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


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.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How To Load An Ebook File To A Reader Device

Being able to manually load a MOBI or EPUB file onto your ebook reader device is handy for a couple of reasons: it gives you a way to test a book before publishing it, and it allows you to read a book that you may have acquired outside of the normal retail channels (by purchasing it from an author’s web site for example).

I recently had to answer this question for one of my clients in Germany, so I decided to expand upon it a little and post it here for everyone. He has a Kindle device in particular, and wanted to test his book before publishing it to KDP, but the process is also similar for most recent dedicated ebook readers that accept EPUB files (Nook, Kobo, etc.) though you should double-check your particular device’s instructions sheet for it’s specific procedure.

Having an actual reader device is the very best way to test the formatted file that will become your ebook. It’s a good idea to give it a preliminary test—before publishing it, not after—so you can catch any mistakes that a reader of your book might object to. If your particular publishing service allows you to upload your book in something other than the finished MOBI or EPUB format (as a Microsoft Word DOC file, for example, or as an HTML file), it is especially important to check your converted book before the final publishing, since you need to know (before your customers do) what the converting computers have done to your book.

This is most important in the case of Amazon because of its extensive and complicated conversion process. I can’t stress enough that it’s especially important to test your Kindle book by downloading it back to your computer, after you have had Amazon’s KDP computers convert it but before final publishing, so you can have another very close look at it. Don’t just look at it online. Download it back to your computer.

The uploading of a file from your computer to your device is a fairly simple process, though it is specific:

1.) Use the device’s USB cable to plug it into your computer.
2.) After a moment, it will show up somewhere on your computer as an external hard drive or a jump drive or something like that.
3.) Charge up the device if it needs it. [If you are charging it for the first time, or after a long period of non-use, this charging session may take several hours.]
4.) Leave it plugged in. [One note here: never just unplug your device from the cable, or the cable from the computer, without ejecting the device from the computer first; you could scramble the device’s memory chips or the information that’s already on the device. Sometimes the damage is permanent, so don’t do it. Always eject it first.]
5.) On your computer, treat the device like an external drive, i.e., select it and open it so you can see what’s in it.
6.) You should see a list of folders/directories.
7.) One of them should be named something like “documents.”
8.) Open it.
9.) Now drag the formatted file from your computer to the “documents” folder.
10.) Wait a few seconds for the device to assimilate the file into its memory. [I wait about 15 seconds. Ebook reader devices do not work as fast as personal computers, so it takes them a little longer to do stuff, and there may not be any indication on the device’s screen that anything is happening.]
11.) Eject the device from the computer screen, wait a few seconds more for the device to get itself all re-set again, and then unplug the USB cable from the device.
12.) In a few more seconds the device will re-organize all of its files, and your file will show up in the list of books. It will be at the top of the list if you have your books sorted on your device by “Most Recent First” or something similar.
13.) Open your book, page through it, check all of the sections including the Table of Contents, and see if the book looks and works the way that you expect. If not, make notes about what needs to be fixed.
14.) To remove that file, go to the screen on the device that lists the books that are on it (on my Kindle Keyboard that screen is called “Home”), select that book, and delete it.
15.) Then, fix your manuscript, re-format it into an ebook file again, and try this all again.
16.) When it looks the way that you want on your device, continue with the publishing process.

I hope that this helps. If you have a question that I have not answered here, leave me a comment and I’ll try to clear it up.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

EBOOK BASICS: the Table of Contents

There are two major types of ebook formats out there: EPUB books and MOBI books.

EPUB books are sold by Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and others.

MOBI books are sold by Amazon. Though they are often referred to as “Kindle” books, there are now actually two formats that are used for Kindle books: MOBI, and Amazon’s new (and proprietary) KF8 format. I will leave KF8 for another time and deal with Amazon’s MOBI format (and MOBI-specific reading devices) here. If anything that I say here is in contradiction to how the KF8 format works, remember that I’m speaking about MOBI, and, until KF8 becomes more common, there are now and will continue to be for a long time far more MOBI books for Kindle devices than KF8. Because of that, I use “MOBI” and “Kindle” interchangeably here.

Though each of these ebook types is also sold by various small, independent retailers, the companies that I mentioned are the ones that make up the bulk of ebook sales worldwide.

There are two Table of Contents types that are present in ebooks:

1.) the first type is the separate, not-part-of-the-text Table of Contents (also known as an “NCX Table of Contents”), and it is the most ubiquitous. All properly-formatted ebooks have one (even semi-properly-formatted ones do), whether they are MOBI books (where it is normally invisible and often hard to get to) or EPUB books (where it is also normally invisible but is very easy to get to).

In EPUB books this Table of Contents type becomes visible when the reader clicks on the “Table of Contents” button. It is displayed as a single scrolling list of chapters on which you can click and be taken to the corresponding section of the book. (I’ll speak about how Kindle devices handle this type in a moment.)

2.) the second type is the visible-and-clickable-within-the-text Table of Contents (also known as an “HTML Table of Contents”), and it is the one that is most useful for MOBI books though (unfortunately) can be the most difficult to create and place within a book. (There’s an easy way around this that I’ll speak about in another post.)

Unlike the NCX type (which on a Kindle device or app is often difficult or even impossible to get to), an HTML Table of Contents is almost always visible within the running text and is displayed just like any other page of the book, except that it is composed entirely of clickable links that correspond to the various sections of the book. It is most often found right near the beginning of the book or at the very end, and can usually be gotten to merely (though sometimes tediously) by turning enough pages until you arrive. It can be as short as a single page or, in books with many chapters, several pages long.

A Kindle device will sense its presence in the book and will make it more easily available by listing it in in the book’s “Go to…” list. The “Go to…” list is a handy little window which, with a couple of clicks, pops up and gives the reader a list of places to “Go to” within the book. A complete “Go to…” list consists of six items: table of contents, beginning, page, cover, end, and location. Without an HTML Table of Contents, the “table of contents” item in the “Go to…” list will be grayed out and un-clickable. Without a clickable Table of Contents, getting to a particular spot within an ebook can get very tedious very quickly.

A Kindle book’s NCX Table of Contents is how the device keeps track of four of the other “Go to” items: the beginning, the cover, the end, and any specific location within the text that you might want to go to. People have a tough time specifying a “location” with a Kindle book because “location” to a Kindle does not correspond to any particular page or chapter. It has something to do with approximately how many kilobytes of data you are from the beginning of the book, so it’s not generally very useful to people. (Aren’t you glad that you asked?) It’s useful to the machine, though (and, thus, in this case here to you), because it’s this “knowing the distance from the front of the book” that enables the Kindle to place your bookmarks into the text.

The NCX also keeps track of the beginning of each chapter (even though the device often won’t show you the list). This makes it possible on certain Kindle devices (the Kindle Keyboard is one) to, with just a click, jump to the start of the next chapter. This is certainly easier than going page-by-page but is still no cakewalk if you want to get to Chapter 43. That’s why an HTML Table of Contents is so important in a Kindle book.

The two places where I’m sure that a Kindle book’s NCX Table of contents will be visible are the Kindle for Mac/PC app and the downloadable Kindle Previewer, which is used to test a Kindle book before it’s published. Using either of those apps, if you click on the button for the HTML Table of Contents for a book that doesn’t have one, you will get an error message stating that the Table of Contents is “missing” (as though the HTML Table of Contents is the only one). On the other hand, if you click on the button for the NCX one, it will be quite visible and clickable. I’m not sure if any of the actual Kindle devices will show the NCX Table of Contents. If not, you’re left with only the “Go to” items again. (By the way: if you click on the NCX button and are told that even that one is missing, the formatting for that book is really messed up and will be very difficult for a reader to navigate.)

The last “Go to” item, the page, is visible in those Kindle books that have been specially coded to have actual page counts that correspond to what the page number would be if it were a printed book. Some people have thought for a long time that this might be useful, so Amazon made this coding ability available not too long ago for those programmers who want to take advantage of it. Personally, I don’t.

A book’s “Go to…” list is especially useful when the Table of Contents is at the end of the book. Why would you want the Table of Contents there? Because that way it takes no space away from the book’s sample pages, which, for books that are for sale on Amazon, consist of the first ten per cent of the book. You want the sample to be as useful and enticing as possible to a potential customer, something that’s difficult when a good portion of the sample is several pages of nothing but “Chapter 1,” “Chapter 2,”… “Chapter 43,” etc. If, on the other hand, your chapter titles are interesting and descriptive (“Chapter 1: How I Got Thin in 30 Days”) then, yeah, keep the Table if Contents in the front, where it will be seen as part of the sample.

Interestingly, though Kindle books should have both Table of Contents types, many times they do not. Amazon supposedly requires it (that requirement is, in fact, stated in its Publishing Guidelines) but they do not seem to enforce that requirement in actual practice. That means that many Kindle books (especially self-published ones) have only an NCX Table of Contents, which, for the reasons stated above, can be a real drag. EPUB books, on the other hand, need only the NCX type. An HTML type is superfluous since, with a click or two, an EPUB book’s NCX Table of Contents pops up for you to see and click on, and doesn’t even take pages away from the book’s sample.

I hope that this helps. How a Table of Contents for your book is actually created I will discuss in another post. Leave a comment with any questions, concerns, or suggestions for future topics.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Opening My Big Mouth

I’m beginning a series of tutorials here in my blog, and I’m doing it for a couple reasons.

The first is that they seem to be needed. Writing a book well is difficult enough as it is. Having to also learn how to format it into an ebook is, understandably, a bit beyond most people’s ability to do on their own. I get asked for help all of the time, from readers of my books, from people who post on forums, from fellow authors. So, I’m going to help you.

The second reason is that too many formatting forums and boards have been taken over, and are now dominated, by self-styled “experts” who, in fact, are not so expert after all.

Some poor, overwhelmed author writes in, explaining his formatting problem, and says what he wants to do. And one of these “experts” answers him and says that you can’t do that, or that you can only do that his way, or that one really should just make the commitment to learn how to code with HTML and then one wouldn’t have all of these problems.

And I sit there and shake my head because what the author wants is actually quite do-able—easily—without learning any code. I know this because I’ve done it, and it works just fine. The so-called “expert” has said something, in print, out there for the entire world to see, that is—to put it bluntly—not true.

The “expert” maligns a way of doing something, or an app, or a piece of hardware, because he couldn’t get it to work, when, in fact, the only reason that it didn’t work for him is because he never learned how to use it correctly, often because of his own ingrained prejudices. It works just fine if you know how to use it. In fact, it works great, especially for that poor author who just wants his Table of Contents to work, or wants to not have extra blank lines between his paragraphs, or can’t figure out why his indents are off.

Sometimes I write in an answer and tell the questioner how to accomplish what’s not working for him, though I’ve been doing that less and less lately. I don’t like to get into a back-and-forth with stupid, bigoted people (and here I mean bigoted in its broadest sense of “holding very strong opinions and being unwilling to accept different views; being prejudiced against those who are different from you”). I don’t like being accused of writing in only because I want to sell someone a copy of my book.

Well, I do want to sell my book. That’s why I wrote it. But the best way for me to do that is to solve your problem for you… for free. Because the next time that you have another problem, you just may say, “Hey. He did a good job for me last time. Maybe I could solve a bunch of my problems myself by just reading his book.” And then maybe you’ll buy one.

So I’m going to start solving a bunch of common ebook formatting problems here in this blog. Many will deal with Kindle books and Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing system, because that one is the most commonly used method used by self-published English-language authors. But I will also cover EPUB books, too, since that is the format that’s used by a far larger geographical area of the world. I know how to do these things because I have published books, using both Kindle and EPUB formats, on Amazon’s Kindle store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook bookstore, and Apple’s iBookstore.

If you’re patient, most of what you will need to know will show up here, for free, over the next several months, starting tomorrow.

If you want, or if you’re impatient to get started, you can buy my book anyway. I won’t mind.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Book is Number 1

My free book, MEMOGRAMS, is today #1 in Amazon Kindle Store >…> Spelling
and #3 in Amazon Kindle Store >…> Writing Skills