Can Using Editing Tools Improve Your Writing?

writing tools

By Corina Koch Macleod and Carla Douglas
@CKMacleodwriter @CarlaJDouglas

This post appeared first on June 17, 2015 at The Book Designer.

In the tongue-in-cheek post How to Write a Book Even Faster, the author suggests that writers are not editing their writing. That can’t be true! (Right?) How do you edit your writing? Perhaps you use one of these self-editing approaches…

Approaches to Self-Editing

There are many ways to improve your writing. You can

  • set your writing aside for a month or two and tackle it again from a renewed perspective
  • get structured feedback from beta readers
  • hire an editor to assess your first draft and suggest improvements
  • run editing tools on your writing

Let’s look at each of these self-editing approaches.

DIY Feedback

You may be exhausted from your first-draft efforts. Setting your writing aside for a spell may give you the time you need to recharge and become excited about your book project again. It may also afford you the perspective you need to see where your writing needs fixing. This approach to self-editing is most effective if there aren’t time constraints, and if you’re able to see what needs improving.

External Feedback

The remaining items on the list above are different from the first item in one important way: they offer feedback on your writing from an external source — from someone, or something, other than you. Because it’s difficult to be objective about your own writing, external feedback can alert you to your writing blind spots.

Not everyone responds well to feedback from beta readers and editors. Writers need to be able to develop resilience for receiving feedback, but this takes time and practice. If you’re still working on developing your resilience, we have another “external” self-editing option for you: editing tools.

Editing Tools

Many editors use automated editing tools to efficiently find problems in a piece of writing. If writers want to learn how these tools work, they can use them to diagnose their own writing!

Below is a list of some our favourite editing tools, linked to articles that describe how to use them. We’ve organized them into the four levels of editing that every manuscript should go through.

Not all tools are diagnostic and automated.* Some of them, such as the paragraph-level and big-picture tools, will help you when it’s time to fix your writing. We’ve selected tools that we think will be most helpful to writers, but there are many more tools that you can explore and try.

Self-Editing Tools for Writers

Tool Word-level Sentence-level Paragraph-level Big-picture level
Consistency Checker* x x
Hemingway app* x x
PerfectIt Pro* x
Self-Editing macros* x
Scrivener’s Binder+ x x
Word’s Navigation Pane+ x x
Split-screen feature in Scrivener+ x x
Split-screen feature in Word+ x x

 

*Diagnostic tools: these tools will check for one or more potential writing problems with the click of a button.

+Fixing tools: these tools will help you fix writing problems, once they are identified.

As far as we know, there aren’t automated diagnostic tools that will point out paragraph-level and big-picture problems. At least not yet. For now, you’ll need to educate yourself about common paragraph-level and big-picture problems, or get some direction from beta readers and editors. You can use the paragraph-level and big-picture tools in the table above to efficiently fix problems, once you know what they are.

Advantages of Editing Tools

Editing tools have a few distinct advantages over the other self-editing methods mentioned at the beginning of this article:

  • They aren’t people, which means that writers probably won’t respond to feedback emotionally, or take feedback personally. A tool also won’t roll its eyes because you’ve forgotten to close quotations and parentheses 54 times in a 300-page book. It’ll point out these errors, without judgment. And we could all use a little less judgement.
  • If you consider what these tools are telling you about your writing, you will sharpen your self-editing skills.
  • You can use diagnostic editing tools five minutes after you’ve typed the period on the last sentence of your first draft. This makes editing tools brilliant for on-demand writing.
  • These tools are widely available, and some of them are cheap or free. (Editors are widely available, but they’re not cheap or free.)
  • If you plan to use tools for self-editing, and later decide to hire an editor, your editor may have less to do, and that can save on editing costs.

Can these tools help you to become a better writer? We’re still gathering data on that. From what we’ve seen — with authors who’ve been willing to act on the information suggested by diagnostic editing tools — it does seem possible.

For example, if a tool suggests that you’ve included needless words in your writing, after deleting 103 needless words in the first 50 pages of your manuscript, there’s a good chance that you’ll include fewer of them in your writing in future!

Limitations of Editing Tools

Editing tools will not do it all. They have limitations that are important to understand. They will not write your book, cook your breakfast, or collect your kids from school. And they also won’t do these three things:

Won’t Think for You

An editing tool can alert you to potential problems with your writing. You need to decide when to address a highlighted instance and when to ignore it.

For example, the Hemingway app will highlight adverbs in blue, so you can, presumably, obliterate them. Why? Adverbs can clutter your writing and indicate instances of telling instead of showing. (Show, don’t tell!)

But does that mean you need to excise every adverb in sight? No. Depending on what you’re writing, you may choose to sprinkle adverbs as you would expensive fleur de sel.

Won’t Fix It for You

Editing tools are not designed to fix your writing for you. They identify problems, or help you fix problems efficiently. You have to do the heavy lifting.

For example, if your tool has highlighted a sentence that’s too long, you will need to divide that unwieldy beast into two shorter sentences. Your tool won’t do that for you.

Won’t Do the Footwork for You

If a solution to a writing problem isn’t obvious to you, you may need to dig around in writing craft books or style guides for help with interpreting what a tool is telling you.

Consider the example below. PerfectIt Pro 3 is asking the author to check the use of a hyphen in this instance. Has the author used the hyphen correctly?

Looking things up isn’t a waste of your time. The more you know why something might need fixing, the better your writing will be. If you let them, editing tools will show you where you quirks are, teach you what to pay attention to, and inspire (or provoke) you to make adjustments.

How to Use Editing Tools

As with any kind of learning, you need to go slowly or you could become overwhelmed. Here are some tips for keeping things manageable:

  1. Remember to begin with big-picture editing fixes and work your way down to word-level fixes. Editing order matters.
  2. Run diagnostic tools, one chapter at a time, until you become familiar with how these tools work. Exceptions: Run Consistency Checker and PerfectIt Pro on your entire book. Why? They’re designed to check for consistency across an entire manuscript.
  3. Run one tool at a time. Don’t run several tools at once. You’ll have too many things to pay attention to. The key is to remain focused and to improve your writing by degrees.
  4. Be strategic. You don’t need to run every tool on your writing, every time. Once you’re familiar with the tools we recommend, you’ll know which ones best address your most persistent writing quirks.
  5. Consult self-editing books for solutions to the writing problems your tools uncover.

Editing tools can help you to become aware of your writing blind spots and sharpen your self-editing skills. They may even help you become better at writing.

If, however, you’ve decided that learning how to use these tools is not for you, and you prefer to have writing problems fixed for you, we have yet another solution. Hire an editor! (You had to know we were going to say that.)

Note: We used the Hemingway app and PerfectIt Pro 3 to edit this article.

Image by Mark Hunter

The Indie Author’s Bookshelf: 20 Best Titles for Self-Editing

Book shelf

By Corina Koch MacLeod & Carla Douglas
@CKmacleodwriter  @CarlaJDouglas

This post appeared first at TheBookDesigner.com, December 24, 2014.

Below is a list of 20 self-editing books that we believe every indie author should have on his or her bookshelf. These books will arm you with valuable writing tips and insights so that you can tackle your writing with new resolve.

We’ve divided the books into levels of editing, so you’ll know which book to refer to when you need to. Keep in mind that a book may not fit neatly into an editing category. Some books will address more than one level of editing. The key is to be systematic when you self-edit, and often, addressing one level of editing at a time can make the editing process more manageable.

To remind you, how you’ll revise and polish your book will depend on how you tend to work as a writer, and where your strengths and weakness lie.

Self-Editing Workflow

If you’re not sure where to begin your revisions, start with big-picture items. When assessing a manuscript, editors begin with big-picture items and slowly work through all the stages of editing, ending with word-level details. If you’ve nailed your plot (big picture), for example, begin with the next area that you know needs work. If you’re not sure what needs work, run your manuscript past a couple of betareaders.

Criteria for Self-Editing

It wasn’t easy narrowing our choice to 20 titles for self-editing. Many excellent books have been written on various aspects of the subject. We’ve chosen books that are

  • short(er) and to the point
  • helpful (some of them are personal favourites)
  • easy to understand, without too much editorial jargon
  • less than $15, with one exception (Jim Taylor’s Quick Fixes)

As a result, books commonly used by editors didn’t show up on this list. Why? Writers are not editors. Many books directed to editors are also written by editors, and they’re heavy on theory and discussion. Writers want accessible books that provide clear explanations, examples and instructions. (Editors like these books too—but we like to read everything and think about it, first.) So you’ll see some writers’ craft books on this list—our choices address revision and self-editing directly.

Finally, we’ve also picked a couple of titles specifically for nonfiction authors (they’re marked with an asterisk). When it comes to writing and self-editing guides, nonfiction often gets short shrift. The two we’ve selected complement each other well, and provide sound advice for focusing and delivering your message to the reader.

Beyond Paper Picks

Big Picture

  • Making Shapely Fiction, by Jerome Stern
  • *On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser
  • Revision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells,  by James Scott Bell
  • Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing, by Larry Brooks
  • This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley
  • The Ebook Style Guide: Creating Ebooks That Work for Readers, by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas

Paragraph Level

  • How Not to Write  Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide, by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman
  • *Quick Fixes for Business Writing: An Easy Eight-Step Editing Process to Find and Correct Common Readability Problems, by Jim Taylor
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King

Sentence Level

  • The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White
  • Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, by Patricia T. O’Conner
  • You’ve Got Style: Copyediting for Self-Publishing Authors, by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod

Word Level

  • The best punctuation book, period. by June Casagrande
  • Copyediting and Proofreading for Dummies, by Suzanne Gilad
  • Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares: How to Avoid Unplanned and Unwanted Writing Errors, by Jenny Baranick

5 Books that Will Inspire You to Write

You may not always feel like writing. These books will light a fire under you:

  • The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
  • Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper, by SARK
  • The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
  • Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Self-Editing is a Process

Don’t try to do it all at once, and don’t try to do it only once.

Each of the books we’ve recommended offers a different voice and a different approach. Some are straight “how-to” and some are more “what” and “why.” What works for one writer might not be right for another. So take time to explore a few of these titles to find an approach you can work with.

If you haven’t already, over time you’ll develop your own self-editing style. This may mean working to a detailed plan or, as it does for some writers, simply reading, re-reading and re-keying your draft multiple times.

And, as we’ve said before, how you self-edit depends on how you wrote your first draft. It will also depend on your manuscript and what it requires—your second, third and fourth books will present different issues than your first. All the more reason to have our 20 titles at the ready, lined up on your shelf.

Image by Brett Jordan

Write More: 7 Tips for Dealing With Writing Distractions

Self-publishing authors have a lot to think about: writing, revising, editing, formatting, marketing, platform building, and the list goes on. In all of this flurry of activity, it’s entirely too easy to remember the task that is most important: writing!

Authors know this, but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to focus on writing with everything an author has to juggle. Like the emperor with no clothes, authors are in danger of having no books!

Many authors are beginning to speak out about the implications of distractions on creativity and productivity. Here are some authors’ tips for staying on track with your writing.

1. Use old tech.

To keep him from being distracted by social media tasks, Bryan Cohen, author of Writer on the Side: How to Write Your Book Around Your 9 to 5 Job uses “old technology” with no Internet connectivity while writing.

He uses an Alphasmart Neo 2—a designated keyboard with a tiny e-ink-like screen that only allows for writing. It’s less than two pounds and powered by triple A batteries for hours of power, so it can be easily toted into a distraction-free zone.

Similarly, George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones, has been ribbed for using a “writing computer”—1 an ancient DOS machine loaded with WordStar 4.0 software from the ’80s to write his books. Have you seen the page count for the Game of Thrones series? Who’s laughing now?

2. Set limits for online time.

If using old tech is a bit too hardcore for you, consider social media timing tools to help you prevent social media time suck. Rescue Time will keep track of how you spend your time online and furnish you with a data report of your online activities, if you’re brave enough to go there. The free browser plug-in Stay Focusd can block websites for you when it’s time to get down to work, or enable you to set time limits for your social media time.

3. Do your two most important tasks first.

As an author, one of your two most important daily tasks is writing, right? Tim Ferriss, the author of the Four-Hour Work Week, does his two most important tasks before 11:00 a.m. each day. These tasks do not include checking email.

In fact, Ferriss does his to best to avoid checking and responding to email more than twice a day. Instead, he has an autoresponse message for his email account, indicating when he’ll be checking mail, so people know that his response won’t be instantaneous. He then batch processes his emails offline using Boomerang for Gmail and in the past, The Email Game. These tools can help you organize email messages by priority and set time limits for processing email.

4. Pare things down.

In an effort to determine what will work for author branding and book promotion, J.F. Penn, author of the Arkane Thriller series, has tried a wide variety of social media platforms. She often works 11-hour days to fulfil her “authorpreneur” tasks. In an attempt to carve out more time for writing, Penn has decided to let some of her social media platforms go, and has chosen, instead, to focus on the ones that bring her joy—her blog, The Creative Penn, her podcast, Twitter, and Google+. This is still a tall order for most of us, but the lesson here is that you can’t do it all—even if you’ve committed to 11-hour days.

5. Be strategic.

If you’re not sure how to pare down your social media engagement, Jason Matthews, social media consultant and author of How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks, All for Free believes in focusing on the “big three” social media plaftorms—your Amazon author page, Google+, and writers groups on Facebook. Social media sites constantly shift in popularity, and while Facebook appears to be falling out of favour with some authors, Matthews’ point is this: choose three social media sites to spend your time on, and make sure those sites will allow you to connect with your prospective readers.

You can be strategic about when you use social media sites, as well. For example, according to Pam Dyer, a top-50 social media power influencer at Forbes, Twitter users are more likely to see tweets on weekends between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m., so why not schedule important tweets during these times? Dyer lists popular social media sites with suggested times for using them at the Social Media Today blog.

6. Outsource.

If you’ve pared things down, become more more strategic, and find you still don’t have the time you need to write, take a page from Joel Friedlander’s book. Friedlander is the author of the popular self-publishing blog, The Book Designer, and he’s everywhere. How does he do it?

Friedlander has hired a virtual assistant, or VA, to help him with time-consuming social media tasks, like organizing guest posts and formatting and posting blog posts. J.F. Penn and Pat Flynn have also hired VAs, and Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen, hosts of the Sell More Books podcast, often make use of Fiverr for photo editing or ebook cover tweaking. Tim Ferris estimates that he saves 10 hours a week on minutia by using Task Rabbit to outsource tasks.

The Indie ethic is most certainly a DIY ethic. But DIY doesn’t mean DIA—doing it all.

7. Be accountable.

How do you know if you have enough time to write? One of the best ways to find out is to keep track of your daily writing progress. Women’s fiction author Jamie Raintree has designed a lovely Excel spreadsheet that can help you keep track of your daily word count. It’s free when you subscribe to her email newsletter.

Well known traditionally published authors produce on average between 250 and 5,000 words a day, and high achieving self-publishing author J.F. Penn will clock in at 2,500 words in a two-hour window of writing. Set your own daily or weekly word-count goal, and if you don’t achieve your goal, it might be time to try some of the steps described above.

There’s a prevailing theme here, isn’t there? Social media, email, and all things Internet, appear to be some of the main barriers to writing. I’ve managed to priortize my writing, at least for today. But it’s after 11:00 and my email beckons…

Image by Adventures of Pam & Frank

Post-Nano Tips for Revising Your Writing

Valentine's Day Book

by Carla Douglas and C.K. MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas @CKmacleodwriter

This post appeared first at TheBookDesigner.com on November 19, 2014.

If you participated in National Novel Writing Month, and you took our advice, below, to rest your manuscript, it’ll soon be time to revise your first draft. How you revise your writing will depend on

  1. your prewriting and planning style
  2. the kind of book you’re writing

But first, an explanation of what we mean by revise.

What is Revising?

The prefix “re” means again. To revise is to re-vision—to look at your writing again, hopefully from the perspective of a reader. To bring something new to your writing, you need to give it time to breathe. Revision involves waiting.

In How to Make a Living as a Writer, James Scott Bell recommends airing your writing for three weeks. That means sticking your NaNo draft in a drawer on November 30, and vowing not to look at it again until the winter solstice. If you take Stephen King’s advice, you’ll be pulling out that first draft on Valentine’s Day.

After the recommended period of rest, you’re ready to work on your first draft.

What’s Involved in Revising

Depending on what you’re able accomplish in a first draft, revising might entail

  • restructuring your story or book
  • removing “noise”—sections, paragraphs and sentences that slow the story’s pace
  • relocating paragraphs and chapters
  • rewriting sections or sentences for clarity and flow
  • replacing weak words with stronger words

Is Revising the Same as Editing?

Yes and no. The items you address in a revision are similar to the range of issues an editor might focus on in an edit. But to borrow from the definition in Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast: “Revising is the best you can do with your own writing with some or no feedback. Editing is the best that someone else can do with your writing.”

In the editing process, an editor will suggest changes you might accept and implement to improve any number of features of your book. Making those changes—going into the manuscript and deleting, rewriting or moving text—is revising. Only you (or perhaps a ghostwriter) can revise your work.

So revising is the same as self-editing, but it’s different from editing in the traditional sense.

Three Kinds of Writers

Writers approach the writing process in a variety of ways. Often, writers are characterized by their prewriting or planning style (see below). A writer’s planning style can influence the kinds of tasks that will need to be addressed later, during revision.

Plotter

Plotters engage in a great deal of detailed, and often extensively documented, prewriting. Prewriting can take the form of a traditional outline, plot points, story beats or detailed chapter summaries. Plotters generally know how a story ends before they write. It’s not uncommon for plotters to have every scene worked out in advance.

Because plotters do much of their work beforehand, it’s likely that their plot is watertight. So when it comes time to revise the first draft, plotters may spend less time tweaking plot or structure and more time working on elements of story (character, dialogue, etc.) or rewriting sections or sentences for clarity and flow.

Overdoing it at the prewriting stage can show up in the finished first draft. A too-carefully structured plot risks confusing the reader. Remember, you’ve spent a long time with this book idea, plot and characters. The intricacies and sub-plots you’ve introduced might serve the plot, but they might not serve the novel.

Tips for plotters: Don’t be afraid to deviate from your outline if the story carries you in a new direction. If you’re surprised by what happens next, there’s a good chance your readers will be surprised, too. Look for signs that you’re telling and explaining ideas that readers might like to infer themselves. Good writing feels vigorous and lively. Rigidly adhering to your plan—no matter how clever and well-intentioned it was—can make your writing feel contrived, or worse, wooden and dead.

If you’re writing in a genre with specific rules (mystery, for example), studying craft books on the genre will be time well spent. And nothing beats reading extensively in a genre to understand better how it works.

Pantser

Pansters have a tendency to write episodically or non-chronologically. They’re least likely to use an outline or to formally capture a book’s structure before writing, either because they can hold that structure in their heads as they write (as Michael Ondaatje reportedly does) or because they’re open to allowing a book’s structure to emerge through the writing process.

After the first draft, pantsers may find themselves engaging in several rewrites in order to finetune a plot line or the book’s structure. They may need to remove the noise in places where the story deviates or drags. (Indeed, they may need to remove more than noise. In a recent panel discussion about the writing process, author Nancy Lee confirmed that, unhappy with her manuscript, she had thrown out an entire draft of her new novel, The Age, and rewritten it from a different point of view. And while she didn’t indicate whether or not she used an outline for the draft she discarded, she did display her willingness to throw it all away at the revision stage.)

So “pantsing,” or writing without an outline, almost certainly guarantees more work for the writer post-first-draft. This kind of writing is exploratory, and likely describes the process of many literary fiction writers.

Tips for pantsers: Pantsers can benefit from writing software that allows them to write episodically and then reorganize their writing later. The Binder feature in Scrivener is designed for this purpose. You can also tweak Microsoft Word so that it’s possible to move around sections and chapters more easily.

Because pantsers may find themselves writing several drafts before publication, they’ll need a method for keeping track of revisions. Using colour-coded labels in Scrivener, or Scrivener’s Snapshot feature can help pantsers keep track of several drafts in one place.

Keep in mind: If one of your writing goals is to write fast, then pantsing probably isn’t the best path to take. Many writers who achieve their NaNoWriMo goals engage in extensive prewriting before Halloween arrives. The skeleton’s there—they just have to flesh it out, probably with the details they’ve already documented. Plotters hit the ground running; pantsers may not actually hit the ground at all.

Plotser/Tweener

Plotsers, or tweeners, document a book’s structure in advance, but not in as detailed a way as plotters. Where plotters write detailed chapter summaries, plotsers might be inclined to sketch a mind map or flowchart, or dash off a one-page point-form plot or book outline.

There’s also the plotser who will dash off a very quick first draft and then sketch an outline. As editors, this method makes sense to us—we’ve often said that it’s easier to work with an existing text (edit) than it is to create a text (write).

At the revision stage, plotsers may find themselves revising big-picture items, while at the same time addressing the finer details of word choice. You might have to do a little of everything, and working from a checklist will help. The elements you have the most fun writing and are the easiest are probably those that you’ll need the least help with later. In other words, if you keep getting stuck on dialogue or if it’s that part of writing you dread, then paying careful attention to it in revisions is a good idea.

Tips for tweeners: Tools like Scapple or MindMeister can help to design mind maps with moveable parts. Try this: create a separate mind map for three or four story elements you are not especially confident about. Mind maps are helpful in the planning phase, but they can also be instrumental in helping you work out a problem in your manuscript visually. Trouble with pacing, dialogue or description, for instance, often becomes clear with a visual representation.

Tips for all Writers

Regardless of your prewriting and planning style, there are several things that writers of all stripes can address during the revision stage. We’d recommend proceeding in the following order:

  • focus on big-picture items, such as plot structure, point of view, and pacing, first
  • focus on characterization and dialogue next
  • read for plausibility and consistency
  • use automated revision tools to point out ways to clarify and smooth your writing

You’ll find other tips for applying feedback here.

Finally, experience will help you develop both the instincts for knowing when your story holds together—with fully developed characters and believable dialogue—and the confidence to trust your instincts. Until then, beta readers can be an enormous help in diagnosing any trouble spots, and we recommend bringing them on site sooner rather than later in the revising phase of your writing.

Conclusion

What we’ve outlined (pun intended) are all ways to take a book from concept to publication. Choose any method you like, but be aware of your preferences and the places you might hit a snag. Ideally, in the end, a reader or reviewer shouldn’t be able to identify which path you’ve taken—only that you’ve reached your destination in a way that satisfies.

Image by Viola

What Kind of Self-Pub Are You? A Questionnaire and Tips for Maximizing Your Self-Pub Style

4 of a kindby Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas     @ckmacleodwriter

What’s your self-pub personality type? That’s right—there’s more than one!

Maybe you see yourself as one of a kind, and therefore you won’t be thrilled to be lumped into a category with others. On the other hand, you might see yourself as a member of a tribe. Your common traits and goals help establish your identity, and you won’t like the idea of being placed in a sub-group.

As editors, we’ve had the opportunity to work and interact with a variety of self-pubs. And over time, we’ve identified some distinct self-publishing styles and approaches. Below, we’ve narrowed our findings to four self-pub personality types.

Take our quiz to find out what kind of self-pub you are.

Note: Results may vary! You may discover that you don’t fit neatly into one category. That’s okay. This questionnaire is designed to get you to begin thinking about how you approach self-publishing and where editing fits into the scheme. We’ll summarize the characteristics of your type, and add some tips and resources that will help you get the most from the editing and production process.

Questionnaire

1. What is the most important feature of a published book?

a) The story or message has to be compelling

b) It has to be highly appealing to many potential buyers

c) Impossible to narrow to a single feature—everything is important

d) Depends on why the book was written, but overall it has to be professional looking

 

2. What are you mostly likely to do after you get a story idea?

a) Start writing—the story or structure will emerge on its own

b) Start writing from the beginning and systematically work through to the end

c) Sketch a loose story outline and begin writing at any point in the story, as soon as possible

d) Create a detailed story outline before writing, with most things worked out ahead of time.

 

3. What steps are you most likely to follow to get your book from idea to published?

a) Draft, rewrite (x3), publish

b) Write, proofread, publish

c) Draft, edit, publish

d) Draft, revise, edit, proofread, publish

 

4. How do you handle the editing part of the self-publishing process?

a) I self-edit. I may ask a critique partner or trusted friend to read my book.

b) I self-edit and use beta readers.

c) I use beta readers for the revision stage and an editor to polish the final product.

d) I only use an editor.

 

5. What do you do with the feedback you get from critique partners, beta readers, editors and readers?

a) If I get feedback, and it’s not what I expected, I freak out and stick the book back in my drawer for several months.

b) I only make the changes I agree with.

c) I take some time to think about the changes before I make them. I might even research some of the suggested changes to see if they’ll actually make my writing better.

d) I make nearly all of the changes an editor suggests because I’ve hired an editor to tell me what I don’t know.

 

6. How do you tell if an editor is a good fit for you?

a) I don’t use an editor.

b) I send a chapter to several editors and ask for a sample edit from each of them. If I hire an editor, I base my decision on the sample chapters.

c) I ask fellow self-pubs for recommendations and go with a recommendation.

d) I scour professional editing databases for an editor who’s an expert in my genre.

 

7. What kind of editing are you comfortable with?

a) No editing. My story, my words. You shouldn’t mess with art.

b) I’m open to suggestions about how to make my story better, but please don’t touch my words.

c) I want to know what will make my story better, and I’m fine with suggestions for cleaning up my writing.Tell me what I need to do and I’ll try and fix it.

d) Fix it for me.

 

8. How likely are you to use tech tools to improve your writing?

a) There are tech tools that can help me to improve my writing?

b) I have my favourite writing tech tools. I’m open to learning about new tools, though, especially if they’re free or low-cost, or if they help me to do something more efficiently.

c) If you apply the tech tools to my writing, and teach me what the results mean, I’ll try to make the changes they suggest.

d) Not likely. I prefer that my editor run the tech tools on my writing, and apply the changes they suggest.

 

9. How likely are you to use a style guide to polish your writing?

a) What’s a style guide?

b) I’ve heard about style guides, but I don’t use them.

c) I try to follow the style guide that fellow self-pubs or my editor recommends.

d) I let my editor pick a style guide. My editor will ensure that my book follows that style.

 

10. How much are you willing to pay for an editor to edit a 300-page book?

b) Up to $300 —

a) $0 — You can’t mess with my words—my story will carry itself.

Give me feedback on a chapter, and I can apply your advice to the rest of my book.

c) $750 — Read my whole book and make suggestions for improvement. Do as much as you can for me within my budget. Copyedit a sample chapter so I know how to clean up my writing.

d) $1500+ — I’d like the best possible outcome for my book project.

What type of self-pub are you?

If most of your answers were

a) you’re an Optimist:

  • for you, it’s all about the writing
  • you have a great story to tell, and you’re eager to dive right in
  • you’ll give self-publishing a try, see what happens, and hope for the best
  • you have a long list of books that you can’t wait to get started on
  • you figure you’ll get better with practice—your next book will naturally be better than the last

 

b) you’re a Do-it-Yourselfer:

  • you’re hungry for knowledge and you scour the internet for info because you want to understand every aspect of self-publishing
  • you’re not afraid of the more technical aspects of self-publishing
  • you want control over all stages of the publishing process
  • you like to keep costs down by doing things yourself
  • you might look for low-cost services

 

c) you’re a Collaborator

  • you work to your strengths by doing what you know you can do well
  • you tend to get help for things you don’t know how to do
  • you want to participate in every aspect of the publishing process
  • you can’t think about possible future writing projects until this one is all tied up
  • you don’t necessarily want a career in writing—you want a container for this one important book

 

d) you’re a Project Manager

  • you know there’s a lot to know, and don’t know a lot (yet)
  • you know your limitations
  • you hire experts to help with those things you don’t know how to do, or that aren’t the best use of your time
  • you’re business savvy—efficiency is important to you
  • you have the resources to build a publishing team

 

Types and Tips

So, how did you do? Any light-bulb moments? Remember, this is all in good fun, and as we said, you may straddle more than one category. Our hunch, though, is that you’re probably more one type than another. What follows are a few tips that will help keep you on the straight and narrow while still remaining faithful to your own personal style.

Optimist

You’re confident in your story and your storytelling abilities. You might be a bit intimidated, though, by everything that goes into the self-publishing process. Editing? Yes, you know it’s part of the process, but the story is what matters. And you’re still not sure about allowing others to edit your work. For you, editing might not extend beyond self-editing or revising, but it’s important to know that you could be limiting your options. Revising is the best you can do with your own writing with some or no feedback. Editing is the best that someone else can do with your writing.

The more you know, the more confident you’ll be when making decisions about everything from editing to cover design. Where to begin? Right here, at The Book Designer website, where there are carefully curated posts about editing and self-publishing.

If you prefer an all-in-one package for getting started with editing and self-publishing, we recommend Joanna Penn’s Author 2.0 Blueprint, available free at The Creative Penn. She covers topics like first draft, revisions and editing, and explains the differences between these tasks. The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, by Susan Bell, offers practical tips for self-editing and case studies of famous writers and their editing practices.

Do-it-Yourselfer

As the name implies, you’re all for doing it yourself! Truthfully, though, it doesn’t always make sense to try to handle the whole process of self-publishing alone. How many of us can say we’re skilled in writing, editing, designing a book interior and creating a great-looking book cover?

The good news is that you can accept help from the pros and still do it yourself. How? Avail yourself of some of the many tools designed for self-pubs: Print and ebook interior and cover templates from The Book Designer will take care of two of the most difficult aspects of book production for self-pubs. There’s also Joel Friedlander’s free resource,10 Things You Need to Know About Self-Publishing.

And, for true DIYers, check out the editing macros you can use to fix common problems in your writing. Also, watch for our forthcoming book, You’ve Got Style: A Self-Publishing Author’s Guide to Ebook Style, which outlines tips and tools for copyediting your book.

Collaborator

You have a clear vision of what you want from your finished book. You know and respect your audience and you’re certain that your message will resonate with them, too. What’s more, you also know your own limitations—you can’t do it all yourself.

When it comes to writing, you don’t necessarily want a career, you want a container for your ideas—they need to be arranged and packaged in the best way possible to meet your readers’ needs. You have an idea of the kind of help you need, but you still have many questions.

Finally, you want to both understand and participate fully in the process, and Corina Koch MacLeod’s Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast is the book that will help you do that. It steps you through the process and clearly defines the revising, editing and proofreading tasks involved along the way.

Project Manager

You understand well that self-publishing your book will involve many hands. You’ll need an editor, book designer, proofreader, cover artist—and perhaps publicists and marketing consultants as well. Whoa. That’s a lot of balls in the air! But you’re business savvy, and you love nothing more than orchestrating this kind of operation.

To stay on course, you need to know what the role of each participant is. Once you know what everyone is doing, you’ll make decisions with more confidence and you’ll also see where there might be bumps in the road.

You’ll find, too, that there are many tasks you can do yourself, and that these are both fun and rewarding. For a comprehensive guide to self-publishing, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How to Publish a Book by Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch explains the process clearly. For a discussion on the role of editing in the self-publishing process, consult Sarah Kolb-William’s book, The Indie Author’s Guide to Book Editing: How to Find, Hire, and Work with the Right Editor for Your Manuscript.

That’s it—our first foray into self-pub profiling. Don’t be overwhelmed by the long list of resources. They’re there to guide you, to dip in and out of as needed when questions arise. Also, try stepping outside of your usual pattern. Explore resources and tips from the other profiles and see if doing things a bit differently improves your results. Self-publishing is a process, after all, and it’s likely that you’ll improve over time.

Image by Domiriel

At a Glance: Ebook Formatting for Kindle Publishing

Kindle
Updated January 10, 2015

by Corina Koch MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

In a previous post, I provided you with a “cheat sheet” that will help you format an ebook for Lulu using Microsoft Word. This week’s cheat sheet is for formatting an ebook for Kindle Publishing, using Microsoft Word 2010.

Amazon has a few guides for formatting a Kindle ebook using Microsoft Word:

Building Your Book for Kindle
Building Your Book for Kindle for Mac
Simplified Formatting Guide
Formatting for Kindle
Kindle Publishing Guidelines

You may need to read beyond these guides in order to troubleshoot the quirks of the Kindle conversion software. I’ve found these resources to be helpful:

Formatting of Kindle Books, by Charles Spender
From Word to Kindle,by Aaron Shepard
Pictures for Kindle, by Aaron Shepard
HTML Fixes for Kindleby Aaron Shepard

Kindle Cheat Sheet

Software

  • You can upload one of several file formats to Kindle Publishing. In this post, I’ll focus on the Word-to-Kindle process, where you upload either a Microsoft Word .doc file or a .docx file. Tracy R. Atkins suggests reasons for why you might want to work with a .docx file instead a .doc file.
  • After you’ve formatted your Word file, Amazon recommends that you save it in Word as Web Page, Filtered (Windows) or Web page (Mac).

Document Clean-Up

  • Be sure that you’ve removed any typewriter formatting from your Word document before you begin to format it. Extra spaces between words and paragraphs, as well as “unintended” fonts lurking invisibly in the background, can make a mess of your ebook.
  • Remove any headers, footers, page numbers, comments, columns, text boxes and nonbreaking hyphens (these typically show up in files originally formatted for print). Accept all tracked changes.

Document Set-Up

  • Use Word Styles to style chapter headings. This will make it easier to generate a table of contents (TOC) automatically in Word later on.
  • Tip: to see if you’ve used Word Styles to style your headings, open your Word document and then open the Navigation Pane or Document Map if you’re on a Mac. Click on the Outline tab on the left. If you’ve styled your headings using Word styles, the headings will be listed in the Navigation Pane. You can click on these headings to navigate your document.
Navigation pane in Word 2010

Headings

  • Set your book title in the “Title” style in Word Styles.
  • Set chapter headings as Heading 1s and subheadings as Heading 2s, and so forth.
  • Setting your headings in this manner will ensure that readers will be able to access your TOC from the Go To menu.

Table of Contents

  • Generate an internally hyperlinked TOC by using Word 2010’s automatic TOC feature (References tab>Table of Contents). Mac users will have to generate a TOC manually.
  • Place your TOC at the front of front of your ebook, so it shows up in the Look-Inside feature on your Amazon book page.
  • Use Word’s bookmark feature to bookmark your TOC so that it shows up as a “guide item” on an e-reader’s Go To menu.

Fonts

  • Use a “safe font,” like Times New Roman, that translates well on a variety of Kindle readers and apps. Remember, the reader has the option to change the font, anyway.
  • For font sizes, stay within the 10-point to 18-point range. A 12-point font works well for running text.
  • Make sure your font is set to “Automatic” in Word. This will prevent your fonts from showing up in an unwanted colour.
  • Chris Robley suggests to avoid using special characters that don’t appear on your keyboard (yet another reason why Times New Roman is a good font choice: it contains lots of “legal” special characters. Access them in Word by going to Insert > Symbol).
  • You can apply boldface and italics using the buttons on Word’s ribbon.

Paragraphs

  • Set paragraph styles based on Normal in Word Styles. According to Aaron Shepard, in his book From Word to Kindle, the Kindle converter hijacks Word’s Normal paragraph style, but will leave any style based on Normal alone. Tip: renaming Normal will “trick” the Kindle converter into leaving your Normal style alone.
  • Avoid using too many hard returns to create spaces after paragraphs: they can create blank pages in smaller e-readers. It’s better to set a 10-point space following a paragraph by modifying your paragraph style (Word Styles>Normal>Modify).
  • Style your paragraphs as justified, as the Kindle converter will change them to justified by default, anyway. If you prefer left-justified text, you can tweak your paragraph settings in the HTML code (see Aaron Shepard’s book From Word to Kindle).
  • First-line indents are the paragraph style by default. If you want to use block style, you’ll have to trick the Kindle converter by setting an imperceptible first-line indent or by tweaking the HTML (Aaron Shepard’s book HTML Fixes for Kindle will tell you how).
  • Avoid hanging indents. Older Kindles don’t handle them well.

Page Breaks

  • Insert a page break right after the last sentence of the chapter by going to Insert>Page Break in Word. This will prevent your chapters from running together.
  • Insert a page break after the title page.

Lists

  • Don’t style bulleted and numbered lists from the buttons on Word’s ribbon.
  • Style bulleted lists using Word’s paragraph styles (see Formatting of Kindle Books, by Charles Spender) or insert a bullet manually using Insert>Symbol, and select the bullet symbol.
  • Style numbered lists using Word’s paragraph styles, or insert numbers manually.
  • Consider using Jutoh to format your book and create your .mobi file, as it tends to handle bullets and numbered lists rather well.

Hyperlinks

  • To create an off-book hyperlink, go to Insert > Hyperlink > Address and type in the URL. Don’t link to other online bookstores.
  • For within-book hyperlinks, go to Insert > Hyperlink > Place in this document.

Images

  • Save images as a JPG or GIF, with a resolution of 96 ppi (Windows) or 72 ppi (Mac).
  • According to Aaron Shepard in Pictures on Kindle, JPGs are the best format for pictures, and GIFs are best for line drawings and tables. PNGs work for line drawings, too, though they tend to be a rather large file size.
  • Insert images inline and centre them (In Word 2010: Insert>Picture).
  • Place an image in its own “paragraph.”
  • Set larger images on a page by themselves. This may require you to insert a page break before and after the image.
  • Images should be no larger than 500 x 600 pixels and no smaller than 300 x 400 pixels.
  • Make sure images are in RGB (red, blue, green) format.
  • Recommended cover image size: 600 x 800 pixels.

Diagrams and Tables

  • Save diagrams, line drawings and tables as images in GIF or PNG format, and insert them inline.
  • Diagrams and tables should contain a font size of no less than 6 pixels for the letter “a.”

“Footnotes”

  • Use Word’s bookmark feature to link “footnotes” to “footnote” markers in the running text. Go to Insert > Hyperlink > Place in this document.

Other

Most distributors have strict rules about advertising in your ebook (don’t do it), and Amazon is no exception. Remember to fill out your book’s metadata so readers can find it on the Amazon website.

Each distributor’s conversion software has its quirks. Their formatting guides are designed to help you to prepare a Word document that works with their conversion software. If your file doesn’t convert the first time, don’t give up! Go back to the formatting guides to see if you missed anything. It often takes a few tries to get it right.

For additional help with Kindle ebooks, check out the KDP support forum.

Image by Petra B. Fritz

How to Become a Publisher, Step 1: Build a Website

By Corina Koch MacLeod
@Ckmacleodwriter

Traditional Publishing Bingo

 

What’s the first step you need to take when you’re setting up a digital publishing company? Writing a business plan? Maybe not. I’d like to suggest building a website should be your first step.

Start With a Website

I have nothing against writing business plans, but the act of building a website is, to me, a more authentic exercise to help you consider what you want your publishing company to be about. You’ll need to know what you’re about in order to communicate it to your potential customers. Why not begin with that end in mind?

Self-publishing author Joanna Penn has said, “I don’t know what I think until I’ve written it down.” I believe that’s been true for us. Writing content for our website has forced us to narrow our focus and make lots of important decisions.

Start Small

We’ve published several literacy print resources in the past 12 years, but we’ve decided to focus on our bestseller for now while shifting from printed books to digital resources (with printable PDFs for those who still like print). We will roll out our other resources as time allows.

We realize the Don’t Panic Books website is a work in progress. We are going to make some mistakes, and we will need to make changes. It is, right now, our best attempt to communicate to our audience what we’re about and how we can help them.

As we begin to interact with our audience—something that wasn’t easily done when our publisher was at the helm—we can adjust our message as they make their needs more clear to us. Now, I don’t know of a customer who’d read your business plan, do you?

Steps for Building a Website

Are you setting up a publishing company, too? Are you considering selling books directly to your customers? Creating a website involves a few steps that can be a little confusing at first. Here are the basics:

1. Choose a domain name.
Your domain is the web address people will use to find your publishing company. Put a great deal of thought into what you’ll name your site, and make sure it’s easy to remember. There are many do’s and don’ts for naming a web site; you may want to consider all of them.

We didn’t choose the name of our publishing site: our audience did. The first book we published in 2002 was titled: Don’t Panic: A Guide to Passing the Literacy Test in Ontario. At the time there was a great deal of anxiety surrounding the test (hence the Don’t Panic in our title). Teachers were asked to prepare students for the test without resources to support this process. Teachers began to refer to our resources as “the Don’t Panic books,” so we stuck with the name. Listen to your audience: they may tell you something important.

When you decide on the name of your website, you’ll need to see if that domain name is already taken. You’ll then need to purchase your domain name from a site that offers domain names for sale. Go Daddy is a popular domain registrar, but it isn’t the only choice. We were able to purchase our domain name through our web host (see below).

2. Choose a web host.
A web host is a company that hosts your website. Think of hosting as space you rent on the Internet. Again, there are many web hosts to choose from, so do your research. We chose Bluehost because it

  • offers 24/7 support for the first year,
  • has some great website building tools,
  • offers a free domain name for one year,
  • will allow us to build more than one website with the same account, and
  • offers five free email addresses.

3. Choose a website building tool.
Website building tools are designed to make setting up a website easier. Gone are the days when you’d have to hand code your website in HTML.

WordPress is a popular open-source website building tool with lots of features, but if this is your first website and you’re looking for something easy to use, the Weebly website building tool is by far the easiest way to begin. Building a site with Blogger is an option, too, if you’re interested in blogging or setting up an author website, and not selling anything from your website.

We built our first two websites with Weebly, and housed our blogs on Blogger, but recently switched over to WordPress so we can make use of some of WordPress’ time-saving plug-ins. Both WordPress and Weebly have options for setting up an online store, or using plug-ins that enable you to sell books from your website.

4. Follow a tutorial.
Weebly is pretty intuitive, and I found I could just experiment with Weebly’s drag-and-drop features to set up a website with little frustration. WordPress was another story. It’s packed with features, and it can take some getting used to. I followed this tutorial by Simon Whistler to set up the Don’t Panic Books WordPress site.

5. Use a website checklist. Once you have your website set up, you’ll want to consider what features you’ll need. A website checklist can help you to make decisions and keep you on track.

6. Build anticipation. Your website doesn’t have to go live right away. It can go live when you’re ready. See if your website building tool has a “coming soon” page template or plug-in that you can mount while you work on your website in the background.

Setting up a publishing company is a bit of an undertaking, but beginning with a website will help you to set a direction and to clarify what you want to be about.

For more information on the ins and outs of setting up a website, see Jane Friedman’s post, Self-Hosting Your Author Website: Why and How to Do It.

Image by Shmuel

Why You Should Become Your Own Publisher

By Corina Koch MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

Are you a traditionally published author who wants to self-publish?

Carla and I have been working with a small independent publisher for 12 years, and recently we’ve made the decision to self-publish our educational resources. To do so, we need to become publishers.

New Series

This post is the first in a series about the steps we’re taking to set up our publishing company, Don’t Panic Books. These won’t be “we’ve got it all figured out” posts, but rather, “this is what we’re trying” posts. So, if you’re on the fence about self-publishing, do stick around and watch our trials and triumphs.

Why Self-publish?

Why did we decide to strike out on our own? There are many reasons. Here are a few of them:

  • According to The Guardian, traditional publishing is no longer sustainable.
  • It’s time to move from print to digital. Print costs and shipping costs have skyrocketed. We can offer teachers (our audience) our resources at a lower cost if we can provide digital resources and resources they can print on an as-needs basis.
  • Removing shipping and printing from the equation means we may be able to automate the selling process. Because we’re also busy editors (hands-on time), we need to figure out where we can be hands-off.
  • Teachers are looking for ways to incorporate tech literacy into their teaching. Our interactive resources will make it easy for them to do so. There are many good reasons why going digital can help students learn.
  • There is a move in self-publishing toward “going direct”—selling from your website instead of relying solely on a publisher or distributor, such as Amazon. This is especially true if you have an established audience. Now is a great time to give that a try.
  • Author royalties for traditional publishing are typically low (8–15%), compared with self-publishing royalties (35–80%). Having said that…
  • We don’t have much to lose. These resources have been successful for 12 years. We’ve had a good run with them, and they owe us nothing.

Check Your Rights

We were able to stop the presses, so to speak, because we hold all rights to our books. We’ve realized that this arrangement with our traditional publisher has been rather atypical.

Many authors would like to take back their books from their publishers but can’t because the publishers hold the rights. Check your publishing contract. Some authors can get their rights back after a period of time. You may be one of them.

First Steps

In The $100 Start Up, author Chris Gillebeau writes:

“To start a business, you need three things: a product or service, a group of people willing to pay for it, and a way to get paid. Everything else is completely optional.”

We have our product—Don’t Panic Interactive: On-the Go Practice for the OSSLT—so we started our publishing company by devising a way to showcase it. In our next post, I’ll share the first step we took, and I’ll clarify a few things so you don’t run into the snags that we did.

Authors have been moving from print to digital and from tradpub to selfpub in waves since 2010. Are you a traditionally published author who is thinking about making the leap to self-publishing? What is the first step you’ll take to set up your publishing company?

Image by Bernard Goldbach

How to Use Reader Feedback to Improve Your Writing

by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas  @CKmacleodwriter

This post originally appeared on May 28, 2014 at The Book Designer.

Self-pubs: Your readers are trying to tell you something. Here’s how to get the most from what they’re saying.

I know I need to edit my book, but I don’t know where to begin. — Indie Author

Step 1: Start with the Reader

We hear this comment frequently from self-publishing authors. Completing a book-length work is exhausting, and the last thing you want to hear when you finish your first draft is that you need to start again, this time with revisions.

You might not realize it, but the place to begin is right in front of you — it’s the reader you’ve had in mind since you began your first draft. That reader is talking to you, and if you can figure out exactly what he’s saying, he can act as your guide in the revision, or self-editing, process.

As Hugh Howey says, “Indie authors are maniacally focused on the reader … Indie authors are doing well because they know it’s all about the reader…. It’s the reader, stupid.”

So start with the reader — the reader can direct you to the problem spots in your work, if only you’ll listen. Not only that, but careful attention to what the reader is telling you can help you improve your writing.

Where do you find readers? Well, there are your beta readers, and there are reviewers. Both are giving you feedback about your work. If you’re about to publish a book, you’ll have beta reader comments to work from. If you’ve published a book already, then you might also have reviews to scour for information.

Finally, if you haven’t previously published a book and you don’t have beta readers yet for your current work, don’t despair. You can read others’ reviews … and learn from their mistakes!

The point is, the information is out there. But you need to learn how to use it.

Step 2: Do Things in the Right Order

The Editing Continuum

In her book, The Indie Author’s Guide to Book Editing, Sarah Kolb-Williams points out that the order of things matters. A big-picture edit, for example, needs to happen before a word-level edit. In other words, when you’re at the beginning of the editing process, typos should be the least of your concerns.

We said something similar in a previous post: order matters, and as you begin the editing process, you’ll save yourself time and endless frustration if you keep this order in mind:

Big-picture —> Paragraph level —> Sentence level —> Word level

If it helps, try thinking of the editing continuum as something similar to the order of operations in arithmetic. If you perform addition and subtraction before addressing division and multiplication, you’ll end up with a meaningless jumble. Similarly, if you attend to spelling and punctuation or dialogue and characterization before you’ve resolved issues in the plot, your results will be disappointing at best.

Recap:

1. Focus on the reader and what he says he likes about a book—and pay special attention to what he doesn’t like.

2. Order matters (see above). Don’t even think about correcting typos until you’ve got your big-picture and paragraph level ducks in a row.

Keeping these two items in mind will position you to use valuable reader feedback to your best advantage.

Step 3: Use Reviews to Improve Your Writing

Interpreting Reviews

At last, you’re ready to apply feedback to your manuscript. This is the hard part. You know where to find feedback and you know the order of revisions. We can hear you asking, “What now?”

When beta readers, readers, reviewers and editors—editors are readers, too!—offer constructive feedback, what are they actually telling you, and how can you use that information to improve your writing?

It’s possible to read what reviewers say and figure out what kind of attention your manuscript needs. Situating your manuscript on the editing continuum will also help you to determine the order in which to address things.

We searched through reviews on Amazon for examples of constructive feedback. Readers won’t necessarily tell you that you need to focus your attention on in a big-picture edit, for example, but they may suggest it. The table below interprets examples of reader feedback, so that you can see how you might identify what you need to improve on.

Once you know what readers are telling you, you can do something about it. The Google search engine is your friend, here. There is lots of great information about the craft of writing fiction on the internet. In the right column of the table, we’ve suggested some search terms you can use to find information that will help you.

*Note: As we searched the Amazon reviews for examples of the four levels of editing, we encountered surprisingly few references to typos and spelling errors. This wasn’t the case even a year ago, when comments about careless proofreading were frequent. As we’ve said before, the landscape is changing—self-publishing authors are listening, and they’re taking measures to produce professional, polished books.

How to Use this Information

You’ve received some great reader feedback, or you’ve found reviews of others’ work that might also apply to yours. And, after identifying the trouble spots in your writing, you’ve found relevant resources to help you sort things out in your manuscript.

You’re on your way.

But making revisions is slow and difficult work—don’t try to rush things. Acknowledge that your book will take time to develop, and your attention to detail now will pay off later. Keep in mind, too, that integrating all this information is complex, and it may take more than one try to get it right.

Tackle items one item at a time in an order that makes sense—straighten out the plot and fill in the holes, for example, then address pacing. Through experience and practice you’ll learn that you can’t achieve the pace that will keep a reader engaged unless you dismantle all the infodumps standing in the way.

Yes, there’s a lot to learn and it’s hard work, but if you listen to what readers are telling you, you’ll become more aware of your writing strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately, you’ll also become a better writer.

Image by Found Animals Foundation

Related Links

How to Improve Your Writing With Macros: Tips for Beginners
3 Ways to Pare Down Your Prose
5 Things Editors Know About Readers
How to Get Helpful Feedback from Beta Readers

8 Proofreading Tools for Beta Readers

FeedbackBy C.K. MacLeod
@CKmacleodwriter

This post originally appeared on August 14, 2014, at Tech Tools for Writers.

Many self-publishing authors use beta readers to get feedback on a book before publication. You don’t have to work on paper; you can use a computer or a tablet to “mark up” or make notes on an author’s manuscript. Below is a list of tools for beta readers. An author may send you a manuscript in a variety of formats, so I’ve included options for several file formats.

File Formats

Sometimes it will make sense to convert the author’s file to another format. Many of the proofreading tools below will read PDFs. You can save an .rtf, .doc, or .docx file as a PDF with Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (free). If you have a stylus for your tablet, you may be able to mark up text like you would on paper. This table will tell you which tool will read which file format. I summarize the features of the tools below.

Tablet Apps

Adobe Reader (free)

  • Reads PDF files
  • Available for Android and iOS
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs, and comments
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Works well with a stylus
  • Search function, so you can search all instances of an error

iAnnotate

  • Reads PDF files
  • Available for Android (free) and iOS ($9.99)
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Works well with a stylus

WPS Writer (free)

  • Part of the WPS Office suite
  • Available for Android and iOS tablets and phones
  • Reads .doc and .docx files
  • Track changes
  • Comments
  • Find and replace
  • Voice search
  • Syncs with desktop version so you can alternately work on a computer and a tablet

Computer Apps

WPS Writer (free and paid)

  • Part of the WPS Office suite
  • Reads .doc, .docx and .rtf files
  • Track changes
  • Comments
  • Robust find and replace
  • Wildcards
  • Pro version can run proofreading macros
  • Syncs with the tablet app version so you can alternately work on a computer and a tablet

Adobe Reader XI (free)

  • Reads PDFs
  • Used by professional proofreaders
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Allows you to load PDF stamps into the software (see below), so you can mark a variety of proofreading errors with symbols instead of with comments
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Robust search function
  • Read-aloud feature so you can listen for mistakes that your eyes might miss

PDF XChange Viewer (free)

  • Reads PDFs
  • Used by professional proofreaders
  • Drawing tools for mark-up
  • Allows you to load PDF stamps into the software
  • In-text highlights, strikethroughs and comments
  • Robust search function

Adobe Digital Editions

  • Reads epubs
  • Use ADE if the book has already been professionally formatted for e-readers
  • It’s not possible to mark up in ADE, but you can copy sections of text into a word processor and mark up the changes there—procedure explained by Rob at 52 Novels

Kindle E-ink Readers and Apps

  • Reads mobi files
  • Use this method if the book has already been professionally formatted for Kindle e-readers and apps
  • Highlights
  • Notes
  • A bit clunky—see How to Proofread on a Kindle for the procedure

App or Desktop Version?

Computer software tends to have more robust search functions than tablet apps, but it can take a while to figure out how to use the drawing tools to mark up the text with a mouse. Proofreading stamps are a shorthand for proofreading errors, and tend to make the proofreading process faster. Use them if the author knows what they mean (or provide the author with a glossary of symbols, if you like). Note: As far as I know, stamps tend to only work in the desktop versions of proofreading software.

Proofreading stamps
My stamp library; blue stamps by Adrienne Montgomerie

If you want to imitate the pros, you can import* proofreading stamps into your proofreading software or design your own. Louise Harnby of the Proofreading Parlour offers a collection of British proofreading stamps for free, and you can find American proofreading stamps on the Wiley Publishing website. Do you have a favourite proofreading tool not listed here? Tell us about it in the comments below.

*To learn how to import proofreading stamps into Adobe Reader XI or design your own, see this video by Adrienne Montgomerie.

Image by Alan Levine

Related Posts
How to Proofread Your Book Like a Pro, Part 1
How to Proofread Like a Pro, Part 2: Checking Your Formatting
How to Proofread on a Kindle
How to Check Your Ebook Using Kindle Previewer