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!

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Boast Post: PROTECTORS 2: Heroes –The Biggest Ebook I’ve Done To Date

protectors6It’s been a while since I’ve done a boast post. But this book is extra special. When Tom Pluck asked me if I’d help with PROTECTORS 2: Heroes, the second collection of stories to benefit PROTECT, of course I said yes. The organization PROTECT is devoted to helping kids. As a human being, I’m all for protecting kids from abusers and predators. On a more personal level, it’s the kind of organization that helps the children I’ve fostered and adopted in my efforts to disrupt the cycles of abuse.

PROTECTORS 2: Heroes is a hundred percent volunteer effort. 55 authors and artists contributed stories and illustrations. Many of those authors are my literary idols: Joyce Carol Oates, Andrew Vachss, David Morrell, Charles de Lint, Joe R. Lansdale, and Harlan Ellison, just to name a few. (I confess to a few fangirl squee moments, folks, so sue me…) Tom Pluck, head editor and story contributor, coordinated the effort. Suzanne Dell’Orto designed the cover and the print edition. I line-edited, formatted the ebook, and proofread. It was a massive undertaking. The book is almost 250,000 words and involved months of hard work. Every penny from the sales are going to PROTECT.

I could end this post by urging you to buy the book. (You really should. It’s fantastic and for a worthy cause.) But as with all challenging projects, I learned a few things. With so many indie writers doing box sets and collaborating on anthologies, some of you might benefit from what I’ve learned.

WORK FLOW. Big projects can easily spiral out of control. The best way to prevent that is to come up with a plan and stick to it. Because we were doing digital and print, it was easiest and most efficient to do the ebook first, then the print. Ebooks are easy to modify and update; print can be trickier. So by doing the ebook first we could get the text in tip-top shape, edited and proofread and in order. Then when I sent the final text (lifted from the ebook) to the print formatter, any minor issues found during the final proofread were easily fixed in the ebook. Our work flow looked like this:
Tom: Copy edit individual stories; create the table of contents
Jaye: Compile the individual files into one Word doc and line edit
Tom: Approve line edit, adjust the ToC, make final decision about front and back matter
Jaye: Format ebook. Send proof copy to Tom so he can make any further modifications to the layout. Meanwhile, proofread the ebook.
Tom: Approve ebook. Upload Pre-order to Amazon.
Jaye: Recover text from the ebook files, compile into a Word doc, and send that to the print designer.
Tom: Go over print proofs. Send Jaye final corrections.
Jaye: Produce final ebook.

This work flow ensured that we were not tripping over each other and, more importantly, we were all on the same page and working off the same text.

TREAT THE PROJECT AS A WHOLE: This might seem self-evident, but judging by some of the box sets and anthologies I’ve purchased, it’s a point that seems to escape many. As a reader it annoys me no end when a collection is a mish-mosh of styles–they can’t even match the paragraph indents. Tom dealt with the individual contributors, so he had to work with individual files. Once he gave me the green light, I compiled all those files into one document and from then on treated it as a whole. While line editing I standardized the punctuation and spelling. The formatting was done with the same CSS stylesheets.

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MANAGE THE FILE SIZE: We knew going in that this was going to be a big ebook. Not only word count, but there were illustrations, too. Part of my job was to keep the finished ebook at a manageable size. I cannot emphasize this enough. Screen lag is always a problem in big ebooks. That must be minimized. Other problems are more serious. One is Amazon’s delivery fee, which is charged back against the publisher. $.15 per MB doesn’t sound like much, but it can add up and eat up the commissions. I’ve bought (and returned) box sets that failed to load. I had one that crashed my Kindle. (I had to reboot it and that did NOT make me happy in the least.)  I manage file size by formatting in html which is very streamlined and allows me to break up the book into bite-sized chunks. I resized the images to make them as small as possible. I strongly advise anyone deciding to do a large anthology or box set to NOT format it in Word (or any word processor), Scrivener or InDesign. Those programs add sometimes fatal bloat.

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NAVIGATION: I’m always obsessing about how to make navigating ebooks easier. In this case I did a two-tier table of contents. Click the story title and the reader is taken to the story. Click the author and they are sent to the author’s bio. In the bio section, clicking on the author name takes them to the story. I did it that way because when I buy anthologies, it’s usually because of the authors. I want to know who wrote what and don’t want to page through the ebook in order to find what I want. (And yes, I have bought ebooks that required me to do that because the ToC was useless or non-existent.)

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[Box set tables of contents are trickier and I should do a post discussing the problems and solutions.]

FRONT AND BACK MATTER: Big books often have big tables of contents. This is good, since readers are interested in who the authors are, and I consider it a strong sell point. The downside is, it can eat up space in the sample and Amazon’s Look Inside feature. For that reason Tom and I decided to move all the legal notices and copyright information to the back of the book. I put a simple notice on the title page and added a link to the copyright information.

protectors7protectors3Overall, doing a big ebook has its challenges, but with a good plan, some thought and organization, it doesn’t have to mean you’re ripping your hair out or disappointing readers.

PROTECTORS 2: Heroes
Ebooks Available on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and iTunes
In Paperback
Buy Direct–All Proceeds Go to PROTECT

Boast Post: Thomas Pluck and Co-Op Publishing

Practice makes perfect. And, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, it takes a lot of practice, at least 10,000 hours worth.

“The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert–in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin. “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, … this number comes up again and again. … no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. …”

coverPractice is what I do. When I’m trying new techniques and work flows, when I need to practice, I pester my friends for projects. (My friends are wonderfully prolific and quite tolerant, or perhaps amused by my obsessions.) If my friends don’t have anything for me, I go hunting. I look for writers whose writing speaks to me and who could use my services to make their ebooks better.

Which leads to Thomas Pluck. He writes crime fiction–“Unflinching fiction with heart.” For the past year or so I’ve been bouncing all over the internet and buying short story collections in order to read Tom’s short stories. I’ve been bugging him to put his own collection together. Finally, I sez, “I’ll produce the ebook. You provide the stories and get a cover.” He said yes.

Which leads to co-op publishing. (Along with the boast part of this post) With Tom the writer, Sarah Pluck the artist, and me the editor/producer, we were a machine. A muscle machine, I tells ya. We pulled it all together, without any hitches or glitches, in about ten days.

(I have this dream of someday having a publishing company of my own–a co-op publishing company. I don’t know how yet and I sure don’t know all the aspects and ins and outs, but that’s what practice is for. Getting my 10,000 hours in.)

We did have a big advantage going in. All of Tom’s stories had been previously published and professionally edited. So the line-editing I did was little more than fine-tuning. That saved a lot of time. The real key to our success was two-fold: Dropbox and communication. For those who don’t know, Dropbox is a cloud storage service. People can share folders and files. When working with big files or folders, it’s essential. It keeps files organized, there are no worries about missing an attachment in an email, and no worries about translation hiccups that sometimes happens with word processor files.

Communication and delegation of responsibilities were the biggest factors in our success. Tom was in charge of selecting the stories. Sarah was in charge of the cover. I was in charge of the ebook formatting. I think it’s necessary in any co-op endeavor to establish who is in charge of what and thus has final say. That prevents elements from being nibbled to death by duck committees.

Work flow:

  • Tom placed the stories he selected in the dropbox folder.
  • Sarah worked on the cover.
  • I line-edited the stories, and placed my edited versions in the dropbox.
  • Tom accepted or rejected my editorial input as he saw fit, then placed FINAL versions in the dropbox.
  • Sarah provided me with images and fonts from the cover (I wanted full package cohesiveness in the ebook).
  • Tom and I went back and forth on story order and layout of the front and back matter.
  • I created the internal graphics, then we did some more back and forth to get them just right.

BOAST ALERT: I figured out how to make an image look like stamped metal! I am absurdly proud of myself.

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  • I formatted the book. Tom and I had done such a good job of communicating about the layout that no changes were deemed necessary.
  • I proofed the ebook then sent it to Tom for the second round. (Experience has taught me, one proofreader at a time. No sense stumbling over each and catching the same errors.)
  • By then Sarah was done with the cover. I slipped it into the ebook.
  • Tom returned the corrections and changes he wanted.
  • I inputted the corrections, made up the various ebook formats necessary for distribution.
  • Tom wrote the listing description copy.

We had a book.

In about ten days.

Polished, professional, an A+ ebook I’d put up against any big NY publishing house with the quality of the stories–and it would blow them out of the water in terms of production.

Let’s talk a moment about co-op publishing. Way I see it, it’s all about equal risk, sweat equity and equal benefits. Some books take off, some don’t, some hit the middle ground, and nobody can predict going in where any particular book is going to land–or when. I don’t normally charge for my special projects. I take my pay in practice and leeway in trying out new techniques (and occasionally, wild and crazy ideas). Tom thinks my service is valuable and wanted to pay. Well. So we agreed to a co-op, but with a twist. He’s a major supporter of PROTECT: The National Organization to Protect Children. I’m a supporter, too. Now 10% of all the earnings of this book will be donated to PROTECT. The better Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense does sales-wise, the more PROTECT benefits. (hint hint, go buy the book)

Big take-away message for you, folks. Indie publishers need to be creative, not just in crafting the stories but in how you produce the books. Even if you’re low on cash, you don’t have to settle for second-rate productions. Build your networks, develop your side skills (design, editing, promotion, copy writing–all valuable), horse trade and barter, and most of all practice, practice, practice.

Addendum: Great minds think alike. Tom posted on his blog today, too. You can read more about the stories in Steel Heart here.

Boast Post: Protectors

Thomas Pluck contacted me, asking for a price quote on a formatting job. I told the old man, “If it’s for one of his charity projects, I’ll do it for free.” Sure enough, it’s an anthology to benefit PROTECT, an organization devoted to wiping out child abuse. (a few of you know about my adopted daughters, so it’s no surprise I didn’t hesitate to say I’d do the project)

What good is a boast post without some boasting and patting myself on the back? If you don’t want to indulge my smugness, jump to the bottom and check out the line-up of writers who have contributed to the Protectors anthology. If you’re still here, let me tell you what I’m most proud to have accomplished in this project:

Organization

Here’s the thing. I used to think I was disorganized, that I lacked the organizing-gene. As I get older I realize that I am capable of tremendous organization. Unfortunately, it’s rarely the type of organization anyone else can understand. “Creative” organization looks a lot like chaos to some folks. (Namely Darling Daughter #1 who dreads my demise because she will inherit my many, many file cabinets.) But this is what I’ve learned about organizing: Pick a few rules and stick to them.

One of my biggest gripes with story anthologies in ebooks is a lack of consistency. Layouts shift from story to story. A sense of unity is lacking. Sometimes the stories don’t look as if they belong together. It’s a cobbled together, higglety-pigglety effect that can be downright jarring to readers. If there is too much disorganization and disregard for unity and flow, the overall effect looks amateurish and it’s not very comfortable  to read.

I understand how that happens. There are 41 stories and a foreword in the Protectors anthology. That meant 42 source files, plus the author bios. Each of those source files was… unique. Not just the stories themselves, that goes without saying.  I’m talking about the way the manuscripts were formatted. How they appeared on the “page.” You see, writers know that how their words look, how they flow on the page, affects how the words are read. Text placement affects pacing and emphasis. The use of punctuation and italics and bolding and line breaks can guide readers in directions the writer wants them to go and affect emotional impact. Sometimes, too, while they are creating, writers need for their words to look a certain way on the screen (or in the notebook or on the walls or however they compose) because that is how their minds work and the visual quirks aid creativity.

As a formatter there are two temptations: One, cobble the stories together just the way the writers formatted them; Two, disregard everything the writers have done and make every story look exactly the same. The first way is disrespectful to readers, and the second is disrespectful to the writers.

Given that middle-grounds rarely make anybody happy, I wasn’t looking for compromises. I wanted a way to draw the stories into a unified whole while at the same time using as much of the writers’ visuals as possible in an ebook.

This project required some serious organization.

Step Number One was to establish some RULES.

Creating an overall look for the ebook was fairly easy. I made up a simple graphic to use as titles.

 

Each story began with non-indented text, first three words bolded (with one or two exceptions). I wanted to make up a little graphic to use for scene breaks, but given the sheer size of the ebook and how many scene breaks there were I felt so many images would have made the ebook file too big. So I used bullets and white diamonds which stood out without being obnoxious. (The point of little touches like that is NOT to draw attention to itself, but to serve as a visual head’s up for readers and as a repeating pattern that helps to draw everything together—think of it as the rule book in a sporting event. As long as the rules are consistent, everybody can focus on the action.)

So, with those rules established, time for the stories themselves. No matter how unique or creative a writer’s formatting may be, there will be an underlying logic. There will be patterns. It’s the ebook producer’s job to find those patterns and figure out how to either make them work in an ebook format or how to approximate them to create them same effect.

I made some cheat sheets to help me stay focused. I’d reproduce them here, but just looking at them won’t make much sense and it would take several blog posts to explain them. The important point is that by taking notes and comparing one story’s special requirement to another’s I could SEE the common denominators so I could figure out the least number of paragraph styles necessary.

Paragraph styles are the key to ebook formatting, whether you’re using a word processor or html. By keeping the number of styles to a minimum, you insure consistency and an overall unified book. What I came up with were three paragraph styles: One with an indent, one block style, and one block quote style. I made the indented paragraph style the default. So while I was cleaning up the original files, if a paragraph required block style or block quote, I tagged it as such. Tagging the styles during clean-up makes it very easy to use Find and Replace in Notepad++.

Then there were a few places that required some special touches. That’s where the cheat sheets come in really handy. Instead of flipping back and forth to the original files, I made copious notes to tell me where and how certain things were supposed to look. For instance, one story had some interesting bits of staggered text. If you’ve formatted ebooks you know that staggered text is rarely a good idea. It can look fine on one device, then go totally haywire on another. That’s because of the way devices justify and flow text—-words can get pulled out of shape.

There wasn’t much (three instances) and I thought the effect the author (Ken Bruen, “Spectre in the Galway Wind”) was going for was interesting enough to give it a try. What you don’t want to use are regular spaces. Those can get distorted when the ereader tries to justify text. What I used are no-break spaces (html entity  ) which lock the spaces into place (perfect for bulleted lists, by the way).

Anyhow, the project was HUGE, over 140,000 words, but by establishing some rules and taking the time to organize the paragraph styles, I think it came out very nicely. I’m proud of my part in the project and honored to be able to do it for such a worthy cause.

But don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself. The line-up of authors in incredible and the stories are fabulous.

From Thomas Pluck’s PROTECT website:

41 stories.
One cause: PROTECT
100% of proceeds go to PROTECT and the National Association to Protect Children – the army fighting what Andrew Vachss calls “the only holy war worthy of the name,” the protection of children.

We’ve rallied a platoon of crime, western, thriller, fantasy, noir, horror and transgressive authors to support PROTECT’s important work: lobbying for legislation that protects children from physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.

Powerful stories from George Pelecanos, Andrew Vachss, Joe R. Lansdale, Charles de Lint, Ken Bruen, Chet Williamson, James Reasoner, Charlie Stella, Michael A. Black, Wayne Dundee, Roxane Gay, Ray Banks, Tony Black, Les Edgerton and 16 more, with 100% of proceeds going to PROTECT.

PROTECTORS includes a foreword by rock critic Dave Marsh, and fiction by Patti Abbott, Ian Ayris, Ray Banks, Nigel Bird, Michael A. Black, Tony Black, R. Thomas Brown, Ken Bruen, Bill Cameron, Jen Conley, Charles de Lint, Wayne D. Dundee, Chad Eagleton, Les Edgerton, Andrew Fader, Matthew C. Funk, Roxane Gay, Edward A. Grainger, Glenn G. Gray, Jane Hammons, Amber Keller, Joe R. Lansdale, Frank Larnerd, Gary Lovisi, Mike Miner, Zak Mucha, Dan O’Shea, George Pelecanos, Thomas Pluck, Richard Prosch, Keith Rawson, James Reasoner, Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, Gerald So, Josh Stallings, Charlie Stella, Andrew Vachss, Steve Weddle, Dave White, and Chet Williamson.

Among PROTECT’s victories are the Protect Our Children Act of 2008, which mandated that the Justice Department change course and design a new national nerve center for law enforcement to wage a war on child exploitation, the Hero to Hero program, which employs disabled veterans in the battle against child abuse, and Alicia’s Law.

Join the fight, with 41 stories by top writers. Be a Protector!