Sunday, March 03, 2013

My First Digital Book: Next Steps

I'll have to stop thinking in terms of making a Kindle book and think of it as a digital book, or even a Smashwords book. I've been reading the free Smashwords guide, and I'm impressed. Of course, Amazon and Kindle are a tremendous marketplace – you'd be insane not to publish there – but Smashwords says they are growing, and they provide an amazing service. 

You upload your Word file, they "smash" it through their affectionately-termed Meatgrinder, and it comes out in multiple digital formats. Unless you do something very wrong, in which case it comes out, as they say, hamburger. But they have a handy mistake-finder in the system which tells you what you need to correct. I haven't gotten that far by a long-shot, but it sounds pretty wonderful after my first experiments last year with another conversion software on a different still-unfinished project. I had no idea how to fix the things that were going wrong.

If you take care with your book and it comes out looking reasonably professional, Smashwords will even distribute it through their catalog to numerous sellers of digital books, including some big names. You can still take your original Word file and upload it to Amazon as well. Oh, there is just so much to learn! The whole thing is making me a little nervous daunted, but I've taken a few more steps today.

They tell you what to do and what not to do in Word, the best software for your manuscript. So I turned on the "reveal formatting" feature (see above) and fixed some no-no's. 

I still have a few things to learn about preparing the text before I move on with the photos. But so far, so good. If you're thinking of putting together a digital book, do check out the Smashwords Style Guide.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Anatomy of My First Kindle Book: All Eight Went (Getting Started)

All Eight Went
From the diaries of

In 1977 I helped my grandmother edit a cherished bit of family history which culminated in the 224-page self-published paperback, All Eight Went. Grandma (Bernice Jameson Todd) provided family diaries, wrote pages of additional material to fill in the story, and answered my many questions as best she could after a lapse of 67 years. Her sister Adelaide Jameson David also supplied personal insights. I set the type and pasted up the pages, designed the cover and chapter titles, and wrote introductions for each country.

The first printing was about 200 copies, and I remember that Grandma was surprised when they were all sold and given away. One relative in particular liked to buy ten at a time and give them to friends. Soon they were all gone, and we discussed a second printing, but I don't remember if we actually printed more. I think we did. The only copy I have left is the faded cover you see above. I decided this year that it was time to digitize.

Fortunately I had kept the original paste-up boards through 36 years and countless moves. I found them on my bookshelf in a box originally made for selling a ream of paper. The box was the perfect size to hold this book, and it was all there and nicely protected. My first task was to scan everything to PDF files so I could copy the text into a Word file. I completed that over the last few weeks, proofed it for scanning mistakes (and typos in the original), formatted the text, and ran the spell-checker, which brought up interesting points in how people wrote back then vs. now. 

Most of the pages were still attached in their original 2-up signature format. In other words, page 75 might be followed by page 73 so the order would come out right when printed on both sides and cut for the book. The white scotch tape on most of the pages was still in place and flexible, but for some reason I'd had to use masking tape on the last part, and the masking tape was brittle now, so I removed it. That's why the last part is stacked as single pages. The cover you see in the box is one that was never used on a book and didn't fade.

I've gotten so used to digital type that it's fun to look back and see how we used to send things to the printer. This is strike-on type set on an IBM Selectric Composer, not the Selectric typewriter everyone used, but its upscale cousin that would do many of the things word processing programs do, only slower. We used "photo blue" (or maybe that should be "non-photo blue") pencil to draw the margins because the camera didn't see that shade of blue. You could even write notes in blue to yourself or to the printer. The pieces were hot-waxed on the back with a roller (blue wax was the best, again because it wouldn't show up when photographed onto a plate) and carefully positioned and burnished to the card-stock "boards." I was impressed that not a single piece had fallen off in 36 years.

Every one of the 143 photos was shot through a screen to create a halftone and pasted onto the page. This is what I have to work with next. I have to scan all the photos and figure out the best way to make captions for an e-book. I've read that the caption will often fall on another page from the photo if you don't connect them. Ugg. More learning curve. I've seen good text captions in e-books, but of course I don't know how they did it. Right now I'm using Cyberken Blog's info as a guide, and soon I'm going to have to read the guide on Smashwords. I don't mind doing the work, I just don't like having to figure it out. But it's a brave new world out there in digital publishing land, and I hope what I learn now will serve me well on the next phase of my journey.