From the Guild’s Mailbag

From Our Mailbag

From San Diego Writers, Ink. Many SDWEG members are also members of San Diego Writers, Ink, a great source for courses for writers. The first item below is not limited to SDWI members. The second item is limited to SDWI members. For more information about SDWI, check their website.

Seeking Volunteer: Wednesdays at Imperial Beach Library Writing Group

1st and 3rd Weds 5:30-6:30 p.m.  Lead a prompt group.  No experience necessary--we'll train!  Please contact Kristen if you are interested at

Members' Benefit: Participate in Local Author Showcase Oct 6th

We have scheduled the next Author Appreciation and Showcase at SDWI for the First Friday event at Liberty Station on October 6th.
This is an opportunity for writers to get their works in front of the eclectic buying public at Liberty Station and to meet and spend time with other published members of SDWI.

If you are interested in participating in October, please contact Kevin Smith at

You must be a member of SDWI to participate.  As usual, there will be wine and cookies, too.

Tips from The Write Practice

At the July Marketing Support Meeting, SDWEG Secretary, Laurie Asher, provided a handout of the top 10 pieces of book writing software according to Joe Bunting of The Write Practice. That list is included below with permission from The Write Practice. Note that the "I" in this post is Joe Bunting, not SDWEG webmaster.

No piece of writing software will write your book for you, but these ten will help. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each.

1. Google Sheets (Spreadsheet)

If you’d told me when I was first trying to become a writer that one of my most-used tools in my book writing software toolkit would be a spreadsheet, I would have told you I didn’t major in English to have to use a spreadsheet.

But now, as I’m finishing my seventh book, I realize that I’m using spreadsheets almost daily.

Spreadsheets allow you to get a sense of the elements of your book at a glance, and when you’re working on a 300-page document, distilling it down to useable information becomes very necessary.

You might use spreadsheets for:

Google Sheets is perfect for this because it’s free and you can quickly share your documents with your writing partners, editors, or beta readers to get feedback. Microsoft Excel is another great option, but for writers, I suggest Google Sheets.

Cost: Free!
Where to find it? Get started with Google Sheets here

2. Scrivener (Word Processor)

Scrivener is the premier book writing software. It is made by writers for writers. Scrivener’s “binder” view allows you to break up your book into chapters and sections and easily reorganize it. Project targets let you create word count goals and then track your progress daily. Its composition mode can help you stay focused by removing all the clutter. Plus, it allows you to format for publishing (e.g. on Amazon or Barnes & Noble).

There are some problems with Scrivener. Formatting is more complicated than it needs to be and collaborating isn’t easy, meaning it loses its effectiveness as soon as you bring on an editor. But it more than makes up for that by being so helpful in the early stages of the writing process.

In fact, we believe in Scrivener so much, we published a book about how creative writers can write more, faster using it. It’s called Scrivener Superpowers. If you’re using Scrivener or want to save yourself time as you learn how to use it for your creative writing, you can get Scrivener Superpowers here.

Cost: $45 for Mac, $40 for Windows
Where to find it: Get started with Scrivener for Mac here or with

Scrivener for Windows here.

You can get a copy of Scrivener here, or learn more about how to use the software with one of these resources:

3. Freedom (Productivity App)

One question writers always ask me is, “How can I stay focused enough to finish what I write?”

I have too many thoughts on this for this article, but as far as writing software to encourage focus, I recommend Freedom.

Freedom allows you to block your biggest distractions online, including both websites and mobile apps, for a set period of time. So when you mindlessly escape your book to scroll through Facebook, you’ll find the site won’t load.

You can also schedule recurring sessions, so that at a scheduled time (e.g. Mondays from 6 am to 10 am), you won’t be able to access the sites on your blocklist, even if you try.

There are other apps like this that we’ve written about before, notably Self-Control for Mac and StayFocused for Windows. But Freedom goes further, allowing you to block sites on both your computer and your phone, and enabling recurring sessions.

You can learn more about how writers can get the most out of Freedom on our review here.

Cost: $29 / year for Pro version, which I use and recommend (Free trial available)
Where to find it: Get started with Freedom here

4. Google Docs (Word Processor)

While Scrivener is the best book writing software, once you get to editing and getting feedback, it begins to fall short.

That’s why Google Docs has become my second go-to piece of book writing software. It’s free, very easy to use, and requires no backups since everything is in the cloud.

Best of all are its collaboration abilities, which allow you to invite your editor to the document and then watch as he or she makes changes, tracked in suggestion mode, and leave comments on your story (see screenshot below).

Cost: Free!
Where to find it: Get started with Google Docs here

5. Vellum (Book Formatting/Word Processor)

If you want to turn your book into an eBook, it’s not that hard. Scrivener, Word, Pages, they all can make eBooks. But that doesn’t mean they’ll look good. In fact, it takes a lot of skill and effort to make an eBook look good on any of those word processors. That’s why I love Vellum so much.

Vellum picks up where Scrivener, Word, and Pages leave off, giving you a tool to make great looking eBooks every time.

The most important part of this is the previewer (see the image below), which lets you see how each formatting change or book edit you make will appear on Kindle, Fire, iPhone, Nook, and other eReaders.

It also has stripped-down, option-based formatting, which is perfect for designing eBooks.

I really love this app!

UPDATE: Vellum recently expanded into formatting for paperback books! I haven’t tried it yet but it looks awesome!

Cost: $199 for eBook generation, $249 for Paperback Formatting
Where to find it: Get started with Vellum here

6. Microsoft Word (Word Processor)

Again: no piece of book writing software is going to write your book for you. If you’re looking for the next “shiny new toy” to help you write your book, it might be an excuse to avoid doing the hard work of writing.

Most of us learned how to use computers by using Microsoft Word, or a program like it. Word gets the job done. Sure, Scrivener is a little better for books, but I wrote my first book on Word and it’s fine.

I wrote a long review of the pros and cons of using Word to write books—the main problem is that as your document grows, it becomes more and more difficult to work with, whereas with Scrivener, it becomes easier—but the point is, if Word is what you have, don’t let that stop you from finishing your book.

As Jeff Elkins said in his review of Word, “If you aren’t already putting in the hard work to be the kind of writer you want to be, it doesn’t matter what new writing software you invest in. It is not going to help.”

Cost: $69 / year from Amazon (includes Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook, and other Microsoft software)
Where to find it: You can get Microsoft Word here

7. Ulysses (Word Processor)

When I’m writing for a long time, I like to get up and go for a walk. Sometimes, I wish I could continue writing while I walk. Other times, I come up with an idea while I’m walking, type it up on my phone, and then want to easily move what I wrote to my laptop without having to go through the hassle of emailing it back and forth to myself.

That’s where Ulysses comes in.

Ulysses is a word processor for Mac that allows you to sync between all your devices, so you have what you need wherever you are. Scrivener recently released their iOS app which allows you to do this as well, but the process is clunky and requires you to purchase both the desktop and iOS apps. Ulysses’s sync makes the process much more seamless.

Like Scrivener, it has a binder-like sidebar that allows you to move documents around. Ulysses is not designed specifically for books so it takes a little configuring to make it work for you, but once you have it set up the way you want it’s very intuitive.

And while I hate Markdown, I actually like the paired-down formatting options Ulysses gives. Overall, I’m not going to convert from Scrivener to Ulysses any time soon, but I think it’s a great option for most writers.

Cost: $45
Where to find it: App store, or here (Mac only)

8. Microsoft Excel (Spreadsheets)

As Jeff Elkins says in his review of Microsoft Excel, it’s great, but “it’s a little like bringing a bazooka to a knife fight. You will need only a small fraction of its capability.”

If you have Excel and love it, great. Otherwise, use Google Sheets, especially if you’re sharing your sheet with a collaborator or editor.

Cost: $69 / year from Amazon (includes Word, Powerpoint, Outlook, and other Microsoft software)
Where to find it: You can get Microsoft Word here

9. Grammarly (Grammar/Spell Check)

“Can book writing software replace an editor?” asks Sue Weems in her review of Grammarly. “Nope. But it can help you improve your grammar and readability.”

If you struggle with grammar, sentence structure, spelling, or even writing style, Grammarly can help. It goes far beyond your built-in spell-check.

You should still learn grammar skills, but Grammarly can help you start to see the patterns and grow as a writer.

There’s a free version that’s very good. It can even be installed into your browser or Word processor, so you can check your grammar wherever you write. The paid version, $139 a year, gives you additional support on sentence structure, style, and vocabulary.

Learn more about how writers can get the most out of Grammarly here.

Cost: Free! (Premium version is $139 / year)
Where to find it: Get started with Grammarly here

10. Hemingway App (Grammar/Style Checker)

Most writers think their sentences are easier to read than they are. You think you’re coming across clearly, that your writing makes sense, but then someone reads it and comes away with something totally different.

Hemingway App helps with that.

Hemingway App is a free website that checks readability. You can copy and paste your writing into the website’s input box. Then it will grade your writing based on your used of adverbs, passive voice, and sentences as units.

Hemingway App is useful, but even the best book writing software can’t replace a good editor.

Cost: Free!
Where to find it: Try out Hemingway App here

Freelance Editor Opportunity

From the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild Mailbag:

An educational non-profit that focuses on researching innovative approaches to education seeks a freelance editor. Once a week they produce an article to help educators learn new techniques to address our education system challenges. Each piece is between 400 and 700 words, will be published mostly on Forbes, with an occasional longer article.

If interested, contact Jabez Lebret directly at with rates for the work.


Editor Sought


The following message arrived in the Guild's mailbox and is being provided to our members for information.

The Health Optimizing Institute, Del Mar, CA needs reference to an experienced editor for preparing the director's manuscript for publication. Flexible hours, pleasant working conditions (your office or ours) and pay commensurate with experience and ability. No other duties, such as receptionist or clerical person, will interfere with your focus. This task will be interesting and well suited to a self-employed person. The director, a senior citizen, worked with Abraham Maslow, founder of the Human Potential Movement. He was also Chairman and Moderator of the groundbreaking Holistic Health conferences at UCSD, the first of their kind at a major U.S. university.

Call: David J. Harris at (858) 829-1337


Postal: Health Optimizing Institute
P.O. Box 1233
Del Mar, CA 92104

What Is Grammarly?


grammarly_logoHave you heard of Grammarly?

According to its website, "Grammarly is the world’s leading automated proofreader. It checks for more than 250 types of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, enhances vocabulary usage, and suggests citations."

And it's free.

Or at least a version of it is free.

There are two ways to use the free version of this editing tool.

  • Upload the text you wish to check on the website. (Or you can use the grammar checker access offered by Jennifer Frost to paste text into a "check your text" box. Jennifer offers this option as part of her website of grammar tips and handy infographics to help remember the tips. Watch out for the "Deep Check" option which will take you to the Grammarly Premium version which has a cost.)
  • Download a free extension for Chrome or Safari that will check your text online as you type. The extension does not, however, check what you type offline, such as in Word documents.

There is a Premium version which comes at a subscription price ranging from $11.66 per month (if paid for annually) to $29.95 per month. If the Premium version looks like what you need, Grammarly offers a 30% discount for those who go through Jennifer's website. Her website is also listed on the Resources page of the Guild's website.

A caveat: no application to check grammar, spelling, or punctuation is foolproof. As an example, Grammarly highlighted the word "errors" and the comma that follows it in the first paragraph with the notation "improper comma between subject and verb." Grammarly correctly notes the comma is between a noun and the verb that follows it, but the two words, "commas enhances," are not subject and verb. Grammarly also offers the option to mark instances of apparent errors to be ignored.

What Are Beta Readers and Why Should You Care?

From the August 2016 newsletter

“Beta Reader” means someone who evaluates a manuscript – a term probably adapted from the software industry, where programmers release a "beta" version of a new program to people who will test it.

Beta readers are not editors but are volunteers who can give you feedback about your book. Best friends, significant others and family members aren’t likely to be the best beta readers – they’re predisposed to loving whatever you write.

Beta readers are not the same as a read-and-critique group. A beta reader will read your entire manuscript, on their own, and develop a personal response to it. Some online writers suggest arranging three+ beta readers, individuals who are honest, give constructive comments, and have the time.

Give them the very best writing you can produce on your own, not your first draft. Let your beta reader know what questions you would like answered. Do you want comments on the strength of the characters, the organization of the concept, the flow or pace of the action, or on areas where they felt something was missing? Ask them to note their thoughts as they read. Provide them with the book in the format they would prefer, digital or paper.

When you receive a beta reader’s comments ask yourself, “Will addressing this comment make for a better book?” If so, take their advice and apply it to your next revision. If not, thank them: don’t defend yourself. You don’t have to accept every piece of advice you get.

If you would like names of possible beta readers from SDWE/G or you’re available as a beta reader, contact Sandra Yeaman at

Source: results of a Google search.

“Genius” – A Film about Writing

From the July Newsletter


genius....... by Gered Beeby

Based on the book Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg, the film “Genius” presents the story of Maxwell Perkins during the time when he edited the works of prolific South Carolina author Thomas Wolfe.

It opens at the start of the Depression. Max Perkins is the pre-eminent editor for Charles Scribner’s Sons publishing house in New York City. Played with consummate restraint by Colin Firth, Perkins agrees to do a “quick read” of the massive manuscript from this monumentally unrestrained upstart. The read encompasses the entire book, which would eventually become Look Homeward, Angel. Having previously introduced such literary greats as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Perkins has his hands full.

Wolfe, played with brilliant exuberance by Jude Law, operates with no known boundaries to his lyrically beautiful prose. But how to convert these mountains of sheets into cogent and complete novels? The film shows these diametric opposites as they labor with each other’s objectives and inherent needs. In time the two men try to blend and gain fuller insight into the process of producing fine literature.

Filmed mostly on location and displayed in muted sepia tones, “Genius” is an unabashed art house film. This story is about writers, and the joys and agonies of writing, and has Oscar written all over it.

....... by Mardie Schroeder

“Genius” is a film that only the English could have made so artistically. Hollywood would never have considered it worthwhile to budget.

Max Perkins, editor for Scribner’s, and Thomas Wolfe, author, were both word fanatics. Perkins wanted to make things more concise; Wolfe thought every word he wrote was sacred. The contrast between calm and serene Perkins and bombastic Wolfe made for interesting viewing in what otherwise could have been slow moving, which it never was.

Perkins was the only editor to take on the task of editing “Look Homeward, Angel” which was 333,000 words long. At first, Wolfe was beholden to Perkins when the finished book became a best seller, but eventually Wolfe resented Perkins and accused him of changing so much of it that it became more his (Perkin’s) book.

Because of their mutual absorption with words, Perkins neglected his wife and five daughters, Wolfe his lover and patron. Perkins and Wolfe had an intense relationship over many years. After publication of “Of Time and the River,” Wolfe parted company with Perkins and traveled around Europe and California. After Wolfe died at the age of 37 of tuberculosis of the brain, Perkins received a letter that Wolfe wrote on his deathbed in which Wolfe spelled out his love and appreciation for all Perkins had done for him.