The 8 Fatal Mistakes of Self-Publishers is now available on Kindle!

With several decades of professional editing, copywriting, and ghostwriting under her belt, Mélanie Hope offers this loving and honest guide for self-publishers. Through the years, she’s seen it all. It truly comes down to how good your book is edited, and presented.

From how to format your book for e-readers to where to stick a comma or an apostrophe, 8 Mistakes is an invaluable tool for anyone seeking to publish his or her book.

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Copywriter’s Guide: How to get your press release read

If you use press releases as a way to draw attention to your new product or service, business news, or events, then one may assume you want it read. Here are some tips from the perspective of your friendly, neighborhood editor.

Incite interest

Write an awesome headline. Make sure it’s edgy yet informative and get me interested in reading about your news. News isn’t typically fun or fashionable, but it doesn’t have to be a snoozefest. If it’s worthy of sharing, then it’s worthy of a little bit of thought on your part.

Make sure you include all of the information that you’d like to convey to our readers (see Copywriter’s Guide: Submitting events for a list), and if you’re sending it in an email, send it in the body, not as an attachment.

One page, no fluff

If your press release is taking up more than one page, you’re not doing it right. Pull out the fluff, hone, and rewrite it until all the exciting stuff fits into a concise a paragraph or two.

Save all the rave reviews and long-winded quotes for your web site. We’d rather have the facts.

If you leave out relevant information but leave in fluff, your press release will be tossed. Click To Tweet

Any required boilerplate lawyer speak can be bumped down to the smallest font and jammed at the end. We don’t read it, anyway.

Stop the Spray and Pray

Do you send the same press release to every outlet, even if their readers couldn’t care less about you or your so-called news? How good are your returns?

This will take a tiny bit of extra work, but you’ll see the difference in your response rates: Try writing to each outlet as if you know what their readers…well…read. Go crazy and pick up a copy of the publication and actually try reading it yourself. Does your headline fit in with the other things going on between the pages? No? Then why are you bugging them with something they can’t use?

Just like “one size fits all” t-shirts are a joke, your “one copy fits all” press release is a sham. Every writer knows that different markets call for different techniques. You went to college to learn these techniques. Employ them.

Attachments suck

I’ll say it again as I cannot stress this enough:

Paste the text in the body of your emails!

If you’ve crafted the perfect press release, you want it read, right? Then copy and paste the whole thing into the body of your email. Do not simply attach it with a note telling us to open it. That’s lazy and unprofessional and leaves you wide open for errors, if we bother to even read it. We’d rather not have to open a pdf (or, worse, a jpg) and re-type everything at the risk of misspelling a name, venue, or URL. We’d rather copy that pertinent information straight from your email.

Include the attachment as well, if you really must, but know that we’ll only open it if we have absolutely nothing better to do. (We have lots of better things to do.)  Too many things can go wrong with attachments. In fact, many of our spam filters might be filtering you out already.

Rethink the release

Think of the story of the boy who cried wolf. If you inundate us with boring, routine releases, we’ll become immune. If you want your releases read, make them a special occasion.

Before you plug the latest thing into your PR template, as yourself the following: Is it really news? Is it exciting, new, timely, or at least interesting? Could you have sent a simple email update instead?

Take a step back and see your release as an editor would. Remember, you are writing for and to very busy people who want to help you, so help them!

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Pick and stick your style

It’s OK to have your own style, as long as you know what it is

A professional editor may have noticed that my blog is mainly written in AP style with only a few personalized quirks, such as the Oxford (or series) comma. While I edit for major publications and am thus typically confined to AP style in my professional life, I have also written and edited with several in-house style guides. As such, I have adopted my own style when I write for my own business (and books).

The trick is to pick and stick. Pick the style you prefer (Oxford commas, sentence case for subtitles, etc.) and stick to it. Never stray from your own standards and you will achieve an expected excellence that boosts both your readability and credibility.

Pick and stick your style and you will achieve an expected excellence that boosts both your readability and credibility. Click To Tweet

Even those that vehemently oppose your comma quirks will be able to overlook them if you are consistent.* Having no rules, or applying rules willy-nilly, reeks of unprofessionalism. If you are diligent with your rules, your work will be seen, appreciated, and shared.

A style guide can help save you from arguements!If you work for a larger organization, it behooves you to create an internal style manual, if you don’t already have one. It may be as simple as mine: Follow AP but for these exceptions. It may be a bit more convoluted: Follow NIST first, then AP, then these particulars, use this exact wording and/or acronyms, except when submitting for these publications, etc. The most important and beneficial thing you can do for all concerned (including your successors) is to ensure that your style manual is clear and thorough. It will also help to end arguments. Once it’s in place, you have a reference document to send arguers to for clarification. I recommend a Wiki-style, live document that is easily shareable and editable, so that you may add things as you discover or clarify them.

It benefits you to create such a guide for yourself even as a novelist or memoir writer, particularly if you intend to self-publish. Nothing says “amateur” like inconsistent tense, capitalization, or comma structures!

If you are a ghostwriter, discuss this with your clients. They will definitely have some input on the writing style of their books. If you have an internal manual in place, you can share it with them and simply ask for what changes they desire. Then, because you are familiar with your own style, you only have to mind those changes as you write for them. This certainly makes your life easier, as well as cutting down on editing.

A style guide can and will simplify the writing process and serve as solid foundation for your finished words. If you don’t know where to start, there are plenty available both online and in your local book store. Some I recommend are below:

 

*Bear in mind that “style” does NOT apply to grammar and spelling errors. No matter how consistently you spell “its” or “their” incorrectly, you will always look like a fool.

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Copywriter’s Guide: What to put in your press release

Newspaper press releasePress releases are a handy tool to help you get some free advertising or to raise public awareness of your cause. Editors are inundated with dozens, sometimes hundreds of these per day. What can you do to make yours worthwhile? Answer the following questions:

What is it?

Quickly! What are you pitching? Don’t throw in a bunch of superlatives, get to the point. You have three seconds, if you’re lucky.

Why do we care?

Is it newsworthy? Will the lives of my readers be changed by hearing about it? Seriously, what makes you or your thing so special? Why should I drop everything and read about it? Get me excited – but not by using hard-sell or exclamation points. No tricks, just facts. Cool facts. Sexy facts.

Your press release should get an editor excited without the use of exclamation points. Click To Tweet

Answer these questions for each publication you submit to:

  • Is it timely? Does your event/product/service apply to a current need or speak to a recent event?
  • Is it relevant? Is this something that applies to the readers of the publication? If not, why do you think it’s worth sending? It’s really not about you – go for the audience’s interests. Yes, this means that you may have to write different press releases for different publications
  • Did I write it like a reporter/editor would? Remember, AP style and BRIEF – no jargon or extra mumbo jumbo

Who else cares?

Do you have any (brief, convincing) testimonials? Keep in mind that these should matter to our readers (not just you).

Details…

Now is when you tell us the specifics about the date/time/ticket price/venue and – if you must – add all the required legal verbiage that no one will read anyway. Use the inverted pyramid: need-to-know information at the top, details later. Way later.

Double-check to ensure you’ve included the Who/What/Why/Where/When/How, and, for all that’s holy, remember your contact information!

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If we want more information, you can give it to us later – the idea of your press release is to make us want it. If you are past one page, you have too much copy. Start slicing!

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Copywriter’s Guide: Deadlines for submissions

In order to get the October issue of a major magazine dropped on or before October 1, everything must be written, edited, proofread, formatted and approved by September 15. It is September 18, and I just got an email asking if I can include a listing for a fundraising event in the September issue.

You mean the issue that has been on the shelves for nearly three weeks already?

If there is one thing a copywriter learns how to do, it’s write under a deadline. Sadly, those of us who work with others must try to meet these deadlines even when those we work with don’t — or won’t.

If you do any sort of PR for a business — and especially for a non-profit — getting your events listed in as many places as possible is absolutely vital. Your organization depends on you, so don’t drop the ball.
Always assume the deadline for submissions is at least a month ahead. Click To Tweet
Always assume the deadline for submissions is at least a month ahead. Send all of the information (for a list see submitting events) all at once. If you make the editor work too hard to get it out of you, she may well just drop it in favor of the countless others who respected her enough to provide the information.

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Copywriter’s Guide: submitting events

Hello! There is this really cool fundraiser next month, it’s for a good cause and we should all go. I would love to have it listed in your events section. Here are the details:

  • It’s really cool, but you have to guess why
  • It’s for a good cause, but I’m not telling what that is
  • It’s at a place and time, but I’m not saying where and which
  • You have to buy tickets, but how and how much they cost are secret

Would you bother writing this up or even trying to go? Me, either.

As the events author/editor for a major publication, I am constantly amazed by how little copywriters feel they need to provide for their upcoming events. Day after day I spend hours hunting down things that should have been part of either the press release or the email request – silly things, such as URLs, venues, even actual dates, times, and ticket prices. Nuts!

If you are a copywriter or promoter and you want to see your event listed proudly in a publication or on a website – this includes newspapers! – then be a professional about it. It should not take the editor more than a minute to find everything she needs to do your event justice. The following is a list of the absolute bare minimum you should include in your press release – or better yet, your email directly to the (correct) editor:

  1. Title of event
  2. Date of event
  3. Time of event
  4. Ticket price
  5. Where to purchase tickets
  6. Name of venue
  7. Address of venue
  8. Web site or phone number for further information
  9. A brief description of what the event is (why would our readers care to go?)

Believe it or not, every one of these items (sometimes several of them) have been left off of countless submissions. Many of us give you a time limit – mine is two minutes. If you are unwilling or unable to send me enough information to write up your event, then you really weren’t interested in seeing it in print. There are too many others that offered full submissions who deserve the limited space we have to offer.

One more thing, if you offer a web site, it had better be an actual web site with information about the event on it somewhere. We do look.

Next up in this series: Deadlines for submissions

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Commas 101: The Hierarchy of Adjectives

Does your string of adjectives need a comma? Most likely not. How do you know?

You only need commas with your adjectives if they are coordinate. Coordinate adjectives are exchangeable and need commas between them, where non-coordinate adjectives follow a particular hierarchy and do not need commas.

To determine whether an adjective is coordinate, try the two-question test:

  1. If you put the word “and” between the adjectives, will the sentence still make sense?
  2. If you swap the adjectives, will the sentence still make sense?

If the answer is yes to BOTH of these questions, then you need a comma.

So, what is this hierarchy thing?

Adjectives have a hierarchy in which they must be listed both for clarity and, frankly, because they sound better (keep in mind, we are talking US English, things change in other languages!).

For instance, read the following out loud:

That is a metal red giant barn.

Ick. It doesn’t quite sound right, does it? You want to rearrange the words so it reads, “That is a giant red metal barn.” Much better.

Now that we know what order they sound best in, why do we care? Because, the order also helps us determine where commas should go – if they should go at all!

If you have several adjectives, once you get them arranged in order, you ONLY need commas between those adjectives in the same column.

A lovely blue whooping crane needs no commas.

A lovely blue, green, and gray whooping crane would, but only between the colors.

Let’s try out two-question test on these two:

A and lovely and blue whooping crane.

Ick. Well, maybe between the lovely and blue. So, let’s try that:

A lovely and blue whooping crane.

Sort of. Let’s try test two:

A blue and lovely whooping crane.

No, it doesn’t really make sense. We don’t need commas.

Now you try the lovely blue, green, and gray whooping crane on your own. Are those commas needed or not?

(We’ll debate the Oxford comma on another post.)

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Commas 101: Independent clauses

Do I, stick a comma, here? I’m, not sure. I guess I’ll just, slap one in, to be sure. I mean, a comma is just a, way, to, show the reader, where to pause, right?

This is where your editor will wear out either her delete button or her red pen, if you are lucky enough to have a patient and observant editor (few of us can be both). It is also why I’m doing a series, rather than a long, boring post on all the rules. I figure that, if you are reading this, you already like using lots of commas, which means you want things in smaller chunks. No problem!

Today’s chunk is to clarify when to or not to use a comma to link two thoughts in one sentence.

Rule #1: Use a comma to link two independent clauses, but you will need a conjunction.

A clause is a thought – a chunk of a sentence that may contain many levels or bits of information within a sentence. If it has a subject (the thing doing) and a predicate (what that thing is doing), it is an independent clause. An independent clause is a full sentence. If you can pull it out and slap a period at the end, then it is an independent clause no matter how much more is around it.

If you have two independent clauses in a sentence, you will want to shove a comma in there. It won’t read right if you don’t. But, if you take two full sentences and stick them together with just a comma, you may feel incomplete. This is because you need a conjunction to hold them together. The two sides of the sentence are too heavy without that support.

At this point, you have three choices:

  1. Make them two sentences
  2. Use a comma and a conjunction
  3. Use a semicolon

Example:

I went for a walk. I saw a squirrel.

Two perfectly respectable sentences in their own right, but if you keep writing short, choppy sentences your writing may get tiresome. Hey, let’s combine those two thoughts into one sentence!

I went for a walk, I saw a squirrel. <– does that feel “wrong” when you read it? It should. Those two independent clauses need some support to hold them together:

I went for a walk, and I saw a squirrel.

Ah, much better. See what the “and” did there? It made the second half of the sentence a DEPENDENT clause. Try pulling it out now: And I saw a squirrel. See? Not a sentence by itself anymore.

But…what if you really don’t want that “and” in there? What if you kind of liked the way it sounded the first time? Use a semicolon, it’s stronger than a comma and can handle the strain of holding together to related thoughts without a conjunction:

I went for a walk; I saw a squirrel.

 

Check out the “Comma Totter” visual in my book, The 8 Fatal Mistakes Made by Self-Publishers, available on Kindle:

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Commas 101: There are rules!

In my book, The 8 Fatal Mistakes Made by Self-Publishers, I briefly touch on punctuation, specifically, commas. I am very passionate about commas.
Many argue that comma use is subjective. It isn’t. Commas are NOT visual pauses. There are actual rules. Click To Tweet

Follow them and no one gets hurt. Or, at the very least, your sentence won’t look like disheveled copy thrown together by someone with no respect for the reader. As an editor, one of the most common things I have to hack and slash at are all those extra commas. Outside of blatant spelling errors and the misuse of apostrophes on pronouns (that will be another post), commas cost you, the writer, more time — which means more money — with an editor.

In this series, we’ll pull one rule at a time and play with it. The hope is that you’ll have a better understanding of the lovely, hard-working comma, and you’ll stop abusing it.

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Self Publishing 101: How to price your book

One of the most often asked questions by proud authors who are ready to enter the market with their first book is, “How should I set the price?”

The answer, of course, is that it depends on several factors. What is your genre? How big is the book? How will it be printed, if at all? This guide will give you a place to start.

Setting the price of your book should take some time and thought

Perceived Value vs. Actual Value

Much like any other product, your book will have two completely different values: perceived and actual. The actual value is what it actually costs to produce (including an hourly wage for writing/editing/design and printing) and ship the product. The perceived value is how much it is worth in the eyes of the consumer.

Your job as a writer is make the perceived value as high as possible. You can do this by:

  • Creating quality work
  • Being the expert in your field
  • Using your background, connections or clout to separate yourself from the pack
  • Offering more value than just the book itself (such as a free followup report, links to videos or podcasts or a free/discounted subscription or service)

Of course, not all of these will apply if writing a fantasy novel or memoir, but you can see how paying attention to what your prospective customers (and, yes, your readers are customers!) desire will give you the edge. Writing, after all, is about them – not you.

Pricing Your Hardback

People will pay more for a hardback, but they are a dying breed and hardback is a dying medium. Those that purchase hardback books do it for their permanent collections – which means that your $15-$25 book better not only be perfect on the inside, but the outside must be professional-looking and able to stand next to those big-name publisher’s books. No hand drawings. No font soup. The jacket must be one, contiguous piece of art.

Take a good look at the going rate for hardbacks in your genre, then at the profit margin you would have if you sold your book for slightly less. You are not going to make a fortune on each book, but you will still make a bit more than you would selling one-by-one through a traditional publisher.

Keep in mind that you are less likely to sell a hardback, so have a paperback version available for the rest of us.

Pricing Your Paperback

Again, do your homework. Look at your page count and topic and then see what similar works are selling and at what price. Set yours in the middle. Remember, the online or bookstore price may be set lower than the in-person price. For instance, if you are a speaker, your book’s perceived value goes up when your presentation is particularly motivating or enlightening and you are on-hand to sign them. You may sell your book on the giant river for $10, and get $20 for the same book at your event. This also gives you a lot of room for multiple purchase discounts (two for $30, for instance – still more than online, but a great deal in person.)

Pricing Your Digital Book

Kindle & Other Readers

The threshold for e-readers is pretty low: folks simply aren’t willing to pay more than a couple of bucks for something they’ll read and then delete. Set your price high enough that you make a buck or two on each sale, but low enough that it’s easy for the one-clickers to decide to buy. For a typical novel, anything over $5.99 seems too high for most people. Again, check your genre and word count and see what is selling by others and for how much. Most of mine sell for under $5.

E-book (pdf)

Ultimately, the price of your e-book is up to you – but you do want to be able to maximize your sales. By paying attention to all of these factors, you should be able to find a price that is fair to both you and your readers.

The purpose of your e-book is to enlighten, entertain, and/or inform – AND lead them down your sales funnel to the next product, be it the full-length book, a coaching session, or a program. Think of your e-book as a business card that people pay for.

If your e-book is too long to think of this way, turn it into a digital and/or paperback, and create a brief introduction to the larger book that now will be your e-book. You still want to provide value, but only enough to whet their appetite and build the desire to take the next step. E-books that do well are reports and worksheets for projects. Think of your e-book as beefier than a blog post and not big enough for a full book.

Pay attention, as well, to where and how you aim to sell your e-books. Your price may change based on the leverage of your outlet. For instance, I have two books that I sell exclusively through Fiverr. I chose to sell them there because, on my personal site, I sold them for $2.99 and did OK. I kept 100% of the $2.99, and sold a few.

On Fiverr, I sell them for $5.00. Fiverr takes their buck, so I make $4.00. Then PayPal takes their cut, so I only actually see $3.60 for each book. Not much better than the $2.99 I was making on my own – until you account for the leverage. Fiverr is a huge presence that spends a lot on promotions, and since my books do pretty well, they boost me more than I could ever boost myself. Instead of selling dozens per year on my own, I sell dozens per week, and all I have to do is push a button.

Totally worth it.

Go With Your Gut

Remember, your book’s price should be competitive with what is already out there. Yes, to you it is worth millions, but the typical reader simply can’t pay that for your book, and the rest of us won’t.

Some people get discouraged when they find that they may only make $1-2 per copy after everyone else takes their cut. Well, that’s not too bad when you consider that a NY Times Bestselling author who went through a traditional publishers sees about $0.40 per copy, if they are lucky. On a per-book basis, you’re not doing too shabby.

Now, get out there and start marketing your masterpiece!

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