Showing posts with label Microsoft Word. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Microsoft Word. Show all posts

10 December 2019

Pull on Your Galoshes, We’re Headed into the Slush Pile


Earlier this year I joined Black Cat Mystery Magazine as co-editor, replacing the irreplaceable Carla Coupe. Unlike Carla, who performed multiple duties for Wildside Press prior to her retirement, my primary responsibility as the junior co-editor is to read and assess submissions.

This isn’t new territory for me—I’ve edited six published anthologies, including, most recently, The Eyes of Texas: Private Eyes from the Panhandle to the Piney Woods (Down & Out Books), and another (Mickey Finn: 21st Century Noir) that’s scheduled for publication next year. I also co-created and co-edit (with Trey R. Barker) the invitation-only serial novella anthology series Gun + Tacos, and I’m currently reading submissions for Mickey Finn 2 and the second season of Guns + Tacos, and I’ve begun work on yet another anthology to be named later.

There is a distinct difference between reading slush for my own anthologies and reading slush for Black Cat Mystery Magazine. The most obvious distinction is the type of stories appropriate for each. My anthologies have all been themed, and most have favored hardboiled, noir, and/or private eye stories. The stories in BCMM are more representative of the many subgenres of mystery.

The second distinction is the decision-making process. With my anthologies I make the final decisions and the anthologies succeed or fail due to those decisions. BCMM, on the other hand, has two decision makers. Though John Betancourt, as publisher and senior co-editor makes final decisions, the co-editorship is structured such that every accepted story has been approved by both editors.

Though there’s not yet any interesting statistical information to report on my most recent editorial efforts, the seventy-four stories in my first five anthologies earned seven award nominations (Anthony, Derringer, Edgar, Shamus, etc.) and four “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories” or “Honorable Mentions” in annual best-of-year anthologies.

BONA FIDES

All of the above is to establish my bona fides before this:

Editors often discuss the “indefinable something” that separates an accepted submission from a rejected submission. We sit on panels and discuss plot and setting and characterization. We debate whether certain words—such as Dumpster/dumpster—have lost their trademark status and can now be rendered all lowercase. We arm wrestle over the use or non-use of the Oxford comma. We do all of these things when talking to writers and amongst ourselves, but we never seem to mention aloud one of the most telling signs that a manuscript will be rejected.

The manuscript itself.

Sure, we often tell writers to follow Shunn or some similar format, but the appearance of a manuscript when printed on paper isn’t all that we see. With the vast majority of manuscripts now submitted as Word documents, I’ve discovered how little many writers know about using one of the primary tools of their trade.

And, perhaps not surprisingly, the writers least familiar with Word also seem to be the writers most likely to have their submissions rejected.

If I open a file and discover a return at the end of every line as if the story were written on a typewriter, or if I see the title centered on the page through the use of a zillion spaces, or if I see any of several other signs that the writer has not mastered the fundamentals of Word, I’m already negatively predisposed toward the manuscript.

Why?

Because the writing often displays the same inattention to detail.

I read anyhow because I am sometimes surprised. Sometimes.

KING OF THE WORLD

If I were king of the world, the czar of publishing, or in some other authoritarian position to impose my will upon writers, I would do the following: Make it mandatory for every writer to master the basics of Word.

Perhaps we could start by having every creative writing program offer a mandatory class in the use of Word as part of the degree plan. Perhaps we could have every writing conference offer a mandatory seminar in the use of Word. Perhaps we could have every critique group treat themselves to an annual refresher course from their most experienced tech-savvy member (or from someone outside the group, if appropriate).

Perhaps, and this may be a radical thought, we could suggest that writers and would-be writers read the instruction manual, use the help menu, or use a search engine to find instructions on the internet for how to do things such as indent a paragraph, center a line of text, insert an em-dash, insert headers and automatically number pages, and do any of a number of other things that should already be part of a writer’s skill set.

Love it or hate it, Word is the de facto word processing program, and it is a fundamental tool of the trade. If you don’t know how to use the tools of your trade, you hobble yourself. Sure, a brain surgeon might be able to repair your aneurysm with a pipe wrench, but how confident would you feel on that operating room table when he opened up his toolbox?

So, before I’ve even read a word of your manuscript, show me that you know how to use the tools of your trade. Then show me you can write.


Recently published stories include: “The Town Where Money Grew on Trees” in Tough, November 5, 2019, “The Show Must Go On” in Black Cat Mystery Magazine #5, “Who Done It” in Seascape: The Best New England Crime Stories 2019 (Level Best Books), and “Love, or Something Like it” in Crime Travel (Wildside Press).

Earlier this month subscribers to Guns + Tacos received episode 6 of the first season, “A Beretta, Burritos and Bears” by James A. Hearn. Subscribers also received a bonus story that I wrote, “Plantanos con Lechera and a Snub-Nosed .38.” If you want to read all six episodes and the bonus story, there’s still time to subscribe!

22 July 2012

Professional Tips– Microsoft Word Chapters


Microsoft Wordby Leigh Lundin

Last week, I promised to show you how to create self-updating chapters. We're going to do much more than that today. No one's ever accused Microsoft of being user-friendly, so let's get started.

Stylin'

You've probably heard of styles and style sheets. If you're a writer and especially if you write novels, learning how to use them saves you time and effort in the long run.

Why? Why not select bold and italic as I've always done? And selecting double-space isn't so difficult, is it?

Because, Grasshopper, we'll do much more than that, and if you save them in a template (.dot or .dotx) then you don't have to redo them each time.

The screen shots come from MS Word 2011 for Macintosh but, depending upon which of the many versions of Word you're using, yours should prove similar.

Paragraphs

StyleMicrosoft Word defaults to a style sheet called Normal. Through use, this generalized template can change over time. If your nine-year-old daughter creates notes for her special friends, you may end up with 18-point lavender Nuptials Script as your new setting. Even if that doesn't happen, Microsoft's Normal style isn't suitable for submission to editors; at the very least indentation and double-spacing won't be set.

To create your new style settings, find the Style dialogue box. The two most recent versions of MS Word for Windows are exceptionally obnoxious– I know at least one editor who still uses MS Word 2003 and doesn't plan migrating any time soon. If you're using MS Word 2007 or 2010, check under that little gear icon for the Format menu and then look for Style. Macintosh users will see the Format menu where it's always been and can select Style from that. Click New.
style: paragraphWe could use Normal style (not the same as Normal template– see what I mean?) but let's set a style specifically for the body of manuscripts. Call it 'paragraph' and type that in. Set the font to Times or Times New Roman unless your editor requests Courier. Professionals recommend 10- to 12-point as a standard type size. 10-point saves paper if you're writing a novel, 12-point saves your editor's eyes. If you're submitting electronically, by all means give your editor a break.

We've chosen 'paragraph' as our main formatting name, but you may want to create particular styles in the course of your novel, styles such as 'eMail' or 'telegram' or even 'suicide note'.
Format submenu: paragraphNote the Format submenu (which is not the same as the hi-level Format menu we used to navigate here) in the lower left corner. Select Paragraph, which we'll use to set block formatting.
paragraph info 1Set the alignment to Left, the line spacing to Double, and then set the indentation to your editor's demands. In the US, that will likely be between a quarter and half inch; in the rest of the world, set the indentation to 1cm (which, at .39 inch also works as a good in-between setting for the USA).
paragraph info 2At the top, click on the Line and Page Breaks button. Turn all those settings off, which helps editors estimate how much space your article will take.

Click Okay and Apply, and if you wish, save your work as a template, say, My Novel.dot.

Chapter and Verse

My friend, Claire, sent me her novel where she'd carefully (and manually) numbered each chapter, but chapter 17 appeared twice and another two may have been out of order. Like page numbering, MS Word will automatically number your chapters– even renumber them when you add chapters in the middle– if you set up your styles correctly. Here's how to do that.

style numbering As outlined above, to bring up the Style dialogue box, locate the Format menu, select Style, and click on New again. Name this new style 'chapter' and set the 'Style Type', 'Style Based On', and 'Style for Following Paragraph' to 'paragraph'. In other words, you're piggy-backing your 'chapter' style on your previous 'paragraph' style to get the correct font, size, and double-spacing.
paragraph info 3 As above, click Paragraph in the Format submenu, but this time set the indentation back to 0. Set the 'Outline Level' to Level 1; this is where the magic starts to happen. Click Okay.
paragraph info 4 As before, click on the Line and Page Breaks button. Turn on 'Keep with Next' and 'Keep Lines Together'. Click Okay.
Format submenu: numberingOpen the Format submenu again and this time select Numbering…
numbering menu 1 You'll see a dialogue box titled something like 'Bullets and Numbering', which allows you to set up lists, but also controls outlines. If you select 'Outline Numbered', you may notice a thumbnail preview that has 'Chapter' in it, which can save us time. Select it and then click Customize.
numbering menu 2 You shouldn't have to do much other than check settings, which should look similar to that shown here. You may click the Font button to confirm that we're indeed using bold Times. When satisfied, click Okay (once), Okay (again), and Close (or Apply if you happen to have the cursor positioned where you want a Chapter heading).
chapter 0 Anytime you wish to create a new chapter, position the cursor at your chosen location. Then from the 'chapter' setting in your Styles button bar or from the Format > Styles > chapter menus, select chapter and congratulate yourself when the appropriately numbered chapter falls into place. Because we instructed the 'chapter' style that you wished to follow on with the 'paragraph' style, you should be find your everything in place to continue writing.
chapter 1 Enhance your template with your by-line and the heading as discussed last week. Save the template when you're satisfied.

Now you're set to crank out that next award-winning novel or short story. Good luck!

15 July 2012

Professional Tips– Microsoft Word Headers


Microsoft Wordby Leigh Lundin

Sometimes writers need to work with the technical aspects of formatting a document. This often means setting up style sheets for a document and then saving them as a template. Much has been written about this elsewhere, but a couple of topics elude writers, such as how to automatically update chapter numbers and how to set page numbers and a word count.

Kicking and screaming, a couple of months ago I upgraded from Microsoft Word 2004 for Macintosh to Word 2011, only because the beautiful new MacBook Air (a piece of sculpture) didn't support the eight year old MS Office. I abhorred 'improvements' Microsoft made to the Windows versions, which rendered the venerable suite unusable except to the most anally ardent users.

BaconAlthough I retained the templates I'd created before, I decided to format a document for a manuscript. It's taken HOURS to figure out the new and improved Microsoft Word. With that in mind, I'll pass on a few tips just for creating smart headers that will maintain the date, page numbers, and word count.

Creating MS Word Headers Without Slitting Your Wrists

So, let's say you set up standard document formatting… double-spaced 12 point Times or Courier, the first line of each paragraph indented, but you want the headings to look professional. Here's how to do it.

View > Header Go to the View menu and choose Header and Footer, i.e, View > Header and Footer. If you happen to be in Print Layout mode (Page Layout in previous versions) and can see or estimate where the header is, you can also double-click the header.
You should see a display that looks something like this. Note check box that says Different First Page… Don't check it yet, but you will in a moment. If you click on the Header icon, you're offered a plethora of not-very-useful headers. Unless you want to build your header manually, select the first one in the upper left.
Now select the pieces that say [Type Text] and enter your particulars, generally your real name, the manuscript title, and the page number. It's wise to place the page number in the upper right corner of each page to make life easy for editors. If you have thoughts of submitting your manuscript outside the United States, consider the convention of setting your surname in all caps; i.e, SHAKESPEARE, William. To create a page number that updates for each page, type the word 'page' with a blank following and then click the Page # icon.
Once you've established page 2 through 844 of your opus, check-mark the Different First Page setting. This allows you to build a header unique to page 1 containing your true name, address, telephone, eMail address, date, and word count. An actual copyright is unnecessary because publications will copyright your manuscript for you, but a © is a relatively unobtrusive reminder when you submitt the bloody thing. In days gone by, authors often included their SSN, which is no longer safe, but at least one instructor suggests including the last four digits of your SSN as an 'ID'.
Microsoft Word can use 'fields' that can be updated by the program or by the author. You can set Field Shading in Preferences to make them more visible while editing and the shading won't show when printing. The Page # above is an example of such a field. Another is Date, which you can set by clicking the Date icon. If you want only the year displayed, right click the field and select Toggle Field Codes. This reveals the internal code behind the field. If you want to display only the year, edit the code until it reads: {DATE \@ "yyyy"}. Then Toggle Field Codes again.
Field dialog box Editors require us to include the number of words rounded to the nearest 100 or so, but you can include an exact word count in the following way. Position the cursor where you want the word count. In the Insert menu, select Field…; i.e, Insert > Field… That invokes a dialogue box. In the left panel, select Document Information and from the right panel select NumWords. Click OK. You'll see the number of words currently in your document (if any).
Field menu The good news is you can keep the number-of-words field updated, but Word has a minor hitch: It doesn't keep a running tally in your document. Instead it only updates the field (a) when you Print or Print Preview the document or (b) when you manually tell it to update. To manually update, either select Print Preview or double-click the header to edit it and right-click the field. Select Update Field. You'll see the new word count.
Why go through all this work for one document? Because if you create a generic document with your name, address, word count, double-spacing, etc, you can save the document as boilerplate or 'template' to reuse for each new story. From the File menu, select Save As… and then set the Format to Word Template (.dot or .dotx). I.e, File > Format… > Format > Word Template. Give a name you remember. The next time you create a new document, select File > New from Template… and look for your prototype.

Templates become more valuable if you're writing a book, because you can create one that will update chapter numbers automatically, even if you decide to insert a new chapter in the middle of your book. That, however, is a topic for another time.