Writing Is Work, But It’s Fun Work

I’m a programmer by trade. For the most part, I enjoy my work and my company. There are times when things get frustrating and I swear I’m going to go become an auto mechanic or arms dealer or some such thing, but there’s really no way I’m going to do either of those things. I don’t know enough about cars to fix them professionally and I don’t have the knowledge or contacts in the arms dealing world to get started. That and it turns out there are these rules about selling advanced weaponry to people.

Sheesh. It’s not like I’m starting the revolution; I’m just providing the means at a tidy profit to myself.

So instead I program stuff and generally enjoy my days. In the evenings (and sometimes late into the night) I write books and stories. I decided early on to learns as much as I could about the entire process of putting together a book from writing to formatting to cover design to actual print and eBook distribution. At first I put out some shaky products, but I’m slowly getting better. The only thing I really need to invest some money in is an editor. Fortunately, I have friends who will happily point out typos and generate lists of things that went wrong. I appreciate the effort, but it’s hardly fair to them to do all that extra work, so I’ll be calling on an editor in the future.

This weekend was spent doing some stuff that really needed done. I redid covers for Henchmen and Arise, created a couple new Twitter ad pieces, and edited The Clock Man.

What can I say? It was work. But it’s still enjoyable work and I had a blast redoing the covers. All the work is done, the new covers cleaned up and uploaded, some new text changes (mostly to the Also By pages) were done on Henchmen and Arise, and The Clock Man got a slew of typos taken out and summarily shot.

I decided to embrace my comic book heritage for the covers, rather than redoing the photo images. They may not be realistic but, let’s face it, neither are the books. There are elements of realism in both books and I tried to keep the stories at least somewhat grounded, but there’s still very much a superhero – well, super villain – vibe going on in both books. The third (of four) book in the Henchmen series is well underway, in case you were wondering.

Since the new covers haven’t completely circulated through Amazon’s legion of servers, here they are. Now I’m getting that itch to redo The Clock Man cover.

HenchmenComicCoverSmall

AriseComicCover

Amazon’s Gonna Have My Legs Broken – A Few Tips on Not Getting Your Book Flagged

Amazon recently told the self-publishing world it was sick of their crap and they were gonna pay – and pay hard – for their insolence.

Okay, so it didn’t play out exactly like that, but that’s how a lot of people took it. Teeth were gnashed, curses were hurled to the Heavens, and at least one person vowed to move to Canada over the whole thing. Don’t worry, that’s normal. We writers are surly bunch and if you cross us you can not only expect to die in our next book, but you’d better believe your post or negative review is gonna get the glaring of a lifetime.

The general gist of the message was this: Amazon decided to start flagging books that were essentially unreadable and/or removing them until the flaws were fixed. Any number of things could cause this from excessive typos, to bad formatting, to bad cover images. Now, much as I hate to admit this, there are quite a few books out there that fall into one or more of the above categories. I know for a fact that one of mine definitely fell into one of the categories.

John Doppler is one of the very few people I know of who took the time to, you know, actually contact Amazon and get some hard information. Among other things, he found out that Amazon isn’t using bots to delete your book because you’ve got French words, and the odd typo isn’t going to call down the Amazon hammer. What they’re mostly concerned with is books that start getting an excessive amount of reader feedback about typos and formatting issues that render the final result unreadable. Amazon is employing actual humans to examine the bad books and will simply be asking authors to make their books readable. Once the errors are fixed, it’s all good in the hood.

Fancy that, it wasn’t as draconian as people were fearing.

Most of the issues are well beyond my purview to assist you with. If you’ve got a lot of typos, hire an editor or otherwise fix them. If your cover is really, really bad, hire a graphic designer to work with it. I’m actually available for that one, feel free to drop me a line. If your book has formatting issues that make it unreadable, hire someone to take a look at it. I can actually do that one, too. Drop me a line if you’re interested.

Earlier in this post I said I knew for certain that at least one of my books has serious formatting issues. That book was The Clock Man and it was one of those strange little things you wouldn’t expect would happen. When I took the Word doc and converted it to epub I did all my usual tweaks to clean it up and make it look all purty, but a quirk escaped my testing. One of my friends got hold of me and told me she was having problems reading the book. Apparently each new page would render in black on her older Kindle but immediately fade to a very faint gray.

Light gray on a light background is pretty hard to read.

It turns out some of the e-Ink Kindles have problems with named colors in CSS files. Instead of setting color: #000000 like I should have, I set it to color: black. That rendered beautifully on my tablet and my PC, but turned light gray on my old Kindle keyboard. The solution was simply to not use named colors and use hex codes instead. Or better yet, don’t use them at all, that way the Kindle just defaults to all black text.

So, there you go. One very important tip for you: test your final book on as many devices as possible before you upload it. No matter how good a simulator is, it’s not as good as trying something out on actual hardware.

A few more links (including John Doppler’s) on the whole thing.