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Praise for King of the Roses

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FREE! I’m taking advantage of my Kindle Select free days for KING OF THE ROSES next week–Monday through Friday, 9/26-9/30. If you download, please write a short review! Reviews are lifeblood on Amazon.

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What’s your favorite punctuation mark? And the one you hate?

The five basic comma rulesHere’s a great article for you punctuation police to agree or argue with. My personal favorite is the comma. Used intelligently, commas are wonderful signposts that tell readers which part of a sentence they’ve stumbled into—and then help them make their way out again. I like commas so much I wrote an entire post about them.

If comma rules confuse you, take heart! If improving reader comprehension is your goal, there are really only a few “rules” to remember:

Use commas:

  • After introductory elements.

This is the one most people seem to know about. But I argue that commas are really only necessary when the introductory element gets long enough that readers may miss the lane change back into the main part of the sentence.

So:

After a moment he left the room. (No comma needed unless you want to emphasize a pause.)

But:

After he spent  an extended vacation in a remote village in the Alps, where did he go next? (The comma lets readers  know that “where” begins a new clause.)

  • Around “interrupters,” including non-essential modifiers.More comma rules

I think this one is the most confusing for many writers.

Short interrupters can be easy to spot:

Jane, however, did not go with him to the Alps.

Non-essential modifiers are elements that can be lifted out of the sentence without compromising its meaning or purpose.

The old car, which was a lot like the one my grandfather used to drive, had been repainted bright blue. (The rule here, and it is a rule, is either two commas or none. You need that second comma to signal the return to the main clause.)

Here’s an example of an essential modifier, one that can’t be lifted out without turning the sentence into nonsense. (I often see commas inserted into constructions like this.)

Author Stephen King wrote a lot of books.

Note: no commas. Now try it without the essential modifier, in this case an appositive:

Author wrote a lot of books.

  • Direct address (this is also a rule, not an option):Do you need the Oxford Comma?

Hi, Mr. Smith.

Did you buy bread at the store, Louise?

Louise, did you buy the bread?

  • Before “and,” “but,” etc., if you have more than two items. (This is the Oxford or serial comma Pinker discusses in the article I’ve linked to, and his examples of the power of this punctuation mark are good ones.)

If you have only two items linked by “and” or “but,” you have a compound and don’t need a comma, as in this sentence (and note the comma after the introductory clause).

  • Before the “and” or “but” if you’re joining two complete sentences.

I’d argue this is a judgment call, but again, as in this sentence, judicious use of the comma in a compound sentence like this one can provide valuable information about which part of the sentence a reader has ventured into.

{Note commas after the introductory element and around interrupters in this sentence. Commas can keep those elements distinct, so that they make sense.)

That’s five “rules” to absorb—not really so many. Rule Number Six: if one of those five rules doesn’t apply, DON’T INSERT A COMMA. No commas between subjects and their verbs, no commas after “and” or “but,” and so forth. List the five rules and check your questionable comma to see whether one of these applies*:

  • After introductory elements
  • Around interrupters
  • In direct address
  • Before “and” or “but” in a list of three or more items
  • Before the “and” or “but” in a compound sentence (two complete sentences joined with a coordinating conjunction like “and” or “but”**).Check the five basic comma rules

*There are some “conventional” rules for commas that don’t really affect readers’ comprehension, such as the comma that should follow the name of a state (“Austin, Texas, was his home.”) or the ones before and after the year in dates. Any handbook will answer your questions about those minor comma uses.

**There are actually a number of coordinating conjunctions in addition to “and” and “but,” and the rule applies to them as well, but I didn’t want to muddy the waters too much. The other coordinating conjunctions you’re likely to use include “for,” “nor,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.”

 

 

 

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Filed under correct grammar, Editing, grammar, grammar rules, Learning to write, Myths and Truths, punctuation, self editing, style, Writing

What To Do When You Sit Down To Pitch Your Novel In-Person

Good practical (and empathetic) advice on pitching from agent Carly Watters! I’ve had good luck recently from listing about eight plot points to keep me on track. No one seems to mind if I use a page of notes. What about you? What techniques do you use to make your pitch sessions work?

Carly Watters, Literary Agent Blog

After attending conferences around North America for the past 6 years I’ve seen an array of pitching techniques. Some good. Some…not so good. I get it. It’s not easy to pitch your book (your creative project that’s been on your mind for months if not years) to someone sittingin front of you, especially when the stakes are so high for you personally.

Agents can sense thedetermination and fear in the room during pitch sessions. It’s honestly palpable and we can feel your energy.

I find pitch sessions draining and galvanizingat thesame time. Having a new project pitched to me every 7-10 minutes is a lot to wrap my head around and sometimes they bleed into one another. And depending on how conference organizers set things up I could be sitting there for up to 2 hours at a time.

When you sit down:

Relax. Then tell me why you’re sitting…

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5 Legal Terms Every Author Should Know…

We never hear this enough! Thanks, Chris!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Extract from an article by Writer and Lawyer Helen Sedgwick:

What is the worst mistake an indie author can make?

A bad book cover? A poorly edited manuscript? A hokey website?

No. It’s losing control over your work.legal terms

Pause and Read the Fine Print

Your work is valuable property, just like your car or home. You wouldn’t hand over your car keys to a stranger you met on the internet. You wouldn’t let someone with a slick website move into your guest room. Yet, every day, writers click ACCEPT to contracts with self-publishing companies that take too much control over the author’s work.

Why? Because they can’t bring themselves to read the fine print.

If you are like most people, online contracts with all those legal terms look like 5000 words run through a blender. My goal is to show you where and what to look for, so you can…

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Do You Need the Oxford Comma? See What You Think!

Do you need the Oxford comma?Here’s a discussion of that often maligned—or at least, often ignored—punctuation mark, the Oxford or serial comma. Disclosure: I believe in the Oxford comma and never leave home without a bagful.

However, do note that when you have only two items in a series (a compound), you DO NOT need a comma before the coordinating conjunctions (usually “and” or “but”). So sayeth Virginia. What sayeth you?

(BTW, if you haven’t encountered the Freelancers’ Union, you might want to take a look. They provide support for independent contractors and single proprietors of all stripes!)

Here’s an extra comma, in case you’re out! Do you need the Oxford Comma?

 

 

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On Writing, from Joyce Carol Oates: A new interview

Stack of many booksCheck out this rich interview with a great writer!Which of her books have you read? Which do you admire, and why?

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InDesign Beginner’s Cheat Sheet: Finishing Up, Part 2

Three books fanned open from aboveIn this post, some final InDesign formatting must- and should-dos as you prepare to create the pdf of your print edition for proofing and upload to Ingram and CreateSpace.

Click images for larger versions. Click here for a complete list of posts in the InDesign Beginner’s Cheat Sheet series.

Removing Master Formatting from Chapter Opening Pages

The experts in book-design informed me that the opening page of each chapter should NOT display the formatting I incorporated into the masters that control the appearance of each page. In other words, no page numbers, no running heads.

A chapter-opening page with running heads not removed

The running heads and page numbers need to be removed from this pags. (Note that this spread is selected in the Pages panel to the left.)

Fortunately, it’s easy to remove these.

Select a chapter-opening page in the Pages panel by clicking on it. If you want to see that particular page on your screen, double-click. If you want to see the whole spread, choose View>Fit Spread in Window.

Go to Layout>Pages>Apply Master to Pages.

Layout>Pages menu in InDesign

You’ll get a box that tells you which page you’re about to act on; the box defaults to your “A-master,” or main master. However, the other option, available through the familiar arrow on the left, is “None.”

Choose “None” and “Apply” to remove the running heads and page numbers from the targeted page.

Page in InDesign with master/ running heads removed

You do have to repeat this move for each chapter. If you’re working chapter by chapter, as I do, you can make removing the formatting part of your “placing” routine.

(Remember that you can make universal changes on master elements. If you decide you don’t like the font of your running heads or the placement of your page numbers, change these elements on the masters by double-clicking on the masters to display them. Your changes will appear on every page in your manuscript to which the master is applied.)

Refining your Widows and Orphans

You will need to make a choice regarding widow/orphan control. Just as in Word, you can choose the “Keep Option” of eliminating widows and orphans or allowing them. (Your “Keep Options” are available in the menu on the left side of the Paragraph Styles Options dialogue box.)

InDesign "Keep Options" box.

Some book designers whose web sites I’ve visited argue that the “square-page” look you create when you allow widows and orphans is just as acceptable as the sometimes-shorter/sometimes-longer look you’ll get if you insist that every lonely line get sucked up into the previous page or pushed to the next one.

This is your individual choice. Allowing widows and orphans adds a step to your formatting. But this is the choice I’ve made: for the square-page look, where all pages are the same length.

When you consider that single lines of dialogue standing by themselves at the top or bottom of a page are considered standard, it’s hard to see what’s wrong with a single line of text in either position.

Page in InDEsign with single line at bottom.

I’ve decided I’m okay with this. . . .

Page in InDesign with single line of text at top

. . . And this.

However, even the advocates of a square page don’t like very short orphans (or widows—these appear to be used differently by different people) at the top of a new page. No one- or two-word lines!

So if you do opt to allow widows and orphans, you will need to edit to eliminate egregious overflows of this sort.

If you’re formatting for someone else, working with text that’s not your own, you have to have some conversations about how to address this problem—because the fix I use requires editing the text. It’s possible that professionals use minute adjustments of leading and “tracking” and “kerning”—adjusting the space between lines and between words and letters—to push text around. But that seems risky to me. It would be easy for us beginners to end up with paragraphs that are visibly out of kilter.

Hence, I go for a comparatively easy fix.

If you’ve ever had to hit a particular page-length requirement, you probably already know this trick.Happy that InDesign is working

Say you have an extra line at the top of a page that you consider too short.

Scan the preceding page (or sometimes, pages) for a paragraph with just one or two words on the final line.

Find a cut in that paragraph to eliminate the final line.

Cheating?

Well, this IS the “Beginner’s CHEAT Sheet.” green smiley happy

If this is not your book, and you think this is a viable option, you’d need to clear each cut with the author, or perhaps allow him or her to suggest the cuts. Because there are likely to be a good many such decisions to be made in a long book, you would need to plan for this time investment.

Note one advantage of working chapter by chapter, as I do, instead of placing an entire book in one file. Changes made on the first or second page of a placed file affect every page thereafter in that file. So eliminating an orphan on page two may create one on page six. If you work chapter by chapter, this effect is limited to just that one chapter. If you later decide you want to edit a paragraph in Chapter 3, for any reason, you won’t subsequently have to go through the entire book from Chapter 3 on to correct effects your simple early choice has caused.

Ligatures

According to Wikipedia, “In writing and typography, a ligature occurs where two or more graphemes or letters are joined as a single glyph.” (This article is actually quite interesting!) The ligatures you can allow will most commonly be those in which “f” combines with “l” or “i.” Allowing ligatures, which the experts recommend, involves checking only a single box under “Basic Character Formatting” in the “Paragraph Styles Options” box, which you can open by double-clicking on the name of the style in the Paragraph Styles panel, usually housed on the right of your workspace.

InDesign Ligature option box

You’re almost ready to create your pdf and proof.

Next time: some bonus stuff you will want to know, and generating a pdf for Ingram or CreateSpace.

 

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