"Roundheads and Ramblings"
Applications and software
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
2. Describe your book ‘Beyond All Price’ in 30
words or less.
3. What was the hardest part of writing your
4. What books have had the greatest influence
5. Briefly share with us what you do to market
6. How do you spend your time when you are not
7. What are you working on next?''
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
"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.
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.
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.
Has this ever happened to you?
- You're in an airport, facing a long delay between flights, and you realize you are going to miss an important deadline. The document you need to submit within hours is on your home computer, and you have nothing with you but your smartphone or a laptop. You need Dropbox.
- You've just finished deleting a bunch of outdated files, only to discover that you also deleted something important. You need Dropbox.
- You're on vacation and want to send some great photos to a friend without revealing your location to all of Facebook. You need Dropbox.
- You're in a library with dozens of shelves of books on your research topic, but you can't find your working bibliography. You need Dropbox.
When I was working on my dissertation, back in the day when computers were a rarity rather than a fact of everyday life, one of my professors advised keeping a copy of my dissertation in a fireproof spot. She suggested the oven, since most ovens are well-insulated. Her second choice was the freezer. "What will you do if there's a fire in your apartment?" she asked. "Years of work could be turned into ashes in minutes." That was enough to give any graduate student nightmares.
Today, of course, the recurring fear is a computer crash -- one unprotected by a backup file. Gremlins attack files without warning. The power goes off before you save. The trash gets accidentally emptied. If you've never lost something you were working on, you are either incredibly lucky or more careful than anyone I know.
I'm sleeping better these days because I now use a simple but elegant program called Dropbox. This form of cloud computing saves and protects anything I store in it. It makes my saved documents instantly available on any computer or mobile device I may be using anywhere in the world. And, if I make changes to one of those documents, it syncs the changes on all my devices, so that the newest version is always awaiting me, wherever I may be.
Dropbox offers two gigabytes of storage for free. If you need more than that (and you probably won't), you can purchase 50 GB for $10.00 a month or 20 GB for $20.00 a month. I've been using my basic free version for over a year without coming close to filling it.
The program can be installed on almost any computer or mobile device. I have it on my desktop, my iPhone, my iPad, and my laptop, but I've also been able to use it on the computer in a hotel business center by simply entering the URL that links to my Dropbox. You can open your Dropbox without being online, too. if you deposit a new document, it will sync with your other devices as soon as you go back online.
It provides other services as well. You can share photos or music with your friends by providing them with the link to your Dropbox. And best of all, it has a 30-day backup feature for any file it contains, even if you delete the original on your other devices.
This magical little blue box sits on my top toolbar, right next to my volume control and my date/time icons. It's that important to how I manage my files.