FREE Download: What You WILL Miss When You Edit!

Tricks for finding those pesky little slips your eyes skip when you read.An image for What You WILL Miss When You Proofread; clickable link to the download

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No-Comma Zones!

Cartoon policeman

Grammar Police do exist.

They’re called agents.

I present as evidence a memory of my then-agent saying that when she saw a comma after “and” or “but” in a query or manuscript, she quit reading.

I consider her automatic rejection a bit extreme, but she highlights an important fact: agents are always in need of a reason to move on to the next query. If something as simple as a misplaced comma can earn instant rejection, why not work on getting such small triggers fixed?

I’ve created a list of what I consider five basic comma rules; I argue that if your questionable comma doesn’t fit one of these categories, you’re better off leaving it out. Many times a sentence’s meaning is perfectly clear without commas even if technically you should use them. Commas, correctly placed, control rhythm and emphasis in sentences, and where you use one can be a judgment call.

However, there are a few places where commas tend to crop up when they really shouldn’t. In these instances, they can interrupt rhythm rather than improve it and in some cases, they actually muddle meaning.

Poor little car loaded with baggage on a tangled highway

Here are three “no comma zones” you should be aware of.

1. Around essential modifiers when the essential element is a name.

Understanding essential vs. non-essential modifiers can be daunting. Here, I’ll review the protocol, but check out this link for additional guidance and more good examples.

A non-essential modifier provides additional information that really is just that—additional. It isn’t needed for the sentence to make sense.

The old car, which was a lot like the one my grandfather used to drive, had been repainted bright blue.

Take out “which was a lot like the one my grandfather used to drive,” and the sentence works just fine.

Non-essential modifiers take TWO commas, one before and one after. Think of the commas as “cuts” you could use to lift out the non-essential stuff. But consider:

The car that gives you the most mileage is the one you should buy.

Without the modifier, we have:

The car is the one you should buy.

Since the point of the sentence is to say which car, the modifier is essential to the work the sentence is meant to do.

Essential modifiers DO NOT TAKE COMMAS. Using them around these elements violates the “no comma zone.” And that is even true—especially true—when the essential element is a name.

You may have been taught that “appositives” always take commas. They certainly can. Except when they are essential elements. To see how you can decide, look at this:

Author, Steven King, writes a lot of thrillers.

The commas mean you can lift the name out. Try it.

Author writes a lot of thrillers.

See?

If you have so many commas you really want to use them up, you can write instead,

The author, Steven King, writes a lot of thrillers.

Personally, I would use commas in this instance only if we were talking about some book of which Steven King is the author, not if we are talking about him in general as an author. Compare “The author Steven King writes a lot of thrillers.” In my view, that’s perfectly fine, even though “Steven King” is technically an appositive.

Typewriter with question marks on the page

2. Between a subject and its verb

The cat with the calico coat, is my sister’s.

You wouldn’t do this? I’ve been in enough writing groups to know that a surprising number of people do. Understandable confusion arises when the “subject” is followed by some kind of interrupting modifier, which would be set off with commas:

The cat with the calico cat, however, is my sister’s.

In addition, looong subjects that may have their own internal commas can make it hard to detect the subject’s verb.

For example, in the sentence I just wrote, the “subject” extends from “looong subjects” all the way to “commas”; “can make” is the relevant verb. So sticking a “pause” between “commas” and “can” would violate this rule. Think of it as a “pause” that unnecessarily breaks up the sentence’s natural flow.

Big question mark in clouds

3. After introductory “And” or “But.”

If you are a disciple of Word’s grammar checker, you may never commit the supposed sin of starting a sentence with “And” or “But.” But doing so is completely acceptable, as long as it’s done in moderation. What’s NOT acceptable would be

But, doing so is completely acceptable, as long as it’s done in moderation.

The only possible reason to use a comma in this construction is to emphasize the “But.” In fact, commas in general throw emphasis onto the word directly before them. Such a strategy, though, should be a conscious decision. You couldn’t credibly claim you want to emphasize every “but” or “and” you write.

The Bottom Line:

While many excellent blog posts have been published about comma usage, in my view, these three cases of “no comma zones” have gotten short shrift. But each can act as a trigger for that agent or editor with a full inbox. Why not keep them reading long enough to discover your great work?

Book with pages folded like a heart

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The Hardest Comma Rule!

Check the five basic comma rules
Comma Love

Mathina Calliope, at Jane Friedman’s site, does a terrific job of explaining essential/restrictive versus nonessential/nonrestrictive commas, with lot of examples. I know from many observations that writers struggle with this distinction. It’s one of what I argue are “the only comma rules you’ll ever need,” but it’s the hardest to explain in a short space. So head over and check out her discussion.

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So-True Post: Some Hard Facts about Publishing

Soooo many books! Why write one more?
Soooo many books out there

Over at Writers in the Storm, guest blogger Tasha Seegmiller writes not to offer a “downer,” but instead, to help people align their expectations of writing a little better.”

This column reminded me how I’m constantly surprised by some of the questions aspiring writers ask on self-help Facebook sites. Yesterday, is grammar important? Today, should an author get a web site? This column offers some advice I think everyone hoping to publish needs.

Me included. Realizing that writing is a business—never a comfortable home territory for me—but also that it really has to be something you just can’t help doing: These are the reminders I need.

A while back, in answer to a post on the pros and cons of self- versus traditional publishing, I wrote “What It Was Like for Me,” an account of my own experiences being traditionally published. Even though my encounter with the realities of publishing happened quite a long time ago, I still found that Seegmiller’s take resonated. It was ever so, and I didn’t know enough then to negotiate this strange and daunting space.

Follow good blogs and wonderful people like @JaneFriedman. As Seegmiller says, educate yourself. So you’ll be more ready than I was.

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Questions to Ask Your Publisher Before You Sign the Contract – by Jane Friedman…

There are a few folks I consider treasures for the #writingcommunity. If you’re not familiar with Jane Friedman, take the time to learn about her. (And make sure you subscribe to Chris the Story Reading Ape, a terrific curator of posts we all can use.)

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Over the weekend, you might have seen a writing-and-money topic trending on Twitter, #PublishingPaidMe, where authors started publicly sharing their advances. Such transparency is long overdue and—in this particular case—is meant to reveal stark differences between what Black and non-Black authors get paid.

Amidst these tweets, I saw a repeated call to action for Black authors: Before you agree to a deal, ask your publisher about their marketing and promotion plans for your book. Ask how they plan to support you.

Ask, ask, ask. (Because their support falls short of where it needs to be, and publishers have to be pushed.)

To assist with that call to action, I’ve collected and expanded information from my past books and articles to help authors ask questions of their potential or existing publisher. I’ve tried to also include indicators that will help you notice and challenge unhelpful answers. If you have an…

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New “Latest”: Internet Archive to End “Emergency Library”

If you haven’t been following this issue of interest to writers, you can catch up with posts on the Internet Archive and its practice of scanning and giving away copyrighted books for free, here and here. Claiming the cover of the pandemic, the IA actually expanded its practices by eliminating limits on the amount of time “borrowers” could keep books they download and other provisions. Last week, major publishers sued the Archive, and this headline on the Internet Archive’s response to the lawsuit popped up in my New York Times feed today.

Pirate ship coming for your books
Book pirates?

Note that the decision to end the “Emergency Library” supposedly designed to increase access during lockdowns does not affect the IA’s usual practices of buying a book, then scanning it and distributing it for free.

You will need to decide on your own to what extent you want to defend your own copyrights. I was able to get my republished ebooks taken off the IA, but I found that fighting the myriad other book pirates who either have or claim to have my books available for free was a losing effort. Is Neil Gaiman right that we might as well embrace the unauthorized distribution of free books?

One wrinkle I discovered is the existence of an international protocol that does authorize the distribution of free resources to print-disabled readers by appropriately designated sites. Whether IA is one of these appropriate sites is debatable.

The Victoria Strauss posts I link to provide takedown-notice templates and other ongoing discussions of this problem. I’ve linked as well to Chuck Wendig’s statement on the IA’s practices.

Use these resources in any way that works for you. Let me know what you decide.

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Latest on Internet Archive/Copyright Infringement

With so much going on, don’t lose sight of what’s happening to your books. Not everyone agrees that having free books going out *freely* is bad for writers, but you at least need to be able to choose. Victoria Strauss again reports on the Internet Archive and its copyright infringement via its “Emergency Library”—now being challenged in court by major publishers. Her post on Writer Beware lists a number of past posts and resources. Check it out.

A digital eye on your text

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Amazon Is NOT Your Publisher

I’ve also found that members of one of my writing groups struggle with this distinction between publishers, packagers, and distributors from Sarah Bolme. There’s also some great information about Amazon’s imprints. Enjoy!

Marketing Christian Books

I am surprised by the number of indie and self-published authors who tell me that the publisher of their book is Amazon, Kindle Direct Publishing, or IngramSpark.

Amazon is NOT your publisher.

It is clear to me that these authors do not understand the difference between an author, a publisher, and a publishing platform.

Authors and publishers have distinct jobs. These jobs are as follows:

Author’s job:

  • Write a manuscript
  • Engage in marketing to assist sales

Publisher’s job:

  • Edit the manuscript
  • Create a cover
  • Lay out the book
  • Secure a printer
  • Assign an ISBN
  • Access distribution for sales to retail and other channels
  • Engage in marketing to ensure sales

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is neither an author or a publisher. It does not write, edit, lay out, or create a cover design for your book. What KDP offers are services.

They offer a cover design template, an ebook conversion program, printing, distribution for sales, and…

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4 Newbie Writer Mistakes that can Derail a Great Book Idea – by Anne R. Allen…

Every time I read one of Anne R. Allen’s columns, I learn and relearn so many valuable principles—and I just have to share. I’ve sort of learned a lot that she talks about in this piece (for example, not getting stuck on your first chapter, looking for advice too early, looking for advice from the wrong people), but these reminders are incredibly helpful as well as inspiring. What I need to hear most: In first drafts, the answer is “Just write.”

Thanks to Chris the Story Reading Ape for sharing Anne’s posts.

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

You’ve got a fantastic idea for a novel. It’s been hanging around for quite a while, knocking inside your noggin. The idea keeps saying, “Let me out! Release me! Put me in a book!”

Maybe there’s a scene in your head that plays like a video, with every detail of the setting right there, as if it’s on a screen. You know those characters. They’re like real people to you.

But you’ve never had the time to write it all down.

Now you do.

So here you are, finally banging out that scene. And another. And pretty soon you’ve written 10,000, maybe 15,000 words of brilliant, deathless prose. It almost wrote itself. Wow. That was almost too easy.

It IS brilliant, isn’t it?

Well, maybe not. Maybe what’s on the page isn’t quite as good it seemed when you were in the zone.

In fact, it could be terrible. What…

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10 Good Grammar Resources by Melissa Donovan…

I’m not a fan of those apps and checkers that purport to “fix” your writing. They get way too hysterical about choices that should be judgment calls (e.g., starting a sentence with “But”). Here, however, is a useful list of common-sense sources to help with grammar conundrums. Thanks to Melissa Donovan, and to Chris the Story Reading Ape for sharing it.

(Forgive a moment’s rant about people I see on various self-help social-media pages who claim that they can be good writers while dispensing with a thorough understanding of the “grammar rules.” Some of these “rules” are flexible, but some basic punctuation conventions and sentence-structure mandates like subject/verb agreement are not. Yes, commas can be tricky, and we can argue about which ones are needed and which are optional, but if you still don’t know where apostrophes belong and where they don’t. . . . Yes, there really are grammar police. They’re called agents. 😦 )

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

on Writing Forward:

There’s good grammar and bad grammar, proper grammar and poor grammar. Some writers have fun with grammar and for others, grammar’s a bore. But in order to communicate effectively and for our writing to be professional (and publishable), we all need reliable grammar resources.

There is no grammar authority, no supreme court of grammar where judges strike down the gavel at grammar offenders. Grammar is not an exact science (in fact, it’s not a science at all), and even among the most educated and experienced linguists, the rules of grammar are heavily debated.

Of course, there are some basic rules we can all agree on, and these can found in any good grammar resource. There are gray areas, too, which are skillfully handled by style guides.

As writers, we need these resources. They help us use language effectively. Good grammar ensures that our work is readable. And…

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Using “The Bookalyser” to Help You Edit Your Manuscript

A digital eye on your text

A digital eye on your text

I’ve reblogged Louise Harnby’s “10 Ways to Proofread Your Own Writing” from Chris the Story Reading Ape’s blog. Harnby’s post is full of free tools for catching slips in your final copy. I decided to try out one of them, “The Bookalyser” on the completed ms. of my as-yet-unpublished Surfing the Bones, a 98,000-word mystery.

STB had gone through an extensive edit, not least because an online critique process had left it much richer emotionally but far too long. Even though I’m currently responding to a beta read by updating some of the technology driving the plot and making minor setting changes, I considered the draft a good example of my own editing process. So I was curious to see what an editing app could tell me. What did I miss?

I have an advantage because I’m a grammar nerd capable of catching non-standard verb forms and recognizing passive-voice constructions. I can also form plural possessives, an apparently challenging task.Green smiley with a quizzical smile So standard “grammar-checkers” don’t help me much; they usually just object to my deliberate sentence fragments or my decision to start a sentence with “But.” I wanted to see if The Bookalyser offered more.

Like many programs for writers, the BA has a free version and two levels of paid versions. I used the free one. The site says out front that the tool won’t help you with style and usage questions; Word, it says, can do that. Instead, this tool provides a numerical/statistical portrait of certain features of your ms.

As advertised, if you register with email and password, it will run through your full manuscript in seconds and provide a full printout of its findings.

Rather than describe the “more than 70 different tests (and growing) across 17 report areas,” I’ll discuss what I found most useful.

I learned that

  • I use the word “maybe” 166 times, which is 10 times more than usual for fiction. Worth a search to see if I can cut some of those. Still, 166 times in 98,000 words isn’t cause for panic, I am relieved to say.
  • Less than 1% of my text consists of the dreaded “-ly” adjectives, and only two appeared more often than expected. The app did call “belly” an “-ly” adverb, but I guess that can be forgiven in such a complex app.
  • “Filler words” like “actually,” “fairly,” “just,” and “really” made up 0.59% of my text, as compared to 0.65% for fiction in general. Still, worth doing a search to see whether these are needed.
  • I used “said” as a dialogue tag 207 times and some other tag 41 times, with only 7 of these tags used more than once. I report proudly that I used a dialogue tag with an “-ly” adverb only 8 (!!!) times in my 98,000-word text.
  • The app did look for “passive” constructions, which it defined broadly, with “is dead,” “was afraid,” and “be afraid” alongside true PV forms like “was followed” or “been killed.” In other words, predicate adjectives counted in this category. Even so, the app said that only 2.5% of my sentences fell into its “passive” categories. Hooray.
  • The app compared phrases that I had hyphenated with instances of the same phrase that I did not hyphenate. I’m pretty good on hyphens, but this choice is well worth a search.
  • It also encouraged me to look at spelling inconsistencies like “check out” vs. “checkout” and “web site” vs. “website.” Quick checks should allow me to decide on a preferred form.

Suggestions for eliminating possible redundancies were less helpful. I looked at a number of these and will look at them all, but found that the shorter version often sounded less natural, especially in dialogue. These are judgment calls often resulting in a savings of one word. While in my aggressive edit to eliminate 7000 words, every word did count, the trade-off (hmmm, hyphen?) was problematic. Example: “He didn’t admit to a crime” vs. “He didn’t admit a crime.” I’ll stick with the former. That said, the program did catch “more perfect”—but this one was in dialogue. Big green smiley

Oh, and it said it didn’t find any “Clichéd similes/comparisons.” ♥♥♥

I didn’t find useful information under “Commonly confused words and phrases,” but many writers will probably appreciate this section. The app captures proper names and variances in capitalization as well. It listed word counts of various kinds, like most frequently used, most frequently used word trios, and most frequently used to open sentences. In my first-person text, “I” opened 1329 sentences compared to “He” (645) and “The” (435). Probably not a problem, but maybe worth a look.

In short, this is a FREE, rapid-acting tool that does provide interesting insights into my writing habits, offering me the chance to save a copy editor some work one day—and to produce a better-edited text should I publish this book myself. I recommend.

 

 

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