Category Archives: Resources

Writer Wednesday: Helpful Software

Writing in this day and age requires computers. Yes, you can still write longhand or with typewriters, I’ve been known to do both myself, but if you’re writing for publication, word processors are a necessity. Fortunately, there are a number of great ones out there, some with incredibly helpful features. I’m only going to be talking about the software I have used myself but I’ll link to a few that I’ve heard good things about from some of my writer friends. I won’t put my personal stamp of approval on them because I don’t have any experience with them. It’s been a lot of years since I last used any Apple software so this list is all PC compatible. Sorry – we switched to PC after my Apple IIgs because the games were better for PC at the time.

Microsoft Word: While I’m not thrilled about the default format settings at all, Word is the easiest word processor. There might be frills and fancies you can use via Word but I’ll be perfectly honest, I just open the file, mess with the formatting, and put words down. I’ll use the spellcheck when I remember to and the edit function makes my life super easy. The best part about Word though is that it’s pretty universal. Every publisher I’ve worked with uses Word and edits and notes don’t always transition well to other universal programs. It is a simple, easy to use word processor program with a few bells and whistles and a good template library. I don’t like the default settings and it doesn’t want to accept my changes but that’s what templates are for! I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to write. Sometimes they’re nice to have but I don’t outline, I keep my story bibles in spreadsheet form (usually), and too many whistles makes me want to play instead of work.

Open Office: I haven’t used this one in a while but before I was able to get Word, my budget meant that it was Open Office all the way. It’s budget friendly, full of all the same basic features of Word, can be tweaked to recognize all the edit/notes from a Word file, and is excellent if you’re working with someone with entirely different software systems. It’s pretty simple to use and figure out the features of and, like Word, has an excellent template selection. The defaults for Open Office were perfect when I was using it but it’s been about 6 years since I was a regular Open Office user.

yWriter: I was just telling someone about this one and redownloaded it myself. Years ago, I used this for all my zero drafts because it has a few features that the other software options don’t (or if they do, they aren’t nearly as user-friendly and I don’t know where they are). This writing software has some very specific bells and whistles that can be incredibly useful. Character profiles, chapter and scene dividers, easily accessible location notes, a daily word count function (very helpful for NaNoWriMo), a synopsis report (if you do description by chapter anyway), and item notes. The way it’s designed keeps all the information at hand when you’re working on the project. I tend to keep my series bible in my head but with the memory issues I’ve been having, I find myself looking up things more and more. Using yWriter, all of that information is right at hand. Another nice bit is that because it’s divided by scene, you can move scenes around if it fits somewhere else better or you find yourself restructuring your time line. No cut or paste or copy, just a simple move. This is the software I’ll be using for my zero draft this NaNoWriMo.

Google Docs: This one I haven’t used much except during the beta process – it makes it so easy to share files and comments about those files. It does require being online but it functions like Microsoft Word but it’s online and you can access it from any capable device without issue.

Grammarly: I am a comma killer. I can’t help it. Of course, I’m lucky if I remember to use spell check at all. Grammarly is nice because it just works while I’m working and I don’t even really have to think about it.

Scrivener: I haven’t used this but I’ve heard good things about it and I have writer friends who’ve recommended it in the past. This one seems especially useful for people who use extensive outlines.

FocusWriter: I haven’t used this. It seems like it would be very useful for someone who is easily distracted.

If you’ve got a favorite software that I haven’t listed, please share it!

 

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Writer Wednesday: Freelancing

Some writers just want to work on their novels or their poems and that’s it. Some writers just want to do whatever will allow them to both write and make money. The ideal, of course, is to do both but that’s usually a long, hard road. Freelancing can be fun, should be profitable, and is not that hard to get started doing. For myself, I tend to stick to the creative side like ghostwriting blog posts or doing specific fiction work (always my preference), but there are a lot of opportunities out there for the more technical side or copywriters.

First things first. How does a writer go about finding freelance work? There are a lot of job boards out there. I, personally, will advise against content mills and places like fivrr because they underpay and undervalue writers.

Freelance Writing has a decent job list, mostly on the copywriting side but there are a number of more creative endeavors also and their resource articles are really helpful. Freelance Writing Gigs is another job board with helpful articles on the site.  Indeed has a list that some of the other lists pull from. There are subReddits for it (where I’ve gotten a number of fun gigs) Hire a Writer being my favorite but there is a lot of competition and underpayment here so you have to watch for that but also Writing Opportunities, and Writing Gigs.

If you’re interested in learning more about freelancing, there is a lot of information out there and I will give you the ones I have found to be useful but this is by no means an exhaustive list – there is more available every day. The Write Life, Make A Living Writing, and The Freelancer.

If you’re a freelancer, do you have any favorite resources to share?

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Writer Wednesday: The Submission Process

Submitting your writing to editors and publishers can be nerve-wracking and the waiting for a response can feel interminable but, unless you’re posting everything to your blog or whathaveyou, it’s what you’ve got to do. There are several things that can trip you up in the process and hopefully, you’ll find my post today helpful.

FINDING THE RIGHT MARKET

I’ve linked before to market finders and calls for submissions (here) so I won’t do that again but I will say this. If you’re really wanting to make a good impression, read some of what the publication has available and see if that’s the sort of thing that you think you’ve written. It’s not an infallible process but, if you want to have the best chance of getting that incredible acceptance and contract, it really does help. You don’t want to send a science fiction story to a strictly non-genre publication and vice-versa.

MANUSCRIPT FORMAT

While there is a “standard manuscript format,” not every publication follows that or wants that. Always make sure to check a publication’s guidelines and modify your file to fit those guidelines. A lot of publications will auto-reject a submission that doesn’t at least attempt to follow the right format. Pay attention to their guidelines and if you have questions about them, ask. If you’re not sure about sending an attachment or not, or if they don’t specify a preferred file type and don’t say embedded only, email and ask.

SUBMISSION TRACKING

Some of the market finders also offer a tracking software so you know where you’ve sent things and when to look for responses and the like. I started submitted long before there was such a thing so I use spreadsheets. I also like that I have a copy that I can access with or without Internet access. Really, I have three spreadsheets I use regularly the first being my word metrics spreadsheet that I use nearly daily, the second is my yearly spreadsheet where I keep track of what I send out every month, the potential vs actual income, all freelance, royalty, or crafting income etc, and the third is my very old, very wonderful market tracker. I have every submission I’ve sent out since 2004 in this file and let me tell you, it’s a LOT. I have a few older ones listed as well but not everything survived my early computer failure but most of the work I was submitting prior to 2004 is either published or trunked and I’m not really worried about doubling up and accidentally sending the same piece to the same publication twice (it really does happen if you aren’t paying attention). It’s an invaluable tool for me.

Mine is set up with several failsafes to prevent mixups. First page is markets which is ordered by name, date of submission, status of submission (out, accepted, rejected, withdrawn), form of submission (nonfiction, poetry, essay, fiction), title(s) of submission, response time, and notes (this space is especially useful for seeing when I get personalized rejections or notes or when an editor is particularly awesome). The second page is for short stories sorted by title, then noted each market it’s been submitted to, third page is the same for poems, fourth is the same for nonfiction, and the fifth is for novels and agents and publishers.

WAITING

The hardest part of submitting my work, for me, is the waiting. It feels like an eternity, the time between clicking send and opening a response email. It’s even harder when a market goes past it’s projected response time and you’re left trying to figure out whether or not to query about the status. I tend to err on the side of caution and give two or three months past the listed response time unless their twitter or blog has a note about it. I personally have never had a status query work out in my favor but maybe someday (fingers crossed that my luck changes as I have a status query out right now).

Mostly, once I’ve hit send, I step aside and start work on the next story or poem. It may be that I write more when I submit more because writing new, shiny things keeps me from obsessively haunting my email program…

Good luck with your own submissions and remember, rejections are not the end of the world – I’ve only got a 15% acceptance rate (when you factor by market, my by title rate is much better). I’ve had one short story that got 14 rejections before it got a contract. This is an incredibly subjective business. What I think is moving and new might be old hat to these editors who’ve seen nearly everything come across their inboxes but the next editor might agree with me. In truth, publishing is a lot like throwing spaghetti on the wall until it sticks.

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Writer Wednesday – Yog’s Law, Scammers, and Tricksy Hobbitses

Simply put, Yog’s Law states that money should always flow to the writer. When you’re first starting out and don’t know the ins and outs, this is an important lesson to learn. Over the last decade, scammers have gotten a bit more clever I think but if you follow the law, you’re not going to find yourself a victim of them.

This post started in my head after seeing yet another commercial for what can only be the world’s next Publish America (beware: if you start reading the threads and blogs, you could lose days.) I get that everyone wants the validation that publication offers and it’s an amazingly heady thing to receive an acceptance letter and it can be hard to come to terms with the fact that maybe that letter isn’t entirely on the up-and-up. It’s hard to get rejected and so easy to get sucked into the idea that everyone is out to keep new ideas and new writers from succeeding but, I promise you, they’re not. New and good writers are still and always sought after, even by those companies with stables full of superstars.

If a publisher offers you a contract and then asks for upfront fees, don’t sign. Agents and publishers and all the other people involved, they want you to succeed as they make more money when you make more money. Author mills make their money from their authors who are encouraged to buy so many books to peddle at wherever they choose (usually to family and friends).

Self-publishing doesn’t change the law, but it is a bit tricky because one person is both author and publisher. As a publisher, they do have to lay out funds for editors, covers, and various expenses. As an author, they should be banking their 15% (or whatever).

A few easy marks of a less than legit publisher or agent: 1. They email you entirely unsolicited, talking about the next big thing in publishing and how they’re just waiting for your book or whatever language they’re using now. 2. If you visit the website, it’s less about attracting readers to new books and more about attracting new writers. 3. Any mention of any big movie star just waiting to play the lead in your story. There are a lot of steps between submitting a book and landing any sort of movie deal, let alone with anyone like Julia Roberts.

There are a lot of good places to get information to avoid the scammers and less than upfront or ideal practices. My first Go-To to check on publications, publishers, and agents is the Absolute Write Bewares and Background Checks portion of their forum. My second check is over at Writer Beware. Preditors and Editors is a good one but it seems to be restructuring.

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Writer Wednesday: Talent or Skill

I vote both!

Writing is an art, a skill, a vocation, and, if you’re super lucky, a career. It helps to have some talent but you can get by without it. I can think of several big names that rely on their learned skills and their marketing far more than talent. You can get by with just talent or just skill but you must have one of those things (though I’ve seen some “best-sellers” that would completely refute that). Talent is a thing you either have or you don’t but it’s also very subjective. I might think an author has very little talent and that same writer could be your favorite. Skill is a little less subjective but, fortunately, skill can be learned. You will never please all the people, no writer is universally liked, but if you put the work in and hone your craft, nothing is impossible.

I am a huge proponent of the idea that a good writer is a voracious reader and I think you shouldn’t just read in your preferred genre. In fact, I think you can learn a little more about your own style and preferences if you read way outside your own box. Read all the things and don’t forget about poetry and essays. Even reading terrible books can teach you a lot about what you don’t want to do. I’m also a supporter of listening. Listening to people talk to each other, their rhythms and patterns, slang, dialects, it all can help with writing and not just dialogue.

There are a lot of helpful resources out there for honing that skill. I use Grammarly mostly to help me not murder commas. I do use the free version rather than the professional version mostly because I think between Grammarly and regular spellcheck in Word, I’ve got most of the bases covered but you might like to look into more than that. If you have specific grammar questions, the Purdue OWL may be just the thing for you and there is a lot more than grammar help there. If you’re writing historical, my favorite resource will probably seem a little strange but I personally think that checking to see if your language is accurate is important and for that there’s Etymonline.

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