Wednesday, December 28, 2011

E-book Formatting 101

First off, I hope everyone had a great holiday. I know I did. And my baby daughter sure enjoyed herself. She's a little young to understand exactly what's happening, but she likes looking at all the pretty lights all over the place and she loved opening up gifts. Of course, she was more fascinated by the wrapping paper than the actual presents, but I guess that's just how it goes at fourteen months old.

So we moved a week before the holiday, and I had a few days without Internet. Of course I had plenty to do otherwise, with all the packing, lugging, dragging, cursing the heavens, hauling, sobbing, unpacking, screaming "When will it end?!", and all the things that go into moving into a new place. But at the same time my prose productivity shot up. I wrote 1K words on a brand new short story, 1.5K on another, and 3K on another. This is great output for me. Sadly, none are yet finished, but two are close. Soon. Very soon. The two nearing completion are horror tales, my first venture into this genre. One is psychological horror, and the other is sci-fi/horror. The third is a science fiction comedy with absurd science. But it's fun, short, and sweet, so I don't think the wonky technical aspects (of which there are few, and which are a joke more than anything else) are too important.

I also tweaked Fountain's description and learned how to format e-books. That's right, with a couple of nights of work, in a matter of hours, I taught myself how to create a professional-looking e-book. Two days ago I re-uploaded new, improved versions of Fountain to Amazon and B&N, with a nicer-looking title page. I also corrected a few typos, a couple of paragraph issues in the early chapters, and added some pretty cool effects to the formatting.

A mere week ago, I had no clue how to format e-books. But I think it's an essential skill for an indie author--especially one just starting out--to have. And it's easy to learn. I started with Guido Henkel's guide to e-book formatting, which I suggest reading in full before you try writing any HTML code. (Did that last sentence intimidate you? HTML code--gasp! Just a week ago, it would have scared the Hades out of me, but now I scoff at it.) The most telling phrase from Guido: "You're smart enough to write a book, you're smart enough to learn to format you're own e-books." Guido really lays it down in easy-to-grasp language, with only the occasional bit of technical jargon. I skimmed over the spots I didn't understand my first pass through the Guide. After that, I dove in and wrote some HTML code and went back numerous times for reference. By the end, I understood in full everything he was talking about. You'll need two programs: Calibre, which is an ebook converter, and an HTML editor. I chose Notepad++ as my editor. It's interface was easiest to navigate. For me. That doesn't mean it will be for you, though. Look around; there's a few options out there. Here's a couple hundred at Another useful item to keep on hand is a list of HTML code for special characters. Here's one.

Start with trial and error. If you save your file as an .html file in your editor, you can click on that file on your computer and it will open up in your web browser, looking almost exactly as it will when someone fires it up on an e-reader. (Note: Your chapter breaks will not be visible in the browser, but if you put them in place properly, they will be there in the e-book.) If something didn't work or doesn't look right, just go back to your HTML editor, change it, and click your file again. Play around with it. Just make sure you save your clean .doc file before copying and pasting it into your HTML editor so you can go back and start over if need be.

The only major issue I had was getting line-breaks to appear in my EPUB file. When converting from HTML to EPUB in Calibre, they refused to show themselves. But with a little ingenuity I fixed the problem. If you run into the same issue, drop me a line and I'll tell you what I did. It's a simple fix.

By no means do I now consider myself an expert at e-book formatting. But I know the basics. And it didn't take long to learn them. And now, anything I choose to publish, I can do all the formatting myself. And next time around, now that I've learned a few things, it will take far less time to create that e-book, and maybe I'll have picked up a few more cool tricks by then. In the end, it's time and money, saved.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday 12/18 - From "The Fountain of Eden"

He breathed the swamp-gas into his lungs, and it settled onto his skin and was absorbed into his pores to be sweat out, spat out, breathed out, shat out. The miasma seared into his guts like hot steam, branding his innards with its foul sigil. It amalgamated itself to his organs and began devouring, taking over cells like a cancer, becoming his blood, his guts, his heart, his flesh, his bones, his soul. 

Sorrow, hatred, fire, lamentation.

His soul in a nutshell.

Silent amidst a sea of sound, fury, and fire, Team Myth sailed on through the Stygian Marsh, guided by the Ferryman of the Dead.
The scene above takes place as four of my characters make their way across the ancient Greek Underworld to the Palace of Hades in search of a "mythnapped" friend. It is from the POV of Jack Whiskey, the novel's Trickster protagonist. You can probably guess who the Ferryman of the Dead is.

The Stygian Marsh is depicted in Greek and Roman mythology as a hellish amalgamation the Underworld rivers. The Styx, the River of Hatred. The Phlegethon, the River of Fire. The Cocytus, the River of Lamentation. The Acheron, the River of Sorrow. I did my utmost to be true to these olden depictions but at the same time gave them a twist of my own.

And sure, this book is a comical fantasy. But the best of those I've read have a little darkness in them, too.

As a holidaze special, you can purchase the e-book for 99 cents for the rest of the month at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble. Also, I am doing a Goodreads giveaway for the novel. Enter today! Thanks for reading, and come back for more next Sunday!

 And don't forget to head over to Six Sunday to check out the short, sweet posts from all the great authors.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review Time! Christopher Bunn's "The Mike Murphy Files and Other Stories"

I'm a writer. And I read a lot. So I think I'm gonna start reviewing the works of fellow indie authors on the blog. Books I come across in one way or another and enjoy. Like should help like, and pay it forward, and all that cliched karmic crap. But I'm gonna keep these things as simple and informal as possible (notice the "gonnas"). No psychoanalyzing, no soapbox tirades.

And no, I do not know the author personally. And no, I took no handouts to write this review. I just really liked this book. And dude's an indie.

So here goes it:

A fan of humorous fiction, I stumbled across this collection of shorts and gave it a download. And I was not disappointed. Christopher Bunn has put together a great little compilation of quirky, hilarious tales.

I enjoyed the pair of Mike Murphy stories, especially the second. The repartee between Mike, a hard-headed ex-cop detective with an anti-noir streak, and his selkie girlfriend Maura, who is Irish, had me chuckling aloud. That's one crazy universe they live in. I hope Bunn revisits it.

“Planning Problems” is a cool take on nursery rhymes and fairy tales from the notes of a new employee of the weirdest Planning Department in America. “The Inheritance of Polly Inch” was a sweet little story with a final twist that left an ironic grin on my face.

“Fire and Ice” was different from the others, and my second favorite in the collection—just a smidgen short of tops. A pure fairy tale. A straight-up, in-your-face myth with a great ending. This prose in this story evokes and freezes and sizzles. I'm-a-gonna read this one to my daughter when she is old enough to appreciate it. Yes, it's that good.

“The Christmas Caper” was my favorite. I liked the explanation behind Santa's never-ending sack of toys: “something to do with some extremely good sewing and the fifth dimension.” Those elves know their knitting—and their Supreme Santa Sack Version 3.0s. And the fat, jolly one's sleigh runs on a cold-fusion reactor that powers a matter-displacement drive, cooked up in the Research & Development division of Santa's workshop, which is filled with boxing-loving, reverse-bungee-gun wielding elves who fly around in a fire-engine red '69 Camaro equipped with a jet engine, radar cloaking device, and quintessential espresso machine. Tell me . . . what's not to love about that?

Bunn has a wild imagination and a gift for compelling prose that rolls right along. Every last one of these stories are fantastic and fun. And well worth the read.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday - From "The Fountain of Eden: A Myth of Birth, Death, and Beer"

All the beings that made up Trickstertron laughed at the top of their lungs. The cacophony of hilarity was deafening, and everyone in the universe could hear the insane hooting, giggling, cackling, snickering. The sound gave one the urge to laugh in the face of destruction, and made one realize that concepts such as birth and death were illusions. There were no such things as beginning and end, real and unreal, good and evil, order and chaos, creation and destruction.

These dual concepts did not exist, for Trickstertron was all of Creation.

And Creation was Trickster.