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Robert Batten

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Author

THE BLOG

The Launchpad Manuscript Competition- Top 75 Announced

Back in August I submitted Human Resources to The Launchpad Manuscript Competition. Today they announced their first round of finalists – the Top 75 – and HR made the list!
I’m still processing this news. The competition is a partnership between Scott Free Productions (Ridley Scott), Energy Entertainment, and Inkshares.
There are some heavy hitters involved in this contest.
Judging to select the top 75 involved industry professionals completing two reads of the submitted manuscripts and scoring the entries. Moving forward, there will be a whittling down from the top 75, to the top 50, to the top 25, then to a final 10.
I am humbled to have HR included in this group. Even if it doesn’t make it further in the competition, I have now received validation that the novel has potential to be successful.
I don’t believe The Tracking Board (who run the competition) have released numbers, but from what I have been able to tell (submission IDs) there were thousands of entries.
I have a feeling this is where the hard work begins, but I’m eager to ride the roller-coaster! Stay tuned for more updates.
You can learn more about my sci-fi Human Resources here.

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Recommendation: The Life Engineered

My “what I read” posts are self-explanatory – they are short posts highlighting books I have read recently and enjoyed. I have deliberately not called these posts “reviews.” The reason is simple – I don’t enjoy writing in-depth reviews. Each of these posts will be short, calling out a book I enjoyed and want to recommend, with a brief summary of why. Nothing more, nothing less. (more…)

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Writing Update - Human Resources

Human Resources is intended to be the first instalment in a series. I haven’t locked in how many books there will be, but there will definitely be two novels, with possibly a third. I have an additional prequel story planned that may become a novel, but will probably be a novella.
The world of HR started with a scenario rather than a plot – al a Steven King’s classic approach. Specifically, the novel started with a ‘what if?’ that evolved into the prologue – What if the zombie apocalypse came, and the ones who saved humanity were our enemies? What if they didn’t do it for us?
Ever since I sat down to capture that one scene, I’ve been unearthing a constant stream of revelations about the world I’m writing. This week, whilst coming to better understand the motivations of a secondary character (of all things), I made a discovery that may prove to be the most astonishing one of the series. In an instant the world – and particularly it’s destiny over the course of these books – shifted on its axis. I literally bounced in my seat as my brain deciphered the implications of this revelation and the monumental decisions it will force on my characters.
These are the moments I write for.
I can’t wait to share these events with you, but to tell you more right now would involve spoilers (emphasis appropriate). For now, let me say, “whoa.”

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On Meetings: a short story

A fresh voice speaks, identical to the preceding drone. Many words amalgamate, joining the growing mass of wasted vocabulary. An epic of empty sentences and meaningless points.
I blink, lids scraping over burning eyes — pleading to remain closed. I glance at the clock in the corner of my screen. Twenty minutes to go.
Twenty. Interminable. Minutes.
The weight on my forehead increases — a crushing sensation reminiscent of a vice winding shut. Fatigue has never been this heavy.
Someone new interrupts, asking a question. A goddamn fucking question. What are they thinking? How can they do this? I swallow my impatience and reach for my cup.
It's empty.
Tears threaten to escape, but I must not cry. The promise of relief for my weary eyes has fingers twitching, eager to flick the web cam off, but I resist.
I can do this. I won't be beaten by a one hour meeting.
Focusing on the words, I wrestle the stream of gibberish back into sentences. The shared screen thrusts a phalanx of numbers at my abused eyes. Row upon row of figures linked to unfamiliar GL Codes. Columns parading progress devoid of reference to any landmark. It doesn't matter; the speaker has elected to explain every cell.
I switch windows and open Facebook.
Why am I even here? How did I get invited to this?
Ten minutes to go, but the spreadsheet continues its assault. I bring up the agenda, ready to calculate the likelihood of finishing early.
My heart stops. My stomach shrivels. My tears flow free.
It isn't a one-hour meeting. It's a two-hour workshop.
I release a digital plea for help to the first of my friends I spy online. Save me. Save me from this purgatory.
LOL.
First World Problems.
An animated gif of an orangutan falling over laughing.
I need new friends — people who understand my pain.
If no-one will save me, I must rescue myself.
I cast about, searching for salvation. It comes in a sleek plastic case, merry LEDs mocking my torment. Possibly the result of caffeine-deprived psychosis, but the device trembles as my hand draws it near, smearing fingerprints over its proud surfaces.
I pull the plug. The condescending lights dim.
A message of deliverance blazes across my monitor, "connection to the server has been lost."

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Cite this for me

Someone in my social network recently tweeted about citethisforme.com so I checked it out.
The website is a free tool for rapidly constructing professional bibliographies for citations. Adding citations is very easy and accelerated with search – type in the book title (or ISBN), select the correct book from the search results, and the tool creates the citation details for you. The tool allows you to add a wide range of citation types:

You can have your bibliography formatted in a number of different styles:

Once your bibliography is ready, you can download it into word, copy / paste it, or export as BibTeX, Google Doc, or Evernote.

There are other features too, such as spelling and plagiarism checks. If you are working on something that requires professional or large bibliographies, it seems like a very useful tool.

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Blogging from iOS

UPDATED WITH NEW ADDITION: IA WRITER
I’ve been continuing my adventures of “how much can I actually do on my iPad?” The next challenge in my list was blogging.

I have a WordPress blog (hosted by WordPress, which means I don’t have access to all the nice add-ons), and I was pleased to discover they had an iOS app. It isn’t too bad — especially for checking comments / notifications, checking website stats, or correcting minor mistakes. However, the editor isn’t great for writing posts. It can definitely do it, but it feels lacklustre. The interface is tired, and you don’t have the full range of formatting options (you can do bullets, numbers, bold, and italic. You can’t do headings).

So, I started looking at other options. The options I’ve looked at include:

  1. WordPress web interface.
  2. WordPress iOS app.
  3. Third-party blogging software.
  4. Scrivener.
  5. Ulysses.
  6. IA Writer.

WordPress Web Interface

The web interface for writing posts on WordPress is not too bad. I’ve seen numerous complaints that “the old editor was better,” but for me I’m pretty happy with the current one. Except for when I’m on iOS. On a desktop it works well, on iOS it does not. Technically everything works, but highlight a piece of text with your keyboard or start typing and it tends to scroll to a seemingly random location. Don’t bother.

WordPress iOS app

The WordPress iOS app is decent overall, and you could certainly write posts on it fairly happily. Basic formatting is available (bold, italics, bullets, numbers). Surprisingly absent is the ability to format paragraphs as being various heading levels. You can preview your post from within the app and add images and links and so forth. I felt the UI for writing posts in the app was a bit dated, and I found the lack of headings bugged me, so I kept on my journey.

Note: I have found a solution to headings - if you turn on markdown (see later in this post) for your WordPress blog, then you can use markdown syntax to set headings in your post. However, the in-app preview of your post doesn’t reflect the markdown (you have to go to the web interface for that), so I decided the app had not redeemed itself.

Third-Party Blogging Apps

There are a few on the app-store. They offer a range of features for managing your blogs across different services. They seem to all stem from a heyday when blog software had not mobile support. Unfortunately, none really seem to have been updated since. Tbh I really didn’t dwell here long, as the interfaces offended me (yes, I’m that vain).

Scrivener

My previous posts on Scrivener for iOS (for long form writing) will have revealed to you that I love writing in this app. The question is — can it work as well for writing short-form content such as blog posts as for long form?
The answer is a qualified “yes.”

Scrivener is more than capable for writing and managing blog posts. I have a Scrivener project for my blog, and have folders for in-progress drafts and published posts etc which makes it easy to manage. The qualification comes when you try to publish your post to your blog…
Scrivener doesn’t have a publish feature. It really isn’t what they do, so I suppose that is ok. You can export your posts in different formats using the iOS share features, so there is a way to easily get your posts out of the app — you just need to get them into your blog.
This is where things become less that ideal.
I’ve checked a lot of techniques, and the unfortunate answer is there is no perfect way to do this. The best approach I have found is to use another app called “Workflow” which lets you automate all kinds of tasks, including posting to WordPress. You can set up Workflow to receive the rich text from Scrivener via the share command, then prompt you for the post title and other metadata (or default it all) and post the content to your blog for you.
This works exceedingly well. Providing your post has nothing but text.

If you want formatting in your post (headings, bold, italics, numbering) you need to post to WordPress in markdown. For those who don’t know what markdown is — it is a simple technique for marking formatting in plain text. For instance, surrounding a word in asterix (*) will make it italic when displayed on a blog that supports markdown.
Note: If your blog is a WordPress blog hosted by WordPress (on wordpress.com) then markdown is turned off by default. See below for how to turn it on.
Using markdown gets your post into WordPress with formatting. (Another note: the formatting may not be displayed in the WordPress editor the first time you load it, but if markdown is turned on it should be displayed properly when published). There is one final issue — images. Publishing like this will only get your text into WordPress. If you want images in your post, the process is:

  1. Write your post in Scrivener.
  2. Publish your post to WordPress (as a draft).
  3. Load the post in the WordPress web editor, upload any images to the correct spots.
  4. Publish in WordPress.

Not ideal.
Final verdict: Scrivener provides a great writing environment, but it isn't design for writing markdown -- which you really need to use for getting formatted text into WordPress -- and it doesn't natively publish to WordPress, requiring a third party app.

Turning on markdown support in WordPress

If you are self-hosting, there are various add-ons you can add to your wordpress blog that provide lots of markdown features. However, I’m using wordpress.com, so I can’t use those addons. If you are like me, you can activate markdown support from the hidden wordpress admin console - to get there add /wp-admin to the end of your blog URL (e.g. www.greatblog.com/wp-admin). From here, go “settings > writing” and tick the “Use markdown for posts and pages” checkbox.

Ulysses

Ulysses is a professional writing app along the lines of Scrivener. It is beautiful and powerful, with the main caveat that it is only on the mac ecosystem (no Windows I’m afraid).
Ulysses has recently added the ability to publish natively from the app to WordPress blogs. This is amazing — no third-party workflow app, and it should get everything including images. I haven’t tested it directly yet, but I’ve seen Ulysses in action and I’m impressed. The dsrawback here is that Ulysses isn’t cheap. For Australians it is approx $38 on the appStore.
Hands down Ulysses is the best option I’ve found. There are other writing apps that are cheaper, some of which can publish to WordPress (see IA Writer next), but none that provide the seamless experience of Ulysses. However, I’ll admit I’m having trouble justifying the price, especially when IA Writer is 75% cheaper.

IA Writer

IA Writer is a text editing app that has been around some time. It has a clean, minimalist interface like Ulysses, and it can sync your work with either iCloud or Dropbox. It is designed for writing in markdown, and that has some advantages -- you can subtle formatting confirmation as you type, and there is a full preview option to see how the result should be rendered.

The latest version of IA Writer can also publish to WordPress, which is great. IA Writer supports the full markdown syntax, including tables, links, and images. However, unlike Ulysses, it can't store the images in your file and publish those to WordPress for you -- you need to provide the published URL to the image using markdown syntax. I have found a workflow for this, however, that I'm fairly happy with:

  1. Get your image.
  2. Use the WordPress admin interface (add "/wp-admin" to the end of your blog address) and upload your images to your media gallery.
  3. Grab the URL of your image in the gallery.
  4. Add the image link to your work using markdown syntax.

Note: IA Writer has a reference article of the markdown syntax they support here

Conclusion

Ulysses is the best tool I have found for developing and then publishing WordPress blog content for iOS. At almost AUD$40, however, I can't justify buying it just for that purpose. It is a great writing app, and many people use it for short and long-form writing -- if you have it, I recommend using it for your blog as well.
For those of us not using Ulysses for our other writing (I'm sticking with Scrivener for now), IA Writer is a good alternative to Ulysses. It is a great markdown text editor, syncs with Dropbox, and publishes to WordPress from within the app. Also, it is a lot cheaper.

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