Posts Tagged formatting

Q&A: Guido Henkel (part 1)

As I’ve mentioned before, on more than one occasion, when it came to the finished product (ie my novel) I dug my heels in, got real fussy. Not just the words themselves, but also the cover – my designer didn’t just lob over a PDF and say ‘Take it or leave it, pencil boy’. We had to think about what would work and what wouldn’t. It involved trial and error, until we arrived at something we could both be proud of.

Formatting the interior of your ebook requires the same care and attention. Most readers, I would say, will spot one or two spelling mistakes in a book (I know I do, but then again, that’s what I do for a living). They might even forgive this. However, if you present people with text that doesn’t flow properly, which has breaks in all the wrong places, the game is up. Technology is great when it works, when it behaves itself, but if it refuses there are few experiences more frustrating. And the last thing you want is to interrupt the flow of the reading experience, to remind people that they haven’t been transported to the lands of your imagination, but are in fact struggling with an ebook that thinks it’s okay to break lines everywhere and to have the occasional blank page for no particular reason.

When the time came I knew I couldn’t mess about – I had to think big. I did my research and quickly found someone whose CV speaks for itself – Guido Henkel. His website informed me that he had formatted more than 200 ebooks for a range of clients, which was a major box ticked. I checked out his prices (very reasonable) and dropped him an email, thinking that he would be either too busy or wouldn’t want to deal with little people like me. Wrong – busy he might be, but he was keen to help. Tick. And I couldn’t be happier with the finished product – the text flows perfectly, the pages behave exactly as they should, and Guido even corrected a few more typos that I spotted. Tick, tick and tick.

Now that my perfectly formatted novel is out in the world, I thought that fellow writers – especially those about to publish – might be interested to hear some of Guido’s thoughts on ebook preparation. And just so you know, he was very generous with his responses, so I’ve decided to split the post into two parts.

Everyone, I give you formatting expert and all-round good guy, Mr Guido Henkel.

GuidoHenkel_BW smallHi Guido, welcome. Can you start by telling me a bit about your background and what brought you to ebook formatting?

I am a game developer originally – a designer of computer games and a programmer who had his start in the earliest days of home computing on the Apple II. I’ve been a programmer ever since and have always enjoyed the technical aspects of game development.

A few years ago I wrote and published a series of supernatural mysteries taking place in Victorian England called Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter and began looking into publishing opportunities. It was at the time when ebooks were on the cusp of existence. Amazon had just released the Kindle and made it possible for authors to self-publish their books. I instantly jumped at the opportunity, of course, and fully embraced it, but as I mingled with other authors at the time I also realised that virtually none of them had the technical wherewithal necessary to actually create quality ebooks. Most used a word processor and exported the ebook from there, flooding the market with books that had no proper formatting, didn’t follow common typography and were brimming with technical errors and bugs.

Because of my technical background all of that was second nature to me. Also, in another life I was actually a trained typesetter. That made it easy for me to tackle the challenges and problems from a very different angle than most other authors, creating solutions that were more stable and cross-device compatible.

Eventually I turned that experience into a blog series, and subsequently into the book Zen of eBook Formatting, while also offering ebook formatting as a paid service to fellow authors and publishers.

What, in your opinion, are the main problems that cause ebooks to display poorly, and how can they be overcome?

The main problem is two-fold: not only do you have enormous fragmentation in the market, but, in addition, most authors/publishers do not know how to deal with the problems this creates. Many are not even aware that problems exist.

With ebooks going mainstream, suddenly people are reading books on a wide range of devices, from tiny cell phones to hyper-resolution tablets and desktop computers – and anything in between. Ebook formats were never created with this in mind, and have serious limitations that means it is hard to actually make books look good on such a wide variety of device capabilities and display sizes.

In addition, every device manufacturer uses a different approach to handle certain features. They support entirely different feature sets or code implementations and have firmware bugs in every device, many of which are never addressed.

It takes a lot of technical know-how to understand these differences and to write ebook code that handles all these circumstances and eventualities properly. It is not an easy task and it’s getting harder every day.

To make the problem even worse, distributors such as Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble do not allow you to target specific devices. Therefore it is imperative that you create ebooks that will display properly on every single Kindle implementation, from the very first Kindle to the latest Kindle Fire HD, to the Android cell phone implementation and all the way to the Mac OSX desktop version of the Kindle software reader. Things would be a lot easier if we could make specific builds for specific devices, so that features could be implemented in the best possible way for each device, but alas it’s not possible. So we constantly have to juggle smallest common denominators instead of actually pushing the technology forward.

Now, when you create an ebook you are expected to know and understand all of this, and have the means in your repertoire to safely handle all these differences. Simply hitting an ‘export’ button in a word processor or InDesign will not do the job. They will create an epub file for you, but only in theory, because the resulting file is going to be incompatible with half the devices on the market.

So, in the end, the biggest mistake people make is assuming that it is easy, that the ‘export’ function will do all the work for them. They think it’s straightforward. It is not, and the waters get murkier with every new device and firmware upgrade. For many, the subject quickly becomes too overwhelming and technical, which is fine. You’re a writer, not a tech expert. That’s where professionals like myself come into play, because we are actively working on solutions that we can then use in our client projects.

I think that publishing a book on formatting is a great idea because it puts more control in authors’ hands. It means that whenever they spot any errors or need to make other changes, this can be done quickly and with minimum fuss. What has the reaction to your book been like?

Zen of eBook Formatting has been an extension of the blog tutorial I wrote a number of years ago. I was surprised by the tremendous feedback the series received and how it quickly became the de-facto standard for countless self-published authors to format their books. However, technology had evolved, so it was time to cover the new aspects of ebook formatting and to dive into certain areas in more detail – ebooks have become a lot fancier than they first were, and I wanted to cater to that.

Just like with the blog series, the response to Zen has been tremendous and it always fills me with joy to hear that my instructions have empowered authors and enabled them to create their own ebooks. And not only create them, but fashion them in a professional manner to get a product they can be truly proud of, instead of having to apologise to readers for the countless issues and formatting errors.

Even if they read the book and feel it’s way over their head, it helps them understand some of the intricacies of ebook formatting, as well as the most common pitfalls.

(Part two to follow.)

You can find out more about Guido and his work at guidohenkel.com

GWCY for web SMALL

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Q&A: Steven Baird

I always check out the ‘likes’ on my blog and, recently, one of them led me to a first-time novelist from Canada, now living in Virginia – Steven Baird. I say first-time novelist, but that isn’t exactly true. In fact, it’s not even remotely true. Steven has been writing since the age of ten, and has so far written in the region of 12 novels. What I meant to say is that he’s tried the traditional route to publishing, and even came close once or twice, but is now trying his hand at self-publishing with the release of Ordinary Handsome, which he describes as a ghost story … sort of.

I was intrigued, and thought it would be great to hook up with Steven and ask him a few questions. The internet is awash with invaluable information from successful indie publishers, which is fantastic, but being a newbie myself, I wanted to hear what’s it like from someone else just starting out. So, make yourselves comfortable…

You started Ordinary Handsome 30 years ago, then revisited it three years ago. It must have been exciting when you realised that there was still a strong idea to work with.
I approached with a clean slate. It’s a completely different novel. I very much liked the idea of a man steeped in guilt and how he handles it. That was the core of the first version. In Handsome, Jimmy Wheat, who was the original protagonist, has become the catalyst. And he doesn’t handle the guilt so much as the guilt handles him. He’s not even the main character. And, now that I’m older, I approached the writing with a quieter voice. The younger me tended to shout.

Tell me a little about the book.
Fifty-seven years ago, a boy named Euart Monroe Wasson was killed in a hit-and-run. The driver – Jimmy Wheat – was a small-time thief shaking off pursuit. Except … fifty-seven years later, the boy shows up at the nursing home where Wheat resides, carrying a shotgun and hobo mattress and blows a hole in the old man’s guts. Did Euart survive? Is the old man dreaming, or hallucinating as his life wraps up? What really happened on the night of the accident?

The town of Handsome, Oklahoma is on the edge of becoming a ghost town, with desperate men who bury their mistakes. The story is told from the point of view of four different characters and their unrelated deeds, threading a tragic tapestry of loss and grief.

I’d call Ordinary Handsome a ghost story, but not in the traditional sense. There are a couple of lines near the end that really stood out for me: “Grief is the impetus of ghosts, not death. Death is silent; grief roars.” Each of the characters has lost something and is in the process of grieving, though they’re not aware of it.

SteveBairdIn the past you have found revising and editing your work a bit of a chore – what’s different about Ordinary Handsome that has kept you focused?
The story. It kept surprising me. I had four or five different ways to end it, but used none of them. It’s one of the greatest thrills of writing, when things connect in ways you weren’t even aware of, never mind planned. I let the characters do their thing. I knew them well enough to trust that I was on the right path. I really like the idea of using unreliable narrators, having them tell their side of the story, the story they want you to hear. The deeper you get into these characters, the more you start seeing their flaws and contradictions. For me, that’s the pure joy of writing.

How are you finding the self-publishing process?
It’s very new to me – I’m both excited and nervous as hell about it. Setting up a blog, a Twitter account etc. is an entirely new experience. Self-promotion is a necessity, and, to be honest, very stressful, but I’m slowly learning my way around. Once I get comfortable with it, I’m sure it will be fun. I guess. Right now, though, I’ve got a new novel in mind and it’s hard to find the time to put things to paper. I know things will settle down in time, but right now it’s hard to focus on anything other than seeing Ordinary Handsome finally published.

You say have a new novel that you want to get cracking with, but will you be going through any more of your previous efforts? There may be further treasure hidden away…
My wife keeps mentioning a book I wrote shortly after we were married. It’s pretty intense and violent, about a young serial killer. I listened to a lot of Springsteen while I wrote it – Nebraska, The River, The Ghost of Tom Joad – so it’s got a pretty desperate tone. I know I’ll pick it up again, but not just yet.

Will your next work be in the same genre?
I don’t think so. I really want to write something noir. It’s a very different direction, but I’ve always wanted to try it. It’s a genre that’s easy to parody, so it will be a real challenge. And I think I’ve got a different way to approach it. We’ll see. I think it’ll be fun.

What inspires you to write?
I really don’t know. A thought will come into my head and I’ll examine it for a while, see if it works. Most of the time, it doesn’t. A lot of my process is just thinking it through before I even start physically writing. It’s not planning, it’s just figuring it out.

Do you have a writing routine, or do you just grab the opportunity when you can?
I probably break all the rules for a writing routine. I know I should have one, but I write when I have the time and I’m completely focused. I take notes and think about a project. One of the first things I did when I started Ordinary Handsome was draw a map of the town. It was important. And very useful because I knew the geography was going to play a role. Sometimes I wish I did have a routine, but I’ve never found one that works for me. Or maybe I’m just lazy and undisciplined.

You’re a graphic designer by trade – will you be tempted to add interactive elements in future novels?
Probably not. My writing is a separate thing for me. I want it to stand on its own. I’m an amateur photographer, so I can see some of my photos sneaking in.

Finally, I always like to ask – read any good books lately?
I just finished The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. I love the tone, the language. Impeccable writing. Before that, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. Beautifully crafted and heartbreaking. Next, probably some Stephen King. Maybe Pet Sematary … I have a weakness for King.

Many thanks to Steven for answering my questions, and I wish him the very best with all his future writing endeavours. Ordinary Handsome is scheduled for release on 1 November.

Steven can be found blogging – and showing off some of his photography skills – at www.ordinaryhandsome.wordpress.com
 

 

 

 

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Train of thought

Last night we had the final of the Great British Bake Off. For those of you not of these shores, it’s another ‘reality’ show, in this case a baking competition. The clue is in the title. And I gather the franchise is going international, so be prepared. Anyway, the winner was a nice lady from Hull, the dark horse of the show, I guess, in the sense that most people seemed to think one of the other two finalists would win.

So, well done, Nancy. We love an underdog.

Now for the link to writing. On the packed commuter train into London this morning I was squeezed in next to a young couple who, I immediately found out, worked together in a sales centre. I know this because the girl’s face was so close to mine that I was effectively part of the conversation. And I can’t be sure, but we might even have started dating.

They seemed a pleasant enough couple, chit-chatting away, leaning in for some harmless early-morning intimacy that might have been a ruse on her part to make me jealous, because technically she was also my girlfriend now as well (this is how novels start). But then she said something that really, really got under my skin. And I’m British, remember – we tend to cut offensive behaviour quite a bit of slack.

“Nancy is so old,” she said. “What’s the point of giving her the title – what’s she going to do with it?”

Holy smoke. I dumped the girl on the spot. We are no longer an item.

SpongeBackground: Nancy is 60, a grandmother. Been baking all her life, a worthy competition winner. What’s she going to do with it? Damn well enjoy the moment, and whatever comes after, one would hope.

Now I’m not 60, but I ain’t 25 either. I left writing this novel late because I was busy doing other things – you know, life etc – but imagine if someone had tapped their watch on my thirtieth birthday and said, “Five more years, maybe ten, then we’re giving the chance to publish to someone else. Look lively.”

Amazon is getting plenty of flack at the moment for being a huge, publishing industry-gobbling monster that will destroy authors’ careers and decimate the cultural landscape. You may or may not agree with that statement. Personally, I don’t. Indie publishing has opened doors to so many people – young and old – who would never have had a chance to see their efforts in print. I’m one of them. Now I’m delighted that the reaction to my book has been really positive, but even if that were not the case, being able to get it out there is a source of immense pride. Not smugness, just simple, personal satisfaction. It took a lot of hard work and now I’ve started the whole process again. Because I can. Because we all can.

Hopefully the novel will be out before I’m collecting my pension. But if it were to take another two decades, so what? It might turn out to be a Tolstoyesque classic of deep worth and with a mind-boggling word count. Unlikely, but not impossible. Finding out along the way will be part of the pleasure. And when it comes out I’ll be older, probably not much wiser, but still in the game. Still being creative, and that’s the most important part.

So, my ex-girlfriend on the train, remember this: you will not be in your early twenties forever. Hopefully your life will blossom and you will find fulfilment in whatever it is that you choose to do. With any luck your achievements will make you and your loved ones proud. But let’s hope that if you finally decide a life in sales doesn’t make you complete and that you want to test yourself by creating something (a work of art, a business, a family), you don’t come up against someone tapping their watch and barring your way, saying, “Sorry, too late.”

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Rookie reflections: ready for take-off

What would you like me to say about the whole process of self-publishing your first book? That it’s a breeze, a moonlit stroll by the Seine, and that everything aligns itself in a seamless transition from a 300+ page manuscript to global product?

I’d love to, but I can’t. For the rookie indie writer some elements of the process are a massive headache, although, having gone through the pain, I am starting to look back on the whole procedure a little fondly already. I am yet to give birth, and I can’t say it’s particularly high on my checklist, but I imagine it’s a similar feeling.

So let’s not be negative. The self-publishing phenomenon – for that is what it is – is nothing if not liberating, and should be celebrated (although some combatants in the eye of the Hachette/Amazon storm may beg to differ). Truth be told, I gave up sending my manuscript to agents because, despite their positive comments, I always knew deep down it would never happen. I’m not famous, I don’t own a five-star restaurant, and I haven’t slept with a footballer. The deck is stacked – you just have to deal with it.

jumboAnyway, I thought the most useful thing I could do, rather than rant about the problems you might encounter, would be to break down everything into smaller pieces, telling you what I found to be positive and what was negative, and offer up a few tips on what to do or where to find help. Most of the issues for me came from a lack of knowledge, which, looking back, was inevitable. For example, I’ve never had to get an ebook formatted before, never had to phone up another country’s tax organisation to try to get an ID number, and I’m sure a lot of you won’t have done so either. It’s no reason to beat yourself up. If someone were to sit me in the cockpit of a jumbo jet for the first time, chances are I’d need a couple of lessons before being able to take everyone off on their holidays.

I know I’m always banging on about the supportive writing community, but when, for example, you’re trying to format section breaks in a Word document and it simply won’t do as it’s told – and I don’t mean once or twice – it’s comforting to know that not only are other writers losing their sanity over the same problem, but that the cavalry is mounted up, boots polished, and ready to charge in.

So watch this space for further posts. I’d love to start right now, but I’m at the tail end of a half-decent black Americano at London’s Waterloo Station, and about to head off to a work assignment. It’s early, my engine is barely running let alone in gear, so you wouldn’t appreciate the results. As with getting a book into the hands of readers, there’s no point in just winging it.

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Covering new ground

It’s exciting. I can’t deny it. I’m on tenterhooks waiting for the novel to come back from the copy-editor, I’m trying to find out as much as I can about formatting, uploading and marketing  – oh, and not forgetting the day job of course – and then, in the middle of all that, a present dropped into my inbox.

Mind you, just like a gift at Christmas, I did know it was coming. It was on my list. But when you see it in the flesh, I can only say that it’s one of those moments. And plenty of you reading this, I know, will have had the same experience.

The cover. The first thing that people will see when, with any luck, they check out what it is I’m finally putting out there. My shop window, effectively, courtesy of a collaboration between myself and a good friend – designer Kevin Hilton.

So here it is …

Cover

 

The most important thing, so I’m told, is that the cover should be appropriate for the novel’s genre. Hopefully this is. It’s contemporary fiction, about a young man whose main obsession in life is judo, but who no longer fights following an act of revenge that still haunts him. But then two people enter his life – one tries to reconnect him with the sport, while the other, a classically trained dancer with a rebellious streak, becomes his new obsession and pulls him in a completely different direction …

I think the cover works perfectly, so I’m very happy. As I said, it’s one of the things that you have to get right. Anyone who has ever self-published with serious intent gives one hundred per cent to all aspects of their books, treats their creation and publication like an actual job, with serious consequences if they were to keep rolling in late or throwing sickies. And, by the same token, you will never hear any of these people say, ‘It’s okay to have a badly designed cover.’ It isn’t. Just like it’s not okay to have dozens of spelling mistakes, or to put your book up on Amazon and then do nothing afterwards to promote it. That is called ‘shooting yourself in the foot’.

Of course, this is all big talk from someone who hasn’t even published a single novel yet, but we’ll see. I’m just trying to cover all the angles. Some things I’ll get right, others I will no doubt mess up – and hopefully do properly with the next book. But it’s all part of the learning curve, and, most importantly, all part of the fun. I’ll have only myself to blame if it goes south, but at least there won’t be anyone there to shout at me and point the finger. Because no one wants a job where they have to keep pretending they’ve got flu, right?

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Q&A: Lisa Scullard – writer, editor, formatter, parkour enthusiast…

Today I’m delighted to welcome writer Lisa Scullard, who works across the zombie, parody and romance genres. She caught my eye recently after releasing a novel under a pen-name with no fanfare or marketing frenzy, and yet achieved surprising results. Lisa also works on the editing side of things, and is a font of knowledge when it comes to formatting.

I was intrigued by your blog post about releasing a book under a pen-name, in a genre that you hadn’t previously written in before, and with next to no promotion. What prompted you to do this, and how surprised were you by the reaction?

I’d dreamed of writing romance from the age of about thirteen, and had a very rose-tinted view of it – meaning I never felt qualified. I believed for a very long time that romance authors all led very romantic lives, whereas I’m more self-isolating and insular. So I avoided it out of fear of looking like a fake, and wrote my first books in the dark satirical, parody genres I enjoyed reading myself.

I held onto the idea of writing romance eventually, made a few first chapter submissions to Harlequin in the past two years, and received some encouraging feedback. That was enough for me to keep trying – so when I finished One Stolen Kiss last October and they requested the full MS immediately after I submitted the opening chapters, it was as if I had suddenly been handed the ‘qualification’ to write romance that I never felt I possessed before.

I decided not to wait longer than three months for a decision from them, and to self-publish under the pen-name ‘Lauren Boutain’, which I had prepared already to keep it separate from my parodies and zombie adventures. I knew the market for romance was likely to be more hungry, more discerning and more critical than any other, but the downloads on the free promotion I ran that first weekend early in February were a complete shock to me. I think at the busiest there were 100 per hour in the UK alone. Plus a few readers left reviews quickly on Amazon UK, and tracked down my blog to say nice things as well.

It really wasn’t anything like my regular experience of writing and channelling my usual idiosyncrasies into the void – I’m not used to such an appetite for a genre. As far as I knew, I hadn’t done anything different. In fact, the book (and the author alter ego) had both come from nowhere – no preamble, no fan base, no blog posts or teaser excerpts, nothing. I have no idea why it snowballed; it reached #4 in Romantic Comedy and #24 in the Kindle Top 100 Free Bestsellers in the UK. Things have calmed down a bit now, but in the free promo it had nearly two and a half thousand downloads worldwide, mostly in the UK, and 100 paid sales in the week following.

You put it on KDP Select – is this something you’ve done with your other releases, and do you find that it helps to get the word out?

I have done it with a few other books, and I would say the impact is proportional to the original interest in a freebie. If I get a few hundred downloads on a free promo, it’s rare to get any paid sales afterwards. Since publishing the new book earlier this month, I’ve realised the kind of breakthrough a new book has to make to get any effective response. I read somewhere that one reader has more than 10,000 free books saved on their Kindle Cloud, so I assumed that as readers browse all of the free books, individual books often get added or downloaded in small numbers but aren’t necessarily read. I probably won’t renew the KDP Select status for this one after three months, as I’d like to make it available on other devices. But it was a quick (and unexpected) way of seeing the difference in response compared with my books in other genres.

Can you tell me a little bit about your writing background, and what you are currently working on/future projects?

I started writing at about the age of six or seven, as therapy, on the advice of my mum – I wasn’t having a good time at school. She suggested writing stories where ‘things worked out’. A strange way to deal with a small unhappy child, now I think about it, but I came from a large family and I was the eldest, so I guess I was expected to deal with things and not be the one to make a fuss, and I never questioned it. But it’s fair to say I’ve been writing ever since, and some of my stuff is very introspective, and still trying to make sense of life.

The parody and romance writing for me is my real escapism. I’m still very insular, even as a single parent, so I’d say about 90% of my identity is invested in living in an imaginary world. At the moment I’m working on more romance novels, and it’s pretty daunting, knowing now how high I set the bar for myself with the first one. I also have a couple of screenplay commissions in progress, but they’re not my stories, they’re based on someone else’s family memoirs, so I think yet another pen-name might be in order as they’re not my usual material at all – neither parody nor romance.

August 2013

You’ve made a lot of headway in the past with pitches and submissions – would you still prefer a traditional publishing deal, or do you enjoy the freedom that self-publishing brings?

I think the things that traditional publishing deals would offer are the high-street/supermarket bookstore option, the additional rights deals, and the foreign translations. There’s definitely room for that on the table, but I do like the freedom of self-publishing, and I like testing the water for real, rather than sending stuff to the slush pile of an agent or editor’s inbox, where it might never be opened, let alone read. I like the idea that complete strangers are free to discover my work by accident, and nobody’s shoving it under their noses in fancy packaging, or pimping it with a marketing budget that would be better spent on clean water aid in the developing world.

I used to have a lot of patience, before the internet came along – I would wait three to five years and write another book on request for a major publisher with no promise of publication or a contract. Now I don’t believe in spending longer on publishing a book than it takes me to write one.

The tone of your blog reminded me in places of Dan Holloway, in that you seem to write purely for the love of it, rather than being driven by the possibility of commercial gain. I then discovered that you know Dan, which, I guess, shows that I was paying attention. Do you think it’s a fair assessment of your motivation?

Ha ha – yes, Dan is very deep, and I think his writing and performing is more about self-identity and identification within the self of the outside world than any public recognition that stems from it. In that sense a lot of my attitude is similar, and I would add self-fulfilment as well. I think there is still a mindset of some folk who look at the book industry and its major players and successes, and believe there’s commercial gain for everyone who meets the right kind of luck in it. But if I was rich and successful in any industry – and I’ve worked in a lot of jobs – what I’d still be doing for my own fun and amusement in my spare time is writing.

I don’t have a bucket list of things to see or do or buy if I ever get rich. I only have a bucket list of stories to write, and it’s growing all the time. I don’t need commercial success to achieve that, in itself. Especially considering that I’m writing for myself as my main audience!

You work as a freelance editor and formatter. I’m aiming to have my novel out in the next six weeks, after editing and cover design etc, and even though I’ve read that formatting is not too overwhelming for the uninitiated, I still have a vision of my head connecting repeatedly with the wall next to my computer. I want the book to be perfect, so what are the biggest pitfalls to be aware of?

In ebooks, your formatting can change – or be obliterated entirely – when your document converts after uploading. Speechmarks and paragraphing can change font and font size, margins can be all over the place, and headings shunt everywhere. At the moment, the best file type to preserve your formatting to upload onto Kindle is Microsoft Word, although their Help section still advises using HTML. I’ve found a lot of corruptions creeping in with HTML files lately, including font sizing and line-spacing irregularities, especially in the Amazon ‘Look Inside’ preview. I’ve seen some total book wrecks appearing there, after editing a few typos in old HTML files for clients that converted perfectly a year ago and re-uploading them. Saving them as MS Word to upload onto KDP was the only way to resolve the problems.

I would say the most common formatting error in an ebook is the use of space bar strikes to position text, where the author has treated their computer as one would a typewriter – make sure there is no fancy positioning of text using the space bar, tab key or multiple line returns in an ebook – use paragraph/field formatting settings instead. You’ll end up with text shunted unevenly across the e-reader screen as it ‘wraps’ automatically, and blank e-reader screens above headings, or between paragraphs and at the end of chapters if you leave manual spaces and extra line returns in the document. Use ‘show non-printing characters’ in the ‘View’ menu to show where these issues might appear.

The explosion in self-publishing was recently described as a ‘shit volcano’, which seems unfair to me. I’m old enough to remember punk, and a lot of the output from that era wasn’t exactly ‘musical’, but instead created by people with something to say – and who found their way barred by the pop ‘establishment’. Most of them fell by the wayside, but some changed the music scene forever. Can you see a parallel with self-publishing?

Can’t say I’ve been a fan of everything the publishing and music ‘establishment’ cranks out either, so I’d say the traditional and self-publishing markets both have their equal amount of toss and drivel as well as an equal amount of art, as appreciated in the mind of the individual. If you tried to listen to everything that was ever released by the commercial music industry, or tried to read everything that was ever published by the traditional publisher, you’d have very little that was complimentary to say about most of it, because regardless of the skill on display, it wouldn’t all be to your taste. You can usually tell if a writer’s style is to your taste early on, and many readers won’t finish a book they’re struggling with.

As adults we’re not in school anymore, no one’s asking us to do homework on everything we read. If it’s not for you, put it down and move on, just like switching radio stations if you don’t like the music. There’s as much pressure to write reviews as there is in the creative side of writing today, where the internet is a canvas for free speech and public opinion. When I was 14 I told my English Literature teacher in school that I hated his subject and had no desire to analyse the books I read. I only wanted to read for the purpose of escapism, not be made to think about any underlying motivation of the author and dissect it afterwards.

I thought Wordsworth wrote poems about flowers to impress girls with, and it meant he could chat up more than one girl at a time because it was easier to hide a poem in your pocket than a bunch of flowers. Having concluded that, I didn’t want to be made to probe too deeply into William Golding and the like. I think a story is enjoyed best when you can’t picture the author or their ulterior motives for writing at all, and it’s only about the story that unfolds in your own head as you read. No one looking over your shoulder, or demanding opinions and feedback.

I know that you are not one for ‘turning up ubiquitously on dozens of blogs or joining marketing campaigns and the review culture’; how far does your marketing activity extend, and which elements have worked best for you?

I have no idea what ‘works’… basically, I just tweet when the mood takes me using the #SampleSunday hashtag at weekends, which is also recognised when shared on GooglePlus, but there was no relation between tweets and the sales on the latest book. Most of the sales happened while I was asleep, or out driving or [parkour] training, and doing nothing pro-actively book-related at all. I don’t talk about being an author except to close friends and family, or at author publishing support group where my calling is to give advice on technical and computing issues to do with formatting.

I have one particular parody out that seems to sell consistently on iBooks and I’ve never promoted it. It’s a nice feeling to be able to go about my daily life and no one I see or speak to in passing knows I spend twelve hours a day thinking about and writing stories, and I have no idea whether or not anyone I meet or speak to has read one of my books. I guess I still adhere to the mentality that if something is great enough for readers to share and recommend among themselves, the best thing I can be doing for them is to be working on the next story, and making it a good one. Anything else would just be making a procrastinating nuisance of myself. And wasting time that I might otherwise end up writing an unprecedented bestseller in.

Finally, I always ask: best books you’ve read recently?

I love fantasy and satire, so I often revert to Terry Pratchett and Tom Sharpe – there’s always a book or two of Pratchett’s on the go at once, stacked on my coffee table. Currently it’s the Long Earth books and Raising Steam. Lately I’ve read The Garden of Unearthly Delights by Robert Rankin, and Jeremy Clarkson’s I Know You Got Soul (I’m a big fan of cars and engineering technology). I still love and re-read GK Stritch’s CBGB Was My High School, the memoir of a classy girl from New Jersey who would hop on the late bus and train at night on the weekends and fitted into the New York punk rock scene of the 70s and early 80s. I’ve also just started Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag by Oliver Bowden, which is the second game tie-in I’ve read – the first was Hitman: Damnation by Raymond Benson. Not long ago I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick for the first time, but I think my favourite, Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat still has the edge.

Thanks to Lisa for doing this Q&A. If you want to catch up with her writing, head to  http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/ebooks/ or http://laurenboutain.wordpress.com/ (the latter is her romance alter ego blog).

For tips and advice on formatting ebooks, check out http://lisascullard.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/formatting-text-and-illustrated-ebooks-for-publishing/

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