Category Archives: WRITING

Process, language, grammar



Grammar is as hot a topic as religion or politics. Epic flame wars revolve around the Oxford comma. (It’s optional, get over it.) But we who publish online live in an age of English speakers from many countries and cultures sharing their written words.

The British have some really weird preposition uses. Except it’s not at all weird, just not what I’m used to. I’m going to talk about style and specifics in a series of grammar posts. Because it truly is more like guidelines, anyway. And the only real rule is:



Generally, the British like to add the “s” and the Americans and Canadians, don’t.

That’s it. There’s no correct way. If you write for AP or The New York Times, they’ll have a style manual for consistency and probably prefer no “s.” I personally don’t use an “s” but also don’t give a crap if you do.

LESSON 1: If you adopt an anal insistence on perfect grammar, failure is inevitable.

Incorporating words and word use, grammar and formatting practices from other English-speaking countries and cultures gives us new ways to give our stories clearly to our readers.

There are various uses of single and double quotes. The end of sentence pile up of quote marks looks like crap. “No one ever said ‘play it again, Sam.'” I adopted the British way, so much better: “No one ever said ‘play it again, Sam’.” Perfect. It’s what you’d do, anyway, if you hadn’t run smack up against a period: “No one ever said ‘play it again, Sam’ in Casablanca, you know.”  Why would we stick the single quote outside the sentence? It’s ugly and looks like a mistake.

My grammar guidelines are: know the rules and why they exist and make choices that best serve your work and your reader.

Drama advances with technology.”

From Drama 101. At first, stories were told around a campfire. You couldn’t move around too much or you’d be outside the light. Or you could go outside the light and make spooky noises. The first stage wings!

Jump forward. Moving pictures. No sound. Talkies. Color. Advances in special effects. Is there a visual we cannot show today?

The cell phone advanced storytelling and interfered with it. If you want to strand a character in a contemporary setting, you must explain away their cell phone.

Evolution is change over time. It’s what happens and should. We have new technology, new freedoms, as well as new restrictions, and we will evolve new forms.

Whatever you do, put the story first along with the reader. Strunk, White and your ego come last.

Mostly – never stop writing. And never let this kind of stuff stop you. Ever.

We Are Gods 1: Indies create the eBook

Before the Kindle or even Amazon, programmers raced to develop on-screen images that looked like open books with pages that turned. But turning the page on those books took 4 or more seconds! Readers just want to get to the next part of the text as quickly as possible.

And programmers responded. And huge kudos and respect to them! They are the ones inventing the paper and binding and printing press of online publishing. But—

There is no “traditional” eBook format guide. We’re writing that guide. You and I. By the choices we make, we’re our own formatting gods.

I had an exchange with another author who disagrees. Their argument, in part:

… adhering to publishing world standards … speaks to upholding tradition and consistency … of respecting all the author’s work who’ve come before us …

  1. Indie writers are the “publishing world.” A portion of it, anyway. We are authors and editors, promoters and publishers.
  2. “Upholding tradition.” The trad standards for print books developed to make the book readable and most profitable for the publisher. For instance, paragraphs are indented instead of set off with a space to save paper.
  3. “Consistency” is relative. Trad publishing formatting guidelines often differ from publisher to publisher. And those guidelines evolved, too—different in the 30s than the 60s than now.
  4. “Respecting author’s who came before us.” I imagine if Shakespeare showed up today, he’d be Stephen Spielberg, not recreating the Globe theater. Respecting him, or any great artist of the past, means serving our art by learning our trade, using all our tools, innovating when it serves better, and depending on familiar modalities when they serve the reader best. Trad authors do what publishers require because they have very little control over their own creations.

Just as Shakespeare invented new words and new ways of using old words, the true tradition is doing the best thing possible to deliver the work to the audience.

This series of posts explores ways of doing that in ebooks. 


TO MAKE A LOT OF MONEY in indie book publishing….

I just read an article titled:

Exactly how I self-published my book, sold 180,000 copies,and nearly doubled my revenue

Which is kind of a book, in itself. (Read it here.) And it’s a very good article about a very successful book. Here are the first two rules for self-publishing success.

1. Write a good book

Copied directly from the article. Pithy, ain’t it? (I made it big and red.) After which he says:

It’s useful to remember that it’s hard to write a good book.

Writing a good book takes time. Time to learn your craft and hone your skill. It takes years. It takes accepting that:

  • a first draft is really just a complicated outline
  • writing is literally rewriting – “literally”

You know what you’re asking people to do? Give up time in their lives to read something you wrote – give you their time – and pay you.

If your stuff isn’t selling, it’s not good enough. That’s it. It’s not competition or bad readers or attacks by reviewers. Accept, study, refine, get advice, get better. Mostly – read the books that do sell. The best books.

2. Define success

People who set a target number of books they’re going to sell don’t know what they’re talking about.

Yes, I’m talking about professionals who are in the publishing business. That’s the reason such a high percentage of authors don’t earn out their advance, even though those advances are getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

… I realized that real success wasn’t about numbers or bestseller-list status, but reputation.

Can you move a lot of titles without writing a really good book or having much of a reputation?

Sure. You can pay a PR firm and pay for great reviews and a great cover designer and a blurb writer and do a big push and sell a lot, or give away a lot. That is, you can buy your way to an orange tag on Amazon or a spot on one of the Best Seller lists. Then you can put that on your book cover.

And if that’s how you define success, congrats, you’ve arrived.

Or maybe you define success as being a damned good writer. As creating something readers want to pay you to engage with.