Thursday, May 31, 2012

Proofreading: Checking Your Trail for Roots and Other Obstructions

After covering the types of editingline editing, copyediting—we get to the stage that's generally under-appreciated (and often overworked and underpaid, but we'll get to that): proofreading.

In our analogy of your story (or other piece of writing) as a nature trail, proofreading is the final check, making sure there aren't any roots obstructing the trail, that everything's clean and smooth and what it should be. The "oops" check.

Proofreading is not an edit.

Proofreading is the final check for errors.

It's fairly common, these days, for people to combine proofreading and copyediting and require employees to do both jobs at the same time…which pretty much defeats the point of proofreading.

Some editors even call their copyediting services "proofreading", either out of their own confusion (because their companies told them they were proofreaders due to proofreaders' lower pay) or out of their clients' confusion (because their clients misunderstand what proofreading and copyediting are, so why bother to educate them on the appropriate jargon?)

Let's back up and define our terms:

Line Editing
makes sure your text flows properly and is grammatically correct (for your writing style).
makes sure your text says what you meant it to say and that its grammar and spelling matches the appropriate house style†
is the "Oops" check for grammar (and, traditionally, formatting) to make sure they match the house style†

For further explanation of why I need these definitions and what "house style" is, see this post.

Look at the name of the step we're talking about: proof reading. It stems from publishing; before something goes to the printing press, a page proof is printed, a mock-up of what it'll look like. The proof reader is a final set of eyes that checks that all is correct by reading the proof.

Meaning the proofreader should be someone who hasn't been involved on other steps in the process, because the proofreader needs to see what's actually on the page rather than what the person thinks is there.

By the time you're on the page proof, everything should be done. The only things being caught should be accidents, like a typo or a margin issue, not outright problems.

But again, proofreaders are often expected to act as copyeditors, finding and fixing outright problems often for half (or less!) of the pay. Some small presses don't even pay, saying that the proofreaders are getting "paid" by reading a free book.

The assumption is that proofreading doesn't take all that long—and in the old-style "oops" check on page proofs, that could be true, because companies often had deadlines and workloads that meant the ones who survived on the job were the fast(er) ones. But…

Proofreading takes longer than reading.

My guess is that proofreading takes at minimum twice as long as reading—not including the time it takes to mark up errors—but my view is skewed: I'm faster than average. I once worked with several hybrid-style copyeditor-proofreaders for a company, all of them with more relevant experience than 20-year-old me had at the time, and they were startled by the quantity I got done. (And Quality Control liked me, so I know I had quality, too.)

If a proofreader just has to worry about the personalization, the formatting, and the order code line—the rest of the piece being canned items—then proofreading is a breeze.

("Canned" means pre-written articles that a company might reuse with permission for multiple clients. They're proofread when written, and the proofreader gets used to how they're supposed to look so she can glance at them to check "Was anything cut off or is a hyphenation wrong?")

But if a proofreader has to carefully verify every paragraph for proper formatting, every sentence for proper punctuation, every word for proper spelling—and then notice the surrounding document's formatting, spacing, and font face to boot—that takes even longer.

(Have I mentioned my old hobby of identifying font faces and font sizes at a glance? There was a reason for it. I'm out of practice, but I'm pretty sure I'm looking at some Helvetica on an envelope on my desk—in bold allcaps, probably size 14 or 16. It's commercially used for the "Important info inside" notice, so I know it's one of the major sans-serif variable-width fonts. It's not Verdana or Impact, and *checks word processor* it isn't Arial—the G is wrong. Per my word processor, Helvetica does look just like it, though it might be size 18; I'd have to print a test page to be sure.)

Anyway, this is a fast proofreader talking, who thinks it takes twice as long to proofread something as it does to read it, not including the time it takes to mark up errors.

Add in copyediting, and the job takes even longer.

Take a 3,000-word short story. That'll take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to proofread, and anywhere from an hour to three to edit. (Though if it's going to take much longer than an hour to edit, I think the writer needs a tutor, not an editor.)

In my experience, it's actually faster to mark up errors on paper. But marking errors in a computer file is more convenient for the integration of those corrections into the final product.

As a result, proofreaders have more responsibility, in a way that makes their job take longer, and don't have that reflected in their pay.

So. Let's back up again.

If a proofreader has to see what's actually on the page rather than what she thinks is there, it must be impossible to proofread your own work, right?


Not necessarily.

It is possible to adequately proofread your own work. (Freelance writers often have to do it.) Not everyone is capable of it. And not everyone who is capable of it wants to take the time and effort to do so, because it's always more difficult to proofread your own work than someone else's.

It is possible to trick yourself into seeing the technicalities of what's actually on the page rather than what you think is there.

But then you have to know what it's supposed to look like, to know when it's wrong. *wink*

We'll jump into techniques for tricking yourself—and, maybe, a checklist of what you'll be wanting to evaluate—on another day.

What do you think of proofreading? Would you prefer to (learn how to?) proofread your own work or prefer hiring someone else to do it?


I hope you're getting value out of these blog posts. Each one generally takes me an hour or two to write. That's an hour or two that could be spent doing paid work. Blogging doesn't pay any bills.

So if you've found the post valuable, please consider leaving a sign of your appreciation in the tip jar. Thanks!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Copyediting: Making Sure Your Trail's What It's Meant to Be

After covering the types of "little picture" editing and delving into what line editing and content editing are, it's time to address copyediting. Some people use "line editing" and "copy editing" synonymously, so let's review how I'm using it:

makes sure your text says what you meant it to say and that its grammar and spelling matches the appropriate house style†

For further explanation of why I need these definitions and what "house style" is, see this post.

How often have you left a blog comment, only to afterwards realize you accidentally said something wrong? Maybe you said Neil Gaiman doesn't write well when you meant to say he does write well. Or maybe you post something, only to have the vast majority of commenters make you realize that you effectively said something other than what you intended to say.

The sentences work. The paragraphs work. The overall post all work grammatically—

But they say the wrong thing.

That nature trail you've worked so hard on isn't the path you wanted it to be.

That's where copyediting comes in. Flagging "Hey, did you mean to say this?" and "Hey, why did this character's hair change from black to red?" Sometimes, it's even verifying that the author used the word they intended in a phrase.

Notice that the point with copyediting is not "This doesn't make sense," though that can sometimes be a part of it. The point is "Is this what you intended to say?"

For example, to briefly describe the terms, discreet means "located subtly"; discrete means "located separately". The former word is more commonly intended than the latter, so if a writer uses discrete, if either word could be used, I'll ask the author if they intended the more common one.

There won't be anything wrong with the sentence, mind you. I'll just be verifying that you used the word you intended, because a lot of folks don't realize the difference between the two words.

Editors aren't telepathic.

Hint: That lack of telepathy is why editors might sometimes screw up a writer's meaning. Yes, some editors go overboard. Yes, some editors' failure to understand the writer is not the writer's fault. But even a good editor might misunderstand a writer and wreck something.

(And since good editors will, yanno, ask when they aren't sure, that means they were sure that the writer meant that other thing, so something was wrong with the original writing.)

Editors aren't jealousy incarnate.

Okay, some editors might be failed writers and therefore jealous. Might.

Some editors might try to replace your writing style with their own. Might. (Hint: Editors aren't supposed to do that. Ghostwriting practice helps an editor avoid that, in my experience.)

And, to be frank, some writers are clueless if not all-around jerks. (On behalf editors everywhere, please do not send your editor a rough draft!)

Now. After that delving into the first half of copyediting—making sure your text says what you meant it to say—let's look at the other half. What's "house style"?

house style
The publisher's grammar, spelling, and formatting.

If you're self-publishing, that means your preferred grammar, spellings, and formatting choices. (Some grammar rules and spellings differ depending on your book—or on your edition of the book. For example, is it "Chris' toy" or "Chris's toy"? Answer differs depending on if you're using Chicago Manual of Style 15th edition or 16th edition.

If you have a publisher, that means your publisher's preferred grammar, spellings, and formatting choices. Not yours. Your publisher's.

Why? For coherency in what is published.

(Your chapter headers' font size, what you put in scene breaks, that your indents are the same size—those are also part of the "house style", though that's traditionally been more the realm of proofreaders than copyeditors, so we'll delve more into that next week.)

And, sadly, a lot of companies have laid off their copyeditors, have combined the job with proofreading or line editing, or have so downsized their editing departments that they struggle to keep up with the volume.

Which explains some things we often see in what we read, actually.

How are you at copyediting? Do you know any copyeditors? Have you read anything lately that you think could've used a copyeditor?

P.S. Anyone else having problems with


I hope you're getting value out of these blog posts. Each one generally takes me an hour or two to write. That's an hour or two that could be spent writing fiction. Blogging doesn't pay any bills.

So if you've found the post valuable, please consider leaving a sign of your appreciation in the tip jar. Thanks!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Content & Line Editing: "Paving" Your Nature Trail

Trails need some form of paving to exist. That might be a bunch of folks treading over it, to make the dirt stay through the years. That might be asphalt.

But they need something.

So. Analogies tend to fail at some point, and here's really where my analogy of your story as a nature trail gets a tad wonky, because I'm having to combine content editing (a "big picture" type of edit) with line editing (the most in-depth form of "little picture" edits).

Let's start with the definitions:

Content Editing
makes sure your story's content flows properly and is internally correct (for story coherence).
Line Editing
makes sure your story's text flows properly and is grammatically correct (for your writing style).

For further definitions, see this post.

When you look at them that way, my combination of the two of them in this lesson makes a bit more sense, doesn't it? Content editing could be the decision about what type of paving the nature trail will have, while line editing could be considered the verification that the entire trail is paved that selfsame way.

So. Making sure your plot's logistics make sense? Verifying that your character's red hair doesn't suddenly change to blond for no apparent reason? Analyzing when you need more description, more dialogue, another scene with the two main characters? That's all content editing.

Making sure what's on the page all flows grammatically? That the style works? That your sentence fragments actually are functional, rather than producing choppy writing that's irritating to a reader? Line editing.

Remember my post about the two types of editors? Everyone specializes in either "big picture" or "little picture", and remember above, how content and line editing fall into different "picture size" categories?

That means editors specialize in line editing or content editing.

Can a content editor notice and make recommendations that fall under the realm of content editing? Yes.

Can a line editor notice and make recommendations that fall under the realm of content editing? Yes.

But don't confuse the two tasks, and don't expect the same person to be able to do it all. There is a difference. Editors (and readers) do specialize.

(That's why comments saying "This book needs an editor" can be a pain in the neck. Unless the commenter gives examples, you don't know what they disliked about a story, to know what kind of editor they think it needed—and sometimes, readers pitch fits over things that aren't errors. Case in point: Hart's Hope by Orson Scott Card is intentionally written in an archaic "tell"-heavy style, and I've seen a review that called it bad writing by definition because of that. Er, no. It's just a non-modern style, which fits the non-modern story. Fact is, a lot of things called "bad writing" are merely "bad" to modern sensibilities, sometimes because newbie writers commonly screw them up. Even so, breaking those "rules" tends to be a bad idea unless you're willing to be publicly ridiculed as an idiot. Even Stephanie Meyer's adverb-heavy prose in Twilight did its job of reaching her intended audience.)

/Rabbit trail.

Of two types of editing I'm addressing here, you want to perform content editing first. Remember all those posts I did about structural, plot, character, and setting editing? Those are forms of content editing.

The line gets a bit more blurry when you're looking at transitions. Transitions between chapters. Transitions between scenes. Transitions within scenes. Are they content editing or line editing?


Some types of transitions are content editing. (Hey, when did this person enter the hospital? Last I knew, he was in his car.)

Some types of transitions are line editing. (Hey, let's rearrange this sentence so it's in the correct order for what I'm trying to say.)

That blurred line means that you should consciously look at transitions as part of both content and line editing. Is it any wonder that transitions are often a bane of writers? ^_^

Line editing tends to work better when it comes after content editing. (Why spend time cleaning up a scene that's only going to be redone and re-edited?) (Unless you're like me and have trouble seeing content when there are too many typos and line mess-ups.)

Line editing looks at every phrase, every clause, every sentence, every paragraph, every scene—and makes sure the language flows. (And if you don't know the difference between a phrase and a clause, you probably have comma splices and maybe even other types of run-on sentences in your writing. Just saying.)

Line editing also considers writing style issues. Things can be grammatically correct and still be problems.

Take the sentence "His eyes dropped to the table." Grammatically, it's fine. Stylistically, it's not.

Why not? It's inherently unclear: Did his gaze land on the table, or did his eyeballs plop out of his head and land on the table? Some readers will get the first meaning, some the second. Therefore, autonomous body parts shouldn't be in your writing unless they're like Sally's limbs in A Nightmare Before Christmas.

Can you choose to write with autonomous body parts? Sure. You'll cut out a portion of potential readers whose automatic comprehension of something tends to be literal rather than figurative, but you can do it. Will some folks complain about "bad writing"? Probably. Does that complaint make autonomous body parts bad? No.

Autonomous body parts are "bad" because they're inherently unclear.

What's the purpose of writing? To get your point across.

Autonomous body parts interfere with that purpose. That's what's makes them bad writing.

But what if you intend to omit the audience of folks who would be confused by autonomous body parts? Suddenly, there's nothing wrong with them.

A line editor has to keep an eye out for stylistic things like that and catch actual "hard" errors, like dangling modifiers. ("Hard" errors being things that are errors regardless of your genre and intended audience.)

Example: "Falling hard, the table hurt her wrists."

That sentence says that the table fell hard and hurt "her" wrists. The most likely intended meaning is that she fell hard and hurt her wrists on the table. But that's not what the sentence is actually saying.

That makes dangling modifiers a "hard" error.

What do you think of the blurred line between content and line editing? Which type do you think you're geared towards? Do autonomous body parts bother you?


I hope you're getting value out of these blog posts. Each one generally takes me an hour or two to write. That's an hour or two that could be spent writing fiction. Blogging doesn't pay any bills.

So if you've found the post valuable, please consider leaving a sign of your appreciation in the tip jar. Thanks!

Monday, May 14, 2012

New E-Zine: Qu33n of Spades' Fiction Magazine

Edited to Add: Due to life events, the two folks who planned to start this e-zine had to table it for the foreseeable future, and all story rights have been returned to the authors.

E-zine startups are a dime a dozen, so why am I announcing one? Because Qu33n of Spades is Kayla Rose Graham, a lady I've known for a while. She was one of the early commenters on A Fistful of Fire, back when it was still 17k words long, called "Evonalé", and posted on Kayla gave me some good content feedback, even on that early version, helping me make sure my characters were solid, not Mary Sue-ish.

I think this will be one enjoyable 'zine—and I say that not knowing whether they'll accept my submission or not. As far as I'm aware, they haven't even finished hammering out all the details for how the 'zine will work, but I think Kayla will do a good job with it.

Qu33n of Spades' Fiction Magazine accepts fiction and poetry. (No reprints.)

Fiction: Genre or literary fiction, up to 8k words long, though not erotica or excessively mature content. (So no gratuitous sex, violence, or objectionable language.)

Poetry: 1 poem of no more than 50 lines or up to 5 poems of no more than 30 lines each. (Same content guidelines as the fiction.)

Rights: specific rights still getting hammered out, but looks like it'll be a form of first rights, archival rights, and 6 months' exclusivity

Payment: income share

Submission Deadline: May 31, 2012

(for June issue)

E-mail qu33nofspades [dot] fiction [at] gmail [dot] com for more details.

As I mentioned above, I've submitted. It's a story that I think fits Kayla's goals for the 'zine, though she's not yet told me if I'm right.

From a business standpoint, submitting to a startup is always a gamble. There's no track record for how well that specific company will sell, how long they'll be around, or how they treat their authors (or editors). I'm trusting that Kayla get the e-zine off the ground—and in a worst-case scenario, I'm looking at that "6 month exclusivity" and thinking I can live with not releasing that particular short story for another 9 months, if it comes to that. (Assuming 3 months to verify that the 'zine isn't coming out late.)

But startups can't get off the ground if nobody submits, so each writer has to decide if they'll participate for themselves. Personally, I like working with startups.

What do you think of the sound of Qu33n of Spades' Fiction Magazine? Do you think you'll check it out to read or submit to?


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Time Log Template for Story Writers

Folks talk about how quickly (or not) that they write. That they only put 100 or 1,000 or whatever number of words on the page per hour. But how long does a novel really take?

As a freelancer, I know how long it takes me to write a 500-word article. I should likewise know how long it takes me to write a 60k-word novel. But I don't.

So I sat down and drafted a word log template, which I'll be applying to the latter half of Know Thy Frienemy (sequel to Destiny's Kiss) and to the entirety of A Fistful of Water (sequel to A Fistful of Earth).

I drafted it and started using it last night (in Numbers, the Mac spreadsheet that's part of iWork). Love it. (And I very much like Numbers, for the record. It has some very annoying details—like the borders—but for what I tend to do with spreadsheets, Numbers is fantastic. So much cleaner than Excel.)

In e-mailing one friend last night, I mentioned the spreadsheet I'd just made, and I offered her a copy. She accepted…and I realized I had to convert it to Excel. *wince* I had to rewrite the formulae, and it's not nearly so neat to use, but it still works.

Then I was chatting with Stormy (the author of the Mirrorverse series) today and offered her a copy. She accepted…and I realized she uses Open Office. So I converted the Excel version over and fixed the resulting broken formulae.

(I just like saying formulae. It looks like such an intelligent word.)

…And you can tell I'm sleepy. Okay.

Anyway, I've some other file templates I use that I've been thinking about sharing but just haven't gotten them finalized so I can get them all up. I'm a perfectionist, and I prefer having something precise before sharing.

This, though, is a spreadsheet that I'm already sharing in useable form. You might want to tweak it, but the formulae work, insofar as I've tested them. So download and enjoy!

If you have any requests or tweaks to recommend, let me know. I'm fairly fluent in spreadsheet, so I might be able to pull something off if you're not sure how to do it.

Also, for some reason, the Excel one insists on giving me a macro warning when I open it. There's no macro in the file. I have no idea what's going on there, but feel free to open it with macros disabled.

You can download all three templates in a single ZIP file here. (Right-click that link and click "Save Target As…"; left-clicking on that link might also work.) I had to bundle them together so Wordpress would let me upload the Numbers and Open Office templates.)

Once you un-zip the file, you'll see 3 files, all named "Word Log" (with various endings). Your computer will most likely recognize two of them but not the third. Feel free to throw out whichever one(s) you won't need at that point.

To try the template, double-click on the appropriate template for your Spreadsheet program. (If in doubt, if you're on a Windows computer, click the "Writing Log.xlt"; if you're on an Apple computer, click the "Writing Log.nmbtemplate".) Your program will open a brand new file that applies all the template settings. Make changes as you like in that file; it shouldn't influence the template file. To use the template again, just double-click on the template file, and it should make a fresh (blank) version.

(Sorry if that was too much explanation, but I know some folks need to know these things.)

Do you think you'll try the template? Have you tried it? Which do you prefer? Have any suggestions to improve it?


If you like any of these templates and get use out of them, please consider leaving a tip. I'd appreciate it!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The 3 Types of Grammar Editing

Picking back up in the "Realities of Self-Editing" series that I interrupted in March, we've addressed multiple things you should know even before you start trying to edit your own work, along with editing your story structure, plot, characters, and setting. (We'll dig into specific techniques you'll want to apply when self-editing at another time.)

Now let's leave that "big picture" editing, the macroediting, and turn to the three types of grammar edits: line editing, copyediting, and proofreading. My specialty. ^_^

I say specialty, singular, because when you start talking about the type of edits where grammar is involved, definitions and job descriptions overlap. A line editor can resemble a copyeditor, who can resemble a proofreader. (Note that can.)

There's also some confusion because many publishers have been cutting staff for a while, so some of them rely on proofreaders to be copyeditors, too, or acquisitions editors to do line editing. (All those jobs take slightly different skill sets, and the replaced jobs get paid more than the ones expected to fill in for them.)

So, either out of concession to the general confusion about the job titles or because they're confused themselves, a fair number of professionals have effectually redefined the terms so now any one of those terms can be used to describe line editing.

Here's how I'm describing them:

Line Editing
makes sure your text flows properly and is grammatically correct (for your writing style).
makes sure your text says what you meant it to say and that its grammar and spelling matches the appropriate house style†
is the "Oops" check for grammar (and, traditionally, formatting) to make sure they match the house style†

So over the next three weeks, as I address line editing, copyediting, and proofreading, please bear my definitions in mind.

What do I mean by "house style"?

Some grammar rules and some appropriate spellings will differ depending on your grammar handbook and dictionary.

So before you attempt any type of grammar edits, you must first decide on a default grammar handbook and dictionary. (I recommend reading the grammar handbook, too.) Here in the US, the usual defaults are the Chicago Manual of Style and the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Some prefer the AP Stylebook and the American Heritage dictionary.

Oh, and if you have specific grammar rules or spellings for which you'd rather use a different source than your primary one? That's fine

But you will want to make a style sheet listing those specific exceptions, so you can be consistent. (Other things go on such a style sheet, but I'll get into what those things are, what style sheets are, and some examples on how to make them at another time.)

Most folks are a lot worse at this type of editing than they think they are.

That "a lot worse" includes English teachers. I suspect the difficulty stems from the detail that it's always easier to see someone else's errors than it is your own, because you know what you intended to say and do.

But remember that. Editing is a skill. Tricking yourself into seeing what's on the page is a skill. Learning to see what you wrote how it actually reads rather than how you intended it to read is another skill. All of them are skills with limits, because we're all human and imperfect, but they are skills. Different ones.

Don't make the mistake of assuming something's easy for you and thereby making a fool of yourself.

Do you think yourself good at any of the above forms of editing? Does grammar make you want to run screaming? What's your preferred dictionary?


Friday, May 4, 2012

Kris Rusch on What's (Not) Happening with Misreported Royalties

As you may or may not have heard, Kris Rusch's blog was hacked yesterday, 12 hours after she posted her latest entry into her "Business Rusch" series, this one an update on the fallout from the misreported royalties folks were blowing the whistle on a year ago—fallout that's sadly…lacking.

Since then, Rusch's every attempt to repost the post has also been hacked.

The debate rages about whether it's someone intentionally trying to shut her up or someone just having a ball with all the havoc they're causing, but in the meantime, Rusch's given permission for folks to repost her article in its entirety.

So here's my part. I've added the post below in plain text; anything italicized is a note from me mentioning where I omitted a link.

Welcome to one of my other websites. This one is for my mystery persona Paladin, from my Spade/Paladin short stories. She has a website in the stories, and I thought it would be cool to have the website online. It’s currently the least active of my sites, so I figured it was perfect for what I needed today.

Someone hacked my website. Ye Olde Website Guru and I are repairing the damage but it will take some time. The hacker timed the hack to coincide with the posting of my Business Rusch column. Since the hack happened 12 hours after I originally posted the column, I’m assuming that the hacker doesn’t like what I wrote, and is trying to shut me down. Aaaaah. Poor hacker. Can’t argue on logic, merits, or with words, so must use brute force to make his/her/its point. Poor thing.

Since someone didn’t want you to see this post, I figure I’d better get it up ASAP. Obviously there’s something here someone objects to–which makes it a bit more valuable than usual.

Here’s the post, which I am reloading from my word file, so that I don’t embed any malicious code here. I’m even leaving off the atrocious artwork (which we’re redesigning) just to make sure nothing got corrupted from there.

The post directs you to a few links from my website. Obviously, those are inactive at the moment. Sorry about that. I hope you get something out of this post.

I’m also shutting off comments here, just to prevent another short-term hack. Also, I don’t want to transfer them over. If you have comments, send them via e-mail and when the site comes back up, I’ll post them. Mark them “comment” in the header of the e-mail. Thanks!

The Business Rusch: Royalty Statement Update 2012

Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about the fact that my e-book royalties from a couple of my traditional publishers looked wrong. Significantly wrong. After I posted that blog, dozens of writers contacted me with similar information. More disturbingly, some of these writers had evidence that their paper book royalties were also significantly wrong.

Writers contacted their writers’ organizations. Agents got the news. Everyone in the industry, it seemed, read those blogs, and many of the writers/agents/organizations vowed to do something. And some of them did.

I hoped to do an update within a few weeks after the initial post. I thought my update would come no later than summer of 2011.

I had no idea the update would take a year, and what I can tell you is—

Bupkis. Nada. Nothing. Zip. Zilch.

That doesn’t mean that nothing happened. I personally spoke to the heads of two different writers’ organizations who promised to look into this. I spoke to half a dozen attorneys active in the publishing field who were, as I mentioned in those posts, unsurprised. I spoke to a lot of agents, via e-mail and in person, and I spoke to even more writers.

The writers have kept me informed. It seems, from the information I’m still getting, that nothing has changed. The publishers that last year used a formula to calculate e-book royalties (rather than report actual sales) still use the formula to calculate e-book royalties this year.

I just got one such royalty statement in April from one of those companies and my e-book sales from them for six months were a laughable ten per novel. My worst selling e-books, with awful covers, have sold more than that. Significantly more.

To this day, writers continue to notify their writers’ organizations, and if those organizations are doing anything, no one has bothered to tell me. Not that they have to. I’m only a member of one writers’ organizations, and I know for fact that one is doing nothing.

But the heads of the organizations I spoke to haven’t kept me apprised. I see nothing in the industry news about writers’ organizations approaching/auditing/dealing with the problems with royalty statements. Sometimes these things take place behind the scenes, and I understand that. So, if your organization is taking action, please do let me know so that I can update the folks here.

The attorneys I spoke to are handling cases, but most of those cases are individual cases. An attorney represents a single writer with a complaint about royalties. Several of those cases got settled out of court. Others are still pending or are “in review.” I keep hearing noises about class actions, but so far, I haven’t seen any of them, nor has anyone notified me.

The agents disappointed me the most. Dean personally called an agent friend of ours whose agency handles two of the biggest stars in the writing firmament. That agent (having previously read my blog) promised the agency was aware of the problem and was “handling it.”

Two weeks later, I got an e-mail from a writer with that agency asking me if I knew about the new e-book addendum to all of her contracts that the agency had sent out. The agency had sent the addendum with a “sign immediately” letter. I hadn’t heard any of this. I asked to see the letter and the addendum.

This writer was disturbed that the addendum was generic. It had arrived on her desk—get this—without her name or the name of the book typed in. She was supposed to fill out the contract number, the book’s title, her name, and all that pertinent information.

I had her send me her original contracts, which she did. The addendum destroyed her excellent e-book rights in that contract, substituting better terms for the publisher. Said publisher handled both of that agency’s bright writing stars.

So I contacted other friends with that agency. They had all received the addendum. Most had just signed the addendum without comparing it to the original contract, trusting their agent who was (after all) supposed to protect them.

Wrong-o. The agency, it turned out, had made a deal with the publisher. The publisher would correct the royalties for the big names if agency sent out the addendum to every contract it had negotiated with that contract. The publisher and the agency both knew that not all writers would sign the addendum, but the publisher (and probably the agency) also knew that a good percentage of the writers would sign without reading it.

In other words, the publisher took the money it was originally paying to small fish and paid it to the big fish—with the small fish’s permission.

Yes, I’m furious about this, but not at the publisher. I’m mad at the authors who signed, but mostly, I’m mad at the agency that made this deal. This agency had a chance to make a good decision for all of its clients. Instead, it opted to make a good deal for only its big names.

Do I know for a fact that this is what happened? Yeah, I do. Can I prove it? No. Which is why I won’t tell you the name of the agency, nor the name of the bestsellers involved. (Who, I’m sure, have no idea what was done in their names.)

On a business level what the agency did makes sense. The agency pocketed millions in future commissions without costing itself a dime on the other side, since most of the writers who signed the addendum probably hadn’t earned out their advances, and probably never would.

On an ethical level it pisses me off. You’ll note that my language about agents has gotten harsher over the past year, and this single incident had something to do with it. Other incidents later added fuel to the fire, but they’re not relevant here. I’ll deal with them in a future post.

Yes, there are good agents in the world. Some work for unethical agencies. Some work for themselves. I still work with an agent who is also a lawyer, and is probably more ethical than I am.

But there are yahoos in the agenting business who make the slimy used car salesmen from 1970s films look like action heroes. But, as I said, that’s a future post.

I have a lot of information from writers, most of which is in private correspondence, none of which I can share, that leads me to believe that this particular agency isn’t the only one that used my blog on royalty statements to benefit their bestsellers and hurt their midlist writers. But again, I can’t prove it.

So I’m sad to report that nothing has changed from last year on the royalty statement front.


The reason I was so excited about the Department of Justice lawsuit against the five publishers wasn’t because of the anti-trust issues (which do exist on a variety of levels in publishing, in my opinion), but because the DOJ accountants will dig, and dig, and dig into the records of these traditional publishers, particularly one company named in the suit that’s got truly egregious business practices.

Those practices will change, if only because the DOJ’s forensic accountants will request information that the current accounting systems in most publishing houses do not track. The accounting system in all five of these houses will get overhauled, and brought into the 21st century, and that will benefit writers. It will be an accidental benefit, but it will occur.

The audits alone will unearth a lot of problems. I know that some writers were skeptical that the auditors would look for problems in the royalty statements, but all that shows is a lack of understanding of how forensic accounting works. In the weeks since the DOJ suit, I’ve contacted several accountants, including two forensic accountants, and they all agree that every pebble, every grain of sand, will be inspected because the best way to hide funds in an accounting audit is to move them to a part of the accounting system not being audited.

So when an organization like the DOJ audits, they get a blanket warrant to look at all of the accounting, not just the files in question. Yes, that’s a massive task. Yes, it will take years. But the change is gonna come.

From the outside.

Those of you in Europe might be seeing some of that change as well, since similar lawsuits are going on in Europe.

I do know that several writers from European countries, New Zealand, and Australia have written to me about similar problems in their royalty statements. The unifying factor in those statements is the companies involved. Again, you’d recognize the names because they’ve been in the news lately…dealing with lawsuits.

Ironically for me, those two blog posts benefitted me greatly. I had been struggling to get my rights back from one publisher (who is the biggest problem publisher), and the week I posted the blog, I got contacted by my former editor there, who told me that my rights would come back to me ASAP. Because, the former editor told me (as a friend), things had changed since Thursday (the day I post my blog), and I would get everything I needed.

In other words, let’s get the troublemaker out of the house now. Fine with me.

Later, I discovered some problems with a former agency. I pointed out the problems in a letter, and those problems got solved immediately. I have several friends who’ve been dealing with similar things from that agency, and they can’t even get a return e-mail. I know that the quick response I got is because of this blog.

I also know that many writers used the blog posts from last year to negotiate more accountability from their publishers for future royalties. That’s a real plus. Whether or not it happens is another matter because I noted something else in this round of royalty statements.

Actually, that’s not fair. My agent caught it first. I need to give credit where credit is due, and since so many folks believe I bash agents, let me say again that my current agent is quite good, quite sharp, and quite ethical.

My agent noticed that the royalty statements from one of my publishers were basket accounted on the statement itself. Which is odd, considering there is no clause in any of the contracts I have with that company that allows for basket accounting.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with basket accounting, this is what it means:

A writer signs a contract with Publisher A for three books. The contract is a three-book contract. One contract, three books. Got that?

Okay, a contract with a basket-accounting clause allows the publisher to put all three books in the same accounting “basket” as if the books are one entity. So let’s say that book one does poorly, book two does better, and book three blows out of the water.

If book three earns royalties, those royalties go toward paying off the advances on books one and two.

Like this:

Advance for book one: $10,000

Advance for book two: $10,000

Advance for book three: $10,000

Book one only earned back $5,000 toward its advance. Book two only earned $6,000 toward its advance.

Book three earned $12,000—paying off its advance, with a $2,000 profit.

In a standard contract without basket accounting, the writer would have received the $2,000 as a royalty payment.

But with basket accounting, the writer receives nothing. That accounting looks like this:

Advance on contract 1: $30,000

Earnings on contract 1: $23,000

Amount still owed before the advance earns out: $7,000

Instead of getting $2,000, the writer looks at the contract and realizes she still has $7,000 before earning out.

Without basket accounting, she would have to earn $5,000 to earn out Book 1, and $4,000 to earn out Book 2, but Book 3 would be paying her cold hard cash.

Got the difference?

Now, let’s go back to my royalty statement. It covered three books. All three books had three different one-book contracts, signed years apart. You can’t have basket accounting without a basket (or more than one book), but I checked to see if sneaky lawyers had inserted a clause that I missed which allowed the publisher to basket account any books with that publisher that the publisher chose.


I got a royalty statement with all of my advances basket accounted because…well, because. The royalty statement doesn’t follow the contract(s) at all.

Accounting error? No. These books had be added separately. Accounting program error (meaning once my name was added, did the program automatically basket account)? Maybe.

But I’ve suspected for nearly three years now that this company (not one of the big traditional publishers, but a smaller [still large] company) has been having serious financial problems. The company has played all kinds of games with my checks, with payments, with fulfilling promises that cost money.

This is just another one of those problems.

My agent caught it because he reads royalty statements. He mentioned it when he forwarded the statements. I would have caught it as well because I read royalty statements. Every single one. And I compare them to the previous statement. And often, I compare them to the contract.

Is this “error” a function of the modern publishing environment? No, not like e-book royalties, which we’ll get back to in a moment. I’m sure publishers have played this kind of trick since time immemorial. Royalty statements are fascinating for what they don’t say rather than for what they say.

For example, on this particular (messed up) royalty statement, e-books are listed as one item, without any identification. The e-books should be listed separately (according to ISBN) because Amazon has its own edition, as does Apple, as does B&N. Just like publishers must track the hardcover, trade paper, and mass market editions under different ISBNs, they should track e-books the same way.

The publisher that made the “error” with my books had no identifying number, and only one line for e-books. Does that mean that this figure included all e-books, from the Amazon edition to the B&N edition to the Apple edition? Or is this publisher, which has trouble getting its books on various sites (go figure), is only tracking Amazon? From the numbers, it would seem so. Because the numbers are somewhat lower than books in the same series that I have on Amazon, but nowhere near the numbers of the books in the same series if you add in Apple and B&N.

I can’t track this because the royalty statement has given me no way to track it. I would have to run an audit on the company. I’m not sure I want to do that because it would take my time, and I’m moving forward.

That’s the dilemma for writers. Do we take on our publishers individually? Because—for the most part—our agents aren’t doing it. The big agencies, the ones who actually have the clout and the numbers to defend their clients, are doing what they can for their big clients and leaving the rest in the dust.

Writers’ organizations seem to be silent on this. And honestly, it’s tough for an organization to take on a massive audit. It’s tough financially and it’s tough politically. I know one writer who headed a writer’s organization a few decades ago. She spearheaded an audit of major publishers, and it cost her her writing career. Not many heads of organizations have the stomach for that.

As for intellectual property attorneys (or any attorney for that matter), very few handle class actions. Most handle cases individually for individual clients. I know of several writers who’ve gone to attorneys and have gotten settlements from publishers. The problem here is that these settlements only benefit one writer, who often must sign a confidentiality agreement so he can’t even talk about what benefit he got from that agreement.

One company that I know of has revamped its royalty statements. They appear to be clearer. The original novel that I have with that company isn’t selling real well as an e-book, and that makes complete sense since the e-book costs damn near $20. (Ridiculous.) The other books that I have with that company, collaborations and tie-ins, seem to be accurately reported, although I have no way to know. I do appreciate that this company has now separated out every single e-book venue into its own category (B&N, Amazon, Apple) via ISBN, and I can actually see the sales breakdown.

So that’s a positive (I think). Some of the smaller companies have accurate statements as well—or at least, statements that match or improve upon the sales figures I’m seeing on indie projects.

This is all a long answer to a very simple question: What’s happened on the royalty statement front in the past year?

A lot less than I had hoped.

So here’s what you traditionally published writers can do. Track your royalty statements. Compare them to your contracts. Make sure the companies are reporting what they should be reporting.

If you’re combining indie and traditional, like I am, make sure the numbers are in the same ballpark. Make sure your traditional Amazon numbers are around the same numbers you get for your indie titles. If they aren’t, look at one thing first: Price. I expect sales to be much lower on that ridiculous $20 e-book. If your e-books through your traditional publisher are $15 or more, then sales will be down. If the e-books from your traditional publisher are priced around $10 or less, then they should be somewhat close in sales to your indie titles. (Or, if traditional publishers are doing the promotion they claim to do, the sales should be better.)

What to do if they’re not close at all? I have no idea. I still think there’s a benefit to contacting your writers’ organizations. Maybe if the organization keeps getting reports of badly done royalty statements, someone will take action.

If you want to hire an attorney or an auditor, remember doing that will cost both time and money. If you’re a bestseller, you might want to consider it. If you’re a midlist writer, it’s probably not worth the time and effort you’ll put in.

But do yourself a favor. Read those royalty statements. If you think they’re bad, then don’t sign a new contract with that publisher. Go somewhere else with your next book.

I wish I could give you better advice. I wish the big agencies actually tried to use their clout for good instead of their own personal profits. I wish the writers’ organizations had done something.

As usual, it’s up to individual writers.

Don’t let anyone screw you. You might not be able to fight the bad accounting on past books, but make sure you don’t allow it to happen on future books.

That means that you negotiate good contracts, you make sure your royalty statements match those contracts, and you don’t sign with a company that puts out royalty statements that don’t reflect your book deal.

I’m quite happy that I walked away from the publisher I mentioned above years ago. I did so because I didn’t like the treatment I got from the financial and production side. The editor was—as editors often are—great. Everything else at the company sucked.

The royalty statement was just confirmation of a good decision for me.

I hope you make good decisions going forward.

Remember: read your royalty statements.

Good luck.

I need to thank everyone who commented, e-mailed, donated, and called because of last week’s post. When I wrote it, all I meant to do was discuss how we all go through tough times and how we, as writers, need to recognize when we’ve hit a wall. It seems I hit a nerve. I forget sometimes that most writers work in a complete vacuum, with no writer friends, no one except family, who much as they care, don’t always understand.

So if you haven’t read last week’s post, take a peek [link omitted]. More importantly, look at the comments for great advice and some wonderful sharing. I appreciate them—and how much they expanded, added, and improved what I had to say. Thanks for that, everyone.

[donate button omitted]

“The Business Rusch: “Royalty Statement Update 2012,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

As someone who's only self-publishing e-books at this time, I can testify that keeping track of all the data for every vendor and every book is a pain to set up in Excel—but Excel isn't designed for that. Even so, figuring it out as I go, I've come up with a reasonable method of keeping track of month, vendor, sale location, number of free downloads, number of buys, amount owned, a notes section—and two handy little columns with conditional formatting that keep track of if I've been paid for that or not.

I've done this in Excel.

Excel isn't designed for data processing.

But it works okay. A little bit of tweaking and filtering, and I could print out my own royalty statement. If I wanted to, I could even add a bit to it to pull on a title's expenses, to tell me if I'm in the red on that title or not.

This is one little person, fiddling in a program that's not even meant for what she's trying to do—someone who's learning a fair bit about what data she wants in there as she goes along. Publishers should have an advantage there, since they already know what data they'll want to keep track of.


Okay, so negligence, overworked staff, or ignorance could be at fault for those misreported royalties. But I'm sure somebody's gone "Hey, everyone expects royalty statements to be screwy, so let's take advantage of that."

Math bewilders a lot of people. They have trouble with it and therefore assume that nobody will notice when a few of these numbers get juggled from there to here, since math is a jungle anyway. They miss that math isn't a jungle. It's a logical language of its own.

Miss it or take advantage of the average person's confusion. Take your pick.

So what do you think of the misreporting of royalties, the (lack of) response to it, and/or the benefits of being labeled a troublemaker?


P.S. No, I am not a math whiz. I actually flunked out of calculus. But I somehow read the Smashwords royalty statements just fine. I think that's more a spreadsheet thing than a math thing, though.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Should Authors Blog or Not?

Should the modern-day author blog or not?

Though that seems like a straightforward question, it really isn't. Some say authors should be on every social media site possible, pimping their book out for sales—and, to be fair, trade-published authors often do have a limited amount of time to make the majority of their sales. Some say authors should just spend their time writing the next book, not worrying about marketing.

And some of us just shrug, pick a few social media techniques we enjoy, and work on our next stories. *twiddles thumbs*

That said, I've kept an eye on online media and publishing information and all that jazz for… well, at least 7 years. I've seen very few folks (other than John Locke in his much-debated How I Sold 1 Million Ebooks in 5 Months) say that blogging nets them a worthwhile number of sales for the time spent.

Even if I speak as a blog reader or commenter, I haven't actually bought many books by folks whose blogs I've read. I could count on my fingers the folks for whom appreciation for their blog (or helpful online presence) led to me buying books I wouldn't have otherwise. I'd need more than one hand, granted, but we're talking over 7 years' time, here.

So, since I know it's usually ineffective marketing, why do I blog?

Short answer: I enjoy it.

Long answer: I have a big mouth and like having a place where I can share what I know (or think) and folks can listen (or not) as they prefer. I'm the type of person who will be shopping for a cupcake, hear the person behind me cough, and offer them a horehound candy, after checking if they're allergic to corn, fish, or mint.

(Horehound candies make fantastic cough drops, by the way, and they don't close your throat up like menthol. And genetically modified corn has a fish gene in it, so corn and corn syrup can trigger some folks' fish allergies.)

Back on topic…

Should an author blog?

Before I answer this question, I have a definition to share, as well as a small confession.

writing that seeks to trigger a particular action in the target reader
(That's why ad text is called ad copy.)

Blurbs are copy. Queries are copy. Blog posts meant to trigger a comment or a sale are copy.

And that is the difference between a blog that successfully leads to sales and one that… doesn't. Its copy.

Some blogs are all information, no copy. Some have little (or downright bad) copy. In fact, my guess is that most blogs neglect to actually encourage their readership to take the action that the blog owner wants them to take.

Now, here's a secret to effective copy: It manipulates the reader's emotions to make them want to act immediately.

That's why radio ads tend to yell at you. They want you to get caught up in the emotion, the panic, and to buy Now—now—now! before you stop and realize, "Hey, I don't really need a new car…"

On a less obnoxious note, that's why some blogs (like mine) ask 1+ questions at the bottom of the post. The questions encourage you, the reader, to come up with an answer and to go ahead and share your thoughts with that "Comment" button. That's technically manipulation.

(Yes, my "small confession" is that I'm technically manipulating you into leaving that comment. But it's a kinder, more encouraging type of manipulation. Like when you're trying to get that quiet friend of yours to contribute to the conversation so you're not holding a monologue.)

Copy that produces sales is harder to write, particularly for things that are commodities, not necessities. A manual on how to efficiently write an essay, a guide on self-editing, a gas furnace—each of those is needed by someone, somewhere. Put your sales copy in front of one such person, demonstrate that they can afford it—and need it—now, and viola! Sale made. Probably. And the buyer will even be happy that they spent that money.

A novel about a runaway slave girl who's trying to avoid triggering World War III or a paranoid royal bastard who's heiress to a prophecy?

Who on earth needs that?

Add the detail that the more obnoxious and obvious your marketing tactics, the less effective they'll likely be, and I decided before I even started this blog that I would seek to build informational discussions here, not sales. Sales would be nice, but they aren't my purpose with this blog.

Discussion, commentary is. And I'm happy for all you who join in and make that a success. ^_^


Should an author have a blog?

Depends on what you think the blog will do for you.

If you write fiction and your goal is to earn a bunch of sales, no. The learning curves for writing effective blog copy (and attracting an audience for it) will probably overwhelm you. Don't blog, not unless your background is in marketing. (Which is, not coincidentally, John Locke's background. Which is why his techniques worked so well for him—he jumped in already knowing how to gather an audience and how to write effective copy.)

If you write non-fiction, or if you write fiction and want discussion rather than sales, go for it.

But bear in mind that you'll start out in obscurity. A 2% action rate is often considered good. Most blogs only get comments from 1–5% of visitors, just like most books only get reviews from about 1% of readers.

No, those numbers aren't typos.

Your first goal will have to be to increase your readership, so that your primary goal (be that discussion or sales) will be successful.

Notice that my own blog doesn't have all that many followers. (Yet.) Are there things I could do to raise those numbers? Sure. Could I do more SEO than I am already? Sure, even if search engine algorithms have gotten good enough that specific keyword phrasing doesn't matter as much as it used to.

But honestly, I had a hard time even convincing myself to put the questions on the bottom of my posts. Because it's manipulation. So I feel guilty about it.

Folks tell me I shouldn't feel guilty. I'm polite and don't pressure them.

But I do feel guilty.

And that is something else to bear in mind if you blog: Would (or does) it bother you to write copy?

If so, you might be better off not blogging. Depends on whether or not your blog's primary purpose is to trigger a response in readers.

Do you blog? If so, for what purpose? If not, why not?

…And now that you know these questions at the end of my posts are technically manipulation, are you upset with or mad at me? *looks worried*


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