Tag: Amazon

Typesetting Programs

This is mostly for the self-pub crowd, so if you are planning on trad. publishing then this will maybe be interesting, but it won’t be as important to you as it is to folks who are doing this on their own.

Typesetting is one of the most overlooked bits to putting a book together. Everyone knows about cover art and editing and marketing and… but they forget typesetting.

 

Typesetting is different from interior design which are the doodads that make your book pretty, like artwork. Instead, it’s the long slog through the text making sure widows and orphans don’t exist, preventing words from hyphenating onto the next line, and making sure, overall, the book is prepared for print.

I’m writing this coming off the heels of typesetting my first book, so I shall share with you my tale of woe. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s 5:30am and I haven’t been to bed yet. I also started this project at around 11pm. I’m insane that way.

Anyway, the first thing I will tell you is DO NOT TYPESET IN WORD. A lot of self-published folks try and do this, and it’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Word doesn’t output clean enough documents and doesn’t have the tools to make typesetting easy or smooth. Sure, you can theoretically do it just like you can theoretically tapdance on a chocolate cake. But the results are… lamentable.

From there you will be looking at design programs. The first I will mention is Scribus. I dabbled with it, but couldn’t figure it out well – however, since it’s open source it’s a great idea for authors who want to do typesetting on the cheap. And I am sure there are tutorials out there, so if you want to take the time to learn it I am certain that it can work for you. I know many people who swear by it, so I have nothing bad to say regarding the program.

Second is Microsoft Publisher. I started my project in Publisher and by about 12:30am I was screaming for mercy. The auto-flow wasn’t auto-flowing, and I was about to scream and punch my monitors. Both of them. However, I restrained myself because they are kind of important to my job. It is more user-friendly on the surface that Scribus or the next program I’m going to mention, but it definitely lacks in the arena of ease of use once you get into the crunchy bits, and the auto-flow function is… well I have nothing to say about it that won’t come out in furious cussing.

Finally is the program I learned at about midnight after watching this tutorial. After that I have, other than finishing a few minor notes, finished typesetting the whole book. So, all in all, it was maybe four hours in InDesign to typeset a nearly 400 page book. It looks intimidating on the surface, but once you begin using it the powerful features become indispensable and you will find yourself able to accomplish a lot of work with very little effort and time. No joke. The downside is that InDesign is expensive since it’s put out by Adobe. I am lucky enough to have the CS3 package from back when I was in college, and it works just fine for everything I need.

While I could talk your ear off about the details of typesetting all I have the brain for right now is telling you that it is important, and that you can do it yourself pretty easily if you have the correct tools and tutorials.

Why Traditional Publishing Isn’t Dying

This is likely to be a controversial post because I am going to say a lot of things about the industry that I think are hard truths. Truths that suck to hear, but they are things I think need to be said.

Despite pundits saying it, traditional publishing isn’t about to die. It isn’t “dying”. It isn’t even in pain. While the “Big Six” in New York are suffering there are plenty of presses who are still doing marvelously and aren’t on the verge of collapse. In fact, I would even say that the indie publishing world is booming. While there are sharks in the water and idiots floating around in inner-tubes with tin foil hats there are also plenty of good companies emerging from depths. The thought that traditional publishing is dying is a misnomer and is, for some people, wishful thinking. It isn’t going away, and thank God for that.

I do not take issue with self-publishing and have many friends who are quite successful doing it. They are skilled writers who take time with their works to polish, market, and prepare them for the shelves they’re on. I salute anyone who takes the time to do that and do it well. It isn’t easy. However folks like that are rare.

The reason I prefer traditional publishing in 90% of circumstances boils down to a single word: gatekeepers. There is a buffer zone of several people between the hopeful would-be author and their potential audience. Agents, acquisitions editors, editors within a publishing company, lawyers… all of these people make a difference in the quality of the work produced. And they all protect readers from the dreaded Slush Pile.

If you don’t know what the Slush Pile is, it is a derogatory term for the query inbox. It’s a neck-deep pool of horrible that no one wants to be part of, and it’s what acquisitions editors protect readers from. They protect you from such titles as “A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay” or “Taken By The Lightning Bolt“.  Those books, however, almost define the slush pile in my mind. I’ve got nothing against gays or erotica, but those two were the worst things I could dig up on Amazon. If anyone else wants to share links to HORRIBLE books in the comments I’d be happy to add more!

Before you ask, yes. It is that bad. No, I’m not making it up.

Now, before you all shout “BUT I DON’T SUCK!” I believe you. Being that awful takes many years of hard work, and I personally know many successful and skilled self-published writers. However, you are running up against the fact that you are emerging – still dripping – from a pool over three million kids have peed in. No matter how many showers you take and how many times you clean that bathing suit it will follow you around as long as you own that suit.

I know that it isn’t fair. And I know that it isn’t right. But that is the stigma that self-published authors face, and it isn’t going to go away. I know many people believe that self-publishing will gather steam and stomp those mean ol’ publishers right out of existence, but it just won’t happen because: gatekeepers. The lack of gatekeepers is what is causing the self-publishing industry to hemorrhage. There are so many authors and so many of them are so awful that it becomes almost impossible for readers to sort the wheat from the chaff. That job that once belonged to people who defined the writing industry before readers even saw the content is now being passed on to the readers, and most of them just don’t want to do that job.

There are a few dedicated folks who will read only indie books. They will read only self-pubbed works, and they stick up for authors they believe in. I respect them, and I respect the authors who actually “make it” through self-published means. Being able to do that means they have found ways to market themselves effectively to the point where they are likely as educated in marketing as many people who have gone to college for it. It is no easy road. However, they are the minority.

Regardless of the few, the proud, and the intelligent who look at self-publishing for what it is – a business venture – there are far too many folks out there who view it as a shortcut. I recently had a conversation with my friend Jerry Hatchett about this topic. Jerry is an accomplished self-pubbed author who is one of the few authors I know who nearly makes a living off his writing as an indie author. He expressed hope that maybe self-publishing would start to filter itself after awhile, and I hope for the same. However the realistic part of me doesn’t see that happening anytime soon because any moron with a word processor and internet access can put a book up for sale. And they will. The lack of gatekeepers in the industry is what will cripple indie authors from being able to really become the powerhouses they could otherwise.

Perils and Pitfalls: Self Publishing Edition

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...
A Picture of an eBook(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Authors have a lot of people hawking services to them from the minute they start to the minute they finish. There are people out there that will do everything from sitting with you step by step, to marketing your book, to rewriting the damn thing for you. And probably wiping your nose while they do it.

The cause of this, in my estimation, is the dramatic turnover in the publishing industry. Whereas before in order to be published authors almost had to go the traditional publishing route in order to be considered a “real” book these days the DIY trend is pervasive. This, of course, means that there is a huge influx of writers looking for professional help while they engage in the various stages and flavors of publishing.

In this market there are many people looking to prey on authors that are new, inexperienced, or ignorant of what goes on. There are “editors” that can’t edit, “reviewers” that charge an arm and a leg for reviews, “self publishing” companies that are no better than Publish America, and “cover artists” that steal copyrighted material to make covers with.

How can an author protect themselves in this environment? The best way is to educate yourself. Read, watch, and think about everything you encounter. There are certain things that an author (specifically a self publishing author) needs, but there are a lot of “services” that you can forego. And even more that you may be getting scalped on.

1) Editing

Many writers reference the Freelance Editing Association as the paragon of freelance editing. I don’t know how good their skills are, but I can tell you that their prices are outrageous. If you want to pay that much money to receive editing I won’t stop you, but I can say that there are a lot of very good editors out there that won’t scalp you. I’m one. Also, just because they are in the FEA doesn’t mean that they’re good – anyone can pay the membership fee and join. Unless you have worked with an editor before or have been referred to them by happy clients don’t trust anyone’s abilities until you see them in action. Also, don’t judge us by their blog posts – we write these at midnight while furious at injustice and having drunk too much caffeine.

Another thing I’ve seen with editors is that there are a lot of sub-par editors that charge a lot because they think those are the going rates. These editors miss important and large issues with works, and I don’t mean missing the occasional typo or something; I mean big, sweeping problems. Make sure you see if you can find any reviews of the editor or company before you decide to have them pick up your book, and see if they offer a sample edit. Remember, an editor is like any other service: you are paying them to perform a service. Don’t be cowed by their expertise (whether real or imagined).

2) Cover Design

Cover design can be a HUGE money pit for authors doing freelance work. There are a lot of people out there offering photomanipulated covers for prices in the hundreds, and the work isn’t… bad, but it isn’t amazing. Unfortunately, many of these people are using brushes, photos, fonts, and resources from stock that they didn’t pay for, aren’t crediting properly, or aren’t permitted to use. It’s a common problem. They then sell these covers without licenses to do so, and the author using the cover becomes culpable for the copyright infringement.

Save yourself the trouble and make SURE that the cover artist doing your work (or you, if you’re doing it) have the proper licensing to use everything you are using on your cover.

I won’t comment on the cost of handpainted covers because they are a huge amount of work, and the artist has to speak for themselves since you will have seen their art before commissioning them to design a cover for you.

3) Ebook Conversions

This one I just heard of. Apparently people are charging hundreds of dollars to have their finished manuscripts converted into ebooks. And I don’t mean typesetting – that’s worth hundreds of dollars or more. I just mean strict conversion to ebook format without the typesetting. That made my jaw hit the floor.

The best method I was given was to export your manuscript as an unfiltered HTML document, load it into Calibre (a free, open source program) and format it that way. There is a learning curve, but it won’t cost you anything other than some cursing and effort.

4) Reviews

ALL reputable review sources (magazines, newspapers, etc.) make their money off of sales of their product and advertising, not off of selling reviews. They do not charge authors for them. Unfortunately, some of the larger venues only accept requests for reviews by reputable publishers, and are thus inaccessible to self published authors. However with that being the case you should never, ever, under any circumstances pay for a review. Anyone who is charging you is scalping you. Just don’t do it.

Also, Amazon will remove reviews they discover are paid for, and Amazon doesn’t typically remove reviews for many reasons. I can’t underscore this enough – you are being scammed. You will not make back that money, and the people doing it are not providing you with a serious service.

5) Self Publishing Companies

These aren’t all bad. Some of them can be a huge resource to authors. Others are nightmares waiting to happen a la Publish America. Again, as with all others (except reviewers) read the reviews seriously. Look for people that have used their services, and examine the books that they have helped put out. If they’re full of errors, have ugly covers, and the typesetting looks like a fifth grade paper you have your answer.

Since I offer self publishing services I won’t tell you that we’re all crooks and highwaymen, but just be cautious, and stick with reputable people where you can.

Overall, you just want to pay attention. Look for reviews on the people and services that you think you might be interested in, ask for samples, and don’t part with your money readily just because someone says, “Oh, yeah, you need this for your book!”

The reality is that there are a few things you need. Most of them you don’t have to pay for. As in my previous blog, self publishing comes with unavoidable costs that traditional publishing doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean that all costs associated with self publishing are unavoidable. Or need to be egregious.