Saturday, August 29, 2015

Coordinating Nook and Kindle eBook Publishing

The old hands at producing Kindle and Nook versions of their works may read this post and say, “Duh, of course.”  Or perhaps there is a much better approach than what I found, in which case, please let me know – I’m open to anything that saves effort on the mundane tasks of uploading and editing a manuscript in the Nook and Kindle editors. 

But since I spent a couple of hours exploring some of the options, and found an approach that is a 90% solution without involving much of the Nook or Kindle editing tools, I thought I would pass it along.
First, MS Word is a given for me.  I have it; I know it; and I am comfortable with it.  If you have other word processing options, then the rest of this post may be irrelevant for you.
My objective was to find a single MS Word format for the source manuscript that would require the fewest, most straightforward conversion steps to get this manuscript into the Nook and Kindle editors while maintaining the original formatting, table of contents, etc.  Here is what I settled on.
First, follow the Kindle instructions for generating a Word manuscript.  Most of those guidelines can be boiled down to a) keep it simple; and b) use the built in Word controls for things like line spacing, indenting, etc. rather than carriage returns, spaces, or tabs.  There is more than that, and you should read and follow those instructions, but a lot of their guidance boils down to those 2 points.
For the Kindle manuscript, save the Word document as a filtered webpage.  Again, this is straight out of the Kindle instructions.  And not surprisingly, when you upload that webpage to the Kindle editor, it will be pretty close to what you want – probably because all you have done so far is follow the Kindle instructions. 
The work came in finding how to make this Word source document usable for the Nook manuscript, because the Nook guidelines for a Word input document are a bit different.  For example, you are supposed to use the section new page command under Page Layout, rather than the Page Break command under Insert between chapters.  But even after I made all the manual page breaks into section pages, things like the chapter titles did not come through in the automatically generated table of contents.  As I have many, short chapters, creating them in the editor would be 63 manual edits (in the case of book 1) and I would have to do that each time I tweaked the text.  No way.
So, after playing with alternative conversions from the original MS Word document (the same one used for Kindle), I came up with the following steps to get a Nook manuscript:
1.       Download and install the free eBook management tool called Calibre.  An Internet search will provide download sites.

2.       Upload the MS document to Calibre, using the Add Books menu option (along the top).

3.       Use the Edit Metadata menu option to check for any modifications needed here.  If the properties on the MS Word document are set correctly, you may not need to do anything.

4.       Use the Convert Books menu command to create an ePub version of the manuscript.

5.  Save the ePub version from Calibre to your hard drive.  The command is 'Save to disk'.
6.        Upload the ePub version to Nook and Kobo publishing.  When I did, all of the page breaks and chapter titles were carried forward, as were the upfront materials (TOC, dedication page, etc.). 
If there are any errors, make the changes in the Word manuscript.  Do NOT use the Nook or Kobo editors.  Then, repeat all steps.  As a final precaution, when you publish the Nook version, click “Publish” on the Manuscript page and select “The original .epub file I uploaded”.  It may be superstitious behavior, but both the Kobo and Nook versions had errors that were not in the ePub manuscript after they were loaded to these respective editors.
As the whole process, Word to Kindle and Word to Calibre to Nook takes 5 minutes, I don’t sweat making a change like turning a comma into a semicolon in the Word original.

If this process helps, please use it.  If you have a better way, please let me know.  I am all about making the book management steps as easy as possible, leaving more time to write.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Recharging the Creative Batteries

I just got back from 10 days in Glacier National Park, Montana.  It’s a great place for hiking or just kicking back for a few days to enjoy the scenery.  And if you want to see the glaciers, you need to hurry, because they are melting at a rate that will make them just a memory by 2020.

Of course, if you have not heard, it’s been extremely dry across most of the West Coast, including Glacier.  And accordingly, wild fires have been a problem.  And when there is a temperature inversion, all that smoke can get trapped in the valleys, as it did one day for us.  Here is a shot from around 3:30 PM from the Many Glacier Lodge.

Seeing wildlife is another of the reasons to go to Glacier, and we saw quite a bit – deer, moose, antelope, mountain sheep, etc.  But somehow, we missed the bears.  We knew they were around, as you have the park’s standard reminder.

And then, the rangers occasionally post a more urgent notice.

And finally, when the mixture of bears and hikers reaches a critical mass, you get trail closures.  Interestingly, we had been at the location described on this sign, or very close to it, about the same time it was posted.  But luckily (or unluckily, depending on your perspective), we saw no bears on the trail.

As for me taking this trip to recharge my creative batteries – well no, that was not really the case.  It was just a bit of vacation.  And actually, I tended to take the idle moments on this trip – on the train, on our balcony in the evenings, even in a city park in Cut Bank, Montana – to write on book 2.  But when you are writing a blog about writing, and you took 10 days off for some R&R, you have the give a blog post title that fits the theme.  Right?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Drafts, discoveries, and re-writes…August 13, 2015

I have already posted one thought about writing (see Voila Science), but it occurred to me – I had not yet mentioned just where I was in the writing process.  Let me correct that oversight.

A complete draft of my first book, Half A Mind, is done.  In fact, it has been done since early March.   But what surprised me was that I did not start writing until mid-February; I finished that first draft in about 3 weeks.  I had few expectations going in, but a first draft in 3 weeks was not anything I had imagined.  Nor was how much I enjoyed the whole process.

If you are thinking, it must have been pretty sketchy given that amount of effort, I agree.  Basically, I knew where the story was supposed to go; it just did not say it yet.  And, as the text now stood at about 60,000 words, I had space to work with.  (Somewhere, I read that the average eBook on Amazon was about 75 to 80,000 words.)

And then, as life tends to go, I got busy.  It was not until May that I found another break for writing, and over another 3-week period, I did my first revision.  The text became more complete, as its length grew to around 75,000 words, and I was thinking I was close. 

And then…I made a discovery.  Part of the technology that I had written as fiction actually existed!  Since I am endeavoring to keep the gap between fact and fiction as small as possible, this was a problem.  Revision 2 ensued.  The book grew to a bit over 83,000 words.  But now, I felt I had fully described state-of-the-art technology, meaning that the device that wreaked havoc in the novel was close at hand.  Maybe it even exists as a proprietary product in some laboratory.  I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Currently, I have received and incorporated comments from two reviews and I expect the 3rd and final review soon.  I am having art created for the cover and hope to post that soon.  And I have been reviewing eBook publishing processes.  They seem pretty straightforward, and I even have my own private Kindle version of the book that I can read on my tablet. 

Everything is close, and barring some unforeseen roadblock, I expect to meet a December 1st release, or perhaps sooner. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Voila Science...NOT

Somewhere, back in my early school days, I remember a teacher mentioning the concept of “the willing suspension of disbelief”.  This concept plays a major role in one of the literary genres I particularly like – suspense/thriller.  You have to be willing to ignore the fact that the bad guys are invincible until they face the main protagonist; that a single shot to a speeding car will always cause it to explode; and that the hero can absorb enough physical punishment in the final confrontation to put any normal human into the hospital for a month, yet he is out carousing that same evening.  Yes, that all makes perfect sense to me in the context of a good yarn.

But somewhere, somehow, I lost that capability when it comes to science.  Was that a thousand mouse clicks I heard, as you realized, oh no, this guy is a science and technology nerd, and left the page?  Yes, I am guilty as charged.

When I read, “…he placed the device on his head, and immediately, the thoughts of the man sitting next to him appeared in his mind”, I think, wow, maybe.  Thoughts are basically patterns of neural firing, which is chemical/electrical in nature.  We can pick up brain waves via EEG.  Maybe, with enough sensitivity in the electronics, this might be possible.

Then I read, “But I needed the combination for his safe, because in it, he stored the plans to destroy the world.  So, I searched his memory,” and I think, wait a minute.  He was not thinking about the combination, but you are going to activate the network of neurons necessary to find this number?  And he is not going to notice that you are activating portions of his brain without his control?  Really?

And finally, I read, “Suddenly, moving at the speed of sound, the man passed through solid walls of brick, and wood, and concrete, only stopping when he was 3 miles away.  But I could still read his mind.”  Sorry, but this eBook now goes back on my eShelf, probably to never be opened again.  That is just too much Voila Science for me to swallow.

I like to compare this approach to that of another genre I like considerably, historical fiction.  The best of these stories, in my opinion, blend personalities you know with people who represent prevailing views of the time.  And these fictional and nonfictional characters become involved in conversations and events that may have happened, or maybe not, but could easily have.  And I never know which is which.
So I ask, when we stand on the cusp of so many humanity-altering breakthroughs in technology, why do we need Voila Science to entertain us?  Isn’t a slight tweak of reality, a nudge in the state-of-the-art enough to enthrall us?  And when that minor advance is a misstep, and the technology is unpredictable or uncontrollable, isn’t that so much more frightening than when the downfall of mankind requires travel faster than the speed of light while simultaneously reducing your mass to the point of nonexistence?  What about suspense/thrillers that parallel historical fiction, so you never know, what part is fact and what part is fiction?  Not that I would be the first, or only, to write so, but I do seek to join those ranks.