Writing and Publishing

Reading Goals for Writers

reading goals for writers

It’s important for writers to read, and many writers make an annual reading list of what books to read.

But because I need to push myself to read, my overarching requirement is that the book interests me. This limits the range of what I read, which is not a good thing, but it’s better than not reading at all. So my first goal is to read what entertains me, or sometimes, what educates me.

My second goal is to identify what I like—so I can apply it to my own work—and don’t like—so that I can avoid it.

Third, I look at what keeps me turning pages and what tempts me to skim—or stop reading altogether. Again, this informs my own writing.

Fourth, I look for writing that confuses me. How would I edit that section?

Last, I listen to my editor’s internal commentary. Since I do a lot of editing as a periodical publisher, I can’t just turn off that part of my brain when I read—even though I try. Despite this, I remain mindful of the big issues: the flow of the work, the beginning, the end, the order of the chapters, and so forth.

As I do this, I’m vigilant about not emulating the author’s style or voice.

Writing and Publishing

Determining Your Reading List

determine your reading list

Finding time to read and still have time to write and attend to the rest of life is a challenge for me. Yet I know it’s critical to invest in reading to better inform my writing.

Some people, those far more disciplined than I, chart out a reading course for the year, strategically picking books from different genres, both current and classic, along with memoir and nonfiction. By the end of the year, they’ve sampled a broad array of literature.

In an ideal world, I would do the same. But my world is not ideal.

To find the motivation to read, I must select books that grab my attention. If the book bores me, I’ll lay it down and stop reading.

Here’s what works for me.

First, I read mostly novels. I select books that are highly popular (or recently popular), books made into movies (since I love movies), books that come highly recommended, books from favorite authors, and books by friends (who often move to the favorite author category). I occasionally stir in nonfiction, mostly because I should.

Though my reading goes in spurts, I usually read about twenty books a year using this approach.

This isn’t an ideal plan, but it works for me. It’s also better than not reading at all.

Writing and Publishing versus versus

Some people say that if you’re blogging as a hobby, is okay, but if you consider yourself a professional you need to go with (the self-hosted version). Is it possible to do a professional website with

Though I’ve seen some successful authors use a powered website, it always surprises me. Yes, you can have many of the elements of a professional site using, but it will always have a basic, less-than-optimum appearance.

If you have the time and the interest, you can develop a nice, professional-looking site by yourself and for little cost using (the self-hosted option), which is why I advocate it.

As an alternative, many people will design a WordPress website for you and even host and maintain it. But the costs add up.

However, if you don’t want to invest the time or if the thought of doing yourself is overwhelming, then focus on making your site as good as you can.

Writing and Publishing

ISBNs and Indie-Published Books

ISBNS and self-published books

Do you wonder about getting ISBNs for your indie-published books? It’s not too important to have an ISBN for e-books. I’ve heard of several successful indie authors who see no point in it.

However, having an ISBN does make a book seem more professional and part of mainstream book publishing. But aside from the image it conveys, I’m not aware of any tangible advantage for e-books.

You don’t need ISBNs for print books either, but I think they’re important. They facilitate ordering and tracking. Though bookstores typically don’t want to deal with self-published authors (unless you are local or have a connection with the manager), they will need the book to have an ISBN to order it and track it in their system.

In the United States, buy ISBNs from Bowker.

Note that you need one ISBN for each format your book is in hardcover, paperback, e-book, audiobook, and so forth. If an organization will provide an ISBN as part of its services, look carefully at what you may give up when you use their ISBN.

Writing and Publishing

Introduction to WordPress

introduction to wordpress

WordPress has two versions: hosted and self-hosted. Serious writers recommend self-hosting. But beginners can opt for the hosted version. Here is a basic introduction to WordPress:

The hosted version of WordPress ( is easy to learn and use. It also has minimal features. The self-hosted version of WordPress ( is highly flexible and rich in features. It has a steeper learning curve.

Like most people, I recommend that anyone serious about blogging use the self-hosted version,, and bypass the hosted version of WordPress,

However, for a person not sure about blogging and interested in just trying it out, can accomplish that nicely and with minimal fuss and cost.

Moving content from to is not hard—for someone who has done it before. It does take a bit of effort, but transferring posts is mostly following a set of instructions. There are a lot of instructions online and this guide looks good.

However you proceed, I wish you the best. Happy blogging!

Writing and Publishing

Microsoft Word Alternatives

microsoft word alternatives

Writers often seek options for word processing software, either to save money, increase functionality, or both.

Many writers extol the virtues of Scrivener for content creation, especially novelists. It costs much less than Microsoft Word and, since Scrivener is designed for writers, it has powerful features that creatives crave.

Another option of increasing popularity is Google Docs. It’s free. And your files are online, so you can access them from any internet-connected computer.

Nonetheless, whatever alternative tool you use for writing, be sure it can output in Microsoft Word format (Scrivener can) because almost all publishers require a Word file submission. In addition, all editors I’ve worked within the past twenty years have used Word (except for one who edited a printout).

However, instead of buying Microsoft Word (or Microsoft Office) for hundreds of dollars, get Office 365 and pay a low monthly subscription fee—less than a coffee or two a month. As a bonus, you’ll always have the latest version.

Writing and Publishing

Find Time to Read

find time to read

Writers need to read, but how do we find time to read? This is a constant struggle. For me, it often comes down to deciding between watching TV and reading. Sometimes TV wins and other times reading wins. Often this hinges on how good the book is and how badly I want to watch a particular show.

To find time to read, I strive to keep my TV watch list short and my book list interesting. I also give myself the freedom to stop reading a book that I don’t like or that bores me. If I didn’t do that, the TV would always win.

The point is, we all have some degree of discretionary time, be it TV, movies, going out, leisure activities, or even a nap. We can choose to do those or to read. For me, I’ve cut back on TV to read more—and I’m glad I did.

However, some writers, including me, feel that watching TV and especially movies help them learn about plot, character development, and good (or bad) storytelling.

The bottom line is that if we’re serious about writing and want to become a better writer, we need to also read. We need to find time to read. When we do so, we will better inform our writing.

Writing and Publishing

Seven Writer Improvement Tips

writer improvement tips

Do you want to improve as a writer? I do. Here are the things I’m currently pursuing to get better:

  1. Read a lot (I struggle the most with this one)
  2. Write regularly
  3. Read about writing
  4. Listen to writer and publishing podcasts
  5. Follow blogs relating to writing
  6. Participate in writers’ groups
  7. Attend writing conferences

Although improvement only creeps forward, these steps move me in the right direction. May they do the same for you.

Writing and Publishing

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

technology plan

Here are the lessons learned from a computer fiasco I had, years ago:

  • Have a technology plan, but be flexible. [I had a plan but wasn’t flexible with it—until I was forced to. I doggedly stuck to the plan, even when it was inadvisable to do so]
  • Multiple data backups were imperative. I used three methods, and keep several historical versions, spanning six months.
  • Having backup hardware is essential. During this ordeal, I was using both my backup desktop computer and my laptop to handle critical items and not fall too far behind.
  • Having a help desk to call for emergencies is critical.
  • If a computer begins displaying flaky problems, it’s likely telling you something—make sure you are listening.
Writing and Publishing

Article Submission Tips

article submission tips

Here are the key article submission tips on submitting an article to a publication.

Know the Publication or Website

Read their past content. As you do, envision if your idea is a good fit. If not, don’t force it. Seek a different topic or a different outlet.

Look for Submission Guidelines

Find their submission guidelines on their website. If they don’t have them posted, they may not be open to receive unsolicited submissions. If you can’t find their guidelines online and still want to pursue publication with that periodical, go ahead and ask them, but you may not get a response.

Write the Best Possible Article You Can

You know the drill: write, re-write, edit, spellcheck, and proofread. You only get one chance with this article at this publication.

Follow Their Requirements with Care

Reread their submission guidelines and meet every requirement. Though most editors won’t disqualify you for making a tiny blunder, it could count against you, and too many will result in a rejection.

Be Patient

Some publications will acknowledge they received your submission. If they say they do and you haven’t heard back in a few weeks or so, ask—politely.

If they accept your piece, be patient. It can be a while for them to post it online and several months if it is in print.

Thank Them

Most writers skip this step. Don’t be one of them. Once your piece has run, thank them—even if some aspect of it wasn’t to your satisfaction. If you have an idea for another piece or are open to receive an assignment, this is the ideal time to mention it.

Follow these key article submission tips when submitting an article to a publication. Doing so will significantly increase your chances of success. And you can thank these pointers once your article is published.