10 Grammar Saves in 10 Years

I have a guest post today from a fellow laborer in the salt mines of proofreading. Good thing she made these saves before the books went to print! It’s people like Stephanie who help keep me from getting angry, because she keeps those horrendous errors from ending up in the final product. Enjoy!

Stephanie Rische

I’m not quite sure how I blinked and 10 years passed, but last month I woke up and realized it had been a whole decade since I jumped into the world of editing and publishing. It has been a good decade, and in honor of the mile marker, I thought I’d share with you 10 of the errors I’ve stopped from going into print over the past 10 years.

 

{Note: I have omitted the authors and titles of these books to protect the relevant parties, but rest assured, these are all real quotes from real books.}

grammar3

 

10. My daddy was a steal worker, and my granddaddy was a steal worker.

[Sounds like a kind of shady business to me.]

 

9. Gelatins 2:16 clearly states that human deeds can never save us.

[Shockingly, the book of Gelatins made it through spell-check but not canonization.]

 

8…

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Pages in the Hands of an Angry Editor

Thanks Nathan Sturgis for the title of this week’s blog, and thanks Jonathan Edwards for the sermon that inspired it.

Let me clarify, however. I’m not angry. I tend to be on a pretty even keel most of the time. Frustration is more the word than anger. Part of it is my own obsessive compulsive desire to get things right. A printed book should not have errors. That’s a given. So forgive me for a little anger when a document gets sent to the printer who then prints a book with blatant errors.

I just spent the last week proofreading two books for a publisher. One was printed with such blatant errors that I was hired to do a full proofread quickly so they can do a reprint and send new books to everyone who got the old error-ridden books. Somewhere along the line, someone dropped the ball. The other book was a revision with updated chapters replacing old chapters. Problem is, the new author didn’t take into account any kind of style issues from the old book. While the former book had endnotes in the standard superscripted numbers, the new chapters incorporated the notations within the text. Then there were the capitalization and other stylistic issues (Oxford commas, anyone?). Someone (that would be me) had to go through and make it all consistent.

Don’t get me wrong. I get kind of gleeful when I’m catching and cleaning up errors. I’m thrilled to standardize a book that’s in process. But when a book has been published and went “out there” for all the world to see (with, among other sins, a running header that had only one word from the title instead of the full title) . . . well, that just makes me angry.

Someone should have known better. But then I remember that I’ve had my share of times when I let something slip on by.

So much can go wrong. A Word document or pdf can get lost or corrupted. Changes don’t get saved. Someone picks up the wrong version and then the dominoes just keep falling. A lack of a clean template wreaks havoc  (oh my goodness, I wish everyone knew style tags). Edits get misplaced. A single page change gets forgotten. A change randomly requested by email gets waylaid.

It’s difficult to keep everything straight as files fly back and forth. Even with Dropbox and Google docs, the possibility of error remains high.

And if a busy editor gets the bluelines (the set of pages, in blue ink, sent from the printer to show exactly how the book will look when printed–it’s the last last last chance to make a change, and if you do, it’ll probably cost money) at a time when harried by another deadline, it’s tempting to do a quick scan and send it on its way.

And miss the fact that a word from the title that is supposed to appear on every verso running head is not there.

Arrgh!

It comes down to having a good project management system in place. It comes down to being organized. There are so many steps a manuscript goes through:

  1. The manuscript comes in as a Word doc from the author.
  2. The editor saves a new version and does an edit filled with queries for the author.
  3. The editor and author go back and forth with the electronic document, new versions made and saved each time.
  4. Once the manuscript is the way the author and editor want it, it goes to a copyeditor.
  5. The copyeditor makes a new electronic version and reads for clarity, consistency, correctness, and readability. Style tags are added at this point.
  6. That manuscript goes back and forth with queries to the author and/or the editor, and the copyeditor has to collate those changes (here’s a nice place for Google docs!).
  7. A final clean manuscript goes to the typesetter.
  8. The typesetter flows the manuscript into the designer’s template and creates a pdf.
  9. The pdf goes to the proofreader who marks corrections.
  10. The typesetter makes the corrections, but, not being an editorial person, often notoriously misinterprets the proofreader’s corrections (proofreaders need to be extremely clear!).
  11. The proofreader checks all of the corrections, sends another version of the pdf for corrections still to be made, and this goes back and forth.
  12. The typesetter then creates the final pdf that gets uploaded to the printer.

See how many places things can go wrong?

It comes down to being careful, being organized, being watchful. Even a little obsessive compulsive in order to get it right.

And then, after all that organization and care and watching, the printed book comes out.

And there’s always an error somewhere.

We do our best. That’s all we can do.

Words Matter (and So Do Fish)

Thought you’d like to see a glimpse of my fan club.

My fishy fan club.
My fishy fan club.

Seriously, these little guys totally love me. They’re like groupies (not group-ers, group-ies). Whenever I walk outside my back door into the garden, they all come as one and follow me as I walk by. They dog-paddle (fish-paddle?) at the edge of the pond and watch my every move.

They totally love me.

Or, more likely, they totally think I’m going to feed them.

But still . . .

I like the fact that they notice me. I think it’s funny how they come as an entire group with their little mouths up out of the water looking at me so longingly.

When we moved into this house a few years ago, the little pond was already there with all of these fish (a neighbor recently ‘fessed up that she had taken some of the overflow from her pond and dumped them here during the year that the house was vacant). We had moved in at the end of October and didn’t have a clue what to do to winterize a pond. We figured that the house had sat vacant the winter before and no one had done anything, so we’d just let it go and see what would happen. Sure enough, the little pond froze over and got covered with a layer of snow. We figured we’d have to skim out the dead fish and start over come spring.

Then, as the water thawed, so, apparently, did the fish. By the time the Indiana air turned warm, the fish were back to their usual selves.

The moment I drop some fish food in the pond, I’ve got myself a fan club.

Wouldn’t the writing life be nice if we just dropped a few of our choice words into the world’s pond and we suddenly had such loyal fans? Fans who waited on our every word? Fans who knew we posted on our blog every week and sat by their computer, eyes wide, mouth agape, waiting for us to toss the morsels their way?

Eh, maybe not. fishies2

I just reach into the bag of fish food and toss the same morsels to those fishies every day. And they love me for it.

I can’t do that with my writing. I’m not looking to recycle a formula or take the easy route. In my blog post a couple weeks ago, I talked about the hard work of writing. Our words matter. That’s why even though only a few people may read something we write, we still agonize over what we want to say. We want to represent ourselves well, say what we mean, write something that will be enjoyable or helpful or compelling or inspiring to those folks who take a few minutes of their day to read our musings.

We do that because our writing matters so much to us.

We do that because we instinctively know that the words we put out there can have a life of their own.

Back before everyone was blogging, before Facebook and Twitter, I had a couple little books published. They’re long out of print, so imagine my surprise when a couple of years ago I found one of those books at a garage sale. (You know you’ve arrived when you find your book at a garage sale.) Then, a few years after that, when everyone was blogging and Facebooking and Tweeting, my son sent me a link to a YouTube video a woman had done to recommend another of my books.

Our words live on.

So I guess that’s my encouragement to my writing friends. You never know when a piece of your writing will rise again. Even if a book you wrote years ago went out of print causing you untold despair, it still lives on.

I tell students in Writing classes that they never know how or when a piece of writing will inspire someone. That’s why it matters so much. That’s why we do that hard work of writing. We put ourselves out there because we have something to share and we want to join our friends in digital conversation.

I’ll never know the paths my words have taken. I only know that they’re still out there with little lives of their own.

Our words matter. They live on.

Just like my fishy fan club.

A Classic Summer (#tweettheclassics)

I have plenty to do to keep myself out of trouble this summer, what with fish to feed and gardens to weed and cats who keep having kittens and a research project to finish and a syllabus to write, not to mention the great time to be had at the Midwest Writers Workshop at the end of July.

But what is summertime about if not reading? I’ve been focused on the books I’m reading for my classes, and in the fall I’ll be up to my ears in Shakespeare and the English Romantics, so I’m enjoying this little window to choose my own reading. I got inspired by my summer intensive class where I read:

The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby

The Blithedale Romance–Nathanael Hawthorne
Their Eyes Were Watching God–Zora Neale Hurston
The Great Gatsby–F. Scott Fitzgerald
Frankenstein–Mary Shelley
The Awakening–Kate Chopin
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn–Mark Twain

I also reread Crime and Punishment (just for fun) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Now I have decided to devote this summer to revisiting some classics. Here’s what’s on my reading list for the remainder of the summer (so far):

Moby Dick
Moby Dick

Moby Dick–Herman Melville
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer–Mark Twain
The Scarlet Letter–Nathanael Hawthorne
The House of the Seven Gables–Nathanael Hawthorne
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man–James Joyce
Uncle Tom’s Cabin–Harriet Beecher Stowe
Walden–Henry David Thoreau

So what are some of your favorite classic books?

And how about a little challenge. . . . What if I asked you to tweet the classics?

Join me at #tweettheclassics on Twitter (@LindaEdits) and see if you can condense a classic work into about 100 characters (you need to save enough room to add the hashtag and at least some of the book title).

Here’s what I have so far:

In class, we talked about how Dr. Frankenstein (remember the creator is Frankenstein; the monster is not named) is so narcissistic, so self-absorbed, that he willingly lets the monster dash about the countryside killing people because he’s unwilling to deal with the consequences of his actions. In the end, Dr. Frankenstein is more like a monster than the monster himself.

Here’s another one:

Everyone was so willing to party for free at Gatsby’s house, but, despite Nick’s Carraway’s best efforts, “nobody came” to his funeral. Not even Daisy, the object of Gatsby’s obsession. You’d think she could have torn herself away for a few moments? You’d think that the obvious fact that Jay Gatsby took the bullet (literally) for her killing a woman might have softened her narcissistic little heart? But no.

Speaking of narcissists:

I had never read The Awakening before. Edna Pontellier is such a complex character, but I have to say I’m glad she isn’t in my circle of friends or family. Sure, she’s trying to be empowered. Sure, she’s trying to find herself. Sure, this was the timeframe when women didn’t have the opportunities that we take for granted (they couldn’t yet vote, for pete’s sake). But her self-centeredness grates on me.

So here’s my challenge to you. Can you tweet the classics? Either sum up the book in those few characters or tweet a favorite (short) line. Put the title of the book with a hashtag and “tweettheclassics” with a hashtag. I have a column on my Tweetdeck so I can see what we get! I’ll feature some in future blog posts. I’ll be adding more of my own as well.

Wordsworth, Rockwell, and Leaping Hearts

I admit to falling in love again . . . I have rediscovered William Wordsworth. I love this poem titled “My heart leaps up when I behold“:

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man,
So be it when I shall grow old
Or let me die!
The child is father of the man:
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

I’m currently taking a summer intensive course on the Romantic writers (the last three classes in my English program are literature! Yay!). Here are just the books for the next four weeks (not to mention numerous links to other writing such as my dear Wordsworth above):

bedside books

It’s been many years since I read these books, several decades since my English major. It almost makes me want to cry with joy to be “forced” to reread some of the greatest literature of all time. I’m scribbling notes of books I simply must read again, books any self-respecting English Lit major should know (or at least remember). Add Moby Dick to the above pile. It’s been too long, Captain Ahab! We must meet again!

But I digress . . .

What I love about the poem by Wordsworth is that it correctly assesses how I feel about my writing. Asked in a class last semester to determine my personal “aesthetic,” I thought long and hard. What do I want to write about? Who am I as a writer? I’ve been an editor for so many years that my writing got neglected. When I came back to it, I had to rediscover myself.

I honestly don’t recall “who influenced me” beyond what I’m sure was just the love of words and books. I can’t remember specifics. One thing I do recall, however, is staring for hours at the paintings by Norman Rockwell in a big coffee table book my parents had. I loved his realism. I loved how he captured a story in a painting so realistic that it almost looked like a snapshot. Having a dad in the military, this is probably one of my favorites:

"The Homecoming" by Norman Rockwell (1945)
“The Homecoming” by Norman Rockwell (1945)

The young boy dashing down the stairs to meet the returning soldier might well have been my ten-year-old self greeting my dad on his return from Vietnam.

What I love is realism. Take a moment. Capture it. Paint it for the reader.

Like Wordsworth, I want to notice things, to always have my heart leap up when I encounter nature in its beauty or a moment in time that must be captured in writing.

I like the short form. Sarah Hollowell set me on to Short Story Month (May, if you didn’t know) and Cathy Day commented on that blog, describing a friend who used 750words.com to write 750-word stories. So that’s my challenge . . . to start using that site (where I’m already a hit-or-miss member) and capture the moments.

So what short story writers do you admire most–past or current? I want to add them to my list!

Your Most Important Writing

My friend L. Marie posted a thought-provoking blog about what qualifies as success for us writers, so I wanted to repost it here and add a few thoughts.

Like her, I’ve spent much of my life working behind the scenes as an editor. You won’t find my name on too many book covers (maybe a couple, but long out of print); instead, I might appear on a copyright page (“Project staff includes”) or in the Acknowledgements (“Thanks to my editor”) or maybe neither of the above no matter how much work I may have done.

And you know what? That’s okay by me.

Sure. I’d love to land a six-figure book contract. I’d love to go on a book tour. I’d love fame and fortune and the new shoes all that money could buy (not to mention helping my kids pay off their college loans).

Sure.

Who among us wouldn’t want that?

But I tell my students that being published ought not be their standard of success. Trust me, plenty of books get published and simply don’t sell. Yes, it’s an important pursuit and I hope all of my writing friends are able to see their name in print. So keep trying. Keep writing articles and essays and stories and books, keep blogging, keep sending out those query letters and proposals, and above all, keep writing. L. Marie compares it to a marathon–actually running it is a success story in itself.

But here’s the thing. Don’t think less of the other writing you do. The unpublished stuff.

That note to a dear friend who’s going through a tough time.

That long-past-due letter to your grandmother to let her know how much she means to you.

That note of encouragement to a fellow writer.

That manuscript gathering dust in your drawer. You had to write it to pull yourself out of the depths of some despairing situation, or to get your head around some pain, or to write your way to an understanding and a peacefulness with your world. Yes, that manuscript. The one they have to bury with you because it simply can’t ever see the light of day.

And that’s okay, too.

The gift you have of writing–the ability to put words together in a special way–is valuable in all kinds of places, in all kinds of situations. And it may very well be that the most important writing you do will never be published for the world to see.

But it may make a difference in someone else’s life . . . or it may just have helped you continue on your journey in a better state of mind.

And when it comes to writing, what more could a writer want?

6 Quick Proofreading Tips

What a busy week! We had National Grammar Day on Monday, and today, March 8, is National Proofreading Day. For someone like me who lives this stuff on a daily basis, it’s downright exciting!

The day is devoted to “mistake-free writing” and projecting “a professional image with well-written documents that are 100 percent accurate.” Started by Judy Beaver at The Office Pro, this day is designated because it was her mother’s birthday—and her mother loved to correct errors.

As I noted on Monday, I’m not a total grammar geek but I do care about the correct usage of our language, and I’ve made a living for many years honing this skill. Lots of times I still CMShave to look things up in a dictionary or my Chicago Manual of Style (the style manual for much of the book publishing industry). All manuscripts go through several phases of editing, and I’ve done them all. Generally, if I do one phase on a particular manuscript, I make sure that other people do the other two phases–there’s a different focus that has to take place at each phase.

Editing—I call this the 10,000-foot view. I look at the big picture. I’m reading the fiction story and checking the plot, the pacing and flow, the characterization. In a non-fiction manuscript, I’m seeing if the organization works and makes sense. Any changes I suggest at this point are on the macro level—moving chapter 3 to become chapter 1, for instance. Or looking for that loose end in the mystery that the writer forgot to tie up (“What happened to so-and-so?”). The author makes changes (or not) based on my suggestions, and then the manuscript goes to a copyeditor.

Copyediting—This is more like the 1,000-foot view. Now that the editor has put the manuscript in good shape, if I’m in this role, I’m reading closely for sentence construction—dangling modifiers, run-ons, and inconsistencies. I fact check. I query if something doesn’t make sense, if a transition is needed, if a character’s way of speaking doesn’t sound real based on how he or she has been described by the author (“Would he really say this in this way?”).

Proofreading—This is the 10-foot view. If I’m in this role, sometimes I’m working on a manuscript, but often at this phase I’m looking at a pdf of typeset pages—which means I have to check the table of contents to make sure the titles and page numbers are correct, I check all the folios and running heads, I check the look of each page—marking widows and orphans (those random one or two words at the top of a page, or the lone line at the bottom—these just look awkward). Then I read every word. Even a clean manuscript can have random errors show up when the document is flowed into the typesetting program (a hidden tab in a Word document can suddenly rear its ugly head and space words far apart when typeset).

I love it.

Proofreading is probably my favorite. It’s that red pen mentality. I’m looking for errors only because I want the book, the author, and the publisher to put their best foot (feet?) forward.

The three types of editing take different skills. In my Editing class, I give my students practice in all of these areas, telling them that they will probably find an affinity for one and not like the others so much. But I also tell those who want to become editors that they should hone their grammar and punctuation knowledge anyway, because the copyediting and proofreading jobs are often the entry level positions in publishing companies. From there, they can move up, since often editors and acquisitions editors are hired from within, from people who have been with the company and understand the ethos there.

As I noted in my post earlier this week, proofreading skills are vitally important, especially on the job market. To have a clean paper, I suggest the following:

(1) Don’t trust the spell check program on your computer. (Judy has some tips on her blog about this.)

(2) If you’re not absolutely sure of the spelling of a word, don’t guess. Look it up. Dictionary.com is your best friend.

(3) Go back and read your letter, paper, email, memo, whatever, aloud slowly to yourself. This will help you notice if words are missing or if a sentence runs on and on. (It’s best to do this on hard copy. Trust me, you’ll see things differently than on screen. A friend of one of my students writes about that on his blog.)

(4) Then, read it again starting from the bottom paragraph backward, a paragraph at a time. This helps you get outside your own flow and see errors you might skip over otherwise.

(5) Electronically, go back and do a search for an open parenthesis (to make sure that you always have a matching close parenthesis), an open quotation mark (to make sure you always have a the appropriate closing quotation mark and to make sure any inner quotation marks are single and that they are both there). And get rid of those double spaces between sentences!

(6) Be aware of your own weaknesses. If you know you tend to write run-on sentences, watch for that in particular. If you know that possessives always mess you up, do a search for apostrophes and check each one for correct usage.

This will clear up a good number of your errors. It never hurts, however, to have someone else look over an especially important document—like a cover letter or resume or manuscript submission.

Let’s put our best foot forward—both of them!

The Art of the Book Review

I just got off the phone with my friend, L. Marie, who recently created a blog, “Thoughts about writing and life.” I’m thrilled that she’s blogging! We chatted about Literary Citizenship and how she needs this online presence in order to impress the agents where she’s currently shopping her young adult fantasy book. She has an MFA and is a terrific writer—but she realized that she needed to get online and join the literary world. I talked to her all about what we’re doing in our class; we talked through WordPress and how to add hyperlinks and tags. She’s on a roll now!

She’s also an avid reader, so I encouraged her to do reviews of books (her current blog is a movie review that ties into her writing). And wouldn’t you know it, our Lit Cit class is talking about that very topic this week. Book reviews are extremely important–especially book reviews by book lovers and writers who understand the craft.

That’s you.

Indeed, Robin Becker at Penn State has an entire class on book reviewing because “my own experience had led me to book reviewing. Years ago, just as my first book entered production, I asked a more experienced poet how to get my book reviewed. She replied, ‘Review other people’s work. That way, you participate in the conversation.'”

As citizens of the literary world, we should participate in the conversation about books by reviewing books and helping along other authors who are just getting started.

Sure, review the latest Stephen King if you want, but it will be a great help to another fledgling writer if you discover and love his or her book and write a well-crafted review. Post it on your blog, sell it to a magazine where it might fit, offer it to a newspaper in the town where the author will be doing a reading. Follow up with an interview and do the same thing.

But maybe, like me, you wonder how to craft a good book review. Well, here’s some help.

I’m new to this, so I come to the topic eager to learn. Our class website featured an interview with David Walton, author and prolific book reviewer, who offered his advice on writing book reviews. So I am passing along what I’m learning to you.

I love the pie chart included there; further detail about each category on that pie chart is here so that you understand what plot synopsis (35%), critical analysis (25%), showing off (20%), providing context (10%), and quoting from the text (10%) mean in the context of a book review.

I also discovered that there is a lot of conversation happening in the literary world regarding book reviews. I think I’ve stayed away because I thought: (a) I’m not high profile enough to write in the New York Times book review column, (b) I don’t know how to write a review, and (c) I don’t even want to comment on Amazon because isn’t that just people who either like or dislike the author or the topic and really write nothing about the quality of the book? (Charles Baxter calls this “Owl Criticism”: I don’t like owls; this book is about owls; I don’t like this book.) Indeed, many publishers are vetting their book reviewers to make sure they’re legit.

Well meanwhile, over at Amazon, there’s been plenty of conversation about fake reviews, with Amazon actually pulling down many suspect ones. (For help in writing one of those short Amazon reviews, check out this post.)

So what does that mean for those of us just getting started?

First, read the book.

Second, understand the craft and study the book well enough to be able to see what the writer is doing as a writer.

Charles Baxter’s “Owl Criticism” post puts it this way, “A reviewer is entitled to any opinion at all, but he or she earns that opinion based on a description and a judicious citation of evidence. . . . Is it too much to ask of a reviewer that he should know what he’s talking about?” He goes on:

The marks of a trustworthy review, therefore, have a kind of doubleness: the reviewer manages to assert somehow that the book under discussion is of some importance for one reason or another; and second, a good review provides a formal description of the book’s properties, so that you could reconstruct it from the reviewer’s sketch of it. This description is not the same as a plot summary, although a plot summary may figure into it. What a formal description does is to show what a book is about in relation to the form in which the subject matter has been shaped or located. In order to write such a review, let’s say of a novel, you have to have a basic idea of how novels are constructed; you have to have the technical knowledge that allows you to stand back from the book and to say how a book is put together. By these criteria, quite a few book reviews are worthless.

Los Angeles Times book critic, David Ulin, discusses the importance of well-crafted reviews:

Criticism matters — not because of how many people read it, or whether they agree or disagree with it, but because it is a way of engaging with literature. . . .

Books can stir this range of emotions also, which is why the act of criticism can be so hard. It’s not just about opinion but engagement, the sense of hope, of anticipation with which we come to a book, and the ideas, the feelings, with which we walk away from it, even, or especially, if they are not what we expect.

For me, this is how I know I’m doing my job: not by whether I like a book or don’t (whatever that means), but by what I learn. When I’m reading and writing well, books open up before me; often, they turn my preconceptions around. They make me think — not just about the flow of this text, but also about the flow of all texts: the different texts by this particular author, the different texts that I have read. I have, in other words, to confront myself, to figure out what I think, and then like all writers, to follow that line to its logical conclusion, for good or for ill.

For us writers, it’s a part of our craft to learn to write a good book review. It’s an art form. It keeps us reading. It allows us to learn from one another. It connects us in this literary world. It allows us to share good books with one another.

It helps us be good literary citizens.

Get Thee to a Writers Conference

It’s great for us to be able to connect virtually with so many writers–we can build our tribes with people literally all over the globe. But then . . . there’s something to be said for that personal touch, getting to talk and laugh with other writers face to face.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a local writers group that meets regularly, give those folks a big hug next time you’re together. Many writers are laboring away alone because they haven’t been able to locate a group with whom they can connect. Hey, if it was good enough for C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien to meet with others in a group called the Inklings and read one another’s work, it’s certainly good enough for us!

Many of our college students in writing programs are worried about what happens when they leave. Their college community and the folks in their major provide a positive and supportive group that disappears once the diplomas are handed out. What next? We want to help them understand that the writing world has many, many places where they can connect with other writers.

One of these is the writers conference.

I’ve spoken at my share of conferences and am currently privileged to be on the board of an excellent midwest conference–appropriately named the Midwest Writers Workshop. Our conference is held for three days every July on the beautiful campus of Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. This is our fortieth year!

As a new member on the board, I’ve so enjoyed watching my committee members in action. They work hard to bring in agents who are eager to hear pitches and faculty who can teach about a variety of genres. This year we’re expanding our social media training module to help writers do exactly what we’ve been talking about here–increasing their presence by building a website and using other social media. Some of our older attendees just need a little guiding hand to help them get over the hump and engage in the online world–and incredible Ball State students offer their expertise. This year we’re also including a time for writers of different genres to get together and read a few pages of their work to one another (again, a la Lewis and Tolkien). Many of our attendees go away having found new tribespeople, maybe even discovering folks in their own backyard with whom they can meet regularly for reading, critiquing, and encouragement.

At writers conferences, faculty teach about the craft of writing. I really want that message to come through in all of this social media talk: First you need to be a good writer–and you need to hear that from others besides yourself and your mom. If you need improvement, go to a conference where a faculty member is talking about how to pace your plot (if that’s your problem), or how to create strong characters, or how to build a scene, or how to write dialog. These folks come to these conferences to help the likes of you–of all of us. Take advantage of their expertise.

Conferences are happening literally all over the country at all times of the year. You can probably find one within driving distance. Prices vary depending on what’s offered, how long they are, and who’s speaking, but you can surely find one that works in your budget (perhaps the Left Bank Writers Retreat this June in Paris? . . . ‘twould be magnifique! Twist my arm!). The Poets & Writers website offers this link about writers conferences, and then includes this link with listings for various upcoming conferences. Newpages.com includes a listing where you can browse writers conferences by state.

So set aside a little time and money for you to spend a few days honing your craft and meeting new friends.

As citizens of the literary world we should continue to learn, continue to improve, and continue to challenge one another to be better writers.

And that’s why thou must get thyself to a writers conference.

Being Connected

As writers in community, it stands to reason that we need to be able to find one another. Part of the beauty of the Web is that we are all connected—or can be.

Back in the old days—you may remember, before the Internet, before computers, back when an electric typewriter was an awesome invention—we didn’t have access to our favorite writers. If we wanted to write to them, we sent a note (yep, it had to be with a stamp and everything—if you read last week’s blog post, you’ll see that you can indeed still do that) and probably never heard back. Everything was done on hard copy and by mail; there just were no other options.

I am amazed now that I can write to one of my favorite authors, Philip Yancey, by way of a Facebook message and have him actually respond! I wrote him a “charming note” to thank him for his book, Disappointment with God, that I read during a dark time in my life—and what his advice had done for me. We had a chat about people we knew in common. He complimented how beautiful my granddaughter is (she’s my main photo on my FB page—and yes, she is quite beautiful). I felt honored to have had that moment of contact with him.

So my question to you is, are you visible? Can you be found by those folks who want to find you—and who you want to find you?

As citizens of the literary world, we should be connected to social media in ways that work for us so that we can be visible to other citizens.

First, you need to have a website. Many years ago, one of my favorite publishing friends, Terry Whalin, gave me this advice, “Linda, you have to have a web presence.” He noted that when agents or acquisitions editors receive query letters or proposals, the first thing they do is Google that person. They want to see what shows up and, of course, check out the person’s website.

Does that sound daunting to you? It needn’t be. And if you feel too un-tech-savvy, then call upon a younger friend, your kids, your grandkids. They’ll figure it out in a snap. Cathy Day’s post in our Literary Citizenship website talks about this very thing. You absolutely must have a website. You don’t have to spend money; starting out, just use one of the many sites that help you create a website for free or at minimal cost. Social media expert Jane Friedman offers advice on building your first website using WordPress. Chuck Sambuchino in his book Create Your Writer Platform (Writers Digest Books, 2012) discusses several types of social media and how to use them, but calls your website “the foundation.” Chuck says the elements of a good website include:

platform

(1) a landing or home page that welcomes people and links to other pages. It may include your latest news (“book released!”) or latest blog post.

(2) an “about me” page that tells who you are and what you do.

(3) a “my books” or “portfolio” or “my writing” page that tells about what you’re working on.

(4) “Contact me” information.
(Create Your Writer Platform, 102–103)

Realize that your website can be a unique as you. Take the time to think about what you want a potential agent, acquisitions editor, or even new tribesperson to see when they click on you. It’s the virtual equivalent of that first impression you get when you look someone in the eyes and shake his or her hand. You often can tell right away if this is someone to stay and chat with or someone to steer clear of.

So if you don’t have a website or if you’ve had one for years, I encourage you to think about or revisit your current website and ask yourself:

(1) What is my website saying about me?

(2) Do I have links to my Twitter or Facebook accounts? (Do this if you want, and only do it if you’re consistent across all social media. For younger people especially, if your FB account is full of goofy and perhaps less-than-professional photos and posts, don’t link to it—OR consider making your FB a bit more professional. You can still be real and friendly, but remove the photos or posts that don’t represent you well.)

(3) Do people have a way to get in touch with me? (If you don’t want to give out a personal email address, create a new one just for communications through the website.) Chuck Sambuchino even suggests that, when you put your email address out there, you type in the (at) and (dot) so you can’t get hacked with spam. For instance, mine is linda(at)lindataylorauthor(dot)com.

(4) Does my website include a recent photo of myself? (A photo makes you real. It allows for that virtual eye contact and handshake.)

(5) Is all of the information still up to date?

If you’re like me, you might have a couple of personas. I have two different websites right now for my two different sides to my life. I have my “speaking at Christian events and writing Christian books” persona here, and I have my “adjunct professor/writing conference instructor” persona here. Then I have this blog. All were created at different times for different purposes. For now, I just link them together. I’m not sure I want to put everything on one website, but at some point I might.

Every day we’re milling around the room (the Internet) meeting each other (clicking on websites), having a quick chat (finding out what each other is about by reading web pages), and listening to what each other has to say (checking out portfolios and published works).

It’s vitally important that we be findable, visible, and real.