Tuesday, July 08, 2014

HOW TO WRITE A SENTENCE, BY STANLEY FISH

 by Joyce Gram, Writer and Editor


How to Write a Sentence is a deadly title for a book, but don’t be put off. 

This book, by Stanley Fish, is not about grammar or the parts of speech or how to parse a sentence. It’s about what we do—what the world’s best writers do—when we form a sentence out of a random collection of words. The answer is relationships, and Fish spends 160 pages showing the reader, with examples from the best writing in the English language, how these relationships work.
Fish begins with one of those irresistible anecdotes guaranteed to suck you in (openings are so important!). A student asks a writer, “Do you think I could be a writer?” To the student’s surprise, the writer comes back with, “Well, do you like sentences?” What the writer is really saying is that “if he liked sentences he could begin.” A similar conversation took place with a painter friend. In answer to the question, “How did you become a painter?” the painter said, “I like the smell of paint.”

Fish’s point is that you don’t begin with a grand conception, either of the great American novel or a masterpiece that will hang in the Louvre. You begin with a feel for the nitty-gritty material of the medium, paint in one case, sentences in the other. Then, by studying the best, you learn about relationships.

Fish has three reasons for his style. First, if you learn what goes into making a memorable sentence—coordination, subordination, allusion, compression, parallelism, alliteration—you will also be learning how to appreciate the sentence. Second, if as you admire the sentence, you become aware of why you are admiring it, you can begin to produce something like it. And third, as you practise analyzing and imitating sentences, you will at the same time be
practising reading sentences.

Why is it important to be able to read sentences? (Francine Prose, in Reading Like a Writer, calls this “close reading.”) Because it helps you to know what makes this sentence so effective: It was in the books while it was still in the sky. This was written by John Updike, about a home run hit in Fenway Park in 1960. Fish spends a full page showing us why it is so good, and another page demonstrating an exercise in matching its style.

How to Write a Sentence is a whole new take on a subject that has been worked to death. The death part comes from all those grammar and style books that, in the end, aren’t helpful. They aren’t helpful because, as Fish explains, they assume that the user “already knows how to write; already knows, that is, what a sentence is.” Take Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, a revered classic. If you’re not quite sure what a sentence is, or isn’t, and you couldn’t for the life of you explain how a subject and verb go together or what an independent clause is, Strunk and White’s instructions will make no sense.

Fish's book makes sense, and the little bit of literature you’ll get to savour will make the effort worth it.

© 2014 Joyce Gram
Gram Editing Services
email@joycegram.com 

Friday, April 25, 2014

A WILD RIDE: TEST-DRIVING A FREE E-BOOK ON AMAZON

I've been eager to test-drive a free ebook on Amazon since 2010, especially as I write nonfiction for small markets. I see colleagues having success with fiction, but doubted how freebies would work with niche markets for the older demographic.

Over Easter weekend, I gave it a try with the second edition of one of my Canadian submarine histories — Deeply Canadian: New Submarines for a New Millennium. I offered my giveaway as an e-book for three days to celebrate the Canadian submarine service's centenary this year.

Some context is important to understand the results I achieved. Deeply Canadian was published in 2000 in print and electronic versions. I was dissatisfied with the image quality in the paperback and the ebook failed to sell more than a few copies back then because it was well before the digital book explosion that began in 2008. So when the e-rights reverted to me a couple of years ago, I decided to re-release an updated, centennial, digital edition only in 2014 with many more images and with the older ones restored. Additionally, my first submarine history, Through a Canadian Periscope, was also released by a traditional publisher in print and all digital formats seven weeks before Deeply Canadian. I was hoping any enthusiasm with the free offer would carry over to this title that will not be offered free.

In preparation for the big day, I planned a serious effort with social media. Over a year ago, I began the assault on Twitter, set up a book page on Facebook, and really cranked up my involvement on both. My aim was to find my potential readers online and converse. I made sure the campaign had a global reach, not just Canadian. I also engaged significantly on others' FB biz pages and followed Twitter accounts that focused on naval history and submarines, chatting mostly and posting images. I hardly mentioned my books on any of these platforms until a week before Deeply Canadian's sale began.

Well, the giveaway turned out to be a wild ride and I'm still breathless.

Here are the results two days after the offer ended:


  • Three hundred copies of Deeply Canadian were downloaded, 250 more than I expected.  
  • Emails have poured in with praise.
  • FB comments were numerous.
  • I've never had so many retweets for a book on Twitter.
  • There was a small run on the print version too.
  • It's clear that naval history buffs and naval personnel love their tablets, which have such great resolution for images and that I recommended for this book. 
  • I was hoping for lots of reviews, but I don't think this demographic with their background understands the need for them. Despite all the emails praising the book, I have only two reviews to date, but both five stars. 
  • For five days, Deeply Canadian ranked the #1 naval history book on Amazon; it's down to #50 now, but that's way higher than before.

    And now for the unexpected spin-offs:
  • Two newspapers want to interview me and do features on the Canadian submarine centenary.
  • I have been asked to give two presentations on "Celebrating Canadian Submariners." (I want more!)
    Deeply Canadian on a tablet
  • CBC agreed to let me use one of their images. Unheard of!!!
  • Naval commentators and broadcasters from Canada and the UK are now retweeting me and asking questions. 
  • Dozens of readers discovered the free Kindle app from Amazon after asking me how they could read Deeply Canadian without a Kindle. After I told them, they came right back and told me how wonderful it turned out to be. (I quickly began to explain this in my marketing posts.)

  • At this stage of the experiment, I feel it has been a success, mainly due to the spin-offs, which will increase the sales of both submarine titles, in print and electronic versions. The one downer turned out to be the apparent lack of response by archives and museums, whom I did anticipate would at least take a look at the free ebook in case they wanted to purchase the paperback.

    Would I consider doing this again for my "very" niche nonfiction?
    Without a doubt!

    Would I recommend giveaways for niche nonfiction?
    Definitely, but only for nonfiction authors who are adept at social media and have been targeting and building their online presence for a minimum of a year or already have a big following.

    Wednesday, April 23, 2014

    AMAZON BOOK PRICING vv AUTHOR COST

    As an author who is both traditionally published by a leading Canadian publisher and self-published, I get as cross as a wet hen when paying for copies of my traditionally pubbed titles to sell at events. I'll tell you why.

    I get a discount of 40% from the distributor of my commercially pubbed books, So I pay 60% of retail per copy. For example, my centennial edition of Through a Canadian Periscope retails for $26.99. I pay $16.19 per copy, earn NO royalties on them, and also pay shipping on top of this. (All quoted prices are in Canadian dollars)

    BUT ... Amazon sells the paperback for $16.92.
    AND ... Costco sells my book for even less at $15.79.

    So my burning question is: Do I sell at the Amazon or Costco price to those who want to buy a signed copy from me or do I charge them the full price or something in between?

    I decided to sell my book at $21 at signings and other events, explaining to buyers that they didn't have to pay shipping. But one customer even objected to that saying, "I never pay shipping as I order several books at a time from Amazon." Stymied, all I could respond was, "Then buy it from them." At least, I thought, I'll get a reduced royalty of $1.69.

    Then there are the associations, museums, and indie bookstores who want copies of my nonfiction titles from me. What do I charge them?

    • Indie bookstores, if I'm there in person, always expect the 40% discount and the usual return policy they'd receive if they ordered from the distributor and the book fails to sell. 
    • Associations and museums' giftshops? With these I'm in a perpetual dilemma. Do I bill these groups full price + shipping and handling, which is no small amount these days, or should they get the same break as indie bookstores? 

    WHAT DO YOU CHARGE FOR THE BOOKS YOU BUY FROM YOUR PUBLISHER AT A 40% DISCOUNT?

    Friday, April 18, 2014

    TO WRITE YOU MUST READ

    By Joyce Gram, Writer and Editor

    Since becoming a freelance editor, I have been mystified on occasion by the quality of the writing I receive. Nowhere have some of the authors I’ve worked with seen writing quite like theirs. This is because no commercial publisher would accept it. My job, of course, is to guide the author toward a better manuscript; and when that is achieved it is a glorious moment, as much for me as for the author.

    It has taken me years to figure out what’s going on, and it’s not a happy conclusion: not all writers read, and those writers who do not read struggle. I’ve had clients admit to me that they don’t read books. Some have admitted that they’ve never read a book in the genre in which they are trying to write. Their defence is time. They hardly have enough of it, they say, to work on their own book, let alone read someone else’s, just to learn about writing. 

    And that may be the crux of the thing—to learn about writing.

    Novelist Anakana Schofield, writing in the Guardian, asks, “Why is there so much fuss in the media about how to write a novel—‘everyone can become an author’—when the more important thing is how to read one? . . . There are no adverts that instruct you to sit down, have a cup of tea and read.”
    Schofield laments the excess of blogs, lists and tips on how to write. “There seems to have been a shift from a reading culture to a writing culture . . . . Writing needs to be discussed and interrogated through reading.” And significantly, in my opinion, she says, “If you wish to write well, you need to read well, or at least widely.”

    We learn to write well in much the same way as a child learns to talk. The child must, first, hear others talk. Then, as she grows, she listens and mimics. A good writer must, first, read others who write well. Then he must pay close attention and practise. 

    Francine Prose has written an entire book about this, Reading Like a Writer. Here’s how she describes becoming a writer, and I don’t think you’ll find a better recipe for success anywhere:
    “In the ongoing process of becoming a writer, I read and reread the authors I most loved. I read for pleasure, first, but also more analytically, conscious of style, of diction, of how sentences were formed and information was being conveyed, how the writer was structuring a plot, creating characters, employing detail and dialogue. And as I wrote, I discovered that writing, like reading, was done one word at a time, one punctuation mark at a time. It required what a friend calls ‘putting every word on trial for its life’: changing an adjective, cutting a phrase, removing a comma, and putting the comma back in.”

    As for those clients of mine who admit they don’t read, yes, they struggle. I do what I can, but truth is, I can’t give them what they really need, which is to read.

    Anakana Schofield’s article, “Publicising a Novel—The Problems,” appeared in the Guardian in July 2013 and can be read here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jul/25/anakana-schofield-how-to-write. It also appeared under the title “The Status We Imagine” in Geist, 91, Winter 2013, p. 25.  

    Francine Prose’s book is Reading Like a Writer: A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them, published by Harper Perennial, 2006.




    © 2014 Joyce Gram
    Gram Editing Services

    Saturday, March 01, 2014

    RECORD KEEPING FOR WRITERS

    Tax Return
     (Photo: LendingMemo)

    Writers who are beginning to publish and win and/or place in contests may be earning fees. The moment this starts to happen for you, the revenue from your articles, short stories, and books creates tax implications. It also marks the moment when writers have to start keeping good records of their income and their expenses incurred from making that income. Writers also need to be able to at least prove that they have a reasonable expectation of income in the future from the expenses incurred ahead of time (e.g. a signed article or book contract). 
    My colleague, Eileen, is an accountant and writer and offers this advice to writers:

    Keeping Records

    by Eileen Reppenhagen, CGA

    I’ve put together a list of useful links for writers at http://www.taxdetective.ca/artistswriters_links.html because this is complicated and writers must understand as much as they can. The top link is to a CRA website page about Keeping Records. Taxpayers who carry on a business or are engaged in commercial activity, are required to keep adequate records. Records are not just a pile of receipts, totalled by adding machine tape. (Ed. Eileen taught me to write on each receipt what and/or whom the expense was for and to put receipts in an alphabetized, concertina file each tax year, along with my contracts.)

    There are special rules for writers, about evaluating whether or not they have a business, as to whether or not they can write off expenses when there isn’t any revenue expected for some time, sometimes even years if you're writing a book. http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/E/pub/tp/it504r2-consolid/README.html. For self-employed writers, the accrual method is required to report business income: http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/tx/bsnss/tpcs/slprtnr/ccntng-eng.html.

    (Note, rules for employees who write are very different than those for self-employed writers. If you are an writer/employee, the rules for home office are different from those for work-space-in-home rules for employees.)

    There is a new wrinkle this year too: ‘Indirect verification.’  This means that the income tax agency in Canada will indirectly verify by confirmation that what you deposited to your bank from your writing reconciles with your taxes. If not, you’ll be expected to explain why not. Then the CRA will want to see the actual deposit transactions, if taxpayers have income from their [writing]. The plan will require taxpayers to provide statements from bank account(s), credit card account(s), investment account(s) and any other account(s) with your name on them. These may be subject to a desk audit. So writers need to keep their bank statements and contracts for six years, preferably longer. 

    Are you ready for this scrutiny? If not, what can you do to be ready for ‘indirect verification’ audit procedures regarding deposits?

    1. List your accounts, all of them, whose name is on title, and why the account is shared. 
    2. Create a folder to store each account’s statements, with the most current month on top, one file per account per year. 
    3. Document the reasons for all deposits related to your writing income. (Another reason for keeping track of all your submissions to periodicals and contests!)
    4. Add up all the deposits. Reduce the deposits by transfers in from other accounts, and compare the total to the total of gross income and deposits from sales (plus taxes) charged to customers reported on your tax return.

    If your deposits, net of transfers, total more than your gross income from other sources plus your receipts of receivables from invoicing (gross sales, plus taxes), it's likely a reconciliation needs to be done. This has nothing to do with expense claims, this is purely a reconciliation of the money deposited each year, compared to the income from all sources.

    If you’re concerned that you don’t have proper records, or that your bookkeeper and/or tax preparer is making ‘errors’ in your tax return preparation, I have tools that might help. I have recorded a series of five webinars on keeping records that will help at http://www.taxdetective.ca/keeping_records_business.html.

    © Eileen Reppenhagen, CGA, 2014
    Certified ProAdvisor for both QuickBooks Desktop and Cloud (Online) 
    www.taxdetective.ca 

    Disclaimer: Please do NOT rely on or use the information in this article as a basis for a course of action without obtaining appropriate professional advice because the facts of your specific situation must be interpreted in light of the rules found in the Income Tax or Excise Tax Act. E.R.

    If you have a personal tax question, write it down, keep it short, and submit it to the comments. Address your question to Dear TaxDetective. Eileen has kindly agreed to answer your questions in a Q&A column for writers in March. This is your opportunity to learn more about tax, and who knows, you may find a way to pay less tax!

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    Tuesday, February 18, 2014

    SIGN-UP TIME!

    Registration is now open for the Spring sessions of the Port Moody Writers' Groups. Get on board and enjoy the critique and support that other writers can
    give! Emerging and experienced writers gain insights into their works-in-progress, whether it's fiction or nonfiction, long or short.

    Dates: Mondays from April 7 – June 16
    Time: 7–9:30pm
    Place: Kyle Centre, behind Port Moody's old city hall on St. John's Street
    Investment: $95.62
    Reg: Call 604.469.4561 or 604.469.4556 and quote course #51502

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

    WRITING YOUR LONG AND SHORT BIOS

    Over the past six months, I've had several emerging writers, call me at the eleventh hour as their submissions to contests or a publication needed a bio "yesterday." They didn't have much of one and found it challenging to write.

    As professionals, writers need good bios, both long and short, and they are one of the most important pieces of promotional writing you do. You'll be surprised how much you use their content: for query letters, proposals, flyers, websites, conference programs, catalogue blurbs, by-lines, media introductions, etc., etc. They also need tweaking often to target the recipient, as well as updating regularly.

    Bios are not resum├ęs, instead they reassure the reader that you are a competent writer and worth publishing, and promote you and your work. Long bios are usually written in narrative style and in third person; short ones need to be in first or third, depending on the use. A long one will be no more than a page, and a short one can be a paragraph or even just one sentence. All must be relevant to your writing career and the subject of your work. 

    Here's a primer on how to gather the info you'll need, and how to make a start to write both:

    Begin with your one page bio (about 500 words) as it easier to write. 

    Make lists of your relevant credentials, special skills, awards and accomplishments, memberships, publishing history, and promotional experience.  Look at many examples of other writers' bios and note what works and what doesn't. Then start writing as you bear in mind who will be reading it. Use facts to promote yourself rather than lots of adjectives and adverbs, though a few judiciously placed can be effective. Brag a little but be 100% truthful. Now begin to tighten it up, cut out, and rewrite.  Show the draft bio to your published colleagues and ask for their comments. Rewrite and rewrite again. Then get someone else to edit it. Finally, comes the question of whether to include a picture on a long bio –  writers don't have to, but in this visual, connected world many do. I recommend including a photo once you have some publishing successes to your name. But make it a professional image, not a family snapshot.

    The bio in a query letter to a magazine editor is usually a paragraph (six lines), so you have a few more words to play with than, say, a by-line. This type of bio must clearly tell an editor/agent why you are the ideal person to write this article or book. Short bios need the components of a long one, but choose to use only your best credential, best award, best couple of publication successes, etc. If you have lots to say and feel the editor needs to know all of it, it's best to include a long bio as a separate attachment to query letters. However, although I have forty years of writing behind me, I don't do this unless I'm specifically asked. But I do offer the hyperlink to the long bio on my website. 

    Also remember that many uses also require your bio to include the means to contact you. Julie can be reached at....

    Check out these bios, all different:

    More details at The Long and Short of Writing Your Bio.


    QUESTIONS: Is your bio accessible on your blog and website? Is your photo professional and current? If not, what are you going to do about it.

    A bio for my photography