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Monthly Archives: May 2012

“One Short Story To Be Told”

Something different…

I was intrigued by the  brain child of Leyton Attens or Stanley Notte (one of those is a pen name or pseudonym, I think) and signed up to the system. ‘One Short Story to be Told’ provides a single copy of each story in the collection. This copy is passed around, via snail mail, preceded by awesome contracts and warnings. ‘Followers’ have to contact each other or Leyton to stand a chance of being the next recipient. There are five stories doing the rounds at the moment and they have travelled from their native Eire as far afield as California and Australia. I was lucky enough to get custody of Wink this month.

It’s fascinating to know you hold the only printed copy of a book. The book itself has a delightful cover, showing a peaceful scene with presumably the same book resting on a bench. If we could see the cover of the miniature book we would probably find a further picture of a book on a bench, and so on. Leyton encourages people to send photographic evidence of the story’s safe arrival and he then publishes the results in a blog. Readers then choose the next recipient and before posting the book, add their comments in the space left at the back of the volume.

The story itself is well written and interesting, quite good enough for inclusion in any anthology of modern short stories. It is raised out of the vast sea of competent stories by the ‘one copy’ concept. It’s a mainstream story, addressing family relationships, and might very easily sink in a large slushpile. Equally, normal self-publishing might fail to attract attention as there is no special genre to advertise. Instead, the author has chosen to make a small but unique mark on the publishing map with his quirky but delightful idea. The result is publicity for the stories themselves and also great enjoyment of the story of the stories.

I asked permission to publish a photograph of Wink here, and was told publication on blogs was actively encouraged.

If you’re interested in Wink and its fellow stories, or just in following their fortunes, here’s the place to find out more.
http://oneshortstorytobetold.com/

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2012 in reviews

 

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Book covers.

All the advice is to get professional help designing a book cover.

I am tempted to ignore the advice. I have seen so many awful professionally designed covers – covers that would put me off buying the book if I wasn’t already aware of its contents, covers that are hard to see at thumbnail size on distribution sites, covers that just don’t appeal to me. This applies to printed books and ebooks equally. And I know authors who have trouble with the art publishers insist on using.

I have spent quite a bit of time studying the requirements and thinking about designing my own covers. I love playing with images to make icons, banners, etc. and I have a huge stock of my own and my family’s photographs to choose from. I don’t even need to find anything on the copyright free sites. As you know if you follow this blog I enjoy manipulating photos – tweaking the brightness, re-sizing, adding text, etc. I’m usually pleased with the results.

So far as I can work out the main things are:
*make sure it can be read in thumbnail size
*make sure it says something about the content
*make sure it doesn’t have too much information; stick to title, author and perhaps genre
*make sure it’s the right size for upload

So how hard can it be?

The picture I’ve used as a sample, to illustrate this post, was made from the photograph below (by me) of a misericord in Chester cathedral. You can see I’ve manipulated the sample quite a bit, before adding text. Both pictures have been re-sized to suit the demands of WordPress but the sample cover is proportionate for a Smashwords book cover. I didn’t actually spend long on this but would take more care with one for epublishing.

I have designed the covers for the first three titles I intend to upload. I’m quite pleased with them and I think they stand comparison with so-called professional ones. I can tweak them – they need to be different sizes for Smashwords and Amazon.

When I actually upload I’ll display them here and hope for comments. Meanwhile, is there anything I’m missing?

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in publishing

 

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Formatting for fun…

I have been struggling with formatting, something that is essential if I’m to self-publish, and I promised to share my self-publishing researches with you, so here we go.

So many people tell you to make sure your book is carefully formatted but leave the mechanics unexplained. So many people, even possibly the same ones, complain about the poor formatting in self-published e-books. I knew I needed to get it all right and I knew I was starting virtually from scratch.  I also knew I needed to do it myself. I don’t want to pay anyone else and even more than that I don’t want to rely on anyone else. I need that element of control which I suspect lies at the heart of the way I have embraced the idea of self-publishing.

I have been reading and re-reading all the advice that is out here in cyberspace and believe me it is not easy or intuitive. Most of the advice bypasses the most basic information and assumes a familiarity with various aspects of word processing that I simply don’t/didn’t have. Once upon a time I did a course on desktop publishing but it resulted in pretty documents that would be no use whatsoever for uploading to an e-publisher like Smashwords or Amazon; it was directed, I think, at the production of privately printed leaflets, pamphlets and things like local magazines. I usually write in RoughDraft and use very few of the bells and whistles that even that comparatively simple software offers. So getting to grips with some of Word’s bells and whistles was the first learning curve. And Smashwords demands a Word doc with no extra hidden formatting. This is essential and they then put it into what they call a Meatgrinder to convert it to various formats – mobi, epub, etc.

I am fairly competent at using more than one word processor, more than one blogging platform, more than one email provider and basic photo manipulation. So I’m not totally technically illiterate but this was quite a lot to take in all at once.

First there was the conflicting advice: leave out the spaces between paragraphs; indent the first line of each paragraph; don’t use the space bar to create indents; etc. I couldn’t get my head round how to produce text that was acceptable and Word’s autoformatting made very little sense to me because I wasn’t writing in Word in the first place. I followed various instructions from various friends and then realised that my text – all my text – was probably riddled with the wrong formatting and I needed to start again. I was particularly worried by the fact that I normally type in block paragraphs. This is in part a hangover from non-fiction work-related documents and in part the convention used by most fanfiction, which is virtually the only fiction I have had ‘published’. My heart sank at the thought of all the work I was, I thought, going to have to do.

I then read and re-read the Smashwords Style Guide. (You can download it free at Smashwords.) At first most of it seemed like a foreign language and I started to panic. Then I experimented with a section of text that had all the features I needed to test: paragraphs, dialogue, and the problem of having been ‘touched’ by more than one word processor system, something that happens when you send things to and fro to betas, first readers, etc. ( I never use italics or any similar problematic formatting other than in titles or author’s notes so that wasn’t a worry.)

Things seemed to be working but I still didn’t quite trust myself or the results. So I consulted my daughter, who is extremely good at stuff like this. She doesn’t use Word; like me, if she wants more than .rtf she uses OpenOffice. But I had my laptop open with the Word document containing the experimental passages and she had the Smashwords Style Guide open on her PC. Together we went through it all, very slowly, and tried each piece of advice. And it worked! (Despite a great deal of interruption by my grandson who wanted to help…)

Even if you normally use Word it is worth following every recommended step because Word is especially adept at adding hidden formatting that it thinks you might like to your text – instead of leaping up with frantic paperclips, as it did in the past, it does it quietly behind the scenes. Then if you have sent your work to a friend to beta and they have viewed it in e.g. OpenOffice, the problems will have multiplied. So here’s what to do.

Basically, treat the Style Guide as a bible. Regard it with religious fervour and follow every step as a matter of faith, even when you don’t understand what it is telling you to do.  ‘Nuke’ your document by putting it into Word, then into Notepad (to remove  the formatting) then back into a fresh Word document. Smashwords call it the nuclear method and recommend it. They also recommend closing Word down and re-opening it to make absolutely sure you have a clean page.  Blitz all the autoformatting and autocorrection options by unchecking them – all Word’s bells and whistles must be removed.  Allow Word to set your document in ‘normal’ style – a style free of bells and whistles.  Turn on ‘show formatting’ so that you can check. Modify the normal style to include indents and single spacing, following the Style Guide instructions to the letter, and check that it has the font and size you want (which is not necessarily how your text appears on the screen). Then highlight your text and click on autoformat. Hey presto! Block paragraphs turn into beautifully presented text with indents and no extra line spaces. Magic!!

At this point, disbelief sets in. You worry that it only looks as if it has worked and that there are bound to be glitches, gremlins, even demons. So, ask Word to save your freshly formatted document as a filtered web page and load it to your conversion program. I use Calibre, which is a brilliant free program for converting documents for my Kindle. (I have Calibre tied to my e-reader format so the conversion was to Mobi but  you choose the conversion default on set-up.) Then click to open and Calibre (and presumably similar programs) will loaded the document to Kindle for PC  (a free download that lets you read Kindle books on your laptop or PC) or if you have chosen e-pub conversion Calibre opens a reader for that.

My document looked perfect!!! We decided that it was possible there might be occasional glitches – for example if a paragraph ended exactly at the end of a line it might, in the course of reformatting and conversion, flow straight into the  next paragraph but this was hardly  going to be earth shattering and certainly wouldn’t draw the sorts of criticisms we had heard and that my daughter herself had made of many e-books.

Then I realised I had to deal with the chapter headings, title page, etc. Again, the Style Guide takes you through it and you can choose heading styles based on the ‘normal’ style but with bigger fonts etc. and you can choose centred styles too. I have checked these out using the same method and they work so I should be all set. If you call your chapters ‘chapters’ and do what the Style Guide tells you, the Meatgrinder will automatically add chapter links and both epub and mobi will start each chapter on a new page.

My main disappointment at the moment is that I have to use the Smashwords/Amazon licence declaration. I would prefer to use one of the Creative Commons ones but haven’t yet worked out whether a) I can, technically (Creative Commons licences come as html) and b) I can, legally (because Smashwords presumably want to control what they see as piracy). I’ll leave that for another day. I’m still trying to work out how to make sure my title page is separated from the licence but gather it varies from format to format and can’t be controlled by the author.

Next time, I’ll talk about cover art. And then about pricing and payment issues.

Once I’ve sorted all this for one book it should be a fairly quick and painless process for each book/story. And it brings self-publication that much nearer.  If any of you want to know more, just ask!

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in publishing

 

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The Dragons of Fantasy – in verse.

I wrote the following some time ago as a ‘gift’ for a friend who commented on something in my personal blog – some kind of offer of poems or stories for the first few people to comment. We both like dragons so that was my theme. The poem references books, TV shows and films but the alien dragons who came to help Anne McCaffrey’s Pern, the television series Stargate Atlantis and the Star Wars films have no existence other than in my imagination, so this is fanfic poetry in only the most peripheral sense. I hope there is no need for familiarity with the various fictional worlds in order to understand the poem – they merely give my dragons a contemporary cultural context and perhaps add an extra layer of meaning to people who are fans of those works.

The dragons of fantasy

(for Zellieh)

When they were fighting thread and dying, when they were going between and tiring,
When they were squabbling and sighing, the other dragons came rushing, flying
Out of the stars, out of the skies, trumpeting softly, rolling their eyes,
Teaching them how to be better and braver and how to preserve their fine planet for ever.
Dragons and riders and lizards all bowed to the dragons who came in a shimmering cloud.

When they were fighting the Wraith and dying, when they were rushing through gates and tiring,
When they were studying hard and sighing, a cloud of dragons came rushing, flying
Out of the stars, out of the skies, trumpeting softly, rolling their eyes,
Teaching them how to be better and stronger, how to defeat the Wraith for longer.
Scientists, airmen, all gave praise to the dragons who’d helped extend their days.

When they were fighting each other and dying, when they were rebels, outlaws, tiring,
When they were giving up hope and sighing, the alien dragons came rushing, flying,
Out of the stars, out of the skies, trumpeting softly, rolling their eyes,
Teaching them how to be better and smarter, how to defeat an old empire and rule there.
Warriors, robots and royalty all gave thanks to the dragons who’d answered their call.

Then the dragons who came from the alien worlds looked at the people they’d lulled with their help,
Bowed to the north and bowed to the east, bowed to each other and began their feast.

I have other gift-poems to post gradually, then I might throw the offer open to my readers here.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in poetry

 

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April Reading and Viewing

Reading:

2Apr P Driving Force***** – Dick Francis. I love Francis’s books. The combination of the racing community and the inadvertent hero theme really appeals to me. (I grew up in a ‘racing’ town.) And the novels are gripping. All the characters, villains, heroes and supporting cast, are well developed and the plots/crimes are intriguing. This was set in the horsebox transport business and was a fascinating and exciting read.

2 Apr E Sharing***** – Philippe and Suzanne Aigrain. Subtitle: Culture and the eonomy in the internet age. A fascinating set of proposals for reform of copyright law, put forward by one of the founders of La Quadrature du Net, a French organisation dedicating to fighting the ACTA treaty in Europe. This was a hard book to read, as it relied a lot on statistics, which are not my favourite subject, but it had some incredibly good and fresh ideas about copyright, piracy, sharing, and creative commons.

3Apr E Write Good or Die*** – Scott Nicholson and others. A collection of essays/blog entries by known authors about how they achieved success with tips as to how other authors might emulate them. I didn’t learn anything but then I’ve read quite a lot of books like this. The overall advice was that everyone will find their own way, but that you must write the book you would like to read.

8Apr P The Little Paris Kitchen***** – Rachel Khoo. We started watching the TV series then a neighbour lent us the book. There are some great recipes and ideas, beautifully explained. The book is much better than the BBC website entries which fail, miserably, to enlighten the would-be cook about such things as which kind of flour or sugar to use. It’s an expensive book and I suspect the inflated price reflects the TV tie-in but we’re ordering it from Amazon which is quite a lot cheaper. There are instructions for such essentials as making your own fromage frais, something we will have to do in Portugal if we’re to have it at all.

10Apr E Cat’s Call**** – Natasha Duncan-Drake. YA fantasy about an eighteen-year-old who finds himself taken over by a cat spirit and thrust into leadership of a team that fights to save the universe. Engaging characters and some interesting magic. The book could do with a higher standard of proofreading but is otherwise delightful. Self published by the author, who is a ‘real life’ friend as well as someone whose blogs I follow. I only bought this to check out her writing but will definitely buy the sequel as the story is quite exciting and I like following other YA writers.

19Apr P Trick of the Dark***** – Val McDermid. Stand-alone thriller that is just as good as her series. A psychiatrist/profiler is dragged into a case involving some old murders and potential threats.

21Apr E King’s Conquest* – Valentina Heart. I bought this because the blurb said it was about an arranged m/m marriage in a fantasy kingdom so of course I wanted to check out the competition. I don’t think I need worry. The writing was poor – characterisation was sketchy and world building even more so. The protagonists were meant to be a different species and one type of male could bear children but this was not really explained and the whole ‘otherness’ of the people could have been so much better done. The actual writing was technically competent but the plot was so shallow and boring that I only finished the book in the name of research. This was published by Silver, who usually publish quite good novels. I’m surprised it made the grade.

24Apr E Set in Darkness**** – Ian Rankin. Rankin’s murder mysteries are good value because you get a whole novel, with well-developed characters, as well as a competent police procedural. This one, set just before the inauguration of the Scottish Parliament, was interesting and wide-ranging in its commentary on Edinburgh society. The way three deaths and a rape case were tied together after seeming to be totally unconnected was clever. It was also depressing, as the Rebus novels often are.

28Apr P Blue Skies and Black Olives** – John and Christopher Humphrys. The famous (in UK) TV presenter and journalist, and his musician son wrote a book about building a house in Greece. There are the occasional interesting or amusing anecdotes about life in Greece, which could probably be duplicated in a book about almost anywhere. The trouble is, a friend lent us this assuming we’d be agog to read about settling into and building in a new country. The book is more about the relationship between father and son and is largely boring though it did make me look more kindly on Portuguese bureaucracy. I had the niggling suspicion that it got written as a ‘lots-of-people-make-money-out-of-books-about-building-abroad-so-let’s-see-if-we-can-too’ kind of book.  I only finished it because it was a loan. I sincerely hope we’ll be able to do better, but then we aren’t famous journalists so the readership won’t be as guaranteed.

30Apr E The Pauper Prince** – Sui Lynn. A shapeshifter romance. There was lots of repetition in the abortive attempts of the various characters to explain their powers to each other. The romance was too sentimental and too sudden to be likely. The plot was confusing and, once unravelled, not particularly interesting. I finished it because I like werewolves – but I’ve read much better!

A mixed bag this month, in terms of both subject matter and quality. I feel as if I’ve spent too much time on non-fiction but that’s maybe because the non-fiction titles took longer to read.

Watching:

3Apr Sweeney Todd***** – the Tim Burton film with Johnny Depp and other famous names. Different. Horror done as an opera/musical with lyrics and music by Sondheim. Very interesting and dramatic – there were parts I could hardly bear to watch because the tension was so high. When murder is inevitable but is preceded by an aria… Depp was suitably insane with grief, Rickman and Spall were delightfully  villainous, and Helena Bonham-Carter was sometimes unintelligible in her spoken parts but looked superb and sang like an angel. Burton created sets that echoed some of his darker cartoon backgrounds and turned into a kind of stage set appropriate to the music. The story was gruesome and predictable but strangely engrossing. An intriguing idea, beautifully executed.

9Apr Outlaw*** – Sean Bean plays an Iraqui War veteran who returns to a crime-ridden UK and gathers a team of ‘victims’ to fight the situation . Some good acting, especially from Bean, but the plot was a bit disjointed and confusing, and I strongly disliked the vigilante message.

14Apr Inspector Montalbano***** – Season 1. Italian cop show set in Sicily. (Subtitles.) Complex cases, fascinating scenery and a big helping of comedy in the background story about the police in the small town of Vigata. I’m looking forward to Season 2.

21Apr Rabbit-Proof-Fence***** I’d seen this before and in fact we have the DVD somewhere but when it came on TV I couldn’t help but watch again. It’s a powerful and enlightening film about the attitudes of early twentieth century Australians towards aborigines and ‘half-casts.’ Some stunning performances from previously unknown child actresses who outshine Kenneth Branagh, though he might have hoped that would happen, in order to get the film’s message across.

23Apr City of Ember* – A fantasy about a society deep underground after some kind of apocalypse where the infrastructure starts to fail and someone must find a way out. The events, the location and the social structure didn’t ring true and the eventual ‘adventure’ up into the light was almost cartoon-like in its unlikeliness. I got the distinct impression that even the actors didn’t believe in it. I think it was aimed at a YA audience but that doesn’t usually stop films being good or gripping.

26Apr Hawaii 5.0***** – Season 1 – new version. I love this. The plots are unbelievably trashy but the characters are charming and the team banter is sharp and funny. Season 1 ended in a cliff-hanger so no doubt I will try to beg or borrow Season 2 from someone or other. Fortunately, a number of my friends share my tastes.

27Apr Run Fatboy Run*** A romantic comedy  (set around the London marathon) from the team who brought us Hot Fuzz (which I adore). It was OK but although there were some funny moments I was disappointed.

30Apr Blame it on the Bellboy***** Zany Brit farce with Dudley Moore and other well known Brit actors, set in Venice. Extremely funny with gorgeous photography of the location.

Some excellent viewing this month.

What have you been reading and watching?

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2012 in reviews

 

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