Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 3 of 12)

Still Mistakes Beginning Writers Make

7. Their writing drags. This is no longer the day when readers will allow people five pages to get the protagonist out of bed in fiction. Nor will they slog through four pages of philosophical ideas that prompted them to write their nonfiction ideas.

We live in the digital age and you need to keep the prose moving. Elmore Leonard once said he left out the parts that most people skip.

Here are my suggestions for picking up the pace.

  • Don’t play cute and delay giving the information. If it’s a how-to article or book, start right off with answering how to accomplish the task.
  • Don’t hold back significant information. “If I tell them too much in the first three chapters,” one writer said, “they might not finish the book.” I responded with, “Then condense those three chapters into one solid article.”
  • Don’t explain too much. The more inexperienced the authors, the more they tend to state the obvious.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short. Leave plenty of eye space.
  • Start with action/drama—something actually happening in the first paragraph.
  • Cut dull, information-only scenes. Either let the characters mention those issues or give it to us briefly—very briefly.
  • Don’t slow down your pace with backstory—telling what happened to a character in the past.
  • Make the end of every scene and every chapter conclude in such a way you entice readers to keep turning pages. 
  • Constantly ask yourself, “Why would readers care about my major character?”

Friday, June 24, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 2 of 12)

More Mistakes Beginning Writers Make

4. They Don’t Follow Guidelines. Every publisher has what we refer to as guidelines, which is a soft way of saying, “Follow these rules.” Beginners make mistakes such as single spacing manuscripts, no headings, no page numbers, or wrong font size and improper format.

Publishing has a standard format for submission. For book publishers, the rules appear in The Chicago Manual of Style, which is updated irregularly. Most magazine publishers use The Associated Press Stylebook.

Think of your proposal for a book or query about an article as your resume. You want to present yourself in your best light. It takes little effort for editors to see when the prospective authors haven’t followed the guidelines. Most of the time, those manuscripts get rejected before the editor finishes reading the first page.

5. They Bore Readers. Too many bad manuscripts come from people who think editors are yearning to clasp every word they write. They need to turn that around and realize they have to persuade editors to read them. I often say it this way: We have to earn the right to be read.

From the first sentence, they need to pull readers into their prose. Whether they seek to entertain or to teach, people read because of their perceived needs. Savvy writers focus on bringing solutions or answers.

6. They Love Exclamation Points. That punctuation mark is a shout. Here’s a question I ask new writers. “Do you want to read people who scream at you all the time?”

I understand their use because most newbies hear the emphatic sentences inside their heads, so they end with an exclamation point.

I suggest that they never use the exclamation mark unless readers won’t understand or they really do want to shout. I think of it as the mark of the amateur. Further, it’s never correct to use more than one ! or ?

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 1 of 12)

Mistakes Beginning Writers Make

Linda Rodante says, “I see a need for a general help for newbies.” She suggested what not to do to avoid sounding like beginners. Here are my suggestions, and I’m sure there are more.

1. Novice writers don’t know who they are and what they want to write. Serious writers learn about themselves as they write, frequently examining their motivation. They may try several topics and genres, but they don’t seem to realize the areas where they have the experience, interest, and knowledge. Too often, they write on something that’s popular or what they think will sell.

Unless writing comes from the inner person, it’s not authentic writing and too few tyros understand that.

2. Novice writers don’t know grammar and punctuation and won't learn. “English wasn’t a good subject of mine,” they say, and do nothing to correct it. The worst response I’ve heard is, “The editor can fix that. Isn’t that what she gets paid to do?”

Professionals of all types know their tools, and part of being a professional writer is to work on grammar. Or if they just can’t get it, they can hire editors to go through their manuscripts before they try to sell them.

Writers are expected to know the difference between “there, their, they’re,” “to, two, too,” “it’s, its,” and “your, you’re.” These fundamentals were taught in grade school.

3. Beginning writers’ manuscripts are filled with typos. All writers make typos, but the pros don’t submit sloppy work. The manuscripts reflect the writers, and it’s easy for publishing houses to reject such error-filled prose. Why buy lousy work when there are so many good writers to choose from?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Questions from Readers (Part 9 of 9)

Final Tips on Getting Published by Kathy Ide

11. Most people think writing for publication is easy—until they try doing it. Writing books (especially novels) takes a lot of time. The process is slow and the results often frustrating. The rewards are few (and financially miniscule), considering the number of hours required to do it well. A tiny percentage of authors actually make a decent living at it, and that only happens after years of unrewarded toil. The only people who make it in this business are those who love it so much they can’t imagine doing anything else.

12. Writing professionally involves more than writing. Many people think that authors just sit at home in front of their computers all day and create manuscripts. Book publishers today expect authors to do as much marketing as they do—usually more. If they don’t believe the authors have specific ways to sell multiple copies of the book, many publishers won’t accept manuscripts, even if they think they’re good,

This entails their platform—their social network, the number of meetings they hold, and the people who attend. Also they want to know topics the authors are uniquely qualified to talk about at speaking engagements, book signings, and media interviews.

Publishers expect authors to have websites and to send out promotional materials to potential buyers. For those not comfortable with public speaking, becoming published book authors may not be right for them.

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—Kathy Ide, author of Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and the editor/compiler of the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series, is a full-time freelance editor/writing mentor and teacher. She is the founder and director of the Christian Editor Connection and The Christian PEN.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Questions from Readers (Part 8 of 9)

Still More Tips on Getting Published by Kathy Ide

8. Writing is powerful. When people read books, their minds are often changed, if only by being expanded. Readers’ outlook, attitude, and perspective are affected by what they read. A successful book can reach thousands of people. A magazine article, however, may be read by millions. If aspiring writers desire to have the greatest impact with a particular message, they can do so more efficiently with articles than books.

9. Writing is long lasting. Although millions of people will read magazine articles, few of them keep the article for any length of time. Books, however, last virtually forever. Few people throw books in the trash. Most put them on shelves or give them away. Therefore, aspiring writers need to learn the craft on smaller pieces that will be thrown away by everyone except the writers and their immediate families.

Writing will improve over time—if they put in the effort—and they’ll likely be embarrassed by earlier attempts.

10. Writing isn’t for everyone. Yes, it is a skill that can be learned, but it’s also a talent to be nurtured. All individuals have their unique talents. Not everyone has an innate talent for writing. If they don’t, the best way to find that out is by producing something short. That’s when many want-to-be authors discover they can more easily move on to something for which they have an aptitude.

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—Kathy Ide, author of Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and the editor/compiler of the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series, is a full-time freelance editor/writing mentor and teacher. She is the founder and director of the Christian Editor Connection and The Christian PEN.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Questions from Readers (Part 7 of 9)

More Tips on Getting Published by Kathy Ide

5. Writing is personal. Before authors send their manuscript to publishers, they need to show it to other people—including friends and family, a critique group, or a professional editor—all of whom will have different suggestions for how it can be improved.

Seriously considering the suggestions people give helps writers look at their work more objectively.

The manuscript will eventually be sent to an acquisitions editor, who either accepts or rejects it. Far more often than not, authors receive a form rejection letter. That’s the nature of the business.

Starting off with shorter pieces helps writers learn how to deal with rejection. Revising those pieces and resubmitting them enables them to develop persistence. Eventually getting pieces accepted helps them to build confidence in themselves as authors. This, in turn, improves the quality of their work.

6. Writing is a profession. Like any other profession, it requires skill, even if only doing it part time or freelance. Learning any new profession requires time, training, determination, persistence, and discipline. This is true of any kind of writing, but more so with books than with shorter pieces, and probably more so with novels than with nonfiction.

7. Writing is a career. Book publishers are not looking for one-shot wonders. They want authors who are serious about their craft and can prove they have the potential to write several successful books. They can’t afford to put their time and marketing efforts into someone who writes one book and then quits.

First-time book authors can gain credibility with a publisher by showing a long list of shorter pieces they have had accepted. For those who plan to write a nonfiction book, writing articles about that topic will increase their marketability as book authors in a publisher’s eyes. It can also prove the marketability of the topics.

* * * * *

—Kathy Ide, author of Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and the editor/compiler of the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series, is a full-time freelance editor/writing mentor and teacher. She is the founder and director of the Christian Editor Connection and The Christian PEN.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Questions from Readers (Part 6 of 9)

Tips on Getting Published by Kathy Ide

Most people have little idea what’s involved in being a published author. The public thinks it’s merely a question of stringing words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into chapters, and voila! A complete manuscript. Send it to your favorite publisher, who will print it, advertise it, and place it in bookstores, then get ready for a call from the TV networks.

The reality is that being a published author is considerably more complex.

Most successful book authors didn’t start out writing books. Almost without exception, they cut their teeth on smaller pieces: magazine articles, short stories, devotionals, play scripts, and curriculum.


1. Writing is a craft. It’s learned by practice. Short pieces allow aspiring writers to gain experience.

2. Writing is a business. Getting short pieces published provides aspiring writers with a résumé to send to book publishers.

3. Writing is an industry. Getting short pieces published helps writers get to know people in the industry and make contacts that will be valuable when the time comes for them to start pitching their book-length manuscript.

4. Writing is long-term. It usually takes months to write a good magazine article, or short story. It takes additional months to find a publisher that will accept it. Then it takes even more months for publication. A book, however, takes years to write, years to find a publisher, and years to get into print.

* * * * *

—Kathy Ide, author of Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and the editor/compiler of the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series, is a full-time freelance editor/writing mentor and teacher. She is the founder and director of the Christian Editor Connection and The Christian PEN.