Boast Post: This Time It’s All About Me

What’s that old saying about the shoemaker’s kids? They go barefoot? Something like that. Yeah, it’s been something like that for me. A few months ago my former publisher reverted rights back to me for six of my books. I’ve been so busy doing projects for others, my personal projects kept being pushed onto the back burner.

To make it extra fun, all these books were written prior to 1995. I was able to recover two off disks. One I had as a relatively clean manuscript (as an experiment I ran the pages through my home scanner–take it from me, unless you have buns of steel to tolerate the hours you’ll spend in your chair, this is not the most fun method of file recovery). The others had to be scanned from the actual books. After all that scanning, they still have to be run through an OCR program and cleaned up.

I started with the easiest projects (ha ha), the two files I had on disk. They were final drafts, and required editing. With much help from Julia Barrett and Marina Bridges we managed to eliminate most of my writing quirks, beef up some weak plot points, and even trimmed it quite a bit. I hired the talented Jayne Smith to design the covers.

It’s a risk not putting people on the covers of romance novels, but I love the look and I’m willing to risk it. I also made sure to put “romantic suspense” on the cover so I could include it in the title to nudge the search engines a bit.

Need I say, I had fun with formatting.

Small caps!

I recently read a Ben Aaronovitch novel, Whispers Underground. Kudos to publisher, Del Rey, for releasing a very good ebook edition. They care and this reader appreciates it. At the beginnings of chapters they used small caps. It’s a small touch, but it looks classy.

That’s a screen shot from my Kindle keyboard. Notice the first line. There are many, many ways to start a chapter with a touch to offset the text. The simplest is to not indent the paragraph. Then there are drop caps, bolding, italicizing, or graphics to give it an “illuminated” look. I happen to like small caps.

The Kindle doesn’t actually support small caps. If you’re using html and use the font-variant, nothing happens. What I did was create a span class with small-caps as the variant, but then set the font-size at 80% (I’ll change that for EPUB, which I believe does support small-caps). I left the first letter on the line at normal size and reduced the size of the next few words which I had capitalized. I used a span class as opposed to a paragraph style in the hopes that I wouldn’t trigger the Amazon bug that shrinks the font in older Kindles. I had a friend test the book on his older Kindle, and no teeny tiny font. Yay, team!

The code for this particular sample looked like this:

What that did was make a paragraph with no ident, left the first letter normal sized and reduced the size of the next three words.

I also did something that opened a discussion with a friend. I placed the tables of contents in the backs of the books. He thinks they should go in the front of the book. I think that’s true in non-fiction where readers peruse the toc for information about what the book contains. In fiction it’s merely a navigation guide since in most cases it’s just a list of Chapter One, Chapter Two, etc. Also, if a novel has a large number of chapters then the potential buyer who downloads a sample could end up with pages of toc and very little story to sample.

So what do you all think? Table of contents in the front or in the back?

If you want to check out my latest formatting masterpiece the books are up on Amazon right now. (I’ll be uploading them to other places soon, but first I have some other jobs to do–you know, shoes…)

The Mirror Images series, Dark Reflections and Light Embraced are available on Amazon.

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19 thoughts on “Boast Post: This Time It’s All About Me

    • Hi, Tam. Thanks. If the distributors would allow the publishers to establish the sample this wouldn’t be an issue. I’m sure it’s possible and I’ve heard rumors that in some places it’s in the works. Several times I’ve downloaded samples that contained only front matter and the toc, with barely enough story for me to tell if I wanted the book or not. Frustrating.

  1. I do exactly what Karen likes, and I’ve found I REALLY like it. I’m a software UI guy first, (newbie) writer second, so the “interface” of my books was important to me. I’ve made a template now for my books that basically goes like this:

    Book Cover
    Title Page (with book description)
    Quick Jumps Page (a short TOC)
    Book Starts
    Book…
    Thank yous, notes, etc…
    Full Table of Contents

    My title page includes the book description, and on the Kindle at least, that’s where the book automatically opens (it opens to the cover for epubs, which is just one extra click). I’ve found as a reader that I often pick up books I intend to read later but don’t have the time now. The problem is that when I’m done with my current book and want something else to read, I’m staring at nothing but a bunch of covers and a list of titles. I can’t remember why I purchased book X in the first place. So I have to go find it on Amazon and read the book description again. In the case of my own books, the first time you open the book you get the (short, quick) book description, so you can quickly recall why you might have wanted to read it.

    My Quick Jumps page is basically just a list of links that fits on a single page even for a smaller iPhone screen.

    Start Reading
    Thank You for Reading
    Note from the Author
    Table of Contents

    If a Kindle reader clicks Go To -> Table of Contents, they are taken to the full one in the back, not the short one. They can get to the short one by clicking Go To -> Beginning.

    As a UI guy, I found all these little bits pretty pleasant. :)

  2. Hi, Damon. Wow. I like your solution. Very clever. I’m all for “helping” out the readers in ever way possible, given that ebooks offer so few visual clues about the book overall. Thank you for sharing this.

    • I published several revisions with various configurations of these components before settling on the final one I posted above. I may find better ideas later, but those were based on my (tiny bit of) experience as a writer and mostly my experience as a reader.

      It would be great if the major retailers let you specify the size of your book sample, but even then I’d rather put the TOC in the back. I want my readers to have as few clicks as possible (and only important ones) before getting to the actual story. How many times have you used the TOC in fiction? Other than the cases where multiple books have been combined in an ebook (like an omnibus), I have never needed the TOC.

      Ebooks are not print. They are not read the same, so don’t treat them the same just because that’s the way it’s always been. George R. R. Martin’s books have the TOC in the front per industry standard of doing what they’ve always done without actually doing usability research. But on my iPhone (where I do most of my reading), I have to click 15 times before I get to the story.

      That may not be many pages in print, but that’s a lot of clicking to get to the real reason I bought the book.

  3. About damn time! I know you put yourself on the backburner. I’m so happy you’ve released these books and so very pleased to have been fortunate enough to read them. The formatting is a thing of beauty and the stories are ‘can’t put down.’ Way to go, Jaye.

  4. Jaye:

    Congratulations on getting your OWN work done for a change! I know how easy it is to jump into things for others first.

    While you are correct that the ePub format allows for small caps automagically, be warned: Not all ePub e-readers implement it! Such as my Nook Tablet. Or Nook for PC.

    Moral of the tale: Test, test, test!

  5. “Dark Reflections” chapter headings look fantastic (and it’s fun to watch the numbers change if you “chapter” forward or backward…ahh, simple geek-y pleasures) and the smallcaps work very well on my almost-obsolete Kindle 4. I suppose I ought to buy the sequel to find out what happens to our heroes, oughtn’t I? :)

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