I’m interviewed over at Horkey HandBook!

Picture of a maintained garden with paths.

Pic courtesy of aitoff at Pixabay.

In my last post I interviewed Kadia Radzka, and here I find myself back on the sleuthing side of things again. But this time I’m the one answering questions, not t’other way round!

I had the mighty good luck to be featured in the freelancer spotlight over on Horkey HandBook, which is run by freelance writer and virtual assistant extraordinaire Gina Horkey.

She uses her blog to help other freelancers build their businesses and figure things out as they (we) stumble through the amazing, scary world of online business. I’ve found several of her articles extremely good food for thought over the past year. (She’s also been my business mentor, and more recently my friend and client.)

Anyway, she asked if I’d like to answer a few questions about my experiences with my editing business, and I said “yes!”

You can find the full interview here. I cover how I got into freelance editing, whether I ever want to quit (spoilers: no! At least, not for the foreseeable), how I stay motivated and productive, and more.

I was as honest as possible in my answers to these questions. Warts and, as they say, associated terrifyingly-honest writing moments.

A ceramic frog looks into a mirror.

Image courtesy Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay.

To give you a taster, here are a couple of excerpts from the interview.

On making freelance editing my main work activity:

I had already been doing some freelance editing work on the side for years, and during those years I’d had so many people tell me I’d be great as a full-time editor. (Seriously. If I had a dollar for each person … well, okay, I could buy a tire of the Tesla S I really want.)

I hadn’t gone for being a full-time editor before because I wasn’t sure if I really enjoyed editing, and enjoying the work is important to me.

But I had a light-bulb moment …

On spinning lots of plates as a freelancer:

I mean, in one way it’s great that I don’t have enough time. It’s because I’ve been lucky enough to have a solid diary full of work. But at the same time, I’ve always got a voice in my head saying that there’s an  extra task that I need to do, and often it just gets put off until some magic day when things are a bit less hectic.

I’ve decided recently that this is the age-old tactic of “triage” — that is, do the most important things.

Want to read the whole interview, warts n’ all? Find it here.

Thank you for reading, and please do drop by Gina’s site or give her articles a like or RT on Twitter!

Interview: Should You Start Writing, Hire An Editor and Self-Publish? Kasia Radzka Answers All That And More

I’ve always wanted to be an author. I realised a couple of years ago that no one was going to make that dream a reality but me.

Picture of author and interviewee Kasia Radzka

Kasia Radzka

Kasia Radzka is an independent author based on Australia’s Gold Coast. She’s already written and published three crime-thriller books, which follow one another in a series. The first of in the series is called “Lethal Instincts.”

Kasia says she has many more books in the works, including plans to dip into both the fantasy fiction and non-fiction markets, all while she continues to blog on her own website, freelance, and do a whole lot more besides. Phew. I don’t know how she does it all! She’s taken some time out from it all to answer some questions for me (for which I am incredibly grateful!) in this in-depth interview.

So read on to find out more about her life goals in detail, get her advice on writing and publishing, read if and why you should work with an editor, and learn what her favourite wines are …

 

Q: Hi Kasia, I’m so excited to have you on my blog! First of all, can you tell us a bit about your current writing projects?

 

Kasia: Thanks so much for inviting me on your blog, Becca. I’m excited to be here!

I’m working on a couple of things at the moment. My brain doesn’t want to slow down and it’s impossible for me to focus on one thing – although I’m trying! I’m going through the editing stages of book four in my Lexi Ryder Crime Thriller series, which will be titled ‘Lethal Attraction’.

There’s also a non-fiction book in the works for writers, which I’m hoping to finish in the next couple of months.
 

Q: What in particular is it about writing for those projects that gets you up and raring to go in the mornings?

 

Kasia: I’ve always wanted to be an author. I realised a couple of years ago that no one was going to make that dream a reality but me. I love making up stories (on paper, not verbally – I’m a terrible verbal story teller, my words get jumbled up and my palms start sweating!). I tried not writing once and the ideas for stories still brewed in my mind until they finally had to boil over onto the page.
 

Q: Of course, I’m being a bit presumptive about whether you’re a morning person there. What does a typical writing day look like for you, and how do they fit into your week?

 

Kasia: I’m definitely a morning person Becca. I love to get up before the world awakes, when it’s still dusk, the world (and family) are sleeping, and get started on my work. I’ve found that I can achieve more between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m. than between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. but unfortunately I don’t have that luxury everyday.

I’ve got big goals for next year.

Kasia
I still have a day job which I enjoy, and it involves two hour a day commute on the train. So from Monday to Thursday, this is my writing time – one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. Sometimes I work on my fiction, sometimes on my non-fiction.

Though I have to admit I get lazy in the afternoons. After a whole day in the office using my brain with numbers, I get tired so sometimes I have to force myself to do the afternoon work. If I’m really not into it I might read a book or listen to a podcast. I used to dislike the commute but now it’s one of my favourite parts of the day – I get to write, read and listen to inspirational people through the podcasts without interruption.

From Friday to Sunday my routine varies, but generally I’ll drop my husband off at work for his early start and I usually end up at a cafe by the beach from 5:30 a.m., or by 6 a.m. if I go for a run first, then I have an hour or two of writing time. After that I’m home to spend the day with my toddler (he’s with grandma during the writing time).

Runner on a beach at sunrise
 

Q: You’ve written multiple books. With your “author hat” on, you must’ve spent some time thinking about whether it’s a good idea to work with an editor or not. Can you share your thoughts on that, please?

 

Kasia: Working with an editor is paramount. It’s even more important for indie authors because readers are brutal. I remember receiving an email from a reader who said whilst the story was good, they could not give me a review because the book was ridden with errors even though I had spent quite a large sum of money on editing.

I was crushed.

It took me an hour or two to cool off before I responded with a ‘thank you’, grabbed my book in paperback and started going through it with an orange pen. When I was done and saw all the errors, I was horrified. Since then, I’ve had it proofread by another editor and then I went through it a third time. Even a good editor is capable of missing an error or two, so it’s important to go through again yourself before hitting publish.

It’s vital for indies to find a good editor. I’ve used a few at different price points and cost doesn’t always equal quality.

Just the other week my current editor gave me some useful feedback that I hadn’t considered before about showing vs. telling. I hadn’t realised I was doing so much telling …

I’m also lucky to have a best friend who’s a teacher and can spot my mistakes a mile away. So when she reads my books, she usually takes notes of any errors that come up and sends me an email so that I can go through the book and fix them up. That’s the great thing about ebooks is that you can go back and fix those errors so that the next reader will find none, or at least a lot less than the previous one!

I would advise every indie author to find an editor. I know budgets can be tight, especially when you’re starting out, but you want to put out the best book you possibly can (unless of course you don’t care about sales, you just want to tick off an item of the bucket list). If you can’t afford one for the entire book, see if they can edit a few chapters, then you’ll get an idea of what you’re doing wrong and you can go through the rest of the book yourself. Afterwards find two or three beta readers to go through it and see if they can point out any errors or story points that make no sense or drop off suddenly.

But if you want to be taken seriously as an author, and you want to make a career out of this writing gig, you need a good editor. There’s no guarantee you’ll find one on the first go, it’s all about trial and error, but don’t for one second think that your book is perfect the way it is. It isn’t, and a good editor can do wonders for it.
 

Q: Thinking back on your experiences with editors or proofreaders so far, what have you liked about working with them…?

 

Kasia: I like when an editor understands the story and isn’t just following grammar rules. Characters speak differently. Sometimes words are repeated several times, sometimes it’s intentional and sometimes it isn’t. Just the other week my current editor gave me some useful feedback that I hadn’t considered before about showing vs. telling. I hadn’t realised I was doing so much telling, which is something you want to limit in your books.

Picture of an open book, with things standing up from the pages as though "showing" the plot. Those things include atree, a newly-married couple, an old stone house, a red phone box, and a windmill-type building.
 

Q: … and what have you wished those editors/proofreaders would do differently?

 

Kasia: When you’re editing the book, I get that you’re looking for grammar and spelling issues. But you’re also reading the book. I’m almost certain that there are editors who get books that make them think, ‘WTF’?

Tell the writer who’s commissioned your services if there is something not working, even if they hired you to just proofread. All it involves is putting an extra paragraph into an email. Use the sandwich approach not to offend the writer but tell them if something isn’t working, but tell them when something is too. Constructive feedback is very useful for writers, most will take it in stride and look to fix what’s not working.
 

Q: What are your experiences with routes to publishing so far, and which route do you tend to favour? Why?

 

Kasia: Are you talking about self-publishing versus traditional publishing? If so, then I think publishing a book has gotten almost too easy. Anyone can do it and that means the market is saturated.

I’m doing the work, I’m taking the risks, I’m making the initial investment, so I want to control the process and reap the profits.

Kasia

This is a good and bad thing, depending on your perspective.

Competition is healthy. The problem is that there are a lot of books out there that are not edited at all.

Having said that, it’s disappointing that even edited books can have errors in them and unfortunately reviewers are much more critical of indie than traditional, which means indie authors need to take it up a notch and aim to be not as good as the traditional published books, but better.

My aim is to ensure that I improve with each book, and that includes the story, the grammar, the spelling, the showing vs telling, etc. A good editor will assist in that, but it’s still difficult to guarantee an eagle-eyed reader isn’t going to find an error somewhere amongst the 80,000+ words you’ve written. You have to do everything you can so they don’t, and that usually includes using an editor.

The self-publishing route is definitely the one I prefer. About ten years ago I wrote a book, rewrote it several times, edited it myself, spent a few years working on it, and then as a youthful nineteen or twenty-year-old I started submitting it to various publishing houses with the self-addressed-stamped-envelope, a cover letter, synopsis and sample chapters.

It was such a discouraging experience. I never heard a peep from any of them. I’m pretty sure that those submissions never got opened and went straight to the bottom of the slush pile, and then got dumped in the bin by an intern who preferred to go out for drinks after work than look for the next potential bestseller, haha.

Amazon has opened a door that anyone can open … you can do it.

Kasia
With self-publishing, there are no gate keepers. Amazon has opened a door that anyone [can open – anyone] with the urge to pen the next literary genius or trashy romance or historical paranormal urban fantasy thriller; you can do it. Finish the book today and publish it tomorrow. Though I hope that writers don’t do that. Hire that editor first! I guarantee you’ll be glad that you did.

What I love about self-publishing is the control you have over everything. I’m a little bit of a control freak and I don’t want some random person who has no idea what my book is about to create the cover, or get rid of chunks because they aren’t commercially saleable, and then after I’ve put in all the hard work, they’ll only give me 10% of the profits. Thanks, but no thanks.

I’m doing the work, I’m taking the risks, I’m making the initial investment, so I want to control the process and reap the profits.

I’m not saying traditional publishing is bad though. It definitely has its place, but you need to figure out how it fits into your big picture.
 

Q: Is there any advice you’d give new writers, or those who are poised to take the plunge into writing but are perhaps holding back?

 

Kasia: Just go for it. Life’s too short to live with regrets. If you really want to write a book and get it published, now’s the time to be doing it. Stop making the excuses, we all have them, get over it and move on. You’re not going to please everybody. Who cares? Have you read some of the books that became bestsellers? They aren’t necessarily literary genius.

Write the type of book you enjoy reading. When you write, the story has to excite you first. If it doesn’t then it sure as hell isn’t going to tingle your reader.

Picture of a pen resting on a blank page with lines

Just write and don’t look back. Once you’re done and you’ve gone over it a couple of times, get a beta reader or two. They can give you an opinion on the story, but try to avoid using someone too close to you as their opinions may be biased. Then once you’re not sure what else to fix, hire an editor.

Do not miss this step.

Before you hit publish, ensure that an editor has been through your work at least once. Then proofread it yourself once more before putting it out into the world.
 

Q: So what does the next year look like for you and your writing? And what’s your next big “leap”?

 

Kasia: I’ve got big goals for next year. The financial year here in Australia is from July 1 to June 30, so my goal is to publish 6 books. Fortunately, I write fast but edit slow (editing is not one of my strengths, although I’m working on it).

I’m hoping to finish the Lexi Ryder Crime Thriller series on book 7 and then move on to another series which I have an idea for. I’ve also got a stand-alone book that I wrote a few years back and which has potential, so I want to rework it.

Writers, don’t throw anything out – you don’t know what you might be able to salvage or use for future books!

There’s also the non-fiction book for writers. And blogging, freelancing and trying to fit it all in between a vivacious toddler, a day job, trying to train for a triathlon, and still getting some sleep. I figure I function better when I’ve a million and one things to do!

Pinot Grigio wine grapes from Granton Vineyard in southern Tasmania.

Pinot Grigio wine grapes from Granton Vineyard in southern Tasmania.

Q: Lastly, I have to ask. I see your website says you’re a wine lover … one wine lover to another, what’s your favourite type of wine and grape?

 

Kasia: That’s a tough one Becca! It depends on the season. Our summers are quite hot so, on a hot summer’s day I love a crisp Sauvignon Blanc preferably from the Marlborough region in New Zealand. Though I’ve also recently grown a taste for the Pinot Grigio.

Winter time a fruity and semi-dry Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon is good. The Barossa Valley, South Australia, have a lovely Pepperjack Shiraz, a bottle I’m never disappointed with.


Thanks very, very much Kasia!

Don’t forget to grab the first book in Kasia’s crime-thriller series (alternative links: UK Amazon, Canadian Amazon) — you know you can never have enough books to read during the summer!

I hope you’ve found this a thought-provoking read. Please let Kasia and I know your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet us here and here!

And, finally, if you’re looking to hire an editor, I invite you to have a read of this page or get in contact with me.

Is it Profitable to Get Your Writing Edited?

As an editor, it’s the eternal question. Indeed, it’s the million dollar (I couldn’t resist) question for us to answer. It’s no secret that those of us in the editing world believe that good grammar—indeed, good spelling, syntax, writing style, anything that comes under the header of “well written text”—is crucial for any writer, but we can’t prove why it’s important enough that you should hire an editor.

It’s incredibly hard to support the claim “you should hire an editor because your text will be much better for it. That will mean you will achieve [insertyourgoalhere] to faster / easier / to a greater extent” with concrete facts or evidence.

 

can you provide concrete evidence that an editor's services are valuable?

On some level, many people—you included, probably—recognize that it’s important not to have too many typos, and to string words together in an order that makes some sort of sense.¹ We all know that grammar is important, and many people who write (and by “write” we mean anything, be that a book, a blog, a sales page, or something else) will say that tone and writing “style” are crucial, too.

But what’s it hurt if things aren’t perfect? Why do you want an editor—nay, need an editor? Will it sell more books for you? Will it get your website more conversions, thus earning you more money? Will it get you a greater number of rabidly loyal readers, who will buy your products and tell their friends and neighbors, so that Betty, Bob, and Gertrude down the street also buy your products?

Well … yes.

No?

Maybe!

Probably.

That’s the thing. It’s very hard to quantify in hard, useful numbers just how much value hiring an editor will have for a person or company. It’s a question I’d like to answer for you. It’s one that I can’t answer today, at least not with those useful numbers, but I will keep looking for a way.

In the meantime, I’m not the only one trying to answer the question. Alex Birkett, over at ConversionXL, posted a superb article about the effect of poor grammar (and other writing gremlins) on sales. In his article, he’s cited evidence from various companies that have conducted a variety of tests (including a company that sells tights, which corrected the simple misspelling of “tihgts” on their homepage and saw their conversions jump by 80 percent).

I thoroughly, thoroughly recommend reading the article in full. To get your brain into full-on food-for-thought mode, here are a few morsels from Alex’s article:

“Charles Duncombe … says an analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.”

“Typos and other grammatical errors are an example of earned credibility². They are either immediately recognized and turn off readers, or they are subtle and slowly damage credibility throughout copy.”

Finally, in the social media realm, it seems spelling errors are one of the largest mistakes a brand can make. A London-based digital communications agency surveyed 1,003 U.K. web users last July, and found that close to half of the overall respondents – 42.5 percent – would be most influenced by spelling or grammar blunders.”

Give the whole article a read for yourself.

Personally, as an editor who has also worked in internet marketing and conversion rate optimization (persuading people to buy things on the Internet), my opinion is that clarity is the most important thing in writing. It is so easy, especially in text, for miscommunication to take place. Miscommunication causes confusion. Confused people don’t buy, don’t get hooked on your characters and plot, or don’t do whatever it is you want them to do.

What is clarity in writing? That’s a topic for a whole other blog post, but one thing seems obvious: incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation does not make for clear writing. Editors, therefore, can really help de-confusify (I call first dibs on coining that phrase)—particularly if they also have experience in marketing—and so they can help your writing achieve your aims.

As an aside but along similar lines, I strongly believe it’s also very important to aim to write with a tone and style that suits your audience. Logically speaking, that means that you might need to decide if your tone and style require you to be a little flexible with the rules of writing, and how much so, and whether that’s okay for you. If you’re going to do this, it’s a good idea to think about exactly what that custom style is in your, and your audience’s, case. Again, an editor can help you craft your text to a specific style or tone.

All that said, there are times when you may want to loosen the reins a little and not worry about a few basic mistakes creeping in to your writing. I’m particularly thinking about social media posts—tweets, Facebook messages—because a few mistakes can make you seem a genuine person in a virtual sea full of faceless pages and “personal” profiles. (And I mean a few, and I mean mistakes to be “you’ve been less careful”; I don’t mean that you’ve spent 30 minutes meticulously engineering 140 characters of pure gobbledigook because it might be endearing. It won’t be. It will be unreadable.)

That said, if you’re trying to provide a professional service—be that selling things, creating books with an intricate internal world, consulting, or whatever—then your customers want to know you’re trustworthy and professional. How do they determine that? Humans use hundreds, perhaps thousands, of tiny signals to try to figure that out. In print, quality writing is definitely one of them. For example, if you were applying for a new job, would you be comfortable sending in a CV that had spelling mistakes?

No?

It’s because you’re aware that the person evaluating your CV, the CV that you’ve probably spent hours combing for errors, is using those same subconscious cues. The same thing applies to writing in any context.

Food for thought.

 

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Also, of course, if you’ve been thinking you need or want an editor, please don’t hesitate to contact me and we’ll chat about how I can help you!


¹I would like to point out at this point that I am very aware how ironic it would be for an editor to harp on about how important correct grammar and spelling is, and for their blog posts to then contain errors. I have, like anyone writing something of their own work, done my best to ensure there are no errors; I have even run it past several friends and asked them to apply their shiniest and finest toothed combs. But this is why, professionally, I edit other peoples’ writing: it is easier to find someone else’s mistakes than it is your own. (Click here to go back up.)

²If you’re wondering what “earned credibility” is, it’s as simple as it sounds. It’s credibility you “earn” from your readers partially by being, well, competent. Alex’s article explains it as well. (Click here to go back up.)

Editor’s Case Study: Krita, the Opensource Photoshop Replacement

For my first website copy case study I thought I’d choose a popular Free and Open Source (FOSS) project that seems to be bubbling just below the big time and take a look at what they could do to reach new heights for their users.

The software in question is Krita, an image editing software suite that is positioning itself as a major contender to Photoshop. Given that Krita’s team pride themselves on having more accessible support than Photoshop¹ and their software being very user friendly², I felt that their website copy was not as clear and accessible as it might be.

I, like many others on Hacker News, like the look of Krita, and I’d like them to achieve even greater success. So I thought I’d apply my critical editor’s eye to see what they might improve in their website copy, and how and why they should make those changes.

To anyone from Krita who is reading this: I love your work. Please don’t think I am out to tear you down, and don’t take any of this personally: it’s all meant as constructive criticism. I hope some of this is helpful and inspires your thinking about changes you want to make to your copy; alternatively, I invite you to use the changes I suggest here.

I’ve added a Table of Contents in case you’d like to choose your own adventure, but I’ve written this case study linearly so I recommend going through from start to finish.

Table of Contents

What is Krita?

Let’s start at the beginning. You’ve never used Krita before, and you’ve arrived at their homepage. You’re wondering what it’s all about. Perhaps you’re wondering what the benefits are of using Krita instead of—mostly likely—Photoshop. Perhaps you’re thinking, I’m not very techie, is this for me? Or maybe you’re thinking, I’m a professional artist, is this going to have enough advanced features for me?

You’re wondering what Krita is to you.

Your eyes will inevitably fall on the piece of text at the lower left of the homepage entitled “What is Krita?” It reads like this:

Krita is a FREE digital painting and illustration application.

Krita offers CMYK support, HDR painting, perspective grids, dockers, filters, painting assistants, and many other features you would expect. Check out the gallery to see what other artists have done with Krita

The first sentence is very simple and clear; it’s a single line stating in layman’s terms exactly what Krita is, and with an emphasis on “free.” So far so good. Anyone can understand it. Krita appears to be positioning itself as a free alternative to other image editing software, and one that’s presented in easily accessible language. As someone who’s not a professional artist, I start to feel like perhaps this is software aimed at the everyman.

The second and third lines, however, jump into much more specific terminology. They immediately throw around several acronyms, which is a fairly unfriendly method of communication—especially when it immediately follows a very simple, clear, and friendly opening sentence.

A consistent style is crucial, especially in the first few sentences that someone will read on your website.

What we see here on Krita’s front page is not a consistent style.

Then we realize that they’re listing some of their main features in this second sentence, and three main problems jump out from it.

  1. It’s not an exciting list. I use Photoshop, albeit not as a professional artist or illustrator, and I find this list of features is comprised of things that sound core basics of an image editing program. Nothing in that list gets me particularly excited—perhaps I’d find it more exciting if I was a professional artist, but I doubt it.
    1. On top of that, “…and many other features you would expect” doesn’t suggest that Krita are all that excited about their own product. As a consumer, I like it when a company—especially a software company—sounds like they think their product’s great and use it themselves all the time and dammit they just wish everyone else would because it would make the world a better place with more berainbowed fairies and sparkly butterfly-unicorns. If your copy sounds like that (though not necessarily in a salesy way; there is a difference), then I trust you—and your product—more.
  2. It’s too vague. “<a list that reads quite jumbled up>…and many other features you would expect.” I either look at that as someone uninitiated in the design world and think, erm, features like…what would I expect? Or I look at it as someone who’s used Photoshop and thinks, so why is this software special?
    1. Later on you realize that there is a “Lost Button” a bit lower down under these sentences. This button sends you off to read more about Krita’s features. The button is topically linked to this features list, but because of its placement on the page (see the picture below), which is probably because of a design decision to have all the hyperlink buttons line up across the page, this button gets somewhat lost on the page. It’s easy to miss and so doesn’t do well at signposting new users to further information; therefore, there is a sizeable loss to their comprehension of the software at this initial “I’ve just got here, what’s it all about?” stage.
  3. It has poor readability. The list of features reads as jumbled and unordered. It feels like they have picked some features at random to list, and then they’ve not explained why they’re showcasing those features. Neither have they explained why their versions of these features are particularly noteworthy. Again, as a potential new user, I’m thinking: So what? Which is not good for Krita’s ability to engage and convert new users successfully. Finally, on my screen, there is a lot of wasted space in that area (see below), which looks unprofessional; that, combined with a weak list, drags the readability down.
Krita-homepage

How it looks on my screen. Note the box showing unused space, and the arrow pointing to the box that is too far from the text above that gives it context.

 

The third sentence, directing you off to their gallery to see what other people have done with Krita, also comes as a bit of a surprise. It feels a bit like they’re hoping the “other artists” they mention will do the work of telling—or showing— you why Krita is awesome so they don’t have to do it.

Also, I don’t wish to be That Grammar Person (although it’s kind of my job), but that sentence, part of the very first paragraph about their software, is missing a closing period. Even taking my editor hat off, my brain has a fresh red flag pinging upright under the heading of: Warning! These guys are unprofessional! Warning!

Then, after having read this confused three-sentence introduction, you notice that just above it there is a line which says, “Open Source Software for Concept Artists, Digital Painters, and Illustrators.”

I hadn’t seen that at first because it’s artfully brushed onto the bottom of a picture. When I opened up Krita’s homepage my brain scanned it using the following logic:

“Ooh, pretty pictures. Though very cartoon-y. That one looks more like a pencil drawing. Are all these styles possible with this software? FOCUS! Forget the pretty for now! Look for “About teh software” writing! Oh look, they’ve got the good old “pictures above, copy and links below” layout. Ah, there we go, on the left: “What is Krita?” Read that! Wait, what? Those three sentences are… oh dear…”

Besides, that belatedly-read definition of Krita’s apparent target market in the black brush-stroke doesn’t help all that much; the “What is Krita?” paragraph still lends itself to sometimes suggesting Krita’s for the everyman, and sometimes not being sure whom the software’s for. And, as we’ll find later, they’ve said other things about Krita’s intended userbase in other places.

All right. So let’s recap.

TL:DR — what are the main problems with “What is Krita?” on the front page:

  • Lack of excitement in the tone,
  • Confusing messages about who it’s for (target market) and why, and
  • Poor formatting and punctuation, which brings down comprehension and makes it look less professional, and so subconsciously feels less trustworthy.

Here’s What Editor-me Would Do To Improve “What Is Krita?” on Krita’s Homepage, Take 1

If I’d been hired to edit this website copy I’d rewrite that paragraph completely. But I can’t do that yet because I don’t know enough about Krita to make the edit sparkle. So, let’s go onwards and take a look at “About” in the top menu bar to learn more about Krita. We’ll return to improving the front page later. (Alternatively, click here to jump to it, but you’ll miss all the rainbows).

Krita’s About Section (or, Krita’s Website-Based Documentation)

Your “About” page is one of the first places someone is going to go to if they are new, confused, or otherwise in need of further comprehension about your product. You might not realize it because it just sits there quietly and it’s not an issue tracker, but your about page is just more documentation for your software.Cute cartoon ninja

It is ninja documentation.

And we all know how important it is to have good documentation, right?

You want your “About” page to be easily readable, friendly, and welcoming to the user. Most of all, you want it to be easy for them to find critical information quickly and without having to hunt for it too much. (It’s amazing how often this isn’t the case in FAQs/documentation, especially with software.)

So we’ve clicked on Krita’s “About” link in the menu. Does it tell me more about the software?

No. That link directs to the history of the project and the people who wanted to make it and why. That’s very noble, but it’s not about the software as it is now, which is what I, the consumer, want to know now.

However, taking a quick skim through their “history” page is starting to suggest that the product is heavily aimed at the more technical community—at least, people who know what a shell is, what KDE is, and who Matthias Ettrich is. Cue yet more confusion regarding target market: is Krita for techies, non-techies, or someone who’s sort of both but is a pro artist? (Spoilers, there’s more confusion on this yet to come.)

The history page is also pretty drily written. If I had been hired to edit all Krita’s website copy I’d make heavy edits to the text to liven up the copy and correct some grammar and punctuation issues. The benefit of this for Krita would be that their customers would enjoy reading about the history more. They’d likely feel a closer bond with the company, having understood Krita’s history more deeply and had it felt more “alive”; this contributes to creating frothily-loyal customers, which is the sort of customer we all like. Unless they’re zombies with rabies.

But we’re not here to put a spring in the history page’s step; we’re here to find out what the product does and for whom. Let’s try the FAQ page, which is linked off of a sub-menu now that we’re on the “history page.” (Pro tip that I couldn’t fit anywhere else: either have the FAQ page linked separately in your main menu, Krita, or have the “About” menu link go straight to the FAQ, not the history page. I understand that you’re proud of your history, but I can see that you also care about your customer’s user experience and most people clicking on “About” will be looking for something like the FAQ. If they want to read the history, they can click on it via the sub menu—just like for the information about the Krita Foundation.)

The Krita FAQ Page

Oh good lord. The FAQ page is severely sparkly butterfly-unicorn deficient.

 

current-faq-zoomed-out

Quite zoomed out in an attempt to give a visual idea of what I talk about just below.

 

Scrolling down, the list of Frequently Asked Questions is jumbled (a word that has cropped up before in this case study) and disordered, and the confused user who’s just landed here likely won’t be able to find their answer by following some sort of “it’s probably grouped with XYZ answers” logical thinking.

On top of that, while the answers are not terrible and do generally answer the questions, some of the copy suffers the same problems we have seen elsewhere on the site. Some of it is dry, some of it is confusing, some of it needs a punctuation and grammar check.

Taking my editor hat off and putting my consumer hat on, I look at this page and balk. Here are my immediate responses.

  • I don’t know where to start: I feel lost.
  • I still don’t know whether this product is for me (although by this point, I’m probably forming a solid idea—whether the idea’s correct is anyone’s guess at this point).
  • I don’t have a clear idea of what is and isn’t included in this FAQ.
  • It’s a weird mix of friendly (they have clearly tried to answer questions in a “heart in the right place” kind of way) and unfriendly (largely because there’s no order to the questions; this leaves me, the new customer, feeling stranded).

Happily, there are some concrete actions that Krita can take to address both consumer-hat problems and editor-hat problems.

Fixing the FAQ Page

Step 1: formatting

Formatting is something that falls within my editing remit. Why? One of my main tasks is to ensure there is high readability for your readers.

High readability -> high comprehension -> higher bond between company/software and customer -> ??? -> higher percentage of sparkly butterfly-unicorns.

(Or in the case of a company, higher percentage of happy—and hopefully money-spending, reputation-spreading—customers.)

This is simple. When formatting the FAQ, Krita needs:

  1. a hyperlinked table of contents (ToC) at the top of their FAQ page (and they need this STAT), along with a “your question not here? <Do this thing to get an answer>” button at the bottom of the ToC;
  2. FAQ answers to be re-ordered and grouped together logically (and listed in that logical order in the ToC); and
  3. a general but critical look at their layout and formatting. Can that PayPal button be given some coding love of the padding: 10px 5px 15px; variety?³ Can Krita break any answers down into bullet points, or partial bullet points? Can they intersperse a few pictures, nicely aligned, in between the answers? Both of these things increase readability; bullet points do so within individual answers, and pictures do so for anyone who’s reading the entire FAQ in one go for some reason.

Here’s a very brief example of the ToC idea.


(TL:DR — I get the idea, jump to step 2.)

Below, in green, is how I would lay out the table of contents. Each question would be hyperlinked to its answer further down the FAQ page.

Sub-headings are mine; most but not all of the wording for questions are Krita’s (my explanations and relevant thoughts in parenthesized italics and black font).

General questions (I’ve attempted to order the questions by importance and likely interest levels for readers; things readers will be looking for are more towards the top, so they don’t have to put as much work in looking for the answers—something most people appreciate.)

  • What is Krita?
  • Why is Krita free?
  • What are Krita’s development goals?
  • Why is Krita part of the Calligra Suite?
  • Who translates Krita and are there translations available?
  • Who and what is Kiki? (This could perhaps be removed. I have spent quite a bit of time on Krita’s website and have yet to see anything that looks like this “Kiki” as described in the relevant answer. That said, plus points for having a mascot, Krita. That’s endearing. Maybe make Kiki more visible around the website?)
  • Who owns Krita? (This is currently “legal information” on the FAQ page. In a FAQ it’s more appropriate to make it a question that people might ask and be curious about, and I was led to phrasing it as “Who owns Krita?” from the “legal information” answer.)

Support

  • Is there professional support available for Krita?
  • How can I learn to use Krita?
  • Can I use Krita commercially?

Technical questions — compatibility (It turns out that Krita is cross-platform, so it makes sense to separate technical questions about platforms from technical questions about features and problems inside the software. I’ve also tried to order them by topic and/or platform, to make it easier to scan and find the topic that applies to your problem. They could probably be ordered more sensibly.)

  • Is there a package for OSX?
  • Where are the configuration files stored?
  • What graphics cards does Krita support?
  • Can I use Krita with sandboxie on Windows?
  • Krita 2.9 shows a black screen on my Windows system with an Intel GPU
  • What tablets does Krita support?
  • How to make my Huion tablet work with Krita on Linux?

Technical questions — inside Krita

  • Can Krita load Photoshop brushes?
  • Why do I get a checkerboard pattern when I use the eraser?
  • How much memory does my image take?
  • Can Krita work with 8 bit (indexed images)?

How you can help us (Engaging the user, making them feel welcome, drawing them into a relationship. People like to help.)

  • Would you like bug reports?
  • Can I join the fun?

Is your question not answered here? Try our manual or get in touch. (“Manual” and “get in touch” would of course both be links, specifically to the manual and the contact page. If the user is frustrated and still can’t find their answer, at least addressing the fact that they may still have unanswered queries makes them feel acknowledged and cared about.)

 

Step 2: edit the text

So you’ve done some formatting and brought order to the realm of promising opensource image software. What’s next?

Next is heavy edits for most of the answers on the FAQ page. By which I really mean “rewriting.”

First up would be the FAQ page’s answer to “What is Krita?” Let’s take a close look right now.

This is their current answer to that question:

This is our vision for the development of Krita:

Krita is a KDE program for sketching and painting, offering an end–to–end solution for creating digital painting files from scratch by masters. Fields of painting that Krita explicitly supports are concept art, creation of comics and textures for rendering. Modeled on existing real-world painting materials and workflows, Krita supports creative working by getting out of the way and with a snappy response.

Note that when we say “Krita is a KDE program”, that doesn’t mean you need to run the Plasma Desktop to run Krita. It means that Krita as a project is proud to be part of the wonderful KDE community and uses the great framework technology that the KDE community develops.. You can run Krita on Windows, Gnome, XFCE, and if you spend some effort even on OSX.

There are three versions of Krita: Krita Sketch, for touch devices, Krita Desktop for desktop systems and finally Krita Gemini, available through Steam.

 

 

I think of FAQs as needing K.I.S.S. answers. The level of keepin’ it simple, stupid in the above quoted answer depends upon how technical you are, and that leads back to the evergreen question regarding the technical capability of the average potential Krita user.

If you’ve absolutely no idea about anything to do with Linux—in fact, if you’re one of the Windows users that Krita also caters to, according to the above website copy—they’ve probably turned you right off by talking about KDE and “the” “Plasma Desktop” immediately.

If you’re part of the KDE community and/or are looking to run Krita on Gnome, you’re fine.

Either way, we’re right back to the problem of unexciting and dry copy. “End-to-end solution”? “By masters”? (Does this mean you have to be a master of art to use this software, or have they zapped master artists with a miniturization gun and injected them into the software so that your every Krita brushstroke is critically judged and accepted—or not—by a team of software-imprisoned artists?)

Don’t say “What is <software name>” and then have your very next line be “This is our vision.” That’s not what your software is, that’s what your vision is.

Problem one: it’s about you (the company). Problem two: it’s not about the product, but the vision for the product (i.e. what you hope it will be, not what it is).

And, finally, Krita’s current answer doesn’t put on the customer’s shoes. What’s the potential user going to be thinking, reallCupcake showing the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderlandy, when they read “What is Krita”?

They will be thinking: What can I do with Krita?

You want them to be able to imagine what they can create (art is a very individual thing, after all) and understand what Krita is, all at once, so that they will try Krita. And then hopefully fall in love with it and tell all their friends about it.

You also want your copy to be accurate, to avoid confusing the user and sending them down a frustrating rabbit hole that doesn’t end in cupcakes (or whatever they’re looking for, because it’s not there). In this case it appears that Krita Sketch has gone the way of the dodo, but Krita haven’t updated their copy to reflect that.

Let’s try a rewrite that makes it less technical and more delineated, customer-focused, and practical.

What is Krita?

Krita is a program for sketching and painting. With Krita you can create any kind of beautiful art you can imagine, but it is particularly suited to producing:

  • concept art,
  • texture and matte paintings,
  • illustrations,
  • storyboards,
  • comics, and
  • textures for rendering.

Krita is groundbreaking. It’s modeled on existing real-world painting materials and workflows favored by the artistically-inclined. It helps you to produce your most stunning art work by delivering the tools you need and then getting out of your way fast. Not only that, but its user-friendly interface makes it a joy to use for both novice and professional artists.

Krita is as flexible as you need it to be. You can run it on any operating system you like, including Windows, Gnome, XFCE, or even OSX (with a little extra effort). You can find the version you need under “download” on the top menu bar.

You can choose whether to use Krita on desktop or tablet. Krita Desktop is for desktop systems. Alternatively, you might download Krita Gemini. Gemini is a Krita version available through Steam that works both on desktop and on touch devices. Krita Gemini gives you a streamlined, responsive, and touch-friendly sketch interface on your tablet that allows you to get truly immersed in your creative work.

More specifics about Krita, for the technically-minded or curious:

Krita is a KDE program. By this we simply mean that Krita is a project that is proud to be part of the wonderful KDE community, and which uses the great framework technology developed by the KDE community. (You don’t need to be running anything specific (e.g. the Plasma desktop) to run Krita.)

Please visit this page if you want to learn more about our history, or this page if you’d like to know about the Krita Foundation.

Okay, so it’s a lot longer but it’s a lot better. Why? Let’s go through the things this version of “What is Krita?” does, and why it does them.

Why Is This a Better Version of “What is Krita?”

We start out with a very simple and short definition of Krita. Then we immediately put the user’s shoes on and try to address their immediate queries:

  • I like to make X specific type of art, can it do that? and,
  • what does Krita excel at artistically-speaking?

Both of those questions relate to professional users, but also to folks who just want to play around and maybe try their hand at making something nice lookin’.

Right away we have a bullet point list. Now, we want to show off a variety of things that Krita is good at because according to Krita there are a variety of things that Krita is good at. Normally I’d say “go for the rule of three” (i.e. only list three items) but in this case we are trying to impress and capture the imagination of a variety of users, so we want to share this longer list in order to do that.

A bullet point list makes this information much easier to comprehend than a list of that length written out in an in-text sentence. The bullet list also breaks up the text above and below it, allowing the single descriptive sentence above to stand out and capture the eye more.

Next, we want to move on to why Krita is special. I used some of Krita’s existing answer for this part, but carried on our earlier habit of starting a new paragraph with a short, powerful sentence. Hence, “Krita is groundbreaking.” Great. How is it groundbreaking? Then we go into explaining it. I’m no artist, but the next sentence makes Krita sound pretty snazzy to me. We’ve gained sparkly-butterfly-unicorn points for that.

The next logical thought from the reader could well be: right, so that sounds good, but practically speaking how cumbersome is the software to use? We address that concern right away (using some of Krita’s existing copy, which I’ve edited slightly) by reassuring the reader that they’ll be able to produce great art work because of Krita’s tools being what they need but not intrusive.

It’s an FAQ and an overview of the product; we don’t need to go into great detail on Krita’s tools and features, although if we wanted to we could list and briefly describe a few choice Krita tools at this exact point.

This is a natural time to address the question: is it for me?

We use few words to state that Krita’s got a user friendly interface, which is always something people look for in software like this, and that Krita isn’t exclusive: it’s not just for beginners or professionals. The message is: it’s for you. Whoever you are.This bit isn’t made up by me in a final tantrum of, “oh for pete’s sake I don’t know who this is for, let’s just say something fluffy and inclusive.” I eventually found the it’s for everyone vibe on Krita’s Steam page (now they just need to make it more obvious, y’know, everywhere else).

So now our reader’s probably thinking: okay, what’s the catch. Bet I can’t run it. It’s opensource, I’m going to have to run it via an Abacus made of cat fur that faces the moon every other Tuesday.

Krita’s devs evidently have thought and worked hard to make sure it’s a very accessible product. That’s very, very cool. Let’s share that information. Crucially, let’s also make it very clear where and how to find the version our user needs by hyperlinking or just stating in the text. The vaguely curious or somewhat lazy among our readers are much more likely to go and download the software if it’s linked right there in the text.

Then, at the end, we share the extra information about KDE. And why not throw in some links to the history page while we’re here? Some folks will find it interesting and the information in this section clearly represents things that Krita are proud of. It should be included. Just not at the top, where it doesn’t welcome the reader and probably confuses and scares off a lot of potential users.

If this rewrite is too long for your liking (it’s meant to be an FAQ page, to be fair, and the rewrite is quite a long answer) you can always put some of it behind a <read more> tag. But the new Table of Contents at the top of the FAQ should make navigating to other answers easy, especially if you make sure to put “return to top” links at the bottom of each question.

I was going to do some rewrites to other FAQ answers, but perhaps I’ve been rabbiting on for long enough. Let’s finish up with…

Here’s What Editor-me Would Do To Improve “What Is Krita” on Krita’s Homepage, Take 2

Magically, I’ve already answered this.

I keep going on, in a slightly disapproving tone, about how Krita have sprinkled different bits and pieces of their “What is Krita?” definition in various places. It should be the same definition throughout their site, or at least they should all give the same message.

I’ve also mentioned that we should keep it simple.

So, the simplest thing to do is to take some of the FAQ answer rewrite we’ve just done and use it on the front page. We can use it as is, perhaps something like this:

Changed-front-page

Note that the text in the button has changed, and that button should now link to the FAQ page—indeed, it should link straight to the longer answer to “What is Krita?” we’ve just written for the FAQ page. (Yes, we did lose some of the pink splotch on the “What is Krita” box background. I’m not that good at editing images.)

Alternatively, we can slightly edit the text again; either to spice it up so it’s not snore-inducingly identical to the FAQ page that the reader’s about to click through to, or because we have a lot less space on the front page. So perhaps something like this:

Changed-front-page-less-text

Note that in this version we’ve opted for the “rule of three,” which is a reliable writing tool, and one that a lot of readers will expect because it’s used everywhere. It’s a bit like a syntactical signpost.

Krita would want to do some split testing with the varieties of art to include in the bullet points (indeed, they’d probably want some split testing with several versions of the front page copy as a whole). This would help identify which types of art led to the highest retention and/or click through rates for the “read more about Krita” button or the top menu.

In both cases, I’d also recommend changing the text about who Krita is for in the black brush-stroke, now that we’ve established Krita is for, well, everyone.

Phew. I think that’s all I have to say for now. There’s a lot of Krita’s website I haven’t touched on yet, but it was outside the scope of this case study.

I hope this has been interesting and has sparked some ideas for you. If you or your company needs editing for your website copy (or for anything else), please do get in touch!

Alternatively, I’d love to hear any ideas you might have for what my next case study should be.

 

 


 

¹ “Until recently the classes used only Adobe Photoshop, but because of inadequate support from the company the department decided to
replace that.” From the previously linked article, written and published by Krita. (Click here to go back up.)

² A sentiment that is currently tucked away in the section of their manual titled “A Few Highlights of Krita,” or in their “Features” -> “Highlights” section. (Click here to go back up.)

³ Why is that important? Krita is free, yes (well, mostly-sort-of free: if you want the desktop+tablet version you’ll have to pay), but Krita’s team no doubt likes money. They want people to click on the PayPal donation button. So subconsciously encourage them to do so by making the button neater, stand out more, and feel more user friendly as Krita is meant to be, after all; so own that definition throughout your site, especially where money is involved. (Click here to go back up.)

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