Monthly Archives: March 2014

Transitions: quiet links that help your writing’s logic, flow, and clarity

By Arlene Prunkl, freelance editor

Butterfly in transitionWhen discussing how I write a blog post, I often liken it to writing a term paper. For me, the length, process, and deadlines are all similar. After I decide on a topic, step 1 is jotting down all my own original ideas about it (in a very stream-of-consciousness way), then doing a bunch of research and making notes on what I’ve learned. I then let it all simmer in my mind for a day or two. At this stage, it’s all very messy, scarily messy. Step 2 consists of examining my jumbled ideas and notes and trying to organize them into a coherent, logical whole—a piece that flows and makes sense, one idea leading organically into the next. And that’s where good transitions come in.

What are transitions?
Sometimes called transitional devices, transitions are words, phrases, sentences, and sometimes entire paragraphs that focus on the relationships between different ideas in your writing and aid in its logical flow. Transitions connect your ideas, whether they are disparate or related, whether between sentences, between paragraphs, or between sections (in nonfiction) or scenes (in fiction). They can be thought of as bridges or links between ideas, cues for readers to easily follow your thoughts, your arguments, or your scenes as they flow smoothly from one into the next. They also help you expand on a single idea, broaden it, without losing the substance of the original idea. Effective transitions render your ideas and arguments clear, concise, connected, and logical.

Do note that transitions aren’t a substitute for good organization. If your sentences and paragraphs are already organized in a logical manner, good transitions will emphasize and enhance the relationship between them and assist the reader in following one effortlessly into another. If they’re not well organized, they can distract from comprehension rather than improve it.

Different kinds of transitions
A transition should occur when you’re switching from one idea to another idea or when you’re building on a single idea. As I’ve mentioned, this can happen at the sentence, paragraph, and section (nonfiction) or scene (fiction) levels. Several kinds of transitional devices exist, and each helps the reader to form specific kinds of assumptions. Some help readers develop conclusions from the preceding ideas, while others lead readers forward into the next part of the idea or argument. (See list at the end of this article.)

Transitions between paragraphs are the most common. A transition can be made by simply adding one small word or phrase such as but or therefore or as a result, or it can be a more complex restructuring to help ideas flow more logically.

Punctuation can also serve to help your transitions, in particular, the little-used semicolon. Consider the following two sentences, and notice how the second example is very subtly stronger because of the use of a semicolon. Of course, the word and could also be used to connect the two sentences, but it isn’t as effective as the semicolon.

Weaker: Jordan has the secret key, and he suspects Bobby knows it. Bobby must have always suspected that Jordan’s parents possessed it originally.
Stronger: Jordan has the secret key, and he suspects Bobby knows it; Bobby must have always suspected that Jordan’s parents possessed it originally.

In dialogue, a dialogue tag (or attribution) or short sentence can serve to provide a transition between two disparate thoughts by the same speaker, as in the following example, where “she lowered her voice” provides the transition:

“I feel sorry him. He lives in a trailer with his dad and sister, and his bedroom is a cold-storage room. We got to talking and I let a few things slip.” She lowered her voice. “It was actually me who stole his notes because I don’t want him to get involved.”

How do you know whether you’re using transitions effectively?
Sometimes it’s tough to spot transition problems in your own writing. That’s because in your head, you’ve already connected the ideas together, whether they’re points in building an argument in nonfiction or a scene that’s unfolding in fiction. On top of that, you’ve probably gone over your manuscript until you’re cross-eyed and you can no longer see the more subtle problems (or even the glaring ones). Unless you’re a highly skilled writer, no matter how much you try, your transition problems may elude you. That’s where other people come in. A few trusted beta readers and a good editor can help you see where your writing may be lacking in effective transitions. Spotting such problems is much easier for a new reader, one who’s looking at the manuscript with fresh eyes and a fresh mind.

While beta readers may not have the editorial skill to identify transition problems as such, they’ll probably recognize where something’s amiss. They may call your writing choppy or say it seems to lack logical flow. They may have trouble following your train of thought or say you write in a stream-of-consciousness style (which is not usually a compliment). They may feel your ideas don’t seem related. Or the ideas may seem vaguely related, but somehow they just don’t connect together properly. Readers may sense that you’re trying to make an argument with a logical sequence of points, but it doesn’t come together in the end as a cohesive whole. If you’re writing fiction, your beta readers may be unable to visualize some of your scenes in their minds, which is often a direct consequence of weak or absent transitioning.

Transitions - bridges that connect ideas

Transitions: bridges that connect your sentences, paragraphs, and ideas.

How to write effective transitions
First, organize your ideas in as clear and logical an order as possible. If your ideas aren’t at least somewhat organized to begin with, your transitions won’t be as effective as they could be. After polishing as best you can, it’s time for your beta readers. If your writing is returned from them with some of that criticism about lack of flow, lack of logical progression, or disconnected ideas, it’s time to go back and examine it for transition problems.

Scrutinize each sentence to see whether it flows logically into the next. Pay careful attention to how one sentence’s idea is related to the next sentence’s idea. Do the same with paragraphs. Try to make a specific, logical connection between material from the previous sentence or paragraph and the current sentence or paragraph. If you simply can’t find a way to make the connection between them, chances are one of the ideas or sentences is in the wrong place altogether, and it’s probably best to move it or remove it.

Examples of simple word or phrase transitions
Below, to illustrate some transitions, I’ve deliberately used simple sentences showing a sequence of events. In the weaker examples, there is no connection or transition between one sentence and the next. In the stronger examples, all the ideas flow in a logical, smooth progression, making for much easier reading. The transitions I added in the stronger examples are in red text.

Weaker: Stephanie ate a rotten banana. She went to bed. She had indigestion and a sleepless night. She got up and forced herself to go to work.
Stronger: Before going to bed, Stephanie ate a rotten banana; consequently, she had indigestion and a sleepless night. The next morning, despite her discomfort, she got up and forced herself to go to work.

Weaker: Seán Cullen is a well-known Canadian comedian and radio and TV personality.  His résumé lists other achievements. He is also the author of five young-adult fiction books.
Stronger: Seán Cullen is a well-known Canadian comedian and radio and TV personality. Notwithstanding his relative fame and success, his five young-adult fiction books are not as familiar to his fans.

Weaker: Jordan decides that when the current crisis has subsided, he’ll take a closer look at his mother’s diary. Live in the moment and forget your worries about what has occurred and what will transpire is advice he’s seen in the diary.
Stronger: Jordan decides that when the current crisis has subsided, he’ll take a closer look at his mother’s diary. But for now, he’ll live in the moment, forgetting his worries about what has occurred and what will transpire—advice he’s already seen in the diary.

Examples of more complex additions or restructuring
In each case, the weaker example contains several disconnected, seemingly unrelated sentences. The transitional sentence or phrase I’ve written in the stronger example helps form a connecting bridge between the two disparate ideas, so they make logical sense together.

Weaker: “People here are nervous when Zelda’s around because of her psychic abilities. Going before the council is a bad thing for you because people who do usually are banished from here.”
Stronger: “People here are nervous when Zelda’s around because of her psychic abilities. That’s her problem. In your case, going before the council is a bad thing because people who do usually are banished from here.”

Weaker: Why are all the adults always dodging questions when Jordan asks about his family background? His friends—the ones he still has left—had never had mentors, and they’d never had endless lessons, never been sworn to endless secrecy.
Stronger: Why are all the adults always dodging questions when Jordan asks about his family background? They make Jordan feel completely isolated. Even his remaining friends couldn’t relatethey’d never had mentors, and they’d never had endless lessons, never been sworn to endless secrecy.

Weaker: Jordan sits in his room, stewing about having been grounded until the weekend—five whole days. Well, it won’t be much different from his regular life.

Jordan is awakened by a strong wind blowing through his window. He has left it open again by accident. Looking at the alarm clock, he sees he’s been napping; it is just nine on Friday evening.

Stronger: Jordan sits in his room, stewing about having been grounded until the weekend—five whole days.

The school week has passes without incident. Jordan comes straight home from school dutifully each day and stays home each evening. Being grounded isn’t much different from his regular life.

On Friday night, he is awakened by a strong wind blowing through his window. He has left it open again by accident. Looking at the alarm clock, he sees he’s been napping; it is just nine in the evening.

Common transition words and phrases
Following are some of the most common transition words and phrases, separated into categories for their specific use. In terms of grammatical parts of speech, most of these are called sentence adverbs—an adverb modifying an entire sentence—or in the case of phrases, they function as sentence adverbs.

  • Additional information – and, in addition to, additionally, furthermore, moreover, besides, incidentally, similarly, likewise, as well, also
  • Compare/contrast/show exception – despite, in spite of, however, although, but, yet, whereas, notwithstanding, nevertheless, nonetheless, vis-à-vis, on one hand/on the other hand, conversely, on the contrary, in contrast, in comparison, relatively, similarly, in the same way, likewise, still, instead, with the exception of
  • Sequence/time – immediately, meanwhile, during, subsequently, soon, next, following, afterward, in due course, over time, then, until then, since, later, eventually, hereafter, thereafter, finally, previously, formerly, before, once in a while, sometimes, often, always, never, first, second, third, etc.
  • Cause and effect – because, consequently, in consequence, thus, therefore, hence, as a result, for, since, so, for that reason, in that case, in any case
  • Showing proof – evidently, obviously, clearly, plainly, apparently, certainly, it follows that, undeniably, undoubtedly, unquestionably, assuredly, theoretically, presumably
  • Giving an example – for example, for instance, to illustrate, to explain further, on that note, for that matter, to expand on, to clarify, to specify, specifically, typically, generally, in general
  • Relative positions – beyond, nearby, in the distance, farther, closer, above, below, beneath, beside, adjacent to, proximate to
  • Repetition and emphasis – as stated, as we’ve seen, to restate, indeed, in fact, of course, definitely, obviously, in fact, indeed, absolutely, emphatically, unquestionably, certainly, undeniably, significantly
  • In conclusion – in summary, in conclusion, to sum up, to conclude, finally, basically, essentially, effectively, generally, in general, in brief, briefly, after all, all in all, therefore, thus, in the final analysis

In conclusion
Not much is written or taught about transitions in writing, yet all good writing makes effective use of transitional devices. Good transitions make the reader want to read more, to see more examples, to make comparisons, to draw conclusions, to learn how a point is proven or why an argument has merit, to be able to follow and visualize scenes in fiction. Do you want your writing to connect with your readers? Then make sure your ideas, sentences, and paragraphs are connected with effective transitions. They’re needed in any writing in which it’s important to deliver a clear message. And isn’t delivering a clear message the purpose of just about all writing?

♠ ♠ ♠

book and manuscript editing

Arlene Prunkl is a
and the owner of PenUltimate Editorial Services
You can find her on , , , and Facebook
April 24, 2014

 

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Sources:
1. The Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)
2. The University of North Carolina Writing Center

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16 advantages of self-publishing over traditional publishing

By Arlene Prunkl, freelance editor

Reasons to self-publishThe biggest decision an author faces after completing his or her manuscript is whether to self-publish or to seek an agent and hopefully find a publisher. Many authors who know me know that I often encourage the self-publishing route (also called independent publishing, or indie publishing). But to set the record straight, I want to say that I’m not partial to either self-publishing or traditional publishing. Neither is superior; in fact, it’s wonderful that authors have both options these days. It all comes down to the individual author’s personality and what they hope to achieve with the publication of their book. It’s a very personal choice; there are so many variables to consider that it’s essential to educate yourself in the pros and cons of both self- and traditional publishing (sometimes shortened to “trad pubbing,” as I’ve done in this article).*

Traditional publishing
An author who wishes to go the traditional route must have, above all, tenacity and a thick skin. (And, just like self-publishing authors, you need a fabulous manuscript.) First you need an agent; with few exceptions, you can’t just send your manuscript directly off to a publishing company. And it can take years of rejections before an agent will accept you. After that, it can take more years before the agent finds you a publisher. And you’ll likely still need professional editing if you go the trad pub route. Few agents these days accept manuscripts that haven’t been professionally edited.

Self-publishing
An author who decides to self-publish must have, above all, an entrepreneurial spirit, embracing and enjoying all that BYOB (being your own boss) entails. You must be the CEO of your book, treating it as a business venture, hiring the staff—the editor, designer, proofreader, printer—and doing the marketing. While self-publishers face an equally difficult set of challenges as trad publishers, this post focuses on the advantages, not the difficulties, of self-publishing. In a future post, I’ll turn the tables and look at the downsides of self-publishing and the advantages of traditional publishing. See more about the differences between self- and traditional publishing here.

When asked why they are self-publishing, many authors say, “Because I can!” In the last two decades, digital technology first created print-on-demand publishing and then enabled e-book distribution, opening up what used to be a closed, elitist process to every writer: true democracy in publishing. Following are some of the best reasons in favour of self-publishing.

1. Better odds. The odds are stacked against you of finding a traditional publisher. Thousands of manuscripts are submitted to agents and publishers every year; only a handful are accepted. It’s too easy to believe (or fantasize) that your manuscript is The One—the very, very special one that’s going to capture an agent’s eye out of the hundreds or thousands she receives each year. You need to be realistic. One source I read says your odds of finding an agent and then a publisher are perhaps 0.01%. On the other hand, your chances of getting your book self-published are 100%.

2. Traditional publishers can take too long. Most authors know how long it can take to find an agent. And even if/when you do find an agent, they cannot guarantee they’ll find you a publisher. It may take years, if it happens at all. And if they do find a publisher, the publication cycle can take a year or more. If your book is time-sensitive—for example, in medical, scientific, or technology fields—it may well be out of date by the time you find a publisher.

3. Creative control. This is a biggie. Every self-published author I’ve worked with over the years cites creative control as the #1 reason they chose to self-publish. They want the editing done their way. They don’t want the title changed. They want full control over their cover design and copy. They want creative control over future editions, e-books, audio books, marketing, and public relations. They want foreign and movie rights. They don’t want to wait five years. With self-pubbing, you take charge of your book’s destiny. With trad pubbing, you give up much of this control.

4. Business control; retention of rights. In a similar vein, self-publishing allows you complete control over the business of your book. This is where your entrepreneurship comes into play. As CEO of your book’s company, you decide on the company name (called the imprint), how much you’ll charge for your book, how much you’ll spend on the various aspects of production, how much you’ll spend on marketing, and what kind of marketing and promotion you will do. And of course, you’ll retain all the rights. You’ll also be responsible if things go awry, but if you’re a true entrepreneur, you’ll see this as a challenge, not an obstacle.

5. Longer shelf life. In trad publishing, your book is given a big marketing push, and if it doesn’t sell well in that season, you’re pretty much finished, and your book will go on the publisher’s mid- or backlist. Self-publishing allows you the benefit of long-tail marketing, meaning you can promote your book for years at your own level of comfort, effort, and speed, as finances and time permit, and using methods that make the most sense for you.

6. Online marketing opportunities. If you publish traditionally, you won’t have much say over how your marketing campaign is conducted. You’re likely to be restricted when it comes to what you’re allowed to do with social media, for example, in case that conflicts or interferes with the publishing company’s efforts. When you self-publish, you’re free to explore every possible online marketing avenue. And most authors have heard the stories of how some self-pubbed book campaigns have been very successful with social media efforts alone.

books flying

Your book will fly into readers’ hands sooner if you self-publish.

7. Book advances are not what they used to be. Every author has heard stories from the olden days of publishing when a famous author might get a $500,000 advance. However, the industry has changed dramatically since those golden years, and today’s new traditionally published author might expect to get, on average, $5,000 as an advance. Kind of meagre, isn’t it? And remember that’s an advance on earnings, so before you get paid any more, the initial $5,000 in royalties you’ll earn goes toward paying down your advance.

8. Keeping your profits. On average, traditional publishers pay royalties of  between 5% and 12% of the book’s cover price. If your book sells for $19.99, that means you might get about $1 to $2.40 per book in royalties. If you are the publisher,  of course, your initial production costs will be higher—remember that staff you’ll have to hire? You’ll want to hire the best editorial freelancers you can afford for your budget. But it’s pretty nice to know that you’ll get to keep 100% of your profits after expenses.

9. Readers don’t care who published your book. While there’s a certain cachet to being published by a big publishing house, how many readers do you know who look at the copyright page to see who the publisher is? When considering a book purchase, readers look at the cover, the title, the back cover copy, the author’s name, and reviews of the book. They care about a great reading experience, not who the publisher is.

10. The self-publishing stigma is disappearing quickly. I’ve talked about this for several years, and it only becomes truer with each passing year. The stigma of self-publishing, which used to be associated with vanity publishing, is falling away increasingly quickly. More and more authors are choosing to self-publish, even when they may have an interested publisher, for all the reasons stated here. In turn, as authors gain knowledge and awareness of the steps involved (including professional editing, of course), the quality of self-published books improves, lending further credibility to self-publishing in general.

11. You are your book’s marketer no matter which route you take. If you’re a beginning author, you may be surprised to know that if you get picked up by a traditional publisher, you’ll still have to do most of your own marketing after the publisher’s initial promotional push (bookstores, etc.) is over. Dreams of a big publishing house marketing you all over radio, TV, print, the Internet, and billboards across North America are largely unrealistic. These days, even the big publishing houses have very limited budgets for marketing. So if you have to do your own marketing anyway, why not do it your own way, on your own time and budget, as your own publisher?

12. Appealing to a niche market. The Internet has enabled just about everyone who’s involved in a niche professional field or niche hobby to find people all around the world who share their interests—and that includes authors. While a big publishing house may not be interested in your book (Techniques for Creating Miniature Vampire Cheese Sculptures) because of its limited market, you can self-publish and use the Internet to promote your book to your built-in readership in your niche worldwide.

13. A boost or supplement to your career. Once you write a book related to your field of work, you almost instantly become an authority within your area of expertise. This can lead to other career opportunities. There’s something about having a book to sell at the back of the room when you’re doing a speaking engagement, for example, that lends you even more credibility than you may already have. The chances of finding an agent for this type of book are very slim, so self-publishing is often the best option.

14. Helping others. Are you an advocate for certain health issues or for spiritual or personal growth? Do you have knowledge that will help others improve their lives? Self-help books have been popular almost since the beginning of writing itself, taking their modern name from the Victorian best-seller Self-Help. By self-publishing such a book, many authors feel that with each book read, someone is receiving a benefit, and their book is serving a greater purpose no matter how many or few are sold.

15. Testing the market. Are you unsure of your book’s chances for success in the marketplace or don’t know how many will sell initially? Using print-on-demand technology (POD, which is a digital technology and not a business model), you can begin by printing just a small number of copies to test your market and see how your book fares. If it fares well, you may even be picked up by an agent who’ll pitch you to a traditional publisher. Agents respect the efforts of self-publishing authors and may give them extra consideration.

16. Leaving a family legacy. Memoirs have never been more popular than they are now. Every human being has a special story to tell, rich with both unusual and ordinary events as well as moments of glory, tragedy, and comedy. A short-run POD printing of your memoir to distribute among relatives, friends, and descendants can become a valuable source of family memories and a cherished heirloom. You may not be as interested in making money or becoming famous as in leaving a legacy for your family and for others who might benefit from your unique story.

In summary
There are other reasons, both personal and professional, for self-publishing; I’ve listed some of the main ones here. If you do decide to self-publish, I urge you to heed this bit of advice: please do your homework. The publishing process can be complex, with important choices to be made at every turn, and you’ll be much better equipped to make the best decisions if you educate yourself. More information is available today on how to successfully self-publish than ever before. And hybrid publishing is also an option; this combines some of the best elements of both self- and trad pubbing. Whatever your reasons for self-publishing, do make sure you enjoy the process by seeking out professionals to work with at every stage who share your vision for your book. I wish you much success in your journey as a self-publisher!

* Caveat: Self-publishing means you alone are the publisher, not an outside “self-publishing” company you hire and pay to publish your book. I’m quite strongly opposed to most subsidy publishing, fee-based publishing, author-assisted publishing, or whatever the latest euphemism is for what is essentially vanity publishing. This is not true self-publishing. These publishing services companies, often sneaking the misleading term “self-publishing” into their sales pitches, charge you money up front to publish your book, pay you a pittance royalty, often make you buy your own books back, and are not interested in you personally as an author. Sometimes called author mills, many of them fall under the shady Author Solutions umbrella. Do your due diligence before signing on with one of these companies. If you choose this route, please first read this article by Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware, one of the industry’s top watchdog websites.

♠ ♠ ♠

book and manuscript editing

Arlene Prunkl is a
and the owner of PenUltimate Editorial Services
You can find her on , , , and Facebook
March 13, 2014

 

____________________________

I welcome all comments. Please note that Disqus is a secure commenting system requiring moderator approval, and it may be a short while before I receive notification of your comment, approve it, and reply. Thanks for your patience!

 

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