Triangle Book & Writer Conference

Please note: This event has passed. However, the entire conference was filmed, and modules will be available to purchase after editing. In addition, the conference will return in September 2018. Details will be available later on the website shown below.

The Triangle Book & Writer Conference is back this year with some great panels and a well-known keynote speaker. You’re invited to attend the second annual TBW Conference on September 16, 2017, at North Carolina State University’s McKimmon Center. Last year’s event sold out and received many accolades from attendees.

Kristen Joy Laidig, the keynote speaker, has written and published 18 Kindle books in 18 weeks, started over 50 publishing companies for others, published over 200 books and e-books, and teaches hundreds of webinars. She coaches thousands of authors from idea to publication. In addition, there will be panels on creating a bestseller, turning your book into a platform for public speaking, books to film and more! I’ll be on the panel called “Easy Button for Working with Editors.”

Sign up now with the early bird discount for half-price tickets at www.TriangleBWC.com using the code BECKER.

See the conference announcement in the latest issue of Writer’s Digest now on sale.

Why Hire a Ghostwriter?

Clients seek my services as a ghostwriter for many reasons, but the most common one is lack of time. In our fast-paced world, many people can’t find the countless hours necessary to devote to telling the story that lives in their hearts or sharing the wisdom that lies untapped in their minds. Even with a ghostwriter, a would-be author still has to allot a number of hours to interviews. How much time that will take largely depends on the extent of the story or knowledge a person wishes to share. No matter how many interviews are required, the time saved by not writing the book yourself is no small thing. Writing a book is a major undertaking that involves huge chunks of time, so finding a ghostwriter may be the ideal solution for someone who is already stretched thin by current commitments.

A friend who happens to have an English degree confessed to me that it was more than lack of time for her. She said she could express her thoughts perfectly when teaching a class or discussing ideas with a companion but went as blank as her computer screen when faced with the prospect of putting words onto the page. Many clients share this issue. They can tell me with the greatest of ease what needs to be expressed, but they get a mental block when it comes to writing it.

Clients also employ a ghostwriter when their own expertise lies in a field other than writing. This is a large issue. Some people are naturals when it comes to putting pen to paper and conveying thoughts and feelings. Others simply find the process impossible. They may be wonderful entrepreneurs, engineers, programmers, scientists, healing arts practitioners, or a thousand other things, but they lack the training and experience needed to effectively express themselves as writers.

For some clients, the issue is the language itself. Occasionally I have clients whose primary language is something other than English. For them, working on a book in their second language would present challenges that could require a great deal of extra effort. In such cases it’s simply easier to hire someone else who can take their ideas and bring them into the language used by their audience.

These are only a few of the reasons for hiring a ghostwriter. You may have a different one. I look forward to helping you find your way to print by sharing your wisdom or your story in a way that captures your own style and still flows with the ease of a trained writer. Please get in touch if you want to discuss your project.

Editing Tips 2: Comma Chameleon

As an editor I sometimes wonder at the excessive use of commas. This form of punctuation was never meant to be inserted any time a writer feels the urge. It has many proper uses, and there are actually rules that apply.

The Comma Splice: This is a pet peeve of mine. When a writer joins two complete sentences together (independent clauses) with nothing more than a comma, this is incorrect. The proper form of punctuation in this instance would be the semicolon.
Wrong: John walked to the front door and rang the bell, he left quickly after getting no reply.
Correct: John walked to the front door and rang the bell; he left quickly after getting no reply.

Commas and Quotation Marks: In addition to writing it, I edit a fair amount of fiction, and one of the mistakes I commonly find is the placement of commas outside quotation marks in dialogue.
Wrong: “I can’t wait to meet him”, said Alice.
Correct: “I can’t wait to meet him,” said Alice.

Coordinating Conjunctions: Unless one or both sentences is quite short, use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or) when joining two independent clauses (i.e., two complete sentences).
Example: Margaret truly had a desire to make new friends, but she just couldn’t imagine herself going to the networking event.

Appositives: I’m positively nuts about appositives! As long as the information in the appositive is non-essential to the meaning of the sentence, it’s proper to place commas around the appositive in the middle of a sentence.
Example: The green-cheeked Amazon, a type of parrot, enjoyed sitting quietly on his perch as he watched the song birds out the window.

Introductory Dependent Clauses: It’s proper to place a comma after an introductory dependence clause.
Example: When Janet walked by the ocean, she always felt a sense of serenity and calm.

Commas to Address: When addressing someone, add a comma to offset the name of the person.
Example: Darlene, are you able to help me?

Offsetting the Negative: When you want to negate something in a sentence by adding a “not” statement, use a comma to do so.
Example: The green-cheeked Amazon is a type of parrot, not a parrotlet.

The Oxford Comma: Using the Oxford comma before the words “and” or “or” in a list has become the subject of much debate. I minored in journalism during college, and in that training the Oxford comma was strongly discouraged. However, it was the norm in literature classes. Which is correct? These days either is acceptable. Sometimes including the Oxford comma actually helps the sentence make sense. I personally would vote in favor of this old school usage, but I’m perfectly fine as an editor if a writer prefers to omit this comma.
Example of an Oxford comma: She planned to wear either the pink, yellow, or blue dress to the party.
Option 2: She planned to wear either the pink, yellow or blue dress to the party.

These are just a handful of the rules regarding commas. Get a good reference book and look up any additional questions.

 

Editing Tips 1: Repetition, Repetition

This is the first of several posts in which I will share insights that may help you craft a better book.

Repetition is not your friend!
Are you repeating the same word several times in a paragraph? There are occasions when this can’t easily be avoided, of course. While editing a book on interviewing recently, I came to realize that few words can take the place of “interview.” This word means more than a “conversation” or a “meeting,” and “interrogation” indicates an altogether different process. Almost all the words listed in my trusty thesaurus failed to match the exact meaning.

In such cases, I feel sure readers understand that reusing a word specific to the topic of the book is necessary. However, more often than not, a synonym or phrase could take the place of an often repeated word. Just be certain the synonym you choose actually expresses what you want to say. In my novel I wrote about the main character’s dream that happens while she is asleep. I couldn’t use the synonyms fantasy, trance or reverie, which all generally refer to something that happens in a state other than sleep.

Are you using the same sentence structure repeatedly? If your book offers little variety in sentence structure, your readers may become bored. Even a page of sentences filled with action verbs can lose its appeal if there is no variation in structure. However, the much more common problem is extensive use of passive voice (when the object of an action is used as the subject of the sentence). These sentences contain some form of the verb “to be.” Here’s an example:

Passive voice: The rock star was cornered by the relentless paparazzo.
Active voice: The relentless paparazzo cornered the rock star.

I recommend that you take a look at the first five pages in your book and examine them closely with this in mind. (It’s optimal to do so early in the writing process.) Here are a few questions you will want to ask yourself as you read:

  • Does virtually every sentence on the page contain a passive verb?
  • Are you starting almost all of your sentences with a prepositional phrase?
  • Do you have a good mix of simple, compound, and complex sentences, or are you primarily using only one of these sentence structures?

Be aware that a simple sentence in the midst of several complex sentences can draw a reader’s attention. Writers can use this structure as a way of bringing emphasis to a character’s feelings, for example, in fiction or to a concept in nonfiction.

Finally, are you using filler? Readers will catch on quickly if you are padding your book with repetitious material. How many times have you said the same thing over the span of the book? Of course, you want to make your point and be certain that the reader understands the information you seek to impart, but this is most adeptly done by clearly sharing the insights from the outset. By all means, give useful examples and reiterate the concept when needed. What may turn off readers, however, is the obvious repetition of material in order to pad the length of the book.

Time is one of the most precious commodities in our modern world, and there are countless books on the market. Give the readers content rather than repetition.

A Writer’s Perspective

A great substantive or developmental editor can be a writer’s best friend. However, I understand that it isn’t always easy for the writer to believe that during the process of editing.

I first wrote Grandfather Poplar as a short story in 1989. At the time, I was fortunate to receive developmental criticism of the original piece from a Hugo and Nebula Award winner. He gave me brilliant suggestions and encouraged me to turn the lengthy short story into a novel. His advice led to more robust characterization and a more compelling story, and I am grateful to this day for the insights he shared.

Fast forward to years later when I finally prepared the novel for publication. I worked with a copy editor who also did content/substantive editing. Even though I am adept at copy editing, I know well that it is impossible for a writer to find all of her or his own mistakes. Omitted words are in your head, you see. Those properly spelled words that are wrong by only one letter (hot/hit, few/fee, in/on, of/off, etc.) are invisible because you know what is supposed to be there; therefore, that is what you view on the page. I was shocked at the many little things my copy editor found, and I was thankful that the book received this fine-toothed comb to remove the errors I as the writer had missed.

For the most part, I felt equally grateful for the substantive editing work. However, I got a piece of criticism that was hard to accept. My editor told me that my first chapter wasn’t strong enough and needed to have more tension in order to entice my readers. This struck me to the core. I was attached to that chapter. I had rewritten it multiple times and edited it again and again over the course of years. My heart said, “It is perfect. My editor is crazy.”

After feeling hurt and disappointed that my elegantly-written book opening elicited anything less than glowing remarks, I spent a few days away from the project and returned with the intention of reading the beginning of the novel as someone other than the writer. When I did, I recognized the truth in this criticism. While there were many important things introduced in that former first chapter, there was not enough substance to compel the reader to continue into the story. It lacked urgency, action, suspense—oomph.

The new first chapter that was prompted by my content editor brought more life to the beginning of the book, and I feel it is far superior to the previous opening. The old first chapter didn’t go away, of course. It simply became chapter two.

There were other changes as well. This was just one example. To my authors I say, “I have been where you are.” I know how much a writer can benefit from substantive editing (as well as copy editing), but I also understand how it feels when someone tells you that you need to alter material you hold dear to your heart and mind. As a content and developmental editor, I approach my writers with that compassion and knowing that comes from being one who deeply grasps both the perspective of writer and editor.

If I suggest cuts or massive rewrites, I do so with one intention: making your work the best it can be. I realize that this manuscript is your “baby,” and I’m here to be the best midwife possible in the birth of that beloved book, to usher you through those labor pains to the desired result. I want you to receive the glowing reviews that every writer covets. It would be my utmost joy to see your work ranked among the bestsellers. That’s why I do what I do.

Why Editing Matters

Spell and grammar checking programs are wonderful for what they can do, but there are so many things they can’t provide. All too often I have tried to wade through self-published books that weren’t edited properly (or at all) only to find myself bogged down in prose that contains countless errors. A few of the most common ones are misplaced, wrongly used or omitted words, run-on sentences, frequent redundancy, misuse of commas, subjective and objective case mistakes and lack of subject-verb agreement.

Unfortunately, readers may dismiss or devalue what is shared in a book that is rife with grammatical or other writing problems. The author ends up sounding unprofessional. Worse yet, a reader may put down the book because it is too much of a struggle to read.

Not long ago a business acquaintance asked me to write a review of her unedited self-published novel. My friend definitely has a natural talent for storytelling, a delightful imagination and a wonderful wit. Grammatical expertise, however, is not in her skill set, and sadly she chose to publish without the benefit of a copy editor. Her book contained numerous sentences that I had to reread to figure out what was being said. From page one, there were problems with word usage and grammar that interrupted the flow of her writing.

In this fiction work, the story itself was brilliant. Yet, there were sections of lengthy exposition that a good content editor could have convinced her to pare down to something that contained the weight and scope of the idea without overwhelming the reader with numerous pages of philosophy. As a developmental/content editor, I would have told my friend that ideology expressed through scenes, actions and characterization may convince the reader much more readily than a full chapter of nothing except the lengthy expression of a principle.

Thankfully, despite the difficulty in navigating the writing and grammatical issues, I was able to find good things to say about the plot. In order to be both kind and truthful, my brief review spoke entirely to story and character. When it came to the grammar and writing, I simply applied the old adage, “If you can’t find something good to say, say nothing at all.”

I came away from that experience knowing that I needed to convince friends and colleagues to hire an editor before self-publishing. If you have read self-published books that weren’t edited, you probably recognize the importance of seeking help from a qualified professional. Both fiction and nonfiction require clarity, flow and comprehensible style. Otherwise, a reader who isn’t a colleague or friend will simply put the book aside and lose the opportunity to connect to your story, wisdom, insight and knowledge.

Writing Resources and Advice

I’d love to be able to share some advice with new writers before they begin that first novel. As an editor I’ve run into too many occasions where fiction writers don’t have the necessary understanding of point of view, characterization, and plot development. I also encounter manuscripts that lack substance and flow. I’m including here a few ideas to help writers bring to life a book that entices readers. Although I’m speaking primarily to fiction writers, some of this applies to nonfiction as well.

  1. Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” I love this quote from William Faulkner, but to be honest I lean toward seeking out the best rather than reading “the bad.” Find the authors whose works you love. Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” A truer statement was never spoken.
  2. After you’ve digested a wide range of fiction books, it’s time to read extensively in the genre you want to write. Youth market writers need to read books that appeal to that age group. If you want to create science fiction, embrace the best that genre has to offer—Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, and a host of others. Realize as well that the majority of these writers had a strong foundation in classic literature. If you want to be an accomplished writer, the first step is reading great books. Drink in the language. Study the depth and intricacy of plot and character and peruse the material with the discernment of a writer.
  3. If you don’t have a degree in English, you may want to take a literature class in the classics at your local college or university. Studying literature develops the imagination, enhances critical thinking ability and helps us to understand the common themes expressed through writing.
  4. Take classes! Look for those taught by writers, not just people who study writing. In the late ’80s, I wanted to get back into fiction writing again and scanned the offerings of the local community college. I found classes offered by a renowned author who wrote in the genre I loved most. Perhaps you don’t have access to a bestselling writer in your own hometown as I did, but now it’s easy to find help from online classes and tele-seminars from authors and publishers. Of course, if you can find a local class taught by an author, nothing compares to the level of direct help you may receive this way.
  5. Join a writers’ network or attend local conferences. Here in central North Carolina, we have a couple of events. I attended the Triangle Book & Writer Conference in 2016 and was on one of their panels in 2017. I received a wealth of information that would benefit new writers. Conferences can help you find great resources including writing coaches, teachers, and publishers.
  6. Hire a writing coach. Even if you can afford only a few sessions with a mentor who is experienced in the field, you may benefit tremendously from this kind of expertise.
  7. Once your writing project is underway, join a critique group. Being part of a group of fellow writers who share suggestions, spark ideas, and spur you to meet deadlines can prove valuable. However, it’s important to find the right group for you. Some may include people who prefer to belittle rather than offer constructive advice. Others may be focused on simply being social or pumping each other’s egos. Neither of these will help you craft quality writing.
  8. Yes, “write what you know,” but that doesn’t mean giving a replay of your life story. Obviously many authors draw on their lives in terms of setting, characterization, sometimes events and even dialogue, but good writers share what they know within—the wisdom and emotional understanding born of those life experiences. Whether you create a world based entirely on your imagination and people it with creatures from other planets or set your story in your own neighborhood and draw on the kind of people you have known all your life only matters in terms of genre. What is far more important is breathing life into that world and those characters by revealing the depth of your own inner understanding. Write what you know in your heart and in your gut, and your world will come to life.
  9. Make it your own. Whether or not you agree with Christopher Booker that there are only seven basic plots in fiction, we can recognize that certain themes repeat across the ages of storytelling. Luckily, each of us has a unique voice to share those same comedies, tragedies, odysseys, etc. The trick is finding your voice and your distinctive take on these age-old plots. Here’s an exercise you may find helpful: Read a scene from a favorite book or play and then rewrite it from your own perspective. Use your words, your voice, your heart, and your perspective. See how your version differs from that of the original passage. You probably sound considerably different. Reread both scenes out loud. Listen to the voice of the other writer and how it contrasts to your own.
  10. Devour and digest the following reference materials. For fiction, you can skip the William Zinsser book if you wish, but understanding the material in the others will bring skill and quality to your work. If you have another great grammar book, that’s fine, of course.

Recommended Reading and Reference Materials:
Orson Scott Card: Characters & Viewpoint (Elements of Fiction Writing)
William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White: The Elements of Style
William Zinsser: On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction
Susan Thurman and Larry Shea: The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need: A One-Stop Source for Every Writing Assignment

Fiction Writing Sample

The following writing sample is an excerpt from “The Pearl,” a fiction story I wrote many years ago.

Daniel sat in the chair in the hollow room gripping the pearl in his hand until he felt the fingers begin to numb. He could hardly breathe. But if he loosened his grasp for even a moment every corpuscle, every cell in his body might fragment into infinite particles. Or something worse. His memories—all his years with her—might be erased as if they never happened.

He sat by Alicia’s bedsidefor how long? Was it a moment or a lifetime ago that she told him her story and handed him the pearl? The pearl that had been the only secret that came between them, the only part of her life she hadn’t shared until the end.

She had asked him to turn down the morphine drip so that she could think clearly. He saw how excruciating the pain was this morning, but reluctantly he did as she asked.

“I have something to tell you, my love, and I can’t say it when my mind is clouded,” Alicia said. “I need to tell you the story of the pearl.” She grasped the pendant around her neck, the locket that remained ever closed and always with her.

“I know you’ve wondered all these years about the contents of my locket. Thank you for asking me only once and understanding my answer.”

How well he remembered. In truth, he hadn’t understood but did his best to live with her vague response that it was a gift from her mother that they alone could share.

“I wanted to tell you long ago, but. . . . Maybe once you know the whole story, you’ll understand, Daniel.”

She paused for a moment and caught her breath doing her best to avoid visibly wincing. But she could never hide from him. He’d been forced to watch with all too much awareness while the disease swallowed her once beautiful body inch by inch. Her pain had finally become another living breathing being who shared their home and their lives.

“You see, mi amor,” she said, clutching the locket that hung just below her thin, pale neck, “My mother gave me this when I was just five years old—old enough to comprehend but young enough to believe. When you’re very young, you’re open to a world of possibilities, and it’s easy to accept things that adults might not find plausible. So I warn you, Daniel,” she said, smiling up at him. “What I’m going to say may sound a little loco to you.”

© 1995 Lillian D. Henderson