What Momma Didn't Tell You About Publishing Stories

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Updated Nov 21, 2009. A discussion about tools, techniques, and websites useful for aspiring authors. Covers topics such as how to find a publisher for stories.

Latest change adds a section on document control.

Submitted: November 11, 2009

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Submitted: November 11, 2009

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Obsessed, the writing bug consumes your body and now you find yourself addicted to authoring stories. Time passes and you add a number of little treasures to a growing portfolio. Careful to keep the works hidden from the public eye, you've circulated each trinket among your private circle of friends for review. Iteration after iteration, each piece progress from rough draft towards a final copy. Comments improve with the passage of time. Instead of hearing, “Ugh! The plot is too weak,” you find yourself smiling after reading “Now that's what I call a story, energetic and captivating!” Satisfied with the results, your stable of story-ponies contains a little something from a variety of genres, showcasing your writer's versatility.

“Now,” you think to yourself, “how do I place these little gems under a publisher's nose?” A quick search of the Internet provides a bounty of publishers but how do you pick one from the huge sea of possibilities? It's a simple matter really. Well, perhaps not quite so easy, but there are some tools to help with the process of submissions.

First off, visit the extremely useful site called Duotrope, http://www.duotrope.com/ There's a bounty of information present just waiting to be mined. Duotrope tracks submission times and provides basic details about publishers, including acceptance/rejection rates. All the information is anonymous, so no need to worry about privacy.

After finding a few publishers, you'll need a tool to track your submissions. Excel or the spreadsheet tool in OpenOffice works fine, but at least one freebie specialty tool for tracking exists. Sonar3 is an example of one such tool. I've only recently started using it but it does look promising. You can find it here: Sonar3

As time progresses, I'll add more useful tidbits of information about the process of publishing stories. But for now, get out there and submit those stories to a professional publisher. Don't make excuses. Send out those submissions and when you get a rejection, improve the story and do it all over again until you succeed. As for me, it's time to send a science fiction submission to Brain Harvest... oh boy!

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Another area of concern that many of us overlook is managing our precious stories at the document level. I'm talking about version control and data backups. Both are important and I think many people ignore the potential for problems. What if your hard disk crashes? And if you make a change to a story and find out several drafts later that you need to recover a few altered paragraphs, how will you handle the task? If you don't have some form of document revision control in place, it sounds like trouble to me. Let's start out by examining a few options for version control.

Method 1) A person can always change the name of the document with each edit, but manual processes are easy to forget and tend to drift to the wayside at the most inopportune moments. Another problem arises once a substantial number of documents need to be managed with this method - how to manage the volume of revisions. Keeping multiple copies is also less space efficient and provides no easy method to find differences between versions of a given document. While it is a simple and free method of managing versions of a document, it leaves considerable room for improvement.

Method 2) Writeboard, a free online document control system appears as if it would be useful. This is a web based service that allows creation of documents that can be shared with others. For collaborative projects, the ability to share and review multiple versions of document have considerable value. Usage of the basic service is relatively easy. One selects a title for their document, assigns it a password, and uses their email as an identification method. An edit page pops up that allows you to enter a title and the text. After the initial save, one has the option to suppress creating a new version by merging in the changes with the current version. The formatting options appear to be rather limited, so if you need a rich set of options, you may need to dig deeper to find out if Writeboard has additional formatting tags. After creation of a document, the various versions appear in a pane on the right side of the page. Documents can be compared to find differences, a very handy feature. Overall, this service appears to offer simplicity as its strong point.

Method 3) Google Docs is another free online document control system. While not as simple to use as Writeboard, it offers considerable flexibility along with a decent user interface. The formatting options are solid and are immediately evident if you paste formatted text from Word or some other source. The text maintains the formatting and requires no special tags to activate the formatting. Some features and options take some effort to find though. For instance, to locate the various versions for a document, I looked for a menu option or button and found none. Instead, I had to right click on the document name to bring up a popup menu and select the revision option. Another useful feature is the ability to collaborate on editing the document. Other people can edit the document, yet won't be able to delete it unless they are the document owner. This allows a person to send out invitations to others for reviewing a document. If they are willing to use Google Docs, they can make comments in an edited version. This is useful if you want to have someone provide in place to simply discussing points in the text. Duplicate copies of the document could be shared with different reviewers, each being able to make their comments on a pristine copy for your review. Overall, I'd rate Google Docs as an excellent option for a document control system.

Method 4) Subversion, a document control system developers and programmers use, is highly useful but requires a nerdy sort of person to figure out how to install and use it. For those who are brave and have a strong grasp of how to use software complicated software, give it a try. If you want simplicity, go with the other options. If you want flexibility to search, merge, and manage versions of documents with precise control, this is a good choice. Additionally, since Subversion can be installed on your local machine, problems from access loss due to an external host having a site outage are not an issue in most cases.

I'm sure there are other version control options, but these give a good starting point. From the four options listed above, my personal preference favors Google Docs due to its flexibility, relative ease of use, and the benefit of having someone else maintain the actual version control system. The last benefit mentioned allows me to focus on writing, not on maintaining a piece of software. Another benefit of using an offsite version control service like Google Docs arises in the connection with data backups. If you keep the data locally, you will need to do backups at various times. Most of us are not consistent with backups, so having the data offsite where it is backed up without intervention serves to our advantage. No matter what direction you take, consider the options carefully as document management is a key background task for an author.

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