Help for Authors

Authors need help. Goodness, me, but we need help. We need help, because we think we have stories that other people will pay money to read! We need help because we spend precious hours of our lives researching things that virtually no one else cares about, so that we don’t mess up that particular detail of our story. (We’ll mess up numerous other details, but that one will be fine!) I’m pretty good with numbers, but I don’t think I can count all of the ways in which writers need help.

That said, there are a couple of ways in which we can actually get help. (I’m not talking about paying a psychiatrist — that would be a very different sort of post.) The DW (or, as Rumpole would refer to her, “She who must be obeyed”) decided that it would be fun for us to have a reading challenge this year. There were people at her work who were talking about being in a Century club, where the goal was to read 100 books in 2018. She decided that 100 might be a bit of a challenge for our first attempt, so she gave us each a goal of 50 books to read before 2018 dissolves in ashes some twelve months hence.
Now, initially, I wondered where I would be able to find the time to read 50 books (almost 1 per week) in 2018, and I thought how difficult it would be to get Acerrimus and Nether Master published with that kind of a workload imposed. However, I used to read quite a lot, and this is a good excuse to (eventually) buy a bunch of books, so I plunged in, reading a classic (in the sense of being an old book), The Book of Were-wolves. I won’t trouble you with the entire litany of books I read (if you’re interested in the details you can follow me on GoodReads) but I realized that reading books is a good way to reflect upon my own writing. Yes, I’ve read many books, many of which were terrific, and I’ve internalized a lot of their lessons in my own writing over the many years of my life. However, I’ve also forgotten a lot of lessons over those same many years, and it does a lot of good to scour the rust off of the old brain-case periodically and take a fresh look at the work of other authors. (It may also be an encouragement in another way. While I greatly enjoyed the story of the Chronicles of Amber, Zelazney’s terrible writing encouraged me with the thought that if he could get published, then certainly I could, too!) One book I’ve read that reminded me to look at my descriptive text and try to amp up the immersion through clear description is Death Be Not Proud. It’s a fun retelling of a classic fairytale (with enough obfuscation that my initial report on it guessed the wrong two) and Suzannah Rountree has that eye for descriptive detail that got my own juices flowing again.
Another book I read is K. M. Weiland’s 5 Secrets of Story Structure: How to Write a Novel That Stands Out. I really don’t like to be told how to write, and I’m terribly suspicious of people who try to make an art into a science, but Weiland has some good insights (largely gleaned from the writing of other writers’ aids) and I have decided to apply them to the two drafts currently awaiting polishing in my dungeon. While my flesh crawls at the idea of measuring and cutting my story according to these patterns, it certainly can’t hurt to evaluate it by the pattern, can it? And, if it would take only a bit of tweaking to get it to align with the approved story structure, it could be an entertaining experiment. I could see if my beta readers like it better, or if I get more reviews on Amazon when using this technique.
So, I guess I’ll have to think of some way to thank the DW, as this exercise is already starting to bear fruit, and we haven’t gotten half-way through January, yet. Perhaps I’ll wash the dishes.

 

A New Author and Smashwords

So, here I am, new published author, Follis Wood. My print book is en route from Amazon (published using Createspace  and all is well with the world. In the past, when I helped my daughter start publishing, I put her ebook up using Amazon’s services as well, using Kindle Direct Publishing  My daughter, the incomparable Kimia Wood, has since chafed at some of the restrictions on KDP, so she made her second major novel available through Smashwords. Eager for new experiences, I submitted my novel to Smashwords, sifting through their style guide as quickly as I could, only to have my archaic .DOC-formatted manuscript flung back in my virtual face.

Undeterred, I tweaked the already-functioning table of contents to meet Smashwords’ discriminating standards, but to no avail! This time, I was confronted with a quandary. The review at Smashwords told me that I had used mixed formatting for my “Normal” paragraph style, and it was causing some text to overlap or get crunched. Now, I don’t want to imply that the esteemed reviewer didn’t see some sort of text artifact, but there was no such faulty formatting in my document.

I considered my options. I have loathed Microsoft for decades, more because of working with their shoddy products than in spite of it. I do not own Microsoft Word, and I will not if I can at all help it. However, it’s possible that LibreOffice formats .DOC files differently than the dinosaur of Redmond does. I began consulting DuckDuckGo for answers and I found that the Smashwords approval process is referred to as the Meatgrinder. Great! My next search was for “alternative to Smashwords”.

And so, in the words of the Teacher, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” (ESV) I found that Lulu has ebook distribution.

Lulu takes me back to that time before Createspace when my daughter and I tried to publish the novel that shall not be named. We submitted our PDF to Lulu and received an entertaining collection of copies filled with what my wife termed “Chinese”. It was gibberish characters from some flaw in the Lulu PDF engine, and resulted in several useless copies of the book. Combined with Lulu’s lack of free shipping (whereas, with Amazon and Prime we could get free shipping) I turned my back on Lulu, and seldom thought of it again.

Now, in my need for a digital publishing solution, I approached Lulu again. I found that I could submit my ebook in DOC, docx, ePub, and ODT(!). Wow, a modern file format!

To be fair, Lulu doesn’t have as wide a distribution as Smashwords does, but it does seem to get to the big retailers. I can’t comment on how many sales I might miss out on due to not using Smashwords’ distribution to some websites I haven’t heard of before.

I went ahead and modified my DOC that I had uploaded to Smashwords (changed `Smashwords Edition` to `Lulu Edition` and uploaded it to Lulu. To my disappointment, it was rejected. To my great glee, Lulu notified me within minutes, and gave clear instructions as to how to fix it. I ended up moving to an ODT and uploaded again. Again within minutes, I had the go-ahead, although now, I found a problem with the converted file. Back I went to LibreOffice and touched it up, uploading and getting feedback from Lulu within minutes.

Unfortunately I didn’t have immediate publishing joy with Lulu, either. Even after uploading a complete ePub I got some cryptic errors (although more complete information than what I was getting from Smashwords.) Dutiful searching through similar issues was unable to resolve the problem. I decided I would submit a docx instead. I went around this mulberry bush more than a few times, and finally decided that I would take my now “nuked” DOC back to Smashwords.

While it wasn’t as quick as my feedback from Lulu, the “nuked” DOC passed the Meatgrinder, and my ebook is now available through their Premium service.

What’s my lesson in all of this? I think, firstly, that competition is good for competitors and for consumers. Smashwords and Lulu do things differently, and although I eventually published with Smashwords, Lulu’s process was very attractive. It may also teach me to be a little more humble about my computer knowledge, since, apparently, there was something wrong with the DOC when I first submitted it to Smashwords. While it would be nice if they accepted more modern formats, it eventually worked. Finally, it’s a shame that none of these options fully accounts for the metadata possibilities of ebooks. Editing the ebook version in Calibre and Sigil was a lot of fun, but it was frustrating that even Lulu didn’t accept their output. (In the midst of all of this, I also created an account with Draft2Digital, and I may have to try them out further for my next book.)

Oh, there is one more lesson. It’s not always wise to start a rant before the end of the story. You can buy my ebook on Smashwords here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/724870

(Oh, but don’t buy it there if you bought the paperback. I’m working with Amazon Matchbook to give you the ebook for free if you buy the paperback!)

Why?

This is an incredibly good question. My writing is mostly characterized by long lapses when I write nothing at all. How, then, can a Follis Wood blog be worth writing, let alone reading? Well, I’m afraid I have no answers, but if you’ll accompany me in this adventure, we’ll perhaps discover them together. I hope to have information about my upcoming novel, Eris – A Tale of the Nether, with perhaps some excerpts, etc. I may also be persuaded by my incredible daughter to write some book reviews.