Editing and Other Adventures: semicolon

I’ve had many submissions in the slush pile this week. Several submissions were inundated with the overabundant and erroneous usage of the semicolon. For clarity’s sake, let me state that I am not specifically semicolon adverse, though I do believe the usage is somewhat archaic in modern writing, especially in mass market fiction. My primary issue with the semicolon is I acquire books for publishing houses that frown upon semicolon usage as part of house style. The manuscript and the publisher have to be a good fit, and part of that process is recognizing the amount of work required to make the manuscript polished and ready to go to press. Wrong semicolon usage indicates sloppy writing, which indicates a greater amount of editing time, which indicates a greater cost to get the book to market, which indicates a greater potential for rejection. Sometimes publishing realities are hard.

First off, this is a semicolon    ;

Semicolons are used to link two separate thoughts or ideas which are similar. Each thought or idea should be its own complete sentence. I underlined the word “complete” because semicolons do not link sentence fragments  or link independent clauses to dependent clauses.

Here are some examples:

CORRECT:  John ate lunch; the lunch was great.

CORRECT:  John’s lunch was made with several spices; the fish was sprinkled with tarragon.

INCORRECT:  John ate lunch; Sarah is coming over.  (unrelated thoughts or ideas)

INCORRECT:  I like to eat lunch out on the patio; and I can’t stand to eat in the kitchen.

It might be helpful to read your sentence out loud so you can hear it. If you say, “And I can’t stand to eat in the kitchen,” you ideally would be able to hear that this is not a complete sentence. It has that extra “and,” making the above example incorrect. You probably should delete the “and.”  You really should.

Some writers use semicolons to adjust the flow of their writing to create a specific pace. Using a period in place of the semicolon would result in short, choppy sentences and would alter the pace or flow of the text. This is fine. If used correctly, and minimally, a semicolon can be a very effective pause that keeps the pace of a novel moving. But, if the semicolon would be better replaced by a comma or period, then consider using a comma or period.

It also might be helpful, especially if you are a serial semicoloner, to do a search [CTRL+F] for the semicolon. The search feature will give you the total number of semicolons in your document. If you have only a few, then the semicolon use is much less of a concern. But, say you have more than a few. Say you have 50 in a 250 page manuscript. Say you have 25. In that case let me encourage you to look at each and every semicolon. Make sure the usage is correct if you are going to keep any of them. If you do have 25 or 50 let me encourage you not to keep the majority them. Let me also encourage you to consider making these revision changes before you click on the submit button and send your manuscript off to an agent, editor, or publisher. The more polished your manuscript, the easier it is to get to market.

 

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Editing and Other Adventures: hyphens

I’ve been out of the blogosphere for a year or so finishing up a degree in publishing, being inundated with editing projects, and starting Literary Wanderlust, a traditional (print and digital) publishing house. The excuse for my absence is only that these projects and classes took so much time, focus, and effort that I could do little else. I am pleased to have crossed the hurdles I set for myself, and I joyfully look forward to new literary adventures. I hope you will join me as I meander through the myriad topics that that both writers and editors explore, and also as I make effort to return to a regular blogging routine. I’ve missed you!

I have read, content edited, proofed, formatted, accepted, and rejected many manuscripts over the last year, and I consistently see the same issues and errors on the pages submitted to me. I thought I would address these issues in a series of blog posts written to keep some of the grammar fresh in my mind and also to help my fellow writers polish their work.  I promise you, it matters that your manuscript is as perfect as you can make it before you send it off to that agent or editor, and especially before you independently publish.

Punctuation may seem like an unimportant issue for a writer to contend with, but I have personally watched with amazement as a publishing house turned down a manuscript ONLY because it would take too much time and effort to fix the punctuation and formatting issues. The publishing house deemed the manuscript not worth the expense to polish it. It was a fairly decent story, so the rejection was dismal. Publishing has changed, and publishers no longer have the staff or budget to make some projects feasible. It is a sad fact of life.

So let’s talk about hyphens.

Hyphens are not interchangeable with dashes.

Hyphens do not have a space around them.

The purpose of a hyphen is to joins words or to separate syllables of a single word.

Here are some examples:

INCORRECT:            This is a low—budget job.

INCORRECT:            This is a low – budget job.

CORRECT:                 This is a low-budget job.

The first example is actually an em dash, which is three times as long as a hyphen and is used for other purposes.

The second example is a hyphen that has spaces around it. No spaces. Nope. None.

The third example shows the correct usage of the hyphen, which combines the two adjectives that modify the noun.

So, one step at a time, one punctuation mark at a time, and soon we all will be perfect grammarians. Well, I will still have to look things up, but you will be a perfect grammarian! But, if in doubt, always look it up. I personally like the Chicago Manual of Style and Grammar Girl and use both resources often. I find both of these sites easy to use and helpful when editing and writing. Or if all else fails, do a Google search.

When you discover that you have used the hyphen, or any punctuation or spelling incorrectly in your work, you can do a find and replace text. I often use Alt codes to replace misused punctuation because the Alt codes ensures that I am using the same character throughout the manuscript. Alt+45 is the code for the hyphen. I click on Find, then type a space, Alt+45, space, and then click on Replace and type Alt+45. This trick removes all the spaces around the hyphen. You can also use the Find and Replace to change your em dashes to hyphens if necessary.

I hope this little journey into hyphens was helpful. Now go forth and write!

 

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hyphenated non-hyphenated image

 

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Social Media Advertising for Publishers and Independent Authors

Advertising on social media helps you to build your audience and also gives your products more exposure. With the huge amount content published each year, it can be difficult for your audience to discover your products among the myriad other products fighting for their attention.

As you build your brand, you also build your credibility and reputation online. The increased exposure draws more individuals to your website so you sell your products. Also, because of the available statistics on some social media platforms, you can quickly determine which marketing techniques and social media platforms work best for your particular audience.

It is important however, to weigh the possible increase in website traffic and brand building with the time and financial commitments required to successfully achieve these goals. If you are not consistent with managing your social media accounts you will not improve your bottom line, and will expend a great amount of time without benefit.

Before you consider which social media platform is best for your company or products, it is important to consider your marketing budget. The small business administration recommends a marketing budget of 7-8% of your overall budget allocated toward marketing. This allocation should be split between developmental costs including website and blogs, and promotional costs which are actual costs for advertising.  Independent authors should carefully consider these costs in their publishing budget and include them along with professional editing costs, a obtaining a professionally created book cover. independent authors should absolutely consider themselves as a business

If you chose to promote your business using social media, it is  imperative that you create a social media strategy and commit to a regular social media posting schedule for best results.

Facebook is an online social networking site that allows individuals to keep up to date on the events of their friends’ daily lives, and allows companies to develop a strong following of fans.

The first step in advertising on Facebook is to build your page. Use your logo or other unique cover photo and begin posting information that your audience will find relevant or interesting. Post regularly and on a consistent basis to keep your information available to your followers.

While there is no exact amount of material that should be posted each day, or each week, it is important to note that typically if you post fewer than two posts per week you will not engage your audience enough for them to maintain a social media connection with  you, and you will lose engagement. The ideal number of posts per week is between five and ten times. This requires a significant time commitment and the ability to come up with interesting and relevant posts and topics of discussion.

The next step is to connect to your fans and potential fans with ads. It is recommended that you create multiple ads to help build your audience. Use available targeting options so that you are showing your ads only to people who would be interested in your product through targeted marketing. As data becomes available you will be able to see which version of your ads work best. It is important to carefully design your ad since they will show up on the walls of your target audience.

The cost of advertising on Facebook is flexible. You have the option of choosing a daily or total overall budget, as well as a cost per click option where you will only pay for the clicks or impressions you receive, up to the maximum amount you set as your budget. You also have the ability to view the cost of your ads in real time from Facebook’s ads manager. This can be a low cost, effective way to advertise.

Vine is a mobile app owned by Twitter that enables users to create and post short looping video clips. These short (six second) looping videos are viewable on Twitter’s timeline or can be embedded into a web page. Posting short video clips on Vine can potentially create interest in your products and drive traffic to your website. These posts also link back to your website and improve your search rankings.

There are some downsides to Vine. For example, it can’t access your Facebook friends so it can’t automatically connect you to those followers who area also on Vine. Vine also has no social sharing buttons, and there is no way to share directly to other popular social networks like Tumblr. Vine may be useful for your bottom line, but be selective about what social media sites you are using to ensure you get the biggest bang for your marketing time and budget. Creating a social media platform for marketing is a substantial time commitment.

YouTube is a video sharing website and there are a couple ways to use YouTube for advertising. You can create your own channel and upload relevant videos about your products, or interviews about your products, or create creative and interesting videos that you believe people will like, but these may not be specifically designed as advertising. Your goal is to create dynamic videos that people will like in order to drive traffic to your website. These videos can help you build a following, especially as people subscribe to your channel. YouTube videos do have the potential of going viral but there is no secret formula to make this happen. All you can do is make the best possible video.

The other way to advertise on YouTube is to create actual video advertising specifically designed for one of  your products. Once the video is created, you upload it to YouTube, then create a Google AdWords account since YouTube video ads are powered by Google. YouTube then targets your ad by placing with other videos that are being watched by your targeted audience. You only pay a fee when people watch your video so you don’t waste money advertising to people who aren’t interested. The pricing policy is the same as Google AdWords.

You do have the ability to target your audience since YouTube tracks their users with Google (and we all know that Google know everything about you; what you like to eat, what you read, what you watch on TV, if you want to go on a diet, etc…). You can specify that you want to reach men aged 18-34 in Boston who enjoy travel and only those individuals who match that criteria will see your advertisement. This targeted marketing potentially may boost sales and drive traffic to your website.

Instagram is a photo sharing site that also allows you to share photos with Flickr, Facebook and Twitter. However, Instagram is not yet ready to expand their advertising to allow additional marketing. There may be better platform options available to you that you may wish to consider.

Pinterest is like an online bulletin board. You add items, images, text, which help you collect ideas on specific projects. Many people use Pinterest when they are browsing online and don’t want to forget what they have seen. Pinterest allows you to pin these items to your bulletin board. People can follow your account and you can follow theirs.

Pinterest is currently experimenting with promoting pins, but this concept of advertising is not yet available. This means that Pinterest’s main purpose for advertising is to promote your brand and product by getting followers rather than using targeted marketing. You would need to create an account and pin information about your company and products to your account. This is a way to drive customers to your website and hopefully make a sale.  Pinterest is another social media option available which will allow new customers to discover your products.

Twitter is a social media networking and microblogging site that allows users to send and read short 140-character text messages, pictures, links, and videos.  There are a few ways to use Twitter. You can regularly send out interesting tweets about your products. If people find your tweets interesting they may follow you to receive regular updates. This potentially could drive traffic to your website and generate sales.

Another way to advertise on Twitter is to sign up for Twitter Ads. You create an account, set a budget, and only pay when people follow your promoted account or retweet, reply, favorite or click on your promoted tweets. Twitter then tweets your ads to a targeted audience based on metadata.  There are some marketing campaigns that have been successful, but keep in mind that gathering followers, and consistently tweeting to keep those followers requires a regular schedule and time commitment.

There are apps that tie your social media accounts together, and these allows you to generate one piece of social media but post in multiple locations. These kinds of apps are helpful for saving time when managing your social media calendar. If you wish to begin a social media advertising campaign, I would recommend you do some research to locate the best app for you.

Social media is a reflection of your company so you need to ensure that your brand is accurately portrayed. You will need to create a social media marketing strategy that takes into account your marketing budget and the amount of time and staffing necessary to maintain a regular online presence.

Create new, consistent, and high-quality content to keep your company fresh and in the minds of your customers and potential customers. Use social media to increase the number of times your products are exposed. People generally need to see your brand and product multiple times before they develop an emotional connection.  Cultivate a loyal following by posting engaging content so that your fans can interact with your company. Your social media presence places you as an industry expert. Share your expertise as this establishes trust between you and your fans. Don’t tell your fans you are an expert. Let your content prove it to them.

Remember that the purpose of social media, and the goal of using social media, is to develop relationships. People want to do business with other people. Social media allows you to humanize your brand and gets potential customers interested, engaged and connected with you. Be authentic with your content. Be yourself.  Be professional. Be nice.

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Pitch Opportunity

I am taking pitches from Monday, February 24th through Wednesday February 26th for Champagne Books over at Savvy Authors.

Champagne Book Group is currently seeking wonderfully told stories in the following genres:

  • Contemporary romance (with higher levels of sensuality and erotic)
  • Historical romance-specifically Highland/Scottish, medieval, cowboy/western
  • Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance (including science fiction romance)
  • Erotic romance (m/m, ménage, BDSM, alternative lifestyles)
  • Young Adult & New Adult
  • Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers (romance and non-romance)
  • Horror

At this point, we are not currently seeing science fiction or fantasy unless it has a romance.

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Writing Tips – How To Write A Query Letter

Quite simply, a query letter is a single page summary of you and your book. Since you only have one page to tell the agent, editor, or publisher everything you want to tell them about your book, it is important that the query letter is well written and concise. After all, your query letter ultimately serves as the gateway to getting your manuscript read.

Your query letter should be composed of three basic paragraphs:

  • Tagline/Hook
  • Synopsis
  • Biography

Aside from the basic parts of any letter, such as the salutation, you first want to grab the reader’s attention with a strong tagline. The tagline should be one or two sentences which both describes and draws the reader to your story. For example, you could write, “The Last Light is an eccentric love tale in which two lost souls find each other.” Or, you could write, “Set on a backdrop of extortion, greed, and blackmail — The Last Light is not your average love story.” The second sentence features a more intriguing tagline which will more likely prompt an agent to read further.

The synopsis builds upon the tagline. Introduce the reader to your story just enough to pique their interest, but not so much that you spoil the entire plot. After spending countless hours building a lengthy manuscript, it might be hard to condense your entire story into one paragraph. Therefore, it is usually helpful to write a couple versions of your synopsis and then go back, reread, and tweak to find which synopsis is best.

Lastly, tell the reader about yourself. There’s an author behind every story and agents, editors, and publishers want to know who you are, especially if you have credibility to back up your work. If you have won literary awards or have had your writing featured somewhere, now is the time to brag about it. Your biography should briefly encapsulate who you are as a writer and why you wrote this work.

As with any piece of writing make sure to edit, edit, edit! The query letter is essentially your foot in the door if it is written well, so be sure to take some time to craft your query letter.

 

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Writing Tips – How To Write A Synopsis

As an acquisitions editor for a traditional publisher, I read many (many, many) submissions from authors hoping to be traditionally published. Usually, submission packages include a synopsis (a synopsis is required for this particular publisher and are usually required for most publishers). Unfortunately, I continue to be surprised by the number of writers who either don’t submit a synopsis (which makes it difficult to judge the quality of the story and results in an automatic rejection) or they submit something that is not a synopsis at all (same result).  Hence, this post.

Writing a synopsis is simple in theory, but difficult in practice. Depending upon the publisher’s length requirement (generally, length ranges from three to ten pages), and the complicated nature of your story, you will have to revise and rewrite your synopsis several times to make sure that the action is clear and consistent and that the story makes sense. But what story elements do you put in your synopsis and what do you leave out?  That depends upon you, the writer, and the nature of your novel. As you begin to write and revise your synopsis, it will become more clear.

So what is a synopsis? A synopsis is a thumbnail overview of your story that tells the reader what happens to your characters, from the first word to the last word. The purpose of the synopsis is to show that your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts make sense. Most importantly, the synopsis will show if you have any plot or logic problems. If the events won’t make sense you clearly have a problem. Often it is the synopsis that determines if your story will be read by an agent, editor, or publisher (if you are going the traditional publishing route). If you plan to independently publish take the time to write a synopsis.  You will learn to see areas of your novel that need improvement and revision which will help you to publish the best product possible. In the long run it’s worth the effort.

There are no hard and fast rules of how to write a synopsis, but generally it is written in present tense (Johnny Character runs into an abandoned building, escapes the bad guys, but is captured by Alien invaders), uses active voice (Johnny shoots the Alien invaders), not passive voice (The Alien invaders were shot by Johnny). Your synopsis shows the external story conflict (Johnny wants to live another day but he may be eaten by the Alien invaders) and how the internal conflict affects your main character (Johnny is distraught because the Alien invaders eat people and he thinks he is on the menu). Most importantly the synopsis shows how each conflict element is resolved (Johnny escapes down a garbage shoot, blows up the spaceship, and saves the world). A synopsis is clear. A synopsis is concise. A synopsis shows the ending. No exceptions.

A synopsis includes the inciting incident (that which gets your character moving), the conflict (that which keeps your character from achieving the main goal), the climax (the live or die moment), and the resolution (that shows your character’s success or failure). The trick is weaving all of these elements into a logical few paragraphs. If you can’t figure out how an element of your story works in your synopsis, then your story needs revision and is not ready for publication. It’s a harsh reality.

Writing a synopsis is not easy and it is something that is dreaded by many writers. It can be arduous. It can be tedious. But I recommend that you do the work to write it. As you work through your synopsis, you will see story problems that need resolution and you will be prompted to fix them. This will make you a better writer and you will publish a better product. Your readers will be happier with you and more apt to purchase your next book. It’s a win-win for everyone. So do it. Write a synopsis.

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Writing Tips – How to Write a Promotional Plan

As a newly published author, you want your book to sell. In the current publishing economy your publisher is not able to dedicate extensive funds (if any) to your book promotion, and/or if you are independently published you won’t have any help or guidance. You need your book to sell either way.  To increase sales it is very important that you, the author, do you best to promote you book so that people will buy it.

I have put together some things to think about to help you create a basic promotional plan that you can use to promote your book:

  1. Who is your target audience? Who are your readers? Spend some time thinking about this. This will help you focus on who you want to read your book. This will help  you focus on who you need to contact. Who do expect to read your book? Why would they read it? Write a few paragraphs about your readers. Think about developing a relationship with your readers and how to best do that.

  2. What are your goals toward marketing your book. Be specific. What do you want to accomplish? Think big. Think bold. Think out of the box. Write a few paragraphs on this. If you just write, “I will sell a million copies,” you are missing out on a huge piece of the process.

  3. How you are going to reach your goal? Be specific. This will probably be a flexible document that you will edit and change as ideas come to you and you find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Not everything works for every body. Map out your action steps. You may need to set up a calendar so that you can see what you need to do each day. Make marketing a daily task. Here are some suggestions:

  • You have spent significant time building a platform for yourself and you have significant followers who are interested in what you have to say. You have signed up for Pinterist, Google+,  Facebook, Twitter, etc. and you are going to spend 15 minutes every day with social media. You have this blocked out on your calendar.
  • You have joined several book communities on Goodreads, Booktalk, Scribed, etc…and you are going to post weekly, or daily, or monthly, or whatever works for you.
  • You joined HARO to make a name for yourself as an expert. You may not get contacted often or ever, but it is a simple step you can take to help get your name out there.
  • You have created your own (not free) author website. Free is good, but not the best. Spend $5 a month on your own site. You and your book are worth it. 
  • You created and actively participate in your blog once or twice a week. This should be your own blog. Pick topics that you know about and can comment on regularly. 500 words. You can do it. Add this task to your marketing calendar.
  • You will do an author blog tour and will blog at x number of sites in a specific time frame. This will take some planning and some time to set up. You will have to contact other bloggers to get on their publishing schedule. It is recommended that you start promoting your book three months before your release date to build up interest, and continue for three to six months after release to continue interest. Use your marketing calendar to map this out.
  • You have perfected an elevator pitch for your novel so you can quickly promote your book when you meet new people. This will take some time to work out. Distill you book into three sentences. Practice on your friends. Eventually, the nervousness will cease and it will become second nature. Practice. Practice some more. Add practice time to your calendar. 
  • You will purchase bookmarks, or postcards, or some other goodies that you can hand out to people as you talk to them. You want them to remember you. Don’t be overbearing. Give them your 30 second elevator speech and hand them a goodie. If they are interested they will ask you questions.  If not, move on. 
  • You will contact local booksellers and set up author signings. This is a very difficult task. You may or may not be successful, but make the effort. Schedule yourself to contact at least one bookseller per week. Start developing relationships with all your local booksellers now. Google independent booksellers for your area. Call them. Introduce yourself. Set up a a meeting. Buy books at their stores. Get to know them BEFORE you want to use them for marketing. 
  • Part of the author signing will probably entail readings…Yes, in public. Practice reading passages from your novel. Record yourself so you can hear what you sound like. Practice in front of your friends. Read to them in coffee shops.  Schedule practice time on your calendar. If you are deathly afraid of public speaking join Toastmasters. Get over yourself.
  • You will teach workshops at writers’ conferences to help get your name out there. This is another difficult task. This means that you will have to put together a workshop that you can teach. And after all the time and effort, you might not find a place to teach. Do it anyway. If you can specialize in a few topics, create a few workshops to have on hand. You never know when a writers’ group may need a last minute speaker. List your available workshop on your website. 
  • You will contact media outlets and schedule x number of interviews in a specific time frame. Again, you may not get responses, but you need to put yourself out there. Add this to your marketing calendar.
  • You will write a press release and send out to x number of media outlets. If you have never written a press release, go to the public library and pick up a book or two. Then schedule a time on your calendar when you will FAX or email a specific number of media outlets. Even one contact a week is better than none. Get yourself out there. 
  • You will hire someone to create a video book trailer which will be available at x number of sites (list them). Book trailers can be successful. I have seen some good ones. I have seen some horrible ones. Do you homework. Maybe you will need to do some research to find the right person to help you. Schedule research time on your calendar, interview them and ask to see some of their work. 
  • You will hire a publicist for three months. This is an option and it may be something you want to consider.  They can do some of the things that you don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. But there are good and bad publicists. Do your homework. If you decide that you need a publicist schedule research time on your calendar. Interview them and ask for references. 

Marketing possibilities are endless. Some things work for some people but not for others and you may find that there will be some trial and error. Don’t get discouraged. You and your book are worth the effort. You will be uncomfortable doing some of these things. Push yourself and do them anyway. You want people to read your book so you have to get yourself and your book out there. You can do it. People need to see your book. If they see it they might buy it. If they buy it they might read it. It they read it they may like it. If they like it they will tell their friends. Only 999,999 more sales to go!

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