The Red Pen’s Revenge

The excitement builds. The whisky is poured. Draft two is complete. It is a relief. The first run, you see, doesn’t feel real, it doesn’t feel like the end product. It’s almost as if the first copy is a grainy image of what is to come. It can be lax. It can be unstructured. Things don’t necessarily need to follow or make sense. Great slabs of story are missing. Other flabby bits are hanging off the sides, waiting to be cut out.

What a mess! What a disaster! How can we clean this thing up and get it into something readable? Well that’s where the second draft comes in. Still on the machine, I read through it all, start to finish, and cut out what needs to be cut out and put in what needs to be put in. I correct obvious errors or grammar and spelling and correctness. I think whether the timing makes sense, the locations, the people and the settings.

Is that what this character would do? Is that really the best way to describe that? Bit by bit I massage the story out from its amorphous shape and, with a pinch here and a cut there, it becomes a story with a purpose. Great. That’s the point I’m at now. That’s the moment of ‘woot’ where I can take a breather and fix up the garage or fly a kite with Joey.

That’s not the end of it, though. For now comes the nasty part – the Red Pen.

The Red Pen is ruthless. The Red Pen cares not for fancy constructs, nor for passive tense. The Red Pen spots that naughty comma and herds it into the right spot. It scrawls its thoughts down in haste, it draws arrows and brackets and, when it gets really steamed, it draws thick lines through words, sentences, even whole paragraphs!

That’s what happens when you leave a Red Pen in a cup for half a year. It gives it time to plot and scheme. I only hope there’s something left after it has had its fill.

KDP – The Cover Pt II

Last post I uploaded the front cover to the KDP creator. I had blundered in that the DPI or dots per inch setting was at a default of 72, rather than the required 300. Changing the DPI to 300, re-exporting to PDF and then uploading resulted in the following:

KDP2.PNG

Check through the list on the right. The markup within the table of contents was removed, without affecting the table, so that’s fine. Also, it asks you double check the Author, ISBN and Title. Good idea. Do that. Character for character.

Hey, there’s even a 3D view:

KDP3.PNG

Woohoo! Looks pretty good. The automatic whatsit that Amazon has going stopped complaining about the size of the PDF since it now closely matched the dimensions of the book itself.

You can look through the pages, and I would strongly encourage you to. Why? Because the PDF you uploaded will not be what gets used. Observe:

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If you look closely, the border closer to the spine is greater than the border against the edge. I used a 1cm border in the PDF, Amazon has automatically added in an extra padding on the spine. This is a good thing, since it will mean the words aren’t squished into the paper-fold.

I can’t guarantee it, but after playing with it for a bit (doing a few uploads to get it ‘just right’), I think that the engine is smart enough to recognise page changes and update the table of contents accordingly. Even so, check that each chapter in the TOC matches the actual page for the Chapter. It’s a small task that will save you having to apologise to your readers for a dodgy TOC.

Once I was happy with it, I hit the ‘Approve’ button. Click

Ahh.

So life is grand, right? I’ve uploaded the manuscript, I’ve uploaded the front cover as a PDF, it’s looking pretty much how I want it, all I need to do now is order a proof.

What’s a Proof?

Electronic eBooks are cool because, hey, what you see is what you get. You can pop your ePub or PDF or mobi file onto your favourite reader and have a look-see to make sure it’s all fine and dandy like cotton candy. Of course, different readers with different dimensions will display things differently, but you can rest easily knowing that the software does a best effort to make stuff look and read properly.

Not so with printed books. Paper ain’t that advanced.

And while PDFs are fantastic for viewing something as a bunch of pages, the conversion to a hardcopy means extra padding on the inside of each page, a few extra pages added for the actual printing house and physical constraints applied because of the thickness of paper, the stock used, etc.

In other words, once you’ve done all the work uploading your masterpiece, you need to order a proof to make sure that it – it being the actual book what gets pumped out by the presses and will land into the laps of your audience – looks and feels and even smells like you want it.

Yes, smells. There actually is a difference in smells between books. I’m not sure if it’s the cover or the paper or a combination or just something in the manufacturing process, but there certainly is a smell associated with a new book.

Lulu strongly encourages ordering a proof. They will not allow you to use Global Reach without you having ordered and actually looked at a copy of your book. For this, they will let you order it at cost price.

I personally make a habit of buying at least two so I can keep one and give one away as a present.

What about Amazon? No. You cannot purchase a proof, even though you own the book.

Say what?

Let me clarify: There is no facility for ordering a proof at cost price. You will pay the full price of your book.

But… but I made the damn thing!

I know, I know. Believe me, I know. It’s yours. You did it. You made it. Why do you have to sell it to yourself?

It turns out Create Space, by itself, does allow author copies. And while Amazon uses Create Space to manage your hardcopies, it does not allow you to purchase author copies.

So what happens if you wanted to print off, say, 1,000 copies and distribute them yourself in a vanity-publishing style venture? You’re up for either ordering the 1,000 copies at full price or temporarily discounting the book to cost, ordering, then raising the price back up. Either way, it’s ugly.

This is a two-sided story. Personally I believe that author copies should be allowed, and encouraged, and even enforced like Lulu does. I can see, though, that purchasing your own book at full price does affect the ranking of the book, and rightly so. A purchase is a purchase, regardless of who made the original purchase.

And before you ask, no, I’m not an expert on how Amazon does the rankings. I’m sure it’s time based and it’s also categorically based – that is, you have different rankings for different categories – but as for how the numbers get calcumalated, I can only say that more sales -> better rank.

Also, depending on the royalty rate, you’ll get some of the money you spent back. Icky, I know, but maybe it’s Amazon’s way of avoiding rank-diddling by someone with a hefty cashroll. Eh. Dunno.

So, after all of that, I picked up my credit card, and ordered my own book. You won’t believe what happened next!

Nah, you prolly will.

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KDP – The Juicy Bits

In the previous post I told you how I decided to try out KDP’s Create Space for the paperback version of Tedrick Gritswell.

In this episode, I’ll walk you through the uploading of the manuscript because it needs some examination, then start on the cover.

The Manuscript

Once I had the physical output determined:

Format.png

I formatted my table of contents and added in the ISBN as per Lulu’s instructions – it’s a simple enough template to follow, and I’m not about to deviate. Then I uploaded it.

Well, wasn’t that fun? I will argue that Lulu’s uploading mechanism is much cleaner and easier – you feel ‘safe’ as you go along. I will also argue that Amazon’s engine is quite advanced and did a lot of processing to make sure that my manuscript fit into its guidelines.

We can see some different approaches here: To be approved for GlobalReach, the onus is on you to make sure your book is in the right format, has the right dimensions, has the right ISBN and author and copyright, has the right pagination and table of contents. There are good resources of how to go about that, including my previous posts, so it’s not such a bad thing. It also means that you, as the publisher, are responsible for getting it right and they make sure you purchase a proof for you to check over before you can set your book free to the world.

KDP, on the other hand, takes a different approach. You upload your manuscript and it gets processed by a bunch of verifiers and validators, custom engines that grab your PDF by their dog-eared corners and shake them about, making sure its up to standard. Not that you’ll see what’s going on, but it does give prompts.

When mine came out the other end, there were many errors that were picked up, including the size of the document. The cool thing was, the engine did its best to modify my manuscript to conform to the required dimensions because, yup, I’d forgotten to set the dimensions of my page before exporting to PDF!

Why does this matter? Because by changing the size, I change the layout and flow, and the pages will, as a result, not be the same. And it seemed to get that. I’d like to try it again just to be sure, but I’m pretty sure it actually updated the page numbers and the table of contents for me. So a big tick here for Amazon on that front.

It makes sense, if you think about it. If they had to manually review all of the manuscripts coming up for quality and design issues, it would take about a day before someone hit the ‘F-It’ key and got a programmer to knock up an engine to weed out the most obvious issues before they reached a human. Nice.

Where it falls a little flat, though, is when I revised my manuscript, changed the dimensions to 6″ by 9″ and re-exported. The Auto-whatsit decided to over compensate and the inside margins of the book were too big. It took many iterations of trial and error to get it ‘just right’, which I did in the end. I think.

And that’s the other killer – currently KDP doesn’t offer the ability to purchase a proof at publishing prices. Lulu insists upon ordering one to make sure the end product is exactly what it needs to be, but there is no such facility on KDP. So I had to order my proofs as a normal purchase.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the cover.

The Cover

Similar to Lulu, KDP gives you the option to DIY or to use their templates. I’ve found the templates fairly straight forward, but this time around I wanted to try the DIY approach.

To do this you can download a PDF or PNG with the dimensions of the front, spine and rear cover. Depending on the size of your book, you’ll get a different file, but the idea is that you have the width and height, along with a spine whose size depends on the number of pages and the paper weight. Mine looks like this (PDF): 6x9_Cream_270

As you can see, it’s broken into parts. You’ve got the front cover on the right, the rear on the left – which includes space for the ISBN barcode – and the spine itself.Print area.PNG

Do you have to make your own barcode or include it as part of the rear-image? No, not at all. It will be auto-generated when you upload it. More on that later.

The important thing to notice here is the whole loosey-goosey nature of the cover. You have red areas, black dotted lines and broad white areas. Why not just a rectangle? Because books are imprecise. The stock is not the same from place to place. They are produced on whopping great big machines with whirling parts and clampy bits and things that go brrrrrrp! and each of those processes has tolerances.

When ordering proofs of my other books, I’ve noticed that, depending on where they are printed, the colour, cut, folding and finish is different. As such, you will need to allow for the guidelines they’ve given you. Yes, there is a good chance that anything in the red-zone before the black line will be visible, but don’t count on it. If it’s important, keep it in the white zone.

Also worth noting: If you’re a stickler for having things dead-centre, then prepare to pull your hair out. That buffer and trim at the right means that you will need to compensate your centreline on the front cover to be a squigion to the left. The same rule applies for the vertical direction. Don’t assume that you can grab your eBook version and slap it on the top.

Be prepared to fiddle, is all I’m saying. After you upload, examine the finished product carefully because it won’t be exactly as you had it.

Is that all? No, not really. There’s a fair bit more to go, actually. More in the next post.

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Blurb is a Four Letter Word

Third draft of Jolimont Street Ghost is done. More changes, “whoops, how’d that get in there?”, get rid of that unnecessary tosh, red pens and redder eyes.

Now I’m going to let it stew once more, while I figure out a release date, and attack the problem that, for me, is writing’s equivalent of cleaning the shower: the blurb.

It’s just a summary, right?

No. No it is not. If you’re thinking of a synopsis or a digest, that, to me, is akin to cleaning the toilet. I’ve got my own beef with synopses, but this is about the blurb.

The blurb is important. It let’s the reader know just what the book, this marvelous creation, is about. It’s a hook to get their attention and feed their curiosity. It’s a marketing tool. It’s a filter to let an audience decide if they will enjoy it. And it comes in two forms: short and very short.

The short can go onto the back of the print edition, and it’s also sent to various re-sellers. the very short is also sent to re-sellers and is what gets pushed under the nose of the audience when they click the ‘tell me more’ button. So it’s gotta be short, sweet and to the point.

Therein lies the challenge: How does one convey the subtleties of the book when they’ve got a limited character count? How does one grab the reader and say, “This book is (or is not) for you!”? How does one give a story line without giving away the punchline?

The Scene, the Theme, the Premise and the Moral

The hard work of writing the book is done, so writing less than a hundred words should be a cinch, but it ain’t. To help out, I write down the Premise, that global statement of hypothesis, that drove the book.

Then I write the moral out (which is surprisingly hard to summarise into a sentence), and put words pertaining to the theme and the scenery of the book, all in the same vernacular and perspective as the book. For example, with Paranormology, the narrator is relating a personal story from a Victorian era, hence the blurb will be a description, by him, of his tale in his manner of speech. Atlas, Broken, in contrast, is written in a third person, as an observer of Henry, in a more modern tongue.

Thus, the scribbles on my page read:

“A curse brought about by an individual can only be attended to by that individual. Rumour, gossip, conjecture, public opinion and speculation are born from assumptions. Assumptions. Science claims to make no assumptions, yet relies upon them. Light and Dark. Balance, what goes around comes around. Summoned demon, born in darkness. Occult, sorcery, physical harm, reputation harm.”

With these words and phrases, I then construct two sentences, one about the metaphysical nature of the book, and once about the physical side. In this way, I can give the reader two aspects to help them out.

“The supposition that darkness is merely the absence of light is both popular and false, as those who practise the occult can affirm.”

“In the dark cellar of number thirteen Jolimont Street, a house we had assumed benign, I unwittingly brought forth an ancient evil that threatened not only our reputations, but our souls.”

There. That’s 320 odd characters, 80 shy of the limit for the ‘very short’ version. Add in the series information, and I’ve reached my limit.

It took about an hour to write, twiddle, poke, and condense (I’ve got a little boy blowing a very loud recorder, so that skews the figures). That’s why it’s like cleaning the shower: A whole lot of scrubbing and rubbing and swearing in a cramped space, with very little at the end to show for it.

In the ‘short’ version, I’ll be able to add in another sentence or two to expand on the concepts of gossip, rumour and the like.

Now I’m going to go and have a lie down.Mini Jeztyr Logo