Well hi there, brothers and sisters.
Since Aaron kick started me with the blog I did last week, I figured it might be a good idea if I got back to keeping up with my responsibilities’ around here. I mean there’s no sense in having a blog if you don’t blog, is there? The only problem is, I tend to run out of subjects to blather on about. But I’ll give it a shot and try to get at least one blog in a week… maybe two if I’m lucky.
Now you may suspect that the above title pertains to this blog, but it doesn’t. Instead the title is a paraphrased version of a question I have been asked a few times about my nearly finished novel, Wolfsong. It generally gets asked when the person posing the question discovers that I plan on giving away a novel that I’ve been working on and revising for the past three years.
Usually the actual question is, “You worked on this story for three years, and you’re going to give it away for free? For God’s sake why?” Or something along similar lines.
Putting aside the look on the questioner’s face at the moment, (The one that makes me suspect they have the local mental health clinic on speed dial and are thumbing the button.), it’s a legitimate question. Why am I basically working for free over the last three years? The truth is… I’m not.
Wolfsong actually began as something of an experiment, and a bet between my wife, Tammie, and myself. She had found a few short stories that I did ages ago and kept for sentimental reasons. She also discovered an online story I co-wrote on a renaissance festival site that encourages such things. Which prompted her to ask why I didn’t write anymore.
I went on to explain that writing was one damned hard profession to make a living at, and made certain to include all the negative things that I’d come up against back in the 80s. I might as well have been discussing advanced quantum mechanics with the Statue of Liberty. Not that she didn’t understand… she did. But, the poor dear has more faith in me than I have any right to expect.
So, just to prove my point, I went back to work and created Wolfsong. To be fair, I did my best at the time, and put every outdated thing I remembered about writing into it. Then, I tried to sabotage the whole mess by making the book a POD, (Print On Demand), and doing absolutely as little as I could to promote it. My evil plan was to be able to say, “See? I told you so.” It didn’t quite work out that way. The darn thing double crossed me and sold a few copies, (So, you see, I already did make a couple of bucks off the story.).
Ok. So she was right, and I was wrong. If I’d have known at the time such a thing would happen, I would have done a better job on the story. Now that I know, I am doing just that. I pulled the title, treating it as a rough draft, (And believe me, boys and girls… it IS a rough draft.), then set to work rewriting and revising the story. The difference now is, I want to attract some readers. To do that I need to put my A-game forward instead of just a half-hearted attempt to prove myself right and my poor wife wrong. I never win at that one, anyway. But I keep trying.
Now, I’m certainly not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I did realize that the story had some potential to attract that many readers with no promoting. A couple even left me nice reviews. So I decided to put my blood, sweat, and soul into the story and polish it to a flawless diamond shine. Or, as close as I could get it.
I found some beta readers, a few critique partners, and let them rip into my baby with both barrels. If you happen to be a writer who hasn’t done this yet with your story; you’ll soon understand why Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was a writer.
In the meanwhile, as I worked on the seemingly endless revisions, I got back into relearning the craft. My dear aforementioned wife presented my with a library of books on writing, and I began getting back into the swing of things.
All of this preamble aside; Why am I doing this? To improve my writing? Yes. In the hopes of gaining a larger readership? Yes. To have a chance of making a living? Honestly. Yes.
But most of all; I am doing this to provide what readers I can get with the best work I can possibly turn out at any given moment. I kind of think they deserve it, even if it is free. And win, lose, or draw, I will always believe that.
Keeping up with the changes to the world of writing over the past couple of decades or so, seems daunting enough. Between Print On Demand technologies, Epublishing, Kindle, Mobi, Barnes&Noble getting in on the ebook reader bandwagon, as well as the ever shrinking advances and support from the traditional publishing houses; it can feel more than a bit overwhelming for the aspiring author. Particularly if you happen to be completely new to the business.
To make matters worse, if you do decide to go the self-publishing route you will discover that everything is left in your hands. This means that you are responsible for Graphics, (your cover art); Typesetting, (the look of your book), Proofreading (finding all those niggeling little gaffs that people will point to and say, “What a dumbass.”); Editing, (I don’t really have to explain this one, do I?); Marketing, (Advertising, promoting, etc.); and Formatting, (making certain your ‘baby’ looks just as good in Kindle as it does in Mobi, etc.).
Unless you happen to have major bank to hire a pro to do these jobs for you, you are stuck with Do It Yourself, (DYI). The problem here is, not all of us are Graphic artists, Salesmen, or typesetters. (Plus one points if you know what kerning is. If you have to look it up, then you know what I’m rambling on about.)
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a big bankroll to spend on any of these necessary endeavors. To be honest, with my medical bills I’m doing well to ensure we get to eat something besides soup beans once a month around the old homestead. That fact alone leaves me in pretty much the same situation as most of you out there.
And lets face it, most of us are not computer programmers. So formatting in different reader languages holds the same frustration as trying to write a gaming program in C++, Pascal, Cobal, and Assembly simultaneously. Which doesn’t take into consideration that most programs are notoriously stubborn about reading another programs files. In fact they’re downright prejudiced about it. One of the reasons that webpages view differently between browsers.
But, take heart. Although this all seems to be akin to climbing Mount Everest with nothing more than a bag of rosin and a pair of tennis shoes for equipment, there is much we can learn to make the task easier. We might not be able to do every one of those tasks that go into publishing a book, but what we can do will go a long way towards “rolling our own.”
For this round let’s focus on formatting. Since most of us are trying to make a living as writers, we need to build as large a readership as we possibly can within our chosen genres. This means that we can not rely on Amazon, or Smashwords to do the job for us. Well, we can with Smashwords, to an extent. But that seems akin to allowing someone else to breathe for us. It might work, but it probably won’t work as well as breathing for ourselves.
Unless you are proficient in HTML, XML, or Mobi, you’re going to have to find a way to accomplish this task for ourselves. As you probably guessed, this means a couple of programs to do the job for us, and a way to check our results.
First off you will need at least two separate ebook reading programs, one for Kindle and one for Mobi, (Barns& Noble use the Mobi format). The Kindle reader program is free for your PC, and can be found here from Amazon. Mobi format reader for PC can also be downloaded for free here. And if you want to make certain that you have as many possible versions to cover as many bases as you can, here is where you can find out about The Top 4 Free ePub Readers for PC.
Ok. Now that we have a way to actually see what our ebook will look like in pretty much all the top ebook readers, it’s time to get down to some serious DYI formatting.
The easiest way to get this part of the job done also involves two free programs. One is Sigil, a What You See Is What You Get, (WYSIWYG), ebook editor; the other is Calibre, an ebook manager capable of doing a pretty good job of changing an ebook’s format without messing up the book’s look… most of the time. To fix any problems you may have in this, and other areas of useing these two programs to format your own ebooks for self-publishing, here are some links to a few tutorials that can help you over those rough spots:
IT Connect/Creating ePUB Ebooks.
How To Easily Write and Publish Ebooks with Sigil.
Getting Started with Calibre.
Now, before you get to thinking this is easy, don’t. It is easier than learning HTML, or Mobi coding language, but your still going to have to do some serious work. The upside is, you will know for certain how your book is going to look to the reader. The more proficient you become in using these programs, the more professional your ebook will look.
Good luck, and I hope this makes it easier for you to get the results you want.