By which I mean as opposed to How To Do It, which I can’t tell you.
Here’s a first for me: A blog posted a few days after another blog. Well, we’re approaching a holiday weekend and I’m going to run away for a few days, and in cleaning up my e-mail before going I came across one asking if I had any recommendations re computers and software for writing. I have. So I wrote this rather lengthy e-mail, then realized that others might find the info worthwhile. Here’s what I said, a bit expanded for inclusion here:
I use a Dell Inspiron laptop for everything and in my office have it docked and connected to a Techsan large flat screen, and a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse. It’s not the cheapest system around (though the Inspiron is very competitively priced) but I spend my life on this computer, and have both Bill’s AR&E business and my own writing on same. Well worth every penny of the investment.
As for the software. Absolutely nothing compares with WordPerfect 12 for writing books. It is infinitely superior to MSWord for long documents. I also have paid a bit extra to have the complete Concise Oxford Dictionary online as part of my WordPerfect program. Once you use it and the superior thesaurus in the WP software, you will never be able to go back. (NB: I own the Shorter Oxford which is the definitive English language dictionary in two very hefty volumes and adore it, but the one volume Concise is still light years ahead of anything else, and having it blended into your word processing program for instant checking while you’re writing is sheer joy.)
All that said, if you have not used WordPerfect before it will require time spent learning the program. Since I started with WordPerfect 3.0 back in the ’80s, I am not just an addict but an adept. Nonetheless, I truly believe it’s worth any writer struggling through the learning curve. And the online tutorials are excellent. You will still need the MSWord that will doubtless come bundled with your computer because that is the ubiquitous program that everyone uses - we even send out all our AR&E materials in MSWord (i.e. those sent electronically for one or another reason) for the same reason. But for writing… WordPerfect every time.
Okay, one final point on this same subject. I am astounded at how many people apparently write books with each chapter as a separate file. So when I’m doing a Customized Fingerprint Report and ask for a word count folks tell me the number of pages, and imply that getting the word count is a big deal. As long as you have the whole book in one file (yes, you can do that with WordPerfect, and remember I’m an historical novelist writing books that are often over 200,000 words) you simply open the file, go to Properties, then to Information, and there you are. (Word does that as well, but as with most Microsoft programs, in a clunky sort of way with considerably less ease and elegance.) Other reasons for keeping the book as one file: clever editing and rewriting means knowing what you said in Chapter C as you suddenly start fooling around with a new plot thread (or a new idea if you’re doing non-fiction) in Chapter M and have to go back to put in proper foreshadowing and the like. You don’t do that? Make a sign and put it over your desk. “All of writing is rewriting… George Bernard Shaw.”
It has long been conventional wisdom in the world of books for the tiniest tots that publishers preferred to find their own illustrators, and it was okay to submit a naked story. Maybe so back when that was the last aspect of the business where it wasn’t absolutely necessary to have an agent. And up until maybe five years ago, we consistently refused to do a Customized Fingerprint Report for writers of this type of book. Not enough data out there we said.
These days it’s all changed.
There’s plenty of info and plenty of agents who are taking on this segment of the market. After all, J.K. Rowling has become a billionaire. Okay, she began by writing what the kid’s biz calls a chapter book (who knew even those first books were going to attract a huge adult audience as well, and that the later ones would be YAs). Doesn’t matter. Publishing believes in fairy dust. Some of it might sift down to the baby book set. So now we do plenty of customized reports for those writing for the very young. And because I do those reports, I can tell you without question that the bar has been raised in the matter of the illustrations. What sells to publishers - and therefore to agents - is a unified vision as unique and as special as possible. If you’ve got that, and you can draw as well as write… As the gecko says, “Piece o’ cake, that is.” (And don’t all you folks writing and illustrating for kids wish you’d thought of that little green Aussie…)
And for a final word on this show and tell subject - graphic novels continue to be hot. We’ve now got an agent or two making a real specialty of same. If this is what you do, be advised.