Monday, February 28, 2011

Don't get trapped by synonyms.

Some of us writers try to avoid repeating a word too often for fear of boring the reader. So we hunt for synonyms to give variety and change of pace. But we are likely to fall into a trap in our search for synonyms. There is no word in English that has the same exact meaning as another word. If it ever happens, one of the words will die quickly. Each word in the language has its own special meaning or it would not exist.

When you use a synonym instead of your original word, you move away from the first meaning you planted in your reader's mind, and likely from what you first intended. You are asking your reader to slightly change his thought, the thought you have just given him. That's mental work for the reader. He doesn't like it and it won't do you any good. Rather, take the risk of boring the reader by repeating words and thoughts, than of losing him by quick change of mental direction. Be careful when you use synonyms.

Language follows the principle of least effort. This theory says that every process in nature, every chemical reaction, every physical action of every living thing, is accomplished with the expenditure of the smallest amount of effort possible under the existing conditions. It is at work in, language as well as every other activity. The pressure is always toward reducing the length of words to conserve effort, and to make one word carry as many different meanings as possible. You can check this yourself by looking up a dozen single syllable words, counting the different meanings, and comparing them with the different meanings of a dozen three-syllable words.

This trend in language can make the writer's job more difficult. We know short words are easier to understand, but short words, because of multiple meanings, can also confuse the reader. We speak of a "good woman," a "good fire," a "good baseball team" and a "good time." In each case, the word "good" has a different meaning. The dictionary lists 25 different meanings for "good’ and also lists 81 combining forms, such as "good fellow," "good nature" and "good humour." So when you use the word, there are many opportunities for your thought to go astray in the reader's mind.

Incidentally, this word is one of many to have suffered from the widespread new illiteracy of general speech. Nothing is more exasperating than when one asks someone “How’re you feeling?” they reply, “I’m good.” This can only be countered by saying, "Yes, I know you are a good person, but are you well?”

So before you scramble for a synonym just for the sake of variety, remember that the meaning you want a word to carry depends not only on the word and its accepted meaning as given in the dictionary, but also on where and how you use it.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thorndike, wherefore art thou?

Let me tell you about a person who did more for advertising copywriting, including direct-response, in the last 100 years than anyone else I can think of. He was an American author and language specialist named Edward L. Thorndike. Likely, you never even heard of him, but don't let it bother you, because most other people in advertising never heard of him either. But you can help yourself greatly by learning about his guidelines to writing clearer words.

Thorndike was probably the most productive linguistic psychologist the world has ever known. Beginning in 1900, he wrote more than 500 books and articles, averaging more than ten a year. Fortunately for us, he became interested in the improvement of language’s vital role in the communications process, and distilled his knowledge into writing the "Twentieth Century Dictionary."

His book lists the 80,000 most-used English words, and gives their meanings in the order of general public understanding. What use is this to us today? Well, for example, if you use a word in a particular meaning and Thorndike showed it as the sixth or seventh most common meaning, you can be sure many in your audience won't understand it, and you will be wise to avoid using the word.

‘Too bad that the book is so very hard to find today, as it can be such a practical tool for use every day in copywriting. Any fortunate owner of "Twentieth Century Dictionary" can rely on it for checking doubtful words in general public perception. It won't automatically make your copy successful, but it will make it more understandable, enabling it to be better than a lot of advertising written every day.
Write and rewrite ad copy.

The best way to become a good direct-response copywriter is to practice writing about other people's products or service when you don't have to do it. Whenever you read an unconvincing ad or sales-letter, try rewriting it your way. It can be a lot of fun, and remarkably beneficial to your own skill at crafting words that sell. Sometimes, you may have difficulty improving the original. But every bit of rewriting you do will strengthen your ability to write clearly, concisely, and with a readable style.

I have never known a writer who could spin off yards of copy in 30 minutes before breakfast. Good writing isn't any easier for the professional than it is for the amateur. In fact, it is actually harder.

Ask any top copywriter the actual number of words he or she writes to get 100 words of usable copy. The successful writer is willing to grind out 2,000 words to finally end up with 100 words that are worthwhile.

The unsuccessful writer quits too soon, usually because of laziness, but just as often because of simply not understanding the benefit of-rewriting. He will never have ulcers. But he also will never know the joy of making himself understood and convincing by all who reads his copy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Like, uh, you know?

Future historical novelists writing about the 2011 era

will likely have the devil of a time trying to recapture or

comprehend the everyday speech patterns of our time.

Why did our young abandon speaking in straight, coherent,

confident, declaritive sentences? Why do people now speak

so tentatively? Our so-called “cool” way of talking will

surely challenge future novelists.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


You are facing a pile of notes stacked on your desk, reference books, a tape full of interviews -- paper, pens, a keyboard -- and lots of blank paper. Now, how the heck you going to transform it all into a polished, finished, saleable article?

Work in pleasant, non-distracting surroundings. Find the best time of day to write; an often overlooked factor. Some folk are "early morning people", others work best at night. (Myself having mostly written while at day-jobs in offices, I tend to still keep conventional hours now I am a freelancer.)

The most prolific known writer was the British author Charles Hamilton (alias Frank Richards, creator of Billy Bunter) who had an astonishing average weekly output of 80,000 words. By contrast, James Joyce once spent two days writing a single sentence, after he had first painstakingly selected all the words for that single sentence.

Few writers have the ability to write perfect copy the first time. And even fewer freelancers have the time or organizational skill to gather together all their words before writing. You'll find a happy medium somewhere between these two extremes if you just write and write, then write some more.

Getting the first word down often seems the most difficult part of writing. (Priceless advice: to get things going, just start anywhere.) The following suggestions will help you with those first words and all the ones to follow:

The title is the least thing to worry about. For two reasons -- (a) while you are writing the article, a good title will suggest itself , and (b) more than likely, the editor will change your title anyway.

Put your completed research aside for as long as possible, for several hours or, even better, several days. Try to almost forget you ever gathered it, and let your subconscious go to work.

When you are ready to write your first rough draft, pretend you are writing a personal letter to a friend. Use simple, clear, declarative language. Start anywhere you want, without initial over-consideration for grammar, spelling, organization, or style. Though your notes are certainly important factually, the impressions and reactions you feel about the subject will flow naturally onto the paper.

Whenever you are temporarily at a loss for words or spelling, just insert a row of XXXX’s then keep on writing. These will signal the need to back and fill in the missing word or phrase later after you have completed most of the first draft.

If you really get stuck on something important and feel that you're approaching the threshold of irritability, stop writing and turn to something else. Preferably go do something physical – exercise, swim, walk, go for a walk.

Set aside your rough draft for a couple of hours or a couple of days (depending on your deadline). When you've got some distance between yourself and the article, go back and start revising.

Revise, revise, revise! Accept the fact that all writing is re-writing. Ernest Hemingway was said to have re-written the last page of his For Whom The Bell Tolls eighteen times. But, three to six revisions of a draft are about standard for many professional freelance article writers. Each revision may be devoted to different aspects of the article: organisation, leads, grammar, clarity, paragraph transitions, readability, quotes, and references.

But absolutely, positively, double-check accuracy of spelling!Start with the organization of your draft. Does the major concept of each paragraph make a smooth transition into the one following? Does the order of concepts form a logical flow in the manuscript? Are all the facts that support and illustrate the ideas in each paragraph described accurately?

Re-read your notes to fill in any missing factual gaps.

For major revisions that require frequent referral to your research notes, make sub-outlines. Key-in the appropriate concepts from your notes under each major heading.

Take a breather between revisions -- a couple of hours, if you're pressed for time, to a couple of weeks if there's no close deadline. You will be able to put some distance between yourself and the article; distance that will give a more objective perspective to your writing.

Only rank amateurs skip doing revisions. At the same time, though, do not fall into the trap of making continual re-writes as an excuse to put off submitting your article to its target market.

By this time, your article should be in as polished finished condition as possible. So your next and final step is to send it off to the editor without further delay. And while you are waiting for word of its acceptance, start researching and writing your next article!

Don't use no double negative. Make each pronoun agree with their antecedent. Join clauses good, like a conjunction should. Avoid them sentence fragments. Aim to attract hoards of readers. When dangling, watch your participles. Verbs has to agree with their subjects. Just between you and I, case is important, too. Search for those illusive meanings. Don't write run-on sentences they are hard to read. Don't use commas they aren't necessary. Try to not ever split infinitives. Its important to use apostrophe's correctly if your serious. Proofread your writing to see if any words out. Correct spelling is esential.

                                           Ohio State University News Letter

Friday, February 11, 2011


Let’s face it, self-published books have an unfavourable reputation. Sight unseen, even the best of them are automatically presumed to be badly written and shabbily produced. So, most bookstores refuse to stock them and few reviewers will deign to mention them. To make matters worse, the typical would-be author with the yen to self-publish unfortunately chooses either of the two most difficult-to-sell genres -- novels and memoirs. The marketing and distribution of these types of books may present problems of their own later on, but authors can at least initially boost the odds for store acceptance by striving for the best possible literary excellence.

Novels are particularly challenging to write, demanding a combination of creative talent and grasp of story construction techniques. Commercial fiction is not an easy skill that can be developed in a short time, yet many tyro writers seem to blithely leap into their first novel without making even the skimpiest preliminary study of the craft or planning of their manuscript. Just as one would not set off on a journey to a new destination without looking at a map first. the same sense of direction needs' to be established before creating any novel. Your preliminary outline can be a simple list of events and characters, or a detailed summary of chapters, plot developments, and snatches of dialogue.

There is a mistaken idea among some beginners that such prior planning is somehow mechanical or “non-creative”. Not so, Every professional author spends time figuring out in advance just where her novel is headed before starting to write Chapter One. Know from the start how many chapters your book will contain, so as to avoid rambling out a massive tome. Remember, as a self-publisher, you're the one who is going to have to pay for printing all those pages.

Emboldened by prior knowledge that the book is surely going to be published, without tiresome need for approval by some demanding editor, the author can be cheerfully reckless about how he slaps the words down as a result, all too often thinking first draft is final draft. The very reason for the explosion in numbers of self-published books, the computerized word-processor, simplifies the entire publishing process, making an instant Gutenberg of anybody. Regrettably though, beginning writers tend to under-use one of word-processing software's best features, the easy ability to change, or re-arrange, or delete, whatever words are written.

Willingness to make revisions is the principal characteristic that distinguishes the professional writer from the impatient amateur. Ernest Hemingway is known to have re-written the last page of one of his novels 18 times. Overkill perhaps, but he confirms the point that hind writing. While it is entirely worthwhile to publish one's memoirs for distribution among family and friends, it is asking for disappointment to expect wider general demand in bookstores takes easy reading.; Mystery writer Margery Allingham sees revision this way: “I write everything four times. Once to get my meaning down, once to put in everything, once to take out everything unnecessary, and once to make the whole thing sound as if I had only just thought of it.”

This is not to imply that one must continually agonize over every word, In fact,, the best way, to approach writing a novel is - get it down, then get it right. Write fast first, then revise slow. This involves both making structural changes to improve story development and polishing language for more vibrant prose. Delete words wherever possible. Especially take out those purple passages you were so impressed with. Constantly keep in mind the prolific George Simenon's advice -- "Kill all your darlings!"

Though a book of memoirs demands the same need for good writing and careful revision, it has a different set of priorities. Before you begin typing down memory lane, be aware that unless one is a prominent “Name”, the market for autobiographies is slim to say the least. Reminiscences of, some movie star or politico are usually in great demand. but reader interest in the musings of Joe Average is zero.

This reality does not in the slightest dissuade an ever-increasing number of self-publishers from penning their memoirs. Indeed, personal reminiscences are by far the most frequent form of self-published books. An avalanche of volumes about individuals' life-stories are produced each month, fuelled by an appetizing mix of harmless vanity and hope for best-sellerdom.

Memoirs are best written in a personal style, which adds the author's actual tone of voice, Nonetheless, if we expect our words to be read, we at least owe the reader interesting, clear prose. Some accounts of genuinely exciting lives are spoiled by being written at the level of a hurried letter to Aunt Fanny. Taking the time for a careful run through the draft afterwards, revising as you go; can bring one's memoir up to the level any readership deserves.

Above all, keep in mind that though it is entirely worthwhile to publish one's memoirs for distribution among family and friends, it is asking for disappointment to expect wider general demand in bookstores. The happiest self-publishers are those conscious of the intended limited range of readers, content enough to have created a printed testament to their lifetime experience.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


“Self-publishing" is something of a catch-all phrase, as there are in fact three different categories within it. Vanity, subsidy, and – well -- just plain self-published. It may seem confusing; but there is a significant difference between them. For now, let's discuss the latter, which is the mast widespread yet least familiar category.

Basic self-publishing involves an author who prints and sells folios, reports, or books; ether in paper form or as PDFs. There are some brave authors who actually hand-produce their own novels and poetry, but that is a long hard road to profit. Usually, though, the typical do-it-yourself publisher who makes money at it offers short "how-to" non-fiction of from 10 to 300 pages.

These are by no means all in finished book form. Some astonishingly popular offerings off this kind that still sell steadily for years are mere typewritten sheets stapled together or spiral-bound. Others are conventional-looking short books with perfect-bound pages, or have made the leap to formatting their info products in Kindle and similar electronic readers.

Computerized typesetting is giving the genre a more finished look now, but that has made surprisingly little real change to sales acceptance. Spartan formatting never seem to be a disadvantage, as customers for this sort of thing are looking strictly for information content. Many “how-to customers” still continue to want utilitarian materials, stripped-down instructional prose in plain format, All they want is straightforward writing that explains how to start a business, perform a skill, cook exotically, or aid a hobby.

Money-making plans are the most popular, and form the bulk of offerings. A self-publisher of information folios assumes all the costs, most of which are for advertising and sales promotion – and keeps most of the profits. Selling expenses are comparatively high, but because the genre charges relatively bigger prices page-for-page than conventional reading material, profit margins are larger.

This thriving type of publishing started in direct-mail over 100 years ago, and has now moved into marketing via the Internet. Though out of the mainstream, it can be astonishingly lucrative, quietly forming a billion-dollar industry.

For example, Joe Karbo wrote a 60-page book aptly titled The Lazy Man’s Way To Riches, and sold enough of them by direct mail to earn several million dollars. After he died, Karbo's son took over, continuing to offer his unlikely yet durable best-seller through full-page advertisements in magazines and on-line.

For years, Valerie Kelly discreetly used pen names while she wrote sex stories for adult magazines. When she realized there was a likely market for her knowledge among freelancers, she authored How To Write Erotica. After being turned down by several major publishers, the undaunted Kelly decided to produce and market it herself, and ran ads in writers' magazines and web pages, offering spiral-bound' photocopies of her 300-page manuscript. After Kelly sold thousands of copies that way, her book was bought by Random House, and it continues to be a steady seller in hard and soft cover.

My own dozen info products include How To Make Money Fast as A Ghostwriter, Military Publications International Directory, and Writing Productive Industrial Advertising. With all my info products, I found that the main key to sales-success lay less in the written content than it did in creating effective ads and placing them in the most effective media.

Jerry Buchanan of Vancouver, Wash., first launched what became a profitable self-publishing business by writing a four page report on how to get rid of gophers in lawns. It sold so well that Buchanan became a full-time publisher of a whole line of booklets. He struck literary gold with a 70-page book named Writers Utopia Formula Report, which sold in the hundreds of thousands.

One such book that's enjoying wide success has the comprehensive title When I Grow Up I'm Going. To Be A Millionaire (A Children's' Guide to Mutual Funds). Written by Ted Lea and illustrated by Lora Lea, this slim 48-page book offers sage advice on long-term investing that could be valuable to adults as well as children. The book's premise is that any 10-year-old child who invests only $10 every month could create about a million dollars over his or her lifetime, and it provides a step-by-step plan for building a nest-egg.

Though the majority of aspiring authors continue to hope to be fiction novelists, many others are taking the surer route to profitable sales by writing how-to books. From just these few examples, you can see just how wide-ranging the demand is for the genre, with a limitless buying public of people who are eager to buy written information on virtually any subject.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

British” is a collective term, that refers to the regions and people of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Which is why the expression “a British accent” is both confusing and utterly meaningless.
Many book authors and even some school curriculums seem confused by Britain’s component identity.
However, all is explained in this video:
As I have said often before, non-fic­tion "self-help" and informational books are the most likely types to be successfully self-published. Useful prac­tical knowledge is always in demand and so the genre is easier to sell. But this should by no means discourage fiction authors from bringing out their own novels and gaining respectable sales-figures.
After all, a myriad of literary classics were originally self-published; such as Lady Chatterley's Lover, Ulysses, Huck­leberry Finn, War And Peace, Spartacus, The Wizard Of Oz, and Remembrance Of Things Past.

Famous authors who first went the self-published route include Rudyard Kipling Mark Twain, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Walt Whitman, Anais Nin, Upton Sinclair, Zane Gray, George Bernard Shaw T.S. Eliot, and Margaret Attwood. 

Beatrix Potter first wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit to entertain an ailing child, then submitted her illustrated story to sev­eral publishing houses. All refused to go along with her idea of a small format to fit little children's hands, so she self-pub­lished it, and her stories went on to become perennial favourites to this day.
Contemporary poet Rod McKuen published his own Listen To The Warm, and personally sold 40,000 copies before his talent was recognized by Random House, which has since sold over a million copies.
University instructor Robert James Waller wrote a book from his heart, The Bridges of Madison County. No publisher was interested, so Waller published it him­self, selling copies to stores on consign­ment with a money-back guarantee. Response was so positive, nobody wanted a refund. After the book rose up the best­seller lists, movie rights were acquired to star Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood.
You probably know that James Red­field's The Celestine Prophecy became one of the best-selling books in recent history -- despite the fact it is among the worst-written books ever. Yet, it began as a modest self-­printed item that Redfield and his wife gave away as free samples to hundreds of New Age-type stores. After a book salesman brought it to the attention of publishing giant Warners, the firm purchased world rights for $800,000, and it stayed on Publishers Weekly's top-fiction list for 64 weeks. (Go figure!)
Richard Paul Evans' 87-page parable about parental love, The Christmas Box, was self-published just as a gift for his family. He printed only 20 copies, but word-of-mouth soon caused people to ask local bookstores for it. Realizing he was on to something, Evans tried to find a publisher. But after repeated rejections, he self-published, starting with 3,000 copies. After he'd sold 700,000 copies personally, Evans' book eventually wound up in a bidding war won by Simon & Schuster, and it is now a multi-million copy perennial seller.
Wildly successful courtroom novelist John Grisham used to peddle copies' of his first effort, A Tine To Kill, out of the back of his car before catching the eye of New York publishing, giant Doubleday. But even established authors are some­times still forced to go it alone. Though Jill Paton Walsh was already a recipient of several prestigious literary prizes, no publisher in Britain would accept her reli­gious allegory, A Knowledge Of Angels, so she published it herself and it was promptly short-listed for the Booker Prize in 1994.
The award-winning dramatist Snoo Wilson had three previous novels pub­lished by big imprints, but could find no takers for his The Works of Melinont, a fictionalized version of the life, of Robert Maxwell. So Wilson decided to publish, it himself. He said, "There is a part of me that sees self-publishing as an admission of failure, but then Harry Potter got turned down by lots of publishers before its huge success. And advances in technology today have made I so easy to organize producing a book."
Australian best-selling thriller writer Matthew Reilly started out as a self-publisher at the tender age of 19, because his first novel, Contest, was turned down by every publishing house he approached He personally placed copies of his boot in every store he could until finally gaining the attention of a major firm and hi. novel has sold two million copies. Reilly said something particularly astute about one detail all self-publishers should remember. "I've noticed that self published books don't have publishing house imprint logos.” He held up a copy of his latest success, Scarecrow, and put his finger over the publisher's logo on the spine to demonstrate. "See, it looks weird. Peo­ple use visual clues to detect what is a real book and what is not." Self-publishers should keep that gem in mind when getting their book-cover designed.
The growing acceptance of such books has launched the modern publisher revolution, so-called "crossover titles," where previously self-subsidized books are being bought by big-name publishing houses. Self-pub­lished new authors could take heart from this new phenomenon, as your own book could well become the next block­buster.