Welcome to The Persnickety Proofreader site!

February 20, 2009

Thanks for stopping by. Here you’ll find useful information to help your writing come alive, make your words leap off the page and dance around with glee. There’s plenty to see and do, so feel free to poke about. The blog is updated regularly – at least weekly – so check back often. Or you can follow us, to be automatically notified of new postings.

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Who Invented Santa Claus?

December 4, 2022

This week’s post comes courtesy of guest blogger Linda Berry.

“Some of us still believe there is a Santa Claus… somewhere.”
– Will Leamon

I started my research into Santa Claus when I was 10 years old, after Saint Nick delivered his gifts, ate his cookies with milk, and gave me a hug before departing through the front door. We didn’t have a fireplace.

I told my mom afterward, “Santa looks, smells and feels just like daddy.”

She answered with the first thing that came to her mind: “Santa looks like everyone’s dad.”

Being the inquisitive child I was, I took to library books and found the legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a Turkish monk named Saint Nicholas. He gave away his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor. He is known as the patron saint of children.

Saint Nick entered American culture in 18th century New York, when Dutch families honored “Sinter Klaas.” Over the years, his moniker evolved into “Santa Claus.”

In 1881, the jolly man in red and white with a sack of toys was immortalized by a cartoonist for the poem, “A Visit From Saint Nicholas,” creating the image we know today.

Wanting to continue my belief in this saintly man, I found there really was a Santa Claus, but he was not the man who came through my door that long-ago Christmas Eve!

About the Author:
Linda Berry is the owner, consultant, coach, trainer and reader for the Spiritual Discovery Center in Southern California. She’s a spiritual and inspirational bestselling book author, summit and podcast host and international astrologer. Linda is also the owner of Book Authors Support Services (BASS), where she guides authors in writing, publishing and marketing their books by developing an author ”plan of action” that includes manuscript development and writing, the publishing path and the execution of the release launch, advertising, public relations and promotion of the book. Contact Linda at 951-665-7600 or lindaberry_@hotmail.com.


In Memory of a Life Well Lived

November 25, 2022

In last week’s post, I mentioned my next bit of writing would be an obituary for my dad. Here it is:

Anthony Vincent Lazzaro, 94, died Saturday, November 19, at Middlesex Hospital in Middletown. Born in New Britain on January 25, 1928, Tony was the elder son and second of six children born to the late Joseph and Maria (Arena) Lazzaro. He lived in New Britain all his life.

Tony attended local schools, including New Britain High School – where he sat second chair in the clarinet section. He long credited his band director, Frederick “Doc” Mirliani, for instilling in him a profound sense of drive and commitment. “Doc” demanded excellence of his band members and Tony – a bit of a rebel in his younger days – found in his band director someone to respect and look up to.

After high school, Tony served in the Connecticut National Guard, where he played in the band, until poor eyesight necessitated his discharge from service.

Tony met Mary Angelo at their tenth high-school reunion in 1956. After a four-week courtship, they announced their engagement. Tony and Mary were married April 27, 1957. Their close friends, Joe and Mary Rogan, refused to attend their wedding, using the weak excuse they were getting married an hour later. However, the two couples always celebrated their anniversaries together.

Tony had worked nearly 34 years for the Department of Motor Vehicles in a range of increasingly responsible capacities. Starting as a keypunch operator, he worked his way up to Director of Data Processing and then to Assistant Director of Registry and Title. He retired in August 1989. Mary always contended retirement was “half the money and twice the husband.”

During retirement, Tony remained committed to volunteerism, serving on the school boards at St. Ann Middle School and Mary Immaculate Academy; he maintained membership lists for several local religious and charitable organizations and would – often on short notice – print up dozens of sheets of address labels to facilitate the various organizations’ mailings. Investing hundreds of dollars on label stock, dedicated label printers, and ink, Tony never accepted payment for any of this work, insisting he just loved to be helpful.

A man of deep commitment to his faith, family and community, Tony served St. Ann Parish in New Britain as a commentator at Mass in the 1970s; he was active on the finance committee and parish council. An avid (if not especially good) golfer, he nevertheless sank two holes-in-one in his golfing days. Tony also chaired or co-chaired the annual Father Malley Golf Tournament for many years. He was a past member of the Stanley Municipal Golf Club and had served in several roles, including as its president.

Tony was also involved in many religious and civic organizations. A lifelong communicant of St. Ann Parish, he was a longtime member of Knights of Columbus Daly Council 12 and twice served as Faithful Navigator of Bishop Tierney Assembly 103. He belonged to the New Britain Chapter UNICO National, for which he served multiple terms as president, chaired several committees and was honored as its Man of the Year in 2003. Tony was president of the New Britain Chapter of Civitan, belonged to the Order Sons of Italy in America, the Italian Fraternal Society, the Generale Ameglio Society, and Toastmasters. He also chaired or co-chaired his high-school reunion committee for many years.

Family and friends will remember him as a deeply generous man, an avid golfer, enthusiastic John Wayne fan, despiser of dandelions, and strawberry ice-cream aficionado par excellence.

Tony loved music almost as much as ice cream. He especially loved marches and would often vocalize, “bompe, bompe, bompe,” along with the tubas, while tapping his fingers on any convenient surface.

Embodied with a quirky sense of humor, Tony enjoyed celebrating the little things. Anytime his car odometer showed a palindrome was great cause for a mini celebration. He likewise delighted in swapping out the words to Christmas carols… preferring to sing – in his booming baritone – “Leon, Leon, Leon, Leon,” instead of “Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel” or “Ray Joyce! Ray Joyce!” (invoking the name of his longtime friend and insurance man) instead of “Rejoice! Rejoice!”

Generous to a fault, Tony would treat the students in his daughter Mary’s elementary-school classroom to annual end-of-year pizza and ice-cream parties. He established and funded a scholarship in his father-in-law’s name to be administered through the New Britain Chapter UNICO National. And he gave countless donations to charities ranging from the Piarist School in rural Kentucky to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Besides his beloved wife – who died a day before their 58th wedding anniversary in 2015 – Tony was predeceased by his parents; all his siblings and their spouses: Elizabeth and Joe Garieri, Mary and Tom Burke, Joe and Gloria Lazzaro, Catherine and Howard Robertson, and Evelina and Larry Betterini. He was also predeceased by his in-laws, Joseph and Josephine (Drago) Angelo; his brother-in-law, Steven Gleba; a nephew, James Gleba; his lifelong best friend, Harry Badrigian; and an unborn granddaughter.

He is survived by his son, Joseph Lazzaro of Crossville, Tennessee; two daughters and sons-in-law: Mary Lazzaro Bach and Paul Bach of Rocky Hill; and Rita and Frank Reali of Crossville, Tennessee; two adoring grandchildren, Sonia Riccio of Boston, and Josef Riccio of Rocky Hill; his sister-in-law, Josephine Gleba, of Clinton; numerous nieces, nephews, great-nieces and -nephews, cousins, godchildren and friends.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated Saturday, December 3, at 10 a.m. at St. Ann Church, North Street in New Britain, with interment to follow in St. Mary Cemetery. Calling hours are Friday, December 2, from 4 to 7 p.m., at Paul A. Shaker Funeral Home, 764 Farmington Avenue.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Piarist School, P.O Box 369, Hagerhill, KY 41222, or the New Britain High School Music Department, 110 Mill Street, New Britain, CT 06051.

The family wishes to thank the staff of Water’s Edge Center for Health and Rehabilitation (especially the fourth-floor personnel) for befriending and caring for Tony in his final months.

In closing, we’ll share a quote from one of Tony’s favorite songs, one that fits him well: “I’ve lived a life that’s full. I traveled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way.”

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is a two-time international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published five novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero, Second Chances and Tender Mercies – the first five in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. The sixth novel in the series, Brothers by Betrayal, is scheduled for an early 2024 release. Her first children’s book, The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home, is due out sometime in 2023. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


The Best-Laid Plans…

November 20, 2022

I was so proud of myself. I was away for the weekend for Santa’s Workshop (a monstrous regional vendor show at which I’ve been selling my books). I was staying in Cookeville Friday night and had a topic picked out for this weekend’s post – and had even begun writing it that evening.

But instead of my intended topic (I’ll get to it another time), the next writing I’ll undertake is an obituary. Just a few months shy of his 95th birthday, my dad, Anthony Vincent Lazzaro, passed away this morning.

The last remaining member of his generation of the Lazzaro family (having outlived all five of his siblings and their spouses), Dad had been just plain sad since Mom died in 2015, and in increasingly failing health for a few years. He declined rapidly this past summer and had been in a long-term care facility since August, after he fell and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia and Covid. Dementia had really taken hold over the last couple of months, although he seemed mostly lucid when my brother, sister and I visited him in October.

Early Saturday morning he went into cardiac arrest and was rushed to the hospital, about a mile away from the care facility. They worked to revive him, but sometimes the best efforts of medical staff fall short.

While his death wasn’t unexpected (given his recent rapidly declining health), we still had no real reason to expect it was imminent. So while it was sudden, it wasn’t necessarily a shock. Still, it’s kind of numbing to hear the news that someone who’s always been part of your life is no longer around.

Today, November 19, would have been my grandfather’s 125th birthday. I think Dad just wanted to go Home for his dad’s birthday. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is a two-time international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published five novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero, Second Chances and Tender Mercies – the first five in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. The sixth novel in the series, Brothers by Betrayal, is scheduled for an early 2024 release. Her first children’s book, The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home, is due out sometime in 2023. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.

Today, November 19, would have been my grandfather’s 125th birthday. I think Dad just wanted to go Home for his dad’s birthday. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is a two-time international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published five novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero, Second Chances and Tender Mercies – the first five in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. The sixth novel in the series, Brothers by Betrayal, is scheduled for an early 2024 release. Her first children’s book, The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home, is due out sometime in 2023. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


Dreaming Big… For Now

November 13, 2022

For the past few weeks, much of the United States found itself in the grip of Powerball fever. And with a jackpot that reached north of two billion (yes, that’s billion with a “B”) dollars last week, who wouldn’t be?

It’s great to have big dreams about what you’d do with all that money. My husband and I seldom buy lottery tickets, but when the jackpot creeps up into record territory, I’ll plunk down a ten or a twenty and take a shot at it. Needless to say, we didn’t strike it rich. Then again, if we did, you’d probably never read about it here. We did, however, win twelve dollars by matching three of the red Power Balls over the course of two drawings. Woo hoo! We’d better not spend it all in one place.

Dreaming aside, we’ve taken a practical approach to a potential Powerball windfall. If we won a sizeable jackpot, the first thing we’d do is sign that ticket and stash it in a safe place ’til we lined up a good tax accountant and a tax attorney. Next, we’d powwow with said tax professionals and determine how best to guard those funds (lump-sum payout, please) against greedy government overreach and temptations toward any possible foolish spending on our part.

That said, the first thing we’d probably spend money on is paying off our mortgage (and those of our immediate family members). Next, we would ensure construction of our new church building got completed without debt to the diocese – or anyone else, for that matter (and, in the process, be outfitted with the pews our pastor has had his eye on).

I’ve got a few favorite nonprofits I’d like to fund, and my hubby would most likely resign from his job to focus on some personal endeavors.

Beyond that, I guess I’d take on fewer editing projects and spend more time working on my own writing projects. After all, those last two novels in the Sheldon Family Saga aren’t going to write themselves.

Raised-bed garden beds (and a greenhouse) would be among my next projects… except, we’d hire someone to build the garden beds, so we wouldn’t have to fuss with lugging all those cinderblocks, making sure the whole thing’s level, and erecting fencing to deter the ambulatory venison— er, I mean the deer.

If I won the lottery, I’d certainly go out and splurge on a new Bluetooth mouse. The scroll wheel on my current mouse stopped working three years ago. Yes, I know, I can get a new one for under $20, but I’ve always been resistant to change. Heck, I got a new laptop in 2018 but I’m still using the one I got for Christmas in 2012 (which I never used until late 2014). Why would I change? That one still works great… except for the broken fan.

To my credit, I’ve already moved most of my files over to the new machine, but I still receive my email (and write these posts) on my old busted-fan 2012 Dell. I know, I’m taking chances, but it’s familiar and I like it. Besides, the inside has my favorite stickers: the goat a friend sent me years ago, plus a little green-and-white striped Easter egg, an oval “I Voted” sticker from 2016, another Tennessee-shaped one from 2018 and a sparkly little Christmas tree. Plus there’s a holographic Mets Baseball logo on the lid. What more could I need? Okay, maybe a functional fan. But have I mentioned I’m resistant to change?

All things considered, I’ve got it pretty good. Maybe it’s a good thing I haven’t won the lottery.

What would you do if you won a major jackpot? Tell me about it in the comments.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is a two-time international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published five novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero, Second Chances and Tender Mercies – the first five in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. The sixth novel in the series, Brothers by Betrayal, is scheduled for an early 2024 release. Her first children’s book, The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home, is due out sometime in 2023. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


Fellow Writers, Beware LinkedIn Scammer Rosaleen Kavanagh

November 6, 2022

Fellow writers, beware.

If something doesn’t feel right, trust your instincts. I nearly fell victim this past week to a scam artist. Fortunately, something about the sentence structure in her initial message (and subsequent emails) didn’t ring true to me.

Someone calling herself Rosaleen Kavanagh – presenting herself as a consultant for the Irish child-welfare organization TUSLA – messaged me via LinkedIn. She reached out ostensibly to ask me to ghostwrite an article about domestic violence and child abuse for a supposed upcoming conference in Chicago.

Why an Irish child-welfare organization would be hosting a conference in Chicago was the first alarm bell that sounded for me. She seemed apologetic when indicating they’d only be able to pay a dollar a word (!) for a 3,125-word article, because their budget was $3,125 (that was the second).

In my response, I asked several questions about the proposed article – how it would be used, whether it would be distributed to participants or read aloud as part of a speaker’s presentation; what audience level I should write for; and when she expected my first draft – none of which she actually addressed.

In her initial inquiry, she told me the audience would average 16 to 45 years, but in her followup email she indicated the audience would be employees, healthcare workers and physicians, and the article should be written according to MLA style, geared toward medical personnel.

She said she understood they’d have to send me half the amount in advance (I never request 50 percent payment up front!), and asked whether I preferred payment by certified bank check, certified bank draft or a cashier’s check (which she claimed she’d send upon receipt of my “agreement” to take on the project).

That set off more alarm bells. In my reply email, I said I preferred a check from the TUSLA office or a certified bank check. I also requested clarification about the intended audience and reiterated my previously unanswered questions.

Prior responses to messages and emails had come within half an hour, so when 40 minutes passed without a response, I grew even more suspicious. I revisited the original notification from LinkedIn and clicked on “View Rosaleen’s LinkedIn Profile.” I got a 404 error. Then, when I attempted to access the original message, it was mysteriously gone.

I posted a message similar to this on LinkedIn; so far two other women have replied, thanking me for alerting them to the scam and saying they had been similarly approached by Rosaleen Kavanagh.

Looks like I dodged a bullet. And I’m only out the $35.12 it cost me to order the MLA stylebook (which may actually come in handy someday). If something seems off – wonky sentence structure, vague deadlines, apologies for “only” being able to pay a ridiculous sum for a single article, offers to pay huge deposits via most likely bogus financial vehicles, or logistical red flags – don’t be afraid to push back and seek clarification. And if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is a two-time international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published five novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero, Second Chances and Tender Mercies – the first five in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. The sixth novel in the series, Brothers by Betrayal, is scheduled for an early 2024 release. Her first children’s book, The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home, is due out sometime in 2023. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


Oops… Wrong Word!

October 30, 2022

In speech, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with the right word to use – especially when you’re speaking publicly. I’ve done a fair bit of public speaking and radio interviews over the past half dozen years. Words have escaped me frequently and I’ve often needed to rely on a less well-suited word than the one hovering just beyond the reach of my grey matter when I need it. When it happens, my brain flails helplessly – like a fish flopping about on the deck of a boat – as my mouth grapples for an elusive word… and I dread sounding like a dolt when I should be coming across as polished or authoritative. Maybe that’s why I can empathize when I hear folks use the wrong words in public settings.

This past week, I can cite three instances of folks using wrong words (or nonexistent words). In one case, it was a high-school radio news intern – and I felt myself cringe on his behalf.

Friday morning, a newscaster reported someone had been assaulted by a local college football player after he “mistakingly entered the wrong apartment.” Here, the word “mistakenly” would have been the proper adverb to use.

Later that afternoon, I was in an online meeting when someone asked the presenter a question he was unable to answer (he pointed out he wasn’t qualified to respond); he suggested the woman “defer the question to her doctor.” He may have intended to say she should “defer to her doctor” for the proper response. He also would have been correct to advise she “refer the question to her doctor.”

In the third instance, Saturday morning the hapless teen intern reported the results of a high-school football game the night before by saying the local team won “on a two-point conversation.” The earnest young man clearly meant well, but given the importance placed on sports in this town (when they give blood here, it flows blue and white; everywhere else in the state, it’s orange), he’ll probably end up getting laughed out of school on Monday for not correctly saying they’d won “on a two-point conversion.”

Occasionally you get lucky and if you’re not doing a live presentation, editing is possible. Some weeks back, I was recording an interview with the afternoon announcer at the station where I used to be news director. Dave and I have become good friends over the years and it’s always an easy conversation with him.

That particular day, something I was trying to say came out way wrong and we both started giggling. I attempted three or four more takes; each one grew increasingly funnier and we finally had to start the interview all over again. Fortunately, he’d kept recording and saved the unedited version for me. I never did get to hear the final interview that aired, but I’m confident he cleaned it up so I didn’t sound like an utter dolt.

If you use the wrong word, it’s not the end of the world. As I’ve just illustrated, it happens to all of us… often at the most frustrating or inopportune times (sometimes to great hilarity). In those cases, I suggest you simply gather your poise, pick up and move on.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is a two-time international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published five novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero, Second Chances and Tender Mercies – the first five in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. The sixth novel in the series, Brothers by Betrayal, is scheduled for an early 2024 release. Her first children’s book, The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home, is due out sometime in 2023. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


Embracing Flexibility When Plans Go Awry

October 17, 2022

In the past week, in both personal and professional settings, I’ve run up against monkey wrenches tossed into set plans. In two instances, said wrenches’ introduction resulted in the delay of a book release. And the third is the delay of this blog post.

First, a client – who had planned to have his book-launch party on the same day his novel was released – had to postpone the party because we needed to make revisions to the files we’d uploaded to the printer and we weren’t certain copies of the book would be able to reach him on time. Neither of us was particularly happy about that, but sometimes delays become unavoidable.

In the second instance, I’d hoped to have my first children’s book off to the printer yesterday and have a hundred or so copies magically appear at my front doorstep in ample time for a November 5 Author Day event at my local library. Unfortunately, in reviewing my initial attempt at children’s book layout, my illustrator was evidently far too polite to say how aghast she must have been. My font, while appropriate and readable, was way too large; the emailed photos of the drawings she’d done (which I thought were fabulous!) contained shadows from apparently awful lighting (see? This is why I’m not a visual artist). So she has kindly removed it from my control and, once she returns from a well-deserved and much-needed vacation with her hubby, will work her particular brand of magic.

The third instance involves the overdue uploading of this blog post. Technology and I have never really been all that close. Okay, so that’s an understatement. I’m afraid of it – and it knows this (giving it the clear upper hand in all but a few cases). My brother and I are traveling this week, back to New England, to take care of some family business. We’ve stopped for the night at the Village Inn in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It’s a quaint little inn – clean and well appointed… it even has WiFi. But that’s the problem. I’ve been able to access the network, but any time I try to go online, a helpful little alert message pops up and informs me, “You must log in to this network before you can access the internet.” And it provides a little button that reads, “Open network login page” – which you’d think would be pretty simple, right?

Guess again. I press the button and it opens a new tab. This tab tells me – in a font roughly the size of what I’d planned to use for my book – “Secure Connection Failed” and goes on to say, “An error occurred during a connection to detectportal.firefox.com. PR_END_OF_FILE_ERROR.” It further helpfully advises me the page I’m trying to view “cannot be shown because the authenticity of the received data could not be verified.” Then it goes on to recommend I contact the website owners to inform them of this problem. That’s just splendid. Now, if someone could tell me what all that gibberish means, I’d be able to upload this blog post.

Fast forward 26 hours.

After several false starts and a half-hour call back home to my longsuffering techie husband (who walked us through what we needed to do), I’ve got internet access. Now to post this thing and get some shuteye!

Oh, and just a heads up: This coming weekend’s post may be delayed, too, as I’ll still be dealing with family business.

In the meantime, how do you handle unexpected disruptions to your plans? Feel free to post about it in the comments.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is a two-time international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published five novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero, Second Chances and Tender Mercies – the first five in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. The sixth novel in the series, Brothers by Betrayal, is scheduled for an early 2024 release. Her first children’s book, The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home, is due out sometime in 2023. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


An Invitation to Speak

October 9, 2022

Several folks have asked how it went this past Thursday, when I addressed a colleague’s college class. It was a Managerial Communications class and I’d been asked to speak on editing and proofreading in the context of business writing.

I’m delighted to say it went really well. The students were engaged and asked some really good questions. And Brian (the instructor) was appreciative of my time and the information I presented. Those two facets made it a fulfilling endeavor.

To start, I discussed a bit of the writing and revising process – including two options for getting a first draft down on paper: the brain dump and the working-in-stages strategy. For the brain dump, I advised putting the main ideas down on paper and worrying about organizing them during the revision phase. While the working-in-stages plan takes a little longer, it generally comes together more smoothly. In this approach, you start with a basic skeleton (outline), build muscle (details) onto the bones in a second pass and then wrap it up by pulling the skin over it (transitions, etc.) in the final version.

I likened revision to gardening – in a weeding, pruning and lopping kind of way. I urged the students to be brutal in their revising, saying, “If something doesn’t work, revise it so it does or yank it out.”

Among the revisions I mentioned were extraneous use of “that” and “There are… that” sentence structure. The example I used for the latter was this: “There was a big dog next door that terrorized my poodle” may be reworded as “A big dog next door terrorized my poodle.”

We went over “Killing your little darlings” – omitting the cutesy words and phrases the author dearly loves but which have no place in a particular piece of writing.

My next advice was to ensure every word – and every sentence – provides definite impact. If words aren’t meaningful, they’re taking up valuable real estate and they don’t belong there. Get rid of ’em.

Consider tone. The tone of your writing is as important as what you’re writing. Assess how the reader is likely to perceive your message. Be aware of your intent – and determine whether your words mirror that intent.

From there, we transitioned to tips for improving their writing.

  • Eliminate clichés.
  • Avoid repetition in a small parcel of written real estate.
  • Ensure your words fit the tone and feel of your document.
  • Write how you speak (a solid bit of advice from two dozen years ago by my favorite editor)
  • Don’t fret if you can’t think of the word you want right away – it’s okay to substitute a little line of Xes (and perhaps a close approximation of the word you’re looking for) ’til you get to the revision phase.
  • Engage the reader! Harness the power of your words to achieve your desired effect.
  • Precision is critical – choose strong adjectives.
  • Use adverbs sparingly, if at all (and avoid “very”).
  • Use subjective and objective pronouns correctly.
  • Avoid passive voice.
  • Select powerful verbs.
  • Mind your tenses – pick a tense and stick with it; don’t flip-flop back and forth from past to present.

Oddly, I forgot to mention my chief bugaboo: Never use an apostrophe to make a word plural. I can’t state this strongly enough. It might help if I point out the harsh truth that multiple puppies will die horribly if you use apostrophes to pluralize a word. I’ll elaborate on this in an upcoming post.

In wrapping up, we touched on the importance of proofreading – and how foolhardy it can be to rely solely on spellcheck instead of another set of eyes. I gave several examples of errors:

  • Using “in lieu of” rather than “in light of” (e.g., “in lieu of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, several businesses were shut down.”)
  • A newspaper ad for a weight-loss hypnosis seminar that promised participants would “lose those unwanted carvings! (instead of cravings)”
  • A local radio news item cited a “unanimous five-to-one decision” at a city council meeting.
  • A listing in my local newspaper for a vendor at a street festival read, “Selling woodworking items and sharing sweets and teats with the public. (instead of treats)”
  • A political mailer sent to more than ten thousand homes in Baltimore bearing a political candidate’s phone number that, instead of having Maryland’s 410 area code, went out with Rhode Island’s 401 area code.

What’s the best advice you ever got about writing? Share it in the comments.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is a two-time international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published five novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero, Second Chances and Tender Mercies – the first five in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. The sixth novel in the series, Brothers by Betrayal, is scheduled for an early 2024 release. Her first children’s book, The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home, is due out before Christmas. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


Often, Little Things Add Up When You’re Not Looking

October 2, 2022

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like I’m just running and running and getting a whole lot of nothing accomplished. At those times, I feel like a hamster on a wheel or a dog chasing its tail. And when I fall into bed at the end of the day, it doesn’t seem like I’ve done much. But when I take stock of what I’ve actually been up to, it really does add up to quite a bit.

This past week, I not only completed a book-layout project for a client, but I formatted the ebook and uploaded both the print and ebook files to IngramSpark (in anticipation of his October 18 book launch).

But wait… there’s more! I picked up five thousand Crossville Oktoberfest flyers from my printer, ran errands to drop off paperwork, pick up sponsor checks and door prizes for Oktoberfest; I wrote an article and two sidebars and just a few minutes ago finished distributing them to twenty area newspapers.

On Friday, I spent the day on the road, delivering 25 sets of ticket-giveaway prize envelopes to each of seven area radio stations (and yes, assembling those packets with four tickets and a flyer was also my responsibility). I taped a news interview for one station and recorded eight commercials (two 60-second ads, four 30-second ads and two 15-second ads) to run on eight different stations.

In between, I fit in time to bake cookies for our new pastor for his birthday on Thursday; attended daily Mass three times this week; went to breakfast with a friend one day; got in three days of pool workouts, plus an hour of Zumba another day; had lunch with one friend on Tuesday and another on Friday. On Saturday morning, I got my cat blessed, in advance of the feast day of Saint Francis (which is October 4).

And after singing in the choir at Mass this morning, I helped my husband sell Oktoberfest tickets. In the afternoon, I attended a celebration of life for a former colleague – the meteorologist at the radio station where I used to be news director. He was only 63 and his passing has left a giant hole in the community. While there, I reconnected with several former colleagues, which was nice. Oh, and in between all this other stuff, I’m beginning to work on the layout for my first children’s book.

Page one of The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home. Illustration by Dee Lynk.

In retrospect, it was a full week and yeah, it really was a productive week. Now I’m going to drag my weary self off to bed. After water aerobics class tomorrow, I’ll start work on a presentation for a college managerial communication class taught by my marketing guru, Brian Jud, of Book Marketing Works. This week, they’re discussing editing and proofreading business documents, and he invited me to address his students. How cool is that?!

When it seems like you’re overwhelmed, and feeling like you’re getting nothing accomplished, take a step back and look at what you’ve really managed to get done. You might end up surprising yourself.

What have you been up to this past week? Let me know in the comments below.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is a two-time international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published five novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero, Second Chances and Tender Mercies – the first five in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. The sixth novel in the series, Brothers by Betrayal, is scheduled for an early 2024 release. Her first children’s book, The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home, is due out before Christmas. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.


In Sales and Marketing, Promotion is Everything

September 25, 2022

It’s not enough simply to have an outstanding product. No matter what it is you’re selling, if nobody knows about it, you might as well stuff it into a shoebox under your bed. If you want to sell – and this goes for practically anything – you’ve got to promote yourself and your work.

I spent this weekend at the Homesteads Apple Festival in Crossville, Tennessee. My adopted sister always has a booth there to sell her pepper jellies and amazing honey (which she swipes from the hardworking bees in her 130 hives in and around Cumberland County – and which won Best in Show at this year’s Cumberland County Fair). Monica’s kind enough to let me set up a table with my books at the shows she works. But during the Apple Festival, my novels take a back seat to tickets for the upcoming 31st annual Crossville Oktoberfest.

The local Knights of Columbus councils put on this annual event, billed as the premier German-American festival in the Upper Cumberland region. My husband and I are heavily involved with Crossville Oktoberfest – among other things, he does all the computer-related stuff, including setting up and programming the video displays throughout the venue for Oktoberfest, maintaining the event website and sending out tickets for all the online orders we receive. I handle publicity and advertising, which includes writing newspaper articles and press releases, preparing the display for sponsors, writing content describing the various adult-beverage offerings, media buying (radio and print), recording all the radio ads, conducting interviews and preparing content for the flyers.

Ordinarily, the flyers are available for distribution by July or August; due to circumstances beyond our control, they’ve been delayed. So, at the Apple Festival, I had to rely largely on my powers of persuasion and ability to talk up the event… aided by a few visuals to draw people in.

Of all the things I’ve learned about promotion over the years, perhaps chief among them is to know your product and be able to present it appropriately. Developing a knowledgeable pitch for your product (whether it’s a book, a service you provide, or an event you want people to attend) is vital to making the sale. If you can’t effectively show off your product, how will people know they need it? Be prepared to grab people with your opening line, then reel them in with enticing details. You can’t just wave your book in front of people’s faces and say, “Buy my book.” Believe it or not, I’ve seen authors do this, and then wonder why folks don’t buy their books. You’ve got to fill a need, make folks connect emotionally with your protagonist, or deeply relate to some aspect of your book. Just because you’ve written a book is no reason for anyone to buy it. You’ve got to connect with your target audience and persuade them reading your book will benefit them in some way.

Another important factor is to present visuals. People want to see what they’re spending money on. Let folks see and handle what you’re selling; you can’t expect them to rely on what you’re telling them – even if it sounds amazing. Saturday morning, my printing guy delivered a large yard sign promoting ticket sales, along with several enlarged versions of the flyer on heavy stock, and 25 flyers run off on his color printer. We posted the yard sign in front of my section of the booth, and I taped the enlarged flyers at eye level on the poles of my canopy. Having that signage really boosted sales. Prior to his arrival, I’d sold about four tickets. Over the festival’s two-day run, I sold 64 tickets, and intrigued dozens more people, many of whom accessed information via the QR code on the signage or took the flyers I had available.

Offer an incentive. Often a bargain – even a small percentage off the regular price – is enough to entice folks to buy. As a member of the Knights of Columbus, my husband takes part in all their fundraising and many of their community-outreach efforts. As an incentive to get people to buy tickets, we offer to subsidize the cost. Crossville Oktoberfest admission is $8 at the gate; advance tickets are $6. But we sell them for $5 apiece. My ticket-sales efforts this weekend will personally cost us money, but we feel it’s worth it. We strongly believe in the good works the Knights undertake, and we’re fortunate enough to be in a position to do this.

Don’t hesitate to toot your own horn by mentioning something folks will find praiseworthy. At Crossville Oktoberfest, kids 12 and under, designated drivers, active-duty military personnel and veterans (with proper ID) get in free.

Upon hearing we admit veterans free, several folks suddenly thought of friends or loved ones who are veterans who might like to attend with them. At least a dozen of my ticket buyers’ spouses are veterans. So those 64 ticket sales will yield far more attendees – upwards of 80, taking into account veteran spouses and kids 12 and under. And the entire goal is to get folks in the gate.

What’s more, in at least one instance, someone who was on the fence about buying tickets (because he didn’t know if they’d be in town that weekend) was so delighted to learn veterans get in free, it tipped the scales in our favor. He gladly handed over his $10 and said if he and his wife later found they couldn’t go, he’d give the tickets to a friend or neighbor who could.

So, to recap: Know your product and your target market. Present visuals to help prospective buyers decide to buy your product. Offer an incentive to cut down on hemming and hawing and spur sales. And don’t be afraid to promote yourself – after all, if you don’t promote yourself and your product, who will?

What are some of your best tips for promoting yourself and your work? Drop me a line in the comments.

About the Author:
Rita M. Reali is a two-time international award-winning author and longtime editor who most enjoys editing memoir, general fiction and romance, along with inspirational writing. She’s self-published five novels: Glimpse of Emerald, Diagnosis: Love, The Unintended Hero, Second Chances and Tender Mercies – the first five in the seven-volume Sheldon Family Saga. The sixth novel in the series, Brothers by Betrayal, is scheduled for an early 2024 release. Her first children’s book, The Purringest Kitty Finds His Home, is due out before Christmas. As a former disc jockey in her native Connecticut, Rita used to spend her days “talking to people who weren’t there” – a skill which transferred perfectly to her being an author. Now she talks to characters who aren’t there on “a little chunk of heaven in rural Tennessee.” Contact Rita.