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 Challenges of Category Cookery

By Laurel Blount

I am a sucker for cooking shows, aren’t you? My personal favorite is the Great British Baking Show, where contestants compete to create challenging dishes in a specified amount of time. It’s exciting to see the frantic bakers rushing around, trying their best to beat the clock and still produce a delicious, edible masterpiece.

It’s exciting, but it’s not all that realistic, is it? Because, honestly—those people have every ingredient they need at their fingertips, and even work in a special kitchen with lots of bells and whistles.

If you want to talk about a real challenge, ask a cook to create a nutritious, gluten-free, totally organic, easy-to-prepare meal for some very important guests—in an hour. And here’s the kicker, she can use only the specific ingredients currently available in her pantry. Oh, and one more thing: it has to taste so fabulous that everybody asks for a second helping!

I think we can all agree; the cook who pulls that off deserves all the praise and recognition we can shower upon her! And probably a nap.

This, my friends, is similar to the ninja-skills that writing high-quality Christian category romance requires. Ever since I tied on my own literary apron in this particular kitchen, let me tell you—my chef’s hat is off to all my much-more-skilled writer-sisters who offer their readers such delicious stories over and over again, all while staying within the boundaries of the genre.

My publisher, Love Inspired, is dedicated to producing a particular kind of experience for readers. They’ve developed some tried-and-true standards regarding the sort of hooks, plot tropes and characters they love to see in their books. My job as an author is to produce a story that fits within the Love Inspired brand, but which is also fresh and exciting—and which brings my readers back for more.

Just in case you’re ready to tie on your apron for this particular challenge—here are a few tips that you might find helpful:

  1. Start with the basic recipe. Study the guidelines and read the books. I know, I know, everybody tells you that! But the brand is very important in this category, and these elements aren’t usually negotiable. Think of it this way—whenever you cook for an important guest (and our wonderful readers are definitely our v.i.p.s!) you need to know what your parameters are. Gluten-free? Dairy-free? Organic? Diabetic-friendly? No matter how sumptuous a meal you prepare, if it doesn’t follow the requested guidelines it’s likely to be sent back to the kitchen. In one story proposal, I began with the hero already deeply in love with her heroine—who thought of him only as a friend. My editor explained that in Love Inspired, they preferred to see the love grow between the characters during the course of the story. He could be attracted to her, but his deeper feelings needed to develop over time. I changed that element and sold the book.
  2. Once you’ve got the basics down, take a good look into your own particular pantry. What spices can you mix in to make your story uniquely fresh and uniquely yours? For example, in my debut novel for Love Inspired A Family for the Farmer, I pulled on my country-girl experiences of milking a cow, being a midwife to a goat, and coping with a really opinionated goose to add some fun to my story. Sprinkle in your special touch to add a one-of-a-kind flavor to your book!
  3. And finally—be sure to pay close attention to any feedback or tips from the experts. The wonderful editors are the Julia Childs of category fiction. They know their biz inside and out, and they are dedicated to making each author’s story as delicious as it possibly can be! Emily Rodmell, an experienced editor at Love Inspired, frequently offers valuable writing tips via Twitter or Facebook. Look her up!

I’ll leave you with one last tidbit. You know what really draws me to The Great British Baking Show? The sweet camaraderie among the contestants! It warms my heart to see these folks cheering each other on, helping each other solve ticklish problems, and tearfully hugging when somebody gets sent home. They’re each dedicated to doing their individual best in the contest, but they’re equally dedicated to being supportive and helpful to their fellow bakers. I love that—and I’ve found the same type of warm-hearted fellowship among the Love Inspired authors.

If you’re interested in writing for this market, I’d strongly suggest you attend some conferences, attend the Love Inspired workshops and open house events, and meet some of these amazing writers and editors. And be sure to like and follow their professional accounts on social media and sign up for their newsletters, too! (I’d especially recommend joining the Love Inspired Authors and Readers Group on Facebook. That’s one of my favorites!) You won’t be sorry. Not only are these folks talented—they’re also just delightfully fun people!

Okay, enough talking, am I right? The oven timer is ticking, and it’s time to get to work. Grab your spoon—or pen—and start baking up a really fabulous story!

Click to tweet:  This, my friends, is similar to the ninja-skills that writing high-quality Christian category romance requires.


Laurel Blount lives on a small farm in middle Georgia with her husband, their four children, and an assortment of very spoiled animals. She divides her time between farm chores, homeschooling, and writing. She’s busy, but at least she’s never bored!
Laurel writes inspirational contemporary romance, and Hometown Hope is her third title for Harlequin’s Love Inspired. A fourth book is scheduled for publication on January 2020. She’s received a Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award for Excellence and has also finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Carol Awards. She’s represented by Jessica Alvarez of Bookends Literary Agency.
Whenever she’s not working, you can find Laurel with a cup of tea at her elbow, a cat in her lap, and a good book in her hand. Stay in touch by signing up for Laurel’s monthly newsletter at www.laurelblountbooks.com.

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.