Saturday, August 4, 2018

Creeping through Amazon's Publication Maze

My novel The Single Eye is now up for presale on Amazon.  Goodie.  Am I celebrating?  Am I giddy with joy and relief?  No, and no.  My gut is in knots and I still feel about to cry because of all the confusion and mystery.  

Nobody told me that publishing your ebook on the 'Zon would be such a Byzantine process, or feel so much like creeping through a maze looking out for the Minotaur.

The website seems devoted to telling you want you can do, but you have to fight through the underbrush of unhelpful Help pages before you get to where you can actually do it.

The customer service people get back to you pretty fast by email, but, well . . . when I asked how I could discount the price during the presale period, why did the Amazon email help desk person ("Siri," if you'll believe that) tell me to run a Kindle Countdown Deal?  Of course I discovered I'm not eligible for that, not till I publish.

So not only was my price higher than I wanted for this period, but my book was listed with an ASIN, instead of the ISBN I put down for it.

Stressful as the experience is, the solutions I'm getting from fellow writers and the ones I'm blndering onto myself are working better than what I'm hearing out of Amazon customer service.  The strain of it has me looking around nervously for Horrible Things to jump on me around the next corner, but I guess I'm making progress.

So I stumbled onto the fact that if I go into the right publication details page in my Bookshelf, I can "revise" my list price.  Nobody who visits the Amazon book page will know it's special, but I can let my tribe (sorry, writer marketing jargon) know it's a good deal.

And I saw that the form had somehow stripped the hyphens out of my ISBN.  That may be why Amazon didn't list it along with their ASIN, which, I learn, they give to every ebook they sell.  I resubmitted the form, with the hyphens in, and hope the sales numbers will accrue to the right number.

I wish I felt better about this.  There seems to be so much to get wrong, from sheer inexperience.  I'll survive, sure.  But for tonight, I just needed to vent.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Getting My Chapter Heads to Refer Back to My Table of Contents

A few minutes ago I made a noise that scared my tabby cat.

Why?  Because I've finally found the solution to having my chapter, etc., heads link back to the Table of Contents, and I was able to get rid of the underlinings on the hyperlinks and to eliminate the border around the hyperlink targets.

That's worth a yelp of joy, if anything is.

If I were a really nice, helpful indie publishing blogger I'd reproduce the code from the style sheet and the HTML right here for all to see.  But if I do it once . . .  

Well, if anyone trips over this post and is interested, leave a note in the Comments and I'll edit the post with it in.

One thing that disappoints me, though:  I joined the ebook forum at Stack Exchange last week to get the answer to this very question.  Even though I included the non-working code, no one has come up with a single suggestion for how to solve it.  One member posted a comment asking why I want to do bidirectional links on my TOC in the first place; doesn't the Kindle system take care of that?

And ya know?  Now that they mention it, I confess I've forgotten why I've been so passionate about it.  Maybe it's just that it seems dumb to have a hyperlinked table of contents that's only good when you're at the beginning of the book.  If you're going to leave it all to Kindle, why include your own TOC in the first place?

Anyway, it works.  I still have to see if I can get my chapters (all 78 of them) to nest under the division heads, but I think I'll leave that till tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Closer, Ever Closer to Publication

I'm actually getting to the point where I can say I'm close to publication.  Here's where I've gotten with my HTML formatting, as seen in the Kindle Previewer:



See those TOC links on the lower left? They all work. (The one on the lower right I hope to eliminate, so I haven't hyperlinked it yet.)

Here's my typical division and chapter head:



And fun with scene breaks. That's a stock HTML symbol, so I don't have to mess around with centering asterisks.



The song and verse quotations are formatted out, too. So I'm close to done with the formatting.

Except . . . well, there's a couple of cool features I'd like to include, and I'm still researching the code on how to do them.
  1. I'd like readers to be able to click the chapter heads, etc., and go back to the Table of Contents. So far I can get it to work only if I lose my formatting and alignment, which I'm not willing to sacrifice. I've got a question about it on the Stack Exchange Ebook forum, but no answers so far.
  2. I want something of a table of contents at the front of the book, but not a long, long, looooonnngggg list of chapter numbers. I want the reader to be able to hover over the "Division" titles in the TOC and it'll expand to reveal all the chapter titles in it. Last night I tried to implement some code from the w3 schools website, but it's so full of formatting bells and whistles (button colors and all) that it's conflicting with my styles and not working for me.
So that's where I am. I think I'll make a list of everything I have to do before I publish. But not in this post.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Adopt, Adapt, or Abandon: What to Do With Writing Advice

When I turned thirty, I decided I was old enough not to have to justify myself to people who liked to lay down the rules on how things had to be done, when their rules didn't necessarily work for me.

Like the teacher of a sewing class I took, who dictated that proper tailors/seamstresses/sewers used only one particular size needle, and all others should be thrown away.

I kept those other needles.  The one she favored worked for me in some circumstances, but not in others.  I realized that, unless she was actually planning to come to my house and rifle through my sewing kit, it wasn't necessary to argue the matter with her.  With that instructor and any other, I could adopt the practices that worked, adapt the ones that needed adjustment, and quietly abandon whatever didn't fit.

I'm more than twice thirty now, and it's too bad I didn't have the sense to follow this practice when it came to my non-writing career.  Time and again I took advice from those who were supposedly wiser and more experienced than I, and who, of course, had only my best interests in view.  If I had paid more attention to my gut and less to them, I would have kept myself out of some bad employment situations and the trajectory of my professional life would be vastly different.

On the other hand, there was some career advice I was given and didn't "hear," because I was so eager to believe that a certain job was the one for me.

Never mind.  If I'd been more sensible about listening to or reject advice on my day job, I might not be embarking on a career in writing now.

But here I am, and it's up to me to see what I'll make of it, and to use others' experience with my eyes open and my judgement engaged.

I'm thinking of this because yesterday morning I listened to a guest being interviewed on a podcast about scheduling your writing.  And tonight I was reading another, quite prolific, writer's blog posts on how one should approach writing in general.  The guy who was talking about scheduling said he wrote his X-number of words faithfully in the designated time, then shut off his mind and didn't think about writing at all outside of that.  The writer of the blog posts has strong opinions about writing and rewriting, especially on the value of generating a clean first draft, letting go, and writing the next piece.

These stood out, because usually I can see myself using the advice I get from writing gurus.  Maybe not now, but someday.  But these, no.  I've thought about it, and these nuggets of wisdom don't fit.

And that's fine.  As much as I'd like everyone to like me and approve of what I do, if I decide someone else's proven practice runs counter to who I am and how my mind works, I can smile gently and let their advice go.  E.g., a lot of my "writing" doesn't take place at my keyboard, it happens when my body's busy but my mind is free at my night job.  And as for extruding a workable draft the first time, I don't even know who my characters are the first time around!

That said, I can see how practice writing story after story after story can get you to the point where you can whip off good prose without hours and days and weeks of polishing.  Heck, for that matter I can see that if I would stop making perfectionistic edits to my WIP I could publish the blinking thing and get onto the next.

In other words, that might be advice I can adapt to how I work, or maybe, I can adapt my work practices to better serve my writing.

But instantly embracing every last piece of writing advice isn't going to do that.  A lot of it is aimed towards keeping the novice out of trouble, but you'd think it was written by the finger of God on Mount Sinai.  "Don't write prologues."  Do you realize most of the books I've checked out from the library in the past couple of years have them?  "Don't write in omniscient POV, it only leads to Narrative Intrusion."  Ditto.  Published authors love them an omniscient narrator.  "Show, don't tell."  Well, maybe, sometimes.  But not everything is worth showing, and maybe "telling" can reveal a lot about your characters and the kind of people they are.  "Get up an hour earlier in the morning and do your writing while you're fresh."  Charming, but some of us have schedules or physical limitations that prevent that.

The point is, all the advice we get is good in its way.  The question is, is it good for you and the work you're doing?  To answer that, you have to know yourself.  Those physical issues that keep you from getting up and writing at the crack of dawn they may be real impediments, or you may just be lazy.  It's up to you to be honest with yourself and decide.

Adopt what fits, adapt what needs adjusting, and abandon the rest.  Or maybe just set it aside for later.  It may come in handy, and if you've kept yourself from justifying why it simply won't work, and refrained from declaring how ridiculous a certain piece of advice is, it'll be easier to adopt or adapt it when its time has come.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Learning from My Mistakes, or Professional Book Formatting for Amateurs. Sort Of.

I need to be more regular on this blog, and I've told myself I can't read the latest Business Musings post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch over at Kriswrites.com (a high point of my week) until I've produced something of my own.

So, take this as a glorified apology for not having blogged since last autumn.  My only excuse is that I am doing the formatting on my book myself.  Which is why it's mid-way through April and I haven't yet published The Single Eye.

Yes, I know there are lovely professional services and remarkable tools out there that will do the job for me.  But I can't afford them, and besides, I know what I want and I haven't seen it available commercially. 

I've been working steadily.  Just being aware of the pitfalls in doing things myself brings out the rabid perfectionist streak in me.  I want my book, both versions of it, to look as professional as it can.

But that doesn't mean I've been working efficiently.  Oh, my, no.  Which is why it's mid-April and, despite a good three to five hours spent on this per weekday, I'm only now scenting the end of the trail.

What I've learned in the process.

  • If you're working to format a big file, split it up into sections.  There's less of a chance of corruption, and if the inner coding on one page is the issue, it won't drag your whole ms down with it.
The Single Eye, at around 145,000 words, is not a short book, and the formatted-for-print version made for a pretty hefty file.  In December I started to have issues with saving it, and in mid-January it crashed altogether.  Thank heaven I was able to remember the edits I made when the latest version of my manuscript refused to open, but several days worth of reconstruction was required.  That could have been averted by breaking the file up.
  • If you're working in Dropbox, save a copy of your latest working copy on a thumbdrive or at least in another directory on your computer.  
When my Dropbox file took a nosedive on my laptop, the desktop version went down at the same time.  And thanks to the efficiency of the Internet (she says ironically), the copy on my cloud backup service was toast as well.  Not only that, but the corruption spread somehow to other recent versions that were in the same Dropbox folder.

Thank heaven I was able to find an earlier version that wasn't messed up and restore the edits out of my memory and the ebook version.  But having to do it really slowed things down.

Which brings me to something else:
  • Assuming you're doing a print book, format it first.
Gosh, I wish I'd tumbled to that last autumn!


Why do it first?  Because you'll pick up on a lot of typos, grammatical errors, and plain old writing that needs to be revised when you're going through your print version page by page making sure your hyphens are in the right place and your bottom margins line up.  Get that done first, then when your ms is nice and clean and edited, start playing with your ebook file.  Do you really want to be like me and correct your ebook file (with all its wonderful html entities) every time you make a change?

No, you don't.

  • If you don't know how to already, learn to use Styles in your word processing program when you first compose your text.  
Doing that from the beginning would have saved me hours of work updating and correcting features like chapter titles and opening paragraphs one at a time.

What else?  
  • The best way to get your quotation marks, apostrophes, em-dashes, ellipses, and so on to look right in the ebook version is to convert them to html entities yourself. 
I've learned some effective ways to do that, but it's been another long day, and yes, I want to see what Kris has said on her blog.  If I'd been blogging about this last fall when I learned it . . .

Well, never mind.  Next time we can talk about something more cheerful, like DIY typography.

Cheers!

Friday, November 3, 2017

More Haste, Less Speed

A while back I came across the blog post series “Take Pride in Your eBook Formatting,” by  Guido Henkel. It made sense:  What comes out of your word processing program can be undependable, and you can’t assume that Kindle or whomever will make your book all pretty and error-free for you.  You know how it should look, and if you take the time to learn some basic HTML, you can guarantee it’s published online looking that way. 

Not only that, but you’ll have an ebook file you can use on any platform, instead of having to come up with a separate format (and a separate ISBN) for Kindle, Kobo, etc.

So I bookmarked the whole series and went on to buy the extended version of Mr. Henkel’s blog series, his book The Zen of eBook Formatting.  

It hasn’t exactly been Zen for me, unless Zen entails hard work and struggle.  Instructions for Word don’t necessarily work for WordPerfect, and in several cases I’ve had to research out a work-around.  And even as I’ve inquired and probed about the best way to get my HTML conversion done, I’ve had colleagues online, both in the WordPerfect and the writing communities, tell me not to bother: WP’s HTML conversion facility is good enough, Kindle’s conversion is good enough, etc., etc.

But I want my debut novel to look a certain way, and I’m taking responsibility for it.

And I’m making progress.  

Or else, I thought I was.

Why the ambiguity?

Because I am an idiot. A week or two ago I figured out how to use find-and-replace within WordPerfect to substitute html entities for the WP code, and I was like a skier on a downhill run. Wheeeee!!! The only place I really got slowed down was with the curly apostrophes and quotation marks. I have a lot of dialogue, but what could I do?  I couldn’t find any way to do a find-and-replace that would understand which marks were right hand and which were left.  Not in WordPerfect, not in my text editor.  So there I was, putting them in, first the left single quotes, then the right, then starting on the doubles in the Prologue, left, right, soldiering, soldiering on.

And then it hit me:

Kid, you’re doing content edits while you’re doing the formatting. And you can’t remember, can you, what those edits were. Meaning the only “final” version of the text you have is this one with code all over it for the ebook.

Ohhhhhhhh, joy.

So I had to plug my entire, massively-coded manuscript into an online reverse converter and get it decoded.  Then run a comparison between the reconverted doc and the last WYSIWYG file I had saved on my computer, to bring the edits to the surface.

I got the review done a couple of days ago and saved it as the Master novel doc, in a separate directory. No, I won’t be able to resist making changes in the formatting copy; I’ll be correcting any typos I find, at the least. But I’m resolved that whatever edits I make, I will immediately make them in the master file as well. And so far I have.

For what it’s worth, most of the changes have been eliminating lines where I tell and then show. And I changed the first sentence of one chapter that began with an ellipse, because how are ya gonna do a drop cap on that?

I have learned a lot, no doubt about it.  The Zen book has been useful.  So has the copy of Murach’s HTML5 and CSS3 someone lent me.

But in the end, the most important thing I’ve learned might be that I don’t want to do it by hand.  Maybe the most efficient thing would be to plug the whole manuscript into a conversion program and get the quotation marks and diacriticals put into HTML that way. I’d have to go back and put in the italics by hand because those don’t convert, but oh, well.

(And please don’t point out that I spent all day Thursday putting the small caps back in at the chapter beginnings, and the online app won’t convert those either and I’ll have to do them all over . . . )

I’ll get this under my belt. I will. And it’s going to look pretty, yes, it will. So there.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Cover as Poem

Subsequent to my last post where I said my cover design for The Single Eye was finished, I decided it was too dark and spent the next week lightening it up.

I now have a GIMP file marked "FINAL."  I've even layer-merged and flattened it and exported it as a .jpg.  But . . . I also saved a version with all the layers available for further manipulation.  If I have to.

Yeah, I'm hopeless.  Especially because I'm still not sure I have the exact shade of blue right, and I keep feeling I have to get it perfect.

And my only hope for escaping perfectionism is to think how book cover design is like writing a poem.

Think about it.

A poem uses figures of speech, allusion, wordplay, and so on to evoke ideas and sensations in the reader.  Its meaning enters through the heart and the gut and makes its way up to the brain.  Poetry is not propositional or literal, and its communication of truth is all the more powerful because of that.

A good book cover does the same.  It appeals to the subconscious and invites you without words to click on it or to take it in your hand and open it up.  You think "That's intriguing" without precisely knowing why.

And book covers are like poems in that with each there are any number of ways that inner pull can be produced.

The way I've been fretting over my cover design since early May you'd think I believed there is Only One Perfect Cover for any one book.  I'm not the only one who labor under this burden.  I've been under a lot of pressure from some fellow-authors (it's always fellow-authors) who tell me I have to hire a pro for this, as if any one person could, just by virtue of their being a professional, generate the cover I need.  This is ridiculous on the face of it.  Books are rebranded and covers redesigned over and over as new editions are published.  Are we supposed to believe that only one of those is the foreordained right one and woe to the rest?

Absurd.

No, the challenge is to get this particular cover to evoke the book, just as a poet crafts this particular poem to express the subject he's writing his verses on.  Is there only one poem that can be written on love?  How about war?  How about the futility of this earthly existence (cue violins)?  Of course not.  All these things can have an infinite number of poems written on them.

They need to fit the subject, of course.  But within that framework the poet strives to make her poem as internally-consistent and as perfect an expression of love or war or futility-of-human-existence it possibly can be.

A book cover is the same.  Yes, you want to follow genre conventions.  Put pink frills and flowing script on a noir murder mystery and you'll end up with some pretty annoyed readers.  But once overall genre expectations are met, your cover has no need to be uniquely perfect, only to be well-proportioned, expressive, and consistent within itself.  

And thanks to advent of the ebook, if I should think up a new design that is even more that than what I have now, I can easily switch the new cover out.