Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Importance of Formatting Your Ms-Word Manuscripts

There are many, many websites, mostly blogs (short articles and essays) for writers to learn from and hone their art and their craft. One I subscribe to is The Write Life, full of tips in five categories, Freelancing, Blogging, Marketing, Craft and Publishing. Just about all of its blogs are helpful, informative and well-written, on specific topics all serious writers should assimilate.
   I recently shared an important article of theirs with my writing classes titled How to Format a Book: 10 Tips Your Editor Wants You to Know. You can find the full article at
   I'd like to share my take on what they wrote:
Note: The article itself lists specific MS-Word commands to perform some functions discussed. I will not be sharing those. Go to their site.
   First, if you are a serious writer and are going to a publisher or are going to self-publish, you must go thru an editor first. There are many kinds, for example, line, copy and content editors. In my editing business I mix elements of all three. Most professional editors are paid by the word, say 2-cents, or page, anywhere from $3 up; the average is $6.00 per page. You as a writer must understand how critically necessary good editing is to your manuscript(s), and keep that in mind as you shell out the cash and receive back their page reviews and edits.
   But whether you are self-publishing or were lucky enough to be picked up by a publishing house, besides writing a great story, going thru the editing, revision and polishing processes, there’s one othe process you must constantly be aware of and learn to do automatically. That is formatting every page, every chapter, the book, properly and correctly.
   It’s not enough to write a great story. If it is formatted badly it will turn off the reader.
   Here’s where the 10 tips come in:
1.       Always use black, 12 points, Times New Roman or another common font for 99% of the text. I use Calibri for all my books and articles and I’ve never had a complaint after all these years of someone’s PC or laptop not seeing it. Our PCs have at least 500 fonts, so inserting words here and there for them to stand out is fine, just don’t overdo it.
2.       Use the standard page size for the book you want to publish. We start out with all words documents as 8.5x11 page size, but unless you have a coffee table book, most likely that will not be the size of your work once published. I self-publish all tracebacks, in 6x9 size, for example. So one way or the other, either type it all 8.5x11 and make it smaller later (much more work), or type the pages in the size you intend to publish from the get-go. This is important because a 6x9 page line holds fewer words than an 8.5x11 page, and vice versa. How those words appear on the page is critical to the presentation of your book and the ease in which the reader can follow the text.
3.       Text should be fully justified end-to-end on every page. Most books are fully justified. It’s just plain easier for the eyes to follow.
4.       These days only use a single space after a period, not two as you might have been taught when younger. Any publisher, wanting to conserve page space for example, will insist on this. The important thing is to be consistent.
5.       In drafts only, used double-spaced lines. A finished manuscript is never double spaced, only single-spaced.
6.       Indent all paragraphs by .5 (a half-inch), EXCEPT the first paragraph of the chapter or of a new scene (which follows a line space). Every point, .1 is a character space. If .5 is too much for you, set your paragraph indents to something less. But no less than .3 is what I recommend. It should never be more than .5.
7.       Search thru books in your genre and see how they are formatted and follow their general rules. Don’t make up your own unless you are already a wildly popular author with a large fan buying base. Then do whatever you want.
8.       Learn how to use MS-Word Page Breaks and Section Breaks. This takes some skill. Pay attention. Especially if you don’t want page numbers on the Front Matter of your book, and want the first numbered page to start later.
9.       Learn how to set format and footers and set page numbers correctly. See also #8 above.
10.   Do not send chapter(s) to an editor; rather send the whole manuscript. The editor will use Word’s “Track Changes” to edit your document as well as to insert Comments. When you get it back it will be redlined. It’s then up to you to accept or reject those suggested changes and to implement them in your final manuscript or not. As an editor myself, all I can say is thanks to Microsoft for these features.
   My additional Tips: Train yourself in MS-Word. Pay for a course if necessary. And use these rules for every document you type until they become ingrained and automatic. You are doing yourself and your editor a huge favor.
   Besides, do you really want to spend your money for an editor to format your pages when you should be doing it anyway?
   Save your money and learn how to do it well.

Readers expect no less.

Important to Note When Copyrights Expire

I think, for me at least, one of the hardest tasks I have as a nonfiction writer is 1) doing good research, and 2) getting permissions to use quotations and excerpts in my books.
   #1 is easier than the second. Facts are facts, and they ARE NOT COPYRIGHTED. Nor can they be under copyright law. Of course when stating facts, how you state them is all important, for if you plagiarize copy and long phrases and excerpts with a fact or two thrown in, well, that doesn't count. Rephrasing and restating is always safer.
   #2 is much harder. There are no industry standards in the published world for how you can obtain permission to use a quotation or excerpt from a news article, magazine or book. None.
   It's up to the publisher and author to make that process either extremely easy or extremely hard. Mostly it's extremely hard finding access to them in the first place. Some big publishers have permission departments that work well, again, if you can find out how to contact them. I went thru Simon & Schuster for permission to copy and publish 3,000 words from Stephen King's book On Writing. They had a contract and a fee. The contract was good, the fee of $6.00 per copy for the 30 copies of the 14-pages of excerpts I distributed to my writing classes was not that great for my pocketbook, but it was something I wanted to do.
   And it would seem actual permission departments are few. So it's a catch as one can proposition getting permission.
   That brings me full circle to knowing copyright expirations so that you can cite quotations easily and even recklessly. 
   Here's the skinny: It's complicated.
1. For most works it's the term of the author's life plus 70 years. So Dickens and Shakespeare are safe to quote. However, the source you use to quote from is probably copyrighted, and your Bibliography should show that.
2. the exception is that any works published after January 1, 1978 when copyright laws changed, is that any such work created after 2002 will not expire until 2047. You and I will be dead by then, so use of any of that material freely is out of the question. One must ask for permission to use anything. Note: Song lyrics are jealously guarded by that industry, so don't even go there unless you want to be sued or go to court.
3. Works that were created before 1978 and published with a proper copyright notice before 1923 are now in the public domain. That's what you can site freely from, works in the "public domain." BUT BUT BUT you must check to see if the copyright was renewed before just using it in your book. Go to to check. 

Bottom line: Go to Lolly Gasaway's rules summary at to double-check what I've told you here.

Believe, me, neither you nor I have the time, money or patience to be hit with a suit of any kind over the use of someone else's words or writing.

Spend the time necessary and do your research. Great writing stems from great research under all conditions.

If you've had any horror stories, please share them in the Comments below. I'd be interested to know how it worked out.


Ignore MS-Word at Your Own Peril

Not using MS-Word to at least draft all your documents on your PC is like not using a toothbrush to brush your teeth. Both injurious to your personal and writer's good health.
   Why? Simple. Right now (2016-2017) there are over 1.25 BILLION Microsoft PCs in the world. 400 million are running Windows 10 and that's growing fast. The majority of businesses and all levels of government also use Microsoft Operating Systems and software products. By contrast, there are an estimated 60 million Mac users worldwide. And there's been Windows to Mac migration and compatibility for some time, both from the Windows (Microsoft) side, and the Mac (Apple ) side. That tells you the writing on the wall for anyone typing a document on any type of computer. Google is trying to get Drive established but it's clunky and limited as a word processor, in my opinion, and I only use it for a few things.
   "But I like my own word processing software," you say. 
   "Well, get off your high horse, learn new ways, and join the rest of the world for a change, because frankly, your product is not going to be accessible to all 1.25 billion people, or even a fraction."
   That especially holds true for using MS-Word to type, edit, revise, polish and format all your poems, stories and manuscripts. Word has such a wealth of features, many one-click and easy mass changes, that it's silly not to use it. Yes, there are other author tools -- some very sophisticated -- or simpler. You can find a list of them at
   Whatever you choose, do your due diligence. Do not spend money for one sight-unseen. At least try it out somehow first, or go thru video demonstrations or tutorials. If those aren't available Google product reviews, user forums, Knowledge Bases; or look for an online user's manual or help manual etc.
   Full disclosure: For sheer ease of use I like MS-Word best because it's feature rich. And although exasperating at times with its glitches and often very inadequate Help screens, most products have the same issues. And it's affordable. And stable for the very most parts. 
   Plus I'm biased. I grew up in the early 1980's using WordPerfect in my employment with the State of New Jersey. All software was clunky and limited back then. When the State switched to Microsoft products it was a refreshing breeze over the old. For the next 30 years, I learned and used Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint exclusively, so it all just comes naturally to me now.
   There is still a learning curve, of course. Every product has a neverending one. Recently it took me 3-hours to figure out how to number my manuscript pages with page 1 starting AFTER the front matter,  but I figured it out alone.
   There's a lot of help, including MS articles, and help forums and knowledge bases built up for MS-Word issues. These are other reasons to use it. MS-Word is truly universal.
   So get with the program. On your PC, no matter what kind, at least be compatible with MS-Word documents so you can create and save them and share them, or receive and open and edit them etc.
    You'll find a willing audience of other writers and authors also using Word always ready to help you with advice and tips, like this blog now.
   Avail yourself of the wide field of Microsoft knowledge you have available.
   Don't limit your Word Processor to some dinky, unknown system, or the opposite, unless you have no choice. Is there a specialized place for their attributes? Sure. But not for the universality we're talking about here.

Go for it with A Word to the Wise...

If you have happy or sad stories about using Word, share them with me.
   Or if you have great recommendations for another word processor program share that and why too

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Would-be Writer's Magna Carta

I am not a “popular’ author, not now, not yet, and I am not sure if there ever will be a yet. That doesn’t stop me from trying to write my best. And “best” changes every time I relook at a piece or poem I’ve written. Frankly, I can’t help but to write; it’s an addiction, a craving, a need and a want. Simply to express myself, as I discover me, is my goal; good, bad or indifferent (never indifferent).

Since retiring as a technical writer after 30 years, I now have the total freedom to express my writings when and where, what and how I please, in assorted mediums meant for sharing. And here is the cornerstone of the foundation of all good writing: 

The First Rule

#1 Please yourself. To be only pleased or even happy or ecstatic (haven’t reached that yet!), is a drive I’ve found in this craft we call writing. Craft and art. For altho I study the craft intensely, the art is learned over time, not taught. It’s a great feeling to find the words that suit perfectly, that can neither be added to or subtracted from, like the jot and tittle. The words and phrasings that fulfill my soul at the moment I write them, and later, more so, when I rewrite and polish, are a joy. Rewriting and polishing confirms my love for the theme or concept, feeling or experience I choose to share at any given moment. A satisfying piece or poem energizes me to continue.

The Second Rule:

#2 Let the moment control. Every moment is a mindset, viewpoint, opinion and most importantly, a commitment. I let my fingers type what comes to mind. I may pause, I may go nonstop. I let the letters and words, sentences and paragraphs free from the cage of self. Free from judgment, self-editing, over-thinking and pre-planning. I am not an outliner, I am a pantser, a seat of the pants type guy. You may be an outliner and if that works, then that is right for you. There is no right or wrong way to express yourself using the written word. And I hold strictly to that foundation. To me it's all experimental. At this point my audience is only one person in the world of existence – me.

That brings me to the foundation itself: the rules of the craft of writing, of which there are four,

1.       Know the rules. The book Elements of Style contains the easiest to understand and the very best advice. 85-pages packed with succinct aphorisms, and tried and true successes. But before that assurance arrives, your own educational background in the English language, grammar, punctuation, mechanics, exceptions and all the rest, is your never-failing bedrock. Some things must be unlearned, others reinforced, more others repeated over and over to understand and implement. And there is lots of help in this, tons! Free courses on Purdue's O.W.L. lessons and other edu’s, Chicago Manual of Style or The St. Martin’s Handbook. Google is the first-line, dictionaries and thesauruses the second. There simply is no opportunity to flounder or guess or be imprecise.

2.       You’re allowed to break rules and make rules. Change is the single constant in this vast universe. As they say, “Everything changes, and nothing changes,” but in reality every atom is vibrating, constantly, and vibrations are life itself. It’s been said we contain the universe inside us. Use it! Meditate, ponder, wonder and question! Above all, ask for guidance and help. This is how we find our own voices, our “me’s,” our soul and psyche. Our motivation to exist. And that voice is unique to each of us, and it shares with us all that is or will be. And in discovering ourselves, we are allowed to make and break rules of conventionality and expectation, to thrill our readers with new truths, a never-exhausted vat of truth, a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.

3.       Be clear and concise. Don’t waffle or hesitate to share, but do it in such a way as to leave a definite impression. Don’t be misunderstood. Don’t be a politician trying to accommodate all voters views and needs. Let your words not just speak for themselves but for you, the inner, real, no-more-secrets, you. Be definite with the force of your own confidence and conviction, hopes and dreams. Think not what your reader will do for you, but what you will do for the reader. And to do that effectively, you must separate the wheat from the chaff, the pertinent details out of a myriad of details. Banish thoughts of reaching all readers and focus on your audience. Address them only, clearly, with authority. Again, do not waffle or vacillate, use vague words and indefinite nouns and verbs. Never be afraid to express what is you alone with crystal clear clarity and preciseness. That is the sole guarantor of achieving positive response. “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.”

4.       Verbs do all the heavy lifting. I may set the scene with description, but much better is to do so with action. Nouns may be subjects or objects of sentences, but verbs link them with aliveness --  not boring, meaningless death. Dialog and internal monologues fill the edges, may complete the scene or picture, and enhance realism. Stephen King and others eschew adverbs, so I use them, haha, sparingly. Adjectives are details. Prepositions are movement markers and placeholders. Pronouns are identifiers. Conjunctions are joiners of similarities or opposites. Articles are the glue that holds the sentence together, and the fewer the better in my opinion, depending on immediacy of action.  Verbs show action, conflict, emotion, doing not telling, movement and life, forwards and backwards, up and down, sideways and all ways. They are indispensable in showing motivation. And the heart and key of every great story uncovers universal human motivation.

The oldest form of communication is grunts and body language, or motions. Next is speaking, incorporating even more body language. The third writing. All require an audience, even if only oneself. So listening and seeing what’s communicated is the first step to understanding and realization. Good writing is not talking, because the listener is removed, usually unknown, a stranger, not an intimate. Yet, as one read’s written words, images and symbols form in one’s head as if the writer was personally addressing the reader. As if it is a conversation we readers say the words in our head aloud. Writing is personal and so is reading.

So the question I ask myself when writing is not “Who is my audience,” but rather, “Why am I talking?” Good writing needs, must have, purpose and intent. A goal, and that means objectives and milestones. A measurable advance to clarity. We writers refer to it as “theme,” with subthemes and offshoots, most often appearing as stanzas or paragraphs and groups of paragraphs called chapters. If we wish to communicate to anyone other than ourselves, purity of motive is required. Coherence is mandatory. Honesty is indispensable, for, who wants to be lied to?

I’ve given you my opinion on what it means to be a writer, for me.
What does it mean to you? Do you follow rules or make up rules?

I’d like to know if you’re willing to converse.