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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Would I use an agent?

I'm not going to say never, but I doubt it. So I thought I would outline why, if for no other reason so I can clear my mind on the issue and maybe get feedback about where I'm messed up.

Keep in mind, I'm not saying others shouldn't use or have an agent. I'm not saying all agents are bad, or even most of them. I'm very aware that good agents can provide some good services to writers. So don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that any writers who have agents and are reading this blog, that they should dump their agent. That is a decision each writer has to make. What I'm telling you here is why I'm highly unlikely to ever use one myself. Not because I think agents are bad, but because I think there are some fatal flaws in the current agent system that I can't agree to.

1. Agents today suffer from a conflict of interest problem. What conflict of interest? Very simply, they also "work" for the publisher. You see, an agent is hired by the writer. It is the writer who pays their salaries. And prior to the 1990s, writers hired agents primarily to negotiate contracts between a writer and the publisher that the writer had sold books to. But during the 1990s, publishing companies were losing money. They saw the big stacks of manuscripts writers sent them in warehouses and the employees they had to pay to read all that "slush" to find the next best seller, and they decided they could save a lot of money if they farmed the slush reading out. And so they did, but for a really sweet deal, because they didn't even have to pay for it. The slush reading was pushed out to the agents.

This move drastically changed the writer/agent relationship. Prior to that, the writer paid the agent to look after their contractual interest and rights. It was predominately a legal position, and the agents didn't hobnob with the editors other than to deal with contracts. After that change, the agents now did for free what the publishers previously had to pay for. Well, not completely for "free" since how they paid for it was to raise the percent of the author's earnings they received to 15%. So really, the authors are paying for the agents to read slush for the publishers. Sweet deal for the publishers. Dean Wesley Smith does a better job of detailing this change than I can.

What this translates into is that agents have  a vested interest in keeping their editors happy, nearly as much as keeping their authors happy. In some cases, more than the authors. They know that if they want to stay on the good side of the editor, one author's demands can't get in the way of that. This is because now that they are reading slush for the editors, they have to find out what the editors are looking for, what they like, and send them manuscripts they think will fit the publishing house and editor. As soon as the agent is concerned about what the editor wants, what the publishing house wants, their objectivity in working for the author is compromised, especially when it comes to contract negotiations. How do you know your agent is letting the publisher keep a clause in that is detrimental to you because they know it will keep the editor and/or publishing house happy? After all, they have to sell to them again. They aren't going to burn any bridges by being hard-nosed in negotiations.

So the primary responsibility of the agent is compromised by a conflict of interest since they now work for the publisher on your dime. They have a vested interest in keeping the editors happy they sell to, whereas before they didn't because they didn't read slush for them. They didn't sell anything to them.

And this problem is only going to get worse, because now some agents are selling publishing packages to authors. When they become the publisher, how can they possibly represent the best interest of the author to themselves? Are we going to need agents to sell to agents so they can submit our work to editors?

2. The payment terms for agents isn't something I can stomach. For those not in the know, generally an agent will get 15% of the author's earnings on a book they help sell and negotiate to a publishing house. That's for as long as the book is in print, unless there is some special clause stating otherwise. What a finder's fee! No limit, no max payout, just 15% of everything you make on those books.

What other business operates like that? If I go to a temporary employment agency to find a job, they will take a portion of what I get paid, and once the employer decides they want to hire me, then they can buy me off. Then I start working at that job, and the temp agency no longer receives money for my work. They don't get 15% of my income as long as I hold that job they found for me. There's a cap.

And what contractor ever works for me, that I pay them a percent of what I make? Even after they no longer work for me? No one. They get a flat fee or hourly fee for the work they do. They get paid and that's it. No more money unless I have them do more work. But for some strange reason, literary agents will get 15% of all sales on a book for as long as it is in print, even if they are no longer representing you. The only other people I know who get that deal is the government income taxes around the world, the USA being one prime example.

No, if I need someone to negotiate a publishing contract for me, I'll hire a lawyer experienced in that field. They only need a flat fee, as it should be.

3. I want to control my own money. Most agents get a statement from the publisher with a check or money directly deposited into the agent's bank account. Then the agent compiles those for each author they are working for, takes their cut, and sends the author his/her share, with their own statement. Some agents will provide copies of the publisher's statements so the author can verify the veracity of the check. Some don't, asking the author to trust them.

No matter whether we are talking about an honest agent or not, this lack of accountability breeds corruption and simply isn't transparent. If I were to have an agent, I would require that the publisher who buys my book split the check and send me my money directly, and the agent their money, and both of us get a copy of the statement. That way there's no question on the agent's side, and removes suspicion from the agent. Any good agent should welcome this, because unless they are making money off the authors money using interest, or cheating the author, they should be more than happy to get rid of this bookkeeping nightmare. They get the money from the publisher, put it in their bank account, and move on.

But most agents probably won't do this. They are too stuck in the idea that they should get the money first and send it to the author, because that's the way it has always been done. Besides, they are used to earning interest on that money from the time they get it and whenever they get around to sending it to the author.

But this is a structural flaw that invites criminal elements to take advantage of unsuspecting authors. As long as that is the norm, I couldn't justify supporting that type of system.

4. I want control of my work. I've heard enough stories where agents sit on a manuscript, ignoring the author, not sending it out, or asking for rewrites before it can get sent out. And in many agent contracts, there is a clause that prohibits the author from sending a manuscript out to a publisher on their own. The agent has to do it. So if the agent decides to sit on it, or that there is little chance to sell it to someone, there is little the author can do other than fire the agent, and sometimes not even that totally frees it up due to some contract clause.

If my boss tells me something should get done, I can offer reasons why she shouldn't do it, or why another course of action would be better. But in the end, if the boss says, "I need this done," short of it being illegal, I'll end up doing it if I want to keep my job. But this isn't how it appears to work. Maybe the agent has a good point, maybe they don't. But in the end, it should be the writer who makes the call on whether a manuscript should go out to a publisher or not, not the agent.

But this is where issue #1 comes into play. Because they have a vested interest in keeping the editor happy, and maybe they know the editor might not like a certain story, they hesitate to send them that story, because they want to keep them happy. They don't want to "waste" the editor's time sending them something the agent thinks they don't want. In such an event, even if he author badgers the agent into sending it, it might be with a note, "Sorry for sending you this, but the author wouldn't leave me alone. I know you don't like vampire stories, so just slap a rejection on this and I'll break it to the author, and he'll be happy that I sent it." Twilight might not have hit the shelves. (Yes, I know for some of you, that would make you happy.) The point being, because the agent has a vested interest in not burning their editor relationship bridges, they'll tend to circumvent the author's wishes.

I'll always look at advice on something, but in the end, if I have to rewrite to the agent's specifications or refrain from sending out a manuscript because the agent doesn't think it is right, if I don't have the final say in the end, that is a broken system. As someone who has contracted for bookkeeping services, I would often tell a client based upon my expertise what I thought they should do. Sometimes they listened to me, sometimes they didn't. But they, not I, had the final say on what direction to go, because it was their business, not mine. They retained control. Authors should maintain control over their business.

Yes, there are other issues, mostly involving those who take advantages of authors using this system. But that part is not the real issue. There will always be bad agents and good agents, no matter the system in place. But if the system itself has fatal flaws, that is an issue that should be addressed and fixed. And until then, I'm unlikely going to hire an agent.

Would you hire one, and why?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ebooks outselling paperbacks!

At Amazon, at any rate. Which is still big news. Read the article at Mashable. It solidifies that the trend is moving toward ebooks even as paperback sales increase. And one could argue that paperback sales are increasing at Amazon because of the success with ebooks.

Amazon had a head start on ebooks, being the first to offer up a popular ereader along with a vast inventory of ebooks that have grown by leaps and bounds thanks to their innovation in allowing authors to turn it into a self-publishing platform. B&N only recently realized the wisdom of this and came out with their own method, but many months after Amazon's had already been in place.

Does this mean the paperback is going away? No, but this hearkens to the day when it will no longer be the primary method of reading a book. Yes, I know, everyone likes to feel and smell the paper in your hands. And there certainly are advantages in paperbacks and hardbacks over ebooks. That said, there are massive advantages ebooks have over paperbacks, and the generations growing up now are used to reading on cell phones, texting, and using ereaders. They aren't going to care as much for the smell of a new book. In fact, reading a paperback will be something of a "just to experience it" than how they want to read a book.

And to a large degree, I'm already in that camp. I'd rather read on my cell phone than hold up a heavy book, trying to keep the pages separated with one hand while I drink with the other, and have to set down my drink just to turn the page, when with my cell phone I just reach my thumb over and tap on the screen. Easy, convenient, and a whole library of books on my hip, ready for me to read when I find a spare moment to do so.

If a fifty-year old guy like me is already hooked, can you imagine how many of the younger ones who don't have the same nostalgia for holding a paperback in their hands?

The trend is obvious now. And there are many publishers and retailers scrambling to position themselves. Understandable since this warning had been going for years and it never came. Well, now it's here. You're either taking advantage of it or your not. Gone are the days when authors and publishers can afford to ignore ebooks. Because if you are, you're missing a big segment of the book-buying population.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Big News on the Reality Series

As some of my readers know, I had a contract last year with a start-up publisher for the third book in the Reality series, that had been tentatively titled Fiery Realities. But just over a month from the publication date, the would-be publisher realized he simply wouldn't be able to perform according to contract and had to back out. So I was back to square one looking for a new publisher to complete the series.

On top of that, I became inspired toward the end of August last year to write ten more short stories to fill out the Infinite Realities novella into a full novel. I spent two months writing nine new short stories (one had already been written but only showed up on my blog). I really liked how they turned out and filled out the story arc. But now I had another Reality book that would need a publisher if it were to see the light of day.

After a month or so of discussing options with a new publisher, today I signed on the dotted line, and the Reality series has a new publisher! Splashdown books, run by the adventurous Grace Bridges, has taken on the series for all three books. Here's the run down on what she has accepted to publish:

  • Reality's Dawn - this is the new title for what was Infinite Realities before, but now expanded to novel length with ten new short stories that develop the characters better and introduce new ones, as well as provide background on ones that play more significant roles in later novels.

  • Reality's Ascent - this is a new title for the same novel currently titled Transforming Realities. Nothing new expected to be done with this one, other than correct formatting and typo issues, though the publisher, once she goes through it, may have some other corrections to make. But the story should stay relatively unchanged.

  • Reality's Glory - this is the brand new, third and final book in the Reality series. The ring's journey comes to a surprising end amidst a final attempt by those who seek to control it, the sins of those who seek to preserve it, and a love that gives everything.

Reality's Dawn may see publication soon. More news should be forthcoming in the weeks ahead. Reality's Ascent probably before summer. Reality's Glory yet to be determined for sure, though the publisher might have an idea.

I'm very excited to be a part of the Splashdown team. It is making a mark in the Christian publishing world with speculative fiction titles. Being that publishing speculative fiction novels with a Christian worldview is the primary mission of this publisher, and having already published several titles, I feel confident this will be a good partnership not only for these novels, but future ones. May God use our efforts for His glory.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review: Tales of the Dim Knight by Adam and Andrea Graham

Tales of the Dim Knight

ISBN-13: 978-0986451751

Pull on your tights and hang that cape around your neck, we're going for a ride. What kind of ride, you ask? A superhero spoof ride, a dysfunctional family ride, a marital struggle ride. A ride into redemption.

When mild-mannered Dave Johnson ends up with a alien symbiont enabling him to imagine reality, what does he do with this power? Years of reading comics comes to his aid, as the kid at heart and his naivety lead him to take on the persona of a superhero. Dave is a little dim, but his heart is in the right place, despite the temptations of power and the best ways to use it, especially when the symbiont intends to use Dave to take over the world. Yet, Dave isn't stupid either. He has a head on his shoulders.

But despite this fact, he finds success as a superhero, but not a lot of success as a father and husband. While superhero action abounds, there is minimal tension created by his fights. His power allows him to dispense justice all too easily that few villains have a chance, though a couple of times they make some valiant attempts. But the superhero part is mostly for spoofing anyway, not for creating a thrill ride.

Rather, the the real tension of the story evolves from the complications Dave's secret job has for his wife and children, not to mention his enemies. The heart of the novel revolves around family, right and wrong, the misguided ways we tend to deal with our hurts, and grace, all wrapped in a light-hearted story that will have you chuckling and smiling.

The writing is solid. The characters while at first appearing stereotypical (what do you expect with a spoof?) take on depth as the story progresses. The personal struggles are easy to identify with and provide the strength of the story. It is an easy and enjoyable read.

I found two areas primary that I felt the story could have done better. First, the superhero adventures themselves didn't feel like an integral part of the full plot. They felt somewhat random at times, appearing to exist more to cause problems with the wife and kids than to be an complete story arc themselves. Mind you, I'm not saying they didn't have some story arc. One of the villains who comes in and out of the course of the book has his own character arc, and some stories have their own mini-arc, but as far as each adventure fitting into a complete novel arc, it was hit and miss. I think the story would have been better if that could have been developed as a more complete story arc.

The second is that while the resolution is believable, and the motivation of the characters not totally absent, I felt the resolution to be a little too quick and needing a slower development, especially on one of the characters. What happened is not unrealistic, and happens in real life. But for a story, it appeared to arise abruptly.

Despite those two issues, this book was a fun read. If you like spoofs of superheroes, with a story of redemption against the evil Dave faces not only on the streets of the city, but also in his family and within himself, then this is the book for you. The story gets a solid 4 out of 5 stars for me. I enjoyed it.

Note: I was provided an electronic copy of this book by the author.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Building Covers for CreateSpace

You want to self-publish a book, you have cover art and a design, but you don't have Photoshop or an equivalent big-boy graphics software that will pull that together and put it into a  PDF file that CreateSpace will accept? Have no fear, Rick is here. Again, this is a writer/publisher techy article. If this isn't of interest to you, pass on, otherwise read on.

I've just self-published a book. I designed my own cover using completely free programs. It was accepted by CreateSpace and looks great. So I thought I would share what I've learned for others like me, who can't even think about finding a few hundred dollars to to buy those programs because you simply don't have the money. While a big program like that will provide some bells and whistles that these don't, this will allow you to create a good book cover.

I'm not going to deal with how to create and design a cover. I'm going to assume you have the picture(s), and the skill to create it in a software program. Whatever picture you use, it needs to have a high enough resolution to be 300 dpi on the cover size you'll need. We'll go over that in a minute, but I'm not going to discuss how to create the cover itself, only what programs you can use.

Your raw files you'll need:

  1. A background art work or photo, preferably in the 3500 x 2500 pixel range or higher. Much lower than that, and you'll be hard pressed to get a sharp picture on the standard size cover.

  2. The png template from CreateSpace for your cover size. You create this where you specify how many pages the book is, which determines how big the spine will be. You then download a zip file. Unzip it and the png template will be in there.

The free programs you'll need:

  1. Inkscape - to create the cover.

  2. Faststone Image Viewer - to set the DPI, also good for resizing if needed.

  3. Open Office - to create the final PDF to upload to CreateSpace

For the purposes of this example, I'm going to assume we are publishing a trade 6" x 9" paperback, black and white pages, on white paper, 180 pages thick. First, determine the dimension in inches of the full cover, front, back, and spine.

CreateSpace wants the width of each page, front and back, plus a 1/8" trim around the whole image that will be cut. So, for height, you have a 9" page, with 1/8" on each side, which means the height of the image needs to be a total of 9.25".

Going across, you have 6" for the front page, and 6" for the back page, plus the 1/8" on each side. So a total of 6+6+0.25= 12.25". But, you also have to include the spine in that. To get the spine width, CreateSpace says for regular white pages, you multiply the number of pages by 0.002252. So, 0.002252 x 180 = 0.40536". Add that to the width and you get: 12.25+0.41 = 12.66" total width. We rounded the spine to two digits, as it is safest to go too big than too little.

So the cover image needs to fill out a 12.66" x 9.25" printed space. At 300 dpi, that means the image will need to be 12.66 * 300 x 9.25 * 300, or 3798 pixels wide by 2775 pixels high.

You'll want to find an image or artwork that is close to that pixel dimensions. If they are off by a lot, the resulting image you'll get when you adjust its size could either be distorted and/or create a blurry image on the final product.

Open Inkscape. Inkscape is handy for the creation of the graphic image because it is a vector based program, which means it will output good resolution at most any size since it doesn't deal with pixels. Add a layer, I'd title it Background. Then import your image into this layer from the menu using "File" and "Import." Once in, click on the image to select it. On the tool bar, you'll see fields labeled "X," "Y," "W," and "H." The X and Y will probably have zero in them. The W will show the current pixel width, and the H the current pixel height. Making sure the "lock" between the W and H is unlocked, enter 3798 in the W field and 2775 in the H field. This will effectively change the pixel size of the photo to be 300 dpi in a 12.66" x 9.25" page.

Change the "document" size to fit the background image. Select the image, then go to "File" in the menu, and select "Document Properties." Expand the "Resize page to contents" section by clicking on the + sign. It will open up showing the width and height in pixels you just resized it to. Click the "Resize page to drawing or selection" button. Then close that window.

If you have additional images to add, it is best to create new layers for each image to make them easy to manage. Position them where you want them, resize if necessary.

Now add a new layer and call it "Template". Use the "File" and "Import" function in import in the pgn template file created by CreateSpace for the page count and size of book you are creating. You should be able to overlay this image over your background image and position it so that it fits. If there is a little bleed over on the ends, that is fine. Just center it between the two edges. The template shows you where you can safely put your text without risking it being cut off or covered up by the resulting barcode image.

Create a final layer called "Words" or "Text". Add the front and back cover text using the text function. Create the spine text if the book is big enough. Once you have everything where you think you want it, select the template layer (drop down box at the bottom of the window) and click the eye graphic beside the drop down box. It will hide the template layer, and you can see what your cover looks like as the cover.

Once you are satisfied with the look and position of everything, save a copy of the file in Inkscape's svg format in case you wish to edit it later and recreate the file. Then make sure you are on the template layer, and click in the menu "Layer" and "Delete Current Layer." It should delete the template layer, leaving you with you book's cover art and text.

Inkscape has the ability to save the resulting file to a pdf file. However, it doesn't have the ability to confine the output of the file to specific page dimensions. I've tried several things, including exporting to png format, setting the dpi, reimporting into Inkscape, and then saving to pdf. The result is always a dpi of 72 to 90, and a print size around 42" wide. CreateSpace will not like that, though my first attempt I did that and they passed it. However, after updating the insides the cover failed their review because of this problem. Reason being, they want it to by default print the right size without them having to fit it into the cover's space. After trying several things, I realized Inkscape can't do this.

This is where the other two programs come into play. First, we want to set the internal dpi setting to 300 without changing the pixel size of the graphic. If you try to set it to 300 dpi in Inkscape, it will change the pixel size, and you don't want that.

So once you have the cover as you want it in Inkscape and you've saved it in the svg format, use "File" and "Export" to save a copy of the resulting image in png format. If you use the "Page" area to export and you did expand the page to the background image as we discussed above, when you export it, you should have a png file of the cover.

Open this file in Faststone Image Viewer. Once opened, notice the pixel size of the image at the top, left. It should match what you changed it to. Then move your cursor to the far right side of the screen.  A window should appear showing various bits of info about the picture. One of those is what the DPI is, and it will have a "DPI" button to the right of that.

A note about DPI. DPI is meaningless for a digital picture. And actually, isn't accurate for pixels per inch (PPI) either since Dots Per Inch (DPI) dealt with how many dots a printer could print per inch across and down. A printer "dot" isn't equivalent to pixels. What is really meant when people talk about DPI nowdays is PPI, how many pixels per inch would print, and so it determines the size of the output and what resolution the image would have at that output.

So you may see something along the lines of 72 dpi on this image, and it shows it would output a 42 x 35 inch page, or something like that. If you then click on the DPI button, it will show a window of pixels X pixels dpi. Enter 300 in each field and click OK. You'll note the pixels don't change, but the page size it says it will output to does. This is what you want. And the page size, if we've done our math right, should show our 12.66" x 9.25" page. This step is purely for the reviewers. It doesn't really change the picture in any way, it only puts into the metadata that this should be at 300 dpi and print out on a 12.66" x 9.25" page.

Hit escape and have it save the resulting file. If the reviewer looks at the dpi of the file it will show 300 dpi, though that won't determine the actual dpi. Rather, having the same pixels fit into an actual printed page of that size will.

This is where Open Office comes into play, because it focuses more on establishing a page size, and has an excellent PDF exporter. Open up Open Office Draw. This is the suite's graphics program. Once open, import in the png file by clicking "Insert" in the menu, then "Picture" and select "File" from the submenu. Find the file on your hard drive and import it into the first slide.

First, you'll want to establish the page size. Click "Format" and "Page" in the menu. In the window that pops up, select "Landscape" for an orientation. In the Width field, enter 12.66, and in the Height field, enter 9.25. Then set each margin to zero. When you click on OK, it will warn you that it will print outside the printer's margins. Tell it that you're all right with that, and it will change the slide's page dimension to the size of our intended cover output.

Then change the size of the picture. Select the picture, then right-click it and select "Position and Size" at the top of the menu that pops up. In the window that appears, set position X and position Y both to zero. Then set the Width field to 12.66 and the Height field to 9.25. Click OK. What you should end up with is a page filled from edge to edge with the cover image.

Now you can save a PDF file, and it will put this image into a printable PDF onto a 12.66" x 9.25" page. Go to "File" in the menu and "Export as PDF". JPEG compression is fine at 95%. Select "Reduce Image resolution" and set it to 300 dpi. Unclick anything else, and if you have used this with other settings, you would want to reset those to the default on the other tabs. Click export. It will give you the option of what file name to save it in and where.

Once exported, you will have a PDF file with the image that should pass CreateSpace's review. It will show and be 300 dpi for the right size cover outputted. For different size covers and different page counts, or if you use the cream colored pages, make adjustments accordingly in how big the resulting page will be and how many pixels across and high you will need. How good it looks will in part depend on the quality of the images you use, and how well you can design a cover. But using these instructions, you should end up with a cover just as good as one done with Photoshop or one of the other high dollar programs, and it won't cost you a cent.

Ethereal Words Paperback goes Live

I recently announced that the ebook versions of my anthology of short stories and flash fictions, Ethereal Worlds, was available for sale. After going through two proofs, I've now put the paperback on sale as well.

Eager readers can immediately order it from my CreateSpace store. Or if you would rather, it should show up in Amazon shortly. Keep in mind, I have a Kindle version at Amazon, so in searching for it, make sure it is the paperback version. The book should eventually filter out to other online stores as well.

And ebook versions can also be ordered through Amazon for the Kindle, Barnes and Noble for the Nook, and any other format at Smashwords.

First five years of writing were a blast. Can't wait to see what comes out of the next five.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Preparing to Smash Words

This post is aimed mostly at writers and editors who want to know fairly easy ways to set up a book to be published by Smashwords, an ebook creator and distributor for authors and publishing companies. So if you're not that interested in writer techy talk, you may want to return to your regularly scheduled activity. If you are, then read on.

The big tip I'm wanting to give involves how to retain the formatting of your book, primarily italics, centering, and bolding. Why is this needed?

Smashwords is picky about the formatting of the text. They want a Word doc file, with the body text in the "Normal" style (Word's default). There are two ways of doing this. One is to mark all your text and change the style to "Normal." Of course, what happens is any chapter headings lose the heading style, which means you'd have to go back through each chapter and reformat it. Not the favorite way to spend thirty minutes to an hour, depending on how many chapters you have.

But that method also sometimes doesn't totally work for them. Word has a way of defeating the purpose of making it all the same text. So the recommended method that will ensure all underlying formatting and text has been changed to "Normal" is to export it as a text file, and then re-import that back into Word.

Problem is, if you do that, you lose all italics and other formatting, which would mean spending who knows how many hours going through your novel and reformatting all the italics and other styles needed. I was faced with that reality when the "select and change to Normal" didn't work for me. There had to be a way to preserve the formatting through the conversion to unformatted text. Yes, I know that sounds silly, but I did find a way.

I'll work on this as if you are using Word (I'm using ver. 2002, outdated, I know, but these instructions should work for most any version). I use Open Office, but eventually for Smashwords you need to create a Word doc file, and for me the search/replace commands are easier to use in Word, so that's where I'll do this formatting once I've written the story, edited it, then I'll export it to Word and do the following. At some point I'll create a macro to do this for me.

The first task is to mark any and all formatted text you want to preserve. For this, I'm assuming your chapter headings are all in a different style from your body text, preferably Header1 as that will tend to automate the process of creating a table of contents in most software, including Word itself, and ebook creation programs. There are search/replace commands you can do to fix that if it isn't, but that's a different post.

The formatting that most books have involve italics, bold (usually titles), and centering. Let's tackle italics first, since that is the most commonly used formatting in a novel.

In the Word document, bring up the "Find/Replace" window. In the menu, click "Edit" and then "Replace." Or alternately click Ctrl-H. When you have that window up, click the "More" button. With the cursor in the "Find what" field, click the "Format" button at the bottom and then select "Styles" from the menu that pops up. Scroll down until you see the style that the body of the text is in. For Word, that would default to "Normal." I have a special style I call "Submission" that I use, so that's what I would select.

Now click the "Format" button again, but this time select "Font." A window will pop up. Only click on the "Italics" in the "Font style" window. Do not select a font or size. Click OK. You will now notice under the "Find what" field that it will look for italicized text in the selected body text style.

Then move your cursor to the "Replace with" field and enter the following:  ~i~^&~/i~

Once entered, click on the "Replace All" button. What should happen if you've set this up right is any italicized text in your document should be surrounded with the ~i~<text>~/i~ coding. You don't have to use this specific character combination, but you want to make it unique enough that you're not likely to match any existing text in your document, because once we're done, you'll need to delete them.

You can then do something similar to search on bold and surround them with ~b~<text>~/b~, or centered text with ~ct~<text>~/ct~, except for centered text, instead of going to "Font" under the "Format" button, you'll go to "Paragraph" and in the "Alignment" drop down box, select "Centered" and click OK without selecting anything else. If you had the font setting in the field, you will need to click the "No Formatting" button first while your cursor is in the "Find what" field, then select your body text style again and then the center format under Paragraphs.

Your chapter titles are a different issue. If you've set them as a different style as you typed your work, setting them up is easy. Clear any formatting in the "Find what" field, and then click the "Format" button and go to "Styles." Find the style of your chapter headings, for example, "Header1." Select it and click OK. Once done, that style should be showing under the "Find what" window as what will be searched for.

In the "Replace what" field, enter:  ~ch~^&~/ch~

Click the "Replace All" button, and all your chapter headings, assuming they are the only text using that style in the document, will be surrounded with the ~ch~<text>~/ch~.

Though few authors are going to have any other formatting they need to save through the text conversion, if you have more, use the same principles to save it.

Now you can save the file into a plain text file using from the menu "File" and "Save as," and selecting in the "Type" drop down box the "Plain Text" option. Once saved, open the file back up in Word. Then click Ctrl-A and select "Normal" from the style drop down box or through the menu at "Format" and "Styles." What you will have is a file of text all in the default Word style, Normal. Just what Smashwords wants, except now we need to replace the formatting.

Open the "Find/Replace" window again. To reconvert the italics, in the "Find what" field, type:  ~i~*~/i~

With your cursor in the "Replace what" field, click on the "Format" button, then select "Font" and in that window select "Italics" and click OK. You'll see italics listed under the "Replace what" field. You shouldn't need to enter anything in the "Replace what" field, but to ensure your italicized text stays put, you can enter: ^&

Before you do anything else, click the box next to "Use wildcards" in the bottom left of the window.

Once you've done all that, click "Replace All" and you'll see all the text, including the coding, converted to italics.

Now you'll need to get rid of the coding. Open the "Find/Replace" window again, clear any formatting and remove the check on the box "Use Wildcards." Then enter first ~i~ in the "Find what" field and nothing in the "Replace what" field. Click "Replace All" and they will disappear. Do the same for the ending code:  ~/i~.

Repeat the process for the others, except all you need to do to the chapter headings is to replace them with the Header1 style. And to speed things up, you may want to do all the converting first, then come back and remove the coding once everything is converted.

Once that is done, edit the Header1 style to be a maximum of 16 pt font size, the maximum Smashwords allows. Then edit the Normal style to put in any paragraph intentions and other formatting specific to paragraphs.

The only other issue left is to go through the file and ensure there are only four maximum lines between the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next chapter heading. I usually put in three to be safe. No easy way to automate that, but it does give you an opportunity as your scrolling through the document to double-check the formatting to ensure nothing odd happened in the find/replaces.

Once done and saved, you should have a file Smashwords will love, and you've retained your formatting. A win-win on both sides!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Is It Christian Fiction?

I'm shamelessly using author Mike Duran's post on this topic to launch into a more expanded thought about the subject. He discusses the issues surrounding how to address a question of "Is this Christian Fiction?"

His answer is it depends on what you mean by "Christian Fiction"? After all, there are those stories which are obviously targeting a Christian market, and those which are not. But in between those two are stories with some underlying Christian themes, but the stories themselves are not overtly so. Sometimes the Christian themes in them are themes that most people would identify with, and so not exclusively "Christian" even though perhaps the author writing the story is Christian and has that ethos in mind.

The problem evolves when a story in that in-between stage makes its appearance on the public scene. Because it is in that gray area, different people are going to identify it as to whether it is Christian or not, based on their own experience or sensitivity to the issues. And what sometimes happens are those who are sensitive to the issue, at the first hint or mention of anything Christian sounding, are going to label it as a book trying to "trick" people into reading "Christian propaganda."

I've not had to deal with this a whole lot, as of yet. Mainly because most of my two published books have been sold on the Internet, not in a brick and mortar bookstore. No one has had to figure out where to shelve my books. If one reads my blurb, while I don't come right out and say, "This is Christian Fiction," it is pretty obvious that it deals with God as a character in the story, though an unseen one. The main character is clearly a Christian, as is his family and the culture he is in.

I've had it happen before, but am still surprised if someone doesn't get that this is Christian fiction. I shouldn't have to spell it out to them. So why don't I? You want to know why I don't put the following in my blurb:
Warning: This book contains explicit Christian messages and images. Your life could be vastly improved by reading this book. Unhinged joy could result if this story is not consumed in moderation. Buy at your own risk.

It's simple. Some people have preconceived ideas about what Christian Fiction is, and I would rather my work be judged on its own merit. So how I approach this subject is based on content. If someone were to ask me if a book of mine was Christian Fiction, I would respond that my book deals with...and list out what the story is about. Then go on to tell them what's in the book, both the Christian elements and the other things, like the basic plot. Then if they think it is Christian Fiction based on that, so be it. If they don't, then so be it.

But if I state my subjective opinion, or try to avoid the label explicitly, when they, if they, read it, they may think I lied to them if their subjective opinion is different. But by focusing on the content, it allows the person to decide. If the story sounds interesting enough, they may not care that it has Christian characters and themes to it. As long as the story is good.

And I have some books, which I hope will come out in the next couple of years, which don't have anything to do with religion. Maybe one can pick up on some generic "good" themes, but the label "Christian Fiction" wouldn't fit them at all, despite the fact that I am a Christian and have written what most would consider Christian Fiction.

In all cases, my opinion is to let the content do the talking. I avoid the label "Christian Fiction" from my end only because I don't want to short-change the reader by them assuming what my story is like based on what they've heard is "Christian Fiction." And because there are elements to my stories that some Christians wouldn't care for as well, they might not call it "Christian." Because "Christian" isn't one homogeneous group.

My brother took my first book, Infinite Realities, and let some Muslims friends read it. Guess what? He said they liked it. Despite the fact it was obviously Christian, they didn't feel I preached at them. Would they like my expanded book coming out, hopefully soon? Maybe not. But the point is, they liked it even though they are not Christian.

Some Christians will like my stuff, some won't. Some who are not Christian will like it, and some won't. Why should I cut one or the other group off by saying, "This is only for Christians"?

To me, that's what it comes down to. I naturally want the biggest exposure, and I know some have preconceived ideas what anything labeled "Christian Fiction" is. I'd rather it be judged on the content, so I'll let them decide by telling them what the book is about, without avoiding the Christian elements in it. That makes the most sense to me.

What about you? How do you judge whether something is Christian Fiction or not?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kindle Enters the Lending Market

If you haven't heard, Amazon has put into place a means by which ebooks purchased through Amazon on the Kindle can be loaned out to other users, in a means similar to Barnes & Noble's Nook. It was one of the main advantages that the Nook had over the Kindle. But the publisher of the ebook has to allow it to be lendable. Something I don't see most publishers choosing not to do.

With Nook growing in market share, Amazon seeks to take away one of the main reasons the customer might choose a Nook over a Kindle. Meanwhile, the recent opening of Barnes & Noble's PubIt service seeks to wedge into the growing ebook market by offering a service similar to Amazon's Digital Text Platform, where publishers and authors can publish ebooks and sell directly on Barnes & Noble's site. An obvious move to grow their ebook inventory to offset one of Amazon's biggest advantages in offering the Kindle: the biggest inventory of ebooks available.

Problem is, Amazon is so far ahead on the curve here, that it will be an uphill battle for B&N to catch up. Not impossible, mind you, but still they are behind Amazon on this by several years. It has only been in the last year when it became painfully obvious how fast the ebook market was growing, that they have pushed to get these features into place. But while they are rushing to catch the ebook wave before it gets away from them, Amazon is already surfing on top.

But lending is an important feature which should be expanded on and grow. Why? Because it will help cut into piracy of ebooks. Piracy will always be with us, but one of the reasons some give why they should be free to give a copy of an ebook to someone else is that libraries share their books, and people loan out their books, or sell them used, all the time. This is no different.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but it is very different. If I take my copy of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and let a friend borrow it, and then the next day decide I want to read it...guess what? I don't have the copy. Because I have loaned out the copy I purchased, I no longer have it in my possession to read. I didn't run to Kinkos and have them make a copy, then give it to my friend. That would be breaking copyright law. And if I decide I'll go check out the book at my library, I may find that someone else has that copy of the book checked out, and I can't use it. Why? Because the copy that the library purchased can only be in one hand at a time. The library doesn't make a copy of each book to give to borrowers.

As I've mentioned before, copyright means who has the legal right to make a copy of a work. When I loan out a copy I have, I'm not making another copy of it, thus breaking no copyright law. However, when I loan out a copy of an ebook, what I usually would do is to make a copy of that book onto that person's device. In order to avoid breaking copyright law, I then have to delete my copy from my device so that there is only one copy. But few bother with that last step. They may fear not getting the copy back. Or they may fear the person could lose it, and it would be gone (much like a real book). So it is easier to leave your own copy on your device. Maybe you won't read it, but the reality is you've broken copyright law by making a copy of a book without permission.

The lending function solves this dilemma for the person who wants to be legal, but generally isn't for the above reasons. Because even if you loan a digital book out and delete the copy off your hard drive, when you get it back, you have no way to control whether the other person has deleted their copy, and most likely they haven't. With this lending function, not only does it insure that you keep the ownership of that copy, not only does it allow you to loan out a book and not break copyright law since you can't use that book while it is loaned out, not only does it insure that after the predetermined time is up, you'll get use of the book back, but it insures that the person who received the loaned book will no longer have access to it, so they don't break copyright law either.

This will help reduce what I might call incidental piracy. The person isn't wanting or trying to break copyright law, but does so in an attempt to loan a book to someone. But they aren't posting the copy on the Internet for the world to download. It isn't overt piracy. Most who commit incidental piracy aren't intending to break copyright law and will welcome a means whereby they can loan out books without worrying about breaking the law.

Adding the vast number of Kindle users to the army of those available to lend books will speed up the process of making this a standard feature on ebooks. Libraries could benefit from this greatly, by being able to lend out ebooks. Everyone benefits from this functionality. Kudos to Amazon for putting this into place, and big kudos goes to Barnes & Noble for introducing this function on the Nook and so forcing folks like Amazon to adopt this as a standard feature.

Have you needed to lend out an ebook to someone? If so, how did you do it?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dealing with Reviews

I have a confession. I'm not keen on what it appears most people think is great fiction. Oh, I'm sure our paths will cross. Sometimes what is at the top is also something I enjoy. But I find many times when the writing community votes a short story or novel at the top of their list, whether it be a contest or someone's list on a blog, eight times out of ten I will find the story boring and not worth my time. Or maybe it will be just okay for me, but certainly not something I'd list as highly entertaining or moving me to an emotional reaction.

But that says more about me than anything. What it does say is that what I find appealing, interesting, exciting, is often not going to be what most people find appealing, interesting, and exciting. Next to big authors, many may feel my work pales in comparison. And because of that, it means my writing will, for many, not be that "impressive." For those who like an interesting plot, and/or interesting characters, I would hope what I write fits the bill. But if you're looking for prose that in and of itself is astounding, I'm probably not that author. I have my moments, mind you, but that's not what I find important in writing a story. And if my writing improves in that regard over time, great. But that is just icing on the cake, not what I'm primarily shooting for. I simply want to tell a good, fun, entertaining, and hopefully in some manner, meaningful story.

What this means is that I'm naturally going to have reviewers read my work and have negative reactions. Each reviewer has their pet peeves, those things that bother them. Each reviewer will have a different idea of what is trite, what is impressive, and what is boring. There's no way I'm going to please all of them. And no writer will, for none of us are perfect. There are stories that people praise with glowing reviews, but when I read them I'm bored to tears and I wonder what on earth people are gushing about.

Due to my last post on a review I received that wasn't an enthusiastic endorsement of my work, I felt it would be a good time to review how we as authors deal with reviews, especially negative reviews. Here are my suggestions.

1. Whatever you do, if you receive a negative review, don't go badmouthing the reviewer. Sure, maybe he/she got it wrong. Maybe it is obvious they didn't even read the book closely. Maybe they missed key elements that would have made sense of it, or they just flat missed it. Or maybe they simply don't have the good taste you'd hoped they had. Or it is also possible, just barely possible, that they have some valid points about your book that a reader would want to know about going into it.

Whatever the case, it never makes good sense to publicly try to tear down either the review, or the reviewer. For several reasons. One, it makes you look unprofessional. Two, you'll appear to wear your feelings on your sleeve, and other reviewers who are aware of that will be hesitant to review your book. Three, if an unfair negative review is out there, whatever sympathy you might have had from your readers may evaporate in seeing you on attack mode. Four, you'll burn bridges that you may later need. Five, in the heat of the exchange(s), you may hurt another person, unfairly tearing them down, and being guilty of causing them to stumble. Six, you'll give more publicity to the review than if you'd said nothing, and give more people reasons why they shouldn't buy your book.

Bottom line, it never makes sense to respond to a negative review. Keep it to yourself. Ignore it. Move on. The lost sales you are looking for are not here.

2. If they post a negative review on Amazon or other sales platform, where it could affect your sales, instead of violating #1 above by personally responding in defense, find reviewers who liked your work and encourage them to post their reviews on the e-store's website. Negative reviews are offset by having positive reviews, not by trying to tear down the negative reviews or reviewers. If you can't get any reviewer to give you a positive review, that could be an issue with the book itself. Learn from your mistakes and work to not make them on the next novel.

3. Just because a review says some negative things about your book, doesn't mean it is a negative review. Most reviews, if they are done honestly by the reviewer, include both positives and negatives about the book they read. What makes a negative review negative is when there are few if any positives listed. It is a subjective line, but when the negatives rise to a certain level in relation to the positive statements, it crosses over from a positive review to an unenthusiastic review. The book was decent for them, but nothing to write home to Mom about. They're not going to say to their friends, "Hey, I read this great book the other day..." But neither is it bad. It is lukewarm. Which is also bad, yes, but we need to take the review in its totality and just because they have some negative things to say, doesn't automatically make it a negative review.

As an author, I've always felt that I really want a certain amount of negative statements in reviews of my books. "What? Are you crazy!" No, being practical.

Key point #1: Reviews are (should be) written to benefit the potential reader, either to recommend a book or warn them of a book they'll regret buying.

While a good review is a good marketing tool for authors, they are not primarily written to market the book. Or they shouldn't be. But when a review has only good things to say about a book, it comes across to the reader as just that, a review written to sell a book, not to tell them whether they would really like it or not. Such reviews many readers will ignore or give only passing weight to in their decision to buy. It takes a large number of all positive reviews to convince the potential reader that this book is that good.

But if you have a review that list whatever negatives are there as well as positives, and mentions the types of people who will most likely enjoy the book, that is a review the potential reader will give more weight to. They feel because the reviewer is telling them the negatives, which they know most all books will have as no book is perfect, it means they are not acting as sales representatives but as fellow readers who want to give the reader honest information so they can make a decision whether this book is right for them. When the reader perceives that such a review is in that category, they give much more weight to the recommendations of that reviewer than they would several wildly glowing reviews that gush all over the place.

A review with some negatives in it is worth more in sales than the review that only has positive things to say about a work, except in the case when a specific reviewer known for his honest reviews does give a glowing review. Now, like most authors, I love the latter types. I want to hear that people adore my writing and my stories. I don't mind a little gushing. But I know those reviews, while they may stroke my ego, are not the best for sales or helping the reader to know whether my book is right for them.

Those are my top three things to be aware of when you get what you perceive to be a negative review of your book. What are other pitfalls to avoid when getting a negative review?