Pub Rants

Category: warnings

Honoring AAVE on the Page

When you’re writing Black characters, how you use African American Vernacular English (AAVE) on the page will reveal whether you’ve honored their voice or whether you’re using dialect as a gimmick. Here are some things to consider before tackling AAVE.

Structure. There is a right and a wrong way to go about using African American Vernacular English (AAVE). When AAVE is used as a trend, the structure that native speakers follow is often left out. This lack of structure makes it obvious when a writer is using AAVE with little to no understanding of its meaning. Using AAVE without following its grammatical rules is like playing a game of telephone: you can try to recreate the language as you heard it, but you will be misinterpreting a misinterpretation of the original. Because trends come and go so quickly, some writers aren’t taking the time necessary to understand and honor the vocabulary of AAVE speakers before they use it, and it shows. 

Misrepresentation. Recent internet discussions have perpetuated the mislabeling of AAVE. Mainstream media is crediting Generation Z for words that originated in AAVE generations ago. When used as a trend by non-natives, AAVE is seen as profitable, yet when used as a language by its own natives, AAVE is seen as a detriment to professionalism. The labeling of “a trend” and the open-arms acceptance of this robs those who fought to keep the language alive—despite consistent attempts of erasure—of due credit and accolades. This trend isn’t raising awareness or recruiting allies for the fight for recognition, as some argue. Instead, this trend is mislabeling coined AAVE words as “internet slang,” giving credit where it is not due. 

The source from which you learn a language is evident when you’re utilizing it. Beginning with an authentic source exhibits true allyship and the necessity for understanding.

What does this mean for fiction writing?

Non-black authors can write Black characters. There are many great examples of how this can be executed well. For example, Emmett Atwater from NLA’s own Nyxia by Scott Reintgen is a very well-thought-out character who isn’t presented like a trend. Emmett and his interplanetary journey created a different story and point of view because Emmett was Black. His blackness extended outside of his description. And more importantly, his purpose existed independent of his white peers. 

A non-black writer truly needs to justify the language they use when writing characters like Emmett. AAVE isn’t just a set of sounds, words, or phrases—it’s a fully formed language that many of its native speakers have been forced to discontinue. AAVE isn’t recognized as an official language. It’s often called “broken English” and is forced out of young Black kids in school. They are taught that they speak incorrectly and must convert to Standard English in order to move forward. Safe practice of AAVE requires a proper time and place. This must be reflected in how Black characters are written in fiction. Thinking of AAVE as a trend disregards this. Trends come and go, but a language native to so many important voices must be approached with the patience to understand. 

Creative Commons Photo Credit: Jernej Furman

Author Bio: In 2016, Tallahj Curry joined the NLA team as a sixteen-year-old intern. Now, five years later, she has earned her Bachelor of Arts and now works as the Literary Assistant at NLA handling the newsletter alongside her other work.

If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Is

As I was reading Digital Book World‘s daily email blast, I came across a press release in the form of an article called Writer’s Digest Inks Deal with Book Baby. It was about a new self-publishing imprint called Blue Ash Publishing.

What struck me was this bullet point:

  • 100% Net Earnings on all sales: Blue Ash Publishing takes no commission on any book sales. Authors keep 100% of their book’s net earnings. Once retailers are paid their percentage, all remaining revenue goes back to the author. BookBaby offers the largest eBook distribution network, including Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and many other popular retailers in more than 170 countries around the globe.

One-hundred percent of net earnings on all sales goes to the author. Sounds great, right? So immediately I started thinking like an agent. And the first question that pops to mind is, “What’s the catch?” There is no such thing as a free lunch. Just how exactly will Blue Ash Publishing make money in this venture?

Always follow the money…

I decided to do a little digging. First stop, check the source–Blue Ash’s website. Sure enough, right there on the home page was a link to Blue Ash’s publishing packages.

In actuality, writers need to think of this as a service or one-stop shopping for independent contractors to convert the book, do the cover, hire the editor, etc. This is not a publishing house. I repeat: This is not a publishing house. And from what I see on the website, they offer nothing that you can’t do on your own pretty simply, for a lot cheaper—and you’ll get paid directly rather than via a third party.

As my indie authors constantly remind me (and other writers who will listen), no one can publicize your book as well as you can. And it’s certainly not worth the $3,000+ for Blue Ash Publishing’s “Ultimate Package.”

Last but not least, because you are thinking like an agent, if you are going to explore this “service,” be sure to get a very clear definition of what “net” means to Blue Ash.

Bottom line? Pass. You can do this all for a lot cheaper than these price tags.

In October, NLA implemented a new feature–a special News Alert eMail blast for subscribers of our newsletter. Today, a blast went out informing readers of how Harpercollins subscription service with Scribd will work and how authors will get paid.

Because my time is so limited these days (sadly!), regular or daily blog posts that alert readers about changes to publishing contracts and how that impacts authors just isn’t possible for me. But I am still doing great posts 2 or 3 times a months. Those columns can be found in NLA’s Monthly newsletter for our subscribers.

If you’ve been suffering from Pub Rants withdrawal, that would be the place to go to get your fix. Our eNewsletter is free. Just click on the Newsletter button at the bottom of our web page to sign up.

And for those of you who weren’t subscribers yet and missed that blast,  here’s the link to where you can see the news.

By the way, this is exactly the type of content I plan to tackle in tonight’s webinar:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 6:00 p.m. Mountain Time.


There’s still time to register.

Last week my author Marie Lu came to Boulder, Colorado for the Breathless Reads tour — rather apropos given the event was on Valentine’s Day…

There were four authors featured: Marie, Andrea Cremer, Jessica Khoury, and Brenna Yovanoff. They did short reads from a breathless scene from each of their novels. They were smart though, they switched scenes so they didn’t have to read their own. It just works better that way! When the audience got a chance to ask questions, one attendee asked what advice would the four of them give to young aspiring writers.

This one stuck out the most in my mind. Ms. Cremer said that all writers need to remember this (and I’m going to paraphrase here): when she starts a project, she’s just so in-love with it, she can’t wait to sit down and write it. She’s excited. The words fly onto the page. Every idea, every bit of dialogue she writes is a gem. Then she hits word 20,001. Bam. The wall. And it happens every time. Then she has to force herself to sit down to write each day, none of the scenes come easily, she ends up deleting half the dialogue. In other words, she has to slog through the next 20,000 words until she breaks through to the ending section.

It happens to her with every manuscript she writes. And even more astonishing? Every other author on the panel agreed with her. They had never thought of it that way but it was so true!

Now why am I bringing this up? Because I think any number of authors hit that 20,001 word and either give up on the idea or polish the heck out of those first chapters and then NEVER GO ANY FURTHER and finish the novel.

I also see any number of sample pages that have an incredibly strong beginning, I’m excited, and then the middle sags like nobody’s biz. As an agent, I haven’t got time to slog through that part to get to what might be a great ending. I stop reading. On to the next author who has mastered the saggy middle, the art of gritting your teeth through the hard work revision.

Those are the authors we agents want to work with! So ask yourself, do you have what it takes to suffer through the middle abyss?

Scarier Than Halloween

STATUS: The last 70 degree day. Okay, I’ll admit it. I popped out early to play a round of really bad golf. The weather was beautiful. The company sparkling. Kristin shanked every shot into trees. Ah yes, I’m THAT horrible beginner on the golf course that you never ever want to play behind of.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THRILLER by Michael Jackson (I mean, duh, what else could possibly be playing on the iPod tonight.)

What’s scarier than Halloween? Writers signing publishing contracts not fully understanding what they are signing.

I figured I’d devote this entry to scary clauses in contracts that actual writers have signed.

1. The option clause into perpetuity.

Such a monster! I’ve seen this in too many small publishing house contracts to count. Any decent option clause will allow the publisher a look at the next project (usually narrowed down to specific type and genre) and that’s it. Unsuspecting writers have signed contracts where they literally have to show a publisher every work they do–even if the publisher doesn’t want it. The clause obligates them to then show their next project, and then the next project and so on.

I think any writer can get out of this (and the court will rule in the author’s favor) but probably not without some substantial cost and a good lawyer.

2. Low royalties based on net.

Don’t get me wrong, having royalties based on net isn’t necessarily egregious. It is when the publisher tries to pass off royalties based on net to be equivalent to royalties based on retail price. In other words, they offer they same as “standard” such as 10% to 5000 copies, 12.5% on next 5000, and 15% thereafter but it’s based on net receipts.

Sounds good until you calculate the math. 10% of net equals about 5% of retail price. Not exactly the same thing so do your monster math.

3. Warranties and Indemnities clauses where the author is on the hook for all the costs.

The author should only be fully responsible if they are found guilty and in breach of this clause. I’ve seen clauses where authors are on the hook for the full cost of even an alleged breach and yet they have no say in the proceedings. Oi! Even Frankenstein got a better deal.

4. Joint accounting.

Publishers love joint accounting. That means they link the monies of multiple books together. In short, an author doesn’t see a penny of royalties until ALL books in the contract earn out and only then are royalties paid. You might be waiting years and years to kill that zombie.

5. Unmodified competing works clauses.

If you aren’t really really careful, you might be legally obligated to not pursue any other writing work until the books in your contract are out of print and the rights revert back to you.

This is definitely worst case scenario but depending on the language in the contract, you might have backed yourself into this corner. Talk about hamstringing your career as a writer.

For me, in this digital age, the above are way scarier than anything that might go bump in the night.

Public Knowledge Now

STATUS: Mondays. I wish we could have Tuesdays without the Mondays.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? PLEASE COME TO BOSTON BY Dave Loggins

For those of you who might not have seen the news, Romance Writers Of America (RWA) has declared that Dorchester cannot attend the 2010 RWA conference in Orlando next week because of past due contractual and financial obligations.

I won’t comment further except to say that I’m glad this is now “public” knowledge and that RWA has taken a stand on it.

Writer Beware! Always Willing To Take One For The Team

STATUS: Done for the night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SUPER BAD by James Brown

This blog entry is for you Ann & Victoria. You two are super bad in the best possible way.

I think there are very few people in the world who are willing to take the time and energy to stand up for the rights of unsuspecting newbie writers who get scammed by unscrupulous people who call themselves “agents.”

Ann & Victoria have devoted countless hours to the cause. They have blogged about it. They have chatted on various writers forums to warn new writers of scams and to educate them on what they should look for. They have publically denounced scammers. And they’ve been willing to be sued. Yep, you read that right. They always say bring it on! Regardless of how many hours it will probably eat into their private lives.

That’s sacrifice and they deserve some major kudos!

And it makes me so happy to read about how the latest attempt to intimidate them with a retaliatory lawsuit has failed. The scammer failed to respond to discovery or otherwise prosecute the lawsuit. In other words, the criminal didn’t bother to show up.

How sweet it is! Now this “agent” is being investigated for fraud by the Florida Attorney General’s office.

And the good news continues! This just in from the Writer Beware Blog site. Because of their unrelenting hard work, The Federal Bureau of Investigation has decided to create a special task force to help agents in their field offices recognize and deal with writing scams.

Oh yeah. That’s super bad! Alas, if only it were true…

Still, the lawsuit was real enough. To salute the Writer Beware team, let me ask you this. What have you done recently to help spread the word about scammers? Have you blogged about it? Provided links from your website or blog to Writer Beware and Preditors and Editors?

Have you helped to educate a new writer on a writers’ forum or at a conference lately?

Be part of the solution. Blog, twitter, facebook and make those links live today. Let’s get the word out that scammer “literary agents” who charge fees will not be tolerated.

Monies flow to the author, not away.

Why Google Alerts Might Be An Author’s Best Friend

STATUS: Another late night trying to catch up on client and slush pile reading.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ONCE IN A LIFETIME by Talking Heads

Just as authors are often obsessive about their Amazon numbers (and don’t get me started on Bookscan), some authors are pretty attached to their Google alerts about their books. Folks might think it narcissistic but in reality, Google alerts can be quite a handy tool.

Here are just some reasons why a published author might want to keep the alerts handy.

1. Alerts are a great way of discovering new reviews that have been posted about your book. Editors are good about forwarding them but heck, everyone is busy and things slip through. One author discovered that her young adult book was a Cosmo Girl pick for best beach read. Not even her editor knew. It was a complete surprise but there it was.

2. Google alerts can catch electronic book piracy (which is rampant let me tell you). Most of our authors have been a victim of this at least once and sure enough, the discovery often comes through a Google alert that then hits the chat loops and wings its way back to us. Publishers do go after the sites but often it’s just a matter of time (sometimes only days) before some other piracy site rears its ugly head.

3. Alerts can keep you apprised of any book buzz that might be going on. Bloggers suddenly talking about the book, etc.

4. Alerts can warn an author if a right is being exploited illegally. For example, when Amazon bought Booksurge there was a kerfuffle when this POD entity was offering books available for sale that they no longer held the rights to. Uh, that’s more than an oops. If an author has held audio or electronic rights and then suddenly one of these copies are available and the author hasn’t sold the right, well a Google alert might just be the first time the author “hears” about it.

I imagine there are many other great uses (or misuses for this tool) so feel free to share.

Blog Should Come With A Warning Label

STATUS: It’s been a great week but I’m still glad it’s Friday!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PROUD MARY by Tina Turner

This might go without saying but just in case, I want to point out here that my blog should come with a warning. Even though I do my best to share information that allows writers to get a good understanding of what happens in the agenting process (because I believe that writers should be as knowledgeable as possible), by no means is my blog a substitute for real expertise.

In other words, don’t use the information learned here in lieu of an agent. Or, god forbid, feel ready to take on agenting yourself. The very thought frightens me!

Seriously. There are some rare exceptions but for the most part, agents learned this biz from other agents who have been in the biz for longer (or was a former editor who learned the ropes from the other side of the fence). Even though I went on my own fairly early in my agenting career, I freely admit that I wouldn’t be where I am now without the incredible selfless mentorship by several powerful agents who, just out of the goodness of their hearts and because we had connected on a personal level, guided me through many a hairy situation where I needed more expertise than I had at that moment in time.

Even though I share a lot on this blog, it’s not even half of what you would need to know to be a good agent.

So please, keep that in mind!

Now on a lighter note, I just couldn’t resist sharing pictures of Chutney in her new holiday hoodie. Just add bling!

Agents, Agents, Agents!

STATUS: Rainy days and Mondays. Kind of sums it up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIG LOG by Robert Plant

Kind of reads like Girls, Girls, Girls! on an Adult entertainment site billboard.

But seriously, if you want to attend a conference with a serious agent list, take a look at this line up for Backspace’s Agent-Author Conference on Nov. 6 & 7 in New York City.

There are a couple of mighty fine editors thrown in there for good measure but Agents, Agents, Agents! just sounded better.

I’m just sorry I won’t be there. I imagine you could ask about any question your heart desires at this conference and then you wouldn’t need to read my blog anymore. Look at this program!

Speaking of reading my blog, boy did I cause some consternation on Friday.

And y’all are so smart. You figured out right away it wasn’t about me since I only do submissions electronically (and can you tell that to all those folks who keep snail mailing me stuff). Next year we are going to have to stop responding. It’s eating up to much letterhead and time. I hate to just recycle without replying but desperate measures may call for desperate action.

But back to Friday’s post.

The problem was not with the request to email it. Some agents might not be fine with that but then they’ll simply tell you so and then you can choose whether to snail mail it or not.

The problem was not in letting this agent know that the full manuscript was out with other agents. To me, that’s just professional.

The problem was in detailing that 30 other agents (or pick some other high number) had already requested the full by email.

Why? Because of the subtext of what is implied. Look at me agent. My manuscript is hot. You’d better get on board and let me email it to you because so many other agents have asked to see it right away and I’ve emailed it to them. (By the way, this author could be lying. It’s happened before…)

Yuck. I’m not sure I care how good this manuscript might be and the reason why I shared this story is that many of the agents I knew felt the same.

Unreasonable? Maybe. I don’t know. I’m just telling it like it is and if it’s helpful, great. If not, it’s not.