ASK THE BOOK DOCTOR: Selected columns from INKLINGS Newsletter for Writers on the Net I've enjoyed writing for INKLINGS since October of 1995. Unfortunately, the newsletter is no longer. It had a good run, though, and helped get other writer’s reference sites get their start. Here are a few of the questions and answers I’ve worked on over the last few years.
Question: I am a beginning writer. I am writing in English although it is not my native language. Once my manuscript is final, how can I ensure the accuracy of language? Who can help me with that aspect?
Answer: That must be quite a challenge, writing in a foreign language. You might try reading it aloud while your English speaking friends are present. They can pay attention to the rhythm and style of English in your manuscript. Reading aloud often brings out subtle differences and can show up any mistakes you may have missed in silent reading. Contacting a language professor might be nice. Often college and high school teachers will use your manuscript in school projects. Also, get as many people as possible to look over your work..
Q: I keep getting the same comment; change from passive voice to active. I'm having trouble with this. Can you help? Does it really make a difference?
A: Don't fret. This happens a lot as a writer works on hone the craft of writing. Switching from passive voice to active voice can be a real challenge. If it's mastered, however, your writing will become sharper, clearer and less wordy. Far more readable.
Here are two examples of passive and active. Print these out and set them beside your manuscript as you edit.
PASSIVE: This screenplay was written by Carol Henson.
ACTIVE: Carol Henson wrote this screenplay.
PASSIVE: It was planned that the movie would be produced by that new production company in the summer of 2002.
ACTIVE: Action Films plans to produce the movie in the summer of 2002.
I have to say, though, that there's nothing wrong with a good passive sentence. Just don't overdo it. Keep your writing tight. Lose the excess baggage. Hone your craft.
Q: I've heard that all book doctors are crooks and you can't trust anyone on the Internet. How would you respond to that?
A: Well, I don’t consider myself a crook on the internet. But how would you know that? One way would be to check my references. Ask for some. Another good thing would be to take advantage of a free sample edit. You send a few double spaced pages of manuscript to the book doctor to be edited. If you like my work, or any other freelance editor's work, then discuss the project. If the free sample edit stinks, look elsewhere. And please, be careful out there on the information superhighway.
Q: I've been working on my manuscript forever. Now I'm ready to submit it. How will I ever be able to finish it and NOT give up?
A: Heavy sigh. A writer writes because he HAS to write. It's easier than tossing and turning all night thinking about characters and plots, dreaming about scenes and dialogue. If you have finished your manuscript, now it's time for fun. Yes, fun! Think of submitting your manuscript as a game. Do your market research. Make your list of agents/publishers. Send out five packages a week and watch your mailbox. If you get all five back, laugh! Laugh because you've already sent out five more. Keep this routine (and your chin) up. It can happen.
Q: Do you think it's true that new writers don't have a chance in today's publishing climate?
A: Absolutely not! I hear this all the time, especially on Internet newsgroups and chats. It seems that a lot of new writers think they can't get published because of some "conspiracy" against them. The truth is that getting published is an adventure in learning. A new writer has to be willing to learn the craft of writing and hone that craft. They also have to write something that a publisher is willing to INVEST in. I can guarantee there isn't a publisher in the world that would let the next best seller slip by just because the writer is new! Study the markets. REALLY study the markets, not just say you've studied the markets. Learn how to write good copy and get the manuscript out there. It can happen.
Q: My organization, an aid and relief group, has asked me to develop and edit a book about our work. I have never worked on a book-length project before. Where do I begin? Any suggestions?
A: One of the first things you should do is make a list of objectives, things you definitely WANT to include in your book. That will help you create a format. Ask your group to give you ideas, maybe even hand out a Q & A sheet for the others to fill in with room for comments. Next, get to the library or bookstore and see what other books are out there like the one you're interested in creating. Other organizations have put books together and if you look them over carefully, you should be able to come up with ideas of your own. Get some copies of Writer's Digest and books about writing nonfiction. Let all the info sink in and take lots of notes. Trust yourself to come up with something practical and unique. You can do it.
Never, ever give up. Discouragement comes from lack of skill. So, LEARN the craft of writing! Do the market research. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. Find out how other writers have done it and follow in their footsteps. If your subject is topical, your writing tight and focused and you’ve found out which publishers and editors buy your type of manuscript, all you need is persistence. Maybe a little luck would be nice, but that would only be a small part of the process. Write! Submit! Go for it.