Introduction to Style Guides

Style GuideAs a professional writer, style guides are part of the job.

Clients may have their own guides, or at least their own ideas for guides. Clients may be willing to defer to you and whatever your style is. Whichever scenario, it’s good to know what a style guide is and to have one for your own business.

The focus of a style guide is to provide guidance on usage when more than one possibility exists; it isn’t so much for distinguishing between correct and incorrect grammar.

Business can choose style guides and dictionaries to follow for most word inquiries, but there are always words or phrases – do I capitalize this or not? Does this need to be hyphenated? – that come up over and over. Individual style guides track these types of things.

I generally follow Chicago Manual of Style and use Merriam Webster Dictionary. A majority of my clients go with what I recommend, but I do have a few that use the AP Style Guide and prefer the Cambridge Dictionary.

With your own style guide, you present yourself (your brand) in a consistent way. And when you have staff, or other writers helping you with content, the style guide helps ensure that everyone uses the same tone and remain consistent with your writing. A style guide saves time and resources by giving answers to questions that come up about preferred style.

Even though clients may go with your preference, every company is different – their branding, their voice, their tone – everything is unique to each business.

Style guides are for the ‘exceptions’ – those things that fall outside the chosen manual of style and dictionary (or to clarify which reference to use).

Examples of items in my style guide — regardless of what CMS or Merriam say, I go with “Internet” vs “internet” and “Web site” vs “website”. Some clients prefer the lowercased options. I’m also in favor of the Oxford (serial) comma – meaning a comma after every item in a list.

Other things to include in a style guide are specifics about:

  • Headings in general — how they are capitalized
  • Lists — whether they are capitalized at the start and if/how/when they are punctuated
  • Numbers — when they should be spelled in full, in particular
  • Rules for headings of chapters, figures, and tables — as well as how to number them

Style guides are not long documents — as most rules and examples are found in the dictionary and manual of style chosen. A good rule is 4-5 pages, max – Arial, 12pt font, double space between items. Keep it clean, simple, streamlined. As you add to it, you may reorganize it — if you have other people use it, you’ll find more items to add quickly.

My style guide a simple Word do and is only a couple of pages long, as are the ones created for clients. I bold terms I want to leap off the page, but otherwise it’s simple text on a white page. (Nothing says it has to be typed, either.)

Do you have a style guide for your writing? Have you created one for a client before? Do you think a style guide is a useful document for your business?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Carina Press is looking for your story

Carina Press has made two big calls for submissions recently. Carina is the digital first imprint from Harlequin. They publish books in a wide variety of fiction genres including contemporary romance, steampunk, erotic romance, gay/lesbian fiction, mystery, science-fiction, and fantasy, among others.

In the past, Carina has required a completed manuscript and a detailed synopsis for submission. Recently, Carina announced their first-ever call for proposals. If your book meets a few important criteria, you could be in luck, but hurry! The deadline is July 13th and there are a few conditions:

That’s it, so what are you waiting for? Submit your proposal today!

New Anthologies from Carina in 2017

Carina has also announced a call for submissions for 5 anthologies to be released in 2017 both as anthologies and as novellas. The requested word count is 25,000 to 40,000  and genres:

  • A Jewel Thief, Capers and Heists Anthology
  • Alien Love: A Romance Anthology
  • Sexy Shifters: A Male/Male Romance Anthology.
  • Sexy Shifter A Het Romance Anthology
  • Too Taboo: A Forbidden Erotic Romance Anthology

Submission dates vary by anthology but start August 1st with Too Taboo and end October 4th with the Capers and Heists anthology. Decisions are offered approximately 3 weeks after submission.

Details can be found on the Carina Press website.

Good luck and make sure you let us know Carina accepts your work!

What are you working on this summer?

So You Want to Write for Pay, but You Haven’t Been Paid for Writing Yet

When you first start out seeking to get paid for your writing you enter the Catch-22 of needing to prove you can write for pay in order to write for pay.

What do you do when you’re starting out, haven’t written for publication in years, or are switching industries and don’t have any relevant or current clips?

The answer is simple: Use whatever you have.

LaptopWhen I first started out, all I had was book reviews. So I used them to get a gig with a local paper that involved interviewing local business owners and writing about them.

Some advice is to never use clips from content mills. I say if that’s all you have, use ’em. Especially if they are related to the type of article you are pitching or the type of writing job you are applying for. At one point I was writing for a mill (it no longer exists) on  various topics relevant to small business owners. I used those clips when I pitched to editors on similar topics. (This mill had editors and strict guidelines on key words, length of each paragraph, etc. – a lot of mills let anyone write and publish without doing much in the way of gatekeeping, as they are more about producing content than producing quality content.)

If you have a blog, your posts can be considered ‘clips’ – you can use those.

If you have clips from years ago, use those if they are what you have. You may want to explain to the editor (when you submit) why the clips are old, but generally if you used to write to a deadline for publication, you probably still have that skill, so the dates won’t be an issue.

How about writing an article as a sample/example? This may work, as it can demonstrate your writing ability, but editors and publishers want to see your published writing so they can see you know how to write to a deadline, for publication, and/or within a certain word count.

Sending your clips

With the high rate of viruses and malware, I don’t know many people any more who are fond of attachments. So I recommend *not* sending clips as attachments, or hyperlinks. When I send off queries, I mention titles of articles/clips and include the full website link (if applicable and available – and it’s short enough), and offer to send clips in whatever format they prefer (Word or PDF generally).

When you start to publish, keep track of the links to your articles (if they are online). Start a spreadsheet or document so you can easily find what you need. But before sending a link off with an query letter, confirm it still works. Links can disappear or become unusable quickly. Make sure to avoid having the editor find “Page not found”.

If you’re interested in writing for publication, most likely you have some type of writing you can use as a ‘clip’ when you submit a query. I’m confident you’ll be able to land a paid writing gig with the right determination and approach.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Being a Contest Judge Brings New Perspective to Submitting Work

FollowTheGuidelinesOn the flip side of being a contestant in a writing contest, I’ve also been a contest judge. I realized many of the challenges that those who run contests (and publishers) run into consistently.

First off, I admire anyone who takes the time to write and submit for a contest or publication. Whether it’s a short entry or novel-length, submitting work to be read (and judged) by someone else forces a big leap out of your comfort zone. Kudos for pushing yourself to submit!

My best advice for submitting to anyone at any time is: Make the most of your effort by following submission guidelines.

You’ve put a lot of effort into your story — you don’t want your story disqualified before anyone reads it, do you?  Of course not!

We writers are a creative sort, but one area not to express our creativity is in tweaking the physical appearance of the submission.

  • Submitting in a font other than Courier or Times New Roman; a font size larger than 12 or smaller than 10; or pages with margins smaller than 1″ all around, doesn’t work (unless explicitly asked for). Don’t do it. Always always always submit in standard format – for publication, for contests, for inquiries, for queries, for anything, really.
  • If guidelines say ‘no more than 800 words,’ make sure your submission is not more than 800 words. If in doubt, word count more often than not, does not include the title; however if you have any doubt at all, include the title in your word count!
  • If submitting a piece that requires specific words to include, or a theme to write to, make sure to include the words, or write to the theme in an obvious way.
  • If submission guidelines say to submit as text in an e-mail (versus as an attachment), then, by all that’s holy, submit in an e-mail and not as an attachment!
  • Seldom, if ever, do you want to do a special header on a submission that includes all your contact information. Name, e-mail, postal address, phone number, and other such information should be sent within an e-mail or simply typed at the top of your submission (again, depending on guidelines).

Make the most of your effort to push yourself out of your comfort zone to submit to a contest (or publisher) — make your submission count — follow the guidelines, every single time.

I’ll have a follow up post on how to handle feedback from an editor about your piece.

I wish you a great week and hope you’re thinking about submitting to a contest or publisher (if you weren’t already!)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Motivate Yourself by Submitting to a Writing Contest

Today’s post is as much for me as it is for you. You see, I’ve been quite lethargic about writing fiction lately, as my business has been so pleasantly busy that I don’t have time to write for fun.

I put don’t have time in italics, since, we all know that we make time for what is important to us. I do have time. I have the same amount of time as everyone else and if I truly want to write fiction, I will find a way.EnterWritingContests

Today’s post is my self-motivation for finding that way.

Submitting to contests is a great way to be inspired to write, to actually write, and to actually submit. I’ve done it. I know it’s always fun and challenging and a unique way to get the must to come out and play.

My all-time-favorite contests are the quarterly 24-hour contests by WritersWeekly.com, where you register in advance (this is for the July 9 contest) and pay the modest $5 fee, then on the date of the contest, you receive the writing prompt, the word count, and the guidelines. You have 24 hours to write, polish, and submit a short story.

It’s up to you if you want to pay a fee or not. $5 is the most I’ve ever been willing to part with to enter a contest, but there are all types of contests available.

Here are some contest lists to get you started

I hope you try a writing contest, or two, to shake off cobwebs, exercise the muse, or to have some plain old fun for no other reason than you want to!

Deadlines are a great incentive in themselves, but you could win a prize (money, publication, or some type of gift), improve your writing and editing skills, and even give your self-confidence a boost — which is where I’m at.

Feel free to share your thoughts on contests, and if you have a favorite, please share!

(I’ll talk about contests from a judge’s perspective next week.)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Are You Ready to Expand Your Freelance Business?

So you’re creating the life of a freelance writer. You’ve been paid for your writing, you’ve had a few clients. You love the feeling of creating content — and getting paid.

Now you’re asking yourself if  it’s time to start charging (more) competitively for your work. Or maybe you’re thinking of narrowing your niche and  specializing in a certain type of  writing service.

Is the time now? How do you know when to expand your business?

If you’re asking yourself these questions, you’re close to that moment. When you are seeking new projects and thinking of trying new types of content, it’s a sure sign that you’re feeling confident with your current skill set and are ready to push out of your comfort zone to try more.

ComfortZoneSo what’s the next step?

If you simply want to charge more, do some research on what current writers charge for that type of content. Maybe you’ll find you’re already charging a similar rate. If you aren’t, you can assess your skills and determine if a price increase is appropriate or not.

If you want to try a new type of writing — perhaps for a medical company and you have never written a medical paper in  your life — learn as much as you can about the type of writing you want to produce. Read, read, read, and read some more of the type of content. Seek out companies who have published the type of content and practice writing in a similar style. 

Seek out courses in the type of writing you want to produce. If you want to move from process/how-to guides to a white paper, there are a lot of differences.

It’s a definite step in the right direction to already be a paid professional writer. You have a skill set. You know how to write. But now you need to move to the next level and learn the applicable tricks of the trade for your new niche.

It’s not possible to know all the details about a particular writing style before you start charging for it. Even if you specialize in it, there’s always something new that comes along. And if you wait until you (think) you know all there is to know, you’ll never get started.

How did you get started as a freelancer? You educated yourself, you researched, you practiced, you searched out markets seeking your skills. It’s time to do that again. 

Before you know it, you’ll have that ‘moment’ and know you’re ready to move forward and add a new type of writing service to your current portfolio.

It’s time to move beyond your comfort zone.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

It’s Now a Single-Spaced World

Show of hands. Who learned to type on a typewriter?

TypewriterNow keep your hand up if you double space between sentences.

Wow. Quite a few of you!

I hope this news isn’t a surprise, but double spacing is virtually no more when writing for publication. A single space is all that is needed / required between sentences for most style guides and a majority of publishers.

If you’re publishing your own blog and your own e-books you may retain the double spacing between sentences as a personal preference. But if you’re submitting for publication, a single space is all that’s needed in most cases.

*I’m saying most cases because the American Press (AP) Stylebook did call for the single space, but have gone back to the double space.

Programmers and anyone coding in HTML (for instance) on their blogs, know that it’s an effort to make a double space. Everything defaults to single space unless the special   is entered to add an additional space.

It took me a while to get in the habit of single spacing and I still find old documents that are double spaced. When I first transitioned to single spacing, it was through the find and replace feature in Word. Now it’s just habit to only use one space.

No bad things will happen if you continue to double space between sentences; however if submitting for publication (as is always the case) read the guidelines carefully and if there is a style guide handy, double-check the rule for spacing between sentences. If you can make the best first impression with a publisher, even if it’s single spacing between sentences, you should do it. Right?

I’ve had this conversation a few times over the last couple of months. Some folks are adamant about the double space; others are surprised to hear single spacing is an option; and then there are a few, like me, who have converted to single spacing and can’t imagine double spacing any more.

Where are you in the single vs double space conversation? A convert? Not ever going to single space? Single space on special occasions?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, technology, and realty businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

Time Is Flying!

It was almost two years ago that I signed my contract for the Clock Shop Mystery Series, which I am writing under the pen name Julianne Holmes for Berkley Prime Crime. Last week, on Wicked Cozy Authors, I wrote about how Julianne Holmes came into being. Today, I thought I’d write about the journey of the book, Just Killing Time, which will be published October 6, 26 months after I signed the contract. In a lot of ways, that is a long time. But in others? Yeesh, it is flying, especially since there are three books to write.

Just Killing Time debuts October 6!

Just Killing Time debuts October 6!

Just Killing Time has taught me a lot about the process of writing and publishing a book. Although other journeys will be different, many of the steps will be part of the process. Here’s what the past year has been like for me:

  • Writing the first draft of Book #1 (Just Killing Time). Seems obvious, but until you write the book, which can be a slog, you can’t move forward.
  • Reading, revising, and editing it yourself.
  • Having someone else read it, to see if it is a book. My friend Jason is my first reader. He loves the genre, reads a lot, is supportive, but can also give me tough love.
  • Take those notes, make changes, and polish it a bit more.
  • Have an editor look at it. That person can help in two ways. First, to make sure the story hangs together logically. Second, with wordsmithing, grammar, and other stylistic choices. There are a number of folks on this blog who are freelance editors. Finding one to work with can be tough. You need help, but you don’t need someone to rewrite your book.
  • Work on those suggestions. Polish, polish, polish. Then take a deep breath, and hit send to your publisher.
  • Wait for comments back. This can days, weeks, or in some cases months. My editor at Berkley is incredibly attentive, and it didn’t take long for her to come back to me with her editorial letter. This is the moment where you really need to get out of your own way. I had to do a massive rewrite on Just Killing Time. The rewrite made it a better book, but my ego had to step aside so that the writer could get to work. I also had to put Book #2 aside, so I could work on Book #1. That has been something that I am still learning how to do, keep two projects moving forward at the same time.
  • Resubmit, and wait for the next round of comments. This dance can go on for a while, but at some point the work will be done, and the book will be accepted. Do not, however, lull yourself into thinking the next time you will see it will be when it arrives as a book.
  • Around this time, I got to see the cover. I love it! I was asked for some ideas for the artist, but left it in their hands.
  • Copyedits are the next phase. These edits are from another source who is looking at consistency, making sure you are following the style sheet for the publishing house, and making clarifying edits. At this phase you can add, subtract, change. But it is a dialogue. Again, there is some back and forth.
  • Ask other writers to read it, and give you quotes that can be used in marketing. I will admit, this was a vulnerable moment for me, since I had to let the public see my baby. It all worked out, and was made easier by my Sisters in Crime relationships. Knowing other writers makes all the difference in so many ways. Don’t wait to find those networks.
  • Proofs are the next step. This is what I am working on now–reading the book again, looking for mistakes. This is not a time to rewrite. One great part of this phase is that I get to see how the book will be laid out, how the chapters look, etc.

These are all the book steps I’ve gone through so far. Next up will be marketing, getting ready for the launch (figuring out what that will be!), and hitting send on Book #2 by July 15.

These days there are lots of paths to publication, but the steps are going to be very similar. I am one of the lucky ones. This is a lot of work, but it is a dream come true, and it is getting more real by the day. Now, back to the editing of Book #2…

******************

J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julie Hennrikus is an arts administrator. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series. They all look alike.

Accepting Rejection

www.freephotosbank.com

I started submitting short stories to literary journals in the snail mail era, and amassed enough rejection slips to wallpaper a small house. photo credit: http://www.freephotosbank.com

There was a time when I took editorial rejection personally, allowing Dear Writer letters send me into a tailspin of despair. Having my work passed – even with praise – was so painful, that for a while I stopped submitting entirely – and delayed becoming published as a result.

Then, at a dinner party, I met a writer who had made it his goal to amass one hundred rejections in a single year. In the process, he placed eight stories.

By then, I was no longer writing short stories, but novels, and was seeking an agent. I researched likely matches, queried several at a time, received multiple requests for my manuscript, and eventually had two different agents interested in my work. Suddenly, I had a choice.

In hindsight, I can now see that in those early days of sending out short stories, I made three critical mistakes.

  1. I sent out too few submissions;
  2. I didn’t follow up on passes with personal notes;
  3. I took the rejections personally.

TOO FEW SUBMISSIONS

I sent my short stories to five journals total, rather than five journals at a time. Simultaneous submissions are nearly universally accepted these days, and there are many journals, both print and on-line, that accept them. But the truth is, many are inundated with submissions, and response time can be long. So it’s a good practice to identify up to a dozen or so journals that would be a good match for your work. It even helps to think of the editors as your audience. In fact, they are. Whatever you do to make their job easier increases your changes of having your work read.

Three simple ways to please a first reader include:

  1. Send only the kind of work their magazine asks for;
  2. Follow their submission guidelines exactly;
  3. Make sure your work is not only your best, but also properly formatted. (I’ve judged contests, and I can tell you: formatting matters).

Because editors are often inundated with submissions, because reading is subjective, and because journals may have specific needs, your submission might not make the cut this time. As soon as you hear from one magazine, send the story out to another. Have a list of suitable places for each story, and keep the story in circulation until either it places or you exhaust your initial list.

FOLLOW UP ON PERSONAL NOTES

Most of my stories were rejected with personal notes from editors who said something positive about my work. Rather than send them another story while my work was fresh in the editor’s mind, I wallowed in self-pity, which felt good at the time. But it’s really self-indulgent and counterproductive.

Especially at the beginning of the submission process, before you have any stories published, it’s good to think of sending out stories as a way of introducing yourself to the journals you’ve identified as a good fit for your voice. Consider submissions as a kind of networking, and when an editor responds, follow up with more work. Editors are human, and relationships matter.

DON’T TAKE REJECTIONS PERSONALLY

Reading is personal; selection for publication subjective. Just because a journal didn’t take your short story doesn’t mean it’s not any good; it really means it’s not right for that journal at that moment in time.

That said, if you strike out a dozen times with one story, read it again. Ask others to read it. And if you ask others for feedback, listen to what they have to say.

One of the hardest and most important skills to develop as a writer is listening to your readers’ responses without defending your work. But that’s the subject of another post.

 

Deborah Lee Luskin started submitting in the snail mail era, and amassed enough rejection slips to wallpaper a small house. Learn more at http://www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

Share Your Story: Chicken Soup Compilations

Do you enjoy the essay format? Or crafting poems?

Upcoming Chicken Soup Anthology

Upcoming Chicken Soup Anthology

Do you have inspirational stories that you share with others?

Have you written any of those stories or poems down?

Can you tell a story in 1,200 words or less?

If yes to these questions, check out Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

They are always updating their list of books that are open to submissions. As of this writing, the titles seeking stories include:

  • Angels in Our Midst (March 31 deadline)
  • Overcoming Challenges/Finding Inner Strength (March 31 deadline)
  • Stories ABOUT Moms (September 30 deadline)
  • Stories about the Christmas Season (August 30 deadline)
  • Stories BY Moms (September 30 deadline)
  • The Power of Forgiveness (June 30 deadline)

Chicken Soup has detailed submission guidelines that you want to follow. (It is so important to always follow stated guidelines for any submission to any publisher.)

To get a feel for what the publisher is seeking, you can find a copy of any past publication through a library, book store, online bookstore (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc), used book store, or even a family friend.

For an easy way to digest inspirational stories, you can subscribe to the Chicken Soup daily bulletin and have a daily inspirational storied emailed to you.

Payment for an accepted story is $200 plus 10 copies of the book your story appears in, upon publication.

I recently submitted to the anthology named Reboot Your Life. I’ll let you know when I hear something.

Do you have an essay market to recommend?

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves writing about NH people, places, and activities. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn.