Saturday, January 26, 2013

Self-Publishing - Part 3

I've been writing about self-publishing this month. A fabulous tool for those of us who are sick enough to enjoy such things. he he

Last week, I talked about the importance of editing. As in hiring someone else to edit your work for you. If you missed that post, read Self-Publishing - Part 2.

This week, we get to issue #2.

[PLEASE NOTE - This post is specifically with regards to PRINTED self-published books.  E-books are whole different animal, but if you learn to properly format e-books, most of the formatting for printed books will already be done.]

Manuscript Formatting

Multiple things here can cause issues.

1 - Font size. Please, for the sake of those with vision problems, don't use what hubby and I less-than-affectionately refer to as "glorious squinto-vision." If the text isn't large enough to be easy for most readers to read, you'll lose readers. The industry standard for Christian fiction seems to be predominantly Times New Roman 12-point, or the similar font Garamond. I've seen everything from 11 to 13 point font recommended in those two styles. Personally, I use TNR 12-pt to make it easy to read (I'm not a fan of Garamond).  (For large print editions, I use TNR 16-pt.)

If you're using a tiny font to decrease page count, there are other ways to accomplish this than to use a glorious squinto-vision font. Which leads us to the next...

2 - Line spacing. Double or line-and-a-half spacing isn't necessary in the finished product. It's great for editing and such, but it shouldn't be in the final manuscript when it goes to print (or e-book for that matter). Personally, I find it detracts from the professional appearance of the finished book. Single spacing is all you need and is much more professional.

3 - Paragraph style. Issues in this area have been interesting to see as I never thought about or expected it. I use standard paragraphs in my books as I see used in professionally done, traditionally published books. Indented first line on each paragraph. All single spaced. No extra spacing between paragraphs. Here's an example (rough draft, so excuse any grammar/sentence structure boo-boos or bad word choices - this is just an example from one of my MSs for paragraph style purposes):
          “It’s been six days, Lord,” Chase whispered, arms folded across the back of the pew in front of him, forehead resting on his arms. “How much longer?”
Each day, he’d come to the church to pray as evening fell. Each day, he felt the same sense of peace that God had things well in hand. And each day, he wondered how much longer it would be before they received some clue to Jordan’s whereabouts. The answer was always the same.
Be still. Be patient. My time, not yours.
“I’m trying, Lord.” Tears choked his voice. “And I’m trying really hard not to be scared for her. Please, wherever she is, take care of her.”
Here's the above example using block paragraphing:
“It’s been six days, Lord,” Chase whispered, arms folded across the back of the pew in front of him, forehead resting on his arms. “How much longer?”

Each day, he’d come to the church to pray as evening fell. Each day, he felt the same sense of peace that God had things well in hand. And each day, he wondered how much longer it would be before they received some clue to Jordan’s whereabouts. The answer was always the same.

Be still. Be patient. My time, not yours.

“I’m trying, Lord.” Tears choked his voice. “And I’m trying really hard not to be scared for her. Please, wherever she is, take care of her.”
See the difference?  No indent of the first line. To keep the paragraphs straight, you have to add the extra space between paragraphs. This is actually a standard business document paragraph style, not intended for creative uses such as fiction writing. For fiction, it adds extra lines to the manuscript, and thus extra pages. Not necessarily a good thing if you're trying to keep the cost of your book down.

What I see a lot of people doing is combining the two styles, which is distracting and totally unnecessary. Here's the above example combining the two styles as I see in many finished books:
            “It’s been six days, Lord,” Chase whispered, arms folded across the back of the pew in front of him, forehead resting on his arms. “How much longer?”

            Each day, he’d come to the church to pray as evening fell. Each day, he felt the same sense of peace that God had things well in hand. And each day, he wondered how much longer it would be before they received some clue to Jordan’s whereabouts. The answer was always the same.

            Be still. Be patient. My time, not yours.

            “I’m trying, Lord.” Tears choked his voice. “And I’m trying really hard not to be scared for her. Please, wherever she is, take care of her.”
This style makes me cringe as it is not structurally correct for either paragraph type. It's also not professional in appearance and screams "AMATEUR", but MAY only be noticeable to other authors, as well as business professionals like secretaries (such as myself) or any student who has been taught proper paragraph formatting. I'm learning to ignore it (sort of). I'm sure my high school and college typing, business, and English teachers/instructors would have a fit over this one, not to mention how many of my fellow secretaries look at it and, like me, are distracted by a nearly overwhelming desire to fix it.

If you want to publish a book that looks professional, pay attention to how the big boys (traditional publishers) have been doing it for years. Follow their example. If you don't, some segment of your readers are bound to notice. And THAT kind of attention isn't necessarily positive. You want your writing to be noticed, not the unprofessional or problematic formatting you choose for the finished product.

Take a look at your finished manuscript and honestly evaluate these factors. If you intend to do e-books, you'll have a whole different set of formatting criteria to deal with (and paragraph style WILL bite you in the butt when you go to format for e-books if you don't do it right - take it from me). There are some great resources online to show you the dos and don'ts of e-book formatting.

The Passive Guy tends to gather a lot of great information from various blogs on these issues, as well as other aspects of publishing. You might check out his blog, The Passive Voice.

Here's one such article I had to read just because the title made me laugh:

Should You Tell a Writer His Baby's Ugly?

And another one that is rather lengthy but well worth taking the time to go through is Take Pride in Your eBook Formatting. I'm going to have to go through it multiple times myself as there's so much to this series.

I'm sure you'll find lots more, but that should get you started with regards to formatting e-books.

Oh, and something else. For those of you who are trying to save space, one of the things I often see overlooked that can make a difference of several pages over the course of an entire novel is that really annoying "widows & orphans" feature in Word. Do yourself a favor. Disable it. If the MS is already typed, "select all" then go into your paragraph style and turn that feature off. You might be surprised how many pages it saves you, not to mention it gives the book a more professional polish since all your pages will be the same length instead of bottoms looking cut off on some pages.

Anyone else have any tips that might help others avoid the mistakes you or others you know have made?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Self-Publishing - Part 2

Last week I started this series on self-publishing by talking about the pros of self-publishing. If you missed that post, see Self-Publishing - Part 1. I noted at the end of that post that there are two particular areas where I see issues with self-published books. This week, I'll deal with the first of those issues.


Rampant problems that should have been caught during editing is the number one complaint I hear from self-publishing's detractors as to why self-published books aren't worth reading. When a reader picks up a book and finds multiple, obvious grammar and sentence structure mistakes on page 1, chances are they'll put the book down and not pick it up again. Chances also are they may not give you, as the author, a second chance.

I'm not saying professionally edited books won't and don't contain mistakes or oversights. I see them all the time in traditionally published books, which I know go though professional editing. I read one not long ago from a big-name traditional publisher, in fact, that had so many mistakes in one paragraph that I had a hard time figuring out what was actually being said and what the author intended to say, and there were a handful more on that same page. Only thing I could figure, since most of the rest of the book was fine, is the editor missed that section of the book during edits. (Either that, or their typesetter was REALLY not paying attention at that point.) There were two places like that in the book. Considering the book was almost 300 pages long, that's not bad enough to make me toss the book altogether.

As an author friend of mine noted, it doesn't matter how many eyes you have look at a book, something will probably slip through. So don't expect perfection, no matter how good the edit job is.

That said, hire an editor, or at the very least find a good critique partner who will be honest with you about issues they find, however few or plentiful. Editors are paid to be brutally honest and usually are. (And not all editors are created equal, so make sure you find a good one.) Critique partners may feel the need to spare your feelings. Let them know you don't WANT your feelings spared. You want the truth so you can polish that MS and make it as professional as possible.

A few mistakes or oversights is way different than rampant issues that a second set of eyes on the MS would have caught. I'm the type of reader who will generally power through such problems, no matter how bad they may be, to look at the story and characters. Other readers won't necessarily be so determined, or forgiving. My internal editor may have screaming fits, and I have to restrain my desire to go to town with a green pen (Thank you, Mr. Sullivan, for THAT particular habit *G*). But I'll get through it to see what the meat of the story is.

And take it from me, no matter how many times YOU look over your own work, you're going to miss stuff. I've learned this the hard way. I've been amazed at what obvious stuff my critique partners and editors have caught that I missed, no matter how many times I went over that MS.

So find a good editor or brutally honest critique partner and edit your work! Your readers will love you for it.

Next week, that second issue I often see....

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Self-Publishing - Part 1

Photo courtesy of click on
I read self-published books often these days, as I'm sure many others do. There are some incredible stories out there, and they deserve attention. I've also self-published - one fiction novella to this point, but my first full-length novel is in edits right now (and no, I'm not ONLY self-editing, but we'll get to that later) and will be self-published when it's ready.

The pros of self-publishing are easy to figure out. The biggest one is that you retain all rights to and control over your own work. You can do with it what you want when you want without having to get permission from anyone else. Do you need to revise it? Go for it. Want to pull it from the market for some reason? You can do that, too. No permission needed from anyone. Nice, eh? And if a new format type comes out? You can go straight to publication in that format without having a hassle. (This will resonate with those who traditionally published years ago and are having trouble getting publishing rights from their publishers so they can get those books out in e-book formats.)

You're responsible for your own editing, manuscript formatting and cover design. Those can be pros or cons depending on your personality, areas of interest and skills in such matters. Personally, I consider those pros. Others may not. They don't want to deal with finding their own editors, or document formatting, or designing their cover or hiring someone else to do it. For them, I would suggest traditional publication. Traditional publishers take care of all of that for you. That's part of what you pay them for with a share of your royalties. Take advantage of that expertise.

You will make mistakes as a self-publisher. You will learn some things by trial and error, and you'll find as I have that what works for one book or one author may not work at all for you. Keep reading, learning and talking to others to see what you can glean from their experiences - both good and bad. I find this to be a fun part of the whole publication adventure - talking to other authors.

However, there are things self-publishers really should do with regards to the finished product, and I'm seeing problems in these areas. Two areas are special issues. I'll get into those over the next couple of weeks.

What about you? Have you self-published? What did you like or not like about it? Are your books available as e-books, paperback, or both?

Are you considering self-publication? What's drawing your interest in that direction? What would you like to know that might help you avoid some of the pits others have fallen into?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Life Ain't Easy

You ever feel the urge to slap someone upside the head - hard - and pray it rattles their brain enough to open their eyes to reality? Welcome to my life.

Or how about the desire to stand up in the midst of a crowd of people acting hatefully and just scream at the top of your lungs, "This isn't how it's supposed to be!"? Yep. Me, too.

Have you ever seen the bumper stickers and t-shirts that say "The only reason some people are still alive is because it's illegal to kill them"? Yeah, I've felt that way at times, too.

Only the law has nothing to do with my restraint. The Lord does. Knowing how He feels about those urges to slap someone upside the head, or scream at people, or take them out altogether keeps me in check. Understanding His expectations has also prevented me from verbally tearing into someone on occasions when my flesh SO very much wanted to do just that.

Looking back on those situations, I understand why He wanted me to stay silent - most often the other person made themselves look like a complete idiot all on their lonesome, no help from me needed (and I likely would have looked like just as big an idiot if I had stooped to their level). In addition, it gave me an opportunity to glorify God when someone asked me how I managed NOT to rip into that person when I would have been totally justified in doing so. "Only through God's restraint. It was all Him. Not me."

Galatians 5 lists the fruit of the Spirit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Having self-control and exercising patience and gentleness when people act in nasty ways is a serious challenge. And I pray A LOT about this at times. Thus the reason a lot of people haven't had to deal with me truly angry and ready to verbally flay hide off their backside. And since we're supposed to be thankful in all things, I thank the Lord (rather begrudgingly, I admit) for the countless and unending opportunities people give me to practice those three fruits of the Spirit. (Have I mentioned I really prefer they behaved?)

Then there's the battle to not let those people steal my Joy in the Lord. That's a battle and a half. Some people seem to almost go out of their way to tear down and hurt others, to devalue them and steal their joy. They'll even often go so far as to tell you they're doing it for "your own good". (Which is really their way of saying they don't care if it hurts you - suck it up and deal with it whether you like it or not.) I just don't understand that mindset. My grandmother says that's a good thing - if you understand their mindset, you're probably more like them than you want to realize. So I guess my ignorance on that score is a blessing.

And the reality is the believers around me tend to behave FAR worse than the non-believers. Yeah, I know. That's not how it's supposed to be. As believers and followers of Christ, we should know better than to act even more hatefully than the world around us often does.

Living in this fallen, sinful world is so definitely not easy - and some days are worse than others. Some days are good, and people around me actually act like civilized, loving human beings who care about each other the way the Lord tells us to.

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another."
John 13:35 (NASB)

Other days... I come home bone weary from dealing with the attitudes out there. And some of the folks who act the most ugly are also the ones who should most decidedly know better and, thus, have no excuse.

"But if you bite and devour one another,
take care lest you be consumed by one another."
Gal. 5:15 (NASB)

Still other days, I wake knowing I'll have to face those people again and ask "Do I really have to go out my front door, Lord? Can't I play hookey from life? Just for today? Please?"

Usually the answer is a resounding no. Oh, well. Never hurts to ask, right? Then my prayer becomes, "Okay, but You're going to have to walk with me every step today, or I'll royally blow it. Please stay with me and slap a guard over my mouth so I don't say something I shouldn't."

The thing I find most troubling of all is that I'm seeing prophecy come to pass in ways I never imagined as I watch the behavior of the people around me. Christ warned that as the end drew near:

"... most people's love will grow cold."
Matt. 24:12 (NASB)

The worst I see on a regular basis is Christians outright lying about and to each other, choosing to believe lies about one another then spreading those lies around through gossip and rumor-mongering, shredding each other and devaluing one another just to build up self, wallowing in self-righteousness to the point they reflect hatred to the world and even to other believers. This is probably most grievous of all because they should know better. There's no excuse for such behavior.

Love truly is growing cold.

Such behavior reflects badly on God and the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ, which won't be without consequences in the long run. How long will God allow people to shred each other and claim they're doing it in His name? Only the Lord knows. But His patience will reach its limits, and no excuses or whining will change His response.

Seeing all of this, knowing all of this, and seeing the damage people do to one another (and so often not CARING they hurt or destroy others) drives me closer to the Lord and makes me desire even more to be different than the world around me, to be a true reflection of God's love and hope. I don't want to "bite and devour" others. I don't want to hurt them, consume them, destroy them. I want them to see Christ's love reflected in me and know someone loves them. I want to hold them accountable in love as we're supposed to, not beat them over the head with the Bible in self-righteous legalism. I want to love them enough to offer correction through that love with gentle kindness. I want to reflect God.

And it's a struggle. Life ain't easy. God never promised it would be easy. Just that we wouldn't face it alone. He gives us the power to walk perfectly, but we so seldom tap into that power. Human nature, the flesh, is always battling against the Spirit and our desire to follow the Lord. But we can't surrender to the flesh. The outcome of that daily battle is too important. Hearts and lives depend on it. Souls depend on it.

I'm no more perfect than anyone else. The flesh drags me down, too. But my prayer remains, "Lord, help me reflect You to others." And quietly, in grief, "Don't let me bite and devour those who need Your love as I see so many others doing." I don't want to hurt others. I want to see them strengthened in Christ, walking in right fellowship with Him. Tearing them down, beating them over the head with legalism (which is usually not accurate anyway), lashing out in anger (whether we feel justified or not) isn't the way to do that.

The reality is, the world needs Christ. If we don't show Him in our lives, in how we conduct ourselves and treat others, how will they see Him? Believe me, I know God will reach them without us, and often despite us, but He shouldn't have to. Where's the gratitude we should have for Him and His tremendous sacrifice on our behalf? Where's the love we're supposed to have for one another and the world around us?

We have two choices. We either support God's plan and act in obedience, thereby earning the blessings God wants to bestow on us so richly, or we allow our lives to be a warning to others by walking in a manner unworthy of the blood of Christ, stand in the way of an unstoppable process and reap His judgment. I don't know about you, but I prefer to be in that first group.

I choose obedience.

Will you?