Archive for the ‘ Writing ’ Category

The self-publishing process has matured significantly over the past eight years since I started, around the time when the Kindle first made an appearance. Information on the subject matter is more abundant and more readily available than ever while the tools to create books have also improved and become more widely available.

However, as I prepared the launch of my new book “Zen of eBook Marketing” these past weeks, I realized that despite a general maturation, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program still shows some serious shortcomings. Issues, that have plagued the platform since its inception.

As you may know, creating early exposure for an upcoming book is crucial for a successful launch. We all know that, and creating online promotions for books is an essential part of this process. It is here where, perhaps, the most glaring limitation in Amazon’s system manifests itself. The company offers no way for authors to reserve an ASIN ahead of time.

Currently, the ASIN, Amazon’s own, unique product identifier, is assigned the moment a book is entering Amazon’s distribution system. That is, some time after you hit the “Publish” button. Unlike assigning an ASIN when a new Title is created in the KDP dashboard, this delayed assignment is an effective way for Amazon to prevent an excess of dead ASINs for books that are never actually published. On the flip side, however, for authors, it means that the ASIN becomes available only by the time the book is actually published. For the preparation of launch promotions, that is clearly too late.

Ideally, Amazon should have a system in place through which authors can request and reserve ASINs for their books as soon as they create a new Title in their KDP dashboard. That way, authors could prepare final product links for dissemination in their launch and pre-launch materials. It would also give authors the opportunity to reserve online promotions on sites like Bookbub, etc., all of which require the ASIN to be available at the time of booking, typically weeks in advance. It creates a major roadblock for authors who wish to come out of the gates with their guns blazing.

AmazonShop1By the same token, after eight years of Kindle, Amazon still has no system in place that allows authors to properly present, link and sell their books from within a Kindle book. The Kindle has a special interface when you purchase books directly on the device. It is a lean product page that is tailored specifically for the device, making sure it is efficient and pleasing at the same time, as you can see from this screenshot.

Access to these book pages is not available to authors in their ebooks, however. After eight years, they are still forced to link to the Amazon website if they wish to direct readers to their other books. The result is a cluttered and garbled display that is not nearly as presentable or efficient as the integrated store pages Amazon is using for its own on-device sales pages.

As you can see from the following screenshot, things can get even worse. On some devices, access to a book’s web page is crippled to the point that it won’t even allow purchases of the book in question. For any author who had hoped to sell additional titles by promoting them in their books, this is a bare-handed slap in the face.

AmazonStore2Why is that? One would think it is in Amazon’s best interest to make the process of upselling books from within books as seamless as possible, and yet, despite repeated requests over the years, they have never taken the matter seriously. In fact, one could say that in the hunt for more gimmicky features, Amazon has completely ignored the core of the Kindle through the years, since the devices are still riddled with the most basic flaws and are still unable to properly handle even the most basic typography—not to mention that many of their software readers have been stuck in 2010 in terms of their technology and don’t support even the most basic Kindle features.

Which takes us to the actual sales reporting. While Amazon tries to dazzle authors with a nice graph that represents daily sales, the reports they present are unmanageable in more ways than one.

While one could live with the lack of any kind of metric that would give authors an indication who their readers are, the inability to properly isolate sales is a real problem—particularly for authors with more than three or four books.

I have over 20 books on sale on Amazon and it is virtually impossible for me to see how well any one book performs. By default, the line graph represents only the accumulated sales of each day, which is good for trends, but useless for an actual analysis.

Amazon allows me to filter the sales for each one of my books but it is an overly tedious process, forcing you to manually select each book from a drop-down menu and wait for the graph to refresh. Not only is this tedious, but it is also easy to simply lose your place once you have a certain number of titles in that list, and it makes comparisons impossible.

A much better and more accessible way would be for Amazon to create checkboxes instead, that could be quickly selected. It would allow you to rapidly isolate a particular book’s sales chart, but more so, it would also allow to compare sales of books by selecting multiple books at the same time and layer their graphs.

This would be very helpful when analyzing the performance of promotions or other marketing activities to see how they are reflected in the sales of each book or a group of books taken together.

But not only the graphed report could use some serious rethinking, the “Month-to-Date Unit Sales” report is also frighteningly minimalistic. It is, in fact, no more than a list of unit sales, broken down by book with a drop-down menu that allows you to select different territories. That’s it!

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It’s 2016 and here we have Amazon, one of the largest aggregators of metrics, and all the information they allow authors to have is a list of units sold in a small, fixed time window. It does not include revenues. It does not allow you to change the time window. You want to know how many copies of a particular book you sold yesterday? No such luck, my friend. Bulk data only! You want to go back in your sales history and see how many books you sold during the last quarter? Think again. Amazon gives you access to only the current and the previous month.

Quite frankly, the information is useless. Because of the time discrepancy, it is not even enough to properly corroborate your royalty payments against the sales reports!

One can only dream of reports that would include information such as device usage, revenues, reader genders, purchase behavior, review behavior, properly exportable metrics, and perhaps even a few dollar numbers. One would expect to find the basics of sales reporting, however, in a report that allows you to properly filter and isolate specific sales information throughout a product’s entire history—or, at the very least, a 12 or 24-month window.

3DBook-400I am certain Amazon has its reason for keeping authors completely in the dark, shackling them to the bare essentials of sales reporting, but to be honest, I don’t really see the point. By giving authors more detailed information, the company would empower them to optimize their efforts, which, in turn, could result in more sales and higher customer satisfaction. And isn’t that what Amazon is really after?

Let me know what you think of these limitations, or which feature you would really like to see in Amazon’s reporting system. I certainly would have welcomed the promotional opportunities some of these features would have afforded me while preparing the launch of “Zen of eBook Marketing.” As it stands, I will have to invite you in person then to check it out… perhaps that’s not such a bad thing either.

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For the past weeks, I’ve been slaving over the upcoming release of my book “Zen of eBook Formatting.” With the help of my beta-readers and friends, I’ve been able to clean up the book, tighten it up a good bit and rewrite a bunch of odd passages. It took much longer than I had anticipated, but I think it was all well worth it.

So, with that in mind, I am once again on track for the book’s release on my projected February 21 release date, exclusively on Amazon.

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Now that the book is mostly edited and formatted, I’m in the process of preparing the additional materials, such as the description, a squeeze page, and other important launch stuff.

If you want to stay in the loop as these things progress, make sure to sign up to my mailing list. There’s going to be an even bigger benefit, actually, if you sign up now.

I’ll make sure you can get your hands on a free copy of the book before its official launch!

Stop procrastinating! You have nothing to lose! The book is pretty cool and comprehensively covers the tools at the disposal of authors. It is brimming with 52,000 words of wisdom and my six-year experience as a self-published author.

So, let me remind you once again. Sign up here and I’ll add you to my list of Very Important Readers!

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Many of you are undoubtedly familiar with my book Zen of eBook Formatting, a detailed, step-by-setup guide to building robust eBooks that will work on all platforms. After some deliberation, I’ve decided to write another “Zen” book, this time taking a look at the marketing and promotion end of book publishing in the digital age. I am in the final stages of this book, putting some last touches to it, having a few people read it and give me feedback, but I thought this would be a good time to let you know about it. Get ready for Zen of eBook Marketing.

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Like “Zen of eBook Formatting,” I wrote this book out of a kind of frustration because I felt the wealth of information was simply overwhelming, making it virtually impossible for aspiring self-publishing authors to stay on top of things. Add to it the incredible amount of poor advice I saw posted online on many of the subjects, I truly felt compelled to sit down and create a comprehensive overview over the self-publishing tools available to authors, and how they can be put to use.

It’s not a How-To Guide per se. Instead, it looks at many of the aspects that go into the marketing and promotion of books, explains how they work, what their shortcomings and strengths are, and how these features could help build success.

Just to give you a taste of the breadth of content, here is a quick overview:

  • The Book Package: Make the most out of your book and its product pages
  • Launch Preparations: All the things you need to know before your book goes on sale
  • Getting Reviewed: It’s not as easy as one might think, but reviews are essential, as many readers base their purchasing decisions on reviews
  • Online Presence: Readers need to find you and I’ll tell you all you need to know about it
  • Social Media: In today’s connected world, it is simply not possible to build success without a strong network of supporters
  • Zen Promo Ideas: A list of conventional and unconventional ideas that may help your book get noticed
  • Online Promotions: People love free reads, but is it always a good idea?
  • Giveaways: Draw attention to your books by getting people excited to win cool stuff
  • Newsletter/Mailing List: Supposedly the hottest ticket around these days, but it’s not without flaws, limitations or shortcomings
  • Personal Appearances: How to make the most of conventions, readings and signings
  • Virtual Assistants: You don’t have to do everything yourself. Learn how you can delegate work to hired freelancers
  • Print Books: A look at how print books fit into the equation in the digital age

Does that sound interesting to you? I certainly hope so, because even the most experienced self-publishers will have trouble keep on top of things and will find ideas and suggestions here that may help sell additional copies.

Make sure to sign up for my mailing list so I can keep you in the loop and let you know more about the book as it approaches its completion and release.





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Doctor_Flat-192x300Those of you familiar with my book “The Doctor,” or “Dr. Prometheus” as it was previously called, may already know the answer to it, but here’s a little background on my writing of the Jason Dark series.

When I first set out to write the series one of the things I really wanted to include were historical and literary references to create a sense of alternate history rather than just plain gothic horror or supernatural thriller. At the same time I didn’t want to to make it too blatant. I aimed to place them so that they are oftentimes subtle little hints, evident only to the initiated, people familiar with certain periods of history, certain locales or certain pieces of literature or oftentimes even song lyrics. Yes, if you think you’ve spotted a loose reference to a Judas Priest song, you might be absolutely right… Lyrics like “The figure stands expressionless, impassive and alone” are just too powerful images to ignore and they conjure up worlds in my mind that I try to translate to my stories occasionally, giving a nod to the source with a few words that directly hint at their origins.

london-ripperMore often than lyrics, however, I use references to actual historical events and personalities, as well as literary figures. Anyone who’s been reading “Theater of Vampires” will have noticed a certain person approaching Jason Dark in the foyer of the Duke’s Theater. His appearance instantly begs the question, when will he meet the other guy making up the team? Depending on how far you’ve read through the series, let me just say, he will meet him-first fleetingly in one story-then in a head-on matching of their minds on another further down the line. Fun…

Assuming most of you are familiar with “Demon’s Night,” the first book in the series, I wonder how many of you remember what happened to the horse carriage the demon abandoned in Trafalgar Square. Do you? A man made a very brief appearance, taking care of the exhausted horses, leading them away, with the demon’s residue still lingering inside the coach. The man’s name was… John Netley. Who is he? Glad you asked, because John Netley was the man who allegedly drove Jack the Ripper through the streets of Whitechapel as he was hunting and killing women in 1888.

BAM!

See what I did there? I wove reality and fiction together in a way that is perfectly harmonious-at least it is to me-because the implications are just too perfect. First I had to do something with the horse carriage. I couldn’t just leave it abandoned in the square, so I needed someone to take care of them. Who better than a young man who would around that time become a coach driver and turn it into his business. With demonic residue still lingering in the coach, it is not too much of a leap of faith that it was this demonic influence that drove the Ripper to do his notorious deeds, and that turned the young man of a driver into a tool of evil, helping with the ghastly murders. It all fell into place and I was able to use the historical descriptions of the Ripper horse carriage to describe the one in my book.

I love it when things fall into place like this and allow me to create seemingly insignificant moments-almost like throwaway paragraphs-that fit into a much bigger and elaborate picture. The books are full of them and the next time you read one of my books try to keep an eye out for these moments and references-and let me know when you spot one. Post here, and share your findings with other readers.

alice-cooper-rock-meets-classic-arena-nuernberg-13-03-2014_0059So, what do Alice Cooper and “The Doctor” have in common? No doubt, you are still asking yourself that question. Even though completely anachronistic, Alice Cooper shows up in the book, but… yes, here comes the but, but before, let me tell you the why. I’ve been a fan of Alice’s work since I was an early teenager, more years ago that I’d like to admit. He’s always been a modern day gothic horror icon to me, the way Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, or Vincent Price were, because his theatrics have always been geared towards the creepy visuals. So, it made sense for me to pay homage to him, and I did. In the form of a corpse. Remember Alice has had many acts in his show where he hangs himself, or gets decapitated, etc, so having him as a corpse made perfect sense. But he is not just any corpse. He is undead, as the Doctor revives him with his evil magic.

I felt that simply dropping Alice Cooper in the story would be too jarring, the anachronism too stark. It felt too blatant, so I upped the ante and actually included him under his actual name, not his stage persona. Therefore, the character you will find in “The Doctor” is Vincent Furnier-exhumed by grave robbers and reanimated by the Doctor. Here’s a brief excerpt to give you a taste…

Pale and bare-chested, the bloodless corpse of a man lay on the operating table in the center of the room. His skin had an almost yellowish tinge. Unusually long black hair fell to the sides of his head in light, shaggy curls. The eyes, sunken deep into their sockets, looked already like the cavernous orifices of a skull. The body appeared intact, without notable scars; in fact, the dead man’s face had a rather peaceful look, despite the deep shadows cast by the murky, flickering light.
Somewhere in the distance a church bell rang and, joining it in a midnight duet, a dog began to bark.
“Well, Mr. Furnier,” a rich, baritone voice said softly, and a man appeared from the darkness. “Your audience is waiting.”

What do you make of this? It’s only a small portion. The entire scene is filled with references to Alice Cooper and his music. Try to find them, and post them here.

DoctorBut what’s more, just to show you how dense some of these injected references are, even that small excerpt above contains yet another reference to something unrelated to Alice Cooper. I challenge you to find it. Tell me where the reference is and what it actually refers to. I wonder if anyone can spot it.

Did you get a taste yet? Believe me when I say that the Jason Dark books are filled with these kinds of hidden nods, sometimes very openly, sometimes much more hidden. It is one of the small things that makes writing the stories so much fun for me.

Well, then, who can solve the puzzle? What is the reference I mentioned in the passage above? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and comments.

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Feel free to check out all the books in the Jason Dark series on Amazon, or visit the official website at www.jasondarkseries.com

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Steinbeck1The best books usually read very naturally, with a rhythm that flows easily and almost reads itself, using language that perfectly suits the premise and characters. How many times have you stopped and thought about how it got to that point? Well, one answer is that these writers have a talent and the perfect concoction of words just flows from their handcrafted quills.

Sorry to disappoint, but, no, that’s not how it works. Usually, there is a lot of wringing of hands and pulling of hair involved—one of the reasons why so many writers are bald. No, it’s true, they just wear wigs to hide the secret to perfect writing.

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 those 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? Who picked the wallpaper? Does it look spartan or is it richly furnished, and if so, with what?

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 stubbornly hard. So hard, in fact, that the most typical problem of “writer’s block” is that the writer is simply not ready to commit to a decision and stalls the process as a result. It is more common than you might think because it is hard for a writer to make certain decisions. They lock you down on a certain path and it just may not be what the story needs later down the road.

The same decision-making process often applies to the writing itself. Questions, 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 brick-load of decision making. As a result many writers—myself included—write their books in iterations.

Yeah, we’re about as perfect as the gnarled roots of that Ficus tree in your backyard. Even the best of writers have to go back and rework their creative flow. Let me show you how this works, how a paragraph 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 first write a book, I typically do not concern myself with grammatical details and style all that much. I try to write what is in my mind, without losing too much time so I won’t lose my train of thought. This can be very rough sometimes, but it does not matter because it is easy enough to clean up at a later time. The point is to get the story out and written down before it takes a one-way trip to Europe and never returns.

Hunted_Flat-192x300I find that during times I sink into what is called a “writer’s dream.” It doesn’t mean I’m writing in my sleep, but rather that I am completely absorbed and 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 preconceived notions when reading about Jason Dark. The character is for you to experience and shape in your own imagination.

Once the story found its way into my computer, 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. Let me illustrate this with an excerpt from my book “Hunted,” the most recent Jason Dark thriller. What you see below is the first draft version. This is what I dumped out of my brain and into the silicon nethers of my computer, complete with typos and errors, without any work or cleanup done to it. Not very glorious, but well deserving to show the process.

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.

With the first draft out of my system, I will usually set it aside for at least a week or two, without looking at it or even thinking about it. I do this so I lose my immediate attachment with the words. I’ve seen too many writers go mad over the prospect of having to change the words they set down in the manuscript because they were so much in love with them, they actually wanted to marry them. To avoid my trip to the looney bin, I distance myself from my initial brain dump, so that it becomes nothing more than an assortment of words and sentences.

I want to have a fresh approach to the book. I don’t want to get stuck in the same thought patterns I had when writing the book. I want to keep my mental health and more importantly, I want to experience it more like a reader than the writer. It makes an enormous difference. As writers, we analyze sentences—even those of other authors—and it is about as impossible to turn that mentality off as it is to get a politician to put together a clear sentence. That is not how your average reader perceives the book, however. They want to be entertained. They want to dive into it and immerse themselves in your story.

So, after some time has passed I will read the book. Very slowly, sentence by sentence. I will look for spelling errors, I will check the sentences for grammatical issues. Does it sound right or do sound like a pompous douche? 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 before, 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 detail. One word changed can make a world of difference and truly elevate the impact of the text to a new level, or it can improve readability, allowing the sentence to roll all of its own.

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.

After 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 and plot details still vividly in my mind. This step, to me, is crucial to hammer consistency into the story so that forward references are correct and actually make sense to the reader. I can mentally check if the information a character is referring to is actually known to him at that point in time. As a writer, it is all too easy to get caught up in the writer’s dream that we will occasionally forget to introduce key elements, hints or even people.
During this second reading, I will also constantly keep an eye on my verbs. Big step, that. Catch weak verbs and replace them with much stronger and all of a sudden you sound like a real Steinbeck. In fact, the maestro himself was one of the strongest proponents of strong verbs.

Use verbs, not adjectives, to keep your sentences moving. All fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences.

There you go, straight from the master’s mouth. Strong verbs put your sentences on steroids. 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 my writing like a cup of dice and work some rephrasing magic.

Below, for your pleasure, you will once again find the same passage as before. This time he version after I took a second pass at it. Once again, notice the subtle differences, and observe 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 entirely satisfied at this point, I will repeat the aforementioned process until I feel the text has reached the level of maturity that 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 I want to happen. The original zest of the story and its tone is critical and needs to stay intact. It will always take precedence over second-guessing myself.

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 as I encounter them to go back after the read and see if I can perhaps remove them, or replace them with stronger verbs instead. This I will do after the read because at this stage I want to experience the story as a whole and not break up the reading with a lot of distracting editing.

Below you will find the excerpt from “Hunted,” once again with these kinds of 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 loose ends or things that make no sense. It makes for great commentary track while watching bad movies or TV shows, incidentally, and is incredibly valuable to me in my own books. She will point these issues out to me and ask questions, such as, “Why did the bad guy wait around 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 it all 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. Bring in the Editor!

I will send my book off to my editor, usually 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 he does all of that without breaking a sweat, before breakfast. In short, an editor is the ultimate egg-laying-wool-milk-hog.

Terry will return my book 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 his suggestions, 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 form, 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.

This is the way I had the passage published before, but at a later point fancy tickled me to give the book a read. Don’t know, why. Just so happened. It struck me immediately that after such a long absence, my mindset had completely changed and I began re-writing the passage extensively.

The pallid face of the moon emerged from behind its veil of clouds, and cast silvery hues across the gaslit streets of London, revealing small swirls of fog that drifted lazily through the night air. Its pale blue fingers crept across the desiccated features of a strange figure that stood, hiding motionlessly, in a darkened doorway, bereft of any life, it would seem. The city was bustling, as usual, all but unsuspecting of the evil that hid in the tenebrious shadows of its cobblestone streets, ready to suck the very life from its unsuspecting denizens. Oblivious to the sinister thoughts it harbored.
A crisp breeze blew from the south, driving 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 groaned at anchor, guarded over by the unsteady light of dim lanterns.
The figure stood motionless, dressed in midnight blue silken garb. 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 hanging from the skull bones in dry, crumbly folds that exhibited 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.

Gosh dang it, it actually got longer. After taking a few notes while reading the book, I actually decided to really rework the entire book. I pulled out the fine-toothed comb I use to coiffeur my words and went to work. By the time I was done, what used to be a 25,000-word novella had suddenly turned into a 45,000-word novel. Even threw in a few new chapters, characters and plot twists while I was at it.

Like the computer games I created in the past, it made me realize that a book is never really finished. We just stop working on it.

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.

JDSeriesThere you have it. A lot of reading involved here, and the fact that you made it down here shows that you really care. So, if you haven’t done so yet, no would be a tremendously great time to grab a copy of “Hunted,” over on Amazon. It’s totally awesome. It really is, and I just proved to you how serious I am about the book. I’ve worked it over and over again. Surely that warrants your support, won’t it? And once I got you on the hook with “Hunted,” there’s no reason for you not to go back and read all the other Jason Dark books I have available. Support the arts. Support me!

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With the lowering of the barrier of entrance, self-publishing books has become the norm rather than the exception. Something that was traditionally handled by big, lumbering publishing houses or by individuals with a lot of money, has now become a reality for anyone. It no longer has the stigma of vanity publishing, but has instead evolved into a perfectly viable route to market.

But the fact that it is easily possible does not mean that it is easy to do. There are countless pitfalls along the way, and for someone who has never even had tangential contact with the publishing industry there are inevitably a good number of lurking misconceptions. The number of decisions that have to be made, and the impact these decisions can have on your potential success are immense.

Choosing the right cover is perhaps the most important decision you will make surrounding your book

Let’s take a look at book covers, for example. It is so easy to get them wrong—and for all the right reasons.

For many years now I have been working with authors who self-publish their books. I have been formatting their books, as well as providing cover art for them on many occasions, and if there is one red thread that weaves itself through the nearly one-thousand book projects I have worked on, it is this: passion!

Authors spend a lot of time writing their books, massaging them to perfection, editing them, reading them again and again, proofing them, the whole spiel. It takes a lot of time and passion, naturally, and as a result authors always have a very close attachment to the project. A lot of passion. It is the essential ingredient or else the project would never have come to fruition.

Don’t let the fact that you are, perhaps, too close to the project cloud your judgment

However, this passion can easily become detrimental when it comes to certain aspects of the actual publishing of the project, because publishing a book requires a number of business decisions. A cool head is required to make the right choices, or you might get in the way of your own success.

Covers are one of the areas where these problems often manifest themselves very quickly, creating a dangerous slope, because covers are, perhaps, the single most important decision you will ever make regarding your book.

So, let me ask you this question… what is the purpose of the cover?

The purpose of a book cover is not to perfectly illustrate the story down to the smallest detail or to showcase every aspect and facet of the plot. If you think this way, you are too close to your project, and you are thinking about your cover too literal—especially in the digital world where books are bought primarily online and the presentation of the cover has changed from a beautiful piece of art to a small 100 pixel-wide thumbnail.

The sole purpose of a book cover is to help sell the book

A book cover is a selling tool! Nothing more, nothing less. It serves the purpose to attract eyeballs and then get those people intrigued enough to click on the cover thumbnail and learn more about the book, which, hopefully, will then result in a sale. If visitors on Amazon do not notice a book cover because it is easily overlooked and disappears among other covers, it serves absolutely no purpose and is actually detrimental to the author because uncounted potential sales are lost right there.

Forget how much you love your friend’s illustration, or how you feel this frilly font really reflects your main character’s taste for the intricate. If people do not notice your cover or if it is muddled up, you won’t make a sale.

You always have to keep in mind that for the most part you are trying to sell books to people who are not familiar with you and who do not know the book or the story—at all. It is the cover that will hopefully draw them to it. It is the cover that will hopefully connect with them and intrigue them enough to find out more. Only then will you be able to tap into new readers. Readers who are essential for growing your customer base not only for this book, but also for your next.

A good cover will open your book up to a new readership

I suppose it is easy to see that the impact one good cover can have are very far-reaching over the course of a writer’s career.

What makes a good cover then?

Again, with the digital revolution, software has become available to anyone with a computer that enables us to do everything by ourselves. But should we? A better tool does not necessarily mean the output is getting better. Even with a better knife you will still not be able to carve a better statue, because you lack the necessary skill set, and you really have to ask yourself whether you feel that you are qualified enough to tackle something as important as your book’s cover by yourself.

Among many things, I am a trained typesetter. I took a three-year apprenticeship to learn about fonts, their impact, their structure, the creation and design, and the subject of printed matters on the whole.

This apprenticeship taught me things that allow me to make educated decisions when it comes to the visual presentation of the written word. Which font to choose, which size to choose it in, how to properly kern it, how to adjust and tweak it for best visual impact or for best readability. The list goes on.

Covers are not just an image with a few words sprinkled on for good measure

See, it is a very common misconception that covers are just images with a handful of words thrown on them. Nothing could be further from the truth, really. A cover needs focus. It needs to create intrigue. It needs to guide the eye. It needs to create emotions that connect the story with the person browsing the virtual bookshelf.

Do a little experiment, if you wish. Do a search on Amazon that should bring up your book, and then quickly scan the results with one glance. If your book is not the first one that jumps to your eye, your cover is missing something. How could I say something like this? Because you are so familiar with your cover that your eyes should immediately pinpoint it—with your eyes closed, almost. If they don’t, you know that something is seriously wrong, because the odds of a stranger honing in on your cover at a glance are deteriorating rapidly here.

Aside from the cover motive itself, font choice is vital. A font that is unbalanced and hard to read is useless, but what is “unbalanced” and what is “hard to read?” These are the things that typesetters and graphic designers have spent years learning and studying. A well-chosen font on a single-colored background can be extremely dramatic in the hands of the right cover designer. It can cut to the chase and deliver its message, and that is exactly what you need. That is what trained professionals are for, and access to trained and professional talent is easier and more affordable than ever.

If you can’t see your cover, no one will

Though custom designed covers are still quite pricey and not within everyone’s budget range, a new alternative has emerged over the past years—pre-designed covers. One of the players in the field of pre-designed covers is my most recent venture, Covertopia.com, where I team up with experienced long-time graphic designer and illustrator Lieu Pham to bring bestselling book covers to authors at affordable rates.

The concept of pre-designed covers, or premades as they are often called also, is very simple, really. The cover designer creates and hosts a catalog of covers that have been prepared ahead of time, without any particular book in mind. These covers are usually following themes and trends that reflect the current state of the market, without honing in on exact details of any one book. This way the cover can be potentially applied to a variety of books, because it illustrates more general subjects, while maintaining the high quality and professional design elements you would normally find in much higher priced custom designed covers. Reputable designers will make sure that the covers remain nonetheless unique, by selling a particular cover design only once. In these cases, after it is sold to an author, the cover design is taken off the market, and no longer available to others.

Predesigned covers are a cost-effective and fast way to get that professional look

This kind of service should not be mistaken with supposed cover designs you can get on sites like Fiverr. These are usually not created by professionals, but hobbyists with extra time on their hand, and therefore often lack in real design and typography fundamentals, not to mention that many of them are using imagery without obtaining proper rights clearance, etc. A professional cover designer will always ensure that the images used will be legitimate and will not create copyright nightmares for you.

So, if you are a writer, looking for an affordable cover for your next book, while making sure it plays on a professional level and doesn’t break the bank, a pre-designed cover might just be the ticket. In addition, pre-designed covers have a very quick turn-around, because they can be finalized with your book title and handed over to you much faster than a custom job. Reputable designers will get the final cover to within a day or two. This means no delay for your project, so you can go to press anytime you’re ready!

On Covertopia.com my partner Lieu Pham, a long-time graphic designer and illustrator, and I are offering covers for a wide range of genres, in a wide range of themes and looks, all optimized for best discoverability, all making a statement and an impact, and we strive to give each pre-designed cover the same kind of feel that we afford our custom design projects. Sound interesting? It should, because getting professional covers has never been easier.

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The new look of Jason Dark

Many of you have probably heard by now that for the past months I’ve been busy at work to reinvigorate and relaunch my Jason Dark series of books. All the hard work is about to pay off, I hope, as I am nearing the launch date of September 14 for “Hunted,” the latest book in the series, and with it the relaunch of the series as a whole. Just to get you started off, here is a look at the cover for “Hunted,” which shows off nicely the new style that all new covers in the series sport.

Hunted_Flat

As part of the process to breathe some new, fresh air into the Jason Dark books, I reworked the first book “Demon’s Night” once again, ironing out some things I wasn’t too happy with upon re-reading the story a while ago. More importantly, however, all the books in the series have been completely reformatted from scratch, using some of the more advanced formatting features that eBook readers of the current generation can handle.

Here’s a look at the new look of the eBook versions for you.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 2.44.16 PM

Compared to the simplistic look of the original stories, you can see, that the new layout is much friendlier on the eye with plenty of white space.

A beautiful splatter of ink appears at the beginning of each new chapter, adding style to the layout. The splatter was actually the idea of Lieu Pham from Covertopia.com, who also redesigned all the covers for the series, and you would not believe what a difference it made once I dropped it into the page. Small things, such as this can often make a huge difference and her experienced design eye instantly realized the potential.

The new layout also features custom fonts to create a brand-look for the books. The chapter title itself is using the same font that is found on the book covers, creating visual continuity throughout the book and with it, the entire series.

In addition, I opted for the use of a large initial and first-line small caps for the beginning of each chapter. For that I also used a custom font to create an intricate, yet delicate look that is open and breathes. Naturally, the use of custom fonts and features such as this is not without issues, as those of you familiar with formatting limitations of eBooks will know. Not all devices support custom fonts, the small-caps feature or the way I set up the initials. It was important to me, however, to push the series forward, even if it meant using formatting features, even if it meant that older devices may not be able to display the pages exactly the same way. In a worst-case scenario, older devices will abandon the custom fonts in favor of the device default font, it will ignore the small-caps command, leaving the first line of the chapter formatted the same way as the rest of the text, and it may ignore the set-up of my initial, rendering it as a regular character, the same size as the rest of the text. While it may not have the glamor of the “advanced” layout of modern devices, I made sure that it won’t result in a garbled display and still look perfectly fine.

The Jason Dark website has been completely revamped as well, and you can see it in all its glory here – www.jasondarkseries.com. Check out all the new covers for each of the books. Fans familiar with the series will also notice that I have changed the title of the adventure “Dr. Prometheus” to “The Doctor,” a title that I think works much better.

With only a few days left before the official launch, the next few days will be filled with a flurry of activities, all to raise awareness of the series and the upcoming new book.

You want to help me make this launch an all-out success story? It’s really easy. Just share with your friends the news of the upcoming release and the overhaul of the entire series. Point them towards the website, let them know that “Hunted” will be available on September 14 with a limited time price of only $0.99, remind them how important reviews are, or simply show them the cool new look of the books, over on the official website.

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As self-publishing, independent authors, to typically relish in the freedom we have suddenly be handed, allowing us to truly own our books, cradling and nourishing them from the very first word, all the way until we usher them out the door through self-publishing platforms such as Amazon or Barnes&Noble.

SelfPubI am sure you’ve heard the saying before, that freedom is never free, however, and while not really meant within that context, it is certainly true for self-publishing authors and contains a nugget of wisdom we should all take to heart.

As a self-published author myself, I know how much work goes into a fully finished product, even in an all-digital world. As an eBook formatter for hundreds of independent authors, I also constantly witness the struggles and problems that authors fight. Whether its questions arising on my formatting blog tutorial, my book Zen of eBook Formatting, or through email, I am witness to the tribulations of many writers. Since I am also a reader, constantly looking for new books to feed my mind, browsing Amazon’s Kindle section further helps me understand the situation that presents itself to self-published authors.

This biggest question, I believe, every self-publishing author needs to ask themselves is this: Simply because we can handle everything ourselves, does it also mean that we actually should do so?

Editing

Writing a book is one thing. Editing a book is a different thing entirely. Too many authors either do not understand the process of editing, or they discount its value. Having a bit of ego is good if you’re a writer, but do not let it interfere with your actual work. It is fine to love what you are writing, but make sure you never fall in love with it! What I mean by that is that if you get to the point that you believe no one should have a right to touch your writing, that every comma is exactly where it should be, and that every word in your prose is perfectly concise and where it should be, the odds are that you are overestimating your abilities.

BookEditingEven Mark Twain had an editor. He did not like it, but he did. What he realized, however, is that a different set of eyes brings out shortcomings in writing. Ambiguous expressions, sentences that may not be quite as clear as they were in the writer’s mind, and much more. Even the best writers jump to conclusions because they have this picture in their mind that they try to relay to paper. The picture in their mind is complete in its own way, so they fill in the words to describe the image. But every once in a while, the writer will overlook a small detail that he takes for granted because of the image in his mind. An editor can help in such cases, pointing out the omission or simply helping to clarify the written words through different word usage or sentence structures.

The problem is that too many authors see an editor as the enemy, which they are not. Too many authors see editors as critics with the sole malevolent purpose to tear their work apart and violate it. In the self-publishing world, nothing could be further from the truth. Look at an editor as a fresh set of eyes who can help you streamline your writing, creating a better experience for your readers. After all, you are paying the editor, which makes it perfectly okay for you to reject their comments. There is nothing wrong with looking at the notes of an editor and flat out rejecting some of them because they misinterpret your intentions. But for every one such case, I am certain you will find countless others where the editor’s suggestions will make you think about your writing some more, and perhaps improve it as a result of it. so, why would you want to miss an opportunity to make your writing better?

Proof Reading

A lot of people mistake editing for proof reading, when they are, in fact, two very different things. Naturally, a lot of editors do correct typos and spelling errors, because it often comes naturally as they go through your words with a fine-toothed comb. However, their job is to look at the meaning of your writing, not its fundamentals.

proofreadingThat’s the job of a proof reader, who will ignore all things related to style and grammar, but will instead scan each word in your manuscript to make sure it is spelled according to dictionary standards. This requires a special skill set, different from an editor’s, because a good typesetter is absolutely dictionary proof, which means he has internalized the correct spelling and exact meaning of roughly 500,000 words, plus all of their proper tenses, inflections and cases.

You may confuse your word processor’s spellchecker with a proof reader, but they are not the same thing either, because the spellchecker only looks if the word as such is a valid spelling. It does not determine, whether you are using the proper spelling for the respective word you are trying to us. It will gladly accept the word “hair” instead of “hare,” whereas a proof reader will catch this error and correct it for you.

Having a book that is free of spelling errors and typos is the epitome of publishing and should be every author’s goal, always.

Formatting

Also high on the list is the formatting of eBooks—and the creation of a print layout, for that matter. Once again, you are looking at very specific skill sets here, and unless you do have the technical wherewithal and understanding of what eBooks are, what their technical implementation looks like and what the resulting limitations are, it might not be advisable for you to tackle this end of the publishing pipeline yourself.

zencoverAs you undoubtedly know, I’ve long been an advocate for proper eBook formatting, trying to enable authors with my Take Pride in your eBook Formatting blog tutorial, as well as my book Zen of eBook Formatting.

However, the field of eBook formatting is becoming trickier by the day, and more and more it requires very specialized skill sets and knowledge. With every new eBook reader in the market, with every update to the software readers Amazon, Barnes&Noble or Kobo offers, and with every new cell phone and tablet that enters the market,the playing field becomes harder to control.

When the Kindle was first released, things were easy because it was the target platform. In today’s world Kindle is not even Kindle any longer. There are so many device generations, each of which behaves differently, and there are so many software Kindle readers, each with their own flaws, that formatting a book for the Kindle alone can be a tremendously challenging—and time-consuming—task, depending on your book. But the Kindle is no longer alone. There is the Nook in its countless iterations, there is the Kobo reader, there are hundreds of cheap knock-offs from China… the list has gotten endless. To ensure that a book displays absolutely perfectly on all devices has become a magic trick, almost… something that is almost unattainable for certain books, because there are too few control mechanisms in the eBook format themselves.

And yet, nothing upsets a reader faster than a shoddily formatted eBook. It may just be the number one reason why readers put down a book prematurely, because they cannot see beyond the flawed text flow, the jumping margins, the inconsistent text size, the lack of proper quotes, or the broken indentations. And once a reader has put your book down, the odds are they will never pick it up again, and, what’s even worse, they may never buy another one of your books in the future.

Naturally, for all these services you can hire professionals whose job it is to make sure your work is treated professionally. These collaborators will help you on your road to a successful book with their advice, experience and services. It is for that reason that I have been offering eBook formatting services to authors and publishers for many years; to make sure that digital books will get the same respect as their print counterparts.


If you want to keep up with my eBook formatting work, don’t forget to subscribe to my Newsletter. That way I can keep you updated about the latest developments, updates to my book, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.

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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.


If you want to keep up with my eBook formatting work, don’t forget to subscribe to my Zen of eBook Formatting Newsletter. That way I can keep you updated about the latest developments, updates to my book, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.

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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. Whether you are a PC or a Mac user, 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 listing 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 of examples, tips, tricks and coding snippets.

Having formatted close to 1,000 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!


If you want to keep up with my eBook formatting work, don’t forget to subscribe to my Newsletter. That way I can keep you updated about the latest developments, updates to my books, code snippets, techniques and formatting tips.

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