January 26, 2011

Planning to Self Publish? Is Your Book Ready?

by Toni Leland

Writers have wonderful opportunities available these days. The age of print-on-demand (POD) and e-books has made it possible for anyone to see their work published. Not only possible, but easy. Almost too easy.

I recently went to a major online bookseller and checked on a title I’d heard about. On the first page, first paragraph, third line was the biggest typo you could imagine. I skimmed the sample and discovered that the writing was filled with more errors. I felt really bad for the author who, I’m sure, was thrilled to see the work in print. But over and over, I see new work that has been rushed to market. This is the biggest drawback to publishing your own book. There’s no guardian to keep you on track, no benchmark to which you can compare. There’s just that intoxicating knowledge that you can put your book out there for the world to see. But, is it really ready?

The following two steps can help you make the work the best it can be.

PROOF-READ! Yes, I know this is a pain, and you think you’ve read it enough times to know if it’s right. The problem is this: our brain “knows” what we wrote and our eyes “see” it correctly. You can look at a typo without seeing, or fail to notice a word that was dropped; it happens to all of us.

Solution? Don’t proof on the screen. Print the manuscript and, taking your time, read it out loud. You’ll be amazed at how many things you’ll find that are either wrong or you simply want to change. Once you’ve read the entire thing out loud, make the corrections or changes, then find something else to do for a couple of weeks. Again–don’t be in a hurry.

At the end of that time–especially if you think the piece is exactly as you want it–change the font to something different, then read the story again. Changing the typeface makes your brain pay closer attention. This time, you might see a few things to change, or edits that didn’t happen quite right, but you should get a good feel for whether the story is ready for publication.

Use this most recent proof-reading to check for things like possible copyright infringements, Fair Use issues (such as music lyrics or quotes), adding trademark symbols where needed, and checking citations for anything you’ve “borrowed.”

BETA READERS. The biggest favor you can do yourself is to cultivate a group of advance readers to help you fine-tune the work. Not only will beta readers be able to tell you if the story has plot or character discrepancies or pacing problems, they’ll see typos and other errors that you might miss in your own proofing. It’s so much better to hear these comments before the book is printed than to discover them embedded in an online customer review!

Publishing a book is hard work and whether you do it yourself or seek professional representation and a traditional publishing house, the work you do ahead of time will be the reason you succeed.

January 15, 2011

Managing Our Gardens After Winter Weather

by Toni Leland

A few nights ago, NBC Nightly News showed a stunning map of the United States with an even more amazing fact: 49 states had snow on the ground, including Hawaii!

So far, this has been another tough winter, and we're only into mid-January. While many of us think about lost work days, kids home from school, and how we'll get out of the driveway, there are other considerations at play for those of us who love our gardens.

Winter weather can wreak havoc with our shrubs, trees, and landscaping. What to do? Here are some informative articles to help you decide.

Winter's Wrath: Snow and Ice Damage

Stressed or Damaged Trees and Shrubs

Frost Heave 

Don't forget your feathered friends!

Winter Survival for Northern Birds

Cheer yourself up with this article advice!

Beat the Winter Blahs

January 11, 2011

Freelance Writing

Jeff Geerling photo
As we toiled through the economic morass that defined the past few years, I'm sure most of us wondered if things would really be better, come the new year. I did, for sure, and in those last days of December, I sat down and forged a plan. Optimism is one of my greatest strengths (or failings, as the case may be) and the simple act of setting out some goals and reasonable expectations brought me into this year with great enthusiasm.

Not only would I continue to work hard for the publications that have supported me in the past, I would spend some time each week acquainting myself with new possibilities. Sitting down and researching publications and their needs, wants, policies, and compensations is by no means a quick or simple task. But it is a very necessary one for any writer who wishes to build a foundation for their work.

The key to finding your assignments is clarifying to yourself where your strongest writing lies, then pursuing those publications that cater to your subject. Tempting as it might be to try something new, you'd be best served to stick with what you know and can manage easily. Organize the publications according to the type of submission they require; i.e., do they insist on snail mail? Will they take phone pitches? Do they have an upload feature for submitting? Categorizing them in this way will allow you to use your time and energy efficiently. Choose a day for putting together only the mail submissions, then choose another day to query or submit via e-mail. (I find that switching from physical to electronic and back to physical can get confusing.)

Whether you write short content for blogs and online sites, columns or essays, or longer feature articles, it's important to have a structure to your work plan. Today's technology can provide you with anything you need, many times for very little cost.

One of my latest "finds" is a wonderful tool called Writer's Scribe. I tried out the Mac version demo, loved it, and it now is comfortably settled on my computer, helping me stay organized and ahead of the game. With over 125 feature-length articles in my portfolio, I can no longer keep track of them using file folders.

From time to time, I'll be sharing some of my past articles, and I hope to feature some guest writers here on the Musings page. If you've discovered a wonderful writing tool that will help make this year more productive, please share it with us. We all need to succeed!