Revising Leah

January 28, 2009

Which Ebook Formats Am I Missing?

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:29 pm
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I believe in giving away ebook versions of my books, and I’ve got a special page set up for free downloads at my website. Right now, I have three ebook formats to choose from: PDF, PRC, and PDB. So far, I only have those three because while it seems every ebook reader on the market has its own (sometimes proprietary) format, most ebooks are able to interpret at least one of those three formats.

But just because an ebook reader can display, for example, a PDF file, that doesn’t mean that the PDF file looks good or is easy to read when it’s displayed. Unfortunately, I have no way of testing these formats on ebook devices since I do not yet own any ebook reader (I’d like one, but they’re all still so expensive), and since there are so many different readers and devices (like cell phones) capable of displaying some of these formats, there’s no way I can test each device.

My questions are these: if anyone reading this has an ebook reader or a cell phone that can display formats, is there a particular format that I am missing that I absolutely should offer on my “free ebooks” page? Are there any devices that will not display a PDF, PRC, or PDB file at all?

It’s too bad that there isn’t one format (like the mp3 format for audio) that most devices can use. So many different formats will just make it harder for the ebook market to take off.

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January 11, 2009

Proof Copy: First Look

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 10:01 am
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In my last post, I discussed how worried I’ve been that the back side of my book cover wasn’t going to turn out well. I even started designing an alternative back cover just in case my fears were realized.

Well, my fears were indeed realized. Late yesterday, my proof copy arrived, and I found that not only does the back side of the cover look obviously pixelated (even more pixelated, in fact, than it did in the PDF file from which the cover was generated), but my attempt to soften the pixelation by slightly blurring the image has failed spectacularly: the image looks both pixelated and blurry.

Only three visitors to this blog voted on the two back cover options in my previous post (and those votes resulted in a three-way tie), but it looks like my decision has been made for me. There’s no way I can use Option One. Option Two is in.

January 9, 2009

Tell Me What You Think (Poll!)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:37 pm
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I’m still waiting for the proof copy of my novel to arrive, and as I wait, I continue to second-guess my design for the back cover. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m worried that the image on the back will be obviously pixelated, and while I like the idea of a large detail of the front cover painting on the back, too much pixelation will make the cover look really, really amateurish.

But I’ve also felt uncertain about the design in general. Even if the picture is not over-pixelated, I’m not sure if it’s the best design. With that in mind, the other day I started designing a new back cover, one with a smaller, crisper image and a quote from the novel.

So I want to know from you, kind visitor, which design do you think is better (that is, which looks more professional and/or aesthetically pleasing)? Click on the images below to see a larger image, and then participate in the poll at the end of this post. And maybe leave a comment if you have suggestions to make. I’m eager to know what people think.

Option One

Option One

Option Two

Option Two

Option One is what I have right now. Pros: the image fills the entire back cover, an idea that I rather like. Minimal text. Cons: Too much pixelation. I’m not a fan of the shape of the blurb; it’s triangular because I’m trying to avoid letting the text get tangled in the girl’s hair, but it’s not a perfect triangle and that kind of bugs me.

Option Two is the possible new design. Pros: It looks clean and simple. It’s hard to tell, perhaps, but the font color here is dark green. I thought that would look better than a lot of black text on a white background. I like how the detail image is focused on the book the girl is holding. Cons: That’s a lot of text! (The quote at the top of the cover is, in fact, an edited, shortened version of what appears in the manuscript, but it’s still really long.)

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 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 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.

December 7, 2008

5087 Trivia Questions & Answers

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 2:51 pm
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A big, big book

A big, big book

I recently ordered a copy of one of the books that Leah reads in the novel. It arrived yesterday, and it is called 5087 Trivia Questions & Answers. It only cost me a dollar from Amazon, but it’s in really nice condition.

I love the book for its title alone. It begs the question, Why 5087? Why not cut 87 questions for an even 5000 or add 13 more questions for 5100? I thought the book would offer some explanation for that number, but I can’t find one. It’s just that sort of weird, random thing that attracted me to the title when I was selecting books for Leah to read.

The book plays an important role in chapter 8. It’s the book that Kyle steals from Leah and makes fun of, which in turn causes David to intervene on Leah’s behalf — thus introducing David’s character to the story. In the novel, I made up a question about Socrates that Kyle reads from the book. Now that I have the book itself in my possession, I might browse through it and see if there isn’t a better question that I might have Kyle read, but I’m satisfied with the Socrates question and might leave it in, even if it doesn’t appear in the actual book.

It’s a big, bulky book. Hardbound and over 700 pages long. Inside, the questions are listed on the right, and the answers to the questions are printed on the back of each page. The size of the book worries me. It’s not as heavy as it looks, so Leah wouldn’t have any trouble carrying it, but it would take up a lot of space in her backpack. Still, the advantages of the book outweigh the disadvantages, and I don’t plan to change the title.

Someday, I’d like to complete my own collection of the books that Leah reads in my novel. I’ll pick them up when they’re cheap, but unfortunately, not all of them are. One book, titled The Interstate Commerce Commission and the Railroad Industry costs at least $60 for a used copy. (Leah hated that book.) That’s more money than I’m willing to spend.

Inserting the titles of real books into the novel is one of the best ideas I’ve had during this revising project. It just further adds to the sense of realism, and it further breaks down the barriers between the fictional universe that I’ve created and the real world in which I live.

October 12, 2008

How I Use Metafiction in My Novel

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 6:03 pm
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Photo by Stefano Castiglia

Photo by Stefano Castiglia

Metafiction is a form of writing in which the very act of writing or reading becomes the subject of the story. It’s a technique and a form that has been around almost as long as the novel itself, but it has been used more and more in the last 50 years. Some famous examples of 20th century metafictive novels include Pale Fire, Mulligan Stew, and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.

While Leah, as a whole, is not metafiction, I do employ some metafictive strategies here and there within the story. Leah allows for metafiction because the readers of this novel often find themselves in the odd position of reading a book about a character who is herself reading books. And although Leah Nells is the main character of this novel, we learn in chapter two that she doesn’t like novels:

She preferred to read non-fiction books-books that were dense, impersonal, and mostly uninteresting. She never read novels, except when assigned to read one for school, because when she read about lively characters and their exciting adventures, she couldn’t help but contrast their stories with her own quiet life. Novels only reminded her of how different she was from other people. Characters in novels liked to talk, they had lots of friends, and they did things-simple things-like go shopping at a garage sale without any worries at all. Leah couldn’t relate to any of those characters; their lives were not like hers. So she read books like Attracting Birds to Your Backyard because these books didn’t remind her that she was weird. These books made her feel comfortable, normal. The real birds in the trees outside might sing, but the pictures of birds in her book were as silent as Leah herself.

The irony of a main character of a novel who hates novels calls the reader’s attention to the fact that the reader is reading a story, and it suggests this novel will be a little different from the kinds of books that Leah dislikes. If only for a moment, the reader contrasts this story with other novels that the reader has read and contrasts Leah to other characters.¬† The part about how other characters in other books tend to speak a lot calls the reader’s attention to the fact that, by this point in the story, Leah still has not uttered a single word (and she won’t speak until the next chapter). Metafiction explicitly asks the reader to think about the story that he or she is reading and to place that story within the context of other stories and novels that one has read previously.

There’s another element of metafiction in the passage above that I should point out. The birds book that Leah is reading is a real book (I’ve linked to it’s Amazon page). In fact, all of the books that Leah reads in the course of this novel are real books. In the 1996 draft of Leah, I just made up titles, but this time I thought, why not use the titles of real books? The effect is to tie Leah to the real world and break down another barrier between the fictional world of the novel and the real world of the reader. It further supports the illusion that what we are reading might be true. This blurring of fiction and reality is another goal of metafiction.

Most of the time, though, metafiction has more to do with the act of writing than of reading. We don’t see Leah Nells doing a lot of writing in this novel, but because she’s a high school student, she does do some. Here’s a passage in which the narrator describes how Leah feels about writing and the difficulties that she faces:

Despite reading so many books on her own, Leah didn’t write very well. Communicating with pen and paper was almost as hard as communicating with spoken words. Writing was sometimes better than speaking because she could take her time constructing sentences and paragraphs, but she often found herself struggling for just the right words and she didn’t always know how to phrase those words in the best possible way. The act of writing was a more personal, solitary activity, but even though she wasn’t speaking directly to another person, she still knew that a writing assignment like this book report would have an audience — Mrs. Meyer — and that placed added pressure on her to write well. Leah tried to do the best she could, but communication is communication, no matter what the means of expression, and Leah knew that she simply could not communicate well.

I would suggest that the difficulties described in this passage are difficulties that all writers face, whether they are students or professional writers. Writing is hard, and as I learned when I tried to publish this novel the first time, a piece of writing doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it to. The 1996 edition of my novel was very poorly written, and I used to mock myself by describing Leah as a book about a girl who has trouble communicating, written by a writer who is obviously having trouble communicating, too.

Since Leah Nells is such a voracious reader, she frequently has to go shopping for more books. Over the course of this novel, we follow Leah and her mother as they visit garage sales, used book stores, and large chain bookstores in search of those long, boring books that Leah prefers to read. This gives me the opportunity to sprinkle in some criticism of the publishing and retail industry. The sharpest criticism comes when Leah makes a rare visit to a large chain bookstore at the local mall:

As she browsed, she sometimes checked the prices of the books that she picked up. Since nearly all of the books in her collection were from garage sales and the used book store where books sometimes cost less than a dollar, she was shocked to see books priced at twenty or thirty dollars — or more. Who would be dumb enough to pay that kind of money? she wondered. How could this place stay in business? Leah was fortunate that she wouldn’t have to pay for a book out of her own pocket, but because she didn’t want to ask her mother to spend too much on her, she decided that she should find a book that wasn’t very expensive.

Writers often employ metafiction just for the sake of employing it — in other words, to have fun with the text. But metafiction can serve a social and political function as well. It can be a method of criticizing or satirizing real-world institutions and customs.

Not everyone likes metafiction. Some readers and writers find it too distracting. But I like it because I think it adds an extra dimension to the story; it helps pull the reader out of the passive role that one usually assumes into a more active participation in reading and making sense of the story. I think that’s a positive thing, and while I don’t go out of my way to use metafiction (off the top of my head, I can’t think of any metafictive elements in The Spring, for example) when the opportunity to use it presents itself, I like to take advantage of it.

September 5, 2008

Every Book in the World But One . . .

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:46 pm
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. . . can be found here.

August 26, 2008

Leah’s Class Schedule

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 6:16 pm
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Because time is such an important part of the novel, I thought it would be a good idea, for my own purposes, if I spelled out exactly what Leah’s schedule is and identify precisely when she is in each of her classes. A lot of the details about Leah’s high school are generic: the day starts at 8:00 and ends at 3:00, for example.

The novel Leah is set in the same fictional universe as The Spring, so the time schedule below applies to both of my novels. It amazes me that I never needed to create such a schedule when I was preparing The Spring for publication last year. I did have to keep track of what courses my characters in The Spring were taking, but I didn’t need to know when they were in class.

So here it is — it wasn’t easy putting this together:

Leah M. Nells – 9th Grade – Everyman High School*

800-910 1st period (Biology)**
910-915***
915-1010 2nd period (Algebra)
1010-1015
1015-1110 3rd period (Phys. Ed.)
1110-1115
1115-1200 Lunch
1200-1205
1205-100 4th period (Consumer Econ.)
100-105
105-200 5th period (English)
200-205
205-300 6th period (World History)

* – Not the real name, although I do like the sound of it. I never do say, in either novel, what the name of the high school really is.

** – The first period is fifteen minutes longer than the other classes because it is also the period assigned for morning announcements.

*** – Five minute passing periods. Hurry!

The 6-class schedule is something I borrowed from my own high school experience. I know that nowadays it isn’t uncommon for high school schedules to have 7 or 8 classes in a day, or sometimes they only have 4 classes in a day if they are on a block schedule.

This post has been edited for precision.

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