Archive for January, 2011

Semicolons Can Be Mastered

As I read book proposals and even manuscripts, I see a need for authors to learn how to use semicolons.  The rules are easy to master and here they are:

  • Use a semicolon when you have two independent clauses NOT joined by a conjunction. Example: The dog ran to greet her; she ignored it.  If I joined the two independent clauses with a conjunction, I would use a comma, not a semicolon, and it would read: The dog ran to greet her, but she ignored it.
  • Use a semicolon in a series IF at least one of the components in the series includes a comma. Example: The home decor was eclectic in that it included orange and green from the ’70s; red, white, and blue patriotic symbols; Victorian lace; and stuffed animal heads mounted on the wall.
  • Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by introductory adverbs such as however, thus, accordingly, and therefore. Example: I love the winter; however, I can do without the icy roads.
  • Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by explanatory phrases such as for example or that is. Example: He played his best game ever; that is, he scored six three-pointers.

As I said, the rules are easy to master; go ahead and show off!

Happy writing!


Book Cover Endorsements Work

Your book’s cover is prime real estate. It’s responsible for key decisions regarding whether or not the book gets purchased.

Decision one comes when the cover catches the buyer’s eye (or not).  Thus, the job of the front book cover is to attract the potential buyer/reader and get him/her to pick the book up. If the cover doesn’t attract the buyer, no sale. If it does, the buyer picks up the book and moves toward decision two.

Decision two depends on the content on the back cover. Thus, the job of the back cover is to invite the potential buyer/reader to open the book. If the back cover fails to intrigue the buyer, no sale. If it does its job, the buyer opens the book and moves toward decision three.

Decision three (the commitment to purchase) comes after the book is opened. If the book passes whatever the buying criteria are (yes, are is the correct verb because criteria is plural), the sale probably occurs.

Today my focus is on the second decision. Of course, a paragraph or two highlighting the book’s content is helpful, but that may not be enough. That’s where endorsements do their work.

There are three things an endorsement needs to be helpful.

  1. A glowing praise emphasizing the contents of the book. Example: “This book is packed with road-tested tips and real-world success strategies you can start using immediately.”
  2. The full (first and last) name of the person writing the endorsement.
  3. A recognizable title (including the organization) of the person writing the endorsement. The reader doesn’t have to recognize the name of the person, but the title should be meaningful. Examples: CEO of Best Buy, Author of The New Recruit, Pastor of United Presbyterian Church, President of Minnesota Historical Society, Founder of Make It Happen, etc.

Endorsements should be only one sentence long. Edit it down if you have to. As a courtesy, you can offer to show the edited sentence to the one who wrote it if you like.

You’ve asked for a favor, so make sure you make your endorsers look good when you put their names on their endorsements. That means you correct spelling errors, punctuation, capitalization, etc. , if necessary.

To get endorsements, you probably need to send copies of your manuscript to each endorser. Make sure you note somewhere on the manuscript that it is unedited.

When your book is published, give a copy to each person who gave you an endorsement to show your appreciation.

Book cover endorsements do work, but only if you do them right.

Happy writing!


Book Reviews–Valuable or not?

One of the ongoing discussions in the book publishing world is the value of book reviews. How much do book reviews influence the reader to purchase a book? Authors get paid for books sold, not for books read. So, to be valuable, the book review should entice readers to buy the book, not just read it.

Actually, if most readers were honest, they don’t (or won’t) read 80 percent of the books in their personal libraries. The books on their shelves or stacked by their beds warrant their places in the reader’s home, but finding time to read them all challenges even the most dedicated reader. So, again, the value to the author comes in the reader buying the book more than in reading the book.

One of the ongoing discussions about book reviews is whether or not to pay for the review. Many well-known review sources require payment for reviews. ForeWord magazine’s review guidelines offer to send your book to one of its reviewers for $99.00 (they call it a small handling fee). To ForeWord‘s credit, they will refund the money if the book doesn’t pass their review standards test.

But if you pay for a review, do you create a conflict of interest? Do you have a right to expect a positive review since you paid for it? Or can the reviewer be trusted to be objective and ignore the influence of payment for the service?

If you don’t pay for a review, what credentials should you expect the reviewer to bring to the table? Do readers value the opinion of a well-known reviewer over someone who likes to read and comment on the book or doesn’t that matter?

I submit that an appropriate reviewer will back up any assertions made in the review with evidence to support those assertions. Evidence shows the reviewer actually read the book and has a basis for what he/she says. Evidence carries more weight than opinion.

The final issue in determining value of a book review deals with what the author does with the review. Positive reviews are wonderful–if the author does something with them. Remember the value is in the purchase of books, so the author needs to use positive reviews to market the book and create buzz about the book. That’s what translates into sales.

Book reviews can be valuable, but it’s up to the author to make them so.

Happy writing!


I read a book over the holidays that had good content, but terrible copy editing. There was no rhyme nor reason for comma placement (we do have rules on such things), but what really made the reading difficult was the use (and misuse) of quotation marks.

The Chicago Manual of Style (yes, I keep harping that it’s the book publishing standard) gives guidance on something called scare quotes. You know what those are. They’re quote marks arbitrarily placed around words the author thinks people won’t understand (or should I say “understand”?). I suppose I could have written “scare quotes” since the term requires explanation, but, per Chicago, we’re not to overuse scare quotes.

The book I read was full of them. Some examples are  “perfect,” “hungry,” “body image,” “healthy.”  I’m not sure why the author and the editor thought those words needed to be in quotes in the middle of sentences. The terms are common and were used as expected in the text. The scare quotes just junked up the reading flow.

Here are some other reasons to use quotations marks.

  • Use quotation marks for direct quotations. Example: She said, “I don’t want to see you again!”
  • Use quotation marks on words being defined. Example: “Small business” is defined as one with fewer than five hundred employees.
  • Use quotation marks to enclose titles of parts of larger publications (articles in periodicals or stories in anthologies). Use italics for the title of the larger work (before computers, we used underscore for book titles). Example: The article “Person of the Year” is part of Time magazine.
  • Use quotation marks to enclose song titles (the album is in italics). Also, use quotation marks to enclose episodes in a television series (the series title is in italics).

NOTE: Single quotes are only used when indicating a quote within a quote.  Example: Sally said, “I heard Ginny tell George, ‘I’m going to the play with Sarah next Tuesday.'”

Okay, now what about commas and periods and exclamation points and question marks in relationship to quotation marks?

  • Commas and periods ALWAYS go inside the quotation marks.
  • Exclamation points and questions are dependent upon what the quote is. If the quote is an exclamation, the exclamation point goes inside the quote. If not, it goes outside. Same is true of the question mark.

We have rules for punctuation, and I submit that anyone who claims to be an editor (particularly if they are paid to do the work) should know the rules and be able to apply them.

It just makes reading so much easier and isn’t that really what you, as a writer, want to do–make your reader love to read you?

Happy writing!