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Writer's Toolkit

November Writer's Toolkit

Maggie Ball©2002

This month Maggie reviews

newnovelist software

Creativity Software Ltd

£39.99 

http://www.newnovelist.com

Available as a download directly from website or via posted CD-Rom

 

Writing a novel is probably one of the most challenging pieces of creative writing that you can do.  It combines the most intense, highly focused part of creativity and unteachable inspiration ("the muse") with large scale organisation, long term time management, and the application of craft techniques such as characterisation, plot development, context, structure, rhythm and thematics.  Talent, and a natural sensitivity to words, rhythm and meaning is something that can't really be assisted.  You either have the capability or you don't, however dealing with the application side can be a challenge too, and this is something that both classes and software can assist.  <cite>newnovelist </cite> is a relatively new software program which addresses these areas of organisation, craft improvement and the motivational aspects of writing a novel.  The software is a relatively simple Windows based program which assists in the organisation and structure of your novel, while providing significant contextual online tutorials along the way. 

The system is based on the Jarvis Method, a popular methodology for teaching both novel and screenplay types of writing.   If you have attended any modern creative writing courses, or even trolled the Internet in an effort to get a reasonable structure for your as yet inchoate book, you will recognise the format and vocabulary.   At its base, the Jarvis Method emphasises that every story must fall under one of three categories:  Plot, Epic or Character, and that this is borne out in an extensive survey of a wide range of classic and popular fictions.  From this, <cite>newnovelist</cite> creator Richard Lee formulated 5 Basic Elements of Fiction:  the premise/theme or Story Concept, the category of the work, the story type (broadly based, the genre), the premise or world creation and the story creation, which uses Campbell's 12 stages of the hero's journey paradigm, depending on which story type you've chosen.  For each step there is contextual help to assist you in addressing the series of questions.

It's still hard.  Make no mistake.  No software will write your book for you - the inspiration and perspiration all comes from you.  The beauty of <cite>newnovelist</cite> however, is that it takes universal principles of good novel writing, and provides you with a guided template.  If you were super-organised, very well disciplined and had a few excellent books or courses under your belt, you could probably set up a system which was similar yourself (I tried to before testing <cite>newnovelist</cite> and it was hard going).  Begin by defining your concept, then your hero's world, both ordinary and extraordinary.  Identify the characters, from the hero to the antagonist, the helpers and incidental characters and for each of these characters, answer a series of consistent in-depth questions.  Then you write the story in manageable chunks (basic time management philosophy), all based around a consecutive aspect of your story, in the most time honoured and common order for excellent plot, suspense and dramatic development based on your story type.  There is nothing in here which is gimmicky and radical.  It is an excellent tool though, for keeping your writing on track, organised, and ensuring that you cover the most important points of a good story in a way which works. 

Will this overt structure make your work formulaic?  If you are a good writer, the more formula and structure you have at the onset the better I think.  It is so easy to get discouraged, and to lose the thread of your work.  Good creative writers don't necessarily have the ability to organise their beautifully written scenes into a well structured plotline (I'm speaking from personal experience).  <cite>newnovelist</cite> provides that thread, and a lot of guidance along the way.  You don't need to stress over the structure - it is there for you.  You can focus on your own story, on your characters, and concentrate on ensuring that your writing remains true to your concepts and above all, focus on the characters and drama within each scene.  Once you've covered all areas and produced a well structured novel draft, you merge all your notes into a single MS Word file with help notes for you to finalise, flesh out, rewrite, rework, rewrite and ultimately submit for publication.  

Personally I've found the software very helpful in keeping my submerged and often rambling character based scenes focused on the bigger picture - the longer piece.  It helps me to know that I only have to work on my heroes' initial belief system this week, or a specific test my hero is undergoing by her antagonist the next.  I don't have to worry about rambling, as long as I focus on the topics more or less.  It is like attending a class - you get assignments and you do them, rather than having to discipline yourself to work in a vacuum.  You don't have to stick slavishly to the structure provided, although it does work pretty well with whatever type of novel you are writing (and once you begin to think about the well written books you've read, you'll realise that most do have this kind of structure) - the headings are able to be changed, and you can modify the order to suit yourself.  The internals of the writing process are left to the writer, but the structures and "slots" do make "writing a novel"  feel more like a well organised and achievable project than like an impossibly big goal. 

Of course, you don't need <cite>newnovelist</cite> to write a novel, just as you don't need a computer, or even a ball point pen.   Great works of art have been produced since well, since the days of stone tablets and home made chisels, but if you have decided to embark on the most challenging type of writing of all - the production of a new world, the bringing of a set of characters to life - to play Frankenstein with the creative muse in the grandest of literary gestures, it helps to have a really well organised set of tools.  <cite>newnovelist</cite> is a very useful addition to the novel writer's arsenal - an inexpensive piece of software that can keep you focused and directed - writing, rather than prevaricating (or sobbing).   For more information on newnovelist visit: www.newnovelist.com

 

October Writer's Toolkit

Maggie Ball©2002

This month Maggie reviews

The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals

by Moira Anderson Allen

Allworth Press

ISBN 1-58115-099-7

RRP $US16.95

 

"The ability to write a good query is one of the most important skills a writer can develop.  A good query shows that you can write and that you are a professional - qualities that may result in an assignment even if the editor can't use your original proposal.  Think of a query as your letter of introduction:  if you make a good impression, you are likely to be invited back.  If you make a bad impression, you may find that door forever closed."  Do you think of the query as aftermath?  The last, and least important part of producing and selling a piece of writing?  Think again. 

In many instances, it is the query which will get you a writing job in the first place, and a good query or pitch can be the only difference between being a writer and being a published writer.  Many markets prefer to see a query to a finished piece of work, and a whole non-fiction book contract can be won by query.  Seriously experienced author Allen concentrates her entire book "The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals" on the query, providing clear and specific guidelines on how to create a perfectly written query, pitch or proposal for a range of different writing areas. 

There are chapters on making your pitch stand out above the competition's for any kind of proposal, querying periodicals (including the perfect 5 step query: the hook, pitch, body, credentials and close), sending an e-mail query (when the rules change completely), querying newspapers, writing column proposals, selling a column syndication, becoming an international columnist, writing a non-fiction book proposal, pitching your non-fiction book to international book publishers, writing a fiction or novel proposal, writing an agent query, writing a synopsis (a fairly complex undertaking), setting up a book or work display website, e-and self-publishing your work, and other forms of self-promotion like speaking, teaching, conducting online chats, business writing and writing grant applications. 

There is a lot of information here, both to help you write queries for the work you are currently producing, and to stimulate ideas for how you might expand your writing to other areas.  Each chapter contains extensive lists of relevant links and a number of real, well written examples of the types of queries the chapter has covered. 

Some of the advice which keeps coming up is surprisingly obvious such as "follow the guidelines", "research (read) your market" and don't get dejected by rejection, but as an experienced editor, Allen knows that these are the most common areas for failure by amateur and experienced authors and they continue to be disregarded.  Allen's writing style is lucid, easy to follow and very practical in application.  Her considerable experience in editing websites like Inkspot, Inklings and her own site Writing-World.com shows in her advice, which draws on both her knowledge of what editors want and what writers need.  Where Allen's own experience falls short, she employs similarly experienced writers including among others, columnist Amy Chavez, novelist Rebecca Vineyard and Pet Expert Amy Shojair, whose sample queries, articles and guides further enrich the value of this book. 

The query or pitch is not an add-on part or the writing process - it is critical, and something that many creative writers know little about (judging from the number of poorly written review queries I receive - and I'm pretty relaxed about form).  Allen's excellent and thorough reference will help any writer improve their chances of a sale and perhaps more importantly, target their work better.  If you have a serious piece of work like a novel to sell, "The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals" is a necessity in order to ensure you maximise your chances of getting your book read by an agent or publisher.  If you want to market other types of work, create a non-fiction book, write for magazines or newspapers, produce a column or syndicate, this book is also a necessity, as query letter are increasingly becoming the front door to gaining writing work. 

For more information on "The Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals" visit:  Amazon.com

 

August Writer's Toolkit

Maggie Ball©2002

This month Maggie reviews

 

 The Self-Publishing Manual by Dan Poynter

Para Publishing

ISBN 156860-073-9

http://parapublishing.com, rrp $US19.95

Warning!  Dan Poynter's The Self-Publishing Manual will shamelessly encourage all of your authorial vanities.  It will convince you that, not only is writing a book easy, but publishing, promoting and earning decent money from your book is also well within your reach.  Pick up this book and you may find yourself creating book covers complete with self-written testimonials, tables of contents and even press releases for your as yet unwritten book.  You may dream of speaking engagements on Oprah and wonder how your friends will cope with your new found fame.  The Self-Publishing Manual is certainly inspirational, and set out in such a clear manner that even the most elusive novel concept may seem like a simple act of craftmanship.  Poynter is the guru of self-publishing and he practices what he preaches.  His own self-published books number more than 80 and cover a range of non-fiction areas, but primarily parachuting and skydiving based subjects, books on cats, on becoming an "expert witness" and books on writing and publishing.  He earns a very good living from his work too.  Many of his books are "best-sellers" (selling copies well into the hundred thousands) and he runs his own web site, selling a very wide range of downloadable reports along with his books. Many of his books sell at the rate of 10-20,000 copies per year, every year.

The Self Publishing Manual is a very simple (deceptively simple) manual, and it covers such topics as why you should self-publish (consider things like speed, kudos, ease of 'breaking in' and of course the vastly increased royalties), how to 'construct your own book, start your own publishing company, information on the basics of typesetting, layout and printing, how to announce your book, including information on ISBNs, listing with Bowker and libraries and more, how to price your book and deal with things like returns, ways of promoting your book (hint:  Poynter claims that book reviews are the least expensive and most effective promotion you can possibly do for your book - I'm biased of course, but I agree wholeheartedly), how to market and distribute your book, advertising, fulfilling orders, creating e-books and promoting them, and my favourite chapter, how to cope with the ensuing publicity.  This is not really a book about writing, and of course that is the heart of your book.  It is also very much focused on the process of creating and selling non-fiction rather than fiction, something that Poynter is openly biased towards (although he does have one pamphlet on marketing your fiction work).  Nevertheless, the book is very informative, entertaining and easy to read, and even if you are planning to go the traditional publishing route, it is worthwhile reading this book to gain some understanding of the processes which publishing involve (and more importantly perhaps for an author, the processes which traditional publishing don't involve - such as ongoing promotion).  If you are planning to self-publish, you could save yourself a considerable amount of time, trouble and money by using Poynter's guide.  In either case, you may consider your options a bit more broadly after reading The Self-Publishing Manual.

The book also contains a number of appendices, including a very clear one page overview of Poynter's "New Book Model", which includes a step by step guide for what you need to do to create your book.  The bit on creating a 1st draft may be  understated, although again, this is not a book on how to write - one of Poynter's other books, Writing Non-Fiction: Turning Ideas into Books provides a lot more detail on the mechanics of 'constructing' or writing a non-fiction (see our review here  For fiction, writing the first draft is a much harder and more critical part of the process and less conducive to 'building', but again, the processes for self-publishing are probably very similar and "The Self-Publishing Manual" is still very much applicable.  Appendix 1 contains a calender or plan of things to do at different stages of the book's development, and Appendix 2 a detailed reference of resources for publishers.  Overall, this is a very useful guide, and if it errs on the side of Poynter's considerable enthusiasm and confidence in the face of what is a fairly daunting task for most of us, that is part of its attraction.  Not all of us will be able to achieve the spectacular success in self-publishing that Poynter has, but his book is still full of very useful information in an easily digestible format, and will be referred to repeatedly by authors who want to forgo the traditional route of publishing, improve their profit margins and turn their book into a business.  If you know nothing about publishing and either plan to write a book, or have a book which you want published, this is a classic guide which is well worth the relatively low purchase price (nb: Amazon currently has it for 30% off list).

For more information on The Self-Publishing Manual, visit: Amazon

About the Reviewer:  Magdalena Ball is content manager for The Compulsive Reader at http://www.compulsivereader.com/html, and is the author of two books, The Literary Lunch: Recipes for a Hungry Mind, and The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything.  Her fiction, poetry, reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in a wide range of on-line and print publications.

 

August Writer's Toolkit

Maggie Ball©2002

This month Maggie reviews

Alleviating Prepress Anxiety: 

How to Manage your Print Projects for Savings, Schedule and Quality

by Ann Goodheart

Leaping Antelope Productions; ISBN: 0965922286; 1 edition (April 2000) 

RRP $14.95

 

Alleviating Prepress Anxiety is a book for administrators who have been asked to produce corporate materials.  If you have been placed in this role, and more and more administrators are finding themselves overseeing the production of brochures, catalogues, flyers, business cards, reports and training materials, there is a lot to learn and this book is an excellent primer.  The lessons are also reasonably applicable to those who want to produce their own promotional materials, including self-published authors, publishers, web-site owners and, in particular, corporate freelance or technical writers.  The world where copywriters were able to work in a vacuum, oblivious to things like typeset, layout, design, and other graphic criteria is gone. 

At less than 170 pages, including well spaced text, extensive tables, key terms, bibliography and lengthy glossary, this book is not long, nor is it revolutionary in what it covers.  Those with many years of experience in the print trade probably won't learn anything significantly new here, but for those who need to learn from the ground up, and fast, the book covers a lot of ground.  There are detailed chapters on planning each project, analysing the competition, matching the message to the audience, working out quantity and quality, choosing team players, print brokers and ad agencies, graphic designers, binders ad mailhouses.  The heart of the book is in the chapters on type and design, inks and papers.  While this may seem like mundane detail to those who work with words, there are thousands of readily available typefaces, and the wrong point, font or ill structured design can ruin an other well written piece.  There is a chapter on working with photographs including tone and colour, choosing the right paper, envelopes and overall coordination of the piece.  Although the book is addressed to administration staff in a large corporation, many of the examples including the opening chapter of a romance novel, and it is interesting to see the difference, and impact, of using various design elements, typefaces, colours and fonts.  At the back of each chapter is a list of key terms. 

Once the project is ready for press, there are chapters dealing with obtaining quotes, including quote request proformas ready for re-use.  The book ends with an interesting look at how the office of the future might operate, and other trends.  Throughout the book are 18 war stories, which provide real life examples of what can go wrong, and which add life to what is a fairly technical manual.  The book avoidss delving into serious design, the crafting of good copy or how to use a desk top publishing package, although there are references, and plenty of other books which deal with these issues.  The focus overall of Alleviating Prepress Anxiety is on saving money, meeting a schedule and producing professional print results.   Regardless of whether you are an administrator or PR coordinator for a large company, the head of a small one, a self-published author looking to produce your own promotional material or a freelancer producing print materials for someone else, Alleviating Prepress Anxiety is a valuable guide which can save the novice from costly mistakes, and provide the more experienced person with a useable reference.

For more information about Alleviating Prepress Anxiety, visit: Amazon.com

 

 

July Writer's Toolkit

Maggie Ball©2002

This month Maggie reviews

Screenteen Writers
How young screenwriters can find success

by Christina Hamlett

ISBN: 1566080789  (April 2002)

Meriwether Publishers

There are many books on the market for aspiring screenwriters, some of which address craft, and some of which address marketing your work.  Christina Hamlett's Screenteen Writers is, as far a I'm aware, the only book which specifically advises the teenaged writer.  This is important, as it really helps the screenwriting career if you start early, and teenagers often have more of an insight into film than their adult counterparts, at least the teenagers I know.  The book is written in a clear, informal, and snappy style which will appeal to the young writer with a heart set on working on film.  The book is very thorough, and provides a detailed look at every aspect of the film writing process, from how to come up with ideas, to what genre you should write in, setting, creating plot structure, titles, creating snappy loglines, treatments, terminology, formatting a script, writing dialogue, characterisation, creating good endings, timing, point of view, selling a completed script, obtaining copyright, collaborating, rewriting, entering contents, and a lot more.  At the end of each chapter is an interview with an experienced screenwriter, generally someone who has been working since the teen years, and who can provide unique insights into how to make the most of new technologies, intern opportunities, traits, and practicalities, as well as the importance of attending film school. 

There are assignments in each section which guide readers through some serious pieces of writing, including the creation of an actual synopsis, scenes, cover letters for submissions, pieces of dialogue, characters, and a 3 act structure.  At the end of each chapter are "topics to think and talk about", which serve as a good chapter summary, and help reader work through some of the more complex aspects of screenwriting, pondering what it is that they want to achieve and why. 

It is possible to use this book as a full screenwriting course, as it contains enough assignments, and is clear and well set out enough for any creative writing teacher (or homeschooling parent) to work with.  One of the best bits of information in this book is Hamlett's "Template for Timing" which has readers laying out the structure of their plays, including the transitions.  I also found the section on characterisation to be very well created, and covering areas like motivation, foreshadowing, and how moving in time affects character development ("the character arc").  By the end of this book, readers should have a nicely paced, ready for submission screenplay, along which a much better understanding of what it takes to produce, and sell a screenplay.  The style will inspire any teenager writer to begin thinking about this option for their work, and taking their aspirations towards becoming a professional screenwriter more seriously.

For those of us who have long since left the teenaged years behind, the book is still full of useful information, and plenty of inspiration.  Hamlett's extensive experience, and enthusiasm, along with the many exercises, links, interviews, and encouragement are valuable.  For more information about Screenteen writers, visit: Amazon.com

 

June Writer's Toolkit

Maggie Ball©2002

This month Maggie reviews

Net Words by Nick Usborne

ISBN: 0-07-138039-6

McGraw-Hill

"Nobody is paying close enough attention to the words on ecommerce sites."  Do you do any kind of online writing?  Manage a web site?  Run an ecommerce site?   Write articles, newsletters, even send action oriented e-mails?  If so, you really should read <cite>Net Words. </cite> There are no gimmicks here, but the message is an important one.  For users, the Internet is all about the power of words - about connecting with other individuals, and if you improve the words on your webs sites, in your newsletters, e-mails, and customer service correspondence, you will make more sales, have more visitors, differentiate your business, and increase customer loyalty.  The book is targeted at both those who do business online, and those who create copy.  For those who create copy offline, the book provides a very useful primer for making that transition to the online world, which is quite different.   For those looking to increase sales and improve their online businesses, the book will help you understand the importance of your copywriters.  If you happen to both run a business and create online copy, the book is particularly valuable.

With over 20 years in the advertising and marketing industry, and a myriad of advertising awards, Usborne knows what he is talking about.  He also practices what he preaches.  Net Words is written in clear, and easy to read language which makes its point quickly without a hint of overbearing hype.  There are real, and practical examples from companies as diverse as Avis, Victoria's Secret, and The Motley Fool, exercises, working lists, and enough ideas to stimulate the most jaded of online marketers.  The book begins by outlining the considerable differences between writing for an online market and an offline one, particular the difference between on and off line consumers.  Usborne looks at the history of online copywriters, and their relationship to those who create technology, and discusses both the role, and the importance of the online copywriter. 

"Simplicity of language does afford a great range of posibilities.  You can do what you want with words.  You're not tied to a particular software platform.  Words don't care which browser your customers use.  Words are the ultimate open-source code for communication.  Everyone uses them, and the "language" they build evolves daily to reflect the shifts and changes in our culture. (34)"

Words, particularly a unique human voice, are what distinguishes any on web site from another; any one piece of e-mail from another, especially in light of the tremendous range of choice on where a user goes, and the glut in people's inboxes.  It is what causes people to come to you in the first place, to sign up for your newsletters, to buy your products, and to return.  In the Internet, great words travel quickly, and things like "tell a friend", humour, the publishing of user's words, and most importantly, the development of natural, honest relationships, and fresh copy are all outlined in this book.  There are chapters on how and when to close a sale online, on how to use the Internet to use direct-marketing techniques, on recognising "seducible moments", on writing e-mails that really connect with your readers, on personalising your messages, on creating real online customer service, on writing newsletters that will hold your customers' attention, and the heart of great copywriting.

Net Words is a terrific tool for anyone who wants to use the Internet to create more effective commerce, but it is also an important book, in that it outlines what makes for great online copy.  Contrary to what many online marketers may think, this is not unending hype, in-box spam, and empty promises.   Usbornes' book stresses above all, honesty, respect for your audience, creativity, insight and intuition, enthusiasm, careful construction, a deep understanding of what it is you are trying to sell, and above all, a love for words.  Amen.  As a Net consumer, I hope that this book gets as wide a reading as possible with an aim towards minimising intrusive and ineffective banner ads, insulting hype, standardised and impersonal spam, and sloppy copy.  As an online writer and word lover, I applaud Usborne's sentiments, particularly those about the importance of honesty and integrity, and feel inspired by his examples of good copy, and his practical suggestions for improving it.

For more information about  Net Words, or to purchase a copy, visit:  

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0071380396/thecompulsiverea

You can also find lots of information on the book, articles, and subscribe to a regular free online copywriting newsletter, at Usborne's web site: http://www.nickusborne.com

Maggie Ball is Content Manager for The Compulsive Reader at www.compulsivereader.com, Preschool Entertainment.com at www.preschoolentertainment.com, and the author of the book The Art of Assessment: How to Review Anything, available at: www.compulsivereader.com/report1001.html.  Her fiction, poetry, reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in a myriad of on-line and print publications.

August Writer's Toolkit

Maggie Ball©2001

 

Welcome, Maggie to this your inaugral column with Aspiring Authors.  May you enjoy a long and fruitful association with us. 

Maggie's first review in her Toolkit is the book by Moira Allen, Writing.com: Creative Internet Strategies to Advance Your Writing Career, further details at the end of the article.

Overwhelmed by the Internet?  As a freelance writer, experienced or new, do you feel like you could be doing more to promote yourself online, or to make use of technologies to become a more prolifically published, advanced writer?  Writing.com addresses that need specifically, looking at the many ways in which writers can use the Internet to enhance their writing careers.  Author Moira Allen is as good an expert on this topic as readers are likely to find.  With over 20 years experience in freelance writing, including magazine articles, three books, and editing work; along with her former high profile stint as managing editor of the well respected and now defunct Inklings and Inkspot, and the host of www.writing-world.com, another immediately successful, and well respected writers web site, Allen has learned the hard way about how to use the Internet to enhance a writing career.  She is probably one of the most well known writer's gurus on the Internet.  As one would expect, Writing.com is a well researched, and thorough guide, covering the key online topics a writer looking to get on-line needs to come to grips with, from Internet researching to Internet communications.

One of the best things about Writing.com is the extensive number of resources it cites.  There are over 500 links in the appendices, and an extensive list of relevant links at the end of each chapter.  While Allen herself admits that a number of these links are no longer current, a new version of the book, with more than 1000 updated links is now available (see purchasing link for details).  Note that these will undoubtedly also become outdated as time goes by, along with many of the guidelines in this book, such is the nature of any guidebook to the Internet.  Technology changes at such a rapid pace, that an article citing Java or referring to another website will probably lose all meaning within a few years of publication.  A similar fate happens with any writer's yearbook, and although much of the information remains valuable, and the nature of content development will always be relevant, eg good writing will always be a valuable commodity, as rare as any of the products of true talent, yearbooks will need updating.  As a kind of yearbook to the Internet, it is a valuable resource, looking at some compelling reasons why every writer should be on-line, and providing lots of information on how a writer can begin to utilise the Internet.  The book explores how to conduct research on the Internet, from evaluating search engines, using keywords, meta-engines, directories, databases, clearinghouses, and citing on-line references, communicating online, from querying editors to e-mail submissions, interviews, and surveys, joining discussion groups, and online learning. There is also information on publishing online from creating a web site to publishing and promoting your book online. Again, in all of these areas, Allen's significant online experience is very helpful, guiding the writer through the different options, in clear, jargon free language. 

Writing.com also contains a number of reprinted articles, such as J D Lasica's Breaking into Online Journalism; Milling's rather interesting article on Net Guides like The Mining Co and Suite 101, and how good for your career they are; Allen's own piece on the landmark copyright issue Tasini Decision and its impact on writer's electronic rights, Mary Houten-Kemp's E-mail Glossary, and Waller's 60 Ticks questionnaire for a good website.  The book also ends with a number of predictions about the future of the Internet, specifically in terms of the impact on writers, from the future of information (look for more charges), the future of markets, the future of electronic rights, the future of communications, the future of promotions, the future of e-books, to the future of creativity. 

Much of Writing.com is relatively basic, and while well written, enjoyable, thorough and inclusive, will probably provide little more than food for thought, and perhaps a few new tips for the experienced on-line user who has a working web site, manages a newsletter, or has already published an e-book.  However for the writer who has yet to really tap into the wealth of on-line opportunities, Writing.com, especially the most current edition, will likely prove an invaluable working guide for techologically inexperienced writer - a kind of Newbie's bible.

1999, Allworth Press, NY, 
234pp, $US12.95 for the electronic version
Booklocker or $US13.56 for the print version from Amazon

 

Writer's Toolkit

Maggie Ball©2001

This month, Maggie does a product review of Ink Link: 
Manuscript Management for the Working Writer

Have trouble keeping track of your submissions?  Do you sometimes get acceptances or rejections and can't remember who that market was or when/what you submitted?   Do you know that you have work out there, but haven't heard back from anyone and can't remember who you actually submitted to?  Ink Link is the answer.  It provides a simple to use windows based system for keeping track of your writing submissions, including automatic reminders, a built in letter of inquiry, and reports. 

The software loads quickly and easily, and at $65.00 (US), it won't overly deplete those meagre writer's earnings.  To use it, you log all of your work, and then log each time you submit, with market and contact details.  It takes a little time to log the work the first time you use it, especially if you have been writing for a long time, but once work is logged, it is ready for 'submission' to any market, and doesn't need to be re-entered. 

The best feature of Inklink is its ease of use.  You hardly need to read the instruction manual to work it out since everything is button driven.  Click on Manuscript button, and then the Add button to add manuscript details.  Click on the Submission button, and then the Add button to add submission details to your manuscript.  Easy.  The reports are also very nice, offering the ability to produce a list of pending manuscripts, a financial report of expenses for each manuscript so you know just what you've earned (good for tax time too if you are trying to run a small business), submission history per manuscript or market, and a publications resume, which is actually very encouraging, even if you have only had a small number of publications, and can be easily pasted into a full resume.  The letter of inquiry is also nice, although it would be good if it could be modifed for e-mail use, since a lot of inquiries  happen that way.  It isn't difficult to paste the wording directly into an e-mail message though, and it is nice to have the inquiry ready to go, with dates and details all organised.  Since trialing the software I've already received payment from two long overdue, and previously forgotten creditors, due to sending out reminders - a very worthwhile task.

Another nice feature is the market evaluations.  This allows you to assign a letter, A, B, or C, to each market, with comments on how good that market is.  It is very helpful for example, to indicate which are slow and fast payers, or who responds to queries quickly, and will assist writers in ensuring that they target their work at the best markets, and avoid the worst ones.  It also feels good to be able to label a market as "slow payer" - some small retribution I know, but better than just wearing the pain.  There is also the option to add resources or additional expenditure related to a manuscript, again a handy feature for ensuring maximum tax advantage. 

On the negative side, the database is a little slow, and occasionally locked up on me, as I am a rapid typist with a short patience (eg I often hit enter twice).  Although it was clearly created for Windows, Inklink does have a converted from DOS feel, which reminded me of the old Paradox for DOS system I once had to struggle with in the halycon days of technology.  It would be nice if it were a little flashier, but I imagine that it would then take up more than the 2.58MB it currently occupies. 

Some additional suggestions include expanding the text fields, which are a little short, especially for the verbose like me.  It would also be handy to be able to link to or attach the actual manuscript, rather than just referencing it.  A final suggestion is that it would be useful to be able to log markets separately from submissions.  The latter suggestion would mean that writers could create a full list of market categorised by type irrespective of past submissions - in effect creating a personally customised "Writer's Marketplace".  Despite the minor irritations, and opportunities for improvement, Inklink is a useful product, well worth the small outlay.

For more information on Inklink, visit http://www.inklinksoftware.com




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