Stay Grounded with Caroline Starr Rose's "Writer's Manifesto"

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ―Aristotle

The Handsprings Conference, presented by the New Mexico regional chapter of SCBWI, which took place Oct. 26-27, 2018, at the Bosque Conference and Retreat Center, Albuquerque, NM, offered something for everyone. Faculty included such distinguished professionals as Patrick Collins, Creative Director, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, Patricia Nelson, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency, Sara Sargent, Executive Editor, Harper Collins Children’s Books, and Caroline Starr Rose, author of award-winning children’s books, including Ride On, Will Cody!Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine; and two books coming out in 2019 and 2020, respectively, A Race Around the World and Miraculous.

Breakout Session with Caroline Starr Rose
Caroline offered sage advice on writing for children, and for that matter, any kind of writing, in her “Writer’s Manifesto.” For at some point, writers need to “put their writing out there,” which, moving out of the cocoon of our office to meeting the public, can be a scary experience indeed. She remembers a time when she struggled. That’s when she took the time to think about what she needed and came up with The Writer’s Manifesto.

She suggests going back to the basics. Laying groundwork for yourself to refer back to again and again in your writing journey. First ask: Why do you write? Curiosity? Love of children? Love of the subject matter? Remembering why helps.

Caroline said she writes for her fifth-grade self—middle grade; picture books for children and parents. Why she writes? To make beautiful works of enduring value. She added, “I want my words to honor childhood and to extend dignity to children.”

Then there’s the slithery slope of success. For down at the bottom is the deep, dark hole of failure. The path to success is a moving target, as Caroline pointed out, with plenty of room for disappointment. Somehow, you need to find a way to survive these ups and downs, for there will be both, successes and failures. Second: What is your definition of success?

By creating sustainable definitions of why you write and what success means to you, you will have laid the foundation you will need in order to stay grounded. First and foremost, these two definitions will help keep your mindset in your control, and no one else’s. There will be no room for doubt.
In addition to keeping your mindset in your control, Caroline’s Writer’s Manifesto offers additional ways to stay grounded. Here are the two that come up frequently.

You have become a success. You have multiple published works with traditional publishers that are selling well, even winning awards. The Writer’s Manifesto says, “Hold success loosely.” Remember: Success is a gift, not a given. It’s a gift when someone likes your book. When you receive praise and are treated as someone special, hold it loosely. Don’t think you’re more important than anyone else. Stay grounded: Remember why you write and how you define success.
You are rubbing elbows with authors and illustrators who have garnered success. You can’t help it. You find yourself comparing yourself to them and feeling envious. And what’s worse, your peers don’t even notice you. At times like this, take the long view. Stay generous. Another person’s success doesn’t mean there is less opportunity for you. Acknowledge that you’re envious. Use your envy as a map. Follow this map to where you want to go. These successful artists are your inspiration. View them that way. Stay grounded: Remember why you write and how you define success.

Caroline’s Writer’s Manifesto can be your anchor. It can be your guide, leading your thoughts and opinions to the highest place they can go. Creating a manifesto of your own can save you a lot of time and effort, so you can re-focus your energies on what matters: your works.

Here are the questions on a handout, “A Writer’s Manifesto: Who You Are, What You Value, and Why It Matters,” which Caroline gave to each participant:
Why do you write?
What is your sustainable definition of success?
How can you deal with comparison and envy?
Creating your Own Manifesto:
*What ideals do you want to hold to?
*What truths do you want to guide you?
*What do you want to stand for?
*What do you want to avoid?

In parting, Caroline urged us: READ THIS!!!

Visit Caroline's website at and her blog for helpful writing information and tips. Caroline is an active member of our SCBWI regional chapter. She lends her expertise and help in our activities throughout the year. She is a delight to know and we are grateful for her participation and support.
Clipart courtesy of:
Some of my writing partners
Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 150 articles for adults and children, and several short stories for children. Her first book, Secret in the Stars: An Abi Wunder Mystery, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, will be available soon. Currently, she is hard at work on The Ghost of Janey Brown, Book Two in the series. Follow Linda at

Tips for Selling Your Essay - Magazine Pub series #9

Tips for Selling Essays to Magazines  ----   Should I submit a pitch or a draft?

The question of sending a full draft or a pitch varies from magazine to magazine. Follow your selected magazine’s guidelines and requirements for submittal, if possible.

Here are points of reference:
•    Literary journals customarily require full drafts for submittal.
•    If you don’t have clips of published essays, a good rule of thumb is to submit essays on spec, meaning in full draft form.
•    When your essay is difficult to convey in a pitch, send a full draft.
•    On a tight schedule? Get your pitch out there and buy yourself some time to draft it.
•    Some editors prefer to receive a pitch. Search the magazine’s website or place a call for the info.
•    If your essay topic is relative to breaking news, your best choice may be to pitch your idea.
•    When you’ve worked with an editor previously, a pitch may be all that’s needed to assign the essay.
•    Should your essay require in depth research and include interviews, pitching the idea may be best.

To grab your reader, compose the essay as you would a story with one theme, a beginning, middle, and end. Include dialogue, setting, and engaging description. 

You may choose to write a personal essay sharing a part of your life with others. Personal Essays connect and communicate to the reader they are not alone. As I worked through an essay about being emotionally sidelined during childhood I knew I was not alone and wanted encourage others with similar experiences. Writing a personal essay in first-person narrative is customary. 

Personal essays are just that: personal. You are telling true-life experiences that may also lead to discussing a subject about which you are passionate. These essays are public—it’s important to consider the subjects you would rather keep private for your journal alone.

** Last time we talked about getting a handle on our Copyrights. I’ve added a couple links you may find useful. 

Deborah Lyn Stanley is an author of Creative Non-Fiction. She writes articles, essays and stories. She is passionate about caring for the mentally impaired through creative arts. Visit her web-blog: Deborah Lyn Stanley : MyWriter's Life .

Write clear & concise, personable yet professional.
Know your reader.
Use quotes & antidotes.

Where Is Your Tipping Point?

By W. Terry Whalin

How do you find your tipping point in book publishing? Or to ask it a slightly different way: what elements have to come together for  book to become a bestseller? One of the critical elements in my view is great writing and storytelling. Good writing helps people spread the word or buzz about the book (word of mouth).  Yet some wonderfully written books don’t get to the bestseller list.

Several years ago, I was interviewing Jerry B. Jenkins for a story related to one of the Left Behind books. Jerry realizes the unusual way his series of books has caught public attention—with over 60 million copies in print and a huge appetite for the concept which continues today with about 10,000 units of the first book continuing to be sold. Jerry wrote the first book in 1995.

Jerry recommended that I read a book from Malcolm Gladwell called The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Little, Brown Company, 2000). A tipping point according to Gladwell is that magical moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire. What causes it?  

The Law of the Few is one of the critical elements where three groups intersect and come together. These three factors are: connectors, mavens, and salesmen. A connector is someone who knows lots of people and Gladwell gives a simple test. He takes about 250 surnames from the Manhattan phone book. You are to scan the names and see if you know someone with that last name. As he says on page 41, “All told, I have given the test to about 400 people. Of those, there were two dozen or so scores under 20, eight over 90, and four more over 100…Sprinkled among every walk of life, in other words, are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. They are Connectors.”

A Maven is one who accumulates knowledge. “A Maven is a person who has information on lots of different products or prices or places. This person likes to initiate discussions with consumers and respond to requests.” (p. 62) So you see two of the elements—mavens and connectors.

“In a social epidemic, Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are social glue: they spread it. But there is also a select group of people—Salesmen—with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics as the other two groups.” (p. 70).

Do I have it figured out? Not at all. I believe Gladwell is on to something significant for these factors to come together to tip the balance and make a book move from one level to the bestseller category. I hope it provides you with a bit of my insight. I still have a great deal to learn about this particular question.

How do books finally make a tipping point to become a bestseller? Let me know in the comments below. 


How can you find the tipping point for your book? Get some ideas here. (Click to Tweet)

W. Terry Whalin is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. His work contact information is on the bottom of the second page (follow this link).  One of his books for writers is Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams, Insider Secrets to Skyrocket Your Success. One of Terry's most popular free ebooks is Straight Talk From the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission. He lives in Colorado and has over 205,000 twitter followers

Using Anthologies to Study the Market

One piece of writing advice I hear a lot, and which I agree with, is that you must read.  But not everyone agrees on the particulars.

Some say you should read like a reader and others say you should read like an editor or a scientist, dissecting what you read to see what works.

Some say read, read, read your genre and then stop reading while you write, so you don't accidentally let whatever you're reading influence your own work too much.

Others say read, read, read all the time, in your genre and others.

I write short stories in a variety of genres, novels (fantasy and sci fi), travel essays, travel guides, and various other types of work.  But I have to admit that my reading habits are a bit more narrow.  I tend to mostly read novels instead of short stories.  I read travel guides to places I plan to travel, but don't read as much other travel writing as I should.  Part of this, of course, is due to limited time.

So, to make my reading of short work more efficient, I use the anthology approach.

Benefits of Reading Yearly Anthologies

Long-standing, well-respected anthologies are great because they collect some of the (subjectively) best fiction of the year from various magazines.  You don't waste time with mediocre stories.  You get a feel for what's current and what editors are throwing their support behind.  Go ahead and dissect these stories and learn from them.

Another valuable aspect of an anthology is that you see which magazine first published which story.  This is very useful for your own work.  You know the old advice about submitting to magazines:  read a few issues first to see if your work fits.  This is excellent advice.  Unfortunately, we don't always have time to read a few issues of every magazine.  Luckily, anthologies give you a shortcut.  Pick out the stories you like or that could be good matches to yours, then see which magazines they were published in.  Start submitting to those magazines. 

Some Good Anthologies:

The O. Henry Prize Stories, edited by Laura Furman.

The Pushcart Prize; Best of the Small Presses, edited by Bill Henderson.

The Best American Short Stories, edited by Heidi Pitlor and various yearly editors.  Obviously the yearly editor puts a slant on things, so some years may be more "best" than others.

The Best American series has other genre-specific anthologies, such as The Best American Essays, The Best American Travel Writing, The Best American Mystery Short Stories, The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, etcLook for your target genre to see if they have one that matches.

The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Rich Horton.  Also in the series, The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, edited by Paula Guran.

The Best Horror of the Year, edited by Ellen Datlow.

Many of these can be found at your local library as well as at online and brick-and-mortar bookstores.

You can read (and listen to) Melinda Brasher's most recent short story sale at Pseudopod.  It's a tale of a man who doesn't believe in superstition...until he has to.  You can also find her fiction in Ember, Timeless Tales, Intergalactic Medicine Show, and others. If you're dreaming about traveling to Alaska this summer, check out her guide book, Cruising Alaska on a Budget; a Cruise and Port Guide. Visit her online at

How to Name Your Antogonist

Contributed by Dave Chesson

Is there anything more memorable than a decidedly sinister antagonist?

I’m not talking about ‘realistic’ villains who operate in something of a moral grey area.

Instead, I mean the true villains that leave a strong impression even after the book is finished.

The Voldemorts. The Count Draculas. The Patrick Batemans.

Crafting a character that speaks so strongly of pure evil is a whole different article. Perhaps even a full course. Instead, today, we’ll focus on finding a suitably fiendish name.

Make It Genre Appropriate

Just as there are tropes to adhere to in different genres, there are also expectations regarding names.

It would seem strange if a character in a historical drama set in Elizabethan England had a name like Stacy. Or if a hero in a steampunk story was called Denzel Bladez.

Similarly, the name for your story’s villain should be suitable for the genre you are writing in. So what are some of the ways to apply this idea?

●    Read voraciously within the genre you are writing in to get an idea of naming conventions. You should read within the genre anyway, but pay particular attention to villain’s names. Are there any stylistic themes that emerge? What about conventions of format? For example, all the villains within a historical genre may have a formal title, such as Mr. or Sir, whereas in crime they may go by an alias such as The Raven or The Steel Claw.

●    Get feedback from real readers on what is and isn’t working within a particular genre. Read through reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Which villains receive praise? Which receive mockery? Learn from these opinions.

●    Feel free to run polls testing several villains names. You can easily create a poll in a Facebook group of relevant readers to see which of several potential names they prefer.

Just as you would with any other element of your story, make sure your villain’s name works for that style of story specifically.

Consider Symbolism

A symbolic name might not be the right choice for every story, but it can work well for certain types.

A symbolic villain name is of course any name that carries a hidden or subtle meaning. These have been used by writers throughout history to add a layer of literary meaning to their villains which wouldn’t exist if the name was merely conventional.

So how can you add a touch of symbolism when naming your villain?

●    Consider examples of other symbolic villains throughout the history of stories. For example, Cruella de Vil isn’t exactly subtle, but it sounds like ‘cruel devil’, does it not?

●    Consider using a name with a different meaning in a foreign language which might not be obvious to all readers but will reward those who take the time to look into it.

●    Consider naming your villain after a famous historical figure. For example, within the TV show ‘Lost’, many of the characters had surnames relating to famous historical figures.

Symbolism should be used subtly. If you can avoid being overly obvious, you can add a layer of reward for your readers who take the time to dig deeper.

Life Is The Best Source Material

Sometimes, drawing upon your own life experience is the best way to come up with a suitably scary name for your villain.

Think back throughout your personal first and second-hand experience. Which names stand out to you as scary?

●    Often, a name on its own won’t be scary. But perhaps you had a sinister teacher whose name and physical traits paired to create a truly horrific combination.

●    Think about evil people you’ve read about in the news. Which of their names seemed appropriately evil for their deeds, and why?

●    Often, the seeming normality of someone’s name adds a sinister edge to their acts. Bret Easton Ellis gave the outwardly respectable Wall Street banker in American Psycho the plain name of Patrick Bateman to devastating effect.

Drawing upon your own life experience gives you not only potential names to consider, but also emotional truth to draw upon when writing your antagonists.
Naming Your Antagonist Final Thoughts
Thanks for checking out my guide on naming your antagonist.

I’d like to open up the discussion.

Which are your favorite villainous monikers throughout literature? What do you think makes them particularly effective?

How did you name your last villain?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Dave Chesson is a self-published author and book marketing obsessive who runs Kindlepreneur. His free time is spent with his family in Franklin, TN and nerding out over the latest sci-fi.


The WEB: Your Writing at Risk

Writing Perfection - Is There Such a Thing?

Begin Stories with Your Character

Create Vivid Sensory Details to Bring Your Fiction to Life

When I taught children's writing for the Institute of Children’s Literature, one of the most challenging assignments for my students was when they were asked to describe something using a variety of sensory details.

You might find this kind of thing challenging, too.

But don’t worry.

You’ll get better at it.

It just takes practice.

And the more you practice thinking of people, places, and things in terms of sensory details, the better you'll get at creating the details that really make your reader feel as if he/she is living your story with the characters rather than just reading about what they are going through.

With that in mind, here are a few exercises to help you practice creating vivid sensory details:

1. Write a description of a place from your town or neighborhood that you know well.

It could be the grocery store, the library, a local park or museum, or even your own home.

Include an appeal to each of the 5 senses in your description: touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound.

2. Use a variety of sensory details to describe a place on a snowy day. Avoid clichés. And, again, appeal to each of the 5 senses.

3. Describe how the beach smells, looks, sounds, tastes, and sounds. Again, avoid clichés. Use fresh sensory images and details.

4. Weave a variety of sensory details into some dialogue between two or more characters.

Include details about where they are, what they are wearing, how they look.

You might even create a scene where they are talking as they are eating or listening to a concert.

5. Describe an activity – skiing, cooking, hiking, fishing, sewing, etc. with sensory details that show (instead of merely tell) about this activity. Include an appeal to as many of the 5 senses as you can.

6. Make a list of sensory details that are similes (avoid clichés).

7. Make a list of sensory details that are metaphors (avoid clichés).

8. Use a variety of sensory details to describe a camel to someone (perhaps a child) who has never seen or heard of a camel.

9. Create a new world using a variety of sensory details that make this new world seem real to your reader.

10. Describe something using only sensory details and ask someone you know to see if they can tell you what it is that you’ve described.

It takes a little thought to come up with just the right sensory details that bring a scene to life. But you can do it.

Try it!

Suzanne Lieurance lives and writes by the sea on Florida's beautiful Treasure Coast. She also coaches writers.

For more tips and resources for writers visit and get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge to receive a short email for writers every weekday morning.

Surviving January

Happy New Year!

The holidays are finally over, daily routines are back to what counts as "normal" in your home, and, even though vacation was nice, it's time to get back to work.

The problem: It seems like no one else feels that way. That query you sent out before Thanksgiving: Crickets. The prospect who promised to work with you the beginning of the year: Nada. That job you applied for that is due to be filled in January: Shouldn't they be interviewing by now?

Don't worry, this "priority timeline mismatch" - when you are ready to move forward on something that is not in the same stage for the other person - happens all the time. It just has more of an impact this time of year, since we are itching to get back into the swing of things. Freelancers, who've had more downtime than they'd like the last few weeks, feel it even more.

In a follow-up to last month's post on Surviving December, here are 10 things you can do to stay happy, productive, and less stressed in January, while you are waiting for others to catch up.

1. Write out your goals for the year. You may have done this already, but if not, write out three professional and three personal goals for the year. Then, when you are looking for something to pass the time, pick an action item you can do that will bring you closer to achieving one of those goals.

2. Organize your workspace. When was the last time you cleaned your deck? Purged your files? Archived old clients and projects? No time like the beginning of teh year to give yourself a fresh start.

3. Read through your "to read" file. Whether it's in a physical file or on a computer, everyone has a pile of articles set aside to read later when they have time. You have time now, so take advantage of it.

4. Write a book. National Novel Writing Month may be in November, but no one says it's the only month of the year for that type of challenge. You have the time, why not go for it? And it's much easier on the psyche than waiting around for someone to reply to a pitch or other request.

5. Reconnect. Send an email or a message to someone - or someones - with whom you've lost touch. Have a phone call, meet for coffee, go to events. Occupy yourself by expanding your network. You never know where your next connection may lead. 

6. Research publications. Is one of your goals to start writing for a new publication this year? Do some research and come up with a list of places to target in the new year.

7. Write some pitches. You've done you research (see above), so you might as well.

These last three were on the December list, although framed a different way. 

8. Eat healthy. This means cook more and snack less. Cooking is one of the best ways to combine creativity and meditation. And the reward is yummy food you made yourself.

9. Workout at least twice a week.  Don't let your resolution to workout fall by the wayside in week two of the year, as so many people do. Find a form of exercise that you enjoy, and as a result can commit to, and schedule time to do it on a regular basis.

10. Read a book. Cross off the goal of reading a book in 2019 early. You may even get on a roll and start reading a book a month or a week. Continuing education - whether it's non-fiction for self-improvement or fiction for "research" - is always a good thing.

It's okay to have downtime. Just be sure to enjoy you, since you'll be super-busy again before you know it!

How will you survive January? Please share your recommendations in the comments.

* * *

Debra Eckerling is a writer, editor and project catalyst, as well as founder of The D*E*B Method: Goal Setting Simplified and Write On Online, a live and online writers’ support group. Like the Write On Online Facebook Page and join the Facebook Group.  She is author of Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All Ages, and host of the #GoalChat Twitter Chat. Debra is an editor at Social Media Examiner and a speaker/moderator on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.

Publishing Experts Partner for Best of Publishing Advice

Because of ethical conflicts, I rarely review books. Occasionally I make an exception when a book that can help the publishing industry in some way comes along. This is one of those times. As you will see, authors interested in publishing have needed new jump-start kind of  input for some time, the kind of input that comes from experience!  So, may I present The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan that I believe will be useful no matter what kind of a book a writer is thinking about writing. Besides, it's perfect for New Year's giving!

TITLE: The Nonfiction Book Publishing Plan
SUBTITLE: The Professional Guide to Profitable Self-Publishing
AUTHORS: Stephanie Chandler and Karl W. Palachuk
ISBN:  978-1-949642-00-1
GENRE: Nonfiction
CATEGORY: Publishing

Reviewed by Carolyn Howard-Johnson, 
author of the multi award-winning HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers

My first serious introduction to self-publishing was at a SPAN conference in Atlanta (Small Publishers of North America); it was there I was introduced to a very fat volume on self-publishing by Marilyn Ross that included the idea that real publishing includes marketing. That was nearly 20 years ago, and I have been recommending that book ever since because nothing else has been as all-encompassing and based so thoroughly on personal experience (and personal experience is generally much better than research). 

Now, so many years later, Stephanie Chandler and Karl W. Palachuk have written The Nonfiction Book Publishing PlanStephanie founded the Nonfiction Authors Association and is this decade’s expert. Today there are many go-to experts, but no one can exceed her experience. Paluchuk is an ideal partner for such an all-encompassing project! 

This Book Publishing Plan (it will work just as well for creative works as nonfiction!) says it all. I always suggest that authors read more than one book on any publishing topic, but this is the perfect place to start for anyone considering publishing of any kind. In the first chapter it takes the reader through some of the trials experienced by anyone approaching the publishing industry with the old model in mind. I have a few horror stories of my own, but Chandler and Palachuk quickly move into how nonfiction authors in particular will benefit from self-publishing and takes them well beyond—starting with titles and subtitles, bylines and moves on to giving an author enough information to get a great start on a marketing plan.

I believe in reading books to get the expertise needed for publishing—even traditional publishing. Don’t be fooled that readers can get what they need piecemeal from the Web (it is hard to ascertain credibility with so much conflicting advice!) or even to choose what to read from extensive tables of contents (which would be better titled “Contents” to avoid redundancy). This is the place to start. These authors complement one another. It is full of memorable experiences and anecdotes you won’t forget as well as specific advice. At the beginning of this review, I said it is the place for new authors to start, but seasoned authors in any genre (seriously!) will find inaccuracies they have come to believe gently corrected and comfort knowing that many of their instincts have been right all along. 

Hint: Notice how Palachuk and Chandler weave their biographies—read that experience—into the first chapter and how well that works in a book covering a difficult and far-ranging genre like a how-to for the publishing industry! 


Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she
taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. The books in her HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers have won multiple awards. That series includes both the first and second editions of The Frugal Book Promoterand The Frugal Editorwon awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. How To Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethicallyi s her newest how-to book and her newest poetry book is Imperfect Echoes.

Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. 
The author loves to travel. She has visited nearly ninety countries and has studied writing at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom; Herzen University in St. Petersburg, Russia; and Charles University, Prague, as well as USC, her alma mater. She admits to carrying a pen and journal wherever she goes. Her website

The WEB: Your Writing at Risk

How The Web Can Kill Your Writing Career

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of the multi award-winning The Frugal Editor

I recently read a grammar and editing column in my local newspaper, the Glendale News-Press. In  June Casagrande’s “A Word Please,” she groused about the problems so many writers having with hyphens. She noted the sad (or not so sad) influence of the Web on our grammar, punctuation, and style choices and there are enough of them to give the average author who pulled down As in English a big headache!

June mentioned the disappearing hyphen as one of the things we authors must contend with. but that is just the beginning. The Net also encourages us to push all kinds of words together. Let’s call that the "domain name influence" or, perhaps the domainnameinfluence or maybe #hashtaginfluence. Do we write “book” or “bookcover?” “Bookfair” or “book fair?” “Backmatter” or “back matter?” “Hard copy” or “hardcopy?”

You’ll never know because generally the trusted Chicago Style Guide doesn’t weigh in on these trends and dictionaries haven’t caught up with the quickly changing domainnameinfluence or the #hashtaginfluence either. And the spell checker in Word? Well, it doesn’t put a red squiggle under either “Hard copy” or “hardcopy.” That leaves the writer—whether she’s writing fiction or a resume in a style-choice pickle.

In The Frugal Editor, I suggest the zero-tolerance approach to keep authors out of hot water with agents and publishers (and therefore make it more likely they'll get published).

Still, I admit I love to stick words together. It isn’t really a new thing. I mean, word-bonding is a time-honored tradition in English. The word therefore is an example. We’ve been using words like that for eons. Word-gluing goes back to the English language’s Germanic roots. German is a creative language. The Deutsch do things like push the words for finger and hat together to make the word for thimble (fingerhut).

Poets have pushed words together for ages, too. So, except when I am trying to get something like a pitch or a query or a book proposal past a gatekeeper, I make combined-word style choices for myself and let the so-called rules be damned.

We authors can have it our way—we just need to be careful where we choose to exercise our independence!

Back to the zero-tolerance thing. If you want to impress a literary agent or prospective boss, please don't put hyphens in words they are convinced are correct only one way. If you think your contact believes it's nonfiction, not non-fiction, there is no point flaunting your style choice.

You won’t get a red squiggle with either version from your Word spell checker (or spellchecker), but that doesn’t mean your run-of-the-mill agent or future employer won’t be more judgmental.

I could go on and on about the way the web has mislead us. It practically coaxes us to overuse ampersands and most don’t have the faintest idea we’re being misled. We see question marks and exclamation points and caps and titles overused.

What if we emulate those affectations because they start to become so familiar we think they’re being used correctly?

Agents and publishers will hate it, that’s what. And that can be disastrous for our careers.

Then there is improperly punctuated dialogue. We see it on the web and even in books. There are many other grammar idiosyncrasies that your English teacher never told you but that are sure to annoy the feature editor at The New York Times or the powerful agent you want to impress.

The list is endless. Lucky that writers have June Casagrande's grammar books like Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies (Penguin), and my multi award-winning book, The Frugal Editor,  to help them through the grammar and syntax swamps, isn’t it.

Note: June's column may be read in the Glendale News-Press's website and she is the author of two of Carolyn’s favorite grammar books, Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies, and The Best Punctuation Book. Period.


Carolyn Howard-Johnson brings her experience as a publicist, journalist, marketer, and retailer to the advice she gives in her HowToDoItFrugally series of books for writers and the many classes she taught for nearly a decade as instructor for UCLA Extension’s world-renown Writers’ Program. All her books for writers are multi award winners including the first edition of The Frugal Book Promoter, and the second. Her The Frugal Editor, now in its second edition, won awards from USA Book News, Readers’ Views Literary Award, the marketing award from Next Generation Indie Books and others including the coveted Irwin award. Her most recent book in series is , How to Get Great Book Reviews Frugally and Ethically: The ins and outs of using free reviews to build and sustain a writing career

Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts.

Writing and Perfection - Is There Such a Thing?

As with life, some people think everything has to be perfect before they start their writing journey.

It may be they don’t think they’ve mastered the craft of writing to perfection.

Or, maybe the writer has started her story, but can’t seem to achieve the perfection she’s looking for.  She believes what she’s written isn’t worthy of submissions. So, she keeps pecking away at it, hoping one day it will be perfect.

Well, if you fall under either of these scenarios, you’ll be waiting a very long time. In fact, your time of action may never come.

Meriam-Webster defines perfection as “the state or condition of being perfect” and “something that cannot be improved.”

So, perfection is something that you can’t possibly make better.

Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?

What on earth can’t be improved upon? What is actually perfect?

Keeping this in mind, here’s what a few famous authors/artists and others have to say about the illusive perfection:

“Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it.”
~ Salvador Dalí

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
~ Margaret Atwood

"If you look for perfection, you'll never be content."
~ Leo Tolstoy

"The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing."
~ Eugene Delacroix

"Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection."
~ Kim Collins

"Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence." ~ Vince Lombardi

“Striving to be the best person we can be and striving to do the very best we can in all our endeavors is the closest to perfection we can ever get.”
~ Karen Cioffi

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business.”
~ Michael J. Fox

My favorite is what Michael J. Fox says: “Perfection is God’s business!”


So, if you have these perfection tendencies, try to overcome them. Don’t let an unrealistic viewpoint stop you from achieving writing success.

But, what if you just don’t’ trust your own judgement or can’t overcome that perfection tendency?

One of the best ways to get some guidance on whether your story is at the point of submissions is to become a part of a critique group in your genre.

Having other writers go over your story can pick up lots of trouble spots and help you improve your manuscript. And, they’ll have a much more objective view of the story.

After you get all you can from a critique group, you might want to hire a professional editor.

While every author can continue revising a story, there comes a time when you have to let go.

If your critique group and editor believes it’s good to go, take their advice.

Don’t let the illusion of attaining perfection in your writing stop you from submitting your manuscript or achieving a writing career.

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author and children’s ghostwriter as well as the founder and editor-in-chief of Writers on the Move. She is also an author/writer online platform instructor with WOW! Women on Writing.

You can check out Karen’s e-classes through WOW! at: 


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