5 reasons I find Dropbox essential to my toolkit

5 reasons I find Dropbox essential to my toolkit

It’s getting awfully overcast on the World Wide Web. More and more of everything we do is, or can be, stored in the cloud, accessed from the cloud and run from the cloud. Sure, using the cloud has its risks, as Jennifer Lawrence recently discovered, but if used carefully and knowledgeably those risks, in my view, are far outweighed by the benefits.

Over the years I’ve used various different services for online backup, sharing files and ‘access anywhere’. My favourite, mainly because of its ease of use, has been Dropbox.

Recently, Dropbox Pro, the paid version of the service, has become an even more valuable tool with its (practically) unlimited 1 terabyte storage allowance and additional security features. I really don’t need any other cloud service anymore.

Here are five things I like about Dropbox...

Read More

Write your book in 2014 – Step 9: Design

Write your book in 2014 – Step 9: Design

Visit this blog’s ‘Write a book’ category page for previous posts in this series.

When I set out to publish my very first book back in 2005, I never expected to sell many of them (and I met my expectations!). It was more of an experiment: I wanted to prove that it was possible to produce a self-published book that didn’t look self-published.

I couldn’t understand why so many independently published books look, well, amateurish.

What did I learn? I learnt that my hunch was correct. Trade published books look professionally designed because theyare professionally designed. In contrast, many self-published books look like their design was an afterthought … because it was.

Bottom line: if you want your book to look the part, invest in a designer. In fact you may even need two designers: one for the inside of the book (the ‘layout’), and one for the cover. The skills for these two tasks are fairly different and many designers are better at one than the other.

Read More

How long does my book need to be?

How long does my book need to be?

The title of this post is one of the most common questions I get from people looking to write their first book. It’s usually code for, “I have to write how much?”. Most people either have no idea how long a book should be (which is perfectly understandable), or they have a slightly off-centre idea.

Judging a book by its thickness

The thickness of a book is not really a good indication of how much work has gone into it. A book’s thickness depends on a host of factors beyond the number of words. For instance, the paper used: the ‘bulky cream’ off-white paper often used by mainstream publishers is lighter but about 1.5 times thicker than pure-white (office) paper.

Then there is the ‘trim size’ (i.e. the height and width)...

Read More

Quote me on this: using single and double quotation marks

Quote me on this: using single and double quotation marks

This is a small thing but being aware of it will help your writing appear more professional.

I’ve written in the past about the need to have a consistent writing style. Nothing shouts ‘amateur’ more than a mixture of American and British spellings on a website, the same word spelt in different ways or, worse still, a variable treatment of the way you spell your own company’s name. (It does happen.)

A common area for written content to become unkempt is in the use of quotation marks to mark speech and to emphasise words. I see this most often in blog posts. So let’s go to school on that.

Read More

How to sort yourself out as a writer

How to sort yourself out as a writer

Some years ago I stumbled upon a piece of software designed to help writers of books to, well, get the job done. That application is now central to everything I do as a writer and ghostwriter: books, blogs, articles and speeches. I cannot imagine being able to do what I do without it.

Sound like a big rap? I can confidently say that Scrivener, the software in question, deserves it.

Scrivener is difficult to describe until you’ve used it. A good way to think of it is like having a separate desk for every project you are working on.

Read More

Write your book in 2014 – Step 8: Administration

Write your book in 2014 – Step 8: Administration

Okay. Now we’re getting to the nitty-gritty of book publishing. Regardless of how far you’ve got into the writing and polishing process, and assuming you’re intending to self-publish, when you have a moment you can start thinking about the various administrative tasks you’ll need to complete.

Admin can be annoying, but it is important: a) because it will help people find your bookafter it is published, and b) because it will help give your book a professional ‘look and feel’.

And the administration required is not particularly onerous,

Read More

Don't be fooled: publishers ain't publishers

Don't be fooled: publishers ain't publishers

I feel the need for a note on the publishing industry. In particular I feel the need to set things straight about what it shouldmean to get your book published. Unfortunately it is not as straightforward as it seems, as more than one of my ghostwriting clients has discovered.

What every author needs to understand is that there are essentially two types of publisher out there: mainstream ‘trade’ publishers and ‘vanity’ publishers. Put simply: one is good, and one isn’t. Here’s how they compare:

Read More

5 reasons to self-publish your book

For as long as I can remember there has been a stigma associated with ‘self-publishing’, or independent publishing. It is assumed that a ‘published’ book, meaning published by a mainstream commercial – or trade – publisher (Penguin, Random House, etc.) will be a better book, will be easier to promote and will sell more copies.

These don’t necessarily follow. In today’s digital world there is no reason why a self-published book shouldn’t ‘look’ published. With the right emphasis placed on writingrewriting and editing, there is no reason why a self-published book shouldn’t be of a very high standard. And of course the marketing potential for a book or anything else – if done well – is limitless in the social media age.

Yes, there are undoubtedly benefits to having your book ‘properly’ published – most notably the fact that a genuine publisher* will take on most or all of the financial risk – but there can be advantages to self-publishing too, especially in non-fiction.

Read More

When writing for the web, ‘age old’ lessons still apply

When writing for the web, ‘age old’ lessons still apply

Way back in 1997 the World Wide Web was just moving out of its Jurassic period. It was in that year that the domain google.com was first registered. It was also the year Titanic, the most overrated movie of the 20th century, was released. (Did I say that out loud?) Yet even in these early days there was recognition that if we wanted to convey written information using the internet, we were going to have to follow new rules.

All these years later, those rules haven’t changed. But they are regularly overlooked or ignored. Let’s recap some of the advice of Jakob Neilsen, a prominent usability guru since dinosaurs roamed the WWW, from a 1997 article entitled ‘Be succinct! (Writing for the Web)’.

Read More

The power of outlining in Microsoft Word

The power of outlining in Microsoft Word

Regular readers will know that I am not a big fan of Microsoft Word. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some handy features – it’s just that too often those features are hidden underneath layers of complexity.

The ‘outline’ view is a case in point*. Outline view has been around since the earliest versions of Word, yet many people still don’t know about it or use it.

Depending on your version of Word, the outline view can be accessed via the ‘View > Outline’ menu item, the ‘Outline’ tab (some Windows versions) or the ‘Outline’ button at the bottom of the screen (left side for Mac, right side for Windows).

Here are three powerful things you can do with an MS Word outline:

Read More