Saturday, January 31, 2009

Scare Quotes Everywhere!

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Quote marks are probably the most overused form of punctuation. Quote is short for quotation, so essentially, quote marks should be used only to set off a quotation—the verbatim text of something that was said or published. If you’re writing a novel and using quote marks for anything but dialogue—take them out!

Writers everywhere like to use quote marks around words they consider special for some reason or around words that are not being used in a traditional way. Old school editors call these scare quotes, a way of alerting the reader that the word may not mean what you think it does. Ninety percent of the time, the marks are completely unnecessary. If you’re writing logical sentences—even using euphemisms—readers know what you mean. Here’s a few examples of unneeded quote marks.
  • “Quote” is short for “quotation.” (Did anyone misread the sentence when I wrote it earlier without the punctuation?)

  • After a few minutes in the club, John decided to wander back and watch the “dancers.” (Yes, we all know that dancers is a polite way of saying strippers. Does your character think of them of dancers or strippers? Use one or the other without quote marks, because it tells us something about your character.)
Many editors will argue that in my first example quote marks are necessary to set off the words used as words. In some cases, this may be true. (Oh the discussions I’ve had about words as words!) The real test is readability. If the sentence reads fine without the punctuation, don’t use it. Less is better. If you have to set off a word used as a word for readability, please use italics, which are much less intrusive and preferred by the Chicago Manual of Style.

For a look at some extreme examples of excessive quote mark usage, check this site.
The Blog of Unnecessary Quotation Marks


L.J. Sellers is an award-winning journalist and editor and is the author of the Detective Jackson mysteries, The Sex Club and Secrets to Die For. She also loves to edit fiction and works with authors to keep her rates affordable. Contact her at:
L.J. Sellers
Write First, "Clean" Later ;)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Ask the Editors – Self Editing, Part Four

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Dear Editors-

“I think one of the hardest things to do is self-editing. Invariably, no matter how hard you try, there is always something you overlook or miss. What is your advice on how to get the most out of self-editing? What are the most important things a writer should look for when they edit?”

Christine Verstraete, author, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery


***

This is the last post in a four-part series. To read the previous posts, click on Third, Second, and First.

Today I have three words for you.

Cut the fat.

Stephen King, my writing-style mentor, recommends that your self-editing reduce your manuscript’s total word count by at least 10 percent. Cut the fat and get to the meat of the story. Here’s an example:

Mary decided that enough was enough and that John had abused her just one too many times. She decided then and there that she must stand up for herself. She quickly snatched the rolling pin that she had on the counter and slammed him very hard, right squarely in the forehead with it.

The above example is loaded with unnecessary words that slow the action. Look at all the needless uses of "that;" and several other words can be cut without losing any story. Look at this rewrite:

Mary decided, enough. John had abused her too many times. She must stand up for herself. She snatched the rolling pin on the counter and slammed him in the forehead.

See how much more direct impact that has? Here’s one more:

John staggered backward, all the way back into the wall, holding the wound that Mary had just delivered, his hands on his forehead, coated with the blood that was spilling down quickly.

Lots of excess here. You’re probably smiling at my blatancy. Here’s how I would rewrite this overly plump passage:

John grabbed his forehead and staggered back into the wall with blood spilling down his hands.

One more recommendation. You should have a trusted "Designated Honest Reader" (DHR). Have someone read your manuscript who is well-read and who knows good literature from bad. Someone who loves you and cares enough about your writing career to tell you straight-up what they like and/or do not like about your story, even if some of the feedback hurts. Preferably this person is close enough that you can be in the same house and observe them when they read your book. When the DHR puts it down and goes to fix a cup of coffee or do something else, walk over to the manuscript and see - which scene was so easy to put down?

In closing I suggest the following books: On Writing, by Stephen King, and my all-time favorite “how-to” handbook for self-editing, The Frugal Editor, by Carolyn Howard Johnson.

***

Article written and submitted by Marvin D Wilson, author,
I Romanced the Stone,
Owen Fiddler, and Between the Storm and the Rainbow.
Marvin is an editor with
All things That Matter Press and does freelance editing.
He maintains two popular blogs at
Free Spirit and Tie Dyed Tirades.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ask the Editor - The Dreaded Semicolon

My question: The dreaded semicolon. When I work in MSWord, it is forever telling me to replace a comma with a semicolon. I usually obey the MSWord wizard because I don’t seem to know what I’m doing. Is there some way to tell (some rule of thumb?) if what I have is two sentences—that should be broken up rather than use a semicolon?

Thanks for your time.

Billie A. Williams
http://www.billiewilliams.com/
The Capricorn Goat

Billie,

A lot of writers find the semicolon mysterious. I’d like to see you take charge of your writing and not let the MSWord wizard boss you around about it.

In order to do that, you need to view punctuation as a set of communication tools that you can use to signal your reader how you want them to interpret what you’ve written.

The three basic punctuation tools are a comma, a semicolon, and a period. I often think of them as traffic signs. When I see a comma, I slow down. A semicolon tells me to yield, and a period shouts, “Stop.” It’s that simple.

Think of one of your sentences where the Word wizard tells you to use a semicolon instead of a comma. What do you intend for that sentence to accomplish? If you want it to be two sentences, use a period and tell the reader to stop between them, especially if each sentence is really long.

But suppose the two sentences are closely related in subject matter and you want the reader to view them as a unit. Then you can thank the wizard for his advice and insert the semicolon he suggested. The reader will pause between the two sentences, but she won’t pause as long as if you had used a period.

Sometimes, especially if your two sentences are very short, you can use a comma instead of a semicolon to join them into one, regardless of how loud the wizard screams. But if you want to be very careful, stick with the semicolon between two complete sentences of any length.

You may want to show the exact relationship between the two sentences. If so, you can use a comma and one of these words: but, and, or, when, while, or yet. Each word gives the reader a different signal as to how the sentences are related. Elsa Neal posted a great BRP blog in November [http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2008/11/comma-according-to-trask.html] about the four different categories of commas, so you should read it to learn more about commas and how to use them. She asked that I give you this message: “MSWord is suggesting a semicolon because she is missing a joining word following her commas.” She’s referring to the six joining words listed at the beginning of this paragraph.

Note: Everything I’ve said presupposes that both of your sentences are independent, which is an old-fashioned grammar term. Basically, an independent sentence must contain a subject and a verb and be able to stand alone. It must not begin with a word such as although, after, before, if, since, unless, which, etc. Connectors such as these will make one of the sentences dependent on the other one, and what I’ve said about semicolons won’t apply.

Here are four basic rules and suggestions that follow from my advice.

1. If the two sentences are brief, a comma is acceptable, as in Mary bought bread, she also bought gas. A semicolon is correct in this case also. You can also connect two short sentences by using a comma and but, and, or, when, while, or yet.

2. If the subject matter of the sentences is closely related and the sentences are long, retain the semicolon, as in this example. Mary went to the store to buy a loaf of bread; she also drove to the filling station for gas.

3. If the subject matter of the sentences is not closely related, use a period instead of a semicolon, as in Mary went to the store to buy a loaf of bread. Sam drove to the filling station for gas.

4. Dialogue seems more natural without a semicolon, so when you write dialogue,
use either a comma or a period unless your publisher advises differently.

After you’ve read and thought about my explanations and suggestions, hopefully you’ll feel comfortable enough to tell the MSWord wizard that you appreciate his advice and, although you’ll take it occasionally, most of the time you’d rather do it your way.


I hope this helps.


---------------------------------------

Shelley Thrasher


Shelley has a PhD in English and specializes in editing novels written by women. She spends most of her time style-editing for Bold Strokes Books.

She also enjoys writing poetry and novels, and posts selections at www.myspace.com/editlit.




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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ask The Editor: Editors' Names

QUESTION: There's conflicting advice in the writing world about when sending out a manuscript whether to address it to a specific editor, when they change so quickly, or whether to simply write: "Dear Submissions Editor". What's your opinion?

Thanks,
Carol Gordon Ekster www.carolgordonekster.com
"Where Am I Sleeping Tonight?-A Story of Divorce"
Boulding Publishing fall 2008

ANSWER: Every time I see this kind of question, I think about all the mail I get at my home addressed to “resident” or “occupant.” Talk about depersonalization. That kind of mail gets tossed immediately, and as authors, we don’t want to invite that kind of dismissal of our treasured work.

So, no, don’t send a query to “Dear Submissions Editor.” A submission package is an indication of our professionalism, and if we don’t take the time to find out the current editor in a publishing house, that brands us as amateurs. It only takes a quick phone call to get the name of the editor to whom your query should be sent. They seldom move before a query could reach them, unless you wait weeks or months to mail it.

It is also important to get the spelling of said editor’s name correct. Not that I am implying you would not, but when I worked as an acquisitions editor, I received queries addressed to Marianna Millar, Mary Miller, MaryAnna Mills. You get my drift.

Seeing my name misspelled did not hurt my feelings. I’ve been in the business long enough that my hide is pretty tough and my ego is under control. What the misspellings said to me was that the authors were not professionals and did not take care with details. So, should I take their work seriously?

In the tough world of marketing we face today, it behooves a writer to make sure she has not done anything to make an editor reject the project without even reading the proposal.

--------------------------------

Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, she loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ask the Editor - Sex Scenes in a Romance Novel

Question: I would like to know in contemporary romance, what is the rule of thumb as to how many sex scenes there should be in a novel.

Michele Cameron
Moments of Clarity
http://www.michelecameronblog.com/


Michele,

I’ve edited about fifty contemporary romances during the past four years and have never required a certain number of sex scenes, although I do recommend at least two.

Some of the novels I’ve worked on have an abundance of sex scenes, and some have virtually none. However, a contemporary romance does need to have certain basic elements, which I abbreviate by thinking of the acronym CLICK: conflict, longing, intimacy, climax, and kiss. I have to scramble the final three letters of my acronym in order to discuss these elements in sequence, but it’s a good memory tool.

Conflict lies at the core of any novel, and in a romance it’s crucial. A romantic couple without any sparks is like Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind—nice and sweet, but boring. Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler have conflict from their first meeting, and it never stops. If this were a contemporary novel, it would probably include a lot more sex scenes than the famous fade-to-black when Rhett sweeps Scarlett into his arms and carries her up the staircase.

The couple must long for each other. The potential lovers can’t have it easy. They must have external obstacles, such as the Civil War or the hatred that the Montagues and the Capulets have for one another in Romeo and Juliet, and they must have psychological barriers, such as previous failed relationships that have scarred them so badly they’ve totally given up on love. Scarlett’s big hangup, her belief that she loves Ashley, is her major inner barrier to the possibility of her love for Rhett, and she doesn’t overcome this psychological roadblock until the end of the novel. The couple must long for love, but must have a very difficult time obtaining it.

The first sex scene is usually the first kiss, or the near-kiss. A near-kiss may occur before the kiss and can add another layer of tension. The couple are almost unconsciously pulled together and come to their senses or are interrupted right before they actually kiss. A near-kiss can ratchet up the reader’s expectation for the actual first kiss. In a contemporary romance, after the couple’s conflict and longing, the first kiss is an oasis in the hot, parching desert. It brings the hope of love and fulfillment, and it can be sweet and tender or passionate and fiery. It makes the reader think the romantic couple has a chance, but, of course, more conflict and renewed longing follow it.

At this point the couple begins to work toward the climax, which in much contemporary romance is usually a full-blown sex scene full of graphic details. It can be brief or expanded, but it must mirror the couple’s feelings for one another. It can never contain sex for the sake of sex, but it must emphasize the love that has grown between these two individuals during the course of their conflict and longing. Sex for the pure lust of it can occur near the beginning of a romance novel, but it has to be clear that the romantic lead who indulges in such behavior is bitter or somehow not him/herself. By the time the climax with the true love occurs, this character must have come to her/his senses and be ready to commit much more than the physical to the relationship the lovers have suffered so much to achieve.

In the end, the couple achieves, or has begun to achieve, intimacy. These two characters have been transformed by love and leave readers hoping that they can find the same type of closeness. The author may then want to show the couple making love in a way that expresses this newfound intimacy or merely imply that this type of sex will be a positive and recurring force in their developing relationship.

So a contemporary romance needs a minimum of two sex scenes: a kiss, which can be effectively preceded by a near-kiss, and a climactic scene in bed with as many details as you feel comfortable writing. How much sex you include depends on your taste and on what clicks with your readers. That’s one of the pleasures of writing and reading contemporary romance: practically anything goes within the confines of the CLICK.


--------------------------------------------

Shelley Thrasher

Shelley has a PhD in English and specializes in editing novels written by women. She spends most of her time style-editing for Bold Strokes Books.

She also enjoys writing poetry and novels, and posts selections at www.myspace.com/editlit.


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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ask the Editors – Self Editing, Part Three

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Dear Editors-

“I think one of the hardest things to do is self-editing. Invariably, no matter how hard you try, there is always something you overlook or miss. What is your advice on how to get the most out of self-editing? What are the most important things a writer should look for when they edit?”

Christine Verstraete, author, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery

***

This is the third post in a four-part series. To read the previous posts, either scroll down (they are posted in succession below) or click on Second and First.

Today’s Lesson:

1. Get rid of weak, qualifying words and phrases.

You’ve already searched and destroyed those dreaded words ending in “ly,” but other words can weaken your prose. They don’t appear as adverbs or adjectives, but they function the same. Seek out and eliminate these words:

Almost, less, seldom, even, always, maybe, soon, more, perhaps, then, very, far, never, today, well, sometimes, just, perhaps

Next, search for and rewrite or eliminate worn-out “turning phrases” like these:

Of course, nevertheless, for example, in fact, however, seemingly, in spite of, besides which

These short lists contain the most overused and abused. Others exist, but this is a good start.

2. Eliminate all clichés.

Clichés are boring, plagiarized bits of wisdom expressed in a set formula. You are a writer. Show us your creativity, amaze us! When you write your first draft and a cliché seems to fit and no better phrase comes to mind, go ahead and key it in. But when you go back to self-edit, use clichés as opportunities to shine. Rewrite with originality and in keeping with your style and your story. Where you might have written, “My whole world was turned upside down,” you might rewrite, and for this example let’s say you are writing a sci-fi, “My entire universe got sucked into a black hole.”

***

Article written and submitted by Marvin D Wilson, author,
I Romanced the Stone,
Owen Fiddler, and Between the Storm and the Rainbow.
Marvin is an editor with
All things That Matter Press and does freelance editing.
He maintains two popular blogs at
Free Spirit and Tie Dyed Tirades.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ask the Editors – Self Editing, Part Two

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Dear Editors-

“I think one of the hardest things to do is self-editing. Invariably, no matter how hard you try, there is always something you overlook or miss. What is your advice on how to get the most out of self- editing? What are the most important things a writer should look for when they edit?”

Christine Verstraete, author, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery

***

If you missed it and want to catch up with Lesson One, Click Here.

And now Lesson Two--

Use the Word tools, “Track Changes,” and “Spelling and Grammar” to do the following:

• Eliminate repetitious words. Look for words used more than twice or thrice in close proximity. Switch on Track Changes, and then click on “Edit.” Use the “Find” feature to locate those words everywhere in your manuscript. Have your thesaurus handy or up on your browser, and use it to replace repeated words with appropriate synonyms. An exception to this practice is if you have a character with a quirky trait of using a certain word or phrase. Even then, do not overdo it.

• Eliminate adverbs and adjectives. Strong prose uses verbs and nouns. Search for words ending in “ly.” Eliminate most of them. For instance, if you have written “John ran quickly to the car,” it is much stronger to write, “John ran to the car.” Running is quick. If you want to jazz up the pace, use “sped” or “raced” or “sprinted” to replace the verb, but don’t weaken its strength by qualifying it with an adverb. Same with adjectives. “He was awful mad” has less impact than “He was mad.”

• Find, and eliminate where possible, passive voice. Use Spelling and Grammar to search for it and rewrite. Most publishing houses want no more than 5 percent passive voice in a manuscript. Less is better.

• Use the “find” function to edit out your idiosyncrasies. We tend to write the way we talk and think. This practice can become intrusive in a novel if your “voice” is entering the story in an inappropriate manner. Do a “find” search for all those phrases and/or favorite words, and consider rewriting.

***

Article written and submitted by Marvin D Wilson, author, I Romanced the Stone, Owen Fiddler, and Between the Storm and the Rainbow.
Marvin is an editor with
All things That Matter Press and does freelance editing.
He maintains two popular blogs at
Free Spirit and Tie Dyed Tirades.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ask the Editors – Self-Editing, Part One

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Dear Editors-

“I think one of the hardest things to do is self-editing. Invariably, no matter how hard you try, there is always something you overlook or miss. What is your advice on how to get the most out of self-editing? What are the most important things a writer should look for when they edit?”

Christine Verstraete, author, Searching For A Starry Night, A Miniature Art Mystery



***


This is a comprehensive question and subject, so for the sake of blogging brevity I am writing a four-part series of short posts to address it properly.

You can do the obvious things, like checking for grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Everyone uses spell-check these days, but that is no guarantee you do not have “wrong” words in your manuscript. Spell-check will not correct things like “too” where it should be “to,” or “then” when it should be “than,” or “you” where “your” should be. So there is no substitute for good old-fashioned reading your manuscript with a critical eye. After completing a first draft, put it away for at least a week--two is better--or even a month. Work on something else and/or read other authors for a while. Then pull it out and read it with fresh eyes.

Look for these glaring turnoffs:

• Excessive use of italics for internal dialog, especially in the first three chapters. Rewrite in such a way as to let the reader know these are the character's thoughts.

• Overuse of sentence fragments as “style” elements.

• Overuse of exclamation points! It makes your writing sound like a constantly barking dog!

• Overuse of question marks? As with exclamation points, they are strong punctuations. Do not overuse them. It is considered amateurish. Where “What did you say, John” will do, do not write, “What did you say, John?”--unless there is some reason for the redundancy made obvious by the context.

• Overuse and/or misuse of commas. You will find dozens of excellent tutorials online on this subject. Do a Google search, bone up, and make corrections.

This ends lesson number one. Tune in to this blog for the remaining tutorials soon to come. While I will not be addressing the more advanced editing chores of subjects like character inconsistencies (or the need to eliminate a character), poor paragraph and sentence structure, time-line inconsistencies, and plot confusion, I will cover the majority of what a publishing-house editor pulls his or hair out over when receiving a what-could-be-a-good book fraught with obvious no-no’s.



---------------------------------------

Article written and submitted by Marvin D Wilson, author, I Romanced the Stone, Owen Fiddler, and Between the Storm and the Rainbow.
Marvin is an editor with
All things That Matter Press and does freelance editing.
He maintains two popular blogs at
Free Spirit and Tie Dyed Tirades.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Ask the Editor: Selling an E-book to a Print Publisher

Question: Would I have difficulty interesting a print publisher in my book if it has already been published as an e-book? What would be the drawback, if any?

Submitted by Susan Culp, author of 50 Frogs, 5 Babes and a Bulldog
www.50frogs5babesandabulldog.com

Answer: Great – and very timely – question, Susan.

Just recently, the blog Galley Cat announced that the previously self-published non-fiction work Notes Left Behind is scheduled for publication through William Morrow in the fall of 2009. It’s something for any author with an e-book to celebrate.

As I’m sure you are very aware, self-publishing is a sizzling topic, especially on literary agents’ blogs. The general consensus: unless you've sold thousands of copies of your e-book, agents and print publishers aren’t going to be interested in your manuscript because it’s been previously published.

The good news? If you have sold thousands of copies, you’ve got a publishing credit to show off to agents today. Notes Left Behind sold 8,000 copies. Of course, with a feature on Good Morning America, this e-book had access to an audience any author and publisher would love.

And if your sales didn’t hit that four-figure magic mark? Don’t let that stop you. It’s going to take significant work to find representation, but it’s not entirely impossible. (The same can be said about any author seeking an agent.) When you find an agent you’re interested in, be sure to scour their site or Publishers Marketplace listing to see if they specifically address e-books and self-publishing.

A few tips as you query agents:
  • Show off the work you did to market your e-book. Were you able to get reviews in selective publications? Did you generate significant blog buzz? Tell the agent how you did it.
  • Do you have great connections? If you built relationships with bookstores and sales reps, show them off. It’s a great way to demonstrate the work you’re willing to do to sell your book.
  • Do you have an amazing idea for your next book or a follow-up book? Share that, too. With your e-book, you have already demonstrated your ability to actually finish a book.
Thanks again for your question, Susan. I wish you the best of luck – let us know how it goes.

Self-publishing is a great discussion for us here at The Blood-Red Pencil. Fellow editors, what’s your take on Susan’s question?

-------------------------------------

A full-time freelance editor-writer and owner of a.k.a writer in Denver, Jesaka Long works her word magic for small publishing houses and authors, especially non-fiction writers and memoirists. As a valentine to authors, she is offering a one-time special of $1/page editing for the first five manuscripts scheduled by February 14, 2009. For more information email her at jesaka (at) jesakalong.com or visit www.jesakalong.com.


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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ask the Editor - What Turns You Off?

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What turns you off the most in a manuscript?
Marilyn Meredith
Book: Kindred Spirits
Buy from http://www.mundania press.com
Website:
http://fictionforyou.com
------------ --------- --------- --------- -------

A caveat to start: IMHO a “turn off” is a subjective judgment. It is fair to say that one person’s turn off just might be someone else’s “Oh boy, do I love that!” Having said that, here are some of my least favorite things:

1. A novel that starts with the character waking up, hung over or not, fumbling for the alarm clock (or telephone or staggering to the door or whatever) then showering, and observing self in mirror. Maybe it’s just me, but I always take this as a cheap, lazy-writing way to reveal the character’s looks and maybe a few other points. My attitude probably comes from the fact that this opening has been done to death. It’s a really good idea to figure out what those DTD things are and not do them!

2. Mysteries that resolve the plot through some “cheat the reader” device like the spontaneous, no-warning introduction of an evil twin or something equally preposterous. A big part of having a successful novel is to respond to and satisfy your reader’s expectations. In a mystery, the readers love to follow along, figuring things out, trying to out-guess the villain or the sleuth. You need the right mix of real clues and red herrings to keep the reader intrigued. The reveal should be the payoff, not something that leaves the reader feeling tricked.

3. Novels that start with several pages of meaningless, chitty-chatty, salt-and-pepper dialog. This kind of dialog needs to be minimal regardless of where in the story it is placed, but an overdose of it right up front is just deadly. The opening needs to engage, and to engage you have to get your theme across. That can be accomplished with action, narrative or meaningful dialogue, but several pages of pointless chatter, no matter how witty or clever, probably isn’t going to do it.

---------------------------------------------

Billie Johnson Billie is a publisher with Oak Tree Press, located in Central IL. Oak Tree Press sponsors three annual writing contests and a writers conference. You can find out more about Oak Tree Press at
http://www.oaktreebooks.com. Visit our company blog, too!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hero On the Hudson

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Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549, is an American hero. After his plane struck a flock of ducks, which flew into the left engine and shut it down, Sullenberger still managed to safely land and evacuate all 150 passengers on the Hudson River.

How did he pull off such a feat? From all accounts, almost his entire life was spent in preparation. At age 15, he already flew a crop duster. Before he became a commercial pilot, in his Air Force days he flew F-4 Phantom II fighter planes and led war game exercises. Two years before the miracle landing, he started up a consulting firm, Safety Reliability Methods, to help insure the safety of commercial aviation.

When disaster struck, Sully knew exactly what to do and he did it. Another pilot may not have been as prepared. We'll never know.

Now let's pretend Sullenberger is a fictional hero in your book. As such, you can't just play out the bird strike and show how he handled it. Readers would find it hard to believe he could have been so lucky to pull off such a feat.

On the other hand, if you wove bits and pieces of Sullenberger's backstory in strategic spots in your novel, when the bird strike occurs and the Hero on the Hudson rises to the occasion, your readers will get that "Aha" moment. They'll immediately understand how he could have done it and be satisfied with the result.

To recap, be sure to lay groundwork in your novel to make your hero or heroine's actions more believable. Can you think of instances or examples where authors have done a good or bad job at this? Please share.
-----------------------------------

Morgan Mandel








http://morganmandel.blogspot.com/
http://twitter.com/morganmandel

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ask the Editor: What are the Rules of Possession?

Dear Editors:

Why do I so often see the possessive for a proper noun ending in 's' formed incorrectly?
This is correct: Mr. Ross's book. This is incorrect: Mr Ross' book
This is correct: Paris's dog. This is incorrect: Paris' dog
This is correct: the actress's Oscar, This is incorrect: the actress' Oscar.

Thank you,
Marjorie Levine


Hello Marjorie.

Seasons change, fashions change, times change, and so does grammar.


While it’s true that the standard used to be Mr. Ross’s book and Paris’s dog and the actress’s Oscar, the writing world has moved on from that rule.


Today, the acceptable way of showing possession is “th
e actress’ Oscar.” “Actress” ends in not just one “s,” but two. No need to add a third “s” to the pot. It’s also acceptable to use just the apostrophe, with no extra “s,” when the noun doing the possessing has only one “s,” such as dogs’ house (meaning multiple dogs who share a house).

Technically, you still have a choice when the subject doing the possessing is a proper name. You could write “Mr. Ross’s book” or “Mr. Ross’ book.” However, it is the norm today to skip the additional “s” and write “Mr. Ross’ book” or “Paris’ dog.” This is true with names that end in an “s.” It’s not true for names that don’t end in an “s,” such as Helen. For example, “this is Helen’s decree” is correct. “This is Helen’ decree” is not.


The rule has changed for several reasons.
Fewer letters to type = fewer letters to print for the publisher. (Which also helps explain why one space between sentences is now more acceptable than two spaces.)

The esses don’t seem to go on forever like a snake hissing.

It’s easier to type “Ross’” than to type “Ross’s.”

It changed because it did. Editors started telling writers to drop the “s” to show possession when the noun ended in an “s.” Then newspaper editors began to bellow that the world was running out of esses and reporters should quit wasting them. Somewhere along the line, ordinary people began to drop the additional “s.” Then other less ordinary people followed suit. Then tabloids began to run front page stories ab
out the shortfall of esses and how celebrities were having to name their kids things like “Apple” and “Moonblood” and “Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily” and fans wept at the pain of celebrities and began demanding a change.

And then it changed. So we can all thank the celebrities.


Even so, we still use a lot of esses. The “s” has been worn off my keyboard. Along with the “e” and the “r” and the “d” and the “n.” Why is that?


Signed, Helen, who has no “s” anywhere in her name, not her first name, her second, her maiden, her mother’s maiden, or her married name. Thank you, Brad and Jolie and Gwyneth and Tom and all the celebrities everywhere.

************************
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and book consultant, with an informational and interactive blog for writers and a free weekly e-newsletter that goes out to subscribers around the globe. She coaches writers on the publishing industry, finding an agent, and polishing their work for publication. You can also follow her on Twitter.
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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ask the Editor: More on Dialogue Tags

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Question: What I really want to know is what is the general consensus of dialogue tags? Is the old he said/she said still the preferred tag?

Submitted by Margay Leah Justice, author of
Nora's Soul.

http://margayleahjustice.com/

Answer: Different editors have different preferences of nuance on this subject, but one underlying principle is consistently agreed upon. Dialog tags are a necessity for identifying who said what. Beyond that they have very little use. I’ll explain by example and analysis.

***

“Why did you do that?” John asked inquisitively. His sister was on the floor, nearly passed out, with an empty bottle of pain killers next to her.

Mary replied meekly, “Because I was just feeling so terrible. My head hurts so bad.”

John asked angrily, “So you took a couple dozen pain killers? Mary, that’s suicidal!”

“I’m so sorry, John. I don’t know what I was thinking,” Mary responded.

John added hastily, “Well, we had better get you down to emergency in a hurry.”

Mary agreed, “Yes. I suppose you’re right.”

“I’m always right,” John responded smugly.

***
There are some major obvious wrongs with this write, but some are less so. Here’s how I would do the edits. Changes, deletions and comments are in blood red bold type.

***

“Why did you do that?” John said. His sister was on the floor, nearly passed out, with an empty bottle of pain killers next to her.

Deleted: asked inquisitively.
Comment: Question mark indicates both the question and the inquisitiveness. You are being redundantly redundant.

Mary said, “Because I was just feeling so terrible. My head hurts so bad.”

Deleted: replied meekly.
Comment: It is obvious she is “replying” Also, rewrite this so I know she is FEELING meek. Do not inform me in the dialog tag.

“So you took a dozen pain killers? Mary, that’s suicidal!”

Deleted: John asked angrily.
Comment: Dialog participants are already established. No need to tell me it is John speaking again. And the exclamation point tells me he is upset and shouting. No need for “angrily”

“I’m so sorry, John. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Deleted: Mary responded.
Comment: No tag needed, and even if it were, "responded" is redundant. Stick to 'said.'

“Well, we had better get you down to emergency in a hurry.”

Deleted: John added hastily.
Comment: Show me or let me feel in your writing the “haste” in John’s voice. Don’t tell me in the tag.

“Yes. I suppose you’re right.”

Deleted: Mary agreed,
Comment: This statement of Mary’s IS an agreement.

“I’m always right,” John said.

Deleted: responded smugly.
Comment: No need for “responded” and John’s statement is smug enough without you repeating yourself in the tag.

***

Several examples of bad writing are pointed out in the above.

First, if your characters have their own unique voices, which they’d better have, after the first couple of exchanges have taken place and the rhythm has been established, you can drop the tags altogether. We know who is saying what when. If someone new enters the conversation, then a tag becomes again appropriate. If it is a lengthy conversation, perhaps re-injecting a tag every now and then can serve a good purpose.

We should also know in what emotion words are being said. Instead of using "he said" "she said" tags with adverbs and/or adjectives in them, write in a facial expression, an action or a reaction that updates the reader on what tones of voice, what shifts in feelings, etc., the characters are going through.

Secondly, the use of verbs like “demanded,” “inquired,” “questioned,” etc., in a tag to a statement with a question mark at the end of it is redundant – overwriting. For example:

Mary inquired, “What do you want?”

Instead, write it like this- Mary said, “What do you want?”

Or you could write it like this- Mary asked, “What do you want.”

Notice I did not use “inquired” in the latter two examples. This brings me to the third point.

Tags preceding or following a quote should be limited to “he said,” “she said,” “he asked,” or “she asked.” Period. Frilly adjective and adverb-laden dialog tags with “creative” substitutes for the “said” and “asked” verbs cause a jerk, an interruption in the read. Novice writers often feel uncomfortable with the repetition; they get hung up on the need to show how creative they are. He said, she said, tags are not the place to get creative. Action tags, motion tags, emotional tags in-between quoted conversation statements, yes - use your creativity there.

Here's an example of writing with better use of tags.

***

John couldn’t believe his eyes. His sister lying on the floor nearly passed out, an empty bottle of pain killers beside her. He asked, “Mary, why did you do that.”

Mary had difficulty lifting her gaze. “Because I was just feeling so terrible. My head hurts so bad.”

John’s upper lip twitched. The smack of his fist into open palm mirrored on her face with a flinch and grimace. He could’ve spit venom. This was just like her. Always doing stupid crap to get attention. Pathetic. “So you took a couple dozen pain killers. Mary. That’s suicidal.”

“I’m so sorry, John. I don’t know what I was thinking.” She was paling fast, her breathing stilted.

Time was short. “We gotta get you to emergency.”

“Yes. You’re … right.”

“I’m always right.”

------------------------------------
Article written and submitted by Marvin D Wilson.
Marvin is the author of I Romanced the Stone, and Owen Fiddler.
His primary blog is Free Spirit, at: http://inspiritandtruths.blogspot.com
Marvin is an editor with All Things That Matter Press, and also does freelance editing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ask the Editor -- Word Count

QUESTION: HI. My name is Elizabeth Schechter, and I have a question. My writing partner and I have recently finished a novel, entitled Midnight Moon. It's quite a bit longer than is acceptable for novel length (over 200,000 words before we started to revise). My question is would an editor rather read something that long and offer suggestions as to where it should be cut down, or should the author attempt to cut the book prior to submitting it to an editor? Our still-so-new-it's-shiny blog is located here: http://twinmoonsoftaenfir.blogspot.com// Thanks!

ANSWER: Hello Elizabeth. Congrats to you and your writing partner for finishing your book. That is such an important first step. As to your question, in today's tough marketplace I would suggest not sending an editor something that gives him or her a reason to reject it out of hand. Not to mention the fact that many editors at publishing houses no longer have the time to do that kind of editing. Just like with marketing and promoting, more and more of the editing is falling to the authors, which has led many of them to work with professional freelance editors.

Before sending your manuscript off, I would suggest you consider whether it could be two books. If it really is only one story and one book, you can do a careful edit and see where you can cut the wordage. I remember thinking that was nearly impossible early in my writing career, but then I had the challenge of taking a 2,500 word short story down to 1,500 for a contest, and I was amazed at how much better the story was for the cutting. It was a challenge, but well worth the effort.

For tips on how to cut, you can refer to my previous posts on editing. Lipposuction and Fish Cleaning Approach to Editing. Those were techniques I learned in my effort to cut that short story down to size.

You didn't say what genre your book is, but from the title I suspect it might be a fantasy. If so, you may not have a problem with word count. I know a fantasy novel can be much longer books than some other genres.

Good luck!


---------------------------------


Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. When she is not working, she loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Ask the Editor - How do I get back cover reviews?

Mark Goldwich, author of UNCOVERED: What REALLY Happens After The Storm, Flood, Earthquake or Fire asks, "How do I get back cover reviews from the people I want reviews from?"

Good question, Mark, thanks for asking.

The quotes you see on the backs of books come from two sources. Most are blurbs - short recommendations written specifically for the cover. Others are excerpts from reviews. I first learned about blurbs in Austin Camacho's marketing text. I recommend you find a marketing book for writers that will work for you. Many exist.

How do you acquire blurbs for your book? The short answer is you ask for them. I know this is not an easy thing for many writers to do, but it is a necessary part of our business. If you are not comfortable writing request letters, find a friend who is and ask for help.

When deciding whom to ask for a blurb, consider your target market. What name (or title) would your readers recognize as an expert? Fiction writers often turn to other writers in their genre. Non-fiction writers are more likely to look for recognized experts in their field. If your target audience includes victims of natural disasters, you might go in two directions - ask recognized experts (news media, government officials, social scientists) and ask people (especially celebrities) who have been victims in the past and may have benefited from the wisdom in your masterpiece.

Your initial letter should be a simple request - will they read your book and provide a cover blurb? Include a compliment that explains why you're asking. If a mutual acquaintence recommended them, say so. Offer to send a signed manuscript to read for the blurb and a signed copy of the book after publication. For individuals outside the book industry, include an example blurb so everyone understands you are requesting a short quote.

Chances are, no one will reply with an unconditional, positive response. Those who are interested in seeing their name in lights will want to read the book first. Their responses will say so. This is when you thank them for their time and consideration - and send the manuscript. Always include your contact information - email address, SASE, any thing else you can think of to make it easy for others to help you.

----------------------------------------
Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

MarkandCharlottePhillips.com

News, Views and Reviews Blog



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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Headline Bloopers

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Headlines can truly get on an editor's nerves. From the too-clever play-on-words, to the blatant mistakes, it seems as though journalists are often too pressured and rushed to get attention, and bad writing is the result. Take for instance:

Vehicle Hits Police Car En Route to Jail
Not very clear who's going to jail, is it? Not important, but it's just the tip of the iceberg in journalism today.

Consider these;

Man Kills Self Before Shooting Wife and Daughter
What?

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
No, really?

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
Now that's a little harsh, don't you think?

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
Pervert!

Miners Refuse to Work after Death
Talk about lazy - whatever happened to good old fashioned work ethic?

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
Hmm - does he at least get a five second running head start?

War Dims Hope for Peace
Ya think?

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
No - no way.

Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
Such remarkable insight.

Enfield ( London ) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide !
Gee - Sherlock Holmes would be proud.

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
Mmm - I don't know, I think I'd feel safer with duct tape.

Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge
What a re-VOLTing development!

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
Obese people aren't large enough already?

Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
Maybe NASA should consider a different diet for them?

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Should've been taken from The Martian Hunter's Gazette, maybe?

Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
So that's where magicians get their stunt recruits.

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
Well if they lose the lawsuit, they could probably make a lot of money in the NBA.

And get this one-

Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead!
Now that's journalism at its most insightful best!
-----------------------------------------
Submitted by our resident editorial comedian, Marvin D. Wilson who wins the award for funniest post ever on this blog.

If you think you can beat any of these headlines, please leave it in the comments!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Ask the Editor - When to Submit a Book Proposal

QUESTION: I am a young adult author who self-published a debut autobiographical novel, Confessions of a Catholic Schoolgirl almost 2 years ago. In the spring of 2008, a well-known literary agent "discovered' me on my MySpace page with a possible book project. He told me what he was looking for and why he thought I was the best writer for the job, but unfortunately he did not like the book synopsis I sent him. However, he did give me the name of two editor friends who may be interested in my next book, The Gospel According to Gabby. I only have about 45 pages of this book written. My question is when should I contact these editors? Should I finish the novel first and then send the query/synopsis?
Thanks!
Michelle Kane
http://www.michellekane.com/
www.myspace.com/readmichellekane


Michelle, you are lucky to have this referral from a top agent and my advice to you is to follow up quickly with these editors while this is all fresh. Nothing is worse than contacting an editor six months from when you got the referral.

A general rule of thumb in the industry is that you finish a work of fiction before trying to market it -- unless you are a top author who can sell by name only. However, your circumstance of being referred by a top agent can change this rule just a bit. I would highly recommend that you contact these editors while this referral is fresh. Six months from now it may not have the same impact. And because you have proven that you can complete a book, that is not the issue it could be if you were contacting the editors cold with no previous publishing credits.

What you can do at this point is send them a copy of the referral, a short synopsis of the new book and a sample chapter. In your cover letter explain about the referral and give the status of the book in progress, as well as a tentative completion date. It would also be good to include a sales record for your first book, as well as some indication of how you can help market this book. The ability to partner up on marketing has become a very important factor in acquisitions these days.

Good luck. And do come back to let us know how this goes.

Maryann

---------------------------------


Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. When she is not working, she loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.



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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Selling Your Rights -Part 2

To be a full time writer, you need to understand the rights that you are selling to publishers. Ignorance can be very costly. In the first part of this article, I discussed the situations that you should try to avoid. In this part, I will discuss the way to sell your writing that will allow you to make the most from each piece.

First Rights
The best case is to sell First Rights which is sometimes called First Serial Rights. What that means is that the publisher is buying the right to be the first one in that country to publish your piece. You can sell first rights in many places. You might sell first Australian rights, first North American rights, and First Japanese rights- all for the same piece of writing. That means three pay cheques. Doesn't that sound so much nicer than one pay cheque for all rights?

In this case, the publication gets to publish your piece first in that area, but you retain all rights to the work. Most publications are buying first rights. If it is not written in their guidelines, you could mention that is what you are selling when you submit.

One Time Rights
Some publications buy one time rights. They want the right to print you piece once, but not necessarily first. Again, all rights remain with the writer and you still hold first rights in all of the countries where the piece has not appeared.

Reprints and Second Serial Rights
After your piece has appeared in a publication in a certain country, you can still sell reprint rights or second rights to another publication in that same country. In this way, you get yet another cheque for the same piece of writing.

The best case scenario is to sell first serial rights to as many publications in as many countries as you can. After this, search out publications that accept reprints; there are more than you would expect. Be careful of the internet. Some publications say they are buying first serial rights then you see your story on their web site. Once it is on the internet, it is almost dead for re-publication as most consider that a world stage.

Sometimes as writers we don't have a choice about what rights we are selling since publishers, in so many instances, have the upper hand in these types of negotiations. Nevertheless, you should be armed with knowledge. If you know that you have no option but to sell all rights, make sure that you are receiving a cheque which reflects the fact that you have sold all rights. The best way is to sell your piece to as many publications around the world as possible selling first rights. When you have exhausted those rights move on to reprints. Keeping your work out there earning money for you is the best way to stay a working writer.
----------------------------------------
Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time, award winning writer living in Botswana. Her writing has appeared in publications in Australia, United States, Canada, South Africa, England, and Algeria, to name a few countries. She writes for radio, television, and the page. Read her blog, Thoughts from Botswana.


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Monday, January 12, 2009

Selling Your Rights- Part 1

In the next two posts I’d like to start the discussion on selling rights to your writing. If you are a full time writer, you've likely realized that to make a living from writing, your work must be published as many times as possible. You must sell it to a publication and then be able to sell it as a reprint to other publications as many times as you like. In this way a story, article, or poem can be earning you an income while you are busy with new work. For this to happen, you need to pay strict attention to who you submit to and what rights they are buying.

Selling a piece of writing to a publisher who demands 'all rights' is like cutting your legs off. Your work is gone and unless the money the publisher is offering is enough to set you up for life, or as near to that as possible, you'd rather give it a miss. Let's take a quick look at the various options for the rights that publishers can buy from you.

Let's start with the worst case scenarios:

All rights
When a publisher buys all rights it means just that- they own everything. You hold the copyright to that work, but it belongs to the publisher. The publisher can do what you might have done with the work had you not signed over all rights. They can reuse that story or poem as they like. They can even sell it to other publishers if they want, without giving you a cent. They can put it on the internet, they can record it on a CD, they can do what they want, when they want, and they don't pay you anything. At the same time, you can't do anything with that story or poem. If you publish it anywhere, even on your website, you are violating the publisher's rights.

If at all possible avoid selling all rights to any of your writing.

Work For Hire
In a work for hire agreement, a company would hire a writer to write something for them and that writing would now belong to the company- completely. They can do anything that they want with it including removing the writer's name and putting the name of the company, for example. The company owns the work and the company owns the copyright. The writer gets money and then should forget about it. This can also become a bit tricky if the writer then goes on to write something on their own which is similar to the work for hire. There is a grey area where the company might demand that the writer is now infringing on their copyright. This is a bad situation. The company has bought the writing, the copyright and, in some cases, any future writing around those similar topics.

Avoid work for hire situations whenever possible.

Electronic Rights
Because of the pervasiveness of the internet, when you sell electronic rights, even one time electronic rights, you are almost selling world rights since the whole world has access now to your writing. If you have a piece of writing that you are selling, you'd rather first sell it to a few print publications before it appears on the internet. Many publishers would not want the writing if it has appeared on the internet and would consider it published on a world stage. This also extends to a writer's blog or website, so take care about what you put there.

First World English Rights
This is another one to avoid. In this case, the publisher will have the right to be the first publication to print your piece in all English speaking countries. It means you have lost your first USA rights, first British rights, first Australian rights, first Canadian rights, etc. Avoid this agreement if possible.


Well that’s the bad news. Stay posted for Part II where I look at the rights you should be selling- the good news!
--------------------------------------
Lauri Kubuitsile is a full time, award winning writer living in Botswana. Her writing has appeared in publications in Australia, United States, Canada, South Africa, England, and Algeria, to name a few countries. She writes for radio, television, and the page. Read her blog, Thoughts from Botswana.


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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Window Washers - Which Kind Are You?

Morgan Mandel

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On my way to work, I noticed a window washer in a bucket dangling outside an office building. I hadn't thought about it before, but window washers are like writers.

There are many varieties. I've listed three of them, but you may be able to identify more. Their order is no reflection on which category is better. Here are the types:

Category 1 - People who diligently wash their windows. They take pride in their windows' appearance and want them to look perfect. Even if others don't notice, if they see specks of dirt, they feel compelled to clean the windows again and again. They do this constantly, sometimes missing out on fun things in their quest for perfection.

Category 2 - People who wash their windows for special occasions or when they have extra time. They like to see the windows look good, but don't dwell on them if they aren't perfect for the time being. They know the windows will eventually get done when the time is right. There are more fun things to do than concentrating on windows every minute.

Category 3 - People who hire other people to clean their windows. They may not have the time or the expertise to do the job properly, but they have enough sense to know the windows need to get cleaned. If they hire a person with the right qualifications, the windows will sparkle just as brightly as those of the other window washers.

You may have guessed whom these window washers represent. If you haven't, I'll tell you.

Category 1 - Authors Plagued by Inner Editors. They constantly revise and edit as they go along. It takes a long while to get their manuscripts right. Sometimes they're hampered by their approach because it's hard to be perfect. If they keep at it, they'll eventually get their manuscripts ready. Their reward is knowing they've done all they can and their manuscripts are all they can be. I'm afraid I fall into this category, although I wish I didn't. I'm trying to be a Category 2 author.

Category 2 - Authors Who Plough Ahead and Get Their Manuscripts Done. These authors get into the zone and allow ideas to flow freely. When their manuscripts are finished, they go back and look up references, check grammar, structure, and other fine points. They've had a fun ride and everything still turned out all right at the end.

Category 3 - Authors Who Hire Editors. Some authors are not confident of their ability to knead their manuscripts into shape, don't have time, or would prefer to spend their time creating. Editing is a tedious chore they'd rather avoid. They look for an editor who knows what to do and gets the job done right. That editor will get paid. The author will get a clean manuscript. Everyone will be happy.

Where do you fit? Please share.
-------------------------------------
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com/
http://www.morganmandel.com/
http://twitter.com/morganmandel

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Blogs - to Edit or Not to Edit?

Should you edit your blog after publication? Sounds like a simple question - right? And yet there is much written on this topic and strong feelings abound.

On the 'no' side (more accurately stated as the "ABSOLUTELY NOT!" side) people feel that editing should only take place before you publish your blog article, that to make changes afterwards is cheating.

There are at least two trains of thought on the 'yes' side.


1. We are professionals and professionals work to perfect their products. If you spot a problem after publication, fix it - ASAP.


2. The blogging media offers editing options that weren't available in earlier eras. In the world of print media, we can't easily correct an editing error. That is not true with blogs. Mistakes are easily fixed. We should embrace the technology and fix the errors.


There is even a third point of view - an attempt at compromise. The idea here is to fix the error, but in a 'red-line' mode, meaning show both the error and the correction. This is a way of saying - I made a mistake, but recognize it and know how to fix it. I find these kinds of corrections distracting and don't recommend them.

My feelings on the matter are simple. I edit. If I review a post that I wrote six months ago and spot an error, I stop and fix that error. If someone sends me email asking "Hey Dufus, don't you know the difference between 'from' and 'form'?" I reply with a thank you for the heads up then hussel over to the blog to repair the damage. I take the same approach on my website - I edit.

Why?


  • Because I hate to see mistakes associated with my name


  • Because publishers check out blogs and websites of authors they are considering

  • Because I cringe at the site of typos and editing errors

  • Because editors and agents check out blogs and websites of authors they are considering


  • Because I hate to see mistakes associated with my name

Is it better to perfect your article before publication? Definitely. But if you do make a mistake, why wouldn't you fix it as soon as you spotted it?


--------------------------------------------------------
Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

MarkandCharlottePhillips.com

News, Views and Reviews Blog


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