Tag Archives: postaday2011

Make Your Book More Professional By Harvesting Praise

We’ve been taught to not pat ourselves on our back because it feeds our vanity, and excessive vanity is apparently evil.  So we refrain from saying anything too nice about anything we do in case our vanity becomes too big to handle.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), this works against us in the professional world.  Now, people still have the idea that anyone who praises himself is perhaps vain, or arrogant, or a braggart, or all three.  Yet somehow it’s necessary to get the idea across to the readers that this particular book is really good and should be read.  So, what’s a poor writer supposed to do?

You can buy advertising, you can talk on radio, you can do book signings, but all this still is you talking about you.  Of course, some people have developed a knack of saying good things about themselves and people love it, but this knack seems to be for the chosen few.  For the rest of us, it seems like we are tooting our own horn.  Well, how about getting OTHER people to say nice things about your book?  If you have sold your book to a publishing house, then your publisher will generally take care of securing testimonials from people about how good your book is.  You usually don’t have to do much.

However, if you are taking the self-publishing route, then it’s up to you to find this praise.  You might feel funny going up to someone and saying, “Will you say nice things about my book?”  This is liable to earn you a cold stare, quickly followed by a colder shoulder.  We we have ways of making you like…er…there are ways to get people to comment on your book.  The best way is to let them read the manuscript.  So, initially, make sure you know the people and trust them to a certain degree.  Then you ask them to write a paragraph or two about what they thought about your book.  You are hoping that they liked it, but if they don’t, thank them anyhow…and, of course, don’t use it.  But, if they liked it…ah, if they liked it, then it is pure gold.

A few things you need to get from them…their name, their occupation, and their permission to use what they said for promotion of the book.  You can also get their location if you think that might be of interest to the readers.  These comments are called testimonials, and you will notice that many books will include them in the front of the book in what they call the front matter (the pages before the start of the novel).  And they definitely add a professional look and tone to your book, not to mention reassuring readers that this is a book worth reading.

For the 1st edition of my first published book, Witchcanery, I sent the manuscript to a number of people I thought might enjoy it and asked them to read it and let me know what they thought.  To be honest, I had gone over the durned thing so many times, I had lost all perspective of and feeling for the book at that point.  So I held my breath, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.  When I got the first one back, I let out the breath I had been holding and sniffed back some tears.  Here’s what he said:

Witchanery drew me into a new world and brought me new friends and new heroes, new magic, used in new ways…touching and bright even when things were very dark.  And DARK things get!  The world of Sandra Bell Kirchman’s Witchcanery spans a great length of time and we are given but a tasty slice—I hope the hints of more are materializing from the fertile grounds as we watch.

I signed it with his name and occupation:  Starhawk Victor, User Support Specialist II, American Red Cross.

Try to get a good cross-section of people to read the book and comment.  For instance, my collection of testimonial givers included a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army, a retired schoolteacher, a warehouse manager, and a geologist.  On the back of the book, I used the testimonial of a friend of mine who also happens to be a PhD.

Book cover of Guy Vanderhaeghe's The Englishman's Boy

It doesn’t hurt to do a little bit of mild name dropping.  If you know a celebrity or have a friend who knows one, there is nothing wrong with asking them to write a foreword for your book, which is hopefully just a longer testimonial.  For the first anthology I edited,  In the Shadow of the Burr Oak, the gal who designed the front and back covers of the book, photojournalist Helen Solmes, knew the noted Canadian fiction author Guy Vanderhaeghe (The Englishman’s Boy and The Last Crossing).  Helen asked Guy if he would write the foreword.  He did and it was a lovely, touching one.

Don’t overlook sources close to home either.  I gathered a few testimonials for my second anthology, Birth of a Unicorn and Other Stories, but  I made my first sale (other than to the various authors of the stories in the book) to my family doctor.  He had read my first book and enjoyed it.  When I asked him for a testimonial, he agreed.  It took a while because he is a busy man, but when it came, it was short, sweet, and well worth the wait.  Here’s what the good doctor said about Birth of a Unicorn:

“Riveting.  Sandra and her skilled team of writers transport you from mysterious forests to far-off beaches, high up into the mountains and right down into dungeons, whilst interacting with Unicorns, Dragons and other magical creatures. You won’t put it down ‘til you’re done.”

I will use it for future promotional brochures and other places I am promoting the book.  I will sign it with his name and occupation:  Johann Nel, M.D.

Well, what are you waiting for?  Go and find some people to write good things about your book.  What?  Your book isn’t finished yet?  Then go for the gusto and finish it!  You know you want to.

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The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It – Part 2 – Hands-on Rewriting

We are going to try something that might be very painful for me: we are going to revise the first few paragraphs of my WIP, Battle Cleric.  With your help, we might make it shine.  If we do, then I might continue the revising on parts of the rest of the manuscript.  None of this has been seriously revised—it is raw material.  So…below is the beginning of Battle Cleric’s first chapter, entitled “Whispers of the Lost Scroll.”  Before you start, I heartily recommend that you read The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It here.  Then you will know what I am talking about.

 The sun shifted shadows of dancing leaves across the walls of my tower office.  I had flung the window wide open to let in the early summer breeze, knowing full well that I was tempting myself to play truant when I should be reading urgent reports from my network of data-gathering agents and answering politely worded demands from the Shemaran Council.

 I sighed and went to the window, regarding the sweetly homey scene.  Molly, our young Halfling cook, sat outdoors, enjoying the breeze and deftly peeling potatoes into a huge pot for the night’s supper.  Aliss, the Huramesti housewoman, hung out laundry from the porch, singing a hearty trail riding song, and Tadman, the gods-touched half elf, collected wood from the yard firebox to power the huge oven Molly needed for cooking her delicacies.

 I had just returned to my desk and picked up the first report, an ink-blotted missive from our man in Challa, the northernmost territory on our continent.  It boded no good, these ink splotches, since Kenron was fastidious and known for his letter perfect reports.

 It was addressed as usual to Emerald Verity, High Priestess of the Temple of the Maker in Shemara.  That would be me.  Not as usual, it began, “Trouble is brewing…”  A sharp rap at my door caused me to look up.

 “Come,” I replied, laying the scroll aside with a sigh.

Okay, I am going to rewrite the above passage.  Everything I change will be bolded – at the end of the change, will be the item number of the mistake I am correcting (Nos. 1-6 from Part 1, and Nos. 7-13 below).

Sighing, I pushed away the stack of urgent reports from my data-gathering agents.  Just once, I’d really like a day off.  Getting up out of the carved and padded chair at my desk, I slipped over to the window and watched (1, 2, 6) Molly, our young Halfling cook, sitting outdoors, enjoying the breeze and deftly peeling potatoes into a huge pot for the night’s supper.  Aliss, the Huramesti house woman, hung out laundry from the porch, singing a hearty trail riding song, and Tadman, the gods-touched half elf, collected wood from the yard firebox to power the huge oven Molly needed for cooking her delicacies.  Yet I found my mind wandering to the latest demand from the Shemaran Council and trying to formulate a politely worded refusal. (2 and smooth transition)

 When my mind commanded and my desk beckoned like that, I usually answered the call. (10, 11)  I returned to my chair, deciding the agent reports were the priority and picked up the first one, (smooth flow) an ink-blotted missive from our man in Challa, the northernmost territory on our continent.  They boded no good, these ink splotches, since Kenron was fastidious and known for his letter perfect missives.

 The report was addressed as usual to Emerald Verity, High Priestess of the Temple of the Maker in Shemara.  That would be me.  Not as usual, it began, “Trouble is brewing…”  A sharp rap at my door caused me to look up.

 “Come,” I replied, laying the scroll aside. (deleted “and sighed” to avoid repetition of a word)

From the pain of having experienced every single misstep I listed in Part 1, here are my additional suggestions to help in revising:

Overheated manuscript cooling off.

 7. Make sure you give your manuscript some cooling off time before you read it with a view to revising.

 When you write, give it everything you have – don’t stop to research or do any revising.  Write and write hard!  Try to make sure you are not interrupted during this process.  Then when you are finished the manuscript, put it away in a drawer and do not look at it for at least a day.  If you have pressing deadlines, refrain from looking for an hour or more.  If it is a book length manuscript, put it away for a week or longer.

 The reason this is necessary, and the reason it works, is because you use a different part of the brain for revising than for creating and writing.  The cooling off period allows you to disengage the creative part completely from the project and tune in to the critical editorial part.  If you try to revise while you are in the creative mode, you will still be too in love with your words to do any effective revising.  I wish I had known about this earlier in my career.

8. Show, don’t tell.  Well, this is partly true.  Many emerging writers tell far too much and show not enough.  However, there is a happy medium.  Stephanie will probably correct me but I believe that the ratio of show vs. tell is 66%.  However, you have to be happy with the result.  Still, if there is too much tell, at some point you will lose your reader, because honestly the prose gets boring.

9. A good way to test dialogue is to read it aloud.  Play all parts yourself and differentiate between each voice.  Then you will be able to hear the mistakes or the stepping out of character that you might have given one or more of the players in your story.  Many writers, including Alison Croggon, the brilliant fantasy writer of The Naming series, advocate reading your entire manuscript out loud, perhaps chapter by chapter if it’s a novel.  They say you can really hear the mistakes and do it much better than trying to catch them visually.

10. Along with number 9, be true to the voices in your story, including your own as the creator of the storyline.  You have to admit that an Oxford graduate in literature will talk much differently than a cowboy on a Montana ranch.  Or a construction worker than a nurse.  Or a suicidal homeless woman than a religious fanatic.  So be true to your characters.

And be true to the voice you use in your writing.  My style is generally breezy, cheerful and in-your-face.  I often write in the first person, so my main character is generally breezy, cheerful and in-your-face.  These characters can be wise or shallow; old or young; queen or peasant, but that cheerful narration and dialogue must remain consistent.

11. Have due regard for supporting the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief.  This happy state is required for all fiction, but especially so for fantasy and science fiction.  The reader is willing to put aside certain of his own beliefs and thoughts if the story is logical.  You can’t just plunk magic into a story…you have to think of why magic works in this particular story, what are the steps to create this magic, and what are the consequences.  Then you have to stick to these “rules,” or once again you will lose your reader.

 12. Once you have finished revising to the best of your ability, have another person with a good grasp of English grammar and spelling read it.  If you have a writer friend, one who is familiar with your style, so much the better.  I am absolutely convinced that two heads are better than one.

13. Avoid repetition in proximity of words or phrases.  I once was editing a story for a friend and found the word “battle” nine times in the first two paragraphs.  Not acceptable.  In the same vein, be wary of favorite words that you use that stand out.  I once revised my own manuscript by deleting about ten “however”s.

 Try practicing these revisions, along with the ones in Part 1.  I guarantee you will see a difference in your work.

Also, if you see more areas in the above selection of Battle Cleric that could use revising, by all means let me know!

All text and writing excerpts are copyright © 2008, 2010 by Sandra Bell Kirchman.  All rights are reserved.

The Pain of Revising and How to Cure It

Here what James A. Michener had to say about revising:

James A. Michener, author

“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”

After reading the towering masterpieces of this American writer, works such as Tales of the South PacificHawaii, and Centennial, I believe it.

At the beginning of my career not only did I not believe Michener , but I hardly ever did any rewriting, other than correcting typos.  This one time I had spent hours on a short story, lovingly carving each word and bringing it to life with my own blood and tears.  When it was finished, in the flush of creation I deemed it perfect and sadly didn’t look at it again.  Instead I sent it out “as is” to an editor.  The story was rejected.  I sent it out again.  Rejected.  And again.  Rejected. 

The fourth time was the charm.  On the standard rejection slip, some kind editor had scribbled.  “Needs ext. revision.”  After getting over my first knee-jerk reaction of angry denial, I spent some time puzzling over what “ext.” meant—surely not “exterior”?  “Extra”?  Extant?  It finally dawned on me that it meant “extensive.”  I sank in my chair, amazed and chagrined…not my perfect story that was so beloved and contained so much of my bs&t (blood, sweat and tears)!

Sheesh, was I embarrassed!

I pulled the manuscript out of it return envelope and started reading.  My face slowly heated up as I became more embarrassed the further I read.  Not only did purple prose stare me in the face, but there were typos.  I struggled with revising it and sent it out again; but I never did sell that story.  I finally filed it under UNSOLD and moved on.

For a couple of years after that, I always read my manuscript over and tried to revise it.  Trouble was, I didn’t really know how to revise.  Then I got my hands on a book, which changed my writing life.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name or author of the book and I loaned it to someone who never gave it back.  However, I learned to enjoy revising, and it became a challenge to find the areas that needed revision.  Once that happened, I started to sell my fiction material.  Most writers I know of credit their success to successful revision of their first raw draft.  Some writers revise many times.  Some only once, but the ones that do no revision at all are rarely successful.

Here are some of the things I have learned about revising, which I will be demonstrating in my next post with my work in progress, Battle Cleric.  It’s sort of a first draft and needs work.  I will share with you how I do it.

1.  Start off stories with a bang.  It doesn’t have to be direct action, but it does have to be compelling, in a way that makes the reader ask questions and WANT to read on to find out the answers.  In short stories, it is called the sizzler, the zinger, or the hook.  In a novel, you want to introduce the main character and give the reader an idea of what the book is going to be about.  If you have a theme for your story, it would be helpful to put it in the first few pages as well in some way.

2.  Don’t give too much of the back story in the beginning.  Let the reader find it out through dialogue, through flashbacks later on, and through deduction.  If you see a man in a robe that is not a bathrobe, custom declares that this story is not set in modern times, and quite possibly not of this world.  That is a clue for the reader about time, place, and circumstance.

Throw away the throwaway words.

3.  Remove all throwaway words.  These include there was, there are, there is, there were.  Check all adjectives and adverbs to see if they are absolutely necessary.  Strength comes from your verbs, but watch out for purple prose.  If you have too many people howling, roaring, stomping, crashing, etc., it starts to become melodrama, which is often unintentionally funny.

4.  Be careful of dialogue tags.  You want to minimize such tags as whispered, sobbed, laughed, choked, gurgled, etc.  Said is the best and most invisible dialogue tag you have in your toolbox of words.  Said is your friend.  Occasionally, you can insert one of the more powerful verbs as a dialogue tag (roared, stammered, shrieked, etc.), but they are like strong spices in the stew of dialogue tagging…meant to be used sparingly.

Watch out for the eyes.

5.  Watch out for eye movement.  Hysterically, she threw her eyes around the room (and what? Spent the next hour searching for them blindly?)  I have seen eyes slanted at, cut toward, sweep a room, send a disgusted glance, and so on.  It has always made me laugh.  You don’t want uninvited laughter from a reader.

6.  Search for awkward phrasing.  For instance, you probably have been told never to end a sentence with a preposition.  But the writing can get stiff and overly formal if you hold strictly to this.  You can either rewrite the sentence to avoid the preposition altogether.  Or you can do it the way you were told not to.  See?  The world didn’t come to an end when I did that.

There is lots more to come.  I learned a ton over the last three or four decades.  And I want to share it all with you.  But not all at once 🙂  So be patient, and practice working with those first six I have just given you.  You will be amazed at the resulting cosmetic and intrinsic value of your writing.

Lonely Hearts Club for Unattached Pronouns

Raya's DungeonWelcome back to Raya’s Dungeon, Chamber 3.  In Part 1, we talked about Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers.  These boo boos can cause unintentional hilarity.  Now, comic writing as an art gives writers a great feeling when we have achieved it.  But to cause people to laugh when we don’t mean it sounds the death knell on our lovely dramatic piece.  Part 2 deals with another way to make people laugh when we mean them to shiver, cry, or hold their breath.  I give you…

Unattached Pronouns…or Distanced Antecedents

Here we are talking about it and they and other unattached pronouns that refer to absolutely nothing in the sentence and give entirely the wrong meaning. Better to have too many proper names or real nouns than pronouns bouncing around with no social conscience and very little sense, lonely and misunderstood. (Yup, real life again.)  Take a look.

Mt. Kilimanjaro, the breathtaking backdrop for the Serena Lodge. Swim in the lovely pool while you drink it all in.  (Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww!)

Mt. Kilimanjaro, the breathtaking backdrop for the Serena Lodge. Swim in the lovely pool, relax and drink in all the beauty of your surroundings.

We tear your clothes by hand.

We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.  (That’s what makes us the tearminators! muahahahaaaaaa)

We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We clean each piece of clothing carefully by hand.

Tired of cleaning yourself? Let me do it. (Ooooh, kinkyyy!)

Tired of doing the cleaning all by yourself? Let me do it.

Four-poster bed, 101 years old. Perfect for antique lover. (If he’s as antique as the bed, he ain’t getting far!)

Four-poster bed, 101 years old. Perfect for a lover of antiques.

Wanted: Unmarried girls to pick fresh fruit and produce at night. (They don’t want much, do they?)

Wanted: unmarried girls to works nights, picking fresh fruit and produce.

See the man with seventeen necks!!

In a clothing store: “Wonderful bargains for men with 16 and 17 necks.” (Dressing for their jobs at a sideshow?)

In a clothing store: “Wonderful bargains for men with neck sizes of 16 and 17.

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come foreward and lay an egg on the alter. (What? The Easter Bunny was busy?)

This being Easter Sunday, we will ask Mrs. Lewis to come forward and place an egg on the altar. (Notice I couldn’t help correcting the two typos either – it’s a congenital condition lol)

In a Los Angeles dance hall: “Good clean dancing every night but Sunday.”  (That’s why the hall is packed on Sundays.)

In a Los Angeles dance hall: “Good, clean dancing six nights a week. Closed Sundays.

So, when you’re finished your writing, put it aside for a minimum of an hour.  One day would be better.  Then take it out and read it.  What looked like deathless prose to you now reveals its hidden laughs.  Enjoy them, then change them, so your prose will now have more of the effect you intended.

Coming up in our next article is Missing or Mutilated Modifiers.  They look horrible, really horrible and not for the faint of heart.  But then, that’s what dungeons are for.  muahahahahaaaa

Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers…Unattached Pronouns and Distanced Antecedents…Dirty Dangling Participles…and Other Messy Mouthfuls.

Welcome back to Raya’s Dungeon.  Today we are visiting Chamber 3:  MUTILATED, MISPLACED AND MISSING MODIFIERS…UNATTACHED PRONOUNS AND DISTANCED ANTECEDENTS…DIRTY DANGLING PARTICIPLES…AND OTHER MESSY MOUTHFULS.  We’ll have four visits altogether.  If you are stout of heart and not squeamish at the sight of a writer’s life’s blood, after a brief introduction, we will be visiting *gasp* Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers.

By popular request, Raya’s Dungeon is featuring a selection of side-splitting and highly inaccurate offerings to illustrate what exactly a misplaced modifier, unattached pronoun, and a dangling participle are.

 

 
 

Man trying to communicate

Before we dive into our mirthful mayhem, let’s take a look at what writing is supposed to do. Anyone? Anyone know what writing is supposed to do? hmmmmm…yes, entertain, that’s a good one. Yup, inform. But what is the basic thing that writing needs to achieve. YES!!! oh yes!! *pumps fist in the air* COMMUNICATE…the more clearly the better. If we don’t communicate, we don’t…really, we don’t exist. We can do all we want but where is the satisfaction unless we communicate? Humans are social creatures and, without communication, our existence is solitary and to some extent unfulfilling.

And we writers…we are the communicators. So let’s all repeat the Hippocratic oath of writing…I promise to excise dirty dangling participles, to exterminate uncoordinated clauses and massacre misplaced modifiers. Good!!! Now on to finding out what these miscreants are.

Mutilated, Misplaced and Missing Modifiers

A modifier is anything that gives some details about something else. I won’t go into whether it is adjectival or adverbial or even noun phrase modifiers, because I can hear the bodies hitting the floor as I even mention them. Instead, let’s resort to hormones…good old standbys:

Modifiers are like teenagers: they fall in love with whatever they’re next to. It’s up to you to make sure these modifiers are placed next to something they ought to modify!

Put another way, make the meaning clear, so that your readers don’t fall out of their chairs laughing, especially when you didn’t MEAN to be funny.

Here are some examples of what we’re talking about. Study each sentence in red for a minute, try to figure out WHY it’s funny, and see if you can come up with a better sentence than I have in small print beneath the original. These hilarious offerings are more common than you think; actually, mending mutilated modifiers could become a life-long hobby.  By the way, ALL the examples are advertisements or signs taken from real life…

A superb and inexpensive restaurant. Fine food expertly served by waitresses in appetizing forms. (So don’t drool on the waitresses.)

A superb and inexpensive restaurant. Fine food in appetizing forms, expertly served by our waitresses. (Okay, I got a little creative here, but the meaning is much clearer now, albeit not quite so funny.)

For sale: an antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers. 
(How rude!)

For sale: an antique desk with thick legs and large drawers, suitable for lady.

Wanted. Man to take care of cow that does not smoke or drink. (Good lord, what are the other cows like?)

Wanted. Man who does not smoke or drink, to take care of cow.

Have several very old dresses from grandmother in beautiful condition. (Way to go, granny!)

Have several very old dresses in beautiful condition from grandmother.

Mixing bowl set designed to please a cook with round bottom for efficient beating. (Nothing like beating those round-bottomed cooks!)

Mixing bowl set designed with round bottom for efficient beating to please a cook.

3-year-old teacher need for pre-school. Experience preferred. (Is it just me or are teachers getting younger and younger?)

Pre-school teacher needed for 3-year-olds. Experience preferred.

Remember in prayer the many who are sick of our church and community. (Don’t go away mad, k?)

Remember in prayer the many of our church and community who are sick.

On a New York convalescent home: “For the sick and tired of the Episcopal Church.” (They have homes for this?)

On a New York convalescent home: “For Episcopal Church parishioners who are tired and sick.” (This one is tricky…I would actually rewrite this whole thing, but I suspect they wanted to conserve space).

 
 

Dancing Bones

Notice sent to residents of a Wiltshire parish: DUE TO INCREASING PROBLEMS WITH LETTER LOUTS AND VANDALS WE MUST ASK ANYONE WITH RELATIVES BURIED IN THE GRAVEYARD TO DO THEIR BEST TO KEEP THEM IN ORDER
 
 

 

. (Nothing worse than hootenannies in the graveyard — and what the heck is a letter lout??)

Notice sent to residents of a Wiltshire parish: DUE TO INCREASING PROBLEMS WITH LETTER LOUTS AND VANDALS, WE MUST ASK ANYONE WITH RELATIVES BURIED IN THE GRAVEYARD TO DO THEIR BEST TO KEEP THE GRAVE PLOTS IN ORDER.

 I bet you get the idea by now. All of the above examples were misplaced modifiers.

 

* Lonely Hearts Club for Unattached Pronouns (aka “Distanced Antecedents) – Part 2 to follow tomorrow.
* Missing or Mutilated Modifiers – Part 3.
* Dirty Dangling Participles – Part 4.

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