Class in Session – Formatting an eBook

Discarded Treasures contains zombie fiction tales by Harold Kempka.At the Philadelphia Writer’s Conference and meetings, several folks asked me about how to format an eBook and make it look good. After all, eBook formatting services cost up to several hundred dollars. Mind you, the Smashwords Style Guide is the ultimate guru on preparing your Word document for eBook formatting. My first attempts at eBook formatting looked as if I’d been daydreaming about my balloons, and Smashwords Style Guide helped me improve. Lately, I haven’t needed to refer to them unless I’ve got to include pictures with the eBook. Formatting illustrations is something that still makes me uncomfortable.

Most people start by ditching their headings, page numbers, and space between chapters, but I use Smashwords Style Guide’s nuclear method. Before I’m ready to send my book through Kindle, Nook, or anywhere else, that text has gone through several computers—the author’s, mine, and if there’s an outside editor, their text, too. Maybe some passages in the text came from a reprint, too. This results in a conflict of styles that result in AutoVetter errors on Smashwords. You won’t get such messages from Kindle or Nook, but when you open your new eBook, the print looks uneven. The nuclear method will clear all the previous formatting from your file, including the headers and page numbers.

You can do the nuclear method by highlighting your entire manuscript and hitting “copy.” Open WordPad and paste the manuscript onto that. Then open a new file that will be your eBook file, copy the manuscript off WordPad, and paste it onto your new file. You’re now ready to work with a clean manuscript.

For starters, you don’t want your title larger than 16 point font. Stick with a font like Times New Roman, Garamond, Book Antiqua, or Bookman Old Style, and keep the same font throughout the book. All the letters should be black. No colorful letters, curlicues, or other designs. You shouldn’t have more than four returns between chapters. I only use one between each paragraph/chapter. I start out with my title in bold, using 24 point spacing below it via the Paragraph function. This way, I avoid the carriage returns. I move onto the author’s name, the name of the person or company publishing it, and basically the same items you’d see on the masthead of any novel. This would also include your ISBN. I prefer 12 point font for the masthead information.  This is where I’d put my disclaimer information, too.

The dedication comes next, and I allow 30 point (arbitrary amount) spacing between the masthead and dedication. Another 30 points and I have my table of contents. You need a table of contents for the eBook even if you didn’t use one for the paperback version. Why? Because readers like to skim and skip through chapters sometimes, so each chapter should get hyperlinked to the respective section in your book. You can’t use page numbers in an eBook. People need different print sizes to read, so assigning page numbers won’t work. More on the hyperlinking as we go along.

I type each chapter header in bold, usually a 12 or 14 point font. The chapters start 30 points under the Table of Contents. The nuclear method should have made all the indents go bye-bye – nothing wrong with them; they just haven’t worked for me. Instead, I maintain six point spacing between each paragraph, and then 30 points before the next chapter. This may not look good on your file, but on a computer, the spacing always comes out nice and even.

Caveat: the nuclear method also wipes out any italics you’ve used, so you’ll need to go through each paragraph on your file and italicize the appropriate words. It doesn’t take that long, just something I wanted to point out. You should review each paragraph anyway because the lettering can resemble symbols, or words hyphenated where they shouldn’t be.

I find the bookmarking easiest to do as I go along. On Chapter One, I’ll highlight the whole phrase and on the ribbon, select “insert.” Underneath “view,” you’ll see “hyperlink,” and below that, “bookmark.” Click on “bookmark” and you’ll be asked to type in a name. If it’s more than one word, Word won’t accept it, so I’ll type something like “ChapterOne and the name of chapter as one word. I usually bookmark several chapters, then hyperlink them.

For hyperlinking, go to the Table of Contents. Highlight the respective chapter title, choose “insert” on the ribbon and go for the “hyperlink” option this time. A dialogue box will come up with four boxes from the top. Click on the second box from the top, “place in this document.” A big window will open, and you’ll see a list of the chapters you bookmarked.  If you’re hyperlinking Chapter One, select the words “ChapterOne” on the list of bookmarks. Hit “okay,” and now you’ll see that chapter number in neon blue on the Table of Contents. If you place your mouse over the hyperlinked text, you’ll be told to hit “control” and click on the hyperlinked text. That takes you straight to the respective chapter.

Smashwords Style Guide doesn’t tell you what to do with HTML because it’s not required for Smashwords. But you’ll want to use it for Kindle and Nook, and it also works best for Calibre software, but saving in HTML is easy. Simply click on “save as,” and for file type, select “web page filtered.”

What I have here is just the basics, but Smashwords Style Guide will give you what you need to know so you can format the eBook yourself. After your project’s done, treat yourself to something nice. After all, you’ve saved a bundle of cash. My balloons would agree.


Which Compound Words Confound You?

Barbara Custer writes horror and science fiction tales. She collects Mylar balloons, too.During my NTD edits, I find that about fifty percent of them involve compound words. This doesn’t surprise me because I, too, struggle with the proper spelling of compound and hyphenated words. Sometimes I check Google’s dictionary to get the correct spelling. I got to thinking that other writers might have issues with this, so I decided to take a closer look.

Chicago of Manual Style has rules to guide you, but alas, exceptions, too. It’s the exceptions that cause the most problems with the English language. For example, you should hyphenate adjectival phrases used before a noun. Examples: The distance to the hospital is a six-mile drive. The doctors made last-ditch efforts to save the patient.

But we’ve got an exception: I’ve had a 10 percent increase in balloons. “Percent” should be spelled out and not hyphenated.

Hyphenate compounds using “all” when they follow or precede a noun, says Chicago’s Manual. Example: The balloons that watch over me are all-knowing. But compounds with the word “fold” get spelled as one word, as in: My balloon collection has increased threefold during the last five years.

Exception: If the adjective using “fold” involves a figure, hyphenate. Example: The business realized a 20-fold increase in sales.

Words with “like” can be spelled solid. No exceptions. Examples: He’s got a childlike innocence. The balloons are lifelike figures.

Words beginning with “self” get hyphenated at all times. Example: She’s self-sufficient. He’s a self-serving man.

Proper nouns with “wide” get hyphenated. Other nouns do not. Example: The zombie infection spread Hospital-wide. But: The zombie infection also spread citywide.

“Light-headed” and “lighthearted” will get you every time. The first refers to a physical sensation (dizziness) and the second pertains to an emotion. Most other words involving “light” are open, as in “light pen;” the exceptions are “light-headed” and “light-rail.” When the word “light” is the last element in a compound, it’s spelled solid. Examples: flashlight, candlelight, etc.

Certain compounds can be spelled open or closed depending on the meaning. “Long distance” as a noun makes two words, but as an adjective gets spelled with a hyphen. Example: The balloon soared a long distance during the long-distance flight. “Back up” as a verb is two words, as in: I look carefully before I back up my car. As a noun, it’s one word, as in: I called for backup before I saw my patient.

Other compound words, having been used together for a long time, became spelled as one word, such as bloodstains, windowsill, fireman, postman, droplet, etc. I’m hoping one day that “balloon bed” will become a common enough term to be spelled as one word. Because there are so many exceptions, your best friends when it comes to spelling compound words are the Chicago of Manual Style and the dictionary.

So what compound words give you a challenge? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

This futuristic Science Fiction novella was written by Barbara Custer.The Prodigy of St. Pete's is Michael De Stefano's coming of age novel.


Blurbs Dress up your Cover

When I was offered a contract on When Blood Reigns, I was ecstatic—still am. I’d already put together a blurb and logline because most publishers anticipate their authors will provide them. When I sent out When Blood Reigns, I made sure I had a logline and blurb prepared ahead of time. So when my publisher sent me an Author Information Form requesting such information, I moved to copy my ready blurb onto the sheet. That was when my Mylar balloons called out their siren chorus, “Bar-ba-ra!”

Here we go again, I thought. “What’s the matter?”

Balloons: Why are you in such a hurry to send out that form? Don’t you remember our chat about covers making the author?

Me, sighing: Don’t worry. I’ve got an awesome artist. She did a beaut of a cover for Steel Rose.

Balloons: You need a strong blurb, too. The one you’ve got is too wordy, flat, and gives away spoilers.

Me, fetching a deep sigh: Gee, whiz! Do you expect me to write another blurb?

Balloons: Dat’s wight, wabbit. The one you’ve got won’t work. Read posts from well-known authors on how to write a decent blurb. Then do it over.

So I brought up recent articles on what makes a good blurb and learned about “buzz” words, “pickup” lines, and the dangers of spoilers—that is, giving too much away. Basically, when your book goes to the marketplace, it’s going on a job interview. On any interview, you want to wear your best suit. Cultured pearls for the women and cufflinks for the men to dress up the suit. It wouldn’t do to wear costume jewelry with a Neiman Marcus suit. Well, the blurb is the pearls / cufflinks and the cover is the suit.

Realizing that concept, I slept on some ideas that night while my Mylar balloons made shushing sounds around me. The next day, I woke up with an idea for a blurb and headed for the computer. When I read it out loud, my balloons grinned. “This sounds better, but we recommend you ask your beta readers to review it. Betcha they come up with some interesting tweaks for it.”

The blurb went off to several writer buddies. They agreed with the balloons that the new blurb was better, but needed a more help so after a flurry of emails and brainstorming, I came up with a blurb I used for the author information form. My Mylar balloons gave it their blessing.

My publisher is reviewing my blurb and other items now. Since When Blood Reigns is in the initial stages of publication, it’s a little early for posting blurbs, in case the editors want to make further changes. I’ll definitely give updates as things move along. My Mylar balloons wouldn’t have it any other way.

horror & sF about aliens and zombiesThe Gunslinger's Companion features Michael De Stefano's historical fiction about the Depression.


Coffee, the Writer’s Best Friend

Yesterday, I took advantage of Ocean City Coffee’s sale and ordered a healthy supply. I heaved a sigh after the order went through. Sometimes if the server is down or my laptop acts cantankerous, this doesn’t always happen. You must wonder what on earth coffee has to do with writing, or even the Mylar balloons that I like so much.

As most writers and editors know, coffee is our best friend. It helps keeps us alert when we have to revise, rework a difficult scene, or find a tactful way to explain to your client why a given scene won’t work. I suspect Jonathan Maberry owns stock in Starbuck’s, just as I should consider some in Ocean City. I want coffee that tastes good.

I first became acquainted with this brand about two summers before Mike went into the nursing home. We went on our last vacation together, a trip to Ocean City. One evening he felt particularly strong; we walked a ways down the boardwalk and happened upon the Ocean City Coffee store. I enjoy flavored coffees—cinnamon, coconut, and the like, so I stock up when I get a chance. Trouble was, every time I found a great store, they closed. So I stocked up over at the coffee shop and chatted with the owners. I promptly fell in love with their coffee flavors, and every few months I stopped by the website to reorder.

Horror fiction by Kevin Doyle involving feral children

Preparation of this book required a lot of coffee drinking. 🙂

Years later, coffee prices went up – coffee prices are going up everywhere, along with the price of balloons. So I thought I’d try cheaper brands, and found a decent coffee in Coffee Beanery. However, Ocean City had many more decaf flavors. I moved onto other brands, thinking I was getting good coffee. Instead, I got something that tasted like brine. I struggled to get it down, and listened to my Mylar balloons chant behind me: We warned you, Bar-ba-ra. When you buy cheap, you get cheap.

I won’t mention the name of the other brands here—not the kind of thing to post on a blog. But if you’re looking for great coffee, you’ll find it in Ocean City Coffee Company or Coffee Beanery. And if you need something really strong, go to Starbucks. My Mylar balloons would agree.

Your thoughts?


What Constitutes Negative Publicity?

We see no evil, hear no evil, and say no evil.

We see no evil, hear no evil, and say no evil.

Lately, I’ve been reading posts from folks who complain about “negativity” on Facebook and Twitter. That surprised me because I haven’t seen anything that reeks of flaming, my idea of negativity, so I began speculating as to what constitutes bad publicity. My balloons and I had a long discussion about this, and basically, their philosophy is, “See no evil, hear no evil, say no evil.”

They had a point.

For starters, I listened to Jonathan Maberry, Don Lafferty, and other greats discuss the technique for posting and branding, and their message was clear: avoid negativity in your posts at all costs. I thought about the time I posted when Mike or I was in the hospital or having surgery, wondering if sickness counted as an offensive post. Don assured me not to worry, that people friendly with me would want to know that I’m okay. For that matter, friends would also sympathize with the death of someone close or the loss of a job. So…what constitutes a “bad boy” post?

Political discussions seemed to top the list. Many of our Congressmen create controversial images; people either love or hate them. My thoughts? I keep my opinions out of Facebook and other social media. It’s easy to stay out of discussions about politics on-line and in real life.

Persistent “buy my book, shoes, blah, blah, blah” posts turn people off. Not sure about Twitter, but Facebook polices this one pretty good. Of course, when your book is released, you want to tell people where it’s available. People who know and love your genre will want to buy or at least consider buying. But most of your posts should be about general topics. The experts recommended a ratio of general to “sell” posts of about six to one. This is meant as a guideline, not an exercise in math. The general posts should include topics that other people would find useful and/or interesting.

Bashing a book or company generates bad publicity for everyone involved, including the person who writes the post. My mom once said if you can’t find anything good to say about someone, don’t mention them at all. She had it right. If I read a book I dislike, I won’t review it. There are few stores I avoid, given the balloon factor, but if a place truly gives me the creeps, I just don’t go there. If I had true concerns about a book or store, I’d rather communicate my thoughts in a private email.

Most people don’t set out to hurt anyone. Their intentions may be good, but they might not realize the impact their words have on others. I learned about intent versus impact when I had diversity training at work.

So…what might people consider useful topics? Human interest stories, such as what you see on the news. Example: CVS started marketing Somnapure, an herbal sleep-aid (it works – I use it myself). Lots of folks would give their eye teeth for a decent night’s sleep, but dread the thought of addictive prescriptions, so they would appreciate hearing that they could buy a good sleep aid without any dangers of addiction at their local pharmacy. It never hurts to wish someone a happy birthday. Facebook makes this easy by listing people’s birthdays on your right column under “events” on a given day. Perhaps a good joke would bring a smile. My balloons gave me more good advice: consider how I’d want to treated when I post. Dang, I knew they were smart!

So…have you found a lot of negativity on social media? What kind of posts do you find unpleasant? What kind would you like to see? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Parkinson’s Scorched Earth – a Revisit

When people hear about the bad side of love, they think abuse or unrequited love. Parkinson’s scorched earth policy taught me that love has other dark sides.

I live in a forest. You’ll find Mylar balloon trees everywhere in my house. Butterflies, Disney characters, Valentine hearts, and glittering stars. At one time, Mike and I used to waltz under the fruits that grew on them. When we weren’t dancing, he worked outside in his tomato garden. Other times we’d browse brochures with which to plan amazing vacations in Florida, Nevada, Aruba, and on two occasions, Italy. At a party, he’d regale people with tales of his years in the Navy during the Vietnam War. For his living, he counseled unemployed workers looking for compensation, and the office became his second family. Time spent around other people enabled him to escape the reality of Viet Cong capturing people and Parkinson’s disease invading his body.

“Scorched earth” comes from the military strategy the US used to fight the Viet Cong. This strategy involved the destruction of crops, homes, and resources vital to the enemy. I can’t remember when Mike’s war with Parkinson’s began, but his disease whispered “scorched earth,” with gardening, driving, and activities of daily living becoming the casualties. The process might have started with tremors and loss of energy, but it ended with frequent falls, necessitating a wheelchair and admission to a nursing home. It’s not just about my inability to lift. Parkinson’s stiffens the body so that it becomes a dead weight. The docs came up with magic pills to contain the symptoms, but Mike’s body couldn’t tolerate their side effects.

I rate my visits with Mike into three classes: good, semi-good, and bad. Last two visits were good ones. Mike and I chatted as if he were healthy. He’ll handle a spoon and fork without help. His voice came through clear. Sometimes he might ask me about my balloons, and last time out, he encouraged me to buy a generator because of our harsh winter. On semi-good days, the alertness is there, but he’ll have trouble opening his eyes. He’s not able to answer, and when he does, people can’t understand him. On bad days, the dementia comes out in full bloom with hallucinations. On those days, he’s not allowed to be alone in his room because he tries to get up, and falls. What’s more, his personality changes have alienated him from friends and relatives. I think a lot of it is because Parkinson’s hereditary, and some relatives fear they might get it, too.

Thankfully, my family adopted him and visit. Bingo, movies, and other activities keep Mike engaged, and for a few moments he can forget his troubles. Sometimes I bring balloons for him and other residents. The staff has come to know me as “Balloon Lady.” When Mike embraces and hugs me, I know I’m in for a great visit. Sometimes though, the good visits can be tough because then I realize what we lost. Parkinson’s can’t destroy his spirit and his smile has endeared him to the aides and nurses. I’m hoping that a research scientist is reading this blog and works harder at coming up with effective treatment.

I’ve wish to thank my family and buddies who’ve supported me with Mike’s illness. My writing projects continue, and in my next book, I might introduce a character with Parkinson’s. I’m taking it one day at a time.

Barbara will be awarding an eBooks to a randomly drawn commenter.

1st prize Night to Dawn 25 PDF

2nd prize Steel Rose PDF

3rd prize Close Liaisons PDF

Mike Custer is husband of fiction writer Barbara Custer.


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