Monday, June 6, 2016

I’m not perfect, but…

(This is a bit of a rant.)

As a writer, I have just one set of tools to use in my work: my words and the language in which they are found.

Which words I choose, how they’re used, how they’re assembled, how they’re combined, which rules I adhere to slavishly, which rules I deliberately bend or even break…. These are the tools that I have—that any writer has—to use to surround a reader with the story and entice them inside. When that happens, when that siren song is successful, a reader can become totally submerged in the story, so much so that they never want to leave.

So it bothers me to stumble across the sloppiness of other people. When I, as a reader myself, want to be submerged but I’m brought up short by someone else’s carelessness. It could be the author, the editor, the typesetter, the I-don’t-know-whom, but SOMEBODY has goofed up, and it throws me right out of the book!

I’ll give you just two examples.

“[the hedgehog] was very prickly and riddled with flees.”
The Mermaid Garden by Santa Montefiore, published by Simon & Schuster, 2011
No, the hedgehog was “riddled with fleas.”

“The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm.”
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, published by Amulet Books, 2016
No, the boat itself wasn’t feeling sick (“nauseous”); it was causing sickness in its passengers (“a nauseating, relentless rhythm.”)

Things like this bother me because all of the people involved get paid—and get paid real money—to do their jobs correctly. And it’s not like they are being asked to design a skyscraper or pilot a cruise ship. This is not (to use two very overused clichés) “brain surgery” or “rocket science.” They accept their jobs with the understanding that they can and will perform those jobs well. And then a lot of money is spent creating and publishing a book. (One source says that the total cost of publishing the first printing of a typical hardback book can be as high as $250,000.) And then, for as long as physical copies of that book continue to exist in the world—for multiple decades—the mistakes that are in it are out there, confirming just how lazy or ignorant someone was who was supposed to help make that book look good, but also—and even worse—spreading that ignorance to other people, people who believe, rightly or wrongly, that what a person reads in print has to be correct. This is especially bothersome for things like the “nauseous, nauseating” example, above, since that mistake is in a Young Adult book, and now tens of thousands of young people can go through the world forever misusing those terms with confidence.

It makes me very angry and very sad at the same time, and I have to ask: Doesn’t anybody read these things before they’re published? I don’t mean merely cast their eye over them; I mean actually read them.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Making Redacted Text in Your E-Book

A recent post in the Boards Writer’s Café asked:

“In my novel I have a scene where the characters find a document that has redacted passages and phrases, like in the movies. Couldn’t find any font or trick in Microsoft Word that could achieve this effect. Any ideas?”

You can do it in Word and have it work well… if you then convert your file correctly before you upload to KDP.

First, you need to use Word’s Text Highlight Color command. One of the color choices on that palette is Black. It’s designed to be used over white- or light-colored text, but, in this case, you want it over black text so nothing readable shows up. In the spot where you want the redacted text, you could place a series of “words” into your story that are actually bunches of XXX XX XXXXX XXX XXXXXX. Then highlight them with solid Black. If you try to just use blank spaces it probably won’t work. Kindle devices usually truncate multiple blank spaces down to one space. You need to use actual letters instead.

The one conversion method that always works for me is to use Calibre to convert your Word file to an EPUB file (not a MOBI file). Upload that EPUB to KDP and the highlights are retained. That solid Black redacted text should work on any Kindle device or app. The XXX words will also mask the redacted text from any viewers that happen to use the “Night” setting on their device and their device happens to make the highlights disappear, though that shouldn’t happen. I have always had my highlights work with this method, even in “Night” mode.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Non-Justified Text on Kindle Devices

Recently there was a post on the Kindle Formatting Forum where the Original Poster complained, as many people have done over the years, about Kindle devices and apps insisting upon always justifying body text. In fact one response to the post said exactly that:

“Obviously all Kindles and apps display justified body text and always have.”

Well, that’s not really true. It’s just what most people have accepted because they didn’t know how to write the correct code. Kindles have always—or at least as long as I have known them—displayed pretty much exactly what your HTML code says to display, at least as far as justification goes. If you want to have ragged-right body text, all you have to do is say so.

I have posted several examples of roughly the same place in my forthcoming book, Kindle Formatting for Smart People, to show how this ragged-right formatting works correctly on a variety of Kindle displays.

Kindle Previewer Fire simulation:


Kindle Previewer E-Ink simulation:


Kindle Keyboard screenshot:


Kindle HD 6 screen shot:


Kindle for Mac screen shot:

Exactly how to do this, I’ll cover in another post, but you can see that it really does work, so don’t let any of the so-called formatting “experts” insist to you that it can’t be done.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Text Character Drawing

There was a post on the KDP Formatting Forum recently that asked if it was possible to draw a figure composed of text characters and have it display correctly on the e-book page. This would be sort of like the printouts that you used to see for sale at shopping malls and county fairs, where they would take a video photo of your child and then print it out on a black ink printer using alphanumeric characters as the image pixels.

The Original Poster was told that the only way that it could be done, and display correctly across all e-book devices, would be to include it as an image of some kind: GIF or whatever.

This is not true, as I show below. This example is from a Fire HD 6 but it is the same as what showed in iBooks on my desktop Mac.

Click on the image to enlarge.


If I get time, I may discuss how to do this, though, frankly, there's not much call for it and it takes a bit of work.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Zombies As Literature


I, ZOMBIE by Hugh Howey
A review

There are conventions that are common to each type of monster story: vampires suck blood, werewolves grow hair, and zombies are mindless, out-of-control creatures whose only thoughts—if they can be said to have any at all—are to kill and eat living people.

But what if zombies were not exactly like that… mindless, I mean. What if a zombie’s brain was a still-functioning, still-thinking organ trapped within a body that it couldn’t control, a body that obeyed its own primal instincts (and, yes, hungers) irrespective of what that body’s conscious mind wanted it to do.

The mind, the consciousness, the *person* within that shuffling hulk would be forced to watch as that body stalked, killed, and ate anyone in its path—friend, foe, or family alike—all the while screaming silently in horror, disgust, and despair at its own inability to prevent the inevitable.

This is the affliction that Hugh Howey gives us in his novel I, ZOMBIE, and it is a monstrous affliction, indeed!

Mr. Howey is a truly talented writer. That is not to say that I, or anyone, would like everything that he writes, but he is, without a doubt, one of our greatest living storytellers. As he puts down his well-chosen words he places you, the reader, firmly within the story that has created, whether you want to be there or not, whether you are comfortable with what you are experiencing or not, and he doesn’t let you leave until he’s damn good and ready.

I, ZOMBIE is a long, thorough, and well-thought-out examination of what it would be like to be a zombie of that aforementioned type: a mindful brain within a mindless body. The book’s tone, its emphasis on character more than on action, its examination of the motivations of those characters rather than merely the mayhem that they cause, all serve to drag this book, kicking and screaming, out of the usual mash of genre trash and into the lofty legions of—dare I say it—the literary novel.

It is a lonely loft, that of the literary zombie novel. Mr. Howey’s book is one of only two of which I am aware, the other being ZONE ONE by the Pulitzer-nominated, MacArthur-Fellowship-winning novelist Colson Whitehead. The fact that Mr. Howey’s zombie novel has not received the same attention from the same mainstream publications that Mr. Whitehead’s book has (those being the likes of Esquire and The New York Times) is, I believe, not because of any perceived difference in the quality of the writing. I have read both books and, to my mind, there is none. There is, however, a distinct difference in point of view—that of the survivors in Mr. Whitehead’s novel, that of the monsters in Mr. Howey’s—and that difference makes all the difference. It’s bad enough to be living through a zombie apocalypse, even vicariously as the reader of a book. To experience it as one of its perpetrators, however unwilling that perpetrator might be, will undoubtedly be just too much for some.

Which brings me to this: I, ZOMBIE is not an easy novel to read. That is to say: it is not a comfortable book, even of its kind. But it is, without a doubt, one of the most intelligently written zombie novels to be found anywhere.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

O.O.B.


As of May 1, 2013, I am out of the formatting-for-hire business. (For those of you not familiar with the above acronym, O.O.B. means “out of business.”)

From now on the only e-books that I will be formatting are my own, and I’m almost finished with a revision of Anyone Can Make a Kindle Book (present owners will be able to get the revision for free), which is still the best book out there for PC users to make their Kindle books.

I say “PC users” specifically because I’m also finishing up (though it’s taking longer than I planned) my book about using the program called Pages (made by Apple and available for Macintosh computers and also for the iPad) to quickly and easily format both Kindle and EPUB books… even more quickly and easily than the method that I wrote about in Anyone Can Make a Kindle Book. The title of the new book is Easiest Ebooks Ever! I discovered the new method a short while ago, it works great, and anyone with a Macintosh should use Pages with my book to format all of their books. I’ll let you know when it’s finished and available for sale.
I also have a whole bunch of my own fiction just crying to be finished and put out there, so that’s where I will be concentrating my efforts from now on.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Well, I was wrong.


A while back, I thought that if I offered a basic, simple, cut-rate formatting service that I would increase my business and help out some cash-strapped writers.

It didn’t work.

My business increased, all right, but what I got were clients who don’t understand how ebooks and reading devices work. They were used to paper books, where one can say: “I want this to look exactly like this, and that to look exactly like that.”

Ebooks don’t work like that. And I don’t have the time to spend two weeks on one book going back-and-forth with one client who doesn’t understand the amount of work involved.

So, I’m going back to my original price of $99.00.

At that price you won’t get cut-rate work. You won’t get a special deal. You won’t get only the basic service. You will get the best that I can do for you.

And if you want extras—like drop caps and floating images—I can do those for you, too. They will cost you a little extra, but I can do them and do them well.

In fact, I think that I offer the best ebook formatting service anywhere, especially at a base price of $99.00 with a money-back guarantee.