Traditionally Published Authors a Step Closer to Indies?

One of my favourite “traditionally published authors,” Kevin J Anderson, recently posted about what he called a ground breaking change in the publishing industry: a new service called Cunable, which allows authors to sell their published works as eBooks without going through a major distributor. You can read it here. It is indeed a big change, but what does it mean for the Indie Publishing Community?

There are those in the community who are much better versed in how Cunable will affect self-publishing, if it will at all–but I wanted to comment on it. I’ve started to see Anderson as a champion for the eBook format; he’s released a lot of his back catalogue as eBooks on his own website, and seems eager to encourage e-reading. It helps that he’s a major voice in the sci-fi and fantasy genres–he gives exposure to the format.

And now, he’s embarking on this experiment with Cunable. The creator of this service, John Grace, describes it as “Self Retailing for the Published Author,” and it seems very close to how Indie writers are publishing and selling their books.

Basically, Grace is concerned with putting money into the hands of authors, insteads of publishers. In an interview on Kirin Design, he points out that an author doesn’t get a lot of the revenue from their own work, and that this is something that can change. It’s part of what motivates the Indie Community, which gets a large percentage of sales compared to going through one of the Big Five publishers (if you can get there at all). Indeed, Grace admits that he was inspired by the “growth and success” of the self-publishing model, and sees it as a way for published author to “eliminate the retailer channel.”
Of course, Indies see another (and more important) benefit to self-publishing–we get our work out directly to those who want to read it, and can communicate with our network of readers. I think Cunable will fulfil this goal too, though Grace doesn’t explicitly reference it.

Grace would like to see the Big Five sign on with his service so he can distribute published works through his website, or allow authors to distribute through theirs. Anderson says that the 30-35% cut that publishers normally get from sales would instead be split between Cunable and the author–I’m not sure how happy publishers would be about that, but it does sound like a good idea for people who just want to write for a living. Really, it’s about taking the publisher out of the picture; getting the book directly from the author, no middleman, no fuss. Another reason Indies do what they do. I’m glad a person like Anderson is involved in this,  as he could give Cunable some real momentum. It will be interesting to see where they go.

But what does this all mean? The first thing that popped into my mind when I read the blog was that published authors are going to start flooding the market. Anderson has already dipped his toe in, and I could see others following him. And that’s good on one hand, because it gives even more credence to self-publishing and to the eBook format. But on the other hand, I don’t think self-publishing needs more credence–and the system itself could potentially change.

The funny thing about Community is that it’s (ironically) exclusionary. A community of like minded people will either exclude those who aren’t of “like mind,” or change its own definition to welcome them. I see the latter happening here; if Cunable takes off and traditionally published authors start joining the ranks of the self-published, the Indie Community changes. It may not be a bad change–maybe the traditionalists will join the ranks of Indies, something that’s already been happening for some time. This could only strengthen the community.
But–and this is the thing that I really wonder about–it could also mean greater competition. One of the hardest things about self-publishing is that the marketing is all up to you. It’s challenging, and I think it takes a special type of motivation to get it done right. But put those people up against someone who has an established name, and the competition gets a lot more fierce. I loved Anderson’s Captain Nemo, for example, but I think Lindsey Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge novels are better. An uninitiated reader given the choice between them might go with the name they recognise (though I have to give props to Buroker, arguably one of the most recognisable names in self-publishing). I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing–but it’s something to watch as it develops.

The one big difference I’m seeing, though, is pricing. Anderson’s prices haven’t changed since partnering with Cunable. His current Zombie PI series Dan Shamble is selling for around $13 a book–most Indie books hover between $1 and $5, and given some of the great percentages Indies get, both can potentially earn about the same from each sale. But–and this is a big but–given a choice between a $5 eBook and a $13 eBook, many will choose the lower price. For Cunable, I think this is inescapable–they’re still distributing books that are under a publisher’s contract. But for a company moving into the self-publishing model, it’s an interesting complication.

At any rate, as I said above, there are those better versed in the self-publishing model who can comment on this development more eloquently than I…but it’s a very interesting development, and I’m excited to see where it leads. I applaud Anderson for getting on board, and my big hope is that this will encourage the continued paradigm shift for publishing. At the very least, it helps with distribution and accessibility–and in the end, getting more books into the hands of readers is what it’s all about.

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Indie Review: What We Saw

 I have a bad habit when it comes to reading books: I read ahead.

I’m not one of those people who read the last page first, but I do tend to skip paragraphs sometimes, or look to the bottom of the page when I get to the end of a chapter so I can see the cliffhanger. I always go back and read what I glossed over, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. And it’s not a common thing: it only happens when I can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next. I take it as an indication that I’m so into the book that I want to read it faster than I’m capable of doing.

This was the case with Ryan Casey’s new release–and first novel–What We Saw.

I’ve mentioned Casey on the blog before, with a review of his short story collection, Something in the Cellar. What We Saw is in the same vein–a nice suspense story with a few twists. Casey is really damn good at writing tension, and this book is chock full of it. When I got to the end of Chapter 7–even though I’d suspected what would happen–I had to put the book down for a minute to catch my breath. After that, it never lets up–I read more than half the book in one sitting. This is the kind of novel that readers search for: it grabs hold and doesn’t let go until that final page–and even then, it keeps you thinking.

What We Saw concerns two young boys, Liam and Adam, cousins on summer break who are (for differing reasons) living with their grandparents. Liam’s parents make a small appearance and there’s much talk (which I won’t spoil) about Adam’s family. The grandparents are colourful characters as well, and there’s another child, Emily, who serves as a call to action and a love interest–but really, it’s the boys’ story. They want to be detectives, spending their time solving mysteries around the campground–and their aspirations get them thrown head first into a mystery that’s much much bigger than them.

To go into too much detail would spoil the plot. Suffice it to say there’s a missing girl (not Emily), hints at violence around the campground, and some untimely deaths. There’s no lack of suspects, either–the campground seems filled with people who are up to some sort of mischief, and they boys have a lot to keep them on their toes. There’s a lot that would make this a great mystery book, but it’s much more than that.

The great thing about this book is that it’s written from a ten year old’s point of view. This creates a special kind of tension, where the narrator knows more is going on than meets the eye, but can’t quite put his finger on it because he’s just too young to understand. He’s neck deep in “grown up stuff,” and though he wants to help and understand, he’s kept at arm’s length by virtue of his age. This isn’t for a lack of trying–it’s just because he’s never had to deal with these kinds of things before. In that, What We Saw is a terrific example of a coming of age novel, though that’s not the focus.

What all of this does is help keep the mystery fresh. Casey is able to add details that, if the protagonist were an adult, would make the mystery easy to solve–and if you go back through the book reading it through the eyes of an older person, those clues were there all along. But because you’re reading the book through the eyes of someone so young, you feel like you’re reaching after something that’s on the tip of your tongue. You know what it probably means, but you’re just not sure…and it’s not until the end of the book that Liam is able to string it all together.

I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but it seems to be a very effective way of stringing the tension along. The tension is real not only because the characters don’t know what going to happen next, but because they don’t understand why people would do such things; they’ve still got a foot in their childhood, and their naivety is colouring their approach to the situation. Better still, all the adult characters have adult motivations. The children can only guess at them, and this adds a lot of uncertainly to their deductions. They quickly realize that they’re over their heads, but not before it’s too late to walk away. This raises the stakes considerably: it’s like you’re blindfolded at the top of the first hill on a roller coaster and have no option but to fall to the bottom, hoping you don’t fall off the rails.

But besides the characters and the mystery, the thing I get most from this book is how genuine it is. The characters act like children; the adults act like adults; there was nothing in the book that asked me to suspend my disbelief. The characters are emotionally involved, and the stakes are very real. This sounds like a list of things that should be in every novel, but browning through the stacks at any bookstore will show you how many books lack this kind of attention. Casey has tied everything into a nice package, and the result is a well rounded story that feels very real.

Which, of course, makes all the tension all that more powerful.

There’s a lot to like about What We Saw, and it’s an impressive first novel for Casey. This is a writer to keep an eye on–you can expect great things down the line.

You can find Ryan Casey at his blog and on Twitter. Pick up What We Saw on Amazon for Kindle and in Paperback, and at Barnes & Noble in paperback. Don’t miss out on this book if you don’t have a Kindle–Amazon has Kindle Apps that run on your PC, Android and Windows tablets, iPhones/iPads, and even from the cloud on their website! And don’t forget to check out his other releases Silhouette and Something in the Cellar here.

 

Drop by Drop–or Splash

Image by Ian Sane via Flikr

This morning I found a nice quote on my Twitter stream:

A bowl fills drop by drop.

~Buddha

I found it very apropos to my journey into e-publishing so far. It’s been a learning curve, and I’m finding tons of little details need to get taken care of–most of which I’d never thought of before. Drop by drop indeed.

And then, sometimes, there’s a splash.

This morning, I received notification by the Government of Canada Library and Archives informing me that my application for a publisher’s block of ISBN numbers had been approved. Which means that I can now add ISBN numbers to any of my forthcoming published works, all online, all at the click of a button–and all for free. Not that I’m bragging.

Getting an ISBN number has always been a goal of mine, in a geeky spent-too-much-time-at-the-library-as-a-kid kind of way. I always figured that, as a writer, it would be one of those great measures of success. Get an ISBN number, and your book could be sold in bookstores. It could be stocked in libraries. It’s in a national database.

It’s real.
Suddenly, that bowl is filling pretty darn quickly.

Of course, in the world of e-publishing, it’s pretty easy to get an ISBN number, and it’s not a validation of your writing by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it’s a significant step for me, and one that makes this goal of mine seem more within reach than ever.

Anyway, ISBN Numbers. Why bother?

An International Standard Book Number is used to set one publication apart from another–even separate editions of the same text. It’s an important tool for librarians and booksellers, allowing them to easily categorize and track books. For eBooks, it’s a bit different. The ISBN (you might see eISBN) is obtained in the same way, and serves the same purpose. But not all vendors require one.

The Kobo and Amazon and Barnes & Noble stores don’t require an ISNB, though you can add one if you like. The Apple and Sony stores do–and by extension, Smashwords requires an ISBN if you want to be included in their Premium Catalogue, which pushes titles to both those stores (you can still publish on Smashwords without an ISBN, just not in the Premium Catalogue).

Which brings us back to the question. If many distributors don’t require one, why bother? If you don’t mind not getting into the Sony or Apple stores, maybe you don’t need one–but an ISBN is nevertheless a helpful marketing and tracking tool that could give you an edge.

Of course, there’s also the expense to consider. In the USA, there’s a service charge for getting an ISBN. On ISBN.org, they’ll cost you between $27 and $40 each to start, but you buy them in blocks of ten. Smashwords seems to offer them for free. And if you live in Canada–which encourages the creation of new Canadian Creative Content–all you have to do is go to the Canadian ISBN Service System . Sign up, and in a couple weeks, you’ll be assigned a unique ISBN publishers block. From there you’re only a couple clicks away from a unique ISBN for each new publication. Easy!

 

This might be a good time to remind everyone that my collection The Astrologers and Other Stories will be published soon–I’m aiming for a release date of October 23. It will be priced at $2.99, but I’ll be offering the titular story separately for free. Look for it on the Kobo Store and Amazon.com soon!

Creating eBook Covers–For Newbs

In yesterday’s brief post, I mentioned that I spent some time this past weekend learning how to format eBooks and make covers. Now, I’m by no means an expert at either, but I learned a great deal–and since this blog is about learning how to publish, why not share what I learned? Today, I’ll touch on creating covers–but fair warning, this is a large topic, so it won’t be a comprehensive how-to. Look in the future for more tips and tricks on making eBook covers.

For now, we’ll start easy. Why should you even bother? The short answer is what I’m going to call “Browse Potential.”

A lot of books get sold because readers are familiar with the author or because they’re aware of the story; some get sold by word of mouth or people reading reviews. But a lot of books are sold because someone was wandering the aisles in the bookstore and found something cool. This is my favorite way to shop for books: browsing. You never know what you’re going to find, so it’s a bit like a treasure hunt. And when I’m browsing, it’s often the books with the flashiest covers that catch my eye.

It works the same when you’re buying eBooks, but I’d argue that covers are even more important. It’s easy to just breeze by all the little thumbnails on your screen without giving any of them a second thought. Or worse, picking out a particularly bad cover and deciding (without having read it) that it’s an amateurish or poorly written book. In other words, not worth buying.
The sad truth is that people will judge your books by it’s cover–so make it a good one!

Now, I’m no artist, so I can’t pretend to know anything about effective composition and drawing the eye to the corner or color theory. But I do know what I, as a reader, like to see in a book cover. I think this is the best place for someone new to start: design a cover for a book you’d want to buy. You may not share everyone’s tastes, but chances are your readers–having chosen to purchase a book in the genre you’re writing in–will share at least some aesthetics.

So you’ve got a concept you think will draw people’s attention. What then?

There are lots of people online who will design a cover for you, for various fees (I’ve seen them go up to $200 for one cover). I haven’t started generating revenue yet, so I don’t want to pay that right off the bat…but I still need a good cover. Fortunately, my sister-in-law is an artist, and has agreed to help me out. She’s providing the artwork in a digital file, and I’m using graphic design software to make it into a cover.

I went to a site called eBook Rights Management, which offers DRM protection for eBooks, as well as templates you can use to design covers. Their covers are free, but if you’re going to use them, it’s only fair to credit them in your book. I mocked up a simple cover, then downloaded the image and loaded it into a program called Paint.net to manipulate the image into what I wanted.

(I’m not going to get into how to use Paint.net here, as it’s outside the scope of this post and you can find much better tutorials than I could write online. Suffice it to say that it’s got most of the functionality of Photoshop,  but it’s free!)

This was the arduous part. I’m picky when it comes to this kind of thing, so it took a few hours to get one solid image–the one above–which I’m not completely sold on yet. But it’s a start. While I was making the image, I saved a template with the correct canvas size for an eBook; this will enable me to quickly create new covers without doing all the set up first.

The next step was finding a font. The number of fonts you have will depend on your own software, but it’s easy to find new ones online. A word of warning, though: many font packages will cost you, and some of the ones that say they’re free actually aren’t (they involve royalties, or when you click through to download it asks you to pay). Do your research before settling on a font, and make sure you’re attributing it correctly in the book’s front matter. Nothing in this world is completely free, but that doesn’t mean you should rip off someone else’s work!

Now all you have to do is put it all together. I’d recommend creating a new layer in your image for anything you add–it will make further edits much simpler. A layer is just what it sounds like: a layer you can edit without affecting the image beneath. I had one for my border, another for the image, a third for my title, and a fourth for my name. It seems like lots of work, but it’s well worth it for the hassle you’ll save yourself.

And there you have it: a quick and dirty cover. Of course, this is a very basic way to go about things; I have some experience with image manipulation, but I wouldn’t call it graphic design. If you want a seriously well done cover, you should either learn the programs you’ll be using, or pay someone else to do it. You don’t have to be incredibly ornate, but the end result should look better than something you threw together in MS Paint. And the more professional it looks, the more “Browse Potential” you’ll earn.

Got any tips for cover design, or a link to a resource? Post it in the comments!

Muzak for the Metro

In my ever continuing effort to experiment with this self-publishing thing, I spent much of the day yesterday playing with two programs: Paint.net, learning to make covers; and Sigil, an open source ePub editor, learning to format ebooks from scratch with HTML. It was enlightening–the editing, formatting, and graphic design work in publishing is two or three times the work of actually writing–but interesting. I’ll be sharing my experiences with you in the coming weeks.

But I wasn’t just fiddling around. I took my previous “test project,” Muzak for the Metro, and spruced it up a bit. I included a poem that wasn’t in there before–Adam’s Tree–and a snippet of a short story called Room With a Corpse–which will be included in full in my upcoming collection The Astrologers and Other Stories.

And now I’m happy to announce that it’s ready for sale on Amazon! You can purchase it here. If you do, please consider leaving a review!

The book has also been uploaded to the Kobo store for those of you up here in Canada, but it’s not live yet–stay tuned!

Writer’s Resources

I’ve already made a short post today–see below for my re-blog of David Hewson’s nice post about Scrivener and Screenshots–but I wanted to add a little something of my own too.

As I’ve embarked on this self-publishing journey, my biggest impression has been of just how much there is to think about–and how much help is available to writers in the same position. Publishing an eBook isn’t as simple as writing something, converting it, and sending it to a store. There’s a ton of work involved, from many aspect that aren’t even really connected with writing (like marketing, social networking, graphic design, and HTML coding/formatting of the product). The amount of work that goes into it is impressive–and intimidating.

Fortunately, the indie writer’s community online is terrific. People like Yesenia Vargas, Ryan Casey, and Joanna Penn are great resources, centering on different aspects of the game, and there are hundreds more.

So, as someone who’s just beginning to take the first steps along this path, I’ve decided to collect links that I’ve found helpful or interesting, and provide them to anyone else reading this blog. At the top of this page, you’ll note that I’ve added a page called Writer’s Resources, where you can find these collected links. My intent is to keep adding to the list whenever I find something I feel the need to refer back to, but I’m inviting input from everyone. If you have a link you’ve found helpful, send it my way and I’ll add it to the page. (The caveat here is that this isn’t intended for advertising or self-promotion; if that’s your angle, I won’t post it.)

Take a look at the page–I hope you find it helpful!

Editor’s Appreciation and an Interview

from Generationbass.com

So as I’ve been saying on this blog, my first publication–The Astrologers and Other Stories–will be published soon, and has been sent to an editor in preparation. That editor is Yesenia Vargas, who can be found here. Yesenia just started offering editing services, and I jumped at the chance to be a client for two big reasons: she’s a fellow indie writer with aspirations toward self-publishing, and her rates are great.

In fact, she’s got a special rate for a limited time–50% off! That’s an amazing $2 a page for copyediting–you will not find a better deal. Go here for details, and don’t dawdle–the discount is only for the next four clients!

Yesenia mentioned to me that September is Editor’s Appreciation Month–which is timely, given her venture and my first experience with professional editing.  I also thought that this confluence made for a great opportunity for an interview. Below is the first half of our exchange–enjoy! My questions in bold, her answers in regular typeface.

You’ve been blogging and writing for a while–what made you want to also offer editing services?

Not to brag or anything, but I’ve always been pretty good at grammar, punctuation, and those kinds of things. It’s something I enjoy and do even when I’m not thinking about it. In school, I was the one my peers went to when they weren’t sure about how to spell a word or use a comma. My friends would also regularly give me their English papers to edit or proofread before submitting them.

I never thought I could be a professional editor, though, until I read a writing friend’s book and pointed out a few typos and grammar mistakes I had found. She said I should be a copyeditor since I seemed to have a knack for it. Her comment really stuck with me, and I started researching what it took to be a great copyeditor and how to start my own business.

What are some of your experiences with editors?

To be honest, I’ve never worked with one as a writer since I’m not published yet. However, I do read some editors’ blogs and websites because there’s a lot I can learn from their experiences. In addition, I’ve chatted with a couple of editors via social media who seem like nice, hard-working people. I mentioned to one that I was going into copyediting, and she was actually really supportive.

How do you think editing differs between self e-publishing and so-called “traditional” publishing?

Well for one thing, the publishing house is the one that hires (and pays for) the editors, although the writer will most likely also communicate with them. In e-publishing (or self-publishing) the writer is completely in charge of finding and hiring an editor. In e-publishing, I would also say there’s a higher risk of getting scammed or having an editor who doesn’t really know what he or she is doing because the publishing house has access to people who regularly work for them and do a great job.

Either way, a writer shouldn’t think that just because a book is traditionally published that the editing will be 100% perfect or mistake-free. Editors are human. You’ll always have at least a couple of typos no matter who edits the manuscript. Nonetheless, it’s smart to make sure any editor has references and that you check them.

On Wednesday I’ll post the second half of our interview, so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you’ve had some experience with editors you’d like to share, post in the comments! We both want to hear from you.

 

Publishing on Kobo Books

Available at Kobo Books!

Now that I’m well on my way to publishing my first eBook, I decided to give myself a “dry run” through the e-publishing process. I’d hate for my first professional release to be fraught with issues as I learn how to do this, so I thought I’d put together a small collection of poems, work up a cover, and upload it, just to see how it’s done. You can find this attempt–Muzak for the Metro–at Kobo Books.

This is a bare bones release, and certainly isn’t perfect–which is why it’s free–but it served its purpose of walking me through the process. I found it to be a simple and painless operation, though it highlighted some areas I’ll have to learn more about.

Tomorrow I’ll take a more detailed look at the process, but for now, I’ll note two things:

I did this cover myself, just for the sake of having something besides a blank image to put in the store. It’s a photo I took in Paris several years ago, cut to size and doctored up in Paint.net. It was dead easy–but this isn’t the way to get a cover for your book. I admit it’s not great quality, but being a test of sorts, it’s not supposed to be. My upcoming collection will be a more professional job, which is important–despite the cliche to the contrary, many people will judge your book by the cover, so it should be a good one!

The second issue I had was with formatting the eBook. I used Scrivener to create the .epub file, and although it showed fine in Calibre, once I uploaded it to Kobo the line spacing changed. In Adobe Digital Editions, there are no line breaks at all except for between poems; on my Kobo device, there seem to be extra spaces and line breaks in random places. I think the issue has to do with the fact that it’s poetry, and so has abnormal spacing anyway; but I’ll obviously need to learn more about formatting.

Edit: I’ve read on other blogs that this formatting issue isn’t unique, and in fact is relatively common. One suggested solution is to upload the book in a .doc file, instead of an ePub.

So there we are: my first published work. I’m not really counting this, of course–in fact, I intend to take it down in a day or so, because I don’t want this example to seem indicative of my work. But all in all, I think it was a worthwhile experiment, and ‘m glad I cut my teeth on this, rather than fumbling through something I plan to sell.

You can find it at the Kobo store for a day or two, so check it out!

A World of Your Own: Worldbuilding part 3.

So we’ve touched on the importance of world building for any story–now it’s time to talk about creating your own fantasy worlds.
This is something I’m genuinely interested in, but have never really looked into until recently. The first novel I’d planned–started more than ten years ago and never completed–took place on a created world I called Gi. It had its own mythology, races, geography, and system for magic. I created it from the ground up, but I never had a process for doing so–I just did it. And because of that, there are numerous inconsistencies.
Now, I’m trying to rebuild that world in anticipation of the “Universe” I want to create as a setting for novels and short stories. The Astrologers–featured on earlier posts on this blog–is the first in this revamped world.
But how does one go about creating a whole new world? As you can imagine, it’s not too different from world building a non-speculative universe, as described in my last post. The difference here is that you have a lot more leeway in what you create, and how everything fits together.
That, however, creates an issue: the more freedom you have in creating your world, the easier it is to develop inconsistencies, as I did. It’s easier to forget a small detail you mentioned several stories ago, or give a character a name that doesn’t really fit into their culture. An especially important danger is changing something major part way through your project (i.e. ‘retconning,’), and forgetting to also change all the little things it affects.

Again, consistency is the most important thing!

So, of course, the main thing is being consistent. However creative your universe is, it should be self consistent. Your people behave a certain way; the geography makes scientific sense; characters of the same race share cultural values, language, and attitudes. World building is a large project, but as long as you’re being consistent, it’s not really that difficult.

What’s different?

The easiest step to take from there is to decide how your world is different from the real world. Does it involve magic, and if so, how does it work? Is this a completely different planet, or are you using Earth as a “template” and changing details? Dos the history of your world follow a similar pattern as our own? Are there comparable social groups? What sort of natural resources are important, and are they different from what we find on Earth? They say you have to know the rules before you can break them, and it’s the same idea here: start with what you know, and go from there.

How different?

This is where you can start getting really creative. Once you know the similarities between our world and your created world, you can start to take liberties. Really, you can go crazy here; the idea is to create something entirely unique, so the more creative you are, the better. You don’t have to think up the details right now, just the major points. In fact, getting mired in details is where I got into trouble with Gi as explained above: I wanted to add all these neat little examples of my creativity that it eventually collapsed upon itself because there was no unifying structure beneath them. So this step should be more conceptual than practical: decide what you want to accomplish with your world, what it will mean to the story, and how you can go about accomplishing that.

Details, details, details…

This is where the job gets challenging–though not difficult, as this should still be fun! There are a lot of websites around that can help you figure out what details to include, and to what extent. Maybe your story centres around a sociopolitical climate–so the variety of food people grow isn’t all that important. Perhaps you want to develop a deeply intricate religious culture, so mythology and theology should be key points of research for you. Or maybe you want to just write a hack and slash adventure, so thinking about politics or religion or history is needless.
But there are certain things you should generally be thinking about, without which you’re not really building a world in the first place. I’d say the most important–and the place to start–is your map. ProFantasy.com has a great suite of software that can help with this; it’s not cheap, but there is a free trial that can get you a quick ‘n dirty map. Or, draw your own.

The next most important piece of the puzzle is who populates the world. Are they humans? Elves, dwarves or orcs? Something entirely different? These are the characters in your story, so get all the details set down early. This is where you’ll thing about languages, culture, mores, history, recreational activities, societal taboos…and so on. You could go really deep here, to the point of creating detailed anthropological histories if your people or creating a language from scratch–and the deeper you go, the more involving the world will be. Just remember to be consistent!

After that, there are a lot of smaller details to think of. What’s the climate? Flora and fauna? Popular entertainment? Important cultural concepts? This is where the world really comes alive. One recent example I can think of is from the special features of the Game of Thrones DVDs, where they talk about creating the Dothraki language. They started by accepting that horses were crucial to their cultural identity, and developed the language around that concept. They ended up with a rich language that made cultural sense.

These details are also where you can get absolutely lost. Keep your notes tidy, and organized. When you come up with a new idea, edit it until you’re sure it fits in the world–and if it doesn’t, rework it until it does. If you need to change a pre-existing concept to allow for a new idea that would otherwise contradict it, make sure you erase it completely, or allow for an explanation if inconsistencies arise.

There are tons of resources for world building online, so for more information, I’d reccomend a Google search. But to start you off, here are a few great ones:

  • 30 Days of World Building: This is a step by stepguide that promises, as the title says, to help create a new world in 30 days. It’s a comprehensive list of things to think about–comprehensive enough that there are some steps you may not need, depending on how detailed you want to be. But definitely worth checking out. You can also download the guide for free in ePub, MOBI or PDF format.
  • Fantasy World Building Questions: This website breaks the creation process down into a series of categories, such as Geography, People and Customs, and Commerce. It’s a solid list, and by going through it all you will end up with a nice comprehensive world.
  • Paeter’s Brain: Free Worldbuilding Tools: A quick post about world building from a Role Playing Game perspective. It includes links to a couple wikis about various RPG settings, which could be good inspiration for your own world. There’s also a link for a town generator, and a city map generator.
  • Speaking of RPGs, I’m a big fan, and a member of a website called Myth Weavers. They have some great tools to help DMs build their own worlds; here’s an example of the wiki. Now, you may be asking yourself why this matters if you’re writing a novel–but really, most of the process is the same. A DM has to create a cohesive world for his players to play in. In fact, building a solid world is in their absolute best interests: because each of their players has a mind of their own, they’ll test the limits of the world in every way possible. A writer would do well to follow the DMs example.

That’s it for today, and for this mini-series on world building. But don’t worry: this is a topic we’ll come back to again, I’m sure. My created world is in something of a crisis, and will need some heavy work–and what better place to troubleshoot the process than a blog about writing and publishing?

In the meantime, if you have any other resources or ideas on world building, please share in the comments below!

Scrivener: the Ultimate Writer’s Tool.

Scrivener

So you’ve got a way to gather your research, a place to hammer out your 750 words a day, and a bunch of handy web resources at your fingertips. The next step, of course, is to write your project. And by many accounts, the best tool for that is a program called Scrivener.

Scrivener is a project based writer’s tool that aims to help you get past your first draft. It’s an organizer, a compiler, can build your manuscript into publisher accepted formats, and can export the final project into a number of file types, including an eBook. It’s a one stop shop for the self-publishing writer!

Now, I’ve only started using Scrivener, so I don’t as yet have a comprehensive view of all the tips and tricks. It’s a remarkably robust program; you could work in it for months and not use half the features that are available to you. The the thing is that, unlike a certain Microsoft based word processor, not knowing all these little features doesn’t get in the way of using the program–but when you find them, the program gets more and more convenient to use.

Scrivener is based on an framework set to help you organize your project. When you open a new project, you’ll see a series of folders on the left hand side, each of which represents a different chapter in your book. On the right is a corkboard, where you can “pin” index cards to outline the chapter or–if you click on the chapter in question–indicate separate scenes. These cards can be shuffled around in any order, labelled as concepts, ideas, first/revised/final drafts, or moved from folder to folder. You can outline your entire novel in one place, and shuffle things around as you please. This makes organization simple, but also means that one of the messier parts of editing–rearranging things so your plot flows smoothly–is solved with a click of your mouse. You can even run a search for specific keywords to filter a certain group of cards; if, for example, you have a subplot that weaves through your main story without interfering with it, you can pull all of those cards in sequence to see that it makes narrative sense.

The main corkboard

If that was where the program ended, it would be worth trying out. But Scrivener does so much more.

There’s a place for you to keep notes and plot lines for specific characters or places, and even general concepts so they are at your fingertips, but don’t interfere with the manuscript. There’s a pane for research where you can add images, text, full webpages, and even video to reference as you write. You can re-size this pane to show as much or as little of either side as you like. Likewise, you can bring up a pane to show your index cards, so you can write scene by scene and rearrange the entire structure as you go. I think that Debrief, shown earlier this week, is better at handling all your research in one place, though Scrivener seems to have more options in terms of including media. I’m still playing with both.

Scrivener research

You can do research in Scrivener too!

Scrivener can show you at a glance how many pages, words and characters are in the entire document, or just parts of it; how many pages it would be if it were printed as a paperback or 8.5X11 paper; it can calculate word frequency in the document; and you can add word count targets for each chapter, or the project as a whole.

Scrivener also gives you access to a few simple–but useful–tools, such as looking up a highlighted term in Google, Wikipedia or Dictionary.com; translating the word into other languages; and even a name generator. (Though the name generator has a lot of options as to race, nationality, number of names, etc., I still found it to be a bit generic. Though I prefer character names that reflect character, so I won’t be using this feature anyway).

Of course, once your project is finished, you’ll want to do something with it. You can compile your project and export it in a variety of formats, including .pdf, .rtf, .doc, ePub and .mobi. Each format gives you a number of options as to what to include in the final output, and when you compile as an eBook you can edit the metadata. Conceivably, you could write a book, export as an ePub, and have it ready to upload it to sell in your favourite eBook store all with the same program.

Scrivener Compile

Compile your eBook with ease!

Because Scrivener is such a large program, it can seem daunting to use. As I mentioned, you could skim the surface of the program and be perfectly happy with it, but the deeper you go the more useful it is. Fortunately there are helpful tutorials at your disposal. These tutorials are set up as projects, so you can open one (for a novel, for example), and work through it as a hands on example of how to use all the program’s features. It will take a couple of hours to go through it, but it’s worth it to get the full scope of the program. For those who want a quicker look, there’s also a series of video tutorials on their website that will give you a good idea of how to use Scrivener.

Did I mention you can also take “snapshots” of different edits of your work and compare them side by side? Or type in full screen mode with no distractions–though you can add a background image for inspiration? Or (on the Mac) edit multiple pieces of text simultaneously, dragging and dropping bits into each, in Scrivenings mode? I’ve also figured out how to synchronize my files with Sugarsync so I can work on them away from home, even though I only have Scrivener on this computer.

Scrivener is available for the Mac (for which it was originally written) and Windows. There’s a lot more documentation about the Mac version, but the Windows version is catching up. It comes with a 30 day free trial, though to be honest, the $43 price tag ($48 for the Mac version) is a steal for as much as this program can do. If you’re serious about writing, this is a great program to help you achieve your goal.