Monday, September 12, 2011

Word Count Limit Got You Down? Try These 6 Editing Tricks



Most of the time, I love being a writer. The brainstorming…the research…that moment when all those random phrases and concepts zinging around my head suddenly settle down and start flowing like a river of hot chocolate. Mmm….

 But you know what I also like?  Editing.  I know that many writers don’t like to edit (and I agree that it’s hard to “kill your darlings,” as Papa Hemmingway says we must) but I find it strangely satisfying, especially if I’m editing to adhere to a word count limit.   It’s like a game:  how tight can I make this story without losing any of its original character or elements?  

One of my proudest moments at this game was when I submitted a 400-word FOB article that had 5 major points (complete with three quotes from different experts), and the editor said – looks great, but can you make it 300 words?  Yikes!  But I did it. I nibbled away 100 words from an already-super tight article without slashing any of the points or deleting my quotes. Really, it’s kinda fun. 
If you’re a writer who dreads whittling away at your beautiful prose for the sake of to satisfy some editorial limit, here are a couple of few tricks that might to make it a bit easier.  


1.       Eliminate prepositions.  Okay, I sound really nerdy - but it thrills me to slash teeny, tiny words such as “of” “in” or “at” from my writing.  It’s like cutting fat from a good piece of meat.   Plus, since prepositions are everywhere, cutting them is an easy way of getting closer to your word count goal. 

Examples: 

Were you the victim of a car rental scam?
Were you a car rental scam victim?

After her husband left, she preferred to stay at home.
After her husband left, she preferred to stay home.

The wildfires in Texas cost the government billions.
The Texas wildfires cost the government billions.


2.       Eliminate “that.”  Most of the time, the word “that” can be deleted from your writing without  impairing the sentence’s meaning. Even though it’s only a single word, you’ll be surprised by often you use it – and how getting rid of it tightens and shortens your piece.  

Examples

I think that his wealth made a difference to the jury.
I think his wealth made a difference to the jury.

Being stuck with a bill for damage that you didn’t cause is a nightmare.
Being stuck with a bill for damage you didn’t cause is a nightmare.

3.       Avoid “helping verbs.”   The primary helping verbs are “be” “do” and “have.”  It’s so common to use them in speech that we insert them into our writing without thinking about it.


Examples:  

First, you have to create an account. 
First, create an account.

The customer is always trying to get a discount.
The customer always tries to get a discount.     

The report was prepared by top scientists.
Top scientists prepared the report. **

** A writing bonus! Eliminating the helping verb also forces you to write actively, not passively!

4.       Eliminate redundancies and unnecessary words.  Don’t repeat things needlessly. ‘Nuff said?

Examples:

He knelt down beside the sobbing child.
He knelt beside the sobbing child.

She couldn’t decide whether or not visit him.
She couldn’t decide whether to visit him.

Top with parmesan cheese.
Top with parmesan.

When shopping at a flea market, look for bargain prices.
When shopping at a flea market, look for bargains. 

5.       Ditch most adjectives and adverbs.  We all know this one (well, we should) but it’s hard to obey.  Some adjectives and adverbs are just so pretty. But it’s true that using a good strong verb in place of an adjective or adverb makes for much tighter writing.  And chances are, when you re-word, you can get rid of a preposition or two as well.

Examples: 

She looked extremely beautiful in that red dress.
She rocked that red dress.

The storm totally ruined our garden.
The storm devastated our garden.

6.       Use contractions.  This one might be difficult for those of you who had teachers like I had, who believed that contractions were for drunks, babies, and uneducated good-for-nothings.  But these days, using contractions in most forms of writing isn’t a sin.  Just look at the style of the publication you’re writing for – if the tone is easy-going or informal, go for it.  You can cut dozens of words this way.

Example: I wouldn’t think you need an example here, but you never know.

What tricks do you use to shorten your writing?   

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Where to Self-Publish Your Book: A Round-Up


As my book-in-progress inches closer to completion, I’m beginning to examine how I’m going to get the darn thing published. I’ve already decided that I want to go the self-publishing route, for reasons I’ve explained here. But whenever I started researching the various self-publishing services, I always ended up rocking back and forth in bed screwing my fists in my eyes, muttering too many, too many, too many.

But one must be brave. So, I turned to my writer’s group at LinkedIn, asking more experienced members to recommend good self-publishing services. The response was awesome. Though I haven’t quite decided which service I’ll go with, I think I’ve got the top options in hand and can make a good, informed decision when the time comes.

To help you narrow down your list, here’s a round-up of the "best" self-publishing services, according the International Writers group at LinkedIn. Of course, not everyone will be satisfied with every service, but this list provides a good starting point to find the right match for you.

(If you’ve had good experiences with others self-publishing services, please add your own in the comments!)

Booklocker.com
CreateSpace.com
Publicious.com
Lulu.com
SmashWords.com

Now, if you’ve been looking into self-publishing, there’s no doubt you’ve come across the name “AuthorHouse.” It’s one of considered the largest of the "big three" of self-publishing (the others being iUniverse and Xlibris, all three of whom have the same owner). Several members of the LinkedIn group were fiercely negative about their experiences with this service. Further research revealed a computer-crashing amount of negative opinions, not to mention some truly alarming reports. Complaints primarily centered around the company’s lack of integrity, inflated prices, control over the cover design, and a workmanship so shoddy that it almost seems intentional.

You might want to steer clear of that one.