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GETTING CAUGHT IN THE WEB
The fastest growing use of personal computers ans smart phones at this time is for accessing the Internet, the World Wide Web and using e-mail (I don't mention social media because the subject is not relevant to this discussion). The fact that you are reading these words means you have already learned to find things on the Web, and (unless you're at a friend or relative's house) probably have a pretty good computer system. There are several advantages to being online, but for a writer, the three most important are doing research, presenting yourself on your own Web page, and communicating with interview subjects, authorities and editors electronically. For the latter, sending queries and manuscripts via e-mail is not only convenient but also fast. E-mail can also be used instead of the phone, to discuss text changes, ask questions, and generally correspond with your editors. Do not, however, attempt to do this with editors who are new to you, and even if you are communicating with an editor you do know, ask his/her permission before doing so electronically.

Just as the fax machine became a gushing fountain of unsolicited material in editorial offices, e-mail has become an electronic slushpile of immense proportions. For the most part, you will not even be given an editor's e-mail address unless he or she is sure you are going to be of continuing value. Some computer-literate people, however, have been known to surreptitiously discover such addresses or even guess them, and then immediately start sending queries by e-mail. Again, our only advice on this is: don't! Why? Because you stand a good chance of angering editors you may have cultivated into steady suppliers of work, which is sort of like shooting yourself in the literary foot.

When it comes to the Web, there are not enough superlatives to describe what a boon it can be to a writer. In addition to providing you with a showcase for your resume, Web searches, if properly conducted, can turn up so much research material on a given subject that more time is spent weeding through it all than finding it in the first place. Using "key word" searches, as you would at the library computers, is a fairly simple process to learn, and the results can be staggering. There are many books, magazines and program "help" files that describe the various methods of searching, so we will not go into them in detail here. Most search engines offer instructions on how to conduct an effective search, and all you have to do is click on these to find out the best way to search using that particular engine.

Another area of value to non-fiction writers is the free interview. That's right, using e-mail is essentially free (there is the basic monthly cost of your Internet service provider, but you have to pay that anyway). We now conduct interviews via e-mail with researchers, personalities and others all over the world, and our phone bills have dropped dramatically. There really is little difference between these interviews and the ones you conduct in person or over the phone. Instead of reading your questions, you simple put them in an e-mail. The only drawback is that you seldom get the kind of rambling, conversational treatises you often would the old fashioned way, but a follow-up e-mail can sometimes work to fill this gap.

Searching for story ideas on the Web can also be a lot easier and more convenient than making regular trips to the library. Numerous magazines and newspapers have Web sites, at which you can scan the latest news and copy those items that interest you. Be careful, however, that you do not directly quote material that is copyrighted when composing your articles, and always check your initial sources with others to verify their accuracy. Direct quotes can sometimes be used if you receive permission from the person who made the comments or the publication from which you took them. Internet copyright laws are still in the throws of being formulated and revised, and you should keep abreast of any changes that may come about.

Then Again The Novel

There are also several reference services available on the Web. Dictionaries, Thesauruses, encyclopedias, almanacs, language translation sites and others can sometimes be more convenient than pulling out a book and looking something up. Do not be lulled, however, into using these services simply because they are there. Just as it is sometimes easier to scribble a note than it is to open an electronic file and type, it is often easier and quicker to grab the Almanac or Thesaurus than it is to access these Internet reference sources.

All in all, though, the Web is one of the fastest and most valuable writing tools to come along since the word-processor, and it's value continues to grow as more and more people, businesses, institutions and others build Web sites. Many magazines are now asking for electronic submissions in the form of text files attached to e-mails, and understanding how to do this could become vital to a writer's survival in the future. We do not go into instructions on how to send such files here because are various operating systems and software platforms, and editors may have preferences concerning how such text files should be formatted and saved. Basically, what you need to do is to understand the unique aspects of your computer system and software and your individual editors' needs. Once you have this information, it is a good idea to ask if an editor would like electronic submissions, either instead of, or in addition to, hard copy.

Just as the printing press replaced the laborious task of copying by hand the writings of those who wished to communicate their thoughts to others, the word-processor and access to the Web have improved a writer's ability to communicate more quickly and accurately. Still, it is not the medium, but the communicator, whose skill and perseverance cause these communications to be read and appreciated. No electronic medium can ever replace the craft and talent of the writer, nor can ease of communication take the place of true diligence and hard work. Believe it or not, there are still a few writers who work in longhand, and many of them are quite successful.

Always remember that it is not the tools you use, but the words you produce that have real value, and never let a new innovation convince you that you no longer have to do the job-every time-to the absolute best of your ability.

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