All the Voices in the Room: Thoughts on The Bookseller’s First Author Day

YOUAREHERE2 Last spring I asked self- and traditionally published authors, Couldn’t you at least talk to each other? Because in spite of the fact that they have more in common than not, and that they stand to learn a great deal from each other, they seem to be camped in two solitudes, sometimes wearing their route to publication like a badge.

What if there were a space where a conversation between them could take place?

Well, now there is. And in introducing The Bookseller’s inaugural Author Day, Porter Anderson put it this way: “The time has come for the people of publishing to stop, sit together, and begin to understand what’s happening to the creative corps.”

Indeed. I was privileged to attend this event on November 30 in London. It was an intense and fascinating program—a full day of speakers and panels, brilliantly choreographed by Porter Anderson, who seemed to be everywhere at once. So there was much to take in. Here’s the Author Day program, and here’s some coverage.

First off, it was wonderful to be in a roomful of book people—publishing industry people and authors of both persuasions. They do have a common goal, after all—to keep books in our field of vision, both as cultural artifacts and as sources of immense pleasure. More than once it was pointed out that as entertainment, books have lots of competition these days. So way to go, Team Reading!

This collection of players from different parts of the business, though, reinforced the understanding many have that the industry is fractured. We already know this. But it was hearing the different voices in one room that deepened my impression of the various parties as silos, or unconnected pieces, some seeming to be discovering each other for the first time.

Here are just a few examples of what stood out in the rapid exchange of often disparate ideas:

  • Literary agent Andrew Lownie foresees traditional publishing producing just 10 percent of books in the future.
  • Harry Bingham’s author survey found that authors value the editorial input they get from their publishers and despite complaints, wouldn’t leave their publisher. And that even though we might assume that book people are also word people, publishers apparently cannot communicate well with their authors.
  • For technologist Emma Barnes, it’s the tools, the tools, the tools, that will make both authors and publishers more productive, efficient and accountable. The tools will also help them communicate better. But who will take the time to learn them? (And I’m sure some were wondering, “what do you mean by tools?”)
  • And after hearing all of this, we heard from a longtime traditionally published author who can’t decipher her (semi-annual) royalty statement. I hope she (and her publisher) heard the part about trade accounting for only 10 percent in the future, and the importance of learning the tools.

The point isn’t that these voices contradict each other, or that anyone is wrong. I believe that everything we heard at Author Day is true, and that each voice is a piece of the picture we’re all trying to focus on. But these bits are flying past us at a pace that has us gasping—you reach to snag an idea before it gets away and miss three more in the process.

Technology is driving change in every industry on the planet. We’re exhausted by trying to keep up, and I heard this in the room too. Decision fatigue, the learning curve, frustrations with the process—these are issues both authors and publishers are facing. We’re in transition, and everyone’s at a different place on the trajectory. Would it help to affix on it a You Are Here label as a kind of progress report?

Author Day provided a place to begin connecting the dots, to turn the silos into networks. I was so pleased to be part of it.

Copyediting: “It’s Not Rocket Surgery”


by Carla Douglas and CK MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas @CKMacleodwriter

This post appeared first at The Book Designer on July 23, 2015.

In this space a couple of months ago we distinguished copyediting from proofreading. Knowing the difference can help authors identify the kind of editing they need and understand just what an editor might be doing to their manuscript.

In response, one author commented that copyediting is not that hard—that there’s no “rocket surgery” involved, and that self-pubs can and do manage all aspects of self-publishing themselves. Indeed they do. But if copyediting isn’t rocket surgery, then what is it? Maybe we need to clarify this, too. Could you copyedit your own book? How do the pros do it? There could be more going on than you realize, and in more ways than one.

What is Copyediting?

Copyediting isn’t one thing. It’s a process that incorporates many tasks and requires various skills. We’ve talked about copyediting before: it’s the sentence-level and second-last stage of the editing process, where a marked-up manuscript can look like a crime scene. Copyeditors work to the principles of correctness, consistency, accuracy and completeness, and communication (Editors Canada website). They make corrections to

  • grammar, spelling, punctuation and style
  • word usage, sentence and paragraph structure
  • voice, tone, appropriateness of language to audience

They also watch for consistency and plausibility of story, time, and place, and will alert an author if something’s amiss. Copyeditors perform these tasks, and more, to ensure a smooth reading experience with the fewest reader distractions. They also want to ensure that your meaning is crystal clear. The last thing you want is for readers to misunderstand what you’ve said. Something as subtle as tone can make a reader think you mean the opposite of what you intended. It is very difficult to assess your own work from this objective distance.

Most copyeditors have a system—a first-then-next approach to tasks—which usually begins with manuscript cleanup. Copyeditors also use a style guide and a detailed style sheet to stay organized. If you’re thinking about a DIY copyedit, keep this in mind: copyediting means putting a lot of balls in the air, and these tools help you stay in control.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Here’s another author’s take on copyediting:

“Getting copyedited is like going to the doctor and finding out that you have some disease you’ve never heard of.” (Mo Daviau, Every Anxious Wave)

Ha! So perhaps the medical analogy stands up. After all, copyeditors do perform diagnostics, create and apply a treatment plan, and they also consider and review outcomes. So do doctors.

But this author puts her finger on something else copyeditors have observed: that often, writers don’t know what they don’t know—about style, grammar, punctuation, consistency, tone, and more. “You mean there’s a way I’m supposed to write numbers in fiction?” they ask. Yup—but you can’t correct an inconsistency that you didn’t know was there.

Editing Tools to the Rescue

We’ve written before about editing tools and how they can also be useful to writers in the self-editing process. These tools can make you aware of what you don’t know. And there are some brilliant digital tools for identifying errors and inconsistencies in the mechanics of punctuation and style. PerfectIt Pro, for example, will spot quotation marks you’ve forgotten to close, absent serial commas, numbers written out that should appear as numerals, spelling and capitalization inconsistencies, and much more. It will also guide you through the manuscript as you make corrections.

Some wonderful tools for identifying language issues in a manuscript are available, too. Have a look at the table in our post last month: the Hemingway app is especially good at identifying sentences that are too long or complex, and it will also flag your (over)use of adverbs, adjectives and the passive voice.

Similarly, self-editing macros can identify many of the same issues as Hemingway, but macros can also be customized and expanded to suit your own writing quirks. What these language tools won’t do, however, is offer solutions—because technically, what the macros point out aren’t errors. The macros identify some of your writing habits, and it’s up to you to recognize what might need improving. In other words, you need to know something about the issue the tool is pointing to, and then decide if or how to change it.

Where the Hazards Lie

If you are going to run into difficulty while copyediting your own book, it will most likely be in identifying, diagnosing and correcting language issues—usage, mixed or mangled metaphors, faulty parallelisms, awkward and poorly structured sentences, and so on. What’s more, you might not realize you’re in trouble until after your book is published. We are seldom aware of our own blind spots.

You need to have a hunch that something’s wrong before you’ll do the extra work of looking it up to confirm if the word you’ve chosen is accurate. Here’s an example:

Do you flaunt the law or flout the law?

The confusables macro can identify possible usage errors—but only if at least one of the frequently confused words is in your macro. How can you know if the word you might fumble is not in the macro you’re using?

Google ngram viewer is also a helpful tool both for checking that you have the right word and for confirming how and when it was used. Look what happens when we enter flaunt the law and flout the law into the search box:


The red line shows that flout is the right word in this case, but the blue line shows that a significant number of writers get this wrong. Ngram is also good at pointing out miswording and popular usage in phrases: Thin edge of the wedge or thin end of the wedge? Do you stanch the bleeding or staunch the bleeding? Try it and see for yourself. You’re also able to sort for British or American usage in your search, which is helpful if you’re writing to a specific audience.

Where to Get Help

Rarely does a copyeditor begin a project without first establishing which style guide to consult. The style guide sets the standards for how to handle the many details that go into a finished book and give your writing polish: punctuation, quotations and dialogue, numbers, abbreviations, and on and on. A style guide can be as brief as 10 pages, or it could be more than 1000 (that’d be you, Chicago Manual of Style). Our forthcoming book, You’ve Got Style: Copyediting for Self-Publishing Authors, is a scant 80 pages, and covers the least you need to know about copyediting. Watch for it in August!

DIY Copyediting

Would you take on the job of copyediting your own book? Could you diagnose and treat the problem areas in your manuscript? There’s no reason not to try. With a style guide, a few willing beta readers and a cache of editing tools, you’ll improve your chances of producing a distraction-free book that stands up to reader scrutiny.

Measuring Success

How many errors will readers tolerate before they bail on your book? Most editors agree that correcting 95 percent of errors is the industry standard for professional editors. The message? No book is error-free. When asked how many errors they could tolerate in a finished book, one editor replied: “Zero! Because finding a single error can turn a reader into a proofreader!” Enough said.

We hear a lot now about the “good enough” book. What does that mean for readers and what does it mean for authors? One thing is certain: if you’re an author, you’d better know what it means for readers.Understanding what’s involved in copyediting can bring you closer to delivering a satisfying experience to your reader.

Image by Steve Jurvetson


Can Using Editing Tools Improve Your Writing?

writing tools

By Corina Koch Macleod and Carla Douglas
@CKMacleodwriter @CarlaJDouglas

This post appeared first on June 17, 2015 at The Book Designer.

In the tongue-in-cheek post How to Write a Book Even Faster, the author suggests that writers are not editing their writing. That can’t be true! (Right?) How do you edit your writing? Perhaps you use one of these self-editing approaches…

Approaches to Self-Editing

There are many ways to improve your writing. You can

  • set your writing aside for a month or two and tackle it again from a renewed perspective
  • get structured feedback from beta readers
  • hire an editor to assess your first draft and suggest improvements
  • run editing tools on your writing

Let’s look at each of these self-editing approaches.

DIY Feedback

You may be exhausted from your first-draft efforts. Setting your writing aside for a spell may give you the time you need to recharge and become excited about your book project again. It may also afford you the perspective you need to see where your writing needs fixing. This approach to self-editing is most effective if there aren’t time constraints, and if you’re able to see what needs improving.

External Feedback

The remaining items on the list above are different from the first item in one important way: they offer feedback on your writing from an external source — from someone, or something, other than you. Because it’s difficult to be objective about your own writing, external feedback can alert you to your writing blind spots.

Not everyone responds well to feedback from beta readers and editors. Writers need to be able to develop resilience for receiving feedback, but this takes time and practice. If you’re still working on developing your resilience, we have another “external” self-editing option for you: editing tools.

Editing Tools

Many editors use automated editing tools to efficiently find problems in a piece of writing. If writers want to learn how these tools work, they can use them to diagnose their own writing!

Below is a list of some our favourite editing tools, linked to articles that describe how to use them. We’ve organized them into the four levels of editing that every manuscript should go through.

Not all tools are diagnostic and automated.* Some of them, such as the paragraph-level and big-picture tools, will help you when it’s time to fix your writing. We’ve selected tools that we think will be most helpful to writers, but there are many more tools that you can explore and try.

Self-Editing Tools for Writers

Tool Word-level Sentence-level Paragraph-level Big-picture level
Consistency Checker* x x
Hemingway app* x x
PerfectIt Pro* x
Self-Editing macros* x
Scrivener’s Binder+ x x
Word’s Navigation Pane+ x x
Split-screen feature in Scrivener+ x x
Split-screen feature in Word+ x x


*Diagnostic tools: these tools will check for one or more potential writing problems with the click of a button.

+Fixing tools: these tools will help you fix writing problems, once they are identified.

As far as we know, there aren’t automated diagnostic tools that will point out paragraph-level and big-picture problems. At least not yet. For now, you’ll need to educate yourself about common paragraph-level and big-picture problems, or get some direction from beta readers and editors. You can use the paragraph-level and big-picture tools in the table above to efficiently fix problems, once you know what they are.

Advantages of Editing Tools

Editing tools have a few distinct advantages over the other self-editing methods mentioned at the beginning of this article:

  • They aren’t people, which means that writers probably won’t respond to feedback emotionally, or take feedback personally. A tool also won’t roll its eyes because you’ve forgotten to close quotations and parentheses 54 times in a 300-page book. It’ll point out these errors, without judgment. And we could all use a little less judgement.
  • If you consider what these tools are telling you about your writing, you will sharpen your self-editing skills.
  • You can use diagnostic editing tools five minutes after you’ve typed the period on the last sentence of your first draft. This makes editing tools brilliant for on-demand writing.
  • These tools are widely available, and some of them are cheap or free. (Editors are widely available, but they’re not cheap or free.)
  • If you plan to use tools for self-editing, and later decide to hire an editor, your editor may have less to do, and that can save on editing costs.

Can these tools help you to become a better writer? We’re still gathering data on that. From what we’ve seen — with authors who’ve been willing to act on the information suggested by diagnostic editing tools — it does seem possible.

For example, if a tool suggests that you’ve included needless words in your writing, after deleting 103 needless words in the first 50 pages of your manuscript, there’s a good chance that you’ll include fewer of them in your writing in future!

Limitations of Editing Tools

Editing tools will not do it all. They have limitations that are important to understand. They will not write your book, cook your breakfast, or collect your kids from school. And they also won’t do these three things:

Won’t Think for You

An editing tool can alert you to potential problems with your writing. You need to decide when to address a highlighted instance and when to ignore it.

For example, the Hemingway app will highlight adverbs in blue, so you can, presumably, obliterate them. Why? Adverbs can clutter your writing and indicate instances of telling instead of showing. (Show, don’t tell!)

But does that mean you need to excise every adverb in sight? No. Depending on what you’re writing, you may choose to sprinkle adverbs as you would expensive fleur de sel.

Won’t Fix It for You

Editing tools are not designed to fix your writing for you. They identify problems, or help you fix problems efficiently. You have to do the heavy lifting.

For example, if your tool has highlighted a sentence that’s too long, you will need to divide that unwieldy beast into two shorter sentences. Your tool won’t do that for you.

Won’t Do the Footwork for You

If a solution to a writing problem isn’t obvious to you, you may need to dig around in writing craft books or style guides for help with interpreting what a tool is telling you.

Consider the example below. PerfectIt Pro 3 is asking the author to check the use of a hyphen in this instance. Has the author used the hyphen correctly?

Looking things up isn’t a waste of your time. The more you know why something might need fixing, the better your writing will be. If you let them, editing tools will show you where you quirks are, teach you what to pay attention to, and inspire (or provoke) you to make adjustments.

How to Use Editing Tools

As with any kind of learning, you need to go slowly or you could become overwhelmed. Here are some tips for keeping things manageable:

  1. Remember to begin with big-picture editing fixes and work your way down to word-level fixes. Editing order matters.
  2. Run diagnostic tools, one chapter at a time, until you become familiar with how these tools work. Exceptions: Run Consistency Checker and PerfectIt Pro on your entire book. Why? They’re designed to check for consistency across an entire manuscript.
  3. Run one tool at a time. Don’t run several tools at once. You’ll have too many things to pay attention to. The key is to remain focused and to improve your writing by degrees.
  4. Be strategic. You don’t need to run every tool on your writing, every time. Once you’re familiar with the tools we recommend, you’ll know which ones best address your most persistent writing quirks.
  5. Consult self-editing books for solutions to the writing problems your tools uncover.

Editing tools can help you to become aware of your writing blind spots and sharpen your self-editing skills. They may even help you become better at writing.

If, however, you’ve decided that learning how to use these tools is not for you, and you prefer to have writing problems fixed for you, we have yet another solution. Hire an editor! (You had to know we were going to say that.)

Note: We used the Hemingway app and PerfectIt Pro 3 to edit this article.

Image by Mark Hunter

Wanted: How to Find Your Best Editor


by Carla Douglas and C.K. Macleod

@CarlaJDouglas @CKMacleodWriter

This post appeared first at on January 28, 2015.


This past winter, New York Times bestselling author Tim Ferriss (The 4-Hour Work Week) put out a call for a managing editor. Curious, we decided to see what kind of editorial help he was looking for, to determine if there might be lessons for self-pubs everywhere. After all, this is a guy who has figured out a few things about publishing.

So, what did Ferris do? He created a questionnaire that would help him find the best editor for his writing projects. In studying his questionnaire, we learned that a well-designed editor questionnaire requires the author to be clear on a few important points.

1. Know what kind of writing you need help with.

What motivated Ferriss to create a questionnaire? We’re willing to bet that he created it out of a practical need to meet a personal writing goal.

Ferriss has content that wasn’t included in his previous books, and he’s looking for a way to repurpose that content on his popular blog, which gets between 1.5 and 2 million readers per month. Michael Ellsberg, author of the Tim Ferriss Effect, suggests that blogs with large readerships can sometimes encourage more book sales for indie authors than traditional media outlets. Because Ferriss’ blog is one of his best book marketing tools, it makes sense for him to seek out an editor to help him manage it.

Tip: Set your writing goals with your book marketing plans in mind. Determine what kind of writing you’d like an editor to help you with, and then find an editor who has experience with that kind of writing.

2. Decide which tasks you’d like your editor to perform.

Ferriss is clear about the kinds of tasks he wants his editor to perform. What he may not realize is that he is asking for a

  • project manager (blog, podcast, social media platforms and other content)
  • social media coordinator (setting up interviews with celebrities, sourcing guest posts and podcast guests)
  • writer/content creator for upcoming book and video projects
  • ghostwriter or developmental editor for his newsletter
  • marketer (managing SEO, improving traffic)
  • stylistic editor
  • copyeditor
  • proofreader

Although Ferriss doesn’t explicitly ask for applicants with copyediting and proofreading skills, it’s implicit in his request that the successful candidate will manage other writers and the work they produce (he’s looking for a managing editor). Content quality will be an important aspect of management, and attention to copyediting and proofreading details ensures a good reader experience.

If you’ve been following our posts on this blog, you’ll know that Ferriss has hit on all four levels of editing in his questionnaire and job description (in addition to tasks that fall under the social media coordinator/ marketer umbrella — but we’ll focus on the editing tasks here).

While some editors do have experience with each kind of editing, they usually don’t perform all levels for one project. Why? If you’re doing a developmental edit on a piece of writing, at some point you’ll find that you’re no longer able to be objective because you’ll be editing your own writing. (Even editors need editors!) If timelines allow an editor to set a writing project aside for a “rest,” and if proofreading tools are part of an editor’s arsenal, then this problem is surmountable.

Tip: As much as you’d like your editor to be all things (and as much as an editor might wish to be all things), it might not be a reasonable expectation. List three essential tasks that you’ll require your editor to do. That will help you to pinpoint what kind of editor you’ll need.

Editors: More and more, editing can include a lot of nontraditional skills. Pay attention to what indie authors are asking for, and see if you can leverage your social media and tech skills.

3. Jot down a list of skills you’re looking for.

Once you’re clear on the tasks your ideal editor will do for you, think about the skills associated with those tasks.

Ferriss appears to be looking for an editor

  • who can manage multiple projects
  • with developmental editing skills
  • with strong writing skills
  • who can work to firm deadlines
  • who is familiar with WordPress
  • who has strong interpersonal skills

What skills are you looking for in your ideal editor? Take a few minutes to draft a list.

Tip: Use this list of skills to shape the job description of your ideal editor.

4. Find a way to assess an editor’s skills.

Publishing companies create tasks to assess an editor’s skills. Editors are often asked to complete a copyediting or proofreading test to be considered for an editing project. Ferriss assesses his ideal editor’s skills with his questionnaire. For example, he asks:

Please add links to the 2–3 most popular articles/posts you’ve written or edited (unique views or social shares). Include any key stats you can share.

Here, Ferriss’ request for writing samples indicates he’s looking for an editor with strong writing skills. Note, too, that social media is also important to Ferriss’ writing goals, so social shares serve as data that will help him assess an editor’s ability to get his writing in front of readers.

Ferris also asks, “what software or method do you prefer for organizing editorial calendars?” This is a smart question because it will help him find an editor with project management experience. There’s an added benefit, too: he’ll collect a whole list of tools used for successful project management. Even if he doesn’t hire an editor at the end of this process, he will have gathered valuable information. (By the way, we use Trello, Google Docs, and Google Sheets for writing project management. Feel free to add your favourite project management tools in the comments below).

Tip: Draft a list of questions that will encourage an editor to demonstrate or offer proof of an acquired skill. Also, consider what the responses to your questionnaire might teach you!

5. Set the tone for your working relationship.

Ferriss’ approach to finding an editor suggests it will be a wild and wonderful ride. He’s clear on his immovables (deadlines), but writes the job description in a humorous and casual way. This isn’t the job for every editor, but it could be a dream job for the right editor.

Written communication is the ideal medium for establishing the tone of a working relationship. After all, Ferriss’ editor will be working remotely—possibly on another continent—and much of their contact will likely be in writing. Ferriss needs to know if he and his editor are “reading” each other accurately.

We can’t overstate the importance of developing a good relationship—which begins with clear communication—with your editor. State clearly what you’ll expect and encourage candidates to do the same. Communication foul-ups can be costly, and heading these off at the pass can help ensure that both you and your editor are confident you’re working towards the same goals.

Tip: Be yourself. We’re not the first to note that the process of finding the right editor is a bit like online dating. If you have a corny sense of humor or you keep to a nocturnal schedule and expect replies to your email messages at three in the morning, don’t try to hide it. You have a better chance of finding the right person if you’re transparent from the start.

Why It’s Worth the Trouble

It does seem like a lot of trouble, doesn’t it—all this assessing, evaluating, clarifying, and finally communicating your requirements as you search for an editor. But consider the possible consequences if you don’t do your homework before handing your book to a stranger.

You are in a sense the project manager for your book or writing project, and it’s best you know everyone’s job description—including your own—from the start. Gathering and organizing this information will most certainly mean a better end product, and you can use it as a checklist for evaluating what kind of editing your project needs. Even if you never use it as a job ad per se, creating it will make you think about your writing more objectively and bring you closer to your writing goals.

Did Tim Ferriss find the editor of his dreams? Time will tell. You now know how to find yours.

Image by John Morton

Self Pubs and Trad Pubs: Couldn’t You At Least Talk To Each Other?

Venn diagramby Carla Douglas @CarlaJDouglas

Three things:

1. A conversation about self-publishing I had a year ago with a traditionally published author and poet who spoke of a colleague—an accomplished trad pub novelist.

Me: If she has rights to her backlist, she could self-publish.
Author: [Congenial but resolute. This goes without saying. It’s not a possibility. The very idea is absurd.] I don’t think she would ever consider self-publishing.

Takeaway: For some traditionally published authors, the self-pub door is shut tight. They don’t show even a glimmer of curiosity about the self-publishing process, which aspects of it might be worth learning, or what its rewards might be.

2. A second conversation about self-publishing a month ago, with the same author who is now, via a formal writing program, completing a novel under the guidance and mentorship of the same trad pubbed novelist.

Me: Is this work happening online?
Author: [tone is wry] No. I’d describe it more like “doorknob-to-doorknob.”
Me: Really?
Author: Yes. I leave a chapter hanging on her doorknob. She marks it up and comments, and leaves it at my house.
Me: [barely masked disbelief] On paper?
Author: [amused] Yes. A bit unconventional, maybe. But the work is getting done. I’m happy with the progress we’re making.
Me: Do you realize how funny that is?

Takeaway: Digital publishing and self-publishing naturally have a common trajectory. It’s easy sometimes to tie them too closely together, so that indie authors are associated with digital and traditionally published authors with print.

My experience demonstrates why this stereotype might persist. Doorknob-to-doorknob file transfer is maybe only a step or two ahead of carrier pigeon. Or owl. I’m curious about what kinds of digital writing and editing tools traditionally published authors are using, but there’s a dearth of available info on this. At the same time, digital production can’t guarantee quality writing.

3. Jane Friedman and Harry Bingham’s #AuthorSay survey for traditionally published authors. Its goal is “to see how traditionally published authors are feeling about the choices now available.” Some enlightening comments have already been published at The Bookseller in response, among them that just 25 percent are open to the possibility of self-publishing, and that “authors are more committed to their agent than to their publisher.”

Takeaway: Ah. So it’s not just local. Yes, my sample is minuscule, but look! It points to a wider trend. In a Venn diagram of traditional and self-publishing, there’s only a small region of overlap. I thought things might be farther along by now.


I live in a bubble. I’ve assumed all writers are exploring digital tools for writing, editing, collaboration and production. I’ve been wrong about this, but to what extent, I’m not sure. Because it looks like others are living in bubbles, too.

Trad pubs and self-pubs need to talk to each other. If they did, they’d realize they could benefit from knowledge the other side is hanging onto.

Just because you’re traditionally published doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from self-pubs. Marketing and promotion, for example. Social media. Digital tools like Scrivener for organizing a WIP.

Just because you’re digital doesn’t mean you’re efficient. Keying or dictating a book into a smartphone isn’t efficient. Neither is running spellcheck instead of hiring a copyeditor.

Just because you’re indie doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from traditionally published authors. The care they’ll take to produce a meticulous manuscript, for example. This may be because they have more years of writing behind them, or they’ve taken the time to internalize (and observe) the conventions of writing, or that their manuscripts have been through more drafts and are therefore more polished. Probably a combination of all three.

Self-publishing isn’t a dirty word. Just because you’re traditionally published doesn’t mean you can’t learn all there is to know about self-publishing, just in case. Being informed can be its own reward—doesn’t mean you have to do it.

What do you think? Is there any common ground between traditionally published and self-publishing authors? And what might they learn from each other?

Image by daveconrey

3 Ways to a Better Book With Macros


by Carla Douglas

What’s a macro?

Simply put, a macro is a set of instructions for your word processor—a short computer program that automatically performs repetitive tasks. You can run macros using Microsoft Word or WPS Writer (pro version), and Google Docs now features a lite version of the macro editors love, PerfectIt. Macros are easy to use and customize to your specific needs. Learn how to use a macro and try one out here.

Why should I use macros?

Macros can  help you quickly accomplish the most fiddly task—or series of tasks—saving you time and improving your efficiency. Use them during the revision process for a multitude of functions, from alerting you to errors to significant text clean-up. In this post, I’ll show you how to use three different macros: one to help you spot bad writing habits, one to identify potentially embarrassing errors, and one to polish your final draft.

Needless Words Macro

We all have writing tics. Sometimes we use words as filler—they clutter our writing without carrying information or advancing the narrative, and most often these offenders are adverbs and adjectives. Removing them won’t change the meaning of your prose, but it will make your writing more clear and direct. You’ll find the NeedlessWords macro here.

NeedlessWords2Excerpt from 5 Reasons Readers Will Bail On a Book

Looking at the highlighted words, it’s easy to identify those that need to be zapped: almost and just qualify what follows and delay the point the writer is trying to make. Get rid of them. Also, have a closer look at the highlighted words that remain. Maybe there’s a more concise word you could substitute.

Tip: The NeedlessWords macro doesn’t do the thinking for you. It flags the offenders, but it’s up to you to decide if the word in question is grammatically necessary, if it could be replaced with a better word, or if it should be removed. Over time, using this macro will help you improve your writing by alerting you to the words you overuse. But don’t be too eager to hit delete—these little words can add the rhythm and tone that make your voice unique.

Confusables Macro

Foreword or forward? Sight, site or cite? Vice or vise? Are you certain of their different meanings and confident you got the right one as you hastily pounded out your first draft? Don’t worry: there’s a macro for that. The Confusables macro hunts down and highlights all instances of potentially confusable words. Later, you can review each instance word by word to ensure you haven’t made an embarrassing error. After all, you wouldn’t want your novel going out into the world while your hero was prostated with grief, would you?

Tip: The Confusables macro is a good vocabulary-building tool. It makes you think more carefully about language and writing—provided you take the time to look up definitions. This macro (and most macros) can be customized with your own word lists, too.

PerfectIt Consistency Checker

Everyone should use PerfectIt—free software that checks for consistency in

  • capitalization (Government or government?)
  • hyphenation (after-school or after school?)
  • preferred spelling (colour or color?)
  • abbreviations (UNICEF or Unicef?)
  • numbers (5 students or five students?)

Try the consistency checker free as a Google docs add-on or with Office 2013. Like an extra set of eyes on your manuscript, the consistency checker alerts you to errors that otherwise might go unnoticed and it provides an extra coat of polish on your writing.

Like all tools, those I’ve described here require active participation by their users if they’re going to be effective. They won’t improve your writing—but with time and practice, the feedback they provide can help you become a better writer.

The Indie Author’s Bookshelf: 20 Best Titles for Self-Editing

Book shelf

By Corina Koch MacLeod & Carla Douglas
@CKmacleodwriter  @CarlaJDouglas

This post appeared first at, December 24, 2014.

Below is a list of 20 self-editing books that we believe every indie author should have on his or her bookshelf. These books will arm you with valuable writing tips and insights so that you can tackle your writing with new resolve.

We’ve divided the books into levels of editing, so you’ll know which book to refer to when you need to. Keep in mind that a book may not fit neatly into an editing category. Some books will address more than one level of editing. The key is to be systematic when you self-edit, and often, addressing one level of editing at a time can make the editing process more manageable.

To remind you, how you’ll revise and polish your book will depend on how you tend to work as a writer, and where your strengths and weakness lie.

Self-Editing Workflow

If you’re not sure where to begin your revisions, start with big-picture items. When assessing a manuscript, editors begin with big-picture items and slowly work through all the stages of editing, ending with word-level details. If you’ve nailed your plot (big picture), for example, begin with the next area that you know needs work. If you’re not sure what needs work, run your manuscript past a couple of betareaders.

Criteria for Self-Editing

It wasn’t easy narrowing our choice to 20 titles for self-editing. Many excellent books have been written on various aspects of the subject. We’ve chosen books that are

  • short(er) and to the point
  • helpful (some of them are personal favourites)
  • easy to understand, without too much editorial jargon
  • less than $15, with one exception (Jim Taylor’s Quick Fixes)

As a result, books commonly used by editors didn’t show up on this list. Why? Writers are not editors. Many books directed to editors are also written by editors, and they’re heavy on theory and discussion. Writers want accessible books that provide clear explanations, examples and instructions. (Editors like these books too—but we like to read everything and think about it, first.) So you’ll see some writers’ craft books on this list—our choices address revision and self-editing directly.

Finally, we’ve also picked a couple of titles specifically for nonfiction authors (they’re marked with an asterisk). When it comes to writing and self-editing guides, nonfiction often gets short shrift. The two we’ve selected complement each other well, and provide sound advice for focusing and delivering your message to the reader.

Beyond Paper Picks

Big Picture

  • Making Shapely Fiction, by Jerome Stern
  • *On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser
  • Revision and Self-Editing for Publication: Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells,  by James Scott Bell
  • Story Engineering: Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing, by Larry Brooks
  • This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley
  • The Ebook Style Guide: Creating Ebooks That Work for Readers, by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas

Paragraph Level

  • How Not to Write  Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them—A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide, by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman
  • The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman
  • *Quick Fixes for Business Writing: An Easy Eight-Step Editing Process to Find and Correct Common Readability Problems, by Jim Taylor
  • Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne and Dave King

Sentence Level

  • The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White
  • Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English, by Patricia T. O’Conner
  • You’ve Got Style: Copyediting for Self-Publishing Authors, by Carla Douglas and Corina Koch MacLeod

Word Level

  • The best punctuation book, period. by June Casagrande
  • Copyediting and Proofreading for Dummies, by Suzanne Gilad
  • Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares: How to Avoid Unplanned and Unwanted Writing Errors, by Jenny Baranick

5 Books that Will Inspire You to Write

You may not always feel like writing. These books will light a fire under you:

  • The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
  • Juicy Pens, Thirsty Paper, by SARK
  • The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
  • Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Self-Editing is a Process

Don’t try to do it all at once, and don’t try to do it only once.

Each of the books we’ve recommended offers a different voice and a different approach. Some are straight “how-to” and some are more “what” and “why.” What works for one writer might not be right for another. So take time to explore a few of these titles to find an approach you can work with.

If you haven’t already, over time you’ll develop your own self-editing style. This may mean working to a detailed plan or, as it does for some writers, simply reading, re-reading and re-keying your draft multiple times.

And, as we’ve said before, how you self-edit depends on how you wrote your first draft. It will also depend on your manuscript and what it requires—your second, third and fourth books will present different issues than your first. All the more reason to have our 20 titles at the ready, lined up on your shelf.

Image by Brett Jordan

Write More: 7 Tips for Dealing With Writing Distractions

Self-publishing authors have a lot to think about: writing, revising, editing, formatting, marketing, platform building, and the list goes on. In all of this flurry of activity, it’s entirely too easy to remember the task that is most important: writing!

Authors know this, but it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to focus on writing with everything an author has to juggle. Like the emperor with no clothes, authors are in danger of having no books!

Many authors are beginning to speak out about the implications of distractions on creativity and productivity. Here are some authors’ tips for staying on track with your writing.

1. Use old tech.

To keep him from being distracted by social media tasks, Bryan Cohen, author of Writer on the Side: How to Write Your Book Around Your 9 to 5 Job uses “old technology” with no Internet connectivity while writing.

He uses an Alphasmart Neo 2—a designated keyboard with a tiny e-ink-like screen that only allows for writing. It’s less than two pounds and powered by triple A batteries for hours of power, so it can be easily toted into a distraction-free zone.

Similarly, George R.R. Martin, author of Game of Thrones, has been ribbed for using a “writing computer”—1 an ancient DOS machine loaded with WordStar 4.0 software from the ’80s to write his books. Have you seen the page count for the Game of Thrones series? Who’s laughing now?

2. Set limits for online time.

If using old tech is a bit too hardcore for you, consider social media timing tools to help you prevent social media time suck. Rescue Time will keep track of how you spend your time online and furnish you with a data report of your online activities, if you’re brave enough to go there. The free browser plug-in Stay Focusd can block websites for you when it’s time to get down to work, or enable you to set time limits for your social media time.

3. Do your two most important tasks first.

As an author, one of your two most important daily tasks is writing, right? Tim Ferriss, the author of the Four-Hour Work Week, does his two most important tasks before 11:00 a.m. each day. These tasks do not include checking email.

In fact, Ferriss does his to best to avoid checking and responding to email more than twice a day. Instead, he has an autoresponse message for his email account, indicating when he’ll be checking mail, so people know that his response won’t be instantaneous. He then batch processes his emails offline using Boomerang for Gmail and in the past, The Email Game. These tools can help you organize email messages by priority and set time limits for processing email.

4. Pare things down.

In an effort to determine what will work for author branding and book promotion, J.F. Penn, author of the Arkane Thriller series, has tried a wide variety of social media platforms. She often works 11-hour days to fulfil her “authorpreneur” tasks. In an attempt to carve out more time for writing, Penn has decided to let some of her social media platforms go, and has chosen, instead, to focus on the ones that bring her joy—her blog, The Creative Penn, her podcast, Twitter, and Google+. This is still a tall order for most of us, but the lesson here is that you can’t do it all—even if you’ve committed to 11-hour days.

5. Be strategic.

If you’re not sure how to pare down your social media engagement, Jason Matthews, social media consultant and author of How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks, All for Free believes in focusing on the “big three” social media plaftorms—your Amazon author page, Google+, and writers groups on Facebook. Social media sites constantly shift in popularity, and while Facebook appears to be falling out of favour with some authors, Matthews’ point is this: choose three social media sites to spend your time on, and make sure those sites will allow you to connect with your prospective readers.

You can be strategic about when you use social media sites, as well. For example, according to Pam Dyer, a top-50 social media power influencer at Forbes, Twitter users are more likely to see tweets on weekends between 1:00 and 3:00 p.m., so why not schedule important tweets during these times? Dyer lists popular social media sites with suggested times for using them at the Social Media Today blog.

6. Outsource.

If you’ve pared things down, become more more strategic, and find you still don’t have the time you need to write, take a page from Joel Friedlander’s book. Friedlander is the author of the popular self-publishing blog, The Book Designer, and he’s everywhere. How does he do it?

Friedlander has hired a virtual assistant, or VA, to help him with time-consuming social media tasks, like organizing guest posts and formatting and posting blog posts. J.F. Penn and Pat Flynn have also hired VAs, and Jim Kukral and Bryan Cohen, hosts of the Sell More Books podcast, often make use of Fiverr for photo editing or ebook cover tweaking. Tim Ferris estimates that he saves 10 hours a week on minutia by using Task Rabbit to outsource tasks.

The Indie ethic is most certainly a DIY ethic. But DIY doesn’t mean DIA—doing it all.

7. Be accountable.

How do you know if you have enough time to write? One of the best ways to find out is to keep track of your daily writing progress. Women’s fiction author Jamie Raintree has designed a lovely Excel spreadsheet that can help you keep track of your daily word count. It’s free when you subscribe to her email newsletter.

Well known traditionally published authors produce on average between 250 and 5,000 words a day, and high achieving self-publishing author J.F. Penn will clock in at 2,500 words in a two-hour window of writing. Set your own daily or weekly word-count goal, and if you don’t achieve your goal, it might be time to try some of the steps described above.

There’s a prevailing theme here, isn’t there? Social media, email, and all things Internet, appear to be some of the main barriers to writing. I’ve managed to priortize my writing, at least for today. But it’s after 11:00 and my email beckons…

Image by Adventures of Pam & Frank

What Does Editing Look Like? Behind the (Crime) Scene at the Editor’s Screen

Crime Scene
Image by Carlos Martinez


by Corina Koch MacLeod and Carla Douglas
@CKmacleodwriter @CarlaJDouglas

In a previous post we described the four levels of editing, emphasizing the order in which they should most often take place: attend to the developmental issues first—a clear story and structure if it’s fiction, a logical and meaningful sequence of chapters if it’s nonfiction—before addressing clarity and flow, word choice, grammar and punctuation.

Editing, in Practice

This order makes sense for the purposes of explanation, but the truth is, when an editor sits down to work on your manuscript, the picture might be slightly different. Developmental editing, for instance, is most often suited to nonfiction works. Sure, if you’re a novelist and ask for guidance from a developmental editor early in the process, he can certainly help you with the big-picture elements. In cases like these, advice would probably come in the form of a chat or an editorial letter.

Most editors who work with self-pubs, though, will tell you that by the time they see a fiction manuscript, the author has either worked out the developmental issues or is married to the book as it is, and no major changes will be considered. Much of the time, a manuscript comes to an editor with a request for copyediting. In practice, however, the editor could be doing a bit of everything.

What Editing Looks Like

With three and possibly four levels of editing taking place at the same time, what does editing look like? The truth? As Corina has pointed out, sometimes it looks like a crime scene. And indeed, if it’s your work that’s been bound and gagged and has perhaps even disappeared—without a trace—you’ll swear it’s been murdered.

Don’t panic. In the following sections, we’ll show you examples of each kind of editing—to ease your mind and to help you see that behind the scene, your editor is working away, methodically and nonviolently, towards your mutual goal of a better book.

Big-Picture Editing (Developmental Edit)

Beginning with an Outline

When writing a nonfiction book, structure matters. Your editor may ask you, “What is your book about?” Think this over carefully and hone your answer until you can express it in one sentence. Practise that sentence on friends and family or try it out on social media. Next, your editor will help you hammer out a table of contents that includes topics related to that sentence, and finally, you’ll arrange those topics in a logical order.

Below is a screenshot from Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast. This book is about how to publish a book, from beginning to end, in the most efficient manner possible. The screenshot below lists the main topics (in Scrivener’s Binder) that were sketched out based on that sentence, before the book was written:

Image 1

The second screenshot (in Word’s Navigation Pane) is the final list of chapters in their final order. You’ll noticed a few minor changes in the final version. That’s fine—outlines evolve. Even if an outline changes slightly, it’ll help you to stick to what your book is about.

Image 2

Tip: Many authors write in Scrivener. You can use Scrivener’s Binder to create a chapter outline, which then allows you to move chapters around easily. If you write in Word, you can get Word to Behave like Scrivener. Don’t have Word? Try WPS Writer (free). You can get it to behave like Scrivener, too.

Creating an Outline From a Finished Manuscript

But what if you’ve submitted a finished book and your editor identifies issues with structure that have yet to be addressed? These can be handled in a couple of ways. If the reshuffling is minor, your editor will use comments in the margins (see comments in the Sentence-Level section, below) to suggest which sections should go where, or she’ll move the section with track changes turned on (see the screenshot in the Paragraph-Level section below).

If large sections of text have to be moved around, the appearance in track changes can be overwhelming for the author. In cases like these, editors will sometimes make the changes and ask the author to compare the new version to the old. Or, if the author and editor are working in Word, the editor may show the author how to use the Final view in the Review pane.

Image 3

The Final view hides track changes, so the author can see what the document will look like if the changes are accepted.

If a lot of reshuffling is required, your editor may ask you to create a post-mortem outline from your existing content. Your editor will then help you sort the contents of that outline into an order that makes sense. The final step involves moving around sections of your book to match the outline.

What About Fiction?

Fiction writers, particularly of genre fiction, are not off the hook when it comes to big-picture edits. Some big-picture editing can happen later in the process. It might become clear, for example, that an important scene needs to appear sooner in the novel, or that a sub-plot needs to wind itself more consistently through the book.

Tip: Editors often use Word to edit manuscripts. This article explains why.

Paragraph-Level Edit (Stylistic/Structural Edit)

Paragraph-level edits involve reordering sentences within paragraphs. Editors will use track changes to show that something has been moved.The green text and strikeouts in the screenshot below (in Word) indicate that a sentence has been moved from one location to another. A bit of a mess, isn’t it?

Image 4

Tip: If you’re overwhelmed by the changes you see, switching to the Final view in Word’s Review pane helps reduce the visual noise.

Image 5

Sentence-Level Edit (Copyedit)

Sentence-level edits address grammar, punctuation, clarity, and style issues. Can you see some of these issues addressed in the screenshot below?

Image 6

An editor will mark any issues using track changes. Often something is marked because it’s incorrect, or it doesn’t follow style rules or accepted publishing conventions. Keep in mind that an editor won’t make changes he can’t defend, so don’t be afraid to ask about anything you’re unsure of. Also remember that your editor is often your first reader, so if a sentence or section is unclear, you’ll want to know about it.

It’s wise to heed any changes your editor has made with track changes. Comments are generally reserved for explanations and suggestions.

Tip: Pay attention to the comments your editor makes, too. These comments often present opportunities for learning something new that you can apply to your next book.

  • Opinion or Fact?Sometimes an editor will suggest a change that’s in line with good writing practice. Paying attention to these suggestions can help you become a better writer. Often, though, it’s easy to dismiss an editor’s suggestions as opinion rather than fact, which means you might miss an opportunity to improve your craft.An editor can tell you what your writing quirks are (we all have them), but sometimes it’s more helpful to show you. At Beyond Paper, we like to usewriting macros to help writers see their writing quirks (show, don’t tell). These writing macros are easy enough for writers to use on their own, too. The screenshot below highlights● needless words (blue)
    ● ly words, or adverbs, which may indicate telling instead of showing (green)
    ● additional telling words, which may suggest that you need to do more showing (pink)Image 7Tip: Macros are easy to use! This 20-minute macro course will show you how to use the kind of macros that can help you to improve your writing.

Word-Level Edit (Proofread)

Proofreading is the last stage of editing, meant to catch anything that has slipped past copyediting. It’s a last look at your book in its final environment, after it’s typeset for print or formatted for e-reading. Keep in mind that proofreading addresses more than just typos—it also addresses formatting issues.

Here is what proofreading looks like on a manuscript that has been formatted for print:

Image 8

Proofreaders proofread books headed for print in software like Adobe XI. They use proofreading stamps—a kind of shorthand—to indicate changes that need to be made. A proofreading glossary can help you interpret some of the symbols.

You can proofread an ebook file, too, but that’s a topic for another time.

Tip: Consider some of the tools that editors use for proofreading. Writers and beta readers can use them, too.

Closing the Case

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in the background during an edit, and communicating corrections, changes, and suggestions to authors involves a dizzying array of mark-ups and comments. While proofreading tends to happen on its own at the end of the process, the remaining three editing levels can occur simultaneously.

If your manuscript comes back from your editor looking like a crime scene, don’t despair. Take a deep breath, carefully consider your editor’s comments and suggested changes, and you’ll be taking down that yellow tape in no time.


Post-Nano Tips for Revising Your Writing

Valentine's Day Book

by Carla Douglas and C.K. MacLeod
@CarlaJDouglas @CKmacleodwriter

This post appeared first at on November 19, 2014.

If you participated in National Novel Writing Month, and you took our advice, below, to rest your manuscript, it’ll soon be time to revise your first draft. How you revise your writing will depend on

  1. your prewriting and planning style
  2. the kind of book you’re writing

But first, an explanation of what we mean by revise.

What is Revising?

The prefix “re” means again. To revise is to re-vision—to look at your writing again, hopefully from the perspective of a reader. To bring something new to your writing, you need to give it time to breathe. Revision involves waiting.

In How to Make a Living as a Writer, James Scott Bell recommends airing your writing for three weeks. That means sticking your NaNo draft in a drawer on November 30, and vowing not to look at it again until the winter solstice. If you take Stephen King’s advice, you’ll be pulling out that first draft on Valentine’s Day.

After the recommended period of rest, you’re ready to work on your first draft.

What’s Involved in Revising

Depending on what you’re able accomplish in a first draft, revising might entail

  • restructuring your story or book
  • removing “noise”—sections, paragraphs and sentences that slow the story’s pace
  • relocating paragraphs and chapters
  • rewriting sections or sentences for clarity and flow
  • replacing weak words with stronger words

Is Revising the Same as Editing?

Yes and no. The items you address in a revision are similar to the range of issues an editor might focus on in an edit. But to borrow from the definition in Idea to Ebook: How to Write a Quality Book Fast: “Revising is the best you can do with your own writing with some or no feedback. Editing is the best that someone else can do with your writing.”

In the editing process, an editor will suggest changes you might accept and implement to improve any number of features of your book. Making those changes—going into the manuscript and deleting, rewriting or moving text—is revising. Only you (or perhaps a ghostwriter) can revise your work.

So revising is the same as self-editing, but it’s different from editing in the traditional sense.

Three Kinds of Writers

Writers approach the writing process in a variety of ways. Often, writers are characterized by their prewriting or planning style (see below). A writer’s planning style can influence the kinds of tasks that will need to be addressed later, during revision.


Plotters engage in a great deal of detailed, and often extensively documented, prewriting. Prewriting can take the form of a traditional outline, plot points, story beats or detailed chapter summaries. Plotters generally know how a story ends before they write. It’s not uncommon for plotters to have every scene worked out in advance.

Because plotters do much of their work beforehand, it’s likely that their plot is watertight. So when it comes time to revise the first draft, plotters may spend less time tweaking plot or structure and more time working on elements of story (character, dialogue, etc.) or rewriting sections or sentences for clarity and flow.

Overdoing it at the prewriting stage can show up in the finished first draft. A too-carefully structured plot risks confusing the reader. Remember, you’ve spent a long time with this book idea, plot and characters. The intricacies and sub-plots you’ve introduced might serve the plot, but they might not serve the novel.

Tips for plotters: Don’t be afraid to deviate from your outline if the story carries you in a new direction. If you’re surprised by what happens next, there’s a good chance your readers will be surprised, too. Look for signs that you’re telling and explaining ideas that readers might like to infer themselves. Good writing feels vigorous and lively. Rigidly adhering to your plan—no matter how clever and well-intentioned it was—can make your writing feel contrived, or worse, wooden and dead.

If you’re writing in a genre with specific rules (mystery, for example), studying craft books on the genre will be time well spent. And nothing beats reading extensively in a genre to understand better how it works.


Pansters have a tendency to write episodically or non-chronologically. They’re least likely to use an outline or to formally capture a book’s structure before writing, either because they can hold that structure in their heads as they write (as Michael Ondaatje reportedly does) or because they’re open to allowing a book’s structure to emerge through the writing process.

After the first draft, pantsers may find themselves engaging in several rewrites in order to finetune a plot line or the book’s structure. They may need to remove the noise in places where the story deviates or drags. (Indeed, they may need to remove more than noise. In a recent panel discussion about the writing process, author Nancy Lee confirmed that, unhappy with her manuscript, she had thrown out an entire draft of her new novel, The Age, and rewritten it from a different point of view. And while she didn’t indicate whether or not she used an outline for the draft she discarded, she did display her willingness to throw it all away at the revision stage.)

So “pantsing,” or writing without an outline, almost certainly guarantees more work for the writer post-first-draft. This kind of writing is exploratory, and likely describes the process of many literary fiction writers.

Tips for pantsers: Pantsers can benefit from writing software that allows them to write episodically and then reorganize their writing later. The Binder feature in Scrivener is designed for this purpose. You can also tweak Microsoft Word so that it’s possible to move around sections and chapters more easily.

Because pantsers may find themselves writing several drafts before publication, they’ll need a method for keeping track of revisions. Using colour-coded labels in Scrivener, or Scrivener’s Snapshot feature can help pantsers keep track of several drafts in one place.

Keep in mind: If one of your writing goals is to write fast, then pantsing probably isn’t the best path to take. Many writers who achieve their NaNoWriMo goals engage in extensive prewriting before Halloween arrives. The skeleton’s there—they just have to flesh it out, probably with the details they’ve already documented. Plotters hit the ground running; pantsers may not actually hit the ground at all.


Plotsers, or tweeners, document a book’s structure in advance, but not in as detailed a way as plotters. Where plotters write detailed chapter summaries, plotsers might be inclined to sketch a mind map or flowchart, or dash off a one-page point-form plot or book outline.

There’s also the plotser who will dash off a very quick first draft and then sketch an outline. As editors, this method makes sense to us—we’ve often said that it’s easier to work with an existing text (edit) than it is to create a text (write).

At the revision stage, plotsers may find themselves revising big-picture items, while at the same time addressing the finer details of word choice. You might have to do a little of everything, and working from a checklist will help. The elements you have the most fun writing and are the easiest are probably those that you’ll need the least help with later. In other words, if you keep getting stuck on dialogue or if it’s that part of writing you dread, then paying careful attention to it in revisions is a good idea.

Tips for tweeners: Tools like Scapple or MindMeister can help to design mind maps with moveable parts. Try this: create a separate mind map for three or four story elements you are not especially confident about. Mind maps are helpful in the planning phase, but they can also be instrumental in helping you work out a problem in your manuscript visually. Trouble with pacing, dialogue or description, for instance, often becomes clear with a visual representation.

Tips for all Writers

Regardless of your prewriting and planning style, there are several things that writers of all stripes can address during the revision stage. We’d recommend proceeding in the following order:

  • focus on big-picture items, such as plot structure, point of view, and pacing, first
  • focus on characterization and dialogue next
  • read for plausibility and consistency
  • use automated revision tools to point out ways to clarify and smooth your writing

You’ll find other tips for applying feedback here.

Finally, experience will help you develop both the instincts for knowing when your story holds together—with fully developed characters and believable dialogue—and the confidence to trust your instincts. Until then, beta readers can be an enormous help in diagnosing any trouble spots, and we recommend bringing them on site sooner rather than later in the revising phase of your writing.


What we’ve outlined (pun intended) are all ways to take a book from concept to publication. Choose any method you like, but be aware of your preferences and the places you might hit a snag. Ideally, in the end, a reader or reviewer shouldn’t be able to identify which path you’ve taken—only that you’ve reached your destination in a way that satisfies.

Image by Viola