EPUB progress

I had a number of kludge approaches to creating EPUB versions of my books (largely documented on my blog, particularly during 2012. Look under the “Self-Publishing” tag). Mostly, I was converting from Adobe InDesign to mobi with the Kindle InDesign plug-in converter, and from mobi to EPUB with the Calibre e-book management program.

The resulting files were good enough for many applications, but routinely failed the EPUB Validator check on a few issues.

After my Smashwords publishing experience, I began trying to perfect my technique for converting from Word files to EPUB. Unfortunately, outside of Smashwords, this still required an intermediate HTML step to make an EPUB file on Calibre, so I was still getting some bugs.

Now, Calibre has come up with an update that allows direct import of Word .docx files for conversion. When I combined this new tool with the techniques for building easy-to-convert Word documents that I learned from the Smashwords Style Guide, the result was a nice, clean EPUB file that passed validation with flying colors. And about frigging time, too.

This is all probably a big yawn for the HTML wizards out there who already do a great job by grinding through the actual code, but for code idiots like me, it was a godsend.

I’ve updated my buggy Nook file and sent it off to Nook Press.  Now I could probably do a direct upload for iBook too, and finally pass their strict checks, but I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble to chew through the whole Apple Author program and everything when I’ve already got iBook access through Smashwords.

As usual, a lot of the hassle for me was making sure the table of contents worked right, as well as the endnotes. Then there were annoying bugs like a missing blank line under one (and only one!) chapter heading, or two chapters that had no nice gap between the end of one chapter and the start of the next (chapter heading shows up in the middle of a page). This was all particularly bothersome since I had to submit the Word file to Smashwords and their “Meatgrinder” converter, and then make sure all the file types were readable. If all the formats worked except one (usually the mobi), I’d have to tweak the Word file and upload the whole thing again.

It’s much easier when I’m doing all the conversion work locally. I can debug before I send the final product out.

Bradbury Kindle books: wonderful text and hack covers.

Steven Paul Leiva, a friend and colleague of Bradbury’s, comments here.

More “back of the bus” treatment of e-book backlists, I guess.

Particularly annoying to me was the scrapping of the Charles Addams cover for “From the Dust Returned.” Fortunately, there’s a nice hard copy on my shelf with the full front-to-back illustration.

Here’s the hard copy cover:

Charles Addams cover for print version of

And here’s the Kindle version:

Kindle cover for


As a Kindle user who would love to see many of my old shelf favorites on my Kindle as well, I wish I could say this was rare, but too many publishers (big companies, too) just hack out their backlist, assuming they bother at all. I’m not talking about obscure authors, either.

I wish I had a nickel for every e-book I have that was obviously shoved through a scanner/OCR process and put together quickly, apparently with no final proofreading. OCR typos are quite easy to spot.

This isn’t the worst example I’ve seen of a cheesy “make do” cover, either.

This half-assed approach is annoying–but at least understandable–for two or three dollar e-books created by amateurs (legally) from old authors in the public domain (Kipling and such.) I’m not sure what the excuse is for an author in print whose rights are still held by major companies.

I’ll take what I can get, and I understand that the backlist isn’t a major profit driver, but geeze.


“Kill your darlings”

“The advice to ‘kill your darlings’ has been attributed to various authors across the galaxies…and Mister Heist hated them all.

Why teach young writers to edit out whatever it is they feel most passionate about? Better to kill everything in their writing they DON’T love as much.

Until only the darlings remain.”

- Brian K. Vaughan, writer, in Saga #17

Oswald Heist

The late D. Oswald Heist, Author
(Illustration by Fiona Staples)

The 2013 Bulwer-Lytton winners

Listed by category.

As in earlier contests, I think a few of these are actually pretty good, especially if they hadn’t been forced into a single sentence. Might be one reason I’m having trouble selling books…

A few favorites:

Betty had eyes that said come here, lips that said kiss me, arms and torso that said hold me all night long, but the rest of her body said, “Fillet me, cover me in cornmeal, and fry me in peanut oil”; romance wasn’t easy for a mermaid.
- Jordan Kaderli, Dallas, TX

Martha Lessen broke horses – not in the same way she broke her mother’s good china, nor the way she broke the privy door out back of the bunkhouse, not even the way she broke the heart of Gunther Svenson, which, in that case, is quite surprising since one would think breaking a horse and breaking an ass would be quite similar.
- Kevin Fry, Callaway, MD

It was such a beautiful night; the bright moonlight illuminated the sky, the thick clouds floated leisurely by just above the silhouette of tall, majestic trees, and I was viewing it all from the front row seat of the bullet hole in my car trunk.
- Tonya Lavel, Barbados, West Indies

He had a way with women that was at first endearing, then gradually engendered caution and finally outright rejection, like potato salad at a summer picnic.
- Paul Sutcliffe, Pittsburgh, PA

Our tale begins with the encounter of two gentlemen; I’m going to describe the second gentleman first.
- Mark Donnelly, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

For some reason I really got a kick out of that last one.

Rick Riordan on publishing “connections”

“My point: no number of connections will get a bad first novel published.

“The flipside to this may seem radical: A good novel will find an outlet one way or another, whether you know someone or not.”

Read the rest of it here.

“So What’s the Secret Formula?

“There isn’t one. There is no shortcut or path to success that will circumvent years of hard work and uncertainty.”

(Thanks to Jennifer Malone for flagging this.)

The first 250 words, Part Two

A while ago I did a post about judging a book by its first 250 words (it’s common for writing contests to pick this number for your writing sample). I showed that some famous books have beginnings that don’t really hit on the substance of the book. On the other hand, I showed that some books do manage to jump right into the meat of the book with the first 250 words. In either case, it’s interesting.

Since then, I’ve looked at some other well-known and best-selling books. After the break, another set of examples.

Continue reading

Author Nick Spalding’s top 10 self-publishing tips

BBC article here.

All of those ten things are excellent observations. I have some comments on a few of them:

2. Be yourself. It’s hard sometimes to watch other writers riding the current Big Wave while you’re paddling around on your board somewhere behind it. It’s easy to think that if you were only writing the kind of thing they’re writing, you’d be hanging ten right up there with them. The problem with that is, as Spalding says, if you’re not writing what you’re comfortable writing, it’s not going to be very good. In addition, the nature of publishing is that by the time you hack your version of the Current Big Wave out, that particular wave will most likely have already flattened out on the beach and soaked into the sand.

Write what works for you. You’ll know it, and so will readers. Who knows? Maybe the next Big Wave will be the one you start.

3. Find a muse. My wife reads all my stuff, sometimes dozens of times. She catches mistakes I miss, gives me advice, and most importantly, keeps me going when I would probably give up. She’s a much better Muse than the cheesy mythological one the other gods assigned me, and if I’m ever a successful writer, she’ll be a major reason for it.

4. Read On Writing by Stephen King. I heartily agree. It’s on my Kindle, and I have a hard copy somewhere too.

6. Remember that books aren’t burgers. Spalding is right, of course. Nobody should be burying their readers in crap. But that being said, almost all of the most successful self-published writers I’ve seen have a prodigious output. The key, of course, is the ability to produce good writing very fast. There are writers who can. I’m afraid I’m not one of them. A book a year would be prodigious output for me.

10. Read comic books. Well, yeah.

(Thanks to Neil Ansell for the link)