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Of the thousands of pages of articles directed towards engineers in more than 6,000 technical, business, academic, and trade publications in the United States, only one percent are written by people with engineering degrees. It’s not that editors don’t want articles written by engineers; they aren’t receiving articles written by engineers. Why are engineers so shy about writing?

Frank R. Smith, editor of Technical Communication, a journal of the Society for Technical Communication, says that of the many papers he reads each year for possible publication, “most are written by the same people.” Bill French, executive director of the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, agrees, adding, “It’s a constant battle to find practical papers.”

Harvey Bjelland, in his book, Writing Better Technical Articles, says “In science, agriculture, bacteriology, chemistry, forestry, engineering, mining, medicine, metallurgy, physics, or any other technical field, writing is essential in most stages of every important project if a person does not wish to remain anonymous.”

Though the publish-to-survive mandate is a part of academic life that many regret, Smith says that “publishing an article is like getting an endorsement from an outside authority. It’s a positive factor when a [performance] review comes up.” Christina Kessler, editor of the Construction Specifier, agrees that “writing articles builds credentials,” especially valuable for freelancers.

Kessler says of engineer-writers, “Their style is a little dry, but their English is no worse than anyone else’s.” But most technical people know that they need to learn to write better.

French says engineers don’t know how to write because their education was heavily based in science rather than liberal arts. Tim Reason, assistant editor for the Professional Surveyor, thinks that there’s a lesson to be learned from technical people without degrees. “We are occasionally disappointed with article removed from academics. Surveyors are not so self-conscious about writing. They like airing issues.”

Despite having everything to gain professionally by publishing an article, most engineers say they don’t have the time or don’t think they have anything to write about, says Smith. The first problem can be solved by emphasizing the benefits of having an article published: Writing is the only tangible result of much engineering research. The second problem can be solved by gaining a wider perspective: Because they do it day after day, engineers may fail to see their work as unique.

Bjelland suggests a third reason for not writing: fear of being seen as inexperienced or not knowledgeable. This can be solved by striving for excellence in writing as just one more aspect of research: The profession can’t advance if technical people don’t write about their work.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in The Editorial Eye in 1994, but it still has useful information for today’s writer. It was actually my first professionally published article.

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shutterstock_217661482When I first read the Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway in English class, I enjoyed it. Then came the class analysis in which my teacher left me with the feeling that I had just finished a

 

Suddenly, I found that I enjoyed the book far less.

  • I felt stupid that I didn’t pick up on all of the symbolism in the book.
  • I felt manipulated because Hemingway was supposedly putting hidden messages in his writing.

In another high school English class, I loved reading “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. My teacher didn’t pick this story apart with hidden meaning, but I remember that someone told me a story that a student had once asked Jackson if the story contained all of the symbolism that his teacher had said was in the story. Jackson reportedly told the student “no.” She had written the story to be what it appeared to be.

Since then, I’ve been skeptical of literary critics.

Recently, I found an interesting article, “Famous Novelists on Symbolism in Their Work and Whether It Was Intentional” on MentalFloss.com. A 1963 high school student decided to go right to the source to determine whether his teacher knew what he was talking about when he uncovered all of the symbolism in novels. The student mailed a four-question survey to 150 novelists. He asked them:

  1. “Do you consciously, intentionally plan and place symbolism in your writing?… If yes, please state your method for doing so. Do you feel you sub-consciously place symbolism in your writing?”
  2. “Do readers ever infer that there is symbolism in your writing where you had not intended it to be? If so, what is your feeling about this type of inference? (Humorous? annoying? etc.?)”
  3. “Do you feel that the great writers of classics consciously, intentionally planned and placed symbols in their writing? … Do you feel that they placed it there sub-consciously?”
  4. “Do you have anything to remark concerning the subject under study, or anything you believe to be pertinent to such a study?”

Half of the authors responded to the survey. You can read the article to see some of the responses. My first take away from the author responses is that most authors don’t intend to inject symbolism into their writing, but the subconscious sometimes makes connections that the author might not realize while writing. My second take away is that when an author does try to create symbolism in his or her writing, it often comes across as forced or false. (However, that may be the symbolism that I’m reading into the responses!)

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This should be of interest to all writers, but non-fiction writers in particular. I’ve had this happen to me. Sometimes the reader has been right. Sometimes (thankfully, most of the time) I’ve been right.

My process is simple:

  1. I investigate the claim.
  2. If I’m wrong, I fix my copy and repost. Then I let the reader know the correction has been made and thank him or her.
  3. If I’m right, I let the person know that I looked into their claim, and I still support the original version. I also send them any supporting information about it. I then thank them.
  4. If they continue to insist I’m wrong, then I end the conversation. This has only happened to me when the claim of being wrong is about someone’s opinion versus my opinion. In the past, I have tried to talk it through with the person with no success. It has led to one person leaving a one-star review for one of my books. I can’t do anything about that but move forward. In another case, someone got really belligerent on a blog, so I just deleted their comments.

I know I’m not right all the time, and I’m willing to consider making corrections, but in the end, I make the decision whether to make the change or not. Whichever way I go, I make sure that I support my position.

Here’s another writer’s view on the subject. I meant to simply post this, but then being a writer, I decided to weigh in with my experience.

Source: Writing: How to Respond When a Reader Claims There’s an Error in Your Book

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2061471151-rijagd4irI’m often told that I get a lot done in a day, so I must be a good time manager.

I don’t think so.

I think I get a lot done in a day is because I have a lot to do. One of the things about being self-employed is that unless you want to pay someone to do it for you, you have to do everything. So not only do I have to be an author, I have to be a salesperson, book designer, social media marketer, blogger, accountant, PR rep, graphic designer, and more.

My to-do list every day is longer than two people could finish. It helps that I don’t have a long commute that eats up an hour or two each day. It also helps that I’m finding new technology all of the time that helps me automate some of the routine things that I need to do.

So even when I accomplish a lot each day, I always know that more needs to be done. I just keep chipping away at the list like a man trying to eat an elephant. I take small pieces, knowing that eventually, I will finish the whole thing. I do a little bit of each project every day to keep them all moving forward. It takes longer to finish any individual project, but I don’t fall behind on any of my projects. Doing things this way means that if I run into a problem with one of the projects, I have the time needed to fix things without having to pull an all-nighter. It’s something that I learned to do in college while taking a full course load and working a full-time job.

Since college, I’ve learned two other techniques that help me.

The first is that I reprioritize my list every day. Projects that are due sooner are at the top of the list and get a bit more attention. I have found that by doing this, some projects consistently fall to the bottom of the list, and I might not even need to do them.

The second thing I did was to watch less television. Some studies show that the average American watches five hours of television a day. Now I’m no saint. I still watch an hour or two a day, but that still saves me three hours a day. Also, I stream my shows or watch DVDs on my computer on half of my computer monitor and work on other projects on the other side of the monitor; nothing complicated, just routine work.

One final thing is that I have gotten used to things getting done a little slower than I would like, but they get done. That’s the important thing.

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a_team_20My dad used to watch The A-Team when I was a kid and the main character. The main character, John “Hannibal” Smith, was known for chomping on a cigar and saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

I know how he feels. I’ve had this historical novel project in mind for at least five years, probably more. I knew I wanted to do a novel set around the 1922 national coal strike set in Western Maryland. I’d written about the strike in a couple articles, and it had come up in a non-fiction book that I’d written. It seemed like a rich setting for me to work with. The strike seemed like it would have a lot of action and drama.

Previously, my efforts in historical fiction have either been my family saga, Canawlers, which is set on the C&O Canal or action-oriented books as in The Rain Man or October Mourning. This novel I envisioned as being more action-oriented. However, I’m beginning to wonder about that now. It may wind up being a very character-driven story.

I had many false starts with the book. I’ve probably written the opening two or three times. I’ve written different scenes. I’ve got it outlined, and have done a lot of the research I needed. Yet, they didn’t work. Something was missing. It wasn’t coming together.

Every time that I put the book on my schedule as a project that I wanted to finish, I’d get started on it and then get distracted by another project. For me, when that happens, my belief is that if I’m writing something that I can’t stay interested in, I’m not going to write something that a reader will be interested in. Plus, I need to maximize my time, and if I’m struggling to push through writer’s block on a project, that is time I could have been doing something that pays.

I actually had this project on tap as one that I wanted to release this year as a herculean effort to produce four books in 2018. I’m putting the first book on the schedule to bed now and doing work on the second book.

Then all of a sudden this past weekend something clicked inside my head and pieces started falling into place for how I could structure the story, which has a working title of In Coal Blood. However, even though I’ve loved that title for a while, I’m not sure it will fit the book that I’m writing now. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe my title caused me to think of the book differently.

I spent all weekend writing notes about characters, outlining section of the book, and writing scenes. I’m really liking what I’m coming up with. I think this has been the turning point for this project. I believe that this year will finally see the publication of the story. I think that I may even switch it with the project that I should be working on.

I had this happen once before when I hit a major stumbling block with my first historical novel. I actually got about halfway through the draft, and it just wasn’t going anywhere. I banged my head against the wall for a long time before I finally laid the book out chapter by chapter on postcards. That’s when an epiphany hit me that a major character who was supposed to survive the story needed to die. Once I wrote that into the story, the floodgates opened, and the book was easy to write from that point on.

That’s how this has happened. I think the key point this time was that I needed to make the story more personal for my main character. Originally, he had no ties to where he was. He was being sent as an undercover Pinkerton agent into a community to infiltrate the miners’ efforts to unionize. It was a job and that was pretty much all it was. Then I decided to connect him personally to the community and have him face some of his demons.

He was always a WWI veteran, but I began to think of him as a man who had joined the army at the beginning of the war to escape the mining life. After the war, he did not return home because his parents had died from the flu. He had missed their funeral because he was still in Europe. He still works for the Pinkertons in Baltimore as an undercover agent. However, now I have him returning home because he was offered a job that would pay more than usual because of his connection to Western Maryland. He is also trying to get away from the memory of a failed romance in Baltimore.

By connecting him to the community, the book is now so much better for it. It is all coming together. I’ve created new characters and fleshed out the ones I already had.  This is giving me a better understanding of who these characters are, and with that better understanding, I am so looking forward to writing this book. I’ve got so many ideas. Now my problem is getting my other work complete because I’m spending so much time on this story.

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Happy-New-Year-2018-clipart-images-1024x640Welcome to 2018. I’m looking forward to it for a number of reasons.

Last year was a great year for me on the business side of things. I sold more books and earned more money than I ever had as an author-entrepreneur. Hopefully, I’ve learned enough to replicate the results for 2018 and build on it. I did a lot more marketing last year and a lot more examining of the results of the marketing.

I had a couple missteps at the end of last year. One, I can correct. The other I will just have to keep in the back of my mind.

The thing I can correct is that I misjudged the demand for one of my new books and some stores ran out of copies. Not only was I embarrassed to have to tell the stores that I couldn’t get them copies before Christmas, I lost potential sales. This year, I will make sure to order more copies of my newer books for the Christmas season.

The thing I couldn’t really plan for was a customer who over ordered books for a fall event and then returned half of them in December. At that point, I didn’t have enough time to make up for the lost income by the end of the year. It wasn’t a crippling thing, but it broke the growing momentum I had been on the rest of the year.

I’ve got book projects planned for this year, and I have even made progress on all of them coming into the New Year, which makes it more likely that I’ll be able to get them out on time.

Since January and February are relatively slow times for me, I can hopefully get ahead on some projects and layout my marketing plan for rest of year. I’ve hit the ground running and plan to keep going.

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rrI’ve written about getting ideas from dreams before. Well, the other morning I woke from a dream around 4 a.m. It was a neat story that as I thought about it loosely tied in with a novel idea that I had started work on years ago. The images were still fresh in my head that I actually got out of bed to start writing it down

Then, even as I was writing, those dream details started getting fuzzier. I managed to get a decent representation of the dream down on paper, but as I looked it over, I realized that it wasn’t the same thing that I had dreamed. Things were missing that I just couldn’t recall, I had filled it in with general statements.

I will go over it again my recollections again and try to create a coherent story line. Then the story will go into my tickler file. By the time I pull it out to write the story, it will have hopefully jelled into a more complete idea.

I don’t know what the final story will be like, but I hope I can capture the excitement that I felt while I was dreaming it.

The morning following that idea dream, I work up again with another idea dream. It was a completely different dream that I anxiously tried to capture on paper. The problem was that try as I might, I could only remember that this dream took place on an island.

So what is it that allows someone to remember one dream and not another? I don’t know if I would want to remember all of my dreams. Most of them probably wouldn’t make sense. I would like to remember the ones that wake me up, though.

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Empty_supermarket_shelves_before_Hurricane_Sandy_Montgomery_NYI’ve always thought that it would be a nice thing not to sell out of books. I’ve had it happen a couple times at festivals. It happens near the end of the festival usually. It’s flattering at first because there’s such a demand for the books.

In the case of festivals, I usually wind up taking orders and offering free shipping for delivery during the following week. Not everyone takes up the offer, though, and I undoubtedly lose some sales.

Those lost sales have slapped me on the head this month.

My book, Secrets of Garrett County, came out near the beginning of the year. It sold well, but sales had leveled off. I thought I had enough to meet the demand for the holiday season. Then in the middle of November, a big order came in for the title. I was able to fill that order, but it pretty much wiped out my inventory.

I ordered some more, but once we’re into the holiday season, it takes much longer to get a shipment. Usually, I can have a book ordered delivered within a week after placing it. Currently, I have an order that I placed 12 days ago and it still hasn’t shipped yet.

Meanwhile, in the past week and a half, I’ve had three stores and two individuals contact me trying to get copies of the book. I sold out of my last copies this past Saturday at a book signing at a store. The store owner wanted me to leave behind 10 more copies, but I couldn’t.

So how many sales won’t I get because a customer doesn’t want to wait until after Christmas to get their book? It’s a unique book, but it’s not an iPhone. People will just pick out another gift or another book, and I’ll lose the sale.

So it’s flattering that the book is in demand, but I need to do a better job of keeping books in stock. Even my 15-year-old son gets this. When I was preparing for a show that I had run out some titles before, he told me, “It’s better to have one book left at the end, than no books.” What he was telling me was that with one book left, at least I know I had met all the demand. With no books left, you’re not sure how many sales you lost.

I wonder how Santa keeps up with demand?

Usually, I do a better job managing my inventory. As an idie author, you have to otherwise, bookstores won’t want to work with you if you can’t get them copies of your titles.

I looked at the problems that I ran into this year and have made some adjustments for next year.

My problem this year has been that I’ve done a lot more fall festivals than usual. It has hindered my efforts to build up holiday inventory.

Next year, I plan on increasing the minimum number of copies that I have on hand before I reorder, to increase the size of my orders, and to place my holiday inventory orders at the beginning of November rather than the middle.

My hope is that these changes will keep me with a supply of all my titles. If I’m lucky, I will still run into supply problems, which will mean that demand continues to increase.

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I don’t really like having my picture taken, mainly because I don’t like the way I look in pictures. However, as I continue to develop my author brand and do more events, I find that I need one more often. Here’s the one that I am currently using. Review: Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card & Aaron JohnstonProfilePic

It works well enough, and I was happy enough with it. However, a couple years ago, I started writing under a pen name, J. R. Rada, for horror, fantasy, and young adult novels I write. I have been using the same picture, but I ask you, does that picture really work for a horror novel author photo?

That is when I started thinking about having professional author pictures made. I put it off because the last thing I wanted to do was to go to a studio and pose.

I even thought about not using an author pic. That idea quickly went out the window because I continued to get requests from hosts where I was speaking to submit a picture. I also started publishing hardback books where the author’s photo often takes up the entire back cover. I resisted that trend, but I still needed a smaller picture for the back cover flap.

Luckily, I know a talented photographer who is also an author. Will Hutchison talked me into letting him take some author headshots of me. He promised me that I wouldn’t be disappointed.

I still wasn’t comfortable going into a studio, but that wasn’t his fault. He worked to put me at ease and explained what he was doing. I just didn’t like trying to smile or not smile on cue. It’s something I don’t think about, and when I did think about it, it always felt forced.

Will turned a sow’s ear into a silk purse, though. Thank heavens for the after-shoot editing.

Here are the two that I will be using in the future. The white background will be used on my James Rada, Jr. books (history, historical fiction) and the black background will be used on my J. R. Rada books (horror, fantasy, young adult).

RADA-6RADA-1

Even I can see the improvement over my old headshot. They look like author headshots. They make me look professional (which can be a challenge). I definitely think they will look better on book covers, too.

So, if you’re using a snapshot for your headshot. Think about making the change.

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The keynote speaker at one of the annual writer’s conferences sponsored by the Washington Independent Writers.

For a job that relies on connecting with readers, writing can be a lonely profession. To start with, I have no workmates. I work in my den in my house. Now, that’s not the case for all writers. I have worked for businesses and newspapers where there were desks next to mine and I could speak and joke with the person sitting next to me.

 

Writers do a lot of talking to people for interviews, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to relationships. I do get to know some of the people well. These are people in the geographic areas that I frequently write about or experts on topics that I frequently write about. The vast majority of people I speak with, though, I only talk to once for a single article.

With that feeling of isolation, I find that it’s important for writers to have a support system in place. This includes family and friends, but it also includes other writers. I participate in a weekly writer’s group. It’s nice to meet with other people who share an interest in writing and talk about the craft or simply joke around.

This network comes with some benefits. First and foremost, it reinvigorates me for my work each week. This is important for me, particularly during weeks where I’m feeling very stressed out.

You also find the benefits that come with other networking groups. I hear about writing opportunities, and I can find people I trust when I need some help.

It also gives me a chance to pay things forward and help other writers when I can because I like seeing writers succeed. I might get a little jealous of their success, but I’m always happy for them.

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