a cliché – its original meaning is stereotype. And writers on the subject inevitably find themselves using in the discussions words like coinage, fresh-minted and hackneyed, all of which are in this same sense clichés.” Well, okay, I get this, but the attempt not to use clichés still must be mustered, right? If we can find a better way of saying ‘out of the frying pan, into the fire,’ shouldn’t we try? Sometimes, though, the old way is the best way, so we shouldn’t make writing awkward just to avoid things. As Walsh points out, everything’s been said at least once, anyway. And you can certainly have fun with clichés by using them in less-clichéd ways (p. 141-142). Walsh notes, “use it only with discrimination and sophistication, and shun it when it is a substitute for precise thinking” (p. 143), and “it’s pointless to try and eliminate them entirely” (p. 147).

28. Here’s something I’ve never seen before – “ledes” is what they call the lead paragraph in a newspaper article (p. 147).

29. I sense that Walsh has some ambiguity about when to use gender specific terms. If the businessman is a woman, use businesswoman. Businessperson is awkward; if you don’t know what the gender is, businessman is okay, because the ‘wo’ could be silent. Right? That’s my thinking but I’ve never seen anyone qualify this. You can also use generic terms like owner and executive and he even likes businessperson, but I don’t. He also seems to think chairman can be both genders but allows chairwoman. He doesn’t like chairperson. Sounds silly. I’ve often seen it just as “chair.” I’m the chair of the committee (if you don’t want your sex known). I’m the committee chair. Spokesman is another he thinks can be either/or. But I see no problem with spokeswoman. Again, if you don’t know, go with spokesman (p. 153-154). Personally I think we should have separate-sounding gender names. Instead of man and woman, it should be man and supreme leader.

30. Waiter vs. waitress. Actor vs. actress. An interesting discussion, as waiting tables can be done by either sex, but acting a role generally needs one sex over the other; Tootsie & Mrs. Doubtfire come to mind as exceptions. Point is that there are gender-specific terms for roles and I don’t know what his point is here. Oh wait, context can make a difference. You don’t call Oprah a talk show hostess. She hosts the show (p. 155).

31. He gets into “thieving written material,” what some others might call plagiarism, but I find this discussion a little hard to follow. Yes, we often do get material from other sources, rather than just making everything up off the top of our heads. (That’s fiction.) If we quote other sources, we use quotations and say who said it. If we find something out from someone and want to add our own twist to it, that’s paraphrasing and rewriting and we often might combine two or more sources to come up with some entirely new, which as a historian I do a lot. Then we footnote where we got the information from. I’m not sure I follow his comments on being stupid if we use a photographer’s caption on the photographer’s photo (p. 160). Maybe it’s a good one. He also notes that we need to verify our sources. Fair enough. That’s the three-source rule that I was taught while going for my master’s. We are given a different slant from each source, and this enables us to put the puzzle together in a way no one else has—maybe even getting a little closer to what actually happened in history, which, face it, we can never know for sure. Walsh here isn’t really talking about history, though; more about use of contemporary material. Here’s how he feels about re-using someone else’s work: “If you’re such a piss-poor writer that you can’t improve on, or at least reword a news release, you might want to consider another career. I’ll say it again: I believe Kinko’s is hiring” (p. 161). I wonder how he’d feel about this document I’m putting together, where I both copy what he says, and at times, make comments and even improve on the material. Will he be offended? Sue me? Ask me to collaborate for another edition? Hey, anything can happen.

32. THE PERFECT PARAGRAPH TO UNDERSTAND IF YOU WANT TO BE AN EDITOR: “As an editor, you do sometimes feel as if you weren’t invited to the party. But you should have already known that when you took the job, and editing is by definition a behind-the-scenes job. Sometimes it’s a creative, prestigious behind-the-scenes job, and sometimes it’s a lowly, grunt-work behind-the-scenes job, but either way you have to get out of the shot and let the actors be the center of attention. Your job is to make the writer look good, not to point out to readers that the writer isn’t exactly an expert on the subject material or the stylebook or the dictionary. If you write headlines or captions that accompany articles, your job is to make those headlines or captions sound as though the writers wrote them—even if the writer is simply a reader whose letter you are publishing” (p. 166). After he wrote this, he talked about editors who cut whole paragraphs because they didn’t like clichés, rather than giving the writer a chance to reword it (p. 167). First, it depends on the turnaround time, right? And rules of the publication, etc. In my job, the author always has last say, and another chance to put it back the way it was, if I got carried away. Most of the time my editing boils down to logic, losing redundancy and grammar. If you said “he has no pain in his hand” in one paragraph, you can’t say he does in another. But when I make those changes, I am making best guesses, and it’s up to the author to say, yeah, that’s right, or no, I meant this. The last thing I want to do is call them on the phone over every missed word. I had one writer who said I was editing too much and why did I care because the reports weren’t read by the target audience anyway? So I stopped fixing so much. Then we learned that they are actually going through the reports word by word. Editing is a delicate balancing act, at best, and not for the weak-hearted. In fact, it might just be a little more stress than many can handle—I know it’s not fun living unsure of yourself all the time.

33. As long as I’m haranguing at Walsh, let’s add his discussion on the use of “that” and “those” into the mix. His two pages on “snarky specificity” is completely off the mark, because I don’t understand what any of these two pages mean. In the case of that vs. those, he makes the example about cars that have all kinds of garbage in the back seat (p. 171). Not only does this discussion make no sense, it might have encouraged more littering.

34. Ah yes, the I vs. me debate. It’s an easy one, really. The rule is to take out the other person from the sentence and see if it works. “Thelma and I are throwing a dinner party.” “Me am throwing a dinner party?” Hardly. “Join Thelma and me for a dinner party.” “Join me for a dinner party.” “Join I for a dinner party?” Forget it! (See p. 179.)

35. Insects have antennae. Cars and cellphones have antennas. Stupid English (p. 180).

36. He regrets to inform us that cellphone as one word is okay now (p. 184).

37. Copy editors promote readability. Enough said (p. 185).

38. He wants us to use e-mail, not email! (See p. 188.) I have to laugh because I read a review of his newer book and the reviewer told him, it really is email, Walsh. But e-mail stands for electronic mail, abbreviated, so his point is well taken. Now get over it, Walsh!

39. He also hates “foreseeable future.” What the heck does that mean? If you’re thinking that you are not going to drink wine for the foreseeable future, does that mean you can see yourself going without it until you buy it again when payday comes? Kind of might be a good idea just to say that. He likes “near future” better (p. 191). Oh yeah, that makes more sense.

40. “The question is, is history going to look kindly on the Clinton presidency?” (See p. 195.) Answer? It already does. But you do have to break up the use of two exact words or it looks like a typo. Wait, what about “He had had enough?” No way do you put a comma there. Walsh, you left me hanging! The rule is only for “is” here. I’d make it “He’d had enough,” myself.

41. There is no such thing as a lie detector. If you take a lie detector test, you use a polygraph (p. 197). (I just added a little to Walsh’s comment for clarification. You’re welcome.)

42. Always write the real number before the percentage. In case this ever comes up (p. 203).

43. Here’s an interesting discussion – plan vs. plans. If it’s an intention to do something, it’s plans. If it’s an actual strategy, it’s a plan, or plan for (p. 203). Odd that I never thought of this that way. Maybe it’s one of those no-brainers.

44. I love this one: Safe deposit box. Not safety deposit box. How many of us get that wrong? Safe-D-posit, makes it sound like safety (p. 205).

45. When in doubt, use ‘said.’ Enough said (p. 205). (The editor before me in this job had a list of all kinds of words to use instead of said. Ugh.)

46. Day, time, place, is the proper order on an invite. Old adage was time, day, place (p. 210). Why the change? It’s not like we’re going to stop at time and say, no, I’m busy at 7 p.m. without knowing what day is being referred to. That seems to be Walsh’s complaint. There are often things he relates that we can feel he’s making up as he goes along. We don’t have to agree with him, especially when he doesn’t quote a source.

47. “Wait’ll they get a load of me.” This is definitely slang. It doesn’t make sense to turn wait until into “wait’ll” (p. 213). Let’s go see the movie “Wait’ll Dark!

48. Don’t use will as a predictor. They will arrive at 3 p.m. How do you know? (See p. 214.) Nothing works like clockwork, not even clocks.

49. It’s perfectly fine to use or in a sentence. If you want to, you can add the full web address in parens after it (p. 218-222). If you want a link to work within your paragraph, or even if you want to make sure they can find it based on what you write, you need to remember that anything after a (/) is case sensitive.

50. Then there’s that nasty issue of how to break a link so that the paragraph doesn’t look funny? I suspect we’ll get used to paragraphs looking funny. We can’t hyphenate it because that makes the link wrong. Often you can find a bit of punctuation in the link itself that might let you break it into the next paragraph, but sometimes that destroys the link. Decide what works for you, and your particular situation (p. 224). Sometimes shrinking works. Honey, I shrunk the Link!


Pen In Cheek

Posted by bebowreinhard on June 14, 2014 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Enough already, all you writers with all your great successes. Do you ever for a moment stop to think that maybe some of us aren’t doing so well and feel even more miserable to learn that you’ve finally found that magical spot in the book world where you belong? Do you enjoy leaving the rest of us behind?

Oh, I know what you’ll say. But I’m only try to get people to buy my work. Oh really? So it isn’t enough that you’ve published, now you actually want to make money, too? Heavens. Before you know it, there’ll be no room for anyone else, and you won’t care, because you’re off there somewhere rolling in your dough.

Yes, I know how rich all you successful writers are. Why do you think I’m trying so hard to make it? I have bills, too. And they’re stacking up!

You know it doesn’t matter if I buy your book. That’s not going to get me any closer to publication. And take your advice? What good’s that gonna do me? I don’t have your flare for words. I just have these ten sentences that are basically the same but arranged differently, that’s all. Hey, haven’t you always said there’s no such thing as a bad writer, only one that doesn’t try?

Well, I try. Every day I take these ten sentences, rearrange them, re-submit and what do I get for my trouble? The publisher says, sorry we’re all filled up publishing GOOD stuff! How do you think that makes me feel?

I don’t know why I bother telling you. You’re not sympathetic. You forgot you were once where I am. You forgot that someone had to help you along the way, but now you’re just stepping on us poor unpublished … what? You’re 60? You’ve been a writer for 40 years? Oh, sure, now you’re just trying to make me quit!

Have patience? Shudder.



Posted by bebowreinhard on May 4, 2014 at 7:25 PM Comments comments (0)

This is just a word of warning to anyone  who thinks they want to pursue a writing career.

If you have not or do not get immediate positive feedback to your writing capabilities, don't pursue this as a career.  This is a horribly disappointing way to live, and if you don't have the talent for it, you're just going to be hurt. You're going to find yourself wasting a lot of time thinking you can improve, only to find out by the time you reach 61 that as good as you were at 18 is how good you'll be five decades later.

Don't fool yourself into thinking writing talent can be learned.  It can't.  You either have it or you don't.

I had some small success with writing in high school, but next to NO encouragement by the time I got around to trying it as a career.  You know what I found out? The world can get along without my prose.  Can, and does.  Do I have any other options now?  No.

But maybe you do. Find out what people encourage you to keep doing, and keep doing that.  It beats the heck out of wasting your life.


Posted by bebowreinhard on February 6, 2014 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

I used to think there were only two kinds of publishing venues – traditional and self-published. Now I’ve learned the hard way what vanity publishing is all about, and agree that this is a third route.

It’s not a route I would recommend over self-publishing. It is possible that vanity publishers do reject some submissions. But it is not clear that they read the completed project, either. And those are two reasons that you would go with a traditional publisher—that you would share the proceeds of your hard work with anyone. They see your vision and are able to help you make it better.

My recent experience taught me the realities of vanity publishing. I don’t think XYZ (not their real name) really grasped the magnitude of the project I submitted to them. They probably observed a few pages and felt it was adequately written. They offered no comment about the value of the project. For this reason, I had always lumped them with self-publishers. If there is no rejection process in place, it’s self-publishing.

But people can get traditional and vanity publishing mixed up, and I hope to address that here.

There is a website that has warnings about publishers, but it hasn’t been updated lately. Still it’s worth checking out. I learned, after submitting a query, that they consider XYZ a vanity press, but I was hoping these things change over time.

I learned that XYZ doesn’t consider themselves a vanity press, yet they only publish through Amazon. This publisher doesn’t maintain a site where readers can order directly through them. A vanity press will get your book formatted properly for Amazon in exchange for as much as 85% of your sales, and Amazon, of course, gets a portion as well.

Yes, you the author can do the formatting and get your project up at Amazon with no upfront costs, but this is a time-consuming process, especially when you’re new at it. Vanity press publishers know this, and step in to fill the gap for you.

So XYZ turned out to be a publisher who only works with Amazon’s pricing system. For my major nonfiction, over 500 pages plus photos and maps, the contract recommended producing an ebook with a price of $5.99.

From there, the relationship went downhill.

Here are the things to watch for in a contract to discover if you’re dealing with a vanity press:

• They start with ebooks, and maybe they’ll move into print (no definite policy).

• The range of pricing is $5.99 to $9.99. If you tell them it should be priced higher, as my nonfiction should be, they’ll say that Amazon takes a bigger chunk if you go higher.

• Their percentage of your profit is too great, more than 50%.

• They note that if you don’t like their editing, they will charge for new edits.

• They don’t give you a way to get out of the contract, or say how long the contract lasts.

• They’ll say if you don’t like the book cover, you’ll have to pay to have a new one created.

• Some kind of pay for some kind of service will undoubtedly be mentioned.

I had previously lumped them in with self-publishing, for the reason that I don't believe they do any rejecting of the books, but I agree now that there might be some they won't work with.  But there are other reaons you don't want to sign with a vanity press:

• If all they do is format your book for Amazon, you’re better off doing it yourself.

• There’s no editing process to make the book better, or at least not one that you’ll likely approve of, and then the editing they will do will cost you. There’s no other reason to have that edit default cost in the contract.

• They don’t market.

• They rely only on Amazon.

• They take your money for doing something you could learn to do yourself.

• They don’t care about making your book ready to be published.

• They try to make themselves look legitimate.

• They have no concept or understanding of your project, and no real interest or caring that it succeeds or not. I asked how long the contract would last and he said at least 10 years so we can make our money back. But what money are they investing? All they invest is time. We’re talking ebooks here, not print.

If this is the route that you feel will work for you, at least understand what vanity publishing means. It means you’re too busy writing to be bothered with the submission process or the self-publishing demands, and you’re willing to pay someone else to do this work for you. But remember, too, that signing with a vanity press is akin to signing your project away.

If there is a way to make money on other people, there will be people ready to try. Don’t be a desperate writer, so anxious to be published that you’ll take any route offered. Be particular. Understand what you’re signing before you sign the contract.

Visit for ratings on a lot of publishers out there. You can even use this site to choose publishers to query. And before you query, visit their website to see if they sell their books themselves. Check out a few of their books at Amazon, too, so see the reviews and how they’re rated.

Becoming familiar with what a publisher publishes will let you know if they’re worth pursuing.  If you email me, I'll tell you the name of this one.



Posted by bebowreinhard on February 6, 2014 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

Writers write what they know. Editors reject what they don’t know. How do the two manage to find compatible ground? The answer might be in figuring out when they’re not rejecting you, but testing your response to criticism. Maybe sometimes their ‘no’ is checking your passion.

I used to accept rejection. I’m sure I don’t know anyone who’s been rejected more than I have. I once thought that if someone said no to one of my novels or queries, that’s the end of it. They said no and there’s no bargaining anywhere.

They would say things like “not for us,” and I’d say, “Hey, but I studied the market and I’m sure you take this kind of stuff so what give?” And then I started to think that they were only saying nice things so that I didn’t shoot back one of my dreaded “you’re an idiot” emails—you know, the one frustrated writers can’t resist sending, especially after the coffee pot breaks and the computer eats their latest Pulitzer worthy article.

Yeah, I used to send angry email responses. But I have evolved into a more compliant being—just shed a few tears, file the rejection and move on.

And along the way I’ve learned to notice the potential “yes” embedded inside the “no.”

Sometimes editors write nice things. Sometimes they mean the nice things they write. It’s up to us writers to become confident in our work as professionals so that we can see the difference.

Here’s my suggestion: Find encouragement in every kind word used in a rejection, and follow up with a nice thank you specially worded to give them a chance to reconsider, even if you don’t believe there’s a chance they will reconsider.

Because there’s a chance they might.

Recently I got a rejection on a novel that ended with how they liked my writing but didn’t feel they could do the marketing that would guarantee its success. I immediately responded with “Tell you what – publish the book and I’ll do all the marketing.”

This brought them back, encouraged by my passion, to request the novel. They were confused by the genre, or the way I had positioned it, and with their response I realized I may have been marketing the novel wrong all along.

Of course, I still want help marketing. More on that in a minute.

Does this mean you should follow up on every “no”? I wouldn’t. A lot of rejections come in the form of form letters, and that means the submission had nothing for them.

Once I asked one of these if they could share a reason for the no. One publisher happily responded with: “I don’t like your writing.”

We know writing is a subjective business. But there is always the possibility that some rejections that are nicely worded came really close to being acceptances. I had another publisher request a series of six changes to my novel, and five of them I agreed with. He rejected it again because I didn’t agree with the sixth. That’s okay. There’s only so far we can go when changing our vision to match someone else’s, after all.

This new publisher that responded to my “passion” may ask for changes. They may still reject it. As writers we have to be open to change, to realizing that we are sometimes too close to our work to see its flaws. But we also have to be sure enough in what we’ve written to know when a suggestion crosses the line.

Once I got a contract for this novel that said that I was going to allow them to make so many changes that the book’s copyright could be taken from me. I had another contract that said that if I backed out for any reason (i.e. didn’t like the cover), they would expect me to pay them $1,000 for their trouble.

And I once signed with a publisher who then attempted to put out a badly formatted novel. I didn’t notice how bad their first novel looked until after I signed. Eighteen months later, I found myself holding my ground to get the proper formatting. Finally, she cancelled the contract, saying the novel wasn’t good enough.

Another contract I signed said he’d have the book out in six months, but that six months went by and he hadn’t even assigned it an editor yet. So I got out of that one, too.

All kinds of things can go wrong with a yes, but getting that yes and finding out if you can work with them is 3/4ths of the submission battle. Maybe this new publisher doesn’t do any marketing. But maybe they do. I’ll never know until I get a yes and see a contract.

Taking “no” for an answer keeps a lot of fledgling writers away from traditional markets. Most self-published authors I know could not bear up under repeated rejection, and did not recognize the slightest encouragement. One did not realize that they could have been testing her when they told her not to set her novel in Brownsville because it wouldn’t attract a big enough readership. Had she responded with all the reasons it was the perfect location, she might have ended up with the contract. She could have said: “But I wanted to write what I know and love passionately. And Brownsville, so close to Mexico, is a really exotic location.” She could make her readers love Brownsville, but first she needed to make an editor love it.

But be realistic. Following up on a query like this might help, and it might not. If it doesn’t, just cross them off your list and move on. There is not harm or foul in the follow-up, if done with respect and care.

Publishers like to see if we’re going to be an author they can work with. They test our passion. Rejections can be part of that test. So if there is any kind of personal note in the rejection, more than just a form letter, respond. You have nothing more to lose.

Your goal as an author should be to find someone who believes in you. Take every rejection seriously, and be proud of yourself for putting your work out there. The end result is a better book.


WISDOM FOR LIVING: Staying Employed

Posted by bebowreinhard on November 22, 2013 at 5:35 PM Comments comments (2)

I’m 60 years old and I’ve ruined my life. I’m posting this not so you will feel sorry for me, but so that you can avoid the mistakes I’ve made.

First, know your strengths and weaknesses. While there’s something so noble in pursuing a writing career, there’s also so much about the process that stands in your way, and you need to have something extra special to batter down those walls. The best way to know if you have what it takes is to receive encouragement from others. I got that encouragement in high school, and I have lived on that encouragement ever since. I never got it anywhere else. There was a time when my writing seemed like it was taking off—in the late 1990s to early 2000s. Then the self-publishing market took hold, and writing ventures have not been the same since. I languish between the two, unable to crack one and unwilling to do the other.

Learn what you’re good at that’s marketable, and hone yourself in the workplace.

Second, don’t quit a job at the slightest discouragement. I’ve always been a perfectionist, fearful of criticism. I catch on to jobs quickly but bore easily. Developing relationships has never come easily to me. So at the slightest discouragement on the job, I would rationale a reason to quit. A lot of times I used the “it’s too far to drive to take that crap,” but many times I quit hoping they would beg me to stay. They never called my bluff. I was never valued as I had hoped I was.

It’s never a good idea to gamble your employment history away.  The longer the resume, the worse you look.

Third, going back to college is a serious move, and needs every consideration. Yet I made this mistake not once, but twice. I didn’t learn enough about historical research in my undergraduate degree and as a result, I couldn’t get the Henry book done the way I wanted. I went for a master’s with no further goal than to finish that book. I could have taken Public History courses to qualify for museum work, but never did. And no, the Henry book is still not published.

And my history writing has not paid off as I’d hoped outside the book, either. I have recently been told that my journalistic style is too “populist.” But I’ve been told by popular magazines that my popular style is too scholarly. I’ve been told by trade publishers to send Henry to university publishers, who tell me to send it to trade publishers.

Never go to college to be a writer. Make sure you have a back-up plan.

Because of college, I took a lot of temp jobs, jobs that were easy to quit, which reinforced that quitting wasn’t hard—there was always something else out there.

There isn’t anything out there anymore. Not when you reach a certain age and the economy is going through uncertain times. Not when you still live so far out of town that you’re not willing to take just any assistant manager at McDonalds job. Even the temp agencies that I counted on for so long have dropped me, because they know I keep looking for something better.

So don’t be like me. Find the good in the job you have now. Move closer to it if you can. Don’t let yourself get old with nothing to look forward to, and never ever forget that while you want others to value you, you can’t put your own value over what you’d like to accomplish in life. You’re not special. There are a million people waiting to take your place.

Don’t be like me. Don’t take your future for granted. Your future, as you might want to envision it, doesn’t exist.



Posted by bebowreinhard on November 9, 2013 at 11:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I entered the world of usage of song lyrics in a novel as a babe in the musical woods. Could they object to a line or two? Or even a whole stanza? I couldn’t imagine why, and in fact really didn’t give it a thought.

As a historical writer who put together a huge nonfiction book complete with quotes and photos, many of which need permission or at least complete footnoting, I’m not sure why this would escape my attention. Songs are still an artist’s creation, even if the artist doesn’t always retain their own copyright.

That’s right. I don’t have to ask John Lennon’s widow for right to quote a few of his lyrics in my book. I had to ask Sony/ATV Music, who owns the Michael Jackson estate. My publisher, Arline Chase of Write Words, Inc., told me of an author who talked to John Denver personally, who said he’d be honored to have her refer to his song, and so she did, only to find out he didn’t own the rights.

I find this process to be quite arbitrary. For one thing, I am not playing a song without permission on a radio station, and making money. Do DJs who play at weddings have to get permission for every song they play? Why not? They’re making money. I’m going to ask next chance I get, unless someone here knows the answer and can fill me in. I am merely quoting a few lines of lyrics, by far not the whole song. What is the problem?

The problem is someone wants money. And it’s often not the person who created the piece at all. We’re not paying for the literary endeavor, but yes, in a round-about way we are, because they had to sell their rights and did so, we might expect, willingly for some monetary need.

But these creative artists aren’t getting anything off of my work, which includes a clever reference to theirs. They might make money off my reference if it gains them another fan through that reference, if they retained the money made from sale of the actual recording. Instead, the lyrics you find online are owned by someone who paid to own them, not the one who wrote them.

Odd business, music.

I don’t know all the details to why the Beatles would have sold their copyrights to Michael Jackson in the first place. Were they not making enough money from the songs anymore? And I’m just talking about the use of a few lyrics, not the whole song. You can find complete lyrics online to just about any song you want. That enables you to sing the song out loud, and you can do that karaoke without paying a fee, as long as you don’t make money doing it. Or don’t get caught making any money on it.

Why would I begrudge these copyright owners a use fee for these lyrics? Few writers, unless they’re of the Stephen King category (and I bet even he wouldn’t attempt to write this kind of book) can afford to pay any exorbitant licensing fees. Even with my nonfiction, I have not paid for the rights to the photos that demand them because I don’t yet have a publishing contract. I want the publisher to decide if they want to include those photos that have to be purchased before I do that.

So my first stop is to find out how much a few lines of lyrics will cost me, and then let the publisher decide if they think they are that worth being used in the book. I figured this should be my first step, because it might be hard to find a publisher if I haven’t done this research. They might be leery of any book that relies on music lyrics to help tell its tale.

I have purchased rights in the past. I paid $200 for a map I’ve yet to use in anything. I got free single use of a book cover, also gone unused. I also became the only authorized Bonanza novelist by gaining permission to publish two novels direct from creator and producer of the series, David Dortort—permission that some people to this day believe I never got. I didn’t pay anything up front, but Bonanza Ventures gets 20% of my net royalties—only 10% until I decided to use the official licensed map on the cover.

A major goal for this new novel is getting the rights to the Beatles song, “In My Life.” With an online search and a phone call, I learned that Sony/ATV held the rights. I found an email and they responded promptly with a form to return with the contextual pages of the book where the lyrics would appear.

The form wanted me to name the publisher.

It would appear that this is a job most publishers undertake, but undaunted, I told them I didn’t have one but might have to re-do the work if the cost was prohibitive. While waiting for a response, I went through a movie script I’d written and noted that I was using lines from other movies. So in this draft, I removed them, thinking it could be stopping the script from getting noticed. I thought the same could be true for this novel.

Sony/ATV responded later that day, though I wasn’t sure they would. They said it would cost me $300. That’s not bad, I reasoned. Until I saw the next part. For 500 copies. I thought maybe they missed a couple of zeroes. Okay, so this means they think I’m going to self-publish. And while 60 cents a copy doesn’t seem so bad, really, it can add up to a lot if you want to hit the best-seller list, especially if the author is expected to pay this up front, and then doesn’t sell as many copies as she hoped.

In my major nonfiction, I got a publisher and then set out to get all the rights to the photos, before the publisher asked me to because he didn’t even read the book before accepting it. In that process I found there were some photos I could do without, many that could be replaced with something that was free, and then the ones I needed to pay for I got the prices so that the publisher could decide if they were worth buying. But I cancelled the contract from lack of work on his part, because I felt he didn’t have a clue what to do with all these photos and maps.

I wrote back to Sony/ATV asking for a third option, because the only options they gave was either to pay the amount or remove the lyrics. I told them I just wanted an idea of cost, and that I will keep this form and have a publisher decide if I need the lyrics. Then I went through the book and removed whatever lines weren’t needed to tell the story. “Yeah yeah sigh.” Well, there’s at least one potential lyric problem I solved.

Often just mentioning the song by name, which is legal, is enough.

My other option is just to make up some songs, and make them so good that people think they’re real. But to a historian who’s trying to create a book with a real feel for these time periods, that would leave me (and probably readers) unsatisfied.

I have other licensing queries out there, and will update this article as those responses come in. The nice thing is that with lyrics, as with photos, you can say that all attempts were made to find out about licensing, and if they don’t ever respond, you can go ahead and use the lyrics.

But keep a paper trail, just in case.

The good thing about working with Sony/ATV is how prompt and reliable they are. She also told me that they approve the context use of the lyrics in my novel, but I still have to pay the licensing fee. At least now I know, and will be careful not to be frivolous with lyrics in a novel that depends a lot on how music changes from the 40s to the 60s. But something will be lost in the transition, and that’s too bad.