Bad News & Good News

I thought you were all past due for an update from me, so here it is.

The “bad news” isn’t really that bad – and is far outshone by the good news. I’m sick. That’s it. I caught the flu bug that’s making the rounds, and have to take it easy for a few days. On the downside, this means that I’m not en route to the Novelists’ Ink conference which starts tonight in Myrtle Beach. I was really looking forward to the conference, to seeing some friends and learning a great deal, but there was no way I could face airline travel today. (And really, it’s better for everyone that I couldn’t. This bug has been shared sufficiently already.)

On the other hand, there’s an abundance of good news. First off, I have a job that I can still do when I’m sick 🙂 so I’ve been working away on those edits. It’s a great thing to have the opportunity to re-edit and revise all three Prometheus Project urban fantasy romances, even if I feel as if I’ve been lost in the netherzones of the Republic these past weeks. Fallen is available in its new edition, as you already know, and Guardian has gone to the formatter. Guardian should be available next week in its new digital edition. Rebel is next and I’m hoping it will be a quicker edit, then I’m expecting Abyss back from my editor this weekend. So, Rebel should be available by the end of the month (fingers crossed!) while I’m hoping that Abyss will be released in November. It’ll depend on those edits – I’ll be able to tell you more next week, after I’ve had a look at my editor’s comments. It’ll be exciting to have all of this series back out in the world again in those shiny new editions.

In other good news, All or Nothing is doing really well this week. This morning, it’s #42 overall paid in the Kindle store, as well as #1 in three categories – Romantic Comedy, Holiday Romance and Knitting Books. Its sales rank is #11 at B&N, which is pretty amazing, too. Thanks to all of you who picked up a copy at the sale price!

The Rogues of Ravensmuir Boxed Set is hanging on the lists at Amazon, too – it’s still at #17 or #18 on three of the historical romance lists (Scottish, Medieval and Medieval Historical Romance), which is fantastic. Just above it on those same lists is our multi-author boxed set, Five Unforgettable Knights, coming in #11, #12 and #13.

So, there’s your update. As usual when I’m up to my eyes in editing and other jobs, the story gremlins get busy. I have notes all over my desk for stories, so today, I’m going to treat myself to some writing time. Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about an online course that has me intrigued.

Fallen

Fallen, an urban fantasy romance by Claire Delacroix

Fallen, the first of my Prometheus Project series of urban fantasy romances (set in a dystopian future and featuring fallen angel heroes) has gone off to be formatted. Phew! it’s also formatted for print now, and the print edition is waiting on its cover.

Having these books re-edited has proven to be quite the adventure. My editor found far more than I anticipated, so we’ve been working on the entire trilogy at once. On the upside, though, I’m much happier with the book. There have been some changes and corrections, plus there’s bonus content in this edition. I should be able to give you buy links for Fallen soon.

And tomorrow, I’ll work on finalizing Guardian!

New Versions of The Dragon Legion Novellas

Kiss of Danger, the first Dragon Legion Novella, by Deborah Cooke, first of the Dragon Legion trilogy of novellas

Kiss of Danger and Kiss of Darkness have been edited and proofread again. They’ve been formatted again, and uploaded again, as V2.0 where such data displays. Kiss of Destiny will go through the whole process before it’s published for the first time, and – of course – the Dragon Legion Collection will include the final versions of all of the novellas.

Kiss of Darkness, the second Dragon Legion novella, by Deborah Cooke, #9B in her Dragonfire series of paranormal romances

So, if you already purchased either or both of these novellas, you might automatically get a notice of the new version from your portal of choice, or you might have to request it. The new versions are live on All Romance eBooks, B&N, Kobo, Amazon and Smashwords right now. They will probably be live on Apple by the morning. If you shop at another site fed content by Smashwords (Sony, Diesel, Page Foundry, etc.) the new files will take a couple of weeks to perk through the distribution system.

Thanks again to DJ and Ang for the comments. I’m chalking this one up to experience!

Visit from Mark LeFebvre

Yesterday, I told you about the Stratford Authors blog that I established last fall with a local librarian, Melanie Kindrachuk, to focus on local authors. I mentioned that we’d started to co-host some events with the local library. At the beginning of March, our monthly event featured Mark LeFebvre, the Director of Author Relations at Kobo Writing Life and a published author himself, talking about digitally publishing a book. Here’s the interview Mark did for the SA blog in advance of his appearance.

I met Mark last fall at the World Fantasy Conference in Toronto, after I’d seen him participate in a panel discussion on digital publishing for indie authors there. We subsequently emailed back and forth over some questions I had about the books I’d published directly on KOBO and I invited him to come down here to speak to our group. I halfway expected him to decline (it’s a bit of a drive from Toronto) but he enthusiastically agreed and we booked a date.

Mark’s initial comments were about preparing to digitally publish a book. He made some cautionary remarks about people diving in to digital publishing too soon. He reminded us all that a book needs to be ready to be published, no matter how it’s published: it needs to be professionally edited; it needs to have good cover art; it needs to have strong copy; it needs to be formatted correctly. All of these things help books to be taken seriously, and to succeed.

He also mentioned that most successful digital book authors know their audience really well. He suggested that authors should know their audience and their audience demographics, to better prepare packaging that appeals to the target audience and set prices that make sense to that audience.

Because the topic of digital publishing is so huge, Mark then took questions from the floor to focus his comments.

• He was asked whether KOBO intends to add author pages to the site – he said they had been in the works since KWL launched last July and are still in the works.

• He told us that the search utilities would be vastly improved on KOBO shortly, and that there would be more categories for books.

• He was not so encouraging in response to a question about allowing readers to post reviews directly on the KOBO site. He talked about Kobo’s partnership with Goodreads, expressed great admiration for Goodreads, and essentially didn’t seem to see any reason to duplicate or overlap what they already do so well.

Mark also talked about formatting of digital books, giving a brief overview to attendees. He was quite passionate on the topic of digital book prices increasing, and certain that free books and 99 cent books will become less effective as marketing tools. (Such pricing strategies are already markedly less effective than even six months ago.) We had some questions from people who wanted to embed video in their books and also a graphic novelist in attendance, so he talked about those technical requirements and possibilities for those sorts of works. (I didn’t understand it all!)

Again, I was struck by how generous the exchange of information is between authors and digital publishing portals like Kobo. He was quite direct about the merchandising of books on their site and how books are chosen from all the many titles presented each week for special attention. It was a lively and informative evening.

Mark even brought his skeletons – he writes horror in his life as an author – so maybe it was inevitable that we have a lot of fun. In fact, Mark will be coming back to our monthly event in June to walk our local authors through the process of digitally publishing a book on Kobo.

Digital Book Files

Well, the Herculean task is complete. All of my book files have been professionally formatted and uploaded again to all of the vendor sites. Twenty-four titles and seven sites! Yikes – I’m glad it’s done!

The updated editions are live at most sites, with two big exceptions:

1. Overdrive is still processing the new files for their Content Reserve site. That will probably take another two weeks. The Overdrive feed goes to Waterstones in the UK and Books-A-Million in the States, as well as others, so I’d count on that taking another couple of weeks beyond that. You’ll know the update has happened to the titles that have been listed there already, because the new titles I’ve uploaded will be available at the same time. Those titles include The Renegade’s Heart, The Countess and the Coxwell series.

2. Apple’s quality control process can take two weeks. They review each file before making the book available for sale. At this moment, the three books in The Bride Quest II trilogy and that Boxed Set, the three Rogues of Ravensmuir books and that Boxed Set, and the four time travel romances and that Boxed Set are sitting in the queue. I’ve asked Smashwords to take down their versions, so it’s likely the books will disappear from the Apple site completely before the new editions appear.

And now, onward to new books!

Updating Files

I’m getting to the end of what’s proven to be a long process. I’ve had all of my book files professionally formatted, and ended up using two formatters to get through them all more quickly. As I write this, it’s Tuesday and we’re in the midst of the time travels and the second Bride Quest. I’m hoping to have all the new versions uploaded by the weekend.

I’ve also gone direct with these new editions, uploading to Amazon, Apple, All Romance eBooks, B&N and KOBO. When all the files are done, I’ll do an FTP transfer to Overdrive to update their editions. It’ll probably take them a few weeks to do that, so everything should be updated everywhere by early March. Phew! It’s been a lot of clicking and waiting, since all of these portals have their idiosyncrasies, but I’m glad it’s done (or close to it.) I also need to update the buy links on my websites – one of KOBO’s quirks is that they assign a new url to the book whenever there’s an update. When the books go direct to Apple, their links change, too. Right now, we’re a bit bogged down at Apple and there may be duplicate editions for a few days as the transition proceeds, but progress is being made.

The professionally formatted editions look pretty, and I’m hoping that they load more efficiently onto your e-readers, especially the boxed sets. If you purchased any of my books earlier, you should be able to get the newest edition from the vendor.

If you posted reviews or ratings for my books at Apple, they will disappear as we transition from the Smashwords-supplied versions to those uploaded directly. You can tell the difference between them by the publisher name – the new ones are published by Deborah A. Cooke, not Smashwords. I’d really appreciate if you had a moment to repost your reviews or ratings on the new editions.

And now, we can move on to new challenges!

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. I hope you have something special planned with your sweetie. 🙂

Digital Formatting

I promised yesterday that I’d talk a bit more today about formatting for digital books. Here we go!

In the past, I have followed the Smashwords Style Guide to format my own Word DOC files. This is picky work, but it’s not that hard – it just takes time when you have old files that have been converted from format to format and version to version. They seem to carry some junk along with them from each version. I would then upload the DOC file to Smashwords, and let the Smashwords Meatgrinder convert that file to MOBI and to EPUB. The EPUB version I would then download and check with Adobe Digital Editions. I let Smashwords distribute their EPUB to Apple, Sony and some other sites.

Next I would save the DOC file as an HTML file. (There is one change to make between these versions: the Smashwords Terms of Service requires that each book say Smashwords Edition on the copyright page. Before saving to HTML, I would change the word Smashwords to Digital.) The HTML file could be uploaded to Amazon – and their conversion engine would convert the file to MOBI.

I would then import the HTML file into Calibre to create MOBI and EPUB files for other portals, like KOBO, B&N, ARe and Overdrive Content Reserve. I would check these files with EPUBCHECKER before uploading them.

I could have used a formatter from the beginning, but I had concerns about that.
• I had a lot of books to digitally publish.
• I wanted to have a better idea of what was required so that I would know whether the person I hired did a good job or not. My system made simply laid-out but readable books.
• There were so many formats and I didn’t know which ones sold best, or were worth the investment. Over the past two years, it’s become clear that the two major formats will be EPUB and MOBI.
• One of my other concerns was that I would need to pay for an update at regular intervals, as I kept thinking of things to add into my books. This fall, I finally finalized my content and links.

Also, with the introduction of new e-readers, there are many more options for layout than was once the case. I was feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth this fall – but most of my questions above had settled into final answers. I decided it was time to call in a professional formatter and hired Pam Headrick of A Thirsty Mind.

Concurrent with this update, I will be moving to directly publish on Apple, instead of having Smashwords distribute my content there for me. Yesterday, I uploaded the new EPUB of The Jewels of Kinfairlie Boxed Set to Apple and it’s already listed for sale in the iTunes store in 32 countries. That was easy! It’s possible that both the Smashwords and the directly-uploaded version will be visible on Apple in a period of transition, but that will be sorted out quickly.

I also uploaded a new EPUB to Smashwords, where it replaced the existing EPUB file. The only other format I have available on Smashwords is MOBI – this still must be generated by the SW Meatgrinder from a DOC file, so it has not been changed.

In addition, I uploaded the new EPUB directly to Barnes & Noble, KOBO.

The new MOBI file created by the formatter – which includes formatting for different versions of the Kindle – was uploaded to Amazon.

I will be updating my editions at All Romance eBooks and Overdrive’s Content Reserve, as well. At All Romance eBooks, there will be PDF editions of individual books only, not of the boxed sets – the boxed sets will exceed the maximum file size for upload at ARe, in PDF format, if JoK is any indication (and I can’t see why it wouldn’t be.) The ARe updates will be done along with each title, while Overdrive’s update will be done in a batch once all the new editions have been prepared.

There are several lovely touches in these new editions. The formatter has added drop caps at the beginning of each chapter, for example, which gives a more polished and professional look. She’s set the book to open at a specific page, and for the boxed set, she constructed a nested table of contents. The file is also dead clean, with no residual gook. There are links in the back to my websites (where the buy links and excerpts live), social media presence, blog and newsletter. There are two excerpts in the back of each book, usually one from Cooke and one from Delacroix. I’m very pleased with these new digital editions, as maybe you can tell.

I’ll let you know as each one is finished and uploaded.

New EPUB Editions

This winter, I decided to have my digital files professionally formatted, so that they would be prettier than ever.

As the number of devices multiplied – and the generations in use of each specific device increased – it was becoming harder to ensure that the book looked good for every reader. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, and had several persistent issues that I couldn’t solve. For example, the Smashwords Meatgrinder consistently eliminated the table of contents for each individual book in every one of my boxed sets. I was only able to link to the books, not the chapters within them. Pam Headrick at A Thirsty Mind has done a great job with solving that issue, along with a zillion other tweaks.

The first book file completed by Pam is The Jewels of Kinfairlie Boxed Set. It looks wonderful – I LOVE the dropped caps at the beginning of each chapter! It’s been uploaded to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KOBO, Apple, and the new EPUB has been uploaded to Smashwords. (Note that if you buy the MOBI format from Smashwords, it will not be the newly formatted file but still the previous one. Similarly, because of All Romance eBooks’ maximum file size, the new boxed sets will not be uploaded there. They’re just too big. We’ll talk some more about formatting and its evolving challenges tomorrow, on Wild West Thursday.)

On these portals, the new JoK should be available for purchase now or very shortly. If you’ve previously purchased the book, your portal of choice may automatically deliver the new version to you. If not, you can request it from them.

I’ll tell you about each new edition as it’s uploaded. We’re starting off the new year with prettier books!

Looking Mah-velous

One of the most consistent complaints heard from readers who use e-readers is that book files are formatted incorrectly, so I thought we’d talk about that a bit more today. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the book in question was published by a big publishing house, a small publishing house or an indie author – the book can still have formatting errors. There’s a clue for you that this is not so readily solved as might be hoped.

The technology for e-readers is still evolving, and digital books as a format are still evolving. If you think about it, it makes sense that the text of the book might need to be presented in a different way than in a physical book in order to make best use of the e-reader. The issue is that we’re still figuring out what that ideal format is.

Even one year ago, things were simpler. Digital books were often so similar in format to the print book that there was no effective difference. The Smashwords Style Guide, a free book by Mark Coker that gives instruction on turning a book in a Word file into a stream of text suitable for a digital book, was really the only guide an aspiring book formatter needed.

In the past year, though, our ideas of what makes a good digital book have been becoming more sophisticated. As a result of this, the functionality of conversion engines has been evolving, almost in real time. The trick is that none of the changes made to the conversion engines are documented.

For example, a linked table of contents is now believed to be a key element in a digital book, even in a work of fiction. In traditional publishing, only non-fiction books have a table of contents and many authors were startled by this expectation. It makes a lot of sense, though, as a reader navigates a digital book on a digital reader differently than a physical book. While a year ago, a table of contents was optional, now most digital book vendors will not accept a book file without a table of contents. Amazon will de-list a book without a table of contents, if the author/vendor does not respond to their request to have one added. The Style Guide contains instructions for building a linked table of contents in Word, which is what I do.

But as a result of this changing expectation, the conversion engines now try to automatically build a linked table of contents within the file. The Smashwords Meatgrinder did this previously, but its method of doing so has clearly changed. It used to compile a table of contents from all usages of the word “Chapter” in the file but default to a hand-built table of contents. I think it still does that, but with all of my boxed sets, it ignored the linked table of contents that I had built in the file. Instead, it created a nonsensical one of its own.

(The issue was one that I anticipated, but couldn’t circumvent. If you think about it, a boxed set with three books in it will have three Chapter One’s, one in each book. I named the bookmark for each Chapter One distinctively, but the Meatgrinder ignored my bookmarks. It built a table of contents with all the chapters for book one – for example, Chapter One through Chapter Sixteen – then only chapters with different names for the subsequent books – book two had only a Chapter Seventeen and book three had no chapters at all since the file had fifteen chapters. Smashwords tech support suggested the fix which was what I had already done, so even they were unaware of the issue. It’s entirely possible that it’s fixed now. That’s why my boxed sets only have links to the included books, not to the individual chapters within those books.)

Similarly, a year ago, a publisher had to include the book cover image in the book file if it was to be included in the digital book. For a while last winter, Amazon KDP offered a choice of their adding the image into the book or not. Now, there is no option and I assume they add it in automatically. The Smashwords engine began to automatically add cover images into book files this winter, as well, although the change was undocumented – when I did a big check of all my files in May, some of my book files had two images while others had none, depending upon when I had uploaded the file and whether I had included an image in the book file or not.

The reason so much of this is undocumented is that it changes all the time. A file can literally convert differently from one day to the next – although all appears the same at my end, the conversion engine is clearly being tweaked. Then there are the goofy little glitches that annoy the heck out of me. I upload html to KDP, which should minimize errors, but there are still some. Last week, for example, when I uploaded THE RENEGADE’S HEART, I saw in the preview of the book file that the KDP engine had converted all of my hyphens to em-dashes. Why? I have no idea. The previewer also opened the book at the beginning of the Prologue, skipping all of the front matter. This is new and evidently derived from the table of contents, but now I have to rethink the order of my front matter for Kindle. Currently, I have the cover copy followed by a reader letter and the table of contents, followed by the book itself. Maybe the table of contents should be first. (?)

I have found a tutorial for ensuring that html files are squeaky clean for conversion, so will walk my files through those instructions in July and update them again.

All of these specifications and expectations are in transition, and they will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. We’ve really only scratched the surface of what is possible with digital books. The big issue – at least from my perspective – are these conversion engines. The intention of making it simple to upload a book file is a good one, but as the expectations for digital books become more complicated, any engine is unlikely to be able to make every book file look good.

I am happiest with the EPUB files that I create for Overdrive and also distribute to ARe, because they do not pass through a conversion engine when I upload them. I format them, I convert them, I check them, and nothing gets changed in the process of making them available to readers. (I believe the KOBO portal will also allow direct uploading of EPUB files.) Uploading finished EPUB files has to be the future of digital publishing – that level of control will vastly improve the formatted quality of the individual books.

Until then, we review and reformat and try to keep those files looking mah-velous.

Prepping for Print on Demand – Cover

Today, we’ll talk about considerations for preparing the pretty part of a printed book – the cover.

Once again, you might want to use a professional designer to create the cover for your book. This is not my area of expertise, so I did just that. Kim Killion had already designed digital covers for The Jewels of Kinfairlie series. She added the spine and the back to give me PDF files for each cover.

There are templates on the Createspace website for covers – as well as interior formatting – which you can download in the appropriate size to get started.

Since Kim was doing the covers, I had to supply her with some additional information. I sent her the back cover copy for each book, as well as a review quote for the back cover for each one. I also told her that I’d be including my linked novella, The Ballad of Rosamunde, as a bonus read in The Snow White Bride, and we talked about mentioning that on the cover. She was able to run a thumbnail of the novella’s cover on the back, which was great.

I also had to tell her the page count of the book, so she could figure out the size of the spine. There is a formula on the Createspace website for making this calculation – and it’s based upon the thickness of the paper that they use – but I had to complete the formatting of the interior before I could provide the page count to Kim.

I also had to provide an ISBN# for each book. There are many options for ISBN#’s and there is probably enough data on the topic for a separate post. (And yes, I have one queued up for February 16.) I chose between the free ISBN# offered by Createspace and a free one available to Canadians from the federal government. You can also buy ISBN#’s from Bowkers. The free ISBN# from Createspace lists Createspace as the publisher of the book. This doesn’t trouble me – although it worries lots of other people – but what did concern me was that the Createspace ISBN# can’t be used with any other POD publisher. I’m not entirely sure that my POD books will stay with Createspace forever – although they might – so I applied for the free ISBN# from the Canadian government. These people are very helpful although the process takes a little bit of time. My books, then, are listed as being published by me, and I have a unique ISBN identifier.

Yup. Now I’m officially a publisher!

It also means that if I choose to move from POD to an actual print run of any book, I can use its assigned ISBN# for the new edition too.

Createspace puts the white box for the ISBN on the back cover, and the bar code – which is generated from the ISBN# supplied.

Once the interior file is uploaded and you’ve checked it, and the cover is uploaded, then on Createspace, you submit the book for review. They approve it – or not – in 48 hours or less. You can then order a proof to ensure that the book looks just the way you want it to look.

Now, because I worked in the printing business, there was no way I was going to forgo a proof even though that option is available. Murphy of Murphy’s Law is alive and well, both in publishing and in the printing business. In this case, the proof is essentially the first POD copy of the book. It turned out that I discovered minor errors in each book and could correct them before the books went “live”. I also got to see the product from Createspace – I was and am very impressed with the finished book.

One thing I was not anticipating, although it makes perfect sense, is that the covers appear to be slightly darker than expected. If you look at the cover for The Beauty Bride on screen, you can see that there is a diamond pattern of navy on navy behind the title. It’s subtle, even here, but in the print edition, it is more subtle.

This makes sense, now that I think about it, because the cover is probably printed on uncoated stock and then laminated. Uncoated paper is slightly more absorbent than coated stock – what we are seeing here is called “dot gain”. Each dot in the image has gotten a teensy bit bigger, because the ink absorbed into the paper and spread a wee bit, which makes the image darker overall. You’d use uncoated paper stock when printing POD because it dries much more quickly than coated stock – which would allow you to bind and finish the book more quickly.

In traditional printing, book covers are printed on coated stock, then set aside to dry for some period of time before they are cut and bound to the book interiors. To print on uncoated stock and then laminate it gives a similar finished appearance, but also a smidgen of dot gain. This also is apparent in reversed type – that’s white type on a coloured background – because (again) the ink spreads into the white zone of the type. Those little serif tips are a little less pointy when this happens, and if the type is small, it might fill in too much to be read easily.

In this particular case, the dot gain is not a problem – this is just a background pattern and it is still there – but for a cover which had important detail in the shadows, I would likely have the designer brighten the art a bit to compensate for the printing process. I also won’t use any small type in reverse type, especially serif fonts or delicate fonts, when the cover is going to POD.

Make sense?