When was the last time you sat down to write a novel and thought, Er, how do I do this again? Or, I guess the better question is, when was the last time you sat down to write a novel? But assuming that answer is something other than “never,” you may have discovered that writing a novel is hard, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Today’s writing resource book, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks, will tell you what you should be doing.
Specifically, it breaks down the structure of story, using the “six core competencies of successful writing.” In other words, it teaches you how to write a cohesive novel that publishers would buy and readers would read, assuming you understand and follow its guidelines.
It also emphasizes the differences between “plotting” and “pantsing.” If you’ve heard these terms and have no idea what they mean, then read the book, and watch the video I recorded about reading the book.
Welcome back to The Writer’s Bookshelf. Today we will be focusing on Anne Lamont’s ode to the writing life, in her masterpiece Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. If you have not read this book, be aware that you’re ignoring a classic of the genre. This book is almost as essential to the writer’s bookshelf as last week’s Stephen King’s On Writing, even though you may ask yourself why that’s true after you’ve finished reading it. Look, don’t question the classics! They’re important because important people say they are. I don’t know whom these important people are. They just are, okay? Things were different in the early ‘90s when it was originally released. Don’t second-guess it! Just watch the video here. Then check out your copy below. It’s a classic. You know that, right?
Cynicism toward yesteryear’s classics aside, it actually is a good book that you should read if you want to prepare yourself not only for the writing life but for the structured life.
Years ago when I started this blog and took my YouTube channel more seriously, I dreamed of presenting a limited book review series about the books writers might want to invest in, to further their craft, including, and especially, the books that I’ve read and learned from that still sit on my bookshelf. However, I’ve put this idea off to the side because I wasn’t sure if I should write book reviews for each title or simply create a Goodreads style list for my top favorites. In either case, I couldn’t see much benefit in doing these things for myself, or the budding writer, because if I reviewed every book, then I wouldn’t be spending that precious time writing my own book, and isn’t putting their lessons into practice the point of reading these books? On the other hand, simply populating a list of top recommended books doesn’t do much justice into why I recommend them.
At some point, I’d settled on a median where I could talk about them in an informal style, but instead of writing about them, I could speak into a camera about them. Of course, when I had that idea, I had no way of recording my face, just my voice, because I had no good camera, just an old digital Fuji from 2004 that ran on four AA batteries. If people wanted to hear just my voice, then I’d be better off with a podcast, and that would require having a better microphone. No idea was a good idea.
But, of course, the no good idea became something of a half-hopeful idea.
In 2019, I was forced to replace my old flip phone with an Android, and by doing so, I was now able to get my hands on a digital recording device that I could actually upload to YouTube. It was pretty nice. But there was still a problem present: I still had to hold the camera when I spoke into it. Hardly useful if I want to show viewers my book collection while I talk about it. Closer than I’d been, but still not what I needed to do it well.
Fast-forward to the present work-at-home world we live in, and I’ve been forced to buy a webcam and a nice backdrop, too. And a better microphone. With those things in place, I can now stand far enough from an anchored camera to speak and display books while I talk, which means I’ve run out of excuses for delaying this series, which, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve dreamed about doing for years.
The Writer’s Bookshelf: Recommended References and Writing Resources.
This series will contain 16 episodes a season, with each season focusing on a particular theme, and season one focusing on the writing life and story structure. The plan is to debut a new title every Friday at 10am EST on my YouTube channel until the end of the year, and then start up a new season sometime in the spring.
The way it’ll work is that I’ll tell viewers about “this week’s book,” why they should want it, and what to expect from it, or how it can help them if they read it. I’ll do so through loose, one-sided conversations with them. What I won’t do is talk about every detail or get into every point the book makes. The emphasis is that the book is one you should read if you care about improving your writing career, but if you want to get the most out of it, you’ll have to actually read it. I’ll also encourage viewers to post links to their blogs or Wattpad profiles if they want to share something they’ve written based on something they’ve learned. I’ll also post new articles simultaneously on this blog to announce which book we’ll be covering that day and embed a link to the video so anyone can check it out.
You can watch the seven-minute introduction to the series here.
And when you’re done with that, you can check out our first book of the series:
Yep, did you really think we’d start with anything else? Watch the video here.
Oh, and if you care about high quality videos, then you’ll have to wait until I can afford a better camera and a better studio setup for that. One way you can help expedite that process is to encourage at least 10,000 of your friends to buy copies of my e-books (the ones that actually cost something), which you can check out via the side panel. You do have 10,000 friends, right?
This week, I’ve uploaded a five-part series about getting your e-book onto Google Play Books. I’ve used my e-book Shell Out as an example. I cover how to prepare an EPUB, a basic but pleasant PDF, and a fancy PDF that makes eyes happy, as well as cover how to get the book onto Google and what the results will look like once it’s online.
Here is the series and episode summary, along with resource links and action checklists. Enjoy.
Now that Google Play Books has reopened its service to all independent publishers, it’s a good idea to publish your books there and expand your audience reach. But how do you do that? This five-part series will walk you through the basic steps to get up and running.
Google Play Books requires at least one of two formats to get your e-book online and available for consumption: EPUB and PDF. It recommends you upload both. Part 1 of the “Publishing with Google Play Books Series” covers the basics for getting an EPUB ready for the service, using a free EPUB creation tool, Calibre.
Note: This episode covers the simplest method for getting an EPUB built on Calibre and ready for Google Play Books. You’ll need to learn CSS and HTML to develop a more specialized or attractive EPUB file, which this video will not cover. I’ve listed two great resources below to help you take these basics to the professional-level.
Google Play Books requires at least one of two formats to get your e-book online and available for consumption: EPUB and PDF. It recommends you upload both. Part 2 of the “Publishing with Google Play Books Series” covers the basics of formatting a PDF for the service, using Microsoft Word.
Note: This episode covers the simplest effective method for getting a stylish PDF ready for Google Play Books. For a more complex but ultimately more rewarding result, come back for Part 4 when I talk about a program designed for better formatting.
Register a partner account with Google Play Books (consult the Reedsy Blog article in the resources section on how to do this).
Go to Book Catalog section to add a new book or access a book you want to edit.
Once inside the book editing page, fill in the fields on all four tabs of the Book Info section.
Use the same description as you have on the other publication sites to maintain consistency. Use bold text and italics to enhance its presentation. Use paragraph breaks to indicate new paragraphs.
Remember to set the release dates: publication is for today; on sale is whenever buyers have access (good for preorders). Set the on sale date far enough in the future to give ARC readers time to read.
Consult PDF version for accurate page count, or divide word count by 250 and round to nearest whole number if you’re not sure.
Use as many genres as the book may occupy, especially since Google doesn’t allow for manual keywords.
List all essential contributors. The author is the main contributor. Coauthors and illustrators are also essential. Editors are essential for curated materials.
Fill in sample size and publisher information, if applicable.
Go to Content section.
Upload EPUB, PDF, and JPEG files.
Go to PRICING section.
Set desired price point. Set worldwide options.
Return to Content section. Check conversion status. Fix errors if any appear.
Provide ARC and beta reader Google emails in the content reviewer section, if any.
Verify all results in the Summary section.
Part 4: Using Affinity Publisher to Create a Stunning PDF for Google Play Books
Creating a simple PDF for Google Play Books is fine. But wouldn’t you rather give your readers something that actually looks nice? In this video, we use Affinity Publisher to create a more sophisticated PDF than the one we made in Part 2.
Note 1: Affinity products are cheaper, non-subscription based alternatives to Adobe products. Affinity Photo, Designer, and Publisher are equivalent to Adobe PhotoShop, Illustrator, and InDesign respectively.
Note 2: All Affinity products are on sale for 50% off until June 20, 2020. Get all three (Photo, Designer, and Publisher) if you want to maximize your development. There is also a 90-day trial period in place until June 20 if you aren’t sure you want to just plop the money down straightaway.
Just found another useful resource last night that I’m super impressed with. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe not.
All of us know about Adobe PhotoShop, Illustrator, and InDesign. We also know that we have to spend $52.99 a month to use all three programs, which is useful only if we plan to use more than three Creative Cloud apps every month. Fortunately, we get a ton of apps for that price. Unfortunately, most of those apps are just add-ons to the big three (or four, if you include Premier). Seems hardly worth it to pay over $600 a year to rent a bunch of apps we’d hardly use.
For years, I’ve been troubled by this price point because I really wanted PhotoShop for game and cover design, Illustrator for additional vector design, and InDesign for accurate layouts for my books. In fact, I’ve often thought I needed InDesign to make my paperbacks industry standard.
Turns out, I don’t need any of them.
When I searched for “indesign alternatives” on YouTube last night, I kept seeing videos for something called “Affinity Publisher.” I’m usually skeptical of any software that claims to compete with the titans of industry, and it didn’t help that the thumbnails for these videos were amateur-looking. But I checked out what they said about it, anyway.
The first video got me curious, so I checked out the more “official” videos. Finally, I watched a 30-minute video from someone who creates books.
And each video got me wanting this thing more and more.
So I bought it last night.
Turns out, Affinity Publisher is so much like InDesign that I don’t even know if there’s a noticeable omission. From my understanding, the user-interface is actually easier than InDesign (and the free alternative, Scribus). But here’s the cool thing: It integrates with Affinity’s other two flagship programs, Photo (the worthy PhotoShop alternative) and Designer (the worthy Illustrator alternative), by allowing you to press a button, in Publisher, and switch immediately to the profile for the other program, allowing you to access all of its tools. That means you can edit images and other elements right from the page you’re designing for your book, magazine, whatever.
It’s probably no surprise that I also bought Photo and Designer, just to maintain the entire suite.
So how close to $600 a year did I come to buy these programs?
Well, they retail for $50 each. One-time purchase. Free updates forever (I believe).
And I got them during one of their 50% off sales. So I spent $25 for each one. I never have to buy Adobe Anything now, but I can still do just about anything the Adobe products would let me do.
That said, if you’re looking for an alternative to Adobe Creative Cloud that you can own for a one-time payment at a fourth of the cost (or eighth if you get it during the same sale that I bought my copies in), I’d give Affinity a look. I’m impressed with it so far.
Are you struggling with the perfect words for your manuscript? Is your command of grammar merely adequate? Have you heard of an app called ProWritingAid?
For those who wrestle with writing perfection (alliteration!) but don’t know how to tame their bad habits, and for whatever reason don’t like Grammarly, ProWritingAid is a great (er . . . an outstanding) solution to the problem.
Now, you could always click over to the website, explore it, and forget to come back to this article. And that’s fine. At least you’re taking action to improve your writing skills through the use of computer technology. And I’ll undoubtedly miss you.
But, if you’re also a reading perfectionist, then let me offer you a little more relevant information:
I have a 34-minute YouTube video dropping today that covers much of what the Desktop version of ProWritingAid offers. You should check it out after you finish reading this article. I’ll remind you about it when you reach the end.
ProWritingAid, like any writing assistance program, requires context to work effectively. In other words, you should still know essential writing and grammar skills before investing your time or money into it. The best programs are the ones that don’t do all the thinking for you.
Most of its suggestions can be ignored. ProWritingAid’s value comes from the suggestions you shouldn’t ignore.
Like any good program, it has a free version that’s as powerful as the paid version, and almost as effective. The demarcation comes in its word limits. The free version can evaluate only 500 words at a time. So, if you want to save money, learn how to copy/paste a bunch. Be warned, though, that your summary report will reflect your free choice.
The web app and the desktop app are basically the same. The difference is that the desktop app can sit on your computer while the web app can be used anywhere. The web version also has a few extra bells and whistles for anyone who needs to follow a style guide. The desktop app will preserve your formatting when you export, even though you won’t see any of it in the app itself.
The program still has incomplete features. This is most noticeable when you explore its “Consistency” reports. Irony!
If you buy it, you should buy the lifetime option. That way you won’t have to keep paying for it. If you can wait for a sale, even better (Pro Tip: There’s a sale now, until midnight PST.)
Now, the video tie-in covers most of the features, but I’ve been using it a lot more since recording the footage and learned more about workflow. So take a pause, watch the video, and then COME BACK for some workflow advice. Or, if you’re linking to this article from the video, feel free to keep reading.
Three things I’ve learned about ProWritingAid is that the “Realtime” tracker is distracting (and slow), the “Summary” is great for project overview but pointless for granular fixes, and “Combo” is cluttered with suggestions that might melt your brain.
When using ProWritingAid, it’s best to dive right into the category selections. This assumes that you’ve already completed your developmental edits, as fixing grammar, style, etc. is pointless if the content is fundamentally poor. I wouldn’t recommend it until you’re ready to publish or submit your work.
Once the document is ready for fine-tuning, I’ll start with “Style.” This looks for passive verbs, adverbs, “emotion tells” (important for identifying sections where characters should “show, not tell”), and other readability enhancements. I’ll typically take careful consideration of this report’s suggestions.
Next, I’ll use “Grammar.” This highlights possible grammar and spelling mistakes. Pretty straightforward and obvious. Again, I’ll study the suggestions before accepting them. Sometimes it misses the point of the sentence.
Depending on the work, I may use the “Thesaurus,” but only for targeted words, and only a few paragraphs at a time. ProWritingAid has an extensive dictionary of alternatives, though I sometimes question its hierarchy of suggestions. It’s best to use this feature with a dictionary nearby, as its built-in dictionary is weak at the moment.
“Overused” will highlight most of my “believes” and “thinks” and “justs” and so on. Again, I’ll give this report a cursory glance, but I won’t spend much time on it.
The “All Repeats” selection is useful for tracking repetitious phrases, though I typically ignore anything mentioned only twice, as I’ve likely intended the repetition. I also ignore most three-words-or-fewer phrases, as those usually link to common phrases like “this means that.”
I think “Echoes” is one of ProWritingAid’s most useful features, as it searches for two or more words used within a certain proximity of each other. While I’d ignore common repeats like pronouns or “this means that,” I probably don’t want to use the word indubitably twice in the same paragraph, or even within twenty lines of each other, so this is one of my favorite features when it catches what my eyes don’t.
“Structure” is practically useless from an improvement standpoint and good only for checking your “sentence starts.” For example, if you’re worried about lacking any type of sentence variety, in that every sentence begins with a subject and not a subordination, this checker will report on your fears. I rarely use it.
“Length” is the better feature for reporting sentence variety, as it gives you a bar graph that diagrams your entire selection. If you see a wall of flat bars, then you’ve got hardly any sentence variety, and your text will sound robotic. But if you see wave patterns, you’ll be doing as Gary Provost says, “making music.”
“Transitions” and “Readability” are worth skimming, but I don’t spend much time with either of them. My transitions typically reach 100% (the recommended average is 25%), so I don’t worry about them. “Readability” checks for grade level writing, which I don’t typically care about if I know a 12-year-old can still read it.
I find the “Sticky” section one of the most frustrating because it gets particular about “glue words,” or words that slow the reading down, which consist of such gems like like, which, of, about, that, etc. It’s irritating.
“Diction” is another category I hate using, not because it’s bad—on the contrary, it’s quite important—but it flags words like quite for being vague, and it’s annoying to filter through all of its “vague” and “abstract” tags, and its occasional warnings about prepositions at the end of sentences, to find those words that actually need addressing because they are too complicated for the reading scale or simply overused.
“Pronouns” and “Alliteration” I usually skip. The pronoun checker gives a percentage report on how many sentences start with or use a pronoun and offers a suggested target range to ensure that your nouns haven’t been entirely ignored. The alliteration checker just gives a report of every phrase that has alliteration, in case that kind of thing bothers you, or if you’re trying to make more music in your message. I’m not that concerned with either, so I don’t spend more than a minute studying either.
“Homonyms” I check, but I skim for context. It’s a daunting report because, like the thesaurus, it will light your page up with so many colors, but I still think its important because—I mean, it’s important because, well, because.
“Consistency” is an important checker for the same reason that homonyms are important to check—it’s easy to mistype a repeated word. However, to make best use of the consistency checker, don’t include your title in the scan (you can highlight blocks of text if your title exists on the page) because it will assume that all of your capitalizations are inconsistent when they see the lowercase common versions of the same word. It also monitors any shifts from U.S. English to British English and back again.
Finally, I’ll check “Dialogue” to make sure that all my conversations have proper attribution, that the tags are simple enough (he said, she said), and that my quotes have the right punctuations in the right places. I don’t typically use dialect in my speech, but this checker will provide a warning if it sees something that looks like dialect, and I can decide whether it’s appropriate to keep.
The tools I don’t use include “Acronyms,” because I don’t write research papers, “Pacing,” because it searches for every use of “have,” which indicates backstory and “slow reading,” and I don’t have the patience to rewrite entire paragraphs when “have” is fine, “House,” because I don’t work for a magazine or publisher, and “Plagiarism” because it costs extra money to use.
So that wraps up my overview of ProWritingAid and how to use it. Once again, you can watch the video here if you haven’t clicked on it yet.
Please remember to comment, like, or subscribe if this article means anything to you, and let me know if you want to see more like it.
Did you read a good book lately? Review it. How about a bad one? Review it!
Why should you post a review of that book you just read?
Because we all benefit from reviews. The writer benefits because it shows the world whether he or she is any good at this. You benefit because more reviews means a higher likelihood that the author can afford to keep providing you with new stories. And, the world benefits because robots can’t yet tell the stories that authors can tell, at least not as well.
So, in short, don’t let the robots win. Leave a review of that book you just read at your preferred retailer today. I, you, other authors, and the world would be grateful for your input. But it’s up to you. Silent praise is still praise. Written or spoken praise is a little better. A wise man of undetermined time or origin once said that, probably. Remember, he is wise for a reason, also probably, so I hope you listen to the assumed wise man today. Leave that review and stick it to the robots.
Remember, you can give public feedback in the form of a review on your favorite retailer’s website. You can also review books on Goodreads (and, perhaps, network with other readers to find your next favorite book). You could also give the author direct feedback through his various contact channels. For example, here’s my contact channel in case you’d like to give me feedback.
As a writer of books that need reviews, I’ll say thanks again for the time you took to read the book, but I also thank you for the time you took to review it.
Note: Some retailers have specific rules for leaving reviews. For example, Amazon requires that you spend at least $50 that year before leaving a review. We all want reviews, but we also want ethical and rule-abiding reviews. Please familiarize yourself with each site’s or retailer’s review policies before placing your review. Violating rules doesn’t help anyone. Thanks.
(This post adapts and modifies the Review Request section of most of my e-books.)
Remember when I had exciting news last week about my various book updates? Well, now I have even more exciting news to share with you!
And when I say exciting, I mean exciting for book nerds! The rest of you probably won’t care that much.
A few nights ago, I began porting my recently updated e-books to the Draft2Digital platform. For those who don’t know Draft2Digital, it’s a distribution platform like Smashwords, but much nicer looking and reaches a few international markets that Smashwords doesn’t yet reach, specifically !ndigo (Canada), Angus & Robertson (Australia), and Mondadori Store (Italy). Pretty much all of Rakuten Kobo’s international partners. It also connects to subscription services 24 Symbols and Playster, but as of this writing, these platforms have not yet received my books. Soon. Hopefully. Maybe.
I’ve spent a couple of evenings modifying and uploading six of my current e-books to the Draft2Digital platform, and the result is that these e-book versions are the most attractive yet.
Now, I haven’t yet ported them to the usual retailers (Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo) because they’re already opted-in through Smashwords, and to get them connected through Draft2Digital, I’d have to opt them out first, which could mess up their rankings (especially since they’d be listed under a new ISBN). Not sure I want to go through all of that, so for now, this update is limited to the newer storefronts. But I may test the new format with my next release (Snow in Miami).
But, that’s not even the best news. The best news is that my books now use the Books2Read platform to connect readers to all relevant storefronts. That means one link can take you to a hub where all active storefronts are listed.
Check out the link to Eleven Miles from Home for an example.
Books2Read also has a sign-up option for readers to receive notifications every time I submit a new release. It’s a mailing list without all of the fluff! Now you don’t have to miss a single story! (And why would you even want to?) If you haven’t yet used Books2Read, as an author or a reader, you’re missing out. It’s really convenient.
Oh, and if you check out my new Draft2Digital author page, you can also see which books are in the system. See how nice it looks? Yep, it’s a booty! Er, beauty.
It’s also worth noting that I’ve updated the description pages for each of these books right here on Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm. The description pages now include the abovementioned universal links and relevant descriptive information including genre, literary style, characters, settings, store descriptions, formats, copyrights, book reading stats, prices, media galleries, and links to Wattpad samples and Goodreads reviews. If you’re still not sure whether you want to read these books, hopefully the new description pages will make your decision easier.
Yep, that’s my way of saying that you’ve made it to the end of the yWriter vs. Scrivener series. (You have been watching the videos and reading the articles, right?)
Before I close, I want to remind you that using either yWriter6 or Scrivener works only if you plan to write an actual story or, at the very least, plan a story. If you use them only for pretending to work on a story, just putting them on your screen whenever you have company over instead of writing the story, well, that’s not effective use of either program, nor is it an effective way to tell a story. So, don’t be that guy.
But, I know you’re going to use them to write your story. Why else have you gotten this far if you don’t intend to use them the right way? That would be insanity! Right?
So, to celebrate the end of the series, I want to show you what it’s like to write a scene in yWriter6. Now, if you’d rather use Scrivener, or even Microsoft Word, to write your scenes and chapters, that’s perfectly fine. Part 7 of yWriter vs. Scrivener isn’t really about yWriter6 or Scrivener. It’s about how to turn your outline into a scene by watching me do exactly that.
Yep, this is your chance to see my brain in action. It’s also a way to stand over a writer’s shoulder and watch him write (and justify his choices).
This is, by no surprise, the longest video in the series, but it’s also the one you’ll get the most out of if you care anything about writing, reading, or creating characters out of thin air. So, be sure to take some time out of your day to check it out. It’ll be worth it. Yes, I say that subjectively. It’ll be worth it if you like writing or reading. Hopefully!
Also, please let me know if you want to see more of Pop Goes the Waterbed, which is the story I’m writing in this video. I may make a separate series out of it on YouTube if enough viewers are interested.
For now, that’s it for yWriter vs. Scrivener, but I’ll be back with another article about books and book reviews soon. Subscribe at the blue button below to find out more about that. You’ll be glad you did! I say that subjectively, of course.
Once you’ve had a chance to explore the differences between yWriter6 and Scrivener, you’ll see where both programs shine, and what both programs lack. It may be that you’ll develop a preference for one of them (assuming you’re not a Microsoft Word nerd who swears by its sexy software-giant sleekness and believes that all other programs are but peons in this vast digital soup), but you’ll certainly benefit from using both (or all three, again, if you’re a Word nerd) in creating your masterpiece (or your disasterpiece if that’s the case—hey, the world needs those, too).
But, in this digital highland, when it comes to versatility—and winners—there really can be only one. Thanks to Scrivener’s template system, I’d say the winner in this battle is clearly decided.
For those who missed yesterday’s article on Scrivener templates, the short version is that Scrivener comes with a few built-in templates designed to help writers format their novels, nonfiction essays, screenplays, commercials, etc. accurately and efficiently. But, what the article doesn’t cover is Scrivener’s network of rock star-level users who have made and uploaded their own templates to accomplish development feats that range from detailed outlines, to character creators, to world-building tools, and to genre fiction beat sheets to name a few choices.
In Part 6 of the yWriter vs. Scrivener series (on YouTube), I’ll show you how to find some of these templates, briefly go over how to use them, and I’ll even show you one of my own templates-in-progress that can help manage a writing career. By the time you get to the end, you’ll see just how much more you can do with a Scrivener template than you can with just about any other document type, including anything you’ll find in that oversexed Microsoft Word program.
Granted, you’ll still have to bring your imagination with you. At the end of the day, it’s still an overview. But, it’s a fine overview indeed.
Just watch the video. You’ll learn something about planning a story if you do.
Also, don’t forget to leave a comment if you have any Scrivener templates you’d like to see. Leaving comments is a great way to make yourself even more important!