Some Days are Better Than Others

Oh boy, the other night was a struggle. After a conversation with a distant friend I realized a couple of things. First, I needed to complete copy work on “The Big Red Buckle“. Even in my circle of friends, nerdy as most of you are, there are people who do not yet have a Kindle or an iPad or other tablet device. Because of this work I expect the paperback version, which includes “Joulupukki” and is also on MatchBook, will improve market reach stretching beyond just the Kindle offering. And, I realized I’ve been putting off the copy-edit work on “The Big Red Buckle” because my first attempts at it proved so stinking difficult.

So I decided to take up the task again, after my family came down with a bought of stomach flu, I sat down at my desk and turned off Storyist. No more writing until the edit work is done. I hardened my resolve. I refused all enticements to come play World of Warcraft with my friend. I cut and paste, edited, manipulated, carved, cursed, and finally got it done. I ran into a couple of different issues, unexpected issues, that you should know about if you’re going to attempt something similar.

CreateSpace Trim Templates

I started with their barebones template in the trim size of choice. Everything seemed to be working just fine until I converted to a PDF or uploaded it to CreateSpace for conversion. Then all sorts of wonky bull shit befell me. After about fifty attempts, uploading the manuscript and then preview the results, I more or less was compelled to give up on this “recommended” approach.

Lines would appear in the headers, text that was not in the original would magically pop up, and the table of contents would freak out and miss its pagination. None of this seemed explainable. All of it was frustrating the hell out of me.

Microsoft Word for Mac 2011

Let me say these difficult words quickly, because no one at my former employer is going go appreciate this next bit. Some of you may dislike me, or dislike me more, as a result of what I will say.

If you worked on this project you should start polishing your resume because MS Word for Mac 2011 is junk. If you patted yourself on the back after its release you should probably duck and cover when you run between campus buildings. And if, Gods above and below, you managed the abortive feature list that made its way into the final product you and I have some bad blood between us.

I am an Office product superstar or I used to be. The kind of guy that knows how to make things work in this office suite. A Zen master of the mouse. But beyond writing a couple of letters or knocking out some outlines I had not formerly really made use of my copy of Microsoft Office for Mac. This time, when I really needed its proported extensive feature list, I discovered that Microsoft threw a monkey wrench into its own internals.

Section Breaks

So many of the problems I was dealing with ended coming from the way that MS Word for Mac ’11 implements “advanced” section breaks. It used to be that if you wanted to build sections into a document, to preserve page numbers from the manuscript for instance, you would insert section start and section end markers bracketing each area you wished to format differently for whatever reason. MS Word for Mac does not work this way. Instead you mark the beginning of a section with any number of section type markers. The end is bracketed by the next section marker or the end of the document. Sounds, pretty straight forward, and if all you were ever going to do was write a document for consumption in MS’ proprietary mark-up it would be fine. And Redmond, WA is still the center of the Universe, right?

Sadly the answer to this question is ‘no’. CreateSpace will consume this non-standard document mark-up and the first time it encounters “Section Break (Next Page)” it will add three blank pages. Ultimately, while this results in several additional issues with your document, the big problem is that CreateSpace will see these blank pages and cough up its guts right there in your lap (the maximum number of blank pages you can have in a row is two).

The problem seems to be the conversion of the .DOC or .DOCX mark-up into .PDF format. When you use Word to accomplish the same thing (save as PDF) you get the same blank set of pages in the middle of your document.

It took me a while to figure this one out, but it was the single biggest problem I ran into trying to get my manuscript into print. Not wanting to waste any more time I ended up using CreateSpace’s example template which contained the old style Begin and End markers. Basically I copied my story into that template and when I saved it preserved the sections correctly. Talk about a kludge. I’ve checked, and Apple’s Pages allows similar, standard-style, section marking, so next time I’ll do my copy-edit work using a different product.

Headers and Footers

I encountered a lot of problems with the headers and footers in my original attempts to copy-edit my work. At one point I discovered that the dedication page was linked to a page outside its section, much later in the document. In that case I’d get the book title and page 58 at the top of the dedication page and a missing page number between pages 57 and 59. I don’t know how this got inserted in there, and when I discovered why my table of contents didn’t line up with the page layout (yeah, go figure they were different) I ended up having to trash the whole document to start over from scratch.

Linking a following section to its predicate should not be that difficult. Understanding how segments are linked should be stated much more cleanly. As it stands now, and I was not doing anything out of the ordinary, MS has obfuscated what is going on within this document space making it impossible to know why things are showing incorrectly or giving anyone half a chance at fixing problems when they occur.

Online Help

I bought my copy of MS Word for Mac only a couple of years ago. In fact my toddler is older than my copy of Word. Much like MS Word for Mac my toddler has some built in features that help me understand what might be going wrong with him. His voice recognition software is slowly, but surely, learning my nuanced speech patterns. When I ask him, “why do you stink?” usually he replies, “because I pooped my pants.” And similarly I can type a question into my Mac when I sniff something rank and expect an answer from the built-in help data store for my computer. But here is where the similarity starts to separate.

If Aral cannot answer me I can quickly Google for help. Often I find innovative and helpful solutions for problems I’m having with my child. “Try to bribe him to sit on the potty,” you say? Ok, that’s worth a try. However, when I do the same for a product I paid through the nose for, I only ever get additional offers to buy more of what I already have. If you were watching Twitter the other night and wondered what prompted this outburst, you now have an answer.

Conclusion

I should let you all know that the print version of “The Big Red Buckle” dropped. You too can own my first science fiction novelette, even if you have not converted to electronic books. It is, like most printed stories a little more expensive than the electronic version, but I hope you will find it worth the investment. That is the good news.

Ten hours in front of my computer (plus all the editing time I spent getting things sorted out prior to that evening) has granted me a unique view into a company I worked for only a little while ago. Like most of my former colleges, I used to operate completely within the Microsoft microcosm. Functionally, this is the workable solution if your audience is solely comprised of other people who use this single line of products.

So, in the past I used to scoff at people when they complained that MS products and how they were not working out for them as anticipated. Honestly, I thought you were a bunch of morons. I mean press F1 and read the manual.

No longer! Now I’m pretty certain I was being inconsiderate and oblivious. Standards exist, not to be broken so some team manager can slap the word “innovation” on the willful and reckless manipulation of any potential interoperability. When you take these products out into the world they should play well with others.

Seemingly I’ve already wasted money on a tool that does not turn bolts as advertised. That’s my loss, and it’s going to take a lot more than Jerry Seinfeld has to offer to bring me back. What I had not realized, until recently anyway, is that there are other tool makers out there who do an admirable job of turning that same nut for far less. Microsoft Word for Mac 2011, thanks for wasting my precious time, this experience has helped me get over thirteen years of kool-aid.

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