Writing Craft

Count Your Many Phrases

We all have our pet phrases and they can inadvertently sneak their way into our manuscripts. Yesterday I came across a marvelous web site that can help you discover how often a particular phrase is repeated in your article or manuscript.

Using the Phrase Frequency Counter online, you can actually track what phrases are overused. It is also a great way to pick out those clichés that can creep into your writing.

Out of curiosity I tried the site out on the interview page on my web site. I discovered the phrase “retail potential” is used at least three times. This gave me the chance to review the piece and see if that needed adjusting.

Years ago I edited a manuscript that used the word “very” as an adjective (i.e. “the very idea” “the very book”) over and over again. After I redlined nearly all of them the author sent me a hilarious e-mail with the word “very” repeated 500 times. The author said he was getting it out of his system so I wouldn’t have to work so hard on his next book!

From what I could tell there is no limit to the size of the document you can paste into the search screen.

Let us know what phrase you overused in your work-in-progress.

HT: Shelf Awareness

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What to do about Morals?

In a post written last weekend Richard Curtis, agent extraordinaire, expressed surprise at a new morality clause that has apparently appeared in HarperCollins’ contracts. Read his post here [warning: there is some Adult content and comments included in the post].

What the general market doesn’t realize is that many Faith-based publishers have had a “moral turpitude” clause in their contracts for a long time. Moral turpitude is well defined in this post on Wikipedia. It is understood in the legal community as actions or activities that can get you fired from your job, deported if you are a foreigner in this country on a Visa, or have your contract cancelled if you are an author.

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Hints for a Great Cover Letter

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider when approaching an agent. Remember to use these as hints…do not follow them slavishly as if a literary agent is going to spend their time critiquing your cover letter.

By the way, we make a distinction between a cover letter and a query letter. A cover letter is what goes on top of a longer proposal and sample chapters. The query letter is a stand-alone letter that goes by itself to the editor/agent without a proposal or sample chapters. We happen to prefer the cover letter along with the rest of the package. Why? Because a query only shows that you can write a letter. A proposal begins the process of showing that you know how to write a book.

Address the letter to a specific person. If sending something to The Steve Laube Agency, simply address the appropriate agent. Every proposal will cross the desk of the designated agent eventually.

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Book Tour Lesson: Listen to Publisher

Melanie Benjamin, author of Alice I Have Been, reflects on book tours, in an article for the Huffington Post.  Especially the difference between the one she put together herself several years ago and the one she is currently doing with the help of her publisher.

“I’ve also learned to listen to my publisher. When a bookstore contacts me personally about an appearance, I pass the request on to my publicist. Only once did I ignore her advice and do an event anyway.

Only the janitor showed up.”

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Lawsuit over Hyperlink?

In Canada a man is suing another person for linking to allegedly damaging web content on a web site (the suit is currently before the Canadian Supreme Court).  A big “thank you” to Mac Slolcum for writing about this issue last week. In his article Mac asks the pertinent question, “Is a link on your web site equivalent to an endorsement of that content?” Think about it for a second. If you click the “Like” button on Facebook aren’t you telling your “friends” that you endorse that product, idea, video, or web site? What about when you re-tweet someone’s comments and then link to their site (like I hope you do with my blog posts!

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All About E

This was the year of the E word. “E-Books.” The topic replaced the other “e” word…the Economy…as the number one topic among authors, editors, publishers and agents. And the news media reported every nuance with breathless excitement. The iPad, the iPhone4,  the Droid, the avalanche of tablets, the Kindle, the Nook, and a deluge of e-reading devices, all commanded our time and attention.

But the story is not over. In fact 2011 promises to continue this conversation as our industry writhes in chronic pain from its various twists and turns.

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E-Book Buyers Buy More Books

New research by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) has made some interesting discoveries.

E-book consumers say they are buying more books overall, but fewer in print, and are decreasing their total dollars spent More than 40% of e-book readers have reduced the number and dollars spent on hardcovers and paperbacks. Retailers are becoming more important than publishers as a source of information about e-books. General fiction and mysteries are the fastest-growing e-book genres. More respondents received e-readers as gifts than bought them for themselves.
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Art of War for Writers

Periodically I plan to recommend a title or two for you to read. I’ve always enjoyed this form of “word-of-mouth” marketing, thus I will “pay it forward.” 🙂

Yesterday afternoon I received James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers: fiction writing strategies, tactics, and exercises (published by Writer’s Digest Books). With interest I took the book home and devoured it. Not literally of course, as I’m not sure what the pages would have tasted like with extra cheese. But I could not keep from turning the pages with delight.

James Scott Bell has done an immeasurable service to writers everywhere. This little book is chock full of sage advice. Loosely based on the ancient classic The Art of War he consistently nudges the reader with nuggets of wisdom that are hard to assail.

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The Wave of Digital Creativity in Books

I went to high school in Hawaii (I know.. a rough life) where I learned the joys and perils of body surfing. That experience is a great metaphor for the new “waves” of digital revolution we are seeing in the publishing world.

The key to great body surfing is waiting for the right wave and then time your push just right. The ride is exhilarating (I still remember riding inside the tube of a perfect wave off the beaches of Kauai). BUT if you catch the wrong wave or mistime the push, there is no ride. Or worse, catch a wave that throws you wildly into a bunch of rocks…

But unless you are in the water and making attempt after attempt you will never achieve the perfect ride.

I see this metaphor applied to the new world of digital publishing. It is really fun to play a small part, but even more fun to watch others be extremely creative in their experiments. There are some very bright and exciting people trying new things in merging the traditional book with all things “interactive.”

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ICRS / CBA Bookseller’s Convention

Today is the official opening of the convention in Denver. This year will be my 28th consecutive ICRS (International Christian Retail Show) or CBA as we veterans still call it (Christian Booksellers Association Convention). I absolutely love the experience. I’ve attended as a retailer, as an exhibitor, and now as an “industry professional.” I find it amusing that each name badge is color-coded to help exhibitors know whether the person in their booth is a bookseller (and thereby a potential customer) or a browser, like me. What makes it particularly fun is that the “agent” color is black….the color of an agent’s soul.

PRO: There is nothing like the experience of walking the floor of the world’s largest Christian bookstore. Everything is there, the good, the bad, and the outrageous (like the balloon art crucifix or the painting of a junkie shooting heroin into the arm of Jesus). The spirit is electric. It can be overwhelming, but ultimately it is a picture of God at work. As a writer you can meet key people, network with fellow writers, collect catalogs (those that aren’t digital), and simply increase knowledge of what the industry is all about.

CON: Unrealized expectations. Too many writers think the convention should be all about them. It isn’t. Disappointment is palatable with some folks at the end of the experience. Their publisher didn’t pay enough attention to them; not enough people came to their signing; no editor was available for an appointment…etc. Go to the convention with modest expectations and the chance of disappointment with be minimized.

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