By Mary Walewski, guest blogger
It’s time for holiday parties—a season when you attend parties where you only know a few people. There you are, chatting away with total strangers when someone asks you what you do for a living.
“I write books. I just published my latest one,” you say.
“Wow, you wrote a book? What’s it about?”
Before you start on a blow-by-blow description of your subject or plot that leaves them looking around the room for somebody—anybody—to interrupt you, STOP.
You’ve just received an invitation to practice your Very Short Description of What Your Book Is About. Its purpose is to keep the conversation going. Most authors feel they need to relay a lot when they’re asked, “What’s your book about?” But that’s not what people really want. They want a one- or two-sentence answer to respond to and generate a conversation.
What is Your Very Short Description?
Before you go to your next party, practice a 10- to 20-second description that will encourage others to respond with questions, not leave them looking for an escape. It’s natural for you to want to tell them all about your book. But, please remember, this is a conversation, not a sales call.
What happens when you begin to describe everything in your book? You shut down the conversation and the other person becomes a hostage to your narrative. Instead, reply with something like, “It’s a mystery novel set in a hospital.” This is short and concise, while encouraging the other person to say something like, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to write a book. How did you get started?”
Then the conversation can continue to a natural conclusion—and that person isn’t suddenly seeing someone across the room to speak to.
Ideas for What to Say at Holiday Parties
Examples of your Very Short Description of What Your Book Is About:
- If it’s nonfiction, what problem does it solve? Who is it for?
- “It’s a self-help book for single fathers on how to start dating after divorce.”
- “It’s a diet book for people who don’t want to give up carbs.”
- If it’s fiction, state the genre (Is it mystery, detective, romance, etc.) and where it takes place.
- “It’s a historical novel set during the California Gold Rush.”
- Who’s your main character and what happens to him/her?
- “It’s set during the California Gold Rush. It’s about a sheriff who falls for the local madam in a mining camp.”
May all of your conversations at holiday parties end with “Where can I buy your book?”
Enjoy the season!
Mary Walewski is a book marketing consultant who works with indie authors and publishers. Request her online report The 5 Marketing Habits of Successful Authors at Buy The Book Marketing.com.
By Barbara McNichol
Suppose your supervisor emails you a message that says, “Fix the attached” or “Polish this piece.” But exactly what does it mean to fix and polish? In addition to correcting punctuation, typos, misspellings, and grammar glitches, what’s required beyond that?
First, find out what your supervisor thinks it needs. Where does it fall short? What’s missing? Whether or not you receive an answer, go through the following key questions yourself:
- Why is this piece needed? What’s its intended purpose? Because readers are busy, you must immediately make clear what this message is about. A specific title or subject line goes a long way. For example, instead of writing “For New Customers” you might write, “5 Ways to Communicate with New Customers.”
- What should the reader do, think, believe, or remember as a result of this piece? Does the communication specify what you want readers to do and by when? How easy is it for them to first understand the instruction and then take action? For example, if it’s a letter to a credit card company about a dispute, make it clear what you want, e.g., future credit or a refund. Then state when you want a resolution, e.g., “before the next payment cycle on June 23rd.” Put this call to action near the top!
- How long should your sentences and paragraphs be? Ensure your message comes across in short, easy-to-read sentences. My rule of thumb is not more than 21 words in one sentence or 3-4 sentences in one paragraph. Why? It’s hard for anyone to track your meaning when sentences ramble, especially when they’re part of long paragraphs. People scan more than they read; they can take in short sentences and paragraphs more quickly than long-winded ones. Don’t make it seem like hard work!
- How can you use polite, positive language to persuade others?Remember, a positive outcome should be the goal of every communication. Your objective may be to retain a customer, win a contract, build a relationship, gain approval, or advance a project. Always spell out benefits: e.g., resolution, improvements, increased profit, etc. And be polite by using words such as welcome, thank you, please, appreciate, happy to, and value your input. If your piece doesn’t include positive language, then why send it at all?
When it’s up to you to fix and polish that important message, use these questions as your checklist every time.
- Why is this piece needed? What’s its intended purpose?
- What should the reader do, think, believe, or remember as a result of this piece?
- How long should your sentences and paragraphs be?
- How can you use polite, positive language to persuade others?
What essential fix and polish elements would you add to these?
Check out all these phrases that add word clutter. Question their use every time. Do you need them in your writing?
What phrases would you add to this list? Share them here.
by Kathleen Watson (used with permission)
Inaccurate placement of the modifier only continues to abound.
I’ve written about only before, and I’ve continued to save examples. Those with a misplaced only far outweigh those where only is in the right spot: closest to the word it modifies. Because the margin is so great, I’m climbing back onto my soapbox.
Why does the placement of only matter?
Only as an adjective or adverb means solely or exclusively, single or solitary, which is the case in most of my examples. It implies limits.
Consider these three examples from my book, Grammar for Those Who Hate Rules (p. 29), which show that placement of only changes the meaning of each. Then consider how the placement of only applies to the numbered examples that follow.
Only Danny sang at the party. (No one else sang.)
Danny only sang at the party. (He didn’t dance or play the piano.)
Danny sang only at the party. (He didn’t sing elsewhere.)
Now let’s jump into my collection. In these eight examples, only is correctly placed. Note that only follows a verb, clearly indicating what it modifies.
- Definitions of plain language that focused only on writing proved too narrow.
- For a plural ending in s, x, or z, add only an apostrophe to show possession.
- Praise the delivery to Norway of fighter planes that exist only in a video game.
- The other defendants were charged only with misdemeanors.
- Buckeye still has only about 60,000 people.
- He engineered a “smart gun” that could be fired only by an authorized user.
- If you get input only from your closest circle, you won’t get the whole picture.
- It’s not hard to detect when someone wants to hear only praise and support for their own ideas
In the next examples, only is placed incorrectly. Note how often it precedes the verb, when it is intended to modify what follows the verb (underlined). Mentally put it in its correct place.
- We only have one voice of reason in Alaska.
- That could discourage widespread acceptance, especially for a product that may only have limited use.
- VA Secretary McDonald has only fired three people for their involvement in the scandal.
- On Sunday, the Senate only voted on the two amendments McConnell set up,
- Reports from Reuters and Politico indicated that the president would only move to end the program after a six-month delay.
- We only have so many weekends.
- The U.S. Supreme Court has explicitly ruled that blood can only be drawn from drivers for probable cause and with a warrant.”
- The current bills would only apply to new employees.
- Starbucks announced plans to open stores that only accept mobile orders.
- Google is concerned about SSL certificates, which are supposedly only issued after Symantec takes extra steps to verify the identity of the holder.
- Do you still only write by hand?
- A favorite Rick Perry flub is his announcement that as president he was going to shutter three federal agencies — and then could only think of two.
- This doesn’t mean that you can only send a press release for information that would make the front page of the New York Times.
- The tour company will only collect tasting fees for one person for each winery.
- You only need 10,000 devoted readers to make a living.
- When they run a “find word” search of your work and “that” only appears a handful of times, you already have a leg up.
- Why does designer Vivienne Westwood only bathe once a week?
- The asteroid was only spotted seven hours before flying past earth
- You only have room for one blurb on the front and maybe two more on the back.
- He is anticipating opposition from some of his fellow Republicans to a bill that only gives dreamers legal status.
- The McDowell Sonoran Preserve could only be built if voters approve the proposed construction.
Look for other examples in articles you read and comment below.
Used with if — if only, as in this post’s headline — only can express a wish (If only writers used only right … ) or regret (If only I’d paid attention … ), or it can mean “if for no other reason” (She told him she’d already done it, if only to stop his reminders).
Pay attention to your onlys. Show that you’re an informed, skilled writer, and set a good example for others. Please share this with colleagues, friends, and family.
Kathleen calls herself the Ruthless Editor. She has created Grammar for People Who Hate Rules to help people write and speak with authority and confidence. Kathleen can be reached at email@example.com.
by Barbara McNichol
Emails can have problems—especially when old subject lines, too many topics, and lack of clarity get in the mix. It can add up to email overwhelm.
Be conscious of failing to make the most of your email correspondence. You want to avoid going back and forth a dozen times before achieving the communication’s purpose.
Well, a dozen times might be exaggerating, but no matter what, you can streamline the process by building in extra thoughtfulness. Consider something as simple as scheduling a meeting. Messages could go back and forth annoyingly before you nail a mutually agreeable day/time/place.
Why not craft your initial email with an “if then” option? You’d simply write, “I’m available Tuesday, Thursday, or Friday in the afternoon after 3 p.m. If any of these don’t work for you, then give me three options when you’re available.”
The “if then” technique has just narrowed down the possibilities. Recipients know to suggest a different three options if these don’t work. You’re all likely to come up with the best solution in only two emails each. That saves time and avoids email overwhelm.
Your Challenge: Compose your emails more efficiently by using this “if then” option.
What other actions help you avoid email overwhelm?
Lie vs. lay is one of our most confusing word choices.
You might want to lie down when you finish reading this blog, but I’ll lay it on you anyway. I’m counting on my examples to help you make the right choices.
lie: to recline
Nicole can’t wait to lie on the beach in Florida.
Steve thinks he should lie on several mattresses before he decides which one to buy.
Grandpa likes to lie on the couch and take a nap.
Tip: Lie shares three letters — l, i and e — and a similar i sound with recline.
Other forms of lie:
Grandpa lies on the couch every day.
He will lie on the couch tomorrow.
He has lain on the couch every day for a month.
He would have lain there sooner if he’d had the chance.
but: He lay there all yesterday afternoon.*
Tip: You want to recline, to lie, on something soft. The letter d is a hard sound, so laid should never be used when talking about reclining.
lay: to place
Nicole wants me to lay her towel on the sand.
The salesperson asked Steve to lay his shoes on the floor before trying the mattress.
Grandpa asked me to lay his glasses on the nightstand.
Tip: Lay shares two letters‚ l and a — and a similar a sound with place.
And lay requires an object; you have to lay something: a book, a set of keys, a pair of shoes, etc.
Other forms of lay:
I lay Grandpa’s glasses on the nightstand.
I laid them on the nightstand yesterday.
I will lay the glasses there tomorrow.
He often has laid them there himself.
I would not have laid them there if he hadn’t asked me to.
but: Grandpa left his glasses lying on the nightstand.*
Notice the two exceptions:*
The past tense of lie is lay, the verb that also means to place:
He lay there all yesterday afternoon.*
Although you lay objects on something, once they get there, they are described as lying.
Grandpa left his glasses lying on the nightstand.*
I have yet to think of a catchy, easy way to remember the difference between these two uses of lie and lay. In essence:
Lie is to recline. Lay is to place.
The past tense of lie is lay. An object that is placed somewhere is lying there.
Is it any wonder people consider English a complicated language?!
You likely won’t be judged for using lie or lay wrong; few people keep them straight. But as The Ruthless Editor, I need to know the difference and to try to set a good example.
Two more tips:
Avoid laying in all cases; it is nonstandard English.
Don’t count on silly spellcheck to make the right choice for you.
Kathleen Watson is known as the ruthless editor. She has just published an excellent grammar book that clears up questions that have been festering. Lie vs. lay is just one of 60 tips you’ll find in Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor. At $8.95, that’s just 15 cents a tip!
To buy your copy, click on the link to order now.
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