78 – 33 1/3 – 16 – BetaMax VHS

Image   Remember these?

Remember the confusion? videotapes-vhs-betamax-dv-minidv-7

I apologize in advance for the length of this post.  I may have just written a State of Electronic Publishing piece no one will want to read.  … But hey, I feel better for getting it off my chest!

The wonderful world of electronic publishing is going through the same horrible birthing process music and spoken word recordings and video experienced.  The dust hasn’t settled yet, in fact don’t expect it to ever really settle as technology marches on and keeps changing everything.  If you are a writer, experienced New York Times best seller, or novice, join the club…call it an adventure if you wish, but it’s really more of a pain-in-the-ass.

If you are writing without illustrations except for your cover images, there really isn’t a pressing problem.  You can settle comfortably for writing your book in Microsoft Word and using Amazon.com to convert it for you into either a print book using their subsidiary called CreateSpace or, through their KDP Direct into a handsome electronic book for their Kindle readers called a MOBI file.  They’ll do all of this for you without cost, and they’ll do it beautifully and quickly.  If you want to expand your market and publish in ePub format so it can be read on MAC iAnythings and B&N Nook Readers, you’ll need to pay someone to convert it for you, but read on, there’s a better way to do it.

A side note here:  No one is going to proof read and edit your book for you.  So the old “garbage in – garbage out” axiom applies.

Bill&CynPalleaIf your work is filled will illustrations or photographs you have an even more wonderful adventure awaiting you (read: super pain-in-the-ass).  I recently published a book with more than 70 photos.  I wrote it in Word, but quickly realized how unstable text-wrapping around images in Word can be when you start editing.  I switched to Adobe InDesign, a tremendous program created with books in mind, and the end result for the printed book was perfect.  I was able to flow text around photos and graphics without a problem.  There are tons of other features that allow writers to control how their text, page and chapter headers appear too.  InDesign can make your printed book look as good anything coming out of Simon and Schuster or the other big houses, and you can do it yourself!   When you’re ready, InDesign lets you export your book to any number of formats your publisher might want.  Since I use Amazon CreateSpace for my printed editions, they had me export it has a super high resolution PDF file.  I couldn’t be happier with the finished book’s look and feel.

But alas, the real problem appears when you try to create a beautiful electronic book full of images and photos in ANY eBook format.   I wish there was a better way to say it, but the results you get will suck big time.   I keep telling myself this is only a temporary problem…technology marches forward, but instead of screaming and complaining about how fast things are changing; on this issue nothing seems to be improving and you have almost no viable options.

Here is what you can do today –  right now – and it’s not much, if you want to put your graphic masterpiece out for electronic devices:

The best looking document you can read using any of the online readers or tablet computers is a PDF file.  You can generate it directly from InDesign and your photos and illustrations will be exactly where you want them to be…perfect!   But readers viewing your book on their Kindles and Nooks and iPads will only be able to enlarge the entire page, one at a time, which means they’ll have to scroll left to right and top to bottom to read your text and enjoy your graphics.  It’s so distracting that if you expect them to be able to read your story you’ll find them complaining it is too much work….It’s not a good solution, but the best that’s out there right now.

The alternative is to format your book for Kindle MOBI or ePub formats the same way an all-text book is done, but now, for your graphics and photos, you can only left, center or right justify them.  There is no text wrapping, period.   The result is a book with images sitting above or below the text.   Although it’s ugly and boring, the advantage to your readers is that they can still make the text larger or smaller, as in other electronic books, but the formatting is horribly distracting.    The one slight advantage that Kindle’s MOBI format offers is that readers can double click on any of your images (yes, all the lined up ones) and they will be able to see them large on their screens.  Not much of a trade off, but better than nothing.  In one eBook I recently read – “The Season of the Witch” by David Talbot (excellent read BTW) that was put out by Simon & Schuster, they pulled all the photographs out of the book and put them into a scrapbook section in the rear with captions.  While this is nice to have, the impact of including the image with the story was completely lost and hurt the writer’s ability to tell his story with the visual connections it deserved.

Forgive this next blatant plug… but this man is one smart dude and in my book, a saint, and I would be doing a huge disservice to you if I didn’t tell you about him:

UECHis name is Nitin, and he sells an incredible little, very inexpensive ($47) program called the Ultimate EBook Creator.  If you’ve been in sticker shock at the prices being charged by independent eBook formatters, those kind people who will convert your Word doc into an ePub or MOBI file for only the cost of an arm or leg or your first born, pick of the litter puppy, here is another option  –   Nitin was a gift to me from the Google universe one day.  The price was so low that I told myself not to waste my time, but after reading his website description of the program:  http://ultimateebookcreator.com/  and watching his self-produced videos I was hooked.  I quickly parted with the forty-seven bucks and have never regretted it…. In fact, I’ve become one of his biggest fans.   The link is here, and I’ll let him tell you the rest, but suffice it to say, just on one book, Nitin saved me over $700 in conversion fees AND empowered me so I didn’t have to depend on anyone else to get the job done, and done right the first time.  How he does this and manages to keep releasing new versions (always for free to his users) is a profound mystery.  I keep telling him to charge more.  His program is worth hundreds not a couple bucks.

In regard to electronic books with images in them – Hang in there, eventually things will get better.

Seeing what’s wrong

star_2 The simple truth is that I am  not  mentally capable of seeing even obvious mistakes by the time I’m done writing.   One thing that really helps me is reading the page out loud to Bill.  If I stumble for any reason I find it is caused by incorrect words or punctuation.  If I don’t fix it, every reader will stumble in the same place and suddenly the poor mechanics of what I wrote will yank them completely out of the story… something I never want to happen.

Our brains are incredible machines, and after awhile, when I’ve lived inside the story for months and months and read and re-read and re-re-read it, I begain reading words that I THINK are on the page, but not really there at all.  Putting the book away for a year will allow some of the mistakes to be spotted and fixed, but who wants to put their treasure in a drawer and forget about it?

Grammar and punctuation errors are often caused when a writer doesn’t know any better.  Only a professional who has not read the piece and is not attached to your story can spot and fix your manuscript the right way.  I can’t thank Bill and Rich Petersen enough for going through my most recent work.

Craft of writing

Someone recently asked me what it’s like write… the physical process.   Interesting question for sure.   When I first started, I kept this huge stack of 3×5 file cards, each with an idea, topic, character, I wanted to include in my story.  I shuffled that stack of cards around for over five years, each time thinking I was ready to start writing my first book.   Each time I sat down to write I ended up walking away in frustration, not happy at what I saw going onto the page.  In those days I belonged to The Writer’s Book Club, and one of my monthly selections that I forgot to cancel before arriving was a tiny hardcover called “Writing Your First Novel”.  That silly little book contained something that changed my life.  It told me that if I really wanted to write a book that I had to write everyday, no exceptions.  It told me to make a contract with myself that I would write X-pages per day, come hell or high water – and that I could throw them all away the next day and start over again, but I had to write.   Then it told me the most important thing of all – don’t worry about where you’re going next week or next month with the story, just worry about and write today what you feel.

Twenty-eight days later I had my first book manuscript stacked on the table.   Of course it ended up getting jammed into a drawer for five or ten years after receiving countless rejection letters, but I had a book.

So to answer the question:  If you want to write a book, write it, don’t talk about doing it.  Make a commitment to write every single day.  Set your minimum low – maybe only three pages – but allow yourself to go over that … and you will.   Things will start to pour out of you and you’ll be as amazed as I was.   Write for yourself, no one else.  Tell a good story.  Make your characters live and breathe.