Writing With Style

All writers want to write with style. However, your publisher thinks of style less in terms of crafting words with fashion and flair and more in terms of communicating with good grammar and consistency. iStock_000003403361MediumHere are a few resources you will need as you polish your prose for publication:

1. Manual of Style:
A manual of style (MOS or MoS) is a comprehensive guide to editorial style and publishing practices. These thick books cover industry-wide or profession-wide guidelines for writing. If you are writing a book for general readership, you probably need to follow The Chicago Manual of Style. For both UK and US usage, you can turn to the New Oxford Style Manual.

If you are writing articles for newspapers or magazines, you may need The Associated Press Stylebook. If you are writing for a scientific or medical audience, you will need to use the AMA Manual of Style. Other academic fields and professions have specific manuals of style. I keep several manuals of style handy on a bookshelf near my writing desk. All of these reference books provide guidelines for grammar, citing sources and use of terms specific to that writing style. They also help you better understand the publishing process and the final layout you can expect for the piece you are writing.

2. Publisher’s Style Guide

The publishing house for your book may have its own style guide that serves as a supplement to an industry-wide manual of style. InterVarsity Press, the publisher of my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, provided me with an editorial style guide that addressed how they format parts of a book and answered specific questions about grammar, punctuation, word usage and appropriate choice of abbreviations. Remember that your publisher’s style guide can overrule a more general manual of style, so always follow your publisher’s editorial direction.

3. Style Sheet

While writing a book or an article, you might find that certain words or phrases could be spelled, capitalized, punctuated, abbreviated or used in more than one way. To keep your writing consistent, create a style sheet that tracks your own or your editor’s rules for these words and phrases. This style sheet will take precedence over the more general publisher’s style guide and the industry-wide manual of style. Make a simple template with two columns: one that lists each word or rule and one that defines the style. Fill in the template as you write or receive comments from your editor.

A style sheet also can help you achieve consistency across a series of articles for the same magazine or for each book in a trilogy. It can save you time when editing your final draft by eliminating the need to look up a given rule in a larger reference work or trying to locate a particular email from your editor. With style sheets, guides and manuals helping you handle the mechanics of writing, you will have creative energy left over for the fun part of writing, such as choosing great literary devices and playing with the rhythm of a sentence. Within the constraints of proper style, your own writing voice will emerge.

Which resources have you found most helpful for keeping your writing in style?

4 Powerful Strategies for Claiming Your Promised Land

” … Now you and all the people prepare to cross over the Jordan to the land I am giving …” (Joshua 1:1)

Photo/AnitaBrooks

Photo/AnitaBrooks

Standing on the banks of the Jordan, I look across to the other side, gazing at my “promised land.”

Perhaps you’ve been here, too. You’ve been given a vision. And you’re waiting to see your dream become a reality.

I remember the years that I spent wandering through the wilderness on the road to publication, wrestling with my doubt, fear, and unbelief. I recall the first time that I considered writing a book. It seemed impossible, doubting that I would ever see my dream fulfilled. Now, I find myself on the shore, looking across to my promised land.

But wait! How can I navigate the rough waters in front of me? The manuscript deadline? The marketing? The on-going platform challenges? What other obstacles will I face as I try to ford the river to my promised land?

I sense the enemy of my soul preparing for another onslaught of roadblocks and dead ends.

Lord, help me!

I inhale slowly—one, two, three, four. Then, I exhale, counting to seven. I inhale again, counting to eight. As I repeat this focused breathing, trying to avoid another panic attack, I relax.

An encouraging promise from God’s Word dispels my fears, “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous …” (Josh. 1:5-6 NIV).

When I read through this passage, Joshua affirms the promise of the Lord’s presence. He also repeats an exhortation: “Be strong and very courageous.”

Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (7-9)

Joshua calls attention to four powerful strategies for claiming our promised land.

  1. Obey God’s Word. After the Lord assured Joshua of His faithful presence, He also instructed him to warn the people of the importance of obeying everything He had commanded them to do.
  2. Meditate on God’s Promises. The LORD also reminded Joshua of the importance of lifting up His Word—meditating on His truths and confessing His promises day and night.
  3. Surrender fears to God. The LORD instructs Joshua to encourage the people to surrender their fears and discouragement to Him, promising to always be with them.
  4. Prepare for battle. As I look across the deep waters of the Jordan into my promised land, I read another warning about impending warfare.

Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own … the Lord your God will give you rest … but get ready for battle … (11-14).

Will I still have battles in my promised land of rest? I think this scripture gives me a clear answer to this question.

We must always be aware of our weaknesses, vulnerability, and dependence upon God. As Christian writers, we are called to lead others to claim God’s promised land, too.

So, get “ready for battle … You are to help them until the LORD gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them” (14-15).

Are you prepared to claim your promised land?

Photo/AnitaBrooks

How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells — Part 1

Nonfiction Readers Want in a BookYou can have the greatest book idea in the world, but if it won’t sell, what’s the point in writing it? Unless you simply want to leave a legacy for your family and friends with no concern for sharing the message with anyone else.

As a Christian author, I’m driven to offer lasting hope to those who might read my words. So it’s important I wisely choose the subjects, the titles, the content, the marketing plan, and the future books listed in my proposals. There’s a lot I still don’t know about this process, why some titles are purchased while others languish, but I’ve certainly picked up a few secrets. Some of them, I wish I’d known earlier. Maybe what I’ve learned will help someone else in the place I was a short time in the past.

  • The first and most important thing is choose your subject(s) wisely. But with so many books in existence, and a plethora of authors scrambling for attention, how do you find a fresh subject to write about? Here’s one of my secrets. I listen to others, but I also listen to myself. Both of my initial book titles came about that way. With First Hired, Last Fired, someone said to me, “Anyone can be replaced.” I automatically replied, “Is that really true?” Voila, the subtitle, How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market was born as Greg’s variation from my first take on the idea of being irreplaceable at work. My second title happened when I heard myself say to someone, “You know, there are things in life we learn to get through, but no matter what anyone says, we just won’t get over.” A little tweaking and tightening later, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over became a book that a lot of people say they or someone else needs to read.Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book Cover

Listen to your own conversations. What scares us? What are we complaining about? What confuses us? What aha moments do we encounter and why? What works and what doesn’t? How have we discovered hope and healing? For Christian authors, what does the Bible say that’s relevant to 21st century issues, in the here and now?

  • The second most important thing is titling. I’d say the process you use to choose a topic works as well for picking a title. What grabs you? Can you turn a cliché upside down? Is there a pithy quote you can tweak to make your own and spread the message in your topic? What do you hear yourself and others say?

For subtitling, follow the advice of Alice Crider, my former coach and agent with WordServe, “Make a promise you can keep to the readers in every subtitle.” Anytime someone offers us a solution to a big problem, we’re interested. Right?

  • For this segment, I’d conclude with the power of valuable content. Slapping a few words together will not provide opportunities to grow your career as a professional author. Do your homework by reading books on writing well. Hone your craft constantly. Connect with other professionals and barter for editing/critiquing services; look for that rare mix of honesty and encouragement. Karen Barnes Jordan deserves credit for every book of mine that’s sold. You can have the best concept in the world, but if you can’t communicate it clearly, it’s lost on potential readers and they will tune you out.

In part two, I’ll share insights about marketing and future books. No proposal worth its words will sell without showing you have great message promotions in the hopper. There’s a basic formula to writing a non-fiction book that sells, the key is in following it all the way through.

What obstacles are you hitting in your efforts to sell your projects?

Let’s Get Serious About Serials

The WordServe Water Cooler is pleased to host guest blogger Becky Doughty.

Welcome, Becky!

When I finally decided to “get serious” about my writing, I quickly discovered I had to have a platform. As so many new authors learn, platforms are hard to build, especially with fiction.

I created a website and started a blog. I found a small circle of authors who opened their ranks and let me squeeze in. We traded guest posts and gained a few more followers from each other. I blogged about my family, about my writing. I blogged about my past sins—you know, the good stuff, like witchcraft and broken marriages. That should have brought them flocking, right? I blogged about gardening and chickens and making bread and home schooling and prayer and whether or not one should blog….

EC-Collection-Cover1I created a Facebook Author page and set up my blog to automatically post there. I linked everything to Twitter, too, and created Pinterest pages with images of what my characters might look and dress like, where they might live and work.

But because I had no books published at that point, I was essentially inviting people to my fancy new restaurant and handing them menus of what they could expect to order on some ambiguous day in the future…. Then I wondered why they didn’t come back every time I announced a new dish being added to the menu.

I needed a way for my visitors to actually “sample” my wares. A serial novel.

For one year, around the 10th of each month, I blogged a 10,000 word episode of my serial novel, Elderberry Croft. Readers could “taste” my fiction for free, with a promise of more to come every time they visited.

Well, Elderberry Croft has turned out to be more than just a sampler platter on my website. It has remained one of my bestselling series and books (it now comes in a complete collection and there’s a holiday sequel, Elderberry Days) since I began publishing the episodes. It’s been my most productive method to building an eager and faithful readership.

Six Suggestions for Serious Serialists:

  1. A serial novel is not simply a novel broken up into parts. That often frustrates readers. A serial novel should be written like television episodes, each episode essentially a short story with a beginning and an end, but linked to the other episodes by a foundational storyline told over the duration of the serial, one that culminates in the final episode.
  2. Your serial novel should be the same genre in which you primarily write. It’s an excellent way to gain readers, but if you usually write historical romance and your serial novel is a dystopian sci-fi thriller, you’re going to have some disgruntled readers who come looking for more Katniss and only find Sir Liam Drake and the White Rose of Kilarney County.
  3. Write ahead. I did not always do this. Translate: There were many months I lost sleep and suffered great anguish over how I was going to pull it off.
  4. Create memorable characters and storylines, especially the main characters whose stories link the episodes. If your readers don’t care about the foundational story, one “off” episode will send them running.
  5. Post a few “extras” in between episodes to keep readers happy. In Elderberry Croft, Willow Goodhope has a thing for elderberries (imagine that!). I posted elderberry recipes and home remedies, elderberry body care products, crafts, and elderberry lore.
  6. Listen to your readers’ comments. I’m of the mindset that authors should steer clear of reviews. Reviews typically tell us more about the reader than they do about the author’s work. However, in the case of serial novels, this is a perfect opportunity to get to know what your readers like, what they want to read about, and then adjust your story accordingly!

This is a great way to publish a book. When you’ve written the final episode, gather them all up and release them in one complete collection. Voila! You have a full-length novel!

And don’t forget to take a break from “serious” now and then, and simply enjoy the journey!

What are your thoughts on serial novels? Have you ever tried to write one?

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becky-doughty-author1 Becky Doughty is the author of the best-selling Elderberry Croft series, the controversial Waters Fall, and the voice behind BraveHeart Audiobooks. Raised on the mission field among the indigenous tribes of West Papua, Indonesia, Becky’s ministry is through the written word. Her heart is for people living on the edge–that fine line where grace becomes truly amazing. Married to her champion of more than 25 years, they have three children, two of whom are starting families of their own, and they all live within a few miles of each other in Southern California. You can connect with Becky via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

 

Marketing a New Novel

Thanks to the WordServe Water Cooler for the opportunity to post about marketing efforts. I’ll touch on group marketing. My caveat to the readers: how you promote is highly personal. I was a psychologist for 25 years and many business professional principles apply to writing, e.g., you must do excellent work to continue to get referrals, or purchases in this case.

fruitcake-challenge-cover-jpgThis post is tailored to budget conscious, hybrid, and newer authors with a few releases already out. One of the advantages of having recently Indie published my novella, The Fruitcake Challenge, was that I got to see what seemed to work for me and what didn’t.

I recently posted on ACFW’s blog about cross promotional marketing and why that’s a good idea. Cross promoting should be built into your own marketing efforts. For instance, in a group publishing effort, include links to the other authors’ books in the series.

I’ve also posted about marketing for three different types of ventures including group.

Set up blog tours: Why I believe this is important (and I’d direct you to read the recent RWA RWR article about promotion.)

  1. You want to create a buzz.
  2. Readers will see if their favorite bloggers are picking up your book to read.
  3. Keeps your name in front of potential readers.
  4. May help you get on the Hot New Releases list for Amazon, which can be important.

    Blog tours also let your reading audience ENGAGE with you, which can be important. So suit up, show up, promote, and respond to commenters! If you have your own blogs  (I’m blessed to have two group blogs OvercomingwithGod.com and www.ColonialQuills.org) don’t overschedule yourself when your book launches. One to two blog visits a week works for me, for three to four months and tapering off after that. Giveaways usually help drive traffic so be prepared to give away a copy at each blog stop.

Set up a promo group: This has been the most beneficial thing I’ve been blessed with. But you have to have engaged with enough wonderful readers, reviewers, and influencers that they’d want to participate. Writing is often a lonely life. The benefits of these groups go WELL beyond any promotional efforts. These people believe in your writing and want to help you continue to do God’s work. How wonderful and humbling is that? I’ve been a member of such groups in the past for different authors and I’m grateful to now have my own bunch of pals supporting my writing efforts. Cautionary note for groups: Be fair to your fellow participants and be sure to bring in your own reader/reviewers to the group promotional page. Also, if you use Facebook, be sure to set controls so only you can approve new members.

Facebook Parties: These are a lot of FUN and help you engage with readers. You may not get you an immediate bunch of sales, but could. Don’t do this unless you can get into the spirit of things!

Radio interviews: I’m not keen on this. I can’t ever be sure, with my arthritis, how I’ll be feeling at a particular time. But if you’re able to get some spots, radio allows readers to hear your voice and your personality.

Book Signings: Another thing I dread for same reason as radio. Multi-author events do better. I do two a year—one near Christmas and another in the summer.  Paired with an event at your book’s location, this can be a blast! Last summer, I was able to do a signing at Tahquamenon Lumber Museum’s Lumberjack Festival. My “Snowed In” story in Guidepost Books, A Cup of Christmas Cheer (2013), was set in my great-grandparents log cabin, located at the museum!

Set up a private Facebook Page for the group authors. This way things that your influencers don’t really need to be bothered with are posted there.

Newsletters: These can be highly effective and reach your own primary readers to inform them of your new releases. I think a multi-author newsletter release could be amazing. Coordinating it might be a nightmare, though!

Ads: Spirit Filled Kindle is very affordable and good to use for early promotion. Book Bub is the one most hybrid authors like to use because they have an excellent rate of return, in general, but you have to do a sale in order to get the lowest price possible for their promotion. Ereader News Today is another great place for advertising with a good return on investment and with multiple options for ads.

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Carrie pro headshot B&W pm Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D. served as a psychologist for twenty-five years. She is the author of the forthcoming publications Saving the Marquise’s Granddaughter (White Rose, 2015) and The Lumberjack Ball (April, 2015). Carrie was the 2014 Family Fiction winner for short story in the Historical Genre. The Quilting Contest is now published in an anthology. The Fruitcake Challenge and Return to Shirley Plantation: A Civil War Romance were Amazon bestselling novels. Carrie also authored the short story “Snowed In” (Guidepost Books, 2013) in A Cup of Christmas Cheer. God’s Provision in Tough Times (Lighthouse of the Carolinas, July 2013) was a Selah award finalist. Carrie gives back to the writing community by serving as blog administrator for www.OvercomingWithGod.com and www.ColonialQuills.com. You can connect with Carrie via her website at www.carriefancettpagels.com.

 

All. Those. Books.

Princess in a Bubble: Sander van der Wel from Netherlands

Princess in a Bubble: Sander van der Wel from Netherlands

Recently I totted up that, of the eighty or so college students I’ve taught this year (only about a half of whom were creative-writing-emphasis English majors), a good dozen have written novels. That’s a fifteen percent. They’ve completed novels, they tell me. A couple of them have written more than one.

I haven’t read any of these novels, so I can’t say if they’re any good. Judging from the student-novelists’ writing in other contexts, they’re probably not much worse than a lot of what gets published these days, but they’re probably not masterpieces.

Whether their novels are good or not, though, it seems important that there’s all this fiction-writing going on these days beside and beneath and perhaps instead of all the assignments and tests and papers and other writing that comprise a college education. I certainly wasn’t completing novels—not even short stories—back when I was their age, and I can’t think of a single classmate who was. I’ve been speculating what all these budding—nay, blossoming—young writers might mean for the state of literature in our time and for the writing community at large.

One thing that occurs to me right off is that young people these days must feel more invited and encouraged and empowered to write and publish novels than I ever was. That’s perhaps to be expected of the self-esteem building curriculum promoted in the generations between mine and theirs. I once had my seventh grade teacher’s Little Brown Handbook thrown across the room at me for chewing gum. They, on the other hand, were told they could do pretty much anything they wanted. Consequently, not a few of them went ahead and did that—which is sort of exciting, when you think about it.

Students these days are also very motivated to write. By what? one wonders. One incentive would surely be the myriad publishing opportunities available to writers these days. Several of my students have published their work online and two have paid to have their work published by what we used to call a vanity presses. Publishing has become something anyone can do, at any stage of life, often with little or no investment of resources beyond the time it took stole from a few games of online poker.

Due_sportelli_di_libreria_con_scaffali_di_libri_di_musicaAnother motivation could be the greater variety of subgenres popular with kids nowadays. When I was young, girls read Nancy Drew as tweens, then progressed directly to the classics (Austen, the Brontës, for me Defoe and Dickens); boys who read mostly read adventure or sci-fi then stopped; and everyone liked the odd fantasy stand out like J. R. R. Tolkien. Nowadays, bookstores and libraries have separate young adult sections with whole shelves of mystery/thrillers, even more shelves of fantasies, plus equally popular subgenres we never heard of in my day: apocalyptic, dystopian, historical fiction, alternative historical fiction, cyberpunk, steampunk, contemporary, Christian contemporary, romance, LGBT romance, Amish teen romance. . . The world of fiction these days is like a map of the brain: so much stuff going on, so much new vocabulary you need to even talk about it.

Then there are the novel-writing success stories: J. K. Rowling and her napkin, Christopher Paolini writing Eragon at fifteen, the almost immediate transformation of their and other books popular with young people into big screen movies. It looks so easy nowadays, writing a book. A flick of the pen and you’re there.

I guess the thing that fascinates me most about the novelists among my students is not their license and motivation to write or even the astounding investment of time involved but the enthusiasm they must bring to the fiction-writing enterprise: to prefer it over other more age-appropriate entertainments—such as, for me at their age, hanging out with friends, cooking, reading, learning aikido, making ceramic pots, scavenging my natural and suburban surroundings for sea urchins and kumquats, sewing.

(For them, playing video games, watching YouTube, poking their cellphones? Maybe it’s that. The screen-squinching narrowness of their entertainment alternatives. Writing has become their life before they’ve even had lives, I’m supposing. Although I’d have to read their books to know for sure.)

From everything I’ve heard in the news lately, reading’s on the wane, but writing sure isn’t. Either that or the students at Christian universities like mine are way different—more creative and prolific, harder working, more hip to the possibilities out there—than their secular peers. I’m guessing they’re not all that different, though. I’m guessing my anecdotal fifteen percent of kids these days—perhaps more!—are writing books in lieu of reading them (or maybe in addition to reading them, since somebody’s got to be reading all those cyberEpiscopalian dystopian romances) and will soon be filling the shelves and movie marquees with their opuses.

It’s becoming my new writerly nightmare. Used to, bookstores scared me. All. Those. Books! All that competition for readers. Now it’s them. My students. Our kids. Our kids’ kids.

This isn’t a very encouraging post, I fear, for fellow writers—especially those of a certain age—so let me just close with a little remediation in the self-esteem training some of us missed out on: Don’t. Give. Up. If they can do it, we can too!

Writing with a Hook

What will make your book fly off the shelves? A good story, high quality writing or a strong Fish-hookvoice won’t help you unless readers know your book exists.  And for that, you need such an interesting premise that readers around the country are chatting up your book. In other words, you need a hook.

Yes, the dreaded hook word. I’ve heard about for years, but it seemed rather elusive. But recently, I’ve been studying my bookshelves to find some broad categories of hooks, and it’s getting clearer. Here are a few concepts I’ve found.

  • Give beloved fairytales, historical figures, novels or paintings center or side stage. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Sherlock Holmes), While Beauty Slept (Sleeping Beauty), The Girl with a Pear Earring (Vermeer’s painting), Dear Mr. Knightley (a love for all things Jane Austen) and The Constant Princess (Henry VIII’s first wife) are all examples. Readers want to spend time with favorite characters and art.
  • Tie the story together with a hobby. Ordinary hobbies such as knitting and cooking can certainly draw in readers who enjoy knitting or cooking themselves, but if you can find a twist, this will make it stand out from the crowd. For example, in The Language of Flowers, two characters with a love of gardening send each other messages not with notes, but with flowers, each delivery carrying a symbolic meaning only they understood. Unique hobbies can give your story a little flash as well – i.e., custom shoe design or wild life rescue.
  • Allow readers to vicariously do something they’ve always wanted to do. I bought Forgotten because it was about a character who, after being stranded in Africa for several months, returns to find that her job, her romance and her apartment are all gone. She’ll have to recreate her life. Spoiler alert: the book did not live up to its promise of the heroine of getting a life makeover, but that promise is what made me buy it. What other deep seated desires will connect you to readers?
  • Create zinger beginnings or zinger twists. When an old man in the prologue of The Lost Wife tells a wedding guest she looks familiar, and at last figures out that she was his wife just before the Nazis invaded Prague, that certainly sent readers to Amazon’s checkout cart (me included). In Half Brother, a boy arrives home to find his mother holding a baby chimpanzee, and that’s interesting enough to catch a reader’s attention. Burying a zinger in the middle of the book is a harder sell, since it’s not something readers will see when they browse. But if it’s good enough, it can certainly get people talking about your book.
  • Start with vulnerable characters at risk. The little boy locked in the cupboard in Sarah’s Key is a great example of this. But even more ordinary risks – a teen without adult love or support (Dandelion Summer) or a Puritan woman being coerced to marry a man she doesn’t trust (Love’s Pursuit) are good draws. Readers only need to hear the concept to feel they need to see the character to safety.
  • Create a character the world depends on. High stakes Tom Clancy type novels where the character must stop nuclear bombs from detonating or bring an end to a plague outbreak, or fantasy novels where the hero/heroine holds the key to the coming war (Lord of the Rings, Blue Sword) are examples.
  • Begin the story with profound emotion readers can connect with. Remember, readers don’t know the story or the characters yet, so it must be something they can easily connect with. In Coldwater Revival, the heroine is apparently stillborn at birth, but begins to breathe with the loving attention she receives from her father. In If You Find me, a girl sees her father for the first time a decade after she was kidnapped.

Think about what made you pick up your last book, or even better, what had you chatting up the book to every reader you knew? Once you’ve found the quality that made it so compelling, you’ve probably found the hook.