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The Rules of Grammar…

Out of all of the items in our publication contract, the one I get asked about most often is “The Publisher may make all corrections of typographical or grammatical errors without the Author’s consent.” Does this mean I will make corrections to a manuscript without consulting an author? Probably not. I find most authors understand the importance of proper grammar. I also know that doing so would make the editing process more stressful for both the author and myself. So why is it in the contract?

Simple. It’s to remind authors that the rules of grammar are not optional.

The rules of grammar exist for a reason – they make text easier to read. Leaving out necessary punctuation can create run-on sentences. Putting periods in the wrong place can create sentence fragments. Incorrect comma usage can create situations where text doesn’t flow properly when read. Leaving out some form of dialogue attribution can leave a reader wondering who is speaking. All of these things will make your manuscript harder for a reader to understand and ultimately enjoy.

What about incorrect grammar in dialogue? After all, not everyone speaks the Queen’s English. Here my rule is simple – everything in moderation. If every one of your characters sounds like an extra from Hee Haw, you’ve probably gone a bit too far trying to make your dialogue sound “realistic.” That said, I expect third-person narrative to be grammatically correct, and even first-person narrative should strive for grammatical accuracy. If you need a good grammar reference that’s easy to follow, I recommend The Blue Book of Grammar and their online web site (

So why did I choose this for the topic of my blog? It’s because I’m finding that I’m having conversations about the importance of grammar more and more with authors, particularly the use of correct grammar in narrative. Recently, I received the following response to the suggestion that an author use correct grammar in his third person narrative:

To get a better feel for 1940s vernacular, you could try reading a book from that era. Then you might notice how authors follow the rules in actual novels.

I found this comment unnecessary. Noir is one of my favorite genres to read, and I can assure you even the most famous authors understand the importance of correct grammar. This author was referred to another section of our contract, which states “If the Work as delivered is determined to be unsatisfactory for any reason by the Publisher, the Publisher is entitled to terminate this Agreement.”

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Catechism and Point of View…

I grew up Episcopalian, and it will probably shock some people I knew in my twenties that I was an altar boy growing up. One thing I had to learn was The General Confession, where we confessed that we had probably sinned by our thoughts, words, and deeds – although on any given week I couldn’t come up with too many ways I had done that, at least until I hit my twenties.

So what does this have to do with publishing?

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with authors lately about point of view, and I find myself using these words in a completely different context than I originally learned them. What I often tell writers is that there are three ways one can convey what a character is feeling: by the character’s thoughts, their words, or their deed. This seems simple enough, until you realize that, depending on the point of view of a section, this is not completely true.

Every story is written from someone’s point of view. In first person narrative it is  written from the point of view of one characters. In third person limited the point of view is still that of a single character, although some stories are written where different sections of the book are written from different character’s points of view – this allows some characters to be present in some scenes and not others. “Call Me Ishmael,” from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, clearly establishes Ismael as the point of view character, and different sections of the book are written in either the first person or third person limited from Ishmael’s perspective.

The important point is that, once you establish which character’s perspective a section of a book is written from, you can only know what that character knows. This means you can’t share another character’s thoughts, and doing so is what is often referred to as “head-hopping.” So how do you share what a character who is not the narrator is thinking or feeling? Simple. You share that information by a character’s words and deeds. A character can always share their thoughts and feelings by saying what is on their mind. A character throwing a glass at a wall can be a pretty good indication that the character is angry or frustrated, and may make more of an impression than a character saying, “I’m really angry.”

Some authors feels a quick fix for the problem of head-hopping is to write in the third person omnipotent, but this point of view has its own challenges. In this case, while the narrator all-knowing, the story must be told from the point of view of this all-knowing outside observer. For this reason, you can never have text like

If only I can find a way out of this situation, Harry thought.

because these are not the thoughts of the outside narrator; they are the thoughts of a character. You would need to rewrite this as

Harry realized he needed to find a way out of the situation.

This, in turn creates distance between your characters and your readers, because a character can never directly interact with the reader.

Choosing whose perspective a story will be told from is one of the most important things you will do as an author: think about how different Moby Dick would be if it had been told from the perspective of Captain Ahab…

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The Politics of Publishing…

As a publisher, I feel it’s important to remain politically neutral when selecting books for publication. A well-written manuscript on any topic is still a well-written manuscript, regardless of my views on the topic. The essays in Repeat Offenders, by Bill Bonvie, definitely lean far more to the left than I do – the book also contains many clever and funny essays I thought deserved publication. Invisible Society Fables, by Phil Canalin, is a book of “fables” dealing with homelessness, which I feel is an important topic to discuss regardless of one’s political leanings. Finally, Improbable Cause, by Brandon and Sharia Mayfield, is about Brandon’s wrongful arrest after the 2004 Madrid train bombing. It’s a story that reminds us that taking liberties with civil liberties, even in the name of public safety, can have lasting consequences, and it was a story I felt needed to be told.

So why won’t I consider the many manuscripts I’ve received about the last election?

Perhaps it’s just that I’m burned out on politics. Living in New Hampshire, every four years I get the privilege of participating in the first primary for President of the United States. The down side of this is that, at least for the past two primaries, when the Republican and Democrat clown cars rolled into my state a full year before the primary, they were full of clowns. In 2016 there were 31 people on the New Hampshire Republican ballot for president. One percent of the final Republican primary vote went to Write-ins, meaning that write-ins had more votes as a group than 21 of the other candidates. Sadly, the Democrat clown car was just as full.

More likely, it’s that the books are predicable. About a year prior to a presidential election, I start receiving “dystopian election outcome” queries from both sides claiming that, if the “other side” wins the election, the result will be the destruction of the world. After a presidential election, I start receiving the “sour grapes and roses” submissions, which fall into three categories: 1) I told you things would be horrible if you elected them, 2) I told you things would be wonderful if you elected them, and 3) they stole the election. Manuscripts in all of these categories tend to be one-sided with very little supporting evidence and don’t make very good reading. So sadly, I will also be passing on manuscripts in these categories four years from now, because I’m just not the right publisher for one-sided essays light on facts and long on rhetoric.

While I could tell you how I ended up voting in the past few primaries, I think that’s a personal thing. I will tell you that, in the past two Republican primaries, after careful consideration I couldn’t really support any of the choices I was given. I suppose I could write a book about my voting quandary, but I’m just not convinced I would be the right publisher for the manuscript…

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Being Social…

As I stated in my last blog about #Pit2Pub, I’m not a big user of social media. In part it’s because I have a pretty busy life and find social media to be a distraction – anyone I want to know what I’m doing already knows without my posting it. But as the owner of a small business that relies on getting the word out about our products, it surprises most people I’m not more active on Facebook and our blog. The reason is very simple:

I’ve found it doesn’t really help to sell books.

Others have written about why Facebook is not a good place to market books, and I won’t rehash those arguments here. For Divertir Publishing the reason these are not good marketing platforms is much simpler: most people who follow our blog and Facebook page are not consumers of our products – they are not readers. Instead, most people following us are authors hoping to get published. Thus, I’ve always believed that posting on these forums hasn’t really been helping our business, and thus it has not been a priority.

Recent emails from from both a current and prospective author has me rethinking this attitude. The email from our author simply stated that he missed our blog and found the inside information on how publishing works to be useful. The prospective author asked if we were still in business, given that we have not started our online magazine (mostly due to lack of submission) and that I hadn’t blogged recently. Interestingly, since my last blog post, we have published two books and have another coming out this week. However, the prospective author didn’t see the new books that have been published (in part because we don’t list the publication date on our web site). All he saw was that there were no recent blog posts.

What this lesson has taught me is that being social is very import – not because it helps us sell books, but because it reminds people we are still actively publishing manuscript.

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Lesbian Vampires and the NSA…

For NaNoWriMo in 2014, I wanted to write a spoof on young adult paranormal romance books with hunky-blue-eyed-servants-of-the-underworld and angsty teenage girls that fall in love with them. The result was Misunderstood. My favorite line, written at 3 a.m. while trying to make my word count for the day, was delivered by one of the female vampires after a vampire hunter hits on her: “I prefer my men dead, but thank you for the compliment.”

A recent blog by author A.J. O’Connell about research she’s doing for her latest book made me think of something funny with regards to my manuscript. It occurred to me when I started writing I knew very little about vampires. Do the myths really say they can only go out at night? What special powers might a vampire have? I immediately turned to Google to get my questions answered. While my intention was to keep all the romances heterosexual, it was obvious where the book had to go after I wrote a scene where the older female vampire consoles a newly turned vampire after the new vampire’s family rejects her for revealing what she had become. Thus, I searched for “lesbian vampires.”

I hope the NSA had a lot of fun with that one.

I know authors who feel that, when writing fiction, research is not necessary. The attitude is, because fiction involves made up characters, places, and events, one can take liberties with facts. This often results in manuscripts that fall short as readers start noticing things that are not accurate. Was the murder weapon or getaway car in your book available to your characters at the time the story was supposed to have occurred. Would one really drive northeast to go from Gary, Indiana, to Missouri City? Can a character really be shot in the abdomen ten times and continue fighting? Can you really kill an assailant, or your spouse, with a lettuce knife? Great fiction draws a reader in and makes them feel like part of the story. You’ll never accomplish that if a reader is questioning if your story is believable.

Research also tells us what has already been written and provides backstory a writer might not come up with on their own. The story Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and published in 1871, was about a lesbian vampire. Knowing this allowed me to make some changes to my own manuscript, such as altering the appearance of one of the female vampires to suggest the woman might be Carmilla. While done subtly, fan of the genre should pick up on it. I hope it makes the manuscript a more interesting read.

One more amusing comment about the NSA. I was recently checking the spelling of some words in Sharia and Brandon Mayfield’s Improbable Cause, which we are releasing in the spring. One word I had to look up was Al Qaida. So now my NSA browsing history includes “lesbian vampires” and “Al Qaida.” I wonder what the NSA computers set up to mine our data will do with that combination…

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