What’s the Difference Between Book Blurb and Synopsis?

As I ready my book for its release, there are a few things that everyone tells me to do. Two of which are to write the book blurb and synopsis. This post is for those who confuse between the two, much like I once did.

For those who are rushing, here is the gist: Both project the book to different sets of readers. So, the simple difference is that a book blurb SHOULD NOT contain the conclusion because it is your book’s sales pitch, while a synopsis is a 200-word version of the book itself. Think about suspense, drama, and questions when you are writing a blurb for your book. But, give one-sentence answers to those questions in your synopsis.

Here’s the elaborate version:

What is a Book Blurb?

A book blurb is your way of selling your book. Like the book cover is one of the biggest selling points for any book, a book blurb helps sell the idea of the book to those who are in search of reading something either new or out of their usually picked genres.

There is one big difference though between a book blurb and a synopsis. A book blurb does not include the ending. Your fans, readers, and prospects wish to read your book. You can make it more exciting by raising some questions without giving away hints about the answers. Through the book’s blurb, you can give an idea about the plot and about why is the suspense/flow of events bothersome/intriguing, but do not let the ending spill out to the prospective readers. This drama is enough for them to make the purchases. But what do you do if you are writing a nonfiction because you can’t use drama, for sure? In such cases, you can use questions; questions that intrigue the readers; questions that make them think; questions they had, but could never answer.

What is a Synopsis?

Your publishers get hundreds of manuscripts every day. So, if they would read each one of those, they would take a lot of time to finish the publication process. Your synopsis makes the job easy for them. In simple words, a synopsis is telling “what’s your story”.

Like we discussed, the book blurb does not contain the ending. But, the synopsis should contain not only the gist of your story but also how things conclude. If it is a work of fiction, tell the publisher how the protagonist brings the bad forces to justice. If it is a work of nonfiction, tell the publisher how you as a protagonist bring off things, or so to say.

Tell the publisher who the protagonist is; about what challenges the protagonist is confronting; about why it is the time for the protagonist to prepare for and face the battle of their life; and, passively, about how facing challenges makes living worth it.

There is one important point for you to consider. Follow the tone of your work. If it is a work of fiction, follow the tone of your novel. Be romantic if your novel is about love, romance, and togetherness. Be funny if your novel is full of humorous incidents.

Why does understanding this difference matter to me?

I want to sell my book. I want everyone to appreciate what I’ve written; not because I have written it, but because their reading it will make a difference to their lives. I want the readers to acknowledge my addressing some of the questions they have had. And, because understanding this will help me create content that addresses the right audiences rightly. Words matter. And, so does the impact they create.

Happy writing.

Are Technical Writing and Instructional Designing the Same?

This post originates from a couple of related question that I answered on Quora, which you can find here and here. For those who are rushing, here is the gist of the post: Although I don’t regard technical writing and instructional designing different, I do acknowledge that the tools and methodologies both use are quite different.

For the elaborate explanation, I resort to breaking the big question in parts:

How are technical writing and instructional designing different?

Howsoever thin, there is a line that separates technical writing and instructional designing. Yes, I agree that though the end-result is still similar, the routes taken are different. And, here is the first difference. Technical writers focus more on collecting, collating, and presenting information, while instructional designers focus on streamlining the correlated tasks into stepped instructions and courses. Another difference I see is in the approach. I always say that technical writers are backstage players. No one knows they are there, but they are. And, unlike instructional designers, technical writers can never become the front-stage players.

As a technical writer, I deal with creating and maintaining user guides, help files, and release notes, but if the time and scope permits I also get to write white papers, knowledge base articles, full-scope or abridged customer-driven metadata, and blogs. The goal, however, across all cases of documentation and complexities is empowerment. Instructional designing deals with information that’s both specific and generic. It does include offline or online learning, self-paced or instructor-led learning, and activity-based learning from simulation or gamification. The goal, however, across all cases and complexities is still on learning. But then my exploration limits my knowledge.

The thin line that differentiates technical writing and instructional designing becomes thinner at the object level. For example, when you create a knowledge base write-up, you focus both on empowerment and learning. You wish that when a user reads through your document, they will know what next to do and why. I can also see some rules that apply to both technical writing and instructional designing.

In today’s mobility-friendly world, people want everything on the go, including information. And, depending on what you seek or what you have (a smartphone, tablet, watch, or eyewear), the information complexity, language, and medium changes. This means that both information and instructions must be easy to understand and easy to use. In one way, this means fewer words and more visual content. But, we’ll discuss this some other time. Let us look at the second part of the big question.

Do technical writing and instructional designing require different skills and tools?

Quite rightly, the thin line of difference in the professions extends into the skill set and tool set as well. While it is true that both the skills and tools mostly are common, the percentage of a skill’s or tool’s relevance certainly changes based on the profession. I feel that technical writing involves more researching than instructional design. But, like I said, my exploration limits my knowledge. Instructional design involves more of storyboarding. So, it is good to assume that it will also involve more of action-driven, task-based sentences.

Both involve writing instructions, but technical writing restricts such instructions to stepped procedures in user guides and troubleshooting guides, while the entire storyboarding in instructional designing is task-based and action driven. Instructional designing is more of learning management. Consequently, you should have a better understanding of what users do with your products.

Let us take a small example. Consider that you have a job at a place where even a small error might result in huge losses for the company. Now, we will agree that the software or hardware products that you will get to use in such places will come with manuals. But, will it still not make sense for you to undergo a formal training before you get involved in your daily duties? I hope you can now see the difference. You limit your information goals based on your work processes and sequences of actions; on how a tool is designed to work and how it may fail; and, one how you wish to keep yourself and your peers safe and the work processes smooth.

In the context of the differences in technical writing and instructional designing, given the information goals you seek, it would be right to consider instructor-led training first followed by a regular check into the user guides wherever required. That should lend you insights into the only possible difference in the professions. Let us now address the last part of the big question.

As a technical writer, can I switch profession into instructional designing?

Either way, switching shouldn’t sound challenging; it wouldn’t be easy, for sure. But decide what you wish to do or help the users in accomplishing.

Conclusion

Before I conclude, let me take a moment to help you look at how I’ve understood this indifference. First I determine what the user wishes to accomplish. Then, I determine how they wish to accomplish their learning objective. Then, I look for the resources I could use to help them accomplish their learning objectives. Then, I break that learning objective into logical, sequential parts. Now, I see if I could create content that ushers them through those logical, sequential parts. The point is that I register the impact of each of those logical, sequential parts. I register the growth of user’s learning as they move from one goal to another and, eventually, one objective to another.

You see that the already thin line of difference between technical writing and instructional design further begins to blur.

Let’s just introduce a new word into our discussion: training. The word adds a lot of clarity in our understanding and helps us define the scope of both technical writing and instructional designing. Based on what we’ve discussed so far, can we say we are talking about technical training instead of instructional designing? If yes, can we say that technical training helps graduate a user’s understanding from one logical sequence to another or from one learning goal to another? And if that’s also true, aren’t we negating the difference between technical writing and instructional designing?

This is exactly why I don’t regard technical writing and instructional designing different. They may be two sides of the same coin, and I am OK if they are that way. But, that still doesn’t change the end-result for the users. Despite what users wish to peruse, they seek insights and accomplishment. And, as someone who enables them to achieve both these, I continue to remain a problem solver for the users. And, I don’t care what you name me as.

How Technical Writing Makes Me a Better Fiction Writer

I just published this post on Medium. This post brings a new train of thoughts. Thoughts that lead me to think more for and about those who use what I write for. Hopefully, I will learn to write better. Hopefully, I will have something new for you, too.

Let me know how you found this post. Until next time, then! Happy writing.

You’re a Talented Writer

Am I?

I purposefully start this post with a question because I know that most of those who know that I blog, think that I do so not because I have something to say but because they think that that’s my talent. All I can do is reply with this question. I delve this dialogue in this post.

What is talent?

Is it any special ability that you are born with? Is it something that most others can’t, but you can with the utmost ease? I reckon none of the questions need to be answered.

Your talent is your bent towards better focus and clarity in the application of a skill. It is mostly natural, but you can hone it over time. Talent isn’t something that you and I can’t learn. It is something that both you and I ALREADY have but may have failed to discover. For the most part of our life, we remain learners. Our talent is our sphere of flawless application of what we continue to explore and learn.

So, am I a talented writer? Maybe. Maybe not. Am I someone who can flawlessly describe what I intend to say? Definitely. From what I know and have experienced, this is a skill. And, if this is a skill, you too can learn to master this skill. Here’s how:

  • Observe your triggers: Observe what made you do things. Observe what made you read, see, do, and write. Can you define it? No? But can you understand it? Can you describe it? Can you see how the thoughts and actions connect to your past, present, and future? Can you communicate what you were thinking before doing, while doing, and after you’re done? If you are affirmative, you can write about it.
  • Wear different hats: Think as they would think. See things from the perspective of an observer. Don’t just play the doer, for not always will you like to see yourself in the first person. Become an audience to your own audience. Write from their perspective. Sometimes it is good to wear different hats. Especially when you are dealing with emotions. Play the characters of your story. Wear the hat of an author. But first, wear the hat of a reader.
  • Learn to listen: This one’s tricky. Let me help you understand this how I’ve come to understand it. The reason the almighty gave us two ears but only one mouth is that He wants us to listen twice as much as we talk. Be all ears to what others are saying. But reserve an ear for your inner self. You talk to your inner self as you write. When you begin to listen to your silence, the readers begin to listen to what you write.

If you too are doing what I do, you too are as talented as anybody else. Just be on the write path and your talent will flourish.

I am Your Echo

I have this to say to my parents and gurus:

Flowing through the air are the glowing ashes of my smoldering.

If the smolders of karma be my destiny, then I am your echo.

Singing through the dark woods are the verses of this destiny.

To make this song of life melodious, I am your echo.

Dancing before my eyes are the glories of tomorrow,

If I am to attune to this rhythm, then I am your echo.

Gazing the horizon are the flights of fantasies

If I have your wings, then I am your echo.

I’m eyeing perfection but am set to fall and rise,

If I can learn from my mistakes, then I am your echo.

Raging inside my veins is the blood that calls for the undone.

If I can voice my dreams, then I am your echo.

© Suyog Ketkar

Writing tools are of critical importance

Which is the best and the most reliable technical content writing software for any technical content writer?

I’d say that it depends on your organization’s standard processes, requirements, budget, delivery formats, and time at hand. I’d choose based on those points. The current trend is shifting from the conventional PDFs through videos, tutorials, and interactive help. But, based on my previous stints, here is the list of usually-used tools I’d say useful to you:

  • If you rely on instructional videos for your organization, you can use TechSmith Camtasia to create instructional tutorials, provide voice over, run parallel tracks for superimposing two faded screenshots, and provide animation and special effects, too. The other similar tool, which I find was equally easy to learn was Adobe Captivate.
  • If you are heavy on video reviews instead of instructional videos, you can look at other movie making videos like Adobe After Effects.
  • For those who still use the conventional PDFs, there is a plethora of choice available.
  • If you use single-sourcing and are keen on creating content that is reusable, I would suggest tools like Adobe RoboHelp (the latest version is just fantastic because you now can create Apps, too) and Help & Manual (this is perhaps the most underrated tool, believe me).
  • If you are following the DITA XML methods of structured writing, I’d suggest use Adobe FrameMaker. You could also use MadCap Flare
  • If you plan to create an online, Server-based, CMS-oriented repository of your work, I’d suggest you use Atlassian Confluence. First, there are a lot of plug-in applications that you can add to it. Second, this is a centrally-managed-and-organized tool. So, this means greater control on who is working on what. Another advantage is that you get periodic updates that get pushed into your system automatically. Just that some of my friends tell me that it is a little expensive to implement. But, since I haven’t used it, I wouldn’t choose to comment on it.

But, there is a lot more to deciding on a technical writing tool that just that. You have to decide on what software will you use in order to implement version controlling. Version controlling will help you create and post versions on a Server so that neither your data is lost nor there is more than one technical communicator working on the same thing. A software, such as Bitbucket (previously called Stash), SVN, and VSS can help you do that.

You should look into a bug (a.k.a issues) management tools like the JIRA. This is a complete tool for creating and managing items that need to be worked upon. You can add people to the item-specific conversations; cross-refer to other JIRA items; create sub-tasks; and drill up, down, and through to the other linked JIRA items. I’ve used quite a few organization-specific bug trackers as well.

Besides, you have to look for a software that can help you push data into the version controlling software. I’ve used Git Extensions to push data into Bitbucket, but I’ve found both SVN and VSS to be of equally good quality in their management and response. You can look at Git Hub, too.

For one of my previous stints, we’ve even used Microsoft Word for creating and managing the content. We would later export it to PDFs to circulate the technical documents to our customers. There isn’t one tool that I’d pinpoint as the best of all. But, based on the points I mentioned in the beginning, you can still zero in on what software you require for your organization.

I hope I’ve been able to answer your question.

Oh, and I published this answer on Quora with a disclaimer because I thought it would be nice for me to come clean.

And that’s why I’d go for a DSLR

In February, this year, I released a post on why I’d prefer a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) over a digital SLR (DSLR). Over time, I continued my analysis and reading. Not that I chose to change my choice, given one, but I definitely liked to see the other side of the story. And, that’s exactly what this post is about.

As was with that post, too, the following premise stands:

  • I am an amateur enthusiast photographer. And, I am happy with my current point-and-shoot Canon IXUS HS 300. But, because I’ve tried the gear to its limits, I am looking out for a new one.
  • I know that the best camera is the one that I current hold in my hands. Other than that, it all depends on my imagination and creativity.
  • And, that none of the big or small companies have ever paid me to write for them. So, no imaginations on that part.

Here I go.

The battery life isn’t good enough, yet

As an enthusiast, I want my gear to be ever ready for me. But, with mirrorless cameras, the battery has always been an issue. Yes, I can carry multiple batteries. But, why would I choose to do that? Besides, how many batteries would I be required to carry? As of today, the mirrorless provides a battery that’s only about half of that of a DSLR. Unless there comes a technology that helps batteries retain their power for long or help extensively improve the battery efficiency, I’d choose to use a DSLR.

What about options (Or, is it choices?)

The mirrorless is still mostly a new technology for users like me. And, for the APS-C sensor market, there aren’t, frankly, as many options, leaving out the likes of Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, Samsung, and, very recently, Canon, of which the majority isn’t available in India. And, if the choices were available, they wouldn’t be any cheap, either. Hey, that should count as two points, and not one. And, what about the retailers and repair facilities?

See, I’ll tell you how I look at it. For me, a product can only be sold once. After that, the product has to sell for itself. So, a network that can help users get access to sufficient choices in accessories, and sufficient outlets for sales and repairs, should be established even before bringing products into new markets. But, mostly, it happens the other way around.

The (way too) expensive lenses

First, the lenses aren’t available. A lens as basic as the Sony Zeiss 50mm f1.4 was released as recently as July 2016, until which time the customers had to make do with only the f1.8 one. And, the f1.4 lens comes at whopping 119,000 (INR) in December 2016. Again, this is not specific to a brand, but, given the choices, I’d prefer waiting until the market matures.

The rolling issue of the rolling shutter

The jello effect is apparent in videos taken from even the full frame mirrorless cameras like the Sony A7r mark II. But, going forward, this issue might meet resolutions (no pun intended), I believe. It is just that we’ve found a new technology, but are yet to realize its full potential. So, for now, I will stick to the conventional DSLR and bank on its lens-feature-price combination until we are, at least, close to hitting any such sweet combination for the mirrorless siblings.

Because size does (not) matter

Remember I said that mirrorless cameras can be easier to carry because of their compact form factor and lighter weight? Well, I realize I was partly true. That’s because, despite how carry-able my camera is, I am never going to use it ALONE; that I will always have a lens attached to it. For enthusiasts, it is easy to assume that they will continue to experiment with lenses. They will buy or rent heavier, longer lenses on the same camera. And, this is where they might face issues. The overall system of the camera and the lens will somehow feel unbalanced and difficult to carry with a heavier lens attached to a light-weight camera. In my case, I anyway will carry at least two-three lenses, and a mirrorless camera will mean I will also have to carry an extra battery, too. This, sort of, negates to overall size and weight advantage.

There’s more. The compact size means that you have lesser real estate to grip in your hands. That’s not an issue for me, because I have small hands. But, for those with bigger hands, things might be different. I reckon they have a look at the Single Lens Translucent mirror (SLT) cameras from Sony. The new Sony A99 mark II is the new candidate on my WANTED list.

The Viewfinder that’s yet to reach its maturity

I agree, this one is as debatable and subjective as one’s taste. Although I would love to promote a newer technology, it is the dependability on the technology that bothers me the most. The truth is, a share of the power goes to viewfinders on mirrorless ILCs to power your vision through the lens. This means – you guessed it – additional battery drain. I would love to see a combination of optical viewfinder on a mirrorless, if that’s possible. But, let us just strike off this point from the list for now. That’s because amateur photographers, like me, rely on the Live View for taking pictures.

So much for the benefits?

The benefits – that’s the term the marketing experts use to sell you a product – that we are talking about are Wi-Fi sharing, in-body image stabilization, better burst rates even in the APS-C sized sensor category, and a remarkable ease in video creation. Benefits is the word here, because it brings in ease of accessibility and almost an exhaustive feature set. The question is if these benefits are worth your investment.

Amongst the many benefits that we see a mirrorless has over a DSLR, we must accept the above discussed points, although with a pinch of salt. Until the mirrorless category matures enough to address at least the battery and the lens option issues, I would choose remain rather conventional.