Archive for March, 2011

Check Out Writers Conferences

I’ve received two invitations to writers conferences in April. Back in the day when I was a freelance writer selling to magazines, I went to every writers conference I could. Over the past decade or so, I’ve spoken at various writers conferences.

If you’ve never attended a writers conference, make it a point to go. If it’s been awhile since you’ve gone to one, find one that looks good and try it out. What you get out of the conference is often worth more than the price of admission.

What should you look for in a conference? Look for a variety of topics that cover writing, periodical publishing, and book publishing. You may not be able to get all of these covered in one conference, however. Some conferences specialize, so be sure you check out the topics covered and find the conference that best fits your needs.

Some conferences offer contests that attendees can enter without additional cost. If you find one that does that, why not go ahead and enter the contest? It doesn’t cost any more and you may win something. If you don’t win, so what? You’ve completed another writing challenge and that can only make you a better writer.

As I’ve told my writing students, if you practice your writing you won’t, for the most part, get worse!

If you’re looking for a literary agent, you may find one at a writers conference. Be aware that most royalty publishers require agents and are becoming more and more discerning about who they publish–if you have a platform, a good book marketing plan, and are willing to work hard to sell books, you’ll be looked upon more favorably than if you don’t.

Before deciding on which writers conference to attend, consider these things:

  • What do I want to get out of this conference? (I suggest you list up to three things you want to get.)
  • What am I willing to do to make this conference successful for me? (Don’t rely on everyone else to make it work for you.)
  • What are the credentials of the conference speakers? (Publishing credentials? Years in the business? Or just a fluke right-place/right-time happenstance?)
  • How well do the topics covered in this conference match mywriting goals? (If your goals don’t match what’s covered in the conference, save your time and money for another conference.)
  • What’s the cost of the conference in terms of money, time, and effort, and am I willing to pay those costs?

Happy writing!



Ask the Right Questions

We often get requests from authors about how to work with us to publish their books. The first thing the potential author asks is “how much?” That’s the wrong question. If you’re only interested in pricing, go to one of those online puppy mill presses–they publish the prices of their packages and the a la carte add-ons (like editing) and you can crunch the numbers and get your pricing.

But do you know what your pricing includes? Now that’s a right question.

Here are some more right questions.

  • Can you get the files, including the cover design and page layouts if you want to?
  • Do you get editing that follows Chicago Manual of Style (the book publishing industry standard)?
  • Do you get to keep all the profits from the book or do book orders need to go to the publisher so the publisher gets a  piece of the action on every order?
  • Do you have to store your books with them or do you have choices on where to store any books you’ve paid for?
  • Does the publisher publish anything (read: vanity press), or is it discerning in what it publishes (even if you  pay)?
  • Do you have a human contact point you can rely on or is it hard to connect with the same person through your project?

Your book is in print a long time and you really can’t afford to link your name (read: credibility) with publishers everyone recognizes like those puppy mill presses. They may work okay for novels, but they aren’t a good investment if you’re expecting your book to highlight your expertise or show off your good business acumen.

Which brings me to another right question. Why are you writing your book? If you’re writing it because writing a book is on your bucket list, any publishing option will fill that purpose. But, if you’re writing your book to show off your expertise (speakers, consultants, doctors, lawyers, experts, etc.) or to increase your potential for business, then you need to make a good business decision regarding your choice of publisher.

If writing a book were easy, everyone would do it. But most don’t start by asking the right questions–they only think about price and we all know you get what you pay for.

Happy writing.


Sentence Primer

Think back to elementary school and the lesson you learned that a sentence contains a subject and a verb. That was the rule, period.

Unfortunately, many writers haven’t added to their learning about sentences, as evidenced by the inappropriate ending punctuation and refusal to write verb-less sentences.

Here’s a sentence primer you may want to keep handy.

  • Declarative sentence. This is the traditional sentence structure we’re used to. It’s a simple assertion and expresses a complete thought. Correct ending punctuation is a period. Example: Sunday night is taco night at our house.
  • Exclamatory sentence. This is a sentence showing passion, violence, vehemence, forcefulness. As does the declarative sentence, the exclamatory sentence expresses a complete thought. Correct punctuation is an exclamation point. CAUTION: If overused (and it usually is), the exclamation point loses its impact and meaning. One exclamation point at the end of a sentence is appropriate!!!!! (As you can see.) Example: I’m so tired of high gas prices!
  • Imperative sentence. This sentence expresses (not asks) a simple request or command (depending on what the writer wants to relay). Correct ending punctuation is a period. Example: Take out the garbage.
  • Interrogative sentence. This sentence expresses a complete thought and asks for more information. Correct punctuation is a question mark. Example: Why can’t I go to the movie with Sherry?

Although this next example doesn’t fall into the four sentence categories listed above, it, too, is a type of sentence–the verb-less sentence. The verb-less sentence is a word or group of words that expresses a complete thought without the use of a verb. Examples: No. Yes. Nonsense!  No, not now, not ever! In the garage? Why?

Finally, make sure you don’t over-punctuate the end of the sentence. By that I mean when you have a sentence that ends with a period in an abbreviation, that period serves two purposes–to show the end of the abbreviation and to show the end of the sentence. A second period over-punctuates the sentence. Example: She liked the same entertainment  he did–movies, music, dancing, etc.

I trust if you haven’t already expanded your writing to include all the types of sentences in this primer, you’ll give them a try soon.

Happy writing!

Show Your Expertise with Your Word Choices

I love words. Most writers do. And, contrary to what some writers may think, most editors love words too.

I also love chocolate. But if I don’t monitor my intake of chocolate judiciously, I risk losing the enjoyment of the chocolate experience by getting sick. So it is with words. If authors don’t select their words carefully, they risk losing their readers by using words that don’t work well.

The best way to share an idea or concept or story entails using simple language. Too often authors think they need the fifty-cent word when a ten-cent word does the job even better. Why do they think that? They think they sound more authoritative. I’m sure that’s why academicians and bureaucrats like the pretentious gobbledygook they offer in their textbooks, regulations, manuals, etc. But instead of impressing the masses, they turn them off.

The federal government even pokes a little fun at itself in this website:

It’s worth visiting the site for a tongue-in-cheek look at how to change short and simple sentences into longer ones.

But, back to my point. Here are some things you can do to keep your readers reading.

  • Use plain language.
  • Keep your words simple.
  • Use the fewest number of words you can.
  • Realize that people want to understand you, not be impressed by your command of the language.
  • Avoid jargon, but if you can’t avoid it, explain it when you’re writing outside your industry.
  • Consider alternate word choices–use vs. utilize, rain vs. precipitation, math skills instead of computational skills, naked vs. unadorned.
  • Be honest with yourself about why you think you need the complicated language. Do you think your ideas aren’t impressive if you express or explain them simply? Do you want to hide the clear meaning (precipitation can mean snow as well as rain)? Do you want to show off your vocabulary?

One of our authors, Mark LeBlanc, wrote his first book, Growing Your Business!, several years ago. He tells the story of writing the content and making it look impressive size-wise. Then he read the content again and said, “There’s a lot of crap in this book.” And he proceeded to take out the “crap” and  simplify the content. Now the book is written to the point and thousands of people own it and keep it handy because it’s plainly written, easy to understand, and practical–simple!

It’s your turn to look at your writing and honestly look at your word choices. If a long word works best, use it, but don’t overlook the opportunity to select simpler words if they make your writing more clear to your reader. Your expertise will show more clearly than if you hide in a bunch of words people have to plow through.

Happy writing!