Category Archives: WRITING: PUBLISHING

Formatting for Print (Pt. 2)

When formatting your book for print, there is no one right way to do it. The goal is to make your book look not only as good as possible but to make it look “professional” or, in other words, to make it look as close to a traditionally published book as possible. Why? Because that is what the readers expect.

It isn’t difficult to do. Some methods take longer, or cost more, than others. How you get to your end product is up to you. Before we get to some of the options available, let’s go over some basics.

As authors, many of us have been programmed to write in Times New Roman or Courier or a similar font. Usually using 12 pt for type size. Standard manuscript format for submissions has usually included 1 inch margins and double-spaced lines. First line indents can be up to half an inch. We often default back to this without even thinking.

Don’t. At least not when it comes to converting your work for either e-books or print. For print you have to think about thinks like page bleeds, page size, interior margins vs exterior margins, section breaks vs. page breaks, alternating headers and footers and so much more.

Depending on which service you use as your print-on-demand source, you can choose to release your book as a mass market paperback, a trade paperback or even a hard cover. Most of those sources have basic templates you can use — and adapt — which will help you decide your margins and how to place your headers and footers, etc. If you haven’t ever put together a print file before, or if you aren’t comfortable doing so, I recommend you download one of the templates and use it. After you have your manuscript in the basic format offered by the template, you can go back and add what flourishes and changes you want. But it is a good way to start getting used to setting up a print file.

This is especially helpful if you are setting your print file up using Word or a similar word processing program.

This first shot shows basic margin information. (Click on the images and they will open in a new window in a larger format) You can see from the tabs at the top of the screenshot that I found this information in the layout tab (using Word). For a manuscript using 6 x 9 pages and coming in at approximately 270 pages total, the margins are set as shown in the image. Note also that the document has been set to mirror the margins.

The one caveat I will put here when it comes to margins, especially the inside margins is to never trust templates or what anyone tells you. You need to see what it looks like for yourself. The more pages a book has, the wider that interior margin needs to be. This is why I always recommend using a POD supplier that lets you have a physical copy of the proof before you send it to “press”. What looks good as a PDF file on your screen or even off your printer might not look the same once it has been bound. So do yourself a favor, at least until you’ve done enough print books to trust your instincts, and order a physical proof before hitting the print button.

In the same dialog box open to set the margins, click the “paper” tab. This is where you choose the size of your page. You’ll note that in Word, the 6 x 9 size is a “custom” size. This might vary depending on what word processing program you’re using.

The rest of the information in this dialog box seems like it doesn’t have much to do with what you are setting up but go ahead and make sure you have paper selection set to your default tray. This will come in handy later if you decide to print out your mss to check it yourself.

Using the “layout” tab in the same dialog box, you should get something that looks like this. I’ll be honest, this is one of the most important things you can do in setting up your print file in a word processing program. This controls the way your headers and footers will look as well as where your section breaks begin.

This is important because, if you look at traditionally published books, you may see a couple of things. First, there usually are no headers or footers on the first page of a new chapter. Second, the author’s name usually appears at the top of the even numbered pages and the book title appears at the top of odd numbered pages. (To make sure you’re setting this up right, you need to do one other thing. At the end of a chapter in an e-book file, you would have a page break. That gives the digital file the appearance of a page ending and the new chapter beginning on a different “page”. In you print file, you will replace the page break with a section break. In Word, “breaks” are found under the Layout tab. If you click on “Breaks”, a dialog box will open up. At the bottom of the box, you’ll find the alternatives for the different types of section breaks you can insert. Choose “odd page” if you want your chapters to all start on the next odd numbered page. The value of doing it this way, you chapters will all begin on the right hand side of the book and feel more traditional to your reader. However, there is a downside to this in that it can add physical pages to your book and, as the author, the amount of money you get per sale of your POD book depends on how many pages it has. The higher the number of pages, the higher the print cost. I tend to go with the more traditional approach because it is what readers expect and the pricing differential of 20 or so pages isn’t enough to worry about.)

This screenshot shows what you get when you click in either the header or footer areas of your manuscript. I wanted to show this because you can see how I’ve made sure “different first page” as well as “different odd and even pages” have been clicked. Since I’d already set them in the dialog box above, there shouldn’t have been a problem but no computer program is perfect and sometimes Word does weird things — as does any other word processing program. So it is always good to check elsewhere when possible to make sure the coding is in place.

But there is another reason I wanted you to see this screenshot. If you look at the column of options immediately to the left of the “different first page” bit, you should see as the last option “link to previous”. You want to make sure this is NOT clicked prior to your first chapter, or where you want your first page numbers and headers to appear. Otherwise, you will wind up up page numbers on your cover page, etc. If you aren’t sure where to start your headers and footers, look at print books in your genre. See what they have done.

Now, once you’ve done all this and you’ve made sure you have all the flourishes, etc., you want in place, it’s time to save your file. You’re going to do this in two steps. One, as your DOC or DOCX file. Always do this. The second will be as your PDF file. Most, if not all, POD places want a print ready PDF file for both your interior and exterior files. If you want to print your book to read through it one last time before submitting it to your POD provider, print the PDF file because it will keep not only your page size, even if you are printing on standard paper, but it will print the blank pages added in between chapters if you have your new sections always beginning on either the even or odd page.

From there, it is simply a matter of deciding if you are ready to upload the file and move on to your cover file.

Now, a couple of quick notes. If you use Word or a word processing program to create your PDF file, you need to set your margins to justify. (Of course, you can choose not to. As I mentioned above, check to see what the traditional publishers do in your genre and copy it.) If you do this, you may wind up with some odd sentence breaks. You can adjust the character spacing by highlighting the line in question, opening your font dialog box, clicking the advanced tab and then adjusting the character spacing.

One other thing you need to do is make sure you have turned off widow and orphan control. Doing this will insure your pages all end at the same place unless, of course, we’re talking the last page of a chapter where you have only a few lines or paragraphs. It’s a little thing but it makes the book look more professional.

I’ll admit there are easier ways of doing this. There are programs out there that make this a snap. Some have a very small learning curve and others have a much larger learning curve. The industry standard for years has been InDesign by Adobe. I love InDesign. I also love Quarkxpress. Both are anything but cheap and have learning curves most of us don’t want or have time for. Neither are great, at least in my experience, for designing e-books. If I’m going to put in a lot of time — and money — into a publishing program, I want it to do both. For Mac users, I’ve found one that does just that. Unfortunately, it isn’t cheap but it seems to be well worth it. The program I’m talking about is Vellum. I’m going to be buying it later this week. I’ll have a review of it next week for you guys. We’ll also talk about some of the other programs available to help streamline the process. Some of those programs include InDesign, Jutoh and Scrivener.

And now, for a bit of promo.

It’s here!

Nocturnal Rebellion is live on Amazon.

All she wanted was a simple murder case, one uncomplicated by shapeshifters or interfering IAB investigators. What she got instead was much, much more.

Now three cops are dead and Mac’s world will never be the same again. It is up to her to find the culprits and bring them to justice. But what justice? That of cops and attorneys and criminal courts or that of the shapeshifters where there would be no record and a quick execution of punishment, whatever that might be?

As she walks that fine line, Mac walks another tightrope as well. Shapeshifter politics are new to her and, as she has learned, more complicated than anything she ever encountered as a cop. One misstep can lead to not only her death but the deaths of those she cares for. Like it or not, she has no choice because she has learned there are other things just as inevitable as death and taxes. Sooner or later, the world will learn that shapeshifters aren’t just things of legend and bad Hollywood movies. If that happens before they are ready, Mac and those like her will learn the hard way what happens when humanity learns monsters are real and living next door.



KENP, Click Farms, Overdrive, and Hand-selling at AMA-Con

First, a couple notes on things that have been happening in the field since last column:
1. KENP 3.0 – Normally Amazon’s big changes to KU come in July, but this year it came in August. While there was much sturm und drang, really, there doesn’t seem to be much appreciable change from 2.0 for regular indies. The KENP page counts shrunk slightly, to align closer to true page counts when the story’s in paper. The rest appears to be on the back end, invisible to us, mostly targeted at click farms and bought reviews.

2. Speaking of click farms, several indies have recently reported their accounts being locked / books taken off sale after buying “advertising” with a “guaranteed number of readers.” You know that picture of Batman slapping Robin? Yeah, picture that. Here’s how NOT to get your account locked and books delisted:
A.) You cannot guarantee buyers ethically. If buyers or readers are guaranteed, that means you’re paying a click farm to run a program on a laptop slaved to a bunch of stolen iphones, each loaded to an Amazon account, “borrowing” and “reading” them. Unless you’re paying a click farm in North Korea, in which case it’s a poor schmuck pacing down a table, manually finger-swiping every iphone.
B.) If you can’t sign up for their mailing list, it’s a click farm. Real promoters want everybody to sign up for their lists, so they can grow. Click farms say they have a list, but if it’s not obvious and easy to find, then it’s a lie.
C.) If they don’t have a website, it’s a click farm. ESPECIALLY if their only presence is a “closed facebook group.” Again, if they’re not soliciting more people to join them, they’re not right.
D.) If it’s too good to be true, it ain’t true. It’s more likely to be this:

3. Draft2Digital is now able to load books on OverDrive – yes, that means Draft2Digital can now get your ebooks into a library. However, it’s not all wine and roses, and “can” is not the same as “will.” The comments at Passive Voice are illuminating:

And now, on marketing in the flesh:

The North Texas Writer’s Association, also called the Bugscuffle Shooting & Writing Club, ran a booth at Ama-Con up in Amarillo last Weekend. This means JL Curtis, Peter Grant, Lawdog, and myself caravaned up and Alma Boykin met up with us for the booth setup. We then spent two days hawking all our books (and the night inbetween, Jim & I got some sleep while LawDog & Peter were both furiously typing away on their latest books. LawDog’s “Africa & Other Stories” is now out for sale, and Peter’s “King’s Champion” is out to beta readers.)

If there’s anything more painful than an introvert trying to hawk their wares, it’s five introverts trying to hawk their wares. Fortunately, I have plenty of sales training, and everyone else has some “dealing with public” training. So Alma and I wore our spiffy dressy clothes (She went Edwardian, I went ren faire & steampunky with exterior corsetry), attracting eyes and cameras, and the guys took turns pitching in on sales. And we had a bowl with mints and bouncy balls, which attracted younger kids (and their parents, dragged along).

It was excellent at distilling books down to their essence. Jim’s Gray Man series quickly became “Modern westerns, with cowboys versus drug smugglers!” and Alma’s Alexi’s Tales became “Urban fantasy, but with Russian mythology instead! …And a texting cat!”

Interesting divide: People over 40 bought books, and people under 40 wanted to know if it was in ebook. We sold just enough physical books to cover table rent, but not enough to cover hotel, food, and time off work. If we do this again, we’ll have book cards (cover, blurb, QR code & URL to book on Amazon) for the ones on sale, as well as the ones not there!

Also, people may pick up the entire series at once (That happened twice with Jim’s series), especially if you take credit card. (Square worked fine.) So, bring bags! We ruthlessly dumped Office Depot supplies (sharpies for autographing, pre-printed business and book cards, books stand boxes, etc.) in order to present the bag to the happy customer who’d just bought stuff. On Day 2, Alma brought a handful of grocery bags, and life was better!

However, if you don’t have book 1 of a series, people will look interested, and then put the book back down. Most casual readers do not want to start in the middle of the series. I was really kicking myself for not having book one of everything there – or a card with book one to point them toward Amazon.

(I don’t have a good feel how we did on ebook sales. For one, LawDog is through a publisher, so I can’t get those numbers, they may be buried in the tail of a sucessful release anyway. For another, I’d have to get the other 4 of us to all check our KDP accounts and check in. I should do that. Instead I spent two days not talking to anyone, because I had used up all the extro in my vert, and needed to recharge.)

You can see our table setup here:

And for new releases this week, we have two!

Tom Rogneby has taken his talents into noir, with a few hints of supernatural in the background, with The BoogeyMan:

Martin Shelby is The BoogeyMan, a private investigator and fixer for folks who get into trouble too tough and too strange for the police. People only bring him the jobs that require the body of a linebacker and the face of a gargoyle.

Now, he’s been handed a job that pays double, but that can only mean double the danger.

But when the things that go bump in the night look under their bed for HIM, how hard can it be? To The BoogeyMan, it’s just another job.

Alma Boykin has released hilarious and lighthearted stories of witches and wizards dealing with the parts nobody ever mentions in urban fantasies: taking your familiar to the vet when it’s a 100-lb skunk, the IRS won’t let you deduct robes as professional expenses, and typos in the spellbook’s latest edition mean that students get some spectacular results from the example!

Familiar Tales, by Alma Boykin!



Formatting for Print Revisited

Formatting. The bane of every author’s existence. Whether we’re talking about formatting for print or for e-books, we’re all looking for the one click version, something that will work each and every time. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Why? It goes far beyond the fact we use different operating systems and word processing programs. The answer really rests in what readers expect and how do we, as indie authors or small press authors, make sure our work looks as “professional” as that of the Big 5.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of formatting for print, I want you to do something. Look at print books in your genre, preferably newer ones, and see how they are put together. Look at the order of front matter. What sort of flourishes are used to set off the chapter headings and section breaks. Does the first paragraph of each chapter begin with a special character or is it in some other way different from the other first lines in the section or chapter? Check more than one book and see if you can spot a trend. If you can, you need to seriously consider doing your best to imitate what is being done. NOTE: many times, those special characters used as flourishes at chapter titles and section breaks are specially licensed fonts. So make sure you have the rights to use anything similar.

Now, there’s one more thing you need to decide before we get to the actual formatting conversation. No, it’s not do you need to do a print book. The answer is yes. It isn’t because you are going to make money off of them. In fact, it is best if you look at the print version of your work as a loss leader. But what it does is make your author page and product pages look more “professional”. Readers will subconsciously take you more seriously as a writer if you have both print and digital versions of your work available. And, yes, I know I am not following my own advice right now. The reason is because I am updating my print versions and have taken a number of them off-sale until I do.

So, what is the question you need to ask yourself? It is what service to use for your POD (print-on-demand) needs. There are a number of different versions out there. Lulu, Lightning Source, Createspace, KDP are just some of the more familiar ones. They all have costs involved and some cost substantially more than others.

I’m not going to tell you which service to use. I will, however, tell you what I have used and why. Right now, all my print books are through Createspace. I chose them not only because they are easy to use but because they are cheap when it comes to buying author copies. They also allow you to order a physical copy of the proof and I’ve learned that’s important. What looks good as a PDF file can suddenly look very differently in print. So I want to hold a copy of the proof and be able to check every page before sending the book out into the wilds.

The downside to using either Createspace or KDP for your print needs is their association with Amazon. That means a number of bookstores won’t stock your book. Now, before you gasp and say how much you want your book on the shelves, it’s time for a heavy dose of reality. The chances of you getting into a bookstore are slim, very slim. First of all, most of our bookstores are still chain stores. That means they have their own purchasing agents and those agents are going to stock major publishers over the local indie author. Fewer and fewer chain stores have local buying power. As for the locally owned bookstores, if you have a really good relationship with the store owner or purchasing agent, you might be able to get your book in if you use Lightning Source but that is still a long shot. So you have to ask yourself if it is worth the price difference of setting up your book and getting it printed. Ask yourself if you sell more copies via online sales, sales from physical stores or from hand sales at cons. Then choose which printer, for lack of a better word, gives you the best product for the dollar.

CAVEAT: Do not use a printer that requires you to buy a certain amount of books in order to qualify for their program. That smacks of the old vanity presses that would “publish” you but you then had to buy scores of the book and sell them yourself. There are still authors with boxes and boxes of their books sitting in the garages because of that scam.

The next thing you have to consider is what program you are going to use to format your book for print. You can use Word, or alternatives like LibraOffice. You can use InDesign by Adobe. Then there’s Scrivener. If you are a Mac user, Vellum is also an alternative. There are others programs as well. Some let you write directly into the program. Others assume you will be working in a program like Office or Pages and will then import into the conversion program. Each have strengths and weaknesses.

So, here’s the thing. I could go on and write another 1000 words or so on formatting but this post is already over 900 words. In the comments below, tell me what programs you intend to use to format your work. Ask your questions about where you can go to have your book printed (Createspace, etc). In fact, ask any questions you have about formatting for print and next week I will answer them.

In the meantime, Nocturnal Rebellion is available for pre-order. Publication date is 8/15.

All she wanted was a simple murder case, one uncomplicated by shapeshifters or interfering IAB investigators. What she got instead was much, much more.

Now three cops are dead and Mac’s world will never be the same again. It is up to her to find the culprits and bring them to justice. But what justice? That of cops and attorneys and criminal courts or that of the shapeshifters where there would be no record and a quick execution of punishment, whatever that might be?

As she walks that fine line, Mac walks another tightrope as well. Shapeshifter politics are new to her and, as she has learned, more complicated than anything she ever encountered as a cop. One misstep can lead to not only her death but the deaths of those she cares for. Like it or not, she has no choice because she has learned there are other things just as inevitable as death and taxes. Sooner or later, the world will learn that shapeshifters aren’t just things of legend and bad Hollywood movies. If that happens before they are ready, Mac and those like her will learn the hard way what happens when humanity learns monsters are real and living next door.



Random crumbly bits of author stuff

In no particular order. Your mileage may vary.

1) If you’re wondering about going indie, consider your lifetime fiction output. General rule of thumb — from a man I trust to know his business — is that “entry level” competency is reached when you have at least 500,000 words of books and stories in your trunk, and/or have several personalized rejections from trad pub editors. Prior to that, you may not have done enough “homework” to have your storytelling muscles up to the task of surviving in the indie marketplace. I know plenty of people immediately publish everything they’ve ever written, ever. I sometimes think that’s a mistake. I know I will get beat up for saying this.

2) If you’re wondering about going trad, consider your ability to withstand rejection. How long are you willing to wait for the editors/agents to decide you’re good enough? Keep in mind: waiting is not necessarily a bad thing. In my experience, breaking into trad pub print was one of the most satisfying events of my life. But I am from the old days, when the two options for authors were: outlast the gatekeepers, or shame yourself with vanity print. Anyone who has been through any kind of selection process — in any arena — will understand the joy of passing a tough bar. Just because it’s tough, doesn’t make it irrelevant. Although the tastes of many agents and editors can often seem wildly out of sync with the marketplace.

3) Editors and agents are not mind-readers. They cannot see into the future. There is no guarantee what will be a hit, or a dud, until it’s either a hit, or a dud. Some agents and editors develop reputations for “making” big-market talent, but this is akin to panning for gold: you have to devote a lot of time to sifting through silt, sand, and mud, just to get the little flecks and small nuggets of gold. In the words of one Hollywood producer, nobody knows anything. Ergo, the hits and the duds happen as they happen — and the one who ought to be a hit, isn’t, while the one who ought to be a dud, also isn’t. “Failure” in trad pub may have nothing whatsoever to do with the author or the stor(ies) and everything to do with events beyond an author’s control. Which is perhaps the #1 glaring flaw of trad pub that drives so many people to indie in the first place.

4) But indie isn’t an instant road to cash and fame, because now the slush pile is the whole world. Millions upon millions of books and stories being shoved at the audience, with fire-hose force. Standing out in that torrent, can be just as much of a chore as waiting in line at the gatekeepers’ transoms. You aren’t guaranteed anything. No matter how zealous you may be about the mode of delivery. Yes, indie grants the author full and total control, from start to finish. As well as the lion’s share of the take. But this also imposes the lion’s share of the responsibility. And if you thought it was painful waiting on editors and agents, it can be equally painful waiting on the audience at large. If you publish an indie book in the forest . . .

5) Don’t go cheap on covers. I know I am cutting against the grain with this. But seriously, don’t go cheap on covers. You want your cover to look like the trad pub covers that caught your eye when you were just a reader. Most artists will license an extant piece of artwork. May cost you anywhere from $200 to $500 dollars, which is stunningly inexpensive, considering that some of these men and women have done posters for Hollywood and done famous works which are known across the industry. I know many indie authors are poor as church mice, but still, don’t go cheap on your covers. You have a vanishingly short period of time in which to capture a prospective buyer’s attention. Pouring your heart and soul into a manuscript, then spending an hour on a free, terrible cover that you kludged yourself — with poor photoshop skills — is like devoting months of hard work to your diet and the weights at the gym, then going to the beach in dingy, grease-covered auto shop coveralls.

6) You can do everything right — according to the pattern established by your successful friend(s) — and still get bupkus. This is because the market is not a science. 1 + 2 does not necessary equal 3. It can equal 10,000 or it can equal zero. Consumers are legion, but they are fickle. They want a “sure thing” and herd dynamics dominate in every corner. Mountains of marketing advice is put forth, regarding ways to “game” the herd dynamic: get your product viral, so that the inertia of talk is on your side. When people are buzzing over your novel, especially if this buzz tends to self-reinforce as buzz-about-the-buzz, you can rake in wads. But there are still no guarantees. Like fishing. You can have the same type and kind of lure as your buddy next to you in the boat, with the same rod, same reel, same everything, and he will catch a dozen, while you reel in just one or two. Or none. And you have to be prepared to live with this. Pick yourself up off the hot pavement. Go wash your face and your hands. Then try again. And again. And again. And if this sounds way too hard for way too little return, there are 101 careers which serve as far easier paths to far better money.

7) So don’t quit your damned day job. Seriously. Do. Not. Quit. Your. Day. Job. It sucks trying to write full-time and work full-time. It sucks more not paying bills and being forced out of your house or your apartment. It sucks even more depending on the good will of your relatives, or your church, or government programs. If I had $10 for every embarrassed pauper author who proudly proclaimed, “I am a full-time writer, so fuck you,” and then (s)he went back to begging for lunch money, I wouldn’t have to work anymore. Starving artistry is not a holy calling. Really, it’s not. I know I am gonna get burned at the stake for saying it. But seriously, do not check out of the “mundane” work force. Not unless you’ve got a metric ton of dough in the bank, or you’ve got a spouse who eagerly volunteers to carry the mundane load — while you labor at the desk in the attic. But if you’ve got responsibilities to meet, and mouths to feed, please, meet them and feed them. As Steven Barnes said at Norwescon ’07, suffering for your art may be noble, but making your family suffer for your art, just means you’re an asshole.



Formatting revisited

Before I get started, I want to thank everyone for answering my questions last week. I’ll be pulling your responses together and posting the results in the next few weeks (assuming real life settles down. It has been “interesting” of late).

Recently, formatting has been a topic of discussion with some of my writer friends. I knew I’d written about it before but was surprised to realize it’s been more than 2 years. So I thought I’d revisit the topic. Much of what I wrote before still holds but, as with anything, there are a few tweaks to the articles I’d like to make.

I’ll start out by saying I’m lazy. When I start a new project, I set up the document so that I have to make minimal formatting changes when it comes to converting it for either print or digital formats. The only real change I have to make is in line spacing. When I write, I have line spacing set at 1.5 o 2 lines. When I convert to digital that gets changed to 1.15 line and print depends on several factors but it, too, is usually around 1.15. But more on that later.

I also write in Word. No, I’m not going to get into a debate about what word processor program is best. I use Word for several reasons. First, it is the one I’m most familiar with. Second, it’s review function is, in my opinion, the best one of the major word processing programs available. Third, old Word Perfect (which rocked) does not convert well into e-books. Yes, there are issues with Word but the advantages outweigh them. But that doesn’t mean you have to use it. My only caveat is that you need to do two things with regard to any program you use. First, you have to make sure you understand the licensing you are agreeing to. Some licenses do not allow you to use the program for commercial purposes. Others restrict where you can use that file for commercial purposes (Apple). You also have to know what sort of licensing you are getting when it comes to the fonts included with the program. So read the boilerplate, even if your eyes start to glaze over.

The second issue is you have to understand that each of these programs have junk code written into them. That code can cause problems when your files are being converted into e-books. There are ways around it, ways that don’t require going old school and hand-coding the html. More on that later.

I’m not going to completely recreate my original post on formatting your document at the writing level. You can find it here. When you are getting started, here are a couple of things to remember. Don’t ever, EVER use “tab” when you start a new paragraph. Set first line indent in your paragraph formatting box. Don’t use two spaces at the end of a sentence. (It is no longer taught in keyboarding classes, so it is an indication you are not “young”. Yes, it can matter.)

Now, another general comment. Most of the online outlets require a table of contents for e-books. Don’t panic. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to manually create one. In fact, I haven’t included a ToC page in a work of fiction in the last five years. Instead, I use what’s called an “Active Table of Contents”. If you use the Headings options in your word processing program, the Active Table of Contents will be automatically generated. That will satisfy Amazon and the other major players. More importantly, it means you don’t have to worry about whether you have put the ToC in the proper place in your book. (Remember, Amazon has now forbidden placement of the ToC at the back of a book because less than ethical authors were doing so to work the system of page turns in Kindle Unlimited.)

Now, for the nitty gritty of formatting. This is all general information and can be tweaked to fit what you like the best. Remember, this is initially for writing the manuscript and for digital conversion.  (Note: I tend to increase the font size on Heading 1. I haven’t done so here because some sites like Smashwords have a font size limit and I can’t remember it off the top of my head.) One other thing to consider. You want your e-book or print book to look as “professional” or “traditional” as what readers are used to. That means you have to do your homework and discover what is standard for your genre. The information below is a starting point and can — and should — be tweaked to make it look the best for your genre and length.

Heading 1 (for section titles or chapter titles)

  • Font — Georgia
  • Size — 14 (you can go to 16 if you want but I wouldn’t recommend going any larger. Remember that a lot of folks read on their phones and a larger font will do odd things on their screen)
  • Special characteristics — Bold Italic
  • Alignment — Centered (Check to make sure first line indent has not be applied.)
  • Spacing — will correspond with what I use for the rest of the book.

Heading 2 (used only if I am using Heading 1 for anything other than chapter headings)

  • Font — Georgia
  • Size — 14
  • Special characteristics — Bold
  • Alignment — Centered (Check to make sure first line indent has not been applied.)
  • Spacing — will correspond with what I use for the rest of the book.

Normal (used for the body of the text)

  • Font — Georgia (This is my personal preference, but you can use Times New Roman, Garamond or others. My recommendation is to check to see what other books in your genre use.)
  • Size — 12
  • Special characteristics — None
  • Alignment — left
    • First line indent of 0.3 to 0.33
  • Spacing — 1.15

Here are a couple of things to remember:

  • No tabs.
  • No spacing before or after paragraphs.
  • When you have section breaks within a paragraph, use something to denote the break. I use *   *   * to do so. It is centered and, using the paragraph options dialog box, I remove the first line indent. You can use other indicators but, if you use special characters, make sure you have the license to do so.
  • Also in the paragraph dialog box, be sure you turn off the widows and orphan option.
  • Have a “page break” at the end of each chapter. This will make your reader have to “turn the page” to begin the next chapter, thereby making your e-book more like a “real” book. To insert a page break, you can either go to “Insert” at the top of your page and then click on page break or your can simply hit CTRL and Enter at the same time.
  • When showing internal thoughts, most authors use italics. That is what the reader is used to, at least here in the States.
  • I keep my margins and paper size — at this point — at 1 inch all the way around and at 8 1/2 by 11.

Something else I have been doing for some time now is not indenting the first paragraph of each new chapter. That first line is left justified. I then capitalize and italicize the first word to three words. I don’t tend to do more than that because of the varied font sized readers can select on their own. The last thing I want is to cap a long phrase or the entire line and then have it looking weird to my reader because they have increased the font size and the flow of what looked find on my screen now takes up several lines.

They key is that our e-books needs to look as professional and “traditional” as anything our readers might buy. The second key we have to keep in mind is that not everyone reads our e-books on their phones or tablets. Some read on dedicated e-book readers. Despite what some of the so-called studies say, dedicated e-book readers are still popular and will continue to be as the population ages. Why? Because an e-ink screen is better for the eye. There is less reflection off the screen than there is from a tablet screen or even the printed page.

But that means we have to keep in mind that some of the fancy font work we can do for print or for files read on a tablet can’t be done for an e-ink reader. So, if you want that fancy first letter in a chapter, you need to consider doing it as an image instead of font. Why? Because it won’t translate properly to e-ink and your reader can be left with something that looks not only odd but might not even appear. Of course, the downside to using an image is that Amazon charges a transmission fee and the more images you have in a file, the larger the file size and the more that transmission fee will be. So, you find other ways to make the first line to “special”. That’s why I cap and italicize the first few words. I can get fancier with the print version.

If you do all this while writing, you have set yourself up for a very easy road to conversion for your e-book. Better yet, you have very little you will have to change for your print version. Most of those changes will be global search and replace, a few minutes at best.

I know I haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty of the conversion process yet. I’ll save that for next week. In the meantime, if you want to jump ahead, here’s a link to the earlier post about it. Yes, things have changed. But it is a good place to start. Otherwise, I’ll be back next week with an updated version.

Until then, ask any questions you might have, either about today’s post or about what you’d like me to cover next week.




A few thoughts about platform

The longer I go in this field, the more convinced I become that nobody has a truly comprehensive picture. Trad pubbers insist that New York is still the only road to brick-and-mortar stores, which lend brick-and-mortar credibility. Yet there are indie writers making several orders of magnitude more money than even the more well-off trad pub midlisters. With indie stars often getting plucked for trad pub eventually anyway — because indie is now the farm system where trad pub looks most closely, for all the hot new horses. Yet, for every indie author who rides a successful indie career to substantial trad pub paychecks, there are ten thousand other indie authors and trad pub authors alike, each dwelling in obscurity.

“Platform!” we all yell in unison, with almost prophetic urgency. Of the many industry buzz words to come and go these past two decades, platform is the one that continues to resonate. Because it’s plainly obvious that authors with sufficient platform, can perform at levels dramatically higher than those with little or no platform.

But do we ever stop to consider: what exactly is platform?

The most common response to the question typically focuses on blogs and article-writing — cough, not unlike this very example you’re reading right now, cough — which generates eyeballs for the author’s effort. And the potential for fiction sales — should the people attached to those eyeballs decide that the blog or article author is interesting enough in a non-fic setting, to risk coin on the author’s skill in a fic setting.

This type of platform is the path of least resistance, as evidenced by the millions of author blogs which now blanket the internet. Early adopters seem to have done best. Though there does come a point of sharply diminishing returns, I think. Because sooner or later, it’s the books and stories which matter most. Not how loudly or proudly an author can hold forth on topics like politics, the fic biz itself, cat pics, or any other subject.

It was this thought I found foremost in my mind while discussing my publisher — Baen Books — with a new, outspoken, and conservatively-minded indie firebrand, who was wondering what it would take to attract Baen’s interest.

“More than just being a partisan,” I told him bluntly. Because that much is true. Baen — being just about the only trad pub label in Science Fiction which isn’t observably anti-conservative — gets fairly mobbed with manuscripts and inquiries from prospective conservative and libertarian authors. I myself would not have earned more than a glance from Baen, had my pedigree in Analog magazine not preceded me. Even the good word of mouth, proffered by friends already being published beneath the Baen banner, would not have counted without those short fiction credits to form a foundation.

In simpler terms, I didn’t have a popular blog to show, but I did have quantifiable proof of audience.

And that is the root of it, my friends. Quantifiable. Proof. Of. Audience.

Which is not a bulletproof magic carpet, mind you. Just ask the trad pub office that shelled out for the Snooki book. Or the poor Dorling Kindersley people responsible for the print run decisions on the infamous Phantom Menace novelization.

Platform is just smoke. It is not (yet) the fire itself.

So . . . what’s the use? If platform cannot be a guarantee, why dig for it? And if not blogs and articles, what else?

My favorite trad pub comic strip artist of all time, is Berkley Breathed, of Bloom County fame. He re-launched that title roughly two years ago, to the delight of all of us who’d signed on with Bloom County during its original 1980s run. Breathed’s skill is as sharp as ever, and it’s a delight to see the man applying his talent to our present social and political climate. More remarkable still, though, is the fact that Breathed is doing his new work in the digital flow of commerce — like a grand old titan of legend, come back to show all the zillions of younger web comics scribblers how it’s done.

Breathed — correctly recognizing his long-established platform, left over from previous comic strip efforts — converted on that potential. His typical daily offering is now guaranteed many thousands of shares, with tens of thousands of likes, on Facebook alone. And he’s releasing a treasury of new material to boot, which is being sold at San Diego Comic Con this very weekend.

It took Breathed decades of work, to be able to come back to his platform, and find it sturdy.

Just as it took Mike Rowe years of Dirty Jobs outings to become the modern voice of working-class dignity and values.

If Mike had resorted simply to doing blogs, without actually going out and getting his hands (and much else on his person) filthy, I am not sure he’d be able to go before Congress, or a national audience, and convincingly speak on his chosen subject. Just as authors who ply their trade in military fiction (any genre) stand a better chance with crowds, provided those authors have some form of military pedigree to boot.

Because people want some kind of bona fide — pronounced Holly Hunter fashion, from O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I obviously can’t tell any of you what will work, in your search for bona fide.

Plenty of people attempt artful dodgery, especially in academic circles. Pay a prestigious university to give you a prestigious degree, and you can potentially sail your way through intellectual circles — which have always been easily impressed by schoolhouse credentials.

Other arenas will accept nothing less than the scars on your hands and the crookedness of your nose; from how many times its been broken. The kind of stuff that can’t be faked.

Because Lord knows, in the wordsie gameses, fakery is a fine art. It’s not what you have that counts, it’s what you can make them think you have. And so forth. Perception, perception, perception. And some people are incredibly good at crafting perception, often while constructing cults of personality.

But is that it? Get a few thousand loyalists together under your umbrella, set up a Patreon, and never look back?

I’m not convinced it has to be. Though I fully understand all the sensible — from a business standpoint — reasons why the above scenario continues to be played out over and over again. Good money really is where you find it. Especially in the digital age, when the old barriers against “vanity” anything, have crumbled. And artists of all varieties are working feverishly to expand into new markets. Especially artists who were shut out — by their reckoning — of the Old Way Of Doing Things.

I suppose the best advice I can put to you, is to do something you would have been happy doing anyway. Even if nobody was going to pay you for it.

Because you’re fired up, or you feel a calling, or you simply discover a talent for (mumble, activity of your choice, mumble) which stands out from what’s being done by others. Doesn’t matter if the thing is explicitly about fiction, or publishing. I often think lately that we as authors are too prone to spending too much time talking to each other, including selling to each other, that we forget the real market is outside of us. Beyond our small borders.

I’ve got a good friend down in Los Angeles who’s busted her ass trying to break in big-time with Hollywood. She faces all the same problems authors do, but accentuated to an extra degree. Just because Hollywood is a place of even greater disparity than publishing, and I sometimes fear she too has fallen prey to spending too much time among her own crowd, going to great effort for the sake of a purely internal audience — disconnected from the universe beyond.

So, if you can craft a platform that is visible beyond the publishing industry horizon, you’re on the right track. Get the attention of the people who don’t spend every waking minute fretting about contracts and royalties and the futures of trad and indie publishing both. Get the crowd that doesn’t care about any of that. Those are the eyeballs you need more than all others. Belonging to men and women, girls and boys, who are simply looking for an enjoyable read. For an hour. For an afternoon. A week. And so forth. Get their attention, keep it, and grow it, and you can be sure that your platform is not just strong, but capable of standing up to the weathering of time.



Oops, it’s Tuesday

You’ll pardon me if I’m a bit scattered this morning. The past week has been interesting — yes, that’s the word. Nothing serious has happened but nothing has happened on schedule either. The writing and editing have been suffering as a result. Between company — which I loved but, damn, I don’t love the prep for having people over — my neighbor doing something in his back yard that has required 3 days of jackhammering, any attempt to concentrate has been futile. Add to that the fact the installers arrived at 1830 last night to put in my storm doors — and couldn’t finish because they’d never installed a door like one of mine — and I’m tired and frustrated. Again, not conducive to writing.

Yet, I have to write. I also have to figure out why I’m having issues converting a book to put up for pre-order. Oh, the life of a writer. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another.

While trying to figure out what I wanted to write about today, I came across this post from Bookbaby Blog. It asks the age-old question, when should I publish my book? It’s something many indie authors angst about. There is so much information out there, much of it contradictory, about when a book should come out. Sure, a lot of us follow the simple rule of “publish it once it’s done.” But there really is more to it than that.

I agree with a lot of what Bookbaby has to say in the post. Now is the time to publish your work. Don’t let it sit there gathering virtual dust. The only caveat Bookbaby gives, and it is one I agree with, is that the holiday season isn’t the best time for a new indie author to release a book. Yes, it is a time when many of us are buying books, either for ourselves or as gifts. For the latter, most of us don’t want to risk giving a book we aren’t sure the recipient will enjoy. So we tend to go for authors we know they read or who we know write in much the same way as those authors our friend or family member likes. Newbies aren’t even on the radar.

But that leaves the rest of the year.

Now, I know a lot of us suffer what we call the summer doldrums when it comes to sales. Reading the linked post had me thinking about that and then nodding. Summer is when a lot of readers are looking for what can be euphemistically called beach reads. That doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be fluffy romances, even though that is often what we see the traditional publishers pushing at this time of year. But escape seems to be the theme most wanted. For the summer months, Bookbaby suggests we follow what the trads do and publish books focusing on adventure, fantasy and travel.

It makes sense, especially if you are marketing your books properly. Why? Because these are the months readers in the U.S. traditionally “escape”. School is out. Families schedule vacations to get away from the pressures of daily life. They don’t want to be reminded of everything they left behind. They want to escape. It’s why movie makers release their blockbuster films during the summer. Escapism is the name of the game.

As indies, that means we are competing with the trads for those precious readers. But we can and often do win. The challenge is making sure we are doing everything the trads are doing when it comes to insuring our books looks as professional as theirs. We also have to make sure our metadata is set up properly so readers can find our books using whatever their favorite search engine is. Sure, we also have to promote (gag, ick). But we can and do grab our share of the market — we just have to work at it.

Something else we have to look at is the timing of our books if they have a certain theme. A book where your main character runs away for the summer can come out any time. However, a Christmas themed book probably needs to come out close to the holiday season. That’s not a hard and fast rule. After all, the first rule of indie publishing is not to sit on your work. However, there are a number of readers who, as we get close to the holiday season, want holiday themed books. They will risk buying an indie author they’ve never heard of if the book conforms to the holiday theme and if the blurb and sample look interesting. That said, they don’t search those books out at other times of the year. So, weight that along with all the other factors when writing a holiday themed book.

A couple of other thoughts — and yes, I know I’m all over the place today. Sorry — about when to bring out your books. Whether you are writing a series or stand-alone books, you need to have a publishing schedule. Sure, you can alter it because life happens. But you need to stick as close to it as possible. Why? Because your readers need to know they can count on you to continue to produce in a regular fashion. Going hand-in-hand with this is something I am seeing with my own work. If you can put out a new title (and it doesn’t have to be a novel. It can be a short story.) every three months, you may be able to keep your sales from taking that dramatic drop they seem to do all too often a few months after a new novel comes out.

As for what day of the week you should bring your books out on, you can do what some of the better selling indies and trads do and publish on the first and third Tuesday of each month. I don’t always do it on those particular Tuesdays but I do try to come out on Tuesday. Why? Because most folks are too busy getting back in the swing of the workweek on Monday to worry about buying a new book. Tuesday lets you grab them and you have the rest of the week to remind them you have a new title out and come get it for the weekend. You also avoid the end of the week “all I want is for the weekend it get here” attitude so many of us have. Will it work for everyone? I don’t know but it has seemed to help my sales.

And, joy of joys — not, it looks like they are about to start the jackhammering again. So, before that happens, let me close this out. As an indie, you are in command of your professional life. Do your research and don’t be afraid of releasing your book when it’s ready. Push the baby out and start working on the next one.

Until next week!