28 November 2011

Pricing an e-Book

One of the decisions you have to make is how much you're going to charge for your book.  Like everything else I did some research on this - by looking at the prices of other books, and reading other people's thoughts on the subject.
I decided from the outset I wasn't going the 'free' route, which incidentally you can do on Smashwords, but not with Amazon.  The minimum price you can set with Amazon is $0.99. 
If you are selling the first book of a trilogy or series, I can see that hooking new readers by selecting 'free' has some advantages.  Lives Interrupted is a standalone book, and while letting it go for nothing might give me some readers for the future, I believe it is worth something.
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence, and comments from other authors, on the best price to set.  Some say between $2.99 and $4.99, while others between $0.99 and $2.99.
I decided that $2.99 was a fair price for my work.  Not only did I put a lot of effort into writing Lives Interrupted, but also in making sure it was as perfect and error free as I could make it.
Time will tell whether that is a reasonable price.  Watch this space and I'll let you know.

25 November 2011

More Exploits with ePublishing

I've read and listened to a few discussions about whether to format the manuscript yourself or pay someone else.  Ultimately we have to make the best decision for us, but it's not difficult.  I didn't time the process but it didn't take me more than two hours and some of that involved starting the accounts and filling in the information they required.
I used a designer to create the cover and consider that money well spent as I don't have those skills, and I also had the book copy edited.  I believe, as Joe Konrath also says, an important part of publishing a book yourself means it has to be the very best it can be. 
I've had feedback from the writing group and from beta readers which has strengthened the story, and I think it will emotionally engage readers.  So having the copy edit and the cover designed was part of the process of making it as good as I could. 
Now it was time to press the enter key on the Smashwords site.  I've read about the length of time it takes for the manuscript to upload.  What can I say?  After pressing enter on the Smashwords site I was 10th in the queue and it went through so fast I really didn't see the numbers clicking down.  That must be one bonus of living in the Southern Hemisphere and therefore uploading files when much of the world is asleep.  Within minutes I had an email back from Smashwords saying ' Congratulations! There were no AutoVetter errors! Your book is now in the queue for review by our vetting team."  Yay I was on my way.  One down and Kindle to go.

22 November 2011

Formatting an eBook

When I started writing Lives Interrupted I had no thoughts of Kindles or other reading devices, and so I formatted it with publishers and agents in mind.  And to look good for me as I spend considerable amounts of time looking at it, not gazing adoringly you understand, but working.  So it was in a print ready state, rather than an 'e-ready' state.
If you are intending to publish for electronic readers, you will need little more than the following for your manuscript:
  • A simple style for the major part of your content.  For example first line indent paragraph style in a 12pt standard font.
  • A style for your chapter headings.

I used Garamond 12pt first line indent for my content, and Garamond 14pt bold for the section headings.
This post goes into more details on that.
If you have an electronic reader you will already know there is no such thing as a page in an ebook, as the person reading controls how large the font is, and therefore how much shows on the screen at any time.  The document is basically one continuous page.
Smashwords advises not to use page breaks, and no more than four paragraph returns together (pressing the Enter key), or you could end up with blank pages on small screens.
I used one paragraph return after section headings, and two paragraph returns at the end of sections.
This is one area where the Smashwords Style Guide and the information on the KDP (Kindle) site differ.  The KDP formatting guidelines say to use a page break between chapters.  I guess it might depend on the style of your book and chapters.  The sections in Lives Interrupted are quite short and I tried it with page breaks, but when I previewed it on the Kindle Previewer it had some blank pages so I took out the page breaks and went with the paragraph returns as I've mentioned above.
Now we come to the front material.
I created two new styles: one called Book Title which was the same as my section title except it was centred, and a style based on the content style but with no first line indent and which was centred.
At the beginning of the manuscript I typed the name of the book using Book Title style (obvious really I suppose!) and my name and the copyright notice using the centred style.
For the copyright notice I looked at a few books from my bookshelf and Kindle and wrote what I thought was needed, some seemed excessively long.  You also need to add 'Smashwords edition' if you are going to publish on their site.
It was at this point I made another copy and called it my Kindle file.
That's pretty much it for the required front information. 
When I come to the end of a book I've enjoyed it's sometimes hard to let it go.  The characters stay with me for some time and I'm often interested to know if there are more books with those characters, or what else the author has written, especially if it's someone I'm not familiar with.
As an author the end of the book is a great place to do a little subtle advertising rather than just writing 'The End'.
I wrote a thank you for buying and reading the book, and put my website and blog addresses for any comments, and a little plea for a review if they felt so inclined.  I added a bit of information about me, and the book of short stories I'm working on at the moment, and added one of the short stories.  Hopefully after reading Lives Interrupted, and one of the short stories people will feel inclined to buy the book.

18 November 2011

Kindle and Smashwords

When I made the decision to publish my manuscript as an ebook I started to find out as much about the process as I could.  I would certainly suggest downloading the Smashwords style guide, as it goes into a lot of detail on how to format your manuscript to successfully turn it into an ebook.
How difficult the process is depends mainly on two things.  The (formatting) state of your manuscript, and your skill level in Word.  Personally I don't think you need extreme Word skill levels to get your manuscript ready to upload to Smashwords or Kindle.
At most it took me about two hours on my Smashwords version, and some of that time was spent messing around creating the additional material needed, such as copyright notice, author bio, and actually creating the account.
I would recommend creating your accounts in both Smashwords and Amazon before you actually want to format or upload your manuscript.
In the Smashwords style guide there is a 'nuclear' method and if you're worried about the formatting you may already have in your manuscript, then use this method.
Before doing anything else make a backup copy of your manuscript.
Hopefully you're already in the habit of making regular copies of your manuscript.  I do a 'Save As' on my manuscript most days when I begin work using the current date as the last part of the file name, so if my laptop decides to have a hissy fit and close down I haven't lost everything.
One part of my work as a technical writer is making things look good and having them print ready, so I found formatting for the e-book painful.  Not difficult, painful.  There is no point in making it look pretty.  In this case plain and simple is definitely best.  It doesn't really matter what font the author uses as the reader can choose the font type and size they want.
You may be wondering why I keep referring to Smashwords rather than Kindle.  It's for the simple reason that the Smashwords style guide is very detailed, and ultimately most of what you do is the same for Kindle.
Okay here we go - MAKE A BACKUP.
It helps to have a passing knowledge of Styles.  Word Styles as opposed to what's in fashion at the moment.  You don't need a huge amount of knowledge, but it helps to know how to apply a style to text, and how to modify a style.  If you're not sure about this there are plenty of helpful websites, here is a link to the Wordtips site, but you can find others by searching on 'Word Styles'.
There are just a few big no-no's in this formatting lark for ebooks, and one is tabs, as in don't use them.  Phew one thing I didn't have to worry about.  If you're now saying, 'What!  No tabs!  How does she start her paragraphs?'  The answer to that is first line indents.  If you're not sure about those you can find out using the link above to the Wordtips site.
My manuscript was relatively clean.  By this I mean I used first line indents rather than tabs, and Styles rather than direct formatting.  Direct formatting is selecting text and changing it by using the tools on the toolbar such as bold, italic, colour, font size and type etc.  But I had used a lot of styles while I was editing to colour different parts of the manuscript, and so I decided the quickest way was to use the nuclear method.
Basically (after making a backup copy of your file - have I mentioned this before!) you copy all your text and paste it into Windows Notepad.  This strips out all of your formatting.
Close and reopen Word so you have a fresh document.  Then copy the Notepad content and paste it back into Word.  I'll warn you now it doesn't look pretty.  The intention is not to make it look pretty, but to get it ready to upload.
Your entire manuscript should now be in Normal style. 
The Smashwords style guide says to choose either a block paragraph style for your ebook, or a first line indent for all your paragraphs.  If you look in a print novel you'll see that the first paragraph of a section is a block style and subsequent paragraphs are first line indents. 
The majority of books on my Kindle have first line indents on all their paragraphs, but there is one book that has the print layout using both paragraph types.  I tried, oh how I tried, but I couldn't figure out how they managed it.  So I gave up and used first line indents on all paragraphs.
Now we've formatted our paragraphs we can turn to headings.  A non-fiction book will usually have several levels of headings, but for a novel we can keep it fairly simple.
Lives Interrupted is split into sections.  I call them that rather than chapters as most are relatively short.  Each section has a heading, which happens to be the name of the POV character for that section.  So I had normal style for the paragraphs, and then created a section heading style.  They were the only two styles I used for the book content.
It's fairly pointless spending a lot of time selecting a font, as the reader can change it to whatever they like.  The Smashwords style guide recommends something like Times New Roman.  What is important is not to go too wild on the font sizes, or to be more specific the variance between the font size of your paragraphs and headings.  I used 12pt for my content and 14pt for the book title and headings.
The only other thing I did at this point was to go through my Smashwords and Kindle version files and apply italics to about five or six pieces of text that had previously been italicised and which had been stripped out during the nuclear method.
Yeeha the manuscript was done, but the book not quite finished.  Now it was time for the front and back content.

14 November 2011

E-Publishing - The Beginning

About a year ago I attended a publishing workshop run by the New Zealand Society of Authors.  Up to that point I knew very little about ePublishing.
The first presenter was Mark Coker.  I had never heard of him or Smashwords.  I hang my head in shame!
From the question and answer session at the end of Mark's presentation, I realised that a significant number of the people there were already trying out this brave new world.
Driftwood had not long been published in UK, but I had already discovered some of the frustrations of the publishing and distribution system.
Going back yet another year, I had finished Lives Interrupted and sent it off to some publishers in London.  I waited.  And waited.  Then finally, oh joy, they wanted a full manuscript.
More waiting.  Ultimately they decided not to take it on, but the letters were personal and they gave me feedback, which I treasured because I knew it was rare.  The feedback was useful and I worked on it, and around this time started meeting with my present writing group.
At this point I attended the NZSA workshop, and left deciding this was the route I would take.  I also came away with details of websites for research.  One of these was Joe Konrath, and so I started reading his blog as well as others that had been suggested. 
One of the most important points that Joe Konrath makes on his blog is that to sell well, you have to have a good product.  He isn't the only author, editor or agent to say that.  People may buy one bad book from an author but they won't do it again, and with blogs, Twitter, and review sites, people find out about that.  We owe it to ourselves and readers to put out the best product we can.  Over the year I've been blogging I've written about my editing process and the feedback I've received, and they have made Lives Interrupted so much stronger.
Sometimes it felt as though the editing process would never end; that the book would never be finished, and I guess in some ways it isn't.  We grow and mature as people, as well as writers, and see things in a different light through various experiences.
Another of the things that Joe talked about was the importance of having a product that was as near perfect as possible, which, depending on your skills, may mean using an editor, someone to create a cover, or someone to format the manuscript for you.
Most of the training companies I've worked with have a process for developing training materials or technical manuals.  This process usually involves a final edit by a writer who hasn't been involved in the project.  The principle is a simple one, and I'm sure most writers are familiar with the scenario.  You are too close to the writing, and just don't see your own mistakes.  That is true whether it's grammar, typos, or plot holes.  In technical writing it might be adding material that isn't relevant, or glossing over (or even missing out) important steps in a process.  For that reason I had my manuscript edited.  Because of the editing and feedback process the manuscript had been through with the writing group, I was fairly confident I had the big picture, structure, plot etc. covered okay, and so I asked for a copy edit, covering typos and grammar, and only comments on structure if the editor noticed any major inconsistencies. 
I have absolutely no skills as a graphic designer/artist, and so I asked a fellow writer, Bev, who is also a photographer and has designed other book covers, to work on mine.
With a book cover, the manuscript edited and read (several times!), and feeling as confident as a perfectionist can ever feel that it is finished, I was ready to get to grips with turning it into an ebook.

11 November 2011

E-Publishing

I'm thrilled to say that Lives Interrupted is finally finished and - big drum roll - is now on Amazon and Smashwords.
I'm working on a print version and that will be ready soon.
I started this blog wanting to talk about writing and publishing, and so over the next few posts I'll share my experiences with epublishing.

Sydney

I've spent an interesting few days this week in Sydney, a city I love visiting.  It's vibrant, and even though the downside of that is that it's busy, everyone I've come into contact with has been friendly.  Although the city covers a large area it has a real heart, which is something many cities lack.
There are some beautiful parks (reserves) and gardens, and I spent a happy couple of hours wandering around the botanical gardens early morning when it was still fresh enough to enjoy.  One of the things you couldn't help but notice is the abundance of jacaranda trees in bloom.  They are stunning with their beautiful blue/purple flowers.
Although it's early spring it is significantly more hot and humid than Auckland at present, and there was a spectacular lightning storm on Tuesday evening while I was on the ferry to Manly.
Using the underground/rail system so much over the past few days I've really noticed the number of people using iPads and Kindles etc. to read. 
The underground seems to have a life and culture of its own.  It certainly has its own weather system with hot breezes that appear to come from nowhere.  The London underground is great and I enjoy using that, but some of the stations in the Sydney system have taken things to a whole new level, or should that be depth.  Getting out at Town Hall you can go above ground to the stores, or wander the underground labyrinth of shops.  I find it amazing how you can stroll along window-shopping and find yourself in the basement of the QVB (Queen Victoria Building) without going near street level.
What has this got to do with writing I hear you ask.  Not a lot, except I sat in a cafĂ© in the lovely QVB and wrote this while enjoying an iced drink and resting.  A number of years ago I used a weekend trip to Sydney as an opportunity for research as I set part of Driftwood in Sydney.
In my first drafts I tend to do a lot more scene setting and description than is needed, and consequently a lot of it is cut in later drafts.  It makes for pleasant travelogues, but doesn't move the plot forward.  The same happened with Lives Interrupted.  I deleted chunks I had enjoyed writing from my research when in London.
It's a fine line between setting the scene and boring the reader, hopefully I haven't bored you with this little travelogue, sorry post!

07 November 2011

100

Recently I celebrated a year of blogging, and I've just realised that this is the 100th post.  It's been an interesting journey and I'm still learning.  It took me a while before I discovered how to schedule posts for future dates, and I'm playing catch up adding tags to posts so they can be searched by topic.
When I started I didn't have too much of a plan.  I wanted to write about my publishing and writing experiences hoping they might be of help, or at least interest, to someone else.  I don't think I posted at regular intervals at first, but one of my writing goals at the beginning of the year was to post twice a week.  I chose that as I didn't think I could come up with something everyday.  Sometimes I have an abundance of ideas and write several posts at once, and at other times, well I'm sure you get the picture.
Sometimes I've read, heard, or seen something and immediately thought I'm going to blog about that.  Occasionally I realise how much I talk about writing, and how boring it probably is to those who don't share my passion.  It has also made me realise how important writing is to me, and what a big part of my life it is.
Here's to the next 100 posts.

04 November 2011

Categories and Pigeonholes

When I begin developing a workshop or training course one of the first questions I ask is, 'Who is my target audience?'
I sometimes get asked what type of books I write, and I find this quite difficult to answer.  Driftwood is about relationships.  Lives Interrupted is about coping with the aftermath of a disaster, but it is still about relationships.  One of the themes I saw, after writing the first draft, was the importance of friendship and the things we do for friends when they need us.
I don't like pigeonholes, after all I'm a person not a pigeon, but bookstores and people like to put books into neat categories.
Where this is leading is that I've been thinking about target audiences.  Yes I know, I'm coming at this a little late.  I've heard people talk about knowing their target audience and writing specifically for them, and I do agree with this a little, but I also want to write from the heart.  I write the type of book I like to read, and write what I feel passionate about.  The books I write aren't the only types of books I read, I love books that make me laugh, but so far I haven't found the knack of that.  Maybe next time!