November 2012

We all know the frustrations of trying to carve out enough time every day to actually sit down and write. In light of that, most of us at some point will daydream about having someone else do our research, handle administrative tasks, deal with  bookkeeping headaches, and so forth. But then we are suddenly yanked out of our daydream when we think about the reality of our revenue streams vs. the cost for acquiring such help. But should we so easily give up on the possibility of having an extra pair of hands? Not necessarily.

Carefully consider what aspects of your writing job you need the most help with. Then think about how much writing time you lose every day in order to accomplish those tasks. Then ask yourself, Does the time I would save balance the cost of hiring someone? After all, time is money. If your goals include submitting X number of query letters a week to magazines, or X number or proposals a month to book publishers, and you’re not even coming close to that because of everything else you have to do, having some help just might be worth it.

Publishing, like any sales-related field, is a numbers game; and any successful writer needs to view it as such. So, you can’t just look at the money outflow of hiring someone. You need to balance it with the inflow of productivity you will gain.

Depending on the type of help you need, you may be able to find good sources at local colleges. You can advertise through the English, Journalism, or Communication departments for an intern or part-time employee. Many colleges have vehicles already in place for such employment, so they can help you locate the right person. And, it’s great experience for a college student to have on his or her resume.

If you are a more-experienced writer who needs a regular critiquer, proofreader, or perhaps some marketing help, your best bet is to try to gain referrals from other writers in your genre. You can also find listings of professionals through various writing networks–either locally or nationally. I’ve found it best to try to work with those who tend to be specific to what I write. If you’re a novelist, you’d be much better off with someone who specializes in fiction as opposed to a generalist who does everything from nonfiction articles to young adult books.

I’m not suggesting that you hire someone for 40 hours a week right off the bat. Writers who are making a comfortable living from their work have the luxury of perhaps having a few full-time staffers to help with everything from accounting to research to publicity. But for the other 95% of us, we need to start small.

Write down everything you realistically want help with in order to free up your time to write. Group your list into various skill sets to determine how many different types of help you need. For instance, one person could be assigned to all things marketing, while it may take another person to help you with admin tasks. Depending on the kind of writing you do, you may need someone very adept at research, but could this person also handle administrative work?

Next, get a picture of the kind of person you want and need to do these jobs. You may not be able to be excessively picky, but at the same time, if you can find a jack-of-all-trades who has a personality that meshes with yours, that one person may be able to do the job of three.

Start with just a few hours a week. This would be ideal for a college student or maybe someone from a temp agency. Once you get a feel for how much extra time you’re gaining each week, you’ll be better able to determine if your money is being well spent. If so, after a few months, try to increase your weekly number of hours of help. At some point, you’ll find the perfect balance of time vs. money.

Don’t be afraid to step out and hire the help you need, just be smart about it. Plan ahead to determine exactly what you do need, then start small. You might be surprised as to how much you’ll actually gain in the long run!

I’m convinced that one of the most troublesome pieces of punctuation for people (wow…that was some alliteration!) is when, where, and why to hyphenate. When I first started proofreading for publishers, I think this one area gave me fits more than any other. And, just when I think I had a hyphenation rule figured out, I’d learn an exception to that rule!

So, I’ve put together a short list to hopefully help alleviate you of some of the frustration I faced. These are some basic guidelines, but be aware that exceptions do exist. And, while dictionaries are good for confirming whether or not a word or phrase should be hyphenated, they won’t help you when it comes to general principles. For that I would suggest consulting some form of style manual (Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Manual of Style, for example).

1. Think in terms of clarity. If a word could possibly be misread if left unhyphenated, then it should have a hyphen. One example is coop (as in chicken) vs. co-op. Many terms over the years have morphed from hyphenated to closed, such as web-site, which is now almost always written as website. One reason for this change in publishing is because it takes up less space. I realize that one hyphen doesn’t account for much space by itself, but over the course of a magazine article or book, they can. And space is money if it’s not online (that word also used to be hyphenated, by the way).

2. Sometimes used with prefixes. For the most part, nearly all prefixes are written without hyphenating, but there are some exceptions. The word self is always hyphenated before another word (except in the case of selfless); the prefixes pre or post are typically not hyphenated unless they are used before a proper noun (pre-Civil War era or post-World War II); the prefix co will be hyphenated only to avoid confusion in reading. Most other prefixes are written as closed, but be sure to check in the dictionary to be certain you’re not dealing with an exception.

3. Use with compound modifiers before a noun. This rule probably trips writers up more than any other when it comes to hyphenation. So, if you have a phrase with an adjective and a noun (open  + space, for instance), and put that phrase before another noun, it would become hyphenated: open-space park. Likewise, if you have an adverb that does not end in ly combined with an adjective (well + known), it would also become hyphenated before a noun: well-known actor.

But … (you knew that was coming, right?), adverbs that do end in ly never get hyphenated (highly paid actor). I don’t believe there are exceptions to this rule. This hyphenation rule only applies when the modifiers appear before the noun. So, you would say “well-known actor” but “the actor was well known.”

4. Use with adjectives or adverbs when combined with participles before a noun. Similar to the above rule, you would say “open-ended question” (adjective and participle) but “the question was open ended.” And, you would say “much-needed attention” (adverb and participle), but “the attention was much needed.”

5. Use when part of a hyphenated term is omitted. In an expression such as: “I can’t decide whether to go with the twenty- or thirty-year mortgage,” twenty keeps the hyphen because it still forms a compound with year mortgage.

6. Use with fractions. Fractions will always be hyphenated whether they appear as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.

7. Use with compound adjectives or adjectival phrases before a noun. This would include the forms of ordinal numbers, colors, and age terms. Examples include: First-floor window, three-year-old dog, black-and-white dress, over-the-counter drug. Remember that these same phrases will not be hyphenated if used after the noun.

OK, well I think that’s probably enough hyphenation rules for one day! Believe me when I say, however, there are many more. Again, be sure to check a dictionary for specific examples, but be aware you may not find everyone you need. And, spell checker will definitely not catch these for you. If this is an area you struggle with, I would highly suggest investing in a good style guide, which will have every possible rule along with its exception. This is one of the most-worn sections (notice the hyphenation there!) of my style guide, to be sure!