Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Capitals in titles, professional societies and word counts – Lorraine Mace answers your questions

Sean from Brighton sent in a formatting question: I never know when to use capitals in titles. I see sometimes there are words in the middle without caps, but I don’t know why. Also, should the title of a story have a full stop at the end?

I’ll answer the last question first, as it will be the short part of my answer. No, titles shouldn’t have a full stop at the end as they are not sentences. However, if the title forms a question, you should use a question mark or, if it is necessary to show shock, surprise or a similar emotion, an exclamation mark.

Question: Far from the Madding Crowd?
Exclamation: Far from the Madding Crowd!
Straight title: Far from the Madding Crowd

As you can see from the title I’ve borrowed in the explanation above, some of the words are in lower case. What I’ve used is called title case.

This is because capital letters are used only for the first word and the principal words.

So, you would use capitals for all words which are not articles (a/an/the), conjunctions (any joining word such as and/but/or) and prepositions (such as on/in/with/from).

If a title starts with an article, conjunction or preposition, that would be capitalised, but only in that case.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix does not have the conjunction, articles or preposition capitalised. However, if the book title hadn’t included Harry’s name, the first article would need to be capitalised as it would be the first word in the title: The Order of the Phoenix

Alice from Tenby wants to join a professional association, but has been turned down by the Society of Authors: I’ve self-published my first novel and I think it’s going to do really well, but when I tried to join the Society of Authors, I was told I didn’t qualify because I’m self-published and haven’t yet sold enough books. I know from an author friend who is a member that the Society offers authors lots of help and advice with legal matters. Is there something similar for self-published authors I could join?

Yes, what you’re looking for is ALLi (The Alliance of Independent Authors), a non-profit association of author-publishers. On their website it states: We offer connection and collaboration, advice and education. And we campaign for, and further the interests of, self-publishing writers everywhere. I’m sure you will find everything you need on their website. The address is: http://allianceindependentauthors.org/

Veronica from Marbella has a problem with her novel being too long: I’ve been told by many people (and seen it on countless websites) that publishers won’t look at debut novels that are too long. I’ve been told mine, a story set in the days of the French Resistance, should be between 70,000 and 90,000 words. I’m only about two-thirds of the way into it and it’s already over 85,000 words. What should I do? Should I cut out one of the characters? Change the plot slightly? Take out one of the subplots? Please help, because I can’t bear the thought of spending all this time writing a book and then being told it’s too long to be published.

First of all, the thing to bear in mind about word count guidelines is that is all they are – guidelines. If a stunning novel landed on an agent or publisher’s desk that they simply couldn’t put down, there is no way it would be rejected as being too long, even if it was well over the standard word count!

Secondly, you have said yourself that you haven’t even finished the book yet, so there is no way of knowing what should be cut, if anything.

A first draft is just a way of getting your thoughts and ideas down on paper. When you go through your first rewrite you will automatically cut sentences, paragraphs, maybe even entire scenes, because they don’t fit. You may find that you have two or three minor players who could be morphed into one stronger character, which again would affect the word count.

On second, third, fourth and fifth drafts, you’ll tighten dialogue, cut out all the padding and unnecessary adjectives and adverbs.

By the time your novel is ready to be sent anywhere, it will be a much smoother, sleeker beast than the one you are currently wrestling with. Get the words down and leave the worries about length and publishing needs until you’ve polished your baby so that it gleams. If it does that, no one will care if it’s a few thousand words more than the guidelines say it should be.

If you have a question for Lorraine, email lorraine@quinnpublications.co.uk


Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.

Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending

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