Plain English and Australian usage

You may have been told you must write in plain English, or maybe you will just agree that it’s the best way to communicate with your chosen audience. Either way, you may need some help choosing appropriate words and phrases. This is especially important if you are writing instructions for other people to follow.

What is plain English?

Plain English is clear and accurate writing, in a natural style, and avoids the use of bureaucratic, longwinded and confusing language.

Learning to write in plain English

A great resource for learning how to write and communicate in plain English is the Oxford Guide to Plain English, which describes this ‘woolly term’ as:

The writing and setting out of essential information in a way that gives a co-operative, motivated person a good chance of understanding it at first reading, and in the same sense that the writer meant it to be understood.'

The Complete Plain Words, published by Penguin in 1987, also gives good explanations of how and why you should write clearly.

The Plain English Campaign was launched in Britain in 1979, and offers free online guides and other tools, including a gobbledegook generator.

Choosing the right words

The Macquarie Dictionary and Thesaurus are my first choice when I’m searching for the right word. I like to have a hardcopy edition but it’s well worth having a subscription to the online versions. However, a dictionary doesn’t always help us choose the best words to convey our meaning. There are many books that explain correct usage of words and phrases.

The two modern and specifically Australian references I find most useful are:

Right Words: A guide to English usage in Australia, by Stephen Murray-Smith, 2nd ed., Penguin, Ringwood, Vic 1990, is still an excellent reference. It explains the basic rules of grammar and punctuation, the difference in usage between words that are frequently confused, and common mistakes.

The Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage, by Pam Peters, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, Vic, 2007, is a comprehensive guide that gives the facts about variants of language used in written Australian communication, and leaves it up to the reader to choose the most suitable. It compares Australian English with British, American and other varieties of English. It covers spelling, grammar, punctuation, the style and structure of language, and editorial style and formatting.

If you are writing for an American audience, Garner’s Modern American Usage by Brian A. Garner, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, New York, is a useful guide.


Self publishing on Amazon with Kindle Direct Publishing

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) is an Amazon self-publishing service. You can publish your books in digital and print for free and sell on Amazon to millions of readers. You can earn up to 70% royalty on Kindle eBook and 60% on paperback sales.

I used the CreateSpace platform to publish All the Safe Places: An Australian child’s war before CreateSpace combined with Kindle Direct Publishing. This no longer an option. I was able to order proof copies and author copies at cost, and I’m very happy with the quality.


Amazon says “CreateSpace is combining with Kindle Direct publishing (KDP), making KDP the single place to publish your print and digital books” and “KDP's print on demand service allows you to self-publish your book in paperback and sell it on Amazon websites in the US, Europe, and Japan, as well as other retail book sellers through KDP's Expanded Distribution channels. You don't have to pay any costs upfront or carry any inventory. Your book is printed on demand when customers purchase it.”

Ethics in editing seminar

Editors NSW, a branch of the Institute of Professional Editors, is about to hold its biennial seminar, and the topic is Ethics in Editing. I’ll be attending to learn more about dealing with ethical issues that may come up when quoting for a project or during the work itself.

I’m particularly interested in the discussion of ethical issues in life writing and children’s fiction.

Here’s an outline of the day’s presentations:

Third biennial Editors NSW Seminar: the ethics of editing
A variety of presenters through the day answer some of the questions of ethics which challenge editors both in their editing and their business practices.

  • Julie Ganner AE – Core values, blurry lines and the IPEd Code of Ethics

  • Sarah JH Fletcher – Fiction editing with an agenda

  • Dr Radhiah Chowdhury – Gut feelings and bias: editing children’s fiction sensitively

  • Dr Rhonda Daniels AE – The ethics of quoting

  • Melissa Faulkner – Editors and social media

  • Dr Juliet Richters AE – When is it cheating? Ethical dilemmas for the academic editor

  • Dr Rae Luckie – Ethical tightropes: editing life writing

The day concludes with a panel session answering questions from the audience.

Print on Demand with Amazon

I'm about to publish All the Safe Places as a print-on-demand paperback on Amazon. I've had it set up on Amazon's CreateSpace platform since I published the Kindle version but I had some formatting issues to sort out and have only just come back to fix them and publish the print version. I discovered that there is now another option - KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) has a beta version of a paperback print-on-demand platform, KDP Paperbacks. Wondering whether that would be a better option, I searched for answers among the Indie publishing blogs.

The consensus seems to be that it's too early to switch, but Create Space will eventually be removed. If you transfer a book you've published on CreateSpace over to KDP Paperback, it's deleted from CreateSpace.

The royalties are the same but you can't order at-cost proof copies and author copies, and there can be some technical problems if you're transferring a book that you've already created in Create Space. An advantage of KDP is that if you make changes to your print book on CreateSpace, the old version of the book is removed (which can affect sales and ranking) while KDP – both print and Kindle – keeps your old version up and available for purchase until the new version is approved. An author on the CreateSpace forums mentions that "I really like the efficiency of Createspace Customer Support. KDP you can't even contact by phone and usually not at all through other means. (In fact, I am not sure how to contact them)." Another wrote that "If you are happy with CreateSpace, stick around and don't fix what ain't broke. In any case, being a no-backing-out bleeding-edge beta-test guinea pig is not advised for people who care about their publishing venture."

So I'll be publishing this one in Create Space, and waiting until these issues have been sorted out before publishing anything on KDP Paperbacks.

An important issue is whether either platform will enable books to be printed and shipped from the new Amazon Australia warehouse. Here's what one blogger said about this: "There was no confirmation about the Australian store being added to either POD platform soon. The recent opening of Amazon fulfillment centers in both Australia and Japan though gives hope that eventually Amazon POD books will be added as well."

Here are links to some of the useful posts I found:

Amazon's explanation of the new service: Publish your paperback on KDP (Beta)

John Doppler: Should Authors Move From Createspace to KDP Paperbacks? A First Look

Gundi Gabrielle: CreateSpace vs KDP Print

The discussion on the CreateSpace Forum

How to use your Kindle Paperwhite to become a better writer

The Kindle Paperwhite has some features that can help you become a better writer, in an enjoyable and relatively effortless way. Other versions of Kindle or other devices may have these features, but the Kindle Paperwhite is the one I'm using.

Firstly, if you want to write well, you must read widely. Any ebook reader can help you there. The classics are available free or at a very low cost, and when you hear about an interesting new book you can often obtain it immediately. Don't just read the popular works, though - and do read books from the previous decades and even the previous century, if you are not already familiar with them. By doing so, you will automatically absorb correct grammar, sentence structure, spelling and a wide vocabulary. You will see words and phrases in context, and will be less likely to use them inappropriately.

The Kindle Paperwhite has a direct link to Amazon and to Goodreads, the book reviewing application, where you can review books you have read and see recommendations for similar books.

The next useful feature of a Kindle is the dictionary. You can choose from several dictionaries, for example the Oxford or the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Sadly, the Macquarie Dictionary, which is the standard for Australia, does not seem to be available on Amazon. For Australians, the next best option is the Oxford. Once you have chosen your dictionary (under Settings), when you press on a word the definition is displayed. Since this is so much more convenient than looking the word up online, or dragging out volume 3 of your hardcopy dictionary, you are much more likely to look up words you are not familiar with and find out the exact definition, rather than relying on guesswork.

The Kindle Paperwhite also offers to look the word up on Wikipedia, which may or may not be useful.

The new feature that is offered in the Kindle Paperwhite, which didn't exist in the Kindle Touch, is the Vocabulary Builder. If you have turned on this feature, every time you look up a word in the dictionary, it is added to the list of words you're learning in the Vocabulary Builder.

When you go to Vocabulary Builder, you will see the words you've looked up, and you can see the definition. You can also see the word in the context of the sentence from the book where you read it. Even if the dictionary didn't have a definition, the context may be enough to remind you of the meaning if you looked it up elsewhere (for example, on Google). In this way, you will increase your vocabulary in a fairly painless way. More importantly, you will be reminded of the context, by seeing the word in the sentence from the book you were reading. This will help you avoid the classic mistake of using a newly learned word in an inappropriate context. If you have chosen well-written books to read, you will see new words used in interesting ways. When you are confident that you know the new word and how to use it, you can select 'Mastered' and it will disappear from your wordlist.

All of these tools can also be used to learn or reinforce your knowledge of a foreign language.

By learning new words and the appropriate context for their use, you will become a better writer. By reading widely from the classics and the best modern literature, you will learn to write grammatically correct sentences. By increasing your vocabulary, you will be able to use vibrant language and avoid using cliches and jargon. All of these benefits can be obtained in snippets of time, on the bus, at lunchtime, or in the evening. You will become a better writer, confident in your knowledge of the English language.

Memory cottage for visitors with Alzheimer's disease

A 1930s cottage has been recreated by staff at the National Wool Museum in Geelong, Victoria, with the hope that an object or a piece of music might trigger a memory or moment of joy for people living with Alzheimer’s disease. Link to article on the National Wool Museum's website

Read more in The Age article, and view the photo gallery.


Randy Gallegos: How to commission an illustrator

Randy Gallegos has an excellent post about what's involved in commissioning an illustrator for a self-published book. He discusses time, cost and quality, fees, contracts, what rights to ask for and illustrators' working methods. Understanding these aspects will make it more likely that your request for a quote will be taken seriously and that you will only pay for what you really need.

How to Commission an Illustration

Using Scrivener for writing and editing, and SF writers who use Scrivener

I've only just started using Scrivener in the last couple of months. I like the idea of having all the research notes, drafts, etc. in one place and having something equivalent to sticky-notes or menu cards for shuffling ideas around. Also - importing Word (or RTF) files, ditching all the horrible formatting issues and being able to just focus on the writing, what a relief!

Jamie Rubin on using Scrivener and the editorial process

David M. Kelly

David M. Kelly home page

Self Publishing: Dealing with information overload

Protect writers from online bullying (in Amazon reviews)

And the post that brought me here in the first place - searching for why Scrivener is so slow to load:

Scrivener auto-save blues

Should I use DRM?

I received an email from O'Reilly Media (technical publishers) today. I was interested to read their statement about Digital Rights Management:

Having the ability to download files at your convenience, store them on all your devices, or share them with a friend or colleague as you would a print book or DVD is liberating, and is how it should be.

I have a lot of respect for O'Reilly Media – their technical books are excellent and good value – so I value their opinion about DRM. I've read differing opinions in the books, websites and blog posts I've read about publishing ebooks. Most of them say that DRM doesn't stop the real pirates but is an inconvenience to your genuine readers.

I do feel that if I've bought a digital book, I should be able to store it on any of the devices I can use to read it.

The clincher for  me is another experience I had yesterday. I decided to purchase Office 2013 for Home and Business. After buying it, I searched the internet to find out whether I should uninstall the previous version, and stumbled across posts about the licensing. Guess what, the 2013 version is licensed to the device you install it on, not to you, the user. So apparently, if my computer crashes and I have to buy a new one, I can't install this software on it, I have to buy another copy. Adobe and Microsoft are both doing their best to force users into the subscription model - soon we will forget that once upon a time purchasing software was like buying a printed book - it came with discs, a printed manual and a key, and if your computer died you installed it on the new one, using the same key. You owned it, and you could choose to stay with the same old version as long as it suited your needs.

It seems to me that digital rights management has a similar effect on customers. —Maren


Deciding which ebook formats to use and viewing your ebooks


yellow bird sitting on a rock If you are producing ebooks and wondering about the best format, whether to use fixed layout or not, and how you can view what you've created in different devices, you can download samples of books in ePub2, ePub3 and Mobi/KF8 formats from the BB eBooks website.

On a related website, Substance-B,  you can find tutorials for downloading and using ebook readers for different devices and platforms. For example, you can use Redium in Google Chrome to view ePub3 books which such as fixed-layout picture books and poetry books.

This will help you decide the best format for your book, and whether you should bother with creating an ePub3 version - as well as whether your conversions are successful or not.



Making ePubs from scratch

If you want to find out how to create an ePub by writing the code and compiling it yourself, here are a couple of useful references. The eBook Design and Development Guide, by Paul Salvette. Available on Kindle.

Also, the related website, BB ebooks.

Build a digital book with EPUB, by IBM.

And a wonderful tool, the ePub checker, from Pagina online.

Warning - it's a painful process and takes time. If you don't want to write code, this isn't for you! However, if you are comfortable with html and css, I recommend learning how to do it yourself. Once you have repeated the steps a few times and worked out your own templates and processes, you'll be rewarded with messages like these:

Kindlegen message: mobi file created successfully

epubcheck message: no errors detected  Amazon message: file upload successful - no spelling errors


Services and tools for formatting ebooks and print-on-demand


Create Space cover template for 5 x 8 inch book Some great free tools are available from Bookow. I've used their ISBN and cover generator for All the Safe Places, for the CreateSpace print-on-demand version.

They also have typesetting, formatting and conversion services for ebooks and print-on-demand books, at what looks like reasonable prices and good quality.

Best of all, they're Australian!

bookow: Resources.