The Proof is in the Proofreading

quinnproofMy biggest gripe with ebooks is a lack of proofreading. (Trad pubs are the worst offenders–isn’t anybody at least giving the ebooks a quick scan before putting them up for sale? Judging by the multiple dumb errors and piss-poor formatting, I’d say the answer is no.)

When I produce an ebook I have two hard and fast rules, Number One: squeaky clean text going into production. Number Two: the ebook must be proofread post-production. I charge people to proofread their ebooks for them, and a lot of clients take me up on it, but I’m more than happy for the writer to do it him/herself or hire a third party. I even make it easy for them by providing a markup document and instructions (since they can’t make changes in the ebook itself).

Even though proofreading is essential, some would like to argue that they can skip it. They’ve already polished the manuscript to a high gloss, even had a professional editor have a crack at it, and, in some cases I’m sure, they are sick to death of that particular project and want to get on to something else. I get that. Been there. Even so, it’s part of being a publisher and it must be done.

Before I continue, let me explain what proofreading is NOT:

  • It’s not copy-editing
  • It’s not line-editing
  • It’s not editing at all

What proofreading IS:

  • Format checking
  • Typo searching
  • Error seeking

When I produce an ebook, I expect that the writer has edited, polished, tweaked and fine-tuned. They’ve made the text as clean as they are capable. They made their grammatical choices and established a style. When I proofread I’m just looking for goofs. I don’t change text unless it’s a patently obvious error. Double words (…he spelled the the word misspelled incorrectly…) or a mixed up homonym (…happy is the bear-foot boy…) or a missing word (…nothing finer than (a) sunny spring day…) and misspellings or incorrect contractions. For anything beyond that, I will make a note to the writer and they can decide how to fix it, or not. My main concerns are my own goofs in formatting, and little gremlins such as missing punctuation or words that aren’t fully italicized or spacing issues.

There is nothing particularly difficult about ebook proofing. That said, I recommend that writers NOT proofread their own work, but instead hire out the job or find a writer friend willing to barter or trade the chore. The reason is copy blindness. When you write something down, you know exactly what you MEAN to say. Your brain is more likely to “see” what you meant rather than what is actually on the page. It’s a very real phenomenon and it trips up the best.

What if it’s not in your budget to hire a proofreader? What if all your friends are busy? What if you HAVE to do it yourself? What if you WANT to do it yourself?

There is hope.

The Tools

  • An ereading device: Kindle, Nook, iPad, your computer, etc.
  • A style sheet
  • A style manual
  • A dictionary

The Device: Even though MOBI and EPUB are different platforms, the ebooks should look pretty much the same no matter what device the reader uses. So it doesn’t matter which version you proofread. If you do not have a dedicated ereader, then you need to use an online viewer. I recommend the Kindle Previewer, Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions. All three are free downloads. All three render well enough for proofreading purposes. All three allow you to double-check your ebook’s navigation.

A Style Sheet: This is basically a log of your preferred spellings, stylings and usages. I keep Notepad open when I proofread and jot down character names, unusual spellings, etc. to give me a quick reference. Consistency is the key to a good reading experience. The style sheet will keep you consistent. I also log product names and trademarked names, then double check to make sure they are spelled correctly and to see if there is any restriction on their use.

A Style Manual: Every publishing house and periodical publisher has an in-house style. Often it is based on a particular style manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style. Every indie publisher should do the same thing. Pick a style and stick with it. For fiction, a far simpler style reference will suffice. I recommend Strunk & White Elements of Style. Short, easy and friendly. Buy a copy (then buy extras for when your kids run off with them).

A Dictionary: Depending on spell check can lead to embarrassment. If you’re like me, you have dozens of dictionaries and thesauri on your bookshelves. Pick your main reference(s) and stick to it/them for consistency’s sake. Language changes and evolves, but it shouldn’t do so within one story. If you’d rather use an online source try the Merriam-Webster site or the Oxford Dictionaries site.

The Process

  1. You must open the ebook on something. You cannot properly proofread the ebook by going back to the manuscript.
  2. Have a markup document ready. I use a Word doc in which I’ve created a navigation guide, but no other formatting. Here is where Track Changes* comes in handy. Do all your mark up and changes on this document (which you will then transfer to your actual ebook file after you are done).
  3. Work backward through the ebook. Truly, this is the number one best way to defeat copy blindness. It will help keep your mind out of the story and on task.
  4. If you get sleepy or hungry, take a break. Sleepiness makes you dull and inattentive; hunger makes you impatient.
  5. Periodically change the font, font size and line spacing. Just making the ebook look different goes a long way toward making you more efficient.
  6. Get in the habit of questioning everything. Homonyms can be the bane of many writers. It’s so darned easy to mix up words that sound alike. Here’s a fun reference: Alan Cooper’s Homonym list. Product names are another danger area. Google is a wonderful resource. BUT, sometimes it is not enough to just get the spelling right. Companies can be very aggressive about protecting their trademarks. If you are using a trademarked product name, double check proper usage here.
  7. Use Find/Replace wisely. I rarely use Replace All when proofreading–it can lead to strange occurrences. It is human nature to repeat errors, so if you find an oddball spelling, do a quick search to see if you’ve done it elsewhere.
  8. If a passage seems off to you, read it aloud. Read it aloud to someone else. This is an excellent way to figure out if you’ve misplaced a comma or skipped a word.

And a final word of wisdom: Don’t rewrite your book. Seriously. You’re proofing the final product, the final step before releasing it. If you cannot stop rewriting, tweaking, doing “just a little bit more”–procrastinating!–then find someone else to proofread for you.

If anybody has any other handy-dandy tips to make proofreading easier or more efficient, feel free to fill up the comments.

* Never, ever use Track Changes in a Word doc that you intend to convert into an ebook. Turn it off, keep it off, protect your ebook from the nastiness that Track Changes inserts.

C’mon, Book Marketing Isn’t That Hard

QuinnMarketingI see and hear about a lot of writers wanting to sign an agent and go for a traditional deal because, “The agent and publisher know how to market my book and I don’t. It’s too hard.”

Nuh-uh.

Here’s how it works: Agents know how to market to certain editors; Editors know how to market to their editorial heads and marketing departments; Marketing departments know how to market to retail distributors. What none of them know (or maybe they don’t bother with) is how to market to readers. That’s the writer’s job. Trad or indie, if you don’t know how to market, your books are sunk. In fact, if you don’t have a marketing base before you submit to either an agent or editor, your chances of even getting a second look are slim to none.

What’s a poor writer to do? Panic is not an option. Truly, marketing is NOT that hard. Basically, all marketing is: Being in the right place in front of the right people with the right product.

(Please note I am talking about marketing only and NOT about promotion. Marketing and promotion are two completely different animals. That’s why it’s called marketing AND promotion. You can market effectively without any promotion, but it is impossible to promote anything without an effective marketing base.)

There’s a lot of nattering going on about “discoverability.” Well, let’s get one thing absolutely straight: Readers have zero problems “discovering” something to read. What people are really moaning about is, how can I get people to discover me? That can drive otherwise perfectly nice people insane. So let’s take insanity out of the picture. The first thing we are going to do is forget all about promotion for now. Put it out of your heads. As noted above, you CANNOT effectively promote anything until your marketing is solidly in place.

No promotion? Jaye, you’re so crazy.

Am I? Then explain how it is I am booked solid through the next three months and I have to turn business away. Aside from this blog, I do zero promotion for my book production services. (And I’ve been informed this blog is pretty crappy promotion-wise and I could do so much better. Well, yeah, but then I’d need another 16 hours in each day and I don’t know squat about that kind of physics, plus I’d need minions, which are harder to find than you’d think.)  I do, however, quietly and consistently market my services, and it’s working out pretty well.

The two things you have to keep in mind at all times:

  1. Marketing is a long-term strategy that requires constant maintenance and awareness of what is going on in the marketplace.
  2. Your product has to deliver every single time.

You need a plan. Your plan should include figuring out:

  • Right Place
  • Right People
  • Right Product

Your marketing plan needs to be put in place long before you publish (or submit to an agent or editor). It should start as soon as you get the notion, “Hey, I can sell my writing to the world! Maybe I can even make a living from it.”

But, but, Jaye, how can I promote a book that’s not even written?

You’re not promoting anything. What you are doing is marketing yourself, because you know as well as I do that writers are part of the package. People are much more willing to take a chance (spend the bucks, spend the time) on a book if they “know” the author.

The first–most important!–thing you need to do is: Define yourself as a writer. You can’t effectively market anything–even yourself–unless you know exactly what it is you are trying to sell. This is the part that trips many writers up. They have stories, they write them down, but they don’t think about what defines their work. They don’t ponder what it is they are offering to the world. Take me, for instance. I produce books. So do a zillion other people. What defines me? Passion. It says it right in my tagline: Ebooks = Real Books. That’s been my driving force all along. That’s why I have clients who call me the “production goddess” and why I get emails that say, “So and so referred me, they say you are the best.” It’s how I get away with constantly haranguing publishers to DO IT BETTER, DAMN IT.

You don’t have to come up with a tagline–but you have to KNOW who you are.

  • “I’m the writer who makes their panties wet.”
  • “I’m the writer who will force the world to acknowledge poverty.”
  • “I’m the writer who makes people think about technology.”
  • “I’m the writer who brings history to life.”
  • “I’m the writer who makes them check under the bed and leave a light on at night.”
  • “I’m the weirdo writer and nobody knows what outrageous thing I will say or do next.”
  • “I’m the writer who….”

Are you getting the picture? Put some thought into this. You don’t have to pigeonhole yourself or lock yourself into just one genre. You do need to ponder whatever it is about your writing that is consistent and passionate and a driving force. THAT’S what you will be marketing. And yes, it is perfectly okay to come up with an “Author Persona.” Many writers are shy and retiring and live very private lives. They are not comfortable putting themselves out there, bare naked for all the world to see. You don’t have to. Once you define what it is you DO, it’s not a big step to come up with a persona that fits comfortably. Set your boundaries. (Discomfort is an off-putting emotion.)

Next step is figuring out who the right people are–i.e., who are your potential readers. (If you say, “Every reader between 2 and 92 will love my books!” you are doomed. Seriously. Don’t even say that in jest to me.) Let me share a little chart I made:

Marketing1If you write in a specific, well-defined genre, then figuring out who your readers are/will be is easy. Romance, Crime, Mystery, History, Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction–all of those have One Genre Power Readers and that’s who you target your marketing to. Popularity (best sellers) tends to trickle up. First they appeal to the OGPR, then as they catch on, others higher up on the pyramid discover them. With that in mind, for those who write across genres or who don’t fit exactly into a well-defined genre, is to figure out the aspect of their writing that DOES FIT. Let’s say you write historical novels, and fantasy novels, and an occasional mystery. Trust me, there is something within all those books that is a common thread. Maybe it’s the history. You research extensively–even your most fantastic fantasies are rooted solidly in some historical era or aspect. In that case, you target your marketing at the history readers. If instead, all your stories tend to have a strong love interest and the romance is essential to your plots, then target the romance market. See how that works?

Once you know WHO to market to, then you have to figure out WHERE they are. The nice thing about OGPRs is that they tend to make their presence known. They are nuts about their genre and love to talk about it and tend to gather in communities all over the internet. I suggest creative lurking in the beginning. Give yourself time to figure out what they like and dislike, what they are reading and why, and how and where they discover books. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. (You might even discover an underserved niche that your not-quite-fits-in-the-genre stories will fill perfectly.)

Now you’re ready for the Big Question: HOW? Here, again, is where many writers fail. They sign up for Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Google+, and every other social media site they can think of; they create a website; they start a blog; they… They don’t have a plan. So everything fizzles and dies and they are back to thinking, Marketing is too hard!

You cannot forget that marketing is LONG-TERM. With few (very rare) exceptions, nobody bursts onto the scene full-blown and well-known. Markets must be built and nurtured and gained. It is not about tweeting “Here I am!” and expecting the world to pay attention. (It’s like I tell my husband, “If you want me to pay attention to you, do something interesting. And no, rapid-remote clicking is NOT interesting and neither is whining about dinner.”) Nobody owes you attention–you have to earn it.

Here are my suggestions for developing a plan:

  1. How much time can you COMMIT every week? Effective marketing requires commitment. Commitment will ensure consistency.
  2. Where are MY potential readers most likely to discover me? Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Wattpad? Just remember, you want READERS to find you. It might be more comfortable to hang out with other writers, but they aren’t your market (unless you write books on writing).
  3. What do I have to offer? (Aside from your books.) Marketing is about selling, but in developing a market base, the last thing you want to do is to make potential readers think the only thing you care about is their credit card. Instead, come up with a hook based on your definition of your writing and who you are as a writer. Develop a theme that draws attention. Keep it focused. Your ultimate goal is to build a solid fan base who looks forward to your writing. This takes time. Don’t be impatient.
  4. Who can help you? In every reader community/hang out, there are people others admire and look up to, and most importantly, value their recommendations. If they blog or are active on Twitter or Facebook, get to know them. Let them get to know you. DO NOT SPAM THEM. Do NOT BEG them to read your book or review it or do anything at all. If you earn their respect and their attention, you will by association earn the respect and attention of their wide circle of followers and friends. If you cannot do this without being 100% genuine, then don’t do it at all.
  5. Deliver. Your books are your PRODUCT. It is your job to make sure you deliver them to the right people in the right place and that the right people know it is the right product. That means packaging your books to target your market, using the right keywords, and distributing them effectively. And never forget that YOU are a product, too. Like it or not, you will be judged. It’s a risk you take in your bid for attention. Put your best self forward.

There you have it. Marketing. No tricks, no gimmicks, no short cuts. Define your product, make a plan, commit to it, and build your base.

If anyone wants to discuss promotion, feel free to have at it in the comments.

 

 

 

Should You Go Digital (Ebooks) With Your Nonfiction Title?

A comprehensive Table of Contents linked to all entries.

A comprehensive Table of Contents linked to all entries.

Is there a big market for nonfiction ebooks? I truly do not know. As an observer (as opposed to actually publishing nonfiction), it appears to me that nonfiction readers have been slower to adopt and adapt to reading ebooks. I’ve read very few “success” stories from the publishers (trad or indie) about nonfiction titles. This might be partly due to the ereading devices themselves. Older (pre-Kindle) devices and eink readers are best suited for straight text, few bells and whistles–i.e. fiction. Or it might be due to the mindset of the readers themselves. Who knows? Even I, hardcore ebook reader that I am, tend to look to print when I’m in the market for nonfiction.

With the rising popularity of tablets and with so many readers using their smartphones as reading devices, I believe we’ll see a slow, but steady increase in the number of people who read certain types of nonfiction ebooks.

Using hanging indents for a Q&A section.

Using hanging indents for a Q&A section.

There is a real problem in regards to format. For narrative nonfiction–biography, memoir, inspiration, political books, essays–an ebook is a terrific medium. When you start getting into more complicated works–how-to books, art books, reference books, cookbooks, project books–any type of book that readers don’t necessarily read from cover to cover, but instead go to the sections they are interested in at any given moment–ebook limitations become abundantly clear. (I have been disappointed over and over by buying an ebook filled with how-to tips, illustrations, etc. only to find its PITA score is too high for my comfort–so then I have to run out and buy the print edition.) Those types of books might have to go in a completely different direction altogether in order to find a strong market. Apps, perhaps, geared specifically for tablets, online reading and smartphones, eschewing dedicated ereading devices altogether.

Nonfic3

A simple table style that renders well across devices.

In my opinion, even though the market for nonfiction appears small right now, I believe that it is growing and that eventually it will be strong enough and steady enough to make nonfiction ebooks profitable for self-publishers. It seems only smart to me that writers with certain types of nonfiction books should go ahead and go digital. The more nonfiction there is on the open market, the more visible it is, the more readers will notice and start buying.

So what types of nonfiction are suitable for ebooks? Considering the limitations of the devices themselves–right now–narrative types with illustrations such as photographs, maps, and “fill the page” type graphics. For example:

  • Histories
  • Biographies
  • Memoirs
  • True Crime
  • Essays
  • Religion
  • Inspirational
  • Political

Books with a high PITA (pain in the ass) factor include:

  • How to
  • Reference
  • Workbooks
  • Cookbooks
  • Project books

When deciding whether or not your project is suitable for an ebook, check the following items:

WHAT ALL EREADING DEVICES HANDLE VERY WELL

  • Narrative text
  • Photographs (color and black/white)
  • Illustrations (color and black/white)
  • Simple maps
  • Lists (ordered and unordered, and nested, too)
  • Simple tables
  • Hyperlinks (internal and external)
  • Extensive tables of content
  • Indexes
  • Appendices
  • Endnotes

WHAT SOME EREADING DEVICES HANDLE OKAY

  • Text heavy graphics–including some maps and charts
  • Boxed tables
  • Faux-scalable images (have to use some formatting tricks, but with great care and understanding of the limitations)
  • Worksheets
  • Fixed format
  • Footnotes

WHAT EREADING DEVICES DON’T DO

  • Text wrapping around images
  • Truly scalable images such as vector graphics
  • Printable material (While capturing screenshots is possible, very few readers will have the knowledge to capture, rescale, sharpen and print material off their Kindles or Nooks or smartphones, so it’s reasonable to say that what they see on the device is what they get and will go no further. A more reasonable option for writers with worksheets, recipes or other material you WANT readers to print, is to include links to a printable pdf.)
Nonfic4

Lists, ordered and unordered, and even nested, render well across devices.

Another thing nonfiction writers need to consider is file size. Most distributors have a limit as to the size of the file you can upload to their site. Amazon also charges a delivery fee of $.15 per MB against your cut. A 10MB ebook will cost you $1.50 per sale. A 50MB file will cost $7.50. You could end up owing them money for every ebook you sell. Images add considerably to file size. Extensive formatting adds to file size.

If you, as a self-publisher, are considering producing your nonfiction project as an ebook, here are some things to take into consideration:

  • Cost analysis. The more images you have, the more complicated the formatting, the bigger the file, the more you will have to charge. Consider, too, how much the book costs to write. Get an idea about how you will price the book and be reasonable. If you have to charge $30 for your ebook just to break even, you need to research the market and figure out if anyone is willing to pay $30 for your ebook.
  • Take the PITA factor into consideration. (For example, I laid out $15 for an ebook about InDesign. The information is worth every penny, but even on my Kindle Fire most of the illustrations are too small to read. So I had to buy the print version which does have illustrations I can actually use. What a pain in the ass–and the publisher is getting no more ebook sales from me.)
  • Forget about making it LOOK like print. Ebooks are not print, and trying to force your digital edition to look exactly like the print edition will probably result in a broken ebook.
  • Exploit the features that ebooks do well. Hyperlinks, internal and external, for instance, giving readers enhanced navigation.
  • Unless you’re an accomplished ebook formatter, add professional help to your cost analysis. Narrative nonfiction with few images can be a good DIY project. For anything more complicated, programs such as MS Word or Scrivener will work against you and produce a poor-quality ebook. You will need to format in html or use an EPUB editor such as Sigil or Vellum.

My conclusion is, if you have a nonfiction project suitable for ebook (in format and price), then don’t let the current market deter you. Get it produced and distributed and let the market catch up to you.

 

 

Ebook Formatting Services: Update

QuinnDecor1As some of you are aware, I removed my ebook services page. There were several reasons I did so, but the major one was that I really hate telling people “no” and I had too much going on in order to say “yes” to everyone who asked.

But the queries keep pouring in.

Here it is the 4th of July and the year is half over, and there are a lot of writers out there gearing up to get their books published in time for the next holiday season.

So this is to let you all know that I’ll be taking on new clients starting in August. Actually, the second half of August since the first part is already booked. I’ll activate my services/pricing page then.

Before you contact me, though, let me explain a little bit about myself and how I work.

  • It’s just me. No employees, no sub-contractors. If I do a job for you, it’s me doing everything.
  • I do custom work. I guess what you’d call me is a “boutique producer.” Every project is unique and I work very closely with writers to make their books stand out. I love a challenge.
  • I care passionately about books in all their forms and when I put my credit for interior design in the book, it’s because I’m proud of it.
  • I do my best to keep my prices as low as possible because 1) Many indie writers are on very tight budgets and I don’t want high prices preventing indies from producing a professional product; 2) As a reader, I don’t want high prices preventing indies from producing a professional product. Some books DO cost more to produce, but I’ll do my best to find creative ways to keep costs down.
  • There are many things I can do: digital formatting, print-on-demand formatting; text restoration from printed material; cover modifications; line editing; proofreading; custom graphics.
  • There are many things I cannot do: promotion; marketing; tell you how to distribute your work (I can tell you where, but YOU have to decide on the strategy).
  • Somebody is going to proofread your book. You can hire me to do it, hire another proofreader, or do it yourself. But if you want me to produce your book, you must make arrangements because if I’m going to work so hard to make it LOOK good, then you have to do your part to make the text as clean as possible.
  • The only time I do Word formats for ebooks is when the writer is using Smashwords and is also uploading an EPUB to them. I don’t do Word formats for any other market and I don’t do them as stand-alones.

QuinnDecor2In the meantime, if you have a project that you need done now and can’t wait until late August, I recommend Paul Salvette at bbebooksthailand.com or Guido Henkel. Either of them will take good care of you.

Also in the meantime, I’m getting a lot of queries about cover work. I can do cover modifications, including putting a spine and back cover on print on demand books, but I don’t do original artwork. I’ve been sending many people to Derek Murphy, but my understanding is that he is very popular and, hence, very busy. So if you have a favorite cover designer you can recommend for skill and professionalism, put a link in the comments and thank you in advance for helping out my readers.

Thanks all for your queries. I apologize to those I’ve had to turn away. I’ll be back up and available soon.

 

 

Restore Your Back List Books: Step 2: Part 2: Create a Workable Document

All righty then. You have scanned and converted your printed book. You have cleaned out the very worst boogers and formatting. You now have pure text you can turn into a document you can actually read and edit. You are this close to having a manuscript that is no more difficult to work with than any other WIP.

Before we get into specifics, let me explain up front why I use the style and font that I’m going to use in my examples. I’m an old-school writer and for years and years I worked in standard manuscript format for submission to editors. 12 pt Courier, double-spaced, wide margins, underlining for italics. Nothing awakens my inner editor faster than 12 pt Courier, et al. That’s me. You need to use whatever style, font, etc. that works best for you. If Candara 11pt, 1.5 line spacing or Garamond 13pt, triple spaced lets you work efficiently, then use it. It doesn’t make a whit of difference what your working document LOOKS like as long you are comfortable and you can work.

First, let’s do a little prep work with our original material–the print book. No matter how careful you are, no matter how good the equipment, shit happens. Text gets garbled, a page is missed, a wrinkled page is turned into abstract art. So go through your original pages and mark sections and chapter starts with a paper clip or sticky note. If you suspect your italics or other special formatting is messed up or missing, scan through the printed pages and highlight the italics (you’d be surprised how well italics “leap” off the printed page–you can scan very quickly)

Ready? Open Word (or whatever word processor you prefer) to a blank document. Apply the style “Normal.” Open up your text editor file. Do a Ctrl-a (Select All), Ctrl-c (Copy), then go to Word and do Ctrl-v (Paste). Your text is now a document file. Looks a whole lot different from what you started with, right? Now modify the “Normal” style to make it look the way YOU want it to look. (font, line spacing, paragraph indents, etc.)

RestoreBlog10Not only does it look different, it’s a whole lot smaller, too. This sample file went from over 7MB to its current 472KB. No columns, tables, tabs, changing fonts, or any of the other bloat or nonsense that make your job so hard. Despite still needing some work, it’s readable. If you wanted to start right now from page one, word one to begin the final cleaning, you could do so without ripping out your hair or giving up in frustration.

But wait! I have some tips and tricks you can use to make the job go even faster.

BUILD A NAVIGATION GUIDE

Word has its strengths–navigation is one of them. You’re going to make it very easy to move around in your manuscript by using styles. Heading styles, to be exact. Scroll through your document and apply a heading style to your chapter heads.

RestoreBlog12If you’re using Word 2010, it has a nifty navigation panel that allows you to see where you are in your document at all times. It has plenty of levels, too. So if you have a very long, complex document, you can do something like apply Heading 1 to chapter heads; apply Heading 2 to sections; apply Heading 3 to the first paragraph after a scene break, and so on. Taking ten or twenty minutes to do this now will save you tons of time later when you, for instance, run into a patch of garbled text and need to find it in the original. It’s a whole lot easier to search a known section than it is to scroll around in the document to figure out where you are then have to paw through the original. You can modify the heading styles to look any way you want them to look. It doesn’t matter, this is for your eyes only.

QUICK TIP: If you are using an older version of Word that does not have a navigation pane, click and hold down your mouse on the right hand scroll bar. It will tell you where you are in the document.

RESTORE YOUR SPECIAL FORMATTING

Now you can restore your italics (and other special formatting). As noted before, I like to use underlining when I’m cleaning up a restored document. Underlining is more visible than italics, and it’s very easy to change the underlining to italics later if necessary. Do whatever is comfortable for you. Open up the Find/Replace box and make it look exactly like this:

RestoreBlog13Do a Replace All and done. Use Find/Replace to get rid of the tags. (Make sure you uncheck “use wildcards” and select No Formatting for the Replace field.) If by chance your italics didn’t make it through conversion, I recommend you wait until after you have proofread the text and run the final spell check before you put the italics back in. It will make searching for the text you want easier.

RESTORE CURLY QUOTES

Word also does a nifty little trick for you. In Find/Replace if you type ” in the Find field and ” in the Replace field, then do a Replace All it will turn your quote marks in the right direction (mostly). Type ‘ in the Find field and ‘ in the Replace field, do a Replace All, and it will turn your your apostrophes and single quotes, too (mostly). I say “mostly” because a few will still be turned wrong, but you can find those easily enough when you’re proofreading.

PRELIMINARY SPELL CHECK

You will make life much easier for yourself if you run a spell check BEFORE you start proofreading. By this point Word has already warned you that “there are too many spelling and grammar errors…” Wimpy. At this point you will run into a lot of joined words, mis-hyphenated words and gibberish. This is your opportunity to clean those up. In most cases, it will take a while, so put on a movie or queue up some music, make a fresh pot of coffee and make yourself comfortable.

QUICK TIP: If you open the Find/Replace box in Word 2010 you will see down at the bottom left a box for “Options”–open it.

RestoreBlog14Go through the menu and customize it to suit your document’s needs. It will make life much easier on you. Also, on the Find/Replace box (scroll up to see it) you will notice a button that says “Special.” Click that and it will open a menu that contains such special characters as em dashes and paragraphs. You can search for those.

A WARNING: Be very cautious about how you use “Change All.” Remember, OCR has interpreted images into characters, and like any interpreter, it can be sort of stupid. It’ll trip you up. At this stage, you are far better off correcting one word at a time, even if it takes some extra time.

SPECIAL FORMATTING FOR PARAGRAPHS

As you go through the document, you might find such things as letters, notes, text messages, poetry, song lyrics, lists–instances that will require special handling when the document is turned into a book. DO NOT FORMAT THESE. This is your source document. If you want to turn it into a book or an ARC, you will do so with a copy of the file. Instead, make a note (for yourself or for the person you hire to format your books) and highlight it. A few examples:

  • [NUMBERED LIST]
  • [POETRY, OFFSET AND ITALICIZED]
  • [LETTER, SIGNATURE RIGHT ALIGN]

It will make your (and possibly my) life easier. If you hire out the formatting, let your formatter know about the notes and they’ll handle it from there.

CONGRATULATIONS

Your text is now clean enough for you to go through it and treat it like any other proofreading job. It won’t leave you curled in a fetal ball, weeping about the immenseness of it all; it won’t leave you with bald patches from tearing your hair out. After your proofread (which will NOT take months) you’ll have clean, error-free text ready to be formatted into an ebook or print on demand book or both, and your readers will thank you.

So no more excuses. Get that back list back into circulation.

Restore Your Back List Books: Step 2: Part 1: The BIG Clean

It took months! It was so frustrating I don’t know if I can ever do it again. But I have so many back list books I want to self publish...”

I’ve heard variations on that plaintive theme many, many times. Writers want to bring their back list back to life only to discover that a) They do not have a digital copy; b) the original manuscript is a mess of markup and it’s not the edited, final version anyway; c) they can’t find anyone to restore the book/s for them that fits within their budget. So they do it themselves. Because, seriously, how hard can it be?

On the left, a scanned paperback novel; on the right, the conversion via OCR into a Word doc.

On the left, a scanned paperback novel; on the right, the conversion via OCR into a Word doc.

Doesn’t look too bad, now does it? The innocent writer sets about restoring the document, beginning at page one, and… disaster. Why? To understand why you have to know what is going on behind the scenes. The scanned document is an image file. (There are some scanners that convert to text during the scan and that saves some steps and the results are very good, but it doesn’t eliminate all the problems.) OCR is optical character recognition, meaning the program looks at a picture and decides what letter or character it might be. Depending on the typefaces used, font sizes, line height, condition of the paper and other factors, conversion can range from nearly pristine to what looks like glyphs etched into an alien spacecraft. And then… you have Word (or just about any word processor). It takes that converted text and does its utmost best to recreate the formatting.

The OCR conversion on crack, er, in a Word doc.

The OCR conversion on crack, er, in a Word doc.

The program works really hard to recreate the formatting, using various fonts, section breaks, tabs, columns, text tables, images, etc. To give you an idea about how hard it works, the screen shot you see above is for a straight text (no illustrations) novel that is 72,664 words long. The file size as it stands is 7,117 KB. Over SEVEN MB! (the text by itself creates a file that is only 408 KB) There is absolutely no way any person in the world can do battle against that mess in a reasonable amount of time. The more you try to fix the formatting, the worse it is going to get.

So, I’m going to show you a way to restore the text–not the document!–that will allow you to create a new document that is readable, workable, and editable with a minimum of fuss and bother. It won’t take months or weeks. It will take only hours or at most a few days.

You followed Step 1: Scan and Convert. Your document file is ready to work on. (I will be using Word because so many people use Word, but the principles apply to any word processor. Adjust as necessary.) The very first thing you MUST do is acquire a decent text editor. I use Notepad++. (It’s a free download, stable, and for our purposes, easy to use.) Go get it now. You can’t do what I’m about to show you without it.

Ready to begin? Open that bloated Word doc. We are going to do three things:

  1. Tag the paragraphs
  2. Delete headers and footers
  3. Tag italics

This will be a bit tedious. (I have looked for a fast Find/Replace that works every time without making things worse, and haven’t found it. So, while this boring, it DOES work every time.) So put on a movie or queue up some music, make a fresh pot of coffee and get comfortable.

What tag to use? It doesn’t matter as long as it is unique. I prefer the little diacritical character under the tilde key ` –I have never ever used it in decades of writing. I don’t even know why it’s on my keyboard, but there it is, conveniently located and it doesn’t require the Shift key. I always run a quick Find/Replace to delete any instances where OCR conversion has put those in the document. (If I ever run into a case where the writer actually used the ` then I can easily put them back in later.)

Start at the bottom, work your way up, ignore the odd things that happens to the formatting as you work.

Start at the bottom, work your way up, ignore the odd things that happens to the formatting as you work.

You will start at the bottom–it’s less crazy making, trust me. Just tag the start of every paragraph. If you reach a header or footer that is in text, highlight and delete it. If Word has turned it into an actual header or footer and it’s grayed out, you can safely ignore it. If Word has turned your chapter headings into images, then you will have to type in new ones. Make sure you tag those, too. You will also want to tag deliberate blank lines such as scene breaks. I always insert `## to indicate a deliberate blank line.

QUICK TIP: If, for whatever reason, your document isn’t displaying paragraph indents or if they are difficult to see, open the original scan and place it side by side on your computer screen. Use the original as your guide to find and tag your paragraphs.

By the time you reach the beginning the document is going to look insane–ten times worse than when you started. IT DOES NOT MATTER. One more step and you will never have to look at this particular document again.

TAG YOUR ITALICS

Word is going to do a mediocre job of restoring your italics. But that’s okay. You can get most of them now and restore the rest later. For now, do a simple Find/Replace.

RestoreBlog4This will wrap all your italics in tags. Even though you will have to change the html tags before you return the text to a word processor, I use them now to make other searches easier.

A WARNING: You may be tempted to also tag bolded text such as that found in headers or subtitles. Don’t. It’s unnecessary and it will make extra work for you down the line. Tag bolded text ONLY if instances occur within paragraphs. Otherwise, just do the italics. Same applies for such things as underlined text. I’ll give you some tips about those special cases later.

QUICK TIP: Illustrations, photographs and other graphical images are going to disappear in the next step. You can delete them as you find them if you want, but it’s not necessary. I do note them as I find them, though. What I do:` [IMAGE CAPTION "Buster Bigbelly on his famous trick pony, Pal." 1948, photo by J. Somebody, page 134] If the image lacks a caption, I insert `[IMAGE photo of a man on a horse, page 134] The page number refers to the original book. If I intend to recover and use the images in an ebook or print-on-demand, I handle those separately from the text.

Now open the text editor. In Word do a Ctrl-a (Select All). Then Ctrl-c (Copy). Open a new file in the text editor and do a Ctrl-v (paste). Now your entire document is pasted into the text editor.

From 7MB to 408KB in minutes.

From 7MB to 408KB in seconds.

I do the majority of clean up in the text editor. Every document is going to be different and have different issues. Most fiction writers aren’t familiar with text editors and it looks funny and distracting and it makes it hard for them to work. Since I can’t possibly in one blog post cover all the many searches that I use, I am going to go with the bare minimum that will get you where you need to be.

RESTORE PARAGRAPHS

Before we restore the paragraphs we are going to add a space to the end of every line. It’s not always necessary, but when it is necessary you will be very sorry you did not do this. So, since it doesn’t hurt even if you don’t need it, do it. From the menu bar select Search>Replace and open the Find/Replace box. In the Find field type \r and in the Replace field insert a blank space \r. Make it look EXACTLY like this:

RestoreBlog9Click Replace All and now you have an extra space at the end of every line. Now open the Find box and make it look EXACTLY like this:

RestoreBlog6Now click Replace All. As soon as you do, your ENTIRE text file is going to turn into a single line. There will not be a single paragraph or line break to be seen.

Next, open the Find/Replace box and make it look EXACTLY like this:

RestoreBlog7IMPORTANT: I used the diacritical mark as my tag. That is what I ask it to search for. If you used a different tag, use that. Do a Replace All and every paragraph you tagged is now restored. Use Find/Replace All to delete all your tags.

You may have missed a few or mis-tagged a few paragraphs. You can find many of them now with this search. Open the Find box and search for this \n[a-z]

RestoreBlog8Now tell it to Find Next. This will find any instances of paragraphs that begin with a lower case letter. You can fix those paragraphs manually.

Word probably used a bunch of tabs–often within paragraphs for justifying text. You want those gone. Open the Find box. Make sure the “Extended” circle is checked. In the Find field type \t and put a single space in the Replace field. Do a Replace All and all the tabs will be replaced with a space.

QUICK TIP: If you have an “oh shit” moment and have done something you did not want to do, go to Edit>Undo. Notepad++ will let you go back as many steps as you need to.

DASHES: HYPHENS AND EM DASHES

When the print book was produced, the typesetter used a variety of dashes–hyphens, em and en dashes, half-ems, 3/4 ens, etc.–to lay out the text. Words were hyphenated. I have tried turning off hyphenation in the original converted document to decidedly mixed and mostly unpleasant results. My recommendation in that regard is to not bother. Here is another of those tedious chores that requires the human eye and some common sense. You can use the Find/Replace function to help you along. Scroll through, find an instance of a dash or hyphenation, then select it with any spaces around it and search for other occurrences. You can use Replace to delete unwanted hyphenation, but be careful about using Replace All. Under Edit in the menu bar you will find the Character Panel. It contains all the ASCII characters, including such useful items as em and en dashes. You can insert them manually or use them in the Replace field.

QUICK TIP: While you are fixing the dashes, you will notice all sorts of interesting characters–what I affectionately call “bugshit”. These are OCR artifacts. You might see bullet symbols or British pound symbols or plus signs. You can delete them as you go, or do Find/Replace All to delete them en masse. Just copy/paste the character into the Find field. I highly recommend that if you do a Replace All, that you replace inappropriate characters with a blank space. It’s a lot easier to delete blank spaces than it is to root out joined words.

A WORD OF WISDOM: Relax. This is a tedious process and imprecise. If you obsess about perfection at this point you will drive yourself nuts. Don’t bother going through the text word by word, line by line or even paragraph by paragraph. This is a BIG CLEAN. Suppose your car was wrecked and you took it to the body shop, and what if the first thing the mechanic did was whip out the wax and buffing wheel and start polishing the hood? Um, no. The first thing you do is pound out the dents and make sure the mechanical parts are in working order. The time for wax and polish is later. Right now, just focus on pounding out dents.

TIDY THE SPECIAL FORMATTING/ITALICS

If for some reason OCR conversion didn’t recognize your italics, you can skip this step. I’ll give you some tips later on how to fix that. If you do have italics, be aware that conversion and Word did a sloppy job of it. Use Find to search for your tags. You can search for either <i> or </i>. Use Find Next and go through the text, deleting any unnecessary tags (such as italicized blank spaces) and tidying the rest. Make sure if you delete either an open or closed tag, that you also delete its corresponding tag. Again, if you happen to see more bugshit while you’re doing this, fix that, too.

When you’re done tidying, use Find/Replace to turn the html tags into something that will not give word processors a case of the vapors. Turn <i> into -STARTI- and </i> into -ENDI-. The hyphens and all caps will help refine your search.

GET RID OF EXTRA SPACES

Use Find/Replace All to rid your text of extra spaces.

  • In the Find field insert TWO blank spaces; in the Replace field insert ONE blank space. Click Replace All until it tells you it can find no more.
  • Make sure the “extended” circle is highlighted. In the Find field type \n with one blank space after it; in the Replace field type \n with no spaces. Click Replace All until it tells you it can find no more.
  • Make sure the “extended” circle is highlighted. In the Find field insert one blank space and \r; in the Replace field type \r with no spaces. Click Replace All until it tells you it can find no more.

Congratulations. Have a drink or a piece of dark chocolate. You deserve it. You have repaired the worst damage to your text. If the text editor is driving you nuts, you can stop using it now. In my next blog post, Part 2 of the Big Clean, I will take you back to Word so you can finish the job in a more comfortable environment. If by chance you are intrigued by the possibilities for some powerhouse searches and find/replace functions to clean up issues specific to your project, ask about them in the comments and let’s see if we can come up with a solution for you.