A-C Writing & Self-publishing tips

Maria Savva has kindly supplied today’s brilliant post. She has an impressive list of published works, which I’ve added at the end. Now over to Maria:

Firstly, I would like to thank Kimm for inviting me to write a guest blog for this wonderful site. I’ve decided to write a list of tips for self-published writers. This blog post will be the first of many. I will continue with a series on my own blog in the coming months.

I started writing my first novel in 1997, and before that I wrote lots of short stories. Over the years I like to think that I have learnt a few things about writing and self-publishing that might be of some use to those writers who are starting out, or those who just need a few ideas to help navigate their way in the minefield that is modern day writing and publishing/promoting.

I’m going to list my tips in alphabetical order, to make it easier to use as a reference guide. In this first in the series, I will cover A-C. So here we go:

A

Apostrophes.

These little punctuation marks seem determined to appear in as much fiction — or non-fiction — as possible; they are the literary equivalent of people who try to get into the background when they see someone filming a news item for TV. Apostrophes have a tendency to appear in text where they are not needed, and even the most seasoned writers will admit to accidentally putting apostrophes where they don’t belong. It’s as if there is an apostrophe gremlin who is determined on world domination. It’s important to know when and when not to use these little upside-down commas… perhaps they are just drunk commas; they are often there when they shouldn’t be and missing when they should be there. One thing to note here, though, is that I started this section with the intention of making it clearer as to when apostrophes should be used, but discovered during my research that there are many grey areas, and there are many usages that are acceptable to some but not to others (now I hope you are getting an idea about how stressful the editing process can be for writers!)

In the English language apostrophes are used:

1. To indicate possession e.g. Rebecca’s toy (the toy belongs to Rebecca);

2.  To replace something missing from the text e.g. didn’t — the apostrophe indicates that the o is missing from not; and,

3. Less commonly, they’re used to avoid a word being read as something else. For example, where you are writing a sentence such as ‘there are two i’s in limit’ to avoid i’s being read as is. Although I will explain later why I don’t necessarily agree with some of this type of usage.

Some common mistakes I have noticed:

I most commonly see apostrophes misused in dates. For example, I’ve seen: “Television programmes in the 1980’s”

That in my opinion, is wrong (although there are some that argue it is correct usage. There are many grey areas in regard to use of apostrophes, as I mentioned above). In my opinion, this should just say: 1980s i.e. plural of 1980. The reason I say this is because there is no chance of someone misreading 1980s as something else, so why use an apostrophe?

You do need the apostrophe if you don’t use the full year and condense it to ’80s. This is because the apostrophe is then being used to indicate that there is some number missing at the start. So, if you were abbreviating the word because to cause, you would put the apostrophe in front: ’cause — to indicate missing letters.

I’ve also seen misuse where people think it indicates the plural of something, like: I took some of my CD’s. Again, in my opinion, that is wrong. It should just be CDs.

There is one usage that can be quite confusing and stumps many new writers: It’s and its.

It’s indicates it is or it has

Its is used for possession, so ‘the cat stretched its paws’ (yes, grammar is confusing).

In general, I think you should remember that where you are indicating the plural of something you don’t need the apostrophe.

I’ve just realised I could probably write a book about the misuse of apostrophes and the arguments as to when they should be used… those little blighters would be happy with that, I’m sure.

Another common mistake is where there is more than one person possessing something. In that case the apostrophe goes at the end… for example parents are two people, so if you’re talking about your parents’ house, the apostrophe goes at the end.

Names that end with S can cause confusion e.g. James. The possessive is sometimes seen as James’s or James’

I would argue that the first usage is correct, because of the way the word is pronounced i.e. you pronounce an extra S, so should use one, however, it is not necessarily considered wrong to miss off the extra S.

I could go on for ever here, but I’ll just mention one more common misuse. They’re and their are often mixed up. They’re means they are (apostrophe is used to replace missing letter); their means something belonging to them… and when I say themI mean more than one person. That’s a whole other grammar lesson that I won’t get into here…

So, my advice is to check your usage of apostrophes carefully. There are many online resources you can use if in doubt. Just Google your query and you’ll find some answers on grammar websites or forums.

So, now I have thoroughly confused you about the use of apostrophes, I will go on to the next letter:

B

BestsellerBound.com is an indie writers’ forum. Suspense author, Darcia Helle, created the site in 2010, but before she launched it, she invited mystery author, Stacy Juba, and myself to join her on the site as resident authors. We launched the forum in the late summer of 2010 and it is a very successful forum where indie writers meet to chat and discuss writing projects. We also undertake group projects such as short story anthologies.

I would advise all writers to join a writers’ forum, even if it’s not BestsellerBound. The great thing about being part of a writers’ group is that you can bounce ideas off each other, you can support each other with promotion, and also you can just have somewhere you can go to rant about things like the unavoidable bad reviews.

Blogs:

I think it’s a good idea for a writer to have a blog. A blog helps your readers get to know you a bit better, but at the same time you are in control of what you post on the blog and so can reveal as much or as little about yourself as you feel comfortable with. On my blog, which is on my Goodreads.com Author Page, I interview other authors and host giveaways of their books; I use it to promote my own books and keep readers up to date with my new projects; I also use it as somewhere I can link to interviews I have done, and just as a general place to let people know about my latest news. You can set up your own blog on WordPress or Blogspot, both seem to be quite popular with authors.

Here are links to some of my favourite author blogs that will give you an idea as to what you can use a blog for:

Quiet Fury Books: http://quietfurybooks.com/blog/

The Tale is The Thing: http://thetaleisthething.blogspot.co.uk/

The Farthest Reaches: http://www.thefarthestreaches.com/

Of Cats and Magic: http://michaelradcliffe.wordpress.com/

Goodread’s Blog of author Quentin R. Bufogle: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/2662374.Quentin_R_Bufogle/blog

C

Contests/Competitions/Challenges:

For most of my writing life I have entered short story competitions. I have found this a great way to keep my creativity and inspiration flowing. Many years ago I subscribed to a writers’ magazine and began to enter the monthly competitions. I haven’t entered them for a couple of years, but only because of lack of time. What I liked about entering the monthly competitions was that they were always a challenge. There would be either a theme given, a first line, last line, sometimes a photograph, or even a description of a character, and the challenge was to write a story based around this, and to keep to a certain word limit. I believe that by writing these stories regularly, I really developed my skills as a short story writer and these days I find it quite easy to write a short story without thinking too much or planning too much. I think any kind of writing contest is good for developing your writing skills and becoming a better writer. It’s not important to win the contest, but more important that you get something out of entering. I was short listed for many of the contests and I won one of them. Here’s a link to my winning story, The Game of Life, which is free to read on Freado.com: http://www.freado.com/book/9186/the-game-of-life

As well as entering contests as a challenge, you should also challenge yourself in other ways with your writing. For example, I took part in an unplanned writing experiment on Bestsellerbound a couple of years ago, where I wrote an online novella with another author, Jason McIntyre. We wrote the story online, one chapter at a time. He wrote the first one, I wrote the next, etc., and we wrote the story without planning it or consulting each other about how it would progress. That was a fun challenge, and the interesting thing about it was that it gave me a bit of an insight as to how another writer, with quite a different style of writing, would approach a story. If you ever get the opportunity to write with another writer or group of writers, I think that can teach you quite a lot about your own writing. The novella I wrote with Jason McIntyre, Cutting The Fat, is available on Amazon Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Cutting-The-Fat-ebook/dp/B004KPM27K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1342636329&sr=8-1&keywords=cutting+the+fat

Another challenge that other writers recommend is the NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month: http://www.nanowrimo.org/ which takes place each November, when you can challenge yourself to write a novel in a month. I’ve never taken part, but have been told it’s a fun and useful thing to do. Even if you don’t finish a novel in that time, you will have a good start for your next project. It could be used as a way to kick-start your writing if you find yourself in a rut. There is a community feel about the event as many writers take part.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post and if you have, you can follow more of my tips at my Goodreads blog in the coming months: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1418272.Maria_Savva/blog

Thank you, Maria, for your informative post, lots of things to think about. 

Maria’s published works:

Coincidences 2001

A Time to Tell 2006

The Game of Life a short story (Writers’ News magazine) 2008

Pieces of a Rainbow 2009

Love and Loyalty (and Other Tales) 2010

Second Chances 2010

Fusion 2011

Cutting The Fat 2011 (co-author Jason McIntyre)

Flames a short story (The BestsellerBound Short Story Anthology – Volume 1) 2011

The Dream 2011

Isolation a short story (The BestsellerBound Short Story Anthology – Volume 2) 2011

Winter Blues a short story (The BestsellerBound Short Story Anthology – Volume 3) 2011

Coincidences (second edition) 2012

Maria is currently preparing to publish her fifth novel.

She is a resident author at BestsellerBound where readers can meet and chat with indie authors.

Maria also writes book reviews for Bookpleasures.com

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Darcia Helle
    Jul 19, 2012 @ 16:21:45

    Great tips, Maria! I’m looking forward to reading your series of posts.

    The apostrophe issue is a difficult one for some authors. I have to admit the one you mentioned regarding issues like -1980’s- drives me a bit crazy. If you’re not talking about something belonging to the decade (or the CDs, etc.), there is no reason to use the apostrophe.

    As for -its- and -it’s-, that’s a stumbling block for many. I think someone tossed that one into our language just for laughs.

    And thank you for the mention of my blog!

    Reply

  2. kimmwalker
    Jul 19, 2012 @ 17:13:18

    Thanks for visiting, Darcia, and taking the time to write a comment.

    Reply

  3. Maria Savva
    Jul 19, 2012 @ 18:19:27

    Thanks, Darcia 🙂 I agree about it’s and its, that was just put there to confuse everyone LOL
    Kimm, thanks so much for inviting me here!

    Reply

  4. Julie Elizabeth Powell
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 15:06:47

    I always want to go around with a marker pen and correct the rash of apostrophes – the world’s gone mad with them! The best way I’ve found to remember about ‘it’s’ and ‘its’ is to think: am I saying ‘it is’ or not?

    Reply

    • kimmwalker
      Jul 20, 2012 @ 16:57:17

      Thanks for stopping by. I like your idea about being a sort of phantom grammar policewoman, armed with a marker pen!

      Reply

    • Maria Savva
      Jul 20, 2012 @ 19:42:38

      LOL, Hi Julie, thanks for your comment. Yes, that’s how I try to remember it’s and its too… I’m always getting them confused and have to think about it every time, even after writing for so many years 🙂

      Reply

  5. Jennifer Lane
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 16:48:41

    Wow, I learned a lot there about drunken commas! One of my editors stuck with the James’ and one changed them all to James’s. I’ll go with your suggestion for the latter, in future writing.

    Reply

    • Maria Savva
      Jul 24, 2012 @ 21:32:45

      Jen, I had this problem when I was writing Second Chances as the main character is called James. The only thing I discovered in my research then is that both James’ and James’s are acceptable LOL… I prefer the second one because of the way it ‘sounds’, as Darcia pointed out.

      Reply

  6. Darcia Helle
    Jul 24, 2012 @ 18:34:27

    Jen, that’s a tricky one and everyone seems to have their own rules for it. I go with sound. If I hear the ‘s’ sound twice when I say the word, as in James’s, I go with the second ‘s’ after the apostrophe. If I don’t hear the second ‘s’ sound, for instance, “The dogs’ toys are all chewed up,” then I don’t use the second ‘s’ after the apostrophe. That’s my personal rule for our crazy language.

    Reply

  7. taraford
    Jul 26, 2012 @ 19:44:43

    Thank you Maria, for the useful information. I shall keep watching this space for further blogs. 😀

    Reply

  8. Trackback: The Portrait of a Writer (3): More than Words « Sherry's Space

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