An Organizing Tool for Writers

Are you going crazy trying to organize all the research you’ve done on potential publishers, comparable books, and similar authors? Check out The Brain.

If you’re like me, you are an organizing fiend who relies on a combination of notebooks, Post-it notes, and iPhone apps to keep all of your notes straight. This works for some things, but not all. Case in point: Industry Research.

The thing about researching the writing industry is that it’s all so convoluted and interconnected. Who can keep track of all the different imprints a publishing house might have, and what they print? How do you zero in on the right agent (or publishing house) based on similar sales and client lists? As I try to navigate these waters, I rapidly find my eyes crossing at all the switchback arrows I draw trying to make sense of the relationships between any author-book-agent-publisher combination.

One tool I’ve been trying out is The Brain. The Brain is a free mind-mapping software tool that lets you organize thoughts, nuggets of information, documents, and anything else you might want to add, into a network-like structure that more closely resembles the way our brain works. The beauty of this organizational structure is that you aren’t confined to a linear hierarchy where the only directions you can go are up or down. In The Brain, you can create thoughts, jump from one thought to another, or add as many branches as you’d like. Your thoughts can even loop back on one other, or let parent thoughts become child thoughts of their own children. Freaky.

Fig 2. Authors who have made it into my brain.

For instance, the name of my brain is Writing Industry and it has several high-level nodes or “thoughts” to it: Agencies, Books, Literary Agents, Publishers, Resources, and Authors. The screenshot to the right shows my brain with the Authors node expanded. These are all the authors I have put in my brain for some reason or another. Maybe they wrote a book in the same genre as my work in progress (WIP), or perhaps they are a client of an agent who represents similar works.

The nice thing about thoughts is that they can be easily manipulated. When two thoughts become one (*cough cough* Random House and Penguin publishers), it’s a simple thing to drag thoughts from one node to another or rename thoughts as they evolve.

Fig 3. Book-specific information and jump links

From here, I can drill down into each author (in this case, Neil Gaiman) and and even further into one of his books (American Gods.) I’ve tagged this book with the genre “fantasy fiction.” (Tags can be used as filters to sort for specific keywords.) To the left of the book, I can follow jump links to two other related nodes, Gaiman’s literary agent Merrilee Heifetz, and the publisher HarperTorch.

For every node, I can add notes, URL links, documents, folders, and tags. This is great for keeping track of what genres different agents are looking for, or linking to author webpages. In the premium version of The Brain, you get a few other extras (like the ability to describe the relationship between nodes, like the connector line that says “Represents” between Heifetz and Gaiman.)

But I think the free version is just fine for what I need: a non-hierarchical network-like framework for tracking dynamic relationships within the writing industry.The only down-side is that there is no mobile version, so I can’t look up an agent on my mobile Brain at a conference and impress them with my encyclopaedic knowledge of their sales history as it pertains to my WIP. But I will be able to find that information and mention it when I sit down to write my query letter back home.

So, has anybody else played around with The Brain (or any other mind mapping software) for organizing industry research?
-BB

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One thought on “An Organizing Tool for Writers

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