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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

How to Format a Manuscript for a Publisher

A question that probably arises more than any other on my forum is how to set out a manuscript for a publisher.

I was going to write a post about this myself, but then I discovered this excellent article by Moira Allen, the editor of WritingWorld.com, which says everything I would have said and more.

Helpfully, Moira's article covers submitting to both US and UK publishers. I also like the way she takes a sensible, straightforward approach to some issues that cause writers to agonize unnecessarily. Here she is talking about fonts and formats:
Amazingly, people get into heated discussions over what types of fonts editors prefer. Some folks claim that all editors want manuscripts in Courier (the font that looks like your typewriter font). Lately, some editors and writers have come to prefer Arial. So what do editors really want?

The truth is, most editors really don't care, as long as the font is readable. (I can state this with confidence, having done a survey of about 500 editors; 90% expressed "no preference" with regard to font.) Very few editors will reject your manuscript because it happens to be in New Century Schoolbook, Palatino, or Times Roman. Generally, it's best to use a 12-point font size, and to choose a font that doesn't "squinch" letters together too closely.

If you're thinking of submitting a book to a publisher, I strongly recommend giving Moira's article a read. She even covers electronic submissions as well!

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

More WCCL Sites on Writers Digest Top 101 List

As many of you will know, this blog is sponsored by the electronic public house WCCL, who also publish many of my writing courses.

In this recent post, I mentioned that another WCCL-sponsored site, my forum at Mywriterscircle.com, had just been voted into the Writers Digest Top 101 Websites for Writers list for 2008.

Well, I've just discovered that two other WCCL sites are also in the Writers Digest list. In case you've not seen them, I thought I'd mention them both here.

WritersFM is WCCL's free online radio station for writers. The station broadcasts 24/7 via the Internet, with a mixture of interviews with successful writers, laid-back music, and writing tips and advice (and, by the way, no advertisements).

Among the writers you can hear on WritersFM are historical novelist Bernard Cornwell, British politician-turned-writer Edwina Currie, US screenwriting guru Syd Field, and many more (including yours truly).

You can either just tune in to the station and listen to what is currently playing, or download most of the interviews from the podcasts page. Note that either way, you will need to have a broadband/DSL Internet connection. WritersFM doesn't work on dial-up, unfortunately.

The other WCCL site in the Writers Digest 101 list is WriteStreet, or Trent Steele's Write Street as it's described on the list. This is actually WCCL's writing portal. Here you can find details of all of the company's writing products and courses, along with other book and product recommendations, inspirational quotes, articles about writing, and so on.

Also from WriteStreet you can subscribe to WCCL's free Smart Writers email newsletter, and help yourself to a range of valuable free gifts just for signing up. Smart Writers includes articles about writing, along with reviews of the latest writing products. Of course, you can unsubscribe any time if you don't like it and still keep all the free gifts.

I hope you will try visiting both these sites, to see why they were voted on to the Writers Digest list by writers themselves.

And if you'd like to vote to keep any of them on the list for 2009, you can do so by sending an email nominating the site in question to writersdig@fwpubs.com with "101 Websites" as the subject line. The closing date for nominations for the 2009 list is 1 January 2009.

And yes, a vote for this blog would be very much appreciated too!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Free Holiday Reading

Just a quickie to recommend that, if you're after some free holiday reading, you point your browser at the newly launched website www.blogaholidayread.co.uk today.

The site is operated by Penguin Books (UK). They say:

Blog a Holiday Read, the perfect excuse to put your feet up, relax, and escape into one of Penguin's Top 500 bestselling fiction titles, guaranteed to get the nation talking, and you yearning for a break to soak up some top reads. Here's how it works:

Sign up and, if you're quick enough, you'll become one of the lucky people to receive a randomly chosen, FREE Penguin in the post. Plus you'll be the first to review it here, enabling the blog, and comments, to begin!


You can see the books being promoted on the website - there's a wide range, from Adrian Mole: The Wilderness Years to The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Of course, you don't get to choose which book you receive, but I guess that's part of the fun ;-)

As you may gather from the quote above, if you want to participate in this promotion, you are meant to read the book and submit a review to the Holiday Read Blog within six weeks of receiving it.

As far as I can tell this promotion is open to anyone in the world. In any event, you are asked to enter the country you live in when registering. Don't hang about, though, as this promotion will close as soon as all the free books have been allocated.

Good luck, and I hope you get a book you like!

P.S. I've just heard that I've been allocated Your Blue-Eyed Boy by Helen Dunmore - 'A compelling and passionate psychological thriller'. Sounds good to me!

P.P.S. If you apply and are successful, why not add a comment here letting me and other readers know which book you are getting?

P.P.S.S. Just heard they are fully subscribed already, within a few hours of my posting about it. Very sorry if you tried and missed out.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

My Latest Amazon Vine Book Review

I recently read and reviewed my latest book from the Amazon Vine programme. I thought perhaps you might be interested to see it.

The book in question is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer. It's fair to say it's not a book I would have read normally, although the fact that it is partly set in Guernsey - which I visited earlier this year - piqued my interest.

Anyway, I'm pleased to say I enjoyed it a lot more than my previous Amazon Vine selection. Here's a (slightly edited) version of my review.

Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

I must start by saying that I have an innate prejudice against books written entirely in the form of letters. However, this novel went a long way towards curing me of this.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is set just after World War 2, when the German occupation of Guernsey in the Channel Islands had only recently ended. The central character is a writer, Juliet Ashton, who begins a correspondence with the members of the eponymous society. They are a group of disparate individuals who met regularly during the occupation to read and discuss books, keep their spirits up, and provide mutual support (and as they tell their stories, it becomes clear that the support given was very much practical as well as emotional).

I found reading this book a bit like listening to a radio play. Each of the letter-writers has his or her own distinctive voice, and gradually you get to know and understand them better, through both seeing what they write themselves and what others write about them. Although I do still have some reservations about novels written entirely in this form, I have to admit it works well at showing readers the characters from different perspectives and bringing them more vividly to life.

The book is perhaps a little slow in the beginning, as we read letters sent between Juliet and her publisher and other people in her life such as her friend Sophie. As the correspondence with members of the society gets into its stride, however, the book becomes much more gripping. There is a lot of presumably well-researched information about what life was like in the Channel Islands during the German occupation, and it really does bring this lesser-known aspect of WW2 into vivid focus. To the author's credit she pulls no punches about the worst aspects of life at that time, both in Guernsey itself and in the Nazi concentration camps. Some readers might find certain scenes described in the book quite disturbing.

It does, however, have a happy ending. A harsh critic might say that it has a touch of the Mills & Boon about it as Juliet finally finds True Love, but of course I would say no such thing!

In summary, then, this is an entertaining and at times moving novel, with a fascinating background. I will certainly look out for Ms Shaffer's next book, though I might prefer it if next time she uses a more conventional narrative format!

Here's a permalink to my review on Amazon.co.uk, in case you'd like to read it in situ. By the way, if you do visit, and you like the review, a 'Helpful' vote is always appreciated!

Finally, I've included image links to the book's sales pages at Amazon.com and co.uk at the foot of this post. Note that, as this was an Amazon Vine selection, the book won't actually be available to buy until next month. Note also that if you are receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the image links.

Happy reading!



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Friday, July 18, 2008

Best Firefox Add-ons for Writers

In this recent post I talked about the new Firefox 3 web browser, and why I have been a Firefox fan for some time.

In that post I mentioned that one of the main reasons I like Firefox is the ability you have to customize it using add-ons (also known as plug-ins and extensions). In this post, then, I thought I'd share with you the add-ons I use myself, and then invite you to share yours via the blog's Comments facility.

As I mentioned before, one of my favourite add-ons is Morning Coffee. This creates a coffee cup icon on the main Navigation toolbar. When you click on this it opens your favourite websites (as entered by yourself) simultaneously in different tabs. I use this feature every day to quickly check my blog, forum and a few other sites I like to monitor regularly.

You can customize Morning Coffee to work in various ways, e.g. you can set some sites (perhaps work-related) not to appear at the weekend, or have some only open on certain days. Personally, though, I have all my sites open every day. Work and leisure tend to blend into one for us full-time freelances!

Another add-on I use a lot is Tinyurl Creator. As you may know, Tinyurl is a free service that converts long URLs into much shorter ones. I use it all the time when writing newsletters and articles that refer to specific web pages. The Tinyurl add-on gives you an icon you can click on any time; and it will then automatically create a Tiny URL for the page you are on and save it to your clipboard. It's a simple tool, but one that saves me constantly going back and forth to the Tiny URL website.

My next add-on is equally useful to me, though I don't use it quite as much. This is IE Tab, and what it does is allow you to convert any tab in Firefox into the equivalent in Internet Explorer. This is great with those (few) sites that don't work or display properly in Firefox.

In my case, I find that my Internet banking service doesn't work properly in a Firefox tab - I get error messages when I try to perform certain actions. So I just switch to Internet Explorer mode, and all runs smoothly. A small icon appears in the status bar at the foot of the page, and you click on this to toggle from one mode to the other.

Colorful Tabs is an indulgence, but I like it anyway. It gives all the tabs you are using in Firefox a pretty pastel background. All the colours are different, so it makes it a bit easier to distinguish one from another - but really, I just like it because it livens up my desktop!

TwitterFox is an add-on for users of the micro-blogging and social networking service Twitter. It allows me to see incoming 'tweets' any time I am browsing the web. It also lets me create my own updates, including (if I wish) the URL of the web page I am currently viewing. This makes it easy for me to fit 'Twittering' around my work. If I come across something I think would interest my followers, with Twitterfox it takes only a moment to circulate a quick note about it.

...Do feel free to follow me on Twitter, by the way!

My final add-on is the Text Formatting Toolbar. As the name indicates, this gives you an extra toolbar on your browser, but you can of course switch it off via the View menu when you don't need it. This toolbar lets you quickly format text in bulletin-board code, HTML or Wiki code. I use it mainly for formatting forum messages, but it's also useful for creating hyperlinks in blog comments, and in other cases where you need to create a quick bit of HTML on the fly.

So those are my favourite Firefox add-ons, but I'm sure there are many other good ones I haven't tried. If you're a keen Firefox user like me, why not post details of your favourite add-ons here? And if you're not yet a Firefox fan, perhaps I may have given you another reason to give it a try. Here's the download link for Firefox 3 once again.

Happy browsing!

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How Well Read Am I?

Linda Jones recently tagged me on a meme about what bloggers have and haven't read. You have to look at the list and:

1) Bold those you have read.

2) Italicise those you intend to read.

3) [Bracket] the books you LOVE.

4) Reprint this list on your own blog.

Incidentally, as I understand it the list in question comes from the American Big Read survey of the 100 most popular books there. The list differs somewhat from the UK Big Read list. As you might expect, a few more American titles are included!

Anyway, here's my version...

1 [Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen]
2
[The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien]
3 [Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte]
4 [Harry Potter series - JK Rowling]
5 [To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee]
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 [Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell]
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 [Catch-22 - Joseph Heller]
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 [The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams]
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 [Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll]
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 [Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres]
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie-the-Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 [Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy]
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 MISSING
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 [The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon]
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 [Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding]
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby-Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - A. S. Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 [The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro]
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 [Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle]
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I make that 59, so I still have quite a few titles left to read! Although there may be one or two books in the list I read long ago and have now forgotten about - Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree Collection, for example.

Looking at my list also makes me realise that I seem to have steered away from reading most Russian authors. That's definitely something I shall have to remedy before too long...

I must admit also that there are one or two books in the list I know almost nothing about - in particular, the titles by Rohinton Mistry (86) and Mitch Albom (88). Perhaps these books are better known in the US than in the UK? Anyway, if you've read either of these titles, I'd be interested to hear your opinions on them.

I'm tagging Suzie, Carrie and June next, because they all volunteered when I posted a request on my forum (I didn't like to just nominate people). You can also see Linda's list here. Between us, it seems, we've actually read the great majority of the books in the top 100!

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Firefox 3: First Impressions

I've been using the latest Firefox 3 web browser for a few weeks now, so I thought in this post I'd share my impressions so far...

There's a lot to like about the new Firefox 3, but one of the best things in my view is the 'intelligent' Location bar. This isn't just a bar to display the URL of the site you are visiting any more. It also serves as a search tool for finding bookmarks or pages stored in your browsing history.

What this means is that you only have to enter two or three letters in the Location bar and Firefox will display up to six sites including that sequence of letters in either the URL OR the page title. The sites listed come from your bookmarks and your recent browsing history, with the sites you visit most often shown at the top.

I must admit I now find this feature indispensable. If I want to visit my forum, for example, I simply type the letters 'my' into the Location bar, and Mywriterscircle.com pops up at the top of the list (along with Mywritingblog, of course). All I then have to do is click on the site I want in order to go there.

Another change is the addition of a neat, all-in-one page-back/page-forward icon. It's also now possible to search your browsing history in more ways than you ever believed possible, using tags, date and time of visit, fragments from the page title/URL, and so on. Other changes 'behind the scenes' make sites faster to load, and the whole program seems very stable (it's only crashed once since I installed it).

Are there any minuses? Well, I was a bit disappointed that a lot of my Firefox extensions didn't work any more when I first upgraded. I believe this is to do with the higher security standards applied in Firefox 3. By searching online I was able to find upgrades for most of my favorite extensions (e.g. Morning Coffee), however, and others have been found by Firefox itself and installed over the last few weeks. So it hasn't been as big a problem as I first thought.

The other thing I'm not sure about is the way Firefox 3 handles downloads. It works perfectly well, and the downloads window appears as before, but not as much information is provided as previously. I didn't know at first where Firefox 3 was saving my downloads - it changed this unliterally from my previous default folder - and I only found out how to check and change this by doing some research on the net. I'm getting used to it now, but I don't personally see this particular change as an improvement.

Overall, though, I'm a big fan of Firefox 3. If you're a Firefox user and you haven't yet upgraded, I recommend doing so now. And if you haven't yet discovered the joys of using this open-source browser instead of Microsoft Internet Explorer, now could be the ideal time to take it for a spin.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Read me on the WEbook blog!

I thought perhaps you might be interested in checking out this mini-article I wrote recently for Melissa Jones's WEbook blog.

As you'll see, it's a tip that's relevant mainly to fiction writers, though there's no reason why non-fiction authors can't use it as well. Not long ago I ran a workshop on this topic for the Lichfield & District Writers, and their members were impressed by the improvement that applying this one piece of advice made to their work.

The article also gives me the opportunity to highlight WEbook again. WEbook is a collaborative writing project that gives authors the chance to work together in a wide range of writing projects centred around the WEbook website. You can read all about it in this article by Melissa Jones which I published a few weeks ago on my blog. And yes, they are still very much open to new members.

I'd also like to give a quick plug for the book I used as an example in my piece for the WEbook blog. Painter Man is the first novel by my old friend and sometime collaborator Jeff Phelps. You can hear Jeff being interviewed about his book on WritersFM, and read my blog post about it here.

Painter Man, like What Was Lost which I raved about recently in this post, is published by Tindal Street Press, a small, Birmingham-based publishing house which regularly punches above its weight in literary awards. Painter Man is quite different from What Was Lost, but both books are well observed and beautifully written, and I'm disappointed that Painter Man has not (yet) received the recognition it deserves.

Anyway, I've included links to Painter Man on Amazon (com/uk) below, in case you're interested in finding out more about this excellent novel. As ever, if you're receiving this post by email, you will need to visit my blog to see the image links.




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Saturday, July 05, 2008

My "New" Book Out This Month

UK readers of this blog in particular might be interested to know that my 'new' book Starting Your Own Home-Based Business comes out later this month.

I put the word 'new' in quotes because this is actually a totally revised edition of my popular book 'Start Your Own Home-Based Business'. And no, I don't know why they changed 'Start' to 'Starting' in the title. Publishers move in mysterious ways sometimes!

As the name indicates, the book is aimed at anyone who hopes to join the growing ranks of people running a business from home. It covers everything from deciding whether you are suited to doing this, through generating and evaluating business ideas, to marketing, invoicing, financial record-keeping, making the most of the Internet, and so on. It's written for UK readers, so it refers to British laws, taxes, etc. - but, of course, much of the content would be equally relevant to people in other countries as well.

Apart from the title, there are quite a few changes in the new, 2008 edition. For starters, it's being published in full-colour magazine format, and will be sold via newsagents, kiosks and convenience stores rather than (primarily) through bookshops. This is something of a trend in publishing right now, as traditional bookstores struggle to bring in paying customers. I understand that my publishers hope to attract people who might see my book - or perhaps I should say magazine - on the newsagents' racks and buy it on impulse, rather than the (endangered) bookshop browser.

To get the book down to magazine proportions, some content has had to go. And with the new edition, this is the old Part B of the book, which listed 50 different home-based businesses, giving details of how to get started, useful resources, and so on. I'm sorry to have lost this section, but if you particularly want it, you can still buy the original version of the book at Amazon.co.uk (see below).


The new edition is fully up to date, however, and more attractively presented. Look out for it in the magazine rack of your local W.H. Smith (the UK's leading book and magazine retailer) or other newsagent very soon!

* You should also be able to order the new edition of my book from bookstores or via your local public library. Once again, the title is Starting Your Own Home-Based Business and it is published by Zone Publishing Group. The ISBN is 9781848470002. It isn't yet available from Amazon, but I'll let you know via this blog if (or when) that changes.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Mywriterscircle.com makes Writers Digest 101 Best Websites List!

I just found out that my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com has made the prestigious Writers Digest Magazine 101 Best Websites for Writers list for another year. Huge thanks to everybody who voted for us!

The list is actually a great resource for discovering the best and most popular sites for writers. Even if you've been online for a while, there's a good chance you'll find some writing sites here you haven't seen before. I'm certainly planning to check out some of the less familiar names myself.

We still need your votes for 2009, however! If you agree that Mywriterscircle.com is one of the top online resources for writers, please send an email nominating the site to writersdig@fwpubs.com with '101 Websites' as the subject line. January 1, 2009 is the deadline for the 2009 list.

Many thanks!

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