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

 

Cover Fun: A Series/Brand Look

I just finished up a fun little project. The ever irrepressible Larry Block decided to put up eight more of his short stories as singles on Amazon. Cool. Doing the interiors was a snap. The real fun came from doing the ebook covers.

blockmontageI don’t know about the rest of you, but I love how they turned out. My intent from the beginning was to make a distinctive series look, for the author name to be prominent, and for the tone to say ‘retro but fresh.’

Mondrian_CompRYBMy inspiration came from Mondrian, a Dutch painter. Not only is his style distinctive and appealing, Mondrian is also featured in a Block novel, The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian, which I real several years ago and loved, and is also mentioned in LB’s latest, The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. So Mondrian was on my mind and when it came time to come up with a concept for the covers, off to Google I did go and spent about an hour pondering why lines and blocks of primary colors are so compelling.

Now, I’m not an artist and I’m not trained in the graphic arts. But I do love playing with my favorite graphics program–Paint.net–and I have learned over time to:

  • Keep it simple
  • Find a focus and stick to it
  • Identity

By identity I mean that the most effective ebook covers identify either the author or the genre, and sometimes both. LB is well known, so his name has clout, which basically means that his name is going to have far more effect on a shopper’s decision making than would any image. If he were not so well known, I would have put the emphasis on genre. Seriously, that is the biggest flaw I see in ebook covers–there is no clue as to what kind of book it is. Or the clues are too subtle or misleading. Online shoppers are swift beasties. You have only seconds to convince them you’re selling what they are looking for.

For really good advice on designing ebook covers, hop over to Joel Friedlander’s blog–the bookdesigner.com–and especially pay attention to the monthly cover awards. Merely looking at the cover awards will imbue you with tons of information.

The best advice of all, though, came not from a cover designer or a graphic artist, but from one of my favorite TV shows, What Not To Wear. It’s on Netflix if you want to catch it. Stacy and Clinton tell this to people who are baffled by style and putting outfits together. They say, find one element you absolutely love and build around it. Can’t go wrong with that.

How It’s Done: Work Flow in Indie Book Production

A few days ago I wrote a post assuring writers that book production is hard work, but it’s not unmanageable or even difficult. It just so happens that I am almost finished with a HUGE project and for those writers still on the fence about whether to take the plunge into self-publishing, it might prove educational to see the actual steps I took in producing a title.

(Book production is just one facet of the publishing process. There is writing the book, which I suspect most of you already know how to do. There is selling the book, which is what happens out there in the world. I’m only going to talk about the work flow of actual production.)

Step #1: Editorial

With this project, the writer had access to experienced first readers. Their impressions and comments helped him fix any inconsistencies or problems with plot or characters. Then it was time for copy editing. My turn.

TIP: Every publishing entity has an “in-house style” to cover punctuation, preferred spelling and formatting. I suggest indie writers develop their own in-house style guide. Settle on a style manual and a dictionary. It will help immensely when you deal with copy-editors and proofreaders, plus it will make your entire body of work consistent.

As a freelance copy editor, my client is the writer, not the “house.” That means every change is highlighted (even inserting a missing period) and must be approved or declined by the writer. The writer is The Boss.

TIP: If you are going to turn your manuscript into an ebook, I suggest you find an alternative to Track Changes in Word. Track Changes inserts nasty coding into the file and it’s a bear to remove.

Now the manuscript is ready for production.

Step #2: The Interior

I have a fairly specific work flow I use for any book production project. It looks like a lot of steps, but it’s actually pretty efficient. I’ll break it down for you:

  • Make a copy of the original document and open in Word (for this I use my ancient version, less garbage to deal with)
  • Tag all special formatting, tag the scene breaks (if they aren’t already) and tag any text that require special styling (poetry, letters, section heads, etc.)
  • Copy/Paste the document into a text editor.(I use Notepad++, powerful freeware that is simple to use and makes ebook formatting a breeze.)
  • Prep the text: remove extra spaces and blank lines, turn quote marks and apostrophes the right direction, deal with reserved characters, etc.
  • Make the graphical elements (in this case, chapter heads and a scene break indicator)
  • Style the text for a MOBI format. (Since I have Kindles, I usually do the MOBI format first.)
  • Load the ebook onto a Kindle and proofread.

TIP: Do not ever skip proofreading. 99% of the goofs I see in ebooks could have been caught and fixed if the publisher had proofread the ebook. If you do not own an ereading device, then download the Kindle Previewer or Calibre or Adobe Digital Editions and proofread it on your computer.

  • Compile the proofed text into a new file. (This book will be an Amazon exclusive, but if it weren’t, I would use the proofed text to make the EPUB and Smashwords formats)
  • Use the squeaky clean text to format the trade paperback. This will be printed by Createspace. You can find their requirements for the book interior here.
  • Send the pdf of the print layout to the writer for another proofread. (In this case, the writer wanted another set of eyes, so we brought in another proofreader–it’s what the trad pubs do, or are supposed to do anyway.)
  • Make corrections to the print format AND in the ebook file.

TIP: Get in the habit of making a copy of your file for every step in the process. That way if disaster happens (computer crash, power surge, forget to save, whatever) you only have to take one step back to recover your work.

  • Use the proofed text to format the hardcover version (essentially the same as the trade edition, but with some extra details)

Step #3: The Cover

This project required three versions of the cover because there are three editions: digital, trade paperback, and hardcover. I handled the ebook cover, my partner Jayne did the paperback cover, and the hardcover will be a partnership between me, the writer and the printer (it’s complicated).

TIP: Whether you hire a cover designer or do it yourself, before you make any decisions go to Joel Friedlander’s blog and study the monthly cover awards. Just by looking at the successes and failures you will absorb many of the guiding principles behind making an effective cover.

The writer commissioned the cover art from the artist who had done the cover art for several previous books in the same series. (Emanuel Schongut, he’s incredible). I used a freeware program called Paint.net to make the ebook cover. I went shopping for the perfect font and decided I needed two. One I purchased at fonts.com (very reasonable, less than twenty bucks) and I found one for free at dafont.com.

TIP: If you are doing your cover yourself and need art, Google “stock images” and you’ll come up with hundreds of sites that sell (or give away for free) just about any image you can envision. There are also artists who offer stock covers you can purchase and then you either hire the designer to do the typography or do it yourself.

coverThe trade paperback cover was a little trickier. Paint.net is a powerful program, but Adobe Photoshop is way more powerful and it can do some tricky tricks either I can’t do or haven’t figured out how to do. So the job was passed to Jayne. That edition will be printed through CreateSpace. You can find their cover dimensions requirements here. You’ll need to know how many pages your finished book will be and what size book you want. CreateSpace has templates you can use for the layout.

TIP: When doing an ebook, you’ll need the cover first. If the cover isn’t ready, you can make a placeholder to serve while you convert and proofread the ebook. When the cover is ready, just replace the placeholder with the real cover.

The hardcover edition cover is a little different. It’s a special limited edition and the cover will be really fancy. Essentially I’ll be making plates for the printer. Most indies won’t have to worry about this step. If you do, talk to your printer about what you need to do.

So that’s it. Is it a lot of hard work? Why, yes, indeed it is. But broken down into steps, it is quite manageable. Even with editing, proofreading and waiting for cover art, this project has only taken about a month. Instead of having to wait twelve to fifteen months for a trad publisher to dribble out editions (which I guarantee wouldn’t be better than what our team has produced, and in the case of the ebook would be worse), this book is now available for pre-order on Amazon (ebook and trade paperback) and will be released for Christmas this year.

Whether you are doing a huge production like this one or just making an ebook, the steps are pretty much the same: Editing, Interior Format, Cover. Break the big steps into smaller steps and you have a project that’s manageable.

_______________________________

If you happen to be curious as to why best-selling, multi-published writer, Lawrence Block decided to self-publish his brand new novel in his most popular series, you can read about here.

On the Fence About Self-Publishing? Take the Plunge!

I’ve been behind on my blogging here lately. (I have a lot of big projects in the works.) I did read a most interesting article by Bob Mayers of Cool Gus publishing . One thing he said really jumped out at me:

Ultimately, we’re a partner that works with each author as a unique entity.  As part of the very interesting survey about authors put out by DBW, one statistic was that 1/3 of traditionally published authors want to branch out to self-publishing. That struck me.  Because, if you want to do it right, you really can’t “self” publish.  The learning curve is much too steep to risk it.  That’s why most traditional writers I talk to who are considering it say they are scared.  They should be, and I say that nicely.  It’s a scary world in publishing right now, but it’s also a very lucrative one and very wide open for authors who are willing take smart, calculated risks.

I can relate. I get a lot of emails from writers who are intimidated by the process. They want to do best by their work and they want to reach the most readers. Money isn’t the only reason they are considering self-publishing. They want creative control. They have a vision and hope to reach it. But. From the outside looking in, taking a work from manuscript to finished book looks like more than just a big job, it looks unmanageable. I won’t lie. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s not unmanageable. It’s not even difficult (though a lot of hard work) I happen to think that the most important factor in self-publishing is self-CONFIDENCE.

YOU ARE THE BOSS.

Being the boss is a lot of responsibility. That’s why you need confidence. I’ll let you in on self-publishing’s Big Secret.

If you screw up, you can do it over.

Mistakes in the text? Fix them and update your listings. The cover’s not working? Redo it and update your listings. Don’t like a distributor? Pull your books. Find a new and exciting distributor? Sign up and list your books.

How’s that for a confidence booster? Mistakes aren’t fatal or expensive.

If you are on the fence about self-publishing, if you’re uncertain, or even intimidated, I suggest you look around and take a look at your team. Yes, your team. I bet you have a critique group or beta readers who’d be thrilled to help you shape your writing. I bet you know at least one other writer who has self-published so has some experience to share. Do you follow the important self-publishing blogs and indie writers? You may not know them personally, but they can still be part of your team. They have information and the willingness to share. Valuable stuff.

You can hire a production team. Fee for service, no entanglement of rights, no schemes, and you, as the boss, have full control. (Please, by all that is holy, stay away from the vanity presses disguised as “self-publishing services”) You can hire:

  • Copy editors
  • Book formatters
  • Artists
  • Cover designers
  • Audio production
  • Scanning & OCR conversion (for your backlist)
  • Proofreaders
  • Advertising
  • A marketing consultant

Here’s another of self-publishing’s Big Secrets:

If you’re willing to apply yourself, you can do most of it yourself.

Sweat equity counts. Willingness to learn counts a lot.

Is self-publishing a risk? Why yes, yes it is. Traditional publishing is a risk, too. But so what? The big difference is, as The Boss, you take the big risks, you reap the big rewards. There’s nobody standing between you and your readers. That’s why you need confidence. But you know what? You can fake the self-confidence until you actually feel it. You just have to take that first step and decide to take the plunge.

 

I Don’t Hate Calibre, But…

duck coverJudging by the heated storm I roused the last time I criticized Calibre it’s probably a mistake to do so again. What the hell. I have to say it:

DO NOT USE CALIBRE TO CONVERT YOUR EBOOKS FOR THE PURPOSES OF SELLING THEM ON AMAZON.

Yesterday I did a troubleshoot and repair on a writer’s ebook. The EPUB she had converted from Word via Calibre was perfectly fine. It was a valid EPUB, and it displayed the way it should on both Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions. Problems arose when she converted the EPUB into AZW3 and MOBI. The ebook worked when she loaded it onto her Paperwhite Kindle, though it had some disturbing issues. Amazon rejected the file outright.

I took her EPUB and ran it through the Kindle Previewer to see what the problem was. It converted with WARNINGS (never want to see that). The ebook opened, but the button under Devices for Kindle for iOS was greyed out. And the cover didn’t display. When I loaded it on my Paperwhite, some of the user controls were locked. I then went back and looked inside the EPUB. The Calibre conversion had declared font-families–Georgia and Times New Roman–neither of which display on Kindles, but they aren’t ignored either, and hence cause all sorts of interesting little problems. Plus, it had built a cover page.

I’m not a techie person, so I don’t know if I can explain it adequately, but I will try. When a file is uploaded to Amazon it converts the source file into a 3-in-1 ebook. If you’ll compare the size of an EPUB to a Kindle, you’ll notice that the MOBI file is about 3 times bigger than the EPUB. The ebook you buy from Amazon will work across several types of devices: e-ink readers, Fire tablets, and a variety of apps, including iOS for Apple. This is tricky stuff. While Calibre can and does convert your files into the MOBI format or AZW3 format, and the files are suitable for personal use, they aren’t suitable for commercial use because the probability is about 97.3% that an ebook converted through Calibre and then uploaded to Amazon will be broken.

This is all about Amazon. They have proprietary platforms and they are constantly updating and improving and tinkering and it’s difficult for outsiders to keep up. Calibre is a library management tool, not a commercial conversion tool. They can’t be expected to stay ahead of the Amazon updates and bugs. That’s not their purpose.

The fix for the writer’s problem ebook was fairly simple. I removed the font-family declarations, removed the cover page, added a line of code to the metadata in the content.opf so Amazon knew the cover was in the file, resized the cover and ran it through the Kindle Previewer. Voila! Everything worked the way it should. The writer was able to upload the file to Amazon with no problems.

My recommendation to the writer for future projects was this: continue using Calibre to convert her Word files to EPUB files since there appear to be no problems and her ebooks are working fine. But, then to refresh her knowledge about using stylesheets in Word via Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide, and direct load her Word file to Amazon. It’s a bit of a pain since you can’t examine and adjust the file before you start the uploading process, but you can take full advantage of the previewer at Amazon and make sure everything works before you hit the Publish button. That way there won’t be any extraneous items like cover pages and “embedded” fonts to muck up the works.

So seriously, folks, don’t kill the messenger or throw rotten tomatoes. This is just the reality. Calibre is not the right tool for converting files to sell on Amazon. Use the program for what it’s intended–managing your ebook library–and find other means to deal with Amazon.

Front Matter in Ebooks 3: Forewords and Introductions

forewordThere has never been much call for forewords and introductions in fiction. Which is a shame, because I love the things. They give me glimpses of the author’s “true” voice and, if written by another, insight into the author’s character. For most works of fiction, publishers and readers treat them as so much filler. The exception being the short story anthology where an introduction by the editor is practically de rigueur. (As a reader, I always feel a tad ripped off if an anthology doesn’t contain something from the editor. Just sayin’.)

This type of front matter is usually reserved for non-fiction. The writer might use the foreword to make his case about the value of the information contained therein, be it social, economic, cultural or political. An expert in the work’s subject might write the introduction to lend weight and authenticity to the writer’s research or theories or conclusions.

With self-publishing giving so many long-term novelists an opportunity to revive and reissue their back lists, I could argue that forewords and introductions might be valuable sell tools. A writer could explain in his own words why a particular work is important enough to bring back to life. If the writer can express enough passion for the work, it might be enough to turn a browser into a buyer.

Introductions are opportunities for cross-promotion. Writer A is releasing a thriller. Writer B, also a thriller writer, writes an introduction. Fans of Writer B’s thrillers take the introduction as a stamp of approval. When they finish reading Writer A’s novel, and want something else, there is Writer B with his novel just a click away.

I say, if a writer thinks the foreword or introduction will add value to the work as a whole, go for it. At least give it some thought.

If you do decide to use a foreword or introduction, or both, a few tips:

  • Keep it brief–especially in fiction. You don’t want to eat up your entire sample. Or worse, have readers think you’re a blowhard.
  • Stay on point. Talk about the work, not yourself.
  • Be personable, but not too personal. The point of a author’s foreword is to build interest about the work and to give some insight as to why it exists, not to rant about publishing or politics or to chit-chat about pets or one’s health.

As far as formatting, the only real question is: Block or indent style? There’s semi-wisdom floating around that fiction is indented and non-fiction is block-style. I’ve tried it both ways and have come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter much and it’s purely about taste. I prefer indented paragraphs myself, plus, I’d worry about readers who are looking at samples being turned off in thinking the entire book will be in block style.

 

Front Matter in Ebooks 2: Epigraphs, Dedications and Song Lyrics

First a word about Fair Use. Quotes can enhance your work. Snippets of poetry and song lyrics can add thematically to fiction. But their use can lead writers into areas filled with landmines and legal woes. Trad publishers have experience with the subject and copy editors look for instances that violate Fair Use. Self-publishers need to be aware.

Standford University Libraries have written an excellent guide to Fair Use and permissions. I suggest you familiarize yourself with the subject lest you find yourself on the receiving end of a nasty-gram from an attorney–quite possibly accompanied by a hefty invoice.

So, let’s say you have your legal ducks in a row and would like to insert an epigraph or quote in your ebook, or have a dedication page in the front matter. Here are some tips for making it nice.

IN WORD

Caution, if you use carriage returns and centering in an attempt to “fix” your text on the page, you could end up with unwanted gaps, blank pages or other uglies in the ebook.

Use a style sheet.

Make a style sheet for your project. Set up your paragraph format like this:

Quote blog1If this style will only be used for the front matter, I suggest you set a ‘page break before’ in the style sheet. That will place the epigraph on its own page. You can also set the “Spacing: Before” at 12 to 18 pts to drop the text on the page. Don’t get carried away with that, especially if you intend to send this through the Smashwords Meatgrinder. Otherwise, use up to three carriage returns to move the text down.

Quote blog2CSS Stylesheet

Here is a simple css style class and the html:

Quote blog3You can adjust the margins to suit your project. Under “margin” the first number controls the top and bottom, and the second is for the left and right. I like to left align short quotes because justification will sometimes stretch and distort the text.

You can use the same stylings for dedications. This styling is also handy for offsetting poetry within the body of the work.

A last word about song lyrics. If you do receive permission to use song lyrics, you will need a permissions notice in your ebook. Put that in the back matter and make sure the artist receives full attribution. Example:

Song lyrics from “Love is an Epigraph” copyright 2013, JW Manus; used with permission granted by the artist.

Now go forth and make your ebook look nice.