Category Archives: writing craft

Finding appropriate images to use legally and fairly

glorious beach, north-west Scotland © Joanna Maitland

glorious beach, north-west Scotland © Joanna Maitland

How often, when you’re writing a blog or preparing something for social media, do you tell yourself you need to include an image? Most of the time, I’d guess. But finding appropriate images can be difficult.
Certainly time-consuming.

And even when you’ve found one, can you legally use it?

This one on the right, of a glorious beach in north-west Scotland, is fine because I took it myself. My copyright. No problem.

That’s my first tip.
Tip #1 Use your own pics whenever you can.
And if you’re worried about other people snaffling them, make sure you mark them as your copyright. (I don’t do that, normally, but in this instance, I have. Note to self: I probably should claim copyright routinely though I’m already partly covered by Tip #2 below.) Continue reading

Writing your Manuscript using Word Styles: The Easy Way

oops! on key on keyboardWe’ve just passed the submission deadline for the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. And I’ve heard whispers from some readers that the MSS they are being sent to read are not as professionally prepared as they should be. That’s sad. And unnecessary, too.
Professional layout isn’t difficult. Especially with Word Styles.

Some aspiring writers, I’m sure, tell themselves that the most important thing is to get their pearls onto the page. They can sort out the niceties of formatting later. But that’s a waste of effort. It means doing stuff twice when it could be done once, Right First Time. So this blog is about how to set yourself up to get your MS Right First Time, while you’re actually creating it.

This blog is long—sorry—because I’m trying to explain every step of what you need to do. But it won’t take long to do it, and you only have to set up these Word styles once, so it’s no great chore. In fact, it’s an investment. Once you’ve created them, you can keep using them in every story you write.

Easy write, right? 😉Hello I'm a Time Saver badge

What does a writer need by way of Word Styles?

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Inventive Punctuation and the Popular Novelist

exclamation mark in fireLet me start with an admission: I love inventive punctuation. Of course, you can do an awful lot, just by changing a comma into a dash. But some people go the whole hog into brackets, asterisks and the wild excesses of the exclamation mark. It all fascinates me.

Most people, of course, ignore it. Well, readers pick up the writers’ signals, I hope. But they don’t actually play around with the stuff. Why should they?

For some people, though, punctuation is a real headache, indissolubly tied to (horrors!) grammar. It’s a terrible shame.

That was the reason that, several years ago, Elizabeth Hawksley and I wrote a simple guide. Its working title was Punctuation for the Petrified, which the publisher vetoed for excellent reasons. It reflected our feelings, though. We wanted people to learn a few principles, have a source book to check things that worried them and, above all, relax and have fun. Continue reading

Weather in stories, with thanks to Snoopy

Stifling weather…

As we’re sweltering in this hot weather, I thought it might be interestng to blog about weather and writing. With a nod to the patron saint of writers, Charles M Schultz‘s wonderful Snoopy. That’s the Snoopy who longs to be a bestselling writer and who always—well, nearly always—begins his stories with his tried and tested formula about the weather.Snoopy start with weather: it was a dark and stormy nightTo be fair, there are variants and I had fun searching them out. With a grateful acknowledgement to Schultz and the Peanuts strip, here are a couple of weather variants you might enjoy. First there’s subtleSnoopy applies subtlety to the weather Continue reading

Is your book dated? A writer’s cautionary tale

In the beginning…

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Many years ago, around about my fourth book, I created a town called Maybridge. It was an amalgam of the town I grew up in and a much larger town a few miles away.

Since then, it has provided the background for many stories. It may be no more than a brief visit by the hero or heroine. A shopping trip, a visit to the bank manager, a visit to A&E.

In a couple of books the heroine lives there, and we see her set off on an adventure that will change her life.

Image by Trang Dang from Pixabay

Sometimes I set a story in the town and, over the years, I have created a world with a river (the River May), a thriving foodie area with independent shops, a huge old coaching inn that has become a great craft centre (owned by one of my heroes, naturally), parks, major companies and history.

World Building

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Punctuation and a New Challenge

owls, Little owlThe week before last I spent a blissful holiday in Dorset as a birdwatcher’s companion. We went on long walks in sea air and generally marvelled at the countryside. It was in full fig and glorious.

The Birdwatcher saw a couple of birds he didn’t expect, as well as one genuine rarity. And I spent a couple of hours communing with a Little Owl. It sat so still I worried that it was a stuffed toy. The Amiable Birdwatcher agreed that it might be a decoy to attract owls to that quarry as a des res, so took us back to check. And then, Sleepy Sam came out of his stupor to pursue a fly up one level on the rock face. So  after that, I stayed and watched him doze.

Punctuation – the Reckless Volunteer

writing energy magic, book, bluebell woodThe peace and quiet was very necessary. This last week I have been wrestling with new and exciting challenges. For I am to deliver an online course on punctuation next month and I have never done such a thing before. The online course, I mean.

Punctuation I had covered – or thought I did, anyway. Continue reading

Formatting front matter: hints for independent publishers

essential front matter: copyright symbol on computer key

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A while ago, I blogged about formatting ebook text. Quite a lot of people found it useful. So, as I promised then, I’m doing a follow-on blog about front matter—recommendations about what to include and how best to format it.

As with my previous post, these recommendations are based on how I format front matter for ebooks. You—or your book designer—may want to do things differently. Your choice. You have a good reason for doing it your way, don’t you?

Front Matter: what is it?

It does what it says on the tin 😉

Front matter is everything that comes in front of the text of the work.

Some of it is essential.
And some of it is optional.

Essential front matter consists of a title page and a copyright page.

Optional front matter can include any or all of: Continue reading

Romantic Novelists’ Association 60th Year

RNA 60th Anniversary logoOne of my biggest regrets of 2020, this Year of Sorrows, is that we never got to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association. The first meeting was in January 1960. This anniversary year will soon run out.

It occurred to me, therefore, that I should do something now, before Christmas takes its irresistible hold.

There are excellent up-to-date entries on the RNA’s website for current information. And I heartily recommend it.

This blog, however, is wholly personal. Here you will find a few random memories of the RNA and, above all, the wonderful people I have found there, in books and in person.

Romantic Novelists’ Association and Sophie Weston, Debut Author

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Formatting ebook text: hints for independent publishers

Beach Hut Surprise, text formatting by Joanna Maitland

Apart from Beach Hut Surprise, I’ve recently been republishing some of my vintage books on Amazon. In revised (and, I hope, better) editions. I do all my own formatting and I thought I would share some of the approach I use. I’ll add in tips and tricks, too.

For those who’d like to do their own e-publishing, but haven’t yet dared, I hope this will encourage you to have a go. It really isn’t all that difficult. Honest.

Though—shameless self-promo here—if you absolutely can’t face doing your own formatting, I’d be happy to do it for you.

For a fee, of course 😉

Formatting: what it isn’t

This blog is not about editing or proofreading a manuscript. Formatting an ebook starts from the point where the manuscript has already been edited and proofread. A formatter does not normally read the detailed text she’s working on. If she had to do that, the charges would be much, much higher.

exclamation mark in fireThe formatter’s job is to take your perfect manuscript and turn it into a file that can be uploaded to the internet. If the manuscript isn’t perfect, your imperfections will be translated into the e-pubbed version. And you don’t want that, do you?

As an aside, I do normally run a spellcheck on manuscripts before I start formatting. And the spellcheck does sometimes point out errors. Does that mean that the author did not run the spellcheck on her manuscript? I hope not. Maybe it’s just that my spellcheck works differently. In the end, if the published ebook contains spelling errors—or any other editing errors that should have been corrected—it is down to the author, not the formatter.

Formatting: four simple constituents

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Finding Your Voice

When two writer friends meet their first talk is of editorial revisions. You don’t risk a word on that unfinished book in case it stays that way. And you don’t talk about horrible reviews until you’re on at least your second glass.

But revisions are common to all writers and moaning about them – or sometimes sharing the joy – is a truly bonding experience.

This is the season when reports from the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme  start to come back. Many of them will contain suggested revisions. Welcome to the club, guys!

But sometimes the report (or a book doctor or even an experienced reader friend) may say: “I don’t think you’ve found your voice yet.” “Inauthentic” may even be murmured.

What does it MEAN? And what can you do about it? Continue reading