Rule Zero of Self-publishing

A while ago, I wrote about the Ten Home Truths of Starting in Self-publishing

It seems I forgot something that is so basic that I more or less assumed that everyone would know this:

Learn how to format a book.

Sub-rule number one:

Learn what the formatting conventions are for your genre. For the basics, you don’t need a course or how-to guide or any other hocus-pocus. All you need is to pull a book off the shelf. Copy its formatting. It’s not that hard, right?

Most specifically:

– A book has indented first paragraphs (fiction) or empty lines between paragraphs (non-fiction). Not both
– Indents are about 5mm. Not 20 or 25 (this is the standard Word provides)
– Paragraphs are left-justified with the ‘fix ragged margins’ option turned on. This provides a neat right-hand margin while keeping sentences with just a couple of words together.

Sub-rule number two:

Pleaseplease get yourself some decent software to do all this stuff. In the previous post, I spoke of investment in your book. This should be your first investment. GET SOME DECENT SOFTWARE! I see people struggling with OpenOffice or other free shit that just can’t handle the demands, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Take note of the second half of that sentence. If you’re a layout whizz or a computer whizz (or willing to spend a lot of time), sure you can get many of the free programs to do the job, because you know what it is supposed to do.

If you don’t, just FFS spend a few bucks and get some software.

Book review deal

People are reading my work. People are posting reviews to my work. But, most people post their reviews only in one place. Usually that place is goodreads, or LibraryThing. But I want more reviews on Amazon. So, any of you who have already read any of my stuff (short or long, or non-fiction) and haven’t posted reviews on Amazon, here is an easy way to get any (or all) of my fiction that you don’t have and that you’d like and isn’t currently free.

It’s simple:

1. Post a review on Amazon. A copy of your goodreads review is fine. If you want me to really, really love you, copy the review to B & N as well.

2. Contact me here or elsewhere.

3. I’ll send you epub or mobi files.

A lot of my short work doesn’t have any reviews on Amazon at all. A lot of those stories are free on Smashwords. Or, if they’re not, let me know and I’ll send you a copy. Longer work, too, if you want.

Heck, it’s a review-fest!

Charlotte’s Army

I’m going to do something silly. Out of all the works I could promote, I’m going to promote a self-published work for the Ditmar Awards.

Why?

Because I’m silly.

But also because it’s the damn most fun thing I’ve published this year.

And I did sell it, but the publisher folded.

It’s a novella, so markets for those are very limited, except in electronic form.

So there. Here is an excerpt from Charlotte’s Army. Download the entire 23,000 words temporarily free from Smashwords.

* * *

It was 4.06am ship time when the emergency bell went off in the corridor. In the few seconds it took me to jump out of bed and into my pants, I realised that the ringing bell signified a medical emergency and furthermore, that I wasn’t on duty. But I threw on my shirt and went outside anyway. In the corridor, Julia almost crashed into me.
‘Charlie! You’re going the wrong way. Not the hospital, the docking bay.’
I ran after her. ‘Docking bay?’
‘A shuttle came in from the Forward. Stab wound. A bad one.’
No. Another one.
We ran into the docking area, where a number of dock personnel and medical grunts already waited. The screen of the airlock camera, showed the shuttle already in place. Lights flashed. Flight assistance personnel were manoeuvring the ramp into place. A few nurses waited with trolleys. Dr Spencer was there, too, in full gown and gloves.
There were some low metallic noises, a squeak and the airlock hissed open. Two flight personnel ran out, carrying a stretcher with a blanket-covered form, which they put on the trolley the nurses had pushed up the ramp.
The whole scene passed in quiet, grim efficiency. Walking back to the hospital behind the patient, I tried to see the soldier’s face, but an oxygen mask covered it. Dark curls peeped from between insulating covers.
Into the operating theatre, the blankets came off.
His skin was pale and clammy. He was breathing irregularly. He had a deep gash in his stomach. The onboard medbot had done a reasonable job at stemming the bleeding, but this would require surgery. Dr Spencer spotted me and gestured me over to assist while he repaired the wound.
I worked in detached efficiency.
Later, after a tasteless breakfast and too-hot coffee, fatigue and shock hit. Another construct injured by his comrades. This one Landau, our pride stock, the recipients of the most advanced leadership modules. What ailed them?

Image of the day is a witness

I decided to put my ISF/Allion stories up online whenever I can. With the story The Rebelliousness of Trassi Udang (which was published in the Belong anthology), I had intended to wait until Poor Man’s Travel (Anywhere But Earth), which follows it, comes out of contract, but the consensus seems to be that it’s better to publish single stories.

So. I needed an image. Hey-ho! An opportunity to do some messing about with 3D programs.

So here we see Ari ducking behind a corner while Tash gets beaten up.

If you’re interested, here is the link. It’s free for the time being.

If you’re interested, the other stories in this progression of short stories are (Characters):

ISF line:
Prototype (Charlotte West, Kali Landau) – published in MBrane SF
Charlotte’s Army (Charlotte West, Kali Landau, Aiden Landau)

ISF/immigrant line:
Luminescence (Hadie Kessler, Paul Ormerod) – Martian Wave
Trassi Udang (Ari Suleiman Rudiyanto, Tash Landau) – Belong
Poor Man’s Travel (Jas Grimshaw, Ari’s cousin Rina Hermann Rudiyanto, Paul Ormerod) – Anywhere But Earth
Novel – title not fixed – immediately following the above story (Ari’s cousin Melati, Ari, Tash, Jas Grimshaw, Paul Ormerod

Allion line:
His Name In Lights
novel TBA

Dust & Rain – Icefire Trilogy book 2

The saga continues…

Fifteen years ago, a brilliant scientist built a barrier against the dangerous power that radiates from the City of Glass in the southern land, allowing the citizens of Chevakia to live without fear of their lives. Since then, the democracy of Chevakia has prospered, with free-thinking scientists developing steam power and the beginnings of electricity.

But the power, which they call sonorics, controls the weather in Chevakia.

Senator Sadorius han Chevonian is the country’s chief meteorologist. While taking measurements for his job, he is the first to notice a rapid rise of sonorics levels out-of-season. The senate is locked in trivial debate, and to make them listen, he has to take a step he never thought to make.

After the huge explosion of the machine they call the Heart of the City, Loriane has fled the southern land with the sorcerer Tandor, who hovers in and out of consciousness. But while Tandor isn’t speaking, she cannot confirm her fears that he caused the explosion, and that the child she carries has something to do with his twisted plans to seize power from the Eagle Knights who rule the City of Glass.

Just before the explosion, southern queen Jevaithi fled into Chevakia with her young lover Isandor. While they think they’re free of the tyranny of the Eagle Knights, it soon becomes clear something very bad has happened in the City of Glass soon after their escape. Something so bad that it sends waves of sonorics into Chevakia, causing even the Chevakians to flee.

Several streams of refugees are heading for the Chevakian capital. Southerners by train, Chevakians by road, into a city that is tragically unprepared, a country in turmoil with a leader whose support hangs by the merest thread.

Available on:

Amazon
Smashwords

But I would love you to bits if you’d buy it from my site.

Read the first chapter below:

Dust & Rain, Icefire Trilogy book 2, Chapter 1

Sadorius han Chevonian dropped the pile of barygraph read-outs on his desk. Pages and pages of plotted squiggly lines slid over the wooden surface.
On top was a different sheet with a hand-drawn graph, a red line which jumped up sharply towards the right hand side of the page. He picked up that sheet, shook his head and frowned at the young man who had brought him these data.
‘Up by this much?’
His new student, Vikius han Marossi, nodded. Silver embroidery glittered on the young man’s white tunic, showing the insignia of the Chevakian doga, the government assembly.
The young man had left the door open and sounds of voices drifted in from the hall, mixed with the slapping of sandals on stone. A breeze carried the tang of summer that ruffled the curtains and nudged at the lingering chill in the room, a hint of the fury of hot weather to come. As chief meteorologist, Sady knew all about the weather; he could feel summer in his bones. And yet…
He looked at the graph, as if staring at it would change that ominous red line, and shook his head again.
‘What happened? When I checked a few days ago, sonorics levels were at three motes per cube, but now they’ve at twelve?’ Three was normal for this time of the year; twelve was slightly above the highest average level in the middle of winter. He wiped sweat from his upper lip, re-checking figures in the table on the second page, in the idle hope that the attendant of the met station who had plotted the graph had mis-read. He hadn’t.
‘It looks like we’re in for an interesting summer.’ Sonorics dictated the weather patterns across Chevakia. Sonorics, the deadly rays that came from the southern land, an ice-covered plateau so mysterious that it didn’t have a name.
‘I’m not sure I would call it interesting. I find it frightening.’ Viki’s tone was timid. He held his hands clasped behind his back and stared intently at the desk.
‘Viki, straighten your back and look up.’
The young man did as Sady told him, a startled expression on his face. Mercy, since when did the Scriptorium send him jackrabbits for students?
‘Imagine you’re making an important announcement to the doga. They’re not going to listen to you if you mumble, and they won’t take you seriously if you slouch.’
‘Uhm–I’m sorry, Senator.’
‘Viki, if ever you’re going to be chief meteorologist, you will need to show more confidence. How else are you going to argue against selfish senators that no, their district isn’t going to get an allocation of maize production, because the air current predictions are wrong and the harvest will certainly fail? ‘
‘Uhm…’ Viki went red in the face and went back to staring at the desk.
‘Stand up! Look me in the eye. Tell me what you’d say to them if you were in this situation.’
The young man straightened again, his eyes wide. ‘Uhm–I’d say that they were wrong asking for the allocation, Senator. I’d tell them about our high sonorics measurements and that they predict unseasonally cold weather in the south which means much less rain in the north. I’d show them the maps and show them how I calculated–‘
‘No, no, Viki.’
The student gave Sady a startled look. ‘But I have to–‘
‘You should always keep it simple. Don’t explain to them how you calculated the prediction. That not only bores them to tears, but it shows that you feel the need to justify yourself because you’re not sure of your calculations.’
‘But–‘
‘Confidence, Viki. You’ll need confidence in your work or the farmers and the districts will howl you down, especially those in the North. They seem to think that the sheer act of predicting is going to make it happen.’
‘But you can only predict rain when the circumstances indicate that there will be rain.’
‘Exactly, but do you think they care? Rain is money to them. If I predict rain, the doga gives them money to plant crops, simple as that. Then of course, there is no rain, the harvest fails and the meteorologist gets the blame.’
‘But that’s…’ Viki’s eyes were wide.
‘That’s how things go if you’re not careful.’ Sady sighed and shuffled the papers on his desk. He felt no patience with his student today. Those data were really too worrisome to ignore. ‘Have you looked at any other border stations?’
Viki pushed another bundle of papers across the table; his hands trembled.
Sady leafed through the graphs. Same results. Automated barygraphs were all recording low pressure, and the manual measurements taken by faithful meteorology staff in the stations reported high humidity, low temperatures and out-of-season increases in sonorics. Not just one station, but Ensar, Fairlight, Mekta, all of them reporting levels of twelve, thirteen, even fourteen motes per cube.
Mercy, what was going on?
‘Senator, begging your permission… I made this.’ Viki put a roll of paper on the desk. Sady frowned and unrolled it: a map, showing isobars across the country.
It was a neat piece of work, impressively detailed. He gave Viki an appreciative look. ‘Now that is what I call initiative. That’s what I’d like to see more.’
The young man blushed.
Sady moved some papers aside and spread the map out over the table. Wavy lines ran parallel to the escarpment that formed the border with the southern plateau, a pattern that sometimes occurred in mid-winter, but even then the pressure lines were usually less crowded. There was a huge low pressure system building up.
Sady met the student’s eyes.
‘Any idea what it means?’
‘Uhm…’ The young man’s cheeks went red.
Sady sighed. ‘Viki, this is not a trick question. I don’t know either. Nothing like this has happened before. This is not a seasonal pattern. At this time of the year, we’d expect the low pressure systems to retreat to the far south and the air flow to swing around to the north.’
The young man looked up, his lips forming the letter o. ‘Well, in that case, I was thinking… I mean… Low pressure is usually associated with a rise in sonorics, because sonorics tends to increase the air humidity.’
‘Yes, but why?’
Viki hesitated. ‘What if… if the people in the City of Glass were releasing sonorics deliberately… Could they, if they wanted to?’
Sady shrugged, uncomfortable. They knew so little of the workings of the southern land and the source of its deadly rays that influenced far too much of Chevakia’s weather. Some sort of machine, the classic works said, somewhere under the City of Glass. No one knew if this supposed machine was a physical thing or a myth. Sady wasn’t sure the southerners themselves knew what it was. Then, fifteen years ago, after the border wars, the barriers went up and no one travelled to the south anymore. Right now, he certainly didn’t want to worry about whether southerners could manipulate it, although the thought chilled him. Sonorics were deadly to Chevakians.
‘Viki, I want you to give the Most Learned Alius the message that I wish to see him.’ Sady didn’t really expect much help from an academic who did not share his practical experience, but his old tutor had made an extensive study of sonorics and was without a doubt Chevakia’s most knowledgeable on the subject.
‘Certainly, Senator.’ Viki bowed and left the room at a trot.
Sady grimaced. Really? Am I that frightening? I must be getting old.
He shook his head. No need to worry too much over this student. After his traineeship, Viki would probably choose to move on in favour for a career in academia, or so Sady hoped, because the youngster really hadn’t the aptitude for a life as doga meteorologist.
Sady rose and went to the window.
Laid out before him in perfect geometric patterns, the splendour of Tiverius spread towards the horizon. Rows terracotta roofs basked in the sun. Perfect straight streets, stone buildings with columns. Trees bloomed along the roadsides, even numbers on both sides. Down in the courtyard, a man with a water truck was watering the flowers in the planter boxes.
A warm breeze stirred the curtains. A few moon cycles, and it would be mid-summer. Not at all the time high sonoric levels usually happened.
Sonorics levels wouldn’t need to rise that much before they caused trouble. At twenty motes, it would taint the harvest, at thirty, set off the first alarms, and affect exports to Arania. Chevakia couldn’t afford not to harvest in the southern border provinces. The northern region was too dry to produce much more than camels and the occasional crop of maize.
He didn’t want to start panic, but… why now? Why at the start of summer, when the annual cycle should be approaching its lowest level.
Back to his desk, where he pulled out a writing pad. He scrawled on the top page, Authorise dispensaries to start stocking salt tablets for general public use. Authorise protective suits to be taken out of storage and sent to border regions.
This he took to his secretary in the next room, who took the note, looked at it and met Sady’s eyes in a wide-eyed look.
The expression of worry cut Sady deeply. He only vaguely remembered the time of uncertainty before the barriers went up, but he had heard the tales told by older folk. The young man would have seen the barygraph readouts this morning. He would have heard the tales, too.
‘Just to make sure,’ Sady said, hoping he exuded a confidence he didn’t feel. A confidence that, following such a rapid rise, the levels wouldn’t hit twenty motes per cube and trigger the lowest-level warning.
The man nodded, but similarly didn’t look convinced.
Not good. Not good at all.

This Peaceful State of War – now as ebook

The good folks at WOTF have OK’d me to produce an ebook version of my winning story.

Here is the first scene:

“Ash,” Brother Copernicus says.
I rub the substance between the thumb and fingers of my gloves. It’s fine and powdery, and white, unbelievably white.
A thick layer of it covers the field of tree stumps and broken branches, all the way to the wall of rain forest in the distance. Heat shimmers above the brilliant surface.
Yesterday, when arriving from Solaris Station, I saw these tracks from space. They looked like scars, as if a deranged soul has taken a knife to the planet, cutting scores in the cover of forest.
“The Hern burnt these tracks wherever they destroyed the Pari villages.” There is raw hatred in Brother Copernicus’ voice, even when filtered through his rebreather mask. “They stacked up the debris from the houses and the bodies and burnt the lot. Always at night, so we wouldn’t notice.”
I let the powder trickle from my glove, fighting the impulse to rub my hand on my protective robe. I can’t. The action of rubbing might trigger a spark that will lead to all sorts of trouble in this high-oxygen atmosphere. Those warnings played in the cabin of the landing craft have etched themselves in my mind.
“Why is it so white? Has anyone analyzed this?” The color intrigues me, and I wonder why the ground underneath the patch where I’ve picked up the powder is moist and cool.
“I’m sure someone has. Is that important? It’s ash, Envoy, human ash.” Brother Copernicus brandishes the word human like a sword, challenging anyone who dares to disagree. “You’re standing on the biggest murder site in all of humanity.”

Available:

Amazon

Smashwords

Seven thousand soldiers, one woman: Charlotte’s Army

In a far future, a fleet of ships hurtles through space on its way to a distant war. Aboard the ships is an army of artificial human soldiers, highly trained and dangerous. Doctor Charlotte West, the neuro-technologist responsible for the soldiers’ artificial brains, travels in the support fleet. Two months before the arrival at the war site, the soldiers start fighting each other and disobeying commands. When they are brought in for tests, Charlotte finds that all seven thousand men share a pathological obsession with her.

Smashwords
or
My website
or
OmniLit
or
Amazon

Converting manuscripts to ebooks with InDesign CS5.5

The above is what I’ve been doing for the past week or so, and I’d like to post a few pointers about what I’ve learned. Feel free to comment.

1. Start with a really clean document.

Ever since I used earlier versions of Simon Haynes’ yWriter (which only used ASCII text), I’ve appreciated the value of adding no formatting whatsoever in my Word manuscripts. No formatting means no chapter headings, no fonts/spacing/paragraphing/anything other than the default. No tabs. No space before/after. No formatting means no italics. I type my italics _like this_. You’ll see the enormous value of this kinda weird habit later.

2. Do not (on the pain of death) import a document into InDesign.

Copy & paste instead. Yes, InDesign can read RTF and even DOC files. Yes, it even displays your formatting correctly. BUT ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE when you try to convert to EPUB. The tendency of InDesign to crash on this action is not something just I experienced, but something I saw reported all over forums as well. Don’t import these files into your InDesign document. At best, they’ll give you weird formatting each time you use an apostrophe or quote mark.

3. Learn how to use InDesign properly

Define master pages, define text and paragraph styles. Copy and paste your entire document into InDesign (this gets rid of any formatting including italics, so this is where the underscores come in handy). Use the text reflow function to place the text in one long set of threaded frames. If you don’t know how to do these things, learn them.

4. Don’t format anything in InDesign manually

This one is very counter-intuitive, especially if you’ve used the crunch engines at Smashwords or Amazon.
If you want empty lines, do this with the space before/after feature in one of your styles, for example chapter headings. You’ll end up with a few paragraph styles that may look something like this:
Heading
body text first line indented
body text first line not indented
asterisks (for the scene breaks; here you can define space before and after)

You’ll also end up with some character styles:
normal
italics
hypertext (blue and underlined)

Now go through the text using the search & replace functions to convert the text between the underscores into italics using the above character style and get rid of the underscores.

5. Two tables of contents

Use the InDesign menu to create a table of contents, using the Heading style (or whatever you called it) to be included in the TOC. If you define the TOC style and save it, you can then tick a box in the EPUB generation process that will make a nice TOC in the side panel. EPUB will ignore the InDesign-generated TOC if you place it in the text itself.

To get a TOC in the text intself (for devices like phones that don’t have a side screen capability), you will need to create the TOC, place it somewhere on a dummy page, delete it using control-X, and then copy it into the text frame series at the spot where you want it. Now you have just a plain text, unlinked TOC, and you have to play with the hyperlinks feature in the InDesign file to link headings and TOC entries. This works much as it does in Word.

6. No spaces in the file name

Some ereader devices won’t open file names with spaces, so don’t add any.

7. DRM

If you tick ‘copyrighted’ in the EPUB generation, the file will have DRM. Up to you to decide how many people you want to annoy. Stanza won’t read your file if you have DRM. Also be sure to un-tick the ‘include embeddable fonts’ box.

8. Cover image

Add your cover image at the front on a separate page not linked to the text. As well, add the cover image file name in the EPUB creation process. For Kindle, you’ll have to delete the image in the file itself. If you’re doing your cover image yourself you can read this for some pointers.

9. Kindle

Amazon distributes an InDesign plugin to make MOBI files. It seems to work kinda-OK from my perspective, testing with the Kindle viewer and Kindle for PC. I’ve never been able to get the ncx view to work, not even in my Amazon-generated files. I’m not sure what this feature adds. ETA: I’ve managed to make NCX view work, but I’m still not sure what it adds.

10. Stanza (= beware your file may not work everywhere)

There are entire forums dedicated to EPUB creation for this seriously dumbwitted piece of software. In theory, a normal EPUB should work. In practice, a file will display beautifully in Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions and a host of other devices and programs, but will refuse to work in Stanza. Fixes suggest editing the code manually. An EPUB file is a zipped collection of XHTML files, so if you give the file a .ZIP extension, you can open it in Notepad and change the code, re-zip and rename to EPUB. By which time ADE won’t read it anymore. So yeah, the creation of ebooks has a long way yet to go before it reaches any kind of consensus about standards.

Anyway, the file I’ve been making, my free short story collection, can be downloaded here. I’d love people to test them, because it’s impossible to test every device.

cover design by committee mark 2

A few days ago, I posted proposed designs for my fantasy ebook covers. I’ve fiddled with them a bit more, especially the second one, since some people said that the tree made them think of romance.

Also, this lot without the white swirl (it’s still there, but I’ve parked it down a few layers so it doesn’t show). So which do you prefer? This lot here or the older ones?

Any thoughts about what genre these images suggest?

ETA: now with daggers!

Some shading and positioning fine-tuning probably still to be done.