Mistletoe & Magic coverIt’s a pleasure to invite Beth Rodgers to take over my blog today as she shares her  thoughts on accepting constructive criticism – an issue that all authors have to face up to at some time in their careers.

Beth Rodgers is an accomplished author of YA fiction, who is currently celebrating the release of Mistletoe & Magic, a multi-author anthology that includes  “Hearts & Homes” – a contemporary young adult romance.

Accepting Constructive Criticism by Beth Rodgers

It may seem difficult at times to put your work out there for someone else to critique, whether it’s for editing in the process of publication, grading, or otherwise. The fact of the matter is that without hearing other people’s opinions, you are obviously bent on your own opinion on the writing you have done, and, let’s be honest – you think it’s great. We all do. It’s only natural to have emotional ties to the writing you have done. It is also possible that something you hated writing or hated the outcome of once it was fully written could be completely loved by one or more of your readers.

Criticism gets a bad rap. The word has a negative connotation. When people hear that someone is being critical or is criticizing something, they think negatively. Again, this is only natural and is a part of life. An important idea to remember, however, is that criticism does not have to be bad. Without criticism, think of how many pieces of writing, movies, TV shows, or other works of art would go out to the masses due to the biased opinion of the work’s creator.

Have you ever read a book you didn’t like? Have you ever watched a movie or TV show that you wish you hadn’t bothered with? Have you ever thought how nice it would be to be able to tell the author or creator of whatever it is you read, watched, etc. what you might have done differently? Everyone is a critic. Everyone judges. It’s something that is as normal as a typical daily routine. Yet, criticism and judgment can turn out positively. There are always at least two sides to every idea/topic/issue/etc. Just because you think something is great doesn’t mean the rest of the world does, and just because you think something was awful doesn’t mean the rest of the world didn’t love it. You are entitled to your opinion just like anyone else. Just because someone tells you that they suggest changing something doesn’t mean you have to do it. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with it. What it does mean is that you have to attempt to see that person’s viewpoint and analyze not only whether you agree with it, but determine whether you feel that others may see things the same way as the original critic. That is why having more than one person read your work and give you feedback is important. Even if the people you choose to read your work do not give the same advice, even if one person tells you how feedbackgreat it was while another says it was good but there was room for improvement, while another tells you they couldn’t stand it, sharing what other people had to say with the group of reviewers you have established for yourself will help you to gauge whether they truly noticed everything in your writing.

Just because you are the writer does not mean you are the only reader that writing will ever have. The definition of constructive criticism is “the process of offering valid and well-reasoned opinions about the work of others, usually involving both positive and negative comments, in a friendly manner rather than an oppositional one. The purpose of constructive criticism is to improve the outcome.” It is essential that this definition is not only remembered, but taken to heart. No writer has ever penned the perfect piece the first time around. If they say they have, they are lying to you. Read the following quotes from well-known people and authors to further your understanding of the power of constructive criticism:

Winston Churchill, Former British Prime Minister:
“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”

Hillary Clinton, Politician and Former Presidential Candidate:
“Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”

Neil Gaiman, Author:
“I suspect that most authors don’t really want criticism, not even constructive criticism. They want straight-out, unabashed, unashamed, fulsome, informed, naked praise, arriving by the shipload every fifteen minutes or so.”

user-satisfaction-2800863_1280 Why do you think there are reviews on sites that sell books, appliances, and any other item you can possibly think of? The reason is simple. It is because people want to know what others think. They want to see differing opinions to help them make the most informed decision possible. So should it be with writing. Writers must be able to make informed, intelligent decisions based on suggestions that others have made. When something sounds negative, consider the actual intent behind the suggestion, and then determine whether the person is in any way coming up with something that is a possible revision that can be made. Just as you are entitled to your opinion, so are your readers. This is why only certain books make the New York Times Bestseller list, why certain movies and TV shows win Oscars, Golden Globes, and Emmy Awards, why certain music wins Grammys and American Music Awards, etc. If you have ever thought someone unfairly lost an award, an election, or anything else, you have a different opinion than those who did the voting. You are entitled to this. Remember this when someone reads your work and gives you suggestions. Your emotional and other connections with the Beth Rodgers Author Posterwork you have written is essential to you being motivated to continue writing. This is extremely important. Never forget this. However, don’t forget that others are entitled to their opinions as well, and their opinions may just help you improve your writing and sustain a more solid style from that point forward. Every little bit helps. You just have to see it that way.

About the Author

Beth Rodgers is the author of two contemporary young adult novels, Freshman Fourteen and Sweet Fifteen, as well as “Hearts & Homes,” a short story that follows her second novel, but can be read as a standalone story. It can be found in Mistletoe & Magic: A YA Books Central Holiday Anthology. She also works as an editor and creative writing presenter.

In her free time, Beth loves to watch binge-worthy TV shows, travel with her family, and read plenty of good books that she spends time reviewing for her blog and as a staff reviewer for YA Books Central. She lives in Michigan with her husband and children.

Connect with Beth on:

Find her books on Amazon at the following websites:

Tips for Indie Authors – Section Breaks and Page Numbering

Those of you who work in Microsoft Word may have hit a few bumps in the road when preparing your masterpiece for CreateSpace or another print-on-demand service.  In this post,  I’d like to offer some basic tips for working with section breaks and page numbering in Word.

What is a section break and why do we use them?

A section break splits your document into sections, which in turn allows you to:

  • Set up different headers/footers for different parts of a document
  • Use of different page numbering styles in different sections (and restart/continue numbering from a previous section)
  • Use different page layouts within a document (orientation, columns, margins, and so on)

For fiction writers, page numbering is the most common reason for using section breaks.

sectionbreak1How do I add a section break?

The Break options are located on the Page Layout tab of ribbon.  If it is important that your new (next) section starts on an odd page, select Odd Page. If not, select Next Page.

If your document already has section breaks and you want to see where they are located, click the Show/Hide paragraph marks and other hidden formatting symbols button paramarkon the Home tab of the ribbon. breakshowing
Note: If you are on an odd page and you select Odd Page, a blank page will be inserted.

That was easy enough. So what’s the big deal?

For most people, the troubles begin when they start to modify the headers or footers in their new section.

By default, the headers and footers of your new section are connected to the previous section.  This means that if you set the numbering in your new section to use numerals (1,2,3) instead of roman numerals (i, ii, iii), then it makes the changes to the other sections as well.  So you fix one section only to discover that you have messed up the settings for another section. You fix it there, only to discover that your new section is now messed up.  A vicious cycle takes root, making you want to scream or cry in frustration. (Been there, done that.)

A few simple precautions can help avoid this problem.  When you double-click on your header/footer to open it, the header/footer information includes the section number and if it is linked to the previous section, Same as Previous appears.     header1

In addition, the Link to Previous option is enabled on the Header & Footer Tools ribbon.lintoprev
Before attempting to make changes to the layout of your new section, you need to disable the Link to Previous option for the header or footer that you want to edit. Doing this does not remove the existing content – but it does allow you to make changes in a section without affect the previous one.

Important: If the section you need to edit is located between two other sections, disable the link option in the section that follows as well. If you do not do so, the changes in section 2 will be applied to section 3, and so on, until there is a section where Link to Previous has not been set.

pnumbersPage numbering

The page number options are located on the Header and Footer Tools ribbon.

To change the number format, select Format Page Numbers.  In the dialog box that is displayed, you can set the type of numbering (1,2,3; a,b,c; i, ii, iii; and so on).  You can also define the numbering to start from a specific number or to continue the numbering from the previous section. numb2

A common use case for non-fiction documents is to use roman numerals for the front matter (TOC and such), and then start the “meaty” content from page 1.  To do this, the numbering in Section 1 of the document would be set to roman numerals, and set to start at i.  After disconnecting the linking between Section 2 and Section 1, the numbering can be set to start from 1.

Tip: If your book/work is contained in multiple files, use the Start at option to set the numbering accordingly. For example, if your first file ended on page 92, the next one might need to start on page 93.

Cover page 

So you don’t want a page number to appear on your cover page, how can you make it go away without messing up the numbering on the next page?  pagesetup

  1. With your cursor on the cover page, on the Page Layout ribbon, select Page Setup.
  2. Click the Layout tab.
  3. Select the Different first page checkbox.
  4. Verify that This section is selected from the Apply to dropdown list.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Now you can delete the number from the bottom of the cover page without affecting the layout of other pages/sections.

Changing Page Orientation

Section breaks also enable us to insert pages with different layouts – for example, landscape vs. portrait orientation.  A word to the wise – if you need to insert a section with different layouts, always insert two section breaks (one before and one after the content) and disconnect Link to Previous in the new section and the section that follows before making any changes to layout!

Have any tips of your own? Feel free to comment and share your ideas.

Tips for Indie Authors – Working with Track Changes

In a previous post, I discussed the importance of editing and proofreading your masterpiece before publishing it. With sophisticated word processing applications, editors/proofreaders no longer mark up printed copies and leave it to you (the author) to manually input revisions into your document.

For those of you who work in Microsoft Word, I’d like to offer up some basic tips on working with Word’s Track Changes feature.

Why track changes and how do they work?

Tracking changes to your document enables you to see what has been changed, when and by whom.  Basically, it eliminates the need to reread the entire document to search for the changes (for example, if you have let someone else work on the file.)

The person reviewing/reading your file turns on Track Changes. Every change they make is tracked.  When you get the file back, you can browse through the document and accept/reject their changes as you see fit.  For example, if your editor has fixed a typo or done a wonderful job reworking that sentence, you can accept the change – or if it you don’t agree with the change, you can reject it.

How to use track changes

The Track Changes options are located on the Review tab of ribbon.


To turn on tracking:

In the Tracking section of the ribbon, click the Track Changes icon.

By default, text and formatting changes are tracked and the Tracking view is set to All Markup, meaning that all edits are visible.  (More on views later)TC3Tip: Turn on the Track Changes and save your file before sending it to your editor/proofreader. When they open the file, they will already be on.

To review changes made by your editor/proofreader:

TC4You can browse through the suggested revisions using the options found in the Changes section of the Review ribbon using the Previous and Next buttons.

When the cursor stops at a suggested revision, click Accept or Reject as you see fit.  The cursor automatically jumps ahead to the next revision.   Not sure how you want to handle that one?  Click Next and come back to it later.

If you want to accept the change and reread the resulting sentence before moving on, click the dropdown arrow and select Accept This Change.  After you closely check the result, click Next.

Warning: In theory, you can also click the dropdown arrow and select Accept All ChangesI do not recommend this.  If the reader/review/editor asked you a question or made a comment in the body of the text, it will be accepted too. Not good.  For all you proofreaders/editors – best practice for leaving comments/questions is to use Word’s Comment feature.  This way they can’t be accidently assimilated into the body of text.

Tracking views

There are four different viewing options for documents that have tracked changes.

  • All Markup shows all of the suggested revisions.  
  • No Markup shows the text as it would appear if all of the tracked changes are accepted.  This is particularly helpful when proofreading, you see a “clean” version without all the messy stuff.  (Comments are not visible)
  • Simple Markup shows some but not all of the suggested revisions.
  • Original shows the original text (what would be left if all of the tracked changes are rejected).

Tip: If you print a document or create a PDF of a document with tracked changes, those changes are displayed (or not) based on the view selected.
Important: Before converting/uploading your completed manuscript to KDP, always make sure that all tracking has been removed.

Have any tips of your own? Feel free to comment and share your ideas.

Tips for Indie Authors – Editing/Proofreading

As an indie author, you are responsible for the entire publishing process – writing, editing, proofreading, publishing, and marketing. But that doesn’t mean that you should do it all yourself. Even if you are working with a low or almost non-existent budget, make sure that you get someone else to participate in the editing process – someone that has editing experience and who won’t be shy about pointing out problems in your manuscript. Your editor can be a paid professional editor or a qualified and capable friend.  You should never unleash your masterpiece on the world without having it properly edited.

Before you submit your work to your editor, make every effort to  weed out as many of the errors in your manuscript as possible. Eliminating simple typos, extra spaces, and so on, will make it easier for your editor to focus on the story flow, the wording, and the important stuff that you simply don’t see because you are too close to the story.

Here are a few tips to help you improve and clean up your manuscript before you submit it to an editor, proofreader, or beta reader. (The specific instructions below are based on Microsoft Word. Most word processors offer similar options.)

Finding overused words

You can use the Find option on the Navigation view to identify the frequency and location of words that you know you tend to overuse.

On the far right end of the Home ribbon, click Find. The Navigation view opens automatically. Type a word or phrase that you want to locate in the field. The number of times that the word or phrase is found is listed and the specific instances are highlighted in yellow in the body of the document.

In the example below, I searched for “but,” one of the words I tend to overuse.  Even Word had something to say about it – “That shows up a lot!”
I was then able to browse through the document using the up and down arrows and consider ways to vary my phrasing more – especially when those yellow bits were clumped together.

Deleting extra spaces

Tips-proofreading-find-replaceYou can use the Find and Replace option to kill off extra spaces in your manuscript by selecting Replace on the far end of the Home ribbon.

What extra spaces should you delete?

  • Consecutive spaces  (i.e., two or more spaces after a full stop/period/comma, between words, and so on)***
  • Space before a full stop/period
  • Space before a comma, colon, semi-colon, or question mark
  • Space on the inside of a parenthesis (before the first word or after the last word)

The Find and Replace feature searches for a specific string in your document.  A string can include any number of characters and words, including spaces. This makes systematic removal of extra spaces really easy.

For example, to eliminate two consecutive spaces:

  1. On the far right end of the Home ribbon, click Replace.
  2. In the Find what field, type two spaces (hit the space bar twice).
  3. In the Replace with field, type one space.
  4. Click Find Next, then click Replace All*.

Using the same method, you can find and remove spaces before other punctuation marks. In the Find what field, hit the space bar once and type the punctuation mark (comma, colon, semi-colon, or question mark), then in the Replace with field, type only that punctuation mark.

*This is generally a safe option unless your document contains programming code or some other text that must not be changed under any circumstances.

Running the Spell Checker

Almost every word processor has a spell checker of some sort.
Always run the spell checker before submitting a document for any kind of review!
It won’t catch all your mistakes, but it will help you pick off lots of typos.

To run a spell check in Microsoft Word, click Spelling and Grammar on the left end of the Review ribbon.

Important: Never accept spell check recommendations without looking at them.  And if the recommendation pertains to grammar, look twice before accepting them. Best intentions aside, automated spell checks are not infallible.

Note:  Microsoft Word has multiple language options. If you work in more than one language on the same computer,  I suggest that you set the proofing language for your document before running the spell checker the first time or if the spell checker stops at words that are correct in your preferred language:
First, select the entire document by pressing  Ctrl + A.  Next, on the Review ribbon, in the Language section, click Language > Set Proofing Language.
In the Language dialog box, select the dictionary language for checking your text, for example, English (United States) or English (United Kingdom), then click OK.

Post-Edit Proofreading

So the editor has done their thing and you have done your best to implement the necessary revisions. That’s great. But don’t rush to hit Publish just yet. New errors tend to sneak in as a byproduct of the revision process. Words somehow end up stuck together (no space between them) and extra spaces multiply like rabbits. Run the spell checker again, and then search for and remove the extra spaces.  Manually proofread your document, and if possible recruit as many people as possible to proofread and/or beta-read your masterpiece before its release.

Have any tips of your own? Feel free to comment and share your ideas.

***Postscript about spaces (added Aug 13 in response to a reader query):
To the best of my knowledge, a single space is the industry standard for typesetting/publishing these days. I, too, was taught to type two spaces after a period but that was back in the days of typewriters (and other dinosaurs) when all characters and spaces took up exactly the same amount of space (width). Today, modern fonts implement kerning – which basically means that the width of letters is not uniform (think “m” vs “i”) and spacing autoadjusts if your text is justified on both sides so that your text reaches both margins. Sometimes an extra space can make the difference in how the text sits on the line, whether that last word fits on the line or goes onto the next line resulting in very spaced out text.

Tips for Indie Authors – Planning & Scheduling Tweets

Like it or not, indie authors have to be  proactive on social media if they want potential readers to discover their books.  Twitter is one of the most popular avenues for getting the word out.  In this post I offer a few suggestions on how to manage your tweets and promote others at the same time.

First, a Few Words about Tweeting in General
Obviously, you want to tweet about your masterpiece and you hope that others will retweet for you.  But your Twitter feed should not be all about you and your book.  Tweet about stuff that interests you and might interest your followers as well – for example, writing tips (from someone else’s blog) or  your reviews of someone else’s great book.  Retweet others when they post interesting and relevant tweets.  Reciprocate retweets whenever possible – think of it as a team effort.

Making a Tweet Roster
In Microsoft Word or Excel, create a Tweet roster that contains tweets that you are likely to reuse.  You can organize them into categories (tweets about your book; tweets about friends’ books; great quotes; blogs to visit and tweet tips from, and so on).

For example, as a member a writer’s group that encourages cross-promotion, I try to make a point of retweeting something about a different member’s book every day.  To this end, I started a list of simple tweets that include the name of the book, its genre, the twitter handle of the author, etc. and maybe even a short quote from a review/description.  And, of course, a shortened or direct link to the book.  I started with a list of 8 tweets; it has grown to almost 60. When I find I have some time on my hands, I create a few more.  I then schedule the tweets on a rotating basis.

Scheduling Tweets with Future Tweets

If you’re anything like me, you can’t spend all day on Twitter. So I use software to schedule the tweets in my rosters for at least a week in advance. There are several different types of software available – most have both free and paid (upgraded) options.

I have found that using FutureTweets to schedule my twitter posts has been quite helpful.  I use the free version. There does not seem to be a restriction on the number of tweets you can schedule or how far in advance.  The only limitation I have encountered is that you cannot schedule the same exact tweet repeatedly. You can sign up at

UPDATE – Feb 16, 2016.  After experiencing some problems with the availability of FutureTweets – although their webpage indicates that the problem have  since been resolved. In the interim, I switched to using Tweet Deck, which also has a free version.  It is a good product, however it has a more complex interface.

To schedule a tweet:

  1. Enter your tweet text, including hashtags in the textbox. The counter tells you how many characters you have left.
  2. In the Publish date field, set the date and time when you want the tweet to go out. Important: The info in this field is displayed in yyyy-mm-dd hh:mm:ss format. The time is military time, meaning hour/minutes range from 0:00 to 23:59 (11:59 p.m.)
  3. Click Schedule. The tweet is added to your list of scheduled tweets.  That’s it.  Your tweet is scheduled and will go out at the designated time.

To edit a scheduled tweet:
Click the corresponding Edit [pencil] icon, edit the content, then click Save.

To delete a tweet:
Click the corresponding Delete [red circle w/slash]  icon.

To reuse tweets:
You cannot schedule the same exact tweet repeatedly. This functionality is not allowed by Twitter. When the scheduled time rolls around, that identical tweet will not go out. My workaround for this is to copy my tweet content from the text box* and use it as basis for additional tweets by pasting it and making some tiny change in wording or in hashtags.  Not ideal, but has the advantage of getting me to vary my use of hashtags and prompts – which is actually a good thing.

*If you copy the tweet content from the list of scheduled/sent tweets, the link won’t be there.  Click Edit, copy the content, then click Schedule to get a new empty tweet text box.

So how do you schedule tweets?
Feel free to comment and share your ideas!


Tips for Indie Authors – Flinch-Free Formatting

Indie authors are amazing. Right?  Of course, they are.
And so many of them are tackling the task of publishing their work on incredibly low or almost non-existent budgets. There is a natural reluctance to pouring lots of your hard-earned money into that pet project – your novel.  As a result, many writers opt to go the Do It Yourself (DIY) route.

In actuality, DIY formatting in Microsoft Word is easy – if you know what to do and what not to do. Nonetheless, in recent months, I have found myself flinching in the face of messy formatting in some of the books I have picked up.  In this post, I’d like to offer my fellow indie authors a few pointers on preparing their masterpieces for publication as e-books.

First of all, a few words about Print vs. Kindle formats.  When you are finalizing your print layout (usually creating a PDF), the what-you-see-is-what-you-get-rule applies.  With ebooks this is not true. Ebook formats magically repaginate the flow of text on the screen for different device sizes (margins and page lengths vary) and according to the reader’s viewing preferences.

I recommend the following best practices to ensure smooth flow of text regardless of screen size, font size, and line spacing choices:

Take advantage of the Styles feature in Word. For most fiction books, you only need to use a few styles. Normal for your regular text paragraphs and Heading 1 for your chapter starts. Maybe something special for the inside cover, and a couple more depending on specific content.

First Line Indents

To indent or  not to indent?  I am not going to address that question – there is no one correct answer. But if you want to indent the first line of each paragraph, please do not hit the space bar multiple times or hit the Tab key.  Set up your Normal style to include that indent.

  1. Select a paragraph to create a sample that looks the way you want it to. Right-click the paragraph and select ParagraphCapture2
  2. On the Indents and Spacing tab, in the Indentation area, select First line from the Special dropdown menu.  Then set the amount of the indent.  In the example shown the indent was set to 0.31″.
  3. Click OK.
  4. Now, to apply the characteristics of that paragraph throughout your document, right-click the Normal button in the Styles section on the ribbon and select Update Normal to Match Selection.
    Word does its magic and all the “Normal” text in your doc looks the same  (indent, font type and size, and line spacing too).

Chapter Headings and Page Breaks

I prefer to start  each chapter on a new page (or screen). This is best done using a defined style like Heading 1 – it should not be done by inserting blank lines.

  1. To start each chapter on a new page, right-click a chapter name and select Paragraph. On the Line and Page Breaks tab, select Line break before. Then click OK.
  2.  If you don’t like the look of the Heading 1 that is in your default Word template, you can change it using the font, size, and centering options on the ribbon.
  3. Now, to apply these characteristics throughout your document, right-click the Heading 1 button in the Styles section on the ribbon and select Update Normal to Match Selection. Word does its magic and all the “Heading 1” text in your doc looks and behaves the same way.

Line Spacing and Pagination

Do not insert blank lines to make things move things to the next page or to keep things together on the same page. (Yes, I said it already. It’s important enough to repeat. Those blank lines will come back to haunt you.)

  • To keep paragraph A on same page as the paragraph that follows, right-click paragraph A, select Paragraph and then select Keep with next.
  • To make a line/paragraph start at the top of a page, right-click it, select Paragraph and then select Page break before.

Note: Changes made to a specific paragraph do not affect other instances where the style is applied unless you then select that paragraph and update the style defintion to match (as explained above).

That’s all for today, folks!