Now’s the time to write your book

March 30, 2020 § Leave a comment

There’s never been a better time to publish

Are you one of those individuals who’s always been meaning to write a book but never had the time?

Suddenly you have loads of time – and plenty of potential readers who also have loads of time.

Never in history has there been a more ideal moment to get going on the literary venture you’ve been thinking about for ages. And never before has it been so easy to publish.

Starting at the very beginning:

  1. ‘Everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay’ Nobody’s actually sure who said that. However it’s a worthwhile saying and you need to put your words to that test when you get them down on paper.
  2. If you believe they pass, give your manuscript to a trusted friend to read, a friend who isn’t going to say what you want to hear but what you need to hear. If they feel your book is a good read, it’s time to progress to the next step.
  3. Get a professional to proofread and copyedit it. I’m not going to say much about that because it’s what I do and this blog is not a sales pitch. You need a professional because they’re good with words and can also spot what you’ve actually written not what you think you’ve written. Don’t rely on a spellcheck: there, they’re and their can all get past a spellcheck even though they have different meanings.
  4. Now you’re at the publishing stage. It’s never been easier to get published and gone are the days when you had to wait for an agent or publishing company to consider your manuscript. You can upload it instantly. In theory.

There are plenty of publishing companies to choose from: Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo. Lulu, Smashwords, BookBaby, Blurb, Google Play Books – I could go on. But here, I would suggest, is your first real problem if, like me, you’re a writer but not a technical wizard.

Which of those are you going to choose?

I know KDP is a market leader but when I just looked at the website it’s told me I have to format my manuscript and create a cover. So if your strength is in writing, not formatting and design, will you be ok?

An author’s review of Lulu doesn’t give me much confidence either – I write my book, design the cover and upload everything. It doesn’t cost me money, but time and experience. If there are typos in it, then I wrote them and I didn’t notice them. Yes – but your readers will notice your typos.

I honestly don’t get what this Smashwords review is talking about – Smashwords (sic) web-based interface is specifically intended for the upload of files, metadata and book project management. What does that even mean?

If I were you I’d concentrate on writing your book and get someone else to do the techie stuff.

For one thing, I’ve been told that the cover is everything in the crowded world of ebooks, so I’d definitely want someone to do that. For another thing, I don’t talk ebook publishing language or feel confident formatting and uploading files. So I’d ask someone who understands to do it properly.

Bad formatting is like losing all the structure of a regular letter. So instead of seeing ‘Dear Whoever’ on one line and all the rest appearing in paragraphs starting on different lines, it will all run on into one fat chunk of text. I’m not going to risk that sort of mistake happening.

I don’t want to have spent ages and ages writing a book that I really believe in, only to trash it with a cock-handed effort at self-publishing. That is definitely a skill in its own right.

The ebookdesigner (John Amy) is one of many companies who will take the techie stuff off your hands AND design you a great cover, specific to your book. He recommends sticking with Amazon, the market leader and biggest distributor for your self-published ebook. John says that good design can make you more money simply because you come across as a professional. If money isn’t the main aim of your game, but the message is, you still need to get reader attention and the cover is integral to that.

He thinks it’s a good idea to also release a print version – something he can help you with. That makes it more accessible to ‘real book’ lovers and, again, makes you appear a more professional author. It’s also an opportunity to sell more, of course.

For the time being, just get some words down on paper/screen and see where they take you. It’s an interesting break from the TV and a welcome rest from cleaning stuff that doesn’t need cleaning or decorating walls that don’t need decorating.

Set aside an hour or two daily to write, it will add some structure to your day. And if it doesn’t come easily at the beginning, think of the Jodi Picoult quote –

You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Ditch trolleys. Baskets only from now on

March 23, 2020 § Leave a comment

Baskets only from now on
Supermarkets: Get rid of trolleys and make people use baskets

To properly limit food sales supermarkets need to get rid of trolleys so that customers can only shop with baskets.

Less food would fly off the shelves and certainly slower than at the current hysterical rate.

Supermarkets could easily have worked this out for themselves – so what am I missing?

The panic buying that’s going on is selfish and horrible. People are finding ways round the ‘limits’ that supermarkets are imposing on customers to make sure that their family is alright. They would prefer to take every member of the family, each of them to fill a trolley to the max, so that they have food, even though they know that it will deny NHS workers and the vulnerable basic and essential goods.

Therefore a ‘limit’ of 2 packs of toilet rolls becomes 8 or 10 packs of rolls per customer in reality when all the family have filled their trolleys.

I’m naive. I didn’t even realise that people were doing this until a sales assistant in Waitrose told me about it as I was looking at empty shelves. So the supermarket is well aware of what’s happening. I don’t want to single out Waitrose because I’m sure the the same is true of Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and the rest.

I picked up another story (online so I know I’m not giving anything away) about people filling their trolley, leaving the supermarket to pack it all into the car and then going back in for more. Sales assistants wouldn’t actually remember the customer’s face – who anyway would probably choose another assistant to serve them or alternatively select self-checkout. And what could happen anyway if the sales assistant DID notice that the customer had returned?

Of course, customers will find a way round an attempt to limit food sales by shopping with baskets. But baskets will be much more inconvenient for them than loading up trolleys full of food and loo rolls.

The decline and fall of common phrases

February 13, 2020 § Leave a comment

A woman slammed the phone down on my friend yesterday – or did she. They were talking – on mobile phones – she got angry and she abruptly and angrily ended the call. But did she actually, literally, physically, slam down the phone on him? Probably not – unless she was also intent on wrecking her mobile.

So that’s one phrase in the English language whose days are numbered. There are others:

  1. Carbon copy. When I was a young journalist using a manual typewriter I used carbon paper to make a copy of the story I was writing. Carbon paper isn’t necessary now that we all use computers. However…we’re using ‘carbon copy’ often without knowing it. When we cc somebody on an email, we all know that we’re copying them in. We don’t all know (I didn’t) that cc stands for carbon copy.
  2. Winding down the window (of a car). We don’t do that anymore. In place of the winder-type apparatus that was fitted in old cars, we use a button and the window shoots down.
  3. Kodak moment. In the days of camera film, we were careful about capturing the moment we wanted to cherish on film – frankly because we had to pay for it to be developed and, in the first place, make the effort to go to the developer. So a Kodak moment, named after popular photographic film, was a special picture moment. These days billions of pictures are taken every minute on Smart Phones, special or not. We just snap away.
  4. Nothing to write home about – meaning it’s not big news. Back in the day, before mobile phones, people actually wrote letters to family when they had news – even sent postcards when they were on holiday! But if they didn’t have news or weren’t on holiday they had ‘nothing to write home about’.
  5. Put somebody through the wringer – to give them a hard time. Several generations back wringers were used to squeeze every last drop of water from just-washed clothes. Now machines do the hard work but we’ve carried on using the expression to suggest someone’s been drained of everything they’ve got! eg. the lawyer really put him through the wringer.
  6. Snapping a photograph. I just used the ‘snap a picture’ expression in Point 3 – where did we get that from? Simple – old cameras used to make a snapping sound when they took the shot.
  7. And, is a newspaper still a newspaper when it’s published online – no paper involved!

There must be many more phrases that don’t really make sense any more. Any thoughts? Answers on a postcard please – well, not literally. We don’t need to send postcards when we can whizz over a suggestion via the comments box.

Getting the boot – finally

November 12, 2019 § Leave a comment

 

Shopping for shoes is serious shopping, as any woman will tell you.

Take that a step higher – shopping for winter boots – and you’re no longer talking about a buying activity but an investment. You’ve got proper important stuff on your hands. Well, feet.

I undertook said winter boots search in my home town of Windsor, Berkshire, the other day and was astounded by the huge variation in customer service which varied from the sublime to the insulting. Let me explain.

First of all, you need to know that I set out with the idea of buying (investing in) long, black boots which had to be leather. Get the right pair and you’ve got friends for life (or, realistically, about three years, until you’re fed up of them).

I started at a little independent store which specialises in leather goods. This didn’t go well. I walked into the shop first, my husband following and the guy behind the till completely ignored me and said “Good morning, sir.” He wasn’t to know I was the primary customer and still doesn’t because I walked straight back out again.

Next was an upmarket womenswear chain which is my ‘go-to’ store for special pieces. I’m not sure that the young woman had worked there long – or in fact had worked anywhere in the retail industry, long. I asked for a size 6, which she found on the shelves. They were too big. She found a size 4 (on the shelves) which I knew would be too small. She found a size 7 (on the shelves) which brought us back to the original problem. I actually voiced the issue to help direct her “We have a size 4, 6 and 7 but they aren’t working for me. What next?” She stood there waiting, as if I was going to provide the answer too. I left.

A concession in the local department store didn’t have the size I needed in a pair of boots I liked. The sales assistant offered to order in the right size. The problem was I’d have to pay upfront and, if they didn’t feel or look right I’d have to go through the faff of getting a refund. That didn’t seem fair and I moved on.

I won’t drag you through the rest of the tiring, very tiring but ultimately worth it, shopping trip except to pay tribute to the outstanding customer service we found in Whistles. It was so good, friendly and unpushy that I’ve already told friends about the exceptional treatment and regret that the boots that I eventually bought weren’t from that store. The young sales assistants were chatty and efficient, offered tea or coffee while we had a think about the boots I was trying on, gave opinions when they were asked but didn’t hover or pressure sell. Thank you, Whistles – you didn’t have the right boots but I’ll be back.

(Oh, I finally found the boots at the department store I’ve already mentioned, at a different concession within it. And they’re black, leather – but not full-length.)

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t drink alcohol – don’t judge me

July 29, 2019 § Leave a comment

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I used to drink alcohol but I can’t anymore. I don’t know why that suddenly happened, but it did. I’m ok with it – other people aren’t.

If I drink alcohol I get the mother of all hangovers. Not a bad head or a dodgy stomach the next morning but, for three days at least, a searing, horrible, sickening pain in my head and a tummy that repeatedly wants to get rid of anything I put in it, including the water which I think might help the head pain. Alcohol just isn’t worth that torture.

When I’m with a group in a pub or at a party I dread people asking what I want to drink. I have two strategies:

  1. To ask for a glass of wine and make it last all night. People seem more comfortable if I’m holding a glass of wine when the next round comes and I say “I’m alright for the minute”.
  2. If I’m actually thirsty, to feel ‘brave’ enough to ask for a soft drink and chance that people won’t judge me for not drinking alcohol.

I don’t drive (which I know is also odd to the majority but is somehow more acceptable) so I can’t use that as an ‘excuse’.

The reaction to my not drinking alcohol falls into two camps:

  1. That I’m not enjoying myself (which I am).
  2. That I’m trying to lose weight (which I’m not).

And I can’t even hazard a guess at the number of times people have asked ‘Don’t you want a real drink?’

The other day my husband and I went out for a drink and the pub was selling a rhubarb and ginger tonic. I was excited. Not only was the drink tasty it sounded ‘grown up’ – particularly when my options usually fall into the lemonade division. I could feel good about ordering rhubarb and ginger tonic.

Just now, when I started writing this blog I couldn’t remember the name of the brand so I put ‘rhubarb and ginger tonic’ into the search engine. Pages and pages of rhubarb and ginger gin came up – even though I’d specified ‘tonic’.

And when I finally found the drink, rhubarb and ginger tonic from Twelve Below was only a mention on a site titled Craft Gins. I’ve dug a bit deeper and found the Twelve Below site. It’s using the USP of having less sugar than most tonics, hence its name, (12 calories per serving with natural sweeteners) – and not that it’s a cool adult drink. I think it’s missing out there. But it must know its main audience and has branded itself accordingly.

Anyway, my point is this:  I don’t want to drink alcohol because it doesn’t do me any favours. I’m not going to judge those that drink. Sometimes I’d like to join in because it would make my life easier – but please don’t judge me if I don’t.

When retail gets it wrong …

July 24, 2019 § Leave a comment

paying-1438142__340.jpgNo you can’t help me!

When I walk into a shop laid out for browsing I don’t want a sales assistant to rush up to me and gush ‘Can I help you?’. Frankly, If I wanted help, I would ask for it.

Why have a shop layout which encourages customers to have a good look around if sales assistants are going to hound them from the time they walk through the door.

Maybe I sound like a grumpy old woman. I’m not. (Grumpy). But I’m definitely old enough to ask for information/advice when I need it – however I probably won’t know what help I need until I’ve had a look around the shop and realised I can’t find what I’m looking for. Or maybe I’ll want “that one in a different colour/size” when I see one in the wrong colour/size. It’s one of retail’s biggest mistakes in my opinion – to get people into their lair and then turn them off by hassling them like it was a bazaar.

There used to be more counters, definite ‘don’t walk beyond this spot’ barriers, where customers expected attention from sales assistants and wanted, actually needed, their help because they couldn’t get what they wanted it without it. In fact, waiting too long before being served was annoying. In that arrangement ‘Can I help?’ was exactly what you wanted to hear.

Then there’s the complete opposite of all this – the shop where it’s hard to find a sales assistant in the first place and when you do, they don’t want to help.

 

retail-703589_960_720.jpgI was shopping for a bra the other day – one to fit with a new dress because none of the bras I owned did the job. I went to my favourite lingerie department, looked through the rails, couldn’t find what I was looking for and went in search of a sales assistant. I imagined a salesperson would know the stock and be able to help since I was looking for something pretty specific.

When I finally found a sales assistant, which wasn’t easy, she was restocking a fixture. I felt like I was interrupting as opposed to wanting to give the store business! Her response was to trot over to where I had already looked and tell me that the bra I had described used to be there but evidently wasn’t anymore. And that was it. She went back to stocking the fixture, giving no advice as to how I might find the bra or paying me any further attention.

(In case you’re worrying, I found the bra eventually – from the same retailer but online. For the men who are reading this, bras are like shoes – better tried on, even if you know your size, so online isn’t ideal.)

I don’t want to get into the ‘every customer is different’ and ‘every shop is different’ debate. There is a one-size-fits-all solution and it should be used. The clue lies in the job title, sales assistant. ‘Sales’ – that bit’s easy: on behalf of the business, sales assistants will handle transactions. Assistant – their job is to help – when the customer needs help but not to mob or avoid helping by stocking shelves. Problem sorted.

Don’t let your mate proofread for you!

July 9, 2019 § Leave a comment

This is the true story of a guy who thought he could save a bit of money having his friend proofread a marketing newsletter for him – and is now counting the cost.

The guy’s an accountant who works on his own and wanted someone other than himself to look at the copy before he sent it out. (I agree it’s always a good idea to have a fresh pair of eyes look at your copy because the author tends to read what they think they’ve written and not what’s actually there.)

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One of his mates (who really liked English at school….) offered to do a thorough job for him and the problems started as soon as the accountant shared the copy. The duo had ‘creative differences’ – also known as an argument  – about the way the copy should be written.

The end of the story is that I did the job – proofreading only -because Rob was adamant that his words (unless they were a complete pile of nonsense) stayed the same.

He explained the friend story to illustrate how important it was to him to have the spelling/typos/grammar checked but not to receive chunks of rewritten text because he was confident about that side of the newsletter.

He also hinted – and I have no problem with it – that because he was paying me for the service he expected the work delivered to his deadline and redone if he wasn’t happy with it. If your mate’s helping you out, how good to you feel taking him to task if he takes a week when he promised to take a day?

So by commissioning a professional proofreader he didn’t damage a friendship. He’s still wrestling with an explanation for not accepting the many changes to the copy that his friend suggested. He feels he’s nearly out of a pickle – but not quite.

 

 

The secret language of the written word

April 29, 2019 § Leave a comment

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When you speak to someone they know what you’re saying because they can hear the words and, importantly, how you’re saying them.

When you text someone they can’t always be sure of what you’re saying – or, at least, exactly what you mean – because they can see the words but can’t hear the tone of voice behind them. So your innocent reply can be misread.

The same goes for content on a website. It’s a real craft to write content that’s friendly, appealing and easy-to-understand-in-one-reading.

Going back to text messages, I received one the other day from a friend who was replying to a ‘Happy Birthday’ text I’d sent her. It said: “Many thanks” which I thought was a stilted and corporate reply between two good friends. To be honest, I worried about it over a cup of tea and wondered what could be wrong – I’d got the right date, sent her a card as well (and in time) and my text to her was just the cherry on top.

It turned out, I discovered some days later, that she’d been at the hospital accompanying her mum to an appointment and had just been called in when my message pinged through. Rather than not answer it she dashed a reply to acknowledge it – a message that led me to worry for days because it didn’t sound rushed, just formal.

In the scheme of life, a slightly misunderstood text message is not so damaging because you can put it right quickly. Reality is that if you’re texting, you’ll also have the recipient’s number so that you can call to check out the meaning of something you’ve received, if it doesn’t sound quite right.

Not so simple is the website example. Many, many people will visit your site and it’ll be a long time – if ever- that you find out they’re not responding to it because they don’t understand what you’re saying. You won’t have the telephone number of everybody who visits because you don’t know who they are.

The fact here is that website content is best written by someone who initially doesn’t know your business, has to ask loads and loads of questions to understand it and then can craft good written copy to make it sound friendly, appealing and entirely understandable – without the visitor even having to try to work out what it means. I can help you with that – 07946 450708 or send an email to julie@bowlerhatmedia.co.uk.

7 essentials for successful copy

January 10, 2019 § Leave a comment

31959494_1540564399386190_3620031116922060800_nWhen you write copy to advertise your business people will judge you on the quality of your writing. That includes your posts on social media.

You might not think that’s fair because whereas you’re top of your trade – as a tourist bureau, for example – you’ve never got to grips with spelling, grammar and proofreading. Writing isn’t even part of your job – so why would potential customers care about typos? Actually you know the answer – because you do it yourself. If you read company literature that’s sloppy, you’ve immediately got a picture of said company as ‘cheap’ and a business that doesn’t pay attention to detail. If they’ve got their own communication wrong, what else are they going to get wrong? Sometimes the company becomes a laughing stock (see picture above).

Here are 7 steps that cover the basics:

  1. Read what you’ve written – not what you THINK you’ve written. A fresh pair of eyes on the job is ideal. If you’re working alone, go make a cup of coffee and come back to the copy later after a little break. You’re much more likely to spot errors then as opposed to a long hard stare at the same words in one sitting.
  2. Illustrate it – which I agree isn’t copy, as such, but is an essential ingredient for making your post/poster/blog look enticing. Uninterrupted blocks of text are off-putting. If you don’t have a photo to accompany the text,  companies such a Pixabay almost certainly do. Pixabay has a library of free images.
  3. Your headline is critical. Would it attract your attention? Perhaps you’re too close to the copy to know. Again, fresh eyes and an honest second opinion are useful. As a rule of thumb, don’t use your company name in the headline – it classifies the writing as definite advertising and reduces interest.
  4. Don’t talk posh. If you wouldn’t say it like that, don’t write it like that. Conversational rather than ‘stiff’ copy makes it easy on the reader, giving the copy a better chance of being read. I don’t mean slang!
  5. Don’t overlook numbers and little words like ‘to’ or ‘it’ . A department store local to me produced a promotional leaflet and got its telephone number wrong. It corrected its mistake by gluing white paper with the correct number over the error, thereby devaluing all the work it had put into the leaflet. I’ve also seen company literature where complicated words have been spelt beautifully but tiddly words have been allowed to morph into mistakes. Madly, headlines are often overlooked too.
  6. When it comes to blogs, make sure you categorise and tag accurately. Categories outline the subject you are writing about. Tags are more specific and pinpoint the topics within the subject. I like this explanation: a recipe for brownies on a food blog might have the categories ‘dessert’ and ‘baking’ and the tags would be something like ‘chocolate’ ‘brownies’ and ‘walnuts’. Every second around 17 posts are published on WordPress sites globally and you have to give yourself the best chance of being found.
  7. Lists are a great format to attract readers to a blog, either bulleted – or numbered like this one.

 

 

 

My Top Ten writing howlers

November 20, 2018 § Leave a comment

I was trained by a fierce, scary editor and now I’m a fierce, scary editor. These are my Top Ten writing howlers and when I see them in print, I want to scream.

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  1. You’re and your. This easily makes the number one slot because the words are not interchangeable and the mistake is made so many times by so many people. ‘You’re’ is the shortened version of ‘you are’ and ‘your’ means belonging to you. Most people know that but many still get it wrong when they write it.
  2. Apostrophes. An apostrophe is used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry‘s book; boys’ coats) or the omission of letters (e.g. cant; he’s). An apostrophe is never, ever, ever used to suggest a plural (e.g. 1960’s; BBQ’s). Let those words be and write them like this: 1960s and BBQs. I’m not the only one to get heated about the misuse of apostrophes, the Apostrophe Protection Society  was formed ‘with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark.’
  3. So. There are times that ‘so’ is a useful word and times that it serves no purpose whatsoever. This seems to be a modern invention, as in: ‘So I went down the road.’ Read that sentence without the word ‘so’ and it makes perfect sense.
  4. Capital letters.  We all learned the rule for capital letters in school: proper nouns and the beginning of sentences. And then we grew up and many of us threw it away. For example, you may have only one mother but there are many mothers so mother does not take a capital letter. It is not a proper noun. Your mother’s name, however, does.
  5. Thing. I put this down to my fierce and scary training. I was told that there’s always a better word than ‘thing’ and using it is lazy.
  6. Hey. This is American. We’re British, writing for a British audience.
  7. Who’s and whose. This is like you’re and your. Think of who’s as ‘who is’ and you’ve got it.
  8. Could of and could have.  This can also be ‘would have’, ‘must have’ ‘should have’ and becomes a mistake because people write it as they say it. Drives me crazy.
  9. Commas. ‘I like cooking dogs and kids.’ Don’t be a psycho – use commas!
  10. Bingo. B4 and U2, for example – write English not bingo.