Category Archives: Writing Tips

Use “Beats” to Bring Your Dialogue to Life

I’ve talked about using dialogue to bring characters to life. Today I’d like to discuss the importance of using beats.

A “beat” is a description of the physical action a character makes while speaking,and good beats can bring your characters to life and make your dialogue pop right off the page.

Beats can also help you show your readers instead of telling them. (Misuse of show, not tell is a common mistake many first-time authors make. Remember that readers don’t like to be told what to think!)

Here are three examples of the power of a good beat.

Which of the following sentences make you feel more connected to what is happening?


A) “I told you, I’m not going!” John shouted, furious.

B) John slammed his fist on the table, his nostrils flaring. “I told you, I’m not going!”

John is clearly angry. But in example A, we know this because we are told so. In example B, we know this because we are shown it.


A) “You’re really not going?” Karen said, incredulous.

B) Karen’s jaw dropped. “You’re really not going?”

Karen is incredulous, but why do we know this? Do you see the difference between A and B? In A, we’re told what to think, and in B, we’re left to decide on our own what to think.


A) “No, because I can’t be with you after what you did,” John said with disdain.

B) John slowly shook his head, still glaring at her. “No, because I can’t be with you after what you did.”

Which of these do you think better shows the reader what’s happening?

Well-placed beats make your writing richer, fuller, and better. And good writing, like good teaching, engages your readers and lets them draw their own conclusions.

This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2012 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.


Maria Murnane, best-selling author of the Waverly books, novels for anyone who has ever run into an ex looking like crap.


Use Dialogue To Bring Your Characters To Life

First-time novelists often have trouble with dialogue. A common problem is that the characters all sound the same, so the readers have a hard time telling them apart. As a result, the readers get confused, annoyed, distracted, or all of the above – none of which you want to happen.

If you want your readers to become invested in your characters, you need to bring those characters to life – and dialogue presents a wonderful opportunity to do just that! So when your characters speak, have them make an impression. Are they sarcastic? Jaded? Bitter? Happy? Sad? Pessimistic? Optimistic? Loyal? Funny? Do they use their hands a lot when they speak? Do they lower their voice when they gossip? Do they chew gum? Do they have a particular gesture or body tic that gives away what they’re feeling?

You may have heard the expression “show, don’t tell,” and this is a great example of that. Don’t tell us what the characters are like, let them show us.

Think about the people in your life who are closest to you. I’m guessing you can often tell what they’re feeling just by their body language. If you can put that level of perception into your dialogue, your readers will come to see your characters as real people, not just words on a page. And if you do this well, eventually you’ll be able to write a line and either think to yourself, “This soundsjust like something Sally Smith would say or do,” or “Sally Smith would never say or do such a thing,” in which case, delete and try again.

When the characters begin speaking to you, they begin to take on a life of their own, and the story starts to write itself. And when that happens, you’re on your way to producing a great novel.


How to Plan Your Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat

[This post was written by Beth Barany, author The Writer’s Adventure Guide: 12 Stages to Writing Your Book.]

We all want to get our writing done. A writer writes, after all. But what to do when you have a busy life, a full-time job, family, and necessary obligations like health, and oh, sleep? One way to handle getting your writing done is to set up your very own Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat. In fact, because I’m publishing my second novel soon, I go on a writing retreat just about every Friday and Saturday. You can do something similar.

Create your own stay-at-home writing retreat.

What: Typically, writing retreats involve going away, far from everyday obligations, and focusing solely on your writing. Retreats can vary in length, anything from a few days to a few months, like a summer. In this article I focus on creating your own writing retreat at home (or in your hometown).

Why: Writing retreats are great for getting away from it all. You get a chance to step aside from everyday obligations and give yourself the gift of total focus to get your writing done. If you want to can also surround yourself with other supportive folks, like teachers and/or fellow writers. In the case of your Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat, you won’t have to bother with expensive travel, the time of that expensive travel, and bed bugs.

How: here are my 6 essential tips for your very own Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat…

1. Set reasonable goals for yourself to manage your own expectations.

If you’ve never written all day, then don’t expect you’ll be able to do that on your writing retreat. If on the other hand, you’ve been able to write for 1-hour stints, then during your retreat, with no other responsibilities, you could perhaps do two to three 1-hour stints.

2. Make it fun.

Go to a location that you love, be it the local cafe, diner, restaurant, or your home office, living room, or dining table. One time my husband and I cafe-hopped down College Ave. in Oakland, and even stopped off at the Rockridge Library, and several yummy cafes.

3. Use time limits.

Set the timer to complete in chunks that feel reasonable to you. I love 20-minute timed writing sessions for journal writing or character sketches. And since I like writing in 1-hour chunks, I set the timer to write prose for an hour. I also set the timer so that I will be sure to get up and walk around, take a water fluid adjustment break, or in the case of our College Ave hop, to move to a new location.

4. Congratulate/reward yourself.

All work and no play makes Jane an unhappy girl, to riff off of a saying (“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”) In our College Ave. Writing retreat, we rewarded ourselves with a break at the chocolate cafe, Bittersweet, on College Ave.

5. Plan your Stay-at-Home Writer’s Retreat in advance so that you can rearrange your other commitments and plan for your success.

Some of the things I do to plan ahead is I set reasonable, realistic goals for myself. (See #1) So for example last weekend, I decided I’d spend at least 1 hour inputting edits. On other days, I’ve also given myself word-count goals. This helps me know when I’ve hit my goals, which is so very important, so that I can congratulate and reward myself: chocolate! (See #4)

6. Tell your accountability-partners, supporters, and fans.

When you plan to do something new, it can help to tell the important supportive people in your life what you’re planning on doing. Use your social media network to share your intention, progress, and success. Telling your supportive community helps you follow through—social pressure, and all that—but it also allows people to support you, and congratulate you, and celebrate with you. (Yep, See #4 again)

That’s my take on the essential tips for a supportive and successful Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat. What are your tips? Please chime in and share them in the comments below.


Beth Barany is a bestselling author of The Writer’s Adventure Guide, and helps authors write, publish, and market their books through her creativity coaching practice. Sign up for her free Writer’s Motivation Mini-Course at her site:


6 Reasons to Write an eBook for Your Business- Tips for the Authorpreneur

eBooks aren’t just for fans (or writers) of fiction, memoir, and history. Thousands of businesses are also discovering the value of eBooks, both as an additional revenue stream and as a powerful passive marketing tool.

Writing an eBook for your business is one of the best ways to demonstrate your expertise, build brand recognition and loyalty, boost your website’s SEO, engage with clients, and increase your prospective customer base.

“But I’m in the business of doing business,” I hear you say. “I’m no writer!”

Fear not, friends. Read on.

6 reasons why you should be using eBooks to build your business

    1. You don’t have to write an epic. eBooks can be SHORT! It’s generally not worth it for publishers to print a physical book unless it LOOKS like it’s filled with the wisdom of the ages; and that means, ya know– lots and lots of pages.

    As a result, plenty of business books and how-to books (heck, even most novels) tend to say a few things well, and then either repeat themselves or head off on wild tangents in order to fill those pages.

    But there’s no standard minimum page-count with eBooks; they can be as short or as long as you need. Pressure’s off! The point is to share relevant information in an interesting way– and if you can squeeze that unique and helpful knowledge into 10 pages, your readers will find each page all the more valuable for its brevity.

    For instance, if you’re a plumber– you could write a short eBook on DIY ways to unclog your toilet and keep the pipes clean. (The pipes in your house, I mean. For figurative pipe-cleaning advice, consult a nutritionist or doctor.)

    There is another benefit to short eBooks besides the fact that they’re potentially easier to write/create: frequency. The shorter your eBooks are, the quicker you’ll produce them; the quicker you produce them, the faster you can build up a robust eBook catalog.

    2. eBooks are inexpensive to produce and easily distributed worldwide. Unlike physical books, eBooks are very cheap to make. The biggest consideration is usually the time it takes to write the book itself.

    Then a company like E^2 Books & Co. can take your file (.doc, .txt, PDF, etc.) and convert it into an attractive eBook that will be readable on all the major devices (Amazon Kindle, Apple’s iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony Reader, Kobo, Copia, and more). Ellechor eBooks will also distribute your eBook to all the major digital book retailers and pay you 100% of your net earnings.

    eBooks don’t require fancy cover designs, but a nice cover can certainly help attract readers. If your design skills are lacking, BookBaby also offers professional and affordable eBook cover design services. The relative low-cost of producing an eBook is also a bonus in another way: you don’t have to spend money doing market research for your book.

    Once upon a time with printed books, it was wise to send out mailings to your professional peers and clients (even before you’d begun writing), telling them a few of the major ways your book could help them. The mailing would also include a self-addressed stamped postcard with a couple checkboxes to gauge interest in advance and see what your potential buyer would be willing to spend on the book.

    Then you’d do a little math and see if writing and printing the book would be worth the effort. The worst thing would be to write it, spend thousands printing the books, only to see them languish in a storage closet in your office.

    With an eBook– forget all that. There’s very little risk involved, and zero inventory concerns. Since the internet provides limitless “shelf-space,” you can leave your eBook on sale forever on the various retail sites and on your own website. If it’s not a big hit in the first month, no one is going to turn you away; you can still watch a steady trickle of sales add up over time to big earnings.

    3. Everybody wants eBooks! Over 20% of Americans own eReaders; over 20% of Americans own tablets (like the iPad or Kindle Fire); 66% of Americans between the ages of 24-35 own smartphones (iPhones, Android, etc.); and these numbers are increasing exponentially. While many European countries still lag behind the US in terms of eBook technology, they’re making the right moves to catch up. Soon enough, EVERYONE will be in the market for eBooks.

    Over the past 15 years– email, websites, and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have become ubiquitous tools for conducting and marketing your business. While business-branded eBooks probably won’t be quite as obligatory as those other tools, customers and clients will become conditioned to search for businesses, references, and testimonials not only on Google, Yelp, and YouTube, but also on, the Apple iBookstore, and other popular eBook stores.

    Why not establish your presence in the business-branded eBook market ahead of the pack?

    4. eBooks help you establish your expertise and build your brand. I don’t care what kind of business you work in; consultant, stock analyst, blogger, booking agent, art courier, railroad engineer, plumber, tinker, tailor, baker, candlestick maker, spy– you have a particular skill or knowledge that someone out there will find useful.

    If you can clearly communicate that knowledge in an eBook, your reader will trust your credibility and competency, be more likely to purchase your product, subscribe to your service, hire you for a job, or recommend you to a friend.

    But again, don’t stress about writing the definitive masterpiece on the subject– just add something valuable to the conversation.

    You’re not writing the great American novel. Instead, simply outline the information you want to share; use a confident, straightforward tone– and keep on track. If you do, your book will be useful– and if it’s useful, it’ll sell– all the while increasing brand awareness and loyalty.

    Now some of you might be asking, “Why would I want to write a book teaching people how to unclog their own toilets? Then they won’t hire me!” Well, I’m not writing this article to start a debate on the pros and cons of content marketing, BUT… I will say this: If your 10-page DIY Plumbing eBook helped someone unclog their own toilet, who do you think they’re going to call when it comes time to install a new bathroom? Yep. You!

    By providing helpful info, you’re building trust and increasing the odds of selling your big-ticket items.

    5. eBooks help you grow your prospect list. An eBook is one of the most versatile ways to gather prospective clients’ contact info.

    Consider offering your eBook for free on your website. Build a dedicated landing page on your site (for a little extra SEO power) which allows visitors to exchange their name and email address for a free download of the eBook. If you want to get really fancy, you can give them the choice of downloading an ePUB or PDF. Also be sure to include in your eBook some kind of offer or coupon code that will increase the reader’s likelihood of hiring you.

    For readers who found and purchased your eBook through a site like Amazon or iBookstore, that coupon/offer/ad will be the most obvious link back to your website. Attracting readers to your site is important because the digital book retailers do NOT provide customer contact info to authors and publishers.

    Once you’ve enticed the reader to visit your own website, they may want to download another eBook in your catalog (thus the importance of making a few different eBooks available)– at which point they’ll be prompted to provide their contact info.

    6. eBooks help you boost your website’s SEO. eBooks can also be used in tandem with a blog, further boosting your website’s SEO rankings.

    If you maintain a blog for your business, you can create a content schedule where you slowly build your eBook over a series of blog posts. No need to stress yourself out writing it all at once.

    Or, conversely, chop the finished eBook up into smaller segments that will fuel your blog over the course of several weeks or months.

    If you use the later method, be sure to link to the landing page where blog readers can download the whole eBook.

    And, of course, be sure to share the individual blog posts (as well as links to the finished eBook’s landing page) on all your social media profiles; you may just watch your eBook become one of your most powerful viral marketing tools.


Have you used an eBook to grow your business? We’d love to hear about the experience in the comments section below.


Write Now! 7 Productivity Strategies to Stay on Track

[This article was written by Janet Goldstein of]

The more important a project is to us, the harder it can be to start and continue–and take it all the way to publication. The more we care, the more we fret. 

When we attempt to take our writing to the next level with a more ambitious project such as a complete novel or nonfiction book, a change-the-world manifesto, or even essays or stories that are intellectually or emotionally more rigorous–it’s easy to get lost in the complexity of all we want to say and accomplish.

What I tell myself over and over is, Just begin!

Here are 7 strategies that can help you get–and keep–your writing sea legs and create work you’re proud of.

1. Practice Writing.

Find one pinky fingernail bit of your idea, one corner where you can sit at your screen or with a yellow pad and write out several paragraphs, pages, or a whole thread of an idea. Develop small chunks of writing. Getting even a few pages of a chapter opening, one section of a topic, or a single scene drafted can be a huge boost.

For non-fiction (including memoir) you can develop starter pages with bullet lists of information you want to fill in. For fiction you can plot out a particular bit of action that can be woven into a seamless whole over the course of writing and rewriting process.

When you make your idea concrete, it becomes easier to look at your work as a “project” and not as “you.” Believe me, just push forward.

If you’re farther along in your writing process, don’t spend all your time on the first 10, 20, or 50 pages of your project. The juiciest, most compelling, and freshest work often comes in the second half. That’s when we get to the stuff we haven’t thought through completely. There’s an urgency, creativity, and flow that sets in. So keep going if you’re at the midpoint. Okay?

2. Talk.

Find a writing partner, thought partner, friend from a class or mentor group, writing coach, editor, graduate student, or intern. You want to find someone who cares about what you’re writing–and who will care about you. Together, you can brainstorm the overall themes of your concept and/or the content of one small section at a time. You can talk your ideas out loud and record and transcribe them.

Experiment with these conversations and discover how powerful it can be in opening up your thinking, filling in the holes, and developing your voice and story-telling. Through conversations you can get below the surface of your idea while finding fresh insights and clarity.

3. Make Folders.
Develop low-tech or online tools to collect ideas, clips, quotations, resources, case examples, and inspiration. I use manila folders for each chapter or key idea of a book I’m working on. I label mine in black marker at the top right corner, on the tab, and along the fold. I have a separate folder for working outlines, too–because they get revised just like your chapters do!

With folders, you can toss in your notes, drafts, relevant older writings and blog posts, vague ideas, references you might write down during dinner with a friend, and possible anecdotes. You can “smoosh” them into a very rough working draft down the road. It gives you a running start.

4.  Plan (shhh, Structure).

Structure is a frightening, evil, deadly, restrictive, creativity-squelching enemy to many, many aspiring authors. Yet experienced writers and editors know that structure is your friend. Structure is your support, your buoy, your velvet rope, your Hansel and Gretel breadcrumb trail leading you and your reader on the journey through your ideas, story, and teaching. Call it what you will, find a way to lean into structure.

If you’re working on a book, you can think of your chapters as building blocks of ideas that are comprised of a mix of elements that move the reader through a narrative arc, or flow, from beginning, middle, to end.

Building blocks. Each chapter might consist of 3-6 key concepts including an introduction or overview and possibly some conclusion or concluding story. These are your main “chunks” or building blocks.  If you’re writing very short chapters, then each chapter is comprised of a single building block.

Elements. The chapters themselves can be made up of a range of narrative elements: expository writing, case examples, lists, side bars, quotations, interviewee excerpts, research data, storytelling, memoir (personal narrative), and so on. You might find that 3-4 of these elements form the core of your chapters. You can then look to blend in these elements as you write and revise.

Narrative Arc or Flow. A book, a chapter, a story has a beginning, middle, and end. The outline or annotated table of contents represents that through line. It’s the story of the book that moves the reader through the ideas, concepts, transformation, growth, or plot of your work. You can rehearse the arc of your book out loud (and with your thought partner). You’ll see if the ideas build on each other and if there’s a logic and compelling flow to your plan.

5. Retreat.

Whether your writing place is a special desk, a nearby coffee shop, a friend’s studio, or your bed, create sacred writing time and space to do your work. You can get into retreat mode by putting a message on your email (“I’m writing and will get back to you this afternoon, next week, or next month–ha!”). You can get into retreat mode by working at the same time and place every day. You can play a particular piece of music, develop a ritual, or simply pray in your own way.

When I froze while writing my first book (a collaboration), I literally could feel my voice stuck in my throat. I was told to imagine my throat chakra as turquoise-colored and to imagine exhaling from my throat, releasing the flow of energy. I’m sure I’m bastardizing the advice, but it became part of my writing practice and it worked.

Beyond daily writing rituals and a sense of daily retreat, writing immersions are powerful, fun, and freeing. Consider planning for a 3-day weekend of writing (without family and friends nearby), a week at an empty house or writing program, or a full, month-long retreat, especially if you have a real deadline.

6. Create Deadlines.

The most effective and powerful way to crystallize your ideas and complete a project of any scale is having a deadline. That’s one of the unsung yet major benefits of traditional book publishing. There’s a contract and a deadline and the risk that the project could be cancelled if it doesn’t get done!

Find a way to create a deadline for yourself, however small–or big. Announce a blog series or a free class, start a newsletter, apply to give a paper or doing a reading at a conference, take a class that requires sharing your work, register for a publishing workshop [] or class where you can share and promote your work. Tell someone and let accountability (and healthy fear) inspire you.

7. Understand What You’re Working Toward.

Many different publishing paths and formats can lead to immediate and longer term “success”–and there are as many definitions of success as there are authors. Understanding your goals, your genre, your audience, and why starting small (but excellently) really works, can help you take your perhaps wobbling “sea-legs” first draft all the to a publication and a launch you can be proud of.

Remember–our creative work doesn’t develop in straight line. So, push yourself. But also sit with your work, let it percolate and evolve, and grow as a writer and the CEO of your book and message.


Show, Don’t Tell

Anyone who’s ever written a short story or taken a freshman composition course has heard the words “show, don’t tell.”

I know those words can be frustrating. You might not know exactly what “show, don’t tell” means. Or you might believe that you are showing when you’re really telling.

While “telling” can be useful, even necessary, most people don’t realize how vital “showing” is to an effective story, essay, or even a blog post. Showing allows the reader to follow the author into the moment, to see and feel and experience what the author has experienced. Using the proper balance of showing and telling will make your writing more interesting and effective.

“Okay, I get it,” you’re thinking. “But how do I do it? How do I bring more ‘showing’ into my writing?”

I’m glad you asked. Here are some tips that will help make your writing more vivid and alive for your reader.

1. Use dialogue

This is probably one of the first things I talk to my students about when I have them write personal essays. Dialogue allows the reader to experience a scene as if they were there. Instead of telling the reader your mom was angry, they can hear it for themselves:

“Justin Michael,” mom bellowed, “Get in here this instant!”

Dialogue can give your reader a great deal about character, emotion and mood.

2. Use sensory language

In order for readers to fully experience what you’re writing about, they need to be able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around them. Try to use language that incorporates several senses, not just sight.

3. Be descriptive

I’m sure everyone remembers learning to use adjectives and adverbs in elementary school. When we’re told to be more descriptive, it’s easy to go back to those things that we were taught. But being descriptive is more than just inserting a string of descriptive words. It’s carefully choosing the right words and using them sparingly to convey your meaning.

The following example is from a short story I wrote.

Telling: He sits on the couch holding his guitar.

There’s nothing wrong with that sentence. It gives the reader some basic information, but it doesn’t create an image. Compare that sentence with this:

Showing: His eyes are closed, and he’s cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover. It’s as if he’s trying to hold on to something that wants to let go.

The second example takes that basic information and paints a picture with it. It also uses figurative language—in this case, the simile “cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover”—to help create an image.

When using description, it’s important not to overdo it. Otherwise, you can end up with what I call “police blotter” description. For example:

He was tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. He wore a red shirt and jeans, and a brown leather jacket.

4. Be specific, not vague

This is another one I’m constantly reminding my college students about. Frequently, they will turn in essays with vague, fuzzy language. I’m not sure if they think this type of writing sounds more academic, but all it really does is frustrate the reader.

Instead of writing, “I had never felt anything like it before in my entire life,” take the time to try and describe what that feeling was, and then decide how best to convey that feeling to the reader. Your readers will thank you for it.


The ABC’s of Plot Development

by Mark Nchol

Plot develops out of conflict, either external, such as a person or an event that precipitates a series of actions the main character undertakes, or internal, driven by the protagonist’s wants and/or needs. How that character, and others, makes choices and otherwise responds to stimuli determines the course of events.

The traditional structure of a plot is linear, in which the protagonist’s actions are charted in a more or less straight line, although many stories shift from that person’s point of view to that of one or more other characters as the tale progresses. Others involve one or more flashbacks, introducing new elements to the overarching plot.

In one sense, there are innumerable stories; looking at storytelling another way, various analysts have discovered variable finite numbers of basic plots (such as the quest, which is ubiquitous in all genres), though these types have a seemingly infinite number of variations, as a visit to any large bookstore or library will attest. But stories almost invariably follow a simple pattern, in which rising action propels the protagonist through a series of complications that result in a climax, followed by the falling action of the resolution.

At this point, the character, or at least the character’s circumstances, have changed, though most readers (and writers) find it most satisfying if the character has experienced significant growth or change and has accomplished a palpable goal, such as a physical journey that has allowed the character to achieve some reward, or an intangible goal that still satisfies the reader’s desire for the protagonist to undergo a metamorphosis of some kind.

Writer Annie Lamott created a helpful mnemonic catechism, ABCDE, to help writers remember the basics. Here are the elements:

Action: Set the scene with an event that launches the series of events that constitutes a story. This scene should happen as early as possible, and though writers renowned and obscure alike have broken this rule with some degree of success, observe it unless you have an outstanding reason not to.

Background: Context is essential to settle your readers into the story, though, as indicated above, it usually follows initiating action. Pay it out parsimoniously, however, and don’t let your reader get ahead of your protagonist, or you’ll likely release the dramatic tension prematurely.

Conflict: Such tension is produced by your protagonist’s impetus to achieve a goal. That goal should be specific, and, for the story to be compelling, it should be something the character can’t live without. To be even more so, it shouldn’t be easy for the character to satisfy that desire. The tension is produced by desire, but it is sustained by obstacles to attainment of that desire.

Development: This element constitutes the bulk of the plot; it is the journey, and all the events and incidents along the way. These happenings should bring the protagonist ever closer to resolution of the conflict, and they should steadily escalate in import and impact to heighten the suspense and keep the reader engaged in the story.

End: The final step is further subdivided into a mnemonic trio: The crisis is the stage at which the protagonist must decide how to resolve the conflict, the climax is the tipping point at which the conflict is resolved, and the consequences consist of the state of affairs that exists after the crisis and the climax — has the main character changed, or has the main character changed the world in some way? What is the outcome of all that has come before? This stage in a story, also called the denouement, is the final, necessary release of dramatic tension.


How to Hire an Editor

You’ve written a novel, or a short-story collection, that you hope to publish yourself in print or online, or perhaps you plan to send it to an agent in the hopes that an editor at a publishing company will consider it. Or perhaps you have, or work for, a business that distributes printed communications, or you’re responsible for a Web site that posts lots of written material.

You know the content isn’t ready for prime time. You need an editor. What do you do?

Determine the Type of Editing You Want

First, clarify what kind of assistance you seek. Does your content need a substantive edit, copyediting, or proofreading? Substantive editing involves intensive attention to plotting, narrative, characterization, tone, and other holistic factors for fiction, and organization, logic, and effective messaging in marketing communications or other nonfiction. If your novel has been rejected for publication or your articles (or someone else’s you’re shepherding) lack the impact they require, you should search for an editor who performs substantive editing.

If you believe the content is basically sound, but you believe it needs revision for grammar, usage, style, and punctuation, find a copy editor. If you’re concerned only about typographical errors, hire a proofreader. (But realize this: You can probably get away without a substantive edit, but content that has been proofread but not copyedited is probably substandard.)

Identify the Project’s Scope and Schedule

Next, consider the parameters of the assignment. Is the project a single book, or a series of essays to be assigned over a matter of weeks, or an ongoing collection of articles for a Web site? Whoever you hire will want to know your time frame. Do you expect the assignment to be returned in weeks, days, or hours? Will it be delivered, and is it to be returned, all at once, or piecemeal?

Payment Policy

Next, decide how you will compensate the editor. Will you pay by the hour, by the project (a flat fee), or by the page? Most editors work with an hourly rate, which is the fairest and the most effective, because it allows the editor to do their best work. You can, of course, specify a cap on how many hours the editor is allowed to bill for.

And how will you pay? By check, or money order? By PayPal, or another online service? Some editors may ask for a percentage of the total payment up front or after you receive a specified proportion of the edited material. You can ask the editor to complete a sample (paid) edit of one chapter or a single article that you evaluate before approving them to complete the assignment.

Obtain an Editor

Now, where do you find an editor? You can post physical or virtual notes in your area to solicit local teachers or English majors, but though they may be an economical choice, teachers and English majors are not necessarily good editors. The best method is to work through a self-publishing press, like EverFaith Press, that provides stand-alone editorial support, or by getting a recommendation from a successfully published author. You can also put projects up for bid on Web sites like and, but it’s a complicated process, and many editors who offer their services on the site are underqualified or are not proficient in American English or British English. (And if you lowball the rate you’re willing to pay, you’ll get what you paid for.) Employment sites such as Media Bistro are effective for finding media professionals but not so much for obtaining help with fiction projects or small-scale assignments, and posting employment listings can be pricey.

Craigslist, however, remains an excellent resource, and job postings cost only $75. (And you needn’t restrict your search to your local market.) In addition, organizations such as the Bay Area Editors’ Forum are appropriate resources for private individuals and smaller businesses and organizations seeking editorial assistance. (Again, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you or a prospective editor live.) Alternatively, many freelance editors advertise their services on their own Web sites. (Once again, geographical location is largely irrelevant.)

Consider the Costs

Substantive editing is likely to put you back $50 or more per hour, and the typical working rate is several pages per hour. Copy editors charge about $25 to $50 per hour, depending on their level of experience and expertise and on the subject matter, and they generally complete five to ten pages an hour. Proofreading costs less and is accomplished more quickly, but unless the content is online, you’ll have to mail the proofs, send them as a PDF Portable Document File (the editor will need an editing program), or have the proofreader complete the project on site or pick it up and deliver it on completion. (And remember, proofreading without copyediting is a risky shortcut.)

As you can see, hiring an editor is an expensive proposition. Engaging even a $25-per-hour copy editor for a 100,000-word novel will cost you about a thousand dollars. An experienced substantive editor could end up billing you a few hundred dollars for helping you craft a 2,500-word article for a specialized publication. Even having some Web pages proofread can easily become a three-figure expenditure.

But consider the return on investment: A literary agent is impressed with your tight, cleanly written prose. A periodical accepts your clear, concise, confident technical article. Your typo-free Web site (which your proofreader has also improved with some apt suggestions about format and design) attracts visitors, who may also become customers. It’s nearly impossible to quantify the effect of an editorial professional’s contribution to the impact of any piece of content, and in many cases, the editing you don’t notice is the best kind.

In a sense, it’s a leap of faith to hire an editor. There’s no guarantee that employing an editor (even one armed with an impressive resume or glowing testimonials) will result in publication of your content or any other definitive marker of success, and the process of obtaining an editor’s services isn’t effortless even in the best circumstances. But if you’re careful, you’ll reap the benefits of better content.


Novelist: Read the Bible!

Whatever your religious affiliation or views, if you wish to enrich your writing in English, it’s in your interest to familiarize yourself with the language of the 1611 translation known as the Authorized Version (AV) or King James Bible.

More recent translations are preferable for purposes of textual criticism, but for the lover of English, the AV belongs right next to the dictionary on the writer’s shelf of essential references. The Bible is not one book, it’s a library of different kinds of writing: poetry, history, laws, drama, and philosophy.

I don’t recommend struggling through the food laws or the “begats” (long genealogical lists), but the poetic books like Job and Song of Songs provide an inexhaustible mine of balanced phrasing and indelible imagery.

Hemingway took his title The Sun Also Rises from beautiful, world-weary Ecclesiastes:

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.

Some other writers got titles from the same place:

  • Earth Abides, by George R. Steward
  • Earth Abideth, by George Dell
  • One Generation Passes Away, Another Generation Comes, by Joyce Jones Roe

And then there’s this passage from the Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon):

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land…
Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.

NOTE: In this context the “turtle” is a turtledove.

Here are some titles that this passage seems to have inspired:

  • Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, by George Victor Martin
  • The Little Foxes, by Lillian Hellman
  • The Voice of the Turtle, by John Van Druten
  • Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
  • Among the Lilies, by Mary Adriano and Mary Bruno
  • Winter is Past, by Ruth Axtell Morren

Some readers may balk at the old -eth endings. One way to deal with them is to read them as -es verbs. Another way is to read from the Revised King James version which modernizes the grammar:

One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever.

Thanks to a multiplicity of websites equipped with great search engines, you can go directly to the stories you want to read.

A good place to begin is The Bible Gateway.

Who knows? You may find the perfect title for your next novel.


Where do you usually find inspiration for your book/novel? Let us know below!


4 Writing Tips to Capture Your Audience

The first line of your book is unquestionably the most important one you will write. It is the line that eggs the reader on, pushes them forward, encouraging them to take a chance with their valuable time on the next line, the next paragraph, the next page, chapter, and ultimately, the entire book. I’m going to say it again, more explicitly: your readers’ time is valuable. Especially readers of today.

Readers of today are constantly inundated with information, to the point that it takes a great deal of interest for them to want to know more about any given topic. Add to that an almost complete devaluing of information due to the fact that it is so immediately accessible at any place in the world. So what can you do about it?

  1. Understand the goal of the first line. The goal of the first line is to provide a strong statement. It is a pledge to the readers of your book that your book is interesting and worth their time.
  2. Go through your bookshelf and read first lines. Read examples from fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, etc. Take the time to notice the word choice; is it effective, and why? Is the line wordy, or brief and abrupt? What works? What doesn’t work?
  3. Write a list of first lines for your book. Make them vary in style and word choice. Read them yourself. Have your friends read them. Have your enemies read them. Take notice of what consistently works or draws people in. A word to the wise: be mindful of the feedback you take seriously; your coworker might be more honest than your mom, who probably likes everything you do.
  4. Always, always, always, make the second line as interesting as the first. It will make the readers read an entire paragraph! Easy, huh? Maybe not, so, for the second line, rinse and repeat and follow these same guidelines. At some point you’re going to have to keep going with writing the book, but won’t it be nice to do so with a great opener already worked out?

Note: Keep in mind that the same concepts discussed in this post can be applied to your marketing plan as well as your query letters, if you’re looking to get picked up by an agent!


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