Tag Archives: manuscript

Scrivener project targets

With nanowrimo coming up fast, it’s useful to know how to use the targets option in Scrivener. Please note: these instructions are for the PC version, but the process should be similar in Mac version.

To add the project targets option to your toolbar, click on Tools>Customise toolbar.


Choose the Main Toolbar as the destination, find the project targets button in the list on the left, and then click the right arrow to move it into the list. You can move it up or down to get it exactly where you want it.


If you don’t want the button on your toolbar, then it can be accessed at any time Under Project>Project targets.


The project target window looks like this – set up your draft target for the total number of words you’re aiming for overall. Tick the box for documents included in compile only if you don’t want to include any project notes you add.


The session target will count the number of words you add in any session – the session ends when you shut the file down. So if you jump from scene to scene, this will keep tally for you.


There’s also a document target. Click on the little circle on the bottom right of the window, and you’ll get the option to set a target for that specific scene, or document.


Once you’ve set up your targets, you’re ready to go!




The benefit of styles

When typesetting for print or ebook, styles are important. But what are they, and how do they help?


Just imagine the structure of your book for a minute. It’s probably something like

  • chapter number
  • chapter title
  • first para flush left with a drop cap
  • main text indented
  • divider
  • para flush left
  • main text indented

And repeat for every chapter, as often as necessary.


Now imagine that you want to increase the size of the chapter title, or change the font of the main text. Without styles, you would need to go to each small chunk in turn and change the formatting on it. If you have two or three changes to make on each chunk, it could take some time. Even using format painter, it’s fiddly and there’s the danger of missing something.


Now consider using styles. Styles come in two stages – tell the text what style you want it to use, and tell the style how it needs to display the text. So you’ll set the Heading 1 style to the right font, point size and weight, and you’ll highlight the text and apply the Heading 1 style. You can do these two steps in either order.


Once you’ve been through the entire document, applying styles to everything, it’s just a matter of changing the settings for that particular style, and that will then be applied all the way through the document, wherever that style has been applied.


One additional benefit of using styles correctly is that an automatic Table of Contents can be generated, using the specified styles to pick out the links that are needed and automatically adding the correct page number. This can be updated as the layout of the book is altered.


It’s also possible to save a set of styles, so it’s easy to copy them over from one document to another, ensuring efficiency and consistency.




The different types of publishing

Traditional Publishing

A traditional publisher will choose to invest in your work. They will help you to edit and polish your manuscript, organise a cover design and publish the book. They might or might not pay you an advance – a lump sum. Once the book’s royalties earn out that advance (if it ever does), you will receive royalties on sales, but the publisher will take their cut as well. They will almost certainly do some marketing, although they will still expect the author, especially if a first-time author, to do plenty of marketing of their own. They will be very fussy about who they take on – their goal is to run an efficient business. The biggest publishers will only accept work submitted by an agent, not work submitted directly from the author. The advantage of traditional publishing is the power of the publisher to promote the book and get it into bookstores.

Be aware:

If going with a traditional publisher, be aware of their reputation. How much marketing do they do? What quality editing do they provide? What is their quality control like? How fussy are they about who they pick up as an author? The main danger is signing your rights over to a publisher who does very little for you. Using an agent might help with this, but the agent will take a cut as well for the privilege.

Vanity Publishing

Vanity publishing has a bad reputation, but it has its place.  With vanity publishing, you pay the publisher to prepare and print copies of your book. Ideal for those with plenty of money, limited time and the wish to produce a one-off pet project, they are less than ideal for those actually seeking to earn through their writing, as they make their money from their writers and not for their writers. They might charge high prices for their services, and marketing may well be minimal or non-existent. They will probably take a large chunk of any royalties as well. The advantage of vanity publishing is the convenience.

Be aware:

The main danger is paying a large amount of money for services that at best you could have obtained cheaper elsewhere and at worst are poor quality as well.

Self Publishing*

With the ease of publishing these days, some people will finish a draft and immediately publish it, particularly as an ebook, with no quality control and with a cover design that marks the work out as amateur. Unfortunately, these tend to make little money and damage the reputation of ebooks generally, as well as producing a raft of scathing reviews that hurt the author. The advantage of self publishing is that it’s quick, easy and free.

Be aware:

It’s important not to rush a project out with no quality control, damaging your reputation as a writer. All the best-selling authors will have gone through a rigorous editing and proofreading, and professional cover design. That’s what your writing has to compete with if you’re trying to sell it.

Indie Publishing (Independent Publishing)*

An Indie publisher will also publish their own work, but will treat the whole thing as a business, investing in their writing via editing, proofreading, formatting and a professional cover. There are many writers who have chosen to publish independently after being traditionally published. There are some examples (but nowhere near as many) of writers going the other way – of being picked up by a trad publisher after publishing their own work. The advantage of Indie publishing is that the author maintains full control over the project and the end result.

Be aware:

You will need to act as a professional, investigating different editors, finding a cover designer who produces quality covers, and mastering marketing and other ancillary skills. An Indie publisher is a business person, handling all aspects of the publishing trade. It is hard work, but can also be very rewarding. An indie author does not do everything themselves, but engages other professionals to handle aspects of the publishing process, ensuring that each section is handled by someone who understands the job and can do their best for the project.

*Please note:

Not everyone makes the same distinction in terminology between self-publishers and indie publishers. The difference is in the attitude of the author, not in the term itself, but I find the distinction a useful one.



Alpha reader or beta reader?

Most writers these days are familiar with the concept of a beta reader – someone who reads your work and gives you feedback on it. But what is an alpha reader, and what’s the difference?

An Alpha Reader

An alpha reader is usually a fellow writer, who might be reading the story as you write it, giving technical feedback and helping you to shape the story. They should be familiar with how to structure a story, technical issues such as passive voice, foreshadowing, character development, point of view, etc.


An alpha reader is reading a story that could be very raw indeed, maybe even first draft, and needs to be able to look past the rawness to the heart of the story, and give feedback accordingly.


An alpha reader is the free equivalent of a developmental edit or full critique. It could be a way to help reduce the cost of developmental editing, but be very careful that your alpha reader is experienced enough to be of real help.

A Beta Reader

A beta reader is a reader. They should not be giving technical feedback, but should be explaining how they relate to the story – where do they get bored? Which bits were most exciting? Which characters do they love/hate? Can they understand the story? Do they get lost anywhere?


A beta reader should be reading a story that’s as polished as you can make it. They should be the last step before you pass the work to a professional editor. They might catch typos and other errors, but that is not their job and you should not consider them to be your proofreaders or editors. Instead, they give a reader’s eye view of the story, picking up weaknesses and strong points.


Neither type of reader will fully replace a professional editor, and you should still consider paid editing and then proofreading as your final quality control. But these two stages will help to ensure that the product you pass to the editor is as good as you can make it.




How much does self-publishing cost?

This question receives many different answers, from thousands of pounds to nothing. So what’s really going on?


First of all, actually publishing your book costs nothing. Uploading files to Amazon and creating either ebook or print version does not involve a fee.


But it’s not as simple as that. There needs to be quality control of what you’re uploading. Has your work been reviewed, to ensure that it makes sense, that it’s well written, that it doesn’t contain silly typos or other errors that will put your reader off? Will your cover design attract readers to your book? Is your layout correctly formatted for whatever platform you want to publish on?


If you’re self-publishing, then all those quality control issues come down to you. It’s your responsibility to get an editor to go through your work, to get a good cover design done, to ensure the formatting is correct.


Some of these you can do yourself, if you have the skills, but editing is one of those jobs that must be done by someone else to be done well; you are too close to your own work, and just can’t see what you’ve actually written as opposed to what you think you’ve written.


Even cover design and formatting are worth paying experts for; while anyone can throw a cover together, books are a competitive market, and your book deserves a cover that will attract the reader. Likewise, formatting can be fiddly and frustrating if you’re new to it. Why not spend your time writing, and pay the experts to do their job?


There are publishing companies around who offer to do all this as a package deal, for a price. Be very wary of these; generally, they make their money from the services they sell to you, not from their share of the books sold (although they take a good slice of that too). You risk paying a lot of money for services you could have got cheaper separately, and losing control of your book as well.


What if you can’t afford to pay an editor, cover designer etc?


The answer then is not to just put it out anyway. The quality is likely to be poor, and that will put readers off anything else you write, and weaken the reputation of self-published books generally.


Traditional publishing involves a publisher liking your book enough to invest money in it. They keep part of the sales, yes, and you might lose some of the control over your book, but they are the ones who take the financial risk. Remember, if they ask you for money to publish, they are not a traditional publishing company.


So in the end it comes down to this: please either be prepared to invest money as well as time in your writing to ensure quality (after all, you’re expecting others to invest money in your books!), or find someone else who is willing to do so.


I’ve finished my novel

I’ve finished my novel! I have a complete, readable story. So now I knock together a cover, upload the cover and Word file to Amazon and hit publish, right?




Now the real work begins.


It’s really important to understand that there’s a continuum in writing. There isn’t any bad/good writing divide. There’s a whole range of qualities between barely readable and compelling writing. Just because you’ve completed a draft, and maybe a friend has enjoyed it, doesn’t mean it’s ready to publish. It means you have something you can work on and develop.


In this age where we can literally type “The End” on a draft and then have it for sale within minutes, some people are tempted to do just that. The result is often a barely readable mess, with spelling, punctuation and grammar issues, random tense changes and very odd, distracting formatting and a cover that screams Self Published!


If you just want people to read your work, then there are platforms where you can upload it and have a ready-made audience. In fanfiction particularly, writers can upload stories and be inundated with praise. That’s often not because of the writing, but because of the ideas they express about the characters people have already bonded with.


If you want people to pay for your work and feel so happy they’ve done so that they’ll tell others, then you need to put in a lot more investment – in terms of time, effort and usually cold, hard cash.


I can’t afford it, you might say. That’s where the traditional publishing market comes in. Find yourself a publisher, often via an agent, and they will invest in the writing for you, as long as they feel it’s good enough. Of course, they’ll take their share of the profit for doing so.


Failing that, you need to be prepared to put in the effort yourself. This means revising until you can’t see any way to improve it, asking beta readers to help, working on it some more, and then when you’ve taken it as far as you can, you enlist the professionals – the editors, the formatters, the proofreaders, the cover designers.


After all, the traditionally published writers expect to be put through such quality control, and they will be your rivals for sales. And you have not only your own reputation as a writer to protect, but the reputation of indie authors as a whole.


So now I have a full draft of my novel, I’ll be going back through to beef it up, and then seeking help, and I’ll be saving up for an editor, because even though I’ve studied writing and editing intensively, I know that I’m too close to it to edit my own work. And I’ll be making sure that what I do eventually publish will be the best I can make it, because I want my readers to want more, not to feel they’ve wasted their time and money on an inferior product.





Sending your manuscript to a beta reader

When sending your manuscript to a publisher or agent, it’s vital that you follow their instructions exactly. Whatever font they recommend, whatever layout they recommend – if you don’t follow their guidelines, then at best you’ll irritate them and at worst your manuscript will be deleted unread.


However, when sending out to a beta reader, it’s nowhere near as straightforward. In one sense, it doesn’t matter at all, but I’ve looked at a lot of manuscripts in the past month as I offered free readings of the first 5k words, as an experiment, and I started to notice a few issues.


  • Your font should be easy to read and in a reasonable size. I see no reason to use anything more fancy than 12pt Times New Roman. Some are submitted in Courier New, but that tends to give the manuscript a “typewritten” feel, and can be hard on the eye.
  • I recommend including a cover page, containing the title, author and basic contact details. This is useful in case the original email disappears, and as a reminder of the information – it’s very frustrating to not have the book’s title displayed anywhere!
  • It would also be useful to include basic information at the start of your book, such as the blurb and a little about your writing background and your intentions for the book. Be wary of including a full synopsis here though – a reader will generally not want spoilers before reading.
  • Save the file with a clear filename – preferably your book title, with or without extra information. A file entitled “ABBC” really isn’t useful! You might be familiar with it as a nickname for your book, but your reader isn’t.
  • Make good use of the header/footer facility. A page number on the page itself will ensure that you and the reader are both considering the same text on the same page. Having the author/title repeated at the top of the page can be useful.
  • Label your chapter changes clearly. A reader will often read in chapters, and it’s irritating to discover that there are no chapters, or only vague line spaces for breaks. Yes, some writers do write without chapters, but it’s not recommended unless you’re really sure what you’re doing. It’s easier to consider issues such as plot when you can break it down chapter by chapter.
  • Start each chapter on a new page. Page count is not an issue with electronic versions, and the visual white space helps to make the jump from chapter to chapter. It will also help you think clearly about your chapter breaks.
  • Make sure that at the very least you have run spell-check before submitting to a reader. While they do not expect a clean, proofread version, it’s incredibly irritating to discover error after error that could have been easily discovered and fixed with a quick read-through.




Plotting with Aeon Timeline 2

One of the rewards for nanowrimo this year is a discount off Aeon Timeline. But what use is Aeon Timeline to a novel writer?


I made extensive use of it this year to plan my novel, so here is a basic guide on how I used it. Click on any image to see it larger.


This is a partial view of my completed timeline. You can see the buttons along the top, then the timeline itself, and then events at the corresponding mark on the timeline. Because my novel is set during a school year, it was important to work out term dates and to know what day of the year events took place on.


This view shows the story events separated into different arcs.


At the bottom of the window is a timeline graphic, with a sliding bar representing the part that’s visible, and the coloured blobs representing the events. This provides an overview of the spread of your events. I used colour coding for the different arcs involved.


add-arcAs well as events, you can add entities to your story – arcs, places or characters, within the fiction template. Arcs help you to keep the different elements straight, while places and characters help you keep track of who’s doing what and where. If you set a birthdate for characters, you can keep track of their ages at different events. This is a feature I didn’t need this time, but relied on a great deal last year.



add-eventAdding events to the timeline is easy. Either double click on the timeline, or use the Add event button. The double click method pre-fills the date where you clicked, but you can adjust this at any time.


Fill in the information about your event – at the minimum, you need a title and a date. Choose a colour to represent your event – use colour coding to help you see related events.



Add all the events you need for your story. For each event, you can assign an arc, location, and observers/participants.




This is an example of an event with several of the boxes filled in.


Clicking on any event on the timeline opens up the event details for you to tweak as necessary.


Tabs provide places to put notes for the scene, such as what the weather is like, or add tags to the event. You can also nest events, but again this is a feature I haven’t used this year.


It’s straightforward to view a story with or without arcs. I used this to create the different story arcs separately, and then view without arcs to see how the different events were interwoven.



This shows the story events broken down into their separate arcs. This enabled me to check that each arc made sense and events happened in the right order.


If an event needs adjusting, you can either click on it and make amendments in the info pane or just drag the event along the timeline until you reach the right date – a tooltip showing the date makes this easy.






events-with-no-arcAnd this shows the story events interwoven – the coloured blobs indicate what arc they belong to. This enables me to see how the events affect each other, and make sure that there are no issues.









Another view that is useful is the relationship view – a grid indicating events in a list, with markers to show the entities involved. I then used this list to create scenes in Scrivener. All that was left was to actually write them up. I did go back and make changes to the timeline to reflect changes that happened in the novel, to ensure consistency between the two files, but generally the timeline represented the bulk of the planning I needed.


Aeon Timeline 2 will sync with Scrivener, but that’s a feature I haven’t explored yet. For now, the timeline itself is a useful enough tool even without that.


Aeon Timeline 2 also has templates for use with time management projects, legal projects and non-fiction projects – it’s incredibly useful, and the more I explore it, the more useful I find it.





My beta reader has gone silent!

One issue that crops up a lot with beta reading is the silence that can ensue once a manuscript has been sent out. When you’re sitting waiting for that message that tells you what they think, and nothing happens, what is the problem and what can be done?


There can be many reasons why you don’t hear back from them, and it’s not always because they hate your writing: it might be that their personal life has just hit problems, and they just don’t have time or energy to deal with your book. It might be that they’ve been inundated with books to beta read and they don’t have the time for them all. Or maybe they’ve realised that whatever the quality of your writing, the story itself just isn’t for them. They should be letting you know, if any of that is the case, but sometimes people panic, feel guilty, or just don’t find the time and motivation to let you know.


Or maybe they are one of those who are just seeking free books to read, and can’t be bothered to reply. It’s true, that can happen.


So what can be done to avoid or mitigate these problems?


First of all, try to agree with your reader a timescale. When do they expect to have finished? Some readers offer turnaround within a day, while others prefer closer to a month. Time itself isn’t the issue; what is important is to agree. If you need a fast turnaround, find a reader who offers that. If you are more relaxed (after all, how long did it take you to write the novel?), then that will give you more scope.


Some readers are happy to give progress reports, while others prefer to read the whole thing before giving any kind of feedback. It’s unfair to your reader to expect constant feedback, unless that’s what you’ve agreed in advance. It’s also unfair to constantly nag them about how they’re doing. They have better things to do than to reply to regular messages asking them how they’re getting on.


However, it’s perfectly acceptable to send a message if it’s after the deadline and you’ve heard nothing. This should be a polite “I wondered how you were getting on” message, not an “I assume as I haven’t heard that you hate my book” sort of message! If you still don’t hear anything after a couple of nudges (leaving reasonable time to respond, of course), then put it down to experience and move on.


Remember also that messages can and do go missing, on both sides. I’ve sent off reports and heard nothing back, and then had a query a week or so later, asking how I’m getting on. Eventually the message was tracked down: it had just been overlooked. I’ve also had clients send chase-up messages, only to find that their original message had ended up in my spam folder and so the file was never received. It’s for this reason that I will always acknowledge safe receipt of a file within 24 hours.


Finding a reliable team of beta readers can be tough, and this is why there’s a growing market for paid beta reads: if a reader is receiving payment for their report, that gives them incentive to read and give thorough feedback. However, be cautious with paid beta reads, and make sure your reader has a good reputation.


Finally, if you find a good beta reader, or even better, a few beta readers, treat them carefully and look after them – they are a valuable resource! Always respond to their reports, even if it’s just “Thank you for your time and your feedback. Is it okay to contact you again if I have any questions once I’ve read the report properly?” You don’t have to give them a blow-by-blow account of what you think of each comment, but acknowledgement is vital. And respond quickly, even if your time is tight and you don’t have time to consider the feedback immediately. Just as you’ve been impatiently waiting to know what they think of your work, so they are waiting to know their report has been received safely and appreciated.



Formatting for ebook

The process of formatting for ebook starts in the same way as formatting for print; in fact, ideally I’d be working from the same Word file, and preparing it for both types of formatting by first ensuring all the formatting is done through styles, and not just ad-hoc. Once the Word file has styles applied throughout, importing it into Jutoh, the program I use for ebook formatting, is straightforward.


Within Jutoh, I’m prompted to fill out a form containing the metadata for the book, including author and publisher details, genre and information, and then choose which files to import for the main text and the cover. With styles applied, I can set the document to split at the chapter heading style, and then complete the import.


Now I need to go through the document, checking the formatting has imported properly, making sure the splits are at the right places – while the chapters should split automatically, the front matter and back matter often need attention – and ensuring that any blank lines at the end of chapters have been removed. While these can easily go unnoticed within a print book, there’s a risk that a single blank line at the end of a chapter, falling at the wrong place, will appear as a complete blank page in an ebook.


The options for variation of text in an ebook are very limited. While in a print version almost anything can be achieved (and one of my projects is exploring the possibilities in a fun way!), in an ebook there is only really relative font size as an option, as the reader can (and should be able to) override font and font size choices for their own reading comfort. Another trick that I’ve used to make text stand out is to block-indent rather than just indent the first line of the paragraph, but ebook readers vary in how they handle indents, so varying indent size or adding a right indent isn’t a viable option.


With most fiction ebooks, the table of contents can be handled automatically, while for others or for non-fiction, I often have to handle the table of contents separately, ensuring that links are provided for the parts that need links, that they are displayed consistently and that all links point to the right place.


Images need checking to ensure they are the right size. While Jutoh offers a facility for resizing images, this can be inconsistently handled across readers, and it is far better to ensure the images are correct before importing.


Once I’m happy with everything, it’s time to hit the export button. I can choose the export type (epub or mobi, usually) with the click of a button, and the file is created.


That’s not the end, of course! There’s still viewing on different screens, checking the front matter and back matter are displayed correctly, making sure the table of contents works if I’ve had to handle it separately, and skimming through to see whether any special formatting is handled right. I have a few different devices available, from ipad and iphone to kindle touch and kindle keyboard, and so I’m able to check how they each deal with any issues.