More Power to the Do-It-Yourselfers

quinnremoteSo I got an email last week from a friend. She asked about justification and hyphenation in ebooks, and my opinion about what should be the standard. Then in a PS, she added:

PS I now have a system for making Scrivener create an ebook for me that is rather fancy, but doesn’t require any hand work. There’s a post about it on my blog, if you care to look. A tiny bit of hand manipulation of the final epub + Kindlegen even gives me indented right margins for my epigraphs. I have learned so much from you and your posts – but I do have a different system which works for me with NO hand cleaning of the source code, and just a few tweaks to the templates. So I can say my Scrivener ebooks look good on the epub and mobi readers I’ve tried, and I’ll test them on everything I have access to before even uploading. You did say to tell you if people had a system that worked for them.”
https://liebjabberings.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/scrivener-one-click-ebook-for-busy-writers/

It probably doesn’t make good business sense for me to encourage Do-It-Yourself ebook production. Except, I think DIY is wonderful and I not only encourage it, I highly approve of anyone who wants to give it a shot. In fact, I am of the opinion that anyone who wants to make a career out of self-publishing to at least try formatting an ebook. If you’re an independent writer, you’re ALSO a publisher. A publisher needs to know how things work. They need to know what the people they hire are doing and if they are doing a good job and earning their keep.

There are many, many resources available to the DIYer. Both Amazon and Smashwords have tons of information about how to make an ebook. It is possible to make a quality ebook using readily available tools such as MS Word or Scrivener. Here is a recommendation I made to Alicia:

I haven’t used Scrivener since I had a computer die on me, [two plus years ago] and I haven’t reloaded it. I imagine it’s improved quite a bit. Even so, were I using it, I’d skip using their [built-in] KindleGen, run an epub then convert that using the Kindle Previewer. I’d use the resulting MOBI file for proofing and adjusting, then run a fresh epub and load that to Amazon. That will greatly lessen chances of conversion goofs.

I’ve said it many times in many blog posts that the keys to a quality ebook are clean text going in and then careful testing/proofreading of the ebook before it is uploaded to a retailer. How exactly you go from the clean text stage to the proofread stage is up to you. I prefer html and css to build an ebook from the ground up because it’s efficient and I have a lot of control and I can do some very sophisticated styling without breaking the resulting ebook.

If you are comfortable using a word processor or Scrivener or even InDesign, here are the tips I gave Alicia:

[This is a problem] Using multiple, but not embedded fonts. I encourage people to stick with Times New Roman, not because it’s easy to read or because it will show up in ebooks, but because its character sets are stable and every conversion program knows how to “read” it. It’s foolproof as far as conversion is concerned. When people use multiple fonts that are not properly embedded, what will happen is that sometimes during the conversion the program decides to “help” out. I don’t know if you’ve ever read an ebook where all the sudden a word is super-sized or teeny-tiny or characters are replaced by black diamonds or boxes with question marks. That is a result of inappropriate fonts.

Justifying the text. Across the board, this will break a Kindle book.
[Justified text is the default in most Kindle devices, so even if your Word or Scrivener file is ragged right, the ebook will justify the text. If you justify the text, the program will code based on margins and print commands. They can lock. So what happens when it’s converted to an ebook is that the Kindle will not/can not override those locking codes, and users will not be able to adjust margins or line spacing. This is a bad thing.]

Micro-managing line spacing. This can cause big problems in Kindle books. Broken paragraphs, squished text, weird blank “pages” and so on. Set your spacing at “single” and leave it alone. Problem solved.

Hyphenating text. For the most part, Kindles ignore discretionary hyphens. Sometimes they don’t. So you end up with words in the middle of a sentence with a discretionary hyphen character (looks like a hyphen with a hook). It doesn’t break the ebook, but it does look sloppy and unprofessional. In html I [sometimes] use a soft hyphen character. Several of my clients are medical professionals and they use some extra long terms, so I manually insert soft hyphens. I don’t know if there is an equivalent in Scrivener.

Two more tips for you:

  • Remember that what you SEE in your word processor or Scrivener is not necessarily what you will get in your ebook. So don’t get all worked up about spacing and widows/orphans. Let your text flow, which is what it is supposed to do in the ebook.
  • Use styles. Use one style for the main body text (not tabs or hard returns or extra spaces) and another for headers and even a style for centering text. If you don’t know how to use styles, take 30 minutes and figure it out. It will save you time and headaches, and result in a much better quality ebook.

Finally, a word about Amazon’s Look Inside feature. This is a chronic headache for me because most people don’t realize they aren’t seeing the actual ebook. What Amazon is showing is a sample that is specially converted for the Look Inside. Sometimes they justify the text as the default, sometimes they default to ragged right. Sometimes they ignore margins. In other words, if you want to see what the ebook actually looks like, you have to download a sample. Why does Amazon do this? I don’t know. It’s a pain in the ass and I get tired of explaining to clients how it works, but that’s how it is. So my advice to you is if you want to see how your ebook looks “live” do NOT depend on the Look Inside. If you don’t have a Kindle, then download the Kindle Previewer and open up your book with that. You will get a much clearer picture.

Self-Publishers: Who Grants You Permission and Who Tells You No?

quinn-noI read something over on The Passive Voice that has been bugging the crap out of me.

6/ Someone To Say ‘No’ This is the big one. It’s counter-intuitive to most indie authors, and even to many authors who come from traditional publishing. One of the things I love about indie publishing is the freedom. It’s very liberating to not have anyone to shoot down your ideas, to be able to play with different formats of stories or different genres, to take a chance on an idea and see how it flies. That power restores our ability to take a chance on an idea that just won’t let go of our imagination.

But who will tell an indie author if he or she has it totally wrong? As tedious as it can be to build consensus, there is merit in listening to other voices. Where will I find that voice? Everyone I consult in this market is being paid by me. I’m the client of my freelance editor, which reverses the balance of power between us. Just as in the traditional publishing market, I couldn’t tell my editor that I wouldn’t make change X to my book (or do it by Y date), my editor now can’t tell me to make change X. A freelance editor might believe she can’t tell a client indie author things that author won’t want to hear.

Power is held by the one who pays.

(Deborah Cooke–the original article is well worth reading)

I had a strong reaction when I read it. I like to think I’ve gained enough maturity to examine my own reactions before I start spouting off. Plus, I’m horrendously overworked these days and even commenting on blogs is an indulgence. So it’s been sitting inside my head, nagging at me as I wonder why this is wrong.

The answer came the other day while I was engaged in an email conversation with a client. One of the things I said to him was:

Promotion and marketing don’t sell books. Promo and marketing get your name out there. That’s it. What sells books is word of mouth. So you do your promo then act pleasantly surprised if your efforts do result in a few sales. Where your real energy goes is into the stories. You write, get better, write more, get even better, and eventually you figure out what your readers like and then you give it to them, plus some. Every single “overnight success” I know personally has been plugging away for years. You’ll know you’ve “made it” when you have readers arguing over whether you’re best thing since Skippy peanut butter or the worst literary fraud who ever existed.

Here’s the thing, back in the good ol’ bad days of traditional publishing, writers had one road to travel to publication. Submit their work to agents and editors until somebody, somewhere said “Yes.” A writer could spend months or years on the submission/rejection treadmill, and quite often they never did find the right person at the right time to say “Yes.” There are some (I used to be one) who feels that grind builds character and makes writers better writers. I don’t believe that anymore. In fact, I think it’s the opposite. I think the submission/rejection grind wrecked or outright destroyed far more writers than it ever helped–even those who got publishing contracts, and in some cases, especially those who got publishing contracts.

The reason I’ve changed my mind is because the prevailing myth is that the reason agents and editors reject writing is because it’s no good. It’s not just a myth, it’s an outright lie. The ONLY reason any work is rejected is because the agent or editor doesn’t think they can sell it. That’s it. The only reason. One person (or a committee) decides a particular piece of work is unsaleable, and rejects it.

Some agents and editors are better than others at reading the market and knowing what will sell. But the vast majority are just as dumb as the rest of us and so they’re just guessing. I’ve met a lot of publishing house editors and several agents. Some are quite talented at what they do. I’ve never met one who was infallible. Most of them are just like me: established tastes and strong opinions. Unfortunately taste and opinions do not make for good business sense. For example, I love Anne Tyler’s books and I’ve never been able to make it past chapter three in a Nora Roberts novel. Were I an agent or trad editor and something that reminded me of Anne Tyler crossed my desk, I’d dub it good or great, and I’d reject anything that smacked of Nora Roberts. I would tell myself I’m making my decision based on sound business principles, but the reality is, I’m just another goof who can’t see past my own biases.

Ms. Cooke asks: “But who will tell an indie author if he or she has it totally wrong?

My answer is: “Nobody has a right to.”

Writers, editors, and agents have only their own prejudices, tastes and opinions to judge the worthiness of a work. The only people who actually know what will sell are readers.

I do some copy editing and a whole lot of proofreading, and some of the books I work on appeal to my tastes and others don’t. Some are beautifully written, others aren’t. Some are slickly professional, some are rough or even amateurish. It’s not my place to judge a work’s worthiness. In fact, no writer wants to ask me about the saleability of a work because I’m the last person anyone should ask. A former friend and I used to have a running joke: if I adored a story she wrote, chances were it would not sell, but if I hated it, even loathed it, it would not only sell, but probably pick up a few awards along the way. I know what I like and I’m very passionate about it and given time to think I can make pretty good arguments as to why I like or dislike any particular piece of writing. I haven’t a clue about why anybody else likes what they do. I can Monday morning quarterback with the best of them and sometimes I think I can figure out the appeal of best sellers, but it’s just guessing.

If a client asks my advice on how to improve the CRAFT of writing, I can go on for days. I’m pretty good at pinpointing where a writer is interfering with the reader. No writer should ever ask me if they should publish. How the hell should I know? More importantly, I don’t have the power or the right to tell anyone to not publish. As a reader, yes, I can decide if I want to shell out cash and then invest my time, or not. As an editor? Absolutely not.

Back on the submission/rejection grind, a lot of writers did get better. Not because their writing was rejected. It was because they kept writing. If you keep writing, you can’t help but improve because practice really does make perfect.

The trouble with the submission/rejection grind was that a lot of rejected manuscripts ended up in drawers or under the bed or tossed in the garbage. The only thing wrong with them was that some editor or agent (or even a lot of editors and agents) decided they didn’t know how to sell it to readers. Readers, if they knew about all those lost/forgotten/trashed stories, might disagree.

I’m of the mind these days that if you write it, let readers decide if it’s something they might like–and NO ONE ELSE. Not your critique partners, not an editor, not an agent, not a reviewer, and certainly not organizations like Authors United or Authors Guild. The latter can spout all they want about the evils of Amazon and how self-publishers are destroying literature and culture by flooding the market with cheap crap. Reality is, how many of you have ever walked into a book store and said, “Holy shit, there are way too many books! I’m outta here!” No? Yeah, me neither. Do publishers and writers have a discoverability problem? They sure do. Readers don’t, though. Readers know what they like and they know how to find it and they don’t need some “curator of culture” holding their hand. I, personally, don’t give a rip about how many books are published each year. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to me. If I want something, I know how to find it. Everything else is ignored.

Nobody is entitled to reader attention. Everybody has to earn it–whether you’re just starting out, or you’re Douglas Preston of Authors United (who, if you type in his name on Amazon will bring up over 1000 results). If you earn it, you reap sales and accolades and maybe even a living. If you don’t, well, you can either give up or get better.

To my way of thinking, self-publishing the early works is a lot like the submission/rejection grind, EXCEPT for one very important distinction: Instead of seeking out that one person who is guessing your work is salable, you’re putting it out in front of a whole lot of people who actually KNOW if it’s salable or not. You won’t have to wait weeks, months or even years to find out either. You’ll find out in real time. Readers might tell you “No.” They might turn up their noses and ignore you completely. It’s a risk you take. The thing is, it’s YOUR risk. It’s your time, your energy, your vision, your money. If you believe in what you’re doing, then do it, damn it, and don’t waste time seeking permission. If you miss the mark, oh well, roll up your sleeves and try again.

Deborah Cooke said it herself: Power is held by the one who pays.

That I agree with 100%. Except, she means the self-publishing WRITER and I mean the READER.

On the practical side, you might benefit from expert advice, even if you pay for it. Not permission, not validation, not praise, not attaboys, not judgement–advice. There are as many reasons why a particular book doesn’t sell as there are books. It could be timing, it could be packaging, it could be subject matter, it could be the writing itself. It’s all guesswork. As an indie writer/publisher, you’ve got a lot of room to experiment and grow. You’ve got time for readers to find your work (a HUGE advantage over traditional publishing). If you think you could be doing better and should be doing better and can’t figure out on your own how to do better, then it will benefit you to seek advice. But don’t make the mistake of asking anyone–especially someone you’re paying– “Do you like it?” Because it’s pointless. Be specific. “What can I do to improve my writing?” “Is my packaging working?” “How come readers are giving up on my novel after only reading three chapters?” The thing about paying for advice is that you are free to take it, or not. If it rings true to you and you’re capable of following it, you’d be a fool not to. If it doesn’t make sense, then you’re out a few bucks. Big deal.

In the meantime, keep writing, keep publishing, keep putting yourself out there. Let the readers decide. They are the only ones who matter.

Do You Need Professional Help to Self-Publish?

A few weeks ago I got this email:

Hi Jaye, [a regular client] said you can help me. I got the rights back to my novel [title] published by [Big 5 house]. I had it scanned and converted it to Word. This was back in October and I’ve been working on it off and on, but it’s getting worse instead of better. I’m ready to just forget the whole thing. Is there anyway you can help…

quinngiveupOf course I could help. It’s what I do. He sent the scan, and 48 hours later I sent him back a Word doc in manuscript format with the text restored well enough for him to proofread. It cost him less than $90.

I’m not telling you this to boast about my mad skills. Restoring text from a scan is just something I happen to be very good at–and I’m fast. The reason I’m good at it is because I’ve restored millions of words and I have applied myself to learning how to do it quickly and efficiently. I’m a pro.

I also happen to be good at making ebooks. I’ve done hundreds. I’ve worked and worked to learn how to do it well and how to do it efficiently. I’m pretty good at laying out print-on-demand books, too. I’m even doing covers.

Book production has become second-nature to me. It’s what I do, day in and day out. Most of what I do is very easy for me. I still run into challenges–hell, I look for challenges–but overall I know what I’m doing and I know how to get the job done with minimal fuss and muss.

Writers, on the other hand, write. Formatting an ebook or making a cover or laying out a print-on-demand version look pretty straightforward on the surface. Why not DIY? It sure saves a lot of money. Right? Right?

Sometimes.

Sometimes getting professional results will be beyond you. Not because you’re too dumb to figure it out, but because you don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t have the hours and hours and hours to figure it out. You’d rather be writing. Sometimes your time is more valuable than money. So let’s answer the question:

Should You Hire a Professional?

  • Do you have an ereader? (a Nook, a Kindle, an Android tablet, an iPad, etc.) Do you read ebooks? If the answer is no to either, I suggest hiring a professional. Unless you have a good idea how ebooks work, you will not be able to create a professional product.
  • Is your project complicated? Most formatting pros won’t tell you this, but I will: Conversion programs have gotten much, much, much better at turning word processing program files into ebooks. If your project is simple, which most fiction is, you can create a professional ebook using Word (and other word processors). You do need to take care and pay attention to details. It helps if you have a good guide to walk you through it. I recommend Mark Coker’s Smashwords Style Guide. If you want to go a little more sophisticated, try Guido Henkel’s Zen of eBook Formatting. You can do it yourself. On the other hand, if your book contains complicated formatting (lists, tables, boxes, nested styles, etc.) hire a pro. Complicated formatting is not for the dabbler.
  • Do you have the time? I get a lot of emails from writers who can’t make their DIY ebooks work properly. Quite often the problem is a simple one. A line of code. Or a messed up ToC or a distorted cover. Sometimes the problem is more severe and my recommendation is for the writer to go back to step one and completely strip, then restyle their book. What I hear back is a variation on: “But I’ve been trying to do this for weeks! And you say I have to start over?” Think about it. How much money are you saving if it’s taking you a month or six weeks to do what a pro can do in a day? Book production requires time spent NOT writing and NOT marketing and NOT promoting. Publishing is a business and knowing when to delegate responsibilities and hire sub-contractors is part of doing business.
  • Do you know what you don’t know? Ebooks are getting better, production-wise. It’s rare these days for me to buy one that’s a total mess (even from the trad publishers). Except for one thing: Either margins and line-spacing that cannot be adjusted for my reading comfort. I know what causes it. The formatter used either Word or InDesign and locked the styles either by justifying the text or messing around with page margins. (This irritation is so common in trad pubbed ebooks that I have to really, really, really want the story and it has to be really, really cheap before I will click to buy.) It boggles my brain that the formatter does not know the ebook is broken. It tells me they do not know enough to load the book on a device and run it through its paces. Ebooks are fairly simple, but there is stuff going on beneath the surface that every formatter (DIY or pro) should know. Do you know the difference between MOBI and EPUB? Do you know the difference between manuscript punctuation and printer punctuation? Do you know how to work with styles? Do you know about bloat? How to validate an EPUB file? If you don’t have the time or inclination to learn these things, hire a pro. [If reading my little list gives you an ‘oh shit’ moment, you might want to hire a pro.]
  • Are you willing to do the work at a professional level? If you want to sell your ebook or trade paperback, then your customers deserve a professional product. DIY self-publishers can produce professional products. The question you have to ask yourself is, can you? Book production is work and it can be frustrating and there’s a ton of conflicting information on the internet when you go looking for answers to sticky problems. If you prefer to put your energy and time elsewhere, there is no shame in that. There is shame, though, in putting a price tag on a sub-par product.

So Where Do You Find a Pro?

I’m not going to recommend anyone (not even myself) because it’s your book and your budget and your schedule. There’s a healthy industry of book production specialists springing up on the internet. Do a Google search for ebook formatting services. Do avoid anything connected to Author Solutions and other vanity publishers. Stay away from “automated” services, too. The only thing they do is convert your Word file–Garbage In-Garbage Out. Kindle Boards is a good place to look, too. Ask other writers. People who are happy with their service providers are usually more than happy to recommend them.

For this post only, if you are a book production specialist, leave a comment with your contact info. I will check you out and if you’re legit, I’ll post your info.

 

Fun With Formatting: Emails and Text Messages in Ebooks

“An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic “documents” such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use. The word epistolary is derived from Latin from the Greek word ἐπιστολή epistolē, meaning a letter” (from Wikipedia)

All well and good, but what do those look like in an ebook? Notes and letters have a fairly standard format: offset margins, extra space before and after, sometimes italicized. Visually, it is easy to clue the reader in that they are looking at a note or letter. But what about an email? Or a text message?

I recently completed a book where the writer used emails and text messages. One chapter consisted entirely of emails and another chapter was a text message conversation. This particular author writes funny, quirky, sexy, offbeat romances. She likes her ebooks to be pretty and to stand out from the crowd–she wants them to look fun. (Which is tons of fun for me.) She wanted the emails to look like emails and the text messages to look like text messages.

textemail1For text messages inside the body of the ebook I used a sans serif font, bolded, and offset.

Would readers be confused if the text message looked the same as everything else? I doubt it. I know, from my own reading (and I read a LOT!) that visually interesting ebooks stand out. I am delighted by small touches–ornaments, unusual formatting, pictures–that break up the solid chunks of text.

For the chapter that consisted entirely of text messages, I pulled out the stops, using color blocks and right and left text alignment:

textemail2This is a tad over the top, but it fits with the playful tone of this story. For a story with a more serious tone, I would probably not use color blocks. I could use deep right/left margins to make the text messages appear to be in centered blocks. I might give them a border, too, to keep them from running into one another. Or, left align the text and have extra space between the messages. The key would be, as in all things ebooks, consistency. Pick a look, stick with it, and readers will happily follow along.

On to emails. I’ve formatted emails before, but this was the first time that I had a long string of them. The headers had to be included (because they are an important part of the story). I considered (briefly) placing each on its own “page.” But no, that would have killed the sense of rapid back and forth. This is what I came up with:

textemail3I set off each header with two lines (horizontal rules) and sans serif font with the sender bolded. For the body of the email I used regular serif font and a block paragraph style. To my eyes there is no mistaking these as anything other than emails. It’s a style that would work for any story that has emails, whether in a string or as a stand-alone.

So there you go, one way to handle text messages and emails. What about the rest of you? Have you found a fun/interesting way to make emails and text messages stand out in your ebook? Inquiring minds want to know.


Samples are from Penny Watson’s Sweet Adventure. Sweet-Adventure-ebook-cover-blue2

Got Workflow? Step by Step to Better Books

Sloth is my deadly sin of choice. But you know what they say, If you want to figure out the fastest, most efficient means of getting a job done, find a lazy person. That’s me. I want to get my work done for the day so I can kick back with a can of Pringles and watch Gordon Ramsay on Hulu.

Producing books for public consumption is not nearly as difficult, complicated or time-consuming as writing them in the first place. Even so, it is a real job (as opposed to an afterthought) and it takes some skill and planning. To do the job right–produce a great product–requires a workflow that makes sense and doesn’t involve anybody’s head exploding. (And please, please don’t come in bragging how you one-step book production by using InDesign or Scrivener to compose your work, then create print and digital and pdf files in one fell swoop. One-size-fits-all might be fast, but it does NOT produce reader-pleasing products.)

I often work with a team–writer, cover artist, editor/s and proofreader. This must be coordinated and everybody has to be kept in the loop and on the same page. I have to make sure everyone has the same tools. (For instance, I do the majority of my work in a text editor and in InDesign, two programs not every writer or editor owns or is familiar with.) Almost everybody has Word–or a word processor that produces .doc files. Anyone with a computer can read a pdf. For that reason, working files used by multiple people are passed around as either .doc or .pdf files.

Taking into account that there will be changes to the text in every step along the way, I prefer starting with the ebook (easy to modify) then use the text that has been edited and proofread to create the print-on-design edition (not so easy to modify).

HOW IT WORKS

Step 1: The Original

workflow1The very first thing I do when I receive a manuscript is create a project folder and do a Save As of the original. Save As is important. There is no reason to NOT make multiple copies of the file. Your computer has plenty of room, and there will be cases when you NEED a previous version. I’ve come up with a file-naming system that helps me keep track of the files. I date the versions, too. My naming system might not make sense to anyone else, so I recommend you come up with something that makes sense to you. As long as it is easy to remember and searchable, it will work.

Step 2: Scan and tag

workflow2I scan through my version of the original .doc file and make styling notes (chapter heads, special formatting). I note hyperlinks and images placement. Then I use Find/Replace to tag italics, bolding and underlining.

Step 3: Clean Up

workflow3I Select All and Copy, then transfer the text into a text editor. Here I do a thorough cleanup which includes finding “illegal” characters, deleting extra spaces, tidying special formatting (italics etc.), and making sure the punctuation is “printer” punctuation and not “manuscript” punctuation. I also start a simple text file that is called “Notes_…” where I jot down the table of contents entries, any special formatting required, and other bits. (If you are doing your own ebook formatting I HIGHLY recommend you not skip the Clean Up step. No matter how good your Word file looks, it’s going to be full of hidden goobers and grabby formatting.)

Step 4: Create a Mark Up Document

workflow4I do a Select All and Copy the clean text and transfer it back into a new Word doc. I style it as a manuscript (Courier font, double-spaced), create a navigation guide (apply the Heading 1 and Heading 2 styles to chapters and sections), and restore special formatting (italics etc.). If I have made styling notes, I highlight those. (This sounds like a lot of work, but it only takes a few minutes.)

Step 5: Format the Proof Ebook

workflow5I do a Save As of my cleaned up text file as an html file. I always ask the writer/publisher what kind of device on which they read ebooks. This tells me whether they need a MOBI file or an EPUB file (they look the same, but the underpinnings are different), and I make that version first.

Step 6: Proofreading

workflow6Sometimes writers hire me to proofread the ebook, sometimes they do it themselves, sometimes they hire a third party. The process is essentially the same: The proofreader goes through the ebook word by word, finding errors, and uses the mark-up document to note changes. Even if I am the proofreader, I send the ebook AND the mark-up document to the writer. That way if they want adjustments to the styling, they can note it on the mark-up document. If there are multiple readers, Word’s Track Changes* is a handy feature. The important aspect is that all changes to the text are clearly noted.

Step 7: Complete the Ebook

workflow7I manually insert all changes/corrections into the html files and finish the ebook/s. I will make the necessary versions a writer needs, and make sure everything is validated and working properly. If by chance you are doing your own ebook and you are using Word, my recommendation is that you have TWO versions of your file: Mark Up and Ebook. Do all your markup and changes in the Mark Up version and transfer it into the Ebook version. That way you won’t “infect” your ebook with Word nasties and extraneous grabby styling.

Step 8: The Smashwords Word File

workflow8Some of my clients use Smashwords. To get the best results with SW, I recommend providing an EPUB file AND a Word file formatted to SW’s specs. What I do is copy the text from the finished ebook into a new file, and strip out the html. (With Find/Replace this takes only minutes) I Select All and Copy the clean, proofread text into a new Word doc. This file is named Final_…. I do a Save As and style the new doc for an ebook. Done.

Step 9: The Print-on-Demand file

workflow9For the Do-It-Yourselfer, you can create a perfectly serviceable and attractive POD book using Word. I happen to use InDesign (because of my innate masochistic tendencies). Either way, the key to a well-produced print version is well organized, squeaky clean text. If you followed my workflow step by step, you just happen to have exactly that on hand. :)

I always save the POD version for last. Production takes longer, not only in layout and design, but because it takes time for CreateSpace or Ingrams to approve the files, the cover has to be custom fit, then a proof edition ordered, mailed and gone over. It can take a few weeks. While this is being done, the writer/publisher can already have uploaded and started selling the ebook. If by chance an egregious error is discovered in the text (it happens, sigh…) then it is a relatively painless process to fix the ebook file and upload the new version to distributors. If it happens the other way–that the POD version is finished and distributed**, then an error is discovered during ebook production–well, that error is going to cost time AND money to fix in the POD edition.

The easiest way to pass editing/proofreading notes back and forth for a POD book in production is to use a pdf reader (I use Adobe Acrobat) and make use of the highlight/comment features. If you are using Word to create your POD edition, have your other-than-yourself proofreader read a pdf version and use a Markup document to note changes/corrections rather than having them work on your formatted .doc file. Trust me on this.


As with just about everything in my life, I have to try out many methods before I discover the process that works well for me. More importantly, something that others can use with minimal hassle and instruction. This workflow works. It works whether you are going solo or if you’re working with a team. Try it, you might find your productivity increases.

* A caution–A HUGE CAUTION–about Track Changes. It was designed with print in mind and it’s a brilliant tool. For digital productions it can be a nightmare. If you intend to use a file in which Track Changes was used, clean it thoroughly. As for me, TC never touches any text I intend to format for an ebook.

**I had a client who had a professional design her POD edition, and then needed me to format the ebook. Unfortunately, the only version of edited, proofread text she had was locked up in a QuarkXpress file. It cost her extra for me to recover the text and clean out all the print formatting. A problem she wouldn’t have had if she’d followed my workflow. Save As, people, keep using Save As and maintain your markup files in formats anyone can use.


workflow10Examples are from The Metaphor Deception, by Birch Adams, now available in ebook and print wherever fine books are sold.

The Proof is in the Proofreading

quinnproofMy biggest gripe with ebooks is a lack of proofreading. (Trad pubs are the worst offenders–isn’t anybody at least giving the ebooks a quick scan before putting them up for sale? Judging by the multiple dumb errors and piss-poor formatting, I’d say the answer is no.)

When I produce an ebook I have two hard and fast rules, Number One: squeaky clean text going into production. Number Two: the ebook must be proofread post-production. I charge people to proofread their ebooks for them, and a lot of clients take me up on it, but I’m more than happy for the writer to do it him/herself or hire a third party. I even make it easy for them by providing a markup document and instructions (since they can’t make changes in the ebook itself).

Even though proofreading is essential, some would like to argue that they can skip it. They’ve already polished the manuscript to a high gloss, even had a professional editor have a crack at it, and, in some cases I’m sure, they are sick to death of that particular project and want to get on to something else. I get that. Been there. Even so, it’s part of being a publisher and it must be done.

Before I continue, let me explain what proofreading is NOT:

  • It’s not copy-editing
  • It’s not line-editing
  • It’s not editing at all

What proofreading IS:

  • Format checking
  • Typo searching
  • Error seeking

When I produce an ebook, I expect that the writer has edited, polished, tweaked and fine-tuned. They’ve made the text as clean as they are capable. They made their grammatical choices and established a style. When I proofread I’m just looking for goofs. I don’t change text unless it’s a patently obvious error. Double words (…he spelled the the word misspelled incorrectly…) or a mixed up homonym (…happy is the bear-foot boy…) or a missing word (…nothing finer than (a) sunny spring day…) and misspellings or incorrect contractions. For anything beyond that, I will make a note to the writer and they can decide how to fix it, or not. My main concerns are my own goofs in formatting, and little gremlins such as missing punctuation or words that aren’t fully italicized or spacing issues.

There is nothing particularly difficult about ebook proofing. That said, I recommend that writers NOT proofread their own work, but instead hire out the job or find a writer friend willing to barter or trade the chore. The reason is copy blindness. When you write something down, you know exactly what you MEAN to say. Your brain is more likely to “see” what you meant rather than what is actually on the page. It’s a very real phenomenon and it trips up the best.

What if it’s not in your budget to hire a proofreader? What if all your friends are busy? What if you HAVE to do it yourself? What if you WANT to do it yourself?

There is hope.

The Tools

  • An ereading device: Kindle, Nook, iPad, your computer, etc.
  • A style sheet
  • A style manual
  • A dictionary

The Device: Even though MOBI and EPUB are different platforms, the ebooks should look pretty much the same no matter what device the reader uses. So it doesn’t matter which version you proofread. If you do not have a dedicated ereader, then you need to use an online viewer. I recommend the Kindle Previewer, Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions. All three are free downloads. All three render well enough for proofreading purposes. All three allow you to double-check your ebook’s navigation.

A Style Sheet: This is basically a log of your preferred spellings, stylings and usages. I keep Notepad open when I proofread and jot down character names, unusual spellings, etc. to give me a quick reference. Consistency is the key to a good reading experience. The style sheet will keep you consistent. I also log product names and trademarked names, then double check to make sure they are spelled correctly and to see if there is any restriction on their use.

A Style Manual: Every publishing house and periodical publisher has an in-house style. Often it is based on a particular style manual such as the Chicago Manual of Style. Every indie publisher should do the same thing. Pick a style and stick with it. For fiction, a far simpler style reference will suffice. I recommend Strunk & White Elements of Style. Short, easy and friendly. Buy a copy (then buy extras for when your kids run off with them).

A Dictionary: Depending on spell check can lead to embarrassment. If you’re like me, you have dozens of dictionaries and thesauri on your bookshelves. Pick your main reference(s) and stick to it/them for consistency’s sake. Language changes and evolves, but it shouldn’t do so within one story. If you’d rather use an online source try the Merriam-Webster site or the Oxford Dictionaries site.

The Process

  1. You must open the ebook on something. You cannot properly proofread the ebook by going back to the manuscript.
  2. Have a markup document ready. I use a Word doc in which I’ve created a navigation guide, but no other formatting. Here is where Track Changes* comes in handy. Do all your mark up and changes on this document (which you will then transfer to your actual ebook file after you are done).
  3. Work backward through the ebook. Truly, this is the number one best way to defeat copy blindness. It will help keep your mind out of the story and on task.
  4. If you get sleepy or hungry, take a break. Sleepiness makes you dull and inattentive; hunger makes you impatient.
  5. Periodically change the font, font size and line spacing. Just making the ebook look different goes a long way toward making you more efficient.
  6. Get in the habit of questioning everything. Homonyms can be the bane of many writers. It’s so darned easy to mix up words that sound alike. Here’s a fun reference: Alan Cooper’s Homonym list. Product names are another danger area. Google is a wonderful resource. BUT, sometimes it is not enough to just get the spelling right. Companies can be very aggressive about protecting their trademarks. If you are using a trademarked product name, double check proper usage here.
  7. Use Find/Replace wisely. I rarely use Replace All when proofreading–it can lead to strange occurrences. It is human nature to repeat errors, so if you find an oddball spelling, do a quick search to see if you’ve done it elsewhere.
  8. If a passage seems off to you, read it aloud. Read it aloud to someone else. This is an excellent way to figure out if you’ve misplaced a comma or skipped a word.

And a final word of wisdom: Don’t rewrite your book. Seriously. You’re proofing the final product, the final step before releasing it. If you cannot stop rewriting, tweaking, doing “just a little bit more”–procrastinating!–then find someone else to proofread for you.

If anybody has any other handy-dandy tips to make proofreading easier or more efficient, feel free to fill up the comments.

* Never, ever use Track Changes in a Word doc that you intend to convert into an ebook. Turn it off, keep it off, protect your ebook from the nastiness that Track Changes inserts.