Techniques: - Punctuation
Sandy Tritt www.InspirationForWriters.com
Leave only one space after all punctuation marks, including the period. The exceptions to this are hyphens and dashes, which have no spaces before or after.
DATE AND TIME
Punctuate dates like this:
- September 1, 2002
- September 2002
- 20th century
Punctuate time like this:
- spell out the number when in a body of text: five o’clock
- use figures when using a.m. and p.m.: 5 a.m. (use lowercase characters and put periods after each letter of a.m. and p.m.)
Rarely do I see the ellipsis mark used correctly. First, it is formed by using three periods, separated by spaces ( . . . ). Not five periods, not two periods, but three periods, each with a space before and a space after. If an ellipsis mark occurs at the end of a sentence, it may include a fourth period, a question mark or an exclamation mark to show the end of a sentence. The main function of an ellipsis mark is to show omission of material within quoted matter. For example:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . . Yea, though I walk through the valley of death . . . .”
Novice writers sometimes use ellipsis marks to hold their reader’s attention. For example, ending a scene like this: “And then she heard a noise . . .”
This is generally frowned upon in the literary community, especially when it is overdone.
Ellipsis marks are not used to show an unfinished sentence, a pause within a sentence, or to set off a phrase. Please repeat that: ellipsis marks ARE NOT USED to show an unfinished sentence, a pause within a sentence, or to set off a phrase. These are done by the dash.
The dash also tends to be abused and misused. First of all, a dash is formed by using two hyphens without any spaces before, between or after the hyphens. Many word processing programs will automatically change two side-by-side hyphens to an em-dash. Note: the em-dash (—) is actually preferable to the double hyphens (--). Second, the dash punctuates sentences, not words. When combining two words to form a single word (as in one-half or well-dressed), use a hyphen. When looking for something stronger than a comma to punctuate a sentence with, use a dash.
- A dash can indicate a sudden break or a change in continuity. Example: “I—uh—I just don’t know.”—or—“I don’t want to ever see you—what is that on your shirt?”
- A set of dashes can set aside a non-essential phrase within a sentence. Non-essential means that the sentence will still be a sentence without the phrase. Example: “Just as I was about to sit—and I do mean just—I saw the spider.” When used to set aside a phrase, both a beginning and an ending dash must be used (do not start the offset with a dash and end it with a comma).
- A set of dashes may be used to set apart an explanatory phrase, such as: “I love reading novels—fat, juicy, long-winded novels—on my summer vacation.”—or—“We need to get a first aid kit—bandages, tape, elastic bandages—for the cheerleading squad.”
- A dash indicates an unfinished sentence: “I hope that isn’t a snake—”
The comma appears to be a harmless little fellow, but don’t let appearances deceive you. Sure, the little guy never shouts, never declares, never questions, never even finishes a sentence, for that matter, but that doesn’t mean he holds no power. In fact, he is the hardest working of all the punctuation marks, the only one often appearing more than once in a single sentence. He holds the power to change the meaning of a sentence and to disrupt the flow of prose. Therefore, isn’t it time to give the little guy his due and quit misunderstanding him? Here’s his M.O. –
- Use a comma to separate the clauses of a compound sentence connected by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so and yet). The comma is placed before the coordinating conjunction, not after. Examples:
The students ate spaghetti for dinner, but no one cleaned his plate.
I gave three books to John, and John gave them to Nancy.
However, do not use a comma before and, but, or and nor when they link pairs of words, phrases or elements other than main clauses. Examples:
The students ate spaghetti for dinner and cake for dessert.
I gave three books to John and four to Nancy.
The trick here is to recognize if the conjunction separates a main clause (or major thought), or if it simply links pairs of words or phrases. Also, the comma may be omitted in short compound sentences when the connection between the clauses is close, such as:
Justin stood in the corner and he watched.
If the sentence is clearly understandable without the comma, it is probably okay to omit it.
- The comma separates two or more adjectives modifying the same noun if and could be used between them without changing the meaning. Example:
Janine pushed her long, straight hair out of her eyes.
However, do not use a comma between unequal adjectives or when an adjective modifies another adjective (instead of the noun):
His coal black hair glistened in the brilliant midday sun.
The test is whether and can be substituted for the comma.
- The comma also separates the items in a list or a series. Example:
Jasmine visited the park, the museum, the courthouse, and the historical hotel on the last day of her vacation.
Note that the comma before the last item in the series (the one directly before and) is optional. Also, note that no comma appears before the first element in the list (the park), nor after the last element in the list (the historical hotel).
- The comma is used in setting off transitional expressions (however, regardless, of course and so on) from the rest of the sentence. Examples:
The weight of the ball, however, was greater than the strength of the boy.
Of course, we could have eaten after they arrived.
Did he, after all, sleep in the den?
- The comma is used with introductory elements:
No, he didn’t wear a hat.
Well, that was the just the beginning of my problems.
When the bell rings, the students race through the halls.
- A comma sets off long phrases that precede a principal clause:
Before we could call Great Aunt Mary, we had to locate her phone number.
After listening to the forty-five minute sermon, the children were in no mood for lectures.
Confused yet? Great! There are even more rules to remember!
- The comma sets off words or phrases that rename nouns. Examples:
John, my oldest cousin, loves to garden.
Parkersburg, the third largest city in West Virginia, has a population of 38,000.
The girl, who had cried the day before, played happily with the other toddlers.
However, do not use a comma if the added information is essential to the meaning of the sentence, such as:
The song “Unchained Melody” melts my heart.
People who dream in color are thought to be clairvoyant.
The girl who had cried the day before made friends; the girl who had been friendly sat quietly alone.
The test is whether the sentence makes sense if the renamed noun is removed from the sentence.
- A comma can indicate the omission of a word or words:
To err is human; to forgive, divine.
- A comma is used to set off a word of direct address:
Aunt Mary, this is my friend, Nathan.
People, don’t let this happen to you.
Thank you, Wilma, for teaching me about commas.
- A comma is used set off a quotation from a dialogue tag. Examples:
He said, “I didn’t do it.”
“I don’t believe it,” Jason replied, “but maybe if you prove it, I will.”
“I don’t believe it, either,” Anna said. “Prove it.”
- A comma sets off a tag question from the rest of the sentence:
I didn’t see it there, did you?
That’s the best movie of the year, isn’t it?
- A comma also can be used to set off any sentence element that might be misunderstood if the comma were not used, such as:
To me, Millie would always be my best friend.
Some time ago, Roxanne decided to become a dancer.
- And finally, a comma is used to set off a city from a state, the year from a full date, a series of four or more numbers, and to set off titles and degrees from surnames and from the rest of a sentence:
My children were born in Winneconne, Wisconsin.
My oldest daughter was born on November 21, 1986.
I wish my husband made $625,000 a year.
My husband’s full name is Sherden C. Tritt, Jr., although he goes by “Butch.”
As you can see, the innocuous little fellow known as the comma can be quite cantankerous. It’s no wonder that comma usage is the number one mistake I see on manuscripts I edit. Study this little guy—once you’ve mastered him, you’ve accomplished a great feat.
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The Missing Links to Successful Authorship
By Patricia Fry
It happened again today. A new author contacted me through the SPAWN Web site asking for—no, begging for—help with promoting his book. Like so many hopeful authors, he wrote the book of his dreams and then signed a contract with the first publisher who expressed an interest in his manuscript. In this case it was AuthorHouse, but it could have been PublishAmerica, Lulu, Trafford or any number of other “self-publishing” services.
What’s wrong with this picture? Isn’t the author’s ultimate goal to get published? Yes, but the author who goes directly from writing to publishing is omitting some essential and vital steps toward his success—there are missing links. If you’ve searched the Internet for a publisher within the last few years, you know how many companies are pushing to get your business. Type in “book publisher” at the Google prompt and your screen is filled with promises to publish your book for a fee. Choose one, almost any one, and they will tell you what a wonderful manuscript you have and quickly offer you a publishing contract.
Now there’s a thrill. You call your mom, aunt Mary, cousin Sid and all of your former co-workers to share the exciting news. After giving it a quick glance, you sign the contract and then sit back and wait for your shipment of three (four or six) books. You order several more copies to give to mom, aunt Mary, cousin Sid and your favorite former co-workers.
In the meantime, I’m counting the minutes, hours and days until you contact me (or someone like me) asking for help. Because, at some point, you will suddenly realize that it is your responsibility to promote your book and you don’t have a clue where to begin. It’s true! As the author, promotion is your responsibility whether you land a traditional royalty publisher, go with a fee-based POD publishing service or self-publish your book.
Some of you will also go back over the contract you signed and figure out that where it says, “We will make your book available to bookstores,” doesn’t mean “Your books will be sold by the thousands through bookstores nationwide.” Instead, it means, “If a bookseller comes asking for a book like this, we will tell them about your book.”
Yes, I speak to many disappointed, disillusioned authors every year. That’s why I’m currently on a mission to find authors before they start making expensive, heart-breaking mistakes. Now this is not to say that signing with a fee-based POD publishing service is necessarily a mistake. The mistakes occur when the author is not industry savvy—when he or she makes uninformed decisions.
So what constitutes the missing links I speak of? What are the steps an author should take after placing of the last period on his manuscript and before signing a publishing contract? See below.
Note: Actually, I’d rather you follow these steps even BEFORE you write the first word of a novel, memoir or nonfiction book.
1: Determine your motivation for writing this book. If you have a book inside that just must come out and you’re interested only in sharing it with family and a few friends, go ahead and do your thing your way. On the other hand, if you are driven by the desire for fame and fortune—if you want to be published and widely read—keep reading. It could make the difference between pitiful failure and wild success.
2: Study the publishing industry. You wouldn’t start any other business without knowing something about the field. Well, publishing is a business and your book is a product. It’s imperative that you know something about the industry, your publishing options and the ramifications or consequences of your choices. When you take the time to learn about publishing, you’ll also begin to understand that you—the author—are responsible for selling your book. This fact comes as a shock to many hopeful authors, especially those who learn the truth after they’ve entered into the extremely competitive publishing field.
Learn about the publishing industry by joining publishing organizations such as SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) www.spawn.org, SPAN and PMA. Read magazines and newsletters related to the industry: SPAWNews, PMA Independent, SPAN Connection, Book Promotion Newsletter, RJ Communications Publishing Basics and many others.
Read books such as, “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book,” “The Successful Writer’s Handbook,” (by Patricia Fry), “The Self-Publishing Manual” (by Dan Poynter) and “The Fine Print of Self-Publishing,” (by Mark Levine)
3: Write a book proposal. A book proposal is a business plan for your book. It’s something that you need in order to make the best decisions for your book and you might even land a traditional royalty publisher with a well-written book proposal. A proposal for a nonfiction book might include a synopsis, a marketing plan, a comparative study of similar books and a chapter outline. It will also identify your target audience and, if you plan to approach a publisher with your proposal, you would include an “about the author” section.
4: Identify your competition. Why is this important? You (and a prospective publisher) need to know if yours is a viable book. Is the market saturated in this area or is there room for another book on this topic? How is your book different from what else is out there? If there are no or few books on the topic or in this genre, perhaps there is a reason. Maybe there is no market for this book.
How do you conduct a comparative study of similar books? Visit a major bookstore in your area and go to the shelf where your book might be. Look at all of the books shelved there. Read many of them. Determine what’s different about yours—what makes it better? Maybe you’ll discover that your book idea is quite similar to several published books. Can you come up with an angle or a slant that is different—one that makes your book more useful, interesting, entertaining or informative, for example? If your nonfiction book is just like all the others, why bother producing it?
How healthy is the fiction market? Your comparative study will most likely reveal what sort of fiction is popular today. Young adult novels are selling well, for example. There also seems to be a big desire for fantasy and thrillers.
Maybe you plan to write a memoir. If you are not a high profile person, you may want to rethink your desire to write a memoir for national distribution. Many authors write memoirs in hopes of using their own tragic stories to educate or inform others. You may well discover that a memoir isn’t the best way to do that. Ask the hard questions and use the comparative study of similar books to get the answers you need in order to make all of the right decisions.
5: Identify your target audience. Even before you write that book, you need to know who you are addressing. If it is a historical novel, presumably, those who typically read historical novels will be interested in yours. It’s a little tricky, though. Most novel readers are loyal to certain authors and aren’t easily lured to read something by an unknown.
If yours is a nonfiction book, you must identify the audience who wants the information you are providing or who is interested in the topic. This does not include those who you believe should read the book, but those who will want to read the book. If you are honest in the evaluation of your target audience, you may discover that it isn’t a very large segment of people. This knowledge may even prompt you to change the focus of your book or abandon the project altogether. I can’t even begin to tell you how many authors I meet who have written the wrong book for the wrong audience and now regret the money spent, the time involved and the emotions invested.
6: Locate your target audience. So now that you know who they are, you need to know where they are. And if you say, “Bookstores,” you’re probably wrong. Bookstores aren’t always the best place to sell books, especially nonfiction books. Just look at the competition in the mega-bookstores. Your book on gnarly ski slopes throughout the U.S. might sell better through winter sports stores and catalogs, appropriate Web sites, magazines and newsletters and at ski resorts. A book on dog grooming would sell best in pet stores, grooming shops and through reviews and articles in pet magazines, for example.
If you discover that you don’t have a solid target audience, take another look at your book idea. Maybe you need to refocus. Now doesn’t it make sense to discover the truth about your book before you publish it?
7: Plan your promotional tactics. Some people will buy the book just because they know you or know who you are. So start by developing a massive mailing list. List everyone in your personal addressbook, your rolodex at work, your class reunion roster, your Christmas card list, you email list and add your child’s teachers, fellow church and club members, your mailman, neighbors—everyone you know. Collect business cards from everyone you meet. Offer your list a pre-publication discount if they order the book before the publication date. I have managed to pay a good portion of my printing expenses for several of my books through pre-publication orders.
Build a Web site related to your book. List magazines, newsletters and Web sites that might review your book. Outline articles/stories you can write to help promote your book. (Read, “A Writer’s Guide to Magazine Articles for Book Promotion and Profit” by Patricia Fry.) Obtain a list of civic organizations seeking speakers. Contact bookstores nationwide and plan book signings. Ask local radio/TV stations to interview you. Send press releases to appropriate newspaper editors throughout the nation. Discover many additional book promotion ideas in books by Patricia Fry, John Kremer, Fran Silverman and others.
8: Build promotion into your book. For a novel, choose a setting and a topic that will be conducive to promotion. For example, give a character diabetes. If he handles it in a positive way or has something to teach others about the disease, the American Diabetes Association might be interested in helping you to promote your book. For a history or a how-to book, involve a lot of people and agencies. Interview people, quote them and list those people and agencies who helped with your research. They’ll all buy books and promote the book to their friends and acquaintances.
9: Establish your platform. Your platform is your following—your way of getting the attention of your target audience. The most successful authors are those who establish a platform before they produce a book. If your book relates to conserving California water, your platform might be that you have been the general manager of a water company for 25 years and on the California State Water Board for most of that time. You have name recognition and credibility in that field.
Maybe your book is on an aspect of acupuncture. Your platform might include the fact that you’ve studied and taught acupuncture internationally for many years. You’ve written articles for numerous magazines on topics related to acupuncture, you have a column in a local newspaper on alternative healing practices, you have a Web site and a newsletter that goes out to 20,000 people.
What if you have no platform? The time to establish one is before you write the book. Maybe you want to write a book on personal finances after retirement, but you don’t have a professional background in finance. Here are some things you can do. Build on the financial background you do have—join organizations, take classes and become known in financial and senior circles. Involve experts in your book—maybe even share authorship with someone who is well-known in the financial field. Join Toastmasters to develop better public speaking skills and start presenting workshops locally for retirees. Write articles for a variety of magazines. Develop a Web site and start circulating a newsletter related to your topic.
If you hope to sell more than just a few copies of your book to friends and relatives, follow each of these nine steps and you will experience the success you desire.
Patricia Fry is the author of 25 books, including “The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book.” www.matilijapress.com/rightway.html. Visit her blog often: www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog.
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Why Breaking into Comics Is a Full-time job
by Jeff Wilson
My fascination with comic books dates way back to when I was a kid and every once in a while my dad would buy me an issue or two at a local convenience store. Sure their selection was limited and always random, but that didn’t matter to me at the time. All that did matter was that I had a new adventure to go on. The older I got and the more comics I read, the more I knew that writing for comic books is what I wanted to do. But what I didn’t know at the time, and what I wouldn’t know until many years later, is just how hard it is to actually break into comics, especially as a writer.
As a writer, getting your material looked at is extremely difficult. Most companies won’t even look at your submissions. They don’t want to be held accountable for stealing ideas if they should happen to have a similar story in the works already. Which, from their perspective I understand. The result being that most companies only accept submissions from artists. This is just one advantage that artists have over us. Another is a number of programs that are out there. Not top long ago Top Cow had a program looking for two bright new artists. Even the big two companies have their own spin on this. Marvel has their “Young Guns” and DC has their “DC Talent Search”. I think that they are a great idea, but truthfully I feel left out. Where are the similar programs for writers? At least the appearance of a Comic and Graphic Novel section in the past few editions of the Writer’s Market and the Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market have been steps in the right direction, helping to point writers towards making the appropriate contacts.
Writing for comics is an ultra competitive field. Where as an artist will usually only draw one book a month because of the time that it takes, it’s not uncommon to see a single writer pen two or more titles himself or herself. The editors like to give assignments to the names they know and can depend on. That in turn makes the number of available jobs that much smaller.
As a writer, all you can do is keep doing the work and practicing the craft, sending in submissions to publishers that do accept them. It’s almost a given that when a publisher finally does accept your submission, it will most likely be at a small press, and you will have to work your way up from there. That’s called paying your dues. The key is to get your work out there. If you have the talent, it will show and you will get noticed. It may not be as quick as you would like. It may even take years, but it will happen. If you’re not doing something to move yourself forward, you will ultimately be left behind.