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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Restore Your Back List Books: Step 1: Scan and Convert

bookstackAs I write this I have around a two million words worth of back list books sitting on my desk, awaiting conversion from print into ebooks. In the past week alone I have scanned, converted and restored over 400K words to the stage where I can send the doc files to the writer for proofreading.

Tedious. Yes. Daunting, perhaps. Expensive, sometimes. Impossible and difficult, no way. Writers with back list, please, if you have gotten the rights back to your work, don’t let either expense or the thought of so much work stop you from bringing your back list back to life and reissuing it as either ebooks or print-on-demand or both.

Summertime is a fabulous time for restoring back list. Especially for the do-it-yourselfer, since you can take your laptop out on the deck and do the tedious work while working on your tan. (I like to queue up oddball indie films on Netflix and semi-watch and semi-listen to them while I’m working.) Over the next few blog posts, I’ll take you step-by-step through the process.

Understand, this process ranges from very expensive (having someone else do ALL the work for you) to no-cash-outlay at all (takes time). One way I save writers money–and time–is by doing the scanning, conversion and gross restoration (which I can do in hours) then sending them a Word doc in manuscript format so they can do the fine tuning and proofreading. It’s still tedious, but it’s not rip-your-hair-out frustrating.

A word of caution: There are some services that promise to scan, convert and turn your print book into an ebook, all for one very low price. This is the process used by many of the big publishing houses and this is why so many of their (your!) ebooks are broken, ugly, and riddled with formatting errors and typos. Research those services extensively. If there is any hint that they convert pdf files into ebooks, walk away. Run away! There is the right way to do this and there is the super-speed, el-cheapo, don’t give a shit about the quality of product way–and nothing in between.

This is the process for the RIGHT way:

  1. Scan the book into a pdf file
  2. Convert the pdf using OCR into a document file
  3. Gross restoration: remove headers, footers, page numbers, and bugshit produced when conversion “reads” speckles, debris, foxing, watermarks or penciled notations as characters; restore paragraphs; restore special formatting such as italics or bolded text; remove all formatting artifacts embedded by the pdf AND the word processor.
  4. Fine tune and proofread.
  5. Format the fully restored text for either digital or print-on-demand.
  6. Proofread the ebook and/or print-on-demand.

Skip any of the above steps and you’ll end up with a substandard product that is disrespectful to your written work AND to your readers. There is no way to skip any of those steps and turn out a great product. I can, however, share quite a few tricks and tips that will make the process easier for you.

STEP 1: SCAN AND CONVERT

Two ways to do this.

SOMEONE ELSE: If you do a Google search for “book scanning services” you will turn up hundreds of companies that will scan and convert your printed book into a workable document file. Or, you can run down to your local office supply store (Kinko’s or Staples) and they will do the job while you wait and give you a CD or thumbdrive containing your file to take home. Prices are all over the board. I recommend you budget $100. Chances are, the job can be done far more cheaply than that, and you can use your change to have a really nice lunch while you’re waiting for your book to be scanned.

DO-IT-YOURSELF: It is possible you have everything you need already to scan and convert your books.

  • X-acto knife or paper cutter
  • Scanner
  • External storage device or cloud service
  • Conversion program

“X-acto knife? Paper cutter? Jaye, what are you talking about?”

To easily scan your books, you will need to take them apart. The easiest way to do this is to run down the office supply store and have them chop off the spines. They’ll charge you a couple of bucks and it only takes minutes. One BIG caution here. If your mass market paperback is decades old (or sometimes, only a few years old, depending on how cheap-o the original publisher was) the paper could be badly degraded to the point where any rough handling can tear it, crinkle or shred pages, or even break off chunks. The best way to cut off their spines is by hand–gently. I use a metal ruler and an X-acto knife (I buy blades in bulk, so I always have fresh blades). If you want to do this at home, a good paper cutter (available at any hobby and craft store) will do the job nicely. (This is also a good job for a bored kid–“Mom, I have noooothing to do!” “Here, darling, chop the spine off this book.”)

It takes me about ten minutes to despine a fragile old paperback by hand. Not a big deal.

What if it’s a rare hardcover and you don’t want it chopped and destroyed? That is going to cost you–even if you do it yourself. You will have to copy each page (one page to a sheet, please–doing it two-up will turn into a restoration nightmare), then scan the copies. Nice thing about this is, though, if you use a heavy weight bond copy paper (at least 20#) you can run the sheets through a high speed scanner and it’ll take minutes instead of hours.

IMPORTANT TIP: If you’re chopping the book apart yourself, make sure you remove ALL the binding glue. It can jam your scanner or copier, or even melt into the works.

What if you don’t have a scanner? Double check because you just might. Most printers sold these days are multi-purpose: print, copy, scan, fax. If you don’t have a scanner, it might be cost effective to invest in one. For less than $200 bucks you can get a really good multi-purpose printer. (My home multi-purpose printer was on sale for under $150 and it will do double-sided scans in bulk at a pretty good clip–ain’t technology grand?)

You want to output your scans as pdf files. And those are huge. Hence, you’ll want either an external storage device (such as a flashdrive or an external hard drive) or a cloud service (such as Dropbox). It will make handling the files ever so much easier and keep your computer from having hissy fits and being draggy.

QUICK TIP: Rubber bands. Keep a good supply on hand. Cats, kids, open windows, fans, a careless hand wave, and there goes all those pages you cut apart. Old paperback pages are so flimsy they’ll glide under furniture. Keep your work banded and save yourself some headaches.

IMPORTANT TIP: Always do a test run with the front or back matter before you run pages through a sheet feeder or a high-speed scanner. Fragile, flimsy, brittle paper can be eaten by the machine. Pages can twist and turn and wrinkle from the heat. Some books must be hand scanned on the bed, one sheet at a time.

Some useful things to know about scanning:

  • If your scanner allows it, scan in black and white. Your output files will be smaller and more readable.
  • Experiment with the resolution and go with the lowest resolution that gives you a workable scan. The higher the resolution, the bigger your files will be AND the greater the amount of speckling and debris the scan will pick up. The only time you need to scan at a high resolution is if your book has illustrations or photographs. In that case, you might want to do one run at a lower setting for the text, then do a high resolution scan of your images.
  • If the pages are so flimsy there is significant bleed-thru from the opposing pages, you will need to scan them via the bed (rather than the sheet feeder). Use a sheet of black card stock as a backer and that will reduce or eliminate the bleed-thru.

CONVERSION

The very best program I have found is Adobe Acrobat XI. Not only will it compile all your files (if you have to hand scan the pages, you could end up with hundreds of individual files), but it will quickly and (fairly) cleanly convert the pdf into a workable Word document. It’s a bit pricy and not a program for a person doing one or two jobs. If you have an extensive back list and intend to do the restoration yourself, then it is worth the investment because it will save you tons of time. Some people use it for creating print-on-demand books, too.

There are also hundreds of programs (many as free downloads) and online services (also, many that are free) that will convert your pdf/s into a workable document. Do a Google search for “pdf conversion” and you’ll have a wide variety to choose from.

IMPORTANT TIP: Results will vary. Before you download any program or pay for a subscription or use an online service, test a few pages and see how they look. NO OCR conversion will produce perfect results, but some conversions are much, MUCH better than others and therefore much easier for you to restore the text back to its original glory. It’s worth an hour or so of your time to find the best one for you.

There you go. Your book is scanned and converted and ready for restoration. You all are lucky in that I’ve learned a lot from doing a lot and I’ll save you a LOT of fumbling around with my many tips and tricks. Watch this space for the next post: STEP 2: Gross restoration.

 

 

Self-Publishing: Amateurs versus the Pros

There’s a war going on right now. Hachette vs Amazon is the big battle du jour. You can read all about it here and here and here. That’s not the real war. The real war is being fought against indie writer/publishers. It’s being fought mainly with propaganda pushed by the big publishing houses (who are part of a HUGE media conglomerates) aided by agents and big-name writers.

In a perfect world (okay, in my perfect world) there would be a separate section on Amazon or B&N.com for self-published e-books, maybe even separate websites. I truly believe that it would help the reader distinguish the books as well. Readers don’t purchase books based on who the publisher is and don’t necessarily care. As a result, they might not even know if they’re buying a book that was professionally edited versus one that was self-published...” –Steven Zacharius, CEO, Kensington

(How about professionally formatted, Mr. Z.? When I purchase a trad pubbed ebook, I do so knowing that being highly annoyed by the sloppy, disrespectful ebook formatting is going to make me grind my teeth.)

ebook design by JW Manus

ebook design by JW Manus

I wish I could say with reasonable confidence that all errors have now been caught, but I reckon that’s unlikely. Hopefully, though, there are no more than a bare few, and minor ones at worst. I guess that’s an advantage of ebooks and POD, that small errors can be fixed and the files reloaded for future purchases… –J. Harris Anderson, author and publisher of THE PROPHET OF PARADISE

Amazon only appears to be the target. Except, it’s not competing against the big publishers. Amazon is a distributor. Sure, they have a publishing wing, but the big pubs don’t care about that. What they really care about is their real competition. That’s you, folks.

ebook formatted by JW Manus

ebook design by JW Manus

“Everything looks great to me. Just one thing to change and one question. In the author’s note, it should say Chesnut Hill (insert comma) Massachusetts. This was an error in the original book.” Kim Ablon Whitney, author and publisher of BLUE RIBBONS

The theory of propaganda is this: Tell a lie often enough and loudly enough and eventually it will morph into the “TRUTH.” Pretty soon, the actual truth is considered a lie and any exceptions to the established “truths” are considered flukes or outliers or aberrations. What the big publishers and agents and bestselling authors would have you, the indies, believe (because trust me, the readers don’t care and 99% of them are probably not even aware that this war is going on) is that your work is sub-par, that the only reason you self-publish is because you can’t hack it as a “real” writer, and that you’re lazy and amateurish.

“Amazon pays amateur authors, often unedited, who upload files not yet ebook-ready to them and don’t know anything about marketing or metadata, as much as 70 percent of retail if they meet certain exclusivity and price stipulations. (Obviously, there are great gems among those, but they are still mostly unproven, unknown, and unsuccessful.) They are apparently fighting hard to avoid giving Hachette — which invests substantially to be consistently superior to a fledgling author on all these counts — the same cut.” –Mike Shatzkin, The Shatzkin Files

ebook & POD design by JW Manus

ebook & POD design by JW Manus

“I have to find it. Once it says Theo instead of Thea. How do I fix that on the kindle? Can I edit the content just for that one word or do I have to upload a new file?” –Julia Rachel Barrett, author and publisher of WINNERLAND

I work with several new-to-self-publishing writers, but I wouldn’t call them amateurs. They’re in this to produce the very best books for their readers as it is possible for them to do. They care deeply about their work and care deeply about satisfying their readers.

cover, ebook, & POD design by JW Manus

cover, ebook, & POD design by JW Manus

“...kindly see below a letter I just got from The National library of Israel in Jerusalem advising the book … has been accepted and listed with the library!” –Anna Aizic, author and publisher of THE CIRCLES OF LIFE (a memoir)

One of the things that really has the big pubs in a dither (or a tizzy or a dizzying meltdown) is how many traditionally published authors are self-publishing their back lists. Many of the big pubs just scan old books, convert them (errors and all), and slap them up on sell sites (usually with the original covers, many of which are entirely unsuitable for ebooks), and call it good. The writers I work with do not do that. They see reissuing as an opportunity to fix old mistakes and to update covers or create brand new covers.

cover, ebook, & POD by JW Manus

cover, ebook, & POD by JW Manus

Thanks for the two PDFs. Both sailed right through CS absent objection – but, with apology, I did catch one little detail that we’ll have to change (a web address). I’ll be getting an email off to Erin right after this, since how we’ll change that will depend on her answer. I’ll copy the email to you so you can see what needs doing.” –Jerrold Mundis, author and publisher of SLAVE

The real fear is that those authors self-publishing their back lists will realize that the process is the same for publishing new releases and it’s not an impossible task and not only can the writer/publishers do an excellent job, they can do it faster and even better than the trad pubs can. The media is still pretty much ignoring self-published titles, and that’s a downer, but it’s slowly, slowly changing and eventually self-pubbed titles will receive their due. If you don’t think that doesn’t scare the bejeezus out of the trad pubs…

BURGLAR

ebook, cover & POD by JW Manus

My decision to self-publish The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons has had gratifying results, but there’s been a downside: self-pubbed titles don’t get much media attention or store distribution. Well, Orion’s UK edition just came out, and here’s Geoffrey Wansell’s lovely review in the Daily Mail...” –Lawrence Block, author and publisher of THE BURGLAR WHO COUNTED THE SPOONS

The bottom line is, as always, money. Lots and lots of money. Every time you self-publish a book or a short story or an instruction manual or get together with like-minded writers to produce an anthology, you–yes, YOU–are costing the big pubs money. Have you been following the Author Earnings reports produced by Hugh Howey and Data Guy? If not, you should, if only to understand the scope of this situation and to understand why the big pubs and their minions are hitting back so hard. They need you to line up (quietly, hat in hand, head bowed respectfully) to provide them with vast amounts of materials from which they can pick and choose. If you don’t, well, that must mean you’re an amateur, right?

ebook design by JW Manus

ebook design by JW Manus

Love the edit. Jessica frowned at the little notebook though. She said it doesn’t fit in with the rest of my books and I have to agree with her. Can we do something in black/white under the chapter heading like all the others? Something reporter-ish?” –Randall Wood, author and publisher of INSIGHT

The big pubs and their minions want you to believe that you’re helpless without them. That you need nurturing and someone to hold your hand and to take care of all that nasty business-y stuff. Because, you know, writers are such idiot savants that accounting is waaaaay over their heads. Far better to let the grown-ups take care of that.

ebook design by JW Manus

ebook design by JW Manus

I was wondering if part of your illustrious services include helping with HTML descriptions?  I.e., when inputting product descriptions on Amazon, it is much better if the text is in HTML rather than, say, Word.” –Layton Green, author and publisher of THE METAXY PROJECT

To go for a publishing contract or to self-publish, either way is your choice. As a reader, if I like your stories or the information you’re putting out, it doesn’t matter a rat’s patoot who publishes it. And many, many other readers feel the same way. Sure, there are some who are loyal to a particular publishing house or imprint, but the majority are interested only in the authors. If their favorite authors goes indie, they follow. The big pubs know that, too. One of their responses has been even more draconian contracts which include life-of-copyright terms and non-compete clauses. AND, a propaganda campaign to convince you–YOU!–that self-publishing means you’re an amateur and a loser and you’ll never be successful and you’ll regret your foolishness to the end of your days…

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return to proofreading an ebook for a self-publishing author who cares very much that his text and formatting are professionally polished.

 

 

Indie Writers: Make MS Word Work for You Instead of Against You

A Quick Primer for Fiction Writers in using Microsoft Word in the Digital Age

It always saddens me a little when a writer sends me an overly formatted Word doc to turn into an ebook or print-on-demand. It’s not that I have to clean it up–I can strip and flip the messiest files in less than an hour. What bugs me is how much thought and effort the writer wasted on utterly useless manuscript styling.

Example of a Word doc that has been overstyled.

Example of a Word doc that has been overstyled.

The majority of writers I work with use Word. The vast majority have no idea how to use Word for their own benefit. I understand. I was a fiction writer for over two decades and even though I have been using computers and a variety of word processing programs since the late ’80s, it wasn’t until I started learning book production that I figured out how those programs worked. Why would I? All I needed was a printed manuscript in standard format to mail to my editor. Word processors made that easy.

Now I produce books for digital and print, and those old ways of “thinking print” make the writer’s job harder. Especially indie writer/publishers who might be doing it all alone or working with contractor editors and proofreaders and formatters.

Since it would take a full book–or volumes–to explain how word processors work, I’m going to urge you all to take what I tell you in this post and play around in your word processor. I will be talking about MS Word, but much of what I show you will apply to almost any word processor.

STUFF YOU DON’T NEED AND NEED NEVER USE AGAIN

  • Tabs
  • Page breaks
  • Headers
  • Footers
  • Page Numbers
  • More than one space for any reason
  • More than two hard returns for any reason
  • Multiple fonts
  • Text boxes
  • Justification
Example of a manuscript that uses NONE of the above.

Example of a manuscript that uses NONE of the above.

STUFF THAT MAKES WORD “WORK” FOR YOU

  • Style sheets (fiction writers can get away with using only two or three, four at the most)
  • Find/Replace
  • Save As
  • Web View
  • “Show” feature
  • Formatting tags
(Left) Basic manuscript formatting; (Right) Overly formatted manuscript.

(Left) Basic manuscript formatting; (Right) Overly formatted manuscript.

See that backward P-looking icon I’ve circled? That’s the “show” feature. Toggle it on and you can see paragraph returns, spaces, tabs and a few other formatting features. With the basic formatting on the left, all I had to do was apply one style (Normal) to the entire manuscript, then apply heading styles to the chapters and sections, and done. To style an entire manuscript takes minutes this way. The manuscript on the right is an entirely different matter. To get it looking the way I want would take hours, if not days, manually lining everything up, trying to get it to look the way I want it. Worse, I have to remember what I’ve done so I can remain consistent throughout. When I’m done, I still have to scroll endlessly through the entire document to find whatever I might need to find.

And what about what is happening behind the scenes? MS Word uses html to control all those features. If you’re printing a document, the only true concern you have is making sure your fonts print properly. If you’re turning your work into an ebook, all that hard work (and useless effort) works against you.

The html in the basic Word doc and how it displays in Firefox.

The html in the basic Word doc and how it displays in Firefox.

The overly formatted file in html and how it displays in Firefox.

The overly formatted file in html and how it displays in Firefox.

So let’s make Word work for you. The NUMBER ONE thing (print it out and blow it up to poster size and post it where you can see it while you work) is:

IT DOESN’T MATTER A RAT’S PATOOT WHAT YOUR WORKING DOCUMENT/SOURCE FILE LOOKS LIKE

(Seriously, if your Happy Place while composing fiction involves Comic Sans font, 22pts, with 2 inch margins, triple spaced, then go for it. The only time it matters what your document looks like is when you intend to print.)

STYLE SHEETS

Set them and forget them; the best tool in the MS Word

Set ‘em and forget ‘em; the best tool in MS Word

Every version of Word has a style sheets feature. If you’re using 2010, you’ll find them in the “Home” toolbar. Word comes with a huge variety of pre-built style sheets. You can use them as-is or modify them. You can create your own style sheets. The most useful styles for the fiction writer are: Normal, Heading 1, Heading 2.

  • Normal: apply to the body of your text. Set your paragraph indents, line spacing, and font. Never worry about spacing, margins and indents again.
  • Heading 1 & 2: apply to titles, chapter heads or sections. Bonus: Word will automatically list your headings in the navigation window. No more scrolling through a long document to find a specific chapter or section. Another Bonus: Ebook conversion programs recognize heading styles. Some, like Calibre, will automatically build a table of contents for you based on headings 1 & 2.

Additional styles fiction writers might find useful:

  • Emphasis: Remember, styles apply to paragraphs. “Emphasis” is italics. If your entire paragraph is italicized, use “emphasis”.
  • Strong: “Strong” is bold.
  • Custom style–“Center”: Instead of clicking on the icon for centering, create a style sheet. Makes life easy.
  • Poetry: For poetry, quotes, lyrics, anything you want with different margins and font style.

FIND/REPLACE

This is the most useful and the most underused tool in MS Word. You can use it to not only find words, you can find special characters, styles, highlighting, and special formatting (such as italics or bold).

Click on the dropdown menus and you can look for anything that appears.

Click on the dropdown menus and you can look for anything that appears.

A few useful search terms:

  • ^& (caret ampersand): Stands for a string of text. Say I want to tag my italics. I would leave the Find box blank, but ask it to search for italics. In the Replace box I’d type -STARTI-^&-ENDI-, do a Replace All and Word will wrap all my italicized text in tags.
  • ^p : Hard return. You can search for them or insert them
  • ^l  (caret lower case L): Soft return (shift enter)
  • ^t : Tab. Working on a document in which you or someone else used tabs and want to kill them all? Type ^t in the Find box, leave the Replace box blank, and do a Replace all. Done.
  • * (asterisk): A string of text. Use as a ‘wild card’ when you’re restoring your special formatting. Say I want to restore my italics. In the Find box type -STARTI-*-ENDI-, click the ‘wild card’ box, and leave the Replace box blank but ask it to replace text with italics. Do a Replace All and all your tagged text is italicized. Then use Find/Replace to get rid of the tags.

SAVE AS

When I’m working on a project, I might have four, five, ten versions of a file. If I’m making major formatting changes, I NEVER EVER mess with my source file. Let’s say I want a printed version. I do a Save As to make a new version that is named Print_Docname_date. Then I apply headers/footers, page numbers, page breaks and modify my styles to make it suitable for printing. My original source file remains unchanged and ready to use. Using Save As is the best habit you can get into while you’re working. (And it’s not like you’re having to save your work to floppy disks–your computer has lots of space. Use it!)

WEB VIEW

Basicformat4Forsake print view and get used to web view while you work. This view is flexible (flow text) and enables you to easily display multiple screens and compare text while you work. You can adjust the width of your screen, too, and not lose chunks of text or reduce the image size in order to see everything.

FORMATTING TAGS

Because I use a variety of programs, and I dislike intensely losing formatting such as italics or trying to remember where I want a block of offset text, I tag my formatting. Now, because Word is html-based, you do NOT want to use html tags in your text. It’s okay if you’re outputting a file to a text editor, but if you’re going to a program that is html-based such as Scrivener or InDesign, or if you intend to bring the text back (you’re ‘nuking’ it, according to Smashword’s style guide), then those html tags are going to seriously mess things up.

My tags are arbitrary. I’ve come up with them because they are unique and easy to search for; they don’t show up in text (normally). Feel free to use mine if you want or come up with something that makes sense to you to use. IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER: Special formatting such as italics or bolding require OPEN and CLOSE tags.

  • Italics: -STARTI- (open) -ENDI- (close)
  • Bold: -STARTB- -ENDB-
  • Underline: -STARTU- -ENDU-
  • For any special formatting such as headlines, poetry, etc: -SPECIAL- (this tag is a note to myself)
  • Placing Images: -IMAGE-
  • Scenebreaks or deliberate blank lines: ##

That’s it. Simple, no? This is MS Word in the digital age, a writing tool you can make work for you instead of against you.

 

When You Are Your Own Publisher

quinnbookI get a lot of emails from people who are just starting out with self-publishing. For the most part I enjoy the conversations. Self-publishing isn’t all that difficult to do, but there is so much information available, so many options, it can be confusing as hell. I like to think I’ve set a few folks on a path that lessens the confusion and takes some of the mystery out of the process.

What I don’t enjoy are the emails that sound fueled by panic. I fear for the panicky folks–fear sets them up to be taken advantage of by overpriced “services” and vanity presses. These folks are easily led to believe that ebook conversion is too hard for less-than-technical geniuses and that distributing ebooks is worth an upfront fee and annual charges on top of retailer commissions. They are desperate for someone to take care of them–and taken they do get.

By emailing me, I can usually steer them away from the predators. Assuaging their fears is more difficult. Especially when they’re prefaced by, “What’s the RIGHT way to do this…?”

The subtext is, “I am terrified of not doing this perfectly and so I need someone else to take responsibility.”

I’ve yet to see a perfect book–and I’ve read thousands. I’ve yet to see a perfect publisher. But that’s okay. Readers aren’t looking for perfection. They’re looking for entertainment and information and education. Publishers–self or otherwise–have a duty to those readers to give them the best value in exchange for their time and money. That doesn’t have to be perfect.

So let’s talk about the reality. When you are your own publisher, you’re in charge. Period. The book is yours. YOU decide how it is written. YOU decide how much editing is required. YOU decide on the packaging and formatting. YOU decide how much to charge and where and how to distribute. YOU broker deals for rights and editions and exclusivity or not.

When you are in charge, you make your own rules. Your contract is with your readers. Those are people you need to satisfy. Or not. Your choice.

Being in charge also requires some courage and conviction. If you’re in a panicky state of mind, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to have either. You also need to be able to tolerate some mistakes. Everybody makes them–you’re no exception. The trouble with panic is that any decision you make will end up being made for the wrong reason and so it will probably be a mistake and there, your worst fears realized.

How does one get over the fear? First and foremost is realizing that with the great responsibility of self-publishing also comes almost unlimited freedom. Part of that freedom involves “do-overs.” If you screw something up–the editing, the cover, the distribution, the price–do it over and do it better. You don’t get that luxury if you turn your responsibilities over to someone else. It’s been my experience that anyone who’s motivated to get better, will get better with time and effort. So whenever the rising panic tells you, “Perfection or die!” shut it down by reminding yourself that you are doing your best this time and next time you’ll do it even better.

Next, and this is really important, find mentors. There are many, many successful self-publishers all over the internet. They blog, they tweet, they facebook, and many engage with readers. Their books are widely available. You don’t have to talk to them directly in order to learn. Read, observe, try some of their methods to find out what works for you. Look for positive messages and genuine success stories.

Find good examples. If you want to self-publish, you need to know what readers like. You need to develop a vision for yourself and your work. Read, browse, collect samples. It’s very empowering when you’re ready to produce a cover if you have a collection of designs that you think are effective. Or you can tell your formatter, “I like the way this book is laid out, do mine with a similar design.”

Build a tribe. Panic is isolating. Fear thinks it is unique. That’s a lie. So make an effort to put yourself out there to find like-minded folks. It might take a while, but you’ll find people who’ve made mistakes and survived to tell the tale. You’ll find helpers and people you can help.

I’ll leave you with a little list of things about self-publishing that I know are true:

  • Everybody has an opinion, but nobody knows everything.
  • Your book matters, but it’s not the most important thing in the Universe, so worlds will not collide if you muck something up.
  • There is no ONE RIGHT WAY to do anything. Find what works for you.
  • Shit happens. Deal with it.
  • Anyone who promises you the moon is staring at your wallet and wondering how much they can take you for.
  • The only people you need to satisfy are your readers–everyone else is just noise, noise, noise. So get your priorities straight.

Hi ho, hi ho, back to work I go…

 

 

They Just Don’t Get It…

I tried to resist the fray, but sue me, I’m weak. So here goes.

gatekeeperHugh Howey and Anonymous X published their first report at authorearnings.com. I won’t go into the details (go read it for yourself), except to say I knew it would cause a shitstorm. To see one example, take a peek at the absurd rebuttal from Dear Author PG posted on The Passive Voice blog. All this comes on the heels of a sudden spate of self-publishing bashing by such luminaries as Steve Zacharius, Robert Gottlieb, Donald Maas and others. (Joe Konrath had a great run fisking their foolishness over on his blog. One example where he fisks Mike Shatzkin.)

As interesting as it all is, I’ve noticed a whole lot of “missing the point” going on.

It’s really not about the money.

Oh sure, money is a measure, an easy way to calculate one’s progress. Money is very nice and pays the bills. But every real writer I’ve ever met (and by real, I mean the passionate, even hypergraphic wordsmiths and storytellers who love nothing more than bringing mere words to life) will write and tell stories even there is no money in it. Their real goal is not money, but readers. Because without readers a piece of writing is incomplete. It exists, it is tangible, but without readers it is dancing on an empty stage in a closed theater or singing in the shower. Readers complete the connection.

Publishing houses know this impulse, this hunger. They know writers will endure almost any abuse in order to be read. For a long, long time they were the only game in town and it was their way or the highway.

Self-publishing is nothing new. Anyone with the bucks to pay for it could get their work printed and bound. But what the individual could not do on any scale was find readers. The publishing houses had a lock on distribution. While a bookstore might carry self-published hiking guides or cookbooks from local authors, they wouldn’t touch a self-published novel. Self-publishers were reduced to hand selling every copy. Unless one were selling books via seminars or workshops, there was no feasible way for the self-publisher to connect with readers.

Because the publishers had so much power, they (of course) abused it. Ever seen a publishing contract? It’s ugly and from what I understand, they are getting uglier. Want to know if your publisher is paying all your royalties? Be prepared to pay a CPA and sign a non-disclosure statement. Want input on your cover, editorial, marketing, distribution, pricing and scheduling? Find another job.

Writers endured it because they had no choice. Because they had no choice, writers were afraid. “The publishing world is small, all those agents and editors talk, so don’t make waves! Don’t piss anyone off! Watch out, if you complain, you’ll get blacklisted!” In public writers LOVED their publishers. In private, in hushed conversations, they shared horror stories. You don’t know pain until a publisher has botched your book–and there is not a damned thing you can do about it. Except take the blame for the lousy sales, that is.

Then there’s the soul-crushing despair that the cycle of submission and rejection can cause. On one hand it’s a badge of honor to be able to say you endured the lengthy response times and form rejections before some agent or editor recognized your brilliance. On the other hand it’s humiliating. Even more so when I see all the nasty mockery and snark by agents and editors all over the net. It’s as if they enjoy humiliating writers. Many probably do. That they would show such disdain publicly says a lot about the general attitude in the industry.

Then along comes Amazon and Smashwords and ebooks and something astonishing happens. Suddenly self-publishing is feasible. Hugh Howey’s Author Earnings data proves, without a doubt, that it is feasible. Self-publishing offers the means for any writer, anywhere, to find readers.

And that’s the real point.

Writers can find readers without the humiliations, the shitty contracts, the bad editorial, the lousy production values and high prices. They can do it without the condescending attitudes, disrespect and disregard. Writers can go with a publishing house if they want to. But if they don’t want to, they have the feasible option of self-publishing.

Judging by the sheer number of self-published works available to readers, a whole lot of writers don’t WANT to go with publishing houses.

The publishers have stood between writers and readers for so long they believe they are essential to the process. Thousands of writers and millions of readers are proving that not only are publishers non-essential, but in many cases they throw up unnecessary barriers and actively interfere with the connection between writers and readers.

Publishers are running scared. Fewer writers are demanding entry at the clubhouse door. Many couldn’t care less that the clubhouse even exists. My God, publishers and agents are being *gulp* rejected. Writers no longer fear being “blacklisted” and are talking openly in blogs and forums about publishers and contracts and money and all those other “forbidden” topics that publishers don’t want discussed. The feasibility of self-publishing has proved the trad publishers are non-essential–now they are running the risk of becoming non-entities.

That’s where the nastiness is coming from. This is what has reduced publishers and agents to act like that jerk in the bar who, upon being snubbed by a pretty girl, calls her a “fat lesbo who hates men.” Sorry, fella, she just hates you.

There are some things the traditional publishers are very good at and they have the infrastructure and connections and experience to do them exceptionally well. Unfortunately, for them, a lot of things they do well can also be done very well by the self-publisher. And, the self-publisher can do it faster and more cheaply. Doubly unfortunately, what publishers don’t do well at all is compete. They don’t like being reduced to “an option.” The days are over when they can sit back and wait for treasure to fall into their laps. The days are over when they can say, “My way or the highway,” because nowadays that highway is pretty damned tempting.

This little commentary of mine isn’t about “Us versus Them.” It’s not a declaration of war. As a reader I don’t give a damn who publishes the writers I like. I’ll discuss pros and cons of publishing options with any writer who asks–and there are pros and cons with all options. This is a reality check. My data might be all anecdotal (except for my dealings with multiple publishers and agents and the contracts I’ve signed), but it is twenty-plus years of anecdotes. I can read the signs. I can see with my own eyes what is going on. The question is, can you?

Creating a Professional Look for Ebooks

Can you spot an ebook produced by an amateur? I’m not talking about the writing–I’m talking about the interior production. Take a look at these side by side screenshots:

AmPro2 What about these?

AmPro1Take a good look and see if you can spot what I see.

Screenshot 1, upper left, self-published, amateur. I’m fairly certain the publisher converted a Word format. The story sounded interesting so I downloaded a sample. It looks like a manuscript and I knew it would trigger my Inner Editor and seriously affect my reading enjoyment, so I passed on buying the book.

Screenshot 2, upper right, trad-published, professional. The overall ebook is visually interesting, designed with the reader in mind. Purchased, read and enjoyed.

Screenshot 3, lower left, self-published, professional. One of my productions.

Screenshot 4, lower right, trad-published, amateur. Ugly and distracting. Purchased without sampling because this is one of my favorite authors, but I will definitely sample any other offerings from this publisher and if the next is as poorly done as this one, I’ll pass.

It drives me a little crazy when publishers put so much effort into ebook covers and give so little thought to the interior. I have never once heard a reader say, “Oh, I just loved the cover on Wendy Writer’s ebook, I think I will buy the next one.” Granted I’ve never heard one say, “Oh the formatting was so lovely, I think I’ll buy the next.” I have heard people say, “The sample was such a mess, I didn’t buy the book.” and “I wanted to like the book, but there were so many errors…” Worst of all, they say nothing, just refuse to buy another book by that particular publisher.

AmPro3Readers judge. When the ebook looks amateurish, they judge before they even start to read. They’ll be more aware of and less forgiving of typos. If the ebook makes any visual impression at all, it will probably be a bad one.

On the flip side, professionalism establishes trust. It sends a message to the reader: “You’re in good hands. Sit back, relax and enjoy.” Readers might not consciously recognize how much thought and effort you put into your formatting, but sub-consciously they will notice and it will have a favorable effect on their reading experience.

So how do you cross the line between amateur and pro? If you’re thinking about hiring someone, look at samples. (There are a lot of amateurs out there charging a lot of money for crappy formats.) If you are doing it yourself, start with

THE BASICS

  • Squeaky clean text.
  • Printer’s punctuation.
  • Proper paragraph spacing.
  • Proper paragraph indents.
  • Proofreading.

THE LAYOUT

  • Control your Front Matter (If potential readers have to page through 20 pages of front matter in the sample, you’ll probably lose the sale)
  • Always include a Table of Contents–and make it useful. If, by chance, your book’s ToC is a lengthy list of Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc., come up with a way to shorten it or move it to the back.
  • Make your back matter work for you. Include an author bio, and links to other works and your blog/website.
  • Consider text ornaments or other visuals, especially if your story is long or the text is dense. This gives readers some eye relief.

THE CONVERSION

  • One Size Does NOT Fit All. A Kindle format is different than an EPUB format.
  • Use the right tools. (I know this will cause howls of outrage, but it’s the truth: To create a professional quality ebook using Word, you need some mad-monkey Word-fu skills. If you have those skills, then you’ll have no problem learning html, so why don’t you?)

snoringIf your ebook is already published and you know it’s not up to professional standards, do not be afraid to do it over. That’s the beauty of ebooks–fluidity. Amazon makes it easy to update files. Other distributors aren’t so user-friendly, but updates are still possible. Taking your already published ebook from amateur to professional won’t recover past lost sales, but it will help future sales. It will definitely help sales for your other works.

 

A Holiday Gift for You: Ebook Ornaments

You’ve all been so nice to me this year, thought I’d give you a little gift. Here are some ornaments you can use in your ebooks for scene break indicators or chapter head ornaments. Just copy the images, rename them for your ebook files, and insert them.

Enjoy!

scroll

scroll

spots and dots

spots and dots

gradient line

gradient line

snowflake asterisks

snowflake asterisks

curved arrow

curved arrow