Archive | January, 2013

What’s your style, baby?

30 Jan

No, I’m not talking about wearable fashion – I’m referring to the various ways we use language. In particular, that of spelling, grammar and most notably, punctuation!

As a long time reader who was taught English by a really persnickety elderly lady (my grandmother) I learned early on about all those good things so important to writers and readers!

It came as a great surprise to me to discover that not everyone had such a martinet in their past – and they’ll certainly not have one in their future, either, by the looks of things.

Anyway, among the list of things I do to earn a living, one may find editing and proof-reading, along with writing and photography. Sometimes there are others, but they’re not important at the moment.

When my first book (Secret Shores, Berkley Publishing, 1993) was published, I was astonished to discover the existence of more than one way to present the language used in writing the book. Wow! What an eye-opener. I worked for a magazine at the time, and each of these publishers had their own particular ‘style’.  I learned it did no good to argue. The publisher has the right to create his/her own style, and that’s the end of that. So okay, one adjusts or one doesn’t get published. I never batted an eyelash at the style of my second publisher – Ellora’s Cave, in Akron, Ohio. They’ve now published three books and a novella of mine, and I’m proud of all of them.

However –

I worked on a book last week, which will be self-published by the author. Nothing wrong with that – I’m a firm believer in doing it yourself.  So, does it then follow that if the publisher is the one who determines the style used, and oneself is the publisher, then the style may be anything you like. Right? Well, maybe. Or not.

I’d always been taught that internal thoughts and/or monologues (in other words talking to oneself!) should be distinguished by being presented in italics, with no quote marks. This is to separate these words from other dialogue between two or more people, and/or standard prose. A lot of people talk to themselves – out loud – as opposed to merely thinking things. In silence.

So, is there a difference between how these two types of monologues are presented on the printed page to make it easier for the reader to figure it out? Some say the spoken thoughts should be in quotes, while the unspoken are in italics. There are some proponents of the opposite approach, as well as all in quotes or all in italics.

Granted, there is a notable trend toward casual in everything lately, witness the sort of language in texting. One needs to be a translator sometimes in order to figure it out! But I think books require some adherence to time-proven rules. And one of these is the use of italics for inner thoughts, etc.

What do you think? I’d love to know. And so would my client!

And, in the meantime, you might enjoy reading this blog entry — from the editors at Ellora’s Cave.  It’s about the ‘Style Wars’. I thought it was hilarious!


What are you writing?

16 Jan

Here are a few things to think about before you put your rump in the chair to begin your book –

Who are you writing the book for?  Yourself? The reader? Who IS the reader you want? What sort of book is it going to be? Fiction? Non-fiction? Picture book? (combination of words and pictures)

If it’s fiction – do you know who your protagonist is? The antagonist?

If it’s fiction – at some point in the story, the protagonist will change. This can be a monumental change of opinion, emotion, thought, manners – a wide range of things, but HE/SHE WILL CHANGE!!! That’s carved in stone. Without it, you have no story. A story is, after all – a beginning, a middle and an end. No alterations allowed.

If it’s a romance novel, there will be two people who will change. And, while a happy-ever-after ending is no longer a strict requirement for all romance novels, there must at least be a commitment between the two main characters. Any other genre may have only one main character, but he/she shouldn’t be alone during the entire book.

Play fair with your readers. This doesn’t mean you can’t tell the ending before the last page, but there has to be an ending somewhere. Some very famous books begin with the ending and then go back to the beginning. It worked for Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier,  so you might be able to make it work for you, as well.  Agatha Christie’s career nearly ended before it began because of her use of the ‘unreliable narrator’ in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  Holden Caulfield is another example of this maneuver.

Are you going to buck tradition, and pay no attention to structure or style? Be sure your story is a real dazzler, or you might not be too successful in your venture.

Please have at least one character that your reader can like. That way, if the plot isn’t too swift, at least there will be one reason to hopefully keep the reader engaged.

Will the book you want to write be a book that readers (other than your family) and preferably a LOT of readers, will want to read?

And finally,

Start saving your pennies now, so that when your manuscript is ready for submission to publication (whether commercial or self-) you’ll be able to hire an editor who can tell you that:

one does not sew wild oats — and — fathers don’t turn over the reigns of the company to the wastrel son

and other such goodies. Be prepared to pay up to $1000. for a REALLY GOOD editor. If, however, you’re a pretty good writer, and have a rather clean manuscript (fairly free of typos) you should be able to find an editor for a lot less money. Unless you have a relative who was chairman of the English Department at your local university, you need to HIRE AN EDITOR!!! If you’re considering self-publication (and I think this is quite possibly the fastest-growing trend in the world today!) you should also consider hiring someone to design/format the pages for you. With your input, of course. It’s really important to have a cosmetically ‘pretty’ manuscript.

One final bit of information. Once you are published—even by a commercial publisher—this does not automatically guarantee acceptance of everything you write. That happened to me last year. I wrote a Regency Christmas novella – some 18,000 words. The idea popped into my head after the previous year’s novella was accepted as part of an anthology. I wrote about a third of the new story, then had to put it up for a while, because of other matters that were more pressing. During those 3-4 months, I forgot where the story was originally meant to go! I should have quit then, but STUBBORN is my middle name. So, I persevered, but the story kept wandering away from me, and the result from my editor was – No thanks. Very politely stated, but it was a definite – ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’ sort of thing.

So now what do I do with it? Well. Actually nothing. I did write what I wanted to write – and that’s what I’m encouraging you to do. BUT—you must also realize that what you want to write might not be what anyone else wants to read! Don’t put the blame on them! NO. Put the blame on yourself, where it rightly belongs, because not everything works, every time.

I might be able to rearrange the story to make it more acceptable, but why bother? I think it’s much better to start fresh. Renovation works wonderfully well with historic buildings or a classic car. An 18,000 word novella? Not worth it.

Just for kicks, here’s another copy of the gift certificate. Use it yourself, or pass it along to a writing pal. They’ll thank you – and so will I!

Cheers, and as always – Happy Writing! If you get stuck, my e-mail is:


A new beginning — again!

1 Jan

Starting off on the right foot!  (which just might be your left, but that’s okay!)

 How often have you heard someone say “Oh, I want to do this (go there) so bad!” (Or ‘badly’.)

Very often when people discover I’m a published author, they say, “Oh. I want to be published too!  I want to write a book so bad.”

Unfortunately, that’s how it usually turns out. Bad. With the rising popularity of self-publishing, the overall quality has fallen sharply. That’s not to imply that all self-pubbed books are in that category. I’ve read a good many of them that were really excellent. Plot, characters and writing were all fabulous. Generally, those authors went the extra step of having the manuscript proof-read by someone other than a spouse or best-friend. 

If you talk to the author of a book that is slip-shod, they’ll frequently say, “I know, but I couldn’t afford to have it edited or proofed. Maybe next time.” If they only knew – word of mouth is the best advertisement for any product, including books.  Bad-mouthing (miserable snarky reviews included here) by disgruntled readers is a sure way to decrease sales, rather than increase them. Do you really want to risk your good name and future sales just to save a few dollars? You can’t afford NOT to put your very best effort out there for the world to judge. And judge, they will, believe me!

It’s very true – the cost of editing and/or proof-reading varies widely. Some people (on both sides of that equation – buyer and seller) are of the mistaken impression that the more something costs, the better it is. That is not necessarily true.  But a writer desperately needs to have someone who knows that not only is every word spelled right – but it’s also the RIGHT word!

There are also different types of editors. Beware of the ‘slash-and-burn’ type, unless you want them to re-write your book for you. Without asking your permission to do so! Before committing yourself and your dollars, ask if you can get a sample edit on a few pages of your work. Ask the editor what type of edit to expect:  a spelling and grammar-only correction edit should not cost as much as one that includes story flow and structure feedback, and/or point-of-view suggestions.  It also helps to be sure the editor in question is knowledgeable about the genre of your book.

For instance: I do not like excessive profanity or violence in the books I read, so I wouldn’t be a very good choice to edit or proof-read such a book. I don’t do horror, vampires, were-things or techno-anything. But I do read a good bit of romance, cozy mysteries and literary fiction, and have been known to read science fiction and non-fiction, including first-person narratives.

Suppose you select an editor, and mid-book, the editor changes his/her mind about your project. Oops. What happens at that point? It’s well worth asking during the negotiations for the project. It’s best to part friends, if at all possible. An adjustment of the fee is certainly advisable, but it should be fair to both parties. Perhaps the content went astray after the initial agreement, or maybe the editor encountered some sort of personal emergency which would delay completion of the project.

Since I do this type of work, here is how I operate, but everyone has his or her own method. I request a 5-10 page, double-spaced sample from the manuscript. It doesn’t have to be the beginning pages, as I’m reading for style, sentence structure, descriptions, spelling, punctuation, etc.  A manuscript that is ‘clean’ (the edited pages won’t look as though the bottle of red ink spilled all over the page!) will cost less to edit than one that requires excessive attention.  I don’t charge anything for this evaluation, and it can be done via e-mail, although I’ll also do print copy by mail. (Just be sure to enclose an appropriately-sized SASE, please.) 

Along with my opinion, I’ll include an estimate of my total fee. Half of this amount is due when the project is assigned to me, and I accept it. At this time, I’ll give you an estimate of the time required for me to do a good job for you. (Most likely less than a month.) The remainder is to be paid upon completion of the project. I prefer to be paid by check or money order, although I may eventually work out something with my bank. Once I’ve received payment, I’ll send along your completed manuscript.

For the next couple of months, I’m offering a get-acquainted gift-certificate, which is attached. Just print it out, fill in your name, and send it back (scan or mail) with your sample. By all means, if you like, send it along to any writer you know. Please do feel free to ask questions, if you have them. The e-mail for all inquiries is:

Happy Writing!