One of the most frequently asked questions by EditsMadeEasy clients who are exploring the option of writing personal histories is whether they are preparing a memoir or an autobiography. In fact, when many writers feel compelled to record the story of their lives, they often face this question—as well as the questions of which elements the writing requires as critical to the genre, or what must be extrapolated from events, or in just what ways, if any, the memoir and autobiography are different. Or maybe they’re the same thing? While both the memoir and the autobiography have elements in common, there are also ways in which they differ. To determine whether your project falls into one category or the other, here are a few points to consider.
The MEMOIR is the less constructed of the two genres. It does not need to span the life of the writer but can be about a single day, a special moment, a fragrance, a particular color (that leads you to recall a shirt of that color that you wore in high school, an event during which you wore the shirt, what your best friend thought about your clothing choices, etc.). These seemingly disparate thoughts are your memories and a memoir is like a memory book; that is, it can be a collection of your thoughts and feelings about any one particular time period, person, place or thing. It is mainly what you remember and not necessarily a detailed account of facts and events as you would find them in a piece of journalism. It is more like a diary entry than a newspaper article.
Let’s say you have decided to capture something from your life experience on paper. This can be a happy or sad event, a life-threatening or life-changing one, or you can simply be compelled to write about why you like to spend time at the beach. You begin to recall your subject and—in the way of all thinking minds—you begin to have many thoughts that seem to be off the topic. For example, the beach recalls a particular bathing suit you owned when you were sixteen, the smell of fried dough wafting across the boardwalk, the diets you were always trying, your envy of your friend’s svelte figure, her parents, parenting your own children, and so on. You seem to ramble on but you eventually bring yourself back to that beach and what pleasure it brings to you and why. That is memoir.
Note that this piece of writing did not necessarily include the day, time and place of your birth, your maternal or paternal grandparents, the story of how or why they came to this country or where they are living now, historical events that shaped you, your spouse, and other factual details of your lifespan. These elements would be some of the things you might include if you were writing an autobiography.
The AUTOBIOGRAPHY, then, is subject to a more structured approach and is considered to be an entire life’s history. Even if you are only sixteen years old, like Justin Bieber, your autobiography must cover the events that led up to the present time and place so the reader gets a sense of your personal history. The autobiography allows less room for mental rambling than the memoir. It should stick to topic, be concise, and take the reader down a particularly straight and narrow path. As a once-popular television detective used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
Just the facts, however, does not mean that your autobiography needs to be dull and lifeless. In fact, it should not be, because the purpose in writing an autobiography at all is to make the seemingly mundane take on a new and vibrant meaning so the events of your life add a new dimension to who you are for the reader. You want to insert your personality into the telling of the events in such a way as to make the reader come away understanding you a bit more, feeling closer to you and empathizing with your choices in some way.
Above all, in both memoir and autobiography, readers must receive some benefit in the long run. Readers should be entertained, or amused, or horrified—if that’s the story you decide to tell. And, while the personal is often the universal, an autobiography that is too far removed from any reader’s experience will fall flat, as will a memoir. Keep your readers in mind at all times—your ideal readers, that is—and your story will become the vehicle by which you reach them and pull them in, whether thatis through a memoir or an autobiography.
Both in the Reference List and in the in-text citations, the principal purpose of all referencing in an academic paper is to enable the reader to easily locate source material and check not only its accuracy but also its context; in the best of all cases, this becomes the basis for further research as your readers build on the work you have done.
With the exponential growth of online sources in recent years, the ways of dealing with web-based resources have received a great deal of attention in the newest version of the APA Manual. In some cases, this has meant a reversal of earlier APA policies, as time and experience have shown that there are better ways to handle these resources than what had been prescribed in APA-5.
Such is the case with the policy on retrieval dates (called “access dates” in Chicago, Turabian, and MLA styles). This is the date on which a particular resource was consulted by the author, with the recognition that online resources can change over time. The 5th edition of the APA Manual required that retrieval dates be provided for online sources, and it built this information into the format of all Reference List entries for online material. In stark contrast, APA-6 now eschews the provision of retrieval (access) dates, except in very specific circumstances:
The retrieval statement provides the date the information was retrieved, along with the name and/or address of the source.
EXAMPLE (boldface added for emphasis):
Eid, M., & Langeheine, R. (1999). The measurement of consistency and occasion specificity with latent class models: A new model and its application to the measurement of affect. Psychological Methods, 4, 100-116. Retrieved November 19, 2000,from the PsycARTICLES database.
Do not include retrieval dates unless the source material may change over time (e.g., Wikis).
The EXAMPLE given in APA-5 (to the left) would be re-formatted under APA-6 in the following way (boldface added for emphasis):
Eid, M., & Langeheine, R. (1999). The measurement of consistency and occasion specificity with latent class models: A new model and its application to the measurement of affect. Psychological Methods, 4, 100-116. Retrieved from the PsycARTICLES database.
For those who write in multiple styles, it may be worth noting that, in this regard, APA-5 was more like MLA style than like Chicago/Turabian style, and APA-6 is more like Chicago/Turabian style than like MLA style.
If you’ve been working in APA-5 and now must switch to using APA-6, certainly one of the most obvious changes will be the formatting of headers. Both editions of the APA Manual of Style provide for up to five levels of headings and subheadings, and both direct that numbers and letters should not be used. But the details of each of those levels have changed.
Level 4. Flush Left, Italicized, Upper- and Lowercase
Level 5. Indented, italicized, sentence-case capitalization, ending with a period.
Level 1. Centered, Boldface,
Upper- and Lowercase
Level 2. Flush Left, Boldface, Upper- and Lowercase
Level 3. Indented, boldface, sentence-case capitalization, ending with a period.
Level 4. Indented, italicized, boldface, sentence-case capitalization, ending with a period.
Level 5. Indented, italicized, sentence-case capitalization, ending with a period.
APA-6 boasts a more streamlined explanation of the formatting of headings, replacing the four separate sections provided in APA-5 (one for each scenario: articles with two levels of headings, articles with three levels of headings, articles with four levels of headings, and articles with five levels of headings). In APA-6, the same material is handled with a simple description:
Regardless of the number of levels of subheading within a section, the heading structure for all sections follows the same top-down progression. Each section starts with the highest level of heading, even if one section may have fewer levels of subheading than another section.
As with the earlier edition, APA-6 directs that the label “Introduction” should not be used at the beginning of the manuscript, as it is presumed that the first part of the manuscript is an introduction.
While not as important to the substance of documents as some of the other new features of APA-6, the changes in heading format will likely produce the most readily apparent differences from documents written in APA-5 style. Get this part wrong, therefore, and it will be pretty clear that you didn’t follow the newest version of the APA Manual of Style. That alone makes it a change worth mastering!
If you’re old enough to have learned to type on an actual typewriter, as I did, then you undoubtedly learned to use two character spaces (i.e., two taps of the space bar) in between sentences. There was a reason for this: Typewriter type was not proportionally spaced. Since all letters occupied the same amount of space on the page (i.e., an “i” took just as much space as a “w”), placing an extra space after the final punctuation in sentences made the breaks between sentences more readily apparent.
Then came computers—and with them, proportionally spaced type. With the advent of proportional type, extra space between sentences is automatic, making the old double-character-space rule obsolete. And with fully justified texts, the old rule becomes completely irrelevant, since flexible spacing between sentences is one of the vehicles for achieving right justification. Most major style sheets—including APA, MLA, Chicago, and Turabian—took the position that one space (not two) should be used after final punctuation in sentences.
THE NEW RULE IN APA-6 IS
TWO SPACES BETWEEN SENTENCES IN DRAFT MANUSCRIPTS.
·after punctuation marks at the ends of sentences;
·after periods that separate parts of a reference citation; and
·after the periods of the initials in personal names (e.g., J. R. Zhang).
Insert one space after
·commas, colons, and semicolons;
·periods that separate parts of a reference citation; and
·periods of the initials in personal names (e.g, J. R. Zhang).
Exception: Do not insert a space after internal periods in abbreviations (e.g., a.m., i.e., U.S.), including identity-concealing labels for study participants (F.I.M.), or around colons in ratios. Spacing twice after punctuation marks at the end of a sentence aids readers of draft manuscripts.
Making it clear that this change of rules applies to “draft manuscripts,” the new edition of the APA Manual of Style does not intend to suggest rules for typesetters of journals and books. What about writers of dissertations, theses, and academic papers? Technically, such documents are in final form,not draft. Of course, the best advice is to seek direction from the institution, program, or individual instructor. If these specify APA as the style sheet of choice, though, you should return to the old practice of using two spaces between sentences.
Using the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style (16) or the MLA Handbook (7)? Then you’ll likely be sticking with the practice of one space between sentences … But more on that in future posts.
Although originally conceived for the use of the Psychology community, APA is now the style sheet of choice for a number of disciplines, including Education, Social Work, Nursing, and Business. Many of our clients, therefore, are using APA style in their academic writing. Since the Fall of 2009, when APA released the 6th edition of its Manual of Style, EME clients have been asking us “WHAT’S NEW?”
APA-6 is the result of a thorough re-working of the widely used style manual. The entire structure of the book has been reorganized with the intention of more closely following the process writers actually follow in their writing. Since the last edition, online research has grown by leaps and bounds, and changes in both computer technology and the publication process have had profound effects on academic writing. With modifications of the guidelines in earlier versions, and with the addition of entirely new sections, APA-6 addresses these changes.
To help users navigate the modifications and new additions in APA-6, the American Psychological Association has prepared a helpful tutorial, available at http://flash1r.apa.org/apastyle/whatsnew/index.htm. So that our clients will have a convenient listing of these changes, we have summarized them here, drawing them from the APA tutorial. What follows here is simply a summary of the changes as presented in the APA tutorial. In the weeks ahead, we will examine some of the more significant changes to the APA Manual of Style with new blog articles devoted to each of these topics.
In the meantime, if you have questions about APA-6 or want to share some of the insights you’ve garnered through your own use of the new edition, please feel free to post them as comments to this blog. We’d love to hear from you!
SUMMARY OF CHANGES
·CHAPTER 1: Ethical Issues
oNEW: Data retention and sharing (1.08)
oNEW: Self-plagiarism (1.10)
oNEW: Publication credit (1.13)
oNEW: Protecting the rights of research participants (1.11)
oEXPANDED: Duplicate and piecemeal publication (1.09)
oEXPANDED: Confidentiality of research participants (1.11)
oEXPANDED: Conflict of interest (1.12)
·CHAPTER 2: Journal Article Reporting Standards
oJARS in the Abstract (2.04)
oJARS in the Method section (2.06)
oJARS in the Results section (2.07)
oJARS in the Discussion section (2.08)
oNEW: Meta-analyses (2.10)
oNEW: Using supplemental materials in online supplemental archives (2.13)
oNEW: Sample papers using the revised rules of style
·CHAPTER 3: Headings and Reducing Bias in Language
oMODIFIED: Five levels of headings, simplified (3.02-3.03)
oNEW: Using heading levels consecutively (3.02-3.03)
oNEW: historical language that is no longer appropriate (3.17)
oMODIFIED: Gender (3.12)
oMODIFIED: Sexual orientation (3.13)
oMODIFIED: Racial and ethnic identity (3.14)
oMODIFIED: Disabilities (3.15)
oMODIFIED: Age (3.16)
oNEW: Table of recommended changes to language usage available at www.apastyle.org
·CHAPTER 4: Mechanics of Style
oMODIFIED: Two spaces instead of one after periods in draft manuscripts (4.01)
oNEW: Numbers expressing approximate lengths of time written as words (4.31-4.32)
oNEW: When to use a zero before a decimal fraction (4.35)
oNEW: Reporting p values to two or three decimal places (4.35)
oNEW: Reporting effect sizes and confidence intervals with statistics (4.44)
oNEW: Format for reporting confidence levels (4.44)
·CHAPTER 5: Displaying Results
oNEW: Determining the purpose of data displays and designing tables (5.01)
oNEW: Guidelines on reporting statistical significance in tables (5.15)
oNEW: New tables, structured according to the kinds of data being displayed
oNEW: New table examples to illustrate hierarchical multiple regression and multilevel models
oNEW: Principles of figure use and construction (5.20)
oNEW: Presenting electrophysiological, radiological, and biological data (5.26-5.29)
oNEW: Ethical ramifications of manipulating data in photographic images (5.29)
·CHAPTER 6: Crediting Sources
oDefinition of “plagiarism” (6.01)
oRules for direct quotation of material in text (6.03)
oGuidance on getting permission to reprint or adapt (6.10)
oHow to construct in-text citations (6.11-6.21)
oHow to construct the reference list
oNEW: What to cite and recommended level of citation (6.01)
oNEW: Citing passages from electronic text with no page numbers (6.05)
oNEW: Citing the archival version or version of record (6.24)
oEXPANDED: Electronic sources and locator information, with expanded emphasis on DOI (6.31)
oNEW: What to include as publication information, with focus on electronic sources (6.32)
·CHAPTER 7: Reference Examples (NEW: Showing electronic and print formats side-by-side within each category of source material, and drawing examples from a wide range of fields)
oNEW: Data sets and software (7.08)
oNEW: Internet message boards (7.11)
oNEW: Archival documents and collections (7.10)
oNEW: Podcasts (7.07)
·CHAPTER 8: Publication Process
oNEW: Peer review (8.01)
oNEW: Editorial decision-making (8.02)
oNEW: Getting assistance with scientific writing in English (8.03)
oCONDENSED: Complying with ethical, legal, and policy requirements (8.04)
This is a brief overview of what’s new in APA-6. Stay tuned in the weeks ahead for new posts offering detailed discussions of many of the key changes.
In a few days I will be on a panel with several talented agents and authors at the annual AWP Conference and Bookfair in Washington DC. This pilgrimage of writers, litmags, small presses and MFA programs consists of 4 packed days of workshops, discussions and opportunities to meet those who could help turn your writing into a chance at publication or an opportunity to refine your craft. This is one of those events that, if you’re serious about becoming a writer, you should find a way to attend.
But for those of you who will not be able make it, I’ll share with you what I plan on covering in our panel, Love at First Query: Agents and Authors Share Strategies for Falling in Literary Love.
So, what are you looking for?
I say right on my website that I seek “to establish involved, long term working relationships with talented and dedicated authors of many genres.” Essentially, I’m in it for the long run. Although when I offer a contract it is only for that one project, I would like to then see your follow-up book as well. Though it is usually a contractual obligation to do so with your publisher, it is common courtesy to do so with your agent, and I’d like the opportunity to have a hand in helping a relatively new author establish and maintain a strong writing career.
But that’s not all of it, right?
Correct. I am specific in requesting “talented and dedicated” authors. You must have those two qualities, and here are a few tips on achieving and presenting them:
It’s easy to say “Do your homework, hone your craft, revise, revise, revise,” but for the sake of this post, I will assume that you are already brilliant writers with equally brilliant manuscripts.
So, what else is there?
I turn down easily 95% of the books pitched to me without even reading a single page. And yes, I am sure that some of them are just as brilliant as yours. Plenty of talented authors slip through the cracks because they simply do not articulate their skill and the brilliance of their manuscript in a well-crafted query letter. Having a knockout query is essential to getting your book published. There are plenty of resources, such as Writer’s Market and various industry magazines that provide examples of proper query letters, but to further help you, I will be offering an in-depth series of blogs from an agent’s perspective on how to craft a query that will maximize your chances of getting a request. Look for that in the near future.
To me, just as important as knowing you can write is knowing I can work with you. I have had to let go clients with promising manuscripts simply because they are not a good personality match. And by this, I don’t mean we have to like the same kind of music. I am referring to the writer’s ability to communicate, provide me with the information that I require, and make the changes that I ask for. A few key points to keep in mind:
• I realize that we all have our own lives and associated demands, but when I contact you, you should try your best to contact me in a timely fashion. Out of necessity, agents and their clients communicate a LOT throughout the editing, preparation, pitching, and even after the manuscript is sold. I need to know that I can rely on your presence each step of the way.
• Please do not make me communicate solely with an intermediary. This is both for the reason of the previous point and also to ensure that we are both getting accurate information. Bringing in a third party, besides being completely unnecessary, also shows a lack of trust on your part. For this to work, we need to have complete trust in each other.
• If I ask you for something, it is for a good reason. For example: when I request a fiction manuscript, I will generally ask for 4 things: the manuscript, a synopsis, your author bio and your marketing plan. I have had potential clients blow up at me for asking for a marketing plan, and at that point, I know how they would treat our working relationship and I then turn them down without reading a page. I have also received responses that just include 3 of the 4 elements with the statement, “Here is everything you requested.” That shows me that either they aren’t paying complete attention or they are trying to pull one over on me, both of which are big red flags. If you try to manipulate or ignore a simple request, I know that making the necessary edits on your manuscript will be an absolute chore. One example comes to mind. As a first time author, we got her a deal at a house that, frankly, she should not have been able to get. When she then tried to pull a fast one on the publisher during the editing process, they dropped her, voided her contract, and ended up not publishing her book or paying her (and therefore us) a cent. Although requesting additional material sometimes acts as a gauge of character, my primary goal is to find out how well you know your manuscript, what your resources are and how educated you are on something that will ultimately fall largely on your shoulders. But we can talk about marketing at a later date.
• If you don’t know, ask questions. Many writers hesitate to do so out of a crippling fear of coming across as an idiot. Don’t worry. This business can be a bit confusing at times, and it is changing all of the time. I will appreciate your honesty and your desire for knowledge. It shows that you are active, responsible and not one to sweep potential problems under the rug in hopes that we won’t trip on the lump and break our necks.
• And finally, be yourself. Sure, you want to be respectful and appropriate, but you don’t want to get locked into a situation where you feel like you have to act like someone you aren’t. It bears repeating, you and your agent will be communicating a lot. Your perfect agent match should be someone you can talk to, someone who makes you feel comfortable and taken care of. That’s really why we’re here, to take care of you.
I get this wherever I go, and I always joke with the writer about how their question just crushed my sense of self-worth. But then, I always continue with, “It depends upon what you are writing and what your goals are.”
There are certain types of writing that don’t require an agent, like short stories and poetry. Those you take yourself to the appropriate literary magazines. There are also types of writing that aren’t likely to get an agent, just because of how the market has evolved, like novellas for print outside of romance or sci-fi. But for most full-length pieces, your best bet is usually to seek out an agent. But even then, there are exceptions depending upon the nature of the work and where you want to see it.
For example: I represent memoir. If you have a truly unusual and gripping story and are trying to get it into the hands of Random House, yes, you need an agent. The “Six Sisters” in New York and many of the larger independent presses refuse to look at unagented work simply as a means of reducing the amount of submissions that are unfit for their particular house.
But if you prefer the close relationship of an independent press, or if you just want to pass your story on to your grandchildren, then no, you don’t need an agent. Instead, you would take it to the independent or custom publishers who would work with you directly to give you what you want. And if you then have commercial aspirations, some of them are equipped to guide you in your search for a place in the market. There are plenty of options out there, but I can testify to the strength and expertise of the good people at EME Press.
“What does an agent do?”
This could be its own post. Broadly speaking, an agent will help you edit and steer your manuscript and your presence as an author into the places where they will find the most success in the market. They will be your guide and your publishing guru. They will use their knowledge and connections to find the best possible publisher for your work, pitch it to them in the most effective manner and negotiate the best possible contract for you. They will handle payments and issues and remain by your side for as long as the book is in print.
“How do I know I’m not getting ripped off?”
There are scams out there, and I advise everyone to stay away from any “agent” who asks for payment up front. Thoroughly read the contract that you are offered, and make sure that you won’t be charged for consulting or editing. The agent should either do this for free themselves or recommend a qualified editor with no financial ties to the agent. This is why I list that I will not offer representation to any of my EME editorial or consulting clients. I would not do so anyway, but to make sure my morals are known, I had it written into my contract and bio at EME.
To prevent even running into con artists, you should seek out agents through the regular methods I listed in my previous post, “How do I find an agent?” Make sure that you can confirm their sale of books to reputable publishers, either by looking in the Acknowledgements section of the books, Publisher’s Marketplace or the industry publications I have listed. If they are new, be sure that they or the agent they are working under can be found using these methods and that they are listed on the website of the agency they claim to be a part of.
“Then how much should the agent charge?”
An agent should only charge you 15% of what you make on the book sale as well as any copying and shipping costs associated with pitching. The latter is an antiquated practice that is rarely necessary in today’s world of telecommunications and should only occur with your prior expressed consent.
“How will I know an agent is right for me?”
Being offered a contract is a good indicator. I sign far less than one percent of the manuscripts that I have been queried for. I will only work with what is the best possible fit for me in terms of my expertise, my tastes and the piece’s chance of success in the marketplace. Your agent should be able to thoroughly utilize all of those.
Remember that the working relationship between and agent and an author is a very close, very involved one. You will be corresponding with them via email and phone a lot. You will go back and forth with your manuscript and receive a lot of consultation. You need someone that you are able to work with to great extent on a professional level. If an agent doesn’t appear to know your type of work or just plain gives you the willies, it may be in your best interest to seek another agent. Realize that it is not difficult, but just very unlikely that you will find another agent for your manuscript. But don’t let that lead you into a working relationship that you are not able to feel good about.
Questions? Comments? I will be speaking on finding your perfect agent match at the big AWP Annual Conference & Bookfair in Washington, DC next month. If you’re in the area, it’s definitely one to attend.
Hello. If you’re reading this blog, then you’ve found one. But before you send me your children’s book or your romance novel, you should do a bit of research. It won’t take long to discover that I don’t represent either of those two genres.
“Is there an agent for me?”
Thankfully, there exists a plethora of agents, each with their own unique focus. It’s likely that among them lies a good potential match for your project. That is comforting, but it leads us back toward our initial question.
“Where do I look?”
If you wrote a memoir that shares a lot of similarities with Eat, Pray, Love, and you’re wondering who to send it to, you can start by going to your bookstore and picking up a copy. Seriously. Most works of nonfiction have within them an Acknowledgements section in which the author thanks their mother, their sister, their 8th grade English teacher, their cat Fifi and their agent. The great thing about researching at a bookstore is that Eat, Pray, Love is usually shelved alongside other memoirs. You can then browse and find similar titles with agents who you know for a fact have signed a manuscript in your genre.
“Do I really have to spend all day in a bookstore?”
Well, no. I highly recommend it for several reasons, but if it just isn’t feasible due to location or time constraints, you could go about it a different way. In fact, even if you are able to do so, you should augment that research with other existing resources. The information you glean from a bookstore is limited by shelf space and their concerns about moving product. For example: they tend to stock some of the newest and hottest political books, which may be of use if that’s what you are writing. But they will also stock books written by public figures long dead, whose agents, if still living, have retired or moved on to a different genre. And meanwhile, a current book which may be similar to yours is not stocked because the public is more apt to buy Richard Nixon’s book on Vietnam. But perhaps the biggest reason to seek additional resources is that even if you find all the names you need at the bookstore, you end up with just that: names.
“How do I contact these people?”
There also exist plenty of good printed resources that list reputable agents who are appropriate for your particular work, as well as their contact information and desired methods of submission. My favorite of the books is the Jeff Herman Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents. It thoroughly covers what an agent is looking for, even to the point of including interviews so you know their favorite books, what kinds of stories are important to them and other information to help you determine whether or not they are a good fit for your manuscript. Another excellent book is the Guide to Literary Agents. This is released by the same people who make the wildly popular Writer’s Market series. But take note: Writer’s Market itself has a lot of excellent general information regarding publishing in different venues, but it will not help you specifically search for an agent. In addition to books, there are also trade magazines that feature agent information. I was just featured in the October 2010 issue of Writer’s Digest, for example.
“Can’t I just Google it?”
You can, if you want to waste a lot of time navigating Google and not getting the best results. The Internet at large is not regulated in its content, so choosing to swim in that ocean leaves you vulnerable to sharks and scam artists. I’ll touch on tips for avoiding them in my next post.
“So, I’m to avoid the Internet?”
Actually, no. The Internet can be your most useful resource for obtaining the most up-to-date information. The books I listed come out once a year, and the appropriate trade magazines are released monthly or weekly. The Internet, on the other hand, brings you information in real time. The Guide to Literary Agents blog is an excellent resource that should find its way into your RSS reader. Its new agent alerts feature complete interviews and listings of what the agent is/isn’t looking for. Also online, you can sign up to receive Publisher’s Lunch via email. You can get a free version that will keep you up to date on happenings in the industry, or you can pay a small fee to receive notifications of recent publishing deals. You can also sign up for access to Publisher’s Marketplace, which is a paid service at around $20 per month. This provides a daily updated, searchable database that lists all reported publishing deals since the year 2000: the title, author, genre, a brief description of the manuscript, which agent represented it, which editor at which house bought it and roughly for how much. You can even search their database of agent and editor contact information.
“Cool. I’ll send my manuscript right away.”
Not so fast. There is one more step. After making your list of agents, take a moment and visit each of their websites. Submission requirements vary from agent to agent, even within an agency. People are different, and everyone has their own system that works best for them. Some prefer email attachments or pasted chapters, others just queries. Some even ask for hard copies. That’s ok. It’s their system, and it’s in place for a reason.
And while you’re on the agent’s website, check to make sure that they are still looking for your type of manuscript. For example: 5 years ago, everyone and their mother wanted to represent teenage vampire stories. And now, publishers have all but stopped buying them. As a result, a particular agent may now be looking for zombies. Often, they will post their latest wish list on their blog. As with seeking litmags for your short stories, paying close attention to the type of work an agent is looking for will save you a lot of time and unnecessary “Not right for me” rejections.
I go to a lot of conferences and talk to a lot of writers, and one of the most common things that these aspiring novelists don’t take advantage of is writing in the short form.
“But I write novels. Why should I write short stories?”
It’s a fair question, and I wouldn’t recommend writing shorts unless it helps you find success with your novel. It does, both from a technical and a business standpoint. Read on, Grasshopper.
When you break down a novel, each chapter should push the story forward, contributing to the overall arc. Ideally, it does this in a similar fashion to how a short story operates. It introduces or delves deeper into a character or plot element that faces rising tension and requires action in order to resolve or alter the current situation. In short fiction, each chapter has its own little arc. Writing short stories is an excellent way to practice creating the types of structures that will end up becoming the foundation of your novel.
Another way that short stories act to improve your writing is their calling more attention to the language itself. In a commercial adult novel, you generally have around 70,000 to 90,000 words to tell your story. In the short form, you have less than 20,000. And if you distil even further and enter the realm of flash fiction, the definition varies from under 5,000 words to the mere hundreds and below. For the story to maintain all of the necessary elements of plot, character development, tension, etc., you as an author rely on your ability to choose only the most powerful words in the most skillful of combinations. You can’t meander around and hope something grabs the reader’s attention. This is training to become a literary ninja. You must get in, strike swift, strike hard, strike with purpose, and get out. Leave your reader out of breath and wanting more. Harness that kind of power and then deliver it in your novel.
As an agent, I’m always looking out for authors that have a mastery of the language and can elicit a strong response with the right combination of a few words. But the fact of the matter is, I can’t always know for sure whether or not you have that magical combination. I can’t read everything people want me to. I get so many submissions that it sometimes takes weeks for me to respond to a query letter. And well over 90% of the works that I reject are rejected from the query without me having read any of the manuscript. Though the story itself is the most important deciding factor for me in a query, being able to provide an impressive list of short fiction publication credits increases your chances by showing me that figures of literary authority have found your writing to be exceptional. I can then feel better about investing the time into requesting and reading your manuscript.
“Oh, man. This is like homework.”
Don’t let the need to come up with new material stress you out. It can be an important part of your writing process for your novel. If you look at the short stories F. Scott Fitzgerald was publishing in the early ’20s, you can see him working out the characters and situations that would eventually find their way into The Great Gatsby. And we all know the result of that.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you’ve already written your novel, you undoubtedly have scenes and characters that you’ve cut for the good of the overall piece. They don’t have to sit unused in an old Word .doc in an obscure folder. Bring them out and let them play around. You’ve done a lot of the writing already.
“Ok. I’ve written a dynamite short. Now what?”
Revise (read my previous post). Once you’ve revised and your short is truly dynamite, now you must search for the appropriate venue. Not just any venue will do. You must know who you are pitching to, how they accept submissions and when to submit. There are countless literary magazines and journals available. They will be your primary targets. Newspapers and large publishers don’t publish shorts from unknown authors anymore, but litmags do. The best place to start is www.duotrope.com or Writer’s Market. These update fairly regularly with information regarding what type of writing they specialize in and various requirements. I highly suggest you check out these resources, the magazines’ websites and the actual, physical publications before you submit. It will save you from a lot of general, “Not right for us” responses.
“Are online litmags reputable? Will anyone read it if I go digital?”
If you would’ve asked me this several years ago, my answer may have been different. But today, many reputable publishers have entire online divisions, like McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. There are also plenty of quality digital-only litmags, like Smokelong Quarterly. And if you’re wondering whether or not people actually read the digital stuff, you should ask the current owners of 4.19 million iPads and over 3 million Kindles.
“Sweet. I’m going to be rich.”
Slow down. Don’t expect your short stories to make you any money. True, you may have heard stories like Fitzgerald writing shorts to pay the bills while he worked on his novels. But there are two main reasons why you shouldn’t compare your own situation with his:
He was already a well-known writer at the time. His breakout success with This Side of Paradise had established him as a prominent literary figure and created a commercial demand for his work. It’s like Stephen King or Neil Gaiman writing short stories. People will pay to read their work, regardless of the format.
These days, litmags don’t make money. Since they don’t sell as many copies as, say Twilight, they usually can’t afford to pay their authors much more than a free contributor copy (and the all-important prestige of publication). They keep their costs low in order to encourage sales and sell ad space to cover some of the necessary costs of printing and shipping. The staff generally works for free, donating countless hours for the sake of the written word.
“But what if they turn me down? Will all of my work have been for naught?”
Of course not. It’s ninja training, remember? You will have improved as a writer and a novelist. And if you need to get your work out into the public, plenty of avenues are available for you to do so yourself. In fact, I recently finished editing a collection of shorts that the author is self publishing. They showed promise, and I hope he does well.
Questions? Comments? Have an opinion on DiCaprio being cast as Gatsby? Let’s talk.
It’s a week into National Novel Writing Month, right about the time when a lot of participating writers hit a wall and start to see their word count slip behind pace. Suddenly, 50,000 words seems like a monumental undertaking, and certainly one that can wait until next year.
Though it might seem daunting at times, it’s ok. If you aren’t just a little scared when you’re writing, chances are you’re not doing it right. It’s that kind of concern that drives us writers to put so much of ourselves into what ends up on the page. If you don’t care about your text, it will show in the end. Embrace the emotions and let them run high.
However, you should never let the fear grow so great that it gets the best of you and stops your progress. And there are plenty of reasons why that shouldn’t happen with your NaNo novel. First of all, if you look over on your bookshelf and see Twilight (or Wuthering Heights, depending upon your taste), realize that you’re not expected to recreate that in a month. The word count alone is well over double what you’re being asked to produce. Depending upon how it is packaged, a book of around 50,000 words would end up about as thick as my index finger, not even the chunkiest of my thin, little bird fingers. It’s an attainable length.
But even more toxic of a misconception than the required end word count is the common belief that you are expected to churn out a market-ready novel in thirty days. Unless your name is Stephen King, that notion is absurd (and even with him, I kid). At this point, I must refer to one of the most useful books on writing in existence, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. Within the first part of the book is a chapter that really sums up the NaNoWriMo experience: Shitty First Drafts. Lamott states that “All good writers write them. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts.” Sure, you’ll be working hard to get your 50,000 words out, but after that, you’ll be able to revise.
And this is where you breathe easily.
Just focus on getting the words out onto the page for now.
At the end of the month, you can go back and fix things. And you should. As an agent, I can always tell when something comes across my desk whether someone has spent a month on it or whether they’ve spent longer. And I highly recommend putting in the time. If you think about it, you’re putting forth way too much effort this month to ultimately try to rush your novel out into the publishing world when it’s just not ready.
There are several things you can do to get the most out of what you will create this month. I always recommend, when you’ve spent a good deal of time working intensely on one piece, to put it away for a month. Let it sit long enough for you to stop thinking about it. And then take it out and look at it again. Chances are, you will change so much once you look upon it with fresh eyes.
Even more important is the need to share your work. Share it with friends and family, yes. But you should be sure to share it with people who have no personal bias toward or against you. Honest feedback is key in moving your novel to the next level. And let’s face it, if your mother is anything like mine, you could fingerpaint something, call it a novel, and she would give you a glowing review.
You have to show it to someone who will give you honest, informed feedback. One way is to form a critique group. When the right writers get together to critique each others’ works in progress, the results can be phenomenal. When forming such a group, it is ideal to have talented writers who are familiar with your genre and gel with your personality.
If you want to go straight to the horse’s mouth, you can seek out coaching or a manuscript critique from a publishing professional. To really get your money’s worth there, make sure that you work with a qualified individual, such as an agent, a bestselling author or an acquisitions editor. You can generally find them at writers’ conferences. I have worked at a dozen of them this year, from DC to SF, and they are wonderful resources.
If you don’t want to pay several hundred dollars to attend a conference that will usually charge you an additional fee to meet with an agent or have your manuscript critiqued, you can find plenty of qualified professionals right here at EME. One thing I like about this group is that everyone utilizes their own specialty, rather than stretching into genres and formats that they aren’t really familiar with. If you write poetry, you will get a poetry editor. If you write memoir, you will get a memoir editor. And yes, if you’re writing a novel, you will get the assistance of someone who knows what it takes for a novel to succeed in today’s changing market. Our coaches and editors have worked in all facets of acquisitions and editing in Big Six publishers, top agencies and literary magazines. When the time comes, we can help you make sure your novel stands out from the 120,000+ NaNo novels currently being written.
Until then, keep your fingers flying and your word count growing. NaNoWriMo makes me giddy as an agent and editor because so many good stories are being created. I hope to soon have the pleasure of reading yours.
I find it fitting that my first blog for EME is about how important it is for an author to blog. As an agent, I greatly prefer an author who has an established online presence. Blogging helps accomplish that, but it also has several secondary benefits.
It helps you build and maintain an audience. Thanks to the internet, an “ivory tower” writer can now reach millions instantly through blogs and the like. Blogs fall into the recent explosion of social media in that they like to have communities. Live Journal was designed around the idea of grouping readers and writers with similar interests to create grand conversations. But no matter which site you choose to host your blog, there are groups you can join that list your blog with those with similar subjects. This kind of networking greatly increases your chances of people stumbling upon your blog. If they enjoy it enough, they’ll subscribe and maybe even tell a friend. And just like that, you have new fans?loyal readers who may be interested in buying your book.
It helps establish you as an expert in your field. If your book is about your experiences as a skydiver, then susieskydives.blogspot.com would be a wonderful opportunity to provide helpful tips, reviews of places you have jumped and maybe even bust a few myths about how dangerous it is thought to be. With the right kind of networking, aspiring skydivers searching the web could find you, see what you have to offer and come back regularly for the valuable information you post. They may even want to buy your book (see a pattern forming here?).
If you are not an expert, blogging can be a way to reach out to those who are. Be a good blogger. Read other blogs. Comment on other blogs. Ask to guest blog or invite others to blog for you. You’ll learn a lot, make some good friends and establish a reputation for being a good literary citizen.
It helps establish you as a real human being. Author blogs tend to be rather informal and conversational in their execution. As a result, a lot of the author’s personality comes through. I tell my authors to aim for this, spicing up their usually informative blogs with an appropriate amount of everyday events that relate to what they are writing about. If your book is about class struggle, your trip to the grocery store or your extreme dislike of cockroaches could very well be presented in a pertinent fashion. Your readers will appreciate the window into your life and develop feelings of kinship and loyalty, perfect for when your book comes out.
It gets you in the habit of writing. Perhaps blogging is not the highest form of literary creation, but it is creation, nonetheless. And to have an effective blog and a prolific writing career, you have to get in the habit of writing regularly. This simple act of taking time out to sit in the chair and get words out onto the page is so important when you go to write “for real.” Writing is like a muscle. You have to exercise it regularly or it will emaciate to the point of uselessness.
It can even kick start a writing session. When the muse is singing, you don’t want to waste that creative burst on a blog post. But sometimes, the vocal cords could use a bit of warming up. Often enough, the hardest part of writing is beginning. The simple, often conversational nature of blog writing is a lot easier to get out onto the page. Once the page is no longer immaculate, it becomes a lot easier to mark up. And once an imagination is in motion, it tends to stay in motion.
Agents ask for it, but it’s best when they don’t have to. The unsolicited keeping of a good blog shows a prospective agent (and later, publisher) that you are serious, proactive and effective in building your platform and marketing your work. I mentioned that I greatly prefer an author with an established blog. But if you don’t have a blog and your project is just too attractive to pass up, I may still sign you and then have you start a blog. Blogs are just about necessary these days. They may take time and effort, but I wouldn’t waste yours if it wasn’t worth it.
It’s fun. No, really. It harkens back to the days of keeping a childhood diary. You can, within reason, write fairly informally about whatever you want and have a great time doing so. Isn’t that why we write in the first place? To have fun? You get to blog. How awesome is that?
Lorraine has enjoyed phenomenal success since publishing her book including television appearances and guest speaking.
Learn how you can publish your manuscript and make your business a success. Sign up to learn more at the FREE Webinar. E-mail email@example.com. Webinar March 1 2010 8pm (EST) 7pm (CST), 6 (MST) or 5 (PST)
If you’d like to learn more about Lorraine’s book, her business, or her experience with EME, or if you’d like to chat with Lorraine directly, please visit:www.morningpeacemaker.com
I have been a medical writer/editor for 15 years. As part of my work, I consult a variety of Web sites for proper grammar and punctuation of obscure and current medical and scientific terms.
Most medical and technical writers and editors, as well as medical writing firms, pride themselves on the fact that they have X, Y or Z subject-matter expertise. But is it really an essential requirement for successful writing or editing of medical documentation? This is a heavily debated subject within the technical and medical writing communities. The simple answer is absolutely “Yes.”
According to a recent American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) survey, more than 90% of medical writers and editors work for pharmaceutical firms. These firms provide clear, concise and strict style guides that writers are expected to follow to a tee. That leaves the less than 10% of us with a dilemma when faced with the wide variety of medical and scientific subject matters we have to work on.
We work for university-based hospital research institutes, private medical editing firms and professional health care organizations. We are few and far between. As a result, we have to be very good at what we do, because we have to deal with a wide variety of medical, technical and scientific subject matters on a short-term basis. Editing peer-reviewed journal manuscript submissions or writing for specific government grant applications presents particular challenges to us. However, all medical and scientific journals and government granting agencies provide the medical writer/editor with specific structural and formatting guidelines, and often provide links to expert subject-matter resources.
In addition, there are many additional resources available to the medical writer/editor. For example, the Web sites I most frequently consult on expert subject matters are these:
The European Medical Writers Association also has an extensive list of resources for medical writers. http://www.emwa.org/
Government agencies offer specific guidelines for submitting medical documentation. In the USA, these include the Centers for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/ and the National Institutes of Health. http://www.nih.gov/
For example, on many of these sites, when I do a search for “OT-Gls-Lys-Arg-Neurophysin I,” I get the following hit: Did you mean “OT-Gly-Lys-Arg-Neurophysin I,” with the correct spelling, including the correct use of italics.
Having trouble deciding whether to outline your whole novel in advance or to let the story (and characters) take you where they will? In this article, one of our novelists tells you how he arrived at a hybrid approach that gave him the perfect combination of freedom and structure.
NO “ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL” APPROACH TO PLANNING
When it comes to writing your novel, how you choose to map out the plot is a lot like how you say “potato” (i.e., po-tae-to or po-tah-to)—there really is no one-size-fits-all right answer (though I am partial to po-tae-to, myself). At one end of the spectrum, there are the writers who outline all of the major plot points of their stories before ever writing a single word of text. And at the other end of the spectrum, there are the writers who forego an outline altogether, opting to let the ideas and plot points flow naturally as they go from prologue to epilogue. If one of these options works for you, who am I to argue? Good job! But in my own writing, I have found that a hybrid approach—combining the two techniques—works best for me.
DISCOVERING A HYBRID APPROACH
With Sunshine’s Darkness (my first novel), the idea for the story came to me as part of an assignment in a writing course that I was taking. To be honest, at the time of the assignment, I really didn’t think the seeds of this story would ever mature to a finished product. Realizing that, I sat down at my keyboard and just started typing out content to fulfill the course requirement. Ideas weren’t fully considered, and even the characters weren’t fleshed out (nor do they necessarily have to be when you first start writing your novel). As I typed out the first ten chapters, I realized how much FUN it was to see ‘where the day took me.’ Since I hadn’t outlined anything, I was free to let the ideas that flowed forth take me in any direction. This was great!
Because I wasn’t bound to any rigid outline, there were no wrong directions—just alternate paths.
That meant I never had to worry how new twists and turns would affect my end game (because at that time, let’s face it, there was no end game; just a grade). I was free to be creative—and what could be more fun than that?
Two months later, the class ended. But by then, I was so engrossed in writing my novel that I realized it was a project I just had to finish. I was nearing the halfway point. I was also starting to get knots in my stomach, and at first I didn’t know why. It seemed every time I sat down to write, I had the dreaded ‘block.’ Up until then it had been fun to just sit down and let plot twists flow forth as they came to me. Now suddenly I was tensing up every time I sat down to write. Worse, my characters were starting to stress me out because I didn’t know which direction to take them in, nor did I know the answers to two important questions that kept nagging me: “Who lives in my story?” and “Who’s going to die?”
It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to know what the ‘end game’ to Sunshine’s Darkness was going to be that my stomach pains subsided.
For several days, I focused on mapping out the second half of the book, writing down explicit scenes that each of my main characters would experience, all the way to the final chapter. In many ways, my novel was finished—insofar as the plot was concerned. Now all I had to do was fill in those scenes with prose and I would be done.
What started out as free-flow writing for the first half of my novel blended into a near-rigid outline for the latter half. If someone had told me to outline this novel from the beginning, I don’t think I could have done it. After all, it was the process of discovering who my characters were and what my story was really about that solidified where I would ultimately go with the second half of Sunshine’s Darkness. That freedom to let the plot—and the characters—develop was vital to my story. Likewise, if I had continued a free-flow style of writing, it would have been impossible for me to calculate the exact moments when major plot twists needed to occur in order for certain characters to end up where they needed to be. Put another way:
Without the free-form development of the first half, my story would never have taken off; but without the careful outline of the second half, it would never have been able to land.
By adopting the use of the outline for the second half, I was able to weave together the story that had developed freely in the first half, bringing the story to a satisfying and logical conclusion.
FINDING YOUR OWN APPROACH
This hybrid approach is what worked for me; that doesn’t mean it will work for you—or that it will work for you in just the same way.
If you decide to follow my method, you need not follow it to a tee. For example, you might choose to outline in the beginning a few key scenes that you want to take place, while still allowing your characters and plot to develop freely around those scenes. I didn’t do this for Sunshine’s Darkness, but with my second novel I did: I began the novel by outlining three key scenes—and the order I needed to tell about them in order to move the plot along. Likewise, you don’t need to slavishly follow your structured outline in the second half of your book if you come up with some amazing plot twist or new ending that will blow your readers away. For Sunshine’s Darkness, I thought I knew exactly what the last couple of chapters were going to be; but when I got there and it came time to write them, I found several of my characters were still left hanging. So I created a whole new ending that would weave together the characters who still had these loose threads. When something like this develops, you toss your outline aside and wrap up your book with what works best.
You might choose to adopt:
A free-flow approach from beginning to end (which I don’t recommend);
An outline approach from start to finish; or
Some version of the hybrid approach that worked for me.
But whichever you choose, the one thing to keep in mind is this: It’s the end result that matters. Whichever style you ultimately choose for writing your novel, as long as it gets you to a satisfying, publishable, and FINISHED end-result, then you’ve done your job. Bravo!
So what works for you? Do you map it all out? Do you let it flow freely? Do you have a hybrid approach of your own? Leave a COMMENT to share your own techniques for developing your characters and your stories.
Having trouble finding a publisher? Perhaps you should let your publisher find YOU! In this article, a former acquisitions editor for Crown–Random House and Perigee–Putnam gives an insider’s view of how self-motivated authors are attracting the attention of publishers—even in today’s economy.
Changes in the Publishing Industry
Back in the good old days of publishing, there were editors, publishers, agents and the infamous slush pile. Editors and agents met, usually over martinis and lunch, to discuss writers, writing projects, trends, and whatever other publishing “business” was the sizzling topic of the day. Back in the office, the editorial assistants laboriously read through the slush pile, passing on to the editors any hopeful manuscripts that had come through the mail—the regular pony-express mail, that is.
Flash forward to 2009. There are still editors—acquisitions editors, specifically, meaning those who have the challenge of actually buying enough manuscripts to fit a publisher’s spring, winter and fall lists. These acquisitions editors continue to meet with agents, who continue to represent writers with the hope of selling their manuscripts to the highest bidder, thereby generating a nice income for both agent and client.
There are, however, two notable changes between the editors and agents of the past and those of today:
Because of the current economy, many editors are no longer able to meet agents for lunch. They must conduct business over the phone or via e-mail. Some publishing houses have even temporarily put a hold on acquisitions altogether, preferring to have editors focus on the manuscripts they already have under contract.
Because of restrictions put on them by publishers, agents often feel they can only afford to represent clients whose projects they anticipate will ship many, many books—100,000 is a nice number to toss around.
As for the slush pile? Perhaps an occasional manuscript makes its way via regular mail into some publishing house, somewhere. But considering that many publishers are actually asking writers and agents to only submit query letters electronically, and since, by now, most serious writers have given up on the hope of being discovered without having agent representation, and since less than 1% of the books published actually ship 100,000 copies, well, suffice it to say there’s a whole new game afoot in publishing.
Writers Taking Matters into their Own Hands
One fact remains: Editors, publishers and agents need writers and they must be increasingly clever in finding them. No longer are they served up over lunch by a savvy agent.
Writers, too, must find increasingly clever ways to convince editors, publishers and agents that they have the talent and mettle to make a career out of writing.
So, take the current economy, add the downsizing of many publishing houses, the need for manuscripts and writers, the hand-tied agents who can’t afford to take on new clients and the abundance of writers since the advent of the computer. Shake and toss on the table and one solution will surface: writers who are serious about being published will take matters into their own hands. They will
write blogs or e-zines
have a website dedicated to their topics and
be active on Facebook and Twitter
1.Serious writers write. This may sound obvious but there are many writers who continue to hold the lofty idea that someone will come along and discover that mystery novel they wrote years ago because it’s so good—everyone says so. What they fail to realize is that writing a manuscript, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, is only one small part of the writing business. There must also be proposal writing, query letter writing, self-promotional writing, marketing plans and any other possible way to get your message in front of readers. That’s where the Internet comes into play. If your message and your qualifications are out there for all to read, you have another avenue to attract readers, agents, editors, or like-minded souls.
2.Serious writers help editors to find them. Since a project represented by an agent will cost the publisher more, and since editors want to buy numerous projects and stay within budget, they must find writers who are not necessarily represented by agents. This means magazine writers, e-zine writers, bloggers, self-published and print-on-demand authors who have a track record of selling their own books, via seminars, the Internet, a lecture series or on a table at the county fair. In the numbers game that is publishing, how you sell isn’t as important as how many.
Getting Serious About the Tools of the Trade
If you are serious about writing, get serious about using the latest tools of the trade. Believe it or not, these methods actually put the power of publishing back in the hands of the writer and take it out of the hands of large conglomerates who, more often than not, pander to those 100,000-copy authors and ignore the vast majority of other writers who make up most of their lists.
Have some experience with POD publishing? Encountered any particularly successful techniques for attracting publishers’ or agents’ attention? Dealt with literary agents, acquisitions editors, or publishers? Leave us a COMMENT to let us know about it.
With so much information available on the Internet, do doctoral students even need to go the library anymore? Why limit yourself to the books and journals inside one building when you can have unfettered access to the countless articles available online. More is better, right?
Wrong. When it comes to serious academic research, limits are actually a good thing.
Consider how an article makes its way into a scholarly journal. After it is conceived, researched, and written, its path to the public is only half done; the harder part still lies ahead. The article’s author sends it off to the editor of a journal, who then sends it on to several independent readers—all scholars in the field. They read it blind, not knowing who wrote it, so their recommendations will be based on the quality of the work: Is the topic sufficiently cutting-edge? Is the methodology scientific? Are the most important resources considered? Are the arguments solid? Do the conclusions follow from the evidence? If the readers’ assessments are negative, the article will probably die with them; if positive, the editor will probably get involved and give it a personal review. Perhaps it’s good, but not as good as some of the other submissions. Rejection. It’s Darwinian survival of the fittest of the academic kind. Or perhaps it’s good, but needs some polishing—back to the author for the necessary revisions. And then finally, months later, maybe—just maybe—it sees the light of day.
Then consider how an Internet-based article makes its way to the same public. The author has an idea. Maybe he researches it, maybe he doesn’t; maybe she considers the most important resources and alternative points of view, maybe not. It gets written—maybe well, maybe poorly; it doesn’t matter, because there’s nobody to stop this article from seeing the light of day. The author is satisfied, so it gets uploaded to the Internet. And there it is for the world to see. Timely? Scientific? Carefully researched? Well argued? Based on solid evidence? These determinations are made by one person alone: the author.
Publishing in a journal involves gatekeepers who verify that the article meets scholarly standards. Publishing online involves an Internet connection—not necessarily anything more. Of course, many articles in scholarly journals are made available online—that gives us the best of both worlds. But when it comes to articles written directly for the Web, the researcher must beware: Just because it’s published doesn’t mean it’s good.
The Internet has changed the face of research forever—and that’s just as it should be. But until all peer reviewed books and journals are available online, it would be unwise to fill up that dissertation bibliography with Internet sources. In short, as indispensable as the Internet is for serious research today, don’t trade in your library card just yet!
Have some thoughts on Web research in academic writing? Leave us a COMMENT to share your ideas and your experience.
Many of us grew up with the idea that the splitting of infinitives is always and everywhere wrong—the marriage between “to” and a verb was thought to be a sacred bond that no one dare put asunder. So it is perhaps surprising to read in §5.106 of the Chicago Manual of Style (15th edition), “Although from about 1850 to 1925 many grammarians stated otherwise, it is now widely acknowledged that adverbs sometimes justifiably separate the to from the principal verb.” The example given is:
They expect to more than double their income next year.
The truth be told, the splitting of infinitives in English goes back to at least the fourteenth century, and it is really only a mid-nineteenth century convention that proscribed the practice—a proscription that is now widely recognized as passé. Indeed, it is worth noting that even the SAT, GMAT, and TOEFL tests recognize the acceptability of the split infinitive, and courses designed to prepare people to take these tests frequently point out the danger of automatically excluding the split infinitive option as the possible correct answer. Like it or not, split infinitives are part and parcel of English usage and they are likely here to stay.
So it doesn’t matter if the infinitive is split or not? Well—I wouldn’t go that far! Of course it matters. Sometimes it matters a great deal. The acceptability of split infinitives can’t be confused with the appropriateness of using them in every situation. All that it means is that the writer has to do more than appeal to a grammatical rule; some thought is required.
A Matter of Emphasis
The split-infinitive example that seems most widely used by those who comment on grammatical issues on the Internet is the famous opening line from Star Trek:
To boldly go where no man has gone before.
If mindless adherence to some non-existent grammatical rule is the key, then we could easily wipe out the split infinitive with a simple rearrangement of words:
To go boldly where no man has gone before.
It means the same thing, after all, doesn’t it? Well—not quite. The same idea is conveyed, but clearly not with the same punch. The latter example simply doesn’t have the same emphasis that the former example has. It falls flat.
Perhaps that’s why The Chicago Manual of Style goes on to elaborate in §5.160 why one may choose to split or not to split an infinitive:
And sometimes it is perfectly appropriate to split an infinitive verb with an adverb to add emphasis or to produce a natural sound. . . . A verb’s infinitive or to form is split when an intervening word immediately follows to [e.g., to bravely assert]. If the adverb bears the emphasis in a phrase [to boldly go], [to strongly favor], then leave the split infinitive alone. But if moving the adverb to the end of the phrase doesn’t suggest a different meaning or impair the sound, then it is an acceptable way to avoid splitting the verb. Recasting a sentence just to eliminate a split infinitive or avoid splitting the infinitive can alter the nuance or meaning: for example, it’s best to always get up early (always modifies get up) is not quite the same as it’s always best to get up early (always modifies best). Or an unnatural phrasing can result: it’s best to get up early always.
And that brings us to the other point that must be borne in mind when deciding whether or not to split an infinitive: Strive for naturalness of expression. In this regard, it should be noted that different expectations will apply to spoken English and informal written English, on the one hand, and to formal written English, on the other. What is considered acceptable in spoken and informal expression is often not acceptable in formal written English. With regard to formal writing, it may be said that the default position is still to avoid splitting infinitives, BUT with this proviso: avoid splitting infinitives except when doing so would disrupt the intended emphasis or create an unnatural expression.
Splitting infinitives will not get you arrested by the grammar police, therefore, but neither is it something to be done carelessly. It is a matter for conscious choice. And in making the choice about whether or not your infinitive should be split, the most important considerations are emphasis and naturalness of expression.
So the old rule (if, indeed, it ever was a rule) no longer applies. But the result is not less need for concern over the issue—it is more. In the absence of a rule, what is needed is SKILL.
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At EME, one of the problems that our editors encounter rather frequently in all genres of writing is confusion over the use of hyphens vis-à-vis dashes. I’d venture a guess that most writers aren’t even aware that there is a distinction between these two kinds of punctuation marks, so it’s a mistake we find ourselves correcting quite often. And if that distinction doesn’t cause enough confusion by itself, there’s also a further distinction that has to be made—between two kinds of dashes: the em-dash and the en-dash. (Minus signs, negative signs, figure dashes, 2-em dashes, and 3-em dashes all complicate the matter further, but they are of lesser importance and will be mentioned briefly, below). Since the uses of the hyphen, the en-dash, and the em-dash are clearly distinguishable, my hope is to clear up some of the confusion here.
The hyphen really has three main uses:
To separate digits (and letters) in telephone numbers, Social Security Numbers, etc. (although this can also be done by the figure dash, discussed later in this article)
To separate syllables (usually when space requires splitting a word at the end of a line of type)
To join two or more words together into a compound
With regard to this latter category of uses for the hyphen, it is worth noting that the current trend is toward non-hyphenation (i.e., closed compounds) wherever possible. The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, §7.90 provides an extensive hyphenation guide; so does the APA Manual, 5th edition, §3.11; and so does the OWL at Purdue University. Because of evolutions in usage, a current dictionary often provides the best guide for deciding when compounds should be hyphenated, when they should be written as separate words (i.e., open compounds), and when they should be written as one word (i.e., closed compounds).
SOME EXAMPLES OF HYPHENATED COMPOUNDS:
Longer than a hyphen but shorter than an em-dash, the en-dash is used principally in two ways:
In place of the word “to,” such as with ranges of dates and page numbers
the London–Brussels train
To join words of equal weight (i.e., where one does not modify the other) in a compound adjective
the Mason–Dixon line
the New York–New Jersey border
a quasi-legislative–quasi-political decision
Although there are style sheets that direct the use of spaces before and after the en-dash, typically there are no spaces surrounding the en-dash; this allows the en-dash to be easily distinguishable from the minus sign.
There are a number of uses for the em-dash, but ordinarily it represents a break in thought. Like commas and parentheses, em-dashes can be used to set off a word or phrase. There is, however, an important difference: while commas and parentheses de-emphasize the material they enclose, em-dashes emphasize the material they enclose. The em-dash may also be used to separate a subject (or set of subjects) from a pronoun, or to indicate a sudden break, an aside, or an explanatory phrase.
The way that Lisa understood it—if, indeed, she understood it at all—it was a good thing.
And that was to be the end of it—for the moment.
Be careful, however: overuse of em-dashes becomes very tedious for the reader. This is true, in part, because they involve breaks in thought; too many of them gives the reader a sense of literary hiccups as he or she tries to plough through the sentence, perhaps even losing track of what the original subject was. In part, the tediousness of overused dashes comes from the emphasis that they convey. Overemphasis functions much like using a highlighter in a book to highlight every word on the page: when everything is highlighted, nothing stands out. The em-dash is an effective tool, but should be used sparingly.
As with en-dashes, there are some style guides that suggest using spaces before and after the em-dash, but typically the em-dash is typed with no spaces before or after it (as in the examples given above).
Minus signs, negative signs, figure dashes, 2-em dashes, and 3-em dashes.
Beyond hyphens, en-dashes, and em-dashes, there are related marks that occur in limited circumstances and appear less frequently. Without getting into much detail, they are presented here for the sake of completeness:
Minus signs are typically used in equations, and are most often typed as a hyphen with a space before it and a space after it (e.g., 3 – 2 = 1). Word processing software may provide a slightly raised symbol for this purpose as well.
Negative signs also occur principally in equations and are typed as a hyphen with a space before the negative sign but not after it (e.g., -3 + 3 = 0).
Figure dashes are sometimes used in place of a hyphen between digits in numbers and codes like Social Security Numbers and telephone numbers.
2-em dashes are used to indicate missing material, such as a redacted name or an expletive (e.g., Mrs. —— and Dr. —— were both opposed to the measure.). Many word processing programs merge the two em-dashes in this symbol so that it appears with no breaks.
3-em dashes are used in bibliographies and reference lists to indicate that the author name is the same as in the previous entry (e.g., ———. Angels & Demons. New York: Washington Square Press, 2000). Many word processing programs merge the three em-dashes in this symbol so that it appears with no breaks.
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Is it “red, white, and blue,” or is it “red, white and blue”?
Most professional writers will tell you that’s a matter of style. And they’re right. You may choose to place a comma after the next-to-last element in a series (hence the name serial comma) or you may choose to leave it out; neither practice is wrong. What you shouldn’t do is use the serial comma haphazardly or allow your choice to give rise to confusion in your text.
Even if you choose, as a rule, to avoid the serial comma, there may be instances in which it must still be used. Consider, for instance,
John, a teacher and a lawyer
Does this refer to three people (i.e., John and a teacher and a lawyer)? Or is it one person (i.e., John, who is both a teacher and a lawyer)? If the former, the serial comma would make that clear:
John, a teacher, and a lawyer
The serial comma’s use is commonplace in American English usage, though less common in English of the British variety.
Since, in our editing, we try to bring consistency to the use (or nonuse) of the serial comma to the extent possible without causing confusion, I often get asked about the pros and cons of its use. The biggest advantage to the use of the serial comma is clarity: when all of the elements in a series are separated by commas, there is less chance of ambiguity in the list. For example, if I am listing the kinds of sandwiches I’m making for lunch, only the serial comma ensures that it’s clear what I’m actually serving. Consider:
Ham, peanut butter and banana and jelly
Without the serial comma, this may mean:
Peanut butter and banana
Or it may mean:
Banana and jelly
In fact, though I wouldn’t want to try it, without the serial comma it could even mean just two kinds of sandwiches:
Ham, peanut butter, and banana
With the serial comma, the ambiguity is removed:
Ham, peanut butter and banana, and jelly
The strongest reason for ordinarily omitting the serial comma is to conserve space. In fact, it is from the world of newspaper writing that the practice seems to have taken its root in the United States. Among others, the practice of avoiding the serial comma is advocated by the Associated Press Stylebook and the New York Times, along with a number of leading British and Australian stylebooks. In favor of using the serial comma are, among others, the Chicago Manual of Style, the APA Manual, the AMAManual of Style, the U.S. Government Printing Office, and Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style.
All things being equal, I’m inclined to recommend the serial comma’s use. However, rest assured that—as long as your intended meaning is clear—neither its use nor its nonuse is wrong.
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In much of the editing that comes my way, run-on sentences are a problem. Sometimes people are surprised when they find me commenting on their run-on sentences, because the sentences aren’t that long. But here’s the thing: “run-on” doesn’t necessarily imply LONG; it has to do with STRUCTURE. And one of the most common run-un sentence problems I find myself correcting is the comma splice: a run-on sentence that is the result of putting together two independent clauses joined only by a comma. While there are some circumstances in which a comma splice may be considered acceptable, in most cases it is a grammatical error.
I didn’t have to get up in the morning, I still set my alarm for seven.
He wanted to vacation at the beach, she preferred the idea of a cruise.
She didn’t complete her dissertation on time, her defense had to be postponed until spring.
Faced with this error, there are really only three options:
1. Join the two clauses together;
2. Separate them; or
3. Change one of the independent clauses into a dependent clause.
Joining the independent clauses together is done with a coordinating conjunction. These are:
THOSE EXAMPLES AGAIN, THIS TIME WITH CONJUNCTIONS ADDED:
I didn’t have to get up in the morning, yet I still set my alarm for seven.
He wanted to vacation at the beach, but she preferred the idea of a cruise.
She didn’t complete her dissertation on time, so her defense had to be postponed until spring.
Separating the clauses is done by the use of one of four types of punctuation:
the period [.]
the question mark [?]
the exclamation point [!]
the semicolon [;]
NOTE that the comma [,] will not accomplish this purpose.
THOSE EXAMPLES AGAIN, THIS TIME SEPARATED BY PUNCTUATION MARKS:
I didn’t have to get up in the morning; I still set my alarm for seven.
He wanted to vacation at the beach. She preferred the idea of a cruise.
She didn’t complete her dissertation on time? Her defense had to be postponed until spring.
Changing one of the clauses into a dependent clause creates one complex sentence that is not a run-on sentence. Remember that sentences are considered “run-on” not because of the number of words, but because of their structure. In these cases, run-on sentences are corrected by adding words:
THOSE EXAMPLES AGAIN, THIS TIME WITH ONE CLAUSE MADE DEPENDENT:
Though I didn’t have to get up in the morning, I still set my alarm for seven.
He wanted to vacation at the beach, although she preferred the idea of a cruise.
Since she didn’t complete her dissertation on time, her defense had to be postponed until spring.
With any of these three solutions, the problem of the comma splice is solved and the sentence is no longer a “run-on.”
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Working as an assistant to the Director of Career Services at Binghamton University, Zach has spent the past several years critiquing hundreds of resumes and cover letters for undergraduate and graduate students, with a particular concentration on Finance, Leadership & Consulting, Accounting, Marketing, and Management Information Systems. He has targeted cover letters and personal essays at specific placements, ranging from Creative & Marketing Internships with RockStar Games to Investment Banking positions with Goldman Sachs. Zach created a set of resume- and cover-letter-writing workshops that he presents to students; he also provides both behavioral and job-specific mock interviews to help students in their job searches. Over the years, Zach has amassed a unique set of writing and communication skills, focused on developing critical ideas and thought-provoking questions; he has also honed an eye for detail, enabling him to polish clients’ written materials to their full potential. At EME, Zach works with clients who need resumes, CVs, cover letters, and interview coaching; he also polishes the applications and admissions essays of our StudyAdvisor clients seeking placement in universities abroad.