Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Manuscript Word Files and InDesign – Not for the Faint of Heart

One thing that everyone learns is that computers are anal. To think you can outsmart an operating program will only drive you crazy. Remember the publishing program doesn’t care you know nothing about picas, point sizes, fonts, and bleeds and slugs; it assumes you do. What you will find as you begin to get into the world of self-publishing is that you will learn these terms; they will become your friends. Because if you don’t they may turn on you and make you crazy. Adobe’s InDesign is not Word (though many write directly into InDesign for some unholy reason); it is a formatting program that allows you to manipulate and produce a document of what your book will LOOK like, nothing more.

Here is my simplistic way of looking at the process. As long as you don’t use the only original file you have, you can always go back and try again. This is where my disclaimer comes in: “If you don’t want to go crazy and learn the basic elements of self-publishing, please Google independent book builders, designers, etc. (guys like Joel Friedlander – see blog left) and pay what they ask; they are good and will turn out an excellent product. If you are blind to advice, stubborn, or just plain adventurous, please try and follow along.”

I am a rank amateur in this art form. I freely admit it. I have designed and built only four books, one non-fiction book that included 68 black and white photographs and three fiction books that ranged between 275 and 350 pages. One of the fiction books includes ten illustrations. I also designed the covers (same professional disclaimer, see above). But what I did find was that I enjoyed the process. And to realize that the final InDesign product is saved as a pdf and can then be emailed to a printer and a week later have a galley proof in your hand is absolutely gratifying. I am very happy with and proud of the books I developed and each is better than the last.

Manuscript Preparation:
After you are completely happy with the edited Word version of your manuscript, with all its wonderful indents and italics; please save a copy, in fact a save a couple. You will need it open as a reference when working in InDesign. This is because you now have to dumb down this wonderful Word document before inserting it into InDesign. You will remove all tabs, margins, and fonts (leave it in Times New Roman) and simplify the document to its leanest and meanest form. All those artful indents, italics, fonts (bold, regular, etc.), margins and line separations will be redone in InDesign. Just accept it (and remember at some future point you will have to do something similar for eBook formatting). With this file completely stripped of formatting, label it (Book Title) for InDesign (date). (Example: LandSwap for InDesign 11-15-10). I also set up an ebook file at the same time; place it in your eBook folder.

References, they are just a shelf away:
Every book you have on your bookshelf is a reference for format and structure. There are general rules and guidelines about what is required for a book. Examples of these formats are found in the first ten pages or so. Simply remember that everything that is placed on these pages it to help inform your reader about the book itself. Titles, author, ISBNs, publisher name, disclaimers, dedication, acknowledgements, and other tidbits are found here. This is all prior to the preface, prologue, and chapter one. These are generalized rules, if you look at ten books in the same genre of your manuscript, you will find ten different formats. But they will follow a similar structure and have the same information. Find one you like or create a blend, but remember that a professional looking book will have these items complete and correct.

Here are a few things you need to think about before you start developing the book:
  • What kind of book is it? (Fiction, cook, non-fiction, history, coloring – all have different looks and styles)
  • Paperback or hardback or both (What is the final product?)
  • Size (many genres expect a minimum size – measure one you like)
  • How many pages? (again look at examples, count words and lines, get an idea of what a 120,000 word manuscript requires)
  • Page headers – will your name be on one side and book title on the other, will you put the page number here or in the footer?
  • Margins are important, more space in the gutter (center) than on the left and right margins
  • How much space at the top and bottom (books look better with wider base/bottom to set the text block on)
  • Even the blank pages are there for a reason and for tradition’s sake

I often pencil out a diagram of what two facing pages look like, with lots of notes and ideas. This is also done for the first page of a chapter. The more preliminary work you do the easier it will be to set up the InDesign document. These notes will be your guides for page and document setup before you start entering any of your manuscript into InDesign. Also note how many pages it might be (then add twenty – they can be deleted later), how many lines of text per page you want. Remember that a change in font can significantly add or reduce your final page count. This is also the time to consider the PR stuff at the back of the book. Your “author’s” biography, a photo, email, web site and blog pages can be placed here, there is even a trend to putting a taste of your next book here (the first few pages) - you have started it? Right?

BTW – get a copy of InDesign for Dummies or one of the other self-help guides, they will ease the road as we start to manipulate the manuscript next week.

More later . . . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Building a Book by Self-Publishing Yourself

Manuscript Setup
For the next few weeks let’s look at what is required to build a book (not the kind where your bets are placed with that fellow in the office down the hall), I’m talking about how to pull your manuscript out of the Word file you have lovingly used to create the masterpiece and then insert it into a publishing format. There are many ways to do this, I will show you mine. I am sure there are others who will gladly show you theirs.

I also suggest that, unless you are a masochist, most of these different and distinct publishing phases can be done by hired guns. They will probably do a better job than you, but if you want to understand the process, have some frustrating fun, and can can say I did it my way, follow along.

Here are the basic tools I use to write and then produce a paper book (pbook) and ebooks.
            Pen and spiral notebooks for notes, threads, outlines and research
            Microsoft Word to compose the manuscript
            Adobe Creative Suite CS5.5 (check it out here)
                        Photoshop for interior artwork, photos, and covers
                        InDesign for book interior, text and font manipulation, and graphic insertions
                        Adobe Acrobat for PDFs – most printers require your manuscript in its final form to be a PDF

I use Adobe Creative Suite CS2 (I’m 3.5 versions behind; it’s on my Christmas list). This one package contains ten individual programs of which five are critical to your book production. I suggest that, even though possible, don’t use Word as the formatting program for publishing. It may work but it’s not the best way to deal with the little bits and pieces that pop up. The backbone is InDesign with Photoshop for all graphics.

Step One:
Write the book (now that was easy)

Step Two:
Edit the Damn Thing Until You are Blind
As noted in earlier blogs, editing is critical to the success of the manuscript (MS), there are all kinds of editing depending on the type of MS (fiction, non-fiction, cook book, etc.). Fact checking, content, story line, etc., each has its experts. There are also step by step strategies and check lists that help, but the bottom line is DO NOT to do it yourself. Think of do-it-yourself brain surgery, it starts well but soon you soon lose touch with reality. Find a good editor. I use Dennis DeRose, but there are thousands. Some are focused, some generalize, there are even a few that can help you prep the MS for an agent or editor, sorry but you are on your own here. I can vouch for Dennis, the others are up to you; get references, check them out, and a good scope of work. Remember there are two kinds of editing (actually a bunch of different disciplines – but generally content and form are the basic types). For now I am talking about a great copy editor that knows his English and the Chicago Manual of Style (one of the bibles for writers and it is online – CLICK HERE). There’s too much to know for most of us, that’s why we use an editor. They really enjoy this stuff, that’s why they live alone and don’t get out much.

I set up folders for each stage of the editing process. Original-Final MS, Editing Process, Final Edit, and folders for PDFs as they are sent to printers, I date the folders and the files. I normally work on at least three computers (I bounce around a lot, go both ways - PC and Mac), so I have a dedicated memory stick for each book. I then save the latest changes to the computer I’m on, but the stick is the critical working source – like the old fashion black and white notebook.

The best editors use Word’s Track Changes. Learn this format that is built into the Word program. It can be quirky but it does allow you to see what changes were proposed as well as approve or disallow the edit; theirs is one color yours and subsequent edits can be another color. There are no short cuts and please don’t hit the ‘Accept All’. You never know what the editor might have changed. After approving (or accepting) the revisions, save a copy in this folder called Final for InDesign and date the file name, do not rely on the last access date in the directory. If you need to go back to this file it will be there.

More later . . . .

Next Week:
Step Three
            Setting up the InDesign File

Future Blogs
Step Four
            Type Fonts

Step Five
            Book Covers

Step Six
            Conversion to PDFs and Printing

Step Seven
            Dealing with Printers

Step Eight
            Constructing eBook files

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Sharon O’Mara and Fashion Week
In association with Fuse Fashion Magazine I am having a book signing tonight at their offices from 5:30 to 7:00. There will also be a champagne reception and a greet-and-meet. The address is 1475 North Broadway in Walnut Creek, California.

As you may know, the second Sharon O’Mara Chronicle book, Containers 4 Death, focused, with the accuracy of a Beretta pistol at close range, on our collective fear of what is in those millions of shipping containers crossing the oceans and flying down our freeways. Are they filled with televisions or abducted young girls from China? Are they crammed with Super Bowl tee shirts or weapons for the Mexican cartels? Is that a bomb they are hiding or just the latest fall fashions?

Our hero finds herself intricately involved in a case that starts in Cabo San Lucas with forged handbags and the beginnings of an international gang war and moves to the docks in Oakland. Will she rescue two kidnapped young girls or will she again wear the wrong outfit to a gun fight? And will she save the fashion industry?

In addition to the book signing, a fashion show featuring handbags and other fashion accessories will be put on by Fuse Fashion Magazine and will follow the book signing.

“Guns and handbags, all the things you need to start a war.”

See you tonight.

More later . . . .

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rejection - It Only Hurts for a Moment

On a whim I sent an email to a well respected agent in New York regarding my novel Elk River. My God they actually asked to read the first 100 pages. I know, as an indie writer and publisher I have sinned. They are, these agents,  the gatekeepers to all we hold evil and unholy (most of this is due to serious wishful thinking and envy on our part of the more successful of our profession who actually get a contract). Why butt your head against the system? Hold up your fist in solidarity against these self appointed doorman, these writers of rejection, these killers of the heart. A pox on all of them. As you may have guessed, I added their kind, but intentionally smart, letter to the rejection folder.

There are some who, in self-indulgence, plaster their walls with these letters, (now days you have to print the email to do it), wallow in the count of rejection missives, and tally them like a war's body count. I have heard that there are a few who have even self-published books of their rejections. This self pity and flagellation all seems very Catholic to me.

For most of us, this need to find an agent is actually a need to find validation, not the kind required for your parking stub, the kind your mother gave when you had a bu-bu. The kind word, the acceptance, the reason for all those hours of pounding away in the early morning hours, THAT kind of validation.

But there is also clarity. A writer believes that his work is pure and correct. It is the stuff dreams are made of. It is a wonder to behold. Good God, even my mother would have liked it! But that agent in their cubicle in some tower on some numbered street in New York, what do they know about cherries in Michigan? What do they know about the time when we hid under our desks fearing for our lives and waiting for the heat from some exploding bomb? Hell, they probably weren't even alive in 1956. I did say clarity, now I can moved forward. This stop in New York was a pull-over to the side of the road, a moment waiting for something, is Godot coming? I can now move this book to the fast lane, damn the torpedoes, run up the pirate flag, shake the tree, play in traffic. Huzzah.

More later . . . .