by Carolyn Howard-Johnson (used with permission)
First impressions are important. We all are aware of that as we brush our teeth and try to unknot the rat’s nests from the back of our hair each morning. In fact, first impressions are part of our marketing efforts, too. Whether we authors are trying to get an interview or a TV appearance or marketing our books using e-mail or social networks, editing is an essential part of that first-impression effort. Generally that first effort is a query letter or proposal. Thus editing equals great first impression. That makes it an integral part of a marketing campaign.
Five Editing Myths Waiting to Trip Up Your Campaign to Market Your Work
- If your English teacher told you something is OK, it is.
(Nope. Language rules and style guidelines have changed since you were a sophomore.)
- If a manuscript or query is grammar-perfect, you’ll make a great first impression.
(No! Lots of things that are grammatically correct will annoy publishers, agents, and other gatekeepers like feature editors.)
- Always use your Spell and Grammar Checker.
(Maybe. Some well-known editors suggest you don’t use it at all, but The Frugal Editor gives you dozens of ways to make it your partner instead of your enemy.)
- Your publisher will assign a top-flight editor, so you don’t need to worry about your manuscript.
(Maybe, but don’t count on it. Besides you can be a better partner for an editor—whether she is assigned to you by your editor or you hire one for yourself– if you know something about the process; you’ll know better when to nix her suggestions! In any case, I suggest hiring an editor of your own before you submit your manuscript and you’ll love my Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips (bit.ly/LastMinuteEditsII) for building the confidence you need to say no an editor no matter how professional she is.
- Typesetters and editors will take care of the hyphens, ellipses, and all the other grungy little punctuation marks that English teachers avoided teaching because they didn’t know how to use them either.
(Chances are, you’ll catch even great formatters and editors in an error or two if you know your stuff!)
In addition to these editing myths, here’s one last suggestion for nonfiction and fiction writers ’cause they’re so often neglected when it comes to marketing:
Avoid using italics for internal thought in the synopses sections of your marketing tools or in the sample chapters you must include. Italics are being used more and more these days, but using them often becomes a crutch that enables writers to avoid writing great transitions and point-of-view. The best agents and publishers will recognize it as such.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, an award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction, a former publicist for a New York PR firm and was an instructor for the renowned UCLA Extension Writers’ Program for nearly a decade. She is an editor with years of publishing and editing experience including national magazines, newspapers, and her own poetry and fiction. Learn more about the author at http://HowToDoItFrugally.com .Her The Frugal Book Promoter: How to Do What Your Publisher Won’t (http://bit.ly/FrugalBookPromoIII) won USA Book News’ best professional book award and the Irwin Award. The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success (http://bit.ly/FrugalEditor) is top publishing book for USA Book News and Reader Views Literary Award. The Great First Impression Book Proposal: Everything You Need To Know To Sell Your Book in 30 Minutes or Less is a helpful little booklet available at http://bit.ly/BookProposalsII is now in its second edition from Modern History Press. And don’t miss another booklet Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips for Writers: The Ultimate Frugal Booklet for Avoiding Word Trippers and Crafting Gatekeeper-Perfect Copy, http://bit.ly/LastMinuteEditsII, also from Modern History Press.
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
In my recent post on the blog of Nonfiction Authors Association (NFAA), an author asked about confusing words this way:
Barbara, I’d love to see you do an article on the difference between “as” and “since” and “because.”
Here’s a summary of what my research told me.
Both “because” and “since” imply cause. They can be interchangeable when “since” means “for the reason that.” e.g., “Since my dog needs exercise, I take him for a walk.” e.g., “I walk every day because my dog needs exercise.”
One source suggests using “because” when the reason is the most important part of the sentence and “since” or “as” when the reason is already well known and is less important. e.g., “The match was cancelled because it was raining.”
I endorse this as an important distinction and use it myself.
Note that “since” also refers to a time frame. But look at this example. “Since we ate lunch, we had lots of energy.” Do you see how this statement is ambiguous? Does it mean “from the time we had lunch” or “for the reason that we had lunch”?
To avoid confusion, I recommend using “because” when your meaning relates to “cause” and “since” when it’s a factor of time. Keep the meanings distinct; it’s a good way to add clarity to your writing and power to your pen.
For clarification of commonly confused words, request a free reference guide at Word Trippers.com
What word pairings trip you up? Share them here.
by Barbara McNichol
What can editors tell writers and authors about improving their writing? Consider these five common writing mistakes even conscientious writers make:
Mistake #1: Being self-absorbed as a writer. With too much talk about the author’s experience of writing, you risk overlooking the reader’s experience. The fix? Use “you” more than “I” in your sentences and stay close to your core message.
Mistake #2: Addressing readers in plural rather than as a single person whose interest you want to capture. Remember, reading is a solitary pastime. The fix? Keep one person in your target audience in your mind’s eye as you write.
Mistake #3: Using a long noun phrase when an active verb will do. The fix? Whenever possible, get an active verb to do the “work” of the sentence. Instead of “the examination of the report was done by the director,” change the noun phrase to a verb and rewrite the sentence: “The director examined the report.” In this way, passive construction becomes active, reduces the word count, and delivers a more direct message.
Mistake #4: Having no clear order to the paragraphs. The fix? Once you’ve crafted a solid, compelling opening, think through how the organization and flow of your main points will best guide your reader logically to your desired conclusion. If possible, test the result with colleagues or actual readers who will give you honest feedback.
Mistake #5: Writing sentences that ramble (on and on and on and on). The fix? Limit your sentences to 15-21 words maximum. Be sure to vary sentence length to create interest.
Bonus mistake: Flat-out choosing the wrong word. Yes, in English, it’s easy to confuse common words such as “advice” instead of “advise” (among hundreds more). The fix? Use a comprehensive resource such as Word Trippers (print or ebook) to help you select the perfect word when it really matters. Want a free mini-version of Word Trippers (the ebook)? Go to http://www.WordTrippers.com
What common writing mistakes would you add to this list?
by Kathleen Watson
When I had boarded and settled in for a recent flight, I reached for the airline magazine in the back-of-the-seat pouch in front of me.
True to form for this ruthless editor, I selected articles for not only enjoyment but also for illumination, keeping my grammar radar on high alert. How do other writers use words and punctuation?
Two articles — one about Pioneertown, a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles, and one about Fishtown, a residential area not far from Philadelphia’s historic district — were packed with examples of well-crafted, rich descriptions of American burgs and the colorful locals who inhabit them.
Narrowing my focus, I became acutely aware of the number of compound modifiers used throughout. Because examples instruct so well, I’m listing several here.
Imagine these modifiers without the hyphen. Can you see how hyphens add clarity?
- a two-hour drive east of Los Angeles
- a cup of high-octane coffee
- a well-worn Formica counter
- a pair of steel-toed boots
- his working-class roots
- the top-floor music venue
- a whole-animal butchery
- the ever-present sound of the overhead train
- a tight-knit community
- a cash-only shot-and-beer joint
- a high-end Italian restaurant
- role-playing games
- long-term residents
- a down-to-earth approach
- largely blue-collar residential neighborhoods
- a settlement of fully functional Western-style buildings
Note in the last two examples that modifiers ending in ly don’t require a hyphen: largely blue-collar residents, fully functional buildings.
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction or for business or pleasure, reading well-written pieces by others can inspire and instruct. How often do you approach reading through that lens?
Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence.
Compound modifiers streamline the writing and reading experience. Share your own examples here. Request a one-word-or-two reference sheet by emailing email@example.com
Editor’s Note: This post is an excerpt from a new book published by Gail Woodard and Dudley Court Press. Titled Write the Book You’re Meant to Write: A Guide for First-Time Authors, it gets to the heart of the issues first-time authors face. I was honored to have been interviewed for this book as well as edit it.
by Gail Woodard
I asked my good friend and editor Barbara McNichol what advice she would give to a first-time author about the process of working with an editor. Here’s some of our exchange:
How can an editor help an author? Smart authors know the value of a good editor to improve the clarity of their ideas and conciseness of the words they use. A good editor makes the author’s prose more readable while preserving the person’s intended voice.
Can you advise authors on how to streamline their writing so the editing process goes more smoothly and costs less money? Sure. Adopting these seven practices will make a huge difference in any manuscript:
- Get rid of extraneous phrases (e.g., the fact of the matter is, there is and there are, is going to, is starting to, is designed to, etc.)
- Find alternatives for wobbly words—vague words that don’t add meaning (e.g., really, much, very, some, that).
- Change long noun phrases into short verbs whenever feasible (e.g., “the examination of” becomes “examine”; “the judgment of” becomes “judge”).
- Limit the length of your sentences to 21 words so readers won’t get bogged down and lose your intended train of thought. (Oh, my. This sentence exceeds 21 words by 2!)
- Pay attention to noun/verb agreements and pronouns, too. You hear people say “me and Michael went to lunch” but “me” is the wrong pronoun in this case. Know what’s right. Apply the right grammar rules; it’s important to your credibility!
- Construct your sentences using active verbs, not passive (e.g., “The stranger created a scene” is active; “A scene was created by a stranger” is passive.) Why is this important? The action you want to convey moves forward more directly when you write in active construction. Look for the word “by,” which clues you in to when passive construction is used.
- For accuracy, know which word to use when. Pay special attention to confusing ones such as “complementary” versus “complimentary.” Hint: the word “gift” and “complimentary” both have an “i” so when you’re being complimentary, think of giving away a gift. I call these “Word Trippers” and offer a word choice guide and subscription program to make it easy to learn the difference. (See www.wordtrippers.com)
Why should someone invest in hiring a professional editor? Editors are trained to be patient and thorough. They go through an author’s manuscript with a fine-toothed comb. That’s rarely the kind of diligence provided by friends or even critique-group members.
In addition to keeping the author’s voice, what else is a primary goal in the editing process? For nonfiction books especially, authors write them to support their business objectives. Their book forms the cornerstone of their company’s message and direction. Keeping that objective in sight during the editing process guides the editor throughout the multiple reviews. Does the book accomplish what it sets out to do for the benefit of the readership and the author, too?
What book editing questions do you have?
- Order Write the Book You’re Meant to Write on Amazon
- Seek advice on writing/publishing your book at www.DudleyCourtPress.com
- Contact Barbara McNichol for your editing needs.
By Cathy Fyock
Why is it so hard to start a big project? Maybe it’s because it is so big that it seems daunting, or that it’s difficult to identify the best first step.
Starting your book can offer the same challenges: how do you get started in a productive and confident manner?
Here are six ideas about what NOT to do when tackling that first draft.
- Read every other book on the topic before you start. While it is important to know your topic and have solid research behind you, and it’s important to complete an analysis on other books on your subject, it may be counterproductive to peruse all the competitive literature on your topic. Assuming you know your topic, what your book should offer is a fresh approach, a new perspective, and a novel take on the subject matter. If you spend too much time in analyzing what others have said, you may be less likely to boldly state your unique stance. Do your homework, but don’t be so compulsive about research that you fail to begin or lose your fresh perspective.
- Just start writing. Writing without a road map is as productive as starting out on a vacation without any decision about where you’re going or what you want to accomplish. Every book project should begin with a thorough understanding of the purpose for your book as well as a clearly defined thesis statement. If you haven’t decided how you will use your book (as a calling card, as your curriculum for workshops, as a leave-behind after presentations to help with the call to action), you may write the wrong book. And, without a thesis statement, you’re writing about a topic, not focusing in on a perspective that is valued by your reader.
- Start with a blank page. Blank pages are hard. Most every author will agree. So don’t start there. Begin with your content outline, and begin fleshing it out. Then start jotting down content that you want to include: quotes, data, stories, examples, cases. Then go through and make notes of other writing you will repurpose for this book. Now, begin to write! See how much easier it is.
- Start with chapter one. Chapter one is usually the hardest chapter to write, since it introduce the reader to everything you’ll be saying in the book. Write the easiest chapter first, then the next easiest, then the next. Write the first and last chapters after all the other chapters are written, setting the stage and summarizing the action.
- Clean your office. Rearrange your desk. Find the perfect notebook. Rearrange your sock drawer. Productive procrastination is a tough habit to break, since you are so darned productive while you’re doing it. The only problem is that it is getting in the way of you accomplishing what is most important—your work on this project. So let the office get a little dusty, and let the paper stacks grow in piles around your desk. It’s time to focus on the one thing you want most to accomplish—the writing of your book!
- Edit as you go. Make everything perfect and keep going back to clean it up before getting it all sketched out. If you want to get this book written, stop editing and just write. Stopping to edit every few pages is akin to starting off on a trip wanting to keep the fuel tank on F. You will certainly have a full gas tank, but it’s going to take you a long time to reach your destination. And in addition, brain science tells us that writing and editing are two distinct brain functions, and editing while writing is multi-tasking—a feat which is daunting at best. Just focus on writing, and once you’ve got the bones in place, then begin to edit and tweak.
Starting a book or blog can be a huge task but can be made much easier when you avoid these major pitfalls!
Cathy Fyock, The Business Book Strategist, works with professionals and thought leaders who want to write their book as a business development strategy. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Perhaps you see your own actions in this six points. What would you suggest NOT doing based on your experience? Humor appreciated!