Smart Authors Self-Edit Spelling

chalkboard-459256_1280You wondered about the title, right? “But the spell checker does that! Not always? What makes for a smart author, and how does this apply to me?” We know from previous posts that smart authors self-edit their weakest areas to the best of their abilities and, after they’re comfortable they’ve done their best, hand it over to others for additional help.

Welcome to Learning from My Mistakes, a blog series on what I learned when writing and editing my latest novel, Letter from Ramsgate. This is the fourth installment of the series, and the others were in September/October 2016 on self-editing and writer’s block. There was a gap in this series because I was busy marketing Letter from Ramsgate’s October 2016 release as well as an anniversary giveaway for Then Comes Winter, the perfect read or gift at this time of year.

lfr-top-ranking-october-23-2016Hold on. I have to toot my own horn. Not only did Letter from Ramsgate break the top 1000 for all books in the Kindle store, topping out at #809, but it was #8 in the difficult category of Regency Romance (I was amazed at some long-time popular authors with hundreds of reviews with me in the top ten!), and TA-DAAA: a #1 bestseller in Literature and Fiction categories of Romance Classics and Historical Classics! Meryton Press doesn’t move books around to capitalize on categories that have few new books to ensure they get top billing, so those bestseller rankings are a bona fide point of pride for me! Thanks, readers!

Now, back to the program:

Any author can learn many of the rules of spelling and punctuation themselves. I’m not saying you have to become perfect—look at my commas and you’ll see that although I aim for normal standards, I have some glitches to overcome. Sometimes I know the rule yet didn’t notice that the situation met the rule. Commas are one of the hardest areas, and at some point in this series, I may even try to share the conventions I’m confident about to help those to become closer to norm—learning from my mistakes! This post will be about common spelling mistakes I see as a reader, and later posts will cover punctuation and other areas.

Most spelling mistakes are homophones (two words that sound exactly the same but have very different spellings and meanings), homonyms (two words that sound similar but have very different spellings and meanings), or anachronisms (words spelled differently in the time period of the book, a separate post topic).

When aware of a homophone or homonym that you have difficulty with, try to think of a trick to remember the difference. Here are two examples:

  1. A bear might eat a pear. To bear something, whether in a literal or figurative sense, is pretty weighty stuff. That big old bear eating a pear is a heavyweight! So they are spelled in a similar way. “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother,” says the bear. The load can be emotional, like the bear will tell Elizabeth Bennet to “Grin and bear it,” when she can’t bear to know Mr. Darcy is somewhere in the world thinking ill of her. Bare means exposed, like bare your soul, bare your teeth. In the expression “bare naked,” both words have “a” and “e” as vowels. Naked is pretty exposed! Voila: you won’t mix up bear and bare again!
  2. Insure is kind of like insurance, which is money you pay to become covered for something. Ensure is to take action to make sure a thing happens, like solving a problem, to enable. The word was not used a lot until the 1950’s, and assure was sometimes used in its place, but today is treated differently. Assure is to make a person confident. I like to think it’s to comfort them in knowing something will go well—think reassure.

The author must look up the definitions to create word reminder tricks. If you just assume you know—well, you’ve heard the quip about what happens when you assume. (ASS U ME= You make an ASS of U and ME!)

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #5: If in doubt on spelling, grammar, word usage, etymology, etc., look it up!

Homophone.com has definitions when you hover over the words. Capital Community College has some helpful sentences for word pairs that are often confused.

In a novel I read earlier this year, I was baffled at the author’s approach: made-up spelling isn’t a reasonable alternative to looking up the word! As a reader, figuring out what the word was meant to be was a strange experience. The same problem happens if a word is used but the meaning doesn’t suit.

google-spelling-definitionThe trouble is, every time a reader has to stop and figure out what the author means, they become disengaged from the story. As an author, that’s the last thing you want, because too many disengagements equal either frustration or boredom. Remember, that frustration and boredom carries into your Amazon reviews!google-spelling-use-over-time

Google has an automatic dictionary. Use it. If it shows a big arrow for more information, click it to find out what years the word was in common use. To better ensure your language isn’t anachronistic, there are The Online Etymology Dictionary  and Write like Austen (formerly the Austen Thesaurus).online-etymology-dictionarywrite-like-austen-the-austen-thesaurusPlural possessives can be tricky, and I’ve seen reviewers “correct” authors with the wrong punctuation! You should look it up, especially for words ending in “s.” But learn the difference in where the apostrophe goes for singular and basic plural possessive as a basis, and please, no apostrophe for a regular plural! One example of a place to learn is the previously mentioned Capital Community College. The site has many good tutorials, including Possessive Forms.

Future posts will have more self-editing help, such as my problem areas with punctuation, lazy words, my personal common errors list, continuity, the HUGE topic of Point of View, and more.

Subscribe to my blog to make sure you don’t miss updates on any of these topics, and be sure to comment with your own tricks for difficult word pairs. Someday I’m going to I come up with a prize for past commenters on this series, and you want in, I’m sure of it!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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Learning from my Mistakes: What’s Chunking?

Writer’s block.

Editing block.

What do do?

block-ok-comm-smallerSome recommend handwriting out your scene to get it out of your head. Blocking out the future sections with ideas on post-it notes can help if your problem is flow or outline. Printing out what you have, cutting it up, and moving it around can help as well. Bullet point notes on the scene help if you can’t even get to writing whole sentences or you’re dealing with broader issues than basic prose.

I’ve written shorter works by the seat of my pants (with no outline) but for a novel, I’m a big fan of the flexible outline: one or two paragraphs a chapter through the conflict and climax at the very least. It’s okay to change an outline as you get closer to the next set of outline chapters. The author can still move scenes or sets of chapters around in a novel to make it flow better or repair continuity problems along the way.

Most authors write in a linear fashion, and others write major scenes (conflict or turning points) and fill in (write bridging scenes). I’ve had success with both. If you’re blocked, sometimes you can go ahead a few scenes and then return to the problem area. Sometimes you have to “Kill your darlings” as Stephen King says. Keep cut scenes in a word processing file for later use.

Many authors know their ending at the beginning of writing, or at least part way through, but I tend to write the end after the story arc is complete. None of this is wrong, and there are other methods that work, too.

Chunking the big fears

Sometimes all the best plans, outlines, and techniques don’t save an author from being blocked.

I procrastinated several times while writing my novels, particularly when continuity issues muddled me. Procrastination continued during editing, as things wouldn’t work out in the linear fashion I wanted, and I had to think them out. At times, I had too much on my plate in real life or wasn’t well enough to write. These are reasonable times to procrastinate.

But there are blocked times that aren’t typical procrastination. I know I’m not the only author who has the story in their head but can’t get started because it’s almost like a fear of opening a file and typing. Artists have the same problem, and it’s known as “Blank Canvas Syndrome.” I learned a technique for this problem that works in some situations (but not all).

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #4: When you’re stuck, break the task down into chunks. Write each chunk down on paper and schedule them.

oreo-pop3-okay-comm-smaller

 

First chunk: read the current text. That way, you haven’t said you’re going to get “Wow” written today, just a manageable chunk.

Next chunk: Write down what chunks you’d like to use. Don’t make them too big. Refer to the techniques at the beginning of this post.

Continue in small, achievable chunks, one day at a time, or one sitting at a time.

When the writing chunk comes, aim for a fixed number of words per day—no more than 500 to start. It may be hard to start, but push for that 500, even if you have to start writing in outline form. It may become more!

That’s today’s chunk.

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

 

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Better Self-Editing is a Good Place to Start Learning from My Mistakes!

laptop-notebook-working-internet-ok-comm-resizedSome authors sit down to write, and the words just flow out of them. They do a brain dump, quickly scan and make a few minor changes, and voila, they have a novel.

It’s not that easy for me. I work hard to be a good writer. My sentences don’t always come out in a logical arrangement, and they often come out with weak words or awkward phrasing. Like a certain percentage of writers out there, I’m unable to just leave it as a colossal mess and keep going. I repair and refine as I go to ensure that I don’t forget the nasty spots in my writing and miss correcting them when I do a better edit later on. That means editing as I write.

Many writing advice columns caution against this “bad habit.” I prefer to call it a “writing style.” Those “experts” probably spew out perfect sentences with clear flow every time. Well, at least coherent sentences in a reasonable order. I do not, and I shudder to think of trying to make sense of what comes off the tips of my fingers if left alone for too long! However, the warning is a sound one. A helpful practice for me could be a vice or a trap for writers who are smoother on their first draft. Editing as you write slows writing progress.

Whether you go full speed ahead when writing or fuss with your words, no one is perfect on the first try. NO ONE. The goal is to make the words enjoyable to read. Remember Lesson 1? “Reader Knows Best!”

Savvy authors read through their completed work several times and make changes as a continuous improvement process. This does not mean bigger words, it means better words and tighter phrasing. It means checking for inconsistencies of many types. It’s hard! And it’s worth every minute spent on self-editing. Full reviews should be performed at the chapter level as well as the full story, once it’s complete.

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #2: Several full author edits are the preferred norm for ensuring quality writing.

 

Like most authors, I had to learn what to look for, and even after a few years of experience, I’m blind to many of my own habits. After my best self-editing, distracting situations may remain, so I utilize several techniques to catch them. Some find reading aloud helps them find errors. I find that lists are the best tool an author can have.

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from My Mistakes” Lesson #3: Keep a checklist of your most common errors and use a “Find” function to clean them up during your later editing process.

 

In later posts, I’ll expand on the areas my checklists cover. What will yours cover?checklist-okay-for-comm

 

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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Reader knows best! Suzan Lauder’s new blog series “Learning from my Mistakes”

Suzan Lauder, Exhibit #158 at the Jane Austen Festival of Port Alberni, July 2016

Suzan Lauder, Exhibit #158 at the Jane Austen Festival of Port Alberni, July 2016

A couple of months ago, I thought about all I was learning while editing my latest novel and decided I’d write a few blog posts on the topic to help others learn from my experience. I thought I’d start writing posts straight away, but editing my novel, and my husband’s last minute decision to retire early, and editing, and summer, and editing, and working with the cover artist, and editing, and a Jane Austen Festival, and editing, and my niece’s visit, and editing all stepped in.

I haven’t had a haircut in more than three months, and the end-of-season sales are over and I still haven’t found that elusive perfect pair of low-heeled dressy wedge sandals with no toe post but a full ankle strap for next winter in Mexico. Fussy, right? You would be too if you’d turned your ankle one too many times on steep driveways across the sidewalk.

But the introductory post is now written and in your sweaty little palms. Or so it would be if this were 1979. More on that later.

Now we begin our journey together. We’re here to giggle over this author’s mistakes. Each post will have a few examples of my own revelations as lessons to all writers, perhaps to give you a boost rather than let you learn the hard way. The end result isn’t about my opinions any more than the opinions of writing experts, editors, publishers, or any person other than the reader.

parasol resized for bullet pointsSuzan Lauder’s “Learning from my Mistakes” Lesson #1: As an author, your goal is to provide a reading experience with the greatest level of satisfaction that is within your control.

Some of what I’ve learned as a writer in the last few years is different than in classic novels or “What We Learned in School” (as if the capitals in our voice somehow make it Gospel). Some say these techniques are trends, buzz phrases, “flavour of the month.” Yet, if techniques you think are buzz phrases are guaranteed to give the reader greater satisfaction, what’s stopping you from incorporating them into your story?

Hmmm? What’s that? I can’t hear you.

“The way I do it is was good enough for Hemingway.”

Are you Hemingway? If Hemingway knew ways to make the reader enjoy his novels more, would he have said the way he does it is “good enough?” Perhaps. But he had a gift that 99% of writers do not, so we have to fill the gap by utilizing every tool available to us.

An interesting story Miss Ray, by William Wood, 1806, Met Museum.

An interesting story Miss Ray, by William Wood, 1806, Met Museum.

I struggle to be a good writer where others find it easier. Ease is not a good reason to sit back on your laurels over and over again. You may get a toned butt and quadriceps, but that’s about it. Yeah, I suck at idioms.

Perhaps as an author, you can sell loads of books that are merely “good enough,” but as a reader, don’t you prefer that extra little something? It’s sort of like warming the speculum, chilling the beer mug, smiling at the end of the transaction.

Good writing practice is never “flavour of the month.” If you’re arguing against good writing practice, either you don’t understand the specific application or you’re making excuses to dig in your heels in a world that’s already made the big change. Despite my use of a goofy idiom, it’s no longer 1979, but if you want to stick with the way you’ve always done it, have fun with your typewriter.

Instead, I hope my blog followers enjoy how I describe newer writing concepts to make them easier to understand, and that other authors may be inspired and brave enough to give them a try.

I don’t expect to change the world, just entertain you for a few minutes. Please, have a few laughs at my expense as I bare all my “problems” as a writer!

Disclaimer: I’m not a writing expert. I’m just a writer who learned some stuff other writers might like to know instead of learning the hard way. My approach is pragmatic, and my posts are not professionally edited!

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How Three Authors Dropped the Ball

“All those positive aspects together in one novel should ensure an enjoyable read that wraps you up in a wonderful fantasy world. Yet sadly, the positives weren’t enough to make up for one simple gap they all had in common.”

ereader free stock imageI’m a reader more than an author, and I’ve learned about writing quality through both. Over the last month or so, I’ve read some excellent novels. Some of these otherwise outstanding stories disappointed me where it could be easily avoided, yet I’m shocked to find my opinion that this is of concern is in the minority.

Three specific novels stand out. They varied from a pleasant romance with mild conflict to an excellent “sweeping epic romance” novel with strong dramatic tension throughout, and another that had a mix of sweetness and angst that put it in the middle of the first two. In each case, the plot moved forward at a brisk pace through the trials the protagonists faced with minor villains and/or misunderstandings towards a satisfying Happily Ever After.

The novels were Pride and Prejudice variations, and compliance with canon characterization for the major characters was strong and consistent. A couple of minor characters were given larger roles and personalities, and new characters enhanced the variations, not unusual for Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF), and well done in each case.

Sounds good so far! Read on…

Some tropes were used in one novel, and a subplot seen in another author’s earlier novel was copied in that same novel, but the other two did a fine job of avoiding them. Quotes from Pride and Prejudice were inserted in key places, although in one novel, they were too long and cliché.

But everyone enjoys a hint of the real Austen, right? Read on…

A range of ability to use of point of view was seen in the books. The sweet romance author did an excellent job of maintaining a standard (not deep or close) third person, multiple point of view, taking care to ensure that POV changed by scene. The other two were less successful, awkwardly using multiple techniques and head-hopping. Obviously the latter authors are less disciplined in good POV techniques.

Ouch. But the novel that escaped head-hopping must be the best one, right? Read on…

Much of the language felt authentic and maintained the mood of the Regency era. The light romance novel was bogged down with long sections of narrative and could have used more dialogue; the others were well-balanced. The authors each used a number of non-period words, but I’ve read far worse by well-known prolific JAFF and Regency romance authors. Most of the common anachronisms included by Regency writers were avoided, and scenes were peppered with little touches of period description that helped move the reader’s imagination into another time.

One made a common mistake: rather than ending when the story arc had been completed, the story line digressed into a new plot direction when it should have been tying up loose ends. That wasn’t enough: an epilogue that had nothing to do with the plot line and was of a different style altogether followed. But the other two novels had perfect endings: no loose ends, the timing was neither abrupt nor dragged out, and the reader was satisfied with the romantic outcome.

Okay, a few flaws, but they still sound like good books, right? Read on…

Stockholm Public LibraryMost authors have at least one weak area in their writing, including those above. Some have continuity or inconsistency problems, so the reader is frequently pulled out of the story to flip back to try to resolve their confusion. Excess elements such as side plots, back story, or redundancy result in boredom. Too many novels have an inadequate premise with minimal conflict and a plot with no complex elements, rushing through predictable circumstances to their happily ever after while rendering the novel forgettable.

These three novels escaped those specific problems. The striking situation here was that even with the weak areas noted, the authors were skilled. Weaknesses were not specific to one novel; rather, each had one or two areas to improve upon but excelled for the most part. The novels each had an interesting, unique premise that was well-executed. Dashes of humour enhanced the dramatic themes, and excitement was felt during situations with physical action. Strong romantic themes supported the story arc. One in particular stood out among JAFF Regency novels for excellent story-telling that took the reader’s imagination away.

For a captivating story line, a reader could overlook one or two flaws, right? Read on…

All those positive aspects together in one novel should ensure an enjoyable read that wraps you up in a wonderful fantasy world. Yet sadly, the positives weren’t enough to make up for one simple gap they all had in common.

A lack of proofreading significantly spoiled the final result of what could have been a decent book.

If I were reviewing these novels for Amazon, a full star would be dropped at minimum for the proofreading errors alone. I’m not being trivial over a few minor typos. Plurals using an apostrophe and incorrect plural possessives, made-up spellings of words, homonyms and homophones used incorrectly, missing letters, missing periods at the end of sentences, and missing quotation marks on one end of a character’s dialogue are examples.

A JAFF author once questioned why I liked working with Meryton Press as opposed to self-publishing, and I listed the benefits I get for free, including editing. Her response?

“No one cares about editing. JAFF readers buy everything released and give top reviews no matter what the quality.”

Sadly, she’s right. Whether enchanting or bland, JAFF novels with poor attention to editing routinely get five-star reviews, even when the reviewer mentions the editing was bad! Review blogs never mention proofreading and ignore blatant mistakes, as they’ve rated these three books almost consistently at 4.5 to five stars. It’s disappointing for those of us who go the extra mile.

Many reviewers make exceptions for self-published books, saying poor editing is expected. That must be a disappointing surprise to 80% of self-published JAFF authors* who make that extra effort to put out quality novels for their fans. Readers shouldn’t reward author-publishers who are lazy or cheap any more than traditional publishers who employ editors who don’t know their craft—it’s not fair to those who care about their readers. I paid for the book. I have a right to expectations.

The errors added up, affecting my overall perception of these otherwise good books. The high-angst novel was one of the most entertaining books I’ve ever read, and though the problems were fewer than the other two, it had confusing head-hopping and enough proofreading errors that it was not just a slight omission. In all three novels, clearly no skilled person did a final check for the author.

red pen and laptop editing free image smallerA smart author won’t stop there. The use of a good general editor (substantial editor, line editor, and/or copy editor) would make these authors look so much more professional. Even those who can manage a good effort at all of the aspects mentioned above will have weak points they don’t see when they read through their work. Another set of eyes, particularly a professional who is experienced at what to watch for, can make an okay novel great.

I have huge appreciation for the beta teams who have assisted me with my unpublished work. Their volunteer, well intentioned, non-professional reviews helped me learn to be a better writer. This is great for JAFF sites such as A Happy Assembly  where members with a huge range of writing skills are encouraged to add to the large number of free stories. But if you charge for the book, you’ll be held to a higher standard.

A beta reader, Aunt Sally, an English major, or a teacher can’t take the place of an experienced professional editor. I’ve read JAFF novels written or edited by these supposed experts that had laughable errors. Professional editors are familiar with typical mistakes, the specifics of genre fiction rules, and lots of good alternatives to improve a novel.

Special smooches go to the Meryton Press editors I’ve worked with: Gail Warner and Christina Boyd. Both are caring, kind, fun women. With their unique talents and styles, each brought my writing to a higher level as professional editors. Ellen Pickels is the lady who covers the a55es for all of us as Meryton Press’s final editor. She serves as proofreader, layout editor and graphics editor! After reading the above mentioned novels, the view that she’s worth her weight in gold has been reinforced! Thanks to them all!

I hope authors who read this will know where they fit, and those who care will improve or continue their best practices and be proud of their dedication to their readers’ satisfaction. I also hope those who don’t care will get their just desserts someday, rather than a reward of five stars when they didn’t even try to respect their readers. Wishful thinking, I know.

 

* My “guesstimate.”

Note: This post has not been professionally edited. If you need a few spare commas, I probably have some to offer!

Next post: The Smart Author Self-Edits: some links to help you improve your craft.

What caused the Escalating Interest in Austen-Inspired Novels?

51B0ZBnqzlL._SX363_BO1,204,203,200_The latest JAFF fuss is about some kind of “bubble” and suggestions that soon, the “meteoric” trend of Austen-inspired novel sales will reverse itself. The belief is that the 200th anniversaries and the adaptations drive the market. I’m not the only blogger who disagrees, but I propose a different reason for the escalation in Austen-inspired books.

The oldest JAFF novel listed on Austenesque Reviews is Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton from 1914. It’s fairly well documented that P&P ’95 was a big influence on the proliferation of unpublished JAFF. Several web sites started for that purpose, and at one time, there were a good dozen multiple-author forum sites. But it wasn’t easy to get it published back then.

damask_wallpaper_seamless_background_pinkFrom Austenesque Reviews‘ lists, between 1995 and 2005, the total number of JAFF books published was less than in a month today, which according to Meredith Esparza at Austenesque Reviews is around 30. That’s in 10 years! They were mostly paper, as the attitude towards e-books was “Why pay when you can read on your computer for free?” Vanity publishers like Lulu charged around $60-$100 to convert and host your e-book.

First Generation Amazon Kindle, 2007

First Generation Amazon Kindle, 2007

 

E-readers hit the market in late 2007, but didn’t become popular immediately, as they cost $299 and were only available in the US.

In each of 2008 and 2009, the number of Austen-inspired novels published was similar to that published in a month today. Sourcebooks published a few JAFF novels each year, and starting in 2009, so did Meryton Press. The odd book was published by various other publishers, just as they are today. The number published slowly increased so in 2012, 62 books were published.

The biggest boost to published JAFF came when Kindle changed its input format for self-publishing. In 2011, Rafe Carlson had to program An Unpleasant Walk into Kindle format herself to publish the JAFF novel as an e-book on Amazon in September of that year. By the same time in 2012, I could put my formatted MS Word document of Alias Thomas Bennet directly into Kindle and have it pop out an e-book, complete with interactive TOC. In 2013, the number of JAFF books published nearly tripled from the previous year. When I scan Amazon, it appears that most Austen-inspired novels are self-published.

Now for my original point—is this about to end any time soon? From reading blogs of romance authors talking about how to set their price points, I discovered that a JAFF novel is a cash cow. An unknown JAFF author can sell more copies of their first Austen-inspired novel in the first month, with no marketing, than most newbie self-published romance writers sell in a year. JAFF novel sales are no longer the best-kept secret held by a handful of authors, but by no means will the market be saturated any time soon!

References:

  1. A Comprehensive Guide to Austenesque Novels on Austenesque Reviews.
  2. Amazon Kindle, Wikipedia.