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Posts tagged ‘editing’

How to Write Copy People Will Actually Read

You’ve found your way to this article, but you probably won’t read it start to finish.

You’ve read the stats. According to Copyblogger, 80% of people will read a headline, but only 20% read the body. 38% of people who click on a site will leave before engaging with the content at all. People will share copy, effectively vouching for its quality, when they’ve only read 25% of it.

Does this mean no one reads anymore? Has the Internet killed literacy? Not quite, but it has given birth to a generation of scanners. [Tweeters!] That is, people who scan articles and landing pages to get the “gist” or find a section they’re especially interested in.

Why Does Scanning Matter?

People don’t read the way they used to. Why? There are a few different reasons…

  1. Attention spans are shorter than ever. In 2000, the average attention span for a human was 12 seconds. Today? A recent study found that our attention span is a mere 8 seconds. To compare, a goldfish has a 9 second attention span.
  2. We’re busier than ever. The amount of time Americans spend at work, on average, is actually declining, but the convergence of work life and personal life leaves us with an “always on” mentality. As a result, we feel “busier than ever”. Far too busy to read an entire landing page or email or article.
  3. Content overload is real. 41% of people surveyed claim to feel overwhelmed by the many choices online. Instead, they turn to friends for content and product recommendations.

So, how do people read now?

“In today’s world people are suffering from content overload. People rarely read, they scan/skim through content and dive in areas they find interesting.”

If you want people to actually read, every line of copy should pass a cost-benefit test…

  • Cost – How much time will this take? How difficult will it be to read?
  • Benefit – What’s in it for me? What will I learn or gain from reading this?

Do the Old Copy Rules Still Apply?

So, do any of the old school copy rules still apply? Of course. This is an evolution of how copy is consumed, not how it is crafted.

Two core rules still apply: (1) you must secure interest and (2) you must do so as quickly as possible.

The bottomline is that people read copy they’re interested in. If your copy is compelling and intriguing, your visitors are going to read it.

Of course, securing that interest as quickly as possible is key. People make snap decisions, so if you don’t have them hooked in the first 8 seconds, you’ve likely already lost them.

However, they likely aren’t interested in all of your copy. Instead, they will scan your copy and read only the sections they’re interested in.

For example, let’s say you found Evergage because you’re interested in targeting certain visitors for personalization.

From: Shanelle Mullin

 

The Top 5 Mistakes I Find as an Editor

A lot of writers won’t hire an editor. This isn’t a pitch to get your business (although, of course, I am always open to that). So since you probably won’t hire me or any of my editor cohorts, I’m going to share with you a list of the five biggest mistakes I see in manuscripts, so you can watch for them, and fix them, yourself.

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.

When it Makes Sense to Self-publish

A writer, simply put, is one who writes. Everyone who writes on a regular basis is considered a writer whether or not they have ever been published.  An author however, is generally perceived as a writer who has been published. For some writers, it is enough that they write, publishing their work is not their goal. For most writers, however, the goal is to become a published author. The trick is being published. You have many options. Which one should you choose? Let’s look at your options:

A self publisher, is an author who gets a business license, buys the ISBN #s, hires a printing press (print shop/printer) to print the books, than sells the books themselves. The author keeps 100% of the profits, because no one pays royalties; you keep 100% of the copyright (which btw, does not cost a penny). You market the book and distribute the book yourself through local bookstores, a personal website, your blog, and on online bookstores, such as Amazon.com.

Motives for self-publishing

There are a number of reasons that writers choose to self-publish, although one of the most common is that their work is not of interest to a commercial publisher. Publishers must be confident of sales of several thousand copies to take on a book. An otherwise worthy book may not have this potential for any number of reasons:

  • Author wishes to retain complete editorial control over content,
  • Author is unknown and does not have substantial resume,
  • Popular topic but of interest only in a small geographic area or
    addresses an obscure topic in which few people are interested,
  • Content is controversial enough that publishers do not wish to be            associated with it,
  • Author wishes to obtain a larger percentage return from retail sales.

Occasionally authors choose to self-publish for reasons of control, because they want access to their customer list, or because they love the business of publishing. When working with a publisher, an author gives up a degree of editorial control, and sometimes has little input into the design of the book, its distribution, and its marketing. This has been a substantial motivator in the rise of comic book self-publishing. In the late 1970s, creators such as Dave Sim and Wendy and Richard Pini chose—in spite of offers from publishers—to publish their work themselves because they wanted to retain full ownership and control over it, and they believed they could do the job of publishing more effectively than a publisher that did not have an ownership stake in the material. This was facilitated by the development of comic book specialty shops, and the distribution network that serves them, which is more open to small- and self-publisher material than traditional bookstores have been. Numerous cartoonists have followed their example since then, and by the late 1990s, the majority of comics (in terms of titles) were self-published. They remain a small percentage of overall sales, however, with sales of a given book often falling short of 1000 copies. A similar movement took place in the music industry during the same period, coming largely out of the punk rock phenomenon, as some musicians eschewed deals with record labels and published their own recordings.

In addition to the issue of control, some authors with limited markets may also self-publish to obtain a better financial return. Authors in a specialist area may be confident of a certain number of sales but also realize that the maximum number of sales is limited, and wish to maximize their earnings. In this situation authors may risk a significant amount of their own capital to self-publish their own work. This avoids a publisher taking a significant cut of the proceeds and if also self-distributed avoids distribution fees as well. The payoff is a much larger percentage of the sale price being returned as profit.

In recent years, television writer and producer J Michael Straczynski has self published an extremely successful series of books containing his scripts for Babylon 5, his most famous television creation.

Self-publishing is the publishing of books and other media by the authors of those works, rather than by established, third-party publishers. Although it represents a small percentage of the publishing industry in terms of sales, it has been present in one form or another since the beginning of publishing and has seen an increase in activity with the advancement of publishing technology, including xerography, desktop publishing systems, print on demand, and the World Wide Web. Cultural phenomena such as the punk/DIY movement, the proliferation of media channels, and blogging have contributed to the advancement of self-publishing.

 As a general rule, self publish only if you are writing one of the following:

  • Short story anthology,
  • Book of poems,
  • Technical journal (which will only be read by a 100 or so college professors),
  • Non-fiction niche market (work on an obscure organism),
  • Local history book or local field guide,
  • A play,
  • A memoir or biography of a local ‘celebrity’,
  • Church/business/family cookbook
  • Any book or pamphlet of local interest only.

 

Et al.

Origin of et al.

Latin et alii (masculine), et aliae (feminine), or et alia (neuter)

That is why et al. is used—simpler, right?

Query Letter Mistakes

Cheesy lead. Don’t be cute. Skip the rhetorical questions. The “What if you were stuck on a sailboat in a hurricane with a mysterious killer” teasers get old fast. Better to lead with the facts; otherwise your reader may feel as if you’re trying to manipulate him or her to create more sensation than pure fact warrants.

Addressing the Editor. Do Not begin the query with “Hey…” It is disrespectful and may stop an editor on the spot! It reeks of unprofessionalism and childishness.

Bobbled blurbs. The biggest problems we see with blurbs are 1) too many characters and secondary characters when only the main character should be the emotional hook, 2) a description that’s more thematic than plot-driven (i.e., this book is about peace and love), 3) the author attempts to tell the whole story, including the ending, when he or she should use the blurb as a teaser instead.

Appearance. The letter looks bad, smells, is printed on cheap paper or photocopied, etc. We also receive e-queries that are poorly formatted (all caps, colored and silly fonts, goofy pictures in the signature line) or that lose their formatting once they are sent. TIP: Do yourself a favor and test your e-query to make sure it keeps its formatting by sending it to a bunch of your family members and friends to see what it looks like in their inboxes. Then you can send it to agents.

Mentioning prior manuscripts (and/or certain self-published books). If you’ve written three unpublished book manuscripts in the past, best not to mention them. Otherwise the agent in question may be intimidated by your prior projects, thinking, “If I take on his/her current project, the writer will probably pester me to represent all those previous books that, for whatever reason, didn’t sell.” The same goes for self-published manuscripts, which agents will look at the same way as unpublished manuscripts UNLESS you have significant accolades for your self-published book.

The multiple personality bio. Often writers will inadvertently begin their bios in first person, but wind up in third. Be on the lookout for pronouns gone wild! Also, some bios will begin in present tense, but then end in past. And, as always, it helps to have a strong bio.

Groveling. It may seem like it makes sense to acknowledge your own humility by pointing out a lack of experience, but resist this urge. Confidence wins hearts.

TMI. While it’s always good to convey your own unique personality in your bio, be careful not to include too much information. If your novel is about sailors, it may help to include your background in the Coast Guard. Be personable and interesting, but do so with care.

Listing publishing credits that aren’t really publishing credits. Be careful that the publishing credentials you’re listing are not part of poetry contest scams or anthology scams. Including bad credits suggests you don’t know the market (and therefore don’t know good writing).

Copyright. Industry standard is to not include the copyright symbol on your work.

Cover art. If you include cover art, you show a) that you don’t know how the industry works (since writers get almost no say over their covers), and b) that you might just be the kind of high-maintenance writer who wants complete control.

If you flatter, mean it. Agents can often see straight through the “I greatly admire your agency” bit; they know a generic form letter compliment when they see one. If you’re going to take the approach of flattery, be specific in your praise.

Some common phrases that authors should NEVER use in query letters:
This is the first book I’ve ever written! If this is true, you don’t need to say it; better to position yourself as a person who knows the biz (which means you must be a person who knows it!).

I’ve been writing since I was five. Writers who feel compelled to explain that “I’ve been writing since I was X years old” or that “It is my greatest wish to get published” inadvertently declare to editors, “I am a newbie.” It’s presumed that you’ve been writing since you were X years old and now want to get a book published. That’s what every writer wants.

This would make a great movie. Almost everyone thinks his or her book could be a great movie. You want your query letter to ask your agent to do one thing and one thing only: represent and sell your BOOK—not a screenplay, not a series of action figures, not your foreign rights. Let the publisher in question decide if your book is screen worthy or not.

This book will appeal to readers of all genres. Editors want to work with writers who understand that each genre appeals to a very specific demographic. When you say, “This appeals to everyone,” an agent will read, “This appeals to no one in particular.”

My friends/parents/teachers like my writing. We often read how new writers get a favorable response to their writing from close ones. But unless your mom or dad is a renowned literary critic, leave off any amateur praise.

Oprah will love this book. If the story is solid and the writing is strong, there’s no reason an author should feel obligated to proclaim that a book is the next Harry Potter. Don’t promise what you have no control over. Your work should speak for itself.

Grammar Essentials #1

Problem Words/Phrases
Here is another set of words and/or phrases that can cause problems with your writing.

  • As to whether. Use whether; it is whether or not. If you are not showing an alternative, use if.
  • Basically, essentially, totally. Try the sentence without them. Minimize “ly” words.
  • Equally as. Use equally important or as important as, but not equally as important.
  • Got. Try to avoid it. I have got to must begin working on it now. I have got three pairs of jeans.
  • In order to. Particularly annoying to me. Use to.
  • Lots or lots of. Avoid these when you can use many or much. Lots of something is considered plural. Also, a lot of requires three words not alot of.
  • Orientate. New employees become oriented, not orientated.
  • Plus. This word should not be used as a conjunction. Use and instead.
  • Point in time. Use at this time or at this point or now.
  • So as to. A simple to will do.

Commas, commas, commas

Comma or not to comma
—and always use “curly” commas, not straight
Commas really are not living entities that reproduce and decide where to live and where not to live. Neither are they snowflakes that land wherever the wind may take them. They are not decorations to be used or not as a person’s fancy may decide. Commas actually have a vital and exact use in writing stories, poetry, essays, or articles.

Let’s see when and where commas should be used.

• Use a comma to separate three or more words in a series, and use a comma before the conjunction,
• Names directly addressed need to be set off by commas.
• Commas should be used to set off conjunctive adverbs that introduce a clause or sentence.
• Mild interjections will need to be set off by commas,
• Equal adjectives should be separated with a comma. One test is to see if the word and could be used between the adjectives. If so, then a comma is needed,
• A phrase adding nonessential information should be set off by commas,
• A comma is needed after introductory words,
• A clause that doesn’t add essential information in a sentence should be set off by commas,
• Non-essential appositives should be set off by commas. (An appositive is a noun or pronoun – word, phrase, or clause – placed after another noun or pronoun to provide more information or rename the first.)

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