Posts Tagged 'reader'

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!

Who Do You Write For–Reader or Yourself?

I often ask the question in the title of this post in my presentations. After the deer-in-the-headlights look dissipates, I see smiles as audience members begin to think about their answers. One of our authors, Mark LeBlanc, says, “I believe in two right answers,” and in this case there are two right answers.

READER-BASED WRITING

You need to connect with your reader on some level. Here are the three best ways I know of to connect with readers.

  • Offer content that is satisfying and complete. By that, I mean content that doesn’t leave the reader scratching his or her head wondering what you’re writing about or trying to say.
  • Organize your writing so your reader can follow the flow. Use a structure that is appropriate. Genre fiction readers expect certain formulas, so give those formulas to them. Non-fiction readers expect to read about a concept, have the concept explained, then have it illustrated (typically with an example or story), and finally see the concept applied. So provide that structure.
  • Use effective expression in your writing. Expression deals with word choice, sentence structure, language use, etc.  Better to have readers comfortable reading you than to have them shocked or disgusted.

WRITER-BASED WRITING

You need to connect with yourself on some level as you write. If you’re not engaged in your writing, it will show and your reader will know. Here are the two ways I know of to write for yourself without excluding your reader.

  • Write about what interests you. When you care about your subject matter, you can’t help but put some energy into your writing because you’re excited about it. I’m not suggesting you go off a deep end or anything. I’m just saying to write about things that intrigue you or speak to you.
  • Consider writing as something that starts out physical and ends up as something  mental. By that I mean you, as writer, physically do your research, gather materials, then put pen to paper or hand to keyboard and begin the physical process of writing. You put words down in a physical form to share and you do that using the process that works for you. But when your reader reads your words, he or she absorbs them mentally and processes them that way too. You cannot control how your reader interprets your writing, but you can use your process to make it clear for the reader what your intention/meaning is in your writing.

So, who do you write for? I hope you live if a world of two right answers and say, “both reader and writer”!

Happy writing!

Verbs Create Active Voice

One of the things that puts readers to sleep almost instantly is passive voice. Passive voice is writing without ownership. It’s the preference of bureaucracy, business, and academics. If there’s no ownership, there’s no accountability. There’s also no action.

Think about how excited people are to get their hands on the latest government regulation, the latest policy manual, or the latest thesis and you’ve got an idea about how excited they will be to get their hands on your book if you write using passive voice.

The key to avoiding passive voice comes in verb choice. Passive verbs are the forms of “to be.” Examples include is, are, was, were, has, had, have, etc. These are also known as telling verbs. They’re boring, but safe.

Remember basic grammar? What does a verb do? It shows action. Start using verbs the way they are intended to be used.

Too often writers spend their writing capital on adjectives and nouns. But verbs get things done and create reader interest.

If I ask you to write a sentence around a noun or an adjective, you could. But you’ll most likely write a more interesting sentence around an active verb. Try writing a sentence using the adjective “gorgeous.” Now try it using the noun “computer.” Finally, try it using the verb “tumbled.” While you can write interesting sentences around each of those words, I expect the last one came to you easiest. (By the way, I don’t intend you to use all three words in the same sentence, but you probably could.)

So how do you find active verbs? Read. When you find a verb that jumps out at you, capture it in a notebook. I found clobber and pummel that way. Both verbs are interesting because they’re fresh and not overused.

Active verbs can also become tired. Some that come to mind are typically found in clichés or overused phrases. Example: A shot rang out. It’s much more interesting to say,  “A shot pierced the air.”

Give your reader a fresh active verb once in a while and you’ll create a fan.

Happy writing!

Write What Readers Want to Read

One of the questions I ask in my workshops is “Who do you write for? Yourself? The publisher? The reader?” Many authors make the mistake of writing for self or for the publisher. While writing for both are important, they are not as important as writing for the reader.

Look into the archives of your literary experience and you may recall a play by Shakespeare, one of the world’s most popular writers, called “As You Like It.” The title reveals why Shakespeare’s work is read and enjoyed hundreds of years after his passing. He understood what his audience liked and wanted and he gave it to them.

He wrote about things people could relate to, were curious about, and he wrote in everyday words people used and understood instead of trying to impress them with his high vocabulary.

One of Expert Publishing’s most successful authors is a colon cancer survivor. She writes about her medical experience, but more importantly, she writes about her new daily routine, the impact of her diagnosis on her relationships with her family members, her embarrassing as well as her triumphant moments dealing with her new life. She understands readers want to know more than the medical statistics, more  than the company line regarding what to tell new cancer patients, more than all the good that can come from adversity. Her first book sold thousands of copies and had multiple printings because she understands how important the reader is and honors that in her writing.  She’s now working on her fourth book, and she still keeps writing with the reader in mind.

What are you writing about? No matter what it is, you’re writing to a reader. Visualize that reader. Ask yourself, “What would the reader want to know?” Then answer the question to the best of your ability. That doesn’t mean you get bogged down in purple prose that makes the eyes glaze over. It means your writing relates to your reader on a level of two human beings communicating.

When you write, you are sending a message to your reader, but you’re not getting feedback the way you do when you’re communicating face to face with another person. Your job is to provide the reader sufficient information so he/she doesn’t have to fill in the blanks, especially since they can’t ask you for clarity.

I’m not suggesting you’ll become another Shakespeare, but I know you’ll create a fan base if you write what readers want to read.

Happy writing!

 

Hook Your Reader Right Away

Too often authors lose readers in the first paragraph or two. Why? The author ignores the rule that your first few words are the most important words you write in any given piece.

Just as you have 20 to 30 seconds to make a good first impression when you meet someone, you have about that much time to impress (or hook) your reader. If you fail to hook your reader right away, you risk your beautiful writing, creative descriptions, moving plots, and thought-provoking ideas never getting read, let alone recommended to others.

Review your writing and get rid of trite openings. Here are some examples to delete immediately from your writing toolbox.

  • My purpose in writing…
  • At this point in time…
  • The subject of my article/paper/report…
  • Needless to say…
  • After giving much thought to…
  • Eventually we must all…
  • I confess…

Now that you’ve purged the trite and boring openers from your writing, what tools should you use to hook your reader?

  • Create a short summary of what you’re writing about, why you find the topic important, and how you intend to accomplish your purpose in writing the piece. Think of the summary as a sample tasting of the bigger dish. Don’t give away too much, just whet the reader’s appetite.
  • Begin with a story. People love to be entertained and stories do that. Just make sure you keep the story relevant to the subject matter–no gratuitous stories that don’t apply.
  • Use description to show (rather than tell) your reader about your topic. You can describe a character or real person, a setting or scene, a feeling or intuition, etc. The more you intrigue the reader, the better the chance the reader will continue reading.

Review books and periodicals to see how effectively (or not) the authors/writers hook  their readers. Figure out what works for your writing style and project. More people than ever are writing. You’ll want to rise above the crowd by hooking your reader right away, delivering engaging writing, and creating a buzz about you and your work.

And it all  starts with the first few words your reader reads.

Happy writing!

Editor and Writer–A Challenging Alliance

Writers primarily write because they have something to say. There are those who suggest writers have an agenda, while others suggest writers simply need to express themselves, and they chose words as their vehicle.

Editors primarily edit because they want to make sure that what the writer says is clear to the reader. There are those who suggest editors are frustrated writers, while others suggest editors lack creativity and originality.

Being both a published writer in periodicals and books, as well as an editor for writers of articles and books, I appreciate the challenging alliance between author and editor.

As a writer, it’s hard to have someone critique and/or correct your creative work. As an editor, it’s hard to restrain yourself from inflicting your own preferences that may change the writer’s voice, or at least intent,  in writing the work.

Authors understand the subject.

Editors understand the reader.

A good editor also understands the author must write in his/her own voice, which means the editor should not change the voice. Instead, the editor’s goal should be to show the writer why the writing isn’t clear, then potentially offer some suggestions (if possible) in ways to improve.

A good writer knows there’s more than one way to get an idea across, and just because the writer (who knows the subject well) thinks something is clearly communicated, doesn’t mean that it is.  A good editor will communicate directly with the writer about suggested changes and explain why the changes are needed.

At times the exchange may appear battle-like, but in reality when an editor and a writer create an alliance, in spite of how challenging that may be, the real winner is the reader.

If you’re an author, consider your editor’s suggestions and question the editor about why a suggestion is made if you don’t understand or like the suggestion.

If you’re an editor, consider your writer’s knowledge of the topic may be the very thing that’s making it hard for the writer to bring it to a level the reader can understand. Let the writer know what changes you’re suggesting and why.

The end result is an improved book that says what the writer intended to say–and says it clearly enough that the reader will think the writer is a genius. Remember that readers buy writers they like. A good editor will help you become just that and that’s worth the challenge of the alliance.

Happy writing!

Thoughts on Do-It-Yourself Publishing

Last week I listened to a teleseminar about publishing your book yourself for no cost. The teleseminar was put on by the presenter, so I know he wasn’t a guest, yet he had a host interview him. Well, I say interview him, but I use the term loosely. You see, we had to listen to the host promote this guy’s upcoming series of teleseminars for a “ridiculously low price of —-” that was so low the host could not believe the price. Blah, blah, etc.

Of course, that price was only available to the first twenty people who called in, so callers had to hurry.

Since the  host was still making the pitch at the end of the hour-long teleseminar (which started five minutes late, by the way), I assume there weren’t twenty people interested in the offer for that hour.

Why not?

Perhaps because of the content in the teleseminar. This guy was very proud of his work with professional speakers and that he coaches them into turning their speeches into published books. I can see that as a good thing, if done well.

He suggested they start out by envisioning their reader and said men read while sitting on toilets and women read while in bed. According to him, by envisioning your reader reading your book, you connect better with your reader as you write.

Well, I agree that it’s important you envision your reader reading your book, but I’d rather you think about content–what the reader needs to know that you can offer. I also prefer you strive to offer it clearly so the reader understands your points. That just seems more reader-friendly than envisioning what they do physically.

He suggested you use your friends and family as your editors. They’re free, after all.

Well, I agree you need an editor, but you need a book editor if you care at all about the quality of your book that is in print for decades and has your name on it. Friends and family love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings, so they are kind, not critical. English teachers may be an option, but only if they understand why the book publishing industry uses one manual and the periodical publishing industry uses another. You need a book editor if you care at all about your book and book editors aren’t free.

He suggested art students can fill the role of book designer for you. They’re free because they want to add your project to their portfolio.

Well, I can see that some very talented art student can design a book cover for the ages, but I think that’s about as likely as becoming the next American Idol when you’re not an incredible singer.

And what about interior design? Do you want your book to look like it was not complementary to your cover or like it was done by you? Perhaps you do if you don’t care that your book represents you professionally. If you’re simply fulfilling a dream of being published, anything is good enough and you can do it yourself. If you’re establishing your credibility as an expert in your field, you probably don’t want an I-did-it-myself  image in your published book.

Since he never said how one gets one’s book printed free, I assume he was talking about ebooks–slapping your book up on the Internet for the world to enjoy. If you print your book (whether one copy or thousands), there’s a cost involved.

And he often said how he works/consults with speakers to write their books, but he never said he donated his time and worked free. In fact, he had a series of teleseminars for a ridiculously low “investment” of something around a couple of hundred dollars, so they weren’t free either.

You may think I didn’t like the teleseminar, but you’d be incorrect. I very much enjoyed the gamesmanship and lack of answers to basic questions about quality, distribution, etc. when you spend nothing to publish your book.

There’s a lot of information floating around about publishing these days–the industry is moving away from royalty publishing, which means authors have options and need to be discerning as they sort through what’s thrown at them.

Happy writing!