Authors, do you know how to avoid accidentally plagiarizing when using online sources to do research for writing your book? I have some tricks to share.

 

Rarely do you see blatant plagiarism where a writer cuts and pastes into a document from online sources and simply replaces a few words as happened this week with Monica Crowley, author of What the (Bleep) Just Happened, published by a division of HarperCollins Publishers, one of the Big Five publishers (and one I used to work at as an in-house acquisitions editor). You can’t rely on an in-house acquisitions editor or their copyediting and proofreading team to make sure you didn’t plagiarize. So if you are doing online research to write a self-help, life lessons, or other nonfiction book, know what you have to do to treat the authors of original material with respect and avoid plagiarizing accidentally.

 

In my opinion, Crowley should have known it was wrong to simply use others’ words and replace a word here and there–for example, she replaced “depends” with “relies” and “prominent” with “major.” Maybe she actually thought this was acceptable.

 

It is not.

 

Even if you know better than to write over someone else’s words, to be safe, never, ever cut and paste someone else’s words into a document unless you put their words in quotation marks and note the source along with adding a link that takes you to that source!  Take the time to cite resources properly.

 

Even then, it is best to put the notes in an idea file document. Create some headers to categorize the material to remind you that this is just the idea file and not a file of your writing. I like to use all caps and create a header with summary concepts, like SENSORY OVERLOAD TANTRUMS MELTDOWNS and SENSORY OVERLOAD SYMPTOMS. Then, when I go to write the chapter, I can work with the idea file, but I know I’m not actually going to salvage any of the writing in the idea file. I’m going to memorize it and then outline from what I know.

 

Also, I generally write in Times New Roman, Arial, or Cambria (common default fonts), so I like to put any direct quotes I save in another font to signal to me “this is someone else’s writing.” That’s another a safety mechanism that can prevent accidentally misreading someone else’s words as yours.

 

If it’s hard to imagine how you might reword the material, look it up in a few different sources and memorize the concepts. This way, it’s easier to come up with how you would say it.

 

Be cautious about lists, too. For example, if I were to list the common symptoms of sensory processing disorder, number one on the list would be unusual under-reactions or overreactions to everyday sensations. There only so many ways to say all that, and it truly is the most basic symptom, which pretty much defines disordered or dysfunctional sensory processing. Writing some variation of that symptom as #1 on the list is just giving readers a fact in your own words. But if #2, #3, #4, and #5 on the list are in almost the exact same order as they are in a list someone else wrote, you didn’t do your research carefully. The symptoms lists are everywhere. Mentally process what you read, remember the basic symptoms, and then write them in a list, from memory, and then check a few sources to see if you forgot any. I’ve written a symptoms list many times and I can’t remember what I’ve put as symptom number two each time. Who knows? It’s really #1 that’s memorable.

avoid plagiarism writing a book

Avoid accidentally plagiarizing when you are writing a book!

 

If you hire a researcher, that person could cause you to accidentally plagiarize. Perhaps Crowley had a ghostwriter or researcher helping her, and Crowley was not on top of the researcher’s work. Even so, the helper might not have been responsible for these passages.  A professional ghostwriter can often pick up on a researcher’s or author/expert/client’s cut and paste from someone else’s site when the document is returned from the author/expert/client. A ghostwriter or developmental editor will look for font and formatting changes as well as words that don’t sound like the author/expert would use them. For example, in one plagiarized passage, Crowley used the term “coyly”—that’s an unusual word. If I were the ghostwriter or developmental editor working on a book like this, I’d find or ask for the original source of the anecdote and Google “Churchill drunk coyly” and similar combinations to figure out the original source of the anecdote. I probably would have found the same source she (or her researcher) used and realized oh no, this is plagiarized and that means other passages may be too! That’s just one way I would research an anecdote or ask the client to research it. Be really clear with a researcher about what you want delivered. Think about whether you might want your researcher to read this article and discuss it with you.

 

Also in that anecdote, she had Winston Churchill saying something to a woman while “drunk” (an informal word that you should not use to describe people who are inebriated unless you are sure you want to use that word.) I’d question who referred to him as “drunk” and look that up using a search engine, and perhaps Google Books.

 

Anecdotes should be put in your own words, just as if you were telling the story to someone else. You should cite the original source in an endnote or footnote if you can’t find multiple sources that have the same basic details. Use your own words; it’s easy to do. You would do it if you were speaking on a teleseminar or in front of an audience, wouldn’t you?

 

Good researchers and writers doing research take detailed notes. They save links and summarize what was on the site, and put in quotation marks specific locutions/combinations of words they might want to use as a direct quote. They even use ellipses (that’s: . . .) and brackets (that’s []) to be sure the quote is not tampered with, and they note the page number. Then, in later drafts, they, and the copyeditor, go back and check the quotation in context, word for word, punctuation mark for punctuation mark.

 

When rewording material, process it mentally. Sit and think about all the research you did on a particular topic, and think about what details your reader needs to know. A statistic? Dates? Actual quotes from people that show they clearly misspoke, misremembered, or lied about details and dates? People often don’t remember exact details so do some research online, using reliable sources. Just for fun, try to find a reliable source for the claim that drinking 8 ounces of water a day is important for health. Go to a .gov site, or Web MD or Mayo Clinic or a major medical college (with a .edu) and try to get evidence to support this claim. Good luck! Whatever you find, cite the source in your text or even in endnotes and paraphrase it accurately if you choose to paraphrase. Books rarely have footnotes anymore since people don’t like them at the foot (bottom) of the page. I love endnotes. They help me see where an author got her information, clue me into other books I might want to read and articles I might want to check out, and provide information that didn’t quite fit in the main text but is still interesting.

 

It’s shocking that someone who gets a major book deal would plagiarize, but it can happen. Be sure you talk with professionals in the book business about any research that needs to get done for your book and any fact checking it requires. They can save you embarrassments and headaches–and headlines and lost credibility.

 

 

So to sum up:

 

Don’t rely on someone else to catch any accidental cutting-and-pasting of words from another source!

 

Don’t cut and paste someone else’s words into your document without clearly marking what is a quotation and citing the source, including a link. 

 

Use tricks like all-caps headers, idea files, quotations and citations and links for every quote, and different fonts to avoid accidentally mistaking someone else’s words as your own.

 

Memorize concepts. Process your ideas before writing them in your own words. Paraphrase accurately but still, cite sources.

 

Be cautious about lists.

 

If you hire a researcher, discuss with that professional what they will deliver. Consider having them read this article. 

 

Cite your sources. Cite your sources. Cite your sources.

 

Want to receive even more practical information about writing mind/body/spirit nonfiction? Be sure to sign up for my email newsletter and you won’t miss any of the free information and special offers I have for my followers!

 

Authors, while you are writing a book based on your life and work, you need to begin building an audience for your work and message. An author platform must include online presence on social media as well as a website and blog. With all the social media options out there, where do you start?

Facebook–for several reasons–is my “go to” social media platform for building an author platform and a following that will be eager to buy the book when it is published. However, once you set up your Facebook page for your work, you want to be sure to get engagement from your followers: likes, comments, and shares. My new eBook, 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook, will help you to do more than simply shout into the wind using Facebook. You will learn how to create posts your fans can’t help seeing and responding to. The higher your engagement, the easier it is to get new people to come to your page and discover you and your brand. What’s more, engagement builds community as the people who follow you start to get to know and support each other. In my new book, you will also learn how to get set up on Facebook, how to write posts and time them for maximum effect, and ways to get the conversation going on your professional page for you as a writer or for your book. I have used these strategies to help myself and my clients build rich, active communities on Facebook. The truth is that if you want to get a book deal, numbers of followers isn’t enough. It’s more important to be able to show that your followers care enough about your work to engage you and each other as part of a community.  So make your Facebook professional page work for you by using these 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook!

 

author platform engagement on Facebook eBook

Build your author platform with my ebook 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook. Facebook is an excellent tool for creating a community around your brand and writing!

 

 

Every February in New York City, the crocuses bloom–and for years, you could also count on a new Cinematherapy book being published. My coauthor and I deliberately chose February for our book’s publication because in February, people are thinking about movies. The Golden Globe Awards have been handed out for the past year’s films, and the Academy Award nominees are about to be announced. We did a press release every February with our own spin on the best movies, and got plenty of publicity breaks with morning drive-time radio shows looking for a five minute feature that was funny, lively, and timely, and with our press release in hand, the “morning zoo” deejays had something fresh to talk about. Publishing your book at the perfect time means paying attention to what people are thinking about at a given time of year.

 

As you think about the potential audience for your book, think about what time of year your audience would likely be most interested in your topic–and in reading about your book online or going to a lecture or bookstore reading. Look at the publication dates and months for your comparative books, and think about why the publisher might have chosen those particular months for publishing the books. Why was one book published in March and another in May? Can you figure it out?

 

 

When it comes to picking the perfect publication date for your book, months matter. As Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently pointed out in her blog post, September is the new January, people are ready in January to start anew with a diet, a new hairstyle, or a new marriage. September is the hottest month to get married next to June. August is a very tough month to publish books, even beach reads, because people just aren’t paying attention to publicity, television shows are on hiatus, and readers often have already chosen their beach reading . Fall of a presidential year is a perfect time for publishing your book on political topics or presidential history. January is when people are thinking about changing their habits, and June’s a great time for publishing a book that a bride, a graduate, or a father would appreciate.

 

 

Also, look at lists of holidays both famous and obscure. My coauthor and I liked to write humor books about men and women, and we knew Valentine’s Day would be a great time to publish our book Frankly Scarlett, I DO Give a Damn!: Classic Romances Retold. You might want to publish a book on compliments in synch with March 1, which is Compliments Day–just one of many interesting holidays. Writing a book about health? Check out a list of  national health issue awareness months. 

 

Traditionally, publishers put out their potential bestsellers in the fall for Christmas buying. Rarely will they aim for a December publication date, since bookstore owners and salespeople are so busy selling books that taking new books out of boxes to place on shelves is not a high priority.

 

There might be a few different months when it would be wise to publish your book and seek the attention of potential book buyers. The parenting book I coauthored, Raising a Sensory Smart Child, was published in March but a September publication would have worked, too, because parents are often looking for books that will assist them in supporting their child who isn’t doing well at school. In fact, we chose to release the updated version of the book in September.

 

So ask yourself, “If I were my ideal book buyer, when would I be least distracted and most interested in reading more about my book and clicking through to purchase it?”

 

And if you’re looking at a date far off into the future and are feeling impatient, don’t worry. You can always spend the time between now and then building your author platform and following so that you have many more eager readers ready to buy your book when it is published. Facebook is a great way to build a following so check out my new eBook 25 Powerful Ways to Get Engagement on Facebook for help with that.

 

 

“What’s in it for me?” That’s a key question on the mind of a potential follower/book buyer who is interested in mind/body/spirit nonfiction, the type of book I work on. (Editors, like ghostwriters, specialize in certain genres.) Whatever you are writing, it should sit firmly in that sweet spot where you and your work meet up with someone else’s need or desire to become informed, amused,  inspired  invigorated, etc. When you conceptualize a memoir or self-help book based on your story of overcoming challenges, you need to remember the needs of your potential reader. She wants to learn how she, too, could be like you, and do what you have done. She wants to feel a bond with you. If you want to write a story about a series of terrible situations you survived, do that because it has meaning for you and because it can be a valuable step in your healing process. But don’t assume people want to share in your trauma. They have their own traumas to process. If you want to write mind/body/spirit nonfiction that inspires and educates others, you have to step back from your story and imagine what your reader wants to read. She wants to share in your recovery from abuse, low self-esteem, addiction, and so on. The story of your trauma should be just a small piece of the book you are writing for her.

 

self-help book or memoir

The story of your trauma should be just a small piece of the book you are writing for a reader of mind/body/spirit nonfiction.

 

I hear daily from would-be authors who want to write their story of trauma, and I tell them that if they want to write and inspire others, they need to focus on how they overcame the trauma. As a reader, I always want to know the answer to “What’s in it for me?” I hope the answer is, “An engrossing story that educates me on how I can overcome trauma in my own life.”

 

Karin Volo’s memoir, 1,352 Days, tells an absolutely harrowing tale of how she survived nearly four years of being locked up in a county jail fighting extradition to a foreign country where you’re presumed guilty, not innocent. When I worked with her as a developmental editor to tell the story in an inspiring way, I encouraged her to maintain riveting details about her painful experiences, including the shock and fear she felt when hauled away from an airport gate in handcuffs or locked into a cell with strangers who could have committed a horrific crime for all she knew. However, the story that resonated for me, and that I knew would resonate for readers, was the story of how she got through those years in which she was separated from her young daughters and family, how she kept sane and optimistic, and how she came to forgive herself and her ex-husband for their roles in bringing about this frightening series of events. The book is a memoir, but as a reader, you  will feel it’s about you and what you can do to own your role in bringing about difficulties in your life, and what you can do to change your habits of mind and behavior and let go of anger, resentment, and shame. It’s her memoir, but in essence, it’s about… YOU.

 

Other nonfiction books I’ve worked on are in the self-help vein, and have practical strategies, tips, exercises, and action plans for transforming your life. They incorporate stories and anecdotes, but those stories don’t go on page after page in exhaustive detail. I took my own story about discovering my son had sensory processing disorder, and learning how to help him, and wove it in my book Raising a Sensory Smart Child, but I kept the stories short. I deliberately tried to paint the scenes emotionally so other parents could relate to my experience. I made myself vulnerable on the page, because it’s always easier to take advice from an author who admits to her own failings. In short, in telling those stories, I was always aware of how my reader would feel reading them.
Here’s a trick for making sure your stories are as much about your reader as they are about you. Watch how often you write “I” compared to how often you write “you” or “we.” My general rules are as follows:

 

Consider using “we” to create a bond with your audience: “We parents know what it’s like…” “We all try and fail at times…” Consider using “you” to give advice or create an intimate conversation with the reader. “You can consult with an occupational therapist…” “You might want to look at how you approach your child when he’s totally absorbed in what he’s doing…” “You, too, might be feeling overwhelmed by all the choices…” If you use too much “we” language, it can start to sound as if you’re pontificating, so be cautious. In self-help, I favor “you” but will often switch from “you” to “we” when I’m concerned that the author might take offense at the assumptions I’m making about her.  Rather than write, “You play a role in your child’s inability to control his temper”–ouch!–I would write, “If our children are unable to control their tempers, we parents need to know that we play a role in that” or “We might hate to admit it, but we parents always play at least some role in our children’s inability…” I might stick with “you” language and write something like, “You may not realize it, but you could be playing a role in your child’s inability to control his temper.” People don’t like to read about their failings, and they don’t want you to be the expert on high telling them what they are doing wrong and never admitting you screw up, too, so make sure that your language reflects their need to feel connected to you instead of judged by you.

 

Never forget that you are writing for a reader, not just for yourself, and your writing will be much more engaging, and much more likely to attract followers to your work.

(P.S. Want more helpful advice on getting started writing and publishing your book? Sign up for my email newsletter!)

 

Have you completed a memoir, or written a lot of material, and become stuck? A developmental editor can help you figure out what you need to do and how you can reshape your material. I do this work and find it very rewarding because I love helping clients tell their stories. Whenever I can, I offer would-be authors advice on how to get unstuck in the process of writing their memoir or self-help book, and in that spirit, I’d like to share with you an interview I did with a colleague, Al Desetta.

Al Desetta is a ghostwriter/developmental editor I have referred people to when the project isn’t quite right for me or the timing isn’t going to work out given the client’s plans and my schedule. I asked him to shed some light on how he works so that people who follow my blog can learn from him.

 

Nancy: Many people are confused by what a developmental editor does. How would you describe what you do?

 

Al: A developmental editor helps an author develop the true potential in a completed or partially completed manuscript. Unlike a copyeditor who simply corrects a manuscript, a developmental editor looks for ways to help the author improve it, which typically includes helping the writer reorganize the book, rewrite parts of it, add new or additional information, cut or deemphasize parts of a manuscript, etc. For example, I often help memoir writers deepen certain aspects of their stories that they may have overlooked or not considered important. Writers—especially first time writers—are frequently too close to their experience to fully realize the true power in certain events. As a developmental editor, I help authors find the “diamond in the rough” of their experience.

 

Nancy: Who is your typical client? Why do they hire you? For instance, where are they in their process of writing?

 

Al: A typical client is a first-time author who has written a book, but who is uncertain about the quality of the work and seeks me out for objective and constructive feedback. They know they have the germ of a good idea, or even a pretty well-developed book, but they want someone who can offer a professional opinion on the state of the manuscript and ways to improve it.

developmental editor

Stuck on writing your memoir? Hire a developmental editor to evaluate it and help you write it! Developmental editor Al Desetta explains.

 

Nancy: You ghostwrite and you do developmental editing. How do you help a client decide which service is the right one for that particular project?

 

Al: Usually clients are pretty clear about which service they want. Ghostwriting is for people who don’t have the time or skills to write their own books. Developmental editing is for authors who have written their own books, but who are stuck in some way. Sometimes developmental editing also includes some ghostwriting. I’m helping an author right now who has partially completed a memoir. Some of what I do with her is developmental editing—I ask her questions and point out areas where she can improve and develop the manuscript. But I also do a little ghostwriting to help in the process—I interview her about aspects of her life, write chapters based on the interviews, and she then revises these chapters and adds more information.

 

Nancy: When you get full or partial manuscripts from a new client working on a nonfiction book, what are the most common problems you see?

 

Al: Two common problems are overwriting and lack of a workable structure. These problems often surface in memoirs, but are also true of most nonfiction books.

 

Memoir writers often tend to overwrite—they are so close to their experience that they don’t know how to manage or shape it. They think they can write their way out of this problem, but that only compounds the problem. A memoir can’t be about an entire person’s life—it has to focus on an aspect of a person’s experience. What you leave out is as important as what you decide to include.

Related to this is the importance of structure. When an author doesn’t have a workable structure or organization, it’s like driving without a map. Or, to use an analogy that a writing teacher once told me, you set out rowing on the ocean and you lose sight of land. And you keep rowing, hoping to sight land on the other side. But pretty soon you realize you’re lost on the ocean and more rowing (or more writing) won’t get you back to land. Having an organization or structure at the start helps a writer from getting lost, especially in memoir writing, where the author has access to great amounts of information about her life, but often isn’t sure what to include or how to organize it.

 

Nancy: Are there any recent developmental editing projects that stand out for you that self-help mind/body/spirit or inspirational memoir writers could learn from? Any lessons you drew from these recent projects, or were reminded of?

 

Al: One lesson that always stands out is how gratifying the process can be, for both writer and editor. People have life experiences or ideas that they’ve always wanted to write about, but all authors encounter obstacles as they try to write about them. Right now I’m ghostwriting a memoir for a mother and son who were held captive for months by Islamic terrorists in the Philippines. It’s been a wonderful experience to help them create the book they’ve always wanted to write, a process that has also helped them to heal.

 

As a developmental editor and ghostwriter myself, I understand Al’s enthusiasm for helping people to tell stories that lead to healing for themselves and others. If you are eager to get unstuck in writing your memoir, consider contacting a professional, experienced developmental editor to get you back on track.

 

Al Desetta’s website, where you can learn more about his services and the kinds of books he has worked on, is www.AlDesetta.Com

 

 

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