Publishing Your Book

By A. G. Moore

Banyan tree,_Efate,_Vanuatu,_13_April_2008_-_Flickr_-_PhillipC
Banyan tree: Efate, Vanuatu, 13 April 2008 Author: Phillip Capper from Wellington, New Zealand Used under Creative Commons 2.0 Attribution license

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 SmashwordsSmashwords 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.

what is radioactivity for wordpress

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Demystifying Book Writing III

This is more a progress report than a full-fledged update. I hit a speed bump about 36 hours ago. I started Chapter 3 but no matter what I wrote it was dull, dull, dull. I realized last night what the problem was. I didn’t know enough.  I remembered something I learned a long time ago as a teacher. In order to explain even a small point clearly I need a mountain of information. Albert Einstein said it better: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”.

So, it’s back to the books (or Internet) for me. I know more this morning than I did last night but the journey continues. This exercise reminds me that there is no shortcut to a responsible, well-written book. And, even if no one ever reads my book, I don’t want anything less.

Demystifying Book Writing Part II

book for mystifying blog

I am in the process of writing another small book. A particular kind of concentration is required to complete this project.  There may be people who write from pure inspiration; that’s not me.  Inspiration is essential but not enough. Information is equally important, and patience.

The idea for my book took root only a couple of weeks ago. I had been itching to start on a book for a while but needed to hit on something that grabbed my imagination. Once I got the idea it germinated for a few days. Then I started reading. As I read I began to understand what I needed to learn about my subject. At that point my plan was taking clear shape.

However, I never know if a plan has ‘legs’ until I put words down on paper. Usually I just jump in. I find pictures that are interesting, and random bits of fascinating trivia. I’ve grown familiar with my subject by this stage, so there’s context in which to place the material. This is one of the best parts about writing. I know so much more than I did,  because I’ve been studying.

I love that.

As I put material on paper the practicality of my plan is either validated or not. Often the words lead me in a path that diverges from the original plan. That’s also something I enjoy. When this happens, I’m not just writing for others; I’m also writing for myself. Often I inflict my excitement on family and start to tell them about my discoveries.  This exercise is very helpful and I am grateful to my family for the kindness they extend to me.

The need to frame my thoughts into words that make sense to other people–my family–requires discipline. Not only must I speak logically, but I have to honestly observe the reaction to what I believe to be fascinating information. If people are bored, I’m in trouble.

On the other hand, if my family shows more than polite interest in the material I share, there’s a good chance my intended audience will be engaged.

I’m pretty sure where my current book is going, what my next step has to be.  I certainly know where the book finishes (although sometimes I may be surprised by that).  The beginning is down; the path is set.  The middle will be an adventure as I follow the stepping stones, the highlights of history that will direct the story I would like to tell.

One thing I can’t lose sight of is the audience.  If the attention of the audience is lost, so too is my objective.

The way I go about writing a book certainly will not work for everyone.  My ambition in my current project is very modest.  The intended audience is young people, though I anticipate that the occasional mature reader who stumbles upon the book will not regret the experience.

I love to write.  When I’m finished with a book, I pass it on and hope it has a life of its own. For anyone who creates anything, that is a miracle every time it happens.