Using Styles to Format a Manuscript that Will Make Your Publisher, Agent, and Designer Love You More

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By Ted Witt

  1. First, if you obey these do-not rules, you will be one step ahead of most writers trying to peddle a book.
  • Do not use the enter or return key to put space between paragraphs or titles.
  • Do not use double spaces between sentences – ever.
  • Do not use the tab key or spaces to indent a paragraph.
  • Do not use double hyphens for a dash.
  • Do not use three periods to create an ellipsis.
  • Do not justify your text; leave it jagged on the right side.
  • Do not use your word processor to make your charts look pretty.
  • Do not format scene-change lines differently from regular lines of text.
  • Do not try to make your manuscript look pretty.
  1. Now that we know what not to do, what are the alternatives? The most important take-away for writers is to learn and master the concept of the Style function within word processors. It is so important, we are going to consider Style a proper noun and capitalize it. If you are using Microsoft Word, find the Style function in the standard ribbon bar at the top of your screen.

Styles have names. Each named Style defines what you want a paragraph to look like—not just in terms of font and size, but also in regard to attributes such as space between lines, space before the paragraph, space after the paragraph, margins, drop caps, letter spacing, borders, and alignment.

This tool is so valuable, so convenient, and so efficient you would think everyone would use it. However, save one smart soul, no author has ever submitted a manuscript to us formatted with Styles.


What is the value of Styles to the real work of publishers and designers? Your manuscript must be converted into a book format, which is tedious, time-consuming, and prone to errors. Designers love Styles, and, if fact, they are forced to use them. So if a manuscript comes in with Styles, a designer’s workload is dramatically reduced.

By modifying a Style definition, the designer can apply a new look to every element tagged with that Style. If a designer sees 30 chapter titles in your book, she can modify a Style tagged to chapter titles and apply that change to all 30 instances with just one click. Otherwise, she highlights each chapter title and then adjusts font, size, alignment, spacing, and a host of other attributes. She repeats this 29 more times.  Imagine how much work is saved when trying to format paragraphs in a book, first paragraphs with drop caps, scene changes, subheads, pull-out quotes, index entries, captions, or long quotations.

  1. Using Styles eliminates the need to use the return or enter key to add spacing. Line returns can split between pages. Since they can often be invisible, they are notorious for disfiguring a layout. Define a Style for the spacing your design requires between chapter heading and text and between paragraphs. Then use the search function to replace two consecutive instances of a paragraph return with just one.
  2. Use Styles to define your paragraph indents for the first line of a paragraph. Now conduct a search for two instances of a space. Replace the two with just one space. Repeat this search-and-replace routine several times to get rid of all multiple spaces. If you run the routine only once, you will not correct instances where you had three, four and five spaces in a row.
  3. Search for all occurrences of a double hyphen. Replace with an em dash. To find an em dash character, go to your top navigation tabs and choose “insert,” then symbol. If an em dash does not show, choose “more symbols,” then the tab labeled special characters. An em dash should be listed. When you keep double hyphens in your manuscript, they can spit at the end of a line in your book. A designer can easily overlook this problem. Left unattended, the split hyphens will confuse your reader and mar a layout.
  4. Likewise, if you use three dots for an ellipsis, they can split up at the end of a line. The correct mark is a true ellipsis mark. If your Microsoft Word processor is not set up to automatically to convert three periods into a true ellipsis, try this: Hold down the Control, Alt and Period keys at the same time. You get this rendition: …
  5. To denote scene changes, set up a Style just for scene changes. The line spacing should be the same as for normal paragraphs. Resist the temptation to make spacing thinner, no matter how it looks. Why? When you book interior is designed, a thinner space around your scene change will cause a misalignment of text at the bottom of facing pages in the final print layout.
  6. When presenting charts or tables, do your best to get the message across without spending much time to make them attractive. Your chart will have to be reformatted to match new page widths and overall design. Attach a spreadsheet with raw data, numbers and charts as part of your manuscript submission. The designers will use this information to make appropriately sized and well-designed charts.
  7. Let your words sell your manuscript. Don’t try to make it pretty. All of your work will have to be undone by the publisher or designer. That’s extra work they don’t want to do. If you keep it simple, they will love you even more. If you ignore Styles and try to manually make your manuscript cute, your book designer may be cursing you behind your back.

7 Forgotten Marketing Practices That Will Build Interest in You and Your Writing

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Book Marketing

By Ted Witt, Pretty Road Press

1.  Create content for small groups, not the entire universe.

The creation of interesting, scheduled, new content is a must for the writer in our new social media world. That includes blog posts, pictures, infographics, stories, and comments. But don’t necessarily write for the masses. Target your messages narrowly. Most people are connected to four to six groups of relationships they have established through the course of life events. The number of strong connections in these relationships is surprisingly small, but these are the most influential people in your life. If your content is targeted toward these key people, your message is more likely to be shared and then shared again among people of like interest.

Get More Info : Grouped: How Small Groups of Friends Are the Key to Influence on the Social Web, by Paul Adams, published by New Riders.

2.  Include targeted collateral with your book when you send it out to book reviewers.

Book reviewers at newspapers and in the blogosphere get hundreds of unsolicited books for review. If you send them your book naked —that is without any accompanying materials — your book is likely to sit on a pile. Reviewers need to be able to quickly learn two things: 1) the storyline and 2) the hook or a reason to care about the story or topic. The hook can be a tie to the news, an upcoming holiday, a celebrity, or a trend. Whatever your hook is, it can be defined as reason for the reviewer to care.

Get More Info:

3.  Have a PowerPoint presentation ready to go at any moment.

If you are writing non-fiction, you are expert on a subject. Have a memoir? Your history offers lessons for others. Written a novel? Your characters attack real-life problems. Create a PowerPoint presentation so that when you are invited to speak to a group, you can arrive with visual aids – not the typical bullet-point slides, but engaging interactive visuals with plenty of pictures. Post your show to Link to it by way of your social media accounts. Even if you are never invited to speak, your PowerPoint is working for you and being indexed by Google.

Get More Info: Slide:Ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, by Nancy Duarte, published by O’Reilly

4.  Invest in professional photography for a portfolio of head shots and setting shots.

Studies show that people can form their initial impressions by just glancing at your photo. Politicians can win or lose elections based on their photos. Actors get auditions based on their headshots. You are a professional writer. Make sure your images give a warm, inviting impression. When it comes to photography, a good photo not only opens doors, it opens covers.

Get More Info: and 19 Reasons Your LinkedIn Headshot May Be an Epic Fail

5.  Obtain the internet URL of your name, in the form of

Your name is your brand. If you have not obtained the Internet domain that is your name, then you risk giving up your brand to someone else. Go to or another service and obtain the domains of your name. If the “dot-com” version is taken, try for the “dot-net” or “dot-us” version of a URL. Create your own author page. If you are not ready to maintain that website, redirect your personal domain address to your book or blog site.

Get More Info: Guerrilla Social Media Marketing, by Jay Conrad Levinson and Shane Gibson, published by Entrepreneur Press

6.  Join a professional association and volunteer.

Match your book topic or genre to an association. Join up. Networks are made by building relationships. Professional organizations are where like-minded people meet, socialize, and learn. The bonus is that when you volunteer, your relationships grow even deeper. Imagine staffing the check-in desk for fans and readers at a mystery writers’ conference. Every person you meet is not only a potential customer, but also a future friend.

Get More Info: Get Known before the Book Deal, by Christina Katz, published by Writer’s Digest Books

 7.  Repurpose your free content; package free content as a premium offer.

What’s a greater value, a brick of cello-wrapped cheese from the grocery store or a round of waxed cheese in a wooden gift box? The latter has a higher perceived value. There’s more expectation and emotion tied to it. The cheese is the same. Do the same with the free online content you use to promote your brand. Ask for an e-mail address before delivering a white paper. Combine blog posts into an attractive e-book. Accompany a series of articles with a cover as a repackaged PDF. Create a Flipbook (like those at and hide it behind a digital curtain. By that we mean, requiring some online interaction before you offer up the content. Put more ribbons on your writing. The greater gift you give and the more frequently you give, the deeper your connection with readers and fans will grow.

Get More Info: The marketing library at,,

Self-Editing: Create a Better Manuscript than Your Peers and Put a Smile on Your Editor’s Face

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The first chapter of your book should reflect your style and attention to detail. If editors are correcting commas in the first five pages, they are sure they will be correcting punctuation for another 300 pages.

Among the seven steps to self-editing are suggestions to get a hard-copy print out and to have the manuscript read back to you by the Amazon Kindle.

By Ted Witt, Pretty Road Press

Edit yourself more. Spend more time honing your own words. Whatever your existing, self-editing routine, you can do a better job blue-penciling your own writing.

Beware, however, that self-editing never works as a substitute for the objective eyes of an independent, professional editor.

Writers who want a competitive edge craft their prose to make it as perfect as possible before an editor ever sees it. The clock limits editors to a finite number of minutes on any one manuscript. Work that arrives grammatically and mechanically superior pleases editors so they can concentrate on higher-level fixes, such as adjustments to flow and plot development, instead of philistine typos and dangling modifiers.

If you operate like most writers, you embark upon a self-editing routine that consists of re-reading your book multiple times and sending the manuscript through Microsoft’s spelling and grammar checker. That’s not enough. With your existing tools and a modest investment in a couple resources, you can create a superior manuscript that corrects the overwhelming majority of common mistakes. Here’s how:

1. Let it sit.

Put your work aside for days, if not weeks. You have been too close to your manuscript to spot your own mistakes. Open the file again later. What made sense a week ago now confounds you. All the lines you perceived as clever turn pedestrian. Your jokes fall flat. Your scenes beg for more detail because you originally wrote and interpreted your scenes with a heaping dose of imaginative thoughts still residing in your brain. The details never landed on paper. And, woe, the typos! Evidently those serial commas used their vacation days to swim around on your hard drive, only to land permanently between two dependent clauses joined by and. Sure, time makes you more objective and observant, but your reading brain remains programmed to work so efficiently that it overlooks word omissions, tautologies, and homonyms. We must do more.

2. Conduct simple searches.

Use your software’s search-and-replace function. I suggest doing this chapter by chapter, so you never get overwhelmed.

Start by looking for every instance of the word and. Most writing can be improved immediately by eliminating that conjunction and breaking a long sentence into two. Sometimes the sentences must be recast. Shorter sentences are more powerful and more easily understood.

Second, know your weaknesses and search for them. From the comments of a former editor or the advice of a critique group, make a list of your common writing sins. Are you prone to use a hyphen with ly-ending words? Seek them out. Do you surrender to impotent, unnecessary words such as very, totally, completely, ever, and major? Track them down. Do you succumb to your conversational habits by using redundant terms? Search and replace. Here’s a list of redundant expressions I have collected over the years. Try searching for some of them.

  • Absolutely essential
  • Absolutely necessary
  • Advance forward
  • Advance warning
  • Added bonus
  • Admission of responsibility
  • Affirmative yes
  • Aid and abet
  • Alternative choice
  • Attach together
  • Basic essentials
  • Close proximity
  • Close scrutiny
  • Collaborate together
  • Component part
  • Consensus of opinion
  • Combine together
  • Digital download
  • Entirely eliminating
  • Emergency situation
  • Empty hole
  • Exact replica
  • Exactly the same
  • First time ever
  • Foreign import
  • Free gift
  • Future plans
  • Honest truth
  • In my opinion, I think
  • Its own
  • Join together
  • Joint collaboration
  • Lesbian woman
  • Made good their escape
  • Major disaster
  • Merge together
  • Minute detail
  • Mix together
  • New innovation
  • New recruit
  • Oblong in shape
  • Original copy
  • Patently obvious
  • Past memories
  • Personal opinion
  • Plummet down
  • Prior experience
  • Placed under arrest
  • Put in an appearance
  • Razed to the ground
  • Return back
  • Revert back
  • Safe haven
  • Sahara desert
  • Shorter in length
  • Short summary
  • Surrounded on all sides
  • Successful achievement
  • Sudden impulse
  • Sum total
  • Technical jargon
  • Temporary reprieve
  • Terrible tragedy
  • Tiger cat
  • Tiny speck
  • Top priority
  • Totally convinced
  • True facts
  • Unexpected emergency
  • Unexpected surprise
  • Unsolved mystery
  • With the exception of
  • Very beginning
  • Hot water heater

3. Use the advanced search functions hidden deep within your software.

Microsoft Word hosts several advanced search functions useful to writers. Did you know you can search for words that sound alike? Search for they’re, and the software will show you instances of their, there, and they’re. You can also search for variations of a verb form. Type was into the search box, and the software will present you instances of was, is, are, been and were—a handy function for authors who slip into the passive voice. The wildcard capability within the advanced search-and-replace tool serves as a writer’s administrative assistant. Want to find all those pesky gerunds? Search with the tool that allows you to find the ending of any word by typing this: ing>. Any word ending in ing will be found, one at a time or all in a list.

Straight from Microsoft’s website comes this documentation explaining all your wildcard search options. Open it to find how to use the characters *, ?, [ ], <, >, and !.

4. Use an additional, more sophisticated, grammar checker.

After using Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar checker for a final check, use a separate, more-advanced grammar checker. But this recommendation comes with a warning: many of the recommendations you receive from any grammar checker will be wrong. However, each software suggestion reminds you to re-think what configuration of language might be correct and why. You must justify to yourself why you made the right decision, which makes you a more thoughtful writer than the one who fecklessly clicks “ignore.” I use It requires a monthly subscription but integrates nicely with Microsoft Word. The program can be configured for different styles of writing. Whatever mode you choose—business, creative, or casual—the software not only checks for grammar, spelling, and punctuation, but also offers suggestions on usage and word enhancements. When that’s done, you can also check for instances of plagiarism based on a search of Internet websites.

5. Print it out.

Computers have made writing easier and better, but there’s no substitute for reading your manuscript on paper. Screen resolution, lighting, and eye fatigue can disguise mistakes. Print out your manuscript and use that proverbial blue-pencil to note corrections. Transfer the remedies to your electronic file, and then re-run your spelling and grammar checker to make sure you’ve made no new accidental changes or mistakes.

6. Read it aloud.

You could read chapters aloud to yourself, but that’s not enough. Your brain will skip over words just like it did when you proofread silently the first time. Instead, ask the computer to read your words back to you. It will not miss a single word. You can activate this function on Microsoft Word through the “accessibility” menu, but your Amazon Kindle will also read to you. It does a much better job than Microsoft and offers a far more pleasant computer voice. It will also handle longer documents without snafus; Microsoft’s reading functionality is prone to odd starts and stops. To use your Kindle, send your Word document to the email address that Amazon associated with your Kindle account. It will look like this [YourName] Follow the computer-generated reading alongside your computer file and printed manuscript. Pause to make changes.

7. Read it one more time.

Self-editors make many inadvertent new mistakes when fixing other errors. So a final re-read is necessary. All this may seem like a lot of work, but you’ve put months of effort into your product. Don’t diminish its value by short-circuiting your editing. You want your book to be a notch higher than others. It will be if you put in the time. It is now ready for an independent review. When finished, you stand prepared to put a smile on your editor’s face.

Post Script: I followed all of my own advice in editing this article. After the let-it-sit period, I found a malapropism, an extra word, some missing punctuation, missing bold formats on headers, and a misplaced modifier. During the hard-copy review, I found an illogical modifier, an awkward conjunction, a tautology, and an extraneous comma. On the final re-read, I made three word substitutions to achieve clarity and more exact directions. Despite going through all seven steps, I bet you will still find a mistake, which proves that an independent editor is still necessary for all our work. Prove my point, scroll down to the comments section. Leave a comment to point out any mistakes you find or to make your own editing suggestions.

Create Effective Point-of-Sale Displays for Book Fairs and Book Signings

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By Ted Witt,  Pretty Road Press

You have just seconds to capture a buyer’s attention, probably fewer.  You won’t sell your book if it doesn’t get noticed. Point-of-sale (POS) merchandising displays are designed to capture reader interest and turn that curiosity into a sale. Just make sure you follow some fundamental principles before you design your POS displays; otherwise your products may be ignored or scorned. Use your display when traveling to book fairs, sitting for book signings or working with a bookstore.

A is for art. Your display should include signage and artwork, such as photography or an illustration that helps capture attention and curiosity. It will not necessarily be your book cover. You will already have your books on display with covers that tell readers what the content looks like. Choose complementary art. For example, if your book is about golf, it should not be too hard to find golf course photography on If you have written about oceanography or business or romance, then  is another good source for inexpensive, royalty free photography and illustrations.

Your signage should not be a letter-sized sheet of paper in a Plexiglas frame. Think bigger. Invest in a bigger poster-size sign from your neighborhood Kinkos (now FedEx Office) that sets you apart, but not so big that it cannot integrate with your book display on a table.

B is for benefit. Your sign should include a benefit statement.  Your cover title is not your benefit headline. A prominent header should be a catchy message that promises a return to the buyer. For the book Hatless, we have been successful in including an excerpt from a third-graders’ review that says, “I like Hatless because it teaches about kindness.” This phrase works because parents see a benefit in the message. They want to teach their children good values. The book may end up paying a benefit to their family. If you’re promoting a novel, your benefit statement may be something that promises entertainment or intrigue.

C is for curiosity. Something within your display must arouse curiosity. You have considerable freedom on what element of your display arouses this sense of interest. It could be the headline on your sign, the photo, a curio, an artifact or even a movie. If you are promoting a book about local history, you might bring a relic from the area, big enough to be noticed from a distance, but not so valuable it can be easily broken. If you are selling a detective story, it might be a crucial piece of evidence that leads readers to the killer.

D is for the display as a whole. Think like an interior designer. Remember the rule of three: arrangements look best when there are three elements. Your books themselves will be one element. Consider getting a cardboard product display case from a catalog company like Uline. If possible, get books up off the table. Your titles should not all be lying flat. If you do not have a display case, consider elevating at least one of the copies by wrapping a box and placing the book up vertically on a stand. Passersby cannot see a book lying flat. The rule is “up and face out.”

Your signage is a second major element of the display. Integrate your signage with your display box. Consider using Velcro to attach a sign to your cardboard display. Easels work nicely to hold large frames at an angle.  Don’t limit yourself to rectangular shaped signs. You can cut your sign into unique shapes. Think about three dimensions: signs with pop-outs, cutouts or build-ups.  (To make a build-up, make and mount two or more identical signs on foam core, cut out  unique elements from the second sign — such as your book cover — and glue it to the original; you now have a three dimensional sign).

The third element of your display could include, for example, a rack of collateral literature, an electronic picture frame, an artifact, or a fishbowl for collecting contest entries. Whatever element you choose it should contribute to benefits, curiosity and emotion. Keep your display a simple trio of parts. Limiting your display to two elements will force visual dissonance on your customers. Four elements will look busy and cluttered.

E is for emotion. Wrap all your elements into a package that conveys an emotion, whether love, revenge, kindness, sympathy, pleasure or compassion. It’s a proven fact; most of our purchasing decisions are based on emotion, rather than price, need, or logic. So use every aspect of your display to arouse an emotion. That includes the headline, the art, the benefit statement, and the arrangement of elements. The most important emotional element of all is YOU. If you are there next to your display, you must begin to have a relationship with people. Ask them questions. Find out about them. Only then can you relate your book to their life and make a sale. Always put a copy of your book in their hands. You will make more sales. They will have to make an overt decision to put it down. When you emotionally connect with your customers, they will take your book to the register and your story with them.

Create effective symbols in your novel or short story

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Symbol of Happiness to Robert Foster Kane

In the movie Citizen Kane, the sled is a symbol of earlier happiness, the mystery behind the publisher’s dying word: Rosebud.

By Ted Witt, Pretty Road Press

Congratulations, your book has an intriguing story arc, memorable characters, and dramatic scenes. You may have a published a captivating page-turner, but is it literature in the classic sense? Symbolism can make that classic difference. Effective use of symbolism can carry your story to the next level.

“Symbols are, by definition, people, places, and things that have significance that goes beyond their literal meaning, pointing to larger ideas and values,” says William Cane in his book Write Like the Masters. “They can add power to a work of art and give it a fuller, more weighty feel… Indeed, reader satisfaction is almost always higher, and a work appears more literary, when symbolism is present and handled in a way that meshes well with the story.”

If we understand how to interpret symbols in literature, we can reverse engineer our hermeneutics so that we will know how to include symbolism more effectively in the novel we write. Here are four principles of interpretation followed by some annotations for writers:

1. Understand the literal, reasonable meaning first

The person, place, thing, action, scene, or character made out to be a symbol has a real and significant role in your novel apart from any potential symbolism. A mere metaphorical phrase may not have a significant role in advancing the storyline. A symbol will. Any language intended as symbolism has to stand on its own with a literal meaning. A writer can’t just insert an object with no connection to the story. That’s what dreadful film directors do. The potential symbol has to be realistic, plausible, and integrated into the story line.

Imagine you wrote that a businessman walking in downtown Manhattan stops to remove a pebble from his shoe. You intend that the pebble is a symbol of the perpetual life annoyances developing patience in the character. That’s not plausible or reasonable for a scene set along the paved streets of Manhattan. But a person hiking the John Muir trail in sandals may very well stop to remove a pebble under his foot. That’s plausible, and the hiking scene may be a significant contributor to the story line, so use the symbol in that scene not the one in New York City.

Make your symbols realistic, like Robert Frost does. In Frost’s poem “Out, Out–,” the poet describes a horrific farm accident. The verses have a definitive story arc, capturing the attention of readers. If you took nothing from the poem but the description of a farm boy being called to dinner, losing his attention, and suffering a fatal injury, you would be captivated by your reading. But behind the story is plenty of symbolism with references to Macbeth, a reminder of the fragility of life, and the indifference of a hostile world.

2.       Look for clues the author gives that help interpret the symbol.

When an author purposely uses a symbol, he or she will produce more evidence to help you find the meaning. The best authors drop clues. An author shows, but does not tell. An author hints, but does not fully explain. Many readers try too hard to find symbolism that is not actually there. When authors want you to take away a double meaning, they drop hints. So should you, too, as a writer. Let readers exercise their imagination, but keep them on course by being consistence and true to your theme. Consider the green light in Fitzgerald’s book The Great Gatsby. The light makes multiple appearances in the novel. It tells Gatsby to move forward. It represents unfilled attainment of Daisy, of wealth, of the American dream. In each instance, Fitzgerald hints, bringing readers to their own interpretive conclusion when he finally writes, “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us them, but that’s no matter—to-morrow will be run faster, stretch out further….”

3.       Literature reflects the time in which it is written, so apply a time context in your interpretation.

The key here is that current events, contemporary culture, and modern debates influence a writer’s words, even if the end product is historical fiction or science fiction. While symbolism has to be realistic for the time setting of the novel, plot conflict has to be relevant to the emotions, concerns, and thinking of the contemporary reader. So in a William W. Johnstone western, a tree may stand for justice in the frontier, but the message of that symbol will be analyzed through 21st– century glasses revealing current attitudes and controversies about justice. For the writer, this means choosing symbols that are relevant to the setting of your story, but with messages that address the struggles of a modern audience.

4.       Literature reflects the author’s biases, so understand the author.

Writers by definition convey a message. They believe in things. They cannot escape their values, their experience, and their foundational principles. So these biases will be found in their symbols. This is part of a writer’s voice. You can tell when writers are not being true to their voice. The writing seems fake. They are trying too hard. So when you write, be true to what you believe in your heart. Incorporate those beliefs into symbols. Don’t use your narrative to preach. Don’t use trite and cliché symbols like rocks for strength or yellow for cowardice. Avoid symbolic clichés as ferociously as you eschew jargon. Make your characters live like you believe and how you see others interacting in your world. Their props, their environment, and their behaviors can all be symbols.

5.       Symbols are purposely ambiguous.

Part of the joy of reading is making the story personal. All readers will color a story with their own interpretations. Let them. Don’t be so obtuse with your symbols that a reader has to take only one point of view. Make the reader ask questions and come to conclusions. Let them be wrong. It would be handy, says Thomas G. Foster in his book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, for a symbol to mean one thing and one thing only, “but that handiness would result in a net loss; the novel would cease to be what it is, a network of meanings and significations that permits a nearly limitless range of interpretations.”

Reading is an event of the imagination, Foster says. When authors tell too much, they take away creativity and inventiveness from readers.

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Incorrect use of the word “nominal”

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Word Usage Photo

The only word this cow knows is “moo.” That’s nominal vocabulary.

Inflation, well known for devaluating national currencies, has turned its murderous tentacles to the English language. It has started devaluing the word nominal.

Usage of nominal is ubiquitous in conjunction with the word fee, as in this Internet offer: “Grandma’s recipe for the meatballs and spaghetti sauce is available and will be mailed to you for the nominal fee of $2.”

But too often, unwary writers use the word nominal in place of more appropriate words like small, reasonable, discounted, cheap, promotional, and economical. Savvy authors and copywriters are resolute: Nominal is not a substitute for small. Nominal enjoys a definite and distinct meaning. Unwitting writers have inflated nominal’s value.

The origin of nominal can be traced back to the year 1624. The Latin root of the word refers to “names” and “nouns.” The “al” suffix means “relating to.” A proper definition of nominal might be “in name only.” Therefore, a nominal fee would be a fee so low that it we call it a fee for name’s sake only. In fact, the fee would be so miniscule that sellers would be hard pressed to answer why they were bothering to collect money in the first place.

To be nominal, the price must be insignificant or the amount must be so drastically low compared to its true value that the price does not even deserved to be called a fee. It is merely a token gesture of payment.

Unfortunately, people profess to charging “nominal prices” when they are actually looking to collect serious cash. Not only are they depleting you of your savings, they are robbing the English language of its heritage.

Home builder and developer Sekisui House offers its buyers the Harvey Norman Package, “valued at $10,000 for a nominal fee of $1,999.” Two thousand dollars! That’s serious cash, despite the discount, certainly not nominal.

But the egregious practice applies to smaller amounts as well.

If you belong to the Privilege Club through Qatar Airways, the airline advises that one of your benefits is that you can change your travel date for a “nominal fee of $25.” Maybe those cash- carrying oil sheiks won’t quibble over a mere $25, but we know those bucks will buy 25 McDonald’s hamburgers on the value menu and feed two Little League baseball teams. Here in California, reservation changes on Southwest Airlines can be made for free. That means Qatar Airways’ $25 fee fails the nominal test (P.S. bags fly free on Southwest, too, which is better than nominal).

The government of DeKalb County, Georgia, says that “for a nominal fee of $20, you can retrieve a background check at the Central Records Section located at Police Headquarters in Tucker, Georgia.”

It seems like it might be a good deal until you realize you are getting a piece of paper of a public record valued at a nominal five cents. If you add some toner, make that 10 cents, which would also be nominal. Perhaps DeKalb County meant to say “a reasonable fee of $20” — reasonable in the opinion of the county, given that some governments need every penny they can find because everything they touch seems to lead to fiscal deficits.

In contrast, the Clarion County Recorder’s Office in Pennsylvania will give citizens a copy of a property deed for just $2. It is possible for Clarion County to be more nominal than DeKalb County? They both claim the word nominal for their own.

Some marketers will announce a nominal fee, but attach the rate to an unreasonable unit of measure. Lion Country Safari in Florida offers you a rental car to traverse the park “for a nominal fee of $10 or $18 per 1-1/2 hours” (we presume the park means $10 an hour or $18 for 90 minutes; otherwise we would choose the $10-for-90-minute option on every visit). Stay four hours, and your fee is no longer nominal. It is better to get a weekend rental from Hertz and invoke your Triple A auto club discount. Perhaps you’ll find, Hertz or Avis nominally cheaper.

Celebrity Cruises tells passengers that “private in-stateroom babysitting is open to children 12 months and older for a nominal fee of $19/hr.” Read literally, the offer is to children, not their parents. We’re not sure any youngsters would opt to have a babysitter in the first place, let alone pay the fee. Nevertheless, $19 per hour is not nominal. It’s a living wage, translating to about $40, 000 a year.  Parents wouldn’t finish one drink before they would soon be paying out $38, which is as far away from nominal as a bogie is from a birdie.

Evidently, officials at the Museum of Art and Archaeology in Missouri think they are giving you a good deal.  They boast that the “Cast Gallery may be rented for a nominal fee of $200 for non-University of Missouri groups.” But in the same sentence, they admit if you are affiliated with the University of Missouri, the cost is only $100. So in this case nominal comes with a plus-size price tag if you don’t happen to have a college ID card. Who knew there were degrees of nominal: more nominal, most nominal, less nominal and least nominal?

We’re sure the well-intentioned Northern Virginia Family Service is doing a good deed with its program to repair old vehicles. It works to ensure its old cars are “provided to low-income families for a nominal fee of $800.”

In this case the fee is trumpeted as so absolutely nominal that they will allow families to spread out payments over nine months, but only after a $150 down payment. The offer may be a discounted car deal, but nominal is not the word is describe it.

The National Venture Capital Association says it is pleased to provide past webcasts free to NVCA members. Others, however, “may access them for a nominal fee of $275.”  If the definition of nominal means “so tiny and inconsequential as to be a fee in name only,” then we infer that $275 is just pennies to filthy rich venture capitalists. To the rest of us, that’s two nights at Harrah’s in Las Vegas with enough change for piña coladas at the pool.

Up and over in Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced a plan to the City Council last year to acquire a 2.7-mile railroad embankment for the construction of a trail and a park on the city’s northwest side.

So frugal is the mayor that the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) will acquire the property from the Canadian Pacific Railroad for a nominal fee of one dollar.

That’s truly nominal, but hidden in the fine print was the fact that the city also agreed to pay $105,000 in administrative fees associated with the vacation of the railroad right-of-way.

So in Chicagoland, there are administrative fees and there are nominal fees, as if nominal was itself a service, license, product, or form of advice. “Mr. Emanuel, I will glad you pay you Tuesday for a nominal today,” says Wimpy, eating at the Chicago City Hall cafeteria.

Perhaps the most egregious inflation of the phrase nominal fee comes from SDP Publishing Solutions, a company that offers to edit your book. The company advertises. “For a nominal fee of $150, have your first chapter read and the first 10 pages of manuscript professionally edited!”

The first deadly sin is charging $150 to simply read one chapter and edit 10 pages. How outrageous a charge is that? Imagine applying that rate to 300 page book. Should a serious author be paying the equivalent of $4,500 for book editing? No, that’s the publisher’s job. The company’s editors may be professional because they are collecting money, but they certainly are not professional in the ethics of traditional publishing. The second sin testifies to the editors’ competence. They should know that the word nominal does not belong alongside a $150 fee. That’s a wide mile from being miniscule.

Traditional publishers like Pretty Road Press do not charge authors for their work. In fact, the arrangement is the opposite. We pay authors small, but not-so-nominal royalties for fine, marketable writing and some pretty darn good stories.

15 tips aspiring writers can use to improve dialogue in novels and memoirs

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We can thumb through a manuscript and quickly determine its suitability for publication by browsing the dialogue. If the dialogue is bad, we know there will be other structural problems with the story. Amateurs and inexperienced writers often fail at compelling dialogue because they don’t understand its integral role in story architecture. Because we want you to succeed, we have developed 15 tips to help aspiring writers master the fine art of conversation in print

1.       Dialogue is diverse. Only one character in your book can possess your personal voice; the rest of your characters must impersonate other voices. Don’t write how you talk and place your words in every character’s mouth. You have to become someone else.

2.       Dialogue is meant to be spoken. When creating your stories, don’t write your dialogue. Speak it out loud, and then record the words you have created. When finishing your book, always read the dialogue aloud during the editing process. Fix it, so it becomes Talking English. Oral English and Written English are two different languages.

3.       Dialogue evolves out of personality. If you have not fully defined your character, you can’t possibly be creating appropriate dialogue. You are mostly likely writing your own thoughts, not your characters. Dialogue defines your character.

4.       Dialogue builds tension. Ask yourself, “What is at risk?” Mere chit-chat bores readers. They want suspense and entertainment. The motivation of characters should be the genesis of their conversations. If there is no tension under development, your reader leaves the book on the nightstand and never returns.

5.       Dialogue should not be journalistic. Newspaper-style comments are a common ailment among those of us who have been reporters. This kind of dialogue is characterized by quotations of factual reinforcement or proof of a point already expressed. It does little to expose personality.

6.       Dialogue should be heavily scattered throughout memoirs. Otherwise, you are likely to present a myopic view of life through your own eyes. Help us see other people’s perspective of your life by remembering dialogue within the scenes of your story.

7.       Dialogue should not dump information for information’s sake. Narrative and description do that. Please, no so-what conversations as in, “‛That building is big,’ said John.” Dialogue is more subtle. It reveals mood, offers glimpses and drops clues.

8.       Dialogue should be able to pass the relevancy test. Use a conversation when the story calls for a character to revel something about their personal development, needs, desires or relationships. Re-read all your dialogue to see if it can pass this test.

9.       Dialogue follows a pattern within story architecture, whereby narrative introduces facts, leading to scenes. Scenes play out through characters, who act, and whose words create an emotional bond (good or bad) with readers. Scenes incorporate subtext and advance a plot. As such, dialogue is a tool and has its place. Metaphorically speaking, don’t use dialogue as a hammer, when a paint brush is required.

10.   Dialogue in print is imperfect because it represents actual oral speech. That means your story’s conversations will often record clipped thoughts, staccato bursts, pauses, incomplete sentences, repetition, and even poor grammar.

11.   Dialogue sits next to a varied and comfortable blend of identifiers. Identifiers are the words that reveal which person is speaking and how. The word “said” is your best friend in dialogue. That said (no pun intended), the four chief writing sins with regard to identifiers are 1) to use “synonyms for “said” too often, 2) to use flowery adverbs, 3) to avoid using identifiers altogether so that the readers gets lost, and 4) to rely to the word “said” so much that the word becomes irritating.

12.   Dialogue lives alongside body language. If you cannot imagine a person using body language with your dialogue, throw the line out. It is probably just information. When people are passionate about their conversation, their hands, face, body and legs move. Watch for it. Passion equals movement.

13.   Dialogue requires study. Next time you are at a restaurant with friends study their speech. Then mimic their speech patterns. It is impossible to write without true life experience. Get in the world. Teen-age fan fiction is full of one-sided dialogue from kids who have spent too much time in the basement – alone.

14.   Dialogue has dual purposes. When you are hiding a clue in dialogue, the conversation has to have meaning in the present moment while simultaneously offering a hint of the future. The foreshadowing cannot stick out. You can witness shoddy execution of this principle in many popular TV crime show dramas. Dialogue will be so unrelated to the current scene that you know it is a clue toward a later resolution.

15.   Dialogue is better when it written in the context of a plan. If you are writing without an on-paper outline, your dialogue will suffer because you have not thought through all the intricacies of theme, plot points, and relevant scenes. Your dialogue cannot connect to whole unless you know where you are going.

Illustration © 2012, Jaeeho

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