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Publishing is War! and The Right Word vs The Almost Right Word by Michelle Levigne

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Publishing is War

When you join the military, do they send you onto the battlefield with spitballs instead of guns?

So why do people who decide to be writers slap words onto the page and never take the time to polish, proofread, fix grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, formatting, etc., before they send those words to a publisher?

Yes, I know what you're about to say: Fixing those piddling little details are what editors are for.

Umm, NO! A traditional publisher will read the first paragraph of such a sloppy "masterpiece" and reject it immediately. If not sooner. No publisher has the time and budget to make your book readable. That is YOUR job -- BEFORE you submit.

The only publishers who accept manuscripts full of grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting mistakes CHARGE YOU to fix them. I make my living as a freelance editor for people who self-publish, or publishers who contract to publish people's books for them. Books that traditional publishers won't touch because they're aimed at audiences too small to be profitable, or they are incoherent messes. Spitballs instead of rifles.

I just finished an editing job that had me tearing my hair out. Bald patches in a woman my age are very unbecoming. Thank goodness for cold weather and stocking caps ...

Why was this book so hard to edit? Each chapter was ONE continuous (run-on) sentence. The only capital letter was at the start of the chapter -- probably the word processing program did that. No periods to indicate the stop of a sentence, very few commas to indicate phrasing. Do you know how HARD it is to figure out what someone is trying to say, without punctuation to indicate phrasing and where thoughts end?

That was most of my editing -- trying to find the train of thought, where one sentence ended and another started. After I inserted punctuation, then I fixed grammar and spelling. I couldn't tell if the words/spelling were right until I knew what the author was trying to say. It was exhausting. If I managed to get 15 pages edited in a day, that was a lot. All because the author didn't use punctuation -- a simple period -- or capitalize the start of each new sentence.

Today's Lesson: Learn punctuation. Learn capitalization. Learn sentence structure. Learn spelling. The mechanics. Your weapons in the battlefield of publishing.

How do you do that? READ. READ. READ. READ. (get the picture?) Read lots of books, big books, bestsellers, classics. Pay attention to how authors put sentences together. Pay attention to how punctuation is used. Learn grammar through example.

Writing is war, and with e-publishing and self-publishing exploding, there are a whole lot more soldiers and armies you're battling for readers. You want to go out there with the most effective weapons possible -- not a bunch of spitballs.

The Right Word vs. the Almost-Right Word

Homonyms: sound-alike words. Using perspective when you mean prospective. Using their when you mean there. It's for its. Adapt for adopt.

Some people may say, "Well, it's close enough to what you mean, people can figure it out, so why does it matter to get the right word?"


To misquote Mark Twain: The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Or maybe it was fire and firefly. There was an insect there somewhere. (Wouldn't you like to know what the actual quote was? Aren't you kind of ticked that I didn't take the time to look it up to be sure? Are you learning, Grasshopper?)

If you want to be a writer, you have to get it right -- that means the details, that means the mechanics. If you don't care about the details, why should your readers care about the story you want to tell? If you have a story to tell, and you're going to spend the time getting the rest of it "right," why wouldn't you make the effort to use the right words?

If you're going to take the time to weave together the story so it makes sense, so it catches and holds the reader's attention, so the reader cares about the characters, the conflict, the danger, the goals, the tension -- why would you get sloppy when it comes to the actual words and the meanings of the words you use to tell the story?

It makes me want to pull out my hair, to read stories where the words are so badly chosen, so very wrong for what I know the writer means, that it distracts me from the story. You don't want to frustrate the reader, to the point of putting down the book and not picking it up again, do you?

So learn the difference between affect and effect -- between insure, assure and ensure -- adapt and adopt -- perspective and prospective -- their, they're, and there -- its and it's -- or, are, our, and hour -- fare and fair -- on and on. Learn what the words mean, and use them correctly!

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