Some write for the fun of it. I did that in the beginning. I was an amateur and never intended to take that next step. But I did, and I’ve never looked back.
Traditionally published authors, the names you see on the NY Times Bestseller Lists, do nothing but write and occasionally do a book signing to boost sales. The publisher hires the experts, the editors, proofreaders, and formatters.
I have submitted one manuscript to a traditional publisher. That was about two months ago and I don’t expect to collect that first rejection slip for another four months. Maybe longer. Because that’s the way it is; write, hire an agent to peddle your manuscript around, and write more. Note that I’ve not earned a penny from that traditional publisher, and probably never will. Thousands of manuscripts are submitted ‘over the transom’; tens from unknown authors are accepted for publication. If that many.
But you don’t have to do that, not now. Electronic books were the future of publishing ten years ago. Today they’re the present.
I’m waiting to hear from that traditional publisher, but meantime I’m earning money from my writing. You can too.
Writing is my business; I earn money, keep records of income and expenses, and pay taxes. Part of the business is being my own publisher, in effect cutting out the middle man.
I hire experts to do what I can’t, just as traditional publishers do. But the more I do myself, the greater my profit.
Next essay will deal with Formatting your manuscript for electronic and print publishing.


Formatting Your Novel

Formatting seems very challenging at first. It’s not. It’s a craft, with rules that are based on experience. Amazon is happy to take your manuscript and publish it for you, because if your work sells they make money. They’re happy to inform you about formatting and they even make simple guidelines available. I suggest you read them. In the meantime, this is how I do it:
I write on a Mac. Others use Windows based computers and some even write novels on their smartphone. If that’s your gig, knock yourself out! But I don’t have time to do things the hard way.
My Mac is a Mini that’s packed with as much memory as possible. I use three programs for the most part; I write on the industry standard, MS Word, and process for publication using Calibre, a free formatting program. But before I run it through Calibre, I format using Word and now I choose a format that I can send to CreateSpace.
If you’re not familiar with CS, it’s Amazon’s print-on-demand division. Don’t expect to make a lot of money from the print edition. I never have; truth to tell, paying to have my book formatted cost more than I’ve made back in sales.
So why do it? Because when I visit my local library, I can look my own name up in their circulation base and find the book I donated. They want the other books in that series too, and eventually I’ll give them copies of all my books. That’s a business expense, but it’s also advertising. Some readers may want their own copies.
This essay isn’t about creating a cover, and there’s a reason. My graphics talent is non-existent. This is one of those times when I’ll rely on someone else for that part of my book.
On to formatting, and again this is Mac-specific but with a bit of work you can use your Windows or other operating system to do the same thing.
I use 6 x 9 custom formatting. Word doesn’t have that size in their list of templates, but the printer software does.
Under File, drop down to Page Setup. That will bring up a dialog page. Under Paper Sizes, choose Manage Custom Sizes. I prefer 6×9, because it’s a common size and it looks right to me.
So far, your document looks pretty skinny; it’s time to fix that. On the top line, to the right of where it says Word, find Format. Click on that and select Format Document.
Go back to Word’s main page. I use .75 for the top and left margins, .86 for the bottom and 1″ for the right margin. That leaves room for binding the book. There are other options for gutter and top/bottom that I don’t use. Not so far, at least, so I set them to zero.
I modify Word’s default settings slightly, using the Format Style dialogue under Format. This allows me to set up the elements of my manuscript. I modify the Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedications, Chapter Title, and Paragraph styles, using elements that fall within guidelines (See Amazon’s guides, found on your Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing page. If you don’t already have an account, open one now and look at what’s available). I don’t get ‘style happy’; I prefer to keep things simple and have them happen automatically as much as possible. I’ll reserve my creativity for the manuscript. My preferred font is Times New Roman, 12 point, for paragraphs. Chapter Titles are Garamond 14pt, Centered. Having formatted the elements the way I want them, I customize my keyboard. Pressing F1 now automatically selects ‘Normal’, my paragraph setting. F2 centers the text (I use # for an action break) and F3 selects my Chapter Title Setting.
I’ve used these settings to format my novel, Wizard at Work, for print. I’ve checked, and running the above through Calibre to convert the manuscript to Amazon’s .mobi format isn’t a problem.
The only change is that for print, I won’t use hotlinked chapter titles in the Table of Contents. Instead, I choose a version of Heading 1 (under Document Elements, part of Word’s expanded Toolbar) where Heading 1 looks blue. That’s the indicator that it’s interactive and will remain so after converting to .mobi.
At this point, your novel is ready to convert to mobi (I do that to retain control of what the finished ebook will look like). Next step, submit it to Amazon.
If you have specific questions or comments after reading this, I’ll be happy to answer them.

Improving Writing

“…Brevity is the soul of wit…”–William Shakespeare
Indeed. It’s also the soul of good writing.
I own to failure in this respect; my plots meet my standards, my writing does not. Simply put, my prose is ‘fat’. It contains too many words, too much repetition, redundant words, phrases, even sentences. We owe it to our readers to do better.
I’m sure you writers have heard similar advice. If you haven’t, you haven’t studied the art and craft of writing nearly as much as you should, but at least I’m willing to share what I’ve learned. I’m going to give concrete examples.
I just finished editing The Trek for Audiobook production (it will be available in about a month). Taking a break, I began reading a series by Evan Currie (recommended; he’s good!) and noticed many of my mistakes in his books. They’re probably in yours too.

Names: don’t repeat too often. Often, ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘they’ will work just as well and improve flow.

‘That’ is used FAR too often. You can often remove it without changing the sentence’s meaning in the slightest. Try it; read a sentence, read it again without ‘that’ and see for yourself.

‘to ….’; you can usually replace this with a better choice. Rearrange the sentence, use an active verb.

‘of them’ or ‘of us’. Redundant, usually.

‘all’; redundant. Try eliminating it.

So there you have my observations, taken from my own writing. Look critically at yours; you may find the same mistakes or mistakes unique to you.
Grammar is the writer’s toolbox, and among Indie writers too many of us have allowed our tools to rust or become dull.
I’m sharpening mine; how about you?


Hot off the Virtual Press!

If you’re a reader of my blog, you’ll recall that my advice to authors and would-be authors is to sit down at the keyboard and write. Write every day. If you’re not writing, work on the plot. If you ever intend to write as a professional, you can’t wait for the ‘muse’ to strike.
I take my own advice. We’re approaching the end of July, and I published my 11th novel, NEO: Near Earth Objects, yesterday (on Amazon).
So what does this have to do with ‘write every day’? It’s the third novel this year. I published The Ship last December. Since then, I’ve published the second book of the series, NFI: New Frontiers, Inc in March, The Return, the fourth book in the Darwin’s World series in mid-May, and NEO yesterday. I’ve got four months to go…and I’ve already got two new projects waiting on my desktop.
Take a look at NEO; I think it’s my best book ever. It’s $3.99 to buy, free to borrow if you have a Kindle Unlimited account. I hope you like it.

Selling your work

This is a rough time of the year for writers. Sales of Kindle books are generally down, or so say my correspondents. Mine certainly are.
The solution, of course, is to write more books. But so many outdoor things are calling everything from attacking weeks to watering to summer trips. It’s not easy to motivate yourself and ignore as many distractions as possible!
The good news is that NEO: Near Earth Object is half finished. From now on the book takes on a life of its own and enthusiasm builds until I’m working those long days just before it’s ready for release.
Next month, with luck!

Blogs, Writing, Publishing, and Rebellion

I subscribe to a blog called Mad Genius Club. Most of the time I find suggestions I can use, because it’s written by professional writers/authors. I suspect others enjoy it because they also write, or intend to someday. This morning, the post was there but the author explained why, and ended with “The floor is yours.”
Where a bunch of writers could see it? BIG mistake! 😀
So I wrote the following:
Ooooh! The floor is mine? Let the rebellion begin here!
I got an email from a writer this morning. He got through the slush pile but never managed to get his book published, so he left Baen (I’m taking him at his word). Now he’s getting ready to publish independently, and he’s too hesitant. Several editors. Beta readers. But importantly, not published.
So what would happen to me if I tried, say, Baen? Or worse, one of Hachette’s companies?
Slush pile, for four months. Discussions. Get an agent, son. You have to have an agent. More time gone.
The agent will then make a deal. He won’t tell the publishing company, “No. That’s not good enough. I’ll take the book somewhere else.” He won’t get paid if he does that, so he’ll accept an offer on my behalf. I’ll sign, and then the publishing company will own my blood, sweat, tears, and probably snot.
For, shall we say, not a fortune? No indeed. “Son, you’re a new writer. We’re taking a chance on you, you know. We could lose money!”
The important thing is that I would almost be guaranteed to lose money.
There are a few errors in the publisher’s assumption. I’m NOT a new writer. There’s no need for me to send my manuscript to the slush pile. No need for an agent. No need to smile and bob my head, “Yes, massa.”
Because I do it all myself. I write. I proofread, do the final editing too. I format. I assemble the document, prepare it by adding front material and end material. I write the blurb. I buy a cover from a professional. I publish it on Amazon, choose the 70% option (the other is for suckers; I was, for a while), price my book where I think it will sell, choose Select, and let that book fly. I wait until I have reviews, then advertise via ENT or BookSends. I’ve tried others, they aren’t reliable; FWIW, BookBub hasn’t seen fit to take my money.
Having done those things, repeatedly, I’ve reached ‘midlister’ status. Or I think I have. I don’t depend on income from writing, but if I had to I could live very comfortably on what I’m earning now.
It took me two years to reach this status.
Had I chosen to go traditional, I might have one, maybe two books in print by now. And how much money would I have earned from a publisher?
Less than I’ve made this year alone. Actual figures (horrors!): Amazon currently owes me about $17k dollars, and May isn’t over yet. That’s the sum total of what they’ll pay me at the end of May, end of June, and less than they’ll pay at the end of July because my books will continue to sell through May.
I doubt I’ll ever be nominated for a Hugo. Tsk.