self-publishing

***Bank Holiday Sale – 20% Off*** #editing #selfpublishing

specialoffer(1)

To celebrate a rather windy and rainy August Bank Holiday (at least here in the UK) I am offering clients a special 20% discount for any services booked from an enquiry made before Friday 31st August for September and October.

summer rain

Just a typical ‘summer’ bank holiday in the south east of England!

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re thinking of self-publishing or you might be thinking of sending out your work to agents and publishers. You’ve spent hours writing. You’re proud of your work, but nervous about how it will be received. You’ve spent time revising and polishing when you could have been doing other things. If you’re self-publishing, you may have already paid out for a professionally designed book cover. You really need to start making some money on this project. So you don’t need the extra expense of an editor do you? Well, yes, you probably do.

You’ve written your masterpiece. You’ve had family and friends read it; they’ve pointed out a few typos but have told you it’s wonderful and that you should publish or send it out to agents. So that’s what you do next, right? Well, possibly – if your friends and family are completely impartial and will tell you the honest truth. And if you are completely sure that you’ve managed to catch every typo and grammatical error in your copy. And if you’re one hundred per cent sure that there’s nothing that can be improved, corrected and enhanced by a completely impartial, professional eye – by someone who edits as their job and whose reputation depends on how well they do that job.

You need an editor because not only will you not see all the typos and grammatical errors (and there will be lots of those), but you will be too invested in your work to see it impartially. You know your characters and your plot inside out. You know the sequence of events and why and how things happen. And this is where the problem lies. You can’t ‘un-know’ all of that, so you can’t see the flaws in plot, in structure, in characterisation. You can’t read your book from beginning to end the way a reader will. And if there are flaws and inconsistencies, if there is more than the odd typo, then your readers, if you publish without having had a thorough edit, will be happy to point them out in reviews.

bad-review

I’ve self-published. I understand how attached you are to your work. I know how horrible it is to send that work to someone else and have them criticise it, however constructively. However, I also know that this process is far less painful than sending your precious work out there, warts and all, to have those warts picked over by readers and reviewers.

So the question is not ‘Can I afford to hire an editor?’ but ‘Can I afford not to?’

And if you’re considering making that step, then do get in touch. My offer means that if you request a quote and a sample edit before this Friday, 31st August, and you go on to make a booking, then the cost of your edit will be discounted by 20%. So a combined edit/proofread will be £3.60/$4.80 per thousand words. This comprises of an edit for spelling, grammar, sentence structure, flow, characterisation, continuity, plot consistency and style. I will also correct any typos, grammar errors and spellings. I use the track changes facility in Word and will provide you with two copies of the edit: Edit 1 shows all changes made so you can trace what I have done, Edit 2 is a clean copy with all changes accepted – this will show you how the manuscript will read if you accepted all the changes that I’ve made. Having both copies means that you can easily see the difference the changes will make, while still having the option to choose whether or not you want to make those changes. You can go through Edit 1 accepting or rejecting each change as you see fit. As well as the edits, I will write a detailed report focusing on plot, structure, characterisation, pace, setting and style, making suggestions for any changes. An 80,000 word manuscript will now cost £288/$384, a saving of £72.00/$96.00.

If you would like to book an edit followed by a separate proofread, the discounted cost is £4.40/$5.80 per thousand words.

Two edits of your manuscript followed by a separate proofread costs £6.00/$8.00 per thousand words.

Still unsure? Have a look at my testimonials. And you’ll get a free sample edit of your first 1500 words before you commit to anything, so you can be completely sure that my editing services are right for you.

Do get in touch via the contact page, send an email to alisonewilliams@sky.com, or give me a call on 07891 065 012.

Have a lovely weekend!

weekend

 

 

Improving the reputation of indies #wwwblogs #self-publishing #indieauthors

enoch press self-publishing about us page

I was rather overwhelmed by the reaction to last week’s post regarding self-publishing and the snobbery that some have towards it. You can read the post here. The many comments made showed that, despite many stories of self-publishing success, some writers are still treated as if what they do isn’t ‘proper’ writing. Self-publishing obviously hasn’t shrugged off its reputation for poor writing and editing. Which is a shame, because there are some fabulous self-published books out there.

However, while I support self-published authors and do encourage readers everywhere not to have pre-conceived ideas, I will concede that there are self-published books out there that aren’t up to standard – as well as poorly written and poorly edited traditional and independently published books. The difference seems to be that if you are published by a publisher, however great or however bad, there is still kudos attached to that, whereas indie writers still have to fight for respect.

So what can indie writers do to improve the reputation of independent publishing?

Master your craft

Yes, you need an imagination. Yes, you need to have stories to tell. But you need to learn how to convey those stories to your audience. How can you do this?

  • Read – and read lots and lots and lots. Reading other people’s writing is a key way to improve your own writing.
  • Get advice – you need to be brave and show your work to other people. And not just friends and family. You need people who will be honest with you. Look on sites such as Goodreads for beta readers or join a writing group.
  • Redraft, redraft, redraft – your first draft won’t be good enough, however good a writer you are. Don’t just write a book and then upload it onto Amazon. That’s the sort of writing that gives indies a bad name. Write that first draft, put it away for a little while and then go back with fresh eyes. Then do it again. And again. Writing is a slow process. It is a craft.

Get the professionals in

OK, I’m an editor. So of course I’m going to tell you to hire an editor. But this honestly isn’t a sales pitch. You need someone who knows what they’re doing to look at your work. A good editor shouldn’t be afraid to be honest with you. They won’t be wearing rose-tinted glasses. They should tell you how to improve your work. And it’s no good trusting this job to your wife who likes reading, or your neighbour who did an English degree twenty years ago.

Once the editing is done, get a proofreader. And again, not your wife or colleague or neighbour.

Consider paying for a decent cover design. It is possible to do this yourself, and some readers will overlook amateur-looking covers, but I think a good, professional cover is crucial. Shop around, get lots of quotes and make sure you’re happy with what you get.

Be professional

If you’re taking your writing seriously, then you need to behave seriously and professionally. Don’t put down other writers. Be supportive and helpful and you’ll get support and help back in spades. Don’t get involved in bitchy arguments online. Don’t become part of cliques. Behave as you would in any other career.

Self-publishing doesn’t deserve the reputation it has. If you’re a reader who doesn’t think that indie writers are ‘proper’ writers, then I urge you to take a look at some of the reviews posted through Rosie’s Book Review Team – look out on Twitter for #RBRT. Many of these books are self-published and they are definitely worth reading. And if you are a writer, then treat your own writing with respect. Put out your best work, and only your best work, and help to give indie authors the kudos they deserve.

self-publishing

The Writers’ Workshop

Self-publishing and the snobbery issue

lady-b

I work with all different types of authors, those who are hoping to secure a publishing deal, those who are chasing the self-publishing dream and even a couple who have gone on to secure a deal with one of the big five (or six, or whatever it is). Some of these writers are brilliant, some are really talented, some are steady, dependable story tellers who can spin a good yarn, some aren’t that great, some have accepted help and advice and have improved in leaps and bounds, a few I have advised to go right back to the drawing board and there have been a handful who I have had to advise that writing is perhaps not the path for them (this is at the sample edit stage – I never take a penny from authors in this situation).

You might be surprised to know that most of the authors that I’d put in the first three categories are self-published.

Some of these have chosen this path and some have had it foist upon them, as it were, as they have been unable to find representation. Plenty of them are far better, more skilful storytellers than some of those that have secured representation and publishing deals.

Now, I’m never surprised when people I know who aren’t authors sneer a bit at self-publishing. These ‘outsiders’ don’t really know how the publishing world works or how it’s changed in the last few years. But I am very surprised and very disappointed and angry when other authors sneer at self-published writers.

I mean no disrespect to all the very lovely writers I know and who I’ve worked with who have a publisher when I say that just because you’ve secured a deal it doesn’t mean you’re  a better writer than those who haven’t. Because it doesn’t. You might be a better writer than some of them, but many of them will be better writers than you.

Last week I read two books. One was by a self-published author. Another was by an author who has just been published by a small independent. The self-published book was brilliant. It was a real page-turner, professionally presented, skilfully written and thoroughly enjoyable. The other one, while not terrible, had far too many typos than are acceptable, the story dragged somewhat, and I found myself skipping huge sections.

I have read so many books recently that are ‘properly published’ and that are terrible. I’ve been unable to review quite a few of them. This isn’t always the author’s fault – quite often they are let down by these companies with poor editing. But I have also witnessed a few of these authors bragging all over social media about how wonderful they are and how they are proper writers, and how self-published authors can’t actually be that good, can they?

I really despise this kind of attitude. It’s a tough world out there for writers. We should be supporting each other, not crowing about our good luck and looking down on other writers who may have chosen self-publishing, or, even if they didn’t, might be much better writers.

I have one particular client whose books are an absolute joy to read, right from the first draft. They are intelligent, beautifully written, skilful, concise, the characterisation is a joy. This client is retired and is finally indulging his passion for writing. Can he get an agent? No. No one’s interested. Does that make him a bad writer, who obviously isn’t good enough? No. Absolutely not. It just means that the agents can’t see how to market him, how to pigeonhole his writing. He doesn’t have a social media presence, because he genuinely doesn’t want to do that. He isn’t a celebrity. And he’s far too sensible to be sucked into a lame deal with a two-bit company who’ll do nothing for him just so he can tell people he’s published.

So he goes on writing beautiful stories that I can’t wait to edit, and he makes me absolutely love my job.

So authors, do us all a favour. Learn when to keep your mouths shut. Be sensitive, be kind, be helpful. Celebrate your success, but don’t be a bragger. It’s a long way down from that ivory tower.

Frustrated Writer – Help Needed! #wwwblogs #IAmWriting #WritingTips

 

woman-outside-with-laptop-290x192

What I imagined…

website-migration-failed-frustrated-woman-at-laptop-300x200

The reality…

So another week of solitude in Devon (read why here) and another attempt to get back into the writing.

This time though, I’ve hit a bit of a crisis.

When I began this second full-length novel (absolutely ages ago) I sort of knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted it to go. But, as often happens, when I came to write, it went off on a tangent and I’m not sure, at this point, how to get back on course. I’m not sure, anymore, exactly what this book is.

I do know that I’m not altogether happy with the direction it’s taken, or the way some of the characters have evolved. But 50,000 + words in, I’m a bit loath to start all over again.

So, do I give it all up as a bad job, or do I persevere and potentially waste more (precious) time?

The thought of ditching all that work, particularly as I find it so hard to fit in time for writing as it is, fills me with horror.

So where do I go from here?

Part of my issue is, I think, that I’m a great list-maker. I like to be organised and to have schedules and time tables and deadlines. And when, more often than not, I fail to reach those deadlines or stick to those schedules, it can feel like there’s no place left to go. And when a story, or an idea, or 50,000 words refuses to stick to my original idea, I find it hard to move on.

But 50,000 words is 50,000 words. I can’t and won’t ditch it all. I need instead to go back and read and read again, and evaluate every word, every twist, and every change in what I’ve written and try to get to the whys of it all. And perhaps too, I need to let go of that original idea of what the book was, and of what kind of writer I am.

I’m not starting again though.

So advice please, all you lovely writers out there – what would you do if you were me?

#writing a novel – Should you write for an audience? #wwwblogs #Iamwriting

It’s almost a year since I wrote this post – and I still don’t know the answer (and I’m still almost nowhere with the WIP!). So do you write with a specific reader in mind?

When I started researching and jotting down ideas for this post, I was pretty certain that the gist would be to help fellow writers to think about just who they were writing for – who their audience was. After all, what’s the point of writing if you don’t have an audience, people to read your book, to buy your book, to recommend your book to other people? That’s the whole reason we write, isn’t it? To share our stories with people who will enjoy them?

So I thought about the audience I’d had in mind when I began writing The Black Hours. And I realised that I hadn’t had anyone in mind at all. I’d simply had a story in my head that I wanted to write down. Yes, I wanted it published, yes, I wanted people to read it, but I certainly hadn’t thought to myself – this is a novel that will go down well with Mrs Smith at number 27, or the postman. Had I done the whole thing wrong? Should I have been thinking about my target audience before I began to write?

target-audience.jpg

As I so often do, I turned to Google to see if I had been doing things wrong again. And it turns out that apparently I have. There’s a raft of articles about thoroughly researching your audience. Some suggest visualising your book for sale and then analysing the people buying it. What do they look like? What are their hobbies? What do they do for a living?

Now, I do think it’s important to have your reader in mind when you write- at least to a certain degree – particularly if you are writing for children or young adults. But does anyone really work it out to this extent?

Yes, I have readers in mind when I’m writing, and yes I have my clients’ readers in mind when I’m editing – usually I’m thinking, will people understand that bit, will they follow that plot point etc. But when I write, and when I’m editing, the story comes first. Afterwards, I might think about who would enjoy it, what they would expect to see, etc. For example, with historical fiction, I know readers will expect the details to be accurate. And ‘The Black Hours’ is pretty dark, so my audience certainly won’t be readers of historical romance or chick lit fans. But the story comes first. Otherwise I’m writing to a formula, and surely that’s not great for me or my readers.

So, I’m left in a quandary really. And certainly no wiser than when I began to write this post. Internet experts say that I should have a target audience in mind, that it will focus my writing and increase my chances of success. After all, a publisher needs to know who to market to, and if I self-publish then I’ll need to sort my categories on Amazon. I can see the wisdom in that (although my WIP is set in three different times, has one real figure from history and one sort of mythological figure and a great deal of stuff about painting and Romanticism- not sure what genre I’m going to stick that one in). But should a story that’s going round my head change to fit a certain genre? Should I alter a character to suit some idea of a potential ‘customer’ in my head? Or should I be true to my story?

What do you think?

#Writinganovel – what to expect from an editor

editing 2

Since starting my editing business, I have worked on more than seventy projects. I feel very honoured and very privileged that these writers have trusted me with their work. As a writer myself, I understand how fellow writers feel about their work, and also how difficult it can be to hand that manuscript over to someone else, often someone you don’t know, and trusting them to do a good job. Choosing an editor is a minefield – there are so many out there now, so what should you expect from an editor? And what should you look for when choosing one?

Testimonials

thumbs up

Look for testimonials from previous clients. If an editor can’t provide testimonials find out why. When I began my business, I provided free edits in return for honest testimonials. This way I began to build a reputation and a client base (most of those clients that I provided free edits for came back to me with their next projects) and could also provide new clients with evidence that I could actually do the job. I’m happy to say that since then I have had testimonials from many clients and that now most of my work comes from happy clients who come back to me.

Sample edits

An editor should offer to provide you with a free sample edit. This way you can see how they work and see if it is right for you.

A contract

An editor should provide you with a contract setting out exactly what you should expect and what the editor also expects from you. This contract should include dates, fees and a summary of what’s included in your edit.

A price

I have worked with clients who have lost money to unscrupulous editors including one client whose ‘editor’ asked her to pay up front and then didn’t deliver. OK, you might think she was naïve to pay out, but this was new territory for her and she was unsure how things should work.

Make sure you know the rate, and when you’re expected to pay. And please do stick to this.

A reasonable timescale

Your editor should give you a date when your edit will be done and back to you. If they can’t commit to a date – ask yourself why. I’ve worked with clients whose previous editor hasn’t delivered when promised, has made excuse after excuse or has refused to give a firm date in the first place. Where does this leave a writer with a publication date in mind? And don’t let the process go on for months and months. If I have an editing project then that is what I work on – it takes priority. I plan my schedule so that projects – paid for writing projects or editing projects – take priority over everything else. I give a client a firm date – usually five working days for an edit of a manuscript of up to 100,000 words. I have seen editors who will take up to six weeks to do the same amount of work. That’s fine if that works for you – but make sure it does work for you and that the deadline is agreed by both of you.

Honesty

bad

Sometimes this is a hard one to take. It’s not very nice having someone tell you about all the faults in your work, all those things that don’t work. But an editor should do this. What’s the point otherwise? I know that I have built a bit of a reputation for my honesty – and that some people don’t see that as a good thing. They usually don’t ask me to edit their full manuscripts. Which is probably a good thing. If you’re paying money to someone to edit your work then you must realise that the editor isn’t there to pat you on the back and tell you what a great writer you are. They are there to offer a professional, unbiased, honest critique of your work and to show you how to improve it and get it to a publishable standard.  Yes, I do compliment a writer on things they have done well, things that really work. But what’s the point of me glossing over something that isn’t right? Something that doesn’t work? That will mean you’ve wasted your money. As one of my clients says:

‘Alison will pull no punches, but then, why would you want her to? You want your book to be the best it can be, right? You want your readers to get the best possible story you can produce, right? You want five-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, right?’

Exactly

So when you’re looking for an editor, do make sure that you are very careful, make sure you both know what’s involved and what everyone’s expectations are. And do be ready to listen to and take advice. That’s what your editor is there for.

Happy writing!

‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’

 

Rosie's Book Review Challengers 1

As part of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Challenge (check it out here) I was lucky enough to read June Kearns’ wonderful novel ‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’. June has kindly agreed to be my guest on the blog today and to share some of her insights and experiences about writing, reading and life in general. My review and an extract from the novel follow June’s interview.

June Kearns

Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?

As a solitary little girl (only child!), who was always daydreaming, I started writing my own stories almost as soon as I could read. In the 1970s, I won a National Magazine Competition for the first chapter of a romantic novel, and years later, a version of that became the beginning of An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy.

How did you come up with the title of your novel? 

It wasn’t easy! I’d almost finished the book when the roaring 20s became a real trend – the new Gatsby film, Downton setting and all those art deco and flapper fashion references. I wanted to somehow give a sense of that era!

Who is your favourite/least favourite character in your novel?

My least favourite is probably Mrs Dutt-Dixon-Nabb. You can probably guess because I gave her a name with two hyphens, and said she had something of the dowager about her – with little finger sticking out at a perfect ninety-degree angle as she held her teacup.

What was the hardest part of writing for you? Were there any particular issues or hiccups when writing your novel?

Hiccups? Ooh, yes! The novel has two settings – the English shires and Texas. Checking and double checking different types and conditions of travel, times of journeys, ships, trains, timetables and distances, then factoring in weather – left me cross-eyed.

What are you working on now? 

At the beginning of the year, I was writing something set in the 1930s. It wasn’t going well, and I’d started making any excuse not to get on with it – de-fleaing the cat, washing socks. Then someone on Twitter asked for 60s memorabilia, and I had one of those light-bulb moments. This, I thought, is what I should be writing about! So, I’ve started – London setting, photographer hero – and it’s going well.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

The wall in front of my desk is covered in post-it notes with encouraging little phrases and bon mots! Here’s one that I really like: Stop apologising! Relax! Just write the story you want to read. Also: Write for your readers, not for other writers. Having said that, the New Romantics 4 give me constant support and encouragement

What writer would you choose as a mentor?

It would have to be Jane Austen. She was such a master of romance – combining fabulous characters, comedy, complications and reversals with great pacing and cracking dialogue. How did she do that? I need her to tell me!

Who is your favourite author and what do you love about their work?

I love lots of women writers, but especially Anne Tyler. She’s quirky and clever, but with a deceptively simple style. Ladder of Years is one of my favourites. Lovely!

Tell me something unusual about yourself.

In my twenties on a trip to Canada, I (briefly!) worked as a waitress in a drive-in restaurant, on roller skates. It wasn’t a success. Have you read Allan Ahlberg’s Mrs Wobble the Waitress? There were incidents. I was sacked.

20s Girl Cover MEDIUM

‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’ – My Review

I loved this book! June Kearns has created a romantic page turner devoid of soppiness but full of heart, laughter and wonderful characters that draw you in to their well-drawn world.

Gerardina Chiledexter is struggling to fund the run-down bookshop that is all she has been left by her extravagant, glamorous aunt (except for a mountain of debts). Just when it seems she has nowhere left to turn, she receives a surprise inheritance – half a cattle ranch in Texas.

We are swept away with Gerry to the wildness and heat of Texas, where she is made less than welcome by co-owner Coop. Confused by her conflicting feelings towards him, Gerry makes some rash decisions that lead her further into debt and seem to pave the way to a life of lonely spinsterhood.

However, there are twists and turns and surprises galore, along with a helping hand from some friendly spirits hoping to guide Gerry towards a brighter future.

The author does a fantastic job of bringing two very different places to life – the contrast between the dry heat of the vast plains of Texas was contrasted beautifully with the cold wet winters of England. I could feel Gerry suffocating as she listened to the rain dripping on to the windows of Prim’s tiny cottage.

The context of the novel was really interesting. The lack of eligible men to marry after the end of WWI was a real problem for women who had few other opportunities in life. Gerry, although a bright, funny and lovely girl, is not immune to this pressure, or to the fear of spinsterhood. I hate it when writers give us feisty female heroines from history who live independent, happy lives immune to social pressures. It’s refreshing to have a realistic heroine who is more than aware of the social constraints that have a very real bearing on what she is and isn’t allowed to do. And the little quotes at the beginning of each chapter offered a real insight into the pressures put on women at the time.

I thoroughly recommend this novel and will definitely be reading more of June Kearns’ work.

Five out of five stars.

You can buy a copy on Amazon (and I strongly recommend that you do!)

June is on Twitter: @june_kearns

on Facebook

and at: www.junekearns.com

www.newromantics4.com

 

‘The 20’s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz’

 

Autumn 1924. The English Shires.

    She would. She wouldn’t. She might.

    Pushed  down  the  lane  by  a  wet  wind, Gerry  held  onto  her  hat  and  her   bicycle. Hedgerows, trees, fields, flew by in a blur. It  was  weather  for  woollies  and  wellies, but  she  hadn’t  got  either  of  those.

    Instead, she  was  drenched  in  scent   and  in  something  crêpe-de-chine  with  flapping  skirts  from  the  bottom  of  her  aunt  Leonie’s  trunk.

    Why? Because she hadn’t decided what to do yet.

    What was wrong with her? Anyone  would  think  she  was  feather-headed, the  number  of  times  she’d  changed  her  mind. Goodness  knows  there  were  few  enough  men  to  go  round  anymore, and  how  many  of  those  were  beating  a  path  to  her  door? She should be grateful.

    Squishing  bicycle  wheels  through  leaves  at  the  side  of  the  road, she  chewed  the  knicker-elastic  under  her  chin, there  to  stop  her  hat  from  flying  off. A  gang  of  rooks  in  gothic  black  rose  up – caa  caa – to  swirl  over  ploughed  fields  behind  the  hedge.

    If only the invitation had been for something else. Afternoon tea with Archie’s parents? Just thinking about it made her twitch.

    So  what  if  she  was  pushing  thirty, with  the  chill  wind  of  spinsterhood  gusting  round  her  ears? She  wasn’t  ready  yet, for  trial  by  Major  and  Mrs  Dutt-Dixon-Nabb. Nowhere near.

    ‘All right, Miss-Change-Your-Mind,’ Prim had said. ‘What’s wrong with Archie?’

  1. Engaging good looks, a winning way. The sort  of  suitor  to  bring  a  grateful  tear  to  any  mother’s  eye. It wasn’t him, it was her. Small, unexceptional, Gerardina Mary Chiledexter.

    ‘He’s nice,’ she’d said. ‘I’m flattered. But what have we got in common? A  sort  of  junior  squire  from  a  county  family, who  hunts  and  shoots  things – and  me.’ She had paused. ‘D’you think it’s money?’

    A snort from Prim. ‘You haven’t got any.’

    ‘Archie doesn’t know that, does he? We  don’t  talk  about  those  things, we  don’t  even  laugh  together  much.’

    Prim had enquired, rather sourly, what there was to laugh about. ‘Look at me,’ she’d said. ‘I’ll  never  bag  a  husband  now, the  competition’s  far  too  cut-throat. It’s not fair; I’ve been cheated. My  destiny, whoever  he  was, is  probably  under  the  mud  of  some  awful  French  battlefield.’

    ‘Is there such a thing,’ Gerry had murmured, ‘as destiny?’

    ‘Your aunt believed in it. Did  she  have  an  opinion  on  Archie, as  a  matter  of  interest?’

    ‘Erm …’ (‘Well-bred, but weak, darling. A mother’s boy. Fingernails too clean. And that name! Hardly trips off the tongue, does it?’)

    Of  course, Leonie  had  an  opinion  on  most  things, and  hadn’t  been  shy  about  sharing  them, either. Physics, fortune-telling, foreign money. Not that her views had always been reliable. Who  cared  though, when  she’d  taught  you  to  dance  the  hoochie  coochie  and  the  turkey  trot, wearing  ostrich  feathers  and  waving  an  Egyptian  cigarette  in  a  long  black  holder?

    Wild, wonderful Leonie. Why did you leave us in such a mess?

    Gerry  careered  down  the  hill  to  the  higgledy-piggledy  part  of  town, past  Peagrams  Drapers  and  Outfitters (Dresses  for  all  seasons), and  Hazeldines  Bakery (Bread  with  purity  and  nutty  flavour).

    Clattering  over  cobbles  to  the  saggy  frontage  of  Bent’s  Fine  and  Rare  Books, she  came  to  an  abrupt  halt.

    ‘Igor! Move.’

    A  scar-nosed, frayed-eared  hooligan  tomcat, big  as  a  small  bear,  sat  in  the  doorway, eyeing  her  coldly.

    ‘Shoo!’ She rang her bell, stamped her foot. ‘Shoo, shoo!’

    Turning  his  head  with  infinite  disdain, Igor  didn’t  budge  an  inch.

    After  some  complicated  manoeuvring  of  wheels  and  cat’s  tails, Gerry  banged  up  the  steps  into  the  narrow  three-storied  building  that  housed  the  bookshop. The bell over the door jangled its annoyance.

    ‘That cat,’ she announced, ‘is scary! A witch’s cat. Not a whisker of loyalty to anyone.’

    From  behind  a  pile  of  catalogues, business  letters, bills  and  receipts, Prim  peered  over  her  spectacles. ‘Did you look in a mirror before you came out?’

    ‘It was windy.’

    ‘Well, a man called to see you, apparently. Left a note on the door. Better smarten up a bit before he comes back. That’s  not  a  suitable  dress  to  ride  a  bicycle  in.’ She  held  out  a  handkerchief. ‘And there’s oil on your nose.’

    ‘Which man?’ Rubbing her face, Gerry noticed Prim’s tight bun unravelling. Always a bad sign.

    ‘Name of …’ Prim rummaged for the note, ‘hmm … let’s see. Yes, Cooper.’

    ‘Who? Do we owe him money?’

    ‘Gerry dear, we owe everyone money.’

    Almost everyone. They  were  sliding  out  of  control, that  was  for  sure, and  it  was  Gerry’s  responsibility  now, all  down  to  her, and  the  reason  for  layers  of  bags  under  her  eyes.

    Debt, they were in debt. Aunt  Leonie’s  bookshop  sinking  under  a  huge  wave  of  bills  and  final   demands  and  Gerry  couldn’t  sleep, because  of  dreams  of  being  dragged  off  to  debtor’s  prison  by  crowds  of  baying  creditors.

    ‘Can’t we at least ask Cyril to mend that window?’

    ‘No.’ Prim tapped her teeth with a pencil. ‘Even Cyril and his ladders are beyond us now. I  wouldn’t  take  your  coat  off   either, if  I  were  you. There’s no more coal for the stove.’

    The  few  early  customers  in  the  shop  weren’t  likely  to  save  their  bacon  either – someone  from  the  Light  Opera  Group  looking  for  music  and  one  of  the  Miss  Webbs  after  the  new  Ethel  M. Dell.

 

 

 

 

Writing and Editing Tips Part 5: Grammar Rules – Using the Right Word

grammar pic
Writing is a tricky business. There are so many elements to consider – developing wonderful characters that grow as your plot moves forward, writing realistic yet entertaining dialogue that moves your plot along, developing a plot that keeps your reader enthralled and desperate to learn more, penning breathtaking scenes, inventing beautiful metaphors. Oh, and grammar. That last one isn’t that exciting is it? And it’s one of those things that can be a bug-bear for many writers – no matter how wonderful their writing is, many just can’t get a grip on the grammar. After all, grammar has nothing to do with creativity, does it?

Well I think it does. Grammar is an intrinsic part of writing; without its rules and regulations, that wonderful scene you’ve written detailing someone’s heartfelt passions, their devastating grief, or their soaring joy may very well be for nothing. One incorrectly placed apostrophe, one wrong word, one incomplete comparison or dangling modifier and your reader will be put off, unimpressed, doubtful of your ability or so irritated that they take to Amazon to give you a heart-breaking one star review. And, possibly worse than that, your beautiful, carefully crafted words may very well make no sense.

So grammar is something you need to get your head round. As a writer I have made plenty of grammatical errors in my work – everyone does, and, as an editor, I see them all the time. But the more you read about common errors and the more you work on avoiding them in your work, the easier it becomes to write and to write well.

One of the most common errors people make is to use the wrong word. And I’m not just talking ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’ here. There are plenty of others. Here are a few  examples I see all the time when I’m editing.

Who and Whom
This is one that I’ve always found particularly annoying and difficult to get my head round. ‘Who’ is a subjective pronoun – it’s used when the pronoun is the subject of a clause. Other examples of subjective pronouns are ‘he’ and ‘they’. ‘Whom’, on the other hand, is an objective pronoun, used when the pronoun acts as the object of a clause. Other examples of objective pronouns are ‘him’ and ‘us’. ‘Whom’ should also be used after a preposition. Confused? Take a look at these examples:
1) Who made the cakes? (Who is the subject of the clause)
2) She asked whom the film was about. (Whom is the object of the object of the clause)
Try substituting different pronouns to see if you need ‘who’ or ‘whom’.
1) Did he make the cakes?
2) She asked if the film was about him.
and
1) Did they make the cakes?
2) She asked if the film was about us.
As for the usage of ‘whom’ after a preposition, here’s an example;
‘To whom do you wish to speak?’

Fewer and Less
This is the one that got Tesco into trouble. They received a bad grammar award for a statement that appeared on their toilet roll packaging proclaiming:
‘Same luxury, less lorries.’
Perhaps they were going for the alliterative qualities of the phrase, but someone in marketing should surely have realised that grammar perfectionists and know-alls, rather than feeling quietly smug (you know you did!), would complain. So what’s the problem?
Less should be reserved for when you are describing hypothetical quantities – something that can’t be counted.
‘This book was less successful than my last one.’
‘He’s less interested in football than I am.’
Fewer is used for things that are quantifiable; things that can be counted.
‘I sold fewer copies of the book than you did.’
‘He has been to fewer than ten games this season.’
So, technically Tesco’s lorries could have been counted, so there were fewer lorries, not less lorries.

Disinterested and uninterested
When I was studying for my Masters in Creative writing, I once spent hours on what I thought was a wonderful piece about love and romance all set in a beautifully exotic location. I had everything right – my descriptions were evocative, my words beautifully crafted, the dialogue and imagery heavy with meaning. I was actually looking forward to receiving my tutor’s critique, something that usually terrified me. My tutor was a successful, lauded poet and publisher and he was harsh (but fair). He completely tore me to shreds for writing that my hero was ‘disinterested’ rather than ‘uninterested.’ I was mortified. In all my years of reading and writing, I’d never known the difference before. But when it was (stringently) pointed out to me, I realised it was completely obvious. ‘Disinterested’ means impartial – like a judge is supposed to be. ‘Uninterested’ means not interested in something. Simple really, isn’t it?

Lead and led
You might not think this is very common, but believe me, it is. The trouble seems to be that the two words can sound the same. But they are very different. When you pronounce ‘lead’ the same way as you pronounce ‘led’, what you are actually referring to is a soft, heavy, ductile bluish-grey metal, the chemical element of atomic number 82, used in roofing, plumbing, ammunition, storage batteries, radiation shields, etc. (according to the dictionary). So:
‘He lead her to the bed’ is wrong.
‘He led her to the bed’ is right.
Remember ‘lead’ (rhymes with ‘bead’) refers to being in charge or in front, or to what you put around a dog’s neck (in England). ‘Lead’ (rhymes with ‘bed) is the metal.

Its and it’s
This is one that causes confusion because it goes against normal rules. It’s is the shortened form of ‘it is’ or ‘it has’. Its is the possessive form of it. It’s confusing (see what I did there) because normally we use an apostrophe to show possession:
‘The dog’s birthday was last Tuesday.’
‘The man’s wife was leaving him.’
But:
‘I gave the dog its birthday present.’
Only ever use ‘it’s’ if you can substitute ‘it has’ or ‘it is’, so:
‘It’s been raining all week.’
‘It’s ten weeks until Christmas.’

These are just a few of the common errors I see every day. In my blog post next week, I’ll be looking at a few more.
What elements of grammar do you find most tricky to master? What common errors drive you mad? I’d love to know.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 3: Editing and Proofreading your Work

Novels, short stories, articles, even blog posts, all need a thorough proofread and edit before submitting or publishing. Of course, if you’re writing a novel, then it really is worth considering hiring an editor –  see my previous post here. However, everyone needs to edit and proof their work at some stage. This can be a tricky job and one that many writers detest – they want to get on with the fun part, the actual writing, and for them editing and proofreadinging is a pain. It may well be (although I have to say I really enjoy it, even when I’m editing and proofreading my own work), but there are ways to make the chore a little less onerous.

Clear desk – clear mind

messy_desk_2
Make sure that when you sit down to edit or proofread that it is your sole focus. Clear everything else off your desk, close emails and the internet, put your phone somewhere else and focus on the task in hand. If you’re distracted, you’ll lose the flow of the work, or your place in the text.

Give yourself a break

biscuits
Editing and proofreading take a lot of concentration and focus. It’s impossible to do either for long, uninterrupted stretches of time. Don’t try to work for longer than thirty minutes in one stretch. Get up, walk around, make a cup of tea (and have a biscuit). Give your brain a five or ten minute respite. But don’t check Facebook or Twitter or your emails. You’ll just get sucked into wasting an hour.

To spellcheck or not to spellcheck?
Spellcheck is a really useful, if much maligned, tool. Do use it, but don’t rely on it. And when running a check, don’t drift off and end up changing things you don’t want to change because you’re not really looking and you just click the ‘change’ button automatically! Remember, spellcheck isn’t an alternative to editing and proofreading; you still need to go through everything yourself.

Get printing
Many people find it difficult to spot errors on a screen. Print off a hard copy of your manuscript and use a pen to correct errors.

Know yourself!
As you are working through your manuscript make a list of any errors that crop up again and again. Do you use ‘should of’ instead of ‘should have’ for example? Mixing up ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’? Too many unnecessary dialogue tags creeping in? (See my post here.) Is there a word you overuse? (I know I use the word ‘really’ far too much, in novels, blog posts, even emails!) Jot them down and you’ll know what to keep an eye out for, and you’ll also learn what to avoid when you’re writing your next masterpiece.

Go backwards

backwards
As discussed in my previous post here, we become so familiar with our work that our brain fills in the gaps for us. We know what that sentence is supposed to say, so our brain glosses over it, stopping us from seeing errors that a reader will pick up on instantly. One way to avoid this is to read your manuscript backwards. That way your brain doesn’t know what is coming next and it’s easier to spot mistakes.

Read out loud
I know lots of people are uncomfortable doing this, but it really helps. Reading out loud helps you to spot all sorts of errors including typos, misuse of commas or missing commas, problems with flow and awkwardness. It also helps immensely with checking dialogue to make sure it sounds natural (see my post on writing dialogue here).

I’d love to know your editing and proofreading tips; do share them by leaving a comment.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. 

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 2: Beating Writer’s Block

writers block typewriter

Writer’s block – we’ve all heard of it, and lots of us have experienced it, whether it’s just that horrible half an hour of looking at a blank piece of paper or empty screen while our brains refuse to perform, or the more serious, crippling months or even years of inability to create that has afflicted some of the greatest writers. I know there have been times when I have tackled a huge pile of ironing, or walked the dog in the rain rather than face writing another chapter, or starting an article (or even a blog post), and the longer I’ve left it, the worse it has got.

Writer’s block can be caused by many things. For me personally, it often stems from a fear that my writing isn’t good enough, and that no one will want to read it anyway. Or I might be feeling guilty about devoting a day to working on my next novel rather than writing something I’m actually getting paid to produce. Then there are all the other little niggling responsibilities like the housework, the garden, shopping, the children (they should probably appear higher on the list!). But, as my husband keeps telling me, writing is important because it’s important to me. So next time I’m faced with a blank page, rather than go for the usual avoidance tactics of cleaning the skirting boards or reading random articles online in the name of research, I’m going to try one of these:

Write anything. Set a stopwatch for five minutes and make yourself write until the buzzer goes. It doesn’t matter what it is; just the physical action of writing something down can be enough to get your writing going again

Let yourself be terrible. Sometimes we can’t write because we feel our writing isn’t good enough. But when you are at the beginning of the writing process that doesn’t matter. Your first draft doesn’t have to be a prize-winner. Just write, whether or not it’s rubbish (chances are, some of it won’t be). You’ll be going back and re-drafting and editing over and over again. It doesn’t matter if what you write now actually is awful- it’s the finished manuscript that matters. As Margaret Attwood once said; ‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.’

writer's block girl

Move on If you’re stuck in a scene or you can’t quite resolve something, move on to another scene. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t witting chronologically. You can write the ending first if you want to, or the middle, or a scene two thirds through. It doesn’t matter – no one’s watching! You can come back and fill in the gaps later. And writing a different scene might help ‘unblock’ whatever problem it was that you had previously.

Exercise your brain. There are literally hundreds of writing exercises and prompts available online. Use one to kick start your writing. Try Mslexia for lots of helpful writing advice and exercises. And there are plenty of prompts on the Writer’s Digest site.

Exercise your body. Walk the dog or go for a run. Sometimes being away from the house doing something physical can be enough to unblock your brain. Leave your phone and your iPod behind and look and listen to what’s around you.

Plan your time. If you can, make sure you are writing when you are most creative and productive, whether it’s last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Try and keep an hour clear at those times to devote to your writing, even it if means getting up earlier or going to bed a bit later.

Set a target. Even if it’s only a couple of hundred words a day, or thirty minutes a day, make sure you write. Don’t worry how good or bad it is – just write for those minutes or write those many words. As Kingsley Amis once famously said: ‘The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair’

Give yourself a break. It may be that you are trying to do too much, that you are tired and stressed. It’s hard to be creative at times like these. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a week away from writing to catch up on all those other little nagging tasks that spring into your mind when you are trying to write. Guilt about spending time writing can cripple creativity, and its all very well telling yourself that writing is important too – we all have other things in our lives that can’t just be ignored. Get these done, and then you can sit down to write without worrying. And the time away may be enough to cure your writer’s block.

writer's block - cat

I’d love to hear your strategies for beating writer’s block.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. You can contact me here.

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.