Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My Top Four Formatting Tips

The past month was a major technological challenge for me. I formatted my new book Unwritten Rules for both ebook and paperback. Yaay! I had been dreading the process ever since I decided to self-publish several months ago. I could have hired someone to do it, but I’m stubborn and hate to back away from a challenge. Many of my friends had conquered the formatting beast, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do the same.

I’ve always enjoyed learning new skills, but formatting is a bit like Dorothy Parker’s quote about writing—“I hate writing. I love having written.” Well, I hate formatting but love having learned how to do it. At least partially. I’m going to be upfront and admit I only prepared my book for Amazon through KDP and CreateSpace. I wouldn’t mind having it available in other formats and channels, but that’s a much more complex process and I need time to recover from this experience before I even consider tackling the Smashwords “meatgrinder”.

As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m not the least tech oriented. I’ve never had computer instruction of any kind. I never needed more than the bare basics for my job or my writing, so that’s exactly what I picked up. The whole concept of html, etc. makes me break out in hives. However, I did manage to launch my book into the world in two formats, so I thought I’d share a few things I learned along the way.

  1. Educate yourself. I knew I didn’t know anything, so I read as much as I could before I started. The most useful source by far was Catherine Ryan Howard’s Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. I can’t recommend this highly enough. She talks the complete novice through the entire process step by step. I had to make a few modifications because her instructions are for a non-fiction book, but most of it was applicable. I also read the free Building Your Book for Kindle from KDP, but it didn’t have enough detail to answer many of my questions. We’re talking rank beginner here. I picked up a few good tips from Geri Russell’s talk at the RWA National Conference, but the online class I took was too tech-heavy for me. I don’t have the patience to go through my 87K, dialogue-heavy manuscript and code every quotation mark in html (not to mention all the other punctuation, etc.) KDP allows you to upload a properly formatted Word document, and that’s what I did—but not until I’d nearly made myself blind trying to do it the more complicated way.
  2. Use tabs instead of indents. For some reason this was the first bit of advice I got from my friends. That meant I had to go back and remove all the tabs and switch to indents, but that proved much easier than expected. Of course, it caused another problem later because I didn’t realize that the “first line” indent would apply to every first line, including all the front matter and the chapter headings. To properly center my chapter headings, I had to go back and remove the extraneous indents. That leads to my next tip.
  3. Try to think like a computer programmer. By this I mean think logically and in a very basic way. This is hard for writers; we tend to extrapolate and embroider. Computers are stupidly logical. In addition to the indent issue, I initially had trouble with the pagination in the print version. The chapters are divided by Section Breaks – an entirely new concept to me. It’s easy to understand in theory, but the details can sometimes trip you up.
  4.   Locate and learn the features of Word. I wish I’d done this first because it ultimately caused me more trouble than anything else. I only switched from Word 2003 to Word 2010 a few months ago and had never taken the time to explore all its features. If I had read Word 2010 for Dummies first, I could have saved myself hours of frustration. The clearest instructions in the world are no better than mud if you don’t understand your     basic tools.

If you’re considering self-publishing, I encourage you to try formatting your own book. It will probably be much easier for you than it was for me, and there’s a real satisfaction in being able to say “I did it!”

Saturday, September 14, 2013

My Monkey Mind

I didn't sleep much last night, again. Before my head hit the pillow, I knew I wouldn't. Yesterday was just one of those days. If your monkey mind works overtime like mine you know what I'm talking about. The Buddha said the human mind is filled with drunken monkeys, chattering and running around, unable to focus. Mine certainly felt like that last night.

There's so much going on in my life right now I have trouble turning it off to sleep. On the writing front, I released the Kindle version of my first indie book, Unwritten Rules, last week and am waiting for the letter carrier to deliver my proof copy of the print version this afternoon. If it looks good, it will go live on Amazon next week. The project of publishing this book has consumed so much of my energy during the past few months I almost feel at loose ends now that it's wrapping up. 

But of course, much of the work is just beginning. I feel guilty for not having done more promotion for this new book, but I need several more reviews to make the most of the free days on KDP I'm planning for next month.  All this and much more spins through my brain as soon as the lights go out. There's always something more I should be doing. 

On top of my work, OG is remodeling our shower, so every morning is full of swearing, tile sawing, mortar mixing, and more swearing. Fortunately it's looking pretty good so far, as I knew it would. Unfortunately OG is not one to suffer in silence when faced with a problem or obstacle on a home improvement project. It can be more than a little distracting.

Additionally, our daughter is teetering on the edge of landing her first full-time job. After five years of grad school, she decided not to continue pursuing her PhD in Ancient Egyptian Art and Archaeology. The situation in Egypt has become untenable for scholars, and there are no teaching opportunities in Western universities. On top of that, she's looking forward to a more "normal" life after having been in school for most of her twenty-seven years. She began looking for a job several months ago with no luck, which has been supremely stressful for all of us. Finally in the past couple of weeks the tide started to change. She got first one interview then another, with a follow up scheduled for Monday. We have our fingers crossed, but nothing is certain and it's enough to give any mother sleepless nights.

And then there's the new house. We're about three months from completion, and things are happening fast. Yesterday we solved an anxiety-provoking problem with the siding, and I met with the landscaper for the first time. I can't wait to see the design he comes up with for my new gardens. It's also time to choose the colors and a lot of the final finishes. As a result I lay awake at 2:00 a.m. with visions of cabinet knobs and flowering shrubs dancing through my tired brain. 

In truth, although I was tired this morning, it was a good tired. Things are happening, and none of them bad. It's an exciting time. Six months from now I wonder if I'll be bored. I doubt it. But maybe at least my monkey mind will settle down for awhile.

Friday, September 6, 2013

OG is Bored - Heaven Help Us!

Hopefully by now you are well enough acquainted with OG to grasp the importance of that statement. Before we moved to California, he had an entire sixty-year-old house to work on. There was never a shortage of projects to keep him out of trouble. Since the move he's been cooped up in a condo half the size where most of the work has already been done by professionals.

You'll note I said most. Until last week, there remained one potential do-it-yourself project--the shower in the master bath hadn't been touched in forty years, and the tile was starting to buckle. No longer! Our daughter visited us for Car Week on the Monterey Peninsula in the middle of August, and two days after she left OG ripped out our shower. It turned out to be a very good thing.

Beneath the tiles, we discovered plywood--nothing more. No waterproofing of any kind, just soggy, moldy plywood. If you know anything about construction, you know this was not an approved method even forty years ago. OG cut out the plywood, re-plumbed the shower with a non-scald balancing valve (yaaay!), and is putting up concrete backer board. Next comes the tile, then a new shower door. 

I have no idea how long this may take, but I told him I'd like it finished by my birthday the first week of October. He laughed, but I have enough experience with his home improvement projects to be cautious. When he remodeled the master bath in our last house, it took six months. He's quite skilled, but (oddly) not quite as young as he used to be. Besides, with any construction project things happen. They just do. You might as well expect it and make peace with it.

Since he started this project, OG has taken a bit of a physical beating. The shower stall is small, and it's hard on the legs to spend a lot of time working in a crouched position. His hands are scraped from cutting and screwing the backer board, but having a project with a goal is well worth the aches and pains.

OG retired a number of years ago and has always struggled to keep himself occupied. In contrast to the many years he spent working in an office, he prefers to work with his hands on projects that produce a tangible result. Since I retired from insurance and we moved, I've been very busy with my career as a writer and designer, but OG hasn't had much to do. The shower project has been good for his psyche, if not
his body.

Our contractor is building him a workshop under the family room in our new house, where I hope he'll find enough interesting things to do to keep boredom at bay for several years to come. If he can't stay busy at home, I might have to resort to renting him out just to preserve my sanity.

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Biggest Project Yet

In January, I began the journey to a new portfolio career comprised of writing, book cover design, and editing. My first several projects were cover designs I've shared previously on this blog. I really enjoyed the challenge of learning a new set of skills and applying it to a new creative medium. I'm pleased with the results and look forward to enhancing and refining my graphic design skills in the future. My current project, however, has been a much larger undertaking.

I'm thrilled to announce the release of my fourth book Unwritten Rules. After publishing three books with a wonderful small press, I decided to take the plunge into the world of independent publishing with this new one. For a number of reasons the time seemed right. I was switching sub-genres from Western historical romance to contemporary romantic suspense and would no longer be able to work with my previous editor. Also, after designing several book covers for a friend, I wanted the opportunity to design my own. In my new business, I will be helping other independent authors realize their dreams, so I wanted to be familiar with the entire process.

It's been an exciting journey with a few bumps along the way (formatting is not my friend), but I'm satisfied and proud of the final product. And after all is said and done, that's the greatest reward.

Here's a blurb about the story:

Things aren’t going Madelyn Li’s way. Her bodyguard agency is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, her grandmother keeps hatching plots to marry her off, and someone is trying to kill her latest client. All she wants is to safely escort thriller writer and former CIA agent Carter Devlin on his cross country book tour and collect her check, but two obstacles stand in her way: a shadowy assailant and her own growing attraction to her dashing client.

Carter Devlin has agreed to accept the beautiful and determined Ms. Li as a bodyguard primarily to appease his publisher. After all, who would want to kill a beat-up, retired ex-spy on a book tour? But when the attacks turn deadly, he soon learns there’s more to Madelyn than a pretty face and tempting body. Will the spark become a flame before a killer snuffs it out?

What have you been up to lately? What projects are you most proud of?