Writer’s Tool Box: OMG Vellum

OMG

OMG

Have you been wrestling with formatting crap in your ebook publication tonight? Guess what, in about 30 minutes I turned my manuscript from a struggle to a dream. Previously, the table of contents was not working. KDP split several front papers including the copyright page and the single line dedication. Word for Mac would not embed fonts so any time there was a font size change the whole thing went wonky. And adding an “About the Author” page was ridiculous.

I can’t recall where I heard about this Mac resident application by 180g, but it had been something I’ve been wanting to try for a little while now. Holy cow! I am so glad that I did.

Feature request guys, integration with CreateSpace please! Yeah, I imagine that this might lead to a few additional hoops to jump through, but oh how I crave that ease for the print version of anything else I write. Seriously, this is well worth the money.

If you’ve already bought the ebook on Amazon wait about 12 hours and the new and improved version should download to your favorite reading device. If not, go take a look at the preview tomorrow morning. What a difference, and so easy. This application is being added to the regular workflow for any publication in the future.

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.

Learning Curve of Self-Publishing

Self-Celebrating Self-Publication

Since the beginning of December I have been running up the increasingly steep learning curve of self-publishing. I’ve completed several versions of my manuscript working on copy-editing for the specific media outlet where I want it to appear. Additionally, there is the formidable and expensive work necessary for registering my work in all the appropriate locations.

If you have read past the first paragraph and are still interested than you have probably found and read the volumes of often conflicting information available to a self-publishing author on the web. All that is just scary, and quite often confusing. It would be less that productive if I simply added to that¬†cacophony. And so, this post should not be read as a how-to, but rather “what I did.” Keep in mind that I have a budget for my first book (although I’ve had to adjust it several times) and I this means I’ll know when my work will start to make money.

Imprints and Other Identifiers

I thought the first decision I would be making would be where I was going to publish. It turns out that there are a million and one good places for the self-published author to get his or her work into the market. But, each of these has requirements and, I’ve learned, while you can wing it and simply skate along using only your Amazon registration number those books tend to do poorly in the long term.

ISBN

Thus, I think its important to register your manuscript with, at a minimum, an ISBN number. I tried shopping around and if I had a pile of money to pour into the process I would have realized much better value on my imprint purchase. Guess I’ll just have to wait until I’m swimming in my J.K. Rowling sized swimming pool of cash for that.

In the mean time I financed a small pile of imprints at about $25 dollars a pop. For this book I’ll be using two of them. So if you’re budgeting along you can add $50 clams to your ledger. Not a hefty sum, but considering its for a registration **number** I feel its wicked sting.

Copyright

Another cost item you should know about. I always thought that copyright was a free (meaning tax subsidized) public service. Not only is it not a free public service it is a very slow process. The US Copyright office is telling me that current wait times are three to five months (using their electronic service).

So that’s the bad news, chock up another $35.00 on the ledger. But its not necessary to cry over the wait, per the Copyright office. Add another $35.00 that total because, (and you almost forgot about this part didn’t you) you need to copyright the cover art separately.

For works that are determined to be copyrightable and that meet all legal and procedural requirements for registration, the effective date of registration is the date the Copyright Office received the completed application, correct payment, and copy(ies) of the work being registered in acceptable form. You do not need to wait for a certificate to proceed with publication.

In the future I may decide while I’m working on a manuscript to make my application for the work long in advance of its completion. But I’ll need to navigate that maze separately. What I did was send in my manuscript and resolve to wait out the determination knowing no one else wrote this work.

Library of Congress Control Number

This was surprisingly easy, fast, and cheap obtain. Their website looks like something designed in 1993, but seriously those hard working librarians can be forgiven their mottled grey background and fat table borders. The whole process took less than twenty-four hours and cost a big fat goose egg out of pocket.

As an aside, gaining an LCCN does require that you have an ISBN assigned to the work prior to applying. Also you wont find mention of LCCN on their website, rather look for “Preassigned Control Number Program” or go straight to the program website www.LOC.gov.

UPC

I’m using CreateSpace and joining in both the KDP Select program and Kindle MatchBook program with this title. I’ll save my reasoning for this until later, but as a requirement of choosing to make available printed versions of the story I’ll need a bar code assigned to the title.

I obtained the UPC code through Bowker along with the ISBN imprints. Add $25 to your ledgers and then sing a merry tune. “Its great work if you can get it ….”

Amazon Standard Identification Numbers

I knew about this registration number previously, but it took a little while to understand who Amazon manages books within this domain. At first, it appeared that they would just generate the number for my manuscript once uploaded. But after uploading the manuscript (currently saved as draft since I’m waiting on cover art) I could not find any mention of it. That’s a bummer since this is what I was expecting.

Some more research revealed that Amazon uses a book’s ISBN in place of the ASIN. This greatly simplifies things form my point of view because its one more imprint I don’t have to worry about.

Publishing Outlets

Until I started looking into it I had not realized the number of self publishing resources there were available. And while there are a lot of different ways to get your work out there, this choice has always seemed made for me — start with KDP move out from there.

Why Amazon KDP?

Size may not matter in bed, but it certainly does here. In fact, the size of the distribution network is, at least to me, one of the single largest considerations under review. Like a lot of independents and grinders out there, I’m splitting my time between what I can write and what I can sell. I’m certain that my stories are worth reading and so I’m looking to maximize the effectiveness of the sales channels I engage with.

Without a staff of people standing behind me, supporting the work, I’m left going it alone. What I want to do is spend the least amount of time reaching the most number of people. Read my story and its likely you’ll enjoy it, and perhaps return for the next one in the series. So for this first run I’ve chosen the most pervasive network.

Why CreateSpace

First, most of my book reading of late has been of the electronic variety. I really love audio books, that’s where most of my entertainment money goes these days, and I enjoy reading on my iPad (using Kindle software). But, I’m looking forward to seeing words I wrote on paper. That’s going to be cool.

Better, I have friends and family that will enjoy it more if they can flip through the book. I imagine that this dichotomy extends outward from my circle of comrades and relatives into the general population. So while I enjoy reading one way I’m still aware that its reasonable for people to enjoy the sensation of opening a bound stack of pages.

Why Kindle Select

I’ve already mentioned I’m looking for an expansive market. What it comes down to is that in exchange for 90 days of exclusivity (which isn’t much) you have the ability to reach a lot more people. Select was a no brainer because I am not currently looking to publish elsewhere.

If they ever change their exclusivity clause I may migrate away from the program. Three months isn’t a lot of time. I imagine that if someone were interested in acquiring something I’ve written the wait would be tenable. Most publishers are not able to turn around all the requirements of a release in six months so as long as Amazon’s requirements remain shorter than that I can still shop independent work around for second edition release.

Why Kindle MatchBook

MatchBook is one of those programs that, if you have already done KDP and CreateSpace. The work is already done, its just a toggle in your KDP bookshelf. Not clicking on it seems like a derp move if there ever was one.