Wednesday, November 28, 2012

THE MIGHTY T in Top 5 Books of 2012

Rick Bylina, author and blogger, has posted that THE MIGHTY T was one of the top five books he read in 2012. He reviewed it on his blog as well as on Amazon. You can read his post here:

Book Review: Best Books For 2012

I appreciate Rick for taking the time to write and post book reviews on his blog as well as posting the reviews on Very few people go to the trouble of doing that. I'm also quite pleased he liked THE MIGHTY T. I think it's the best of my three novels.

Speaking of novels, I've given up the battle with CreateSpace to get them to print my book correctly. The most recent email I received from them said my book printed correctly, which it most assuredly did not. Here's what page one looked like:

Notice any missing text?

So I reset all text set in the Dante Small Caps typeface to Dante and then capitalized the words. It doesn't look as professional, but I don't feel like going through another round of proof-email-email back-nothing's-wrong-with-your-book with them. When you ring them up you get someone who sounds like a 16-year-old on their first job.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Writing a Novel In a Different Way

Hobble Creek Canyon, Springville, UT - October 2012
The picture of the split-rail fence has nothing to do with today's post. I just love that picture and thought I would share it. It's been the background on my computer since I took the picture last month. We missed the reds by a week, but there were still plenty of oranges and yellows in Hobble Creek Canyon.

When I wrote CANALS I was under the delusion I would be the next Stephen King, so I wrote it in the manner King calls "a found thing." Other writers call this writing by the seat of your pants. I started with a premise, there's a monster living in the miles of canals that pass through and around Modesto, and like a good monster, he's killing and eating people. Any plotting was done by writer's inspiration, or via the muse. It was an exhilarating experience, one I will always cherish, even if I unpublish the book.

THE MIGHTY T and DEATH OF A MATADOR were written with a bit more plotting. I began  writing knowing how the books began and how I wanted them to end, then set about making it happen.

One of my favorite thriller authors, John Sandford, recently posted on Facebook (believe it or not) that he had a looming deadline and needed to write 30K words in thirty days: an average of 1,000 words a day for a month. Those of you trying to write an entire novel this month may scoff at this, but it's still not easy.

Anyway, Sandford said he can write 5,000 words a day when he's finishing a book, because he's just wrapping things up. He says writing the beginning of a book is easy, too, because he's already thought up his characters and a loose plot line. He has trouble with the stuff between the beginning and ending. Not enough stuff and you haven't got a book, you've got a novella. Too much stuff and your publisher gets upset.

Writing novels isn't as easy for me as it is for Sandford because I haven't done it thirty times. I struggle with the beginning, middle, and end. To a degree.

My Grant Starr novels were fun to write, but weren't as much of a thrill as writing CANALS was.

With my next novel, THE YOUNG BULL WRESTLERS, I'm first working on the main characters: the team of forcados. I want to know, as best as possible, who they are before I write the book. And I'm going to plot this book more than I plotted my first three books.

It's a new experience for me. Writers, and everyone for that matter, need to keep stretching their limits and developing their skills.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tweak to Death of a Matador Print Cover

I wrote in yesterday's post that the color of the printed cover from CreateSpace was off, darker, than how it appeared on my screen. I tweaked it and resubmitted the cover file along with an updated interior file yesterday.

Here's the tweaked cover:

  1. I shrunk the white shadow sitting behind "DEATH". I thought the first version looked cheap.
  2. The novel is now a "Grant Starr Novel", not a "Grant Starr Thriller". I changed this because John Sandford's novels say this and I figure I can't do any better than to copy a perennial NY Times Bestseller.
  3. I lightened the sand in the background photo about 10%. The print version was far too dark.
  4. The text on the spine was perfectly centered but too short. I increased the text height, hopefully without messing up the perfect centering. There are a lot of independent book sellers in Utah and I hope to market my books directly to them. Which is why I also left the suggested retail price of $18.99 off the back cover. They can set their own retail price.
  5. I moved my picture higher. I realize I need to take a new picture, one more "authorly", meaning stodgy. The back of Sandford's book jackets are a full-length shot of him, but I'm not quite ready for that. I considered moving the picture to the inside of the back page where I would add an author bio, but didn't.
When I created the PDF file for CreateSpace in Publisher 2010, I did so using the "Commercial Printing" setting, which produces the highest quality PDF. Publisher warned me against doing this because the image has a transparent piece, the grey box behind the book blurb on the back cover. It also warned against leaving the file in RGB format. 

Although CreateSpace says to submit files in RGB format, as well as CMYK, I caved and let Publisher change my file to CMYK. Big mistake as it also changed the transparent box to solid. meaning you could no longer see the sand behind the text. Apparently you can't have transparencies in CMYK format. It took me 20 minutes to fix this.

The above image was saved in Publisher 2010 using the 150 dpi setting. The web setting of 96 dpi produces an image with jagged edges, which is unacceptable. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Self Publishing, Amazon, and Microsoft Publisher 2010

I received a proof print copy for DEATH OF A MATADOR last week. I decided to read through the book from back to front, hoping this would keep me from becoming too absorbed in the story and prevent my mind from inserting missing words or correcting typos in my mind's eye. For the most part it did.

If you self-publish and you haven't tried this, you should give a whirl. Begin with the final paragraph and work your way toward the front of the book. You'll be surprised at what you find that didn't when you read through it conventionally all those times.

I'd like to explain how I prepared my files for print publication. Please keep in mind I'm not a professional typesetter; I aim to keep things as non-techie, simple, and inexpensive as I can.

Amazon/Kindle Direct Publishing

I sell my ebooks only on My most recent ebooks, DEATH OF A MATADOR, was processed for publication with Scrivener, which takes some fiddling to get it right but is less frustrating that using Word. I think the finished product looks fine.

The covers for all three of ebooks were produced with Microsoft Publisher 2003. Publisher 2003 allows you to save the file as a .jpeg, which you then upload to KDP. I don't have a true graphics program and outside of self-publishing don't need one. I'm sure the covers could have been better if done by a pro, but I think they look fine. They're eye-catching enough to catch a prospective reader's eye without being silly, as so many ebook covers are these days.

Print is an entirely different animal.

Microsoft Publisher 2012

I formatted my first two books Publisher 2003. My main complaint with Publisher was, it couldn't save a file in PDF format. KDP requires print book covers and interior files be provided in PDF format. I had to find a PDF print driver to use. It worked, but I wanted one program that would do it all so when it came time to typeset DEATH OF A MATADOR, I upgraded to the 2010 version. It promised the flexibility of saving to many different formats.

Here's what I discovered: Saving my cover file, which features a large a photo that covers both front and back, works fine. I saved it using the Commercial Printing setting and unchecked the PDF/A box, which seemed to muck things up. My only complaint in regards to the cover with the proof copy is, the colors seem muted compared to how it looked on my computer screen.

Publisher failed to generate an acceptable PDF of my book interior. Even saving in high quality mode, the file, as viewed with Adobe Reader, sucked. Too low-res. Plus the program took 45 minutes to save the file. Very frustrating as this was the reason I upgraded.

Off I went on a Google chase, looking for another PDF print driver. Enter PDF24. It's free if you resist buying their fax program and service. The way it works is, when you go to print you select the PDF24 driver as if it was an actual printer. Once you click print, a little box pops up that allows you to fine tune the PDF. The PDF I needed was produced in seconds, not 45 minutes. Again, I set it for the highest quality setting.

After uploading, KDP said the fonts weren't properly embedded, they appeared to be when I checked them in Adobe Reader, and the layout didn't fit what they wanted. But they fixed both problems for me and the preview looked fine.

I had a couple of problems with my proof copy: a typeface didn't print despite it being clearly visible in the PDF and a double printing appeared in the header on one page. The double printing was my fault, I still have no idea how I did it, but the font not printing was KDP's problem. They offered to reprocess the file and send me a new proof copy without charge.

I purchased the update for Publisher from a Canadian company. It cost $65 and comes only as a downloadable program: no install discs. The install went fine, perhaps it was my crossed fingers that made things run smoothly, and to my surprise I discovered I had purchased the entire Office Professional Suite. No, it wasn't a student discount and yes, I was able to successfully register my program with Microsoft.

I have an extensive background in computer typesetting, but as a hobbiest. I already knew how to set a page so the lines on both sides line up, know what leading is, know how to properly use true small caps and ligatures, etc. If I hadn't already know these things I'm not sure I could have figured things out using Publisher. And in the 2010 version, in an attempt to make things easier for the average small business owner producing his own brochures, Microsoft has made it more difficult to really fine tune a book. I can still get around quickly because I remember the old keyboard commands, which the program still accepts.

So, I'm not sure I can recommend Microsoft Publisher 2010, or any version, for the serious author and self-publisher. It's worked for me, but only because I have years of experience with it.