Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Five Mistakes I Find as an Editor

Mistake #1: Writers don't place a comma between independent clauses separated with a conjunction. Independent clauses are clauses that can stand on their own as sentences, e.g., "He took the 405 freeway to work, and he exited at the Getty Museum." Because both "He took the 405 freeway to work" and "he exited at the Getty Museum" are independent clauses—meaning they can stand alone as sentences, you must, must, place a comma before the conjunction, "and." This is probably the biggest, most common mistake I find in manuscripts and books. Don't make it. It's a very easy punctuation rule to remember.
Mistake #2: Writers place commas between independent clauses and dependent clauses. This is probably the second most common mistake I see. A dependent clause is one that cannot stand on its own as a sentence. Let's take the above example, and change it just a little: "He took the 405 freeway to work and exited at the Getty Museum." I took the second "he" out. That makes the clause after "and" a dependent clause, because "exited at the Getty Museum" cannot stand alone as a sentence. It is dependent upon the first clause to be understood; thus, no comma should precede the "and."
Of course, there are other places you need—and don't need—commas, but this isn't meant to be a comprehensive study of the comma. If in doubt, look up comma placement in The Chicago Manual of Style or other style manual.
Mistake #3: Writers don't know their homonyms. In just the last few weeks alone, I've seen characters who were unphased, waiving to people, and peaking out windows. The writer's spellchecker should have alerted her to the fact that "unphased" isn't even a word. She meant "unfazed." To waive means to relinquish, to set aside. The word this author wanted was "waving." And a peak is the highest point of something; one peeks, not peaks, out a window.
Please, unless you are 100 percent sure you are using the right homonym, look it up. The wrong choice could have your characters doing some pretty strange things!
Mistake #4: Writers rely on their spellcheckers. This is a big no-no. If ewe think you're spellchecker will fined awl yore miss steaks, your wrong. That sentence went through my spellchecker just fine, and there are no less than eight errors in it ("ewe" should be "you"; "you're" should be "your"; "fined" should be "find"; "awl" should be "all"; "yore" should be "your"; "miss" and "steaks" should be "mistakes": and finally, "your" should be "you're"). Homonym spelling errors are the most common type of spelling error I find. Do not rely on your spellchecker. It will let you down every time.
Mistake #5: Writers who make errors in syntax. For example, look at this sentence: "I saw a deer driving to work today." Uh, no—you didn't, unless there are some very talented deer in your neighborhood! The correct sentence structure is, "I saw a deer while driving to work today," or, "While driving to work today, I saw a deer." Please, don't put the deer in the driver's seat!
Here's another example: "If your toddler won't drink milk, warm it in the microwave for a few moments." Warm what in the microwave? You've got a choice of antecedents here. Heaven help the toddler if you make the wrong choice! The correct structure would read, "If your toddler won't drink milk, warm the milk in the microwave for a few moments."

Of course, if you and I were having a conversation, we'd probably understand each other if we made these syntax errors. But you can't count on that when people are reading your words. Make sure you have them in the correct order so your meaning cannot be misconstrued.

I cannot list every error I run across while editing manuscripts. To do so would fill a book. But if you watch for these top five mistakes in your writing, your manuscript will be a lot more polished, and you can be more confident about submitting it to your publisher.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

General Rules About Abbreviations

This post outlines basic rules about abbreviations. There is a bewildering variety of standards, which will be explained in more detail in subsequent posts about specific categories of abbreviation, but the following guidelines cover an array of general types.
Use of abbreviation varies widely depending on the formality of writing employed for a given publication or a piece of content. Generally, the more formal the content, the less likely it is that abbreviation will be used, except in multiple references to terms commonly abbreviated or in tabular matter and other graphic elements.
In formal writing, journalistic contexts, and some informal content as well, terms are spelled out on first reference, followed by abbreviation in parentheses, as in “The Global Positioning System (GPS) uses satellite signals to fix the location of a radio receiver on or above the earth’s surface.” Thereafter, the abbreviation is used exclusively.
However, this tradition applies to single pieces of content, so that—unless, for example, an entire publication is devoted to articles about GPS technology—two articles in a publication that mention it will independently introduce the full spelled-out version of an abbreviation on first reference. Note, too, that specialized publications will likely abbreviate all references to widely used terms in that specialty.
Abbreviations consisting entirely of uppercase letters (including NY, US, FBI, and NASA) or that end with an uppercase letter (as in PhD) are not followed by a period; some publications retain periods in these types of abbreviations (at least two-letter ones), but that style is in decline. Abbreviations that end with a lowercase letter (a.m., Dr., i.e., etc.) are generally followed by a period.
Acronyms (abbreviations of phrases using initial letters of each word to form new word, such as AIDS) are almost invariably styled in all capital letters, though some, such as laser and scuba, have lost their uppercase form, and Nasdaq is treated as a proper noun. Initialisms (abbreviations of phrases using initial letters of each word, each of which is pronounced, such as FBI) are also generally capitalized. When using an article before an abbreviation, choose a or an depending on the first sound, not the first letter, of the abbreviation: “an NBA [en-bee-ay] team” but “a NASA [nasa] program.”
Avoid ampersands except in proper names (“Johnson & Johnson”) and in widely known abbreviations (“R&D,” for “research and development”).

Friday, November 11, 2016

Did you ever hear of a portmanteau?

A portmanteau (pɔːrtˈmænt/, /ˌpɔːrtmænˈt/; plural portmanteaus or portmanteaux /-ˈtz/) or portmanteau word is a linguistic blend of words, in which parts of multiple words, or their phones (sounds), and their meanings are combined into a new word. A portmanteau word fuses both the sounds and the meanings of its components, as in smog, coined by blending smoke and fog, or motel, from motor and hotel. In linguistics, a portmanteau is defined as a single morph that represents two or more morphemes.
The definition overlaps with the grammatical term contraction, but contractions are formed from words that would otherwise appear together in sequence, such as do and not to make don't, whereas a portmanteau word is formed by combining two or more existing words that all relate to a singular concept which the portmanteau describes. A portmanteau also differs from a compound, which does not involve the truncation of parts of the stems of the blended words. For instance, starfish is a compound, not a portmanteau, of star and fish; whereas a hypothetical portmanteau of star and fish might be stish.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

“Species” and Its Descendants

An assortment of diverse words stem from the Latin word species, which had two distinct meanings, one of which is “a particular kind, sort, or type”—the pertinent sense for the following terms.
special: This word, coming into English from Old French, originally meant “better than ordinary” but later acquired the additional senses of “marked by a distinguishing quality” and “limited in function, operation, or purpose”; the noun specialist carries the latter connotation in describing someone with a narrow set of skills. The variant especial, taken from an Old French term meaning “important” or “preeminent”—treated in Modern French as spécial—originally had the same meaning as special but later acquired the additional senses of “particular” and “peculiar,” as well as “intimate.” The adverbial form, especially, is now much more common than the adjectival form.
specie: This technical term for coins, as opposed to paper currency, stems from the phrase “in specie,” meaning “in the actual or real form,” which in turn derives from an identical-looking phrase in Latin that means “in kind.” (The notion is that coins actually have monetary value, whereas paper currency merely represents such value.)
species: Species denotes a distinct type of life-form, but this biological sense was preceded by multiple now-rare connotations such as “appearance,” “notion,” and “resemblance.” Originally, it was associated with a classification in logic.
specific: This word, meaning “particular,” “precise,” or “special,” is an antonym of generic, just as, in biology, a species is more, well, specific than a genus. (Like species and specific, genus and generic are related.)
specious: This term has undergone the most deviation from its original sense, which is “fair” or “pleasing.” (It stems indirectly from the Latin word species by way of speciosus, which means “good-looking” or “beautiful.”) Now, it pertains to superficial attractiveness or false validity or value.
spice: This unexpected descendant of special, which denotes plant products used to season foods, derived from a later sense of species in Latin of “goods or wares,” pertaining to spices as a commodity. The additional, centuries-old, figurative sense of “something that provides relish or zest” survives, but the meanings “sample” and “trace” do not.
The second sense of the Latin term species, derived from the verb specere, is discussed in this post.
Daily Writing Tips, Posted: 30 Sep 2016 09:09 PM PDT

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Self-publishing; Is the Stigma Disappearing? Should It?

            Self-publishing has always had a stigma attached. Why is this? Mostly because we were taught in school that anything published has been thoroughly checked and edited by “those who knew more than we did, specialists of some kind.” That may have been true of our textbooks, which were written and edited by specialists in their fields.
            As we became adults and, at least some of us, became teachers, writers and editors, we tried our hand at publishing and found out how hard it was to attract the eyes of a publisher, let alone land a publishing contract. Some of us continued to butt our heads against that publishing wall until we were, at least, moderately successful. Some gave up, thinking it wasn’t worth the effort. The third segment saw the modern availability of publishing technology as a way to go around the traditional publishing roadblock. It afforded low cost publishing (CreateSpace and many others), free way to get public attention (Amazon—you and several million other authors) and you kept all the profit and didn’t have a garage full of inventory and shipping to handle. A sweet deal, right?
            Not so fast. You are a specialist in the subject you are writing about, right? You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library, right? (No offense to public libraries here.) You had someone besides your best friend or your grandmother edit your work, right? You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon, right? You have a brand, right? A what?
            Let’s look at these issues in the order they are listed:
1)      You are a specialist in the subject about which you are writing. You don’t have to have an advanced degree in the topic about which you are writing unless you a claiming your work to be the final word on the topic. Be sure you acknowledge somewhere your limitations.
2)      You researched the topic extensively beyond your bookshelf and the local public library. There is nothing wrong with using the resources you have on hand—just don’t stop there. Your local librarian will give you suggestions as to where to get more information on your topic. Beware of the internet. Use it with caution. Much information is there, unfiltered and unchecked—anybody can put anything there, whether or not it is valid.
3)      You had someone besides your best friend or your grandmother edit your work. Your best friend and your grandmother are fine people and they have your best interest at heart. However, they are probably not editors and, even if they are, they are biased to see your work as better than it actually is. Choose someone, better to ask two or three people, who are experienced writers, editors or English teachers to read your work critically. You should welcome criticism—it means you are on the way to having a quality piece of work.
4)      You have a marketing and business plan, which goes beyond Amazon. Amazon is great at what it does. It makes works available to anyone who can get near a computer and has a few bucks to buy a book. But that’s as far as it goes. How will anyone know your book is there, except your family and friends who have heard you talk about it every chance you get? They won’t. You are competing with at least a hundred million other titles, admittedly not all on your topic, but that won’t make your book any easier to find.
Your marketing plan will provide a roadmap for you to follow to get attention for your book and should include some or all of the following:
a)      Your website,
b)      Your blog,
c)      Your other social media sites (Facebook, twitter, Tumblr, Instagram)
d)     More traditional materials, such as bookmarks, business cards, postcards, flyers,
e)      Radio and TV spots,
f)       Other signings and speaking engagements.
5)      What is this brand of which you speak? Your brand is your personae as a writer, specifically as the writer of your particular book on your particular topic. You must make yourself known by what you have written. Everything in the list immediately above works together to brand you. Acknowledge it, work with it, use it.
Does this sound like more than you are capable of doing? It may be. It is a lot of work. Even the large publishers require more promotional work from their authors than they used to. It’s a fact of life.
Now, what about the stigma? It isn’t as bad as it once was. Does that mean self-published works are better than they were at one time? Yes and no. Yes, some experienced authors are going the self-publishing route. What they learned from being associated with higher quality editing and their natural maturity as writers has paid off, for them as writers and us as readers.
Yet, in large part, one often can spot a self-published book within the first page or two. Layout is strange, sometimes disjointed with lots of white where there should be print; typos, spelling and grammatical errors appear with distracting regularity. (CreateSpace does not edit the work). Yes, you do see typos in works published by the large publishers but nowhere near as many.
There you have it, my take on self-publishing. You self-publish at your own risk. If you are hoping for the next best seller, better get a large publisher.

Published In: Outdoors Unlimited August/September 2016