Another Indie in Paper!

20130830-191938.jpgA nice quick post this afternoon–just wanted to share the further success of one of my favourite Indie writers, J. M. Ney-Grimm.

Savvy readers will know Ney-Grimm from the several reviews I’ve done of her work. If you haven’t read any of her stories yet, go check them out–they’re set in a Nordic fantasy world, often based on fairy tales (or such tropes), and have a very characteristic “effervescent” style. Well written, fun stories.

One of those stories, Sarvet’s Wanderyar, has been on my plate for a while. I’ll be reviewing it coming up soon on the blog, but wanted to share her good news now: she’s published it in paperback! You can get the book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and CreateSpace. You can read about her release here.

And while you’re at it, why don’t you check out her work on Amazon and Kobo? Trust me, they’re great books.

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Of Books and Beer

My first home made beer

My first home made beer

We’re going to do something fun today. As I’ve maintained this blog over the past several months, I’ve thought about what it means to be Indie. Indie publishing; Indie music; Indie film…they all have to do with not moving beyond consumption of a product toward developing it yourself. Putting your own stamp on it, as it were, outside the regulations, cultural mores, or “supposed-to-haves” of the traditional model.

And as I thought about this, it occurred to me that I’m doing something similar with my newest hobby–making beer.

I’ve wanted to try home brewing for quite a while, and after pulling out my first batch this past weekend, I can say it was a really fun experience. I enjoy a good beer, but there’s nothing quite like sipping your own brew. A satisfaction not altogether unlike seeing your book in the Amazon store. In fact, home brewing isn’t that different from writing and publishing your own work, once you get past the malt and yeast.

So, for a bit of fun, here’s a few reasons why Home Brewing is like Indie Publishing:

The recipes vary, but you always start with the same ingredients
The great thing I’m learning about beer is that once you get past the Budweisers and Coors and Alexander Kieth’s (previously my favourite), there’s an enormous variety out there. Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown tastes like hazlenut and chocolate; Weihenstephaner makes a dunkel that’s like buttered and toasted rye; the Vermont Pub and Brewery makes their own sour beer that’s like a mix between cider and brandy. But when you get down to it, this incredible variety comes down to four ingredients: malt, yeast, hops and water.

Likewise, there’s as many different types of fiction as there are writers. Our trade defines variety by way of our creativity. And yet, any good story has essential ingredients like plot, character, conflict, a call to action, and so on. As with great beer, the variety comes with how those ingredients play off each other, and how well you use them.

You have to know the rules before you break them
In beer making, sanitising is paramount. It’s so easy for your beer to become infected from the tools you use, not washing your hands, even yeast that’s gone off. The result is a lot of bad flavours in the beer–or worse, a bacterial infection. But there’s an exception to every rule: sour beer is, quite literally, beer that’s become infected and been allowed to develop “off flavours.” It’s an aquired taste, but much sought after in the craft brew world. The thing is, you can’t just infect your beer and hope it will turn out–you have to know what you’re doing, and where it’s appropriate to introduce an infection that might otherwise kill your brew.

The best writers know when to follow the rules, and when to break them. They can tell instead of showing and get away with it. They can add pages of flat exposition with such flair that the reader doesn’t care. Star Wars has some of the most tired and overused tropes in storytelling–but it works, because Lucas knew how to make those cliches work for him. Anyone can break all the rules and try to be revolutionary–only an artist can pull it off.

It’s not impossible, but it’s not simple
The first thing that surprised me when learning how to make beer was how easy it looked. The second thing was how difficult is really was. Beer making really comes down to balancing your ingredients properly, adding things at the right times, and making sure everything is clean. You can pick up a brew kit as a complete novice and brew a decent batch in six weeks with no experience or hand holding. But if you want to be good at it, you have to hone your craft. I’ve talked to people who’ve gone deep enough to grow their own malt, hops, and yeast. It’s one of those things where you’re going to get out of it what you put into it.
Writing’s much the same. Anyone can put a plot on the page, but that’s not really writing. It seems easy, and on the surface, it is–many writers plonk down their first draft without breaking a sweat. But it’s the crafting of that story that’s hard, and I’d venture to say that few people become absolute masters. The really good writers are the ones who make it look easy, knowing full well just how difficult it really is. But on the other hand, it’s not an unapproachable craft–just pick up a pen, put it to the page, and see where it takes you. Like beer making, you can go as deep as you want.

Carelessness can ruin the batch
Remember what I said about sterilization? I’d say at least 70% of the time it took to brew my first batch was taken up with cleaning. It took me fully an hour and a half to properly clean all the bottles before I was able to prime my beer–filling them took about twenty minutes. Fortunately, there are tools to help cut down that time, but it’s still crucially important. And it’s not just proper cleaning–if you add your hops at the wrong time, you’ll introduce an oily bitter taste; too much malt can make it overly sweet; not allowing it to ferment long enough can produce exploding bottles that sends glass through drywall. There’s an adage in the craft brew world that it’s really hard to completely ruin a batch, but by the same token, if you don’t watch what you’re doing, it’s not going to turn out as you like.
You can probably see where I’m going with this one. The Indie Publishing oeuvre is rife with badly edited or composed books. I’ve read some that had a decent story, but were nearly impossible to get through because of paper thin characters and ridiculous spelling mistakes. These are people who haven’t made full use of the resources available to them, or have simply sent out a book they wanted to publish in a hurry, long before it was ready. It might not take an English major to write a good novel, but a writer at least needs to take good care of their story. Otherwise, like bad beer, it’s just hard to swallow. Which leads to…

Patience, patience, patience!
This last one is probably the most important, and it’s easy to fall victim to it on both fronts. A hastily published book–without proper editing, cover art, formatting and so on–is pretty obvious. It turns readers off, and can damage your platform. And a lot of writing is about getting those fine details right–not just spelling and white space, but asking if your character arcs make sense, or if your continuity’s off. These are things that can’t be accomplished on your first draft–you need to be patient as you work them out.

Likewise, patience is the absolute key when brewing beer. One of the biggest reasons a batch can fail is because it was rushed–and in fact, many first time brewers dump a batch that would have been perfectly fine, given time to condition properly.
I’m experiencing this right now, actually. My first batch was scheduled to finish last Friday, so I put a couple bottles in the fridge. After more than six weeks of anxiously waiting to tip back the first bottle, I was chomping at the bit–but the first glass (pictured above) tasted watery and thin. The flavour was there, but something was missing.
I did some research, and found that this is pretty common–it just means it hasn’t had enough time to carbonate. Notice that it’s got a thick head but almost no bubbles in the beer? The carbonation is coming out of the beer too fast; it hasn’t had time to properly dissolve in the liquid. So I’m leaving it for now, and will try another bottle each week until it’s ready–be patient!

Okay, a bit longer than usual, but I had some fun writing this post. If you enjoy beer and haven’t thought about making it, pop over to Home Brew Talk to learn more. Or visit your local home brew store–usually they’ll sell wine kits too. There is an initial investment, but honestly it’s not hard to do–and what beer aficionado wouldn’t love to quaff his own hand made brew?

Traditionally Published Authors a Step Closer to Indies?

One of my favourite “traditionally published authors,” Kevin J Anderson, recently posted about what he called a ground breaking change in the publishing industry: a new service called Cunable, which allows authors to sell their published works as eBooks without going through a major distributor. You can read it here. It is indeed a big change, but what does it mean for the Indie Publishing Community?

There are those in the community who are much better versed in how Cunable will affect self-publishing, if it will at all–but I wanted to comment on it. I’ve started to see Anderson as a champion for the eBook format; he’s released a lot of his back catalogue as eBooks on his own website, and seems eager to encourage e-reading. It helps that he’s a major voice in the sci-fi and fantasy genres–he gives exposure to the format.

And now, he’s embarking on this experiment with Cunable. The creator of this service, John Grace, describes it as “Self Retailing for the Published Author,” and it seems very close to how Indie writers are publishing and selling their books.

Basically, Grace is concerned with putting money into the hands of authors, insteads of publishers. In an interview on Kirin Design, he points out that an author doesn’t get a lot of the revenue from their own work, and that this is something that can change. It’s part of what motivates the Indie Community, which gets a large percentage of sales compared to going through one of the Big Five publishers (if you can get there at all). Indeed, Grace admits that he was inspired by the “growth and success” of the self-publishing model, and sees it as a way for published author to “eliminate the retailer channel.”
Of course, Indies see another (and more important) benefit to self-publishing–we get our work out directly to those who want to read it, and can communicate with our network of readers. I think Cunable will fulfil this goal too, though Grace doesn’t explicitly reference it.

Grace would like to see the Big Five sign on with his service so he can distribute published works through his website, or allow authors to distribute through theirs. Anderson says that the 30-35% cut that publishers normally get from sales would instead be split between Cunable and the author–I’m not sure how happy publishers would be about that, but it does sound like a good idea for people who just want to write for a living. Really, it’s about taking the publisher out of the picture; getting the book directly from the author, no middleman, no fuss. Another reason Indies do what they do. I’m glad a person like Anderson is involved in this,  as he could give Cunable some real momentum. It will be interesting to see where they go.

But what does this all mean? The first thing that popped into my mind when I read the blog was that published authors are going to start flooding the market. Anderson has already dipped his toe in, and I could see others following him. And that’s good on one hand, because it gives even more credence to self-publishing and to the eBook format. But on the other hand, I don’t think self-publishing needs more credence–and the system itself could potentially change.

The funny thing about Community is that it’s (ironically) exclusionary. A community of like minded people will either exclude those who aren’t of “like mind,” or change its own definition to welcome them. I see the latter happening here; if Cunable takes off and traditionally published authors start joining the ranks of the self-published, the Indie Community changes. It may not be a bad change–maybe the traditionalists will join the ranks of Indies, something that’s already been happening for some time. This could only strengthen the community.
But–and this is the thing that I really wonder about–it could also mean greater competition. One of the hardest things about self-publishing is that the marketing is all up to you. It’s challenging, and I think it takes a special type of motivation to get it done right. But put those people up against someone who has an established name, and the competition gets a lot more fierce. I loved Anderson’s Captain Nemo, for example, but I think Lindsey Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge novels are better. An uninitiated reader given the choice between them might go with the name they recognise (though I have to give props to Buroker, arguably one of the most recognisable names in self-publishing). I’m not saying this is a good or a bad thing–but it’s something to watch as it develops.

The one big difference I’m seeing, though, is pricing. Anderson’s prices haven’t changed since partnering with Cunable. His current Zombie PI series Dan Shamble is selling for around $13 a book–most Indie books hover between $1 and $5, and given some of the great percentages Indies get, both can potentially earn about the same from each sale. But–and this is a big but–given a choice between a $5 eBook and a $13 eBook, many will choose the lower price. For Cunable, I think this is inescapable–they’re still distributing books that are under a publisher’s contract. But for a company moving into the self-publishing model, it’s an interesting complication.

At any rate, as I said above, there are those better versed in the self-publishing model who can comment on this development more eloquently than I…but it’s a very interesting development, and I’m excited to see where it leads. I applaud Anderson for getting on board, and my big hope is that this will encourage the continued paradigm shift for publishing. At the very least, it helps with distribution and accessibility–and in the end, getting more books into the hands of readers is what it’s all about.

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?

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!

Formatting eBooks–for Newbs

Last time, we spoke about the very basics of doing a book cover–today, another integral piece of the puzzle, formatting!

Before I got into e-publishing, I thought I knew what publishers wanted when you submit your manuscript. There are certain protocols you’re supposed to follow–name in the upper left corner, word count in the upper right, etc. The purpose of this is for the agent or publisher to have a quick reference, and for the editor to be able to easily get around your work. In e-publishing, though, the writer is filling most of those roles, so the game is completely different.

So why not just write the book in MS Word the way you want it to look, upload it to Kobo or Amazon, and press publish?

If you do that, I’ll guarantee you one thing: the end product will look horrible.

The thing is, a lot of the formatting in MS Word–or other word processors for that matter–is done in the background, where you can’t see it. Here’s an experiment: go to the View tab,

Word Formatting Marks

Formatting Marks: note there are even dots to indicate the space between words.

and find the option that shows your formatting marks. (In Word, go to Options, Display, and Show All Formatting Marks.) Your manuscript will be riddled with symbols; this is coding Word inputs into your file as you’re writing to determine what the output will look like. What many people don’t realize is that Word is not a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get program. Far from it!

Here’s another experiment. Copy a paragraph of your manuscript, open a blank file in Notepad, and paste it. The text should go, unbroken, on one line, and you’ll have to scroll to the right to see it all. This is because .txt files, unlike files from word processors, don’t have “Word Wrap,” meaning that the text will go on forever until a new paragraph is started. Looks hard to read, right? Surely we want our manuscripts to “wrap” when we format them for eBooks, right?

Actually, no. The thing is, there’s no standard for electronic books. Many–I’d even say most–go with the ePub format, while others–like the ubiquitous Amazon Kindle books–are .mobi files. There are several other formats; the point is, they’re all programmed differently. So when you upload a particular file to, say, Kobo, it might look vastly different when Amazon gets a hold of it. The difference comes in how those files interact with the formatting marks I mentioned earlier.

I haven’t experimented with every kind of file, so I can’t tell you yet which works best–what I can say is that, for the sake of your own sanity, the easiest thing to do is start with a raw file. I do a lot of my writing in MS Word through Google Docs–because it’s accessible anywhere, even on my phone–and copy and paste the text into Scrivener. Scrivener can output into several file types, including Real Text Format (rtf) or the MS Word .doc. Of, you can export it as a text file. This is the raw text–no formatting at all.

What I’ve been doing is exporting as a text file, then opening up a program called Sigil, a WYSIWYG editor (unlike Word!). Sigilis basically an HTML editor, meaning you’ll be coding in the same way you would a web page–or an eBook. It’s really simple to use, and you don’t need any experience with HTML. Just copy and paste your work, create headings (which will create a table of contents for you), and images if you have them, italicize and bold your text if need be. That’s it! There’s a handy tutorial here, and the whole process isn’t very long or arduous (though poetry is another story–it took a while to get Muzak for the Metro to look right).

It might even be simpler, though. I haven’t tried it yet, but I imagine you could output your Scrivener files as an eBook, which would open in Sigil. This way, you do most of your formatting as you work in Scrivener, and use Sigil for touch-ups.

Once that’s done, you use Calibre to tweak things like metadata and making sure everything is “just so.” But that’s a topic for another post.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to eBook formatting, but it’s a start, and it’s a lot easier than some might lead you to believe. If you want to check out a sample of just how this turns out, you can go to Amazon to find the eBook I created with this process (including a cover) this weekend, Muzak for the Metro. It’s only $0.99, and it includes a poem that wasn’t in the original collection–plus an excerpt from “Room With a Corpse,” a short story which will appear in my forthcoming collection The Astrologers and Other Stories. Check it out!

Creating eBook Covers–For Newbs

In yesterday’s brief post, I mentioned that I spent some time this past weekend learning how to format eBooks and make covers. Now, I’m by no means an expert at either, but I learned a great deal–and since this blog is about learning how to publish, why not share what I learned? Today, I’ll touch on creating covers–but fair warning, this is a large topic, so it won’t be a comprehensive how-to. Look in the future for more tips and tricks on making eBook covers.

For now, we’ll start easy. Why should you even bother? The short answer is what I’m going to call “Browse Potential.”

A lot of books get sold because readers are familiar with the author or because they’re aware of the story; some get sold by word of mouth or people reading reviews. But a lot of books are sold because someone was wandering the aisles in the bookstore and found something cool. This is my favorite way to shop for books: browsing. You never know what you’re going to find, so it’s a bit like a treasure hunt. And when I’m browsing, it’s often the books with the flashiest covers that catch my eye.

It works the same when you’re buying eBooks, but I’d argue that covers are even more important. It’s easy to just breeze by all the little thumbnails on your screen without giving any of them a second thought. Or worse, picking out a particularly bad cover and deciding (without having read it) that it’s an amateurish or poorly written book. In other words, not worth buying.
The sad truth is that people will judge your books by it’s cover–so make it a good one!

Now, I’m no artist, so I can’t pretend to know anything about effective composition and drawing the eye to the corner or color theory. But I do know what I, as a reader, like to see in a book cover. I think this is the best place for someone new to start: design a cover for a book you’d want to buy. You may not share everyone’s tastes, but chances are your readers–having chosen to purchase a book in the genre you’re writing in–will share at least some aesthetics.

So you’ve got a concept you think will draw people’s attention. What then?

There are lots of people online who will design a cover for you, for various fees (I’ve seen them go up to $200 for one cover). I haven’t started generating revenue yet, so I don’t want to pay that right off the bat…but I still need a good cover. Fortunately, my sister-in-law is an artist, and has agreed to help me out. She’s providing the artwork in a digital file, and I’m using graphic design software to make it into a cover.

I went to a site called eBook Rights Management, which offers DRM protection for eBooks, as well as templates you can use to design covers. Their covers are free, but if you’re going to use them, it’s only fair to credit them in your book. I mocked up a simple cover, then downloaded the image and loaded it into a program called Paint.net to manipulate the image into what I wanted.

(I’m not going to get into how to use Paint.net here, as it’s outside the scope of this post and you can find much better tutorials than I could write online. Suffice it to say that it’s got most of the functionality of Photoshop,  but it’s free!)

This was the arduous part. I’m picky when it comes to this kind of thing, so it took a few hours to get one solid image–the one above–which I’m not completely sold on yet. But it’s a start. While I was making the image, I saved a template with the correct canvas size for an eBook; this will enable me to quickly create new covers without doing all the set up first.

The next step was finding a font. The number of fonts you have will depend on your own software, but it’s easy to find new ones online. A word of warning, though: many font packages will cost you, and some of the ones that say they’re free actually aren’t (they involve royalties, or when you click through to download it asks you to pay). Do your research before settling on a font, and make sure you’re attributing it correctly in the book’s front matter. Nothing in this world is completely free, but that doesn’t mean you should rip off someone else’s work!

Now all you have to do is put it all together. I’d recommend creating a new layer in your image for anything you add–it will make further edits much simpler. A layer is just what it sounds like: a layer you can edit without affecting the image beneath. I had one for my border, another for the image, a third for my title, and a fourth for my name. It seems like lots of work, but it’s well worth it for the hassle you’ll save yourself.

And there you have it: a quick and dirty cover. Of course, this is a very basic way to go about things; I have some experience with image manipulation, but I wouldn’t call it graphic design. If you want a seriously well done cover, you should either learn the programs you’ll be using, or pay someone else to do it. You don’t have to be incredibly ornate, but the end result should look better than something you threw together in MS Paint. And the more professional it looks, the more “Browse Potential” you’ll earn.

Got any tips for cover design, or a link to a resource? Post it in the comments!

Muzak for the Metro

In my ever continuing effort to experiment with this self-publishing thing, I spent much of the day yesterday playing with two programs: Paint.net, learning to make covers; and Sigil, an open source ePub editor, learning to format ebooks from scratch with HTML. It was enlightening–the editing, formatting, and graphic design work in publishing is two or three times the work of actually writing–but interesting. I’ll be sharing my experiences with you in the coming weeks.

But I wasn’t just fiddling around. I took my previous “test project,” Muzak for the Metro, and spruced it up a bit. I included a poem that wasn’t in there before–Adam’s Tree–and a snippet of a short story called Room With a Corpse–which will be included in full in my upcoming collection The Astrologers and Other Stories.

And now I’m happy to announce that it’s ready for sale on Amazon! You can purchase it here. If you do, please consider leaving a review!

The book has also been uploaded to the Kobo store for those of you up here in Canada, but it’s not live yet–stay tuned!

Writer’s Resources

I’ve already made a short post today–see below for my re-blog of David Hewson’s nice post about Scrivener and Screenshots–but I wanted to add a little something of my own too.

As I’ve embarked on this self-publishing journey, my biggest impression has been of just how much there is to think about–and how much help is available to writers in the same position. Publishing an eBook isn’t as simple as writing something, converting it, and sending it to a store. There’s a ton of work involved, from many aspect that aren’t even really connected with writing (like marketing, social networking, graphic design, and HTML coding/formatting of the product). The amount of work that goes into it is impressive–and intimidating.

Fortunately, the indie writer’s community online is terrific. People like Yesenia Vargas, Ryan Casey, and Joanna Penn are great resources, centering on different aspects of the game, and there are hundreds more.

So, as someone who’s just beginning to take the first steps along this path, I’ve decided to collect links that I’ve found helpful or interesting, and provide them to anyone else reading this blog. At the top of this page, you’ll note that I’ve added a page called Writer’s Resources, where you can find these collected links. My intent is to keep adding to the list whenever I find something I feel the need to refer back to, but I’m inviting input from everyone. If you have a link you’ve found helpful, send it my way and I’ll add it to the page. (The caveat here is that this isn’t intended for advertising or self-promotion; if that’s your angle, I won’t post it.)

Take a look at the page–I hope you find it helpful!

Editing and Ego

credit: Penn Provenance Project.

The best part of being a writer–in my opinion, anyway–is creating. That’s why I like to write: I’m a creative person, and I enjoy making things. To be in control of a character or setting, or to invent either from the ground up, is a thrilling thing for a writer.

But that’s not really what a writer does, is it?

A writer starts there, but the real work is in honing that creative idea into something readable. That’s not an easy thing to do, whatever Mr. Vonnegut says. It takes a lot of attention to detail, a lot of time and effort, and–most especially–a big slice of humble pie. Editing is where you take that incredible, gonna-be-a-millionare gem of a manuscript, and tear it to pieces until it resembles something people will actually buy.

When I was in high school, we were given a simple project in English class: write a story from the viewpoint of a character from another story we’ve read in class. I chose a story with a character who was illiterate and uneducated, and had him write a letter to his son. I purposefully filled the story with spelling and grammar mistakes and imposed a lack of clarity, because I thought that was how an illiterate person would try to write a letter. The idea might have been interesting, but I failed the project. Why? It was filled with spelling and grammar mistakes, and suffered from a lack of clarity.

The piece needed severe editing, but my insistence to the teacher that “this is how the character would have done it” fell on deaf ears. In trying to be creative, I missed the point of the lesson: to create a cohesive story that was interesting to read. It was, in fact, unreadable–and despite that being the intent, the story ended up being a complete mess that was hard to follow and not enjoyable to read. And here’s the point: properly edited, that story could have been clear and easy to read, while still getting the point across.

And that, I think, is the hardest part of the editing process. It’s easy to think about an editor as the one who erases or deconstructs your work–but when you take your ego out of it and understand that editing is in your best interests, you start to see how valuable that process is. An editor will not only check your work for spelling and grammar mistakes, they’ll refine your piece to make it the best it can be.

I’m in the throes of this process now. I recently sent a selection of my work for a sample edit from an editor, and the response was surprising. After going over the story twice myself and making my own edits, I thought it was close to finished–but my editor picked up on a lot of small things I’d missed. And that, I think, is the best reason for getting a professional editor to look at your work: they’re going to find stuff you missed. That in itself is worth the cost.

My first collection–The Astrologers and other stories–is ready to send for editing now. This is a step in the writing process that I’ve never taken before, and it’s a bit nerve-wracking. But it’s also liberating.

My editor is fellow writer and blogger Yesenia Vargas. She’s just started offering editing services, which you can find more about here. Now, another stumbling block for new writers is the cost of hiring an editor–but Yesenia has great rates (among the best I’ve found), and I can speak to her work being top notch.

And, as of the time of this writing, Yesenia is graciously offering a 50% discount to her next four clients! Send her an email quick and get on her list–you won’t find a better deal than that.

We’ll be talking to Yesenia about her editing services soon, so stay tuned!