Friday, December 30, 2011

The things I require to write/edit


Today, as I was trying to get Secrets of the Guardian, Waldgrave Part 3 out for publishing, I decided to snap this picture of my work area.  It's my usual setup for writing and editing; I tend to get easily distracted with thoughts that I "need" things I don't actually need.  However, I've discovered that if I can get everything within reach, I reduce the "tangent effect."  For example, I remember I need to write something on the shopping list, so I get up to write it down before I forget; on the way, I decide I would like a soda, but there isn't any in the kitchen, so then I go to the garage, where I discover that my car needs cleaning...Forty-five minutes to an hour later, I return to the book I was working on, and having forgotten what I was doing with it.

So, whenever I am settling in for a long session, I tend to grab a notepad for things I need to do around the house, the remotes, the phone, reading material, and an editing notepad (so I don;t get sidetracked from the current task by something else I need to fix in the writing).

The cat should be self-explanatory for anyone who knows cats.  (As should be the spray bottle to the right of the laptop, for anyone who has experienced a Bad Kitty during the Christmas Tree season.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

'Tis the Season

Every year, I attend an event with friends.  It's a baking tradition that began years ago in college, when we realized that while we didn't have a ton of money for gifts, we could make and give baked goods for relatively cheap; they were yummy and thoughtful gifts.  It also made for a great time hanging out with friends.



Every year I learn something new in my quest to perfect my baked treats.  Here is my collected knowledge so far:

- When they say not to grease the baking sheet, don't grease the sheet.  A greased sheet can lead to cookies spreading at the bottom and developing a crispy fringe instead of a uniform rounded edge.

- Invest in parchment paper.  Cookies will not stick to parchment paper--in my experience it is more effective than greasing or using spray on glass and metal surfaces.

- While parchment paper will prevent your cookies from sticking, it will not keep them from burning on the bottom, especially if you are using a metal baking sheet.

-  Stoneware is more effective at preventing burned bottoms.  It isn't fool proof, but I often find the level of browning on top of the cookie is about the same as the bottom when using stoneware.  A well-seasoned stone is as non-stick effective as parchment paper; an unseasoned stone is not effective as a non-stick surface.

- If your brownies are falling apart when you try to cut and remove them from the pan, thereby ruining your presentation factor, freeze them before cutting.  You don't have to freeze them solid, but getting them under room temperature before cutting will get you cleaner cuts and well-shaped brownies.  Of course, the brownies won't be just-from-the-oven-ooey-gooey-warm, but if you are wrapping them up as a gift, this is a good trick.

-  Silicon bake ware is not inherently non-stick.  Either grease the heck out of it, or use something else.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Self-Publishing an Ebook, Part 3: Making a Basic .epub in Sigil

In this installment of my Self-Publishing an Ebook series, I will be going over some of the basics of using Sigil.  I will cover the basics of getting a book from the word processor into Sigil, basic formatting, and some trouble shooting.

Previous Topics:

This section will assume that you have installed Sigil on your computer successfully.  If you haven't done this yet, you may want to refer to the previous sections above to install this free program, and to become familiar with the interface.  This section also assumes that you have a finished book, in a word processing program.

Note: If you haven't written your novel, do that first.  Write it in a devoted word processor (a writing program, like Microsoft Word, Google Docs, etc.); these programs will at least help you catch spelling and grammatical errors.  Sigil won't catch spelling and grammatical errors, because it's not really a word processor--Sigil is designed to format and edit book files, but I do not recommend it for composing.  If you were planning to save time writing your book in Sigil to begin with...well, save yourself a boatload more time in editing by writing in a program that will catch the many nagging language errors you may not see until an adoring fan points them out.

Step 1: Get the book into Sigil

Alright; so, you have Sigil installed and a book that needs to become an .epub.  Fantastic!  The first thing you need to do is save a copy of your book--email it to yourself.  With the book now safely tucked away in the "just in case", open your book, and open Sigil.  Here is what Sigil should look like:


As the writer, right now, all you need to worry about is the big white screen called "Section0001.xhtml".  The file extension (.xhtml) stands for extensible hypertext markup language--the computer language your book will be coded in using Sigil.  However, remember that Sigil is a WYSIWYG editor, so you don't really need to know any XHTML to use it (well, okay, a very little--but nothing you won't learn here or with a simple Google search).


Before starting, be sure that Sigil is in "Book View" by selecting the open book icon. 


Now, copy and paste your book into Sigil.  Select all of the text of your book, copy it, and paste it into Section0001.xhtml.  

The first thing you may notice is that your book text and formatting are now messed up.  There may be uneven lines and margins, spaces between paragraphs, your italics/bold/underline are gone, and all of your images have been removed.  Unfortunately, Sigil isn't perfect; however, you will eventually need to proof this document against your original anyways, so that's when you will add and fix things.  Let all the missing junk slide for now, and focus on what is there.

Step 2: Add Chapters

If your book has chapters, or other such segment definitions, you will need to add them manually.  You can do this by finding where your chapters start, placing your cursor in front of your chapter header, and clicking the Chapter Break button.  If you started each of your chapters with something like "Chapter 1/2/3/etc.", then you can use the search function to make this a lot easier.

Use the "Find" function to find the text you used to indicate a new chapter or segment.


Use the "Chapter Break" button to make different chapters in your .epub.


Every time you use the "Chapter Break" button, a new .xhtml file will appear in the sidebar, and each one will have a default generated name--your second chapter will be "Section0002", the third will be "Section0003", etc.  While adding your chapter breaks, don't forget to make breaks for your book cover, copyright page, dedication page, author bio page, and anything else that will be another "section" of your book.

Once you have your chapters sectioned out, you can rename them to something more useful than the "Section000X" titles.  To rename a section, right click it in the sidebar, and select the "Rename" function.  When you rename, be aware that you need to keep the .xhtml file extension.  If you rename your file to something that Sigil doesn't allow, it will give you an error message, and you will need to try again. 

More helpful titles for these sections will be things that help you easily identify them.  For example, "Cover", "Chapter_1", and "Index".

Step 3: Fix the Paragraphs
Now, we are going to look at the underlying code of the file.  Some individuals reading this will already know XHTML and how it works; good for you!  

For those who aren't familiar with XHTML...
If you remember from school the human models with the chest flap missing, where you could see all the organs and bones and guts, this is going to be kind of like that.  Part of the audience will find this kind of neat, because it's the mechanics of what makes things work; the other part of the audience is going to get a little freaked out and overwhelmed as we look at a bunch of stuff we don't normally look at.  Both stances are fine; hopefully, when the code is demystified, it won't be nearly as overwhelming.


 Click the "Split View" button to view the finished text next to the code, or the "Code View" button to view the code alone.




In code view, this is what you will see.  Of course, this is the start of one of my books, Arrival of the Traveler; it has its own unique set of problems to fix.  What you see in the code window will be a little different, because your book is different, and it has a different formatting history.


All of the stuff at the top, the stuff that starting with "?xml version" and "DOCTYPE"--DON'T TOUCH THAT.  These little bits of code at the start can range from optional to required; it includes the document type declaration and standards conforming to good xhtml.  These are bits of code that you will likely never edit.  (If you want to play with them as a learning exercise, I encourage you to do so; don't perform such experiments on the only copy of your book, though.)

Alternatively, there are things you will need to edit.  Do you see the paragraph tags?  They come in pairs: the starting half is <p>, and the ending half is the same, but with a preceding backslash </p>.  You will find that all tags have a starting and ending tag in Sigil, and they usually sandwich something that comes in between them.  For example, the <head> tags wraps around the <title> tags; because having something in the middle isn't required, the <title> tags are there alone (but note that they still appear in a starting and ending pair--if this document had a title, it would be between those tags).  You might wonder now about the other half of the <body> tag; it does exist, but it is near the end of the chapter, because most of the text in the code will be in the <body> section of the code.  

Now, back to those paragraph tags, <p> and </p>.  They are a problem, because they are putting some unsightly spaces between my paragraphs; adding space before and after the block of text is an inherent property of the <p> </p> tags.  And, the paragraph tags aren't indenting the start of each paragraph.  This can be seen in the split view:


What we want to do with the paragraph <p> </p> tags is to replace them with <div> </div> tags.  A <div> tag is often used in conjunction with CSS (we will talk about CSS later); "div" is short for "division", as in a division or section, and not to be confused with mathematical division.  When using <div> </div> tags, you are dividing up your text into sections, i.e. paragraphs.  <div> </div> tags are better than <p> </p> tags, and MUCH better than hand formatting your document, because you will be able to go into your CSS document and change your paragraph setting one to change the style of the whole document (I will show you how).  

To change all of the <p> </p> tags to <div> </div> tags, we will use the "Replace" button.  When you click the "Replace" button, you will need to fill in two fields.  They are conveniently labeled "find what" and "replace with".  You will want to find <p>, and replace it with <div>.  Then, find </p>, and replace with </div>.  Unless you have a fondness for continually clicking the "Find Next" and "Replace" buttons, you may want to shorten the time it takes to do this by using the "Replace All" button.  

Note: You will need to do this find and replace procedure in each chapter .xhtml file of you book.  I do recommend doing this by chapter, instead of at the start before dividing into chapters, because handing Sigil a job that is too big can cause the program to freeze up.  Additionally, if you accidentally mess up the formatting of a single chapter, it's easier to copy that one section from the original and fix it than to start over on the whole document.

Step 4: Change the CSS

This step should actually be step 3.5, because it's function is to assist in fixing the paragraphs.  However, it has received its own section here because not everyone knows or is comfortable with CSS.  CSS stands for "Cascading Style Sheets", and it controls the style of your document.  To make a .css files for Sigil, you will need to right click the "Style" folder in the sidebar, and click "Add new item".  Then, open the new file you have just created in the Style folder, which will have the default name  "Style0001.css".  In the Style0001.css, type in the following code:

div {text-indent:50px; }

This little bit of code means that everywhere there is a <div> tag in your .xhtml files, the text will be indented by 50 pixels.  When this change is implemented, if 50 pixels looks like too much, you can come back to the .css file and change it to be less--and it will change throughout the entire book.  This is a huge time saver compared to changing the indent for each paragraph by hand.

Now take the following code:

<link href="../Styles/stylesheet.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" />

Go back back to the code view of each of your .xhtml chapter files, and paste the code right after the <title> </title> tags.  It should look like this:

<title> (Your title goes here) </title>
<link href="../Styles/Style0001.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" />

Save this change, and then go back and look at the Book View.  Your indents should be much more uniform now, and as previously stated, you can change them if you need to by adjusting the .css file.

CSS can be used to uniformly control a lot of the format of your book.  For example, you can control the justification of your text by using this code: body { text-align: justify; }.  You can control your margins with this code: @page { margin-top: 30px; margin-bottom: 20px; margin-left: 30px; margin-right: 30px; }.  If you think CSS is pretty cool, you can learn more about it here.


Step 5: Fix the Spaces

This step targets two problems.  The first problem has to do with spaces between sentences, and the second problem has to do with spaces anywhere else where they are not desired.  

It is likely that not everyone will have the first problem, but if you put two spaces between the end of one sentence and the start of the next, this applies to you.  The practice of using two spaces between sentences came from an old issue with typesetting.  However, this practice is now no longer needed; unfortunately, some individuals, such as myself, still compulsively hit that space bar more than once before starting the next sentence.  Where these extra spaces occur, they leave some awkward gaps around when displayed on an ereader:


See how the text doesn't quite justify correctly where the extra spaces are?  If the spaces weren't there, the text would be uniformly flush to the left.  It's subtle, but it's there, and it gets more exaggerated the larger the text is; it will drive certain perfectionist editor friends loony (credit to my frieditor Monique, who took the screen shot above).  That's the reason the extra spaces must go.  

To get rid of them, go back to the code view screen, and use the "Replace" button.  In the "find what" field, write "&nbsp;" (without the quotes, but with the semicolon and ampersand; if you're curious, "nbsp" stands for "non-breaking space").  Because we want to just remove these code bits, and not replace them with anything, leave the "replace with" field empty.  

On to the next problem--awkward spaces that occur anywhere else in your text.  Going back to the split screen image, we can see that not all of the spacing between my paragraphs was caused by using paragraph tags <p> </p>:


Near the bottom of the coding, there is a little bit of code:

<p><br /></p>

Even if the <p> </p> tags have been changed to <div> </div> tags, there will still be a break there because of another spacing tag: <br />.  The break tag <br /> inserts a hard break into the text.  Because it's function is purely to add a space, and not to modify any text, it is not a paired tag.  These tags, and some others, can be a little tricky to weed out.  As a writer, I sometimes actually want a hard break in my chapter to distinguish a change in scene; however, when Sigil mistakenly adds them for whatever reason when a new text is pasted in, that makes a problem.  How do I weed out the <br /> tags that I want from the ones I don't?

I don't have a canned solution for this one.  Because I don't want 98% of the <br /> tags in the code, I usually use the "Replace" button to remove them all, and then add back in the ones I wanted when I go back to proof my .epub against my original.  


Step 6: Compare to Original

Now is the time when you will worry about anything that Sigil removed when you copied and pasted it in.  Sigil may remove or change things like font size, bold, italics, underlines, etc.  You will need to do a text-to-text comparison with the original, and add these things back in using the interface in the book view.  It is tedious and time consuming, but at the same time, it is also good practice to look over your .epub page by page to be sure nothing has been lost in translation to the .epub.

As I said near the start, your text and code are likely to have issues I haven't explained here.  However, with a basic knowledge of the way the xhtml code tags work and a split screen view, you will likely be able to get a good guess that those codes appearing right where your text format gets weird are undesirable.  Go to Google and type in "what does the (insert code here) do"--that will help you determine if those codes should be removed to improve your .epub to the way you want it to look.


Of course, if you're seeing something really weird and hard to fix, I would love to see it.  Even if it's purely for the joy of saying, "Huh.  How did THAT happen?"  I may be able to help, so don't hesitate to shoot me a comment or an email. 

Until the next installment, Happy .Epub-ing!

Al 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A new keyboard & progress on editing

Well, my new keyboard arrived in the mail this week, and someone wonderful helped me install it on my laptop.  I'm now finding it incredibly distracting to type, because the new keyboard makes these sharp click-click-click-click noises with every tap of a key; I had worn down my other keyboard to a much more muffled noise.  On my previous laptop, I had actually worn down the matte finish on some of the keys so that they had a well-used shine about them.

I get very in tune in with my keyboards, so I am a little sad to see the other one go.  It made familiar noises and was starting to get a comfortable worn spot on the space bar where my thumb hit.  However, I am sure I will learn to love this new keyboard as well; I already appreciate how clean it is--there's no crumbs hiding under the zero and dash key that go *crunch*.

And, awesomely, I am once again able to adjust the brightness of my laptop monitor now that I have four fully functional arrow keys.

The new keyboard has inspired me to get some serious editing work done on my next series.  Now that I can actually use my left arrow, I will be much faster moving around the screen; however, I've come to terms with the fact that it wasn't really the keyboard preventing me.

The first book in the series I am working on now, which I have been calling Redemption, has an interesting history.  I wrote the first draft in one week back in 2008.  I sent it to a friend/editor, who identified some issues.  I rewrote the story to have a more advanced vocabulary.  Another frieditor; I rewrote it in the third person instead of the first person.  Another frieditor; rewrote it to have a more basic vocabulary (but still above where it started).  Another frieditor; start of story needed to be more upbeat.

This book has seen a lot of reincarnations.  I decided to let it steep about a year ago, while writing a few other books in that series and others, and returned to it after I finished my initial edits for Secrets of the Guardian, Waldgrave Part 3.  I took a deep breath, and decided I would try to rework a few chapters to my liking; if it wasn't working, I would scrap what I had and write it over from nothing.

After redrafting a few chapters, things are now running smoothly.  I am told the story is now worth taking the time to read.  Onward I go.

When will I be done editing it?  I have no idea.  Probably by the end of January.  I'll have to see how it looks and how people like it at that point, and decide if it will remain a personal treasure or venture out into the realm of publication.

So happy to be typing at full capacity again,
Al

Monday, December 5, 2011

A New Review from Miss Becky Writes

The wonderful Miss Becky Raymond posted her review for the second book in the Waldgrave series, Deception of the Magician, over the weekend.  It is available on her site and on Goodreads.



Read her review here: http://missbeckyraymond.wordpress.com/2011/12/04/book-review-deception-of-the-magician/

Also, here's a link to Becky's review of the first book in the series, Arrival of the Traveler:  http://missbeckyraymond.wordpress.com/2011/11/20/book-review-arrival-of-the-traveler/

Thanks for reading and reviewing, Becky!  I'm glad that you have enjoyed the books.

Al

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cover art

Please leave a comment with your thoughts!  I am purposefully not going to initially describe the book for you.  Base on the cover, what do you think this book is about?  



Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Laptop Mishap

Waldgrave fans: I have some bad news, and some good news.

Bad news:

Today, I was drinking my coffee with pumpkin spice creamer in it on the couch while emailing.  The phone rang, I went to get it, and jostled my coffee, spilling on part of my keyboard.  I have never spilled anything on a laptop before, not even as a child, so after I got over my initial shock, I sprung into action.

I dried it up and did everything I knew to do (flipping the laptop, etc.) and things seemed to be fine.  Then, an hour later, my arrow keys (where I spilled) started acting funny.  I popped the keys of to see if anything was stuck (I am a second generation nerd with a dad into hardware, so this came naturally to me).  That's when I made the horrifying discovery that there was still liquid down there, trapped such that I could not get to it to dry it up.

Thanks to some help on Google Plus (thanks again, Jerry Huckaby!) I think I have prevented any more serious damage from happening.  However, this is the machine where I have been writing and editing my novels, including the Waldgrave series.

Good news:

In fear that I might have fried my machine, or that the machine was in the process of frying, I grabbed the essential novel files I could and emailed them to myself.  This included all the edits to Waldgrave 3, because those came to mind first as something I hadn't backed up yet.

I anticipate a minor delay in getting Waldgrave 3 out the door, depending on what has happened to my faithful laptop.  However, the files and edits are safe.

AL

Monday, November 21, 2011

My latest review

Special thanks to Becky Raymond, who took time out to read my book & then write about it.  Thanks for the review, Becky!  I'll be posting links to these in the sidebar:

http://missbeckyraymond.wordpress.com/


http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12409499-arrival-of-the-traveler

Friday, November 18, 2011

Smashwords to iBooks: A timeline

A while back I received a request to have my book on iBooks.  This started a personal quest, wherein I started researching options for how to make this happen.  Eventually I determined that the easiest way for me to get my book on to iBooks in a cost-free manner was to go through Smashwords.  There were some milestones along the way that had me running internet searches to figure out how long things would take.  For example, how long it takes for Smashwords to review a book for the premium catalog, or how long it takes for Smashwords to get a book onto iBooks.

So, for the benefit of other authors who are hitting that refresh button, here is my timeline:

October 26th: I receive a request to get my book onto iBooks.

October 27th: I have researched how to do this, looked over the Smashwords formatting requirements, and started formatting my book.  (Yes, these requirements will give you a headache and make you want to give up--thank goodness they are changing the requirements in 2012 so that books can be uploaded as an .epub.)

November 1st: Uploaded my formatted manuscript to Smashwords.

November 10th: My manuscript was reviewed by Smashwords, and accepted into the premium catalog.

November 18th: My book appeared in the iBooks store.  


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I love peppermint

Today, I broke out my stash of holiday Wallflowers.  I'm trying out the Twisted Peppermint scent, and so far, I am loving it.  I believe it's having some sort of psychosomatic or placebo effect, because just smelling it is making me believe the room is a little chilled.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Craft Fair

Today I went to a craft show at the Adams County Fairgrounds.  Some great crafts this year!  Here are a few of my highlights.

This picture is on my blog courtesy of Rob Hob's.  He makes some incredible wood work puzzles, games, and pens.  Check out his gallery here.


I was also tickled by the artistry of Two Clayzy Ladies.  They have a mini-gallery here.

Lastly, I picked up a couple of loaves of bread from Styria Bakery.  This is kind of a special treat every year, because while these folks go around to local events, they don't have a physical bakery location (that I know of) that one can pick up from.  I have loved everything I have tried from them--the Asiago Cheese Bread and the Walnut Cranberry bread are awesome.  Check out their website here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Where have I been...?

Well, it's been a long and mundane stretch since my last update.  More of the same--editing and formatting, and more editing.  I am giving Waldgrave 3 a run through, and it's at the top of my list.  For anyone who has been concerned about this, Secrets of the Guardian, Waldgrave Part 3 is entirely written; I am going through it to remove as many glaring errors as I am fortunate enough to catch.  Then, I will send it off to my group of editors and pre-readers, and they will do the same.

After I have Waldgrave 3 out of my hands, there will likely be a trickle of updates as I format and get out various formats of the books (paperback, smashords, iBooks, etc.).

I'm getting ahead of myself here, but after I have released Waldgrave 3, I am going to start focusing on writing again for a while.  This could take several paths; the following three are the most likely candidates.  I have a Waldgrave series sequel in the works, an original series that I am a few books into writing, and another original series that I am about 30 pages in to.  I'm not sure which I will focus on yet.

A lot of people who have read the Waldgrave books have asked me for a sequel.  I wrote one once, and then archived it and started over.  There are two more complete books that take place in the Waldgrave universe hanging out on my laptop; I'm not sure if I will ever edit or release these.  One of them received only lukewarm reception from my earliest Waldgrave fan; the other has been for my eyes only so far, mostly because I intended it as another series, and I haven't finished the other books yet.

The series I am a few books into needs some work and consideration.  I have had a lot of fun writing it, but I initially wrote it as an experiment in using first-person narrative, and then later decided to put it in third-person narrative.  So, I am just beginning to go back through and change the perspective (much more labor intensive than one might imagine).

My most recent idea--the new series I am about 30 pages into--had my muse friend in stitches last night as I described the series premise to her.  It seems like it would be a lot of fun to write.

That's all for now,
Al

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

Deception of the Magician, Waldgrave Part 2

As I have promised, I am planning to have Waldgrave Part 2, Deception of the Magician, out by November. To facilitate this, my big project today has been looking over the final draft before sending it off to Barnes & Noble and Amazon.  My plan is to send it off tonight; after that, my next big hurdles are formatting Arrival for iBooks, and then doing the paperback and iBooks editions for Deception.

I'm using Smashwords as my route to iBooks, because the application process through Apple was looking a little harder to manage than it needs to be.  Smashwords is an "Apple-authorized global aggregator."  iBooks is different than Nook and Kindle self publication because Apple requires an ISBN to publish, whereas Nook and Kindle assign there own unique identifier and allow the option of an ISBN.

Sometimes online self-publishing services will allow you access to an ISBN, like the free one I got from Createspace for my paperback.  When an ISBN isn't offered through a service, an author would need to apply for and be assigned one or more ISBNs for use on the various editions of their book; there is an application fee to do this on your own, and it doesn't grant you any more or less validity or ownership of your work with regard to copyright.  What the ISBN does is allow publishers, libraries, bookstores, and other book handlers to easily find and distinguish a book from other books, and between various editions of the same book (i.e., the print vs. the paperback).  So thus far I have foregone buying an ISBN--I got a free one for my paperback, and the Nook and Kindle are on company specific identifiers right now.

However, to get on iBooks, my iBooks edition will need an ISBN.  Smashwords offers both free ISBNs (which will show Smashwords as the publisher of that edition), or paid ISBNs (which show you as the publisher).  I am a big fan of free, so that's what I'm going with.  Yesterday I started to format Arrival to Smashwords' specifications; it's tricky.  They only accept strictly formatted Word .docs into their premium catalog, which is a far cry from the universal .epub format I am used to working with.  However, I am going to work through it, and when I'm done, I'll detail any tricks I learn for anyone who might want to know.

Al

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Awaiting the Amazon Release

I checked again today, and it looks like the Amazon page for Arrival of the Traveler is up, but not entirely put together yet.  You can check it out here: Arrival of the Traveler (Paperback).

I've been checking in every so often to see what's going on over at Amazon, because I released the paperback on the 20th.  This morning, the page only had basic information, but not price, and the book was not yet available.  Now, it appears to have the price, and be available for purchase, but the cover image hasn't been added yet.  Amazon will link the paperback and the Kindle edition together onto one browsing page automatically; otherwise, the help pages have told me to send them an email.

Exciting news!  I have to admit I was a little disappointed when the book didn't appear instantly in Amazon's listing, but seeing it now is very gratifying.  Learning about the publishing process has been an unexpected bonus of getting these books out there.

Al

Friday, October 21, 2011

Self-Publishing an Ebook, Part 2: Sigil in More Detail

I will make the information on Sigil as good as I can for the version of Sigil that I am running now (version 0.3.4).  Because Sigil is an open source project, new features and interfaces are likely to come out.  If the information provided here does not seem to match up with the version of Sigil you are using, you may want to check the official Sigil site for help.

And now on to Sigil.  This description assumes that you have already downloaded and installed the program; if you have not done this yet, please visit Self-Publishing an Ebook, Part 1: An Overview of the Programs for information on where to download this free program.  Remember from the overview that Sigil is the program I use to edit and create .epub projects (or ebooks, as the finished products are called).

This is the starting screen when you first open the program (you can click the picture to view it larger):


Some of the basic elements you see on the screen are the buttons at the top.  Here is an overview of some of the buttons on the top row of the screen, and what they do.  There are some pretty basic buttons which duplicate the functions on the drop down menus at the top (i.e., going File -> Save vs. clicking the Save button) and are commonly found in many programs.  If you are a writer, some of the buttons probably already look familiar to you, such as the Bold, Underline, Italicize, and Text Justification Buttons--these work exactly the same in Sigil as they do in your regular text editing program.  When in Sigil, you can hover your mouse over a button  if you're not sure what it does, and it will pop up some guiding text to tell you.

Some of the more unique buttons are explained below:

The three buttons on the left control the view.  Because Sigil is a WYSIWYG editor, you have an option to view the text as you would in a regular word processor (the book button), as html code (the brackets), or in a split view mode that shows you both the finished text and the underlying code in side-by-side windows (the book with the brackets).




This is the Chapter Break button.  You use this button to break up your book into chapters.  If you are new to ebooks or ereaders, you may be wondering why one would bother to insert "breaks" into a digital document in this manner.  The reason we break it up instead of having it as on long slew of text is for navigation reasons; as humans, we like to be able to "flip" to an agreed upon point of text in a document, like "Chapter 6".  In a physical book, there is often a table of contents with Chapters and page numbers near the front of the book.  In digital form, ereaders have built in navigation that creates menus out of the table of contents included with the book, so that a user can tell the ereader to go to "Chapter 6", and the device will then be able to reference the .epub to know where in the text that point is.  When you click the Chapter Break Button, Sigil will open up a new tab within the .epub--in Sigil, each chapter displays as a new tab for easy management and navigation.  Later on when I do a demo ebook in Sigil, I will further detail the TOC (table of contents) editor that is available in Sigil, and how to get it to perform well with your desired chapter breaks.


This is the Insert Image Button.  While I'm betting most people know how inserting an image works, I thought I would mention the button for those who have used the "copy and paste" maneuver in Word as a way to get an image into a document.  In Sigil, your best bet is to insert an image using this button.


This is the donation button.  If you use Sigil, and like it, please consider contributing to the further development of the project with a donation.


Onward to other features.  On the left side of the main screen, you'll notice that there are various folders with names like "Text", "Styles", "Images", etc.  Mostly, you probably won't touch these.  They are doing what you would guess--the "Text" folder is storing all of the text chapters in your book, the "Images" folder is where the pictures are stored, the "Styles" folder has all of the fancy CSS markup that makes your book look formatted and stylish, etc.

It gets organized this way for the computer.   Think of it this way: machines (and ereaders) like for things to come in boxes with a set of instructions on how to put it together.  So, Sigil takes all of the stuff you are putting into your book and breaks it up into the boxes for you.  It also creates the instructions for assembly (the CSS code) and includes it so that the ereader, computer, or other device knows how to put your book together correctly when someone wants to look at it.

The only folder you will likely use a lot in Sigil is the "Text" folder, because this is where you will double click to open up different chapters and sections of your book to edit.  When you are adding an image or changing a style, you don't need to worry about the folder--just click the "Insert Image" button or format your text, and Sigil will update the folders for you.

There may come a time when a formatting issue gets particularly difficult.  For example, let's say you put in a space between every paragraph in your book, but you really just wanted an indent at the start of each paragraph.  In this case, you may need to change the view to look at the code (don't panic!) and open up your Style Sheet to make some changes.  I am planning to cover the basics of tweaking CSS and HTML in a later post.  Using CSS and HTML is worth it--if you end up making a formatting change that spans your entire book, and then you hate it, you probably won't want to go back through each of 300+ pages changing it back.  Save your time for writing, not for click, delete, click, delete, click, delete, click... CSS can make document wide changes by changing it in one place.

That's all for now.  Please feel free to contact me with questions/comments.

Thanks,
Al

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Arrival of the Traveler: Now Available in Paperback!

Today, I set up my CreateSpace Store (yay!) and approved my paperback for sale (double yay!).  The CreateSpace eStore is here: https://www.createspace.com/3676183.

I realize it's not a catchy web address, but what can I say?  I chose to go with print on demand, and that's the address CreateSpace assigned me.  I've put a link to the store on the sidebar of my blog.  You can get to my eStore from the link here if https://www.createspace.com/3676183 is too much to remember.  :)

I am still waiting for the book to become available on Amazon, but I'm hoping that won't take too long.  I will send out an update when the request goes through.

Al

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Arrival of the Proof

The proof for Arrival of the Traveler arrived yesterday, but since I didn't get to the mail in time, I received and opened it today.


For anyone who missed the vote, the grey background won.  I moved the text from the body of the cat to above and below the cover illustration because the dimensions of the paperback are different than those of an ereader screen.  Incidentally, yes, that is my cat attempting to sneak into the photo behind the book.

The proofreading is going well, and while there are a few things I should probably tweak (i.e. the ISBN should probably be on it somewhere, the spine could be better oriented, I want the series number on the spine, etc.), it looks good.  I will probably incorporate a few minor stylistic changes to the cover and such over time, but it is looking good for release so far.

My next big debacle has been deciding the list price for the ebook.  Right now, the ebook is selling on both Nook and Kindle for $0.99; the manufacturing and seller costs for a paperback make it more expensive.  I figured out a while back that I could make about the same royalty off of the paperback by selling it exclusively online through CreateSpace for $11-12.  Or, I can sell it through Amazon for $14-15 (Amazon takes their share for listing it).  Now, what I am wondering is if the book will be sold *on* Amazon, or *by* Amazon--this makes a difference, because if Amazon is selling the item, then one might be able to get free shipping, and the higher price becomes worth it.  I am going to try to figure this out, but in the mean time, does anyone have a strong preference for having the title on Amazon or not?

Thanks,
Al

*Update--On the CreateSpace website, it does clarify that "Customers ordering from Amazon.com can take advantage of FREE Super Saver Shipping, One-Day Shipping, 1-Click® ordering, and Amazon Prime® on eligible orders."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Self-Publishing an Ebook, Part 1: An Overview of the Programs

This is the first installment of the posts I am planning to do on self-publishing an ebook.  In this section, I will provide a short description and introduction to the programs I have used thus far to create my ebooks.

I have mostly used three programs during my indie publishing efforts.  These three programs are Sigil, Calibre, and GIMP.  All three programs are available for free online, and are open source projects.  For all of the author types out there who are not familiar with the term "open source", it means that these programs were created by independent programmers for use by anyone, and along the way, other programmers have volunteered their time and talent to improve the program for free.  You can read a more in-depth definition of open source by clicking here; let's all be grateful for the bored, philanthropic programmers of the world, shall we?

(Note:  Some programmers are starving artists, just like many writers I know.  If you happen to not be starving, please consider supporting the cause of open source projects that you use by giving a small donation if one is requested.)

Sigil 

Sigil is the program I use to make and edit .epub files.  "EPUB" is short for "electronic publication", and is frequently written as ".epub" (with the dot at the start) because files will have the extension written that way, the very same as .doc, .docx, .jpg, .wav, etc.  The file extension defines for the computer what programs can open and edit the file; for example, Word can create and edit a file with a .doc or .docx extension, the same way that Sigil can create and edit a file with an .epub extension.  Read more about .epub by clicking here.

Sigil is a WYSIWYG editor.  "WYSIWYG" is short for "what you see is what you get".  WYSIWYG editors have earned this name because they present an interface with a screen that shows you what your final text will look like, instead of showing you all of the convoluted markup and computer language formatting that goes on to make your text look that way.  You want your text to be bold?  Just highlight it and click the "Bold" button--there's no need for you to isolate the text in all of the code and put bold code tags around it.  Of course, if you feel the need to add some specialized coding, this is no issue--you can switch over from the WYSIWYG screen to the code screen, and make changes there, too.

You can go to the Sigil website and read about Sigil by clicking here.

You can download Sigil by clicking here.  You will need to select the download next to the operating system your computer uses.  For example, if you computer uses Windows, then select the Windows download.  If you accidentally pick the wrong download, don't worry--your computer should tell you that it can't run the program, and you'll just need to pick the correct download and try again.  : )

Calibre

Calibre is the program I use to convert some file formats to other file formats.  As the explanation above details, only certain programs can open and edit certain file extensions.  Because of this, there is a need to convert some files to other extensions so that other programs can use the file.  I most frequently use Calibre to convert my .epub files (created in Sigil) to .mobi files (which I can upload to Kindle Direct Publishing).

You can go to the Calibre website and read about Calibre by clicking here.

You can download Calibre by clicking here.  Again, you will need to select the download associated with the operating system running on your computer.  And again, if you accidentally select the wrong one, no worries--it just won't work on your machine, and you'll need to try again by selecting the right download for your computer.

GIMP

GIMP is the program I use to make cover art and images.  GIMP is great for image editing because it saves files as layers, instead of as one flat image as a program like Paint does.  This concept can be difficult for individuals who have never used a program like this to understand.  Try to imagine it this way: when you edit a picture in Paint, it's like actually painting on that image in real life.  When your paint dries, there is no removing the paint from the picture--it's all fixed and unmovable.  But when you edit an image in GIMP, it's more like you're scrap-booking: you can come back later and move all the little bits and bobs on your picture, the frame that the picture is in, the look and feel of your overall composure, etc.--none of it is fixed and dry like paint, so you can wipe the changes away from you image one by one if you want to change something later without clearing all of your other changes.

GIMP is sort of like the free, open source version of programs like Adobe InDesign or Photoshop.  GIMP does not have all of the same features, and the user interface is generally not as user friendly as paid programs, but for the price of FREE I have found that it's easy enough to get used to the good (not great) interface and the powerful features offered.

If you're curious, GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Project.  GNU is a recursive acronym that stands for "GNU's Not Unix"--programmers and techie types like to do quirky naming things like this.  Don't ask why; they're just cool that way.  To read more about GNU, click here.

You can go to the GIMP website and read about GIMP by clicking here.

You can download GIMP by clicking here.

This concludes the introduction to the programs I have used to make my ebooks thus far.  Check back soon for a detailed introduction to each program!

Al

Continue on to Part 2 here!

How to Self-Publish an Ebook

I have received several inquiries lately about the programs and methods I use to create my ebooks.  Some individuals I have talked to have complained about how difficult the coding is for making an ebook, and asked me if I was finding it difficult.

Frankly, for me, making the ebook was the easy part.  I had a marginally more difficult time creating the format and cover for the paperback version.  This was mostly due to the math involved in figuring the dimensions of the book based on the thickness of the number of pages, and the creation of images of a high enough resolution that they would not print blurry or pixelated.

Having studied in both computational linguistics and library science, I am a(n increasingly less) rare hybrid of an individual who understands both the form and function of technologies used for storing, sharing, retrieving, and presenting.  I love answering questions and learning new technology.

Because I already had a good grasp of XML and CSS going in, making an ebook was a relatively easy task for me.  Of course, I did have (and still have) a fair amount of problems to troubleshoot, but these tend to go easily when patience is high and energy drinks are plentiful.  When these things are in short supply, it's better to walk away for a while.

Because I seem to find myself explaining exactly how I do things a lot lately, I am planning to start doing some posts on this blog directed at other indie authors who may or may not be struggling with how to self-publish their books on the digital frontier.  These posts may or may not be useful to everyone, but I'm hoping that they are at least useful to someone.  I will write what I know, hopefully in a form that is easily followed in a step-by-step manner, and if anyone has a way to improve upon my methodology, I hope he or she will be compelled to share his or her knowledge as well.

I am a fan of all things free and open source, so every program I talk about will be available free for download online.  I don't have the money for fancy or expensive publishing or graphics programs, but I have found that a willingness to learn what is out there for free does just as well.

Al

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Voting Results

After counting up all the votes via email, comments, poll, etc., the winning cover was the grey.

I have submitted the files for review, and should have the proof delivered soon.  At that point, I'll review the book, and with any luck the physical edition of Arrival should be available by the end of the month!

Uber thanks to everyone who voted!

Al

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Vote on the cover

Please vote above on which cover you like better for the paperback version of Arrival.  Or, leave a comment on how the cover could be improved.



Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Arrival of the Traveler -- Soon in Paperback!

The proof for the paper back version of Arrival landed on my stoop yesterday, and there was much rejoicing! 

It does not look like the cover below.  I am doing my paperback version through CreateSpace, and despite all warnings to the contrary, I chose to order my first proof with lower resolution images than CreateSpace recommends.  As CreateSpace warned me was possible, the cover was slightly blurry and pixelated.  However, now knowing that higher res images were needed, I have now created the cover below as my second attempt.


This is a higher resolution than the previous cover, and it is not a final draft.  However, I am hoping to have a final draft and the next proof ordered by the end of the week.  Consequentially, this means that the paperback version of Arrival will be out sometime in October.  Yay!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Deception of the Magician: Waldgrave Part 2

For my sister, who graciously allowed me to use her image for this cover:


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Waldgrave Part 2

Right now, I am in the process of typesetting Waldgrave Part 2.  I already have templates set up from having to do all of this for Waldgrave Part 1.  It's been easier, but certain things (like adding it italics, bold, underline, paragraph breaks, etc.) are still a pain because I have to add them manually after copying my text over from Google Docs to Sigil.  I am hopeful that I won't ever have to face the physical typesetting debacle again now that I have figured out the page numbering problem.  The spine/cover size problem will always remain (good grief).

I am still excitedly awaiting the arrival of my proof for Arrival.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Typesetting the "Real" Book

Today I took on the tedious job of typesetting for the physical book.  The ebooks, which are already available on nook and kindle, also received a lift when I went through and smoothed out a few more items that had been brought to my attention.

In short, I would like to say that typesetting and design for an ebook and typesetting and design for a physical copy are two different animals.  I reintroduced myself to math today while trying to figure out how large I needed to make my exterior cover to accommodate the number and thickness of the pages inside the book.  Hello, moving target!  I made my cover using GIMP (it's free program available online), and then slowly went through and corrected all of my text justification issues, headers and footers, copyright info, dedication, title page, and on and on and on.... I had all of image as movable layers, but it still meant I had to move the front and back cover layers to fit the fluid spine as I went on, correcting all the problems as I spotted them.

This process was literally my entire day today, from when I woke up until almost bedtime (well, okay, I shuffled laundry between the washer and dryer too, but no folding).  But at the end of it all, I can proudly say, TAHDAH!!!

My files are now in review at Createspace.  I'm hoping to move forward and have a review copy ordered by the end of the week, and hopefully the hard copy of Arrival of the Traveler will be available about the same time that the ebooks for Deception of the Magician are out in November.

I have never appreciated ebooks more in terms of cost.  After finishing up the nitty-gritty of the design stuff, I went to look at what I could reasonably list the book at.  Listing the hard copy for around ten dollars more than the ebook, I make the same royalty--about $0.40.

Admittedly, I had wonderful parents who covered my book expenses for most of my childhood, but I was once a poor college student.  (I am sure the supportive parents of avid readers will appreciate this too).  As a lifelong book junkie, I am going to try to keep my prices down.  I intend to always offer the first ebook in a series at a discount, because I know that the first book is always a gamble for the reader.  You never know if the new series is going to be your cup of tea, and the sticker price is part of the decision sometimes.

Al

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Broomfield Days

Today I attended Broomfield Days in my home state of Colorado, and had a wonderful time!  I went and looked at the animals available from the Humane Society, looked at the car show, and wandered through the vendor booths.  I picked up some spicy dip mix, which I tend to do at craft fairs, because I have never found a great spicy dip mix available from grocery stores.

My picture of the day:
These hats were made by a super talented friend of mine, Ashley, who had them in a booth today.  I absolutely love the brown one in the back--it has a green stone on the other side of the hat.  Way to go, Ashley!

Al

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Baby Steps

As of today, I have sold copies of my book without knowing who bought them.  A small step, but somehow, very exciting to me.

It has been suggested to me by a friend that I should sign up for some social media sites, and maybe a chat client.  I plan to look into this today.

Al

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Aargh!

With the book finally out, and people reading it in the ebook form, I am now receiving comments about some of the stuff I missed in editing (mostly formatting).  It's true, what they say: you can never do enough editing.  Mind you, these books have been in editing for more than five years now, and have been edited by four different individuals.

If you find an error, please keep reading.  However, I would appreciate if you note the page number and give my a rough idea of the error you spotted and where it is on the page.  I'll go to my master copy and make the edits, and post a revised edition soon.

Thanks,
Al

Monday, August 22, 2011

Nifty New Book Trailers!

Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.



Create your own video slideshow at animoto.com.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pushing the button

Earlier this month I made a decision that I would declare myself done with editing and have Arrival of the Traveler, Waldgrave Part 1, published by August 20th. So this evening, after going through and thinking about all the things I have an urge to double check, and an editor telling me I'm being too particular and the book is ready, I got over myself and pushed the button.

How does this end? I have no idea. I guess this is when I cross my fingers and hope for the best...

And now on to editing the next book.

Al

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Screw you, auto-indent

Today I spent nearly three hours just reformatting stuff that went back and forth between Word and Google Docs so that I could format correctly in Sigil. And I can now say that auto-indent is the most frustrating feature to ever grace any word processor on the planet. However, my formatting is now done, and all I need to do is plug in the finalized text. I am on track for an August 20th publishing, and much less nervous than I thought I would be.

I got one of my publishing accounts set up, and that is also ready to go except for the finalized book.

The best part of this week has been designing artwork for the books; not just the Waldgrave series, but other books that I have in the works right now. I would like to make book trailers, but so far the nitty-gritty of getting my ebooks formatted correctly has eaten up most of my time.

Al

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The final cuts

Last week I finished my final cuts for my first book, Arrival of the Traveler: Waldgrave Book 1. It is now in the hands of my faithful editors, and still on track to be published by August 31st. I decided to take a one week break between editing books to allow the conclusion to breathe; I'm hoping it will allow me to give a good intro for Book 2.

In the mean time, I've been focusing on my cover art. I have always been artistically oriented, so doing my own cover art was a huge perk to writing a book. :) After several drafts, I believe I've got some great covers for the 3 books due out this year.

Today, I wrote a draft version of a letter to send to potential reviewers, including a synopsis of the book and a brief overview of my life. I sent the note to a few friends for review, and one of them wrote me back that it was kind of sad to sum up the last 10 years of my life in 4 sentences. I laughed; it wasn't my whole life, but it was the parts that I thought people would find interesting, minus the ones I couldn't talk about without getting certain friends in trouble. I included my college degrees and my eclectic job history; I left out my husband, my pets, and my love of gardening.

I think I'm going to fine-tune my synopsis a little more, but hopefully it will be posted to this site soon.

Al

Monday, July 4, 2011

Anyone want a free book?

I am now within 3 chapters of the end of my first book, and thinking ahead, I am trying to find reviewers for the books.

Any volunteers will receive the entire trilogy in your choice of format (ebook or hard copy) for free in exchange for your thoughts posted as an online review somewhere.

Please contact me for further details.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Exhaustion

Having signed off on the first twelve chapters, and sent them off to my editors, the end is in sight. The first book in the trilogy will be eighteen chapters long. I'm struggling with a part of the book (in the middle-ish) which I initially thought was pretty good, but am now finding a little boring. Perhaps it's just me, so I'm going to see if the editors say anything.

I started a new job last week. My previous job, a student research kind of position, had me sitting at a desk for most of the day. My new job, a database and warehouse management kind of position, has me moving around a lot more. I am physically and mentally exhausted, which is making the editing process ten times harder because I want to come home and sleep every day. I'm hoping that the issue is related to the unfamiliar hours I am keeping (early morning to early-mid afternoon). I am a night owl, so I'm hoping that when I get to switch my shift, I will no longer have to fail at the endeavor of going to bed before the sun is down and waking up at the colon of dawn.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Here it is.

Well, here it is--yet another blog, like many other blogs I've started over the years to communicate with friends, organize my thoughts, and share things that I like.

This one, with any luck, will be where I organize my effort to finally publish the many manuscripts I've written over the years. My plan is to have my first book available by September 2011, with two more to follow by the end of the year.

Yesterday, I edited up to chapter 6; I still haven't figured out how many chapters the book will be. I initially wrote it in installments, and going back to add chapter breaks has been tedious.

That's all for now,
Al