Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jerry Weinberg's New Website

At long last, my new website design is up and running(?). Same url,, but some of the links to individual pages may no longer be valid because of the new design. Many thanks to Pati Nagle for design advice.

I welcome feedback on any aspect of the site. New material and links will be added incrementally.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Clean Pain and Dirty Pain

One of the consistently interesting newsletters I receive is Creating Space, by Anna Paradox, available at The following essay on Clean Pain and Dirty Pain is something I thought would be of benefit to many writers, so here it is:

Clean Pain and Dirty Pain (by Anna Paradox)

I was running late on doing my taxes this year, and I felt a terrible dread about the task. I fortified myself with chocolate, and enlisted my husband for moral support. I shied away from starting several times, finding other tasks that "had" to be done first. Finally, I decided to take just the first step, just open the program, maybe gather a few documents...

Once I started, I did it all, and it really wasn't that bad.

Come to think of it, this happens a lot. The dreading is often much worse than the doing.

Martha Beck taught me a distinction she calls clean pain and dirty pain (which she gathered from Steven Hayes). The clean pain is the actual physical and emotional sensation from the event. If you break your leg or fall out with a friend, it legitimately hurts. Much of the time, the stories we tell ourselves about the pain hurt much worse than the direct sensation. That's dirty pain.

Here's an example:

Suppose I sent a story to Asimov's and they sent it back with a form rejection slip. So, this story did not sell to this market at this time. That hurts a little. And I can shrug it off in a few minutes.

Suppose, instead, I start telling myself "Nothing I write ever sells. Here's proof that I am a talentless know-nothing who ought to be relegated to digging ditches. Lacey in eighth grade was right when she said I would never have any friends or any success. I am as worthless as cat vomit and I should just give up doing anything creative ever." That could be the start of a good three day depression.

The dirty pain - the suffering from the stories I inflated around the real event - is much more severe than the direct impact of the original event.

Investigating the line between the clean pain of reality and the dirty pain of our interpretations of reality can open our eyes and free us from suffering. I would be glad to help you explore the difference. Call me and we'll set an appointment.

Until next time, may your stories of struggle feed your fiction instead of draining your life.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Easter Treats for Writers

I've been saving up some goodies. I noticed all the Easter goodies out in the stores today, so I thought I would give my readers a few sweet gifts for the season.

NASA's Launchpad Workshop for Science Fiction Writers

This has got to be the greatest deal going for writers. Launch Pad is a free, NASA-funded workshop for established writers held in beautiful high-altitude Laramie, Wyoming. Launch Pad aims to provide a "crash course" for twelve attendees in modern astronomy science through workshops, guest lectures, and observation through the University of Wyoming's two large telescopes.

Applications are now open for 2008's workshop, and will be accepted until March 31st, 2008. See the website: for more details.

I attended the first Launch Pad last year, in 2007. It was a stunning experience. I knew a lot of astronomy from 50+ years ago, but what was a lot then is merely a small fraction now. As I'm writing some "space fiction" now, this was the perfect workshop for me. And for the eleven other participants, who were all terrific people to get to know. And, the faculty were superb: Michael S. Brotherton and Jerry Oltion, both writers and astronomers.

It's all expenses paid, folks. What's not to love?

Creating a Sense of Urgency Among Agents and Editors

My writing buddy, Scott William Carter, has a great blog, including his "First Book" feather I wrote about recently. Now he's written a blog entry

Selling Your Book: Ten Tips on Creating a Sense of Urgency Among Agents and Editors

This is great stuff. Read it. Print it. Post it at the place where you write your submissions.

Thank you, Scott.

Nine Stories in Nine Weeks

My dear friend and student, Dwayne Phillips, set himself the challenge of writing a short story a week for all of 2008. The first nine weeks of production are posted in a blog format at

Dwayne would appreciate any feedback on any of his stories. I appreciate him showing some of the sluggard writers out there what is possible if you set your mind to it.

What is Science Fiction Anyway, and Does it Matter?

If you're interested in writing science fiction, and even if you can't get to Launch Pad this year, take a deep draught from Steve York's post on What is Science Fiction Anyway, and Does it Matter?

Lots to think about. Don't write another word without it.

Howdya Like Them Eggs?

(If my readers like this sample, I'll post more goodies in the future, and perhaps I won't wait until next Easter.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

How Fast is Fast Writing?

A reader writes: "I am curious about how many words per hour or per day that people write. I once read that Stephen King (maybe someone else, famous writer though) wrote "an amazing 2,000 words a day." I am a little confused here how they count words. I have been writing short stories this year for practice and enjoyment. I average about 1,500 words per hour. That includes the hours spent revising the words."

What's an Hour?

It's no wonder you're confused. Here are some of the types of "hours" that are sometimes included, sometimes excluded, when people are talking about "words per hour" or "words per day."

- Hours thinking about the content before writing a word.

- Hours typing a first draft.

- Hours thinking about the content after writing some words.

- Hours editing an Nth draft.

- Hours researching a draft or revision or redraft.

= Hours corresponding with reviewers and dealing with their comments.

- Hours trying to sell the manuscript.

- Hours working with editors after a ms. is sold.

- Hours working on promotional material.

- Hours corresponding with readers (including writing blog entries like this one).

- Hours installing hardware/software for your writing tools, and tracking errors in those tools.

- Hours banking all the royalties and dealing with tax issues.

There's also the question of how to count "words." Is it words in the finished ms.? Or maybe all the words you've written in all the above activities, many of which were thrown away?

So, if you add up all these words and divide them by all these hours, you get one number for your rate. But if you're counting different words and hours, you'll get a different rate.

Is 1,500 words per hour an extra amazingly speedy rate?

It might be if you're talking about finished words appearing in print, taking into account all those other hours in a writer's business.

Let's figure it out. 8 hours per day, 365 days per year, at 1,500 words per hour, would produce 4,380,000 words per year. A fairly big novel has 120,000 words, so this rate would be more than 35 such novels a year. I'd say that was amazingly speedy, but there are a few writers who accomplish something of this order. You may not realize that because they write under different names. Why? For one thing, the market won't buy novels at that rate from one author.

There are quite a few other authors who achieve this rate–but only on days they're working, and they don't work every day, or perhaps not eight hours on days they do work.

What Are Typical Words Per Hour Rates?

My reader goes on to ask: "How many words per hour or per day do you write when writing novels? Same question for others you know or for readers of your blog."

For me, when I'm drafting a novel, actually typing words into my computer, I can readily type 1,500 words per hour, or 12,000 words per 8-hour day. I have, several times, knocked out a 100,000-word ms. in a solid week. But I seldom work solid weeks, or 8-hour days, typing first drafts. When you look at the entire process, the entire production, over about 40 years I've produced about one 100,000-word book per year. What that shows is that most days I'm doing other things than drafting manuscripts.

The important answer for readers of this blog is that each writer's answer will be different. My most important message to writers is that each of us must find our own writing process, the one (or ones) that work for us. And each process will have a different "rate," so don't compare yourself to others–especially don't compare your "rate" with someone's not-clearly-defined rate.

What you can compare is your own rate today with your own rate yesterday, measured the same way. If you keep track of your personal rate, you may learn things about yourself–and if you learn things about yourself, you may notice ways to improve your writing process. That's what counts, not Stephen King's or Jerry Weinberg's "rate."

Saturday, February 9, 2008

On Book Contract Provisions, Part 2

Am I Protected Against Mutilation of My Work?

One contract provision states: "When we have mutually agreed upon the final manuscript including artwork, index, and all material needed to create the final, publishable, version of the book, we will begin publication and distribution as quickly as possible consistent with our normal quality procedures."

This is too vague, and almost all on the side of the publisher. But it does say "mutually agreed upon," so you do have the legal right to stop publication if they've done something you don't like. This may be hard to enforce, but it's there, on your side. Once upon a time, I had to invoke this provision when the publisher's copy editor completely changed my ms. The publisher, McGraw-Hill, honored my request and ordered a new copy edit, which was terrific and improved the book immensely.

So, don't forget you have this provision (and if you don't, insist that it be put in). And it might help if it were made more explicit, perhaps an entire sentence or paragraph of its own, just to be clearer. (I think some publishers don't want you to notice it.)

When Will the Book Be Published?

No time is specified in the above contract paragraph. "As quickly as possible" is worthless because it's meaningless. Other such worthless phrases are "in a timely manner" or "when appropriate."

Several of my students have suffered when their publisher delayed publication for such a long time that a timely book became worthless. You should ask for a time limit in the contract (suggest 6 months after you submit the final ms., or some other time appropriate to the material) after which, if the book is not published (available for sale), you can terminate (but don't have to) and offer the book elsewhere.

Who Owns the Artwork?

Another typical contract provision states: "You understand and agree that any cover or other artwork supplied by us belongs to us or the owner of the artwork, and that you may not use it without express written consent from the owner of the artwork."

In the old days, authors seldom provided their own artwork. Now, with computer graphics, the practice is quite common. So, you should insist on a similar statement about any artwork you supply--they get to use it in the book, but may not use it elsewhere without your written consent. A common exception is in promotional material for your book.

If the publisher asks you to supply graphic material, you might also ask for some money up front (not an advance against royalties) for the expense of preparing your own artwork. Nowadays, you've probably given the publisher digital copy of your ms. This saves them the expense of "typesetting" they used to swallow in the old days, but no publisher that I know of has revised their standard contract to give you any credit for saving them this expense. You can ask, but you probably wont' get it. Illustrations, however, were typically paid for in my old contracts, so you have a chance here.

Who Prepares the Artwork?

Still, if you're publishing technical material, you probably want to prepare your own graphics (with advice from the publisher's people on layout). Why? Because you're probably going to have to give them detailed proofs anyway so as to avoid most of the illustrator's mistakes.

But don't be arrogant. Publishers do know something about how things will look in a finished volume, so listen to their advice and ignore it at your peril. Book design is more complex than it looks to the novice, so beware of the suggestion that you provide "camera-ready" copy. More than one book has been killed by an author who thought s/he knew more than the publisher about design.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

On Book Contract Provisions - Part 1.

I'm frequently asked by my students to review their first book contract. They are always so excited that they're ready to sign the first boiler-plate version the publishers offer, no questions asked. Half a century ago, I was the same way, But over the years, I've learned that it pays to ask. Nobody has ever withdrawn a contract offer because an author asked politely to clarify or modify some provisions. You might not succeed with your request, but there's no harm in asking as long as you remain cool and businesslike. Contracts are made to be negotiated, and the boiler-plate contract is merely a starting point for discussion.

"Why bother?" you might ask. Well, consider that a contract may very well bind you for the rest of your life--and even beyond the grave. It wasn't always that way, because most contracts terminated when the book went "out of print." Not anymore. Let's look at a typical "out of print" definition from a recent contract.

Out of Print

"The book is defined to be 'in print' as long as it is regularly offered for sale, under our own imprint or someone else's, in any format or media, in any edition, or if there is an option (or contract) providing for publication in another edition or in other media."

This is followed the a paragraph specifying how the author may terminate the contract if the book goes out of print. But, this contract's definition of "out of print" ensures you will never be able to get the book back, making the following paragraph meaningless. For example, the publisher can put an electronic version up on the web and keep it there forever. And now, with print-on-demand, they don't even need to do that. They merely need to keep a master copy and offer to POD a copy to anyone who pays for one. That makes the book "offered for sale."

Before the web and POD, that wasn't possible, and contracts did expire. I recovered several of my books and moved them to another publisher, where they thrive to this day. That will no longer be possible.

Copyright and Rights

The contract goes on to say, under this heading:

"You will grant and hereby grant [publisher], an exclusive license to print, publish, distribute and sell copies of the book in whole or in part, including revisions, in any medium now known or hereafter devised."

This provision is ridiculously broad, and makes your copyright meaningless to you. You should limit, for example, their rights to print editions only. You can accept wording that says you are willing to negotiate other media rights with them if and when the time comes (but you have the right to say no, of course). Translations are okay, for print only, if the royalty rate for those is acceptable.

You should also reserve the right to use the material in the book in your own classes and consulting, without paying any fees to them. I once published an article with a professional society press, an article they requested and for which I was not paid a cent. The contract had a similar provision, but I struck it and sent it back. They said they wouldn't accept my change, so I told them they couldn't have the article. Eventually, they relented.

Some years later, I wanted to use an illustration from the article in a book of mine. I assured my publisher that I controlled the rights, but they were cautious and checked with the professional society. The society said my publisher could use the illustration if they paid an $800 royalty to the society.

At that point, I located my copy of the contract, which convinced my publisher they (really I, for I would have been the one who had to pay for the permission to use my own work) didn't have to pay a cent.


I particular despise the attitude that can say, "in any medium now known or hereafter devised." It's typical of the arrogance of publishers--or, rather, publishers' lawyers. I'm not giving you legal advice, except to advise you not to be intimidated by lawyers. You can usually find a friendly lawyer among your acquaintances (or perhaps in a local writers' association) who would be glad to review your contract for a modest fee and suggest what you can strike or change when you send back your first counter-proposal to open negotiations.

Just remember, it is a negotiation. (I'll look at some other provision in future columns.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Science Fiction or Science?

The Aremac Project is getting closer to being science non-fiction:

Moral? When you write science-fiction, be sure to place your setting far enough into the future, or science will catch up with you.

I think mind-reading to the level in The Aremac Project is still at least a decade off, but you never know.

I don't generally recommend ambiguity as a writing technique, but in this case I'm glad I gave no specific dates in the novel.