15 Reasons Why I Muted You On Twitter (And Other Rancor)

Twitter is, for a large part, a vast wasteland of broken thoughts and hollow dreams of 140 character fame. There are some genuine geniuses out there, but there’s also a lot of schwag.

Tara Sparling writes

Many bloggers have written many blog posts containing many points regarding the many things authors should not be doing on Twitter if they want to sell their books (there’s a mathematical formula in there somewhere). So, why should I add to it?

Well. Because it’s quite obvious that nobody has been bloody listening; that’s why. (Another reason is that having alluded to this post a number of people asked me to publish it. So now.)

Fine. You Don’t Understand Twitter? Get Off It, Then

Before 2011, there was a window – for about 45 minutes, one Tuesday afternoon – in which people (authors especially) had an open forum on Twitter upon which to promote themselves. During this time, pretty much any old tweet could gain some traction. Some did very well out of it. But times have changed.

There are now too many folks tweeting mindlessly, and too much. And the result is the equivalent of an ad agency trying…

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The Blurbery

I am absolutely terrible at writing blurbs.  I’m so bad it would take H.P. Lovecraft to pen a description of my blurbs.

“The unholy blurb of E’ric L’ahti oozed its blasphemous mass across the floor toward me, reeking of insanity and the minions of the dark one.  My heart froze in my chest, gripped by the icy cold fingers of a gnawing terror so great it threatened to steal my very mind!”

Damn, H.P.  Oozed?

Okay, so maybe they’re not that bad, especially the parts my wife wrote (which are really clever), but my skills at blurbing (blurbery?) are weak at best.  I’m also bad at author bios, but that’s for another blog post.  I think this stems from the fact that I get tongue tied and have trouble describing my books in any terms that don’t resemble the ramblings of a deranged lunatic.

This is kind of what I look like when I try to describe my books.
This is kind of what I look like when I try to describe my books.

Being the deranged lunatic I am, I decided to take it upon myself to learn the ancient and mystical art of writing a blurb.  Not surprisingly there’s a ton of information on the Interwebs about how to do this and do it correctly.  Interestingly enough a lot of the people writing the how-to files all seem to agree on a number of key points.  With that in mind, I’m going to start with the current blurb for Henchmen and see if I can’t apply some of the techniques and come up with a blurb that doesn’t make people want to run screaming from the crazy guy.

Since Google knows everything, I decided to start with a simple Google search.  I got back 1.5 million results.  Apparently other people need some help with writing book blurbs.  Consider this post to be number 1,500,001 in the results.  I picked the first couple links and read what they had to say.  If you know anything about Google searches, it’s largely considered a failure if you have to go to page 2 of the results.  Luckily the first two had some good info.

Here are some of the things I’ve managed to scrape together about writing blurbs.  The full articles contain a lot more information so go check them out.

Conveniently, there’s a site called blurb.com.  With a name like that they’ve probably cornered the market on blurbing.  According blurb.com’s article on the dos and dont’s of writing blurbs there are a handful of things to watch out for:

  • Dos
    -Reference the genre and central theme
    -Create intrigue around the main conflict
    -Dive right in and introduce your protagonist
    -Keep it short and punchy
    -Reference your book-writing or professional status, if it relates to your book.
  • Don’ts
    -Give away any spoilers, no matter how tempted you are
    -Give a summary of the first chapter
    -Open with “In a world,” or any other overused phrase
    -Give everything away
    -Say how amazing your book is
    -Compare yourself to other writers or your book to other books

Unfortunately, I love to say how amazing my book is.  Not in my blurb, of course – that would be so low-brow.  In my tweets and blog posts I usually refer Henchmen as amazing and imply it can increase a reader’s own amazingness potential.  I don’t open with “In a world”, I like to think I don’t give everything away and I don’t compare myself to other writers.  I don’t do a lot of the Dos, though, so that will have to change.

Thanks to the fine folks at blurb.com I’ve got a few ideas of what I should and shouldn’t do.  There’s a bit more to the story, though.  According to digitalbookworld.com’s post on 4 easy steps to an irresistible book blurb there are … well, crap …  four steps to writing an irresistible book blurb.  They kind of gave that one away with the title.  Wasn’t that one of the don’t of writing a book blurb?

“(1) Situation. Every story has to start somewhere, with some people in some sort of circumstances. Describe them simply here.

(2) Problem. Every story (every interesting one, anyway) has some sort of hitch that either makes that situation untenable or makes change inevitable. This part of the description often starts with the word, “But…” or “However…” or “Until…”

(3) Hopeful possibility. Here’s the potential to overcome the crisis. This “cool thing” or “longshot opportunity” makes your audience want to read your story. Yes, the situation (above) seems doomed by the problem (above). Still, there’s hope because of this new twist. Parts 1, 2, and 3, if concisely written, together create the drama that propels the story.

(4) Mood, tone or spirit of the story. Finally, readers want to know what kind of emotional state they’re going to get into while they’re reading this book. Is it a dark, dystopian tragedy or humorous chick lit cotton candy? This is where you set the tone and clinch the deal, turning browsers into buyers.”

Now, this is where my blurb really doesn’t work as well as it could.  I don’t deal with the situation very well, the problem is somewhat ambiguous and, I might add, a little to the left of normal.

tin_foil_hat

<POLITICAL RANT: SKIP IF UNINTERESTED>

Just so it’s in print somewhere, I absolutely do not advocate the violent overthrow of the US Government, nor do I wish to see everyone in Congress dead.  Henchmen is a story about the bad guys and how easy it is for us to get ourselves wrapped around the axle about our personal problems and decide to lash out.  If you don’t care for your Congress person, vote ’em out; that’s what you have a vote for.

</POLITICAL RANT: SKIP IF UNINTERESTED>

I have a feeling, and this has been vocalized a couple times from various readers, that writing about killing Congress makes me sound like I’m in some Michigan militia.  So that will need to be toned down.  I’m also not sure about how well the hopeful possibility or the mood come across.  Henchmen has some funny moments, but it also has some pretty dark moments, so that balance will need to be explored.

Now I’ve got a framework and some good ideas to keep in mind while I rewrite, so here’s the current blurb in all it’s wackiness.

“Gods, guns, secret bases, bad guys, and a small group of people with one simple task: Kill the United States Congress.
Are you ready to do the wrong thing for all the right reasons?
Steven’s boss is a seven-foot-tall blonde with supernatural powers and a penchant for parking-lot hookups. His coworkers include two hackers in love, a biker who loves guns, and a former nude model with an unexpected propensity for violence. They’ve all been hurt before, and now they’re poised to strike back. They’re done pulling small jobs. Now they’re aiming for the top – because why bother robbing jewelry stores when you can topple governments?
Yakuza gang fights.
Incursions into high-security, top-secret government buildings.
Picking fake fights with losers in bars.
A psycho ex-coworker who has some strange friends.
And a well-dressed older gentleman who haunts dreams.
It’s all in a day’s work for Steven…one of the world’s most dedicated and dangerous…
HENCHMEN”

Just a gander reveals some clever things and some things are, shall we say, less that ideal.  Just so you know, the first two lines are mine and they sounded like a good idea at the time.  Most of the rest came from my wife.  I particularly like the the last two lines and the line about robbing jewelry stores when you could be toppling governments, so I’d like to keep those.  There are a few things that could be changed, notably removing the first two lines.  It also needs to start by referencing the situation without using “In a world…”

“Meet a small organization of loveable bad guys: a supervillain and her henchmen.  Eve, the seven foot tall, bulletproof blonde is their leader.  Frank and Jean are a couple that can get into any computer or building unseen.  Jacob is a rough around the edges biker type that has a deep and abiding love of guns and explosives.  And Steven, well, he’s really good at manipulating people and pretty handy to have around in a fight.  As supervillainy goes, they’re just starting out.  They don’t have much of a secret base.  They don’t have matching uniforms.  Not a one of them owns a single pair of tights.  What they do have is an interest in tearing down the country and watching it burn.”

Okay, so that starts to give a better indication of the story without treading into the “WE GOTTA KILL CONGRESS” level of insanity the story eventually hits.  Now we need a problem statement, something to indicate the gist of the story.  That’s pretty easy to come up with.  Tearing down a country is hard work for other countries, let alone five people, no matter how tough and smart they are.

“There’s just one little problem, though.  No matter how tough and smart a small group may be, tearing down a country is almost impossible for five people to pull off, so they while away their time pulling small jobs and putting together as much advanced technology as they can.”

Simple and to the point.  Here’s where it gets fuzzy.  A typical problem statement is supposed to introduce a problem that most people would want to solve.  Most people I know, and myself included, don’t have much interest in tearing down the country.  But these are the bad guys and they need to do something terrible, even if it is for somewhat nebulous purposes.  Still, they have hope they can pull it off, so we’ll assume the reader has hope they’ll pull it off.

“A chance encounter at a sushi bar has led them to a young woman with a terrifying secret she doesn’t even know she possesses.  The Yakuza wants to use her to put pressure on her dad to give up that secret.  No one’s entirely certain exactly what the secret is, but it smells like a weapon and it might be just the sort of thing to help topple a nation.”

I tried to keep the mystery going in Henchmen as long as I could.  I like to think the ending was at least something of a surprise and faintly plausible, too.  Now it’s time to set the mood.  The story has a serious core, but it’s wrapped in a soft blanket of humor and action.  No one likes serious books, so I should play up the humor and the action.  This would be a perfect place to pull back in some of the original and focus the main character.

“They’re done pulling small jobs. Now they’re aiming for the top – because why bother robbing jewelry stores when you can topple governments?
Yakuza gang fights.
Incursions into high-security, top-secret government buildings.
Picking fake fights with losers in bars.
A psycho ex-coworker who has some strange friends.
And a well-dressed older gentleman who haunts dreams.
It’s all in a day’s work for Steven…one of the world’s most dedicated and dangerous…
HENCHMEN”

Put it all together and we get:

“Meet a small organization of loveable bad guys: a supervillain and her henchmen. Eve, the seven foot tall, bulletproof blonde is their leader. Frank and Jean are a couple that can get into any computer or building unseen. Jacob is a rough around the edges biker type that has a deep and abiding love of guns and explosives. And Steven, well, he’s really good at manipulating people and pretty handy to have around in a fight. As supervillainy goes, they’re just starting out. They don’t have much of a secret base. They don’t have matching uniforms. Not a one of them owns a single pair of tights. What they do have is an interest in tearing down the country and watching it burn.

There’s just one little problem, though. No matter how tough and smart a small group may be, tearing down a country is almost impossible for five people to pull off, so they while away their time pulling small jobs and putting together as much advanced technology as they can.

A chance encounter at a sushi bar has led them to a young woman with a terrifying secret she doesn’t even know she possesses. The Yakuza wants to use her to put pressure on a missing father. No one’s entirely certain exactly what the secret is, but it smells like a weapon and it might be just the sort of thing to help topple a nation.

They’re done pulling small jobs. Now they’re aiming for the top – because why bother robbing jewelry stores when you can topple governments?
Yakuza gang fights.
Incursions into high-security, top-secret government buildings.
Picking fake fights with losers in bars.
A psycho ex-coworker who has some strange friends.
And a well-dressed older gentleman who haunts dreams.
It’s all in a day’s work for Steven…one of the world’s most dedicated and dangerous…
HENCHMEN”

Let’s see if it matches up with the criteria.  It references the genre and central theme.  I like to think there’s some intrigue about the plot.  We’ve got the main character.  It’s not overly short, but it’s not terribly long, either.  It doesn’t give away any spoilers.  It’s not a summary of the first chapter, especially since the first chapter really introduces us to how the gang works rather than starting up the whole story.  “Meet a small organization of loveable bad guys” isn’t super overused, but it’s a bit on the common side.  It definitely doesn’t give everything away.  It doesn’t say how amazing Henchmen is (I’ll say that now, it’s amazing), and I don’t compare myself to other authors.  I always thought that sounded like a cheesy Hollywood pitch way of saying things, anyway.  “Think Predator meet Ice Age!”

So, what do you think?  Comments are open and operators are standing by.

Pitbulls

Back in 2003 we were in Europe, taking a cruise around Spain, France, Croatia, and Italy.  It was a hell of an experience and I’m glad I did it.  I got to drink a gallon of beer and eat tasty food in a tapas bar in Barcelona.  I found genuine absinthe in Spain.  I met some really interesting people and saw things I’d only ever seen in books.  Let me tell you, the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona is something you absolutely have to see in person to really come to grips with.

While we in the middle of the Mediterranean, cruising away from Rome, we got an email from a friend who had just had a pitbull puppy show up on her doorstep.  The little girl was scarred up and scrawny from being on the streets and how she wound up where she did we’ll never know.  But she wound up there and decided to stay.  Our friends already had two dogs so they didn’t really need another and asked if we could take this new dog.  We already had one dog, a lab-cattle dog mix named Miyamoto who was (and still is) terrified of the vacuum.  We named the new arrival Sistina after the Capella Sistina we had visited earlier that day, but for the most part she became known as Tina or Tina-Lou.

At first we were a bit concerned.  Pits have something of a bad reputation here in the States, largely due to the actions of a handful of complete assholes who think it’s fun to breed them to be agressive.  They’re incredibly willful dogs, but I never found Tina to be overly aggressive with me or anyone else in the family.

Moto and Tina got along famously and, aside from the occassional confrontation if Moto got tried to eat her food, they basically acted like pack mates.  When my wife got pregnant, Tina would put her head on my wife’s stomach and listen to the little human brewing inside.  After he was born, she was incredibly protective of him.  Tina would take up position between my son and anyone who wanted to get close to him.  If you wanted to see the baby, you had to get past the pitbull guard.  Even as he got older she was patient and protective of him.  He’d put his head on her tummy and she’d just snort that snort that pits have that basically says, “I don’t like this but it’s not enough of a problem to really concern myself with.”

She danced when she got excited.  She could make such a wide variety of sounds you could sometimes swear she was trying to talk to you.  She was the bane of pigeons everywhere.  She could snore loud enough to rattle the windows and her farts could clear rooms, but she’d do anything for her people and loved to wrap up in her Dr. Seuss blanket in front of the fire when it got cold out.

Last week sometime she started having trouble walking and pretty much refused to put her right rear foot down.  The condition would go up and down and she still managed to get all the way across the yard and hop down to the lower part.  She also took out another pigeon.  We assumed she had pulled a muscle and did everything we could to keep her safe, warm, and happy.

Last night she started crying, so I took her to an all night vet.  The vet there did a cursory examination, determined she’d torn ligaments in both knees, gave her a shot for the pain, and prescribed some low calorie food and heavy pain killers.  At midnight, when I got her home, she was still crying so I slept on the floor with her and rubbed her back and generally tried to keep her comfortable.  She finally fell asleep at 4am.  At 6am she was back up and still crying so I gave her more pain killers.  The pain killers did absolutely nothing to help so we took her to our regular vet.

Our regular vet had only seen her once before; a couple years ago when Tina managed to scrunch under the fence that divides the dog part of the yard from the garden part of the yard.  In so doing she cut up her face and had to get some minor surgery done.  She also ate most our herbs.  That dog loved herbs.

Turns out she had knee problems, but she also had an incredibly agressive form of bone cancer in her spine that had degraded her L6 vertebrae to the point that it had all but collapsed.  At approximately 5pm today, sobbing, I held her paw and scratched her head as the vet put her to sleep.

She was right around twelve years old.

Good night, Tina-Lou.  I hope you wake up in a field where steaks grow on trees and there’s an endless supply of pigeons.

Tina

Book Review – Reborn by S.L. Stacy

One of the marks of a good novel, in my opinion anyway, is when I find myself immersed enough in the story that I start wondering what I would do in the same situation.  Ian Moore’s Salby Damned was like this for me, an all-encompasing feeling of being actually in the story.

S.L. Stacy’s Reborn was the same way, albeit more it was bit trickier for me to imagine myself in the story since it’s told from the point of view of a young woman in a college Sorority.  I went to college so – check – got that one.  I’ve been many things, but I’ve never been in a Sorority and I’ve never been a woman.  If that’s the only barrier to immersion, it’s a small one and the fact that Reborn was that immersive makes it a pretty damned impressive story.  Effective writing is the key to that one and Ms. Stacy is a damned fine writer.

So, what’s good about it (other than the writing)?  Well, for starters it’s just flat-out a good story.  Ms. Stacy manages to seamlessly weave together the mundane aspects of college, the sisterhood of the Sorority, and the wings that pop out of the back of the main character whenever her emotions start to run wild.  That’s also an impressive feat unto itself and a that makes this a great example of well-written urban fantasy fiction.

The mystery of the story helps keep the reader going, too.  Ms. Stacy is masterful at dropping little bread crumbs of information that keep you wondering about what’s going on.  As one mystery is answered, it leads invariably to another, larger mystery that will be covered in the sequel (Relapse).  Don’t get me wrong here, you don’t leave Reborn wondering what the hell just happened, you leave it satisfied that its part of the story has been covered.  But that story is only part of a larger arc.  I haven’t read Relapse yet, but it’s on my TBR list.

Description (from Amazon)

“Back in high school, Siobhan Elliot’s life was simple: Cheerleading, friends, and parties. But that all changed the night she and her friends investigated a mysterious light in the woods. There they found an injured man –an irresistible man with hypnotic blue eyes and magnificent black wings. A man Siobhan recognized. He was the handsome dark angel from her dreams. And with one touch of his hand, he left her with a special gift: a set of mythical wings that would change her life forever. Then he disappeared without a trace. Siobhan thought she would never see him again.

Now, six years later, her dark angel reappears –this time as a teaching assistant at her college. He calls himself Jasper. He challenges everything Siobhan thought she knew about herself and her world. And he’s come back for only one thing: her. Or so he says. Siobhan is about to find out that nothing is what it seems in this strange, new world.”

reborncover

 

Get your copy here and enjoy the ride.

Find S.L Stacy on Twitter

Check out her blog

eBook formatting

In addition to having trouble figuring out how to make my first cover, uploading Henchmen to Amazon proved to be a baffling ordeal.  Amazon’s instructions consisted of converting my Word to doc to filtered HTML and uploading it.  It worked but it lost some of my formatting and there was an image at the beginning of the book that disappeared.

I’m a little wiser and more experienced now, so let me give you a little primer on some formatting and getting things ready to go.  When your book is done and you’re ready to push the button the actual upload to Amazon is pretty straightforward.  Getting the ebook to that point can be a little more involved, but isn’t overly difficult.  Be ready to take some time, have backups of your book, and do some trial and error.

You’ll need some software, all of which is free (except the word processors, those range from free to a whole damn lot of money for MS Word).  Some of these links may be dead, but they all worked as of this writing.  I’m assuming you already have some sort of word processor, but there are some other tools that will come in handy.

  • Calibre: This is an ebook converter that can convert from and to almost any format on the planet.  I use it covert from .docx to .epub for upload.
  • Sigil: This will let you crack open an epub and edit the HTML inside of it.  It’s great for tweaking the little things that Word messes up.
  • Kindlegen: Convert .epub files to .mobi files.  This is basically the system Amazon uses on their server side to convert to their version of .mobi so it’s invaluable for seeing what the final product will look like.  Kindlegen is a command-line tool so make sure you’re comfortable with that.  If not, you can use Kindle Previewer to accomplish the same thing.
  • Kindle Previewer: Uses KindleGen in the background to compile to Amazon’s .mobi and let you see how it will look.  It’s great for fnding the little issues you weren’t expecting and you can even copy the created .mobi file to various devices to see how they’ll look.

On the off chance that you’re looking for a decent tool to actually write your book in, there are a whack of them out there.  I use Word 2010 but that’s just because I happen to have a copy of it.  OpenOffice is a great (and free!) alternative.  I’m not as familiar with the quirks of OpenOffice so I’ll write a story in it later and report back.  I know some people who swear by Scrivener, but I haven’t found as much use for it.  Again, I’ve got a copy so I’ll try to create something in it and report back.

So, to clean this mess up a bit, there’s a process that I follow that seems to work well for me.

  1. Write the story or book in Word.  I do my editing and most of my formatting in Word also.
  2. Load the book into Calibre and set some metadata.  Use Calibre to convert to epub.
  3. Use Sigil to edit the epub file
  4. Use the Kindle Previewer to see what it will look like and generate a mobi file
  5. Upload to Amazon KDP
  6. Kick back and wait for it to be processed

To make your writing life as easy as possible just write the story and don’t worry about formatting while you’re writing.  I referenced this in an earlier post, but let me reiterate it.  Don’t do any formatting until you’re done with editing.  Change the default font if Calibri isn’t your cup of tea, but other than that don’t do a thing but type.  The only bit of formatting I recommend is highlighting chapter headers and setting them to Word’s Heading 1 style.  The only reason I do this is because as soon as you set a block of text to Heading 1 or Heading 2 in Word it automatically gets added to the navigation pane.  That makes finding things in a long book much easier.

SampleHeadings
Word styles are basically CSS styles. Word docx files are zipped XML files with some formatting instructions dropped in.

After you’re done writing and editing you can start formatting.  This is where things start getting more and more nebulous.  There aren’t a whole lot of standards out there for formatting a book other than the end result must be readable.  I prefer a clean look personally, but others prefer more ornate looks.  For some background on formatting and some things that approach being a standard, look to Amazon’s formatting guidelines and Smashwords (PDF download) has a formatting guide of their own.  There are also a whole whack of good formatting guides out there.  Take some time to read up and see if you’re doing anything that’s an absolute no-no.

The general gist on all the formatting guides is to let styles take care of the formatting instead of using lots of hard breaks or tabs.  This is because an ebook is really nothing more than a zipped website and your ebook reader is just a fancy web browser.  All your styling should reflect this.  We’ll see a bit more when we hit the Sigil section.

One thing to definitely take a look at is the use of the magical Pilcrow.  This is the formal name for the paragraph symbol and something I work into casual conversation when I want to make myself look smarter than I really am.  The pilcrow will reveal all your formatting including hard returns, tabs, and whatnot.  If you’ve got a section that simply doesn’t work like it should, use the pilcrow and see what’s going on in the background.

So I told the President, "You really should consider using the picrow to track down that problem."
So I told the President, “You really should consider using the picrow to track down that problem.”

Once you’ve got it formatted and it’s looking good to you, make a bunch of passes through the entire text and see if you’re missing something.  One of the print versions of Arise came back without a page break between a couple of the chapters and the ebook version was missing the glyph on a couple chapters.  It’s easy to miss the little things like that.  But, it did get formatted and came out looking like this:

WordUpYo
So … beautfiul …

My normal-style setup was 11pt Garamond, .3 indent from the left, no extra spacing before or after, and a 1.15 line space.  The Heading was set as 14pt Garamond, Bold, Centered, no paragraph indent, 24pt before, 0 after.  The glyph was set centered, no paragraph indent, 0 pt before, 50 pt after.

Don’t get too wedded to your font choice.  Remember, an ebook is a web site and the eReader is a web browser.  Files called .css (Cascading Style Sheets) determine the formatting and can be overridden by the browser.  Some things like centering, bolding, points before and after elements, and things like that will stick, but your font can be whisked away in the blink of an eye by a reader who prefers her headlines to be displayed in Comic Sans or his body text in Papyrus (there’s no accounting for taste).  As soon as you decide to do the print copy through CreateSpace you can really fret about fonts; until then find something that works and realize most people will be reading in Times New Roman or something like that.

Just as quick show, here’s the TOC from Henchmen formatted in Word.  Each line is selectable and will link to the appropriate chapter.  Looks good so far, right?  Hold onto that thought for a minute.

TOCFomatted
Not gonna lie, editing a TOC in Word is the stuff of nightmares. It tooks several iterations to get to this point and I swore I’d never touch it again.

That done, it’s time to load the sucker into Calibre and let Calibre perform its magic.  There are much better and more thorough guides out there on using Calibre than I could come up with here.  For our purposes, you need to add your document (straight from .docx, in my case), edit the metadata to set the title and author correctly, convert to .epub, and save to disk.  Don’t worry about adding a cover at this point.  I just added a cover to mine because I was sending it out to reviewers (none of whom were interested :(, oh, ah).  Recently I’ve heard some rumors that epub files created with Calibre won’t upload to Amazon, but I just did one to try it out and it worked fine so there may be other extenuating circumstances.

Had to clean up my Calibre list.
I appreciate software of this calibre.

Now, we’ve got the book written, edited, formatted, and coverted to epub.  It’s time to see what it will look like on a Kindle.  Fire up the Kindle Previewer and load up your epub file.  NOTE: Kindle Previewer is using Kindlegen in the background to convert your text.  When it’s done it will show you where it made the converted file.  For the most part it comes out okay until we hit this page:

TOCInKindle
Standard issue HTML tag rendering.

The TOC is a list of hyperlinks and <a> tags usually render like this.  It’s both a good and a bad thing.  It’s good because it’s a visual cue to the reader that they can click on a chapter title and go to the chapter.  By the way, this is how Henchmen actually looks on a Kindle.  I left it alone because of the visual cue thing.  It may not look as clean as it could, but this isn’t a print a book so some aspects of design have to be different.  It’s largely due to our good friend CSS acting up again.  Here’s where Sigil comes in handy.

Fire up Sigil and open the epub you created earlier.  You’ll get a mass of raw HTML.

Sigilizer
One HTML file per chapter. I’ve also seen other programs create a single HMTL file for the whole book.

Note the highlighted text:

<p class=”block_6″><a class=”text_1″ href=”../Text/index_split_004.html#id_Toc403116700″>01 | It Doesn’t Stay In Vegas</a></p>

That class=”text_1″ links to the CSS file stylesheet.css down in the Styles folder.  If you scroll down you’ll find a section that looks like this:

.text_1 {

color: #00F;

text-decoration: underline

}

.text_1 is the class name.  Color (#00F) is the hex representation of the color and text-decoration: underline says underline the text.  If we tweak around a little and set the Color to black (#000) and comment out the text-decoration line we can change the way hyperlinks look.  So I’ll change to the following:

.text_1 {

color: #000;

/*text-decoration: underline*/

}

and get:

TOCKindleMod
CRAP!

Two things to note here.  1: The links are still underlined.  This is because, like font, there are some expected things that just happen; in this case links are underlined.  2: Note the color for chapter 3 is still blue.  Go back to the big Sigil picture and you can see why.  Chapter 3’s css style is text_2, not text_1.  You can either modify the text_2 style in the stylesheet or reset the Chapter 3 line to use text_1.  Personally, I’d recommend fixing the HTML instead of modifying the css.  CSS styles apply to all elements that reference that style so a change in one place can have far reaching effects.  More than likely it’s fine to just change the text_2 css, but if anything else anywhere in your book was using that style, it will be refomatted.

Keep iterating through this process until you like what you’ve got.  Remember how I said Kindle Previewer will make a converted file for you?  Keep track of where it puts them.  When you’re satisfied, take the final mobi file and you can upload it directly into KDP.  Amazon will also accept HTML files, doc and docx files, and epub files.

I didn’t go into too much depth here on using some of these tools because there are other, better tutorials out there for them.  This post is just meant to give you an idea of what you can do and some of the tools that will help you do it.  There are also people out there who specialize in formatting eBook files so if it looks too arduous, check into a professional formatter.  If you have other questions or comments, drop ’em in the comments and I’ll see if I can help out.

Spend some time on your formatting.  You spent months writing the book, a few days of formatting is time well spent.

Cover design made easy

Edit Jan 10, 2016. The final designs for Henchmen, Arise, and The Clock Man are displayed in the Get Your Copy of … widgets. This post was written before The Clock Man was done and before I got crazy and re-re-re-redid the other two.

Cover design hasn’t come easy for me.  I’m a relentless tinkerer with just enough design skills to be dangerous.  I have zero illustrative abilities, though.  In college I took draphic design and illustration classes; I did fairly well in graphic design but passed illustration by the skin of my teeth.  My first cut of the cover for Henchmen was so bad it never saw the light of day.  That one was revised into my Henchlife logo, which also didn’t make the cut, although I might still get it as a tattoo.

Yuck.
Yuck.

 

The first design I used was weak at best, but good enough for jazz and government work.

HenchmenUSFlag
A little too American Flag-y and pretty boring but okay enough.  Never settle for okay enough.

 

it went through three more revisions before I settled on the current cover.

What was I thinking?
What was I thinking?
HenchmenCoverFix
First iteration of the crop circle cover

 

May cause unexpected awesomeness in readers
May cause unexpected awesomeness in readers
© 2015, Eric Lahti Background image: ID 30553123 © Pixattitude | Dreamstime.com
© 2015, Eric Lahti
Background image: ID 30553123 © Pixattitude | Dreamstime.com

The final version kept some of the comic book feel that was much of the inspiration for the book, but added a bit of realism.

A lot of the problem I ran into was I had the book done when I started the cover.  I don’t know if this is the traditional way to do it or not but, as you can see, it didn’t exactly work for me, I was just too antsy to get it published.  Truth be told I’m still not 100% satisfied with the final cover but I’ve been forcing myself to slap my own wrists when I think about changing it.

For the upcoming Clock Man I started early.  Back in January as I recall, and have been tweaking and changing and modifying it as I had the time and the inclination.  For the most part, I’m happy with it now, but I’ll probably do a bit more tweaking before it goes out.

In the interest of everyone else who’s stuck designing their first cover and wonder just what in the name of Almighty Odin they’re going to do, let me give a few tips.  It’s possible to do it yourself and make it look decent, but it does take time.  The first thing you’ll need is a vector drawing tool and an image editing tool.  Microsoft Paint won’t cut it; you need some tools with some horsepower and you might need to set aside some time to learn how to use them.  I currently use GIMP and Inkscape, two powerful (and free) open source image tools.  By the way, links to all this stuff are at the bottom of the post.

Once you’ve got the tools you need an idea.  Find something about your book that can be translated graphically and start scrounging up what you’ll need.  In the case of the Clock Man I had a pretty good idea of where the story was going before I even started it.  Since it’s the title piece in the group I started looking around for gears, clocks, and other mechanical looking things.  At one point, I was going to build the logo around the Prague astronimical clock and found some good clip art to use, but ultimately abandoned it.  It came out looking steampunky and that wasn’t what I was going for.

I do most of my image searching on Dreamstime.com, a stock image warehouse of sorts.  They have multiple plans and costs for images but what I do is buy the $40 package that lets me get any five images I want.  I then proceed to download the biggest versions I can find, usually the big .tiff files.  Always get the biggest files you can find and verify the dpi is 300+.  Everything I’ve found on Dreamstime has fit the bill, but it’s still worth checking.

I stumbled across this and knew it would work with some editing.  This image is resized and converted to .jpg.  The original tif image is 6882×3903 and weighs in at 77MB.

42949420 © Skypixel | Dreamstime.com
42949420 © Skypixel | Dreamstime.com

It had essentially what I was looking for, but would require some fixes to make it work.  The first step was to isolate the face I wanted and get rid of the rest of the picture.  GIMP made that part easy.  When I make the print cover, I’ll have some more work to do, but for the ebook cover this will work well.  The edit gave me this.  This image is sized correctly for Amazon publication.  They recommend 1563X2500 or larger.  That comes out to a .6252 ration of width to height.  As long as you’re working in that range you’ll be fine.

ClockManCoverMainImage

At first I thought about cropping out the white space at the top and working with a full face for the image, but that proved unworkable since my text would obscure the face.

Already has some color correction done on it.
Already has some color correction done on it.

The problem with not using the full face was the damned white space at the top of the image.  Early cuts of the cover left that intact, but it just didn’t look good with the text over it.  The first thing I tried was converting the white to another color.  There’s just enough fuzz around each of those gears that I would have to create a masking layer by drawing around each one and converting the lines to a selection.  Had I gone that route I would have spent about a year drawing the selection manually around the gears and then wound up with a large chunk of <other color> space.

It still would have been rubbish.

The solution was to select the white with a color selector tool, invert the selection, copy it, and paste it as a fresh layer on top of a transparent background.  Then, I selected a portion of the gears that didn’t have the face, turned them 180 degrees and pasted them under the main image.  The effect worked nicely because the image is busy enough the seam doesn’t show very much.

Then, flatten the image, copy it and paste it three times.  Each pasted layer got a little work.  One had an edge detect filter run on it then that layer’s opacity was set to 50%.  This brought out some of the lines in the image.  The next layer was pixellated and faded to 55%.  This softened the image.  The final layer had video lines rendered onto it and was faded to 20%.  The whole effect kept the face visible but softened the image.

ClockManFixedImage

 

So, I’ve got the background, but it’s terribly busy so any text is going to have to stand out and stand out well.  This is where Inkscape comes into play.  I set up a document in Inkscape and embedded the background image in it.  You can do font work in GIMP but it’s a terrible PITA; stick to the vector programs for font work.  Rather than falling back on Impact, I wanted something different so I set out to search for a font with no real parameters other than I wanted it to look cool.  I settled on Lakmus; it has an almost 70s sci-fi charm to it.  With a bit of playing I finally got the look I wanted.  BTW, if you’re looking for a way to do the glow background in Inkscape, it’s actually two layers.  Get the font the way you want it (the final image’s Clock Man logo consists of five different parts, each layered on a different five parts), copy and paste it.  For the pasted image look in the stroke properties  Get a thick stroke and blur it.  Then layer the main font over the blurred font: voila! Glowing text.

The Chinese font is Noto Sans CJK SC Black.  That’s the font Google uses when you use their English to Chinese translation.  Once I had the translation I wanted and the font downloaded, Inkscape handled the Chinese characters quite nicely.  The big Yin/Yang symbol that makes up the O is a vector I found on Vectorstock.com.  I prefer to work with vectors whenever possible because you can scale them and manipulate them so easily.  It cost a dollar.

A bit of tweaking, add the author name, the “and other stories” line, and a reminder of what else I’ve written and I came up with this.

Clock Man cover design rev 6.  ©2015, Eric Lahti.  Background image © Skypixel
Clock Man cover design rev 6. ©2015, Eric Lahti. Background image © Skypixel

Like I said, there will likely be more mods before it gets published, but I’m liking it so far.

So, if you’re staring down the barrel of having to create a cover on your own, it’s not exactly rocket surgery and it doesn’t need to cost a fortune.  All told I spent $9.00 on the images and software necessary.  The cover for The Clock Man might not win any awards, but I have to admit I think it looks pretty cool.

Next time we’ll take a look at the guts of formatting a manuscript for upload to KDP using MS Word, Calibre, and Sigil.

Lakmus Font

Google Fonts

Google Noto Fonts

VectorStock

Dreamstime

GIMP

Inkscape

Do. Don’t. Don’t.

I know a lot of authors have set quirks, things they do while they’re writing.  Some will always start and end a book with a glass of a particular wine or only like to work at the Starbucks on Central.  I tend to kick back on my couch, prop my trusty Asus laptop on my legs and just go for it.  I don’t have specific rules for how much I write every night, but I try to write something every night.  There are nights when that will be a couple thousand words and there are nights when I’m lucky to get a couple sentences to line up on the page.  The last couple nights have been “lucky to get a couple sentences out” nights.  I think I managed to get a woman to shoot an arrow and a dragon to slide smoothly out of the woods.

I really only follow three rules while I’m writing.

  • Do: Just write it down.  Keep going until the whole thing is on the page in some form or another
  • Don’t: Edit while writing.  Unless something pops up that absolutetly needs to be changed, editing is for the editing phase.
  • Don’t: Format the book.  That’s the absolute last thing that needs to happen and formatting too soon (other than things like chapter breaks) will break as writing and editing continue.

There you go.  Three simple rules for the writing phase.  Do Write.  Don’t Edit.  Don’t Format.  Focus on the writing and don’t worry about the rest until it’s time.  There will be times when you absolutely hate what you’re writing and want to toss the computer across the room and take up goat herding but just keep going.  Trust me on this one.  I’ve gone to bed thinking it was time to quit writing because of the drivel on the page.  When I woke up the next morning things looked a lot different.

Just keep going.  You can sort it out in the editing phase.

Don’t trust me?  Okay, I don’t always trust me, either, but maybe you’ll listen to Stephen King.

stephenkingquote