Tag Archives: tips for writers

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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How to Tweet Like a Pro [Lab]

I’m working on developing these practices. Let me know if you have other tips!

Author Steve Boseley - Half a Loaf of Fiction

Tweet like a proTwitter is one tool in an author’s bag that can, if used effectively, be utilised to assist in the building of your author platform, which you hope ultimately will result in book sales, plus it’s a great way to make a connection with influencers or to speak to your readers. But a question that was raised in my mind, was:

How do I compose an effective Tweet?

I recently wrote a guest post for Nicholas Rossis’ blog titled What is the best time to Tweet. Choosing the right time to Tweet is definitely an element of what goes into an effective Tweet. Check out that post (when you’ve finished this one!) for guidance.

But for a Tweet to be effective, it involves a lot more than just publishing at the right time, so read on for the anatomy of an effective Tweet.

Content

According to Twitter, there are…

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What’s your favorite punctuation mark? And the one you hate?

The five basic comma rulesHere’s a great article for you punctuation police to agree or argue with. My personal favorite is the comma. 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 wrote an entire post 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:

  • 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.)

  • Around “interrupters,” including non-essential modifiers.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.

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 rule here, and it is a rule, is either two commas or none. You need that second comma to signal the return to the main clause.)

Here’s an example of an essential modifier, one that can’t be lifted out without turning the 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.

  • 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?

  • Before “and,” “but,” etc., if you have more than two items. (This is the Oxford or serial comma Pinker discusses in the article I’ve linked to, and his examples of the power of this punctuation mark are good ones.)

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 (and note the comma after the introductory clause).

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

I’d argue this is a judgment call, but again, as in this sentence, judicious use of the comma in a compound sentence like this one can provide valuable information about which part of the sentence a reader has ventured into.

{Note commas after the introductory element and around interrupters in this sentence. Commas can keep those elements distinct, so that they make sense.)

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 a number of 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.”

 

 

 

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Using -ing Words | The Editor’s Blog

This article provides excellent, detailed discussion. In critique groups I’ve been enrolled in, some critiquers seem terrified of the progressive tenses, and some believe that using a present-participle phrase as a modifier constitutes “mixing tenses” and therefore incorrect. The article is on point that glomming onto such rigid rules limits writers’ options for rhythm and meaning.
And the discussion here of dangling modifiers should be required reading for all aspiring writers. i see so many of these. Otherwise competent writers seem oblivious to them. The examples here precisely mirror what I see. Here’s my rant on dangling modifiers.
I think writers need to READ, widely, and not just the latest free examples of their favorite genre, to see how good writers make use of many available strategies and apply rules thoughtfully rather than blindly.
If you’ve ever been told to cut “-ing” words, take the time to read this!

Word Craft ~ Prose & Poetry

book-1012275_1280I wish there was a magic wand I could wave to correct my grammar as I continue editing my novel. How about you? Read this comprehensive article about editing and how to fix some of your mistakes. This is a MUST-READ! ❤ 

There’s a lot of conflicting advice that tells writers to never use words that end in -ing or to not use -ing words under certain conditions. Explore both the advice and the rationale behind it.

Source:Using -ing Words | The Editor’s Blog

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Grammar Rules: Split Infinitives | Writing Forward

Here’s my take on this article:

I agree with this post: what to do with infinitives is a judgment call. Some observations:
In the 18th century, pundits thought English needed to be more like Latin, a “more mature” language. You can’t split an infinitive in Latin (nor in Romance languages like French or Spanish–such languages have one-word infinitives). But since English needed to emulate Latin, its two-word infinitive needed to be treated like a Latin one-word infinitive. So there. Obviously English is a very different language from Latin–it’s not a Romance language at all, it’s Germanic–so following a rule meant for a Romance language doesn’t make sense.
Second, one reason “to boldly go” sounds so good is that placing “boldly” within the infinitive creates an iambic phrase: ././ Iambic is the “natural” meter for English; it’s Shakespeare’s meter, for example. It just plain has a ring.
So place your adverbs wherever you think they create that ring. (And don’t eschew adverbs universally, either. They have important roles in prose.)

Word Craft ~ Prose & Poetry

FINALLY! Split infinitives explained and how to NOT use them! ❤

What are split infinitives and do grammar rules tell us whether or not we can use them or when it’s appropriate to use them?

Source: Grammar Rules: Split Infinitives | Writing Forward

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The Adverb Problem and Why Authors Should Care

Here’s an article about an old controversy: to adverb or not to adverb. My thoughts on this issue:

I agree with one of the comments in the original post that a blanket ban on adverbs is unworkable. In the sentence “After I had breakfast, I went to the store” (okay, it’s not literature), the first dependent clause, “After I had breakfast,” is an adverbial clause. Anything that fleshes out where, when, why, or how may well be adverbial. To ban adverbs completely would be to impoverish a piece of writing beyond recognition. Does “completely” in that sentence add anything? It does add emphasis. Whether it should be cut is a judgment call.
I do agree that it’s better to find the precise verb that does the work rather than to tack an adverb onto a weak verb. Sometimes that can be tricky, though. “He closed the door firmly” conveys an intentionality that ‘He closed the door” does not. “He slammed the door” won’t work. “He jerked the door shut” might work to replace “firmly.” It can take a long time for the word that works best to float up (and “best” is an adverb in that sentence). Finding the word that Mark Twain compared to lightning rather than the lightning bug should always be the goal, IMHO.

What’s your take on adverbs—the “ly” kind and its sometimes (adverb) invisible brethren?

A Writer's Path

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by Gary Smailes

 

In this article I will set out to explain why so many famous authors (Stephen King being perhaps the most vocal) warn other authors against the use of adverbs. In fact, King’s hatred of adverbs is so intense that he’s been quoted as saying, “Adverbs are evil.” You will discover the role of adverbs in fiction writing, and I’ll demonstrate why removing adverbs from your writing will make your book more enjoyable to read. In short, I’ll explain just why adverbs are evil.

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Are You Botching Your Dialogue?

This post from Kristen Lamb’s blog gives some good basic guidelines for using and punctuating dialogue. These principles can be surprisingly hard to master, so a good primer is always helpful. The one I see most often is the use of an action as if it were a dialogue tag. To add to Kristen’s list, I’d say, “Watch out for that darn Autocorrect in Word. If you have it turned on and you accidentally type a period instead of a comma after the dialogue, Autocorrect automatically capitalizes the next letter, so you end up with two punctuation gaffes, not one.
Thanks, Kristen!

Kristen Lamb's Blog

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 10.43.36 AM

Today we are going to talk about dialogue. Everyone thinks they are great at it, and many would be wrong. Dialogue really is a lot tricker than it might seem.

Great dialogue is one of the most vital components of fiction. Dialogue is responsible for not only conveying the plot, but it also helps us understand the characters and get to know them, love them, hate them, whatever.

Dialogue is powerful for revealing character. This is as true in life as it is on the page. If people didn’t judge us based on how we speak, then business professionals wouldn’t bother with Toastmasters, speaking coaches or vocabulary builders.

I’d imagine few people who’d hire a brain surgeon who spoke like a rap musician and conversely, it would be tough to enjoy rap music made by an artist who spoke like the curator of an art museum.

Our word choices are…

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#amwriting: point of view

Connie does a terrific job of explaining POV here. True, very, very skilled writers can “head-hop”—Larry McMurtry does it all through the Lonesome Dove books—but for most of us, suddenly slipping from one POV to another without the kind of warning Connie suggests is jarring. I’ll add that one of the easiest mistakes to make is for a POV character, whether third- or first-person, to “see” him- or herself. For example, if we want to stay true to the character’s point of view, we can’t say about a POV character, “I gave an enticing smile.” The character can give a smile that “I hoped was enticing,” or “I meant to be enticing,” but only a viewer (another character) can tell if the smile actually was “enticing.” These slips can be subtle but disorienting.
Read Connie’s piece for a good review of this important issue!

Life in the Realm of Fantasy

Xpogo_RioA young author recently asked me, “What is head-hopping and why has my writing group accused me of doing it?” Headhopping occurs when an author switches point-of-view characters within a single scene, and happens most frequently when using a Third-Person Omniscient narrative, in which the thoughts of every character are open to the reader.

It’s difficult to know whose opinions are most important when all your characters are speaking in your head as you are writing. They clamor and speak over the top of each other, making a din like my family at any holiday dinner. But you must force them to take turns speaking, and make a real break between the scenes where the speaker changes, or each rapid shift of perspective will throw the reader out of the story. But what is Point of View other than the thoughts of one or two characters?

Point of view is a common…

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10 Cliches in Mystery Novels

As a mystery writer, I love the analysis in this list! My favorites:

No. 2) Isn’t it great when the police are conveniently so stupid that the detective can look smart with very little effort? That dates at least to Arthur Conan Doyle (remember Lestrade?), but it’s a long way from the truth. Rachel is absolutely right that police work can be a difficult and thankless task.

No. 3) Follows from No. 2, as Rachel points out. The detective is the only one with the basic common sense to detect foul play.

What am I guilty of? Well, My Failed Novel had a depressed detective hero. Never again. I plead guilty to inserting some attractive female characters in my first two books, now online. I hope these women are just a little bit nuanced so that they’re not total clichés.

What would I add?

  • The info dump at the end where the hero lines all the characters up and exhibits his or her brilliance by explaining the whole case, which he or she was the only one smart enough to unravel.
  • That, and books where people just tell the detective what he or she needs to know rather than allowing the detective to work for his or her discoveries.
  • And finally, detectives who don’t share things they’ve learned. Of course they’re smarter than everybody else if they’re keeping secrets!

    What would you add?

Rachel Poli

Have you ever had that feeling of deja vu? You know, when you feel as though something has already happened, but it’s happening again?

Sometimes that happens in books, but when that happens it’s called a cliche.

A cliche is something that is overused and has no original thought put into it.

Cliches are everywhere. In books, TV shows, blog posts (like this one), and in real life conversations and actions. Some cliches we can put up with, some we can’t. The bottom line is, they’re never going to go away.

Then again, there are so many ideas out there that there are bound to be some repeats.

I mean, have you ever had that feeling of deja vu? You know, when you feel as though something has already happened, but it’s happening again?

…Wait….

10 Cliches in Mystery Novels Rachel Poli

Some cliches are easy to avoid, but as stated earlier, some aren’t. There are only…

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