Sunday, October 11, 2015

How to Get Rid of Your Favorite (Overused) Words and Phrases

Many years ago I critiqued a 400-page manuscript by an author who loved the word, “smirk.” Smirk. Smirked. Smirking. All the characters smirked at everything. By the end of the manuscript, I detested the word in all it’s various forms. In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve written that word in years. To this day, when I see that word in a story, I cringe.

Repetition of favorite words or phrases is something I notice when I’m reading. No matter how well written the story is, overuse reduces my enjoyment. How many times can the characters “snort in disbelief” or respond “saucily” before a reader tosses the book aside for something better edited?

Don’t misunderstand. We all have favorite words and phrases. They’re great when you’re drafting a new story. At this stage in the writing, it’s more important to keep the momentum going, not stop and debate word choice. While favorites are handy in a rough draft, they have no place in the final manuscript.

How do you get rid of them?

The time to get rid of favorite words and phrases occurs during the self-editing phase of writing a story. And yes, self-editing is part of the writing process. It’s helpful to lower the volume on the creative side of your brain and concentrate on the technical side of writing when self-editing. I say “lower the volume” on your creative side, because it will need to be accessed when you revise those favorite words and phrases.

The easiest way to find your favorites is to make a list of them in a notebook or on a spreadsheet. They are, after all, your favorite words or phrases. That means you like to use them. A lot.

Now grab a favorite from your list, do a search for that word, delete it, revise the sentence and voilá you’ve edited it out of your story. The computer offers writers an unprecedented capability to avoid repetition of a favorite word or phrase. Use it.

Also, be aware that new favorites are always popping up. Ask your beta readers to note repetition of words or phrases when they read your newest manuscript. Pay attention when you edit and keep an eye open for those favored words and phrases. Add them to your list.

I’m not saying you have to remove every single favorite word or phrase, I’m saying, be aware of them. If you feel that particular favorite word in that particular passage makes the story stronger, keep it. Be judicious in the use of favorite words and phrases. Avoid overuse and always reach for the best words to convey your meaning.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Perfect Publishing Doesn’t Exist

Dear Major Publishing House,

On page 54 of best selling author’s book, Doodlebugs are Cute, there is a typographical error. Instead of the word “processed,” someone used the word “preceded,” ruining the meaning of the sentence. I’m letting you know because you don’t want the book to look like an indie published book.

I wonder how many emails like this, big time New York publishing companies receive. Probably none. Probably because readers don’t feel as comfortable writing the big nonentity corporation as they do writing the indie publisher.

This is just my opinion, of course, and maybe those people who email me about errors they spot in my books, or write it up in a review also write the big guys and complain about errors in the books they publish. And mention it in their review of the traditionally published opus.

Then again, maybe they just feel indie publisher/writers are more approachable. I’m going to make a major confession here. I love hearing from my readers. And I appreciate that they take the time to write even if sometimes it’s just to let me know I made an error. Truth is, I figure if the big guys are allowed errors in their books, then I’m not going to panic over minor ones in mine.

Over the years, I’ve copyedited millions of words, trying to ensure everything from periods to spelling is correct. And yes, now I have beta readers, a copy editor, and proof reader, but we’re only human and sometimes we miss something.

Just like the big guys.

Yeah, those large publishing houses make mistakes. I’m not only a writer and indie publisher, I’m also a reader and I read a lot. It’s no major revelation to me that traditional publishers make errors. In fact, I’ve noticed an increase in errors in recent years.

This is probably due to staff reductions which means fewer eyes watch over the publishing process. I also think the editors rely more and more on spellcheck and automatic correction. One New York published book drove me crazy because the word discreet (careful, diplomatic) was replaced by discrete (distinct, separate). I’m not sure who made the error, the author or the editor. I do know the word made its incorrect appearance several times during the novel. No one at the publishing house caught the mistake.

Now I’m not saying an indie publisher/writer should publish a book full of grammar and/or typographical errors. Being an indie publisher means you want to work extra hard to make everything about your published work as perfect as possible because you are going head to head with the big guys.

What I’m saying is that readers shouldn’t establish a different standard for the indie publisher than the one they use for a traditional publisher. And if you’re walking the indie path of publishing, don’t beat yourself up if a few errors get past all the people you hoped would help you catch them.

And always, always keep in mind that autocorrect will happily change “Ellis” to “Alice” without any input from you at all.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Dialogue Adds Depth to Setting

I’ve been watching the new USA cable television show “Complications” because it stars Jason O’Mara, who I like. According to the PR about “Complications,” he plays a disillusioned suburban ER doctor who finds his existence transformed when he intervenes in a drive-by shooting, saving a young boy's life and killing one of his attackers. When he learns the boy is still marked for death, he finds himself compelled to save him at any cost and discovers that his life and his outlook on medicine may never be the same.

The show is aptly named as the complications pile up for the doctor as well as other characters. Goals and motivations are pretty well defined as the show hurtles from one episode to the next. So why am I discussing it? Because I think it suffers from a major flaw.

The story is set in Atlanta, Georgia, but the none of the characters talk as if they are from Atlanta. In fact, the dialogue is so non-regional, I keep thinking they’re in Los Angeles. I’m sure the director is miffed at this criticism because Atlanta is emblazoned on the sides of the police cars to ensure viewers remember where the series is set.

And I’m not saying the episodes weren’t filmed in Atlanta. Every time I’ve been to Atlanta, I don’t see much because we race through the city on the interstate hemmed in by a bunch of NASCAR wannabes. All the while, my husband is cussing in fluent military.

But Atlanta, for all it big city ways, is in Georgia which is located in the South. But if you watch "Complications," you would never guess by listening to the characters.

I have yet to hear one character on that show speak with a Southern accent. Now I realize a tremendous number of non natives have moved to Atlanta, but it’s hard to believe there’s no one left who speaks the Southern vernacular. As far as I can hear, every character speaks as if they just finished elocution class. To include gang members.

I may be stereotyping gang members, but here’s what I would automatically guess about a gang member in Georgia. One, they are native to the area. Two, they attended the public school system. Three, they probably aren’t high school graduates. With Atlanta public schools having a dropout rate of 40% in 2014, it’s even more difficult to believe Atlanta gang members would speak as if they graduated from college.

Or a Hollywood elocution class.

I mean, I haven’t even heard one “y’all” and that’s about standard in the South when speaking of more than one “you.” And any Southern gang member worth his salt would end a threat with, “y’hear.”

Where am I going with this? I’m saying that setting influences dialogue. As a writer, you need to keep that in mind. If your story is set in New England, the characters will not be sprinkling “y’all” in their conversations. But if it is set in the South, the characters should help establish the “feel” of the setting by the way they speak.

Now I’m not saying dialogue needs to be saturated with dialect that renders it unintelligible to the reader or in "Complications" case, viewers, but if your book is set in Atlanta, keep the reader in Atlanta by using dialogue that reflects the location. You’re inviting the reader into your story world. Be sure that story world is as real as you can make it.

Don’t let a sign on the side of a police car be your only clue as to where your story takes place.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Mobile-Friendly! Building a Responsive Website

Yep, according to Google not only is my new website mobile-friendly, it’s also Awesome! That’s the message I got when I ran my website through a Google program that rated my website for mobile friendliness. In other words, my website will respond to whatever device the reader is using. I now have what is called a responsive website which in turn means it is phone friendly in landscape or portrait. But it is also desktop friendly and tablet friendly, too.

What does this mean?

If you look at my website using a desktop, you get the full screen version which means the menu is across the top rather than a hidden drop down. The content also stretches across the screen.

If you look at my website on a  tablet, the pages are a little narrower and the menu is still across the top, but in tablet portrait, the menu shifts into a drop down mode.

The phone mode is the most obvious change. Here, the images and content shift into more of a list mode although the text remains the same size and is easy to read. As you probably know, the three white lines in the right hand corner signifies the drop down menu.

I started studying responsive sites over a year ago when I realized how tiny my website looked on a phone. To read even a paragraph, the page had to be sized up and the images were lost. Since I’m a writer, I checked out websites designed by or for my fellow authors to see if they were responsive. And if they were, how did they look on various size screens?

You can do this easily on the full screen of a desktop or laptop. How do you tell a screen is responsive? Well, all you have to do is place the cursor on the right the side of the website screen and push it smaller. If the content on the right side disappears, it’s not responsive. If content rearranges itself to the size of the screen, it’s responsive.

Think Content Containers

The information or content you want to share is inside a container. On the desktop screen, you may have three or four containers of information, but as the screen shrinks, the containers drop down or stack into a vertical line to fit on a phone. Part of learning how to build responsive sites, is learning how the containers will fall so the information or images will stack up the way you want.

As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, I’m a Mac user. This means I use Mac software to design my websites. I’ve been using RapidWeaver by RealMac for almost 10 years. RapidWeaver is the hub of a huge community of developers who make all kinds of neat add ons for this program. Everyone from the RealMac family to the independent contractors of RapidWeaver apps are super helpful.

Learning how to build this type of website didn’t happen overnight, but I went through a learning curve building my first website, too. Since you’re dealing with the containers I mentioned earlier, you have to throw out preconceived notions of how to arrange your content. This means images, since book covers are an important part of our world, and text.

Once I absorbed the concept of responsive websites, I decided to use my then current
website as the first building block of a responsive website. Basically, I simplified the website to better fit the container concept.

Why Responsive?

Why are responsive websites a big deal? First of all, an increasing number of people use their phones more than a laptop or desktop computer. If you don’t want to lose a large chunk of your reading audience, you need to join the responsive crowd.

Second, Google recently announced it was going to give responsive websites top billing on its search engine. Since Google pretty much owns the search engine world, again you’re setting yourself up to lose readers if your site isn’t responsive.

Every author needs to acquaint him or herself with how responsive websites work because even if you don’t build your own website, you have to provide the content. Many popular authors have responsive sites now. Check them out. See how they arrange their information. Grab any ideas you think might work for your website to share with your web designer or to use yourself if you’re redesigning your website.

After you build it, be sure and run it through the Google Mobile-Friendly test. It's always nice to know when someone thinks you're Awesome!

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Ripple Effect in Storytelling

I recently watched a TV show that featured a scene with the main character and a dog. It was a very cute scene, but even though the story remained in that setting, the dog never appeared again. Basically, they brought the dog on stage, had him do his part, and then forgot about him. Well, they had him go into a kennel with no door. As if that was going to keep him there while people traipsed around his home.

 As a dog owner, I was quite bothered by the fact the dog basically disappeared. Although people came and went in this house, the dog was never seen or heard again. References were made that the home owner had a dog, had even worked with a companion dog program, but the dog itself made no other appearance.

The script writers forgot about the ripple effect. What’s that, you ask? Well, once something is introduced into the story, it has consequences that ripple out. Imagine a pebble tossed into a pond, it hits the water and then ever widening ripples reach out to touch more area than the pebble itself touched.
Now let’s look at the word "consequence." It has two meanings. The first defines consequence as something that can be the result of an action or condition. Think outcome or repercussion or aftermath. The second definition of consequence is importance or relevance. Used in that sense, words such as significance, substance, or value come to mind.

They gave that dog consequence–significance–and then they erased him. In reality or fiction, the dog lived in the house. It was one of those cute dogs you assume is accustomed to attention and therefore would not ignore the different humans who come into the room. The whole sequence ended up detracting from the storyline for me since I kept worrying about where the dog went.

Who could ignore these guys?
As a result of introducing the dog into the story, there should have been more interaction between the other characters and the dog. The act of introducing the dog as a character who lived in that house meant there should’ve been more of a ripple effect. The dog should have been in more scenes, removed for some reason, or not in any scenes at all.

When I set up a scene, I try to keep in mind the consequences of what I write. I try to imagine what kind of ripple effect I will cause in the story as well as with the other characters. When I was outlining my Civil War era novel Stealing Destiny, I knew my heroine, Billie was going to spy for the South. I needed her to remain in her home, which had been taken over by Yankees, but I needed her to go undetected.

Billie had been thrown from a horse and broken her left ankle when she was twelve years old. She fractured the growth plate, preventing further growth of that leg. Without a shoe designed to compensate for the height difference, she limps. Here’s the thing, once I crippled Billie, she had to be a cripple for the entire story. If she wasn’t wearing her corrective shoe, she limped. But this injury made it possible for her to pose as a crippled stable boy during the war and gather military information.

Let’s say your main character wear glasses. Is it a slight correction or is he practically blind without them? If it’s a slight correction and he loses his glasses during the story, not a huge deal. If he’s borderline blind without his spectacles and they’re broken with no replacement available, then he has a major problem. The loss of the glasses will color every action he takes until he’s able to replace them.

As you build your story scenes, think about the consequences of what you write and how it impacts the characters–the ripple effect. Don’t leave your readers wondering what happened to the dog.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Trouble with Book Contracts

In one of my earlier blogs about taking the road to indie publishing, I said,  But as you’ll see later, I wasn’t finished with trying the small publisher route.

I know, I know, you thought I was a committed indie publisher. And I am, but I still need to entice readers to buy my stories. To gain exposure for my contemporary romances, I decided to try and sell one of my short stories to an established digital publisher. Sure, I wouldn’t make much money, but my goal wasn’t to make money.

My goal was to connect with readers. 

The Search

I used the same criteria I used when I first decided to submit to digital publishers. I already had a list of publishers from my earlier search, but it needed updating. Membership in Romance Writers of America (RWA) offers too many benefits to mention here, but one is their  publishers and agents overview that lists publishers who want romance stories. 

I checked out the websites of publishers I thought would be a good fit to get a feel for the way they presented themselves and their product. We all know the cover is the key to gaining reader attention so that’s a major item on my list. Are their covers attractive? Was their website easy to navigate? Did they have a solid stable of writers? What about their pricing?

What About E-book Pricing

Or, what’s with the high price of some e-books? All things being equal, one would think it’s cheaper to create an e-book than a print book. I operate on that assumption and try to price accordingly. I want to put a reasonable price on my work. To me, reasonable means the price an average e-reader is willing to pay to read something written by an unfamiliar writer.

I have to put myself in that writer category because while my name is becoming somewhat better known among the writing set since I published She Sat, He Stood, What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk, I am basically not a well-known author. (Except, of course, in my hometown.) Thus, I tend to price by the length of my work. I don’t think a 10,000 word short story should be more than $.99. Only my family and friends might be willing to pay more for one of my short stories. (Thank you family and friends!) With that in mind, I price a little higher for a novella and higher yet for a full-fledged novel.

Match Made in Heaven

My search netted me a digital publisher who priced the way I liked, had a user friendly website, and put nice covers on their books. Using their online submission process, I submitted my short story, “Love to the Rescue.” I chose this story because it’s set in a small town, but it wasn't an obvious Tassanoxie story, which is where my other contemporary stories are set.

Imagine my surprised delight when an editor called me two days later. She called because I hadn’t answered her email! Admission time. No, I don’t check my email 24-7. Sometimes I take a day or two off and do other stuff. She had tried to contact me via the Internet when I was doing non-electronic living.

This was the fastest response I ever got on a submission! And the editor loved my story and wanted my legal info and street address so she could send me a contract. I got all excited, called my husband, texted our daughter, and in general danced around the house. 

Then I got the contract.

Contracts Are NOT An Author’s Friend

Contracts between publishers and authors have never been overly favorable for the author, but it seems to me they have gotten steadily “grabbier.” I can’t think of any other way to describe how the publishers try and grab as much as they can, leaving the author with very little.

This publisher wanted everything from the cat to the kitchen sink. And buried in there was some wording that made me worry I could lose the rights to my small town Tassanoxie series, because “Love to the Rescue” was set in a small town, too. In fact, once I decided to indie publish it, I went back and revised it into a Tassanoxie story.
Turning down this contract was made even more difficult when the editor sent me a lovely cover for the short story. Was I nuts?

Why Turn Down A Contract for a Short Story?

While I don’t expect “Love to the Rescue” to ever hit the big screen, it is not an impossible goal for a short story. For example, “The Minority Report” started out as  a short story and “The Rememberer” led to the TV show, “Unforgettable.” And while I was willing to forego making a lot of money with the publisher, I refused to give up all ownership of my story forever.

While I enjoyed the thrill of having an editor once more validate my writing, in the end, the experience reminded me that indie publishing is a good path for me. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

How to “Check” Your Newly Minted EPUB

Guess what I found!

Before I go any farther, I want to back up and share something I recently discovered while checking out e-books at the various distributors’ sites. Last month I said:

Since I’ve read through all my contracts, I know that not every distributor will allow links in my e-book to be active. I make a Storyist copy that contains hot links (for iBooks) and one that doesn’t (for Nook, Kobo, and Kindle). I add this to the file name so I can tell them apart.

Well, imagine my surprise as I was noodling around at Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble to discover that there are e-books for sale with hot links in them! Some of the e-books published by big publishing houses have only their web address in the e-book, while others provide links to the author, too. Some indie authors have their web info in there while some don’t. I’m sure there’s been some change to the contracts since I signed on last year, just check out the most current contracts which you’ll be reading anyway.

Now on to this month’s entry.

Last time we ended with a completed EPUB created by Storyist software. As I mentioned, there is one last check that will ensure my EPUB will be accepted by the various distributors. To do this, I need to run it through a program called epubcheck.

First of all, keep in mind that an EPUB is a form of publishing unencrypted reflowable digital books and publications. An EPUB is known as an open standard format, it can be read by a wide range of e-readers and computers. I’m pretty sure Kindle is the only major e-reader that doesn’t support EPUB. That’s why the format Amazon uses for Kindle is called a “closed” format. You can only read Kindle books on a Kindle or with a Kindle app.

The idea for EPUBs has been around for almost 20 years. An oversight organization called The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) has even been established. According to their website, IDPF is the global trade and standards organization dedicated to the development and promotion of electronic publishing and content consumption. They’re the ones who created a way to validate EPUB files, to ensure the files could be read on a wide range of e-readers. Their experts develop EPUB specifications in what is known as an "open source" manner. Basically, that means the working site is accessible to the public. 

Again, I’m no computer expert but by using epubcheck, I can validate the files Storyist put together to form my EPUB. If the files aren’t in a certain order, then the e-reader won’t be able to present them in legible format. From my experience, the best way to ensure your EPUB passes muster is to make sure the manuscript is clean and keep to the basic style sheets in Storyist. 

There’s no reason to get fancy with e-books because all it takes is a tilt of the device and your manuscript looks completely different. I’m not interested in dazzling my readers with cute touches, I’m interested in offering them a good story that doesn’t make them frustrated because of glitches. Plus, I want to be savvy enough to update versions as needed.

A Word of Caution

The link below will take you to the IDPF site for downloading the epubcheck. A word of caution, this is where the experts work. The latest version may not be devoid of problems. Frankly, I’m using version 3.0 until my EPUB gets bounced repeatedly. Why? Because I ran my first EPUB through 3.0 with flying colors. A week later, I found the “latest” version and downloaded it. I ran the same EPUB through the update and it came up with all kinds of errors. I spent hours trying to correct those weird file errors and believe me, they were way past my computer level. 

In frustration, I ran my EPUB back through 3.0 and no errors appeared. I took it to Apple iTunes and the EPUB made it through. No problem with Nook or Kobo, either. It looks as if they’re working on version 4 right now, but if you scroll down on their web page, you can find earlier versions for download.

Directions abound on the Internet for how to validate an EPUB on either a PC or a Mac. Since I’m a Mac person, I’m going to walk through how to do it on a Mac.

 Using epubcheck on Mac

(Reminder, my MacBook Pro is running Mavericks.)

Open the Finder window, click on Applications, then Utilities. Find the Terminal app and open it.

When the Terminal opens, you will see a white screen with a couple lines of information such as Last Login and the name of your computer. There will also be a greyed thick insertion point. This is where you start typing.

java -jar

Be sure and type a space between java and -jar, be sure and put a hyphen in there, and be sure and type a trailing space after “-jar”.

Now you’re going to drag the cute little coffee cup “Jar” that denotes the epubcheck program you downloaded and plop it into the terminal window. 

Now type another space. And then drag the EPUB file into the Terminal window and press return.

I used my short story Love To The Rescue for this exercise. You can trace the various downloads in the window below. Starting at java -jar, the epubcheck info was dropped in, then a space, and then I dropped in the Love epub. I pressed return, waited a minute or two for the computer to do its magic and lucky me! No errors or warnings were detected which means my Love to the Rescue EPUB was validated. 

Again, I’m no computer whiz but my Terminal window looked almost like the above (I had to type this up for clarity purposes and didn't put in every bit on info about my computer) when it was finished. The info that shows up here is the path to the location of the various files on my computer. As you can see, I put my epubcheck in a folder on my desktop while the Love file is located in a file labeled distributors in my Saderra Publishing folder. As I mentioned in another blog, it’s also filed under the individual distributor. 
As for what goes on when these two files meet in Terminal, I am clueless! My only goal is to get an error free message after the magic happens. I made that last line green to catch your attention. It's NOT going to be green when you succeed, just good old black and white. 

Now that I have an error free EPUB I should be able to download it into the distributors systems with no problem. Any time I make changes and update an EPUB, I run it through epubcheck.

If you walk away with nothing else from this series, just remember the adage, garbage in, garbage out. Whatever path you take to put your manuscript into EPUB format, it needs to be stripped clean and the formatting kept simple.   

I can’t believe I’ve been writing this “Road to Self or Indie Publishing” for almost a year. While putting the EPUB into distribution is by no means the end, I think I’ll let it be the end of this particular titled series. In the upcoming months, I plan to look at other aspects of indie publishing as well as writing in general. 

For your research pleasure, here's the link to epubcheck.

For older releases just go to the releases in the menu above and across mid-screen (today it was 21 releases) and scroll down to the one you want. I use 3.0 which was released May 21, 2013.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Manuscript to EPUB or MOBI via Storyist

This is almost it! I have my publishing company set up, my Employer Identification Number (EIN), software that will export into EPUB and MOBI, accounts set up and approved at the various distributors, a bank account for all that money I’m going to make, a lovely cover image that can be embedded into Storyist, ISBNs purchased, a completed metadata sheet, and a squeaky clean manuscript formatted for export into an EPUB or MOBI.

Since I’ve read through all my contracts, I know that not every distributor will allow links in my e-book to be active. I make a Storyist copy that contains hot links (for iBooks) 

and one that doesn’t (for Nook, Kobo, and Kindle). I add this info to the file name so I can tell them apart.

(I'm using my published e-short story, Love to the Rescue file. My file name is Love2Res and then I just add the format to keep them straight. I also have a file for each distributor that contains the EPUB, MOBI, or pdf I've submitted to that distributor.)

With the Storyist software open and the project I want to turn into an e-book selected, I hit the drop down menu under “File” and click on Export. A window will open to show all the items in that project’s file. I’ll check the little boxes next to the manuscript I want to export, as well as the title page, and the cover image. Since I’m making an EPUB first, I’ll just hit eBook and ePub document will appear in the slot below Export. When I’m ready to export into MOBI, I’ll be sure to select Kindle document in the Format dop down menu window instead.
It’s possible to create a Preset file for your e-book with Storyist. It’s a short cut way for exporting if you need to make some changes to your manuscript and then export it again without filling out all the metadata. The Storyist manual explains how to do that. For now, I’m going to chose “Next” and continue with the export. 

The next window is Step 1 of 2 and this is where I can select the order of the various pages. It’s an easy drag and drop process. I put the cover image first, then the title page, and finally the book body. To help the program, I also tag them with the drop down menu as cover, title page, and book body. Since I’ve included all the information I want in the book body from an introduction to list of my previous work, I usually only have three items to arrange. 

BTW, I covered this process in the November 2014 blog post, Style Sheets: KISS (Keep It Simple, Sweetheart!).

I hit next and I’m now at Step 2 of 2. Here’s where your metadata sheet comes in handy for the first time. Storyist offers ten metadata items. These appear when I click the Add button at the bottom of the table. I don’t have to complete every single one, but it’s a good idea to complete as many as you can. A definition of the each selection is available in the Storyist guide.

The last time I hit “Next” I’ll be taken to my files and can name the story export and decide where I want to keep it. Once I hit “Export,” the file will be saved in that location with the suffix .epub for easy identification.

Yippee! I have a cute as pie EPUB! I'm not sure if this icon appears on all computers, but this is what Mac gives me. 
All I have to do is download it into the distributor’s program, right? 
Nah. Not yet. There’s one last check I need to run to ensure my EPUB will be accepted by the various distributors. I need to run it through a program called epubcheck.

It’s kind of scary because I have to go to Terminal in my Mac and do weird computer geek stuff, but if my manuscript passes muster with this program, it should slide right into distribution with no red flags from anyone saying something’s wrong with the e-book. 

I’m going to save epubcheck until next time since I need to do a little homework, first.

Oh, before I forget, making a MOBI edition, which is the format used by Kindle is very similar. On the first Export window, select eBook for Export and then change the Format drop down menu to Kindle Document (.mobi). The next window will be Step 1 of 3 instead of 1 of 2. Once again, arrange the items in the order they will appear in the published version. The second step is also the same, completing author, book, and publishing information from the metadata sheet.

Step 3 gives three Kindle options. Hovering the mouse over the list opens a box describing what happens if the first two are selected. The last item lists the location of the Kindle version just created. If I want to change where this version is stored, this is where I do it. Hitting next will bring up the window used to identify the name and location of the file, offering another chance to place the file somewhere besides the default location. Hit “Export” and the newly created MOBI file will be saved. 

The only way I know to check how the MOBI file looks prior to loading it into Amazon is to hook up my Kindle to my computer. I don’t have the Kindle app on my computer, but it may work that way, too. I also check out the EPUB on my Nook and Kobo e-readers by hooking them to my Mac. Just follow the instructions for your particular e-reader. To check my EPUB on my Mac to preview it, I just add it to my iBooks library on my Mac. Another option is to hook your iPad to the computer and load the EPUB into your library to read. 

And yes, it's a good idea to check how your e-book looks on whatever e-readers you can. 

epubcheck will be the focus of the next blog on this journey to self-publishing.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Metadata? ISBN? Huh? The Road to Indie Publishing Part 8

You may or may not have noticed I didn’t post in December. For some reason, I enter the Twilight Zone around the holidays and before I know it, two months have slipped away. When I do get online, I shop or check delivery dates of what I’ve ordered. Apparently, blogging isn’t even on my radar. 

The advent of the new year reminded me I needed to get back to writing this saga for those of you who are ready to take the leap into indie publishing. The last blog closed with the statement that before I actually export my project into an e-book, I take two more steps to ensure I have all my ducks in a line. 

What could be left, you ask? 

How about metadata and ISBN.

Gathering the metadata. 
Yep, you’ll need to plug in lots of information during the actual export process. Believe me, it’s easier to gather this information before the process begins than to stop every other click to locate and write the requested information. With a completed metadata form, there are no hold ups in the process, either via the software used to produce the e-book or adding the e-book to the distributor’s catalog.

What is metadata? Not so long ago, metadata was one of those geeky computer nerd terms rumbling around the Internet that few writers could define. And I’m sure the word still holds a different meaning for a computer programmer than it does for a writer. For our purposes, it refers to information about an e-book, its publisher, and the author.

Naturally, I made myself a template to ensure I had all the information I needed in one place. And naturally, it’s available at my website should you wish to download it. This template is a compilation of information needed by Storyist to publish an e-book and items the various distributors need to add your e-book to their system. It is based on my experiences with distributors and intended as a guideline only. You may need to tweak it to fit your needs.

My metadata template puts all the information from EIN (discussed in Part 5) to book blurb right at your fingertips. It helps you make decisions that have to be made before you’re immersed in the publishing and distribution process. You’ll have your author’s bio, the book blurb, your EIN, and price ready. You’ll also know how to categorize your book.

Categorizing Your Book
In order for retailers to sell books, they need them to be in categories. Think fiction versus nonfiction or historical romance versus cookbook. To establish a standard way of categorizing books, the BISAC or Book Industry Standards and Communications was created. Since book retailers use it to identify subject matter, distributors who sell printed books (such as and Barnes and Noble) use it. Therefore, it behooves an indie publisher to know how to use it, too. 

The BISAC website is chock full of information on how to categorize your opus. Fitting your e-book into these categories depends on what you write, the categories listed with BISAC, and how many choices the distributor supplies. As you’ll notice when you check out the template, I have allocated three slots. This was an arbitrary number choice.

Sometimes less than three categories are available. For example, I found two categories for my how to write dialogue e-book, She Sat, He Stood, What Do Your Characters Do While They Talk? Reference >Writing Skills as well as Reference>Handbooks and Manuals. Sometimes there are more than three. With my essay collection, A Dash of Ginger, I had more choices: Humor>General, or Humor>Form>Essays, or Humor>Topic>Relationships, and Humor>Topic>Marriage and Family. 

Figuring out where an e-book falls in the the BIASC categories helps the book retailer identify the book and its subject matter. Once the distributor is happy, the publisher needs to ensure interested readers find the book. That's where keywords come into the picture. 

Keywords or phrases are descriptors that help readers find a book online. They need to reflect what a person searching for that type of book would put into the search field. Sometimes you can springboard off a BISAC category into a descriptor. It was easy to turn Humor>Form>Essay into Humorous Essays, but keep in mind BISAC categories are for retailers while keywords are for readers.

For my novella, Susannah’s Promise, I used clean romance, contemporary romance, small town romance, Tassanoxie, and novella as keywords. For She Sat, He Stood, I used dialogue, writing skills, writing technique, fiction writing, body language, setting, and props. With luck, when the reader searches one of the keywords you've chosen for your e-book, it will pop into view. Now the reader has found your book, how do you entice him or her to read it? 

Book Blurbs
The book blurb is an important marketing tool for capturing the interest of a potential reader. Before distribution, take the time to create the best blurb you can for that particular story. Be prepared for any strictures a distributor places on length with a short blurb (around 50 words) as well as a longer blurb (150 words). It’s much easier to complete the distribution process if you have this valuable information handy. 

For my novella Susannah’s Promise, the short blurb goes like this:

Susannah Warden is trapped in a life she doesn’t want, but she made a deathbed promise to her mother. When archeologist, Dr. Perry Elliston, arrives in Tassanoxie, he reminds Susannah of the future she once wanted.

Will Susannah free herself from the bonds of her promise and get a chance at love?

As you can see, I distilled the novella into its bare bones. Once you have a grasp of the essential story, it’s easy to add more color for a longer 150 word blurb. 

Susannah Warden is trapped in a life she doesn’t want. She quit college, put her life on hold to care for her terminally ill mother, made a deathbed promise to look after her father, took over her mother’s dress shop, and got herself practically engaged to an eligible bachelor. None of these actions reflect what she wants to do with her life. Guilt drives her as she tries to fit the mold her mother created for her. 

When archeologist, Dr. Perry Elliston, arrives in Tassanoxie to survey a possible historical Indian site, he reminds Susannah of the future she wanted before her mother died. Perry recognizes Susannah as the mysterious student who haunted his archeology classes and his dreams several years ago. Now she’s back in his life, but almost engaged to marry another man.

Will Susannah free herself from the bonds of her deathbed promise for the chance at love?

Notice how I expanded the paragraphs to give a little more detail on the characters’ backstory. 

More Decisions
In Part Five I mentioned the contracts you have to sign for each distributor. Contracts I’m hoping you read. If you did, then you’ll know how to complete the blocks titled DRM Free, Currency, Price, Rights, etc. The distributors explain most items quite well or provide resources for more information.

To ISBN or Not
As I mentioned in Part 4, I purchased a block of ISBNs when I set up Saderra Publishing. An ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is a 13 digit number that identifies the title, edition, author, and publisher of a book. The publisher buys the ISBN. 

Each country has one agency that sells ISBNs and in the USA, it’s the Bowker U.S. ISBN Agency. Although the ISBN is purchased in your home country, it works all over the world. For example, once I assigned an ISBN to my humorous essay collection, A Dash of Ginger, and registered it with Bowker, I didn’t need to buy another ISBN to distribute that e-book in India.

Today there are many companies jumping on the indie publishing bandwagon. They’re willing to help an author with any or all of the indie publishing process. Please keep in mind that any agreement that includes a company providing the ISBN as part of the package deal, may well make the company the legal publisher of the e-book. 

It is not mandatory for an indie publisher to buy ISBNs for e-books since many of the distributors don’t require one. Print books are another story. Brick and mortar bookstores, libraries, and other retail outlets require ISBNs because they use it to order and track books. If an author plans to hand sell the print version, an ISBN would not be needed. 

This is a business decision. I decided to use ISBNs as a way to ensure my e-books had an unique identifier. Before exporting my files from Storyist into an e-book , I register the ISBN at Bowker. The process is very easy and calls for information similar to what I’ve put into the metadata sheet. 

Author Bio
While this box is a self-explanatory, it is a good reminder to make sure you have an updated author bio.

Next month, the cleaned up manuscript will go into Storyist and come out an EPUB. 

Below, I’ve listed the websites mentioned in the blog.   (For Writers>Metadata Template)

U.S. publishers and self-publishers purchase their ISBNs online from Bowker at