Archive for the ‘ Writing ’ Category

zencover I honestly had not expected how much work it would be, putting together my book Zen of eBook Formatting. After all, I had the blog tutorial to build upon, and yet, it took me many months to flesh out the final book, add in all the little details and additions, and tweak it to make sure it is as accurate as I can make it. Part of it had to do with the fact that eReaders have turned into a sea of incompatibility.

eReaders have turned into a sea of incompatibility

While the original “Take Pride in your eBook Formatting” tutorial is still every bit as relevant and applicable today as it was when I first published it a few years back, as soon as you want to go beyond the most basic formatting features, you get caught up very quickly in the morass of device limitations and quirks.

With each new device generation new problems are being introduced, and considering that we are now looking at fifth or sixth generation devices, one can quickly get lost in the maze of dos and donts of eBook formatting.

I am not pointing fingers here because every manufacturer contributes to the problem. Apple with its incompatible ePub implementations in iBooks for one, Amazon for other limitations and countless firmware bugs, Barnes&Noble for a different set of firmware bugs. Each of them making it harder for eBook formatters to navigate these waters and create reliable products.

Switching a font face, for example should be a completely trivial thing. According to the HTML standards which underly both the MOBI and EPUB format, you should be able to switch fonts anytime on a block level. Sadly, this is not true in the world of eBooks.

Typically a code snippet like this should work fine on any device, assuming we have a span style called “newfont” that sets a different font family.

<p>Let’s <span class="newfont">switch the font</span></p>

Sadly, all of Apple’s iBooks devices and software do not follow this standard. Not even a snippet like the following one works.

<p class="newfont">Let’s switch the font</p>

iBooks does not recognize font family settings in <p> and <span> elements, which is completely inconsistent with HTML standards. It is not a mere oversight, however, because Apple has been dragging this problem through all iterations of iBooks, since its inception years ago. One can only wonder what Apple’s software engineers are thinking.

If device manufacturers would stick to the standards in the first place, hacks like these would not be needed

I found that oftentimes I have to double-stitch solutions, nesting different solutions, so that if one doesn’t work there is always a fallback. The work-around to fix this particular problem is to use another block-level tag in order to pass the information to iBooks.

<p>Let’s <span class="newfont"><cite class="newfont">switch the font</cite></span></p>

While this is not the most elegant solution, and purists will scream out at the misuse of the <cite> tag here, the reality of things is that as eBook formatters we currently cannot afford to be purists. We need formatting challenges solved and in this case <cite> addresses a very specific problem. If Apple would stick to the standards in the first place, hacks like this would not be needed.

I found that the same kind of double-stitching is sadly needed if you want to strike out text, as in draw a line through it. It is not a very commonly used text feature, but if you need it, it is imperative that it shows up correctly.

Instinctively you would use the <strike> tag, which has been part of the HTML vocabulary since its inception. <strike>, however, has been discontinued with the HTML5 standard, and as a result there are now eReaders that no longer support it. They require the <del> tag instead, which, quite by coincidence, is not supported by some older devices, of course.

As in many cases, double-stitching the solution is the way to go for me and whenever I have to strike out text, it will look like this.

<p>This is how you <strike><del>strike out</del></strike> text.</p>

Once again, not the most elegant solution, but as you format eBooks, you will have to get used to seeing things such as this more and more often. As I said, with every new generation of eBook devices, the number of these types of inconsistencies will grow and the need to find and apply band-aid solutions will sadly grow with it.

If you want to find out more about basic and advanced eBook formatting techniques, make sure to check out my new book Zen of eBook Formatting, which details all the necessary steps to create professional-grade eBooks.

The past months I kept myself busy completing a new book on the subject of eBook formatting, as many of you may know. I am happy to announce that the book is finally available! For only $5.99 you can now benefit from the years of experience I have had as a professional eBook formatter, learning the ins and outs and the tricks of the trade I have applied to many hundreds of eBooks from New York Times bestselling writers and indie authors alike.

zencoverZen of eBook Formatting is in the same vein as my “Take Pride in your eBook Formatting” tutorial series, but it goes way beyond that, as it is vastly expanded and updated. In the book I am taking readers through the entire workflow that I am using every day for the projects I am working on for my clients. In an easy to understand manner—I hope—I am not only explaining the steps, but also explain why these steps are necessary and why I do things the way I do them. The result is a tutorial-style self-help book that is chock full with examples, tips and coding snippets.

Having formatted well over 500 eBooks at this time, I am covering the entire process, from the basic manuscript cleanup, to the basics of HTML and simple markup, all the way to advanced techniques that allow you to add an incredible amount of polish to your eBooks without necessarily sacrificing device compatibility.

Just to give you an impression of the breadth of subjects I am covering, here is the Table of Contents for you.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction
  • 1 – The Road to Right
    • Understanding eBook readers
    • Why you should not use a word processor
    • The road to Right
    • Tools of the trade
  • 2 – Data Structure
    • HTML
    • CSS
    • Prepping your style sheet
  • 3 – Cleaning Up the Manuscript
    • The Power of Em
    • Time to clean up your manuscript
    • Fixing up styles
  • 4 – From Word Processor to Programming Editor
    • Nice, clean and predictable in HTML
    • Paragraphs are the meat
    • Fleshing it out
    • Dealing with special characters…the right way
    • A word about fonts
  • 5 – General Techniques
    • Centering content
    • Images
    • Image resolution
    • Chapters
    • Typography and Layout
  • 6 – Advanced Techniques
    • Chapters
    • Initials
    • First-line capitalization
    • Formatting inserts and notes
    • Formatting emails and text messages
    • Image blocks with byline
    • Custom fonts
    • Linking to the outside world
    • Lists
    • Backgrounds and Color
  • 7 – eBook Generation
    • eBook formats
    • Meta-Data
    • The Cover
    • The TOC in the digital world
    • Calibre
    • More control with XPath
    • KindleGen
    • Error-checking
  • 8 – eBooks Outside the Box
    • A Word about Fixed-Layout Books
    • Preparing for Smashwords
  • Parting Thoughts
  • 9 – Appendices
    • Chart of named entities
    • Resources
  • About the Author
  • Also by Guido Henkel

The key to me, when putting together this book, has been to make it possible for anyone to create an eBook that has a professional level of presentation. Too many authors use shortcuts to create eBook version of their manuscripts, flooding the market with broken and sub-par product that leaves a bad taste in readers’ minds, when in fact, applying a little bit of discipline could elevate them from that riffraff and make their books like a million bucks.

Zen of eBook Formatting is targeted at all those of us, who care about their books, not only the words we wrote, but also that they are presented to the reader in a clean and professional manner that works on as many eReaders as possible. Hopefully, with Zen of eBook Formatting at hand, this goal will be within reach for many more authors.

Grab your copy of the book an Amazon now!

[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 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!

While I am still waiting for my editor Terry Coleman to complete his overview and comments on my latest Jason Dark supernatural mystery, “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” I spent some time over the past two weeks, trying to create a suitable cover for the book.

In the past I had always hired an artist to paint a cover for me, based on clearly-defined ideas and suggestions I had. Many times, I prepared a mock-up that I would send him and then let him paint what I had in mind. Very consciously, I always went for a classic look, as I tried to recreate the flair of old-school pulp fiction, dime novels and the wonderful horror movie posters of the 40s, 50s and 60s.

All of that served my desire to create a certain look for my books, but some time ago, the question came up again and again if, perhaps, this look has been holding back these books, dating them unnecessarily or putting them in a niche where few readers will pick them up. As a result I did major and minor overhauls of some of the covers over the past year or so.

To make a long story short, for “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire,” my idea was to go a slightly different route. I wanted to treat the book as a stand-alone and break with the old, just to see how things will work out. Therefore I decided not to have the cover painted this time, but instead try a different approach.

One was to open up the cover design to the public, essentially, and I created a contest some time ago, offering artists the chance to create a cover for the book and get it published. Sadly, the response was not what I expected and once the deadline was over, I knew I had to take matters in my own hands once again. I toiled away at ideas, but everything I came up with seemed old and stale — completely uninspired. And I knew it.

Eventually I turned over the work to my wife, Lieu, who is a graphic designer, and who regularly winces at the stuff I come up with. To her I am an amateur, stuck in a rut, and she’s probably right. She offered to help and I gladly accepted her offer.

It took Lieu no more than ten minutes to come up with a general design that I liked. Talk about a pro, there. Within a few hours we had set up a photo shoot to take the key imagery that she’d need for the cover and by the end of the day she had things neatly lined up.

All that was missing was the title lettering, and I often tend to think that is one of my fortes. (Oh, stop rolling your eyes, will you?)

Anyway, I gave it a shot and I spent a day creating tweaking and re-tweaking a lettering until I was pretty much satisfied with it. I say “pretty much” because I got to the point that my wife actually said, “Would you stop it? It is great the way it is. Stop messing with it.” Yes, I can get a little carried away, and if it were up to me, I’d probably still tinker with the logo.

The final version of the cover is still not complete. Lieu still has to properly assemble the various elements and balance it all to the point that it will be “perfect,” but I thought I’d give you guys a first peek at the lettering I created. Never mind the background. I included the swirl simply to get a general idea how it looks superimposed over some color, as opposed to having it sit on a black background.

Fu Man Chu’s Vampire Lettering

Doesn’t that have a totally gnarly graveyard look? Can’t you just feel the age oozing from it? It had a different texture first and at one point I started playing with the textures and blend-modes for them, when I hit this one. I started at it and immediately knew, This is it!

I don’t know how you respond to the lettering, but to me it has the look and feel of a crypt. I can practically hear stone scraping on stone as the lid slides away… yeah, like I said, I can get carried away sometimes, so never mind me, but feel free to let me know what you think of it.

Also, don’t forget that I am still running my promotion. If you buy “Curse of Kali”, you will get a free copy of “Fu Man Chu’s Vampire” as soon as it is available. Exclusively, and ahead of anyone else. So, if you want to be among the first people to read my next book, make sure to read the full details of the promotion here.

Dear Amazon,

Recently you sent me an email, telling me about your new Kindle Select Program. It was an email brimming with promise, but all too quickly did I see through your marketing ploy, I’m afraid.

You are truly asking me to give you my books on an exclusive basis for the privilege to forfeit potential sales so that you can lend them to your Prime customers? What’s in it for me?

Oh, yes, I recall, you mentioned something about $7,500 a month… no, that can’t be right. I don’t even make that in sales.

Because 500,000 divided by 7,500 makes 67, what you are so tastefully proposing would give exactly 67 authors the chance to make that kind of money. Will I be one of them? Will you make sure that I will be one of them? No, you will not. Of course, not. What am I thinking? You’ll throw me in the pot with everyone else, as usual. Just like you never took an interest in my success in the past, you will take none whatsoever in my doing in the future, so why should I support an effort that serves the sole purpose to grow your bottom line? Most of the time you don’t even respond to emails when they touch upon a subject you’re not comfortable with.

Even if you did not major in Math, the way I did, it is easy for anyone to tell that your math is broken – very broken.

To split $500,000 between all participating books may sound like a lot, but it is not. Here we are, six hours after you opened the doors to authors to enroll, you already have 15,000 books in your Lending Library. That means that each book will make an average of $33 per month. We both know what will happen in the next few days. The Lending Library will swell to over 100,000 titles and we will be looking at an average of $5 per book. That’s not a whole lot. In fact, it represents two real sales. Not quite the way to make a living.

What’s worse is that we have to take into account that bestselling books sell about 500-1000 times more than midlist titles, which means the potential revenue for the average book will be a few cents. Now, explain to me again, please, why I should be a part of this program? I am giving up potential sales, I am giving Amazon exclusivity for 90 days for the privilege to earn a few cents every month?

Sorry, Amazon, but Homey don’t play that.

To top it all off, I would have to explain to all my disgruntled readers why they can no longer get my books on other retail sites for their Nooks, their Kobos, their iPads. I wish they had all the sympathy in the world for my desire to fatten Amazon’s bottom line with my hard work, but let’s face it, in reality they will be upset with me. The result will be that I am actually losing readers in the long run over this. But it may affect you, too, because you know how people feel about corporate greed. I know, I know, it’s an overused buzzword, but it still works every time to get people up in arms.

You may not know this, but in the business world, if you want something exclusively, you usually have to sweeten the deal. A lot. Companies are typically receiving big fat checks up front to make their products available exclusively to a retailer. It is the way the free market world turns. I mean, after all, you expect me to give up stuff to make you look better. So let me ask you again. What’s in it for me? To become part of a convoluted Lending Library that decreases in value with every new book that is being enrolled?

You may think, all Kindle authors are amateurs and don’t know a scheme if only the verbiage is enticing enough, but I will tell you that I saw right through you. Your mentions of $500,000 and $7,500 figures are nothing but a carrot — ooooh big numbers. It has to be good.

I am sorry to disappoint, but I’m not a donkey. I can do math and I can see clear.

I can’t blame you for trying, of course, but I think you have been making a few serious mistakes lately that indicate to me that you have lost touch with your author base. Perhaps my friends were right. Perhaps you were luring all of us authors to your Kindle platform only so that at the right time you can strangle the life out of us in order to grow your own bottom line and to make your board of directors happy. I am not sure I would like that. I am not on your board of directors, but perhaps we can change that. With a little bit of goodwill on your end, that should be feasible, right?

Write back soon and let me know how things are going,
Guido Henkel


Addendum – 12/9/2011:
As of this morning, the Kindle Lending Library is over 35,000 titles thick. That means the average revenue for each book is now $18 and it keeps plummeting very quickly! Those were only the first 24 hours. I have no doubt that after the weekend we will be looking at 100,00 titles in the Library — all of them devalued, all of them no longer available to Nook, Kobo and iBookstore readers. How can that possibly be good business?

Oh yes, there is the lure of “Free” – you can make your book free for a few days and it will undoubtedly result in millions of downloads, catapulting your name in the ranks of a Dean Koontz, Lisa Jackson or Stephen King. I think people should watch “The Incredibles” a little more, because there’s a lesson to be learned. In the film the superheroes fight a villain who plans to give superpowers to ever man, woman and child in the world, but here’s the crux of the matter, as Syndrome, the villain himself states – “Everyone can be super! And when everyone’s super… no one will be.”
To put it in plain Kindle language, if everyone is offering their book for free, it is once again disappearing in the glut and no longer special. Already, this morning there were a whopping 2400 new free books on Amazon. Do you really believe these will all see the phenomenal download numbers of the past? Think again. There is no gain in this.

As I am revising the latest Jason Dark supernatural mystery, Fu Man Chu’s Vampire, my mind was wandering. I thought about possible covers for the book, and then I had an interesting idea. What, if I let fans design the cover?

Here’s the deal. It works like a competition, in essence. You can get your cover on Fu Man Chu’s Vampire! All you have to do, is create a cover artwork for the book and send it over for evaluation. If my wife and I like it, we will use it for the eBook and print versions of the book, and you will receive full credit, naturally. If you’re an artist, this will be a nice opportunity to add to your portfolio, to have a valuable publication credit. I’ll also throw in some goodies on top of it, such as a box of DVDs or so.

Most importantly, however, you will have the ultimate bragging rights!

So, what is the story about? I can’t tell you a whole lot about it, really ,because I do not want to give away the story as such, here in public. You may want to read the opening chapters of the last Jason Dark mystery, Curse of Kali, however – you can find it online here – as it gives you an impression as to where the story goes.

In a nutshell, you can say that evil Doctor Fu Man Chu is putting a Jiang Shi, a hopping vampire, on the trail of Jason Dark and Siu Lin, in an attempt to have them killed.

In technical terms, I don’t want to impose all to many guidelines. Needless to say, it should fit in with the series as a whole. I am posting some of the covers from the previous books below, so you can get a feel for the direction we’ve been taking in the past. Alternatively, please visit the Jason Dark website for a closer look of the respective covers.

However… if you feel you have the ultimate idea, even if it does not fit into the current style of the series, we’d love to see it. The reason is simple. With eBooks in particular, it is easily possible to “play” with covers. To try different approaches and see which cover works best. I know people who have been able to increase their sales tenfold by simply changing the cover of their eBook. With that in mind, I believe, it is important for me to point out that while I have a preference for the current style, I’m not entirely in love with it, either. If someone tosses me a cover that knocks my socks off, I’ll take it, even if is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

The only real guideline that I do have is this. The final cover needs to be at least 8.5”x11” at 300 dpi in size. For the purists among you, that would be 2550×3300 pixels. We have this size requirement in place to make sure we can use the artwork for marketing and sales materials.
If you send your cover for evaluation, you can send it in smaller, of course, so that it easily fits into an email, but I want to make sure everyone understands, that the final version will have to be super-sized.

So, get creative! Pull out your pens, markers, canvasses or Wacom tablets and get cracking, already. Email scribbles, sketches, drawings, paintings, layouts, anything you want us to take a look at to contest@guidohenkel.com. You have until Sunday, December 18 to completely blow my mind! I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with.

Things are moving along, as I reported in last week’s post, and I am proud to report that at this time, the Jason Dark Supernatural Mystery Collection 1 has been released.

Currently available on Amazon and Barnes&Noble, the book should be available on Kobo any day now also. For the time being, this collection will be available only as eBook. I will make a print version available if I feel there is demand for it, but at this time I am happy to release the collection for eBook readers exclusively.

Jason Dark Collection 1 cover

As I announced recently, the release features the first three of my Jason Dark supernatural mysteries, namely, Demon’s Night, Theater of Vampires and Ghosts Templar in one book.

As an added bonus, the book also contains the short story Food for the Dead that appeared in Fangoria magazine as a five-part serialized story earlier this year.

Available now for only $6.99 this collection gives readers the chance to safe big money over the individual releases while also getting the short story a a bonus that is not available anywhere else.

Work is also progressing on Fu Man Chu’s Vampire. The first draft is finished and I am currently in the revision stages. I will take a few passes at the story to make sure it feels round and reads well before handing it off to my editor for the last polish. Look forward to seeing it to be released in a short few weeks, hopefully.

I am also ramping up work on a new project. Can’t tell you much about it yet, other than that it excites me quite a bit right now. I will unveil more details as I get deeper into the actual “creation” of it.