Friday, April 27, 2012

Making the Punishment fit the Crime

A forty-five-year-old woman who stole two thousand books from San Diego County libraries to sell on has avoided jail. She was sentenced to thirty days of community service and must pay the libraries $7,600 for the lost books. She’s also forbidden to visit certain libraries and to sell or shop online.
Her story is all over the romance loops, with opinions there varying from, “lock her up in jail for life”, to “forgive her”.
I find the situation quite fascinating, as theft of digital books is common, annoying, and removes from the author (and the publisher) their right to be paid for their intellectual work. Yet even in these cases some people insist they have a right to download pirated books, as they do pirated music and videos.
I agree that some people cannot afford to pay the price of books/movies/music. But that’s why libraries were invented. So people can borrow the books free of charge (but not steal them to resell!).
My personal opinion is that the punishment should fit the crime. Those who steal books should be made to work for the authors and publishers until the cost of what they stole has been made up. I know a lot of authors who’d enjoy having their garden weeded and their house cleaned freeing them to sit and write!
* With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan, “The Mikado”
My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime;
And make each prisoner pent
Unwillingly represent
A source of innocent merriment!
Of innocent merriment!

Helen Woodall

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What's in your purse/suitcase?

Recently, courtesy of a bunch of bushfires, I was looking at the possibility of having to evacuate my home with very little warning.

Now I admit I am weird. I own thousands of books and over two hundred ornamental frogs and I decided not to pack any of them. How could I choose just one or two? It would be like choosing one child. I ended up putting my passport and a clean pair of undies in my purse and making sure I was wearing shoes. Well, it is summer here and I usually go barefoot six months of the year.

I am the person who travelled around the world with three sets of clothes – one on, one in the wash and one tidy outfit. Yes, I already admitted I am weird.

So I get quite annoyed when reading a book where, whatever happens, the heroine drags the appropriate outfit or item from her purse/suitcase. A friend agreed with me and called it “a suitcase the depth of the Cayman Trench” syndrome. Her must-haves were passport/ID, money and tampons. Another friend is more the Boy Scout type. Her purse includes a roll of duct tape, a Leatherman multi-tool, meds, spare glasses, Sony reader/charger, cell phone/charger, small notepad and pen, a spool of waxed twelve cord (very strong string!) and a lighter.

Another friend commented, “Purse? What’s a purse? I tend to set those down and forget them in various public places. Wallet goes in one back pocket of the jeans, cell phone in the other. Front pocket has lip balm, a hair elastic, and occasionally a small stash of pain reliever. Keys go on a carabiner clip to the belt loop, with mini Swiss army knife. What more does one need? Oh, sunglasses on top of head.”

So, do you get annoyed when the heroine of the book is sitting on the beach in her bikini, and she is suddenly invited to a party and instantly pulls a sexy ballgown out of her suitcase? Or would there be one in your suitcase too?

This blog has been reprinted from, Sunday 22 March 2009
Helen  Woodall

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Write where your heart is

For as long as I’ve been editing, authors have been asking me, “What should I write next?” Sometimes they’re conflicted because they want to write book X, but readers are screaming for book Y. Sometimes another genre is selling big and they wonder if they should change genres. Sometimes they just have so many plots and characters running wild in their heads they don’t know where to start.
My answer never changes. I always reply, “What is your passion? What do YOU want to write right now?”
Because the truth of the matter is this. When an author is passionate about her story, when she’s writing what she wants to write, the book will be better. That passion will flow through from the heart to the keyboard, reflecting itself in the words, and the book will glow with life and authority.
Now okay, if it’s not the most popular genre, maybe the author will never sell like JK Rowling. But then, very few authors do. However the author will have the confidence of knowing that the book she wrote is the best book she could have written at that time.
Australian erotic romance author EL James has recently hit the big time in the USA with her book, “Fifty Shades of Grey”. This is a book that’s had almost as many really bad reviews as really excellent ones. That’s because the author’s passion has engendered passion in the readers. In an interview she said she originally didn’t write the book to be published but to express what she felt deep inside. That’s what shows on the page. That’s what is selling an unknown author and an unknown book.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Don’t get confused!

Prone/supine: The bad guy stabs the victim in the chest. The victim falls backward and lies prone on the floor. No, actually he’s supine. Prone means face downward. Supine is face up.
Discreet/discrete: If your heroine is acting discreetly, she’s not telling everyone what’s she’s doing. Discrete, means individual and separate.
Quite/quiet: A common typo that isn’t fixed by using spell check.
Form/from: Another common typo that isn’t fixed by using spell check.
Junction/juncture: A junction is where things join. Like a road junction. Juncture is an event that occurs at a specific time. An astounding number of romance novelists don’t know this difference.
Peak/peek/pique: Peak is the top of a hill. Peek means to look at. Pique is when something has upset you. I am frequently piqued when authors misuse peek and peak.
When in doubt, remember that the dictionary is your friend.

Helen Woodall

Monday, April 16, 2012

Timing issues

No I’m not talking about why it took your hero twenty minutes to get from the heroine’s home to his work in chapter one and half an hour in chapter ten, although you really do need to mention the traffic jam he got caught up in. I’m talking about the length of time between when you wrote the chapter and when the book will actually get published.
Will anyone recognize the name of the band the heroine is so fond of in two years’ time? Will there be a new president by then? Will that brand of ice cream have been taken over by another company?
Even more importantly if this is a book you started some time ago, is there a reason why he doesn’t have a GPS in his car when he’s taking a road trip? Why doesn’t that character have a cell phone?
It is your book, your world, you can make it any way you choose, but you do need to have a reason for things. If you don’t explain his GPS has been stolen then readers will just think your hero is stupid for getting lost instead of using one. And no one wants a stupid hero.
Oh, and lest you think you will finish writing the book tonight and it’ll be on the shelves in a month, the answer is, unless you’re self-publishing, it’ll be more likely six to twelve months and possibly two years before your book is available. But even so, your aim should be that the book won’t sound dated and old to a reader who buys it in five years’ time. 
Helen Woodall
Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Flesh out those Secondary Characters

If you want people to love your book, don’t have cardboard cutouts for the secondary characters! Sometimes authors spend so much energy and wordage developing the main characters, they seem to be too tired to do much with the secondary characters. But they’re very important too. These minor people can add immense depth and passion to the story, showing the reader all sorts of facets about the man characters. Do they smile at servants and say “Thank you”? Do they gossip girlishly with a friend? Does he treat his favorite horse as if it were his best friend?
I’m not saying every placeholder character in the story needs a chapter of description from birth to this moment, but they do need a brief outline. Are they easy-going or uptight? Do they understand and approve of the main character? Can you make them fresh and distinctive in just a few lines of dialogue?
Besides, if this book proves popular, these secondary characters may become heroes and heroines in a later book in their own right.

Helen Woodall

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Dorchester shuts its doors

Yet another traditional print publisher bites the dust. Like so many others, it too "forgets" to pay its authors. Some authors have not been paid their royalties due for four years. A good reason for all authors to pay attention to industry gossip and steer clear of such companies no matter how "established" and "well-known" they may be.

Helen Woodall

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Conference Behavior

Over the years I’ve attended quite a few conferences: ones for writers, ones for readers, ones for all publishing industry people.
My first piece of advice, the wisdom gained from watching people’s behavior at a multitude of different conferences is: Don’t get drunk in public. If there’s lots of free alcohol and you really want to drink it, take it back to your room. Trust me, doing a bunch of stuff you can’t remember the next morning is not good for anyone’s career. Also, even if you can’t remember it, chances are others will. And there’s also the possibility of seeing yourself on YouTube and Facebook...
Secondly, be polite. It’s very likely the staff and volunteers have worked extra hard in the preceding weeks to make the conference happen. Undoubtedly things will go wrong. Speakers will be late, or worse, boring. Someone will have thrown up in the bathroom you need to use. The line for the free lunch will stretch around a city block. Use the wait in the line to talk to people. Tell them about your book, or the one you just read. Make friends, influence people. Have fun where you can.
If you are an aspiring author and plan to pitch to an editor, do not follow them into the bathroom and start talking about your book. This has actually happened to several of my former colleagues and none of them appreciated it. Wait until your official pitch time, then smile, take a big breath, and talk about your story and why the editor should read it.
Conferences can be wonderful times of fellowship and fun. Enjoy the people and events. Learn from the forums and workshops. Party with your friends. Just remember you want to be able to look these people in the face again next year.
Helen Woodall

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An editor's take on humor.

An Editor's Erotic Tale of Really Awful Lines and Actions Deserving of a Snarky Blog by Valerie Mann & Kate Richards.
This is brilliant. Well worth reading. Warning: Do not eat or drink while reading!


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Geography: I said Australia not Austria

A few years ago a book won a prestigious award. It was the story of a woman who escaped from captivity and rescued her child by walking over the border between two countries. Unfortunately neither the author nor the editor did their homework. Those two countries do not share a border. It’s incredible none of the judges noticed that important detail either. But oh, wow, did the readers ever notice! The press caught onto the story and the award was withdrawn.
There is no excuse for such an error. Even if your internet is down and Google Maps won’t load on the internet cafĂ© computers there are atlases and maps aplenty at the local library.
Far more common are errors in a story when the hero travels south to meet Grandma, then travels south again to take her home. Unless they both live at the North Pole, that isn’t possible.
Or it takes ten minutes to drive to work in chapter two and twenty minutes in chapter ten. If there’s a traffic jam the author needs to mention the fact.
I clearly remember reading a book where the name of the local town was spelled three different ways. A simple “find and replace” would have been an appropriate tool for that author to use.
Geography is particularly important when an author is creating a new world. How many suns and moons are there? What colors are they? Where are the hills? Lakes? Coastline? Towns? One author I know draws incredibly detailed maps. If cartography isn’t your thing, at least keep a spreadsheet with the information so you maintain consistency. Even if you think you can remember it all now, by the time you come to write a sequel you’ll find it invaluable.
And if you’re using real countries, please check out a decent map of them before submitting your book to an editor/agent/publisher. Being a laughing stock on Twitter is not good for your writing career.
Helen Woodall