Picture
I really need to train myself not to put two spaces between sentences since, for some strange reason, people frown on it nowadays.  Which makes no sense to me.  I would have thought it would have been less necessary on typewriters, which had font faces with equal width letters (monospaced), than today with so many fonts that are so much smaller.  So, in essence, not only are we removing a space, but the spaces are even narrower than they used to be.  WTF?  

Part of the reason for using two spaces between sentences was to differentiate between words with periods after them (a.m. for example or a name like S. M. Boyce).  This hasn't changed.  But the convention of using two spaces has.  Why isn't it still necessary?  Again, I don't understand.

Typewriters used two spaces to mimic type setters that used an enlarged space between sentences.  This wider space in type setting was phased out long ago, but the two spaces continued on straight into the computer age.  I was trained on it and I'm only 27.  So why is this enlarged space not needed, and why aren't we training our young people on it?  Shouldn't we be teaching our students in typing classes to only use one space?  But, no, we don't.

There's a lot of controversy on which is more desirable.  And the proponents on each side seem to be equally rabid.  There is no conclusive data on which is more readable.  In fact, while it has become an industry standard in publication to use one space, it has equally become a standard to use two everywhere else.  Every other field uses two spaces.  Everything.  Without fail, except publishing.

So, I get I'm going to have to reteach myself a couple of decades worth of bad habits.  I just don't understand why.  What do you think?

Photo credit: Insomnia PHT / Foter.com / CC BY-ND
 
Picture
I've been spending a lot of time on other people's blogs lately and this one question keeps hitting me.  What on Earth would possess you to put a sidebar on each side of the screen?!?  I don't understand.  I can't look at both sides of the screen at the same time, so if I'm looking for something, like a follow blog button or an index, I have to check first one side, then scroll back and check the other.  And with some blogs, that takes a while.  I try to be restrictive with how much I put on the side bar but even mine is quite long.

But website design can be daunting.  We want it to be pretty, catchy, and at the same time functional.  And, especially with blog sites, there is simply too much we want to get across that doesn't change from post to post.  I do get the understanding behind adding a second sidebar.  It adds more space, even ad space, to the site (though I imagine having ads in the second bar isn't as bad an issue).  

But it also frustrates readers.  Readers are only willing to read so far into your sidebar before they get bored or their eyes glaze over.  There is such a thing as too much.  

Basically, what I'm saying is that if you have so much on your sidebar that you're tempted to add a second, maybe you should be asking yourself what you can do without?

Photo credit: Helga Weber / Foter.com / CC BY-ND
 
Started a diet a while back.  I've lost 16 pounds so far.  It was kind of dicey at first.  Beginning a diet has always been the hard part for me.  That and actually working out.  I hate working out for the sake of working out.  Give me a martial arts class, a construction project, biking to the store, anything.  Just so long as it isn't walking on a treadmill for a half an hour.  But, strangely, I love weight training.  Which is good, because building muscle increases metabolism, which is always a good thing when you're trying to lose weight.

Now, it's almost no big deal.  And I've found some absolutely wonderful snacks.  My personal favorite is these mini cakes.  They are quite addicting.  I once ate four in one day, which was probably a bad thing since they have so much dietary fiber in them and you should really only eat about 25g a day for women.  If you put them in the microwave until they're nice and warm, it's like eating a cake right out of the oven.  All warm and melty chocolate chips.  Mmmm.  I think I want one...


 
Is it too much to hope that an author would at least pretend at professionalism when responding to an email from a book reviewer choosing not to review his book?

I get that my critique might not make you happy.  And, no, I don't care that you had the book "professionally" edited.  That doesn't change the fact that your book doesn't look professionally edited.  I'm sorry.  If a book is missing end quotes between dialog and action, it is "inadequately edited" (my exact words in the email).  The fact that I chose to waste my time explaining why I didn't decide to review your book and even went so far as to offer suggestions as to how to improve upon the work does not give you the right to call me names.  It just doesn't.

And it is not pedantic to want the author to be consistent with how a character is named or to want it to be clear who is speaking or to want more detailed explanations of concepts that are not everyday.

And when I sent him a message trying to be [mostly] professional and told him to please not respond to the email as I had zero interest in continued correspondence, he had the audacity to respond (thus proving incapable of listening) and insult me AGAIN (thus reinforcing his complete lack of professionalism)!  I didn't respond back and blocked him from my mail client.

I meant to go to bed a while ago, but have been too keyed up by the asshole to sleep.  Kind of sucks considering I have to be somewhere early tomorrow morning and I haven't had a full night's sleep in a week.  Looks like tonight won't be any better...
 
Yep, that's me.  It seems I've become obsessed with proper comma usage.  And really, it's so vital to a good story.  Sure, some places, like between dialog tags and the dialog, can be forgotten without seriously impeding the meaning or readability of the sentence, but others will not only confuse the reader, but change the meaning.  It amazes me that even those authors that had an editor (with a publisher), that should have caught it, still miss this on a regular basis.

So here's a few instances where authors tend to go wrong...

  • He said, "Thank you, David."  There should always be a comma separating the rest of a sentence from the dialog.  Also, always have a comma before a name that is neither the subject nor direct object of a sentence.
  • As I hung up the phone, I leapt toward the kitchen.  A comma should be used when indicating a pause for the reader.  In this example, the reader can't run straight from phone to I.  They don't connect.  They are separate, though related, and must be connected by a comma.
  • It’s strange one of my favorite things is sleeping when I’m an insomniac but, then again, maybe not.  You can remove the intervening "maybe not" and still have a complete sentence.  This is a major one authors mess up on.  When you have a portion of the sentence surrounded by commas, test to see how removing it would influence the sentence.  If the sentence isn't right, you put the commas in the wrong place.  A common example would be putting words like "but" or "and" on the wrong side of the comma.  If I put "but" on the other side of the comma, the sentence would read, "It's strange one of my favorite things is sleeping when I'm an insomniac maybe not."  That sentence doesn't make sense.  It's wrong.
  • Eating and sleeping had always been my favorite activities, though.  This one is probably a redundancy of one of the previous bullets, but I thought I'd put it in anyway.  The sentence is complete without "though".  It's an addition to the sentence.  A pause in reading is required.

I'd love to show some great examples of improper comma usage, but that would require posting copyrighted content on my blog, which I won't do without permission.  The one to pay the most attention to is the third bullet.  It has a massive influence on sentence meaning and can leave a reader confused, reading a sentence over and over trying to elucidate what the sentence is supposed to say.

And I was intending to make a graphic for this post, but it's after midnight, I'm exhausted, and I have to get up at 6:30a.m. tomorrow (yay, not...).  Wait, make that today.  Grrr...  I think I'm going to die...

 
Probably, a lot of you are thinking things like cell phones, wallets, keys, maybe even pants if you're so inclined.  Since I'm a gadget guru, you're probably also thinking things like my laptop, my iPod touch, my iPad, camera, and on and on.  But I've routinely forgotten my cell phone (for days) and have forgotten my wallet on more than one occasion.  I can forget my keys and still get into my house, so I can do without them too.  Though I love my electronics, I can do without those as well for periods of time.

There's really only one thing I can't do without:

A Book.

I am completely an utterly incapable of going anywhere without a book.  I can't even go to the bathroom for fear I will get stuck in there for a good deal of time ("thinking" as my mom would call it).  This might seem strange to some, especially when I am in the lab and leave my backpack but bring my iPad (which has my eReader on it) and a winter coat (because it's about fifty degrees in the woman's bathroom!).  It can also lead to some hilarious and frantic searches as you are trying to hold it in but can't find your chosen reading material.

I had one time where my car broke down when I was only doing a quick run to the grocery store.  I had to stay by my car and was stuck there for over an hour.  Because I wasn't planning to be gone long, I didn't bring a book with me.  I had some nasty things to say to, fingers to fling at, etc the other drivers and the occasional pedestrian.  I was about pulling my hair out with boredom.  And that's hardly the only example.

I've also had plenty of instances where I forgot to bring a book to work (back when I worked at Labcorp) or finished my book before the day ended and didn't have anything else to read.  

I.  Would.  Go.  Mad.

Just like I can't function on too little sleep, I have to be able to fill my lull periods with reading.  I need a book.  I need to be able to read.  Twitter doesn't cut it.  Facebook doesn't cut it.  Playing sudoku and puzzle games don't cut it.  I need my books.

If you're wondering what brought this on, I just got stuck without a book.  I don't think it was very long, but I didn't have a watch on me and it felt like an ETERNITY.
 
The other day I was thinking that, since I write book reviews that drive traffic to places like Amazon, a good way of earning revenue on my website would be Amazon's Associates program, which gives you a percentage for traffic you drive to their site that results in a sale.  I get revenue without annoying my readers with ads.  Win, win, right?

I read all the rules and regs, caveats and addendums, and decided to join.  I started the process, they asked for my address and allowed me to choose my information from my Amazon account, then I got an error.  I didn't realize it was an error at first.  It just wanted me to type in my address and select my state.  My state wasn't listed.  WTF?!?

Okay, no worries.  I'll send an email to them asking about the problem.  This was the response I got:

Hello Danielle,

Because you are located in North Carolina, we are unable to accept your application to join the Associates Program because of unconstitutional legislation enacted in your state. In the event that North Carolina repeals this tax collection scheme, we would certainly be happy to re-open our Associates program to North Carolina residents.

Information about this legislation may be obtained from the Performance Marketing Alliance Website:www.performancemarketingassociation.com.

We appreciate your understanding.

Thank you for your inquiry. Did I solve your problem?

If yes, please click here: 
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A1XFF90M6HDTXZ&k=hy 

If no, please click here: 
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A1XFF90M6HDTXZ&k=hn

I wanted to click no, but knew it would only put me through a redundant page-looping hell.  No, you didn't help me.  And, yeah, I found it real amusing that you called it a "tax collection scheme", like North Carolina is a con artist with no right to collect taxes.  Amazon, you're a dick.  I know the "unconstitutional legislation" Amazon is referring to.  And, no, it isn't unconstitutional.  Requiring that Amazon pay the state the taxes it is OWED is not unconstitutional.  Did my state go about it wrong?  Yes.  That doesn't change the fact that Amazon owes the state of North Carolina (and almost every other state in the US of A) hundreds of millions of dollars in sales taxes.  For all I know, it might be in the billions of dollars.  There's no way of knowing.

Amazon, as many people know, works on a loophole in sales tax laws.  Other internet companies work with similar business models, but Amazon is the biggest offender.  Because the company is based in one state and the sale is made in another, the sale falls into this no man's land.  The company is only required to declare in-state sales to its taxing agency.  In these cases, the buyer is technically required to declare all out of state purchases where they did not incur sales taxes.  This never happens.  So, in a revolutionary move, the state of North Carolina passed a law requiring online businesses to pay sales taxes to the state when the sale is made to residents living in North Carolina, regardless of the state the business is based out of.  They have been unable to implement it and, to my knowledge, are probably still locked in a legal battle with Amazon over the new legislation.  I shudder to imagine their next move.
 
I feel like this is all I'm doing lately.  I've been reviewing a lot of new authors lately.  I've found a lot of gems, but I've also read a few books that make me grind my teeth.  Being the person I am, wanting to help other authors and liking the story, if not the editing, I send critiques of the books I don't finish just the same as the books I do.

But I'm starting to get tired of the disillusionment emails I get for my time.  Things like, "But I had an editor!" or, "I just don't understand," or "I can't believe my editor missed so much," or "I feel shocked," or "I feel lost."

Is there something wrong with saying, "Thank you"?  Or what about, "I appreciate you helping me"?  "Thank you for taking the time to review my novel"?  I feel like the bad guy when authors dump all that on me.  I'm just trying to help.  Rethink how you went about editing your novel, find other habits that work better, learn from your mistakes.  It's not the end of the world, it's just a reviewer giving you the chance to improve.  I could have put it in a review, blogged about it, posted it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, and Smashwords, thus making my words a permanent blemish on your writing career.  I didn't.  The story's fine.  You have potential.  It just wasn't ready to be published yet.
 
I've heard a lot of bad things about traditional publishing, especially the big six - wait five, recently.  I've heard about how they make almost no profit.  I've heard how bookstore returns are strangling them.  I've heard how they take it all out on authors so they can turn a profit.  They see companies like Amazon or people self-publishing as the enemy.  They are tightening down the hatches, preparing for the storm.  

Clearly, something is wrong.

But what can they do to fix it?  I say, change their way of thinking.  Some things would be hard to change, like changing the return policies for bookstores.  It would require an industry-wide change in policies that isn't likely to happen any time soon.  But other things could be implemented right now without difficulty.

Instead of seeing self-publishing authors as the enemy, see them as doing work for them.  After all, much of the losses with publishing companies are from funding losing ventures.  How about only funding the winners?  After all, with self-publishing, we can easily sift the winners from the losers.  Who's a safe bet?  How bout that author that just hit the #1 bestseller on Amazon for 2012.  Publishers could eliminate the gamble in publishing, lowering the risk and increasing the return.

This would mean eliminating what is getting to be an increasing rare beast to begin with - new and mid-tier authors at major publishing houses.  But, honestly, these individuals could do better by other means anyway.  They have the resources.  They are probably expected to do a lot of self-promotion anyway.  They'd be making better profit margins on their own.  After all, some of them already have a fan base.

But how to recruit these Indie-authors away from their current avenues of publishing?  Well, there are some things money just can't buy.  One of those is time.  Take an author that has already made it and give them the freedom to do what they love - write.  Offer to manage the promotion, marketing, and et cetera.  Offer them royalties that, while maybe not as good as what they currently make, aren't that far off.  Hell, offer decent health insurance and I'm sure a few would jump at the chance.

The publishing industry is changing.  A few years ago, I saw publishing a novel, becoming an author, as a pipe dream that had no chance of coming true.  It was the reason I got into science.  I wanted to be an author.  Being a scientist would keep the lights on.  I never expected to be published and saw self-publishing as means for people to pad their own egos.  Now, I see having a published novel as something not in the realm of impossibilities but a possibility, even an inevitability.  It will happen.  It's just a matter of how successful I'll be.
 
Picture
This picture looked a lot cooler when it was bigger... Oh well.
I swear, I don't know what I'll do.  I started reading a new book today.  I was really looking forward to it.  I'm about 15% done and feel like strangling the author.  Every paragraph is I said this and Uther said that.  

I've been told that, when it comes to dialog tags, an author should refrain from using tags other than said.  "Said" gets largely ignored by the reader and so it actually speeds up the flow of the conversation to use it.  But clearly there is such a thing as using it too much.  There is no excuse for using it three paragraphs in a row.  There are other ways of indicating who is speaking.  I've ranted on this before and, if you're interested, you can view my blog post, Writing Pet Peevs.

So be careful.  Even said can get repetitive...