Friday, January 29, 2010

There’s Something to be Said About Working for Hire?

If you’ve been writing for very long and have tried to get published, you may have come across a phrase that has been tossed around for quite a while–“working for hire.” Some in the writing biz see this as the Big Bad Wolf of publishing, warning newbies off of it’s temptations from the beginning. The nay sayers say that when you work for hire, you forfeit all your rights to your work. That’s true. But what they don’t tell you is that you also get paid a chunk of money for what you do, sometimes far more than you could ever earn when writing for royalities. This is how it works.

If you’re writing articles, you need to study the situation before deciding if working for hire is for you. It all depends on what type of article you’re writing. If it’s one with a limited market–say, about a particular business in one city–then the possibilities of you selling that article again are slim. So in this case you should take the money and run.

On the other hand, if your article is about a topic that’s hot and applies to several writing markets–the places where you sell your writing–then you shouldn’t work for hire because you have a potential for making a lot more money in the future from that article.

If you’re writing short fiction, then the market is wide open–what paying markets there are for these–so, again, you shouldn’t work for hire because you should be able to sell that story again and again.

The same applies to books although on a much larger scale. For non-fiction books, it all depends on the subject matter of the book and the demand there is for it by readers. If you’ve written a book that has limited sales appeal and someone offers you $5,000 to write it, chances are that you’ll make more by accepting the $5,000 as a work for hire agreement than you ever would with royalties. A book has to sell a LOT of copies for you to make anything from it beyond the advance because you first have to pay off the advance with the percentage you get for each copy sold. This can take a long time.

Novels are another story. In most cases, publishers only pay an advance with royalties for them, so working for hire doesn’t enter into the picture.

Whatever you decide to do, weigh your options first. Will that book you’re writing really sell and pay you beyond your advance, or would it be better to take the $5,000-10,000 you’re offered to write it and live comfortably. Regardless of what the ivory tower literary types think, writing isn’t about starving.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Writing as Routine

Do you sit around waiting for the writing muse to strike? Do you have to go to some exotic place to get inspired to write? Do you think writing is all about imagination–well, fiction writing at least? Do you have trouble getting started writing? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then perhaps what you’re lacking is a routine for your writing.

Good writing relies on writing as much as you can–regularly. While this applies to just about anything you do, most people don’t consider writing in that way. It stands to reason that the more you cook, the better at it you become. So why wouldn’t that apply to your writing?

I always tell my writing students that learning to write is like taking a shower or a bath. Someone had to teach you when you were very young. First, they washed you daily. Then, as time went on, you learned by repetition to wash yourself. But you didn’t stop there. As you grew older, you began to establish a washing routine. Only you know where you begin to wash your body and where you end. Some people even have routines for “quick” showers when they’re in a hurry and “soaking” showers or baths when they want to relax. And let’s not forget the “body beautiful” shower or bath when you take care of other things such as trimming hair and nails.

Now let’s apply this to writing. To get your mind in the write mode, you need to write regularly often–daily if you can. And you need to write at the same time every day, even if it’s for a short time. By doing so, you’ll require less time to warm up, so that you’ll be able to continue where you left off the last time you wrote. If you wait too long between sessions, you’ll lose your train of thought which means you’ll have to digress. So each time you sit down to write, you’ll have to go back a step before you move forward.

It also helps to work on the same piece of writing for a stretch. This way your mind is only working in one direction for a while. If you flit from piece to piece, your mind won’t be able to pick up all the pieces, and it will take you more time to get started each time.

I’ll be discussing this more in the coming weeks. But for now, figure out when you can spare an hour from your busy schedule. This can be daily or two or three times weekly. Then stick to it. Writing is like exercise. If you don’t do it regularly, it takes a while to get back in the swing.

Friday, January 15, 2010

It’s Not What You Say But How You Say It

Clarity is very important to a writer. I have to make sure that what I say is clear to my readers because, even in this age of technology, they can’t contact me easily and ask a question about what I wrote. In a previous post I spoke about $20 words–those words that are beyond the average reader’s vocabulary and which they can’t get the meaning from the context. But there’s another side to clarity.

Since the economic downturn and last year’s fluctuating gasoline prices, I’ve noticed a marked increase in deceiving wording in the weekly brochures of the supermarket where I buy my groceries. Sometimes, it’s the fine print–I must buy four of something selling for 4 for $10 to get the discounted price. Another ploy is that an item is only for sale at that price on a particular day of the week. But the latest has been the lack of clarity in the ads in the weekly circular. Many times I’m not sure what to expect until I get to checkout.  And often I end up paying a higher price because I didn’t understand the ad in the first place.

Sure, what you say is important, but how you say it to your readers is just as important, if not more so. Don’t expect your readers to make a leap. What you perceive as clear to you may not be to them. This could be leap in time, a leap in place, or a leap in understanding. How many times have you said something to someone, who is obviously hurt by your comment, only to quickly add, “I didn’t mean that.” If you didn’t mean what you said, then you should have said it another way. The same applies to writing. But it’s even more critical here because you can’t say, “I didn’t mean that” to a reader you don’t know and can’t see.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Read the Kind of Writing You’re Going to Write

Besides writing articles and books, I also teach writing. Over the last 25 years, I’ve had a lot of students take my classes. I’d venture to say that only about one percent of them had read the type of writing they intended to write. To be a good writer–to be a published writer at all–you need to read the kind of writing you intend to publish.

Unfortunately, the majority of beginning writers still hold the attitude that what they write is important. After all, didn’t they learn in school that every word is a nugget of gold. While that may be true in rare cases, in most a word is just a word, unless it’s strung together with other words that have meaning for the reader, for the reader is the most important part of the process.

When asked why they took one of my courses, many students say that they’ve been trying to get published but have had no luck. They think it’s their writing–and sometimes it is. But usually it’s because they have no idea of what’s being published out there. They have no idea of what editors want. And to find that out, short of asking an editor, is to read what that editor is publishing.

To learn to write a good article, short story, non-fiction book or novel, you first have to read ones that have been recently published. Notice I said recently. Reading short stories published in 1910 won’t get you anywhere. They’re just not written in a contemporary style. And style and structure, even more than content, is what you’re looking for.

So to learn how to write to get published, seek out good examples of the kind of writing you plan to do. By doing that, you’ll be well on your way to your first pay check.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Time Marches On

Happy New Year! Yes, folks, it’s time to start over again. Funny how this one day can make such a difference. Personally, I try to use this day to get myself and my business reorganized for the coming year.  As the year rolls on, things seem to unravel. My recordkeeping seems to go awry. My thoughts about writing seem to get more vague, the direction for my business seems to wander.  And I suppose I can thank the Romans, specifically Julius Caesar, for making New Year’s Day such an auspicious occasion. This year, like the year 2000, is even more special because it's the start of a new decade--or is it?

Originally, the Romans numbered years ab urbe condita (a.u.c.), that is, "from the founding of the city" of Rome. Had this early Roman calendar remained in use, January 14, 2010 would have been New Year's Day in the year 2763 a.u.c.

Following his conquest of Egypt in 48 B.C.–now known as B.C.E. (Before the Common Era)–Julius Caesar consulted the Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes about calendar reform since the a.u.c. calendar didn’t meet the needs of the emerging empire. The calendar which Caesar adopted in the year 709 a.u.c.–now 46 B.C.E (Common Era)– was identical to the Alexandrian Aristarchus' calendar of 239 B.C., which consisted of a 12-month year of 365 days with an extra day every fourth year.

But Caesar wanted to start the year on the Spring Equinox or the Winter Solstice. However, the Roman Senate, which traditionally took office on January 1st, the start of the Roman civil calendar year, wanted to keep January 1st as the start of the year. So Caesar yielded.

The Roman date-keepers initially misunderstood Caesar's instructions and erroneously held every third year, rather than every fourth year, to be a leap year.  After some dispute, Augustus Caesar (Julius Caesar's successor) suspended leap years, reinstating them with the leap year of 4 C.E.

Another source of uncertainty regarding exact dating of days at this time derives from changes made by Augustus to the lengths of the months. According to some accounts, originally the month of February had 29 days and in leap years 30 days. February lost a day because at some point the fifth and six months of the old Roman calendar were renamed as Julius and Augustus respectively, in honor of them, and the number of days in August, previously 30, now became 31–the same as July–so that Augustus Caesar wouldn’t be regarded as inferior to Julius Caesar. The extra day needed for August was taken from the end of February.

However, there’s still no certainty regarding this, so all dates prior to C.E. 4, when the Julian Calendar finally stabilized, are uncertain.

The Roman abbot Dionysius Exiguus instituted the system of numbering years A.D.–short for "Anni Domini Nostri Jesu Christi"–in 527 A.D. He figured that the Incarnation had occurred on March 25, 754 a.u.c., with the birth of Jesus occurring nine months later. Thus, he designated the year 754 a.u.c. as the year 1 C.E.

There’s a question whether the first Christian millennium should be counted from 1 C.E. or from the year preceding it. According to Dionysius, the Incarnation occurred on March 25th of the year preceding 1 C.E.., with the birth of Jesus occurring nine months later on December 25th.  Therefore, it’s reasonable to regard that year, rather than 1 C.E. as the first year of the Christian Era. In that case, 1 C.E. is the second year, 999 A.D. is the 1000th year, and 1999 C.E. is the final year of the second Common millennium, making 2000 C.E. the first year of the third millenium. So, by this theory, all those who celebrated the new millennium on December 31, 1999, had the right year. Therefore, 2010 is, indeed, the beginning of a new decade.