Publication Mania

I wrote a post about this about six years ago, but felt it was time for a re-posting, as I see an ever-increasing number of poorly edited books on the market.

One of the saddest things I see among beginning writers is their burning need to publish before their work is ready. For many writers in the early days of their career, publication at this stage often comes at the expense of their reputation as a good author.

Writers’ groups, for all their many good deeds, are sometimes gathering places for pompous snobs. I want to be clear that I am not down on writing groups. Far from it. The writing group I belonged to for several years involved a wonderful collection of writers who brought a variety of skills and experience, and who wrote in many different genres. The majority of the members were down-to-earth and extremely helpful to new writers.  However, my writing group also happened to have several authors whose agenda included basking in the prestige of “being published” rather than first concentrating on producing their best work or helping their colleagues.

Many new writers are particularly desperate to get their work out there for the public. They hear published authors going on and on about sales and book signings and reviews they’ve received, flaunting their “published” status as if they were royalty. Speaking of which, their “royalties” are often a mere pittance. Beginning writers can’t always see the truth beyond the veneer of big talk, and they become infected with the desire to publish at all costs — all costs except one; that of hiring a good copy-editor.

copy-editing

Why Should I Care?

Besides being a writer myself, I do a lot of freelance copy-editing and so, as I read, I often see work that is prematurely published. I believe that if you publish your writing (that is, put it out there for the world to see and read), it should be as good as you can make it with as few errors as possible.

One writer told me, “I don’t care if it has a few mistakes. I just want to get it published.” I cringed. She wanted the free copy-editing I offered her just to help her out, but she didn’t feel that she needed to make any changes or corrections. She was convinced that her writing was excellent. In fact, it was quite poor and needed a fair bit of work. This woman was an extreme case, displaying slovenly writing habits and a poor attitude. Most writers care a lot more about the quality of their work.

I understand that the cost of having work copy-edited can be onerous for some, especially when they have not yet made their millions on that bestselling novel, but an investment in a good copy-editing job will be worthwhile in the long run (and I do try to keep my prices low). The copy-editor spends many, many hours reading, correcting, and making suggestions for improvements to the author’s work. Unlike reading for pleasure, copy-editing involves careful scrutiny to find grammar, punctuation, and word usage problems. The job comes with a lot of responsibility.

In order to be  good copy-editors, we have to be a bit pedantic. I try not to overlook even the smallest of errors. For me, it is precisely because I care about writing so much, that I can do a good job of copy-editing.

What Does the Reader Look for?

When I am choosing a novel to read for pleasure, like most readers, I go to the first few pages of the paperback or the e-book sample to look for certain indicators of the writing quality.

  1. I want to be “hooked” on the first page. I do not want to read about scenery as the character drives by in a car. Nor do I want him to wake up to an alarm clock, or look out a window at the view with the description following. I don’t want to read about the character’s dream either.
  2. I look for the first instances of dialogue to give me an idea of the author’s skill in writing it. If a large variety of dialogue tags are used (responded, replied, answered, retorted, inquired) rather than “said” and “asked,” I lose interest, as this indicates either a very dated writing style or an inexperienced writer.
  3. If I see a pattern developing where, after each bit of dialogue, the speaker is doing something (for example, “Wait for me,” John said, turning around to grab his suitcase), especially if it uses an “ing” word, for me that is often the book’s death knell.
  4. Incorrect usage of words makes me shudder. I cringe when I see “lay” and “lie” misused. I’m sure many readers feel the same when they see the wrong word used.

Just because your Aunt Mary has read your manuscript and told you it is perfect, doesn’t mean that it really is. It just means that she loves you. So DON’T publish that book yet! A good copy-editor can save you from yourself. Get it copy-edited properly and then you don’t have to worry about mistakes in your book, and tarnish your reputation as an author forever.

Anneli[7]

If you are in the market for a good copy-editor, please contact me. I will do three pages of copy-editing for you for free and you can decide whether this is what you need for your novel, or article, or whatever form your writing takes.

P.S. I am older (and wiser) now, than I was when this picture was taken. Just wanted to be honest.

 To find out more about me, please visit my website at:   http://anneli-purchase.com

What Turns Readers Off

A couple of weeks ago I read a review of a book on someone’s blog and I was intrigued by the plot of the featured book. Thankfully I have forgotten the name of that book so I don’t need to worry about accidentally giving away the name or shaming the author, which I would never purposely do.

But as I read the synopsis of the book, I was seriously going to download the book and went to the link on amazon to do just that. I did what I usually do before downloading an e-book and clicked on the book cover’s “Look Inside” feature.

I read two pages and knew that I would not be able to stomach reading this book, no matter how good the plot was or how wonderful the story might be.

What turned me off in those first two pages?

It was the “ing” words. I can’t give specific examples from the book, and to be honest, I don’t really want to do that, but you’ll get the picture if I give you some generic examples. (To be fair, the dialogue was more interesting than what I will give here, but my examples are merely to make the point about the tiresome overuse of “ing” words.)

“What do you think?” she asked, twirling a lock of her hair in between her fingers.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, grinning at her. “Why don’t you tell me what you think first?” he asked, looking at her slyly.

Getting up and walking around the room, she pondered her response. “It was good, don’t you think?” she asked, giving him a hopeful smile.

Jumping up to hug her, he said, “You’ve guessed right.”

*****

I just couldn’t handle a whole book of that, so I didn’t download that novel that was probably a great story, but written with a major weakness in writing style.

A good copy-editor could have saved the author from him/herself.

www.anneli-purchase.com

Ellipses – So Many Dots!

One thing I see frequently when I’m copy-editing (to be honest, I see it in almost every book I edit) is the confusion about how to use ellipses. (Before I go on, let me say that ellipsis is the singular form and ellipses is the plural).

Sometimes in our writing, we want to show that the speaker is hesitating. Sometimes we want to show that some words were left out on purpose. Sometimes we want to show that a person is just drifting off and stops speaking before finishing his sentence.

All of these things can be shown using ellipses. But how many dots should we use? If more words are left out, should we use more dots? If the hesitation is longer, do we use more dots?

The use of ellipses can be quite involved, but for writing fiction or for writing informally, here is a method that is fairly simple to learn and to remember.

Basically it is a three-dot method, although sometimes you may see four dots used. The fourth dot means that one of them is a period marking the end of the sentence.

Robert Bringhurst in Elements of Typographic Style, suggests that normally an ellipsis should be spaced fore-and-aft to separate it from the text, but when it combines with other punctuation, the leading space disappears and the other punctuation follows. He provides the following examples:

i … jk….l…, ll, … lm…?n…!

I find these examples very helpful when I’m writing and want to show that something is missing. The examples also help me to keep my punctuation correct and stop me from going wild with more than four dots…………..

Have you seen this done? Have you done it yourself? Well, now you can do it right and quite simply without wondering what you should do.

Some examples for each of the above cases:

What kind of fruit do I like? Er … let me think….

I like bananas, oranges, and plums…, but most of all, … yes, I think I like papayas.

Do you like papayas best, or is there something else you prefer, like…? I know, it’s that one that starts with m…! Mangos!

Often, if we try, we can work around the use of ellipses, but if you really need them, try using the little chart above as a guide.

But don’t let them make you go dotty.

If you need a copy-editor, check out my website and click on the tab for Copy-editing.

Website: http://www.anneli-purchase.com/

More Commas in the Air

I know I’ve done a post about apostrophes before, but I thought I would focus on the most troublesome cases once again.

Most of the time, apostrophes show that one or more letters have been left out. This should help you to decide on the spelling, if you keep in mind which letters are missing.

You are = you’re (the “a” is missing)

Your just signifies that something belongs to you.

Here’s (here is) and example with both.

You’re going to miss your train.

Another way to think of which word (your or you’re) shows ownership is to think of the spelling. Your contains our, another ownership word. If it’s not our car, it might be your car.

*****

there, their, and they’re

They are = they’re (the “a” is missing)

There, as in over there, should be easy to remember because it has here in it. If it’s not here, it’s there.

Their (which shows that something belongs to them) gives a lot of people trouble with spelling. Is it i before e? Not if it sounds like “a” as in hay and weigh. Easier yet, is to think of the word as the with ir tacked on. You’ll never spell it thier again.

*****

Then there is who’s and whose.

Who is = who’s (the “i” is replaced).

Who’s going with me?

But to show ownership, it’s whose.

Who’s coming with me to confront the man whose son is a bully?

*****

Let us go to the movie together. Yes, let’s. (the “u” is missing).

I’ll go if my mom lets (allows) us. No letter missing. No apostrophe needed.

Also if it means to rent out a place. She lets (rents out) the apartment upstairs. No apostrophe needed.

*****

If you are just trying to write the plural form of a word, no apostrophe is needed.

A lot is an amount, a group, or a bunch. If you have many groups or bunches, you have more than one lot. You have lots. No apostrophe needed. And by the way it is “a lot” with a space between the two words. Not “alot.”

All the years in the decade from 1970 to 1980 are the years in the 1970s. It is a plural number (more than one year). There is no ownership and no letters are missing, so no apostrophe needed. So years in any decades are written without an apostrophe, e.g. the 1950s, the 1890s and so on.

Before you put an apostrophe in a word, ask yourself why you are doing it. Is it taking the place of a letter? Is it showing ownership? If not, then maybe it doesn’t need the apostrophe at all.

Dang Those Dangling Modifiers

This post was published almost four years ago, but it merits another appearance here, and it may entertain you while it provides tips for better writing.

You don’t have to be an author to know how important parts of speech and grammar rules can be. I wasn’t doing anything writing-related one day, when I saw the importance of sentence structure.

Not having seen rabbits eating up my garden for several months, I was sure the owls had taken care of my problem. I realized that I was not going to be that lucky when the Captain came home and announced, “I saw a rabbit driving down the road.”

The smart aleck in me couldn’t resist saying, “Oh, what was he driving?”

You see how easily we leave parts of our sentence dangling, making the meaning unclear. Dangling modifiers are more common than you might think. They make our writing look bad, but they certainly provide some entertainment for the copy-editor.

Very often, phrases that modify a noun or pronoun are placed carelessly into a sentence. When they contain verb forms and are left dangling, without a definite indication of what they are modifying, the results can be disastrous to our writing.

Here are some examples of dangling modifiers.

  1. Gerund phrase:

After finding out about the actors, the movie did not seem as appealing to us.

(It sounds as if the movie found out about the actors.)

  1. Elliptical phrase (where some words are omitted and meanings presumed to be understood):

Weapons ready, the duel was fought.

(Did the duel have the weapons ready?)

  1. Participial phrase:

John heard an owl walking through the woods.

(Was the owl walking through the woods?)

  1. Infinitive phrase:

To drive a car a licence must be held.

(Does this mean I have to hold it in my hand while driving? Or does it mean that if I don’t have a licence I won’t know how to drive a car?)

  1. Prepositional phrase:

With only a dollar in his pocket, it seemed useless to try to go far.

(Who is “it”? Does “it” have a dollar in “his” [whose?] pocket?)

  1. Appositive

A magnificent mansion, the door opened to show a grand ballroom inside.

(Is the door the same as a mansion?)

Misplaced Modifiers

Other problems with modifiers happen when they are misplaced, as often happens with qualifiers such as “only” or “almost.”

Some examples follow. Note the difference in meaning when the word is placed in various locations.

  1. Her cousin only drives their car. (He doesn’t wash it or fuel it up.)
  2. Her only cousin drives their car. (She has no other cousins.)
  3. Her cousin drives only their car. (He doesn’t drive anyone else’s, or he doesn’t drive their truck or van.)
  4. Her cousin drives their only car. (They have no other car except that one.)
  5. We almost saw ten whales. (We saw none because we got to the spot too late.)
  6. We saw almost ten whales. (We saw eight or nine of them.)

Placement of modifiers matters a great deal.

Squinting Modifiers

One more type of modifier causes ambiguity in a sentence. Often it is placed between two possible elements, and we have no way of knowing which it is meant to describe. We call it a “squint” modifier, perhaps because it seems to squint and we can’t tell which way it is looking or which element it is meant to modify.

Some examples:

My mother told me sometimes to watch where I’m going. (Did she tell me sometimes, or should I only watch where I’m going sometimes?)

She said every day to wash my face. (Did she say it every day or should I wash my face every day?)

The squint can also appear at the end of the sentence.

My dogs chased each other in the yard when I called them for a good reason. (Did the dogs chase each other for a good reason, or did I call them for a good reason?)

The fisherman was smiling when he caught the fish without even knowing it. (Did the fisherman not know that he was smiling or that he caught the fish. OR, was it the fish who didn’t know it was caught?)

While dangling, misplaced, and squinting modifiers can be a source of amusement, they do not provide the kind of entertainment we strive for in our writing. They can be very sneaky and are sometimes hard to detect. Be watchful and try to avoid them.

And while you’re being watchful, keep an eye out for that rabbit driving down the road. Most likely he was driving a brown VW Rabbit.

For more about my copy-editing services, please visit my website www.anneli-purchase.com

Gimmicks that Work

Let me begin with farther and further, since these were mentioned in a comment recently. I’ve struggled with these myself, but when I have trouble remembering something, I find that a gimmick works well for me.

Farther is used for distance, so I think of “far.

Further is used for expanding on an idea, so I think of the word “furthermore.” You wouldn’t say “farthermore” so that narrows it right down.

Desert and dessert

I like to have my dessert in the desert. That’s all very fine, but how do I know which one has one “s” and which has two?

I think of a resort in a desert. Both words have one “s.”

Once I’m in the desert, I think of what a blessing it is to have a dessert there. Two “s”s in each of these words.

Ah, but there is trouble on the desert horizon. A disgruntled soldier is going to desert (pronounced like “dessert”). All I can think is that he is going to leave the resort (one “s”) and if he does that, he will NOT get dessert (two “s”s).

Bear and bare

For a start, my gimmick is for “bare,” and I think of part of the word (bare), because if you are bare, you ARE naked.

All the other meanings are spelled bear.

Bear is an animal. Bear means to carry or to withstand an ordeal. I imagine a big strong bear who can carry the load and put up with a lot. He can bear it. You can even have him marching along on two feet with a shotgun over his shoulder and a sign that says, “The 2nd amendment says we have the right to keep and arm bears.”

Stationary and stationery

These two words gave me trouble in elementary school already. I came up with a gimmick way back then and it has worked for me ever since.

The spelling difference is the “a” and the “e.”

Stationary means not moving from a place, so I think of the “a” for “at” a place. Stationery means letter-writing material, so I think of the “e” in “letter.”

I would bet that you have gimmicks that work for you. If you care to share them, please do. It might make someone else’s writing life easier.

Horrors in Time for Halloween

I’ve told you how I feel about seeing and hearing “regard(s),” amount,” and “less” misused. After I opened the door to discuss those horrors, I noticed many more horrifying misuses lurking in the back of the writing closet.

When these words somehow make it into published writing, I shudder as if a tarantula crept across the page of my book. I groan as if a skeleton had snuggled up beside me as I read. I moan helplessly as the careless author is vampiring my blood for as long as it takes for me to read the book.

Without a clove of garlic handy, I’m at the author’s mercy if he/she has not hired a copy-editor to clean up the freaky expressions that set any reader’s teeth on edge.

Here are some of the latest horrors I’ve come across.

“Have to” is often used to mean “must,” especially in dialogue. When we say these words, the “v” sounds like “f.” It sounds like “hafto,” but for heaven’s sake, please don’t spell it like that. It is still two words (“have to”).

A similar situation happens with “supposed to” and “used to.” The correct form is not “suppose to,” “suppost to,” or even “s’post to.” Neither is it “use to,” or “useto.”

Another common mistake that makes me prickle is the use of “of” when “have” is meant. Here are some examples of what I mean:

Could of, should of, would of — these are meant to be could have, should have, would have.

While we’re at it, let’s throw in “gonna,” kinda,” “gimme,” and “wanna.” These should say “going to,” “kind of,” “give me,” and “want to.” Yes, in dialogue you may want to write “gonna,” “kinda,” “gimme,” and “wanna,” if that’s how the characters are speaking. Do it if you must, but only in dialogue.

Don’t laugh! Adult authors have published books containing these travesties of writing. These expressions live in published works even outside the borders of Transylvania.

Apostrophes – Commas in the Air

Common mistakes I see when copy-editing

Apostrophes

Many people confuse the purpose of apostrophes in their writing. So when should you use an apostrophe? 

Apostrophes have two separate uses. One is for showing ownership, as in the cat’s whiskers. The other is to show that one or more letters have been taken out (contractions).

Often, I see apostrophes in words that are meant to be plural, but not possessive.

e.g. The photo’s look great.

It should say: The photos look great.

Sometimes, people use apostrophes with pronouns.

e.g.  her’s, it’s, our’s, their’s, who’s, your’s — these are all WRONG if you’re trying to show ownership. They should be written: hers, its, ours, theirs, whose, yours.

Some of the words can be confusing.

e.g. Let’s means let us, but if you meant to say that someone allows you do do something, it should be, “She lets me go to the movies.”  

Who’s means who is, but if you meant to ask who owns something, you would say, “Whose dog it that?”

And the most troublesome of all … it’s or its.

It’s means it is, but if you are attaching ownership, you would say, “The dog should pay attention to its master.”

There was a time when the general rule was to use apostrophes to show possession for people and animals (the dog’s fur, the lady’s hat), but to use “of” for inanimate things (the hood of the jacket, the eye of the needle), but this is now being disregarded in many cases. It seems to me that it’s perfectly acceptable to refer to “the car’s windshield” or “the book’s cover.”

One of the most common errors I see is the use of an apostrophe  with decades.

e.g. The  Beetles were popular in the 1960s. There should be NO apostrophe.

But if you shorten the decades to refer to the ’60s. This apostrophe is correct because it shows that something has been left out — in this case,  the 19. Be sure that the apostrophe is turned to face the same direction as a comma (not as at the beginning of a quotation).

Placement: The apostrophe comes after the word that has the ownership. If it is a singular noun, then you would put the apostrophe after that noun. If it is a plural noun, then put the apostrophe after the end of that word.

e.g. This is the dog’s collar.

These are the two dogs’ collars.

The use of apostrophes is more complex than one page  can do justice to, but consider this a beginner’s list of basic helpful hints.

Grammar Manners – Say it Right

Writers, do you struggle with grammar? Here is one way of helping yourself sort out how to “say it right.” But first, look at these sweet little dogs.

Exemplary Behavior – by Horatio Henry Couldery (1832-1893)

Having and using good manners will always be important to me. Although I don’t feed my dogs at the table, I couldn’t help admiring the good manners displayed by the dogs in this painting.

DSCN9420

My old “Good Manners for All Occasions” says it’s polite for the man to open the door for the lady, and for that matter, for any younger person to open it for the older one. This custom is considered to be polite, but in the penguin world, letting someone else go first is based on survival.

penguins

Penguins stand in a line at the edge of the ice, ready to go for a dip in the ocean for a bit of fishing. Who will test the waters first? The crowd gathers at the water’s edge jostling each other until finally, one of them falls in. If he isn’t attacked by a lurking leopard seal in the next few moments, the rest of the penguins dive in.

But surely, we humans have evolved from these primitive, yet effective, tactics. We now consider it polite to allow others to go first. We offer others the first choice from the food platter, even though it occasionally backfires on us.

This was the case when at dinner, Joe passed the meat platter to his brother Bob first before helping himself. When Joe complained because Bob took the biggest piece, Bob asked, “What would you have done?”

Joe sniffed. “I would have taken the smaller piece, of course.”

“Well, you have it,” Bob said. “So what’s the problem?”

*****

In spite of these odd cases, modern society generally agrees that we should let others go first. And so it is with grammar.

We name the other person(s) first and then ourselves. If it is that simple, why is it still such a problem in our writing?

Following are some tips and guidelines.

When naming others first, we would not begin a sentence with: Me and Joe, Me and him, Me and her, I and Joe.

Okay, we know we should name Joe first, but even so, is it Him and me, Joe and me, or Joe and I?

Let’s look at some sample sentences where you and Joe are the subjects of the verb. Here are the possibilities:

Joe and me / Joe and I / Him and me / Him and I / He and me / He and I / drove to town.

 

When in doubt, leave Joe out. Without Joe in the car, you are in the driver’s seat and of course you would say “I drove to town” not “Me drove to town.” When you take on that extra passenger, if you need to get the feel of whether it’s Joe or him or he, try leaving yourself out. “Joe drove to town” or “Him drove to town” or “He drove to town”?

“Him drove to town” simply does not work, so you can use either “Joe” or He.”

*****

I’m still shocked when I see sentences like “Me and him went to the party.” You would never say “Me went to the party” or “Him went to the party,” so why would you say “Me and him” or even “Him and me” (went to the party)?

And now we come to the other situation where you and Joe are the objects of the verb. Which is correct?

The sun shone on:

me and Joe

Joe and me

Joe and I

him and me

him and I

he and I

First rule is to mention others first so that narrows it down to Joe/him/he and me/I. Second, leave out me/I and we have “The sun shone on Joe (or him).” Then leave out Joe and we have “The sun shone on me” (you wouldn’t say “I”). So together we have “The sun shone on Joe/him and me.” Better yet, say “The sun shone on us.”

Now may the sun shine on your grammar and mine.

When you have finished writing your book, why not check out my webpage for copy-editing and other goodies?

anneli-purchase.com

 

 

Run-on Sentences

pen

Do you strive to be a good writer? Do you have trouble recognizing  a correct sentence? Are you guilty of writing run-on sentences? Here are some ways to solve this problem.

One of the most common mistakes beginning writers make is to use run-on sentences. When two complete thoughts are stuck together as one sentence, quite often it is a run-on sentence, and is grammatically incorrect. For a copy editor, a piece of writing that is full of run-on sentences can be a nightmare to work through.

Very often, the two parts of the run-on sentence are related, most likely talking about the same idea. The red and green highlighting shows the two sentences that have been put together to make one run-on (incorrect) sentence.

(Run-on) My house is at the end of the block no other houses are beyond mine.

The simplest way to correct this would be to make two sentences.

My house is at the end of the block. No other houses are beyond mine.

*****

(Run-on) She was only fourteen years old no wonder she was vulnerable.

She was only fourteen years old. No wonder she was vulnerable.

*****

(Run-on) I shopped in the rain today I got drenched.

I shopped in the rain today. I got drenched.

Here are other options:

1. I shopped in the rain today, and got drenched.

2. I shopped in the rain today; I got drenched.

3. I shopped in the rain today; therefore, I got drenched.

4. Because I shopped in the rain today, I got drenched.

*****

Since you have so many options, please use one of them instead of jamming two complete thoughts into one sentence without the proper conjunctions or punctuation. The simplest way to fix a run-on sentence is with a period and capital letter, but as you can see, there are other alternatives. Leaving it as a run-on sentence is not one of them.

copyediting1

For information about copy editing services, please go to my website at

www.anneli-purchase.com