Archive for the 'Writing' Category

A Primer on Types of Books

As I was clearing out my personal library, the variety of books I owned became abundantly clear. I thought about how many people are writing books, maybe even publishing their books by themselves or using a service, and decided to give you a primer so you can make good decisions along the way when you work with your book professionals.

  • Fiction books are easiest to design because they are straight text.
  • Non-fiction books include any of these elements:  different levels of headers, charts, references, photos, illustrations, and quotes. The designer has more work, as does the editor and proofreader, than with fiction.
  • Memoir books typically use shorter chapters, lots of photos, and perhaps copies of materials such as letters or clippings. Again, these are more work for your designer than fiction. Your editor may challenge the clarity of the writing, too, since you know the subject matter so well.
  • Children’s books involve getting appropriate illustrations, placing the text strategically in relation to the illustrations, and using lots of color. Of course, children’s books are also age sensitive.
  • Gift books range from basic to ornate, from inexpensive to expensive, and often use special treatments in publishing that your designer needs to consider when doing the design.
  • Art books can be color intensive or black and white, depending on the art. The paper used in printing art books is also critical to creating a beautiful art book.
  • Educational books use various types of text, sidebars, exercises, application suggestions, and graphic elements such as tables, figures, etc. Sometimes photos are used to underscore a learning point.
  • Scholarly works require several levels of headers, citations within the text, and footnotes or endnotes.

Use this short primer to help you find the right designer for your book if you self-publish. If you work with a publisher, you’ll be better equipped to work with the publisher’s designer. But, beware templates and make sure you’re getting the right design for your book.

Happy writing!

 

Advertisements

Read What You Write

I read mysteries for relaxation. Even though mysteries are generally written to formula, depending on whether it’s a cozy, police procedural, hard-boiled, or whatever, I still like to see if I can figure out whodunnit.

Last week I was reading a mystery about two elderly sisters found dead and on page 2, the author named one sister as the older, but on page 4, the other sister was older. HUH? I re-read and re-read because I couldn’t believe my eyes. Yep, there it was. A simple error that ruined the author’s credibility regarding details (which is rather important in a mystery).

So what’s my point? You are the author of your book and the responsibility for the words (including errors) is yours. Granted, you need an editor because you know what you intended to say and an editor will help you determine if the words actually do. However, your name–not the editor’s–appears on the cover of your book, so your reader holds you–not the editor–accountable for the book’s contents.

Writing books takes weeks, months, or even years. It’s easy to forget details you’ve written over time. But your reader reads your book in hours or days, so everything is fresh in your reader’s mind.

Many successful authors write to a schedule, and the first thing each one does is go back and read what he or she wrote the previous writing session in order to pick up in the right spot and have the right focus.

I’m an advocate of writers groups to help you with your writing too. Writers groups can point out inconsistencies such as the one I found in that mystery.

When we were publishing books, I required all manuscripts be edited by a book editor because a good book editor will challenge the author in areas that aren’t clear or that are inconsistent.

But the ultimate responsibility for the accuracy in your book is you, so read what you write.

Happy writing!

Five Things That Turn Readers Off

It’s no secret that successful writers enjoy a plethora of reading fans. Readers buy books. Readers tell others about their favorite authors. Readers are critical if your book is going to succeed in the marketplace.

So, what are some things that turn readers off? Here’s a quick list.

  • Cliches. Cliches are worn, tired out phrases that add nothing to the writing. Examples: Better safe than sorry. Dead as a doornail. Familiarity breeds contempt. Use it or lose it. Well, you get the idea.
  • Jargon. Everyone uses jargon (especially in the work or special interest areas of life) because it promotes special meaning to a select group and offers shortened definition. But jargon belongs more in the spoken than the written word, and you never know who in the masses will read what you write, so avoid jargon in writing.
  • Footnotes. I teach at a Twin Cities’ university and require footnotes  in research papers, but most writing that gets read isn’t academic. Use footnotes to acknowledge sources you haven’t acknowledged in the body of your work or to provide supplementary material that doesn’t fit in well with the text. Otherwise, avoid them when you can.
  • Intrusion. One of the biggest mistakes authors make is author intrusion. I’ve found this mostly in the fiction I’ve edited, but it occurs in nonfiction as well. The author creates all the characters and knows which one is thinking what and when, so intrudes by giving one character’s thoughts in one paragraph and another characther’s in the next. Since no one can know what another person is thinking (here’s where understanding point of view is critical), it becomes author intrusion when you get inside a character and you’re not writing from that character’s point of view.
  • Gimmicks. Gimmicks are things that take away from content and draw attention to themselves. Examples are ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, overuse of exclamation points !!!!, and uSING letters in an unUSual way to highlight a point such as singing or singing about us or singing about the United States (see how it doesn’t work?).

If you’re a writer, you’re probably a reader as well and may agree these five things are turn-offs. Use this list and your readers will thank you.

Happy writing!

Writing, not Punctuation, Should be Creative

Writers are creative people and often struggle with the structure of punctuation rules. But we have those rules so readers can follow (read and comprehend) our creativity.

One of the most common punctuation errors involves one of the most common punctuation marks–the comma.

There are specific rules regarding comma use, but when I asked one author why she put commas where she did, she replied, “Because that’s where I stop and take a breath.” She meant well and her answer was creative, but her writing wasn’t getting the reader reception she wanted. Why not? The misuse of punctuation implied she didn’t know what she was doing.

Another common punctuation error I see is overuse of quotation marks. Chicago Manual of Style (the book publishing industry standard) calls these quotation marks scare quotes and says they should only be used when a word is used in an unusual manner. Here’s an example of what not to do: Sarah’s “special friend ” showered her with “big bucks” as an “expression” of  his love.

Yes, the example is extreme, but I intend to show how these quotes interrupt reading flow and add nothing to comprehension.

Finally, too many authors don’t understand when to use ellipsis (…) versus dashes (–). Ellipsis show something’s been left out (omitted). Dashes show pause or summary.

Authors tend to use ellipsis to show pause.  One of the things that makes ellipsis use confusing to writers is that ellipsis IS the correct punctuation when you have a pause  in dialogue. Example: George said, “I don’t know what to say…I mean…I thought I knew you, but it’s clear I don’t.” So, use ellipsis to show pause in speech, but use dash to show pause in the story/text/narration.

You have many punctuation marks available to you and you should use them. Just make sure you rely on your writing instead of your punctuation to show your creativity.

Happy writing!

Ten Quick Tips to Improve Your Writing

Most writers experience the struggle of finding the right word, clarifying meaning, or pondering punctuation. That’s just part of writing. One thing that can help get a writer unstuck is to get back to basics. Here are ten quick tips for doing just that–and improving your writing in the process.

  1. Follow the rules of grammar. Grammar rules are created to help us communicate. Without them, we would have a hard time understanding each other.
  2. Avoid changing verb tenses in the same paragraph. Thus, if you’re writing in present tense , wait for a new paragraph to change tenses  so you don’t confuse your reader.
  3. Understand the difference between plural and possessive. Examples: All of the boy’s toys are put away (singular possessive). All of the boys’ toys are put away (plural possessive). All of the boys had toys (plural, no possessive).
  4. Watch your pronoun-antecedent agreement. What does that mean? It means plural pronouns require plural antecedents (antecedents are nouns the pronouns refer to). In our effort to be politically correct, we’ve ignored this rule to a fault. Good writers don’t take the easy way out–they figure out how to rewrite the sentence to follow the rule. Here’s an example of the easy way out: A successful person is measured by their material wealth. (Antecedent is person, which is singular, and pronoun is their, which is plural.)  A good writer will rework the sentence to something like this: Material wealth is often a measure of a person’s success.
  5. Watch your subject-verb agreement. Plural subjects require plural verbs and singular subjects require singular verbs. Example of doing it wrong: One of Kathy’s favorite movies are Sound of Music. The subject (one) is singular, but the verb (are) is plural. Because movies is plural, writers might use a plural verb if they don’t think about the subject of the sentence. The correct way to write that sentence is: One of Kathy’s favorite movies is Sound of Music.
  6. Avoid dangling modifiers. What does that mean? It means make sure your descriptive phrases describe the correct thing. Example of doing it wrong: Searching for the murderer, the suspects all stood in the line-up. (This says the suspects were searching for the murderer.) Rewrite it to say: Searching for the murderer, the police gathered the suspects and stood them in the line-up.
  7. Be aware of language changes. English is a living language. New words are added, while others become antiquated. Stay current.
  8. Know that sometimes perfect grammar doesn’t make for perfect writing. Huh? Depending on what you’re writing, you may be better off with less precise grammar (examples are characters, dialogue, description, tone, etc.).
  9. Make a list of the words that trip you up and keep the list handy. For example, if you’re confused about when to use lay versus lie, make yourself a cheat sheet to help you.
  10. Avoid splitting infinitives. Huh? If you place “to” between an adverb and a verb, you have a split infinitive. Example of split infinitive: Dianne wanted to really make it big as an author. Better to write: Dianne really wanted to make it big as an author.

There you have it. Ten quick tips to improve your writing and some samples to show you how to use the tips.

Happy writing!

Back to writing!

With all the changes in the book publishing world, we’ve been changing too. We’ve moved our offices and refocused our business, so I haven’t posted in a while.

We’re now working with authors to publish their books themselves. Technology has made it easier for authors to publish e-books, for example, but technology can’t create good editing, proofreading, cover design, interior design, etc. You still need publishing professionals if you want your book to look professional instead of  “do-it-yourself.”

That’s where we come in. We still guide authors through the publishing process, but the authors work directly with the editor, proofreader, designer, and printer (in the case of printed books) so the author knows what’s going on every step of the process. We have all the contacts, which flattens the learning curve for the author.

That also means I can get back to writing. Thanks for your encouragement and patience during this time while we made the changes.

I expect you’ve been taken away from your writing now and then (as I was), so I want to encourage you to get back to doing something connected to writing every day. Here’s a list of some things to get you going again.

  • Read something fun (a chapter in a novel, a magazine article), and think about what the writer did to bring it to you to enjoy so you can do the same for your reader.
  • Make a list of topics you’re interested in writing about–then decide if they are articles or book chapters (or both).
  • Research your book. Research can be done many ways–experience, observation, reading, interviewing, etc.
  • Think about your reader and how you’ll market your book so your reader knows it exists.
  • Give your book a working title. When you have one or two working titles, look them up in Amazon.com or Google them to see if they’re already in use. You don’t want people to confuse your book with others.
  • Write!

Happy writing!

Who Really Wrote Your Piece?

Do a search on almost any set of words and you’ll find multiple sites that quote them exactly. I was trying to find the originator of a quote one of our authors wanted to include, so I typed in the first few words and got a listing of multiple sites that quoted that exact quote. The problem is not one of them gave attribution to the originator.

When I see that, I wonder who really wrote the quote (or blog entry, essay, or article). Anyone can copy other people’s stuff, but it takes skill and ability to write the original.

I suspect one reason people don’t give credit is they haven’t done enough research to find out who credit belongs to.

Another reason might be the source isn’t deemed influential enough to matter. Some people think you need alphabet soup after your name to be credible. Or you need a fancy title. Or you must be famous. Or (pick your criteria).

Some writers have good sources but are concerned readers won’t accept those sources as credible enough. Don’t let that stop you from giving credit where due. Organize sources by whatever credibility criteria  you select (title, awards, fame, credentials, etc.) and give attribution to each source in your writing.

Your sources do matter to your reader, so make sure you offer your good sources in the best possible light. When you do, everyone wins–you, your reader, and your source.

And that brings me to facts versus opinions. If you can back up your writing with facts, by all means do so. But don’t hesitate to also quote opinions–as long as you clearly identify that what you’re writing is an opinion. An example is: “Sarah Anderson, co-founder of Widgets, suggests people are more creative in the early morning hours because their minds are uncluttered by the day’s activities. John Jones, a creativity coach, believes the opposite is true because people draw on the events of the day when they create.”

The bottom line is make sure you are the one really writing your piece, and if you’re including other people’s information in your text, give credit to the originator.

Happy writing!