On Dogs…A Tribute

thedogbookToday the subject isn’t ebooks. It’s not one of my rants about the publishing industry either. So if you came for one of those, you might be disappointed. It’s not even a boast post. This is about dogs.

It’s different, too, since I’m touting a specific book. I don’t normally do that here. My readers are looking for ways to produce better ebooks or to solve problems about ebooks or to find some tips about self-publishing. So if I shout, “Buy this book!” it’s usually for a book that will help self-publishers. Not this time. To know why I’m making such a big shift from my regular posts, you need a little background.

I lost my dogs.

It happened a few months ago. It wasn’t unexpected. They were elderly and both developed nerve damage, sort of a canine form of ALS. One progressed to crisis mode and the other was swiftly on his way to a crisis, so we had to have them put to sleep. It’s been a few months and I still look for them. I still expect to hear them coming to my office. Spot, a coal-black Chow/Lab mix–except for one golden-red spot on his shoulder, is the easier loss to deal with. He was much like Norm in the TV show Cheers. His current best friend was whomever was buying the drinks–or rather, supplying the cookies. Spot was everybody’s buddy, but he was nobody’s best friend. Boo, on the other hand…

Boo with his cat bud, Lynx

Boo with his cat bud, Lynx

He and I were destined for each other, the deal sealed the first time we locked eyes at the Humane Society and he low-crawled across the floor to beg me to take him home. He was a dog with a sense of humor and an even deeper sense of duty. He served as the household Enforcer, making sure the other pets and children behaved, and tattling shamelessly if they misbehaved. He had a certain look and “hoo hoo hoo” that let me know if a cat was on the kitchen counter or that Spot had gotten into the garbage again. He protected me from deer, bears, burglars and UPS men. In all the time he lived, nary a single deer, bear, burglar or UPS man made it through the door. (I happened to meet with the milkman one morning and he laughingly said, “I love sending new guys to your house. I never tell them about the dog.” We have a half-glass front door and Boo would leap against it, his head higher than the door. A disconcerting display that terrified delivery people.) Walks with Boo were always an adventure, especially with other dogs. If another large dog acted in a threatening manner, he’d plant himself in front of me and go into what I called “wolf mode”–head down, feet square, tail straight out behind him. And the stare: fixed, stern and utterly no-nonsense. He never growled or barked or lunged. The stare was enough so that even the loopiest dog would suddenly decide he had something better to do. Small yappy dogs were different. Especially those on extension leashes. When one of them “attacked”, Boo would look back at me, his expression clearly asking, “Okay, is this one a chew toy?” I’d say, “Leave it,” and he’d sigh and carry on, ignoring the yapper with admirable restraint. Such devotion had a price, though. If I was away from home, he wouldn’t eat or play. He’d wait for me. Nothing else. He’d just wait. I always felt horribly guilty.

Enough. This is painful.

Back to the book. The Dog Book. When Jerry told me it was in the lineup for production, I wasn’t sure I could do it. The last thing I wanted to do was read about dogs. But when the text was ready, I told him I could handle it, even knowing that stories about dogs would make me cry. And some of them did. I did it anyway and something interesting happened. You see, when I lost Boo and Spot, I vowed, never again. I couldn’t take the heartbreak. It was just too hard loving something that much and then losing it. Then I read things like:

But he isn’t Blue. In the domed shape of his head under my hand as I sit reading in the evenings I can still feel that broader, silkier head, and through his half-boisterous, half-bashful, glad morning hello I still glimpse Blue’s clown grin and crazy leaps. I expect such intimate remembrance will last a good long while, for I waited the better part of a lifetime to own a decent dog, and finally had him, and now don’t have him any more. And I resolve that when this new one is grown and more or less shaped in his ways, I am going to get another pup to raise beside him, and later maybe a third. Because I don’t believe I want to face so big a dose of that sort of emptiness again.”  from “Blue and Some Other Dogs” by John Graves

And this:

Another dog? Certainly not. What would I want with a dog? Rufus was not a dog. He was Rufus.”  from “Rufus” by H. Allen Smith

“Kooa’s Song” by Farley Mowat gave me a laugh, as did James Thurber’s “The Dog That Bit People.” John Steinbeck’s apology for not writing an introduction for another dog book had me, well, howling. I was awed by Donald McCaig’s description of sheepdog trials in “An Honest Dog,” and got a lesson in courage in John Muir’s “Stickeen.” I learned some history from such luminaries as Edwin H. Colbert, Jerrold Mundis and Marcus Terentius Varro. Many of the writers in this collection, appropriately subtitled “A Treasury of the Finest Appreciations Ever Penned About Dogs”, are old favorites of mine: James Herriot, E.B. White, Farley Mowat, James Thurber, John Steinbeck, Donald McCaig, and John Muir. Some were from writers I’d never heard of before, and some were downright obscure (an Anonymous Nineteenth-Century Sportsman). It’s an unusual collection. What Jerry says in his introduction:

They are mainly contemporary writers, but a few have been drawn from the past and some of the selections concern themselves with history. There are memoirs here, essays, adventures, letters, portraits, pensées and recollections. They depict the dog in a variety of roles, from shepherd, hunter and guard to friend and companion. Some of them are humorous, provocative or sad; some compelling, insightful or tense; others poignant, cheerful or exhilarating.

“I have included three poems. Why, in a book of nonfiction? Well, each clearly addresses an actual event. And poets shouldn’t be penalized simply for telling their truths in fancy dress. And finally, because I like them.

The interesting thing that happened to me? It made me want another dog. Not quite yet. My heart wounds are still too open and raw. But soon, perhaps. It’s often said that animals find the people who need them. So maybe if an animal finds me, I won’t turn it away.

So now you know why I’m writing about dogs instead of ebook formatting. Why I’m taking a break from my usual stance of not touting any particular book as a “must read”, and telling all of you that if you love dogs and stories about dogs, then this is a must read for you. I’m even going to shamelessly call in some favors and ask that if you’ve gotten some benefit from this blog, that you pay me back by spreading the word about The Dog Book. It’s been out of print for decades, but now it’s back as an ebook and available at a very low price and I really want you all to read it. Even if you aren’t a hardcore dog lover, the quality of the writing will wow you. If, like me, you are a bit battered, a lot bruised, there are stories in this collection that could bolster your spirits and make you see the world in a better light again.

Feel free to tell dog stories in the comments, if you’d like. But no sympathy for me, please. I won’t be able to read the comments if you all are too nice.

thedogbookAmazon
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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…

 

 

Buh-Bye, 2013–Howdy to the New Year

2013 was a helluva year. Lots of personal drama. Evacuated because of a fire, followed by months of malaise from the smoke because the entire state of Colorado was on fire. Massive rains and subsequent flooding that destroyed my basement. Far too many days spent at the hospital with my children and grandbaby. One thing after another and wondering, oh god, what’s next?

QuinnSeatBut 2013 was an amazing year, too. The Amazing Poop Machine is happy, healthy and growing fast. Everyone is healthy now. I got a promotion–Larry Block has dubbed me The Production Goddess. (I’m practicing how to work that into casual conversation.) I worked with some incredible writers this year: Thomas Pluck, Randall Wood, Jerrold Mundis, Julia R. Barrett, Robert Silverberg, Katherine O’Neal, William Arnold, Sharon Reamer, Carole Nomarhas, Chuck Dixon, Steven Ramirez, Penny Watson, Marina Bridges, and far too many others to list. (Heh. I always wanted a job where I am paid to read, and now I have it and it’s the best job ever!)

Burglar_Limited-XmasI took part in a project that tops my Best Of list for all time. Lawrence Block’s new novel, The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons, which he decided to self publish. From the first read of the manuscript to receiving the gorgeous hardcover limited edition in the mail, it was The Dream Job. I ended up producing four editions, including a print-on-demand Large Print edition. (You can find the ebook and trade paperback here and the special limited edition here.)

The best part of the year was learning new skills. I’ve learned tons and tons about ebook covers. (And bless you brave folks who have allowed me to do my on-the-job-training with your books!)

Cover montageI’ve learned to format fiction for CreateSpace print-on-demand editions. It’s way different than ebooks and a lot trickier, but it’s well worth the effort. (Pay no heed to the bald spots where I ripped out my hair in frustration. Heh.) At the risk of annoying the Hubris Gods, my book designs are pretty darned good.

pod montageIn the coming year, I’ll be stretching way beyond ebooks. I want to do concierge publishing for writers who’ve reclaimed their back lists and need to bring them back to life. I’d like to offer troubleshooting and production consulting for do-it-yourselfers. I can even do graphics for ebooks–wouldn’t your ebook look delicious with something fun like this for your chapter heads and title page?

titleSo buh-bye and sweet dreams to you, 2013. 2014 is here and it’s going to be a good one. I can feel it! And as a very special treat for all you writers out there, here it is, hot off the production line, available at CreateSpace, and soon available at Amazon and LB’s Book Store, the brand new print edition of Write For Your Life: The Home Seminar for Writers.

wfyl blog

Are Your Ebooks Ready for the Holiday?

Baby BlogHidey ho, folks. Have you been busy? (NaNoMo, anybody?) I’ve been busy. So busy, in fact, that I am running on empty and it’s time to take a break. Part of the reason is pictured. (Say, howdy to the nice blog readers, Amazing Poop Machine.) Come December, I’ll be putting all my attention on projects for my posse (great stuff from Tom Pluck and Julia Barrett coming soon!), working on some personal projects, training minions, and spending lots of time with the family. I might even get this blog updated. New features coming in 2014.

That’s my roundabout way of saying, I have exactly three slots open until I shut down for the rest of the year. I won’t be taking on any new work after December 1 though January 1. So if you need your immortal words turned into a beautiful ebook in time for the Christmas rush, now’s the time to get them in.

 

 

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.

 

Pre-Production Check List: Cleaning Text

Hi, folks! Popping out of my mole hole for a breather. With so many writers getting ebooks ready for the holiday rush, it’s time for a quick refresher course in that most essential step: Cleaning up the text to get it ready for formatting.

Clean text is the key ingredient for a good looking ebook that works the way it’s supposed to. Over the course of doing a LOT of ebooks (seems like a thousand this week alone, heh) I’ve come up with a little check list to take me through the steps.

  • CHECK: Copy the file
  • CHECK: Tag special formatting–italics, underlining, bolding
  • CHECK: Scan for special styling–quotes, song lyrics, poetry, letters, etc.–tag those instances

Tagging. Because I use several different programs when working on one project, I’ve come up with tags that transfer from program to program without giving search functions fits. It doesn’t matter what tags you use as long as they are easy to find and don’t contain any characters that cause program meltdowns.

  • CHECK: Kill any tabs (I do this in Word because it’s so easy–one global search for ^t and a global replace with nothing. All done.)
  • CHECK: Turn ‘soft’ returns into ‘hard’ returns. Soft returns do funny things when copy/pasted back and forth. Easier to deal with them now. (UPDATE: It was pointed out that I didn’t explain how to do this. Oops. In Word, it is very easy. Search for ^l (lower case L) and do a global replace with ^p.)
  • CHECK: Copy/paste the entire file into a text editor

Why a text editor? Unlike a word processor, a text editor doesn’t add anything to the file unless I specifically tell it to. No hidden codes, no surprises. I use Notepad++, freeware that is powerful, easy to learn, and makes formatting ebooks in html a breeze.

  • CHECK: Eliminate extra spaces. Between sentences, after paragraphs, before paragraphs, between words. All must go.
  • CHECK: Tag scene breaks. Blank lines show up in manuscripts, often for no reason at all. I want to make sure a blank line is supposed to be there, so I tag all deliberately blank lines.
  • CHECK: Eliminate extra paragraph returns. Don’t need them, don’t want them, make them all go away. I usually leave a blank line where there is supposed to be a page or section break. All the rest go.
  • CHECK: Clean up special formatting tags. Rewriting and revising often leaves artifacts–italicized blank spaces, for instance. Also, when formatting with html, styling should be within a paragraph. There are rules. Making sure all the special formatting follows the rules makes my life easier.
  • CHECK: Search for inappropriate paragraph breaks. This is a real problem with books that have been scanned from print and restored via OCR. I search for paragraphs that begin with lower case characters or end without punctuation, and that finds most of the inappropriate breaks. (the rest are found in the final proofread)
  • CHECK: Search for reserved characters: straight quotes, straight apostrophes, ampersands, greater and lesser than brackets. These don’t always cause problems, but sometimes they do and that can cause interesting hiccups in an ebook. Easier to just turn them into named entities.
  • CHECK: Seek out non-ASCII characters and symbols. These will turn into question marks or bizarre symbols in the text editor. Ebook readers will not render them, so they must be turned into named entities.
  • CHECK: Standardize punctuation. Ebooks are real books, and require real printer’s punctuation. I go through and make sure em dashes are em dashes and not quickie writer shorthand, that ellipses all look the same, that apostrophes and quote marks are turned in the correct direction.

That checklist takes care of almost everything. Even though it sounds like a lot, most of the steps can be taken care of in one or two Find/Replace operations. Most manuscripts I work on can be cleaned up in less than an hour.

Even if you are formatting your ebook in a word processor or in Scrivener, this is good practice for every project. (Skip the steps about using named entities, but do check for non-ASCII characters) It will clean out the junk the programs put in and go a long, long way toward making your ebook look professional.

Have fun! (I’m headed back to the mole hole)

 

Now For Something Completely Different

I have the best job in the world and it’s the best for reasons that have nothing to do with money.

aaGingercookiesLike this. Homemade ginger cookies and lemon curd, the cookie recipe developed just for me because I dig them soft and chewy. There ain’t no piece of paper, no matter how many zeros it has, worth more than that. A pretty sweet (and sour) bonus from one of my favorite writers, Julia Barrett.

Writers send me books, too. Did you all know I happen to love books? Well, it’s true.

aaSignBooksI treasure having something beautiful that I had some part in creating. This is art and craft and well wishes all rolled up into one.

Sometimes I get the most unexpected surprises. Like this, a thank you from Mel Ting that showed up in my email today. I did her a tiny favor and I sure wasn’t expecting this!

Scan 132750001That’s my cat, Lynx, who she has never met, but still managed to capture his expression and attitude perfectly. (Lynx sez: If we’re handing out bonuses, folks, ahem, don’t forget the one who keeps the papers warm on the desk top.)

Sometimes I think just the opportunity to work with such talented, creative, energetic and sometimes delightfully outrageous people is payment enough. I thank you all for it.