Thursday, 31 July 2014

How to Improve Your Writing with Macros—Tips for Beginners

by Carla Douglas
@CarlaJDouglas
Paring down your prose is immensely satisfying—it makes images and turns of phrase come alive, and it helps clarify your meaning, too.

Finding ways to trim what you’ve written is drudgery, but macros can help you by automating part of this process. In her post a couple of weeks ago, Corina mentioned three macros that are especially helpful to writers: NeedlessWords, TellingWords, and -ly Words.

Get a snapshot of your writing habits

These macros locate and highlight potential offenders—words that clutter your writing and cloud your meaning. They’re easy to use and can be adapted and tweaked to suit your task. I love them because they provide a rudimentary data visualization of your personal writing ticks: they show (don’t tell!) you exactly where your bad habits reside.

Give them a try—if you need  help adding a macro to Word, you’ll find it here. To run a macro in Word, you’ll find instructions here. If you have 20 minutes to spare, this free 20-minute macro course will have you up and running with macros in no time.

What to do with highlighted text

So, you’ve run the macro and all the possible culprits are magically revealed on the screen before you. What’s next?

The macros have done their part—now you have to apply your own sweat. You need to look at the highlighted words and assess them, one by one. Here’s a preview of what your decision-making process might look like for the three macros I’ve mentioned.

NeedlessWords

Needless words are the words you can eliminate without changing your meaning. Words like that, which, to, in order, really, very, barely—in short, many prepositions, adverbs and adjectives—that stand in the way of what you’re trying to say.


Which words are needless?

In this sample text, you can easily see which words could go and which need to stay. I need to keep begin but can do without then, almost, just and just. (Who knew that I just love the word just?) These words cause drag in the writing: they qualify, delay and postpone the point I’m trying to make.

The other highlighted words need to stay to make the sentences they’re in grammatical. The macro can’t identify what part of speech a word is acting as—that’s your job.

-ly Words

The -ly words can be a pox on your dialogue: “He said sadly,” “she replied enthusiastically,” “they chirped boisterously.” And when you’re trying to bang out a quick first draft, these adverbs appear fast and furious, both in your dialogue and in straight narrative. Here are two sample passages with some -ly words highlighted:


Adverbs are almost always optional, as are those in this short passage. They’re not strictly needed, but they might function in ways that aren’t obvious—by adding texture to the narrative voice, for example.

The -ly words in the sample below, however, should be zapped. Adding adverbs to dialogue tags almost always results in flat, inanimate speech.


TellingWords

Telling words are different than needless words and -ly words—they provide a broader diagnosis. A cluster of these words is a symptom that you might be doing a lot of telling, and eliminating them one by one won’t solve your problem. Here’s an example:


Telling words appear most often in narrative passages, in which writers are trying to fill in story gaps or provide background information. The telling words macro can act as a red flag: if you see too many telling words, ask yourself if the narrative has become boring or flat. And if it has? This could be a good place to switch to dialogue.

What stage of writing is best for using a macro?

Most writers actively suppress their inner editor during a draft, and plenty of writing advice also recommends writing a first draft quickly and paying little attention to details like word choice. Writing macros come in handy at the end of this stage, and point to areas that will need more attention.

You can also run a writing macro when you’ve completed two or three chapters, to point out some of your writing habits. And they’re also useful in later stages, if you’re trying to reduce your word count. In other words, run them any time you want an objective snapshot of your style and habits.

Finally, many of the words targeted by these macros are needed, but maybe they are not needed as often as you think! Rhythm, pacing, tone, voice—these aspects of your writing make it distinctive and interesting, and you don’t want to strip that away for the sake of efficiency. And whether a word should be excised also depends on your audience, subject, genre and purpose.

Macros won’t fix your writing. That’s up to you. What they will do is point out what you should be thinking about—they’ll help you switch off autopilot, and that’s an enormous first step.

Image by ProAdventure

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Thursday, 24 July 2014

4 Levels of Editing Explained: Which Service Does Your Book Need?

by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas @ckmacleodwriter

This post originally appeared on April 23, 2014 at The Book Designer.

In a previous post, we discussed how you can work with beta readers to enhance the self-editing process. Self-editing, or revision, as we call it, is the furthest you can take your manuscript on your own, with feedback from others, but without professional editing help. This is a great first step towards polishing your manuscript.


Let’s suppose that you’ve gotten feedback from your beta readers and made any necessary adjustments to your manuscript. What else can you do find out what your book needs?


Why, hire an editor, of course! (If you’re on the fence about hiring an editor, see this article on what editors know about readers).


In this post, we’ll talk about your first contact with an editor—and what happens to your manuscript when it lands in an editor’s inbox.

Finding an Editor


Your first step in connecting with an editor is to find the right editor for you and the book you’ve written. There is an editor for every book and author. To find the perfect fit, consult editors’ profiles at these professional editing organizations:


  • Editorial Freelancers Association
  • Editors’ Association of Canada
  • Institute for Professional Editors (Australia)
  • Society for Editors and Proofreaders


One of our clients told us that he combed through 60 profiles before he decided to hire us to work on his book. Do your homework. You can learn a lot about an editor’s expertise and manner by reading his or her profile. It’s reasonable to contact more than one editor before settling on the one who’s right for you. By reviewing editors’ online profiles, you should be able to narrow the field to two or three.

What do I send my editor?


After you’ve found an editor who you think will be a good fit for you, you’ll need to make initial contact. In order to assess your manuscript, your editor will most likely ask you to send a sample:

10-Page Sample


For a quick initial assessment, we ask for 10 pages from the “messy middle.” Why? Because most authors understand the importance of starting well, and as a result, the first chapter of a book often gets a great deal more attention from the author than a chapter in the middle.


If we can see the middle, where many authors’ writing energy tends to flag (and understandably so), we’ll get a better sense of how much time it will truly take to help you with your book. You’ll want to know an editor’s assessment of the messy middle because it can directly affect how much editing services will cost. It’ll also help an editor to make some DIY recommendations that can reduce editing costs later in the process.

Table of Contents


If you’re writing a nonfiction book, include a table of contents (TOC) with your 10-page sample. A TOC can help your editor to see how you’ve arranged the major topics in your book, and whether you might need help with the book’s structure.

What does a book need?


When your book sample lands in your editor’s inbox, he or she will assess the “level” of editing that’s needed. There are four levels of editing, and each level builds on the next. Every successful book manuscript will have resolved issues at each of these levels:

Big-Picture Edit

Also called developmental, structural or substantive editing, this kind of editing involves moving large chunks of text around and possibly cutting some sections as well. It addresses the structure of a book — how everything hangs together.

This happens more often than you’d think: An editor receives a large fiction manuscript for copyediting. During an initial scan of the text, she notices a few trouble spots — for example, the plot is lost in large sections of background information and the characters are difficult to distinguish from one another.The editor knows the novel would be better if she could address these issues, but how? At more than 350 pages, it’s a large apparatus.


Her solution? And this happens more often than you’d think, too: She prints out the difficult sections of the novel. Then she gets her scissors. Yes, scissors, and begins to cut and re-assemble those parts of the story, so that they fall together more naturally and present the story in the arrangement that serves both the story and the reader’s expectations. (Note that by now the editor has taken off her copyeditor’s hat—she’s not quite ready for it!)


Needless to say, big picture editing can be very expensive if you need to address a book’s structure after it has been completely written.The cheapest way to address big-picture items is to get help structuring your book before you write it.


If you like to structure your book before you write it, send your editor a detailed outline, or a detailed 10-page plot summary to see if he or she can spot any potential holes.


If you’ve written your book, but you’d like feedback on your structure, you can still send it to an editor. But keep in mind that your editor will need to read an entire book instead of a 10-page plot summary, and this extra time will be reflected in the cost.

Paragraph-Level Edit

Also called stylistic or line editing, this kind of editing involves recasting sentences for clarity and flow. It can also involve moving sentences around so that your meaning is clear. Stylistic editing always aims to preserve the author’s voice, first and foremost.


Suppose you’ve finished your manuscript, and everything is where it’s supposed to be for best effect. What features of your finished book could indicate that it still might need a stylistic edit? Here are a few examples:


  • All your sentences are about the same length
  • You use a lot of adjectives
  • The vocabulary isn’t suited to the intended audience
  • Your meaning is lost in too many big words or jargon
  • Transitions from one paragraph to the next are awkward


Effective writing has a rhythm and pulse, and with practice, good writers learn to develop an ear for these qualities. A stylistic editor can help you hone these skills.

Sentence-Level Edit

Also called copyediting, this kind of editing addresses grammar, usage and consistency issues. It is entirely understandable that an author can lose track of many small details over the course of writing a book. From how a character’s name is spelled to the colour of her eyes to her mother-in-law’s hometown to how that’s spelled, the possibilities for small errors are many.


What’s more, sometimes these errors are introduced by the author himself during the revision phase. I once asked an author I was working with how it could be that her main character was entering high school that September when she had just had her 11th birthday the previous June. The author replied, “Oh, yeah. Hm. It’s because I cut a section out and reordered some events during one of my revisions. This is my fourth revision. I’d better take care of that detail!”


So in addition to consistencies in spelling and punctuation (colour or color? skateboard or skate-board?), a copyeditor will find issues of continuity that don’t add up. Sort of like quality control. This grid lists the kinds of things that editors attend to in a copyedit (Have a look! It’s like peeking over a copyeditor’s shoulder!). You can use a grid like this one to help you determine which copyediting issues you can confidently address yourself, and which ones you’d prefer to hire an editor to fix.

Word-Level Edit

Also called proofreading, this kind of editing addresses typos, repeated words (the the), spelling, punctuation and formatting issues (how things look on a page) as they occur in your book’s final environment. So, if you’re publishing an ebook, your editor will look at your book on an e-reader, or in an e-reading app to see how it looks and operates. If your book will be printed, your editor will proofread a PDF. Proofreading is the last pair of eyes on your book before it goes live: it’s the last chance to catch an error before a reader finds it and gleefully points it out.

What kind of editing will I need?


Typically, a manuscript will travel more or less through all four levels of editing before it’s deemed polished and ready for the reader. But that doesn’t mean that you’ll need to hire an editor for each kind of editing.


What your book needs depends on your strengths as a writer.


If you’re brilliant at outlining a book in a clear and logical way, or if you’re a master at crafting the perfect plot or story arc, you won’t necessarily need a big-picture edit. But if you struggle with explaining yourself clearly, or crafting realistic dialogue, your editor might recommend a paragraph-level edit.


At the very least, every manuscript will benefit from a sentence-level edit, or a copyedit. If your editing budget is limited, you can be strategic about the services you select.

Regardless of what your manuscript needs, working with an editor can help you improve your writing — particularly if you approach the process with a willingness to learn about your writing quirks (we all have them). With a positive and open attitude, you’ll not only get a better book, you’ll save money on your next editing project with what you’ve learned from this one.



Image by Matt Hampel


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Friday, 18 July 2014

5 Things You Should Know about Working with Beta Readers

This post originally appeared on March 19, 2014 at The Book Designer.

by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas
@CKMacleodwriter @CarlaJDouglas
Image by aussiegall
If you’re a self-publishing author, you’ve likely either read or been told that you need to hire an editor. But a professional edit costs money, and while self-publishing gurus will recommend that it’s money well spent, not every author has the wherewithall for such an investment.


Strange words coming from two editors, right?


If a professional edit isn’t currently in your budget, what do you do? Answer: find a beta reader! While beta readers are not editors — they likely won’t have the training, years of study, practice, or the inclination to snuggle up with The Chicago Manual of Style, just for fun — we do think that they can be helpful additions to your publishing team.

Profile of a Beta Reader



The point of acquiring beta readers is to garner information that will help you write a better book. So ideally, at least one of your beta readers should be the kind of person who’d be most likely to buy your book. Why? Their response to your book will help you gauge which parts of the book will work for your audience, and which parts may not.


We also recommend that you find a beta reader who knows more about writing craft than you do. (As editors, you knew we’d say that, right?) Think about it. One of the best ways to get better at anything is to get feedback from someone who’s more skilled and knowledgeable than you are. And if you can find a beta reader who has read lots of books in your genre and has a clear understanding of how your genre works, you’ve struck gold.

Where to Find Beta Readers


One way to find beta readers is to work your social media platforms. If you’ve been spending time to develop a positive online presence and a reputation for being helpful, an unforced opportunity to ask for help may present itself.


If you’re still building your author platform, consider joining a site like Scribofile, where you can offer feedback on other people’s writing to amass “karma points,” which you can then spend on acquiring feedback for your work. Wattpad is another option for finding beta readers. You can upload your book and write a compelling blurb that inspires people to read and respond to your book.


Local writing or critique groups may be an option for face-to-face feedback. Go to meetup.com to see if there are “crit” groups in your area.

Working With Beta Readers


Now that you’ve found your beta readers, consider the rules of engagement that will help you to create a healthy working relationship. Authors don’t usually pay beta readers, so any interaction needs to be positive and affirming. Presumably, this won’t be your last book, and treating your beta readers right will leave them open to helping you out next time, too.

Don’t Give Them a Draft


Your beta reader is still a reader — a reader who might tell other readers about your book. It’s important to treat your beta readers right, and that begins with what you ask them to read. Don’t give them your first draft. In fact, be sure that what you give them is the very best writing you can produce on your own. Write your draft and set it aside for at least a week. Go back to it and rewrite it if you need to. Then set it aside for another week — again. Revise, revise, revise, until it isn’t remotely possible for you to do any better.

Your Manuscript, Their Way


Before you send your manuscript to your beta readers, ask them what format they’d like it in. Beta readers might want to print your manuscript or read it on a Kindle. If they prefer the latter option, send them instructions for how to get your manuscript on an e-reader. Do whatever you can to remove any obstacles that will prevent your beta reader from carving out time to read your book.

Give Them Guidance


Let your beta reader know what kind of feedback you’d like from them. Develop a checklist with questions you’d like answers to. Do you want readers to comment on the strength of a character, or the organization of a concept? If you create a specific list of questions around content, beta readers won’t spend their time punctuating sentences. Adapt your revision checklist to meet the needs of each book your write.

Don’t Take it Personally


Remember, it takes a great deal of time to read and respond to a book. And your beta readers will have opinions that might sting a little. Be gracious for any feedback a beta reader gives you, even if you don’t agree with it. Ask yourself, “Will addressing this comment make for a better book?” If so, take their advice and apply it to your next revision. If not, whatever you do, don’t defend yourself. Your beta reader already knows your position (you’ve done as you’ve seen fit, as evidenced by your manuscript) but they don’t agree. Thank them for their comments and move on.

Return the Favour


Remember, you’re not paying your beta readers to read your book. They’re offering feedback because they want to help or they’re interested in your book’s premise or topic. If your beta reader asks you to be a beta reader in future, seriously consider returning the favour. And when it comes time to publish your book, give them a mention in your acknowledgements. Everyone likes to see their name in “print.”


Beta readers can play an important part in helping you create a better book — particularly at the revision stage of writing. After you’ve revised your book, based on their feedback, and once again made your book the best it can be, you’re ready for an editor (you knew we’d say that, right?).

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Thursday, 10 July 2014

25 Word Lists for Writers

by Corina Koch MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

I like lists—especially word lists. They help me to make sense of the world. Below is a round-up of useful word lists for writers. Use them to check for and address potential problems in your writing.


Needless Words

We all do it—use words that clutter up our writing. If you know what those words are, you can hunt them down and obliterate them.

10 Words to Cut From Your Writing at Entrepreneur

Needless Words at Tech Tools for Writers. This word list is nicely packaged in a macro that you run in Microsoft Word.* Talk about a timesaver.

*See this 30-second video for how to add a macro to Word.


Craft Words

There are parts of the writing craft that many writers struggle with at some point in their writing journey—telling too much instead of showing, for example. Some clever word wranglers have taken the time to create word lists that can help you to attend to common writer missteps:

TellingWords at Tech Tools for Writers—identifies words that may indicate instances of telling

-ly Words at Tech Tools for Writers—highlights adverbs often used in dialogue, which may indicate that you're telling instead of showing. Often, he said and she said will suffice.


Historical Words

If you're writing historical fiction, it makes sense to familiarize yourself with vocabulary from the time period in which you're writing. These word lists will take you back in time.

100 Words that Define the First World War at the Oxford English Dictionary

Flapper Speak: Dictionary of Words from the 1920s and 1930s, by Margaret Chai Maloney

Glossary of 80s Terms at In the 80s


Genre Words

Some genres of writing have their own vocabularies. Learn the words genre readers will expect to read.

A Glossary of Science Fiction Jargon, by Eric S. Raymond

Sensual Words for Romance Writers, by Annette Blair

Gangster Glossary at Night of Mystery

Hard Boiled Slang Dictionary at Classic Crime Fiction


English Dialect Word Lists

For tips on writing with dialects, refer to How to Write Authentic Dialects, by Arlene Prunkl. These word lists will take you the rest of the way, eh!

A List of Quaint Southernisms at Alpha Dictionary

Glossary of English and British Words at Project Britain

Glossary of Canadian English at Wikipedia.org


Words from Other Languages

If you're writing a book set in a another place, or if a character's cultural background is of importance to the story, seasoning your story with the occasional foreign word or phrase is de rigeur.

French Phrases Used in English at the Phrase Finder German Loan Words in English at About.com

Russian Words Used in English at Daily Writing Tips

Spanish Words Become Our Own at About.com

The Yiddish Handbook: 40 Words You Should Know at Daily Writing Tips


Confusable Words

It's easy to confuse words that look or sound similar, or that mean something other than what you think they mean. These lists will help you to sort out some of the more common confusables.

Misused Words by Daily Writing Tips

Commonly Confused Words by Oxford Dictionaries

10 Words that Don't Mean What You Think They Do at Daily Writing Tips


Misspelled Words

Your word processor's spell check can catch most of your misspellings, but not all of them. Here are some words that sneak through spell check or trip up writers.

Common Misspellings

Words Often Misspelled Because of Double Letters

There are many more lists that I can add to this round-up. If you have a favourite word list, tell us about it in the comments below.


Image by Brian


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Use Google's Ngram Viewer to Craft Authentic Fiction
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How to Write a Quality Book Fast

Thursday, 3 July 2014

How and Why to Bundle Your Ebooks and Pbooks


 BitLit

Ebooks or pbooks? 

What if you could have both? That’s right—your library, in both pbook and ebook formats. We often think in terms of one or the other, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s an app for that

Ebook and print bundling has been available at the point of sale for some time via Amazon’s Kindle MatchBook, but a recently launched app from BitLit now makes it possible to get a free or low-priced ebook copy of the print books you already own.

BitLit’s target users are hybrid readers—its tagline is “the feel of a book and convenience of an ebook.” They’ve done their homework and determined that only about 4 percent of American readers are digital-only. As Mary Alice Elcock, BitLit’s content VP explains, hybrid readers want the look and feel of a print book, and the convenience—while travelling, for instance—of an ebook. And they can have this for the same price, or just slightly more, than the cost of a print book.   

So far, BitLit has partnered with more than 120 publishers and has 20,000 titles in its catalogue. They’re also running a “two for one” promotion in a growing list of bookstores. “The overwhelming majority of titles available through BitLit are not out-of-copyright works.” In other words, there’s no public domain epub file available, so BitLit is not in competition with sites like Project Gutenberg.  

I first heard of BitLit last fall when I read Porter Anderson’s interview in The Bookseller with Peter Hudson, BitLit’s founder. At that time it was still in beta. The idea intrigued me, though, so when I learned a few weeks ago that the app was now available, I was eager to try it. 

How it works

It’s easy. Instructions on the site are good for walking you through the process, but here are the basics.

1. Begin by downloading the app for iOS or Android. Create an account, and log in.

2. Choose the book you want to get an ebook copy of. To find eligible books, you can search by publisher, title, or author, or you can scroll through available titles. Many are free. Most of the others range in price from $0.99 to $4.99, with a few priced a bit higher.

It took me a while to find a book in the BitLit catalogue that I (still) owned in print. Keep in mind that it’s early days for BitLit, and they’re in the process of acquiring more content. 

3. Take a picture of your print book using the BitLit app. Tap the camera icon at the top right of your iPhone screen or the navigation icon on your Android device. Follow the prompts to scan your book, keeping it inside the contour lines provided. Here’s what my book looks like:



4. Print your name on the copyright page of the book and take a picture of it. 



5. When your ownership is verified, BitLit will email you an epub, mobi or pdf file, ready to read. They'll do audio, too. Elcock says, “We work with each of our publishers directly, and they supply their own files and metadata—as they would for any other vendor.”   

I received an epub version of Wayne Grady’s The Great Lakes—it was the first title I came upon that I owned a print copy of. The hardcover has many illustrations and photographs, and all of them show up nicely in Adobe Digital Editions.  

Why would you want ebooks and pbooks?

Rich Adin, who blogs at An American Editor, commented recently that if it were always available, he would always buy the bundle. Many would agree. There’s an appetite for bundling among consumers, and there are many applications for print and digital bundles. Here are a few:

For travellers: The convenience of packing a single device speaks for itself.

For teachers: Every class has a range of learners with a range of preferences, and you should be able to offer your students both formats. Digital reading offers so many benefits to students, especially those who are English language learners or who have learning disabilities: text-to-speech capabilities, read-aloud features, built-in dictionaries, variable text size, and the option to highlight and compile notes, to name just a few. Educators have only begun to tap into the learning opportunities made possible with e-readers.

For students: Ebooks offer the same advantages that they do for teachers. They’ll also save your spine and your posture by lightening your backpack! The dictionaries, notes feature and opportunities for social reading available on e-readers and tablets are changing education and literacy. Read in print if you like, then go to the digital text to search, expand your understanding, and share it with others. 

For higher ed students: The ability to scan a digital text for keywords is a boon for research and essay writing. But that’s just the beginning: computing and data analysis tools are changing both how we study literature and the humanities and how we understand them and make meaning. It’s thrilling. 

For anyone who might have to move: One day you will probably downsize—possibly from a few thousand square feet to a few hundred. If you already own a digital copy of your favourite books, it might be easier to part with print down the road. See benefits for travellers, above.

Is bundling a way readers can transition from print to digital? It seems like that would be the logical next step, but Mary Alice Elcock at BitLit says the research doesn’t support this theory. At least not right now. In time, that 4 percent who are digital-only will probably increase as readers become more used to digital text and as more books are available only as ebooks. In the meantime, readers have many choices about how they’ll read, and the important thing, really, is that they keep on reading.  

What about you? Do you have books in print and digital formats? Tell us how you use these bundled titles—we'd love to hear from you!

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