Friday, March 30, 2012

Themes in Publishing: Priming the Pump

When I was a little girl, we had a pump that periodically lost its prime. My father would have to prime it so water would again flow freely from our faucets. I remember watching him and wondering about the mechanics of that process.

Publishing a book bears a strong resemblance to priming that pump. Whether you choose to self-publish, use an indie publisher, go for e-books, or find another route to get your work out, you need to make certain the mechanics of what you do assure that your book will flow seamlessly into the marketplace and find its audience.

Doing this guarantees big book sales, right? We all know better than that. What it does guarantee is a finished product that is mechanically and aesthetically pleasing. Our clear, tight content speaks to our intended audience; and our critics cannot find justifiable fault with the grammar, punctuation, presentation, or appearance. What’s next? No matter the genre, the journey we take from idea to first draft to publication follows the same mechanical route.

• Start with a plan – the journalistic who, what, when, where, why, and how.

• Research your topic – even when you think you know what you’re talking about, double-check your facts because “facts” have been known to change. This applies to fiction as well as non-fiction and do-it-yourself projects.

• Consider the needs, interests, educational background, and age of your intended audience.

• Create an outline that works for you – doesn’t need to look like an English-class assignment but should be logical and cohesive.

• Review your notes (in whatever format) and write your first draft. Grammar and punctuation need not be serious concerns at this point.

• Put the completed draft aside for a period of time – at least a few weeks if possible.

• Get it out and go over it thoroughly and with a critical eye – and so the rewrites begin.

• Now’s the time to consider grammar and punctuation. Have you used powerful verbs, created vivid word pictures, and kept your reader engaged? Does one scene or segment flow smoothly into the next?

• Send your best draft to your beta readers for feedback, and consider their suggestions and the reasons behind them.

• Polish your manuscript to the best of your ability.

• Send it to a competent editor who’s well-qualified in your genre and a good fit for your story, style, and personality. Then, under the guidance of the editor, fix the problems in the manuscript.

• If you plan to self-pub, choose a cover designer and a book-layout professional. Great content hiding inside a blah cover and stretched across uninviting pages doesn’t sell books. Also, be sure you or your designers contact the printer for appropriate templates and other guidelines.

• Present your publisher or printer with a full, press-ready package that pops – or at least as full as that entity permits.

• Be sure you have the prerogative to review the blueline or other proof and make necessary changes. If you’ve done your work right, you should find very few problems at this stage.

Now you’ve gone through the mechanical processes that take you a step closer to graduating from amateur to professional writer. You’re ready to publish your book and prime your marketing pump.

What other steps do you take to create press-ready copy of your work? What issues have you encountered in the process and how have you handled them? Do you have any advice for fellow writers who want to prime the pump to facilitate flow from hard drive to hard copy?

Linda Lane and her editing team are now teaching writers to write well. Just as teaching a man to fish will feed him for a lifetime, teaching a writer to write well will help launch him/her into the ranks of professional author and save big bucks on future editing costs. Learn more about what she and her team do at
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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Agents Bust False Publishing Trends, Part II

Today we continue busting false notions about trends in traditional publishing, with information gleaned from agents at the 2012 Write Stuff conference in Allentown, PA. Our panelists were Rachel Stout of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency, Marie Lamba of Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, Lauren Ruth of BookEnds LLC, and Katie Shea of Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Agents are no longer taking on new clients. I can speak from my own experience on this one, as I signed with one of these agents in December—Katie Shea, pictured with me at right—and since then she’s taken on three additional clients. If you seek traditional publication, try submitting to newer agents at established agencies. Since they are still building their client lists they have the time to work with you, they are hungry for a sale, and are backed by the collective wisdom and power of their agencies. Chuck Sambuchino regularly posts “New Agent Alerts” at his Guide to Literary Agents blog.

No one gets discovered in the slush pile anymore.
Lauren Ruth said that like most agents, she interned by reading slush (unsolicited submissions). Her written critiques of the submissions were critiqued in turn by more experienced agents, so that she learned to spot the projects with the potential to fit the agency’s business model. It is true that the slush pile may not be the way to reach agents who represent bestselling clients. Because they already have a dependable income stream from producing authors, their motivation to read slush is pretty low. This seems to anger many aspiring authors, but really, this person is going to be working on your behalf—how thin do you want him to stretch?

Here my own experience can provide another case in point. While I tried all the “leg-up” techniques I could find, including ten years of face-to-face agent pitches at conferences as well as recommendations from well-published authors to their agents, I ultimately gained representation through the slush pile. Why did it work? My project had matured, my query reflected this, and I submitted widely enough that my story found its way to its perfect advocate.

No one gets advances anymore. If no one got advances, there would be no agents, since their income is dependent upon 15% of your royalties. For this reason, an agent will advocate for an author's worth even more than many of today's authors advocate for themselves. While it used to be an author's hope that a decent advance would pay off lean years of dues-paying work, many authors have adopted a model in which they follow up those lean years by paying out their own money to self publish, or give away e-books for free.

Perhaps because of this, the way an author's work is valued has never been more diverse. While one self e-published author gives away books in the hopes that someone will notice her, Carrie Pestritto cited the recent example of an agented debut novelist who nabbed a one million dollar advance. Are these common? No, but that’s not a trend shift—such extreme examples have always been newsworthy because they are uncommon. Katie Shea noted the extraordinary subjectivity of the industry with this example: one of her agency's YA projects received two offers from publishers. One was $7,500, and the other was $75,000!

In this time of great change in the publishing industry, one trend persists. Whether through the Big Six, small independent houses, or self publishing, and whether the product is digital or print, this industry has always attracted editors, agents, and authors who are willing to act on the strength of their convictions. Today’s economic realities may make such gambles more nerve-wracking than ever, but there are still people willing to make them.
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, was published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Agents Bust False Publishing Trends, Part I

I recently had the pleasure of moderating the agent panel at the 2012 Write Stuff conference in Allentown, PA. Our guests were (l to r) Rachel Stout of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency, Marie Lamba of Jennifer DeChiara Litearary Agency, Lauren Ruth of BookEnds LLC, and Katie Shea of Donald Maass Literary Agency (thank you to Mary Ann Domanska for providing the photo). Each one of these industry professionals are enthusiastic lovers of the written word—so much so that they are willing to stake their incomes on it.

I thought I’d use some info gleaned from our discussion to address some false notions about trends in today’s publishing world.

With the advent of e-publishing, agenting is a dying career. This is clearly not the case. Every member of the panel is a newer agent at an established agency. One of them shared with me that when she applied for a position just last fall she received three offers. The agencies are hiring.

But while agenting isn’t a dying career, it is a changing one.
In the past ten years the role of agent has evolved beyond one of advocacy and sales. Time and again Publisher’s Marketplace reports editors leaving their posts at publishing houses, and while it’s true that publishers have experienced the same economic attrition as other industries in this economy, many of those editors left by choice—to become agents. Why? The reason may surprise you: they want to edit. Today’s acquiring editor must juggle the business and production details for so many books they no longer have the time to work one-on-one with authors to shape their stories. This role has fallen to the agent.

Self-publishing is the kiss of death if you hope for traditional publication. This perception, so true as recently as five years ago, is also experiencing a trend shift. Agents now believe self-publishing can sometimes serve a useful place in a client’s career. Both Rachel Stout and Carrie Pestritto’s agencies now feature programs that can help their clients self-publish.

An even stronger indication of the changing tides: Rachel and Carrie said it’s part of their paid duties at their agencies to troll the self-published titles on Amazon and offer representation to authors with great sales numbers. The fact that these authors take them up on it shows that the ongoing strain of being a self-published author isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Agent Marie Lamba, who is also a traditionally published author of young adult novels, chose to self-publish when, through no fault of her own, the contract for her sequel was canceled. To satisfy her fan base, she self published. Her message was that the road to successful publication is no longer predictable. These days authors can pick and choose the tools and methods that suit them.

Katie Shea pointed out that indie publishing still isn’t for everyone, especially if the author hopes to use it as a step toward breaking into traditional publishing. While there are newsworthy exceptions—most recently E.L. James, the author of the erotic Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, who sold 250,000 copies through her tiny Australian publisher then went on to sign a seven-figure deal with Vintage Books— for most authors without an established platform or fan base, sales numbers for self-published works can be more disappointing than hoped for. That one-millionth ranking on Amazon will not impress industry pros, Katie said—nor will the record of it ever go away.

Coming up tomorrow: Are agents taking on new clients? Can your work get discovered in the slush pile? Are authors still getting advances? Stay tuned!
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. The first chapter of her memoir, Standoff at Ronnie's Place, modified as a stand-alone essay, was published online by Mason's Road, the online journal of Fairfield University's MFA program. She blogs about Healing through Writing.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Value of an E-Book

Ever since the e-book revolution began, the price of the books has generated significant debates. Should an author price the book low - perhaps $0.99 - to take advantage of all the bargain hunters, or does that devalue the book. If it is only a dollar, it must not be any good; or certainly not as good as one priced a bit higher.

That type of mindset is nothing new. People have been associating quality and value to higher priced items since forever. There is a reason that Roman royalty wore all that gold and jewels. It told everyone how important and powerful these people who could afford such luxuries were.

What is interesting with e-publishing, especially for those going indie, is the impact that lowering the price of a book can have, or even offering it free for a short time. Last year in March, I offered my suspense novel, One Small Victory, as a free read for a week to celebrate Read an E-Book Week. It had over 30,000 downloads and made it to the top ten on a number of best-selling lists on Amazon. That effort jump-started several months of significant sales that brought me a nice royalty check every month.

More recently, with a glut of free books, especially on Amazon, there is some concern that the number of free books has impacted sales of other books. Many of us who share marketing information on author lists are seeing a drop in sales this month and last. Some blame it directly on the availability of free books; others, like Brad Whittington, do not. "While I could be wrong (it's happened before) I think the free-downloaders (sic) are bargain hunters, not book buyers and don't represent a significant loss of sales. Certainly no more than used bookstores, which are the haunt of people who are not going to pay the going price for new releases."

Another writer, who is known as Polywogg, weighed in with this comment "It's a semi-popular view that free hurts the market or an author but since the e-market is skyrocketing and authors are seeing sales increases (sometimes dramatic) after freebie promotions, most of those views are not borne out by any actual evidence. I'm thinking of borrowing from Dawkins and calling it the Fear Delusion."

Anthony Wessel from Digital Book Today recently wrote in is blog, "The free book (on Amazon) is currently the best form of advertising and marketing that is available to the Indie author."   

So maybe free books are here to stay. At least for a while, and there really is no definitive answer to the best price for e-books. If you go too high, you lose volume of sales. Is that worth it? Most people are like me and really don't plan to spend more than $5 for an e-book, with only a few exceptions. I do check out free books, and if I find a gem among the rough stones, I will buy other books by that author.

The one thing I do insist on, whether I have acquired the book for free, or for $0.99, or for $4.99, is professionalism. That goes for the cover design, the editing, and the overall formatting and production. What devalues a book, in my estimation, is one that was poorly edited, if at all, or it is not easy on the eyes as I scroll through to read. I have found some so poorly formatted that there were strange symbols in place of punctuation, weird spacing that seemed to make no sense, and sections where there seemed to be something missing.

As for the near future of e-book pricing, I agree with author Stephen Woodfin who wrote the following in a blog for Venture Galleries, "The energy of the indie movement will find its way to the middle ground. This will mean price points for many e-books from $2.99 to $6.99 with $0.99 books relegated to the bargain bin, and $9.99 e-book pricing viewed as little more than arrogant elitism clung to by the big houses."

What should not vary, however, is quality. We owe it to our readers to give them the best product we can. That includes taking the time to craft a good read and paying to have the book professionally edited and designed.

What about you? Does price influence your e-book buying?


When she is not reading the funny papers, Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Information about her books, her editing services, and her blogs can be found on her Web site at Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Trends in Publishing: Android Apps for Writing

I have a truth to admit; I kept telling myself and others that I wanted to get a tablet so that I could do more writing. That wasn't really the case. First and foremost on my things to do on a tablet was to play games. Since I purchased my ASUS Transformer, the bulk of what I do on it is play games...and watch Netflix.

Once I bought the keyboard, however, I started to think about my writing again. I began downloading apps every chance I got, picking up note taking/writing apps, such as SuperNote, Evernote, Springpad, and Catch. While I enjoy each of these apps and the ASUS came with Polaris Office, there are three specific apps that I've been using a lot and that help me to get my story ideas (and the actual stories) down on paper.


In my initial foray into working on a story, my mind is scattered. As such, writing linearly doesn't suit me. I need something visual, something I can move, something that shows me my idea and not just shows me the text.

Enter Mindjet.

I'm currently using Mindjet to see a collection of stories I'm hoping to start writing soon. Using this app allows me to see what my central point is and to see how each bracket added to the tree connects back to that point. It also helps me when I'm developing academic works. I pop the thesis idea into the center and branch out into points I want to cover and then branch out again with sources and comments.
As the Mindjet site states, you can organize ideas, track tasks, and map plans with the app. It's definitely worth the investment.


This particular application just seems to follow me wherever I go. Even with my beloved Scrivener for Windows on my laptop, I still come back to OneNote from time to time to get my notebook fix.

As the image above shows, there are buttons for recent notes, quick notes, and quick photo notes, and you're able to create bulleted lists, highlight text, and make checkboxes. Additional OneNote Mobile features include the ability to store and access multiple OneNote notebooks, sync to your free SkyDrive account for access anywhere, access your notes offline, edit tables, and support external hyperlinks.

I've used the OneNote app recently to view material I've been writing and collecting for various parts of my dissertation. No matter how digitized I become, the notebook--digital or tangible--will always be used by me.

OnLive Desktop

Although I can easily connect to my laptop remotely from my Transformer, the idea of not having to remotely sync up and still get to use Word excites me, so you can imagine the smile that grew on my face when I learned about OnLive Desktop. When you login to OLD, your screen has a PC desktop interface.

There are several OLD plans, ranging from free OLD Standard and $4.99 a month OLD Plus to OL Enterprise and OL Collaborative Services. With all of the plans, you receive PC Microsoft Office with cloud storage, instant-action, media-rich Windows 7 cloud desktop, and Adobe Flash. Additional services are added depending on how much you're willing to pay for a plan.

What excited me more than anything about all of it was just my ability to actually use comments and tracked changes in Word. Even though I use my tablet mostly for entertainment and creative projects, I've wanted the opportunity to edit clients' works from the tablet if necessary. I know there are other apps out there that might allow me to use comments and something like tracked changes, but there is nothing like using what you know, and I know Word. And it knows my tablet through OnLive.

Recently, however, there have been reports that all may not be sunshine and rainbows with OnLive. Several sites [here, here, and here] have stated Microsoft reports that OnLive Desktop Office streaming app may violate licensing agreements. Whereas there seems to be hope that OLD will work out this issue with Microsoft, the resolution is still up in the air. Thankfully, there are plenty of great writing apps for Android if OLD disappears...and I'll be out there looking for the next, best one.


Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Traditional Small Publishers

After ten years of writing, polishing, submitting, and collecting rejections, I was thrilled to finally meet a small press publisher, Lee Emory of Treble Heart Books, who liked my work and believed in me enough to publish my first two books.

Even though self-publishing no longer carries the stigma it once had and is becoming wildly popular with the ease of computer programs and publishing sites such as CreateSpace, etc., I still wanted to be able to say, “Yes, I have a PUBLISHER.”

The small press accounts for $30 billion in annual book sales according to Writer Magazine’s “The Writer’s Guide to Getting Published”, and fills niche publishing markets, such as poetry, memoirs, gift books, even “westerns,” which the large publishing houses keep saying are “dead.” (If you believe that, take a look at the book lists from Women Writing the West and Western Writers of America.)

Advantages of working with a small publisher:
• Often, it is somewhat easier for new authors to break in, and you don’t need an agent first.
• The small press does not charge authors for publishing services.
• You can get smaller print runs, so neither the publisher nor the author ends up with thousands of books in the garage.
• You get more personalized attention. I was even asked for my input on the cover designs, something I’ve heard many horror stories about from authors with large publishers.
• My publisher works with a professional editor to make sure the product is a good one.
• As long as my books are selling, they will not go out of print. I don’t have to reach a “quota” within a three-month or even a 30-day period and face having my books remaindered.

Disadvantages to working with a small publisher:
• Small or no advances.
• No financial backing for promotion, entering contests, submitting for review or touring.
• Distribution. Many do try to contract with Ingram, or as in my publisher’s case, Baker and Taylor. But it’s still difficult to get your books into bookstores, because they don’t like to deal with more than one distributor or don’t like the return fees. I’ve ended up mostly consigning my books with bookstores. (But, ironically, in reality, you don’t sell many books in bookstores, unless your name is Grisham or Steele or Roberts, etc.)
• The “elephant” in the room: Amazon. It seems you don’t exist unless you’re listed on Amazon. But they charge the publisher to list the books, often discount the price, take 55% of the sale, and the author’s royalties end up mere cents. It’s also up to the publisher to put your book into Kindle or Nook formats. With today’s trend of “giving” e-books away for 99 cents or free, the author with a small publisher does not have that marketing option.

One of the arguments for self-publishing is that the author has more say over the entire process and actually can make more money from sales without the “middle man.” But again, how to get wide distribution is the question.

The publishing process is undergoing a huge paradigm shift and it will be interesting to see what happens in the near future with large and small presses and with self-publishing.

To find small publishers, see the Small Press database at the Poetry & Writers website to research publishers, editorial style preference, types of genre published, submission guidelines, and contact information.

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is Self-Publishing the Way to Go?

In 2009, I pitched at a Love is Murder Mystery Conference, and learned it would take about two years to see my manuscript in print, if it were accepted.

Well, for some reason, I wasn't getting any younger. Because of that, when my author friend, Austin S. Camacho, suggested self-publishing, I figured I didn't have too much to lose. I took the leap and self-published my romantic suspense, Killer Career, in print through Lightning Source and also electronically via Amazon and Smashwords.

Before the publication plateau had been reached, Austin got many panicky emails from me, but he answered my questions in good stride. I found the process heady, yet scary. I had decisions to make on cover art, back cover blurbs, book size, font size, and all kinds of other details. Also, there were the setup fees, catalog fees, software, and ISBN numbers to buy, plus hiring and paying for an editor. Still, I finished all this in much less time than it would have taken if I'd waited around for a traditional publisher.

When I released Killer Career, I still detected reservations against that route from such quarters as J.A. Konrath, and countless others.

Then somehow, miracle of miracles, the tides turned. Joe and many who'd before decided traditional publishing was the best way to go, took another look at self-publishing and decided to try it. Not only that, they made good money by doing so.

By the time I'd released my latest paranormal romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, toward the end of December, 2011, on Amazon and Smashwords, self-publishing had come into its own. Countless new authors were trying it, along with traditionally published ones with forgotten backlists they wanted to resurrect.

Although I owned a Kindle and used it 99.9 per cent of the time to read books, I knew there were still many other readers who still enjoyed holding actual printed books in their hands. Since CreateSpace through Amazon offered free setup for print, plus an expanded distribution network for only $25.00, and a free ISBN number, I couldn't resist their bargain. I set up my thriller through them in print, making it available online through Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other venues.

Not only that, I requested and received the rights back for my two backlist books, Two Wrongs, and Girl of My Dreams, which before had been published through a small publisher and were languishing in limbo. I put them up on Amazon and Smashwords, the result being they received second life.

My heading asks the question: Is Self-Publishing the Way to Go? For me it is, but it may not be for everybody. What about you?
Morgan is a past president ofChicago-North RWA, belongs to MWMWA, Sisters In Crime and EPIC. She's now working on a sequel to Forever Young: Blessing or Curse, which will be Book Two of the Always Young Trilogy.Find Morgan on Facebook:
Excerpts & buy links for her four books are at:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where Have All the Agents Gone?

Our guest blogger, Susan Malone, is back again with an interesting take on whether traditional publishing is heading for demise at the hand of e-publishing.

I always smile when thinking of trends in publishing. Especially due to the answer all my editor friends in NY give when asked (at virtually every writers’ conference) what the new trends will be:  “I’ll know it when I see it.”

But as much of a joking reply as this is, it stands up over time because, well, it’s true. Nobody ever knows what’s going to happen in publishing—until it’s happened. And then when it does, everybody wants a piece of it. Only they want it yesterday, and with a fresh twist. This of course has stymied writers since the days of quill dipping-pens. And now in the age of speed-of-light-changing technology, the new trend in publishing is the industry itself.

Of course, everybody is waxing profound these days on what will happen to the business model. Will traditional publishing survive?  Have e-books slung the final arrow into a dying monolith? Will the only authors gaining traditional publishing contracts be of the Amanda Hocking ilk?

That’s what we’ve all heard for the past two years or so. I was speaking at a big conference last summer, and of course sat around kibitzing with some good friends of the agent, editor, and publisher variety. This discourse dominated the conversation, and one of the points gaining consensus was that in the end, two publishers would remain: Random House and probably Viking. How soon this doomsday scenario would occur was the only real arguing point.

And occur, this very well may. Although lately, the big houses have been fighting back with all the guns in their own e-book arsenals (and some from Justice, but that’s another story completely). But does any tangible evidence exist that rumors of publishing’s demise may be greatly exaggerated? (Apologies for the butchering, Mr. Clemens.)

Lately, I’ve seen some subtle signs of exactly this. Which will bring me back to the title of this post, about which astute readers by now may be scratching their heads. But, for example, I have an editorial client with whom I’ve been working a few years. This young man’s second novel is a bang-up Mid-Grade Reader.  Really well done.  He’s worked so hard, honed his craft, and the book is just beautiful.  Funny.  Poignant and profound.  Unfortunately for him, it includes not one vampire or werewolf or anything that sucks another’s life-blood.  And we have not been able to get him agented on a danged bet.

In large part because just as publishers aren’t buying anything from unknown authors, paring down their lists to existing ones (especially if those are of the already-dead-but-with-huge-followings variety), scrambling around as if their offices are on fire, agents are doing the same thing. Including the scrambling.  Many have given up the agenting ghost entirely, going on to more fruitful endeavors (which could include picking actual apples at this point). Nobody has wanted to even look at an unknown’s manuscript—no matter how highly it came recommended.

I’ve just hated it.  For all my writers, but especially for this young man.  He’s gifted, put in the blood, sweat, and tears, and has such a genuineness of spirit (which comes through in his work) that my heart has just hurt for him.  Unfortunately, he’s completely unknown, has no platform whatsoever (although he’s working diligently via social media), and did I mention no blood drips from the characters’ fangs?

And then . . .   Something has changed.  It’s one of those whispers on the wind.  So quiet you almost can’t hear it; one of those tilt-your-ear-again things.  He queried four new agents, and one who had rejected the manuscript a year and a half ago. All five requested at least partials, and two so far, from the partials, have requested the entire manuscript.

I can assure you his query letter hasn’t changed.  And as we all know, agents don’t request manuscripts because they have nothing better to do, but only because they think they may be able to sell them.

The pendulum in publishing has started to swing back, ever so slightly. Common wisdom has said for a while that e-books would reach a tipping point this summer.  Perhaps summer has come early . . . 

Will this last? Who knows. Will self-publishing continue to be the rage (at the expense of the traditional model)?  Where’s my crystal ball. Or will the trend turn again to traditional publishing?

I guess we’ll all know it when we see it!

Award-winning author and editor Susan Mary Malone has four traditionally published books to her credit (fiction and nonfiction) and many published short stories. A freelance editor, forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers. You can see more about her, and what authors say about working with her, at:

Posted by Maryann Miller, who agrees that traditional publishing is not dead.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Indie Publishing: Is it Right for You?

Our once-a-month guest, Terry Odell has some great reasons for going indie. Thanks Terry. Be sure to stop by next week to hear from Morgan Mandel, who also embraces indie publishing in a big way.

Indie publishing is, according to Angela James, Carina Press editor, "the new black." Although I've never been much for fashion, this is one trend I'm happy to follow.

Of my nine novels, I've indie-published eight titles. Only two of them would qualify as indie books, since the other five are back list titles, previously released by several different publishers. However, since the rights have reverted to me, they're now mine. And number nine will be on its way this summer.

Indie publishing creates new opportunities for authors. Why did I decide to go indie with mine? Each one had its own reasons.

1. Blurred genre lines. When I tried the traditional route with my mystery, Deadly Secrets, the comments I got included things like, "great writing, great voice, but we can't figure out if it's a cozy or a police procedural." Traditional publisher like boxes. I tend to write outside them.

2. Book in a back list series. My newest release, Saving Scott, is part of my Pine Hills Police series. However, I had the rights back to the first 2 books, and they were already re-released as indie titles. No publisher would want to jump in with Book 3.

3. The bottom line. The small-press publisher of my Blackthorne, Inc. series doesn't contract multi-book deals. Each book has to be completed, submitted, and then it's a waiting game to see if it will be picked up. Plus, for other reasons, including a restructuring of their imprints, there was a good chance that they wouldn't take Danger in Deer Ridge, and even if they did it would be at least 2 years before I would see it published. And although they pay an advance, it is small and barely covers the promotion they expect their authors to do. Since they produce only hard covers for the library market, it's a tough sell to readers who aren't going to shell out $25.95 for an unknown author.

4. It's fallen off the radar. E-publishers publish a lot of books, so you're competing with countless other authors. New releases get the visibility. And, again, it's a bottom line thing. If you have to do your own marketing, are you going to spend it pushing a book where the publisher gets most of the money? Check your contract for reversion of rights. If your book isn't doing as well as you think it could, you might be able to get rights back and publish it yourself. But publishers are growing more aware of the value of e-books, and are tightening the reins on their control.

My advice to those who want to try indie publishing: Just because "anyone can do it" does not mean everyone should. If you've been getting rejections for reasons other than, "we're not sure how to sell this", it's quite likely you haven't yet crossed the line into presenting a professional product. Readers recognize inferior writing, and getting a book out there too soon is likely to do more harm than good.

For all my indie books, I hired a cover artist. I paid for a professional editor. And this is after my crit partners had their way with my manuscripts. About the only place I didn't hire out was for formatting, although I'm still picking up tips on how to deal with the various e-stores' software. (The Smashwords Style Guide is excellent, and their "meatgrinder" will catch a lot of errors.)

You're not restricted to e-books when you go indie. CreateSpace is one outlet that makes it easy to produce quality print books. But it's been my experience that the sales are in the e-books, despite all those who say, "I want to turn real pages."

Another aspect of going indie is the marketing … but that's another story.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Her newest indie release, Saving Scott, is part of the Nook First promotion. It will be exclusive at Barnes & Noble for 30 days, but will be available at all other e-book stores the latter part of April.  Her next traditional release is Rooted in Danger, which is book 3 in her Blackthorne, Inc. series. It's available for pre-order. Buy links are HERE. To see all her books, visit her Web site. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

Posted by Maryann Miller who has a hard time keeping up with all the new releases by Terry. Good reads all.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Even Ghosts Change with the Times

Changes are often scary, but they can also be a good thing. The recent rapid changes in publishing have been a good thing for me, a ghostwriter. Print-on-demand books, e-books and e-readers, the rapid growth of self-publishing, social media marketing – these have enabled more wanna-be authors to get their ideas and stories out into the world.

Why is this good for a ghost? Because what hasn’t changed is that writing itself is still time-consuming, difficult, sometimes infuriating, and requires practice, practice, practice to do it well. Just because it is now easier and cheaper to get your ideas and stories published, doesn’t mean they will be well-received if they’re not compelling to readers. In fact, because there are more books out there means the competition for readers’ attention is even stiffer.

During the past few years my opportunities for ghostwriting have grown primarily in two areas. The first is memoir/personal histories.  Everyone has ancestors and descendants, and many are interested in what we can learn or experience from the past, or leave a legacy for those who come after us. Some of us have stories of triumph or hope that can inspire or encourage others – something that memoirs are uniquely good at; and some of us have stories of pain and despair that can serve as warnings of what can happen when we make bad choices. Not only is it wise to leave a Will that covers our material possessions, it is becoming increasingly popular to leave a written record of our experiences as well. My clients whose memoirs I ghostwrite hope that these will be passed down through generations; the reason they hire me is because they want those memoirs to be beautiful.

The second growth area in my ghostwriting business is books (and blogs, articles, and tweets) for entrepreneurs, freelancers, consultants, and sole-proprietors of service businesses. This area has grown not only because publishing is easier, but also because of the difficult economy. Unemployment went up, and many of those who were laid off and could not find jobs leveraged their knowledge and abilities in their industries to start their own businesses or became freelancers or consultants. Entrepreneurship is hot.

What’s one of the best ways to tout your authority in your field? Become an author, of course. A book is a great marketing tool – much more effective than a brochure or website. However, what’s one of the things entrepreneurs (who are often doing everything from sales to marketing to production to janitorial) lack? Time! How are they going to write a book about their particular skill, product or service when they have no time? Duh – hire a ghostwriter. It’s not only the time they save; they also don’t want a hurriedly written book full of confusing or dull prose that might hurt more than help. They want compelling narratives that highlight their knowledge and passion.

Writing is a skill. It takes talent, time, and practice to do it well. It also helps if you love to write. Not everyone has this skill, talent, time, and not everyone loves to write. But all our stories, histories, triumphs and tragedies, ideas, and methods deserve to be written about. This is why I do what I do, and also why I love it. I get to be a part of so much more than myself.

If any writers or editors reading this think that ghostwriting might be fun for you too, my online program, Living as a Ghost, covers everything I’ve learned in the twelve years I’ve been making my living this way – for only $349. Find out more here.
Kim Pearson is an author, ghostwriter, and owner of Primary Sources, a writing service that helps others become authors of professional and compelling books and articles. She has authored 6 books of her own, and ghostwritten more than 30 non-fiction books and memoirs. To learn more about her books or services, visit
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Questions For Your Beta Readers - Guest Post by Jodie Renner

Many thanks to Jodie  for sharing these tips with us today.

Have you finished the first draft of your novel, and maybe gone through the whole thing again once or twice, revising as you go? At this stage, it’s a good idea to ask some trusted volunteer readers to read through your manuscript and offer suggestions. Then you can incorporate any ideas you like into your final draft, and then, ideally, hire a freelance editor to give it a final polish before you self-publish or send it off to literary agents.

So how do you find these beta readers? Perhaps through a critique group, writing class or workshop, a book club, or readers or writers you’ve met through online networking. It’s best to avoid getting your parent, sibling, best friend or significant other to do beta reading, as they’re too close to you and may be afraid of offending you and jeopardizing your relationship. Three to five trusted readers would be optimal, as more could become overwhelming, and fewer may not give you enough detailed feedback.

Be sure to choose your volunteer  advance readers from people who already read and enjoy your genre. In the case of a YA novel or children’s book, look for be age-appropriate relatives, neighborhood kids, or the children of your friends. Or perhaps you know a teacher or librarian who would be willing to read some or all of it aloud and collect feedback.

To avoid generic, pat (and generally useless) responses like “I liked it,” or “It was okay,” it’s important to guide your readers with specific questions. With input from some of my novelist clients as well as ideas generated from my own reading and editing, I’ve compiled a list of possible questions for your beta readers or critique group. These questions are also useful for you to go through first, during one of your revision sessions.


Please read all the questions before starting the story, so they’ll be in the back of your mind as you’re reading.

A.    Opening:
-    Were the first paragraphs and first page compelling? Did they make you want to keep reading? If not, what was the problem?
-    Did you get oriented fairly quickly at the beginning as to whose story it is, what’s going on, and where and when it’s taking place? If not, what were you confused about at the beginning?
-    Did the story continue to hold your interest through the first few chapters? Or is there a point where your interest started to lag?

B.    Characters:
-    Could you relate to the main character? Did you feel her/his pain, joy, fears, worry, excitement?
-    Which characters did you connect to and like? (or love to hate)
-    Are there any characters you think could be made more interesting or more likeable?
-    Could the bad guy(s) be nastier or more interesting?
-    Did you get confused about who’s who in the characters? Are there too many characters to keep track of? Are any of the names or characters too similar?

C.    Dialogue:
-    Did the dialogue sound natural to you? If not, whose dialogue did you think sounded artificial or stilted?

D.    Setting
-    Were you able to visualize where and when the story is taking place?
-    Did the setting pull you in, and did the descriptions seem vivid and real to you?

E.    Plot, Pacing, Scenes:
-    Was the story interesting to you? Did it drag in parts?
-    Which scenes/paragraphs/lines did you really like?
-    Which parts were exciting and should be elaborated on, with more details?
-    Which parts bored you and should be compressed or even deleted?
-    Was there anything that confused, frustrated, or annoyed you?

F.    Writing Style/Tone/Voice:
-    Do you think the writing style fits the story and genre? If not, why not?

G.    Ending:
-    Was the ending satisfying?
-    Was the ending believable?

H.    Grammar, spelling, punctuation:
-    While you were reading, did you notice any obvious, repeating grammatical, spelling, punctuation or capitalization errors?

What about you fiction writers out there? Do you use beta readers? If so, how do you guide their reading? Do you have any useful questions to add to the list above?  Readers – do you have any additional suggestions?

These questions were compiled by Jodie Renner through her reading and editing, and also from suggestions by these writer friends/clients:
-    Robert Beatty
-    LJ Sellers, crime fiction writer
-    Michael Broadway, writing as Cornell Deville

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor, specializing in thrillers, romantic suspense, mysteries, and other crime fiction, as well as YA and historical fiction. Check out Jodie’s website 

Posted by Maryann Miller who seconds the motion that having beta readers is a good idea. Her critique group was an invaluable asset in the writing of  her suspense novel, One Small Victory,  as well as her other books.
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

10 Steps to Writing (or not...)

I refuse to say if this post is drawn from life. 

You woke up with that you will write and you will write well.

Step #1: Get out of bed as the echo of the trumpet call still rings in your ears.

Step #2: Remember legos - that wonderful, educational toy that your children played with when they were small? Remember how you were sure you cleaned them all out?

Step #3: Now relive the agony of stepping on one of those little f##kers in your bare feet.

Step #4: Remember now you're in one of the still-slumbering children's bedrooms. You can't scream...or give loud voice to that poetic phrase that leapt to mind.

Limp downstairs.

The coffee carafe is empty.

Step #1: This is fine. You can rise above this. Your ancestors have survived storms, starvation, etc. You can certainly get the coffee out and refill the canister.

Step #2: There is no coffee. None.

Step #3: Try to ignore the panic that threatens to engulf you. Breathe.

Step #4: Remember you hid a jar of instant coffee for emergencies such as this.

Step #5: Grab the jar and try not to notice that you are hunched over it protectively whilst hissing "My preciousssss..."

Carry the steaming mug of magical elixir to where you will write.

Carefully place the mug down on a flat surface.

You know what's going to happen...don't you?

Step #1: To hell with those trumpets. Go back to bed and try again later.

Stupid trumpets.

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Elspeth Antonelli is an author and playwright. Her twelve murder mystery games and two plays are available through host-party.comShe has also contributed articles to the European writers' magazine Elias. Her blog, It's A Mystery, explores the writing process with a touch of humor. She is on Twitter as @elspethwrites.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Writing in 140: Hangin' Off the Cliff with Cliffhangers

Often, I tell editing clients, "Scene (or Chapter) needs a stronger ending. You want to compel (and propel) the reader to the next scene (or chapter)." This usually leads to a talk about cliffhangers and best practices in developing them. Although I suggest several ways to work on this, I always tell clients to remember the main plot. Readers continue reading to see how that plot (and sub-plots) concludes. If a scene (and definitely a chapter) ends with no mention of the main plot, no tie back to it, it can leave the reader wondering, What happened to the story? The same way I tell my Freshman Comp students to tie their paragraphs to their thesis, it’s important for creative writers to make sure scenes and chapters close in a way that keep the reader on the story.


Shon Bacon is an author, doctoral candidate, editor, and educator. She has published both creatively and academically. Shon also interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her official website, and you can get information about her editorial services at CLG Entertainment. Currently, Shon is busy editing, writing, and pursuing her Ph.D. in Technical Communication and Rhetoric at Texas Tech University.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Cues from the Coach: Torchbearers in Times of Change

In these days of e-mails, texts, mind-boggling abbreviations, and thoughts that bounce all over the place, we have seen huge changes in our language, especially in its written form. In fact, I can’t even decipher some of the texts I receive from my grandchildren.

How does this affect us as writers? New abbreviations and fragmented sentences are all the rage and fast becoming the present norm. Are we jumping headfirst into the confusion, or are we torchbearers in times of change?

Some years ago, I researched expressions common during the flapper era—the 1920s—for a poem I was writing. Today, a reader would likely have little idea what those terms mean. How many of the following can you define (and these are just a few)?

• Bee’s knees (they don’t buzz)
• Big cheese (not to be confused with a Big Mac)
• Bluenose (not a precursor to frostbite)
• Carry a torch (nothing to do with the Olympics)
• Cat’s pajamas (not necessarily nightwear)
• Cheaters (you’ll be surprised when you see what these are)
• Dogs (neighbors won’t ever complain about their barking)
• Flat tire (won’t slow down your car)
• Giggle water (packs a punch)
• Hooch (sans Turner)
• Lounge lizards (not related to Gila monsters…or maybe they are)
• Pinch (pain of a different kind)
• Sheba (not royalty)
• Sheik (not to be confused with chic - think Valentino)
• Struggle buggy (not where you want your teenager)
• Torpedo (maybe on a ship, but maybe not)
• Whoopee (no, it isn’t a cushion)

These terms and many others from the past, all of which have come and gone, have been preserved so we can chuckle at what seems to us to be their silliness; but even when they abounded in everyday speech, they didn’t impose upon communication the threat of today's changes. Why? They were simply slang, terms created to fit the times. Today, our language is jeopardized at its roots because the changes extend beyond slang into spelling and structure. These are of serious concern.

Assuming that all readers will understand such variations in usage is to assume that all are right on task with the newest innovations in communication. Remember that readers come from all walks of life, different age groups and educational backgrounds, varied experiences, perhaps even different first languages.

Filling our writings with expressions and structures that will be understood by only a few—unless, of course, it’s technical or scientific material intended for a limited readership—may not catapult you into the twenty-first century with the latest and greatest ways to express yourself. In fact, it may have the opposite effect that won't help to market your books. This is not to suggest that appropriate terminology for a given profession in your works—medical, law enforcement, etc.—should not be used. Such expressions are germane to the story. I'm talking mostly about structure here.

Writing and grammar rules exist for a reason—what do you think that reason is? How do you feel about reading material that is hitched to the bandwagon of new trends in word usage and structure? What impact does it have on your reading pleasure when you encounter a lot of terms you don’t understand or sentence structures and punctuation that leave you wondering just what the author means?

Language evolves, no question about that. But it needs to be understandable. Works of the past are a treasure for future generations. Are you willing to be a torchbearer, a light in the dark tunnel of change, a protector of the integrity of our language?

Linda Lane and her team teach writers to write well. Like teaching a man to fish will feed him for a lifetime, teaching a writer to write well will serve him for his entire writing career. Cost effective, time effective, and reader-friendly works come from savvy writers who care about excellence; those are the writers we want to mentor. Visit her at

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Publishing Yourself

More and more writers are opting out of publishing via the traditional route: author to agent to publisher to reader. They’re now cutting out the agent and publisher steps and going straight from author to reader. Doing that means authors will have to take on more of the work themselves.

Some may opt to hire experts to help: an editor, someone to lay out the book, a cover artist, a printer to produce the book. Even if the writer plans to go straight to e-books and bypass print books, there is still much to do: the layout of the book, a cover artist, an editor, and learning how to create an ebook. And in either case, the author must be prepared to promote the book.

On a listserv I follow there’s been a lot of talk about Kindle and raising your stats and sales by offering one book for free. For many authors, that seems to be working. If you don’t have a backlist, it doesn’t work as well, though. So, how do you promote?

The same way authors have always promoted. Book tours help. The rave today is blog book tours. Start planning yours long before your book goes live. While you’re getting your book ready to e-publish, visit blogs to find hosts – don’t wait until the book is ready. You need to be prepared long before that. Offer free books to targeted reviewers. Make your presence known through Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, GoodReads, your own blog, your website, LinkedIn, Google+, listservs, all the “in” places. Start building an email contact list of people to let know you have a book out. Just putting your book on Amazon or Barnes & Noble or other sites that sell e-books won’t be enough.

Weeks before your book’s debut, pitch to your local media, see if you can get mentioned. Try to line up speaking engagements. Talk to friends who have blog talk radio shows to see if they would welcome you as a guest. Start a list of other places to promote your book: your college alumni magazine, your local paper, a neighborhood email circle, local TV and radio stations. Why not approach a national station? They may indeed say no, but that’s okay. You’re no worse off. Line up cover blurbs. Get other authors to give you a one or two line “praise” to go on the cover – the bigger the name or status of the author, the better. Don’t be a wall flower.

Pay attention to what other authors are doing to promote their books. Start a file on your computer to keep ideas and another to maintain a contact list.

Buyers won’t find you just because your book is online. You MUST find them.

Leave a comment telling us what you plan to do to promote your book – or what you’ve already done that was successful. Or, if you’ve ever bought an ebook or a print book from an unknown author, what made you plunk down your money for that book?
 Helen Ginger is an author and blogger. She teaches public speaking as well as writing, editing, and marketing workshops. In addition, her free ezine, Doing It Write, which goes out to subscribers around the globe, is now in its thirteenth year of publication. You can follow Helen on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn. Helen is the author of 3 books in TSTC Publishing’s TechCareers series, Co-Partner of Legends In Our Own Minds® and Coordinator of Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Time Out for A Little Fun

I've been finding comic strips that have funny jokes that connect loosely to writing or promoting and thought I would share a few today. Sometimes we just need to sit back and have a good laugh.

This first one is from the strip, Bizarro  by Dan Piraro.  It is a single panel strip showing the Disney character, Elmer Fudd, running from a big blue bird. Fudd is yelling, "Retweet, Retweet." (If you visit Dan's site and click on his blog you can see the cartoon. Much funnier to see it that try to imagine it from my description.)

This next one is from Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley. Bucky Kat has gone on and on for several panels justifying a video game that he created that is not fit for Rob to buy for a nephew. Bucky tells this long story about a vacationing prude who ends up on a nudist beach by mistake and is horrified to see a naked man who has fallen asleep on the beach. He picks up the book and "placed it over him where the sun shouldn't be shining."

When Rob tells Bucky Kat to get to the point, Kat says, "Um...well, never cover a judge by his book, I guess."

This next one is from Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis. Rat is writing a romance novel and in the first three panels he has his character, Elly Elephant, go to a bar where she meets a hippo. She starts telling him all about herself and how she came in hopes of meeting someone with "similar sensibilities." Then she says, "Oh, silly me. All I have done is go on oafishly about myself. I'm sure you have much more erudite things to say."

To which the hippo does a bit of a leer and responds, "Nice rear."

In the next panel, Elly Elephant is beating the erudite hippo with his own bar stool.

The final panel has Goat comment, "You know most romance novels have happy endings."

Rat says, "Yeah, I'm making up for that."

And Pig says, "Her rear is rather attractive."

I'm guessing we should not take lessons from Rat on novel writing. What do you think?


When she is not reading the funny papers, Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Information about her books, her editing services, and her blogs can be found on her Web site at Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What's Your Answer?

It's What's Your Answer Time Again.

I ask three questions. You answer one or more in the comment section. The more answers you give, the shorter your answers should be. You're encouraged to include one website or blog URL in your comment, but no more. If you don't have one, that's okay, too.

Today's Questions And My Answers:

Since some of our blog members are contributing short stories for a soon-to-be released anthology called the Corner Cafe, I wonder if any of you have a favorite eating place which you frequent on a regular basis, kind of like the characters on Seinfeld do? Identifying that place is optional, just describe it.

Yes, my husband and I have two favorites. One is a family restaurant, the Dunton House, open daily. No matter how many other places we try, we always seem to make our way back there.The owners are friendly, the atmosphere is pleasant, and we're never disappointed by the menu. Another is a small cafe called the Arlington Grill, only open for breakfast and lunch. Funny, how I never cared for split pea soup before, until I tried it there one Wednesday, as the soup of the day. One spoonful and I was hooked!

Do you enjoy reading books with a small town atmosphere, or does the bustle of Big City living draw you in?

I love to read about larger-than-life people, who make it big. That kind of thing usually happens in the business world; yet, if an author knows how to make small town life exciting, I'll buy into it. The key is to sustain enough conflict to keep my interest piqued.

One way to round out a book character is to let that person become involved in community functions. Are you a member of any community organizations, or participate in any activities presented by such organizations?

For years, my husband and I would enjoy our village's five-day events centered around the Fourth of July.  Then one year we joined the committee. After at least fifteen years, we still belong. It's heartening to be even partially responsible for something that is so much loved by our community.

As observers, we also enjoy other community events, such as the annual tree lighting ceremony kicking off the Christmas Season.

Now it's your turn. Pick one or more questions to answer in the comment section.

Catch Morgan Mandel's romantic thriller, Forever Young: Blessing or Curse on all electronic media. Also available find her romantic suspense, Killer Career, her mystery, Two Wrongs, and her romantic comedy, Girl of My Dreams.

You can find links and excerpts to all Morgan's books at

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Monday, March 5, 2012

Grammar ABCs: I is for Infinitives

In the world of grammar rules, we’ve all heard that “split infinitives” are as unappealing as split ends.

But what does that mean, anyway? What is an infinitive and why should I care?

My grammar book defines the infinitive as a plain form of a verb plus “to.” Infinitives and infinitive phrases serve as adjectives, adverbs or nouns.

Example: To design a mall is to create an artificial environment. (two noun phrases)
Malls are designed to make shoppers feel safe. (adverb phrase)
The environment supports the impulse to shop. (adjective)

A split infinitive puts an adverb between the two parts of the infinitive. For example, Star Trek’s famous line: “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” Or: She decided to generously pour scotch into the stew.

It really is not wrong to split your infinitives, but when in doubt, don’t. Take a closer look at your sentence. Does it read better splitting the infinitive or not?

My example about the stew would read better as: She decided to pour scotch generously into the stew. Or, to avoid that dreaded “ly” word: She decided to pour a generous dollop of scotch into the stew.

There are many ways to rewrite your sentences to make them stronger. If splitting an infinitive does that, go for it. If it’s awkward, change it.

How do you feel about split infinitives?

A native Montanan, Heidi M. Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreams, is based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, has recently won the national WILLA Award. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing, and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.

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