Don’t Belabor Your Prose

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Today, in honor of Labor Day, I wanted to cover something that has been bugging me all week. It began last Monday when I started a new book and within pages the prose was already starting to annoy me. The words, or at least the author’s choice of long, lugubrious, often archaic words were already getting in the way of the story – and I wasn’t even at Chapter 2!  As soon as I started to read I got the impression that the author was trying way too hard to impress the reader, rather than focusing on creating a compelling story. In some ways the writer was confusing style with content and in so doing, this reader at least, was no longer interested in reading. It had become too laborious. The words themselves had got in the way.

So why was this? I think in this instance it was the result of a naive writer hoping to show-off their linguistic prowess (or something like that – it felt like dictionary gymnastics at times!) and hoping perhaps that this somehow created an aura of literary validity (it didn’t!). What frustrated me the most was that the word choices detracted from what could have been a pretty strong start to a cozy mystery. It got me thinking about why – for someone like me who is drawn to perhaps the more wordy novels anyway (I love Dickens!) – was the prose was so off-putting? I decided it was simple – it was because it was unnecessary. And this at the heart of most things that go wrong with the start of a novel. Anything that feels unnecessary to the reader creates a barrier between them and the page. It stops them from wanting to keep turning that page. Instead, I like to think that a writer should go through a checklist, when reviewing their work, asking themselves a series of questions – something a little like this:

  1. Can I use a simpler word, phrase or description? When I substitute that, does it propel the story forward, or dilute it? (If it dilutes the power of what is being described or being said, then maybe the original word, phrase or description should stay).
  2. What is my reason for using a long/obscure word instead of a more straightforward one? Does it serve as mere affectation, or provide something more nuanced and appropriate in the circumstances? Am I using it because I think it makes me sound more erudite or because it’s the right word to use?
  3. Would most readers have to look the word up? (if so, why use it? It only stops a reader dead in their tracks).
  4. Does my writing sound like I just ingested a thesaurus? (If so, edit now!)
  5. When I read my writing aloud does it flow or do I find myself stumbling over the word choices I’ve made? (I find this an invaluable tool – because if I find myself tripping over the words I know I reader will find it hard to read the piece too).

Basically, don’t belabor your words. Let them flow, simply and easily. Readers will thank you.

So TKZers, tell, me what was the last book that you felt the author belabored their words? Any of your own advice to add to the checklist?

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4 Giant Steps to Self-Publishing

Nancy J. Cohen


Recently I have released my first nonfiction title. This came about because numerous aspiring authors kept asking me how to write a mystery. So I compiled my teachings into an easy-to-read booklet with concise instructions on Writing the Cozy Mystery. Here is a distillation of the steps I followed to produce this work.

Cozy

Please note that today I am en route to Orlando for SleuthFest, and I may not be able to reply to comments in a prompt manner. I will look at them later and do my best to respond in a timely fashion.


Manuscript
Hire a story development editor and a copy editor. Polish your work to perfection.
Insert front and back material into manuscript.
Write back cover copy.

Legal
Create a publisher name and register with your State as “Doing Business As” title. Or create an LLC if you prefer. Check with your accountant for more info.
Put a Legal Notice in your local newspaper if required by the State.
Apply for a county business license/tax receipt. Note: if you’re 65, you may be exempt from fees but you still have to apply. Renewal is annual.
Open a business bank account under DBA title. As sole proprietor, you don’t need an EIN number. Use your own SS number.
Order checks for new account.
Buy ten ISBNs from Bowker.com.

Production
Hire a cover designer for ebook cover and trade paperback cover.
Determine book price for digital edition.
Assign an ISBN number to the digital edition at MyIdentifier.com (if you’ve bought them from Bowker). You will need to upload the cover and give the price.
Hire a formatter after inserting the ISBN into your copyright page. Note that the print edition will have a separate ISBN from the ebook edition so you’ll need to send the formatter two different files or pay for a correction later.
Upload your e-book to Amazon, Apple, BN, Kobo, Smashwords, AllRomanceEbooks/OmniLit. It may be easier to hire your formatter to upload to iBooks since I believe you need to own an Apple device to do this step.
*File for copyright now so you don’t have to send two print books to the copyright office.
Upload to Createspace for a print edition. If you use their ISBN, you can sell your CS book to libraries. If not, librarians will have to get your book through another source or buy it through normal channels. Consider Lightning Source and Espresso Machine as other print options.
Consider an audio edition via ACX with another ISBN assignment and a cover resized to this format.

Marketing
Order print materials to promote your work, i.e. bookmarks, postcards, etc.
Consider doing a virtual blog tour.
If you set a particular release date, hold an online launch party.
Post your release news and book cover on all your sites.
Solicit Customer Reviews.
Run a Rafflecopter Contest.
Consider if you want to give away free copies or promote a bargain/sale price.
Join indie author forums online for more tips.

Obviously, marketing could be a whole other topic as could each one of these sections. I do plan to blog about this process in more detail at a later date on my personal blog. Meanwhile, these steps will get you started in the right direction. Those of you who have been through this journey might have more to add.

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Writing the Cozy Mystery is a valuable guide on how to write a traditional whodunit. This concise tool will show you step-by-step how to develop your characters, establish the setting, plot the story, add suspense, plant clues and sustain your series. You’ll find everything you need to know in an easy-to-read, clear manner to write your own whodunit. http://nancyjcohen.com/books/nonfiction/

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