About April Michelle Davis

Founded in 2001 by April Michelle Davis, Editorial Inspirations provides exceptional editing, indexing, and proofreading services to both publishers and authors. Each task is approached with a greater understanding of the various aspects of the publishing process. The intent of the author and the publisher is always kept in mind—from the first word to well beyond the end.

About Getting Older

Inspired by a colleague’s request to write about birthdays, I came up with a few thoughts. Here I am in my 60s, and not quite sure what it means—but not worried about it.

Supposedly I’m old—but I don’t feel old. Of course, it helps that I seem to still be mentally intact and involved, can still look after myself, and continue to be able to do the work I love. I think it also helps that I have a marvelous network of long-time friends who keep me feeling young. I think that is because we keep our wacky childhood and high school memories so fresh by staying close and seeing, or at least communicating with, each other fairly often.

Even if I did feel old, why would that be a bad thing? I’ve survived more than just the passing of the years. I survived a wide range of crises over those years, and that’s something to be proud of. It’s why I don’t let myself be pressured into coloring my hair when I go to the salon for haircuts (well, other than a splash of purple!): I earned every gray or white hair and see no need to cover them up.

I know how I got here: born, raised, lived; still living. That’s a good thing. As my mom used to say whenever someone complained about the infelicities and challenges of increasing age, “Consider the alternative.”

Some aspects of all these birthdays are a nuisance—my knees and hips have started to creak a bit and make it difficult to get up from a chair or the bed, and to negotiate stairs, but . . . consider the alternative.

Getting older does mean dealing with loss. Both of my parents have died, and I miss them constantly, but . . . I had my dad in my life for more than 40 years and my mom for 60; that’s a lot longer than many friends can claim, and those were all wonderful, loving, supportive, fun years—also more and better than many people experience. And it’s natural for parents to go before their children. When life takes the opposite direction, it’s unimaginable.

My beloved husband, who was 12 years older than me, died last year and I miss him every moment of every day, but . . . we had 30 delightful years together, which is—again—more than many people get from their relationships and marriages. He was a tough guy (a retired steelworker; my man of steel!) who accepted the limits of aging with surprising grace; rather than complain (“Consider the alternative!”) or give up. He focused on what he still could do. His attitude toward birthdays, aging, and increasing fragility was admirable: “I can’t do what I used to, but I’ll find a way to do as much as possible. If I can’t walk on my own, I’ll use a walker so I can still get around and go places. If I can’t carry all my cameras, lenses, and gear, I’ll switch to digital. If I have health issues, I’ll reconfigure my favorite recipes so I can still enjoy some of the things I love to eat. . . .”

Being “old” has its advantages. I qualify for Medicare, so I save a bundle on medical insurance, and can start getting my Social Security benefits whenever I’m ready to stop working (if that ever happens; I do find retirement hard to envision, but that’s because I enjoy what I do, and not—mainly thanks to my financial genius of a mom—because I have to keep working). And I get a kick out of senior discounts, even though I don’t see myself as “senior.” My recollection, although my brothers disagree, is that my dad loved using his 60-plus discounts; he said he deserved them, and I concur.

I see every birthday as a type of new year, so I have more than January 1 as a moment to reflect, refresh, and sometimes revamp. A birthday is an opportunity to celebrate still being here and to think about what new things I might do to stay as sharp, engaged, and active as possible, both physically and mentally; socially and professionally; intellectually and maybe even emotionally. This year, I decided that my birthday presents to myself would to be more creative and expand my interests beyond activities related to my work life. I’ve started playing around with painting and glasswork—neither of which I do very well (yet), but who knows where these might go!—and am looking into going back to a long-ago hobby of ceramics.

These projects are birthday gifts to myself that I think will take me into increasing age with increasing creativity and continuing mental and physical agility, a sense of joy and achievement, and appreciation for survival on many levels. They are my ways of fulfilling the concept of “I’m not (just) getting older; I’m getting better.” I am trying to embrace getting older and having more birthdays. After all, “consider the alternative.”

Here’s to happy birthdays for all of us, and graceful, grateful perspectives on getting older!

 

Ruth Thaler-Carter has been a full-time freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and desktop publisher for more than 30 years. She has been published locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally in, and does editing and proofreading for, publications, websites, service firms, and businesses. She sold her first freelance articles when she was still in high school. Renowned as a skilled networker, Ruth is a newsletter editor, publication author, speaker/presenter, blogger, program host or planner, and chapter leader. In 2006, Ruth launched the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® annual conference to help aspiring and established freelancers find greater success and connections with colleagues. Ruth received the Philip M. Stern Award of Washington (DC) Independent Writers for service to freelancers; the Writers and Books Big Pencil Award for teaching adults and contributions to the literary community; EFfie awards for writing, editing, and newsletters; and the APEX award for feature writing. Ruth was also the IABC/DC Communicator of the Year.

 

Crafting a Knockout Headline

Journalists used to be the only ones who had to write headlines. Now business owners are their own bloggers, reporters, and social media managers. Copywriters are crafting webpage headlines, subheadlines, and even email subject lines. It seems like everyone who is either a writer or in the business marketing field needs to know how to write a good headline of some sort . . . even if it’s not a traditional news headline.

I cultivated some experience in headline writing when I was a copy editor for Gannett. I thought I would only be editing stories, but it turned out half my job was creating headlines–and doing it so they’d fit in tight spaces. You learn a lot of really short words when you’re short on space. (Who knew back then that I’d be doing the same thing on Twitter 10 years later, strategizing on which words to cram in headline advertising articles I’d written for other news publications?)

Looking to pen an attention-getting headline that lures readers in and sums up what an article has to say? Here are a few tips.

Determine what word must go in. In news, it’s imperative to have certain words from your story in the headline. If I am writing an article for a health publication about a new cancer drug, I definitely want to get “cancer” in there, if not “new” and “drug” too. In more evergreen content, I may be able to add more phrases, but I still want to know which words must go in. What individual words do you think have to go in the headline so your reader gets the gist of the article? Do you need action words to make the reader take action? Keep this in mind as you identify those “must-add” words.

Know your audience and the medium. Space doesn’t matter as much if you’re on LinkedIn, but it can if you’re working in a print publication or say, for an email newsletter article. Again, if you’re writing for a newspaper, you want to get a few certain key words in the headline so the reader has an idea of what the story is about. Also, you may want a more lax, attention-grabbing headline if the headline is not for a news outlet and is instead a social media post promoting a headline. In news, it’s more of sticking to a few words that sum up the article instead of getting a reader to click on it, though you likely want them to read on for more information. News readers want to be able to skim a headline and get the gist of the development. On the flip side, in copywriting, a headline can give a summary but also be used to engage the reader to take action or read the entire article. Look at past articles or content to get a feel for the tone.

When I’m writing about that cancer drug in news, my headline may be “New Cancer Drug Extends Life,” while an email or social media headline may be “The Cancer Drug That Could Help You Live Longer.” Big difference!

Add action. Depending on where your headline will appear, it’s important to add action. News readers want to know what the news is, while an email subject line (it kind of counts as a headline) will want to drive the user to open the message and convey what they’ll get if they do.

Think phrasing. I love what this article has to say about the phrases we can choose, as certain ones can be more effective for different mediums. Keep in mind that “will make you” and “this is why” may work awesome in an email subject line–but not so great for a news headline. If you’ve got more room, flexibility or the ability to add in a subhead, that’s where a good phrase can come in handy. Otherwise, I stick to identifying the must-feature words and building a headline around those words.

 

Kristen Fischer is a copywriter and journalist living at the Jersey Shore. She worked as a reporter and copyeditor for Gannett before launching her full-time freelance business in 2005. Her work has been published in ParentsNew Jersey MonthlyPreventionWoman’s DaySheKnows, and Healthline.

Kids, Summer, and Writing

It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy, but some of our kids might want to make use of the vacation months to do some writing. While summer is traditionally a time when many kids are encouraged to read a lot, writing is also something they might enjoy doing for fun and as a way to fill the dog days of the season.

I’ve never forgotten the first publications I created, back in my high school days: a literary magazine I put together with friends after being turned down for the official school version, and a “yearbook” for a summer leadership program I was in one summer. I still have copies of both (and I still remember the smell of the ink from the A.B. Dick mimeograph machine). Today’s kids are probably a lot more sophisticated than I was when it comes to producing versions of their own writing; you might be pleasantly surprised at both the content and the look of what they come up with.

In many communities, finding writing opportunities for kids might be easier than you think. In my hometown of Rochester, New York, the Writers and Books literary center has a Summer Write program for youngsters. I’m sure many other communities have similar programs, so if your kids want to write the summer away, a first step would be to look for a local or regional writers’ or literary center to see if it hosts anything along these lines.

If that doesn’t work, look into your area high school continuing education programs; library system; bookstores—both chain and independent—and book clubs; museums—especially children’s museums—and art galleries; newspapers (there’s a national Newspapers in the Classroom program that might work with you on this kind of project); colleges and universities; or various not-for-profit organizations—the local YMCA/YWCA, JCC, etc.

And of course, if your town doesn’t have such resources, consider being the innovator and starting a kids’ summer writing project yourself. It can be as small as you and your own children; it could be a neighborhood project; it could even become city-wide. And your successful summer program could become a year-round activity.

If you do get involved in such a project, be prepared to help kids come up with ideas to write about. Encourage them to be creative with fiction, poetry, graphic novels, even playwriting! Put the focus on writing not how it is written, especially if they’re very young. Ask them to share what they write, but be prepared for some children to be shy about showing their work. Also be mindful just in case anything evolves that suggests someone needs help with challenges such as bullying or abuse.

It’s never too soon to encourage children to express themselves in writing.

 

Ruth Thaler-Carter has been a full-time freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and desktop publisher for more than 30 years. She has been published locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally in, and does editing and proofreading for, publications, websites, service firms, and businesses. She sold her first freelance articles when she was still in high school. Renowned as a skilled networker, Ruth is a newsletter editor, publication author, speaker/presenter, blogger, program host or planner, and chapter leader. In 2006, Ruth launched the Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® annual conference to help aspiring and established freelancers find greater success and connections with colleagues. Ruth received the Philip M. Stern Award of Washington (DC) Independent Writers for service to freelancers; the Writers and Books Big Pencil Award for teaching adults and contributions to the literary community; EFfie awards for writing, editing, and newsletters; and the APEX award for feature writing. Ruth was also the IABC/DC Communicator of the Year.

 

What Is Ghostwriting?

A lot of people think ghostwriting means conducting research, writing blogs/papers/books, and putting someone else’s name on the work.

Yes, some people do that. We call it old-school ghostwriting, the kind that fell out of favor with a resounding thud in the early 2000s as far as medical-journal articles and scholarly books were concerned. Quite a few blog and business ghosts still operate that way. So do some journalists and freelance writers who “troll for dollars,” as one of my students used to say, to cover their rent. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Writing may not be as lonely as it was once portrayed, but it’s still one of the more poorly paid artistic endeavors.

Others believe ghostwriting is about using an author’s ideas to create a book in the writer’s own polished voice and style. They expect “with” or “and” or “as told to” bylines, secondary copyright credit, and 50% or more of the book’s earnings. Even less, if they’re insecure about their abilities or the author captures the one-up position at the get-go. More if they’re the one who captures that one-up position at the beginning of the relationship. Beginnings are important.

Legally and literarily, though, those writers are perceived by industry insiders as co-authors or collaborators rather than ghostwriters. As emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and financially invested in the project as the author, they have a heck of a time maintaining a sense of objectivity—and typically have to jockey for authority throughout the project.

That’s not ghostwriting. Those types of collaborations, in fact, often result in dashed dreams, broken friendships, and estranged colleagues . . . but happy attorneys.

Ghostwriting is much cleaner. You may not realize it, but ghostwriting has been around since the beginning of the written word. It’s a fairly modern conceit that authors toiled over their works of art alone, shut up with nothing but their imagination, a sheaf of paper, and a fountain pen. The truth is that throughout most of human existence, the person with the ideas was not necessarily—in fact, seldom—the one who transferred those ideas onto a sustainable medium.

Think about it: just about every religion holds that their scripture was handed down or inspired by God, but logic dictates that a human hand etched those inspired words onto clay, stone, wood, or papyrus. Otherwise, they would all not only pretty much say the same thing (which they do) but they’d be worded the same way (which they’re not).

And it’s been the same for leaders, politicians, and people of rank and importance ever since. The person with the ideas dictates their thoughts to someone who preserves them in written form.

That might make you think ghostwriting is just an advanced form of editing. Sure, ghostwriters edit, but not until the tail-end of the seven-step nonfiction or eight-step fiction process.

So, what is ghostwriting as we approach the third decade of the 21st century?

A conduit.

Today’s professional ghostwriting comprises everything traditional publishers used to do for all their signed writers and still do for their big-ticket authors: Structure, focus, and market positioning. Content alignment with reader expectation and supply-chain requirements. Tight, musical editing. Author preparation for strategic promotion and greatest ROI on all levels of investment.

But writers have no end of great ideas that traditional houses cannot invest in because publishing, after all, is a risk-management business.

Ghostwriting not only means making literary dreams come true, it means transforming first drafts (“my baby!”) into publishable manuscripts. Ghostwriting is about elevating good ideas and great books into marketable literary properties.

That’s what ghostwriting is.

 

Claudia Suzanne is a consummate ghostwriter/teacher, understanding what authors need in order to successfully complete their book dream, and she has a finely honed talent for communicating what she knows to her students and clients. Popularly dubbed “The Einstein of Ghostwriting,” Claudia has entertained and informed tens of thousands of writers, editors, journalists, and aspiring authors at countless writer and professional meetings, conferences, radio and BlogTalk radio broadcasts, webinars, and podcasts. Claudia was an invited expert on Penguin’s Author Solutions Expert Video series and a featured entrepreneur in Orange County Business Journal and Norwegian Business Daily. Her signature title, This Business of Books: A Complete Overview of the Industry from Concept through Sales, earned her a 2018 Author of Influence Award from Connected Women of Influence.

 

Some Issues with Contracts

The better a professional writer you become, the bigger and more important will be the contracts people ask you to sign.

But tempting as those financial figures may be (with all those zeroes to the left of the decimal point), you’ll be foolish to sign without applying a little professional savvy to your contract evaluation process.

Here are some fundamental tips to guide you in contract evaluation:

  1. “Sign This”

My most important contract advice derives from my very first book deal: I remember sitting in the publisher’s office and chatting amiably about how great was my book concept and how much money we were going to make.

Eventually, the conversation wound down and the publisher looked me square in the eyes. He reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a sheaf of papers. “This is our standard contract,” he said with a warm, friendly smile. “Sign it.”

Instead, I started looking through the pages. Here was something I didn’t like. There was another questionable arrangement. After a few minutes of flipping pages and deconstructing legalese, I looked up and said: “There are some things in this contract I don’t like.”

Without missing a beat, the publisher reached into a different drawer of his desk and said with no trace of embarrassment: “This is our other standard contract. Sign this one.”

  1. Watch Out for Claims

This warning may be just as important as the previous item: Most contracts for professional writing come with conventional language warning the writer not to plagiarize, infringe on any rights, defame, or violate any one of a great many laws governing creative work. They follow these injunctions with language in which you agree to indemnify and hold harmless (basically “reimburse”) the publisher for any liabilities arising from your breach of any of those laws and injunctions. So far, so good.

But the lawyers like to sneak another word in here that threatens your entire economic wellbeing. I’m talking about the word “claims”. Basically, most contracts require that you reimburse the publisher for payments made in response to claims that you breached one or more of those laws and injunctions.

Do you see the danger here?

Once you sign such a contract, anyone can make a claim that you violated certain rights, plagiarized, defamed, or did any of a number of bad things, and the publisher doesn’t have to be concerned about whether or not you actually did it. Under the contract, the publisher can simply pay the claimant to go away – and make this payment entirely with your money!

This actually happened to me, once, and I learned my lesson. I have never since signed a contract making me liable to pay for unsupported claims. Instead, I insist on language to the effect that I must reimburse the publisher only for claims “proven in a court of competent jurisdiction.”

Such language is no problem for me because I never plagiarize, defame, or do any of those other bad things.

Once or twice a publisher has been too bureaucratic or hidebound to accept my request for this new language, and so I wasn’t able to make those deals. But I have no regrets; the danger is too large and too real to put myself on the hook for that kind of scam, no matter how lucrative the contract might appear to be.

  1. Obligations of the publisher

Contracts generally bind all parties to both rights and obligations. When looking them over, it’s easy and natural – and sensible – to devote most of your attention to your rights and your obligations. But it’s more professional to take a few minutes to consider the publisher’s rights and obligations, too.

For example, I once negotiated a book contract that gave me a wonderful share of revenues from the hardcover version, and less revenue from the paperback version. I signed it. But I didn’t realize until later that the contract did not obligate the publisher to bring out that hardcover edition. Years later, I’m still waiting to see that book in hardcover.

I have to admit I’ve made this kind of mistake twice, not just once. But you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t be making it a third time.

  1. Play “What If”

Contracts tend to be written by people who are seemingly paid by the word. They rarely use one word when ten will do. As a result, contract language often gets very confusing and the whole point of what’s required can get lost.

That’s why it’s useful to play “what if” to an extreme, just to see what results from the language of the contract you’re preparing to sign.

Try some of these “what if” ideas, and any more that may appeal to you. What if:

  • The publisher goes out of business
  • The work sells millions of copies
  • The work sells almost no copies
  • You can’t complete the work on time
  • The publisher never publishes the work
  • Someone plagiarizes your work
  • Someone claims you plagiarized their work

The more extreme and wide-ranging the “what if” scenarios you test, the more clarity you’re likely to get regarding the contract.

  1. NDA Hijinks

Non-disclosure agreements are increasingly common not only in contracts, but in stand-alone form that someone wants you to sign before you can even begin to learn about a project in which you might want to participate.

But the language here can get very tricky. One potential client asked me to sign a non-disclosure agreement that was so strict I discovered – by playing “what if” – that if I signed it I would be forbidden from revealing my own name!

Maybe these kinds of provisions wouldn’t hold up in court, but it’s easier, cheaper, and more practical not to sign such a sketchy contract in the first place.

Robert Moskowitz is an award-winning independent professional writer who has written and sold millions of words in just about every format over five decades. He instinctively sees the big pictures, breaks each one down into coherent slices, meaningfully prioritizes and sequences those slices, and then executes the tasks inherent in each slice in very productive ways. Put more simply, Robert knows how to succeed as an independent writer, covering all the bases from soliciting assignments to delivering polished work, from pricing jobs to budgeting and managing personal finances, from organizing a conducive office environment to establishing and following sensible guidelines regarding life, work, and productivity. Having done all this, and having paid attention to how he did it, Robert is now in a position to pass along what he knows to others.

The Rules of the Game

For all the glib chatter one encounters about the “rules” of English grammar and usage, many people misunderstand what the rules are and how they work, and others prate about rules that aren’t rules at all.

English grammar and usage are crowdsourced; they are what we English speakers and writers collectively make them over time. They have not been handed down by some celestial Authority, and they are not logical.

I’ll quote H.L. Mencken from The American Language: “The error of . . . viewers with alarm is in assuming that there is enough magic in pedagogy to teach ‘correct’ English to the plain people. There is, in fact, too little; even the fearsome abracadabra of Teachers College, Columbia, will never suffice for the purpose. The plain people will always make their own language, and the best that grammarians can do is to follow after it, haltingly, and often without much insight. Their lives would be more comfortable if they ceased to repine over it, and instead gave it some hard study. It is very amusing, and not a little instructive.”

To establish more clearly what is a rule and what is not, I have assembled these categories.

Dark grammar: Unless you are learning English as a second language as an adult, there is a whole network of subterranean rules of grammar that most native speakers never think about. You didn’t need a class to teach you that the typical English word order is subject–verb–object; you picked it up when you were a toddler. The same with the order of adjectives. You would never say, “I love that European old antique big bookcase,” but “I love that big old European antique bookcase.”

Explicit rules: There are many of them, particularly in formal English, but they are often complex, with many exceptions and variations. Try to explain subject–verb agreement to a non-native speaker, making clear how “Ham and eggs are my favorite breakfast combination” and “Ham and eggs does not constitute a healthy breakfast” are both grammatically acceptable.

Conventions: Writers in the eighteenth century regularly inserted a comma between the subject and verb in a sentence. We don’t any longer. English orthography is a swamp of maddening conventions. And they, too, are subject to change; we no longer write to-day and to-morrow.

Superstitions: The things Arnold Zwicky calls “zombie rules”—no prepositions at the end of sentences, no split infinitives, none always a singular—have been exploded and rejected, not only by the descriptivist tribe, but by a multitude of prescriptivists. And yet, given a ghastly immortality by generations of defective schoolroom pedagogy, they persist against all reason and explanation.

Shibboleths: There are many usages that are not wrong but which people seeking advantage over their fellows preen themselves on avoiding. Ain’t, I suppose, is the classic example, hopefully a comparatively recent addition—though the peevers maintain a vast and ever-increasing store. Innocuous in themselves, these words and usages serve mainly to mark the people we like to feel superior to. (Terminal preposition there. See previous category.)

House style: These are the narrow conventions that individual publications or publishing houses insist on. They are very specific for legal, medical, scientific, and technical publications. And, of course, there are sad souls on copy desks who think that the Associated Press Stylebook belongs on the shelf with the statutes of Hammurabi and Justinian. They all present arbitrary choices and conventions. Follow them when appropriate, but stop short of idolatry.

Individual aesthetic preferences: Everyone has them, and tinpot authorities—managing editors, self-appointed Guardians of the Language, that ilk—love to impose them on the weak and unwary. You are entitled to your own preferences. What you are not entitled to do is to enforce them on others.

 

John Early McIntyre has been a professional editor for nearly 40 years, more than 31 of them at The Baltimore Sun, where he has headed the copy desk. John earned an undergraduate degree in English from Michigan State University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and a master’s degree in English from Syracuse University, where he was a university fellow. John has taught copyediting at Loyola University Maryland since 1995. A charter member of the ACES: The Society for Editing, he served two terms as its president. John has presented workshops on writing and editing at conferences and publications in the United States and Canada.

Big Changes to AP Stylebook Come From Two Tiny Bits of Punctuation: % and –

Two punctuation marks account for the biggest changes to the Associated Press Stylebook this year. The tiny hyphen (-) is being removed from many places where it was once used, and %—the percent symbol—is coming into its own.

The AP Stylebook goes through a big update every spring with the release of a new print version. The marketing for the new book always speaks of “more than 200 new and modified entries,” but only a few changes tend to stand out in a given year: lowercasing the “i” in “internet” (2016), removing the hyphen from “email” (2011), and the acceptance of “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun in certain cases (2017).

This year is an exception—many changes stand out—with the May 29 release of the 2019 edition.

Editors now must decide whether and how quickly to implement these changes. Every publication is different, with its own style quirks. Even though the AP Stylebook is the main style guide for much of the news business and those in the fields of marketing, public relations, and corporate communication, it only strictly applies to those who write and edit for the Associated Press. Others are free to embrace whatever portions of the book they prefer.

Many said no way when AP did away with state abbreviations in copy (2014), for example. (The thinking is that state abbreviations such as Mich., Ala., Fla. are not easily recognizable to an international audience—or often a domestic audience.)

The biggest annual AP Stylebook changes are traditionally announced at the annual conference of ACES: The Society for Editing. This year’s conference took place in Providence, Rhode Island, at the end of March, and a roomful of editors gasped, groaned, and cheered their way through a presentation by Stylebook lead editor Paula Froke.

 

The wow moment

ACES, also known as the American Copy Editors Society, started out as an organization of news journalists, and its conference attracts many editors who rely on AP Style. The Associated Press has been a guest at this conference for years. I was there in the front row, waiting for this year’s “wow.” There were several, but one in particular brought an audible gasp.

The new book’s guidance says: “Use the % sign when paired with a numeral, with no space, in most cases.” An exception is in casual use, such as “a zero percent chance.”

The use of the percent symbol is probably the biggest change, but there are many important changes in how we use hyphens—they are removed from ethnic American designations such as Asian American, removed from many compound modifiers, and removed from prefixes that form a double “e.” The book also adds guidance on when to call a racist act racist—one item in new umbrella category of race-related coverage. Other notable changes: data usually takes a singular verb, accent marks are now OK in names if that’s the person’s preference, the parenthetical “sic” should be avoided, and there is no rule (really) against split infinitives.

The 2019 edition publishes May 29.

Here is an article on the changes from the ACES conference. The AP Style Blog also has a short summary.  And Merrill Perlman took a good look at the AP Stylebook changes, starting with this column on AP’s focus on terms and news coverage having to do with race and racism.
Mark Allen is an editor, writer, and teacher focused on helping people communicate with clarity and honesty. He has trained hundreds of editors and writers on a variety of topics, including the latest and most important elements in the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style. Mark has led conversations about copyediting and writing at conferences and workshops in Detroit, St. Louis, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, Columbus, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York City, and York, England. He was the first freelancer elected to the executive board of ACES: The Society for Editing, and Mark currently teaches advanced copyediting for UC San Diego Extension’s copyediting certificate program.

Setting Up the Effective Writer’s Office

Whenever I have moved to a new house, I experience the same kind of organizational difficulties.

For example, if I am inspired to sit and write a story, but I can’t because my chair and desk are cluttered with moving boxes. I’d like to move the boxes, but I can’t put the boxes in the closet because the door to the closet is blocked by a large piece of furniture. I’d like to put the furniture where I want it, but I can’t because the floor in the room where I want it needs painting. I’d like to paint the floor, but I can’t because I don’t have the right color of paint. I’d like to go buy the paint, but I can’t because my car is in the shop.

And so forth.

As a result, I’m frustrated and I lose out on that particular swirl of inspiration to write that story.

Later, when everything in my new house is squared away and I am settled in, when I want to write a story, I’m in a great position to do so. I can immediately sit at my desk, grab whatever tools I need for writing, and get to work.

Over the years I’ve learned that one of the ways writers become professional is by surrounding themselves with the proper tools and the most comfortable systems they need to work more effectively.

In short, they create an effective writers’ office.

Generally, this entails:

  1. A comfortable space in which to work, whether that’s a garret or a patio, a soft bed or a hard chair, a high tech hardscape or a Victorian drawing room.
  2. The right tools, whether that’s a good pen and plenty of paper or a touch-screen laptop, or a lightweight laptop with Scrivener or Pages software, or a heavyweight desktop computer with Dragon or Speech Recogniser.
  3. The right aural and visual environment, whether that’s dead quiet or heavy metal guitar shredding, a breathtaking view of a mountain lake or a bust of Hemingway at your elbow.
  4. The right reference materials, whether that’s your own notes on preparatory thoughts or props that help you get in your characters’ frame of mind, an encyclopedia or an internet connection.
  5. The right feeling, whether that’s a creative mood, a historic sense of writing well in that place, the takeaway after proven warmup exercises.

An effective office is as important a support of your best writing as an effective wardrobe is in helping you look and feel your best.

The time you spend setting up and maintaining your office will pay dividends over the years as you gain career momentum and add emotional power to your most important writing efforts.

I can recall many times that helping aspiring writers create solid platforms on which to work has led to the launch of far more satisfied and successful wordsmiths.

Setting up an effective writer’s office is different from, but akin to learning the proper footwork or other fundamentals of a sport. Not only my own experiences, but those of others I have helped, make clear that it’s so much easier to concentrate and produce compelling material that accurately reflects your thoughts and feelings when you don’t keep butting up against practical impediments and obstacles.

 

Robert Moskowitz is an award-winning independent professional writer who has written and sold millions of words in just about every format over five decades. He instinctively sees the big pictures, breaks each one down into coherent slices, meaningfully prioritizes and sequences those slices, and then executes the tasks inherent in each slice in very productive ways. Put more simply, Robert knows how to succeed as an independent writer, covering all the bases from soliciting assignments to delivering polished work, from pricing jobs to budgeting and managing personal finances, from organizing a conducive office environment to establishing and following sensible guidelines regarding life, work, and productivity. Having done all this, and having paid attention to how he did it, Robert is now in a position to pass along what he knows to others.

How to Get Your Next Assignment Easier Than Your Last, or Easier Than You Ever Imagined

If you are—or want to be—a working professional writer, then it’s time to realize (or remember) that being able to write a great piece is winning only half the battle.

The other half is being able to sell it.

As far as I can tell, there are only two ways to sell your work:

  1. Find your own audience that is willing to pay to read your work.
  2. Convince someone who already has a paying audience to provide your work to their audience.

I’m all in favor of finding your own audience. I’ve self-published several books, and I plan to do more. I’ve known or heard about people who’ve started their own publications, promoted their own blogs and websites, crowd-funded their books and other writing projects, and so forth. I’ve even met people who have sold their own poetry on street corners for as little as 25 cents a pop.

There are lots of ways to find your own audience, and I encourage you to try some or all of them en route to building your writing career. But it’s always helpful to take the easier route and piggyback your desire to be published on someone who already has access to a paying audience.

Again, I believe there are basically two ways to do this. First, you can write whatever you want and then hope to get someone to pay you for it, or second, you can find someone willing to pay you for writing something they assign to you, whether that’s a newspaper or magazine article, a book, a poem, a white paper, liner notes, a website, a blog post, or anything else.

Here’s how to make getting such an assignment even easier.

  1. Try a lot of avenues to a wide range of outlets (and keep trying new ones)

Selling your work is something like a lottery: you can’t win if you don’t play, and the more entries you have working for you, the greater your chances of winning.

If you’re interested in writing magazine articles, make contact with a lot of publications and editors. If you want to write a book, talk to a lot of agents. If you’re interested in ghostwriting, beat the bushes for lots of different potential clients.

Accept that this is part of the business, and like any professional looking to make a sale, recognize that every rejection brings you one step closer to a “yes.”

  1. Be flexible, professional, and easy to work with

Maybe if you’re the next Hemingway or Doris Lessing, you can afford to be grumpy. But if you’re not, or not yet, then make it pleasant and relaxing to work with you. Hold your complaints, say “yes” as much as you can, and try to find ways to work around the unpleasantries that come with almost every assignment.

I remember when I was young and reporting for a newspaper in Philadelphia, I would sum up the entire wisdom of the world—as it pertained to the topic at hand—in the last paragraph of every article I wrote. The editor would inevitable chop that last paragraph for reasons of space.

I could have gotten angry. Instead, I simply put that wisdom into the second to last paragraph.

Of course, if things get too terrible for you, you can always find a different outlet for your work. But don’t burn any bridges on your way out. You never know when you may have to re-cross that bridge on your way back.

  1. Always have a “next” project to offer

Whenever you sell something, immediately implement the successful professional writer’s “two step”: First, deliver what you promised on time and as terrific as you can make it. Second, start setting the stage to sell to this outlet more of your work.

For the professional writer, a sale is not the end of the process, but the beginning.

  1. Go back to the best wells again and again

Although following these directions will eventually net you a variety of places to sell your work, some will inevitably be better than others: more interesting, challenging, lucrative, friendly, easy, or whatever.

Don’t be shy; keep going back to these outlets with better and better ideas, as well as better and better work. What I am saying is if you have found two peach trees, and one produces better peaches, isn’t that the one where you should do most of your picking?

  1. Keep adding new arrows to your quiver

As a professional, part of your job is to keep improving and delivering better and better work in a wide variety of genres, styles, and formats. You’ll find that trying to sell to new outlets is far easier if you have more skills, abilities, and offerings to show them.

  1. Sell the same prep-work over and over

You may have noticed that successful professional writers often touch on the same topics, revisit the same information, and appeal to the same audiences over and over again. Of course, you want to grow as a professional, but if you spend a lot of time and effort digging into and mastering a certain topic, why not get the most from your investment? You’ll find it’s easier to sell the second and third items resulting from that work than it was to sell the first.

  1. Piggyback on your best ideas

One of the techniques of brainstorming is to piggyback on others’ ideas. For example, I might suggest “let’s paint it red,” and then you might piggyback on that by suggesting “let’s offer it in seven different colors.”

But you don’t need others’ ideas for piggybacking to work. Whatever idea you’re working on, you can probably use that idea as a jumping off point and find some other idea(s) that will also yield good material you can sell.

I have consistently used these techniques to maximize the results of pitching my work to publishers, editors, writing partners, and clients. They may have little to do with the craft of writing, but they have a great deal to do with keeping me in the writing game when other “writers” have dropped out of the creative world in order to keep food on the table.

Of course, it’s important you maintain your primary focus on writing rather than on getting your next assignment. But if you lose sight of selling, there’s a chance you’ll fairly soon be writing for an audience of one.

 

Robert Moskowitz is an award-winning independent professional writer who has written and sold millions of words in just about every format over five decades. He instinctively sees the big pictures, breaks each one down into coherent slices, meaningfully prioritizes and sequences those slices, and then executes the tasks inherent in each slice in very productive ways. Put more simply, Robert knows how to succeed as an independent writer, covering all the bases from soliciting assignments to delivering polished work, from pricing jobs to budgeting and managing personal finances, from organizing a conducive office environment to establishing and following sensible guidelines regarding life, work, and productivity. Having done all this, and having paid attention to how he did it, Robert is now in a position to pass along what he knows to others.

Should You Formally Register Your Work With the U.S. Copyright Office?

Did you know that your work is automatically covered by U.S. copyright law as soon as you set it in a fixed format? According to Title 17 of the U.S. Code, all works are protected under copyright law from the moment they are placed in a fixed, tangible medium and can be perceived either directly via paper, canvas, or other “solid” medium or with the aid of a machine or device such as a computer or e-device.

What does this mean? Well, essentially, you do not have to register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office in order to have some measure of protection. The law exists to help protect content creators and to help “promote innovation” in the community.

With that said, you may still want to formally register your work, as there are a number of benefits to this process:

  • It establishes a public record of the copyright claim.
  • If registered within five years of creation, it provides “prima facie” evidence of the validity of the copyright and the facts stated in the certificate.
  • If registered within three months of creation or prior to infringement of the work, it will allow for statutory damages to be awarded to the copyright owner in an infringement suit.
  • It allows an infringement suit to be brought forward.

You might be thinking: “Well, can’t I just mail my manuscript to myself via the U.S. Postal Service and therefore, as a government agency, I’m covered under copyright law?”

Unfortunately, all that this will do is prove the date you mailed it to yourself. There are no legal benefits to sending a manuscript to yourself in the mail, as the U.S. Postal Service is not an entity of the U.S. Copyright Office.

But don’t despair. Not only is the process of registering copyright easy, but it’s relatively inexpensive.

For example, for a simple online registration of a book with one author or artist, the fee is $35 for registering online.

Perhaps the best part? You can do it yourself without paying a lawyer to do it.

Why not protect your intellectual property?

More information on U.S. Copyright law and the U. S. Copyright Office may be found at www.copyright.gov

 

Mary Jo (“MJ”) Courchesne is the owner and principal consultant of Gryphon Publishing Consulting. A publishing veteran with more than 20 years of experience in trade, academic, and direct-response publishing, she has spent the last 18 years specializing in licensing, subsidiary rights, and permissions. MJ is a polished presenter on copyright, and she firmly believes that everyone from authors to publishers to corporations should know their rights when it comes to intellectual property. To that end, MJ served as adjunct professor in the George Washington University’s Masters in Publishing program for 11 years, instructing a course titled Editorial Content, Rights, and Permissions. She has also presented sessions on rights at the Independent Book Publishers Association annual conference and is a member of IBPA as well as other publishing organizations such as the American Society of Picture Professionals, the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators, and Washington Publishers.