Wednesday, May 21, 2014

From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps. Step 2: Researching the Topic
Operation Valuable Fiend
(Arcade Publishing, 2014)
I was counting down towards the June 3, 2014, release of Operation Valuable Fiend with a series of blogs titled "From Idea to Published in 18 Months and Ten Steps." I just see today (May 21, 2014) that the book is already out and available, which is very exciting!

In today's blog I write about Step 2: Researching the Topic.

At the risk of stating with the trivial, you need to research as much as you can about your topic, whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction. Even if you think you know the subject thoroughly, you will be surprised to discover new and different perspectives, facts, and details, which inevitably come up during research.

As you research your sources, look for a healthy mix of primary sources and secondary sources. Primary sources are previously unpublished materials you find in archives, letters, collections, oral histories, interviews you conduct, and so on. Secondary sources are books and articles that other authors have published on the subject. The more primary sources you leverage for your work, more original it will be.

As you collect information from sources, keep your notes organized and be careful to keep track of bibliographical information. Once the flurry of writing and re-writing your book begins in earnest, you may easily loose track of where the information came from and thus risk embedding it without properly crediting your sources.

I use Microsoft Word to do my writing. Under the References tab it has commands to manage sources, insert citations, and create the bibliography in the end, which I find very useful. MS Word also allows you to present the information in the style that your publisher will eventually want (Chicago, APA, MLA, etc.) with a simple command. So, if you are not familiar with this functionality of MS Word, invest a few minutes of your time to learn about it and you will be glad you did down the road. Here's a link from Microsoft to get you started. And here's a 5-minute YouTube tutorial on the same subject.

How long should the research last? In a sense, you will never finish researching your subject. Even after your book comes out, you will still run into sources of information you wish you had available when you were writing. That's OK. You can use these additional sources to create new content for your writer's blog or book website -- yep, you should have one, if you don't have it already!

On the other hand, don't fall into the trap of perpetually researching your subject at the cost of never actually writing your book. It is very easy to lull yourself into thinking you are working on your book while spending hour after hour reading, researching, and browsing websites. At some point in time, you should draw the line and start putting pen to paper. As Charles Bukowski said, you are not a writer if you are not writing.

In the next blog, Step 3: Drafting the Manuscript, I write about the actual writing effort.