It’s been more than two years since my last bulk book review for The Reading Spree, and it makes me very sad to say that I’m still working on the third one. My bad. If things go as planned, I’ll be able to post before the month of May ends. Don’t worry, the theme for the next review will be worth the wait. 😉

Meanwhile, I’ve got two online services and an OS-specific software for you today. I’ve known about them for quite a while, but haven’t had the chance to properly use them and formulate a full list of pros and cons. I can give you a brief background on these services and software; I hope to give you a full rundown soon, hopefully alongside that promised book review.

Software for novel writing

When I was in college, I wrote my short stories, novel concepts, and flash fiction by hand. Notebooks, yellow pads, and even Post-Its were filled with ideas and scribbles; and I seldom used my PC to write anything that’s not school-related. Many years later, I still harbor an intense love for anything old school, but my writing hand simply can’t keep up with my racing mind − hence, the switch from pen and paper to laptop and word processor. (Boooo. I know.) Besides, typing everything up is much easier than dealing with hand cramps and countless pieces of paper scattered all over the place.

Some writers would probably laugh at me since I can’t leave the good ol’ word processor behind (in my case, it’s LibreOffice Writer). Sometimes I deviate and use Google Docs (now Google Drive), but present-day writers can also make use of downloadable software to help them write and stay on track. Windows and Mac users are lucky in this aspect since they have a wide software selection, but since I’m an Ubuntu Linux user, I don’t have a lot of choices. I did, however, find something worthwhile: Storybook.

Basically, Storybook helps novelists organize all elements of their work: characters, multiple plot lines, chapters, etc. There are two variants: the free version, and Storybook Pro, which includes exporting and charting functions, along with the Storybook Memoria Tool. I’m a very disorganized person and rely on many tools throughout the day to focus and get things done, and if/when I do get the chance to work on my first novel, Storybook will help me put all my ideas and notes in one place − and, in the process, make me craft a more coherent and cohesive story.

Here are some screenshots, taken from the Storybook website:

Storybook Memoria Tool

Reading View

Chronological View

Manage Scenes and Chapters

Book View

Check out this comparison sheet to see the full list of differences between the Free and Pro versions. Both versions work on Linux and Windows systems; those who want to use Storybook Pro will need to pay only US$29 through PayPal. If you need Storybook Pro for both Windows and Linux, you can get it for just US$34.90 through the Storybook Shop.

Pre-Press Preview

Your novel may be finished and you’re raring to get it into retail ASAP, but it may also be a good move to slow down and get valuable feedback beforehand. In turn, avid readers would gamely go through your book prior to release, and let you know about the things you’ve done correctly, or where you’ve gone wrong. Writers and readers, say hello to NetGalley.

I found out about this online service through a former college professor, who blogged about it a year or so ago, and continues to use it. Here’s the lowdown: NetGalley caters to what it calls “professional readers” (a.k.a. people who are in the book industry and/or have the power to influence consumers’ tastes and views, including book reviewers, bloggers, mainstream media, and book store owners), and is connected to many publishers specializing in multiple genres. What happens is that publishing companies can post digital/print galleys of upcoming titles, and NetGalley members can send these publishing companies requests to view those galleys. Once given access, NetGalley members can choose to review those upcoming titles; users are not obligated to write a review after finishing each title. In essence, NetGalley is the “middle man” for readers and publishers.

NetGalley members don’t have to pay to use it, but publishers will need to fill up a short form to determine their setup/monthly fees. The online service also provides handy galley request guidelines for members, and supports many e-book readers and mobile devices.

Social Reading

Using people’s love of books to build communities isn’t a new concept. Book clubs and swap meets are just some of the earliest manifestations I can think of, while Shelfari (which was acquired by online retail giant Amazon in 2008) is the first online iteration of the concept that I know of (well, besides web rings. Remember those?). Shelfari allows users to list the books in their possession (or those they want to have someday), post book reviews and ratings, share book-related info with friends, connect with book authors, and join different groups that can be made according to location and/or interest.

Goodreads is the latest online service that appeals to bookworms and authors. It is similar to Shelfari when it comes to many core functions, and I haven’t used it enough to see what the major differences are. So far, the only difference I see is that while Shelfari allows members to edit book information (with only some parts subject to admin approval), Goodreads has a “librarian program” where only selected users can tweak book data.

I can say this, though: getting more than seven million members in just five years is very impressive. I’ve already signed up for a Goodreads account, but haven’t had the time to explore and add friends yet.