Category Archives: writing

Hyphenation 101: Hyphenation with Prefixes and Suffixes

Today’s installment of hyphenation in spelling covers hyphenating words that contain a prefix or suffix.

Most of these cases never take a hyphen (unspoken, discernible). Others may take one, some should be hyphenated, and some must be hyphenated. Some… well, you can take your pick, such as anti-hero or antihero, pre-mixed or premixed, ultra-violet or ultraviolet. As always, check your dictionary, use what it says, and don’t worry about it—just be consistent in the same piece of writing. (The trend as language progresses is to drop hyphens and close the words.)

Don’t be peculiar

No one will stumble over worldwide or clockwise. But when combining a root word with a prefix or suffix makes the word look odd (or pronounce strangely), use a hyphen. For example, preceremony looks funny, and I experience some confusion when trying to subvocalize it. Pre-ceremony works better. “Their house could use an update, windowwise.” Try window-wise.

Anne Stilman lists others that might be hard to read if not hyphenated: antiinflammatory/anti-inflammatory, nonnative/non-native, multititled/multi-titled, shelllike/shell-like.

Don’t change the meaning

Stilman provides some great examples of prefixed words that have entirely different meanings when hyphenated:

  • Re-signed/resigned
  • Re-creation/recreation
  • Un-ionized/unionized

When the root word is capitalized or is a number

  • un-American
  • post-Civil War era
  • Germany-wide
  • pre-1700s
  • under-21s

With certain prefixes or suffixes

Prefixes: all, ex, self—all-encompassing, all-embracing; ex-member, ex-wife; self-esteem, self-recrimination.

Suffixes: elect, odd, free—president-elect; thirty-odd students; sodium-free.

Hyphenated numbers

When you spell out a number containing two words (from twenty-one to ninety-nine), hyphenate the words. This also applies to fractions. For example: thirty-three, two hundred ninety-seven, one-quarter. For fractions that include a two-word number, hyphenate only the two-word number and not the fraction: four twenty-sixths, three one-hundredths of a degree.

Next up, we’ll learn the rulse of hyphenating compound adjectives.


Source: Anne Stilman’s Grammatically Correct: The Writer’s Essential Guide to Punctuation, Spelling, and Grammar (Writer’s Digest Books, 1997).

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Getting Your Readers to Click “Buy Now”

Don’t let a humdrum book description keep readers from clicking Buy Now. Here’s how to make your book sales copy work for you.

You work hard to write a good story, make an eye-catching cover, and format your material professionally. Then you upload it to your favorite sales portal, creating a page where potential readers can find it and, hopefully, buy it. But then there’s that empty field staring your in the face: Book Description.

Just rattle off a few general lines and click Save, right?

Not if you want readers to buy your work.

Why Your Book Description is Important

It’s easy for readers to click a link to find your book online. But there’s a process they go through to decide whether they’ll buy it.

First, they look at the cover and the title in search results. If these intrigue them, they’ll open your book page.

If the price is right, they’ll keep reading.

How many people like the book? More than a few thumbs up. Cool.

Are there any reviews? If not, that means either the book has been posted recently or—gasp!—it’s no good. (We’ll cover the importance of customer reviews at a later date.)

Let’s read the book description… Here’s a significant gate potential buyers pass through en route to a buy.

One or two paragraphs of sales copy determine whether the reader continues the evaluation process or moves on to some other writer’s book. If you’re an indie author, this is the first sample of writing that potential buyers see. If it’s not up to par, they won’t even read a sample of the work.

Unless it’s your mom clicking Buy Now, what you put in that book description is crucial to sales success.

How to Write Good Book Sales Copy

Here’s the formula I use to write my book descriptions. I learned it from Debra Dixon’s excellent GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict.

A CHARACTER wants a GOAL because he is MOTIVATED, but faces CONFLICT.

A good book description includes these elements:

  • CHARACTER = Who
  • GOAL = What
  • MOTIVATION = Why
  • CONFLICT = Why not

Here’s how I used this template in my description for MAMA SAID:

On his thirteenth birthday, Buddy gets shipped up north by his religious mother, who can’t cope with his sister’s teenage pregnancy. Just as he resigns himself to spending the entire summer at Gram’s farm caring for kittens and cows, his bitter sister Brinda arrives, ending his peace and solitude. When her boyfriend Jackie shows up and turns his attentions to Buddy from his bride-to-be, Buddy must do what Mama said–or take matters into his own hands. Download the short story “Mama Said” now for the chilling conclusion.

  • CHARACTER = Buddy
  • GOAL = Experience peace and solitude
  • MOTIVATION = Escape from a stressful home and family situation
  • CONFLICT = Jackie shows up to torment him

And I hint at the crisis: Buddy must choose to do what his dysfunctional religious mother says, or take matters into his own hands.

The final line prompts the reader to take action: buy now.

You can play with these elements, mix the order. But you need them all for an effective synopsis of your work. Intrigue readers with the promise of some valuable entertainment in store for them, and they’ll be more likely to click Buy Now.

Let me know if you’d like an evaluation. Until then, prosperous clicks to you!

Supernatural thriller, DEATH PERCEPTION, on sale now!
Cremation… with marshmallows!

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Hyphenation 101: Hyphenating Compound Words

Let’s continue with our subject of the uses of hyphenation in spelling and begin with this definition from Anne Stilman:

A compound consists of two or more words that express a single concept. A compound word may act as a noun, a verb or an adjective, or even all three.

There are a few different types of compounds:

TYPE DEFINITION EXAMPLE
Open compounds Words written separately with a space between them time frame
Closed compounds Words run together with no space separating them crossbreed
Hyphenated compounds Words linked with a hyphen hand-feed

Would that there were predictable rules governing the compounding of words; there aren’t. This means you need a good dictionary to check the proper compounding of words. (I use Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary.)

Note also that language changes constantly. Words often begin as hyphenated compounds and then eventually drop the hyphen, becoming closed. (For example, over the past twenty years, e-mail has become email.)

Compound Nouns

Stilman states, “Compound nouns that comprise more than two words, such as idioms and phrases, usually take hyphens.” For example: He’s a Johnny-come-lately. Check a dictionary or a reliable list of idioms.

If a word is compounded with a single letter, it is either open or hyphenated (not closed): A-frame, B picture, T square, H-bomb, V neck.

Some compound nouns can be closed or hyphenated, such as carry-over/carryover, short-list/shortlist. Again, check the dictionary.

Compound Adjectives

When you use more than one adjective to modify a noun, sometimes they must be linked with a hyphen to ensure clarity. For example, there’s a difference in the meaning of these sentences:

  • Seven week old kittens mewled in the cardboard box. (One or more of the adjectives must be hyphenated to make the meaning clear.)
  • Seven weekold kittens mewled in the cardboard box. (Seven kittens, all one week old, are mewling in the box.)
  • Sevenweekold kittens mewled in the cardboard box. (An indeterminate number of kittens, all seven weeks old, are mewling.)

Compounding adjectives deserves a post of its own, so subscribe and check back later for another lively discussion.

Compound Verbs

Compound verbs are usually open but are sometimes closed or hyphenated. Often, a closed noun compound becomes open when used as a verb compound. For example:

  • She experienced a breakthrough. (closed compound noun)
  • She wanted to break through her crippling grief. (open compound verb)

Some hyphenated compound nouns become open when used as verbs, for example, show-off/show off.

When verbs are compounded, it is often between the verb and some kind of direction word: back-check, stick up, break down, make up. When verbs are open compounds, the space often comes between the verb and a preposition: break through, stand in.

Commonly Mishyphenated Words

Stilman lists a number of words and phrases that are often hyphenated but shouldn’t be. These include: more or less, ongoing, a priori, ad hoc. Latin phrases should not be hyphenated.

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at hyphenation in prefixes and suffixes. I’ll bet you can’t wait!


Source: Anne Stilman’s Grammatically Correct: The Writer’s Essential Guide to Punctuation, Spelling, and Grammar (Writer’s Digest Books, 1997).

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Hyphenation 101: Primary Uses of Hyphens in Spelling

I’m reading my way through Anne Stilman’s Grammatically Correct: The Writer’s Essential Guide to Punctuation, Spelling, and Grammar (Writer’s Digest Books, 1997). Call me strange, but as a writer and editor, I eat this stuff up. This book inspires my next series of posts.

Today we’ll begin with the subject of hyphenation.

Hyphens are punctuation marks. But they’re also components of spelling.

Spelling a word correctly involves more than including the right letters in the right order. Some words require hyphens, such as multi-item. Others are misspelled (or misunderstood) if they’re hyphenated but shouldn’t be, such as under-way or a-priori.

As a function of spelling, Stilman lists the following as functions of the hyphen:

  • To link words that make up a compound word (such as two-way or water-resistant)
  • To attach a prefix or suffix to the main word (anti-inflammatory)
  • To connect words that make up a number (twenty-three)

Believe it or not, for such a small character, there’s a lot to say about hyphens. The previous list lays our plans for the next few posts about using hyphens in spelling. Then we’ll conclude with one or more editions about their use as punctuation marks.

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How to Work with an Editor

This was some good advice for all you writers paling at your editor’s comment balloons and tracked changes.


Bill and Dave’s Bad Advice Wednesday: “How to Work with an Editor.”

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Treat Your Digital Fiction Like Software

How You Can Constantly Improve Your Indie-Published Work

When traditional publishing ruled, once a book was printed, it was set in stone. That’s why they employed editors and copy editors to improve the story and ferret out all the mistakes: once the book was typeset and thousands of copies printed, it couldn’t be corrected. But we’re in the digital age now.

If you’re an indie author, you’re responsible for everything: the writing, the formatting, the editing, the publishing, and the marketing. It’s hard to guarantee perfection at every step. The good thing is, nothing’s set in stone. In today’s publishing world your books are tantamount to software. If you didn’t get it right the first time, there’s always version 2.0.

At one point I debated whether this was ethical. After my initial release of a book, should I change it? I was still recovering from the bircks-and-mortar bookstore/paper tome/traditional publishing paradigm. Now I think, If you know it needs to be corrected or can be improved, can you ethically not give your readers the best product you’re capable of providing?

If you discover you need to make corrections to a work already published, you can do so and simply upload a new version to your favorite sales portal. Along with the power of having your own digital Gutenberg comes great responsibility.
Digital book 2.0
As a technical writer 25+ years in the software industry, I adhered to this principle in the millions of pages of documentation I wrote and published: If it needs fixed, whatever the reason, fix it and republish ASAP.

Going the extra mile is in your favor. If you get a less than spectacular review and the reader complains about something you can change, do so as quickly as possible to prevent others from jumping on the bandwagon. For instance, if a number of reviewers (precious few nowadays) bitch about how much they hated the ending, REWRITE IT.

Like the in-house Quality Assurance department, your beta readers don’t always catch everything before you publish. Once your work is in the hands of the public, you become Helpdesk and Support Services, fielding complaints and logging issues for product improvement. Your product.

I’m not advocating changing your fiction at the whims of your readership. If you made a decision that you know is right for your story, stick with it. Yet if it concerns some other issue you can rectify, do so. Reminder: it pays to take your time and ensure you’re putting your best out there the first time.

Sure, some readers will always own 1.0. These are the breaks. But some of your readers getting an improved pub is better than all of them getting version 1.0 with all its bugs. It’s simply not necessary with digital texts.

Amazon lets you notify readers that a new version is available. I did this once for a classic I had republished because an OCR scanning error turned into a factual error that I didn’t catch. I don’t recommend you do this unless absolutely necessary. Especially with fiction, once it’s read, it’s read.

But if you get a chance to improve your published work—whether it’s to correct typos, smooth out a scene, fill in a plot hole, or post a new cover—by all means, do it. Constant improvement is the professional stepstool to greater sales.

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