Self-Publishing Class – Sample Lectures

I thought you might want to know more about the self-publishing class that I’ll be teaching starting Monday. So here are some samples from some of my class lectures.

From Lecture 1

Welcome to my class on self-publishing your book! I’m glad you’re here. There are a lot of ways to get your book out into the world, and I’m going to present only a few. Then you’ll be able to take what you learn here, continue to research and learn more about your other options, and make changes (if you choose) in the future with more confidence.

The first things you’ll need to decide are:

  • do you want to publish in ebook only, print only, or both?
  • what software will you use?
  • what distributors will you use?

Starting today, if you haven’t already started a notebook or computer file to save all the information you collect on self-publishing, do it now.

I use an ARC notebook from Staples to save everything that is already printed, or that I print out.

http://www.staples.com/M-by-Staples-Arc-Customizable-Durable-Poly-Notebook-System-Black-9-3/product_886237

I prefer these because I like how easy it is to pull a piece of paper from one section and press it into another without having to open and close a 3-ring binder all the time. But whatever you like and will find easy to organize is what you should use.

I save different information – my house style guide, some how-to blogs that I’ve saved, a list of passwords and links to the distributors I use, and much more – in a Scrivener file.

Screen shot - Style guide

From that Scrivener file, I can cut and paste links I need easier than if they were in a printed file, and I can continually update my style guide, add new books or formats (like audiobooks), and organize other information that I don’t feel the need to print.

From Lecture 2

In addition to the big choices – will I publish in ebook, print, or both formats? what software will I use? – you have a lot of detailed choices as well. This lesson will help familiarize you with some of those choices, and provide web sites where you can look up more information and/or sign up for the service.

Business Type

When you sign up for an account to publish your book with a distributor (KDP, Smashwords, etc.), you will need to provide your legal name (if you write with a pen name) and/or your business name. I chose to register a DBA (Doing Business As, also known as a Fictitious Business Name) so I could have a company name without the expense of setting up a corporation or LLC. You will have to do your own research on this, ask your accountant and/or attorney what is best for you because I am not qualified to give legal or financial advice.

If you live in California, here is a link to the state web site explaining the minimum tax if you set up a corporation or LLC. Google “[my state] minimum tax” to find out more about the tax consequences of setting up a corporation/LLC in your state.

https://www.ftb.ca.gov/individuals/faq/beMinTax.shtml

CHOICE: How will I set up my distributor accounts, and what do I need to do before I can sign up for those accounts?

Tax Identification Numbers

When you sign up with a distributor, you need to provide banking information and a tax ID number so you can get paid and so your earnings can be reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

If you run your business as a sole proprietor, with or without a DBA, you can use your social security number or you can apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN). While I can’t give you legal or financial advice, here are some articles that may help you decide.

http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Employer-ID-Numbers-EINs

http://legal.answers.com/definitions/should-you-use-an-ein-or-your-social-security-number

http://info.legalzoom.com/need-ein-am-dba-23281.html

Depending on your bank and your business type, you may be able to set up a business checking account. (Your bank can tell you if they require an EIN for a sole proprietorship with or without a DBA, or if they will allow you to use your social security number.) Your royalties/earnings can be deposited there instead of your personal account to make accounting and taxes easier. Or your bank may only let you set up a separate personal checking account. Either way, you need to decide where you want your money deposited.

If you use PayPal, you may want to research how you can set up a separate PayPal account connected to your business checking so you can keep your business and personal finances separate.

CHOICE: How will I set up my banking for receiving payments and paying expenses?

ADDITIONAL CONSIDERATION: How will changing from one business type now (sole prop/DBA) to another later (corporation/LLC) affect my business? How will it affect my sales, sales rank, tax reporting, sales reporting, etc. from the vendors and distributors I’ve signed up with?

From Lecture 5

This lecture is not going to be an exhaustive how-to on using InDesign. You’ve either decided to learn it and you plan to use additional resources to do so, or you are already familiar with it to some degree. This will also help you get your book set up in InDesign if you have used Quark Xpress or Pagemaker or another desktop publishing program. There are enough similarities among the programs that knowing how to do this or that in one program gives you an idea of how to do it in another.

I’ll tell you what I do, and you can follow my directions, or just use them as a jumping off point to decide how you want to design your book’s interior. (You can also read along and ask yourself if this seems easy enough to learn. I think you’ll find it is.)

What I Do

Following are directions for creating a new file, making it into a template so you have all your settings saved for future books, and then adding your current manuscript to the template to create a new document.

Open InDesign
Go to File, New, Document
Under Intent on the popup screen, leave it as Print (the default)
Under Pages, make it a few more pages than you think it needs to be

Example: My superhero story is 100,000 words and came in at about 325 pages with the manuscript, the front and back matter, and the short excerpt of the next book at the end; my 8,000-word short story is about 36 pages with front and back matter and short excerpt

Under Page Size, choose Custom, then you’ll create a custom preset for all of your books

Adjust the width and height to the sizes you want for your print book (this won’t affect your EPUB if you create one from InDesign), and type in a name for the Custom Page Size.

Example: You could create one that is 4 1/8” x 6 7/8” and call it “Mass Market,” and create one that is 5” x 8” and call it “Trade Size.” Then you only need to choose which Custom Page Size you want to use this time.

Screen shot InD New Doc 1

Click on the Add button to save the name of the Custom Page Size. If you created more than one, click on the one you want and hit OK.

Screen shot InD New Doc 2

Leave the columns section as is if you are creating a novel template. Adjust your margins according to the CreateSpace guidelines. (You may have to click on the “chain” icon next to the top and bottom margins in order for your changes to save.)

Example: I use 0.75” for the top, bottom, and inside margins, and 0.5” on the outside margin

Sign Up Today!

These are just a few examples of what you’ll learn in my 4-week online class, Your How-to Guide to Self-Publishing. You will receive 8 lectures with 92 pages of information, including screen shots, to help you get your book up for sale as an ebook and/or in print by the end of the class. Everyone will be encouraged to ask questions and offer suggestions to each other so that everyone can avoid or solve problems, and gain the newest information in an ever-changing industry.

Manuscript not ready? No problem. You can go through the lectures and practice with a dummy manuscript. This will give you an opportunity to ask questions about anything you don’t understand so you can be ready when your manuscript is complete.

Check out my Classes page and sign up for the class. It starts Monday, January 12, 2015.

Assembling a Self-Published Book

Over the next two months, I’ll be assembling my newest book, Superhero in the Making, book two in the Adventures of Lewis and Clarke series. (“Superhero Books for Her!”) This will be the fourth time I’ve put a book together to self-publish, so I’m finding patterns and creating checklists.

whyWhere Will You Distribute?

I’ve found that one of the important things you need to know before you begin is which distributors you will use. For instance, while Scrivener (where I write my books) has the capability to create an EPUB file, Smashwords still required a Word document the last time I uploaded a book there in May 2013. Since I want my ebooks to be absolutely identical on any device, and because as of May 2013 all the distributors I used accepted Word files, I found it was easier to create just one file and then make the necessary changes on the copyright page. (As opposed to having a Scrivener EPUB file, a Word file, and an InDesign file and having to remember to make any little edits to all three files, at least this way I only had to remember to make the same edits in two files. We’ll see if I do it differently this time to take advantage of Scrivener creating the EPUB and mobi – for Kindle – files for me. When I created my ebook-only short story, “Superhero in Disguise,” Scrivener helped me format the files fast.)

One thing to love about the free Smashwords Style Guide is that if you are meticulous in following the instructions there, your completed Word file will upload to any of the other distributors as well on the first try. (As of May 2013, I uploaded to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance eBooks, and Smashwords – who distributed to “everyone else.” I had no problems with B&N’s original “PubIt!” program, but its new NOOK Press messes up my books now, every time. So I now let Smashwords distribute there for me. That will change when I decide to spend the money hiring out my formatting or figure out my NOOK Press problem.)

Incompatible Upgrades

Another thing to consider is whether one of the programs you use has been very recently upgraded and other programs will not work well with it until they upgrade as well. This happened to me in May 2013 with Unexpected Superhero. Between Scrivener, NOOK Press, and an EPUB validator I was using, the Scrivener EPUB file had errors I couldn’t fix when I tried to upload it to NOOK Press. It was frustrating and time-consuming tracking down the problem, trying potential solutions, and eventually having to abandon my upload and have Smashwords distribute it. But these things happen and you need to go with the flow. (Again, unless you hire a professional formatter.)

Since my husband used to be a graphic designer and owns several professional programs, and I’ve done some newsletters using Quark Xpress, I decided to go that route for my print books. My husband and I created a template in Quark for my first book, Little Miss Lovesick, and I uploaded the final file as a PDF to CreateSpace. Again, plan for the unexpected. I couldn’t get Quark to create the PDF even though it was an option for the software. Turns out a lot of people were having the same problem. I finally had to send the file out to have it converted. Of course, then I had a PDF that I couldn’t change. Why was that a problem if my book was already printed?

A Professional Print Version

Yup, found a few typos. When I created the ebook files, I corrected any little things I saw as they came up – without thinking about it. Meaning, I didn’t make identical changes to the Quark file, which is why I mentioned above, be aware of how many separate files you have to change if you find a typo. And now, because I couldn’t get Quark to create a PDF for me, I could make my edits but would have to send the file out to be converted to PDF every time, forever. My husband and I started talking about upgrades and – voila! I got an email from Adobe about their Creative Cloud suite. Instead of purchasing the software and upgrading every year or two, you could pay a monthly subscription fee and always have access to the latest version. Not only that, you have access to every piece of Adobe software (that I’m aware of). Because my husband and I both use more than one piece of Adobe software, the monthly Creative Cloud membership seemed perfect for us.

So for my second book, I used Adobe InDesign. LOVE. IT. I sent out my Little Miss Lovesick Quark file to Nick Davies at Tinstar Design and he quickly converted it to InDesign for me for a very reasonable price. I made my minor edits in the new file and it was ready to re-upload. I also took that Lovesick file and created a master template for my future books, which I then used for Unexpected Superhero. Now my print books all have the same look every time. Definitely the professional way to go.

Writing SmileyChecklists Save Time

During the last 2 1/2 years, I’ve continued to make notes about what I do, how I do it, and what order to do it. For instance, in your print version, if you add the header in the master section so that it appears on every page, then manually delete the header from the first pages of chapters, then go through every line of the book taking out words that are split/hyphenated to the next line, it will change the way the text flows and…wait for it…your manually deleted headers will sometimes be on the wrong page. Sigh. Then you have to re-do the header.

Yes, I learned that by doing it. 😉

So now with Superhero in the Making, I’ll take my newest checklist and begin working down it in order. Any time I find something not working right, I’ll make a note of how to fix it and, if necessary, change the order of steps in my checklist. Until I decide to send out my book files to a professional formatter, this is an effective way to get my books printed so that they look absolutely professional, and I’m not re-inventing the process every time. I haven’t looked into the prices of professional formatters or know who’s the best at a reasonable price because I genuinely enjoy the book-building process. But someday I may have to let go of this part in order to get more writing done and more books out.

I hope this has been helpful to you. If so, let me know and I’ll try to post more on this topic in the future. I’ll be teaching a self-publishing how-to class online in September that you may find useful as well. I’ll let you know the details soon. Happy Self-Publishing!

Making Sense of Revisions

Since I’ve just run through an intensive two-week editing and revision sprint to get my superhero book off to Harper Voyager, I wanted to share what I’ve learned about revisions. Regardless of whether you are sending your work out to a publisher or preparing to self-publish your book, you need to have an editing system. You’ve probably learned a lot about story structure and how a good book reads by virtue of years of reading. You may have a natural feel for it. (I think I do.) But you can also learn a lot about solid story structure.

There are numerous books available telling you various ways to go about revising (my favorites are Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell, and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King), but the best way is the way that works for you. For me, the best way is a combination of using Scrivener and sticky notes.

The many-times-changed sticky note outline of UNEXPECTED HERO

This particular book, UNEXPECTED HERO, turned into what I hope to be the worst editing experience of my life. After working on this book in several drafts over seven years (ugh, that pains me even to say it), I hope I never ever EVER have such a difficult time editing again. It started easily enough with one draft and a clear vision. That vision wasn’t shared by my agent, and I did a page-one rewrite using her notes. In the end, she didn’t like that version either and the book was never sent to publishers. (I learned a lot from that experience alone, and I am grateful that she and I remained friends.)

Now I had two complete books (not drafts) with the same characters, similar plots, and a different time frame. That meant that I couldn’t use them both as the first two books in the series. I had to choose. Problem was, my agent made some good points about things that I improved in the second book, but other elements I liked better from the first book. I decided the best choice was to roll up my sleeves and completely rewrite the book again, taking the best elements and putting them together for the best possible story.

This was not easy.

In fact, it was so difficult, and I had so many other things going on in life – like grad school – that I didn’t finish the third draft. What I did “complete” (for lack of a better word) was creating a document I called “UH Prototype” in my “Hero” Scrivener file. I cut and pasted the scenes from the previous versions along with new scenes I’d written into a Frankenstein document. The final story would look something like this one in terms of story, but most of the scenes needed to be rewritten to some extent. (My heroine had been married for three years in the first version, was unmarried in the second version, and starts out as a newlywed in the final version.)

Then a month or so ago, I heard about Harper Voyager’s open submission window and thought this could be a great opportunity for UNEXPECTED HERO. So I printed out the UH Prototype file and found a printed copy of the last completed “draft” and read them through, making notes. I’d thought I was at least three-quarters of the way through the final draft, but as I read the printouts, I found I was closer to half done. And I only had two weeks to get the book in.

In grad school, I worked on a few of the scenes for school assignments, and even then the overwhelming number of words to get through was difficult to handle. At that point, I had the insight to number my revisions like software. The original book became Hero 1.1. The version based on my agent’s notes became version 1.2. The new version was Hero 1.3, but in the course of many confusing ideas on how to fix it, it also became 1.4 and 1.5. (The first two were original, complete “books” ready to go, and separate from each other. But after that everything else was a draft of the third version of book one.) I also started a file called Hero 2.1 with notes on the new villain taken from Hero 1.1; that will become book two in the series.

Three weeks ago, when I took time off to do nothing but finish this book, everything I needed was in the Scrivener file, and I was getting confused trying to edit such large (90,000 words) documents. So I needed more than what Scrivener was doing. (I now create each scene as a separate document in Scrivener so I can easily move them around if necessary, and compile them into one document when I’m done by pressing a button. Love it!) So I pulled out my box of sticky notes and wrote a one-sentence description of each scene in the order I currently had it, and lined them up (first on the glass of a framed picture at the timeshare – LOL!, then on my white board at home).

Between years of reading, learning story structure in my screenwriting program, and learning how to be an editor in one of my grad school classes, I had a feel for where the story was going wrong. But I needed to be able to visualize the whole thing in one glance. And I needed to move the scenes around and see if it worked better this way or that way. The one-sentence sticky notes allowed me to finalize the structure as I worked through the story. I’d get to a point in the actual writing/editing, and think, but wait… I’d go back to my sticky notes and realize a piece was missing – she had to tell him before they could argue about it. Or I’d be getting along toward the end when I realized she’d told the superhero but not his alter ego, so I had to write in a way that either the alter ego had to pretend he didn’t know or he had to make a mistake and let it slip that he did.

Sheesh!

In a strange, wonderfully sick writerly way, I actually had a lot of fun! 🙂

A reminder to track my timeline

Again, at about the three-quarters point, I was getting lost as to “when” I was. Was the story going too slow or too fast? Was I missing any major obvious events? So I pulled up a calendar that had the date the book started on the day of the week I wanted it to start, and I started writing on the bottom of my stickies – Monday the 18th, Tuesday the 19th, etc. Two scenes had to be reversed because one had to happen at lunch time and the other at dinner time. And somewhere around here I had the ah-ha moment for how I would end the book simply based on the date that the story ended.

It was a difficult process but for some reason it wasn’t as painful this time. Maybe because I’ve been rehashing this story in my mind for seven years. In fact, several times I spent an hour or more looking for a scene I was sure I wrote only to come to the conclusion that I must’ve just developed it with striking clarity in my head! One scene I did eventually find in my grad school homework. (Whew!) In any case, I know this is the best version of this book by far, and exactly what I meant to write. Some of the scenes even surprised me with how good they became. LOL! Definitely my best work to date.

So if you’re trying to figure out how to edit a monster, try some or all of the things I used:

  • printouts and a pen,
  • Scrivener or multiple open Word documents,
  • a calendar,
  • sticky notes,
  • and a white board or wall.

You can tame the monster, but it may take looking at your story in several different ways at the same time.

Good luck! You can do it!

Promoting Your Book – and More

Hello Friends!! I’m so freakin’ excited – John and I are finally out apartment hunting! Yay! We’ll be moving soon, so today I’m sharing more links and posts that might be helpful for you. Some might be helpful only if you’re self-publishing or thinking about doing so. Others will be helpful for any writer. Enjoy!

A great article by agent Rachelle Gardner about using Goodreads: “Goodreads: 8 Things Writers Should Know”

A story that many writers dream will be their own story one day: A Modern Day Fairy Tale by Jennifer Probst

This looks like it’s a Christian epublisher: BelieversPress

Another article from John Locke about how he created his success: “An Army of Authors and Friends”

This is a helpful article on figuring out what you need to spend in your self-publishing venture:”Epubbing on a Budget” on WG2E (The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing)

And here’s a great article on making your book cover: “The Making of a Bestselling eBook Cover” on WG2E by Jen Talty of Who Dares Wins Publishing

Another cool – and free – educational tidbit I like to partake of is the Booklist webinar. They have all different kinds of topics. Next month, they have one called Picture These: What’s New with Graphic Novels. You can register here. Booklist webinars are at a set time and you dial in via a “meeting” site. You listen to the speakers and watch their slideshow presentation. You can take notes, but later you’ll get an email with a link to the archives where you can watch the video of the whole thing again. Here is a listing of all their upcoming webinars. You can sign up to get an email letting you know about new webinars. That’s what I do.

Remember when iBooks Author software  came out and there was a big hubbub about the terms and conditions? It read like you couldn’t put your book on any retail site except for iBooks. I spoke to an Apple Store employee who said that the “upgrade” to iBooks Author is only a change to the terms and conditions to better explain what you are and aren’t allowed to do. If I understood correctly, what the terms and conditions were trying to convey is that the software only creates a file that uploads to iBooks. To upload your books to other sites, you simply have to use other software. Apparently, that’s all it was saying. I’m going to download the software and check out the T&C. I’ll try to remember to let you know what I find out. Let us know here in the comments if you’ve already checked!

Another interesting article on self-publishinig sales from author Gemma Halliday.

Read more about how The Hunger Games did their social media promotion. It might give you some ideas for promoting your own books.

I haven’t watched this yet, but I love the Pixar story team, and this is a TED talk by Andrew Stanton from Pixar on crafting great stories.

Interested in Amazon’s KDP Select program? Here is one self-published author’s explanation on how it worked for her. Or more to the point, how it didn’t work.

And finally, three suggestions from my friend Kathleen, co-author of Dog Daze, book one of The S.A.V.E. Squad. She and I both use Scrivener, and here are some useful templates from Mel Corbett. Kathleen put a QR (Quick Response) code on her business card, which I thought was totally cool! Here is an article by Athena Grayson explaining QR codes and how you can use them. Just in case you don’t visit this site very often, here is a reminder to bookmark it. Daily Cheap Reads is a site with all kinds of books listed to highlight some of the many potentially good ebooks selling for under $5. I’m pretty sure there is always at least one free ebook listed as well.

Decision Time

Will she or won’t she? Okay! Okay! Call me a NaNoWriMo Rebel.

As much as I’d like to create a new story world, I’ve got other worlds needing attention—deep edits! I think what made me decide for sure was Camp NaNoWriMo which takes place in June and August. These dates give me a second chance at the writing frenzy.

So, you other Rebels…how do you track your words? I know I can’t officially “win” this year since I’m not going to be writing new words, but editing old ones. Still, I’d like to use the chart to track my progress and push myself. Do I figure out a system to clock hours or scenes and then transfer those to some kind of word count? Does any such chart already exist? Or am I being too much of a Rebel to use the word chart? (I don’t want to throw off the overall NaNo stats by counting my editing numbers.)

Oh, but look at this…Scrivener for Windows!! With a special NaNoWriMo trial! It includes special NaNo templates!  http://www.literatureandlatte.com/nanowrimo.php If you already have the program you can follow the same link to download your own templates.

What if I wrote a little bit of something new to test out the new program? *bites fingernails*

 This decision is killing me!!!

 P.S. If you won NaNo last year, the coupon for the 50% off Scrivener for Windows will still be valid this year since the program has only recently been completed. Rebel Away!

Gift Ideas for Writers

This is perhaps less a post for you, my writer friends, than for your friends and family.  🙂  Over the last several years of birthday, wedding anniversary, and Christmas gift-giving, I’ve asked for a few things not writing related. (John won Husband of the Year for giving me a Tiffany key necklace for our 20th wedding anniversary.) But for me, most of the things I’d like are things I think will help me tell better stories, or tell stories better.

Here is a list of possibilities for you to consider putting on your wish list:

Books – The obvious first choice. But there are all kinds to choose from – research books or journals for the period being written about; nonfiction how to books on character, emotion, plot, etc.; fiction in the genre being written – or something different. (I asked for three or four Jim Butcher books I don’t have because I love his work and because I write urban fantasy so it’s kind of research.)

DVDs – Movies can be great quick forms (2-3 hours instead of days or weeks) of studying story pieces like plot and structure and character and emotion. Of course, they’re also simply fun! (I asked for the first two seasons of the TV show Castle to study how to have a serious topic – in Castle’s case, murder – with a great deal of humor.)

Amazon or iTunes gift cards – Another obvious choice. Nice thing about both is that there are several choices in both of these online stores – music, books, ebooks, and more. Many writers like classical music, soundtracks, or certain kinds of bands based on the “sound” of their current book. (I asked for Creative Mind 2.0 a couple years ago. It’s supposed to help your brainwaves cycle at the most creative level. I have no proof that it works, but I think I write much better/faster when it’s playing.)

Office supplies – Most writers are a sucker for office supplies, and most have specific favorite pens and notebooks. Pocket or purse size notebooks are always good. Be careful not to overload a writer with too many cool journals – there’s a point at which you get so many you can’t use them all. Gift cards to the local office supply store are always useful. (I bought some more expensive but especially pretty notebooks with a matching bag to take to university when I started my master’s degree. John bought me a beautiful pen for my birthday simply because it was beautiful.)

Software – My two favorites this year are Scrivener and Freedom. Both are available for Windows and Mac. Scrivener ($45 USD) helps you organize your work. Freedom ($10 USD) turns off your Internet connection for a user-determined number of minutes so you can focus on your writing.

Online Classes – There are dozens of great classes available for as little as $20. Make up your own little “coupon” and give the writer in your life an extra boost. (I’m teaching an online class on goal setting and time management in January. All three of us here at Routines for Writers love Margie Lawson’s classes, and you can also purchase just the lecture packets.)

Speakers – There are so many kinds of speakers a writer might be interested in. I went to a presentation once given by a medical examiner. Among other crazy things I learned but don’t know if I’ll ever use is the temperature at which the human head explodes. You could buy a ticket now or you could create a homemade coupon for a specific event or a dollar amount. (John sent me to listen to Joss Whedon, and we went to Kevin Smith together at the Sydney Opera House – about $75 each. I know a couple of my friends want to go a weekend conference by Michael Hauge or Robert McKee – $200-700.)

Writer’s conferences and retreats – Conferences can be as short as one day up to a week or more, so prices can range from $50 to several thousand. Another option is giving a writer an opportunity to get away on a little retreat to focus on writing. It might be with a friend at a hotel or timeshare, renting a house together with a group of writers, or just going away alone for a day, a weekend, or a week. (I’ve rented a room at a TraveLodge for a few days because that chain includes free Internet and a continental breakfast, and has an in-room fridge and microwave. John and I decided that a great amount of gifting to me next year is going to be the cost of going to the RWA National Conference in New York City.)

Musical items – Music is supposed to be connected with math and the logical side of your brain, and it’s supposed to help the creative side of your brain work better. I don’t know the details of why, but it’s a good excuse to keep music on my to do list. (John gave me an electronic keyboard for an anniversary present, and guitar lessons for my birthday one year.)

Brain teasers and video games – Anything that works the muscle of my brain or relaxes me enough to refresh my creativity is a good thing, if you ask me. Ideas include word search and crossword puzzle books, jigsaw puzzles, those metal loop puzzles, Wii or Xbox games, Nintendo DS with Brain Age, and so much more. (John gave me Mystery Case Files: Huntsville for Christmas one year, and Bejeweled 2 during my semester break this year. I just have to discipline myself not to play them too often!)

Bubble bath, favorite wines and other relaxants – Even if you have a $10 limit on your Secret Santa, there is always something you can find. Some of my writer friends love the soaps and bubble bath products at a store called LUSH (and they have a $10 Secret Santa package!). Last year a friend gave us a bottle of our favorite dessert wine. I’d be happy to be given a bar of Green & Black’s extra dark chocolate – less than $5.

This list has probably given you a few ideas that aren’t listed here. Feel free to share them with everyone in the comments section. What are some of your favorite gifts?

P.S. If you’re wondering about the photo, I couldn’t find a picture of a Christmas gift. I was at a friend’s wedding this weekend, so it was the latest gift I bought (a gift set of various teas), and I know I’ll never find another good reason to use this beautiful, romantic photograph! LOL!

Software Help for NaNoWriMo

Snowflake Pro

Snowflake Pro came out last November, too late for me to use it to plan my NaNo 2009 novel. I had all but forgotten it until this week. Of course, I like starting off with pen to paper for my brainstorming anyway, but once I get to the part where I need to organize my thoughts for real, it’s nice to have a program to walk me through step by step. And there are nine steps!

Author and writing instructor, Randy Ingermanson, created this program to guide you through his popular Snowflake Method. You start with your tag line and build gradually from there. Layer upon layer you add more and more detail until you have built a significant synopsis and detailed character lists.

Best thing? Your information is organized and easily accessible!

I’m up to Step 5, writing a character synopsis for each of my main players. I’m looking forward to Step 8, making a list of scenes. This is what will give me my day-to-day working plan for November. Now, if you write your synopsis with a list of scenes in mind, the program can import your synopsis, and break it down sentence by sentence into scenes for a template. Make any adjustments and zip, it’s done! 

Scrivener for Windows

For years I’ve been envious of Kitty’s writing methods using Scrivener for the Mac. The corkboard! The split screen! The photo display for characters! Well guess what!?! Scrivener for Windows is out in public beta format. Click on Scrivener for Windows to read all the details for yourself and watch the 10 min video. *Squee*

The “real” version is set to come out in early 2011 for $35-40. AND, if you win NaNo and verify your word count, you’ll be awarded a 50% off coupon–more incentive to get those words in!

Although I do enjoy beta testing (such fun to hunt down a program bug) I don’t think I can risk my NaNo novel for it. But this weekend, and then starting on December 1st, I’m all over it.

What I Do in Revision

Last week I told you that my first steps in revision are to print out my entire manuscript and read it through in one sitting, creating a revision list as I go. I write down everything that occurs to me including questions, ideas, answers to questions I’d written in parentheses, repetitive words and phrases, inconsistencies, everything.

Then I take that list and I write the “big” things on a separate piece of paper. Big issues are primarily about plot problems, character problems, the lack of an ending, a sagging middle, etc. In my opinion, fixing problems from page 1 to the end instead of in order of importance may well be like painting the kitchen walls, then moving the cupboards from one wall to another.

After I’ve read the whole manuscript and made my notes, I create a one-sentence or one-notecard description of each scene. I recently purchased Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Pro software, and I’ve been playing with that to make my scene descriptions. It seems to work equally well for constructing an outline for a new book or organizing the revision of a completed draft. I’ve also used the notecard function in Scrivener. I have to say, though, my favorite method is still notecards I can lay out on the living room floor.  🙂

Starting with the list of big issues, I work on them in the order of most to least important. Some things may need to be reworked slightly after revising something else, but this method works best to keep from redoing scenes over and over. The notecards help me to find holes in the plot, or see that the story works better if I move a scene or two.

When I feel good about those revisions, I start down the list of everything else. I’ve never found that working on one thing before another helps much here. Whether I begin by pumping up my setting descriptions or adding an emotional layer that I’d missed in the first draft, I’m adding layers to a well-constructed story at this point. It is important, though, for me to have a list of everything I need to check – dialog, setting, descriptions, emotional layer, symbols, etc. Without a list, I always forget something.

One of my new favorite ways to go through revisions is Margie Lawson’s Deep Editing system. (Remember, she’ll be our guest every Tuesday for the rest of the month!) After hearing my friends rave about the class, I bought the lecture packet. Wow! It is intense! Be warned if you have my personality type – you can get bogged down in the details, and I’m sure that is not what Margie had in mind. But it will give you solid examples of exactly what you’re looking for in your own writing, and how to improve it. Genius.

The last step in my revision process – perhaps the most difficult step – is knowing when to stop. At some point you have to, of course, but it seems we never believe we’ve gotten it just right. Still, do your best and then send it out!

Organizing Your Work

My friend Judy asked me this week if I had any tips for her as she organized her next non-fiction book. I thought about it and decided to share them with everyone here at Routines for Writers.

Writing Longhand
When I write longhand, I try to use a different notebook (with a different colored front cover) for each project. I used to just buy school notebooks by the dozen during back-to-school sales, but a few months ago a friend gave me a beautiful notebook with big, brilliant flowers all over it. I found myself wanting to write in that one more because it was so pretty. It made me happy. If you can afford them, buy a notebook with a cover that makes you smile. You might write in it more.

If the notebook has sections, I’ll use one section for each of the main things I expect to need in the near future. In the beginning of an idea, there are dozens of pages that are almost journaling, of me talking to myself about the idea. I’ll use another section – or start with the back page and work forward – to write out character sketches, ideas about the characters and their names, occupation possibilities, etc.

Since I’ve been in the process of moving lately, I only bought one new notebook when I got half-settled, but I bought the one that is pre-punched to put in binders. In this notebook, I can start a new page about any story idea, or any character, and then pull the pages out later to put in binders according to what book they belong to. In the top right corner of each page I write a few letters describing which book it is so I can file them in binders quicker. Right now I have pages with “H” – those are notes on my Hero books – and pages with “FF” for the romance “Down at the Fluff ‘N Fold.”

Binders
Nearly every writer I know who has written more than two books has a binder system. Everyone does it a bit differently because everyone’s mind works a bit differently. I buy blank tabbed dividers with erasable tabs so I can organize and re-organize any time. Right now the front section is a printed calendar of the month(s) during which the book takes place with a short note about what happens on each day (they meet, he saves her life, he proposes, real dad shows up, etc.). That keeps me on track.

The next section is the printed pages of the book as I write them. Next are any pages or notes written about the characters. Sometimes I’ll split this into two sections, main characters and secondary. I will often put a hole-punched envelope (or other nifty office supply – I love office supplies! LOL!) in the character section for pictures from magazines, etc. The following sections are plot – where I put most of my printouts from “First Draft in 30 Days,” then settings, and then whatever seems appropriate for that book and my current organizational mood. (Hence, the erasable tabs!)

Because everyone has a different system, I would love it if you all commented about how you organize your system. Then everyone can try out others’ ideas!

Computer software and files
This one is tricky for me because I am a fairly visual person. I’m good at creating a filing system, but then I forget that I made a file called “Job description of a tax accountant” for some character. So I’ll be writing away and thinking, I know I looked up this information and I’m sure I wrote it down somewhere, but where?!

If I’m working in Word, I create a file folder for the new book, then two more folders under it called Pages and Research. Each day that I work on the actual pages of the book, I “Save As” the book name with today’s date. It’s my way of a) not losing everything if one file gets corrupted, and b) feeling confident that I can erase a sentence or a scene that isn’t working without really losing it, because I can go find it again in an earlier file. (For scenes that I am in love with and really think I could use somewhere else, I’ll cut and paste them into a file called “Cut Scenes to Use Later.” I rarely use them, but I know they’re there, so it’s easier to cut them from where they aren’t working.) Sometimes, on a really organized day, I’ll remember to print out a list of all the files in each of those folders so that I don’t forget all the work I’ve already done!  🙂

One other thing I really like doing with the computer files and the Internet is saving pictures and articles right to my computer (no need for scanning pictures from magazines). In one of the versions of Word (Mac only?), you can choose Notebook Layout from the View menu and have tabbed sections of your document right there in a computer file! I love this because it keeps everything together, though I do worry that sometime my file will become corrupted and I will have forgotten to back it up. In that document I’ll save pictures of my characters from the Internet and put little name captions under them. I’ll save pictures of houses and plants and animals. I’ll save snippets of conversations and ideas from friends’ emails. Etc., etc. It’s a great way to organize.

As a Mac user and a visual person, I have found Scrivener to be the best program for my writing, and for the way my brain works. (I wrote about it here; be sure to read the comments on that post to find the name of similar programs for Windows users.) The great thing about these programs is that all of your information and “files” show up in a column to the left. You can see everything at a glance. I don’t lose anything now if I remembered to put it in my Scrivener file. One file for each book, and innumerable “sub-files” (for lack of a better word) that include text documents, pdf files, audio files, pictures, etc. It’s awesome!

I hope this helps you get a little more organized. If you have another way of organizing your work, comment here and let us know. Hundreds of thousands of people are trying to figure out how to organize their thoughts this month in order to write a new novel next month for NaNoWriMo. Let’s help each other get ahead of the curve!

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Software to Keep Me Organized

There is only one reason I care one way or another about software when it comes to writing my books – can it keep me organized?

I am in the process of making my third trans-continental move, and that means I don’t have room to print, hole-punch and binder all of my notes nor multiple drafts of my books. I also don’t have the freedom to keep the notes I write on napkins, church bulletins, and envelopes. Everything needs to be digital and needs to be stored on my computer in a way I can find it again. Sadly, I have lost a lot of notes because I couldn’t find them when I needed them. Other notes I found years after I finished a book. So I don’t care what word processing program I use – I care about organization!

Mac users, sit up and take notice! Have I got a program for you!! It’s called Scrivener and it’s only $39.95 (and is available only for the Mac, sorry PC users). It was developed by a programmer who is also a writer (who uses a Mac), so he created something that was exactly what he was looking for. And it’s great! When you open a new Scrivener file, you see an area on the left where you can add as many files and folders as you want. You can create a file for each scene, then drag and drop to move them around. You can combine files together, or separate one file into multiple files (like a chapter file into separate files for each scene).

I created a folder just for pictures of people who look like my characters, and I can view all the pictures on a “corkboard” on the screen. I can also color code the “push pins” on the corkboard – main characters, secondary characters, recurring characters, whatever. Each little file also can be organized within the whole by using the “Label” and “Status” tools. This is how I color coded each scene by POV. I also coded each scene by whether it was a first draft, notes only, or final. You can also choose which files are included when you print. For instance, I don’t include my notes when I print. And within the print screen, you have a dozen more choices for what prints and what doesn’t. Once you find a system that works for you (certain colors and names for labels and status, font size, etc.), you can create and save your own template to use again for new books.

I can drag other files into this main Scrivener file, too, like Word documents, pdf files, audio and/or video files, etc. (I tried dragging over an Excel file, but it didn’t work. If I’d saved it as a pdf, it would have worked.) Scrivener begins with three folders – Draft, Research, and Trash. I create new folders called Character Pics, Ideas, Backstory, FD30 (where I put all my worksheets from the First Draft in 30 Days book), etc. Then I add files as I go – a pdf of a printscreen I saved from a web site dropped into the Research folder, a couple new scenes into the Draft file, more notes typed into that file.

And if you decide to make a major change to your book, don’t worry about not being able to come back to the way it is now. Just take a “snapshot” of your file. It’s kind of like a backup, but different, and I don’t know how.  (LOL! I just know it works!) You can also type a line or two onto what looks like a 3×5 card for each file and then click on Corkboard view to see all the 3×5 cards lined up. There is also Outliner view and Full Screen view. You can even add keywords to any of your files so you can find that bit of research you’re looking for, or the scene where you planted the red herring or the bit of symbolism.

There are even more wonderful things that Scrivener does that I still don’t utilize or know how to do – but not for the lack of a great tutorial, just a lack of time to learn and use every nuance of the program. Check it out if you own a Mac. You’ll be glad you did!

Don’t have a Mac, but still have problems organizing all of your work (like me!)? I accidentally found another wonderful way to organize – using Word! I have Microsoft Word 2004 for Mac, so I don’t know what version of the Mac Word or the Windows Word first came with this feature – the Notebook Layout. Wow, I love it!! It’s in the “View” menu – you know, where you get to choose Normal view, Page Layout view, Outline view, etc.

When you change your document to Notebook Layout view, you see what looks like a lined legal pad with tabs on the right side. You can rename the tabs (by default, it has three) and add new ones. I organized a book in a similar manner to what I describe above in Scrivener but using this view in Word. I created new “pages” for each character where I stored all my notes about them, a page with all the photos, a page with all the research (or several pages for different kinds of research), a page for all the notes I’d gotten from critique partners, etc. I loved it! (Then I found Scrivener, so I don’t use this as much as I used to.)

When I organized all my notes this way, I only had two files to keep track of – this “Notes” file and the actual “Book” file. {happy sigh} That means when I was searching for something, I only had to open two files instead of 20 or 30 and hit Ctrl-F. Whoever created this feature in Word, thank you!

Aside from reiterating how much I love my Alpha Smart (apparently now called the Neo) for writing first drafts, that’s all I’ve got for you. Organization is the biggest thorn in my side – or was. I hope you find one of these two programs useful to you. And if you have any great ideas for organizing your work, please share them with us!

Note: Checking to make sure I had my facts straight on the Word feature, I found a forum where someone from Microsoft commented saying, “I’m afraid that Notebook View is a Mac only feature. For the PC, there is a separate note-taking/note-organizing application (part of the Office suite of applications) called OneNote, but it’s not part of Word. Sorry.”

Apparently, my blog today is for Mac users, and Stephanie’s and Shonna’s blogs on Monday and Friday are for Windows users.