Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
As an editor and writing coach, I run across the same grammatical issues over and over again. With the help of a colleague (thanks, Jack!), I’ve assembled this “writing tutorial,” which addresses some of these. This information, presented in alphabetical order, should assist you in writing professional, clear, succinct, and grammatically correct books, articles, and promotional materials. Although some grammatical information is given, other information is a matter of personal style and format suggestions based on a couple of decades of professional writing and editing experience. Naturally, the style and format suggestions are only recommendations. As with any of this, it can be viewed as an editor’s job anyway, but the fewer the problems, the less editing will cost you in the long run. I’ll be running this as a several-part series. I hope you’ll find it helpful!
Commas. Commas should only be used when grammatically correct and to emphasize a comfortable pause in text. Do not use them simply because you think one might go there; always have a good reason. When in doubt, leave it out!
Quotation Marks. Quotes draw attention to words. Many words do not always need to have attention drawn to them, and do not need attention drawn to them more than once in a text—and especially in the same sentence. Never use them to indicate overused terms; this is simply bad form and bad writing, and it draws attention to both the quotes and the term. Use quotation marks sparingly to indicate direct quotes, titles of articles, and words that require emphasis to help the reader understand a point.
Bolding. Often overused, bolding should be reserved for headings and words that necessitate emphasis. Avoid bolding words in sentences when bolding is also used in headings as it tends to diminish the importance of headings. Avoid using boldface for emphasis in books; it looks amateurish.
Overall. Trust the reader to use his or her intelligence to understand what is important in text.
Parallelism. When developing items in a series, ensure that all components are parallel, such as using sentences or fragments, beginning with verbs or nouns, structuring as questions or not, and the overall structure of the line item.
Beginning Lists. Be sure to always begin each item in a list the same way, i.e., with active words, with verbs, “How to,” etc.
Consistency. Be consistent with your use of subjects and verbs with items in a series and with bulleted items.
Introducing Items in a Series. Sometimes you use a colon, sometimes you use a complete sentence, and sometimes you use a fragment. This is okay; just be sure to do it consistently. Variety is not the spice of life in all situations.
Apostrophes. Pay attention to the differences between plurals and possessives.
Colons. When introducing items in a series within a sentence (not a bulleted or numbered list), it is often better not to use a colon to prevent breaking the flow of the sentence.
Hyphens and Dashes. Study the various uses for the hyphen, en dash, and em dash, and use them consistently.
Semicolons. Note how these are used most often. They should not be used interchangeably with em dashes; both have unique and specific uses.
Serial Comma. Always use a comma before the “and” in items in a series. You will see this not done often because it is usually a matter of personal preference rather than grammatical protocol, but in business writing it is always best to use it to avoid confusion regarding whether or not the last two items go together as a pair or are as separate as all other items. For pairs, go ahead and use two “ands,” such as “For breakfast I had ham, grits, biscuits, hash browns, and bacon and eggs.”
Quotation Marks. Always be sure to have “smart quotes” activated in MS Word. You do not want to use the foot and inch symbols for quotes (although they are used automatically with sans serif fonts such as Arial).
Quotes. Ensure all quotes are accurate and verbatim. Otherwise, they are not quotes.
Acronyms. Avoid using acronyms or initialisms in titles. It may not be a standard grammar rule, but it is a good practice to avoid redundancy. Reserve in-text references for spelling out acronyms and initialisms. However, you may want to use the acronym if it makes headings fall on two lines in the Table of Contents. For instance, use “ES” for Editorial Services, but use it consistently.
Terms/Phrases. Avoid terms such as “free of charge.” It is just “free”; what other kind of free can it be.
References. These are tricky, but you need to ensure you are following a standard format, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, when listing references.
Show/Hide ¶. Try using the “Show/Hide ¶” activated when typing. It takes a little getting used to (just like using a trackball mouse) but you will catch many format problems along the way.
Spacing, Line. Be sure not to leave two or three spaces between words instead of the correct one space. (Many people who learned to keyboard on a typewriter still use two spaces between words; this is no longer correct.) This is noticeable in printed text and looks a bit unprofessional like you had a sloppy typesetter. Also, avoid inconsistent spacing between paragraphs. Although you are depending on your layout person to clean this up, you should get into the habit of using consistent spacing while writing. This would help to eliminate the potential for problems and mistakes later, and would reduce your production costs.
Spacing, Between Words and With Punctuation. The standard now is to use one space between words and after colons.
Subordinate Clauses. Avoid beginning sentences with subordinate clauses unless it just flows better, which it usually does not. Write “I have evaluated publishing operations for two major nonprofit member organizations” instead of “For two major nonprofit member organizations, I have evaluated publishing operations.”
Auto Symbols. Be careful when using such automatic symbols such as ellipses. They are displayed in a way that is not in compliance with standard style guides. (See “Ellipses” above.) Also, sometimes it is better to use boxed bullets from Format, Bullets and Numbering…instead of the Bullets icon, the latter of which may not apply the correct size and font.
Money. It is not necessary to include the period and double zeros if there are no cents.
Symbols such as @, #, %, &, +, =. Reserve symbols for tables or figures where space may be at a minimum. Otherwise, spell out “at,” “number,” “percent,” “and,” “plus,” and “equals.”
Time. When indicating before or after noon as well as before or after Christ, use periods and small caps: A.M., P.M., A.D., B.C. Type in lowercase, then format to small caps; otherwise, you will get uppercase small caps. Also, it is not necessary to include double zeros if no minutes are indicated.
Tables. Tables are a great way to display information. Just be sure that all items are parallel with or without subjects and verbs in each line item, are or are not complete sentences, and are punctuated appropriately and uniformly. Also, unless line items in a table are multileveled, you do not need bullets.
Tables of Contents and Indices. Think about generating these automatically; they will save you time and money later.
Take the Time Needed. I believe most good writers think faster than they write, and you are probably no exception. But if you want to save time and money, slow down. If you focus more while writing and proofing, it will take the editor less time to decipher your meaning and to offer suggestions that may or may not be correct, and this can reduce your costs in time and money to respond.
Use Standard Style, not British/Scientific Style. Standard style mandates that the writer put periods and commas on the inside of quotation marks all the time; British/scientific style places these punctuation marks contingent on the use. Colons and semicolons are placed contingent on use in both styles.
Use/Utilize. You “use” something for its intended purpose; you “utilize” it for something other than its intended purpose.
Voice. Although active voice is preferable, in some cases it is acceptable to use passive voice as in examples when the writer is trying to avoid using personal pronouns. In most cases, though, opt for “identify” instead of “the identification of.”
Weak Words. Avoid all words that really don’t add anything extra such as “very,” “thing,” and “there” as in “there are.” If you really feel a quantifier is needed, think of more descriptive words. Also, subjective words such as “good” usually can be replaced with a more objective term.
Which/That. “Which” commonly is used to introduce a subordinate clause; “that” is used in all other cases. Also, in most cases you should use a comma before “which.”
Who/That. Use “who” when referring to people; use “that” when referring to groups.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Here's a little bit of what the email said: "I almost fell down. I kindly mentioned that a lot of people don't consider authors going through those POD companies to be self-publishers. While keeping it simple, I mentioned a few of the reasons why, and the difference between them and digital printing and CreateSpace and offset printing and fulfillment companies vs. distribution companies and wholesalers. I'm not sure how much he understood. I told him that Xlibris, AuthorHouse, and iUniverse are rip-offs for authors, and that athours should not settle for not owning their ISBNs."
Unlike the writer of the email, I am not shocked at all. Based on what I see online daily, there is still a HUGE misunderstanding as to what constitutes "true" self-publishing. In yet another attempt to clarify the differences in publishing options--I am one of many who is trying to educated people--let me explain what means what.
An author who signs a contract with a traditional publisher usually receives an advance of a few thousand dollars against future royalties. The publisher owns the ISBN, but the copyright is in the author’s name. The publisher pays for and makes decisions about editing, cover, size, price, and production. Sales channels generally include book wholesalers and retailers, as well as inclusion in the company’s catalog. Authors are expected to do a good deal of book promotion and publicity—although they are often not aware of this until it’s too late.
True self-publishing authors assume all responsibility for all aspects of their books—and they keep 100 percent of the profits. They also own their book’s ISBN and copyright; they pay for and make decisions about editing, cover, size, price, and printing, and they can use a wide variety of sales channels, including the Internet as well as all routes available to traditional publishers. Self-publishers know up front that they will be responsible for marketing, promotions, and publicity. Self-published books that sell extremely well may be noticed by traditional publishers, who might want to buy the rights from the author/publisher. (This has been the case with four of Marilyn Ross’s self-published titles. Marilyn is the founder of SPR and my co-author of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition--one of the titles that was picked up by a traditional publisher.)
POD “Self-Publishers”—Another Twist
Today there is a popular player on the field—a hybrid of the typical “subsidy” press and POD. These companies call themselves “self-publishing companies” or “POD self-publishers,” and they offer more choices to authors at better prices than the typical subsidy companies. They might advertise that customers can use their own cover designs or set their own price. And they are usually inexpensive. What that means, unfortunately, is that they frequently attract bottom-of-the-barrel literary talent. Plus, with such low up-front investment, the authors themselves dive in head first, often without professional editing, typesetting, and cover design. Although these hybrids sometimes offer these services, they may be less than satisfactory. The result of this low-cost approach is frequently a poor quality book that sells few copies.
Typically, these companies issue one of their own ISBNs for your book. With this approach to POD, you are not the publisher. (There goes that control we wanted.)
The reality is that many of these companies are vanity publishers calling themselves “self-publishing” or “self-publishing POD” companies. In reality, though, they are often trading on the good name of self-publishing to make their companies appear to be a legitimate option for authors.
If you decide to go the route of one of these POD outfits, do your research! And keep in mind that since the digital landscape changes so rapidly, you should consult current Web sites of any companies that interest you. Also read industry magazines and newsletters to find out about new firms that have hung out their virtual shingles.
It’s also worth noting here that there are many digital (POD) printing companies that offer excellent service, prices, and quality. They should start calling themselves what they truly are: book printers.
Is POD “self-publishing” ever a good idea? Absolutely! Suppose you have no time or inclination to go the self-publishing route, yet have a book of poems you want to distribute to friends or relatives at Christmas. Or perhaps a beloved family member just died, and you want to preserve her writing for posterity. Maybe you’ve just finished tracing your ancestry and choose to distribute these genealogical findings to a wide circle of relatives. These circumstances, and any others where profit is not your motive, might be justification for subsidy publishing.
A subsidy publisher (which was more frequently called a “vanity” publisher in the past) takes payment from the author to print and bind a book. With subsidy publishers, it’s the writer’s cash, not the quality of his or her work, that counts. They publish anyone who can pay. Typically, they provide little or no book editing, marketing/promotion, or warehousing services. It has become more and more common in the past couple years for these subsidy presses to refer to themselves as a “self-publishing company.”
Their use of the term “self-publisher,” which they and their authors are not, is misleading at best and dishonest at worst. They are even so bold as to imply that authors have only two choices: publish with a traditional house or “self-publish” with a subsidy publisher. Self-publishing your own book implies that you, yourself, are the publisher. If you use a subsidy press, they are the book publishing company, not you. They are a book publisher for hire, not a self-publishing company.
Authors who are “accepted” by subsidy publishers—and 99.9 percent of them are as long as they have the cash—pay to have these companies publish their books and get royalties on copies sold. The publisher owns the ISBN, although the author retains the copyright. The author pays for all steps in the publishing process, but the publisher makes most or all of the decisions on editing, cover, size, price, and production of the book. Sales channels are usually limited to the Web since these books are generally ignored by reviewers and others in the book trade. Authors must do their own promotion and publicity. Since they make money up front, subsidy publishers take no risks, and they have no incentive to design an outstanding book or fix typos or other problems. They likely print very few copies and stamp their company imprint on your book.
If you have visions of your book becoming the next bestseller—or if you’d simply be satisfied just turning a modest profit—a subsidy publisher may not be your best route. Books printed by subsidy presses rarely make it into bookstores. If your book does make it into a bookstore, you may find that it is not shelved in your intended genre, but rather, it has been placed in a catch-all category called “local authors.” Potential buyers often ignore this category because they perceive these books as being inferior in overall quality, which they sometimes are.
Review copies of books sent to columnists by subsidy publishers generally go directly into the trash can. Reviewers realize that very little editing has likely been done, and they also know that promotional efforts will be practically nonexistent and the book will not be available through the usual book distribution channels. A subsidy publisher’s name on a book is pretty much the kiss of death.
When you choose a subsidy publishing company, there is another issue to consider: Since they own the ISBN for your book, they usually set the price. They literally will tell you what to charge for your own book! This is more than a loss of control—it can even damage the sales of the book if they set the price too high or too low. Once an ISBN is set and printed on the back cover, and embedded in bar code, it’s almost impossible to change.
An ISBN is to a book what your Social Security number is to you. It’s your ID in the world. Consequently, all orders and inquiries will go to them. They are also listed as the publisher of record in Books In Print.
Why would this matter? Let’s take a few hypothetical situations: What if a book club discovers your book, loves it, and wants to adopt it for an alternate selection? The club will contact your Internet publisher who can’t handle the deep discounts needed and thus has no financial stake in such a transaction. What do you think will happen? Zip. Zero. Nada. Suppose a corporation is interested in purchasing 1,000 copies of your book, contacts the Internet publisher, but is turned off by the high cost of the books. You never hear about it. What if a distributor wants to take it on, but finds the economics aren’t feasible? Tough luck. Any of these scenarios can cost you thousands of dollars.
Authors choosing subsidy publishing really need to do their homework to make sure they understand exactly what they are signing. But if you intend to make money selling your book, and if you want value for your money as well as a credible product, true self-publishing is likely the best way to go. If you do self-publish, ensure your book’s quality by working with a reputable self-publishing company. Doing anything less can be a costly and career-threatening mistake.
(Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 5th Edition, by Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier. Coming in summer 2010 from Writer's Digest Books. For more information, contact sue@SelfPublishingResources.com; 720-344-4388.)
Monday, December 14, 2009
Fortunately for the novice self-publisher, there are publication consultants who can guide you through each phase of the complicated publishing process. There are advantages to using a “book shepherd” (so dubbed, I believe, by one of the original self-publishing gurus Dan Poynter)—one of which is that it can save you a lot of money in the long run. A book shepherd can keep you from making some of the typical rookie mistakes. Look at it this way: You can spend years learning the self-publishing business on your own, or you can hire an expert to help you navigate the process.
There are different types of book shepherds. Some offer advice on the many aspects of publishing, referring you to experts for the areas they don’t handle. Others provide turnkey service, taking care of filing the necessary forms, manuscript editing, interior and cover design, printer brokering , and overall project management. Others, like us at Self-Publishing Resources, offer either turnkey service or hourly consulting if you want to do-it-yourself.
Working with a good book shepherd can also greatly increase your chances for publishing success. Planning ahead is extremely important, and something that is not always considered. Often, authors jump in to self-publishing without a lot of forethought. A self-publishing venture is a business enterprise, and it should be treated as such. There are myriad decisions to be made, including book title, cover design, printing options, price, just to name a few. And all can have a huge impact on whether or not your self-publishing undertaking will be successful.
There are well over 100,000 book published each year. You can’t wait until after your book is printed to think about marketing and promotions. And even the most well-written, beautifully designed book in the world isn’t going to sell if no one knows about it. Book shepherds can offer advice in this arena as well, often suggesting options for selling your book you had never considered.
The bottom line is that a good book shepherd can save you time, money, and stress, and will give you a much greater chance for self-publishing success.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Editing and Proofing
Developmental Editing. Understand that a developmental editor is not the same as a peer reviewer. I can tell you from my observations that they are not catching overall writing problems, and this is not the job of a copyeditor either. Whether you use me or someone else for developmental editing, it will be expensive but it will improve the overall read and feel of your writing. Even while your writing improves over time, you cannot expect it to be perfect--ever; that is just the nature of writing. I never depend on myself for my final edits but rather I send my work through one and often several professional editors at whatever cost to me.
Proofing. Always proof your work after completing it. It will save your editors and layout people time and will save you money.
Ellipses. Rules for ellipses are well defined. The Chicago Manual of Style defines the grammatical use as follows:
- To indicate text missing from within a sentence, put a space before the first ellipsis, after the last ellipsis, and in between all ellipses. “The author...wanted all writing to be clear and concise.”
- To indicate text missing from the end of a sentence, do not put a space before the first ellipsis, put a space in between all ellipses, and add an extra one at the end to indicate the final period. “The author demandingly wanted all writing to be clear....”
Glossaries. Consider using them; glossaries are a great help for obscure terminology. They are as helpful, if not more so, than an acronym list.
Lists. If the listed items are in a hierarchy, use numbers or letters; otherwise, use some sort of bullet.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
But the real shame in all this is that many in the industry are lumping together genuine self-publishing with subsidy/POD "self-publishing." And there is a big difference between the two.
A hybrid of the typical "subsidy" press and POD, these companies call themselves "self-publishing companies" or "POD self-publishers," and they offer more choices to authors at better prices than the typical subsidy companies. They might advertise that customers can use their own cover designs or sent their own price.
They are usually inexpensive. What that means, unfortunately, is that they frequently attract bottom-of-the-barrel literary talent. Plus, with such low up-front investment, the authors themselves dive in head first, often without professional editing, typesetting, and cover design. Although the hybrids sometimes offer these services, they may be less than satisfactory. The result of this low-cost approach is frequently a poor quality book that sells few copies. These companies are trading on the good name of self-publishing to make their companies appear to be a ligitimate option for authors.
In true self-publishing, authors assume all responsibility for all aspects of their books--and they keep 100 percent of the profits. They also own their book's ISBN and copyright; they pay for and make decisions about editing, cover, size, price, and printing; and they can use a wide variety of sales channels, including the Internet as well as all routes available to traditional publishers. Self-publishers know up front that they will be responsible for marketing, promotions, and publicity. Self-published books that sell extremely well may be noticed by traditional publishers, who might want to buy the rights from the author/publisher (What Color Is My Parachute? and The Celestine Prophecy are two such titles).
Genuine self-publishing can be a good idea for speakers, entrepreneurs, business professionals, and other nonfiction writers with a niche market. Sensible authors/publishers realize they probably won't achieve New York Times bestseller status, but with a well-edited and well-designed book, and a well-thought-out promotions plan, a book can be an important marketing tool.
Another bone of contention I have with Harlequin is the misleading (at best!) copy on their website. How about this, for example: "Have you always dreamt about being the center of attention at a book signing event featuring you, the publishing author? If so, then the Marketing Plus Package is for you."
Unfortunately, this is seldom the case, as most authors (self- or traditionally published) will tell you. Without extensive promoting on the part of the author, there isn't even a guarantee the bookstores will carry the book for the signing.
Or how about the Targeted Personal Media Valet service? For a mere $5,400, Harlequin will provide what amounts to generic PR authors could do themselves--or even get outside help from book biz professionals for a fraction of that cost.
The overcrowded self-publishing field is already chock full of poorly done books that very few people read (thanks, POD "self-publishers"). It's a shame. And I certainly hope it's not a continuing trend.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Self-publishers need to approach their venture in the same way. So set aside your subjective evaluation of your work and look at your book from a publisher’s perspective.
Questions for aspiring authors to consider before publishing:
- Do you have a compelling title?
- Is the projected length appropriate for your genre?
- How many illustrations will you have? Who will create these?
- What is the projected completion date?
- What are the leading competing books (author, title, year of publication)?
- How does your book compare to the competition? How does it differ? What makes it stand out?
- Name three benefits for readers of your book.
- Who is your audience? How will you reach them?
- How will you price your book? Is it appropriate for the genre?
- How many books must you sell to break even? To make a profit?
Ultimately, authors must also decide upon their goal for the book. Is it to make money off book sales? Is it to establish “expert” status in your field? Is it to serve as a platform on which to base a consulting career? Your reason for publishing should be an important consideration in deciding on how many resources you intend to invest in the project.