Sunday, March 22, 2009

200 words the English language can do without...

...according to the UK's Local Government Association. I don't see these in literary writing, but I see them all the time in e-mails, and hear otherwise bright people use them when they feel the need to sound more type-A. Next time you hear "going forward" and "facilitate" and "outcome" coming out of your mouth, brush your teeth and say ten Hail George Orwells.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beware of spam

APB to writers: I just got this bit of spam in my inbox today. No, Dr. Michael J. Duckett is not interested in your book. I know, because wherever he got my business e-mail address, it had nothing to do with my personal writing. Save yourself time and money, and just hit DELETE.


Dear Author: [Flag #1, impersonal solicitation]

We are interested to speak with you about the possibility of publishing or distributing your book.

Only a select number of authors are called upon [Flag #2, publishers don't solicit authors in such a vague way] each year to submit their work for Hyper Publishing Company's consideration. Your book has been recently brought to our attention and we would like to open a discussion for publication or distribution of this work.

Please click here for submission guidelines or go directly to our website and click on the Submission link.

You have ten days to complete the submission package and mail to our office. [Flag #3 with fireworks, an "Act now!" offer.]

We look forward to receiving your submission package and communicating with you in the near future.

Sincerely Yours,
Dr. Michael J. Duckett
President/CEO [Flag #4, this is a businessman asking you. Not an editor or an agent. He's probably the CFO, board president, secretary, janitor, and pizza boy, too.]
Hyper Publishing Company

Top 10 errors you can fix in your own manuscript in 10 minutes or less...

...and not make your editor regret drinking that third cup of coffee, because her nerves are getting seriously frayed.

Microsoft Word's find-and-replace feature is a writer's friend. Find it under the Edit menu, as "Replace..." or just hit Control-F and click on the "Replace" tab. At the bottom of the window you'll see a button to expand the window and view advanced features, which will help you make global changes with one click of the mouse.

Searching for these top 10 errors will save me time (and therefore, you money) as I edit your manuscript for publication or review by a literary agent.

1. Misplaced periods and commas around dialogue. EXAMPLE: ...third cup of coffee". OR ...third cup of coffee",

2. Unnecessarily capitalizing dialogue tags. EXAMPLE ...third cup of coffee," She said.

3. You only need one space between sentences. Yep, it's true. Believe me, or else believe the Chicago Manual of Style.

4. Don't use hyphens instead of dashes. EXAMPLE: I wonder- and it's pure speculation... OR: I wonder - and it's pure speculation... The correct dash is an em-dash—and it looks like that. You'll find it under the "special characters" menu in the "replace" menu.

5. Rampant ellipses. An ellipsis is three dots only. It is a punctuation mark used only to indicate an incomplete sentence, not to indicate a pause, and certainly not to mark the length a pause by the number of dots. EXAMPLE: She paused... and said... OR She paused for a really long time............ and said...

6. Common misspellings. EXAMPLE: waive instead of wave, pubic instead of public, lead instead of led (past tense of to lead). Or whatever your own favorite misspellings are.

7. Its vs. it's. EXAMPLE: Its mine. OR Wash it's fur. Both of these examples are wrong. It's is a contraction of it is, and if you take two seconds and mentally substitute it is in your sentence, you will know which one to use. Run a search on both, and double-check.

8. Other common usage errors. EXAMPLE: everyday instead of every day (everyday is an adjective only, like "my everyday shoes"), for awhile instead of for a while, peeked instead of piqued (you peek with your eyes, feel piqued when you're tired, and have your interest piqued).

9. Double periods and commas. EXAMPLE: He told me.. OR Slowly,, he told me.

10. Wild card. If you've been writing long enough to finish a draft of something, you know what errors you make. Always double check for missing words and your own favorite misspellings before sending out the draft.

You'll always miss something. That's human. But be a professional and make a reasonable attempt to send a clean draft.