Coming Late Summer 2016

Still Here, Still Writing

My interaction with social media ebbs and flows, primarily due to time. I do enjoy seeing what projects fellow writers are working on. For those of you out there who have been achieving your writing goals, excellent work. You continue to motivate me.

I haven’t been slacking. I continue to plug away at a novel with the working title Trading Lives. It began as a short story to introduce a dynamic female character in my main project but has grown into a full-length novel. I am happy with the writing. It is a complicated plot with what I think will be some shocking twists and a satisfying conclusion for readers.

Look for Trading Lives in the not so distant future.

Watch “Bike in the Window” on YouTube

A cute short movie my son made.

The Scenery is Beautiful, But When Do We Get There?

I was speaking to a writer friend and work colleague yesterday and, as usual, the discussion turned to our writing projects. He asked me how mine was coming along, and I told him I was hovering around 150,000 words at the moment, but at least I had the end in sight.

He said, “Finish the book already.”

Okay, okay, I know that. I wish it was finished. Boy, do I.

But I want this to be a really good story, too. I want to make sure I do it right. The process I’m using to create works well for me now. (see previous post), and, it’s enjoyable.

My friend is right, though. I need to finish it up.

Writing is such a balancing act. The process, the excitement, the doubt, the blank page, the endless pages, the clarity, the confusion . . .

At some point I will stop saying “I’m working on it” and instead say, “It’s finished.” But until then, I’ll enjoy the process.

Is Your Outline Killing Your Writing?

My biggest roadblock during the past year has been trying to use an outline. Not that I wasn’t having some writer’s block issues before, but I always felt my lack of an outline was unprofessional and a detriment to creating a solid story.

And so I started doubting my writing. Then, my writing slowed down.

Then, it stopped.

I tried figuring out the whole outline process, but it just wasn’t my style and it wasn’t fun. Call me crazy, but I need fun to keep me interested and writing.

Fun, it turns out, is not knowing what my protagonist is going to do next. Fun, I learned, is being surprised by what a character just did, just like my protagonist was surprised to learn his old detective partner was murdered and he is the prime suspect.

I know outlines work for some writers, but they don’t work for all writers. Whichever process you use, I encourage you to give yourself permission to write the way that works best for you, the way that keeps you interested and happy . . . and productive.

Your story-telling rhythm

If you’re like me, you often wonder how to improve your writing. This quest is what prompts me to read posts about writing, and because I realize I’m not the only one looking for ways to improve, I like to share the real treasures.

However, I can’t help but become a little depressed about my writing when it doesn’t come easily, when it doesn’t flow the way I would like, and when it doesn’t compare to the ideal I have set for myself.

Today as I was enjoying a boat and snorkeling tour in Maui, an idea came to me. Maybe I’ve got it backwards. When I become most frustrated with writing is when I find myself forcing my prose and not letting it flow. I can’t say for sure why, while bouncing over ocean swells the idea came to me, but it might have had to do with spin the tour guide was putting on the adventure. It was his story, and he had a rhythm that fit him, and he was enjoying himself. And those of us on the tour were enjoying ourselves, too.

We all have our own rhythm, but it’s too easy to believe it’s not good enough and no one will appreciate it. And so begins the cycle of doubt. I’d say, use the rhythm that works for you, and I’ll use the rhythm that works for me, and we’ll all share our stories.

Writer’s Café, The Other Top Writing Tool

As I am putting my latest book together, I often wonder how many of you use writing tools to help organize your work. The most talked about tool has been Scrivener, which I have looked at a few times and seriously considered purchasing. It’s great Scrivener gives such a generous trial period, because I think generally writers are a cautious breed. And most, I fear, are not a wealthy bunch. The price makes Scrivener a good bargain.

However, the organization and writing tool I use and am heavily invested in with my book is Writer’s Café. To anyone considering Scrivener or a similar product, I would suggest giving Writer’s Café a look. Writer’s Café covers all the basics, such as organization of scenes, lining out chapters, story-boarding,  and character development. The software comes with a ton of options, including the ability to use it on a flash drive.

In fact, if there is one aspect of Writer’s Cafe that has caused me some consternation, it is how many options Writer’s Café actually has, which can be a bit intimidating. Just as a footnote, Writer’s Café is also compatible with Windows 8. I took the plunge and upgraded to Windows 8 this weekend and that was one of my questions. Question answered. It works just fine.

As for cost, Writer’s Café is priced the same as Scrivener, which is $40.00. You can also try it for free with a few limitations. And in case you’re wondering, I have no financial interest in Writer’s Café. Just thought I’d share.

5 Step Conversion To eBook Process

Previously: Self-publish style preferences and eBook formatting

Once I had the complete manuscript file in OpenOffice format, I was ready to create the eBook. (Again, OpenOffice worked really well for this project.) The next step was to import the .odt file into Calibre, an open source electronic book management system.

Calibre is a great tool for converting a manuscript into the final stage—your completed book. Here are the steps:

1) Add book. First icon on the upper left of Calibre. Just select the file for your manuscript and Caliber loads it into the directory under that file name.

2) Edit metadata: Second icon from the left. This is where your book gets all that cool author and publishing info. And most important, this is where you can add a cover. However, when uploading to Barnes and Noble or Amazon, you also add your cover there as well.

3) Convert Books: Third icon from the left. This is where your book gets its “Look & Feel”. I generally use the icons “Look & Feel” and “Page Setup”. For the look and feel of the book, I prefer the selection “Remove spacing between paragraphs” and leave the indent size at the default 1.5 em. All other selections I have left at the default. For the page setup, I simply leave the “Input profile” at “Default Input Profile” and change the the output to the selected device I am targeting. I’ve only used .epub and .mobi formats, so I toggle between Nook Color and Kindle Fire for the output profile. I also leave the margins at 5.0 pt. Select OK to convert your book to the output format you chose.

4) Review Format: Now that your book as been converted, it’s time to review it and make sure it is properly formatted. I repeated this step several times in order to produce a product that met my expectations.

5) Proof and Correct: Don’t worry, you will have plenty of opportunity to create these files a few times over. Unless, of course, you’re a master at getting things right the first time. Now is the time to proof your nearly-finished book a few more times. Now that it is in it’s final format, simply upload your .epub or .mobi file to their respective devices and read through a few more times. Highlight those pesky errors and go back to your word processing document to correct the errors. (This is a main reason I tried to create a template that was as close to the finished format as possible. It made finding the fixes a lot easier.)

NOTE: When uploading a file to Barnes and Noble Pubit or Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, each publishing interface will accept native .epub and .mobi files. Using this process, I felt comfortable the finished product on each store looked like what I had created in Calibre.

Self-publish style preferences and eBook formatting

As I talked about before, I used OpenOffice for setting up the electronic versions of our books, Eleventh Hour and Midnight Hour. I created a template that I copied each chapter into. The master template held all the formatting and style preferences, and as soon as I copied the text into the master, I saved it as its own chapter.

I made the template page dimensions approximately the same size as a standard electronic book so that what I saw in the word processing document would closely resemble what I saw in the finished product on my Nook Color. (This really helped when it came to proofreading.)

Once the working file was saved, it was time to begin formatting and correcting formatting issues. Of course, since we were creating a fiction book, there were not many styles to employ.

For the books Eleventh Hour and Midnight Hour, I was working with copy scanned using optical character recognition (OCR). Which meant a lot of conversion errors. Many of the errors were easily corrected by applying pre-designed body text and paragraph styles. However, text and paragraph styles don’t always convert the way they’re supposed to and often latent formatting continued to cause problems until they were completely removed from the document.

How to create an eBook: Scanning

With Midnight Hour soon to be available in electronic book form, I wanted to share the process of transforming our printed books from hard copy to an updated electronic version.

At first, the idea of turning a print book into an electronic book seemed simple. Since I have a background in design and layout, and I keep up on technology, the plan seemed doable.

And it was. The result are two books that look professionally designed. Currently Eleventh Hour is for sale and Midnight Hour is on its way.

The process wasn’t without its hiccups, however. First of all, the rights to the original printed works didn’t come with a complementary electronic file. The publisher was unable to provide one, which meant it was up to me to scan the pages and convert the content using OCR (optical character recognition).

Tools for scanning and initial layout:
OpenOffice Writer: I used OpenOffice, not just because it’s free and I didn’t have Microsoft Office, but because it seemed to be easier for this particular application. I did compare the two, but OpenOffice worked very well.

HP F4400 flatbed printer/scanner: I did use this printer/scanner because it was the only thing I had available at the time. But it worked well for the scanning process and the OCR output was pretty accurate.

Scanning process and initial layout:
I set up an OpenOffice chapter template for the approximate size of fiction book, partly because I wanted an idea how it would look in its finished electronic format, and partly because when referencing corrections between the physical book and the electronic word processing copy, it would be easier to locate the correction if I were somewhere in the ball park of the manuscript.

Before scanning the book, I simply cut the pages from the binding. I scanned the pages using an HP F4400 flatbed printer and the accompanying software, which uses Readiris technology. I scanned using the Text (OCR) to RTF File selection. I then used OpenOffice and imported the .rtf file into the document.

Each chapter I scanned, I subsequently put into its own OpenOffice word processing document. It was easier to manage short files than one large file.

Although converting the scanned text to characters was pretty accurate, the formatting caused the most inconvenience. I was actually happy that much of the formatting transferred over, because purely plain text doesn’t keep preferences such as italics and even paragraphs. Still, there was some clean-up to do. At this point, however, all the manual labor was done and the next step was for us to do an initial edit and proofread of the chapters.

NEXT: Style preferences and proofreading

NOTE: Remember to respect intellectual property and copyright laws.