[If you missed the first post in my series on self-editing, click here]
[If you missed the second post in my series on self-editing, click here]
[If you missed the third post in my series on self-editing, click here]
Here’s an unsettling statistic:
There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, depending on which stats you believe.
This includes all the lousy books that are being (usually self-)published every day. But any book with a weak foundation won’t last.
For example, so many bloggers write (and generally self-publish) books, and most of them are filled with editing and grammar mistakes. For the most part, they’re writing books for the purpose of self-promotion, to “get their name out there.” To be fair, these books are often filled with valuable information and suggestions, if you can get around the disturbing writing.
But I suspect that most of us want to write something more noteworthy, more eternal, than a blogger’s ebook (although I actually do want to write an ebook connected to this blog. More on that another time). How, then, can we vault over everyone else standing in line, waiting for their book, article, or memoir to be published – or even just read by a healthy group of serious people?
Make your work stand out
I’ve said it before: in order to be read nowadays, you have to write compellingly and your voice has to stand out from all the other voices. Whether you want to publish a book or an article in a magazine, or whether you just write for yourself and perhaps a handful of trustworthy friends, you want what you write to be readable and original.
But on the other hand, “there’s nothing new under the sun,” so how do you pull it off?
2 creative examples
Although there are a limited number of story themes, there are an unlimited number of places, characters, twists, perspectives, etc., that you can come up with. (You can see my posts on story themes here and here.) For instance, Michael Chabon has taken the “washed-up-divorced-alcoholic-homicide-detective-on-his-last-case” theme to new heights with a totally wild setting and a bit of rewritten history in his book, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Chabon is a first-rate writer, and who knew you could write a bestseller featuring Yiddish-speaking refugees in Alaska? (Heavy-duty swear word alert.)
Likewise – and on a completely different plane – is Jenny T. Colgan’s Resistance is Futile. I thought I was in for another modern version of a Harlequin Romance (nerdy girl, gorgeous cad, they fall in love and he un-cads himself), but what I read was a totally new take on a romance novel that broke all barriers and rules. There’s a bit of sci-fi and fantasy in the book, which is so completely not what I expected in a “romance novel.” And the ending will surprise you. (Swear word alert here, too.)
Nonfiction writers, you too can be creative! What angle will you be writing from? Will you be using humor? Original documents? Are you writing about something from your own perspective, or as the “omniscient narrator”? Who is your audience, and how can you write with them in mind?
Other ways to stand out
Besides putting an original spin on a basic theme, what else can you do to get noticed and read?
I repeat: Writing well (and having good grammar) also lifts you above 90 percent of writers in our time. While it’s depressing that not a lot of people care about good writing skills today, it’s good news for those of you who are reading this post!
Editors of publications and publishing houses will definitely consider your work if 1) your story idea is fresh and different, 2) you make sense, 3) you write well, and 4) you’ve gotten rid of typos, grammar mistakes, editing mishaps, and spelling faux pas.
Let’s concentrate on the “writing well” part. Here are some things to do (or not to do) in order to increase your chances of getting noticed and published.
Get rid of cliché
I heard an outstanding definition of cliché:
A phrase or opinion that is overused and betrays a lack of original thought
I want to concentrate on the last part of the definition: “betrays a lack of original thought.”
We all know not to use worn-out clichés such as “Easy come, easy go” or “All’s well that ends well.” However, even subtler phrases can be equally damaging to originality and credibility.
My uncle was a true family man, putting his wife and kids first.
There’s nothing wrong with this sentence from a grammar or style point of view, but it can describe 99 percent of all of our male relatives. This is cliché as well.
Now, don’t go yelling at me that your uncle really was a true family man. I’m sure he was. But is there any other way you can say this without sounding like everyone else writing about their uncle? Can you think of a thought-full way to describe him instead of writing an easy sentence that takes no thought to compose? How about:
The strongest memory I have of my uncle is the time he canceled a business trip in order to attend my cousin’s piano recital, and it almost cost him his job.
Here, you’ve Shown how your uncle was a family man without having resorted to the hackneyed label “family man,” while entertaining your audience with an interesting vignette from his life.
Part of the editing process involves streamlining your prose and weeding out extra words.
With regard to verbs, most superfluous ones will be the “helping” sort, not the active type. Here are a few examples:
- “How to help yourself become a better writer” vs. “How to be a better writer”
- “How to be able to be at home with your kids” vs. “Stay at home with your kids”
- “While it is certainly so that David was able to run the marathon” vs. “While certainly David could run the marathon”
- “Debbie was a lover of animals and one who adopted several puppies” vs. “Debbie loved animals and adopted several puppies”
- “I often make a promise to them” vs. “I often promise them”
- “I employed the services of a good lady’s maid” vs. “I employed a good lady’s maid”
- “What to be on the lookout for” vs. “What to look out for”
Take a look at a few paragraphs of your most recent writing project, and see if you can use one or more of the suggestions in this post to make it tighter, better, or more readable. And show me the before and after in the Comments! I can’t wait to see what you do!
The next post will conclude my series on self-editing. In the meantime, if you’re interested in being part of my self-editing beta course, please join the waiting list here. There’s no obligation to buy. Those who take the course will help shape what will be my flagship “alpha” course, which will be much more expensive.
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