Sunday, May 21, 2017

The ABCs of Book Writing: J is for JUST write . . .

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. . . and JUST why you should.

In the real world of professional authorship, the bottom line is: writers write. Over the course of a career some authors will produce dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of books, articles, and reviews. Others may produce only a handful and build a career by combining writing with speaking, teaching, or consulting. How prolific you are depends on a number of personal and professional factors—for example: whether or not you have a day job, your health and energy, your family and domestic obligations, and the type of writing you do. Regardless of your individual situation, what you don't want to be is a one-book author.

Why writers must keep writing


There are four basic reasons why there is no downside to your being as prolific a writer as you can manage to be:

1. Writers must keep writing for the obvious reason that this is the only way to produce a sufficient amount of work to reach others. The more you produce, the more likely you are to find markets and draw readers.

2. Writing continuously is the only way to significantly grow as a writer. In the course of producing one book, you may gather momentum and hone some skills. But without continuing to write, it is hard to imagine maintaining your craft, let alone improving on it.

3. The more you write, the more likely you are to be successfully published. It is difficult to break into the market as a first-time book author with absolutely no credentials. Agents, publishers, and readers will be swayed in your favor if you have some writing credentials, such as book reviews, journal or magazine articles, or anthology contributions. Now that publishing credentials can be obtained through both print and digital sources, it's hard to justify wanting to be a book author while remaining totally unpublished.

4. To keep on writing is to be a professional. Even if you have just finished a magnum opus, you have no excuse to hang up the quill pen or power down your computer. If you work hard at your manuscript and persevere with querying agents and publishers, or with marketing your self-published book, your work will eventually attract someone who can take you to the next level. But odds are, that someone will not only value prior writing credentials but will also want you at least to have a second book in progress.

Strategies to keep you writing


Ideally, while you are working on one book—presumably your main project—you should be writing something else as while. If this is absolutely not possible for you, then once the main project is completed, immediately begin the next book or some other writing project, preferably one related to your newly completed book.

Strategies that will keep you writing can be as many and as varied as writers themselves. Here are a few for you to try and to adapt to suit yourself and your situation:

Strategies to keep writing
—While writing one book, research, plan, make notes on, and write snippets of the next book.

—Seek out book reviewing opportunities. Start but don't stop with Amazon, Smashwords, and Goodreads.

—While writing one book, work on another in a different but related genre, to keep you fresh in both. Examples of possible pairings: science fiction/popular science; contemporary romance/romantic suspense; detective fiction/true crime; popular history/historical fiction; cozy mystery/period mystery.

—Write articles or short stories related to your current book in progress; write and send out queries for these.

—Start, and work hard at, a blog related to your book.

—Look for related blogs to contribute to as a guest.

—If your book is part of a series, make notes on, or write drafts of, later books in the series.

—Just for fun, write fan fiction. It could grow your author platform.

—If all else fails, write journal or diary entries. These will not likely be publication ready anytime soon, but maybe someday . . .

Just keep writing


However you choose to do it, stay continuously involved in the writing process. Some of us must devote time and energy to day jobs, and we all need downtime. But succeeding as a book author means never entirely walking away from writing, whether it's a book you're working on or something—anything—else that qualifies as potentially publishable written work.

Writers write.

Coming next week . . . "K is for KNOWING what you don't know"

Friday, May 12, 2017

The ABCs of Book Writing: I is for INTERTEXTUALITY . . .

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. . . and enhancing your own IDEAS.

What is intertextuality? And why should I know about it?


Intertextuality is a term used in literary theory to designate the diverse ways that any literary text inevitably refers to other texts, both past and contemporary. These other texts may include novels, nonfiction books, and other written works. The text in intertextuality also encompasses other forms of artistic and cultural expression:

—movies
—music
—television
—ideas and beliefs
—symbols
—sayings, conventions, and oral traditions

Intertextuality reflects the reality that culture is a way of life. It is therefore inevitable that a writer's cultural experience and community will find direct or indirect expression in his or her own writing. Intertextuality is important because recognizing and using it effectively can add to your personal stock of ideas, and enrich your writing.

For an overview of intertextuality, watch the video at the bottom of this post.

Intertextuality in fiction and nonfiction books


There are many ways that one text may refer to another. Such references may be direct or indirect, conscious or unconscious on the part of the author. In written works, they may be found anywhere from commercial nonfiction to literary and genre fiction, and might include the following:

—quotation
—allusion
—adaptation
—synthesis
—parody
—structural parallelism
—imitation

Examples of intertextuality in literature and popular culture


Examples of intertextuality from the literary canon include Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which refers to Dante's Inferno, and his later novel Victory, drawn from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Among the best-known literary examples of intertextuality is James Joyce's Ulysses, a modern retelling of Homer's Odyssey.

Examples of intertextuality in TV & movies
Today's popular culture is also rich in intertextuality. The long-running comedy series The Big Bang Theory combines fresh, clever writing with extensive intertextual references to earlier sitcoms, Star Trek, Star Wars, various action-hero movies, comic books, and popular science—to name just some examples. In film, notable intertextual variations on earlier plots include Sleepless in Seattle (1993), which uses quotes, clips, and music from An Affair to Remember (1957), and Bridget Jones's Diary (2001), a millennial adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813).

The power and pitfalls of intertextuality in writing


Examples from literature and popular culture show that, used with awareness and innovativeness, intertextuality can be a powerful creative tool. Just the introduction of a short but apt quote can add an extra level of artistry and meaning to your writing. Beware, however, of overdoing your intertextual references and adaptations, or you might run the risk of having your work dismissed as too derivative. Falling back on hackneyed writing, discussed previously, is another kind of intertextual faux pas. Worst of all, for ethical as well as artistic reasons, is plagiarism, an extreme and always unacceptable form of intertextuality.

If you are unsure of what constitutes intertextual innovation, freshness of expression, and fair use, err on the side of minimalism: a pithy quote, passing allusion, or new twist on an old idea. When handled with deftness and discretion, intertextuality adds dimension and interest to your writing. 

Sources for this post: M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms, 5th ed. (1988); Chris Baldick, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms (1990); and David Lodge, The Art of Fiction (1992).



Coming next week . . . "J is for JUST write"

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The ABCs of Book Writing: H is for HACKNEYED writing . . .

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. . . and HOW to break its HABITS.

Hackneyed writing can afflict most writers from time to time. The challenge of effective writing is to become aware of the habits associated with hackneyed writing, and to do what is necessary to break them. The more you succumb to the lure of hackneyed writing, the more likely you are to create a tedious and unsaleable manuscript.

What is hackneyed writing?


Hackneyed writing is the repeated falling back on words, phrases, or narrative techniques that were once fresh but have now suffered from decades, or even centuries, of use, reuse, and overuse. The reason that hackneyed writing persists is because it comes easily to us. When we are writing, and our heads are full of points of argument, plot twists, lines of dialogue, and all the other ideas and images that we feel urgency to express, what often come first to mind are the clichés and familiar narrative techniques of hackneyed writing.

Hackneyed writing habits


The following are common habits associated with hackneyed writing:

1. Making outworn comparisons


busy as a bee, fat as a pig, hot as hell, light as a feathereasy as pie . . .

Break the habit by creating original similes, metaphors, or other images: She launched herself into a flurry of activity. His belt buckle was almost obscured by his stomach.


2. Relying on tired turns of phrase*


-that said/that having been said/having said that (try but, however, or even so)
-sooner rather than later (try immediate/immediately, prompt/promptly, without delay, or plain old soon)
-few and far between (try rare)
-in this day and age (try these days, now, nowadays, today)
-by leaps and bounds (specify the quantity: improved by 20 percent, tripled, grew by eight times the rate of last year)
-a good time was had by all (saying almost anything would be better than this; or just record the events and leave it to the reader to conclude whether it was enjoyable or otherwise)
-risked life and limb (risked his/her life)
-for all intents and purposes (can be deleted in most contexts)
-at the end of the day (ditto)
-it goes without saying/needless to say (delete these phrases; any point they introduced should be deleted or rewritten: If it goes without saying, why say it at all?)

Break the habit by deleting or using substitutes, as in the parenthetical suggestions above.


3. Overusing -ly adverbs, especially in dialogue sentences


 "I hate studying," Joe said angrily.

4. Expressing speakers' feelings with animal noises


"Stop that," he snarled. "I'd like that," she cooed. "Get away from me," she hissed. "I hate studying," Joe growled.

Break these two habits by choosing precise, expressive nouns and verbs to show feelings and create images around the dialogue: "I'd like that," she said, moving so close that he could smell the citrus scent of her shampoo. "I hate studying," Joe said and slammed the textbook shut.


5. Constantly reversing the construction of dialogue sentences 


"I hate studying," said Joe.
"Me too," agreed Mary. "Such a bore," said she.

Break the habit by routinely choosing the subject-verb construction in dialogue sentences:
"I hate studying," Joe said.
"Me too," Mary agreed. "Such a bore," she said.

While the subject-verb construction is the best choice for most dialogue sentences, there are some contexts in which the reverse construction is not only acceptable, but preferable. For example: "Such a bore," said Mary, who drove home the point with an elaborate roll of her eyes. (Rather than: "Such a bore," Mary, who drove home the point with an elaborate roll of her eyes, said.)

Dog sleeping on book
Outworn language and narrative style bore the reader.

6. Using too many substitutes for said


"Mary," he remarked, "I didn't know you were still here."
"I came back to rest for a few minutes," she replied.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No, I'm fine," she insisted.

Break the habit by using said or nothing at all:

"Mary," he said, "I didn't know you were still here."
"I came back to rest for a few minutes."
"Can I get you anything?"
She shook her head. "No, I'm fine."


7. Being an intrusive author

If you are writing a how-to or self-help book, it is appropriate to address the reader directly and possibly to include illustrative examples based on your own experience, perceptions, or expertise. Fiction, however, is another matter, and readers will not welcome the overbearing, omniscient author who indulges in the following kinds of intrusion:

As Mary enters the dark pathway you might think you know what happens next but, in fact, you are in for a surprise. Little did she know that her life was about to be changed forever. She was so worried that she did not feel the first drops of rain on her head and failed to see the murderer lurking behind a tree. She had no idea that disaster awaited her.

Break the habit by never stopping the story to address the reader directly. And do not tell readers what the character does not know or feel. Stay in the background and unfold the story through one or more strong character viewpoints:

As she entered the dark pathway, Mary's unease took control. Why do I feel like my life is about to change forever? she thought.

Sudden cold drops of rain on her head startled her into awareness of her surroundings. She glimpsed what looked like a shadowy figure trying to hide behind a tree, but dismissed this as a figment of her overactive imagination. Still, she could not deny that her fear was now as real and as cold as the falling rain.

Earning your cliché


Is there ever a time to give in to the habits of hackneyed writing? Some stylists argue that you can earn your clichés. That is, after a long passage of writing in your own unique voice, you might be able to make a point or create drama by deploying a cliché. Sometimes clichés can become ironic or otherwise effective in a new, well-conceived context.

If, however, you have any doubt about whether you’ve earned your cliché, bypass it and reach for a fresh turn of phrase or up-to-date narrative technique. Odds are, this effort will serve you better than even the most judicious falling back on the stock figures of speech and bygone narrative tropes of hackneyed writing. Whenever you can, turn the outdated into the original.

*The list of tired phrases includes examples from Judy Birnberg, WordThoughts (blog), March 14, 2017, https://writejudi.wordpress.com/tag/list-of-trite-expressions/; and Mark Evans, Grumpmeister (blog), January 14 and August 7, 2012, https://grumpmeister.wordpress.com/category/hackneyed-phrases/. For additional examples, see Brian A. Klems, The Writer's Dig (blog), August 15, 2012, http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/12-cliches-all-writers-should-avoid.

Coming next week . . . "I is for INTERTEXTUALITY"

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The ABCs of Book Writing: G is for GRAMMAR . . .

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. . . and four GOOD reasons to GO GET some.

To be a book author, you do not necessarily have to grasp the difference between a gerund and a participle (although such understanding doesn't hurt). You do, however, need to know enough grammar to write a readable—and publishable—book manuscript.

What is grammar and why does it matter?


Grammar is a system of rules that define the structure and functioning of language. Here are four reasons why brushing up your grammar is a worthwhile endeavor:

1.
Writing is all about communicating clearly. Grammar aids clarity by giving you, the writer, a fixed set of rules, or conventions, that readers can readily interpret. If they have to struggle to find the meaning within erroneous or inconsistent grammatical usage, misinterpretation is possible and clear communication is compromised.

2. A knowledge of grammar empowers your writing by providing you with a set of tools that are always in working order and always available to you. These tools enable you to produce correct, original writing and reduce the likelihood that you will fall back on the errors of email writing style or the tired ploys associated with hackneyed writing.

3. Like every other author, you have an individual voice and personal vision of the book you wish to write. The better your grasp of grammar, the better your ability to bring your voice to its highest potential and effectively share your creative vision with your readers.

4. Writing a book with the greatest possible grammatical correctness will reduce the amount of editing required. For conventional authors, a manuscript that requires minimal editing will have enhanced appeal to agents and publishers. For self-publishing authors, a grammatically correct, carefully prepared manuscript will increase the chances that you will only need basic copyediting or proofreading—as opposed to expensive stylistic and substantive editing. Good grammar, in other words, can significantly reduce your publishing costs.

Your grammar foundation


You may never bother to find out the definition of a gerund or an ergative verb, and you don't necessarily need to do so. You will, however, do yourself a disservice as a writer if you ignore grammar altogether and make no effort to master its conventions.

Gaining a sophisticated, or merely adequate, grasp of grammar is an ongoing process for most people. Even high-level editors have to look things up and are always adding to their knowledge of the finer points of grammar.

For beginning writers who feel the need to strengthen their grammatical knowledge, my suggestion is to master a grammar foundation, to bear it in mind as you write, and to build on it as part of your overall growth as a writer. Opinions undoubtedly vary as to what is a minimally acceptable level of grammatical understanding. The following is what I consider to be a basic grammar foundation—that is, the very least you should know before starting to write a book:

A noun is a word designating a person, place, thing, or idea. Nouns usually form plurals by adding an s. For possible exceptions, check a reliable dictionary, such as Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Nouns also have possessive forms that take an apostrophe: singular—the cat's tail; plural—the cats' tails.

A pronoun is a word used as a substitute for a noun (for example, he, she, you, it).

A verb is a word or set of words expressing action (We traveled by train to Paris.) or state of being (Paris is a beautiful city.) or possession of some tangible (Paris has many museums and galleries.) or intangible (Paris has an air of romance.) attribute(s).

Verbs have tenses, which signify the time of a verb's functioning. The most common tenses for book writing are present, past, and future: These days, I walk to work. Last year, I walked to work. When spring comes, I will walk to work. You may want to use the resources cited below to familiarize yourself with the nuances of the perfect and subjunctive forms of these tenses.

A sentence expresses at least one complete thought and must consist of at least one subject (noun, pronoun, or group of words functioning as a subject) and one predicate (verb).

A run-on sentence contains two or more complete sentences, each separated by a comma. For an example and how to correct it, see "E is for EMAIL," under "Self-editing email style"/"Break up run-on sentences."

A sentence fragment stands on its own and ends with a period, but is missing either a subject or predicate. Used in moderation, sentence fragments can add drama or emphasis.

A paragraph is a group of sentences treating a single topic or theme. When the topic changes, make a new paragraph. Most topics or subtopics of a longer discussion can be handled in paragraphs consisting of nine sentences or less. Paragraphs that run on for more than twelve sentences are tedious, as well as detrimental to readability and the aesthetics of the printed page. Occasional usage of one- or two-sentence paragraphs can create extra drama, suspense, or emphasis.

Resources for building on your grammar foundation


Books


Favorite Grammar & Style BooksNot all grammar books are the dull texts you perhaps remember from junior high English classes. Check out Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss. This book is both educational and fun to read. On the cover, there's a cute panda that, depending on the presence or absence of a comma, either subsists on a diet of green shoots and leaves or, after eating a sandwich, shoots his way out of a café. A comma is sometimes a matter of life and death.

The classic authority on grammar and elegant writing is The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White. This little book is readable and entertaining. Take a couple of hours to read it from cover to cover, refer back to it as needed, and before long, you will be a proficient grammarian and stylist. You can purchase a recent, updated edition or find the first edition online for free.

The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), the grammar and style bible for the English language book trade is my all-time favorite book. Where else would you find out whether your ellipsis should have four dots or three, how to quote things with or without quotation marks, and where to put hyphens in every possible scenario (unless of course you should be using an en dash)?! The CMS is available as a pricey hard cover book aimed at editors and other seriously dedicated grammarians and stylists. To sample the CMS for free, try the reference section of your local library.

Courses


Some college continuing education programs and other community programs include basic grammar courses. Quality no doubt varies but the ones that I know about have been popular due to instructors who make the effort to bring grammar to life through humor and lively examples. If you're the kind of learner who likes to take workshops and courses, it's worth investigating the educational offerings in your community to see if they include Grammar 101 or Syntax Made Simple.

Online


The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) offers an online subscription. To sample a range of its content for free and to get answers to specific grammar and style questions, visit Chicago Style Q&A.

If you're after quick and dirty—but reliable—grammar tips, then try the blog and podcasts of Grammar Girl. Careful, though: they can get addictive.

Benefits of building on your grammar foundation


Building on your grammar foundation and knowing where to find the resources to do so offer significant benefits. Not only does your grammar improve, but your writing becomes stronger and easier. This in turn boosts your confidence as the kind of book author who has something important to say—and knows just how to say it.

Coming next week . . . "H is for HACKNEYED writing"

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The ABCs of Book Writing: F is for FORMATTING . . .

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. . . and FOUR reasons to FIGURE it out.

So what's the big deal about manuscript formatting? It's just something boring that I'll worry about later or get someone else to fix. If I want to write my book with a purple comic font on a yellow background, that's my choice and it's OK for now.

Well, yes—and, then again, quite possibly no. In fact, there is some basis for getting your formatting right—right now, as you work on your first draft.

Four reasons to figure out formatting now


1. Formatting is its own thing of beauty with intrinsic value, like a newly stretched and primed blank canvas. A correctly formatted manuscript may contain unresolved writing issues, but at least you can feel like a professional because the tangible expression of your ideas—ultimately the only thing that counts—is presented to meet book trade standards.

2. Formatting may help you write more easily. With correct, functional formatting in place, you have one less thing to worry about, freeing at least some small part of your mind for creative endeavor. It is a further boon that proper formatting eliminates annoying, distracting glitches and reduces the possibility of file corruption. Finally, professional-level formatting that you learned to do yourself may also contribute to your confidence as a writer geared to success.

3.  A correctly formatted manuscript meets the basic expectation of the publishing industry. Sending a sloppily, incorrectly formatted manuscript to agents and publishers will result in its immediate relegation to the reject pile. It won't matter how beautifully you write, as no one will be bothered to read what looks like a substandard production.

I recall visiting the office of my New York agent. The latest manuscript from her highest-earning, best-selling author had just arrived. My agent handed it to me to look over. Of course, the writing style was polished, but I was also struck by the presentation of the work: heavy white bond paper, clear black font, generous margins, correctly placed headers, and so on. This was an object lesson to me that in the real-world book trade, ability to format is right up there with literary talent.

4. Formatting facilitates book design. Designers can fix most formatting errors and oversights. But why not give them something that already looks good? It might well lead to a better final design, and it will save on production costs.

Formatting your manuscript


The following list presupposes that you are writing in Microsoft Word. If you are using some other kind of writing program, you should still be able to conform to these guidelines. Doing so will produce a professional-looking manuscript and reduce compatibility issues across programs.

Basics of formatting a book manuscript


Set up margins. One inch all around.

Set up line spacing. Double.

Use a standard font. 12-point Times New Roman, Arial, or Courier. Black, no colors.

Include an unnumbered title page. It should contain the book title, your name and contact information, word count, and copyright line: Copyright © 20xx by Your Name.

Start the body on page 1. Insert a header and page numbering. Your Name / Your Book Title (shortened if long) / 1. Align the header right.

Start each chapter on a new page. Use Insert/Page Break, not extra enters, to make a new page. For both print and ebook layout, drop the chapter heading down the equivalent of four single-spaced lines. Alignment may be centered or left. Chapter number and title, if any, can be all caps, bolded, or a combination of these.

Align main text. Left, not justified. First line of each chapter may be set flush left or indented as below.

Spacing between sentences. One space, not two.

Indent paragraphs. Use the tab key, not spaces. Better still, set up an indented paragraph style using Styles for Normal Text.

Italicization. Use the italic font, not underlining.

Submitting the manuscript. If printing, use 20-lb. bond paper. If sending digitally, follow recipient's instructions.

Format margins, title page & paragraph style
Set up margins, unnumbered title page, and paragraph style for your book manuscript.
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A final note. IMPORTANT—If you follow the above guidelines, your manuscript will be professionally acceptable. But to enhance your manuscript's chances for a favorable reception, always check agents' and publishers' websites to determine specific requirements and preferences.

Proper formatting can enhance your chances of publication success by making a good first impression on agents, publishers, and designers. You can hardly go wrong by easing the lives of the professional support people on which authors depend. Not least of all, as you progress with your draft, a well-formatted manuscript will help add to both your sense of  professionalism and satisfaction as a writer.

Coming next week . . . "G is for GRAMMAR"

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The ABCs of Book Writing: E is for EMAIL . . .

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. . . and ERRORS in writing.


Email, a relative newcomer to the world of written communication, is now deeply embedded into our daily lives. And why not? It's mostly quick and easy, and it doesn't demand the time-consuming formalities of old fashioned letter writing.

The problem is that what is acceptable in email writing style, even colorful or amusing, can be downright annoying in a book manuscript—annoying to the point of being a deal breaker. Agents and publishers will take one look at a manuscript riddled with the typical errors of email writing and think: "Too much editing required." In today's competitive book trade, that's all you need for a rejection. If you are self-publishing, your editing costs will soar if you do not self-edit the email style out of  your book manuscript. If you choose to bypass editing, some readers might not mind your cool, free-wheeling style, but plenty of others hold book authors to a higher standard. Can you afford to lose these potential readers?

Video still of "Email Writing Syndrome"
Email Writing Syndrome.
Watch the video below . . .
A few years ago, I noticed the extent to which email writing mannerisms and errors were infecting book writing and coined a tongue-in-cheek term for this contemporary malady: "email writing syndrome." You can read all about the symptoms and find out my suggested cures here. Alternatively, watch the video version at the end of this blog post.

How to recognize email writing style


The main signs of email writing style are:

Inattention to paragraphing. Paragraphs run on despite topic changes; alternatively, there are too many one-sentence paragraphs, creating a choppy effect.

Use of hyphens instead of conventional punctuation. Hyphens have specific uses, for example in compound words and in some prefixes and suffixes. They are not sentence punctuation.

Overuse of sentence fragments. Incomplete thoughts presented as sentences have their place and can create drama or emphasis. But too many sentence fragments lead to disjointedness and impaired readability.

Run-on sentences. Connecting several complete sentences or thoughts together, separated only by commas, has its uses in dialogue, as it shows how people often talk. This dialogue technique has made its way into the chatty style of email but needs to be used with restraint in other forms of writing.

Ellipsis gone wild. She paused..............................then tried again, without success, to tell her story............................................

Use of capitalization for emphasis. This KIND of EMPHASIS is acceptable in design, advertising, and some headlines but generally NOT appropriate in book writing.

Overuse of exclamation marks. Need I say more?!!!!!

Self-editing email style


Here are the basics for editing email style out of your book manuscript, and replacing it with a dash of elegance:

Break long paragraphs into shorter ones. Use no more than twelve sentences per paragraph in most kinds of writing. Use occasional one- or two-sentence paragraphs for dramatic effect or extra emphasis.

Use hyphens for compound words and some prefixes and suffixes. Examples include kilowatt-hour, mass-produced, co-op, anti-inflammatory, university-wide, and so on. Consult Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary for authoritative help. In sentence constructions, replace hyphens with commas, semicolons, periods, or em dashes (—), which are sometimes typed as two hyphens--as shown here.

Use sentence fragments sparingly. The fragment is a device to add compelling, not distracting, effect to your writing. A device—not a complete writing strategy.

Break up run-on sentences. Insert periods to make shorter sentences, or use conjunctions and semicolons to separate thoughts within a sentence. Wrong: The dog was black, the cat was white. Right: The dog was black. The cat was white. / The dog was black and the cat was white. / The dog was black; the cat was white.

Use ellipsis properly. Ellipsis is signified by three points, with a space between each, used with or without added punctuation. Ellipsis can indicate speech trailing off in dialogue:  "What . . . ?" "I don't . . ."  It also indicates time elapsed and/or repetitive action: They walked and walked. . . . In advertising and design it can be an attractive substitute for a colon or em dash.

Avoid using capitals for emphasis and keep exclamation marks to a minimum. Create emphasis through language and imagery, punctuation, cadence, and occasional use of italics.

With email style eliminated or reduced, your true authorial voice has a chance to be heard.


Coming next week . . . "F is for FORMATTING"