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.

 

 

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
Smashwords
Barnes and Noble

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.

 

Book Production Services: Ebook and Print-on-Demand

Regular readers might have noticed something different about my blog. I had to take down my Ebook Services page. Long story short, life happened and I got tired of telling people, “Sorry, I can’t help you right now.”

quinnmail2I apologize to those people. I’d love to work on every project offered to me, large or small, but that’s impossible right now. (For my regulars, you’re in–no worries, I’ll take care of you.)

Since I have to limit what new projects I can accept, I’ve decided to focus on areas where I can do the most good.

MOBI Conversions for Calibre Files. The number one search term that brings people to this blog is, Calibre broke my Kindle book, or words to that effect. The number one email query I get is, Calibre broke my Kindle book. I’ve tried to help with how-to guides, but it seems I just confused the hell out of a lot of people. I’m getting more cries for help than ever. Not that I want to be in the conversion business, but I really do want to help writers–and readers!–so here goes: Send me ten bucks along with the validated EPUB file you produced in Calibre and I’ll put the fix in and convert a MOBI file that works. Email me at jayewmanus at gmail dot com.

DIY Consulting: My favorite indie writers are those who are invested in learning how to be great indie publishers. They are curious about all aspects of book production and eager to learn. If you’re one of those and you’re stumped by a glitch in your formatting or you want to learn some nifty tricks to kick your production values up a notch, contact me at jayewmanus at gmail dot com. For around twenty bucks, I can troubleshoot your files, show you some formatting tricks, even whip you up a template.

Back List Restoration and Production: If you had the rights reverted for your back list, but you’re putting off reissuing the titles as ebooks and/or print-on-demand because of the complexity of the project, the costs involved or the time it will take, let’s talk. This happens to be something I’m very good at and, I promise, I’m a lot faster than you. :) I can scan old books, restore the text, format the files for digital and print, and even help with the covers. I won’t charge you an arm and a leg, either. We can work out price deals on a case by case basis.

I’m hoping that life settles down for me soon and I can go back to helping out every person who asks me to help. Until then, I’ll try to write more blog posts to make your DIY book production easier.

Managing File Sizes for Ebooks

The majority of fiction writer/publishers will not run into overall file size problems. Text doesn’t create monster files. Using graphics or illustrations can add significantly to the overall file size, but I’ve yet to create an ebook that exceeds –or even comes close to–Amazon’s 50MB limit (which may be changing due to the introduction of the new Fire HD tablets). Even with illustrations and graphics, I do my best to keep the overall file size under 5MB because of Amazon’s delivery fees ($.15 per MB). Those fees are charged against the publisher and can eat up royalties quickly.

As I said, most fiction writer/publishers will not run into problems with overall file size.

Where fiction writer/publishers do run into problems are with the size of individual chapter files within the ebook. When you use <h1> or <h2> tags in html, or the Heading 1 or Heading 2 style in a word processor, you are alerting the conversion programs (such as Calibre or KindleGen) that this is a new chapter and should be split into a new file.* If you don’t use the headings or tags, the conversion programs look for certain words–Chapter, Part, Section, etc.–to determine where the file should be split. What is NOT reliable at all is using page breaks (in a word processor) or the “page-break-before” command in html/CSS. (I have absolutely no idea why those work sometimes, but sometimes they don’t–my best guess is the whims or moods of the Digital God.)

I always split html (text) files into chapters or parts, which manages the overall ebook very nicely. Even though this example is from a novel (Prophet of Paradise by J. Harris Anderson) that is almost 200,000 words long, notice the size of the individual chapters:

File Size

What happens if you don’t use tags or headings and your chapters have titles the conversion programs don’t recognize? What happens if you don’t have chapters at all and your ebook is deliberately one long tract? If it runs up against the 300KB file size limit (approximately 45,000 words), several things could happen:

  • Your file fails to convert
  • The conversion program inserts page breaks whether they are appropriate or not
  • The file converts, but some devices tell the user the ebook can’t be loaded

If your files are less than 300KB, but still largish (over 150KB) your readers could experience serious screen lag as they page through your story. This is an important consideration for genre fiction writers since the chances are your readers are Super-Readers and might have hundreds or even thousands of ebooks loaded on their devices. They will not be happy if your file sizes and their addiction cause several seconds of lag every time they “turn” the page.

What to do?

  • If you are using a word processor to style your ebooks, use the Heading 1 and Heading 2 styles for your chapters, parts and sections. (Do NOT depend on the conversion programs to recognize your inserted page breaks!)
  • If you are styling in html, use the <h1> and <h2> tags.
  • If your project does not have natural breaks such as chapters or parts (it’s long short story or novella) consider a minor restructure. Use the page count as your guide and try to find natural breaks around the 15,000 word mark–a scene break or time or pov shift or even an illustration that sits on its own “page”.

* If you are using Calibre to convert your ebooks, you can check the file splits in Calibre’s EPUB editor. You’ll see the list of individual text/html files and can open each one on the viewer/edit screen. If you are experiencing inappropriate page breaks, you can manage the fixes in the editor.

 

 

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…