Friday, August 14, 2009

Editing is Marketing: Boning Up on First Impressions

by Carolyn Howard-Johnson

First impressions are important. We all are aware of that as we brush our teeth and try to unknot the rat's nests from the back of our hair each morning. In fact, first impressions are part of our marketing efforts, whether we are marketing ourselves (say, an interview or a TV appearance) or marketing our books. And, yes, editing is an essential part of that first-impression effort, thus an integral part of marketing and promotion.

Here are a scattering of helps gleaned from my HowToDoItFrugally Series of books (

Five Editing Myths Waiting To Trip Up Your Campaign to Market Your Work
  • If your English teacher told you something is OK, it is. (No! Language rules and style guidelines have changed since you were a sophomore.)
  • If a manuscript or query is grammar-perfect, you'll make a great first impression. (No! Lots of things that are absolutely grammatically correct will annoy publishers, agents, and others.)
  • Always use your Spell and Grammar Checker. (Maybe. Some well-known editors suggest you don't use it at all but The Frugal Editor gives you dozens of ways to make it your partner instead of your enemy.)
  • Your publisher will assign a top-flight editor so you don't need to worry about your manuscript. (Maybe, but don't count on it. Besides you can be a better partner for an editor if you know something about the process—and you'll also know better when to nix her suggestions! In any case, I suggest hiring an editor of your own before you submit your manuscript.)
  • Formatters and editors will take care of the hyphens, ellipses, and all the other grungy little punctuation marks that English teachers avoided teaching because they didn't know how to use them either. (Chances are, you'll catch even great formatters and editors in an error or two if you know your stuff!)

Five Things to Avoid for a Pristine Query Letter

We are selling our work when we approach any gatekeeper: an editor, an agent, or a contest judge. Here are five little things to avoid so you'll look like the professional you are.

  • Don't tell the gatekeeper you always wanted to write. You can think of something more pertinent to your cause (and something more original!) than that.
  • Don't use the verb "quote" when you want the noun "quotation." Some stylebooks will tell you that it's okay, but agents can be a picky lot. Use zero-tolerance grammar rules for your queries.
  • Don't pitch more than one book at time. You want to give that one your best shot.
  • Don't call your novel a "fictional novel." By definition, a novel is fiction.
  • Don't overdo exclamation marks, question marks, the use of sentence fragments. (Yes, fragments are acceptable when they're used for a good reason.).

Here's one last suggestion for fiction writers 'cause they're so often neglected when it comes to marketing. Avoid using italics for internal thought. Yes, it's being done more and more but it is often a crutch that fiction writers use to avoid writing great transitions and point-of-view; the best agents will recognize it as such.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction, a former publicist for a New York PR firm and an instructor for the UCLA Extension renowned Writers' Program. She is an editor with years of publishing and editing experience including national magazines, newspapers and her own poetry and fiction. Learn more about the author at The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success ( is the top publishing book for USA Book News and Reader Views Literary Award.
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