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

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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

Daria-Quote-When-Mildly-Inconvenient-Things-Happen-To-Shallow-People-GIF

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.

Author Cate Beauman takes us inside her wildly popular Bodyguards of L.A. County series

cate head shot

Cate Beauman, Author of The Bodyguards of LA County series.

Cate Beauman fell into writing more than she dreamed of it. “Writing novels never made my bucket list,” she says. “One day I picked up a pad of paper and scribbled down the thoughts in my head. Next thing I knew, I had over 100,000 words. I’ve been obsessed ever since; now I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

A former New England resident, Cate now makes her home in North Carolina with her husband, two boys, and their St. Bernards, Bear and Jack.

Cate is currently working on Reagan’s Redemption, the eighth novel in her best-selling romantic suspense series, The Bodyguards Of L.A. County.

For information on new releases, monthly giveaways, and upcoming events, sign up for Cate’s newsletter. Cate can be reached on her website, www.catebeauman.com, or on her Facebook page. You can follow Cate on Twitter @CateBeauman.

Tell us how you originally got the idea for the Bodyguards of L.A. County series.

I never planned to write a series. The thought never occurred to me as I wrote Morgan’s Hunter, the first novel in the series—and really, my first work as a serious writer. I was simply telling the story of a bodyguard who was protecting his feisty principal in the backwoods of Montana. But then I introduced Ethan and Sarah to the plot. As the manuscript started to unfold I became very intrigued with the idea of giving Ethan and Sarah a story of their own. Not long after finishing Morgan’s Hunter, I wrote Falling for Sarah, which was supposed to complete a two-book series. Then Austin and Hailey were added to the storyline, and I realized I had a series on my hands. The rest, you could say, is history!

Tell us about your upcoming book, Reagan’s Redemption. Who will we meet in this novel? What kind of excitement can we expect?Reagan's Redemption - Ebook

Reagan’s Redemption is the story of Doctor Reagan Rosner and her bodyguard, Shane Harper. Reagan is at a crossroads in her life after a heartbreaking and unexpected tragedy. Unsure of what to do, she joins The Appalachia Project, a government-run program aimed at bringing aid to some of America’s poorest citizens.

Shane Harper is assigned to keep an eye on Reagan and the pharmaceuticals they have on hand in the odd and often hostile little town of Black Bear Gap.

As Reagan and Shane work together to help a reluctant community, they uncover secrets the town intends to keep hidden at all costs.

You are a master at balancing both romance and suspense in your novels. How do you make sure you give your readers a healthy dose of both, without crossing any lines?

That’s a tricky question. Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how I do it. I love romantic suspense. I’ve read the genre for years, so I think I try hard to give my readers what I would want. Romance always plays the central theme in my stories, but sprinkling in elements of danger really adds something special. Love and romance are hard enough, but when the characters’ lives are in peril and the odds stacked against them, it heightens the entire experience. I love weaving the two together.

What sort of lessons do you hope your readers take away from your novels?

I don’t typically write with messages for my readers. Basically, reality bites sometimes and I love to give my readers a place where they can go and get lost in someone else’s problems for a while. Mostly the stories I tell are for pure entertainment. I strive to make my characters flawed and relatable and their experiences exciting yet plausible.

You’re quite the prolific author. How do you keep coming up with fresh ideas on a similar theme?

I spend my time off watching lots and lots of crime television. When I find myself running low on ideas, I sit down with a pad of paper, turn on the television, and wait for a documentary or situation on a crime show to pique my interest. When I see something special my brain kicks into high gear and ideas just start flying. Sometimes I can see scenes for the new story I will tell in my head right then and there—one of the true gifts of an overactive imagination!

What is your editing process like?

Typically I write in a three-draft form. First draft is getting the ideas down in a loose story form. My second draft is when I get the story right by adding more of the emotive and physical descriptions, and the third is when I run my manuscript through a program called AutoCrit Editing Wizard. The program helps me find overused words, slow passages, so on and so forth so that when I send my work off to Liam at Invisible Ink Editing he’ll have as clean of a copy as I can give him.

What is your publishing process like?

I self-publish, so my publicist and I handle the workload ourselves. We do lots of blog tours and interviews. I also spend a lot of time with my Facebook fans on my author page getting them ready for the launch of each new story. I think that is one of my favorite parts of this whole journey—meeting and interacting with so many great people.

Do you have any advice for budding authors?

Never give up on your dreams. When I started out in this business I almost quit after the first editor I contacted told me I couldn’t write and I shouldn’t quit my day job. Luckily, I have a lot of really supportive people in my life who encouraged me to keep writing. I’m glad I did because telling stories is one of my biggest passions and has changed my life for the better. Write because you love it and the rest usually falls into place.

Last question—you are being pursued by thieves intent on stealing your latest manuscript. Which of the hunks from your book would you want to protect you?

Oh, wow. This is truly an impossible question to answer! All of the agents from Ethan Cooke Security are more than capable of keeping my manuscript and me safe, but they’re all so different and intriguing in their own ways. It’s kind of like asking which of your children do you love more. I love them both with the same power but their unique qualities are what make me adore them. How’s that for an answer?

An author’s guide to the editing process

By Liam Carnahan, Founder, Invisible Ink Editing

You’ve finally typed out the final word of your novel and hit “save,” and now you are ready to take a step back from your work. This can be a scary moment for any writer, but if you can find a reliable editor you trust to provide you with honest and helpful feedback, there’s no reason to worry.

But what do you do next? Don’t let your anxieties about editing be a roadblock on your path to publication. Here is a step-by-step guide on how you can complete the editing process (especially if you’re working with Invisible Ink).

Step 1: Read it again

This is absolutely the most painful part of the process, but fortunately you can get it out of the way first. Many, many famous authors have dreaded rereading their own work, so if you cringe when looking over your words, you’re not alone.

The key here is to remain calm and to keep your hand away from the “delete” key. As you’re reading, you may feel the urge to slash and burn sections you think don’t work, or you may begin to feel that the entire manuscript is hopeless. Don’t let yourself make those decisions—if you do, your piece will never reach the bookshelves (or online marketplace).

Instead of deleting or revising, make a note of the sections that give you pause. Remember that your beta readers and professional editors will let you know when they think something needs to be adjusted. You can tell your editors about the sections that give you concern if it puts your mind at ease, but sometimes it may be best to let them do a cold read of your piece. If they don’t single out the same sections you did, then you can probably put those anxieties to rest.

Step 2: Send it to the beta readers

Many people out there enjoy reading so much that they’ll read an unfinished manuscript to help an author grow. Some authors choose to tap their friends and family as an audience for this stage, and if you have loved ones who will give you honest feedback, then this route can be a good one.

If you aren’t comfortable showing your work to your friends and family, then you can reach out to online communities to get this done. Goodreads is an excellent place to start, but there are many options out there if you take a look around. Bear in mind that we here at Invisible Ink also offer an affordable beta reading service. The number of beta readers you need depends on their skill and insight. If you have a loved one who is an avid reader and experienced editor, or if you hire a professional editor at this stage, a single beta reader should be fine. However, you may want three or four beta readers if they are less experienced at providing insight.

Once you receive all the feedback, move on to the next step.

Step 3: Submit to Invisible Ink EditingOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This may seem like an odd stage to get in touch with Invisible Ink, but we so often encounter authors who wait until the final steps of their self-editing process before reaching out. Our schedules book up in advance, so you likely won’t be able to book in an edit until several weeks from when you first contact us.

For this reason, getting in touch with Invisible Ink sooner rather than later is a better move. It’s much easier to push back an editing date (provided you give us notice) than it is to book you into a full schedule!

Once you send us your inquiry, we’ll get back in touch and request a segment of your novel—typically 5,000 words or so—that adequately represents your style, tone and the level of editing necessary for the entire piece. We’ll perform a free sample edit of about 750-1,000 words and return it to you with a pricing suggestion and an estimated turnaround time.

Step 4: Perform edits and read it again

Now that you’ve gotten feedback from your beta readers, it’s time to go back to your work and make the changes they suggested if you feel they are valid. Odds are, if more than a couple of your beta readers pointed out an issue, it’s something you’ll need to address.

This stage should be a bit easier than step one, because you’ll already have read all your words. However, if you are adding, removing or otherwise altering big sections to the manuscript, you’ll need to do another thorough read-through to make sure the entire work is ready to be sent off to a professional editor.

Step 5: Send over the manuscript

This is the easiest part! Just send your editor the finished draft of your manuscript with any additional information you think he or she will need, then take a deep breath and take a load off – you deserve a few weeks of rest.

Step 6: Review your edits and ask any questions

The final step of the editing process comes once we return your review. If you opted to receive a full critique as well (something we strongly suggest, particularly for writers publishing their first books), then you’ll have plenty to read through in the coming days or weeks.

Once again, you will very likely have some questions about the edits we made, and we are always available to give you the answers you need. In some cases, we will set up a Skype or phone session to discuss the edits live; after all, our goal is to make sure you’re fully satisfied with your work and walk away with a publishable version of your novel.

A.D. Starrling, author of the smash series “Seventeen,” discusses her road to success

AD Starrling is the indie author of the "Seventeen" series.

A.D. Starrling is the indie author of the Seventeen series.

A.D. Starrling is the indie author of the award-winning and nominated supernatural thriller series Seventeen. She lives in England, where she spends her time writing fast-paced, action-packed thrillers, and juggling babies in the intensive care unit where she works as a part-time pediatrician.

Soul Meaning (Seventeen Book #1) and King’s Crusade (Seventeen Book #2) are currently available for sale in e-book format on Amazon, with the paperbacks scheduled for release in March and April 2014.

To find out more, contact her at:

rsz_emailTwitterrsz_email_adFACEBOOK

Or you can visit her website, subscribe to her newsletter, see her on Wattpad, or check out her U.S. Amazon page or U.K. Amazon page.

Your Seventeen series has seen some major success. It’s such a unique story; how did you come up with the idea?

The origin of Seventeen is a story in itself. Several years ago, I went to Mauritius on one of my biennial visits to see my family and ended up going on a day trip to a beautiful island off the mainland called Ile aux Cerfs. When our boat was traveling through the lagoon on the way back, it passed a small sandbank with mangrove trees. On it was a black marker stone bearing the number 17, written in red, dripping paint. It was a striking sight to say the least and one that stuck with me. When I decided to write something for the British Fantasy Society short story competition the next year, that image came to mind.

That short story made the top five of the BFS competition that year. But I wasn’t satisfied with it just being a short story. Lucas wanted to tell me more. So I listened and carried on writing.

What do you find is the hardest part about your writing process?

The constant fear that I might not be able to finish my current project. I’m sure most authors live with this fear. It

Sould Meaning, by AD Starrling

Soul Meaning, by A.D. Starrling

normally hits me about 15–25 percent into the book, then at about 50 percent. I call the latter the “middle of the book” syndrome. This is also the point when I start to wonder whether I’m writing a pile of poop.

Can you tell us a bit about your self-editing and proofreading process?

I edit as I write. Always have and very likely always will. I know of many authors who write the first draft as fast as they can, without any editing, and then spend a few months researching, rewriting, and polishing. Stephen King suggests this style of writing in his book On Writing. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that. I would not be able to write the next scene or chapter without going over the previous material.

The disadvantage of writing this way is that it takes a long time to produce that first draft. Writing full time, it can take me anywhere between three to five months to produce a 100–106–thousand word draft. The advantage is that the first draft would have gone through three or four edits by the time I submit it to my editors. The rewriting then tends to be short, a couple of weeks, three at the most, with the final proofreading taking another three to five days.

The best proofreading method I’ve discovered is to read the book out loud. Your ears don’t lie to you as much as your eyes do.

Who would you rather have by your side in a bar fight: Lucas, Alexa, or Conrad?

That’s a tough one. Lucas is strong and very special, as we see in the first book in the series. As the first immortal I created and by virtue of his abilities, logic dictates I should pick him. Alexa is the ultimate immortal warrior and the best fighter of the three of them. But she’s scary as hell. Yes, she even scares me, her creator. Conrad is a great fighter and a healer.

I’d have to go with Conrad. Considering I’m a klutz who can’t fight, it’d be great to have someone there to stop me from bleeding to death.

What sort of promotions do you do for your writing?

In the past, I have done blog tours and competitions, Goodreads giveaways, paid advertising on specific sites, KDP Select with free and paid advertising, and physical book launches.

This year, I will be doing Netgalley and Wattpad, as well as a few of the above. There is always a learning curve with what works and what doesn’t with promotions, and with the fast-changing pace of this industry, there will always be new things on the horizon.

If you had sixteen lives to live, what would you want to do?

  1. Travel the world and live in as many countries as I can over my many lives.
  2. Go back to university and do degrees in other subjects that interest me: literature, arts, languages, design, astrophysics…the list goes on!
  3. Conquer my fear of heights and deep water.
  4. Contribute something lasting and useful to human society.
  5. Do humanitarian work.
  6. Work to preserve endangered ecosystems and species.
  7. Become an athlete.
  8. Own my own island.
  9. Become a professional chef able to cook all the cuisines, from all the cultures of the world.
  10. Be a writer in all of my lives.

What’s next for your writing career?

I will be completing the series Seventeen in the next three years, with Book 3 scheduled for release late spring or early

King's Crusade, by AD Starrling

King’s Crusade, by A.D. Starrling

summer 2014 and Book 4 currently in progress. I would like to secure an agent in the next year or so to look at what I can do with the rest of my rights, especially foreign translation, film, and other digital media, including gaming and comics. I have plenty of other projects to keep me busy over the years to come, including a long-term, lighthearted fantasy project that’s close to my heart that may yet see the light of day under another pseudonym.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share with other aspiring indie authors?

Do your homework before you embark on this path. Read and research as much about the self-publishing industry as you can. There are plenty of great writing blogs out there that provide information for self-published authors. I’ve listed a few of them at the end of the self-publishing article under the “Bonus” section of my website. You will find conflicting views and opinions as you read about this industry. That’s normal. Once you have publishing experience under your belt, you will figure out which opinions you agree with.

The publishing industry is in a state of flux, and many believe there has never been a greater time to be a writer. I agree. Don’t expect to know everything at once. You will make mistakes and decisions you will regret as you travel this path; learn from them and move on.

Be realistic about your goals. Why are you doing this? If it’s to get rich quick, don’t bother. If it’s to establish a writing career and be in it for the long haul, knowing that you may never make a living out of it, or if you do, that it may be many years away, then go for it.

Be professional. As a self-published writer, you are effectively setting up a new business. Grow a thick skin. You will get what you deem to be negative reviews. Learn from them if you can and move on. Don’t attack the reviewer unless he or she has done something completely unacceptable, in which case, open a polite channel of communication. Reviewers review the book; they should not bully or attack the author on a personal level. Most “negative” reviews are well expressed and bring something valuable to the author. Not everyone is going to like your book. That’s just life.

Before I embarked on this path, I read a few articles that said self-publishing is easy. Yes, it’s easy to press the upload button on Kindle Direct Publishing and have your book available for sale within less than twenty-four hours. It’s everything that comes before it that’s hard. It’s hard to write a good book, to make sure it’s been thoroughly edited and proofread, to have a good and appropriate cover for it, to have it formatted for an e-book and/or a print book, and, most importantly, to get people to buy it. That’s why I have a team. I have two editors, two proofreaders, several beta readers, a cover designer, and a formatter. If I do a blog tour, I outsource that to a reliable tour organizer. I’m lucky in that I have a good day job that can pay for these services. There are many authors who have learned to do all these things on their own. If you’ve got the time and wish to try your hand at these skills, do it.

But don’t put a poor-quality product out there and expect people to pay money for it just because you couldn’t afford to have the best editing, the best cover, and the best formatting. It has to be your best. Save up. Cut down on luxuries. Don’t take that holiday. You need to invest in any new business to gain from it long term, and you have to make many sacrifices along the way. Why should writing be any different?

And remember, you’re doing this because it’s your dream job. If you love it and enjoy it, it won’t feel like work most of the time. If you’re not enjoying it and you dread sitting down to it, rethink whether this is the right choice for you.

New Year’s resolution: Master the hyphen

It’s in the nature of New Year’s resolutions to bite off more than you can chew, so this year, I’m setting a lofty goal: I resolve to rid the world of the improper use of hyphens with compound adjectives.

The hyphen is most often used to attach two or more adjectives to make a compound adjective. Unfortunately, the lack or overuse of hyphens with compound adjectives is an issue I run across with nearly every project I take on as a professional editor.

The rules regarding en-dashes and em-dashes are complex enough to warrant their own blog posts, so let’s leave those alone for now and turn our attention to the hyphen, which can trip up even the most skilled writers when they’re proofreading.

What are compound adjectives?

If it’s been a while since your last formal grammar lesson, here’s a quick reminder: Compound adjectives are adjectives made up of two or more words describing the same noun. Sound simple? It’s not! Compound adjectives can be hard to spot, and usually they must be hyphenated. However, the hyphen rules differ depending on how you’re using the compound.

Let’s start with the basics. In most circumstances, such as when a compound adjective comes before a noun, you’re safe to just hyphenate to the max. For example:

The strange man had a six-inch-long nose.
The young girl looks fabulous with her rose-red hair. 
Using hyphens incorrectly is an all-too-common mistake. 
The 11-year-old Champagne was was bubbly and refined.
We strive to give clients a three-week, error-free turnaround on edits.
The scary-looking dog was foaming at the mouth.

But why are hyphens necessary?

Usually, for clarity. Sometimes, a sentence reads just fine without a hyphen, but for the sake of consistency, you should always use them to connect compound adjectives before a noun. Plus, there are times when the lack of a hyphen will confuse things.

Here’s my favorite example. Consider the difference between these two sentences:

That girl has some long-ass hair. 
vs.
That girl has some long ass hair.

If you want to describe a girl with long, luscious locks of hair coming from her scalp and not her rear end, you’d better use the hyphen.

Exceptions and things to watch out for

This wouldn’t be an English grammar lesson without a few sneaky exceptions. First, don’t be tempted to hyphenate two separate adjectives describing the same noun. For example:

The police chief is a tough, gruff woman.

Here, the police chief is tough, and she is also gruff—each of these adjectives could be used individually to describe her, so there’s no need to hyphenate them.

But you would need hyphens if you wrote:

The police chief is a no-nonsense, mean-spirited authoritarian.

Why? Because you’re not describing the chief as no or mean; no describes her utter intolerance for nonsense, and mean describes her hardened spirit.

You’ll also need to keep in mind the placement of the words in the sentence. If the compound adjective comes before the noun it’s describing, you need the hyphen. If it comes after, you don’t need it. Here are four examples, all of which are correct:

Mutton is a much-loved meat among carnivores.
Among carnivores, mutton is much loved. 
Dr. Jamison is a well-regarded physician.
In her field, Dr. Jamison is well regarded.

You also never, ever need hyphens when using adverbs. As a rule of thumb, if it ends in –ly, forgo the hyphen entirely, even if the adverb-adjective compound comes before a noun.

WRONG: Max is an incredibly-enthusiastic fan of chocolate.
RIGHT: Max is an incredibly enthusiastic fan of chocolate. 
WRONG: I know one happily-married couple.
RIGHT: I know one happily married couple.

Hanging hyphens

In some rare instances, you’ll have what’s called a hanging hyphen, which requires a space between two compound adjectives. I’ll start with examples, then explain afterward:

The drug- and alcohol-addicted driver was handcuffed and sent to prison.
Early seventeenth- or eighteenth-century literature can be enlightening.

The reason there are spaces between these hyphens is because two words share the same third word to create two compound adjectives. If you break it down, you would say drug-addicted and alcohol-addicted, but you wouldn’t say and-addicted.These exceptions might be confusing, but they’re things a professional novel editor can easily spot. That’s it for compound adjectives and hyphens. Keep an eye out for these buggers when you’re writing and editing your next award-winning and best-selling novel.

Liam Carnahan, Founder and Chief Editor of Invisible Ink Editing