"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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A Day for a Double Celebration
Ring of Fire
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Applications and software

Second Mouse -- Before You Start

Here are some quick tips to think about before you decide that self-publishing is for you.

1. Run like the wind away from anyone who promises that you can "get-rich-quick." There are possibly more scammers out there than there are would-be writers. And they are all after your money.  I've spend  a lot of time over the past two years, reviewing books for the Military Writers' Society of America, and the variety of books coming to me has made me aware of problems I didn't even think about before.  I can often tell that a writer has fallen for a get-rich-scheme without ever reading a word. Paper editions are tacky--no margins; odd, sometimes unreadable fonts; unlabeled illustrations; no publication metadata. And electronic versions have gaps in spacing or overlapping text. no navigation aids, typos, or inappropriate content.  I've also heard all too many stories of authors who have been conned into purchasing thousands of books with no possible hope of ever selling enough copies to cover the costs. So the first step, if you decide to self-publish, is to look at lots of books and pay attention to who has produced them. Reputable assistance for a self-publisher is out there, but you have to know where to look.  Don't guess. Ask!


2. Sample new software choices. Shop around until you find what works for you. Developers are always coming up with ways to make the writer's task simpler. Take advantage of idea-mappers, note organizers, and word processors that also do electronic formatting.  There really is life after Microsoft Word. I have to admit that "The Second Mouse" is about five years out of date when it comes to new programs that are available.  Since the book came out, I have learned to use Scrapple (to map out plots and family relationships; Grammarly (to do a quick editing pass), and Vellum (to format tests for both print and electronic editions). Add those functions to the other recommendations the Mouse gives you, and you should be well on your way to producing a workable manuscript.


3. You can't do it all yourself. Concentrate on writing, and leave tasks like editing to a professional. It's expensive to hire an editor or cover designer, but it pays dividends down the road. The trick here to be completely honest with yourself about your talents and shortcomings. Hate grammar and spelling? Don't edit your own work. Don't know anything about photography? Find a professional. Colorblind? Don't try to design your own cover. But if you are a computer whiz with experience in publishing your company's newsletter, maybe you won't need to find a skilled layout designer, 

4. Finally, no matter what else you decide, don't take that first step until you are ready to treat your writing as a business. You're going to be dealing with contracts, invoices, order-fulfillment, income tax implications, advertising and marketing, and customer satisfaction. Writing your first book is an exhilerating experience, and a demanding one. Don't treat it as a hobby.



Want to know more? Get your free Kindle copy here: 

https://www.amazon.com/Second-Mouse-Gets-Cheese-ebook/dp/B0076B1TE2

Someone's Buzzing about my Book

In The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese, I made recommendations about useful software and valuable sources of free publicity. Here's what I wrote about a website called BookBuzzr (and no, that's not a typo!)


BookBuzzr. This site produces a widget for your book, which you then add to your website, Facebook page, or other social networking sites. You can include part or all of the manuscript—whatever you are willing to offer for free. Clicking on a thumbnail of your book brings up a surprisingly realistic book, complete with turning pages. Once you have signed up, BookBuzzr keeps coming up with new ways to publicize your book. If I had only one publicity choice, this would be it.

Here's another example of why I find them so useful. Several days ago, I had a request from the managers of BookBuzzr to do an interview about my best-selling book, Beyond All Price. These are the questions they asked:

1. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
2. Describe your book ‘Beyond All Price’ in 30 words or less. 
3. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
4. What books have had the greatest influence on you?
5. Briefly share with us what you do to market your book?
 6. How do you spend your time when you are not writing?
 7. What are you working on next?''

If you'd like to read the answers, the interview has gone live on http://www.freado.com/users/interview/23109/carolyn-schriber and also on their blog http://www.bookbuzzr.com/blog/author-interviews/


Writers, Here's a Solution for Many of Your Problems

Yesterday on a Facebook page for writers, we had a discussion about a piece of software that has not been available to Windows users until now. As a long-time MAC fan, I have always recommended Scrivener as the answer to a writer's prayer, and I did so again in The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese. Here's a section of that article that lured one reader to give it a try:

"Now that Scrivener is available for both MAC and Windows, I can’t imagine anyone needing anything else. It’s an endlessly versatile program that manages to keep almost every item of the book-writing process in one spot.

"There’s a section for research, which can hold notes, pictures, maps, and “messages-to-self.” I keep lots of pictures there, so that when I am writing about a particular location or character, I can open a picture and keep it on my screen while I write. That adds detail to my descriptions and saves me from making silly mistakes about things like what you can see from a front porch or whether a character sports a mustache.

"In fact, it has a whole section for character sketches. You can fill out their questions about each of your characters, defining their back story, their foibles, their nervous quirks, their speech impediments, their hair and eye color, their family relationships—whatever is important to define the character. Then while you are writing, it is easy to click on a character name in the left-hand column and jump to a description.

"Scrivener provides a separate template for locations, too, where you can record thing like vegetation, wildlife, smells, sounds. Is your location overgrown with vegetation? You’ll need to list what kinds of things grow there. Are bugs important to your story, as they may be for mine? Then you can add their descriptions here. My location files have picture, of course, but also descriptions of the smell of pluff mud and the clicking sound palmetto bugs make as they stomp across a wood floor.

Do you write in chapters or in scenes? Scrivener offers you both options, and once you have all the parts in place, it can put the entire manuscript together for you—in the right order, with chapter numbers. Are you used to working with index cards? Scrivener can display your material in that format, with little cards tacked to a virtual corkboard. You can color code the cards, and you can move them about as you would if you were tacking them to a wall. I used this feature to outline all the chapters of The Road to Frogmore. Need more or less writing space? Stretch it out or shrink it. Want a blank screen with nothing but your words filling the screen in front of you? You can do that, too."


Disclaimer: I have no connection to this company and have not received anything in exchange for my positive review.  I just really like their product.

Taxes Aren't Fun, but They Can Be Easy

I was just about to brag about my decision to make no more resolutions when my world became very complicated.  I'll spare you the details of the six deaths of good friends we've had in the 2 weeks since Christmas. I've managed to clear out the last vestiges of Christmas, finished the final edit of "the Second Mouse Gets the Cheese," and designed a new bookmark feataturing the Mouse. But the topper came with a call from my accountant, reminding me that because of the high volume of sales of "Beyond All Price" in the last quarter of 2011, I owed the IRS a quarterly payment on my 2011 taxes. All she needed, she told me, was a list of all my income and all (read: ALL) my book-related expenditures over the past year.

Have I been keeping those records? Well . . . sort of. I have a couple of file folders at the corner of my desk into which I've been stuffing receipts and credit-card bills. And I had started out last year by downloading a highly recommended program for organizing those receipts.  I just hadn't actually kept the records up to date.  Arrrghh!

Gamely I dug out all those little slips of paper and opened my expense record, only to be horrified by how complicated it was.  It had a separate sheet for each month, with a row for every day in the month. And each sheet had some 35 categories of expenses, each with its own column on a spread sheet that measured some 18 inches across. That meant I was looking at over 8000 little cells to be filled in before the actual calculations even began. I started sorting my little pieces of paper into monthly piles.  I didn't take long before I realized that this program was major over-kill, and much too complicated.

When I couldn't find a simpler version that seemed designed for the kinds of expenses writers and indie publishers incur, I decided to design my own.  The result is a simple template that works on any computer that can handle Excel.  It put all my expenses onto just 2 pages. Just set your page to landscape and under the print function, scale to about 85% or 1 page wide and two pages tall.It would even be possible to squish the data a bit more and get it all onto a single page.

The layout is simple.  It has three sections: one for travel expenses, one for day-to-day expenses, and one for including the figures for a dedicated home office. You get just one cell for each expense during a given month, so you may have to do a bit of addition on your own--adding all your postage, for example. And travel mileage needs to be converted to cost by multiplying it by the IRS allowance for mileage.  (That's not as complicated as it sounds. The current allowance is $0.50 a mile, so you just divide the number of miles by 2 and add a dollar sign.)

When you're finished entering your numbers, the spreadsheet calculates each type of expense (in the rows) over the course of the year and the total for each month (in 12 columns.)  At the bottom right corner, you get the grand total.  Simple.  
There are also some blank rows, so if you need to add some new categories, you can just type them in. The "total" formula is already entered in the blank cell at the end of each row.  I finished my calculations in a single morning.

I was so easy that I decided to share the template. If you'd like a free copy, just go to my website and fill in your name and e-mail address in the opt-in box.  I'll e-mail you the template in an attachment.

Is Anyone Taking Notes?

The third application in my trinity of software I cannot do without is a program called "Evernote." By rights, it should be called every-note, because that's what it will hold. Like Dropbox, and to a lesser extend, Scrivener, Evernote uses cloud computing to make sure you are connected to your work, no matter where you are.  You can install it on Windows or MAC desktops, almost any smartphone, laptops and notebooks, and tablets such as iPad. Every few minutes, Evernote syncs your files with all your electronic devices.  You can start to write an article at your home desk, add notes from your iPhone during a bus trip, stop in the library to add some bibliographic entries, and finish the article at  your desk at work.  Traveling? No problem.  Just log onto your account from any computer, and edit that article.

The Evernote design starts with a single note.  You give it a title, a tag or two, and start typing.  You can attach photos, audio or video clips, data files, websites, and PDFs to that note if you like.  Once you have more than one note, you have the beginnings of a notebook, which can hold as many notes as you like.  And if you have several related notebooks, you can put them into a stack, which will only count as one of your permitted 250 notebooks.

Let me give you an example of how I use this application.  I have a stack for each book I am working on. So, imagine a a stack called "The Road to Frogmore." In that stack are several notebooks. One is labeled "Characters." Its individual notes contain character sketches of each character in the book.  There are also notebooks for "Plot Points,"  "Settings," "Historical Events," "Photos," "Maps," and "Bibliography."  There are also stacks called "Beyond All Price," "A Scratch with the Rebels," "The Second Mouse Gets the Cheese," and a mysterious one provisionally called "Gus."

But not all my notebooks are related to writing.  I have one on "Trips," one for "Recipes," one for "Media Contacts," and one for "Christmas." All the notes are searchable by their tags, even across notebooks, so that I can turn up a Christmas dinner menu in one and find a recipe for Christmas fruit cake in another. And then I can use those details in a book chapter about Christmas with the Roundheads.

Evernote also prides itself on building a whole community for its users. They have a blog, where users can discuss new ideas, and an ongoing library of instructional videos.  They also feature what is called the Evernote Trunk of compatible  products and services.  As just one example, Crafts Magazine provides whole notebooks of recipes and Do-It-Yourself projects that you can download for free. 

If you already have a note-taking program that works for you, you may not want to take the time to move all your materials.  But for anyone who is just starting to get organized, I cannot recommend this application highly enough.