The Dash—The Secret Tool for Better Communication

I suppose it makes me quite the nerd to say that the dash is my favorite punctuation mark—but I just think there’s something very elegant about it. I could have just used an everyday old period in that last sentence, or even a semicolon or comma, but a period and comma are dull and a semicolon always seems a bit academic and divisive while a dash allows thoughts to flow. In this short article, I’ll give a couple of examples of how using a dash will make your own writing flow better.

Many authors I work with like to write in fragments. I personally find fragments frustrating because they break up a thought and make writing harder to read. Usually a dash resolves this problem. For example, I often see authors write sentences like:

“I prefer to take a cab rather than drive myself when I’m not familiar with a location. Especially in a big city like Chicago.”

The problem with that sentence (technically two sentences but the latter is a fragment) is that the period tells me that’s the end of a sentence. And the word “Especially” tells me I’m at the beginning of a dependent clause. As a result, I expect the second sentence to read something like:

“Especially in a big city like Chicago, the traffic is too hectic and scary for me to feel safe driving myself.”

However, the author did not write that sentence, which is a complete though in itself. Instead, they wrote the fragment, and that fragment is rightfully a continuation of the previous thought. Therefore, a dash would make the sentence clearer:

“I prefer to take a cab rather than drive myself when I’m not familiar with a location—especially in a big city like Chicago.”

Admittedly, a comma would have worked also, but the dash gives us more of a pause and shows that the end of the sentence is a bit more like an afterthought than if a comma were used.

I highly encourage authors not to write in fragments. Fragments are just plain hard to read. Make friends with the dash and your readers will be much better able to follow your stream of thought.

The dash is also great for labyrinthine sentences where so much is going on that the reader needs some signposts to help them separate the pertinent information from the extras. Here is an example of such a convoluted sentence:

“In the year 1066, when William the Conqueror, also known as William I of England, after he conquered England, and previously William the Bastard because he was born out of wedlock, and also William of Normandy, because he was the Duke of Normandy, won the Battle of Hastings, he began the Norman dynasty in England.”

Here the dash can be used to separate the main point from all the extra information, as follows:

“In the year 1066, when William the Conqueror—also known as William I of England, after he conquered England, and previously William the Bastard because he was born out of wedlock, and also William of Normandy, because he was the Duke of Normandy—won the Battle of Hastings, he began the Norman dynasty in England.”

To me, the dash here says “to be continued” or “skip what’s between the dashes to get the main point” which is “When William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, he began the Norman dynasty of England”—everything between “Conqueror” and “won” was separating the sentence’s noun from its verb.

Another option in the above sentence would be to put what’s between the dashes in parentheses, or you might even just cut it all from the sentence and put it in a footnote. However, as I said earlier, the dash has a certain elegance about it that makes it clear the text between the two dashes is important. It doesn’t make that extraneous text feel unimportant like a footnote would do to it, or closed off like parentheses would do. Dashes are also easier to see than parentheses; the reader’s eye can immediately spot the next dash and then read the main sentence, skipping over the extraneous text, thus making an easier transition from subject to verb.

I encourage you to use dashes when too many parenthetical phrases and commas make your sentence confusing or when you catch yourself writing in fragments. In both cases, you will make your sentences much clearer. When it comes to wanting to communicate well, the dash can be one of your best friends.

_______________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar is the founder of Superior Book Productions (www.SuperiorBookProductions.com), a full service editing, proofreading, and book and website design company that began in 2008. He has a PhD in Literature and has taught at three universities. He is the owner of his own publishing company, Marquette Fiction (www.MarquetteFiction.com), established in 2005, and is the author of twenty fiction and nonfiction books. For twelve years, Tyler served as Vice President (2007-2008) and President (2008-2019) of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is also the former regular guest host of the Authors Access Internet Radio Show (2007-2012) and the former book reviewer for Marquette Monthly (2008-2019). More than anything, he loves wordsmithing.

Don’t Use Your Book Cover to Deceive Your Readers

“I thought this would be a nice love story about a man and a woman—nothing about the cover made me think it was going to be about a lesbian relationship, which I frankly found disgusting to read about.”

“I thought this book was historical fiction since it said it was set in England in the fourteenth century, but then the author introduced a bunch of fairies and a dragon. Nowhere was it indicated that this book was a fantasy novel.”

Such complaints are common among readers who post negative reviews of books. Readers know what kinds of books they want to read, and they rely on back cover descriptions and images on the front cover to help them determine whether a book is going to fit their reading preferences. Too often, especially among beginning authors, a book’s description does not always equal what the book is about. Sometimes, this mistake is made by the publisher who tries to market the book as something it’s not—sadly deceiving the reader to increase sales. Or the self-published author may think it’s better to surprise the reader by not giving away too much on the cover. However, certain information, especially controversial topics key to the book’s plot and themes, need to be stated upfront so they do not turn off readers who will then write bad reviews.

Key topics that should be disclosed on books’ back covers include characters having abortions, characters in homosexual relationships, books that take strong stances on politics, heavy religious themes, and anything else controversial, plus any form of genre-crossing. While a nonfiction book can certainly attract bad reviews from a misleading back cover description, typically, fiction titles are what cross the line by failing to reveal controversial topics or their true genre.

My novel Arthur’s Legacy includes a witch, time travel, and magic so although set in sixth century Britain and containing many elements of historical fiction, I have it labeled as historical fiction.

Authors should always be specific about the genre listing on a book’s back cover. Of course, all fiction books can be listed as Fiction, but other general categories like Mystery, Romance, Horror, Science Fiction, and Historical Fiction may need more specific categories.

For example, a book listed as a mystery” does not sufficiently reveal the book’s true contents if the book is filled with erotic sexual scenes. Such a book might be better listed as Mystery/Erotica. A piece of historical fiction,” say for example about King Arthur, a legendary character, may better be listed as Historical Fiction/Fantasy especially if it includes sorcery or fairies, but simply because King Arthur himself is not a historical “real” person, it’s best not to claim the book is historical fiction. A romance novel that includes a woman being haunted by a ghost is not the typical Danielle Steele type love story a reader may expect, so better to list the book as Paranormal Romance. A book listed as horror about a vampire who wants to be a stand-up comedian might be better listed as Horror/Comedy.

One advantage to more specific genre categorization on your book’s back cover is you will turn away readers who aren’t going to like your book. Turning away readers may sound bad, but it’s not if those readers will only slam your book later. The even better advantage is that you will find your niche or target audience by being more specific through your description and cover image. That way, someone who likes paranormal romance will be more likely to discover your book rather than it being lost amid the thousands of other romance novels. Equally, people with a quirky sense of humor who do not like gory horror might still enjoy a comical treatment of a vampire.

Authors also shouldn’t worry about giving away too much on the back cover. Simply a few words or a sentence can make the difference. For example, a book might be listed as Historical Fiction with the following description:

“In 1845, Ned and Katy O’Neill are faced with how to feed their seven children as the potato famine grips Ireland. Their story of adventure and courage will warm readers’ hearts and make them appreciate Irish history in a new way.”

That may sound like a book that historical fiction lovers will want to read, but not necessarily if there’s a ghost in the book. However, if you instead describe the book as Historical Fiction/Paranormal, and slightly reword the description to match, those readers who don’t like ghosts won’t read it, while you might gain more readers who are interested in ghosts as well as those interested in Irish history. In fact, you’ll get readers interested in ghosts who aren’t interested in Irish history and you may just win them over to historical fiction as a result. Plus, some historical fiction enthusiasts might not mind a ghost, so you could turn them on to a whole new world of paranormal fiction—all because you added a few more words to disclose more of the book’s content.

Here’s a simple way to rewrite the back cover description:

“In 1845, Ned and Katy O’Neill are faced with how to feed their seven children as the potato famine grips Ireland. A ghostly encounter will lead them on an adventure that will warm readers’ hearts and make them appreciate Irish history in a new way.”

That’s just a few words to warn any ghost haters out there while advertising to the ghost lovers, without having to make any major changes.

No author wants bad reviews, so making sure a book cover does not mislead readers will prevent a lot of heartache for an author later on. Revealing controversial topics in the book may also lead to new readers finding the book, and new ways to market the book to a broader audience. Remember, readers judge a book by its cover because they have no other way to judge it until they read it. Your cover image and cover description are what sell the book, so make sure they allow your potential readers to judge your book correctly.

Tyler R. Tichelaar is the founder of Superior Book Productions (www.SuperiorBookProductions.com), a full service editing, proofreading, and book and website design company that began in 2008. He has a PhD in Literature and has taught at three universities. He is the owner of his own publishing company, Marquette Fiction (www.MarquetteFiction.com), established in 2005, and the author of twenty fiction and nonfiction books. For twelve years, Tyler served as Vice President (2007-2008) and President (2008-2019) of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is also the former regular guest host of the Authors Access Internet Radio Show (2007-2012) and the former book reviewer for Marquette Monthly (2008-2019). More than anything, he loves wordsmithing.

Proper Usage of the Mysterious Ellipsis

The ellipsis has in recent years become one of the most overused and misused punctuation marks. Truthfully, many of the authors I work with don’t understand how to use it or even know what it is. If I write a comment in a manuscript saying, “Maybe an ellipsis would work better here,” I am not surprised when the author puts in a semicolon or a dash, not knowing what an ellipsis is.

So just what is an ellipsis? It’s a series of dots.

But how many dots? I’ve seen authors use five, six, or even ten dots because they don’t realize there is a standard rule. The ellipsis has three dots. If it comes at the end of the sentence, it still has three dots but is to be followed by a period to end the sentence, so in that case we could say it has four dots. Here’s are some examples of its proper use:

“I don’t know…. Maybe I shouldn’t do that.”

Here “I don’t know” is a complete sentence so four dots are needed.

“If you want…I’ll go to the party with you.”

Here it occurs in the middle of the sentence and represents a pause so three dots are needed.

In both cases above, the ellipsis represents a pause. The speaker is basically trailing off into thought and not speaking, then speaking again. However, a better use is just to leave it at the end of the sentence to show something is left unsaid.

“I don’t know what….” Or “Mary said that….”

The above usages of the ellipsis are acceptable, but too often people overuse it. There are only three proper usages for an ellipsis:

1. To show a pause, as in the second example above.

2. To show an incomplete sentence, as in the third example.

3. To show omitted words. In this case, it is usually used when quoting someone to show it is not a full quote. For example, let’s say I want to quote part of the following text:

“I really like ice cream. Cookies and pie and any kind of chocolate are also good, but ice cream is the superior food.”

Then I can use an ellipsis to let the reader know I have left words out of the quote:

“I really like ice cream…the superior food.”

When is the ellipsis misused? Primarily by being overused as a pause and usually an unnecessary pause. I’ve seen many a book with dialogue with strings of ellipses (note ellipses is the plural of ellipsis) where other punctuation marks would be a better choice. For example:

“When I go for a walk…I like to go to the woods…they help me to reconnect with nature and with myself…which fulfills a deep spiritual need of mine. It also helps me realize we are not alone on this planet…there are chipmunks and squirrels and birds and all kinds of wildlife…in nature that make me know that in terms of the big picture…my problems are small.”

That is far too many ellipses in one sentence. As I said above, the ellipsis should represent missing words or a pause. There are no missing words here, and no one would talk like this, pausing every few words, unless they were having difficulty breathing. It’s unnatural. Most of the ellipses in this example could be replaced with commas or an occasional dash. Here’s how I would rewrite it:

“When I go for a walk, I like to go to the woods. They help me to reconnect with nature and with myself, which fulfills a deep spiritual need of mine. Being in nature also helps me realize we are not alone on this planet—chipmunks, squirrels, birds, and all kinds of wildlife make me know that in terms of the big picture, my problems are small.”

You’ll note that I also did some rewriting of the second part of the sentence to make it more concise. All of the ellipses I made into commas except for the one after “planet” where I thought a dash would work well since a dash is like a semicolon in the sense that it shows a relationship of thought between parts of a sentence.

I hope this discussion has helped you to understand better when and when not to use an ellipsis. I challenge you to use it sparingly—one ellipsis per page is probably too much. Before you use one, ask yourself if a period, a comma, a semicolon, or a dash wouldn’t do a better job of conveying your message.

_______________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar is the founder of Superior Book Productions (www.SuperiorBookProductions.com), a full service editing, proofreading, and book and website design company that began in 2008. He has a PhD in Literature and has taught at three universities. He is the owner of his own publishing company, Marquette Fiction (www.MarquetteFiction.com), established in 2005, and is the author of twenty fiction and nonfiction books. For twelve years, Tyler served as Vice President (2007-2008) and President (2008-2019) of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is also the former regular guest host of the Authors Access Internet Radio Show (2007-2012) and the former book reviewer for Marquette Monthly (2008-2019). More than anything, he loves wordsmithing.

Editing Your Manuscript

“Edit your manuscript until your fingers bleed and you have memorized every last word. Then, when you are certain you are on the verge of insanity…edit one more time!”

— C. K. Webb

Editing your manuscript can be both rewarding and frustrating. Unfortunately, many first-time authors don’t understand the importance of editing or when to do it. Other would-be authors never get their books written because they start editing while they are still writing. This article will give you some guidelines for editing—warning, editing is a lot of work if you plan to do it properly.

Illustration by Kathy Kuczek from The Nomad Editor by Tyler Tichelaar.

First of all, the belief that every sentence must be perfect creates writing paralysis, so please, do not edit your manuscript as you go. In fact, it’s best to turn off any features that underline or highlight misspellings or grammar issues because going back to fix them will only stop your train of thought.

When I’m writing, I let the words flow from me, not caring what is appearing on the page. I can go back and fix the typos later. When you are inspired, you just need to get it all out there. You must conquer the blank page. Everything after that is fixable.

How many times should you edit your book? Despite C. K. Webb’s advice given above, I would say at a minimum four. British novelist Anthony Trollope (1815-1882) said all of his novels went through at least four revisions. All of my own books have probably gone through eight or more, but for minor works like short stories or blog posts or articles, usually four revisions is enough. With full-length books, I tend to keep editing them until I reach the point where I am only tempted to change a word every few pages. That requires many, many readings of a book.

After I finish a complete draft, the first edit I do is to make sure all the content flows in an organized and logical manner. Yes, I fix typos and grammar problems and rewrite sentences as I go, but the big picture of how well the content works is the major thing to focus on when you first start editing. Sometimes if you make major content changes, you will need to do a couple of more edits to focus primarily on content.

Once I’m sure the content is how it should be, I go back and do at least two or three more edits, still rewriting sentences to make sure they are clear. I’ve written many posts in the past at this blog about using concise language, so be sure to consult those posts as resources for your own editing. On these second and third and often more edits, I look at each sentence and try to remove every word I can that isn’t needed. I look for repetitive words and phrases. I also look for logic issues. And I look for contradictions: for example, if it’s a novel, do I have a character say her favorite movie is Gone With the Wind on one page and Dark Victory on another. If so, I fix it.

Eventually, I realize I can’t make the book any better on my own so I send it to an editor. Here let me say that you should never, ever, ever just assume that your editor can fix everything without you doing any editing. It is your book and you need to take responsibility for it. Your editor is there to assist you, not to fix your writing. Yes, your editor probably knows more about grammar and punctuation and the English language than you do and will fix errors, but you want to send your editor the cleanest, most perfect manuscript possible. Plus, the less issues with your manuscript, the less the editor will charge you.

Once the editor returns my book to me, I’m often surprised by what they have found. Then I go through and consider all the edits and suggestions made and decide what I will or will not keep and where I still need to reword. Even after that, I will go through and likely do two more edits or proofreads to make sure everything is correct.

When editing, you also need distance from your work. Eighteenth century poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) advised that you “keep your piece seven years.” In other words, don’t publish your book right away but give yourself distance from it. In our fast-paced world, authors can write and publish a novel within a few months, but I would not advise this. If you have a timely subject matter for a non-fiction book, you may be under a time constraint, but do what you can to give yourself distance even if it is just stepping away from your book for a month or a week.

None of my books have gone to print in faster time than a year, and many of them have taken more than twenty years from first draft to final product. I often am working on two or three books at a time to give myself the distance needed. For example, I might finish the draft of Book 1, and then I write the draft of Book 2. Then I go back and revise Book 1. Then I write Book 3, then revise Book 2, then revise Book 1, then write Book 4, then revise Book 3, then revise Book 2, then write Book 5, then revise Book 1, then revise Book 1, then revise Book 1, then revise Book 2, then revise Book 3, then revise Book 1, then revise Book 1, then revise Book 3, then revise Book 1, then proofread Book 1, and finally publish Book 1. The first novel I ever wrote ended up being the fifth novel I published. The second novel I ever wrote has sat in a desk drawer now for twenty-eight years and will probably never see publication. The third novel was torn apart and parts of it published as my fourth published novel. The fourth novel I wrote became my tenth published book. It waited twenty-one years to see publication and was heavily rewritten many times. It just depends on how devoted I am to writing a book and when I think it is good enough for publication.

Those scenarios may seem extreme, but by working on multiple projects, I get the distance needed. I’m also challenging myself to work on different kinds of books. Book 1 may be a historical fiction novel, Book 2 might be a fantasy novel, Book 3 might be a volume of literary criticism, etc. I truly think all that distance creates better books.

Another key to editing is reading. I honestly don’t believe anyone who doesn’t read can truly become a great writer. All the time while reading I am noticing turns of phrase, word choices, and sentence structure that other authors use and getting ideas from them for how I can be a better writer myself. That reading directly influences the editing of my own books.

Of course, as has often been said, no author really finishes a book; they simply abandon it. I think that is true also, but I usually revise my books so many times that I am happy with the final product. After a book is published, I might think, Oh, I could have added this, or I could have taken that plot in a different direction, but overall, because I have put so many hours into revision, I’m happy with the end product.

One final tip: Once you send your book to the layout person, do not rewrite it. It is a headache for the layout person, and your editor if you have one. Making corrections to proofs is very time-consuming, and more chances for error exist if you try to rewrite your sentences at this stage. Layout is the point in the process where you must put down your pen and be content with fixing nothing except a typo. Trust yourself now that you did the best you could, and send your child off into the world. If you didn’t do a good job, the world will tell you, and then you can come out with a second edition or do better with your next book.

Now that your book is published, you can finally put some Band-Aids on your bloody fingers and give them a break before starting the insanity all over again.

_______________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar is the founder of Superior Book Productions (www.SuperiorBookProductions.com), a full service editing, proofreading, and book and website design company that began in 2008. He has a PhD in Literature and has taught at three universities. He is the owner of his own publishing company, Marquette Fiction (www.MarquetteFiction.com), established in 2005, and the author of twenty fiction and nonfiction books. For twelve years, Tyler served as Vice President (2007-2008) and President (2008-2019) of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is also the former regular guest host of the Authors Access Internet Radio Show (2007-2012) and the former book reviewer for Marquette Monthly (2008-2019). More than anything, he loves wordsmithing.

Eliminating Unnecessary Words and Phrases

Wordiness is one of the biggest blocks to good communication when writing. As an editor, I constantly eliminate many commonly used but unnecessary words and phrases from sentences. Here are some of the most common examples. Do your best to avoid them in your own writing.

There are

In his classic book The Elements of Style (1918), William B. Strunk says to avoid beginning a sentence with “There are” or “There is,” yet a century later, people still do it constantly. Here are some examples of why this sentence construction is weak and wordy and how it can be reworded better:

There are many ways to skin a cat.

Many ways exist to skin a cat.

Notice that if you remove “there are,” a stronger noun follows it—“many ways”—that serves as the subject for the sentence. You can then insert the verb “exists” after it to make a tighter sentence.

Sometimes the verb already exists after the subject in such sentences. For example:

There are numerous people who like sushi.

Reword it to:

Numerous people like sushi.

Note that we were also able to remove “who.” “That” is another phrase typically able to be removed in such sentences. For example:

There are many things about you that bother me.

Many things about you bother me.

It is

Similar to “There are” is “It is” wording at the beginning of a sentence. Here’s an example and a rewrite:

It is the early bird who catches the worm.

The early bird catches the worm.

Fact

Unless you want to point out that something is untrue, readers will trust that everything you tell them is a fact (or at least that you believe so). Therefore, the word “fact” and phrases using “fact” are not necessary in a sentence. For example:

It is a known fact that many people like sushi.

Again, we can reword here to the simple:

Many people like sushi.

Here’s another example and rewrite:

I went to the store due to the fact that I was out of eggs.

I went to the store because I was out of eggs.

In Life

This phrase, “in life,” is one of my pet peeves. Obviously, everything happens in life. Unless you’re writing a book about things that happen after you are dead, there is never a need to use the phrase “in life.”

Here are two examples where “in life” is completely unnecessary:

In life, we have many chances to pursue our dreams.

What challenges have you faced in life?

Let’s look at these sentences without “in life.” Obviously, they provide the same meaning:

We have many chances to pursue our dreams.

What challenges have you faced?

Avoiding the Obvious

The phrase “in life” really is stating the obvious, and anything that obvious doesn’t need to be stated. Here are a couple of other obvious statements that can be eliminated.

Amanda had a huge smile on her face.

Where else would Amanda’s smile be except on her face? Have you ever seen anyone with a smile on their toe or their shoulder? Of course not. So just rewrite the sentence to:

Amanda had a huge smile.

Better yet, you could just say:

Amanada smiled.

Of if the size of her smile is important, you could say “Amanda smiled hugely,” but that sounds terrible, so find a better word for smile. For example:

Amanda beamed.

Using Possession

Here’s one last wordy type of phrasing I often run across. These sentences show a complete lack of understanding the value of using possession in a sentence.

Roger brought us to the house that belonged to him.

Who would say that? Yet I see sentences like that all the time in the books I edit. If the house belongs to Roger, just show that he possesses it by using “his”:

Roger brought us to his house.

Here’s another example and the rewrite:

Roger brought us to the house where his mother lived.

Roger brought us to his mother’s house.

Good writing eliminates what is unnecessary. If you want to be a good writer, you will not just write, but you will revise your sentences. Even in writing this blog post, I caught myself starting a sentence with “There are” and then revised it. When you are inspired to write, let the words just flow out of you however they come out. But then go back and look at every sentence you wrote and every word in every sentence and ask yourself what words can be eliminated. Are there any obvious or wordy phrases or statements you don’t need? If you make the effort to look for and eliminate unnecessary words, you’ll find that your writing becomes clearer and more concise, and before you know it, you’ll stop using such words and phrases or catch yourself right away when you’re tempted to use them.

_______________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar is the founder of Superior Book Productions (www.SuperiorBookProductions.com), a full service editing, proofreading, and book and website design company that began in 2008. He has a PhD in Literature and has taught at three universities. He is the owner of his own publishing company, Marquette Fiction (www.MarquetteFiction.com), established in 2005, and the author of twenty fiction and nonfiction books. For twelve years, Tyler served as Vice President (2007-2008) and President (2008-2019) of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is also the former regular guest host of the Authors Access Internet Radio Show (2007-2012) and the former book reviewer for Marquette Monthly (2008-2019). More than anything, he loves wordsmithing.

Using Photographs and Other Images in Your Book

One of the biggest learning curves for authors is using images in their books. This article will discuss some of the dos and don’ts of using images and hopefully prepare you for a smoother experience, as well as help you make your editor and layout person’s lives easier.

Use High Resolution Images: The most important thing to know about using images in a book is that they have to be high resolution or they will not reproduce well on the printed page. High resolution is defined as 300 dpi or greater. Sometimes dpi is also called ppi. Both terms basically mean the same thing: dots per inch or pixels per inch. Anything lower than 300 dpi will likely not work in your book.

How do you know if an image is 300 dpi or not? If you get out the book for your camera, you will find out how to adjust the resolution on it so that all the photos you take will be 300 dpi or greater. (The same may be true for your phone, but photographs taken by a phone usually don’t have the best resolution, so I recommend you invest in a decent camera, though it doesn’t have to be a fancy one.) If you are scanning images, you should be able to find a setting for your printer to scan them at that resolution. If you are purchasing images, let the person providing the images to you know that they need to be at that resolution—most online stock photo websites like Shutterstock will offer high resolution downloads.

Do Not Use Images on the Web: Images on the web have two issues:

  1. They are low resolution so they will not reproduce well in your book. Rather than copy the image off the web, write to the image’s owner and ask them if they can provide you with a high resolution version of the image.
  2. Images you find online belong to someone else. You cannot use them without permission, and in many cases, you will need to pay a royalty fee. If you use someone else’s images without their permission, you are basically stealing their property and breaking copyright laws. If you do find images online that are free to use and in the public domain (for example, Wikipedia often uses public domain images you can download for free) make sure they are high resolution. Again, most images will tell you what their resolution or file size is. If you can’t determine what the dpi is, make sure it is a large image, no smaller than 1.0 MB. An image that is 57 KB, for example, does not have a high-enough resolution.

Do Not Paste Images in Your Manuscript: I know it can be tempting to paste your photos into your manuscript so you can determine where they will go, but when you do that, you cause issues for the editor and layout person. Namely:

  1. The Word document you’re pasting them into becomes a huge file size that makes it difficult to email back and forth.
  2. The images make the file unwieldy for the editor, especially if the editor is using a track changes feature to show you the edits being made. That is too much strain on the program and will cause it to work slower if not crash altogether.
  3. This is the biggest issue—the images once pasted into the file will not be high resolution any longer and will not work for the layout person.

Send Your Images to the Layout Person Separately: To avoid the issues described above, you want to send all your images to the layout person as separate files. You can put them all in a folder or zip file or upload them via Dropbox or some other program that will deliver them more easily than email.

Label All Your Photos: Before you send the photos to the layout person, label them. While I know it’s tempting to give them names like “Mary and Joe at the Beach,” doing so is going to make life more difficult for the layout person. Instead, number them in the order they will be used in the book. You can still give them descriptions if you feel the need, such as: 1-MaryandJoeattheBeach.jpeg, 4-Beth’s4thBirthday.jpeg. Be sure not to leave spaces between words in the file name to avoid additional issues with the files.

Insert Photo Placement Instructions in the Manuscript: Wherever you want the photos to go, insert instructions in the manuscript. I always write an instruction in red to the layout person. It can be as simple as:

Photo 1

Include Captions With Photo Placement: If you want captions for the photographs—usually a good idea since people will want to know what the images depict—write the photo caption with the placement instruction. For example:

Photo 1: Mary and Joe at the Beach

I would also place this whole line in red so the layout person can easily find it. The layout person should know enough to remove “Photo 1:” when inserting the image.

Be Flexible About Photo Placement: If you want some colored insert pages in the center of the book, photo placement isn’t much of an issue, but if you want images inserted in the appropriate place within the main text, please remember that photo placement depends upon the text’s flow. For example, let’s say you have a paragraph describing Beth’s fourth birthday and you want the picture right below that paragraph. If that paragraph ends two lines from the bottom of the page, the photograph will not fit there, so the layout person will have to place it above that paragraph, thus pushing the paragraph onto the next page, or following the paragraph after the paragraph describing the birthday so the image will fit on the next page. The layout person might also be able to wrap the paragraph around the side of the photograph, depending on the photograph’s size and shape. Understand that the layout person will place photographs in the best place possible, but then when you review the layout, you can always ask for adjustments as needed.

These simple instructions about using images, although they require a little extra work on your part as the author, will ensure that when your book is published, your images are high quality, are in the right place, and altogether enhance the message your book is sending to your readers.

_______________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar is the founder of Superior Book Productions (www.SuperiorBookProductions.com), a full service editing, proofreading, and book and website design company that began in 2008. He has a PhD in Literature and has taught at three universities. He is the owner of his own publishing company, Marquette Fiction (www.MarquetteFiction.com), and the author of twenty fiction and nonfiction books. For twelve years, Tyler served as Vice President (2007-2008) and President (2008-2019) of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is also the former regular guest host of the Authors Access Internet Radio Show (2007-2012) and the former book reviewer for Marquette Monthly (2008-2019). More than anything, he loves wordsmithing.

Don’t Overemphasize

Good writing is all about communicating well. However, sometimes we can try too hard to communicate, resulting in a communication breakdown. That’s what happens when we overemphasize in our writing.

Most beginning authors have a tendency to overemphasize because they want to be certain the reader gets what they are saying. What do I mean by overemphasis? The author will bold words, put them in quotation marks, italicize them, and write them in all caps. For example, I have seen many a sentence in a first-time author’s book that looks like this:

When you are trying to reach your GOALS, it is absolutely imperative that you begin by creating a “list” of GOALS and then you give yourself a deadline for accomplishing each one.

Ugh. Rather than communicating to the author a simple statement, you just shouted at the reader, made them pause to think about how the emphasized words would sound, and basically made them lose the train of thought the sentence was trying to communicate.

Bottom line, that sentence would read fine without any emphasis at all.

Here are a few rules about what types of emphasis you can use and when it’s appropriate.

ALL CAPS: Just please, never ever use all caps. It’s considered shouting at the reader. The only time you should ever use all caps for a word is if that word is an acronym like FBI.

Bolding: Do not bold anything except a subtitle or a word introducing a definition or paragraph that is followed by a colon like I’m doing with this sentence.

Quotation Marks: Quotation marks are to be used sparingly. When they are used in a sentence like the one above, they are often called “scare quotes.” Think of it this way—scare quotes scare off the reader. You don’t want to scare off the reader, so don’t use them. Why do they scare off the reader? Because they are so annoying and distracting that the reader will eventually quit reading your book or article.

Plus, scare quotes suggest doubt or mocking of a term. For example, if I wrote: The problem was solved through military “intelligence,” I am implying that the military isn’t very intelligent, which wouldn’t even make sense in this sentence because obviously the military was smart enough to solve the problem. As a general rule, only use quotation marks for dialogue or to introduce a term, like I did when I put the term scare quotes in quotation marks above. After the first use of that term, the reader understands what the term means so there’s no need to keep putting it in quotation marks. You’ll note that I didn’t put scare quotes in quotation marks after my first usage of it.

Underlining: Don’t use it. Underlining went out with typewriters. It was only used then because typewriters had no way to italicize words. Which brings me to:

Italics: Italics are the only form of emphasis, with a very few exceptions I won’t get into here, that I would use. However, most authors also tend to overdo the use of italics. I cannot tell you how many manuscripts have come to me where I see three or four words italicized in every paragraph. That’s just annoying and distracting. If you are going to use italics for emphasis, only use it sparingly. In my opinion, one italicized word per chapter is the most I would use.

Don’t let this happen to you!

I won’t even get into the manuscripts that have come to me that are color-coded with words highlighted in four or five different colors. I don’t know what those authors were thinking—book interiors are generally printed in black and white so why bother color-coding? Just don’t do it.

Bottom line: If you are doing your job as a writer, then you are communicating well, and if you are communicating well, you don’t need to provide these visual aids for your readers. Just trust your readers are intelligent enough to know an important word or concept when they read it without you having to give it the literary equivalent of flashing neon lights.

_______________________________

Tyler R. Tichelaar is the founder of Superior Book Productions (www.SuperiorBookProductions.com), a full service editing, proofreading, and book and website design company that began in 2008. He has a PhD in Literature and has taught at three universities. He is the owner of his own publishing company, Marquette Fiction (www.MarquetteFiction.com), and the author of twenty fiction and nonfiction books. For twelve years, Tyler served as Vice President (2007-2008) and President (2008-2019) of the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association. He is also the former regular guest host of the Authors Access Internet Radio Show (2007-2012) and the former book reviewer for Marquette Monthly (2008-2019). More than anything, he loves wordsmithing.