Monday, May 25, 2020

Grammar - The Foundation of Good Writing


A sig given as gift.


         I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or read, “Why should I care about using correct grammar in my writing? That’s why they have editors.” Wrong! Most publishers don’t edit any writing that comes their way, IF they even accept any error-filled manuscript. Paying for an experienced, dependable literary editor is expensive, and the editors themselves will do only so much.

         Some writers fight the idea that grammar (including sentence structure, punctuation, subject/verb agreement, pronoun usage, spelling, etc.) impacts the worthiness of writing, which is like saying failing to lay a solid foundation does not impact the stability of a building. Good grammar is extremely important. It shows the writer's professionalism and attention to detail. The writer will also be able to give an explanation that is understood.  
 
         Grammatical errors can cause confusion, and, in the worst-case scenarios, they can completely change the meaning of a sentence. A writer not knowing how to use good grammar will make writing difficult to read. Poor grammar (including all subtexts) breaks the flow of reading, annoys the reader, and reflects badly on the writer. No-one wants to be jarred from a really interesting read by poor punctuation or glaring grammatical errors.

         Writer Melissa Donovan states:


                   Too many times I’ve heard aspiring writers shrug off good grammar,
                   saying they’d rather focus on plot or character, they’d prefer to use a
                   natural, unlearned approach to keep the writing raw, or they will simply
                   hire an editor to do the dirty work.

                   I have a hard time buying into those lines of reasoning. Refusing to bother
                   with grammar is just plain lazy, especially for writers who yearn to be more
                   than hobbyists.


         Why should writers embrace grammar rather than make excuses for ignoring it? Here are ten reasons why good grammar should be a central pursuit in writing efforts:

1. Readability
         If your work is peppered with grammatical mistakes and typos, your readers are going to have a hard time trudging through it. Nothing is more distracting than being yanked out of a good story because a word is misspelled or a punctuation mark is misplaced. You should always respect your readers enough to deliver a product that is enjoyable and easy to use.

2. Communication
         Some musicians learn to play by ear and never bother to learn how to read music. Many of them don’t even know which notes and chords they’re playing, even though they can play a full repertoire of recognizable songs and probably a few of their own. But get them in a room with other musicians and they’ll quickly become isolated. You can’t engage with others in your profession if you don’t speak the language of your industry. Good luck talking shop with writers and editors if you don’t know the parts of speech, the names of punctuation marks, and all the other components of language and writing that are related to good grammar.

3. Getting Published
         How will you get that short story, essay, or blog post published if you don’t know the basics of grammar, spelling, and punctuation? Sure, some managing editors will go over your work and clean it up for you, but most reputable publishers have enough submissions that they can toss grammatically weak work into the trash without thinking twice.

4. Working with an Editor
         I love it when writers say they can just hire an editor. This goes back to communication. If you can’t talk shop with other writers, you certainly won’t be able to converse intelligently about your work and its flaws with a professional editor.          How will you respond to feedback and revision suggestions or requests when you don’t know what the heck the editor is talking about? Remember, it’s your work. Ultimately, the final version is your call, and you won’t be able to approve it if you’re clueless about what’s wrong with it.

5. Saving Money
         Speaking of hiring an editor, you should know that editors will only go so far when correcting a manuscript. It’s unseemly to return work to a writer that is solid red with markups. Most freelance editors and proofreaders have a limit to how much they will mark up any given text, so the more grammar mistakes there are, the more surface work the editor will have to do. That means she won’t be able to get into the nitty-gritty and make significant changes that take your work from average to superior because she’s breaking a sweat just trying to make it readable.

6. Invest in Yourself
         Learning grammar is a way to invest in yourself. You don’t need anything more than a couple of good writing resources and a willingness to take the time necessary to hone your skills. In the beginning, it might be a drag, but eventually, all those grammar rules will become second nature, and you will have become a first-rate writer.

7. Respectability, Credibility, and Authority
         As a first-rate writer who has mastered good grammar, you will gain respect, credibility, and authority among your peers. People will take you seriously and regard you as a person who is committed to the craft of writing, not just some hack trying to string words together in a haphazard manner.

8. Better Writing All-Around
         When you’ve taken the time to learn grammar, it becomes second nature. As you write, the words and punctuation marks come naturally because you know what you’re doing; you’ve studied the rules and put in plenty of practice. That means you can focus more of your attention on other aspects of your work, like structure, context, and imagery (to name a few). This leads to better writing all around.

{indent{According to Toni Fitzgerald ({i}The Writer{/i}, May 2020, page 14), "Reading messy grammar is diffult."

9. Self-Awareness
         Some people don’t have it. They charge through life completely unaware of themselves or the people around them. But, most of us possess some sense of self. What sense of self can you have as a writer who doesn’t know proper grammar? That’s like being a carpenter who doesn’t know what a hammer and nails are. It’s almost indecent.

10. There’s Only One Reason to Abstain from Good Grammar
         There is really only one reason to avoid learning grammar: the writer is just plain lazy. Anything else is a silly excuse.
         No matter what trade, craft, or career one is pursuing, everyone starts with learning the basics. Actors learn how to read scripts. Scientists learn how to apply the scientific method. Politicians learn how to… well, never mind what politicians do. We are writers. We must learn how to write well, and writing well definitely requires using good grammar.

         William B. Bradshaw, and author and writing expert says:

                   Whenever I get on my soapbox about grammar, people often tell me I put too
                   much emphasis on the importance of grammar -- after all, they say, why does
                   it matter what kind of grammar people use; the important thing is whether or
                   not they understand what they are saying and writing to one another.


         However, grammar is the foundation for communication. Let’s examine some grammatical mistakes:

                    ‘She was deeply effected by the death of her beloved pet.’ Toni Fitzgerald, page15, states, "Affect is a verb, and effect is (almost always) a noun."
                   ‘Its over their.’ She gestured to the large mahogany table slowly decaying in the corner.
                   Mary didn’t know weather it was time to go or not.
                   He bought milk when he should of bought bread.
                   Let’s eat Mary.’ and ‘Let’s eat, Mary. Can you see how this could end up with Mary being eaten for dinner?
                   Goats Cheese Salad – crispy lettuce, juicy tomatoes, cucumber, goats, cheese
                   Vegetarians are certainly going to be put off this salad when they realize it contains not only cheese, but goats!
                   My interests include cooking dogs, walking, reading and watching films. Oh dear, those poor dogs. I wonder who gets to eat the canine culinary delights created by this person?

                   There is used in place of their or they're, or one of the others is used incorrectly.
                   It's and its are not interchangeable.
                   Your and you're are not the same.
                   Commas are not used where needed, or they are sprinkled like rose petals everywhere possible. Run-on sentences create a feeling of confusion in the minds of readers.

         All right (and that's another mistake, using alright for all right), some people don't know grammar well, but writers and editors definitely should. I don't know that I would want to read a book by someone who can't manage to understand the difference between homonyms (words that sound alike but have different meanings) and/or what version of a pronoun is used as the object of a preposition.

         For example, I often hear (hear not here), "That's important to Mary and I." Really? He would say "That's important to I"? Actually, that is what he did say. A compound object is the same form pronoun as a singular object. And, I have heard and read that problem from so-called well-educated people. Anything between a speaker or writer and another person means the object form MUST be used: between John and me; between my husband and me; between you and him.

1.  Correct grammar is required (except in the case of dialogue in dialect).
2.  Correct sentence and grammatical mechanics are needed. This point means correct subject/verb agreement, correct sentence structure, correct pronoun reference and usage, sentence variety, etc.3.
3.  Correct spelling is a MUST. Correct spelling includes using correct words in context. Words that sound the same but are spelled differently are misspelled if the wrong word is used: For example, they're, their, and there mean completely different things.
4.  Correct punctuation is important to avoid confusion.

         IF a person wants to be a REAL writer, he/she must know grammar to be considered professional. Therefore, if you don’t have a good grasp of grammar and all of its subtexts, learn. Find a good easy-to-understand book of grammar and read it, refer to it, and use the knowledge inside it. Find websites with grammar lessons and information.

          Grammar has much to do with good writing. It is the foundation of good writing.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Interview with Karen Cioffi - The Case of the Plastic Rings


           Meet Karen Cioffi, the author of two 4RV books: Walking Through Walls (a hardcover version just released) and The Case of the Plastic Rings - The Adventures of Planetman, agreed to be interviewed for this newsletter/blog. Karen answers to the questions will be in black, while the questions will be in blue. Enjoy learning more about this interesting author.

     How did/does your history and home background affect your writing? 

     Ever since I can remember, I've been a conservationist. I've always cared about the environment. As a children's writer, it gives me the perfect platform to enlighten children about ways they can help protect Earth.

     Tell us something about your educational background that made you a better, or more caring, writer.

     Minoring in English Literature in college and reading a lot of children's books helped me become a better writer. Along with this, learning about writing and practicing helped me improve my writing skills.

     As far as being a caring writer, I think that's something you just have.
     Please share your hobbies, interests, or activities with us, you know the ones for during your leisure time (laugh), if you have any. 
      That is funny … leisure time. Even with the world situation of lockdowns and shelter-ins, I'm very busy. I used to draw, play the guitar, and the piano, but when my writing became more time consuming, I had to put them on the back burner.

      Authors are often asked when they started writing or what triggered their interest in writing. I’d like to know that, too, but I would especially like to know what keeps you writing.

      I started writing as a child. As a teenager, I wrote poems. Then when I had my first child, I wrote a lullaby to help put her to sleep at night. When my first grandson came, I wrote another song. I've written on and off through the years until about 15 years ago. I jumped into writing for children.

     I don't know what keeps me writing – I can't imagine not writing. There are so many stories to tell and so many lessons to pass along, subtly of course.

      How do you manage to write and care for your family, too? 

      For a number of years, it was just my husband and myself, so writing time came easy. Then I took an accounting job about two years ago, outside the home. Around the same time, my daughter and now three-year-old grandson came to live with me. So, time became scarce. But they say where there's a will there's a way. I always manage to get my writing in and do everything else I need to. Also, I'm great at zoning out distractions.


      What inspired you to write your most recent book?

       I've always been concerned about the environment, how we can protect it. It seemed to come naturally to want to write a children's book about the topic. I did research and jumped into Planetman.

      I think fiction stories, as a way to teach or enlighten a child, is an excellent tool. If the story is engaging enough, it works well. 

      How did you decide the title for your book? Would you share something about your book?

      I wanted to write something that kids would enjoy reading. I know kids like to have the main characters be someone they'd like to be, so I thought of Planetman. Most kids love superheroes.

      I read about the dangers of plastic, especially plastic rings, like those that hold six-packs of soda together. This seemed like the perfect topic for the first book in the series. This gave me the full title for the first book: The Adventures of Planetman – The Case of the Plastic Rings.

      Since kids love mysteries and going on adventures through books, I thought creating a 'case to go on' would work well.

      Do you have a particular writing process or technique, and if so, what?

      I write every day. Along with being an author, I'm a children's ghostwriter, so I'm usually working on two, and often more books at one time. Focus is a definite necessity.

      For picture books, I use the seat-of-the pants method. I write and the story unfolds.

      For short chapter books of 5-7,000 words, I use the same method.

      For longer chapter books and middle-grade, I usually start the story then when I decide I had enough, I write an outline, even if it's basic. Outlines do help. The more detailed the better.

      For Walking Through Walls, I used a basic outline of an ancient Chinese tale.

      How do you feel when you complete a book?

      When I complete a fiction book, it's a feeling of satisfaction. Something that didn't exist now does. If it's a big project and takes a while, I feel relieved.


       What are your writing achievement and goals?

       Walking Through Walls was honored with the Children's Literary Classics Silver Award. And in June 2012, my website at the time was chosen as Website of the Week by Brian Klems for Writer's Digest. I was thrilled.

       My writing goals are to keep writing and produce more quality books under my own name.

      How do any writing groups benefit you and your writing? If you’re not in a writing group, why not?

       I've belonged to critique groups and have belonged to writing groups through the years. I'm also the Editor-in-Chief of Writers on the Move which is a group of writers and marketers.

       I also belong to the Professional Writers Association, Association of Ghostwriters, SCBWI, and a couple of others.

      Writing groups help writers hone their skills, especially if there are experienced writers in them along with newbies. These groups are a place to bounce ideas off of and ask for help.

      Does writing help better you as a person? How?

       I'm not sure writing betters me as a person. I think it gives me a platform to bring ideas to children and broaden their imaginations.

      What advice do you have for a new writer?

       Don't skip ahead of the line. Take the time to learn the craft of writing. Don't let self-publishing be a means to produce an inferior book.

       And, two of my favorite quotes for writers are:

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut." ~ Stephen King

"A writer who never gives up is called Published."~ J.A. Konrath

       What is your favorite genre to read? Your favorite author or authors?

       My favorite genre to read has changed so many times. I've liked mysteries and fantasy. Now I like nonfiction – I like learning.
       My taste in authors has also changed over the years, but they include Edgar Allan Poe, J. R. R. Tolkien, Kate Chopin, Robert Munsch, and Linda Sue Park. 
Author Karen Cioffi

        Thank you, Karen. If anyone is interested in purchasing Karen's books, one place to find them is the following: 4RV Publishing: Karen's page.
         Learn more about the author on Karen's website





Wednesday, May 13, 2020

5 Tips for Coordinating a Virtual Book Tour


Coordinating a virtual book tour can intimidate an author. It takes organization and time management skills to get the most out of your tour. You’re also looking to build relationships with bloggers and readers so they support you throughout your career. Let’s look at five tips for coordinating a virtual book tour.

Be Organized

I managed nearly 100 authors spanning over 125 books when I coordinated virtual book tours. Those years taught me the importance of organization.
  • Have your marketing materials together before you solicit tour hosts.
  • Use an Excel Spreadsheet or Google Sheets to maintain a database of all review, interview, and guest post requests. Create a column to show whether you mailed the printed copy out, so you can follow up with the blogger in a week to make sure it arrived.
  • Pre-order thank you cards or create an electronic thank you message prior to the tour so you can thank your hosts once the tour ends.

Include a Note with Printed Books

Bloggers can receive dozens of books to review each month. Losing track of a book happens. Do yourself, and the reviewer, a favor by including a note and printed marketing material in the envelope. This will avoid confusion for the tour host as to where the book comes from and if the review is time sensitive.

When I mail out my books, I include a personal note to the blogger, mentioning the book tour and the date they agreed to host me. I also ask for a prompt email if they cannot keep the scheduled date.

Complete to-do Items Early

Tracking down missing to-do items creates frustration for a virtual book tour host. Don’t be that last-minute author.

Plan your schedule so you can complete and return to-do items a minimum of two weeks prior to your tour stop. This will give the blogger time to review your submission to be sure its complete and to ask for clarification when necessary. Not only will this give your host the chance to schedule it ahead of time, once your next book comes out they will be more willing to host you again.

Leave Comments at Your Blog Stops

We all lead busy lives, but if you want to show your tour hosts how much you appreciate what they do, take a few moments to leave a comment on the day your interview, guest post, or review appears on their blog. Interact with readers who leave comments. They are often bloggers, too, so nurturing those relationships is important.

No comments? Try not to get discouraged. That doesn’t mean lack of interest. Sometimes people just have nothing to say. However, always thank your host.

Promote Your Virtual Book Tour

Why go through all the effort to coordinate a virtual book tour if you will not promote it? Even those authors who pay a company to coordinate a virtual book tour should have a hand in promoting their tour stops because it expands your reach.

Blogger Jodi hosts Author Sam on her blog. Blogger Jodi promotes the tour stop to her social media accounts of 3,000 friends/followers. Author Sam promotes the tour stops to his social media accounts of 5,000 friends/followers. Now, Author Sam has reached 8,000 people instead of just 3,000; plus when their people share the post Author Sam’s reach increases again.

Virtual book tours are fun, but they require time and work to be successful. Following these tips will make it easier.



Cheryl C. Malandrinos is a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of four children’s books including, A Christmas Kindness, released by 4RV Publishing. A blogger and book reviewer, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two daughters. She also has a son who is married. Visit Cheryl online at http://ccmalandrinos.com and her children’s book blog at https://childrensandteensbookconnection.wordpress.com

Sunday, May 3, 2020

4 Writing Tips on Using Descriptions



Contributed by Karen Cioffi

Using descriptions can be a powerful writing tool. The most important thing to keep in mind is to use your imagination. Close your eyes and picture what your character is doing. Picture what the scene looks like then paint it with words.

Below are four tips to help you get a handle on writing descriptions.

1. You’ve got to engage your readers.

How do you do this? By showing them what’s going on.

Let the reader:

- Smell what the character is smelling.
- Hear what the character is hearing.
- See what the character sees.
- Feel what the character is touching.
- Taste what the character is tasting.

Let the reader feel like she’s there. Use your character’s senses to describe (show) what’s going on.

2. Use descriptions in action scenes.

Using an excerpt from Walking Through Walls, I could have said just said it was hot. But that wouldn’t show how hot it was for the protagonist, Wang.

The sun beat down on the field. Sweat poured from the back of his neck drenching the cotton shirt he wore. "I hate doing this work." He hurled the bundles on a cart.

I used description to show the action scene. This helps engage the reader.

3. Use description to emphasis the scene.

While you should write tight, sometimes it’s powerful to use description to bring the reader into the scene. In the excerpt below, the protagonist of Walking Through Walls is on a path that could change his life forever:

Deep in thought Wang did not notice the black cat that crossed his path, or the black raven that swooped and almost landed on his head. He did not even notice the silver snake with the purple tail that slithered along beside him on the road. Wang only noticed that each step took him closer to the merchant’s home and the beginning of the road leading to his destiny.

I could have simply used a version of the last sentence to say he didn’t notice anything. But, this wouldn’t allow the reader to know what was going on around him - how absorbed he was in fulfilling his dream. It wouldn’t bring the reader into the scene.

In addition, the description used for that scene is brought up later in the story. So, it’s also helping move the story forward.

4. Don’t use description dumps.

While it’s essential to use descriptions in your writing, you don’t want to overdo it. And, you don’t want to give description dumps.

What this means is avoid going beyond what's needed to engage. Yes, authors did it years ago – they’d elaborate on descriptions for pages and pages. And, I would think it gave the writer a sense of freedom to be able to describe in full detail what she was imagining - not having to worry about tight writing. But, it won’t fly today.

Today it’s about writing ‘lean and mean.’ It’s about thinking carefully about your word choices, your descriptions, and your character’s backstory. If you can say it effectively in two words rather than six, do it in two.

It’s about making sure everything thing in your story is moving the story forward. No sidetracking for a beautiful description. No sidetracking for over elaborating.

Weigh what will work and what is too much. Use balance in writing descriptions in your story.

------



Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, successful children’s ghostwriter, and author online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing. Check out her middle-grade book, WALKING THROUGH WALLS.

You can connect with Karen at:
LinkedIn  http://www.linkedin.com/in/karencioffiventrice