Book Your Research

[found on; by J.T. Ellison]

“If you’re planning to embark on a career as a writer, there’s something you need to know: When it comes to research, you’ll be paying your own way. Authors are faced with many economic challenges, but one of the hardest is that they often have to use their own cash to get the wheels spinning.

  • Go to the library: This is an obvious solution, but one that we sometimes overlook, especially since we can go online and find the answers we need. But a good library, and librarian, can help you find little details you would have missed otherwise. I like to read old newspapers to get a sense of what’s happening in my character’s past, and microfiche is the best way to do that. Plus, libraries often have experts in for talks.
  • Meet your fellow writers: Almost every professional writer’s association has an online listserve full of scribes who are experts in their own fields. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached out to a doctor, a lawyer, a weapons expert or former police officer through these groups. And almost all the organizations accept associate members. International Thriller Writers, Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime are all excellent groups that even have “writer’s universities,” in which they offer classes on writing and various research methods. Best of all, you get to rub elbows with your favorite writers!
  • Go online. . .but be careful: You can find out anything online, but be sure you double- and triple-source your information. Just because it’s on Wikipedia doesn’t mean it’s accurate. When I started doing research on Scotland, the first thing I did was add Scotland’s major newspapers to my RSS feeds. It allowed me a snapshot of the country, and the political undercurrents soon made their way into my story. You can become an expert pretty quickly by putting in the effort.
  • Go back to school: Through a writer’s organization or your own diligence, you can find tons of online classes that are relatively inexpensive and will give you a fuller understanding of your topic. From writing to guns to romance, anything and everything is offered.
  • Talk to the experts: Regardless of what you’re writing about, there’s nothing better than finding someone who’s lived it. Weapons experts, cops, FBI agents, SWAT team members, doctors and lawyers all have one thing in common: They want you to get it right. Just don’t forget to say thank you in the acknowledgments.
  • Reach out to readers: Blogs are a great way to get information, with the caveat that you need to double-source, just like with Wikipedia and Google. Most blogs are subjective, so you can’t use them as gospel. While you’re getting to know private experts, don’t forget to talk to people at your local bookstore. Most folks who work in bookstores do so because they love to read. Which means they’ll be a font of information for you to mine. Check your local independent bookstores as well as the chains to find people who are fascinated by your topic and can point you to the best books to use for research.
  • Explore local resources: There are innumerable ways to do research in person in your city. Big and small towns have access to the FBI Citizens’ Academy, your local Citizens’ Police Academy and multitudes of other offerings. Don’t forget to attend author signings as well — your favorite author might have a tip or two for you to find the perfect research tool.
  • Meet some strangers. . .and some old friends: Even though many groups have moved online, there are still plenty who meet and mingle in person. The members tell stories. Lots of stories. They have professional speakers. They have archives. And they want to share this information with you. For that matter, don’t discount the ones around you when you’re looking to do research. I always check with my parents when I have a question. Send up a flare within your intimate circle, and see who knows what. This is especially good for places, because if you’re anything like me, your friends and family live or have traveled all over the world.”

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