Owen Egerton on Writing, SCOTUS on Selling Used Books, Valuing Your Script, Odd Punctuation – Random Things for this Week

December 24, 2012

A few random things for this week:

  • Advice for writers. Owen Egerton, Austin’s favorite author for a billion years running and someone I interviewed two years ago, recently published a list of 30 pieces of advice for writers.  My favorites are 12, 14, and 21.
  • Could selling used books become illegal? Though the title is sensationalist, this is a well-crafted article about a student from Thailand who bought textbooks overseas (where they’re cheaper) and then sold them in the U.S. at below-market rates for profit. Wiley sued, claiming a copyright violation of sorts, and has thus far has won the suit to the tune of $600,000. The case is now before the Supreme Court, and whichever way they rule, the implications their decision could have on the publishing industry could be pretty staggering.
  • How much is your film script worth? Script mag put together an article on valuing your work as a writer breaking into the industry. Most of the beginning is pretty basic and self-explanatory, but once you get to the bottom it has some really interesting points about coming in as an “investor” or a co-producer.
  • Unusual Punctuation Marks. I think the interrobang, the percontation point, the exclamation comma, and the question comma should become standard usage. What do you think?

Self-publishing Mistakes You Should Never Make

July 2, 2012

This week I was on vacation in the D.C. area, and happened upon a book signing by someone who had some very prime real estate. By which I mean, the book was about fighter pilots, and he was standing in front of the gift shop at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. I was interested in the book, until I took a closer look and discovered that the summary on the dust jacket was riddled with typos – I caught three or four in about fifteen seconds. A minute or two later (after the author was done talking to me), I said, “I’ll think about it,” and I walked away.
In many instances, a pro will be able to tell you almost instantly if a book was self-published. Usually, a non-pro will be able to tell, too, although they might not be able to language it quite as clearly. But if they could, here are some of the ways, editorially, to make sure your book doesn’t get dismissed off-hand:
  • Proofreading – When you’re self-publishing your book, don’t hire a proofreader, hire seven. For the last book I edited, I performed 3 substantive edits and then hired a copy-editor, a pre-layout proofreader, 3 post-layout proofreaders, and 4 post-proofreading volunteer proofreaders. And they all caught different things. So spending the money on proofreading is absolutely worth it.
  • Ellipsis – An ellipsis is three dots in a row: “…” So many self-published books will have their ellipses look like this: “I stood there … and waited … .” And it’s actually dead wrong. This error is supported by the fact that if you type in three dots in Microsoft Word, it will transform into a single ellipsis character. So although you typed this: “…” Microsoft Word is giving you this: “…”. You may not be able to tell the difference, but when you start playing with font types and spacing in between words (as in the example above), it starts to matter. The correct way to do it, according to Chicago style (which is used for most books, excluding academic publications), is to insert spaces between the periods, with an extra period before or after if it’s marking the end of a sentence: “This is right . . . as is this . . . . These are the right ways to do it. . . .” The distinction between the second and third examples (i.e., whether you include a space after the last letter in the sentence) is subtle, but basically it’s determined by whether the sentence is trailing off before the pause happens, or whether the sentence ends normally, and is then followed by a hesitation. It’s important to note that spacing it like this will likely result in occasions where a line breaks in the middle of your ellipsis. You correct this by forcing the line break either before or after the ellipsis. Which is why you should hire a professional to do your interior layout.
  • Em-dashes, en-dashes, and hyphens – In my first book, a parenthetical phrase was offset by a space, an en-dash, and then another space, like this: “When we first started south – the direction of the mountain – the slope was quite shallow.” But this is incorrect. First, for the uninitiated, a few definitions:Hyphen: –
    En-dash: –
    Em-dash: —See the difference? An en-dash is the width of an “n”, an em-dash the width of an “m,” which is why they’re called those things. Now, here’s how they’re used: A hyphen joins two words into a compound word: The well-made play, a low-budget movie, etc. An en-dash joins two numbers: He won by a score of 41–38, this school is for 12–16 year olds, etc. An em-dash (without spaces!) offsets a parenthetical: “When we first started south—the direction of the mountain—the slope was quite shallow.”
  • Spacing after periods – One space after a period. Not two. If you type with two spaces after a period, get out of the habit now, because it’s wrong. “But why?!” You ask. “When I learned how to type, it was always two spaces after a period!” Well, the only reason you say that is because you (a) learned to type on a typewriter, or (b) learned to type from someone else who learned on a typewriter. Here’s your history lesson: For hundreds of years, typography has dictated one space after a period. But when the typewriter was invented, since it technologically has to move the same distance every time you strike a key, they had to create a special font where all letters were the same width. This led to the invention of Courier and other monotype fonts. Suddenly, an “m” and an “n” were the same width, as was an “i” and a period. This made it harder to distinguish between sentences, so people started adding in extra spaces, making it easier to read.But even thenm at the height of typewriter usage, when someone’s typewritten manuscript was turned into a bound book, the typesetter used a proportional font (where the letters are all different widths), and would remove the extra space after the period, displaying everything the way they had done for centuries (and the way that, quite frankly, looks better).

These are the big ones that I see on a regular basis. Don’t let these sorts of things be the reason someone just “thinks about” buying it. Correct them now, and have them know they’re going to buy it.

Fun with Grammar – The Impossible Apostrophe

February 23, 2010

What’s wrong with the following sentence, aside from its anachronistic subject matter?

Kellogg’s mistake, in releasing Michael Phelps from his endorsement contract, was a big one.

That’s right! Kellogg’s is the name of the company, and yet, by attempting to possess it (possessify it?), you’re stuck between changing the name of the company to Kellogg or having two apostrophes in the same sentence:

Kellogg’s’s mistake, in releasing Michael Phelps from his endorsement contract, was a big one.

I ran into this issue when writing an article yesterday, and looked it up, and confirmed that the solution for this problem is to rewrite the sentence without use of the possessive:

Kellogg’s made a huge mistake by releasing Michael Phelps from his endorsement contract.

This concludes today’s Fun with Grammar lesson. I hope you learned something. Namely, that I’m still bitter, even a year later.

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