Revising Leah

February 5, 2009

The End

This blog has been an act of redemption.

In the months and years following the publication of the first edition of Leah back in 1996, I found myself increasingly unhappy with the book and the quality of the story I had written. My unhappiness loomed over all of my other writing, eventually paralyzing to me to the point where I stopped writing creatively altogether for a few years. It became a goal of mine to revisit and rewrite the novel someday. I needed to redeem myself as a writer, because I knew I am a better writer than the fool who published that poorly written book in 1996.

And, perhaps more importantly, I wanted to redeem Leah Nells, one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever created. She deserved so much better than to languish in the flawed fictional universe where I abandoned her over a decade ago. This project has been for her as much as it’s been for me.

The project is complete now. The novel has been revised and republished, my sense of myself as a writer has been redeemed, and Leah Nells is at last in the story that I imagined for her so many years ago. With nothing left to do and nothing left to revise, I’m bringing this blog to a close. This will be my last post.

I want to thank everyone who visited this blog, everyone who left comments, and everyone who linked to me from their own blogs. It’s been fun meeting so many different people.

I’ll be starting a new writing project — and a new blog — soon. The new book and the new blog will both be titled Juvenilia (there’s a link in the sidebar). Both the book and the blog will be an ambitious project in which I’ll be collaborating with the two main characters in the creation of the novel. It should be a lot of fun, and I hope everyone who followed this blog will join me for my next one. It will probably launch sometime around the first of March. Until then, I’m going to take a little time off, try to drum up some publicity for the new edition of Leah, and continue to proselytize over at Publishing Renaissance.

Endings are often awkward, but at least this is a happy ending.

February 2, 2009

Revised!

My finished novel arrived today. It looks good, so I’ve approved the book for sale through Lulu and elsewhere. Paperback copies may be purchased here.

I’m also making the ebook version of the novel available for free. The PDF download at Lulu will be free, of course, but I’ll also be offering downloads through my website.  Right now, I only have PDF and ePub versions of Leah available, but I’ll be adding PRC and PDB formatted versions, too, soon.

I hope everyone who stops by this page will check the book out. I’m very happy with it.

January 21, 2009

How Can You Finish a Piece of Writing That Can Never Be Finished?

An update: Last week, I received the proof copy of Leah and I read through it, proofreading and making last minute corrections. I thought that I’d be able to submit the corrected manuscript back to Lulu on Sunday, thus beginning the final phase of this publishing process. However, Sunday evening, I was reading passages of my book at random (a couple pages here, a couple pages there), and stumbled upon a sentence in chapter eight in which I had accidentally italicized half of a sentence that should not have been italicized at all.

The discovery freaked me out because it was an error so glaringly obvious that I should have spotted it last week when I was reading through the novel. I started to wonder, then, Well if I missed that, what other errors have I missed?!

So I decided to delay submitting the supposedly “corrected” manuscript for a couple of days. Since Sunday, I’ve continued to just browse through the book randomly. I have spotted a few more errors, but they’ve all been very minor typos.

But Sunday’s freak-out has rekindled has my obsession with perfection and the idea that whatever I write and publish must be perfect, even though I fully realize that no piece of writing can ever be perfect — something can always be done to improve a written work. I have the urge to hold on to my book and not submit it until I have made every single change that I can. But I could work on my manuscript for another hundred years and it will still not be perfect.

I’ll keep browsing through the text this afternoon and this evening, but unless I find another startling error like I found on Sunday, I think I’ll submit the corrected draft of my manuscript to Lulu before I go to bed tonight. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sleep.

January 16, 2009

Almost

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:36 pm
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Well, I finished reading through the proof copy of my novel today. I had thought that I would today be ready to submit the revised manuscript and book cover back to Lulu, but I’ve decided to sit on the book for the weekend and think about it some more. In the second half of the novel, I noticed a couple of potential continuity errors, so I want to make sure those are taken care of. Plus, I feel like I read through the novel so quickly (40-50 pages a day) that I just want to pause and catch my breath. Hopefully, on Monday, everything will be ready to go, and I’ll submit the revised documents then.

January 14, 2009

A Dream Deferred (and Deleted)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 4:03 pm
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At the beginning of chapter fourteen, I had a paragraph-length description of a dream that Leah experiences a couple days after her school’s Homecoming Dance. The dream has long been a source of indecision for me because I always thought that the dream I described here was more than a little cheesy. In previous revision cycles, I considered cutting it from the story, but I chose instead to compromise: I left it in but tried to sweep the cheesiness out of the scene. I think I did a pretty good job.

But yesterday, when I was reading the passage again, it occurred to me that it might conflict with the scene at the end of chapter thirteen. At the end of chapter thirteen, in one of my favorite moments in the novel, Leah unhappily accepts the fact that she isn’t going to the Homecoming Dance with David or anyone else.

Apparently, in previous revision cycles I must have always taken a break from reading once I finished chapter thirteen, because this time, when I read the dream sequence at the start of chapter fourteen just seconds after reading the end of chapter fourteen, it suddenly occurred to me that the dream sequence completely contradicts and undermines the emotional impact of that final scene in chapter thirteen. I have never noticed this until now, and it alarmed me when I realized what I had done.

It’s too late for me to cut the plan for a dream sequence out of chapter fourteen since it is woven tightly into the start of chapter fourteen. I’d have to completely rewrite the first couple of pages of the chapter.

So what I’ve decided to do here is replace the Leah’s dream with another dream. It was the setting of the dream (a formal dance that was like something out of Cinderella) that caused the trouble. I changed the setting of the dream but not what made the dream so appealing to Leah: it was about she and David spending time together, alone — and talking to each other.

I think that has solved the problem, and it’s a lucky thing I caught it. The transitions between chapters has been something that I’ve been worried about. Because I can’t read the whole novel in one sitting, I have to stop some time. A new chapter is always a logical place to take a break, but taking a break disrupts the flow of reading, and when I stop I risk missing a transition problem like this one.

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.)

January 8, 2009

Twiddling My Thumbs

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 1:33 pm
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Earlier this week, I got the message that the proof copy for Leah had shipped, so right now I’m just waiting for it to arrive. If I’m lucky, it will come by Saturday. I’m anxious to hold the book in my hands and see the revised story “in the flesh” instead of just on a computer screen.

As I wait, I’m trying to plan my strategy for what will be the final round of editing. Obviously, the first concern that I’ll have will be to check the cover and the formatting of the text. On the cover, I’ll be looking to see that the pictures and text are all lined up where they should be, and I’ll especially be looking to see how bad the pixellation is on the back cover. I expect some pixellation, but the question will be how obvious is it? If it’s really obvious, I’ll either have to blur the image a little more or I’ll have to design something different. Yesterday, I got inspired after thinking about my use of quotes on the front page of my new website, and I think I might be able to come up with a better design.

But the real editing work will be with the text of the novel. I’m going to try, as hard as I can, not to make too many unnecessary edits. I know that if I give myself freedom to do whatever I want I’ll be rewriting sentences and replacing some words with other words til the cows come home. But I really just want to limit myself to fixing errors.

One kind of error that I know I commit has to do with my dialogue. I tend to commit two common errors in my dialogue: I misplace or omit capital letters, or I insert periods where commas should go (or vice-versa). For example, I might accidentally write a line of dialogue like this:

“Yes, he was lost,” Joe said, “He didn’t know where to go.”

or like this:

“I liked the movie,” she said, “it was really good.”

So after I’ve read a chapter with dialogue in it, I’m going to revisit each line of dialogue and make sure I haven’t left any typos in my text. Little things like that probably won’t be noticed by someone reading my book for the first time, but they’ll bug the heck out of me if I see them in the final product.

Beyond those concerns, I’ll just have to stay on the alert for surprises. I won’t be too worried if I catch a lot of little errors in this final read-through. It’s a fact that reading a hard copy of text is a very different physiological and psychological experience than reading it on the screen, and since this is the first time that I’ll be reading a hard copy of the entire revised text, it’s possible that I’ve missed a few things in my previous revision cycles.

January 1, 2009

Publishing Through Lulu: Uploading

Well, today is the day. At long last I get the publishing process for Leah rolling. Here’s a review of the steps I took (with screenshots!).

1. Sign In

I already have a Lulu account, of course, so I logged in and started a new project. I clicked the “Publish” tab, then clicked “Paperback books”, and then “Get Started”.

2. Start Tab

Here, I simply provided the title and author’s name. I also selected the “Make It Public” option because I want to be able to offer the book to readers later on. Clicked Save & Continue.

(Click For Larger Image)

(Click For Larger Image)

3. Options Tab

Next, I had to determine what kind of format I wanted my book to take. I chose the usual options for a novel: Standard paper (not Publisher Grade); book size: US Trade; perfect binding; and black & white color.

Choose the Physical Properties of Your Book

Choose the Physical Properties of Your Book

4. Files Tab

Now we upload, and this is where the preparations that I described in my earlier posts (here and here) paid off. I upload two of the three PDF documents that I had prepared: the manuscript and the title/copyright page. Once they’re uploaded, I arranged the files in the right order (the title page document goes first), and then Lulu automatically merged the two documents together and allowed me the chance to review that merged file.

Upload Files

Upload Files

5. Cover Tab

The next step takes care of the other PDF file that I had prepared: the one with the cover of the book. If you haven’t designed a cover or don’t care about the cover design (although you should) this is the stage where Lulu can assist in creating a generic cover. I’ve designed my own cover, though, so I clicked on the “Upload One-Piece Cover” button and uploaded my document.

Pay No Attention to That Green Fringe

Pay No Attention To That Green Fringe

A year ago, when I was publishing The Spring, this screen confused me. I knew that I was supposed to create a “bleed” zone around my cover, which I did. But the weird green border that you see in the image above confused me and made me second guess what I had done. I actually went back and tinkered with the size of the cover, which proved to be a mistake when my proof copy arrived and I saw that I had made the border around the cover image too large. This time, I played it cool and just clicked “Save & Continue”. If there is a problem when I get the proof copy, then I’ll make adjustments later, but I think the cover is going to turn out fine.

6. Description Tab

Here, I filled in the basic info for the content of the book. All of the fields were filled in except for the ISBN number because at this stage in the process, I hadn’t been assigned a number yet. As you can see, I placed the novel in the “Teens” category as opposed to the “Fiction & Literature” category (I would have preferred to place it in both). I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do, but I can change it later if I need to.

Everything But the ISBN

Everything But the ISBN

7. Price Tab

I hope you like to wrestle, because this is one of those screens which will resist everything you try to do. You can see in the screenshot that there are two open fields in the “Retail Print” section. Don’t try to enter anything in the “Price” field — only tinker with the “My Revenue” field and let the values that you insert there adjust the “Price” field for you.

Just Adjust the My Revenue Box

Just Adjust the My Revenue Box

I wanted to make sure that I set the price for Leah to be less than the price I set for The Spring, just because Leah is a bit shorter than The Spring. You can see in the screenshot that the author’s cut of the money, especially when selling through retailers like Amazon, is very small. (This is where Lulu authors get greedy and why some 200-page novels published through Lulu cost upwards of $30.) Whether publishing the old-fashioned way or through POD, the sad fact is that authors just don’t earn much from each individual sale. It’s a good thing that creative writing isn’t my day job!

And I will, of course, make the novel available as a free download.

8. Review and Order

After that, I am asked to review everything, make sure it’s OK, and then I order a proof copy. I do have to pay for a proof copy, but since I’m the author of the project, I don’t have to pay the full price that I set for the novel back in the Price Tab. Instead, I only pay for the for the cost of manufacturing a copy and shipping it to me. I added my book to my virtual shopping cart, but I didn’t check out just yet because I still have one more thing to do.

9. “Purchase” a Distribution Package

“Purchase” is in quotation marks because I didn’t actually have to purchase anything here. If you publish your novel through Lulu (as opposed to choosing the “Published by You” option) you don’t have to pay anything. This is apparently a new development for Lulu because I remember a year ago, when I published The Spring, I did have to pay about $100 for the distribution package.

The most important part of the package is the assignment of an ISBN number. You need this if you want to sell your book either online or in a bookstore. If I could change one thing about Lulu’s publishing process it would be that I would like to get my ISBN number before I uploaded the PDF files for the Title/Copyright document and the book cover so that the proof copy that I ordered would be sent to me complete. Instead, I’ll have to add the ISBN number to the copyright page and insert the ISBN bar code to my cover after I’ve reviewed the proof copy. Perhaps Lulu wants to make sure that authors take that step of reviewing the proof copy before approving the book for publication and making it available to everyone.

The whole process took about 90 minutes to complete. That’s perhaps longer than usual since I was taking screenshots of my progress and writing notes in WordPress.

So now I wait for the proof copy of my book to be manufactured and sent to me. That, unfortunately, will probably take at least a week.

Questions? Comments?

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.

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