Journey or Destination?

One thing I notice in some novels is where an author has invested so much focus on a payoff – the ending climax scene – a lot of what came before feels like an afterthought.

I don’t care how well-written a climax may be.  If what precedes it is 70,000 words or more of filler, it’s almost a mercy to finally reach the ending, and it won’t deliver what it might have.

There’s a sense in some novels that they were too carefully pre-plotted and outlined – which is both a blessing and a curse.  Pre-plotting gives a roadmap for the author to follow.  But sometimes there is too great a reliance upon the map.  The author spends so much time looking down in their lap – following their own map – they forget what they should be communicating to their readers – which is the scenery they’re passing.

Scenery is what a story is about, and the destination is only the culmination of a journey.  The destination can feel like relief, an end to drudgery.  Or it can feel like the perfect next step that makes the journey complete.

There are some writers who make the “getting there” a lot of fun, pure entertainment all the way.

There are also stories padded with filler, and often filled with manufactured reasons to kick the can down the road long enough to meet a word-count.  These latter do neither author nor readers a service.

A key difference is that a “journey” author leaves the reader guessing, “What’s going to happen next.”  While a “destination” author has the reader wondering, “How will it end?”

There’s nothing wrong with a reader wanting to know how a story will end.  But that should lie behind a desire to keep reading and not miss what happens in-between.  Readers have a sense for contrived scenery – it feels as fake as plastic plants that populate cheap office spaces.  When a reader begins skimming and skipping ahead without a sense that anything worthwhile has been missed, there’s a problem.

The most re-readable stories – or movies, for that matter – are the ones whose journey outweighed the ending.  The ending was simply a very natural step in the progression, and often a great payoff nevertheless.  But everything that came before made it worthwhile.

In John Irving’s The World According to Garp, the title character’s latest work, born from pain in his own personal life, is given to the editor’s cleaning woman, Jillsy Sloper, to read.  She returned with it, bedraggled and exhausted, having finished the book in a sitting:

    “I shouldn’t have given it to you, Jillsy,” John Wolf said. “I should have remembered that first chapter.”
    “First chapter ain’t so bad,” Jillsy said. “That first chapter ain’t nothin’. It’s that nineteenth chapter that got me,” Jillsy said. “Lawd, Lawd!” she crowed.
    “You read nineteen chapters?” John Wolf asked.
    “You didn’t give me no more than nineteen chapters,” Jillsy said. “Jesus Lawd, is there another chapter? Do it keep goin’ on?”
    “No, no,” John Wolf said. “That’s the end of it. That’s all there is.”
    “If you hated it, why’d you read it, Jillsy?” John Wolf asked her.
    “Same reason I read anythin’ for,” Jillsy said. “To find out what happens.”
    John Wolf stared at her.
    “Most books you know nothin’s gonna happen,” Jillsy said. “Lawd, you know that. Other books,” she said, “you know just what’s gonna happen, so you don’t have to read them, either. But this book,” Jillsy said, “this book’s so sick you know somethin’s gonna happen, but you can’t imagine what. You got to be sick yourself to imagine what happens in this book,” Jillsy said.
    “So you read it to find out?” John Wolf said.
    “There surely ain’t no other reason to read a book, is there?” Jillsy Sloper said.
    “You want a copy?” John Wolf asked.
    “If it’s no trouble,” Jillsy said.
    “Now that you know what happens,” John Wolf said, “what would you want to read it again for?”
    “Well,” Jillsy said. She looked confused; John Wolf had never seen Jillsy Sloper look confused before–only sleepy. “Well, I might lend it,” she said. “There might be someone I know who needs to be reminded what men in this world is like,” she said.
    “Would you ever read it again yourself?” John Wolf asked.
    “Well,” Jillsy said. “Not all of it, I imagine. At least not all at once, or not right away.” Again, she looked confused. “Well,” she said, sheepishly, “I guess I mean there’s parts of it I wouldn’t mind readin’ again.”
    “Why?” John Wolf asked.
    “Lawd,” Jillsy said, tiredly, as if she were finally impatient with him. “It feels so true,” she crooned, making the word true cry like a loon over a lake at night.
“It feels so true,” John Wolf repeated.
“Lawd, don’t you know it is?” Jillsy asked him. “If you don’t know when a book’s true,” Jillsy sang to him, “we really ought to trade jobs.”

 

A good journey isn’t purely linear – although there is always a sense along the way that we’re being taken toward a particular destination.  Stephen King’s The Stand is almost 500,000 words and never predictable from one chapter to the next – but there is always a feeling that the characters we’ve encountered and are following are going to meet one another somewhere down the road – and it isn’t going to be pretty when it happens.  Richard Bach’s Illusions is about one-tenth the size of King’s opus, and still makes each chapter a new revelation.  Word-count should never be a concern with making a story interesting.

I feel like some authors fear that with the demands of word-count and concerns with pacing, their stories can’t deviate too far left or right.  But eyes-forward gives the reader only a view of the road ahead – not terribly interesting or encouraging when we know we’re 70 miles (or 70,000 words) from our destination.  A writer needs to put their story into the eyes and experiences of a passenger rather than a driver, and allow the reader to see what is happening around them while making it interesting enough to want to go on.  Word-count is never an excuse for thin characters and contrived plotting.

How to make things interesting along the way is up to the author.  The most common ways are to introduce new characters and bring out more elements of the plot – including revelatory moments, mini-crises, and plot twists.  The problem comes in because “destination” authors are still thinking of road maps and directions.  Characters who are introduced may then have no more depth or dimension than a road sign.  Turn them sideways and they almost disappear.  Plot elements and twists become trite, intended only to stretch out a journey – along with a reader’s patience.

One common complaint about some novels is a “whiny” main character.  Imagine being trapped in a car for almost a hundred miles with someone whiny.  That’s about how fun it can be for a reader trapped in a story with such a character.  Whiny isn’t interesting, and what a reader expects from a story is that the characters – and this includes secondary characters – be interesting.  We don’t have to even like characters to want to journey along with them.  Stephen King has spent most of his career peopling his stories with characters readers often don’t like, but who we still find interesting enough to follow.

One of the signs that a book delivers on its promise is when readers look back and remember favorite scenes, captured like treasured snapshots of their journey.  It’s easier to accomplish that when an author isn’t worrying as much only about their destination and can make each chapter interesting – rather than using them as filler or transition points.  I really feel that each chapter of a book should be capable of standing on its own, even when it’s woven into the overall structure of the story.  Many of my favorite books are the ones I can pick up and flip forward to chapters and enjoy them as much as any other.

There was a blogger who used to do wrap-ups of the show Lost and would skip over the “transition” points in many episodes by writing, Walking through the Jungle. Walking through the Jungle. Walking through the Jungle.  Transition chapters and scenes can be made interesting.  But sometimes a reader has the sense the only reason they were written was to take a reader from here to over there.

Good chapters and good stories make a reader forget they’re being taken someplace.  A reader ought to be too busy enjoying the scenery, looking around, and curiously excited about what comes next than to worry so much about getting to the ending.

Authors need to think like a reader and give their readers that kind of experience.

Elements of a Novel

A novel is a tapestry of elements woven together in a way that feels right to the reader.

There is plenty of variation to play with, and every writer brings a different balance to the elements that make up their story.  The individual pieces or the sum of the parts will resonate or strike discordant notes with any number of readers.  That’s simply a given.  No two people ever respond in the same way to anything we see, read, or otherwise experience.  All an author can do is to try to  weave these elements in as effective a way as they can.

Characters

Readers (and even writers) don’t need to like a character to enjoy them.  But the characters need to feel real and compelling enough that we want to know what they’ll do and what will happen with them.  Stephen King said this about Carrie:  I never got to like Carrie White and I never trusted Sue Snell’s motives in sending her boyfriend to the prom with her, but I did have something there.

A writer has to understand their characters – whether they like them or not – in order to breathe them into life for a reader.  This holds true with secondary characters – who too often get shortchanged or overlooked in many stories.  A thinly-developed secondary character is like a Card-Guard from Alice in Wonderland.  Every time they turn sideways they disappear.  They’re all too often treated as filler, and excuses are sometimes that modern novel word-limits make character development more difficult.  But a good storyteller can make a secondary character come sharply to life with only a few brushstrokes.

Mood

Every story has a mood that defines it.  You feel this when you read a story.  And if you’re a writer, you should be feeling it when you’re writing it, to better communicate it to your readers.  A story isn’t just words connected to plot and characters.  A story is something more – it’s an idea that connects a writer’s imagination to that of a reader.  There’s a magic about it when it’s done well.  The mood will shape all the other elements – the pacing, character motivations, descriptive prose, everything.  Horror novels are obviously dependent upon mood, but so are romances, and thrillers, and westerns, and sci-fi and every other genre.  Great stories make you feel and you can identify that feeling just by thinking about the book.  No matter what anyone says about Twilight (for the record, I haven’t read the books, but saw the movies and enjoyed them, and I have no problem with whether the writing is “good” or not, because the stories were successful for what they were supposed to be) – fans of the series felt the stories.

External and Internal Struggles / Challenges

I believe the best stories have both external and internal struggles and challenges.  They don’t need to be in equal balance, and their focus can depend as much on genre as the story itself.  Thrillers can often get away with almost entirely a focus on external (although many thrillers also incorporate strong internal elements).

I believe it’s important to develop stories where the character at the end of the story is not unchanged from the one who began it.  Readers are taking a journey along with the characters, and they want to feel changed by the experience just as much as the characters are changed.  Sometimes this kind of transformation is mistaken for external change – in urban fantasy/paranormal especially, sometimes there is too much focus on tacking on more and more powers to a character to demonstrate the way they have changed.  Writers and readers should be able to easily answer the question, “was the character different by the end” with a resounding “Yes!” rather than, “Sort of.”

External crises are there so the characters (and by extension the readers) can feel changed by what happens and in the aftermath.  There should be a maturation and an affect whenever possible – and not done in a cheap way but rather in a believable manner.  The end result is not always that a character has to be “better” but only that they have to be changed.  Internal and external can very easily be woven together to make a stronger storyline.  Kelley Armstrong always does this.  So does Patricia Briggs.  Anne Rice did this with many of her Vampire Chronicles books.  Richard Bach did it with Illusions.  Stephen King has done it numerous times with many of his books.  It strengthens a story and makes a reader connect just that much more.

Dialogue

Dialogue can be tough, and more so because there really isn’t a single way to portray it.  As well, what people consider to be “good” dialogue changes over time.  You’ll find different dialogue styles across genres – thrillers, westerns, romances, literary fiction, etc.  And even within genres, writers develop distinct trademarks to the way they develop and portray dialogue.

What most successful dialogue shares is a terse compactness that distills the idea of what is being said into a way that translates for reading.  When we speak aloud with someone, much of what is said isn’t really needed.  In written dialogue, we want to strip away the unnecessary parts and communicate the ideas that really matter, and we want to do it in a way that zips the story along.  The latter is why pretty much everyone agrees that dialogue tags are usually either best left out altogether whenever possible, or at least restricted to “said” or “asked” because readers will mentally skip over these familiar tags.  When a writer decides to demonstrate their vocabulary with creative tags other than these two main ones, a reader may pause for a moment before continuing, in the way that records used to skip (back when people used record players).  There’s nothing wrong with an occasional “whispered” or “yelled” (although the latter can be better communicated with simply the exclamation point and “yelled” would only be needed if attribution of who said what was required), but it should be occasional.

Ditto for using adverbial qualifiers to dialogue tags.  Nothing wrong with a very occasional “she said softly,” but not every single piece of dialogue requires this.  If the dialogue works in the way it should, a reader should be hearing what’s being spoken as well as already feeling how it’s being said, just from the way the scene is unfolding.

Pacing

Pacing can be difficult to define because it can end up being a little subjective.  It’s possible to read a page-turner doorstop of a novel or an interminable 85,000-word novel with short sentences but not enough sense of movement.  Some of this depends upon any given reader, but a lot still depends on the writer.  A writer has to consider what really does or does not need to appear in a work, and how to keep a reader turning pages.

Bad pacing usually is synonymous with boredom.  When a reader begins skipping passages, the pacing is the problem.  Redundant explanations, long-winded dialogue in which more than is necessary is communicated, and too much description where nothing really happens – all of these things contribute to pacing issues.

Still…it’s not enough just to “make something happen.”  Readers need to actually care that something is happening.  Set-pieces that feel tossed in just to move a story along can be transparent because a reader intuits that they serve no purpose.  A writer should try to make everything interesting.  Make the characters interesting.  Make the things they say to one another interesting.  Make the inner turmoils of the main character interesting.  Trivial doesn’t work so well, and neither do predictable pretend-crisis points that feel overly manufactured.

Get The Details Right

If you’re writing in sci-fi, you probably have a lot of leeway in this. If you’re writing any story grounded in the world we live in (or in history as it really happened), you should make every attempt to get the details right.  Because bad details that a reader recognizes are wrong have a very jarring effect and can undermine the believability of the world you’re trying to convince readers to share.

If a writer is going to describe a real location, they should either visit or at least do enough research to be able to convince someone who actually lives there.  Zipping from one end of Los Angeles to the other in 15 minutes, or Manhattan, or Seattle or any other major city is a clumsy mistake.  Getting the weather wrong is another.  Putting mountains and hills and rivers and other geographical features where they don’t exist is another.  All that’s needed are some nuances that make a setting come alive just enough.  That really isn’t hard to do – as long as the nuances are right.

A writer could choose to make things generic in order to avoid such problems.  In some circumstances, this can be a great solution.  But in the wrong hands, it can prevent the reader from being drawn into a story where the settings are bland.  And in any event, a setting should feel real to a reader whether or not it’s placed in a real locale or a fictional one.  Stephen King has almost always made his locale a character unto itself.  The town in Salem’s Lot was a character.  So was the town of Derry in It.  Both of these are fictional places, but he based them upon settings he was familiar with.

There’s less wrong with getting obscure details incorrect.  Patricia Briggs freely used silver bullets in her early Mercy Thompson books, until she and her husband decided to investigate how or whether they would actually work.  After considerable experimentation (which I’d highly recommend anyone read if they’re curious), they came up with solutions which she incorporated into the fifth book, Silver Borne.  Truthfully, few people would even know the difficulties any more than they did when the Lone Ranger featured his silver bullets.  Still, it’s nice to explore that kind of thing.

As well, movies and television regularly abuse the realities of technology – besides the many “hacking scenes” there’s also the magic involved in making pixels multiply in sudden new detail when “zoom and enhance” are utilized.  But most people aren’t aware of these kinds of things (ditto for Hollywood gun myths) so it’s quite possible to get some obscure details incorrect or at least fudge them with semi-plausible explanations.  Stephen king has regularly changed revolvers to automatics and so on.  And a little fantasy injected into a basis of current technology is a great way to make a story entertaining.  A good example is the entire premise of Jurassic Park in which Crichton did extensive research into the science but needed a way to extract dino-DNA, settling upon blood found in mosquitoes frozen in amber – despite the fact that this is probably not possible currently.

Writers have to choose what details matter to get right, and which not to worry so much about.  The choice depends upon what percentage of readers are likely to be irked, so the burden rises with the wideness of familiarity among readers with whatever details are being used.

Believability

This ties in with several other elements – Characters, Dialogue, and Getting Details Right, especially.  A reader has to be able to suspend disbelief and fall into the story.  Characters have to feel real, their struggles identified with, the things they say to one another should be mirrored in the reader’s mind, and settings should come alive.  Fail enough times, and a reader loses their belief.  It isn’t easy to earn it back.

Suspense / Intrigue

This goes along with other elements as well – particularly Pacing, Characters, and External/Internal Struggles and Challenges.  A reader should care about what is happening enough to keep turning pages.  It’s important to emphasize that suspense and intrigue are about the ongoing story and not about any special surprise planned to wrap everything all up.

A story does not even require a satisfying climax in order to be enjoyable.  The best stories are the ones where they’re still enjoyable even when the climax is already known – these are the books we re-read or the movies we see more than once.  Stephen King’s The Stand has a sort of anti-climatic climax but the development and build-up have always made this book one of the favorites among his fans.  M. Night Shyamalan probably hit the best notes with The Sixth Sense – because the story itself was the best part rather than just the twist ending.

Resolutions That Feel Right

I’ve read books where the whole of the book was enjoyable but the story fell flat at the end.  Often, this is because the characters didn’t seem to change in the ways that the storyline had been promising all along.  Happy or sad endings don’t matter – as long as the ending feels right.  When an ending is hackneyed, readers will feel cheated and their forgiveness will only depend upon how strong the rest of the story had been.

Writers tread a very careful line with reader expectations.  Readers have come along on a journey and have certain things they believe will make the ending worthwhile.  Writers feel a need to both surprise and match expectations, and sometimes this results in either being a little too creative in the surprises.  The results can either fall flat, or come so far out of left field as to make a reader shake their head, or completely dismay a reader by turning the story in a whiplash move from the direction in which things had been going.  A writer (and the reader) should be able to look at a resolution and believe that “this made sense, based on what had come before.”

Readers accept some level of coincidence.  There’s even an acceptance of MacGyver solution-finding if it’s plausible enough and wasn’t just hacked into a plot at the last minute. The problem is that some authors mistake the concept of Chekhov’s Gun (effective foreshadowing and use of impending plot elements) with the appropriateness of introducing unlikely elements early in a story so they can be miraculously “used” to save the day at the end.  It’s the literary equivalent of having a character carry around a screwdriver for next to no reason simply because the author plans to have the character locked into a room at the end, and only their handy screwdriver lets them remove the screws from the hinges and open the door.  This is just lazy plotting, and it happens with some frequency.

It doesn’t mean main characters cannot die, or bad things happen.  It just has to make sense.

No Deus Ex Machina or Author Interventions

Sometimes an author writes their story into such a hole that only a deus ex machina (an unlikely event, literally a “god from the machine” or godly intervention) can save the day and extract the character(s).

It’s even worse when the characters’ own actions put them in such a predicament, and a typical reader believes those actions were dumb and a very transparent attempt from the author just to put the characters in danger.  Having characters choose to split up (when they’re already facing danger) or choose not to tell someone else where they’re going are very often used in plotlines.  Sometimes, these can work, but they better have pretty logical explanations in order for this to happen.  Readers don’t enjoy reading about dumb characters, and especially not about smart characters who suddenly do dumb things just to make a crisis happen.

Deus Ex Machina and Author Interventions jar a reader out of a story.  They are transparent attempts by a clumsy writer to recover the pieces of a story that they’ve allowed to get away from them.  The reader can actually see the writer’s hands dipping into the story in front of their eyes – moving characters around and lifting them up out of danger.

It isn’t a pretty sight.

Bad plotting and frankly even over-plotting can lead to these kinds of situations.  Sometimes there’s too much reliance upon where a story is supposed to be going, so a writer feels the need to continually nudge and push characters toward that destination – “Here’s where I want you to go.  There’s a good girl.”  Pretend characters are really living and breathing people with motivations of their own, and just let them move of their own free will.  If you’ve imagined them in the way they belong, they’ll go where they need to without any intervention.  And where they need to go may not even be where the writer thinks they need to go.  There’s a thought.

Some writers are a little too much like the fabled helicopter-parents, controlling too many aspects of their children’s lives and shielding or extracting them from any hint of danger.  No reader wants to have a helicopter-parent-author hovering around and dipping into the story with a whir of rotor-blades to save their precious characters.

So avoid forcing characters into situations in a clumsy and transparent way, when the only plan is to extract them in an equally clumsy and transparent way.  You want readers to believe, and they’ll believe more when they don’t see the author getting between them and the story.

CreateSpace Document Settings

Since I’ve already done guides for formatting for the Kindle and for the Nook, I thought I’d address formatting for CreateSpace as well.

CreateSpace can seem a little confusing even compared to eBook formatting requirements.

Before looking at my own guide, I’d invite people to read over various guides and suggestions on CreateSpace’s own site.  Here are some very helpful ones:

While all of this may seem like a lot, and appear rather confusing – particularly with all the PDF settings – there seems to be some flexibility because people certainly approach it from many different angles and somehow get their documents uploaded even without being technical experts.  So no reason to feel daunted.

The CreateSpace interior templates (found on this page – scroll down) are one way to start.  Some people like them.  Others simply format their own Word document as indicated by CreateSpace guidelines.

The templates are not perfect.  There are some residual and inconsistent fonts in them (as of this writing) that need to be replaced to whatever you want your font to be.

Obviously, anyone’s book will be customized according to what they want for their front matter (the pages before the book begins, such as Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, Table of Contents, Acknowledgements, Foreword/Introduction, etc.).

I prefer utilizing one of CreateSpace’s templates and simply making changes to fit my needs.  I don’t find it too hard to do that, but anyone can easily format a document from scratch to match the templates.  I’ll address a few things here before getting into formatting.

SECTIONS

What you’ll notice when you download one of CreateSpace’s templates is the use of Sections – where individual pages of Front Matter each have their own Section while the actual text of the novel all resides in another unified section.  The purpose for this is to allow formatting distinct to the needs of each page of Front Matter, as well as to contain page numbering and formatting for the actual text in one clearly defined section.

PAGE BREAKS and SECTION BREAKS

CreateSpace templates rely on Sections to define each page of Front Matter and utilize Page Breaks after each Chapter.

PAGE NUMBERING

Normally, Front Matter is either not numbered at all, or lowercase Roman Numerals are sometimes utilized.  I prefer not to number Front Matter at all.  Actual numerical page numbers begin with the text itself.  So even though your actual text begins after many pages of front matter, where your text begins will be numbered as “Page 1.”

FONTS

People use a variety of fonts.  Some fonts are designed to look great for the text.  Others are designed to excel as Chapter Titles, and others for Book Titles.  Some fonts do not scale down or up very well.  So even if a font looks great for a Book Title, it may not scale down well to use for Chapter Titles or even smaller for Text.  And vice-versa.

I like to use Georgia for Chapter Titles as well as for page numbering in the footers and for author/title in the headers.  It’s a clear and clean font that looks nicely defined.  For text, I really like Cambria, particularly in 11-point size.  Cambria is one of the best fonts for handling the transition between plain/regular and italics.  If your text utilizes any italics, you should plan to experiment and print pages using different fonts and point-sizes to determine which font best suits your needs.  Some fonts handle italics better than others.  I feel Cambria is one of the best that’s fairly widely used.

Now let’s look at the nitty-gritty of Formatting.

Assuming the 6″x9″ Template is being utilized, the entire document should reflect this Page Setup:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sections

  • Section 1 – Title Page
  • Section 2 – Copyright
  • Section 3 – Dedication
  • Section 4 – Blank
  • Section 5 – Table of Contents
  • Section 6 – Blank
  • Section 7 – Acknowledgements
  • Section 8 – Blank
  • Section 9 – Text of the Book (including About The Author)
  • The first 8 sections’ Headers will use Page Setup with CENTERED Vertical Alignment in Page Layout
  • Section 9’s Header will use Page Setup with TOP Vertical Alignment in Page Layout
* * * Note * * * The reason “Blank” pages are inserted is so certain pages will be on the right-hand side of a book when you read it.  When you open a book, the “Title Page” is on the right, flip it and you see the “Copyright Page” on the left, “Dedication” on the right, then often a “Blank” page on the left and “Table of Contents” on the right,” and a “Blank” page on the left with Chapter 1 beginning on the right.

For Vertical Alignment for the sections as noted above:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page Numbering (Footer) and Author Name and Title (Header)

  • Begin numbering as 1 on first page of Chapter 1
  • Begin Author Name in Header on Page 2 (Left side)
  • Begin Title in Header on Page 3 (Right side)
See below for Microsoft Word 2010 Header and Footer “Same as Previous” settings to ensure page numbering in the Footer and Author/Title in the Header work as they should:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fonts

  • Title – MoolBoran 70
  • Author Name – MoolBoran 34
  • Copyright Page – Cambria 11
  • Dedication – Cambria 11 Italics
  • Table of Contents – Georgia 11
  • Acknowledgements – Cambria 11
  • Book – Cambria 11
  • HEADERS – Georgia 14 ALL-CAPS
  • Page Numbers (Footer) – Georgia 10
  • Author and Title (Header) – Georgia 9

Section and Page Breaks

  • Section Breaks after each Section
  • Page Breaks only at the end of each Chapter

Notes

  • Update ISBN and Date on Copyright Page
  • Make sure all Chapters are Full Justified

Book Paragraph Format (after story begins)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ADDITIONAL NOTES

The CreateSpace templates can get a little finicky with Styles because they set these templates up with custom styles, and Microsoft Word loves to re-style things when you hit a backspace or delete or enter key.  What will often happen is that you may suddenly encounter a change to a Font or Line Spacing.  This is just one of the quirks that make Microsoft Word so helpful/endearing/supply your own term while gritting teeth.

Headers and Footers can be quirky to work with in various versions of Microsoft Word.  There are a number of settings that can be used and Word’s Header and Footer functions tends to be one of the more idiosyncratic elements.

The First Line Indent and Line Spacing I illustrated above in Book Paragraph Format (after story begins) are the ones I utilize with Cambria 11-point font.  If you use a different Font or Point-Size, you should experiment with your own First Line Indent and Line Spacing.  Some people prefer to specify a Line Spacing of “Multiple 1.15” or similar, for example.

Creating the PDF Document

I’m only going to address using Adobe X – which is what I use.  If you’re utilizing another PDF creator, please refer to some of the links I referenced at the beginning of this guide.

Step 1 – Set up CreateSpace PreFlight

As mentioned earlier in this guide, CreateSpace PreFlight checks to ensure that a PDF will match CreateSpace’s requirements.  (This part of the guide utilizes help from the CreateSpace forums):

  1. Download CreateSpace PreFlight and unzip the files
  2. Open Adobe X (which is what I’m using for this guide)
  3. Click on “Tools” on the right hand menu
  4. If you don’t see “Print Production” as an option
  5. Click on the “Show or hide panels” in the top right hand side of the panel
  6. Check “Print Production” and the panel should now show up under “Tools”
  7. Click on “Print Production” and you will see  “Preflight”
  8. Click on “Preflight” and nothing will look like what you need.
  9. Click on the “Options” menu and you will see “Import Preflight Profile and then you are home free
  10. Point it to the “kdf” file and you are off and running

See screenshot below for illustration:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 2 – Set up a CreateSpace Default PDF Profile and Convert Your File

For Adobe Acrobat Version 9.0 and Above:

1.    Open your document
2.    Go to “File,” and then “Print”
3.    Choose “Adobe PDF” as the printer in the drop-down menu
4.    Click “Properties”
5.    Go to the “Default Settings” drop-down menu, and click “Edit”
6.    Go to the General tab
7.    Choose “Acrobat 5.0” under “Compatibility”
8.    Choose “Off,” under “Object Level Compression”
9.    Choose “Off,” under “Auto-Rotate Pages”
10.    Go to the Images tab
11.    Change the resolution of Color Images to Bicubic Downsample to “305” pixels per inch for images above “320” pixels per inch, also change the compression to “JPEG” and image quality to “Maximum”
12.    Change the resolution of Grayscale Images to Bicubic Downsample “305” pixels per inch for images above “320” pixels per inch, also change the compression to “JPEG” and Image quality to “Maximum”
13.    Go to the Fonts tab
14.    Deselect the “Subset embedded fonts” option
15.    Select all of the fonts under “Font Source,” and add them to “Always Embed”
16.    Go to the Color tab
17.    Select “Leave Color Unchanged,” under Color Management Policies”
18.    Click “Save As,” name the job option “CreateSpace,” and click “Save”
19.    Click “OK” and ensure “Adobe PDF Security” is set to “None”
20.    Select the appropriate page size for your document or create a new size if needed
21.    Deselect “Rely on system fonts only; do not use document fonts,” then click “OK”
22.    Click “OK,” you will be prompted to name and save your file

* * * Note * * * Once you have set up your CreateSpace Default PDF Profile you should be able to convert future documents by only doing the following steps:

1)      Open Word Document
2)      Go to “Print” page (CTRL-P)
3)      Change Printer to Adobe PDF
4)      Click on “Printer Properties”
5)      Change “Default Settings” dropdown to “CreateSpace”
6)      Change “Adobe PDF Page Size” to 6×9
7)      Un-check the box for “Rely on system fonts only; do not use document fonts”
8)      Click “OK”
9)      Click on the “Print” button, select location and file name, and convert to PDF

 

Step 3 – Run CreateSpace PreFlight on your PDF File

1)  Open the PDF you have just created

2)  Click on Tools (upper-right) and select “Preflight” underneath “Print Production”

3)  Make sure “CreateSpace PrePress” is selected and click on “Analyze”

4)  The only errors should be relating to Font embedding (yellow warnings only)

* * * Note * * * Font embedding yellow warnings are simply a notification that your font changed at various points in your document.  Every time a font shifts in size or style, it generates one of these warnings.  Don’t worry about Font embedding yellow warnings.  For any other warnings, you may wish to contact CreateSpace or post on the CreateSpace forums to try to resolve.

Additional – General Text Formatting

You want your book to look good.  Prior to creating the PDF, I would strongly encourage anyone to review their Word document so that what they see really will be what they get, and they will be happy with the result.

Things to consider are:

  • Justification inserts too much space so a line looks less than stellar.  Solution – either utilize hyphens to break up a word, or re-word that line slightly.
  • Scene breaks that occur at the end of a page.  Normally, an extra paragraph return (blank line) indicates a scene break.  When this happens between pages, and particularly when one scene ends with dialogue and the next scene begins with new dialogue, it can temporarily confuse a reader.  Solution – insert a scene break indicator of your choice where blank space allows – either at the end of that page or the beginning of the next page, to cue a reader a scene break occurred.  I prefer using four spaced hyphens centered to indicate such a scene break.
  • Punctuation problems.

Here are some punctuation issues that I also discussed in the Kindle Formatting Guide:

1)  Make sticky Em-Dashes.  Em-Dashes need to be made “sticky” so they remain associated with the word preceding them (they cannot easily be made “sticky” to both words before and after).  The reason you’re doing this is again – Kindle allows users to make all kinds of text customizations so you have no control where a line will wrap to the next line.  Your text will look more professional by keeping your em-dashes sticky.  And even if they were sticky when you originally wrote them, they lost that when you copied the document into Notepad and then into a new Word document.  Fortunately, this can be done automatically using Edit-Replace and is fast.  You probably have two possibilities – either two dashes () or an existing em-dash () that you will replace with ^+ which can also be found under Special in Edit-Replace (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

2)  Make sticky Hyphens.  Same as with em-Dashes, although sticky hyphens stick to both the word before and the word after.  If you don’t make hyphens sticky, it’s possible a Kindle user may see a line that has an example of two connected words breaking with the hyphen at the beginning of the next line.  Do an Edit-Replace and search for hyphens (-) and replace with ^~   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note:  If you ever need to manually insert sticky hyphens, you can type this wherever one needs to occur:  CTRL-SHIFT-Dash (don’t type the word “Dash” but use the hyphen symbol)

3)  Make sticky non-breaking Ellipses.  Ellipses are where you have those three little dots…   There are all kinds of rules about ellipses as far as dot sizing or spacing (some style manuals prefer them to be a different sized dot than a following period, to distinguish them – because no way we could recognize a sentence that just ended…. ).  This is Kindle, so keep it simple.  If you do not make Ellipses Sticky and Non-Breaking, you will have instances where a user will see the three dots broken up onto separate lines when they come at the end of a line, or following punctuation (end-quote, question mark, or period) will end up on its own line.

You can Edit-Replace like before, but care must be taken because there are four variations.  So do not do a “Replace All.”  Also, depending on how your ellipses already appear in the document, you will probably first have to locate one and put it in the “Find what” field of the Edit-Replace box.  This is because your Word template may originally have auto-corrected any instances of three dots into an ellipsis which technically is a single object (whereas three dots are three different objects).  So searching for three dots (…) might not find anything in this Kindle document.  So scroll through it to where you know you have an ellipsis, and copy it so you can put it in the “Find what” field of the Edit-Replace box.

Variations:

  • Ellipsis before end-quote (space-dot-space-dot-space-dot)  ^s.^s.^s.
  • Ellipsis between words (add another space ^s after last dot)  ^s.^s.^s.^s
  • Ellipsis before Question mark (add another space ^s after last dot) ^s.^s.^s.^s
  • Ellipsis at end of plain sentence (add another space-dot ^s. to end sentence)  ^s.^s.^s.^s.

Examples:

  • “I was thinking . . .”
  • “I thought . . . you weren’t going to leave.”
  • “So what exactly were you . . . ?”
  • The sky was gray, and the snow began to fall . . . .
The last example is where style guides would prefer a definitive period rather than an equal-sized dot.
What you will do is an Edit-Replace search for each of these instances, so you will have to go to each one and decide whether to replace, depending on which of the four situations you encounter.  Note that both Ellipsis Between Word and Ellipsis Before Question Mark use the same solution of ^s.^s.^s.^s
So you will technically have three possible solutions (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Note:  You can create these manually by variations of the following:

CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE Period CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE Period CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE Period

4)  Get rid of any instances of two spaces between sentences.  Books only have one space between sentences, even though many of us were taught to use two spaces between sentences.  Easy to do:  Edit-Replace and search for however many spaces you think might have happened.  If you feel you might have even done triple-spaces, start with those and replace with a single space before doing an Edit-Replace for double spaces.

5)  Get rid of spaces that happen at the end of paragraphs.  Sometimes you may have decided to break a longer paragraph into two smaller ones and there is a hanging space at the end of the first one.  This can potentially cause an extra blank line between paragraphs if a user has configured their Kindle text such that the space makes a line a little too long.

There are four variations and you can automatically replace them with Edit-Replace.  They’re easy to find because it will involve punctuation, a space, and a hard return:

Old New
. ^p .^p
? ^p ?^p
! ^p !^p
” ^p ”^p

6)  Get rid of spaces that happen at the beginning of paragraphs.  Same happenstance as above but two easy variations of Edit-Replace.

Don’t use the word SPACE or NOSPACE.  Those are to show what is or isn’t there for this example.  The second variant with quotes probably won’t be needed, but just in case:

Old New
^pSPACE ^pNOSPACE
^pSPACE ^pNOSPACE

7)  Fix any instances where Word decided to use an end-quote rather than a begin-quote at the start of a paragraph:

Old New
^p” ^p“
. ” . “

8 )  Fix any instances of straight-quotes with curly-quotes.  Per this link:

Microsoft Word automatically changes straight quotation marks ( ‘ or ” ) to curly (smart or typographer’s) quotes ( Smart single quotation marks or Smart double quotation marks ) as you type.

To turn this feature on or off:

  1. On the Tools menu, click AutoCorrect Options, and then click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.
  2. Under Replace as you type, select or clear the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box.

 Note   You can find and replace all instances of single or double curly quotes with straight quotes in your document. To do this, clear the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box on the AutoFormat As You Type tab. On the Edit menu, click Replace. In both the Find what and Replace with boxes, type or , and then click Find Next or Replace All.

To replace all straight quotes with curly quotes, select the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box, and repeat the find and replace procedure.

Ketchup on a Steak

I’m a literary omnivore.

I read a range of things (see a list of some picks).  My to-be-read pile has a very eclectic mix:

Those Who Hunt By Night – Barbara Hambly
Fear Unnamed – Tim Lebbon
The Passage – Justin Cronin
They Thirst – Robert McCammon
The Mothers – Vardis Fisher
The Disappearance – Philip Wylie
Distress – Greg Egan
Earth Abides – George R. Stewart
11/22/63 – Stephen King
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Time After Time – Jack Finney
The Conquest of Gaul – Julius Caesar
The Civil War – Julius Caesar
Scipio Africanus – B.H. Liddell Hart
The Landmark Thucydides – Robert B. Strassler
The Landmark Herodus – Robert B. Strassler
Guns, Germs, and Steel – Jared Diamond
Masters of the Air – Donald L. Miller
D-Day – George E. Koskimaki
Hell’s Highway – George E. Koskimaki
The Battered Bastards of Bastogne – George E. Koskimaki
A Blood-Dimmed Tide – Gerald Astor
June 6, 1944 – Gerald Astor
The Return of Little Big Man – Thomas Berger
Past Worlds: Atlas of Archaeology – Collin Renfrew

I began reading a lot in kindergarten, and early in elementary school my mother would accompany me to the county public library because her adult card allowed her to check out more books than my kid’s card did.

I read much of my elementary school’s library across a range from Encyclopedia Brown to biographies of people like Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Edgar Allan Poe to Damon Runyon, Mark Twain to Judy Blume.

I remember when I was in third grade I would read my mother’s Harlequin Romance novels when I ran out of something to read.

I’ve continued the variety into adulthood.

One thing that any reader and writer is faced with is taste.  No one knows what sparks someone’s taste buds, exciting them with the flavors they’re experiencing.  And what resonates with one person can fall flat with another.  Doesn’t mean the story sucks.  It just means it didn’t strike the right notes.

I’m aware when I run across issues with plotting, cliches, awkward dialogue, etc.  But to be honest – none of that has ever been an impediment to a book catching fire with an audience.  Many bestsellers have fallen under criticism for less-than-award-winning writing.  Bridges of Madison County had lines like, “You’re big-time elegant, Francesca, in the purest sense of that word.”  Twilight has faced criticism from even Stephen King.

Personally, I don’t give a crap and try to stay out of that kind of thing.

I like it when people read.  I especially like it when they read my own work – and enjoy it.  But I think it’s great for anyone to discover what it is that sets their imagination aflame when they read a particular work.  The two books I just mentioned did that.  Maybe not for everyone, but they did what their authors wanted and did it to a phenomenal degree.

I think I’m sort of an anti-snob snob.

I don’t like being told what I should or should not enjoy.  My tastes are my own.  When I don’t like something, I can usually articulate what it is that didn’t appeal to me, or at least what my response was.  But I don’t consider my opinion to mean that something sucks.

For instance, comedians.  I don’t find Kristen Wiig funny.  I wish that weren’t so, as she’s currently enjoying a lot of popular success and it’s always nice to be part of the wave.  But I’ve just never laughed at any of the skits or clips I’ve seen her in.  But then, I also didn’t find fellow SNL alums Will Farrell or Chevy Chase funny to any degree, either.  It’s not the deadpan delivery.  Phil Hartman was as deadpan as they came and I found him extremely funny.  But I suppose I also don’t often find the over-the-top comedians quite so funny, either, as it usually feels like they’re trying too hard for my attention.  I’ve still liked comedians like Chris Rock, Adam Sandler (on SNL at least), Robin Williams, Bill Hicks, and a number of others.  Taste is just something that’s individual to anyone.  And again, it doesn’t mean that if I don’t like one, they suck.

I don’t care for people trying to insist on the *right* way to eat something.  I think humans have pretty much figured out the eating part by the first day or so of life, just like any creature.  There are innumerable people who will work themselves into a tizzy over someone pairing the wrong wine with the wrong food, or food served the wrong way, using the wrong fork, and so on.  For what it’s worth, I know a bit about wine, but I also know that most people don’t have the tastebuds to distinguish the subtle nuances of many wines (or to know quite how they interact with whatever foods are being enjoyed), let alone be able to distinguish tap water from supposedly exquisite designer bottled water.  And frankly, I’d rather get a $10 bottle of wine than a more expensive and refined one.  Maybe it’s the practical in me.  I dunno.

When I grill a steak, if someone wants it well-done, I make it well-done.  I’ve never heard anyone who wanted a well-done steak complain that it was too tough or lacked flavor or juices or any of the complaints that someone insisting on the purity of a product might say happens when you “ruin” a steak by cooking it too long.  Also, if someone wants ketchup on their steak, be my guest.  I’ve got that and any other condiment they might want.

I’ve read reviews that praise books that just didn’t strike the right notes for me.  And the flip side is true.  There isn’t a bestseller out there that doesn’t have one-star reviews excoriating it for how terrible it is.

I tend to read books both subjectively and objectively when I enjoy them.  When I don’t enjoy them so much, I try to just retain the objectivity about what I see in the writing.  Because most times, these books really did appeal to some people.  They just weren’t my thing.

As for predicting what strikes my fancy, as I mention, it varies quite a bit.

Explain-y Writing

Modern writing comes with certain common rules – “eliminate excess words,” “avoid adverbs,” “write what you know,” and the classic advice of “show, don’t tell.”

Sometimes “show, don’t tell” dovetails into “eliminate excess words.”  There are many times you can remove exposition with a pretty good illustration.

Sometimes the showing goes in the other direction, becoming more wordy than the telling.

The process of reading should be as immersive and entertaining as possible.

I don’t really like to use the term “telling.”  I prefer “explain-y.”  There is a lot of explain-y writing out there, and I try not to add to it, as much as I can manage.

Fantasy and sci-fi, particularly through at least the 1950s, often has a tendency to be explain-y: during long stretches of information-heavy dialogue, “discovered” diary entries or documents that are provided in full with no filter for what’s needed, or detailed prose descriptions that establish or even interrupt a scene.

Partly this is because of the need to impart technical or historical overviews, build worlds, provide the often numerous characters with backgrounds, etc.  When a writer has invested considerable time researching the technically possible or envisioning a world, there’s a natural tendency to want to ensure that a reader will see it all.  But maybe that isn’t necessary, or even the point.

There are writers like Cormac McCarthy who employ a minimalist approach, and often do a lot of showing and not very much telling.  In The Road McCarthy doesn’t even bother to provide names for the main characters – a tactic he’s employed before.  Nor does he explain the cause of the original apocalyptic events.  He knows his focus and the rest is extraneous.

When a character launches into a detailed dialogue explanation, it can be technically interesting, but not so much entertaining and not very authentic-sounding by modern dialogue conventions.  The same for whatever delivery method an author chooses to employ to lead the reader firmly by the hand and point out this detail, and that detail, and that detail…  Sometimes the quest for authenticity overtakes necessity.

Stephen King has often employed excerpts from “official documents” or “government hearings” in his books – from Carrie, to The Dead Zone, The Stand, and others.  He treats these documents the way he does dialogue – condensing them down to only what’s needed.  Contrast this with a recent bestseller from another author that employed a full eight pages of back-and-forth email correspondence – quoted verbatim and with considerable extraneous discussion.  There’s no doubt the emails sounded authentic.  This particular author (who is talented and who King himself praised) is an academic and infused his verbatim emails between academics with authenticity.  Whether or not it was necessary, it was his choice.  Every author faces conflicts between choice and necessity.

A series of books faces the challenge of whether or not to bring new readers up to speed who might come into the series in the middle or later, or even how much to remind existing readers of the series what has gone on before.  I’ve faced this issue with the second and third books of my Winter Fade series.  I mostly chose to simply allow the characters interact with one another because they already shared history and were quite comfortable.  Yet I did feel the need to reflect upon certain things that had happened in the first book – simply because there were relevant events they affected in the other two books.

I think some writers take the whole “show, don’t tell” thing to heart in such a way that they’re concerned with how to give a character background.  The truth is that character backgrounds can work quite well and enrich a story, giving depth and drawing in a reader.  At least when done well enough.  Stephen King has always employed character backgrounds – ranging from a few spare but incisive sentences to entire pages of background that establish a scene.  It’s typically done in an entertaining enough fashion that I doubt many people have complained much about the telling.

I just finished reading Patricia Briggs’s Moon Called and she was effective at scattering background here and there throughout the entire first half of the book, small flashbacks and asides that added color to particular scenes.  A different approach than what King usually takes.  King has almost always established a character pretty much as they’re introduced.  The Stand – usually the consensus favorite of his fans – launches almost immediately from the opening page into a 700-word background of Stu Redman’s entire history.  But it’s interesting, because King is one heck of a good storyteller.  He does the same with each of the many characters he introduces throughout the first half of the book, not in dribbles or drabbles, but in deluges that make each character immediately familiar to a reader.

For whatever it’s worth, I think these two great books I just mentioned – both of which I thoroughly enjoyed – have relatively weak ending climaxes.  The bulk of the story for each book is so entertaining that the weak ending climaxes are forgivable.  King even literally applied a deus ex machina in The Stand to annihilate the Las Vegas faction of Randall Flagg.  Briggs had to do some very minor “explain-y” dialogue in her climax to make the antagonists’ motivations more clear for the reader.  She covered a tremendous amount of ground in the first three-quarters of the story, establishing an entire world and the relations between its inhabitants very ambitiously and effectively for the amount of space she used. I think she could have spent just a slight bit more time on the minor characters who were the focus of the climax and whose motivations were central.  But it’s a minor complaint and doesn’t detract from the re-readability of this book.

Laundry-list character descriptions are a common “show-don’t-tell” complaint, for very good reason.  They’re often over-used.  Still, they can be effective if they’re written in the right way.  A great example is Anne Rice’s opening to The Vampire Lestat.  She launches into Lestat’s self-description of his entire physical self, but it works.

It works because it is a form of showing.  It reveals Lestat’s nature by means of his description.  A reader immediately realizes how vain and yet self-confident he is:

I am The Vampire Lestat. I’m immortal. More or less. The light of the sun, the sustained heat of an intense fire — these things might destroy me. But then again, they might not.

I’m six feet tall, which was fairly impressive in the 1780s when I was a young mortal man. It’s not bad now. I have thick blond hair, not quite shoulder length, and rather curly, which appears white under fluorescent light. My eyes are gray, but they absorb the colors blue or violet easily from surfaces around them. And I have a fairly short narrow nose, and a mouth that is well shaped but just a little too big for my face. It can look very mean, or extremely generous, my mouth. It always looks sensual. But emotions and attitudes are always reflected in my entire expression. I have a continuously animated face.

Donna Boyd did something similar with the werewolves of her “Devoncroix Dynasty” books (which if anyone is a fan of Anne Rice’s writing might want to take a look at – The Passion, The Promise, and Renegade).  These characters embody an arrogant confidence in themselves.  They like to be seen and admired by humans (opening pages can be viewed here in Amazon’s search inside the book function).

Telling can be done in a clumsy or compelling manner, and it’s all up to the writer.  It can be effective as background or in dialogue, or in the case of older science fiction it can feel dated by our modern tastes, populated by too many exclamation marks and too lengthy explanations that don’t feel like natural dialogue.

Writers should focus on doing what feels comfortable and what works for readers.  There are too many effective styles out there to condense into anything other than that they entertain their readers.  I do feel that “showing” is an essential part of any writer’s toolkit.  But I also believe that “telling” can be and is always done well in the right hands.  Just as long as it doesn’t go overboard and become “explain-y” – since the latter has a tendency to yank a reader’s interest away from a story.

Traditional versus Self-Publishing

I really hate to wade into a debate that’s been argued from any number of perspectives.

But I read a blog entry that appealed to me, as it was well-reasoned and taking more of a middle-ground:

http://chrisseysgreatescape.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/mind-the-middlemen/

I posted my own comment to the entry, but I thought I would repeat it here:

I would say that traditionally published works will have fewer typos and grammar errors. That would be the main distinction. And I’ve encountered typos and grammar mistakes (albeit few in each work) in books that have been published at any time in the past century, including many bestsellers.

To be honest, a great amount of dreck has always been traditionally published. I’ve read and encountered cheesy novels dating to the early part of the 20th century and every decade in between then and now. Ditto for garish or eye-poppingly bad cover art, quickly dashed-off blurbs on the back, and overwrought language. We tend to look fondly at great bodies of works because we skim the cream off the top of a deep latte grande. The books that remain on shelves month in and month out and are restocked become familiar to us while the overwhelming majority of books follow a revolving door and are consigned ignominious fates in temporary bargain bins and then on to dog-eared used book stacks or garage sales.

Editing has always been hit or miss and unevenly applied – it’s subjective anyway, as is taste. Stephen King’s “The Stand” was edited for length by the Accounting group and didn’t suffer for sales and is still considered the consensus fan favorite of his books. Many bestsellers face little editing and sell regardless, even though editing would have made them even better. Some literary books face heavy and agonizing editing and sell few copies, gaining only a wide mix of critical reviews.

I’m seeing more midlisters – good, solid, experienced authors – turning toward self-publishing because the industry is undergoing another change just as it has done decade in and out for well over a century. There have been upheavals and changes before, and no decade in publishing can really compare to any other.

What I also see is that there are few outlets for visibility for new authors, or midlisters who sell modestly. With the demise of Borders – after two decades of massive consolidation from publishing houses on down to the few big retailers, as well as shifts toward trade paperbacks to reclaim profitability in a middle ground while eroding mass market paperbacks – the truth is that many authors will see their books appear for perhaps a couple months at Barnes & Noble before being relegated to online sales until they fall out of print. There aren’t enough indie stores with enough shelf space to take enough chances on the volume of work produced each year, let alone maintain what already is capable of sustaining sales and business.

Promotion falls to authors for the most part in traditional publishing – other than a slim group whose sales keep profitability going and subsidize the majority of other authors.

Given the current landscape and barring an extremely rare happenstance of being tapped as one of that year’s limited promotion slots, many traditionally published authors get to do their own promotion and most sales will probably happen online due to limited appearance for a couple months in physical stores.

Self-published authors get to do their own promotion and most sales will probably happen online due to limited appearance for a couple months on consignment in indie stores.

As you note, indie authors need to distinguish themselves from the greater likelihood of more typos and grammar issues. As far as story editing – a lot of work in both traditional and self-published has never been burdened by a great need for tightening stories, developing characters, eliminating deus ex machina author interventions, Mary Sue protagonists, cliches, and factual mistakes. I can name bestsellers going back decades that have glaring faults in all these categories. The reason any book sells is sometimes intangible because it strikes the right notes at the right time with the right confluence of audience. Sometimes promotion creates a bestseller (and just as often fails). Often success begets success as long as such authors maintain their connection to readers and tastes – but these can slip from the grasp of even very talented authors.

Snooki was “validated” by the publishing industry because she would sell books. A lot of churned out genre whose author names never reach public awareness in the way King or Patterson or Grafton or many others have done also receive validation, for whatever it ends up being worth (not much for many authors, whose later works end up in different publishing houses or follow the self-published route). This is all simply reality although the debate often triggers resentment from both sides and accusations and recriminations.

Publishing has to focus on profitability since that’s key to its existence. Ditto for booksellers like Barnes & Noble and especially the indies. So the shift like you noted is toward more the guaranteed moneymakers while even the steady-but-modest authors may be better served in self-publishing, particularly since it no longer holds the stigma it once did.

(Sorry for the long comment – the blog post touched on some good points and I wanted to share my perspective, which aligns with and supplements many of the ones mentioned).

Publishing to Nook (Barnes & Noble ePub)

In my last post I outlined how to create a good, clean Word 97-2003 document formatted for the Kindle (Amazon KDP).

While generally most writers enjoy better digital sales on the Kindle platform than the Nook, it’s worth investing the time to make work available in as many formats as possible for readers who may prefer one platform over another.

A place such as Smashwords can greatly facilitate getting work into the various formats for the respective platforms.

For the do-it-yourself types, here is my guide.

Amazon utilizes a proprietary AZW format that is compatible with the larger-file-size MOBI format.  Both formats can be read on a Kindle device or using one of the free Kindle Reading Apps.  You can upload a Word 97-2003 document and Amazon’s Kindle upload process will convert it to a MOBI file which you can review before publishing.  After publishing, it’s further converted to the AZW format.

Barnes & Noble’s Nook uses the ePub format.  The file you have to upload is typically best when it’s already in ePub format, although their process can sort of convert a variety of other formats (including HTML, .DOC, .DOCX, RTF, and TXT) into ePub with varying degrees of success and completeness.  Barnes & Noble’s guide for formatting and publishing appears on its main PubIt page under PubIt! program details, FAQs, and marketing toolkit.  If you’ve already registered, the same page appears under the Support Tab of your control panel when you login.  Their formatting guide is fairly simple and straightforward – especially Microsoft Word formatting – although their ePub Formatting Guide may be too esoteric for the average person.

For this guide, we’ll be using the ePub editing tool Sigil (free download).  An online guide is here although what we’ll be doing is fairly straightforward.

I do not own a Nook, so I cannot attest to whether the Nook devices portray ePub books exactly the same as the free Nook Reader Apps or similar e-reading apps such as Adobe Digital Editions Reader.  I will say that with the latter apps, I have seen that certain Font and Line Spacing decisions are reflected in what those readers portray on-screen.

I’m going to assume you already have a clean Word document from your Kindle upload.  If not, I’ll again refer to my last post which explains how to get a clean and well-formatted Word 97-2003 document – and specifically one with “sticky” punctuation (em-dashes, hyphens, and ellipses), only single blank lines between paragraph titles and text, and flags such as four centered-and-spaced asterisks to denote scene breaks.

Starting with such a document:

Part 1 – Basic Prepping for Nook

1)  Save a copy of the Kindle document with a new name since we will be modifying it slightly.  Make sure to save as a Word 97-2003 format.

2)  Delete the 600×800 Cover image.  Nook uses different sizing than Kindle.  Unfortunately, Nook is also inconsistent with what sizes are best since there are different styles of Nooks with different viewing sizes.  See Natasha Fondren’s excellent and comprehensive post about Cover dimensions for the various platforms.  It’s simpler to convert an existing 600×800 image into 600×730 (which will size for the Nook and have some space above and below on the Nook Color) than to convert to the 600×1024 used solely by the Nook Color (and that will be shrunk to fit in the Nook).  Basically, using whatever Cover editing program you have available, lop a little off the top and bottom to get the right size.  My covers are usually 6″x8″ real size with however many dpi (dots per inch) required for particular Kindle covers.  So I simply take 0.35″ off the top and 0.35″ off the bottom to get a 6″x7.3″ cover which I convert to 600×730 pixel size.  Insert >> Picture to get the new picture formatted for the Nook onto the first page of your document.

3)  In the Kindle document, all text was Times New Roman 11-point and all Titles were in Times New Roman 14-point.  We want to change the text size to 12-point.  So Edit-Replace by selecting Format >> Font from the search box for both the “Find what” and “Replace with” fields as below (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

4)  And now we want to replace all Titles with BOLD Times New Roman 14-point (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

5)  Change all Line Spacing to 1.5 Lines.  The spacing from your Kindle document may have been either set to Exactly 14-point spacing or to Multiple 1.15 spacing.  This can be quickly changed with an Edit-Replace by selecting Format >> Paragraph from the search box for both the “Find what” and “Replace with” fields as below.  Be sure to clear any previous formatting from prior Edit-Replace searches (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

6)  Change any hyperlinks in the document that may have directed to related works sold on Amazon to those sold on Barnes & Noble.  Right-click on book titles in the bibliography section (if you have one) and select Hyperlink and update the hyperlink.  Obviously, if no books are yet on Barnes & Noble, you’ll need to upload them all first and then edit the files with the links after they’re published.

7)  Insert Section Breaks after each page of Front Matter and after each Chapter.  This is where ePub diverges from Amazon’s Kindle process.  The latter utilizes Page Breaks.  But ePub relies upon Section Breaks instead.  While inserting Page Breaks occurs naturally in Word 2010 under Insert >> Page Break, Microsoft elected to make Section Breaks a little less intuitive.  Go to Page Layout >> Breaks >> Next Page to do this.  Insert each one exactly where a Page Break would be (at the end of each page).  We’ll clean up the no-longer-needed Page Breaks in the next step (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

8)  Search for and delete all Page Breaks.  Edit-Replace using the following search fields, replacing ^m with nothing (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

9)  Save the document in Word 97-2003, just so you have a reference copy.

10)  Save the document again as Web Page, Filtered which is the format we’ll use in the next part to create the ePub.  Note that when the document is saved as Web Page, Filtered, it creates a nearby folder containing the cover image.  Do not delete this folder or move it.  Close all Word and Web Page-Filtered documents and prepare to use Sigil to create the ePub.

Part 2 – Creating the ePub using Sigil

1)  Open Sigil (which can be downloaded here).  Open the Web Page, Filtered document after browsing to it.  It will resemble a Word document as far as its “W” icon – but when you pause the mouse over it you will see “HTML document” denoting it (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

2)  Insert Chapter Breaks.  There is a “Chapter Break” button in Sigil with a stylized “Ch” for doing this.  You’ll need to scroll carefully through the document, placing your cursor in the blank line between each page of Front Matter and between each Chapter, and then click on the button.  As you proceed, you’ll notice that Sigil is chopping your document into numerical sections that are tabbed.  Do not insert a Chapter Break after the last page of the book or you will only produce a blank page.  Below are images of the process.  The first image shows the first Chapter Break being inserted.  The second image shows it completed for all sections. (click on images for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

3)  Tag Front Matter and Back Matter.  In the “Book Browser” pane on the left in Sigil, right-click on each section of Front Matter and Back Matter, choosing Add Semantics and an appropriate Tag for that section.  Typical ones will be: Cover, CopyrightPage, Dedication, Acknowledgements, Table of Contents, Foreword, or Bibliography (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

4)  Add MetaData tags for Title, Author, and Language.  Select Tools >> Meta Editor and enter the Title, Author, and Language (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

5)  Generate Table of Contents.  Click on the Generate Table of Contents button on the right.  From the pop-up window, deselect any item that you do not want to be in the Table of Contents for users to be able to jump to.  Do not skip this step.  Even though a “Table of Contents” already appears in the right pane of Sigil, from my experience it requires actually clicking the Generate Table of Contents button to activate (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

6)  Click on the Green Checkmark on the toolbar of Sigil to Validate the ePub (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

7)  Before fixing the errors identified by Sigil (and there will be some – hopefully just minor ones), save the document now.  It should automatically prompt to save as an EPUB format file.  This is what you want.

Part 3 – Fixing Errors Identified by Sigil

If you began with a clean document following my Kindle instructions and the instructions above, there is a good chance you will only see two types of errors in Sigil:

attribute ‘clear‘ is not declared for element ‘br

attribute ‘name‘ is not declared for element ‘a

You’ll probably see one ‘clear‘/’br‘ instance for each piece of Front Matter.  And one instance each of both ‘clear‘/’br‘ and ‘name‘/’a‘ for each Chapter.

I’ll translate what these actually mean in plain English:

The divisions between pages didn’t translate well into Sigil.

The automatic hidden link bookmarks to the Word-generated Table of Contents didn’t translate well into Sigil.

As far as why this happens, I’m not entirely certain, as I haven’t experimented enough with the HTML or variations of document.  From what I can discern, the HTML Error Line of:  <p><span><br clear=”all” /></span></p>  which you get to when you double-click the first instance of attribute ‘clear’ is not declared for element ‘br’ relates to the breaks between pages (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

1)  Double-click on the first instance of attribute ‘clear’ is not declared for element ‘br’

Delete the HTML line that appears.  It may be something like these:

<p><span><br class=”sgc-3″ clear=”all” /></span></p>

 <p><span class=”sgc-19″><br clear=”all” /></span></p>

Be very careful when running your mouse over the lines of HTML code.  Sigil allows drag-and-move of text, and it can be very easy to modify the HTML code.  And Sigil’s “Undo” button does not appear to undo changes to HTML code.  In any event, these instances of attribute ‘clear’ is not declared for element ‘br’ are artifacts and safe to delete from my experience at least.

2)  Double-click all other instances of attribute ‘clear’ is not declared for element ‘br’ and repeat with deleting the HTML line that comes up (and they should all be a clear=”all” line with variations of class=”sgc-xx”).

The other common error was attribute ‘name’ is not declared for element ‘a’ which is simply attributable to the hidden bookmarks that Word uses to construct the original linked Table of Contents.  I experimented with deleting the hidden bookmarks, which seemed to create new errors, as well as not using Sigil to generate the Table of Contents – which resulted in the Table of Contents not being right in the ePub result.  The links could probably be coded in HTML from the beginning to remedy the situation, but the fix itself is actually easy.

In this case, it isn’t the entire line of HTML code that is bad, but only the reference to the hidden bookmark itself.

In case you don’t understand what I mean by “hidden bookmarks,” open the Word 97-2003 document that you saved earlier.  Go to Insert >> Bookmark  When the following pop-up window appears, un-check “Hidden Bookmarks” and then re-check it again so they appear (click on image to see full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Word creates links from the Table of Contents to each of the Chapter Headings when you auto-generate a Table of Contents as we did in the Kindle Publishing Guide.

What we need to do is to delete only the reference to these hidden bookmarks which will be only part of a line of HTML code that’s otherwise fine.

So if we click on the first instance of attribute ‘name’ is not declared for element ‘a’ it should take us to the Chapter Header for the first chapter, and highlight a line such as:

<h1><a name=”_Toc314183869″><span class=”sgc-21″>ONE</span></a><a id=”start”></a></h1>

Only the parts in Red:  <a name=”_Toc314183869″>  and </a> need to be deleted.  Be very careful when highlighting and deleting these instances.  Notice that in the above example there is also <a id=”start”></a> which is where the “start” bookmark denoting the beginning of the story appears.  If you accidentally delete </a> the associated with “start” the line will be errored.

Subsequent chapters will be simpler:

<h1><a name=”_Toc314183870″><span>TWO</span></a></h1>

See screenshot below (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Note that as you fix these errors, the error codes remain in the pane below until you re-run clicking on the Green Checkmark on the toolbar of Sigil to Validate the ePub.

It’s wise to save as you go along – but save as a copy of the initial ePub that you already saved in Part 2 above.  The ePub you saved in Part 2 should have all the formatting done, and if the HTML code gets mangled accidentally due to an inadvertent drag-and-move while trying to delete part of a line, you would at least have something to go back to.  So keep the backup ePub from Part 2 until you’re certain you have fixed the HTML errors without introducing new ones somehow.

When you have clickedon the Green Checkmark on the toolbar of Sigil to Validate the ePub and you get a message of “No Problems Found!” you’re ready to upload to Nook (click on image to see full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

The ePub you upload to Barnes & Noble will probably be identical to the preview file they provide for downloading to verify.

When you upload, there is a Preview button that takes you a screen where you can see very rudimentary representations of what your book will sort of look like on either a Nook Color or a Nook (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Feel free to click through a few pages just to get an idea.  But you won’t be able to actually verify how everything worked – particularly the links from the Table of Contents – until you click on the link I circled to download your converted ePub.

If you have a Nook or Nook Color, you can probably copy the downloaded ePub file to your Nook device.  Make sure you identify which ePub you downloaded so you don’t accidentally open the ePub you created with Sigil.  To be honest, the downloaded file appears to be pretty much identical to the Sigil-created one, from my experience.  Same file size and nothing appears changed.  But I haven’t done an in-depth look at the HTML to see whether any small things were added, deleted, or modified during the upload to Barnes & Noble and subsequent download of their test ePub file.

You can download the free Nook Reader Apps or similar e-reading apps such as Adobe Digital Editions Reader to preview the ePub.  I personally prefer Adobe Digital Editions because Barnes & Noble made their Nook Reader App a genuine irritation for adding a deleting eBooks.

Example:  If you were to right-click on your downloaded ePub file and select “Open with Barnes & Noble Desktop Reader” you would normally assume that Barnes & Noble’s Nook Reader App would open the file so you can read it.

You would be wrong.

Instead, all that happens is that the Nook Reader App launches, and opens to whatever book you might have last been reading.  You will now have to manually add the ePub book.  And this is not an intuitive matter, because whoever designed the App (and I use the word “designed” in as kind a manner as possible while biting my tongue) helpfully forgot to make the App actually simple to add or remove books.

Sometimes oversights happen.

Here’s how to add an ePub to your snazzy Nook Reader App so you can read it (and if you’re already losing interest, feel free to right-click on the downloaded ePub and select “Open with Adobe Digital Editions” – you’ll discover the folks at Adobe designed their software to surprisingly open up documents when you select it that way.

Fancy that!

The developers of the Nook Reader App did, however, include a User Guide.  Here it is (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

“What should we put in a User Guide?”

“I dunno.  Just put some marketing stuff in there about how cool it is.  Like how you can go “ape crazy and enlarge the words to give your ailing eyes a break (because we all know they aren’t what they used to be!). It’s not rocket science, it’s just a better, easier way to read.”

It also isn’t rocket science to create an actual User Guide.  But that’s just me.  And yes, the Nook Reader App really is intuitive at its most basic core functionality.  Just not when it comes to adding or deleting ePubs.

How you add ePubs isn’t by right-clicking on the ePub and opening them – like Adobe Digital Editions can accomplish.  Oh, and KindlePreviewer and Kindle Reader App can both also open a MOBI or AZW file by right-clicking to open it.  Instead, for Nook Reader App you must go to My Library and then click again on My Stuff and you’ll see a little button at the top for Add New Item.  You can click on it to add the ePub (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

In case you’re wondering how to actually delete ePubs from Nook Reader App – such as if you realize there’s a mistake or something you wish to add, remove, or change in the document and re-upload – it’s almost as simple and un-obvious as adding an ePub.  Here’s what you do:

If you’re using Windows 7 like I am, navigate to the following path in Windows Explorer:

C: \ Users \ (Your Name) \ My Documents \ My Barnes & Noble eBooks

You should see a list of any ePubs you manually added.  You can click on them to delete them.  It’s really that simple!  Just a click of a button (and a bit of navigation).  A shame no one added such a button to the Nook Reader App!

I’m quite sure Barnes & Noble was simply matching features with Amazon’s own effort in providing an e-reader App for users.  But to be sure, let’s see how Amazon’s Kindle Reader App deletes eBooks (click on image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Barnes & Noble can now proclaim that Amazon did not provide a button to delete eBooks either.

They, um, allow you to right-click on any eBook in your Library and choose to Delete, Go to Last Page Read, Beginning, Table of Contents, add it to a Collection…

To be fair, while Barnes & Noble didn’t think of right-click functionality for their Reader App (or helpful User Guides or Delete buttons) they did provide an “Options” button for each book.  It…allows you to “Read Now.”

This is the essential difference between Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and it’s a shame – because adequate competition makes a market healthy.

But on the one hand you have Amazon allowing easy uploads of native Word 97-2003 documents and Barnes & Noble preferring users to go to a bit of extra work converting and formatting ePubs.

We have Kindle providing not only Reader Apps but also a more simple Kindle Previewer.  Barnes & Noble provides a Reader App as well, but its functionality is limited and usability crippled by oversight of basic abilities to add or remove eBooks.  It was obviously designed solely to work with eBooks purchased from Barnes & Noble’s own store, and it probably does that quite well.  But while it had the ability incorporated into it to manually add ePubs, either someone overlooked making that a simple matter, or they were reluctant to make it easy.

Amazon’s KDP site has a clean design friendly for people to upload.  It includes a link to an extensive user guide,  another to the KDP forums, and a few more useful links.  Barnes & Noble’s PubIt site features more space devoted to trying to encourage visitors to buy the most recent bestsellers while hiding its user guide with an extremely tiny “view” link.

I hated that Borders Bookstore’s initially promising online store was allowed to wane and give way to just trying to let Amazon handle their online presence.  I don’t like when companies essentially hand over advantages to their competitors.  There’s nothing wrong with imitation being a form of flattery and Barnes & Noble occasionally accomplishes this – such as their effort with the Nook Tablet.  It would be great if they were seen as anywhere close to as viable platform for self-publishers.  Instead, they’re seen as a consideration for a few sales but not typically anywhere close to balancing Amazon.

Publishing to Kindle (KDP)

There are a lot of guides on how to publish to Kindle (including Amazon’s own) with a lot of conflicting information and varying degrees of completeness.  With many of them, it’s a case of piecing together a puzzle from disparate parts that overlap, supplement, or contradict one another.

There are definitely different paths people can take.  Some guides recommend just doing the manuscript in HTML to be certain of formatting and cleanness in the document.

Most people aren’t gluttons for the punishment of steep learning curves and want something simpler – and some of the simple guides are often too simple.

I’ll take a middle approach.  It’s still simple – because it relies upon the basic Word 97-2003 document.  But what I also include are the nuances that make a Kindle effort better – by dealing with formatting issues that can inevitably arise when converting to the Kindle format.

A clean document is the first step.  Ignore all the complex guides that tell you how to fix a potentially and randomly screwed up document.  The effort in fixing an 85,000-125,000 word manuscript that was written over a period of four months with another four months of revisions and countless saves will sometimes take more time than just taking a fresh start.

A fresh start is copying the entire text to Notepad, and then copying back into a fresh, new Word document.  And then applying formatting to get it ready.

Although this sounds daunting, it really is not.

The formatting required for most documents (we’re not talking House of Leaves here) is pretty basic for Kindle:  Times New Roman font, page breaks after each page of front matter and after each chapter (so maybe a few dozen page breaks that take a few minutes to apply), paragraph style for the front matter, text, and Header styles for chapter headings, Bookmarks and Table of Contents, and re-applying any italics, underlined, and bolded text that the writer prefers.  This might take half an hour to an hour for many people.

A heavily written and revised Word document that has gone through many months of iterations may end up with such a jumble of styles and hidden formatting code that it may be virtually impossible to ever get it consistent.  The Word program delights in “guessing” formatting styles, as well as reinstating or balking at changing styles to “Normal” from whatever it decided fit at a particular time.

So let’s try the simple way.

I’m using Word 2010 for this guide.  Word 2007 will be similar.  Note that documents will be saved in Word 97-2003 format and not in DOCX format, per Kindle requirements.

Part 1 – Clean document

1)  Copy the text from your manuscript into Notepad ( in Windows, this would be located in Start >> Accessories >> Notepad typically )

2)  With Notepad open and your text now copied, close Microsoft Word completely.

3)  Open Word again and highlight all the text in Notepad ( CTRL-A can do this ) and copy, then paste into a new Word document

Part 2 – Viewing document

1)  Everyone likes to see their documents in a particular way.  For this kind of work, I prefer Print Layout view.  View >> Print Layout

2)  If you have a 24″ widescreen monitor, you may like to see three pages displayed side by side at a time.  Or only two with a smaller monitor.  View >> Zoom and click on the Many Pages button, and click on the small “Monitor” icon directly below the Many Pages button and drag to the number of pages (usually two or three) you would like to see displayed on your screen at a time (click image for full-size).

 

 

 

 

 

3)  Page Layout and Setup is up to you for making the document more readable for you to compare to the original for double-checking.  For illustration purposes, I’ll use a CreateSpace Page Setup.  Page Layout >> Page Setup (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

4)  Select all the text in the document ( CTRL-A ) and make it “Normal” style (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

5)  While all the text is still selected, set it to Time New Roman 11-point.  Kindle devices allow a user to change font to a variety of styles and sizes, and Times New Roman 11 is a good neutral font for getting the file uploaded.  Whatever fonts you may agonize over for a physical book fly out the window for eBooks.

6)  While all the text is still selected, set the Paragraph style so first lines are indented automatically.  An indent of 0.34″ works nicely.  As long as you had hard-returns after every paragraph in your original document (and did not use manually inserted spaces to indent originally), your paragraphs should all now be nicely indented.  Line spacing is for viewing purposes of the Word document.  Kindle devices allow users to set custom spacing.  The two line spacings I show below are similar and very readable when you are reviewing your Word document.  Also be sure to de-select Widow/Orphan Control so pages remain with consistent lines for reviewing purposes.  Page Layout >> Paragraph (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Part 3 – Basic Formatting

1) Format your Front Matter however you wish.  Normally, the text on your Copyright Page and Dedication Page will be centered-text.  Do not create a Table of Contents yet.  We will do that in Step 5 below

2)  Insert Page Breaks after each piece of Front Matter and after each Chapter:  Insert >> Page Break

3)  Select each Chapter Number (or Chapter Title) and set their Style to Heading 1.  Depending upon your default style setting (which may make Heading 1 in Cambria 14 Blue Bold font, for instance), you may need to then change the font to Times New Roman 14 Black (Bold or non-Bold – your choice) for consistency.  And you may wish to set Line Spacing as well as Spacing Before / After since some Heading Styles may add a lot of extra space you don’t need.

Note 1:  The reason you are setting Chapter Numbers (or Chapter Titles) to Heading 1 is for Table of Contents purposes which the Kindle will utilize so a user may click on a chapter heading in the Table of Contents to jump to a chapter.  A Table of Contents is not required for a Kindle document although Amazon recommends one and some users may prefer the option of being able to jump to a chapter without scrolling through the book.

Note 2:  Heading 1 for the Table of Contents can only be applied to either the Chapter Numbers or the Chapter Titles.  So if you have both Chapter Numbers and Chapter Titles, with one of them above the other – such as:

Chapter One

Where It All Began

Then you should apply Heading 1 to whichever is first – in this case Chapter One since it’s above “Where It All Began” (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

4)  Apply Heading 1 Style to any other places you would like in your Table of Contents.  This may include a Foreword, Afterword, and Acknowledgements.  Usually the Copyright and Dedication pages would not appear in a Table of Contents, but it’s up to you.

5)  Now we can insert an automatic Table of Contents that will direct-link to anything with a Heading 1 Style.  You can also manually create a Table of Contents and create your own hyperlinks, but the automatic way in Word 2007/2010 works perfectly for Kindle’s purposes.  

Insert a Page Break to create a page where you want the Table of Contents to appear.  This is often between the Dedication and Acknowledgements.

Type the words:  Table of Contents (or Contents or whatever you wish).

References >> Table of Contents >> Insert Table of Contents (click images for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Note 1:  Formats should be set to “from template” in order to be able to access the “Modify” button.

Note 2:  Show Levels should be set to “1” (which will only pick up anything with a Heading 1 Style for the Table of Contents) and Show Page Numbers should be unchecked (since there are no page numbers in Kindle due to the ability to re-size fonts).  Make these settings after you have modified the Font to Times New Roman 11 and modified the Format for the Paragraph Style to set Line Spacing to something appropriate (with or without Spacing Before / After).  If you initially uncheck Show Page Numbers and set Show Levels to “1” and then modify the font, when you return to the initial screen Word kindly reverts some of these settings (usually showing page numbers) back to the default.

6)  Set any remaining headers to Heading 2 (Two) Style.  This would normally be Copyright PageTable of Contents, Dedication, and possibly Acknowledgements, Foreword, and Afterword as well as any Chapter Titles that fell below Chapter Numbers (since the Chapter Numbers are in Heading 1 Style).  As with when you set the Heading 1 Style in Steps 3 and 4 above, make any Font and Line Spacing corrections needed.

7)  Kindle requires both a “Catalog” Cover (the thumbnail seen on the website) and an “Embedded” Cover (the cover seen when you view a book on your Kindle).  We only want the Embedded Cover for this step.  It can be no larger than 127k per Amazon Kindle requirements, and it should be a 600×800 JPEG in order to properly fit the Kindle screen.  Normally, you should be able to save your cover at 150dpi at 600×800 at Medium, High, or sometimes Maximum Quality while remaining under 127k.  Less often, you may be able to do a 300dpi 600×800 Embedded Cover, although that is very difficult to remain below the 127k limit, so I’ll advise 150dpi.

Insert a Page Break to create a page for the Cover.  Obviously, this will be the first page.

Insert >> Picture to insert the Embedded Cover (under 127k in size, 600×800 JPEG at 150dpi and Medium, High, or Maximum Quality)

Click on the Picture and Center it on the page (Left to Right Center)

8 )  Insert Bookmarks for the Cover, Table of Contents, and Start of the book (where the actual story begins – either Chapter One or Preface typically).  Kindle uses the Bookmarks along with the Chapter links in the Table of Contents so users can navigate.

Put your cursor to the Left of the Embedded Cover (it will probably be at the Bottom Left which is normal).  Insert >> Bookmark and Type the word cover (all lowercase) and click Add

Put your cursor to the Left of the Name for the Table of Contents (however you titled it – either Table of Contents or Contents or whatever).  Insert >> Bookmark and Type the word toc (all lowercase) and click Add

Put your cursor to the Right of the first Chapter Number or Title (this one is done to the Right because when you insert the bookmark to the Left, the link doesn’t work correctly).  Insert >> Bookmark and Type the word start (all lowercase) and click Add

Part 4 – Kindle-Required Formatting

1)  Eliminate multiple (three or more) hard-returns after Paragraphs or anywhere else they appear (including between Chapter Titles and text).  Amazon doesn’t want multiple hard paragraph returns all over the place.  You should have only two returns after each Chapter Number/Title so there is a single blank line between it and the following text.  The same goes for Copyright Page, Acknowledgements, Foreword, Afterword, etc.  You can scroll through the document manually and delete extra blank lines, or do it with an Edit-Replace, by searching for:  ^p^p^p and replacing with ^p^p (which would replace triple returns and two blank lines with double returns and one blank line).

2)  Make Scene Breaks easy for readers to discern.  Since the Kindle allows users to change text size and style as well as line spacing, you will never know when a scene break will happen at the bottom of someone’s Kindle page.  So when they turn the page, if there wasn’t an obvious flag that a scene change occurred, it may be confusing – particularly when a scene ends with dialogue and the next scene begins with dialogue.  A blank line is NOT a good scene break for the Kindle.  Go through the document and insert a good flag for scene changes.  For instance, you may use Four Asterisks Centered with Spaces Between the Asterisks, like this:

*    *    *    *

While you may search for Scene Breaks by using Edit-Find and searching for ^p^p (which would be double returns and one blank line), you unfortunately will have to manually  replace the blank line with the Four Asterisks Centered with Spaces Between the Asterisks.

This is tedious, but it will make the document much easier for readers.  Again – do not use Blank Lines for Scene Breaks.  Manually replace those blank lines with a visual flag such as Four Asterisks Centered with Spaces Between the Asterisks.

3)  Add Hyperlinks wherever you need them.  If you list a website, or want clickable links to your other books mentioned in your bibliography, add the Hyperlinks now.  Select the text that should be hyperlinked, right-click and select Hyperlink, enter the Hyperlink, and hit OK.

Part 5 – Final Formatting

1)  Add back any text formatting you require.  So if you have things that should be in Italics or Bold or Underline, now you have a slightly more tedious step than came before.  The easiest way to do this is to open a copy of your original document (which had all the text formatting) and Edit-Replace searching for text that’s in the format you are looking for, and replacing it with Blue Font-Highlighted In Yellow for example.  Something eye-catching in other words.  And then you will need to go back and forth between the original document (with all its highlighted Italics/Bold/Underlined text) and your new Kindle document.  This is a manual step, unfortunately.  But unless you have tons of instances where you italicized, bolded, or underlined words, it really should not take long.  For most fiction, it should be tedious but not too time-consuming.

2)  Make sticky Em-Dashes.  Em-Dashes need to be made “sticky” so they remain associated with the word preceding them (they cannot easily be made “sticky” to both words before and after).  The reason you’re doing this is again – Kindle allows users to make all kinds of text customizations so you have no control where a line will wrap to the next line.  Your text will look more professional by keeping your em-dashes sticky.  And even if they were sticky when you originally wrote them, they lost that when you copied the document into Notepad and then into a new Word document.  Fortunately, this can be done automatically using Edit-Replace and is fast.  You probably have two possibilities – either two dashes () or an existing em-dash () that you will replace with ^+ which can also be found under Special in Edit-Replace (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

3)  Make sticky Hyphens.  Same as with em-Dashes, although sticky hyphens stick to both the word before and the word after.  If you don’t make hyphens sticky, it’s possible a Kindle user may see a line that has an example of two connected words breaking with the hyphen at the beginning of the next line.  Do an Edit-Replace and search for hyphens (-) and replace with ^~   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note:  If you ever need to manually insert sticky hyphens, you can type this wherever one needs to occur:  CTRL-SHIFT-Dash (don’t type the word “Dash” but use the hyphen symbol)

4)  Make sticky non-breaking Ellipses.  Ellipses are where you have those three little dots…   There are all kinds of rules about ellipses as far as dot sizing or spacing (some style manuals prefer them to be a different sized dot than a following period, to distinguish them – because no way we could recognize a sentence that just ended…. ).  This is Kindle, so keep it simple.  If you do not make Ellipses Sticky and Non-Breaking, you will have instances where a user will see the three dots broken up onto separate lines when they come at the end of a line, or following punctuation (end-quote, question mark, or period) will end up on its own line.

You can Edit-Replace like before, but care must be taken because there are four variations.  So do not do a “Replace All.”  Also, depending on how your ellipses already appear in the document, you will probably first have to locate one and put it in the “Find what” field of the Edit-Replace box.  This is because your Word template may originally have auto-corrected any instances of three dots into an ellipsis which technically is a single object (whereas three dots are three different objects).  So searching for three dots (…) might not find anything in this Kindle document.  So scroll through it to where you know you have an ellipsis, and copy it so you can put it in the “Find what” field of the Edit-Replace box.

Variations:

  • Ellipsis before end-quote (space-dot-space-dot-space-dot)  ^s.^s.^s.
  • Ellipsis between words (add another space ^s after last dot)  ^s.^s.^s.^s
  • Ellipsis before Question mark (add another space ^s after last dot) ^s.^s.^s.^s
  • Ellipsis at end of plain sentence (add another space-dot ^s. to end sentence)  ^s.^s.^s.^s.

Examples:

  • “I was thinking . . .”
  • “I thought . . . you weren’t going to leave.”
  • “So what exactly were you . . . ?”
  • The sky was gray, and the snow began to fall . . . .
The last example is where style guides would prefer a definitive period rather than an equal-sized dot.
What you will do is an Edit-Replace search for each of these instances, so you will have to go to each one and decide whether to replace, depending on which of the four situations you encounter.  Note that both Ellipsis Between Word and Ellipsis Before Question Mark use the same solution of ^s.^s.^s.^s
So you will technically have three possible solutions (click image for full-size):

 

 

 

 

 

Note:  You can create these manually by variations of the following:

CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE Period CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE Period CTRL-SHIFT-SPACE Period

5)  Get rid of any instances of two spaces between sentences.  Books only have one space between sentences, even though many of us were taught to use two spaces between sentences.  Easy to do:  Edit-Replace and search for however many spaces you think might have happened.  If you feel you might have even done triple-spaces, start with those and replace with a single space before doing an Edit-Replace for double spaces.

6)  Get rid of spaces that happen at the end of paragraphs.  Sometimes you may have decided to break a longer paragraph into two smaller ones and there is a hanging space at the end of the first one.  This can potentially cause an extra blank line between paragraphs if a user has configured their Kindle text such that the space makes a line a little too long.

There are four variations and you can automatically replace them with Edit-Replace.  They’re easy to find because it will involve punctuation, a space, and a hard return:

Old New
. ^p .^p
? ^p ?^p
! ^p !^p
” ^p ”^p

7)  Get rid of spaces that happen at the beginning of paragraphs.  Same happenstance as above but two easy variations of Edit-Replace.

Don’t use the word SPACE or NOSPACE.  Those are to show what is or isn’t there for this example.  The second variant with quotes probably won’t be needed, but just in case:

Old New
^pSPACE ^pNOSPACE
^pSPACE ^pNOSPACE

8 )  Fix any instances where Word decided to use an end-quote rather than a begin-quote at the start of a paragraph:

Old New
^p” ^p“
. ” . “

9)  Fix any instances of straight-quotes with curly-quotes.  Per this link:

Microsoft Word automatically changes straight quotation marks ( ‘ or ” ) to curly (smart or typographer’s) quotes ( Smart single quotation marks or Smart double quotation marks ) as you type.

To turn this feature on or off:

  1. On the Tools menu, click AutoCorrect Options, and then click the AutoFormat As You Type tab.
  2. Under Replace as you type, select or clear the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box.

 Note   You can find and replace all instances of single or double curly quotes with straight quotes in your document. To do this, clear the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box on the AutoFormat As You Type tab. On the Edit menu, click Replace. In both the Find what and Replace with boxes, type or , and then click Find Next or Replace All.

To replace all straight quotes with curly quotes, select the “Straight quotes” with “smart quotes” check box, and repeat the find and replace procedure.

10)  Make sure you save the Kindle document as Word 97-2003 and not DOCX.

* * * Please read the comments – as I have added one that includes many links to more complex guides (including those that delve into HTML or utilizing tools like Sigil or Calibre) for those who enjoy digging under the hood.  For Kindle it isn’t necessary to employ such extra effort if the Word 97-2003 document is pretty clean as I discuss in this guide and is a typical book that most people would be uploading to the Kindle platform.  If it’s an extremely complex Word document with tables and embedded pictures and charts – anyone’s mileage may vary.

* * * When uploading to the Kindle platform, I highly recommend going to the section called “Enhanced Previewer” and downloading the “Book Preview File” which will be in MOBI format.  This preview file is FAR SUPERIOR to the “Simple Previewer” and can be read on either a Kindle device – by attaching your Kindle device to your computer via its USB cable and copying the file into the “Documents” folder on the Kindle.  When you open it on your Kindle, it should look exactly like it will when Amazon publishes the book in its compatible AZW format.

If you do not have a Kindle, you can still view the MOBI file of your eBook on any computer, tablet, or smartphone and see how it will actually perform on a Kindle by simply installing the *free* Kindle Previewer (which is the simplest way):

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/?docId=1000765261

or by installing the *free* Kindle App which tends to connect itself to your existing Kindle device’s Library so may make it less fluid to review files quickly:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771

The reason I recommend downloading the MOBI file is because it will look and perform the way it will on the Kindle.  The “Simple Previewer” is a decent emulator but does not usually handle the bookmark for the Cover, nor sometimes other bookmarks.  It gives you a decent idea of how the book will look, but isn’t anywhere as good as utilizing the MOBI file with either a Kindle device or the Kindle Previewer or the Kindle Reading App.

The Gift of Test Readers

Finding the right test readers for your writing can be a challenge.

A good test reader has to be capable of devoting time on either a fairly regular or irregular basis while you’re writing each chapter – or be available to read the entire first draft after it’s done.  And preferably both.

The ideal test reader represents your intended audience, and will already be familiar with and have a feel for the style and genre you’re working in.  They’ll be able to tell you how you are succeeding or not, compared with their experience with similar works.

Test readers also need a flair for grammar and an appreciation of language that comes close to what you’re doing with your writing.  More versatile readers are even better – those who have read a wide range of works and can adjust their reading style to fit the prose.

They need to be both able to encourage and willing to nudge, cajole, and outright argue whenever the need arises and they feel something needs to be addressed because it still isn’t quite right.  And they need to be able to acknowledge that sometimes a writer won’t take all their advice.

I’ve been blessed with great test readers.  But it’s still hard for all involved, with factors of time and timing, tastes, and even communication – sometimes when a reader or the writer feels something isn’t quite right, even while discussing it neither can quite come up with what it is or how to make it better.  A little or a lot of back-and-forth, brainstorming, and experimentation may be involved to get past such points.

I think it’s preferable, for me at least, to have a test reader following the progress of a novel as it unfolds, scene by scene, chapter by chapter.  What a reader gives me that’s as important as all the other parts I mentioned is perspective.  I can’t know how any reader will approach anything I’ve written.  And I know all too well that every reader will have a different perspective than anyone else.

But it’s still interesting to discover how others see a story that a writer can mainly see in the way they’ve imagined.  Insights like these strengthen plot points the writer didn’t realize needed just a bit extra.  They help a writer uncover and cultivate nuances that hadn’t been considered – the way a reader sees some characters or believes where a plot is heading, things like that.

The relationship between a writer and a really good test reader is like a dance, but one with two leaders – taking turns when needed while keeping the rhythm going and following the music together.  It’s very much a partnership and a valuable part of the writing process.

A writer has to have a feel for what their test readers enjoy, and choose the right one(s) for the right story.  Everyone has their own tastes, and sometimes a perfect test reader for one style of work isn’t the right one when a writer is using a different style or genre for another story.

I do feel it’s also very important not to limit test readers solely to the “target audience” of the writing.  While my initial test reader(s) will be closer to those I feel will like the work, I also have several other readers who prefer different styles entirely or who are literary omnivores and will read across an extremely wide range.  It’s helpful to discover the perspectives of a range of readers and not just a more narrow audience.  It helps to reinforce what is working or what may be weak points that can be addressed during revision.

When you look at reviews on a site like Amazon, you first realize that only a small fraction of readers will ever review any given book.  The overwhelming majority of readers don’t write reviews – due to time constraints, or a feeling that others may do a better job, or not being certain what to say, or any number of reasons.  And even among the reviewers there is an extremely wide range of skill and style, depth of review, and perspective.  Any piece of popular fiction that has garnered a couple hundred or more reviews will reveal some who absolutely hate particular aspects of a story (prose style, plot points, particular characters) and others who love those specific things.

Taste is a unique thing, and predicting or even reaching a consensus is as impossible as asking what the “best” color is (my favorite color happens to be deep green, for what it’s worth).

Discovering a really insightful review of a book that communicates its points to you and with which you mostly agree – or at least respect the points the reviewer made – is a rare thing.  Finding a test reader is like that.  You want them to be honest, you want them to be able to cheer you on, to help improve weaknesses in story and characters and details and plot, and you want them to make time for and like what they’re reading enough that you can feel it isn’t a chore for them.

Test readers are a gift.  And they can can never be thanked enough for all that they do, and all that they share.

Symbolism in Your Writing

I am a big believer in using symbolism to breathe just a little more life into a work.

The best kind of symbolism doesn’t have to be noticed by readers in order to accomplish what it needs.  Sometimes it’s a secret that may only be shared between the writer and the prose itself.

When I wrote Glowstar, I wanted to infuse this particular story with some light fairytale elements as well as weave symbolism throughout the work, but in a very subtle way that doesn’t necessarily have to be seen to be understood.

People form moods by the secrets we keep for ourselves.  Sometimes it’s the clothes we wear on a given day, or a fragrance chosen for a particular reason known only by us.  Most people may neither notice nor even know what it is, but they sense its presence by the subtle pickup in our moods that inspires empathy and communicates a slight flavoring to the everyday-ness of our lives.

So you can think of symbolism like that.  Like a perfume, perhaps – it can be such a slight infusion that some might barely notice while speaking with you yet still sense its intangible presence in the taste of your words.  And others will sense something even from across a room where all they may discern is the way your eyes have a certain depth of knowing.  This is all assuming the perfume hasn’t been judiciously applied and isn’t a cloying scent.

Let’s take a look at the first three pages of Glowstar as an example.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are several pieces of symbolism on these three pages that help describe a mood without revealing their nature.  One of the meanings of the name Alannah is awakening while another is harmony.  Eamon can mean guardian or protector.  The names themselves are lovely within the context and fit inside the prose, bringing an otherness to the story opening as the characters are initially revealed with this first peek.

Water is a common symbol for birth and renewal.  Water itself is such a powerful thing that all people recognize its place in our lives.  It’s all around us as well as a part of our own selves.  It’s a vital necessity and yet still much more than that.  We see its power when it moves in a river or running body or falls from the sky in its different forms.  And we sense that despite it being so ever-present, it still holds mysteries that are hidden beneath its surface.

The lights of traffic moving across the George Washington Bridge are compared to diamonds (headlights) and rubies (tail lights).  It’s a compelling piece of imagery that is immediately identifiable to anyone who has watched lights of traffic moving far away in the darkness.  Diamonds symbolize purity of love and enduring.  Rubies define passion and devotion.  The entire first chapter of Glowstar is excerpted on my website, by the way, for anyone who would like to read just a little further to see more glimpses of the strange and rather beautiful relationship between Alannah and Eamon.

The moon is another piece of imagery that casts a certain mood with the soft light of its presence.  It’s often associated with femininity, mutability, and emotions – feelings that may churn within some of us like the tide, shifting our own moods.

Snowflakes are described as fireflies chasing one another.  Fireflies are an ethereal creature, almost like little backyard fairies.  We see them only so briefly as they flash and disappear, and reappear again somewhere else.  There is an intangibility about fireflies that I like, and they can mean different things, including awakening.

An oyster and pearl are alluded to when Eamon discovers Alannah within the depths.  Pearls have many associations both with the moon, due to their resemblance, and to water.  They include meanings such as harmony, femininity, devotion, and many others related to love and beauty in form.

Stars in the night sky are described as patterning the darkness like a field of early snowdrops.  Snowdrops are a flower associated with spring, being one of the first to arise to herald the awakening of life with the release of winter.

As Eamon kisses Alannah, his lips are described as warm like coral while her own cold lips are the color of topaz.  Coral can symbolize longevity, while topaz can mean love and devotion.

The three pages of the opening scene reveal a scene of an awakening and hint at a strangeness between the relationship of Alannah and Eamon.  Any reader can read this passage and visualize the scene while discerning all the subtleties flowing beneath the surface – and without needing to see what they all are.

The entirety of the story doesn’t contain quite the frequency of symbolism as appears in the opening scene, but it’s always handled in a very similar manner – lightly so it can fade into the background of any described scene.

Here’s an allusion to cherry blossoms which are always richly symbolic (feminism, love, mutability of life) and interlacing circles which can symbolize eternity, done within a scene that evokes contrasts of the conflicting moods that Alannah finds within herself:

CENTRAL PARK spread out before her in a scene of dark and light, shadowed trees with snow like cherry blossoms ringing their boughs, and underneath a blanket of pure white as inviting as any bed for one who wearied of what life had chosen for them.

Alannah sat on a bench staring out across the Lake. To her right, Bow Bridge spread its long arch across the frozen water, its iron adorned with designs of interlacing circles that knew neither beginning nor end. She pulled off her cap and shook her hair out, feeling confined. Her paper bag sat untouched in her lap, the warmth of the pastry inside already lost to the air.

Symbolism works best when it’s just a faint dab of perfume to inform a certain mood and communicate without needing to explain.  It’s interesting when we recognize where it’s being used and why, but it isn’t required if it finds its way into the tapestry to become a part of the overall picture.