Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 4 of 11)

4. What's the difference between most and almost?

This is one of my favorite peeves. Almost means nearly; most refers to the greater part or number.

Most every Sunday we see Evelyn. That's clearly wrong. We mean we see her on more Sundays than we don't. Better: Almost every Sunday we see Evelyn.

Perhaps this will help. Most can be followed directly by a noun or the phrase "of the," but not "of" or "the" alone.

Almost is usually followed by a number or quantifier (all, 83 percent). After almost we use the qualifiers such as "of the," "all," or simply "the."

Like the use of the word only, almost comes immediately before the word or phrase it modifies. Consider the difference: Hanna almost gave her church a million dollars. Hanna gave her church almost a million dollars.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 3 of 11)

3. When do I write the word percent in numbers?

Percent and percentage refer to fractions of 100. Percent always follows a number: I sell 85 percent of the books I write. Do not use the symbol (%) when writing for book publication. Some magazines and newspapers use the percent symbol.

Percentage stands alone without numbers. A high percentage of writers never earn back their advance payments.

At the beginning of this entry I wrote 100 in numerals. My rule is to write everything up to 10 in words. Some publishers say up to and including ten. One editor says he always writes out every number no matter how large. This practice seems fluid, so I suggest you make your choice and remain consistent.

The dollar sign seems to present problems to some. Think of it the same way as using percent above. In commercial writing (which is what we do), we write the word: He earned four thousand dollars, but Maisie spent nine thousand.

One thing to remember is consistency. If you write a sentence with lower numerals such as one or five, which you write out, you do the same with any numbers within that same sentence. (I would say the same paragraph, but everyone doesn't agree.) Martha wrote two books after the age of one hundred seven.

I'll remember that word when I make writing choices.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 2 of 11)

2. When do I use upon and entitled?

If we watch the screen credits of older films based on a book, we'll usually see, "Based upon the novel . . ." In recent years, the word upon has become more restrictive. (Notice: restrictive, which means it's not wrong, but it indicates a change in our use of language). The modern way to think of upon is to mean on top of. One authority says using upon is a stuffy way of saying on.

The use of entitled is similar. The word has long referred to the title. He wrote a book entitled Eat Less; Gain Weight. Today, titled is the preferred way to write. Entitled has also become restrictive, meaning to deserve. Margo feels she's entitled to a bigger advance because it's her fourth book and it's titled My Life as a Genius.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Helps for Better Writing (Part 1 of 11)

This series comes from questions my blog readers have asked.

1. Which words do you capitalize in a title?

We cap all nouns, pronouns, verbs, and adjectives. The tricky part comes with conjunctions, prepositions, articles, and adverbs. Here's the rule I learned more than twenty years ago and have held to it. The Chicago Manual of Style disagrees.

If any of those other words is five or more letters, cap them; if not, don't. For example, with my book Unleash the Writer Within, I capped the verb (unleash), the noun (writer), and the adverb (within). The is an article and unless the title begins with an article, we don't cap it. Within is more than five letters long.

Here's the way Harvest House printed the title of my latest gift book: Saying Goodbye: Facing the Loss of a Loved One. They capped the words I would have.

However, some publishers establish their own rules. For example, the book I wrote for Eva Piper and published by Thomas Nelson has the title with almost every word and every letter capped, including the subtitle, and used bold as indicated: A WALK THROUGH THE DARK: HOW MY HUSBAND'S 90 MINUTES IN HEAVEN DEEPENED MY FAITH for a LIFETIME. I have no idea why they put "for a" in lower case. Their decision.

Here's a good rule to remember when we write for publication. Look up what you can, and online resources are abundant. If there are different opinions—and there usually are—make your choice and stay with it. If your choice isn't what the publisher wants, it's a minor task for them to make it conform to their standards.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 10 of 10)

(an encore post)

10. We behave professionally.

Professionals are people on whom editors depend. We don't just make our deadlines, we beat them. We're dependable. Many years I received opportunities to ghostwrite for a publisher—and did a total of 35 for them. Although I didn't know the reason for at least a decade, a woman had written many books for them and she was excellent. She had failed to meet every deadline. They got tired of working with her.

Another thing about professionals is that we take criticism well. We know we have things to learn. Even if we don’t agree with what an editor says, we seriously ponder it instead of responding with anger. A once-famous writer called an editor on the phone and berated her. The story I heard (from someone who sat there) was that the writer yelled and screamed for nearly five hours. Maybe that's a reason she's no longer a famous writer.

I could list other characteristics, but professionals seem to have an innate sense of the correct thing to do at the right time. Perhaps I could sum it up by saying that professionals try to be sensitive to others, especially in the way they treat people who are a few rungs lower on the ladder than they are.

I am a professional and I behave professionally.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 9 of 10)

(an encore post)

9. We reach out to other writers.

Thirty years ago, Suzanne refused to help another writer because "she'll become my competition." I didn't agree then; I strongly disagree today.

I believe in the principle of giving ourselves freely and sharing what we know. I don't think of others as my competition. I think of them as other writers who are trying to sell what they write. I want to help.

Here's my favorite verse that's not from the Bible: Yea, the Lord shoveleth it in; I shoveleth it out; and behold, the Lord hath a larger shovel (Jubilations 4:4).

To the fearful and insecure, it may sound outrageous to give away what we've worked hard to learn. But it really works the other way. I'm a giver and I like to give. As I examine my writing career, every upward step I've taken has come about because someone else opened the door. My first book publisher and my first agent came because someone else opened the door. In both instances, the help was from individuals I had helped but never expected any return.

Professionals know that. They enjoy sharing what they know and giving to others. That puts them in a position to receive from others.

We receive by giving; we grow by sharing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 8b of 10)

(an encore post)

8b. We study the markets.

If you don't study the markets, you lower your chances of selling anything because you don't know what publishers want. If you send in something that's outdated or no longer of interest, you frustrate editors. Do it often enough and you create a negative reputation among editors (and they do talk with each other).

As you study what's out there, you can ask yourself, "To what does that lead?" You can learn to anticipate what the public will read next. For example, I've been suggesting for five years that books for retiring baby boomers will be a big thing. So far I haven't seen many books on the topic, but they're definitely on the way.

Studying the markets is more than selling; it's staying abreast about what goes on in the world. We figure out the felt-needs of people, sometimes before they're aware.

We study the markets because we're professionals.
Professionals are always on the learning curve.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 8a of 10)

(an encore post)

8a. We study the markets.

One way to define success is that we sell what we write. Professionals don't rely solely on agents, but they know what's going on in the world around them. They're aware of writing trends. The best professionals spot trends before they become trends.

In 1989, I wrote a book for caregivers of loved ones who suffered from Alzheimer's. I wrote two other books for caregivers. They didn't do well because I was too far ahead of the loop. In 2004, I did another series of caregiving books with only slightly better results. The trend had begun and I lectured often on caregiving.

In 2009, I started a series of gift books for caregivers and they've done quite well. I'll continue to write in that field, but it's no longer my focus because there are already so many people out speaking and teaching.

That's what I mean by studying the markets. I co-wrote Don Piper's 90 Minutes in Heaven and it stayed five years on the New York Times' best-seller list. Since then, other books have come out about heaven. In the fall of 2010, two books, both about a child who went to heaven, appeared.

In the summer of 2010, I released my book When a Man You Love Was Abused. So far as I know, it was the first book on the topic aimed at the Christian market by a royalty-paying publisher. The book has done well and I know of two other books on the topic that have gotten a thumbs up because of my book's success.

By contrast, memoirs and autobiographies aren't doing well, unless the subject is a celebrity, and some of them haven't shown strong results, such as Kitty Kelley's bio of Oprah.

Awareness of the market doesn't guarantee sales,
but it does increase your chances of selling.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Secrets from Professional Writers (Part 7 of 10)

(an encore post)

7. We write what we know and what we yearn to know.

Each of us leads a unique life. We are products of our past experiences and no one has a background exactly like ours. Draw from that background. Reflect on what you already know and write it either as fiction, autobiography, how-to, or any other genre you like. Use your already accumulated knowledge and wisdom (and we all have more than we think we do).

But don't stop with what you know. Move into what you'd like to know. Research by reading and asking questions, and learn about topics that grab your interest. For instance, in 1990 and 1995 I co-wrote two books about Antarctica, even though I never went there until 2003. I read widely because of the two books, the first of which was published by a company that specializes in true adventure, and they called it With Byrd at the Bottom of the World. It's the story of Norman Vaughan who was then the last surviving member of Richard Byrd's historic flight over the South Pole. (He went on a ship, disembarked on the icy continent, and a team of men with dog sleds went 400 miles inland. Norman was in charge of the dogs.)

I didn't know much about Antarctica, but I read widely and felt as if I had been there long before I boarded a ship. That's one of the marks of a professional—we're curious people. We want to know more. We don't settle for surface information.

Good writers write what they know; 
good writers explore new areas to increase their knowledge.