Hazel McHaffie

Smashwords

The ebook saga

Wahey! It’s official. McHaffie novels have now launched into the ether!

Yes, as promised, an update on the ebook saga. (For any newcomers to this site I’m in the process of converting books from my backlist into electronic versions, and some of my visitors have requested information on the nitty gritty of a writer’s life.)

The first stage was surprisingly painless. Following advice from various people in the Society of Authors, I (with DJ’s invaluable assistance) duly researched Smashwords and set about applying their format to my Word documents. Everything went swimmingly and the three books duly went through the vetting process with flying colours. Here’s the evidence. So far so encouraging.

Book covers

Then … of course, there was bound to be a ‘then’. Smashwords informed us that they wouldn’t be able to issue the Kindle version until December at the earliest. So readers who use Sony or Apple or Kobo or Barnes & Noble or Diesel or Aldiko or Stanza machines can access them, but not Kindle people. Ahhhh. Pretty much every e-reader I know uses a Kindle.

OK. Never say die. We’ll convert it ourselves via Amazon. More careful research, and off we go, full of confidence after our breeze through Smashwords.

Except that the theory didn’t quite match the practice. Most things worked in the main, but weird illogical aberrations cropped up without rhyme or reason – with indentation and formatting and pictures. Only detectable in the downloaded version too, not on preview. (So what exactly is the point of a preview facility, then?) DJ, bless his cotton socks and unlimited patience, spent many solid hours plumbing the depths of each problem, and putting it right. And this week we’ve FINALLY cracked it. Vacant Possession, Paternity and Double Trouble are all now available to Kindle users.

We’ve learned a lot in the process, and hopefully future conversions will be less troublesome. And there’s a silver lining: I shan’t now be so sniffy about errors in the books I download in future, but spare a passing sympathetic thought for the poor unfortunate who had neither the time nor inclination to check every last page.

Oh, and if you find an error in one of mine, do let me know. One of the advantages of having the process in my control.

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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!

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