Tuesday, April 11, 2017

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

Infographic for Weekly Blog Series on Book Writing and Publishing:  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"

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