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Here’s a screen shot of this blog post as I started to write it. You can see how the suggested changes are in the right sidebar. You can also indicate on the toolbar what types of checks you want the program to do.

 

I signed up for Grammarly last week, and I have been enjoying it. It seems to do a very in-depth grammar and usage check. I ran a 300-page manuscript through it, and it came back with 2,500 issues. As I am working my way through all of them, I find that about one-quarter are changes that I definitely need to make and another quarter are in a gray area that I think can go either way. I usually make the change. About half of the issues are things that I don’t believe need to be changed.

The program looks at contextual spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, style, and vocabulary enhancement. You can also run a plagiarism check. I haven’t tried this feature yet, so I can’t comment on how effective it is.

Grammarly offers a free and paid version. I’m not exactly sure what the differences are, only that the paid version found a lot more issues. The paid version is $140 a year. With the amount of writing that I do each year, it’s a bargain for me. I can head off mistakes before an editor sees them.

What I am finding is that the program is calling my attention to words that I use too much. I have to look at each one and decide if I want to keep it or substitute a different word.

I can see this becoming a very valuable beta reader of my books and articles; one that will improve my writing.

The program was easy to install. It not only looks at my Word documents, but another add-on also looks at any writing that I do online, such as e-mails.

Writers should check out this program. Sign up for the free version and try it out and see if it doesn’t help you write better.

Check out these other posts:

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Clay SoldiersMy new book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy, is finished and formatted. I printed off some set to send out to beta readers.  This is the nervous time for me. Essentially, it’s the public debut of the book. People have seen bits and pieces of it, but this is the first time it has all been put together.

I am using a mix of beta readers. Some I know, some I don’t. Some are writers and some are just people who like to read history. I figure that I have a good mix of readers.

Their feedback is important, particularly if more than one reader mention it. A lot of the feedback that they give me is opinion and I have to take that into account, but I do consider each comment. Some of them are very insightful even if I don’t want to hear it.

Beta readers are a great resource for you as a writer. If you don’t have any people who you trust to give you an honest opinion, you can join a writer’s group or even find a Facebook beta readers group.

Some things to keep in mind with your beta readers:

  • Don’t take everything they say as gospel. Everyone has an opinion and some of those opinions will be conflicting. If five people say the same thing and one person says something different, then you should give more weight to the five. However, if it three saying one thing and two saying another, then you have a more balanced consideration to take into account.
  • You can’t please everyone. There’s an old saying that a camel is a horse built by committee. If you have a vision of what you want the book to be. Don’t give it up easily. If you try and please everyone, you will wind up with something bland that probably won’t please you.
  • Ask your beta readers for a review. Reviews are important for a book. Give your book a jump start and ask all of your beta readers to post an honest review about your book.
  • You don’t need dozens of beta readers. I like to use three at a minimum because I feel that gives me a good well-rounded opinion of my book. For this particular book, I’m using six, mainly because more people got back to me when I started making inquiries about beta readers. More doesn’t mean better, though. You still want people who are readers and/or knowledgeable about writing and who will give you an honest opinion.
  • Show your appreciation. I always make sure to send my readers a finished copy of my book as well as telling them, “thank you.”

Here are a couple other articles by other writers about getting beta readers.

Peer Reviews: Seek Quality in Your Beta Readers, Not Quantity

How to find a beta reader

edgarallanpoeI am editing a book right now and thinking about how I would classify it. When I first wrote the book years ago, I considered it light horror, but now I’m not so sure.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the gist of the story is this: Because of how Lazarus of the Bible was resurrected, whenever he is about to die, his body steals the life force from the nearest person. During the early 19th century, Lazarus meets up with another resurrected being who was possessed by a demon at the time of his resurrection. The demon sets out to kill Lazarus and Edgar Allan Poe gets caught in the middle.

The bulk of the story is set during Poe’s lifetime, although there are modern-day scenes and scenes from Biblical times forward.

As I’m editing this, though, I realize just how much historical information is in the book, particularly about Edgar Allan Poe and his life. I did a lot of research and worked to weave my story around actual events in Poe’s life.

So I’m wondering if this could be considered historical fiction. It certainly isn’t what I consider historical fiction. It has a lot of fantastical elements in it. Something similar might be Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. My story is not as heavy on the fantastical, though.

What are your thoughts? Would historical fiction readers be turned off by this story because it is too fantastic? Would horror readers be turned off because it has too much history? I’m trying to figure out how to market the book, but first, I need to be able to explain it to a potential reader.

thomas-f-monteleoneI was going through my files today and I came across this article from 1996. It ran in a magazine called The Nightmare Express. Not only does it have some good information in it, it seems appropriate for the season. It also saw how my writing has improved from 19 years ago. I cleaned up the worst problems, I didn’t want to change it too much.

Not all writers can edit and not all editors can write. Finding someone who successfully wears both hats is an oddity. Thomas F. Monteleone is just such a person.

Monteleone’s last novel, The Blood of the Lamb, the story of a man cloned from the genetic material found on the Shroud of Turin, sold nearly 10,000 copies in hardcover and more than 175,000 paperback copies. The novel won him the 1993 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel from the Horror Writers Association. His newest novel, The Resurrectionist, came out in October with a first hardcover printing of 50,000 copies. In the novel, Monteleone again looks at the darker side of religion with a U.S. Senator who discovers he has the power to raise people from the dead.

In between his first short story and his latest novel, Monteleone has written 20 novels, more than 100 stories, and more than 70 articles. He’s managed that great amount of material by sticking with his writing schedule.

“I try to make sure I do three or four hours of dedicated writing a day. That’s about all I can deal with. Any more than 10-12 pages a day and it’s garbage. I usually write five to six pages so three to four hours is all the time I need to write at a good level,” he said.

On the editing side of the business, Monteleone edits the critically acclaimed Borderlands anthologies, now in its fifth year. The other day when I was talking with him, Monteleone took a phone call from White Wolf Press, the publisher of the paperback editions of Borderlands. He had just been told that Borderlands 2 and Borderlands 3 were among White Wolf’s top five bestselling books.

Monteleone admits that editing Borderlands has been more work than he imagined. With a successful writing career, he certainly doesn’t need the headaches editing an anthology causes. So why does he do it?

“I didn’t like the direction of horror fiction in the late 1980’s. The boom was playing to serial killers with steaming organs. I was getting tired of it. The sub-genre of vampire fiction was getting stale. I wanted to do an original anthology to explore new directions in the field,” Monteleone said.

Borderlands the anthology was so successful (15 of the stories in Borderlands received nominations for Bram Stoker Awards, two stories won, and the anthology itself won rave reviews) that it allowed Monteleone to create Borderlands Press, a small-press that continues the direction of its namesake. After a rocky start (Monteleone’s partner mismanaged the company, not paying royalties and spending too much), Borderlands Press found its pace.

“We were on a treadmill the first three years and wound up in debt,” admitted Monteleone. “However, we’ve spent the last years getting out of debt. I like the company where it’s at now. It’s a small company that can’t get much bigger. We average about four titles a year.”

As with many small-press publishers, Monteleone feels the small press fills a need that large commercial publishers aren’t interesting in filling. “When the small press is good, it’s very good. It’s a good venue for people who otherwise wouldn’t get much exposure. It has a small audience. The publishers have scaled down budgets, publications numbers, and expectations of acceptable profit. It’s a specialized market.”

Monteleone estimates that he reads about 500-600 short stories a year, of which, 80 percent are for Borderlands. He also said of that amount 50-60 are publishable and only 20 go into Borderlands.

“I want to see stories that examine the genre in a new way that hasn’t been done before. I want a unique take. I don’t want to see the traditional horror elements. I want to go beyond that. I have no interest in reading my 85th vampire story,” he explained.

Other than lacking an original idea, why does he reject a story as unpublishable?

Monteleone said, “A lot of people don’t understand the basic story structure and how to unfold it dramatically. They speechify and lecture without letting the story carry. They don’t have a natural ear for dialogue. At least 50 percent of the stories I reject are because the dialogue is so tinny that a sardine factory wouldn’t use it to make cans. The writers can’t recreate how people talk. They don’t even realize it unless they are made aware and work at it. They need to talk out their dialogue. I can’t see any other way around it.”

Monteleone lists his should read horror as TED Klein (especially The Ceremonies), basic Stephen King (The Shining, The Dead Zone, Salem’s Lot), H.P. Lovecraft (not for style, but his uniqueness), Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Kutner, John Collier, Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub, and Joe Lansdale. In addition, according to Monteleone, some of horror’s most underrated authors who are definitely worth reading are Chet Williamson, David Silva, Bradley Denton, Nancy Holder, and Kim Antieau.

Monteleone’s advice to new writers: Keep writing and keep submitting your stories.

“Editor’s start to recognize your name. It means something to them. It means that you’re dedicated, prolific, and you’ll be around. They start feeling they’ll know who you are. It’s almost as important as what you say,” he said.

Which hat does Monteleone prefer wearing: Writer or editor?

Writer definitely.

“If you can write a good short story, you can write anything. It makes you a better writer by learning how to write a good story. It doesn’t make a lot of money, though. Novels allow you to develop characters, which is important. You can invest time and emotion in a character and make him live,” he said.

To see what Monteleone has been doing since this article, check out this page.

I’ve been thinking about venturing into new writing waters lately, as if I haven’t been doing enough of that already with doing my first biography, my first co-authored book, editing someone’s memoirs, and doing work under a pseudonym. Anyway, now I am thinking about publishing a book in the public domain.

I came across an interesting historical character and had considered doing a biography about him. When I did some preliminary research, I discovered that he had written his own autobiography in the early 1800’s. The book has seen limited circulation and is in the public domain. So I thought, “Why re-invent the wheel? Maybe I should just reprint this book.”

I do have some issues with the original book. I would want to give it a nice cover and a better title. I would also want to do some light editing and add some illustrations.

I’ve seen some reprinted public domain book out there that have a plain cover and the interior pages are scans of the original book pages. You can see that the publisher didn’t put much effort into them so is it any surprise that they probably don’t sell? The only ones I’ve ever purchased are the ones that I have specifically been searching for for research.

Having never published a public domain book before, I wasn’t sure if there was anything I needed to do to reprint this type of book. I put the word out on some forums that I’m part of to see what people had to say. Boy! I got answers all over the place!

Some did recommend this web page, which I found immensely helpful. You should definitely read it if you are considering going this route.

I also found out that by making the alterations I wanted to do, I would be making the book able to be copyrighted because I would be making it my unique version of the book. In the future, someone could certainly reprint the book, but they wouldn’t be able to reprint my version.

So this project looks like it will move ahead. Of course, finding the time to get it ready for publication will be the real trick.

I am always surprised when I see a book proof. No matter how many times I or someone else has gone over the book so that it is error free, I always find errors when I look at the proof. And I’m not just talking about formatting errors (those shouldn’t happen either since I send press-ready files).

I just finished going over a proof for Looking Back II and I’m wondering what I was doing when I did a final check on certain sections because I certainly wasn’t reading the manuscript. Some of the errors are piddly and don’t bother me too much like straight quotes versus smart quotes, but other sentences are missing words. Some words are misspelled so that even spell check should have caught them and I know I ran spell check on the manuscript. Yet, there’s the errors.

So what is the cause? Gremlins?

No it’s just that the brain acts like the auto-fill feature on your computer. The more you read something, the quicker you tend to read it because your reads a few words that it recognizes and fills in a phrase in your mind.

Here’s an extreme example I found:

“Arocdnicg to rsceearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.”

While this is great for the brain, it’s not so hot when you’re proofreading or editing. In essence, your brain is profiling words and sometimes the profiles aren’t accurate.

Read more about some of the studies that have been conducted here.

 

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