Capitalization: You’re Probably Doing It Wrong

Editor's Suggestions

One of the most common misconceptions that I run across in writing is when to capitalize things, and when they should stay lowercase. This is honestly a big issue, and can take your manuscript from potentially looking professional to seemingly amateurish in a heartbeat. It can be the difference between an agent or publishing house thinking that you know what you’re doing, or thinking that you started writing a week ago.

Proper capitalization in your writing is important for several reasons.

  • There are already pretty firm rules in place about this subject, so expressing ignorance of it means that you might also lack ignorance of other conventional writing rules.
  • If you Capitalize random words, It can make your Reader’s Voice messed up. Try reading This without doing a Weird version of Internal Puberty voice Changing in your Head. Can’t Do it, Can ya?
  • Capitalization is often used for emphasis or importance, but this is really, really, not the best use for it. It’s called “vanity capitalization,” and editors literally hate it. Capitalization should be kept to proper nouns (people’s names, place names, etc.), the first word in a sentence, and of course, proper titles.

One of the biggest no-no’s I’ve seen is confusing capitalization of honorifics. For some people, this can be a very difficult subject to broach, as there are many rules regarding the use of honorifics, and some of them are confusing.

What are honorifics? Honorifics are essentially “titles” that you give to people. Think sir, ma’am, mister, doctor, etc. For those of you writing medieval fiction, there are also the titles of royalty and lords. This can all get a bit confusing when you’re trying to figure out what needs to be capitalized, and what needs to be lowercase. So let’s start with some clarification!

When a title should or should not be capitalized:

First things first, NEVER capitalize “the” unless it’s the first word of your sentence or it’s the first word of your book/movie/art title.

“I saw The Secret Life of Pets the other day.” vs. “This is The Book of Shadows.” The second one is wrong. It will make your editor/agent/reader/publisher cringe. Don’t do it!

Sir & ma’am: Are only capitalized when they are the first word in a sentence.*

Correct:

Sir, I’ve got some bad news…”/ “But what were you hoping to hear, ma’am?”

Incorrect:

“I’ve got some bad news, Sir.” / “But what were you hoping to hear, Ma’am?”

* The only time this would be different is if you are introducing someone who’s been knighted, like Sir Elton John, or Sir Patrick Stewart. These are now titles that include the proper noun that makes them capitalized.

“Oh my goodness, it’s Sir Patrick Stewart! May I have your autograph, sir?”

“Eh, what do you know, mister?” vs. “That’s Mister Ford.”

“Can I ask you a question, miss?” vs. “I’m telling Miss Davis!”

Familial use

“But Mom said I could go.” vs. “That’s my mom.”

“Didn’t you ask your father?” vs. “Yes! And Father said I could go.”

“I’m going to see my uncle.” vs. “I’m going to see Uncle Robert.”

US political titles

“President” is a title frequently used in writing as a means of addressing the president. It also holds the first spot for one of the single most incorrectly capitalized terms I’ve ever seen. (And that’s not hyperbole, either.) You’ll notice in this paragraph that “president” is only capitalized at the beginning of a sentence.

(The following samples in this section are all correct.)

That’s because it’s not a proper noun on its own and therefore should not be capitalized unless before a name or if that’s someone’s actual name.

“But sir, the president is on her way now.” / “Tomorrow, President Adams will be speaking in the courtyard.”

The same goes for other political titles, like senator, congressman/woman, ambassador, vice president or chairperson, etc.*

“This is Robert Davies, the senator from Montana.” / “Excuse me, Senator Davies?”

“I’d like to introduce you to Congressman/woman Jones.” / “The congressman/woman isn’t available right now.”

*If your character is being addressed by a honorary title that includes the words “madame” or “mister,” etc. before it, then it is capitalized.

“Would Madame Ambassador follow me this way, please?” and “Mr./Mister Secretary, a word, if you can.” / “Please, Vice President Craig, listen to reason!” and “The vice president cannot take part in the meeting at this time.”

Titles of profession

Doctor, professor, officer, detective… these are all commonly capitalized when they should actually be lowercase. The only time these titles should be capitalized is when a proper noun follows them.

However, there are some grammar places that capitalize titles like “doctor” when they’re addressing the person by that title, though I personally do not follow these rules unless it’s a nickname, like calling your doctor “Doc.”

This is because doctor is both a profession as well as a title, and if you’re addressing someone as “doctor,” you’re calling them by their profession. It’s the same thing as saying “teacher” or “mailman.” None of these professional titles are typically capitalized unless adjoined to a proper name, like below.

“I’ve got a bad cold, doctor.” vs. “I’ve got a bad cold, Doctor Strauss.”

“I’ll have the paper to you tomorrow, professor.” vs. “I’ll have the paper to you tomorrow, Professor Adams.”

“That’s an order, captain!” vs. “That’s an order, Captain Walsh.”

“Over here, officer!” vs. “Over here, Officer Waterson!”

“Let’s get started, detective.” vs. “Let’s get started, Detective Peters.”

“But the teacher said we can’t.” vs. “But Teacher told me we can!” –You’ll note here that “teacher” is capitalized. That’s because it’s being used in place of a name of one specific person, and can be treated as a proper noun. If someone calls their teacher “Teacher” in place of her name, it can be treated as a proper noun of sorts.

Pet names

Nope. No capitalizing pet names. Nicknames, yes. Pet names? No.

“How are you doing, honey?” vs. “How are you doing, Nicky?”

Religious terms

There are too many to address, so I will leave a helpful link here.

Medieval titles/royal titles

One of the biggest problems I run across in fantasy is the improper use of titles. Basically they follow the same rules as the titles of profession, with a few exceptions, which will be addressed below. For the most part, when using a title like king, queen, prince, princess, duke, duchess, etc., do NOT capitalize unless it’s a direct address that includes their name.

“Introducing Queen Tabatha Shaw.” vs. “Introducing the queen, Tabatha Shaw.”

“That horse is the king’s!” vs. “That horse belongs to King Michael!”

“Protect the king!” vs. “Protect King Michael!”

“This is the duchess, Sarah Milford.” vs. “This is Duchess Sarah Milford.”

“Ah, Princess Anne, you’re looking lovely today.” vs. “Ah, princess, you’re looking lovely today.”

“No, my prince, the hunt has been canceled.” vs. “No, Prince Eric, the hunt has been canceled.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lord Edward.” vs. “It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord.”

(“My lord” and “my lady” are only ever capitalized at the beginning of a sentence. Consider them the same as sir or ma’am.)

Medieval title exceptions

“What will you have me do, sire?” (Like sir, this word is not capitalized unless it’s the first of a sentence.)

“Today we’re going to the Lord Mayor’s joust!” (Lord Mayor is a capitalized term. However, if you were to say, “We’re going to the mayor’s joust,” it would be lowercase. “We’re going to Mayor Johnson’s joust.”)

His Grace Duke Edward Gibbs.” vs. “How do you do, your grace?”

“But Your Majesty, we must adjourn.” vs. “But majesty, I must protest…”

“Oh, Your Excellency, of course!” vs. “Oh, of course, excellency.

“Yes, Your Highness, we will have it done right away.” vs. “No, highness, we didn’t.”

These cover a few common (and easy to confuse) terms that should either be capitalized or lowercased given their use in the sentence.

And remember, when in doubt, find out if there is a name after the title or honorific, and choose accordingly.

Photo: weheartit

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Talk that Talk (the Way Your Reader Likes it!)

Editor's Suggestions

Today, Inklings, we’re talking about talking.

Naturalizing your dialogue, to be specific.

Every writer has their own unique voice when they’re writing, because every person has their own dialect, inflections, voice patterns, and even vocabulary or colloquialisms. This is part of what makes language so diverse and gratifying to play with. You can use a variety of letters and sounds, and even make up your own!

But despite this, many writers struggle when it comes to making their characters speak, and if you have this problem, trust me, you are not alone. Dialogue between imaginary characters is hard, dude.

There are books upon books and blogs and lessons and classes and conferences about creating awesome dialogue, but there is a much, much simpler method of amping your character’s convos up to enjoyable levels.

1. Listen to conversations around you.

Go to your local coffee shop, grocery store, park. Sit for a while and hear how people speak. Pay attention to how they phrase things, or what inflection they use. Are they guilty of “up talk” or “vocal fry?” Do they over use the word “like” or “uhm” or “you know” because they are struggling to piece their words together? Do they have a tic, like beginning every sentence with “Okay, so…”, or just jump in and talksofastyoucan’tevencatchup? Believe it or not, these are all things you can incorporate (within reason) in your own writing. To make dialogue in writing believable, you have to know speaking in real life. You have to understand speech patterns—but this isn’t as hard as it sounds.

As human beings, we are actually significantly gifted at picking up body language and tone in speech, and now, it’s your great difficulty to translate that innate knowledge into your book.

2. USE. CONTRACTIONS.

As I’ve stated many times before, one of the easiest ways to make your language flow is an extraordinarily simple one. When you’re talking to a family member, do you say everything so prim and proper that you could be an extra in Pride and Prejudice? Chances are, no, no you don’t. Everyone has their “professional” voice and their “relaxed” voice. Professional you might be more precise, but chances are you won’t be able to cut those syllables with a chisel, right? Relaxed voice is how you normally speak, when you’re alone or with comfortable acquaintances. Putting a sense of “relaxed” voice in dialogue is a fantastic way of making your reader “say” it in their own version of relaxed voice, which makes it flow smooth like butta, baby. And the best way to do this? Use contractions.

“Do not take that bag out of the closet! If I have to look for it, I will end up late to practice!”

“Jer, we are going to the store. Is there anything you will need me to pick up?”

“I cannot forget to put all of the laundry in the dryer when I get home.”

“But Barbara, there is nothing you can do. He told you he does not want any help.”

Or

“Don’t take my gym bag out of the closet! If I’m late to practice because it’s missing, I’ll be pissed!”

“Jer, we’re going shopping. You need anythin’?”

“Aww, crap! I gotta remember to switch the laundry over when I get back.”

“Barb, you can’t do anything. He said he doesn’t want help.”

Write how people speak, not how a narrator would dictate a sentence.

3. Read EVERYTHING aloud. ALL OF IT.

Go and read a portion of a book out loud. Doesn’t have to be dialogue or even your own work; just pick something and go. Did you find yourself sliding over the pronunciation of certain letters in favor of your relaxed voice? Like saying ‘don’ instead of don’t? Do you perhaps soften your “r” to the point where ya sound Bostonian? Did you read it fast, or slow? Did it jive with your internal voice, or did you find yourself pausing and rereading portions so you could reassess the tone? Reading written words aloud will strengthen your understanding of dialogue and language in general. Pay attention to your own accent. Are you from the south? Did you know that southern accents have different dialects depending on where you live? Midwestern tones can seem southern, but have subtle differences, and west coast people sound completely different from northerners and southerners altogether? A Bostonian accent is drastically different than one in New York, and both are distinguishable from New Jersey or New England.

Hearing words out loud from different regions can really help you develop a style of writing conversations that will give everyone an individual voice. If you want your characters to pop, give them different “vocal” affectations. Learn to recognize and incorporate different accents, dialects, and parts of speech in your dialogue to give your character, well… character.

4. Use slang and colorful (not necessarily vulgar) language.

My siblings and I grew up in northern Florida surrounded by country folk and surfer dudes, but my mother is from New York, so we picked up a lot of slang from her that wasn’t common in that area. I ended up pronouncing forest as “fah-rest” or orange as “ah-renge”, and we abbreviated “shut up” so that it became a single word (“shaddup!”) and we called unidentified bits of paper or fluff on the floor “schnibbles.” At the same time, I was developing a touch of a lazy drawl, and getting a bit too relaxed around g’s, if you know what I’m sayin’. I was comfortable with “surfer talk”—which is its own thing entirely. I found out that I would specify tacos at Taco Bell the southern way of “the 89 cent” ones—yes, children, tacos did used to be that cheap. We don’t lie when we say the 90s were a wonderful time—or when telling someone to leave “something” alone, I would often jam the words together to pronounce it as “Lea’ that alone.” I fought against using “ain’t,” although I will admit that it has slipped in conversation at least twice. Language is fun! Use various methods to make yours enticing.

5. If it doesn’t need it, DON’T MAKE THEM TALK.

Sometimes, the best things are left unsaid, right? Well, occasionally. In dialogue, “a picture is worth 1000 words” takes on extra meaning. If you can show us what’s going on without your characters talking us through it, then do it. When you’re writing a screenplay, dialogue is a precious commodity. You seriously have to consider what words are going on that page because you are so limited with page space. Some of my favorite parts of a movie are where the characters say absolutely nothing because the action speaks so well for them. If your character is talking when they really should be quiet, remove it. See how well silence can direct a scene for you.

Pixar actually does a fantastic job nixing dialogue in favor of showing action—think of the beginning of the movie Up, or actually don’t, because I do not need to cry right now. How about a film like Wall-E, instead? The action carried so well that they were able to forego dialogue in HUGE portions of the film, and one of the sweetest moments ever is when Wall-E first meets Eve:

Now imagine if he had been giving her verbose, expository dialogue about how he’d been fulfilling his mission to box all the trash on Earth.

When in doubt, go without!

 

photo: SFStation

Yangon, Myanmar

Real Editing Samples

This week’s short story comes to us anonymously! Below is the review of the untitled piece, as well as some suggestions for how to make it even better. Any suggestions or questions can be put in the comments section below.

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One of the very first things you want your reader to do is be intrigued. You have to really pull someone in within the first few paragraphs so that they have a reason to keep reading. That means you’re going to need to give your reader one of two things: Action, or mystery.

Action and mystery are great openers; they will pull your reader in. But it will do absolutely nothing if there isn’t anything interesting for us to find out. If your character is going through a series of nonsensical  movements (to your reader, at least), and we don’t know why, that’s not mystery, it’s just confusion.

You have a beautiful set up here: “Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangnon, largely unknown to western eyes.” But that isn’t followed through with anything. It immediately gets dismissed by the next sentence. “How to explore? I find a 10:00 p.m. cycle ride-out and arrange to have dinner with friends.”

How to strengthen your opening? Remove the weak area.

How to explore? I find a 10:00 p.m. cycle ride-out and arrange to have dinner with friends.  We set off into the night time of Yangon.

“Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangon, largely unknown to western eyes, I’d arrived at the very edge of my world, and my nerve.  In the hot darkness, a line of car headlights illuminates a hazy scene of pavement diners.  Hopping on and off the crowded pathway, we salsa along the jagged edge of the traffic. We turn down narrow alleyways, squeeze between market stalls heavy with bananas and mangoes, and along half built, half-lit streets. Street signs are few and far between.”

Already this is building a world for me. I can imagine it, I can smell the mangoes, I can see the people. That’s great! That will pull your reader in. Where are they going? What are they doing in this tropical paradise? I want to know more!

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Notes 2. In the paragraph following the beautifully described world, you have your character somewhat frantically going to find directions. This pulled me out of the story. Apart from showing their state of mind, and letting us know that there’s somewhere they need to be, which could be summarized neatly in a few sentences at the start of the following paragraph, this particular paragraph doesn’t do anything for your reader. In a short story, you’ll have less time to pull your reader in. This paragraph could easily be shortened and joined with the following one, or removed and summarized in fewer sentences.

Screenshot 2016-03-28 18.17.54.pngNotes 3. You definitely want to specify to your readers about anything related to temperature. Given that we Americans can’t figure out degrees in Celsius to save our hides, we instinctually fall back on the Fahrenheit degree base, and twenty-four degrees in Fahrenheit does not a pleasant bike ride make! If your readers might be from various parts of the English-speaking world, make sure to specify things like this just so they don’t have to double take to figure out what you mean.

Notes 4. For British/UK English, the standard is to keep the ‘s’ at the end. (Towards/backwards) This is simply a matter of where you intend for your main audience to be. Again, if this is elsewhere in the English-speaking world outside of America, this would probably stay in. To publish in America, however, the ‘s’ would be taken out (toward/backward). Small differences, but they can add up. The same can be said with any s to z changes. In America: organize, realize, recognize, etc. Outside of America: organise, realise, recognise. And of course we Americans also remove the ‘u’ from words like colour.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the short story!  You got a lot of detail and description in for such a small amount of pages. You definitely have a strength in creating a vivid landscape. I could see the story. I could picture what was going on. Your imagery was beautiful and strong, and really pushed me through it. There was a great flow to the way you described everything. There is a little to be corrected as far a pace goes, like with the part that stalled me, but overall, it was a fun read.

I wanted to mention, as well, that after having read this story, that I have no idea what your character looks like, if they’re male or female, or even what they’re wearing. I kind of argued with myself about even mentioning it, because I honestly can’t tell if I like it more without the protagonist having an identity. It did nag at me a little, but then, it’s my job to notice things like that.

Thanks so much, Anonymous Inkling, for letting me read and critique your short story! I will be sending along the rest of my critiques later on. For those of you who want to read the full piece, you can find it here:

Yangon, Myanmar

Fiercely hot, steaming, tropical Yangon, largely unknown to western eyes, I’d arrived at the very edge of my world, and my nerve. In the hot darkness, a line of car headlights illuminates a hazy scene of pavement diners.  Hopping on and off the crowded pathway, we salsa along the jagged edge of the traffic. We turn down narrow alleyways, squeeze between market stalls heavy with bananas and mangoes, and along half built, half-lit streets. Street signs are few and far between.

I dance alongside my companions hopping over gaping holes in the unlit pavement, rapidly chatting while casting around for scarce landmarks.  We continue past juice stalls where petite, raven haired women feed sticks of sugarcane into the jaws of ancient industrial mangles, solid, glossy, dark green monsters, next to them, tailors are bent over elegant Singer sewing machines. I scribble down hieroglyphic directions, TL elephant temple, TR rickshaws, alleyway straight arrow, TL… or would that be R in reverse? Too late, we cross the main road and run over a tiny footbridge.

We hop onto a narrow path of gangplanks past a parade of dark, wooden, open fronted shop houses.  The cavern-like interiors are entirely exposed. Rooms are lit with bare, single light bulbs and piled high with dusty stock and family belongings. On high shelves. tiny spirit houses adorned with orange and pink temple garlands glow against the dark wood. The smell of incense wafts out. The locals end their day over the evening meal at simple wooden tables and straight-backed chairs, hypnotized by the ubiquitous TV. We stride purposefully past, unable to resist glancing sideways to peer into their lives laid bare, one eye on the gangplank.  One family space after another is surreptitiously examined as the inhabitants simultaneously look up into our strange European and North African faces. Warm smiles and nods are exchanged in a mutual understanding of reciprocal curiosity.  We turn the corner and enter the restaurant.

After much engrossing conversation, suddenly it’s 9:40 p.m. I say goodbye and head out. Round the corner back along the gangplank, more smiles and nods. Across the main road, TL into the alleyway back onto the half built street. This is all right, I can do this. Did I see that yellow sign on the way? Never mind. Into the next street. Was it left? Hang on, find a streetlamp, still got fifteen minutes, it’s not that far.  Check the map. What’s this street called?  It’ll look familiar in a bit. No, it doesn’t. Definitely not.  Ask that street vendor over there. He gently takes the map from my hands and very slowly turns to his light. Oh no. I hop from one foot to another desperately trying not to be impolite. This street? This way? Yes?  Twelve minutes. Right, I’ll get there. Just dance around people and traffic a bit faster.  Okay, this is it. Go. Got to get there, don’t want to keep them waiting, once in a lifetime experience. Why didn’t I leave earlier?  Getting closer now, it’s round this next corner and up past the Swiss Embassy. Just need to jog a bit now. I wonder if that’s where that car’s going? Probably.  Yes, there’s the sign, Bike Rides, Yangon. It’s 9:59 p.m.

###

The bikes are allocated; they’re good quality mountain bikes.  We twist and circle around each other in the courtyard testing the feel of the brakes and changing up and down the gears. The group is a mix of thirty-seven friendly expats, independent travelers and regular cyclists, German, Dutch, American, Canadian and Burmese.  The leader is a fifty-something affable Australian expat with a confident, funny Burmese wife.  He’s straight up as you’d expect, and mildly curious.

We file out of the gate, and I’m ecstatic. We’re cycling around the capital of Burma in the middle of the night, not due back until 1:00 a.m. We circle onto the main road and soon start to pick up speed and file onto a highway, fluorescent marshalls slot in along the line.  As we settle down we’re a fluttering constellation of lights against an inky sky. The line moves into a steady pace and some of the regulars draw alongside for deceptively casual conversation while keeping an eye out for potholes and street dogs. At twenty-four degrees Celsius it’s just cool enough to ride and the breeze is welcome.

We file down city streets, past night markets of smoky food stalls and endless pavement banquets.  Before the intersection, we’re told it’s the left fork in case of separation.  Accelerating across the lights as one, we swoop leftwards disappearing into the blackness like a shoal.  We pick up a swift pace along blissfully traffic free roads.

Everyone is warmed up and tuned in and we spread out as confidence grows. The tarmac is undulating in places, and it’s largely dark, so you need to be a confident rider. This is no tourist trundle. We spool down a long section and past the ornate white palace of the City Hall and toward some of the more decrepit colonial buildings at the waterfront. They’re poorly lit, so I’m straining to see much. The Customs House has been renovated, and the Strand Hotel that entertained Rudyard Kipling is imposing and impressive. The high court is a little like St. Pancras station in London. I make a mental note to read Orwell’s Burmese Days.  We pass the port authority and come into the central area.

I’ve teamed up with a Canadian who peels away from the line. I follow instantly and we head towards the 2,500-year-old Sule Pagoda, in the middle of what is now a huge roundabout.  Its endless golden spire punctures the dark velvet sky. The white dome is encircled by grotto-like shrines, their interiors brightly lit in citrus limes and lemons. It’s a fairy tale, fairground sight. We swoop onto the curve and spin around the outside, stealing glimpses at the golden Buddha’s heads surrounded by multi-colored sunbursts of flashing neon lights.  We sprint round a second time, faster, leaning into the road, laughing with glee and exhilaration at this fantastical, surreal merry-go-round, and race off to catch the others.

The group is on the road out of the city now and we begin a gentle climb, I start to feel my thigh muscles burn. It’s about 11: 30 p.m. The pace slows a little, but is still good as we reach the flat and start the long home stretch. Soon the leaders stop and the line concertinas into a tight group. We climb off the bikes to stretch our legs and gulp down some much needed water.

People chat and examine each others’ bikes. As my heart rate and breathing slows I look up at the night sky and feel the tranquility and eeriness of a strange city at rest. The quiet chatter of the other riders floats through the darkness. Then for no reason at all, I turn round. There, in the middle of an enormous jet black sky, gently glowing like a huge mythical, golden palace is the Schwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar. It stands on a hill and at 325 feet, dominates the Yangon skyline. It contains the oldest Buddhist Stupa in the world. I’m rooted to the spot. I look at my watch, it’s past midnight. I feel giddy with awe and surprise.

 

Photo: A Link And Travel Tour

 

 

 

 

The Secret Good News!

Blog Articles

Waiting around to hear back for that rejection you just know is coming can be one of the most painful things you will ever do as a writer.

You worked for this. You sweat for it. Hell, maybe you even bled for it.

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“Yes, paper cuts do count in this industry, thanks very much.”

And then there’s one day when the clouds part and pure, unadulterated Monty Python God-in-the-Heavens sunlight beams down on you… the planets align (literally, in my case), and that rejection… Becomes a yes.

66ac67b685244350d4ffc00c3764b7a2

I’m stoked to announce that my soft sci-fi book has been accepted for publication!

I’m not gonna lie, I may have cried a little (Okay a lot, and my waste bin was full of tissues–don’t judge), after I read through the whole email three times just to make sure I wasn’t fooling myself. And then maybe my husband and I celebrated with a bottle of champagne because

YEAH! I’ve got a book coming out, baby!

I’ll have more updates later on, once I have a better idea of things, but look out for my book to hit shelves in 2017!

*Happy dances out of the room.*

 

But You Don’t Really Care for Edits, Do Ya?

Attitude & Critiques, Uncategorized

The Editor’s Perspective: Giving and Receiving Feedback

By Toni Adwell

Most editors have horror stories about authors being obstinate, oblivious, or downright rude about any changes being made to their work. Don’t get me wrong: I understand where the authors are coming from, too. Some editors and proofreaders have no tact, and there are certain critiques and edits I’ve gotten on my writing that baffle me as an author.

“Your intro comes on too strong.”

“You mean I’m not supposed to hook and engage the reader?”

When it comes down to it, though, there are certain aspects of writing that cannot be compromised the majority of the time, such as grammar and spelling. I’m not talking about dialogue and style, because sometimes those will cause exceptions. When I write dialogue for the Troll in my FanFic, it’s nowhere near grammatically correct, and the spelling reflects my attempt at the Jamaican accent it’s based off of in World of Warcraft.

What I’m talking about are authors who refuse to recognize changes that need to be made due to passive voice, dangling modifiers, common word choice mistakes, such as lose/loose, than/then, their/they’re/there, assure/ensure/insure, and so on.
Those are non-negotiable in the body of the work.

That being said, here are a few friendly tips when giving or receiving critiques and edits:

  • Keep in mind the difference between constructive criticism, and being an asshole. “This is incorrect because of xyz, so here’s what to keep in mind, and an example of what to use instead.”–Good. “Your work is horrible, and as a result I’m not able to differentiate between your work and you as a person, so you must also suck!”–Not good.
  • Tone can be lost in translation on the Internet. What might sound polite to one person can sound completely rude to another. Don’t assume people are being jerks with their critiques/edits, unless it’s obvious like the example above.
  • Remember, even if you don’t like what you’re reading/editing/critiquing, that someone put a lot of effort, work, and likely heart and soul into writing the piece. It’s not cool to trash someone simply because you’re not down with the subject matter. If you can’t handle the content, then correct the technical mistakes, and suggest another editor/proofreader to go over the work for said content. The same goes for their ability to write. “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”–Ernest Hemingway
  • We’re losing the ability to be polite in our society, and even if you don’t agree with what someone has to say about your work, thank them for their time, and move on. You’re not going to convince someone to change their mind about it, especially when what a person likes is opinion-based, but they did take time out of their day to read it and respond. Even if they’re being asshats, you don’t need to stoop to their level–you are not a mirror for their behavior. “I respect your opinion, even though I don’t agree. Thank you for your time.” You don’t have to like someone, or their opinion, to be polite to them. 
  • The hardest one? Don’t take it personally. It’s really difficult not to, because of how much proverbial blood, sweat, and tears goes into writing. Hell, sometimes the blood, sweat, and tears are literal. Your work is made from a piece of you, and when someone is down on it or doesn’t like it, that can be a major blow to your self-esteem and ego. The best thing you can do is listen to what they’re saying with your mind, and not your heart.

TL;DR: Don’t be a jerk, don’t assume others are jerks, be polite, and don’t take it personally.

Do you have any horror stories about an editor or an author? Feel free to vent in the comments. No need to name anyone or their work, but sometimes you need to get things off your chest so you can move on. It’s cathartic!

Keep your chin up!

The Always Aspiring Writer

Toni Adwell is an editor with Damnation Inc. and an aspiring author. You can find out more about her at Legends of the Wordsmiths (http://lotwordsmiths.blogspot.com) where she gives book reviews, World of Warcraft fanfic chapters, and excerpts from her own work. 

Reflections!

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A lot of things have happened for me in the last year. Not all of them great, but some of them pretty wonderful. May 3rd was the anniversary of the day my (now) husband and I officially started dating, waaaaaay back in good ole’ 2011. We celebrated quietly (because one can only have so many anniversaries, I am told, and marriage trumps dating), ate dinner, played GTA 5, and my husband gave me a glorious Sailor Moon figure, because, yes, we really are that much of a geeky couple.

It was, unfortunately, also the day that marked a big sadness in my life: the day I got rear-ended by a–not soccer mom, I was vehemently corrected–woman in her “athletic sport-abled transportation vehicle.” It caused a lot of issues, a lot of pain, and a lot of pure, utter, nonsense. It’s a part of my life I am hoping to put behind me.

Because of these things, May 3rd caused a lot of reflection for me. I will be twenty-eight in a scant few days. If my grandmother were here, she’d tell me I’m only a year away from her favorite age of twenty-nine. When I was little, I actually looked forward to getting to that age so I could tell people the same thing my grandmother told them all the way up until she passed: “I don’t care what my birth certificate says, I’m twenty-nine and holding.” This is the woman whose thick Brooklyn accent I adored to mimic, who always had a electronic gambling game in her purse, a cigarette in her hand, and lipstick on her glass.

It’s amazing the things you think about around birthdays, isn’t it?

These days it doesn’t feel like I have time for anything. Much less for reflection, so the third was an interesting–albeit it bittersweet–period. About a year and a eight months ago, I graduated from college. Half a year after that, I started working as a proofreader. About eight months ago, I got married. Three months ago, I got promoted to editor. About two months ago, I started editing job number two, and hell if my days haven’t just been a whirlwind since then. Working in your industry is great; it’s what you strive for. Of course, the pay doesn’t really cut the mustard some days, and your workload is shit, but the thing is, you adore what you do. And I do. I don’t mind filling my days with editing and my downtimes with video games… but it doesn’t leave much time for my writing stuff.

When I went to school for creative writing, I had grandiose dreams of finishing a couple novels, getting some short stories out, and eventually having a successful editing company of my own. Of course, the real world never works out like a five year plan… and slowly that plan began to look more like fantasy than the novels I read for a living.

(Still, it’s hard to complain. I read books for money and tell them how to make it better!)

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When you can actually fix the misspelled words in a book

I’ve been trying to cram a lot into a very limited amount of time, however, and recently, that meant pushing myself to clean and polish (read: cut 8,000 words out of) a short story of mine, in the hope that I can submit it for publication in an anthology. I’m super stoked, if not perhaps nervous that I’m taking their ‘20,000 words or less rule’ a bit too literally.

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I take word count to heart, thank you very much.

Like all hopefuls, I’m eager to see the acceptance email after working on something so hard, but there’s still the nagging doubt that I’ll be able to do it at all. Editing other people’s work makes me understand how great it is. Editing mine? Not so much.

(Hint to any struggling writers out there: You are probably your own worst critic… so don’t listen to you.)

Maybe the five year plan isn’t working out the way I wanted; maybe my dreams are different now, and maybe a couple got derailed in lieu of more realistic expectations.

That’s okay. Gonna keep at it and hope I hit my mark one day.

Wish me luck! The deadline is June 1st. ;p

Some Irritating Facts About Being an Unpublished Author

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You’ve done it! You’ve written your first novel/screenplay/article/porno, and you want to share it with the world. You’ve got the pages ready, and you’re about to start looking for an agent! Congratulations!

But wait…the first issue hits, and the second. Sooner than you realize, you’ve got yourself a ticket to Wait City, and the bus isn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. Still, you keep muscling along, because after all, they’d be crazy not to want your work, right?! You’re awesome, and everyone is going to want to pay you to read your book.

1. You will have to pay people to read your book.

The hardest reality about writing a book is realizing that no one wants to read it. After all, they have no idea what your capability to write is—and they have no clue if it’s any good. Apart from (maybe) knowing the main character’s name and the genre of your book, no one is even going to remember that you wrote something—until you’re stinking rich and famous.

Until that moment happens, you will practically be begging friends, teachers, writing groups and even random strangers on the internet to read what you’ve written. You will shamelessly plug your work every chance you get—at parties, work, get-togethers, strip clubs—wherever you hang out, you will become a menace. Everyone will find out you’ve written a book, and no one will read it. Many will claim interest, even say they’ll read your work, and then never do it. It’s just some of what you have to overcome on your way to getting published.

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“Maybe if I kill off all of my characters—people seem to like that.”

The problem is that you desperately need people to read that work, so they can tell you if it’s any good. Eventually, because you’re desperate, you’ll start looking to people who can read it with a critical eye, and those people will charge you money—lots of it. Typically, most editors that you pay (not to publish your book but to clean it up for a query), charge somewhere around $25-$50 per hour—and $25 is the very low end of the professional spectrum. These people will practically be knocking down your door to read your story—if you agree to pay them for it. However, that’s another problem because…

2. You will have no money.

Regardless of whatever reasoning you have behind writing your book, you’re eventually hoping to get paid to do what you love. You can convince yourself that you’re in it for the art, for the fun, for the hot cosplay sex at conventions, but at the end of the day, if you’re not getting any money, you’re not succeeding. 

This makes it even more difficult that you’re about to have to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on getting people to read your work, and creating business materials that make you appear more professional. This can include business cards, social media sites, self-promotion, and even publishing, if you’re doing it yourself. You have to shell out money to promote a book that you don’t even have representation for yet.

You may not have a job, or you may be a student—me, I’m a full time student and I have a full time job, and sometimes it feels like I’m living off of cup soup, $5 pizzas, and day old bread. In order to be able to write, I accepted a position that is lower in pay but frees my schedule for both school and writing. Some days it feels like three full time jobs, but that’s the price of choosing to work in this industry. Many people have to work a full forty-hour week or more, and then work on the weekends. Some people quit their jobs all-together in order to write full time, but it’s a risky move that most of us can’t afford to make.

All of this is going to be a shot in the dark, anyway, with next to no certainty of returns. This is because there’s a limited number of people who will have read your work, barely any others who know your name, and even less who actually care that you can string together various words into a complete sentence. You’re still going to have to convince people that you’re not a total waste of space which is going to be interesting because….

3. Literary Agents do not have any time to give to hopefuls.

When I say this, I mean it in the most literal way possible. Literary agents receive hundreds of manuscripts, queries, pleading letters—and even hate mail a week. Sometimes up to one hundred thousand per year. They spend their time sifting through never ending piles of work from people who may or may not be worth their effort. Michael Bourne writes in an article on The Millions that he once watched an agent power through nineteen queries in fourteen minutes and reject eighteen of them. That’s unfortunately fairly standard, and knowing that, you work hard to make a query letter that will bowl over an agent. You use every awesome word in your vocabulary to try to woo them with your prowess…but is it enough?

A well-thought out query letter can make or break your literally career, all in the five seconds it takes to read it. The agent’s mood may decide the fate of your status as a represented author—is it fair? No, but them’s the breaks, kid. Whenever they finally get around to your email or physical query—and you’d better read up on whichever one they want sent in—they could skim your letter, decide, “Meh,” and put you in the reject pile. Who knows? Maybe the agent just broke up with their significant other, maybe they just got some bad news—maybe they just started their period that day.

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If I have to read one more crappy fanfic there’s going to be a bloodbath.”

You may have worked and created an entire world with interesting characters and a kick-ass plot, but you have one page—about three paragraphs to introduce yourself, your book, and butter the agent up enough to make them like you. What’s crazy is the hardest work you’ll have to do is after you write the book, when you try and make people aware of your existence.

As for thinking that you can take a short cut to the top of this ‘ho’-pile and send them gifts, think again. Most literary agencies inform you on their submissions page that if you send them baked goods, tickets to the game, or even money, they will throw your manuscript out without reading it and keep the presents. Gifts will only say bad things about how well you write. It’s fair to say that they are a sign that you don’t think your work can stand on its own. Still, they’ll have no qualms about keeping whatever you send, cause hey, free stuff, amirite? This is not to say they are heartless, but you need to prove that your work is what they’re looking for. Bribery is not a way into this industry. Everything might feel like it’s designed to keep people out, because then…

4. Even after you get an agent there is no guarantee anyone will publish your work.

Let’s say the finish line is in sight—you’ve got your agent and you’re ready to go with a traditional publishing house. You figure you can’t lose! If Stephanie Meyer can spend four books describing her characters undressing each other with their eyes and then one of them tries to commit suicide after her vampire boyfriend takes back his mix tape and leaves her mopey  butt, then anyone can right?

WRONG.

It’s a well-known fact that publishing houses and literary agencies are fickle to a fault, and asking God to miraculously cure cancer, and AIDS simultaneously would probably be easier than submitting a book and receiving approval from an agent and a publisher in one take.

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“Sorry guys, I’m too busy playing Satan in Earth Risk. He keeps fortifying Australia. What an ass.” –Jesus

There are articles and stories all over the internet about famous authors who got rejected not once or twice, but about twelve times before someone would agree to publish their soon-to-be famous shit. In that same example of rejection, the author was even told to “…get a day job because (they) have little chance of making money in children’s books.” Who was that author, you might ask?

Oh, it was just J. K. Rowling, aka, the woman who wrote the Harry Potter series. That’s only one instance. Dan Brown got told that his book was “…so badly written”, and went on to sell eighty million copies of The Da Vinci Code. Beatrix Potter had to self-publish 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and now it’s sold 45 million worldwide. Margaret Mitchell was rejected a record thirty-eight times before she found someone to publish one of the most well-known and prolific stories of all time—Gone With the Wind.

This isn’t to say that people want to keep you out. Publishing is risky for everyone involved. Just like it’s a career move for you, it’s also a career move for the house that takes on your book, for better or worse. They have to be careful, or they’ll find themselves out of work. They won’t get fired for rejecting someone.

5. There will be thousands of people who can’t write flooding the market.

Remember when I said that literary agents get about two hundred queries a week? Well, meet your competition. It doesn’t mean it’s good competition, but they are there nonetheless, vying for that ever-important clear space on the desk of the agent, and they are not going anywhere.

For every person who is trained on how to write, goes to school, and works hard to read thousands of books and take notes, there is also a…less than capable individual that writes a little story and someone has the genius idea to tell them that they should write for a living—and so they do. There is a reason that only a small percentage of material that crosses an agent’s desk gets a good reception, and it’s largely thanks to people who never try to improve how they write and no one ever told them to calm right down with that noise. I’m not talking people who honestly try, here.

I have spent about three years in a creative writing degree program, busting my buns to become a better writer and write things that people will actually read. At the same time, there are also people in my class who can’t spell the word “breathe” properly. Unfortunately, I’m not kidding.

After a conversation with a friend about this, I had to satiate myself with the knowledge that they won’t be any competition to me after graduation, but they totally will be—just not in the skill department. These are the people who are going to be vying for the same coveted position and totally messing up the agent’s mood before they get to my work. These are the people that fail at traditional publishing and flood Amazon.com with self-published nightmares.

All of these issues lead to a pretty difficult attempt to get published but we just have to keep on trying despite that. There’s nothing better than knowing at the end of the day that your hard work and diligence paid off and you’re finally doing what you always wanted to do. Plus, there’s nothing better than being that guy who just sits back and rakes in the royalties.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t try to do it–rather that you should just be aware of your situation beforehand, and go into it armed with knowledge. The only way to win this game is to keep going despite all of the odds against you, and hope that your diligence pays off. After all, people get accepted by agencies all the time–and someday soon, it could be your name on that next new bestselling book!