Friday, October 29, 2010

The Things We Do For Research

Dear Diary,

Today I am doing research for one of WIP's. I have a Gutter Rat, a low brow, who finds himself in the royal hot seat. This is never a good fit, but in search for some ideas, a friend suggessted I watch King Ralph. I considered getting a Netflix account and ordering the movie, but found it was at the local library.

Easy, cheap, and fast. Never forget how valuable a public library can be for doing research for a book. That way, you can save your money for the really important things -- like gas for a road trip so you can see actual places and things.

I've been meaning to set a novel on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea, you know...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Word vs. Wordperfect

Dear Diary,

I was just looking at Smashwords, a site for self-publication of electronic books, and I found that they accept uploads in the .doc format. Not .rtf, not .txt, and not .html. It's .doc or nothing. And .doc is a document created by Word. It can be created by other word processing programs which play well with Word, but my favorite, Wordperfect, does not.

Why do they only accept Word? The style guide explains that this is because Wordperfect gives authors headaches. Huh?

As you can tell by now, I am a fan of Wordperfect, because Word gives me headaches. Word does a lot of fancy tricks, yes, but I don't care for them. Word often tries to think for me, adding in features that I did not want to add, and it gives me no easy way to get rid of them. If I make a mistake while typing in Wordperfect, if I accidentally add a bit of formatting code that I don't want, I find it easy to remove. I just look at the revel codes pane, grab the offending code, and pull it out. With Word, I can only delete the whole section and retype it.

Worperfect creates cleaner HTML, as well. There is an option in Wordperfect to publish your text to HTML, and it's pretty clean. Easy to clean up if you are doing an eBook. Word, on the other hand, loves to hear itself talk. All those nice additions end up as long strings of code in the finished product which must be stripped out by hand.

A sore, aching hand, after a few chapters. With many more chapters to go.

On the other hand, Word is the "industry standard" for the publishing world, as seen with Smashwords. Most markets will take, or even prefer .rtf for their submissions, but I have to wonder if .rtf derived from Word files look different than .rtf from Wordperfect. I may have to become bilingual at some time.

I hope it won't be soon. I still have nightmares about Clippy...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why Chapters?

Why do books have chapters? What is the best way to denote those chapters?

Most books have chapters. For non-fiction books, the chapters serve to group the information into topics. The title of the chapter decribes the information given in that chapter. If you pick up a book on knitting and turn to the table of contents(TOC), you can find the chapter on Fair Isle Knitting without having to go through all the chapters on basic knitting techniques. The TOC will tell you that the chapter starts on page 97, so you flip through to page 97. E-books don't have page numbers, but they do have TOCs, and the chapter listings are clickable links. Select and click on Fair Isle Knitting, and there you are.

Fiction books, on the other hand, are meant to be read from front to back -- yet they are usually still grouped into chapters. Not always, of course. Many of Terry Pratchett's books do not have chapters. Moll Flanders, by Danial Defoe, did not have chapters. Most books, however, greet the reader with a large 1 at the beginning of the story, and further numbers occur at regular intervals.

Chapters are an invitation to set down the book, to stop reading. To dissuade this, many authors end their chapters with cliff-hangers that encourage the reader to continue untill, at least, the current crises is solved. And then, of course, the reader thinks to continue to the end of the chapter, but there they find a new cliff-hanger.

So one use of a chapter is to give the reader a false sense that there are stopping places, when in reality there aren't. This is a bit like being told that a rest stop is coming up in 2 miles, only to be informed next that the rest stop is closed and you have to wait 36 miles for the next one. And you wait that 36 miles because you know that the rest stop is coming. When there are no chapter breaks and no assurance than a stopping point is coming, the reader feels welcome to set their bookmark, weel, anywhere.

Chapters have a deeper purpose, however, for the author. Chapters break a long manuscript into managable pieces. It's a lot easier to search 16 or 10 pages at a time for typos and errors, and you feel more compelled to get to the end of a chapter than a long novel. And if the chapters are short, then you can fool yourself with "Just one more," a concept that is making video game developers rich.

The next question, then, is how to name the chapters. Numerically is very common. Not only does this take much less imagination that proper titles, it also helps in the final assembly of the book. If each chapter is a separate computer file, a numerical name keeps them straight. And what reader needs a chapter title when they are busy reading from the last cliffhanger to a new one?

The eBook is about to change this. EBooks need to have TOCs to help the readers page through the books, but as was pointed out to me yesterday, when an eBook has a TOC that consists of only Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, etc., it looks odd. Boring.

Note to self -- in the future, all book chapters should have a number and a title. Just getting ready for the new world, that's all.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Up?

Dear Diary,

It appears that my book, By Blade and Cloth, has successfully published to the Kindle.

Appears is the operative word, however. I should know, when the reviews roll in, if I've made some lethal mistakes with it. If the reviews roll in...

It went up quicker than expected. The process can take up to 48 hours. Or maybe it's not really up -- but it looks to me as if it can now be bought by interested parties.

Interested, anyone?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Creating an E-book

Dear Diary,

I have neglected you this past month, but it was all to a good cause. I have been preparing a book for kindle distribution, and I'm happy to report that I uploaded it today. Hours, even days, will pass before it appears on the virtual bookshelf of the store of virtual books. When it does, I'll name the book and post the link. Might even get a sale.

It should seem that preparing a book for e-book distribution should be as easy as slapping the manuscript into a submit box, but it isn't. E-book readers, whether they are apps you load onto a computer or other device, or a dedicated reading device, use HTML. And as you know, Bob, HTML is a tricky language. One wrong letter can change the entire format of your page. Finding that wrong letter can be a like searching for a needle in a hayfield.

Further, if you want your e-book to look right, you need to use specific commands.

So the entire process of creating an e-book starts with turning your document into an HTML file (easy, as most word processing programs will do that), cleaning up the HTML and changing the non-working commands to the proper commands (not so easy, but could be worse), formatting the special sections (aaargh!!!! I forgot to put href in all the anchor tags. All of them!), creating the PRC file with Mobipocket (easy, easy, hey -- what did I do wrong?), and uploading the finished file to the Kindle store (Where the heck is the upload page!!!!).

Nothing to it, really.