Warning: Ignoring your spelling mistakes could cost you the job!

It’s true! I have on good authority. Recently, I worked with a company involved in tendering for large contracts. My contact said that they had come to me because, in the past, they had tenders fail at the last hurdle. This was often due to the number of errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar – all things that a proofreader can spot and correct.

What can you do about it?

It helps to use the tools that are readily available. After all, computers come with a built in spell-checker. Of course, you cannot completely rely on that bit of kit because if you have spelled a word correctly, it won’t tell you if you have used it in the wrong context. That’s a difficulty that often arises with homophones – words that sound the same but a spelled differently. Some people say that they switch off the spell-checker because they don’t like all the wriggly lines appearing. That’s silly! The wriggly lines help you. And once you have corrected the spelling error, they go away.

What else can you do? Use a dictionary. If you use a good old-fashioned paper dictionary you will learn the spelling and meaning of other words. How? Because at the same time as you are looking up the word that you are unsure of, your eyes will be drawn to the definition of other words around it on the page. Of course, you can use one of the many online dictionaries, but you may not learn as much.

If the document you are checking is really important, and I put a tender document in this category, it helps enormously to have another pair of eyes look it over. But, before you subject someone else to this task, you can help yourself by reading the document over from start to finish. Read it out loud. Honestly, if you do this, you will be more likely to spot errors because you will be forced to read more slowly, and you will hear the words as well.

All of this is true for any document, whether a tender document, a report or analysis, a job application or a CV. Skip it at your peril.

Summary

  • Use a spell-checker
  • Correct the spellings – either as you go along or when you read through
  • Use a dictionary
  • Read the document out loud
  • Get someone else to read the document too

Finally…

…a proofreader is more than happy to work with you to iron out the irregularities in your spelling, punctuation and grammar. It’s their job and they like doing it, even if you don’t.

Writing a plan for your book – is it worth it?

What do you write? And do you need to make a plan? If you do, how detailed should it be? Every writer has their own way of approaching writing. Some approaches work for everyone, and others do not. The biggest thing to do, of course, is to actually write.

To a certain extent, the question of whether to write a plan, or not, applies to all types of books, but there are few types of book where I would hesitate to say that a plan is not needed. I believe that every writer needs some sort of a plan, although the amount of detail varies enormously.

For some writers, creating a plan for their book feels like a block to creativity. That’s fine. These writers will usually have some form of plan, but it resides in their head somewhere. They know what they want to write about, and how they plan to write their book, and they just get on with it. Sometimes the book ends up being a rather different beastie from the one they originally envisaged, but that’s fine too. They have used their creativity in their own way.

Other writers would be scared to commit anything to paper or computer until they have planned meticulously. Every chapter has its own planning page. Every character has its own profile. Event the places visited in the book have a profile. Such plans can become mini books in their own right, and can take months to prepare. Sometimes this is needed, especially where the book requires detailed research from the author. At other times, this depth of planning is a stalling activity, preventing the writer from actually beginning their book properly, from committing that first sentence to paper or computer. If you recognise this in you – it’s time to take the plunge and start writing the book, and leave the in-depth plan until you need to consult it. And don’t be concerned if you do deviate from the plan – that’s what happens when you create a book, and it’s fine.

The majority of writers fall somewhere in between these extremes. Planning helps to make a good book better; planning that is flexible with the right amount of detail. What is the right amount of detail? There is no straightforward answer to that. It depends on the style of book. Each writer develops their own method, sometimes after trying several different approaches. Try it, and see.

 

Essential work before creating an e-Book

Who Should Create An E-Book?Proofread page marked up

I was at my local writers’ group last night when a discussion began about the creation of e-Books. There were some members who remain mildly sceptical about them, but most people agree that the ability to create an e-Book is an essential skill for any writer with even the most modest of ambitions.

However, there was a unanimous element of caution in this view. There are far too many badly written and almost entirely unedited e-Books in the world already. As a courtesy to the potential reader, you – like any writer – must undertake some essential work on their writing before converting their document in to an e-Book.

Essential Work

Everyone present at the writers’ group agreed that when a writer wants to make their work available to a wider audience, that writer must review their words. There was some variation in how much reviewing should be done, but we all agreed that to present written work in the raw without so much as a spell-check is certain to lead to disappointment for the author. We agreed that

  • authors must check the spelling of the written work, with an eye on their potential audience due to the differences seen in different national views on the English language
  • authors have to check the grammar and punctuation of their work
  • authors should check the timeline of their masterpiece, to ensure that the nub of the plot is not given away too early, for example.
  • authors must be sure that they have not changed the name of their characters part way through the story, or transposed people into new and incompatible roles
  • authors should be sure that they do have a story, and not just a collection of sub-plots without coherence

How many revisions

Overall, we agreed that no writer should consider submitting their book as an e-Book without revision. The number of total revisions you need to make will depend on the length of the book and on the style and context of your writing. However, every one of us agreed that a single revision is insufficient. If you, as a writer want to have any degree of credibility, and to sell your books. multiple revisions are needed, probably reaching into double digits. Only then will your writing be ready to submit to the world, but even then you will do well to submit it to other eyes before you unleash its potential.

Finally, you should seriously consider asking a professional to proofread or edit your writing, or at least an experienced writer. Their comments become invaluable learning tools, helping you to become a better author, and leading you one step closer to becoming a well-known author.

Can anyone create an e-book?

The rise of the e-book

I was recently chatting with Chris Thomas, of Milton Contact, Cambridge, about the concept of e-books. There are now e-books covering every genre, and in many formats. With the meteoric rise of the e-reader, there is no doubt that e-books are here to stay. Our challenge, therefore is to understand the creation of an e-book from text, to create the best possible format for an e-book, and to join the host of other authors who are creating e-books.

Understanding the creation of e-books

A quick look on Google showed me a few guides to creating e-books, but none of them seemed to be recently updated. I wonder if the recent advances in applications means that these are now out-dated – especially the ones that are more than a year old.

A tour of the Amazon Kindle store showed a wide range of e-books about, well about e-books. The question then is, which one to choose. At least there are guides out there. There is a fairly comprehensive guide in Amazon for anyone wanting to upload an e-book to their Kindle platform, so I have noted that in the list of things for aspiring e-book authors to explore. The other e-book platforms such as Kobo, Nook, Sony, Windows, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and a whole host of other platforms, have similar, and supposedly idiot-proof, guides. The challenge is that although many of the e-book platforms say you can use an ePub file to upload your work, they all require tweaking to fit their own individual quirks.

What is the best format for an e-book?

Understanding how an e-book is created leads to a better knowledge of what is the best format for an e-book. Chris has already discovered that it is easier to create one which is text only, or which has black and white illustrations. His first e-book is for small children, and is a combination of pictures and text. Chris created his first e-book this way to find out how it was done. Colour seems to create all sorts of additional work. That is just a challenge for the e-book creator, but one which must also be explored.

The nature of a digital reader is that the person controlling the device is able to set the font size which has an impact on the way the reader presents the text. Therefore, page numbering no longer applies. It is possible to create chapter breaks, but the continuous text makes page numbers unnecessary.  It follows that a simple format, with continuity for headings and so on, is the best format.

Joining the other e-book authors

So, now I know what I have to do. I have the text, I just have to learn how to change it into an e-book, format it in the best possible way, and get it out there in the e-book world. Then I will have joined the other e-book authors. 

What about you? Will you become an author via the e-book platform?

 

Why you should proofread your profile

Profiles are everywhere these days and I believe you should proofread your profile.Using dictionary

Why? Well, suppose you have met a new person at a networking event, someone who could be useful to you in your career. What happens if that person checks out your profile on Twitter or LinkedIn, and finds spelling mistakes, or punctuation errors? How are you going to feel? There is every chance that person will think that if you cannot be bothered to make sure your profile is error free, you might not be the right person for them to work with. Is that what you want?

It should not take long to proofread your profile. After all, it is usually on just one page. It is worth spending a few minutes checking it through. You never know when that perfect profile will make a difference. It is also worth asking someone you know to read what you have written. They may spot an important skill you have missed out, or suggest a better layout. Hopefully, they will also spot any mistakes that might still be there. It’s an added check, if nothing else.

When did you last check your profiles?

How proofreading makes a difference

People often ask me how proofreading makes a difference. The answer is very straightforward. Proofreading makes a difference because it shows you care enough about your writing to make sure it is as well presented as possible.

Recently, I read a novel that had possibly not been proofread at all. There were multiple mistakes on every page. It was very irritating to read, and I found myself mentally correcting the punctuation, the grammar and the spelling. The only reason I persisted in reading to the end was because it was an interesting story. If only the author or publisher had had it corrected, it would have been a very good novel. As it is, I would hesitate to recommend it to anyone.

I know that a number of authors try to proofread their own work. It is certainly Prooofreading manuscriptsomething that every writer should do. However, if you are planning to have your work published, I believe that it is a courtesy to your reader to ask someone else to check over what you have written for errors and make suitable suggestions. Should you want your novel to be successful, that second pair of eyes should belong to someone who is used to proofreading and correcting written work. Why not find a proofreader? It really does make a difference.

Why planning your novel gives you a headstart

Planning you novel will set you above the norm, especially if you are a new author. It will give you a real headstart.

Why?

  • Planning shows that you care about your novelPlanning tools - a hand, a pencil and a pad
  • Planning shows that you know your characters.
  • Planning shows that you have thought about what happens when in your story
  • Planning will help you write more smoothly

How?

A new author often hurries to get their story written, worried that they will forget what they have dreamed up over their coffee, or on the dog walk. If the story is that forgettable, it really does not matter. It will be better consigned to the bin. However, if the story is truly unforgettable, a well constructed plan will help to move the plot along. Plus, it shows that you care – about the novel itself, and about your readers.

Who?

You need to know who is in your novel, which means you need to know your characters. Every single one of them. Some of your characters will be with you throughout the book. Write them a profile, thinking about all aspects of their life. Think of it like a CV – both a professional, work based CV and a personal life CV. It will help you to know whether that atomic scientist is also into tapestry, or the car mechanic bakes and ices beautiful wedding cakes! Are they really the right character to be central to your novel?

The minor characters also need a profile, but it does not need to run to several pages. You still need to know the important facts about them, enough to place them correctly in your plot. However, walk-on characters can be just that – peripheral – and appear as required.

Planning

What?

Having planned your character profiles, and discovered what they have done in their lives, you will have a much better idea of what they will do in your plot. It will be easier to make the plot flow, because they will be less likely to surprise you. What all this planning does is ensure that you know how everyone is predicted to behave. Having said that, be prepared for some surprises. Some characters just do not do as you want. You may have to re-write their CV!

Having met your characters, you will be able to plan the plot, and have a very good idea of how each person will interact with their fellow characters. You will be able to construct a credible time-line, which will add credence to your overall novel. It is well worth it.

When?

By very nature, planning should occur before you write your novel. Planning involves research, especially if their is any technical background to your writing. It may be that you have been a nuclear research physicist all your life, in which case a novel about nuclear melt-down will be easier for you to write than for someone who has been a child-care assistant, say. You will have lived your research. But have you researched about the effects of family breakdown when work comes before wife and children? Or about the devastating effect of being the only person left in the world?

Should you plan to include well-known world events, make sure that the event is properly placed in your time-line. Get the main players in the event right, even if your fictional detective has to be added in to make your plot work. It all comes in the planning.

Result

A well planned novel should almost write itself. The planning may take months while the writing takes weeks. Your novel will be the better for it. Oh, and don’t forget to take a break every so often, get out for some fresh air, and sunshine – if it is available.Early spring sunshine

5 warning signs that your manuscript will be rejected (and how to avoid them)

Every would-be writer knows that manuscripts are more often rejected by publishers than accepted, but do you know the warning signs that tell those in the know that your manuscript is one that will hit the bin? Do you know how to avoid them?

1: Spelling errors

So many people submit manuscripts to publishers and competitions without taking the time to check their spelling is correct. In this day and age it is unforgivable, given that you are almost certainly writing on a computer of some description, and that computer has a built-in spell check option. A manuscript littered with spelling errors tells the editor or competition judges that actually you do not believe in your writing enough to accord it the simple courtesy of ensuring your spelling is accurate. Nor do you give the editor or judge the respect they deserve by submitting a clean document.

The answer: at least switch on the spell check option. Yes, I know the red and 033green wavy lines are irritating. They are meant to be, to get you to fix the problem. And if you do fix it, the wiggles go away. But don’t rely on it. You must have a decent dictionary, and make use of it. You never know what new word you might learn when checking the spelling, and meaning, of a word. A thesaurus helps as well, giving you a selection of other words that might actually convey what you mean to say more concisely or more dramatically. Get in the habit of using both a dictionary and a thesaurus, and your writing will improve.

2. Correct spelling, incorrect word

So many writers who have learned to use the spell check option fail at the next hurdle. The problem is that the wonderful tool, the spell check option, can let you down. It knows that the word you have written is correctly spelt, but it does not pick up that it is incorrectly used. One of the commonest mix-ups occurs with their, there and they’re. After all they sound the same, but they mean entirely different things. They are called homophones, but they are there to trip any writer who does not know their ‘they’re’ from their ‘there’.

The answer: here are many different homophones and you just have to learn to recognise which word is required. A good starting point is to search for lists of homophones, and study the different meanings. Yes, it means work, but it is worth putting in the effort to keep your writing up to a high standard.

3. Punctuation errors

Deep sigh. Punctuation matters. Manuscripts with errors in punctuation are just not going to be accorded the same respect from an editor or judge that ‘clean’ manuscripts enjoy. After all, if you forget to put in simple things like full stops, or the spaces around punctuation marks, it makes the job of reading your work so much harder.

The answer: you just have to get stuck in and learn the rules. They are there for a reason, and that is to make written work more readable. Get your self a punctuation guide of some sort. Learning whether the space comes before or after a comma, or whatever the rule is, will make your writing better.

4. Poor grammar

The list goes on, doesn’t it. Poor grammar is another pet hate of editors and judges. Once again it shows that you have not studied the art of writing enough. grammar seems to have fallen out of fashion, but it does make a major difference to the quality of a manuscript. You need to ensure that the tenses within a paragraph agree, that verbs and nouns agree and so much more. Good grammar lifts a piece of writing to a different level whilst poor grammar drops it down the ranks. As with all the other warning signs, poor grammar suggests you do not know your craft or you have no respect for your readers.

The answer: once again, you need to learn about it. You can try reading a grammar book from cover to cover, which might just be a good way to go sleep at night. You could get a grammar revision guide designed for teenagers, or even for primary age children. The rules are the same whether you are seven, seventeen or fifty-seven. Alternatively, invest in a good style guide and check things out in that. They are surprisingly easy to use, and contain a wealth of information. I know that they have helped me.

5. Not following submission guidelines

It is critical to find out what the submission guidelines are, wherever you plan to send your manuscript. After all, if a competition states that all submissions must be in hard copy, it is no good sending it electronically and hoping someone will take pity on you. Equally, if a publishing house asks for a synopsis and the first three chapters up to a word limit, that is what they want, not the whole novel in one helping. Failing to follow the simple guidelines is tantamount to wasting your time in sending your manuscript in the first place.

The answer: there is no room for manoeuvre on this – get it right or your submission will be ditched. Read the submission guidelines. Format your document appropriately. Your manuscript will already stand out above those poor souls who have not paid their writing the respect it deserves.

Using

Mistakes that make a proofreader cringe

The mistakes that make a proofreader cringe are usually the kind that a reasonable author should have dealt with. Yet it is amazing how many documents come through to my inbox with simple errors in them, errors that make me sigh the deepest of sighs and reach for the track changes button. Two recent errors that have littered documents I have read centre around punctuation.

Commas

The comma is an unassuming little squiggle that makes such a difference. Since the use of commas has been in decline over the recent times I wonder sometimes if they are in danger of fading out. There are whole sections devoted to the proper use of commas in books on writing style. And the one thing they all agree on is that a comma never appears with a space before it – never. It always clings on the skirts of the word that precedes it, and there is always a space after it. You can imagine how hard I found it when I was sent a novel where not one comma had a space before it, and very few had a following space. It was immensely tedious.

Quotation marks

Just like the comma, this is a much abused punctuation mark, and there are yet more sections of books on writing style that deal with their positioning in detail.. Whether an author uses single quotation marks, or double, is largely a matter of personal preference, unless they are writing for a house style. British practise is normally to use single quotation marks, unless quoting a quote within a quotation. Whichever is used, the quotation marks should be closed up to the words they surround, not hovering shyly between them.

Should you wonder how to use either of these marks properly, I can fully recommend The Oxford Manual of Style. If you are an aspiring writer, then some form of style manual is a must, just so you do not present your poor long suffering proofreader with many pages of poor punctuation. After all, if your writing is worthy of being proofread, surely you would rather your proofreader thought your writing is of high calibre, not just fit for the junk pile.

Proofreading – another pair of eyes makes a difference

Proofreading your work, whether it is an essay or a book or something in between, is essential, and having another pair of eyes read through what you have written can save you from all sorts of horrors. The problem with most writers is that they are so close to what they have written that they see the filler words that they intend to be in the text, but have not actually written. The writer knows which word they meant to use, so if a different one is there, they may not see it. Also, if your spelling is shaky, another person may pick up on the misspellings. Correcting printed workSo many writers have written, and re-written, and re-re-written their work so often that they are sick to death with it. Anyone can read through your writing and give you this help. Or can they?

Who can proofread your work?

Well, you can ask your fellow student or work colleague to proofread it, and they may – if they have time. Your boss might want to read it anyway. But what do you do if this helpful friend is just as bad at spelling and grammar as you are?

Call in a proofreading professional

At this point it pays to have a professional cast their eyes over the writing. A trained proofreader will know if the grammar is right, will help you get the punctuation right, and will correct spelling errors. They will spot the times when you have used a word that sounds like the one you wanted, but is spelt differently. And they will do it much faster than the author. Added to that, proofreading is really not that expensive. You never know, it may make a difference in your grades, if you treat your work with respect and ask a real proofreader to help you.