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

Making It Easy For Readers: Links In Ebooks

Does it bother you when authors ask for a review? It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. As long as the request is pleasant and upbeat, (no whining!) it serves as a nice reminder. I recently did a job for a writer who included a review request in the back matter (pleasant and upbeat), and then kicked it up a notch by making it very easy for readers.

SRzombiesHe did it in a way that made me slap my forehead and wonder why I hadn’t thought of it first! He published his book on Amazon, then as soon as he had live links, I updated the file with the links and he updated the book at Amazon. He included not just the link to the listing at Amazon, but to Amazon.uk and Amazon.ca, too.

So now, when a reader is basking in reader ‘afterglow’ the link is right there. If the reader happens to be in Canada or the United Kingdom, they have a direct link, too.

But, Jaye, you say, Amazon already offers links to write a review when the book is finished. Plus, Amazon sends emails to remind you to review.

This is true. IF the reader has a Kindle. What if they are using an app or reading it on their phone or computer or magic toaster? I don’t know if all the reminders and such show up then. And the reminder emails from Amazon are a bit random and come whenever. So.

Here’s my philosophy on review and sell links in ebooks: They don’t hurt.

Anything that makes it easier for readers to find your books is a good thing. (As a reader, if I really enjoy a book, I have a tendency to immediately hop over to Amazon and One-Click my way through the author’s other offerings. Can’t let that TBR pile get too low, you know?)

So, on Amazon, which makes updating a listing so very easy and painless, if you include a direct request for readers to review your book, make it easy for them to do so by providing live links.

How Do YOU Buy Ebooks?

This isn’t about formatting, but it is about ebooks. Thought you all might like to see how one book buying decision was made…

(transcript of a google chat on November 6)

ME: ah
the old man is really grumpy today and trying to pick a fight with me
I wish he would go to work
I can FEEL him glowering from here
MARINA: what is he so grumpy about
ME: I have no idea
that time of the month or something
MARINA: all of that and a penis, too. what a lucky girl YOU are
ME: no shit
lucky… lucky… lucky
I need a book to read while I’m standing in line to vote
any suggestions?
MARINA: well, if the line is long, A Game Of Thrones. I think I’ll be reading that for the rest of my life.
ME: heh
I guess I could try War and Peace again
maybe I can make it through on my kindle
MARINA: or not. are you looking for something new?
ME: yep
MARINA: well, joe has this, but I don’t think you are so crazy about him. http://www.amazon.com/Inheritance-ebook/dp/B009PN36Z4/ref=kinw_dp_ke
I haven’t read it, myself
ME: sounds heavy
I want something that makes me laugh
MARINA: expensive, but funny. http://www.amazon.com/Southern-Ladies-Gentlemen-ebook/dp/B007PRZLT6/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1352217627&sr=1-1&keywords=southern+ladies+and+gentlemen
ME: that’s a possible
not funny, but a burke book I haven’t read.
http://www.amazon.com/Strega-Burke-ebook/dp/B000FC1KJ8/ref=sr_1_14?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1352217635&sr=1-14&keywords=andrew+vachss+kindle+books
MARINA: I love this, but it’s long long long. and none of these books are new. http://www.amazon.com/Short-History-Small-Place-ebook/dp/B002J05GRG/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1352217687&sr=1-1&keywords=a+short+history+of+small+place
ME: also expensive
MARINA: I’m pretty over burke
ME: http://www.amazon.com/Warwolf-ebook/dp/B0058TUNRS/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1
MARINA: I am getting a bit Game Of Thrones burned out. maybe I should switch over to Martin’s book for a while. but I so hate not finishing a book before I start another. except for john books
ME: check the Look Inside on the last link I sent and read the first paragraph
can I resist?
MARINA: holy SHIT, I’m going to get that
ME: me, too
MARINA: holy SHIT, it’s bert
ME: okay, have a book
now to boot the old man
MARINA: get him some tampons
ME: for both ends
grumpy old man
brb

The formatting is less than stellar, but it starts funny and keeps getting funnier and a damned good mystery, too.

How you do you make book buying decisions?

Since When Do Readers Care About Editing?

Actually, readers have always cared about editing. A well-edited, typo free book is a pleasure to read, and an error-riddled book is not. The real question is, why are readers talking about it now? I’ve never read a book that was 100% error free. Even my beloved old Webster’s 9th has a typo.

It’s not because of self-published books. The books on my Kindle right now are about a 50/50 mix of trad published and self-published. Overall, the self-published books tend to be better produced. When established writers reissue their back lists and are working off scanned conversions or unedited source files, their error rates are about the same as for indie writers starting fresh. Traditional publishers are the worst offenders when it comes to being sloppy.

The only thing new is that readers are actually talking about the editing. I’ve published 17 novels and a bunch of other stuff. I’ve had readers point out errors with my research, but never typos or formatting errors, and trust me, my fair share of those appear in my printed books. Since I’ve put out three ebooks, I’ve had helpful readers point out typos. I’ve always been a freakishly picky reader. Just one of my many quirks. These are normal readers contacting me.

What in the world is going on?

Over on The Passive Voice blog, PG posted an excerpt from an article about the Kindle as “the new medium.” The article by John Dvorak is interesting. The discussion going on in the comments is even more interesting, and that’s where it hit me:

I read differently on a Kindle.
Other readers are reading differently, too.

Last week I tried an experiment. I know I’m fussier when I read on a Kindle, so I used it to proofread a manuscript. Turned out it was just as effective as proofing printed copy and it was easier on my eyes and it went faster.

The Kindle offers a distraction free reading experience.

Think about it. With a printed book all the design elements work to enhance (or if poorly done, detract from) the reading experience. Even the size of the book affects how the book is read. When reading on a computer or even a tablet, the lighting, the colors, the bells and whistles, the knowledge that one is just a click away from a game or a website or a chat with friends are distractions. On the Kindle, with its grey-scale screen, uniform typography, and simple layout, nothing stands between the reader and the words.

I’d been looking at the Kindle’s simplicity as a problem. Now I wonder if it is a strength to exploit and actually enhance the reading experience. It’s something I’m working on.

In the meantime, what does this mean for writers and publishers? It means we need to get on the ball and step up our game. We don’t have fancy papers or layouts or shiny things to hide the goofs. Readers are noticing. Some are complaining–and they should. We owe readers the best product we are capable of producing. What they are buying is the total package–writing, editing, production–and the total package needs to be worth the price they pay and the time they take to read.

If you get an email from a reader who points out typos (or a reviewer complains) just wipe that pouty look off your face, say thank you and fix the problem. We can do that with ebooks. It doesn’t take long at all. If the book in question has been released by a trad publisher, writers, you need to complain. Or better yet, dig up an email address so the reader can complain directly to the person who can and should do something about it.

UPDATE: William shared a link: the People Formerly Known As The Audience. Well worth reading.

Ebook Formatting Resources

There has been a lot of interest in my posts on ebook formatting. So rather than make people wade through the entire blog, I put all the links on one page. You can find it in the header under Ebook Formatting Resources or click here.

I’ve linked all my posts on the subject, plus added links to useful sites and resources for the DIY indie. I’ll continue to update the page as I learn new tricks or find useful new blogs and websites.

Ebook Formatting: Two Common Errors

A reader is enjoying your ebook, all the sudden there is a line jump. Is that a scene break? A change in point of view? It doesn’t read like that, but there’s a space in the text. It must mean something, right?

Reader reaches the end of a chapter or the end of a short story, turns the page and there’s nothing. A blank screen. Hoping she didn’t get a defective copy or that the author hasn’t pulled a dirty trick, she turns the page again. Whew. The text continues.

In both cases, a simple formatting error occurred. It’s no big deal. The text is fine, the story continues. The real problem is that, in both cases, the reader is momentarily jerked out of the story. Maybe they were booted for only a second or two. Do that often enough and mild annoyance can turn into major annoyance. Instead of the four or five star review your story merited, the reader instead leaves a two or three star review, or none at all. Instead of remembering how wonderful your prose was, the reader thinks, Amateur, and puts you from mind. Maybe the reader feels he’s done enough by getting through the strange jumps and blank pages and doesn’t bother looking for more of your work.

Here is what causes line jumps and blank pages:

You don’t even notice them in a word processing document, but extra spaces and extra hard returns can wreck your formatting in an ebook.

If you use MS Word, you can use Find and Replace to get rid of all the extra spaces.

  • Turn on the Show/Hide feature. It looks like ¶ in the tool bar. Hard returns will be shown as ¶ and spaces will show as dots.
  • To eliminate extra spaces between sentences: In the Find box hit the space bar twice and in the Replace box hit the space bar once. Do a Replace All and the double spaces will be turned into single spaces. Run the exact process again. If the message box says no items were found, you’ve eliminated the extra spaces.
  • To eliminate extra spaces at the ends of paragraphs: In the Find box type space bar^p and the Replace box ^p. Do a Replace All. Run the process again until the message box says no items were found.
  • To eliminate extra hard returns: In the Find box type ^p^p and then do a manual search (You might have necessary extra hard returns and don’t want to eliminate them). Make sure there are no extra paragraph returns before any page break.
  • To make sure your document is extra pretty, eliminate extra spaces at the beginnings of paragraphs: In the Find box type ^p space bar and in the Replace box type ^p. Do a Replace All.

Take these simple steps, and you’ll minimize the chances of jumped lines and blank pages in your ebooks.

Ebooks: Back Matter Matters

Do you enjoy extras in your ebooks? About the Author, reader letters, a note from the editor, teasers from other books, lists (in order) of the author’s other works, reviews? I do. I read everything. Even ads for other books and special promotions. I even read the little notices in some hardcover volumes that describes the typeface used and gives a bit of history.

I admit I am an oddball, but surely I am not alone in this? I didn’t think so.

What surprises me is how poorly many self-publishers exploit the back matter in their ebooks. I read ebooks that might have a tiny About the Author blurb and maybe a few titles listed. I’ve read others that have no back matter at all. The text ends, then nothing.

Let’s discuss this a moment, shall we? As I’ve stated before, the back matter in an ebook is valuable real estate. And it is, hard cost-wise, free. Print volumes can’t always justify the cost of extra pages and added labor costs. Ebooks can’t justify the cost of NOT including extra material. For indies, it is probably the absolutely best way to talk directly to readers and hand-sell their other works.

The best thing of all? You are not limited as to what you include (except by the distributor’s TOS). No space limitations. The more readers read, the more YOU will sink into their consciousness. If you make that connection, the next time they see your name on a book cover, the more likely they are to give it at least a second look.

So let’s brainstorm a bit. What makes great back matter material?

  • About the Author. Of course. And of course, most writers don’t do them well. They get self-conscious. Worry about looking like an idiot. Don’t know what’s important, what’s not. Many About the Author pages read like a resume or a curriculum vitae. They’re boring and sound pretentious. If you are comfortable talking about yourself in a friendly manner, you are ahead of the game. For the rest of you (me, too) a few suggestions. Keep it short and sweet (a hundred words, more or less). Show a bit of personality. Tell readers something they might never guess from reading your books (at his day job, Novelist is a tree surgeon). If you’ve won a major award(s) readers might actually have heard of, include that, briefly. Clue readers in to your geographic location (it is astonishing how powerful a connection location can be).
  • Dear Reader Letter. Unlike About the Author, the reader letter is more about the book and the writing. Come on, writers, what question do you hear from non-writers all the time? Say it with me now: Where do you get your ideas? The reader letter is your opportunity to answer that question. Talk about where the book was born, the inspiration, the research, maybe even liberties you took with the facts. This is your opportunity to get chummy with readers, to make them feel part of the process. You know you love talking about your work. Here’s your chance. Have fun with it.
  • Reviews. Yes! If you have advance reviews or the book is a reissue or you have reviews for other titles, by all means include them. I suggest you show restraint out of consideration for the readers. Take your cues from the big publishers and include excerpted blurbs of one or two sentences, max. Trust me, no reader cares as much about your glowing reviews as you do. Your goal is to assure readers that others have liked your books. It might inspire them to leave their own review. Make sure you properly attribute the reviewers.
  • Book Covers and Descriptions. Promo your other titles with a thumbnail of the book cover and a description. Make sure your name is prominent on the page.
  • Teasers. A first chapter or a juicy excerpt from another of your titles makes a sweet bonus.
  • Cross-Promotion. A teaser from another writer’s title. You might also consider an If You Like page. Can’t go wrong helping out your fellow indies.
  • Bonus Fiction. Do you have a short short story or flash fiction? Or how about poetry? Think of it as a little gift, a surprise for the readers.
  • Recipes or How-To Instructions. Another bonus for readers. If your characters enjoy meals made with your own recipes, include it. If your characters do something interesting in the book that you exhaustively researched or have expertise with, why not provide how-to instructions? (How to mount a cannon on a Buick: Materials: Cannon, Duct Tape)
  • Letter From the Editor: This can serve two purposes. One, that you even have an editor ups the reader’s opinion of your work. Two, it’s an opportunity for a third party to talk about how special your work is. Can’t hurt.
  • Acknowledgements. It’s always nice to say thank you.
  • Maps. Have you created a fantasy world? Is yours an historical novel? Are you a smart aleck on par with Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt? (the maps in the Joe Pitt Case Books are hysterical) This bit of back matter might cost some dollars, unless you’re a graphic artist and actually know how to draw maps. It is something to consider.
  • Bibliography. If you’ve done extensive research, your readers might be the type who enjoy research, too.
  • Links. Read your ebook distributor’s TOS to know what is allowed. Generally, live links to your website and blog are okay. Invite readers to follow you on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. Create a special email account for fan mail.

I don’t recommend special promotions. Even though it’s fairly common in mass market paperbacks, there is a Right Now quality about ebooks without the clues that a book is older. Unless you are willing to re-upload the ebook after the special promotion is done, it could create bad feelings if a reader tries to redeem an expired coupon code or finds out the book you touted as on sale is now back at the regular price.

So there are some ideas for you to consider. Does anyone else have suggestions?

My Boast Post: A Beautiful Ebook

I have been dying to write this post all week! I had to hold off until the book was launched.

My charming (and courageous) friend, Julia Barrett had the rights to this novel reverted back to her. She decided to issue it as an ebook. She commissioned a great new cover, courtesy of Winterheart Designs. Previously, I had produced an ebook for another of her books and did a pretty fair job of it. So Julia felt confident I could get the formatting right. But this time would be different. I sez, “I want to make it beautiful. I want it to look as cool as the fancy ebooks I’ve seen.” (here’s where the courageous part comes in) Julia sez, “Okay.”

My goals for this project were: A fancy title page and chapter heads; well laid out bonus material; and text with minimal errors (I really wanted zero errors, but you know how that goes, best laid plans, blah blah blah).

I used Word, Scrivener and Paint.net to produce the file.

Word for proofreading, file stripping and fixing the details like punctuation and spacing issues.

Then over to Scrivener for organizing and layout. This novel includes recipes. (I’m sure I’ve mentioned how I dislike novels that contain recipes. Not sure why they annoy me, but they do, er, did. I now, most humbly, eat my words. Thank you, Julia–you know why, heh) I wanted the recipes laid out so they were useful. (Unlike paper books, my Kindle has proved surprisingly hardy in the kitchen–I like to read while I cook–so I have no problem imagining an e-cookbook) It was the layout, not the vehicle that concerned me. There is plenty of bonus material, too. My goal was to organize it in a pleasing way for readers and make it easy to navigate.

Lastly, I used Paint.net for the graphics.

Did I succeed? I think I did. You decide. (my photos aren’t that great–had to angle the camera because of lighting issues–the ebook looks much better in person)

A pretty title page to match the lush, sexy tone of the novel.

Fancy Chapter Heading

Page 2 of the Table of Contents

A recipe that's easy to read

I am not embarrassed to say that when Julia told me the book had uploaded successfully and the preview looked great, I did a Snoopy dance. A beautiful ebook! As nice as I’d imagined. So, yes, this is truly a boast post.

But, tempting as it may be to buy this book just to admire my lovely formatting job, you really should check it out for the story. Beauty and the Feast is charming, sexy and fun. And quite frankly, if imagery had calories, I’d have gained ten pounds just reading the sexy food scenes. (my new favorite genre–food porn) Julia is having a special promotion to go with the launch, so hop on over to Julia’s blog to see what she has in store.

 

Adventures In Self-Publishing: Making ereader Navigation Easier For Readers

It started with a head’s up post from PG over on The Passive Voice blog leading to dbasch’s blog where he talks about how Amazon has drastically changed the way he reads book. (very interesting post, though I disagree vehemently with his justification for piracy. Theft is theft, folks, no matter how badly you want something.) Anyhow, at PG’s blog I left a comment about how the Kindle and Amazon has turned me from a voracious reader into an outright glutton. I also made an off the cuff comment about Tables of Contents:

My biggest weakness is short fiction. .99 cent stories are better than chocolate. I am falling in love with short stories all over again and discovering a lot of really good writers to boot. My only gripe is that I wish authors of collections would do a better job across the board of clickable Tables of Contents. There is also plenty of room for a short description of the stories along with the title to help those of us with minds like steel colanders to find a favorite again.

To my surprise quite a few people chimed in about the subject, which was actually kind of off topic, so I thought I’d address it here.

If you own an ereader you’ve probably noticed that navigating an ebook isn’t as easy as paging through a printed book. Sure, there’s a search function and on a Kindle you can make notes and leave bookmarks. I’m actually learning how to use those nifty functions. What often happens is this. I’m reading along, engrossed in a story, finish it, set it aside, then later realize I want to share something with someone. Or there was an interesting passage or quote I would like to copy or post in a blog or reference in a review. That’s when I have to use my memory (which is fabulous when it comes to useless facts and trivia, worthless for dates, names and titles).

Here’s how it works with a printed book. Can’t recall the title, but know it’s a red book–oh yeah, that one! Loved it. And the passage was in the last third of the book, near the beginning of the chapter. Flip flip flip. Found it.

Here’s how it works on my Kindle. Okay, stuff is organized by categories. It’s a novel. Fantasy… Okay, is that the one? Right. That’s it. The desired quote is somewhere around the middle of the book. No bookmark, damn it. Page, page, page ad nauseum yawn page page. What was that quote? Didn’t it have an unusual word in it? It might have, but what was it? Shit. Page page page. GO TO: Chapter Fifteen. Ah ha, middle of the book, and I remember this scene. Go back a few pages. Page page page. Damn it! Why didn’t I remember to use the bookmark! Ah ha! There is it. Found it at last.

It gets even harder when it’s a short story collection or an anthology. Some time might pass before I want to reread a story or share it with a friend or family member. Then I have to remember which collection it was in and then find the story again. That can take a while.

I don’t expect authors to accommodate my flaky memory. I’m working on making a Kindle bookshelf to hang on my wall (color printer? Should I invest in a color laser printer? Oh, wouldn’t that be lovely… I digress). There is, however, one thing authors can do that would add a bit of extra value to their ebooks and all it would cost would be a little time.

A Table of Contents that makes navigating the book easier. That means clickable links.

What I know for a fact is that if you use Word, clickable links are very easy to create. The Smashwords formatting guide (Smashwords Style Guide, free to download from Amazon) gives easy to follow instructions for doing it. Then when you upload your book to Smashwords, it mostly works though it might take some hair-pulling and tweaking as it goes through the Meatgrinder. If you use Word and convert using MobiPocket for Amazon, the internal links convert pretty well, too. I’m sure other word processing programs and HTML have the same capabilities. It’s all doable and if a non-nerd like me can learn how to do it, so can you.

The great thing about DIY is that you can take advantage of the programs’ capabilities and you don’t have to worry about extra costs in your P&L. With that in mind, you can turn your Table of Contents into a truly useful navigation tool.

For novels: Go beyond Chapter 1; Chapter 2; etc. Go for chapter titles, too. I’ve always had mixed feelings about chapter titles or headings. They often struck me as silly little affectations. As a navigation tool, they can serve as memory prompts to readers. I might see: “Chapter 12–Where our intrepid hero learns the real truth about his twin.” I can click the link and easily find that cool factoid about DNA or that funny bit of dialogue to quote in a review.

For short story collections: Again, go beyond story titles. Put a log line or even a short blurb about each story in the Table of Contents. Than I, Ms Holey Memory, can spot right off the story I want to read to the old man or push on a friend or talk about in a blog post.

For multi-author anthologies or short story collections: You can have two Table of Contents. Easy peasy. At the front, do a regular ToC. At the end, in the author bios, you can also link back to the individual stories.

create link from ToC——->STORY TITLE

create link from author bio—–>AUTHOR NAME

A little bit of effort in making your book easier to navigate on an ereader can pay off big in reader appreciation. Anything you, the author, can do to make your work more memorable can pay off in future sales, too.