Would You Like Fries With That?

According to our friend CMOS, 16th edition, section 8.60: “Personal, national, or geographical names, and words derived from such names, are often lowercased when used with a nonliteral meaning.”

Basically, this means that even though you think certain words should be capitalized, when they are being used in a nonliteral sense, they are lowercased.

Here’s an example:

swiss cheese

At first it seems like a word that should be capitalized: Swiss cheese. After the Swiss, of course. But this is not literally referring to cheese that is found in Switzerland or eaten by the Swiss. It’s just a type of cheese that’s, to be more specific, “a cheese that resembles Swiss emmentaler (which derives its name from the Emme River valley)” (CMOS 8.60).

CMOS offers a list of similar words, some of which are shown below:

cheddar cheese
dutch oven
french dressing
french fries
india ink
roman numerals
venetian blinds

So yes, french fries are lowercased unless you are speaking literally about fries found in France. This isn’t a grammatical quandary you will run into all the time unless, perhaps, you frequent McDonald’s and then like to write emails to your friends about the delicious french fries you just ate.

Choosing Your Target Audience


Who is your target audience?

This is a question I ask authors when I start working on their book, and all too often I get an answer that sounds something  like this: Everyone.

Everyone. So, your book will be loved by all, from a five-year-old to a ninety-year-old? Male and female? Fantasy and non-fiction lover?

As wonderful as that would be, the truth is: you need to know who you’re writing for. How can you expect to pitch a book to an agent or sell a book to a reader if you don’t have a specific idea of the group that will enjoy your book the most?

Of course, just because you have a niche doesn’t mean you will occasionally find readers outside that audience. But you want to know your niche so you can focus on reaching that specific group. Those readers will be your bread and butter, so to speak. It’s the principle of focusing on less readers so you can ultimately find more. 

The inevitable truth is that not everyone will want to read your book. Shocking, I know. This is just a fact of life and shouldn’t make you feel bad. It has been said that reading a book is like making a friend, and just like in life, you aren’t going to be friends with everyone. That’s okay. What you want to do is figure out who you do want to be friends with and focus on reaching those people.

So the next time someone asks you who your target audience is, don’t say everyone. Research your genre; know what types of people like certain books; and when you get closer to the publishing stage, research literary agents. Did you know that literary agents don’t accept EVERY type of book? There are specific agents who look for specific genres. That’s another reason why, if you want to publish your book the traditional way, you need to know who you’re writing for, and you need to know your target audience. It’s really as simple as that.

Are you writing a book?
Who is your target audience?

When to Capitalize Popular Names of Places

Today’s grammar tip is brought to you by CMOS 8.47.

One thing I’ve noticed recently is that people like to capitalize words. I don’t know if this is a new thing, but it’s definitely a thing. Depending on whom you talk to, capitalization isn’t a make-or-break issue. JK Rowling, for example, capitalizes many words that don’t need to be capitalized, but you don’t see anyone making a fuss about it.

Still, I think it is important to be aware that there are certain rules about capitalization. After all, it’s only after you know the rules that you can really start to break them. Isn’t that how the saying goes?

One such example of a popular place that I recently came across was the Bible Belt. You’ve heard of it, right? Usually referred to as the middle of the United States, where there are a large number of conservatives and churches (some might add Republicans, but I’m not here to get political). Anyway, according to Chicago Manual of Style 8.47, the Bible Belt is a capitalized proper name. You can find a full list in the aforementioned section of CMOS.

The basic rule is thus: Popular names of places, or epithets, are usually capitalized. Quotation marks are not needed. So no: “the Bible Belt.” CMOS also makes it clear that these popular names should not be used in a context where they will not be understood by the general readership. So don’t write a book in Australia and start talking about the American Bible Belt. Your readers probably will not understand you, no offense to Australians.

Here are a few more examples:

the South Side
the Loop (in Chicago)
the Badlands
the Twin Cities

For a complete list, visit CMOS. The main thing to keep in mind is that if you’re writing about a popular place, it’s more than likely going to be capitalized. And don’t use quotes or capitalize The. That’s just tacky.

Find and Destroy: My Secret Trick to Eliminating Word Overuse

Screen shot 2013-11-20 at 12.27.44 PM[source]

Today I want to share with you my favorite editing tip for eliminating word overuse!

I wrote about the topic of word overuse previously in my post on spot treatment: removing word repetition, and I’m not the only person to write a post on this issue, but what I haven’t talked about yet is how I edit for word overuse.

When I edit, I like to physically take notes with a pen and paper. Old school! So when I start a new editing project, I open to a blank page. As I edit, I take notes by hand about the things I notice. Whether that’s questions about the plot or thoughts in the characters, all the way down to grammatical issues.

The final thing I do is write down words that stick out to me. As I read, I write down words I read a lot or feel like I’m reading a lot. In fiction, this could be words like “whispered” or “mumbled” surrounding dialogue. In non-fiction it could be a certain phrase or adjective to describe a setting or person.

When I’m all done, l use my secret weapon: the Find/Replace key. This is found by using your Control F key (or Command F on a Mac). A box will pop up, and you will be able to type in a word and search to see how many times it appears in the manuscript.

In the example below, I searched for the word “Brother” and found it appears 14 times.

find and replace

This is an excellent trick I use to see exactly how many times a certain word or phrase is used throughout an entire work. Sometimes it’s much less than I thought. Maybe it seemed like characters were whispering all the time, but the word “whisper” only appears in the book 4 times. Well, then it’s probably not an issue. But let’s say the word “whisper” turns up a search of 20 or 30. This is going to be something I mention to the author as an issue of overuse. I’ve even had cases where a Find/Replace search turned up 60 or 70+, which is definitely a problem (keeping the length of the entire work in mind).

At this point, another trick you can do is turn all the words a certain color of highlight, like green, for example. This way, as you scroll through the pages on your computer, you can actually see where you’ve used certain words. The results might shock you. Maybe you’ve used the same word five times on one page! (Realize again here that I’m not talking about a word like “the” or “at.” I’m speaking mostly about verbs, adverbs, and adjectives.)

I find that this is helpful not only for me as I work on edits for an author but also for the author to have a specific list of the words I found overused as well as the actual number of times that word appeared in the book. It’s hard to argue with cold hard facts of word repetition.

So try this trick of mine and see if it helps!

Do you have a secret editing trick you’ve found helpful that you’d like to share?

More about the Em Dash!



Remember when I talked about using em dash vs. ellipses with dialogue? Here’s another quick em dash tip regarding surrounding punctuation, which can be found in CMOS 6.87.

A question mark or exclamation point can precede an em dash. A comma, colon, and semicolon cannot.

Example (from CMOS):
Only if—heaven forbid!—you lose your passport should you call home.

In this case, the exclamation point is grammatically correct. BUT consider:
Only if—heaven forbid,—you lose your passport should you call home.

Now, obviously in this case a comma wouldn’t even make sense anyway, but let’s just say it did. You do not use a comma, semicolon, or colon before an em dash. In rare cases a period is acceptable, but since CMOS didn’t give me an example and I can’t recall a time I’ve ever seen one, we’re both out of luck. Leave a comment if you can think of a good example of a period preceding an em dash! Maybe for a quotation?

Also, I had a few questions on the last post about em dashes and where it is on the keyboard. Unfortunately, for some reason there isn’t a key for the em dash. What I did is make a keyboard shortcut so it’s always handy. Hope that helps!

For more on this topic:

Punctuation Made Simple: The Em Dash

Mad Dash–An Article on Em Dashes from the New York Times

Are Editors Important?

Obviously I’m biased on this subject, but you’d be hard pressed to find a successful published author who wouldn’t agree that a good editor is worth his or her weight in gold. Editors are useful for a variety of things, all of which boil down to the simple fact of helping books get better. That is always my first and most important goal when I edit, and all good editors would say the same.

There are many ways an editor can help a writer and a book be better, and there are many different kinds of editors, but the fact remains that to have a successful, published book, you will need an editor. I do freelance editing now, but I used to work at a publishing company doing editing work, and it always shocked me when I came across authors who felt like editing was just a stage to get through to the “real” part: marketing and selling their book.

This confused me, because without an editor, you aren’t going to have a marketable book! When an author tells me he or she doesn’t need editing, the reason is usually either one of the following

a) They are an English teacher and/or got all “A”s in English and therefore don’t think an editor will be able to find any mistakes.
b) They already had 10 people read it and give it amazing reviews, so there’s nothing to change.

I realize many of you reading this understand the value of an editor; otherwise why would you be here? But it’s still good to review what brought us here: why editors are important. There are many reasons, as previously stated, but I would say the most important contribution an editor makes to a book, at least initially, is: a professional, unbiased opinion.

Let’s take a look at both of these words and flesh out exactly what you’re getting when you hire an editor.


Let’s go back to points A and B above. Just because you’re an English teacher doesn’t mean it wouldn’t do your book good to have a second look. No book is perfect, and the more eyes you have on it, the better.

An editor is able to offer you a professional eye, looking for not only grammatical mistakes and typos but larger developmental issues like plot or character development. Even the most successful authors you can name went through extensive editing before their book appeared on the shelves of Barnes & Noble.

Editors know the genre, they have researched the publishing field, hopefully worked in it, and they know what sells. They can give you recommendations and helpful tips that pertain to your book while lending a professional eye to your work.


In the case of point B, the 10 people who read the book were more than likely a close friend or family member. These people will not be able to offer unbiased opinions! It doesn’t matter if you told them to tell it to you straight, your mom or your best friend will lie or at the very least sugar coat their true feelings about your story. This is nice but entirely unhelpful.

That’s where an editor is indispensable. An editor will be able to provide first a professional eye and secondly a completely unbiased opinion. This is going to be invaluable to you as you take steps toward sending out query letters and pursuing traditional publishing or even self-publishing.

Even a critique partner might not be as unbiased as you would hope. I’ve heard a few stories from authors about bad critique partners who weren’t helpful and didn’t give good advice. This might have been because they weren’t very good, or maybe they were jealous. Whatever the case, an editor is one of the only people if not the only person who can truly offer unbiased opinion. It’s of course up to you how to handle the unbiased opinion they give, but the opinion is there for you to use how you will.

I’ve (kindly) suggested that a book needs more work on this or that, and the author flat-out refused to listen. I’m not suggesting you have to implement every single change an editor suggests, but it would be in your best interest to take it into consideration. After all, if the critique is truly unbiased and professional, what does the editor have to gain by saying a book needs work when it doesn’t? I suppose you could say the editor would suggest changes so they could get paid more to edit them like a dentist who recommends an unnecessary root canal, but that wouldn’t be professional, would it?

I could go on and on about this topic, but I’ll stop there. Editing is something I am passionate about. It’s something I enjoy, and what I love most of all is seeing books become better. My point in all of this is to show you that yes, editors are important. They are the line between a long, boring book and an exciting page turner. An editor isn’t magical. We can’t literally change bad writing.

But we can take an average book and make it good. We can take a good book and make it great. We can take a great book and make it a best seller. And who doesn’t want to read one of those?

Grammar Tip: Titles of Blogs & Blog Entries

Today’s tip is going to be short and sweet comes to us from CMOS 8.187 concerning blogs and blog entries. This is a topic that wouldn’t have been needed ten to fifteen years ago, but times have changed, and here we are.

Just in case you come across a blog title in a book or reference, know that according to Chicago Manual of Style:

>Titles of blogs should be written using italics.
>Titles of blog entries should be placed inside quotation marks. Untitled blog entries should simply be referred to by date.

Easy enough, right? I think so.

Send me an email or leave a comment if there’s a particular grammar or writing tip you’d like to see featured in an upcoming post!

Head Hopping: What it Looks Like and Why You Shouldn’t Do it

One of my favorite books I’ve ever edited was written by an author I got to work with on a series of four books. All four books were fun to read and edit, and I didn’t have a lot of major plot concerns. But even though it was good, there were still things to work on. This is proof that everyone needs editing.

One of the main things I worked with her on for book four was not “head hopping” (or, using multiple points of view* incorrectly).

*The phrase point of view from here on out will be shortened to POV. 

Employing multiple POVs in a story can add depth and conflict when done well. This technique is used by some of today’s best-selling authors, such as Francine Rivers (The Mark of the Lion series), George R. R. Martin (A Game of Thrones), and Stieg Larsson (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). There is an art to the technique, however, and many authors fail when it comes to the simplest essential of POV knowledge. 

Here it is in a nutshell: in every scene, you must stay with one point of view–one character. You might be switching throughout the book, but each scene should only be viewed from one character’s eyes. If you show more than one character’s POV in a given scene, you are guilty of head hopping, and your own head should be chopped off.

So what does head hopping look like? 

Every time you change POV, the reader is inserted inside another character’s head. The reader is able to see the scene through that character’s eyes and hear his or her thoughts.

Here’s an example: Stan watched Marsha pour herself a glass of water and thought, Man, she’s hot.

This line of narration is from Stan’s POV. Stan is the one watching Marsha; we’re seeing this through Stan’s eyes and hearing his thoughts.

Now, what if the line read like this:

Stan watched Marsha pour herself a glass of water and thought, Manshe’s hot 

I wonder if he notices me, Marsha thought as she peeked at him out of the corner of her eye.

Now you’ve got both Stan’s and Marsha’s thoughts at once. This is not only confusing but also takes away from the suspense of the scene. You want readers to attach to your story and your characters, but head hopping doesn’t allow this. When the reader isn’t attached, they have less character empathy and less involvement in the story. This leads to the reader not caring what happens to the characters, which leads to the reader putting the book down.

Obviously this is not something that you, as a writer, want.

So here’s what you need to do: 

If you choose to use what’s called omniscient third person and show multiple characters’ POVs, you should limit yourself to one character per scene. (Or chapter, depending on how well your scenes are broken up.)

And if you choose limited third personyou must stick with only your chosen character in every scene–that means your character should never know anything he or she hasn’t personally seen or heard about.


Unsure whether or not you’re head hopping?

Look at each individual scene through one character’s eyes. Is there anything your character didn’t see firsthand? Anything he or she didn’t hear firsthand? If so, those parts need to be cut or rewritten.

So that’s head hopping in a very small nutshell.


Do you agree that head hopping is confusing? Have you ever seen it done well?


*For more, check out these great articles:

Third Person Omniscient vs. Third Person Limited

Head Hopping and Hemingway

CMOS Grammar Tip: Is it US or United States?

I came across this issue in a book I recently edited. Here was the question I had to answer:

When writing about the United States, should you write US or United States or U.S. or what? Here’s the rule according to the Chicago Manual of Style 16th edition, 10.33:

In running text, spell out United States as a noun; reserve US for the adjective form only (in which position the abbreviation is generally preferred).

If that sounded confusing, don’t worry. Let’s break it down. In running text, spell out United States as a noun.

Example: I would rather spend my vacation going to Europe than staying here in the United States.
Example: I like living in the United States.

In these examples you’re using United States as a noun (ie. person, place, or thing). Now: Reserve US for the adjective form only.

Example: US foreign policy
Example: US beaches

Pretty simple once you know the rule, right? It’s probably not the most important rule, but it will come in handy if you’re writing or editing a book about the United States!

7 Random Facts about Me

Hello! I’m taking a break from conventional grammar and writing tips today, because I was nominated for a Lovely Blog Award by Julie, who blogs at A Writer’s Notepad. You’ve been reading my writing tips twice a week, and I thought it might be good for you to learn a little bit more about me.


1. I do not like olives. My husband loves black olives, but I can’t stand them. I’ll pick them off pizza and anything else.

2. I am originally from Illinois, although now I live in Oklahoma. I think the biggest difference is the food. In Oklahoma, you can find an authentic Mexican restaurant on every corner, but you have to search far and wide for a hog dog or deep-dish pizza.

3. I am left handed!

4. In fourth grade, I started playing the violin, and I still play it at least once a week.

5. I am a runner. I’ve run 5 half marathons (#6 and #7 are scheduled for this fall), and in April I completed my first full marathon.

6. My Myers-Briggs personality type is ESTJ.

7. While I edit, I listen to the Jim Brickman Pandora station. However, my overall favorite genre of music is country.


I hope that helped you learn a little more about me! Next week I’ll be back to regular Tuesday/Friday grammar and writing posts. Have a great weekend!