Did you know that November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)—a month-long novel-writing frenzy? Thousands of coffee-fueled writers are pounding their keys to reach their goal of producing 50 thousand words before the stroke of midnight on November 30. Read more on the Los Angeles Editors and Writers blog.
The sound of fingernails on a chalkboard has never bothered me. However, when someone says, “I was laying around,” I cringe from my toenails to the tips of my hair. The worst part of it is this: Because the incorrect form is uttered so much more frequently than the correct form, it’s probably just a matter of time before the wrong verb pops out of my own mouth. The over-exposure effect.
But I have a plan of action to avert, or at least delay, the onset of incorrect verb reiteration. It’s my secret mantra. My concealed weapon against the decrepitude of the English language. It goes like this: Someone unwittingly uses the verb “lay” when it should be the verb “lie” (as in, “I’m going to lay down”), and I focus my special powers and conjure up my mantra: “lie down, lie down, lie down.” . . . That’s it. Kind of like the New Age pronouncement of “Cancel, cancel, cancel” when someone has a negative thought. Of course, I don’t generally say my “mantra” aloud. My goal is not to be obnoxious; I just want to reinforce the correct usage in my own head. I am, after all, a writing coach and book editor. It’s my job to keep this stuff straight.
So, I’m going to do my job and lay it all out for you. (“Wait,” you may be saying, “she said lay!” Yes, lay is a verb too. It’s just a different verb from lie.)
Here’s the rule:
- If the verb does not take a direct object, use lie
I lie down.
Please lie on your right side.
This verb does not act upon a direct object (noun).
- If the verb does take a direct object, use lay
I lay the book down.
Lay your body down.
In these examples, the book and your body are direct objects. The verb acts upon these nouns. In my own sentence above, “I’m going to lay it all out for you,” it is the direct object.
But it gets a little tricky when we move into the past tense. Now that I’ve drawn a line neatly between lie and lay, I’m going to confuse you by telling you that the past tense form of lie is lay. Oy!
Here’s a table you can refer to, to help you keep this all straight:
lie (present), lay (past), lain (past participle)
Let’s lie down in the grass.
When he lay on the bed, it creaked under his weight.
He had lain in bed for an hour before falling asleep.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
lay (present), laid (past), laid (past participle)
“Lay the gun on the table where I can see it,” the cop said.
She laid the book on top of the dresser.
They have laid the issue to rest.
If you’re feeling a little confused, you’re not alone. (As I said, many people use the wrong form much of the time.) But if you want to use the right form, just remember that the first verb, lie, is the much more common verb—especially in spoken English. (People today usually put things down—or occasionally set things down—rather than lay them down.)
After I put the book back on the shelf, I will lie down on the floor.
In other words, for present tense you’re mostly going to say lie, and for past tense you’re mostly going to say lay.
You might be asking yourself: “Why does any of this matter? People know what I’m trying to say whether I say ‘lie down’ or ‘lay down.’” . . . It’s true, people will know what you’re trying to say . . . but there will be those among us who hear fingernails on a chalkboard.
There’s a lot of debate about whether it’s best to try for a publishing deal with one of the big houses . . . or go with self-publishing (sometimes called independent publishing). Many authors I work with still yearn for the prestige of being published by one of the Big 6—Penguin, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Georg von Holtzbrinck/Macmillan (soon to be the Big 5 because Penguin and Random House are merging).
But are emerging authors yearning for what they’ll get from these big houses, or for what they would have gotten some twenty years ago? Just as everything on the planet is in constant change, so is the face of publishing. Big advances, book tours, publicity? If you’re a celebrity maybe.
The thing is, whether you self-publish or get picked up by a publisher, the responsible party for getting your book out there is . . . YOU (or your publicist if you hire one, and I recommend you do). Whichever route you choose, you are the one who has to set up your book tour, your author page, and any other publicity that will help the world know you’ve written a book. Oh, and don’t forget your platform (that thing you’ve got to stand on to reach a publisher in the first place! . . . or to sell your book to all those followers you’ve cultivated).
What is a platform? It’s your visibility and authority to reach your chosen audience. Platform includes: your web presence, your engaged blog or Twitter following, your email list, your speaking circuit, your media appearances, and so on. In a nutshell, it’s the readership you’ve cultivated for your book before you’ve finished (or, even better, before you’ve started) writing it.
Overwhelming? Not if you take it one step at a time. . . . Just like writing a book!
Still not sure whether you should try for a publisher or go the route of self-publishing? Renowned ghostwriter Michael Levin has a very definite opinion about this in his July 16 blog post. One benefit to self-publishing is that you don’t have to write a book proposal.
I invite you to share your own experiences and opinions about publishing (or self-publishing). Just leave a comment!
“Should I change the names of the people in my memoir?”
This is a question that gets asked every time I work with authors who are writing about their own lives. . . . [Read more at the Los Angeles Editors and Writers site.]
So, you’ve written your book manuscript and you think it’s amazing. Or maybe you just have an idea for a book that you think is amazing. What do you do next?
Back in the day of the renowned editor Max Perkins, you could throw your rough pile of brilliance over the transom of the publishing house, and your in-house editor would make it into an equally brilliant published book.
Times are different. Now your brilliant manuscript (or proposal) has to be polished-perfect to even be considered. And . . . if you want to get anywhere near one of the big publishers, you have to go through a literary agent.
So, once you’ve gotten the feedback and guidance of a professional freelance editor or writing coach and you’ve rewritten your manuscript and/or proposal (as many times as necessary), the next step is to search for potential agents. (Where and how to search is for another post.) But once you are ready to make your submission, what do agents want to see?
This article in the online Writer’s Digest does a pretty good job of covering the basics. (The one important piece that’s not covered, other than a passing mention, is how to prepare a proposal. But there are plenty of other resources for that online.)
Also, be sure to read each agent’s submission guidelines on their website. Every agent has a different set of requirements for what they’d like to receive from you (e.g., query letter first, synopsis, first ten pages, first fifty pages, etc.). And be sure you’re pitching to an agent who has interest in the type of work you’ve written.
I invite any of you to share your own wisdom and experiences (or pitfalls and pratfalls) in submitting work to a literary agent. Just add a comment!
Some of you know that I was writing a book with Ellie Laks (her memoir about starting The Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita). It was an amazing, deeply fulfilling project for both of us. Her stories never stopped touching my heart and soul, and I also never stopped laughing (pretty great way to spend a year).
Well, the fruits of that labor are just about ripe. The book, My Gentle Barn: Creating a Sanctuary Where Animals Heal and Children Learn to Hope, is due out March 25, 2014.
Check out this great interview with twenty-one successful authors about the experience of writing their first book—from how they made a living before they sold their first book to the nuts and bolts of getting the words onto the page.