Parenthetically speaking

Consider this.

Would it really be quite decent (or prudent) to tell her he was dead?

The above sentence is from my novel. What we’re interested in here is the use of parenthesis or brackets, which I’m told I over-use, and which (I’m told) adds difficulty for the reader.

So – consider the following:

Would it really be quite decent (or prudent) to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent – or prudent – to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent, or prudent, to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent or prudent to tell her he was dead?

The question is: can and does the “average” reader mark the difference, appreciate the distinction? Or does the appearance of an “unfamiliar” punctuation mark (the brackets) simply act as a distraction, a stumbling block, a jagged impediment?

Consider, too, the following:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and (outside the private domain) invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a (the) DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed (quite correctly) that I had craved a quiet (or quieter) life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

Here it is again with the parenthesis replaced with dashes:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and – outside the private domain – invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a – the – DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed – quite correctly – that I had craved a quiet – or quieter – life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

To me, there is something of the theatrical aside to the parenthetic content, a change of tone, an extra thought – some of which might survive with the use of dashes, though it is distinctly weakened. With merely commas or no punctuation at all, this (the tone change, the extra thought) is entirely lost, and the meaning (not so subtly) changed.

Here it is again with the dashes stripped out and not replaced:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and outside the private domain invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a, the, DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed quite correctly that I had craved a quiet or quieter life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

It seems to me a lot of tone and voice is lost in the above if one compares it with its parenthetic counterpart.

But… perhaps all this sounds rather too precious, and one should simply go with reader feedback. In this word-processing, digital age, these things are easily changed. It would take very little in the way of effort to swap out the parenthesis for dashes and/or commas, and I could later argue that brackets – as a punctuation – are just too visible for the “average” reader, too much of a surprise. They’re not used to seeing it, I would say regretfully, and don’t quite understand why it’s there, nor how they should read it. Nuance, I would add snarkily, must be sacrificed on the altar of marketability.

I worry about this, of course. I fear the ability to read generally has been (is being) degraded, that poetry and its cousin, style, are now regarded with suspicion and mistrust. Will I, then, be searching and replacing my brackets? No (actually), I think not. There are so many other reasons for the novel to fail (in terms of the market), its subject matter for a start. The “average” reader is not going to be clamouring for my book anyway, parenthesis or not. And there’s surely something to be said for authorial integrity, for an artistic rather than a mercantile decision.

You can be sure, though, I’ll have it in mind for my next novel (partially built and in abeyance), which will be written third-person (the “average” reader is more used to this) and unburdened with “eccentric” punctuation.

I’ll end on this:

While I was sleeping in Italy, I heard news from overseas – England to be precise – that affected me emotionally and made me want to write a poem in protest.

Or:

As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.

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Amazon and the Cult of the Corporation

“Why isn’t your book on Amazon?” ask THEY. “You DO know it’s easy to publish with Amazon, right, and it’s, like, the BIGGEST market?” Once you acknowledge that you do, indeed, know this, THEY can, and do, comfortably categorize you as cranky, as one of those people who have a problem with the whole basis of our civilisation — i.e., capitalism. Usually, this is pejoratively expressed as your having a problem with SUCCESS – success, of course, being pretty much its own justification. Which is why prime ministers and presidents are happy to hob-knob with arms dealers. Arms dealers are generally very wealthy and dubiously well-connected — which means successful.

I bought a book, a novel, from a bookshop (I do so frequently). You know, a bricks and mortar, go in and browse, real-world, independent bookshop with someone sitting behind a counter. I took said book back to the office (my particular temple of toil) and left it on my desk. My smart-phone equipped boss came up to me and asked how much I’d paid for it. Whilst asking, he used aforementioned smart-phone to scan the bar code on my purchase. I told him the price, and he told me how much cheaper I could have purchased it for on Amazon. He then went on to outline the benefits of his Amazon Plus account. I joined the league of the cranky by telling him that circumventing Amazon was the point. Huh? Amazon is great! Everything’s so cheap, and they deliver so quickly! Huh! Why would you have a problem with Amazon? Oh, my god, you’re one of those people!

Writers, readers, bookshops, booksellers, agents, publishers, inter alia, would all be better served in a world in which Amazon didn’t exist. Amazon benefits only Amazon. Anything else is simply marketing spin and PR. Amazon wants to make a big profit, and does so, and it wants you to love it while so doing. Don’t inquire into its dubious employment practices, its bullying of publishers and writers, its tax-dodging, and its creeping monopoly position. Amazon used books as a stepping stone to becoming the global department store it is now, and has countries building roads with its name on it in a grovelling attempt to get it to invest — to put one of its high-tech, high-intensity, control-freak, low-paying warehouses in your neighbourhood. Queue up for your zero-hour contract. Welcome to Amazon.

Try telling any of this to anyone who shops at Amazon. The consumers. They REALLY don’t want to hear it. Amazon’s their favourite shop, a branded portal to the goody grotto. Nothing worse you can do to the unthinking consumer than force them to think. Aw, gee, you’re making me feel bad and defensive about my shopping choices. You’re one of those people. Why don’t you just want to make lots of money and spend it on things like everyone else? Exploitation is how the world works. THAT’S JUST THE WAY IT IS. All companies behave this way. And more of that I-don’t-care, self-justifying blah blah that means: Don’t make me question my smug, unthinking, self-entitlement.

That’s the long answer for why my book’s not on Amazon. It’s also why I don’t shop there. Yes, I DO know that if my book were picked up by a publisher I’d have no choice about it being on Amazon, and I do know that Amazon probably don’t care what cranky people like me think so long as the money keeps rolling in, which it will until more people think like me and stop shopping there. And, yes, I do know that that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

As they settle down to their Dan Brown on their Kindle, it seems to be a consolation to the unthinking that the thinking – the cranky people — are so hugely outnumbered. Hopefully, one fine day, we won’t be…

Futerman Rose Associates

An example of a monetizing rejection letter I received nearly three years ago now. I wonder if they’re still sending them out. They’ve had a bit of re-branding since, though Guy’s still there.

Dear John

Many thanks for this.

The writing is strong and the storyline intriguing. I have to tell you however, that agents are finding novels, even intelligently written commercial work like this, harder to place nowadays. Publishers are so subjective and only concerned with the bottom line.

What I can do is to suggest an organisation who, for a reasonably low fee will make the full arrangements to ensure a full Kindle publication of your work.

What is more, they will edit as well – obviously not a radically comprehensive edit – to a thoroughly presentable standard . Many Kindle books are going on at a later stage to traditional publication or Print on Demand.

Their fee is just £950 and you get a free Kindle as well. Let me know if you would like me to put you in touch with them.

OR

There is a publisher we deal with now, (not vanity) who have taken some of my more worthwhile mss and I believe they will promote and publicise properly. They do charge a fee (£4,500 – refundable to you after sales of just 2,000) but I believe it is an acceptable deal as the writer enjoys a far better rate of royalties. One of my authors who has taken advantage of this, is Provost of one of the oldest Oxford colleges and is a knight of the realm. His work has just been nominated for an award for Political Fiction. My most recent was a High Court Judge.

Let me know if you would like me to submit [novel title] to them.

Very best wishes

Guy

Guy Rose

Futerman, Rose & Associates

http://www.futermanrose.co.uk

Punctuation – what a pisser!

It’s another one of those tiresome, technical things that get in the way of the great story you want to write. Punctuation – yawn or what? Boring boring boring! And, anyway, haven’t you read books which have hardly any punctuation and no speech marks. Yes, you have. Problem is, they’re written by writers who REALLY know how to do punctuation – so much so that they can SUBVERT it for effect. I know, it’s not fair. A bit like those people who get praise for unmade beds and piles of bricks.

Consider this: “hi sharon how’s it going”

What’s wrong with the above? It’s clear that someone is addressing another someone, presumably (but not certainly) a female, and asking her how she is. You’re doubtless more used to seeing something like the following:

“Hi, Sharon. How’s it going?”

I would write it as follows:

“Hi, Sharon – how’s it going?” Just a personal preference. I think the full stop a bit much, but a comma not enough.

Once upon a time, this would have been okay: “Hi, Sharon; how’s it going?” And, of course, it’s perfectly acceptable now, and does the job, but it might alarm the modern reader.

So, let’s take “Hi, Sharon. How’s it going?” and say something about it.

Do we really need the comma between Hi and the name?

“Hi Sharon. How’s it going?”

I hope that looks odd to you. It should. People’s names, when they’re being addressed, are usually enclosed in commas. That’s the convention, and it’s a convention that makes sense.

“Morning, Mike. Did you have a good evening?” Mike as opposed to Morning Mike, the popular AM radio entertainer.

If you doubt me on this, and you REALLY shouldn’t, go and check any book on your bookshelf (or ereader). “Good evening, Mr Bond. Your reputation precedes you.”

You’re not going to find it without the comma. If you don’t know this – or GET this – then just do it.

“Morning, Mary.” “Hi, Jon.” Hello, Tom.” “Greetings, Sue.”

Argue the merits if you wish, but that is how it’s done.

“Hi Mary.” People will point out the MISSING comma to you, especially if you do it more than once. I usually let the first instance pass – happily assuming it’s a typo – until I hit the next one… and the next. Then I point it out, not because I want to spoil your day, or sneakily suggest that your work isn’t compelling enough to distract me from dull stuff like punctuation, but because I want to help, and you ASKED for my advice.

Yes, I DO understand – it IS disheartening giving ten pages of white-heat creativity to someone, only to have them go on about commas and quotation marks and proof-reading. That’s what editors are for, right? That’s what THEY do.

Okay, then. Next time, ask me what I think of the STORY. Read it to me. Better still, make a recording. If you give me the text, I’ll assume you want to know about missing commas and misplaced apostrophes. Because, really, I think you do. I think you just get angry with yourself because you wish you could do all this boring punctuation stuff.

Writing Services

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It’s tedious, isn’t it? Worrying about boring things like punctuation and grammar and (don’t be silly) style when YOU just want to tell your story. I’m here to help with that. Send me your three less-good pages – and, hey, why not consult your friends to help you decide – and I’ll send them back to you EDITED. Not PROOF READ (that comes as a happy incidental), but EDITED. For FREE. Yes, your three worst (sorry, least-good) pages edited to the high standard agents and publishers demand. And, you know what, where I can detect a style, I’ll bake it right into the EDIT for you.

Once you have your FREE, fully EDITED three pages, do with them as you wish. They’re yours. Read them, learn from them, show them to your friends (the same ones you consulted earlier). They’re my no-obligation GIFT to you. After all, it’s your novel, your story, your work; I just helped a bit here and there with the boring part. Enjoy your writing and your life.

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It’s a brilliant story, but…

Have you ever been offered money to write someone else’s book? I have. Indeed, I imagine it’s fairly common. Usually, the offerer has a novel that needs a bit of EPR (editing/polishing/redrafting), but, having busy, complicated lives, they don’t have the time to do it… so would I be interested in doing it – for, say, £500 (okay, £1000)? I mean, yeah… because it’s just about a bit of time.

These askers are wannabe authors who don’t think a little thing like not being able to write should hold them back. What they know – or think they know – is that you can write. I mean, shit, you have a blog and you know how to punctuate; and didn’t you say you’d written a novel? I’m sure I heard you say something like that while I was mentioning how busy and complicated my life was – what with the divorce and kids and all.

Should you ever find yourself the askee in this situation, say no… but temporize. Say you’ll look at the manuscript without committing. The look will be instructive.

You’ll be briefly impressed. The first page will be near-perfect, though there might be a clunky sentence lurking in there that alerts the discerning to the car-crash to come. By page two, the standard will have slipped slightly, and by page three the deterioration will be marked, noticeable to anyone literate. The standard of page one will never be recovered.

This type of author will often have read writer self-help books on How to Write a Killer First ParagraphPageChapter… (you get the picture), but their efforts will generally never extend much beyond the Killer First Page, which will probably have been polished to death with the odd smear still in evidence.

Errors will be basic and inconsistent: “Okay”, she said. Or: “Okay” she said. Tenses will be mixed inappropriately as the effort to write becomes exhausting and tiresome – and isn’t it about the story, anyway? Shit, you can hire someone to sort out the clerical stuff. Except that the errors aren’t just clerical. The novel doesn’t just require the addition of appropriate punctuation; it requires rewriting. Sentences at first, then paragraphs, then pages, and then – disastrously – you’ll find yourself drowning in the realisation that their writing has entirely fallen apart. Indeed, that that Killer First Page cost them an enormous amount of time and effort. You will also know that £500 or £1000 isn’t going to cut it in terms of compensation for the work involved in effecting the necessary repairs. Notice I’ve said nothing about the story here, which (in this role) is none of my business.

Would I do it, then, for £10,000? Essentially, you’re being asked to take a scrappy manuscript and make it immaculate in terms of the writing. I can do that – and for £10,000 it would be worth the effort. The problem is the human considerations. Taking an old person’s life savings to edit, polish, and redraft the novel about their father’s experiences in WWII would not feel cool. I’d be less uncomfortable taking the money from a millionaire who wanted the treatment for his post-Cold War thriller because my only concern would be to  deliver an excellent EPR (do a good job, in other words). Whether or not the millionaire later recouped the outlay in the market-place wouldn’t be a concern. At least, he’d have something literary to sell online and show off to his friends.

This is an issue, though – the temptation to blame your editor for the the subsequent lack of success of your novel (since only they will have benefited from it in financial terms). Clearly, there are bad editors out there, or people advertising these services, who can’t do the job: novel doctors and get-your-novel-into-shape merchants willing to offer various levels of feedback and editorial input based entirely on how much you’re willing to fork out. Essentially, we’re moving into the shady world of literary bottom-feeders here – parasitical scamsters willing to exploit your dreams and take your money. Of course, there are also perfectly genuine people offering these services, who simply aren’t very good at what they do. Be careful if you don’t know the people you’re dealing with. You’re likely to come away disappointed – indeed, it’s probably safer to assume you’re being scammed.

As for me – well, I’ve had a few it’s-a-brilliant-story-but novels pass across my virtual desktop (historical romps, fictionalized rock ‘n’ roll memoirs, James Patterson type thrillers) and have offered some free editing (as I said, it’s instructive), enough to assess what a huge task it would be to treat the whole novel. Really, as you plough ever more deeply into their deteriorating writing, you’ll be glad you didn’t take the money and can return their novel telling them you don’t have the time to do it justice (because it’s such a mess), but you might want to keep the bit in parenthesis to yourself.