Category Archives: Editing

5 Lessons From a Lost Novel – by K.M. Weiland…

This article (via that incredible resource, Chris the Story Reading Ape) rings so true for me. I, too, have “lost novels,” one of which actually got published, to my everlasting regret—even with a supposedly top editor! Just goes to show you (me): it’s YOUR book, and you are the one who either makes it work or not. K. M. Weiland’s focus on story—on structure, on having an arc that provides readers with the narrative pull to keep reading: vital. I’ve written and reblogged about that (just some examples), because I learned the hard way. Take her advice to heart.

Do you have a “lost novel”? What did you take away?

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

on Helping Writers become Authors:

Mistakes are unavoidable. To fear them is to fear life itself. To try to eliminate them is to waste life in a futile struggle against reality itself.

I daresay no one has more opportunities to learn these truths than does a writer.

As writers, our lives are a never-ending litany of mistakes. Certainly mine has been full of mistakes—everything from the opening sentences I wrote for this post, thought better of, and replaced—to literally hundreds of thousands of deleted words I’ve carefully saved from all my rough drafts—to entire story ideas (representing hundreds of hours of dedicated, hopeful work) that have proven themselves unsalvageable and earned a dusty place in a back corner of a closet shelf.

I won’t say I don’t regret these mistakes. I do. I regret the wasted time and effort. I regret the bereavement of loving and nurturing something that never…

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The Only Comma Rules You’ll Ever Need! Really!

The five basic comma rulesOne of my favorite posts—hope it helps with one of writing’s toughest little questions: When should you use a comma?

Commas are among my favorite tools for building meaning. Used intelligently, commas are wonderful signposts that tell readers which part of a sentence they’ve stumbled into—and then help them make their way out again. I like commas so much I’ve written multiple posts about them.

If comma rules confuse you, take heart! If improving reader comprehension is your goal, there are really only a few “rules” to remember:

Use commas:

Rule 1: After introductory elements.

This is the one most people seem to know about. But I argue that commas are really only necessary when the introductory element gets long enough that readers may miss the lane change back into the main part of the sentence.

So:

After a moment he left the room. (No comma needed unless you want to emphasize a pause.)

But:

After he spent  an extended vacation in a remote village in the Alps, where did he go next? (The comma lets readers know that “where” begins a new clause.)

Rule 2: Around or after “interrupters,” including non-essential modifiers (this is a rule, not an option).More comma rules

I think this one is the most confusing for many writers.

Short interrupters can be easy to spot:

Jane, however, did not go with him to the Alps.

However, Jane did not go.

Non-essential modifiers are elements that can be lifted out of the sentence without compromising its meaning or purpose.

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

The information about grandad’s car is incidental to the meaning of the sentence, which is that the car is now bright blue. Lift it out and only this incidental information is lost. The rule here, and it IS a rule, is TWO COMMAS, not just the first one. You need that second comma to signal the return to the main clause.

Contrast the example above with this example of an essential modifier, one that can’t be lifted out without eliminating the point of the sentence:

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 meaning.

NO COMMAS around essential modifiers! They are integral to the sentence, not “interrupters.”

Sometimes confusion about what constitutes an essential or non-essential modifier can turn a sentence into nonsense. I often see commas inserted into constructions like this.

Author Stephen King wrote a lot of books.

Note: no commas. Now try it without the essential modifier, in this case an appositive:

Author wrote a lot of books.

The trick: try taking out the modifying clause and see what remains.

Rule 3: Direct address (this is also a rule, not an option):Do you need the Oxford Comma?

Hi, Mr. Smith.

Did you buy bread at the store, Louise?

Louise, did you buy the bread?

Well, Mr. Smith, I guess we won’t be having any bread today.

Rule 4: Before “and,” “but,” etc., if you have more than two items. (This is the infamous Oxford or serial comma.) The elements of the “serial” or list can be words, phrases, or whole sentences.

Louise forgot the bread, cheese, and fruit; she did remember the wine, beer, and vodka.

My worries about her diet involved her lack of protein, her lack of vegetables, and her preference for liquid components.

If you have only two items linked by “and” or “but,” you have a compound and don’t need a comma, as in this sentence, which contains a compound predicate for the pronoun “you.” I’ve underlined the two components (and note the comma after the introductory clause).

Rule 5: Before the “and” or “but” if you’re joining two complete sentences.

I’d argue this is a judgment call, but this sentence illustrates how judicious use of a comma in a compound sentence like this one can tell readers which part of the sentence they’ve ventured into.

That’s five “rules” to absorb—not really so many. Rule Number Six: if one of those five rules doesn’t apply, DON’T INSERT A COMMA. No commas between subjects and their verbs, no commas after “and” or “but,” and so forth. List the five rules and check your questionable comma to see whether one of these applies*:

  • After introductory elements
  • Around interrupters
  • In direct address
  • Before “and” or “but” in a list of three or more items
  • Before the “and” or “but” in a compound sentence (two complete sentences joined with a coordinating conjunction like “and” or “but”**).Check the five basic comma rules

*There are some “conventional” rules for commas that don’t really affect readers’ comprehension, such as the comma that should follow the name of a state (“Austin, Texas, was his home.”) or the ones before and after the year in dates. Any handbook will answer your questions about those minor comma uses.

**There are actually several coordinating conjunctions in addition to “and” and “but,” and the rule applies to them as well, but I didn’t want to muddy the waters too much. The other coordinating conjunctions you’re likely to use include “for,” “nor,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.”

What comma rule confuses you most? How do you decide when to include one? Share you solutions with us all!

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20 Tips to Proofread Like A Professional

A great list that gives you a process for proofreading—and I can attest that these steps work for me. I especially want to echo Dave’s advice to read in hard copy. Not only will you spot errors you miss on screen (track changes be darned), you will see your work in a different light. Something changes in your head when you hold a sheet of paper and a pen in your hand. I can’t explain this, but I know it’s true for me.

When you’re done with this process, run your manuscript through my “Things You WILL Miss When You Proofread” posts. They’ll help you catch those little things your eyes will still miss but your computer won’t.

The Haunted Pen

The Haunted Pen - Proofread Like A ProProofreading. Some writers love it, some writers despise it. But whatever your feelings, proofreading is your final task when preparing to share your words with the world.

Writers often read their words the way they believe they wrote them, not how they actually wrote them. This means spelling mistakes, typos and grammatical errors, such as poor sentence structure, wrong choice of words and punctuation can all go unnoticed by the writer. These factors impact the context and readability of the work.

The good news is that proofreading skills can be learned, developed and improved. Where is the best source for information on learning how to proofread, I hear you ask (at least I hope you are).

Fear not my friends, help is at hand and The Haunted Pen is here to save the day!

The best source for hands-on information is a professional proofreader – someone who has spent years…

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Dialogue tags and how to use them in fiction writing – by Louise Harnby…

Here’s an excellent discussion, via Chris the Story Reading Ape, of one of the simplest and most useful tools in a writer’s kit: using and abusing “said” and other dialogue tags. I also note that “said” can control rhythm, acting as a strong beat at the end of a scene sequence or before a break. Try it!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Dialogue tags – or speech tags – are what writers use to indicate which character is speaking.

Their function is, for the most part, mechanical.

This article is about how to use them effectively.

Continue reading HERE

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THE THINGS YOU MISS WHEN YOU PROOFREAD, PART 3: Creative Finds and Fixes

Part 3: Proofreading Slips You Can Find and Fix with Creative Tricks

Fact: You will miss things when you proofread your manuscript. Your eyes see what they expect to see.

Fact: A little creative use of Find/Replace, in Word or your preferred program, can find these hard-to-spot slips for you—and fix them with a keystroke.

I’ve split this post into three subposts, so you can use what you need when and if you need it:

These posts are based on Word, but most of the notations are universal. You should be able to apply them in any program you use.

These hard-to-see slips take a little more creativity to find and address than those in Part 2, but most of these searches will return “Not Found,” so you just move on to the next.

In each case below, I will

  • List the problem,
  • Show you what to type in the Find bar in the Find dialogue box
  • Show you when to eyeball if context is important
  • Show you what to type in the Replace bar
  • Tell you when to click “Replace all” or when to click Replace

In some cases below, I tell you that you can click “Replace all” after eyeballing to check that you’re finding the right combination. However, I generally eyeball each instance (there won’t be that many) and click “Replace.”

Do NOT type “+” in the Find or Replace bars unless you are actually searching for the “plus” sign. I am using it below to indicate “then type.” There should be no spaces between symbols in the bars unless you are specifically searching for a space.

For example, the first direction below would look like ^p’ in your Find bar.

Problem: Single quote marks

These are almost invisible! Apply several formulas to find them, since they can occur in different situations.

Formula 1: Single quotes at the beginning of a paragraph of dialogue

  • Find: ^p and a single quote mark (‘). (The ^ lives above the numeral 6.)
  • Eyeball one or two to make sure you’re finding the right combination.
  • Replace: ^p + a double quote mark (“). (This will look like ^p”)
  • Click: Replace all

Formula 2: Single quotes at the beginning of a line of dialogue that’s not at the beginning of a paragraph

  • Find: one space (tap space bar) + a single quote mark (‘). (When you tap the space bar, you won’t see anything in the Find bar, but the cursor will move.)
  • Eyeball to check that you have not found dialogue within dialogue, which takes a single quote mark.
  • Replace: space + double quote (“)
  • Click: Replace.

Formula 3: Single quote marks at the end of line of dialogue within a longer paragraph

  • Find: a single quote mark (‘), then space (tap the space key).
  • Eyeball to check that you have not found dialogue within dialogue, which takes a single quote mark.
  • Replace: double quote marks (“), then space
  • Click: Replace.

Formula 4: Single quotes at the end of a line of dialogue that ends the paragraph.

  • Find: a single quote + ^p. (You might also run a check with single quote, then space, then ^p , since you may have typed a space after the quote mark.)
  • Eyeball to check.
  • Replace: double quote + ^p
  • Click: Replace all.

Problem: An extra space before or after a quote mark.

These can cause your smart quote marks to “turn around,” since Word decides which direction they should face depending on whether they come before or after a line of type.

  • Find: space + quote marks + space. (Finds extra spaces at both the beginning or end of a line of dialogue).
  • Eyeball each instance.
  • Replace: Same as above with incorrect space eliminated.
  • Click: Replace.

OR

  • Find: ^p + quote marks + space bar.(Finds this problem at the beginning of a paragraph).
  • Eyeball each instance.
  • Replace: ^p + quote marks
  • Click: Replace.

Problem: An extra space at the beginning of a paragraph.

These create a ragged indent line that you may not spot by eyeballing.

  • Find: ^p + space
  • Replace: ^p
  • Click: Replace all

*******

Completely missing quotes like those illustrated in the next section are the most challenging to find. This section suggests a couple of Find tricks you can try—and maybe you can invent your own.

Problem: Missing quotes at the end of a line of dialogue. Example: “It’s cold in here, said Tom.

  • Find: comma + space + s. (Make sure you’ve already eliminated double spaces!)
  • Eyeball each instance.
  • Replace: comma + quote marks + space + s
  • Click: Replace.

Repeat with question marks as well as exclamation marks if you use them.

Repeat with the first letter of characters’ names, so you will also catch “It’s cold in here, Tom said.

Repeat with “asked,” “replied,” “demanded,” or whatever dialogue tags you often use.

Problem: Missing quotes at the beginning of a line of dialogue

I haven’t devised a foolproof way of finding these. Here’s one trick that will find some. Examples: X said, It’s warm in here.” OR “Boy,” X said, it’s warm in here.”

  • Find: said + comma+ space  + ^$ (for “any letter”) (Check “More,” then “Special” to make sure this is the correct notation for “any letter” in your version of Word.)
  • Replace: said + comma+ space  + quote marks + ^$
  • Click: Replace
  • Repeat with other dialogue tags you commonly use.

If you can think of a way to find missing quote marks at the beginning of a paragraph or before and after random narrative/actions rather than dialogue tags, please share!

Problem: Capitalized dialogue tags

These errors result when you have Autocorrect turned on, using its default settings. It may be set to capitalize letters after periods, question marks, and exclamation points. Example: “Is it warm in here to you?” Asked Tom.

  • Find: relevant punctuation mark + quote marks + A (or S for “said” or R for “replied” or whatever), and then check “Match case.”
  • Replace: relevant punctuation mark + quote marks + a (or s for “said” or r for “replied” or whatever)
  • Click: Replace

(You can prevent this by adjusting your settings in Autocorrect.)

Back to Part 2: Minute Finds and Fixes

Back to Part 1: Secrets of Find/Replace

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THE THINGS YOU MISS WHEN YOU PROOFREAD, PART 2: Minute Finds and Fixes

Part 2: Proofreading Slips You Can Find and Fix in Minutes

Fact: You will miss things when you proofread your manuscript. Your eyes see what they expect to see.

Fact: A little creative use of Find/Replace, in Word or your preferred program, can find these hard-to-spot slips for you—and fix them with a keystroke.

I’ve split this post into three subposts, so you can use what you need when and if you need it:

These posts are based on Word, but most of the notations are universal. You should be able to apply them in any program you use.

Minute Fixes Using Find/Replace

Again, these are problems that are easy to miss if you’re eyeballing. Find has much better eyesight than you do!

In each case below, I will

  • List the problem,
  • Show you what to type in the Find bar in the Find dialogue box
  • Show you when to eyeball if context is important
  • Show you what to type in the Replace bar
  • Tell you when to click “Replace all” or when to eyeball before clicking Replace

Do NOT type “+” in the Find or Replace bars unless you are actually searching for the “plus” sign. I am using it below to indicate “then type.” There should be no spaces between symbols in the bars unless you are specifically searching for a space.

Problem: Double periods

  • Find: period + period (..)
  • Replace: a single period (.)
  • Click: Replace all

Problem: Comma + period or period + comma

  • Find: Either ., or ,. (Do one at a time)
  • Eyeball: The punctuation you need depends on the context
  • Replace: Minimize key strokes by doing all the ones that can be replaced with a period, then coming back and doing all the ones that can be replaced with a comma. Type either a period (.) or a comma (,).
  • Click: Replace

Problem: Extra spaces

Used to typing a double space after periods, and HATE being told that’s no longer preferred? You don’t need to remember to single-space. Do what you like. Then:

  • Find: Tap the space bar on your keyboard twice. (You will see nothing in the bar but the cursor will move.)
  • Replace: Tap the space bar once.
  • Click: Replace All.

Do this twice just in case you accidentally typed in three spaces here and there.

Problem: Tabs

If you’ve posted to Kindle or Smashwords, you know that tabs are NOT allowed. You’re encouraged to do all your formatting, including first-line indents, with Styles. But even if you apply a perfect Style throughout your manuscript, any tabs you haven’t removed will still be there, creating all sorts of formatting glitches.

  • Find: ^t (the ^ mark lives above the numeral 6)
  • Replace: leave blank
  • Click: Replace All.

Problem: Extra Returns

Make sure you didn’t accidentally insert a space between paragraphs.

  • Find: ^p^p
  • Replace: ^p
  • Eyeball, since some of your double returns will be deliberate, for example, to mark a scene break.
  • Click: Replace when appropriate.

Problem: Manual Line Breaks

These are those funny little arrows that sometimes show up when you’ve copied and pasted from an odd source, like an email. They won’t format properly when you upload.

Do you want the lines to combine into a single paragraph, or do you want a paragraph break?

Paragraph break: Do this first, then do each affected paragraph as a separate chunk (see “Single paragraph” below)

  • Find: ^l (lower-case L)
  • Eyeball: Locate places where you want a paragraph break; select only those.
  • Replace: ^p.

Single paragraph:

  • Find: ^l
  • Select the lines you want to combine.
  • Replace: space (tap space bar once)
  • Eyeball: Have you created double spaces? If so, replace double spaces with singles (see above).

Problem: Double hyphens to em dashes

Double hyphens (–) are a clumsy substitute for the more elegant and correct em dash (a long dash). On a Mac, you can create an em dash in your text by typing Shift + Option + hyphen, but on a PC, you have to “insert” the special character. So being able to type double hyphens and replace them with em dashes in one fell swoop can save a lot of time (you could actually program Autocorrect to do this if you want).

  • Find:  — (2 hyphens)
  • Replace: Open “More,” then “Special” in the Find box and click on “Em Dash.” The appropriate notation will appear in the bar. (The notation for an em dash appears to be different depending on your version of Word.)*
  • Click: Replace all.

 

*If any of the notations I’ve given you don’t work properly, use the Special list to figure out the correct one for your program or computer.

Next: Part 3: Creative Finds and Fixes

Back to Part 1: Secrets of Find/Replace

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Is It Worth Your Time to Pitch Your Book?

Book in dramatic sunset landscapeOver at Indies Unlimited not too long ago, I ran across this comment from multi-award-winning author @MJBowersock:

[A]nyone who has not already been published, who is not a name that people recognize and that will draw sales, will not win a publishing contract with a traditional publisher. It’s like winning the lottery. It could happen, but the chances are, it won’t.

That’s not quite the kiss of death to our dreams of one day breaking into the publishing big time (the big houses call themselves “legacy” publishers now, Bowersock says). But it’s close.

Books as stairs to publishing success

So my question is, what about all those conferences that bring in rafts of agents and editors who claim to be starving for new talent (like you and me)? Are they scamming us? Do they consider a day at a conference listening to pitches some sort of paid vacation?

If Bowersock is right, I guess so. And our chances of coming away from a conference with real hopes for a contract are nil. Conferences aren’t cheap. Pitching is scary. Why go through such an ordeal?

Here’s one answer: because there are benefits from pitching to actual editors and agents that you can’t get any other way.

I’m not suggesting that any writer invest thousands of dollars in conferences. But I am arguing that a judicious choice of conference at the right moment in your process can be worth at least as much as what you’re paying for that cover or that expert to format your text—

—Because pitching gives you several kinds of feedback you won’t get from any other source.

Publishing success is like a sunny day

You know what you get from query letters: “Sorry, we’re not the right agency for this book.”

What about your writing group? I consider writing groups essential. But the members of your writing group read as friends and colleagues. They don’t read as business people, charged with making money out of your book.

And therein lies all the difference. They hope to make money off of you!

I’m not plugging for any conference, but I’ve been to quite a few, and I’m sharing my experience. I’ve learned things from pitch sessions that no one else ever told me. I’ll do it again.

If you do decide to pitch, be sure to make your investment count:

  • Be ready. Don’t rush to a pitch session with an unspellchecked draft while you’re still trying to figure out whether your main character’s hair is black or red. Exhaust your writing groups and beta readers first.
  • Review the faculty to make sure you can pitch to people who work with your genre. Make sure they work for good agencies and aren’t just somebody’s Facebook friend.
  • Get one-on-one critiques as well as pitches. If at all possible, pay extra to have the right person at the conference read a query letter or a first page and meet with you so you can ask follow-up questions. Pay for “pitch practice” if you possibly can.

Your words fall into your book!

Here are the kinds of questions you can get answered even if there’s scant hope of a contract. They’re the questions you would pay an editor to answer, and Lord knows good editors aren’t cheap.

Do I know what my book is about?

You can muse all day with your writers’ group about your story question, your main character’s goals, why she can’t achieve them, how her journey ends, and so on.

In a pitch session, you have five minutes to lay it out. Five minutes with a steely eyed editor daring you to make him buy it. Get tongue-tied with that agent smiling ever-so-sweetly at you?

Then you haven’t figured it out.

Seeing that stare glaze over or that smile turn to a frown tells you that it’s time to take a good look at your structure so next time you’ll know what your book is about.

What’s derailing my book?

When was the last time you got a response from a query that said, “Sorry, here’s why we don’t want your book.” [Interject sound of strangled laughter from author]

In contrast, you’re three minutes into your pitch, and Steely Eyes says, “I don’t understand why anyone would do that.” Sweet Smile says, “That sounds like a really unpleasant character.” They both say, “I’m lost.” (Often followed by a specific hint as to where and how the road signs got turned around.)

Yeah, I know, if they’d just read the darn book, they’d get it. But the fact is, you’ve just recited part of the back cover blurb that will make readers buy the darn book, and now you know a few things that can turn readers off.

And you have specific issues beyond just-not-good-enough to consider before your next submission: motivation, characterization, style.

Is my idea the high-concept, totally original, million-dollar gem I think it is?

Agents and editors see hundreds of ideas in your genre. You may well be asked, “How is this different from all the other books I’ve seen recently about crazed werewolves in New Jersey?” That five minutes will tell you whether you know the answer to that.

How does my work stack up with someone who is not my friend?

Really, it all comes down to this one: An agent or editor at a conference does not need to make you feel good.

They don’t need you to be in the mood to give them friendly, constructive advice at the next writing group meeting. They don’t need to keep you happy so you’ll hire them again the next time you need an editor.

They’ll give you your five minutes, but after that, they’ve got twenty other people lined up, one of whom might have THE BOOK they came to the conference to acquire.

So the instant they know your pitch isn’t clicking, they won’t string you along.

Pitching at a conference isn’t the way to learn how to make your structure work or how to make your concept a stand-out. But it’s one sure method of finding out fast how close you are to those goals. The day the frown is accompanied by a business card and a willingness to take a look, you’ll know you’ve finally managed to answer the questions that will sell your book.

Book publishing success

Do you have advice for making the most of pitch sessions? Share!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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