The Proof Readers Poem

I don’t usually ‘do’ poetry. It’s not really my thing, however a friend posted a poem on my facebook page and I remembered that back in the distant past (2012 I think) I wrote this tongue in cheek set of guidelines for proof readers.

With apologies to serious poets everywhere, I present,

The Proofreader’s Poem 

If you’re the kind whose writing flows

from word to word in perfect prose

don’t think there’s nothing left to do

once words are found and phrases too.

There’s one thing left; you have to check

the grammar, don’t let spelling wreck

your careful words, your charming phrase

don’t leave your reader in a daze.

Move to the end, work in reverse

or read aloud, be bold! Rehearse!

Correct it all before you send

so publication can’t offend.

Check out your use of their and there

apostrophes and all, beware!

Be accurate with homonyms

and passive voice – a writers sin.

Check its and it’s, they’re often wrong;

its name is something which belongs

to it, and every single day

its name is spelled the self same way.

So, when you write, please write with flair

but let your watchword be take care

check before the publication

grammar, spelling, punctuation.

Remember, if you get them right

your business interests will take flight,

the millions that you surely crave

will flood right in, so please be brave.

Be ruthless when you proof read prose;

build links so your web business grows.

For anyone interested, parts of this were inspired by an old public safety announcement which I think appeared on the BBC, all about the need to wear a hard hat on a building site. 

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How to Write With a Co-Author

How to Write With a Co-Author

Authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, wri...

Authors Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, writing as Michael Stanley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m guessing that quite a lot of those books you see on Amazon –  you know the ones, Dinglesplotchit, by Famous J Author and Unknown Newbie, rely on Famous J Author’s name and Unknown Newbie’s effort. They appear to be co-authored, but are they really? Do they really sit down and thrash out each page together, or does Famous J Author just agree to lend his name to the project as long as it’s not total garbage?

I doubt that I’ll ever know.

What I do know is that 

I’ve spent the last year working on a writing project – a book and a number of short stories, with my son. It wasn’t easy.   There were times when tempers were fraught. But we got through it, and overall I’d say  I look forward to doing it again.

So, if you find yourself having one of those conversations – ‘great idea – why don’t we work on it together’ here are seven things you need to do to make the project a success and make sure you’re still on speaking terms at the end of it.

  1. Only co-author with someone whose opinion you value.  Many writers are control freaks when it comes to their work, and while most books are collaborative projects, with input from family, friends and sometimes a host of technical advisers, the author always has the right to say ‘no.’ If you’re always going to do it your way, you don’t need a co-author, you need a friend. If you believe that your co-author might even do a better job than you, then your project has a chance of success.    In our case I have the advantage of age and writing experience, but my son is closer to the age of the target demographic, closer to the age of the protagonist and has formal training.  His writing is often better than mine. I could ignore what he says, but I’d be an idiot.
  2. Find a way to divide the work. Our book, “Waterborne” is written from multiple points of view.  We divided the characters between us and the result was that the characters have genuinely different ‘voices’. You both need to write. If you end up with situation where on person writes and the other comments, you’ve a recipe for disaster. It might work for scientific papers, but not for novels.
  3. Try to make your criticisms constructive.  It’s not rocket science. If you want to work with someone, don’t offend them.
  4. Develop a veto policy right at the start.  We agreed that we both had to be happy with the what was written, but you could take things in another direction and allow one writer to take control of a scene or a chapter. Do what works for you, but agree it up front and stick to it.
  5. Work out a detailed outline before you start writing, and then stick to it.  We worked out a rough outline and started there. IT didn’t work. Too many things changed and the whole process took far too long. For our next project we’ve decided to work out a much more detailed outline and make sure it works before we divide up the work and start writing.
  6. Make sure you’re both writing the same book. If you’re writing a piece of young adult fiction, make sure your co-author’s  not working on a literary novel for the over fifties.
  7. When you make decisions, write them up. No – you don’t need to take minutes of your meetings, but do record the decisions.  There will be days when neither of you remember, or you both remember different things.

Have you ever written something with someone else? How did it work out? Would you do it again?

I’d love to learn more from your comments.




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Tools for Writers

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de eBook Беларуская: Фотаздымак электроннай кнігі Русский: Фотография электронной книги (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the last month I’ve learned a useful lesson. Tools are important. I know because in the last couple of weeks several of mine have failed and I’ve had to do without. Even when it was only for a day, it was painful. So I thought I’d write a post about  tools for writers and in particular, the tools I use when I’m writing content and how I use them.  If you’re serious about making money through your writing, whether writing is your business, or you write to promote your business, you need the right tools. Here’s what I use, and why.

  1. Pens. Yes, I know this is the internet age, but every writer needs to keep track of ideas, and these don’t always turn up when you’re in front of your computer. I use fountain pens because I like the way they write, and since I also lose them regularly, I use disposables. One large pack lasts for ages, makes me feel good when I use them and I get to use lots of different colors of ink. Yes, you can buy single color packs, but that’s boring. Keep a pen everywhere.
  1. Notebooks. Every writer needs a notebook and the shops are full of beauties with beautiful covers. A pity they don’t give the same amount of attention to the paper. I like a notebook with a hard back because then I can use it anywhere, I don’t need a surface to lean on. I also like one I can open all the way up, and one where, if I need to, I can remove a page easily. I use black and red notebooks in the 8 by 5 size because these fit easily into a handbag and drawer. The paper quality is excellent. I’m not sure why that matters, but I do know that given any other type of notebook, my notes are scrappy. I actually enjoy the sensation of writing in the black and red books and for each new project I start, I buy one, label it up and use it. If, like me,  you tend to lose pens, get some sticky velcro and stick one side to your notebook, the other to your pen. Keep a general notebook and pen combination beside your bed for all the ideas you come up with in the middle of the night.
  1. Avery Index markers. These are the tools I use to index my black and red books. I write a tab and add it anywhere in the book. Its effective, helps me find stuff quickly and its easy to use. Also inexpensive.
  1. Writers do not really need gadgets, more’s the pity, because I do like gadegts, but one I find invaluable is my Kindle. Yes, I have a real Kindle, not Kindle for Ipad. Kindles have some major advantages over tablets like the Ipad, one is battery life, the other is that they work anywhere at no extra cost. I can download a book instantly, no matter where I am, and I don’t need to pay for a wireless contract to do it. Kindle battery life is superb and unless I’m planning to be away from home for a month, I don’t need to carry the charger with me. Since I do spend a lot of time reading, often for research purposes, I can also say for certain that the screen is much easier on the eyes and it works just like they say in the ads, even in bright sun. I live in Florida, so I know bright sunshine when I see it.
  1. Porthos. Porthos is the name of my trusty netbook computer. He is an Asus Aspire 11.6 inch netbook and allows me to write pretty much anywhere. Again, if you’re wondering why I have anything as antiquated as a netbook instead of a tablet, there are two reasons. One is usability. If you write a lot, and I do, you need something with a good comfortable keyboard. That means buying a keyboard add on for the ipad. Even with the keyboard, you need to find something to lean the device on when you type,  I confess that at weekends I often write sitting up in bed or on a lounger.  It’s difficult to use an ipad with keyboard if you work that way.  With the Asus I can and do write pretty well anywhere. The second factor is price. The Asus costs about half as much as an ipad plus keyboard. Note: This is an 11.6 inch netbook with a screen resolution of 1366 by 768. I tried a 10 inch netbook with lower resolution. It was OK for writing and had a nice keyboard, but the low resolution was a constant problem since I had to keep scrolling to see the full width of most screens.  The high resolution screen on the Asus makes a  huge difference and has boosted my productivity. In case you’re wondering I named the Asus Porthos for two reasons. The first is that he was my favorite of the three musketeers, the second is that our household is deeply attached to Star Trek. My desktop computer is named after Captain Archer, so it made sense to call the portable version after his dog.
  1. Keurig Coffee maker. I cannot write at all without a reasonable supply of tea or coffee, or hot chocolate, mocha, chai tea or whatever I’m in the mood for. Basically, Starbucks is the best place for me to write, but much as I love them, I could easily part with all my writing income, so my Mom bought me a Keurig. At first I thought the whole one cup at a time thing was a bit daft, and it took a little while to build a stock of the different k-cups, but now I really enjoy the variety and being without my Keurig is very painful indeed.
  1. A Milk frother. Well, as I said, I like coffee. And sometimes, OK every day, I like frothy coffee. I tried a capuccino maker once and hated it, but my little frother is perfect. I add milk to the jug and switch it on, put my coffee k-cup into tjhe Keurig and then pour the froth into a large cup and activate the Keurig to pour the coffee on top. On bad days I add chocolate syrup. On really bad days I add lots.
  1. Books. I don’t use many books when I’m working. I have a hard copy dictionary and thesaurus, I also have hard copy books of quotations, but to be truthful, I don’t use them very often because I can often find the information faster online, courtesy of Google. One reference book I do use is A Dash of Style, the Art and Mastery of Punctuation, by Noah Lukeman. Punctuation is one of the major tools a writer has, and it can make a big difference. I have this book in Kindle and well as hardback versions, and I read some if it almost every week, because its not just informative, it’s entertaining and well written. What more can you ask for? If you write at all, and you don’t have this book, buy it or put it on your Christmas list.
  1. Structure is important to writers, even when writing something short, or maybe that should be especially when writing something short! The best way to create a logical structure is by planning, I do this with a mind mapping tool called Inspiration. I actually bought this software because it was recommended by my daughters school, and she has made good use of it, I use it for brainstorming in mind map form – the software will then turn the mindmap into an outline I can use to get started.
  1. Last, but my no means least, is my favorite piece of software, Dragon Naturally Speaking. This software was a huge surprise to me; I didn’t expect it to work, and I certainly didn’t expect it to work as well as it does. I still need to edit what I dictate, but not very much, I’m not a bad typist, but I’m pretty sure Dragon doesn’t make as many mistakes as I do. Why should you use it? Many people find blogging and article writing difficult, but if you use voice recognition software you just have to talk. Close your eyes, imagine you’re talking to a friend and just let things flow.
  2. UPDATE.  It’s just over two years since the original article was written. My tools are still, largely the same with one major exception. I’ve been writing longer and longer items, both fact and fiction, in fact I’ve just finished my first fiction book and I used a really good piece of software to do it. It;s called Scrivener and it’s very well designed. Scrivener allows you to keep multiple drafts of what you’ve written, to organize the text in different ways, to keep things together, but complete separate. If you intend to wrote anything longer than an article, I suggest you take a look.

I’m sure there are other tools I use, but these are the ones that I use on a more or less constant basis. If you write a lot, you should find them useful.

If you don’t, but you know someone who does, now you know what to get them for Christmas.

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How to Write a Call to Action

call to action

call to action (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

It must be around 10 years ago now, that I first tried to sell something.

I failed.

I tried again, and failed again. So I asked a friend for help. What did she think of my sales pitch?

Not a lot. Apparently I had missed out on the most important ingredient, something called the ‘call to action.’

In my naivety I had simply set out the good reasons why someone should buy my product and assumed they’d go along and do just that.

Apparently not.

After you’ve told people why they need, indeed cannot live without, your product, you actually need to tell them to come and buy it. That’s what they call the ‘call to action’ the bit that says ‘ok, so now do it.’

Writing a call to action doesn’t come naturally to me, so i was interested to read an article on exactly how it’s done.  Here’s a summary.

  • Be clear. Use the right word and tell your potential customers what they need to do next, whether it’s ‘buy’ ‘signup’ or ‘download’.
  • Be different. Include your unique selling proposition in your call to action.
  • Be strong. Don’t say ‘click here’ when you could say ‘download now’
  • Connect. There are lots of ways to do this, be funny, be warm, be different, whatever you feel your particular audience will value.
  • Be quick. You most likely have convinced your audience, but maybe they don’t have their credit card to hand. They’ll do it later. That’s fine. NO IT ISN”T! No matter how good their intentions, no matter how much they truly want your product, most people will forget if they don’t do it NOW! So let your call to action do the work for you and tell them why now is the only possibility. An intrductory offer is good, but try to make it realistic. Selling an ebook and telling people you have a limited supply will just annoy them.
  • Be simple.  If you ask people to do something complicated they’ll either fail, or they just won’t try.
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Courtroom Procedure for Authors

English: A plaque for the Agatha Christie mile...

English: A plaque for the Agatha Christie mile at Torre Abbey in Torquay. Español: Placa en honor de Agatha Christie en el exterior de la Torre Abbey, en Torquay Français : Plaque en l’honneur d’Agatha Christie, sur un mur extérieur de Torre Abbey, à Torquay Suomi: Agatha Christien muistolaatta Torre Abbeyssa, Torquayssa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About six months ago, I set out to write my first fiction book. It was to be an epic saga set in the 16th century, something I know a little about, but just a month or two into it, I realised that the research involved was something I just didn’t have time for, and to write without good research to guide me was something I didn’t want to do.

But people do.

And of course the more expert you are, the more you notice.

Writing about events in the present day, makes life easier, but even then you need to research?  As someone who has worked all her life in IT, I knew that the writer of ‘The IT Crowd’ had done his research because I felt I had already met the characters. It makes a big difference.

One area which tends to be neglected when it comes to research is the law. In addition to my IT related past, I also have a degree in law (don’t ask why) and I am frequently appalled by writers idea of evidence and procedure.  I imagine it must be far worse for practising lawyers and law enforcement professionals who see themselves portrayed in strange ways, especially on screen.

As a result I was delighted to read that a lawyer has just won the prestigious Agatha award for ‘Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure.’ 

Books, Crooks, and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure

Price: $10.85

4.5 out of 5 stars (22 customer reviews)

49 used & new available from $8.55

Leslie Budewitz from Ferndale is  apart time attorney and spent six months covering over 160 topics regarding the law and procedure inside the courtroom.

The Agatha awards honor books which follow the Agatha Christie tradition of mysteries without explicit sex or gratuitous violence and are awarded in various categories, from Novels, to first novels, non fiction, short stories, childrens/young adult and historical novel.

For 2011 the nominees were (winners are shown by an asterisk)

Best Novel:

The Real Macaw by Donna Andrews (Minotaur)
The Diva Haunts the House by Krista Davis (Berkley)
Wicked Autumn by G.M. Malliet (Minotaur)
* Three-Day Town by Margaret Maron (Grand Central Publishing)
A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Novel:
Dire Threads by Janet Bolin (Berkley)
Choke by Kaye George (Mainly Murder Press)
* Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry (Crown)
Who Do, Voodoo? by Rochelle Staab (Berkley)
Tempest in the Tea Leaves by Kari Lee Townsend (Berkley)

Best Non-fiction:

* Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure by Leslie Budewitz (Linden)
Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making: More Stories and Secrets from Her Notebooks by John Curran (Harper)
On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling by Michael Dirda (Princeton University Press)
Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel by A. B. Emrys (McFarland)
The Sookie Stackhouse Companion by Charlaine Harris (Ace)

Best Short Story:

* “Disarming” (PDF) by Dana Cameron, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – June 2011
“Dead Eye Gravy” by Krista Davis, Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press)
“Palace by the Lake” by Daryl Wood Gerber, Fish Tales: The Guppy Anthology (Wildside Press)
“Truth and Consequences” by Barb Goffman, Mystery Times Ten (Buddhapuss Ink)
“The Itinerary” by Roberta Isleib, MWA Presents the Rich and the Dead (Grand Central Publishing)

Best Children’s/Young Adult:
Shelter by Harlan Coben (Putnam)
* The Black Heart Crypt by Chris Grabenstein (Random House)
Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby (Scholastic Press)
The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey (EgmontUSA)
The Code Busters Club, Case #1: The Secret of the Skeleton Key by Penny Warner (EgmontUSA)

Best Historical Novel:
* Naughty in Nice by Rhys Bowen (Berkley)
Murder Your Darlings by J.J. Murphy (Signet)
Mercury’s Rise by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press)
Troubled Bones by Jeri Westerson (Minotaur)
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear (Harper)

The 2012 Agatha Awards will be given for materials first published in the United States by a living author during the calendar year 2012 (January 1-December 31), either in hardcover, as a paperback original, or e-published by an e-publishing firm.  For more information about the 2012 awares, take a look at Malice Domestic

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Flash Fiction: Stories for the Twenty First Century

underword: flash fiction

underword: flash fiction (Photo credit: piglicker)

You won’t?

You’ve never heard of flash fiction?

Well, actually neither had I. But it seems we are behind the times, and think of the possibilities. Ten or 11 tweets and you’re done! Well, mostly. the standard is 150 words.

You might wonder whether this is a joke,  and that’s a reasonable question, but flash fiction is not only serious business, it’s serious tuition, and if you have any ambition to be a writer you’ll benefit from giving it a try.


Because you have to throw everything away.  All the adverbs, most of the adjectives and almost every carefully turned phrase. You have to strip your writing down until you can see the bones, leaving your story intact, with a beginning, and middle and an end, but nothing else. No high sounding phrases, no aimless alliteration.

You’ll learn two things (at least)

  • Most of the words you use aren’t necessary.
  • Editing means cutting. Not just the bad lines. The good lines sometimes have to go too.

Go on, give it a try. Here’s my very first attempt. Can you do better? Leave your version in the comments.

A Modern Fairy Tale

She didn’t enjoy the ball, her slippers were too tight. The clock struck midnight. Time to escape!

Next day the town was buzzing; a royal wedding was in the air, but could the prince find his mystery bride when all he had was a slipper?

For weeks they searched for a girl whose feet would fit, till finally they came to Cinderella’s house. She felt sure the prince would recognise her, but he saw only a kitchen drudge. She tried the shoe, it was too tight as before, so the prince went on searching and Cinderella learned that if you wear shoes that don’t fit, you don’t get to marry a handsome prince.

Cinderella outlived her stepsisters and married the local innkeeper.

The prince, who had a great many shoes of his own, married the Prime Minister and started a chain of luxury shoe shops.

Both lived happily ever after.


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