Thursday, October 28, 2010

Ten Words You Should Kill Before They Murder Your Writing

I’m going to take a detour around the self-publishing topic to provide a list I promised a fellow volunteer at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference last week. Julian, this post is for you!

I first learned about this kind of word list from Angela Hunt in a workshop at Mt. Hermon Writers’ Conference. She told us we should avoid “weasel” words, and pointed out that they pepper our writing if we don’t deliberately work to avoid them.

In the world of non-fiction, words are termed “weasel” when they blur the truth—when they are used either to deceive the reader, or to protect the writer from having to defend his or her statements. In fiction writing, I think they should be called weasel words because when we use them we weasel out of the writer’s responsibility to choose words carefully.

We do have a responsibility, as writers, to choose our words carefully, but there’s a more practical reason to concern ourselves with weasel words. David Michael Kaplan says: “Any words that aren’t working for you, are working against you.” Eliminating weasel words instantly makes the writing more effective. It’s well worth the time it takes to use that trusty “find” tool to ferret out every one of these pesky critters (Why does that phrase make me think of Randy Ingermanson?)

Words I work hard at avoiding fall mainly into four categories: they are either unnecessary, vague, overused or weak. My actual list of weasels is 40 words long, but I’ll start here with my ten favourites:

1. Very: Absolutely (;-)the worst offender. Very overused (;-), and unnecessary 99.9% of the time.

2. Many: In the category of non-specific words showing (or not showing) amount. Others are several, most, few, etc.

3. There: When used to begin a sentence. See my May 12 blog post, In the Doghouse.

4. Was/were: Because they usually denote passive voice.

5. Thought/realized: Indicate telling, not showing. If you’re in your POV properly you won’t need to mention that your character is thinking or realizing. See post Deep Point of View, October 6, 2008.

6. Felt/seemed: Same problem. They’re words that show state of being, rather than action. Show the feelings and impressions whenever possible.

7. Quite: A vague qualifier, in the category with almost, kind of, and my personal favorite: a bit.

8. Thing: Why not say what the thing is? It’s more specific, and therefore more vivid. Something, anything are also in this family of words.

9. Vast: An example of any word that indicates hyperbole. Unnecessary exaggeration. Extremely, hugely, minutely, absolutely are other examples.

10. Actually: One of the words David Kaplan lists as equivalent to the “uhs” and “wells” and “you knows” in conversation. Actually, this might be the worst one!

I’ve been checking out Kaplan’s book as I write, and have rediscovered "Chapter Nine: Revising Your Prose for Power and Punch." I’m going to re-study that chapter and go back to my manuscript one more time. He’s got a better list of words and says all I’ve been trying to say much better.

Get his book: Revision: A Creative Approach to Writing and Rewriting Fiction.

P.S. Interesting note on weasel words from

"Though the imagery of the term suggests that it implies the concept of a weasel as being sneaky and able to wiggle out of a tight spot, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language says that the term actually comes from the weasel's ability to suck the contents out of an egg without breaking the shell; thus, weasel words suck the meaning out of a statement while seeming to keep the idea intact."

Monday, October 25, 2010


I just figured out, by experience, how to rate a boutique press. You research the publisher enough to get a look inside some of the books he's published.

If you feel the slightest twinge of embarrassment for even one of the authors, because of the content, or the quality of the writing in his book, it's a vanity press and you don't want to go there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Great Resources for Self Publishing

I'm on a guilt trip. It's been way too long since I've posted something useful on this site. So here's my penance. Short and sweet.

Today I got two great books in the mail. I could have gone to the library for them, but I decided these will be keepers--an important permanent addition to my writer's library.

A friend had told me how valuable Dan Poynter's advice was for her. She met him at a conference, and highly recommended his book, Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book. This book is credited with starting the current self-publishing revolution--the one I'm caught up in.

When I ordered Dan Poynter's book, Amazon recommended another one (surprise, surprise) and it's a keeper too. The Well-Fed Self-Publisher: How to Turn One Book into a Full-Time Living, by Peter Bowerman, is an insightful, readable, relaxed introduction to the frantic world of self-publishing, with a dash of humor to keep you entertained as you learn.

Both these books are geared to non-fiction manuscripts, but I have already found helpful information for my situation. And I remain undaunted by Bowerman's warning that self-pubbed fiction is harder to sell than non-fiction. This bulldog has got her mouth around a bone and she's not going to let go until someone else takes a nibble or her teeth fall out.

Today my professional editor received my completed manuscript, as perfect as I can make it. Until he writes back and tells me all the things I still need to fix.

Onward and upward, my writing friends.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Self-Publishing To Do List

Publishing your own book is not as confusing or difficult as I thought it would be. So far, at least. One big asset, and I highly recommend you get one of these, is a professional consultant who is on your side--someone who knows the business, will give good advice and encouragement, and will answer your e-mails quickly.

My guy, Jeff Gerke, has all of these qualifications and more. I'm bugging him lots right now with questions and he's lightening quick with his replies. He is going to be worth all the consulting fees he charges me when it's over.

So here's my list of things to do, in chronological order:

1. Final Revisions. I want to make sure the writing is in top form. This will be the most expensive, the most time-consuming, and the most difficult item on the list. It will also be the most important one, by far. My guy, Jeff, will give me a "Comprehensive Critique" for around $3000, and a "Full Edit" afterward, if I want it, for another $3000. (It's extra expensive because it's such a long book.) Then I'll have to make the revisions. This might be a very long process!

2. Typesetting. Has to be done before the printing company can print the book. Some people do this job themselves, but I don't trust myself. I'm paying Jeff to do this too.

3. Book Cover Design. I have a strong idea of what I want the book cover to look like, so I am taking the iniative with this task. I will hire Jeff to do the final product, but I'll be sending him pictures to incorporate into the design. I had thought I would need to hire an artist to create the image I wanted. This would have been quite expensive. But when I read the great book, Doesn't She Look Natural?, by Angie Hunt, I noticed the cover image was a photograph. Using a photograph will be much cheaper, and I'm having lots of fun getting one. I've found three models who look enough like my three main characters to be related to them. How amazing is that? I'm hiring my creative son-in-law to do a photo shoot with the models posing exactly as I've pictured them on the front of my book. I have no idea if this will work or not, and if Jeff recommends some other design instead I'll listen to him. He knows what sells. But for now, I'm having fun playing around with the idea.

4. Printing. Finding the right printing company is important and takes a bit of research. There are many good services out there, but I think I've found the right one for this project--a young, energetic group of people, with state-of-the-art equipment--and I'm so happy with what they do I'm considering investing in the company. They will print one book at a time, for one penny a page, and mail it directly to the people who order it from my website. Some printing companies require you to buy hundreds of copies of the book up front, which have to be shipped to you and stored in your garage until you can get rid of them, if you can get rid of them! If you're in the market for a printing service, check out Snowfall Press.

5. Marketing. Because I want my books to be affordable to the average reader, I want to sell them myself. Selling through a retailer, or even on, would make my 500-page book way too expensive. Those middlemen are greedy souls. That's why authors publishing the traditional way only make a dollar or less on each sale. If I sell my trade paperback for $12, my profit on each book will be from five to seven dollars, and my readers will feel like they're getting a fair deal. Of course, the downside is I have to do my own marketing. The focus will be the internet. I'll look for sites related to the topic of my book and advertise on those sites. Because my book has an apocolyptic element, I am going to advertise on the December 21, 2012 website, which receives millions of hits a month from people around the world who are interested in "the end of the world as we know it."

6. Website. Because I'm selling the book myself, I'll need a proper website with all the bells and whistles (PayPal and Visa). This is another task I'm going to trust to a professional. The website will be my only interface with potential customers, so it's important that it looks good and works well. I'm looking for the right person for this job. I have lots of ideas for promoting the book on the web, so I'll pay someone to set up the site, then learn how to service it myself, so I can keep it current without spending an arm and a leg.

So that's it. Six things to do. Simple. And I'm pertty sure not#$hing kan go rong.