Self-Publishing: Recordkeeping

Chroniech (book 2 of the Galactic Alliance series) is almost ready to be uploaded to Amazon. Reformatting is complete. All that’s needed now is to modify the cover. I'm on vacation for the next week, so I should have time to work on the cover. I need to use my main system to do that since my little netbook does not have the screen real-estate or the power to run the older version of Adobe Photoshop Editor that I use. In the meantime, I will begin working on the reformatting of the other books in the series.

I also made a business decision to unpublish the rest of my books from Smashwords. A few months ago, I unpublished the Galactic Alliance series and registered them in the Amazon KDP Select program. I earned more in royalties from KDP Select than I earned at Smashwords. That made the decision to move the remainder of my books off Smashwords to KDP Select much easier. It’s a shame to, because I was a big fan of Smashwords. But, business is business and this was a business decision.

Smashwords sounds great on paper and it does a fantastic job of getting your books out to all the other markets. But, truth be told, the other markets are a drop in the bucket as far as Amazon is concerned. Enrolling my books in KDP Select allowed me to make more money than what I was making from Smashwords from all of my book sales through them. The cost benefit analysis was a no-brainer. My apologies to Smashwords.

Recordkeeping for Self-Published Authors
I would imagine that all writers (traditionally published or self-published) can benefit from this post. Self-Published authors, however, typically don’t have the benefit of an agent and a team of financial people helping them track sales and other expenses. Additionally, the IRS might want to look into your records someday and declaring yourself a self-published author could cause them to wonder if you’re treating your writing as a business or as a hobby. If the IRS thinks you’re writing as a hobby, you get no tax deductions at all—nothing—nada—zilch. Having a detailed record-keeping system is one way to avoid this problem.

Finances: Mixing your personal and business (i.e. writing) finances is okay, but keeping them separated is much better. I use Quicken to track my business finances. There are other programs out there, but Quicken has a huge user’s base and can track everything a writer needs. I’ve even found a way to track the number of sales as well as mileage; here’s how: To track mileage, create a cash account named Mileage. Every time you make a trip, just enter it into the register. One dollar equates to one mile. Make sure to exclude the account from the reports dealing with pure financials. To track sales, use the same approach. If you want to break things down by title, you can create a category named “Book Sales” and then add a subcategory for each title. If you enter the seller (Amazon and Smashwords in my case), you can run reports showing sales by seller by title or any combination you want.

Having a separate credit card and bank account for your writing business is also highly recommended. The activity of these accounts should be tracked in your financial register using as much detail as possible. Quicken also allows you to relate a tax form to a specific category making your end-of-year tax reconciliation all that much easier. If you spend money that you are later reimbursed for, make sure you have a separate category for this as well. An auditor might mistake the reimbursement for income (which it isn’t) and it also prevents you from accidentally charging it as a business expense (which it isn’t).

Business Log: You should maintain a business log of important events. For instance, my latest entry is about unpublishing the remainder of my books from Smashwords. You can use virtually any word processor for your log; Word, LibreOffice, OneNote, OpenOffice, etc. (you can tell I’m not a Mac person since I didn’t list Mac software). It’s also your choice as to how to arrange this log. I prefer to have the latest entry at the end so if the log is printed it can be read in chronological order. If you want to get fancy, you could even set up a database to store your log entries and then you can print them out in whatever order you desired.

Mileage Log: Once again, the list of applications is a long one. I prefer to use Microsoft Excel. I have columns for the date, which vehicle I used, starting mileage, ending mileage, a calculated column showing the miles driven, the purpose of the trip, and if the miles shown is for a round-trip or one-way. Excel works because I can quickly total everything, generate reports, and use calculated columns. I prefer to keep each year on a separate worksheet allowing me to house years worth of data in a single file.

Receipts: Keep all of your business-related receipts, no matter how trivial. If you want your records to survive a house fire, flood, tornado, volcanic eruption, or other natural event, you should scan your receipts and store them in the cloud. All multi-function printers come with scanning software. Set up a cloud-based storage account (or ensure you're data is backed up somewhere other than on a drive located in your house) and scan all your receipts into it. Labeling them with the year and date in the format of YYYY-MM-DD followed by the name of the company will keep things organized. Another alternative would be to use a commercial product such as NeatReceipts or NeatDesk.

Conclusion: Recordkeeping can be tedious, but it is necessary to prove you’re running a business. It is also a blessing at tax time, especially if you use software that can generate the reports you will need to fill out your taxes. You can combine everything into a single software package (Excel comes to mind) or use an approach similar to mine.

Writing all the above got me to thinking about an all-in-one solution. I'm a computer programmer and I write large, complex Microsoft Access applications. Everything I just talked about can be handled by an Access program. If I get the time, I might explore this alternative. But not everyone has a copy of Microsoft Access and getting one is not cheap. There are, however, alternatives. There are free open-source database programs that could work. There is also a free version of the Access database engine that can be distributed. Hummmmmmm – perhaps I will look into this. If I come up with something, I promise to make it freely available. I’ll let you know.

Another update: Frustrated with not being able to run Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 on my netbook as well as several Word restarts that happened a few days ago, I made a sudden decision yesterday in the middle of writing this post to go out and buy a better computer. I've been eyeing the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 but it does not sit well on a lap -- and I do a lot of writing on my lap. After looking around and doing some comparisons, I went out and bought a Surface Book. I'll be spending most of the day getting it set up.


Self-Publishing: Putting it all Together

Yesterday, I finished the re-editing of Chroniech (second book in the Galactic Alliance series and the first book I ever wrote). Today, I start on the Kindle formatting pass. Once that's done, I'll do the Createspace formatting and then build the new cover. I fly to Charlotte, North Carolina today and I should have plenty of time to work on the formatting. From this point forward, I am not going to be re-editing any of the other books, just reformatting.

I had a short story idea pop into my head a couple weeks ago. It's not my normal genre (in fact, I'm not sure where it fits). I had a bunch of it stuck in my head and the only way to stop thinking about it was to get it into the computer. I read it at yesterday's writers group and there were lots of suggestions about where I could go with it. When I have time, I'll play around and see where it goes.

I've run out of self-publishing topics and so I asked the writers group for suggestions. Most, were things I've already covered. A few are aspects of writing I'm not familiar with. So, instead of a single topic, I'm going to throw it all together. If you have anything you want to hear about, please let me know.

Putting it all Together
Here is what has been covered over the past few weeks:

Writing is a Business
Establish Your Network
What Not to Do
Protecting Your Work
You as an Author
Time Management
Tools of the Trade
Ups and Downs

Some of the suggested topics include:

  • Marketing your book - A subject that can take a huge amount of research and may or may not actually help to increase sales.
  • Resources - I'll cover this below.
  • The Power of Reviews - I've talked about this in other posts when I discussed the different philosophies of reading or not reading your reviews. I believe an author should read them.
  • The Amazon "Monopoly" - There is no doubt about the fact that if you want to make money selling books, you must put them on Amazon.
  • Synopses and Back Covers - This can be an entire book in itself and any post would have to cover many other aspects of writing. I suggest reading a lot of books on how to improve your writing.
  • Aspects of Building a Good Narrative - See the previous note.

I was asked how I managed to have such good sales back in 2012. I've done a lot of thinking on this and I've come to believe that it was caused by Amazon and how their secret algorithms work. Amazon is in the business of making money and if they can promote a single book and make a good return on that virtually free investment, then they'll figure out a way to spot such opportunities. Here is what I believe happened:

The secret algorithm tracks all purchases. It knows who bought what and when. One of the trends the algorithm searches for is how people treat an author's series. If I buy book one and then buy book two, the algorithm notices this. It I then go on to buy book three, the algorithm ranks that as a string of purchases. If this pattern is repeated by a number of people (even if it's a small number of people) the algorithm concludes that the author has a following because people go back and buy the other books in the series. Amazon may then decide to promote the first book of the series because doing so will result in the sale of not only the first book, but the other books in the series as well.

I am convinced that this is what happened to the Galactic Alliance series in 2012. Based on this, if you are planning on writing a series, you might want to consider setting things up so that at least 2 of the books are released very close to each other. The algorithm might also have an expanded view in that it might look at all the books an author has written. If I buy a book from someone and like it enough, I will search for and then buy another book by that same author. I'm sure Amazon's algorithm will notice that as well especially if the books are in the same genre. So, even if you're not working on a series, if the books are in the same genre, then perhaps you should wait and release them together.

I've had a lot of people ask what kind of books I've been reading to help me improve my writing. Reading is just one way to improve your skills -- actually writing helps as well. Our writing group leader made a statement yesterday that makes good sense. The reason it's a good practice to wait until you finish a story before you start editing it is that you will be a better writer after finishing the story than before you started it. I couldn't agree more. Writing improves your writing. To back that up, read.

My library is full of books. Most of them I've read. Some I've glanced at and others I haven't gotten around to yet. I am the type of reader who reads a book from cover to cover. This includes books that are normally used as reference manuals. I read them that way because if I don't, I don't know what's in them. Instead of listing all my reference manuals, Here's a series of pictures of my shelves:

Some notes:

  • Power Struggle is not another book written by myself. It is Chroniech as it was originally published. Don't buy it!
  • The last shelf was purchased so I could gather up all of my signed copies in one location. It also has become my overflow shelf for my reference library. I will be moving the copies of my own books to this shelf and use the space on my reference library to house more reference books such as the massive Chicago Manual of Style sitting by itself in the last photo.
So there's my wrap-up. Please let me know if you have any additional topics you would like for me to discuss. I'll keep thinking about it as well.


Self-Publishing: Ups and Downs

Update on my Commitment to Professionalism
I have passed the 75% point on re-editing Chroniech. If all goes according to plan, the editing will by done my the time my next blog post comes out. I then begin the process of reformatting for both ebook and print versions. Each one requires a full pass through the novel.

Next Sunday, I will be traveling to North Carolina (Charlotte) on business. I develop Microsoft Access database applications as part of my day job. One of my applications was instrumental in helping us reduce the number of maintenance activities we perform every year. Next week, my supervisor will be making a presentation of this work at a nuclear work management conference. I'm tagging along to answer any questions concerning the programming and setup of the database. This also means I will have a lot of time on my hand to do editing and formatting.

I rarely get ideas for short stories and it's even rarer for me to have one that is not science fiction or fantasy. The other day, I had such an idea and -- after bouncing it off my wife -- I'm seriously considering working on it. The idea is (as far as I know) unique. It will be a difficult story to write correctly and I'm still working out the details in my head. What's strange about this story is that the ideas keep popping into my head. That tells me, my subconscious has a reason for wanting me to write this story. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Ups and Downs
You hear it all the time: “Don’t let a bad review get you down”, “Don’t worry, sales will pick up”, “Rejections are a fact of a writer’s life, accept them and move on”. The truth of the matter though is that writers are human and bad reviews, rejections, and poor sales bother us. Nothing anyone will say can change that. Pretending that such things don’t bother you creates tension and can lead to headaches, ulcers, and all sorts of other problems. Walking around the house with a dark cloud over your head, kicking the cat (or dog) out of the way, and telling your wife to leave you alone certainly isn’t the proper response either. So what is a writer to do?

The first step is to realize that you are going to be bothered by all the negative things a writer encounters in this business. It’s okay to feel bad about being rejected. It’s acceptable to worry about sales. You’re human and there’s nothing you can do about that. The human mind, however is a powerful instrument that is capable of shaping its own destiny. Here’s an example:

I have a large stack of books I want to read. If fact, I want to read them all right NOW. If a couple of days goes by and I don’t get any reading done, I begin to get that ‘antsy’ feeling about not reading. My wife likes me to spend the evenings with her and when I start to feel “unread” I’m tempted to grab a book and read while we sit together. But this is being rude. If I’m reading, I’m not paying attention to her and she begins to feel ignored. Not conducive to a good marriage!

So how do I handle this? I take a few minutes and talk to myself. I tell myself that there will be plenty of time to read in the future – after all – I have many more years to live. I also remind myself that reading is not as important as I think it is and I’ll be much happier if my wife is happy. After a self-discussion like this, the need to read is reduced and I can enjoy the evening with my wife. The urge is still there, but it’s not so overriding as to put me into a bad mood. If things get too bad, I’ll swap out my writing time for some reading time. There’s always a solution to the problem.

I would imagine that all writers have these problems, but I tend to think that the self-published writer has even more to worry about. We are responsible for writing, editing, cover art, formatting, proofing, marketing, and promoting. That’s a lot! I often wonder if I’m spending enough time promoting my books. But that is a very time-intensive activity that takes away from writing and reading. It also has only a small impact on sales. I don’t believe I’ve ever purchased a book because of what the author has said in a forum or blog post.

Recently, a few of my author acquaintances have made significant sales to publishers and/or magazines. Their books are getting good reviews in multiple publications, blogs, and websites. I’ve been spending my time making my past works more professional-looking instead of promoting my books or writing more. I’ve begun to question my decision to do so. This is a bad road for me to start down. I made this promise to myself after attending WorldCon because I realized my books do look like they were produced by an amateur. Backing away from my promise is not the professional thing to do and I won’t.

There is one emotion though that all writers must be on the lookout for: Envy. It’s one of the worst human emotions and can lead a person down a horribly self-destructive path if allowed to grow unchecked. Envy can cause all sorts of issues and it must be stopped long before it takes root. If you detect the warning signs, do whatever it takes to keep it from growing because failing to do so can ruin your life. No one is immune. If you pretend you’ve never been envious, you’re fooling yourself and potentially creating an emotional problem that will be hard to get rid of.

I am acquainted with a number of very successful authors. I’m very happy to see them doing well and getting nominated for awards. There are times though when I am a little envious of their success. I get pissed off when I feel that way because I recognize it as envy. I value my relationship with other authors and when envy begins to rear its ugly head, I feel I have to beat it back down into the depths of hell from where it originates.

There are a number of ways to deal with this when it happens. The first is to be able to recognize it. Everyone can’t be nominated for an award. I am convinced that envy was the cause of the puppy scandal during the last WorldCon. Sales go up and sales go down and there’s never any rhyme or reason to it. I’ve had fantastic sales in the past, but at this moment, sales are down. Instead of feeling envious for those authors who are doing well, I realize I must put forth more effort to promote my books. But, I won’t do so until I know I’m promoting books that look like they are from a professional author. And that takes me back to my promise.

The commitment I made stemmed from the simple fact that if a reader were to look at a preview of my books on Amazon, they might see them as being from an amateur writer who has little regard to what their books look like in print. I promised to fix that. It’s a lot of work and it means no reading, no new writing, no watching television (except Agents of Shield of course), and no spending time on the internet in forums, Twitter, and chat rooms. Sales are not as strong as I would like and I feel I should be promoting my books, but that takes time away from writing.

I have a plan and I’m going to stick to it. If it means a few months of lower sales, then so-be-it. I do not want to be seen as an amateur. I am a member of SFWA with 9 books published. I’ve sold tens of thousands of copies of my books. My name might not be recognized by the public and I don’t see my books in large full-page ads paid for by a traditional publishing house. But, I am a professional author. I’m happy with my decision because I know it is the right thing to do.

Envy has no place in my life. I’m better than that – and so are you.


Interview with Andi Lawrencovna

Re-editing Update
The re-editing of Chroniech has passed the 50% point and is moving along fairly well. The itch to get back to work on Dragonverse Origins is growing but I'm sticking to my plans of revising, reformatting, and re-releasing all of my current books before I move on. I have had a couple of requests to write another Peacekeeper novel. My Galactic Alliance series is my money-maker and I will have to seriously think about putting Origins aside so I can satisfy my readers by writing another Peacekeeper novel. As of right now though, my focus is on making my books more professional. This means that this will be the first year since I started self-publishing that I have not released a new book. Hopefully, this will pay off in the long run.

Andi Lawrencovna
I met Andi (not her real name) about a year ago when she decided to join our writer’s group. We meet once a month at the Mentor, Ohio Barnes & Nobles. She has a very outgoing personality and I took an immediate liking to her. I was surprised when the first story she read to the group was one with a dark twist. When it was my turn to read, I passed out my sample and watched out of the corner of my eye as she attacked my prose with an ultra-fine pen, furiously writing notes in the margins, between the lines, and along the top and bottom of the page. Her comments, however, were spot-on.

Andi and I have become good friends and she was kind enough to interview me for a post on her recently-built website (which she does herself). I promised to return the favor when her first book came out. I’m late on that promise, but – as the old saying goes – better late than never. You can read her interview of myself by clicking here

=====    Interview    =====

What was your inspiration for the Charming series?

I have always loved fairy tales. The magic, the heroes, the romance, and not just between characters but of how the worlds are crafted-- It’s an escape from the more mundane “real” world that we live in. And who doesn’t like a good happily ever after?

Okay, well, I don’t particularly like happily ever afters. Life is a bit more intense than that. People don’t fall in love in the span of a ball, no matter how much the romantic in me wishes that were true.  I think that’s where Charming came from, my need to find the story that happened between the ball and when Prince Charming rescued Cinderella from her wicked stepmother. Of course, the question then became what if Cinderella didn’t need to be rescued but was the one doing the rescuing?

You prefer to use a pseudonym instead of your real name – Why?

Well, two main reasons. The first is that I write a lot of different things, different styles, different genres, and each different story hinges on a different part of my personality. They’re all a bit on the darker side, I’ve never really managed being light and fluffy, but it made sense to me to keep those styles as separate as possible and using a pen name does just that.

The second reason is I really don’t like being in the spotlight. Using my real name…yeah, way too easy to stand out.

We attended WorldCon 2015 together. I know the experience changed how I see myself as an author. Did going to WorldCon have an impact on you as well?

Definitely. It was really an amazing experience for me, from meeting some of my favorite authors to the inspiration that came out of it, it just blew my mind. The panels alone were worth the price of admission. I just wish I was able to get a video of them all because my hand started getting tired from taking notes.

As to its impact on me, I don’t quite know how to explain it. You go to one of these events and see all these amazing people and think shark and minnow, and then realize you’re not the shark. It’s intimidating and it’s a bit disheartening. How did they make it and not me? Of course, they’ve probably been at it longer than I have, so something to strive for. That’s what really impacted me at WorldCon. Not only do I want to be a Big Fish someday, but I want to use that to help others reach that same level. My goal has always been to write a novel I can be proud of, that will represent me and my style and appeal to my audience, be it however big or small that is. But I also want to work with writers, hone craft, and build a community. And if that community grows as big as WorldCon, then all the better.

The professional reviews posted on Amazon seem to indicate that you could have agented your book to a publisher yet you decided to self-publish instead. What drove this decision?

Ha, really? I need to read those more often. I’m like a fifth grader who gets the test back and turns it face down before I see the grade. If it’s bad, then I’ll never need to know. Never worked out in school though.

Okay, but seriously, I am published with a publishing company on a romance novel I wrote a few years ago. That was a blast and a huge ego boost. I think a lot of that had to do with me being in school at the time. I took it as a form of vindication, that I had the chops for the world and could publish so I should do it. If I’d done a bit more research… Not that I have any regrets. I’m proud and stand by my work, but I’m not in that writing place right now, and I wanted something different.

For this series, I didn’t want to have to worry about a publisher or an agent. I’m not saying I wouldn’t have a heart attack and die with a smile on my face if one contacted me, but the truth is it is really awesome being in charge of my own writing. The time frames are mine, the words are mine, the rights are mine. And as troublesome as formatting Word documents are, it’s fun too. It’s a huge accomplishment and I’m so proud that I took that step to self-publish.  

You are an active member of at least two (that I know of) writers groups. In your opinion, does joining a writers group help an aspiring writer to improve their skills?

Three to four, depending on the month, actually.

Don’t ask.

But to answer the question:  yes. The most important lesson I learned in grad school wasn’t how to join nouns and verbs together in pleasing patterns, but that having a network of readers/writers to talk to helps to make your work better. Writers groups are formed by people all looking to get better, so even when you’re critiquing a story rather than reading it, you’re learning something more about your own skills. Every time you as a writer look at someone else’s work and can identify what’s happening in it, you grow and develop your skills. Every time someone offers advice on your work, your style improves and changes and gets better even if you don’t realize it. Having a group of people who are similar to you and believe in the same things and want those same things is hugely important to getting better.

Your writing tends to have a dark side to it that seems to be in direct conflict with your personality. If you don’t mind my asking, where does this come from?

I don’t know what you’re talking about. I only write about unicorns and sunshine…

Oh gosh, actually answering this question will make me sound like a nutcase which is kind of answer enough? No, not gonna let me get away with that? Shoot.

The truth of the matter is, angst sells. As children, we want to read about happily ever afters and fairy godmothers and angels who will save us. As adults, we know better, that the only one who is going to save us is ourselves. And sometimes to do good or be good, we have to be a little bit bad, and bad shouldn’t be overlooked, and the darker the saving, the more heart strings you can pull on.

Besides, I can’t help myself. I just really like being the heroine and saving the tortured soul, and as a writer, I get to do that but I need a little dark side to pull it off.

You have an MFA degree. Not everyone can afford to get one but, if they could, is an MFA something all writers should pursue?

I actually went for my MFA because I wanted, and still want, to be able to teach creative writing to people. But what I found was that the program was more about building a community of writers (as well as developing your own style).

So MFA, should or should not? Yes, you should, but not because you want the letters, but because you want to find that group of people who share the same love and passion as you. Writers are a different animal compared to readers. We’re self-conscious and terrified of others reading our work. It’s nice to have a community to turn to, who can be your support and you can support in turn.

If you had to give an aspiring writer one piece of advice to help them advance their writing skills, what would that be?

Find other writers to share your work with.

Depending on what I’m working on, I fall into one of two categories. The first is:  this is s*** and I should trash it now; the second:  thank God I have a day job. Oh, right, those are pretty much the same thing. Okay, the second is:  this ain’t half bad, maybe. The point is, no matter what stage I’m at, I’m not an objective reader. Your family, unfortunately, isn’t really objective either. I know, it’s a huge ego boost when your mom or your wife or your best friend reads your work and says it’s great, but we as writers don’t want a two word critique. Well, we do, but let’s be realistic here.

I really can’t express how important it is to have a good support structure for your writing and how important it is for you to be other writers’ support too. We’re a really solitary bunch of people, so it’s nice to know and have other people out there who are working for the same things you are.

Other than writing, what else do you enjoy doing (boating, mountain climbing, cave diving)?

Cave diving, for sure. Or not, the whole bats thing might freak me out a bit, or that’s because I watched Batman recently and have a newfound fear/appreciation for flying rodents, not sure.

I do a lot of reading, which is probably pretty obvious. I play volleyball. I spend a lot of time with my family. And I play the guitar. Not well, I might add, but I love being able to sing and play an instrument, even if it’s just the chords.

Do you have one author in particular that has shaped your writing and if so, who and why?

I’ve approached this question three times so far and still can’t figure out how to answer it. I don’t know how to choose! There are so many authors who have influenced me and my writing. Louise Erdrich, Edgar Allen Poe, Hemingway. And I know, they’re not fantasy or science fiction writers, not exactly, but they have such a great style with prose. Then there is Elizabeth Haydon and Anne Bishop, Sara Douglass and J.K. Rowling who create such vivid worlds that you just want to step into. But, since you’re making me choose, Robin McKinley. I hated to read as a kid but whenever I think of what I want to read and what I want to accomplish as I writer, I think of The Blue Sword and that’s who has most influenced me. 


Self-Publishing: Tools of the Trade

 I am about 50% done with my re-edit of Chroniech. This was the very first novel I published and it needs a lot of work. But, I don't want to change the story or alter it too much because it's been in circulation since 2009. That doesn't mean I can't fix things that are just plain wrong. One of the complaints was that the story reads too much like an encyclopedia. There's not much I can do about that because I want to give the reader a large amount of history of one of the key races. I'm working on shortening the historical summaries, but there's only so much I can do.

Another complaint was that the ending was too abrupt. Again, without changing the story there's little I can do. When I get to the ending, I will look for things I can do to make it better. When I'm done, if anyone has a current copy of Chroniech and would like a revised version, please let me know and I will gladly send it to you. I will remind everyone again when the editing is complete and the new version is released.

One more bit of news before I get to the main topic. Sales have been on a very slow decline over the past few months. Because I treat my writing as a business, this means I will not be making as many writing-related trips next year. I was thinking of attending WorldCon in Kansas City, but I'm almost certain I will not unless sales begin to increase. I will, however, be going to Launch Pad as long as it's still okay with Mike Brotherton.

Tools of the Trade
Ask someone to visualize a writer and some people will picture a person hunched over a tablet, pen or pencil in hand, scribbling away furiously under a naked lamp in a cramped, isolated room. Other see a person sitting in front of a keyboard in pretty much the same setting. For some writers, this is true. But, make a trip to your local bookstore or coffee shop and you might catch a writer sitting in front of a laptop, drinking a cup of coffee and occasionally looking up and observing the world around them. The person next to you on a plane making short notes or banging away on a netbook during the flight might be a writer. How about that person taking way too many pictures on his walk through Yellowstone National Park? Writers come in many forms and use many tools to perform their art.

I know authors who hand-write their first and second draft using the tried and true pen and paper. Most, like myself, do all their work on some type of computing device. Those who write by hand, must eventually transfer their prose into electronic form. These are the tools needed to get the words down and make them available to the rest of the world. They are the most visible tools of the trade and the ones people will always think of when asked to visualize a writer. But every writer must have a toolbox full of useful and often-used tools and most of these are invisible.

The first tool every writer uses is her brain. This massively parallel processing device has been shaped and honed by nature to learn and tell stories. Ancient humans developed language so they could communicate with each other and most early human knowledge was passed down from generation to generation in the form of stories. Modern man has invented writing so everyone can read another person’s story. That story begins in the mind. Our brain uses its senses and imagination to create memories which are split and recombined to create new stories.

But this is the 21st century and writers today should have modern tools in their toolbox. My toolbox is full of all sorts of things. Some I use every time I write. Others, gather dust but are within easy reach if I need them. The tool I use the most is Scrivener. This is my personal choice for writing my first and second drafts. Scrivener was built with writers in mind and–like any good tool–it pays to read the user’s manual. While writing, I will often use the internet to check facts and look up questionable ideas. I also make heavy use of Microsoft Excel. I have a complex set of equations I use to generate the numbers that appear in my hard science fiction books. I also use it to build my timelines.

After the second draft, I compile the Scrivener files into a single Word document. While I’m editing, I also use a program called TheSage to help generate different words and make sure I’m using the right word. All of these tools so far require another very powerful tool–my computer. I have a desktop machine with two monitors that I use extensively to keep reference material on-screen while I write. When I’m away from my home, I use a small netbook (10 inch screen). I keep the two computers synchronized through DropBox. In case you're curious, here is what my writing desk looks like:

Next to my writing desk, I have a collection of reference books as well as books on how to write. Writer’s Digest has an extremely large selection of very good books to help you master your writing skills. I always have at least one such book that I’m reading. Also in my collection, is the Associated Press Handbook of Style as well as a couple of basic grammar books. A new edition, The Chicogo Manual of Style, is on its way and will be on the shelf in a few days. Sometimes it’s easier to look things up in an old-fashioned hard-copy than on the internet.

To keep track of the business end of things, I use Quicken. I have a completely separate Quicken file just for my writing business. I use NeatDesk to scan in and archive all of my documents and I keep hard copies in my desk organized in folders by year. My writing area is also decorated with a large number of dragons. These are my friends and they are there to guide me if I get stuck. Other ‘tools’ include my friends and family as well as all the authors I’ve met through Launch Pad. They are there to help if I need it. I subscribe electronically to two magazines (Writer’s Digest and The Writer) that I normally read cover-to-cover on a tablet device.

There’s Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn to give me a social presence. I’m a member of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s of America SFWA, I belong to Codex, and I occasionally poke around the SFF World forums. All of these, even if they are seldom used, are tools. A writer must use every trick available, every tiny source of inspiration, and every means to promote their work to be successful. It’s hard work!

Other writers have different tools. Some write their entire novel using Google Docs. Another very useful tool is Grammarly. If you’re weak on Grammar, a subscription to this service might be of benefit to you. There is also a free version available that works quite well with Google Chrome. Writer’s conferences, editors, agents, writing retreats, workshops, the list seems endless. When I first began writing, I thought a typewriter and a stack of clean paper along with my imagination was all I needed. No longer.

You might be wondering, all these tools apply to all types of writers. Which specific tools do I, as a self-published author, need? In this instance, there are no differences between a self-published author and one who prefers to publish traditionally. Self-published authors will need to find an editor and someone to do their covers on their own. These are normally supplied by a traditional publisher. The only difference between the two types of writers is how the books are published. Listing them here, can also give a new writer an idea of what they're getting into. When you stop and think about it, a writer's toolbox is packed full and is never complete.

Next week, if I can swing it, I’ll be interviewing a self-published author who is a good friend of mine. She writes fantasy and has recently released a new book.