Revising Leah

December 29, 2008

(A Mobipocket Interlude)

Over the weekend, I made The Spring available as an ebook download at the Mobipocket website. It was a bit of a technical labyrinth, but I got everything figured out, and I think the ebook itself turned out quite nice.

Two things I don’t like about Mobipocket, though. First, I wasn’t allowed to offer the novel as a free download. When I tried to assign a price of $0.00 to the novel, I was told that was “not a valid price”. I ended up charging $0.50 for the book, which may not sound like much, especially compared to 99% of the other books on the site, but there is still a big psychological divide between “free” and any amount of money. “Free” would have gotten me more readers. Fifty cents will mean far fewer readers.

The other thing I didn’t like was that Mobipocket requires the ebook files to be encrypted with DRM. Again, I tried to build an ebook without the DRM and submit that, but the website wouldn’t accept it. DRM is already a discredited technology (the music industry has abandoned it, and just ask the makers of Spore how well their DRM has worked out for them), and assigning DRM to a book strikes me as absurd. There’s no DRM if I check out a book from a library. When I purchase a book at my local bookstore, I don’t have to run the book through some DRM-removing machine before I can walk out of the store with it. Why does there need to be DRM attached to a book that I purchase online? This obsession with “piracy” is so ridiculous, and it runs antithetical to how our civilization has thought about books and knowledge for the last few centuries. I want to encourage people to read my book; I don’t want to tell people that they’re not allowed to read because some middleman hasn’t gotten paid yet.

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December 28, 2008

Publishing Through Lulu: Preparations, Part 2

When publishing a book through Lulu.com, you need to come prepared with three documents. In my last post, I discussed one of these: the manuscript of your novel. In this post, I’ll discuss the other two documents: the title/copyright page and the book cover.

Title/Copyright

The title/copyright document can be made with the same programs you used for the manuscript itself. I’m not sure why Lulu wants this document and the manuscript uploaded separately since they’ll both be joined together anyway. Perhaps it prevents problems with the page numbering, although it is certainly possible, using page breaks, to prevent page numbers from appearing before the first page of text.

Anyway, in this document, you’ll have — at least — a title page and a copyright page. There are other things you can include here, too, such as a table of contents, acknowledgments and dedications, an inner title page — whatever you want. All of these pages will count towards the total page count that you’ll use to determine the size of the book cover and the price of the book.

On the copyright page, you have the usual stuff that you find in any book: title and author, date and place of publication, ISBN number, etc. I have flirted with the idea of applying the Creative Commons license to my work. Since I don’t mind offering my novels for free, perhaps this would be the best way to go. I haven’t had the guts to take the plunge, though. For now, I continue to use a standard copyright.

Book Cover

Like most POD websites, Lulu offers a selection of generic book covers from which to choose, but if you want your book to stand out, you’ll probably want to try designing your own. I’m certainly not an expert graphic designer, but even with my basic skills, I’ve been able to design nice, simple book covers. As with everything else with self-publishing, I find it creatively satisfying do design my own cover. And at least I know I’m going to get a cover I like, as opposed to a cover I don’t like.

Where do you find the imagery? If you’re a talented photographer or artist, perhaps you could use your own work. If you are artistically challenged, like me, the Internet has a wealth of options. There are plenty of stock photo websites where you can purchase images for reasonable prices. Sites like Flickr are options too if you want something really unique, but of course you’ll have to contact and obtain permission from the photographer before you use those images, since most are copyrighted.

If you don’t have the skills to put together something really fantastic, or if your design idea exceeds your ability, you could also hire a professional graphic designer. My book covers are somewhat minimalist, in part because that’s all I’m capable of creating, but also because I don’t want the covers to be too busy. Since I designed the cover for The Spring over a year ago, I’ve paid a lot more attention to book cover designs. Obviously, there are a lot of professionally designed covers that put mine to shame, but I dare say that even my basic design looks better than some covers out there. Again, it’s all a subjective thing. I think my designs are simple and clean, and that’s the look I’m going for.

When designing the size of the cover, you have to be very precise, keeping in mind such things as the bleed around the edges and the width of the spine. Lulu even has a handy spine width calculator to help you out. One important item that you might not be able to add to the cover until later in the process is the ISBN bar code. I’ll discuss that tricky thing in a separate blog post next month.

Like the formatting of the manuscript, designing the book cover will take some time. Be patient, be careful, and be precise. Remember, you want your book to be the best it can be.

Preparations Complete

It’s best to have these three documents complete and ready to go as PDF files before logging in to Lulu to start the publication process. If you have these files ready, then the uploading process should go very smoothly.

My own files for Leah are ready to go. I’m just waiting for the new year to log in to Lulu and get the process rolling. My next post in this topic, then, will be on January 1.

December 26, 2008

Publishing Through Lulu: Preparations, Part 1

In this final series of posts for Revising Leah, I’m going to document and comment upon how I am publishing my novel through Lulu. If you’ve ever wondered whether self-publishing is right for you, I hope you’ll follow along and learn out what it’s all about.

Lulu.com, and services like it, have become a force for the democratization of publishing. Now, anyone with a story to tell can publish one’s work. With this freedom, however, comes great responsibility. While it’s true that publishing through Lulu is easy and relatively inexpensive, if you want to do it right — if you want to produce a book that you can be proud of, that will sell — then there is a lot of work that you must do.

Revise and Edit! (Have you learned nothing from this blog?)

Obviously, the most important preparation involves carefully revising, editing, and proofreading your text so that you don’t give your readers the impression that you are barely literate. Even if the book you publish is for your eyes only, you don’t want it to be littered with errors and passages that you wish you had revised. If you do want your book to be read by others, then certainly you want it to look as professional as possible. If this means “beta testing” your manuscript with other readers or hiring an editor, then do it. Moriah Jovan had a nice rant on this subject over at Publishing Renaissance recently.

I’ve been working on my novel since April (and, of course, I have documented that process in this blog). My manuscript has reached a point where I am satisfied with it. I’m able to read through a chapter without seeing anything that needs to be changed or corrected. When I receive the galley proofs next month, I’ll probably find a few last minute errors that I ought to fix, but for now, I feel like the book is ready to go.

Formatting

So once the manuscript is the best it can be, it’s ready to be formatted. This may not sound like a big deal, but this is a step that you can expect will take a few days, at least.

The first step: page size and orientation. Lulu allows for several different possibilities for the size of a book, but the usual size for a novel published through Lulu is 9″x6″ — that’s a little bit larger than most novels published, but it’s not freakishly large or anything; it’s still easy to carry and hold in your hands and read.

You’ll need to format the pages so that they mirror each other. In other words, you have to imagine that page 1 of the novel will be on the right, page 2 on the left, page 3 on the right, etc. This can easily be set up within your word processor, usually in the same dialogue box that you used to set up the size of the page.

Lulu has specific requirements for the size of the margins. Basically, you’re setting up a half inch all around except for the inner margin (where the pages join at the book’s spine) which is a 3/4 inch margin.

Pretty easy so far? Well, now things get interesting. The next choice you have to make is the font style and size. Unless you are doing something wacky, you’ll probably want to stick to a size 12 or 13 font. The font style is up to you, though. Lulu has a list of font styles that they prefer you use, but it is possible to use others. I like to use Garamond because I think it looks really nice when the book is printed, but this is a subjective choice. There will be a lot more of these kinds of subjective choices as the process goes on. It can seem a little overwhelming, but this is what I like about self-publishing: the opportunity to direct all of the little details of the publishing process. I find it very satisfying. Satisfying, ultimately, but not always easy. . .

The Ninth Circle of Formatting Hell: Page Numbers

Nothing will frustrate you more than wrestling with the page numbers. Although I like to use OpenOffice for most of my word processing needs, the biggest beef that I have with the program is that it makes formatting up page numbers very, very difficult. In Microsoft’s Word, the process is  much more simpler — in fact, it is so much easier that when I need to insert page numbers I often just open the file in Word, do my business there, and save it.

Depending on where you want the page numbers to go (top or bottom of the page), you might need to format breaks between the chapters. (I found this page online which helped explain how to do this in Word.) The purpose of creating a break between chapters is that it allows you to format the page numbers so that, if you choose, the page number won’t appear on the first page of the chapter. Depending on what the first page of each chapter looks like, you might not want the page number in the same place as the other numbers on the other pages. For example, if all of the page numbers for the rest of the text are in the top corners, maybe you want the page number on the first page of each chapter at the bottom of the page. Personally, I prefer not to include the page number on the first page of each chapter, but that’s just me. Whatever you decide to do, establishing formatting breaks between chapters makes this process easier.

At the same time that you are setting up the page numbers, you have to make a decision about whether you want your name and/or the title of your novel at the top of each page. And here is where you can literally do whatever you want. When I was setting up my page numbers, I sought inspiration and guidance by browsing through a dozen different books by as many different publishers. Almost every book had set up its page numbers and top margin material differently. Some put the numbers near the outer margin, some put them near the inner margin. Some books put the page number at the top of the page, others put the numbers on the bottom. Some books only used the title of the book, others used only the author’s name, others used the chapter title, others had a combination of some of these. Some books centered the material, others placed it near the page numbers. Apparently the only rule with page numbers and margin material is that there are no rules. You can do whatever you want.

So this has been a glimpse at some of the work you have to do when preparing the manuscript for Lulu’s publishing process. I thought you might want an example of what I’ve done, so take a look at this file:

Chapter One

It’s the first chapter of my novel, formatted more or less the way it will look when it is published. Look at my font, my spacing, the page numbers and headings, the first page of the chapter, etc. Again, you don’t have to format your manuscript exactly as I have formatted mine, but hopefully it will reinforce the idea that your text should look clean, neat, and organized — in other words, professional.

Next time: Preparing the title page and the book cover.

December 22, 2008

Technology, Culture, and Writing Fiction

If you are writing stories set in the present day, as I am, then you’ve probably worried, as I have, about how to refer to (or ignore) information technology and all of the little electronic devices that we carry with us nowadays. Their ubiquity in modern culture causes the fiction writer at least two problems.

First, there is the problem of trying to keep up with technology. Things are changing so fast. Every day there is a new gadget or a new must-visit website, and every day some other gadget that was popular a few years ago falls into obsolescence, or yesterday’s cool website or web app is abandoned as users flock to the next big thing. Writing about young people, as I do, makes the problem even more difficult because fads and tastes change daily, and it is young people who are most likely to embrace whatever is new and fun. For example, when I revised The Spring for publication, I had to insert mp3s and mp3 players into the story in order to bring it up to date, but at the same time, I was careful not to call any character’s player an “iPod”. The iPod might be the dominant brand of mp3 player right now, but that could change in five years. When I mention technology in my stories, I’m careful not to mention specific brands. If I did, it would date the story and limit it to a specific period of time — even a specific year. I want to try to keep my stories as current and “present day” as possible. There will come a time when certain items and activities seem anachronisitic, but hopefully that’s still a while off.

Second, all of this new technology is changing the way people interact with each other. Yes, people still make friends or fight or fall in love, but the way that they do those things is changing. It feels like we’re in a transitional time — or maybe, from this point forward, the only cultural constant will be transition.

Technology wasn’t always moving so fast. Through most of the 20th century, if two people wanted to communicate with each other, they could write letters, speak on the telephone, or meet in person (by car or train or subway). Now, young people don’t write letters, they text each other. They don’t talk on the telephone, they use cell phones. And while face-to-face meetings are still popular (I hope), young people are just as likely to keep in touch with Facebook, MySpace, blogs, or through any number of the various social applications and websites. Their online existence bleeds into their offline existence. But once again, mentioning any of these specific devices or sites or activities by name is dangerous. Right now, Facebook rules supreme, but if (and when) a cooler, better site comes along, Facebook could be a ghost town in a few years. And already blogs and email are starting to seem old-fashioned. How much longer will WordPress last?

But telling a good story means placing human relationships front and center. Even in a story like Leah, which is about a girl who spends most of her time by herself, the relationships that she has — or tries to have — with the other characters is the most important thing. With technology changing culture, and culture changing the way that humans interact with each other, writers are under pressure to adapt how their characters interact with each other while still preserving the results of that interaction: the loving and fighting that has always been part of human culture and literature.

How has our technological culture influenced the way you construct your stories?

(This will probably be my last blog post until after Christmas. After Christmas, I will begin documenting the process of publishing a novel through Lulu. It should be fun. I hope everyone curious about self-publishing visits me again.)

December 19, 2008

Blurb: Version 2.7.3

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:40 pm
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So far, in the epic struggle between author and blurb, the blurb has been kicking the author’s butt. Blurbs are such tricky things to write. They’re poems, really, where every word must be chosen with care and arranged in just the right order to achieve the desired effect in the reader (in this case, to generate interest in my novel).

But I think I might have finally reached a turning point. Last night, before bed, I worked on the blurb some more. At last, I might have found my blurb. Before I get to that, though, let’s recap the string of misses that I’ve written since Thanksgiving:

  • Alone and shy, 14-year-old Leah Nells has lived her life in isolation, with only books to keep her company. But when she begins ninth grade, she finds herself thrust into the complicated and confusing world of high school. And when she falls in love with a boy from her class, she must choose between  the girl the world expects her to be and the girl she is.

  • Introverted and shy, 14-year-old Leah Nells has lived her life in isolation, with only books to keep her company. But when she begins ninth grade, she finds herself thrust into the complicated and confusing world of high school. And when she falls in love with a boy from her class, she must choose between the girl the world expects her to be and the girl she is.

  • Introverted and shy, 14-year-old Leah Nells has lived her life alone, with only books to keep her company. As she starts high school, she finds herself lost in the complicated and confusing world of high school. And when she falls in love with a boy from her class, can she find a way to fit in yet stay true to herself?

  • Introverted and shy, 14-year-old Leah Nells has lived her life alone, with only books to keep her company. As she starts high school, she finds herself lost in the complicated and confusing world of high school-especially when she falls in love with a boy from her class. Can she learn to overcome her shyness and be the girl that her classmates and her parents expect her to be?

  • Introverted and shy, 14-year-old Leah Nells has lived her life alone, with only books to keep her company. As she starts high school, she finds herself lost in the complicated and confusing world of high school-especially when she falls in love with a boy from her class. Can she learn to overcome her shyness and be the girl that the whole world expects her to be?

As you can see, I have an idea of what I want to say and how I want to say it, but I’m struggling to find just the right words and phrases. (Story of my life, actually.) One strategy that I’ve been using for these blurbs is to talk out loud. I’ve found that while revising the novel, when I came upon a sentence that sounded strange or confusing but didn’t offer an obvious solution, talking out loud — attempting to describe to myself what I mean to say — helped me find a solution to the problem. I’ve used that technique as I’ve worked on this blurb. Here’s the current version, written late last night:

Introverted and shy, 14-year-old Leah Nells has lived her life alone, with only books to keep her company. As she starts 9th grade, she finds herself lost and confused within the perplexing social universe of high school — especially when she falls in love with a boy from her class. Under pressure from her parents, her classmates, and the whole noisy world, can she become the girl she wants to be?

Today, when I look at this version of the blurb with fresh, rested eyes, I’m still happy with the first and third sentences, but the second sentence, specifically the phrase “the perplexing social universe of high school,” rubs me the wrong way (I think I need to do something about the word “social”, which sounds too formal to me — and “perplexing” might not be the best word either). I still have work to do, but, for the most part, this version of the blurb passes the same test that I use for all of my writing: can I read it without cringing or rolling my eyes? For this blurb, I can.

December 18, 2008

Oh! A Review!

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:45 am
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I was visiting my Lulu page for The Spring this morning because I needed to copy the book’s ISBN number, and I discovered that a reader had left an unsolicited — and positive — review. Cool!

See it for yourself here (scroll to the bottom of the page): Link.

December 16, 2008

Authonomy

As I suspected I might, I’ve posted the full text of The Spring to HarperCollins’ website, Authonomy (I’ll post Leah after I’ve corrected the galleys next month). The purpose of the website is for aspiring writers to post their work, collect votes from readers, and hopefully have their work read by HC publishing execs and published by HC or one of their imprints. Every month, 5 lucky winners are chosen.

I doubt I’ll win the grand prize. From what I’ve been able to tell, there is a lot of horse trading involved, a lot of “I’ll vote for your book if you’ll vote for mine,” and a lot of people trying to game the system. (HC claims they’re looking for the best writers, but what they end up with are the people who are best at assembling a network of voters.) I’m not interested in that sort of politicking, so I doubt my novel will get very far in the rankings.

What I am using the site for is simply another online platform where I can post my work. If I can get even a few people to read my stories, then that’s a success for me.

You have to be registered and logged in to vote for a book, but everyone can read The Spring by following this link.

P.S.: I did NOT submit this post to AlphaInventions. I’m playing it straight.

December 14, 2008

AlphaInventions and Blogging Ethics

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:59 pm
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If you’re reading this post, you probably arrived through AlphaInventions.com, the website which is rocking bloggers’ worlds by bringing them more readers than they ever dreamed possible.

I think my first encounter with AI occurred a couple of weeks ago. I posted to this blog and came back a couple hours later to discover that almost 20 people had visited my blog since I last checked in, and all of them were directed my way via something called Alpha Inventions. I don’t know who submitted my blog to AI (if it was you, thanks!).

On Friday, I came upon someone else’s blog who had written about the AI phenomenon, so on Saturday, I decided to perform an experiment to see how it worked. I wrote a post (it’s the post immediately below this one) — a modest, almost humdrum post, something that under normal circumstances wouldn’t attract a lot of hits, but within an hour after submitting my blog to AI, I had 17 visitors.

thinker

It's a dilemma!

But I felt guilty — maybe even a little dirty — about what I had done. I didn’t do anything deceitful; I didn’t trick anybody. I used AI the way it is meant to be used, but somehow it felt wrong, and I wondered, is it ethical to take advantage of AlphaInventions to boost one’s hit stats?

It’s not human inventions that are evil, it’s how humans choose to use their inventions that makes them sources of evil — or good. I rather like the AI site. I find it a little addictive because you never know what interesting blog is going to pop up next. Considering it purely in terms of a web application, I have only two complaints: the user interface is still a little rough and I wish I could adjust the speed at which the blogs pass by. Too often, I want to visit a blog that I see, but by the time I get my mouse cursor up to the link, it’s gone (why can’t I just click on the image of the blog that I see before me and be taken to the blog?).

So it’s not the site itself that causes me problems, it’s how it might be [ab]used. Is it all right to submit your own blog to AI for purely selfish, if not narcissistic reasons (“Hey look! 10000 people visited my blog in December! People love me!”)? Even murkier: what if a blogger has advertising on his site and wants to use AI to draw visitors, hoping that they will click on the links? Murkiest of all: what if one litters a blog with pornographic images, hate speech, or links to malware and then submits that blog to AI just to stir up trouble?

I suppose I have a rather naive view of blogging. I’d rather have visitors who visit this blog because they are interested in what I am doing here (do those of you who were brought here by AI even know what the purpose of “Revising Leah” is?). I’d almost rather have visitors brought here the old-fashioned way: by clicking on tags or through WordPress’s Tag Surfer function. I’d rather have visitors who care about what I’m doing here, because they are more likely to leave comments and engage in a conversation. Those are the visitors who I value the most.

Perhaps the best use of AlphaInventions would be to submit the blogs of other people. If you come across a blog or a post that knocks your socks off, that makes you think, “Everybody should see this!” then submit it and give that blogger the attention that he or she deserves. I will definitely be using AI for this purpose.

So what do you think? Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Do you have any misgivings about using AlphaInventions?

December 13, 2008

The Little Book of Earthquakes and Volcanoes

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:45 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

ev0002Another one of the books that Leah Nells reads over the course of the novel arrived on my doorstep the other day. It’s The Little Book of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, and here’s how I described it in the novel:

Sitting on top of the notebook was one of the books Mrs. Nells had bought for her daughter at the garage sale the week before. It was titled The Little Book of Earthquakes and Volcanoes, and it was just that — a little book, not even 200 pages, that would be easy for her to carry on her first day of school, but it was still long enough that it would provide several days’ worth of reading. Leah didn’t know whether she would find time to read her book today since she didn’t know how busy her classes would be, but knowing that the book would be with her was a comfort. It represented a link to her home: a reminder of the security of her bedroom — something familiar in an unfamiliar place. For now, though, the book sat idle on top of her notebook.

The book is even shorter than I expected — barely 150 pages (Amazon’s website claims that it is 192 pages long, but I don’t know where that number is coming from. The last page of the book is page 156.). It’s just as small as I suggested in the novel, and it is also exactly the kind of book that Leah would read.

This book illustrates something about how I sometimes use Leah’s choice of reading of material to symbolize the mental/emotional states that she is in at different points in the novel. The earthquakes book is perfect for her to read on the first day of school because the first day of school is always a cataclysmic event and because Leah spends much of the day rocked by her own bodily earthquakes: the nervous trembling that grips her from time to time. Indeed, the first sentence of the book could be a metaphor for Leah herself:

However still the Earth’s surface may seem at times, it is actually seething with activity, much of it driven by the intense heat of the inner layers of the Earth.

Leah Nells may seem quiet and dull and uninteresting on the outside, but beneath the surface she’s just as complex and deep as anyone.

Of course, it’s dangerous to interpret too much into my choice of books for Leah to read. Some of them offer more commentary on her character than others, but they’re one of those little details that are easy to miss but which, I think, add a lot to the story.

December 12, 2008

Required Reading

I found an excellent blog post this morning by Rae Lori. It discusses self-publishing, the publishing industry, and the politics behind both.

Check it out.

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