Formatting text and illustrated ebooks for publishing

Since you’ve all been so good to me reading my nonsense, or my making nonsense out of other people’s literary works, I wanted to share my latest instruction handout on formatting ebooks, and also formatting interior print files and covers for POD (Print-on-Demand). So long as you stay within the permitted file size, it’s possible to publish illustrated ebooks for all devices, as well as text-only books, and the idea is to ensure the reading enjoyment of the customer is optimised by making sure everything is clear and easy to navigate. If you want to, you can also include links to multimedia, and that minefield is covered here.

Some things, like linked endnotes, are also still a bit of a minefield, and what works for Kindle won’t work for Smashwords. But the main thing is to get the basic formatting of your book right. So once you’ve cleaned up your spelling, grammar, checked you know the meanings of all the words you’re using (I could write a whole blog post about misplaced meanings that I’ve come across, it’s one of my favourite things about proofreading!), double-checked your research, and decided you’re going to unleash one of the 25,000 new books currently being published every week (source: London Book Fair seminar, April 2013), here’s how to deal with the technical stuff…

FORMATTING E-BOOKS FOR INDIE/SELF-PUBLISHING:

© Lisa Scullard for Writing Buddies, February 2013

Format your ebook first, before your print version.

Your original document may be in Word, Works, Rich Text Format or Open Office text (ODT). The most usual format to save it as and upload into Kindle for sale on Amazon is as a webpage file (HTML). However, if your computer’s word-processor is OpenOffice, your formatting will be preserved better for Kindle if you save it as a Word 2007/XP document (DOC) instead. If you find persistent conversion errors in your HTML file after uploading and previewing it on KDP and Kindle, such as changes to line spacing or font sizes (the ‘Look Inside’ preview on your book’s product page on Amazon is a good indication), go back to your document that you formatted and save it as Word for upload to KDP instead.

Firstly ensure that there are no manual reasons for corruption in the end product. Different fonts are not supported, so your e-book should be set in either Times New Roman or Arial, and no larger than 12-point font size (the e-reader devices support zooming-in and re-justifying of font size for easy reading, so having larger fonts in your original document is not necessary).

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For clarity, set your paragraph formatting like this:

  • Left indent: 0cm
  • Right indent: 0cm
  • First line (special): 0.5cm (if centralising a heading or picture/caption, re-set to 0cm or ‘none’ at those points only)
  • Above paragraph: 0cm
  • Below paragraph: 0cm
  • Line spacing: 1.5 lines
  • Paragraph style: either – Normal, Default, Body Text or None – not a combination

It is up to you how you set out your justification. Both left and parallel margin justification is supported, so it is your choice depending on your preferred aesthetics. Centralising chapter headings, and right justification for other information, also works.

Always insert a page break at the end of a chapter or information page. The page break should be immediately after the last full stop of the chapter.

Remove all headers, footers, and page numbers. These will not convert.

Make sure border styles in your ‘Page’ formatting is set to ‘none’.

You can use bold and italics in e-books. These convert well into e-reader format.

Most readers of Kindle prefer a hyperlinked/reverse hyperlinked table of contents, and for other converters including Smashwords and Lulu for Nook and Apple, it is compulsory for distribution. If you do not know how this is done, we will cover it as well.

Automated footnotes1 and endnotesi always convert to appear at the end of a document in e-books. The automated links will not convert into Kindle format unless you manually hyperlink them – they will be numbered, but not navigable otherwise. Remember to link the endnote back to the start of the text where it originated as well. Use the same method to hyperlink them as you do for the contents list and chapters. For Smashwords, all automated bookmarks for footnotes/endnotes must be edited manually to include the prefix: ref_ Then each endnote and its reference will have to be re-hyperlinked manually as well. This ensures that rogue bookmarks do not convert into additional chapter numbers at the end of their automated Table of Contents.

You can use internet hyperlinks in e-books, as most e-readers are browser-enabled. This is useful to direct readers to your website or blog, to online references in non-fiction, or to research articles. Put your personal links in your author page at the beginning of the e-book. Distributors like Nook and Apple will reject books where outgoing links appear at the end of the book.

Straight apostrophes (‘) and speechmarks (“) look better in e-reader screen format than predictive curly ones (“”) and you will also have no problem with them appearing back-to-front as typos. Use ‘Find/Replace All’ to change them – remember to search for both (mirror) versions of each.

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Some important DO NOTs:

  • Do not use multiple returns for line spacing. E-readers convert multiple returns at the end of paragraphs, or at the top of pages, into completely blank e-reader pages. For a text pause, use one return and then ‘*****’ as a break (see above), which is the accepted format. You may use a single line return only before a chapter heading following a page break, for aesthetics.
  • Do not use space bar hits for indents, spacing or positioning text. Although fashionable in prose poetry for print books, your formatting will be lost once converted to an ebook. Again, these will convert into blank pages or empty lines, depending on the size of screen your book is viewed on. Phrases positioned using space bar strikes will not preserve their position when converted into e-books, but will simply ‘shunt’ phrases unevenly. Always use paragraph formatting settings (as described above) to create indents. A paragraph indent should never be more than 0.5cm – larger indents, such as 1.5cm, will push the first line of your new paragraph too far across the screen on smaller e-readers, such as the iPhone. You can use ‘Find/Replace all’ to remove multiple space bar hits – simply search for two spaces and replace with one space, and repeat until no more double spaces are found. This ensures that only one space at most appears between words, or in error. You can also use ‘Show Non-printing characters’ to scroll through and find spaces inserted in error at the start of a new paragraph.
  • Do not insert an additional blank line/return at the end of a chapter – this will convert into an empty e-reader page between the chapters.
  • If your writing style includes ellipses (…) make sure your ellipse immediately follows the previous word, without a space in between, i.e. ‘ellipse…’ or ‘ellipse… continued’ is correct whereas ‘ellipse …’ or ‘ellipse … continued’ will give the e-reader the ability to shunt the ellipse by itself to the start of a new line, or even to the top of a new page. This is frustrating if the ellipse appears at the end of dialogue or a paragraph, meaning that the sentence will appear to cut off dead on the previous page, while the three dots, or three dots and closed speech-mark, will appear all alone on a new line, or at the top of the next page. (The same can happen when formatting print books as the lines re-justify to your trim size). For your prose to make sense, always anchor your ellipses to the previous word by leaving no space in between them. Use ‘Find/Replace all’ to search for ellipses with a space before them ( …) and replace with ones without (…)
  • Do not include hyperlinks leading to other e-book retailers – for example, e-books containing links to Amazon, including your Amazon author page, will be rejected by Apple, Kobo and Nook etc. Link instead to the ‘books’ page of your blog or website, to direct readers to find your other work, on your ‘About the Author’ page at the start of your e-book.
  • Do not include pages and pages of reviews and comments at the start of your book, unless they are by celebrities! (This is a Kindle audience preference). A few comments are fine, should you wish, or a single page ‘Introduction’.
  • Do not use Wingdings, smiley faces or other non-typographical characters, even if they appear predictively through key-strikes. These do not convert into e-reader format. On my first attempt, I found these converted into empty square boxes on Kindle, and Chinese lettering on Smashwords! If you want to insert a character which is not on your keyboard, use ‘Insert/Special character’ from your chosen font only (for example, when writing the word pâté) and if you want to insert a smiley face or swirly shape as an artistic form, use ‘Insert/Picture/From File’ – there will be more on inserting pictures later, as the saved file format and layout is more complicated.
  • Do not leave a hanging space bar strike at the end of a paragraph. This will insert a blank line under the paragraph.

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Once you have cleaned up and formatted your file as above, there are a few inclusions to add. You will need a title page – just the title, in Bold, and your name underneath. This is usually centralised, and should have no more than one line return above the heading for aesthetics. Do not try to position it halfway down the page using line returns, or the first few pages of your e-book will be blank on smaller e-reader screens. A page break should follow immediately after your name.

The next page is your copyright page. Some authors write long-winded copyright pages. The legal minimum, to protect your rights, is to say ‘Book title © (your name)(year)’ and on the next line ‘The moral right of the author has been asserted’. You do not need to write anything more below that. If you have given yourself a publisher name, also include it on this page, e.g. First published by XXX Press in (year). Do not say ‘published by Kindle’ – they are not your publisher, just your distribution platform.

However, when publishing on Smashwords for Apple and Nook etc, and accepting a free Smashwords ISBN for distribution, they require acknowledgement as your distributor. In this instance, you must have ‘Smashwords Edition’ on the first (title) page, or the copyright page under your name, to be accepted for distribution. If you have paid for and supplied your own ISBN, then you are the publisher and must use the publisher name you bought the ISBNs with.

The free ASIN e-book identifier that appears automatically on your Kindle copy when you publish through KDP is not an ISBN, and not transferable – likewise, you cannot list your Smashwords-supplied ISBN on your Kindle version.

Lulu do not require to be referenced in your e-book as the publisher, when issuing their exclusive free ISBN for distribution on Nook and the iBookstore. If you have used Lulu, and also wish to publish on Kobo directly, you do not need to reference them as your publisher in the file either, or require your own ISBN. One will be issued free for Kobo once your book goes public, even if you leave the ISBN field empty when uploading the book on your Kobo Writing Life publishing dashboard.

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Following the copyright page is the Table of Contents. This should be hyperlinked. Your chapters can be named or numbered, standard numeric or Roman Numeral, or simply headed by title, e.g. all of these are acceptable:

  • Chapter One

  • Chapter 1

  • One

  • Chapter I

  • Ch. 1: A Mysterious Event

  • I – A Mysterious Event

  • Chapter One ~ A Mysterious Event

  • A Mysterious Event…

Or any combination of the above. A chapter heading should be long enough to understand and to navigate via hyperlink on a touch-screen, but not too long that it takes up several lines on a smaller e-reader. For example, the longest chapter heading I have in the Zombie Adventures series so far is ‘Chapter Thirty-Nine: The Leg of Extraneous Genito-Urinary Medicine’ – in the contents list, I only used the titles, not the chapter numbers, and it still took up two lines!

The way to hyperlink your chapters for Kindle and Smashwords is to insert bookmarks above each chapter heading, thus:

^Top of Contents page following page break^

(Insert bookmark in blank line here: Position cursor, Insert/Bookmark, e.g. ‘Contents’)

CONTENTS:

Introduction

About the Author

Chapter One: A Mysterious Event

(^Hyperlink to corresponding bookmark ‘001’^)

Chapter Two: Another Event… etc.

^Top of new chapter page following page break at end of previous chapter^

(Insert bookmark in blank line here: Position cursor, Insert/Bookmark, e.g. ‘001’)

CHAPTER ONE:

(^Hyperlink to bookmark ‘Contents’^)

A MYSTERIOUS EVENT

Where the bookmark is positioned determines the top of the e-reader page when the link is navigated. You can have the bookmark on the word ‘Contents’ but having it in a blank line above is aesthetically pleasing, and less overcrowded at the top of the screen.

Then hyperlink your chapter headings in the Contents list to the start of the corresponding chapters, by selecting the text to link and then using, from the toolbar, or by right-clicking: ‘Insert/Hyperlink/Target in document/Bookmarks(show list)+/(select appropriate chapter bookmark)’ and reverse-hyperlink the chapters themselves as shown above by selecting the chapter heading at the start of each chapter, and using ‘Insert/Hyperlink/Target in document/Bookmarks(show list)+/Contents’. Click ‘Apply’ before ‘close’ on the hyperlinks window, and your links should appear as above. Remember this style of contents list formatting is compulsory for Smashwords, for distribution to Apple, Nook, Kobo, and other outlets. They do not currently serve Amazon.

If you are using Lulu for your Nook, Kobo and Apple distribution, the chapter list is linked differently. Simply ensure that the rest of your document contains no ‘Heading’ styles, and format the title page heading (your ‘book title‘), the ‘Contents‘ heading (but not the chapter list) and each chapter title (at the start of each chapter only) all as the style ‘Heading 1‘. Then save as a Word 97/2000/XP doc. This is much simpler and quicker to do, and they have recently added distribution to Amazon Kindle and Kobo – previously they only sold to Apple and Nook. They pay regularly at a minimum of only £3 ($5) revenue gain. If you use Lulu and choose to have them distribute to Amazon Kindle as well, you will not need to use Amazon KDP.

Once your linked Table of Contents is complete, and you are sure there are no other potential conversion corruptions in the file, you are ready to save and upload. All of the below options are 100% free:

To save a file for upload to Kindle (kdp.amazon.com – you will need your Amazon account details to sign in and set up, and a bank account to receive royalties – for EFT payments there is no minimum payout threshold, except for sales in Amazon Brazil, and payout direct to bank takes place in the month 60 days after sale. Click on ‘Save As…’ and save it as Webpage (complete) – .HTML. Other file types such as Word are accepted and convert well if properly formatted as above. Kindle Help recommend HTML to prevent corruption of things like the linked Table of Contents and image cropping.

To save a file for upload onto Smashwords (www.smashwords.com – you will need a Paypal account to receive royalties quarterly, at a $10 minimum threshold) save it as ‘Word 97/2000/XP’ – .DOC.

To save it for upload onto Lulu* as an e-book (www.lulu.com – you will need a Paypal account to receive royalties), save it as Word 97/2000/XP as above – .DOC.

*You can also self-publish e-books on Kobo, if you have only used Lulu for Apple, Nook, and/or Kindle. (www.kobo.com/writinglife – you will need a bank account to receive royalties), save it as Word 97/2000/XP as above, or Open Office Open Document Text – .DOC or .ODT.

If uploading to Smashwords, you will not need to use Lulu, and vice versa. Smashwords does not distribute to Amazon, so you will have to use KDP for that.

COVER FILE:

In all of the above cases, you will need a separate JPEG cover file, high resolution, aspect ratio ‘portrait’ minimum 1400×2000 pixels to ensure reduced image quality. Do not insert these images into your e-book file – the online converter will do this for you, and you will be asked to add it via a separate instruction. The cover file and image is entirely your taste and choice, but for Lulu and Smashwords ISBN distribution, they must contain the title and your author name, exactly as they appear on the book’s title page (i.e. no alternative spellings, initials or additional extensions). It is recommended that they appear eye-catching in both thumbnail and full-screen, but there is no tried-and-tested style guarantee.

Thousands of free photographic images without copyrights attached or credits required, are available on www.morguefile.com, which you can customise and adapt any way you like, and appear in a range of resolutions and sizes. Search their site by keyword, e.g, trees, rainbow, cocktails, church, clouds, military etc.

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PREVIEWING BEFORE PUBLISHING AS AN EBOOK:

If you want to preview your ebook without the risk of publishing it on a public platform first, you can convert the file on your computer using Mobipocket Creator, a free non-nagware program to create mobi (Kindle) files. Your document will need to be saved as Word (see the instructions for illustrated books for Smashwords, Lulu & Kobo below if your file contains images). Once you have installed the free (full unlimited use) program, follow the prompts to create a mobi version of your book. If you don’t have a Kindle or Kindle app to try it out on, you can also download the Mobipocket Reader app for your computer or tablet desktop, which will open your mobi file for you automatically when you click on the new ebook document from its saved location in your hard drive files. Your mobi ebook can also be transferred like any other document to another file or memory stick, or attached to emails if you want to send it to reviewers for feedback.

ILLUSTRATED E-BOOKS:

So far I have had success creating illustrated e-books on Kindle format, because the accepted file type (HTML.zip) supports inclusion of an image file, and for Smashwords in Word document (.DOC), where the graphic links have been broken (meaning that the images are embedded, not in a separate file) and the images are compressed to be optimised for ‘web/screen’ i.e. to 96 dpi.

After creating your e-book document as above for Kindle, add your images where you want them to appear in the text, right-click each image, and in ‘Format Picture’ ensure that ‘page wrap’ is set to ‘none’ and the image is centred. You can also crop at this stage.

Images should be no more than A4 in original size before inserting, and should be saved once inserted, using image menu ‘Format/Picture/Compress’ as ’96dpi/Apply to all images in document’. This reduces the file memory size to a manageable one for uploading. Images can be landscape, portrait or square (in fact anything), but remember they tend to appear at the top of a new e-reader page due to shape and size, so the previous e-reader page may cut off early, as it shunts the image to the next page. For this reason, do not place images in the middle of a sentence or paragraph, where a large gap in the previous page would make no sense. They work best at the beginning and/or end of chapters. One way to have a neater presentation is to always have a page break before an illustration, and to insert any caption as text on the illustration itself before inserting, using MS Paint or Picasa image editing tools. As you will have no control over where text on the previous screen will cut off, depending on how much the reader has zoomed in on your font for reading, it may be more aesthetically pleasing – particularly in non-fiction books – to have the phrase ‘Photo (or ‘illustration’) on following page’ on a new line below the last paragraph before the page break where you will insert the image.

The e-reader conversion means that larger images will automatically be sized to fit the screen being viewed on, while tiny images will stay tiny. This does not always appear true in Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ preview, which is quite scarily random as the page boundaries are not set, but on the e-readers you can trust that your images will fit the screens.

Illustrated ebooks for Kindle:

Once complete, save as ‘webpage’ (HTML) as before. Then right-click on the icon for your HTML document, and select ‘Send to… Compressed/zip file or folder’.

A folder with a zip logo on it will appear under the same name, e.g. ‘Mysterious Events.zip’. Also a new separate folder will appear with the same the name as your book, e.g. ‘Mysterious Events files’ in the same location. This contains the tagged image duplicates required for your Kindle book. Click on the new ‘files’ folder containing these duplicated images, and drag it over into the HTML ‘.zip’ folder so that it is inside the zipped folder as well. You now have a complete zipped HTML file with tagged images, to upload as an illustrated e-book. When you sign in to KDP, select the ‘.zip’ folder as your file to upload.

N.B. When formatting illustrated ebooks in OpenOffice for Kindle, use the html-to-doc method described below, as for Smashwords, Lulu or elsewhere, and use the ‘saved as Word doc’ version for upload to Kindle KDP – NOT the html original. You are only saving your OpenOffice odt file as html initially in that instance in order to select and break the image links into an embedded format, but they are not preserved in the html for upload to KDP.

The previewer for ‘Kindle Fire’ and ‘iPad’ on KDP will show your illustrations in colour, but remember the basic Kindle has a grey-scale screen only, so the previewer will only show what your images will look like in black-and-white. This does not affect your original file.

KDP will offer to show a list of perceived spelling errors in your book, and after viewing this it is worth clicking on ‘Send this to me as an email’ so that you can review them and make any corrections before re-saving your file and uploading again.

Illustrated ebooks for Smashwords, Lulu and Kobo:

After inserting your images, go to ‘Edit’ in the Toolbar and select ‘Links’. In the dialogue box, a list of your images and their source locations will appear. Hold down the Ctrl key plus A, and select all the Graphic file locations in the list, then click on ‘Break Links’ and confirm the command. Your images are now saved within the file, which will be much bigger. There is a maximum file size limit, so you will also need to compress images as below – but not necessarily reduce their dimensions.

To do this when using OpenOffice rather than Microsoft Word, you will have to save your odt document as ‘webpage’ (html) first to embed the images. After doing so and closing it, go to its saved location and right-click on it, and select ‘Open using… OpenOffice Writer.’ When it re-opens for editing, follow the process for breaking the image links as above. Then use ‘Save as’ to save it as a Word (.doc) and confirm. Check that the links are still broken by clicking on the Edit menu (if the ‘Links’ command is not clickable, you have succeeded and won’t have to do so again). Use this saved-as-Word document for your upload – check your conversion previews carefully to ensure the images are in place.

To reduce the memory size required for the illustrated Word document (it will need to be less than 10MB for Smashwords and less than 600MB for KDP) in MS Word, right-click on any image in the document and select ‘show image toolbar’. Hover over the small white square in the pop-up toolbar that has an arrow pointing inwards at each corner. This is ‘compress pictures’. Select the option in the dialogue box that says ‘Web/screen’ (96dpi) and ‘delete cropped areas of pictures’ and ‘apply to all images in document’ and confirm the command. Your illustrations will look exactly the same in quality and size as you have placed them, but will take up only about a third of the original memory. Save as Word 97/2000/XP .doc. You now have a complete illustrated ebook document ready for upload onto Smashwords, Lulu or Kobo. Only upload this document as is – do not ‘zip’ it before uploading.

You can reduce image resolution of very high-res images in OpenOffice by using the ‘Mosaic’ filter in the Picture Tools toolbar – try a re-scaling of 4 pixels or 2 pixels to adjust them. If they subsequently blur or pixelate in your book, then they were already low-res enough and just click on ‘Undo.’ I’ve found this does not necessarily change the memory size taken up by the file significantly, but may do so with very densely-illustrated ebooks.

Always check your conversion previews. On KDP there is a good online previewer, while the best way to preview and check your Smashwords or Lulu version is to download your converted .EPUB file for Nook from your finished product page, and view it using Adobe Digital Editions (free to download and install from Adobe). The online-reading previewer for Smashwords strips out all your links and paragraph formatting for simplicity, so it is not true to your final version – it is only meant as a sample, so don’t take it as your final conversion. The .EPUB file on Adobe Digital Editions will show you the final version, fully-converted and functional.

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Editing your book after publishing:

Make your edits to the original document (right-click on your HTML document, select ‘Open using…’ your chosen word-processor) edit and save it as before. Select the title of the book you want to update on your Kindle dashboard and in the menu select ‘Edit book details’. Scroll down to ‘Browse for interior file’ and upload your new version. Preview your changes to ensure it has updated, click ‘Save and Continue’ and then ‘Save and Publish’ on the next page as before. Always make changes to the existing book – do not start again from scratch, as it will appear as multiple books with multiple product pages on Amazon.

The same when updating versions on Smashwords, Lulu and Kobo – edit your original Word document and save it again, select the title from your dashboard online, and edit/update it from there. On Lulu, at the interior file stage, delete the old file as it appears on the dashboard below the ‘Browse’ button before uploading the new one. Otherwise you will be asked to select from the multiple files available, which can get confusing.

KDP Select: AT YOUR OWN RISK 🙂

Smashwords discussion on FB

A version of your e-book must be exclusive to Amazon Kindle to use this. If the identical e-book is available elsewhere, your book is not eligible for the scheme. But you can publish the book in print, have 10% samples available online on your blog, continue to submit to agents, or have your book serialised in print magazines and journals.

They are getting stricter, but at your own risk, you can try any of the options below. If they judge that your book is not exclusive, they will contact you within around 14 days of enrollment:

You can publish alternative content versions or ‘special editions’ either exclusively to Kindle, or elsewhere as e-books – with bonus material, or omnibus editions, without risking your KDP Select status. So long as the content of the book, its title and cover enrolled in KDP Select is not identical to other e-books available on Nook, Apple etc, you will have no problems with it. For example, you could have ‘Mysterious Events’ on Amazon Kindle and enrolled in KDP Select, and also ‘Mysterious Events: Omnibus Edition’ with a slightly different cover available on both Smashwords and Amazon Kindle, but not enrolled in KDP Select.

If you enrol your book in KDP Select, it allows Amazon Prime readers to ‘borrow’ your e-book rather than purchase, should they wish, and also gives you five days you can list your book as free every three months in any order you choose using ‘Manage promotions’. Wet bank holidays are good uses of this, and will gain you a number of downloaders looking for freebies.

However, this is no indication of actual reads, these free promotions tend to attract no reviews, and then often negative ones, or ‘one-star review’ protection racket-style scams, whereby you are then spammed by pay-per-review promotion schemes. You may attract one or two follow-on sales, and I mean literally one or two!

But you may be lucky, and find readers keen on your subject who continue to share and promote it on your behalf.

Smashwords promotions:

Smashwords allows you to set up free promotion codes any time of your choosing, by generating a 100% off cover price coupon for you to share privately or publicly with friends, family, customers, blog followers, or in contest giveaways – simply select your published title and set up a coupon for your chosen time period, which will email you a code. There are no limitations of usage for this facility on Smashwords, and your book does not have to be ‘exclusive’.

Pricing:

Amazon is the only site so far I am aware of which sets up competitive pricing. If your e-book is cheaper on Smashwords, and it is reported to Amazon by a customer as ‘cheaper elsewhere’, Amazon will also cut the price and thereby your royalty. So it is best to have your prices congruent. Having a coupon code available on Smashwords will not affect this, as the ‘for sale cover price’ visible on your product page online will remain the same, and the coupon details remain private to you and those you share it with.

1 A footnote appears on the relevant page in a document, but will convert to an endnote in an e-book, like this.

i An endnote always appears at the end of a document, like this. All footnotes also convert to endnotes in e-books, in a separate list.

Have fun and good luck 🙂 xxx

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Hot on the Trail…

Living Hell trailer - final slide

Having spent a week chilling after my eye op, accumulating housework to do over the weekend, and working – yes, working – doing that thing that I left my last job to do! …I’ve introduced DS10 to Youtube as part of her birthday treats, and she’s torn into it like a bat out of Hell on a mission, churning out some jaw-droppingly awesome stuff in less than a week.

And I’ve realised, holy crap – that’s my audience, in some part at least. Anyone writing for young adult, teens, or even children’s fiction now has to realise that this market are using computers, creating their own content, deciding on their identity and choosing their entertainment, much faster than JK Rowling can say “Let’s have a meeting to discuss the strategy.”

Some friends on Goodreads invited me into their YA Lit group, and one of them has set up a (stunning) YA trailer website purely for the posting of trailers for teen fiction, and it is really inspiring. I’d done one trailer previously, a slideshow, for Living Hell, my current major YA work – an alternative-history stab in the dark at a fantasy dystopian contemporary society – written originally when I was 18 years old – which actually functions rather well, considering (it’s called social evolution, baby – no vampires or werewolves here, not that any are admitting to). But when I saw the work already on the site, and the material that DS10 is creating, I decided things needed cranking up a notch (or ten) and using a bit more imagination, even with only a scanner, WinXP and MS Paint at my disposal at home. I guess ‘disposal’ is a good choice of word – but it’s got me through publishing everything so far, and will darned well continue to earn its keep until I can afford myself one of those fancy offices and staff, with a water-cooler for equally cool people to brainstorm and flirt with each other around. 🙂

Okay, so I plug in the scanner and grab my notebook, and basically make this up as I go along. I had some idea of what I was doing, but not until I was actually holding a pen did I know what was going to come off the end of it:

Living Hell trailer - slideI remember writing lists, essays, and occasionally angry letters to imaginary Points of View presenters in my schoolbooks, and also doodling and drawing, which was where I wanted to head with this ‘animation’.

I decided to use a transition rather than painstakingly draw each letter (the ‘invisible hand’ writing across a screen style, which has been used to good Living Hell trailer - slideeffect many times).

What was fun was how organic this process was – I let my gut dictate each stage that I scanned, without really knowing what I was going to draw or write on the page next, just sticking to themes in the book and keeping the schoolbook graffiti style. Just like drawing at school, or in my room when I was a kid. Frequently I’d Living Hell trailer - slide 6start a picture or painting back then not knowing what it would end up becoming – those often turned out more pleasing than the ones I’d planned and could see clearly in my head.

I haven’t got to the stage of constructing a ‘formal’ book trailer, where titles take the place of Hollywood movie voice-over (“A man.  A woman. A ship. An iceberg. A date with destiny”). My style leans more towards the ‘teaser’ type of advert, at the minute. Maybe because those voice-over styles don’t work on me so well… I have seen some great ones on the trailer site, however, so I may give traditional trailer composition a shot at some point.

But for me, hearing a teenager say “Cool!” is as good as it gets, feedback-wise. 🙂

Here’s the finished trailer. Tell me it doesn’t make you glad you’re not still in school, LOL! 🙂

The Great Cover-Up.

Had a discussion about book covers yesterday after getting some constructive criticism on mine. As an indie author – covers were the last thing on my mind. Until seven or eight months ago, I seriously never intended to self-publish.

But as an artist, over the years I used to think a lot about covers. Covers on published books attracted me all the time, although it was blurbs and first paragraph reads which dictated whether or not I bought a book. I realised that as well as covers, I’d never really thought about blurbs either. For me, the important thing was getting my interiors up to scratch, spellchecked and edited. Rarely when I do a drawing or painting does it come up to my own expectations, and sometimes themes in the books require more than a flower, a puddle of blood, or a cleavage…

My favourite book covers of all time always contained real art, especially fantasy art – science fiction book covers in particular featuring spaceships, alien landscapes and adventurers. Some of the best artwork on covers appeared in the 1980’s, mostly on historical romance covers, oozing classical portrait talent and dripping with Fabio.

Fabio LanzoniI could look at just the covers for hours, purely for the artist’s skill – I would study Boris Vallejo and attempt to imitate every line in pencil form. Nowadays, sadly, those style of covers are considered ‘cheesy’ and it’s all about graphic design and branding, creating a cover more simplistic and iconic, like a Coca-Cola label. I can recognise many of those ‘designer’ covers, but could tell you nothing about the story between the covers, or the genre, or the author – but with realist fantasy art, it was easy to understand what the genre and story was – especially if it was science fiction, romance, a pulp detective novel, or an early Ian Fleming.

In a way, these ‘brand’ covers tap into a form of label marketing which goes along with clothing, soft drinks, and fragrances. You don’t have to know what it stands for, what the story is. It’s an accessory, a lifestyle choice. The reader who buys Alexander McCall Smith might also wear Alexander McQueen (ahem, if they’re lucky). The same goes for movie posters – but luckily, movie posters haven’t moved on as far as book covers. The most iconic artist posters include Star Wars and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and the films represented didn’t disappoint. You saw the poster, and the film lived up to it.

In Death & The City, the protagonist Lara has issues with personality and the way people market themselves, and their motives, and likens it to book covers. You see a big title and it represents a catchy blockbuster title, or a big author name and it represents a celebrity author. Pathway at dusk equals mystery. Pastel colours equals chick lit. Fangs and cleavage equals vampire horror. She compares the way one of her subjects of investigation was drawn unawares into prostitution by saying: Like she’d unwittingly bought a book about the sex trade, based on a misleading cover claiming to be a supernatural spy detective novel.

So I was aware of this ability for covers to be ‘misleading’ when designing my own, and also didn’t want to misrepresent myself as a publishing-house-style author while I’m currently an indie – no quotes from reviews on the covers or in the introduction, although I’ve had hundreds of comments from friends and peers, none that would qualify with the job description ‘Guardian Books’ or ‘TV Book Club’ – so I left them out.

Although I only have MS Paint to cobble them together, luckily Lulu.com on the hardcovers had an online formatter in which you simply upload images of the right quality – had a fun time searching for some I could use – until I can get the right images and artwork out of my head and onto paper, I’m happy with what I’ve done and feel that although amateur, it’s not misrepresenting anything.

But going by my taste in art, I have a feeling my own ideas brought to life won’t have any place in the contemporary market. 🙂

Writers Swap Reads ~ July 2011

Hidden

(Also on Amazon Kindle UK/DE. Paperback available from Amazon US, or Shalini Boland)

Went out for a birthday lunch today to meet the effortlessly fabulous Shalini Boland, rising Young Adult fiction star and author of Hidden, and the forthcoming futuristic/dystopian novel Outside. We did a book exchange – I got a paperback copy of Hidden (paranormal/vampire romance), and I gave her a hardcover of Living Hell, and threw in a paperback proof of Death & The City: Book Two to follow up the first one she already has at home. I told her about my own ‘challenge’ I’d set myself, to write a romantic novel à la Harlequin/Mills&Boon, and she shared some of the promoting tips she’s learned around indie publishing.

One of the things she’d heard about is running temporary freebie promos on eBooks. I thought this sounded like a fun idea. She also submits queries to book blogs for reviews/interviews and promotion, and is doing well out of it. In comparison to me, who hasn’t put together a press kit at all, and sells on average one Terrible Zombie Of Oz per week, she’s proof that marketing yourself a bit in the right places can definitely work.

Living Hell, on SmashwordsI’d already dropped my Amazon Kindle prices, having bought an Android-based eTouch Toys’R’Us tablet (it’s fantastic, and has the added bonus of a rounded shiny silver rear cover that looks as though you’re perusing the inside of a tiny Smeg refrigerator – and almost as heavy). I realised that for my £49.99 investment in this electronic toy, and downloading the free Kindle app, what I mostly wanted was to benefit from amazingly cheap books.

So I’d swallowed my pride and put my own prices down, from a few bucks to amazingly cheap as well.

Death & The City, on SmashwordsWhen I got home I checked out Smashwords, and had no new activity in the last month – but noticed they were running a July sale list, with vouchers which you could apply to your books to make them either discounted or free. So I signed both of my Smashwords epub/html/LRF/RTF format books up to it (Apple/Sony/Nook etc versions), and almost instantly sold two, and then two more. It was definitely worth doing – as it’ll be a while before I see any royalties anyway, gaining a readership in the meantime is definitely up there in my list of preferences.

I’d already decided to give myself a year, from publishing the first two in the Tales of the Deathrunners series (Death & The City: Books One and Two – combined in the hardcover edition, and in the Heavy Duty Edition eBook, which also includes an original feature screenplay), as well as Living Hell and The Terrible Zombie Of Oz. One year will be enough to gauge reader interest in whichever sequence of books is likely to be strongest – at the moment it looks like the title containing the most Z’s is winning – and I have sequels already in progress. In the meantime I’ll work on giving this Romance Fiction challenge a shot, and try and keep the zombies at bay – until appropriate for them to be unleashed 🙂

My Smashwords Author Page

Enjoy! 🙂