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Month: September 2013

The Write Software: Which Office is Write for You?

So you’ve taken the plunge, and decided that Office is right for you. At least for some things. We’ll get to specific writing software later. Perhaps you already have Office 2010, or even the earlier version from 2003. You unbox your new computer, or open your new laptop, and decide to visit Microsoft Office’s new website, and find this on the products page:


Office 365? Office 2013? What’s wrong with my old Office 2010? What do I do now? It depends on what you need and what you want.



Office 365: How many machines do you plan to use Office on? Office 365 (Microsoft page here) can be loaded on up to 5 machines. This suite of Office (what I am using right now in a trial version) is an attempt by Microsoft to push Cloud computing: the idea being that then portable devices will not require as much memory, and you can work on even smaller devices, including your mobile phone. You do not have to put documents in the Cloud (your sky drive) but you can. This enables you to access them on any device that has Skydrive installed. (This is the Microsoft cloud storage. You can use Dropbox or Google Drive also.)

The primary con of Office 365 is this: currently it is compatible only with machines running Windows or Mac O/S. You cannot download Office 365 on your Android tablet or phone. It is not a perfect mobile solution. If you have a Surface or another Windows Tablet (Acer and HP both have great offerings in this category), an iPad or iPhone, a laptop or notebook (Mac or PC), or a Windows phone, it is compatible. This is not a solution so that you can edit documents on your Droid: however, Google has an answer for that we will explore in a later post.

Office 365 is a software subscription. You have to pay monthly or yearly (cheaper in the long run), but when upgrades come along, you are not buying a whole new suite, at least in theory. Also, the Home Premium of 365 includes more applications: not just Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote as the typical Home and Student, but it also includes Outlook, Access, and Publisher, all powerful tools.

Office 2013: Office 2013 is Office 365 for one computer only.  You pay once for each computer. Office Home and Student will run you nearly $140 (you can see the Office 2013 options here) A Professional Suite, including everything in Home Premium of Office 365 will run you close to $400. You can clearly see that Microsoft is trying hard to push the subscription service. I can see very few arguments in favor of this approach over 365, especially in light of Microsoft’s plans to roll out new software more quicly. (more on that in a later post).

Learnability and Compatibility are non-issues. The ribbon is still where it always was, with a few new options to explore. The new software continues to support all but the most outdated Excel formats.

WordWhat is wrong with my Word 2010? Nothing. The new Office does have some great features, a smooth interface, and it can read .pdf files now. Photos can be dropped anywhere in the document, better than the old alignment styles that had to be followed, and screwed up the formatting during edits if you were not careful. Links to other Office apps are easier from the insert line, and linking to online content has been streamlined. All of these things were possible with 2010, but primarily with the use of plug ins and secondary software. Compatibility with older formats remains, and the more advanced features of Word remain intact.  Other applications have been updated as well, and if you are running Home and Student, the addition of powerful tools such as Publisher (better than ever) and Outlook (for managing e-mail and calendars) may make the step up to Office 365 worth looking at.

Small or Mid-size business? There are Office options for small and mid-size business that are powerful and compelling, but unless you own a publishing company and manage a number of employees or contractors, it’s not worth the extra cost. (I looked into it in depth. For more info, contact me directly).

For authors: the new Office offers some powerful advanced features and some great organizational tools, but you don’t necessarily need to jump on them right away. If you intend to use more than one device, you like to have the power of the full Office suite mobile, take a look.

You might just find a solution that works well for you.

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A Peek at my TBR List: Lessons Learned

handinjuryI’m sitting here, typing with a rather sore hand, and so last night I decided that today might be a good time to catch up on video edits (that I can do with one hand) and on my To Be Read list. In the middle of the night, while waiting for more ibuprofen to kick in, I mentally wnet through the list and discovered something amazing.

I have to preface this by saying I am not a genius. Recently I’ve been reading Rise of the Machines by Kristen Lamb. It outlines what kind of marketing works for books, and why traditional methods don’t work. Why am I reading Kristen’s book, and not one of the dozens of others out there on the subject? Because I “know” Kristen from her Facebook page and her blog, which attracted my attention with its very practical and practicable writing and marketing tips. Hmm. let’s look at the rest of the list, and see what we can learn from it.

Every writer with priority on my TBR list is a friend on Facebook or Away from Keyboard. (We used to say In Real Life, but social media IS real life any more). Okay, not everyone. I am reading The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and I don’t “know” him, although I have seen his image on meme’s several times. Here’s a list of authors:

Vincent Zandri, Hugh Howey, Allan Leverone, Heath Lowrance, Poppet, Karen Vaughn, Dellani Oakes, Brid Wade, David Toft, Paul Keene, Madison Johns, Alan Jankowski and Stephen King. Maybe I don’t “know” that last one, but I once nearly met him at a book signing years ago, so he probably barely remembers me. I’m sure he’s read my work though. Amazing list, right? And I’m sure I am leaving someone out. Here’s something else about my list.

meeteauthorI’ve paid for every book on the list. Okay, there are two exceptions to this. Vincent Zandri sent me a copy of one of his, and I traded Paul Keene a signed copy of Redemption for his book Among the Jimson Weeds. Other than that, I buy the author’s work. There is a reason for this. First, it helps support the author. We all love free books, but we authors also like to eat. I give away some of my books, but most I sell. Therefore I don’t ask other authors for free books, and when I buy them as I can.

Also, then if I don’t like the book, I don’t feel obligated to leave a review or even give feedback to the author. Now, to be fair, I vet books pretty well before I buy them. I read excerpts and select reviews, ignoring the ones that offer too high of praise or too much criticism. I try to review, even briefly, as often as I can.

What does “know” mean on social media? These are not folks who spammed me with links until I gave in and bought their books. No. I’ve interacted with them. Kristen Lamb and I both like to cook and fire weaponry. Another friend (I highly recommend her romances to those who read that genre) Debbie Robbins and I talk scotch and travel. The rest of us all talk books, what it means to be an author, and about our families, our jobs, and our lives. Paul lives nearby, and he and I are pioneering a local writer’s group.

BookshelfThese writers have offered me nothing for their mention here, and they haven’t all read and reviewed my work. This is not a quid pro quo post. You do for me, I do for you, or vice versa. I read what I like. I have been offered free books, even sent free books by other authors (unsolicited) that I have not read or read and/or not reviewed. If you send me something without asking, this will likely be the result. I read these authors because I like them, and as an extension I find I like their work.

Here is the bottom line: be real and be connected on social media. Those you connect with will buy your work, read it, sometimes review it, or sometimes not. Not everyone will buy, but then that shouldn’t be your goal. Social media is about being social. So go ahead. Look at your To Be Read list, and see what you can learn. Chances are you “know” a lot of people on it.

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The Write Software: OpenOffice vs. Microsoft Office

office vs openofficeThis may seem an unfair comparison, with Office a well-developed Microsoft backed software, and OpenOffice an open source free download. However, because of cost many authors are tempted to take this route. It comes down to the same questions we promised to explore in Part 1, and the issues we explored in Part 2 Mac vs. PC which you can view here.

No matter what platform you chose after part 2, or that you currently use, either software is available for PC or Mac.

Affordability. This is an easy win for the open source platform. OpenOffice is free, and can be installed on as many machines as you wish. Microsoft Office on the other hand, is not. Suites range from monthly subscription fees (with the relatively new Office 365 at $9.99 per month or $99.00 a year) to 139.99 for Office Home and Student all the way up to 399.99 for Office Professional. (See the Office buy page here) We’ll tackle which office suite you actually need later on, but suffice it to say that vs. the zero cost for OpenOfffice (downloadable here) the affordability choice is clear.

The OpenOffice suite contains Writer for document creation, Calc for spreadsheets, Impress to create presentations, Draw to produce diagrams and illustrations, Base for database creation and manipulation, and Math to perform mathematical equations and advanced functions. There is no e-mail client, although there are other options to manage mail. This is the equivalent of $200 of Microsoft Office software, or the new Office 365 subscription.

This alone explains why authors everywhere have chosen to use OpenOffice for years. Millions use it worldwide, although Microsoft still dominates the business market.

Screen shot Office and OpenOfficeLearnability. Both software suites have very friendly user interface modules, and offer user guides and tutorials. Because of the corporate backing of Microsoft Office and its corporate backing, there are more tutorials and support materials available. That being said, OpenOffice works on a very simple platform, and there are many forums and manuals available on line.  The manual for the new version is available here, but is still in the draft stage. The OpenOffice User Interface is very similar to Office. If you are a longtime Office aficionado, you will be up and running in no time.

In this category, Microsoft has the edge, but not by much. The only reason it edges OpenOffice is its widespread use and readily available educational support. Office has been king for a long time, and it will take time and innovation to unset it from the throne. However, remember when Word Perfect was the standard? Many of us struggled with the adaptation of the business world to Office. It is possible that another shift could take place, but more on that next.

Compatibility. Microsoft wants you to use their products and the plug ins and accessories for them exclusively. So there are times when quite deliberately they make it difficult for other programs to be compatible. It’s not cruel, it’s just business. That being said, let’s look at the issue in detail.

OpenOffice can open Microsoft Documents, even the new .docx formats, although occasionally some formatting or coding is lost in the transfer. OpenOffice can also save documents in the various Word formats. Its other components can open Microsoft formatted documents as well, with similar caveats. Word can also open and save in OpenOffice formats. Most features are compatible, and if you are doing simple memos or completed reports back and forth, it works well. Sounds perfect right? Before you download it and delete Word from your computer read on.

One of the primary features I use in Word as an editor, and even in my work on research and technical writing is twofold: Track Changes and Comments. OpenOffice has these features, and so does Office but the two are not compatible.  This is based on actual experimentation. If you save an OpenOffice document with track changes and comments, when you open the document in Word they will be lost. It is the same vice-versa. If you have a document with Track Changes saved in Word and you open the same program in OpenOffice, those features will be lost. What does this mean to you?

Quite often in business writing and editing, track changes and comments are how the authors and others working on the project communicate. If these changes disappear, a huge communication tool is lost, and it can take precious hours to “explain” things a different way or through more personal contact.

The solution? Well, since OpenOffice is free, you could get your client or your editor to download it and run both on their computer, right? Sure, but that creates issues. The programs tend not to play well together on a single PC, requiring finesse to set up default programs and avoid odd clashes between the two. Also, the client then has to remember that when dealing with you, they open documents a certain way as opposed to everyone else. A line on the OpenOffice website says: “Compatible with other file types for those still using Microsoft Office.” That is a large group of businesses, governments, and organizations.

Conclusion: What do you need? Microsoft holds the edge here, again barely. As a beginning author you can get by with OpenOffice, but when you enter paying markets it is often desirable to upgrade to the more commonly used Office. In the long run, the headaches it saves you will belay the cost. As more businesses adapt to open formats, and using Google Docs and other open source software becomes more common, it is possible that Office may be dethroned.

Even if you do go out and buy Microsoft Office, which of those fancy suites do you really need? We’ll tackle that question in our next segment.

OpenOffice isn’t out of the fight yet. Have your own experience to share? Let me know in the comments.

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Show Me a Story

inumber2We all love storytellers. My grandfather was one, and a good one. How do you tell a good story from a bad one? One thing makes the difference for me, and I bet it is for you too.

My 11 year old is a story teller too, but he has yet to perfect the craft. He tends to—well, ramble. He includes details that the listener doesn’t need to know, and frankly isn’t interested in. In the process he tends to leave things out that the listener might find relevant and need to know so the story makes sense.

We want to picture the story we are being told in our heads, whether it is told in a book or in person. We want to know what the person the story is about experienced. It’s the old author adage of “show, don’t tell.” Truthfully the truth lies closer to “show and tell” the old elementary school day that everyone looked forward to.

Get to the point. Today, I brought this pencil to my own show and tell. It may look ordinary, but it’s not. Whenever I write something down with it, whatever I write comes true, no matter how mundane or how fantastic. I wrote the words I love you with it, and handed them to my wife twenty years ago, and it’s still true today.

eraserAvoid long flowery descriptions. It’s just yellow stick with a graphite core and a #2 on the end closest to the metal thing that holds the eraser. The eraser works. If I erase what I wrote and if what I originally wrote can be undone, it is. The eraser has made me afraid more than once, and I use it cautiously now, especially after what I learned from my cat.

Build tension. My cat got hit by a car, and I ran to my room. I wrote “I hope Oreo lives forever.” I was young, and the pencil was new, and I didn’t know what forever meant. It wasn’t more than five years later that I went back and erased that sentence so Oreo could move on. He was lame by then, and that’s also when I discovered it’s not always better to live.

Oh yes. I keep the journal, with everything I write with the pencil. I didn’t always, but I learned quickly it was a good idea. And sometimes, like today, I erase only parts of what I wrote, and fill in with new, better words. Words with clearer meaning.

Skip the parts that readers tend to skip. Oreo is dead. So are my parents. I’m sitting here, wondering what to write next, now that I know when I’m supposed to die and how. It’s easier to write things down when they are about others, not about me. I touch the now stubby pencil to the elderly, blue-lined journal page, and write the word “please.” It seems like a good start.

Leave the reader wanting more. Want to know then end of the story? Stay tuned.


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The Write Software: Mac vs. PC

pc-vs-mac_dsc_8015_mhughes_croppedThis post is not to add fuel to the big overall debate of Mac vs. PC. It’s to explore it in only one area, that of writing. Also, it will not be conclusive. Why? There’s no “write” answer. There is a right answer for you, but your choice may not be the same as someone else’s. We’re going to evaluate the first step in the process of choosing the write software by looking at the primary machine options.

Affordability: Mac’s are more expensive than PC’s when it comes to initial investment. However, as far as long term viability is concerned, Mac’s tend to last longer. They are upgradeable, but so are PC’s. Another debate for another post: Mobile vs. Desktop determines which machine will work best for you. What else you want to do with your machine, and what kind of writing do you do? Do you need video capability? Graphics? Programming? What markets do you write for? Also which platform is best depends on what kind of software you want to run: Pages or Microsoft Word, Scrivener or other “writer specific” software, all of which we will look at over time.

The bottom line on affordability is this: if you already own a PC, switching to Mac will be costly. Die hard Mac fans will tell you that once you make the switch, you won’t go back to PC ever. So conversely, if you already own a Mac, including an iPhone, iPad, or other iDevices, switching to PC can be costly, and you can experience compatibility issues, but more on that in a moment. If however you are relatively new to the computer world, and you don’t already own software licenses and exclusive hardware, you have to look at your short term budget, long term budget, and what you think your future needs might be.

One final note that may sway you the Mac direction: Mac can run Windows in a couple of different ways. I won’t get into the tech details here, other than to say it can be done, so all of your programs could transfer. If you are determined to make the switch, this can be a way to solve some issues.

Another note is that you may not need anti-virus programs with Mac, although they are still a good idea, especially if you run Windows in some form on your machine. There just aren’t as many viruses written for Mac, primarily because government agencies and companies tend to run PC, and those people are better targets for hackers.

MacPCLearnability: How easy is each system to learn? I recently when through this debate, and here is the bottom line. The new Mac Operating System (currently Maverick 10.9 released this month) is very similar to the previous OS. It is fairly easy to adapt. The converse? Every time Microsoft updates an OS there comes with a learning curve and countless updates as they fix things they did not fix before the initial release. Apple tends to sort those things out ahead of time.

Other than that, most programs are written to be fairly intuitive. My word of caution: there are some programs that you need to spend time with before you truly become familiar with them. Spend an afternoon or morning on tutorials. If nothing else, they will teach you shortcuts and tricks you would not otherwise learn.

Either machine can be learned, and the more tech-savvy you are, the easier adapting will be. Mac is much more consistent than PC, and its operating systems are fairly intuitive.

Compatibility: This was the number one decision point for me, because of the other things I do, and who my clients are for certain products. Yes, you can run Windows and most Microsoft programs on Mac, but if you work in a dedicated PC environment, there are some file types that do not translate. You need to use different formatting for portable hard drives and thumb drives to be compatible. If it is just you, and you run all Mac products, you will fare well.

If you work with publishers and editors on a regular basis, you will still need Microsoft Office, at least Word. There are solutions for this dilemma, but remember, only 19% of people run Apple, and most businesses run PC. This means some of the features in Pages may not be compatible with Word, and advanced features commonly used like Comments and Track Changes may not translate. This simply means you must either by the Mac version of Office, or run Windows on your Mac. There are other program compatibility issues as well, and we will tackle those in later software posts.

This is one of the longer posts in the series. So what’s the bottom line? Depending on what else you do with your machine, and what others in your household run, you may want to stick with either Mac or PC. Also if you already own software and other compatible devices, you may want to also consider that.

Your short term budget may determine what you buy. Shop around, make hands on comparisons, and if you have questions feel free to leave them in the comments, or contact me here.

Until next time.

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The Write Software: An Introduction

Software designed specifically for writers is not new, but with a rise in “indie” publishing and the self-publishing revolution, the internet world is now filled with it. How do you sort through all those programs? Which one is the best, or is there any such thing? What tools does a writer really need?

In that light, we’ll be looking at a few basics first, and then go from there. We’ll evaluate computers, software, operating systems, and programs based on a few simple criteria.

Affordability Why is this #1? Well, because writers are often poor, or at best economically challenged. The number of bestselling, I make a ton of money without a day job authors out there are few and far between. Most authors work to feed their writing passion, and often sacrifice less important things like food and body wash to pay for a computer, software, and printer ink. So if you want us to spend money on the latest, greatest gadget for writing, it better be damn good, or at least justifiable to our spouse.

RoyalHH54Learnability Okay, I used a big word there to say “How easy is it to learn?” I grew up writing first on an old Royal, an IBM Selectric, a Brother word processor (these are long gone, and you are probably an author or journalist if you remember them), and finally WordPerfect. I thought it was the best software ever, and then had to transition to Microsoft Office, and at times freeware like OpenOffice when I couldn’t afford the Microsoft offerings and Ramen at the same time. (You know that time when you were floating “between careers”?) Every time I made a switch, there was a learning curve and a period of less productive adaptation to a new program with new commands.

So when we look at the plethora of new software available now, one of the deciding factors is simply: How easy will it be for me to adapt? Does the manufacturer offer tutorials? How easy are they to understand? Are the commands intuitive, and similar to programs I already use? The closer it is, the easier it is to learn.

Compatibility Even if you are an indie author, and a self-publishing guru you should hire an editor. When you do, you will deal with sending documents back and forth. If you work with a publisher, you will work with both the editor and others at the publishing house. Your software will need to be compatible with theirs to streamline the editing and formatting processes. The ease of sending documents back and forth does two things: it makes communication easier and smoother, making editing a little less painless, and it makes you an easy author to work with. You want to be on the editor and publisher’s list of easy to work with authors, especially if you plan to submit more work to them. Typically indie editors adjust prices, and publishers adjust priorities at least partially on how well you work with them. The more time they spend on you, the more money they have to make to pay for that time.

The first thing we will tackle next week is the Mac vs. PC debate. If you don’t already have a computer, or you are looking at a new one, what should you buy? Until then, write on!

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Human Powered Season: The Next Chapter

Bike LaneIt’s been a fun time, riding my bike all summer, though it’s also been filled with frustration from time to time. We’re a region and a world that is geared toward the automobile and the consumption of fossil fuels.

I have to confess that I’m addicted to ease of travel too. There were times when I could have taken the bike, but the car was right there, and no one else was using it. It’s hard not to hop in, turn the key, and go. No need to grab the back pack, make sure I have the lock, choose the destination carefully to make sure I have a place to secure the bike, and take more time to get there and back. Sometimes I went with the bike, sometimes the car. But I learned some things this summer.

People look at bikes as toys, not transportation. If you ride a bike for transportation, you’re either poor, a health nut, or some other kind of weirdo trying to recapture your youth. Riding bikes is something kids do, or something adults do for exercise, usually stationary in a gym with an iPod or headphones for listening to the TV news. It’s not seen as a vehicle, and if you use it like one, no one takes you seriously. If we lived in a different area, I’d enlist my entire family in this adventure, and we’d sell the car and just rent one when we needed it just to show people we were serious. As my wife commutes 20 miles to work each way though? I’m pretty sure she’s not going for it.

Bike Lanes are designed around the toy principle. The bike lanes in my town are designed for only a few things. Primarily they are geared at children: either children that ride their bikes to school, or children who ride their bikes to parks to recreate. The bike lanes end there. True, adults should know how to ride, and share the road, but so should drivers. They don’t. For the most part, if a bike joins the flow of traffic, obeying all applicable traffic laws just like a car, the rider is taking his life into his hands, especially in this area. In bigger urban areas, and in some ways the downtown Boise area, things are better. Not much. You still read about cyclists hit on a regular basis.

Bike RackBusinesses don’t cater to cyclists because there aren’t enough of us. The businesses with no bike racks a couple of weeks ago (click here)? When I called they seemed surprised that anyone cared. I mean, if you have a car, why would you ride a bike to their business? Some seemed astonished anyone even noticed they had no bike rack. Apparently I was the first one to point it out. You’d think they’d want people to be in shape, care about the environment, and improve local air quality, but they don’t. A coffee or restaurant is more likely to have a drive through than a bike rack, and those are often off limits to cyclists for “security reasons.” (More on this another time)

So what’s next? Fall is a great time to ride your bike, if you ignore the thunderstorms, fall allergies, and the smoke from the tail end of wildfire season. Temperatures are great, and the kids are back in school.

So at least during the day, you have those bike lanes to yourself. I’ll be riding. See you out there.

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