Formatting eBooks: Final Touches

So we’ve talked about the basics of formatting eBooks, and why it’s important to do it well. Today we’ll look at a couple tips for going that extra mile.

I should say that I got most of these ideas from others, and you can find the relevant links on my Writers Resources page under formatting. Special thanks to Cameron, Guido and Piotr.

So.

The main things you want to look for when you’re formatting is that your line spacing is correct (Word can really mess with this), and that you’ve got a working Table of Contents. We’ll start with the TOC–Sigil makes it really easy for you.

The bold text is your Heading and will show in the TOC.

The picture above shows a heading–the bolded text. At the beginning of each section, you’ll want to highlight the chapter title (in this case, the story title, as it’s a collection of stories), then click the H1 button on the top left of the program. This gives it the <h1></h1> tags, which tells the final file that it’s a heading. Do that for all your sections. When you’re done, go to Tools and click on TOC Editor; this will allow you to select which Headings will appear in your TOC. Deselect things like the copyright page and other front matter if you like, and there you go. On the right side of the picture above is the complete TOC. When you run the finished ePub file through Calibre, you’ll be able to further codify the TOC, which will then appear in the final book.

In professionally published books, you’ll often see the first words or letter of a new chapter highlighted somehow. Sometimes the first few words will be in bold text, sometimes the first letter is an image file of an ornate letter, with the rest of the text wrapped around it. This is something you can accomplish in Sigil.

Capitalise

Note the first few words are capitalized. Neat!

 

Here, I’ve highlighted the first few words and used another feature of Sigil: the All Caps button. You find this in Word as well, of course, but if you carry it over to Sigil from there, it’ll mess up the formatting. You want to do this in HTML, so don’t do it in Word, let Sigil do it for you. Highlight the text you want, click the button (it’s the one I’ve circled in Red) and there you go. This nicely sets the first few words apart, a simple way to give a nice polish to the book.

I’m not sure I like it for my book–my second story, Room With a Corpse, looks a bit silly when I do this–but it’s an option. You could also just bold the text. If you want to add the ornate letter I mentioned (you can see a nice example on the Sigil page), just delete the first letter, then right click in that spot and click “Add Image.” You’ll need to find an image of the letter or make one yourself, but that’s all there is too it.

Which brings us to the next example. Because you’re effectively editing in HTML, you can’t use different fonts without going into the “back end” and editing font tags. Even if you do that, there’s no guarantee that your fonts will display on all readers, so it’s not advised. But there is a way around it.

Open up an image editor–I use Paint.net–and make a small canvas that’s 500 by 375 pixels. This is a good size for most e-readers. Then click on the Text tool and type the title of your book in whatever font you like.

Title Block

Here’s the Title Block for my book–nice font!

You can use some of the main fonts you’ll find installed on your computer–but they’re pretty boring, and people will recognize them. (Remember when Stephen Spielberg used the Papyrus font in Avatar?) Look for other fonts online–they’re easy to install and use–but be careful, because many of them are licensed, and you’ll need to buy them. Don’t go stealing fonts! Instead, go to Font Squirrel, where you can download fonts for free. In the picture above, I’ve used League Gothic, a popular font that “pops” nicely.

So make your image (make the background transparent) and save it as a jpg file. Then create a new section wherever you want your title block to appear. Instead of adding text, just right click and Add Image, throw in your new title block, and ta-da! A nice attractive font to act as your title page without screwing up the user-end e-reader.

Finally, you’ll want to do the same thing with your cover by adding a new section at the very beginning and adding the cover as an image. This will display it on readers not only as a thumbnail when the user is looking through their library, but when they first open the book. I don’t have an example, but check out the link by Cameron above for a nice one.

So there you have it. A few quick tricks that will give your finished book just that much more polish. It’s true what they say: the devil’s in the details. It may seem like a lot of work to add things people probably won’t notice much, but as I said in my last post, people will notice if they’re not there.

And now a quick plug. You might have guessed that because I’m in the final stages, I’m ready to release my book soon–and you’d be right! Watch for The Astrologers and Other Stories to be available on Amazon and Kobo stores by October 23.

And, if you’d like a free copy, why not join my mailing list? Anyone who signs up before October 23 will receive a copy as soon as it’s ready for distribution.

Who doesn’t like free books?

Formatting eBook Continued

HTML Code

Image by Marjan Krebelj c/o Flikr Creative Commons

Today I want to talk again about eBook formatting. We touched on this a while ago, but I think it’s timely to revisit the topic.

I’m in the final stages of my upcoming book, The Astrologers and Other Stories, which is set for release on October 23rd. All the editing is done now, and all I need to do is finish the cover and the formatting–so I’m knee deep in HTML right now.

I’m also reading a book (I won’t mention the title), and perhaps because I’m in the throes of formatting, I’m picking up on all sorts of examples as to why correct formatting is important. Things like misplaced or inconsistent italics and the occasionally awkward display of the text on my device really drives it home.

Of course, mistakes like this aren’t intentional–nobody is going to publish a book that way. It’s more likely that they arise from not knowing the process (which is where I’m at now), or not testing the output on various devices. The thing about self publishing eBooks, I’m finding, is that almost all the work is up to you–it’s easy for details like this to get lost in the sheer amount of effort you need to apply to a successful release.

The design of a book “between the covers” is very important, but it’s difficult because the great majority of your readers aren’t going to notice a thing when it’s done right. They’ll only pick up on the things that look somehow off.

All the more reason to go over your release with a fine tooth comb, and test the output several times on different programs. I use Calibre to start because it’s part of the formatting process, then run it through Adobe Digital Editions. Next I upload a “test” copy to both Amazon and Kobo, which will convert it to their specifications and give you a proof to go over before you submit it for publishing. In all four steps, you should be examining your book line by line to make sure it looks the same–and the way you want–across those platforms. When I published Muzak for the Metro, I went through five or six iterations of my final eBook before settling on the one that’s live–which is still imperfect, I think, and needs to go through another revision.

Of course, this should be your very last step. The actual formatting must come first, and this can be simple or time consuming depending on how picky you get.

I output the file as a eBook through Scrivener, and open that ePub file with Sigil. Sigil is a great open source eBook editor–or, more correctly, it allows you to edit with HTML, the language an eBook is written in. While you edit it compiles the opf file, which gathers the information about how your eBook is structured and tells readers how to display it. This is the important part of the process: by editing through HTML, you’re telling the user-end devices how to read your book. If you get it right in Sigil, it should look right across other devices. And, because Sigil is a “What You See Is What You Get” editor, it’s downright simple.

Most of the work you’ll do through Sigil is correcting line spacing, assigning headers (which helps in organizing a working Table of Contents) and making sure hyperlinks (to your webpage, twitter account, etc) are working properly. In my next post, I’ll show you some tricks and tips that will give your eBook a more polished look.

I’m looking for more eBook emulators/readers to test my books on, so if you have any ideas, please leave them in the comments!

Community

Today, up in the Great White North, is Thansgiving–so I’m not going to draw up a big post. I do, however, have something to announce: the creation of the Speaking to the Eyes Community List!

The one thing I love most about the self-publishing game online is the sense of Community. People here are genuinely eager to help, if you know who to approach. And one of the most common pieces of advice is to start a mailing list or newsletter. So I’ve done just that. To your right, you’ll see a link to the signup form (I can’t post the form on this site), and if you look at the top of your browser, you’ll find a new Community List page with more information.

But why is it a Community List and not a newsletter?

Well, as I said, the indie writer community online is superb–and, although I’m young in the game, I want to help engender that too. This list will allow me to share information about my own releases and writing, but I also want to encourage discussion. Occasionally I’ll be asking questions or posing topics for discussion, and I’m hoping this list will turn into a place where we can all share ideas.

I should note that none of your emails will be visible to others–if you respond to an email I send out, only I will see it, and I’ll forward it to the group. Your email is completely protected, and I won’t spam anyone. The list is managed by Mailchimp, so you know it’s safe!

And, as a special offer, I’ll be giving away FREE COPIES of my upcoming release The Astrologers and Other Stories to the people who subscribe before October 23rd–the pending release date. I’m in the final preparation stage now, but once it’s ready I’ll email you a copy–you’ll get it before anyone else!

I’m looking forward to chatting with you all on the list. In the meantime, enjoy your Turkey Day–and if you’re not in Canada, well, happy Monday. 😀

Indie Interview: Ryan Casey

Something in the Cellar

Something in the Cellar, by Ryan Casey

 

Yesterday I did a review of an indie writer, part of an ongoing habit I’m trying to form. Today, I’m going to post a brief interview. I did this with Yesenia Vargas a while back, and would like to interview other indie writers in the future–if you’re writing and would like to be featured on the blog, get in touch at jparsonswrites@gmail.com!

Anyway, to the point.

Ryan Casey is a writer who specializes in horror/suspense/tension–which happens to be one of my favourite genres. So I wanted to pick his brain a bit on that topic. As usual, my questions in bold, his answers in regular text.

1. What made you want to write in the horror/suspense genre?
Horror/suspense has always been my genre, to be honest. It’s the genre I’ve always been fascinated by, whether it be in books, TV, films, or whatever. Something in the Cellar was my first ‘serious’ release, so it just felt right to write in my comfort zone. I asked myself the hypothetical question, ‘what would a woman do if she’d murdered her husband and locked him in the cellar?’ and it just kind of went from there, really.
The Runaway (the accompanying short story) is a much more recent piece of mine. I wrote the title story around 18 months ago in its original incarnation, so it’s quite ‘old’ in that respect. With The Runaway, it was kind of nice to write because I’ve been busy working on a sort of mystery/coming-of-age novel for the past year, so it was great to just go crazy. I think The Runaway is my favourite of the two, to be honest.
2. Do you have favourite techniques for creating tension?
Well, there are of course the technical tricks you can use, but I think one thing I’d emphasize is characterization. If you don’t invest in the character, then it goes without saying that the ‘tension’ won’t be relatable. That’s what I had to try and do with Something in the Cellar: present this woman who has obviously committed a terrible crime, but gradually reveal little things and clues about her life that almost ‘rationalize’ the behaviour.
I like a good twist, too. Without wanting to spoil anything, I like twists that pull the rug from under people’s feet and force a complete reassessment, particularly in short stories. If I’ve come anywhere near achieving that in Something in the Cellar/The Runaway, then I’m delighted.
3. What the most genuinely scary book you’ve read?
The scariest book I’ve ever read was actually a Horowitz short story collection when I was around ten years old. It was called ‘More Horowitz Horror’ I think. Of course, the stuff is probably pretty tame now, but I always remember there being a little short story added on the end by a supposed maniac who had intercepted the publication of the book and personally delivered it to me, complete with a ‘I’m going to kill you’ death threat. Rest assured, I didn’t sleep for weeks.
Non-fiction really scares me today, though. Stuff about serial killers, and real life atrocities. I’ve probably become a little desensitized to conventional horror movies, so documentaries and things like that really get to me.
And there we have it. I’d certainly reccomend that you check out Casey’s book, which you can find here. You can find Ryan at ryancaseybooks.com, and on Goodreads.
Finally, I also found the book Ryan mentioned–More Horowitz Horror. You can get it on Amazon or the Kobo store. Sweet dreams!

Indie Review: Something in the Cellar by Ryan Casey

We’re going to try something different today.

Something in the Cellar

Something in the Cellar by Ryan Casey

As a burgeoning indie writer, one of the first things I learned is that the community is awesome. There are a lot of people in the same position as me–or those who’ve been there before–and they’re willing to help out. So I’m going to start a new segment on this blog to do my part: reviewing works by indie writers. This will be ongoing, but I can’t promise a regular weekly column (I don’t have that much time to read!). I’ll try to do at least one review every couple weeks.

For our first review, we have Ryan Casey’s Something in the Cellar, which you can find on Amazon here. This is a collection of two horror/suspense stories and an except from What We Saw, Casey’s upcoming novel.

Something in the Cellar opens the book, and it’s got a great premise: a woman has killed her husband and locked the body in the cellar. She spends the story wracked with guilt, rationalizing her actions–all while trying to keep her dog and young son from discovering the crime.

This story could have gone a lot of different ways. After I read the first paragraphs, I expected the protagonist to be a hands-rubbing-together villain, and the story to centre on her vile crime. Thankfully, that’s not the case; Sandra ends up being a layered figure, and nothing is as it seems. The reader quickly gets on her side, not because of her motives (which are revealed gradually) but out of empathy. She’s a genuinely likeable character, despite what she’s done.

Likewise, I expected something different from the tension and its resolution. I don’t want to spoil the story, so suffice it to say that what you think is causing the tension is resolved, only to reveal a new source in the last pages. The end of the story comes at the reader very quickly, and Casey’s use of short sentences and tense language creates a creepy atmosphere. This is one of those stories where, after reading the last sentence, you set it down just to catch your breath. I honestly didn’t see it coming, and wanted to read more–but the “hang” is perfectly effective as it is, and resolving it would have lessened the work.

Next is The Runaway. It opens at breakneck speed, and the reader is left feeling like they’re chasing the protagonist. All the while, questions are being asked; the protagonist doesn’t know who or where she is, or even why she’s running. But she knows she must keep going.

This story is tense for a different reason than the first. It’s not frightening, really, but there’s an underlying ‘creepiness’ to it. Because the reader knows just as little as the protagonist, they are left in the dark, grasping every clue in an attempt to figure it out. Casey is good at giving those clues bit by bit, just slowly enough to keep you interested without being vague. This means a loss of power for the reader; when we read a story, we want to be in control, to be able to figure things out at our own pace and revel in the deduction. Casey takes that away from the reader, and the result is unsettling, in a good way.

However, I felt that the resolution for this story wasn’t as satisfying as Something in the Cellar. I was a bit confused by the end; although I got the gist of what Casey was saying, certain details were lacking. Instead of creating subtle questions for the reader that they could answer on their own–which I think was the writer’s intent–it left me wondering about the motives of the characters. I still think it’s a great story, but it could have used some clarification in the final pages.
All in all, this is a great collection, and it’s a steal at $0.99. In my short time as an indie writer, I’ve read a good amount of other indie fiction, and Casey definitely stands apart from the crowd. He has a talent for creating tension, and seems to understand that true horror writing isn’t about scaring your readers–it’s about leaving them unsettled enough that they scare themselves.

Ryan Casey has another short story–Silhouette–which is also available at Amazon here. His first full length novel, What We Saw–is set for release in January 2013. You can find Ryan online at ryancaseybooks.com.

And stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where we’ll be talking to the man himself!

Drop by Drop–or Splash

Image by Ian Sane via Flikr

This morning I found a nice quote on my Twitter stream:

A bowl fills drop by drop.

~Buddha

I found it very apropos to my journey into e-publishing so far. It’s been a learning curve, and I’m finding tons of little details need to get taken care of–most of which I’d never thought of before. Drop by drop indeed.

And then, sometimes, there’s a splash.

This morning, I received notification by the Government of Canada Library and Archives informing me that my application for a publisher’s block of ISBN numbers had been approved. Which means that I can now add ISBN numbers to any of my forthcoming published works, all online, all at the click of a button–and all for free. Not that I’m bragging.

Getting an ISBN number has always been a goal of mine, in a geeky spent-too-much-time-at-the-library-as-a-kid kind of way. I always figured that, as a writer, it would be one of those great measures of success. Get an ISBN number, and your book could be sold in bookstores. It could be stocked in libraries. It’s in a national database.

It’s real.
Suddenly, that bowl is filling pretty darn quickly.

Of course, in the world of e-publishing, it’s pretty easy to get an ISBN number, and it’s not a validation of your writing by any stretch of the imagination. Still, it’s a significant step for me, and one that makes this goal of mine seem more within reach than ever.

Anyway, ISBN Numbers. Why bother?

An International Standard Book Number is used to set one publication apart from another–even separate editions of the same text. It’s an important tool for librarians and booksellers, allowing them to easily categorize and track books. For eBooks, it’s a bit different. The ISBN (you might see eISBN) is obtained in the same way, and serves the same purpose. But not all vendors require one.

The Kobo and Amazon and Barnes & Noble stores don’t require an ISNB, though you can add one if you like. The Apple and Sony stores do–and by extension, Smashwords requires an ISBN if you want to be included in their Premium Catalogue, which pushes titles to both those stores (you can still publish on Smashwords without an ISBN, just not in the Premium Catalogue).

Which brings us back to the question. If many distributors don’t require one, why bother? If you don’t mind not getting into the Sony or Apple stores, maybe you don’t need one–but an ISBN is nevertheless a helpful marketing and tracking tool that could give you an edge.

Of course, there’s also the expense to consider. In the USA, there’s a service charge for getting an ISBN. On ISBN.org, they’ll cost you between $27 and $40 each to start, but you buy them in blocks of ten. Smashwords seems to offer them for free. And if you live in Canada–which encourages the creation of new Canadian Creative Content–all you have to do is go to the Canadian ISBN Service System . Sign up, and in a couple weeks, you’ll be assigned a unique ISBN publishers block. From there you’re only a couple clicks away from a unique ISBN for each new publication. Easy!

 

This might be a good time to remind everyone that my collection The Astrologers and Other Stories will be published soon–I’m aiming for a release date of October 23. It will be priced at $2.99, but I’ll be offering the titular story separately for free. Look for it on the Kobo Store and Amazon.com soon!

Tapestry Sample part 2–and exciting news!

Following up on my last post, today I have the second part of Garden, the sample from my upcoming Tapestry project. But first, some exciting news!

Yesterday I got my manuscript for The Astrologers and Other Stories from my editor, Yesenia Vargas. This is the first time I’ve had my work professionally edited, so I was a bit nervous. But it wasn’t as error-ridden as I’d feared. Once I go through the edits, I’ll be ready to start formatting–one more step taken!

This is where it starts to feel really real. Now I have a manuscript that’s been tinkered with, ad somehow that drives it home for me. I’m looking forward to my first real release!

In the meantime, I’m still working on my new project, Tapestry. Here’s the seond half of the sample I introduced in my last post:

Garden, part two

Metedre raced down the stairs and into the garden, her heart in her throat. Kthone didn’t contact her often—she rarely showed herself at all—but she had proved to be a great source of advice. She carried with her an immense store of wisdom, and was eager to share it with her—to the point, in fact, that Metedre often wondered if she were being groomed.
The scent of jasmine was cloying in the garden, but she reveled in it. The aroma of damp soil mingled with the flowers, creating a wonderfully textured sensation. She stepped out of her slippers so she could feel the grass on the soles of her bare feet, and found her way through the winding path, looking for her charge.
Kthone stood beside a tall willow—also imported, and sadly not doing well in its new habitat—both hands resting on a small knobbed cane. She was clothed in an earthy taupe robe, cinched at the waist by a thin green cord that could have been a vine. A tall flat hat was perched on her head and appeared forever in danger of falling off, though it never did. When she smiled at Metedre’s approach, her face folded into a labyrinth of wrinkles and she showed brownish teeth. Patches of coarse hair dotted her face and hands.
“Evening becomes you, Empress,” she croaked, her voice deeper than one would expect. Metedre nodded her thanks, folding her hands into the sleeves of her gown.
“Well met, my friend,” she replied. The unusually cool air chilled her, and she wished she’d fetched a thicker robe than the simpler shift she’d donned after Alkut had left. “And to what do I owe this visit?” She shivered, moving from foot to foot.
The Crone lifted a hand, as gnarled as her cane, facing a palm toward Metedre. The Empress knelt and pressed her palm in turn; a shallow warmth emanated from the Crone, filtering through her own body. She smiled.
“The warmth of the land permeates all; you are forgetting your lessons,” the Crone chided. But there was a lilt of humor in her voice. Metedre stood again, and nodded.
“I have been…preoccupied of late. My people…”
“Yes, yes, my child, I know of your troubles. They matter little, but weigh much. This land,” the Crone said, gesturing with her arm to include the whole garden, “has been transformed. You brought life to it, continue to nurture it. Your people weep for lack of resources, for want of fertile land, but it is all right here. This is all you need.”
Metedre nodded again, but her smile had faded. She had heard this talk before, and while she saw the wisdom in what Kthone was trying to tell her, the Crone simply didn’t understand the depth of the situation.
“My people are starving, Kthone.  Our population grows faster than we can feed it, and for the first time our Empire can’t seem to sustain itself. We have tried irrigation, rotating crops, cultivating hardier strains; nothing holds. We have imported dozens of species from Tornum, but this garden is the only place they grow and thrive.”
The Crone hobbled closer to Metedre, gazing idly around the garden as if taking it in for the first time.
“Yes. And this garden is a formidable achievement. This is harsh land indeed, all desert and sands. And yet you have wrought this bounty from the earth, teased it to your will. Why has it not been so elsewhere in Yzima?”
Metedre winced. It certainly hadn’t been for lack of trying. The problem was a source of water; Yzima had an extensive coastline, but little water flowed through the interior of the Empire. Most of the major settlements were on the shores, and industry followed—leaving little room for the cultivation of crops in the areas that were best suited to it. Many Emperors had tried in the past to pass reforms to clear that land, but the Empire had always been built on Industry; their wealth, their very livelihood depended on the kind of invention that pushed agriculture aside. Their factories and refineries and smelters needed water too, and it was a matter of simple economics that the results of that toil created more wealth than farming.
It had never been an issue before now. They were expanding at a record rate, and people were moving inland. The continent had been plotted centuries ago, and people were delving into the interior for want of space. But neither industry nor agriculture could function well in the expansive desert, and so the coastlines became more and more clogged with people competing for prime land. The result in recent years had created a sever issue of supply versus demand, as both major <industries> competed for the same scarce resources, and both flagged in response.
But Kthone knew all of this; they’d had this conversation several times before. Metedre saw the small woman’s smile and knew she was being tested.
“Other areas of Yzima haven’t received the attention my garden has,” she replied tentatively. The other woman nodded, encouraging her. “I have tended these plants tirelessly,” she continued, “even had the course of the River Umen turned to irrigate it. But the toil of my people hasn’t been any less than mine. “
“Their toil, no,” Kthone said, setting her cane aside and bending to the ground. She gathered a clump of soil, and waddled closer to Metedtre, pressing it into her hands and closing her fingers around it.
“Their will, perhaps not. You have life in you, Empress, and you send it forth as others send words of war and hate. These people, your people…they are hard and sharp, like the sands of the desert. They do not understand as you do. You are a mother, and have wisdom others lack.”
She smiled, placing a muddy hand on Metedre’s abdomen.
“Yes,” she muttered, gathering her cane.
“Mother?” he asked, “why are you out here alone? Who were you talking to?”
Footsteps approached from the palace, echoing in the silent night. Startled, Metedre turned, childishly hiding the soil behind her back, as if she’d been caught stealing. She couldn’t think of who else would be up at this time of night, let alone wandering through her garden. General Ohmelus, the General of Tauri’s armies, walked down the path, and she relaxed.
Metedre gestured behind her, but the gnomish woman had already turned away and was walking into the trees.
“A friend,” she replied. The Knight gave her a curious look, his eyes searching for this “companion,”but saw nothing. He didn’t pursue the issue. Instead, he nodded towards her clenched hands.
“It’s a little late for gardening, mother,” he quipped. “Or are jasmine saplings best planted in the dark?”
She ignored his tone—he seemed surlier than usual—and looked at the wad of dirt in her hands. A small spout had grown out of it, already arching toward the moon for light. Laughing, she tenderly planted it in the ground, wiping her hands on her shift.
“Come, Ohmelus, walk with me.” She offered her arm, and they strolled together down the moonlight path.