Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Can You Take Artistic License with Punctuation Rules?

Editor's Note: I'm thrilled to have this piece from Barbara McNichol. Hope you enjoy it. WTW
by Barbara McNichol

When I’m editing manuscripts, I sometimes wonder how much some authors struggle with their use of commas, dashes, and other punctuation. In many cases, I wonder whether they question it at all!

Now, at times, it’s fine to relax strict punctuation rules, especially when writing artistic pieces. But beware. Unconventional punctuation tends to create confusion. I faced this recently when editing a book of vignettes crafted to convey the author’s feelings about an experience more than the experience itself. She tackled the challenge with a great deal of artistry, breaking many punctuation rules in the process. I kept thinking, “Maybe it’s okay in this context.”

But when I changed the “artistic” punctuation to conventional, a clear answer emerged. As a reader, I didn’t have to struggle with her meaning; it came across easily. In fact, it guided the meaning. My conclusion: If authors don’t struggle a bit by questioning when to use commas, they’re likely forcing readers to struggle with “getting” what they mean. That’s when relying on the rules takes priority over artistic license.

This Comma Rule Especially Got My Attention

A fascinating article from a New York Times columnist adroitly addresses the correct use of a comma. I encourage you to read this article “The Most Comma Mistakes” and learn from a master, Ben Yagoda. He beautifully explains the tricky rules for using commas. For example:

I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my friend, Jessie.

Do you put a comma after “movie,” a comma after “friend” and, sometimes, comma after “Paris” as well? None are correct—unless “Midnight in Paris” is the only movie in the world and Jessie is the writer’s only friend. Otherwise, the punctuation should be:

I went to see the movie “Midnight in Paris” with my friend Jessie.

If that seems wrong or weird or anything short of clearly right, bear with me a minute and take a look at another correct sentence:

I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.

Do you see how the correct punctuation set up clarity in the meaning? Subtle but important distinctions. 

This example got my attention, and I hope it gets yours, too. I’ve created a handout that simplifies punctuation rules—one that’s become part of my “How to Strengthen EVERYTHING You Write” workshop. Feel free to request this Punctuation Handout by emailing me at editor@barbaramcnichol.com.

Barbara McNichol, Barbara McNichol Editorial, edits articles, website copy, book proposals, and manuscripts for authors and entrepreneurs. She offers a writing workshop for improving anything you write. Find details about her upcoming workshops here.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

One Place to Find Ideas

Often new writers wonder, “Where do you find good ideas?”
The operative word in this sentence is “good.” Years ago, Guideposts contributing editor Elizabeth Sherrill told me, “Writers are swimming in a sea of ideas.” 

You can take your writing in a million different directions. If you need some ideas in this area, check out the first chapter in my Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams. The chapter is FREE so use this link.

One of the best places to find good ideas is through focused reading. You can read magazine articles or books or the newspaper. Through the reading process, you can just absorb information and not come up with a single idea for your writing.

Or you can take a more focused approach and ask questions like:

—Where would you like for your writing to appear? 

—Who is the audience that reads that type of writing?

—Can I write what this audience is wanting to read?

With some answers to these questions, your reading can be more productive. I would encourage you to keep a notebook with your ideas.

As you read newspaper articles and think about what you want to write, cut out the clippings and tuck them into your notebook. It will only take a minute but these clippings can stir your writing.

Now that you have a list of ideas, what are you doing to take action on them? 

—Are you creating book ideas into a proposal format and properly pitching them to agents or editors? 

—Are you writing short query letters and getting them out to magazine editors and getting assignments?

—Are you writing full length magazine articles and sending them to editors on speculation that they will be a perfect fit for the magazine and get published?

These questions are not mutually exclusive. You can take the same idea and write a magazine article and a book pitch from it. There are several keys: focus on a particular market and audience. You need to understand the potential reader and write with that reader in mind. Then move on your ideas and pitch them to a specific professional.

Here's the wrong way to begin your pitch—and I received one of these pitches this morning:

“To Whom it May Concern:

I am writing in regards to gaining information and feedback on my story. At this point, I am not an established writer, or even a writer for that matter. I simply have an amazing life story to tell.”

Yes, I've actually quoted this email—but what followed was pages and pages of cathartic rambling writing—not for any target—just a cry for help.

I don't know how many of these emails this author fired into her email (maybe a few or maybe many of them). I expect most people hit the button to throw it into the trash without giving it a second thought. Many of my editor and agent friends receive hundreds of these pitches each day. 

I could have ignored this email too—but I did not. I wrote the author and asked who was the target audience and was it a magazine article or a book pitch or what—and encouraged the author with several free resources that I've created to help answer those questions. The email in my view was a cry for help. Unfortunately many people are floundering in this situation.

This writer claims not to be a writer. If that is the case, this person needs to reach out into the marketplace and find someone to help her. Maybe go to a writer's forum (there are hundreds of them) and ask for help. There is not one path but many different paths (and this is confusing to many people. Each path involves taking specific action.

Many people feel overwhelmed with publishing and like they have few opportunities—yet if you look closely at what they are doing, they are not taking action and trying different possibilities. 

What steps are you taking today to make your reading more focused and targeted? How are you capturing your ideas and taking specific steps to move forward and get those ideas into the marketplace? 

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Writers Need Resilience

It happens to everyone. Throughout life, we have large and small experiences which stir internal questions which appear to have no answers.

There is no one better than Cecil Murphey to help us understand "The Secrets to Thriving in Tough Times" and his book, MAKING SENSE WHEN LIFE DOESN'T. As a former pastor and long-term writer, Cec has co-authored and written more than 100 books. Through capturing the experiences of others as well as living his own, he has accumulated a lifetime of wisdom and insights. In short doses, this book serves up these nuggets in an ideal format for readers.

I loved the chapter called Becoming Resilient. Cec writes about his mother facing the death of her husband of more than sixty years and the immediate death of her fifty-three-year-old firstborn son. In the face of such tragedy, we wonder how anyone copes. He writes, "Resilience—the ability to accept what can't be changed and not be defeated by it. My mother had become a strong Christian, and certainly her faith enabled her to hold up. And I believe that's when faith becomes most important—when life falls apart. Some go through a painful divorce, or the deception by someone previously considered a friend. Perhaps a request for a loan to buy a house gets turned down. Or a car does on you, or you're involved in a serious accident. That's when faith makes sense. That's when we realize we need help and call on a power beyond our own abilities. If we call out and trust God's loving care through our hard-times, we survive and build resilience….Life doesn't always make sense, and we have no explanations for the disappointments or setbacks, yet we can become tougher and stronger than we were before the confusion invaded our world. If I live through hardships, resilience is the payoff." (page 57-58)

That's a small sample of what you will find in the pages of MAKING SENSE WHEN LIFE DOESN'T. I recommend you get this book. You will be surprised and blessed with what it contains.

Resilience is a valuable characteristic for every writer. If you haven't faced hardships with your writing, then get ready because it will likely come for you. The question is how willyou handle it and make sense of it? Cec Murphey has packed a lot of wisdom and insight into the pages of his new book.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Facing Rejections

Editor's note: I rarely have guest bloggers but today I'm using an excerpt by my friend Cecil Murphey from his new book, Making Sense When Life Doesn't, The Secret of Thriving in Tough Times. This article is particularly valuable for writers.

“Don’t take this personally,” my friend said.

I stared at him and wondered how I could not take the rebuff personally. It had happened to me. It seemed easy enough for him to talk like that because my crisis didn’t affect him. I was bleeding emotionally, and he was telling me how not to feel.

I had been rejected. It wasn’t the first time in my life, but that fact didn’t make it easier to accept. And it’s probably true with most of us. Rejections aren’t new to any of us. We experienced them the day Mom took our favorite toy and gave it to our sibling, when we were the last one chosen on the playground, and when we applied for a job and the human resources person smirked at our résumé.

I’m a specialist in rejection because I’m a professional writer. Part of the job description includes learning to accept rejections— many rejections—and most of us never get beyond that. That’s true with anyone in sales, and in one sense, I’m in sales.

For any of us who sell books, real estate, clothes, or insurance policies, the principle applies. None of us wins every time. Sometimes the customer says no. Or we don’t get the promotion we’re convinced we’re owed. Or we hear the buzzword downsize, and it means, “I’m out of a job.”

How can I not take that personally?

I’ve read dozens of articles and books and heard many lectures about rejections, but they haven’t helped a great deal. When someone says no to me and it’s something I want, it is personal.

As a writer, I came to terms with the despised word by telling myself jokingly that I was selling a product (my book manuscript), and the editor wasn’t bright enough to sense the value of my pristine prose. That helped me objectify the situation.
Even so, it took me a long, long time to be able to depersonalize a refusal. Part of that was because I was trying to make a good living from my craft, and to receive a non-acceptance was like a major detour off the highway I wanted to follow.

It is personal. What happens when the rejection is something that affects your livelihood? What happens when you need a loan and the bank says, “Sorry, you’re not qualified”? Or how do you take it objectively when your spouse, whom you love, wants to leave?

I don’t know the answer to those situations, but I can share my insights in dealing with them.

It’s all right to wallow in pain, hurt, anger, depression, or any other emotion you feel. It’s all right—for a while.

What’s wrong with feeling those things that hurt us? Real living means being honest about ourselves.

In the middle of the pain, talk to a few friends—the right friends. Find a shoulder or two on which to rest your head. A hug. A word of encouragement and empathy.

When someone says no to me and it’s something I want, it is personal.
The time comes when we need to move beyond self-pity (and that’s what it really is). We’ve admitted we failed or didn’t get what we wanted. Now what do we do?

I can respond in two ways.

First, because of my faith in God, I realize I’ve been in situations as bad or worse, and my faith has pulled me through. I made it in the past, I can make it in the present.

When my life doesn’t make sense, I have one statement that I say to myself, and it works: “Who am I to think that I should be immune?”

Some people seem to think that if we believe in God, that separates us from others who have misfortune. Or they assume that if we’re morally upright, we won’t face injustice.

I don’t agree with that attitude. My faith is in a God who doesn’t shield me from chaos but who is with me during the chaos.

Second, I can turn to my experience. If I survived rejections of the past—and I have—I can survive this.

In the past it may have started with not getting the part in a play or losing an election for class president. In our teen years, the one person we wanted to date turned us down—perhaps even laughed at us—but we survived. We can do the same now.
Surviving rejections and failed plans in the past assures me that I can handle them in the present.

Real living means being honest about ourselves.

Excerpted from Making Sense When Life Doesn't, The Secret of Thriving in Tough Times page 47–49 Used with Permission.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Create Your Own Events

Is your current project getting any activity in the marketplace? Are your books selling into the hands of your readers? What about the activity from your publisher? Is much happening there? 

From my experience, the longer a book is out, the less activity—but it does not have to be like that. Action breeds more action. In this article, I want to encourage you to do more on your own to stir this activity.

I encourage you to watch some of my activities and model them yourself. Can you give away part of your book or some combination of articles into a theme? Create your own ebook and give away this product—only if the person gives you their first name and email address. Use this giveaway to build an email list. I give much more detail about list building in The List Building Tycoon or you can get the Amazon Kindle version of this information.

Notice how I have the site: www.askterrywhalin.com On a regular basis, I have been speaking on different topics.

Currently it is blogging but earlier this year, it was on how to become a prolific author. I use a teleseminar tool. You can use the same tool to set up your event and get a trial at: www.myinstanttelewebcast.com.

Here's some of the steps: 

1. Choose a date several weeks out so you have time to promote the event.

2. Give away something as an incentive for people to sign up to your event.

3. Promote the event to your email list, forums and other places. I encourage you to create press releases and send it to different places. My friend Sandra Beckwith has a great new 50–page Ebook: Get Your Book in the News: How to Write a Press Release That Announces Your Book. This fantastic resource is only $9 and loaded with tested information for every author.

Getting the word out about your event takes a bit of planning on your part but it will pay off in good attendance.

4. Take some time to plan to present some detailed information before your event. As you can see from my event, I'm collecting questions from my participants. I will carefully go through these questions before the event. I've also got some teaching and content that I will present during the event along with answering questions. From my experience, it is easy to fill 70–minutes with valuable information for the participants. When you answer a question, it is likely that many others on the call have the same question and are looking for this response.

If you are not a self-starter with your book promotion and creating your own events, then who will do it? Ask yourself that question with honesty. I've found that the responsibility is mine. I encourage you to take action today.

Do you take additional steps to create your own events? Comment below and I look forward to your feedback.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Build Your Presence with a Blog

Book editors and literary agents are looking for visible authors. I'm talking about authors who have an already established connection to their audience and communicate with that audience on a consistent basis. The buzzword that is commonly used in publishing is called “platform.” What is the author's platform?

Many authors are chagrinned to hear this news. They thought the publisher was going to be the one to promote and market their book. These authors want to focus on storytelling and creating the best possible novel or nonfiction book. They don't want anything to do with marketing. Because these authors resist being involved in marketing, their pitches are consistently rejected and they struggle to find an editor or agent to champion their project. 

One of the simple yet effective ways to build your market presence is through blogging. On a consistent basis, I've been writing my blog since December 2004. The experience has been valuable in dozens of different ways and I've learned a great deal from it. Also I've increased my presence in the marketplace through blogging. 

Whether you have a blog or not, as an author or would-be author, you have some questions about how to build your presence (platform) with a blog and also how to you make money with a blog? I want to provide you with some answers but first here's

Five Ways Not To Blog

1. No focus. The word blog is short for a weblog and you start your blog with a literal use of this word. You write whatever comes into your head with no focus and no particular topic and audience in mind. In the process you crank a bunch of words into your computer. Yet are you drawing an audience?

2. No consistency. Sometimes you blog several times a day. Other times you go weeks or months without a single entry. You put information into the blog without any constant flow. And if you look at your viewing statistics, you see the results—lame.

3. Not picking a niche with passion. While this relates to focus, as a blogger, you need to select a particular niche that you will write about for a long time—with passion. Many bloggers fail to account for this element and they blog for a while then run out of steam. My blog has been going strong for years because I am passionate about the area I selected. Are you?

4. No email updates or RSS feed. Readers are different and you need to appeal to many types of readers. Some people like reading the entries on the site while others prefer to receive updates via email or their favorite blog reading tool which picks up on the RSS (really simple syndication) feed. You are missing out if you aren't using these simple resources with your blog.

5. No links to other resources. No one contains all of the information about any particular topic. People who read and love blogs like to have other resources within a blog post. You need to include links to other people's materials and resources as you write your entries. It will broaden your base and help you in countless ways.

I've just listed a few of the countless mistakes that people make in setting up and maintaining their blog. They do not attract readers nor make any money from their blog and quickly lose interest. They chalk it up to a wasted experience. You can avoid these mistakes with a little forethought and consistency. 

I want to help you build your presence in the marketplace with a blog. Whether you are a blogger or not, I have some insights for you. 

On Tuesday, August 7th, I will be answering your questions in a FREE live teleseminar at www.askterrywhalin.com I encourage you to ask your questions. Hopefully your question will be one that I will answer during the 70–minute event. If you can't make the exact event, go ahead and register because it will be recorded and everyone who signs up will receive an email to the recording after the event.

To encourage your blogging efforts, everyone who signs up for the event will receive a free copy of my Ebook, Bloggers Guide to Profits, Discover the Little Known Secrets to Making Money with our Blog. If you scroll down the right side of my blog, you will see that I sell this book for $9.95. During this event, I'm giving away this valuable resource to everyone who registers. Please feel free to pass this information along to others and have them come to this live event.

I look forward to answering your questions on August 7th.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

An Important Marketing Tool

This weekend I'm headed to my first conference after my move to California. One of the most important marketing tools to take to conferences are business cards. From attending many conferences, I'm always surprised when an editor or agent only has a few business cards—and they quickly run out during the event. 

Or I will meet with a writer and give them my business card. As I extend the card, I always ask, “Can I get your card?” At every conference, there is a high percentage of first-time attenders. They will say, “No, I don't have a card” or “All I have is for my business.” 

I will pull out my notebook and get their email and phone number for follow-up. Often I suspect, I'm one of the few editors who make this effort. It has repeatedly paid off from my perspective with additional opportunities and connections.

If you are going to a conference or any face-to-face type of event, get some business cards. You can make your own cards with a package of blank cards at some office supply place and a simple Microsoft Word template. There is no need to be without business cards if you are taking some simple preparation steps for the conference.

In preparation for the conference this weekend—and also for my other conferences this fall (see the link for my schedule), I made a new personal business card. Yes I have my Morgan James Publishing Acquisitions Editor business cards and will use them throughout the events. In this article, I'm focused on my own personal business card. 

Because I moved, I needed new business cards. Since I was printing new cards, it gave me the opportunity to think through my information on the card. Yes I changed my office address but what about the other elements on it? Were they the right elements for the audience (the people who will receive them)?

This week I received a new book from a new author. It included her business card. From hard earned experience, I've learned to not throw away the envelope before I look at what is inside the package. Why? The author's business card included her name, phone number and email—but not her address. The only place her mailing address appeared was on the outside package. I suspect it was an oversight on her part. The most difficult thing to proofread is something not on the page.

Here's the front of my new business card:

It includes my business mailing address, my personal email, my website to purchase my latest book and my twitter name. I added www.askterrywhalin.com to this card because I hold regular teleseminars with a different focus at this website. 

Did you notice what is missing? I did not include my phone number but the information is on the contact page of my personal website. I'm not hard to find.

Now look at the back of my card:

My target audience are writers or authors or would-be writers or would-be authors. I'm giving away my free ebook, Straight Talk From the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission. Anyone can get this free ebook, 24 hours a day at www.StraightTalkEditor.com

I purchased my cards through Epic Print Solutions. Please check out their site because they can help with any printing need at a reasonable cost.

Finally, think about your own business card. Is it complete? Are you thinking through how the audience will use your card? Does it include something to help others such as a free Ebook? Are you using the card to build your list and connect with others? If not, can you take steps today to begin to put together such an action plan? I recommend you consider my Ebook, The List Building Tycoon or get the Amazon Kindle version of this Ebook. Read it and follow my advice in it.

Your business card is an important market tool for your arsenal. Are you using it?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Last Minute Conference

About a week ago, I was reading online and Dan Poynter's Newsletter and learned about the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference (July 20–22). I had never been to this particular event so I reached out to the conference director. I wrote a short email introducing myself and my role as an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. I asked if there would be a possibility to be involved with the conference. By involvement, I imagined anything to coming and networking with authors in the hallway to some level of participation in the teaching. I had no idea if it would work or if I would schedule something for another conference or nothing would happen.

The conference email appeared to be a generic one (which to me meant many potential emails to this address). I also reached out for help from one of my friends who was listed on the conference faculty. He sent an email to the director on my behalf and copied me as well.

From my involvement with events, I understand there are many last minute changes with the faculty. It turned out my email arrived at the perfect time when the director was looking for some last-minute replacements. I was able to fill that need and be added to the conference faculty at the last minute.

I'm looking forward to attending a couple of days of this conference and meeting some new authors and seeing a few old friends. If you are going to this conference, I hope we can spend a few minutes together.

I wanted to write this entry about the writing life to stir you to take action. Are you using the information which comes across your desk or computer screen? Are you reaching out to the editor or the agent to see if there is an opportunity for you? In this information clogged world, it may take a couple of gentle emails to stir some opportunity for you. It does not happen without taking action and asking. I've written several times about the power of asking. Your dreams and plans can't happen unless you are moving forward. 

Today be open to new ideas and using the information which you see. It can open up a new world of opportunity for you and your writing.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

On the Move

In the last couple of weeks for the first time in eight years, I moved physical locations. I've had several job transitions during my years in Arizona but not a physical change. Our family moved to Irvine, California to be near family and also to downsize. The experience has thrown off my regular writing.

While I've heard (and followed) the various writing maxims for many years such as write every day and take action every day. Over the last few weeks my efforts have been focused in some other area than my writing. It has meant I've done very limited writing and most of that writing has been limited to emails and nothing which shows up on these entries about The Writing Life.

From my moving experience, I rediscovered the cleansing nature of downsizing. For example, I had three bookcases in my office but in my new place, I only had room for two bookcases. Also in the moving process, I sorted through boxes of books which I was stacking in my garage. I hauled 30 boxes of books to my public library where I donated them. In the process of sorting, I made snap decisions about hundreds of books—whether to give away or keep them.

To be honest, I have looked for a couple of books on my shelf and not found them (which means I gave them away). Yet overall the elimination process has been valuable because I eliminated the “stuff” clogging my bookshelf. What action can you take today to sort through some books on your shelf and donate them to a good place like the public library?

To compound all of the change in my life from the physical move, I also changed jobs right in the middle of it. Each day I've been actively calling and emailing authors about their projects with Morgan James Publishing. As a publisher, we're excited to have another book on the New York Times bestseller list (the week of July 15th). Congratulations to Gordon D'Angelo and his book, Vision: Pathway to Victory. Getting on this list points out one important fact: Morgan James is selling books through the bookstores. 

On the writing front, what are you actively doing to be on the move? Many writers dream but never take action. They read about writing but never write. Or they try a couple of times and get rejected—and every writer gets rejected—and put their writing away. To succeed with your writing you have to be on the move and taking daily action.

Here's some active steps you can take:

—get connected. As a writer, you need to know others who are writing in your area of the market. Reach out to them via email or on the telephone or face to face. Don't see them as competition but instead view them as colleagues. Reach out and help them and they will help you. I've learned a tremendous amount from other writers—in forums, in face to face interaction, in books, in blogs and much more. If you and I are not connected on some place like LinkedIn, then take the initiative and send me an invitation. LinkedIn goes to my personal email address and while my public profile says I have 500+ connections, I actually have close to 2300 connections. Here's the key—just like everyone else, I started with one connection. You can build it as well but need to be taking action on a consistent basis.

—get published. I've written a great deal about how to get published in these pages. I'm talking about print magazines, online publications, newsletters and yes even books. Print magazines in general have a higher standard and are more respected than online publications. Take some time and study the details in my article on the basics of writing for magazines—then take action and write some query letters and get published. It does not get published sitting in your computer. You have to take action to get published.

—get educated. I repeatedly learn from others and a writer's conference is a great place to increase your learning about the marketplace and be on the move. This coming Saturday and Sunday I will be at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference. In a couple of weeks, I will be at the Texas Christian Writers Conference in Houston. I have a number of live events where I will be speaking this fall (use this link to keep up on my schedule).

In recent weeks, my focus has not been on these entries—to my regret. I've recommitted to writing here on a regular basis. I'm back on the move and hope you will be as well.
Years ago I heard author Paul E. Little speak about how to find direction for our life. He said something that has stuck with me, “God can't steer a parked car.” Are you on the move?

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