Books

Authors Notice Good Editors: What to Look For

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Let’s talk editing. I’ve been trained as a copy editor, have edited newsletters for content and grammar, and have had four separate editing experiences as a writer. I also began my publishing career as a proofreader, learnt a bit about graphic design, and was a desktop publisher. I’ve worked on text the traditional way and the newer computerized way. So I’ve pretty much covered the gamut. In my editing life, I received kudos in the Preface to the Handbook of Speech Language Pathology and Audiology as a result of my editing of that tome. And in my writing life, Lifeliner received Reader Views Best Biography award and She was a finalist in the Word Guild Awards. Good editing makes or breaks a book, and authors notice. In fact, a bad editor can make the original manuscript worse. A good editor is hard to find and worth a lot.

Preface Pg to Speech Language Pathology and Audiology Lift Out Shireen Jeejeebhoy

Word Guild Award Finalist Sticker  awards2008logogold

So what to look for in an editor?

I shall begin with my first editor, whom I worked with on a short story – which you can find in Eleven Shorts +1. I met her through my Creative Writing Prof at the University of Toronto. She worked for a small literary magazine in Toronto and was very much interested in my story Our Father. Back in those days, there was no email, but I had been typing my essays and stories on a computer since the 1970s. I handed her a printout of my story. Later, we met at a café, just like you see in the movies and read about in books, to go over the flow of my story, the characterization, the plot – content-type stuff. It was a bit hard for a young writer, as I was then, to hear her criticisms, but I took heart from her enthusiasm and went back home to rewrite it. We met again in the same café, and although the story was better, it still needed work. Again, her comments were all on the content side. We had not yet reached the point of editing the story for grammar and punctuation. The third time was the charm. After that, I copyedited it myself (I don’t recall if she gave me any notations on that or not).

It was a fulfilling process. It was the only time I ever felt like I was collaborating with someone over my written work, who was invested in me and wanted me to succeed, who wasn’t afraid to point out the flaws and was wise enough to tell me what worked. In short, was rooting for my story. If you find an editor like that, keep them!

My other three editing experiences were with my books.

One editor was faceless and nameless, which I suppose was rather like I was to the authors back in my editing days. Back then, only the Acquisitions Editor met with the authors and spoke to them directly about their book (the Acquisitions Editor was in charge of finding authors and developing their books; once written, the manuscripts went to my boss, then after her review, to me). I remember one time I really could not fathom what the author was trying to say and needed to speak with him so that I could edit it. My boss and the Acquisitions Editor were loathe to let me call him up. We had long discussions about how everyone, including me, at the publishing company had to keep the authors happy, and how they were afraid that my criticism would upset him. Since I was so young, they were afraid my youth and direct way would cost them an author. I assured them I knew how to speak diplomatically. I think we even went over what I would say as they began to be persuaded by my argument that I really needed to understand what he wanted to write so that I could edit it well and thus make him look good. The quality of my work was how I’d keep him happy. I got my way. After the end of our 15-minute conversation, he thanked me for calling him. And I felt pleased with myself for being able to keep him happy while improving the text.

But back to the faceless editor. The editor edited for content and then for grammar and punctuation. By this time, editing was no longer being done on the manuscript page with pencil or red pen, but in Word using Track Changes. And oy, were there a lot. Luckily, there are guidelines online on how to use track changes because if you haven’t used them before (or the inexecrable Word), it can be confusing. Some were very hard for me to follow because of wholesale moves of paragraphs and pages. There were demands to fill in scenes, clarify things, and so on. I don’t remember what all I was required to do, but it was disheartening to see so much marking up of my work. Yet I knew it would make it a better book. I recognized that the editor had spent a lot of time and attention on my work, both for content and for copyediting. That was the key: the obvious effort behind the markups.

Sometimes you may find you have an editor that whips through your manuscript. Maybe you’ll think having not many comments is a good thing. Unless you’ve written many books, all of which have been edited, and each of which in succession has needed less and less editing, a lack of comments and track changes or inconsistent changes (some sections show many comments, other pages are completely bare) are a sign of an indifferent editor. Dump em or ask for a new one if you’re with a publisher or using an editing company.

The intensive experience was painful, but I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that it made for a better book.

Another editing experience was with a freelancer. You can find freelancers through editor associations, on the Internet, or through Twitter. I thought the freelancer would copy edit as well as content edit. But not really, as I learnt. Since then I’ve re-learnt that copyediting comes right at the end, only after the manuscript has gone through content editing and is done done. When looking for a freelancer, ensure you know what they will do. If you want and they say they will do content editing, don’t expect copyediting. They may point out some obvious punctuation or grammatical errors, but it won’t be a complete job in that way nor should it be at that point.

The freelancer wrote a memo pointing out the big picture issues, with specific comments chapter by chapter where warranted. The editor also wrote comments on the manuscript itself (in Word) regarding specific paragraphs or sentences or characters, which were referred to in the big picture memo as well to ensure I knew what the editor was seeing and what I needed to respond to.

There were some cultural issues that I had not thought of because we all think that since we speak English, we’re very similar us citizens of Canada, the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand. But we’re not. There are differences in vocabulary, grammar, punctuation, word usage, and ways of seeing things. It may be best to find a content editor who lives in the same country or continent as you do if you don’t want to change your cultural references and deal with grammatical changes that don’t apply in the country you live. Yet the opposite could be good too. UK and US authors seem to think everyone knows everything about their cultures and way of living and don’t need to explain them in their books. As a reader immersed in British culture and highly exposed to American and living in Canada, I can understand most of the inside stuff. But many probably don’t. Thus in our new global-reading world if you want your cultural references exposed so that you can explain them in some natural way in your story, find a content editor across the ocean.

I was able to have some back-and-forth discussion with the freelancer, and that was quite helpful to me. But it still didn’t reach the level of collaboration I had with my first editor and that I still miss.

That brings me to how very important communication is to the editing process. You want an editor who

  • can write an opening memo about what they see as the big picture. You want them to invite comment, which tells you they want to understand what the author is striving to achieve. In that way, they can do the best possible job on a (difficult) manuscript;
  • is willing to read your explanation notes when you first submit a manuscript;
  • understands the need to read past email correspondence with previous editors in order to catch up to where the work is at, if your manuscript has gone through a few editors;
  • is willing to ask you questions if they don’t understand something while they’re mid-edit (like I did with that author back in my editing days). Some may prefer to wait till the end, but a savvy editor will realise that sometimes they have to do it earlier in order to finish editing the manuscript well and not perpetuate errors;
  • is willing to discuss points of disagreement rather than bullying their edits onto you;
  • shows an interest in your work (or at least can fake it) so that they spur you on through this hard process;
  • is willing to answer your questions, knowing that it will make your book better. And that’s the ultimate goal of every editor: turn a manuscript into a great book.

When the editor has poor communication skills or won’t take the time to comment properly and completely, then going through the editing process will be a depressing and frustrating experience. It feels like standing on shifting sand. It may even make you second-guess your manuscript because you will have no idea what works and what doesn’t work.

If your editor shows poor communication skills, dump em or demand a new one if you’re working with a company or publisher.

A copy editor does not necessarily need to be your collaborator, but if you intend to write more than one book, you need to find a content editor who will become one, an editor you feel confident sticking with over the long term from book to book. However, once you find a good copy editor, stick with them. Too many are sloppy and don’t seem to have figured out the amazing tool of find-and-replace.

In the old days, a copy editor needed eagle eyes. Reading the printed word on the static page meant that if you found an inconsistent spelling of, for example, “recognize,” then you had to spot every single iteration of that word in order to fix the spelling. What you didn’t want to end up with was a book that had both “recognize” and “recognise” in it. Today, it’s so easy to fix. No eagle eyes needed! The first time you spot an inconsistent spelling or misspelling, you press Ctrl-F, type in the wrongly spelled word in the Find box, type in the correct spelling in the Replace box, click Find to find it, click Replace, do it word by word instead of Replace All because you never know what the computer will end up replacing, and repeat from the beginning of the manuscript just in case you missed a misspelling earlier and for every verb tense of the word. Then resume editing where you left off. Or if you need to stay focussed on the editing, open up a document where you list all the inconsistent spellings and misspellings to find and replace when finished. In the old days, you also had to spot double periods, missing spaces, double spaces manually – some of which required visual recognition skills. Today, after you’re all done editing, after the author has gone through the track changes, then the copy editor or proofreader can run a final find-and-replace of all those pesky details. It’s fast and easy.

You may want to ask your prospective editor if they know how to use that function and if they do. I made the mistake one time of assuming they did.

A good copy editor will also have a good command of the language. Their vocabulary should ideally be better than yours – or at the very least, they should show an ability to Google or use a dictionary. If you see questions in your manuscript about what a word means or a phrase and you double-check with your dictionary and know you used the right word or the phrase is a common one, a red flag should go boing in your head. You may not want to use that editor again. If, on the other hand, they suggest alternative words or phrases that when you check with your dictionary and thesaurus are better choices, stick with that editor. Your vocabulary will improve, and you know you can rely on their knowledge. It’d be like standing on a rock.

The same is true for punctuation. You both need to agree on which standard to follow. I use the Chicago Manual of Style, and I use the Oxford or serial comma. Errors galore can crop up if your copy editor doesn’t follow the Oxford comma rule when you do, doesn’t tell you, and you don’t notice. Also I was taught editors develop a House Style for peculiar spellings, book-specific usages, or exceptions to the Chicago Style rule. That can be a style particular to a publishing house or a freelance editor. The editor should let you know if they do. Or ask.

I’m afraid I have no tips on how to find a good content or copy editor, only what to look for. I am going to try Bibliocrunch to find a copy editor for my next book Time and Space. I don’t believe I need content editing for that novel, although I definitely will for the novel after that. Sometimes the book will tell you what you need.

My edited books include Lifeliner, She, Concussion Is Brain Injury, and Eleven Shorts +1.

Books

Writing, Revising, and Heat

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Camp NaNoWriMo (or as I like to shorten it, Camp NaNo) is in two days, and I ain’t ready, not by a half mile, I ain’t. I’m also awake too early. You’d think those two sentences would mean I could get my Camp bus in gear and set off. Nope. Instead I’m punchy from lack of sleep.

Monday, I finished my third NaNoWriMo novel Time and Space. I did those final find-and-replace kind of edits, the ones where I blithely hit “Replace All” and then wonder what I’m replacing, if the software will make some sentences look strange or have the grammar police, with me leading, charging after it screaming, you screwed up, there’s an extra period at the end of that sentence! Well, that’s what editors are for, I soothed myself while I went on to my next Find-and-what-the-heck-Replace-All edit.

Monday, I spoke to my editor and discovered, holy cow, my brain injury book will be started on next week! And here I was moseying along, not chivvying my feedback person to get the rest of the feedback to me. I had already made a change here and there since sending my manuscript off to Iguana Books, and I was planning on incorporating the feedback I’d received a couple of weeks ago, planning being the operative word. So tout de suite to the computer I went before the humid heat descended and rendered me heat-comatose on the couch!

I rewrote the opening and chucked out lots of good stuff. Maybe I’ll slot bits and pieces back in in other places. Maybe not. The hardest part of writing — or sometimes when in a mad frenzy of rewriting under deadline, the easiest — is cutting things out. I don’t usually have to do that because my first drafts are always too short. Time and Space after two revisions, is finally over 80,000 words. But Concussion IS Brain Injury was over 100,000 in its very first incarnation. I created it from my over-60 blog posts on the topic. I’m a bit wordy when it comes to brain injury, or maybe not wordy, but I do have a lot to say.

At the same time as I was incorporating feedback, I was getting some blog posts out of my head and into the computer so that I could add them to my brain injury manuscript. I got one written and published. And then the muggy heat wave hit. And my body decided enough with writing or doing much of anything. Thankfully, it’s cooling down today. The birds are happy; the raccoons are banging up a celebration; and I’m blogging.

News

Publishing is a Series of Confusions to be Solved

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Trying to get your work published is a series of confusions, one leading to the next, each to be solved before moving on.

To be published by a large, traditional publisher, but not a small press, you need an agent. And besides it would be nice to have someone alongside, who knows the ropes. Writing is a solitary game otherwise. But how to get an agent, especially in this era of vampires and paranormals? I don’t read them or write them, but I am getting tired of reading about them, they’re that ubiquitous.

Also, how long must one wait? For an agent to say yes, for a publisher to say yes, for the book to appear? I suppose if you’re young and have another job, a year or two each is no big deal. But I had to ask myself, after losing a decade, how many more years was I willing to lose in this never-ending waiting game? When I was honest with myself, the answer: none.

And so once again into the self-publishing world I go. After the unhappy end with iUniverse and the little matter of no longer having the money, who to go with? And more importantly, should I publish print books or eBooks only? I decided eBooks only. But as is my way, my decision sat on unstable ground.

Next question: who to hire as an editor? I went with the smaller, less expensive outfit. More in another post on that choice. In contrast to trying to choose an editor, revising my novel once I’d received the edits was a relief. This was known territory. Still I worried: was it good enough? Had all the lost threads and inconsistencies, the grammar oops and verbos been found?

I needed a proofreader. But they are hard to find. Amazon CreateSpace doesn’t even provide that service. Instead they offer a round of basic copy editing. But editing and proofreading are physically done differently. In editing, you read like a normal person, left to right, down the page, seeing both content and grammar. In proofreading, you read backwards, from bottom to top of page, sentence by sentence. I start on the first page, but it wouldn’t surprise me if others start on the last page. Not distracted by content, you’re more likely to catch grammatical errors, misspellings, and typos that way. It’s also faster. As a result, the cost for proofreading should be much less than copy editing. So to pay for the latter when you want the former is a bit heavy on the wallet.

I finally did learn of a real book proofreader. But she was booked into the summer. And so I huffed and sighed and groaned and printed out my manuscript, slapped it down on my desk, pulled out my green pen, and began proofreading. I was astonished that though I hadn’t worked as a proofreader in *mumble* years, I went right into proofreading mode as if I had never stopped. I wish I could learn that well today — it really hit home how learning today never becomes ingrained in me like things did pre-injury.

At the same time as I was trying to find a proofreader, I had to contend with what to do with the cover. Do I hire a cover designer or do it myself? A good book cover designer has a special skillset of knowing what looks good in that format and will sell a print book. Yet covers for eBooks work differently than covers for paperbacks or hard covers, which just a perusal of cover thumbnails on kobo or Amazon will tell you as most are designed for print and copied unthinkingly to the eBook.

Unlike other authors, I actually have some design skills and a decent eye for what looks good. And so it wasn’t a case for me of, of course get a cover designer. Cost became the overriding decision-maker. My work is free to me.

And finally came the back cover copy, or in Smashwords parlance, the extended description. But writing back cover blurb is the work for marketers. Now some in the traditional publishers don’t read the book, which is why the back cover blurbs don’t match the story, but good ones do and know what will catch the eye of a reader. I do not. But free is me. And I had a brilliant idea: all those query letters I wrote and had rewritten, they would make a good base for the description. I had already written a logline. So I used that for the short description.

Still, once I had done the soft launch of my novel She and could see the book page, I was not happy with my initial effort. I found a how-to and tried again.

Then someone asked me when readers like her, who read only print books, would be able to read my novel. Sigh. I revisted my first decision, and I suddenly remembered that NaNoWriMo had offered a CreateSpace proof to winners. Could I use that? Well, no, not for this novel, but it did get me to read the website for winners and realise that if I once again, did it myself, I could get it into print for free. So once again, into the tedious brain-busting physically-draining world of formatting I go. And do I go into the formatting world of Word, for which CreateSpace has a template, or my traditional desktop publishing world of Corel Ventura? Formatting a manuscript for print is different than for an eBook or the Kindle, and Ventura does give you more control. I have yet to do the Kindle on Amazon itself (Smashwords converts to Kindle format but it isn’t available on Amazon); I am both procrastinating and waiting to ensure my soft-launch readers don’t find typos or formatting errors. Formatting for print will take a few days and by the time I’m done, assuming I make up my mind which software to use, I will (I hope!) know of any typos.

Essay

From Paper to Pixels

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This is from a talk I gave to my fraternity on their Career Day.

We are in an age of transition. Like those who went from calligraphy to the Gutenberg press, so we are going from pen and print books to tablet computers and ebooks.

Up until early last century, manuscripts were written by hand. Then typewriters came along, and writers mastered the two-finger peck. Soon word processors appeared and at about the same time personal computers.

Writers now had a choice of handwriting or typing their drafts on a typewriter or on a computer. But final drafts, the ones sent out as submissions or completed manuscripts to publishers, always had to be typed or printed from a computer.

That changed after the anthrax scare, particularly in the US. Agents and publishers began to demand queries via email only and manuscripts in MS Word DOC format, also via email. But in Canada, some agents and publishers prefer the old ways; perhaps they feel it’s more literary for writing to be on paper than in pixel form. They refuse emails; they want snail mail submissions only. That slow, expensive, tree-wasting method is on the way out though, especially as more and more of us writers refuse to participate and submit only to agents or publishers who accept queries and manuscripts by email.

The revising and editing process has undergone a change too. No longer do editors mark up printed copies with pencil or red pen. Instead they use tracking changes in MS Word and communicate with authors via email. Again, in Canada, some editors still work in the dark ages of print-outs. A few even think it’s not necessary to be on the Internet or have email. Seriously. And so a Canadian author has to pay attention to what specific publishers or agents want: paper or pixels.

But despite a few Canadian anachronisms, writers today must use a computer to write the final draft, however they write their first drafts.

Then last year Apple released the iPad, and things changed radically for writers again.

Up until the iPad, even with computers, writers jotted down ideas in notebooks, sketched out floor plans on paper with coloured pencils. Writers only had one copy of these things, and we panicked if they were lost. No more. The iPad allows us writers to outline, jot down ideas, sketch settings, as well as write our manuscript, all on one electronic medium.

The entire process can now be done on some form of computer. And everything can be saved and backed up to the cloud and shared with others or between our own computers.

Writers are no longer limited to physical media like the typewritten page or thumb drive.

The ability to save one’s work in the cloud means that a writer can work on a manuscript on any computer, tablet computer, or smartphone wherever we are, whenever the mood strikes or a free moment appears.

For those who like to revise on a printed copy, printing itself has undergone a change. With the advent of networked printers, one can print from anywhere on the planet to the printer at home.

In addition to all that, the traditional process of writing, revising, and editing has had a new step inserted: Beta Readers.

Beta readers love to read. They may be strangers or people in one’s writing club. They read our manuscripts and comment on anything from writing style to plot to characters to endings or mood, depending on what their strengths are as readers.

Beta Readers can often be found on social media. When we writers engage with people on Twitter and they begin to read our blogs as well and get to know our long-form writing style, they may well offer to read our manuscripts.

That is just one of the many benefits of social media. Twitter also has a thriving writer community, which holds regular writer chats. So in addition to the traditional associations like the Canadian Authors Association, which provides opportunities to meet fellow writers face-to-face in our own regions, Canadian writers can now talk with writers from all over the world in cyberspace.

After we receive feedback from our Beta Readers, we revise once more and then send out the manuscript to agents or small publishers. Or not. Publishing too has changed.

Traditionally, a book writer would seek out a publisher directly, for the publisher would handle all the chores except the writing. (The publisher choosing the title and front cover still bugs me. I cannot imagine why writers in times past gave up that control.) It was very difficult for a writer to self-publish as printing and distribution were expensive and not easy to arrange.

But that has changed. First, traditional large publishers — the big six — began accepting submissions from agents only. Only small or indie publishers accept submissions from authors directly today. An author still has to wait a week or 6 months to hear back though. Although most agents and small publishers have long since allowed simultaneous submissions, realising writers can’t waste half their lives watching the mailbox, the waiting time can still be excessive. I have already spent over a year trying to find an agent with a few nibbles but no bites.

Then the rise of print-on-demand shifted this balance of power towards the author. It has become more feasible financially for authors to self-publish and nix the long, long process of traditional publishing, although it is controversial to turn one’s back on the traditional way.

As a result, in the last decade, companies that support self-publishing authors sprang up. AuthorHouse is the big one today (I won’t use them — see my adventures with iUniverse). But there are others like Lulu and CreateSpace. They provide whatever service an author needs, from editing to printing, for a fee.

But it is the ebook that has truly exploded author emancipation.

The publishing world has been turned upside down in the last year. Ebooks cost virtually nothing (aside from the essential professional editing step) for the multi-competent writer to create.

Readers like their eReaders. Some tell me no one can pry them out of their hands. They also prefer ebooks under $6.99, maybe up to $9.99. Traditional publishers prefer to price their ebooks high — $12.99 is their low end — and release them after hard cover editions. Both readers and authors are unhappy with that.

This traditional-minded approach gives indie authors an edge. They can price their ebooks at a level readers are willing to pay and release them at the same time as the print books, thus allowing readers to buy their preferred format when the book first comes out. After all, books are written for readers. It’s not for us to tell them which format they should read first. It’s the content that’s paramount, not whether the words are printed on paper or shown in pixels.

Ebooks themselves are in transition as different companies support different formats. PubIt! by Barnes & Noble supports ePub, as does Smashwords, kobo, and Sony Reader. Amazon’s Kindle uses the mobi format. Luckily, it’s become easier to publish in all of them, thus covering eReaders from Kindle to Kobo.

Since traditional publishers support only best-selling authors fully, mid-list and small authors now have an alternative to being ignored: self-publish ebooks.

Regardless of which path an author takes, all authors, except best sellers, have to market their own work. And that’s the hardest job in writing.

But here again, the online revolution has made it easier than ever for an author. Social media is a must. Virtual book tours, book trailers on YouTube, pages on Amazon and Chapters are now possible.

A Facebook Page, Twitter, and an author website are the foundation upon which to build a marketing plan. The writer begins building this foundation while still outlining the book, and does not talk just shop online, but shows the whole of who they are. Readers like to know their authors (well, maybe not all, but followers become readers when they get to know the author as a person first, then become intrigued enough to find out about the author’s works).

The author’s Facebook Page — not Profile — shows their professional side, things like writing-related blog posts, book events, links to reviews, and so on.

Twitter is where the author converses on many different topics, showing off their various interests and connecting with other writers. It is also an excellent place to publicize one’s blog posts, books, poetry, etc. via links.

The author website will not be just for blogging but a place where people can find out about the author’s background and how to contact them (really important, contact info is), their writing, and where to buy their books or articles. It needs to be kept up to date, else people will think you, the author, have died and stopped writing.

One caveat to authors: Do not post your drafts or any part of your book online. Some writers do. But your work has value. Your blog posts and status updates are free. Your work writing, your books, are not free because they’re your income and they’re worth the money for the time and effort you’ve put into them. Treat them that way.

Goodreads is a site for readers, but it also has Author Pages, which authors can use to connect with their readers as readers themselves. The most important part of writing is reading. Here the author can foster that side long before publishing that first book.

There are many other social media sites. It’s tempting to join all of them, but over time too tiring. It’s better to focus on a few and be active on them than spread oneself out too thinly.

The move from paper to pixels lets us authors take control and speeds the publishing process; it gives readers their choice of format; and the trees flutter their leaves in joy.

Brain Power

iPad Thoughts

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The iPad is a nifty device. Seemingly a toy before you buy, with its bright screen and magazine size, it quickly replaces one’s computer for regular chores like e-mailing, keeping up with Twitter, managing one’s schedule, surfing, reading. It’s more portable and lasts longer on battery power than a laptop. And unlike a computer, it doesn’t emit great gobs of heat, perfect for using during a heat wave.

First Use

The first thing I wanted to do with my new toy was to see my eBook Lifeliner without purchasing it through iBookstore. To do so, since I didn’t know how to create the Books folder in iTunes, I first downloaded a free book (Aesop’s Fables, my favourite as a kid) through the iBooks app on my iPad, then I synced it so that “Books” showed up under Library in iTunes on my computer. There was one odd thing: when I clicked on Sync Books in iTunes on the computer, it popped up a message warning me it would delete all music, TV shows, and movies off my iPad. Since I had none, I didn’t care. But why would they be deleted? On subsequent syncs, that message didn’t pop up.

Once I verified I had the ePub version of Lifeliner on my computer, I clicked File/Add File to Library in iTunes. I found the ePub file and clicked on it. iTunes brought it into the Books folder. I clicked on the iPad under Devices, clicked the Books tab, and then the Sync button at the bottom. And there it was on my bookshelf, next to Aesop’s Fables! It looks OK, and I was pleased to see that the ending image shows up properly in full colour and sized appropriately (the only eReader in which it does). The clickable links and Table of Contents also work! Yay!! There are two ways to use the ToC: press on the links while reading the book or press on the ToC icon at the top of the page — the icon actually renders the ToC beautifully.

Reading

Many have said it’s easy to read books on the iPad. But like trying to use your brain after you’ve injured it, you really only can tell what’s easier, physically, to read when your eyes are tired and/or hurting. Hands down, the easiest to read is paper, non-glossy paper like in paperbacks or newspapers, closely followed by glossy magazine-style paper. The second-easiest is eInk. Both paper and eInk send no light waves your way. No light waves means no photons bombarding your eyes while you’re trying to use them in close up work. That’s my theory anyway. The hardest on your eyes, physically, is the iPad and your computer screen (and some screens are really awful). And unlike some claims, it isn’t easy reading the iPad in the sunlight. There’s a huge amount of reflection; you have to hold it at a certain angle, which can become tiring, to minimize the reflection; and you have to turn up the brightness to full, not a which is rather draining on the battery. eInk, on the other hand, is a treat to read in the sunlight. However, in terms of clarity, the text on the iPad is beautiful and comes in several fonts of your choice. You can also choose sepia-toned paper for less contrasty reading.

The only problem with eInk right now is the contrast. It needs to become as readable as paper in low light, and it needs to have higher contrast, like paper. Even so, if it’s a competition between my iPad and Sony Reader in most good light situations, I’ll choose the Reader for straight text. I’ll choose the iPad for multimedia type publications like magazines and newspapers and multimedia books — whenever ones I like hit the market. I’ll also choose the iPad for night-time reading but not bedtime reading as I can see how the bright screen can interfere with falling asleep. The Sony Reader doesn’t. In fact, the Sony allows me to read more challenging books than Agatha Christies, by showing me unembellished pages of text and as little text as I want to see, which minimizes visual distraction, a problem for those with brain injuries. And so I find I fall asleep faster from the brain use. The Stanza app is like the Reader in showing just text. The iBooks app is neat in how it looks like a book but is more distracting visually. For those with brain injuries, I’d recommend either an eInk eReader like the Sony or the Stanza app.

Editing

I wrote very differently before my brain injury than I do now. Before, I hand wrote the first draft, edited it with a pen ( with lots of great big Xs driven through paragraphs), and then typed it in to the computer. I always printed off a draft and edited it with a red pen, green for final proof-reading. But the 2000 car crash weakened my dominant arm (again, for the second time. Sigh, really hate stupid drivers, always screwing up my arm because of the seatbelt grabbing me), and it caused big changes in my brain, including how I write. Now I type everything in: original and edits. I never print and mark up by hand with a pen. Oh sure, I tried. It didn’t work.

When I got my Reader and learnt I could annotate a PDF file using the stylus — a tech version of marking up with pen — I thought wow, I can go back to the way I was. It was pretty easy to write notes on the Reader. And handling the stylus was familiar because of all the years I had a Palm. But, you know, it just isn’t me, the me I am now.

I came to that realisation when I checked out iAnnotate for the iPad, which I thought might be easier than the Reader. It has colour, allows for highlighting, underlining, typing in notes. But to me it sounded more and more like way too much work. So much faster and easier to pull up my file on my computer and type away. I will experiment with using a word processor substitute on the iPad for when I want to write away from my computer. The iPad’s superior battery power means being able to use it for as long as I can in a cafe without worrying about it dying and my work disappearing (yes, I do have AutoSave on everything).

I’m not sure if an app on the iPad can help me with my problem with forgetting what I’ve written. I have to outline because of that and update it as I write to ensure I know where I am in the book, both when writing it and editing later.

As for the physical act of typing on the iPad, I took to it like a duck to water. Even so, I find the screen hard on my fingers. That’s why I bought the wireless keyboard, a light easy-to-use accessory. The iPad seamlessly recognizes it, and automatically doesn’t load up the onscreen keyboard once the wireless one is connected. It does take some getting used to touching the screen instead of using a mouse to navigate, but that’s just a habit to form. And if you get the Apple case, you can stand the iPad up on its end so it speak so that it’s like a computer screen, which means less neck strain as you don’t have to look down but more straight ahead while typing.

Blogging

I have two blogs I update weekly. I use blogging software on my computer for the most part and must admit Windows Live Writer is superior (trying not to gag on admitting Microsoft can do something well). I considered blogging on my iPod Touch, but the screen is just too small. I used the WordPress app on my iPad for my first iPad post. But it was really, really, really basic. I couldn’t even italicize. The best it’s good for is to type up a draft, which I’d finish on the computer.

But then I was reading reviews on iPad blogging software and one savvy person pointed out that you could blog in the blogging client itself because Safari on the iPad shows websites nicely. Aside from it being free, it has the added advantage of looking the same whether I’m on my iPad or computer when drafting and polishing off a post. But there’s a problem — you can’t scroll inside a frame, which can make for some difficult moments when editing a longer-than-the-frame size post. Too much work. It’s also easy to inadvertently delete an entire post by grazing the iPad screen. In fact, it’s taking me awhile to get used to keeping my hand off the screen and only touching it with my finger, as the iPad is so sensitive to touch. So after further experimenting, I am pretty much back to writing a post on my laptop, but that might change if I find a good blogging app.

Weather

For weather junkies like Canadians, the weather apps are one of the neatest features of the iPad. Checking the weather from my laptop is OK. But after I got my iPod Touch and downloaded the Yahoo! weather app, I found that much easier and faster. Though a bit off the mark, it was clear and concise; it showed immediately the info I was most interested in.

After checking out reviews and screenshots of weather apps, I settled on AccuWeather for the iPad. It took me a few minutes to figure out how to change it to metric — click that thingy icon on the lower right side to pop up icons for different options; flick the icons to the left until you get to settings; switch to metric.

AccuWeather has a busier look than my iPod Touch app. It’s hard to see at first what day I’m looking at. After the most recent update, it shows the current temp automatically in portrait mode and through a button in landscape mode. The neat thing about it is that it has all sorts of extra info like wind speed and direction. And if you press on that thingy icon on the lower right, then flick to lifestyle, you’ll find all sorts of useful goodies — once your eyes (or maybe it’s the brain) sorts out the details in the immense list of things like dog walking, migraine risk, jogging forecast, mosquito risk, arthritis risk, asthma risk, hair frizz risk (hey, don’t laugh, it’s necessary to know this) and so on and so on.

For a quick check of the weather, I still use my iPod. For a more detailed check, including risks, I use my iPad.

Newspapers and Magazines

I don’t subscribe to the Saturday edition of The Toronto Star because, for whatever reason, the delivery person will not assemble it.  I got fed up trying to find the main paper and other favourite sections in the pile that was left on my doorstep. (As a Star carrier when a teen, I would’ve gotten heck if I hadn’t assembled the paper. Clearly, standards for adult carriers are way lower.) I would occasionally read The Saturday Star (or Sunday) on my iPod Touch on Safari, using The Star’s mobile website. Like any mobile website, the text was clear, easy to read, but the number of articles was limited. I missed reading Rosie’s column. So to find I can read the full website on the iPad — nice! I can read my favourite columnists and see photos clearly. I just gotta be careful not to get breakfast crumbs on my iPad.

One of the much-ballyhooed features of the iPad was interactive magazines. Well, there aren’t a whole heck of a lot of them. (Oprah has announced O Magazine will launch an interactive version later.) And the interactivity of the four featured in Zinio — a magazine app — was nice but minimal. There’s a Text button that lets you read just the text, distraction free. Again, a good feature for those of us who have trouble reading magazines because of the distracting ads and photos and bad fonts and layout (hear me, Maclean’s?). One magazine had a slide show button that popped up photos in full screen, but it was a bit slow. Blue-surrounded text are links to other pages for more information, also a nice feature. And that was it for interactivity.

I would’ve liked to have seen small text on large photos appear in a pop-up box over the photo with a press of the finger to make it readable while still being able to see the photo. Videos of fashion photo shoots would’ve been nice. Videos of news, like The Toronto Star sometimes has on its website, would’ve been nice. Animated illustrations would’ve been nice.

For now, I’ll stick to the Maclean’s mobile app on my iPod Touch and occasionally check out featured interactive magazines until the publishers get their act together.

Social Media

I absolutely can’t stand the Facebook website. They’ve changed it so often, I find it confusing and have given up on trying to keep up. I almost exclusively use the Facebook app for the iPod Touch. It’s concise, clear, if finicky sometimes. But I can’t keep up with my groups through it (or at least I don’t know how if you can), which is why my group participation has fallen right off. For FB status updates, I use TweetDeck on my computer. The iPod Touch app and TweetDeck for the desktop will remain my way of interacting with FB because, believe it or not, there is no FB app for the iPad. And resizing the iPod Touch app on the iPad is a bit clunky.

Echofon on the iPod Touch is a super little free app (except for the odd crash) for Twitter. I use it to check Twitter, my total addiction, when my computer’s not on, or even when it is, the chief reason being that I can scroll through lots of tweets quickly when I want to catch up. Both Twitter’s website and TweetDeck are inefficient on that score. For status updates on FB and Twitter at the same time, TweetDeck for the desktop is the way to go. TweetDeck has an app for the iPad. I like its cute little notepaper look when you enter a status update — but it only updates Twitter and is more limited in options than the desktop version. However, after experiencing several problems with TweetDeck not updating tweets or dropping tweets, I started using the Twitterrific app for the iPad. It’s opening bird tweets when it brings tweets up to date can be a bit annoying — you must be able to turn it off — but it doesn’t have the problems as TweetDeck, shows the tweets in larger size, and is easier to read any of your lists or see your mentions or direct messages by simply pressing the appropriate link.

I’m still a newbie with LinkedIn, and I use its own website on my computer exclusively. Because Safari on the iPad has so much more real estate than on the iPod Touch, I may log in through the iPad as well.

Other

One of the big things Steve Jobs was excited about was watching videos on the iPad. Well, as I mentioned in a previous post, it was not so hot. Videos that keep stopping or stall altogether does not make for a good viewing experience. Other people have noted that the 4:3 ratio is a bit old school, but if the iPad showed 16:9 in full screen sans upper and lower black bars, the size of it would be a bit awkward. That part doesn’t bother me, it’s being unable to watch a video seamlessly that does. Since the recent update, video playback is better, but still not perfect.

One good video app is by the NFB. The NFB (National Film Board of Canada) library is extensive, and its app for the iPad is much better than for the iPod Touch because of the bigger real estate. However, for me, the Watch Later feature doesn’t work. But I enjoy watching a short film when I need a break.

Multimedia books is the other big promise of the iPad. That has yet to be delivered, but with the recent update of iBooks to allow for reading eBooks with audio and video and with Penguin now releasing multimedia books as apps, that will soon come to fruition, and for writers like me, it opens up exciting possibilities. Next: being able to play your favourite books as video games.

WiFi was spotty until Apple finally, at last got around to fixing it with its recent update. It’s more reliable now — so far. As for WiFi vs 3G, I don’t need 3G. In Canada, cell companies charge a fortune for data usage or even just yakking. And with the proliferation of WiFi in cafes around Toronto and with it now being free in Starbucks, really who needs 3G, except on the bus or subway? And on there, I’d rather listen to the music on my iPod  Touch.

Because Apple is being a controlling pain, Pocket Informant for the iPad has not yet been released. They rejected it once for one line of code — one line! — and now they’re taking longer to OK the fix. Over a week now. Sigh. However, I’m hoping that this app will help me better manage my schedule. Organizing, initiation, creating schedules are all challenges for those with brain injury and usually require human help. And so a good app that can replace human help for the most part would be a godsend. Although human help is the preferred way, for many of us, it’s not going to happen. That’s where technology comes in. And that was one of my hopes for the iPad. We shall see.

iUniverse

Revisions Done!

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Really pushed myself, and could not wait to take a nice, long break, but I got all the revisions done on time. This is it, folks. This final manuscript is the one you all will read once it’s published. What a nerve-wracking thought, but exciting too! Exciting because it means that from here on, except for proofreading, it’s all design and publishing stuff.

iUniverse

Grammar Fixed

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Received back copy edit. Well, let’s just say, I need to brush up on my grammar. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself — there was quite a bit of fixing to conform to house style too!