Review: Death’s Daughter

Death's Daughter
Death’s Daughter by Amber Benson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this book–the audiobook was read by the author, who did a nice job with the narration. It was cute and sometimes funny, although the main character was occasionally annoying and a bit mercurial–although most of us probably are, from time to time. ;) I liked the idea–Death is kidnapped and his daughter must reluctantly take up the job. Other characters were interesting and fun. The plot was convoluted (not in a bad way) but sometimes seemed to wander off-track. Very much a mixed-bag for me. If you like light urban fantasy and quippy dialogue, give it a try!



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Review: Variant

Variant
Variant by Robison Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book; it kept me listening and wondering what was going to happen, so I’ve given it three stars (liked it) and I could probably be persuaded to make that 3.5. It does require a bit of heavy lifting to suspend one’s disbelief at the beginning, and the end is abrupt–really abrupt. I mention this so future readers will be prepared. All that said, it’s well-paced and interesting, and I do wonder what the explanation for everything will turn out to be (I hope there’s a good one!). I liked the main character. So I’m likely to read the next book when I have a chance.



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Create A Submission Tracker in Scrivener

For a long (LONG) time now, I’ve been looking for the perfect way to track manuscript submissions. I used to keep file folders and enter everything by hand, but it was cumbersome when I wanted to look something up, and the out-of-sight out-of-mind rule would also come into play; I could forget what I had out at any given time.

Then I started looking for a software program that would do the tracking for me, but after many (MANY) hours of searching, I could not find exactly what I wanted. Every one I found was either

  • too simple
  • outdated
  • not customizable enough
  • only online (which I didn’t want)
  • too complex, or
  • too expensive

At one point I thought I’d found a good one, paid for it, and spent hours inputting information. It has worked reasonably well, but has also been software-buggy to the point where I no longer trust it. And there’s a newer version, but I’d have to pay for it again. No, thanks.

Not long ago, I discovered the wonderful flexibility of Scrivener. I used it to re-organize and rewrite a novel, and found it extremely helpful for that. I’ve been doing all my writing in it since then. And the other day I had an idea–could I create a submission tracker with it? It seemed possible that I could, so I set about to try.

And, I love it. It takes full advantage of Scrivener’s Binder and Inspector features, as well as the folder/subfolder/text structure. Once set up, data entry for a given work or submission takes no more time than it would in any database program. And the setup is infinitely customizable–once you start thinking about it, you may find you want a setup that’s somewhat different from mine in the details, and that’s perfectly okay and easy to do. It’s the overall idea I want you to take away from this post. I’m no Scrivener power-user; this idea uses only basic techniques and features.

Ready to give it a try? You should be able to do the initial setup in under half an hour if you are at all familiar with Scrivener. I use Scrivener for Windows, so if you’re on a Mac, things might be slightly different (click any image to see it larger).

1. Open a new Scrivener project, and name it Submission Tracker (or whatever you’d like).

folders2. Create a folder for Manuscripts, and one for Publishers. Inside my Manuscripts folder, I also created a few subfolders: Novels, Short Stories, Reprints, and Sold/Retired. Depending on what you write, you may want to divide up your manuscripts even further; perhaps with subfolders for Non-fiction or Poetry. Your goal is to make it easy to quickly locate any given manuscript, so make whatever subfolders make sense for you. (Think about what you want to be able to see at a glance or find quickly when you open the tracker. Use as few or as many subfolders as you like. You can add new subfolders and move manuscripts into them at any time.)

If you wish, you can divide up the Publishers into subfolders, too–Open, Closed, Temporarily Closed, On Hiatus, etc. You can also simply color-code them with labels. More about that later.

3. Now, inside your Manuscripts folder, create a new text document and name it Template.

In this template, you’re going to set up whatever manuscript information you want to record/track. I’ve decided to keep it simple: Word Count, Genre, and a place for Notes. You don’t need to enter the title of the manuscript here, because in each manuscript document, the title will appear where this one says “MS Template”, just under the formatting bar. If you want to use this as a complete Manuscript record as well as a submission tracker, you could record dates (started, finished, etc.) or whether you wrote the piece for a particular market, how much you were paid if it sold, or any other information you want. This template is completely customizable; include whatever you want on it, but don’t forget the KISS principle. Only include what you really think you’ll use.

Below this general data about the manuscript, add a table for entering submissions (you can add a table easily from the formatting bar or the Format menu). Again, track whatever information you wish. I’ve set mine up with Date Submitted, Publisher/Market, Expected Reply, Reply Date, and Outcome. You could just have a Notes area here instead of a table, but I like things NEAT.MStemplate

4. Now create a template in your Publishers folder as well. I’ve kept mine simple: Contact Person, what the market Accepts, and Notes. (Again, you don’t need to add the name; it will already be at the top of the page). You could add things like pay rates, etc., but to save time, I’ll just include a link to submission guidelines in my notes. In my opinion, this is a better idea because you always want the most up-to-date information on any given market.

In my table I have a spot for Manuscript Submitted, Response, and Response Time. That’s all I really need here, because the Manuscript page itself will have all the other information about a particular submission, and there’s no need for me to input it twice. I do want to be able to link manuscripts with publishers in a search, though, so that’s why the manuscript title is included here. Response times matter to me, so I’ve set it up so I can see at a glance how a publisher rates in that department. Include whatever information you want in your table.PUBtemplate

5. One more bit of setup: labels and status. Turn on your Scrivener Inspector (if it’s not on already–the blue “i” button in the upper right corner), and under the View menu, make sure “Use Label Color In Binder” is selected.labelinbinder

Now set your Labels and colors for Manuscripts. I’ve chosen to mark my manuscripts as either Work in Progress, Revision, Ready to Submit, In Submission, Sold, or Retired. Create as many labels as you want. Use them in conjunction with Status information to further detail works that are in draft stages, with beta readers, need line editing, final proofreading, etc.–it depends only on how detailed you want to get and what you want to track.labels-status

I’ve also created a set of labels and colors for Publishers: Currently Open, Reading Periods (for those that are only open to subs at certain times), and Closed (later I added a few more, as you’ll see in the last image). Again, use what works for you. You may choose not to use any labels for Publishers, or you could use labels (or Status) to identify markets you’ve sold to, ones with the best pay rates or response times, publishers where you have a pending submission–whatever information you want. Each manuscript and publisher data sheet can be assigned both a label and a status, AND sorted into a specific folder, so you have many options. Remember that you can change the label color assignments anytime if you want a new look, and add more labels and statuses if you are inputting data and decide you need more.

6. And now you’re ready to input data. Right-click your Manuscript template and make a duplicate from the menu (don’t enter data into your template! You want to keep that blank, and only enter data into copies of it.). Rename the duplicate with the title of your first manuscript, and fill out the appropriate data about the work, and about a submission, if you have one. Bonus idea: use the synopsis area of the Inspector (the index card) to include a brief–you guessed it–synopsis of the work, publication info, or a tagline, pitch, or keywords if you like. You can also use the Document Notes section to store such information, a longer synopsis, etc. sampleMSIf you want to get EVEN MORE FANCY, you can use Edit>Link to insert a link directly to the manuscript file on your computer here. The link will appear wherever your cursor is located in the document. (NOTE: Later, I talk about storing your tracker project on Dropbox or a similar service; naturally, this link will only work on the computer on which the file is actually stored.)

link

If you entered a submission, leave the manuscripts folder and now go to the Publisher template, make a duplicate, and create a sheet for that publisher. In the table, enter the manuscript you’ve submitted, and set the publisher label and status, or sort it into the proper folder if you’ve decided to use them. Again, you can use the Synopsis area to record anything about the publisher you think is notable. And once you’ve entered a Publisher, you never have to do it again; you’ll just be adding new manuscript submissions to the table after that, or possibly updating the publisher status or information in future. samplePUB

If you’re going to populate the tracker with all your past manuscript and submission data, this could take quite a while. But if you keep at it, you will end up with a nice, comprehensive system. Once you’re caught up, you can simply create a new manuscript file whenever you begin a new work, and add a publisher file whenever you submit somewhere new, in addition to entering each new submission you make.

Another cool thing to note: the Binder also shows you, at a glance, how many manuscripts are in a given folder, and how many publishers you have in your system (the little numbers in grey circles).

Suggestions to get the most out of your Scrivener Submission Tracker:

  • Keep manuscripts that are in submission at the top of your list, and always move the most recently-submitted manuscript to the top, inside the Manuscripts folder. This will provide you with a quick visual clue to manuscripts that have been out for a while (they’ll have been pushed further down the list) and may need a followup note
  • Although Scrivener is not, strictly speaking, a database, you can use the search function to make it mimic one. By searching a particular publisher, for instance, you will see in the Binder all the manuscripts you’ve submitted there. Likewise, when you search a manuscript title, the Binder will display all the markets you’ve sent it to. Use the search function creatively and you’ll be able to locate data quickly. If you can think of data you’d like to be able to search, include it in your templates or labels.
  • Labels are meta-data and included in searches, so if you search the name of any label, for example, Work In Progress, the Binder will display all manuscripts with that label.
  • Move sold or retired manuscripts into the appropriate folder so they aren’t cluttering up your list of active works. You’ll also see your numbers of sales at a glance.
  • Move sold manuscripts that may be eligible to reprint into the Reprints folder so you can find them quickly. If you make Reprints a subfolder of Sold, your number of works sold will remain accurate
  • If you want to get really fancy, create a folder (or just a document) at the top of your Binder for keeping notes about calls for submission, deadlines, story ideas, etc.
  • If you use a cloud storage service like Dropbox or one of the many others, save your project file there. Your data will then be accessible from any computer where you have Scrivener installed.

So what does it look like when populated with some manuscripts and publishers? This is only a start on my data, but I think you get the idea (I think I will also be tweaking all the colors so it’s not quite so…garish!). I’ve highlighted some of the features:final

One more thing: Scrivener’s corkboard view. If you click on any folder (say, Short Stories), and you’ve used Statuses to identify what stage each manuscript has reached in the writing process, you can survey them at a glance on the corkboard:corkboard

I have no doubt that an experienced Scrivener user might come up with improvements or ways to make this system even more useful, but this is working for me. Maybe it will work for you, too!

Please feel free to add comments or suggestions!

 

Writing the Blurb

DSCN5084When I wrote my series of blog posts about mistakes made by self-publishing authors, one key stumbling-block I mentioned was the blurb. I picked out three major problems with blurbs in that post…in this one, I’m going to try to help you learn how to write a great one.

Earlier I said, “The blurb is your chance to sell me on reading your book.” That’s true–but how do you do that? There’s a lot going on in your book, I know, so how do we boil all that excitement down to a couple of brief paragraphs?

I’m going to propose a template here for a three-point blurb, and show you a couple of ways I’ve used it myself. I’m not saying these are the best blurbs ever written, but I think they’re solid and I’ve had readers tell me in both cases that they decided to read the book based on the blurb alone.

1. Start with your character(s). Who are they at the start of the story? Give them names, professions, status–whatever it is that makes them who they are and is important to the story. Do they have a goal, a dream, or a problem at the outset? Is there something about their world or situation that’s important? Can you also give a clue about the type of book this is?

Captain Luta Paixon of the far trader Tane Ikai needs to know why she looks like a woman in her thirties–even though she’s actually eighty-four. (character, profession, problem, genre)

Kit Stablefield is a detective with a secret and a crush on a guy she knows only online, in a future where magic is a part of everyday life. (character, profession, setting, problem, genre)

2. As I like to tell students when I do presentations about writing, stories are fueled by TROUBLE. So add a sentence or two telling us what the character’s biggest challenge or challenges are going to be in this story. What’s the one (or even two) most vital problems that must be faced and solved or the story will fail? Why is there no easy solution? Does something happen that compounds existing trouble or creates a new problem?

The explanation might lie with her geneticist mother, who disappeared over sixty years ago, but even if her mother is still alive, it’s proving to be no small task to track her down in the vast, wormhole-ridden expanse of Nearspace. (possible solution, not easy)

But when millionaire Aleshu Coro walks into the offices of Darcko and Sadatake with a message from the Murder Prophet and fourteen days to live, everything changes. (new challenge, upsets “normal” life)

3. The third point can do a few things: it can pile on further problems or complications; it can expand on why solutions are not easy to find or add further threats; it can pose a question that the story promises to answer, and the reader is now interested to see answered. You can also take the opportunity in this or any other point to give further clues about the tone, mood, and genre of the story.

With the ruthless PrimeCorp bent on obtaining Luta’s DNA at any cost, her ninety-year-old husband asking for one last favor, and her estranged daughter locking horns with her at every turn, Luta’s search for answers will take her to the furthest reaches of space–and deep inside her own heart. (complications, further threats, more genre clues)*

With her eighty-six-year-old grandmother insisting on helping out, and a sentient goose who simply won’t stop pestering her to watch his “killer” video game moves, Kit has more than her hands full as she races against the clock to prevent Coro’s murder…and possibly her own. (complications, further threats, tone)**

Very often, even if the question isn’t explicitly stated in the latter section of the blurb, it’s there inherently. (Will the character succeed?) But you may want to pose a more universal or thematic question as well. While some folks don’t like questions at the end of blurbs, I’m not convinced that they’re a bad thing if they serve to get the reader wondering and invested in the story.

A few things to remember:
For each of the three points, limit yourself to one or two sentences only. This helps you really focus in on the vital points of your story.

Be honest! Write the blurb for the book you’ve written, not something else. If the book doesn’t deliver what the blurb has promised, you’re going to have a disappointed or even angry reader, and no-one wants that.

Don’t be satisfied with your first attempt. Rewrite, and rewrite again, trying out different elements or structures. Edit your blurb as carefully as you’ve edited your book. The blurb, as well as telling a potential reader what your story is about, also reveals how proficient you are as a writer. Make it sharp, clean, vivid and intriguing, and you’ll have readers wanting to know more.

*The full blurb for One’s Aspect to the Sun is here.

**The full blurb for The Murder Prophet is here.

Photo credit: pippalou