A New Note in Punctuation

Hi Folks,

Interrobang1When I edit a manuscript, my sole purpose is to make the reading experience seamless for the reader, thereby enhancing the writer’s reputation for excellent writing. When I’m finished there should be no rough edges over which the reader can stumble, no ambiguity or lags in the flow of information that can momentarily confuse the reader, and no punctuation that fails to direct the reading of the work and help convey the mood of the moment.

We probably are all aware of the “new” punctuation mark that’s actually been around since 1962, the interrobang. It looks like an exclamation point imbedded in question mark. It’s intended to convey the exclamatory question. I was going to show you one in context, but most fonts don’t include it yet, so I’ve slipped in a couple of photos instead. The one above is a stylized photo from http://interrobang-mks.com/ and the one below is the way the interrobang appears in Microsoft Word’s Wingdings 2 collection. (To find it go to Format, choose Fonts, then Wingdings 2. To find the interrobang, on your keyboard select the ~ or the } or the ^ (the carat above the 6) or the _.)

Note that the interrobang would be used only in dialogue as the narrator never has a reason to display emotion of any kind, even when he’s also a character. As in real life, the narrator and character roles are different even when they’reInterrobang2 played by the same person. But back to reality for a moment. To keep the interrobang in the font you’re using through the rest of the manuscript, I advocate using a question mark followed by an exclamation point: “What the hell are you doing?!”

The question mark should come first because “What the hell are you doing?” is a question. The exclamation point simply indicates that the question was presented in a stressed voice. (Of course, the way the question is worded indicates a bit of stress even without the exclamation point.) Here’s the question presented differently to indicate increasing levels of stress:

“What the hell are you doing?”
What the hell are you doing?
“What the hell are you doing?!”
What the hell are you doing?!

And that isn’t all. In my current editing project, I ran across the situation that stirred this blog post in the first place: a terse statement (again, in dialogue) that had been interrupted by the other character. Here’s that snippet of conversation:

“You don’t give a damn about our race, you pompous son of a—!”
“I’ll tell you one thing, William, and listen to me closely.”

Of course, we know to use the em dash to indicate the abruptness of an interruption. To indicate an exclamation that’s been interrupted, as in the excerpt above I advocate using the em dash followed by the exclamation point: “What the—!” or “Oh man! Holy sh—!” or “But Manuel, I love—!” or “¡Pero Maria, te amo—!”

(Now, for those of you who still believe you should use an ellipsis to indicate an interruption, please don’t. Remember that the ellipsis creates a pause of indeterminate length; that is, whether the pause is medium or long or somewhere in between depends on the context. That’s why the ellipsis is appropriate to indicate halting speech or dialogue trailing away at the end of a sentence—there’s nothing abrupt about it—so to juxtapose the ellipsis with an exclamation point simply wouldn’t work. If I may personify the two marks for a moment, the lackadaisical attitude exhibited by the ellipsis would clash with the sense of urgency conveyed by the exclamation point.)

So there y’go. If you’re wondering about any other punctuation marks or if you believe you’ve discovered new, innovative uses for them or for combinations, please add a comment below.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

10 Mistakes Authors Make That Can Cost Them a Fortune (and how to avoid them)

Hi Folks,

The Microsoft Word for Writers series will return on October 30, but right now I wanted to share this very important reprint with you. I’ve trimmed away the non-essentials but kept the main points and the rationale. I’ve indicated omissions with an ellipsis. This series of excerpts is reprinted with permission from “The Book Marketing Expert newsletter,” a free ezine offering book promotion and publicity tips and techniques. http://www.amarketingexpert.com. Where I added anything, it’s inside brackets.

Enjoy,
Harvey

When it comes to books, promotion, and book production I know that it can sometimes feel like a minefield of choices. Although I can’t address each of these in detail, a number of areas are keenly tied to a book’s success (or lack thereof). Here are ten for you to consider:

1) Not Understanding the Importance of a Book Cover—Authors will sometimes spend years writing their books and then leave the cover design to someone who either isn’t a designer, or doesn’t have a working knowledge of book design or the publishing industry. Or worse, they create a design without having done the proper market research. … A survey of booksellers showed that 75% of them found the book cover to be the most important element of the book. Finally, please don’t attempt to design your own book cover. Much like cutting your own hair, this is never a good idea. {Recommendation: Professional EBook Cover Design}

2) You Get What You Pay For—There’s an old saying that goes You can find a cheap lawyer and a good lawyer, but you can’t find a good lawyer who is cheap. … If a deal [in marketing services] seems too good to be true, make sure you’re getting all the facts. Just because they aren’t charging you a lot doesn’t mean they shouldn’t put it in writing. And by in writing I mean you should get a detailed list of deliverables. Finding a deal isn’t a bad thing, but if you’re not careful it might just be a waste of money, so ask good questions before you buy. {Recommendation: Whether or not you do it yourself, treat marketing your book as if it’s a business, because it is. You have to work it constantly. See Angela & Richard Hoy’s 90 Days of Promoting Your Book Online}

3) Listening to People Who Aren’t Experts—When you ask someone’s opinion about your book, direction, or topic, make sure they are either working in your industry or know your consumer. If … you’ve written a book for teens, give it to teens to read. Same is true for self-help, diet, romance. Align yourself with your market. You want the book to be right for the reader. In the end that’s all that matters.

4) Hope is not a Marketing Plan—Hope is a wonderful thing, but it isn’t a marketing plan. Hoping that something will happen is one thing, but leaving your marketing to “fate” is quite another. … When it comes time to get your book out there, you need to have a solid plan in place or at the very least a set of actions you feel comfortable working on. … Once your book is past a certain “age” it gets harder to get it reviewed so don’t sit idly by and hope for something to happen. Make it happen. A book is not the field of dreams; just because you wrote it doesn’t mean readers will beat a path to your door.

5) Work it, or Not—Book promotion should be viewed as a long runway, meaning you should plan for the long term. Don’t spend all your marketing dollars in the first few months of a campaign. Make sure you have enough money or personal momentum to keep it going. Whether or not you hire a firm you must work … your marketing plan. Publishing is a business. You’d never open a store and then just sit around hoping people show up to buy your stuff. You advertise, you run specials, you pitch yourself to local media. You work it.  … Time will pass anyway. How will you use it?

{Folks, me again. For a limited time you can get a free, printable PDF copy of the ebook gleaned from my recent seminar, Emarketing & Social Media. Just Click Here. Okay, back to the blog post.}

6) Not Understanding Timing—Be prepared with your marketing early. … Timing can affect things like book events (especially if you’re trying to get into bookstores). Understand when you should pitch your book for review, start to get to know your market and the bloggers you plan to pitch. Create a list and keep close track of who to contact and when you need to get your review pitch out there. … A missed date is akin to a missed opportunity. {Recommendation: Keep in mind “major” dates for booksellers, like just before the holiday season, spring break, and summer reading.}

7) Hiring People Who Aren’t in the Book Industry—Hiring someone who has no book or publishing experience isn’t just a mistake, it could be a costly error. … Make sure you hire the right specialist for the right project. Also, you’ve probably spent years putting together this project, so make sure you make choices based on what’s right and not what’s cheapest. If you shop right you can often find vendors who are perfect for your project and who fit your budget. {Recommendation: While you’re here anyway, look around HarveyStanbrough.com for professional services from a successful writer, editor and publisher.}

8) Designing Your Own Website—You should never cut your own hair or design your own website. Period. … Let’s say you designed your own site which saved you [a few to several hundred or even] a few thousand dollars paying a web designer. Now you’re off promoting your book and suddenly you’re getting a gazillion hits to your site. The problem is, the site is not converting these visitors into a sale. How much money did you lose by punting the web designer and doing it yourself? Hard to know. Scary, isn’t it? {Recommendation: Don’t Do “Free” Sites. Pop-up ads and scrunched-up, out-of-the-box designs are not professional. Decide whether you want to put a professional face on yourself as a writer, and then choose accordingly.}

9) Becoming a Media Diva—Let’s face it, you need the media more than they need you, so here’s the thing: be grateful. Thank the interviewer, send a follow up thank-you note after the interview. Don’t expect the interviewer to read your book and don’t get upset if they get some facts wrong. Just gently, but professionally, correct them in such a way that they don’t look bad or stupid. Never ask for an interview to be redone. … The thing is, until you get a dressing room with specially designed purple M&M’s, don’t even think about becoming a diva. The best thing you can do is create relationships. Show up on time, show up prepared, and always, always, always be grateful.

10)  Take Advantage—There are a ton of resources out there for you. … The resources and free promotional tools that are out there now are almost mind-numbing, … things like social media. … Many authors rock out their campaign by just being on Facebook, or Wattpad or Goodreads. … Find out for yourself what works and what doesn’t. When it comes to marketing, the mistakes can cost you both time and money. Knowing what to do to market your book is important, but knowing what to avoid may be equally as significant.

A Couple of Endorsements

Hi Folks,

I work with computers a lot, for both my personal work as well as for editing and cover design and web design clients. I transitioned from my IBM Selectric to my first dedicated word processor—a Brother with a 1” tall by about 6” wide screen—in the early ‘90s, and from that word processor to my first computer in the mid-‘90s. I developed my first website in 1996. You can’t do that without learning pretty much all you need to know about the importance of backing up your files.

At first we practiced SESO—Save Early, Save Often—so that when the word processor or computer “crashed” we wouldn’t have to recreate quite as much work. The smarter ones among us (not I) saved our work not only on the hard drive of the computer, but on a 7 1/4” floppy disc that really was floppy. (During part of my time in the Marine Corps, I worked on punch cards, which were sort of the precursor to the floppy discs.) Later somebody came out with a 3 1/2” floppy disc that wasn’t actually floppy but that was a lot more durable and therefore more reliable. Still, it only helped with backup if you remembered to save your work on it.

Today, of course, we have “memory sticks” or “flash drives” as well as external hard drives. Those are wonderful, but the original problem remains: you have to remember to back up your files to the external storage device, and you have to leave your computer alone long enough for it to back up the files.

Enter Dropbox. I haven’t tested all the different cloud storage facilities, but I have tested this one thoroughly and I strongly recommend this service.

Today, I keep ALL of my files—both my personal files and my clients’ files—in my Dropbox folder on the desktop screen of my laptop. To edit a file or work on a book cover design, for example, I open my Dropbox folder, open the client’s folder, open the file and work on it. When I click Save, it’s not only saved on my computer, but it’s automatically saved in my Dropbox account in the cloud.

Granted, keeping all my files in my Dropbox folder on my desktop instead of simply keeping them on the desktop itself took a little getting used to, but now my files are automatically and immediately backed up every time I work on them. I can’t begin to tell you the relief that brings me. Best of all, a Dropbox account is absolutely free. I upgraded to a larger amount of storage because, again, I’m storing all of my files as well as all of my clients’ files, but it’s well worth it.

Perhaps best of all, I also back up all of my own websites—HarveyStanbrough.com, StoneThreadPublishing.com, StoneThread Publishing Reviews at HEStanbrough.org, CantinaTales.com and a few others—as well as all of my web design clients’ websites. I’ve already had to rebuild more than one website using the backed-up copy.

Back up your website with Updraft Plus.

If you have your own WordPress website (I can’t speak for Blogger or any of the others) and would like to back it up to your Dropbox account or anyplace else, I strongly recommend the Updraft Plus plug-in. If you have only the one website to worry about, the free account should be plenty.

Actually, I have tested several different plug-ins that allegedly work well to back up your files and database—some free and some paid—but none of them can hold a candle to Updraft Plus. Of all the backup plug-ins available through WordPress, I recommend only this one.

If you don’t have and don’t want a Dropbox account for whatever reason, you can have Updraft Plus send your backup files directly to you via email, or you can set it to back up your files to any of several other storage devices. It’s all up to you.

That’s it for this time. To hear more about these two products and a great deal more, consider attending my upcoming seminar on Emarketing & Social Media. For details, see http://HarveyStanbrough.com/events.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey