While preparing for my blog article today, it dawned on me that I have discussed the fiction writing career more from the perspective of an artist rather than a business professional. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, I should point out that writing is as much a business as it is an art form. If I or any other author is to succeed in this business then we must treat our writing like the long term investment that it is.
To that end, I wanted to switch focus from basic writing mechanics like plot and grammar to discuss successful business practices. Today, for example, I would like to discuss a few tools of the writing trade and why they are important.
Writing can be a fairly cheap hobby/occupation. Your starting expenses may range anywhere from $450 to $5000 depending how deep into the writing profession that you want to dive and how much equipment you already have on hand. I actually started out writing with a pen and a spiral notebook. Once I learned the manuscript formatting requirements for publication submission; however, I switched to writing all of my stories on the computer because editing and reformatting was so much easier once the tale was typed. Below is my personal list of writing tools and why I use each of them.
My desktop computer. I write most of my work on my desktop computer for several reasons. I have fewer distractions in the computer office than I do elsewhere in my house. My computer has a full-sized keyboard, which I prefer. It also has a large monitor screen, which comes in handy when I need to have two documents open side-by-side at one time. I’ve known other writers who prefer using a laptop computer over a desktop and that is great. As long as you have a computer with access to the internet, you should be fine.
Microsoft Word word-processing software. Other writers I know use Open Office, but I like Word’s treatment of punctuation and .rtf files much better. Some fiction publications accept .doc or .docx files, but many I have seen prefer .rtf format. Open Office has a harder time processing that file format so, despite the fact that Open Office is free, I use Microsoft Word.
Microsoft Excel. I used this program sparingly when I began writing, but now I work with it constantly to keep track of my daily writing word count and to chronicle my finances. At the beginning of each year I set a yearly word count goal and then break that overall goal into monthly, weekly, and daily word count goals. A single Excel spreadsheet helps me keep track of all of these number counts seamlessly and easily. I also use Excel spreadsheets to track my yearly expenses and my annual income for general business and tax purposes.
Reliable flash drive. I do not store my writing on my computer except as a once-a-week backup. Instead I put all of my writing on a reliable flash drive or off-site storage or both. If your computer fries with a month’s worth of unsaved writing on it, it’s all over but the crying. A simple eight gigabyte (GB) flash drive should work perfectly for this purpose because writing does not take up much space. Until 2014, I kept all nine years’ worth of my writing sitting on a little four GB drive with plenty of room to spare. Now that I’ve started creating my own cover art; however, I’ve switched to a 32GB flash drive. I usually back up the flash drive once a week and I back up my computer once a month. Since off-site storage is not an option for me due to our snail-paced internet, I always take my writing flash drive with me on trips in case something bad happens at the house while I’m gone (fire, tornado, theft, etc.).
Writer’s Digest magazine. You will find some of the best general writing advice in this periodical. It also boasts some fascinating interviews with other authors, reports on the changing publishing industry, great tips for submissions, and more. The website also has tutorials and seminars posted, but I would be wary of these as they are a bit overpriced for what you get. A year’s subscription to the magazine is currently roughly $20 for print and $10 for digital.
The Chicago Manual of Style book. Becoming accustomed to reading and finding information in this book takes some time, but it is a wealth of information on everything dealing with correct grammar, punctuation, citations, and more. You can buy the book for about $65 or pick up the online once-a-year subscription for $35. I personally chose the book over the website because it is cheaper in the long run. New additions of the book come out about once every four to seven years, so I will spend $65 every four years for the book instead of $105 every four years for the online subscription. The one catch, of course, is that the website does get updated far faster than the book.
Merriam-Webster dictionary and thesaurus. These are the go-to resources for all wordsmiths. The best part about them is that they are online and free! I also keep hardcopies of both in my research bookcase for days when the internet dies.
Topic-specific research books. My personal research library holds tons of books dealing with topics from horse breeds and tree species to types of poisons and medieval era siege engines. I have all of them in hardcopy instead of electronic because research eBooks still haven’t perfected their glossary and index systems yet (although they are getting better). I always check my local library first for needed research information. Then I scour the bargain sections of bookstores looking for anything interesting. I’m always amazed at what treasures I can find in the sale and clearance sections of libraries and bookstores. The best part about my buying books for research purposes is that they count as a necessary writing business expense when doing my taxes.
An Author Website. It is never too early for a writer to start building his or her online presence. Being easily accessible to potential fans is a must in today’s information age. I use my WordPress website AlyciaChristine.com in combination with social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and a dedicated photography website to help others stay informed about what I’m doing. I publish weekly blog articles on my main site so that there is always something new on my site. The cost of running and maintaining my online presence through two sites is roughly $60 a year because I don’t include advanced features like videos or podcasts on my site. For others who do use more advanced features, it will be more expensive. For those who only want to maintain a simple blog, the cost is much cheaper or even free. However, I do highly suggest that you maintain your own dedicated website as soon as you can afford it so that you have the rights to your own domain name and written material.
My laptop computer. I use my laptop to write while I am on trips because it is fairly small and has a great battery life. The cheapest laptop on the market will be just fine for writing because writing is not a very graphic-intensive pastime. My little laptop has enough storage capacity to hold my writing, music, and quite a few high and low resolution photos in case I need to write while on the road.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software. I have a love/hate relationship with this program. Because I am so soft-spoken, the program is not nearly as accurate for me as it is for other users. However, it does do a fairly good job of recording and transcribing any dialogue scenes that I voice. My best advice about this program is to pick up the home edition at Christmas time when it is on sale. Normally it is around $150, but I have seen it on Amazon.com for sell prices as low as $50.
Encyclopedia Britannica. A current online subscription to the encyclopedia will cost you about $70 per year and has far more accurate information than Wikipedia. It is worth the investment only if your library research fails first or if you just like the convenience of searching credible online sources for your information. Because of my cranky internet, I mark this tool as optional.
Quicken or QuickBooks financial software. Because I am my writing business’s own owner, I have to know the ends and outs of doing my own finances. This includes tracking my company’s income, expenses, required taxes, and other accounting things. In order to help me keep track of my finances and create expense reports, I have given serious thought to using Quicken instead of the more cumbersome Excel spreadsheets that I used at the beginning of my business. As my business grows, I’ll likely invest in QuickBooks software over Quicken because it has more versatility.
Duotrope.com website. Whenever you are looking for a place to submit stories for publication, this site has current information on all of the latest publishing markets in an easy searchable database. At a cost of $5 per month, the site even allows you to search by length of work that you wish to submit, whether it is flash fiction (less than 1000 words long), a short story (1001-7500 words long), a novelette (7501-17,500 words long), a novella (17,501-40,000 words long), or a novel (40,001 words long or longer). The site will also help you keep your submissions to different publications organized. Always double-check and follow the submission requirements of the specific publisher before submitting your work.
A projects tracker. My personal projects tracker is simply a Microsoft Word document in which I keep a bulleted list of all of the different projects I did each day in a specific year. It is also the place where I keep a basic list of yearly business and personal project goals and a To-Do List. I do all of this as a way to keep myself more organized, which paramount when running a business. A fictitious daily entry in the Projects Tracker looks like this:
Monday, September 1, 2014: Labor Day
-Devotional: read Bible, Romans 1
-Exercised: 30 minute stationary bike ride
-Writing: “A Masterpiece” short story: edited wrote 600 new words (5000 words total)
-Photography: photographed and processed cover art for “A Masterpiece” novella
-Editing: continued reading and implemented beta readers’ edits on Great and Wonderful book, stopped on page 250
-Formatting/Publishing: finished formatting and uploaded “Lovely Work” Smashwords Edition (ISBN: 000-0-000000-00-0)
-Formatting/Publishing: finished formatting and uploaded “Lovely Work” Kindle Edition (ISBN: 000-0-000000-01-0)
-Emailed contact regarding author interview
-Blog: wrote rough draft of “Inspiring and Awesome” blog article for tomorrow’s publication
-Graphic Design: began work on cover art for “A Masterpiece” novella
-Laundry: darks, whites, delicates, towels, sheets
-Folded and put up: darks, whites, towels, sheets
-Cooked spaghetti for dinner
-Watched Great Movie during and after dinner with husband
-Played Great Video Game before bed
Most of these daily project entries are fulfillments of the To-Do List located at the top of the document and they therefore help me work toward my stated year-end goals located at the end of the document thus helping me stay on track throughout the year.
My bedside scratch-pad. Sometimes the inspiration of certain story scenes will actually come to me through a dream. Consequently I always keep a scratch pad and pen beside my bed in case I need to write down one of these unconscious epiphanies.
Adobe Photoshop image software. I have Photoshop listed only because of the program’s value for marketing purposes. I highly recommend this product if you ever plan to create your own book cover art, convention table banners, bookmarks, and other promotional memorabilia. That being said, make sure that whatever you create looks perfectly professional otherwise you’ll do more harm to your personal brand than good. Also Adobe programs are graphic-intensive and so they tend to be computer memory hogs. I therefore only use them on my desktop computer, which has a much higher processing capability than my laptop.
Adobe InDesign software. Large and small presses alike often use the Adobe InDesign program to create professional layouts of books for print runs. I myself just created a beautiful print version of my book MUSINGS using InDesign. Again I caution anyone tempted to purchase this software. Make sure that you are sufficiently familiar with the software to make your products look professional. I myself had lots of past experience creating magazine layouts with InDesign long before I actually used the software to create a print book.
Finally for those of you on a tight budget, I suggest investing in a laptop (~$300-700), Microsoft Office Home and Student Edition software (~$140), a small flash drive ($10-30), free online dictionaries, free library books, and a personal website ($15-30). As your business grows, you can buy more tools with your profits. Also please remember that buying software outright is almost always cheaper and more reliable than subscribing or renting software online. I also do not suggest buying any electronic equipment either refurbished or used.
I hope these tools help charge your creative juices! Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!
The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!