helpful (I hope) hints

Straight Outta Wherever

I just saw Straight Outta Compton today--oh, man. It's pretty great (it just kind of ends, but other than that, it's awesome), and one of the things I thought was really excellent was the enormous focus on how artists get screwed.

Spoilers ahead!

Ice Cube is the one who first gets suspicious of N.W.A.'s manager: Eventually the manager wants him to sign a contract without having a lawyer look at it first, and Ice Cube just walks away from the group completely--he knows he doesn't know enough to understand a contract without a lawyer, and he has a sensitive-enough bullshit detector to know when someone is trying to screw him, so that's that.

Later as a solo artist, Ice Cube gets fed the "We'll pay you after you hit it big. Oh, you just hit it big! Well, we're still not going to pay you." line from a record company executive, so in a scene that made me cackle uncontrollably with delight, he smashes the shit out of the guy's office with a baseball bat! And tells the executive that he can take the cost out of the money he owes him! (Apparently this really happened! I love you, Ice Cube!)

And yes, settling your problems with a baseball bat is not the best way (and I should point out that sometimes the guy with the handy office is not the guy who is screwing you), but Jesus Christ, can I ever relate to the urge.

Most recently we dealt with another attempt to take advantage of an elderly relative, and it bore many similarities to N.W.A.'s problems.

That might sound odd, but a scam is a scam, whether you're a rapper straight outta Compton, a little old lady, or a writer. As I've mentioned before, people who don't want you to use processes you can trust are not people who you can trust.

So here's a little list of things to look out for that mark potential scammers:

1. They target the weak. I can't get specific for obvious reasons, but the elderly relative entered into a business agreement. Then we of the younger generation legally took over authority.

Now, I will say that I never felt good about this agreement. Why? Because the elderly relative was already somewhat addlepated when they made it, and I was open to the possibility that they were being taken advantage of.

Nonetheless, I was willing to carry the ball on this deal, since that's pretty much my job these days. In fact, I was the one who made the phone call informing the other side that authority had legally shifted.

What was truly interesting was what happened next: Nothing.

At least not to me. The other people who took over authority along with me started getting all kinds of calls and e-mails, while I did not.

Isn't that odd? In a business deal, why not communicate with the person who initiated communication with you?

Oh, because that person was most likely given that job because they were the one best-suited to handle this kind of thing? And the last thing you want to deal with is someone who might know the score.

I wonder why that is?

2. They threaten you with doom/promise you the moon. This was the thing that made us all stop and go, Wait a minute. These guys weren't just calling those who they hoped were weak--they were threatening them.

And their threats made no sense. None of us are lawyers, but all of us readily agreed that, given what little knowledge of the law we had, these threats were both remarkably vague and quite extreme.

In addition to the vague threats, there were the gauzy promises of fortune--someday. (And God, the elderly relative just ate that shit up.) Someday, we would make HEAPS of money--HEAPS!!!

Not now, of course. Now we'd get nothing. But SOMEDAY!!!!!!

3. They are not shy about making it personal. Do you give a fuck about how I get along with distant cousins I've met maybe a handful times in my lifetime? No?

These guys did--they cared so much. They were so concerned that we not alienate people whose contact information we don't even have by tanking this deal. Because tanking a bad deal would be disadvantageous to these cousins in some way. This is assuming that they hadn't already tanked the deal for themselves, and we didn't know about it, which was entirely possible, given that we don't actually know each other and don't talk.

And of course these guys stroked the elderly relative like nobody's business, because they aren't business partners--they're friends.

At least these assholes didn't pester the elderly relative after we took over in hopes of getting them to pressure us. Other assholes have.

4. Lawyer? What's a lawyer? Since the elderly relative was merely addlepated, not fully demented, a lawyer did draw up the original deal.

But the amendment to the deal that these guys wanted us to sign? Oh, nobody needs a lawyer for a silly little thing like that.

We're silly little things, so yes, we did get a lawyer specializing in that particular area of law to look at it and tell us that signing the amendment would be (and this is an exact quote) "crazy." Also, we can undo the deal whether they want us to or not.

So what is the other side doing now? They're pretending like our lawyer does not exist. They've been instructed more than once to communicate solely with the lawyer, but they are acting like nobody told them nothing. (And HA! you should have seen the lawyer's professional reserve just vaporize in a red-hot fury over that one!)

Why are they doing this? Please familiarize yourself with point #1 above.

End of year data dump: Counting costs

It's not to early for this again, right?

Note that I do not include the cost of a new computer (my old one was a decade old and was having serious problems, so I probably would have replaced it anyway) or organizer dues for my Meetup group (that's really a personal expense).

Spent creating Trust:

$568.75....copy editing

$9.51........proof from CreateSpace

$25.00......expanded distribution on CreateSpace


Spent creating audiobook of Trang:


$19.70....pop filter


Spent marketing:

$46.23........hard copies of Trust and Trang for reviewers

$19.93........postage to mail hard copies to reviewers

$65.00........Westercon admission

$20.00........Westercon parking

$152.15......Westercon flyers

$32.04.......GeekGirlCon admission (one day)

$216.22.....GeekGirlCon flyers

$55.00.......Foolscap admission

$23.54.......Foolscap flyers

$45.00.......Norwescon admission



GRAND TOTAL: $1,367.24


Which is actually more than last year's $1,308.68.

The major costs were copy editing (which was considerably more expensive this time around because the copy editor did a style sheet and a lot of checking for series continuity) and all those science fiction conventions, which I've noted are not a particularly effective means of marketing. In fact, I debated over whether or not to include the Norwescon admission as a marketing cost, because at this point I really consider going to a con as more of a personal indulgence. Nonetheless, you can watch how I educated myself regarding the cost of flyers: The Westercon flyers were expensive because they were four color, the GeekGirlCon flyers were expensive because there were 4,500 of them, but the Foolscap flyers were cheap, cheap, cheap (if remarkably ineffective--but that had nothing to do with their cheapness).

Writers are not consumers!

So, PV has a story about the recent dismissal of a class-action suit brought by writers against Publish America.

Given how notorious Publish America is, why was the lawsuit dismissed? Because it was brought under a consumer-protection law. And as Publish America noted in its brief, "Plaintiffs are not consumers; they have entered into a commercial enterprise with PA."

The court, of course, agreed--wholeheartedly! Remember: Consumer-protection laws do not apply to writers entering into contracts with publishers. When you sign with a publisher, you are regarded by law as a business entity entering into a commercial enterprise with another business entity. The law provides you with no special protections. It assumes you and your publisher are equals--which means you'd damned well better have a lawyer, because you can be sure your publisher does.

You're running a small business--and that's a good thing!

I first became a full-time freelancer by accident. I was working in the encyclopedia industry and (you know where this is going) I got laid off. They then offered to rehire me as a freelancer.

Sounds like I was getting screwed, right? The thing is, I was horribly bored editing, but I was too risk-adverse to move on to something else. The layoff was the kick in the pants that I needed: I decided to go to journalism school. But of course I needed to earn a living in the meantime, so I jumped at the offer.

The pay was good, there was a ton of work to do, I already knew the job, and I could do it from home. Excellent!

Except that this was the place where the people who needed freelance work done were in NYC, and the people who paid the freelancers were in Ohio. The Ohio crew didn't care whether or not the work actually got done (in fact, that project got trashed after it was finished instead of going to the printer). Sure enough, the checks started coming later and later and later....

What with the layoff and all, I had a pretty good idea that this company was going down, so I had already started freelancing for other people (or freelancing more--everybody moonlights in publishing). I caught some flak for this from the poor encyclopedia editor, who wanted me to work on his project all the time. But I was like, I have to pay the rent at the first of every month no matter what those jokers in Ohio do. Sorry, but...

I must have many clients.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I was being quite astute. Years later I was reading through a business magazine, and they had an article on how to run a successful small business, and one of the major pointers was:

You must have many clients.

Why? Because that way if one client screws you, you don't go down in flames.

The temptation is not to diversify--it takes work, and people are lazy. And if GinormoMegaCorp offers you a huge, extremely lucrative contract to work with them, you of course will get all excited and wriggly like a puppy and you will drop all your other clients and you will run right over to latch yourself onto the GinormoMegaCorp teat. And you will forget that she's actually just a big old bitch who will snap at you and take off whenever the mood strikes her.

All small business people struggle with this. All of them.

All of them struggle with the fact that you never have start-up capital when you're actually starting up. All of them struggle with the fact that you don't know when--or if!--you'll start making money with your business. All of them have to remind themselves to Keep costs low when there are so many enticing ways to spend money. (Spending that will help the business "in the long run"--you know, like after you file for bankruptcy and a creditor swoops in and takes over your brand and profits off all that start-up spending. Happens all the time.)

The nice thing is, they talk about it. You are not alone! There's a whole section on the U.S. Small Business Association's Web site about funding your business! There are countless articles and Web sites about running a small business! (There are also countless people who want to take your money, but ignore them.)

You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Yes, contemporary self-publishing is a new business, but it's still a business. You can learn from other business people.

Let's take You must have many clients as an example. This is why I get nervous when people act like they should retail and market only through Amazon. Of course I don't ignore Amazon--Amazon is important. But the minute you start acting like Amazon is your only client, you are setting yourself up to have the rug pulled out from under you.

Plus, you're losing sight of the fact that Amazon is not actually a client--your clients are your readers, and Amazon is just one way to reach one group of clients. Likewise traditional publishers are not clients, they are just one way to reach another group of clients.

There are so many other examples of small business advice that applies to self-publishing:

Your competition is not your enemy, or even really your competition. Works if your products aren't interchangeable, which books are not. Crate & Barrel and The Container Store boost sales by operating side-by-side. Think of the Chinese food district. Can you do something like that with your books and books by other authors?

Get diverse perspectives. Writers tend to talk to other writers--that's our "affinity group." Most readers are not writers: They don't haunt bookstores and worry about the future of editing; instead, they go to feed stores and hang out in gun forums.

Existing clients are your best clients... They're cheaper to reach and easier to sell to. This is why writing lots of books works so well: You've got a base already. It's also why I think it's worth it (if you can afford it--see Keep costs low above) to have multiple formats available: People will indeed buy the same book twice if they want to give it as a gift or listen to it while they exercise.

...but they must be reminded that you existThe seasonal businesses in that article have to remind people they exist each year--much like writers have to each time they come out with a new book.

Track promotions. That seasonal business article actually has some good advice on that one--the more you do, the less money you will waste. Derek Canyon shows you how to track returns on advertising expenditures, and Lindsay Buroker outlines the revenue-per-customer limitation--if you're paying a dollar in marketing for every client acquired, those clients need to be giving you more than 35 cents.

More generally: Realize that there's a community and knowledge bank out there. What you're doing isn't easy, but many, many people have faced similar challenges. They may wear suits and be Rotarians and refuse to read fiction, but they are your people. You can learn from them.

Doing a large-print edition

There was a comment by ABE in response to my last post asking for more information about doing a large-print edition. I was just going to reply, but then I realized that, if people are curious, I might as well make a new post that has basically everything I know about doing them in it.

So, ABE asked:

Just out of curiosity - as you should have it quite clear right now - how many pages did your regular edition have, and how much of a multiplier is it to go to the large print edition? You got close to the edge, so that helps pin it down.

The problem is that the multiplier changed because I changed fonts. Trang was set in 10-pt Palatino Linotype, it is a 373-page book, and it made a 794-page large-print edition (set in 18-pt Arial with 22-pt line spacing). Trust is 375 pages (oh, so it's not actually shorter, duh), but it's set in 10-pt Book Antiqua, so it makes an 846-page large-print edition--too long for CreateSpace, which limits you to 820 pages.

What I should have done--and what I did with Trang--was to stick all the text into a file, set the page size, font, margins, and line spacing, and have a quick look at how many pages resulted. That gave me a fairly accurate idea of what the page count was going to be--and that's why my line spacing is a half-point more narrow than it's supposed to be.

Also, I wouldn't necessarily have thought of putting out the large print edition - and that's another good idea.

I haven't actually sold any of my large-print editions. This is sort of a quixotic thing for me that I do when I'm not hugging trees and weaving clothing out of organic hemp. A large-print edition is a lot easier than a regular layout because the ragged right means that you don't have to worry about tight or loose lines, and you don't break words, so you don't have to worry about bad breaks. Buuuuut it does take some time and effort (or money, if you don't do your own layouts), and the payoff may never come, because people with serious visual disabilities these days probably get e-readers and set the font to something they find readable.* For me, it's easy enough and I'm fanatical enough about accessibility (can people read e-ink as easily as paper? I dunno) that it's worth it, but I could definitely see someone going the other way.

Lastly, has it ever occurred to you to sell your templates? After all this work on your part to get them right - maybe that would have some extra value.

I don't know that templates would actually be helpful to other people, because I'm already cheating slightly on the American Printing House for the Blind standards (which, in my defense, are by far the most stringent), and I'm going to have to cheat more. With the regular layout, since I use Word, I do a lot of odd hacks to make it work that you can't put in a template.


*ETA: I've read about authors wanting to fiddle with their e-books so that readers can't modify the fonts. Please, please, please, PLEASE, PLEASE do NOT do this. You may think that san-serif fonts are ugly, but for some people, they are the only fonts they can read.

If you're wondering why you should bother with a copy edit....

I got a very nice review of Trang on Futures Past and Present--it makes me happy on a day that has mostly been spent drinking hot fluids and blowing my nose.

Now, after you go and read it and marvel at what nice things the nice man has to say (he's so nice!), I want to draw your attention to the paragraph that reads:

Now, production values.  Once again, an indie author has put together a book that is essentially error free.  I only noticed one typo (although I don't remember what page now).  There was an interactive table of contents.  The formatting was good, and the cover told you this was a novel set in space.  Somehow New York can't seem to figure this out.

Isn't that just so much, well, nicer than:

As for the technicals, there are plenty of typos and typesetting errors. A second set of eyes would've cleared these up.

That was from the review in the New Podler Review of Books, which was written before I had Trang copy edited. Now that review was also mostly positive, and I had and still have absolutely no problem with it--the criticism was perfectly fair, and indeed, a second set of eyes did clear those errors up.

Which is my point. No matter how much a reviewer likes your book, there are going to be complaints--their job is to be critical, and there is no such thing as a perfect book. The idea is to minimize those complaints to things like, "I wanted more about the characters, because they were just so wonderful!" or "I can't wait for the next book to come out!" or "I never wanted the book to end!" not, "For God's sake, get it copy edited!"

Think about the difference in implications between those two excerpts from a marketing perspective. The first excerpt tells readers, hey, this lady's stuff is top quality--even better than what New York turns out. Yeah, he's just talking about the copy editing and the formatting and the choice of cover, but the implication is that the book is just as good if not better than something you'd pay $10 more for. The second tells you that, meh, it's sloppy, and she didn't put enough effort into it.

When I say things like, it's impossible to really enjoy a story that has a lot of errors in it, because your attention is constantly being interrupted--well, you are seeing the proof of that right here in those review excerpts. While I certainly think that changing the cover and description resulted in Trang getting much better reader reviews, I also believe strongly that having the book copy edited--getting rid of all the crap that was cluttering up the book and blocking people from becoming truly immersed in the story--was equally important.

And it keeps on getting cheaper

So, just as I was denigrating the benefits of being in the Illuminati, I received an e-mail from my Web hosting service saying that they are lowering their rates from $256 for two years to $180 for two years. (I am getting less storage, but I'm using only a tiny fraction of what was available before, so that's not a problem.) I've amended my posts about costs to reflect the partial rebate I received, and of course I'll be paying less in the future, which is nice.

If you're trying to estimate your own costs, you can also knock off the $40 per book charge for CreateSpace's ProPlan, since they now offer their books more cheaply as part of their free package, which was half the reason to join ProPlan. The other half, Expanded Distribution, is now just $25, assuming you want it.

One of the things I like to emphasize to people about self-publishing--especially if you just want to do an e-book--is how ridiculously cheap it is. And it seems like it's just getting cheaper....

Editing and editors--a guide

So, I've read a couple of things about different types of editing, and not shockingly, people don't quite have the lingo down. That's in part because the lingo does not, in fact, make sense--so don't feel bad if it confuses you!

So, what is the difference between the different forms of editing? Well, that's a fun question, because when I was an editor, my job varied greatly. Sometimes I edited something by tightening it up a bit. Sometimes I edited something by throwing it into the garbage and starting again from scratch.

The job of an editor is basically to ensure that the prose that appears in a publication or from a publisher is up to snuff, however that business may define "snuff." If your publication has a particular voice, you make sure that the article is written in that voice. If your publication has 20 available inches of column space, you make sure that the article will take up no more and no less than 20 inches of column space. If your publishing house expects all books in a series to follow a certain format, you make sure that book follows that format.

There is, as this person discovered, an enormous difference between an editor and a copy editor. As I mentioned, when I worked in book publishing as an editor, I was never ever a copy editor. This in no way impaired my career as an editor, any more than never having worked as a cover artist would have--they are two very different skill sets, and being good at one does not mean you'll be any good at the other.

Copy editors provide what you think of when you think of proofreading. They call it copy editing, but it is not editing. They are not editing copy, they are proofreading copy.

But why don't they call it proofreading? you shriek. Well, back in the days of yore, manuscripts had to be set into type in order to be printed. Typesetters were not college-educated fancy people like editors and copy editors. They wore overalls, never went to school, spat, drank a lot, and tended to physically assault people who criticized their work. They were infamous for being to all appearances completely illiterate and possibly subhuman.

The copy editor would polish the manuscript to perfection. Then the typesetters would take this manuscript and produce a proof, which was invariably a HUGE mess, not even recognizable as a written language. So you had a copy editor give the proof what was called a proofread, to fix what the horrible typesetters had done. If a copy editor read only proofs, they were called a proofreader.

The further you get in the production process, the less stuff you can change (especially if something is being set in type, as in the days of yore). So proofreaders couldn't change much--a proofreader couldn't really say, "This sentence is awkward. You should rewrite it," because it was just too late for that. Copy editors could, because they were working with the manuscript earlier in the process. So when people act like copy editing and proofreading are very different, that's why. Proofreading jobs also typically were entry-level jobs--a person would start as a proofreader and get promoted up to copy editor. But proofreaders and copy editors use the same skill set.

Nowadays we just convert files, and stuff usually doesn't get all messed up in the process. So the difference between a copy edit and a proofread has gotten more academic. Within the industry, people still distinguish, because stuff can still go very wrong after something's been laid out. But you can call it a "copy edit/proofread," which if memory serves is what I told my first copy editor, and he was not confused at all (unlike my second).

Now line editing is actually editing, done by editors. When you line edit you fix all the clunky crap. Maybe you catch some typos, too, but the copy editors are better at that sort of thing than you are--your primary focus is on making something read well. You also are altering the voice of the piece so that it matches the voice of your publication. When I had stuff I didn't have to throw away and rewrite (which is called ghostwriting, and I did a lot of that), I was line editing.

Story editing is also editing. It's just taking a broader view. If you give me something to read, and I say, You need to cut a ton of exposition, it takes too long to get to the plot, and the ending is unsatisfying, then that is a story edit. (Sometime we called this a structural edit.)

Generally when I'm in a writers' group or am beta reading for someone, I'm doing a story edit. Unless something is awkward or doesn't make sense, I don't feel like it's appropriate for me to line edit--it's overstepping. People should write their own stuff, and I certainly don't want every story out there to read like it was written by me--that would suck!

Sometimes people really want line editing, because they're insecure about their writing. My feeling is that you need to ask yourself if you're comfortable having someone else basically rewrite your book. If you're just nervous about the quality of your writing, I think that if you take your work to a critique group or two and no one complains, then you can calm down. If they do complain, you can revise and see where it gets you. A decent copy editor or beta reader will mark anything super awkward or flat-out incomprehensible, and the rest you can judge according to your own taste.

There are some other kinds of editors--and some, although not all, of them actually edit. I've never been one of these:

Developmental editor. You can see my bafflement at this kind of editing if you scroll down to the comments here, but then someone else explained that another term for "developmental editor" is "writing teacher." Made ever so much more sense.

Technical editor. NOT a copy editor! Or even a proofreader! Technical editors are actual editors who specialize in technical writing, like user's manuals.

Managing editor. A managing editor does not edit (although they'll look stuff over). A managing editor makes sure things happen when they are supposed to and will mercilessly beat those hapless employees who fall behind. Think dominatrix, only less well-paid.

Acquisitions editor. The person who accepts or rejects books for publishers (if sales and marketing will let them). Doesn't edit but will request changes to a book to make it acceptable.

Progress report, the finding-a-copy-editor edition

So I forgot to post a progress report yesterday, but I actually did make progress, proofreading the Trust layout. I proofed more today and will either proof still more after I write this or input the corrections, I'm not sure.

Another thing I did yesterday was line up a new proofreader! Yeah, the very good one I used before vanished. I don't know what's up with that (hopefully he's just swamped with work and it's nothing bad), but that's the drawback of using freelancers, they're not always available. (Aaaaand every editor I ever said no to just experienced a quiver of schadenfreude.)

So I reached out to another friend who works in publishing, and it turns out that she's the queen of copy editors these days, so she had a whole list of people. (And more on the back burner! Apparently they are all pretty busy pushing through the fall list, which I hope is what happened to my first proofreader.) I hooked up with one of them, so I'll mail her the layout in a few days, and if everything goes as planned, she should get it back to me by the end of March. I think she'll be good--she was highly recommended, and she's so hardcore book publishing that I confused her by asking for a proofread instead of a copy edit. Imagine what would have happened if I'd asked her for a technical edit!

I mentioned to my friend how hard it is for indie writers to find decent copy editors, and she was like, Yeah, I've been toying with the idea of starting some sort of cooperative for copy editors geared to indie writers. I hope she does--of course, she works full time, so she may not want the hassle. Still, the thing about copy editors is that there's a HUGE difference between the good ones and the others, and it's not really obvious until you pay one of them to copy edit your work and they either suck or are awesome. (Of course, if you're really new, you may not even realize they suck.) So I really hope she goes through with it--if she does, I will definitely tout it here. (One pointer I can give right now: Oftentimes the really good copy editors have full-time jobs and freelance on the side. So if you find one that works full time as a copy editor for a book publisher, they're probably good.)

I should note that this new copy editor also charges $25 an hour....

Laying out paper books with cheap software

As you may know, I use Word (evil, evil Word) to lay out the paper editions of my books, because proper layout software is really expensive. Today, Passive Voice has a post about using OpenOffice, and he mentions that he also uses Word, and then down in the comments (always read those!) people talk about tricks to use with Word as well as something called LibreOffice, which is like OpenOffice but allegedly better. I use neither OpenOffice nor LibreOffice, so I can't judge the worth of those tips, but they may help you. I also don't know if the Word tips will help me, since my version of Word is a decade old, but I'm definitely going to give them a shot.

One thing that gets mentioned is the value of templates. I have to agree that templates (whatever kind works for you) are awesome. Laying out Trust went so much quicker this time because I essentially had a template (i.e. the Trang layout with a few tweaks), so I just replaced the text and changed chapter and page numbers. In the past I've been a little dumb about it and opened up brand-new files for each chapter, which meant I had to input and format the headers, format the chapter numbers, etc., etc. It cuts the amount of time you spend laying things out probably by at least a third if you just save the last chapter under a new name and use it as a template.

Thieving thieves who thieve

Edittorrent (via PV) has a disturbing post on a bad new agency practice (she starts out thinking it might just be a rumor because it sounds so bad, but no, it's real). Some agencies are asking authors to sign away 15% on revenue earned by books the agency doesn't sell to a publisher. If you sign this sort of contract, and the agent fails to sell the book, and then you self-publish (completely on your own), you owe the agent 15% of what you make, even though they failed to provide any service of value.

An agent is an agent, guys. You don't pay random real-estate agents fees for houses you bought without their help. You don't pay headhunters fees for jobs you got without their help. You shouldn't have to pay literary agents fees for revenue you have earned without their help. "We only make money if you make money" does not mean "if you make money entirely by your own devices, with zero assistance from us," OK?

The recent changes in publishing have not be easy on agents, and as a result, sleazy contracts are becoming more common. Watch out and take care.

Great resources for self-publishers!

Passive Voice sent me to this awesome post by David Gaughran on self-publishing scams. It's a great read: If you're a newbie, it explains why you really, really, really don't need to spend a mint on production and distribution. (Short version: That's the easy part!) If you're an old hand, he suggests that you make information about production and distribution available on your blog or Web site. Obviously, I could not agree more. Don't be shy because you're no kind of tech whiz and your computer is ancient and your software is not really appropriate for the task and you don't really know what you're doing. Plenty of other people are in the exact same boat!

Gaughran links to this equally awesome post by David Burton, which contains all sorts of great links to a sold ton of information. Like, wow, that's a lot of information. I've read maybe a fraction of the stuff he lists, so if you read it all (and the vast majority is free), you'll be way more expert than I am!

Creating clickable table of contents; or, There's more than one way to skin a cat (sorry, cats)

One of the nice things about the Passive Voice blog is that it attracts a lot of self-published authors, so the comments on the posts are usually informed and well worth reading.

For example, in the comments to that Diego Basch post, we wound up discussing how we create clickable tables of contents--everybody has a slightly different method, and all appear to work. Working with software seems to be one of those things where a method that person A finds quite simple utterly confounds person B (plus person B may not have the same software as person A), so if you're trying to figure out how to make a clickable table of contents, definitely poke through there and see what seems doable to you.

If you're wondering why you should bother making a clickable TOC, this same comments section inspired Jaye Manus to write a post about how important they are to navigating a book. (The short version: You can only flip one page at a time in an e-reader, so jumping back five chapters to refresh your memory about who that character is? Not so easy.)

Summing up e-book production

So, if you missed it, Crabby McSlacker of Cranky Fitness fame (go read it, it's REALLY funny and has a lot of good advice) posted a question about self-publishing. I want her to publish her novel for the very selfish reason that I want to read it, so I was e-mailing her about how to produce e-books. Then I decided that what I had written wasn't a bad summary of the process, so I'm going to copy it here, with the regular disclaimer that the whole thing will probably be completely different six months from now:


Converting the file isn't hard, and all the software you need is available for free. The only thing is that it's a little misleading, because both Amazon and B&N act like you can upload a Word document, preview it in their previewer, and voila!--it will come out looking great.

I learned the hard way that that's bullshit--their converter sucks, and their preview tool sucks so you don't know how bad the conversion is. It turns out that this is not a big deal--I just have to convert to the file to ePub myself and upload it. Of course, I had no idea how to do that, or even that I had to do that, but eventually I figured it out, and it's actually not especially difficult (and I am not especially tech-savvy).

Right now my process for creating and uploading an e-book to Smashwords, B&N, and Amazon goes like this:

1. I take the Word file and I reformat it according to Smashwords' instructions. Basically this clears away any bad formatting that might cause problems with the conversion.
2. I upload the Word file to Smashwords (with the cover image inserted into the file). That's all you have to do with them.
3. I take that Word file, pull out the cover image and the Smashwords-specific language, and I convert it into HTML.
4. I take an HTML editor and I make a table of contents with anchor links to each chapter heading (this is to create a clickable table of contents, which is essential to navigating the book)
5. I use Calibre to convert the HMTL file into an ePub file that contains the cover image.
6. I open that file in Adobe Digital Editions to make sure it looks right.
7. I upload that ePub file to B&N.
8. I use Calibre to convert the HMTL file into an ePub file that contains no cover image.
9. I open that file in Adobe Digital Editions to make sure it looks right.
10. I upload that ePub file to Amazon, asking them to include the cover image.

Steps 8-10 are because Amazon seems to do a better job converting ePub to Mobi than Calibre does, but if I include the cover image myself, it winds up looking weird. I've used MobiPocket Creator to make my own Mobi files, but they don't look as good (and I haven't taken the trouble to figure out why).

The end of the year: Lessons learned

One thing that I think tends to keep people from trying new stuff is fear of making a mistake. This I think is especially pronounced when it comes to things that are allegedly outside of one's competence, and there tends to be this idea that normal learning experiences are proof positive that you cannot possibly ever manage the task. For example, if you are a woman who has been raised to believe that women cannot handle "man tasks" like fixing things around the house, the first time you try to do something and make a mistake, you say, "I knew I couldn't do it!" and never try again, as though a man doing it for the first time would do it perfectly.

So, I'm going to list what I've learned this year, as I've moved from being a former editor to being a one-woman publishing enterprise. It's been an education, and hopefully if you feel like you screwed up doing this or that, you will realize that it's not you--it's where you are on the learning curve. That said, these lessons apply to me--your mileage may vary.

Here we go:

  • Do the physical book first, and then the e-book. When you lay out a book, you notice all kinds of errors. Since I put up the e-books first, I had to repost them over and over again every time I fixed something in the paper book.
  • Hire a (real) copy editor. Mine made the book look much more polished as well as catching many tiny errors. You want one who actually works in the book industry, though.
  • Don't rely on Amazon's or Barnes & Noble's conversion process. It was really annoying to realize that their easy-to-use tools resulted in a hard-to-read book. Using Calibre made the books look much better.
  • E-books need to have a clickable table of contents and an interior cover. Readers expect them, and if you don't give them a clickable table of contents, you've made it all but impossible for them to navigate the book.
  • A line by itself on the top of a page is a widow. This is one of the drawbacks of having worked with professional book designers--I never saw these sorts of widows when I was proofing layouts! I sure put them in my book, though.
  • Make your margins narrow. This makes a book MUCH easier to lay out, and it results in a shorter and therefore less-expensive product.
  • Put some space between your headers and your main text. This is something the copy editor suggested, and it makes a big difference. If the header is crowded down over the text, it looks heavy and amateurish (like a report, not a book).
  • Spread out production tasks to avoid burnout. I find production pretty exhausting, and because I put the e-book up (without a cover, even!) and then scrambled to complete the production side, certain things got short shrift. And then I had to go back and re-do them again and again, so it was many times the work.
  • Cats and children hamper production. But I like them anyway.
  • If you can't write, figure out something else to do. I was having a hard time figuring out how to revise Trust (there was other stuff going on, but I think a major issue was that I needed to get some feedback on that book first), so I didn't do anything. I definitely could have worked on other things in that time.
  • Writing groups can be very useful, but can also be a major time sink. I'm going to start going back to the one I was going to earlier, but I'm going to go less frequently than I was before.
  • Many more things are possible now than were before. I need to forget all the stuff I learned about what is doable and what is not.

Here's to a more efficient and productive 2012! (God, do I sound like North Korean propaganda or what?)

The end of the year: Counting costs

I'm going to have to do this for my accountant anyway, so I figured I'd present the amount I've spent on book production for all of 2011. For your edification and enjoyment (especially if you're prone to schadenfreude):


Spent on creating

 $67.50 for 5 yrs....Cost of domain name

$226.79 for 2 yrs.....Cost of Web host *



Spent on copy editing Trang:



Spent on creating e-books:



Spent on creating hard copies:

$355.00.....Purchase Adobe Acrobat

 $46.73.....Purchase proofs of Trang (I wound up revising it four times)

 $16.24.....Purchase large-print Trang proof

 $78.00....Fee for improved price/distribution (both editions)



Spent on marketing:

$100.00....Advertisement at sci-fi convention

 $22.51....Copies to give reviewers


 $66.91....Copies for GoodReads giveaway


GRAND TOTAL: $1,308.68


Obviously getting the book copy edited and revising it added to the cost, but I think that was worth it. I also think it was worth it to send hard copies to reviewers, but the advertisement did nothing for me, and it seems to me that I get a lot more bang for the buck by doing a Library Thing giveaway than by paying BookRooster (I haven't done the GoodReads giveaway yet--postage will be added to that cost--so I don't know how that will shake out).

* Edited March 30, 2012, to reflect rate change.

Calibre works

OK, I input the rest of the proofreader's changes, did a couple of things I caught, and then uploaded the Word file to Smashwords.

Then, I tried that Smashwords hack. No dice--it did not work at all. I couldn't even read it with Adobe Digital Editions. I'm guessing that there's some kind of information in an ePub file so that if you open it up and change something, the whole thing won't work (unless, I assume, you have magickal hacking powers (hackigal powers?), which I sorely lack).

So, I went on to Calibre, which is designed for e-book readers, not so much e-book authors. It converts from e-book format to e-book format--which means that you can't convert a Word file into anything.

You can, however, convert an HTML file. I turned the Word file into an HTML. The Word file had a picture of the cover in it, and that stayed, eventually becoming the interior cover in an ePub file that had eluded me for so long.

While I had the HTML file, I gave it a clickable table of contents (which went much faster this time). Then, using Calibre, I converted it to an ePub file, looking it over with Adobe Digital Editions before I uploaded it to Amazon and B&N.

The result is a much cleaner look to the book. For whatever reason, before when I had a new chapter, it would just start a couple of lines down from where the previous chapter ended. Now it is clearly a new page. And the breaks within the chapters look discrete without the ornaments (although I kept them in the Smashwords version because they output into so very many different formats).

Is it 100% error free? I don't think so, but of course I'm having to judge from the preview tools, which are less reliable than one might like. In the Kindle version, some of the text was not justified on the right side (although most of it was). And something's a little screwy with the interior cover: If you look at it using Adobe Digital Editions, it's fatter than it should be. With the Kindle preview tool, the first page is blank, and then there's the interior cover. With the Nook preview tool, you have two interior cover images. I'm not sure what to make of all that.

Still, it's definitely better than it was before. I may noodle with it a little more tomorrow and see what I can do. But not today....


Trang came back from the proofreader today--oh my God. If you're wondering what the difference is between a good proofreader and a bad proofreader or just a normal reader: My sister, who is intelligent, educated, and literate, but not in any way a publishing professional, read over Trang and noted any typos she found. In the entire book, she found five. This fellow found way more than five--way more than five in each chapter. And I do mean outright errors, not debatable questions of style.

The thing that people often don't appreciate about proofreading is that it's rarely about catching misspelled words--those are relatively easy for readers to catch, but spell-checking software does a good job of catching them, too. I left in a lot of things like "he said replied." Each of those words is spelled correctly, so the eye tends to skip over the problem, but one of them needs to go!

The proofreader also had some good suggestions for the layout--I think I'll input the changes to the e-books first (and do a giveaway on Library Thing) and then tackle modifying the print layout. One thing he suggested was removing the "***" I have to mark breaks within the chapters. I think it makes sense to take them out of the print book, but I wonder if I should leave them in the e-books. Maybe they're not necessary, but I'm a little paranoid about formatting, and the "***" makes it absolutely clear that the breaks are supposed to be there and aren't the hard returns magically multiplying. Then again, maybe it looks amateurish. Hm.

Anyway, I don't know if the guy wants me to put his name here, and he doesn't have a Web site to link to, but I do recommend him. If you e-mail me (use the Contact Me form to the left there), I'll give you his contact info. He charges $25 an hour, and it took him 14 hours to proof Trang, which is 108,000 words. As always when you use a proofreader, you want to give them your final copy--there's no point in having someone proofread something if you're going to, say, completely change the ending. Clean copy will be proofed more quickly and less expensively, so have your friends and writing buddies look it over first before you send it to a pro.

And, as a former freelancer myself, I must say, PAY ON TIME. You get the manuscript back, you look it over to make sure the job's been done, and you immediately write a check and put it in the mail. Nothing says "Thank you!" like timely payment.

You must consider this....

This is an extremely valuable essay by Kris Rusch on what is obviously a bugaboo of mine: People naively overpaying for self-publishing services.

Some writers will research their manuscript like crazy, and then they won't spend five minutes on the kind of research needed to keep from getting robbed. Please don't be like that. And please keep in mind that Rusch is both dyslexic and especially dyslexic when it comes to numbers, so however bad at math you believe yourself to be, she is much worse, and yet she is able to comprehend when someone is trying to steal from her. Not everyone is to be trusted, especially not everyone who tells you that they can be trusted.

In short, if a stranger offers you candy, don't get in the van!

Bad! Scary! Bad!

I've mentioned my tragic addiction to The Passive Voice blog, and my discovery of The Business Rusch. Passive Guy is a lawyer, and Kris Rusch used to be a reporter, and between the two of them they have complied the most hair-raising accounts of what you find in agency and publishing contracts nowadays! It's bad stuff--and the most disturbing thing is that these aren't the dirtbag "agents" or vanity presses, which you can assume are out to rip you off. It's the respectable people doing it nowadays. 

Seriously, read these guys if you are thinking of signing with an agency or a publisher. With Rusch, I would start here at the bottom of the page and work my way up to the more-recent posts. With The Passive Voice, look at the "contracts" section (he's a bit of a tougher read because, you know, lawyer, but soldier on).

They made me pull out and read over my old agency agreement. Yes, I fired them, but with some of these contracts, that doesn't matter. I don't see anything too frightening there--I did read before I signed it, but events have proven that I was too trusting back then, so no harm in double-checking.

I had read that the agent I fired was doing things that I thought were a little sleazy, but I kind of chalked it up to the fact that he clearly was the sort to cruise on reputation, so what would you expect? But apparently that's just par for the course nowadays--the distinction between reputable and disreputable is becoming very thin. It makes me worried for the people I know who are seeking agency representation and hoping to get a contract with a commercial publisher....