Sunday, January 12, 2014

Follow-up on Self-publishing

Once you have your book in epub form, publishing it on all of the major outlets is pretty much a snap, so my novel with an alternate view of the Rapture and Tribulation, The Remnant is now available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Kobo, and in print at Amazon. We shall see how it does.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Venturing into Self-publishing

Well, I did it. I entered the wonderful world of self-publishing. My second novel (let's not even get started about the first one which does still exist in two hand-written notebooks) has been sitting on my hard drive for a couple of years, untouched. After eight years of work, I just couldn't chuck it, so I decided to put it on the market and see what happens. This, of course, required converting it into a format that the dear folks at Amazon would accept.

There are entire books written on this subject and I picked up a few of them. I won't try here to go into all of the detail, but will give you a taste of what the process was like. I started with an MS Word file with the entire manuscript in it. As is probably true of most manuscript files like this, it was messy. A few of the pubs that talk about formatting for ebooks suggest that you copy and paste the entire text into a new file omitting all formatting (in Word, do a Paste Special, paste as plain text). This might work if you haven't used italics or bold text much, but otherwise, you're going to have a heck of a time putting all that formatting back. I didn't do this. What I did do was go to the Format menu and select Styles & Formatting to open the style sidebar and then use a special function in Word (I'm still using Office XP, so the commands may be different in 2007 and 2013) that allows you to "Select text with similar formatting". Once selected, the text could be quickly changed to the style I wanted.

This is crucial. All the converters work from the Style of a paragraph. So all of your text paragraphs should have the "normal" style and all of your chapter headings should be in one of the "Heading" styles. Getting the text paragraphs into "normal" style required doing the "Select text with similar formatting" and scrolling through the entire document looking for paragraphs that were not selected. Then I would do the "Select..." on that paragraph and change all paragraphs like it to "normal". Occasionally, I would come across a paragraph that was "normal" with something else added. Just clicking "normal" in the styles didn't change these. To get them to be just "normal" I had to change them to an entirely different style and then change them back to "normal".

Chapter and section headings had to be done manually. I scrolled through the document, put the cursor in the heading and chose one of the "Heading" styles. I had four different levels of headings: Parts 1-3, Chapters, Years, and locations. Each of these used a different level of heading. The three parts of the book were done in "Heading1". The Chapters were in "Heading2" etc. It is important to use "Heading1" not "H1" because some of the conversion programs don't handle them interchangeably.

Once you've standardized the formatting of your document, you need to save it in ".docx" format. If you're not using the latest version of Word, there is a converter you can add to Word 2000/XP/2003 that will do the conversion. Search for "Microsoft Office Compatibility Pack" to get it. It's free.

The last thing you need before conversion is a cover for your book. I used a graphic of a painting by 16th century artist Hieronymus Bosch. Make sure any art you use is in the public domain or purchase it. There are several sites on the web where you can buy the rights to a wide variety of photographs and drawings for prices in the range of $50. With my ancient copy of Paint Shop Pro, I added the title and my name to the picture. That completed the cover for the ebook.

From this point, you need to get some conversion software. If you want to do the conversion process the cheapest possible way, you will need to download "Calibre". Calibre is free. It will catalog all the ebooks on your drive, has a reader, and performs conversions from various formats. The conversion process is fairly straight-forward. My problem with this software was that it didn't incorporate the cover into the format for Amazon (.mobi). It did incorporate it into the format that is the standard for everyone else (.epub). Later, I found I could have used the .epub file and Amazon would have converted it for me. As such, I recommend Calibre.

I did try another piece of software, Jutoh. Jutoh costs $39 and has a few bells and whistles that Calibre doesn't. It also has one drawback, it has a far less intuitive interface for creating the internal Table of Contents for the book than Calibre does. Calibre allows you to designate three levels of heading for your Table of Contents while Jutoh only lets you designate one. Jutoh will let you create a perfectly formatted Table of Contents that is placed inside the text, but the one the reader gets when they press the Table of Contents icon on their reader is lame. What Jutoh did do correctly was incorporate the book cover into the .mobi file, so I went with a lame Table of Contents that points to the internal Table of Contents. I hope Jutoh clears this up some day. Their product is otherwise excellent and they respond quickly to email questions.

Once the files are finished, you need to create an account on Kindle Direct Publishing and fill in all of the forms. It costs nothing. You can also get the book into print through their Createspace service. This is also free, including the ISBN which would, otherwise, cost you $125. Do the ebook first and you'll get an invitation for Creatspace.

I won't try to tell you the process was without frustration. I spent over a week on it part time. I could probably do another one in a couple of days now that I've got the hang of it. It is simple enough for someone with only a good working knowledge of MS Word to do, so don't spend your money having a service do it when you may never get that cost back. Remember, for every book that makes it in the virtual world, there are hundreds that never see a sale.

And in case you're wondering, my novel, The Remnant, is now available.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Followup on NaNoWriMo

It's now December. I finished National Novel Writing Month with a word total of over 57,000 words or the equivalent of 99 pages single spaced. Not all of it is good. Much of it will be useless, but what the exercise does is to force you to silence your inner editor and critic and just write. I recommend NaNoWriMo for any of you who find it difficult to get the words down on paper or who feel they have to get it right the first time. There is a time for editing, but it's not while you're in the flow of writing. There will be time for that later. This is what NaNoWriMo teaches and it is a valuable lesson.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

November is National Novel Writing Month

We're on the verge of another National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Every November, ambitious writers take on the challenge of producing 50,000 words in one month. That averages out to 1,667 words per day. And a lot of them actually do it.

Last year, I was one of the winners of the Writers of the Future contest. Winning such a prestigious contest should have been a spur to produce ever more writing. Instead, I ended up with what I later found out was a fairly common after effect of such good news, imposter syndrome. I couldn't believe that I had bested thousands of other unpublished writers and ended up blocked. I did almost no writing for four months. In October, I decided to sign myself up for NaNoWriMo just a way to force myself to start writing again. Taking an idea I'd come up with during a writing conference a year earlier, I started a new novel with only a vague notion of where it might be going. In 30 days writing I cranked out 42,000 words, finishing up part 1 of the novel.

The novel continues being written. It is now over 190,000 words and has been split into two books. This November I'll work on it again and hope to add another 50,000 words and maybe figure out where this story ends. Yes, a year later I'm still writing it seat-of-the-pants and the story continues to evolve.

NaNoWriMo is a good way to kickstart your novel. I highly recommend it. In addition to the personal incentive it gives, you can have writing buddies online and there are local NaNoWriMo support groups. The FaceBook page for our local group in tiny, rural Humboldt County has 101 subscribers, so writing your novel doesn't have to be a lonely pursuit.

Good luck to all who take the challenge. May you be a NaNoWriMo winner.

Friday, September 6, 2013

An open letter to Congress concerning Syria

The proposed cruise missle strikes on Syria are based on flawed logic. The most serious flaw is the assumption that parties in the Middle East will react in what we as Westerners consider to be a logical fashion to the application of force. Have they ever? Did the Taliban in Afghanistan? Did the Sunni in Iraq? And if you go further in history, did the Arabs react with the kind of logical submission we expect of Syria when they were confronted with overwhelming force from the Ottoman Empire during World War I? Did the Afghans submit to the mighty British Empire in the 1830s? No, they fought on. We continue to miss the lessons of history both past and present. Force will not achieve our goals, only diplomacy and negotiation will.

For some unfathomable reason our nation seems to believe that just because Bashir Assad was educated in England, he is, somehow, a Western individual. He is not. His mindset is Middle Eastern. He believes that unless he fights on to the bitter end, his Alawite brothers and sisters will be slaughtered by the Sunni majority and he is probably correct. As long as his people are in danger, he has no incentive to end his fight and every incentive to continue fighting more desperately using ever more force and killing ever more of those he considers the enemy of his people. Attacks from the outside will only increase his desperation and his incentive to use ever more intense force to end the struggle quickly. Obama's plan will backfire horribly just as the use of force has backfired every time in the Middle East. We will end up in yet another quagmire. Need I remind you how much the quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq have already cost us? Our nation is mired in debt and unable to educate, house, feed and care for its own people because of the treasure we have poured into Middle Eastern rat holes through ill planned military fiascos. Let's not do it yet again. Syria requires concerted international diplomacy not reckless military bluster brought on by failed posturing about "red lines."

The nation cannot afford another war. The world cannot afford another war. And another war will not accomplish any worthwhile goal -- history, recent and past demonstrates this clearly. Encourage the President to take bold diplomatic action in international forums, but vote against this reckless, hopelessly ill thought out military action.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The discipline of 99 word fiction

I was introduced to the concept of the 99 word story when our local free paper, the North Coast Journal ran its 2012 short fiction contest. Writing a 99 word story requires a unique discipline. Every word counts -- more than this, every word must count for the maximum it possibly can. I start the exercise with a concept which I let roll around in my head for a while. The concept can only be a vignette but it must have a twist to complete it and make it memorable. I type the story in and check the word count. They started anywhere between 110 and 124 words. Then the tough part begins: How to pair the story down to only the necessary words. A word here, a word there makes all the difference. My first entry, about a housewife finally enjoying herself, was a finalist.


Harry

Harry really was right, single malt Scotch was better than blended. Lois swirled the snifter and let the potent fragrance tickle her nose. She closed her eyes and sipped. It tasted of caramel, smoke and the pungence of 100 proof. Lois grabbed the bottle from Harry's private cabinet and settled in Harry's favorite easy chair. In the humidor beside it rested Harry's illegally imported Cuban cigars which she would eventually compost. Harry had spent a lot on his little pleasures. That was over. Tonight she'd bask in the warmth of his Scotch. Tomorrow she'd worry about the blood stains.


The slow pace of the story was resolved in a startling conclusion. In 2013, I wrote a 99 word sequel to the original 99 word story.


Lois

Lois danced around the sofa, gliding and twirling. Harry would have told her to act her age - old poop.

A knock interrupted her. A police officer greeted her. "We were wondering about Harry, ma'am."

"So was I," she said, hands over heart. "Have you questioned the people from that meth house down the street?"

The officer cocked his head. "Why? Harry is a pillar of the community."

Lois shook her head slowly. "Always the ones who fool you."

"We'll check." He left.

Lois smiled, danced round the sofa again and headed downstairs to finish the new basement wall.


Writing 99 word fiction is a good exercise in restraining verbosity which I can always use.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Scientology and the Writers of the Future contest

An article from last year's Village Voice about links between Scientology and the Writers of the Future contest was posted recently in a Facebook group in order to dissuade people from entering the contest. Let me start by saying, I'm prejudiced. I was one of the twelve winners of the contest in 2012. As I sit here writing this blog post, my trophy from the contest is on a shelf in front of me, the cover art from my story hangs on the wall alongside a picture of me, for the one and probably only time in my life, wearing a tuxedo. The contest offered me a great opportunity to break into the Sci-Fi business that I am pursuing now; an opportunity I would never have had without the contest. Had I refrained from entering the contest because of its association with L. Ron Hubbard, I would have missed that opportunity.

The Village Voice article points out that, in spite of claims made to contestants to the contrary, Scientology may be helping to finance the contest in order to keep Hubbard's name in front of the public in a good light. I don't doubt that they are correct in this. Hubbard's name is plastered everywhere across the contest and on the anthology of the works of the winners. He did, after all, start the contest and set up its continuing financing. How is this different from Alfred Nobel's (who made his fortune from inventing dynamite) name on the Nobel Prizes, or Joseph Pulitzer (some times accused of yellow journalism) on the Pulitzer Prizes, or Andrew Carnegie (the steel baron and not a champion of labor) on all those libraries? If you endow it, you get your name on it. We were asked by the people at Author Services (who probably were Scientologists) to thank Hubbard in our acceptance speeches; I didn't and that was fine.

Perhaps there could have been a less controversial person to endow the contest, but, then again, the writers of the so called "Golden Age" of Sci-Fi were, on the whole, an old boy's club of womanizers and misogynists. Heinlein's wife, if a recent best selling book is to be believed, slept with Hubbard and Heinlein didn't care. Would you rather have had a church-going author set it up? How about, say, Orson Scott Card? He's a nice fellow, I'm told — if you're not gay. Real Science-Fiction writers are real people with real problems — Hubbard included. Anyone else could have set up the contest, but Hubbard had the foresight and generosity to pay-it-forward and create a venue for discovering the next generation of Sci-Fi talent. For that I thank him.

The prestige of the Writers of the Future contest is not based on Hubbard's name — quite the contrary. The prestige of the contest is based on the number of entries (not published but estimated in the thousands), the quality of the judging staff (none of whom are Scientologists), and the quality of the winning pieces which, I'd like to think, is excellent. None of the winning authors in my year was a Scientologist. The list of authors who got their start through this contest is like a who's who of Sci-Fi. Dissuading talented new writers from entering the contest because of its connections to Hubbard and Scientology is a disservice, cutting them off from one of their best chances of breaking into the business.