Grammar Guide

Posted by Always Write at 3:05 AM Tagged with: , ,
Feb 222011

In homage to the hilarious Dave Barry, I thought I would clear up some popular grammar misconceptions by answering grammar questions sent in by readers. Let’s get started!

What is the serial comma, and why should I care?

The serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma, since that’s where it went to college) is the last comma in a list or series such as “red, white, and blue.” Some people don’t use it, mainly because … I don’t know, pressing the comma key a second time in a single sentence is really hard? Sure, most times it’s not really critical, but sometimes it can make a big difference, so it’s best to use it, for clarity. Consider if your wife saw you post one of these two status updates on Facebook:

I had sex with an amazing woman, my wife and my best friend.

vs.

I had sex with an amazing woman, my wife, and my best friend.

The first one is clarifying that the amazing woman is your wife, who is also your best friend. The second one sounds fun but will have you looking for a good divorce lawyer.

What is the deal with people using quotation marks incorrectly?

I’m glad you asked. This is a pet peeve of mine. You see this all the time on signs at restaurants and stuff. When you put something in quotes, you should either be quoting another speaker or using the quotes to mean that something might not really be what it’s claimed to be — like if you say that O.J. Simpson is “innocent” or that Sarah Palin is an “author.” But when a restaurant touts their “Fresh” Fish, I eat elsewhere.

Is proper capitalization really a big deal?

Yes. Proper capitalization is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse, and helping your uncle jack off a horse.

y r u so srs abt this grammar stuff? its no big deal

Get the hell off my blog.

I always get confused with your and you’re and there, their, and they’re. Help!

First of all, that’s not in the form of a question, but I want to help you out, because there’s no quicker way to look silly than to use one of these words incorrectly. Words that sound the same are called “homophones,” which means that they have negative attitudes toward words of the same sex getting it on. If you don’t know the difference, spell out the words instead of using contractions. Doesn’t “I hate you are stupid blog and you are stupid grammar rules” sound dumb?

Why doesn’t anyone know how to use apostrophes anymore?

Thank you, dear reader, for bringing up this vitally important issue, which I think should be one of our nation’s top 3 priorities, along with curing prostate cancer (or at least finding a better way to check for it) and instituting a college football playoff.

What do all of these examples have in common?

Sale on SUV’s

2-for-1 drink’s

I told my parent’s that school is for loosers

If you answered “they are all abominations,” you get a gold star. Apostrophes are used to indicate a contraction, or possession. Not just because you pluralized something and felt like hitting the apostrophe key since you saved a keystroke by skipping a serial comma earlier.

Well, that’s all for this edition of David’s Grammar Guide. Leave your grammar questions in the comments below, and try not to think too much about how “fresh” that fish you had for lunch really was.

Jan 192011

I have decided to release a short story I wrote several years ago, entitled The Glass Dragon, for free on my website. This 5,800-word short story explores the topic of time travel, and living a life of What Ifs.

A story of the convoluted consequences of a near-future world of time travel gone awry. Can the newly-introduced TimeCops restore order? Or will they be erased before they ever existed?

Download it from the “Stuff” section of my website, here:

http://www.davidderrico.com/stuff/short-stories/

While I’m currently providing this to my readers for free, I’d ask that you please don’t re-sell it or re-post it elsewhere. Please feel free to share the link to the download page, where anyone can download it for free. Thank you, and I’d love to hear any comments you have after reading it below!

As 2010 comes to a close, it’s a good time to take a moment to reflect on everything that’s happened this year with e-books, e-readers, the publishing industry, and writing. I’ve included plenty of links to posts with more detail on individual topics you may be particularly interested in.

E-Books

In 2010, e-book sales roughly tripled, increasing from about 3% of total book sales to about 9% — a figure that finally seems to have the publishing world sitting up and taking notice. As we transition from paper books to a paper + digital world (and perhaps eventually to a primarily digital book world), we’ll see many changes in the centuries-old print publishing industry: bookstores will close, publishers will struggle, and new companies will step in and pick up the slack. In the digital world, in 2010 we’ve seen a proliferation of available e-book titles (the Amazon store roughly doubled its catalogue to over 750,000 e-books), e-books starting a global expansion (including the launch of the Amazon UK Kindle Store), and we’ve even seen e-book sales on Amazon overtake hardcovers and overtake all print books for best-selling titles.

We’ve also seen a battle over e-book features — with publishers generally fighting some of the very things that make e-books so useful and convenient for many of us. Publishers lined up to block text-to-speech functionality (which lets your Kindle read e-books aloud to you); add restrictive, annoying, and mostly ineffectual DRM copy protection; provide many e-books as poorly-formatted, non-proofread scans of print books; and we’re still stuck in an era where readers in many countries can’t buy the e-books they want to pay good money for, as geographic legal restrictions serve to partially negate the huge e-book advantage of instant, inexpensive, global distribution.

In 2011, I predict e-book sales to continue to increase (perhaps continuing the trend of doubling or tripling each year for another year or two), especially considering the technological advances in e-readers (and lower price points) and how many people probably just unwrapped new e-readers last week. I’d expect slow improvement in worldwide e-book availability and improved formatting of e-books, as publishers realize that they’re losing money and start to take e-books more seriously. But I’d expect large publishers to continue fighting certain e-book features, as they’re still in the mode of protecting print book sales, not fully embracing e-books yet. However, the pressure will continue to increase on them next year.

E-Readers

2010 brought us the introduction of Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s new Kindle 3, a new round of Sony E-Readers, and the Nook Color, among others. We’ve seen improvements in technology, including the new e-Ink Pearl screen with better contrast, and a battle between tablet computers with LCD screens (like the iPad) and dedicated e-readers with easy-on-the-eyes e-Ink screens (like the Kindle); at the same time, we’ve seen prices come down from $259 for the Kindle 2 to only $139 for the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi. This has combined to make e-readers much more affordable and a better value for more and more people. Estimates put e-reader sales from about 5 million in 2009, to 12 million in 2010, and predict 27 million in 2011.

Personally, I’ve tried the iPad, and found it better suited for Internet surfing, movie watching, and game-playing than for reading. I also recently upgraded from a Kindle 2 to a Kindle 3, and I am very, very pleased with the Kindle 3 — I think it’s the best device available for e-book reading, and I am finding it considerably better than the already-quite-good Kindle 2. I especially appreciate the increased contrast (much darker blacks and slightly lighter background) of the e-Ink Pearl screen, which is why I wouldn’t recommend either an LCD-based device (which has short battery life and is harder on the eyes), or an older-generation technology like the e-Ink screen in Barnes & Noble’s Nook. I’ve written a Holiday E-Reader Buying Guide here that compares and contrasts the options available, if you’re still trying to decide which one is right for you.

Next year, we can expect to see (a) more tablet computers being introduced, and many of them will masquerade as “e-readers,” although they are really Jacks-of-all-trades that are better suited for other tasks, (b) continued improvements and refinements in e-readers, and (c) perhaps even lower prices, as we’re approaching the $99 price point for e-readers — remarkable when the Kindle 1 debuted just 3 years ago for $399.

Publishing

As I mentioned above, the continued rise of e-books will have a profound effect on the publishing industry. First, print book sales declined in 2010, being replaced by e-book sales. This shift has strained the margins of publishers and bookstores, who are finding it difficult to adapt to an online e-book-selling world. Publishers have long-entrenched ideas, facilities, processes, and business models that can’t turn on a dime, and they’re seeing increased competition from online retailers (like Amazon and B&N) and smaller publishers, who don’t need the huge economies of scale and financial capital that the print book business requires. Predictably, these businesses have responded by trying to fight e-book adoption, trying to protect their print book business for as long as they can, and squeeze out a few more profitable quarters. They, so far, don’t appear to be interested in making the tough changes and painful downsizing required to succeed an an e-book world, and they (rightfully) fear that their spot at the top will be jeopardized during the upheaval, as newer, leaner, more forward-thinking companies replace some of the “Big 6” publishers at the top of the heap.

To that end, publishers, fearful of Amazon’s e-book dominance, in April embraced the agency model, which stopped Amazon from selling best-selling e-books for $9.99 and allowed publishers to retain control of e-book pricing (most best-selling e-books then increased to about $12.99). This caused a temporary dip in e-book sales, which have since recovered. Publishers complained that low e-book prices “devalued e-books” and were unsustainable, while many independent authors (like myself) argued that selling more units at a lower price was a win-win scenario.

2010 will also be remembered as the year of the rise of self-published authors, with a couple I know of in particular (Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking) selling over 100,000 e-books and earning a very nice living — without traditional publishers. Several other indie authors joined Amazon’s “Encore” publishing program, competing directly with large publishers. In 2010, we saw e-book royalties for self-published authors (through Amazon, B&N, Apple, and most other outlets) increase from 35% to 70%, which compares quite favorably to the 8% authors used to get from publishers for paperback sales, or the 17.5% (net) they normally pay for e-book royalties.

As large publishers continue to decrease the amount of advances paid, hold the line on e-book royalties, overprice their e-books, block features, and reduce marketing services, my question to best-selling authors in 2011 is: why give 90%+ of the profits to a large publisher, when you can hire someone to do your covers and formatting for you, and keep 70% for yourself? I think we’ll see more and more big authors strike off on their own — and do very, very well. After all, when you buy a Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown book, you’re buying the book for the author, not the publisher (quick: who can even name the publishers for those 3 authors without looking it up?).

Writing

2010 was a milestone year for me personally, as I finished writing and editing my third novel, The Twiller, and released it for sale in June. Of course, being independent, I was also responsible for doing my own formatting and creating my own cover, along with doing my own marketing, which can take more time than actually writing the book! I was very pleased by the launch of The Twiller, which had the following results:

  • Ranked #1 on Amazon’s “Movers & Shakers” List.
  • Ranked in the Top 5 in both “Humor” and “Science Fiction” in the entire Kindle Store.
  • Ranked #188 overall in the Amazon Kindle Store.

My other novels also exploded in sales in 2010 (I only made them available through Amazon for the Kindle in late 2009). I ended the year with several new sales records, selling several thousand copies and earning several thousands of dollars from my writing for the first time — not yet enough to make a living, but certainly a nice start. More importantly, I reached thousands of readers, received dozens of positive reviews, and interacted with many great and passionate readers by email, through my Facebook Fan Page, and more. I sincerely do appreciate all the readers who have read my book, taken the time to contact me, written a review (they really do help!), and generally been supportive in my writing endeavors this year.

For my first novel, Right Ascension, I had the following encouraging and exciting milestones:

The sequel, Declination, also showed encouraging signs:

  • Sold over 3,000 copies this year — so more than 60% of the people who bought Right Ascension went on to purchase the sequel as well.
  • Both Right Ascension and Declination were on the Top 25 best-seller list for “Science Fiction” at the same time.
  • Ranked #827 overall in the Amazon Kindle Store.

As for this blog, its popularity has steadily increased since I launched it in April, with over 18,000 visitors. Average hits per day increased from about 40, to 60 in August, 90 in October, and over 100 a day in November and December. My most popular blog posts from 2010 were:

  1. E-Ink vs. LCD: What’s The Difference? (2,075 views)
  2. E-Book Market Share: Amazon At 75% (760 views)
  3. Kindle 3 Announced: 3G for $189, Wi-Fi for $139 (675 views)
  4. Kindle 3: Hands-On First Impressions (607 views)
  5. E-Book Sales Continue Rapid Growth (483 views)

Thank you again to everyone who visited my blog, left a comment, bought or read one of my books (available in the right nav bar or through Amazon here), became a Facebook fan, or shared some encouraging words this year. I’ve definitely excited to see what unfolds in 2011, and discuss it with all of you. Happy New Year!

Apr 072010

As some of you no doubt know, I am an attorney. By this, I mean that I went to law school, graduated, passed the CA Bar exam, and worked as an attorney at a law firm for several years. That makes me an attorney. Pretty simple.

But I also write novels. I am an author. But, am I a “real” author? A “professional” author? What does that even mean?

It may surprise some people to know that only a tiny percentage of authors make a living solely by writing (obviously “make a living” is pretty vague). Most authors–yes, authors on the NY Times Bestseller List published by big publishers–teach on the side, have day jobs, freelance, or do other things to pay the bills. One estimate said that only 200 authors in the U.S. make a living solely from their writing. Let’s put that in perspective: there are 1,696 players in the NFL (32 teams x 53 players). And their minimum salary is $325,000 per year, much more than just “making a living.”

Hell, there must be more than 200 state lottery winners each year in the U.S., and they probably make at least $1 million. Better odds than writing.

So, what defines a “professional” writer? When can an author call himself a “professional”? Is it if he “makes a living” (is one of the 200)? Is published through a traditional publisher? Sells X number of books? Earns more than a certain dollar amount per year by writing? Has written more than a certain number of books?

Let’s say you get signed by a large publisher because it thinks your book will be profitable (not “good”–big difference). The standard first contract for an unknown author (i.e., not Sarah Palin, who doesn’t actually write–is she an author?) is a $5,000 advance and 8% of royalties after that. About 80% of books never make it to the “after that” stage–they don’t earn the author anything beyond the initial guaranteed $5,000. And publishers give most first-time authors very little or no publicity, no big display at Barnes & Noble, and if your books don’t sell well in the first month, they’re yanked from the shelves and they go out of print. You just made $5,000, on a book you probably spent at least a year on. Most authors spend that $5,000 trying to promote their own books.

Is that guy a professional author? What if I make $5,000 selling books on my own this year? Am I a professional?

The good news is that the game is changing. Readers are starting to get sick of much of the “traditionally-published” stuff, which is often formulaic and appealing to the lowest common denominator. Just as with indie music and movies, people are looking for new voices and books that the big publishing companies didn’t deem “marketable” enough to sell.

And now, with e-books, the self-publishing movement, and Amazon (the world’s largest bookseller), all those lines are being blurred. For very little money (and a whole lot of time), an author can format their own e-books and distribute them on Amazon’s virtual shelves right alongside Stephen King and Isaac Asimov. And, since print publishers are trying their best to kill e-books to protect their hardcover book sales, it gives little guys like me a chance.

  • So far in 2010, I’ve sold over 3,000 books (mostly e-books, and mostly through Amazon). Does that make me a “professional” author?
  • I’m completing my third novel, The Twiller, which should be out in a few months. Is that enough?
  • Stephen King said you’re a “professional” if your royalty check doesn’t bounce, and it pays the electric bill. My royalties this week already paid the electric bill for the month. But what about rent?
  • I made it to #1 on Amazon’s “Technothriller” best-seller list, and #479 overall in the Kindle Store (out of almost 500,000 e-books), which puts me above 99.9% of all e-book titles. Do I qualify?
  • And what about, you know, actually being a good writer? Does that even matter at all? I can name plenty of best-sellers that are horribly written, but their authors rake in the cash.

I actually don’t know the answer, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below. But I do know that I’m giving it a shot. More on that in my next post.

As I mentioned in my last post, e-books are surging in popularity, and for good reason. I mentioned that the surge in e-books has impacted me as a reader. But it has impacted me even more dramatically as a writer.

I wrote my first novel, Right Ascension, in 2000, and the sequel, Declination, was completed in 2002. While they enjoyed some early success and some sporadic pockets of sales, and received positive feedback from readers, they essentially sold about as well as most self-published books, which is to say: hardly at all. A few hundred copies over the course of several years.

Then, I learned about Amazon and their Digital Text Platform, and I published my novels to be sold through Amazon for the Kindle.

And people started buying it.

Not a ton, mind you, but some. And so I did some research. And I spent weeks learning how to perfect Kindle formatting. I spent time on Kindle boards, getting to know readers and what they wanted. I learned that the stigma against self-publishing is disappearing, just as it did for “indie” musicians and movies. In fact, people were sick of the same regurgitated tripe being spewed forth by the big publishers. Think about the three biggest hits of the past five years: Harry Potter, Dan Brown, and Twilight. Are any of those examples of great writing?

In December of 2009, I lowered my e-book prices to just 99 cents each. I debated back and forth for a while. But they’re worth more than that! I cried. But I did it, as a grand experiment, and it worked. While I had cut the price down from $5 to $1, my sales went up by a factor of 7. Cool.

Then, as I started becoming more active on various forums, and (I hope) started getting some positive buzz and word-of-mouth going, my sales more than doubled. Then doubled again. I sold more in a month than I had in the past decade. Then it happened again the next month. And, guess what? Readers didn’t care that my book wasn’t printed by a big publisher. Heck, they didn’t care if it was printed at all. They didn’t care that it wasn’t in bookstores. Because over 98% of all those sales were e-books. And my e-books look just as good — actually, better — than e-books from big publishers. In fact, mine are meticulously formatted and proofread and have a table of contents, while theirs are often error-filled scans of printed books. Mine enable text-to-speech, while theirs block the feature. Mine are not saddled with DRM (copy protection), and I offer them in multiple formats instead of tying you down to one device. And, while readers feel gouged by publishers raising prices from $9.99 to $14.99 and charging more for e-books than paperbacks, mine are just 99 cents.

Now, for the first time, I feel that there is a possibility — certainly not a certainty — but a chance of actually making a living at writing. For a long time I was told that I had a real talent for writing, and I worked hard at it, but the only option was to send query letters into the black hole of agents’ and publishers’ “slush piles,” sometimes getting a polite form rejection letter, sometimes a scrawled “NO” written in the margin of my own letter and sent back in my return envelope, usually no response at all, and never even once did anyone actually read the book they were rejecting.

So I’ve bypassed the gatekeepers, and am taking my work directly to the readers. Yes, it’s taken a ton of time, but it’s cost me very little money in the digital realm, and my books sit on Amazon’s virtual shelves next to (and even above!) Asimov and Heinlein and Vonnegut. And maybe, if I continue to work hard and hone my craft, write more novels, promote like crazy, get great editors to help ensure the books meet or exceed the quality of “traditionally-published” stuff, and get a bit of luck, I just might eke out a living at doing what I love. And that chance, remote though it still might be, did not exist two short years ago.

I’m excited. Are you?

Interview by The Indie Spotlight

Posted by Always Write at 2:51 PM Tagged with:
Feb 162010

Please enjoy this interview conducted by our friends over at The Indie Spotlight.

Title: Right Ascension

Author: David Derrico

ISBN: 978-1-4486-8760-2

Page count: 216

Genre: Science Fiction

Price: $0.99 (Kindle), $9.77 (paperback)

Author Bio:

David Derrico was born just north of Miami, Florida, and developed his appreciation for complex moral issues while receiving a degree in philosophy from the University of Florida in Gainesville. He wrote his first novel, Right Ascension, before attending law school at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall). Derrico has written two novels: Right Ascension and its sequel, Declination, and currently lives in South Florida where he is working on his next novel.

Tell us about your book:

Right Ascension and its sequel, Declination, are science fiction novels that blend action and adventure with philosophical and moral undertones. They invite readers to ponder difficult ethical dilemmas and question their own notions of fairness, honor, and the nature of justice. They ask the question: “What if humanity had to choose between honor … and our very survival?”

Set in the year 3040, Right Ascension examines mankind’s place in the Universe, how we ascended to that lofty position, and the horrifying price of that ascension.

Humanity’s position of political and technological dominance within the galaxy is suddenly shattered when a sleek alien vessel arrives unexpectedly at Earth. Admiral Daniel Atgard and the crew of the Apocalypse embark on a mission to find these enigmatic aliens, but the focus of the mission quickly turns from finding answers to exacting revenge. Meanwhile, a belligerent species of reptilian warriors, seeking to avenge a previous defeat at the hands of the human-controlled United Confederation of Planets, takes this opportunity to plan an all-out assault on Earth. Faced with overwhelming odds and the terrible knowledge of mankind’s most horrifying secret, Daniel must choose between honor … and humanity’s very survival.

How long did it take to write the book?

The first draft of the book took about 10 months to write, plus another solid month of editing. I’d say almost a year. However, several years later, I went back through and did a cover-to-cover proofreading and edit, including adding a couple of scenes.

What inspired you to write the book?

I have enjoyed reading and writing for as long as I can remember. I broke my arm when I was 2 1/2 years old, and my parents tell me it happened when I was climbing on a stool to reach a book on a high shelf. As a kid, I read lots of Piers Anthony and C.S. Lewis. I have always enjoyed creative writing, I enjoy storytelling and using the amazing diversity and depth of the English language. After getting a degree in philosophy from the University of Florida, I became interested in exploring ethical issues in a much more interesting and accessible way than what gets presented in philosophy textbooks. So, the idea of an action/adventure science-fiction novel that explored deep moral issues was born.

Talk about the writing process. Did you have a writing routine? Did you do any research, and if so, what did that involve?

I’m generally a night person, and I found myself often staying up all night writing until 8 AM or later. It helped that I wrote the book while working at a job that was not very demanding, as I’d find myself thinking about the novel all day, percolating ideas even when I wasn’t writing. It was very helpful to be able to start writing pretty much whenever the inspiration struck me.

Before I started writing, I actually developed detailed character sketches of each of the main characters: physical description, history, family, background, morals, motivation, personality, etc. I found that having realistic characters caused many parts of the book to almost “write itself,” as I found myself saying, “Well, this character would react to that by doing this…” After the first couple of chapters, I also realized that I needed an outline in order to maintain the pacing of the book, keep the sense of continuity, and foreshadow important elements that came to fruition later. Outlining was the hardest part for me; once I outlined a chapter or two, the actual writing came relatively easily.

As for research, I did a fair amount of research, mostly involving astronomy, physics, and astronomical distances. My book does not focus on the “hard sci-fi” method of describing technical details of things like hyperspace drives or force shields, so the research was not overwhelming, but enough to make sure everything was realistic.

What do you hope your readers come away with after reading your book?

I hope, first and foremost, that readers enjoy the book. That they are sad for the last chapter to end. I hope they identify with the characters and come to care about what happens to them. And I hope that maybe, just maybe, they think a little bit about their own ethics and morality and I hope it inspires them to do the right thing, even when it is hard to do.

Where can we go to buy your book?

My novels (Right Ascension and the sequel, Declination) are available through my own website, www.davidderrico.com, in both paperback and eBook formats. They are also available through Amazon.com, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.com.

Any other links or info you’d like to share?

I have a Facebook Fan page at www.facebook.com/NovelAuthor where I post news, discussions, and free giveaways.

© 2010 David Derrico