I Finally Did It: WORD FOR THE WISE is now an ebook

I know, I know, I haven’t posted in ages. I’ve been very busy. Anyone want to know how to scan and restore foreign edition paperbacks and turn them into ebooks and print books without being able to understand the words? *crickets* No? Okay, on to the subject at hand.

After years of cleaning and processing MS Word docs, and posting tips and tricks and hacks for using Microsoft Office Word for writing and self-publishing, and answering a lot of emails about problems with Word, I finally compiled that hard-earned knowledge into a book.

2017-11-08_Ebook Cover_Manus_Word for the Wis copy

Here’s an excerpt from the Introduction:

Word is an excellent word processor, one of the most powerful on the market. All that power comes with a price: Where the act of composing fiction or nonfiction is a simple process (in technical terms) Word is complicated. It’s right there in the name itself: Microsoft Office Word. It’s a productivity program for businesses; not a publishing program for writers of commercial fiction and nonfiction.

For writing a report or a business proposal or a policy & procedures manual, it’s one of the best programs around. For writers, though? It’s kind of like driving a Porsche Carrera to the grocery store.

Even so, just about every writer I deal with uses Word. Even Mac users. Even writers who wouldn’t touch a Microsoft program send material that has been exported as a Word doc. Word is everywhere thanks to Microsoft having installed it on all Windows PCs for decades. (They no longer give away the Microsoft Office Suite; Word must now be licensed via subscription.)

Smashwords, the largest and heartiest of the aggregators for self-publishers to distribute and sell ebooks, converts Word docs into a wide variety of ebook platforms. (A publisher can also upload an EPUB file to Smashwords.) Other sites now allow self-publishers to upload Word docs. Even Amazon allows it. The conversion processes they use are programmed to recognize and modify the HTML coding in a Word doc.

Writers are using Word to compose their work, and some use it to format ebooks, and others use it to format print-on-demand editions. Even some professional ebook and print formatters use Word. Word might not be the best word processor for writers, but it is everywhere and it’s not going away for a long, long time.

I have processed thousands of Word docs, millions and millions of words, from hundreds of clients. The majority of those writers are like me from ten years ago, using the program inefficiently and often destructively. Cleaning up those files is how I’ve become an expert.

I can help you use Word like an expert, too.

My goals with this book are:

  • Teach writers to customize Word to suit their particular needs.
  • Teach writers to use the features that actually make their writing lives easier.
  • Help writers increase their creative productivity by eliminating destructive practices.
  • Teach writers to create the various types of docs used for editorial tasks, digital submissions, ebooks and print-on-demand interior files.

Even if you don’t use Word, you might find this book useful. There are dozens of word processors and programs created specifically for creative writing. The majority use the same underlying principles as Word.

I give you my promise. There are no gotchas in this book. No traps. No need for special skills or technical knowledge. I won’t use tech-speak because I don’t know any; I’m talking to you writer to writer. You don’t even need a spectacular memory since many of the things I recommend will require your attention just once. Set it and forget it and write on.

For the time being it’s only available on Amazon. (Have to figure out how to sneak all the mentions of Amazon and Kindle past Apple–heh.) I’m working on the print edition and should have that live in a week or so.

So if you ever wanted to know what I know about using MS Word, now you can, all in one easy guide.

WORD for the Wise:
Using Microsoft Office Word for Creative Writing and Self-Publishing

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I’m Baaaack!

I’m back and it’s time to rock ‘n’ roll!3-quinn

First, apologies to those who contacted me for book production services and I had to refer them to other sources. I spent the last few months of 2016 pretty much playing catch up, and I was so swamped I even disabled my service pages just to slow down the flow of queries (Gah, butI hate telling people no!). I have some serious updating to do to this poor neglected blog, but my pages will be going back online soon and I’ll be able to accept new clients in the next month or so.

Second, much gratitude and warm fuzzies for those who offered kind words and MUCH understanding about my husband’s health issues. His treatments seem to be working and he’s slowly, but surely getting back to his normal ornery self. He’ll be back to driving me nuts in no time at all.

Third, I’ve stopped working on Sundays. I have to force myself to take a day away from the computer or I will go blind or my hair will fall out or something horrible like that. I know, I know, I’m writing this blog on a Sunday, but I have so much work to do next week that this won’t get written unless I do it today. But, the norm will be, I’m offline on Sundays. What this means is that emails that come in late Saturday won’t be answered until Monday. And scheduling will take my days off into account.

The biggest news is that I’m taking on a partner. What, Jaye? A cranky old loner like you? Yep. I’m training him in book production right now, so I’ll introduce him when he’s fully on board, but rest assured, he cares as much about production values as I do. (Plus he’s young and energetic and types really fast.)  We’ll be coming up with plans to keep prices as low as possible so you all can focus on your writing and not have to worry that production costs blowing your budgets. With two of us sharing duties and quality checking each other, we’ll be able to produce more and better books.

So what’s coming up in 2017?

Ebooks (of course). High quality, guaranteed to work across devices, no-hassle updates–that remains the same.

Line-editing. I have a few editing clients and have been hesitant to take on more because of time constraints. That may be changing and it’s possible I’ll be able to expand my client list.

Proofreading. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m a bear about proofreading. When a writer clicks the Publish button, I want for their work to be the very best it can be. Readers deserve no less. There will be some changes in prices and policies coming up, but my intent is to broaden my proofreading services AND keep the cost as low as possible.

Print. Just about all my clients are doing print on demand editions. With fiction I can keep the costs down to where the print version is comparable in price to the digital version. I’ll be posting prices and even some package deals.

Backlist Restoration. Writers who manage to get their rights reverted often end up with a print copy of their book and a heart filled with dismay as to how to go about recovering the text so it can be turned into an ebook or a new print edition. Easy enough to take it to the copy shop and have it scanned, but then what? Converting the scanned text via OCR can result in an unholy mess. I’ve dealt with writers who’ve spent months trying to get text in good enough shape to read. I’m going to boast a little here–I am the Queen of Text Restoration. I have the tools and skills so that I can accomplish in days what might take most people months. So if you have some backlist in need of restoration, we should talk.

2016-11-05-mockup-classic-crime-libraryCovers. Regular readers know I’ve been dabbling in covers for a while. I’m getting pretty good at it. I’m on my way to getting really good at it. I’m more than happy to work with writers on a tight budget to come up with reasonably priced covers that look good and serve their purpose. I can also modify most ebook covers for print and audio editions.

Translations and Foreign Editions: I’ve been doing a lot of German, Italian and Spanish novels here of late. I’ve figured out how to get the best results for digital and print so the books can be sold on Amazon and through other distributors. (I’m not doing Asian editions–yet.) It’s a big world full of hungry readers. If you write in an other than English language or have translated editions of your English books you’d like produced in digital or print, let’s talk.

Marketing and Promotion: Nope, sorry, still won’t/can’t do that for you. My brain just refuses to wander down those paths.

Thanks for dropping by. If you need to contact me now you can reach me at
jayewmanus at gmail dot com

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Programs for Indie Publishers

Blog-programs

Creativity is messy

One of the best aspects of indie publishing is that Do-It-Yourself is feasible. All you need is a computer and some decent programs–many of them free–and you can put together a professionally packaged book.

 

Many indie publishers start and end with MS Word. I suspect this has to do with comfort. They use Word, they know it (or think they do), and Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital accept Word files. I also suspect fear plays a part. No matter how easy or intuitive a program is, there is still a learning curve. Easier to stay with the devil you know than to leap into the unknown. My hope is that the list of programs I use will encourage DIY indie publishers to wander into deeper waters and increase the quality of their book production.

This following programs and tools are what I use on an almost daily basis. It’s by no means a complete list of all the programs and apps that are available. A Google search for “programs for publishing” will turn up hundreds–thousands!–of programs an indie might find useful.

A word about computers. Currently I use two. A Lenovo Z70 laptop and a Mac. (I’m in the process of finding a new desktop PC, too.) I use the laptop for ebook production and the Mac for print and covers. The reason is: Adobe. I will not allow any Adobe products on my laptop. They are big and grabby and eat RAM like peanuts, especially InDesign. Adobe CC seems to behave better on the Mac, crashing less often. Plus, I have a 29″ screen that makes using Photoshop a real pleasure.

On to the list.

DROPBOX. Dropbox is a cloud storage service. You can sign up for the basic service and it’s free. If you need more storage space, you can go with a business plan that starts at $9.99 a month. Most indies don’t need the extra space. It’s a great way to back up your files. You can synch between devices. There are apps available so you can access Dropbox from your tablet or phone. You can share files and folders. It’s an easy way to share files that are too big for email attachments. I’ve been using Dropbox for years. It’s had a few hiccups, but very few. The only ongoing problem I’ve experienced is that the Kindle Previewer doesn’t like it. So to load a file into the Previewer I have to remember to drag it out of Dropbox and onto my desktop first.


MS WORD.  Used to be just about every PC came pre-loaded with MS Word. Everybody used it. Those days are over. Now you have to purchase it.

WHAT I USE IT FOR

  • Personal correspondence and writing
  • Initial file clean-up
  • Basic ebook formats for Smashwords (fiction only)

PROS

  • Everybody uses it (for now)
  • It’ll open a huge number of file types and it will generate a large number of file types.
  • Word docs are accepted by Amazon, Smashwords and Draft2Digital

CONS

  • Most people have no idea how to use Word properly
  • Clunky, bloated and overly-complicated
  • Makes awful ebooks

NOTEPAD (PC) and NOTES (Mac). These text programs come pre-loaded on most PCs or Macs. When I’m working on a book I keep a file open where I can make notes to myself. Nothing special, but very very handy.


NOTEPAD++. This is my text editor of choice. (In the Mac I use Text Wrangler)

WHAT I USE IT FOR

  • Create ebooks in html with cascading style sheets
  • Text restoration
  • File cleanup

PROS

  • Free
  • Easy to use
  • No bloat since there is nothing running in the background to add a bunch of junk to a file
  • Powerful search function with multiple levels
  • Can encode files for different purposes, including UTF-8 for ebooks

CONS

  • Learning curve (moderate)
  • Must get used to the display which is nothing like a word processor

SIGIL. EPUB editor. I have it on both computers. If you want to step up your ebook quality, Sigil is an excellent tool for creating ebooks. And yes, with some modifications to your file, you can create ebooks for Amazon Kindle, too. Paul Salvette of bbebooks offers a very good tutorial.

WHAT I USE IT FOR

  • Troubleshooting epub files

PROS

  • Free
  • Mostly stable
  • Offers inline epub validation
  • Can be used in WYSIWYG mode or in html mode

CONS

  • Learning curve (moderate)

KINDLE PREVIEWER. Quick and easy way to preview your ebook files before you upload them to Amazon. If you want to see how your ebooks look with Amazon’s enhanced typesetting features you can download the Kindle Previewer 3.


CALIBRE. Quick and easy way to preview an epub file. Has an epub editor (which I don’t use and haven’t looked at it in over a year, so cannot say how good it is). Despite its many fans, Calibre is NOT the tool to use to create commercial ebooks. It causes disabled user preference controls on Kindle devices and apparently there are conflicts with Kindle enhanced typesetting.


MOBIPOCKET CREATOR. Will convert a Word or html file into a prc file that can be converted into a mobi file in the Kindle Previewer or loaded directly onto a Kindle device. Quick and simple. Good way to check how the formatting on a Word file will perform on a Kindle. I use it to do a quick and dirty conversion of Word files I want to read on my e-ink Kindle.


EPUB VALIDATOR. The idpf validator is the standard for making sure your epub files are free of errors and up to snuff. I use this tool in conjunction with Sigil. If I get an error message, I can find and fix it quickly in Sigil, then transfer the fix back to my html files.


UNMANIFESTED EPUB FILE CHECK. Apple iBooks is picky about unmanifested files within an epub package. Running your epub file through this checker will help ensure your ebook will make it onto the Apple site.


IRIS OCR. I do a lot of text restoration, recovering the text from printed books and turning it into a workable document. I have used and researched a lot of OCR programs. Quality ranges from “oh my god you have to be kidding” to excellent. IRIS is excellent. If you have an HP scanner, you can download IRIS OCR software along with the HP drivers. You can also purchase software that allows for side-by-side document editing (necessary if you’re scanning and restoring graphic/image heavy or complicated layouts in non-fiction books).


INDESIGN. For print on demand layouts. (Despite what many of its fans say, it’s NOT a good program for making ebooks. I can usually tell an ID generated ebook because it looks gorgeous and the user preference controls are disabled. There are apparently conflicts with Kindle enhanced typesetting, too.)

PROS

  • For POD it’s easier to use than Word.
  • Print is what it was made for and print is what it does best. Makes beautiful books.
  • Adobe help sucks, but google “how do I…InDesign” and you’ll find answers all over the place.
  • Trouble-free export into POD ready pdf files.

CONS

  • Expensive! I don’t think you can buy the program new from Adobe. Instead, you have to set up a subscription. If you cancel your subscription, your .indd files are rendered useless.
  • Steep learning curve.
  • RAM grabby and has a tendency to crash.

PAINT.NET. A powerful paint program that is easy to use. Fun, too. And free! Good for resizing images and creating simple graphics. Offers many plug-ins that make it possible to create ebook covers. It does a good job of modifying and manipulating photos.


PHOTOSHOP. The more I use Photoshop, the more I learn about it, the more I like it. I use it to make covers and to clean up damaged images. Unlike ID, I’ve had no problems with it either slowing my computer to a sluggish crawl or crashing. Like ID, it’s not being offered for sale by Adobe, but is on a subscription plan.

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There you go. My favorite book production programs. What about yours?

 

 

 

 

Can YOU Create the Perfect Ebook Cover?

Since here of late I’ve been playing “art department” for several of my clients, I’ve been thinking a lot about ebook covers. What works, what doesn’t, and more importantly, Why? I do a lot of browsing for books on Amazon. Why do some ebook covers catch my eye and cause me to click on the listings, while others are merely clutter on the page? What is the real difference between a “good” ebook cover and a “bad” one? Is there a way to ensure an ebook gets the perfect cover?

Perfection? Probably not.

A cover that does exactly what it is supposed to do? That’s doable, each time, every time.

I read an article the other day about one writer’s quest for the perfect covers. She did market analysis using surveys (read it here). I found it fascinating and admirable. I also spotted right off the mistake she is making. It’s a mistake I see over and over again with indie publishers. The writer is designing a cover for herself.

Now, you are probably saying, “Jaye, what’s the point of being an indie if you can’t do things your own way?”

You can do things any way you want to. It’s your book.

Here’s the problem with designing an ebook cover for yourself. You have lived with your story for weeks or months or years. You know the plot, the characters, the emotional arcs. You know your own vision. What excites you. What you want the world to know. You want a cover that captures all that nuance. All the wonder and beauty and drama that is your story.

Potential book buyers don’t know any of that. Until they actually start reading the book, they have no context, no point of reference, and thusly, they don’t really care. All that love and knowledge the writer holds in her heart is wasted. In many cases, it can so miss the point that it fails to catch attention of potential buyers or, worst case, turns them off completely.

An ebook cover has one job: Induce potential buyers to click on a listing. That’s it. Once the ebook is purchased, it’s done its job and, like the packaging for a new gadget, it can be discarded. It won’t be displayed on a shelf or coffee table. It won’t be taken out to be studied and admired for its art. In fact, once it’s loaded on Kindle or Nook or smartphone or tablet, it’s almost irrelevant. It’s already served its major purpose and no longer matters–except for one very important aspect: the cover can serve as a trigger that leads readers to other books.

What I see are ebook covers that miss the major Sell Points.

  • Genre
  • Mood/Tone
  • Title
  • Author

Sell Points are simple. Maybe it’s their obvious simplicity that make them so easy to miss. To figure out the sell points, you have to ask: What are readers looking for? To answer that, you have to know who your readers are and/or who you want your readers to be. (If you say, “My book is for every reader from 8 to 80!” you are doomed. Sorry. It’s true.)

GENRE: If you’re writing genre fiction, your task is fairly straightforward: Make the cover look like it belongs in the genre. It truly astonishes me how many covers miss this mark so completely. Genre book browsers are scanning quickly, not necessarily reading titles, looking for visual clues that something is worth clicking on and exploring further. Your pastel colored cover with blooming flowers might be stunning, a real piece of art and perfectly depicts the theme of “winter always ends and the cycle begins anew” but it’s a crime thriller and it doesn’t look thrilling at all, so potential buyers will pass. Spend a few hours browsing online retailers for your genre. Make lists of common elements. Even, or especially, those that seem cheesy or cliched. Cheesy cliches work because they shout, “This is a thriller! This is a romance! This is horror! This is what you’re looking for!”

cover blog 3

Example of a cover that not only hits all the sell points, but perfectly targets the humorous horror sub-genre market. The title and color work together to set the tone/mood. The design looks simple (it’s not–this is carefully thought out and crafted). It’s legible and eye-catching. (and no, I didn’t do this one, but I wish I had)

MOOD/TONE: Reading fiction is an emotional experience. Readers are always on the lookout for something to either fit a current mood or create a new one. The tone and mood of your cover MUST match the description. The cover and description MUST match the story. If there’s a disconnect between the cover and the description, no sale. If there’s a disconnect between the cover and description and the story itself, you’ll have disappointed and possibly disgruntled readers. Never, ever forget your readers’ emotional experiences AND expectations. If you set them up for a light and amusing read but then hand them Hamlet, your cover–and the book–has failed.

Cover blog 1

Example of a cover that fails. Found under a search for “political thrillers” it doesn’t look like a political thriller. It’s dull. Bad enough to tack on a photo, but it’s not even an interesting photo. The image is static and out of context. The typography is illegible in thumbnail. It looks amateurish.

TITLE: In my rarely humble opinion, publishers should spend more brain time on titles than on artwork. A truly great title can sell books all on its own. (Personally, I am total shit with titles, so I have nothing but admiration for people who come up with great titles.) What makes a great title? It’s snappy, it’s memorable, it tells a story in just a few words. This isn’t the place to be cute or esoteric or lofty. In the article I linked to earlier, one of the problems I noted was the author’s title. THE SCARLET ALBATROSS. Interesting visual, but taken all by itself, what can it possibly mean? Who is looking for a book about a big seabird painted red? (And the author must sense there is something off about it because the cover is bogged down with extraneous tag lines and explanations.) Contrast that to Larry Correria’s MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL.Says it all.  Anyone looking for a story about monsters is going to at least click on the listing. When it comes to titles, subtlety is not your friend. Nor are lofty literary allusions (unless you are targeting the really tiny market of literary snobs). Wordplay is only going to work if your intended audience is in on the joke. If you’re going to invest time and/or money in market testing, forget the artwork and test your title. Once you have a title, make sure it’s readable on the cover. Yes, I know, the book title is right there in plain text on the browsing screen. But browsers are looking at the pictures first, then when something catches the eye, the text off to the side. If your title is illegible on the listing then it doesn’t exist.

AUTHOR: I am always appalled by writers with audiences whose names are not prominent on the cover. It’s a HUGE sell point. The majority of readers are fairly risk aversive. They might say they want something new and different, but if given a choice they’ll usually go with a sure thing. A writer who’s made them happy in the past might very well make them happy in the future. The more prominent your name is on the cover, the more important it looks. Even new writers should make their name stand out.

A word about artwork. I’m not going to say “pearls before swine” but… Fabulous artwork is NOT a sell point. (Fabulous artwork can sell print editions because sometimes those books aren’t even opened, they are displayed, and in brick-and-mortar stores customers actually pick up books and study them front and back before opening the pages–an entirely different way to shop for books.) Crappy, amateurish artwork can hurt your sales because readers will assume the interior is also crappy and amateurish. But when you’re making decisions about artwork and illustrations for an ebook cover, look at it in context of the sell points. It’s far more important that the illustration imparts information than that it looks pretty.

Cover blog 2

Gorgeous artwork that is utterly wasted on an ebook. The image turns to a muddy splotch in thumbnail. If not for the author’s name, this cover would be a total fail.

Another word, this time about typography. Choose your typefaces wisely and don’t junk them up with too many effects. Make sure your title and name are as legible as possible in thumbnail. Make sure the style of the typeface matches the design.

My number one suggestion for indies designing their ebook cover is to HONESTLY assess whether they can objectively wear the “art department” hat or not. If your mind keeps turning to themes and symbolism and all the many (many!) wonderful elements you want on the cover, and if you keep forgetting to consider what your potential readers are looking for, then it’s probable that you need to turn the job over to someone else. And then let them do their job.

 

 

DIY Book Covers: Recycling Old Covers

Caveat: I’m NOT a cover designer. I’m more of a determined monkey turned art department through the process of being too dumb to know better. What helps is having great tools: Adobe Creative Cloud, a Mac computer with a huge screen, and unlimited access to YouTube where you can learn everything about anything when it comes to Photoshop.)

Anyhoo…

Blog-old covers6When LB handed me the project of restoring his extensive mid-century pulp paperback novels for digital and print we had a minor problem. Covers. Now, while I am in love with the gorgeous retro covers Hard Case Crime is putting on some of LB’s books, I don’t have the ability to create that type of art. So with time and budget concerns (we had a LOT of books to do) we had to get creative. For the Classic Crime Library (most originally published in the 1960s) we came up with what I believe is an elegant solution. I made them look like old-school classics with leather covers and gold leaf. This was surprisingly easy to do–and inexpensive. The only out-of-pocket expense was font licensing. For the rest: I scanned the back of a leather-bound book from my personal library; used a clipart border I had on hand (copyright-free from Dover books); and used my iPhone to take a picture of “gold” leaf from my arts and crafts supplies. Ta da!

Blog-old covers4

When it came time to do the Classic Erotica collection, I’m not sure which of us came up with the idea of recycling the original covers. Might have been me. (When I was a wee child, my mother had a fondness for cheesy potboilers and science fiction novels. I knew all her hiding places. I loved the covers as much as the stories — I wanted to be Frank Frazetta when I grew up.)

First step is cleaning up the images.

Blog-old covers1

Remember, these covers are over 50 years old, and the original cover stock wasn’t the best paper in the world to begin with (which, by the way, scanning in these old books was…interesting. Some of the paper was so brittle it disintegrated if I looked at it too hard. By the time I finished scanning my desk looked as if I’d held a ticker-tape parade.). I used Photoshop to restore the covers as close to the original as I could. I used clipping layers to work on one portion at a time. The repair tool and the clone stamp helped me get rid of the crackling and scuffs.

After cleaning up the image, I made a template. For the background I went with suede. I took a photo of a piece of suede (from my ridiculously eclectic arts and crafts supply). I colored it in Photoshop. Then I tipped in the image and gave it a gold border. Because it’s the ebook cover, we decided to get rid of all text except for the title.

Blog-old covers2

For the print cover, we went with the full cover, as close to the original as I could get it. I know there are people out there who love those old pulp fiction covers as much as I do. I think they’ll enjoy having a classy (classier, anyway) rendition on their bookshelves.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Blog-old covers5

On a side note, there was one cover we couldn’t bring ourselves to use. It’s the “I’m ready for my enema now,” cover. (You can see it here if you’re so inclined.) Besides, LB wanted to use another title. So… LB found a suitably sinister looking image on Shutterstock and I “retro-d” it. The result isn’t anywhere close to the glory of a Hard Case Crime cover, but I’m happy with it and it fits nicely in the series. And it was budget friendly.

A few tips for recycling old covers:

#1: Make sure you CAN use the images. Find out if you’re legally allowed. You might need to get permission or purchase a license.

#2: Use a scanner instead of photographing the cover. You’ll get a clearer image with better color resolution.

#3: Be patient. The cover might be torn, foxed, scuffed, bent or otherwise damaged. 100% restoration might not be possible (unless you’re a pro or willing to take it to a pro). Work in layers, one small area at a time.

#4: Be creative in “displaying” the image. Picture frames, color blocks, borders, backgrounds. In the collaborative books LB did with Hal Dresner and Don Westlake, I used color blocks to make them stand out.

Blog-old covers7

So for nostalgia’s sake, budgetary concerns or just for fun, don’t be afraid to recycle those wonderful old book covers if you can.

Why Your Ebook SHOULD NOT Look Like a Print Book

Blog-Screenshot_2016-05-16-14-37-10I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend of late: Writer/publishers who want their ebooks to look (and act) like print books–and print designers turned formatters who encourage it.

What those who try to force print design into ebooks seem unaware of is WHY readers like ebooks:

  1. Portability. (I can carry hundreds or thousands of books in my purse.)
  2. Availability. If a book is in digital form and offered for sale, then it is always in stock. If you finish a really terrific book and want to read another of the author’s books, just pop over to the retail site, buy the next ebook and keep reading.
  3. Reader-friendliness. If, like me, you have overworked and/or aged eyes, the ability to increase font size and line height is a godsend. If, like me, you enjoy reading outdoors, an eink reader completely eliminates page glare and the resulting eye fatigue. If, like me, you like to read in bed but your partner wants you to turn off the damned light, if you have a tablet or backlit eink reader or smart phone, you can turn off the damned light and keep reading.
  4. Social reading. For those who like being part of a club, you can connect your books to other readers and share highlighted passages and comments.
  5. Price. Unless the ebook is coming from one of the Big5 publishers, it’s probably inexpensive enough to appeal to even the heaviest readers. They are inexpensive to produce, cost nothing to stock and free/cheap to ship. They should be inexpensive. I bet I’m not the only reader who was priced out of the print market and stopped buying new books, but because of ebooks is now back to buying four or five new books a week.

I doubt very much anyone who reads ebooks buy them to admire their looks. A well-designed ebook is a pleasure to read, but ONLY when the design complements and/or enhances the book’s functionality. When the design interferes with the functionality, it can irritate readers to the point where the author or publisher goes on the Do Not Buy list.

Publishers and formatters drop the ball for one of two reasons:

  1. They don’t understand how ebook reading devices work.
  2. Their priorities are skewed.

If you don’t know how reading devices work, you have no business formatting an ebook. Period. It’s not easy keeping up with everything. Trust me, I spend a lot of time keeping up with updates and changing devices and standards. I have four Kindles, an iPhone, and two computers on which I read and/or test ebooks. I use several programs to test out new techniques. My goal with every job is to produce an ebook that can be read on any device. If you don’t know how ereading devices work, you can format an absolutely stunning looking file in Word or InDesign or Scrivener only to have it completely fall apart or turn into an unreadable mess when it’s loaded onto an ereader. If you’re using Calibre to convert commercial ebooks, chances are you’re unaware as to why that’s a bad idea. The truly clueless seem to be the most proud of creating one-size-fits-all formats for print, epub, and mobi.

Priorities. Here are mine:

  1. The writing itself. Properly edited, properly punctuated, properly proofread. A great story can make readers forget a poorly formatted ebook; but no amount of great formatting can overcome a poorly written/edited/proofread book. For my clients, I do a preproduction clean up to make sure their work is professionally punctuated, and if I spot a mistake, I fix it for them. I also encourage proofreading, even going so far as keeping my proofreading charge at a bare minimum, and never charging for inputting proof changes/corrections. I will suggest line-editing if I believe a work merits it. I do my part; writer/publishers have to do theirs.
  2. Functionality. Almost every reading device has user controls for fonts, font sizes, line spacing, margins and background colors. Formatting or conversion that interferes with or disables those user controls results in a broken ebook and annoyed readers. The ebook also has to be readable on varying sizes of reading screens.
  3. Ease of navigation. A functional table of contents, two way internal hyperlinks, a complete and comprehensive internal toc, clearly defined chapter and section starts.
  4. File size. Ebooks work sort of like websites, with each chapter or section much like a web page. I split my html files into individual chapters or sections to make them load faster. If an ebook is image heavy, I rework the images to the smallest size possible. You don’t want readers to experience page lag. Or worse, for them to be unable to load your ebook at all because it’s so bloated. Or crash the ereader. (I’ve had box sets do that and those puppies get deleted without prejudice.)
  5. Design. Functional doesn’t mean unattractive or generic. Each design element, however, has to complement and/or enhance the functionality. Any design element that degrades the functionality has to go–no matter how pretty it might be, or how good it looks in print.

Print elements that tend to fascinate writer/publishers and wreck their ebooks:

  1. Fonts. Fonts and licenses are cheap. Fonts are easy as can be to embed in ebooks. Fancy fonts can add elegance and visual interest to chapter headers and limited blocks of text. But ninety-nine times out of a hundred, embedding a font for the body text is a bad idea. Fonts suitable for body text add greatly to the file size. Not every font is suitable for ebooks. Special characters can turn into question marks or black boxes on a device. What looks terrific in print can render into something less than desirable on a Kindle or Nook or smart phone screen. Leave font choice up to the readers.
  2. Widows/orphans. I had a client complain to me about a single word ending up on a “page” at the end of a chapter. I told him to change the font size–I wasn’t being a smart aleck. That’s how ebooks work. The text flows to fit the screen. Sometimes you end up with orphaned text that would never be allowed in a print book. Every attempt that’s made to “fix” the text means risking breaking the ebook. Live with it. Readers don’t notice, or care. They are used to it.
  3. Justification. Ereading devices do a shit job of justification. The alternative is worse. (The way my Kindle tablet hyphenates text makes me want to go after somebody’s knuckles with a wooden ruler.) If you absolutely cannot stand the way devices justify text, then left align it. It will jar some readers initially, but if the writing is good, they’ll get used to it. If you are using InDesign, Word or Scrivener to format your ebook, DO NOT justify the text. It’ll disable line spacing and/or margin width controls on many devices.
  4. Drop-caps. They’re pretty, I get it. Unless you are a pro and willing to teBlog-screenshot_2016_05_16T20_52_30+0000st your coding across a multitude of devices, delegate drop-caps to the print version. And don’t forget to test in landscape mode. The results can be… disconcerting.
  5. Text-wrapping around images. This is another element that can seriously bite you in the butt. It can work, but only if you know exactly what you are doing (and just because you can do it in Word or InDesign doesn’t mean you know how to do it in an ebook). Consider the many, many, many readers who use their smart phones as ereaders. What happens on an iPhone as it struggles to fit everything on the screen would be laughable if it weren’t so annoying to the reader. It can be pretty nasty when readers need a larger font size, too.
  6. Graphics with text. I have two words for that: Smart Phones. Those beautiful flow charts become unreadable on a small screen. That caption on your photo becomes unreadable on a small screen. Adjust, compromise, get used to the way text flows–even though the graphics look perfect in the print version and you really want to use them in the ebook.

Writer/publishers, do yourselves and your readers a big favor and forget about trying to force your ebook to look like print. Respect what it is your readers want. What YOU want is for the readers to not consciously notice the design at all, but instead to fall in love with your words and keep coming back for more.

 

 

Congratulations to the Anthony Nominees

Bourchercon World Mystery Convention has announced the nominees for the annual Anthony awards. This year I have friends and clients to congratulate!

Best Short Story:
“Old Hands,” Dark City Lights – Erin Mitchell [Three Rooms]
Dark City Lights anthology, edited by Lawrence Block

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Best Anthology or Collection
Protectors 2: Heroes — Stories to Benefit PROTECT – Thomas Pluck, editor [Goombah Gumbo]

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Best Paperback Original
Young Americans – Josh Stallings [Heist]

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Best Crime Fiction Audiobook
Young Americans – Josh Stallings – Em Eldridge, narrator [Josh Stallings]

CONGRATULATIONS!