Although Apple claims most of their products are game changers, iBooks Author actually is. Not just as a free platform to create books for the iPad, but as an editing tool.
Despite my preference for curling up in a chair with a cup of coffee and a red pen, most of my editing work is done on-screen. This way, edits are not lost, pages aren’t eaten by the cat, and it’s easy for me to share my work when it’s done. Lately, though, I’ve been making most of my notes by importing work into iBooks Author, then exporting or previewing the file in iBooks on the iPad.
Wait, can’t you do that with a PDF?
I could. And I have. But I am not a fan of PDFs in general; I’d rather use a Word doc or a rich text file. And iBooks won’t mark up PDFs; you need a third party app such as Papers.
So why go to the effort of downloading iBooks Author when I could get another free app and use a PDF?
On the iPad, iBooks has a number of useful built in options, making it possible for readers to mark up e-text the same way they’d mark up a print version. To date, you can:
- add bookmarks
- highlight in yellow, green, blue, pink or purple
- add scrolling sticky notes
- underline in red.
Can I get my notes off the iPad?
Yes. Your notes (not highlights, unfortunately), are also easily converted to study cards and exported. Within the book, tap to bring up the top nav and select the icon that looks like a study card to reveal a list of your notes. Then you can select what you want and email the notes. Each note will show your comments, a page number, a chapter, and a date.
So how do you use it?
Most of the time, I make notes on the iPad then input the changes manually–it really is like using a print version, but without the risk of losing a page. I also color code my notes, using yellow for deletions, blue for additions, pink for ideas, and red underlining for clunky wordy. When I’ve completed an edit, I mark it green, so I can see my progress at a glance.
Although iBooks doesn’t replace the track changes function in Word, it’s a useful editing tool, especially if you’re only making comments (as opposed to highlighting sections for later reading/study). So far, I’ve found it best for larger documents (in the 20-80k range), although, if the notes are complex, I often end up using my bluetooth keyboard.
And for less complex work? Anything under 10 pages isn’t worth the effort of setting up the file unless you want to use images/view images in the context of the work.
Note: I do most of my editing in portrait mode; in landscape, it’s too easy to accidentally turn the page whenever I go to edit a note.
How to import your work into iBooks Author
- Download iBooks Author from the Mac App Store and install.
- Select a blank template. (I like “Classic” and “Basic.”)
- Go to Insert > Chapter from Pages or Word Document, then select your file.
Note: iBooks assigns a chapter per file; if you’re importing something with multiple sections and you want each one to be separate, you’ll have to break them manually. I rarely bother with this; the iBooks version of the document is only for my use and doesn’t need to be perfectly navigable to anyone else.
If you’d prefer not to export your work to an iBooks file, you can simply preview it on the iPad.
- Connect your iPad to the computer.
- Open iBooks.
- Select Preview in the toolbar.
- Select your device, then hit enter.
Your file should open automatically.
To Export – without publishing
For editing work, you want to export your file, not publish it. Do not hit “publish” in the tool bar.
- Go to File > Export.
- Select your file type (iBooks, though you can also export to text or PDF).
- Hit next.
- Enter your file name and save.
To sync the file to your iPad, you can drop it into iTunes, and it will be added to the books section of your syncing menu.
One of the things non-fiction is good for is cultivating voice. Because NF has no characters to hide behind, it forces us to write as ourselves in a way regular fiction (as opposed to fictive or inspired-by memoir) doesn’t.
The voice I’ve spent so long honing in my NF work has helped me a lot over recent months–it’s easier for me to get into a character’s head without mapping or noting or any of the other techniques I used to use. But the other NF stalwart I’ve come to depend on, the outline, doesn’t carry over to fiction.
Granted, I rarely outline my blog posts (though I do use a blog client rather than writing directly in WordPress. More on that in another post.). But other than these posts, I stick to my non-fiction outlines the way finger paint sticks to my jeans, shirts, walls, and kitchen cupboards. Writing an article without an outline is difficult for me–I end up scattered and utterly confused. When I write fiction, though, I find the very act of writing an outline leaves me scattered!
Here’s what my non-fiction outlines tend to look like:
Title: Blog Post on Outlines, Plot, Voice
- What am I writing about?
- Key point – using outlines, getting confused, thoughts
- Do outlines hinder voice or help it?
- Relevant links: x, y, z
Where Am I Going With This? 2 Paragraphs
- Point 1
- expand, include a relevant quote
- sum up
- What I’ve learned/am thinking about
Extra funny thing: I can write from someone else’s outline with no hassle. Hand me a writing exercise, or hash something out with me for a short story, and I’m fine. Ask me to write the outline myself, and I’m a mess.Remember when I said non-fiction helps with voice, because there are no characters to hide behind? I think that’s my problem. Outlines in fiction–for me, anyway–take the story in an NF direction, so that I end up thinking news-and-opinion rather than character-and-plot-development.
Overall, not writing outlines isn’t a killer for me, but it is sometimes annoying. My writing group has no problem working out plots and sequencing, while I struggle to get all my ducks in a row. Oftentimes, this means I have to write and rewrite large chunks of a manuscript until it’s all internally consistent–which is a pain and a half! Lately, I’m getting over the hassle of this by keeping a soap opera diary.
A soap opera diary (I have no idea what they’re actually called, but that’s what a guy I used to know, who worked on Passions, called them) is like an encyclopedia for any given show. Continuity people keep track of all the births, deaths, marriages, evil takeovers, one night stands, coffee hijinks and more so that the show doesn’t contradict itself. There are still gaffes every now and then, but for the most part, the writers and continuity folk manage to keep the show fairly consistent. So, for my latest manuscript, I’ve started doing post-outlines, summarizing chapters and highlighting anything that could be a Big Continuity Issue later.
Do you write outlines for fiction, non-fiction, or both? How do you keep track of continuity issues?Read More
Last week, agent Jennifer DeChiara opened the virtual floor to writers, taking questions on Twitter about everything from her flossing habits (once a year, like clockwork) to agent nudging. She represents a variety of genres, including kidlit and YA. Missed the conversation? Get the highlights below, and follow Jennifer on Twitter @4writers, and check out the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency online for resources and more.
Thanks to the Twitterverse for such great questions!
The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency is a New York City-based full-service literary agency founded in 2001 and named one of the top 25 literary agencies in the country by Writer’s Digest.
The agency represents children’s literature for all ages – picture books and middle-grade and young adult novels – but also represents high-quality adult fiction and non-fiction in a wide range of genres. The categories we are most enthusiastic about agenting are literary and commercial fiction; mysteries, thrillers, celebrity biographies; humor; psychology and self-help; parenting; health and fitness; women’s issues; men’s issues; pop culture; film and television; social issues and contemporary affairs.
JDLA is proud to be one of the few literary agencies to represent illustrators, as well as screenwriters for both television and film, including Emmy-winning writers and a Peabody Award-winning illustrator.
Note: I’ve reformatted some of the text into regular English for readers not used to Tweet/733+ speak.
Responses, Rejections, & Agent Nudging
Is no response from an agent always a no? Should I re-query?
I respond to all queries, unless they’re not sent to me by name (Dear Agent) or no name at; no response just means I never saw it.
Yes, I would [re-query], but make sure that you’re querying the way that particular agent requested (email, snail mail, smoke signal).
How many submissions do you see a month? Have you taken on many new clients this year?
About 20,000 each month; I honestly couldn’t tell you how many new clients I’ve taken on this past year – at least six, I’d say.
Please remember that I get so many projects thrown at me that I can only choose the ones I’m the most passionate about.
Is it okay to status query? I’ve read agents don’t like it.
Hard to answer in 140 characters! Check agent’s policies. I don’t mind being nudged, but not 2 wks after submitting something.
If an agent takes a long time to respond, does it mean they’re just not that into me? If it does, I’d rather just get a “no”.
Of course; but don’t assume that no response means no, especially if you email a query. They might not have even seen it.
Honestly, agents are so busy that 3 months is like 3 days; I have a business to run, clients to take care of, before reading new mss.
Should I avoid querying during the summer? Are agents still reading then?
Not at all; agents and editors still work during the summer, although things might move more slowly.
Do you read your own slush? Or do you have interns?
We used to have an entire room filled with boxes of slush and submissions. Now we only accept email queries it’s better, I guess, but it’s still overwhelming. We receive hundreds of e-queries each day, not to mention requested work, clients’ mss, etc.. I’ve tried it by having assistants read for me, but it never works. I prefer to read everything myself, which is why it takes me so long.
Writing, Voice, & Genre
Is it okay to say a book is multiple genres in a query?
That’s a red flag to me: if there are too many, it’s usually a sign that the ms needs to be reworked and refocused.
Is chick-lit outdated? Is there still a market for it?
Yes, it’s [the term] outdated, but I admit I still use it.
Names might change, but women’s commercial fiction will stay the same. Substance might change slightly to reflect economy. Some say that women talking about their designer duds might not have an audience these days, but I think people need an escape, especially now.
Lots of agents and editors advise against prologues, but a lot of best-sellers and classics have them. Do you love them or hate them?
Some writers use them as a crutch, to give the reader information that they don’t know how to incorporate in their book. In my experience, I’ve found them to be unnecessary; I prefer jumping directly into the action anyway.
Agents and editors are always talking about voice. How can I develop my voice?
Every writer has his own beautiful voice, although it may need some finetuning. But most lose it by trying to be something they’re not, trying to copy other writers, not having confidence that they are unique and wonderful in their own right.
Market, Promotion, & What Agents Are Looking For
Are you interested in authors who write more than one genre/age range? Would you prefer an author who sticks with just one genre for a while?
Doesn’t really matter to me.
But when [the] 1st book gets published, the next few books should be in that genre; fans will be looking for more, writer needs to be established.
Is it okay to pitch a series?
[It’s] sort of a no-no; [the] first book must have numbers to do a series. Agents can envision a series from a grocery list; you don’t have to tell us.
Is it easier to get an agent if you already have a novel out?
Not necessarily, if the sales aren’t great. A debut novelist has more of a chance because of this, in my opinion.
What’s the best way to use social networking to promote your book?
Too much to say in 140 characters! Tons of books on the subject. Befriend many, offer help, don’t just try to sell your book.
Is it more important to write a story you love, or one the market loves?
Keep an eye on the market, but write what you’re passionate about, write from your heart. That’s where your best work will come from, IMO.
Advice For Writers
If there were one thing you could tell writers, something not up on blogs and other websites all the time, what would it be?
Believe in your talent and never give up. Don’t listen to naysayers. Take advice, digest it, but do what you think is best. Even if you never get published, no one can take away your joy in writing, which is why you should be doing it anyway.
Thanks to all the Twitter folk who posted such great questions!Read More
This Saturday past, I facilitated the Online Presence Special Interest Group at the New England Regional SCBWI (#nescbwi10) conference in Fitchburg, MA. The group was filled with marvelous people with great questions, and we talked about everything from Twitter lists through the difference between LiveJournal and WordPress. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing up articles based on the things discussed, but in the meantime, here’s a collection of links for folks still sorting out how to fit into the blagosphere.
My articles on blogging at Guide to Literary Agents:
- Useful writing chats with schedule
- Creating Lists
- Writers to follow
- Writer’s Guide to Twitter
My posts on Twitter & social networks:
- If teens aren’t tweeting, why are we?
- 3 ways Twitter can make you a better writer
- Your online presence–getting started with social networking and blogs
Anything I missed? Any other links or lists you’d like to see? Drop me a line!Read More
If you’re a YA or kidlit writer in New England, chances are you’ve heard of the regional NESCBWI conference. I’m going for the first time this year (excited!) and am in list overdrive, writing out things I need to collect for the conference (chocolate), work out before the conference (the calories from the chocolate), and generally do before the conference (buy more chocolate). Of course, since this is only my second conference, I’ve also been spending a fair amount of time on the interwebs collecting tips. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Three tips from agent Sara Megibow @ Nelson Literary, via their marvelous e-newsletter:
1. Work the blurb. Make sure you can rattle off a 2 sentence pitch at any time.
2. Be prepared to submit. Have a sample (say 3 chapters or 30 pages) ready to email and easy to access/email. Have a full ready, too, both in MS word format and with all your contact details included.
3. Update your blog/site! It’s a fairly common practice to check people out online nowadays, so make sure your website puts your best (virtual) foot forward.
And a couple from Cynthea Liu’s Writing for Children’s and Teens (head over to Cynthea’s post for more great tips):
1. Work the room and meet people. If the highschool prom wallflower routine is your usual thing, it’s time to break out and try something new. Conferences are a great opportunity to meet people with similar interests–and people who take YA and kidlit seriously–and learn new things. You don’t have to engage in hours of dreaded small talk to get involved. Try asking about someone’s writing, or what they thought of last year’s Newbery/Printz/awesome award winners.
2. Think about your outfit. Don’t rock up to a conference in your PJs or baby-stained overalls. You don’t have to do the totally geared up business deal, but try to be neat and tidy. Worried you won’t be memorable without your hot pink fedora? Don’t worry. As long as you’re honest and involved, you’ll stand out to the people who matter.
And a few of my own, based on my experience at the Utah-based Brigham Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Workshop a couple of years ago (and some intense, freaked out brainstorming this week):
1.Take a pen and paper. Do not depend on your laptop/smart phone/teeny-weeny device for everything. Sometimes, it’s too hard to whip the thing out, other times, well–devices fail. Batteries fail. Don’t let your love of funky new gadgets leave you in the lurch.
2. Get some business cards. In Utah, I ended up scribbling my email address on lots of tiny slips of paper ahead of time, because people kept asking for my details and I wasn’t prepared enough. And yet, it wasn’t ‘til this past week that I learned my lesson (I’ve been asked for a card three times). Business cards are easy and inexpensive to make–there are a lot of online services around, or you can do it in person at your local Staples/print center. If you’re a social networking tech kind of person, make sure you include your website, twitter, Facebook details etc.
3. Take snacks. Conferences do have some food, but there are often queues, and there’s not guarantee there’ll be food around you like/can eat, especially if you have dietary restrictions (I’m a vegetarian who doesn’t eat dairy products). Throw some granola bars and fruit, or even sandwiches in your bag. And include a bottle of water. All that discussion is thirsty work!
4. Know your stuff. Make sure you know not just about your work, but about what’s going on in the industry. You don’t need to know the finer points of everything, but it’s a good idea to be familiar with the Big Things in publishing. Spend some time reading up on PW.com, or surfing agent and writer blogs for information.
5. Learn new stuff. Even if you know all there is to know about a topic, try taking a back seat and letting other people talk. Most people clam up in the face of a lot of knowledge, which means you could miss out on a new or useful viewpoint, or learning about a great new resource.
6. Ask questions. At the Utah conference, a lot of people were very shy about asking questions because they didn’t want to look stupid. But, as my good friend Chris once told me, “There are no stupid questions. Just stupid answers.” Whenever I’m balking at opening my mouth, I repeat that a couple of times, then stick up my hand. Still feeling shy? Remember that asking a question actually puts the spotlight on the person answering. It also, for good or ill, puts all the expectations on them rather than you.
7. Make a list of what you want to get out of the conference. I like lists for a reason–they help me visualize what I want, remember what I need to do, and generally make me more effective. While you mightn’t want to include nebulous goals like “find the perfect agent”, a few well-thought out items like “meet writers in my area” and “learn about trends in YA” could help keep you focused on what’s important to you, and getting the most out of the event.
8. Agents and editors are people, too. I’ve heard several horror stories about people pitching agents and editors in bathrooms and elevators, and a lot of reasons not to do it. And while I agree you shouldn’t stalk publishing professionals, I think it’s important to remember that they’re a lot like us–people who love books, reading, and possibly even chocolate. So if you’re lucky enough to end up chatting with a couple of agents or editors, don’t freak out or go all hero-worship on the poor folks. Just relax, and talk like you’d talk to anyone involved in your industry–calmly and professionally.
Do you have any handy conference tips? Have you been making lists in preparation, or are you a more easy-going attendee? Are you excited about the conference? Nervous? Blasè?Read More
Writing is a numbers game–the more books you sell, the more money you make. If you write fast, it’s even better. Getting a book out every year for ten years (Jasper Fforde’s goal), if you sell enough, could be quite lucrative (and your hourly rate might actually approach positive numbers). Yet writing, good writing, takes time to craft. Story, characters, and prose itself do not happen overnight, particularly if you’re fond of tight dialogue and polished writing. But here’s the secret: not all readers are writers, and a lot of them don’t care about your perfectly polished prose.
Poor writing–a term I hear bandied about once or twice a year, whenever I’m in a group of writers–is not simply writing badly. It’s the perception of writing badly, of writing in a way that focuses less on literature and writing, and more on reading.
Don’t get me wrong–metaphor, allegory, and description are three of my closest friends. Whenever I read a passage I truly love, I add it to my Quotes & Adorations file, saving (and savoring) it for a time when I need a little literary love. But pop fiction, from chick lit to cozy mysteries, is popular for a reason: it’s easy to read, easy to digest, and easy to dispose of when you’re done.
It’s easy to dismiss pop fiction as trash for the masses. It’s also dangerous to dismiss pop fiction as trash for the masses. Why?
All books, even those which may be irritating/annoying/present a point we don’t agree with, have value.
The masses are aptly named–they’re the majority of readers, the folk who make bestsellers bestsellers.
Hello, my name is Peta, and I am a literary snob. I look my down my overly large Indian nose at many books, particularly when I’m in a funk over my own writing. I am irritated by clunky prose, drawn out of stories by dry dialogue, and find words like “ain’t” only a few ellipses short of repulsive. I pride myself on being able to craft a good sentence. I’ve also been known to spend hours crafting that one sentence.
Generally speaking, though, readers are not looking for a perfect sentence. They’re not looking to deconstruct a book, or get together and create a literary love file. Much as I–literary snob and book geek that I am–hate to admit it, the general reader is not looking for carefully polished prose. Most readers are looking for the Big Three:
Thought-provoking plot or characters
Familiar, straightforward writing
But straightforward writing, while not necessarily literary or writerly (writerly in a bad, overwrought sense) is a good thing, because it’s, well, straightforward, and easily understood by the lowest common denominator.
Finding the lowest common denominator is not just something you do in elementary math. (Though I do love fractions. Something about those little numbers and slashes makes me very happy. Recurring decimals? Blech.) But the lowest common denominator, in figurative terms, is similar to its mathematical counterpart: it’s a way of finding the broadest possible common ground, something that appeals to everyone, i.e. the masses. (I’m not using LCD in a derogatory sense–I’m a big fan of the masses, being one of them and all.)
Column writing provides a great example of appealing to the lowest common denominator. To write a successful column, it’s important to think about audience, and find the same wavelength as your audience. Craig Wilson, a columnist for USA Today, does this by using simple, clear language–most of his columns use common words with a maximum of two syllables. This isn’t because Wilson has a poor vocabulary, or because he thinks his readers have mashed prunes for brains. It’s because, for a popular columnist, getting the story across is more important than stringing together a few pretty words. (Fun fact: the word “prose” actually comes from a Latin word meaning “straightforward discourse”.)
In terms of fiction, writing for the lowest common denominator is not quite so simple, because there’s genre to consider. Hard science fiction readers have different interests, and a different threshold to historical romance readers. Each genre (even literary fiction) has its own language (I almost wrote “lexicon”, then remembered this is a post about straightforward writing). Historical romance readers may be familiar with terms like “farrier” and “roustabout” while science fiction readers are not. Shooting for just the historical romance reader may alienate potential readers skimming in a bookstore or taking a stroll through a friend’s shelves. Yet over-explaining, or using very simple language (“farrier” vs. “the man who makes horse shoes and takes care of hooves”), could frustrate experienced genre readers. So where is the line?
Putting Genre-Specific Language in Context
In a recent, very unscientific polling of my bookshelves, I discovered that my favorite authors are those who use context to explain or describe important details. Let’s say I’m writing a novel with a farrier named Percy. The first time I introduce Percy, I might write:
Farriers–horseshoe makers–were a welcome sort in every town, a fact Percy played to his advantage. Offering a three shoe for the price of two deal every Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday, he reminded his more intelligent customers that no, a better deal could not be got elsewhere, because there was, in fact, no other elsewhere, as Percy’s nearest competition was one hundred miles away, or eight hours by a regular horse, and twelve hours by a three-shod one, so they’d best take advantage of his deal and buy twelve shoes to save four hours.
Later, when I want to revisit Percy, but not go into such horse-shoeing detail, I could use sensory details to remind the reader of what a farrier is:
Athenia breathed deeply, savoring the farrier’s scent of sweat, fire, iron, and the forge mingled with the foppish apple tobacco he preferred.
The brief description of scents associated with Percy the farrier remind the reader that a farrier is, amongst other things, a type of metalworker. Added to other contextual clues, this is enough to ground the unfamiliar reader without irritating the seasoned one.
A Note on the Lowest Common Denominator in YA
Finding the lowest common denominator in a YA audience is a bit strange, because YA isn’t written along handy-dandy genre lines. And teens are less entrenched in a particular kind of reading, and are willing to jump around subject matter, so the general genre language rules don’t apply. Just be honest, write authentically, take a few deep breaths, and everything will be okay. Or at least as okay as it ever is. Of course, getting a handle on familiar style might also help…
On Thursday, I’ll have more about “writing poorly” and YA, in my very creatively titled post, Reading Fast, Writing Poorly, & Getting Old.
Do you write for everyone? Or do you stick to a specific audience? Why?