Category Archives: Other Media

Music, games, photos, or anything that goes beyond my usual review focus can be found here.

SendFox, Or Fun with Email Lists

A few years ago, when I started researching why my books weren’t selling, I encountered a common marketing message from every expert, guru, and wannabe (often three of the same thing, but I digress). “Get an email list!” they’d all say. They’d say it no matter what my business. Then I’d check the going rate for an email list, and I’d get tenser than a palm tree.

Sure, there are free tiers for some of them, you know, to get you started. Those free tiers usually have limited functions and low contact thresholds (most allow up to 1000 free contacts before the paid plans kick in, but some are even less). And when the paid tiers activate, the monthly costs begin to rise, and rise, and rise, bwahaha!

All the while you hope that your contacts are actually getting your email.

These were my concerns for years, and having hardly any budget available for experimenting with a mailing provider that might meet my needs before the losses are too great to continue (because ROI takes time), I just couldn’t take the risk.

Until now. Until I discovered SendFox.

SendFox is simple. It strips out many of the bells and whistles that makes email marketing confusing to newer users. This has its disadvantages, of course: Older mailing companies have turned email marketing into a science and a sport. But SendFox focuses on newsletters and content creation, or the art of getting and keeping readers. This means that its success depends on your success. So it keeps things simple. And it also boast a high delivery rate as a result.

It also considers your wallet and ROI way more than any other provider I’ve researched. Where all providers require monthly subscriptions to keep their services and your audiences, SendFox offers tiered lifetimes plans where one payment of X amount will earn you the lifetime right to email up to Y audience sizes (in the thousands, up to 25,000). If you’re like me and hate the idea of spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars a year to maintain a list of people who might not even get your message (like Facebook!), then give SendFox a look.

The good news is that by signing up using any link in this article during SendFox’s Black Friday sale, you can add an extra 200 contacts to my subscriber limit, and if you sign up and tell all your friends, you can get that 200 contact per referral bonus, too. And then they can get it, and then their friends can get it, and we can take over the world, and…

Okay, yes, this is beginning to sound like a scheme of some sort…

But the best kind of scheme!

Anyway, I’ll talk more about my email list and how to join it in another article. I don’t yet have any of my subscriber bonuses in place, nor am I sending out any content yet, so I’ll come back with newsletter news once it becomes more relevant.

But until then…

Once again, you can check out SendFox here to see if it meets your needs, and if you happen to join before the Black Friday countdown clock expires, you’ll automatically reward me with a 200-contact limit boost on my own contacts. And for that, I thank you. But even if you sign on later, it’s worth it. The monthly plans don’t kick in until you cross a high threshold. They also have something called Empire for $10 a month if you need extra flexibility, but that can be for any tier. Just and FYI.

Hope you’ll check it out. And leave a comment about how much you like SendFox (or not) below.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Planning a Story: Plottr Review

If you’re writing a novel for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, then you probably should’ve started already. But if you’re still warming up to the idea, or if you just want to use November as a warm-up month and go for the main event in December (because why do you need a month to tell you what to do?), then you’ll probably want to start planning for it.

Unless you’re a discovery writer (or organic, or pantser, or whatever your label of choice—it’s all the same), which is perfectly fine, you may want a plotting tool to help you prepare.

That’s where Plottr comes in.

Screenshot of Plottr’s Book Series Page

Have you heard of Plottr yet? I’ve probably mentioned it on this blog already, but in case I haven’t, it works like this:

You “create a book” on a series page, give it a title, tagline, short synopsis, and series number (standalones get “1” as their number), and if you have cover art finished, you can attach it to a 3D mockup. Then you click on the book you want to work on and enter the construction zone (my term, not theirs).

Inside the construction zone, you can begin planning your book by creating a timeline, list of characters and places, and establishing keywords to mark important metadata.

Sounds simple and basic, right?

That’s kind of the point. It’s simple. But hardly basic.

Screenshot of Plottr’s Timeline

Once you enter the timeline, you can create plots and subplots, establish chapters and scenes within those chapters, character arcs, etc., but you can also color code everything, insert characters and places inside the scene cards (while also describing them), and tag to your heart’s content.

And best of all, you can import premade templates from some of your favorite story structure devices, including the Hero’s Journey, Save the Cat!, and most recently, the Snowflake Method. In fact, you can also import your existing Snowflake Pro file directly into Plottr (as of October 23rd). So, if you’d rather use an established method over your own, you have plenty to choose from (at least a dozen different structure and beat types).

For creating characters, you can import a template or create (and save) your own. For places, you can do the same. For items…well, that part isn’t available yet, but Plottr is adding new features all the time, so I’d expect to see that available soon enough. You can actually see their active roadmap here, as well as post your own suggestions.

Screenshot of Plottr’s Places Designer

But since this is a review, I think it’s fair to list some of its problems:

It’s still a work-in-progress, so it’s missing some options that are sorely needed, including custom sorting inside of character and place menus, as well as the ability to update your existing template with new entries without having to create a new template (and forgetting which version number you’re saving to now). It doesn’t have features for tracking items, nor does it prepopulate with expected tags like “inciting incident” or “main character” or any of the elements that most writers would like to have available. And, well, it’s an outlining tool, not a writing tool, so you’ll still need another program to do the actual writing.

But it does have an interactive timeline with adjustable boxes, and that’s probably all you really need, especially if you’re coming from other story development software that maybe don’t have as good or intuitive of a timeline feature. It doesn’t track actual time, though, but I think it’s coming, maybe (check the roadmap to be sure). It also has an outline view that you can export to your preferred writing app, as long as it’s Microsoft Word or Scrivener, so you don’t have to worry about switching back and forth as you write.

And don’t forget to check out Plottr’s templates if you give it a try. The premade templates are there to increase its value and usefulness, and I highly recommend you look into them if you’re not sure how to start.

Screenshot of Plottr’s Outline Viewer and Export Tool

Finally, there is a 30-day trial available, and if you do commit to the purchase (and you should because it’s my favorite story developing app so far), it’s just $25 for the program and a year of free updates ($37 if you want Windows and Mac access). You’ll have to renew that fee after the first year to keep getting updates, but you’re not required to buy it a second time to keep using it. If you’re happy with its functionality by the end of your subscription period, you can keep using that version indefinitely.

So, there’s no reason not to give it a try, unless you’re really, really broke. And if that’s your situation, I hope it gets better soon.

Also, if you want a video demonstration of Plottr, you can check out its tutorials on Plottr’s website (recommended) or my review on my YouTube channel (also recommended).

Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and comment below if this article has helped you, entertained you, or kept you from starting your honey-do list.

P.S. I may be uploading some of my own character and place attributes templates here soon.

Planning a Story: Campfire Pro vs. Campfire Blaze

Remember the days when hunters would sit around a campfire inside a cave and tell each other ghost stories while waiting for the bears to leave camp? Yeah, me neither. But the good people at Campfire Technology haven’t forgotten. In fact, they’ve created not one, but two writing apps that can help recreate that lost storytelling moment, in a manner of speaking.

Okay, they’ve actually created one, Campfire Pro, then used it as a template to create the other, Campfire Blaze. But both apps, which are basically desktop and cloud versions of the same tool, can do a lot for your story planning. Probably more than most, actually.

And that’s why they’re worth a look.

Screenshot from the Characters tab in Campfire Pro

Screenshot from the Home tab in Campfire Blaze

But what can they do? How do they differ? Why are they worth it? I’ll highlight their key points below.

What They Do:

Both apps allow the user to create a vision board of attributes for:

  • Characters
  • Character Relationships
  • Character Arcs
  • Timelines
  • Worldbuilding Elements
  • Maps
  • Encyclopedia Entries
  • And More

What They Don’t Do:

  • Bring Order to Chaos*

*This is my snarky way of saying that the interface for both applications is quite messy and may require some handholding via their instruction manuals before diving in.

How They Differ:

Both apps do more or less the same things, but:

  • Campfire Pro is desktop only
  • Campfire Pro is legacy software, meaning it won’t receive new updates beyond bug fixes
  • Campfire Pro has a one-time charge of $50, plus $25 for the world-building pack should you want it (and you do)
  • Campfire Blaze adds a writing tool (so you can actually write your novel)
  • Campfire Blaze is module-based, meaning you only pay for what you’ll use
  • Campfire Blaze works in the cloud, so you can use it anywhere
  • Campfire Blaze has team and spectator modes for collabs
  • Campfire Blaze has a nice overview screen for progress reports
  • Campfire Blaze is subscription-based, with the option for a lifetime purchase (at the three-year price point)

I’m sure I’m leaving things out, but it’s worth taking a look at what each app has to offer. You can check them both out at Campfire Technology.

Screenshot of “Manage Attributes” under the Character Traits selection in Campfire Blaze

My Thoughts about Whether They’re Worth It:

I like what both apps bring to the table. Even though Campfire Pro is made strictly for story planning and world building, the amount of elements it allows you to customize or develop is practically unrivaled among all other writing apps, with its only worthy competitors being its successor, Campfire Blaze, and probably World Anvil, which I have not personally tried but hear is quite robust as a world builder.

Campfire Blaze takes everything that Campfire Pro can do and makes it better, especially the character and location builders. For example, Campfire Pro has four default categories for developing characters. You can add more, but it comes with four. Campfire Blaze comes with a complete flowchart of attributes, probably as many as a hundred, that you can select and populate, then answer inside of the resultant fields. It’s crazy in a good way. Most everything that Campfire Pro does competently, Campfire Blaze tries to improve on, especially in the user interface.

Except one.

Except with timelines.

Timelines in Campfire Pro are tricky to navigate.

Timelines in Campfire Blaze are ridiculous and the kinds of things the Codebreakers of WWII would’ve had trouble figuring out.

I don’t like it.

Not at all.

That’s my main gripe with either Campfire program, but especially with Campfire Blaze.

Screenshot of the Timeline tab in Campfire Pro
Screenshot of a timeline entry in Campfire Pro

Now, it should be mentioned that Campfire Pro is a legacy program, so it won’t get any new additions or updates. Campfire Blaze is essentially its successor, so any new features that Campfire Anything gets, it’ll go to Blaze. So, if you’re interested in either program, you’ll probably want Blaze, but you’ll also want to preview the instructions to make sure you understand how to use it. As far as user learning curves go, Campfire Pro and Blaze sit below Scrivener, but stand above most everything else on the market. Neither one is particularly easy to use, and unless your imagination is wild, I can’t imagine you jumping in without feeling a little overwhelmed by their available options. But if you want a program that really goes above and beyond the norm, I don’t think you’d do wrong with either Pro or Blaze. The choice comes down to how much you’re willing to spend.

Note: Campfire’s selling point above other apps is its world-building features. If you’re in the market for a story development tool but just want one, you should really take a look at its world-building tools before committing to a purchase of any writing app. It may be the game-changer you’re looking for.

Note 2: Because Campfire Blaze is coming out of beta as of this writing, it will still have a few missing or unfinished features (including the research and writing modules). The open beta will be ongoing until the end of October, so there’s still time to check it out for free. If you buy Campfire Pro before Blaze officially launches in November, you’ll also get three months of Blaze free and one module of your choice permanently free (I’d go with the character designer personally). If you already own Campfire Pro, then you’ll get a free module for however many years you’ve had it (so, one module for 2020, two for 2019, and three for 2018).

Note 3: Campfire sometimes has affiliate deals with ProWritingAid and other writer resources for deep discounts. You just have to be subscribed their newsletters to get the offer. You should sign up for any newsletter you can in the indie writer space so you don’t miss anything.

Note 4: I’ve also recorded a comparison video showing off both apps on my YouTube channel here.

Note 5: Don’t forget to like, subscribe, and comment your thoughts below.

Screenshot of the Relationship Web in Campfire Blaze

Publishing with Google Play Books

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.

Series Description:

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 Partner Center

Part 1: Using Calibre to Prepare Your Google Play Books E-Book

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

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.

Resources:

Calibre Web Page

Calibre User Manual

The Book Designer Guest Writer, David Kudler

The eBook Design and Development Guide by Paul Salvette

Checklist:

  1. Convert source document to DOCX format.
  2. Check and fix broken bookmarks.
  3. Delete drop caps unless you know how to format them properly for EPUB.
  4. Optional: Convert Small Caps to All Caps to ensure all e-readers show compatible formatting (but don’t do this for section headings—just words that characters “see”).
  5. Download Calibre (See Resources for Web link).
  6. Create blank EPUB file.
  7. Fill in title, author name, and whatever else you think is important.
  8. Select proper JPEG image for cover.
  9. Check document conversion attributes.
  10. Check EPUB file type (2 or 3).
  11. Verify table of contents.
  12. Validate external links.
  13. Open file in e-reader to check conversion state (“Click to Path”).
  14. Upload to Google Play Books if happy with results; fix HTML, CSS, or content errors if not.

Part 2: Quick but Effective PDF Formatting for Google Play Books

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

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.

Resources:

Drinking Café Latte at 1pm Article: “The Art of Hyphenation”

Checklist:

If Presentation Doesn’t Matter:

  1. Create or access source document in Microsoft Word.
  2. Export to PDF (from “File” tab).
  3. Upload to Google Play Books.

If Presentation Does Matter:

  1. Create or access source document in Microsoft Word.
  2. Change layout size and margins to paperback page style (5″ x 8″; 5.5″ x 8.5″; 6″ x 9″).
  3. Reposition headers, footers, and indents to half their normal distances.
  4. Insert blank page at start of book.
  5. Upload cover image to front page and resize and center to fit.
  6. Add cover image bookmark.
  7. Check all bookmarks and hyperlinks for accuracy.
  8. Check other special formatting like small caps and drop caps.
  9. Fix justification and hyphenation.
  10. Create section break between front matter and body text and anywhere that header or footer content should differ.
  11. Set page numbers in the body text section and use special rules for proper counting and display.
  12. Make sure cover and title pages don’t have page numbers showing.
  13. Export to PDF (from “File” tab).
  14. Upload to Google Play Books.

Part 3: Getting the Book onto Google Play Books

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Once your books are properly formatted, it’s time to upload them to Google Play Books. This video will show you how to prepare your book’s page and get it onto the service.

Resources:

Reedsy Blog Article: “How to Publish on Google Play Books in 2020”

Checklist:

  1. Register a partner account with Google Play Books (consult the Reedsy Blog article in the resources section on how to do this).
  2. Go to Book Catalog section to add a new book or access a book you want to edit.
  3. Once inside the book editing page, fill in the fields on all four tabs of the Book Info section.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Consult PDF version for accurate page count, or divide word count by 250 and round to nearest whole number if you’re not sure.
  7. Use as many genres as the book may occupy, especially since Google doesn’t allow for manual keywords.
  8. List all essential contributors. The author is the main contributor. Coauthors and illustrators are also essential. Editors are essential for curated materials.
  9. Fill in sample size and publisher information, if applicable.
  10. Go to Content section.
  11. Upload EPUB, PDF, and JPEG files.
  12. Go to PRICING section.
  13. Set desired price point. Set worldwide options.
  14. Return to Content section. Check conversion status. Fix errors if any appear.
  15. Provide ARC and beta reader Google emails in the content reviewer section, if any.
  16. Verify all results in the Summary section.

Part 4: Using Affinity Publisher to Create a Stunning PDF for Google Play Books

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

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.

Resources:

Affinity Publisher:

Affinity Revolution:

Checklist:

  1. Visit Affinity Web page (link in resources section).
  2. Try or buy Affinity Publisher ($50 normally; $25 until June 20, 2020)
  3. Optional: Try or buy Affinity’s other apps, Photo and Designer.
  4. Check out Affinity’s tutorials on YouTube.
  5. Learn the difference between Pages and Master Pages.
  6. Learn how to use the inspector panels.
  7. Remember to use layers for complex work.
  8. Remember to link content pages through connecting arrows.
  9. Export as PDF when finished with layout.

Part 5: Reviewing the Product Page for Your New Google Play Books E-Book

(Video Link)

Episode Description:

Now that your new book is uploaded to Google Play Books and approved for sale, let’s check it out and see what the customer will see.

This episode also compares analytics between Google Play Books, Amazon KDP, Smashwords, and Draft2Digital, so you get a bonus part-within-a-part for watching this episode. Congratulations.

Resources:

Books2Read:

Checklist:

  1. Go to Book Catalog section.
  2. Click on book cover.
  3. Go to Summary section.
  4. Click on “Google Play” or “Google Books” link to visit each respective book page.
  5. Explore each page.
  6. View or Buy book to add to library.
  7. Visit “My Books” tab to check the contents of your book (if purchased).
  8. Click on ellipses to access content within book.
  9. Select date range and parameters for analytics information.
  10. Open spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to view statistics.
  11. Upload a new book and restart the process.

Thanks for reading. Leave a comment with your e-book information if you’ve published on Google.

Now I Can Make Proper Industry-Standard Paperbacks (without using Adobe InDesign)

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.

affinity publisher 1

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.

Seriously, these are good programs and worth the look.

Cover Image: Pixabay

Using ProWritingAid: Overview and Workflow

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.

ProWritingAid Companion 1
ProWritingAid in action, with Realtime checker activated.

Overview:

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:

  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. Most of its suggestions can be ignored. ProWritingAid’s value comes from the suggestions you shouldn’t ignore.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. The program still has incomplete features. This is most noticeable when you explore its “Consistency” reports. Irony!
  1. 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.

Watch the Video Here

ProWritingAid Companion 2
ProWritingAid’s summary report, or part of it.

Workflow:

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.

ProWritingAid Companion 3a
ProWritingAid’s Thesaurus and Word Search feature.

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.

ProWritingAid Companion 4
ProWritingAid’s “Echoes” category in action.

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.”

ProWritingAid Companion 5
ProWritingAid’s “Length” report showing this blog “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.

I’m not terribly worried about “Clichés” in my writing because I think they can sometimes get the point across better than some second-rate hack attempt I’d make to say the same thing in a worse way: “…if you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation to do those things! That’s what’s at stake here. Not choice. Responsibility.” Versus: “With great power comes great responsibility.” (The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) vs. Spider-Man (2002)). But I like the cliché checker because it also searches for redundancies, which I do sometimes overlook and miss. Er . . . miss.

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.

And wash your hands!

The Case for Leaving a Product Review

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.)

Cover Image: Pixabay

Now Incorporating Draft2Digital and the Books2Read Platform

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.

Draft2Digital Amusement InteriorDraft2Digital Waterfall Junction Interior

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.

The books that currently apply the new format are Amusement, Eleven Miles from Home, The Fountain of Truth, Gutter Child, Waterfall Junction and The Narrow Bridge, and When Cellphones Make Us Crazy. During the month of August (and maybe September), I’ll be working on getting Cards in the Cloak, Shell Out, and The Fallen Footwear up to speed. Subscribe to the Draft2Digital email alerts to find out when they’re live.

And that’s all for now. Hope you like the changes!

You did notice, right?

Cover Image: Pixabay

 

Writing a Scene in yWriter6 (yWriter vs. Scrivener, Part 7)

Congratulations!

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.

Finding and Using Custom Templates on Scrivener (yWriter vs. Scrivener, Part 6)

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!