Thursday, June 30, 2011


It has recently come to my attention through GalleyCat that the University of Oxford Writing Guide has recommended writers avoid the Oxford comma (or serial comma) "as a general rule."

(See below for an example.)

Wait. What?! You Punctuation Police can't just take something that has been a rule and decide it doesn't work any more. Oh, wait. This is the English language we're talking about? Yes, by all means, randomly change the rules so it's nearly impossible for anyone to keep up. Have to say though, you guys keep us on our toes.

***The Oxford comma is the one that separates three ideas and an "and." For instance: I bought a pen, notepad, and bookmark. The comma after notepad is the Oxford comma. It tells us that notepad and bookmark are two, distinct objects.

In the past, you only clumped things together that went together. Example: For lunch, I had chips, peanut butter and jelly, and a milk. The peanut butter and jelly are part of the same notion, so you wouldn't use a comma. There are countless debates regarding the Oxford comma. You can find a list of pros and cons at the ever nifty Wikipedia .

While I mourn the loss of the necessary and functional Oxford comma, I won't go too deep into myself in search of answers. I'm sure Oxford, or some other rule maker, will decide the comma is pertinent once again...right about the time we adjust to not using it.

So where do you guys stand on the Oxford comma? Are you as devastated by this loss as I am, or is it just a thing of the past?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

As a Matter of Fact, You Can Judge a Cover. Pt III

Part III of III: The Analytical post.

Congratulations, you made it! Today I want to wrap up the cover discussion with actual layout and design. Now, mind you, I'm a bit peculiar in my ways, so me liking or not liking something doesn't always follow the trend. However, there is still a general template to follow no matter your tastes or preferences.

As we discussed before, you need to know your reader and your subject matter. For me, choosing the perfect cover was as paramount as the story itself. The cover is the first thing a reader will see. It needs to send the right message, fit into the YA paranormal-romance field, but yet be unique and striking. Not an easy task, I'll tell you, but my cover designer is brilliant, and his skill made all the difference.

Step One: Your Background Image
Is your story the one with Princess Fluffernutter and the search for her one true love? You're probably going to want a background image that portrays such a scene. Castles, dragons, cyclops fairies...whatever. The point is, your background needs show the setting of the story without drawing the eye fully. It needs to be subtle, but noticeable. This is your first option. Think Harry Potter.

Harry is the first thing you see, but the background is full of other characters and creatures that are vital to the story.

Your second option, you can go the less obvious route and choose a solid or textured background. This is a great idea if you're going for something striking or if you have an A) excellent focal point (see the following section), or B) a busy focal point. Think all of the Twilight covers or Bree Despain.

Plain, black background makes for a more vivid focal point. Consider your storyline, or simply a striking image to figure out which suits you.

Step Two: Your Foreground Image or Focal Point
This is the image you want to capture your audience. It needs to stand out and draw immediate attention to the cover. This is your selling point! Faces are the trend at the moment (though I thoroughly dislike full-on faces for most covers) so here's where you're going to add the beautiful princess looking pouty, irresolute, or whatever her purpose is in the story. Readers need to see her and wonder why her expression is set the way it is. They need to marvel at her vividly red hair and mysterious eyes. You get one chance to capture the reader's attention. Take advantage of it! I really liked this one. I'm intrigued by her role in the story.

She looks like she's up to something, doesn't she? And what's with the flowers? I would pick this up, despite my aversion to faces, just because it's eye-catching. Whatever style you choose, whatever your focal point, stand out, be bold even if it's subtly, and make an impact.

Step Three: Font
This seems like such an easy task, but for me, it was one of the more difficult. I wanted a font that captured the title of my story as well as the story itself. Not so easy! In my mind, I was looking for something like the font on Beautiful Creatures.

This is a great cover all around, in my opinion, but the font really pops. In this case, the font is actually the focal point. It captures the feel of story and in conjunction with the background, you get a good idea of what to expect. Very well done. If you don't have a dark, mysterious story, this font likely wouldn't work for you.

**Take note however, if your cover is busy, unless your story warrants it, keep your font simple. Think about where you want the readers focus and concentrate on that. Keep it clean, simple, and easy to read when you can.

I hope you guys have learned more quickly what it took me a while to understand!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wordsmith Wednesday: Who Needs Two Spell Rite?

Wordsmith Wednesday is a running series which features some our favorite things: Words! My wonderful friend Chi, AKA Elizabeth Isaacs, started this with the hope that writers and readers would take something useful away. I personally love it because I'm a nerd, but I struggle with certain things just like everyone else. It's nice for me to have a reminder.

Spelling--the order of the day.

Good spelling is imperative, yet more often than not, it's one of the most difficult things to nail down. Poor spelling, however, makes us seem less intelligent than we really are...or in my case, want to be perceived ;) Thankfully, on one hand, we have spell check on our computers and auto-correct on our phones. While I'm as guilty as the next person for a good deal of misspellings, I can't help but wonder if all the backup we get from technology isn't a bad thing. **Remember, just because spell-check didn't highlight something, doesn't make it right!

When I type, and Word auto-corrects my ignorance, I never see that I spelled it the wrong way to begin with. Since Word is so gracious as to allow me to skip over my idiocy, I'm going to address it myself with a few of the words I struggle to spell correctly.

Rhythym: Even now, I didn't spell it the correct way. It's actually r-h-y-t-h-m. I never get this one right, and I try so hard. I know there's a Y in there, but the placement always throws me.

Separate: Two A's, one E. I often see this spelled s-e-p-e-r-a-t-e because that's how we pronounce it. We can thank the funky and inconsistent English language for that one.

Succeed, Committed, Embarrass, Recommend: And ALL those random, two letter words. I know they're frustrating to learn. I hate not having my auto-correct crutch to lean on for the few occasions I have to hand write these. Believe me, I keep a dictionary around at all times for this reason.

Judgment: This one is just off for me. There should be two E's in my opinion, yet there aren't. Who gets to decide this stuff?

Guarantee and Restaurant: After rhythm, these two are the biggest thorns in my side. Something about that random U just knocks me off kilter. In my head, I've learned to say them like they're spelled. My head is a interesting, and oftentimes unintelligible, place to be. I do find that saying the words to yourself the way they sound helps.

Fact Monster has a nice Word Wise section with tips and saying to keep things straight. Tip #8 follows my whole, say-the-word-like-it-sounds idea. In this case though, you can say them out loud ;)

**Side note, certain words and their spellings vary by style guide and country. I just thought I'd throw that in there since spelling is so easy to begin with ;)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Can I Bite My Own Teeth?

As I recently tweeted, I love quotes. They're everything I want to say but never can. So, I thought it's be fun to have a Quotable Quotes day, which apparently is going to be Tuesday since that's today.

Every time I see or hear a quote that strikes my fancy, I'll jot it down or email it to myself for later reference. For those of you who don't know me very well, I tend to ramble about the inconsequential without ever making my point. A quote for me is a lifeline. And in the (sort of) words of John Mayer, quotes help me "Say what I need to say," in a charming and succinct fashion.

Today, for the first ever Quotable Quotes day, I'm drawing from the obvious yet brilliant Alan B. Watts. I read this and couldn't help but laugh at the truth behind his statement.

"Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth."

As I've been working on my author bio, putting together missing pieces for various blog posts, and generally answering questions about myself, I've come to the conclusion: I'm not that interesting, and it's really hard to sound otherwise.

When I read other people's bios I think, "Oh wow! How cool it must be to have a jellybean farm or a pet worm rodeo. I don't have anything like that." And so, a moment passes by with me pouting about my lack of general interesting-ness before I realize, "Hey, Alan B. Watts felt the same way as me and he was all kinds of awesome!"

That little revelation keeps me motivated. I'm odd and quirky and all around backwards, but I have a wonderful family and a great group of friends who love me for me. If those are the only two things I could ever claim in a bio, well that's more than a lot of "accomplished" people can claim in a lifetime. I'm blessed to be me :)

Monday, June 20, 2011

As a Matter of Fact, You Can Judge a Cover. Pt II

Hey guys! Thanks for coming back for part II of our cover discussion. Today I want to address the ever lingering questions: How do I find a good cover designer? (The word "good" is super important there.) And of course, What should I expect from them?

Well, coming at this from a what-I-experienced-myself mindset, I'll tell you. Finding a the designer(s) is the tough part. There is countless talent out there, but one talent isn't a fit for every project. You MUST find someone who shares your vision. Being an awesome designer is a broad term.

I'll give you some examples. Just image for a moment you see this:

That's a sick cover, right? I mean, it's enticing. It alludes to some darkness in the story. It feels creepy and mysterious. Brilliant design.

Now, what do you see here?

I see something light and girly that is probably full of whimsical felicity and charming princes.

**Disclaimer: I haven't read either of these. This is just a cover post ;)

Now, perhaps the same person designed both these covers and he/she is very good. Most likely though, a designer was chosen by their experience and taste in that particular field. They both did an outstanding job, but if you have a dark, mysterious story with a Tim Burton-esque feel to it, you don't want whimsical. (If you do have a dark, Tim Burton-esque story, please email me with details ;) Likewise, if Princess Fluffernutter is seeking her one, true love, an ominous forest surround by glowing eyes isn't going to fit the bill.

Now then, what should you do? Search through several designers. Talk to them. Get a feel for their personality and style. SEE EXAMPLES OF THEIR WORK. Get referrals and compare prices. Tell them what you want up front, and ask them what they envision. Clear the path before you sign a deal! And please don't think you have to spend a fortune to get a great cover. I promise you that isn't the case. But shop around to find the designer who will best suit your needs.

Next time, we'll discuss ideas, styles, and layouts. By the end of this mini-series, you will know what I learned the not so easy way!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

As a Matter of Fact, You Can Judge a Cover. Pt I

This is going to be a mini-series of posts since I have a knack for following the most difficult path possible, before I randomly stumble over the writing-stone of obvious.

As many of you know, I've been on the all-encompassing journey to develop the perfect book cover. I openly admit, I went about it somewhat blindly, and it made for a very stressful adventure. **I don't recommend this route, just so you know.**

A book cover is the first thing people see when they're Googling your novel or perusing the shelves at the local bookstore. It has to stand out, to beckon the wandering eye with promises of excitement, romance, or mystery. A good cover tells the story of what's inside without being overstated. A good cover is hard to come by.

There are may factors that go into cover design. I'm by no means an authority on the matter, but I've learned a few things in my own process. Shall I share them? It'll cost you 25 cents. If you said "No, thanks. I don't like you anyway," well, you can have your quarter back. If you answered, "Yes! Why shouldn't we benefit from your ignorance?" then you can keep your quarter as a reward for your honesty!

There are a couple of ways of going about design.

The first way is the easiest: You don't care what's on the front or what your font looks like as long as it's eye catching and awesome. Good for you. Your designer loves you.

The second, since easiest is taken, is the hardest: You have an idea of what you want...or better yet, you have a whole vision of how your cover is going to look sitting next to NYT best-sellers! You imagine the perfectly formed Ocelot no one can create, overlaid with embossed spots made from every texture imaginable, and you smile. Congratulations, your designer hates you now. Just kidding! ...but not really. It's true.

If you follow the same path as me, there are a few things you should know about your cover and how things work. Today, I'll address images since you have that complicated little Ocelot in your head. This is an Ocelot by the way...

STEP ONE: Images.

Your image MUST be A) public domain. What does that mean? It means it belongs to no one in particular, B) your own image that you created either on your own or a combo of PD pics and Photoshop, C) a picture you yourself took, or D) you have written permission to use a copyrighted image for profit. That profit word is very important in asking for permission. People are less generous when there is money to be made. Just a fact.

STEP TWO: Fonts.

Fonts fall under a similar agreement, but with a couple of differences.
Option One: Standard fonts. These come on your computer when you buy it, and are fair game. No worries when you use them for any reason profit or otherwise.
Option Two: Downloadable fonts. There are multiple factors here, and more factors to those factors. I'm going to attempt to break these down further.
*Free to download: You are free to download them. You MUST check user license from the CREATOR to use these for profit. I myself had to do this. Just because it's free to download does not mean it's free to use if you're going to benefit from it. Under this falls the question: How frequently will you profit from the font use? You can only sell so many if you don't have an unlimited user licensing agreement. Be forewarned!
*Purchasable fonts: Those are pretty self explanatory. You pay for them from the get-go. Each site is different when it comes to user licensing. There are Standard End, Multi-user, Web-server, and so on. Please research each site's requirements and find the one that best suits your needs. Most of these people are pretty helpful.

STEP THREE: Anything written on the front or back.

If you have a quote from your favorite author, poet, or song, you'd better give full credit. Seems like an obvious, and I hope it is, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it.

So, for part II of the series, I'll be talking about finding a good cover designer and what to expect.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wordsmith Wednesday: Am I Happy About This?

I love words. All words. Even the words I don't like, I do -- which is one of the reasons I became a writer. I also love the smell of bleach, but that's neither here nor there. Even as kid, I was the little introvert who sat in the corner, perusing the dictionary or medical journals, because knowing words like "miscreant" or "Alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency" is as good as speaking Icelandic when you're eleven.

So, when my wonderful friend (and personal Yoda) Chi suggested a fun new meme, I jumped on board. And Wordsmith Wednesday was born. See here for more details.

Each Wednesday, we'll select a few words which are often misused or misunderstood. The power of words is a wonderful thing, but losing that power can be devastating when you're trying to get your point across. So, the whole idea behind Wordsmith Wednesday, is to allow people to share some of their favorite (or not-so-favorite) words and explain the differences in the way we see them or what they mean.

I'm as guilty as the next person when it comes to misapplying a meaning to a word, so I want to try and clarify my opinion. Here are a few I often see writers using interchangeably. While some may disagree, these are my thoughts.

Anxious implies nervousness. While there may be a hint of excitement residing there, the primary emotion behind being anxious isn't a positive one. A doctor may have bad news to deliver to a family. She's experiencing dread at the thought of their reaction and having to be the one to share it. While she may want to simply get it over with, there's nothing good about her feelings.

Eager denotes a good mixture of nervousness and excitement. A new writer is expecting to hear back about a book deal. He is waiting on pins and needles, hopeful the response is a positive one, but hesitant that it might not be. Eager has the best of both worlds.

The definition of excited is: stirred emotionally; agitated. This is possibly the most wrongly used of them all, and I'm as guilty as the next. For me, excitement is simply that -- I'm happy to experience the thing I'm living through or expecting. There's no negative connotation at all. However, the dictionary would disagree with me. The original intent behind the word denotes having one's feathers ruffled, though honestly, I don't see anyone reworking this word to fit its archaic definition again any time soon.

Now you know, all three words have a similar tenor but each a different emotion. What are a few misused words you guys come across?