A Year in Words

When I was a teenager, I read an article about author W.P. Kinsella where it said that he wrote 900 words every day. “That can’t take more than an hour or two; some life these professional writers have!” is what I remember thinking at the time.

Then inevitable rejoinder is, “well, why don’t you try it?” And the answer of course is that such output is harder to manage than it sounds. A writer who hit Kinsella’s daily quota would grind out just under 330,000 words over the course of the year—enough for about four novels of respectable length.

It was about a year ago now that I began work on what became my first eBook. So with this nostalgic anniversary on the door step, I thought I would reflect on the past year’s writing totals.

The first draft of 25 Principles clocked in at close to 110,000 words. My Springsteen project currently sits at about 50,000. I have another pot-boiler project that totals 10,000 and since November, I would estimate I have churned out another 10,000 or so in postings for this blog. So my sum total from end of January 2013 to end of January 2014 would be around 180,000.

That sounds impressive, though I doubt that it counts as being prolific output. In the indie publishing world, there are people who claim they grind out 20,000 sometimes as many as 50,000, words in a single week. If I wrote full-time, I think I might hit 20,000 over a very good seven day period; I don’t know how anyone would reach 50,000 without the assistance of methamphetamines.

Still, that 180,000 total feels significant. There is an old writer’s maxim that states that every writer has “a million words of crap” that they have to discharge from their system before they start producing work that can be considered “good.” It’s kind of a variation on Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of the 10,000 hour rule. The figure of one million words isn’t a hard and fast one; some writers contend that the threshold could actually be as low as 693,000.

In any event, I feel like I have served a good chunk of a long apprenticeship now. The past year’s output forms a big part of it, but my training has been underway for far longer. The journey has included hundreds of press releases, endless scrolls of web copy—not to mention the horrible fiction writing attempts of my younger years.

The incremental nature of writing (and getting better at it) is a bit like the old philosophical puzzle of how many grains make a heap. I don’t know exactly what I have right now or what I am moving towards. It probably isn’t mastery but it’s something.

 

Free eBook Promotion: December 18-22, 2013

Hello sports fans, just one quick bit of eBook news before I promise to crank out a more fulsome post on a topic of great interest and importance. The eBook I have spent an eternity slaving over, 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss is going to be available free on Amazon for the next five days. The last day of the promotion will be Sunday December 22.

You can click here to visit the US Amazon site for the book, or navigate there by clicking the thumbnail image in the right menu bar. For Canadian and overseas visitors, the eBook is also available in your respective Amazon online stores (but I’m not going to put all the links in here). I have a page on my site here dedicated to 25 Principles, so if you’re interest is piqued you can learn more about it there.

Right now, 25 Principles is exclusive to Amazon and it is set-up to work on all Kindle-enabled devices. If you’d don’t have a Kindle e-reader, have no fear. You can pick up the Kindle App (which is available for download free of charge) and read on your PC, or on most tablets and smartphones. Because I am pro-consumer, I have disabled the DRM on the eBook, so you can keep multiple copies of it on different devices simultaneously. The nice part of this is that if some kind soul were to buy you a Kindle for Christmas (only six shopping days to go!) you will be able to port a copy of the book over to your new eReader.

So with the new year fast approaching and many of us gearing up to turn over a new leaf (yadda, yadda, yadda) here’s a chance to get a head start on thinking about making those positive changes.  The best part is it won’t cost you anything!

The 4 “Do’s” and 997 “Don’ts” of Formatting your eBook for Kindle: Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of the Do’s and Don’ts of formatting your eBook for Kindle! Don’t forget to read Part One if you happened to skip it. Here we are going to cover some of the “don’ts” of the formatting process. These are some of the errors and gremlins I made or encountered during the run-up to publishing 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss on Kindle.

Kindle Formatting Don’ts

• Assume WYSIWYG 

I know the Kindle guide tells you this, but it can be tempting to think that once you’ve made your filtered HTML file(s) that you can be confident in the appearance of your book. This isn’t the case. Your converted Word-HTML file might look nice and consistent when you open it in Word, but you’ll have to open it in an internet browser window (or the preview pane of your HTML editor) to see what it “really” looks like. Like me, you might find your book that has a consistent appearance in Word actually renders out much differently.

Use the “start” bookmark as directed by the KDP guide

This was the last “gremlin” I encountered as I was getting ready to publish and I found it head-bangingly frustrating. The KDP formatting guide tells you to insert a “start” bookmark where you want the book to open at after it is downloaded. This (in theory) would let you skip over some of the “front matter” of the book (like copyright notices, dedications etc.) and start the reader at a point of your choosing.

When I did this, I found the converted book opened incorrectly on all versions of the Kindle previewer and on a test copy I sent to my own Kindle. It would begin with my ISBN number as a single line at the top of the page, even though I had a page break immediately thereafter. Even after fiddling with the HTML I couldn’t get it working properly. After consulting some help on the internet, it appears that the bugs must lie within the Kindle conversion software itself.

The ultimate step I took, which was not my first choice, was to avoid using the “start” bookmark altogether. If you do this, your book will begin at either the first page of text or the first element listed in your table of contents when it is opened on a Kindle (it won’t default to your cover though). Leaving out the “start” bookmark will not cause the Go To: Beginning button on a Kindle to be greyed out or not work, it will still function and will take the reader to whatever the Kindle identifies as your first page.

I realize that this is hardly an ideal solution. I don’t know if my experience is representative of every Kindle publisher, so if you want to attempt using the Start bookmark and seeing if you have better luck, than go right ahead. But if you encounter a similar problem as I did, there doesn’t seem to be a ready fix, other than dropping the bookmark.

If you do leave off the Start bookmark and you don’t want your readers to have to wade through a bunch of boilerplate to get to your main text, then consider moving some of your front matter to the end of your book instead. Things like dedications, acknowledgements, and even your copyright notice could all be placed as “back matter” instead of leading the main text.

• Build your book in Kindle previewer (or conversion program) and upload that to KDP

You know I thought I was really smart when I found out about the downloadable Kindle previewer. With it, I could preview and even build my eBook directly on my computer. When I was ready to publish to Amazon, I would be able to upload an already-finished MOBI file to KDP and not have to worry about bugs in the conversion process.

The only thing is that there is always a bug. In this case, during the proofing and testing stages I found out that the Table of Contents button on the Go To: menu option didn’t work on any of the previewers, or when I sent a copy my own Kindle. This happened even though I had carefully inserted a TOC bookmark as per the KDP guide’s instructions. And no matter what changes I tried with the source file, the button remained stubbornly greyed out every time I created a new MOBI file in the previewer.

I just about went crazy trying to fix it. Unhelpfully, I did a Google search and came across old articles and posts from earlier generations of Kindles (circa 2010), explaining complicated programming-based workarounds to get the Table of Contents button working. Fortunately, before I went headlong down that path, I found some alternate instructions and was able to solve the issue.

As it turns out, to ensure that your bookmarks format correctly and thereby enable the GoTo buttons to work on the Kindle, you need to upload your finished HTML file or zipped folder to the KDP website for conversion. They won’t work in MOBI files built on Kindle Previewer There is no explanation for why this is the case, but it is the case.

If you need a copy of your converted eBook file, you can download the finished MOBI file from KDP after it converts. Once you have saved to your computer, you can send it to a Kindle to preview or use a program like Calibre to convert it to other eBook formats like ePub.

Use textboxes or drawn lines to set-off sidebars

If you’re book is non-fiction or instructional in nature you might be interested in using “sidebar” sections that are set-off from the main text. Sidebars are commonly used to offer digressions on tangential topics of interest, tell interesting facts or anecdotes, and sometimes to emphasize or reiterate important points or statements that were made earlier. A familiar example of the last type are “pull-quotes;” these are often seen in magazines and sometimes in web-based articles. A pull-quote is where a statement or remark is set in a larger font size to draw the reader’s attention to it to make it stand out from the surrounding body text.

If you are like me, your first instinct is to try using text boxes, lines, or other inserted shapes in Word to achieve these sorts of effects. The long and the short of it is that these sorts of graphical elements are just not going to work in most cases when you convert your book for Kindle. Text boxes end up being saved as image files when your Word document is converted to HTML and they will output differently. Manually inserted lines can show up in wacky places and with the wrong lengths. To build in the sort of in-text elements discussed earlier, we need to use tools that will transfer over better to HTML.

You can use the table function in word (or HTML if you know enough code) to set-up side-bars and call-out type boxes using single-column tables. As was mentioned in part one, tables aren’t always the greatest in Kindle because they can end up being broken across page turns in inconvenient places, but c’est la vie. They do allow for better relative positioning and resizing within the text thanks to their HTML attributes.

An even simpler solution is to use the horizontal rule tag <hr> in your html editor to break up text or set-off side-bar sections from the main narrative. This is what I did for my sidebars in 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss.

If you are specifically interested in using pull-quotes, you could try using the <blockquote> tag, as this tag has been designed specifically for them.

Summary

Whew! When I started writing this little series, I thought it would be fairly concise…so much for that dream. Anyways, if you have stumbled into this post and its earlier sister post, I hope you have a found tips that will be helpful to you on your own indie publishing journey. If you have your own Kindle formatting tips, insights, or horror stories, I’d be keen to hear about them!

The 4 “Do’s” and 997 “Don’ts” of Formatting your eBook for Kindle – Part One

It’s hard to believe, but if you are an indie author you may find that thinking up and writing 25,000 – 100,000+ words of content for an eBook or print-on-demand book is actually one of the easier parts of the indie publishing process.

Most writers like the activity of writing itself. The process is not always out-and-out fun and it is still very much work, but it is usually enjoyable work. The real drudgery comes after typing the words “The End,” and sometimes even after the first few major revisions. The tediousness sets in when you reach the stages of “line-editing” and formatting, particularly if you are building an eBook version.

As you can infer from the only-slightly sarcastic title of this post, I’m going to offer up some “service journalism” for all you first-time indie writers out there who are thinking of publishing to Kindle. Tis’ my hope that you can learn from my baptism by fire and have a smoother publishing experience!

Here in part one I’ll cover a few of my recommended “do’s” for formatting. The don’ts will be reserved for part two.

Do’s

Read the “Building Your Book for Kindle” guide before your manuscript is in its final form 

Seems pretty basic, eh? But taking the time to do this and following a few of the Kindle guidelines while you are writing and editing can save you headaches further on.

The more important advice to heed is to avoid using things like tabs, manual indents and unnecessary line breaks and carriage returns. These can cause problems in HTML and you’ll likely end up having to go back to remove them afterwards.

One of the mistakes I did when writing 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss was write in block paragraph format with my initial manuscript. This is using blocks of text without indentation and with an empty space (or carriage return) between paragraphs, essentially the style used on this blog. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing this because it works well for computer screen reading.

However, as I moved to the proofing stages, I found this format didn’t transfer as well to the smaller and more book-like Kindle screen. Paragraphs seemed to run together and it was generally not pleasing to the eye. Eventually I had to bite the bullet and remove some 2,300 paragraph and return symbols from my working draft and add in first-line indents.

Download an HTML editor and learn the basic tags:

The KDP formatting guide would lead to believe that once you save your Word document as a filtered web page it will transfer over just fine to Kindle. Sadly, the truth is usually different. While in some cases you might get lucky and have a clean conversion to HTML, oftentimes you won’t be so fortunate.

The trouble with converting a word processor file to HTML using the “Save As” function is that you typically end up with messy code that can cause all kinds of formatting inconsistencies. Programs like Microsoft Word insert lots of style definitions and spans that you most likely don’t need. And if any errors arise out of the conversion process, they will be carried over when you convert the HTML file for Kindle.

The best way to combat this problem is to download an HTML editor and touch-up the code of your converted eBook files. You don’t have to become fluent in HTML, just slightly conversant. If you can pick out a few of the important HTML tags like <p> for paragraphs, <b> or <strong> for bold, <u> for underline, and develop an understanding of how style definitions work, you’ll have a way to clean up some gremlins that might arise from the conversion process. A good way of learning is just to convert a very short Word document, maybe a page or so of text with some different elements, and then playing around with the resulting HTML code in the editor.

There are numerous free HTML editors available for download on the web. I personally use HTML Kit-292, while Notepad++ is another popular option used by many eBook authors. If you are a user of Adobe Creative Suite then Dreamweaver would also work well.

Authors who take their formatting really seriously will often advocate building a style sheet from scratch in an editor so that you have full control over the layout and appearance. If you’re doing something complex like a graphic novel or comic book, this step is probably necessary. But if your book is uncomplicated and mostly text, like a novel, you can usually get away with converting directly into HTML from Word without having to make too many touch-ups after the fact.

If working with HTML is too daunting, there are many eBook formatting services that will be happy to do the grunt work for you. At a price of course.

Preview your eBook on an actual, physical Kindle (if possible)

Sure, the Kindle previewers (both the downloadable program and the web-based emulator inside KDP) are nice. But don’t put complete trust in them that they are replicating what your eBook will look and behave like on an actual Kindle. There is something tactile and reassuring about being able to read your work on the device itself and verifying that things like hyperlinks, page breaks, and bookmarks are working correctly.

If you own a Kindle, you can email a converted MOBI file directly to your device and it will perform like an eBook downloaded from the Kindle store. You can find your Kindle’s email address in the on-board settings menu or in the “manage your Kindle” section of the Amazon website. The naming format is usually something like JoeBlow_8976@kindle.com.

Think hard about how many tables, graphics, and artistic flourishes your book really requires

You can manipulate and add to the appearance of your Kindle book in a variety of ways, but bear in mind that some enhancements work better than others. Tables built in word will transfer fine into HTML, but tabular data isn’t always handled well by Kindles. On the other hand, bulleted lists usually display fine.

While I don’t want to discourage anyone from pursuing an ambitious eBook vision, those of us who are programming-challenged or averse need to recognize that using lots of tables, images and fancy formatting will increase the odds of stuff going wrong on a DIY eBook formatting adventure.

So as you go through your content creation, take the time to think about how your draft work might translate to an eReader and if there are opportunities to streamline its appearance. Are all those images necessary to the book, or are some added in gratuitously? Could some of your tables be shortened or even simplified into list form? Do you really need to position yourself as the next Dave Eggers by using 500 footnotes in the course of your roman a clef?

Remember that first and foremost you are building a “book.” It’s likely that your readers are going to be most interested in your story and your writing (in most cases). Using a fancy drop-cap at the start of each chapter can look cool, but a reader engrossed in your words might barely notice it. Keep the emphasis on having good writing that is formatted cleanly.

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Coming up in part two, a look at some of the many, many, many, don’ts of Kindle formatting!

25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss – Now Available for Kindle!

25 Principles

The “temporary” cover for 25 Principles. Permanent cover coming soon!

After thousands of hours, hundreds of cups of coffee, and only two or three near-nervous breakdowns (all figures approximate), I’m pleased to announce that the revolutionary eBook, 25 Principles of Health and Weight Loss, (by yours truly) is now available through Amazon for all Kindle devices and the Kindle reading app!

Canadians can buy the book for the insanely low price of just $4.99 ($ CAN) from the Amazon Canada website, while American buyers can get it from Amazon.com for whatever the equivalent of $4.99 Canadian is in US funds. But wait there’s more! If you are a member of Amazon Prime you can “borrow” the book for free through the Amazon lending library—hard to argue with that!

What is 25 Principles all about? You could say it’s like a series of linked essays about losing weight, living well, and making personal changes in our modern age—why these things seem so difficult and how they can be accomplished more easily. It’s not a diet book per se, but there is a lot of practical and actionable advice. The “blend” is one part philosophy, one part practicality, one part humour, with a couple sprinkles of interesting trivia and the odd dash of motivation thrown in for seasoning.

If your curiosity has been piqued, you can download a preview (approximately the first 10 per cent of the book) from Amazon. You can also read a sample chapter (in PDF) that I have posted over on the 25 Principles page, to get a feel for the writing style and the content that is covered.

Now I know: some of you may have had bad experiences with other independently-published eBooks you bought or read in the past and you might be reluctant to take a flyer on this one. Allow me to reassure you, because this isn’t another one of those slap-dash monstrosities you come across in the Kindle store—like those embarrassing 2,500 word “books” that can be read in seven or eight minutes. The eBook version of 25 Principles clocks in at just over 96,000 words (down from a first-draft length of over 107,000) and it would be at least 300 pages in print—by my estimates. It’s no Crime and Punishment, but you’re not going to start and finish it on your morning subway ride either.    

If you’re one of those throwbacks who hasn’t been won over by eBooks yet, be advised that I’m in the process of building a paperback version of 25 Principles that I hope to have available by January 2014. This will be my ongoing project for the next month or so. Along with straightening out some Byzantine tax and administrative stuff with Amazon—which apparently will qualify me to work as a Certified Public Accountant by the time I’m done.

25 Principles has been a huge undertaking for me, and it was also the catalyst for getting this blog operational. I’ll have more posts in the future exploring the themes and ideas that are central to the book, as well as details on new formats and offers. With Christmas and the holidays coming (and New Year’s Resolutions not far behind) there will be some special promotional offers forthcoming with the book. Of course you—my loyal blog readers (all three of you)—will be the first to know about these when they arrive.