Archive for the ‘ Books ’ Category

Over the past three years or so since I first published my “Take Pride in your eBook Formatting” series of tutorials here on the site, a lot of people have asked if I would make the tutorials available as an eBook as well. For a number of reasons I never created an eBook on the subject, in part because I simply could not spare the time to put it together. If I wanted to release something like this as an eBook it would clearly have to be cleaned up and expanded upon in order to warrant any sort of price tag attached to it.

Well, over the past few weeks I took a look at the tutorials again and I have finally decided to create an eBook on the subject of eBook formatting. Since my tutorial series has become the de facto standard in the industry and is being used by countless authors to prepare their books for the market, I felt it was finally time to take it to the next level.

As I pointed out above, creating a mere reprint of the blog tutorials is not at all what I have in mind. Instead I have spend these past weeks reworking the instructions to give the entire process a clearer structure, but also to add many of the topics and elements that I did not touch upon in these tutorials. The tutorials were designed, really, to get people started, but with a book I feel it requires a lot more in-depth information to be of any value at all. It needs to be more complete, and as a result, the book will consist of a section with basic techniques that will get you to your first eBook, much the way the tutorials did, but in addition, the book will contain a section with advanced techniques in which I will describe how to achieve certain effects and how to handle certain formatting challenges that pop up every day, but require a bit more explanation and additional skill. Naturally, I am trying to keep it very accessible still to ensure readers can easily follow the instructions and examples.

Over the years I have seen many blogs that touch upon the subject of eBook formatting and some of the posts I came across were frightening—in the sense that they promoted techniques that are highly unsafe. While they achieved the goal for that particular individual, oftentimes the approach was nothing short of reckless, using very specific device capabilities without pointing out to the user that this behavior is not supported by other devices or that it can actually create unexpected behavior and lead to page corruption. Clearly, these authors never had the time to fully explore the techniques they were proposing, or didn’t have the foresight that their suggestion could create more problems than they actually solved.

In my book I have maintained my long-held stance that eBook compatibility is one of the highest priorities. The goal is to create eBooks that look good on any reader out there, whether it is a tiny cell phone or a large desktop computer. I am a professional eBook formatter (Click here for more information if you are interested in my services) and I have prepared more than 700 books for release in the market, by an enormously wide range of authors and styles. Of these 700 books not a single one has been known to cause formatting problems, clearly showing that with insight and forethought, it is possible to create eBooks that are compatible even in a market as fragmented as eBooks.

I am sure it won’t surprise you that many of the techniques outlined in my book will cover the subject of eBook formatting from that angle, offering up safe solutions, or, where no safe solutions are available, at least pointing out the risks and challenges and how they can be minimized by the formatter.

Filled with tips, tricks, techniques, examples, screenshots and plenty of code, the book will hopefully become a one-stop solution for all authors who want to dive in to the technical side of their eBook projects.


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We are heading into year six of the digital book revolution and while there have been tremendous advancements in the sector, one thing has not changed a bit. There still is no magic bullet for eBook formatting. It’s not even anywhere on the horizon.

Dragonlance1In a time where eBook readers have become increasingly powerful and capable, and where more authors than ever put their content out in the market, one would think that formatting manuscripts to publish them as eBooks should be as trivial as exporting them from a word processor, but alas, that is not the case. Whether it’s releases from small indie authors or titles from major publishers, I continued to stumble across eBooks that are shoddy at best. Just a few months ago I was re-reading the Dragonlance Chronicles by Hickman/Weiss—a staple of high fantasy literature that has been in print for 30 years now, and yet, the eBook versions are an abomination in many ways. While it is evident that some work went into the books, they are nonetheless riddled with formatting errors that clearly show that no one at Wizards of the Coast took a single look at the books once they were formatted, let away read them before they went out the virtual door.

Is that truly the promise of the digital age? That we have to content ourselves with mediocre quality and sloppy presentations? It is just because it’s easy and cheap to produce and anyone with a computer can do it? Or is it because price points have come down so much, resulting in content creators and publishers no longer caring about the products the way they used to, because it’s all considered shovelware, anyway?

I’ve said it many times, but it is well worth repeating. The formatting of your eBook is every bit as important as your cover and your story. If your book becomes unreadable because line breaks are mutilated, margins jump all over the place, fonts get butchered, graphics become indistinguishable or errant page breaks destroy the flow, you are in trouble. I have put aside more than a handful of books after a few chapters because I found the reading experience too egregious — and I am sure that I am not the only one. (I remember vividly, the first one this ever happened to me was Charlie Courtland’s “Dandelions in the Garden,” for which I paid $9.99 on the Kindle and had to put down after two chapters because every single page was riddled with a multitude of typos, grammatical errors and formatting flaws-all of which the author herself considered a matter of personal taste and absolutely acceptable.)

Sure, the temptation is enormous as a writer. You have finally completed your book after a year’s worth of writing and—hopefully—tweaking, and without a publisher to hold you back for another year, you are eager to put your work out in the market, in the hands of readers. Nothing wrong with that. The problem really starts when you believe that the “Export as ePub” function in your word processor is your road to an instant release.

Kitt PirateWord processors are a great piece of software, but they are designed to write text and to do a bit of layout work, perhaps. All of it with your computer screen or a printed page in mind. Absolutely nothing in a word processor is designed for the requirements of eBooks. The famed “Export as ePub” function was nothing but an afterthought in that software, that has been included because someone thought it may help sell a few extra copies of the word processor or entice the growing army of aspiring digital authors to finally upgrade their software package.
eBooks have very specific requirements, capabilities and limitations, and they are not adequately represented by word processors. Things that look right on the screen or the printed page may not work the same way on an eBook reader.

While it is possible to create a good eBook with a word processor, it requires intimate familiarity with the software’s features. If, for example, you do not know what the difference between a soft and a hard line break is, let away how to create each, or if you do not know how to properly space text and paragraphs, the odds are, you won’t be able to create a solid eBook output. If you’re not familiar with your word processor’s style functions and are not religiously and obsessively using them, or if you do not know how to properly create an automatic bulleted list in your word processor, chances are that you are not ready to export your manuscript as an eBook using the “Export as ePub” feature. The list goes on like this.

I am not here to make you feel bad, because considering how complex word processors are these days, few of us truly master the software. But that’s not the point. You don’t have to, if you’re a writer. Your job is to write a cool story, pack it all up nicely in a suspenseful and engaging way that keeps readers glued to your words. Making sure it fits the technical limitations of an eBook reader is someone else’s job. Or rather, it should be. Someone with an understanding of the technical side of things, and with the ability to whip your writing into such shape that it works on any device. It’s a specialized field of expertise where the experience you purchase will save you countless hours of headache and will protect you from having to deal with potentially countless upset readers and customers.

It may be fulfilling to see your complex layout with text flowing around images and wonderfully elaborate drop cap initials on your iPad after exporting it as an ePub file from your word processor, but have you ever wondered, what the book may look like on another device? An early-generation Kindle, a Nook, perhaps, or the Kobo reader? What about a tiny cell phone or a retina computer retina display? Not all devices that people read your books on are equal. There are huge gaps in capabilities between various devices, and your software exporter cannot—and will not—accommodate them. It won’t even try. It will try to create what the programmer who wrote it deemed best, even if it means that in the real world you are leaving 90% of the market by the roadside.

Even within device families there are enormous capability differences. The Kindles, for example, by far the most popular eBook readers, range from a device that is barely capable of displaying an image (Kindle 1) to a full-blown tablet that can do virtually anything, including play games. Most Kindle devices have serious glitches and firmware bugs that got progressively worse with each generation. I made a blog post about the subject three years ago and it is frightening to see that Amazon never addressed as single one of these “10 Things Amazon should correct in the Kindle”. So, when you format an eBook, you definitely need to be mindful of these differences and idiosyncrasies at all times.

But back to even the general capabilities. Amazon for all the great stuff they’ve been doing for the eBook revolution, has completely dropped the ball on various fronts over the past years, clearly indicating that the company simply looks forward without ever trying to patch up previous mistakes. As a result there is no easy way to bridge these different capabilities in any workable way.

Ideally you would want the ability to create dedicated eBooks for devices with different capabilities, but sadly Amazon and every other distribution outlet does not allow for that. You have to have one build of your book that serves all devices. While Amazon allows a bit of conditional formatting, it is in reality very basic stuff that is so rudimental that it is mostly useless. Therefore you are forced to build your eBooks for a common denominator and you have to make sure it will work on all the devices out there.

No “Export to ePub” feature does that, which brings us back to the point that you should work with people who specialize on that kind of thing. As you may know, I have written an extensive eBook formatting tutorial some time ago, and I am offering eBook and print formatting as services. The truly amazing thing about the tutorial is that over time it has become the de facto standard for the industry and that that even now, four years after I wrote it, it is still valid and applicable in every single aspect. In a world where technology moves at such a rapid pace, it is clearly a testimony to the quality of the underlying fundamentals of the tutorial. Every book formatted following the tutorial still works on every device out there, and it is still the same general process I apply when formatting my clients’ eBooks.

On the IslandIf you would rather focus on your writing and leave the technical aspects of your ebooks to people like me, feel free to send me an email. I have formatted over 700 books, all of which are available in eBook stores worldwide, and many of them are full blown bestsellers selling hundreds of thousands of copies. And among these roughly 700 books, not a single one has caused any problems in the past!

If you want to make sure your readers are happy with the eBook you sold them, and if you want to make sure the books won’t be returned because of weird glitches or formatting errors, feel free to take a look at this page where I am outlining my services and my fees. I am happy to work with all sorts of authors and publishers, big and small, to make sure they can publish their books with confidence.

Forget about the promises of a magic bullet. It does not exist. Instead, take the proper steps to ensure the quality of your eBook from the inside out.

I recently did a lengthy podcast interview the great folks over at Darkstation and I thought I’d let you all know that the podcast is now live on their site in the “Darkcast” section.

Darkstation Logo

The podcast has the title Making Zombies with Fire and covers a lot of ground. Not only did we talk about my current game project, Deathfire, but also about some of the games and projects I’ve worked before, including a brief discourse into my literary forays with the Jason Dark dime novels.

Interestingly, the discussion also revolved around things such as general game design philosophies and how my approach has changed over the years, as well as other very interesting topics that fans of my games may find interesting. So, waste no more time. Head over to the Darkstation Darkcast and listen for yourself.

[Just a quick note here before you read this article. Since writing this blog post I have received a contributor copy of "The Spirit of Poe" from Jeremiah Wright. However, I still have to point out that I received the copy in mid-March 2013 and only after relentlessly sending emails, requesting a copy. Considering that the book was supposed to be published in October 2011, and was actually published in July 2012, this is a substantial delay, which was bridged over by deception and complete radio silence in-between.]

As many of you may recall, in the past year I have occasionally talked about The Spirit of Poe, an anthology that was designed to support the Poe House in Baltimore after it lost its city-sponsored funding. A company by the name of Literary Landmark Press put out a call to writers at the time, asking for submissions for the book and I was one of those who answered the call.

Sadly, things went downhill from there. At first it seemed minor. Delays prevented the book from making its 2011 Halloween publishing date. Okay, fair enough, I thought the timeline had been a tad unrealistic to begin with. but then the months started to drag on. Not a word from the publisher. Eventually I sent a message to Jeremiah “Jerry” Wright, the editor of the book who also goes by the name WJ Rosser, and asked for clarification. He explained to me that various circumstances held back the introduction of the book, which he felt was crucial to its credibility.
Very well then. More months passed and not a word form the publisher. Eventually the authors got upset as a collective and we started to email each other, trying to get to the bottom of this. At first Rosser tried to avoid the conversation by ignoring emails and questions. After some time he had to budge, though and offered more excuses, but promising the book would be available shortly, currently being typeset.
Sadly for him, someone actually checked with the company Rosser used to lay out the book and found out that they did not even have materials to work on the project. Again, we queried Rosser for comment. Reluctantly he responded, telling everyone that the company was wrong and that he had in fact delivered all the materials. And so it went, month by month.

Rosser never made any attempt to inform his contributors or the public about the status or progress of the book and one day, about a month ago or so, it popped up on Amazon. For the Kindle first, and then as a print edition.

Naturally, we were all very excited, especially when for the first time in a year, Rosser volunteered an email in which he stated that contributor copies had been sent out and should be with everyone within a few days. Well, weeks passed and nothing arrived. Not on my doorstep, and not on anyone else’s, it seems.
And that was when Jerry Rosser practically vanished…

At this point I sent five emails to him, asking for clarification what happened to the contributor copies. Not one of them he responded to. Other authors sent emails to him, asking for information and their contractually promised payment. Not a peep. Rosser all but ignored the questions. but there’s more. When people started to post questions on his website. He deleted them, and when people posted question on the book’s Facebook page, he also removed them as quickly as a button drop. When one author posted a negative review on Amazon’s website, pointing out the publisher’s fraudulent behavior, it, too, was removed within a few days—undoubtedly upon request by the Rosser, the publisher.

So, quite evidently, he is out there and he is monitoring what is going on, and deliberately refuses to talk, deliberately cheating the contributors out of their money and the obligatory contributor copies of the book.

It is not usually my style to openly comment on deals going sour and relationships going bad, but this time I felt compelled to speak up because I feel that not only I have been jilted, but many of you might be at risk of being cheated as well. Whenever someone purchases a copy of “The Spirit of Poe,” they expect the majority of the revenues to go to the Poe House for a charitable cause. Sadly, at this time, I have reason to believe that that is not happening.

Since Literary Landmark Press has cheated every single writer in the anthology out of their payment, and since the company has never provided any actual copies of the book to its contributors, there is little that would convince me to assume that the publisher is honest enough to actually make true on their promise to donate proceeds to the Poe House.

I wanted to bring this issue to your attention so that you may decide for yourself, in case you consider buying a copy. Meanwhile I will try to find a different outlet for the short story The Blackwood Murders that I contributed to the book, so that people interested in reading it will not have to actually support a crook.

The announcement of the next generation of Amazon’s Kindle has set the eBook world abuzz once again. Not only are the new models more attractive than their predecessors, but they also expand the market in new, untapped territories. For authors, this is great news, of course, but often, where there’s light there’s also darkness.

Kindle PaperwhiteIn this case, the cloud on the horizon lies in the technical specs of these new devices. With a bit of worry I have observed over the past year or two that the eBook market is becoming more and more fragmented. In a very bad way, it reminds me of the mobile game space I have also been working in, where, at times, it was necessary for us to build up to 200 different versions of the same app to make sure it properly supports all the handsets in the market.

While the eBook market is not nearly as bad, of course, there is an increasing trend of changes – or call them features and improvements – that can work like sand in a ball bearing.

Fortunately we have to contend with only two generic eBook formats at this time – MOBI/KF8 and EPUB – and it is easy enough to build eBooks for both formats from the same sources.

However, since the inception of the iPad, problems have cropped up that force eBook publishers and formatters to think very hard about what it is they want to do and how to achieve the desired effect. Fixed-layout books and their particular quirks, and the lack of a general standard to create them, is just one of the issues publishers have to tackle these days, and it is exacerbated by the fact that even within the Kindle line of products, it is not possible to really create specialized builds for each platform. A fixed-format Kindle Fire eBook will inevitably make its way onto a regular Kindle – where it doesn’t belong – because Amazon does not give publishers the possibility to create specialized builds. As a result Kindle owners will look at a book that is horribly mangled and probably unreadable, while it looks mesmerizing on a Kindle Fire. I am not sure in whose best interest that is, but that’s the way Amazon does it.

The reason I am writing about this is because according to Amazon, the new Kindle Paperwhite line of models offers 65% more pixels. In plain English, it means it has a higher resolution than previous Kindles. That is really great news in regards to sharpness of the text, of course, but from a formatting standpoint it causes certain problems. An image that was perfectly sized for the Kindle’s 600-pixel resolution to date, will suddenly appear much, much smaller on the page. In many instances, this will not be overly dramatic, but if you use images deliberately as a design element, it will force you to rethink how you approach images in eBooks. Just image how tiny the image will look like when it’s being displayed on the new Kindle Fire HD with a resolution that is three times as wide as that of the original Kindle.


How would you like your artful chapter heading to look like?

In the past I have sized images to suit the 600 pixel screen. It helped keep the file size in bay – why bulk up a book’s footprint for no apparent reason, especially since the publisher is being charged for the delivery of the book based on the size of the file. This approach may no longer work, however, if you want high quality images across the board.

I’ve been therefore rethinking my strategy and going forward I am sizing images to a higher resolution and then determine their on-screen size, using scaling through my CSS style sheet. This allows me to make sure the image will always appear the same on the display, without degrading it on higher resolution screens. If anything, it may degrade the quality scaling images down to the older Kindle models.

If Amazon offered platform specific builds for their line of Kindles, this would not be a problem, but things being what they are, a one-size-fits-all approach is necessary, and hopefully, this will do the job.

In many ways, I wish that Amazon would make me part of their Kindle design team or at least would allow me to work with them. After all, I’ve had over 35 years of experience as a software engineer in arenas that were a whole lot more complex than an eBook reader.

Many of you may remember my post 10 Things Amazon should correct in the Kindle from a year ago, and it is rather disheartening to see that virtually none of these issues have been addressed. In fact, if you look closely, not a single one of the issues has been addressed to date. While I have not seen a Kindle Paperwhite at this time, I doubt there will be many changes in the firmware that would address these issues. It seems to be more of a change in terms of the form factor and a hardware upgrade than a rework of the actual reader implementation – but I could be wrong, of course.

To me as a software engineer, author, publisher and professional eBook formatter, the omissions are truly painful to behold. amazon has done great things for books, by truly establishing eBooks as a reading medium, making it the new mainstream standard, all the while opening the doors for authors to publish their own work. All great achievements and I honestly doff my hat to Amazon for their incredible foresight and the vision they had during the past three years.

That, however, makes the technical shortsightedness all the more prevalent. All of the issues I raised before have been around since day one, and clearly someone within Amazon should have championed their correction. It did not happen. Not even when people like myself and others have called them out.

Amazon has never been a software or hardware developer before the Kindle and as such it was to be expected that there would be hiccups in the product and the delivery. No big deal. However, the market has reached such a maturity, that glitches like inconsistent text justification, the lack of transparency in PNG images and other omissions become glaring issues that should have been resolved two years ago.

The Kindle has to mature and it has to mature with foresight or we are gong down the road of mobile games, where you need 200 individual builds of an app. There are great developers out there who would have been happy to assist Amazon in their objective, but instead of embracing them, Amazon has often shunted them.

A command-line MOBIGEN program is just not the same as the luxury you get out of a program like Calibre. Amazon should have long looked into creating high quality content creation tools that help authors to increase the quality of their output. Too many self-published books are still created with an MS Word export or an InDesign plug-in that cause more problems than they solve.

Amazon should also have long started to put in place platform-specific delivery of eBooks, along with was for authors to properly set up books for each of these platforms.

Amazon should also have expanded their eBook format in ways that are truly practical without having to jump through hoops. The introduction of KF8 was a horrid debacle to say the least. Confusing authors and readers alike, the implementation is not what it should be – many things could have been implemented much more efficiently, making it easier for formatters to prepare the eBooks while also giving them a certain level of control over the appearance of their content. If you’ve ever tried to take a look at a black and white line-art image in the “Night” setting of your Kindle, you know what I mean, and the whole image sizing issue puts the dot on the i, I think.

I don’t want to harp on this unnecessarily excessively, but it also appears as if Amazon has long forgotten its pledge to bring KF8 support to the Kindle 3 generation of devices. As far as I can tell, that has never happened either, and yet, the train of model innovation moves on…

With all the new glitz and glamour that accompanies every new Kindle model, for publishers, each new generation brings with it a new set of challenges. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but as I said, I wish Amazon would allow me to work with them to help them make these transitions as easy as possible, at least from a content creation standpoint. If anyone from Amazon is reading this, you know where to find me…

Today I would like to welcome Angela White as a guest to my blog, as part of her blog tour to celebrate the release of her latest novel “Adrian’s Eagle.”


gun barrelWhen someone says the word Apocalypse, the mind immediately conjures up images of whole cities burning while zombies or crazed people run wild in the streets. There’s always arson and looting, rape and murder, and none of the innocent people caught in the crossfire have a weapon or even know how to defend themselves. Once a little time has gone by, all the characters, good or bad, pack heat, and self defense becomes as important as food and water.

In a real apocalypse, the same will be true, but it won’t be just other people that are dangerous. Alone or in a group, protection will be vital and even those who loath weapons and abhor violence will carry them. There simply won’t be any other choice.

Like the refugees in the clip below from my new release, survivors will have to go searching for these life-savers. As time goes by, guns and bullets for them will get harder to find. Stockpiles should be gathered during the weeks after the apocalypse.

“Seven very gifted survivors are destined to rebuild their country after a nuclear apocalypse…If they can stay alive long enough to find each other. Impossible to put down.” – The Review Blog

“Are you sure?” Adrian cut her off. “Don’t turn down destiny. Sometimes, you only get one knock.”
He moved toward the driver’s side and the air suddenly went cold, plunging the Eagles into instant alertness.
Angela blanched as a wave of panic swept over her. “Your gun!” The Witch ordered sharply.
“Boss, watch out!” Kyle’s hand dropped for the Glock, already knowing he couldn’t make it from where he stood.
Bang!
The single shot seemed to echo forever and all of them, except Adrian, turned to see where it had come from.
Adrian stared at the dead rattlesnake by his tire, listening to its mutated tails twitch, and the Eagles around them stilled, waiting to see if she would be treated the same as one of the men.
“You have one request.”
Angela calmly re-holstered and used the moment to make it all official. “I’ve already asked it.”

Full of realistic and fantasy situations, the Life After War series is a combination of more than 7 genres, so there’s a good chance of everyone liking it and learning a few things about survival at the same time. You can get a free copy at the link below, of the first book in the series. It’s free for all of this year to celebrate the possible end of the world on 12/21/2012.

Adrian's EagleAdrian’s Eagles — Three months after the War of 2012, Safe Haven refugee camp has made it to South Dakota and now holds six of the seven special survivors meant to lead the rebuilding of their country -but it can’t be done until they find a safe place to settle… and who can think of peace when there’s a huge camp of foreign invaders less than a day behind their group and they only want one thing? Safe Haven and everyone inside the light.
Watch the trailer for this series
Free- The Survivors – The bestselling novel that started it all. – See on iTunes
More Scenes of the Apocalypse

Btw, a huge thanks to Guido for hosting me on my Scenes of the Apocalypse release tour. Have you read Dead by Dawn yet? It’s only $2.99! I just downloaded a copy to my Kindle. Gonna have a great summer of reading by the time I gather up all these new books!

This week a new animated movie makes it to theaters, taking a humorous look at the world of pirates. Aptly titled The Pirates! Band of Misfits you may have seen the trailer of the movie flicker over your television screen for the past weeks. If not, well, all is not lost – here is a look at the trailer for you.



This film is an old-school stop-motion film, created by the same people who made the Wallace & Gromit shorts and movies, as well as the movie Chicken Run, in case you remember that one. So with that in mind, I think it is a sure bet that “The Pirates!” will be a fun film that is enjoyable for the whole family.

Why am I pitching you on this movie, you wonder, no doubt. No, I did not work on the film, I did not write it either and no, I did not appear unit nor did I voice any of the characters. I did, however, write a Pirate book for children some time ago, and I felt this was as good a time as any to remind everyone of it.

Kitt Pirate cover

Called Kitt Pirate: Snaggletooth’s Treasure, my book is a chapter book adventure story for 4th graders, in which a young pirate captain is trying to hunt down a legendary treasure. The adventure is fraught with peril and surprises, as it keeps young readers enthralled, and has been reviewed very favorably by readers and school librarians.

“And why does it say Ben Oliver for the author?” you may wonder when you look at it. Rest assured, I did not direct you to the wrong book. Ben Oliver is a pen name that I adopted for the book, because I did not want children to accidentally stumble across all my horror books the first time they type in the the author’s name in Google or so.

So, if you want to get your kids in the mood for the movie, or if you want them to be able to follow up the movie with some additional children-friendly pirate fare, Kitt Pirate might be a great pick for you — not to mention that your purchase would make me very happy. It is available as a paperback, as well as an eBook for all conceivable eBook readers.

Here are some quick access links for you to find the book.


Amazon Kindle
Amazon Paperback
Barnes&Noble Nookbook
Barnes&Noble Paperback
Apple iBookstore
Kobo eBookstore

The anatomy of writing

When you read a book, it is sometimes hard to fathom the amount of work that goes into the words on the page. It just all seems so natural, flowing with ease at just the right pace to create suspense or tension.

The reality of writing is that it is a lengthy and time-consuming process. The job of a writer is not only to cough up the words, but writing a book is a process during which you are making thousands of decisions. All the cool events in that story you’re reading need to be thought up and detailed out. Is that corridor leading to the left or to the right, or is it perhaps leading downstairs? What about furniture and decor? Does it look spartan or is it richly furnished, and if so, with what?

Fu Man Chu’s Vampire Lettering

Every scene in a book requires countless decisions to be made. Some come naturally out of the overall context, but many times, these decisions can be hard to make for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is hard for a writer to make a decision, because we don’t want to commit to something just yet, as the story might require something different later on.

The same decision making process often applies to the writing itself. Things such as which words to use, how to describe settings and events, how to paint characters, their idiosyncrasies, their speech patterns and behavior, all of these things require forethought and a lot of decision making. As a result many writers — myself included — write their books in iterations.

I want to show you how this works and how a piece of text is shaped and polished in such an iterative process, from its first draft to the final version you will find in the published book.

When I write a book I typically do not get up with grammatical details and style all that much. I try to write what is in my mind, without losing to much time so I won’t lose my train of thought. I find that many times I sink into what is called a “writer’s dream.” It is a time where I am writing and I am completely focused on the story. During those times I will see the scene I am writing before my mind’s eye, like a movie, and I am caught up in it, simply dumping it into the computer the way I dream it. I see characters act, react, and talk, allowing me to adapt believable speech patterns and behaviors for those characters. Oftentimes I will actually see specific actors in these parts, helping me to visualize the scene unfold even better. Before you ask, yes, I do have an actor I see when I think of Jason Dark but I will not tell you who it is. No offense, but I just don’t want you to have any external connotations when reading about Jason Dark.

Once I have written down the story, I have what is called a First Draft. This first draft is a rough unpolished piece of writing that will require a serious amount of work before it is ready for the prime time. Below you will see an excerpt from “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” the most recent Jason Dark adventure. This is the first draft version. It is the result of my initial brain dump, complete with typos and errors, without any work or cleanup done to it.

A pale moon appeared from behind its veil of clouds and cast its hues across the gaslit streets of London, the pale blue fingers crawling across the desiccated features of a strange figure hiding in a darkened doorway. The city was bustling, as always, oblivious to the evil that walked the cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its inhabitants.
A breeze blew from the south, pushing fresh sea air through the city and finally driving out the stench that had accompanied the dog days of late summer a few days ago. In serpentine wisps, a growing layer of fog wove its way through the moist night air, moving into every side street and court in the dockyards where ships were moored and guarded by the dim light of unsteady lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garbs. Not a muscle moved underneath the parchment skin. The man’s cadaverous features were mummified, like parchment, and blotched with rot. The skin was hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds with no sign of life. A velvet hat was crowning the man’s head, all blue, except for a thin, red rim and a small gold tassel.

Once my first draft is done, I will usually set it aside for at least two weeks without looking at it or even thinking about it. It is simmering there while I will lose my immediate attachment to the words I wrote. The reason for this is that I want to have a fresh approach to the book. I don’t want to get stuck in the same though patterns I had when writing the book. I want to read it more like a reader than the writer.
So, after some time has passed I will read the book. Very slowly, sentence for sentence. I will look for spelling errors, I will will check the sentences for grammatical issues. Does it sound right? Did I get my point across or have I been overly obtuse? I look for instances where I could perhaps shuffle around a sentence so it becomes more powerful.

Below you will find the same paragraph as above, only this time I have made a first revision pass at it. Note how certain things have changed. These might look like small changes, but the thing about really good writing is that its beauty is in the details. One word changed can make a world of difference and truly elevate the impact of the text to a new level.

The pale face of the moon appeared from behind its veil of clouds and cast silvery hues across the gaslit streets of London, its pale blue fingers crawling across the desiccated features of a strange figure hiding in a darkened doorway. The city was bustling, as always, all but oblivious to the evil that walked the cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its inhabitants.
A crisp breeze blew from the south, pushing fresh sea air through the city and finally driving out the stench that had accompanied the dog days of late summer only a week ago. In serpentine wisps, a growing layer of fog wove its way through the moist night air, conquering every side street and court in the dockyards where ships were moored and guarded by the dim light of unsteady lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garbs. Not a muscle moved underneath the parchment skin. The man’s cadaverous features were mummified, like parchment, and blotched with ages of rot. The skin was hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds that showed no life. A velvet hat was crowning the man’s head, all blue, except for a thin , red rim and a small gold tassel.

Once I have completed this first revision, I will immediately go back and read the book again. This is important to me because I now have the entire story still in my mind and remember what happened through the book. This is crucial to make sure the story remains consistent, and so that forward references are correct. I can mentally check if the information a character is referring to is actually know to him at that point in time. As a writer it os all too easy to get caught up in the writer’s dream that we forget to introduce key elements, hints or even people.
During this second reading I will also constantly keep an eye on my verbs. I will look for stronger verbs wherever I can to make sure the sentences get across their meaning as powerfully as possible. In addition, I will look at my word pictures, the nouns and descriptions I am using, to ensure my writing is as evocative as it can be.
At this stage I will also pay close attention to the rhythm and flow of the text. I will check the beginnings of sentences to make sure they are varied and interesting. If I notice too many sentences in a row starting with “He,” for example, I know it is time to shake things up a little and work some rephrasing magic.

Below you will once again find the same passage as before, only this time after I went over it a second time. Once again you will notice the subtle differences, and you will hopefully see how these small changes actually do make a big difference.

The pale face of the moon emerged from behind its veil of clouds, and cast silvery hues across the gaslit streets of London, its pale blue fingers creeping across the desiccated features of a strange figure hiding in a darkened doorway. The city was bustling, as usual, all but oblivious to the evil that walked the cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its denizens.
A crisp breeze blew from the south, pushing fresh sea air through the city, and finally driving out the stench that had accompanied the dog days of late summer only a week ago. In serpentine wisps, a growing layer of fog wove its way through the moist night air, conquering every side street and court in the dockyards where moored ships groaned, guarded over by the unsteady light of dim lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garbs. Impassive, not a muscle moved underneath the parchment skin. The man’s cadaverous features were mummified, and blotched with ages of rot. The skin was hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds that showed no signs of life. A velvet hat was crowning the man’s head, all blue, except for a thin, red rim and a small gold tassel.

At this time I am usually close to what I want my text to be. If I am not yet confident, I will repeat the process above until I feel the text has reached a level of maturity I am after. With each iteration, however, it becomes more and more important to keep the original intention in mind. It is all too easy to completely lose the original voice of the text by accident, which is, of course, not something you want to happen.

It is time to give the book one more read. During this stage I will try to put on my reader hat. I will read the book and take note of things that stick out, such as spelling errors and typos, or missing or misplaced punctuation marks. I will also note down adverbs I encountered to go back after the read and see if I can perhaps remove them, or replace them with stronger verbs still. This I do after the read, because at this stage I want to experience the story and not break up the reading with a lot of editing time.

Below you will find the excerpt from “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” that you should be familiar with by now, with these changes applied.

The pale face of the moon emerged from behind its veil of clouds, and cast silvery hues across the gaslit streets of London, its pale blue fingers creeping across the desiccated features of a strange figure hiding in a darkened doorway. The city was bustling, as usual, all but oblivious to the evil that walked the cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its denizens.
A crisp breeze blew from the south, pushing fresh sea air through the city, and driving out the stench at last, that had accompanied the dog days of late summer only a week ago. In serpentine wisps, a growing layer of fog wove its way through the moist night air, conquering every side street and court in the dockyards where moored ships groaned, guarded over by the unsteady light of dim lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garbs. Impassive, not a single muscle moved underneath the parchment skin. The man’s cadaverous features were mummified, and blotched with ages of rot. The skin was hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds that showed no signs of life. A velvet hat was crowning the man’s head, all blue, except for a thin blood-red rim and a small gold tassel.

At this point, I usually ask my wife, Lieu, to read it before I actually publish it. She is the Jason Dark series editor and knows the characters perhaps better than I do. She was usually also the person who helped me put together the storyline by providing input, suggestions and ideas, so she is very well suited to let me know when a character in my book acts out-of-character.

Lieu also has an uncanny ability to pick up on lose ends pr things that make no sense. She will point these out to me and ask questions, such as, “Why did the bad guy wait all this time? He could have killed them on page 34 already.” It is then up to me to make things fit and perhaps add a sentence or reference in certain places of the story to make sure everything in the story happens for a reason.

What comes next is crucial. At the same time it is, sadly, the step that all too many independent and self-published authors skip — the Editor.

I will send my book off to my editor, my friend Terry Coleman, in the case of the Jason Dark books. The job of the editor is essentially the same I have done in all the above steps, only that now it is being performed by a trained expert who has no prior affiliation with the text. He has a completely new set of eyes, he has a wealth of experience, he is a walking dictionary, thesaurus and etymologist all wrapped in one person. Terry knows things I don’t. He notices things I don’t. He sees misplaced modifiers that I read over. He notices when something doesn’t make sense or feels stilted. He knows dialects and can polish the things people say, and so forth. In short, an editor is an egg-laying-wool-milk-pig.

Terry will return my book to me with all sorts of corrections and comments inserted as notes in the document. I will accept or reject these comments and correction suggestions at my own discretion, but even when I disagree with the suggestions he is making, I will ALWAYS think about them before dismissing them. Most of the time I find that he is correct and that a small clarification here, or a restructuring there may lead to a stronger emotional response, or will simply improve the writing in general.

Below you will find the same passage we’ve been looking at all this time in its final version, after Terry went over it.

The pallid face of the moon emerged from behind its veil of clouds, and cast silvery hues across the gaslit streets of London, its pale blue fingers creeping across the desiccated features of a strange figure hiding in a darkened doorway. The city was bustling, as usual, all but oblivious to the evil that walked the cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its denizens.
A crisp breeze blew from the south, pushing fresh sea air through the city, and finally driving out the stench that had accompanied the dog days of late summer only a week ago. In serpentine wisps, a growing layer of fog wove its way through the moist night air, conquering every side street and court in the dockyards where moored ships groaned, guarded over by the unsteady light of dim lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garbs. Impassive, not a single muscle moved underneath the parchment skin. The man’s cadaverous features were mummified, and blotched with ages of rot. The skin was hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds that showed no signs of life. A velvet hat crowned the man’s head, all blue, except for a thin blood-red rim and a small gold tassel.

Now the book is finally ready to be read by general audiences. I will format it as an eBook and for the print edition, and will proceed to unleash it onto the unsuspecting public.

As you can see, writing a book is a lot more involved than simply putting down the initial text. It is a process that is iterative and very time consuming, and can be extremely draining. But if done right, the end result can be exceedingly rewarding, for both, the writer and the reader equally. A carefully crafted book is a thing of beauty and well worth the effort.

If I whet your appetite for some more, make sure to get yourself a copy of the book now for only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo for all your favorite eBook reading devices. And if you don’t own an eBook reader, you know, of course, that you can download Kindle software or ePub readers for pretty much any gadget and computer for free.

If you’ve been following my blog or my Twitterstream, you will be aware that I’ve recently finished a new Jason Dark story. I began writing this series of supernatural mysteries taking place in Victorian England about 3 years ago. Revolving around the occult detective Jason Dark — kind of a Sherlock Holmes character facing paranormal cases — and his cast of sidekicks that includes Siu Lin and his friend Herbert, I’ve always been attracted and intrigued by the possibilities this series offered to me as a writer.

Fu Man Chu's Vampire CoverThe most recent adventure, the eleventh in the series, is a perfect example, why. Titled “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” the title alone says it all. I love to have fun with my stories. It gives me tremendous pleasure to take things that we are familiar with and give the my own spin. Like Doctor Fu Manchu, the criminal mastermind, brought to life by Sax Rohmer in 1912 – though it was first published in 1913. Fu Man Chu made a personal appearance in a previous Jason Dark adventure named “From a Watery Grave,” but only as a somewhat peripheral character that advanced the story. To celebrate the nefarious mastermind’s 100th anniversary, I felt it was time to put him the spotlight of one of my stories, and the idea for “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” was born.

I already foreshadowed the story in Jason Dark’s tenth mystery, “Curse of Kali,” but I have to be perfectly honest that at the time I wrote those foreshadowing scenes, I had absolutely no idea where I would eventually go with the actual story of “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire.” I just knew that I wanted to do something.

It all changed when lightning struck me in early November — figuratively speaking, of course. In one sparkling moment, just after Halloween, I suddenly knew how I could develop the story. I had the germ for a unique approach to the story, something that would make sure it’s not just another vampire story, and the key how to make the Jiang Shi, the hopping Chinese vampires, truly formidable opponents.

I kept the idea in my head for three days, trying to turn it down, because I had decided some time earlier in the year not to write any more Jason Dark stories for a number of reasons. You can’t keep a good idea down, though, and it just begging. There was a time when the idea teased me with cookies and even bribed me with the promise of riches. Like I would fall for that…

Be that as it may, I finally gave in. I just wanted to write this story so badly. I decided put everything else aside and began to write. After twelve days, the story was done. That is the fastest I ever completed a Jason Dark story. Traditionally, it always took me about twice as long, but this one just begged to come out. With minimal pre-planning, I simply wrote the story from beginning to end. That in itself is very unusual for me, as I have a tendency to write my books out of order. Ordinarily, I write whichever scene I feel like at any given day. But in this case, it was truly like telling the story from beginning to end. I knew exactly where I wanted to go and I went for it.

Interestingly, “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” also turned out to be the longest of all Jason Dark adventures so far. In fact, after my fourth draft, it was about 25 percent longer than the other stories, and the final editing add even a little more bulk to it. So, it is easy to see that I enjoyed writing it, as there was none of the struggle that usually accompanied the other adventures — to some degree, at least.

Ultimately, it is a reflection of the plot, I think. I wanted to present Fu Man Chu as a larger-than-life villain without him being an entirely supernatural creature. He is, after all, a human. Fortunately, the titular vampire is not and the teaming up of the two allowed me to do some really cool things.

As with all the Jason Dark supernatural mysteries, I also wanted to add some nice drama and unexpected turns to the story to show off my cast’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses. I’d love to tell you more about how Siu Lin drfuf jrjf nfb yogifjfndnd… oops, sorry, I am evidently not at liberty to tell you details. You will have to get yourself a copy and read the story. :)

Take it from me, though, that it is a fun ride and the fact that I had a blast writing it should, in theory, be reflected in the writing — or so I hope.

Get yourself a copy of the book now for only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo for all your favorite eBook reading devices. And if you don’t own an eBook reader, you know, of course, that you can download Kindle software or ePub readers for pretty much any gadget and computer for free.

I thought I’d let all my faithful blog readers know real quick that my latest book, Fu Man Chu’s Vampire has been officially released today.

Fu Man Chu's Vampire CoverIt is available for only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo for all your favorite eBook reading devices or software.

Want to know little more about it? Well, here is the book’s synopsis. As you can see this Victorian-era supernatural mystery is not your average off-the-mill adventure. If truly despicable villains and hopping vampires straight out of China are you bag, you simply owe it to yourself to give this new book a try.

When ordinary measures are no longer enough, criminal mastermind Fu Man Chu makes use of a supernatural henchman to get his way. Soon, Scotland Yard is confronted with a series of unexplainable deaths that unsettle Victorian London, and Inspector Lestrade turns to occult detective Jason Dark and Siu Lin for help.

But as they look into the case, little do the ghost hunters suspect that the evil crime lord has already made them the vampire’s next target!

Filled with enough mystery, drama and suspenseful action to transport you to the sinister streets of gaslit London, your encounter with the extraordinary awaits as a new nightmare emerges and an old nemesis returns.

Once again, let me remind you that the book is available now for only $2.99 on Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Kobo for all your favorite eBook reading devices or software. There is no justifiable reason why you should not own a copy… seriously!