Proofing for These Common Comma Errors

July 25, 2013

You’ve brainstormed your query, article, or chapter. You’ve written your first draft. You’ve re-read and tweaked your piece one more time. So, what’s left to do before deciding you’re ready to move on to something else? You’ve got to proofread your piece, looking for spelling, capitalization, and punctuation errors.

Here’s a list of common comma errors to look for.

  • In a sentence containing two complete thoughts separated by a conjunction, you need a comma before the conjunction. Examples of conjunctions to alert you to add a comma are but, or, yet, so, for, and. Sentence example: She thought his ideas were good, but she didn’t want to let him know that just yet.
  • Insert a comma after an introductory phrase. Example: In a sentence containing an introductory phrase, you need a comma at the end of the phrase.
  • When you have a series of three or more items, place a comma before the and preceding the last item. NOTE: This is a requirement for books, but not for periodicals. Example: The school supply list included pencils, pens, markers, crayons, and notebooks.
  • When you have a parenthetical expression in a sentence, set off that extra, unneeded information with commas on both sides of the expression. Example: Jon Smith, the person who normally assists us, didn’t come to work today.
  • Place a comma between consecutive adjectives when you don’t use and between them. Example: Mary couldn’t stand George’s loud, boisterous speaking.
  • Insert a comma after the year when writing a full date. Example: They were married on August 13, 2009, in Vegas. NOTE: When you write only the month and year, omit the comma. Example: They were married August 2009 in  Vegas.

Although this list is not all-inclusive, it gives you a quick primer on common comma errors to look for when you proofread your final version of your work.

Happy writing!

A Primer on Nouns and Pronouns

July 17, 2013

One of the most common issues I find in the books I edit deals with the use of nouns and pronouns. Most of us remember that nouns name a person, place, or thing. Pronouns refer to nouns. If you’re really into English, you probably know the noun that the pronoun refers to is called an antecedent.

Perhaps the problem between pronouns and antcedents began when we started making the English language politically correct. We stopped using the masculine pronoun as a default and, having nothing to replace it, we started using plural pronouns in place of singular.

If your eyes are glazing over, stay with me another minute, as I’m about to make my point, which is: A noun and its pronoun (antecedent) must agree in person and number. Examples: I must keep my cool. You must keep your money. John said he drove home that night. Ann likes her new apartment. The store won’t change its policy. The manager expects her staff to get along. The students demanded their grades.

The examples seem straight forward enough, but here are some examples I’ve seen in manuscripts I’ve edited. (1) A parent saw their child in trouble. (2) You have the person who learns from their experience. (3) An individual knows their own needs.

In each of the three examples above, the noun is singular and the pronoun is plural. Chicago Manual of Style, the book publishing standard, requires the noun and pronoun agree. A good writer will take on the challenge and rewrite the sentence to make that happen.

Here are a few more tips to improve your use of nouns and pronouns.

  • Use who and whoever when you can substitute he, she, they, I, or we. Examples: Who was promoted? Whoever wrote that?
  • Use whom and whomever when you can substitute him, her, them, me, or us as the object of the verb or the object of the preposition. Examples: Whom did you see today? I will speak to whomever answers the phone.
  • If two nouns are  joined by the conjunction and, the pronoun referring to them is plural. Example: John and Mary co-authored their book.
  • Watch collective nouns such as team or committee or staff or jury, as these are singular words that refer to one collection of people. Example: The committee took its break.
  • And, in general, avoid sexist language when possible. Examples: staffed instead of manned or firefighter instead of firemen.

Of course, how you use the language can depend on what you’re writing. For example, if your character uses sexist language, you need to write the character’s dialogue that way. If you’re writing a business book, you need to be mindful of sexism. But, in general, the tips I offer here should help you with the common use of nouns and pronouns.

Happy writing!

10 Things You Need to do to Successfully Self-publish

July 10, 2013

Most authors know to stay away from vanity presses–the ones that take your money and publish your book as is. But few authors think about self-publishing being the ultimate in vanity publishing. Instead, they write the book, insert the text into some publishing program, list the book online, and expect the book to sell itself.

There are some self-publishing success stories (The Celestine Prophecy, What Color is Your Parachute?, The Christmas Box), but success comes with a lot of hard work after the book is written. Here are ten things you need to do to have a shot at becoming a self-publishing success.

  1. Educate yourself and have a plan. Publishing is not dream fulfillment. It is business, and it is a competitive business, so read books on publishing, take classes, join associations of publishers and learn from others’ experiences.
  2. Study the competition. I recently heard there are 16,000 books written about President Lincoln. Browse the online bookstores and see how many books are written on your subject. Then decide how you can make your book stand out by offering something new, better, more, or different.
  3. Write what people want to read. Hard as it is to accept, few people care about your opinion or life experiences. They want to be entertained or educated, and your book needs to satisfy that want.
  4. Think marketing every minute. Before you publish your book, have a marketing plan that starts with identifying your reader and how you can reach that target market. Blog? Articles? Seminars? Classes? Corporate training? Bundle with other authors’ books? Book signings or events? Trade shows?
  5. Hire a professional book editor. You know what you want to say in your book, therefore you are not qualified to edit your manuscript because you’ll see what should be there rather than what actually is there. Avoid hiring English teachers, avid readers, friends, etc. because as willing as these folks are to help, they’re not book editors. Be sure the editor you hire follows the Chicago Manual of Style, the book publishing standard.
  6. Create a catchy title. The title needs to be short and clear. Alfred Hitchcock preferred one-word titles for his films and people remember them!
  7. Hire a book cover designer. The purpose of the front cover is attract the reader/buyer to your book. Your book is competing with thousands of others in the marketplace, so hire a book cover designer (as opposed to a general graphic designer) to create a dynamite cover for you.
  8. Make the book interior inviting. Your designer can help you with font choice, layout, folio, etc.
  9. Price your book competitively. When doing step #2, make note of the prices of the books you’ll be competing with. You’ll know how much you can sell the book for, then do the math to see how many books you’ll need to sell before you start making a profit after paying all your self-publishing and marketing expenses.
  10. Promote your book at every opportunity. Nobody cares about your book as much as you do, so you need to be enthusiastically looking for every opportunity to get your book in front of your target market. Marketing never stops as long as you have a book to sell.

Now you have ten things you need to do to successfully self-publish. Remember that only you can write what you write, and your readers are waiting.

Happy writing!


Ten Business Writing Mistakes to Avoid

July 8, 2013

Whether you’re writing a letter, memo, email, or report, you’ll want to be aware of these ten common business writing mistakes so you can avoid them and show off your clear writing talent.

  1. Using too many words. Create shorter messages by being concise. How do you do that? Avoid unnecessary words and don’t repeat yourself.
  2. Using jargon. Every business has its own jargon–words and phrases unique to that business. If any recipients of your business writing are outside your business realm, jargon can confuse and even frustrate them.
  3. Using trite expressions. Strive to write with freshness and originality so your readers will pay attention. Trite expressions give the impression you’re either behind the times or don’t show any creativity in your work.
  4. Overusing big words. Big words confuse more than they impress. When possible, stick to short, simple words to convey your message.
  5. Forgetting to explain abbreviations. The general rule is to explain the acronym or abbreviation the first time you use it so you don’t frustrate your reader when he or she can’t figure out what the abbreviation stands for.
  6. Being condescending to your reader. Condescending language talks down to your reader as if the reader is incapable of reaching a decision or conclusion. Avoid the appearance of superiority to your reader.
  7. Being negative. The best way to sell an idea is to be optimistic about it. Addressing benefits and advantages (even in a bad news communication) will help the reader receive the message better than gloom-and-doom writing.
  8. Being too self-centered. When I teach business writing at the college, I teach using the “you” view–emphasizing the reader’s point of view. Get your reader more involved by writing more to them than about self.
  9. Forgetting the editing. Before you hit “send” in an email or put a letter or report in the mail, be sure you’ve looked it over carefully for details such as date, correct addressee, punctuation, capitalization,  one idea per paragraph, spelling, typos, etc. You risk sending the message that you are careless and irresponsible if you don’t.
  10. Overdoing your messages. It’s so easy to send an email, but is it necessary? Do you need a written record or will a phone call handle it? Before you invest the time in writing a business document, make sure it needs to be written at all.

Now that you have ten business writing mistakes to avoid, I hope you’ll consider them in both your day jobs and your writing careers.

Happy writing!

Consider Writing an Essay

July 1, 2013

Sometimes we get so caught up in writing books and articles that we overlook the value of writing a good essay.

Essays are records of reactions to and interpretations of experiences. Articles and books typically offer information, instruction, facts (even fiction writers have to get the facts straight for their stories to be believable). Essays, however, allow the writer to engage in mentally toying with facts while exploring various ideas.

Here are some things essays can do for you.

  • Record your reaction to something you witnessed.
  • Explain something you saw or experienced.
  • Analyze your experience.
  • Argue against your initial reaction to something.
  • Persuade your reader to accept your reaction or interpretation.
  • Communicate your insights on what you see or experience in life.
  • Allow you to write personally rather than impersonally.

When you write your essays, consider these components.

  • You need a main point (also called a thesis).
  • You can use any number of devices to establish your thesis–definition, explanation, argument, description, for example.
  • You get to decide whether you’re going to use an objective or subjective approach in writing your essay.
  • You get to choose if you want to appeal to your reader mentally, emotionally, or both.

Here are some other ideas to help you in writing your essay.

  • Brainstorming/Clustering (to take inventory of what you know)
  • Adding details (to decide what additional information you need to fill in any gaps)
  • Deleting details (to decide what information is irrelevant)

The next time you need a break from writing articles or books or whatever you typically write, consider writing an essay. It may open all sorts of creativity for you.

Happy writing!