Friday, February 22, 2013

Jane Kaufman's writing tips: Punctuation marks deserve to be used with respect

By Jane Kaufman, The Republican, February 22, 2013

Like a great dance partner, punctuation adds rhythm, flow and spice to writing.

It allows the reader to glide through a piece of prose naturally. Poor punctuation bogs down a reader. It confuses and can deaden a lively experience: It grates on the soul.

Fixing common punctuation mistakes does not take a doctorate, although many might argue that the whole murky endeavor is best left to nerdy copyeditors and grammarians.

The rules of punctuation are complex. However, even without knowing them, it is possible to tell when a comma or period is needed by reading S-L-O-W-L-Y out loud with a great deal of expression.

Pick a favorite orator and imitate their delivery style while reading. Commas should be inserted in places where one breathes or feels hesitation mid-thought. As silly as it sounds, it helps.

How do writers know when they reach the end of a complete thought? When reading out loud, a writer’s voice will naturally drop down in volume and pitch at the end. At that point, it is best to stop and pencil in a period. The buck stops with a period. Periods are like traffic cops. They tell the reader to stop right here.

Commas can work like parentheses and dashes. They can work in pairs to offset a phrase that, while important, is unnecessary to the flow of the sentence. While each of these pairs of punctuation can work in the same way, each kind adds a different level of “volume.”

Dashes in pairs add a shout to a sentence. They – like hot peppers – are best used sparingly. That’s because readers don’t like to be yelled at.

Parentheses add a whisper (call it a secret) to a sentence. Yet, like dashes, they can grow tiresome, similar to the insistent tug of a child who wants to leave.

A pair of commas adds a nearly invisible aside, like this, to a sentence. Notice how transparent the commas are in that sentence. They interrupt quietly, without drawing attention to themselves or the phrase they contain. They’re polite, unassuming, like a genteel relative.

A second common use of the comma has to do with time-bound phrases called conditional, dependent or subordinate clauses.

If a sentence begins with the word “if,” then a comma will be needed just before the word “then.” That sentence shows it.

Whenever a sentence begins this way, a single comma will be needed in the middle of it. If a sentence begins by setting up conditions, the comma is placed just before the heart of the sentence. That is yet another example of the conditional clause.

Forgive me, Dear Reader, for I am about to sin. Run-on sentences stuff two or more complete thoughts between a single capital letter and period it is just awful to read them. What a train wreck. They evoke seasickness in the reader. They’re like really bad dates who never stop talking long enough for either party to breathe.

There are three common types of run-on sentences and four simple ways to fix them. The fixes, happily, are powerful sentence constructions in their own right.

Here’s one: Complete thought complete thought. Simply break up that baby into two sentences. Complete thought. Complete thought. Done.

The next type of run-on may be harder to spot: Complete thought, complete thought. Remember: Commas don’t separate complete thoughts. Periods do. Exchange the comma for a period, and where two ideas leaned against each other wobbling unsteadily on the dock, two sturdy sentences will be firmly anchored.

The last type of run-on is the easiest to fix but may be the hardest to spot: Complete thought and complete thought. That “and” in the middle could easily be switched with “or,” “but,” “yet,” “so” or “nor.” Simply add a comma before the conjunction, and the sentence will now work like a well-oiled machine. Complete thought, and complete thought.

Hmm, that was three types of run-ons but just two fixes. It was not a ruse: There are two more excellent ways to fix run-ons. However, they require the introduction of, horrors, the colon and the semicolon.

In its Zen way, the semicolon both separates and connects thoughts. It’s a great catalyst and networker. Like the period, it can be tossed in between complete thoughts. It works particularly well when the thoughts are closely linked; notice how it works here. Some people like to use semicolons; others prefer periods. It’s seamless, yet adds space; the semicolon is nearly ethereal.

Perhaps because of its unfortunate name, the colon is a sadly misunderstood and underused punctuation mark: It deserves better. In fact, colons make great messengers. They come in on horseback and bring trumpets and drum rolls heralding important news from far away.

A colon placed between two complete thoughts adds punch to the second thought. It works like the lights on the marquis of a movie theater, adding drama to whatever comes next. Therefore, the colon is best used when the second thought is more important than the first.

Here’s a rule unique to the colon: Capitalize the word that follows the colon if it’s the beginning of a complete thought. That convention gives the colon panache.

A word to the wise: Never use exclamation points in formal writing! They're like pompous generals who are in love with themselves.

How to end a column about punctuation?

A period might be the best choice, but an ellipsis is ever so tempting. It beckons with a Mona Lisa smile and trails off like an attractive stranger across the room, holding out promise and mystery. . .

Original article posted on MassLive

Friday, February 15, 2013

My name is Erica ... and I'm a blogaholic

It's too late for me. Save yourself!
Hello everyone, my name is Erica, and I'm a blogaholic.

This is my story. You've heard it all before. But I'm hoping that when you're having your coffee and cookies you'll reflect upon my experience – and keep an open mind.

It all started when print publishers got sideswiped by Amazon. I was finishing a book, and, having had several ruinous relationships with publishers (I'm working on those issues), I decided to break the pattern. Why repeat the bitterness, the frustration, when I could simply jump ship and take the easy way out? It all seemed so simple at the time. No more deadlines, no more subtexts in what I'd hoped would be casual encounters, no more editorial blows to my self-esteem. All I had to do was “upload.”

This is a mistake we all make when confronted by our personal demons. We take shortcuts.

Before I knew it, I had gotten my book epublished. Suddenly, reality hit. I had forgotten all about the perks of a long-term relationship – the in-house marketing department, the chain of distribution, legitimate reviews, free ISBN numbers. Worst of all, I had forgotten about book promotion. I'd have to do it all myself.

My first step was to launch a website, which I did after considerable, and unnecessary, expenditure. I was in the hole now, but it wasn't enough – it's never enough. I needed more. I needed a platform, exposure, a strong author presence. So ... I began to blog.

(Excuse me. Does anyone have a tissue?)

It was just one blog, at first. I thought it would be a simple reiteration of work I'd already done - an easy cut-and-paste, with no commitment to originality. I figured two, three blog posts a week, and I'd develop my Internet presence. Before I knew it, I was blogging almost daily. My self-concept had expanded, and my author image was changing.

I needed another blog, and then another. Soon I was blogging about everything: my books, my recipes, my parakeet, Thomas Jefferson. I created alter egos, misleading avatars. I could no longer put my real name on anything I blogged for fear that stopping would affect my author brand. Just trying to remember all my sign-in names was exhausting.

All at once, it dawned on me. What if nobody was reading my blogs? I installed Google Analytics, and, sure enough, I was a solitary blogger. Nobody even knew that I existed.

That was the beginning of the end. I joined several writers' groups whose sole purpose was to promote one another through their blogs. We fed, constantly, on each other's habits, meeting on dim, smoke-filled forums, boards, chats. I began to guest post.

(I heard that giggle. Don't judge me until you've blogged.)

It still wasn't enough. According to the visitor flow chart on Google Analytics, very few people were being driven to my blog. I had to drive them. I knew it was base, reprehensible, unforgivable - and I make no excuses for my behavior - but I began to adjust my taglines to suit my hypothetical audience. I even watched Supernatural, so I could blog about horrid, vapid television shows written by dyslexic ten-year-olds, but which were popular among the bloghopping set.

Finally, in a desperate attempt at blog exposure, I started to add my blogs to blog directories. It was getting expensive, but what was $39.95 here, $49.95 there, for a first-page listing? I pinged.

By this time, I had forgotten all about my eBook, which technically had now cost me several thousand dollars if you included the fees for Google Adwords, priority listings on blog directories, and upgrades. At this point, I was in deep denial. The book no longer mattered. My bills went unpaid. My house was a mess. My Amazon reviewer rank slid five hundred points. Nothing mattered.

I blogged about that.

To make this long story even longer, I wound up passed out in a gutter in South Philly, lying in a pool of my own vomit, pieces of my laptop scattered across the wet pavement. Miraculously, I still had my cellphone. I autodialed my son's number, and when his sweet, innocent voice came on the line I began to sob, “I don't understand how to post on Tumblr...”

I had hit bottom. I was a blogaholic.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Top 5 Sites for Romance Writers

Updated 1/20/24

Romance novels are arguably the most economically successful of all fiction genres. According to Romance Writers of America, romance books bring in a whopping 1.3 billion dollars a year, more than mystery novels, science fiction and fantasy combined. It's no wonder that more than half of all new fiction is comprised of romance novels. (This statistic is borne out by Amazon's top ten bestsellers – both free and paid – half of which are romances.) Not surprisingly, 90% of the market for romance novels is comprised of women.

If you are thinking of becoming a romance writer, the competition will be stiff. But by the same token, with over 30 million dedicated readers, there is always room for more. This is one market that will never be saturated. But, even with that uplifting thought in mind, romances, like any other genre, need to be marketed. These are the best sites to help you ensure your romance is a success.

1. Stephie Smith … Fiction with Humor and Heart

Host: Stephie Smith

Stephie Smith (who describes herself as a "Database Administrator for a software systems and services company... oh, and, yeah, I write") has put together this excellent general resource for romance writers.

This site has everything you need to get your romance off the ground – book review sites, online resources for period romances, book news, and general writing resources.

Site features: An incredibly well-organized spreadsheet of contests, including sponsor, cost, eligibility, dates and genre (genres other than romance are also listed); general writers' resources, publishing and promoting your book, grammar, agents, epublishing, script writing, romance writing; romance book review sites; and some wonderful historical resource sites, including period costumes, coinage, ships and, of course, pirates. Be sure to check out Stephie's fabulous links.

2. Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

"All of the romance. None of the bullshit." This is a cool site, and a must for romance readers. They've appeared in USA TodayThe New YorkerThe New York TimesThe Washington PostMetro:New YorkSalon, and ... wait ... Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. "Smart Bitches Trashy Books began in 2005 as a community of romance readers eager to talk about which romance novels rocked their worlds, and which ones made them throw the book with as much velocity as possible. Since then our site has grown to include a community of incredibly smart and savvy romance readers, as well as folks who are curious about all those fuchsia books with the tangerine skies and turquoise ruffles they used to see in the drug stores."

3. Romance Junkies

Writer's Digest named Romance Junkies one of the “101 Best Web Sites for Writers” for three years running. Romance Junkies is an impressive site, with written reviews, interviews, trailers, bloghops and contests. With over one million hits per month, this is one of the most heavily trafficked romance review sites on the net.

Site features: Reviews of romance novels, author bios and spotlight, a “cocktail hour” with featured writers, contests, free reads, a writer's corner offering information on Indie publishing, critique partners, and articles about the craft of writing.

4. Passionate Pen

Host: Jenna Peterson

This is an excellent website put together by Avon author, Jenna Peterson. Here you will find links to publishers and agents who accept all kinds of romance, writing tips, research and marketing links. The information on publishing is particularly useful for writers – of any genre – who are trying to break into the print market.

Site features: Extensive list of agents representing romance writers with links to their submissions pages, a complete list of romance publishers (including electronic publishers, a large-print library and Christian presses). Also includes a very useful submission checklist with detailed instructions for contacting agents and publishers as well as a great list of links covering every aspect of the publishing industry.

5. Romance Writers of America

General membership is $99.00

If you are a romance author, this is the organization for you. The RWA, a nonprofit association, represents more than 10,250 writers and publishing industry professionals in 145 chapters offering local or special-interest networking and education. RWA hosts an annual national conference and contests and awards for both published and unpublished writers. Membership includes subscription to the monthly Romance Writers Report, and access to lists of approved agents and publishers.

Site features: Statistics on the romance industry, description of sub-genres (with word counts), reader statistics, awards, chapter contests, an honor roll and “hall of fame.”

Additional sites of interest

Best Romance Book Review Blogs of 2024

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

What's Your Book About? How to Make a Pitch

"I think I've got a bite ..."
When my first novel was complete, I sent it to an academic press. (You could do that then.) The editor liked the book, but decided it would be better placed in a trade press. She gave me a “for example” that I took as an actual suggestion. I called the exampled publisher, and asked for a random editor.

The editor answered the phone. (They could do that then.) She demanded, somewhat breathlessly, who had given me her name. I mumbled the name of the editor at the academic press, which seemed to calm her. Then she said, “What's it about?” That was my chance. And this is how I blew it.

“Uh,” quoth I, “it's about life on the US/Mexico border.”

She hung up.

If you are at all savvy about the realities of publishing, you are laughing right now. If not, I will spell out, step by step, why that was the stupidest thing I have ever done. In my life.

What I Did Wrong

An editor at a major publishing house had asked me, asked me, mind you, what my book was about, and I came up with the above godawful lame description. After all, my book was complex. I couldn't just sum it up at the drop of a hat. It was about many things: peace, justice, equality, life. Writers think like that. But editors don't. (And neither do agents.)

Before I made that fatal call, I should have prepared a one-sentence pitch that would have snared that editorial fish with irresistible bait. This is what I could have said:

“It's about a ghostly bridal gown that walks the streets of a forgotten village, forever seeking her lost love.”

“It is about a boy who falls in love with a mermaid in the driest desert on earth."

“It's about two invisible towns that nobody can ever leave, one of which has no past, and the other of which has no future.”

How do those compare with: “It's about life on the US/Mexico border”? Tell me, truthfully.

What I Should Have Done

The reason you need to perfect your pitch before you talk to people or, god forbid, before you write to them, is that the pitch forms the basis of your query letter, your proposal, and any other form of communication you will have about your book forever.

So, before you tell anybody that you have written a book – agent, editor, your mother – come up with a one-sentence summary of your book that will hook them. This, not surprisingly, is called a hook. The hook does not have to accurately reflect the entire concept of your book, nor does it have to convey deep inner meanings. The only purpose of a hook is sum up the story in a way that will pique the interest of everybody within earshot.

The best way of coming up with a good hook is to write one about someone else's book, or, better yet, a movie. Ask your friends over and make a game of it. Someone picks the book (or movie), and everyone writes down a one-sentence summary. These are passed to the “moderator,” who reads them out loud. The person whose hook is the least interesting (gets the most boos or gagging sounds) has to drink a bottle of Jack Daniels. In this Darwinian manner, those with the least successful hooks are eliminated from the gene pool.

Or, if you have no wish to kill off your friends, you can simply go to the library, pick up a book at random, and read the flap copy. If the first sentence of the flap copy makes you want to read the book, stop and figure out why. Then do that - not for your book (yet), but for someone else's. Once you have mastered the one-sentence hook for Shakespeare, you can do it for your own work.

The important thing to remember is, once you've dangled the baited hook, the person on the other end will bite. Now, you have to come up with a second sentence. Make it as good as your first. And so on. After each sentence, anticipate what you would say if Steven Spielberg was asking, “Then what?” and your whole career depends on your reply. (This is what is meant by “practice.”) Do that until you can talk for three minutes about your book without losing Spielberg's attention. Finish it off with a sentence that implies that your story will change the world as we know it.

That's a pitch.

Unfortunately, I will never have another chance to cold call an editor, but the next time someone asks me, “What's your book about?” at least I won't be cold cocked.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...