Category Archives: Writing and Publishing Q & A

Removing Ads from Websites: A Writing Q & A

Question: My website is through wordpress.com. WordPress puts ads on my website. Is there anything I can do about this?

Writing Q and A
Answer:
Though this is frustrating, it’s a reasonable tradeoff for a free website solution.

While some readers will overlook the ads, others don’t. Another concern is ads for things that you might not like, appreciate, or agree with.

As part of their business plan, WordPress.com places advertising on your site so they can offset the cost of them offering it to you for free. If you upgrade to a Premium plan, they will remove the ads and provide extra features. Here is a link that explains it: https://en.support.wordpress.com/no-ads/

Or you can switch to WordPress.org and enjoy even more features and greater control over your website, and with no ads. This does take extra work and incurs an added expense, but for many people, this is worth it for all the added features and control.

If this is daunting, the WordPress community is helpful in answering questions and simplifying the learning curve. The most challenging step is the first one: finding a host and getting set up. Here’s a post about WordPress.

How to Find a Critique Group: A Writing Q & A

Question: What do I do if there are no critique groups where I live?

Writing Q and A: Critique Group

Answer: I hear this question a lot.

First, know that there may be some, but you just haven’t found them yet. Keep looking. Try bookstores, schools, libraries, and coffee shops—any place were writers hang out. Also, ask every writer you meet if they’re aware of any area critique groups.

Second, have you considered an online group? There are many out there. Just do a search. These groups have different goals and various formats, so look them over to find one that’s right for you. And if your first choice doesn’t work, try a different one.

Another option is to start your own critique group. It’s not hard. It’s what I did. Again, look online for ideas and recommendations on leading a successful critique group.

Should You Use an Outline to Write? A Writing Q & A

Question: I understand some people write using an outline, while others discover what comes next as they write. Which is better?

Writing Q and A: Use an Outline

Answer: The short answer is to use whatever works best for you.

When writing a short story, article, or blog post, I often start with a title, opening line, or concept. Then I start writing to see where it takes me. (Sometimes I have the last line in mind and write to get there.) Though this may result in extra content that I need to cut, it usually becomes part of another article or post. However, recently for blog posts, I’ve been writing to hit bullet points, which is a basic outline.

Conversely, when I start a book, I always have an outline. This gives me structure to easily move from one item to the next, without wasting time or words. After all, it’s not a big deal to cut 20 percent of a 300-word blog post (60 words), but it would be painful to cut 20 percent of a 50,000-word book (10,000 words).

However, just because I use an outline for books, that doesn’t imply I don’t discover things along the way. When I do, it’s an exciting bonus, which I’m happy to work into the text. Then I update my outline.

Grammar Checking Programs: A Writing Q & A

Question: I’m looking for a grammar-checking program. Is there one you can recommend?

Writing Q and A: Grammar Checking Programs

Answer: I seek the same thing!

I once signed up for a trial of grammarly.com. It’s a most impressive grammar checker.

The problem was that it was too sophisticated for me. It flagged many things to check, but I lacked the needed background to comprehend the issues. Many of their suggestions were beyond me. However, I recently took a fresh look at it, and it seems they’ve made it easier to use.

Regardless, the built-in grammar checker in Microsoft Word is a great place to start. Though this still requires the writer to decide which suggestions to accept and which ones to reject, it’s easier to manage. While this won’t catch everything, it covers the basics.

In my experience as a publication editor, most of the submissions I receive could benefit from doing this basic grammar check in Word before they submitted their work. It seems many people have turned off this option (I once did), and some don’t bother to run spell check either. Don’t make that mistake.

Self-Publishing Versus Pursuing a Traditional Book Deal: A Writing Q & A

Question: With so many self-publishing options out there, why should I bother to pursue a traditional publisher for my book?

Writing Q and A: Traditional Book Deal

Answer: I love this question!

Here’s my short response: Traditional publishing requires less of the author, will likely result in more book sales, and carries the prestige of a publisher selecting your book for publication. The negatives include the effort to find a publisher, the length of time to publish the book, and earning much less per copy sold—if anything at all.

A commonly sighted reason to not self-publish is the requirement to market and promote our books. While it’s true that if we self-publish our books, we must market them if we expect to sell any, traditional publishers also expect you to help promote, market, and sell your books. If you can’t or won’t do that, the publisher is unlikely to decide to publish your book. In short, they want authors who can move books.

There is no one right answer. It depends on the goals and priorities of each individual author. Also, some authors do both, depending on the book. They’re hybrid authors, going with traditional publishers for some books and indie-publishing (self-publishing) for others.

Putting Blog Content in a Book: A Writing Q & A

Question: Can you book your blog?

If a blog has a specific focus, could you compile this information in a book and sell it? A conference speaker said you shouldn’t sell anything you’ve offered free. What’s your view?

Writing Q and A: Blog Content

Answer: I understand what the speaker said.

Basically, he or she thinks you won’t be able to sell something you once gave away (and may still be giving away) on your blog. An agent or publisher will also be concerned, fearful there is no one left to sell to.

However, I disagree.

Though you may have lost some sales, you will pick up a new audience with a book. In addition, some of your blog readers will buy a copy because they want all the content in one place in a convenient format, while others who read some posts won’t read the rest online, though they will read a book. Although it’s best if you can add new content to the book, which isn’t in your blog, this isn’t a requirement.

There are many cases of authors who successfully turned a series of blog posts into a book.

With all the self-publishing options available to us today, I say go for it.

SEO Tips and Tricks: A Writing Q & A

Question: I hear a lot about SEO (search engine optimization). Should I be concerned about keywords?

Writing Q and A: SEO Tips

Answer: That’s a great question, one with two answers.

If you’re talking about using the keyword metatag, don’t worry about them. This is because Google says they ignore them. Therefore, I don’t waste any time thinking about metatag keywords.

However, if you think other search engines do look at metadata keywords, only give them passing consideration. Some SEO tools do allow users to enter metatag keywords, so you might feel a compulsion to enter something. If so, don’t spend a lot of time on them. Perhaps limit yourself to less than thirty seconds to list reasonable metatag keywords for SEO. But don’t expect them to do much good.

However, if you’re talking about keywords or keyword phrases to guide your writing and include in your text, this is something I encourage you to pursue if you’re interested in SEO.

SEO is part art and part science. It’s a skill that takes time to develop. There are many books, blogs, and podcasts that explain this. Not to oversimplify a complex topic, a reasonable starting point is to consider what words you would type in a search engine to find the post you’re writing. Then use that phrase for about .5 to 2.5% of the text.

Identifying Speakers in Dialogue: A Writing Q&A

Question: What is the best way to identify speakers in dialogue?Writing Q and A: Identifying Speakers

Answer: Many writers ask about this. I think the answer lies with your writing voice (style).

Here are some options:

1. Tag your dialogue with any descriptive word other than said, such as exclaimed, interjected, sputtered, yelled, and so forth. I learned this in Middle School and followed it for many years. Now the recommendation is to avoid doing this, as it singles lazy writing. I prefer to show the speaker’s emotion instead of stating it. For example:

Bruce narrowed his gaze and pursed his lips. “I can’t believe you did that,” he said.

I far prefer that to “I can’t believe you did that,” Bruce snarled.

I only use a descriptive tag if I feel it will make the passage stronger.

2. Only use said. While we need to identify the speaker, most readers skip the connecting word—or so I hear. Some people feel that using anything other than said is an annoying speed bump. Some people even recommend doing this for questions, as in: Then Gene said, “How long will you be gone?”

I generally use said when I need a dialogue tag, but I still use asked for questions.

3. My preference, however, is to use context to identify the speaker. In this way I minimize the use of dialogue tags and let the surrounding text show who the reader is, as in this exchange:

Ben stared at the book in his trembling hands. “You mean I get to keep this?”

Sue’s eyes danced. “Yes, it’s a gift.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“How about thank you?”

“I so appreciate this.” Ben blinked three times, fighting to hold back tears. “Thank you. This is wonderful.”

In this passage, there are no dialogue tags at all, but the context shows us Ben is the first speaker and Sue, the second. Since this is a rapid exchange, readers understand that Ben then replies to Sue, and she responds in the fourth line. Then to make sure readers don’t get confused, the fifth line confirms Ben is talking.

This takes more work to write, but it seems this is the current trend and strikes me as powerful writing.

What Are Some of Your Editing Pet Peeves? A Writing Q & A

Question: I know that in your work you edit a lot of content. What are some of your editing pet peeves?

Writing Q & A: Editing Pet Peeves

Answer: I like this question. It gives me a chance to vent a bit.

Here are some things writers do that really irk me. They are my editing pet peeves:

  • Writers who don’t spell check their work. This is so easy to do. Why do they skip it?
  • Writers who use “creative formatting” of their text, with bold, italics, underlines, and combinations thereof. Along with this are UPPER CASE phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs. I need to undo all this before I can start working on their submission.
  • Writers who use multiple exclamation points and question marks, sometimes in combination, to end a sentence. Use just one but only when it’s appropriate. And before adding an exclamation point, consider whether it belongs or if a period is correct. Most people over use exclamation points. When in doubt, use a period instead.
  • Writers who slap something together and assume I’ll fix all their mistakes. That’s lazy, and sometimes it’s more work than I’m willing to do.
  • Writers who send a draft and ask me to let them know what changes they should make. It’s their job to send me their best work and not expect me to do it for them. And if they really have doubts about their work, then they’re not ready to be submitting their writing.
  • Writers who request feedback on their writing. While I understand their desire for feedback, so they can improve (we all want that), it should come from other sources, and not a person who expects to read a finished piece. (From a practical sense, whenever I’ve tried to give feedback, it’s never gone well. So even when I want to help someone who asks for feedback, I know from experience to not try.)
  • Writers who miss deadlines. Sometimes we can’t help asking for more time, but usually it’s a result of poor planning and a lack of priority. Besides, it’s disrespectful. Without deadlines, nothing would ever be published.

I’m more than willing to overlook a few of these mistakes and be extra tolerant of new writers, but when these things occur too often, it’s often easier to just reject the submission.

I hope this helps.

Whew, I feel better having gotten editing pet peeves off my chest. Thanks for asking.

Don’t Forget to Backup Your Files: A Writing Q & A

Question: I know I should backup my writing, but I don’t. What do you recommend?Writing Q & A: file backup options for writers

Answer: I’m so glad you asked. Having a good backup is essential.

It’s not a matter of if we lose some of our writing but of when.

In addition to using some of the file backup options listed below, each time I finish a writing session, I make copies of the document on my computer and another on a second computer. I also make a weekly copy of all my files on an external hard drive.

File Backup Options

For a free backup option, sign up for a Gmail account and email a copy of your work each time you finish writing.

You can also use services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or FilesAnywhere for offsite storage. They all offer a free basic plan.

All these file back up options, however, require some effort on our part, so to automatically backup files to the cloud, I also use Carbonite. A basic plan is $6 a month. When you consider the time we invest in writing, this is inexpensive insurance.