Writers, Editors, and Money

Glass jar filled with US bills

By C.K. MacLeod

If someone is paying you for writing or editing, you’re running a business. You’ll need to keep track of your income and expenses, not just for tax purposes, but so you can make smart and timely business decisions.

Recently, while reading Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, I was reminded that you can’t change money behaviours that you can’t see. A confession: I’ve never been a fan of the painstaking exercise of tracking my money moves on spreadsheets and ledgers. That, to me, is about as fun as eating cooked spinach, and I’d rather be writing, anyway. Oh, I will do it, but with an awful lot of caterwauling.

Robin and Dominguez include several record-keeping charts in their 9-step program, and if you like creating spreadsheets, you’ll find these to be useful. But, there must be an easier way to keep track of the incoming and outgoing without manually entering data into a spreadsheet. And wouldn’t you know it? There is.

Money-Tracking Apps

I use use two money-tracking apps: Wave for business income and expenses, and Mint for everything else. Both apps list financial transactions in one handy location, saving you from dreaded manual entry methods. They use algorithms to “guess” if a transaction is an income or expense, and assign, often accurately, a descriptive label, or "category" to each transaction. What's left for me to do? Check that each category has been correctly assigned, which is fine because it keeps my eyes on my expenses, and fun because it only takes a minute or two.

From there, I can generate instant reports, complete with coloured charts and graphs that help me to see my financial picture. In Wave, I can print an income and expenses report that’s useful at tax time, and in Mint, I can earmark transactions (such as bank interest deposits) that I'll need to report on at tax time.

I can also compare my income and expenses from previous months to discover patterns that need adjusting. For example, in Mint, I discovered what my three biggest spending categories were. When I signed up for a money-back credit card that issued decent money-back rewards for three spending categories, I immediately knew which categories to choose.

Both apps are free, computer and phone-friendly, and setting them up is easy. You’ll need to connect the apps to any bank accounts, PayPal accounts, and credit cards that you use.

Is it safe?

Mint is owned by Intuit, the creators of the popular online tax software TurboTax. Wave is Canadian-owned and follows Canadian privacy laws (which are pretty strict). To accept read-only information from bank accounts, these apps need to be PCI-compliant, and adhere to the gold-standard security measures required by banks.

You cannot access your money in any way with these apps. They’re mirror accounts that show you your financial status. They won’t give you, or anyone else, the ability to touch your money. As with any cloud-based software, it’s an excellent idea to create strong passwords that you can change frequently. Using a Password manager, such as LastPass, will help you do that without tearing your hair out.

Since using these apps, I have an up-to-the-minute understanding of my income and expenses, without the drudgery of collecting this information manually. And because I prefer to spend my time with words instead of numbers, that’s money in the bank.

Note: if you’re a Canadian, sign up for the Canadian version of Mint to get the benefit of Canadian privacy laws.

Image by Tax Credits

How to Automate Writing and Editing Tasks

Robot Painting

by C.K. MacLeod

Writing takes a great deal of energy, focus, and time. Add to that the necessary revising and editing tasks required to polish your writing and writing is now a part-time job. Or a full-time job.

What if I told you that you could automate some writing and editing tasks?

Recently, my editing colleague Paul Beverley created a macro that accomplished in five minutes what would take me half a day to do manually.

In fact, Paul Beverley has created over 500 macros, many of which have made editing tasks, in particular, easier to manage. You can download his free book of macros — Macros for Editors — at Archive Publications. And, if you’ve never used a macro before, you can learn how in this free 20-minute macro course.

Automating Editing Tasks

So, what kinds of writing and editing tasks can you automate with the use of macros and other tools? Here is my current list of favourite tasks to automate:

  • Reach readability targets and make writing easier to understand (PlainLanguage macro or Hemingway Editor)
  • Remove most instances of passive voice for livelier writing (Hemingway Editor or PassiveWords macro)
  • Clean up formatting to get a book ready for ebook conversion, or a content ready to upload to a website (FRedit — Archive Publications)
  • Build in better use of Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs for how-to books, teaching articles, and online courses (FRedit— Archive Publications)
  • Pull out citations from your chapters and list them on a separate page so you can build a reference list or bibliography (CiteCheck — Macros for Editors)

And for my fiction writing friends...

  • Identify instances of telling, where showing might work better (TellingWords macro).

In Making Word 2010 Work for You, Hillary Powers points out that if you repeat an editing action three times, you might want to find a way to automate it. Wise advice.

What writing or editing tasks would you like to automate? What tools are you using?

Image by weasel.jem

The Fastest Way to Build an Online Home


by C.K. MacLeod

Do you have an online home? You really should.

Recently, a managing editor contacted me to see if I was interested in doing some work for his publisher. The timing wasn’t great for me, but I didn’t want to leave the publisher high and dry. With the managing editor's permission, I contacted my editing group and asked interested editors to contact me. I got seven email responses in the first hour.

When I make a referral, I want to know something about the person I’m referring, but I couldn’t find out anything about these editors other than what they told me in their email messages. They didn’t appear to have online homes.

I get it. Setting up a website and keeping up with social media is a lot of work. But may I suggest that you do one small thing? Set up an About.me page. I learned about this site through personal branding expert Sidneyeve Matrix.

About.me is the equivalent of a digital business card, or a mini one-page website. It’s free for a basic account, it’ll take you less than an hour to set up, and then you can link to it in your email signature. Here's my About.me page:

Corina's About.me page
Corina's About.me page

If you’re providing services, or you have something to sell, you don’t need to buy an online mansion. You can take up residence in a tiny online yurt.

Image by Prashant Ram

Comment Shortcuts in Word


by C.K. MacLeod

Editors use the Comments feature in Word to ask writers clarifying questions or to make suggestions. Beta readers can use this feature to provide feedback, too.

In Word 2016, you could, of course, wander over to the ribbon, click on the Reviewing tab, and select New Comment in the Comments area. But that’s a lot of clicks if you have to repeat this action hundreds of times in a week.

To save your wrists from repetitive strain, click anywhere in a word and use the keyboard shortcut Alt + R, C.

If you work on multiple documents like I do, you might discover that you’re typing the same comment repeatedly. You can create a shortcut for these “standard” comments, too! Here’s how:

In Word, click on File, Options, Proofing, Autocorrect Options. In the grid that pops up, type a two- or three-character shortcut in the Replace box. In the With box, type the sentence that you want your computer to type for you.

Autocorrect dialog box in Word 2016
Create your own "text expander" using shortcuts.

Here’s what that looks like:

Replace: .cl
With: Could you check this link?

Your computer will type the sentence for you when you type .cl.


Replace: .wi
With: Could you write a one-paragraph intro to frame the module?

Tip: Begin your shortcut with a period, so you don’t accidentally choose letter combinations that are words (".at" for "insert alt text" is better than "at," for example). Choose letter combinations that you’ll remember easily. For me, .cl means “check link” and .wi means “write intro.”

Creating shortcuts can save your wrists from too much mousing, clicking, and typing. It can also save you loads of time.

What are your favourite shortcuts? Are you a Mac user? What shortcuts do you use? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Image by Daniel Lobo

5 Ways to Create an Em Dash

Pause with Scrabble tiles

by C.K. MacLeod

Updated on January 14, 2017.

I have all-in-one laptop that weighs the same as a tablet. It’s a marvel of a machine except for one thing: because it doesn’t have a numeric keypad (less keyboard = better portability), I cannot create em dashes (—) and en dashes (–) in my usual way.

(You know there are three kinds of dashes in written English, right? Use them correctly in your writing and you will impress a copyeditor!)

1. Use built-in keyboard shortcuts.

On a regular-size keyboard with a number keypad, I can use keyboard shortcuts to create em dashes and en dashes:

  • Em dash (—): Alt+0151
  • En dash (–): Alt+0150

In Microsoft Word:

  • Em dash (—): Alt+Ctrl+ - (minus)
  • En dash (–): Ctrl + - (minus)

Mac users use these shortcuts:*

  • Em dash (—): Shift-Alt-hyphen or Command + M
  • En dash (–): Alt-hyphen

My usual keyboard shortcuts don’t work on my portable laptop, though. Here are few workarounds:

2. Plug in a full-size external keyboard or keypad.

This option will only be appealing to you if you tend to use your laptop like a desktop.

For editing documents, I like to plug my laptop into a massive monitor and attach a wireless mouse and full-size keyboard, complete with a number keypad.

Alternatively, you can plug in a portable USB number keypad and use your laptop keyboard and touchpad. With this set-up, there are no problems creating em and en dashes in my usual way—using Alt codes.

But what if you prefer to use your laptop on-the-go, as it’s intended? Read on…

3. Use Unicode character codes.

Most compact PC laptop keyboards won’t allow you to use Alt codes to create em dashes and en dashes, but you can use Unicode character codes in most instances:

  • Em dash: 2014+Alt+x
  • En dash: 2013+Alt+x

You can look up other Unicode character codes here.

Note: Keyboard shortcuts using Unicode character codes don’t work in Scrivener, Gmail, or Google docs. For these programs, try one of the options that follow.

4. Use your word processor’s built-in autocorrect function.

In Google Docs, if you type two hyphens followed by a space, those two hyphens will be changed to an em dash. Out of the box, Word and Scrivener will do the same.

There isn’t an autocorrect option out of the box for an en dash, though. So, you can try this:

In Word 2010 and up, go to Tools, Options, Proofing, and click on the AutoCorrect Options button.

Select the AutoCorrect tab and add these keyboard shortcuts:

  • Replace: .em  With: —
  • Replace .en  With: –

Now each time you type .em (dot em) in Microsoft Word, it will be replaced by an em dash, and .en will give you an en dash.

If you want to do the same in Scrivener, go to Tool, Options, Corrections, Edit Substitutions. In Google Docs, go to Tools, Preferences.

5. Use your operating system’s character map.

Using you operating system’s search function, type in “character map.” A grid with symbols will pop up, and you can select the em dash or en dash and copy and paste it into your document. In Scrivener, you can access your operating system’s character map by going to Edit, Character Map. In Word 2010 and up, you’ll need to go to Insert, Symbol. In Google Docs, go to Insert, Special Characters.

Be Efficient

There are many ways to create em dashes and en dashes on your laptop. If your only option is to use the character map (the least efficient option), consider inserting two hyphens for em dashes in your document for now. You can then use your word processor’s find and replace function to replace the hyphens with the correct symbol later.

Do you use a Mac? Let us know how you insert em dashes and en dashes into your writing in the comments section below.

*Thanks to John Espirian and Geri J. for suggesting keyboard shortcuts for Mac users.

Image by Dennis Skley

Unlocking the Secrets of the Bestseller

Image of the New York Times Newspaper

by C. K. MacLeod

What are the ingredients of a bestselling novel?

In the book The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel, Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers use machine learning and a text-mining tool — the bestseller-ometer — to study the characteristics of the bestselling novel.

What the bestseller-ometer reveals is specific and potentially helpful. Using computers to assess a novel's bestselling potential raises a number of questions:

  • Will acquisitions editors use algorithms and text-mining tools to determine whether a book is worth investing in?
  • Could indie authors use these tools see if a book will sell?
  • Could editors use it to help writers craft a more marketable book?

I’ll leave it to you to decide. For now, it’s worth thinking about what Archer and Jockers’ research has to say about books that sell brilliantly, and those that don’t.

In a nutshell, The Bestseller Code reveals helpful information about bestseller theme, style, plot, titles and characters, as well as something about the kind of education and training that bestselling authors have.

Archer and Jockers have compiled lists of must-read novels, selected by the bestseller-ometer, that demonstrate bestselling qualities that writers could emulate. If you're suspicious about a computer’s ability to assess bestselling qualities, you could read the books yourself and arrive at your own conclusions.

While I can’t do justice to Archer and Jockers’ research here, I will say this: some of the writing advice on this blog lines up with the characteristics of bestselling novels:

If it’s your goal to best sell, trying the tips and tools in these articles can’t hurt. At the very least, they’ll help you to see ways to improve your writing. In the wider context, the information in The Bestseller Code is worth considering if your goal is to write a book that people will take time to read — and pay money for.

Image by Charles LeBlanc


Choosing the Best Words with Google Ngram Viewer

Magnetic word tiles

C.K. MacLeod

Recently, I edited course content for the Teaching LGTBQ Students course on coursesforteachers.ca. The writer used the terms two-spirit and two-spirited interchangeably. I am not the subject-matter expert in this collaboration, so I didn’t feel qualified to decide on the correct term to use. But as an editor, it’s my job to suggest to the writer if two terms mean the same thing. It's best to pick one and use it consistently throughout.

When you’re deciding on which word to use, Google Ngram Viewer is the tool I turn to. It is a database of 450 million words, gleaned from university library print books that were scanned for the Google Books project (I even found a scan of my Masters thesis on an obscure topic #shiver). Search results from this database of words can suggest

  • which words are more common than others
  • when words may have first emerged in the lexicon

According to the graph generated by Google Ngram, “two-spirit” is the more common term.

Because Google Ngram can only search words from books published up to 2008 (was that when the database was last updated?), I decided to consult a large group of editors for expert advice on current usage. Two-spirit it was.

Armed with this knowledge, I approached the writer with my recommendation.


In the example above, I used Google Ngram to determine which term is more common. Ngram is also helpful for determining if a word was part of the lexicon at a certain point in history — which is good to know if you’re writing historical fiction. See Carla Douglas’s article Use Google Ngram’s Viewer to Craft Authentic Fiction for more details.


No tool is ironclad, and it’s always important to understand a tool's limits. Sarah Zhang’s article The Pitfalls of Google Ngram to Study Language will help you use Ngram's powers wisely.

How to Use Ngram

Ngram isn't difficult to use. Marzia Karch’s article Google Books Ngram Viewer explains the ins and outs of basic and advanced searches, so you can begin using Ngram right away.

Image by Terry Johnston

Editors or Editing Tools? A 10-Point Comparison


by C.K. MacLeod
Editor or editing tools? Sometimes it’s hard to decide. Sometimes it’s not.
Here are few points to consider:

  1. Editing tools are widely available and free or cheap. Editors are widely available, but not free or cheap. If you hire an editor, do not get attached to your first-born or your fur baby.
  2. Editors will point out the mistakes in your writing. This will ruffle your feathers. (Tip: If you want to work with an editor, you need to stop wearing feathers.) Tools will point out the mistakes in your writing. You will be unbothered by this. You can continue to wear your feathers.
  3. Tools don’t always tell the truth. You will need to be discerning. Editors don’t always tell the truth. You should be thankful for that.
  4. Tools will make you do the heavy lifting — they’ll identify writing errors, but they won’t fix them. Editors will find and fix most writing errors. And then, like Rumpelstiltskin, they’ll ask you to hand over your first-born.
  5. Tools won’t roll their eyes when you forget to close quotations 53 times in the first 100 pages of your book. Editors will roll their eyes, and then announce your transgression on Facebook. You will be immortalized in the morning’s virtual water cooler conversation.
  6. Many editors charge by the child. Tools are a one-time fee, for multiple projects, for the cost of a two bags of chips, or a fine pair of designer jeans.
  7. Tools will only find what they’re programmed to find. Editors will only find what they’re programmed to find. Bonus: If you choose an editor who studies style guides, takes courses, and teaches courses, they will find things that tools miss. Decide if that matters to you.
  8. A successful editing tool efficiently finds inconsistencies in your writing. A successful editor efficiently finds inconsistencies in your writing, with (gasp!) the use of editing tools. If you are fond of your first-born, encourage your editor to use editing tools.
  9. Tools will not change anything without your permission. Editors worth their salt will not change anything without your permission. If they do, see # 1.
  10. A good tool is not an editor. A good editor is not a tool.

Image by becca.peterson26

Format an Ebook with Sigil

Sigil logo

by C. K. MacLeod


Updated July 24, 2016: Sigil's newest version has a different interface from the one you'll see in this post. While Sigil is a great tool for the right price, I've begun to use Jutoh instead. Jutoh is better supported, and it allows me to create epubs and mobis.

It's possible to build an ebook that's straight fiction with a tool that many writers already have: Microsoft Word. But for more complex books with headings, endnotes, pictures, and other advanced style features, there's a better way.


Sigil is a free, open-source epub editor that allows you to create an epub file that you can upload to most distributors (all but Amazon, actually). It's surprisingly easy to use and if you're at all interested in having more control over how your ebook looks, Sigil allows you to do a bit of tweaking under the hood.

Here's how to get your book from Word into Sigil:

Quick Steps

  1. Open your book in Word (I use Word 2010). Go to File, Save As, and save your file as Plain Text (.txt). Select "Other coding" and choose UTF-8 encoding (you'll need to scroll down in the menu), Click OK.
  2. Now that you've saved your document in a form that Sigil can read, copy and paste it from Word into the middle window in Sigil's Book View.

You'll find more information about how to begin with Sigil at the Beyond Paper blog.

Dictating a Book? Tips for Editing the First Draft

Megaphone with words "speak up"

Originally published at The Book Designer.

Written by Corina Koch MacLeod

Edited by Carla Douglas

Dictation has become a popular method for laying down a first draft. Barbara Cartland and Voltaire did it, James Patterson and Dan Brown are doing it, and popular self-publishing author Joanna Penn is determined to try it. In fact, Cindy Grigg (The Productive Author’s Guide to Dictation) and Monica Leonelle (Dictate Your Book) have written books on the subject so you can try it, too.

Reasons to Try Dictation

There are many reasons to try dictation:

  • dictation software has improved
  • it eases the strain on your wrists
  • you can get words down faster than with typing
  • it can separate writing from editing, which can do wonders for procrastination and writer’s block
  • it gets you away from your desk, and out for a walk if you have a dictation set-up to support that
  • it’s not hard, and it doesn’t have to cost you a cent

Not convinced? That’s okay. I've been there, and on some days I am there. If you change your mind and give dictation a try, come back to this post to figure out what to do with that dictated first draft.

Needs Must

I'll admit it. I’ve come to the idea of dictation with a lot of skepticism. I've learned to think and write through my fingers, first with a pen, then with a keyboard. Could I learn to use talking as a vehicle for thinking? I remember the awkwardness I felt when I was first learning how to type. I survived those first fumbling attempts, and my typing-to-thinking pathway is now firmly established.

Fast forward several gazillion words and 11 books later. My brain seems to be holding up, but my wrists, sadly, are not. It’s time to build another writing pathway.

Writing Differences

It's not difficult to get words onto a page with dictation. What's difficult is figuring out which ones to keep. Or how to manage that sea of words. If you’ve tried dictation, you may discover that your first draft reads differently than a typed first draft. It may be looser, less organized, and wordy. As a result, your approach to editing may need to be different. Or you may find that you’ll need to spend more time at the editing stage of the writing process. A lot more.

Pre-Editing Tips Before and During Dictation

If you’ve decided to give voice dictation a try, you’ll need a pre-editing strategy so that the process is less unwieldy. Below are a few suggestions for managing dictation so the editing stage is easier:

Know What You Want to Write

Monica Leonelle recommends creating an outline before you begin dictation. Similarly, though she doesn’t use dictation to increase writing productivity, in 2k to 10k Rachel Aaron recommends taking five minutes to sketch out notes for each scene in a notebook before you write it. This is excellent advice.

Because words can come so quickly when you’re dictating, it’s possible to create volumes of text that go off topic or off plot. Having an outline or notes to speak by can help you stay on task and prevent plot holes. You can, of course, dictate an outline or scene notes, but it’s okay to use a pen or a keyboard to outline your writing, too.

Factor in Error Rates

Most dictation software is now 95–98 percent accurate. Off the top, you can count on fixing two to five words in every hundred you speak. What words will you have to fix? Those that your dictation software didn’t understand.

Depending on your spoken dialect and your skill as a typist, this may or may not be equal to the number of typos you make in every hundred words. Keep in mind, though, that dictation software can make creative (and sometimes hilarious) “typos” that you may not be able to decipher later. Be sure to read over your words often to correct any errors while what you intended to say is fresh in your mind.

Pause for Effect

Your mother was right: think before you speak. Monica Leonelle recommends pausing to gather your thoughts before you speak a sentence. This is the single best piece of advice when learning to dictate your writing. There’s no need to hurry. Hurrying can encourage muddled thinking, which can result in bloated and disorganized writing. Bloated writing requires more attention at the editing stage, which is fine if you’ve budgeted lots of time for editing. Lots.

Editing Tips for after Dictation

Once you’ve completed your first-draft dictation, you’ll need a plan for revising and editing it.

Take it in Layers

As with typewritten text, it’s best to approach revisions and edits in layers. Go through the four levels of editing, beginning with a big-picture edit and ending with word-level details.

For example, you’ll need to make sure

  • your writing has an overall flow
  • your plot lines are well-paced
  • scenes or sections are evenly weighted
  • paragraphs are shortened if you forgot to instruct the dictation software to create a new paragraph (ahem)
  • paragraphs and sentences proceed in a logical way (especially if you had trouble sticking to your outline)
  • sentences are trimmed of wordiness
  • your sentences are correctly punctuated (you need to speak out punctuation, and this takes getting used to)

I’ve noticed that my current abilities with dictation cause me to produce 40-word sentences. Twenty-word sentences are better for comprehension. I need more than the usual work at the paragraph level. You may find that, too.

Use Revision Tools

Revision and editing tools can help you address each layer of editing. Below are a few of my favourite problem-solvers, as they pertain to the pitfalls of dictation:

For Structural Issues

If you’ve gotten off track with the structure of your book, consider using Scrivener to help you analyze and reorganize your writing. Scrivener’s Binder and Split Screen can help you to rearrange sections of your book. The Word Count column in the Outliner can help you discover potential pacing problems at a glance. Labels will allow you to visually separate plot lines to see if they flow and intersect where they need to.

Scrivener’s Word Count feature in the Outliner

For Filler Words

A spoken first draft can be different from a written first draft. You may use filler words, such as “really,” “just,” and “even” in dictation — words that are often used in spoken language for emphasis. These words work fine in spoken language, but depending on what you’re writing, filler words can muddy the meaning of a sentence.  The NeedlessWords macro can help you spot filler words so you can remove them. The Overused Words check in ProWriting Aid will help you see where you need to add variety to your writing.

For Long Sentences

Your sentences may be longer and more complex when you dictate your writing. That’s okay when you’re speaking, because your intonation can help listeners group words into meaningful chunks. There’s no intonation in writing, so be sure to shorten sentences or punctuate them so that they’re easier for readers to navigate. The long sentence highlighter in the Hemingway Editor can help you shorten long sentences. So can the Sticky Sentences check and the Long Sentences check in ProWriting Aid.

For Readability

Sometimes it’s okay to strut your vocabulary. In some kinds of nonfiction, it’s more important to remove every possible barrier to understanding — including ten-dollar words. To help you choose simpler words and improve readability, use the Hemingway Editor, the PlainLanguage macro, Paul Beverley’s Find and Replace macro with a supporting plain language words list, or the Diction check in ProWriting Aid.


Did I dictate this article? Some of it. And that’s my final tip: you don’t have to use dictation exclusivelyespecially when you’re learning this new skill. If you’re a visual learner whose thinking is guided by the words you see or a kinesthetic learner who works out your thoughts by penning or keyboarding them, it might not make sense to dictate all your writing. (Hat tip to Russell Blake for this observation in an interview with Joanna Penn). Besides, Rachel Aaron, who has written over 20 books, has proven that it’s possible to be productive without voice dictation.

Don’t be afraid to dictate part of an article or book, or begin with dictating text and email messages. If you build your capacity for dictation slowly, you’ll be less likely to abandon it and more likely to find a place for it in your writing process. Instead of an all-or-nothing proposition, think of dictation as one of many tools in your writing toolkit.

Editor’s note: Corina and I have been editing each other’s writing for 14 years. After a first read-through of this piece, I noticed that something was different. Was it voice? Tone? Organization? Yes to all of these and more, and I wondered what was up. This didn’t sound like Corina — it was looser and less precise than what I’ve come to expect. Then it dawned on me: she’d been dictating!

This is a topic I find fascinating, and recent research supports my hunch that “written and spoken language can exist separately in the brain.” This doesn’t mean that dication isn’t a drafting method worth exploring. I’m curious to learn whether a dictated first draft is much different from one that’s been brain-dumped into a word processor.  

I also have a hunch that dictating will be easier for some than for others, and that if you persist, you’ll get better with practice. You might even find your voice where you least expect it. 🙂

Image by Howard Lake