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The Successful Author

Microsoft Word Alternatives

microsoft word alternatives

Writers often seek options for word processing software, either to save money, increase functionality, or both.

Many writers extol the virtues of Scrivener for content creation, especially novelists. It costs much less than Microsoft Word and, since Scrivener is designed for writers, it has powerful features that creatives crave.

Another option of increasing popularity is Google Docs. It’s free. And your files are online, so you can access them from any internet-connected computer.

Nonetheless, whatever alternative tool you use for writing, be sure it can output in Microsoft Word format (Scrivener can) because almost all publishers require a Word file submission. In addition, all editors I’ve worked within the past twenty years have used Word (except for one who edited a printout).

However, instead of buying Microsoft Word (or Microsoft Office) for hundreds of dollars, get Office 365 and pay a low monthly subscription fee—less than a coffee or two a month. As a bonus, you’ll always have the latest version.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

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The Successful Author

Writing Perspectives (Point of View)

Many beginning writers wonder about point of view in writing and which should they use. Though there are many books written on this subject, here’s a brief overview.

Note that most people use perspective and point of view interchangeably—that’s what I learned in High School English—but others make a distinction between them, claiming that point of view is the correct term for this discussion.

Here is a brief, basic overview of perspectives/points of view.

First Person Point of View

First-person perspective uses I, as in I said… or I went…

For example, I went to the bookstore to buy the latest book by my favorite author.

Second Person Point of View

Second person perspective uses you, as You said… or You went…

For example, you go to the store to buy a journal and pen.

Second person is hard to write (and to read), so most authors avoid it. As an exercise, I wrote a piece of flash fiction in the second person, present tense. It was tedious.

Third Person Point of View

The third-person perspective uses he, she, and they, as in He said… or They went…

For example. They went to a book signing to see the famous author.

Two Types of Third-Person Points of View

There are two flavors of third-person: Limited (only what the point of view character can observe or think) and Omniscient (where the narrator knows what everyone thinks).

Third-person omniscient is out of favor and seldom recommended any more—though many of the classics, including much of the Bible, is third-person omniscient.

Writing Tense

For each of these four options there are two choices: present tense (what is happening now) and past tense (what has already happened). This results in eight possible combinations to consider, but eliminating the second person and third-person omniscient, cuts our considerations down to four.

Past tense is easier to use, and the first person is more natural for most writers. After all, when we tell stories about ourselves to our friends, we use the first person, past tense.

Beginning writers should start with first person perspective, past tense, as in “I wondered which point of view I should use.” Then try third person, past tense, if you wish.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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Word Processing Options

word processing alternatives

Microsoft Word is expensive, but it is also the de facto standard for writing and publishing. I urge you to use it if possible. Even so, consider these word processing options.

As an alternative to purchasing Word (or Office), you can check out Office 365. It includes Word, but instead of buying the software for several hundred dollars, you pay a small monthly fee. As a benefit, you are always on the latest version, and depending on the license, you may get to put it on multiple computers.

Other Word Processing Options

If you pick another word processor, make sure it can output files in a .docx format (Microsoft’s Word format). Always submit your work as a .docx file.

Scrivner, a popular writing tool designed for how writers think and work, is gaining popularity. It can also output a .docx file, as well as many other formats.

Another word processing option is Google Docs, but Microsoft Word remains the industry standard—and my recommendation.

In a related issue, consider using dictation software to write.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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Discover How to Know If You Have a Marketable Book

a book is marketable

Have you ever wondered if you have a marketable book? Most people have, especially anyone who wants to make a living from writing.

You can pay someone to give you their opinion on what’s marketable before spending hours writing. Although you can do internet searches to find them, I recommend going to the websites of agents you respect. Some provide writer services on the side and would gladly charge you a fee to offer their opinion on if you have a marketable book. Other sites provide lists of respected service providers.

However, the operative word here is an opinion. Aside from some basic book tips, the best anyone can do is offer their opinion. Ask two people, and you will likely get two opinions. Often they may conflict with each other.

Consider all the stories we hear about agents and editors rejecting submissions, based on their opinions that the novel won’t sell. But then after twenty, forty, or even more rejections, it crosses one person’s desk who doesn’t reject it. In her opinion it’s marketable. Sometimes that proves correct and becomes a best seller.

All of this to say, you can ask around and even pay for advice from someone to tell you if you have a marketable book idea. But in the end, just go with your gut and write what you’re passionate about.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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Citing Sources for Quotes in Books

Sources for Quotes

Each chapter in my friend’s book starts with a quotation. Most of the quotes came from internet sites. She wonders if she needs to include a page citing sources where she obtained each quote. Here’s what I said to her.

For Traditionally Published Books

For traditionally published books, your publisher will have its own requirements for you to follow. And each publisher likely has a different approach. In addition, they also have a legal team that will help keep you and them out of legal trouble.

In general, they will want you to attribute your source. I’ve even heard of one publisher who insisted on a signed release for each quotation. This is burdensome and a good reason to not use quotations.

For Indie Published Books

If you are indie-publishing your book, my opinion (not legal advice) is to cite all your sources. In my books, I try to avoid using any quotes, in any way, from any source. That’s the surest way to avoid getting sued for plagiarism.

However, in your case, this gets messy because the website where you found the quote may have copied it from someone else—that is, they stole it from the original author. Then you perpetuate their plagiarism—and their crime.

Final Thoughts about Citing Sources

If you can remove the quote and put the concept in your own words, that might be your best approach.

I am not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice about citing sources. It’s just my opinion. For a great resource on this subject—as well as other important legal considerations for writers—check out Helen Sedwick’s excellent book Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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Literary Agents Handle Books and Not Shorter Works

What agents handle?

I’d love a literary agent who would handle shorter pieces, such as articles, short stories, or poems. Unfortunately, they don’t. Literary agents handle books. They only deal with book-length projects.

Agents earn commission on projects sold. The payoff for shorter pieces is too small for them to spend time pitching them. They need to invest their time in bigger works that pay better.

That’s why literary agents handle books and not short pieces.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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The Successful Author

A Career Writing Mistake

A Career writing mistake

For too many years my goal in writing was simply to write faster, but I did nothing to learn about writing or how to write better. That was a huge writing mistake.

Yes, the experience of writing so much was good, but I wasted a lot of time by not studying the craft. It’s only been in the past decade that I’ve focused on improving as a writer.

My writing has improved—a lot. I only wish I had started working on getting better much sooner in my career.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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Scale Up to Writing a Novel

Scale up to writing a novel.

To write a novel, first, start with short stories. Many of the elements required for short stories carry over to longer works. In addition, it’s better to experiment on a 1,000-word short story than an 80,000-word novel. Once you’re comfortable with short stories then you can move on to longer works.

Short Story Tips

Writing short stories lets us experiment. We can have fast successes and failures. I’d rather try something on a short story than commit it to a whole novel only to find out it wasn’t working once I finished writing the entire thing.

As you hone your skills and find your voice with short stories, voraciously read novels. Read classics and contemporary works. Read in your genre and outside your genre. Read for enjoyment but mostly to learn. This will give you a sense of what works and what doesn’t, as well as to identify what you like and don’t like. This will pay off huge when you go to write your novel.

Start Your Novel

Now you’re ready to plan your novel. Whether you are a planner (plotter) or a discovery writer (a pantser—you write by the seat of your pants), you should have some ideas before you begin to write a novel.

I like to start with a list of characters, their bio, a story arc, the key elements, and a chapter outline. After all, if I’m writing that many words, I don’t want to waste effort.

For others, this prep work would stifle creativity, but it motivates me. Pick the method that works for you and start writing.

By the way, many novelists admit to writing several novels before one is good enough to publish, so don’t expect your first effort to write a novel will be a success. If it is, that’s great, but be prepared to crank out a couple before you find much interest.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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How to Protect Blog Content

Legally protect your blog content

A lot of writers wonder if it’s necessary or wise to protect blog content that they post online. What if it is material for other writing projects? Should it be freely accessible online?

First, I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. A great resource is Helen Sedwick’s book Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook. This is an excellent tool that every writer should buy, study, and implement.

Given that, here is what I suggest to protect blog content.

To start, place a copyright notice on your blog. This will help keep honest people honest, and it lets readers know you’re serious about your work. But beyond that, it accomplishes little else.

If you’re concerned with people copying your work, that is stealing it, there is always a chance it could happen. Though the risk is small, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it—short of not blogging—so the best thing is to not worry about it, and post what you want to post.

If the posts will be part of a future book—something many people have done—you might want to hold back some content, but I have heard of bloggers who blogged their entire nonfiction book and didn’t feel it hurt sales. You can also post excerpts from your indie published book.

However, if the posts are from your traditionally published book, check with your publisher. They may not want you to post anything from your book, and depending on your contract with them, it may not even be legal.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!

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The Benefits of Using ISBNs: Don’t Publish Your Book Without One

A publishing best-practice includes using ISBNs in your books

Many successful indie authors do not use ISBNs (for their e-books), and they see no reason why they should. The number Amazon provides works just fine from a practical standpoint.

Having said that, an ISBN gives your book added credibility and has more universal recognition than an ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number) when searching for a book by number. So I opt for an ISBN.

Buying ISBNs

However, buying an ISBN costs money. In the United States, buy ISBNs from Bowker. Currently, the standard price for one ISBN is $125, ten costs $295, and one hundred costs $575.

Note that you will need one ISBN for each format your book is in: Hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio, so that’s four ISBNs. Given the costs, I see why many indie-published authors skip them.

Learn more about writing and publishing in Peter’s new book: The Successful Author: Discover the Art of Writing and Business of Publishing. Get your copy today.

Peter DeHaan is an author, publisher, and editor. He gives back to the writing community through this blog. Get insider info from his monthly newsletter. Sign up today!