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Category: Just for Writers

Giving your subconscious something to build upon

Posted in Just for Writers

timber-frameOf all the architectural elements in the fiction writing process, plot is the primary scaffold. Without it, there is no story. There are some writers who begin with characters and evolve a plot from them, but it all has to come down to plot.

I'm fairly new to the writing process myself, but I'm an old analyst, steeped in software tech, and lately I've been contemplating what it is about plot, the way it's used by writers, that makes it special. Why do people struggle so much with it?

I'm not sure what “writer's block” really means as it's commonly described. When I'm not writing when I should be, it's almost always because of external factors (stress, depression, etc.) Only rarely have I been able to pin it down to the work itself — when I've produced a scene in first draft, and something about it feels false to me, I can't continue until I resolve the problem.

My analytical brain has been chewing on what's going on when that happens.

Stage 2 of self-publishing

Posted in Distribution, Formatting, Just for Writers, Production, and Publishing

person-reading-ebookOver the summer I've been unusually busy with the business and technical side of publishing. I've reformatted all my books behind the scenes and I've moved up a level from starter self-publishing and am just beginning to move beyond the basic retailers (Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Apple, Kobo) to a broader worldwide market. This has required my learning a great deal more about worldwide aggregators and distributors, as well as professionalizing (further) my use of metadata in the trade channels.

For those of you who aren't doing self-publishing, let me give you a quick overview. It's quite straightforward today to take your book, apply professional assistance in areas such as editing and cover design, and produce a product that is indistinguishable from the work of traditional publishing. Yes, the devil's in the details — you have to write reasonably well, too — but that's a given. There are no artificial barriers in the way of doing this.

The big difference is in the area of distribution. The US market is the furthest along, and ebooks are perhaps 20-30% of the US market. (Independent publishing is not well captured by book trade statistics, so there's a lot of speculation about the actual numbers). That number is still growing though the speed has slowed down and, of course, print isn't going away. Still, in fiction particularly, it's clear that ebooks will likely eventually approach 50%. The rest of the world is just getting started, but ebook adoption rates there might surprise you — remember, many third world countries went straight to cell phones without bothering with landlines much, so technology adoption rates do vary.

Ebook formatting with Sigil (for the control freak)

Posted in Formatting, Just for Writers, and Publishing

This article is crossposted to Jaye Manus's website.

Silly me. I’m an old programmer and I pride myself on trying to get my ebooks “just so”, as if I were writing a piece of code. I want to create worthy offerings to add to humanity’s river of books; at the very least, they should be shiny and well-scrubbed.

So when Jaye Manus offered to judge the formatting of a few books from her blog fans, I hopped right on board, and she was very kind in her review. But I read with horror things like “squishy line spacing” and links to chapters not working quite as they should, systematically.


I use an EPUB reader and hadn’t seen the book on a Kindle device other than the PC Previewer, so it was useful to see this from the Kindle reader’s perspective, since none of my buyers had complained (yet). Without a Kindle device, I hadn’t realized quite how irritating it was to not properly trigger the “Cover” and “TOC” hard buttons.

Now on the one hand, it wasn’t really broken, but on the other hand, I want perfection in book formatting, and some cosmetic and graphic flourishes. I’m not willing to settle for “good enough”, so Jaye was nice enough to coach me through some of the issues.

If you’re content with auto-conversion from EPUB to MOBI or vice versa, or output direct to ebook formats from products like Scrivener, then this is overkill for you and you can stop reading now. But if you want as much control as possible over the results without killing yourself, you might find the following approach useful.

Setting up international Amazon Author pages

Posted in Distribution, Just for Writers, and Publishing

One of the challenges of indie publishing is taking responsibility for your brand all over the world. Amazon, like many online book retailers, provides an Author page to serve as the base of operations for telling readers about your works, and every author is well-advised to take full advantage of it.

When you begin to look to Amazon's international sites, however, things become a little stranger. The naive publisher rejoices in only having to publish a book once using KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and letting Amazon do the hard work of making it available at all of its international sites. That works just fine for your product, but everything else — Author pages, Affiliate pages — they don't work that way. Each Amazon international site maintains its own Author and Affiliate pages, and presents them in its own native language, of course.

It can be intimidating the first time you look at a website in a language you don't speak. But you can easily set up Author and Affiliate presences on these sites because Amazon has designed the pages very similarly for each country, and the actual content (like your book) is assumed to be in your own language.

Selling books on Amazon – What happens with a second book in the series

Posted in Distribution, Just for Writers, and Publishing

I try to keep most of my blog posts focused on my books — characters, writing, and so forth. But I am also running a business and every now and then I think you might find it interesting to understand a little about how it works.

I published book 1 of The Hounds of Annwn in early October, 2012, and released book 2 on January 1, 2013. This series is aimed at fantasy readers, but I have a strong secondary audience of foxhunters who also care about the topic. There are millions of fantasy readers and only a few thousand foxhunters, but I know the foxhunting crowd and am known to them for hunt country photography, so I had a built-in initial audience to tell about the books and to go to for editorial reviews. This has been great and I'm very grateful for their support, but it's imperative for me to come to the notice of the much, much larger fantasy audience. That's made more difficult by the unfortunate fact that few fantasy blogs will review independent authors.

One measure of penetration for Amazon is to see what's in the “people who bought this book also bought…” category on your Amazon book page. Initially, this was blank, but soon book 1 began to accumulate references to books the foxhunting community likes, such as the Rita Mae Brown foxhunting mysteries. I kept hoping I would begin to see general fantasy books listed, but for the initial three months that wasn't the case.

Since book 2 has been released earlier this month, things have become very different. It's still in its “recently published” period which is driving a certain amount of general discoverability. Sales for both books together so far this month (there's a week to go) have exceeded sales for the first book for the preceding three months all together. Book 1 is being bought at about twice the volume of book 2, which is what you would expect for a series.

Formatting a finished work

Posted in Just for Writers, and To Carry the Horn

I've been done with To Carry the Horn since the middle of September. Just waiting for one last bit of information — the Library of Congress CIP (Cataloguing in Publication) block of data for the copyright page — which should arrive in the next few days. After that, whoosh — up go the files for the ebooks and the trade paperback.

Just to give you a little flavor of what that's like…

1) Complete the manuscript (I use Scrivener). Output a version for Word. Use Word to do preliminary global changes. Call that “CleanWord”.

2) Use Word to make a marked up version destined for HTML. Use an HTML editor to make an absolutely clean version as a source for eBooks. Call that “CleanHTML”.

4) Use CleanHTML and Calibre to create the EPUB for Barnes & Noble and Kobo and the MOBI for Amazon. Load the EPUB file onto your ereader and proofread like mad. Three times. Make all the corrections to the Scrivener manuscript, the modified CleanWord, and the CleanHTML files. Note: i am spared doing my own upload to iTunes for Apple because one of the tools needed is a piece of software that only runs on a MAC. (Thank you, Steve Jobs.) I'll have to let Smashwords distribute to Apple.