To create a good title, look for key phrases that seem to sum up the article or book. Watch for sentences that catch your eye as you read through—perhaps they will captivate your reader, too. I wrote an article about a man who escaped from Vietnam. He felt his escape was made possible by the providential hand of God, so I named the article, “The Providential Escape.”
Another way to catch the reader’s attention is by reversing words or by changing one word in a common saying to create your own saying. “Forget and Forgive” is a devotional I wrote on forgiveness. Using “Forgive and Forget” would be overuse of a tired cliché. “Take This Job and Love It” is another example of a good play on words.
If you are writing a mystery, use words that show intrigue. Anonymous Tip and Final Witness are book titles that do this well. The reader wonders, Who will be the final witness? Be careful, however, not to tell too much in the title. “John Overcomes Cancer to Win the Race” probably doesn’t leave much for the reader to learn from reading the story.
Titles should be easy to pronounce and yet have pizzazz. The more memorable your title, the more apt your article or book is to be read and remembered. The Purpose Driven Life is an excellent example that is simple, memorable, and meets the reader’s needs.
The title of your article or book is as important as its beginning. The title is what you use to hook the readers, so it must be eye-catching. Many readers buy a book on impulse by looking at the title. Many readers buy a magazine because an article title piqued their interest. Some readers thumb through a magazine or browse a website, checking titles and reading only the articles for which the title grabs their attention.
Titles need to be accurate. They should express specifically what will follow in the article. Readers don’t want to feel cheated because they thought they were getting something totally different than what your article or book delivered. If your subject matter is serious, also make your title serious. Example: “A Cry for Acceptance.” If your material is humorous, you can make the title funny, too. Example: “Turning Frogs into Princes.”
Titles are usually concise. A good rule is to keep your titles five to seven words. Use active verbs, specific nouns, and descriptive adjectives to grab your readers. Also try to draw in readers, so they feel actively involved in your article or book. They need to feel there is something in it for them. Breaking Invisible Chains: The Way to Freedom from Domestic Abuse is a good example.
This concludes the series on eight different ways to begin an article, story, devotional, or book chapter. I have used opening paragraphs from some of my books as examples. Beginnings are very important, and I hope my suggestions will help you craft a good opening paragraph.
- A Mood is set by using such phrases as: stared out the window, huge chunks of ice, shivered.
Staring out my hotel window on this winter’s day in Washington D.C., I watched huge chunks of ice lazily drift down the Potomac River. I rubbed my arms and shivered—partly from the cold, but mostly from the memory forming in my mind (“Loving Too Little, Loving Too Much,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).
- A Question may be asked at the beginning or near the beginning of the story or chapter.
The front door was slammed angrily with a thud. My son stomped down the stairs and out of earshot. Only silence remained.
Why do I fight with my son? My stomach churned as I pondered this question (“A Gentle Attitude,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).
- A Quotation may be used to begin a devotional, a story or article, or a book chapter.
He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.
–Author Unknown (“Forget and Forgive,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).
Whatever vehicle you choose, make sure you grab the reader’s attention immediately. Don’t be afraid to jump into the action. You want your readers to keep on reading!
The beginning of an article, story, devotional, or book chapter is very important. You need to grab the editor to get your material published and then grab your readers to have them read it. In my last blog, I gave you two suggestions for beginnings. Here are three more.
- A Thesis is presented by this lead that explains a venture of faith. Also, a metaphor is used comparing stepping out in faith to walking down an unknown path. Antithesis is another vehicle found here with confidence and excitement contrasted with fear, and falling over the edge of a cliff contrasted with being sure-footed.
Stepping out on a venture of faith is like being propelled swiftly down an unknown path in the dark. There is confidence and excitement instead of fear. If the way leads suddenly over the edge of a cliff, faith says the foot will find support if God underwrites the venture (Chapter 3 – Eyes Beyond the Horizon).
- Presenting a Problem to be solved is an excellent way to begin a story. It reaches out and grabs the reader.
My manager at the telephone company, where I worked as a service representative, called me into his office. “I just received a call from White River, Arizona. Your father didn’t show up at work today, Susan. He is missing. His car was found parked on a mountain road—empty.”
I collapsed into a chair. A small voice inside told me my father was dead (“The Fatal Fall,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).
- Dialogue is an excellent vehicle for jumping into the action of a story. Here it is used in conjunction with the presentation of a problem to be solved.
“Mom, I had to abandon my car,” my son’s voice sounded breathless on the other end of the telephone line. “Flames were jumping across the highway. Burning branches fell into the back of my convertible.”
“Are you OK?” I asked (“The Fire,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).
In my next blog, I will give you three more suggestions for ways to start an article, story, devotional, or book chapter.
There are many ways to begin a book chapter, article, or story. Here are the first two of my eight suggestions, taken from two of my books, Rest Stops for Single Mothers (Broadman & Holman) and Eyes Beyond the Horizon (Thomas Nelson). The types of leads I suggest here can apply for devotionals and other short pieces, fiction and nonfiction stories, articles, and book chapters.
- Narrative is used here to tell a mini-story from the narrator’s viewpoint. In the example below, you can picture the sail boat catching the wind.
As I scanned the horizon, my eyes focused on a sailboat gliding out of the bay. It cruised smoothly for a moment until the sailor lost the direction of the wind. The mainsail flapped in the breeze, and the boat slowed to a near halt. The man turned the rudder and leaned his craft back into the wind. The sails caught the breeze, and soon the vessel glided swiftly out of the harbor (“Lean into the Wind,” Rest Stops for Single Mothers).
- Characterization is often used as a lead. This description of Bob Bowman gives the reader an insight into his looks and personality as a teen. The description of the scene transports the reader back to L.A. in the 1930’s.
Pushing the gas pedal against the floorboards, the proud eighteen‑year‑old owner of a beat‑up 1929 Ford sped along a dirt road that transversed dusty bean fields. His brown hair was slicked back with a wave, and his blue eyes stared straight ahead. The acres of weeds stretching before him would someday shudder beneath the ear‑splitting runway traffic of the vast complex known as Los Angeles International Airport (Chapter 2 – Eyes Beyond the Horizon).
More ways to begin will be coming in future blogs.
Here is the final blog on tax tips.
If your writing expenses add up to more than your gross sales, you can claim a loss and deduct it from your declarable income—lowering your taxable income. Be careful! IRS rules state that you must show a profit after the third year. If you are audited and you failed to show a profit by the third year, the IRS can declare the whole thing a “hobby.” The hobby tax rules are different from the business ones, and you could find yourself owing taxes on back years for expenses claimed that are not allowed to be recognized because they exceed the income (i.e., no losses are allowed for a hobby). You need to be able to prove that you are running a business and attempting to make a profit. Check with your tax preparer.
If your net business income is $400 or more within one year, you must file the Form SE for your self-employment taxes. The IRS free publications on how to file these forms are excellent. The one I have found most helpful is Publication 334, Tax Guide for Small Businesses. Call your IRS office at 800-829-3676 to obtain forms and pamphlets, or contact them on their website at www.irs.ustreas.gov/.
Remember! If you are actively writing and seeking publication, you are a businessperson. Be sure to run your business accordingly with accurate records and receipts to back up your deducted expenses. Again, check with a tax preparer (enrolled agent, registered/licensed tax preparer, or CPA), the IRS, and/or your state tax agency if you have any questions.
Treating your writing as a business, taking expenses you are entitled to, and cutting down on your declarable income leaves more money to donate to church and mission organizations. Thus, one ministry can serve another.
There are expenses related to having an office in your home that are also deductible, including a percentage of your utilities, maintenance and upkeep, and even depreciation. You must have a designated room as an office that is not used for anything else to take these deductions. You measure the size of the room and see what percentage of your entire house it is to determine what percentage of utilities you can deduct.
Deducting a portion of your home as depreciation can be tricky. A word of warning: Watch the laws concerning the sale of your home. Deducting an office can affect your capital gains. When you sell your home, any depreciation taken in prior years has to be claimed as income and can impact the tax line.
The deductions do add up. Personally, I have written off six computers, two college degrees, and an assortment of other expenses. The computers have all been used for my business, not for family computer games. Both of my degrees (a BA in Religious Studies and an MA in Communications) were considered job-related. When I go on vacation, I often incorporate business into my trip, so that I can write off part of the vacation. However, I only write off the percentage that directly relates to my freelance writing.
More tips will be given in next week’s blog.
When a publishing house pays in excess of a certain dollar amount to an individual within a year’s time, currently $600, they are required to report it on a Form 1099 to you and the IRS. These forms reflect income you’ve earned during the year. Make sure you keep these with your tax records. Often a publishing house will send you a 1099, even when your payment is under $600. Be sure to report all 1099s on your income tax return.
Let me reemphasize that even if you did not make a profit, you can still fill out a Schedule C, claiming your expenses for the year. Save your rejection letters. They are excellent, documentary proof of your intent and effort to earn money as a writer.
Keep a ledger and save your receipts. Quicken and Excel are excellent computer programs for tracking your income and expenses. Some of the deductible expenses you need to keep track of are your stamps, business card expenses, stationery supplies, computer supplies, publications, books on writing, writing conferences, and dues to writing organizations. They add up quickly. You can also deduct travel costs for business purposes, as well as a percentage of your meals and entertainment, if they are directly related to your freelance writing.
More tips will be given in next week’s blog.
Here are some tax tips I have learned through the years. However, I am not a tax expert, so please check with a tax preparer (enrolled agent, registered/licensed tax preparer, or CPA), the IRS, and/or your state tax agency if you have any questions. If you are actively writing and seeking publication, you are a professional freelance writer and have a business that entitles you to deduct expenses.
Many of you may think the work involved isn’t worth bothering with, especially if you didn’t realize any income—but it is! There is a certain period (usually three to five years) allowed for a beginning business to start showing taxable profits. You may think of your writing as a hobby or avocation, but if you are trying to market your product, then you are in business. Claim your expenses and lower your income tax!
So even if you did not make a profit, you can still fill out a Schedule C, claiming your expenses for the year. Save your rejection letters. They are excellent, documentary proof of your intent and efforts to earn money as a writer.
More tips will be given in next week’s blog.
Here are pitfalls 25-28. This concludes my blogs, detailing the 28 pitfalls you should be aware of and should try to avoid. Hopefully these tips will help you improve your writing.
- Watch for Missing Punctuation
Make sure that your commas are in the right places and that none have been left out. Do you have a period or other punctuation at the end of each sentence? A good reference for proper punctuation is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.
- Watch for Cumbersome Punctuation
Be careful not to over punctuate with commas. Today we use fewer commas than in the past. Also avoid the overuse of dashes, exclamation points, semi-colons, and colons.
- Watch for Poor Transitions
Your paragraphs must flow into each other. If the transition seems rough, add an introductory clause or phrase to smooth it out. “After several hours of traveling, we arrived,” or “When we reached Phoenix, we were greeted by our host.”
- Watch for Telling
Show, don’t tell. On first rough drafts, writers often tell the story in narrative either from an observer’s viewpoint or from the main character’s mind. Both of these locations are boring. Readers want to participate in the action. They want to join in the excitement and experience the events as they are happening.
Be concrete, specific, and definite. Use dialogue, anecdotes, and fictional techniques whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction. When we avoid these 28 pitfalls, we make our writing come alive. This is how we can truly reach our readers and touch their lives.