Grace's Mosaic Moments


Monday, February 4, 2013

DICTIONARY FOR WRITERS

When I started compiling notes for a writer’s dictionary, it seemed a simple project. By the time I’d scribbled over three lined legal pages, I decided this project was going to take more than one blog. Why create a Dictionary for Writers? Well . . . many long years ago, when I was a newbie, I recall writing (snail mail) to a contest "chair," plaintively inquiring, “What’s a hook?” So for all the newbies out there—and maybe some not-so-newbie—, here is Part I of Grace’s Dictionary for Writers.

Manuscript Format. The double-spaced document you’re supposed to be creating - with title and page numbers as headers at the top of each page.  (Editors seem to have a definite expectation of finding the page numbers in the upper right corner, so don’t disappoint them.)  Be sure to p
resent your manuscript to an agent or editor in MANUSCRIPT FORMAT, not book format! See Grace’s Mosaic Moments -   Manuscript Formatting

Book Format. Unless you’re indie-publishing*, you have nothing to do with book format. You do NOT put the first paragraph of each chapter Flush Left. You do NOT use single space or 1.5 spaces between lines. You do not attempt dropped caps, etc.  Book formatting is for your publisher, print or e, to create in their preferred style.  

*Even if you’re indie-publishing, create your book in double space, which is easier to read, edit, and revise. 

Font.  The typeface you use to create your book. Courier used to be the font of choice because that’s all typewriters offered. But we’ve been in the home computer era for more than thirty years now, and Courier 10, a 19th c. font, should have been dead and gone long since. Times New Roman, size 12, is the current font of choice. Since even most print publishers, as well as agents, now seem to expect manuscripts to be presented electronically, you are strongly advised to stick to TNR. If you use anything else, the person receiving your manuscript might not have the correct font to reproduce your pet typeface.

Tabs.  In the past all tabs were manual; i.e., we had to hit the Tab bar at the beginning of each paragraph. In the last few years, Auto Tabs have become a “must.” They are expected by all publishers, especially e-publishers, and absolutely necessary for authors preparing their own work for indie pub. See Grace’s Mosaic Moments - Tab How-to's

Publishers.
        New York (NY) - refers to the big print publishers. Authors receive advances as well as royalties.

        E-publishers - refers to publishers who sell online, sometimes offering Print on Demand paperbacks, as well as downloads in a variety of PC & e-reader formats. Authors do not receive an advance but do receive royalties. Note: In general, I have found the editing at my three e-publishers to be more meticulous than the editing I received from New York.


    Indie Publishing - refers to a new branch of publishing, where  authors publish their own books, usually via Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Smashwords, Sony, or a variety of smaller companies offering “do it yourself” service. The cost to the author is minimal:  a cover, ISBN, (usually optional), and professional editing (also optional).

    Self-publishing - nowadays, the same as indie pub, but because of negative connotations from the past, the term  "indie pub" is generally preferred.

    Vanity publishing - a service provided by a number of companies, where the author PAYS to be published in print. This can be expensive and is not recommended unless an author has money to burn, as the results are seldom lucrative unless the author spends all his/her time marketing the book. Vanity publishing can also have negative connotations, while e-publishing independently is rapidly becoming an accepted method of publication.

Marketing. What modern authors do to sell their book, whether print, e, or vanity. (In my case, very little.) In some cases, particularly with authors who have only one or two books to sell, marketing becomes a full-time job. And, yes, it can pay off.  It depends on what’s important to you. I’d rather write another book than make a lot of money on the first one by being a full-time salesperson. It’s a personal decision. Do you want to spend your time on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, chatrooms, etcetera? Do you want to make a trailer, buy ads on the big Review sites? Great, maybe you’ll find yourself rich and famous. I’d go nuts. I have to write. I have to create. Which is why I blog, but do little else of a promotional nature. Blogging is writing, being creative. I enjoy it and don’t feel I’m wasting my time.  But chacun à son gout. Different strokes for different folks. Whatever the cliché, we each have to do what we feel is right for our babies, our precious creations.   

Editors.  The person employed by a publishing company to examine your baby and decide if it fits the criteria of their publishing house. If so, that person will make suggestions to improve your book - sometimes very little, sometimes a lot. Sometimes the editor will give you a list of things you need to revise and tell you to re-submit. This is iffy. You may make those revisions, even though you think they are wrong, yet the editor rejects you again. Ouch! And yet . . . if the offer was made by a senior editor in a major NY publishing house, I recommend going for it. It’s very likely worth the effort. If, however, the suggested changes decimate your book and are suggested by an editor of a minor publishing house, have a good, long think before you cave. But at the same time, ask yourself: Is this person right? Would I have a better book if I listened to his/her suggestions?  Having had the experience of refusing to compromise with a major New York publisher, I freely admit it was probably the biggest mistake of my writing career. So if an editor, particularly a senior editor, suggests a revision, take a long hard look before you say "No."


Copy editors. Junior on the publishing scale, often right out of college, copy editors look your book over for spelling, grammar, punctuation, continuity, and word usage. That’s all they do. They do not make suggestions to improve your book. In fact, they’ve been known to do things like add a decimal point before 9mm! Never hesitate to argue with a copy editor. Be grateful for their English expertise, but you likely know more about your subject than they do.

Agents.  There are literary agents and then there are those who pass themselves off as literary agents. My personal experience in this area has been extremely negative. In the past twenty years, I sold every last one of my books myself, even though I had a succession of three agents. Conversely, a good agent is a wonderful thing to have. Since I’m primarily writing this blog for newbies, let me caution you that not just any agent will do. Agents specialize, just as singers specialize, sports stars specialize. Some agents enjoy selling romance; others wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Even within the romance genre, some agents want only mainstream romance or romantic suspense,  stating emphatically they don’t accept “category” romance.  Or paranormal, or maybe Fantasy. My advice: research agents at the library, or buy a book like Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. Members of the Romance Writers of America can find Agent information on the RWA website.

In addition, try to discover if the agent you’re considering is primarily interested in selling your book, or does he/she fancy themselves a co-author, suggesting all sorts of revisions before agreeing to handle your book? Again, a matter of taste - perhaps you want an agent to make suggestions; perhaps the agent is experienced enough to make those suggestions valid. My personal opinion? Although I want an agent willing to mention anything that jars her/him as a reader, I don’t want my agent acting as an editor.

Frankly, it’s harder to get a good agent than it is to find an editor willing to look at your work. Sigh. Persistence is absolutely necessary.

A Short Vocabulary of Sometimes Obscure Writers' Jargon:


Hook - the last line in a chapter that keeps the reader turning the page. The sentence that “leaves readers hanging.” In the grand tradition of the heroine tied to the railroad tracks, announcement of a surprise pregnancy, a bad guy with a gun trained at our hero's head, etc.

Tag - the “he said, she said” of Dialogue, those few words that tell the reader who is speaking. They may include some description, as well as, “asked, inquired, demanded, exclaimed,” etc.

Blurb - the story summary found on the back cover (or front flap) of every print book or the description next to the cover photo for online books. Writing a good blurb is an art in itself and much harder than it looks. (As anyone who has ever been asked to describe their book to an editor, agent, or even a friend, has already discovered.) All authors should be prepared with a two- or three-sentence blurb they can offer at the drop of a hat!

Head-hopping - jumping from one Point of View to another within the space of a paragraph or two, occasionally even within the same paragraph. This is an absolute no-no!

Black Moment - the moment, usually fairly near the end of a book, when it looks as if there is no hope of resolution. In romance, this means no chance of the couple getting together. In suspense, it can be the moment when we think the hero, heroine, or both, just aren’t going to survive.

Hard Page End - the Required Page End you must put at the end of every chapter. The one that will not move, no matter what you add or subtract when editing.  Do NOT hit “Enter” to get to a new page!  To insert a Hard Page End, use Control+Enter or the Insert Menu.

Dangling Participle.  We all were supposed to learn about this insidious grammar mistake in high school, but sometimes . . .
The basic rule: an opening action clause must match the subject of the sentence. If it doesn’t, we can get remarkable mix-ups.  Examples: 

While flying a kite, the tree caught it. (The tree was not flying the kite.)
Running out into the street, the car hit him. (The car did not run out into the street.)

 
Identify.  One of the words I type most often in “Comment” while editing for Best Foot Forward. Characters need to be identified as they are introduced. “Mary” can’t suddenly jump in and start talking - no ID makes her a blank face against a blank background. Not at all the color, humor, or drama you want to convey.

Clarify.  Another word I use often.  Please remember that you may be very familiar with your characters, readers are not. You can’t put background in a synopsis and then expect the reader to know what you wrote. Readers never see a synopsis, only that itty bitty blurb. Everything you want the reader to know must be in the body of the manuscript itself.

Introspection.  What is going on inside your hero’s and/or heroine’s heads. Their thoughts, emotions—fear, pain, anguish, love, lust, etc. Without introspection a reader has a hard time identifying with, or empathizing with, the main characters. The Point of View (introspection) of a villain or other important characters may also be shown, depending on the book’s genre. (More on that in Part 2 of Dictionary for Writers.)


 ~ * ~

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Coming soon:  

More word definitions
Definitions of Setting, Characterization, Point of View, etc.
Definitions of the various sub-genres of Romance - Category, Contemporary, Historical, Paranormal, etc. (Or at least I plan to make a stab at it.)

Thanks for stopping by.

Grace

3 comments:

  1. Wonderful post. I really could have used this when I started out. Now I'm trying to grasp all the publishing jargon.

    ReplyDelete
  2. What an excellent idea! I love this post. Sure wish I found something like this a couple years ago. I'm still a newbie with a lot to learn so keep them coming.

    ReplyDelete