Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools, You Are Not Alone

Critiquing Via Zoom

The Covid pandemic forced us to look at other ways of communicating. Now we commonly use Zoom for webinars, meetings, family get-togethers, and, yes, critique groups. (Kinda wish I’d owned Zoom stock before Covid…)

My critique group started Zooming in March of 2020. And we are still meeting that way–partially as
several of us are not within close driving distance.

Here’s what we learned along the way:

First, sending manuscripts ahead of time saves time.

In face-to-face meetings we brought manuscripts to the meeting and read aloud. Critiquers physically wrote on the paper. Now each manuscript is sent via email two-three days ahead of our Zoom meeting. Each person reads the manuscripts at their leisure and uses a combination of commenting,
and track changes on their copy. We often type in global comments at the beginning as well. E.g. “Loved this chapter. Could add more sensory details.” The file is saved with a new name identifying who critiqued it, e.g. Beauty Chap 8 – Sue.

Second, not everyone can share a manuscript every week.

There are seven of us in our group and we want to have time to discuss each manuscript in depth. We’ve found three to be a good number for everyone to have time to comment. That means we schedule who
“presents” each week so everyone usually gets to share several times a month. We meet from 9 am to 12 pm.* Sometimes we end early. Often, we take a bit of time to talk about our lives or share ups and downs in the publishing world.

Third, someone moderates each meeting.

We rotate who moderates and that person keeps everyone on track. E.g. “We’ll start with C’s manuscript, and we’ll go in this order of commenting: S, G, J, B, K, and myself.” The moderator also reminds the one
being critiqued not to explain or tell what’s going to happen next. The writing needs to stand alone. Having a moderator has reduced frustrations.

Fourth, verbal comments at our Zoom meeting, may prompt other thoughts.

We add these to our own electronic copy of the manuscript. E.g. “E had a great suggestion
on…” or “This didn’t bother me.” or “What if you did…here?”

Fifth, don’t verbally repeat what someone else has already said, nor go over every typo.

The writer gets all the manuscripts with comments returned and can see punctuation suggestions and where critiquers agreed about an issue.

Sixth, after everyone has commented, there’s a short time for questions or additional comments.

This is where the writer can ask for clarification. Or a critiquer can add a last minute thought.

The finished manuscript copies are emailed back to the writer.

I like that we don’t spend time stuck in traffic going to and from meetings. But I love how much regular time I get to spend with my critique group, even if it isn’t in person.

 

*Several of us have paid Zoom accounts so can host meetings of any length.

Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

How Well Do You Word?

Use Microsoft Word, that is. Last month, I discovered several of my critique partners were using spaces instead of indents or tabs. And one was using spaces to center titles. I’ve seen this with students too. Two also weren’t familiar with the right tab. (Standard tab is a left aligned tab.)

Blue dots above are individual spaces. Backwards “P” (¶) is a paragraph mark or hard return (enter). (Word may show these dots and symbols as gray instead of blue.) See how there are spaces before the word “Text” and an extra space between the words “line” and “breaks?”

What’s the big deal? First, the writers were creating more work for themselves by not using the tools of the word processor. Second, they were perhaps creating more work for those receiving the manuscripts. It’s a pain to convert all those extra spaces. Though if you’ve got extra spaces, Find and Replace works wonders.

How did I find it? The show/hide option on the menu that is a backwards paragraph. It shows each space, paragraph mark (aka manual line break or manual return), etc. It’s especially helpful when needing to change column or page breaks. I don’t type with it on—only use it when I think there’s something strange.

Learn some shortcuts to make word-processing easier. Most of us are self-taught and only use Word to type, but we can do more. If you’ve ever thought, there ought to be a better way, it may already be there. You can find out how to do most anything in Word within Word’s Tell Me or Help option. You can search in Microsoft Support. Or you can google your question.

Examples:

Indent

Great for moving a section over, such as a long quote or indenting side material or for use in a novel-in-verse. One writer was doing informational fiction. Each page has story text and fact text. Using indents on the facts, made it stand apart from the story itself. It would take over 20 spaces each line to get the result below versus highlighting a section and clicking three time on indent.

Or another possibility would be to set a left tab exactly where you want the section to start. (It can be set on your ruler or in Format, Tabs.)

Right aligned tab

It’s a great way to put genre or your word count on your manuscript on the right of the page while still having text on the left. See how neatly picture book and the word count are right aligned? If you have ruler turned on, you’ll see that there is an indicator that a right tab is set. (Standard tabs or indents are ½ inch unless you change them.) I’ve only changed the tabs in this section—not my entire document.

The arrows above indicate a use of the tab key.

How do you find out how to do any of these?

  • Word – click on the word help or the lightbulb on your menu and type what you’re looking for: how do I set a right tab in the search box, and click on “Smart Lookup.” A window will pop up with a number of “how to” article links.
  • Microsoft Support – go to the website and type: how do I set a right tab, then press return (enter). A window will pop up with directions and other suggestions below.
  • Google – in the search bar type: how do I set a right tab in Word, then press return (enter). You can choose from written directions and videos. In your search you can even specify which version of Word you have, e.g. Word 2019.
  • Get a friendly nerd to show you. For example, I zoomed with my critique partners.

I hope this Word lesson has been helpful. Let me know if you have questions.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Backing Up Emails

The horrible thought hit me: what if the email service dies? Like permanently goes away (as yahoo groups did). I’d lose years and years of information.  So, I went to yahoo help and found there is no export of emails provided: https://help.yahoo.com/kb/backup-email-options-yahoo-mail-sln5033.html. These are your options:

  • Forward emails to another email address at another service
  • Print emails (or print to pdf)
  • Copy and paste emails into a document
  • Use a 3rd party app to download your emails

The first three deal with individual emails—talk about time consuming!!! The latter provides a link to more information: https://help.yahoo.com/kb/download-email-yahoo-mail-third-party-sln28681.html. Many creatives don’t have technical skills and may be frustrated following through with this method. I’m fairly technical and find it a bit intimidating. Plus, it has to periodically be redone.

Next, I searched on google for “Yahoo Email Backup Software.” Here are some I found that are rated well. Most work for PCs and Macs.

As yet, I haven’t determined which one I’ll try. I am wary of the free app for such a serious endeavor.

Gmail, I discovered, has a native backup tool. Here’s a how to: https://computer.howstuffworks.com/e-mail-messaging/back-up-gmail.htm. The article says, “Just remember that this method will only back up incoming emails.” The article also mentions third party backup options.

Right now it all seems overwhelming to me. So, I think it’s going on my “to do” list. Meanwhile, if anyone else has experience with this and wants to share, I’d love to hear what you do/have done.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Promotion, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

Twitter Tips

Tweetdeck

When I started using Twitter, author Jenn Bailey taught me to use Tweetdeck. I don’t know why I stopped but recently I was reminded of its uses. One of my favorites is being able to schedule tweets. For some silly reason, I had totally forgotten this fact so was using my calendar to remind myself to tweet about things on a timely basis. Now I’m back to using Tweetdeck and scheduling those tweets. Ahh, the simplicity! (Tweetdeck automatically connects with Twitter. Here’s a tutorial on using the app.)

Hashtags

In a group Zoom discussion about Twitter, someone asked how to find active hashtags. Debbie Ridpath Ohi has a collection specifically created for writers here. There are two pages full. However, groups are added and groups change. I often use the simple method of typing a hashtag and seeing if something pops up. Some popular ones I see frequently are: #WritingCommunity, #amwriting, #writingtips, #writerslife, #amquerying and specifics to category and genre: #picturebook, #middlegrade, #YAFiction, #mystery, #scifi, #fantasy, etc. Upper and lowercase are not necessary, but often used for visual clarity. There are also ones related to events: #PBParty, #SCBWINY21, #Storystorm, #writingworkshop or pitch parties: #PBPitch, #pitmad, #RevPit. Here’s a list of 2021 pitch parties. (Need more info on hashtags? Check out this resource.)

Images

In a limited test, I noticed my posts with images got more traction (likes and retweets). The article on “17 Twitter Marketing Tips That Actually Work” agrees, and even mentions that emojis help. If you don’t have your own images, my favorite go-to site for free photos and illustrations is pixabay.

Analytics

Author Nancy Castaldo explained analytics to me. It’s how you can see what is happening with your tweets. On the menu on the left, click on More, then choose Analytics. Right now mine shows that in the last 28 days, my number of tweets is down 44%. I’ve had 635 visits to my profile—down 23%. Mentions are down 18%. However, followers have gone up by 10. And my top tweet earned 593 impressions. The top tweet with media (image) earned 231 impressions. So, what is an impression? How many times a tweet is seen. I’m sure these numbers are very low, but it is still interesting to see what is working.

You can also check an individual tweet. In the upper right corner of your tweet, click on the three dots, then chose View Tweet activity. You can then see impressions and engagements. Twitter explains right there on the pop-up window what each means. FYI, you can’t see analytics on someone else’s tweets.

Following Versus Followers

You want to have more followers that those you are following according to this article “How to Get Noticed on Twitter — 15 Tips for Writers.” So, I went looking for ways to cut down on who I was following. At first, I was manually looking at people’s profiles. I found some hadn’t tweeted for years! But what a time-consuming method. Internet to the rescue, there are programs that can suss out those people. The one I chose—easy to use and free—was UnTweeps. Here’s the site that introduced me to it. Am I there yet? Not quite, but it is more even than it was.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have any tips to add, please feel free to share in the comments.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, Tools

It’s that time of year again

Time to set up for the new year’s record keeping.

First, a folder for 2021 Writing Finances.

Next, new spreadsheets:

  • Writing Expenses*
    • Used my template and updated the year.
    • Transferred recurring expenses from last year’s writing expenses to the new spreadsheet.
    • Entered January 1st car mileage (same as year-end mileage for 2020).
  • Writing Income**
    • A simple “save as” since I have a template that has my recurring payments.

Then, updated others with new tabs for 2021:

  • Instructional spreadsheet where I enter student lessons.
  • Google drive sheet for our online critique group schedule—we have a moderator each week and keep track of which two writers are presenting a manuscript.

These processes take an hour or two.

*The categories on Writing Expenses’ spreadsheet are:

  • date
  • expense item (event, address; postage to submit manuscript, etc.)
  • agent/publisher/magazine (and those extra details, if needed, such as to whom)
  • manuscript
  • mileage driven
  • other car expenses (tolls or parking fees)
  • advertising (website hosting, domain renewal)
  • office supplies (those things you need to run a home office: paper, printer ink, etc.)
  • travel (airfare, taxis, hotel)
  • meals (while traveling–only a portion is deductible)
  • misc (where I put conference fees)

I have a worksheet for each month with a year-end sheet that pulls the totals from each month and gives me a grand total.

**The categories on Writing Income are:

  • date
  • payment from whom or what:
    • teaching
    • critiquing
    • book royalties
    • flat fees
    • magazine and online articles/stories
    • speaking
  • amount

I have my spreadsheet set up to auto total all the amounts.

Time to double check the old year’s record keeping.

For me, I have to print out the expense and income spreadsheets to make sure that every entry has an amount (money or mileage as appropriate). I always find a few errors. Once they are all corrected, the reprinted sheets are stapled together by category so when all the other tax documents come in, we’re ready to do our taxes.

Depending how accurately I’ve kept records, this probably takes a couple hours.

I find this pre-work makes my record keeping easier and quicker.