Creating an Ebook File From Your Word Program That Even Smashwords Can Love

I format my own ebooks using Word on my Apple computer. I’ve been publishing with Smashwords since 2009, and yes, I’ve been through the aggravation of getting rejected for their premium distribution. So today, I thought I’d share a post on how I manage to format an ebook that passes through the process. This format will also work on Amazon. I upload to Amazon and Smashwords. I let Smashwords distribute to all of the other retailers for me. So I don’t personally make an epub file, but Smashwords will make one for you, which you can download and use if you want to upload it to Kobo, Barnes & Noble, or Apple yourself.

This post is intended for people who are new to ebook formatting and want to format using their Word program.

1. Before you start to format, mark down all of your words or phrases that are italicized, bold, or underlined. I like to do all of this during the editing stages.

I like to copy a paragraph that contains any words that are in italics, bold, or underlined. Then I paste all of those paragraphs into another document. I print this document out. I then highlight those words that are italicized, in bold, or underlined. In this way, I save on paperback by not printing the entire book out. You can also save the document on your computer and refer to it later when it’s time to format your ebook.

2. Nuke the entire book.

For those who don’t know what “nuke” means, it basically removes all the formatting from your document. If you’re using a Windows computer, you’ll do this in Notepad. If you’re an Apple user, you’ll use TextEdit. Open this program up. (If using TextEdit, you’ll need to open a New Document.)

New Document

Why nuke the book?

I used to bypass this option, but whenever I did, there would spots where the formatting got unclean in certain places. For example, most of the book would have no spaces between paragraphs, and suddenly, there would be a space between a paragraph. Sometimes, all of my paragraphs had spaces between them, even though I had removed spacing between paragraphs in the document. (This was most often the case.) So I learned it’s just best to nuke the document right at the beginning.

3. Copy and paste the entire document into TextEdit or Notepad.

This is how it should look if you’re in TextEdit. (I’m sure it’ll be similar in Notepad. It’s been years since I used a Windows computer, but the process is similar.)

after copy and paste

4. Remove the formatting.

Step 1 on the Apple: In TextEdit, go to Edit. Select All. This should highlight your entire document.

highlight entire text

Step 2 on Apple: Choose Format. Then choose Make Plain Text.

make plain text 2

Click OK.

This is what you should get:

after stripping formatting

If you’re using Notepad….

It should automatically strip your formatting for you. This is what happened when I tested it on my Dell computer just now. I don’t have a screenshot since I’m doing this post on my Apple computer, but when I copied and pasted the document from Word into Notepad, all of the formatting was stripped right away.

Since I no longer use a Windows computer, if I missed something important, please let me know. I had to dust off old computer to get into Notepad to see what I had to do, and this is the process that worked for me. Newer Windows computers might be different.

 

5. Put the unformatted text back into Word.

Copy and paste the entire text into a NEW word document. This is what it should look like. All of the page breaks, different font sizes, different font types, any bolding, and italics have been removed. Also, nothing is centered anymore.

post unformatting

6. Before doing anything else, save this as a Word.doc (which is the 2004 version).

The last time I checked, Smashwords still only takes Word 2004 files. They might have changed things since then, but this will still work. Amazon takes it, too, though think they accept newer Word documents.

7. First things first, removed the tab indents if you have them.

Some people have it set up to automatically indent the first line of every paragraph. I’m old school, so I still use the tab to indent the first sentence in the paragraph. If you’re like me, this is what you do:

Go to Edit. Select All.

Then Find And Replace.

removing tabs

In the Find option, put ^t.

Leave the Replace option blank.

All of your tabs should highlight.

highlighted tabs

Click Replace All.

And you should get this:

tabs all gone

8. Indent the first line of each paragraph.

Select the entire document again. Then go to the ruler at the top of the document. There’s an hourglass. When you put your cursor over it, it should say “First Line Indent”. You might need to click on the image below, you’ll see “First Line Indent” in the yellow rectangular box.

first line indent

Move the top portion of the hourglass over as far as you want to indent the first line of each paragraph. Notice the black line that is going straight down the page? That is where I choose to make my indents.

making the indent

Release the hourglass, and the black line will go away.

9. Next go to the front of the document and center everything in the title page.

Basically, click on the beginning of the text and “un-indent” everything on the title page. Match up the top of the hourglass with the bottom part. Then center it so it looks like this:

title center

Set your page break to separate this from your copyright page. In case you don’t know how to do a page break, go to the top of the toolbar. Choose Insert. Then Break. Then Page Break.

page break

10. Look through your copyright page to see if it’s the way you want it to look.

You no longer have to use a Smashwords copyright notice. You can put in whatever copyright information you want.

Here’s an example of what I use:

This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and also represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher.

TITLE OF YOUR BOOK

All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2018 YOUR NAME

Book Cover Design by: GIVE CREDIT TO WHOEVER DID YOUR COVER.

IF YOU DID YOUR OWN COVER, MENTION THE SITE YOU BOUGHT THE STOCK PHOTOS FROM, SUCH AS DREAMSTIME OR SHUTTERSTOCK, ETC. THAT MIGHT LOOK LIKE “Cover Photo images Dreamstime.com and iStockphoto.com. All rights reserved – used with permission.”

This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without expressed written consent of the publisher/author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

YOU CAN ADD YOUR WEBSITE IF YOU WISH

If you want to use a Smashwords copyright for your Smashwords version, here’s a sample of what I use:

TITLE OF YOUR BOOK – Smashwords Edition

Published by YOUR NAME at Smashwords

Copyright © 2018 by YOUR NAME

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes: This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

GIVE CREDIT TO THE COVER ARTIST OR TELL WHERE YOU PURCHASED YOUR STOCK PHOTOS.

YOU CAN ADD YOUR WEBSITE IF YOU WISH.

11. Then put in the Table of Contents (using Apple’s Word program). 

Joleene Naylor did a post on doing one in Windows’ Word program.

“Do I really need one?” you might ask. I’ve been dinged from Amazon AND Smashwords for not having one. So I strongly encourage you to put one in. Some authors do this at the end of the book. I do mine in the front.

Put in a page break after the copyright page. 

Now to get to the Table of Contents. 

First, type all of the links you’re going to make. Start with “Table of Contents”, then move down to all the chapters, then add links to any back matter you want to add. Here’s an example:

toc start

You’ll notice that my Table of Contents isn’t centered. Right now, it’s indented. Move the top of the hourglass to “un-indent” the Table of Contents. You can do this quickly by highlighting the entire Table of Contents like this:

toc highlight

Now move the top portion of the hourglass over to the left so it matches up with the bottom half.

toc unindent

Now center the Table of Contents.

toc center

Now, put your mouse’s cursor at the beginning of “Table of Contents”. Go to Insert. Then Bookmark.

toc bookmark3

After you click Bookmark, you’ll get a pop up box. I put in TOC in the box. Then I click “Add” at the bottom of the box.

toc add bookmark2

 

Now to hyperlink this bookmark. Highlight “Table of Contents”. Go to Insert. Hyperlink.

hyperlinks

Now toward the center are three options: Web Page, Document, E-Mail Address. You want to pick Document.

document

Then move your mouse further down to Anchor. To the right, is the option “Locate”. Click that button. This box will pop up:

hyperlink box

Choose Bookmarks. Select TOC. Then click OK.

hyperlink Bookmark

This is what you should get:

link to hyperlink

Click OK. And you’ll get this:

toc link done

Now you know the process of creating a bookmark and a hyperlink. If you put your mouse over “Table of Contents”, you’ll see “TOC” pop up in a yellow box. That means you did it right.

I won’t go through this whole process again in this post. But I will highlight what to do with chapter one so you know how to link up everything in this list under the Table of Contents.

12. Time to do the chapters.

After you do a page break, to to Chapter One.

Un-indent “Chapter One”. Center it. Then make a bookmark. I put “C1” in the box for Chapter One, but you can name it whatever you want. We will hyperlink this later.

c1

13. Un-indenting and centering stuff you want to in the chapters.

You will notice I have a ~~~ after my author note. I will un-indent it and then center it. I will also un-indent “October 1819”, but I won’t center it. You can un-indent the first paragraph of your text that starts each chapter if you want.

When you have a division between scenes like a ***, you can un-ident this and then center it. Since I already discussed how to un-indent and center something, I won’t repeat myself.

14. Make page breaks between every chapter. 

15. Make sure each chapter has a Bookmark inserted so you can hyperlink to it later.

16. Make sure you are mindful of your scene breaks during this whole thing. Un-indent and center each scene break that happens within the chapter.

17. At the end of your book, you will have some kind of back matter.

In this blog post example, the first thing to show up after the chapters is “Next Book In This Series”. If you don’t have a series, then I suggest putting in a book you have that is similar to this one. If this is your first book, then I suggest mentioning the next book you’ll have out.

Be sure to set a Bookmark for everything that starts a new page in the back matter. I make a new page for the next book in my series (which I try to have on pre-order), my email list sign up and where people can find me, a list of all of my books, and my author bio (if I add one).

18. Hyperlinking to a website outside of the book.

Before we finish the Table of Contents, I’m going to show you how to do a link to other sites, like your website. The procedure is the same to any website outside the document that you want to link to, so I’m only going to show the process once.

In this example, we’ll say you want to link to your blog. Highlight the text you want to link. Then go to the toolbar. Choose Insert. Choose Hyperlink. Instead of Document, choose Web Page.

blog link2

Open a new tab or window on the Internet. Type in the exact website url in the “Link to:” box. So watch for the https:// at the beginning of the url, and type in the https:// and what follows. Then click OK.

blog link3

Afterward, the blog will be linked up. Click on it to make sure it works. This is tricky. If it doesn’t, type the website (exactly as it shows up on the url) again and test it again. I usually do this more than once, so don’t feel bad if you don’t get this right away.

19. Now finish up the Table of Contents

Remember all of those Bookmarks you made at the beginning of each chapter and each new page, like the Next Book In Series, Email Sign Up, and so on? Now it’s time to hyperlink to them in the Table of Contents. We’ll start with Chapter 1. Highlight it.

toc ch 1

Go to Insert. Hyperlink. Make sure you click on “Document” in the middle of the box that pops up. We’re done hyperlinking to another website. We are now going to hyperlink to stuff within the actual book.

ch 1 hyperlink

Go down the “Anchor” that is further down in the box. Click on “Locate”. Another box pops up, and it should look like this:

box pop up

 

Click on the arrow that is by the word “Bookmarks”. You should see all of the Bookmarks you made in the document. You’ll notice they are in alphabetical order.

toc bookmarks box

My Chapter One is C1 as a bookmark. So I choose that for Chapter One. Whatever you named the bookmark for your first chapter is that you should pick. Then click OK. You should get something that looks like this:

almost done ch 1 link

Notice what is in the “Link To” box at the top. Also note what is in the “Anchor” box. If this looks right, then click OK. And this is what you’ll see next.

c1 linked up

Go through the rest of the Table of Contents to hyperlink the rest of it.

20. Now go back and italicize, put in bold, or underline your words and phrases.

Remember when I said mark down all of your italics while you edit your book? This is why. If you use any italics, or even if you bold anything, this is the stage where you put those back in.

This is also a good time to change any fonts or font sizes that you want. I keep my stuff simple. When it comes to Smashwords, I learned the simpler, the better. But you can play around with different fonts and sizes.

21. If you want to put an image into your document, this is what you can do.

In this example, let’s say you want to add the book cover for the next book in your series. Go the page. Leave about three spaces between something like “Don’t Miss the Next Book In This Series!” and the book description. So the page will look something like this:

next book

Notice my cursor is right under “Don’t Miss the Next Book In This Series!” I left one space above it and one below it. This will make sure your cover isn’t right up against the text.

Now go to Insert. Choose Photo. Choose Picture From File…

pick picture

Pick the image you want to insert.  Now, don’t panic when you see how big the picture is. You can resize it. When I inserted mine, this is how large it was:

huge pic

If you click on the picture, a box goes around it. Go to the top right corner of the image, hold down the button of the mouse, and move the cursor to the center. This will make it smaller. Adjust the size until you’re happy with it.

Like this is mine when all is said and done:

done with pic

Yo don’t want to make them too big because the ebook will most likely be read on a eReader. In a paperback, I would make the picture larger.

*************

Was there something I missed? Was there something I did that might confuse someone and you’d like to offer them an easier way of doing it? I tried to be thorough, but I probably missed something along the way.

Feel free to chime in. I’m not the most tech savvy person on the planet. I get by okay, and my ebooks look clean when I upload them, but I’m sure there are better ways to do this.

To those following the instructions to format your ebook: be sure to check the comments below. Someone might be able to offer you a better way of doing something than I did.

Prisma: An Inadvertent Cover-Creating App?

Prisma app logo

A friend of mine has told me that covers should look good, because people unfortunately do judge books by their covers. With that in mind, I try to create the best covers I can, using what resources I have and looking to friends when I can’t do something with a cover. And recently, I came across an app that I think I can add into my cover creating resources: Prisma.

I got this app on the suggestion of a friend, who told me that it can be used to make your own artwork out of photographs (I’ve got my own apartment these days, and I’m looking to put some more art on the walls without breaking the bank). Prisma is a recent creation dating back to June 2016, and was created by Alexey Moiseenkov. The app relies on artificial intelligence and a neural network to take photos on your phone and turn it into art. The best part is, you can choose from forty different art styles–or as they’re called in app-language, “filters”–in turning your photos into art. Some of these filters come standard when you download, while I believe others can be bought from a store.

Take this selfie of me, pre-filter:

Now put it through the Comic filter:

Not bad, right?

Now here’s a shot of my multivitamins:

Put it through the Roy filter:

It makes no sense to me, so it must be art!

Yeah, it’s a fun app, and the filters allow for some really wonderful, one of a kind pictures for your personal gallery. But I realized soon after I made some art pieces with the app that there were further uses for this app than just stuff for my wall. Perhaps uses that even Mr. Moiseenkov hadn’t thought of. What if you could use this app to give your cover a special touch?

Yeah, we work hard on our covers. We learn Photoshop, we download stuff from the internet, we take special shots in the middle of the night while it’s snowing heavily (or is that just me?). But sometimes we feel like there’s something missing, something that makes the cover perfect. Why not add a little art to it?

For example, here’s a cover provided to us by our good friend Joleene Naylor, who downloaded it from CanstockPhoto.com. The photo was uploaded by a user called–I kid you not–remains:

It’s a good cover, and gives an idea of what sort of story it is. Problem is, the impression might be a bit too general, to the point that you worry it seems too run-of-the-mill.

Now put it through the Candy filter:

Nice! Not only does it look like it was painted, but the effect kind of brings to mind a strange, Warhol-esque vibe. Maybe this story takes place in Greenwich Village in the sixties, and there’s a hippie girl who isn’t so into peace and love, or something. Slap on a title and author name and you’re good to go to publish!

Bottom line, there’s plenty of potential for creating covers with Prisma. With so many different styles to choose from, there’s sure to be a way to make your cover look special. Download it to your phone, give it a go, and see for yourself.

 

Bankrupt: What do you do when your Publisher no Longer Exists?

You have two options – find another publisher or self-publish them.

This is what I was faced with recently on two of my six books/anthologies. I decided to self-publish Seasons of the Soul and Lockets and Lanterns, because they were published years ago (Seasons of the Soul in 2006 and Lockets and Lanterns in 2012).

I believe self-publishing is the right path to go on these two books. However, this meant I needed to develop a new cover. After all I did not own the rights to the covers, the publisher did. What should I do? Go with an expensive cover designer or do a nice cover without any bells or whistles?

I decided to do the latter. I could not see paying a lot of money for a cover artist on books several years old. Thus I turned to a friend who has self-published, and she is assisting me.

Now since the original Lockets and Lanterns cover never really said romance, and it is a romance, it made sense to have a cover that more matched the genre. In fact at book signings, people often thought this book was either a horror or mystery novel. Although Lockets and Lanterns includes an element of mystery – the husband’s secret – your average mystery reader would not consider it as such. It is pictured below. What do you think?

L&L Coverjpeg

The second problem was the book’s description. It needed to be revised. It did not say “romance” and, of course, it must do that.

This got me thinking about publishers who market all types of genres. They really do not know what each target audience demands. So, although going through my submitted manuscript is going to be a chore since I will have to correct the point size and fonts used and remove all editor’s remarks, it also is a time of rejoicing.

Rejoicing you say? Are you nuts? No, I have been disinterested in these books for quite a while to focus on my new material, such as the recent release of my historical humorous tale, The Bride List. The cover is pictured below.20160104_The_Bride_List_p2

However, now I am excited about these older books. Why?

Because it also took me back to when my autistic sons were younger as relayed in a spattering of personal accounts in Seasons of the Soul. I could relive those trials, such as where the family almost drowned or a humorous tale of when Andrew’s cat went missing. And, I could reread the God-inspired story, loosely based on my grandfather, in Lockets and Lanterns.

So when disaster strikes like a publishing company going out of business. First panic then take a deep breath and realize the positives. Positives of getting the books printed as you wanted in the beginning and are able to do so with self-publishing them.

Have a great spring and I would love to have your feedback on this issue and as always God bless.

Author Resources: Cover Artists, Book Formatters, Editors/Proofreaders, and Book Promoters

Below is a list of  professional cover artists, editors, proofreaders, and book promoters.  I’m going to divide it up according to category to better help you find what you’re looking for.

Cover Artists and/or Other Graphic Designs

Anya Kelley Designs – ebook, paperback, and website banners, business cards

Blue Valley Author Services – ebook, paperback, Facebook/website banners, business cards, audiobook covers, logos, and animated covers

Bonnie Mutchler Covers – ebook and paperback

C. M. Wright’s Author Services – ebook and paperback

Canva – a free, cloud-based graphic design tool with powerful, drag-and-drop, design software

Children’s Book Covers – cover art for children’s books

Children’s Books Illustrations – for interior illustrations in children’s books

The Sazzy Reader – custom design ebook and paperback, pre-made ebook and paperback, and social media graphics, postcards, and book markers

Book Formatters

Blue Valley Author Services – ebook and paperback

C. M. Wright’s Author Services – ebook and paperback

The Forge Books  – ebook and paperback

The Sazzy Reader – ebook and paperback

Editors and/or Proofreaders

C. M. Wright’s Author Services – editing and proofreading

Devil in the Details Editing Services – copy and line editing

The Forge Books  – content editing and proofreading

Book Promotion Services

C. M. Wright’s Author Services – blog tours, promotion on all social media sites, Facebook hosting event, media production kit, author commercial, teasers and trailers, author branding, and more

The Sassy Reader – landing page for your book  with book release countdown

Personal Assistants

C.M. Wright’s Author Services – short and long-term assistants

3D Cover Generators

What is a 3D cover? Basically, it’s where an artist renders your ebook cover to create the illusion that it is 3D. For example:

3dbanner

3D covers aren’t accepted by most ebook retailers (though Amazon says they don’t accept them, I’ve seen some that slip through, especially on box sets) so why would an author want a 3D cover? One example is the banner above, which I’m using as my facebook cover. Another could be for advertising tags like:

advertisement

Or maybe the author just wants to put it on their website. There are a lot of uses for 3D covers but, unless you know what you’re doing and/or have the right program, they can be expensive to get.  However, I have found two “free” places to get 3D covers. (There was a third – which was my favorite – but it is sadly no longer available.)

BOXSHOT.COM

Boxshot has several options. To use 3D Book 1 you’ll need the front, back and spine split into three images. (depending on your angle. If you’re not going to see the back or spine, there’s no need to upload them. This can be good for authors who don’t have a wrap version made) To use it you simply upload the images at the bottom of the page and then drag the 3D render around until it’s at the angle you want:

This is zoomed WAY out so you can see everything at once. On your screen it will probably not all be visible together
This is zoomed WAY out so you can see everything at once. On your screen it will probably not all be visible together

3D Book 2 allows you to use the full wrap image:

This is also zoomed waaaaaaaay out
This is also zoomed waaaaaaaay out

When you’re done hit the “Download Cover Image” button and it gives you three options – two are paid (one is 9.99 and one is 29.99 for the single image!) and one is free. The downside to free is that the image is not as “well-rendered” and it is watermarked:

image

For the purpose of an advertisement or banner, I found the free render to be adequate, and it’s simple enough to cut the background off (there is nowhere on the site that says you can’t do this). I also liked that I could actually hit a download button and save the image to the computer (unlike the aforementioned no-longer-available generator).

imagevs2
The final render with a new background

3DCOVERMAKER,COM

While this is a pad service, there is a demo available. The interface takes a moment to load, and then you get to choose your product type (book, box, etc. Of course I chose book). For this one you need your full one piece wraparound image (which can be troublesome if you don’t have one)

screen cap2

If your cover doesn’t fit 100% (mine didn’t) you can choose a background color that will fill it in, in this case I used the black, which blended in with my cover design.

When it looks good hit the next button and you’ll get a new screen with the 3D render where you can drag the book around to the angle you want. You’ll notice that the download is disabled for demos, but you can – technically – press the “print screen” button on your keyboard (sometimes PrntScr) and paste this to any image program (even paintbrush) and crop it. (not saying you should, just saying you can… they technically have nothing in their terms and conditions against this, so it’s up to you.)

Image1

I did like the ability to add the reflection in this one, and the nice black background. To use it in registered mode is only $9.99 for one year (the cost of the other one for a single image, so MUCH cheaper) however the forced bend in the book makes several angles look silly, so that would be a matter of personal taste. If you like it, at the $9.99 for a year price it would probably be worth it to just go ahead and pay for it, especially if you have several books out that you’d want to make 3D versions of.

*****

All in all I like Boxshot better – their site seems more professional and they actually offer the free download – and I’m not a huge fan of the bent book shape. On the other hand, the $9.99 is cheaper for what would probably be a better render (I didn’t try the pay option, so if anyone else has I’d love to hear your results) and the black background looks sharp if you don’t have plans to move it to something else.

Do you know of another 3D cover generator? Have you found much use for 3D covers?

Writing a Series

A lot of authors write series. Some make all their money writing long series rather than stand-alone novels. A few are even paid by their publishing companies to keep writing series even after the story has gotten old and there are no new ideas or places for the characters to go (*cough* *cough* James Patterson and the Alex Cross books *cough*). But writing a series is a lot tougher than it looks. Rather than keeping a reader’s interest for about 300 pages, you have to keep it for several times that amount and over several books too.

While there is no one way to write a series (is there ever “one way” to go about anything in this business?), there are some tips and strategies that can make writing a series a bit easier. Here are some of mine, gleaned from years of writing various different series in my teens and publishing one of them once I got into college.

Decide who your main characters are and what sort of story you’re going to write with them. I feel that it’s important to nail down who your main characters are pretty early on, because they often end up influencing where the story goes through their actions. You don’t have to go into each character’s entire history at this early stage, but you should have an idea of who they are, what they like and dislike, maybe what sort of environment they grew up in, and what they want and what you from them in this series. That information will come in handy when you’re planning out the series.

Make a roadmap. When you have your characters (and if you’re writing this story in a world different from the one you and most of your readership live in, a general idea of this world), then you should plan out the series and what is going to happen. You don’t need to go into every single detail on what happens in each book, you can save that for when you write each individual book. Just have a general idea of what will happen in each book, how that might fit into a greater arc if you have one in mind, which characters you might introduce or kill off or whatever, etc. It’s kind of similar to outlining a novel, in a way (for tips on outlining, click here), only for several books. Creating a roadmap can also be helpful in keeping a record of what and when you need to research a subject and can allow you to keep notes of what’s happened in previous books in case you need to refer back to something for the current book.

Immerse your reader slowly. This is something I’ve learned over a long time, but it’s useful to remind some writers of it every now and then. Let’s say your story takes place in a fantasy or science-fiction universe and you’re the only one who knows the entirety of the world, its various pieces and factions and groups and aspects. You’ll have an urge to make sure that your reader is immediately caught up with everything, so that they know all there is to know about these worlds. I’m telling you now, resist that urge! Updating them about everything in this world of yours too early would be overloading them with information. They wouldn’t know what to do with it and they’d put down that first book before getting very far in it.

Immersing a reader in your world is like teaching a kid to swim.

The best way to go about introducing readers to this world is to imagine it like teaching a young child to swim. Naturally you don’t start with the deep end. What if your pupil drowned? Instead you start with the shallowest end of the pool. It’s good to start without overwhelming the kid, and they can get a sense and a working knowledge of how swimming works. Later you move them into deeper waters, teaching them new techniques and watching them adjust to the greater depth of the pool. As time goes on, your pupil moves deeper and deeper into the waters, learning new knowledge along the way, until they’re swimming fine in the deep end and able to handle all you’ve given them.

In a similar way you should treat the reader. Slowly take them in, giving them the bare minimum to get along in this world and how to live and maneuver through it. As time goes on, you’ll add more information and they’ll be better prepared to handle it all, so by the end of the series they’ll be able to handle all that information really well.

Keep a guidebook. This can also be helpful, especially for series in fantastical worlds. A guidebook (or whatever you want to call it) contains information on the many aspects of your world, from characters to places to objects to story points and everything in between. If you need to organize a very complicated world, a guidebook can be helpful. Or if even the world is very simple, having a guidebook could help you keep track of things. I recommend using some sort of 3-ring binder for your guidebook, so you can add more information as time goes on. Dividers will also be helpful, so get those and categorize entries as you need. Using a guidebook can also prevent any ret-conning that could annoy and upset your fans.

Writing a book, and writing a book series, is often like this.

Remember the bigger picture. This is always important in writing, but it is especially important in a series. Writing a series is like working with several hundred or even several thousand puzzle pieces, but you have to focus on both the puzzle as a whole as well as the smaller pieces. It’s not easy, keeping track of the smaller stuff as well as keeping aware of the whole arc of the series, but it’s something you’ll have to do if you want to successfully pull off a series.

Each book has a purpose. If your series has an overall story arc, then not only should each book tell an interesting story (or a segment of the larger story), but it should maybe serve a purpose. For example, the first Harry Potter novel introduced us to the Wizarding world, and to the boy we root for the whole series; Book 2 hinted at the existence of Horcruxes, explained the concept of Wizarding blood purity, and introduced other important elements that would later appear in the HP books; Book 3 gave more information on the night Harry’s parents died and their relationship with Snape, as well as introducing how Voldemort would come back to power; Book 4 brought back Voldemort in an elaborate plot as well as hinted at the denial the Ministry would be famous for in Book 5; and so on and so forth. You don’t have to, but it might be helpful to think of assigning your books a purpose in the overall story arc of the series.

What tips do you have for writing a series?

Writing a Blurb for Your Book Cover

“Blurb” is such a funny word to say, but it’s a word that writers everywhere should know, because the blurb can have so much influence on who and how many people buy or download your books. According to Wikipedia (not the best source I know, but it’s quick and convenient, so what are you going to do?), a blurb is “a short summary or promotional piece meant to accompany a creative work.” In the context of a book, a blurb is usually the summary text on the back of the book describing the story, but it can also refer to reader reviews, promotional taglines, and author biographies. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the summary text on the back of a book, since that is what often plays a role in any reader’s decision to buy a book.

Generally blurbs are at most a paragraph or two, and give a brief idea to the reader what they can expect before they open up the book to read it. This brief idea is given in three parts: the explanation, the mystery, and the promise. Here’s what I mean:

Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice, taking his first lessons in the arts of magic. But when a devious hot-shot wizard named Simon Lovelace ruthlessly humiliates Nathaniel in front of his elders, Nathaniel decides to kick up his education a few notches and show Lovelace who’s boss. With revenge on his mind, he summons the powerful djinni, Bartimaeus. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.

The Amulet of Samarkand, US edition

This was the blurb on the back of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Johnathan Stroud. I was maybe ten or eleven when I first read this book. I was just coming out of my Harry Potter junkie phase and wanted something new to read. I wasn’t at first really interested in the book, but then I saw the blurb on the back and I was immediately hooked. I ended up reading the entire trilogy and the prequel, really enjoyed them, and I’ve been influenced by it ever since. And just based on that one blurb it got me to read the first book.

Let’s look at this blurb using the parts I named above. First, we have the explanation, which tells us what the novel is about. Judging from that, the reader learns that the main character is Nathaniel, he’s a magician’s apprentice, and he decides to send a djinni named Bartimaeus to get revenge for him by having him steal an amulet from Nathaniel’s enemy. The explanation stops at telling us what happens next and how it leads into “a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.”

That’s what the mystery is for. The mystery’s purpose is to say that although a little bit of the story has been revealed to you in the explanation, the rest of it you’ll have to read the book to find out. All we can tell you is that there’s a lot of cool stuff there, in this case magical espionage, murder and rebellion. Usually the mystery is held off until the last sentence, meant to leave the reader intrigued enough that they’ll open the book to find out more.

Last but not least, the promise is found throughout the blurb, and it is as it’s called: a promise. In this case, the promise is telling us that this is an awesome story geared for readers just like the person reading the back cover, and that they will miss out if they do not open the book. This should be the main goal of the author when writing their blurb.

Of course, there are some things you should and shouldn’t do when writing your blurb. For instance, it may be tempting to make it seem like your book is the greatest thing that’s ever been written. For all I know, it has. But if the message from your blurb is “It’s new! It’s great! You should read it and make sure everyone else around you reads it!” and that message is too obvious or strong, it might turn away readers rather than make them want to read more. We want people to read our works of course, but coming on too strong never got anyone anywhere.

The best way to do is let the blurb and the story it’s summarizing do the talking for you. Instead of coming on strong, let the blurb subtly entice the reader into wanting to check out the story and find out more. Another way of looking at this could be like thinking of the blurb as a free sample in a grocery store or shopping mall. You get a small taste to begin with, but if you want more, you’re going to have to buy the whole product.

Another thing to keep in mind is not to put too much information in the explanation part of your blurb. Give them just enough information to form an impression, maybe give them a few images in their heads, but not too much that they’ll have a basic idea of where the story is going to go and what will happen, so why bother picking the story up? Make sure to leave some room for the mystery in the story to hint at what’s to happen so the reader will be intrigued enough to open up the book to page one.

And finally, try to do all this in as few words as possible. The blurb above is less than a hundred words and still manages to grab your attention. You should aim to write an effective blurb around a similar length that does the same thing. This isn’t just because keeping it brief is good for giving hints and mystery, though that’s part of it. It’s also because practically speaking you only have so much room on the back of your book, so you should try to keep the word count around one hundred so that the printed summary doesn’t feature tiny, tiny letters that make it difficult to read. And if the reader has difficulty reading the back cover, what are the chances they’ll want to read what’s on the inside?

What tips do you have for writing blurbs?

Using The Audiobook Service ACX

I think I speak for many of us when I say we’d like to have our books in audiobook form. Besides being a possible way to connect to new readers who don’t necessarily like to sit down with a paperback or e-book and another possible source of revenue, audiobooks have a prestige to them. It’s sort of magical hearing your characters come to life in your car or in your earbuds through sound and description. It’s pretty powerful.

However creating an audiobook can be difficult. In addition to a book to narrate, you need an actor to read your book aloud if you aren’t comfortable or able to do it, plus recording equipment, maybe an engineer, something to edit the book with, and then some! And that can run up in terms of costs.

As one might expect, there’s a service that tries to make the process cost-effective and easy to do. Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX, is a service through Audible.com, which in turn is owned by Amazon, aims to match authors and their books to producers so they can create the audiobook together. I heard about it from an acquaintance of mine who had her book turned into an audiobook and got interested in it. So after some research, I’m sharing with you how it works and if it can potentially help you gain a wider audience.

First, what exactly is ACX? Founded in 2011, ACX is kind of like a matchmaking/dating service with the goal of creating an audiobook. Anyone who owns the right to the audiobook of a novel (such as authors, editors, publishers, agents, etc) can go on and find audiobook producers (narrators, recording studios, engineers, etc) who would be interested in producing your audiobook. The video they have on their website (the link is below) claims that only 5% of authors get their books turned into audiobooks, so they’re trying to change that.

What do you do? If you decide to use ACX, you sign up for the service using your Amazon account. Then you search for your book through Amazon’s database. Create a Title Profile, which include a description of your book and what it’s about, as well as what you are looking for in a producer (gender, special talents or accents they can do, etc). You also must upload a short one or two page excerpt for producers to use.

What happens next is that producers will look for books that they may be interested in narrating (and hopefully they may decide to do yours if they come across it). Producers will audition by taking your excerpt and recording themselves narrating it, and then sending it to you. Once you have a few auditions, you can go over the auditions, as well as find out a little bit more about the producers auditioning for you. You can most likely find out acting and audiobook experience, hourly rate, and so on and so forth. If you find an audition you really like, you contact the producer and make them an offer.

What sort of offers are there? There are two sorts of offers you can make to a producer once you’ve made a decision, and knowing which one to use is very important, so consider them carefully before sending a producer an offer. These are the sorts of deals available:

  • Pay a flat out fee. This is where you pay for the production costs of the audiobook. Each producer has his or her own rates, and you pay that amount for every finished hour of audiobook there is (for example, if I have an audiobook produced of either of my novels and the finished product is eight hours long and my narrator charges one-hundred dollars per hour, I would pay $800). You pay this fee at the end of the production period when you have reviewed the final product and given it your full approval. The fees vary wildly between producers, usually somewhere between $50-$200 with the average being around $100. You can also negotiate rates with your producer on their rates. The upside of this is that you get all the royalties at the end of production of this and you can decide whether to do exclusive distribution rights (which means the audiobook can only be sold through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes and you gain 40% of the royalties) or non-exclusive rights (which means you can sell the audiobook through other distributors and receive 25% of the royalties through the companies listed above).
  • Royalty Share Deal. In this deal, you forego fees and instead agree to split the royalties of any sales with your producer. This deal is handy because you don’t need to pay any fees upfront. However you can only distribute your audiobook through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes with this option and you only get 20% of the royalties, with the producer getting the other 20%.

Most narrators do a combination of these methods, so you’re probably going to find someone who is willing to either of these methods. Once you’ve hashed out the details with your producer, you’ll send them the official contract, which says you’ll work together to produce the audiobook, and that Amazon can distribute it for seven years, which is how long the contract lasts.

What’s the process like? The production process takes about 3-8 weeks, depending on the length of the book and the producer’s schedule. The producer will upload the first 15 minutes of the audiobook to the ACX secure website for you to get a sample. If you don’t like it, you can stop the process there or start a dialogue with the producer to see what could be fixed. After that, the producer will upload the book chapter by chapter until the whole book is completed and the author approves the final product. Once that is done, the producer will upload the book onto Audible/Amazon/iTunes, and you as the rights holder will get a notification email.

What happens after the book is uploaded? Hopefully people will buy the audiobook. In any case, Amazon has a contract with you that allows them to distribute through them (exclusively or non-exclusively, depending on the deal you made) for 7 years. After that, you can take down the audiobook, decide to have a new version produced, or extend the contract for another year. As the rights holder, it’s all up to you.

What if I want to narrate the book myself? There’s a process for that where you can do that. Basically you produce the audiobook yourself and upload it onto ACX’s website. Makes giving an offer easier, from what I hear.

What if I decide at the last minute the whole thing’s a mess or I don’t want my book in audio form? Well, then you can cancel the contract. As the rights holder, it’s well within your rights to do so. However, if you do that you’ll have to pay a fee one way or another so that the producer can come out of this with something. Depending on what deal you took, you could pay up to 75% of the producer’s fees or $500 plus whatever costs the producer incurred for producing the book.

How do I design a cover? ACX has their own cover guidelines that are too much bother to go over here, so I’m linking the page that has the guidelines to this article. Once you have some idea of what they’re looking for, it’s up to you to create or find someone to create the cover according to these guidelines.

What’s a Bounty Payment? As I understand it, if a new buyer to Audible buys your audiobook, you get a $50 bonus from Audible. It’s a great bonus system, from what I’m told. It encourages authors to advertise about their audiobooks, so new listeners will be encouraged to get the audiobook through Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

What countries is ACX available in? At the moment ACX is only available in the US and Great Britain, though ACX is hoping to expand to other countries soon, most likely Canada and other North American countries before becoming established elsewhere. So keep your eyes peeled if you want to do an audiobook through ACX.

How much will my audiobook cost to buy? Depends on the length of the book in terms of hours. The more hours the book is, the more they charge. To guess at the price of your book, an hour of audiobook is about 9,300 words, so do some math and then visit ACX’s website and go to the price chart on the Distribution page to figure out how much your book will probably cost.

Should I do an audiobook? Well, that depends. Personally I’d recommend only going through the process if you feel there’s a demand for your audiobook. It’d suck to go through the whole production process and, whatever sort of deal you have with your producer, only receive a couple dollars here and there, or maybe nothing at all. So before deciding to try and produce an audiobook, see if there are a lot of people who’d want to buy an audio version of your book, and how much they’d be willing to pay for it.

 

There’s a lot of potential in audiobooks, no matter how you look at it. Perhaps your book will be read by a great many in audio form, if you decide to go this route e to produce it.   Jut make sure you feel that it’s right for you, for your book, and that there is a demand for your audiobook before you do so.

Has anyone here used ACX before? What was your experience like? What tips do you have for authors considering using it?

And here’s the link to the website if you want to do more research on your own.

Tips on Making Covers or Working With a Cover Artist: Part 2

I’m going to cover the viewpoint of the author, and Stephannie Beman will cover the viewpoint of the cover artist.

Today, we’re going to talk about what to look for when choosing the “look” for your cover.

1.  Less Is More (Or Keep It Simple Silly)

Ruth’s Thoughts:

There is a tendency to want to put as much on covers as possible.  The problem is you can only fit so much on a cover.  I like to think of the cover as a snapshot where you give the readers (at a glance) what kind of book you’re giving them.  In my case, I do romance, and in romance there is usually a woman, man or the couple is often the focal point.   But you don’t want the background to overpower the cover.  I could have a cover with a bride, a stagecoach, a horse, a dog, the hero, a couple of kids, a mercantile, and a lasso on it.  But just how attractive would cramming all that stuff into one cover be?  Maybe all of those things have something to do with the book, but it’s not necessary to put it all into the cover.

My advice is to pick 1 focal image and 1-2 images for the background.  This could be a bride for the focal point, a carriage and a field for the background.  Of course, you can get away with using just one picture.  Some of my most popular covers are ones with a single stock image.

Steph’s Thoughts:

As a cover designer, I run into lots of authors who want to add all the key elements of their stories on the cover. While in theory it might sound like a good idea, it isn’t. Keeping your design simple does two things for the cover design:

  1. It doesn’t confuse the message you want to give the readers
  2. It allows the image to be better seen when it is shrunk down.

Too many items and people clutter your cover. It’s best to pick one main element from your book to place on the cover design. If you aren’t sure what that item should be, ask someone who reads your book to tell you. Or you can do as I suggest to my clients and describe your book in one sentence. This will give you a better idea of what you should place on the cover.

2.  Use Professional Images

Ruth’s Thoughts:

Don’t hand draw something.   If you want an image is drawn, get a professional artist to do it for you.  Most of the time, though, you’ll be looking for pictures.  Unless you are skilled with a good camera, I would advise you to choose a stock photo site and buy a royalty free image.  Your cover doesn’t have to look just like a big traditional publisher’s book, but it should be attractive.  I would advise authors to buy the images and send them to the cover artist.  Stephannie can explain more of “why”, but in a nutshell, it helps to protect your right to have those images on your cover.

Steph’s Thoughts

I know that wanting to I save money on a cover and scouring the Internet for free images to use might sounds like a great idea, but it’s not. I suggestion using professional images from a stock-photography site, hire a photographer to take pictures, or hire an illustrator to draw your cover. Yeah, it costs money, but in the long run it can also save you thousands of dollars.

You should purchase professional images because:

  1. It would really suck to find out later that the free image you used was uploaded to Flickr by someone who didn’t own the rights and now you have to pay $8,000 for its use. (True story)
  2. When you purchase the licensing rights this allows you to use the image according to the stock provider’s terms of use. Please read the licensing terms of each site carefully. You don’t want to find out later that you have to pay a percentage of your royalties or that they can demand that you remove your cover with the image on it and purchase another at a later date.
  3. You can download your proof of purchase so when someone comes to you for using the images and the option for going to the designer there because they’ve gone out of business, cannot be reached, etc., then you have proof.
  4. There may come a time when you need an extended license because you want to use the images on other items, you might not have the option of going to the designer because they’ve gone out of business, cannot be reached, etc., and with an account you can manage this yourself.

Unless you are really good with a camera or know how to enhance the pictures you take, I don’t suggest using your own images. Most amateur photographers aren’t aware of the tricks that make a picture useable. Including and not limited to lighting, shape, direction, color, balance, position, etc. Does this mean you can’t use them? Not at all. Just that you should know more about photography before you use one of your own.

3.  Listen to Your Cover Artist (if you hire one)

Ruth’s Thoughts:

While you should have an idea of what you want on the cover so the artist knows your vision for the cover, there are times when the artist’s experience can be beneficial.  The artist has worked with a lot of images.  They’re familiar with fonts, colors, lighting, and how things line up.  This comes from experience.   Maybe you wanted to use a certain picture on the cover, but it turns out the photo is at an awkward angle that makes the way you want to use this image a bad idea.  The artist will probably see that right away.  They may suggest you find another picture or maybe they’ll find one that is better.  Be willing to take their advice into account.  If you are in serious doubt, have them do both pictures–one yours and one with the way they think it looks better.  Then pick the one you want from there.

Artists usually allow you 2-3 rounds of proofs for free so you can give them feedback on what you like and don’t like.  If you keep changing things though, be prepared to pay for the additional proofs.   But go ahead and do as many proofs as you need to get the cover you want.

In the end, it’s your book and the artist will consent to your wishes, but be open to new ideas and at least take a look at what they suggest.

Steph’s Thoughts

To add to what Ruth said above, if you are hiring a cover artist to create your book cover design, chose one whose design portfolio has covers you like. This will go a long way to getting a design you like.  A good designer understands the trends in design. They know the little tricks that make a design better or suggest the right genre.

It’s your job to have an idea of what you want, it’s the designers to create a cover that reflects your vision. However, be open to suggestions. A good designer will protest a bad design choice and explain why it would be bad. They will suggest a better choice and tell you why it would be better. If their suggestions makes sense, listen to them. They are doing what you paid them for and trying to make a great cover. Remember this is their job and a bad cover reflects poorly on both of you.

How To Write An Epilogue

In my last post, I wrote about writing prologues. I thought I’d follow that up by writing about epilogues. I would like to begin this article by stating that prologues and epilogues, while at opposite ends of the book, each require different needs to be fulfilled in order to be written effectively. Let’s explore that, shall we?

First, what purpose does the epilogue serve? In a way, it serves as an enhanced last chapter. If the prologue serves to set the tone of the story and usher in whatever journey that the main character or characters are about to go on, then the epilogue serves to let the reader know, usually on a very happy note, that all is well and that the characters have moved on from the journey. This is why JK Rowling only used an epilogue in the final book of Harry Potter: during the previous six books, Harry was still very much in conflict with Voldemort, even if he wasn’t always aware of it. The epilogue in Book 7, when the next generation is sent off to Hogwarts in a more peaceful era, lets us know that the conflict between Harry and Voldemort is over, and that “all is well”.

Does an epilogue have to be one chapter? Depends on the writer. Some writers prefer to have only a chapter-long epilogue, while others have written epilogues that have taken up to two to four chapters. Snake, if I remember correctly, has around five chapters in its epilogue. Like I said, depends on the writer and what they want to do with their story.

How much wrapping up do you do in an epilogue? Preferably you want to wrap up all your loose ends at the end of the book, and especially if you’re doing an epilogue. Most authors, unless they’re writing a series, will try to get rid of loose ends as they can before they get to the final chapter, so that they’ll be able to wrap things up in a neat little bow at the end. Figuring out how much wrapping up needs to be done should usually be done in the plotting stages of writing your novel, though. This helps reduce stress and any unexpected problems or questions from cropping up at the end of the book.

Of course, some authors will have an epilogue that will have a happy little scene, and then tie up their loose ends or open questions in supplemental materials after the last book, but the authors who do that usually are big-name authors with traditional publishing houses like Charlaine Harris or JK Rowling. If you would like to do the same thing though, ask yourself one question: do you have a big enough fanbase that would be interested in a lot of supplemental material released after your book? It’s an important question to answer before you start writing.

What should the tone of the epilogue be? Most epilogues I’ve read tend to end on a happy or hopeful note. “We’ve gone to hell and back, but we survived, we conquered, and we’re stronger. Things may not always be great, but they’re not always terrible either.” Of course, there are probably epilogues that let the reader know that things aren’t as nice as they could be. I sort of wrote the ending to Snake to be that way. Once again, it depends on the writer, what sort of story you are writing, and how you want to go about writing it.

What’s the best way to write an epilogue? No two writers are alike (thank God for that), so it depends greatly on the writer. The best way to write an epilogue is to practice it each time you include one in a novel, and also see what works and doesn’t work for you when you read an epilogue in someone else’s book. This will allow you to figure out how best you can write an epilogue and include them in as many novels as you desire.

Now, not every novel has to have an epilogue, just like not every novel has to have a prologue. But if you decide to put an epilogue in your novel, I hope you’ll find this article and the advice it gives rather helpful. And please let us know in the comments section if you have any more advice on creating epilogues that resonate with audiences. We would love to hear from you.