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)

Smashwords: Invisible Goofies and Blue Meanies

(Part One in previous post)

Okay, so there I was. Smashwords had simultaneously translated my book to multiple e-book formats and put it up on Smashwords for sale, and I discovered that all of the text in the book was bright blue. Not just text that’s okay in blue, like the links in the table of contents–everything.

Now when you publish at Smashwords, you get put up in the “new book” section on their main page, held up in front of all the rest–for about a minute or two.  Forget “fifteen minutes of fame,” I had maybe ten, and my e-book was printed in blue ink.

If I fixed it, I could upload a new version immediately. But what was wrong?  None of the styles I was using in the document said “blue color” on the font. It was the usual “automatic” for color, which for years has basically meant “black.”

I changed the font colors for all the main text styles I was using from “automatic” to “black,” trying to force it, and uploaded the file again.  When the Meatgrinder translation came back, the text was still blue.

A frantic search through the Smashwords FAQ got me this question: “My entire book is in red font (or some other unintended color) in HTML, EPUB and MOBI. Why?” Their answer involved digging deep into the Style menus, to where the “all styles” list hangs out. I discovered there was a whole bunch of weird styles stuck in my document, many of which I wasn’t using at all.

One of these unused styles was “Body Text,” and the color was blue! I deleted it. I also deleted a red one just to be safe. This time when I uploaded the Word file and downloaded the e-book translations, the text was the proper black color. Whew.

Just another example of the infamous “Invisible Goofy,” my name for a setting or formatting glitch that never shows up in an original document, but causes havoc when you convert the file to another form or transmit it somewhere.

Minus ten points to Smashwords for making me fix this mess while my book was already “live.” Although I understand why they do it that way, it’s like standing up on a billboard fixing a big typo while everyone’s down below looking up at you and taking pictures.

But, plus fifty points to Smashwords for some really robust customer support documentation. I found out all sorts of things about formatting Word for EPUB that I never knew before, and they seem to have answers for even the most obscure issues.

Castle Falcon is awaiting review for wider distribution to other markets, but I’ve already sold one copy off the Smashwords page. Since I didn’t have to pay a nickel to do all this, I’m already money ahead!

Invisible Goofy and Blue Meanie

And now, Smashwords

At the suggestion of a fellow writer, I decided to look into Smashwords to distribute Castle Falcon to some venues I don’t have yet (like iBook and Kobo).

The Smashwords site was simple enough. They have an e-book conversion engine they call “Meatgrinder.” It translates a Word file (.doc, not .docx) into multiple versions, including EPUB, Mobi, LRF, PDP, and others.

The annoying catch is that you have to sign up with them to publish before they let you use it. I’d gotten used to being able to tweak my conversions at places like Amazon before actually tossing the book out there for publishing, so having the “conversion” and “publish” step be simultaneous was a little sporty for me. I’m guessing this is because Smashwords doesn’t like the idea of their fancy conversion engine being used to create all these nice e-book files and then have people download and run off with them.

The first step was creating a Word file that was formatted properly as input for Meatgrinder. This was new for me, because I’d used Adobe Indesign and special plug-ins to generate all my previous printed and e-book files. I won’t go into the details, but the free Smashwords Style Guide was immensely useful for someone who’d never created a Word e-book file before.

I spent an evening on the Word file, tested the hyperlinks for Table of Contents and Endnotes, grabbed a .JPG of my cover (a requirement), and then filled out the online form to sign up for Smashwords.

I uploaded the Word file and cover file, and watched as Meatgrinder did the translations in front of me. It was kind of cool to watch each file version in the list turn green and say “completed.” I was done, and published. All in one go.

There were a few more things to clean up. I priced the book the same as my Kindle and Nook versions. I added some information to my Author Page, like a bio, my website links, and a couple of other things. I went to the Channel Manager link on my Dashboard, and opted out of distribution to Amazon and Nook. I added an ISBN number, which is required for distribution to Apple and Sony (I still have a supply of my own, but Smashwords will supply one with them as publisher for free).

When things settled down, I downloaded samples of the various files from my new book page to put in my reader software and make sure everything worked. The formatting on EPUB and Mobi was just fine, except for one thing:

All the text through the whole damn book was blue.

Next time: Invisible Goofies and Blue Meanies.

The wider road of publishing

I read some posts on Facebook today lamenting how publishing has gotten to be a soul-killing mess, bookstores and libraries are going into the toilet, and other things. In some ways these are legitimate complaints.

Here’s the bottom line, and I’m putting it right up on top:

A: The publishing industry has changed a lot.

B: It’s not all bad. Not by a long shot.

In the old days (not that long ago) you had mostly the major publishers and the bookstores. You had a few authors that made it big, some authors that made a decent living (fewer than you’d think, even among well-known names), a boatload of authors with unsold manuscripts collecting dust, and a mighty boatload of authors who never got to the point of getting a manuscript finished.

If you were a writer, there was nothing in front of you but a line of hurdles. You’d bust your butt jumping one, and there was another one. And another. Some of them were a lot higher than others, and if you couldn’t make it past one you sat on the track with nowhere else to go.

I look at the track now, and something interesting has happened. The publishers, agents, and the the rest are still there. The hurdles are still there, and you can still jump them. But the track itself has gotten a hell of a lot wider, and now if you want you can go up to some of these hurdles and…just go around them.

My first book, Castle Falcon, went the standard route of agents and publishers, and it didn’t work out (long story). The book could have sat there and molded as I went on to the next ones. But a year or so ago, I took a look and saw that I had new options that my favorite authors of my younger days could only dream of.

I published the book myself. It took some learning, and the messy details can be found elsewhere on this blog (go down to that tag cloud on the sidebar, and click that great big “Self-Publishing” tag).

I made a POD softcover book (Createspace), I made e-books (Kindle, Nook), and I even made a real live Lulu hardcover with a dust jacket (mostly just because I could). I put all of it out for sale on ready-made systems that let people buy them over their computers.

I didn’t have to spend thousands getting crates of books printed and try to figure out how to get them in stores while they sat in my garage becoming rat farms. Remember when that’s what “self-published” used to mean?

It cost me time and effort, and I was fortunate to already have some computing tools and a bit of artistic skill, but none of it cost me a dime.

Am I getting rich now? Is this one of those stories you read about the self-publisher who struck gold?

Hell, no. I’m not even making a living at it. Sales are almost nil, trickling at best. But they’re there. Yog’s Law is in force, and the money is trickling toward me, not away.

And I’ve got readers. Not a lot of readers, but real readers who paid to see my stuff. My work isn’t languishing on a shelf or in a drawer in dusty spiralbound drafts. That’s not wild success, but it ain’t chopped liver either.

It isn’t just self-publishing that’s changing things. In the regular publishing industry the Big Boys might look moribund, but I look out there and see small publishers coming out of the woodwork in all directions. I used to go onto Absolute Write’s Bewares and Background Checks and it was almost all agents. In the past couple of years it seems like the new entries are all publishers. Little publishers, trying out the new wider road, and providing even more options for writers to get their books out there.

It’s not just regular books either. I read comics, and in the old days if you had writing or drawing talent, you worked for one of the big comic companies or basically, you didn’t get published. There were some notable exceptions, but not many.

Now there’s online comics, and some amazing talent is finding an audience. Anyone can set up a webpage to get their work out there. WordPress and others have specific formats just for online comics. Many of these artists are even using the new book publishing tools and things like Kickstarter to get their work into actual print. Again, getting there by another road, going around the old hurdles and gatekeepers. Are they getting rich? Hell, no. But they have fans, and readers, and what money there is still trickles toward the artists.

Yes, publishing has changed. The old routes haven’t gone away, and some of the hurdles are even higher than they used to be, but the road is wide now, miles wide, with plenty of new routes.

I’m still trying out the regular route to get my other two books published, jumping those damn hurdles. Oh, yeah, it would still rock to see my books in a real bookstore. Surprised? But if they don’t make it, I’m not left sitting on the track in front of a hurdle I couldn’t clear.

An angel, or maybe my Muse, told me once that no writer is a failure who has readers.

I’m telling you that any readers are better than no readers, and any money is better than no money.

Now tie up those track shoes, and get that manuscript out of the drawer.

“Choosing Your Pub Path”

An excellent summary of the publishing decision process.

The Daily Dahlia

I’d really like someone to tell me to my face that publishing is dying, because I haven’t laughed in someone’s face in a really long time, and I miss that feeling. To think publishing is dying is to be walking around with your eyes closed, to have failed to stop the Q-tip when it met resistance. Publishing is evolving, changing, and in many ways, even growing. And as a result, we have some lovely and scary things called choices.

It used to be that there were really big houses, and then less big houses, and that was kind of it. Sure, you could go with a vanity press if you had serious money to burn and either true belief no one would know the difference or apathy whether anyone would, but none of those books ever ended up on my shelf. (Or on my ereader, because they didn’t exist! That’s…

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Kindle Direct Publishing launches beta of cover creation tool

Article at “The Digital Reader.”

One of the hardest parts of self-publishing is generating a good cover, either for paper books or digital ones. Places like Createspace and Lulu, among others, already have “cover wizards.”

You can certainly get a workable cover out of these “wizards,” but in my opinion it’s worth the effort to learn how to generate the artwork yourself, or at least hire it done. For one thing, there may be rights issues involved in reusing a cover created by a particular format’s “wizard” for another format. For another, you’re never going to get as much originality from a “wizard” as you can from real artwork.

Artwork for paper books, using the “one piece cover” art method, is hard to lay out. A one-piece cover is what you get by basically flattening the book out, or in the case of a book with a dust jacket, by removing the dust jacket and flattening it out. It’s easy to see that lining up the spine, end papers, and everything else can be tricky. Even changing the number of pages can affect this kind of cover design as the spine area gets larger or smaller.

Cover artwork for Kindle (or other e-books) is much simpler. It’s just a single JPG picture with art and title text. Last time I checked, preferred sizing for Kindle covers was 1563 pixels on the short side and 2500 pixels on the long side.

If you’re planning to do a lot of this kind of thing, it may be worth it to invest the time and money in learning Photoshop, InDesign, or other professional publication software. Adobe’s “Creative Suite” isn’t cheap, but it could be a good investment.

Embedding fonts on Kindle

I loaded a test version of my Zorya manuscript onto my old keyboard Kindle.  I used the same process I’d used before:  imported my basic Word file into Adobe Indesign, made the proper format changes, added a table of contents, and then used Amazon’s Kindle converter plugin for Indesign to create the .mobi file.  Then I just mailed it to my Amazon Kindle e-mail address, and in a short time it showed up on my Kindle.

When I opened the book, the font looked thin and spidery, and hard to read. I checked the Kindle’s display control panel, and noticed a line I’d never seen before: “Published Font: On/Off” I switched it off, and the text popped in nice and clear.

I checked a few purchased books, and none of them had that line in the control panel. Then I checked Castle Falcon, the one I’d published to Kindle before. The “published font” line was there, and it was switched off! I turned it on, and got the same spidery font. Yipes. That version is out there on sale.

I went back and made new Kindle files of both books using the plug-in, and this time switched off “embed fonts.” Tests of the results show they display nicely, and there’s no “published font” toggle confusing things.  I uploaded an update of Castle Falcon to Kindle Direct Publishing, and will try to get Amazon to tell purchasers the update is available.

So, if you’re making your own Kindle books, I recommend not embedding the fonts unless there’s some special reason they have to be in there. For most of us who are just writing regular normal-text books, the Kindle reader default font ought to work just fine.

Online comics and art

Fair warning:  I’m not putting any links in this post.  I wouldn’t know where to start with great examples, and I wouldn’t know where to stop.

I just want to point out that the Internet and computer drawing tools have combined, and art and cartooning talent is busting out in all directions.   I have a bookmark list of about two dozen online comics that I check frequently, and they’re all great.

The kicker is that for me, this list could easily be fifty to a hundred links long.  Most online comics have ads for other online comics, many of them excellent.  It would be real easy for me to kill a lot of my day reading them.  It’s tough enough staying away from the Internet when I have useful things to do.

It’s a lot like book self-publishing in that the tools for getting your work out there have never been better or easier to use.  Will some people break out into paying careers doing this kind of thing?  Sure.  We’ve already seen that in the book and e-book self-publishing industry, and there’s no reason we won’t be seeing it someday for online art and cartooning.

You’ll never know unless you try.