How Complicated Should Your Blog Be?

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Having been at it for a good few years now, I am always struck by just how fussy many blogs are. What do I mean by fussy – overly complicated!

Many bloggers, particularly new writers, believe that they must add endless details to their blogs, such as apps to show all of their followers as well as their book covers. Not forgetting things like photo archives. The list is endless. Take it from me, you don’t need to add countless numbers of apps. If you do, to anyone encountering your blog for the first time, all you will do is confuse them. The first thing any reader should see is the post! Anything that distracts the reader’s eye from your post is counterproductive. It’s bad enough that blog systems like WordPress and Google’s Blogger, insert adverts. Thankfully in WordPress’ case, they restrict the add to below each post.

Unless your blog is an alternative advertising source like The Storyreading Apes’ excellent blog where he introduces writers to one another as well as potential readers, or Derek Haines’ WhizzBuzz where writers pay him to advertise their work, its far better to follow the ‘KISS’ principal (Keep It Simple Stupid).

All you will find on mine is the blog title, header picture, archives and posts, plus a short list of the best places I have found to ‘share’ a post as well as the ‘Like’ button, and hopefully the gravatars of followers who like a specific post. Not forgetting highlighted links.

I prefer using this tried and true method. You will note that I do not use a coloured background either. Why? Because reading black print on a white background makes it far easier to read the text of each post. Populating your blog background with dark colours is never a good idea. Yes, you may like it. But once you have created it, your blog is no longer your own. It becomes public property. Sooner or later, if you are lucky, people will like what you have to say and follow it. Always providing that they find it easy to read, and navigate their way around.

So, think about it. There is a lot to be said for a clean looking easy to read blog…

Writers, Believe in Yourselves – Stand On Your Own Two Feet

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A comment on my blog post yesterday about obsessive writers, editing and layout errors got me thinking. The commentator said she had used the services of one of the thousands of Vanity Press publishers out there, waiting for the next sucker to fleece. She found out that after publication the end product had spelling errors. Despite them reassuring her that it would be taken care of, it wasn’t. Why do people still fall for the unmitigated BS that all Vanity Press continue to spew out I wonder? If you want my advice, don’t go there.

Sad to say but in the independent editing fraternity, there are some individuals only too willing to relieve you of your hard earned money, often leaving you with a shoddy product.

Far to many ‘wet behind the ears’ new writers these days think that they should pass their manuscript on to an expert. So they simply find the independent editor whose financial package suits their budget and hope for the best, assuming that he or she is qualified, and from your point of view as a new writer – unbiased. Remember this; even if your editor is the best available, he or she is just another human being, not a machine. Therefore the way they edit your work will be coloured by their own opinions about how your manuscript should read. They’re not infallible. If you let them have their way exclusively, chances are you won’t recognise the end product. Remember this also, not all independent editors out there are what they profess to be by any stretch of the imagination. Buyer beware!

Believe me when I say that the best editor for you is one you know personally, and more importantly, the editor who believes in you.

Even so, why not do what I have done and learn how to lay out a page. Then learn how to edit as well as grammar and spell check using your dictionary and thesaurus, not forgetting how to punctuate as well as publishing your work for yourselves. And while you’re at it, learn how to produce a cover. All of the above isn’t that difficult to master. Like most things in life it just takes application and perseverance on your part, and time to learn.

Even if you have parted with a considerable amount of money to have your manuscript edited, plus having it set up for publication and paying for the best possible cover, there is still no guarantee that your book will sell. So why shell out money you can ill afford when you are just starting out. It makes absolutely no sense at all.

There is one other consideration that you should take into account; before you even begin to show a profit, first you have to sell enough copies of your book to recoup your initial outlay. Whereas if you do it all yourselves, the only cost to you is your time. In other words you are in profit right from the start with that first sale.

All I’m asking you to do is think about it before you make a move…

Obsessive Writers

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It has to be said. A proportion of today’s self-published writers, those who churn out six or a dozen books each year, have to be suffering from some form of desperate obsession. What other explanation can there be for their compulsive need to flood the market with poorly written books? Perhaps they honestly believe that they will gain a large readership, in which case they are deluding themselves? Who can say? If only they were OCD sufferers. Then at least their books would be well written, and would clearly show their need for order and detail.

Normal well adjusted writers, which is the vast majority of us, may publish one book each year, or perhaps every two years. We gain our faithful readership by producing well written books with a strong story, not by doing things the way the obsessive writer does.

Oh yeh clever dick – what about spelling mistakes in self-published books then? I am always finding them.

Not that old chestnut again!!!

Once again, just for you. Yes its true that spelling errors are held up by armchair critics as a reason why you should not buy a self-published book. But even mainstream produced books are hardly error free. I’m sorry to burst your bubble here, but I have news for you. There is no such thing as a perfect book. There isn’t one that doesn’t have the odd spelling error. The writer of the book you are reading cannot be held responsible for a copy or line editor missing the odd one or two. All he or she can do is hand over a manuscript as error free as is possible to his/her editor. Once the editor has placed it in the hands of a publisher, it is largely out of the writer’s control.

When it comes to works originally published as paperbacks or hard covers, in a lot of cases when they are converted by mainstream publishers to gain a foothold in the eBook market, they often contain larger than normal gaps between words as well as gaps between the letters making up a word, rendering them unreadable. This practice of churning out a cheap and nasty product, does nothing to enhance an author’s reputation. Sadly it is becoming more prevalent as the major publishing houses look to the growing eBook market.

As writers, once we have a story in our heads, its true that we do become obsessed up to a point with getting it onto paper and/or our computer screens. But in general that is as far as our brush with obsession goes. We don’t overly concern ourselves with whether or not it will become the next best seller, unlike the obsessive writers appear to do. What the next best seller will prove to be is in the lap of the gods. There is nothing any writer, publisher, agent or editor can do to influence that, no matter how hard they may try.

Irrespective of which format is used, the mark of a good book is whether or not it is still being bought several years after it was published. Four of my six are. How about you?

 

 

Dumb as a Rock? Far Worse…

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For months now I have been battling with the computer equivalent of an Indian Call Centre, for Amazon UK over a clear fault in the software of the otherwise excellent Kindle for PC Application installed on this laptop.

While I also own a standard Kindle, owing to my age and my less than perfect eyesight, I need a much larger screen to enable me to enlarge the print even more than the stand alone Kindle allows. To that end, I have duplicated all of my physical library of research books into Kindle form on this laptop, merely to have everything necessary for me to write my novels in one place. Clearly a sensible, not to say, practical move on my part. Therefore I am able to use my Kindle for PC app daily as a necessary research tool.

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Now for the real reason for this post.

It all started several months ago after the then latest update for the application was automatically installed. In effect what happened was that the new software inexplicably decided to place gaps at random throughout the text shown on the screen. By that I mean that words were broken up, and larger than standard gaps appeared between words. Each time I sent a message of complaint I received yet another email apologising for the problem and promising that they would look into it and get back to me. Needless to say they didn’t. To say I was less than pleased would be an understatement.

Eventually I found out what the problem was by myself when one day I needed to enlarge one particular passage in one of the books, far more than usual owing to the small font size in the particular eBook. The problem is that in effect when you alter the font size and words per line to make it easier to read, the software employed has the computer equivalent of a hissy fit!

When I once again sent a message to the ignoramuses, via the application’s ‘Contact Us’ button, telling them I had done their work for them by finally being able to clearly establish the exact problem, yet again I received an email thanking me for pointing out the problem and promising to pass on the information to the relevant department within Amazon. Sadly, many months have gone by and the problem still persists after several more automatic updates.

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Next we turn to the software program Amazon employs to run their automatic book information emails. As we all know there are some writers out there who think nothing of stooping to employ an underhand technique known as ‘sock-puppeting’ –  the unscrupulous practice of promoting their own books by writing glowing reviews using a false online identity. Amazon loudly condemns the practice. For that I applaud them.

But, once again the dumb software Amazon employs for attracting reviews tries to get a writer to engage in the practice themselves by asking you to ‘review’ your own work!!! Its pointless trying to complain to anyone in Amazon, because it appears that no one is actually monitoring the software algorithm in use. Plus, the automated emails offer no chance for you to complain, even though you will see the ‘Reply’ button at the bottom of each email.

If you send Amazon a separate email pointing out the problem, all you will get once again is their equivalent of the ‘Indian Call Centre’ which we all dread communicating with, in this case inhabited by yet more ignoramuses with a strict mandate to only pay lip service to a problem; never to fix it!

In both of the examples I have given you, whether you are a reader, or in my case a contributing writer for Amazon, makes absolutely no difference whatsoever. Like all major publishers, they simply don’t give a damn!

Come on Amazon. Who is running your company, dumb software or people? Don’t bother answering that. We already know the answer…

 

Use a Thesaurus

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For any writer, no matter whether or not you are new or seasoned, one thing we all have to take into account when writing a book is the use of appropriate words. There is always a danger of a writer showing off, intentionally or otherwise, by using certain words simply because he or she is familiar with them and likely uses them whenever conversing with people in his or her daily life, instead of making use of a Thesaurus, looking for alternatives.

What do I mean by this? To illustrate my point the following part of a sentence in a book I am currently re-reading by one well known author, quite literally puts words into the mouth of his chief character, which simply were not in use during the time period the story is set in. They came swarming downstream, transports filled with palace servants and slaves and all their accoutrements and paraphernalia.” To begin with the book is set during the the time of the Pharoahs in ancient Egypt. Words like accoutrements and paraphernalia were not in use.

Let us take a look at paraphernalia first. Definition: miscellaneous articles, especially the equipment needed for a particular activity. Using it in the book concerned is incorrect as it didn’t enter the English language until the 17th century, making it unknown in two thousand five hundred BCE.

Ok fine so it wasn’t in use back then clever clogs. So what? Who cares? How about using a word like trappings in its place?

You could, but once again it wasn’t in use at the time. It first appeared during the period of language development known as Late Middle English. What the author should have considered using is the word belongings. In this case it is highly appropriate as it refers to ‘movable possessions’. More importantly it is a word which has been around forever.

Now for accoutrements. Definition: an additional item of dress or equipment.

It sounds acceptable right? Not in this case. It didn’t appear until the 16th century, originating from the French word accoutrer which simply means clothe or equip. So once again the author is putting words into his character’s mouth that simply weren’t in use in the time period the book is set in.

Well, in this instance perhaps he should have considered using the word device.

You could, but it didn’t appear until the period of Early Middle English.

What about using equipment?

Once again, you could. But it didn’t appear in our language until the early 18th century. The word is French in origin – equiper. Now, are you beginning to see what a minefield the English language is for writers?

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In the author in question’s case he simply gets away with it for two reasons, the first being that he is a highly successful and respected author. The second reason is that most people, by that I mean ordinary book lovers, wouldn’t consider questioning his choice of words, merely because they accept and understand the words he uses.

But we’re writers. So we have no excuses. Take a moment when you are writing a book to ask yourself if the language you are using is appropriate. Above all, invest in a Dictionary and Thesaurus, and please make sure the words you employ were common during the time period your book is set in, as far as is practicable. Take a tip from me, try to simplify by striking a sensible balance. Above all, refrain from the use of long words where possible.

Does all of the above really matter these days? Damned right it does! Just wait until your next novel appears in the market. There are pedantic people out there who take great delight in pointing out things like the above, as well as spelling errors under the guise of offering a legitimate review for your work. To survive, you must become not only an editor, but also someone most writers loath, a pedant, to protect your work and your reputation as a writer…

Profit or Quality?

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You would think that given the number of glitches appearing in most video games these days, that the people responsible for making them would endevour to put out a quality product from the get go. Sadly that isn’t the case. Take the immensely popular Mass Effect trilogy as an example.

By the time the first of the games appeared in 2007, written for Xbox, both Bioware and Electronic Arts realised at the eleventh hour that the Sony platform was the dominant system, owing to Xbox being so unreliable. Subsequently the game was made roughly compatible with Sony’s PS3 system. But like most games originally conceived with just one game platform in mind, instead of doing a total rewrite of the software to make it work with the PS3, Bioware and EA decided to maximize profit in favour of quality.

Fortunately when Mass Effect 2 appeared in 2010, at least the game had become more player friendly from the point of view of ease of control over your character. But like the first game, ME2 had some serious glitches, which were taken care of by a downloadable patch.

Then in 2012 ME3 the third and final game of the franchise appeared. It is relatively glitch free thank goodness. I have installed all of the add-ons for both ME2 and ME3, making both games that bit longer and enjoyable. Had Bioware bothered to totally re-write the first Mass Effect game, making it user friendly, I would also have that on my hard-drive.

Now all we ask for is that the games platform of your choice is made reliable. I had endless trouble with my PS3’s Blueray disc-drive, due to it being a dust trap, thereby rendering it inoperable. That was until I cottoned on to doing away with game discs altogether in favour of direct download to my PS3’s hard-drive. Now the only problem I have is when it decides to lock up for no good reason. When that happens on restarting the platform, the first thing I see is a request for a report from Sony to find out why it locked up. So far I’ve yet to see any improvement in its software, which makes me wonder why they want to know what happened in the first place if they are not going to send a patch to fix the problem?

What everyone in the video game industry has to do is to get out of the habit of profit over quality. It’s a no-brainer, that if you sell a quality product, you will soon gather a faithful following willing to spend money…

 

 

Whatever happened to pride in manufacturing?

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We all buy products from brands we know and trust, or that used to be the case. Take Sony for example. I have been buying Sony products for years. Four of my past five laptops were Sony Vaio’s. Each one far exceeded its use by date before I bought its replacement. My digital camera is a Sony Cybershot which is old technology nowadays, and yet it still keeps on keeping on. Soon after I joined the gaming world, I switched from an Xbox to a Sony PS3 simply because the Xbox was so poorly manufactured. It lasted barely a month. In short, what can I tell you except that I love all things Sony, with one exception.

While each of the above products is made by different divisions under the Sony umbrella, one of the products is riddled with faults. I refer to the Sony PS3. No matter whether you have one of the older ones or the latest slim model, I defy anyone to tell me that they have got more than the equivalent of two straight months continuous use out of their PS3. I am currently on my fifth console in less than eighteen months. Each one of them showed the same signs that it was about to die by either locking up or suddenly deciding not to load a game. This latest one has been in my possession for barely a month now. Right from day one it began locking up. At one point it even died and rebooted itself. Clearly there is a major design fault, either in the software or the hard drive system.

Sony is not the only organisation with a lack of overall quality control. Both my television and my video player/surround sound system are manufactured by Samsung. My 42” flat screen digital television is three years old now, and the best I’ve ever had. I wish I could say the same thing when it comes to the video player. Like the PS3, the Samsung video/surround sound system has an obvious design fault. Consequently it only partially works. While the sound system which I leave permanently hooked up to my PS3 is still operational, the video player died within a couple of months. This is yet again another example of a reputable brand let down by just one division trading under the parent company’s name.

Finally we come to video games. I absolutely love my PS3 version of The Elder Scrolls V – Skyrim. The problem is that it is simply riddled with faults. I hear on the grapevine that Bethesda are calling it a day with the Elder Scrolls series of games. I also see that they have produced a collector’s edition of Skyrim. The only problem is that it is not an improved version, merely the original with a dragon statue, an art book and a paper map. While the PC version has all manner of add-ons, the original PS3 version has none; sadly yet another classic example of profit over quality control. The very least Bethesda should do before they finally cease working on Skyrim is to produce a disc with all the patches on it for those of us who don’t have our PS3’s connected to the internet.

Unfortunately there is a complete lack of pride in manufacturing and quality control these days. If only the companies placed quality above profit. Unfortunately I cannot see it happening any time soon…