Monday, May 22, 2017

Contranyms: Words that mean two opposites

I asked for examples of "contranyms"-- a word with two opposite meanings. 

Here are some friends contributed:

 Fast= quick to get away/ Fast like "he was held fast by the giant lobster claw."

Bolt= to run away, but you also bold two things together.

Oversight - looking over something carefully -- or overlooking something entirely.
Sanction -- to approve of an action, or to punish an action. 
Weather -- to withstand the effects of weather ("the house weathered the storm"),  or to *show* the effects of weather ('the stone statue was badly weathered")

Cave, as a noun, a big hole in the ground. As a verb, the collapsing of a hole.

Can you think of any others? And why does this happen? One friend reminded me when flammable things were labeled "inflammable" (meaning, uh, flammable-- don't set these on fire). Why do that?



Friday, May 19, 2017

Grammar questions answered: Restrictive and non-restrictive

I asked for some grammar questions, expecting/wanting some softballs. Ha! Not a chance. But I will throw myself to the wolves and try to answer.

Stacey asked-
Here's my question(s): What is a restrictive clause? What does it mean, really? What makes it restrictive?

I ask this, because I have a note that says if I'm using the word "which" in a restrictive clause, I should replace it with "that." It would be a helpful note if I knew what it meant! Hahaha! :)

 Okay, to get very basic, a clause is an element which has a subject and verb, and it can be "independent" (can be a sentence on its own, like This will be a long and tedious explanation), or dependent, (which can't be a complete sentence on its own, like which will be hard to understand). 
 Dependent clauses can be used in many ways in a sentence, like to establish some time or place condition--
When I was young, we used to have to walk three miles uphill to school.
Wherever we stay that night, we should get a suite with a view of the river.
"Restrictive" clauses are special types of  "relative" clauses. (A relative clause – I know, this gets arcane, but you know, you say and write these every day, even if you don't know the terms—is a clause which "relate" one thing to another. Forget that—just know that relative clauses start with those relative pronouns—who, which, that, what— and then have a verb, like Relative pronouns, which include "which and who," are how relative clauses start.) Relative nouns are usually "adjectival", modifying a noun (often but not always the subject of the sentence). So they are usually used as "appositives" and tell more about the noun that precedes them:  Governors, who serve a four-year term, are the chief executives of their states.
 You can see there that the relative clause—the appositive—just tells us more about governors. (Not all appositives are clauses—they can just be phrases, like The lady in the red hat ordered the soy latte. But let's not deal with that now. :)
What's important in that example is that it tells us more about ALL governors- that is, the meaning of the noun governor isn't narrowed by the appositive. ALL governors serve a four-year term.
 That is a NON-restrictive clause. It tells us more information about the noun it modifies, but it doesn't "restrict" the noun.

Relative clauses can be restrictive or non restrictive.  That is, they either restrict or don't restrict the noun they modify.

Let's come up with a RESTRICTIVE appositive/relative clause (so many terms! But "appositive" is syntactical—about the role this plays in this particular sentence—while "relative clause" is a grammatical term… well, never mind J).  
A restrictive clause will "restrict" or narrow the meaning of the noun it modifies, like:
Governors who take bribes should be impeached.
In this case, the relative "who" clause "restricts" the noun to a specific and narrow meaning. There are many governors, but in this case, I'm speaking only of the ones who take bribes. I'm not saying every governor should be impeached, only that special group who take bribes (I'm hoping that's a small percentage of them!). The restrictive clause stuck in there actually "restricts" the noun, see.
Now the noun phrase isn't just the single word "governors," but the narrower term "governors who take bribes."

Let's diagram both those sentences:
Subject (noun phrase)
Predicate (verb phrase)
Governors, who serve a four-year term, are the chief executives of their states.
Governors who take bribes should be impeached.
See the difference? Who are the chief executives of the states? Governors. You can take the appositive clause out and the main clause still means what you want it to mean—
Governors are the chief executives of their states.
But see what happens when you take the appositive out of the second one:
Governors should be impeached.
Even if we don't like politicians, we probably don't mean that all governors should be impeached!

Relative clause (who/which/what/that + verb)
Appositive (a clause or phrase which explains more about a noun)
Restrictive clause (a relative clause which "restricts" the meaning of a noun) Governors who take bribes should be impeached. This is NOT set off with commas before and after because it is necessary to the meaning and actually becomes part of the noun.
Non-restrictive clause (a relative clause which explains more about a noun but doesn't restrict the meaning)- Governors, who serve a four-year term, are the chief executives of their states. These are set off before and after with commas, to show that they are "unnecessary" to the meaning.
What about "which and that"?
They are both "relative pronouns" which start relative clauses.
"Which" is used in non-restrictive clauses JUST BECAUSE. (I mean, I don't know why.) That means you use commas before "which"—not because it's "which," but because it's non-restrictive, which uses "which".
"That" means exactly the same thing, but is used with restrictive clauses and no commas.
(With people, btw, no matter what, we use "who." Also, my cat, WHO is named Bandit, reminds me we also use "who" with pets.)
Restrictive clause  Pedestrian malls that are successful share three important factors. (that is, we're only talking about successful pedestrian malls).
(People= who) Pedestrians who cross against the light are taking a big risk. (Only those who cross against the light are taking a big risk.)

Non-restrictive clause -- Pedestrian malls, which limit car traffic on downtown streets, are popular with businesses because they increase foot traffic. (All pedestrian malls are popular with businesses.)
Pedestrians, who are often walking for their health, are tempted by the bakeries which line Ontario Street.

What do you think? Does that make sense?  Often if you speak the sentence aloud, you can tell if you mean the more narrow subject ("Governors who take bribes"), as you will speak that without the pause that would indicate commas.

Restrictive vs. nonrestrictive always gives me a headache to explain, and anyway, it's been explained better by others:
Another site for this
Check these out. :)

Friday, May 12, 2017

Grammar questions?

Hey, everyone,
I'm getting together some grammar lessons-- punctuation, sentences, wording. I'd love to do the lessons writers really need. What's your grammar question? I'll put it down on my list and write up a lesson for it. (I can't help it. I love this stuff.) Post here-- and also, if you see a lot of other writers' work-- what's the biggest issue you see, even if it's not a problem for you? I have to say, dialogue punctuation. (You know- She said "you don't understand" . )

What do writers need to be reminded to check?
What annoys you or intrigues you about grammar?

I just spent about a half hour trying to explain who/whom, and privately concluded this was something (along with subject/verb agreement) I might drop if I were Grammar Goddess.


Monday, May 8, 2017

3 Reasons to Choose a Small Press

3 Reasons to Choose a Small Press

Why a Small Press?
My publishing career is so checkered, I call it a “herringbone.” I’ve been published by major publishers and a couple small presses, and self-published too. So I thought I’d give you all some food for thought and write about why I chose to go with a small press for my women’s fiction novel, The Year She Fell.
I got my first publication back in the Golden Era of romance publishing, when all the major NY publishers were starting romance lines and midlist romance writers had print runs of 300K. (Not me, but many others!) I never benefited much from that wave as I wrote in a small niche genre (Regencies), but I stayed published by major pubs for more than a decade. I never made much money, but the prestige of major publication helped my teaching career, as nearly everyone was impressed to hear that I was a “Dell author.” (Of course, I published only one book with Dell before they suddenly dropped their Regency line. The great thing about prestige is it can be based on singular and long-past events.)
But consolidation of the big publishers in the 90s led to the greater commodification of books, and the multi-nationals didn’t seem very interested in marketing to niche readers anymore. Even with a top agent, I couldn’t get back into the closed circle with a book I’d certainly considered commercial. Why? Because I’d been writing “small books,” with print runs under 40K, the suddenly all-important “numbers” – how successful an author was at making lots of money for the publisher—meant editors had to send letters with high praise and that “Unfortunately” last paragraph. (“Unfortunately, with the market as it is, we can’t take a chance on Alicia who hasn’t the record of success we want.”) I knew the book was good, and I knew it would sell well if it got the chance. But it looked like I wasn’t going to get a chance. Then someone suggested submitting the book to Belle Books, a small press that a friend of mine had started years ago with some friends.

Small Press, Big Advantages (3 Good Reasons to Consider a Small Press)
1. Small presses aren’t afraid of small audiences.
For someone like me, who had mostly read big-press books, and had published only with “The Big Eight” (soon to become The Big Seven and then The Big Six and now I think it is the Big Five), looking beyond NYC for publication was scary. I mean, I’d heard about small presses, but thought they published only literary fiction and poetry, and regional publishers, but thought they published only local histories. Boy, did I get an education when I sold the book to Bell Bridge Books (the women’s fiction imprint of Belle Books). I learned that small presses like BB can aim for niche readers because their lower overhead (no Manhattan office to rent! no Manhattan salaries to pay!) means they don’t have to sell as many copies to make a profit on a book.
2. Small presses can be more nimble in responding to changes in technology and marketing.
I also learned that compared to the ocean-liner-sized major publishers, a small press is like a nimble cruiser, able to turn on a dime to take advantage of new technologies and techniques. So though my book came out initially in print, the publisher quickly realized that the rise of the Kindle and other e-readers would open up low-cost opportunities. So they published my book in several electronic formats, and while the sales were small for the print edition, the title caught on for Kindle readers.
The costs are lower, and the royalties much higher in e-format, and a small press like mine can experiment without much cost. For example, my publisher put the book up for free in Kindle format the week after Christmas 2010. I admit, I thought it was crazy to give away books. But it worked, generating many reviews and getting the book onto the top 10 list in the Kindle store. Even when the free period ended, customers still downloaded the book, only this time they paid for it. So paradoxical as it seems, giving the book away was an effective way to sell the book. But I’d never encountered that method with a big press. They didn’t even like to give the author many copies. (Of course, free copies aren’t cheap in print!)
In fact, for a brief moment (and I do mean a moment), my book was the #1 bestselling book on Amazon Kindle. Hey, it’s not the NYTimes list, but you better believe I now call myself a “bestselling author.” For a Regency writer, used to sales in the lowest five figures, this was a heady experience. (And yes, I checked my ranking constantly, and suffered through every bad review too!) And when I got my first royalty check, well, it didn’t quite pay for a new Lexus, but it was several times larger than any of my big-press book royalties.
3. Small presses are eager to maximize income from a potential bestseller, because they don’t have many of those.
One of the Big 5 might have 20-30 bestsellers a year. (That is, after all, how they get to be one of the Big 5.) So even making one of the major bestseller lists won’t necessarily make them pay special attention to your book when it comes to selling it onward. In contrast, small presses are more likely, I think, to explore opportunities for alternate revenues like foreign sales and subsidiary rights, because that way they can maximize income from their relatively short list of books. Just an example: the Harry Potter books were released both in the UK and the US by relatively small presses. Of course, these novels sold millions, but much of the revenue (JK Rowling is the first writer to become a billionaire) came from adroit dealing of film rights and other sub-rights. Of course, the big presses sometimes do try to sell film rights and the like, but very seldom for books in the midlist or below. (A word to the wise, then– try to retain a big percentage of your film and subsidiary rights! JK did. 🙂
My decision was further validated the following Christmas, when my publisher once again did a marketing push for my book (now out for more than a year), and got The Year She Fell up onto the bestseller list again. This persistence was in great contrast to my experience with big publishers, where a book was pretty much up for sale for the release month, and never again. I’d gotten used to doing a frantic round of promotion that month, and then seeing the book taken from the store shelves and stripped to be sent back to the publisher. Instead, I got a second sizeable January royalty check, because my small press can keep the book for sale literally for years.
There are always trade-offs in any decision, and going with a small press has meant giving up a few perks, especially the powerful influence created by the huge multi-national publishers. And there are, of course, limitations to the small press experience. The advances tend to be small because the companies are usually under-capitalized, using the profits from one book to fund the production of the next. The smaller presses can’t afford to have marketing divisions that go out and sell the books to big accounts. (On the other hand, this means that the marketers don’t get to interfere with editorial decisions as I kept running into with big publishers.) Small presses also don’t have the clout to force booksellers to sell a “small” book in order to get enough copies of a “big” book like a Grisham or a Koontz.
[optin-cat id=”630″] But I think my own experience shows that there’s no reason to confine our submissions to big New York publishers. Small presses might have the flexibility and resilience to keep up with the near-constant changes in the marketplace. However, because small presses don’t have the name-recognition and long public histories of a Random House, I’d suggest doing some due diligence before signing that first contract. Google the company name and check with the author-warning sites (like Preditors and Editors) to make sure there aren’t a lot of author complaints (especially ones concerning unpaid royalties!). Read the contract carefully and compare it with sample big-press contracts. Make sure that you’re not expected to contribute any funds of your own. Ask about the company in your writer’s groups and lists. Check the biographies of the company personnel to see if there’s a good mix of editorial and business expertise. Check their own website, and the sales pages of some of their books at Amazon or to see if the presentation is professional. Finally, talk through with the publisher what is planned for your book in terms of publication and marketing. These common-sense precautions will also help you get to know the publisher and get some ideas of how together you can make your book a success in a rapidly changing marketplace.
Has anyone else tried the small-press route? What’s been your experience?
Alicia Rasley is a Rita-award winning author and nationally known teacher of writing workshops. She teaches composition and tutors students in two state universities. She grew up in the mountains of Southwest Virginia but now lives in the midwestern flat land. Her book The Year She Fell has been a Kindle fiction bestseller.
Her website is Her writing book, The Power of Point of View, is still available from Writer’s Digest Books. All her books can be found on her Amazon page.