A Question of Style

Taipei Writer’s Group just finished work on and published its second anthology, Night Market. With ten different writers working on different word processing software on different operating systems, there was the potential for all sorts of inconsistencies in style. I’m not talking about writing style; the point of the anthology was to have many different writers using their own voices and their own writing style. That’s romantic. What I’m talking about is distinctly unromantic. I mean the small, niggly details of consistency in punctuation and how various words are written out. Stuff like how you write numbers, dates, values, words in languages other than English. I mean how to put in em-dashes and whether there’s a space on either side of an em-dash or not. Unsexy stuff.

Writers don’t want to concentrate on that stuff. They want to write their stories, and rightly so. However, if the end product is riddled with inconsistencies—between the stories, or worse still, within the individual stories themselves—then readers are going to notice it and it will distract them from their stories. I’m reminded of something a drama teacher told me about people who chew gum on stage during a play or a presentation. “They won’t remember how good you were,” she said. “They’ll just remember that you were chewing gum.” Why risk a reader’s connection with your story is broken due to an inconsistency in style?

I imagine, and one day hope to find out, that if you’re being published by a company, they’ll have a copy-editor checking those kinds of things for you. There’ll be an in-house Manual of Style, based on something like The Chicago Manual of Style, perhaps with some extra in-house additions. But self-published writers will need to take care of all of it themselves. I’d imagine it’s a good idea to do the same kind of work for anything you’re planning to submit for publication, in order to show that you know about and appreciate such things.

An obvious place to start is getting hold of the style manuals in question. Another recommended book is Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. There’s plenty of online information as well. This is one site I’ve used:

http://www.thepunctuationguide.com/index.html

However, I’ve also found that there’s always going to be something else that isn’t completely covered in these style guides. Also, the style guides occasionally disagree, in the same way that dictionaries disagree whether some compound words are two distinct words, two hyphenated words, or in fact one word.

Here’s an excellent post from The Editor’s Blog on the subject of numbers, as one example of the sorts of things that need to be considered.:

http://theeditorsblog.net/2013/01/13/numbers-in-fiction/

For our anthology, this included things like which form of Pinyin (the romanisation of Chinese words) we would use. There are several versions, and while we’d like to use the most up-to-date (and presumably the most correct) some places are so well-known by names in an older system that it would seem odd to use the newer name. (Political issues cloud this too, but that’s another story). Therefore, we decided to devise our own style sheet to cover some of these issues, the idea being that if all the writers followed these, it would make things easier at the end.

I’d had experience with this before. My day-job is an editor/content creator for an ESL publishing company. The company generally follows the Chicago style, but there’s lots that isn’t covered. The English editors basically sat down for a whole afternoon and hammered it all out. We have to occasionally review it and add more things to it as they crop up. It was worth the time, though; our publications have internal consistency now, and it’s saved a lot of time during the copy-editing / proofreading part of our jobs.

That was the template we followed with the style sheet for our anthology. Of course, there were dozens of things that weren’t covered in our sheet, and we did have some long conversations to agree on a few of the points, but I was pretty happy by how the whole thing turned out.

It also made the job of unifying the ten separate stories into a single document a easier. That’s not to say that preparing the anthology for both paperback printing and e-book form wasn’t painful. We learned a lot about the value of setting up a template for all final draft submissions. (We didn’t do that. We paid for it in time and strained eyeballs. We’ll do it next time!) However, it could have been a whole lot worse if we hadn’t started out with a style sheet that covered a lot of the stuff that would end up needing to be unified. It will be improved on for next time, and presumably, the time after that.

So there you go. It’s unsexy, but necessary, like paying your taxes or taking out the rubbish bin and sorting out the recycling. My best advice is think about these things and get into the habit as early as possible, meaning that your own editing and polishing process can concentrate on making your story the best story it can be, rather than fixing up the admittedly annoying yet annoyingly vital style stuff.

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Should an Author Respond to Reviews? NO!!

Your published book is an adult now. It can take care of itself if you raised it right. Do not defend, do not thank, do not acknowledge reviews about your book. Brenna Clarke Gray explains why.

Perhaps not all reviewers feel as I do, but I think the reviewing space needs to be its own thing, unadulterated by the feeling of the author’s hot breath on the reviewer’s neck as they try to make an honest assessment of the work in front of them.

Read her full article to see the tragedy of one author complaining about a bad review.

Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art. — Andy Warhol

Night Market – Our Second Anthology is Released!

Back in February, we celebrated the creation of our first anthology, Taiwan Tales. To revisit  our amazement and celebration at the completion of our vision, refer back to this blog post.

Members have been jokingly referring to our books as “having babies”. Having had two babies, I think there is definitely similarity in the way we forget the pain and joyfully suggest, “Let’s make another!” And make another, we did.

From the creation and first edits of the stories to the artwork, the blurb, and the layout of the e-book and print versions, many members of Taipei Writers’ Group have given their very best skills and expertise to make Night Market a production that the group is proud of. Having moved back to New Zealand in December 2014, I was probably the writer least involved in the production process, and I am indebted to the dedicated souls that worked on the editing and production for weeks and weeks. For me, the wonderful thing about this anthology is, it gave a number of group members a chance to participate and utilize skills beyond writing.

Let’s look at the cover:

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All of the artwork was done by the talented Hannah Charlton. She is a member of our group, and listed in the author section of this blog. Each Chinese sign is a title of a story in the anthology.  If you read Chinese, see if you can match them up! Post your attempts in the comments, and we will eventually tell you whether you guessed correctly. There is a beautiful black and white image to accompany each story, which you can see in the e-book and the print version.

And how about the Amazon blurb:

You can find anything in the night market…

Text messages from beyond the grave. Love potions and hidden secrets. Answers to questions that haunt our memories or discoveries that may change the direction of our lives.

Tales of love and loss, of life and death.

From local and expat authors living in Taiwan comes a multi-genre anthology of short stories as piquant and varied as the food found in the island’s famous night markets.

Who could resist that invitation to partake in a night market feast?

Another extension to our publishing experience has been the book launch parties. One is being prepared as I type, and I am feeling my distance, on the other side of the earth. But, just like our characters on that Night Market cover, the words in the book ensure our group stays together.

So, shall we make another?

Of course!

How to Organise a Book Launch Party

Taipei Writers’ Group recently launched the paperback of Taiwan Tales, along with a preview of the forthcoming Night Market, and I thought I would share some book launch ideas, tips and advice based on our experience.

Taipei Writers Group launching Taiwan Tales and Night Market

Taiwan Tales and Night Market book launch party

Venue

A good venue for a book launch is:

  • Central in your city/region and easily accessible by car and public transport
  • Large enough to accommodate the expected attendance, but not too large – if your turnout is smaller than expected, the place will seem uncomfortably empty
  • Two-roomed if possible. People need a place to step out of the hubbub, and a separate room for drinks and snacks helps keep noisy conversations separate from the main action
  • Bare-walled, so you can add your own posters and displays
  • Comfortable and well-appointed. Toilets for your guests are a must, but are there also seats, rugs, floor cushions for people who want to rest their feet? Are there tables for food, a sink, a refrigerator?
  • Accessible to the disabled

C.K. Hugo Chung had the use of a great venue for the Taiwan Tales and Night Market launch. Based in central Taipei, ColorWolfStudio is an international artists’ cooperative, and Hugo made our book launch part of the group’s monthly zapper. With a covered outdoor area and two rooms the TWG was easily able to be good hosts to the attendees. A small drawback was that the studio was at the top of a building and so a little difficult for one group member to get to due to his disability.

Displays

Displays are the first things your guests will see as they arrive. Copies of your book, banners, posters, bookmarks and other book-related promotional materials and paraphernalia can all be displayed, and if your book’s cover contains distinctive colours, you can echo them with cloths or flower displays around the room. Another option is to project an image of the book cover on a wall or screen for guests to see as they arrive.

Night Market poster

Night Market poster

We were very lucky to have two gorgeous posters of Night Market, designed by Hannah Charlton, and Hugo made sure Taiwan Tales copies were beautifully set off by a red cloth.

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Taiwan Tales display

Taiwan Tales display

Schedule of Events

While it’s tempting to be relaxed and laid back and imagine everything will gel on the night, a safer approach is to plan a schedule of events. Your audience needs to know what they can expect, and it’s easy to forget where people should be and what they should be doing in the nervous excitement during the launch.

Some ideas for events include:

  • A presentation on the process behind creating the book, such as images, places, events or experiences that inspired, and the steps taken to reach publication.
  • Short readings from the book or works that were significant in its creation
  • Question and answer sessions
  • Networking time. You need to give your guests time to mingle and discuss how awesome your book is!

Writers are often introverted types, but the TWG Taiwan Tales and Night Market book launch was cosy and friendly, and the writers enjoyed sharing their work with the audience.

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Wrapping Up

As your book launch draws to a close, don’t forget to play the good host until the last guest is out the door. Each person you invited is a link to many others who may hear about how great your book launch was and how they must buy your book.

We had many interesting conversations with guests as they were leaving, especially with the more inebriated ones. Everyone seemed to have had a great time, and we sold plenty of books.

What’s been your experience of book launches? Have you any tips to pass on?