by Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam BarrySeptember 2011
Copyright and craft
With more than 25 years of experience, Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry have the inside scoop on writing and publishing. Together, they are the authors of Write That Book Already!: The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now. Email them your questions (along with your name and hometown) about writing and publishing, and don’t miss their column on BookPage.com.
THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
Dear Author Enablers,
I have written two 200-page (single-spaced) stories. The second is a sequel to the first. Should I combine them as one long novel, or should I submit only one at a time? What would a publisher prefer: a long, richly detailed story, or a good short read with the understanding that there is a sequel already completed?
Bigger is not better; better is better. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is probably shorter than either of your stories. Within reason, publishers do not base their acquisition decisions on length. A general guideline is that your manuscript is of adequate length to be called a novel at around 60,000 words. If you have a piece that is 53,000 words long, don’t add writing just to make it longer. Publishers can do a great deal with design to present your novel to the public in an appealing manner.
There is also nothing wrong with a mighty epic; some novels can log in at 250,000 words or more. But a first-time novelist submitting anything that long might be perceived as undisciplined (and possibly un-editable).
It’s the publisher’s job to discover great writing. If you go with the shorter version, the sequel will not come into play until you have a sale; first-time authors are unlikely to get two-book deals. But if your book is successful, your publisher will be happy to know that you can quickly deliver a second book.
NAME OF THE GAME
Dear Author Enablers,
Can I copyright a title for a book even though I have not written the book yet? I remember reading that Margaret Mitchell’s original title for Gone With the Wind was scrapped by her publisher; then she thought of Tomorrow’s Another Day but learned that a book with that title had recently been released so she couldn’t use it. I have a title and would like to protect it at this point in my book-writing endeavor.
Spartanburg, South Carolina
The short answer is no. As the U.S. Copyright Office puts it, “Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases.”
The good news is that most any title is fair game. Twilight might be a good one. Sam has always wanted to write a book called Moby Dick. Legally, Margaret Mitchell and her publisher could have used the title Tomorrow’s Another Day, but they probably chose not to in order to avoid confusion.
If you have a good title, run with it. But be prepared—when you sell your book, no matter how much you love your title, your publisher might insist on a different choice.
CRAFT OF WRITING SPOTLIGHT
Author and editor Arthur Plotnik has written several books on the use of expressive language, including his latest, Better Than Great: A Plenitude of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives.
“Language matters! In the posting-texting-tweeting world, one might thrive with generic, message-oriented prose and a touch of snark. But for getting published, you’ll want to develop the texture that excites editors and readers—the texture that comes largely from figurative, evocative, unexpected language,” Plotnik says.
“Read expressive writers and pay attention to word choice, how one word coupled with another can change everything. Yami looked at him with regal hatred. That’s how a language-meister like novelist Will Self turns a phrase. A Self character doesn’t just pour tea: Billy slung bags in cups and rained hot death down on them. And Michael Chabon has his own language for waking up and smelling the coffee: The coffeemaker began its expectorations around seven. A few thousand molecules of coffee vapor tumble into the bedroom and worry the hairs inside Landsman’s beak. So grab a latte, read and savor the language.”