The Frugal Novel Researcher

Man looks at a very tall stack of teetering books.  It's so tall a ladder is propped up against it.
Maybe a few too many books?

How many research horror stories do you have?  I’ve bought books that I’ve never used, made copies of magazines for scenes that ended up being jettisoned from the story, and had to research topics multiple times because of my bad note taking abilities.  Yet, as the sequestration looms on Washington, DC, I may be furloughed.  The writing isn’t stop, but I’m going to have to find ways to cut costs out of things like research.

That means, among other things, not buying books.

Must.  Resist. The. Bookstore.

Man's toupee pops off as he stares at computer in shockAnd it’s easy to buy books.  It doesn’t look like a lot of money.  Until I realize I’ve bought five books on a topic and have spent $100.  Start adding up what you’ve purchased and see what it comes out to.

I think one of the reasons I spent so much on the sources was because I’m a terrible note taker.  I’m visual spatial, so I don’t connect well to the typical note taking methods, nor was I taught how to do it.  I’ve had to start out saving money by learning how to do this part better with visual note taking (which is also a lot of fun!).

But the internet, while free, isn’t always a good source.  Ever gone online for a quick 5-minute search and 1 hour later got back to writing?  Sometimes it’s easy to get distracted, and specific information can be hard to find.

So the local library has been my first resource for research.  It’s pretty close, so if I needed to save on gas, I could walk there (you are tracking your gas mileage when you do research, right?).  I’ve been using a combination of the library’s online catalog and WorldCat, which is a great tool for telling me what library the books are located at.  Sometimes I’ve had to go to other libraries, like the University of Maryland.  But that has additional mileage costs and parking, so I have to make sure that my visits there are a good use of my time (back to taking good notes).

Inter Library Loan has also been a great tool.  It does cost about $3.00 a book, so I still have to look at what I’m spending.  I once made the mistake of getting a book through ILL, and the book turned out to be available in its entirety on Google Books (having been published around 1900).  Worse, it wasn’t helpful.  So, before I order an ILL book, I look around to see if there are other resources I might be able to use.  The result is that I’ve only ordered two books recently because they’re topics I know I’m going to need to spend more than a few hours with the book.

Copies are also one of those things that add up.  I used to copy pages from magazines when I found an article I needed, and for the same reasons as buying books: note taking issues.  Often what would happen is that I’d make the copies, and then the scene that had needed the research would get deleted.  :>

What are your research horror stories?  What to do you do to save money on research?

Links on research for fiction writers

Guns, Drugs, and Elvis: Research tips for novels from Kenyon College

10 Research Tips for Fiction Writers:  Practical tips based on experience from Sheryl Clark.

Researching Details in Fiction: Worth a look alone for the list of links.

5 thoughts on “The Frugal Novel Researcher

  1. I tend to purchase books that I think might help me with fantasy worldbuilding — and rarely look at them. I also accumulate books on mythology which I never read. 🙂
    Sometimes it’s hard to know when to take the time to actually DO the research.


    1. Yeah — I’ve cleaned out a ton of books, and I look at them and wonder why I bought them in the first place. Thought they would be a good research source, and then I never touched them again.


  2. Pingback: How to find details for a story when you’re not good at them | Linda Adams

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