"Roundheads and Ramblings"
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Every Author Needs a Dead Mule
As a Writer, You Must Know Your Audience
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Getting organized

Getting to Know and Love Scapple

What does that word mean?  Think of it as a combination of "scrap" -- "scalpel" (cutting edge) --"scaffold" -- "scramble" -- "scrabble" -- in short a new word to describe that piece of paper on which you doodle until ideas start to flow and make sense. You know the one -- the piece of paper that fills up before you have all your plot elements down?  The one you spilled coffee on, just when you knew what you were going to write about? The one that made perfect sense in the middle of the night but is unreadable in the morning?


Well, you can put those so-called idea-scraps in the nearest trash bin.  Now, if you have a MAC running Snow Leopard or above and Intel, you can use Scapple, a never-ending, infinitely-expandable piece of paper for your computer.  And your random thoughts can end up looking like this:



Scapple is not-really mind-mapping software; it's more like freeform virtual paper. It's proof that your random thoughts really do have a pattern or organization behind them.  You can start anywhere on the sheet and branch out in any direction.  You can include totally unrelated notes, connect ideas in any direction, group items together, move any one note (or any number) from one place to another.  You can apply colors, borders, and shapes if you want them. And when you are all though, you can print out your diagram, or save it in PDF, or drag and drop it into Scrivener.  How cool is that!

I've been using it to map out my main story line and its sub-plots for my next novel.  I've been using clusters of notes for each chapter, and then moving them over to Scrivener for reference.  And when I've completed a draft of a whole chapter, I can drag the new Scrivener note card from the corkboard view back into Scapple, so that it shows up as a completed chapter. Here's a small clip that shows some completed chapters in pink, the next chapters as topics in green, and related plain notes for each chapter.


I was a beta tester for this new application, so I'm  probably biased. However, I'm loving it for the way it keeps me on track.  Apologies to those of you using Windows.  I suspect a form you can use will appear in due course, since you now can get Scrivener (they're made by the same company), but this is so new that it likely will not appear for a while.


In the meantime, if you have the right hardware, this is software you cannot afford to ignore.  It only costs $14.99, and you can get a 30-day free trial if you like .  Order it at http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scapple.php#wrapper-content

Where Did You Say We Were?


I'll also be doing a lot of geographical research in order to fill in Scrivener's Settings Templates.  I haven't finished any of these yet, but here's the format:

Edisto Island Plantation

    Role in Story:   Setting for first quarter of book

    Related Characters:   the Grenvilles and their slaves

    Season:   winter/spring  The plantation families arrive in November and leave by May to avoid the worst of the insects and the epidemics of swamp fever.

    Unique Features:   Unusually rich soil

    Description:   

    Sights:   swaying oat grass, sea birds
    Sounds:   ocean surf
    Smells:   pluff mud

    Notes:   
I've been doing some research in this area already.  The ideal solution to place description comes from actual visits, and I'm planning to do a lot of that in March of this year.  But for settings from 150 years ago, today's views are not always helpful. Wherever possible I'll try to find photos and maps like these of the spots I'm talking about -- a setting's details need to be consistent, just like eye colors.  For well-known locations, like Charleston during the Civil War, there are several great resources, including a book of CW photos put together by Jack Thompson.  It sits at my elbow. And for the smaller details, I'll probably turn once again to another book on my desk -- this one called Tideland Treasure -- which explores wildlife and vegetation in the Sea Islands.  If one of my characters gets thrown when his horse bucks at the sight of a snake (and one of them is going to have that happen), I want to know what kind of snake it was.

That's a rough look at the kinds of preliminary work to be done if I'm going to manage the switch from pantser to plotter. More next week.

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.

Second Thoughts on Pre-Publication

Here's the second step in the diagram I published on Monday.  Once again, I see some problems. Let's start with "Design Book Cover." By all means, start to think about your cover early.  Readers are confronted with millions of choices when they look for a book, and your cover needs to be able to catch their attention quickly.  

Try walking into a bookstore with no real purpose in mind.  Just stroll around and notice which books catch your eye.  Which ones fairly jump off the display table to say, "Hey!" and which ones make you curious once you have taken a closer look?  Many factors go into book cover design, and unless  you already have artistic ability or design experience, you may not immediately understand why some covers are better than others.  Look at how many different elements appear in your favorite covers. Is there just one image or many?  Are the colors a hint about the content? Does the cover image wrap around the book from front to back?  Do you like cutouts? embossing? glitter?

When you've found a few designs you like, try walking away from them and looking back at a distance.  While seeing your book prominently displayed on a bookstore table is the ideal, how will prospective readers actually encounter it?  Will it stand out from others of the same type? Will nothing but the spine show on a shelf? Will buyers go online and see only a thumbnail version?  And if so, are the elements on the cover big enough to be visible in a thumbnail?  All of these are issues you should understand before the actual design process begins.

But design it at this stage?  Not so fast!   Are you experienced enough to do your own design?  I know I wasn't.  I had an idea of what I wanted to show on the cover, but it took a professional to do the actual positioning, the trim sizing, and the font selection. Depending on what company you choose to handle the production of your books, you may need to pay for their design services or hire a designer to prepare to cover copy for  you. Don't scrimp here.  A poorly designed cover can lose a prospective sale in just a few seconds.  At least wait until you have production details set before you make a final decision on the cover.

Now, a brief word on copyright.  Authors NEVER need to pay for (or even register) their copyrights.  They come automatically when you write anything.  So don't let anyone charge you for that copyright.  Just make sure your manuscript has that all-important symbol: Copyright ©Your Name and Year of Publication. It goes on the second page, the reverse of your title.  That's it.  That's all you ever have to do. You may, however, want to look into obtaining a Library of Congress cataloging number, but your production company should take care of that for you.

That leaves two other optional tasks in this category, but I don't understand why you should even consider NOT buying your own ISBN numbers and forming  your own business.  Here's why you need to do both.

1. A production company will offer you a free ISBN number, but its numbers will clearly identify that company as the publisher and may even limit  your rights to do other things with the book at a later date.  You can purchase your own ISBN from Bowker for a fee of $125.00 or so.  Or you can buy a set of 10 numbers for twice that.  The numbers never expire, so if  you plan to write more than one book, or publish in more than one format, get your own set of 10 in the beginning.

2. Forming  your own publishing company will make you feel important and make you rich!  (Well, maybe not the rich part, but it is an ego boost.) More important, if you don't have your own company imprint, like mine, Katzenhaus Books, your books will carry the name of the production company you choose.  Not a good idea, especially when most readers do not understand the difference between a print on demand company and a vanity press. Starting your own business is as easy as just doing it.  You don't even have to file papers on it formally until it is making a profit of several thousand dollars.  And in the meantime, while  you are waiting for your book sales to make you rich, you can at least take your expenses off of your income tax if you are the sole proprietor of a small business.  What's not to love?

So there you have it.  For pre-publication, start looking at book covers with a critical eye, name your company, and buy some ISBNs.  You're in business.


A Self-Publishing Checklist

This checklist comes from Shelley Hitz at self-publishing-coach.com.  She says:

"Self publishing is a comprehensive task.  Actually there are several steps involved:  writing, pre-publication tasks, formatting, publishing and book marketing.  To help you visualize the process, I've put together a "Self Publishing Checklist" report and mindmap. I'm a very visual person and a checklist like this really helps me wrap my mind around the process."
 
I'm happy to pass it along. Later this week, I'll be posting a series of comments on each of the sections for those of you who need more than a mindmap. Stay tuned!


Step 1: Writing












Step 2: Pre-Publication












Step 3: Publishing Print Books















Step 4: Publishing eBooks















Step 5: Marketing