Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The first 48 hours

Just the other day I was reading a blog that looked at the sale trends for traditionally published and self published books. For most traditionally sold books, the first week after the release is the most important. All of the marketing and money goes into selling the book to readers before it ever hits the shelves.

With self published books, readers are cautious about buying new titles, especially when it's by a debut author. Sales tend to be low for the first few months and gradually pick up over time as word spreads about the book. In other words, for a new self published author, the first 48 hours to a week aren't nearly as important as they can be for a traditionally published author.

Well the first 48 hours are over for me, and it's been really exciting. I didn't sell huge numbers, and just about every sale was to a wonderful and supportive friend, but I still made more sales than I had been expecting to make in the first month. I can't wait until the book is available in most stores, rather than just Amazon.com and Smashwords. Even more exciting will be when I start hearing back from people about what they thought of the story.  Up until now I had my doubts on whether it was worth my while to self publish, but I'm really glad I did.  I can't wait to find out what happens next.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Yesterday I pressed the scariest button I’ve ever pressed in my life. The “Publish” button. That’s right, Magic High is now available as an ebook. It’s not in most stores yet, and it will probably take a couple of weeks for that to happen, however it is available for purchase in most formats from Smashwords

The paper copy is still going to take some time. There’s a potential postal strike in Canada which could push that release back even more. Hopefully I’ll be able to give an official release date soon.

The final couple of days before I pressed that button were a rollercoaster. I’d been having a lot of troubles creating a proper file of the book so that it would look right no matter what screen it was viewed on. When I started looking into publishing with Smashwords, I quickly realised I had been taking the wrong approach. Smashwords requires you to create the file as a word .doc where I had been creating an .epub in InDesign.

What did I learn from this experience so far? No matter how much you think you know about creating files, you still need to do a whole lot of research with each publisher you’re thinking about working with. For the first time since starting this venture, I was very close to giving up on creating an ebook. I was so frustrated with how much time I had spent on formatting only to realise it was all a waste of time that I nearly decided it wasn’t worth putting any more time or effort into the book. 

I’m very glad that I buckled down and finished this up. Once I knew what I was doing, creating the file wasn’t as hard as I had been making it. A simple word file with text defined by consistent styles and the file was ready to be distributed. There were a couple of mistakes in the formatting that I had to fix, but I hope that everything is good now.

Time to do a happy dance, quickly followed by nervous huddling in a corner.

Friday, May 27, 2011

How do you set up an epub file in InDesign?

Since it took me a long time to figure out all of the little tricks to create a epub file in InDesign, I figure that I would share some of what I learned in here.

1 - First off, it really doesn't matter what size the file is for an epub, so it's easiest to create an 8.5x11" page, since that's the default setting. Just make it one page for now rather than guess how many pages it will be.

2 - In the master pages, set up a text box.

3 - Place the text while holding shift on the first page. This should automatically create all of the pages necessary to hold the text.

Tip: With InDesign, if you make each chapter it's own file and then create a book using those files, it will automatically create a table of contents for you. Each chapter will be titled whatever you name the files.

4 - Once you've placed the text, there may be a problem with the tabs, as in they disappear. The only way I could figure out how to fix this was to manually go through the file and re-add the tabs.

To do this, create a new paragraph style that places a tab at the beginning of the paragraph.

(Window>Styles>Paragraph Styles>New Paragraph Style>Tabs >Set the width of the tab)

If you can use find and replace, that would be ideal, but if there is nothing to find, then it will have to be done manually.

EDIT - Well, I was just reading a guide and apparently all I had to do was go to Paragraph Styles>Indents and Spacing>First Line Indent and change it to .25 or .3 inches. Yup, that would have saved a lot of time if I'd known earlier. 

Tip: If you just press the tab button on your keyboard, the ereader won't be able to recognize it and the paragraph will remained justified to the left with no indent to indicate the start of each paragraph.

5 - The Paragraph Style should also be set to keep the font style, font size, and the justification consistent for each paragraph. Have these settings changed on the same Paragraph Style as the Tab and all of your paragraphs will be consistent.

Tip: To check what the settings of your Paragraph Style is, just go to Redefine Settings>General and the settings will be listed under Style Settings

6 - Go through your file paragraph by paragraph one more time, in order to make sure no tabs or styles are messed up.

7 - If you're uploading only one large file, press export as epub. If it's separate chapter files, build a new book (File>New>Book) and then press Export as epub.

8 - Cross fingers and hope that it opens correctly on the ereaders (Check it before uploading to publisher!)

Hope that was helpful, if not I know it will be for myself when I'm trying to create my next book.

BTW, I just grabbed the Smashword Style Guide for free off their site. It is specifically for Smashwords and creating a basic .doc document, however a lot of the tips seem to be really good no matter what program you're using. Haven't read it all yet, but definitely looks useful for any newbies to the ebook game.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ereaders and epubs.

For my birthday I got an ereader that also acts a lot like a tablet. It's a whole lot of fun to play with, but the thing that I've been using it for the most so far is checking the epub files for my own book. This has been shockingly difficult. I had created my print copy of the book in InDesign, thinking that it would just be a matter of exporting as an epub to create an ebook. Was I ever wrong.

I've been using InDesign for about 6 years now (that's really scary to think about) and this project forced me to use more options than I have ever used before. One of the big ones was paragraph styles. I know, I know, I probably should have been using these before, but it was never necessary before. For an epub, you lose all formating, including tabs, unless you set it as a paragraph setting.

After spending several hours making changes and checking them on my ereader, I think I'm at a point where I'm happy with how it will look. The sad part is the limitations in fonts. I can't do anything fancy for the chapter heading, and I have a small section where the characters pass notes where I can't change the fonts to make the handwriting look different, which I have for the print copy.

I have almost finished with the print copy edits. I'm hoping to send that to the printer tonight. (YAY) and then it's just a couple of weeks before I get that back and can order the final copies of the book. Soon I'll be able to focus on writing again. And marketing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Filming the trailer.

This weekend we filmed the trailer for Magic High. It was so much fun! I've never done anything like that before. I'm so glad that Marsha the Amazing was willing to do the film work. Since she had more experiance doing that kind of work, she was much better than me at thinking of cool shots and directing the two actresses. I am so grateful for all of the time and energy all three of the volunteers gave to the trailer. Thank you!

The filming was done in two locations. It took about five hours to do all the set up and filming. The afternoon went much quicker then the morning for a couple of reasons. For one, there were a lot of kinks to work out in the shot list. We had a vague idea of what we wanted from the actress for each line, but the afternoon was planned much more carefully. Another problem that took up a lot of time in the morning was figuring out the logistics of a special prop. I wont say too much since it's a huge part of the trailer and a little bit of a surprise. But as a small hint, this item is something most of my beta readers have said was their favourite part of the book.

I'm not sure when it will be finished and available to be viewed online because Marsha is getting married mid June so she's a little busy to be doing editing (I know, that's no excuse :P). But the filming went great and we had a lot of fun. I can't wait to see the final product.

Friday, May 20, 2011

How did you get an ISBN?

Getting a book printed requires a bunch of steps which I've already discussed here. One of those steps is to get an ISBN and a barcode. I'm going to explain how I went about doing this. Of course this is different for American's who have to pay for their ISBN's.

First of all I had to decide whether or not I really needed an ISBN of my very own. Both Lulu and CreateSpace will provide them for free so long as they are shown as being the publisher. This isn't really a big deal unless you want to publish the book through more then one company. Then there are legal problems that pop up. Rather than deal with all of that confusing stuff, I decided to get my own, especially since its free in Canada anyway.

When I looked into getting an ISBN, I got super confused because Canada has a system called CISS. You need a CISS account to get a ISBN. It doesn't take too much to get started, you just need to finish a form which asks you some questions about what you plan on printing.

Once you complete that, it's just a couple of weeks wait to see if they approve your application. This probably won't be a problem, but as usual I was freaking out a little, thinking I'd done something wrong, especially when they were a couple days slow getting back to me.

After that, you can have up to 10 ISBN's, and don't forget you need a different one for each type of book you print. For example, if you print a paper copy and an e-book copy, you'll need two different ISBN's.

Also, if you're printing your book, you'll probably want to have a UPC barcode. This you will have to purchase, and you'll need your ISBN in order to buy it. They really aren't expensive at around $15 or so. This part was a bit confusing, and I'm not entirely sure I did it perfectly, so I won't go any more in depth for this section.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Checking proofs for mistakes.

When I got my proof copy back from the printer, I was upset. There were pages missing and the colours on the cover weren't as punchy as I would have liked. At first I wanted to blame the printer, thinking that something had gone wrong on their end. However, I realized after checking my files, that the problem occurred my end.

How did this happen? I'm still not sure, but I do know why I didn't catch the problems. I have a fairly new computer and I never put on the program Adobe Reader. Generally this hasn't been a big deal because I haven't been doing a lot of work that requires using it, and most pdf's will open in the Mac image program. Rather than install the program like a smart person and check the file before I sent it to the printer, I trusted everything was alright.

Lesson learned. Check every file sent, AND check every page within the file. Otherwise, pages could be missing entirely, out of order, or parts of the text could be messed up.

A tip I was told was to read the last line of a page and the first of the next page to make sure they match up, and to go over every single page number. Of course, this doesn't help with copy edits, but it makes sure the proof is in order.

Now to find the time to fix all of this for Magic High.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How did you do auditions for your trailer?

The auditions for my book trailer were this weekend. It was so much fun. We didn't have a huge crowd at the auditions, but the ones that did come were amazing. The talent on this island is ridiculous, and I'm so happy for Panache Models who have some amazingly talented and beautiful clients. That's where most of the people auditioning heard about the project.

Anyway, enough promoting their awesomeness, time to talk about the actual auditions. We really wanted this to be as professional as possible despite the fact that we had zero budget. First, we sent out the information on the internet, calling for people to audition. When they got back to us, I sent out the script and told people to arrive at the location between 12 and 3.

The location itself was an important part of the process. Since the people auditioning were potentionally very young (14-19), it would have been too awkward having the auditions in my house. So we talked to the university and held them there. We also requested that parents were present for anyone under 18. It worked out really well since there were seats available for people to wait in the hall while we did the auditions in another room. I couldn't have asked for a better location.

The auditions themselves we filmed. I mostly just watched while they read the script and answered any questions they had. I didn't do much directing since I was shy and really, they were mostly on the mark on their own. Marsha, my friend and videographer, both shot the videos and read the other part of the script so that the actors had cues to work with. After the time was up, we watched the videos, put our top two choices side by side on the screen to see how they looked together, and then we made our decision.

I won't say who we chose until after we film next weekend, and possibly not even until we do the reveal of the trailer. I'm really hoping the next stage will go well, though the editing is going to take a while due to jobs and weddings and such. I'm really excited about this project, and I can't wait to see my words come to life. I hope everyone enjoys it just as much.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Who are you using to self-published your book?

Over all, yesterday was a bad day. Things have been hectic for me since I started my new job and yesterday seemed especially so. Of course, the more frustrated I got, the worse the day got. So when I got home from my job at midnight after having been locked out of my house for an hour, I discovered that my proof copy of my book had come in from CreateSpace.

As exciting as it was to finally have the proof, I was cautious with my enthusiasm since nothing had gone right that day. Sadly, the book was no exception. There were about four pages that were left completely blank, as though the printer just forgot to print on one side of the paper before cutting everything up, and more odd then that was the single page where all of the text was missing, except for the page number. I feel like that must be my fault, but I've yet to figure out where the problem occurred.

Up until that point I had been leaning toward CreateSpace for a few reasons. First, they are directly linked to Amazon, which seems like the best place for an unknown writer to be found, if they are going to be found at all. Secondly, they offered a great deal if you wanted to sell your book directly on your own website, where you would earn a much higher percentage then with Amazon. Thirdly, the offered a royalty system that seemed both fair and easy to figure out. And finally, it would cost me less to have the book printed in order to sell it on my own.

The other real option available right now is Lulu. They are very similar in many ways, such as Lulu will also make your book available online, however the company charges you an additional price. However, I already printed with Lulu at Christmas and was fairly pleased with the results. They didn't seem to have any major problems with my file and it ended up looking more or less like what I expected.

So when I started this note, I thought I knew what I was going to do so far as printing, but now I'm not so sure. Any suggestions for me out there?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Do I need a BFA in creative writing to be a writer?

I got asked the question today, what courses have I taken to become a writer? Although my answer was that I had taken three courses at University (the only ones offered at this particular University) I feel that this isn't something a writer should be worried about. In fact, I wrote three novels before ever taking a creative writing class beyond the one available in my high school. I've learned lots since, but it is possible to learn the same things on your own. What you need more than instruction in writing is the desire to write.

Classes are helpful for keeping you on task by giving you deadlines for your work. However, once the classes end, you have to be self motivated enough to set and meet your own goals. This isn't really something that you can be taught in a school.

Just like any writing group, classes can be really helpful for giving you feedback on your work. A good instructor can give you guidance with your stories, point out your weakness in your writing and encourage you to keep trying no matter how hard things get. My first writing instructor has since become a good friend of mine and she still helps me with my writing today. However, it's quite possible that this won't always be the case. When I was considering taking courses, I was worried because I knew that there are a lot of writers in the world who look down on genre fiction.

Your instructors can be very influential over your writing. Since you're goal in school is to get good grades, which is done through appeasing your instructor, there can be a tendency for you to try to write in a way that you know that they like. This causes the risk of creating a lot of people who write in similar styles. You're unique voice is what will separates you're work from others, so obviously if you sound like everyone else, that's a bad thing.

While I think that education is never a bad thing, getting a degree specifically focused on creative writing probably won't help you published and generally won't give you any advantages over other writers. However, it can be a great way to meet professionals and other amateurs that are willing to not only talk to you about writing, but also help you out long after you've finished your schooling. That in itself can be invaluable for someone doing a solitary career such as writing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How do you get published traditionally?

Even though I'm not going the traditional route with Magic High, I am well aware of all of the benefits it provides. Although ebooks are becoming more popular all of the time, the majority of books bought are still paper versions. Publishers are able to make print copies available in as many spots as possible. You won't see a self-published book in places like Walmart or even most Indigo's, unless the author lives nearby and has worked out a deal with the store manager. Also, finding a publisher means that you can focus on writing the book, and leave almost everything else up to them.

So how do you go about finding one of these magical publishers? Well, you don't. That might sound completely unhelpful, but hang on, there's more. What you want to find is an agent. These are smart, wonderful people who will only work with you if they love your work. It will be their job to not only help you make your book the best that it can be, but they will deal with all the financial stuff that most writers don't want to even look at. Agents will not charge you any money. If they are charging you to look at your work, then it's a scam. And there are a lot of scams out there directed to writers eager to have someone look at their work. Check out sites like Writer Beware to find out what you should be looking out for. Agents will only take a commission from you when you make money. If they don't sell your work, no matter how much time and effort they put into your book, they won't make a dime. Therefore it's in their best interest to sell your book, and that's also why they don't take on projects they don't feel passionate about.

This also means that most agents aren't interested in selling to small publishers because of the low advance they give. Small publishers aren't able to distribute as widely as the big ones, but they can still be great supporters of your work and they are able to get your books into places that is difficult for self-publishers. If you choose to go with a small publisher, you can skip the agent, and the process to find one interested in your work is going to be about the same as finding an agent.

Step 1 - Find publishers or agents that represent the type of work you do. Don't send off material to someone who doesn't represent your genre or age group because it's a great big waste of everyone's time. To find agents or publishers, check sites like Agent Query or purchase the annual book Writer's Market.

Step 2 - Figure out what that agent or publisher wants you to send them. There are lots of big name publishers and agents that don't accept any unsolicited work. Without a good agent, big publishers won't even look at your story. However, if they are looking to take on new authors, usually it all starts with a query letter, and possibly some sample pages and/or a synopsis. Send what they ask for. If you don't, you're showing that you aren't able to follow directions, and that gives them a reason not to want to work with you.

Step 3 - Write your query letter. There are a lot of great resources out there to help write this, and I will probably go over that later this week. This is the heart of your proposal and will be what catches the attention of the agent. Think of it as being like the blurb on the back of the book.

Step 4 - Mail or email your query to a number of agents at a time. This day and age they expect that, just make sure that each letter is personalized and not directed to "Dear Agent." However, publishers still often expect you to send to them exclusively.

Step 5 - Wait for responses. From my experience, agents who accept queries through email are usually very fast to respond, often getting back to you within a couple of weeks. One agent replied within 24 hours. Publishers will take a few months to respond.

And those are the basic steps to submitting your work to publishers. Good luck! And don't forget, everyone gets rejections, even authors who have had twenty books out. The key is to not get too disheartened, keep submitting, adjust as required, and never stop writing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Steps to create a cover

I know there are a lot of people out there wondering how to go about creating a cover for their own book, so I figured I would do a step-by-step guide based on my methods. Of course there are other options such as hiring a designer or using one of the templates provided by the printer, but if you’ve decided to self-publish, isn’t half the fun getting to create your own cover?

1 – Find out dimensions
Decide which printer you’re going to go with and find out what size books they create. Choose one and make sure you are creating your cover with the proper dimensions. Usually if you are drawing your cover, you want to make it proportionally a little larger than the final image. This is so that you can shrink it on the computer which will eliminate some of your shaky lines and mistakes.

2 – Thumbnail
A thumbnail is a small sketch of the final design you want to create. You don’t have to be a good drawer to create a thumbnail. Since you are the only one going to see this, stick figures are encouraged. Whether you’re creating the cover yourself or having someone else draw/paint/photograph it for you, you should have some idea of what you want it to look like. Thumbnailing is a simple way of trying out a bunch of different options without putting a lot of effort into each one. In school we used to be told to do at least 40 thumbnails, and while sometime the first one might be the one you go with, often it’s not until you force yourself to think outside your comfort zone that you really find an idea that will work.

3 – Create a proof copy
Although this is more detailed than the thumbnail, it doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re goal at this stage is to figure out layout for the book such as where the focus will be, where the title will go, where your name will go, etc. Usually you won’t use the final photo or painting being created for this part. Use a place holder image in place of the one you will create later. This will give you or your artist an idea of what sort of space should be left around the image so that nothing will be stuffed too far off to a side or in a corner.

4 – Design the title
You might think that you can slap that title on at the end after you have the image, but it really is better to have the title first and create an image that works with it. The title is the main focus of any book. It’s what you see when the book is on the shelf and it’s what will grab the attention of potential readers. Because it’s so important, make sure that it not only looks good, but is legible. Try not to use common fonts such as Times, Comic Sans or Papyrus. There are some great free fonts out there at places like 1001freefonts.com, DaFont.com, or 1001fonts.com. Often whats available on these sites are remakes of fonts used on other books or movies so be careful with your choice and try to make it look as original as possible.

5 – Create the image
Now is the time to take that photo and start altering it, or draw that image or whatever you’re going to do to create the cover. Don’t steal photos from Google, that’s illegal. There are stock photography sites out there where you can buy the photo and use it however you like, use them if you really want something off the internet. Or find a friend who’s willing to help you out. Though don’t expect a professional artist or photographer to work for free just because you’re their friend. That’s rude. That is how they make a living after all. If you have the skills to create the image yourself, go for it, but don’t forget that you want the book to look professional. Compare your image with ones used for other books to decide whether your own images are at that level.

6 – Put it all together.
You’ve got your image, you’ve got your title, and you’ve planned out how it will all look. Now is the time to bring it all together. If you’ve done everything else right by planning out the size and where to place all of the items you need, this part should work out fairly easily. Don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t. Even professional designers make mistakes, the goal is to make as few as possible and have a kickass cover to boot.

And that’s how to make a cover! Have fun with it and make sure to check out other covers so that you can have an idea of what works and what doesn’t.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How'd you make your cover?

When I was getting my files ready to print, the cover was giving me a bit of trouble. I did a wrap around cover, which means the front, back and spine are all one image. This can be difficult for a few reasons, but what really threw me was that you need to know the size of the spine. Createspace, the company I'm publishing through, has a very simple way of multiplying the page number with the size of each piece of paper. You'd think that would be simple right? Well, everyone jokes that writers cant do math, and for me it's no joke. Apparently even with a calculator I managed to get it wrong the first time.

Another problem that I ran into was the fact that the book needs a bleed. In other words, if I want the image to go right to the edge of the book, I need to make it a little bit bigger than the size of the finished product. That way, the printer has a little bit of wiggle room to cut the page to size without leaving an ugly white line along the edges, which would look very unprofessional.

At first I made my file in Photoshop. I used guides to block out the front, back, spine and bleeds. However, when I sent in the file, they didn't recognize it as having a bleed. Instead, it just looked like the file was the wrong size to them. So, I decided the easiest thing to do would be to take the file and rebuild it in InDesign. I mentioned before that InDesign is a very powerful program, and one of the things that it can do is figure out all that bleed stuff for you. It can make a file the perfect size and then around the outside it will make an extra box that tells you exactly where you need to bring the image out for a bleed. When you export it as a PDF, it keeps that information and sends it to the printer. Happily when I sent this version of the PDF, the file was perfect as far as the printer was concerned.

One fear I have is that sometimes the colours in Indesign don't print quite how I expected. Since I had to add colours that matched the original cover image, I'm hoping that they will turn out alright. That's one of the things I'll be looking for when I get my proof copy back in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

How'd you format your book?

Yesterday went by in a bit of a blur as I finally got everything completed and sent off to the printer. There were a couple of small snags along the way, but I made the changes and the files were approved by the company. That means my proof copy should be arriving in the next couple of weeks. Horray!

I spent most of Friday and some of Saturday formatting my book. This turned out to be a much bigger project than I had anticipated. I had printed around 10 copies of the book at Christmas, and when I had sent it that time, I had left the file as a Word document. It was by far the easiest way format the file since it didn't require a lot of fiddling. The company had a template I used which meant I didn't even have to figure out basic spacing issues. However, Word doesn't give as much control as I would like. Plus, if I want to turn the book into an E-Book (which I do) I'd have to create it in a different program anyway.

So, this time I brought the manuscript into the program InDesign. This is where my graphic design training came in handy. The program is very powerful and that reflects in the cost. It's not something to buy if all you're doing with it is formatting a manuscript once a year. However, since I own it already, I put it to work, using guides on the master page to make sure everything lined up properly. The biggest thing that I did, which is also what took the most amount of time, was change my indents to make them smaller. This will make the pages look less clunky, and hopefully more professional. The problem was that when I pulled the .doc into InDesign, only half the indents came with it. So I manually had to go through every single paragraph and put in the space. I can only hope I didn't miss any, though I suppose that's what the proof copy is for.

There was probably some easier way to make those changes that I don't know about, and when I find out what that is, I may cry a little. However, this is all part of the experience of getting my first book printed. And perhaps there's someone out there that can learn from my mistakes.