Progress report

I finished the first eight chapters (two yesterday, six today) of the large-print edition. It's going OK, but there's a little bit of a hitch. Per the AAPH guidelines, you're supposed to have a certain amount of space between lines, as well as a line space between paragraphs.

The problem is that the amounts I chose don't quite line up. So, if you have a spread with a bunch of paragraph breaks on the left-hand side and long text blocks on the right, the bottom lines don't quite line up. I realized this a few chapters in, so going back and fixing the spacing would be a big pain. Instead I'm cheating by slightly stretching the text on one side and smooshing it down on the other--hopefully it won't be noticeable!

(And the nice thing about real layout software is that it lets you do that sort of thing....)

Progress report

I went over the copy-edited layout of the YA book--yeah, he took his time about it, but he certainly hasn't gotten any less awesome since I used him the last time!

The downside is, since it was a good copy edit, lots of little things need fixing. That's going to screw up the layout in a lot of little ways, which will also need fixing...hmmm. I feel like I'm on a roll lately with Trials (it's amazing how much the change in POV has opened up the book), and I don't really want to fuck that up by switching to something that's going to require detail work (especially because tax time already gives me plenty of detail work). So I think I'm going to pack the YA layout away and focus on writing for now.

Ahoy! A plan!

The layout process

I'm a little light on sleep today, so instead of doing the entire layout process, I just set up all the remaining word-processing files so that they will be ready to lay out tomorrow. (I also laid out one chapter completely before deciding I was too tired.)

Because I'm using actual layout software this time (instead of jerry-rigging Word to do something it was never meant to do), I thought I'd go ahead and run through the process of laying out a physical book, in case there are people unfamiliar with it.

I'm using LibreOffice for a word processor and Scribus as layout software. I split the tasks between the two programs depending on which program seems to do it better.

In LibreOffice I:

  • set the body text font and font size (the idea is to pick a font that is legible when small--the smaller the type, the shorter the book, and the less it will cost. Times New Roman is a bad choice for this; I've used Palatino Linotype, which was OK, and Book Antiqua, which was better. Right now I'm using Georgia; Garamond is also a good one)
  • justify the text (to both the left and the right)
  • set the tabs for paragraph indents (you want these to take up as little space as possible while still making it obvious that there's a new paragraph)
  • remove the second hard return between paragraphs (a format I prefer for manuscripts) and replace it with a tab
  • Set the font size for the chapter number

In Scribus I:

  • make sure the chapter opens on the proper page (left or right) and set the correct page number for that section
  • set the line spacing
  • kill widows (in general I don't really care about orphans, and if a widow is long enough, I will let it live)
  • check for any really      wide      weird     word     spacing (this usually can be fixed with a hyphen or by fiddling with kerning/tracking)
  • fiddle with the chapter number so that it's in the right place and looks pretty
  • be sure the bottom lines of the facing pages on a spread line up with each other (typically only an issue on the first spread of the chapter because of that big fancy chapter number, but sometimes an issue after you kill a widow)
  • insert the art
  • set up the headers with the page numbers

I then print out the pages, making sure that they are true to size--this is really important, because stuff that looks weird at one size will look fine at another. When I'm done with the layout, I'll proof it, looking not only for regular errors but also errors in the headers, chapter numbers, art, and of course any really          wide          weird         word        spacing (orpossiblyverycrampedspacing).

Definitely don't stop with your first layout--we did three layout revisions when I worked in publishing!

Laying out!

I redid the first chapter--I pulled out my dusty copy of the first Harry Potter novel and decided that my type was way too big. What they did in that book was use more space between the lines to improve legibility, so I figured that was the way to do it (also, large type is just harder to lay out). My book's a YA book, but it's not a children's book, so I don't want the interior to look like it's intended for the very young.

Scribus is still working fine--I'm sure I'm not at peak efficiency or anything, but I'm getting used to its quirks. You still basically have to do some of the layout work in the word processing program (or, let's say it makes life a lot easier if you do)--of course, that was true for Quark as well, we always had to clean up the files before they went to the designers.

Anyway, I've laid out two chapters and will probably go lay out some more later on today. I think I'll tweak the interior design just a little (the chapter numbers and the page numbers are too similar), but other than that, it looks pretty good!

Scribus looks promising....

I'll start with a whine--where I live is currently covered in smoke, which has wreaked havoc with my ability to sleep (not to mention my ability to go outside).

But I managed to get enough Zs last night to take a shot at finding layout software (instead of using Word, because 1. I don't use Word or Windows any more, yay! and 2. I wanted to be more efficient). I was very pleasantly surprised to discover Scribus, which is free(!), and which at least looks like it's suitable for book layouts. DJ Mills actually did a series of blog posts about using the software, so that should be useful.

I guess that's the upside of waiting so long between books--software tends to get cheaper, and what used to be used only by a relative handful of full-time book designers is now used by many more self-published writers!

ETA: I have laid out a chapter! Complete with an illustration and chapter ornaments! Scribus is a little fiddly, and the supporting documentation is hardly well written, but it's much less fiddly than Word, and of course the price is right. Yay!

Progress report

I finished the inputs--YAY!!

I also rotated and cropped all the now-digitized art, and cleaned up two of them. One isn't going to need cleaning because it was drawn cleanly--don't ask me why or how. The truth is, my nieces aren't merely better at drawing than I am, they also know much more about how to draw, because for whatever reason our little town has a truly excellent art center where they genuinely educate the kids on technique.

So I have one illustration left to clean up, and then (here's the downside of the children having an arts education) I'm really going to have to clean up the drawings "by" the main character. Yes, even the 8-year-old knows enough technique to draft the drawing up in faint pencil and then trace over what she wants to keep in dark pen. I'm leaving some of the draft markings on the illustrations because 1. they look cool, and 2. it would be a real pain to get rid of every last one. But the main character is not supposed to be the kind of kid who drafts her drawings before she makes them, so every last little draft mark is going to have to go.

Progress report

The fourth illustration was found! Huzzah!

I input changes for seven more chapters, plus did some continuity checks. Then I scanned in the illustrations--that went better than expected, which is kind of a relief. The drawings will need a little cleaning up (some among my crack team of illustrators do not erase as carefully as they could), but there aren't a lot of weird digital artifacts or anything.

Pretty soon I will begin the layout--whoo-hoo! I'm going to try using actual layout software this time around (no more Word), presumably renting Adobe's.

Progress report

So, I'm back in action. I got the manuscript back from an adult beta reader, and I think there's some good feedback--it's interesting because many of the same things that confused the 12-year-old also confused the adult.

Speaking of the 12-year-old, her 8-year-old sister caught wind of the profit potential from illustrating books, and now she wants in on the action. (The deal for the older niece is that I'll pay her $10 an illustration for up to six illustrations--I gave her a deadline and everything.) Since the protagonist is seven, I may have the younger niece produce a couple of drawing "by" that character....

This will be cool if I can make it happen

As you might have imagined, life has Gotten Busy, and it's going to stay busy until the end of the month. But today I was hanging out with the older niece, who is one of the beta readers for my YA book, and she brought up that she's started the book and is really enjoying it (although a couple of things confuse her--some I think will become clear as she reads on, but some I've taken note need to be clarified). She's very into drawing and is pretty good at it, so she started drawing things from the book. Seeing that, I mentioned to her that if she were to, say, produce maybe five or six illustrations of different scenes at various points in the book, they could very well wind up in the finished product.

She was really excited by the idea initially...but she's already developed some performance anxiety. Like, she runs track, but she won't go to track meets because it's too much pressure. (She's about the age I was when I quit performing on stage because I realized there were people out there in the audience, so I can relate). You could see an hour later that the Wow! stage was waning and the Oh crap! stage had begun. That actually makes me want her to do it more--I'd like to help her power past the intimidation stage of things just to show her that it can be done--but I may have to provide some additional motivation (most likely $$$) to make it happen.

What has changed, and what will change

Today was spent talking to lawyer--on the upside, this was the first lengthy lawyer conversation that did not involve metaphorical rat abatement and dangerous tree removal but rather the planning of a metaphorical dream garden, one that I can envision being a pleasure (and not too big a hassle) to take care of.

This is all very good, but the issue remains: No matter how efficient and productive my metaphorical yard becomes, I have taken on a new job. It's not a full-time job, but it is a definite time commitment.

The flip side of this is that I am really, really excited about Trials--quite possibly the most excited I have ever been since I began writing it. When I read over what was written earlier, it was the first time in memory that I really enjoyed reading it and felt like I really wanted to finish it--because it's going to be such a great book when it's done!

(Which makes me grateful I didn't decide to force myself to write it when I was miserable and depressed. Again, Accordion Crimes stands as a warning, and one that I am glad I heeded. I personally believe that you can tell if an author is engaged by a work or if they're just trudging through because they feel they have to finish it, and I really didn't want to do that to the Trang series.)

So I am thinking about ways of making production more efficient when that comes around. I think this will be the book where I pay for real layout software (renting Adobe's, methinks, rather than coughing up $850 for QuarkXPress)--that should make that process less of a drag. (I could pay someone to lay it out for me, but honestly, I think I'm too much of a control freak for that.)

You may have noticed that I abandoned working on the audiobook--it was really dull work, and I just didn't have the stomach for it. I kind of figured that I wouldn't ever finish, but now that I'm feeling more upbeat . . . I don't think I'd do all the books, but maybe just finish the first one? Sometime? I looked at Lindsay Buroker's blog, which I haven't done in a while, and I noticed that she didn't do any audiobooks after her first three--but she still gets readers from Podiobooks. So maybe that's the way to go--just make it another free edition.

When I get around to it, anyway--that's definitely way down the list. . . .

Random linkage

Jaye Manus has a good post on how many conventions about books--even the prevalence of the novel--are the result of the economics of the old traditional-publishing industry. Take away things like the cost of producing a physical book and the limits of shelf space, and the possible formats really open up.

And this is a fascinating article from a few months ago in The New Yorker about K-pop (a.k.a. Korean pop music). While obviously performing songs is different from writing books, I do see similarities (the article exists, after all, because digitization has made it possible for an American writer to become mildly obsessed with a K-pop girls' group). The author writes:

When an entertainment industry is young, the owners tend to have all the power. In the early days of the movie business, Hollywood studios locked up the talent in long-term contracts. In the record business, making millions off artists, many of whom ended up broke, used to be standard business practice.

Of course, traditional publishing is hardly a young industry, but I would argue that owners tend to have the power when an industry is young because they're the ones who have figured out how to work the system and sell stuff. If they can shut out artists, then the same thing happens--if the only way to sell books is to get into a bookstore, and the only way to get into a bookstore is through a traditional publisher, that gives the publisher all the power.

Anyway, the punch line for the article is that, despite all the effort to sell squeaky-clean, highly-polished K-pop internationally, the first big breakout song was Psy's "Gagnam Style." Oops. Yeah, you never do know what's going to be a hit.

Spring may not be quite as horrible as I had thought

It sounds like things may actually happen on the out-of-state elderly relative front without my having to basically spend the entire spring there, doing every last thing myself. That would be wonderful, plus it would mean that I don't have to buy some kind of portable computing device in hopes of getting anything done, which is good. I may even be able to attend Norwescon!

I'm thinking about some beta tasks to do once the Trang audiobook is done. As it turns out, recording an audiobook is a good way to find typos (at one point Cheep is called Chip--funny how hard that is to catch when you're reading silently, but how glaringly obvious it is when you're reading aloud). So I've been marking those up as I find them, and I'll clean up the e-books when that's done with.

Of course, with the new computer, how should I do the e-book files? I think in the interest of efficiency I'll just use Calibre again--I'll save the learning curve for when I convert Trials.

Speaking of new software, I want to spend a little more quality time sorting out GIMP. Obviously, if I'm doing Norwescon, I'll do some flyers, but the other, more-sophisticated project I have in mind is to re-do the lettering on the cover of Trang and Trust. I think the author name should probably be a bit larger and easier to read, plus the title lettering could stand to look a little more elaborate (which I hope is something this program lets you do--my old program was pretty limited). The tweaking should also give me some practice with GIMP, which I'm going to need when I get around to doing the Trials cover. 

What else? David Gaughran had a good post about the importance of mailing lists--it's nothing that I didn't know, but I've been very lazy about creating one of those, mainly because I just don't think I have it in me to do a full-fledged newsletter. But I could just do new-book alerts and sale alerts--that sort of thing. I'll put it on the list, anyway, along with getting on Pintrest.

A good link about editors

Kris Rusch has a good post on editors--what kind you actually need, what kind you can probably replace with insightful beta readers. I've done a couple of posts on the subject, too. She talks about having a proofreader go over your layout after a copy editor goes over your manuscript--I've done fairly well by laying out my book first and then having a single person do both jobs at once. Saves money, anyway.

Crazy change

This (via PV) is a great meditation on how quickly publishing is changing nowadays.

[N]obody alive has twenty years of experience doing what you want to learn how to do. It’s like somebody telling people shopping for trucks in 1911 that they should listen to them because they’ve been a teamster for 30 years....

The very kinds of things that author/publishers are concerned with and trying to learn more about and evaluate every day–is Kindle Nation a better ROI than BookBud? How best to layer promos and ads around Select free days?–are completely beyond the understanding of people who spent decades in the old models–and see no need to unlearn and relearn because they are experts and already know it....

[P]ublishing is changing daily. Writers are re-examining what they learned earlier this year.

I love this because it doesn't apply only to the writers who made their bones decades ago, but to self-published writers today, including myself. One reason why successful self-published writers give such contradictory advice is that they broke out at different times, and methods that might have worked very well then may work less well now.

I worry about my DIY Publishing thingy, because I last updated it--OMG, twelve months ago! Some of the stuff won't go bad, but some of it I'm sure has already. Between the length of time it's going to take me to finish Trials and the fact that I've switched operating systems and will be using completely different software, I'll effectively be a newbie myself the next time I go through the production process!

It's difficult because with the Meetup group I organize, I have normal roundtable Meetups for the more-experienced people, but the newbies attend a seminar-like Meetup where I just tell them about self-publishing. I tell them, Wow, stuff is changing fast, and I try not to be too specific, but sure enough, every time someone comes up with something that I didn't know about, because I put Trust out a whopping six months ago. (Here's a useful thing: Amazon actually put out something helpful about book formatting.) Plus, since I'm going to put Trang on KDP Select, I've been ignoring the newer retail outlets like Kobo (I'll go on them once I'm done with KDP Select, never fear), so I don't know much about them.

Of course, it's silly of me to pressure myself to be an up-to-date expert on every facet of self-publishing--I'm a writer, that needs to be my focus. But the rate of change is phenomenal, that's for sure.

"I’m an author and I’m not good about this stuff"

Passive Voice has a post on Penguin suing authors for not delivering books that they received advances for. Obviously Penguin is a troubled company, and suing is kind of an odd decisions, since unless the advance was huge, suing costs more than just writing it off as a loss.

But forcing people to feel sympathy for Penguin is...Elizabeth Wurtzel! She gave an interview with NPR that contains the hilarious line:

I think at some point they did send me a letter about this. I mean, I think it’s one of those things that I probably should have dealt with and didn’t because I’m an author and I’m not good about this stuff.

She then goes on to say that Penguin shouldn't sue her, because having a relationship with her (you know, the kind of relationship where they give her $33,000 and she give them bupkis) is worth so much more. Sooooo much more!

The whole "I'm an author and I'm not good about this stuff" bit is especially implausible because, as Peter Winkler pointed out, Wurtzel used to be a lawyerShe also graduated from Harvard, was a journalist before getting fired for plagiarism, and pretended to be a lawyer before she actually was one! A woman of many talents, it seems.

And, you know, many problems, most of which appear to stem from her having an ENORMOUS sense of entitlement. Still, that attitude that if you are an author and an artiste, then you don't have to worry about piddly little crap like, I dunno, actually writing books is one that obviously has some traction with people who aren't as pathologically self-indulgent as Wurtzel.

It's an attitude that traditional publishing has encouraged--you don't ask authors to deliver clean files because they'll think it's beneath them. You keep the authors removed from the publishing process, that process remains an intimidating mystery to them, and then they won't run out and self-publish. Everybody wins--as long as "everybody" doesn't include writers or readers.

One of the many things I like about self-publishing is that it forces authors to not be snotty little prima donnas about everything--I mean, you can be, but it's going to cost you. Explicitly. Don't feel like leaving out that junk code? Hope you feel like paying a formatter two or three times as much as you would otherwise! Don't want to think about how you're going to position your book to readers? Get ready for poor sales and angry reviews by people who feel misled! Too brilliant to worry about the "technical" details of spelling and grammar? Be prepared to have many, many readers fail to understand your genius!

Random bits

Life stuff is interfering with writing, but with any luck, I'll start tomorrow. A couple of interesting tidbits.

1. The Foolscap flyers: Since response to the GeekGirlCon flyers was not what I had hoped, I decided to modify the flyers by removing the "it's free!" message from the header. The thinking was that maybe that message gave the book a bargain-basement type odor--you know, "I'm making it free because I know it's no good!"

Well, maybe it does, but apparently people don't mind a bargain--I have had NO redemptions of the free coupon on the Foolscap flyers. None whatsoever. "It's free!" is back in the header for Norwescon!

2. The Meetup: That went well, I thought--I enjoyed it, and people seemed happy with it. And something interesting came up: I mentioned that it's important to have a clickable table of contents in an e-book, and one woman said that she will not buy e-books that don't have them, because they are just too difficult to navigate. Something to think about--yes, it's a pain to do them, but IMO well worth the effort.