WRITERS’ TOOLS AND SUGGESTIONS – October 2021
Lately, I haven’t written any blogs about writing. So, I hope this one provides my readers who write with some helpful information.
To start, I am a PC user, not an Apple user. These two worlds share some commonalities for writers but have major differences, so I don’t know how much help this will be to my friends who use Apple computers.
When I got my new laptop last year, I opted for the latest version of Microsoft Word 365. It used to be that you purchased Word and installed it on your computer. This time, I paid for a one-year lease of this latest version of Word. A renewal comes up automatically because they have my credit card information. I like this new version of the software for several reasons.
I find it easy to use. You can ask it to read back to you what you wrote. If you haven’t tried this feature yet, you can find it by clicking on Review, then below and to the left, you should see Read Aloud. Position your cursor where you want it to start reading in your document. Click on Read Aloud and a man’s voice will begin reading your text (there may be some other voice choices but I haven’t looked for them). To stop it, just click on Read Aloud again. I use this for editing. It has been invaluable for me to hear what I have written. See the following screen shot.
Dictate is another option on the Home screen. It allows you to talk into a microphone attached to your computer and the appropriate text should appear in your document. I haven’t used this as yet. I’m reluctant to try it because voice recognition software doesn’t always understand my New Yorkees speech pattern. I usually opt for entering a number instead of speaking to those call center BOTS. If you try dictation, please let me know how you like it and how it worked.
What I don’t like in this new Word is their editor—found by clicking on Review then clicking on Editor below on the far left of the screen. You can see this on the screenshot above. My old Windows 7 version of Word would point out passive voice sentences. This new version doesn’t specifically tell you that you wrote in passive voice. They fall under Refinements and Clarity. I usually try to improve the sentence until the error message goes away. I have gone as far as saving my document as a Window97 file and taking that to my old laptop with its older version of Word and checking for passive voice. When I installed the new version of Word on my new laptop, it removed the older version of Word. As far as I know, there isn’t any way to have both existing on your computer.
I know there are other products out there that writers use. Some people use Google Docs, but I haven’t tried it. You may have some that you use on a regular basis.
That takes me to Grammarly. This is a very good editor, and the basic edition is free. The basic version doesn’t identify passive voice either, but the premium version does. I haven’t opted for the paying version yet, but I have thought about it. I think the basic version does a nice job of editing. Grammarly becomes an add-in to Word, and your email programs. It places an icon on the Word menu screen. To start it, you click on that Open Grammarly icon and an editing panel appears next to your document. See the screenshot below. You can start it when you open your document and it will show you spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors as you type. Or you can just start it to scan an entire document. You can get the free copy at www.grammarly.com.
There are other tools available to do the same things. Another popular one is ProWritingAid. I had been using Grammarly for a long time before I heard about this other tool. There is a free version and a premium version available. When I looked up reviews about it, they felt Grammarly was a better product. Here’s what a reviewer said, “Grammarly is better in terms of handling accuracy. Pro-Writing-Aid is best for handling fragmented sentences and dialogue. It can be a useful tool for fiction writers.” So, I haven’t tried using ProWritingAid.
I have used Amazon Publishing to upload and publish my books. Well, I should say I used Create Space for my earlier books. Amazon took over Create Space and I had to switch to Amazon Publishing, which they call KDP Publishing, now.
I have been fortunate to have worked with two excellent cover designers for all of my books until now. For my newest book, Our Hollywood Tales, I’ve decided to create my own cover. To start the process, I used Microsoft Publisher. It comes with Microsoft Office. I’ve used Publisher for years for flyers, posters, and other marketing tools. It didn’t always create JPEGs (graphic files), which is the format for uploading your cover. Amazon’s KDP Publishing provides a cover designer. I will use it to upload and modify my latest cover.
For photos and graphics for book covers, there are many sites available where you can get free graphics and photos as well as ones for a fee. Getty Images seems to be the most expensive. My cover designers and I have mostly used Dreamstime. You can find it at https://www.dreamstime.com.
For my last book, The Hanalei House, I had to find a new cover designer. I had heard about a website called Reedsy. It’s a site that matches you up with professional editors, designers, publicists, marketers, web designers, and ghostwriters. After you create an account, you can choose any of the above. You tell them what you are looking for and specify what you can afford to pay. Interested parties will get in touch with you. When you and the professional agree upon a price, Reedsy handles the deposit and all further payments through their site for a reasonable fee. I found a talented cover designer and was pleased with her design and the Reedsy service. You can find Reedsy at www.reedsy.com.
I went to a writers’ meeting before the pandemic hit and a woman from Ingram/Spark was the guest speaker. From her presentation, I thought Ingram/Spark might be a good alternative to KDP Publishing. Ingram/Spark charges $49 for a print book and e-book upload, and they have a wide distribution network. When I looked further, I found out you are charged $25 additionally each time you upload your book. For most of my books, I have had to upload more than one time. So I felt that could be costly in the long run. I also read that there is a significant learning curve with Ingram/Spark.
When it comes to royalties, there are differences between Amazon and Ingram/Spark. “Ingram/Spark allows you to set a 30% discount whereas Amazon's discount is set at 40%. So, you earn 70% royalty with Ingram/Spark but only 60% royalty with Amazon. There are other reasons to go direct to Amazon (such as your book always being in stock because they are printed when a customer orders one.). After publishing five books on Amazon, I am about to publish my sixth and will stick with Amazon until something better comes along. The Amazon publishing arm continues to make it easier to self-publish.
As for e-books, I use the same KDP Publishing to create a Kindle book. There are formatting considerations for Kindle books. The KDP site will list what you need to consider for your Kindle book. I used Smashwords for one of my earlier books. The learning curve at the time was daunting. I’ve never sold a lot of books on Smashwords and feel the effort wasn’t worth it. Recently, I put one of my e-books on Draft2Digital but haven’t made any sales. It was much easier to use than Smashwords and can mass-distribute your book as well. Both of these sites generate your book into the different formats for e-books e.g., Nook, Kindle, Kobo, and other formats.
Lastly, I’d like to tell you about a podcast that I listen to. Her name is Joanna Penn, an author, entrepreneur, and podcaster. Joanna writes both fiction and non-fiction. Some of her non-fiction books target authors and self-publishers. She has her finger on the pulse of the publishing industry as well as the latest products to make an author’s life easier. You can find and listen to her podcasts at https://www.thecreativepenn.com/tag/podcast/. Through her website, you can purchase any of her books and receive discounts for industry products and seminars.
As you probably know, the self-publishing world and the products we use to play in it are changing constantly. With each new book I have published, there have been things that have changed since the last one. That’s why I can’t guarantee what I’m telling you here will be true when you try to use them. However, the tools and some of the techniques for publishing your book seem to improve and get easier to use. I will try to update you from time to time on the latest and greatest products available to authors in the future.