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Thursday
Feb112010

Two Tips on Dealing with Common English Language Errors 

The English language is extremely complicated. As writers, we all have to work with the complexities within the English language. Since people judge you on the way you write, you want your first impression to wow them, not turn them away. So, making sure you are aware some two very common English mistakes, will go a long way toward your writing making a good impression on your readers.

  • Its and It's

This is probably one of the most common mistakes made by writers, and unfortunately, it is counter-intuitive. There is only one time you use the apostrophe in its and that is when it is a contraction for it is or it has. "It's (it is) for John that the bell tolls" or "It's (it has) been so long since I’ve heard the bell toll for John."

Its, without the apostrophe, is a possessive pronoun, meaning belonging to. "The bird drank from its water” and never has an apostrophe (although most people want to put one in). 

The counter intuitiveness of the its without the apostrophe is because when you normally use a possessive noun, you use an apostrophe. "The bird’s water was dry". Because of the use of an apostrophe in a possessive noun, writers tend to automatically insert the apostrophe when they are replacing the noun with the "it" pronoun. However, "It's water was dry" is incorrect and should correctly read "Its water was dry." 

  • i.e., and e.g.,

i.e., and e.g., two Latin abbreviations which mean different things are not interchangeable. They should be used in the appropriate manner.

e.g., (in Latin, "exempli gratia") means "for example" and you would use it when you want to give examples. "Her grocery list included several types of dairy products, e.g., (for example) milk, butter, cheese and yoghurt.

i.e., (in Latin "id est") on the other hand, stands for "that is" and basically means, "in other words". "All dairy products, i.e., (in other words) milk, butter, cheese and yoghurt, have high levels of calcium".

(Additional tip:  you always use lower case letters for both i.e., and e.g., even if they are at the beginning of a sentence. Also, you should always include a period between the letters, followed by a comma.)

If you catch these errors, your work will be cleaner, correctly reflecting your professionalism and will help form a good first impression on your readers.

Wednesday
Feb102010

Writing Humor to Promote Your Business.

We are very pleased today to have for Our Little Books Guest Post Wednesday, Steve Hartkopf, author and business consultant. Steve was recently named one of the top 20 Most Influential People Online in Charlotte, NC. You will enjoy his post and make sure you check out his company, Aligned Marketing.

Using jokes and funny stories is a great way to promote your business and get your point across. Some people struggle telling jokes because timing, the voice inflection and body language all have to be in sync. Juggling all those communication balls is hard. If you think verbal humor is tough, try being funny writing.

Most writers avoid writing humorous stories because it’s so hard to do well. That’s unfortunate because humor is such a great tool and so embedded in our culture. I often use sarcasm, a particularly edgy kind of humor, to make my points. 

But when you strip away the visual cues, my facial expressions, expansive hand gestures, and my perfect use of voice inflection, my incredible wit can get lost on the page. See what I mean? 

Good humor writing is one-part grammar, one-part angle and one-part misdirection. 

I encourage generous use of dashes, colons, semicolons and three dots to extend a sentence, signal an interrupted thought or change of direction, to inject the proper timing into your stories. 

But the last two parts – angle and misdirection - are really the keys to effective humor. Like an illusionist, you want to move your audience down a familiar path and then, before they have time to anticipate a course change, re-direct them to your conclusion. It sounds hard but it’s not. 

Start with objects and people that your readers already know. Combining two dissimilar objects or people together is an early signal to your audience that something unusual, something funny, is coming. 

Many jokes begin with this type of set-up. It’s a variation of the “a parrot and a Priest are sitting in a bar”…theme. You know what a Priest, a parrot and a bar are but you don’t know what they could possibly have in common. The unusual combination tells you the story is probably going to be humorous and that it probably has a larger point, a punch line. 

Humor is fiction. The basic instruction for writing good fiction is to show, don’t tell. I don’t know the original author, but I edited the following story to illustrate my point: 

The day finally arrived. Forrest Gump dies and goes to Heaven. 

Forrest walks up to the Pearly Gates and is met by St. Peter himself. As he approaches he notices the gates are closed. 

Looking up, St. Peter says, “Well, Forrest, it is good to see you. We’ve heard good things about you. There is one small issue, however, Heaven is filling up fast so we’re administering entrance examinations for everyone who wants to get in. It’s a short test, but you must pass to get into Heaven. Do you understand, Forrest?” 

“It sure is good to be here, St. Peter, sir,” Forrest responded. “Nobody ever told me about any exam. I sure hope the test is easy. I don’t much like tests and life was one big test all by itself.” 

“I know, Forrest,” said St. Peter. “But there are only three questions and you must try if you want to enter through these gates.” 

Folding his large hands together, St. Peter looked poor Forrest in the eyes and said. “The first question is, what two days of the week begin with the letter T? He let that sink in for a minute or two and then continued, “The second question is, how many seconds are there in a year? 

Bobbing his head up and down slowly, Forrest seemed to be staring at St. Peter’s mouth. 

St. Peter continued. “And the third and final question is, what is God’s first name?” 

Forrest didn’t say a word. He just walked away. 

The next day Forrest returns and sees St. Peter, who waves him up and says, “Forrest, now that you have had a chance to consider the three questions, what are your answers?” 

Smiling, Forrest replies, “Well, the first one, which two days in the week begins with the letter ‘T’? Shucks, that wasn’t as hard as I thought it was. The answers are Today and Tomorrow.” 

St. Peter’s eyes widened. He stroked his long beard for several seconds and, then, in an understanding voice he responded, “Forrest, that is not the answer I was expecting but you do have a point. Perhaps I wasn’t specific enough so I’m going to give you credit for a correct answer.” 

“What about the second question?” asked St. Peter. “How many seconds in a year?” 

Forrest smiled and said, “Now that was real hard to figure out but I thunk and thunk about it and I guess the right answer is twelve.” 

St. Peter stopped stroking his beard, leaned into Forrest and yelled, ”Twelve? Twelve? How in name of all that is Holy did you come up with twelve seconds in a year?” 

Forrest chin quivered slightly but he kept his eyes on the Saint. “It has to be twelve, sir: January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd… ‘ 

“Hold it right there,” said St. Peter, showing Forrest the palm of his right hand. “I see your point, though, once again, that was not what I had in mind. Still, in fairness, I will give you credit for the correct answer. We’ll just go to the third and final question. Can you tell me God’s first name?” 

“You bet, that was the only easy one” Forrest replied with a wide grin, “it’s Andy.” 

“What did you say, Forrest? Did I hear you say God’s first name is Andy?” an exasperated and frustrated St. Peter blurted out. “Forrest, I can understand how you came up with your unusual answers to my first two questions, but how in the world did you come up with the name Andy as God’s first name?” 

“Shucks,” Forrest said. “Just like everyone else, I learnt it from the song.” With that Forrest began to sing, “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own.” 

St. Peter jumps up, sprints over to the Pearly Gates, flings them open and screams at the top of his lungs, “Run, Forrest, Run!” 

Well, it’s funny to me.

Steve

Steve Hartkopf is an author and business consultant. Through his company, Aligned Marketing (http://www.aligned-marketing.com), Steve helps emerging businesses develop their communication and marketing tools to increase sales and leverage web technologies.

Steve is very active in social media. He blogs regularly for two of his online properties, writes blogs for several of his clients and was recently named one of the top 20 Most Influential People Online in Charlotte, NC. 

You can contact Steve through email at shartkopf@aligned-marketing.com or by phone at 800-707-9150.

Tuesday
Feb092010

6 Keys to Building an Online Platform Before You Publish Your Book

When an author submits a book proposal to a publisher, that publisher will likely examine a variety of things about the author that do not have much to do with the author‘s manuscript. This includes things like an appearances on radio and television talk shows, any articles or books the author has previously published, whether or not the author has obtained the status of expert in the topic they are writing on (if it’s nonfiction) and, perhaps most importantly, the author’s online platform.

What is an online platform? It consists of the author’s presence in online forums and social networks, experience in blogging and podcasting, previous online publications, and any interviews the author has had on other people’s podcasts. The publisher will also look at whether or not the author has a large number of followers on social networking sites. Here are a few keys that will help you build your online platform:

  1. Build a professional website. Include a short autobiography, your contact information and a list of books or articles you’ve had published.
  2. Start your own blog. By updating your blog often, you’ll build an audience that will follow your published work in the future.
  3. Publish a newsletter. Send the newsletter to people who frequent your website or blog and include information about your book.
  4. Find people online who cover the same topic as you and form partnerships. You can promote each other on your respective web sites and in your blogs - this will help everyone involved to build a larger audience and impress publishers.
  5. Promote yourself through online articles. Write for websites that are related to your topic to build credibility.
  6. Contact online interviewers or podcasts that might be interested in your topic and offer them an interview.

In addition to these tips, the best way to build your online platform is through repeated exposure. Be seen and heard everywhere - this will help you build credibility and market yourself and your books.

==>Amanda Free is a Communication Major at University of Louisville.

Thursday
Feb042010

18 Tips on How To Write an Effective Press Release

Your press release can make or break the promotion of your new book. How are you going to come up with effective release without taking a writing class or hiring someone to write it for you? Here you will find a few tips to write your press release.

  1. The words “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE” should appear in the top left of the first page above the headline. This will be the first thing the editor or producer will see, and it’s important for him to know that your book deserves to be at the top of his list. 
  2. Your contact name, phone number and email address should also appear at the upper right hand corner of your release.
  3. Type the headline, in all capital boldface letters, centered on the top of the page. This should emulate a news headline, and should summarize why anyone would want to know more about your book. It should also announce some item of news interest. Example: DOCTORS CURE CANCER!
  4. A dateline should appear at the start of the first paragraph and should include the location of the news source.
  5. Remember that following the headline, the first paragraph of the press release should present the most important information for your book. It’s very important to catch the editor or producer’s attention early because if you don’t, he might not read the rest of it.
  6. The release should be no longer than two pages, double or one and a half line spaced.         
  7. Do not use typefaces that are hard to read. Use Times New Roman or Garamond and avoid italics.
  8. Customize your releases for the media you are targeting. Mention any info of local interest in your lead paragraph.
  9. Spell every word correctly and pay extra attention to the spelling of names. Proofread your press release several times!
  10. Include any relevant quotes from your book, or from an expert in your field, that substantiates or reinforces the topic of the release
  11. Don’t use exclamation marks - these give the release an amateurish air.
  12. Do not use hyperboles. Avoid hyped up words like “fantastic,” “best-seller,” and “terrific.”  Be sure to keep your language simple, and keep your sentences short.
  13. Edit the release ruthlessly to eliminate redundancies or unnecessary text.
  14. Write all your promotional materials from a benefit point of view. In other words, clearly convey what the reader will get out of your book.
  15. After first mention of your title in the body of the release, include, in parentheses, the name of the publishing house and the publication date.
  16. Names should be written in full (i.e., Joe Smith) the first time they are mentioned and after that, you should simply refer to the last name (Smith or formally, Mr. Smith).
  17. At the bottom center of the release, after the body of the text, write -30- or ### to indicate closure.
  18. At the end of the release, list the publication date, page count, price, format (hardcover or paperback), publishing house, and ISBN for your book. Also include the book’s website address.

Following these simple tips will get you a press release that will successfully promote your new book. 

 

==>Amanda Free is a Communication Major at University of Louisville. 

Tuesday
Feb022010

A Macro View of Life Through the Lens of a Camera

Today we are very pleased to offer you a post from Carolyn Jones. Carolyn is an incredible photographer who looks at life through the lens of a camera and often times sees things that we all miss. This post is a great example of that. Make sure you also check out her gorgeous photos on her website.  

As I was pondering what to write about, the thought of stickies crossed my mind. You know, yellow stickies. I was awed by the thought that what started as a 3 x 5 sized yellow sticky has grown into all the colors and sizes and shapes imaginable. I was in awe, actually, of the creative minds that developed such a simple thing that has turned out to be commonplace everywhere.

So, I am talking today about wonder, about what I experience when I slow down and consider the things around me in great detail. It happens when I stop to see the leaves, to notice the buds that are forming and blooming around me.

For example, take a cat. I have one who was/is a feral and, as such, has been very skittish of me getting physically close to her in any way. It has taken five years, but recently, she has allowed me to get within one inch of her face, while I quietly call her name. That in itself is cause for wonder. But what really struck me was her hair, her coat, and the millions of individual hairs that I could see clearly from an inch away. I stopped as I realized just how many hairs are on an animal to make up their coat, a barrier from the environment. Think of it! Zillions! I thought about how intricate those hairs are. It is cause for wonder.

A similar experience occurred when I took the time to look closely at moss. Have you ever done that, looked closely at moss? There is a whole community growing there! I was in wonder as I viewed the small, star-shaped leaves, darker green in the center, fading to light green on the tips. Again, like the cat’s coat, tightly packed to protect against the forces of the environment.

It’s a lot like looking at the world through a camera’s macro lens. I have occasion to do this, as I am a photographer. The wonderful thing is, I don’t have to have a macro lens; I can see all this wonder with the naked eye. It’s more an issue of slowing down, becoming more aware of all around me. For me, I have had to become willing to slow down and look. Then I made the decision to do that. Finally, I practice remembering to slow down and find the wonder all around me, for it abounds everywhere… in ourselves, in others, in the world around us...

 

Carolyn Jones is an author and an award-winning fine art photographer who specializes in wrought iron gates and also in abstract images that are created when light and glass interact. Carolyn’s images have been combined with her prose in her first book, Opening the Gates of the Heart, to describe a journey of healing. In her most recent body of photographic work, Abstracts, Carolyn experimented with the magical and vibrant patterns and images produced by the interaction of light and glass.

Works from both of Carolyn’s collections have been featured in solo exhibitions and have been accepted in several juried art shows. Several of her abstract images have won awards, including first prize from http://www.guestsgallery.com for Down the Straightaway. Carolyn has been published in two photography books: www.photoworkshop.com’s book Photos That Inspire and Photo and Arts’ Abstracts 2007: Volume Two. Her image Color Burst was chosen for the back cover of  Abstracts 2007: Volume Two. Carolyn’s photographs can be seen on-line at www.gatelady.com or www.gatesoftheheart.com.