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

Let’s Get Help

chicken-1647390_1280.pngMost writers don’t start out thinking they’re going to need technical skills beyond maybe a word processor and email, but in this world of social media and digital submissions, writers either need to learn technical skills or get help.
I’m of a technical mindset and have more technical skills than many writers of my generation, but still I get help. My husband and my daughter have both helped me with website and computer issues. A writer friend taught me how to use twitter and tweetdeck. Please don’t be too chicken to ask for help yourself.
Here’s some things I’ve found many writers don’t know:
How to keep computer files organized. I’ve seen many writers with every file saved on the desktop or in the first level of documents and they have trouble finding what they are looking for. I’ve showed them folders and how you can put folders within folders. Normally each of my projects has its own folder. Here’s how I helped another writer with this issue in this post. It includes some tips on naming documents, too.
How to back up files. When their computer hard drive dies, writers have lost all of their work. Even when you have a crash, you can lose hours of work on your wip. Don’t let this be you. Find out how to preserve copies successfully. The latter portion of this blog post mentions some methods.
How to do an electronic submission, especially when pasting in material. When I was sharing on the topic with a group, one person said that the best tip she got was “don’t enter the to person’s email until you are sure you are ready to send.” This means you can’t accidentally send an unfinished submission. I’ll write up some more details for a future blog post.
How to resize a picture. A writer (or illustrator) needs to submit an illustration, a cover, a headshot and have a large file, but has been requested for something smaller. I wrote this post to specifically help with this problem. I find people often don’t know how to rename the picture with something meaningful either–it’s okay to name it what it is.
How to keep email organized. Some writers keep everything all in the inbox, which makes for an overwhelming number of emails. Folders to save important emails by topic or event or date can be helpful. Or you can have a folder for critiques or projects. Many email programs allow you to set up filters to sort incoming email automatically into folders as well. You might want to do that for newsletters you like to read. As hard as it may be to believe, one gal didn’t realize she could just delete emails she’d read and didn’t need.
New writers often don’t know about standard manuscript format. This is the way editors and agents will want to see manuscript submissions. Follow this link for details.
New to computer users don’t know about Word’s tables or Excel’s spreadsheets. Either can be helpful in keeping track of submissions, agents, chapter summaries, finances, etc. (Although I prefer the latter for finances.)
Sometimes we aren’t even aware we need help. We don’t know there’s a better or easier way. Many years ago I complained about how awkward something was in Word. My husband showed me tables. Wow, it made what I was doing so easy. Since, I’ve used it for forms many times.
So if something isn’t working well for you, ask others, “Is there a better way?” Or search online for “How do I ________?”–there are tutorials, youtube videos, etc. that explain so much. For example, I’ve learned more about html that way.
What have you gotten help with? What do you wish you could get help with?
Comments are welcome.

Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

Standard Manuscript Format

Paper_Stack - croppedI recently judged a contest for adult writers writing for children. Unfortunately, a significant number of those entries did not use standard manuscript format. It’s not difficult to find out how a manuscript should be formatted–it’s in market books, on the Internet, in books about writing–but some writers are ignorant of the basics.

I was paid to read all the submissions even if they were in too small a font and/or not double spaced, or if paragraphs weren’t indented. I can tell you, though, if I’d been an editor, those would have hit the recycle bin without any hesitation. I’d probably be more patient with narrow margins, although as an instructor, I do get frustrated when the margins are too narrow for me to write in. Does that frustrate editors, too? I’m guessing yes.

Surprisingly many articles–good ones, too–did not provide word count at the top of the manuscript. Again, a standard format practice. Yes, I could guess how many words a manuscript is by the number of pages . . . at least if the font isn’t unusual or too small . . . but if I was a magazine editor, the word count might give me an indication right away whether the writer looked at my guidelines or not.

Some writers were trying too hard to impress . . . with the type of paper they used. Don’t use résumé paper, watermark paper, paper with borders for manuscript submissions. Pay attention to what’s more important–the content.

Over and over again I’ve heard editors and agents say that too many typos and misspellings says to them that the writer didn’t care enough about what they’ve written. If the first page or two has errors, why would it get better later? I didn’t have the luxury of not reading on, but I can say the finalists had much fewer errors, if any.

So, if you care about your writing (why send it out if you don’t!), make sure you follow the simple rules of standard manuscript format. Triple check for typos, spelling, and grammar errors. Give your material a chance to be read just by following the basics.

P.S. And for those not familiar with standard manuscript format, I’m providing it here. The text of my sample first page includes more tips.  manuscript format.pdf

P.P.S. Oh, and please don’t staple your manuscripts!