The Importance of Sharpening Your Grammar and Punctuation Skills

By Fay Lamb

True story: I once had a favorite New York Times Bestselling author. I met her once at a book signing in which I traveled 600 miles to see her. Yes, I was a fan. Then one day, she responded to a comment I made on Facebook about the importance of editing well.

In very clear diva-style she said that her publisher paid people to edit her books. Her job was only to write the story. The editors would clean it up. My first thought was, “Aren’t you fortunate to be so beloved that you’ve gotten to the point where editors clamor to clean up your mess.” My second thought was “I’d hate to be your editor.”

Then she switched tracks in her career to an entirely new genre based upon a new interest. She’d gotten involved in a sport and had written two books involving it. However, her New York publishers weren’t interested in taking the risk. She found a small publisher in the South where her new interest is enjoyed by millions of people. This never-heard-of publisher jumped at the opportunity to publish a book by this well-known author. And publish they did.

I read the book.

I suppose this particular publisher assumed the author had a command of punctuation and grammar.

They assumed incorrectly, and if she read the galley, she proved that very well.

Oh, she could tell a story, but she could not spell or place a comma or determine where a sentence ended. And forget those misplaced modifiers or the split infinitives.

In the world of best sellers where this author came from, I’m sure that the editors were paid well to do what they did for her. I can attest. They did a fine job.

Editors who work for small publishers also work hard at bringing out the best manuscript possible, but I’m here as both a writer and an editor to tell you that mistakes happen. It is impossible to catch every mistake that will be made in a manuscript. Oh, I try. Believe me. I try. This is the best reason I can tell you for learning the basics of your craft. Those basics are spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

As a writer, it helps that I do know my stuff. I probably forget half of what I know in the process, but I do know it. When an editor has made a mistake, I can state with specificity why it is a mistake. On the other hand, when the editor calls me on a mistake, I am also able to understand what I’ve done incorrectly.

As an editor, it helps for me to be able to explain to an author why a comma should not go after a conjunction that starts a sentence or why I would use a comma in that instance on occasion. I can also explain to an author why some sentences can start with a conjunction and others should not.

Do you know the answer?

If not, you might want to learn the basics before you become a New York Bestseller and someone takes that privilege away from you.

Click to tweet: The Importance of Sharpening Your Grammar and Punctuation Skills by Fay Lamb.  Learn the basics. #self-edit #amwriting

Writing Prompt: Cecilia couldn’t believe her eyes. On the front page of their town’s daily newspaper…

The Importance of Return on Investment (ROI) for Writers

‎By Fay Lamb

I’m about to give you some cold, hard truth. Rick Castle is a fictional character. The number of authors who support themselves on royalties, let alone live in a condo in the middle of New York City or any other high-priced locale, are few and far between.

Oh, they do exist. I can name three of them without giving much thought to it.

However, in today’s world where, let’s face it, the market is saturated with people who believe they can write and readers who have been taken too many times, it is so much harder to support oneself on writing alone.

This is why every dollar invested in a writer’s career should be scrutinized. This careful examination of a writer’s budget should begin before the first word is written. For example, as a new author, how valuable is coaching to your career? When the first draft is written or the second or the third, what would be the reasonable cost of an edit? Then, glory hallelujah, a contract is written or a writer is skilled enough in the elements of their craft to publish a book. That’s when the cost of marketing must be considered. Make no mistake about it: even traditionally published authors must shell out payment for marketing. Facebook and Twitter are definitely not going to get the job done.

The mistake that most writers make is paying heavy fees on the front end without considering the return on investment they are likely to receive. They seek an editor or a coach, and they may find good ones, or they might find predators—individuals who have no idea what must go into a novel or a book of non-fiction to make it publishable. As an acquisition editor, a freelance editor, and an occasional writing coach, I have read many submissions in which I’ve commented that a freelance edit would benefit a writer only to learn that the work has already been edited, and I use that term loosely. Then I shudder at the price the person has paid for the edit or the coaching, knowing that the writer is likely never to recoup the money spent.

A key to hiring an editor is to ask for and review their resume. Ask them for author references and for titles that they’ve edited. Follow up on these references and ask the authors if they feel as if they received a good return for their investment. Then read what the editor has edited. Is it the type of editing you require?

Also, spell out for the editor what you require. A good fiction editor understands the elements that go into each genre of fiction. They’ll look for plot holes, for areas of inconsistency, and places where the elements are not strong. An editor of non-fiction understands the framework that publishers desire and will work to put the manuscript into that format.

Oh, and anyone who knows the industry is aware of the importance of return on investment. They will not charge you the same going rate they would charge a J.K. Rowling, or a James Patterson or a John Grisham. See, I told you I could name three authors who can live the Rick Castle lifestyle.

While those three authors have names that sell, you and I most likely do not. So, our only remedy is to get out there into the marketplace and make our names familiar. I’ve already said that Facebook and Twitter are not going to get the job done. We’re marketing to our own people group—mostly authors, and Facebook and Twitter are saturated. The return on investment is good, if you want nothing for nothing or a little for something. There are ways to make them work, but a savvy author needs to reach outside his or her comfort zone, to find traditional ads and marketing that costs them something. In the same way that they carefully examine the cost of an editor or a coach, they should ask questions of other authors who have tried different types of marketing. Authors are usually very kind to tell each other what works and doesn’t work. Authors should price various size ads on websites or in magazines or any venue they plan to work in and research the traffic for those venues.

Click to tweet: Return on Investment or ROI. A savvy author need to reach outside his or her comfort zone. Why? #amediting #IndieAuthors

Another suggestion to lower the individual cost for advertisement is to work in groups, either with authors who write the same genre for a publisher or who self-publish in the same genre. A caution, though: be sure that that the authors promoting with you write to the same standard whether it be social, morals, or in talent.

Start slow. You’ll have to pull from your own pocket at first. Always reinvest your earnings, seeking for a return on investment and eventually striving to put the money you invested back into your own pocket.

Writing Prompt: Jane stared at the returned manuscript proposal in front of her. The story is good. But have you thought about having it edited? The problem was…

 

Choosing a Freelance Editor

By Fay Lamb

Hiring a freelance editor may be one of the most important decisions you make in your career, but there are precautions you should take in order to find the editor most suited to your needs.

First, I want to say that the most effective use of a freelance editor is not to rewrite or to revise an author’s work but to catch the mistakes that might have been made or the areas that might have missed because the author is too close to the work.

Now, with regard to the qualifications of an editor, I do not believe that an editor needs to have a degree, but I do believe that they need to have studied the craft of writing and have the ability to show forth a knowledge of the specific area in which they are being requested to offer an edit.

Editors who claim to be able to edit everything should be viewed skeptically. For instance, if I were writing a college thesis on a highly specialized field, I would search for an editor familiar with that field of research, not an editor who would simply look for comma placement or spelling. In fact, I’d be worried that the spelling would be a problem for someone unfamiliar with the subject.

Let’s bring it down to our scope, though. In fiction, there are genres, and each genre requires specific techniques. Thrillers are fast paced, barely leaving time for the reader to breathe while romantic suspense will speed up and slow down depending upon the type of suspense being portrayed. Romance, well, it lingers, but it is often formulaic, and an editor will need to know the formula. Historical fiction is another beast altogether, and nothing can be taken for granted, even word choice. I know, historical fiction is not my expertise.

Overall, though, fiction has elements such as plot, conflict, suspense, proper use of dialogue, showing and not telling, deep point of view, and characterization. An editor who is unaware of this canvas upon which an author creates can do little to help the author should the brush stroke be imperfect.

There’s also non-fiction. In fact, this editor will only edit non-fiction if the author is requesting proofreading and nothing more. Why? I do not have the expertise in this format either, and my lack of knowledge will harm an author.

Another important thing to know when it comes to hiring a freelance editor is the going rate, and many authors will be surprised at what it will cost because most freelance editors don’t care about the author’s return on investment. They’re rightfully concerned with their return on investment. Thus my reason for stating why an editor should not be used to revise or rewrite.

Before agreeing to a contract with a freelance editor, an author should ask for a free chapter edit. This will be of benefit not only to the author but to the editor. As a freelance editor, I often use those free edits to determine if the author is ready for publication. If not, I will refuse the edit and will offer suggestions on how they might improve their writing. If I find that the author has a command of the story, I am then able to determine the length of the manuscript and offer my estimate, which is always the highest fee I will charge, and sometimes if the edits take less effort, I charge less.

This leads me to the most important advice that I can give to an author seeking a freelance editor: never agree to an open-ended hourly contract. An editor who has given you a chapter edit may estimate high in case the story falls apart somewhere along the line, but agree up front to the total cost and to the terms of payment. If an editor is unwilling to provide the cost up front, run away.

Again, it is important to note, in order to utilize the freelance editor’s time and the money you pay most effectively, send the editor your cleanest manuscript. Utilize an editor’s expertise to find the mistakes you missed and not to clean up the mistakes you didn’t want to remedy.

Click to tweet: Choosing a Freelance Editor by Fay Lamb. “Editors who claim to be able to edit everything should be viewed skeptically.” #editing #amwriting

Writing Prompt: In leiu of a prompt, tell us whether you use a critique group, a critique partner, or hire a freelance editor? Why?

Why Delilah?

By Fay Lamb

When Delilah came on the scene as the ruthless antagonist for Charisse in the first book of the series, a reader wrote to me before finishing the story and said, “I hope Delilah gets hers.” I replied that she definitely did, but it would not be in the way that she thought.” Since the release of Charisse, I heard from many readers who fell in love with Delilah, this delightfully fiendish character who changed in some ways from story to story but never truly lost her brash personality that made her who she is.

I never meant to give Dee her own story, but like many of the characters I write, I find that those that I consider truly secondary are the ones that seem to capture the imagination of the readers. I have a character in a little-known book that I wrote in 1999 that my readers still ask me about today, and characters in a writing tutorial that I used as examples have an adoring audience. The same was true of Delilah. When I sent the synopses in for Charisse, Libby, and Hope, the stories which at that time, encompassed the series, the publisher indicated I could have the contract on one condition: if Delilah got a story of her own. Who was I to argue?

As I completed the other two novels in the series and five other novels in different series for the same publisher, I worked on Delilah in my mind. She wouldn’t let me alone, and she never ceased to amaze me with her story. When she told me her background, I laughed aloud. When she learned her connection to one of the other gals in the series, I cried and I rejoiced with her. Delilah truly had me on a roller coaster ride of emotions, and I couldn’t wait to sit down and tell her unique tale set against the backdrop of Central Florida’s homelessness and our wonderful natural resources. It is truly my hope that you’ll come along for the ride.

Find Delilah here.

Click to tweet: Fay Lamb’s last book in The Ties That Bind series, Delilah. Great contemporary romance. #romance #amreading


Fay Lamb is the only daughter of a rebel genius father and a hard-working, tow-the-line mom. She is not only a fifth-generation Floridian, she has lived her life in Titusville, where her grandmother was born in 1899.

Since an early age, storytelling has been Fay’s greatest desire. She seeks to create memorable characters that touch her readers’ hearts. She says of her writing, “If I can’t laugh or cry at the words written on the pages of my manuscript, the story is not ready for the reader.” Fay writes in various genres, including romance, romantic suspense, and contemporary fiction.

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Your First Draft Is Not Your Last Draft

by Fay Lamb

In my writing life and both as a freelance editor and an acquisition editor, I have discovered a disturbing trend among some new and not-so-new writers.

Self-publishing is not a bad thing if the author does it correctly. However, there is a generation of authors who have grown up without accountability for what they create. Some sit down at a computer, plunk out one draft of a story, and head off to publication. There are also some who send their first draft to a publisher. When they receive a rejection, the fault belongs to a “system.” They use that excuse to self-publish.

Say what you want about traditional publishers, but in most instances, they truly are the gatekeepers for an industry currently suffering from credibility issues brought on by mass self-publishing. Granted, there are authors who have studied the craft inside and out and write great manuscripts. Yet they can’t find a home in traditional publishing. The rejection has less to do with a lack of diligence on the author’s part and more to do with publishers’ trends. Those diligent authors who take the time to craft a story find new life in self-publishing by bucking those trends.

A first draft is never an author’s best friend. All it says to an author is, “I’ve taken the story from Point A to Point Z, and I have some bones to build upon.” The next draft, or drafts, however many it takes, puts flesh on those bones.

I’d like to share some very obvious clues that indicate to readers and to publishers that an author has not gotten beyond the first draft stage before submitting or publishing:

  • The author has not taken the time to get a command over the small stuff: spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency in names, hair color, eye color, even the spelling of key locations. Editors see these mistakes as lazy writing. If an author isn’t keen on these areas, finding an editor, or even a critique group that can offer this support, is imperative.
  • The manuscript usually consists only of bones, taking the form of stilted dialogue. Description and deep point of view (POV) are lacking or lax. A story that engages uses effective dialogue to relay information without the reader knowing the information is being fed to them. Deep POV is the best tool to draw the reader into the story and connect them with the main characters.
  • Speaking of point of view: in a first draft, even the most prolific authors will inadvertently switch POVs within the scene. Revisions will correct this mistake. However, an omniscient point of view is a sign that an author has not studied the elements of fiction. POV should always be one character per scene, and the character with the most to win or to lose should always be the POV character for that scene.
  • Often in a first draft, the plot will lack escalating conflict. Instead, an author utilizes contrived conflict, bringing it in and resolving it quickly before introducing another issue. One reason a synopsis is requested by publishers is to determine how well an author introduces and sustains conflict. If conflict is weak or non-existent, the story isn’t ready for publication.
  • Then there’s that old but relevant cliché: show don’t tell. A first draft is littered with telling words or phrases that draw the reader away from the story. This is easily seen in the use of adverbial time phrases such as suddenly and immediately or when she turned … Other telling words have to do with the senses: she heard, he saw, he noticed, he realized, and a host of other similar actions that tell rather than show.

Don’t make the mistake of believing that a first draft or even a second draft will produce a story ready for publication. Take time to revise and edit, to look for the minor mistakes and to implement the elements of fiction that put flesh on those shaky bones and build up a healthy story that readers can enjoy.


Writing Prompt: Rewrite the following short paragraph, utilizing some of the points discussed above to create a second draft:

Paula heard a noise that made the hair stand up on the back of her neck. Immediately, she turned and peered out the window. What she saw terrified her.


Click to Tweet: “In most instances, traditional publishers truly are the gatekeepers for an industry currently suffering from credibility issues brought on by mass self-publishing.” Your First Draft Is Not Your Last Draft via @InspiredPrompt and @FayLamb.