Joanna Homer | Invisible Ink Editing

Joanna Homer, author of the Encounter series, gives inspiration and advice for writers

Joanna Homer, author of the sci-fi romance Encounter series, lives in London with her husband, her five-year-old son, and her basset hound. In addition to writing, she works in human resources for the NHS.

Since Joanna was young, she’s loved losing herself in the magic of stories, and any free time she has (which isn’t much!) is spent curled up with a book or at the movies.

We interviewed Joanna to learn more about her inspiration, her process, and what she has planned for the future of her series.

 

Tell us how you conceived of the Encounter series. Have you always been fascinated by the idea of extraterrestrials?

The idea of aliens has always interested me, and movies like Independence Day and shows like Roswell are among my past favourites.

The Encounter Series, however, was originally an idea about a guardian angel begrudgingly tasked with protecting a teenage girl. The bank raid scene with Dray came first, and once the time-freeze happened, the story moved to sci-fi and aliens pretty quickly.   

Do you think aliens have been to Earth?

My son has been learning about planets and the solar system at the moment and the sheer enormity and vastness of the universe really is mind-blowing. Whenever I find myself being cynical, I remind myself of how small we are. Why shouldn’t there be more intelligent beings out there who have visited us?  

You’ve done a lot of world-building in your books. How do you keep track of all of the different types of aliens, cultures, and histories in your novels?

Joanna Homer Box Set | Encounter Series | Invisible Ink EditingI’ve created a series bible to keep track of all the history, alien races, locations, and characters. It has been really useful so far and saved me a lot of time. When I finish the series, I may add in some extra/deleted scenes, maybe some character artwork, maps, et cetera, and give all that to my readers.

I also created a glossary for my website, a quick and easy way to remember the names of Aethian words and what they mean.

Your books are a blend of romance and sci-fi. How do you think those two genres work together?

Personally, I enjoy a little bit of romance with all my genres. In my eyes you can’t beat two characters with amazing chemistry. Having relationships face challenges and obstacles makes it all the more exciting.     

And if those obstacles happen to be of an otherworldly nature, then the possibilities are limitless.

Tell us about your book editing process.

Once I have completed my first draft I don’t look at it again for a while. My aim is to wait a couple of weeks, but I usually crack before that. I read though the draft and, aside from making some notes here and there, I just read to give myself an idea of how well it flows. Next, I go through and make my corrections and edits until I feel it is in good shape.

Sometimes my manuscript goes through a few beta readers, depending on timescales. Then I hand it over to my book editor at Invisible Ink for a developmental edit to look at the pace, tone, characters, and so on. I always book an editing bundle, which includes a developmental edit, a line edit, and a final novel proofread, as the improvement to the quality of my novels is invaluable. Plus, I learn a bit more from the feedback every time.  

Your latest novel in the Encounter series, Alliance, is vastly different from the first two novels in the series. Without giving anything away, it’s fair to say that you took the world you built and turned it upside down. What was that experience like? Was it difficult to do that to Eliza and her world?

I intended for things to go that way right from day one, and I was looking forward to doing it. Yet I was surprised to find that, when it came down to it, wreaking havoc in the world I had created was more difficult than I had imagined. Having your characters operate on such a high level of fear and anxiety without losing impact is hard to maintain, too. But as a reader I think I would enjoy going on the adventure with Eliza.

Any hints at what’s up next in the Encounter series?

Well, the title of the next book is Aether, and, considering how Alliance ended, I expect you can imagine where things are headed, but I probably shouldn’t give away anything else. One thing I can say, though, is that Eliza finally comes face to face with Queen Aylaiana, which will certainly be interesting!

Are you working on anything else at the moment, outside of the next installment in the Encounter series?

Yes. Alongside Aether, I have started writing Dark Fire, a new Urban Fantasy series. It begins when a girl teams up with a couple of demon-hunting brothers in search of the monster who murdered her family. Initially it will be a trilogy, but I have a whole range of books/spin-offs planned in the same world. So far it has been strange yet fun to write different characters and create a different world.

What advice would you have for other writers getting started? What do you wish you had known when you were in the early stages?

Thinking back, the main piece of advice I would give myself is something I still tell myself all the time:

Just write.

I am constantly looking into the latest software that helps writers, or reading up on social media fads, or things I can add to my website.

While this can be helpful, at the end of the day you need content. If a reader enjoys your book they will want to read more from you. You need words on the page, which means you need to set aside time to sit down and write.

It can feel overwhelming at the beginning of a novel, but even if you only do a little bit each day, it all adds up.

 

You can read Joanna Homer’s Encounter series and learn more about the author by visiting her homepage: www.joannahomer.com. Connect with Joanna on social media via Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

How to self-edit a novel | Invisible Ink Editing

How to edit your own novel A guide to self-editing a manuscript

When a new author submits their manuscript to us, one of the first questions we ask is, “Has this manuscript been edited before?” It may seem like a funny question coming from a group of book editors—after all, isn’t our job to take an unedited manuscript and clean it up?

Not exactly. In fact, we turn down a significant portion of manuscripts that have never been edited before. This isn’t because we don’t think new novelists have potential; rather, we know that even the best authors have to revise their own work before submitting it to a professional book editor.

How to self-edit a novel | Invisible Ink Editing

RELATED: An author’s guide to the editing process

The self-editing process is just as important as the editing process you go through with your Invisible Ink editor. Submitting your novel before you have given it several self-revisions will waste both your time and your money. Instead, you should aim to make the novel as good as it can be on your own, then seek a professional second opinion.

Below are our top tips for editing your novel on your own.

Already done editing? Submit your manuscript for editing here.

When to begin self-editing

When in the process should you begin self-editing? The answer is different for every author. Some authors prefer to do long bouts of writing before rereading any of the work. Others have a more methodical approach, stopping to read each page or chapter after it’s complete.

Whichever style you prefer, self-editing slots into every step along the the editing process. You should self-edit your work before it goes to beta readers, and then again after you make changes based on their feedback. Another round of self-editing should happen between the beta reader stage and submitting your novel. From there, any time you write something new or make substantial changes to your manuscript, you’ll need to self-edit your work as it moves toward the final stage of novel proofreading.

Read your novel as you go

You may have heard stories of authors who do their writing blindfolded—literally—to stop themselves from reading (and subsequently cringing and deleting) their own writing. This may seem like a romantic idea, but reading your own work as you go is vital for several reasons. (We do recommend, however, going easy on your delete key when you’re self-editing if you find yourself deleting large passages.)

Rereading what you wrote recently helps you maintain continuity throughout your novel. It’s easy to forget small details, like what a character was wearing at the beginning of a scene, if you take breaks between writing sessions. Best practice is to at least reread the last few pages before you begin writing a new section of your novel.

You may also find that rereading small portions of your novel is a great way to help you overcome writer’s block. Not sure where to take the novel next? Go back and read a few chapters—ones you haven’t worked on in a while, or the last one you wrote. You’d be surprised how your own words can lead you in new directions if you’ve allowed them to “cool off.”

Finally, rereading as you write may help you pick up on some of your own writing quirks—phrases, punctuation marks, or words that may be too common in your prose. Eliminating these issues before you submit to your book editor will allow him or her to focus more on the meat of your book and less on correcting small issues.

Perform a final read-through

Editing while you go is important, but when you’ve finally written the last few words, it’s important to do a final read-through of your novel from start to finish. We’ll be honest: this can be a very painful process, not unlike hearing your own voice on a recording. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s a vital step when it comes to editing your own manuscript.

Reading the novel from start to finish will allow you to pick up on the smaller issues we mentioned above (like repetitive phrasing), but also on larger issues that may be plaguing your manuscript, such as undeveloped scenes, plot holes, or missing information.

Read your words out loud

It may feel silly, but reading your words out loud is one of the best ways to catch mistakes that you missed your own rereads. When reading words silently, your brain will often skip over mistakes and self-correct, which is why you can read things like this:

What order the letters are in | Invisible Ink Editing

When you read words out loud (even if you do it in a whisper), you’re less likely to skip over those errors, because you’ll stumble over your own words as you’re reading. It may be too much to reread the entire novel out loud, but doing so for at least the parts of the novel that you spent the most time on can make major improvements to the quality of your manuscript.

Perform a search for common writing mistakes

When you’ve read and reread your own words and can no longer bear to look at the page, it’s time to perform a search for common errors. The search function on Microsoft Word is an author’s best friend, so don’t be afraid to run a full search for issues like these:

Double spaces. Industry standard is a single space after a full stop, so running a search to eliminate errant double spaces is a wise self-editing tip.

Numerals. Do a search for the numerals 1 – 10 (we mean the actual numerals, not the written-out words like “one.”) There are many rules about numbers, so if you’re unsure, check your Chicago Manual of Style or ask your book editor for advice. (If you don’t have a book editor yet, give us a shout.)

Capitalization. The find-and-replace function on Word allows you to search specifically for words that are capitalized or uncapitalized. (Look for the box that reads “Match case.”) If you have a word that you know should either always be capped or always be uncapped, use this function to find any that you may have missed.

Your own common mistakes. Every writer has common typos. If you know you commonly misspell a word, such as using the wrong form of “compliment” vs. “complement,” then run a search for all variations you can think of to clear them up.

Online editing tools for writers

You’ve probably already run spell-check through Word a number of times on your manuscript. If you haven’t, that should be top priority! Unfortunately, Word’s grammar and spell-checker is far from perfect, and so using a few different tools can help make a big difference.

Before we get too deep in our recommendations of software to use, one caveat to note: none of these tools are foolproof or able to work on their own. There is no “set it and forget it” tool for checking grammar and spelling; for all of these tools, you must be an active part of the process. These tools will make recommendations to you, but you must be the final judge on whether you want to make the suggested changes.

Grammarly

Let’s start with what is arguably the most common online editing program out there: Grammarly.  While the software still has its flaws, its grammar and spell-checker is far better than the one built into Word. It will likely find errors and mistakes Word missed, and if you sign up for an account, it will start to learn your most common mistakes and even provide you with stats on your writing.

Grammarly integrates with Word, but it can also be installed into your browser. This makes it not only useful for editing your manuscript but also any email or social media marketing you may be doing to promote your book and connect with fans.

Hemingway App

The Hemingway App is less focused on strictly grammar and more on things like sentence structure, passive voice, and repetition (issues your book editor would address during the line editing stage.) The free online app allows you to cut and paste in your own text, or you can pay a flat $20.00USD fee for the desktop app if you find you like it.

Our recommendation is to use the Hemingway App on passages that don’t feel quite right to you—perhaps they are too clunky, or too long, or have been called out by your beta readers or book editors as problematic.

Autocrit

This is one online editing tool that was designed specifically for fiction writers. Autocrit gives you a full report on a number of factors involving your writing, from repetitive vocabulary to sentence variation and even to volume of unnecessary filter words. It also gives handy recommendations on how to adjust the issues it calls out.

You can get a free report on a section of your manuscript, or upload the full document to get an overview on your first draft. However, the free report generated is only an overview—to get the full rundown, you would need to buy a subscription. Still, the overview is a great way to identify areas where you can improve your writing.

Slick Write

Unlike AutoCrit, Slick Write isn’t just for fiction writers, but it’s still a very useful tool with an intuitive and simple interface. Many of its features are similar to those mentioned above—you of course have a grammar checker, can run vocabulary checks, and get detailed, personalised statistics on your own writing.

The text reader is free—you simply need to copy paste your text to get information. On top of that, you’ll see some fun tools that help combat writer’s block and expand your vocabulary prowess.

One thing to note—Slick Write is made with students in mind, so some of the information is more applicable to academic writing than fiction writing, but it’s still a great tool.

What to do after you’ve finished self-editing

It can be tricky to know when the self-editing stage is over. Many writers feel like they could self-edit forever. While it’s a good idea to adjust your manuscript continually over a long period of time, there must be a moment when you decide you’ve done everything you can and are ready to move on to the next step of either submitting to your beta readers or your professional book editor.

If you find yourself feeling burnt out, or you are starting to feel discouraged and like you want to delete major sections of your novel, then it’s probably time to step away from your computer and leave your manuscript in the hands of someone else (namely, your editor).

Be sure to make a list of the issues you think are outstanding with your manuscript—writing out these kinds of insights will not only be cathartic but also will help your editor know what particular issues you’d like them to focus on.

If you’ve recently finished self-editing your manuscript, we’d love to hear from you. Just submit your novel manuscript, and one of our editors will be in touch.

Sea of Lies | Bradley West | Invisible Ink Editing

Bradley West, author of the thrilling Lies series, talks process and inspiration

Bradley West is an American expatriate who has worked and lived in Asia since 1983. His website, www.bradleywest.nethosts the True Lies blog, which showcases conspiracies and mysteries featured in his fiction, plus deleted scenes, and book reviews. He also has an author webpage on Facebook at Facebook Bradley West.

Bradley West | Invisible Ink Editing

West is the author of Sea of Lies (2016) and Pack of Lies, which comes out on October 11th (though you can pre-order now). The culmination of the Lies trilogy, End of Lies, is scheduled for release at the end of 2018.

He lives in Singapore, where he writes, exercises, and drinks red wine on a daily basis. 

Your book series centers around a real event: the disappearance of Malaysia Airways flight 370. How did this event inspire you to write this series?

Remember the scene in The Godfather when Michael Corleone was hiding in Sicily and saw Apolonia, the village beauty, for the first time? One of Michael’s bodyguards observes to his companion that the boss just got hit by the thunderbolt. That was what happened to me on March 8, 2014—the day MH370 disappeared. Three and a half years later, I’m two books deep into MH370, with many, many other conspiracies addressed as well. The tragic irony is that the actual plane hasn’t been found in all that time. So now I’ll still be able to use MH370 as a subplot of the third book in the Lies series.

What interests you about this genre of novels—conspiracy thrillers?

Shortly after I moved to Asia, I shared a flat with a newly single businessman, and a year later a regional newspaper named him as a senior CIA operative. “What was appearance versus reality?” became one of the core questions of my life.

In business, you’re always trying to infer or deduce the truth from imperfect information. Over the years, I collected stories about weird goings-on, mostly in Asia. Who knew that the secret war in Laos in the early 1970s saw the US drop more tonnage of bombs than in all of WWII in Europe? More recently, we have had regional prime ministers with unexplained billion-dollar bank balances, Osama bin Laden hid in plain sight for six years a kilometer away from the front gates of Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point, and there’s still what I would consider a multi-government-led cover up in respect of MH370’s fatal descent. Since the 1980s, I’d had all these unanswered questions bottled up, so when I shifted to writing as a career the first order of business was to research them. If I found a novel suggested by the material, then that would be the natural next step.

Talk us through the process from conceptualization through to edits.

I’m new to writing novels, and as a result my process is also in flux. I started Sea of Lies with a twenty-eight page book outline. That took at least two months after I’d spent three or four months researching the real-world conspiracies featured in the True Lies blog. Outlining proved to be an enormous time-sink, but I’d always outlined before writing a business report, so that’s how I approached the first novel.

Soon enough, I realized that Steve King was right: the characters begin to take on lives of their own. Somewhere early on, maybe chapter four or five, Bob Nolan and his cohorts weren’t sticking with the script. What I’d thought they were supposed to do no longer rang true. Characters that were supposed to end up allied to Nolan ended up enemies, and vice versa. Eventually I threw away the outline and moved to a chapter-by-chapter, modified “panster” approach. The majority of Sea of Lies and all of Pack of Lies ended up written on a Lego-block basis.

I have a quote from a thriller writer written on a sticky on the bulletin board next to my desk. It reads, “Determine what is the worst thing that can befall your protagonist, and then make it happen.” Words to write by!

Pack of Lies was written faster with less waste than Sea of Lies. I’m still using Lego blocks, but abandoned large-scale outlining for an accretive process called the Snowflake method that places more emphasis on characters and slightly less on story.

Bob Nolan is far from the typical action hero. What prompted you to create someone like him?

I created Nolan to be a pure anti-action hero. Modern bookshelves are full of Jason Bournes, Jack Reachers, John Rains and other hyper-capable secret agents. I wanted to write about a younger analog of George Smiley with maybe a little Walter Mitty thrown in. Ordinary readers can pick up my books and say, “That could be me in that impossible situation!” instead of, “I wonder how many years you have to study to achieve a 7th degree black belt in karate?”

Nolan also has a strong moral compass. He’s not a goody-goody—in fact, he’s a lawbreaker when it suits him—but he tries to do the right thing (at least in matters other than adultery). He shares my deep cynicism in respect of the competence of many arms of the US intelligence community, but never gives up. Being a physically weak man, his survival in these harrowing circumstances is due to a combination of high intelligence and strong support from people who are more adept in martial matters.

As time progresses, Nolan grows in self-confidence and competence. By the time we get to the end of Pack of Lies, Nolan is out of his shell and no longer the introvert we met in Sea of Lies. Nevertheless, you won’t see Bob fighting anyone hand-to-hand or taking sniper shots from a mile away in End of Lies.

What can we expect from Pack of Lies, out on October 11th?

Sea of Lies | Bradley West | Invisible Ink Editing

Pack of Lies starts off just weeks after Sea of Lies concluded with a happy ending. The first few chapters take everything good away from Nolan. In short order the action shifts from Singapore to Pakistan before winding up in Sri Lanka. Four threads interweave, led by MH370 and then a corrupt Malaysia prime minister, Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, and Osama bin Laden’s lost years.

You’ve also got a third book in the trilogy scheduled, End of Lies. How about a sneak preview?

I’ve got an entire magazine holder full of plastic folders with typed up scenes, handwritten pages for plot lines and ideas scribbled on beer mats. It’s still very much up in the air. We know that Bob Nolan will remain the focus, the action shifts largely to the US, and in addition to finally tying up MH370 we’re going to address the recent history of the Deep State in the US, going back to the 1960s and the Secret Team, and then the more recent incarnations. Nolan’s children are back in the picture, as are his nemeses Chumakov from Russia and Yu Kaili from China. I think you’ll like it, but I won’t know how it ends until April next year.

Any closing advice for fellow novelists?

My best advice is to write about topics you feel passionate about, and then try hard to discover a readership with similar tastes. As is always the case with building a brand, most of the work is done by word of mouth, which always takes time. You need to be in this for the long haul and resist the temptation to buy into the “instant success” hype.

Publishing tips for indie authors: Setting a book launch date A guide to launching your novel

We asked indie author and publisher Nelson Suit to answer a question we often see from our authors. Nelson is editor of the e-journal Inkspokes.com, which showcases authors, illustrators, and other creatives working in the world of independent children’s publishing.

Q.: How do I choose a release date for my novel? Setting dates often increases stress for me, and I am afraid I’ll miss my own deadlines. Any tips?

 

A.: Since you are choosing the release date for your novel, I’ll assume you’ve decided to independently publish your book. Congratulations, by the way, for not only taking on the task of writing but also the challenge of publishing.

For us as indie publishers, choosing a book launch date is a really exciting part of the publishing process. It’s the first bit of planning for the coming-out party for your book!

It’s important to understand though that you’ve now taken on two roles. Even as your novel writing comes to an end, thinking about the release date (your ever-exciting book launch) means your publishing role has now come to the fore.

book launch advice

There are a couple things that might be said about setting book launch dates. First, when setting such a date, it makes sense to think like a traditional publisher. But, second, as an indie, you should also not be afraid to think like yourself.

Here’s what I mean. There are many resources both online and otherwise on setting a timeline for a book launch that looks at what large publishers do. One of the first considerations might be whether you want to have your book launch tied in to a particular window or season within the retail calendar.

For example, a lot of books are sold in November and December during the year-end holidays. So a book might have to be released by Halloween so that there is buzz leading into this busy buying season. Or some books might tie in to summer beach reading, or a self-help book might tie in to January sales as readers attend to their New Year resolutions. Consulting editor Alan Rinzler has a terrific post on his blog about seasonal tie-ins for book launches.

Another important consideration traditional publishers look at is really just time—how much time do you need to have your novel ready for launch? And this timeline encompasses more than just having a book printed.

If you wanted to do all the recommended items (as a publisher might), you might have a timeline that might run eight to twelve months from the time you substantially finish your manuscript. Why such a long lead time? There’s a long list of tasks to consider, but to name a few:

  • Beta reading
  • Novel editing
  • Book cover design
  • Illustrations (if you will have any)
  • Book design and layout
  • Proofreading
  • Connecting with your super-fans who may be able to spread the word about your new book
  • Preparing marketing materials (including your back-cover blurb)
  • Developing and executing a social media plan for the release
  • Identifying early reviewers and people who might endorse your book with a quote
  • Contacting local media sources to publicize your book release

The list goes on, and Joel Friedlander has a helpful checklist to look through as you think about how much time you will actually need.

It is, of course, easy to be overwhelmed as you look at the checklist, but don’t be. That’s where my second thought on the topic comes in.

This is your book. You are also the publisher, and so, while you consider all the things you might do, you decide how much time you need and which tasks you will do without. You can add in creative alternatives to what others have done that work better with your temperament. You decide what tie-ins you would like based on what you know about your book and your own schedule. The good thing about being indie is that you can be you as you go about this process.

Truth to tell, we’ve done what many indie authors and publishers do, which is to hurry the process and skip more book launch tasks than we should—which, of course, we end up regretting. Books, like babies, are only born once (well, at least first edition books!), and you realize later what a unique opportunity a book launch really is to generate exposure for your new creation.

Tailor the timeline to what is comfortable for you. Make it your own. Make it fun. Create special days in it for silliness and time off.

That in turn might help with the stress. It’s not an easy process. Both writing and publishing take dedication and a lot of time, but you can also make it your own.

In addition to editing Inkspokes.com, Nelson manages Inkspokes Media, an independent publisher, and is on the board of directors of the Independent Publishers of New England. Nelson Suit has written his own middle grade children’s book series and has spent many days and nights thinking about books, book making, and publishing. He loves handmade books and is ever curious about what other indie authors and publishers are doing (because they are mostly fun, creative, and more often than not, crazy passionate about what they do).

You can connect with Nelson Suit on Facebook and Twitter (@inkspokes).

7 simple tips for writing a better book blurb

So, you’ve finished writing your manuscript—congratulations!—and you’re following all the prescribed next steps. You’ve gotten feedback from beta readers, and had your book professionally edited and proofread. You even have a plan for distribution once your novel hits the (e-)bookshelves.

You’ve got a marketing plan, too. There’s just one little piece of it left, but somehow it has you cowering in a corner.

The dreaded book blurb.

There are plenty of common fears among writers, but writing a book blurb is way up there on the list of daunting tasks. How do you convince readers—in just a few hundred words—that your book is the one they should read next? Knowing it’s an essential piece of your marketing package can make it even more stressful.

After helping dozens of self-published authors produce stellar book blurbs for their novels, I’ve compiled a set of seven simple tips for writing a blurb that will be sure to lure readers new and old.

1. Hook your reader and reel them in.

“You think you know the truth. The truth is you know nothing.”
Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

“In the heart of Trenton, N.J., a killer is out to make sure someone gets his just desserts.” —Turbo Twenty-Three by Janet Evanovich

“The traffickers. The drug dealers. The smugglers. They know what it takes to get a gun into Morocco, and so does Detective Laafrit.”
Whitefly by Abdelilah Hamdouchi

What do the quotes above have in common? They all happen to be opening lines from blurbs of books published in 2016, but more importantly, they all make me want to keep reading. Not every great book has a great hook on the cover (trust me, I’ve looked at a lot of them). But when you’re self-publishing your novel, a strong hook can do wonders for catching readers’ interest. Even if it’s not as pithy as Harlan Coben’s, your blurb should open with an enticing tidbit—at least, enticing enough to get the reader to move on to the second line.

A fishing pole being cast into a body of water

Hook your readers right away.

2. Focus on the main character(s).

Fiction readers love great characters, and a blurb is your first opportunity to introduce your readers to your protagonist. The bulk of your blurb should focus on the protagonist (and what’s happening to them). If you find yourself talking about minor characters, especially in the opening lines, your blurb probably isn’t living up to its potential. Does your novel include dual POVs? Then both your protagonists should make an appearance!

Keep in mind, we don’t want your main character’s whole life story—just a basic outline that shows why the protagonist (or what’s about to happen to them) is intriguing. It’s even possible to have your whole blurb focus on a main character, if the story itself is heavily character-driven.

3. Don’t summarize.

This is probably the most common blurb-related mistake I see as a book editor. As you sit down to write your blurb, it’s only natural to be thinking about all the ins and outs of your story. So you start typing away, and before you know it, you have a summary chock-full of plot points and details. Here’s the problem: if I can get the whole story from the blurb, why would I bother to open the cover?

Give your readers only the most important nuggets they need to understand what makes the book worth reading—never reveal the twist, the grand finale, or the entire arc of any character.

4. Cultivate mystique.

My best advice when it comes to writing a book blurb is to think of it like a teaser or a movie trailer. Rather than telling readers what to expect in any great detail (see No. 3), use this opportunity to entice them to start reading in the first place.

Imagine potential readers skimming blurbs for books in the same genre as yours, trying to find the next novel they want to sit down with. Beyond that catchy hook you’ve written, what makes your book the most intriguing? Once you have a good sense of that, don’t state it outright—use creative language to hint at what the reader will want to find out. Apply the principle of show vs. tell to your blurb, just as you did to your prose.

Spooky stairs leading into a dark basement.

What’s down those stairs? Don’t give it away!

5. Embrace the drama.

Writing your book blurb is a good excuse to go a little over the top. Be hyperbolic! Use metaphor! Many book blurbs start or end on a question (e.g., Will they be able to solve the mystery before time runs out?).

The following blurb for Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train uses a tight two-paragraph structure with a catchy lead-in before each, a bit of hyperbole, and a hypothetical question to wrap things up:

EVERY DAY THE SAME

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

In short, it’s dramatic—but not so dramatic that I roll my eyes and click away. That’s the sort of balance you’re aiming to strike.

6. Keep it short and sweet.

In most cases, your blurb should be between 200-300 words. With nonfiction or self-help books, where you really need to sell your reader on what they’re going to get out of it, you can get away with a longer blurb. If you’re already a well-known writer, your blurb might be a bit longer too, since you may include some promotional quotes and praise that your work has received. But, newbie writers, beware: calling your book a “page-turner” or yourself a “gifted storyteller” in your own promotional blurb might make you come off more pompous than professional.

7. Consider your blurb in a marketing context.

If you’re going the traditional publishing route, the team at your publisher should have this covered. But what if you’re self-publishing? Perhaps you’re tackling marketing all on your own, or you’ve enlisted the services of a private marketing consultant. Either way, your marketing team isn’t exactly gigantic, so you’ve really got to do your due diligence.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my blurb convey the right mood for the novel?
  • Do the blurb and the cover (and my other marketing materials) go together thematically?
  • What styles of blurbs are other authors in my genre writing?

A little market research—aka reading other blurbs on various e-book retailers—can help you make sure you’re (a) not copying anyone else and (b) keeping in line with your readers’ expectations. After all, when it comes down to it, the point of your book blurb is to, well, sell your book!

I hope these seven writing tips are just what you need to start or finish an amazing book blurb for your upcoming novel. If you’re still having trouble getting it right, or you want a fresh pair of eyes on your copy, Invisible Ink Editing can help! Click here to learn more about our blurb editing service, or send us an email with questions anytime.

—Leah Wohl-Pollack, Senior Editor

Advice for writers: How to name your characters Struggling to come up with a name better than “John Smith”? Here are a few strategies you can use to create interesting, memorable, and believable names for your characters.

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Hannibal Lecter. Veruca Salt. Atticus Finch. Katniss Everdeen.

Simply reading the names above can summon vastly different emotions—anything from terror to admiration. The names are memorable not just because of whom they represent. These are successful character names because their sounds, shapes, and root meanings support the lives and environments of the characters and their stories.

The names of your main characters will be among the most common words to appear in your novel, so it’s important to get them right. Fortunately, there are a few tried and true ways to choose the perfect name.

Each author will have their own method for picking names, but if you’re ever feeling a bit lost on what to call your characters, try out these suggestions:

Get a baby name book

Many years ago, at a garage sale, I stumbled upon a tattered copy of The Baby Name Survey Book by Bruce Lansky. It’s since become an essential tool in my writing toolbox.

This book not only lists out more first names than you could ever hope to imagine—it also tells you what people think of that name based on survey data. To top it off, it lists the meaning of each name in its root language, as well as any celebrities who share that name. (Fair warning: It was published in 1998 and desperately needs an update, but it’s still useful.)

We all have our own associations with names, thanks to our personal relationships and experiences, but being able to see the patterns that names evoke is truly valuable. If you aren’t as interested in survey results, then I still highly recommend having a baby name book on hand simply because they list out so many names that may not be on your radar.

Of course, there are also websites with endless lists of baby names available. But sometimes opening a random page of a book is the best way to start.

Google it

Any character name you are considering must go through a Google search to make sure it’s not associated with anything or anyone unintended. Use quotation marks around the name to ensure that Google searches for the exact name, and be sure to try searching for some variants just in case.3422416038_4a1f0d42f8

Of course, most common names will probably have some matches. You may find, however, that your character shares a name with a public figure—like a politician or serial killer—that you weren’t aware of and don’t want associated with your novel.

Interrogate the name

Once you have a name or two you’re considering, try answering and experimenting with the following questions:

  • What are the character’s initials?
  • What nicknames would this character’s loved ones use?
  • What nicknames would this character’s enemies use?
  • Would the character like this name? (Note: They don’t have to!)
  • How would this character introduce themselves?
  • How would the character answer the question, “Why are you named ________?”
  • Is this character named after anyone?
  • Say the name aloud in all its variations. How does it sound?

By the time you finish this exercise, you will hopefully have a better understanding of the name itself, and know whether or not it’s right for your character.

Compare and contrast

Unless this is the first name you’re choosing for your book, the next step is to compare the name to other character names in your novel.

The best way to go about this is to write out each of your characters’ names in a list. Pay extra attention to the first letter in the names—if possible, your main characters’ names should all start with a different letter.

Of course, there are circumstances that call for similar names—telepathic identical twins, for instance—but overall, the more unique your characters names are from one another, the easier it will be on your reader.

For example, if you have a main character named Tyler and you want to add a new character named Taylor, you are almost guaranteed to confuse some readers, even if these two characters have starkly different personalities and behaviors.

How to choose a character’s last name

Coming up with a first name is one thing, but a last name can be a bit trickier. Thinking of something off the top of your head can result in awkward, unrealistic, and/or utterly boring results.

A good way to start is to consider your character’s ethnic, racial, religious, and demographic backgrounds. Unlike first names, which are typically chosen, a last name usually has a long history. Even if you don’t plan to reveal your character’s family background in any great detail, as the author, you should still have a full understanding of whether your character’s ancestors were Greek or Peruvian, or born on a distant planet in an alternate dimension.

Once you have that figured out, dig up a list of common last names that fit your character’s background. This is, once again, a great opportunity to use trusty Google—searches like “common Jewish last names” is more than likely to bring you solid results. (Just be sure to check out a few sites to make sure you’re seeing similar results.)

Of course, a common last name isn’t always what you want, so don’t be afraid to stray from the norm. But if you start out by finding a common last name and then playing with variations on that name, you’re much more likely to end up with a result that is believable and doesn’t catch your reader off guard.

Don’t latch on to it

After you’ve assigned a character name that feels right, it’s easy to become infatuated with the name. In an ideal world, your beta readers will always agree with you, but in some cases, you may find that you’re getting negative feedback around a particular name.

With any feedback, it’s important to weigh it carefully and with an open mind, particularly if you have several readers who all tell you the name doesn’t work. In such cases, it may be best to go back to the drawing board and try something different.

Ask your editor

If you’re still feeling conflicted when it comes time for a professional edit or critique, let your editor know when you submit your manuscript. It’s always useful for us to hear about the feedback you’ve already gotten, and any areas of the novel you’re concerned about.

How do you choose your character names? Any tips or tricks we missed?

—Liam Carnahan, Founder and Chief Editor

Andrew Butcher on writing motivation and how to outline a novel

Why can’t I write a book series?

This simple thought changed everything for author Andrew Butcher. Like many writers, Andrew never dreamed of becoming an author—in fact, he didn’t even like reading much until he discovered Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles as a teenager.

“I devoured the series,” Andrew said. “I was at college at the time, and I began writing whatever came to me, with no thoughts of plotting or character development or anything like that.”

(A note for American readers: college = high school.)

But it was Charlaine Harris’s The Southern Vampire Mysteries that got him wondering why he wasn’t writing the kind of dark and gruesome novels he loved to read.

Author Andrew Butcher

Author Andrew Butcher

“It was as simple as that,” said Andrew. “I began plotting and planning my series, then began writing, and eventually I had my first book, A Death Displaced.”

A Death Displaced is the first of the Lansin Island books, a paranormal series set on a mysterious island in the Celtic Sea. Andrew is currently working on some nonfiction projects and a new standalone fiction piece, but still plans to write more Lansin Island novels.

Andrew took a break from juggling his many projects to chat with Invisible Ink about his writing life, and offer some sage advice to new writers. Read our interview with Andrew Butcher below!

To keep up with Andrew’s writing, be sure to sign up for his newsletter. Andrew can be reached on his website, www.andrew-butcher.com, as well as on his Facebook and Goodreads author pages. You can also follow him on Twitter @Andybutch13.

Your paranormal books, the Lansin Island series, have reached the No. 1 spot for their categories on Amazon (Paranormal & Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Suspense/Supernatural Suspense). How did you get the idea for the series?

The idea for the Lansin Island series essentially came from a “what if?” question. It was a question I came up with in college, years before I started writing seriously: If someone was fated to die, but they were somehow saved, what would the consequences be?

Ebook Cover for Displaced by Andrew Butcher

Displaced contains the first three books in the Lansin Island series.

From there, I kept asking and answering more questions until I had the beginnings of a story. I came up with the premise that the person who was saved from their fated death would begin to see ghosts, because although they were physically saved, fate wouldn’t let them off that easily. The person would still spiritually die and their soul would move on to the Otherworld. This state of being “displaced”—anchored in two worlds at once—would give the person the ability to see spirits from the realm that lies in between the two worlds: the Spiritworld.

From that initial “what if?”’ question, I managed to develop an entire world and rules for it; every new answer created more questions, which needed more answers. It’s a lot of fun coming up with ideas this way!

With the first three books in the Lansin Island series complete, you decided to branch out into creative writing instruction. Tell us about Write a Novel Outline from Scratch!, your popular video course on Udemy, and now an eBook as well.

Write a Novel Outline from Scratch! guides anyone with an interest in writing fiction through the entire process of outlining a story (from scratch!), so that by the time they have finished doing the exercises, they will feel ready to write.

I decided to create the video course because I know a few people who constantly talk about how much they would love to write, BUT [insert excuse]. Often the reasons they haven’t begun writing are variations of “I don’t know where to start,” or “I have a great idea, but I don’t have any characters,” or simply “I don’t think I’d be any good at it.”

And when I thoughtThe eBook cover for Write a Novel Outline from Scratch! by Andrew Butcher about it, I realized that most people start from the same place, really. I wasn’t born with story ideas in my head. I didn’t know much about writing when I began. But I managed to create a process that has helped me write three full-length novels, and I’ve put my work out there.

I hope that people who read Write a Novel Outline from Scratch! or take the Udemy course will come away feeling confident in their ability to outline a complete novel, including character bios, location summaries, and much more. There are so many naysayers who will happily tell you why you shouldn’t, can’t, or will never write a book—but the truth is, you can if you want to, whether you believe in yourself or not. This is one tool to help you begin your writing journey.

What have you learned from teaching others about outlining? Has your personal outlining process changed?

There are too many things I’ve learned to name them all! Students of the Udemy course share their own outlining processes on the course’s forum all the time, and I’ve learned loads of great tips from them. So yes, my process has changed a little because of this.

I think writers are always adapting their approach to writing, learning more with each new project. I try to never think of my own process as a fixed formula. I encourage all of my students to take the parts that work for them, leave the parts that don’t, add anything else that already works for them, and keep on experimenting.

“I love great characters and compelling stories. I also read plenty of nonfiction, because I hate the thought of stagnating; stagnation equals death, in my mind.”

Any other advice for budding authors?

Learn to trust in your own voice and writing process. Take criticism with a pinch of salt. Of course, you should take feedback on board. But there are so many writers and readers out there who try to tell you that their way is the way, when actually some of their advice might be generally helpful, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everybody. It may even be harmful. And don’t obsessively check reviews and sales; these things fluctuate and will throw you off center if you come to rely on them.

You’ll hear that to be a writer you have to write every single day. You don’t. Also, some people will say that if you’re not enjoying the writing process, then you’re doing something wrong and your quality of writing will drop noticeably. Not true! I’ve written while in almost every mood and even while depressed, but it doesn’t seem as if any, or at least many, readers have been able to tell.

The list of “truths” and “rules” regarding writing is endless. But ultimately, you have to decide for yourself what feels authentic. None of my favorite authors are known for following the rules; they’re known for the exact opposite.

Finally, learn to “switch off” from your writing when you’re not doing it. Otherwise the people around you will sense that you’re not really present. In other words, seek balance.

Are you a tried-and-true “plotter,” or do you consider yourself a “pantser” at times?

It’s different for each project, but I think in general, I’m about 80 percent plotter and 20 percent pantser. But it also depends on what part of the writing process I’m at. Most of the time I plot so heavily that I (think I) know the story inside out, but then when it comes to writing, I mostly put the outline aside and just go with the flow. This allows me to enjoy the writing, and to be surprised if the story takes new directions. But I also have the comfort of knowing that if I get too far off track, I can look at my outline again.

What inspires you to write if you’re not in the mood?

I find it really difficult to do anything I don’t feel in the mood to do. If I get any whiff of obligation, I will find a trillion ways to resist doing the work. I’m so good at procrastinating that I even wrote a short nonfiction piece called How to Procrastinate … Like a Pro!: 101 of the Most Deadly Procrastination Techniques. (Even writing this book was a practice in procrastination; I was avoiding finishing the third book of the Lansin Island series at the time!)

If I’m really struggling to write, I create a reward system where I write for two or three hours and then take a break to eat or watch an episode of whatever TV show I’m currently addicted to. I also try to remind myself before sitting down to write that most things are never as difficult or frightening as we imagine them to be. After breaking through the first twenty to thirty minutes of writing, in which the resistance is strongest, I usually find some flow and enjoy it more than I expected to.

You’re entirely self-published. What does your editing and publishing process look like?

I’m really happy with my editing process because I was lucky enough to find a great editor I’ve been working with for a few years now: Leah from Invisible Ink Editing.

Ebook Cover for A Note Below by Andrew ButcherBecause I’m a bit of a perfectionist, my first drafts are usually fairly clean (I think—Leah might disagree!). But I always go over everything again at least once myself before sending it to Leah, who then makes her edits and sends it back to me. I then approve or reject her edits (I approve 99.99 percent of them!), and then I usually send a copy of the book to around fifteen beta readers, who are fans of my series. They usually notice a couple of easy-to-miss mistakes, which I edit immediately. If more than two or three of my beta readers comment on the same issue, like some dialogue sounding out of character, I will look at that particular thing and consider changing it. But normally this is just a final sweep.

Then I pay for a professional book cover and formatting. I’ve been using Damonza.com for these services for the past few years, and I highly recommend them. It normally takes up to a month for me to decide on a cover and formatting I’m happy with.

Finally, I fill out all the information on Amazon and the other platforms and hit “publish”!

Lansin Island seems like an interesting place to live. Would you want to live there if you could?

Knowing what is really going on behind the scenes on Lansin Island, I don’t think I would live there. I’d go on holiday there, though, especially for one of the celebrations they hold for the seasonal Sabbats! And I’d visit the The Burning Grounds too.

If you could ask one of the characters in the Lansin Island series to tea, who would it be?

I don’t want to give away spoilers, but it would have to be someone from the Otherworld, because I’d want to know everything about their world and their magic! Otherwise, it would be Tamara Trewin, the last living descendent of the Lansin Island Witches. Because she’s a true witch, I’d ask her about her magic too. Also, I think she’d make a good cuppa.

Andrew Butcher currently resides in Hitchin, England, with his partner and their pet tortoise, Tricky. They hope to move to the Costa Blanca region of Spain one day.

The Lansin Island series, Write a Novel Outline from Scratch!, and more of Andrew Butcher’s books are available on Amazon and other online eBook retailers. To learn more about Andrew’s writing or to get in touch, visit www.andrew-butcher.com.

You might not know you’re making these grammar mistakes, part 2 Passive voice and run-on sentences

By Leah Wohl-Pollack, Lead Editor

This is part two of our series on common grammar mistakes you might not know you’re making. Check out part 1, which covers misplaced modifiers and dangling participles, here.

In this post, we’ll cover two more grammar mistakes indie writers often make: passive voice and run-on sentences. By the end of this post, I hope you feel a little more confident about editing your writing for grammar.

It's called grammar

1. Passive voice

You may or may not remember from English class that all verbs are either active or passive in voice. In sentences with active verbs, the subject takes responsibility for the action. With passive voice, the action is not attributed to a subject at all.

Despite what you might have heard, passive voice isn’t inherently bad; in fact, it makes frequent appearances in political and legal writing, and with good reason. It can be useful for a writer who wants to avoid attributing responsibility to a particular person or group:

The president was advised not to sign the bill.

In this example, the writer may not want to list out who advised the president, so the passive form is appropriate.

Passive voice is also useful when the “do-er” of the sentence isn’t necessarily important:

The constellation can be observed from September to February.

Since anyone with the ability to see and a view of the night sky can observe the constellation, using the passive form of the verb is fine to keep the subject open.

Twinkling stars
But when you’re writing fiction, you’ll probably want to avoid the passive voice (except in a few special cases). In order to drive the narrative forward on a sentence-by-sentence basis, you must allow—nay, encourage!—your subjects to own their actions.

Here’s an example of passive voice that I might come across when editing fiction:

Mike’s breath was held as Lynn peered over the edge of the cliff.

It’s almost definitely important to the narrative that Mike is nervous about Lynn’s safety, and describing Mike holding his breath is a good storytelling choice when you consider the concept of show vs. tell. But the passive form of the verb (was held) is clunking everything up. This use of the passive voice attributes the action to no subject at all, even though the subject here is essential to the story.

To rephrase the sentence with active voice, we simply need to attribute the action (held) to the correct subject (Mike):

Mike held his breath as Lynn peered over the edge of the cliff.

What a difference! This switch to active voice keeps the sentence flowing smoothly, and the reader stays immersed in the scene. It also helps show what Mike is feeling without telling the reader outright.

2. Run-on sentences

Generally speaking, a sentence (also known as an independent clause) is made up of a subject and a verb. A compound sentence contains two or more independent clauses tied together with either a conjunction or a punctuation mark.

Sometimes, you might find yourself tying together multiple independent clauses—but you’ve neglected to include the appropriate conjunction(s) or punctuation.

Enter the dreaded run-on sentence.

As a book editor, I come across these puppies here and there. But how are you supposed to recognize a run-on sentence when you’re self-editing your novel?

Here’s an example of a run-on sentence:

I love to go to the coffee shop next door to work on my writing it is always easy to concentrate there.

This sentence contains two independent clauses that haven’t been properly tied together; in other words, it’s missing a conjunction and/or punctuation mark.

If you’re not immediately sure whether a sentence you’ve written is a run-on, or you know it’s a run-on but can’t tell where the missing conjunction or punctuation mark should go, you can try the question trick.

This is a simple method that involves turning your sentence into a yes-or-no question. If the whole sentence can be easily rephrased into a single question, it’s not a run-on. If it needs to be turned into two questions, then you know it’s a run-on and you know where to put the missing conjunction or punctuation!

Let me show you how it’s done.

Using the example above, we find the first part of the sentence is easily turned into a single yes-or-no question:

Do I love to go to the coffee shop next door to work on my writing?

But if we try to turn the entire sentence into a single question, it doesn’t fly:

Do I love to go to the coffee shop next door to work on my writing it is always easy to concentrate there?

To make it work, we would need two separate questions:

Do I love to go to the coffee shop next door to work on my writing? Is it always easy to concentrate there?

This trick has shown us we definitely have a run-on sentence on our hands. On top of that, we also know exactly where in the sentence to insert the missing piece: between the words writing and it is. In this case, we could solve the problem in two ways: either using a punctuation mark on its own, or a conjunction with a punctuation mark.

Using a punctuation mark:

I love to go to the coffee shop next door to work on my writing; it is always easy to concentrate there.

Note that not just any punctuation mark will work. In this example, inserting a comma instead of a semicolon would create another problem: a comma splice. But if you despise semicolons or would just rather use a comma, be sure to pair it with the appropriate conjunction.

conjunction-junction
Using a conjunction with a punctuation mark:

I love to go to the coffee shop next door to work on my writing, because it is always easy to concentrate there.

That wraps up part 2 of our series on grammar mistakes you might not know you’re making. With these two posts, I hope to prepare you to tackle your self-editing head-on. At the same time, we all know catching every one of your own grammar errors is darn near impossible. That’s why, after you’ve done your part, you can send your manuscript to Invisible Ink, where we’ll fix your errors and keep your voice.

You might not know you’re making these grammar mistakes Part 1: Misplaced modifiers and dangling participles

By Leah Wohl-Pollack, Lead Editor

This may come as a shock, considering I’ve been known to fall asleep cradling my Chicago Manual of Style, but I don’t believe proper grammar is the be-all and end-all when it comes to good creative writing. Like to split infinitives? No problem. Want to end a sentence in a preposition? Be my guest. But when you’re an indie author writing a novel, there are a few style and grammar rules you should always pay attention to. (See what I did there?)

In this post, I’ll give you a rundown of two common grammar mistakes—misplaced modifiers and dangling participles—and some tools you can use to eliminate them from your writing.

Check that grammar

1. Misplaced modifiers

Misplaced modifiers are among my favorite grammar mistakes, mostly for their unintended humor. Modifiers come in several forms: words, phrases, and clauses. Because they warrant their own discussion, we’ll cover modifying phrases/clauses in the next section on dangling participles. Right now, let’s look at the issue of misplaced adjectives and adverbs.

As you may know, a modifier is a word or phrase that describes a noun within the same sentence. It usually describes the noun it is closest to, which is why misplacing one can cause undesired absurdity or confusion.

Here’s an example of a sentence with a misplaced adjective:

The flimsy man’s kite ripped when it got caught in a tree.

Spoken aloud, the meaning may or may not be clear, but written down, there’s an obvious problem. The adjective flimsy is meant to describe the noun kite, but in its current placement, it’s modifying the noun man. Placing the modifier correctly would look like this:

The man’s flimsy kite ripped when it got caught in a tree.

 

strike-that-reverse-it


Easy enough. But what about when a misplaced modifier is an adverb rather than an adjective? For example:

They considered whether to play the game Sarah had brought thoughtfully.

While Sarah may have consciously brought a particular game to the party, to say she had brought it thoughtfully doesn’t make a lot of sense. Instead, the modifying adverb thoughtfully should be moved to sit in front of the verb it is intended to modify.

They thoughtfully considered whether to play the game Sarah had brought.

A misplaced adverb can also cause something called a squinting modifier—a modifier that could potentially look toward (hence the word “squinting”) either the noun before or after it. Take a look at the example below, as squinting modifiers can be tricky to spot.

Runners who practice often can go longer distances before getting tired.

The squinting modifier in this sentence allows for two potential interpretations:

Runners practice often so they can go longer distances.
Runners can often go longer distances as a result of practicing.

How you fix this sentence will depend on your intended meaning. If it’s the first meaning you’re going for, you could try rephrasing the sentence without an adverb to avoid further confusion:

Regular practice helps runners go longer distances before getting tired.

If it’s the second meaning, you could try a more descriptive adverb:

Runners who practice can usually run longer distances before getting tired.

 

2. Dangling participles

As I mentioned earlier, dangling participles are a particular kind of misplaced modifier, and an incredibly common one at that—I find at least one in every novel I edit.

In order to understand how not to dangle participles, let’s start with a quick refresher on what they are. To form a participle, take any verb (let’s go with sleep) and add an -ing ending. Then you have the present participle of the verb (sleeping). To use the present participle as a modifier, you could write:

Don’t wake the sleeping cat.

The participle sleeping acts as a modifier for the noun cat.

 

sleeping-cat


Still with me? Good. Let’s move on to participial phrases. A
participial phrase contains a participle and modifies the subject of a sentence. It’s just like the sleeping cat, but it has two clauses instead of one.

Here’s an example of a participial phrase used correctly:

Smiling at everyone she passed, Stacy walked to the restaurant.

          Participial phrase (modifier): Smiling at everyone she passed
          Subject of the sentence (noun): Stacy

A dangling participle typically occurs at the beginning of a sentence, like with the previous example, but unlike the misplaced modifiers we covered in section one, you can’t fix a dangling participle just by moving it to a different spot in the sentence. The reason is that a dangling participle ties the modifier to the wrong subject, usually because the subject is either missing or in the wrong place.

Here’s an example of a sentence with a dangling participle at the beginning—a popular construction:

Watching the clock, the minutes drag by.

So the participial phrase occurs right at the beginning of the sentence; that’s fine. The problem occurs in the second clause, where we seem to have a missing persons case on our hands. Here, the minutes take the subject’s place. In other words, the minutes are watching the clock.

How do you fix this? Well, somebody must be watching the clock, and it’s certainly not the minutes. Insert the correct subject, and you’ve got a complete sentence again:

Watching the clock, Stacy felt the minutes drag by.

This solution works, although it requires an extra verb that also happens to be a filter word (feel). Not the best choice stylistically.

 

star-wars-bad-feeling


Another solution would be to rephrase the sentence so the subject comes first:

Stacy watched the clock, feeling the minutes drag by.

That works—but that extra filter word feel is still sneaking in. To get rid of it, we could try rephrasing another way:

Stacy watched the clock as the minutes dragged by.
-or-
The minutes dragged by as Stacy watched the clock.

The last option is my favorite for its slightly stronger voice, but there’s nothing wrong with the other options if they suit your style.  

Hopefully this post has given you some insight into two common grammar rules worth paying attention to as you’re writing and editing your novel. Don’t be discouraged if you find you struggle with these mistakes—many writers do!

Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for the second part of this series—we’ll tackle passive voice and run-ons, two more of the most common grammar mistakes in creative writing.

5 useless fears all writers should dismiss

If the pen is mightier than the sword, it stands to reason writers can be more courageous than knights. However, there isn’t a writer alive (or dead, for that matter) who hasn’t felt some fear when working on and publishing a novel.

Some fears can help you closely examine your work and improve your quality, while others are completely useless. Here are five common fears among writers, and the reasons you should try to get over them as soon as possible:

1. No one is ever going to read this

tobias-funke-crying-in-shower

This may be the most common fear among authors, and it’s also the most challenging to overcome. Many famous authors were convinced they would never make it big–and they had the evidence to prove it! Gone with the Wind was rejected thirty-eight times, and that’s just one example.

Of course you want people to read your novel, and while there’s no guarantee it will sell, the self-publishing industry, coupled with social media, makes it easier than ever to find your audience. But if you’re only writing so others will read your work, you’re short-circuiting the process. Write because it feels good. Write to express yourself. If you do that well, the readers will follow.

2. I don’t know how to [fill in the blank]

No idea

What’s your writing weak point? Maybe you struggle with dialogue, or you just can’t seem to really capture the description of your setting. All writers have strengths and weaknesses, which is part of what makes it so exciting to read different authors.

If you are convinced that you fundamentally don’t know how to do something writing-related, however, you are lying to yourself. Like any skill, writing is honed through practice. If there’s something you’re not good at, then find a way to focus on it. Join a workshop, ask your editor for advice, or just give yourself a writing prompt centered on your weakness. Saying you simply can’t do it is a lazy excuse!

3. My novel doesn’t have any depth

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There are two ways to overcome this fear, which is something many authors worry about. First, consider whether depth is really what you’re going for. If every book were as full of meaning as The Grapes of Wrath, then the world would be a much drearier place. Some genres, like romance, erotica, or action, are more about having fun than making astute observations or questioning the meaning of life.

But if you are aiming for depth, consider this: The only way to truly know if your novel has depth is to show it to others. Your beta readers, editors, or peers will be able to give you feedback that will indicate whether you’ve gotten your message across. If they don’t interpret what you intended, then you have two options: Find peace with the meaning you unintentionally put on the page, or, during your next round of edits, use their feedback to tease out the meaning you wanted.

4. My editor thinks I’m an idiot

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Show me an editor who makes you feel like an idiot, and I’ll show you a person who’s in the wrong line of work. The reason we editors choose this career path is for the love of helping authors revise, improve, and succeed. We are not here to make anyone feel bad about his work, and if you find your editor is being cruel or unhelpful, it’s time to send her the pink slip.

This does not mean your editor will sugarcoat her feedback. You’re paying for a service that shines a light on the areas of your work that need more attention, and with a good editor, that’s what you’ll get. However, honest feedback shouldn’t come with insults, humiliation, or didactics.

5. I have no idea how to publish

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The publishing industry is notorious for being a labyrinthine nightmare, but times have changed. Thanks to the advent of e-readers, publishing your work has never been easier. What’s more, there are individuals out there who specialize in helping you get published, and they’re usually a lot cheaper than the book agents of yesteryear.

Publishing through Amazon or CreateSpace is as easy as clicking a few buttons (literally!). On top of that, there are myriad small publishers out there who make it simple to send in submissions–without those extra fees or silly snail-mail requirements. The thought of getting your work out there may be intimidating, but the avenues to publication are open and ready to be explored.