Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Am a Book Snob

I started Twilight and got about 50 pages in... then I stopped.

I read the first of the Harry Potter series, and even read a portion of the second.... then I stopped.

I've tried and tried other books.... some of them have clicked, and others have not. It seems I either really like a book or really hate it. There is no in between.

Am I a book snob?  


If a book doesn't cater to my needs, I don't have the motivation to finish it. Like it's not good enough for me or something (I know, I know, rude, right?).

What do I need as a reader? I need an awesome main character (someone I can identify with, like a strong female), a suspenseful, engaging, fast-moving plot (I can also do slower ones if the characters are endearing enough), and creative writing.  I need it to be unique. But it also needs to be wholesome, with somewhere around a PG rating. Is that really too much to ask? Probably.

I used to think I just didn't like bestsellers--like I didn't want to follow the crowd. But I liked The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. I also loved Ender's Game and The Hiding Place and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. But I also adore lesser known A Vision of Light and other Judity Merkle Riley books. So I don't know. I guess I am with books as I am with life--demanding.

What do you "need" from a book?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Developmental Editing vs. Copyediting

Editors come in all shapes and sizes. These days, you don't even have to meet them in person! I've edited several manuscripts for authors I have never met by utilizing Word, the Tracking Changes & Comments features, and email.

Before you hire an editor, or before you start researching what different publishing companies offer (in terms of editing services) make sure you know what type of editor you want/need.

A copyeditor usually just checks for grammar and spelling and prepares the manuscript so it is free of technical errors.

A developmental editor will read for content. They will help analyze the plot and characters (fiction) or make sure you proved your point (nonfiction).

Which type of editor do you need? Probably both.

A high quality editor may be able to provide all in one. The editor should be able to tell you what they can help you with, but it's best to ask a few questions and research their past work to get an idea of what they can do.

1. How many books have you edited?
2. What genres have you edited? Which are your strengths?
3. How many of those were published?
4. What sort of training/eduction have you received?
5. Do you do developmental editing and/or copyediting?
6. Do you know how to cite sources correctly (nonfiction)?
7. Do you think you are better at plot development or character development (fiction)?

It's also important to find an editor who is professional and will treat you with respect. You want an editor who will point out the flaws in your manuscript as well as point out what you did right. Be upfront and tell them what you want. This is your manuscript, so maintain control.

If you are ready to submit your manuscript to a publishing company, do some research. Do they have an editing department? What will the editing entail? What are the qualifications for hiring their editors? Do they provide developmental editing, copyediting, or both?

If you are accepted, see if you can talk to the editing manager (the one who hires editors and assigns them to projects) and request an editor with certain expertise or experience, if available. While editing is time consuming, finding the right editor for you will help your manuscript shine.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Review: 1001 Ways to Market Your Books

If you are an author or aspiring author, then you need to know John Kremer.

His website, e-newsletter, and book 1001 Ways to Market Your Books, are all great tools available to help authors market their books.

The format of the book is probably my favorite feature. He separates each marketing idea into sections, and so you can flip through the book and read a few tips at a time. It really makes it easy to digest the book little by little and implement the ideas effectively.

Marketing is overwhelming, and so making each marketing idea separate and digestible is really key.Each topic is covered well; he goes in-depth so authors will understand and be able to do the task themselves.

The book itself is quite thick, and it is so chalk-full of information, I would definitely recommend buying a copy to refer to again and again.

Here are a few tips he lists:

Write a letter to the editor.
Make a free offer.
Sell to corporations.
Tips for Obtaining Interviews
Ways to Use Your Website to Market Itself

Friday, March 18, 2011

How Plumbing is Like Writing (and How Plumbers are Like Editors)

The other day, our kitchen drain clogged. Like, no drainage whatsoever.

It was ugly.

Really ugly.

Dishes sat for days, my husband and I threw up our hands, and a Rooter guy said a leak was lurking. We were stressed.

The next day (today) whilst the plumber was making my pain go away, I had time to think. Do you tend to get philosophical under stress, or is it just me?

I was thinking about how plumbing is like writing. Stay with me here.

1. Sometimes you'll be going along just fine, writing a wonderful story or whatever, and your inspiration will slow. And then stop. Sort of like my sink.
2. No matter what you do, you can't get it started again. Your plunger breaks. Your computer crashes (or you hit it). You pull out your hair.
3. Your friend tells you a little trick she learned on TV, and it works... sort of. You go online and look up websites, videos, etc. Eh. Really, you need something more. You need... a professional. You are hesitant, because professionals cost money. And not all professionals are "good" and "honest" and well, you just haven't called in a professional before.
4. But you need them. So you call an editor (plumber) and have them look at your work. You choose one you KNOW will be critical and tell you what they really think. Because while you like praise (oooh those old 1930s pipes are so... vintage!), what you like better is progress (that pipe is ugly and has rust spots).
5. The editor/plumber gives you an estimate. "You should do this, because it will help build suspense...."
6. They come back the next day and help you figure it out. Iron out the details. Not because you didn't have it in you (you could have figured it out, but it would have taken too long and been completely frustrating), but that this professional had the tools and skills to get er done.
7. You pay them some of your tax return money, but you are so happy.

The truth is, there is no one way to write something (the same could be said of plumbing). I think that is what gets some writers frustrated. It's not clear cut, and there is no magic formula to get you from A to B. You pretty much get to decide. Having so much freedom is scary. "Will this tangent get me the results I want? What results do I even want?"

It's sort of like home ownership. Every home is different, and it's your house. You can do what you want with it. So where do you start? What do you do half-way through? How will it end? Where is the plumber???

Don't feel like you are giving up by hiring an editor. Especially a good one who knows what they are doing.

I got lucky and was recommended a great plumber who not only knew what he was doing, but he was a fast worker. In just three hours he had put in a new line from the kitchen to the basement, capped off the old leaking pipe, plumbed for a basement bathroom sink, and plumbed and installed a wash bin next to my washing machine.

I am so happy. So happy. Yes, I even used my new wash bin today to wash my little boys' dirty trucks (pictured above).

There are good editors out there. Even the best writers have editors. An editor can be one of the best investments you make for your manuscript. Not only because of their skills, but because they honestly want to see your work be better.

I have edited several manuscripts, and even helped a few people who were stuck (clogged, you could say) and needed a little coaching. While it is "work" most of the time it is fun. I am not sure if my questions/comments are what helped, or perhaps it is the magic that comes of collaboration and shared enthusiasm for writing, but it's so fun to see the author get back into their grove! Things start flowing again, and the new ideas (or pipes) give way to a beautiful end.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Affect vs Effect

This post is in response to a request by Deanna. Thanks for reading!

Class, today we will be studying grammar. Stay in your seats, I know you're excited. 

Affect and Effect are especially difficult for many people because they are homonyms. They sound the same, so when we speak most people don't naturally think of how each is spelled (unless you are a grammar freak like me, you mentally... oh nevermind).

To figure out how to use each correctly, one must know the definitions.

Affect -> to influence, to act on, to attack.

Effect -> the result, to produce an impression, advantage.

So, the environment had an affect on him, but the effect of the experiment was futile.

And, the weather adversely affects my asthma, but the effect of the prescription is good.

Does that make sense?

Quiz time!
Fill in the blank with the correct use: either affect or effect.

1. I had little _______ in the matter.
2. Because of the _______ of the car accident, I have a lot of back pain.
3. No doubt about it, chocolate ________ me so much, the ______ is that I gain weight.

Pencils down!!

Answers: 1. affect, 2. effect, 3. affects, effect

Still unsure of the difference? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How Long Should a Chapter Be?

If you are Dan Brown... a few pages.

If you are the author of all the textbooks I used in high school and college... a hundred million (this is a rough estimate).

In essence, there isn't really an all-inclusive answer. The short answer is "it depends!"

* * *

It depends on your story.
Is it fiction or nonfiction?

For fiction: It depends on your plot.
Is your plot complex or simple? Does it include a lot of characters and locations, etc.?

For nonfiction:  It depends on your arguments.
What points are you discussing? How much space do you need to discuss them well?

It depends on your audience.
Is it for a young adult or scholarly audience? What can that audience handle?

It depends on how long your book is in its entirety. 
What is your word count?

* * *

So, for example, if you are writing a young adult fictional story that has a fairly simple plot and is 20-50,000 words, it's fair to guess that the chapters will be short, or just a few pages.

But if you are writing a nonfiction scholarly textbook with somewhere around 100,000 words, the chapters will need to be long.

If you are still unsure, find several other books in the same genre as your book-in-progress and compare. How long are the chapters in each of those books?

If you are STILL unsure, then don't make any chapters. Worry about it later. Perhaps it will come to you, or you can always ask the advice of an editor.

What do you think? How long should a chapter be?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Book Review: The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform

Stephanie Chandler wanted to be an author, but she wasn't sure where to begin. So in 2003, she quit her job and opened a bookstore. Not the conventional way to start a book, but Chandler wanted to know the business from the inside out.

Today she has a book The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform, a website, and years of experience in the industry.

In her book, she offers interesting insight that authors should read; times have changed and so has book selling. Gone are the days of bookstore signings, as she says in her book: "this is probably one of the least effective ways to market a book" as the average number of books sold at a book signing is only eight books.

Instead she points authors to where they should be focusing their marketing efforts, most especially the Internet. She offers practical advice on how to set up a website and how to become an "expert" in your field. In this case, the book will probably be more useful to nonfiction writers than to fiction writers. The end of her book also includes several interviews with authors and how they got published.

Check out a great info sheet on the book and the author here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What is Passive Voice?

You've heard the term, "be a defensive driver." Obviously, it means to always be on the lookout and avoid accidents before they happen.

In the writing world, we don't want to be defensive. Being defensive is weak! Instead, we want to be proactive. And so we use the following phrase: "avoid passive voice." But exactly what is passive voice?

There is a great handout on passive voice by The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

I see passive voice all the time, and it really gets on my nerves. Here are some examples:

The cheese was eaten.
Fun was had by all.

Why was the road crossed by the chicken? (Example from handout)

Do you see something wrong with these sentences? They are grammatically "correct" but just lack some umph.

If you thought, "who ate the cheese?" or "who had fun?" or "why is the word 'chicken' where it is?" then you are onto something! Basically, the subject and action are a little sloppy. The sentence is telling us what happened, but no proactively. Kind of like when your kid does something wrong, and they try to downplay it.

"The vase was broken." vs "I broke the vase."

If you have a manuscript started, go through it and try to pick out any passive sentences. Once you have identified them, figure out how to make them stand out.

The door opened slowly. vs. Charlie slowly pushed the door open.

See how that small change makes a big difference? The sentence is more commanding and offers more imagry to the reader. They don't just see the door, they see a person acting on the door.

What do you think?