Hazel McHaffie

Lin Anderson

Creating ebooks

When I first mooted the idea of writing a regular blog, a couple of my potential readers told me they’d like to hear about the experiences of a writer. How I get out of blocks; why I make the choices I do; how I know when the book is finished. That kind of thing.

So it’s in this spirit that I thought I’d tell you about my main preoccupation this week. Converting my back-list into ebooks.

I’m indebted to the Society of Authors, and to Lin Anderson, for giving me the courage to tackle this task myself. You can pay other people to do it for you, but I’d be back to the old tension of accommodating other people’s timetables and standards then. The very things I’m trying to get away from.  OK, so there’s a downside: I’ll only have myself to blame if it goes pear-shaped. But until experience proves me wrong, I think that’s the lesser evil.

First step then: check my contracts. Carefully. Do I have the right to go ahead on my own? I can see no problem with four of the books; a possible question mark over three. And the Society of Authors confirms my assessment. So I start with three that are definitely in my control: the ones published in 2005 by Radcliffe Press.

I have the files for these, so the raw material is in my hands. But, since they were written, I’ve come a long way in learning the art of writing. Thanks to my editor, Jennie Renton, I can see instantly how to tighten up the text, and improve the books. I’m appalled at the number of times I used the words ‘just‘, and ‘well.’ And how did I not notice the litter of ellipses? So my first task is to edit – enough to make them better without changing them out of all recognition. Seven years on it’s much easier to see their faults, and much less painful to chop them.

Next I have to remove all the formatting. Once the text is clean I can then apply instructions to convert them into ebook formatting. I want the books to be compatible with different e-readers so I bear that in mind with the choice of fonts and layouts. But it’s not like using Word; you can’t just click on the toolbars. Things like chapter numbers, special layouts, and first lines all need their own set of instructions. Reminds me of the olden days with mainframe computers. Chug, chug, chug. But I’m soon creating customised styles with gay abandon. And surprise, surprise, really enjoying myself. Much, much less stressful than relying on others to do it instead. When they can find time. If.

So far so good. On to the rather more tedious but necessary end-pages stuff. Because I still want to acknowledge the lovely people who made it all possible in the first place. And I do want folk to use the material on my website to augment the books. And to know what else I’ve written.

Ahhahh! An unexpected bonus. I now have a chance to change those unattractive covers. I decide for the purposes of continuity, though, to stick with the picture part in the first editions, and simply clean up the text. Lots of the titles on my Kindle don’t have covers at all, but they do feel rather like books that’ve been mangled by some literary philistine.

Book covers

And here I had a special moment because I saw all six books lined up side by side for the very first time. Sad I know, but it gave me quite a thrill.

So, are we ready to roll? With DJ’s help I go to Smashwords and … hmm, much of this next bit of the process remains a mystery to me but thanks to his know-how and patience we have together created my very first ebook! Vacant Possession. The other two should follow in the next couple of days. And all be available to anyone next week.

I’m feeling quite shell shocked. It actually worked. I am a new age author!

, , , , ,

Comments

Kindle conversion

I feel like a kid at Christmas-time!

OK, I know. I admit it. I’ve been living in the dark ages as far as electronic books are concerned.  Positively antediluvian, in fact.

Shocking to think that it’s 30 years since Michael Hart dreamed up Project Gutenberg, at the time a seemingly eccentric and idealistic scheme to copy the texts of tens of thousands of books into electronic form and distribute them freely. A scheme which spearheaded the ebook revolution. And I’m only now catching on to it. OK, I’m hanging my head in shame.

But since Hart died this month perhaps this blog can serve as a tribute as well as a confession. My very resistance to ‘his’ technology means I  owe him space and respect today at the very least.

It all started in 1971 – before Microsoft, before PCs. Indeed, when Hart had a vision of a world ‘where you can walk into a public library and get 90 percent of the information you need copied on a disk that you don’t have to return’, computers were vast machines with huge tapes attended by men in white lab coats. I remember them well! My first university post required me to use those cumbersome appliances.

This was in the days prior to scanning machines too. Hart spent twenty years in obscurity laboriously typing away by hand. He copied 313 books (vast tomes like the works of Shakespeare, the Bible, the American Constitution included). He met with both ridicule and scepticism. But as all things electronic changed, his scheme gathered momentum and credibility, others latched onto his coat-tails, and this year Project Gutenberg boasts more than 36,000 items in its collection, written in 60 different languages, with an average of 50 new ebooks being added each week. Mind blowing, eh?My bookshelvesSo who was I to be so sceptical? Oh but I do so love ‘real’ books – the ones you hold in your hand, and recognise from their covers, and collect on your shelves. Their smell, their heft, their feel. The way they change with use and loving. Everything about them really.

And my prejudice has been stoked by the twin threats of diminishing royalties and piracy which hover over writers and publishers who venture down the electronic route. Not to mention the ongoing challenge of ever-changing technology.

But I do try not to be a troglodyte. Honestly, I do. And gradually, almost imperceptibly, I’ve come to grudgingly recognise the inducements of ebook publishing. Indeed I’m seriously considering it for myself. Hang it, I even went to an all-day conference on the subject run by the Society of Authors in Scotland on Saturday! And I’ve just discovered Lin Anderson’s blog devoted to it. Wahey! Positively steaming into the 21st century!

And of course, I do see the potential advantages of dozens of books accompanying me on my travels without risking a huge airport baggage charge or a complete spinal breakdown.

Anyway, back to my story … one day at a family gathering recently, I rashly admitted that I was thinking of investing in a Kindle … maybe … some day … soonish perhaps. Ears pricked. Eyes brightened. Number One Son (who’s a big fan) grabbed the iron while it was about 90 degrees and said he’d buy me one for my birthday and Christmas gift.

Wowwa. Steady on. I need to be sure … It’d be a waste of good money if …

Quick as a flash he boomerangs back: Borrow mine to see how you get on.

My aging brain couldn’t think of a single reason why not … unless … surely, he’d be bereft without it?

A KindleNext thing I know I’m sitting here with a Kindle in my hands. And I’m shamefacedly clawing back all my reservations and provisos and caveats. Absolutely loving the experience.

Fair does, my son did give the experiment a sporting chance – he downloaded two books high on my wish-list into the machine: Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult which is about surrogate pregnancy, and Annabel by Kathleen Winter which centres around a kiddie with ambiguous gender issues. Very much my bag. But even so. I expected a less than enjoyable experience. Instead I’ve been forced to eat a giant slice of humble pie and furthermore, I’ve become an actively zealous new convert.

I love that the text is so clear. I love the way that the page is always totally flat, no twisting to see the inside margins or fearing breaking the spine. And the compactness that slips in a bag or pocket so easily. And the automatic switch off if you’re inactive for any length of time. No worries about weight or damage or … well, anything.

Just so that I don’t forget my first impressions, however, I should note a couple of minor quibbles. It’s not so easy to check where the next break in text comes, just to see if I’ve got time to finish this section before my bus is due; you can’t just stick a finger in and flick real pages. There’s no back cover to give you a hook into the story, either. Or lovely appealing covers like these hard copy versions. And I’m not sure how you’d go about referencing a quote when the page numbers aren’t shown. But, like I say, small fry stuff in the big scheme of things.

So I’m a reformed character. Secretly I’m chanting, Roll on my birthday next month! And my next holiday in the sun. Let me see, just how many books will I take?

Yes, I salute you, Michael Hart.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments