Warm weather, vacation, beaches, Cape trips all meant that I was on a fiction trip these past two months. I did keep plugging away at my non-fiction goal for the year with one non-fiction book (and it was a big one!), but it was mostly genre fiction along with a great new pizza cookbook that I added to my collection.
All fiction the last couple months. I’ve still got some non-fiction in progress, but it’s been slow going. With marathon training right around the corner, a bunch of non-fiction running books are on the TBR pile.
From this batch, I’d recommend Ove, if you, like me, are one of the few people that still haven’t read it. I’d also recommend another Nordic book, a bit bloodier than Ove, in Nesbo’s latest Harry Hole thriller. Keep reading people…..
This is one of those books that I count as a happy surprise. If I had stumbled across it in a store or at the library, I would not have been likely to pick it up. A book on plants crossed with the memoir of a geobotanist? Just completely outside my typical areas of interest.
But here is where book club saved me. I was looking for some non-fiction and something we hadn’t read before as a group. This certainly qualified and with some hesitancy, I added it to the our list. I’m glad I did. Everyone liked it.
Here are some quick thoughts on the fiction that I’ve read since Christmas. The two standouts for me were The Dry and The Underground Railroad and would recommend either book to just about anyone. The Underground Railroad should be required reading for all. I also really enjoyed Wolf Road, but it’s so unique and twisted and dark that I’d have to be really confident we have the same tastes to recommend it wholeheartedly, otherwise I’d risk having you look at me sideways when I rave about the book.
I am about a third of the way through the next set of revisions for Bottom of the World. I started this process right after finishing the Kindle formatting process for Shaking the Tree and I wondered if I couldn’t combine the two so that I was revising and reformatting the manuscript in the same pass. Was it possible? Would it save time? Check out my six lessons learned.
The short answer is no. I gave up after the first chapter. Revising and rewriting, at least the way I do it, need a flow. I like to read each scene out loud, then rewrite or revise, read again, hunt down typos and then make any necessary notes or continuity checks. Lather, rinse, repeat with the next chapter. Reformatting and layout threw a wrench in there. The whole process engages the old systems analyst side of my brain and just clogs up the creative narrative engine. So I chucked the idea. Mostly. Given the Kindle requirements I learned and the tips laid out in the Smashwords style guide, there are a number of things you can do while you’re in the manuscript to streamline the epub process later.
- Use Microsoft Word – While it does not throw out great HTML code for the Kindle, the .doc extension does play best with the Smashwords engine. With a few simple tweaks and a little arm twisting you can get Word to heel and behave.
- Use a clean template – It’s hard to get Word to stop sticking its nose into your document. Most of the time you won’t notice what it’s doing till you try to output it and you find Word has been messing with things under the hood. The best thing you can do is try to manage these tendencies. Use a blank, fresh document. Use one font (see #3). Use two styles: normal for all text and heading 1 for chapter titles. Use only bold and italics. That’s it. Don’t touch anything else. Don’t insert header or footers. Don’t use drop caps. Just keep it simple.
- Stick with one simple font – The truth is you have little control over how the text will be displayed in any given e-reader. Why worry about it. Stick with one of the tried and trued fonts (Times, Courier, serif, etc). It may not look pretty. It may be boring. But it won’t cause you headaches later.
- Forget pages – This one was surprisingly hard for me. I liked to write in page preview mode. Watching the pages pile up in my rearview gave me some sense of accomplishment and kept the writing momentum going. Switching to Web Layout felt awkward, but if you’re joining the brave world of self-epub, then it’s best to get completely out of legacy page mode.
- Pull the tab key off your keyboard – Tabs are like termites, they worm their way into the wood of your manuscript and are a royal pain to get rid of later. When you set up your Normal style (see #2), set the left line indent to .5″ and let the style handle it. Resist the urge to hit the tab key for indents. This is actually the part you can do while you are revising/rewriting. Once you’ve completed a scene, before you move on, turn on Word’s Show/Hide function (CTRL + *) and look for any stray tabs.
- Be wary of carriage returns – While you are looking for stray tabs, cull any extra carriage returns you may have thrown into your manuscript to try to fudge spacing. Remember in this brave new world, layout is less a priority. Smashwords recommends not more than four consecutive carriage returns to be on the same side. Otherwise you may find certain e-readers throwing in blank pages. I insert a page break where necessary (personal preference), then 4 returns, then the next chapter (styled with headline 1).
Following those steps during the revision process will help any e-format conversion you undertake to go a lot smoother. It’s rarely seamless and each format carries some additional specific headaches (I’m looking at your NCX file) but these simple switches can cut down your turnaround time.
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