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.