I’ve just finished another book. If you’ve ever written one, or attempted to write one, you know this takes a lot of patience and effort. In my case, research is a major part of the process. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing fiction or nonfiction, I always do background work.
There was a book of fiction I wrote once that referred to an unspecified island. The setting needed to be pristine, a place where both humans and the earth were in a primitive state.
To make my story believable, I researched the history of New Zealand (worked for Peter Jackson, didn’t it?). The origins of the Maori and their traditions became the cultural template upon which my characters were built. Even the tree in my story was believable.
That book (a little over 85,000 words) was shelved and never will again see the light of day. No matter. I learned, not only about New Zealand and banyan trees, but also about writing and publishing. As I look back on my 85,000-word book and the difficulty of physically preparing it for publication, I smile. So much of what I do routinely now was a struggle back then.
While it’s true there’s nothing like experience and each of us has to learn by doing, it’s also true that information can be shared. That’s what this blog is about. I’m sharing some hard-earned information about self-publishing. There are no writing tips in this post, except for the basic suggestion that we should keep at it. Information is limited to my experience only and may not help anyone else. That said, this is what I’ve learned.
Three formats that have been indispensable to me are Amazon Kindle (ebook), Amazon CreateSpace(print), and Smashwords (ebook). The print format is the easiest because it is the most literal; that is, what you see in the PDF conversion is likely what you will see in print. Documents have to be uploaded as PDFs in order to be processed by CreateSpace for publication.
Both Kindle and Smashwords require a little more TLC, which some authors seem to resent. They seem to resent especially the formatting demands made by Smashwords. Let me be upfront about this attitude: What?
I wrote an 85,000-word book and can’t take the time to format it properly? Doesn’t make sense to me.
Every book I’ve ever published (and unpublished–there have been a few of those) has been formatted for Smashwords. Smashwords is a powerful distribution tool. Apple, Sony, Kobo, Barnes&Noble–the list goes on. All of these vendors receive books from Smashwords. The trick to getting your work into the hands of these vendors is to format it in a very precise way. If you do that successfully, Smashwords puts your book in the “Premium Catalog” and the world opens up.
So why do many authors give up on Smashwords? I don’t know. I figured out long ago to keep things simple for this publisher. Limit exotic formatting. Give up on stylistic quirks that you think might make your book attractive. Not worth it. And, if you have pictures, make sure they are at a low resolution (96 dpi) and that they are anchored to the page “as character” (in Open Office, which is what I work in).
Smashwords issues a Style Guide. The book is free and very detailed. Follow the rules in that book and you should have little trouble. Of course, my last book, What Is Radioactivity? The Basics, was uploaded six times before I got it right. But that took maybe a couple of hours. Took a lot longer to write the book.
Kindle has its own distinct formatting issues. One tip I picked up a long time ago was to indent each first line in a paragraph by .01. Failure to do this results in some pretty weird stuff, especially if you have block formatted your piece, as I always do. .01 is barely visible to the eye and yet it keeps Kindle from messing with the block style I desire.
As with Smashwords, anchor your pictures “as character” or they are likely to float into odd places. Kindle doesn’t seem to mind bold or varied font size. By all means, if you want a clean page break, then indicate that in the formatting menu on your toolbar.
I’ve noticed that my books do not look as good in the Kindle version as they do in the Smashwords version or in print. My last book (the one on radioactivity) was uploaded ten times before it looked acceptable on Kindle.
Finally, proof your copy after you’ve uploaded in each format. Unpleasant surprises are likely to show up. These include not only peculiarities of formatting, but also your own human error. In this last book, for example, I had published and proofed thoroughly three versions: Kindle, Smashwords and Createspace.
I read through one more time, while the books were live, and was horrified to see that I had referred to ‘nineteenth’ century scientists as ‘eighteenth’ century scientists. I know very well what ‘eighteenth’ century and ‘nineteenth’ century mean, but that did not prevent me from making this egregious error. I had to pull all the books down and correct.
As I write this post, I’m looking forward already to my next project. For me, book-writing is a release from reality, although, the irony is that I mostly write about ‘real’ things. There are a lot of ideas floating around in my head right now. One thing certain is that my next subject will not be familiar to me. That would be too easy. I guess I’m like a marathon runner who has to keep testing limits. There is one difference, though. At the end of a race, a marathoner has memories, and a very tired body. At the end of one of my projects, I have a book, and a very tired body.
Check out my latest book, if you have a chance. It’s pretty good, I think. Available in print (of course) and ebook on Smashwords and Kindle. Two versions of the book are offered: one has a workbook included for students with solid reading skills. The other version is suitable for anyone who knows little about radioactivity and would like to understand the history and science of it better.
One more point: I can write a book and publish a book. When it comes to marketing, that’s a blog someone else will have to write.
•Suggest to your students that anyone can write a poem.
•Explain that, in a way, writing poetry is easier than writing prose. There are no punctuation or grammar rules in poetry. There is something called poetic license, which means an author can break all the rules if breaking the rules helps to advance the poem.
•Tell students that sometimes prose is like poetry and sometimes poetry is like prose. It’s usually up to the author to decide how to characterize a piece.
•Rules were much stricter years ago about poetry. Today there are almost no rules.
•Suggest to your students that poetry might give them more freedom to express ideas than a prose piece might. Poetry, more than prose, is the medium of feelings.
Both selections in this section were written during war time.
•Explain to students that war provokes strong emotions.
•Ask students if they detect emotion in the two selections. If so, how?
On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln of the United States gave one of the most famous speeches in American history–The Gettysburg Address. This speech was so artfully written and conveyed emotion so eloquently that it is has often been called a prose poem. The speech is printed in its entirety on the following pages. The first version of the speech is in prose, as Lincoln wrote it.
The second version of the speech is in verse, the way many people believe the poem sounds.
•Ask your students if they think the speech works as a poem.
•Ask them to find phrases that are particularly eloquent and moving.
•Ask students if they can hear a cadence, a kind of music, in the words, whether they are presented as prose or verse.
The selection following the Gettysburg Address is excerpted from a poem, Safety, by Rupert Brooke. Brooke was British; he wrote Safety in 1914, the first year of WWI. In 1915, as the poet was headed toward battle, a mosquito bit him. The bite became infected and Brooke died shortly after of blood poisoning. His poem, Safety, was written in sonnet form; this means it has a definite meter (like a beat in music) and it rhymes.
•Ask your students if they think this poem is of a very serious nature, or if the subject matter is not terribly significant.
•Ask your students to find words that help to set the mood. Ask them how they would describe the mood of the poet.
•Invite your students to try their hand at writing any kind of poem they’d like. Remind them that they want to choose their words carefully so that mood and tone are conveyed.
•Tell them to have fun; writing poetry is personal and can be a very rewarding experience.