Archive | September, 2010

Time Tables — part two

29 Sep

One of the best things about self-publishing is that the only deadline you have is one you create for yourself. You can work at your own speed, and not have to conform to anyone else’s whims. This is not to be overlooked, believe me!

Of course, you want to get the book done and out there! If you didn’t, why have you done all the myriad things you have done so far? Books don’t write themselves, after all. And then there’s the editing and the proofing and the formatting and the – enough, already! Not to mention designing the cover, and maybe trying to find someone who’ll praise your baby to the skies and then let you post their words on your back cover, as well.

But sometimes it’s important to just say ‘STOP!’ Sit back, take a deep breath and assess your position, what you’re doing and why, and maybe even take a day or two away from the rat-race, before continuing onward. Sometimes coming back to a project with fresh (or at least rested) eyes can result in a new opinion or idea that you might not have thought of, otherwise.

And, as I’ve stated previously, the more you hurry, the more likely you are to make mistakes. You really do NOT want to do this. So, get up from that chair and walk around for a while before digging into your masterpiece once again.

It helps to make a list of all the things you need or want to do in the process. Then check them off as you go. May I recommend that, when you first begin, (presuming you’re doing this all by yourself-especially if you’re doing this all by yourself!) you make a Style Chart for formatting. Most likely, you’ll want 7 columns across the page, and several lines down (in a table format, for instance.)

The first column on the left edge is for the various sections of the book, such as but not limited to: cover, front matter, introduction, table of contents, chapter # or name, sub heads to chapters, drop cap?, text and possibly others. (I’ll explain more, please be patient.) Any element of your book can be listed here – maybe photo size, too.

The columns are headed (beginning with the second from the left) Font Name, Size, Style, Spacing, Line Height, and Miscellaneous.

Now then, what goes in all these spots?  Very often, the font you’ll use for the cover of the book is not the one you’ll use for the text, so to help you keep all this straight, you’ll note the name of the font under ‘font name’ and the size in the next column. Trust me on this, by the time you have the book in your hands, this formatting page will be all tattered and grubby-looking, from referring to it every five minutes or so!

Style means is the font in bold or italics? In the last column (miscellaneous) you might note the size for sub titles or even your name, if it isn’t the same size as the title font. You’ll do the same with all the other categories mentioned above under columns. Under spacing will be such minute little details as – how far down the page do you place the title or text? Most word processing programs will provide you with a ruler across the top of the page, as well as down the left hand edge, although you may have to dig to find it. It should also give you a line number, which is also very handy.

Spacing is different from line height, because of font size. So in a large font, the line number might be 46, but the spacing is only 4 inches or so. (I just  made that up, so don’t fret if your numbers are different.) But maybe the ‘chapter one’ line will be down 1 inch from the header space, and then the first line of the text will be another 3 lines down.

Okay, onwards here. Front matter is the business/legal page, generally on the back side of the title page. Here is where the copyright info, ISBN etc., information is listed. A commercial publisher will list the company name, address and so forth. You won’t have to do that, unless you want to. If your book has been previously published (under the same or a different title) you should state that information here, along with the previous ISBN and publisher info. You may certainly list any other books you’ve written that have been published, too.

You may or may not have an introduction and/or table of contents. (Or dedication – acknowledgements, etc.) Generally these are used more often in non-fiction, but you can certainly use them in fiction, if you wish. A sub-head is just that – if you divide a chapter, and have subsequent sub-titles, for instance. Will you use Drop Caps? You know what those are – the very first letter of the first word in each chapter is many times larger than the text – and can even be in a different font or style, if you like. It can be at the edge of the paragraph or out in the margin.  Don’t forget to list your font name and size, as well.

As I mentioned a week or two ago, I now have a new computer, which has been driving me nutso! (more than I ordinarily am, that is!) and the new word processing program came with a bunch of different fonts. But guess what? None of them appealed to me as much as my trusty older selection. I had an awful time trying to recall what fonts I was using for what, and without my handy chart, I’d have been even more distressed. At least I knew the name of the fonts I wanted, and had to then go back to the older computer to rescue them. Which I finally did, thank you very much!

Ready? Set? Go! Don’t wait for me. Nothing happens until somebody writes something! Remember that. If you have questions or comments, please write to me at bookmechanic@gmail.com Thanks!

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get . . .

21 Sep

This is one of two supposedly Pennsylvania Dutch saying I grew up with. The other is ‘we get too soon old, and too late smart’. Believe me, these two sayings (possibly from the Katzenjammer Kids cartoon, although I can’t say for certain)  are, well, I guarantee truer words were never spoken.

If you are thinking about self-publishing your book, DON’T RUSH IT!!! You’ll make all kinds of dumb little mistakes—and probably some big ones, too—that’ll come back to haunt you later.

Oh, by the way, I need to point out that there are any number of advertisements for self-publishers tagging along on this blog. I have NOTHING to do with any of them! They’re randomly placed by WordPress to generate funds to enable them to keep this system free of cost. I do not necessarily recommend any of them to anyone at any time. Now, should you ask me privately, I will not hesitate to offer an opinion, but for myself, I’ve only really had experience with one of them, and I am very pleased with their process, so far.

So, whenever I refer to timing in this article, I am referring to Create Space. I suspect that not all self-publishers will adhere to these standards, so I  can only relate my own experiences.

If you’re the author, and are reasonably computer literate, there are a few tasks in the publishing system that you can undertake for yourself. Unless you are VERY good at editing and proof-reading, however, those two tasks should be farmed out to someone who is very good at them. Otherwise, you may well find yourself with an embarrassing manuscript. Or book. Which is even worse.

First off, if you’ve typed your manuscript into your computer yourself (from scratch) this next paragraph will have little appeal for you. However, if you’ve scanned it from a book or a typewriter-produced manuscript – beware! Unless you pay excellent attention to your OCR-recognition software, you may end up with a batch of gibberish. I’ve learned to always run a spell-check on a scanned manuscript. Generally, I’m not a big fan of spell-check, as it will only tell you if the word is spelled properly, not if it’s the right word. And there’s a HUGE difference there, believe me!

The non-automatic spell-check will at least point out obvious glitches, and let you fix them as you work your way through the manuscript. You’ll need to pay really good attention to punctuation, which seems to magically convert itself to some other entity entirely! Apostrophes and quote marks are singularly prone to this little trick. The new Word programs will let you change your old straight commas, etc., (including the “) to curly ones, If you so choose. Neither style is the ‘right’ one, exactly – what you really want to maintain is unanimity. Have them the same everywhere through the book!

You may be able to do a global search and replace for these little critters, but even then there’s sure to be one or two that will slip through. Aarrgghhh!  The biggest problem I had with Secret Shores was the scanner OCR-recognition program (admittedly several years older than the newer versions) had difficulties with the combination ‘rn’ as in the word ‘turn.’  It would, for instance, make each repetition of that word ‘tum’, which is, of course, a valid word, as in ‘Tum’.

I mean to tell you that at first glance, it’s really hard to find these mistakes! Of course, you can do a find and replace, but – sometimes you don’t really want the change to be made. When you’re working with a 110,000 word book, there is a limit to how many times you can read it before going sadly bonkers! Where I went most egregiously astray was in thinking that the first (so-called proofed version) was a good one. In all honesty, it wasn’t anywhere near to being good or ‘clean’. I am a German-Irish-Aries. If you read up on the signs of the horoscope, you’ll quickly discover the key word for Aries is impetuous and next comes headstrong. Oh, boy, is that me! Yikes!

So I opened an account at Create Space, and blithely entered both regular and large print versions to be produced. (As a woman of ‘a certain age’ I’m a firm believer in large-print books, although I’m not yet ready for them for myself on a steady basis.) But when I re-did Windsong five years ago, it, too, is in regular and large print versions, and the large-print has consistently outsold the regular print by a 2 to 1 margin!) I haven’t yet done Windsong as a Kindle, but I will. Hopefully, before the end of the year.

Anyway, I dutifully converted my word files to Adobe, and submitted them. All was well and they were accepted. (Formatting etc., will be a topic for a future blog.) The covers however, presented other problmes – also a topic for the future. But finally, we got them done, submitted and accepted. Then it was time to order proof copies. This is the ONLY required fee that you will pay Create Space for publishing your book. Unless it’s gigundic, and you live in (on?) Bora-Bora, and/or want it tomorrow, the total including postage should be well under $10.

A few days later, here comes the book. (In this case, books!)  Oh, it’s a BIG thrill, believe me. BIG! And it never gets old, either. Then, you flip the cover and look at the front page, and turn a few more pages, and BOINGGG!!! Typos start jumping off the page at you, right and left, and you sit down and cry, “What have I done?”

Actually, it’s more like what you haven’t done. You (me, in this case) didn’t properly proof it, or at least not carefully enough! It was a combination of the punctuation and the ‘rn’ problem that really made me want to pull my hair out. I resisted, however, and sat down with the large print version to straighten out this mess. A week later, I was still correcting! I really thought I’d done it right, and submitted a corrected file.

Somehow in the process, I messed up the rear cover (identical on both books, by the way) so the covers had to be re-done. Then re-done again! (I didn’t leave the lower right corner empty for the bar-code. Arrgghh! )

Then, I started on the regular print – I had been doing both files sort of simultaneously, but then, I found an entirely different set of glitches. I sat down and had a good cry, then it was back to the computer again.

More next week! See you then? But in the meantime, should you want a copy of Secret Shores, I wouldn’t be offended! Just do a search for the title at Amazon, and you’ll find all three versions, right there, nice and handy and available for purchase!

Please feel free to send this on to anyone you think might like to commiserate? And if you have questions, please write to me at bookmechanic@gmail.com

Cheers!

Timing is everything!

15 Sep

So, once you’ve decided to write a book, and presuming you want it to be published at some point . . . oh, wait! You don’t want to be published? Believe it or not, there are those people out there who do not want to be published – for various reasons. And that’s fine, I think, as long as it’s that person’s decision and not pushed onto them by someone else. (I am not referring to those people who seem to accumulate world-class collections of rejection letters! And yes, I know about John Creasey’s mammoth collection, before he went on to world-wide fame as the multi-multi-published author, and one of my faves, by the way.)

A good friend, who is no longer with us, was a superb editor and writer. She was fairly famous in this area for her erudite articles on a multitude of topics, and it never occurred to me that she was interested in longer-length writing. I nearly fell over the day she mentioned to me that she had written several books. When I said I’d like to read them, she blithely responded “Oh, they’ve never been published.”

I picked myself up from the floor, and asked, “Why not?”

She very calmly replied, “Oh, I could never let anyone change anything I wrote in them, so I chose not to ever submit them.” She looked at the bottom drawer of her desk, and said, “They’re all right here, and there they’ll stay.” I queried her about the articles that must surely have been edited at some point, and she said, yes they had, but articles were one thing and books another. And that was the end of that discussion. Drawer closed.

Of course, there are other reasons, too. A family history, for example, might not have enough general appeal to make it worthwhile to proceed in that direction, if a copied spiral-bound edition will serve just as well. However, new advances in self-publishing might make it possible, after all.

Perhaps the quality most needed by a writer is patience. Nothing ever goes quickly in this process, and rushing will only make it worse and worser. Trust me on that one! (I’ll elaborate more on that later.)

If you have been good enough (and lucky enough, too) to be offered a contract by a commercial publisher (they do all, or most of, the work—and keep most of the earnings, as well) the first question you’ll think of asking is ‘when do you think it will be published?’ and the answer will be, “I’m not sure just yet.”

Publishing schedules are determined by a good many different factors. Is the manuscript finished? Has it been copy edited, then line edited? These are different procedures: the first is for general quality and fact-checking, etc., while the second is for the nuts and bolts of the thing – to be sure it reads smoothly, isn’t repetitious, has everything in the right place, et., etc., etc .

Since different people in various  locations usually do these tasks, it can easily take 3-4 months for this to happen. Once these have been done, the author should receive the immensely decorated (mini post-it notes all over) manuscript back again for opinion, approval, whatever. Sometimes you can disagree with either editor, but you must be sure of your facts, or be able to explain convincingly why you did what you did just there. (But I really love that phrase, or word, or whatever!)

This is the stage where, if the heroine is a blue-eyed blonde at the beginning of the book, and she then appears as a green-eyed redhead later on, there should be a reason other than author not paying attention! Or if the hero takes the train from New York to Boston, he shouldn’t end up in Philadelphia. That sort of thing! A good copy editor is worth his/her weight in gold, believe me!

So, you send the much-marked-up manuscript back to the acquiring editor once again, and this time they ship it off to the typesetters. It’s possible in this age of the computer that you will submit your manuscript only electronically, and then you will receive a copy of it back in that same way, with all your mistakes and editor’s quibbles highlighted in some fashion, so you’ll make most of the corrections. BUT – the editor in question will still go over it thoroughly before submitting it to her editor, perhaps the managing or senior editor or some other title.

During this process, you’ll also be asked questions about the cover (what you would like does not necessarily translate into what you’ll get!) and the back cover blurb, plus possibly the inside front page copy. Authors frequently have something to say about words, but seldom the art involved for the cover.

At this time, it’s probably 7 to 8 months since your manuscript was accepted. Next up is for the author to receive the typeset version for another proof-reading. (I promise you that before it’s a book, you’ll be thoroughly sick of your baby. It becomes exceedingly painful after a while.) If you are offered this opportunity, however, it’s vitally important for you to pay attention. Many authors don’t get that privilege, and seeing what’s been done to their (now-published) book flings them into a tizzy!

You should about now receive a rough of your proposed cover. Each publisher approaches this differently, so I’m not on firm ground here. But if you violently dislike it, say so politely to your editor and ask nicely if anything can be done. You NEED to like your cover, because when you’re at a book-signing, you’ll be surrounded by those things with your name on them, and if you can’t stand your cover, you’re in for an unhappy experience. I’ve been mostly fortunate in my covers, but I know authors who chose not to do book-signings because they didn’t want anyone to know about their book. That is NOT a happy ending, believe me!

Generally speaking, a book gestation is about a year. There are exceptions in either direction, but on average, I think that’s a reasonable expectation on your part.

Next week, we’ll discuss time-tables for self-publishing, and why you shouldn’t try to rush it! Words of caution from my own experience!

As always, please feel free to pass this along to anyone you think might be interested, and if you have questions or comments, please send them to me at: bookmechanic@gmail.com Thank you!

Using your sense(s) and sensibilities.

8 Sep

Whenever I judge a writing contest, I almost always include these comments  along with the score sheet. I always try to find something encouraging to say to the author, but at times it’s really, really difficult! Sometimes the best thing I can say is that the manuscript is clean with no typos. No mis-spelled words or mis-placed punctuation.

If you read a book that really pulls you into it, chances are it’s either the characters or the setting that grab you and just won’t let go. A couple of months ago, I wrote about characters. Here’s how to make the setting very real and unforgettable.

Can you quickly name the five senses?

Touch. Taste.  Sight.  Sound.  Smell.

Imagine what it would be like to be without any of these, which we continually take for granted—until we meet someone who does not have one or the other. This is very real to me tonight, as I spent this afternoon with a friend who has been blind since birth. He has compensated so well; he’s very talented and very alert. He has a near-photographic memory and perfect pitch! And his other four senses are much stronger than those of most of us. It was an enjoyable and eye-opening experience.

(A brief side-trip here. The first time we met in person several years ago, I went to his apartment to pick him up so we could go to a meeting.  It was late afternoon, and the place was dark. I literally could not see my hand in front of my face, while he was as agile as a mountain goat, going here and there through his apartment. Finally, he called to me, but before I could answer, he laughed and said, “Oh, I forgot. You need to be able to see, don’t you?” He has since married and now lives in a beautiful home with a fabulous yard, lots of windows with light  streaming in, and splendid views of the trees and flowers in the yard. I didn’t need help to see where I was going – this time! – but I’ve never forgotten the lost feeling from that first visit. Someday that will make it into one of my books, I’m quite sure.)

Put yourself in that position, and think how such an action could impinge on your characters.

So, what do your characters look like, other than very beautiful and/or handsome? (And they shouldn’t be just that.) A flaw can sometimes be very attractive or enticing. (Think Alan Rickman’s crooked smile. Oh, yum.)

What are these characters wearing? Describe the color, style, or texture. Is it silk, satin, fur, leather? Is it appropriate for whatever their actions are? Does it restrict their movement? How? Why? Are they comfortable?

Is the weather warm, cool, windy, rainy? Is whatever it is ordinary for that time and/or place, or unusual? In what way? Does it impinge on the action of the story?

Is the language you use consistent with the time period about which you are writing? Modern language in a historical novel will suspend the reader’s disbelief, and jostle them right out of the story. (To be avoided at all costs!)

What kind of building are they in? Big, little, grand, a hovel? What colors are the furniture? What color and/or textures are the fabrics and drapes? Is it richly beautiful or rough-sawn, but functional? Are there carpets on the floor? Dirt? Tiles? Are there windows? How many? How big? Is it dark in there or light? Is it day or night? Are there paintings on the walls? Other hangings?

What country is your story set in? Could it take place anywhere else? If not, why not? Use this unique-ness to help set the stage for the action. (Same thing concerning the time-frame.)

What fragrance(s) permeates the scene? Cooking? Rotting vegetation? Horse? Spring flowers? Fish? Salt from the near-by ocean? Roses in a vase on an end-table? (What color are the roses?) If the people are near enough to smell the ocean, can they also hear it? Is it soothing or aggravating?

If they have to go to a different location, how do they get there? Is it a comfortable trip? Tedious? Awful? Dangerous? Boring?

Obviously, you don’t need to (and can’t) add these kinds of details to every sentence, nor should you, but a word or phrase here or there can greatly enhance your story, making it come alive to the reader.

Shed a little light on your subject, and we’ll all be the happier for it!

Happy writing! Please feel free to pass this along to your writing pals. And, if you have questions, please write to me at: bookmechanic@gmail.com

What’s the male equivalent of ‘shameless hussy’?

1 Sep

What’s the male equivalent of ‘shameless hussy’? No, I don’t know either, but if you want to be a published author, you’ll have to be one, regardless of your sex. (Thanks to ‘Sisters in Crime’ for making that a more respectable phrase than it once was.)

I didn’t forget about ‘Marketing’ in last week’s blog entry. Marketing your book is entirely too big a topic to share with other departments in the publishing company. Marketing is the 900-pound gorilla in any room, believe me.

Unless you’re someone who can add ‘NYT Best-seller’ to your list of accomplishments, you WILL do marketing for your book. Even should you be so fortunate as to be commercially published, you will still do marketing. There are companies that will help you: while many of them are on the web, there are others who will do actual mailings, etc. But none of these are inexpensive, and you might as well learn how to do some of the basics for yourself.

Bookmarks are wonderful little things – you can of course, purchase them, or you can easily make them yourself, if you’re at all capable on your computer. (If you want easy instructions for how to do this, send me an e-mail.) I carry a bunch with me at all times, and give them out all over the place. I generally don’t leave them anyplace, as they frequently just get thrown out. But if you tell someone (store clerk, whoever) that you’re a writer, they’re almost guaranteed to respond “Oh? What the’s title of your book?” This opens the door to a lot of answers – but if you don’t give them a bookmark, they’ll likely not remember one word of what you said.

Among the more helpful things you can do for yourself is belonging to writers organizations—the bigger ones have already existing marketing tips available to their members. Word of mouth can hardly be beat in this situation, as a good recommendation by someone who’s read the book and liked it, will be extremely valuable to you. Try if you can, to get that person to write a review for one of the on-line booksellers.

Reviews in big city newspapers are almost a thing of the past, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try. But don’t be overbearing in your efforts. You really will have to learn to accept the word ‘no’ as a viable answer. Small-town papers, especially if you’re a resident in the community, are generally much more willing to oblige. If not with a review, then perhaps they’ll do a feature article/interview/review with ‘the area’s newest published author’.

Look for on-line review entities – there are bunches of them, and some of them will accept self-published books for review. Be sure to ask first, and clarify how they wish to receive your book. If the reviewer has an e-book reader, that format might be acceptable, but don’t presume that. Until your book is actually in print, a computer-generated print-out might make your story more accessible, and that’s what you really want in today’s world.

Talk to your local book-stores – the national chains will usually have a “Local Author” section where your book can be displayed. If your book is readily available from the larger distributors (Ingrams or Baker & Taylor) they may even purchase a few copies for this purpose. You (or they) might also suggest a book-signing. By all means, do this. It’s an interesting (and sometimes fun) event. Try to have friend to accompany you, so you don’t have to sit at the table all by yourself looking forlorn and lost with a ‘what am I doing here?’ look on your face.

And for goodness’ sake – don’t forget your local library! Many of them have a ‘local author collection’ and will happily buy a copy of your book. Or several copies! Many people are hesitant to spend the money for a book today, but if they borrow it from the library and like it, they may then be more willing to buy it. (I do this myself!)

I’m a big fan of postcards. I have a color photo of the cover on the front side, then a few words about the book (including the vitally-important ISBN) on the reverse, along with purchasing information. I send these to friends, of course, but also groups that I think might want to know about the book, for any of a number of reasons. (Libraries and indie bookstores, for starters.)

For instance, when Windsong was re-released in 2005, we did both regular size print and large-print. So I went looking for libraries and organizations that made large-print available to members or patrons. I sent each of them a postcard and during the next two years, the large print version outsold the regular print by a 2 to 1 ratio! Will I do that again for Secret Shores (once it’s available!)? You’d better believe it! Actually, any of my books that are published from now on (especially the ones I do myself) will have a large print version, as well. (Next up, I think is a collection of short stories, titled Brief Interludes. More info as it gets closer to pub date.)

Considering that boomers are the biggest segment of our population, this is a no-brainer, as far as I’m concerned. Although e-readers can enlarge the type size for easier reading, I’m still of the belief that many older readers will prefer the tactile sensation of having a book they can hold and turn pages as they go along.

So what do you think? If you think I’m kidding or exaggerating too much about a lot of the contents in this blog, here’s another person’s take on the topic. Enjoy!

http://www.goodexperience.com/2008/07/following-up-on-these.php

And if you have questions, please write to me at: bookmechanic@wordpress.com  Comments are always welcome, but SPAM is immediately and automatically trashed.

Happy Writing!