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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How to improve your grammar, as you write

Today, I have a few writing tips for you. Mostly I'll focus on improving your grammar (perhaps I should call it prose). And here's a little secret before we begin, you can do these things right as you are creating your documents (in my case manuscripts).

Understanding Word

First off, many of us create using some type of Word program. Perhaps it's Microsoft Word itself (at least one of the various versions of this program available). Did you know there's also something called Microsoft Word Online? A Word program that you never have to download to your computer. I happen to use Word for Mac; it's not as robust and full of features as the standard Word version, but I like it nonetheless.

We all know, or at least we should know, that when you misspell a word in this program, a red line pops up under the word. Highlight that word and you can find correct spellings 99% of the time. As an aside, many times I get the dreaded No Suggestion comment, instead of two or three suggested spellings. All this means is that I've mistyped the intended word so badly even a highly enhanced computer program can't figure out what I'm trying to convey.

You should also know that Word tries to tell you when your sentences don't make sense. Some will say, "Really?" Yes, really folks.

As you're creating, you'll notice a green line pop up occasionally under a sentence. This means that your sentence is not structurally sound - your grammar has an error. Sometimes there will be Consider Revising. Oh, that's a lot of help. So my sentence is fragmented, and it needs revision. What the heck is a fragmented sentence anyway, and how can I fix it?

One method is to read the passage aloud, and see if you can talk your way to a better sentence. Early on in 2013 I did this a lot. Sometimes it works, and the foul green line disappears. More often than not, my fixes are just as bad as the original version.

Ever Heard of Grammarly?

Grammarly is a software package that "Checks your grammar right from your browser or Microsoft Office. Improve your writing in emails, documents, social media posts, messages, and more." It is, for me at least, the bee's knees!

Even after I've eliminated every error that I can find in my manuscripts, I always run each chapter through Grammarly before I send it out for beta-reading. The program helps me eliminate passive phrases, mis-used words, missing commas, poorly constructed compound sentences, and much, much more. In short, Grammarly makes me look twice as good as my rough draft would show.

There are other programs out the that do the same function. To list just a few there is: White Smoke, Writer's Workbench, Right Writer, and so on. Just search "writing enhancement software" in your browser, and all sorts of choices will pop up.

A Quick thought on Scrivener

Recently I began using a more robust writing software named Scrivener. While the jury is still out on it's true value for me, I will say that I like it - at first blush.

Positives - Create chapters and even scenes, all in one place. No more having a separate Word folder for each chapter (and then group of chapters as you combine). The same misspelling warning, (the thin red line) as found in Word, is embedded in Scrivener. And a big plus, I can keep all of my research and character sketches right in my manuscript file. No more searching for this folder or that file. Everything I need is in the left-hand drop down menu for my immediate use.

Negatives - First off, there's lots of options I just can't use. It's like a Ford Focus driver jumping into a Ferrari; there are just so many bells and whistles that you're not used to. Also, some of the document formatting tools aren't very user-friendly. Which also reminds me - their user manual needs an update. I have yet to be able to use that piece of literature.

But, and I say this again, I like the tool all-in-all.

There are lots of tools available for every writer of every level. You just need to find them, and then consistently use them. At the end of the day these tools make your editor's job a whole lot easier. Oh yeah, don't forget to use an editor. Another set of professional eyes needs to review your manuscript before you hit the publish button. My editors are worth their weight in gold.

Until next week, keep enjoying winter. I'm using it to read a couple of classics over the next month: Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and, 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King.

e a lake

My Books:


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Enjoying Winter? Move Here!

Living in the upper Midwest, Minnesota more precisely, winter can be a brutal season. Already we've experienced double-digit negative temps; wind chills that can freeze exposed flesh in five to ten minutes; daytime highs below zero. Yeah, for all of you not from here, it's cold - really cold.

Another thing I need to tell you warm weather folks is that you never actually get used to being this cold. Oh sure, people up here brag about surviving in the icebox of the US. "Needed a scarf today, even a hat," locals joke. But on nights where it's 30 below and the windchill hovers around 50 below, no one goes outside unless they really, really have to.

But just how cold is it? I don't mean temperature, I mean in words.

It's really cold outside.

Okay, this tells me absolutely nothing. Cold is a relative term. A cold morning in LA could mean 45 degrees...above zero (wimps). Cold in Alaska could be 50 below. Let's try again.

It's cold enough to freeze the feet off a brass monkey.

Oh, now we're going with cliches; how wonderful. Again this tells me nothing. Use your words.

It's the type cold that takes your breath away.

This is better. Especially if you live in a climate where you know what cold really means. But what about for our warmer weather friends? People who've never had the cold take their breath away?

It's the type of cold where snow crunches under the weight of car tires, sounding like...

This is good, really good. When you use senses to help describe situations, people start to develop a picture in their mind. The better the words and phrases, the clearer the picture.

It's cold enough to freeze hot water within seconds; where exposed flesh will freeze (and ultimately burn) from three minutes of exposure. A cold so brutal, so bracing that even dogs refuse to go outside. Where steam rises from 33-degree lake water, freezing into tiny ice crystals in the frigid air.

There is a lesson here for all of us; not just writers, but everyone. We each possess enough language skills to accurately tell anyone from anywhere what we are thinking. Challenge yourself to find the best words possible for each sentence. Don't give into vagueness or cliches.

This year I'm trying to focus my descriptions into clear pictures. Not just sometimes, but every time - all descriptions. Of course, I need to watch out for the dreaded "purple prose"; where over-description ruins paragraph after paragraph. I know there's a fine line, a sharp edge to this game. Happily, I accept the challenge of finding that elusive line.

Have a great week,

e a lake

My Books:


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Year in Review - 2014

As many of you know, 2014 was my first year in the writing/author/novel game. Looking back twelve months, I can't honestly tell you what I thought 2014 would bring. But, I can say now that this past year has been fruitful beyond any of my wildest dreams.

Book Sales

In 2014, I managed to sell almost 4,000 copies of two books: WWIV - In The Beginning, and, WWIV - Kids at War. Not bad for a rookie. In dollars, I grossed slightly more than $6,000 from these sales. Again, I'm happy with this result.

What did I expect going into this business? I actually have no idea. I'm a planner, a financial guy, so I should have had some sort of budget figured out beforehand. But the cold truth is, I didn't. I just wanted to sell some books in 2014. Honestly, I can't tell you if that meant 30 copies, 300 copies, or almost 4,000 copies.

I do know this, though: my plan would have been much closer to 300 (one book per day) than 3,000.

For 2015, I'd like to raise my gross sales number to $15,000. To do this, I plan on releasing three more novels (actually two novels and a novella). Total book sales, in units, will reach approximately 9,000, perhaps as high as 10,000. At least these are my goals.

P&L for the Year

Somehow, against the usual odds a first-time writer faces, I made money in this venture last year. While I'm still compiling the final numbers, I believe my expenses, all told, were somewhere around $3,600. That means I made about $2,400 at this business.

The two categories where I spent the most money were editing ($1150) and advertising ($750). The editing expense is necessary in my mind. The first book had one edit, book two had three edits. Most books going forward will have three edits. The way I see it, it's better to have a good product than a cheap product. There are still some errors I find that need fixing. But overall, I want to present a decent product first and foremost.

Advertising money in 2014 was mostly thrown to the wind. I didn't really have a plan, so I had no roadmap to follow. I did a little of this and that, but mostly very little as far as well-planned advertising. I need to do a much better job of this in 2015.


In 2014, I posted 65 posts that were visited some 3,600 times. That's an average of 360 visits per month (I began blogging in late February).

I'd like to have better reach in 2015. Perhaps increase my visits to 500 per month. That will give my 52 posts in 2015 some 115 views each week. I realize in 2014 a number of views were bot driven; so if I can, I'd like my 2015 numbers to be real people visiting.

I would also like the content of my blog to be more consistent, more about this writing life I have chosen. While, for the most part, I stuck to that in 2014, 2015 needs better focus on my part.


I have a website. Occasionally, like two or three times daily, that site receives visits. But that's where it ends for me.

My website is a disaster; and absolute colossal failure on my part. I'd invite you to visit the abyss, but it wouldn't be worth your time.

The only improvements I made last year to my site was occasionally updating my 2014 reading list. I need to, I must, do a better job of making this site usable and relevant.

Writing Projects

I created three manuscripts this past year. Books three and four of my WWIV series, and a prequel that will be released soon (and given away for free).

Proofing, editing, rewriting and such took up more time than I had planned in 2014. I can't tell you how many times I read and reread my first two novels last year. I know it was at least a dozen times each. Also, I format my own manuscripts; both for e-books and paperback. You want a time-sucker? Formatting! But I did it and I'm proud of my accomplishments.

Between the small amount of research and marketing, I seem to waste time on, I manage to rob myself of what could otherwise be productive, creative hours. I have so many ideas for new novels. And most of them are just swirling around in my brain, laid down on paper nowhere. I need to do better and create more content. What I really need is a time machine so my days have 50 hours each.

In 2015, I will finish my WWIV series. The last book most likely will not be published until 2016, but I may get it out yet this year. 2016 will also bring the release of book one in my epic series, The Smith Chronicles. I need to spend some time this year being sure that book one, Golden 5, is ready for beta reading later in the year.

There it is, my 2014 raw data and 2015 projections. A person without a plan can never fail, nor succeed. So I challenge all of you, writings and readers, to make some plans for 2015. And maybe even make them public; hold yourself accountable. Develop a plan and work it to fruition.

e a lake

My Books:


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

New Year 2015 - What it means to me

Happy New Year to all!  May 2015 be your best year EVER!

I have plans for this year, big plans. And do you know the best way to be held accountable for your plans? Make them public! So, here we go.

Plan One - Publish (at least) Three Novels in 2015

This should be easy. But if you've ever published a book/novel, you know it's not that easy.

I am almost ready to release a prequel for my WWIV series. I have three minor changes to be made, one last round of betas, a quick edit, formatting, and wah lah - it should hit the web. This is a novella actually (approx 20K words) and I plan on giving it away for free. Oh yeah, a title would be nice.

Book Three of the WWIV series is finished and in the hands of my first betas. After any necessary changes it will go out for first edits, one more round of readers, and then line edits. With any luck, WWIV - Basin of Secrets will be released by spring of 2015.

Then comes Book Four of the series; WWIV - Finders Keepers. While it is still in rough, first draft form, I already know of several changes I'll be making. After I release Book Three, I will get Book Four into the hands of my betas. By fall the entire process should be completed, and the fourth of five books will be published.

Plan Two - Advertise Smarter in 2015

Let's be honest; if you are a new author, you've probably wasted a fair amount of money on advertising your babies (your novels). And since there's no one secret to success, your trial and error method of tossing money about like chips on the roulette table hasn't worked very well. At least that's my experience thus far.

This year I am going to take my time and plan my marketing activities with some logic and reason. One of the ideas I'm dedicated to this year, is to make a concerted effort to make my budget reasonable with measurable results. What does that mean? Let me show you.

Many of us think we can spend $50 a month and sell thousands of books. Okay dreamers, that's not going to happen. What if you decide though you were going to spend $500 this first quarter on advertising? I bet you'd focus where that money went with a little more effort.

As self-published, independent authors we "cheap out" a lot. Spend $20 here and $49 there and hope we achieve some sort of results. Big authors with big publishing companies behind them spend thousands, ten of thousands, of dollars on marketing. I'm not saying that I have that to spend. But on a smaller scale, I bet I can make $1,000 this quarter go a long ways towards name and brand recognition, right?

And how about I do some activities where I can measure my results; that's a good plan. I've already bought into the idea of separate landing pages for each of my books. This way, I can have my team (daughter and oldest son) drill down into the data that comes from the pages and make more informed decisions as we spend more money.

Yes, I will spend $1,000 to sell a mere 500 books (basically a break-even). This is because it increases my readership, helps my rankings, and gets my brand (WWIV or Smith Chronicles) in front of more and more potential readers.

Plan Three - Be Benevolent in 2015

There are three causes I stand firmly with: Literacy, Anti-Bullying, and Helping our Vets.

I will give at least 10% of my 2015 earnings (usually marked by gross sales) to the causes and some of the many charities that represent them. Last year (2014) I had $6,014 of gross sales from books. My goal for 2015 is $15,000. Given these numbers, I plan on giving at least $1,500 to charities associated with the three causes listed above.

I will keep you updated as the year progresses.

What are your plans/goals for 2015? Please feel free to share them with me, or the world!

Here's to a great 2015 for all of humanity.

e a lake

My Books: