Wednesday, February 26, 2014
"Use Grammarly for free proofreading because it can keep your readers from tossing the book across the room and editors from depositing it in the circular file."
Grammar mistakes are one reason readers become frustrated and stop reading your book somewhere before the middle. I review a lot of books and read other people's reviews. Poor grammar is so annoying to many readers that they actually start marking up the book before giving up in disgust. Running a thorough grammar check on your book can pay big dividends in reader satisfaction.
Grammar isn't the only reason readers stop reading. You have to play fair with your readers. I recently read a book in which the author set up the first three chapters as a murder mystery. I love murder mysteries, so I was ready to keep reading, but in the fourth chapter the author included about fifty pages of backstory. Too much backstory is frustrating because is slows the action, but worse it can change the character of the book. This book turned into a character study rather than a mystery.
Readers will also put your book down if you are inconsistent in your presentation. A romantic novel can have elements of fantasy, but if your sizzler slides too far into fantasy your readers may give up. They bought the book for the sizzle. Conversely, a fantasy should stay a fantasy and not become a modern romance.
I recently read an article in the New York Times, December 25, 2013, about new services like Scribd that track how readers are treating your book. This can be valuable information for authors, but you don't have to wait to subscribe to a service. Read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads, not only for your books, but for books you've read. You'll find plenty of reviewers willing to tell you exactly why the stopped reading and where.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Quote from The Frugal Editor: “Language is a fluid lifeform. To assume that because we once learned grammar one way, it will always be accepted is fallacious. To neglect researching the language we write in when we so assiduously research the facts for what we write is folly.”
There are gremlins out there determined to keep your work from being published, your book from being promoted. Resolved to embarrass you before the gatekeepers who can turn the key of success for you—they lurk in your subconscious and the depths of your computer programs. Whether you are a new or experienced author,The Frugal Editor will help you present whistle-clean copy (from a one-page cover letter to your entire manuscript) to those who have the power to say “yea” or “nay.”
“Absolutely essential for beginning writers and a necessary reminder for the more advanced. The mentor you've been looking for. This book won't collect dust!”~Christina Francine, review for Fjords Review
"Using the basic computer and editing tricks from The Frugal Editor, authors can prevent headaches and save themselves time—and even money—during the editing process. It’s well worth your effort to learn them." ~ Barbara McNichol, Barbara McNichol Editorial
I found The Frugal Editor helpful, so I asked Carolyn some questions that other writers might find useful.
Why did you start writing the Frugal series?
After I saw how many authors were struggling with the basics (even the ethics!) of promotion on the Web, I pitched a class in book marketing to UCLA Extension's world renowned Writers' Program and when they said yes, I realized that there were no books I could recommend that covered both the basics of writing queries, media releases, media kits, etc. and helped authors with promotions, too. Then when I pitched an editing class because I could see that editing is an important part of knowing the publishing industry, the marketing of a book and more, I ran into the same problem. Both books are now a series of four HowToDoItFrugally books for writers with more to come. I'm passionate about sharing the joy of writing with others, but I know it's a more joyful process when we're successful.
You said in the Frugal Editor that editing contributes to branding. What to you mean?
If an author sends something out that is unprofessional--and I don't mean just has poor grammar, but all the aspects that the publishing industry expects from authors--they risk being seen by editors, agents, radio hosts, contest judges and more as unprofessional. That's really not great branding from the get-go!
How far should you go in editing on your own before you think about hiring an editor?
As far as you can. I say that because the more an author knows, the better prepared she is to work with an editor--whether she hires one or ends up working with one assigned by a publisher. The more she knows, the better writer she'll be. The better writer, the more successful. Editing is a carousel that leads to success.
Many sites for writers urge writers to hire an editor. What qualifications should one look for in an editor
This seems as if it should be an easy question to answer but I devote a whole chapter in The Frugal Editor (http://budurl.com/FrugalEditorKindle) to finding the right editor--one compatible with the author and with the title the author is working on. The two major things I hope to get across are: 1. How to avoid scams and/or unprofessional editors and 2. How to use references effectively. We need to ask questions we never needed to ask when hiring a plumber or a contractor.
What can you expect from your editor? Finding typos? Grammar rules? Help with style?
Nancy, there are all kinds of editor. And an author has all kinds of needs. Authors learn exactly what they most need as they learn more about editing on their own. Much has to do with how they plan to publish, how new they are to the publishing industry (notice I didn't say "to writing"), how willing they are to learn more about writing and editing on their own. Here's how I see it. A great editor who checks for everything--style, structure, writing techniques, typos, grammars--even formatting--is a bargain. Think of it like paying top price for an editor but getting at least one extra class at the university level in everything else. I happen to know those university classes can cost upward of $500 each--on or offline. I took many of them myself and I taught many of them.
Will your editor help with finding inconsistencies in the text?
An editor won't if he or she isn't qualified. There are lots of people passing themselves off as editors. Having written a book doth not an editor make. I give several specific resources for editors I've worked with personally in The Frugal Editor and--reallly--that's how I go about writing all my how-to books. Hearsay just doesn't cut it when you're trying to point others in the right direction.
Is there anything else you'd like to add about your new book?
Well, let's see. Let me just list a few things that this book will give a writer that will make him or her seem like a professional to the gatekeepers who can say yes or no to their project:
- Do you know how to format ellipses? It's not essential, but it's one more little thing that indicates to professionals that you know what you're doing.
- Do you want to know how to avoid those pesky double spaces that appear throughout your copy. And do it quickly instead of trying to delete them one at a time.
- Do you know why perfectly good grammar (things like helping verbs) may look unprofessional?
- Do you know enough about the intricacies of writing and punctuating dialogue. Yes, that includes nonfiction writers. If you're a nonfiction writer who never uses dialogue and/or rarely uses anecdote, the information in this book will improve the salability of your work.
You can tell I'm passionate about the topic! Editing is about so much more than finding typos and grammar errors. Your readers will love the tips that the agents I interviewed give them. I interviewed more than 100 and some of the things that tick them off will amaze you!
Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the classes she has taught for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program.
The first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter was named USA Book News’ “Best Professional Book” and won the coveted Irwin Award. Now in its second edition, it’s also a USA Book News award winner and received a nod from Dan Poynter’s Global Ebook Awards. Her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success was also honored by USA Book News and won Readers’ Views Literary Award. Her marketing campaign for that book won the marketing award from New Generation Indie Book Awards.
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of 14 women of “San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.
Friday, January 3, 2014
What Does It Mean to “Optimize Ministry?”
An Interview with Medical Ministry International CEO, Sam Smith
An established executive in branding and marketing in the retail world, Sam Smith realized the need for compassionate, yet professional business acumen within ministry leadership and coined the term “Optimizing Ministry”. Sam used that focus to achieve record results in fundraising and volunteer support as the CEO at Mercy Ships. He was then approached by Medical Ministry International (www.mmint.org) and is now able to make an even larger impact on the poor as CEO of that global organization. MMI has staff and programs in more than 23 countries that utilize health centers, residency training, and project teams to serve the poor using Jesus as their guide. Sam is the author of the book, When Love Heals and blogs at sam-smith.net. Recently, filmmaker and media consultant Phil Cooke interviewed Sam about his insights on leadership and international ministry:
Phil Cooke: You're a nonprofit leader with a long background in business. Has that been a help or hindrance?
Sam Smith: It's definitely been a help, and I believe it is the reason I have been called into ministry. There are a lot of really good non-profits operating out there that have good, if not great, intentions. Unfortunately, many of them were started by a charismatic person who through sheer will and determination were able to achieve good results, but lack the business acumen to optimize all the gifts they have been provided. I am not a doctor, but I have the ability to provide the processes, accountability, and execution to ensure that those with medical skills can do what they have been gifted to do.
Phil: What can a business mindset bring to ministry?
Sam: You can have passion for what you do, but you also have to optimize every single gift that God has provided. Many people in ministry get caught up in the passion to serve, but are willing to sacrifice accountability and process because they don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. The sad part is that the opposite is actually what is needed. If you don't have the courage to tell people they aren’t helping the ministry, but actually holding it back, you aren’t helping either one. One of the hardest aspects of my job is to tell people that its time for them to go volunteer somewhere else. The amazing thing is that over time, nearly every one of them will come back and thank me for telling them what others did not have the courage to do.
Phil: Most of your ministry experience has been with medical relief. What is it about that kind of work that attracts you?
Sam: I am a branding and marketing guy and have zero medical skills. What I do have is the experience and ability to run multi-billion dollar organizations and ensure that those with the ability to make miracles happen have a solid foundation to work. You may be surprised to know that half of the roles at Medical Ministry International are non-medical. We have teachers, farmers, plumbers, carpenters, engineers, and more that join forces with our medical teams to do amazing things. I know that if our team works really hard today, somewhere around the world our team is giving someone the chance to live. It just doesn't get better than that for me!
Phil: Medical Ministry International (MMI) has experienced significant growth in a short time under your leadership. What new ideas and leadership techniques have you brought to the table?
Sam: Medical Ministry International started out as primarily a relief organization, but we have refocused the ministry to more of a development mindset. This means that every one of our Health Centers, Project Teams, or Training Programs are developed for the long term benefit of the communities we serve. We have staff on the ground working 365 days a year to provide assessment of need, execution of services, and follow-up and analysis of the work we have done.
Another interesting aspect is that we charge the poor for our services. Now don't get me wrong, we charge very little, but have found that if you charge something the people believe it’s worthwhile and will follow the doctor and staff directions to get well. So many organizations give away services only to find equipment and donated items being underused or sold on the black market. If you have an investment in your care, you own it, and no welfare mentality is created. It works well, but if someone doesn't have any money, we take care of them anyway.
Phil: How do you connect the gospel message with medical relief work?
Sam: The main focus of our ministry is not to evangelize directly, but to serve people the way Jesus directed. We don't care what your political or religious background is, but God always finds a way for someone on our team to be asked, "Why do you come all this way to serve us?"
A wonderful story that sums this up is there was a group of Muslim villages in Africa that were having a difficult time surviving due to lack of access to the outside world. We started an agricultural co-op that involved the chiefs in all 30 villages to come and work alongside us to farm their land. We taught them how to increase their yields and over time we were able to provide enough food to feed every person in all 30 villages. They even have produce left over to serve as an income source. The best part of the story is that we were asked why we came to help them, and we shared what motivated us to serve. Soon we were asked to start a Bible study and now over 300 people attend twice a week to learn about the Jesus who serves as our guide.
Phil: Are you seeing an impact where MMI has been? Can you give us an example?
Sam: I have thousands of stories, but one is related to our Dental work in Bolivia. We are working with the Bolivian Ministry of Health to address the lack of dental care in a community just outside of Santa Cruz. Where once we had a 3 extraction to 1 restoration ratio on dental patients we have seen a total reversal and smiles are being saved. This is a huge deal! The presence of sugar cane, cola, etc. in the diet causes major tooth decay and we are seeing our dental focus in Bolivia totally reversing the trend. We want to prevent disease as much as address the current illness.
Another example is in Leticia, Colombia. We operate Clinica Leticia which is on the border of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru across the Amazon river. This is a full scale hospital that serves 47 emergency cases a day, births over 70 children, and provides more than 70% of the total healthcare available to this region of over 300,000 people. We also have the only CT Scan within 1,000 miles. Talk about being an island of hope in a sea of despair!
Phil: You just produced a 30 minute TV special on the work of MMI that will be broadcast on Christian networks around the world. Why do you feel Christian leaders should be using media in today's culture?
Sam: There is nothing worse than to be doing God's work and no one know anything about it. If you think about it, there is plenty of negativity on television today and the world needs to be aware of the good that is happening. They also need to be aware of the need. I am a firm believer that God has given each of us special gifts, intelligence, and resources to use as we determine. If we just sit in our own comfort zone and don't engage, or at least support those that do, are we not utilizing God's gifts in an optimal manner? It is our duty to get the message out to all to hear and tv, internet, and video are powerful tools to make this happen. It’s easy to understand why we do what we do when you see a child’s life changed before your eyes!
Phil: You've written a book about your experience so far with MMI. Tell me about it.
Sam: When Love Heals is a book that tells the stories of the work of MMI. It has provided an opportunity to take the reader on a journey through the eyes of our volunteers and patients. The book is a love story of how God has engaged those with talents and gifts to dramatically change the lives of others through love. We are very excited about the book and are already being asked to expand the concept in the future.
Phil: What's next for Sam Smith?
Sam: We are driven at MMI to continually seek to get better every single day. The lines continue to be filled with thousands of people seeking help and there are still many places where we don't have the resources to help them all. We expect to triple the number of people that we currently serve in the near future, but it will take money and people to make that happen and it’s our job to work to make this a reality.
In many ways, MMI is becoming similar to the "Good Housekeeping" seal for the work of non-profits, especially in the medical world. We are currently in negotiations with multiple medical facilities in many countries to bring our expertise, oversight, and accountability standards to their operations. You can rest assured that if they are flying our flag, they will be operating in a very sound and accountable manner. Feel free to follow my blog (Sam-Smith.net), Facebook page (www.facebook.com/MedicalMinistry) or website mmint.org to get regular updates on our progress. This is God's work and we are honored to serve!
Friday, September 27, 2013
Secondary characters should not the focus of your story, but they make the difference between a great novel and a ho hum one. Shakespeare knew this when he gave us great secondary characters like Bottom in a Midsummer Night's Dream. Bottom isn't the focus of the story, but his antics are a welcome relief from the tension between Oberon and Titania.
Secondary characters can add comic relief, or give background color. They buy the reader into your story because they make it real. Major characters even the great tragic heroes don't live in a vacuum. Hamlet needed Polonius.
Sometimes writing a character driven piece, the author can forget that the protagonist isn't the only character in the world. I recently reviewed a book, Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield. The writing is good, but the plot is thin, and the major character fills the story to the exclusion of everyone else. William, the major character is a self-centered workaholic. That's fine, but the other characters were flat. They made their appearances, spoke their required lines and moved off stage. I felt the lack of more complex characters made the story shallow. I wanted at least one other character to be other than a foil for William.
On the other hand, I'm reading Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile. This book is also a character study. There's more plot, but the real difference is the secondary characters. Charlotte, the main character has a family full of people with individual traits that help to show us the environment in a small southern town. Although you follow the main character, it's always fun when one of the secondary characters like Miss Honey, Charlotte's very determined grandmother, tries to take control of the action.
I'm not trying to encourage you to let the secondary characters take over, but making them real people with identifiable traits lends fulness to your story. Also, readers can become attached to secondary characters. One way to keep them reading is to give glimpses of their favorite characters.
Make your secondary characters come alive. They can make the difference between an unforgettable novel and one your reader puts down before it's half finished.
Monday, August 26, 2013
The ending is one of the most important parts of your story because it leaves the reader either wanting more of your fiction, or deciding to avoid it in the future. So an easy answer to the question of what makes a good ending is that it leaves the reader satisfied. There are several types of endings that don't do that:
- The solution to the mystery comes as a total surprise at the end because it has not been foreshadowed. I recently reviewed a book like that A Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths. The setting was interesting, but the main character raced about wringing her hands and in the end had nothing to do with the solution which involved characters with a very minor role in the story.
- The ending doesn't resolve the issue. In How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman the second half of the story builds up tension about whether Marta is the victim of a plot, or mad. Unfortunately, the ending keeps us guessing.
- The ending is obvious from the beginning. In some ways this is less serious than the other two problems because sometimes you read a book, particularly a romance, knowing the lovers will get together, but it's an attractive setting, you like the characters and it's good escapist literature.
I have found several things that make a good ending. One is a twist at the end that leaves the reader saying “Why didn't I see that?” This only works if the information is there but cleverly disguised so that it comes as a surprise, but the reader doesn't feel cheated because they could have guessed. A good ending is also one where the characters show some growth, or understanding of the condition of their lives. I enjoy a book where I feel that the characters are going on with a better chance for happiness then they had before the story began.
So endings shouldn't be cop-outs, or shocks. The ending should be a resolution that pulls the threads together and leaves the reader feeling satisfied. It's a laudable goal, but not as easy as it seems from all the bad endings I've seen in the books I review. Still, it's worth trying for.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
You've worked hard on your novel. The opening is a block buster. You know how the story will be resolved, but now you're faced with the long slog through the middle. It's been my experience gleaned from reviewing books, that this is where many stories fade.
There's lots of advice on how to attack the middle. Have a minor climax so you build up to a plot point before the slide into the ending and the major climax. This is good advice, but how do you get there. Some authors view the middle as a place for long conversations between the characters. The search for answers, particularly in a mystery, becomes a leisurely stroll. The investigators revisit old hypotheses and discuss them at length in an effort to decide what to do next. At some point, readers start turning pages wondering when something is going to happen.
On the other hand, some novels get so caught up in action that you almost have another story building up in the middle. I read one recently where the initial chapters focused was on horse racing, then action veered to drug smuggling, and finally ended with murder and a psychotic love triangle. I'm exaggerating a bit, but too much action can move the story away from the plot line, introduce new characters, and give the book a chaotic feel.
How do you handle this? In the first place, I recommend forgetting about word count. Sometimes I think the author gets carried away trying to get to the magical sixty thousand words so the book is a novel. (Anything less is a novella or short story.) If you understand your characters and their story, the length is a function of the interaction between their goals and the endgame. You don't have to, and shouldn't, pad the text with description, too much off topic conversation, and attention to subplots.
Readers like to get into the groove. They want to be presented with solutions to the plot puzzles as you go along. No one wants to wander around in an unfocused middle trying to figure out what happened to the driving force in the story.
It may not be easy to solve your problems with the middle. Sometimes there really isn't enough action to carry the story through the doldrums, but careful attention to character and an outline of plot points and the scenes that lead up to them should solve some of the problems.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
A great opening is supposed to hook the reader, snag the editor, and send writers on their way to fame and fortune. It's good advice, but what about the rest of the book?
I'm a book reviewer. In some ways it's like being an editor. You get the chance to see a lot of books and sometimes you're able to select the books to review on the basis of the first few pages. When I open the book, I'm on the lookout for interesting characters and a plot with lots of tension and conflict. Setting is important, but it's the icing on the cake.
So I open the book, read the first few pages. I love it. It has everything I'm looking for including an unusual setting that I'd like to know more about. I read about the first third of the book, if I'm lucky, and things start to fall apart. The characters engage in more reflection than action, the plot begins to drift, and now it's a chore to pick up the book and read the rest. The ending is often worse. There is a plot resolution, but no twist to make it interesting. Even worse a character crawls out of the woodwork to solve the problem.
Of course, all books are not this way, but too many are. I wonder if as writers we're taking the advice of editors and writing teachers too much to heart. Yes, you need a terrific opening, but if the opening is the best thing about the novel, you run the risk of leaving the reader, or worse the reviewer, disappointed. I am hopeful that with self-publishing authors will begin to look beyond the great opening to have a complete novel that doesn't disappoint.