Archive for the 'writing tips' Category

Freelance writing: submission tracker roundup

September 12, 2007

I’ve been freelancing a little since my move to DC, and it’s only served to remind me of how badly I need a way to keep my ideas, submissions, queries, and other files organized.

When I used a PC I used Sonar (more on that later), but on my Mac options seem to be few and far between. The ideal program, for me, would be a simple database with separate tables for ideas, manuscripts, potential markets, and submissions. Ideas can be turned into manuscripts, and all the manuscript data could be linked up with Word or RTF files for easy opening. And it would all sync up to my Google Calendar so I’d know when it was time to follow up.

Ah, a lovely dream. Nothing that cool could exist. Maybe I’ll build it myself.

Until then, here’s a roundup of free submission trackers on the Web:

Sonar is a free download for Windows PCs. This did almost everything I wanted. I could store data on markets, manuscripts, submissions, and enter lots of notes. The author of the software is accessible, which is nice, and even implemented some bug fixes and suggestions that I’d emailed him on a whim. Unfortunately, I think I may have broke its primitive brain by overloading it with too much data. It seems a new version’s been released recently, so PC users, check it out and tell me what you think!

Sandbagger’s Automated Manuscript Management Software for Windows and DOS (though, as the author says, “Does anyone use DOS anymore?”) I’ve never used this program, but it looks much like Sonar, only a little flashier.

Write Again costs $50 for the “professional” version and $35 for the “standard,” but “light” is donationware. If the screenshots are any indication of the software’s performance, it’s well worth the money. If I had a PC, I would definitely give this a try.

Slushomatic looks to have fairly standard features, but offers the bonus of printing cover letters and automatically formatting your manuscripts for you. It’s open source, too, which nerds like me love.

Super Simple Submissions Tracker from John Hewitt at is an RTF document containing a table with a few headings. A little too old-school for me, but I can see why lots of people would use this.

Luminary Writer’s Database is a free online service. Isn’t too robust, but you can search their database of shared market information, essentially piggybacking off other writers who may know just which editor at XYZ Magazine handles the front matter.

It’s also worth noting that Writer’s Market also includes a submission tracker. You must subscribe to their service, but I believe a year’s subscription is still included free with any purchase of their book.

Oh hey! There is a program for Mac users!
Manuscript Tracker is simple but seems, at least upon initial review, to work pretty well. This is what I’ll be using until I can figure out how to develop my super-beast tracker.

Share your submission tracking tips in the comments. Or write me a program. ;)


Getting press coverage part 2: the editor’s desk

June 29, 2007

I promised over a month ago to write a guide to getting your work into print. Before we start, though, a disclaimer:

If you are serious about starting a writing career, there are books and web sites galore that will give you more than enough information about the process of writing query letters, the right way to pitch ideas, and so on.

But say you just want to get press coverage for an issue you care about or an event you’re running. You don’t really have the time or interest to become a professional freelancer, but you have to learn the basics or no newspaper is going to give you a second glance. That’s where this might help you.

Why do I think I’m at all qualified to write this little guide? I’ve seen both sides. I’ve freelanced for local publications, and before I graduated I spent three semesters as managing editor of my school’s student newspaper. I may not be the most experienced, most rugged freelancer, but I think these tips could help anyone just starting out in the biz.

Read more after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

PSA from your resident grumpy writer (or: In Defense of Lowly “Said”)

June 4, 2007

Today I am grumpy. It seems one of the most popular search terms for sending people to my blog is “words to use instead of ‘said’.” People, why are you searching for this? What’s wrong with “said”?

I have touched on this in an earlier post, but I want to reiterate. Even in more “colorful” writing than news journalism–even in your Great American Novel–dependable ol’ “said” is your friend.

Alternatives to “said” fall into two categories: impossible and annoying. The first category includes words like “barked,” “hissed,” “hooted,” “pouted,” “smiled.” (Disclaimer: the last two examples came from Avoid Creative Dialogue Tag Syndrome, which I have only skimmed but looks to be a great page explaining exactly what I’m about to say. (I hate when that happens.))

Why are these words impossible? They are actions, not dialogue tags. Someone can “bark out an order,” “hoot with laughter,” “smile broadly,” but that same person cannot smile a phrase. Technically, hissing is what a snake does, but I’ve seen it used as a tag. If you do, at least make sure your character is using a lot of s’s in his sentence. (You can’t hiss a “hmmm,” for example.)

The second category of “said” alternatives, annoying dialogue tags, are, well, annoying. These are subtler, and easier to trip up on, but they are a clear sign of a novice. These include “responded,” “declared,” “disclosed,” “queried,” “expressed,” and others. Even when used correctly (i.e. don’t use “responded” unless the person is literally responding to a question), when overused, they can become annoying.

In praise of “said”
The most common complaint about “said” is that it’s “boring.” Luckily, its boredom-inducing properties are exactly what makes it so desirable. Think how many times you’ve seen “said” in the last month. How about in the last 24 hours? It’s ubiquitous. It’s so there, it’s not really there at all. The average reader skims right over it, to get to the next juicy bit of your writing. Which is exactly what you want. Throwing in a different dialogue tag throws your readers off, getting them stuck on the weird word you used instead of guiding them gently to your next point.

Fiction writers should be shouting here about “he said, she said” syndrome, which may be the cause of most bad dialogue tags. When you have ten lines of dialogue in a row, going down the page looks like this:

“You’re the Oracle?” he said.
“Bingo. I got to say I love seeing you non-believers. It’s really a relief. All that pomp and circumstances just plain tucker me out. Almost done. Smell good, don’t they?” she said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“I’d ask you to sit down, but you’re not going to anyway. And don’t worry about the vase,” she said.
“What vase?” he said.

An easy way to solve this problem is to remove the tags altogether.

“You’re the Oracle?”
“Bingo. I got to say I love seeing you non-believers. It’s really a relief. All that pomp and circumstances just plain tucker me out. Almost done. Smell good, don’t they?”
“I’d ask you to sit down, but you’re not going to anyway. And don’t worry about the vase.”
“What vase?”

I’m not going to go into more depth with fiction writing techniques because I’m a pretty terrible fiction writer. But this is a pretty good, simple trick that will improve your writing loads. If your characters have distinctive enough voices, it shouldn’t be hard telling them apart even without any dialogue tags. For more help with this, check one of the million sites on the ‘Net dedicated to fiction writing.

Just keep dear old “said” in your hearts and in your keyboards.