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Scrivener: Our Favorite Writerly Tool

Scrivener: Our favorite writerly tool

Welcome to our newest blog series, all about the wonderful tool known as Scrivener. At SGR-Pub, we use Scrivener from the very beginning of the writing process all the way through formatting. It’s the best $50 we’ve ever invested, but it’s taken us a while to figure out all the features. To that end, we’ll be sharing some of our best tips for using Scrivener over the next eight weeks, culminating in a Q&A post. So if you’ve got questions, let us know in the comments!

Please note: Our tips and tricks are primarily for Scrivener 2.0. We’ve heard from Literature and Latte that 3.0 is coming at the end of 2018, so we’ll be holding our breath until then.

What is Scrivener?

Ask not what you can do in Scrivener, but what Scrivener can do for you!Scrivener is, at its heart, program writers use to draft manuscripts, screenplays, research papers–you name it. Over the years, more features have been added to help with exporting your manuscript to different formats. For most writers, having an all-in-one solution helps pare down on the messiness that arises in the drafting process. Here are just some of the features Scrivener has.

With so many features, it’s easy to quickly become overwhelmed. So the first thing you should ask yourself is not what is Scrivener, but how can it help improve your writing experience.

Plotters and Pantsers, Rejoice

No matter how you choose to write, Scrivener has a method for you. If you’re a writer who loves to know where they’re going before they set out, you can use folders and scenes to outline your book. If you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of writer, Scrivener offers a full screen mode, and the ability to reorganize and adjust as you go.

All writers, however, can benefit from the structure of Scrivener. It’s designed to be flexible, which can be daunting. Let’s begin by defining each of the levels.
Scrivener screen shot: How to read the page When creating a new project from the Fiction preset, you’ll get something like this. There’s a tutorial, some items called Places, Front Matter, Research, Template Sheets, and more. At the outset, it’s best to leave most of these alone and focus on the boxes in yellow.

This is where you’ll be focusing all your energy. Scrivener will automatically create a Manuscript bucket for you, adding a template Chapter and Scene. As with the above, if you’re not yet ready to divide the writing into chapters, you can delete the chapter folder.

Then just write! Add scenes, add chapters. Write everything in one scene and divvy it up later, or break them up as you go.

If you’ve got research to do, you can drag and drop images, PDFs, and more into the Research bucket. Under Template Sheets, you can create basic character profiles, if that’s how you write. You can keep photos and descriptions of scenes under the Places tab.

Editing and Formatting in Scrivener

Scrivener: Having a single master file is easier than editing a comma in fifteen different filesWe’ll have a more in-depth look at editing in Scrivener in the coming weeks, but for now, we’ll touch on some of the basics. With all your scenes and chapters in Scrivenings and folders, reordering is a cinch through drag-and-drop. Select two or three scenes at once and view a subsection of your manuscript. Add comments and notes to keep track of things you’ll need to fix later. Use the Project Replace to change character names. The possibilities are endless!

One of the downsides of Scrivener is tracked changes aren’t as easy to manage as in, say Word. You can use the Snapshot feature to keep track of what changed and when, but it’s not as collaborative as Word or Google Docs.

But the big upside to Scrivener is the relatively easy way to export your manuscript into a variety of different formats. From ePub to Kindle, PDFs formatted for print to .docs for your editors, you can keep one master file. Anyone who’s ever wondered “which version is this?” can appreciate the benefit of not having to edit a period in fifteen different documents. And when you’re on to Books 2 and beyond, having the same formatting presets can save you time and frustration.

Suffice to say: We love Scrivener, and we wouldn’t think of writing a book without it.

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How to Find Beta Readers and CPs – Your Best Writerly Friends

How to find beta readers: Your best writerly friends

Authors have different ways to solicit feedback. Some prefer a more collaborative approach, where they use critique partners during the drafting process. Others prefer to draft in solitude, then share a nearly completed version. Either way: You’re still in need of a set of eyes to find the issues in your manuscript. Today, we’re going to talk about how to find beta readers and critique partners.

The Importance of Other Insights

First, why are betas and CPs so important? Mostly because this feedback comes during the editing or drafting stage.

How to find beta readers: If you seek beta feedback too late, you might not be willing to incorporate it

If you’ve ever had a boss ask you to rework an entire presentation the night before the big meeting, you know timing is crucial. Likewise, if you seek heavy feedback too late in the editing process, you may be recalcitrant to make the changes. The beta stage, therefore, is a crucial step. It’s the place where you’re “open for comments” and willing, ready, and able to incorporate them. Even if it means chopping large chunks of your manuscript, and rewriting others.

For that should be the role of your betas/CPs. Unlike a line editor, who searched for grammatical issues and typos, or a QA reader, who finds those all-important final quality issues, your betas should be looking at the text as a reader would. This is also the job of a content editor, if you so choose to go that route.

Use Your Network

When looking for help on your manuscript, you should start with your existing network. Do you have any fellow author friends? Readers or fans? Bookworm friends? All of the above make excellent beta readers–for different reasons.

How to find beta readers: Recruit a mix of authors and non-authors to read your book. You'll get structural feedback plus the reader's perspectiveYour author friends will be able to lend a critical, structural eye to your work. They will undoubtably be the harshest of your beta readers, but also the most willing to offer creative solutions. It’s generally a good idea to enlist one or two of these eagle-eyed critiques.

Your readers or fans probably won’t be as focused on mechanical issues. However, they will be able to provide a reader’s perspective. They may also just come back with, “I loved it!” In which case, they serve as an ego-booster. As every author knows, these are important to keep morale high and the process going. Also, these folks are great for reviewing subsequent books in a series for continuity.

If you don’t have any author friends or reader fans, then your bookworm friends are also good to review your book. But be wary: Sometimes they may overlook issues that other readers may not. An independent set of eyes is always critical.

Using Author Groups

Another great way to locate beta readers is to join writing groups, or author support groups on Facebook. We chatted about this a few weeks ago. There are thousands of writer-focused groups, some even specific to your genre.

There, you’ll undoubtably find more of the author-type readers. They may ask you to beta read their in return, or barter some other kind of help. Either way, pay it forward always.

Finding Paid Beta Readers

If all else fails, or if you want a little extra assurance, you can always seek out paid beta readers. Note, however, that a paid beta read is not the same as a content editor. A beta reader generally won’t leave detailed comments in the text, nor will they be on the hook to offer solutions for the issues they bring up. An editor, on the other hand, will do all of that.

With that in mind, keep an eye on your costs and your current skill level. For example, while we offer beta reading services, usually we only accept beta reads from authors with a little experience under their belt. Instead, we’ll suggest a content edit, where we can deep dive into the manuscript and really give you the bang for your buck.


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How to Take Feedback – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

How to take feedback: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Writing can be a solitary endeavor. But when you’re ready to share your art, you’ll have to seek feedback from others. Learning how to take feedback is an essential tool in the writer’s toolbox. Of course, line edits and typo checking are pretty easy to fix. When it comes to the more subjective areas, like characterization, plot, and overall likability, it’s good to know what’s good feedback and what should be set aside.

In a few weeks, we’ll talk about where to find sources of feedback (editors and beta readers), but before we get there, it’s important to be prepared.

The Initial Reaction

How to take feedback: When you get it, give yourself enough space to detach emotionally, so you can really understand itDepending on your closeness to the manuscript, you may experience a variety of different reactions upon that first email from your editor. Some folks take their “lumps” like a champ. Others move into defensiveness. But our advice is simple:

Read it, understand it, then let it sit.

A lot of writers talk about giving the manuscript “space.” It means to step away from the work long enough to detach emotionally from it. When you’re in the thick of drafting, cutting or changing can seem daunting. Taking a break from the work means you come back with fresh eyes and more energy.

The same concept can be applied to taking feedback. On first blush, “I didn’t connect with the character” can seem like a slap in the face. But after a week, maybe you reread your manuscript with that thought in the back of your mind. Perhaps you locate small tweaks in dialogue and action to make your characters more relatable.

Listen to Everyone, Change for a Few

How to take feedback: No one reads a book the same way. Expect your beta feedback to varyJust as you shouldn’t expect to get five star reviews from every reader, you should expect a varied response from your beta readers. It’s not uncommon for each person to come back with different feedback. The key is understanding which feedback deserves full attention.

In general, if more than two people make the same comment, it should be a red flag that something should be fixed. Otherwise, use your discretion as the author. Maybe you make small tweaks to dialogue, as we said above. Or perhaps an entire plot point needs to be scrapped.

If you’re writing a book that requires sensitivity readers, their feedback should be taken with a bit more gravitas. When penning a story that features heavily in another culture, it’s a good idea to recruit a few readers who live that culture. The more perspectives, the greater chance your book will be true to life.

On the other hand, if feedback comes out of left field, boil it down to the basic criticism, and focus there. For example, when the dragon book was in the beta stage, we received a ten paragraph essay on how the book could be more like Outlander. The book, however, was nothing like Outlander, nor was it intended to be. Instead of making the book something it’s not, we took it as a signal to focus more on worldbuilding to prevent others from making the same error.

Tackle the Beast…Slowly

Another rookie mistake authors make is to adjudicate comments too quickly. This is especially an issue when working with an editor. When you don’t take the time to really work on comments individually, you may not do as good a job. While you think you’ve fixed the problem, you may have just slapped on a bandaid. Give yourself plenty of time to make the changes.

When edits come from multiple sources, we like to consolidate them as comments in the text. We use Scrivener, so any comments have to be incorporated this way anyhow. For Word users, you can combine two versions of a Word document to get everything in one file.

Then we knock out the punch list until everything’s been taken care of.

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How to Self-Edit: A Key Author Skill

How to self-edit: A key author skill

There are many skills you need as an author. An eye for plot, a sense of empathy for good characters. Nerves of steel to withstand criticism and bad reviews. But one of the best skills a new author can hone is the ability to lend a critical eye to their own work. In today’s blog, we’ll share our tips on how to self-edit your manuscript.

Know When to Edit

The first step for any author is to know thyself. Or, really, know thyself at the present moment. Authors are creative creatures. We’ve found that no matter how similar a book, drafting rarely happens the same way twice. There are a thousand variables in your life, from kids and career to the weather and alignment of the moon. Depending on these variables, your mood will change. When and where you should start that all-important self-editing should too.

For example, if you are trying to draft a book in the midst of renovating a house, running two businesses, and having to deal with obligations around friends, family, and kids, you may want to just draft, draft, draft without any consideration for self-editing. We’ve had moments where we stare at whole sections of words, knowing they have to go, but not wanting to fall backward in our word count goals. And then we get stuck.

Many new authors believe that there’s only one way to write a book. They get so wrapped up in what they should be doing that they forget the first rule of writing: There are no rules. Knowing your own threshold is the first step to success.

Put it in a New Frame

How to self-edit: Reading your manuscript in a different format triggers your brain to notice different thingsGenerally, our drafting process works with both self-editing and drafting (depending on the mood). At the end of three months, we get a “first” draft, which usually pretty nearly is what the final book looks like. Depending on your skill level, your first draft may not be close, but that doesn’t matter. As long as you have a book-shaped draft, this tip will apply. Export or email the book to your eReader, find a spot away from your computer, and read your book as a reader would.

There are a few reasons why this works. When you put your manuscript in a different platform with a different color scheme and shape, it triggers something in your brain. The book is no longer yours, it’s any other book you picked up off Amazon. And then your writer brain turns into your reader brain and you can become more critical.

The trick is not to overthink it. Leave one or two word comments, like “More,” “Confusing,” or our favorite “WTF.” Because you’re reading on a tablet or eReader, you won’t get sucked down a rabbit hole of fixing those issues and can take in the whole draft.

What to Look For

Our recommendation is to give your manuscript a few weeks to sit untouched before you give it a read. Or, if your life is fairly hectic and you can’t remember what you had for breakfast, less time is fine. The key is that you’re reading the story with fresh eyes.

While you should be reading without any preconceived thoughts, we always like to keep a list of things to look out for. These are easy flags for you to go back and review later:

  • Scene openings: Is the world adequately described?
  • Dialogue: Is the conversation easy to follow? Is it clear who is speaking?
  • Emotional fallout: Have we given enough emotional resolution following a large event (such as a death or plot twist)
  • Characters: Are the characters staying true to how they’ve been described? Are they reacting for plot’s sake, or is the plot driving their decisions?
  • Repetition: Has this thought been conveyed before?

Because you don’t have to fix errors, simply find them, you can be more honest with yourself on whether something isn’t working. Even if there’s a question, flag it and come back to it.

When it’s all done, add in your notes as comments in your manuscript. Don’t be worried if there are a lot, or if it seems like your entire manuscript is covered in comments. That’s actually a good thing! It means you’ve got a critical eye for locating problems. Just tackle a few at a time, and you’ll get through them all.

Then do the process again and again, until you’ve got something for your beta readers.

Why Self-Editing is Important

How to self-edit: The better you are at self-editing, the better your books will beWhy would you go through all this trouble if you’re just going to hire an editor? In the first place, editors are not supposed to be the authors of the book. They are merely there to assist authors in clarifying their vision.

If you’re self-published, you are most likely paying your editor. If you truly want to get your money’s worth from that resource, why would you give them sub-par work? Essentially, you’re paying them to flag and fix things you already knew about. If you give them your very best work, they have a chance to elevate it to an even higher level than you could on your own. And who would say no to that?

At the end of the day, the better you are at self-editing, the better you’ll be at writing books. This is a skill that comes with practice and time.

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