Everybody Hates Editing

Argh!!! Get someone to do it for you, it's money well spent.

Editing – Argh!!! Get someone to do it for you, it’s money well spent.

Ever heard of the Oxford comma?

“The ‘Oxford comma’ is an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list: We sell books, videos, and magazines.”

Weird isn’t it? Well you’re not alone if you think grammatical rules are sometimes a bit draconian. I mean, who are you to tell me I can’t put a comma here, or here, or right towards the end of this sentence, huh?

As long as it flows, right? While some writers are more pedantic about writing styles, syntax and grammar, others prefer to freestyle their ideas and sacrifice any adherence to traditional language rules. However, although rules are indeed made to be broken, some writers take it too far. The result is a sloppy, patchy, and unintelligible eyesore of a text.

The wild vagaries of writers aren’t always to blame though. While some writers do try their best to keep Spell-Check and AutoCorrect quiet, anyone capable of constructing slightly complex sentences is aware that a simple there/their/they’re error can cruise past syntax security. You might also know that reading your own book twenty times over doesn’t really stop those subtle typos from hijacking your trip to JK Rowling or EL James status—you just can’t spot them!

So what do you do? You phone up The Editors. These guys are vicious error assassins. They usually charge ad valorem fees, depending on how long your book is and how you want the job done. Be it straightforward and mechanical, or sophisticated and creative, the Editor gets the job done. You won’t have to worry about your worst enemies sneaking past built-in grammar checks and getting onboard your paperback or Kindle flights to stardom—nothing escapes the eyes of The Editor.

Scary isn’t it? Yeah, maybe you should be scared. Not only do Editors knock out errors stone cold, some of them knock a big chunk off your publishing budget as well.

BUT, maybe you shouldn’t avoid them altogether. The reality is that the stingy writer who insists on a zero-cost publishing tour and takes on the gruesome job of editing themselves often faces instant death as their hijacked flight crashes and their error-plagued books fall prey to the vultures patrolling the skies of Amazon — the harsh reviewers.

Can’t I just edit my book and republish it? You can, but don’t be too optimistic about a book’s resurrection once it has been published and has started incurring heavily critical reviews concerning poor editing. Once this has started happening, even Aragorn would be hard put to help you. But then again:

There is always hope.

Variety is the spice of life


A splash of colour does not constitute originality

Perhaps it’s my age but I find it really depressing, the number of books which are all clones of one another – you know, the ‘two-score-and-ten mucky-white half-tones’ spin-offs. Got it now?

It’s not just erotica (although, goodness knows that’s rife with the ‘must be like …’ disease), it’s the outbreak of paranormal stories all of which mimic each other within their genre, that’s truly depressing.

I was absolutely flabbergasted to read the other day about there being ‘rules’ for how zombies, werewolves and vampires should behave. Am I missing something? There are no such creatures and, even if there were, the way in which they behave would be governed by both the laws of nature and their own psychological make-up, not by a series of rules dreamt up by authors with overactive imaginations.

I thought that such rigidity to man-made pseudo-science was reserved for Klingon conventions but I’m clearly wrong.

Someone reading this might well accuse me of sour grapes – if only we’d got the publishing rights for any of the popular books or films in these sub-genres, it’d be a different story, you say – but I’m also objecting to the need for authors to be carbon copies of each other or otherwise face certain shunning. Originality was once the Holy Grail of us publishers but it’s been replaced with a detailed check to see that the latest manuscript submission hasn’t broken any of the seemingly ‘written in stone’ rules about non-existent paranormal creatures.

Writing is an expression of individuality and creativeness so let’s see some of that with some real originality and inventiveness.

Once upon a time


Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Once upon a time, not that many years ago, there lived certain wizards who would take the carefully written words of local citizens and transform them into beautiful works which were available to all. These people were much revered and respected for they held the keys to prosperity and longevity for those citizens skilled in the wordsmith’s craft. However the ways of these wizards were mysterious and they were a law unto themselves with their aloofness and dismissive attitude towards the citizens.

In time, these wizards became conceited, greedy, indolent and complacent. The citizens grew restless for change but, for a very long time, change didn’t come. Then, when it finally did, and the magnificent edifices of the wizards were torn asunder, the citizens rejoiced. “Now we are no longer at the mercy of the wizards!” they proclaimed. Sadly for them, all was not to be well for long in the realm. Where once the network of wizards had ruled, now chaos reigned supreme with every citizen for themselves and evil, faceless creatures sprang up who promised deliverance but merely took the citizens’ gold and then disappeared.

The chaos also brought about a reduction in standards with the wordsmith’s craft rapidly becoming a lost skill. No longer did anyone care what was published and there was no-one left to enforce the requirement that wordsmiths possess the essential skills that they once had to demonstrate before a wizard would agree to represent them. Once again, the people grew angry and restless. “What have we done?” and “We need a champion!” they shouted.

To be continued …

Write what you know about


Write about what you know.

It’s a message which has been repeated over and over again but you’ll still find authors out there trying to do it. Being ‘Tricky-Dicky’ as my other half would put it. Just as the infamous ‘Tricky-Dicky’ didn’t get away with it (good try but no cigar), the authors who think that they can skip over details, fudge ignorance or adjust the laws of man and nature to suit their story’s plot, don’t get away with it either.

I’ll go one further. From the perspective of both a publisher and a reader, it’s a far better experience to read a simple story that’s been done to perfection than struggle through a complex plot written by someone who clearly didn’t know what they were talking about. The old adage about fool’s opening their mouths and removing any doubts regarding their cerebral capacity comes to mind.

This is today’s message. Say what you know and know what you say. Your confidence will shine through and, while it may not be the most stunning piece of prose to ever be written, it will (at least) be correct.

If you’re thinking “What’s this person raving about?” then you need to a) question your own standards and b) spend a happy hour reading the forum posts on something like IMDB.

Writing is a learning experience. You write, you learn, and then you write about what you’ve learnt.

Stress on the accent

849029Many of the books I’ve been reading recently have featured characters whose first language is not English. This situation has always presented a bit of a conundrum to both writers and film makers and I’m sorry to say that many don’t handle it very well.

As a species, we’ve reached the stage where travel is commonplace making transhumance (as people move around looking for jobs) relatively commonplace. As a child, there was a song ‘Trains and boats and planes’ which featured the line ‘a ticket to Paris or Rome’.  The very idea of going to such places seemed far-fetched yet now I write this with Rome just a few hours away down the road.

Multiculturalism is a fact of modern life and, in a writing context, this means embracing foreign languages and characters. What it boils down to is that you’ve three basic choices:

  1. Do it all in English.
  2. Start off in the foreign language and gradually slip into English having made your point.
  3. Do it all in the other language.

The first is a complete cop-out although it does work. Sadly, it can fail to convey some of the aspects of the character or the location so you’ll have to work hard to rectify that. While the third is technically correct, you will have to find a way of unobtrusively incorporating it. You’ll also need to make sure that your foreign text is not just correct, it’s colloquially correct. Unless you’re truly fluent, that means getting it translated by a native speaker.

The second option is a simpler solution although it can easily come back and bite you. Remember, don’t change language half-way through a sentence because that puts you in the ‘Moi? Pretentious?’ category. Also, what you do write needs to be sufficient to get across the nature of your character but no more. It also has to be correct – so get it checked over.

Since there are no accents in the English language, we’re notoriously hopeless at handling them when we do meet them. These accents do genuinely matter – they change the sound of the word – so it’s essential you get them correct. French has the acute accent, the grave accent and )the cedilla (ç) which goes under some c’s to soften them. German has umlauts that can go over the letters a, o and u  (ä , ö, ü) plus an Esszett (ß)which is an old-fashioned double-s.

Some word-processors may struggle to cope with these characters – that’s no excuse. If you’re to look the part, you need to include them otherwise they’re just spelling mistakes.

Times are changing


Anyone can write a book (coughs)

When I started writing this feature, I thought long and hard about making a pun on the word ‘times’ using both its temporal and typographic meanings.

When Kindles first began appearing, there were relatively few e-books about. As always, there were plenty of people who cried “It’ll never catch on!” and “Readers want real books!” but, bar a few die-hards, they’ve largely disappeared: e-books are the ‘now’ and the ‘immediate future’ – like it or not. In those early days, just about any book stood a chance of being bought. For example, in terms of the book’s cover, you could probably have got away with a black background with blocky white text saying “My Book” or even Amazon’s stunningly awful ‘holding’ cover (which is what you get if you don’t upload a jpg of your cover).

Not now.

The marketplace has since been swamped by every man and his dog who decided that they were capable of stringing a few sentences together. “Hey! (they no doubt thought) Here’s a chance to get rich. Let’s use the spellcheck, the free conversion software and have a go.”

The trouble is that a spellchecker can’t discriminate between ‘where’, ‘wear’ and ‘ware’, everyone knows that ‘alot’ is correct (groans loudly at this point) and that the words ‘could’, ‘should’ and ‘would’ are all followed by the word ‘of’ (as opposed to ‘have’ which is completely wrong). Additionally, the free conversion programs are notorious for not removing the extraneous code that a certain popular word processing program insists on inserting (why?) – something which can cause e-reader devices to freak out when they encounter it.

Finally, many new authors decided they could stand out by using the fancy typeface (the typographical reference) which looked so blindingly good on their word-processed version. Unfortunately such a font would probably not be mobi-friendly and this, combined with the aforementioned strange control codes, resulted in a poor quality product which only served to deter would-be readers from buying the work of unknown authors.

Times have changed – times are hard. If you want your book to get sold, you need to get wise to the standard it has to be produced to. There’s nothing essentially wrong with ‘home-made’ as long as it’s been produced by professionals.

How long until the physical book is dead?

Boy wearing cap

Times have changed

Although the invention of printing is largely accredited to Gutenberg with his introduction of the metal plate technique in 1452, it really stemmed from the Chinese some 6 centuries before. However, even though Gutenberg (and then Caxton) started the ‘mass-production’ of books, it wasn’t until the rapid rise of literacy during the Victorian era (in 1840 over 30% of grooms and 50% of brides were literate compared to well over 95% by the turn of the century) had taken effect, that the possession of books became truly commonplace.

It’s now just over a century since then and we’re contemplating scrapping physical books entirely. E-book sales are now significantly exceeding those of printed books by varyingly accredited factors (this depends upon your point of view) but there’s no doubt that one is on the up and the other is on the way out. A simple tablet computer can hold tens of thousands of books, be searchable, updatable, capable of remembering where you are in each book, allow you to scribble notes and highlight text at your will. Not only that, e-books are cheaper and immediate. A few seconds after placing your order, you can be perusing its virtual pages.

No doubt there is a book-buying generation who won’t make the transition but they’re the same generation with failing eyesight and a demographic trend towards the final 3 letters one encounters in this world, RIP. Even allowing for POD (Print On Demand) books, there must be a point in the not too distant future where possessing a physical book will be as rare as it was half a millennium previously.

How do you spot a fake review?

Mouse trap

Don’t get caught by a fake review

Have you ever been ‘persuaded’ to buy a book on the back of its good reviews? If so, you may have fallen prey to the effects of one or more fake reviews which had been placed at the bequest of the author, their publisher or their fans.

But, how can you spot a fake review? There are four main indicators that you may (repeat ‘MAY’) be looking at a phoney review.

1. Date

This is the biggest clue. For most authors, reviews come in dribs and drabs. If someone’s bought a batch of reviews, they’ll appear within a few days of each other – usually around the time of the book’s launch (for added implausibility). Not only that, they’ll all be glowing and uncritical.

2. Similarity

Fake reviews are often ‘spun’. This means that a review is rewritten a number of times with the main words replaced (thesaurus-style). This allows a reviewer with multiple user names to upload as many reviews.

3. Vagueness

If you’re writing a review, even if you’ve no experience of doing one, you’re going to praise or carp about at least one specific aspect of the book. Someone who’s writing a fake review won’t have had time to read it so their review will be woolly and ‘general’ – 3 to 4 sentences which could easily have been written about any title.

4. Plot summary

Does the review sound more like the back cover? If so, it may well be that it’s the author behind it. This type of review is the exact opposite of the last one but put the two together and you still won’t have a genuine review!

Like I said, just because a review seems to fall into one of the above categories, it doesn’t make it a fake but it should set off alarm bells in your head. There’s no law against being sceptical or suspicious – those words are just euphemisms for commonsense.


No books in the library

Toilet paper

Would you want to use virtual toilet paper?

Years ago I remember one of my wife’s teenage students proudly announcing that there were “No books in the library” – something which made us roar with laughter at the time (after she’d left, of course) and has since gone on to become a bit of a catchphrase in our establishment for when someone can’t be bothered to make an effort.

Obviously our teenage friend (now long grown up, of course) was referring to there being no (easy to find) books on the particular subject matter that she was interested in and not claiming that some over-educated gang of thieves (such as local politicians) had taken it upon themselves to clean the library out. Nowadays, of course, the idea of there being no physical books in a library is far from nonsensical – in fact it can only be a matter of time for most such establishments.

After all, I can store tens of thousands of books on my tablet – just think what a 1 petabyte (1,000 Terabytes) hard drive could hold.

The trouble is that this then opens a huge can of worms. In the old days, you went along, found a book, signed it out to yourself, went home to read it and that was that. One book meant one borrower. With e-books that goes out the window.

One book – (potentially) billions of borrowers.

Thus, unless the library of the future insists that you read your book on the library’s premises, you are going to have to download the book onto your own device and then go home and read it. Given that DRM (Digital Rights Management) is no safeguard for an author against their book being ripped off, what is to stop the borrower from circulating it? At the moment, relatively few digital books are borrowed but, as libraries move inevitably towards virtuality, it’s an inescapable conclusion that this is going to be a major influence on sales of e-books.

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