Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The best and the worst Rachel Abbot has ever done—as a smart author

Businesswoman, author and blogger Rachel Abbott is my latest victim guest contributor. We all know how smart she is: she sold off her business and now lives in bucolic paradise in central Italy.

The author of Only the Innocent, which has held #1 spot on Amazon for a well-deserved long time, Rachel has generously agreed to tell us about the best and the worst she has done in marketing her book.

And naturally, I've written a guest post on her blog, but you should only read that after reading this one.

The Best and the Worst of Marketing Only the Innocent

When I launched Only the Innocent back in November 2011, I had absolutely no idea at all what I was doing. I had this idea in my head that all I had to do was upload a Word document, get a cover designed and that’s it! Bob’s your Uncle—as we Brits say (for some reason that I have never fathomed). It means, for those who don’t know, “You’re all set.”

There were two things wrong with this assumption. I thought that:

• uploading a Word document would be good enough, and

• I could just sit back and wait for the sales to come in.

I’m not going to dwell on the Word document part of the process—that’s a whole other story. The sitting back and waiting for the sales is the crucial bit, and infinitely more interesting. My mistakes were based on false assumptions, and these are just some of them.

In the first week or two I had some good sales. But then I know quite a few people! Most of them, however, don’t actually have Kindles. They just bought my book because they know me, and downloaded it to their computers or phones.

Mistake number 1: Amazon is all about visibility. “Customers who bought X also bought Y” is incredibly valuable, because it begins to show your book to other readers. But my book was being bought by people who had never bought anything for the Kindle, and therefore there were no books to link it to. So within a week of launch, it was disappearing quickly into obscurity.

I knew that I was going to have to do some promotion myself. Again, I’m lucky because I know how to build a website, and I had already got a Twitter account (albeit with only nine followers). So now I knew what had to be done—but I had no idea how to go about it. Nine followers on Twitter? A great way to spread the word, but how could I increase those numbers? I didn’t know. What about reviews? Should I be asking for them, and if so, where from? I didn’t know.

Mistake number 2: Not preparing myself before launch by creating interest in my novel through social networking, blogging, or having an interesting and informative website. A quick impact at time of launch is brilliant, because while your book is still in the “New releases” list, it has increased visibility. So getting it up the charts at that point would have been a really good move, and relatively easy to achieve with some planning.

Once I had the bit between my teeth, I realised what a vast amount of information there was out on the Web for new authors. So many forums, websites, blogs—the list was endless. And so I spent endless hours surfing around … and going nowhere fast. Every day, I would find another 20 or 30 interesting sites, and each one of those led me somewhere else.

Mistake number 3: Mindless surfing—wasting hours finding out loads of stuff, but too much to absorb. Losing pages that seemed interesting because I had branched off somewhere else. Getting lost in all the information and not actually doing anything at all! All I did was poke around finding stuff out, and then did very little.

And then it hit me. I have spent my life running businesses—but I was treating this like a hobby, and a hobby that I wasn’t even very good at. I forced myself into business mode, and then I got it.

Getting it right: I created a plan and a schedule. I allowed myself a certain amount of time for just searching around, because there were so many nuggets of information and I wanted to learn everything I could. But I limited the time for each. And I created bookmark folders so that if I came across something that looked interesting, I could save a link where I would be able to find it later. All the folders had specific names: marketing, publishing, reviews, etc. Not rocket science!

I set out my priorities, made an action list, and allocated time to each priority. My marketing plan was seven pages long, and read like a proposal to senior management. I was 100 percent in business mode.

I identified my sales channels: Amazon; and via Smashwords, Apple, Nook and Kobo. What could I do to influence sales in each of these areas? I looked at how the sites worked and I prioritized. I saw Smashwords as more of a distributor than a sales channel in itself, and that may have been a mistake, but it gave me focus.

I identified my marketing channels: social networking, website, blog, forums. And for each of them, I decided which was most influential, and which I enjoyed the most (very important). Then I created my action plan for each.

I look at the plan now and realise that a lot of it worked out in a completely different way. Twitter is a classic example. I had allowed myself two hours to investigate ways of increasing my followers—and not just any followers, but people who buy books. And thereafter I had allowed myself ten minutes per day to tweet! I spend about ten times that on Twitter each day, because people talk to me and I talk back. I love it! But that’s okay. This is now, that was then.

So get yourself a plan. Monitor the success of each thing you try so that you are learning about what works and what doesn’t.

It worked for me—and I sincerely hope it works for you.

Now that you've read her post, check out her website, where she gives independent authors loads of great insight into the development and publishing of her books, and her blog. And don't forget to buy her book, Only the Innocent.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Six sentence Sunday for February 26

I'm participating in the Six Sentence Sunday challenge again. This is a website where writers post links to samples of their writing. This week, I'm number 180.

This sample, again from The Bones of the Earth, follows last Sunday's post immediately. Here, our hero, Javor, the strange young man from the north, is seeking answers to his parents' murder and his great-grandfather's perplexing weapon.

The six sentences:

“Find our old Order at Chalkoprateia. From there, you must seek the four hundred. Only the four hundred can end this war.” The wind got stronger and Javor could hear strange noises in it.
“What are the four hundred?”
Sophia answered, “There is no time—they are coming!”

Want more samples? Check out Six Sentence Sunday.

You can get the full version of The Bones of the Earth from Amazon or Smashwords.

And as always, any feedback in the form of the Comments, below, is appreciated.

Friday, February 24, 2012

4th Campaign's first flash fiction hallenge: "Shadows crept"

The first challenge in Rachel Harrie's 4th Writers' Platform Building Campaign is to write a story of 200 words or fewer, starting with "Shadows crept across the wall."

Rachel is adding points for ending with "everything faded," writing in your usual genre, including the word "orange" and making it exactly 200 words.

Challenge accepted. The following is exactly 200 words, not including the title but including the entry words; it includes "orange" and the challenge close; and not only is it in my "usual" genre (whatever that is), it actually continues the story I began in "Dark Clouds" and continued in "What Made Me Love You?"

Helen's prison

Shadows crept across the wall, then slithered across the floor. Their teeth reflected the orange sunlight that slanted through the dirty, narrow window.

Slumped on the floor, back against the wall, Matt watched it slide onto his thigh. It grinned at him. Its fangs tore wide rents through his jeans.

The shadow laughed, a sickening hiss. Its fellows joined it in shredding Matt's pants.
The lead shadow laughed again and sank its teeth into his skin.

Matt sighed and shook his head. Won't she ever learn?

The shadow teeth did nothing to him. How could they? They're just shadows.

All the shadows hissed, frustrated. They merged and faded into the gloom of the doorless cell. A new shadow appeared on the floor. It grew into Helen.

"So you are immune," she said.

"Hello, Mom. Do you have anything to drink?"

"Wipe that smirk off your face...you're no good to me here. And you are my son." A door appeared in the concrete-block wall and swung open slowly.

"You're letting me go?"

It was Helen's turn to smirk as she faded back into shadow.

The last of the sunlight disappeared. Matt crawled out the door just as everything faded.

Check out some other flash fiction challenges in Rach Writes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Best and Worst of a Writer: Guest post by Cinta García de la Rosa

Cinta García de la Rosa goes by the Twitter handle @Austenite78. Her delightful blog, Cinta's Corner is a compendium of observations, reviews, guest posts and wonderfully absurdist stories.

I asked Cinta to swap blog posts; for her part, I asked her to continue my series "what are the best and the worst things you've ever done as a writer?"

My best and my worst—as a writer

Normally, I don't think of myself as a writer, or, at least, I didn't use to think of myself as a writer. So imagine my surprise when I logged into my Twitter account and found a message from Scott Bury, asking me if I wanted to swap blog posts with him. After a few minutes of staring at my laptop screen with my mouth wide open, I agreed to write for his blog about the best and the worst things I have done as a writer. As I said, I didn't think of myself as a writer before, but now I think differently.

Now, I say to myself every day that I am a writer. When your mind is crowded with words, ideas, plots, stories, and characters that fight to come out; when you feel the need to sit down and write at least a few lines whenever you find a little free time; when you feel completely happy after finishing a story, and utterly miserable when words don’t flow; when you feel all that, you are a writer.

So the best thing I have ever done as a writer is writing; it’s as simple as that. I am not a published author, and I haven't even written a whole book yet, but I feel happy when I write things for my blog and I see that people read them.

I write because I need to write. I write because it makes me happy. I write because my inner voice is far more eloquent than my spoken voice. I write because I can create little universes to make people feel better or just to make them feel. I know it sounds pretentious, and I know that not everybody will like my writing. But for those who choose to read some of my writing, I just want to do it as well as possible.

What about the worst thing I have ever done as a writer? Well, I think the worst thing has been not to be more confident about my writing. I have never received any encouragement to become a writer before, so I was convinced that I wasn't a good writer.

So it is fear. The worst thing you can do is to be afraid—afraid of failing, afraid of being laughed at, afraid of making a fool of yourself. I still feel that fear most of the time, but my readers, the people who read my blog, make me feel stronger every day.

When I got Scott's invitation to write about this topic I thought, “But, what am I going to say? I am not a professional or published writer. How can I know what is the best and the worst I have done as a writer?” Then I had a little chat with my talented friend Rob Guthrie, and suddenly I knew what I could talk about.

Definitely, even if you are not a published or professional writer, if you write... congratulations! You are a writer, and then it is for sure that you are doing both bad and good things for your writing.

Thanks, Scott, for inviting me to share these little thoughts with your readers. It was a great honour and I feel most humbled for having had this opportunity of writing in your blog.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Eliminate those awful passive sentences!

Thanks to http://transformers.wikia.com/
for the image
I’ve been finding more passive sentences in my reading lately. Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, scholarly articles or marketing bumph, this is an easy problem to fix.

And it is a problem. Passive sentences are longer and less interesting than active sentences. Let’s take a first-grade example:

: The lazy dog was jumped over by the quick brown fox.
Active: The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

As you can see, the active sentence is shorter—and it contains no less information.

Quick definition
For those who, like me, don’t want to count the number of years since junior-high grammar lessons, an active sentence is one where the subject of the sentence is the performer of the verb. In the example above, the fox performs or does the action—it jumps. The dog in the example is the object of the verb.

In the passive version, the subject of the sentence is the dog, but it is still the recipient or the object of the action.

In general, we writers should use active sentence almost all the time. “Active” should be the default setting. Yes, there are examples where a passive sentence is more appropriate, such as when the “do-er” of the verb is unknown or irrelevant. Here’s one from a novel I read recently:
  • “The sergeant moved to the living room window, where the screen has already been removed.”
Passive voice also makes sense in most lab reports, where the focus should be on the objects of observation. (If the result of the action depends on the person doing it, we don’t have science, we have magic.) We write “the contents of the beaker were decanted into test tubes,” instead of “I poured the contents of the beaker into test tubes.”

But most of the time, passive voice is not only unnecessary, it’s dull. It deadens interesting topics. Take these examples, which twist together active and passive clauses into horrifying tangles:
  • Some companies use high-pressure sales tactics to offer what is perceived to be a buoy to those who may feel they are drowning in debt.
  • 2012 will be characterized by a cacophony of trends that will converge, explode and create outstanding opportunities for organizations and individuals ready to thrive in velocity.

Action is better because audiences respond to it. Action keeps us interested. Passive sentences are like passive anything: not very interesting. Don’t believe me? Which zoo animal gets more attention: the monkey swinging on the bars, or the lizard soaking up the sun?

What kinds of movies have the biggest audiences? Which had a biggest box office last year: Barney’s Version or Fast Five? What was the difference: the intricacy of the screenplay? The sensitivity of the acting? The artistry of the directing?

Action works. Action puts bums in seats. Action sells.

Activate these

Here are some examples from the real world. I have changed some details just to protect myself from ire:
  • Rising household debt is of growing concern for many.
  • Who’s concerned? Economists? Mothers? Debtors? Loan sharks?   
  • The idea of segments of the supply chain being developed elsewhere was also brought up.
  • Who brought it up?
  • Tenants are urged to be wary about companies that claim they can negotiate a better deal with landlords so that only a part of their rent will need to be paid.
  • Who’s urging?
  • Solution:  Experts urge tenants to beware of companies that claim they can negotiate a better deal with landlords ...
  • Suggested times for starting each content section are shown in Slide 1: Agenda.
  • Slide 1: Agenda suggests starting times for each content section.
  • By effectively controlling the supply chain, costs can be notably curtailed.
  • Controlling the supply chain effectively can curtail costs.
This one is easy to fix just by removing unnecessary words:
  • The Windows-based Superdyn software can be used for setting parameters, and control and monitoring of DDw-789 motors.
  • The Windows-based Superdyn software can set parameters, and control and monitor DDw-789 motors. 

From fiction:

  • If she didn’t get out, she was going to be mauled to death by the dog.
  • If she didn’t get out, the dog would maul her to death. 
  • Their whereabouts are only known by the religious caste of the Flarconeans.
  • Only the Flarconeans’ religious caste knows their whereabouts.

Watch for it

Watch your writing for passive sentences. One giveaway: count your use of the word “by,” as in “the dog was jumped over by the fox.” When you proofread your work, watch for long phrases and dependent clauses. In general, try to make sure that the subject of every sentence is what’s performing the verb.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

This week's six sentences come from the beginning of Part 3 of my novel, The Bones of the Earth, and begins to unravel some of the mysteries I created in parts 1 and 2.

Bang! A gust blew the flimsy door open and the shack filled with moaning wind. The candles flickered and died, no longer stoked by Sophia’s will.
“They are coming,” she whispered.
“What? Who’s coming?” Javor said.

To see the whole novel:
Amazon http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006PI0NRG/

And if you enjoyed these six sentences, leave a comment below, then visit SixSunday.com for more samples.


Thursday, February 16, 2012

The unlikeable protagonist: Terrible Minds flash fiction contest

Chuck Wendig of the Terrible Minds blog and author of fiction and books on writing, as well, is one of those people who issues flash fiction contests regularly. This week, his challenge is to write a story with an unlikeable protagonist that is still compelling enough to make you read on, and to do it in under 1,000 words.

I decided to write about the worst person I can think of. And at 999 words, the only remaining test is to see whether you get to the end.

If you do, please leave a comment and tell me what you think!

The Unlikeable Protagonist Gets Knocked Up

Alexa’s cell vibrated. “Go home, now, Daddy. Debbie will wonder where you’ve been.”

“So? I’ve been with my daughter. Nothin’ wrong with that.”

“Put your pants on. My husband will be home soon.”

“You like saying ‘my husband,’ doncha?” Carlo pulled up his pants. He always had trouble buckling them beneath his stomach.

Alexa looked at the clock on the night table. The phone vibrated again. She lit a cigarette as the phone vibrated a fourth time.

“Hubby won’t like that, will he?” Carlo chuckled. He took a cigarette for himself.

“Shut up and get out of here!” She thumbed the Call button. “Hi, baby!”

“Hey.” Sean sounded slightly out of breath. That meant he was already on his bicycle.

“How was work?” she asked in her sweet voice. She scowled and prayed that Sean could not hear the front door slam as Carlo left.

“Long shift. D’Wan didn’t show, so the rest of us had to pick up his slack,” said Sean’s voice, strained thin through the phone.

“Sarita sent an email. She wants you to come in to the hotel tonight.” She sucked in a lungful of smoke and stepped into the bathroom.

“Fuck! No way. I need some rest tonight.”

“We need the money, baby.” Alexa propped the phone against her shoulder so she could open the pregnancy test box, then sat on the toilet.

“How’s your job search going?”

“I’m looking.” Alexa sighed a cloud of tobacco smoke. “You know what the economy’s like.”

“I managed to get two jobs.” Sean groaned. “All right, I’ll go to the hotel. Lemme come home and take a shower, at least.”

“How long till you get here?” She put the little stick between her legs and let out a stream of urine.

“I dunno. Fuck! Bastard in a truck cut me off!”

“Maybe you shouldn’t talk on the phone when you’re riding a bike, Honey.” She shook the test stick and left it on the sink.

“I’ll be home soon.” He disconnected.

Alexa pulled on a negligee. She opened the windows wider to try to clear some of the smoke out and swept fast-food wrappers from the kitchen table into a bag, then threw that in the bin outside the back door. The teenage boy next door smiled, enjoying the sight of a woman in a sheer negligee in the afternoon. She flipped him the bird.

She checked the pregnancy test and saw a plus sign. She nearly danced. Carlo will be so happy, she thought.

Shit. Sean’ll wonder. She looked at the clock and estimated she had just enough time.

She dialled the Red Roof Inn. “Hi, it’s Alexa.”

“Alexa who?” Sarita answered.

“Bowers. Sean’s wife.”

“I didn’t know Sean was married.”

“Well, he is.”

“Okay! I mean, he looks so young!”

“He’s 21.”

“He is? I didn’t think he was a day over 19!”

Alexa made an effort to brighten her tone. “He has a real baby face, doesn’t he? Anyway, he won’t be able to make it this evening, after all.”

“But earlier, you said—“

“I think he’s coming down with something. He’ll come in early tomorrow.” She disconnected.

She tossed Sean’s newest condoms onto the bed. Using a sewing needle, she carefully poked a hole in each one. Just as she heard Sean’s key in the front door, she put the condoms back in the box, shoved the box roughly where it had been and closed the nightstand drawer. She opened her negligee a little more just as Sean came in.

“Is there anything to eat?” he asked.

“Hey, baby. I called Sarita and told her you couldn’t come in.”

She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him deeply. “You have me all to yourself tonight.”

Sean forgot being hungry and laid her on the bed. He pulled her nightgown off and kissed her small breasts while fumbling in the nightstand drawer.

Of course, she was wet. Sean sat up to put on a condom. “Shit, it has a hole,” said Sean.

Alexa reached up to rub his chest as Sean rolled the condom off his penis. She reached into the drawer and unwrapped another. Looking up at him and smiling, she rolled it on, then pulled him on top of her. She urged him to a groaning climax. Poor baby really is tired, she thought.

Sean rolled off, panting. “Shit, this condom broke, too!”

“It’s okay, baby. We’re married.” She lit a cigarette.

“Put that out!” He reached into the drawer. “Shit, there are holes in every goddamn condom—right through the wrapper! What the hell?” She smiled and blew smoke in his face.

“Why are there holes in all my condoms?”

“I put them there.”


“Why should a married couple need birth control?”

“Fuck, Alexa, you gave me an STD last year!”

She jumped off the bed. “Why do you have to bring that up! You know it wasn’t my fault!”

“Shit, it took me months to get over that!”

“You’re over it now, so why bring it up again? You’re always making me feel bad!”

“What are you going to do? Cut yourself again?”

“Fuck off.” She lit another cigarette, even though one was still smoking in the ashtray. “I stopped taking birth control pills two months ago.”

Sean’s mouth hung open. She could not help smiling. He looked so adorable, like a confused puppy. Alexa felt as if she wanted him again. Yes, yes, let’s do it again. Knock me up, stud.

I’m already knocked up, she remembered. Now, I have to convince dumbo, there, that it’s his.

She stepped toward him and kissed his open mouth before Sean could react. “Come on, stud. I want a baby.”

Sean struggled away. “No, Alexa! I told you I don’t want kids! Fuck.” He stomped into the bathroom.

Alexa puffed on her cigarette. Too bad, stud. You got me, already.

Or maybe, it was Carlo.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For you this Valentine's Day: a new short story

Valentine's Day is one of my favourite holidays of the year.
"Cupid's arrow" image from

Yes, I know that it's becoming terribly commercialized. I don’t like that I have to spend twice as much to buy my wife roses on February 14 compared to almost every other day of the year (except for Mother’s Day). I don’t like the way all the restaurants are crowded to bursting, and the sight of all the men rushing through malls, card stores and florists’ shops fill me with alternating laughter and anger (when they get in my way).

You’re right. We spend way too much money on Valentine’s Day. And I know that it has been changed from a fertility rite to a soft-porn spending splurge.

But at the same time, it’s a celebration of love in all forms—romantic, erotic, silly, sappy, sweet, hot. How can you decry love?

You don’t have a lover? Valentine’s is not only about romantic-erotic love between two people. Remember how you made valentines for every boy and girl in your class in grade school?

In the spirit of celebration, here is a Valentine to the world. I’m giving away the next installment of my “anti-magician” story. It began before Hallowe’en with “Dark Clouds,” and continues with “What Made Me Love You?” You can read it in its entirety online, through the tab at the top of the page, or download an EPUB version.

I can’t give you all chocolate and flowers, so you’ll have to settle for words.

Let me know what you thought of the story through comments or tweets.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Six Sentence Sunday - the Valentine's edition

As Valentine's Day is just around the corner, this Sunday's Six Sentences are from the chapter where my main character falls in love.

A sudden summer storm came that evening. Photius found his own shelter, leaving the two young people in each other’s arms under a huge fallen tree. The thunder startled Danisa and the rain chilled them both. They cuddled closer together and as suddenly as the lightning they were kissing. As the rain ran down over their skin, they were making love, softly yet intensely. And as the rain lightened and stopped, they held each other’s naked bodies close and fell asleep.

This is from Part 2 of The Bones of the Earth.

Want to read more great six-sentence samples? Check out Six Sentence Sunday.

I'd love to read your comments!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Best and Worst of Writing. Or, Why Am I Up At 3:45 a.m.?!?

This week's guest post is from Benjamin X. Wretlind, author of Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors (2011), Sketches from the Spanish Mustang (2012) and the upcomingA Difficult Mirror, as well as Regarding Dead Things on the Side of the Road, a collection of short stories. He is also the owner of the blog Drippings from the Mind of Me.

I asked Ben to give us his thoughts on the best and the worst he has ever done—as a writer. It could be about content, process or marketing his books. Ben?

Not too long ago, I read a post by Michael K. Rose, author of Sullivan’s War and Inner Lives. In the post Michael describes “A Morning in the Life of a Writer,” a tongue-in-cheek play-by-play of his writing process. There is distraction mixed with determination mixed with tea and Twitter. While humorous, the post made me think about two specific aspects of writing: what is good about it and what is bad about it.

In my world—which may or may not be filled with llamas dancing in Skittle-sprinkled fields and so what if it is?—writing has been a cathartic exercise. While I write to expose seeds of thought to the sun and see what grows, I also write with a hope that I will succeed. What we define as success is different (as I mentioned in one of my recent blog posts and will expand upon in another), but we all have a goal in mind. Is our success the completion of a story? Is it a landslide of money? Is our success the release of our art to the world, art that will be judged, praised or ignored? Whatever it is that defines your success, mine is two-fold: completion and metamorphosis.

This is the “good.” By setting a bar, I have created a challenge. Since I love challenges, simply attempting to write a story is a good thing. It’s what I really love about writing. I’ve never been afraid to expose my art to the world. I relish feedback, whether good or bad. I seek validation, even if I hate the word validation. I want to know I can start, work on and then complete a story. Knowing I can water that seed of an idea into a full-grown plant is a good thing.

I also love metamorphasis, change, the installation of thought. What I’m talking about is the notion that my art can make a person think. When I see a review that starts with “I’ve been thinking about this story for a few days...” I know I’ve made an impact in someone’s life. Does the depth of impact matter? No. It could be as simple as “the dust eels stuck with me for a day” or as striking as “I have a different outlook on how we stereotype and I feel like I should do something about it.” If we can pass on our seed of an idea to the reader, they can grow it themselves into whatever magical plant they come up with. We installed a thought. We changed them. Metamorphosis occurred and no one had to turn into an insect because of it.

Isn’t writing awesome?

Yes, well, there are some things that just suck corn flakes out of a vacuum cleaner, aren’t there—things like marketing, research, social interaction, finding a quiet place to write, etc.?I won’t dwell on them, but let me just say this: there’s a reason I get up at 3:45 in the morning. It’s not because I leave for work at 5 a.m. It’s not because I’m a morning person or because I like watching the sun rise and the way it paints Pikes Peak in hues of gold and orange and yellow and purple. It’s not even because I get my best ideas right after being jolted awake from a dream by some alarm clock.


The reason I get up at 3:45 every morning is this: I have five kids. When do you think it’s most quiet in the house? You want to germinate the seed of idea? Don’t do it when kids are stomping around looking for those corn flakes.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Writing Tips: how to use quotation marks

Image "misunderstood" courtesy handanalylsisonline.com.
 Few punctuation marks seem as misunderstood as quotation marks.

Few punctuation marks seem as misunderstood as quotation marks. I see so many misuses of quotation marks in fiction and non-fiction, technical reports, brochures, advertising and just about everywhere else.

The rules for quotation marks are fairly simple. Perhaps schools are not teaching how to use them. So here are the conventions that I learned in my first job as a professional editor with a major publishing company. (So, now that I mention it, I guess I didn’t learn about them in school, either.)
At least on the North American side of the Atlantic, double quotes are the default. Use them whenever you want to indicate that the words in them are someone else’s. This means:

- dialogue—in fiction, where a character is speaking or, sometimes, thinking

“Pray forgive me, Miss Manette. I break down before the knowledge of what I want to say to you. Will you hear me?” (from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities)

- direct quote—in non-fiction, where you are repeating the words of another writer
The specification document states: “The wireless Ethernet Mesh Network will be the backbone for the entire communication system and any problems in the system design will ripple to the control system.”
Quotation marks are also used to indicate words used in an ironic, special or technical sense—in other words, where they don’t mean what they normally mean.

- technical terms: “Multipathing” occurs when radio waves emitted by a wireless transmitter travel along a different path and interfere destructively with waves traveling on a direct line-of-sight path. (Rockwell)

- local dialect or slang: Children call their underwear “gotch.”

- irony: Economic “experts” predicted a rebound in markets last year.

It’s important not to overuse quotation marks. While they can indicate slang or ironic use, you should never use them to excuse sloppy or unoriginal writing.

- Don’t do this: In today’s “challenging” economy, we all have to “think outside of the box.”
Single quotes are for use within double quotes—a quote within a quote.

- In dialogue: “So I asked him, ‘Where’s the fire?’” Steve said derisively.

- In non-fiction: The report “Clement Solutions will create a ‘procedures matrix’ that details the modules to be used in specific manufacturing applications.”

Watch out for these problems

I often see single quotation marks (‘’) used to indicate special treatment of single words or short passages in the same work that uses double marks for dialogue. It’s as if the writer thinks that the single-quotes are fine for shorter entries, but aren’t strong enough for a long string of dialogue.

That’s not the case. UK publications use single-quotes as the default, and double marks inside them. That actually seems a little more logical, but after all assigning meaning to these marks is an arbitrary exercise. The important thing is to use them consistently so that your audience understands what they mean.

Almost every word processing program has different characters for opening and closing quotation marks. They’re curved or slanted in opposite directions. Don’t just use the straight double superscript marks. As one typographer told me a long time ago, that’s a minute or inch mark. Most word processors give you the option of inserting “curly quotes,” and figure out for you which one to use (based on the presence of a space before or after). That being said, make sure that the computer is putting the appropriate mark in place. You can find the key combination to insert the appropriate one manually, as well.

A related problem is the use of the opening single quotation mark ( ‘) instead of the apostrophe (’). The apostrophe is the same shape as the closing quotation mark, but in short forms like “In ‘n’ out,” the software places the wrong one. This is a sure sign of non-professional editing.

Continuing speech

If the quoted passage contains more than one paragraph, don’t put closing quotation marks at the end of the paragraph until the entire quotation is ended. However, use opening quotation marks for each subsequent paragraph.

Put another way, if a quoted paragraph is from the same source as the preceding paragraph, and there are no words from outside the quotation in between, don’t use closing quotes to end the first paragraph, but use new opening quotes on the second (and subsequent) paragraphs. Use closing quotations only at the end of the entire quotation.

For example:

- The Minister made the following statement today:

“We remain deeply concerned that the court rejected the evidence of XX’s grave health status, and we appeal to the government of BBB on humanitarian grounds for his release.

“The Independent Commission of Inquiry recently recommended that the government take steps to ensure freedom of speech and protection from arbitrary detention.”

Combining quotation marks and other punctuation

Using quotation marks with periods, commas and other end punctuation seems to be one of the most confusing aspects of all. As long as you’re using North American conventions, follow this simple guide:

- Put periods and commas inside the quotation marks. Always.

Small beads of sweat were visible on her forehead. “I can’t sell the car. Your business is down, so is mine. There is no way I can pay.” (from Andy Holloman’s Shades of Gray)

- Use a comma for end punctuation in dialog that is followed by a phrase that identifies the speaker or source. Use a period at the end of that phrase.

“I can watch them until we find them all a home,” I answer. “I don’t know any vets, though.” (from Scott Morgan’s Short Stack)

- Always put colons and semi-colons outside the quotation marks.

The Minister said that prospects for growth “are not good”; however, she declined to offer any alternatives.
FDT identified several compatible options for “instrumentation asset management”: RAE; Parver-Angras+Bauer; Reich and Zeller; and GFY Joint Interest Group.
- Put question marks and exclamation points where they make sense. If the quoted passage is a question, put the question mark inside the quotation marks.

Who said, “I have a dream”?
“When was the last time you saw your brother, Mr. Pella?” I interjected from the curb. (from RS Guthrie’s Black Beast)

These are the conventions commonly followed in English in North America. The Brits have some different rules, notably around where to place periods and commas.

The point is, professional publications follow a set of rules consistently. If you want your writing to be viewed as professional and treated seriously, then be consistent.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Just can’t get enough of those platform-building campaigns

Rachel Harrie has just launched the Fourth Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign. I’ve already signed on, and it’s just the second day. For those who know me, this is almost unheard-of.

This is the second of Rachel’s campaigns that I’ve joined. I joined the Third Campaign last fall, and found it invaluable.

What did it mean, to join a platform-building campaign? It means I did many of the things an independent author and blogger has to do, if he or she wants to reach an audience. And without an audience, why write anything?

I got a lot out of it. I happily discovered Rachel’s blog, Rach Writes, not long after I published my first fiction, the children’s short story Sam, the Strawb Part. At that point, I realized I had to work hard on publicizing my fiction—what’s known in publishing jargon as “building your platform.” I started blogging regularly and signed on to Twitter. I participated in some writing contests and got welcome attention, as well as great compliments.

I started reading other blogs. Thanks to Rachel’s Campaign, I discovered several that I still follow—you can see them in the “Blogs worth reading” list on the left, and the “blogroll” below, right.

Through participating in the campaign, and following through with linking and regularly visiting other blogs, I started raising my profile in the blogosphere. I got some great comments on my posts, read valuable tips and advice on writing (and book marketing) and formed some Internet relationships that I treasure. I also discovered some great authors.

As Rachel’s title promised, my platform grew. At the time of this posting, my blog has 100 registered followers (see the widget on the right), and the average number of pageviews has grown to over 200 daily. Before I joined the Third Campaign, my monthly pageviews were around 400. Others have subscribed to the blog by email. My list of Twitter followers has grown to nearly 1,200.

Not all of that growth is directly attributable to Rachel Harrie’s Third Campaign. But it was near the beginning of the growth of my platform, and the doorway to many other very useful tools, ideas and people.

That’s why I’m eager to join the new campaign. I look forward to finding useful resources, inspiring writing, and great people to follow.

Want to grow your “platform”? I cannot recommend Rachel Harrie’s Platform-Building Campaign enough.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Six sentence Sunday for February 5, 2012

 These six sentences are from Part 2 of The Bones of the Earth: Tests.
“When did you receive this wound?” Photius asked. 
“Almost ten months ago, in the autumn.”
“What! But legate, this wound is fresh!” “So it appears,” agreed Valgus. “But believe me, I received it almost a year ago.”
“What gave you such as wound, that did not kill you, yet will not heal on its own?”
Want more? I hope you do. Check out The Bones of the Earth
- on Amazon
Want more samples? Check out SixSentence Sunday. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

A Dream: Guest post by KD Rush

The latest blogger to donate a guest post on the best and the worst of his writing is KD Rush of South Carolina, who describes himself as an "author in training." 

His output belies that: his website is extensive, and makes use of some slick coding and mashups that I haven't figured out, yet. He also produces a paper.li called The Rush Report. He reads extensively, judging just by the scrolling display of books on his Kindle, and he writes a lot of reviews, comments and tweets. Just thinking about catching up with him leaves me breathless!

As for the training: his writing shows he knows what he's doing. Take it away, Ken!

A Dream
There are moments in life when things may become surreal. Reality takes a back seat, and you find yourself in a situation where time itself crawls to a stop. Whenever this happens, my response is typically phrased in the form of a question; the utterance of a single word: seriously?

Scott Bury asked a question the other day, and it stopped me in my tracks. He wanted to know if I would write a guest post on his blog. Seriously? Me?

Guest posts on a blog are a spotlight. In another generation, it would be similar to five minutes on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. A stage like this is most often associated with, and reserved for people that have something to promote, or happen to be extremely talented.

So how in the world did I end up here? I have no books to promote, and as for the extremely talented bit, well... I once drove my car to and from school in reverse because the transmission was messed up. Come to think of it, this may have been the only time in my life that I actually drove within the speed limit. What does this have to do with writing though? Nothing of course. That's my point. And yet, Scott thought enough of me, and more importantly, trusted me to ramble away on his blog.

Without a body of work to stand on, the only platform I can speak from is that of an aspiring author with a dream. However, according to Kristen Lamb, I should probably drop the aspiring author part. She says that, "Aspiring is for pansies. Takes guts to be a writer." Those are words of wisdom, and lends a certain inspiration to people that dream of publishing the things they write.

The Best
For this blog post, I was asked to give an account of the best and worst parts of being a writer. Much like Johnny Carson would sometimes do on his show, Scott Bury has given an unknown talent the opportunity to stand in the spotlight. How can this not be considered one of the best parts of the job?

When I made the decision to pursue my writing dreams late last year, I had no idea of what to expect. Many times in the past, whenever this dream of mine would bubble to the surface, instead of writing or developing a story, I would read 'how-to' books on writing. This time though, I thought it would be different. I jumped in, head first, and quickly found myself drowning in a world of indecision and doubt.

The act of writing was not the issue. In fact, the story I worked on was at twelve thousand words in a short amount of time. The problem was the nagging little voice in my head that kept whispering words of discouragement. It also didn't help that I decided to document my writing journey on the website, with the goal of inspiring others to chase their dreams. How then could I possibly inspire others when I had serious doubts about my own ability to succeed?

In the age of the Internet and Google, it occurred to me that there may be resources available to help guide me. The last thing I wanted was to read another book on writing. What I needed were real people, with real experiences that faced the same doubts that troubled me. Two months of Internet research can be summarized in four words; you are not alone.

The best part about being a writer? Sharing your experiences, frustration or doubts with other writers. Without this community I seriously doubt whether I would have found it within myself to continue. Support from your family can only take you so far. Having a group of people that have been there, or happen to be going through the same things you are is worth a golden fortune.

The people that I've met online are, more often than not, supportive and willing to help. They offer advice and tricks of the trade. These are the people in the trenches, doing what they love, and what I would love to do. For some, having a book on the bestseller list has been a dream come true.

For many though, becoming a bestselling author is not the primary goal. A bestseller would be nice, but they're not delusional or egotistical enough to expect it. They write because they enjoy it. Some of them, including myself, are just insecure enough to hope that others will appreciate what we've written. Can I get an Amen from the comment section? (see what I mean about insecurity?)

It's people like Scott, and blogs such as this, that make the world a little smaller, more comfortable place to live. The best part about being a writer? Community.

The Worst
What's the worst part about being a writer? I could sum that up in one word as well, and no, the word is not verbosity. However, I'll wind this down as I can picture Scott drumming his fingers on the desk. I think my five minutes are just about up.

As much as the community of writers can be helpful, it can also be a distraction. Social media, if you're not careful, can easily become an addiction. You have a book to promote? Fire up Twitter, make some status updates on Facebook... oh, and don't forget to update your blog with the latest reviews. Speaking of reviews, what's the latest info from Amazon and Smashwords? Wow, four new reviews and wait... more than thirty mentions on Twitter today! You can see where I'm going with this.
I have a problem with spending too much time on the Internet, and hey, I don't even have a book to promote... yet. Don't quote me on this, but I have a feeling that if Hemingway were alive today he would be on twitter writing haiku, or slumped over his keyboard in a chat room debating the merits of invading Iraq. The Internet is an addicting place, especially if you have an addictive personality. Be wary.

Much of the time that I could spend writing is chipped away by distractions. For me, there is no bigger distraction than the Internet. That's the worst. In order to get any writing done at all, the cable modem must first be unplugged. The most important piece of advice that I could offer to new writers (and some of the published authors as well), is to have a schedule and try to stick to it.

If you can't write every day, then write as often as you can. If you can do so in a coffee shop, great! If you're the type of person that requires seclusion, such as myself, then hang a sign on the door and lock it. Unplug the phone and the Internet then show us your imagination. The only thing better than reading a good story is writing one.

You can read my post about my experience with social media so far on his blog. But first, leave a comment, below!