Monday, 31 October 2011

I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 3

Double spacing. Why do we do it? And what exactly is it?

Well, first things first: double spacing is NOT two spaces between every word, or sentence.

Double spacing means having a blank line between each line of text.


The image here shows how to set it up in Microsoft Word, although many other word processors operate in a similar fashion. In Word, go up to Tools, select Paragraph and the following window will appear.

About half way down the window are the options for spacing. In the middle of this section is the drop-down menu for line spacing. Select the arrow, and then choose Double from the drop down list.

THAT'S IT! Yes, that is all there is to it. (Okay, I lie, you also have to press OK at the bottom, too.)

DO NOT select anything in the boxes to the left, labelled Before or After. These need to be left at 0pt. (I've explained why in last week's post - I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 2)

So, why do we use double-spacing? Basically, because it's tradition. It's what writers always have done, since the days when anything printed, be it newspaper, magazine, or book, was published using hot metal presses. An editor would take a double-spaced typescript, use the extra space between each sentence to annotate to the typesetter any changes that needed making, or inserting any special instructions to the typesetter about headings, or inserting images, and then send the document to the typesetter for setting out on the metal presses.

Proofreaders and copy-editors needed double-spaced text to give them the space they required to annotate any corrections.

But since the advent of computers, hot metal presses have not been used to publish material. So why do we still do it? Double-spaced text is easier to read. (Try it. Print out one of your typescripts in double-spaced format and then print out the same text in single spaced format. Which is easier on the eye?) This is why writing competitions ask for double-spaced text. It is far easier for the judge to read. I once had to judge a pile of 166 short stories (of up to 4,500 words each) and it's surprising how quickly the eyes tire.

Editors know how much text there is on a double-spaced page. And yes, the gaps still give the editor space to write notes or comments for other staff to action.

When should you not double-space your text? When the editor tells you there's no need to. Yes, that's right. If an editor tells you there's no need to double-space, then you don't have to do it. But don't do this until you have permission from the editor.  (Let's be honest, if an editor says he wants your manuscript on pink paper, in Comic Sans font, at size 8, then that's what you bloody well give him!) But until you are told otherwise, you give an editor double-spaced text.

So, when you set up your article, short story or book template, make sure you include double-spaced text. Whilst double-spaced text is no longer required for the publication process, it's what writers have been doing for years and what many publishers continue to ask for today.

Good luck.

Monday, 24 October 2011

I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 2

Last week, I looked at text justification, this week, I thought I'd look at paragraph layout. This is an area that confuses many new students, yet it needn't. There are two accepted styles, and the  key is using the same one throughout your piece; don't mix and match.

Your choice is to either use block paragraphing or indented paragraphing.

The style that many writers recognise is indented paragraphing. Indented paragraphing is what you see in most published articles, short stories and novels. This is where (generally with the exception of the first paragraph of the piece) the first line of each new paragraph is indented. The first word of the paragraph appears a few spaces to the right of the rest of the paragraph. So, to create your new paragraph, press the RETURN key on your keyboard once, then press the TAB key once. (Don't press the space bar several times to create your indent.)

Block paragraphing is what you see here in this posting. Instead of the first line of each paragraph being indented, an extra blank line appears between each paragraph. This is achieved by pressing the RETURN/ENTER key of your keyboard twice. Pressing it once, drops your cursor to the next line, pressing it the second time means your text now appears under that blank line.

So, why have two styles, especially when most published text uses the indented paragraph system? Here's the science bit ...

Publishers tend to use one of two computer software packages for designing the layout of their publications: QuarkXpress (from Quark) and InDesign (from Adobe). There are other software packages out there, but these are the two biggest. When you sell a piece of your writing, the publisher will import your text into their design package. A publisher explained to me that one of these programmes doesn't recognise an indented tab from some word processor packages, whereas it does recognise the block paragraphing and (ironically) converts the blocked paragraphing into indented paragraphing!

Personally, I prefer indented paragraphing. Whilst block paragraphing works well for non-fiction, I don't think it looks right in fiction, especially if your fiction contains a lot of dialogue. Indented paragraphing works well for fiction and non-fiction.

Finally, when you're setting up your page layout in your word processor, and setting up your double-spacing (more of which next week), make sure your spacing before and after is set at 0pt. Before and after spacing (seen on the left of this picture here) determines the space between paragraphs. Writers who use block paragraphing often use this to set the gap between each paragraph. Don't do it like this, because the publishers simply have to strip it all out. Just press the RETURN KEY twice.

So, to sum up with paragraphing, use either block paragraphing or indented paragraphing, but not both. And when you're writing, use the RETURN + TAB key (indented paragraphs), or the RETURN + RETURN key (block paragraph) combination.

Next week, I'll look at double-spacing and why every writer is told to use it, how to use it properly, and when you don't have to use it.

Good luck.

Monday, 17 October 2011

I'll Put That Bit There ... Part 1

I've received a couple of queries recently about manuscript layout, particularly for magazines, so I thought this was something I'd look at again over the next few posts.

The key point I want to make here is that you are the writer, not the page layout designer. Think of yourself as the content supplier, not the designer.

Left/Right Justification
Joseline recently emailed enquiring whether text should be left and right justified, as it often is in published books and magazines.

First of all, here are some justification examples:

This is LEFT justified text. Notice how, when text is spread over several lines, it has a straight edge down the left hand side of the page/screen, but the text on the right has a 'ragged' edge, with variable amounts of white space between the last word on the line and the edge of the page/screen. The amount of white space depends upon the size of the following word, which is too big to fit on the previous line.


This is RIGHT justified text. Here, when text is spread over several lines, it has a straight edge down the right hand side of the page/screen, but the text on the left has a 'ragged' edge, with some white space between the edge of the page/screen and the first word on the line. 

This is BOTH LEFT AND RIGHT justified text. This time, the text has a straight edge down the left and right hand side of the page/screen. This is how many books are published and how many magazine text columns are aligned. It looks neater. However, it also s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s the text across the page, inserting extra spaces and gaps between words to ensure that both sides of the page have a straight edge.

Because left AND right justified text has extra spaces to ensure both sides of the text have straight edges, this reduces the number of words on a page. Another problem this creates is that it adds extra 'hidden' characters in the text (a space is still a character, even though you can't 'see' it), which can cause problems when your text is copied from your word-processing document and imported into the publication's magazine layout software (such as Quark, Adobe Indesign). And then some poor person at the magazine has to sit there and delete all of the hidden characters.

So, all you need to do is LEFT JUSTIFY your text only.

You can also centre your text.
This is acceptable for titles ...
... BUT NOT YOUR WHOLE TEXT!

In Part 2, I'll look at paragraphing - should you indent, or use block paragraphs? And I'll try to explain why some magazines prefer indented paragraphs, when others prefer block paragraphs.

Good luck!

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Life Time of a Submission

The November issue of Dogs Monthly magazine carries an article of mine about fireworks (I like the promotion of it on the front cover!). But this idea was first born in August 2006.

Having done the research for a different commissioned piece, I realised I could quickly produce an article for dog owners, using the same information, so I submitted this speculative article to a dog magazine on 17th August (not Dogs Monthly!). Of course, an article about how to help dogs cope with fireworks is best aimed at the November issue of a magazine, however, fireworks are just as much an issue for dogs owners at Christmas and New Year too, so the piece may also have been suitable for the December or January issues.

At the end of December (when the January issue had been published), I contacted the editor to enquire if they were still interested in my feature. I heard back in February 2007 - the editor liked it and wanted to retain it for possible use in the November 2007 issue.

Well, time flies and the next thing I realised was that it was January 2008 and the article hadn't been used. I tried contacting the magazine, but heard nothing back. I tried contacting again in January 2009, but heard nothing.

In May 2009, I contacted the magazine again, mentioning the dates I tried contacting the editor in the past, and enquiring whether they were still interested in the feature. The editor emailed back the following day, saying they remembered it, but could I send a duplicate copy. This I did by return. A few days later, the editor emailed saying that they hoped to use it in the November 2009 issue.

Well, I'm sure by now you can guess where this one is heading. Suffice to say, it didn't appear in the November issue. So, in January 2010, I emailed the editor and enquired if they were planning on using it in 2010, if not, then I wanted to offer the piece elsewhere. The editor replied, saying that they couldn't guarantee using it this year, so I was free to offer it elsewhere.

Which I did, to Dogs Monthly, at the end of July 2010. The feature wasn't used in their November issue (with a feeling of deja vu!), so in January 2011, I enquired if the article was of interest to the editor. She said yes, and in June 2011, she asked me to bring the feature up to date again (because I'd submitted it a year previously) and provide a short biography.

Then, lo and behold, after five years, the article finally saw publication.

There are a few points to make here:

1. I said at the beginning this was a speculative piece. When I'm commissioned to write a feature, I always try to get another article (or two) out of the research I've undertaken. Whilst I try to get commissions for these, sometimes it only takes a short while to write the 'extra' article and so I'll risk a speculative submission. This example shows the risk of speculative submissions. Commissioned work rarely gets treated in this way.
2. Maintaining accurate records is imperative. Remember, you should know exactly where all of your submissions are at any one time. This is a business. You are competing with other professionals, even if your work is written around your day job and looking after the family.
3. However, the main point I want to make here is to never give up. I never set out on a journey of five years, but that's what it ended up taking. And it's only by keeping on top of submissions and contacting editors, without hassling them, that this piece has finally been published (and paid for).

Who knows what happened at the first magazine I submitted it to. Perhaps there was a plan to use it but something better came up, which was used instead. I don't know. I don't hold any grudges against the first magazine I sent it to. (But I haven't sent them any more stuff since!)

So, if you haven't heard from an editor, don't necessarily assume that's the end of your submission. Make enquiries. Don't chase two days after you submitted the piece. Even editors have days off and annual leave, and rumour has it, they're human and get stuff like the flu and coughs and colds too. They don't like being hassled during the week that the magazine goes to press, and they only deal with urgent emails and phone calls in that week, so everyone else has to take a back seat. But if several months have passed, then it's not unreasonable to make contact and just ask if your submission is of interest.

And if it turns out your target market is not interested, then find a new one. Stay persistent, and you increase your chances of publication. Ten years is my record, so far, for writing a piece and then finally seeing it published.

Good luck!


Monday, 3 October 2011

Better Than Publication?

For many, being published is one of the greatest feelings there is. For those of us earning a living from it, being paid for it is even better! But, can anything beat that feeling of publication? I think so. Reader interaction.

I had an article published in the September 2011 issue of Outdoor Photography, entitled Where There's A Will... It looked (in a fairly light-hearted way) at why photographers need a 'last will and testament' in this digital age.

A few days ago, I was reading the October issue of Outdoor Photography and read a letter from one reader praising my article. He said that whilst he always knew he ought to get a will written, my article pointed out the drawbacks of failing to do this. He's since seen a solicitor and now has a will.

I feel proud to have been part of this. That reader now has a will because of something that I wrote. Should he die tomorrow (and I hope he doesn't!), his family will find the administration of sorting out his finances much simpler. In a small way, I have influenced that reader's life. (Or perhaps I mean the aftermath of his death!) Seeing his letter in the magazine though, brought it home that what we write can affect people's lives.

Incidentally, I wrote a similar article on this topic for Writing Magazine, and you can read the article on my website here. All writers need wills, as well as photographers. (Actually, being blunt, EVERYBODY should have a will.)

A similar thing happened last week. As a member of the Society of Authors, I receive their quarterly publication, The Author. In it was an article I'd written about the benefits of writers taking a walk, getting away from their desks to stretch their muscles, having been hunched up over a keyboard for several hours at a time. I discussed, not only the physical benefits, but the mental benefits of walking too.

Within 48 hours of receiving my copy, I began getting emails from other society members, saying how much they'd enjoyed my article. Some authors contacted me to say they agreed with what I'd said, whilst others emailed to say that following my piece they too were going to give this a try.

And if you want to read why I think all writers should be walking away from their desks on a regular basis, then follow this link.

So, next time you have something published, don't just buy a copy of the magazine with your piece in it. Buy the next issue too, to find out whether your words moved the readers to write in too.

Good luck.