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    Entries in Writing (5)

    Tuesday
    Dec212010

    An Awesome, Incredible, Nicely Worded, Fun, Smart Post

    So, let's talk about adjectives. I hope you know what an adjective is, but just to refresh your memory, they're descriptive words. For example, in the phrase "a red coat," red is an adjective.

    Adjectives provide valuable word pictures for your readers. Lately, however, I've run into a lot of books that have the problem of too many adjectives. Now don't get me wrong, adjectives can and should be used in writing. Writing would be odd, stilted, and boring without them. So how can you use too many? Let me demonstrate.

    The particular problem I'm addressing is when authors feel like they need to precisely describe everything about their characters in the very first sentence about them. Consider the following example:

    John threw his long, six-foot-two, 210-pound, karate-trained, brown-haired, blue-eyed, lanky, toned body in the path of the speeding, red, wide, noisy Ford.

    Can you see how this can be overkill? Authors, please resist the temptation to shove every bit of physical description about your characters into the first sentence you write about them. You can, and should, spread it out a bit. Important points you want to make about your character can get lost in a sea of description, and your writing can definitely be bogged down.

    And while we're on the subject of adjectives, I'll give you a quick rule of thumb to follow if you aren't sure whether to insert commas between adjectives. Basically, if you would say the word "and" between adjectives, you should insert a comma. For example, you would write "the fast, noisy car" but "the fast Ford truck."

    Thursday
    Dec162010

    The Lovely Ellipsis

    The ellipsis—we've all seen it and most likely used it. This piece of punctuation is often abused in informal writing, such social networking and email. So what is the correct way to use it? There are several.

    First let's establish what an ellipsis is. The ellipsis is three periods, not five, seven, two, or eight. There is a method where a four-dot ellipsis can be used, but a four-dot ellipsis is simply a three-dot ellipsis preceded by a period. I commonly see writers throwing a multitude of periods after a sentence for various reasons,  but writers should not do this. Three periods is both sufficient and correct.

    The first way to use the ellipsis is most common in nonfiction writing. It is most commonly used to indicate that a portion of some quoted material is missing. For example, "God so loved . . . he gave his only begotten son" (John 3:16). The ellipsis in this quote indicates that part of the quote is missing. This use of the ellipse is pretty uncommon in fiction because other material is rarely quoted in fiction.

    You might notice that although John 3:16 continues after "only begotten son," I did not include an ellipsis after it. I also didn't start the quote with an ellipsis, even though the quote begins with the word "for." This is because Bible verses should not begin or end with ellipses unless the context demands it (e.g., it results in a sentence fragment). Also, introductory words, such as for, and, therefore, but, etc., can be omitted without inserting an ellipsis.

    The second case where ellipses should be used is more common in fiction writing. Ellipses should be used to indicate trailing off thought or speech. For example, "If only I could fly . . ." They should not be used to indicate that speech has been interrupted or to show an interjection or departure in thought. As discussed in this post, the em dash should be used for this.

    So how do you form an ellipsis? This can vary widely from publisher to publisher. Some publishers I have worked with prefer to use three spaced periods (. . .), while some prefer that authors use three unspaced periods (...) or Word's ellipsis character (…), which is formed by holding down ctrl+alt+the period. Some call for spaces before and after the ellipsis, while some prefer to have no spaces. The important thing, as always, is to pick one method and use it consistently. And of course, if you are still confused, a skilled editor can help you discern whether you're using ellipses correctly. Happy writing!

    Monday
    Nov292010

    Well, this pretty much sums it up...

    Thursday
    Nov182010

    Rejection

    To say that the plot had holes in it would be to imply that the work contained enough substance to contain such holes. It didn't.

    Ouch. That's an excerpt from a rejection letter a friend of mine who is an aspiring screenwriter received a few years ago. It's certainly one of the most brutal rejection letters I've ever seen. I can only imagine that the guy who wrote it was having a terrible day.

    Rejection. It's such a depressing concept. Nobody wants to be rejected, whether its coming from a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or an employer. It can be especially heartbreaking for authors. For many authors, their book is like a child to them. They have poured their time, heart, and soul into the work. It's like a piece of themselves that they're putting out there, and having it rejected can feel like a personal rejection of the worst kind. The sad truth is, however, that many authors are going to have to get used to rejection, especially for a first book.

    There are many reasons a book can be rejected, many of which can have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. In my first job as an in-house editor, one of my responsibilities was to wade through the slush pile and send out rejections. Here are a few reasons I had to reject manuscripts:

    • The book was obviously crazy. These were pretty few and far between, but occasionally I'd get a letter from someone who claimed God had told him the world was going to end in a week (too bad our publishing schedule was a year out!) or something similar. My personal favorite was the lady who claimed she was Jesus reincarnated and her daughter was the virgin Mary. I'm not exactly sure how that was supposed to work.
    • The book simply didn't fit in with what we published. The particular publisher I worked for had a very narrow focus, so 90 percent of the projects we received were things we'd never even consider publishing. This is part of the reason why it's important to do your homework before submitting your book. This applies to agents and publishers alike. You're just wasting everyone's time if you submit your mystery novel to a publisher who only does nonfiction.
    • I was excited about the book, but we didn't have a market to sell it to. Publishing is a business. Like any business, publishers aren't willing to put thousands and thousands of dollars into marketing, editing, designing, and printing a book unless they're reasonably sure they're going to get their money back with (hopefully) a decent profit. If you send your book of poetry to a publishing house that specializes in literary fiction, even if it's great, it's not a market they're familiar with, and therefore, they won't have the contacts and platform they need to sell the book.
    • The book was great and it fit our market well, but the author had no platform to promote it.The truth is that it's easier to get published if you're an author who is already doing speaking engagements, has a large base of followers who would read the book, or is an established expert in the field you're writing in. For a smaller publisher who might not have as much marketing clout, this is especially important. You can work on increasing your notoriety by writing a blog, going to writers' conferences, and booking speaking engagements.
    • The book was good, but the publisher wasn't on board with it, for varied reasons. Publishing is often a collaborative process, which is usually great. However, it often means that several people have to be excited about your book for it to make it to the final stage of getting a signed contract.
    • The book had strong points, but the writing just wasn't strong enough. This is, sadly, a problem many authors will encounter. If this is the case, don't give up hope. Keep writing. Get input from others. Rewrite your book or start a new book. As I talked about yesterday, the best way to become a good writer is to practice.

    The key in writing is to keep trying. If the first agent or publishing house you submit to rejects you, keep trying. Submit to more people. If you've exhausted every avenue with your first book, keep writing. The more you practice, the better you'll get. Try not to take the rejection to heart. Although it might feel like it, especially if you've gotten a lot of rejections, it's not a personal attack. And keep in mind, most famous authors have been rejected many times, so you're in good company.

    Wednesday
    Nov172010

    Sing to Me, Oh Muse

    "I've got an idea for a book!" Once people find out I'm an editor, that's almost always the first thing I hear. If I had a penny for every person I know who has an idea for a book...well, I'd probably have a few bucks. To go from having an idea for a book to actually putting your idea down on paper is a huge accomplishment that most people never get around to doing. If you've gotten that far, well done. You should be proud of yourself.

    Now all you have to do is wait for the money to start rolling in, right? Not exactly. Most people I've talked to have this strange idea that writing a book is some kind of magical process. You get inspired by an amazing, original, creative idea. The creativity fairy waves her magic wand and a wonderful, perfect book is born. All you have to do is write it down and you're good to go.

    The truth is that writing is a hard process. It takes practice, and lots of it, to become a good writer. Your first book is probably not going to be ready to be published by a traditional publisher. The same may be true of a second, third, or fourth book. Writers who make a living from writing novels are few and far between. Even successful book authors who make a living writing are usually those who write multiple books a year, and those cases are rare. People who make a living writing are far more likely to be freelance writers who write content for businesses, magazines, etc.

    And becoming a millionaire through writing? That's most likely a pipe dream. Certainly there have been authors who have done it (J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, and John Grisham, for example), but they are very, very atypical. Advances on novels can vary widely, but a first-time author should be realistic. Depending on the publishing house, the genre being written in, and the confidence in the project, you could see an advance of $1,000 to $25,000. Naturally, there are exceptions to this, but as you can see, the advance from one book is probably not going to be enough to quit your day job. Of course, that is not all the money to be made on a book, since you hope your book will earn out its advance.

    The process of getting published is also a long, arduous process. Querying agents and publishing houses is often frustrating. Not only do you have to find someone who represents or publishes your specific genre, but you also have to find someone who is excited enough about it to spend the thousands of dollars it takes to edit, print, and market a book.

    So does this mean you should give up writing as a waste of time? Definitely not! If it's your passion, do it. If you want to be published, keep practicing. Join a writers group, either locally or online, to get helpful feedback on your work. Write fanfiction, start a blog, or just write with no expectation of having someone else read it. Slow and steady wins the race! Writing is not something you should be in for the money (she says, as published authors the world over snort into their coffee). It's something you should do for the love of it.